Clinton Campaign Emails: Refer to Israel Only When Speaking to Donors

By Patrick Goodenough | October 25, 2016 | 4:36am EDT
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in July 2012. (AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, File)

( – Newly leaked Hillary Clinton campaign emails reveal internal discussions about how – and for which audience – the Democratic presidential nominee should discuss Israel, an issue of importance to many American voters.

A June 2015 email to senior campaign staff, sent from the private address of leading Democratic donor Haim Saban, said it was important for Clinton to draw a line between herself and President Obama on Israel – but without criticizing the president.

The email was among a batch released by Wikileaks on Monday. The Clinton campaign and Obama administration have accused Russia of being behind the theft of thousands of campaign emails, in an attempt to influence the election.

Saban, a billionaire entertainment investor, is a staunch supporter of Israel. The email from his address pointed out that the share of Jewish support for Democratic presidential nominees had dropped between 1992, when Bill Clinton won 80 percent of the Jewish vote, and 2012, when Obama won 69 percent.

(The U.S.-Israel relationship hit rocky patches at times during the Obama administration. Obama’s 69 percent of the Jewish vote in 2012 was a sizeable drop from 78 percent when he won the presidency in 2008).

“She needs to differentiate herself from Obama on Israel,” said the email, which was sent to campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign manager Robby Mook. “It can easily be done w/o criticizing the President, and this so that she can recapture the 11% lost between 2012 and 1992.”

The email highlighted three things Clinton should focus on: speak out against anti-Semitism and the anti-Israel boycott movement; reaffirm U.S. commitment to Israel’s security; and “anything else your research tells you the Jewish community is sensitive to.”

“This is NOT a NY or California issue,” the email from Saban’s address said, “it is a Florida one.”

Other emails released on Monday include a back-and-forth among top campaign staffers as they went over an early draft of Clinton’s campaign launch speech in the spring of 2015.

One issue that came up was whether she should talk about Israel, with some staffers proposing that she should bring that issue up when talking to donors, but not to the Democratic base.

Jake Sullivan, a foreign policy adviser for the campaign, suggested adding a line about “standing up for our allies and our values, including Israel and other fellow democracies, and confronting terrorists and dictators with strength and cunning.”

But senior communications advisor Mandy Grunwald appeared to think that was unnecessary at an event that was not for fundraising: “I though[t] this was largely for her TP [talking points] with public events not fundraisers. Do we need Israel etc for that?”

Campaign chief strategist Joel Benenson also seemed to feel it was not necessary to bring up Israel, arguing that the only people making much of foreign policy at the time were Republican primary voters.

“Why would we call out Israel in public events now?” he asked. “The only voters elevating FP at all are Republican primary voters. To me we deal with this in stride when an[d] if we are asked about FP.”

From Sullivan came the pithy response: “She was Secretary of State.”

Campaign manager Robby Mook weighed in, agreeing with Benenson: “I'm w Joel. We shouldn’t have Israel at public events. Especially dem activists.”

Sullivan conceded partially: “I won’t fall on sword over Israel but we need more than climate in that paragraph.”

Campaign speechwriter Dan Schwerin then proposed a base paragraph that mentions “allies” and “fellow democracies.” He suggested Clinton could insert a reference to Israel when speaking to donors:

“What about this as a base, and then she can drop in Israel when she’s with donors:  Fourth and finally, we have to protect our country from the global threats that we see, from terrorists to dictators to diseases – and the ones that are still over the horizon. We have to assert confident American leadership to shape global events rather than be shaped by them. That includes taking on global warming and those who continue to deny that it exists. And it means always standing up for our allies and our values, especially our fellow democracies.”

Mook and Benenson agreed.

In the end, Clinton’s campaign launch speech, delivered on New York’s Roosevelt Island on June 13, did contain a reference to Israel: “I’ve stood up to adversaries like Putin and reinforced allies like Israel,” she said. “I was in the Situation Room on the day we got bin Laden.”

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