(June 12, 2014 / JNS)
While Hillary Rodham Clinton jets around the country promoting her newly released memoir “Hard Choices,” a group of prominent Jewish Democrats has placed bets on the former secretary of state in advance of her possible run for the presidency. Others, however, are using parts of the memoir to question her record on Israel.
Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary was launched June 3 as a vehicle to unite Clinton’s Jewish supporters nationally and encourage her to run for president in 2016. It is affiliated with the pro-Clinton super PAC (political action committee), Ready for Hillary.
“Ours is a community that just knows her really, really well, and so there are already clearly millions of American Jews who support her and many of whom were already signed up for Ready for Hillary,” said one of the Jewish group’s founders, Steve Rabinowitz, who served as White House director of design and productions for President Bill Clinton. “Now there’s just an opportunity for them to also sign up as Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary.”
The group’s launch comes as Hillary Clinton’s new memoir has made headlines in the Jewish community for other reasons. The former secretary of state writes in “Hard Choices” that the Obama administration made a tactical mistake by demanding an Israeli construction freeze that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented between 2009 and 2010.
“In retrospect, our early, hard line on settlements didn’t work,” writes Clinton, who explains that the American stance on the settlements hardened Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s position.
Yet the sentiment Clinton expresses in the book contrasts sharply with her stated views on Israeli construction while she served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. In May 2009, she told Al Jazeera, “We want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth—any kind of settlement activity. That is what the president has called for.” Later that month, at a press conference with Egypt’s foreign minister, Clinton said Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”
“Clinton today is attempting to recast herself as a more sensitive and evenhanded figure on these matters,” Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, wrote for the Weekly Standard. “She would have us believe that her role in the administration’s campaign of criticism, pressure, and crisis-creation against Israel was one of reluctant participant, a loyal official carrying out her duties despite having tried to dissuade the president from a mistaken policy.”
Pollak added, “It is very difficult, looking at her record during this period, to conclude that the presentation of her role in her book is accurate. There is a simple and likely explanation for this revisionist history: She knows that her prominent role in the past five years of acrimony between the Obama administration and Israel is unhelpful to her presidential ambitions, and so she is attempting to distance herself from the administration’s record by downgrading her involvement in its Israel policy.”
In her memoir, Clinton also characterizes Israel as an occupying force. “When we left the city and visited Jericho, in the West Bank, I got my first glimpse of life under occupation for Palestinians, who were denied the dignity and self-determination that Americans take for granted,” she writes, recounting a 1981 trip with her husband.
Steve Rabinowitz brushed off Jewish criticism of the former first lady, noting that a large majority of American Jews voted to re-elect Obama as president—a base of support he believes would remain intact for Clinton.
“Well first, I can’t think of any Hillary detractors on Israel or Iran who aren’t either hardcore partisan Republicans or longtime Obama and Clinton bashers,” he said. “Yes, there are definitely a handful of Obama and Clinton bashers out there in our community who continue to bash her. She could do no right.”
According to Rabinowitz, the idea to create Jewish Americans Ready for Hillary came together a couple of months ago at a breakfast meeting with Marc Stanley, a Dallas trial attorney and the immediate past chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council, as well as political fundraiser Fran Katz Watson of Silver Spring, Md. They then contacted Craig Smith, senior adviser for Ready for Hillary, which welcomed the Jewish group, along with other constituency outreach groups, under Ready for Hillary.
Building lists and infrastructure
The Jewish effort represents a small slice of the 2 million supporters and 55,000 donors participating in Ready for Hillary, which is by far the largest of the many pro-Clinton PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) with the stated purpose of supporting a Clinton presidential bid. According to Rabinowitz, many of these supporters and donors are Jewish anyway, and his group provides another vehicle to focus outreach to the community.
“When people see if there are Jews who are undecided about whether or not Hillary should run and if they should support her, then perhaps they’ll see when so many people like them are supporting her, it will persuade them along,” he said.
The Ready for Hillary organization began as a grassroots effort in January 2013. Its latest FEC disclosure filing showed them raising close to $6 million in the 2014 election cycle and spending all but $857,243 on operating costs, such as staff salaries and additional fundraising expenses.
“The goal of Ready for Hillary is fourfold,” said Rachel Schneider, director of Ready for Hillary’s Jewish Americans and young Americans programs. “One is to identify supporters and build a list of them; two is to build infrastructure in the states, empower our supporters to volunteer and to take ownership over this work on the ground; three is to amplify Hillary’s message this year; and four is to use the groundswell of support for Hillary to support 2014 candidates.”
According to Schneider, Ready for Hillary’s mission is to encourage Clinton to run for president by building a national system of “grassroots support she will need once she decides to run.” This mission includes compiling supporters and donors into a database that would be available for Clinton’s actual election committee if she announces her candidacy.
Ready for Hillary last month changed its designation with the FEC, becoming a “Carey committee,” or hybrid PAC. This allows the PAC to accept unlimited donations similar to a super PAC, while at the same time, collect limited donations like a traditional PAC into two separate bank accounts. The unlimited account would be used for traditional super PAC activities, such as running ads on behalf of a candidates or causes without direct collaboration, while the other bank account could be used to directly fund political campaigns of Clinton allies in the 2014 midterm elections and even Clinton herself.
Stop Hillary PAC
While Democrats position themselves for a Clinton run, Republicans are trying to stop her.
Arlington, Va.-based attorney Dan Backer, treasurer of the Stop Hillary PAC, believes Ready for Hillary is operating with the approval and coordination of her authorized Senate campaign committee, Friends of Hillary. If true, that would violate an FEC rule that prohibits super PACs from coordinating with a candidate’s staff.
Stop Hillary PAC has filed a complaint with the FEC, citing an email list rented by Ready for Hillary from Friends of Hillary, which it used to promote the PAC. The FEC has not ruled on the case, but Ready for Hillary spokesman Seth Bringman said the organization is meticulous with FEC regulations and that his organization paid fair market value for use of the list—a common move for super PACs.
There are “a lot of ways that super PACs can benefit from the expertise and relationships of campaign committees perfectly legally,” said Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics.
“That sort of begs the question of whether or not these groups are really operating independently, but in this case it does seem as if [Ready for Hillary is] behaving,” she said.
A new television advertisement from the Emergency Committee for Israel, meanwhile, questions Clinton’s silence on Secretary of State John Kerry’s April comment that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” if a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not reached soon. The ad notes that American Jewish groups, Democratic Party organizations, and Democratic legislators spoke out against Kerry’s remark, but Clinton did not.
In March 2010, the secretary of state devoted a 45-minute phone conversation with Netanyahu to rebuking the prime minister for Israel’s decision to move ahead with 1,600 new housing units in eastern Jerusalem.
“[Clinton] is somebody who is very warm and friendly towards the Jewish community, particularly the very large donors of the Jewish community in Hollywood and elsewhere, but at the end of the day, where is she on Israel?” said Stop Hillary PAC’s Dan Backer. “She allowed the Obama administration to basically go on a rampage attacking Israel and strengthening Israel’s foes, and she said absolutely nothing to support Israel throughout challenges, and crises, and threat, after threat, after threat in her tenure in the State Department.”