Navigate to News section

What We Can and Can’t Learn About Hillary from Her Emails About Israel

She politely praised an anti-Israel author while battling Israel boycotters

Yair Rosenberg
July 01, 2015
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful and former U.S. Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton speaks June 26, 2015 at George Mason University's Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Democratic U.S. presidential hopeful and former U.S. Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton speaks June 26, 2015 at George Mason University's Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last night, the State Department released nearly 3,000 pages of Hillary Clinton’s emails from her time as Secretary of State, as part of a court-mandated process that will continue throughout the coming months. The contents of the communiques are now being pored over by journalists, opposition researchers and interest groups, all searching for tidbits that might shed light on Clinton’s conduct in the Obama administration. Naturally, attention has already been turned to what the documents say about her outlook towards Israel. The answer: a lot, and also not much.

A quick rundown of the relevant emails:

 Some partisans have seized upon a September 2009 message in which Clinton wrote to her long-time adviser Sidney Blumenthal about his son Max‘s literary career, praising his book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party:

At the time, the younger Blumenthal had begun to make a name for himself as a critic of the very existence of the Jewish state, but was more known for his partisan bromides. Max Blumenthal’s next book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, would be described in The Nation as “The I-Hate-Israel Handbook” and an ideal candidate for a “Hamas book-of-the-month club.” But given Clinton’s long-standing close relationship with Sidney Blumenthal, and the fact that Max’s most anti-Israel work had not yet been written, it seems understandable that she would send polite words of encouragement to the father about his son’s accomplishments.

 A more consequential email chain shows Clinton going to bat for Israel after the Edinburgh Film Festival in the U.K. announced that it would not accept any Israeli government funding, effectively shutting out Israeli artists who needed the money to participate. Alerted to the situation by a pro-Israel contact, Clinton asked her aides to formulate a response:

 Other important emails relate to the 2009 diplomatic battle over President Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze. At the time, Israel insisted that this move violated prior understandings reached with President George W. Bush in the so-called Bush-Sharon letter, which acknowledged that Israel would keep certain settlement blocs in any peace deal. In one email, Clinton’s chief aide Jake Sullivan approvingly passed along an editorial from Haaretz by former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, who argued that the Netanyahu government was not accurately representing the Bush-Sharon letter’s implications. In another intriguing missive, Hillary writes that she spoke personally with former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had affirmed the Obama administration’s position on the matter:

So, what does all this mean for Israel/Palestine partisans seeking to understand the likely Democratic presidential nominee’s outlook towards the Jewish state? The truth is, less than they’d hope.

The messages above all come from from 2009, during the Obama administration’s infancy, limiting their insight into Clinton’s current state of mind. Indeed, even Hillary’s later emails that will eventually be released are already out-of-date: Clinton left the State Department in February 2013, and much has changed in the U.S.-Israel relationship since then. The ensuing years have seen abortive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations–whose failure some administration officials have appeared to blame on Israel–and a significant increase in tensions surrounding both the peace process and a prospective Iranian nuclear deal. Obama administration officials have labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous” and “chickenshit”; Netanyahu, meanwhile, went behind Obama’s back to publicly denounce his Iran diplomacy before the U.S. Congress.

Simply put, U.S.-Israel ties have changed since Hillary was America’s top diplomat, and the question is how much she has changed with them. That’s a subject she can partly address on the campaign trail–she touted how she “reinforced allies like Israel” in her presidential announcement speech–but will only truly clarify once in office.

In other words, the Clinton emails that tell Israel partisans what they really want to know simply haven’t been written yet.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Become a Member of Tablet

Get access to exclusive conversations, our custom app, and special perks from our favorite Jewish artists, creators, and businesses. You’ll not only join our community of editors, writers, and friends—you’ll be helping us rebuild this broken world.