President Hillary Clinton, Vice-President Binyamin Netanyahu

President Hillary Clinton, Vice-President Binyamin Netanyahu
Comment: Clinton's close relations with pro-Israel lobbyists - and their millions of dollars in campaign donations - gives us a glimpse of the future, writes Vijay Prashad.
5 min read
09 Jul, 2015
Hilary Clinton with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu [Getty]
On July 2, just before the first anniversary of Israel's war crime-infused bombing of Gaza, US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to Israeli billionaire Haim Saban.

The purpose of her letter, it seems, was to establish her bona fides among Saban and his friends, crucial funders of the Clinton sprint to the White House.

To make it clear that she does not accept any criticism of Israel, Clinton pilloried the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement.
     Almost half of the Democratic elites believe that Israel is a 'racist country' and think that Israel does not want peace

Clinton opened her letter with the following sentence: "I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority."

This is precisely the sentiment of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing cabinet, as well as large sections of the Israeli political establishment.

They have much in common.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu fulminated against BDS, calling for a "wide front" to fight against it. Not a day later, the financier Sheldon Adelson held an emergency - and supposedly secret - summit in Las Vegas, where he reportedly raised $50 million to attack the BDS movement.

He reportedly wants Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Adelson favourite, to create an army of anti-BDS students in a group named Campus Maccabees.

Adelson's ally in all this effort is none other than Haim Saban. Adelson says of the current situation in US college campuses that he is "absolutely positive that there is a lot of anti-Semitism on campus".

Saban warned that "an anti-Semitic tsunami" is coming. This is merely fear-mongering.

Clinton's letter to Saban comes at a curious time for the Democratic Party.

A survey - funded by the Jewish National Fund and conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz - suggests that "Democratic opinion elites" are increasingly frustrated with the policies of Israel and have drifted to a pro-Palestinian narrative.

Almost half of the "Democratic elites" believe that Israel is a "racist country" and about half think that Israel does not want peace.

A third of the so-called Democrat elite "admits" to being pro-Palestinian. This is a significant shift. More than three quarters of respondents believe that Israel has "too much influence" on US policy-making.

This is the view that only a few years ago would have been denounced as anti-Semitism - when establishment scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer published The Israel Lobby in 2007, they faced bitter ridicule; a book such as that now would be accepted in many circles as normal.

In her letter to Saban, Clinton wrote that BDS was merely the "latest attempt to single out Israel on the world stage".

This is a comment that came just as the UN Human Rights Council prepared to vote to send the Davis Report - on Israel's 2014 bombing of Gaza - to the International Criminal Court.

     BDS is poised to make serious gains in the US liberal community. This is what Netanyahu and the Israeli establishment fear
The only country to vote against the Council's resolution was the United States.

Clinton told Saban that such resolutions are "anti-Israel", that she, as president, would take the lead against them. This is, of course, in keeping with decades of US policy.

But Clinton's strong words indicate that she is more in the specific camp of Netanyahu than in that of the Israeli centre-right.

Saban believes that Clinton would be one of Israel's closest-ever friends in Washington.

Clinton has made a dangerous bet with her strong position on Israel. She has yet to win a Democratic primary.

Among the Democratic elite, BDS has made its mark. Almost a third of Democrats supported BDS in Luntz' poll.

This is a third of the Democratic elite who would not accept Clinton's strong position on Israel. Luntz found that most of the "opinion leaders" did not know about BDS, and that those who knew of it tended to support the campaign.

This is why Luntz predicted that Israel would be in a "lot more trouble" if more people got to know about BDS.

What this implies is that Clinton is on the wrong side of the growing tide in her own party.

However, Clinton is safe. The reason is that there are currently no mainstream Democratic leaders who publically support BDS.

Even presidential candidate Bernie Sanders - putatively a socialist - had a hard time during an August 2014 town hall meeting.

Israel's war resulted in bombed UN shelters and high civilian casualties. All that Sanders would admit to was an Israeli overreaction. When pushed by a constituent, he simply countered: "Shut up."

This says a great deal about how out-of-touch the Democratic leadership is from their "elite opinion makers" and their base.

Clinton will not pay the price for this letter to Saban.

Her team is astute. They know that the liberals who have evolved into a more measured view on the Palestinian struggle would not have anywhere to go in the primaries or in the general election.

They will likely support Clinton for her socially liberal views than the kind of Neanderthal positions held by the Republicans. She will gain the big donors and lose nothing from her base.

BDS, however, is poised to make serious gains in the US liberal community. This is what Netanyahu and the Israeli establishment fear.

Clinton is merely playing on that fear to earn the trust of some of the high-rollers - who also happen to be fervent Zionists and backers of Netanyahu.

What she truly believes is, of course. irrelevant. She was against gay marriage before she was for it, for example.

What is relevant is that, despite the gains of BDS, the mainstream political forces in the US are loath to detach themselves from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and Israeli wars on Palestine.

Vijay Prashad is a columnist at Frontline and a senior research fellow at AUB's Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs. His latest book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2014 paperback).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.