It was perhaps a sign of momentary desperation after her 22-point defeat in New Hampshire, but right before Hillary Clinton left the Granite State, the Friend of Israel card was pulled out. One of her surrogates, former local congressman Paul Hodes, declared from the stage that “Hillary Clinton has been a very strong friend of Israel and that is something that should not be lost on the American Jewish community.” He continued, “Senator Sanders hasn’t showed himself to be the kind of friend of Israel that Secretary Clinton is.”
No one gets elected to higher office in the United States without being a certified friend of the Jewish State. But can Hilary Clinton really hope to shore up her once solid Jewish base by claiming to be better for the Jews than the first serious Jewish presidential contender?
Clinton has certainly done everything possible to curry favor with the pro-Israel crowd, going so far as to declare that she’d invite her “friend” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in her first month in office. She’s also spoken of her “enduring emotional connection” with the country, promised to rebuild the “unbreakable bond” (a clear slight to the approach of her former boss, President Obama, toward Israel), take ties “to the next level,” and “do everything I can to enhance our strategic partnership and strengthen America’s security commitment to Israel.”
Strong words, to be sure. But can she really hope to get more Jewish votes than a man who reminds most Jews, nostalgically, of their favorite old socialist uncle from Brooklyn?
It is true that compared with Clinton, Sanders is, as he put it, “not a great fan of Netanyahu.” He has in fact criticized Israel’s massive and indiscriminate use of firepower in the last Gaza war, and has spoken of the need to be a true “honest broker” and support a viable Palestinian state. At the same time, he has tried hard to avoid sounding too progressive on Israel, and one of his testiest exchanges on the campaign trail occurred with a constituent in Vermont, whom he told to “shut up” when she pressed him about continuing to provide Israel with over $3 billion per year in aid during the Gaza war.
Sanders is hewing fairly close to the progressive Democratic line on Israel—increasingly critical of the country’s policies, but unwilling to threaten real consequences for its ever deepening occupation. Clinton’s positions, in contrast, are no different from those of the most conservative Republican candidates running this year.