Clinton Tries To Stuff Israeli Ballot Box

When Canada, Britain, France or Germany hold elections do you hear U.S. administration officials praising or criticizing candidates? Are programs involving those countries suddenly suspended or initiated? Do the policies of the incumbents come under attack? The answer to all these questions is rarely, if ever. So why is it that officials who scrupulously adhere to the principle of non-interference in the free elections of these countries show no hesitation about trying to influence the outcome of Israel's elections?

For the third consecutive election, U.S. officials are trying to help the Labor Party's candidate win the Israeli election because of their dissatisfaction with the policies of the incumbent. Taking a page out of George Bush's playbook, the Clinton Administation has once again done just about everything but announce that Bill hates Bibi. Anonymous officials tell reporters how bad their relationship is while the State Department makes pronouncements about Netanyahu violating promises he made to the President.

In addition, State publicly attacks Netanyahu for his settlement policies and the wants to hold up payment of any financial assistance to compensate Israel for its withdrawal from the West Bank under the Wye accord until after the election, a move similar to Bush's decision to withhold loan guarantees from one Yitzhak (Shamir) in hopes of helping another (Rabin). Oh, and remember all the goodwill that was supposed to be created when Israel voluntarily agreed to a reduction in economic assistance? Well, not only has the good will dissipated, but the Administration is trying to make additional cuts beyond what Israel negotiated.

You can probably interpret the President's position on Palestinian statehood as also helping Ehud Barak. If Clinton had come out in favor of early statehood, Netanyahu could have campaigned as the candidate who will prevent this from coming to pass. Instead, Clinton was vague enough to preempt this tactic while leaving little doubt that he will eventually recognize a Palestinian state. Oh, and did I mention that Barak's campaign strategist is James Carville, who, coincidentally, performed the same duty for the President.

If you share Clinton's revulsion for the current government, you might argue that his effort to help Barak be elected is actually the pro-Israel thing to do. Poppycock! This is the George Ball, "let's save Israel in spite of herself" routine. Israel is a democracy and its citizens should choose the candidate that satisfies their requirements, not ours. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that U.S.-Israel relations have suffered under Netanyahu. If that is something Israelis feel is important, they'll vote accordingly without our meddling. Besides, as noted at the outset, what other countries' elections do we interfere in so blatantly?

It is really hard to believe this is the same President who people were calling the most pro-Israel in history not too long ago. Then again, what made him pro-Israel all along was less what he was doing for Israel — which was very little — than what he refrained from doing, namely, publicly criticizing Israeli policy. Now it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish Clinton's Middle East policy from that of his predecessor, the least pro-Israel president in history. As in Bush's case when Rabin defeated Shamir, it is likely that a Barak victory will result in a 180-degree shift in the Administration's attitude. If Netanyahu wins, expect the next two years to be as acrimonius as the worst of the Bush-Shamir years.

This is all the more shocking since even Netanyahu's detractors expected him to be the PR Prime Minister and to have especially good relations with the United States because of his communication skills and popularity within the American Jewish community. As many others have noted, it is truly amazing how low his stock has fallen here since he was elected. It is difficult to find anyone who has anything positive to say about him, even among those who share his views on the peace process.

Most of the time American Jews march around promoting Israeli democracy, but, ironically, when elections roll around, many suddenly feel it's not democratic unless their preferred candidate wins. Except for the yahoos in the community who protest everything, no one is speaking out against what has unfortunately become a routine U.S. policy of trying to influence the Israeli election.

After Bush's tampering, American Jews had their chance to vent their anger against him at the polls. Clinton doesn't have to worry about facing the voters again. Will Al Gore be tainted? Probably not. Most Jewish Democrats preferred Gore on top of the ticket to begin with and view him as a staunch supporter of Israel. And, of course, the alternatives do not look promising. No one on the Republican side has Ronald Reagan's pro-Israel image. GOP frontrunner George W. Bush's association with his father, not to mention some of his pronouncements on Christianity, are probably far more damning in the eyes of Jewish voters than Gore's involvement in the Clinton Administration.

Campaign pledges aren't worth much, but when the Jews go around soliciting position papers from the candidates regarding the Middle East, I'd still like to see them ask for promises to allow Israelis to exercise their democratic rights without U.S. interference. From now on, let's try to keep the President's hand out of Israel's ballot box.