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On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review March 5, 2001 / 10 Adar 5761

Sam Schulman

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The Forward connives at Clinton's smear --
THE new editors at the Forward have demonstrated repeatedly their loyalty to the reputation of former President Clinton's as the best friend Israel and the Jewish people ever had in the White House.

They'll even hold the former President's coat while he scapegoats Israel and "the Jews" in the national media.

In an editorial in its most recent issue, the editors bravely lash out at those who have "cheapened the legacy of Jewish suffering" by suggesting that Clinton was seeking to share the blame for his Marc Rich pardon with the Jews in his mendacious February 18 op-ed piece in The New York Times. To believe this, according to the Forward, a "massive" campaign by Jewish and Israeli authorities would have had "somehow" to have no effect on the president.

And yet a much more forceful campaign, much more strenuously and publically conducted, to commute the spy Jonathan Pollard's sentence, did "somehow" have no effect on the president. Unlike the mission to seek the pardon of Marc Rich, the Pollard campaign was avowedly Jewish and Israeli. The difference between the Pollard and Rich campaigns was that Mr. Clinton - correctly - saw no personal or political advantage for himself in showing mercy to Pollard. After all, when Jewish voters did not punish Mr. Clinton at the polls for breaking his Wye River promise to Netanyahu to release Pollard - why should he worry about Jewish opinion about such an arcane figure as Marc Rich?

How important was the Jewish element in the Rich pardon? Oddly, even the editors of the Forward accept as a first principle that Mr. Clinton cannot be trusted to explain his own motives: "What's still unknown is what motivated Mr. Clinton in deciding whom to favor." The Forward editors are willing to accept as possible motives just about anything - from cronyism, to corruption, to community pressure - the one thing they insist must be ruled out is the possibility that Mr. Clinton deliberately exaggerated a few letters and phone calls from U.S. Jews into a massive campaign which he was powerless to resist.

Frankly, you Jews ...

And yet, clearly, Clinton did just that. I will repeat what the Forward calls "this astounding allegation." A mendacious effort to name the Jewish community and Israel as co-conspirators is still being conducted among the Clinton camp. In last week's testimony by presidential aides John Podesta and Beth Nolan, they insisted that they believed that the poor President's arm was being twisted by Israeli interests. According to Nolan, "it certainly seemed that he was not going to grant it, and then that Mr. Barak's phone call had been significant.'' Again, in the absence of any evidence, what else could have driven the President except the Jews?

Of course, there's a problem of fact here. Barak did not make multiple phone calls on Rich's behalf, and did not make a major push for Rich's pardon. Barak's office says that "the prime minister made one call and the matter was only raised at the end of the phone call, where Barak stressed Marc Rich's contribution to Israeli society." A source close to Barak told the Jerusalem Post, "expressed great surprise that people close to Clinton have passed the responsibility for Rich's pardon on to Israel. 'It is obvious that a marginal telephone mention did not play a deciding role in the granting of the pardon. Even if it is convenient to say so, it is untrue, especially when other requests by Barak in which he invested much greater effort, like [Jonathan] Pollard, were not granted.'"

Yes, it is true that a few important Jews and Israelis made some effort to write on behalf of Marc Rich, and those who did were wrong to do so. It is also true that Clinton and his cronies are doing is in fact describing these letters as a massive and irresistible campaign on Rich's behalf. It is also true that the contacts Clinton received on Rich's behalf cannot honestly be described as a juggernaut which no one could oppose - a campaign comparable in intensity, say, to the Pollard campaign. It simply wasn't, and the Forward editors who have covered the Pollard campaign know that it wasn't.

But why would Clinton bother to avow such an untruth? Because it feels good and plays well. Because such an explanation would be credible to those who already think the Jews and Israel have an unwarranted influence in high places.

In the very same op-ed piece, Clinton told several lies about those who supported Rich's pardon, which even The New York Times gagged at. Why can't the Forward accept that the former president is also lying about the intensity of Jewish support for Rich, just as he certainly lied about the extent to which Ehud Barak supported a pardon? Clinton's attempt to smear the Jews does not mean that he has anything personal against us - he's shown again and again that he will use any weapon handy to defend himself when he is in a tight corner. But what kind of radical innocence could possibly drive the Forward to defend Clinton when he is so clearly making cynical use of Jewish loyalty? Have they no shame --- or merely no brains?

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2000 by Sam Schulman