Hillary Clinton’s Hawkish Stance Riling Critics on the Jewish Left

By E.J. Kessler

Published December 16, 2005, issue of December 16, 2005.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is coming under fire from Jewish anti-war activists who say that her centrist position on Iraq could cost her the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

In the latest sign of the growing discontent among left-wing activists, Jonathan Tasini, a product of the Labor Zionist movement, launched a bid to unseat Clinton in New York’s Democratic senatorial primary next year. Tasini, who has been endorsed by the country’s most prominent anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan, says his main reason for running is to criticize Clinton’s support of the war.

No serious political prognosticator believes that Tasini will be able to parlay the increasing anti-war sentiment among Democratic voters into a victory over Clinton. Some observers say, however, that the rising anger over the war could trip up Clinton in the presidential primaries, if she chooses to run for the White House — which is why, they say, she wrote a 1,600-word letter explaining her war stance, sending it electronically to supporters November 29.

“Clearly her stance is causing her problems,” said Douglas Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College. “That’s the meaning of the 1,600-word missive to her supporters. Can the left mobilize enough to damage her? In the short run, no. In the long run, it depends on what happens on the ground. If it turns out to be a quagmire, her current and past stances put her in a hard spot.”

Among Clinton’s critics on the left are two leading anti-war rabbis associated with the Jewish Renewal movement, Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow.

Lerner, who for a time advised Clinton on spiritual matters when she was first lady, told the Forward that the senator was “trying to position herself as a militarist” on the war in order to combat the Republican accusations that as a Democrat and as a woman she is “soft” and “unpatriotic.” But, Lerner said, Clinton’s pro-war position did not comport with what he knows to be her true “inclinations.”

He predicted it would “backfire for her politically.”

“She’s not going to be able to generate the excitement around her presidential candidacy if she continues to position herself as a female Lieberman,” Lerner said, referring to one of the Senate’s most hawkish Democrats, former vice presidential and presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman.



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