Memoir Recalls Bad Hugs: Hers and His

Published June 13, 2003, issue of June 13, 2003.
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An astute observer of American culture once questioned why anyone would ever buy the autobiography of a celebrity, since the few lines actually worth reading always end up in the newspapers.

In other words, why drop $28 for a copy of “Living History,” Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new autobiography, when we already have been reading for days about how she wanted to “wring Bill’s neck” after learning that he had lied to her for eight months about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Well, for those obsessed with Jewish or Israeli issues, the New York senator’s memoir contains a few nuggets. The romantics in this group might be interested in Clinton’s response to the news that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated.

“I ran downstairs and found Bill surrounded by advisers,” she recalls. “I threw my arms around him and just held on.”

Hillary haters, on the other hand, might prefer to read about a different embrace — the 1999 hug she shared with Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, just moments after the Palestinian first lady had accused Israel of gassing her people.

In her book, Clinton refers to the hug — and the accompanying kiss she received from Suha Arafat — as the “worst” mistake she made during her senatorial campaign.

“Mrs. Arafat spoke before me in Arabic,” Clinton writes. “Listening to the Arabic-to-English translation through headphones, neither I nor other members of our delegation — including U.S. Embassy staff, Middle East experts and respected American Jewish leaders — heard her outrageous remarks.… Had I been aware of her hateful words, I would have denounced them on the spot.”

The New York tabloids happily filled their pages with photos of Suha Arafat planting a kiss on Clinton’s cheek.

“Many Jewish voters were understandably upset with Mrs. Arafat’s comments and disappointed that I had not taken the opportunity to disavow her remarks,” Clinton writes, near the end of the book. “My campaign eventually overcame the fallout, but I had learned a hard lesson about the hazards of merging my role in the international diplomatic arena with the complexities of New York politics.”

The savvy Hillary hater, however, will find the senator’s explanation hard to swallow after reading her account of a 1995 White House tea party that she held for visiting Middle East power wives, including Leah Rabin, Egypt’s Suzanne Mubarak and Queen Noor of Jordan.

It’s clear from Clinton’s own account that Suha Arafat didn’t exactly fit into the first ladies club.

“In the Yellow Oval Room on the second floor, Leah, Suzanne, Noor and I greeted one another like old friends. We did our best to welcome a new member of the group, Suha Arafat,” Clinton writes. She adds, “Each of us tried to make her feel comfortable, but Suha seemed ill at ease.”

Critics will say that more egregious than any attempt to explain away the Arafat hug is Clinton’s claim that she did not know the truth about her husband’s trysts with Lewinsky until he came clean in August 1998. Pundits, including conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, are having a field day with her insistence that she was shocked to learn that her husband had been lying to her for eight months.

While it is true that seemingly everyone in America knew the truth but her — even those of us who were awake enough to realize that there really was a vast right-wing conspiracy plotting Bill Clinton’s downfall — no one has offered a compelling reason to reject the simple possibility that she was in denial about the lengths to which her husband would lie (and cheat).

The most compelling reason to believe that Clinton is telling the truth is because former White House press secretary Mike McCurry says he thinks she is telling the truth.

“It was a very, very painful time, and now that she has written about it, I feel comfortable saying that — that everything that I saw… makes me absolutely certain that the story she’s related in the book is accurate,” McCurry said in an interview with NBC.

Remember, this is a man whose entire public relations strategy was to remain willfully uninformed and to refer all Monica questions to other offices so that he would not get caught in a lie. Why would he fib now?

Yes, Rush, we know, he wants a job in 2008.

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