With the Iranian nuclear negotiations progressing rapidly toward a deal earlier this summer, Hillary Clinton sought out nervous Jewish Democratic mega-donors to assure them that — regardless of the deal’s final outcome — she would always have Israel’s back.
The State Department’s latest tranche of Clinton’s e-mails, however, may undercut that assertion.
As journalists pored over the 7,000 pages released Monday night, many noticed a slew of messages between Clinton and longtime family friend Sidney Blumenthal about Israel. Though barred from government work by the Obama White House, Blumenthal was nevertheless sending Clinton detailed policy memos on the Jewish state — memos pushing left-wing critiques of its government’s security and settlement policies and urging Clinton to wield “tough love” against its leaders.
He was also sending articles written by his son Max Blumenthal, a leader of the “boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel” movement whose thuggish push for anti-Israeli policies earned him a lifetime ban from the premises of the German parliament. One journalist wondered on Twitter whether Max Blumenthal, like his father, was directly advising Clinton on Israeli relations. “I warned her about the dangers of #JSIL,” the younger Blumenthal tweeted back. “She didn’t listen.”
JSIL —“the Jewish State of Israel in the Levant” — is a term created by Max Blumenthal in an effort to directly compare Israel and its security forces to the ultra-violent terrorist group Islamic State, known as ISIL in government circles.
In public, Hillary Clinton paints herself as an unrepentant hawk and a supporter of a muscular Israeli foreign policy. So why, then, did she repeatedly countenance what many view as unsupported and radical critiques of Israel — at times even forwarding the missives to top State Department staff? And will the e-mails give donors in the American pro-Israel community pause before they throw their money and support behind Clinton’s presidential campaign?
“If [Clinton] is the nominee, I would expect you’d see some Jewish groups raising the question of her relationship with Blumenthal, and his potential role in a Clinton administration,” says Elliott Abrams, a longtime American diplomat and Middle Eastern fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Will the e-mails give donors in the American pro-Israel community pause before they throw their money and support behind Clinton’s presidential campaign?
Blumenthal sent dozens of e-mails advising Clinton on Israel in 2010. Before her March speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Blumenthal sent Clinton a breathless article from left-wing Israeli writer Uri Avnery accusing the Netanyahu government of “starting a rebellion” against the United States and defending interests that diverge from America’s. “I have to speak to AIPAC tomorrow,” Clinton responded. “How — and should I — use this [sic]?” Blumenthal promised to send another memo the next day.
In that memo, he instructed Clinton to “hold Bibi [Netanyahu]’s feet to the fire” on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “Perhaps most controversial,” he continued, would be for Clinton to “remind [AIPAC] in as subtle but also direct a way as you can that it does not have a monopoly over American Jewish opinion. Bibi is stage managing US Jewish organizations (and neocons, and the religious right, and whomever else he can muster) against the administration. AIPAC itself has become an organ of the Israeli right, specifically Likud.”
On May 17, Blumenthal forwarded Clinton an article on the Israeli government’s decision to deny professor and Palestinian activist Noam Chomsky access to the West Bank. “Barring him for his political opinions has created a needless PR disaster,” he wrote. “The US should not be a passive onlooker. . . . The US effort on his behalf to gain entry should be part of the story.” Clinton forwarded the memo to staff with instructions to “pls print 3 copies.”
In an e-mail from May 31 entitled “Several observations on the Israeli raid,” Blumenthal blames Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s family inferiority complex for his decision to launch a raid on the so-called “Gaza Flotilla,” a group of ships seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. “Bibi desperately seeks his father’s approbation and can never equal his dead brother,” Blumenthal wrote. He then hinted that the raid was deliberately orchestrated to kill the peace process and humiliate President Obama before his scheduled visit with the prime minister. Clinton forwarded the message to Jake Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff at the State Department. “FYI and I told you so,” she wrote.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that a Secretary of State should be getting advice from Sidney Blumenthal,” says Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He argues that while Blumenthal is a clever political operative, his foreign-policy experience is nil. “I think this raises questions about her judgment,” he says.
Some see Clinton’s proximity to anti-Israeli activists the younger Blumenthal as symptomatic of a larger issue within her party.
“I think it’s shocking,” says Abrams. “Here she has the entire machinery of the United States government at her disposal, yet she seems to be relying on, and paying attention to, information that she receives from someone with no foreign policy experience or expertise.” At the time of the e-mails, Blumenthal was being paid $10,000 a month by the Clinton Foundation — though it isn’t clear what work he was doing for the charity in return.
Blumenthal also sent Clinton several anti-Israeli articles written by his son Max. As part of a June 4 memo, he forwarded an article from the younger Blumenthal that claimed the “massacre of activists” during the Gaza Flotilla raid was “deliberate and methodically planned.” A Max Blumenthal article from June 22 accused the Israeli media of peddling government lies about the raid, while another article from July 5 attacked the Netanyahu government for lying about a settlement freeze in the West Bank. In an e-mail titled “What Max did on July 31,” Sid Blumenthal sent Clinton an article in which his son accuses Israeli civilians of celebrating the demolition of a Bedouin village in the West Bank — “a phenomenon that is laying Israeli society as a whole to waste.”
Unlike the other correspondence between Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal, there is no evidence that Clinton ever replied to the Max Blumenthal articles she was sent, or forwarded them among her staff. But Abrams is surprised that she never objected to receiving them. “His son is an extremist on the question of the Middle East,” he says. “He’s sort of famous for his violent anti-Israel views.”
Some see Clinton’s proximity to anti-Israeli activists such as the younger Blumenthal as symptomatic of a larger issue within her party. “The Democratic Party is increasingly hostile to Israel, or increasingly sees Israel as a strategic liability,” says Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. “These attitudes of Max Blumenthal — which contradict the American consensus on Israel, [and] are incredibly far out of the mainstream — these ideas are actually mainstream for the Democratic elite.”
Abrams says that if Clinton is truly as supportive of mainstream Israeli policies as she claims, she should’ve known better. “We have not found one e-mail in which Clinton says, ‘I do not agree with you about that, Sidney Blumenthal,’” he says. The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Will the Blumenthal e-mails on Israel come with a political price? Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official and the vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson Center, thinks not. “No matter what is contained in these e-mails, given the fact that 80 percent of American Jews are going to vote Democratic; given the fact that, generationally, she’s far more sensitive to the Israeli issue — and far more skilled in dealing with Israelis — than Barack Obama, I think this is not going to damage her,” he says.
But others believe that Jewish groups and donors who typically support Democratic candidates could balk at supporting Clinton after the inside look at her inner circle. “I can’t believe this won’t cause concern among such people,” says May. “There are those who would say, ‘I’ve known Hillary. I’ve known her for years and years, and I have no doubt where her heart is.’ But I think anyone reading these e-mails has to think there’s cause for concern here.”
— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter for National Review.