Hillary Clinton showed her political skills and foreign policy chops in her AIPAC speech Monday. She mixed pandering to a key constituency (and let’s be honest, there certainly was some old-fashioned pandering) with a reiteration of longstanding American policy. Her bellicose tone in delivering it, which brought those in attendance repeatedly to their feet, likely gave some the impression that she was distancing herself from Obama, whose personal relations with Netanyahu are famously chilly; but she defended and tied herself to the Iranian nuclear accord. She could hardly do otherwise, since her fingerprints are all over it.
It was noteworthy how quiet she got in talking about still believing in a two-state solution. Her invoking the memory of Golda Meir as a woman leader of Israel, and grinning as she asked what’s taken America so long, was a nice touch. Her citing Jerusalem Pride was entirely fitting despite the cries of “Pinkwashing!” by radicals on the left whose moral scorn only seems turned to the Jewish state. Her slamming of the BDS movement and its targeting of academics is also sound; after all, we do not boycott China and Russia, and as I write this our president is in Cuba–all of which are led by notoriously oppressive regimes.
For those alert to it, however, there were signs of the growing tension in the US-Israeli relationship that are structural and not about leaders’ personalities. Secretary Clinton several times in her speech mentioned Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. It is conceptually essential to our bilateral ties. But long-term demographic trends will increasingly put the Jewish and the Democratic at odds with each other. Eventually the nation will have to choose, and with Zionism at the core of its identity, it will not choose democracy. But those distant rumblings are drowned out by the real and present threats of terrorism.
One more observation about the bellicose-sounding section of Hillary’s speech: To uphold a nation’s right to defend itself while ignoring its own war crimes (such as the Israeli naval shelling of boys playing soccer on a Gazan beach two summers ago) is a contradiction. And the relentless portrayal of the greatest military power in the Mideast as by definition always and only a victim creates massive cognitive dissonance as we continue arming it to the teeth, as Hillary today pledged to continue. Over time this contradiction will be harder and harder to ignore. Her hawkish noises on this score, while par for the course at an AIPAC appearance, are reason for concern and vigilance. America has all too often been pulled into conflicts in that region that left it more unstable. The Syrian meltdown and rise of ISIS cannot be laid solely at America’s doorstep, and are more connected to actions by the previous administration. But as far as noises and inflection go, I prefer those of Obama.
Clinton’s appearance at AIPAC was a re-embrace with longtime political allies and showed her at her most presidential. On that stage she outclassed all the other candidates. And the fact that she stood by the current administration’s policies showed her toughness. All in all, an impressive performance.