Clinton's team of social justice warriors

On International Women's Day, two top Clinton aides discuss how their Jewish backgrounds have informed their fight for women's rights.

By
March 8, 2016 22:32
4 minute read.
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks with supporters during a campaign rally

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks with supporters during a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON -- The daughter of a conservative rabbi, an alumna of Solomon Schechter and a former kibbutz resident, Sarah Bard grew up with deep Jewish roots. She grew up with a Jewish understanding of equality and fairness. And she's grown to believe that her Jewish values compel her to support Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.

Bard– a veteran of Clinton's first presidential campaign in 2008, US President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee– now serves as Hillary for America's Jewish outreach director. Her work, she says, has long been informed by her sense of identity.

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"My mom died when we were young, and our family was really struggling– and I don't think we would've gotten through without that community," Bard said in a phone call from Florida. "I was always very much drawn to the Democratic Party."

Clinton "really is a candidate about helping everyone succeed," Bard added.

The former first lady, senator and secretary of state is on the verge of clinching another historic title: First female nominee of a major party for president of the United States. A win in Florida will help get her there. And on International Women's Day, Clinton's aides are absorbing her success thus far in a primary against the first major Jewish contender for the Oval Office: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

In a statement marking the occasion, Clinton renewed her call to "keep up the fight" for women— by battling to protect women's health and abortion rights, for equal pay for equal work, and for paid family leave.

"On International Women’s Day, we celebrate women around the world, in all stations of life— mothers, daughters, grandmothers, teachers, doctors, soldiers, artists, workers, employers, leaders of all kinds," Clinton said in a statement. "We celebrate their achievements and their humanity. We celebrate the progress we've made to advance the full participation of women in economies and societies. And most importantly, we recommit to finishing the unfinished work that remains, and ensuring that women and girls are treated as the full and equal human beings they are."

The contest offers a unique choice and unusual questions for Jewish Americans headed to the polls: How do their Jewish values inform their voting preferences, if at all? In the Democratic primary, is Jewish identity more likely to compel voters to support Clinton– a pioneering women's rights advocate to many– or for Sanders, himself a Jewish man?

"Judaism for me has always given me a very grounded sense of the importance of social justice," said Laura Rosenberger, a foreign policy advisor to Clinton. Rosenberger's favorite holiday when she was young was Passover, she said, for the story it told of freedom and the evils of oppression.

"Injustice in the world– and the desire to do something about– has really been a propelling force to me, and it really comes from my Jewish upbringing," Rosenberger said.

Working under Clinton at the State Department, Rosenberger saw how liberal democratic principles drives her policymaking process. Women's rights, Rosenberger said in a phone interview, "is not one on a list of issues that need to be dealt with."

"Gender equality is really central to stability and prosperity around the world," she said of Clinton's worldview, "and it needs to be core to our policies."

That belief has manifested itself in different policy proposals over Clinton's multi-decade career. Rosenberger noted Clinton's support for Israel's HIPPY home-based education program as a model for struggling mothers worldwide; Her forceful opposition to child marriage in Saudi Arabia; Her famous speech in China equating women's rights with human rights; And her push for women at the table in negotiations over Northern Ireland, "to make sure that it would be a more sustainable peace."

Hillary for America now has a slight majority of women on its external foreign policy advisory team. "She has really led an effort to empower women in national security," Rosenberger said.

Sanders– the first Jewish candidate ever to win a presidential nominating contest– rarely discusses his Judaism unprompted. But over the weekend, asked by CNN to comment on reports that he dislikes talking about it, Sanders forcefully pushed back.

"I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am," he said at a CNN town hall in Michigan. "My father's family was wiped out by Hitler in the Holocaust. I know about what crazy and radical, and extremist politics mean."

Whether for Clinton or Sanders, two statistics are clear: The majority of American women, and of American Jews, reliably vote Democratic.

Clinton's fight for the Jewish vote is going well, Bard says. But she notes: "The community is very diverse."

"I don't think the community is judging based on Jewish identity," she said. "I think the community is focused on the policies, and focused on the experiences of the candidates."


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