New York Times Editorial
July 18, 2000


Mrs. Clinton's Credible Response


It is a sour coincidence that Hillary Rodham Clinton should be accused of using anti-Semitic language while negotiations are under way at Camp David that represent the best chance in decades for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East. But in another sense, this juxtaposition of domestic politics and foreign policy provides an opportunity to examine a serious underlying principle. There is no doubt, in our view, that Mrs. Clinton, if elected to the Senate, would be a firm supporter of Israel's security, its aspirations for peace and its economic vitality. We say that without imputing any weakness on these issues to her Republican opponent, Representative Rick Lazio. Our intent is simply to say that this is one of those campaign moments when voters need to look at long-term policy prospects rather than the controversy of the moment.

To be sure, Mrs. Clinton's handling of matters important to New York's Jewish voters has been fraught with controversy since the start of her candidacy to succeed Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a fellow Democrat. But her early gaffes were not as shocking as depicted by detractors who want to see her lose part of a constituency that is essential to any Democrat in a tight statewide race. Mrs. Clinton's 1998 remark that she would favor creation of a Palestinian state is now not far afield from current Israeli and American policies. Both governments are open to establishment of such a state as part of the Camp David negotiations.

Her appearance with Yasir Arafat's wife, Suha, last year, while awkward, was nonetheless handled in a way that did not disrupt sensitive negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, was among those defending Mrs. Clinton.

The current complication centers on the report in a new book about the Clintons' marriage, "State of a Union," by Jerry Oppenheimer, that she used an anti-Semitic slur in an argument with the manager of her husband's losing Congressional campaign in 1974. Those not present can never be absolutely certain about what was said at the campaign headquarters that day. But the circumstantial evidence inclines us strongly toward believing Mrs. Clinton when she says she never used such language. The alleged remark took place only a few years after Mrs. Clinton's expansively humanistic commencement speech at Wellesley and soon after she had worked in a sophisticated legal environment for the impeachment of a president, Richard M. Nixon, who did use anti-Semitic language. Mrs. Clinton by her own admission has a volatile temper, but this kind of language seems out of keeping with her philosophy and a well-documented history of public remarks and private political conversations.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Mrs. Clinton getting 54 percent of the Jewish vote to 34 percent for Mr. Lazio. In order to win, she probably has to come close to the 76 percent gained by Senator Charles Schumer in 1998. Her decision to abandon her usual no-comment mode in favor of a passionate, almost teary response to the allegation of anti-Semitic language was a sound one. President Clinton's decision to step into the fray, while understandable as husbandly concern, was probably less helpful to the political task confronting Mrs. Clinton. Her problem extends beyond any single constituency group.

This is going to be a grindingly brutal campaign. From now on, Mrs. Clinton will be under continuous pressure to assert her independence from her husband and to fight her own fights. She also has to explain her policies and reveal her personality to an electorate that does not know her well. In this instance, we think she made a convincing case that she did not use the language ascribed to her.

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