Loathe WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange or love him, think that he is a Russian tool or one of freedom’s champions, believe that email hacking is an illegal and unethical invasion of privacy or a way to make politics and diplomacy more transparent, his website makes for riveting reading.
And the recent dump of thousands of emails hacked from John Podesta’s account is no exception.
Podesta is the chairman of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the emails that have appeared on the WikiLeaks website proved a fascinating, unfiltered look at the inner workings of the Clinton campaign.
They also provide a small peep into her thinking on Israel, how some Israeli leaders view her positions on Israel, and efforts to shape her Israel messaging.
Clinton on Israel: "More than policy, it's personal"
If the State Department’s release earlier this year of thousands of pages of emails from Clinton’s private server caused some concern among Israel supporters because a number of those were from Sidney Blumenthal, whose son Max is a rabid anti-Zionist and whose writings were incorporated into some of the messages the elder Blumenthal sent to Clinton, the Podesta WikiLeaks emails will not engender such feelings.
Indeed, many of the emails dealing with Israel were written by Stuart Eizenstat, 73, a veteran of Democratic politics who served in Jimmy Carter’s administration as chief domestic adviser, and in Bill Clinton’s administration in a variety of roles, including ambassador to the EU and deputy secretary of the Treasury. Along with Dennis Ross, Eizenstat is currently the co-chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute’s board of directors. In the 2008 election he served as a surrogate for Clinton with Jewish audiences.
As he writes of himself to Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s chief foreign policy adviser and his main email interlocutor, “By way of background, I have very deep connections to the State of Israel and to its elected officials and leading academics. I go to Israel two to three times a year, perhaps 50 times since my first visit in 1965. My grandfather and great-grandfather are buried in Israel, and I have scores of relatives and friends there.”
Sullivan, who has been touted as a possible candidate for national security adviser if Clinton wins in November, indicated in the emails that Eizenstat’s comments and recommendations are taken seriously.
In a July 2015 email, during which he briefed Sullivan on a meeting he had with Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, Eizenstat wrote, “Let me premise this summary by telling you that we are so personally close to him that my late wife, Fran, and I went to his bar mitzva in Miami (tragically, his father, the mayor of Miami Beach, died of a heart attack two weeks before the event). We have been close ever since, although our politics are far apart. Also, I am fully and painfully aware of his role in the Romney- Obama election.”
That last sentence has to do with allegations that Dermer actively supported Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. No such charges have been leveled this time around in Clinton’s race against Donald Trump.
In fact, in a December 2015 email, Eizenstat writes of an unnamed senior Israeli official who “is very close to the prime minister, and knows his thinking,” who said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a good relationship with Clinton. This official is widely believed to be Dermer.
The official, Eizenstat writes, had a number of insights. The first one was the following: “The prime minister always had a ‘surprising good relationship’ with Hillary; she is ‘easy to work with,’ and [he believes] that she is more instinctively sympathetic to Israel than the White House.
“Even during their ‘famous 43-minute phone call, when he felt like slamming down the phone, he felt she was simply heavily scripted and reading from points prepared by the White House.’” That phone call refers to a telephone dressing down Netanyahu received from Clinton in March 2010 following the announcement of building in a Jerusalem neighborhood over the Green Line during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel. Clinton was secretary of state at the time.
According to Eizenstat, the official did wonder if a Clinton administration “will be a Saban Forum for four years,” referring to the annual conference sponsored at the Brookings Institution each year by billionaire Clinton backer Haim Saban, and which Clinton addressed in 2015, as she has in the past. This concern, Eizenstat wrote, had to do more with the “people around her, but not her. Her [2015 Saban Forum] speech, in the eyes of the official, was ‘95% good, although there was some moral equivalence language.’” Asked by Sullivan in a follow-up email what the official meant by wondering whether a Clinton administration would be a four-year-long Saban Forum, Eizenstat replied: “What he meant was that they are concerned that the focus of an HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] administration would be on the Palestinian peace process and two-state solution rather than on the external threats to Israel (Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas), and that the administration would be populated with officials of this bent. He was less worried about HRC’s own views.”
In an email from March 2015, Eizenstat wrote of a meeting with Dermer to discuss a recent JPPI meeting in Jerusalem. In that email he spelled out some of Dermer’s concerns. The ambassador, according to Eizenstat, said that the administration was “tone deaf” about the existential threat Iran posed to Israel, and that Clinton should “recognize and empathize with Israel’s concerns with the Iran deal.”
The email also shed light on how the Israeli government views J Street.
Dermer, according to Eizenstat, “distinguishes between liberal groups like Peace Now, which he supports, and J Street, which he does not. The reason, he said, is that although they are officially anti-BDS, they actively lobby against Israeli positions supported by a democratically elected government in Israel, and are constantly critical of Israel, rather than the Palestinians.
By lobbying Congress and the administration against Israeli positions, they are ‘denying Israel’s right to self-determination.’ They are lobbying to change what the popularly elected government of Israel supports.”
A few months earlier, in March 2015, soon after Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and after his reelection and hints from sources close to US President Barack Obama that the administration may take a new look at the US-Israel relationship following comments Netanyahu made about two states and Arab voters, Eizenstat wrote that “the Obama White House-Bibi relationship is obviously deteriorating to the point of no return.”
Eizenstat said the relationship was “more poisonous” than at any other time in his lifetime, and that there has never been the “public personal animosity that exists now” between Netanyahu and Obama. “Olive branches have been spurned,” he wrote.
He said this “obviously places Hillary in an extremely difficult position,” and suggested she make the following points: First, the need to “lower the temperature level” of rhetoric on all sides, stressing that “the overall political, military, defense relationship with Israel is too important to allow personal differences to intrude on the future direction of US policy.”
Second, he suggested she stress the “enduring commitment of the United States to Israel’s security interests,” including battling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. He also suggested she “express a strong feeling that Israel MUST remain a bipartisan issue, as it has been since its formation.”
In another email three months later he writes of a weeklong visit to Israel during which he was struck “not only among Israeli officials, but among my friends across the political spectrum (most are former officials) and apolitical relatives, at the depth of antipathy and distrust of President Obama as ‘weak,’ ‘pro-Muslim’ and ‘anti-Israel.’” This theme appeared in an email written a month earlier about a JPPI conference in the US attended by a number of Israeli officials, past and present; former US officials, such as Henry Kissinger; academics, rabbis and leaders of organized American Jewry.
“Most troubling was the pervasive feeling that the US has withdrawn from a leadership position in the Middle East, leaving our allies in the Arab world, and Israel, to fend for themselves. The level of vitriol against the president was striking, to such a degree that one participant urged that he was being unfairly demonized.”
Eizenstat wrote that he hoped his report of the two-day conference, during which he spelled out the concerns across a wide range of issues, “is helpful in shaping Hillary’s positions on these difficult issues.
But more broadly, she needs to understand the great angst in the Jewish community over the cascade of challenges I have described. The empathy and appreciation she can demonstrate would itself be important and reassuring.”