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Clinton and Israel -- the Marc Rich story

By       Message Philip Weiss     Permalink
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Source: Mondoweiss

I can't stay away from a piece of American political history: Bill Clinton being beholden to Israelis. I wonder what it portends for Hillary Clinton, should she run for the highest office in the this-land-is-your-land.

Two weeks ago, Marc Rich died -- the international financier who loved Israel and was famously pardoned by Clinton in 2001, at the last minute of his presidency. The Times obit said that the Israelis played a big role in that pardon:

"For years influential Israelis, including ex-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the former chief of the Mossad spy agency, Shabtai Shavit, had been urging Clinton to pardon Rich, who over two decades had contributed up to $80 million to Israeli hospitals, museums, symphonies and to the absorption of immigrants."

In 2009, Joe Conason reported that the Israelis really wanted the pardon because Rich was a major financial and intelligence asset to them:

"Winning the pardon was a top priority for Israeli officials because Rich had long been a financial and intelligence asset of the Jewish state, carrying out missions in many hostile countries where he did business." 

Conason said that Clinton bent over backwards for the Israelis to try and get them on board for their giant concessions at the Camp David peace process -- that of course produced nothing:

"Following weeks of preparation by Clinton, the last round of serious peace talks opened in Taba, Egypt, on Jan. 21, 2001, the day after he signed the Rich pardon....

"[T]he pardon power exists so that presidents will be free to make such hard choices for reasons of state. As a lame duck, Clinton had no other means to induce his Israeli partner to take any risk for peace."

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Myself, I don't believe that the Israelis really took any risk for peace; my interpretation of these events is that Clinton's real interest here was backing for his wife from the lobby. As the Times relates:

"Moreover, Federal Election Commission records showed that Rich's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, had donated $201,000 to the Democratic Party in 2000."

Bill Clinton was beloved of the lobby, which helped get him the presidency in the first place. The lobby didn't like President George H.W. Bush.

"Between 1990 and 1992, George H.W. Bush's administration had not only conditioned loan guarantees on a settlement freeze, it had backed six U.N. Security Council resolutions criticizing the policies of the Jewish state." --Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism.

Last month NYT columnist Tom Friedman hit the same theme to an Oxford audience, saying that Bush's fatal opposition to Israel was a great political lesson to all his would-be successors.

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"Let's go inside American politics for a second. What happened, and as you know, President Bush the first stood outside the White House one day and said I'm one lonely man standing up against the Israel lobby. What happened as a result of that ... is that Republicans post Bush I, and manifested most in his son Bush 2, took a strategic decision, they will never be out pro-Israel'd again. That they believe cost them electorally a lot."

Bush famously stood outside the White House complaining of Israel lobbyists in 1991. AIPAC was ticked off. Here's an excerpt of a secretly-recorded phone call with AIPAC's then president David Steiner, just before the 1992 election: 

"DAVID STEINER AIPAC: Do you think I could ever forgive Bush for what he did September 12th a year ago [1991]? What he said about the Jews for lobbying in Washington?"

In that telephone call -- which cost Steiner his job when it was released -- he repeatedly praised Bill Clinton as a friend of the Jews and the settlements. The references to loan guarantees below are references to settlements. Bush had tried to make those loan guarantees dependent on Israel stopping settlement activity:  

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Philip Weiss is a longtime writer and journalist in New York. He co-edits a website on Israel/Palestine,, which he founded in order to foster the movement for greater fairness and justice for Palestinians in American foreign policy. He is currently working on a novel about the US in Australia during WW2.

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