A.B. Stoddard: Israel a trap for Clinton

A.B. Stoddard: Israel a trap for Clinton
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As Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE prepares to sell herself as the next leader of the free world, she will want to balance herself somewhere between the Obama administration, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. Congress on a nuclear arms deal with Iran, and between President Obama and Bibi in the spat that threatens the bipartisan nature of American-Israeli bond.

On the issue of Israel, there will be no sweet spot for the former secretary of State. Democrats can only hope she pulls off a safe landing.

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When Clinton finally comes out from behind Twitter as a candidate for president, all questions are fair game: what the terms of a nuclear arms deal with Iran should be, whether Netanyahu should have spoken before Congress without the blessing of the White House, what should be done about those politically expedient comments Netanyahu made before his reelection. Is a peace deal possible under Netanyahu? Where does she stand on a Senate bill that would give Congress more input over the Iran talks? How should the U.S. tackle rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and how can the trust that has been lost between the United States and Israel since 2009 be restored? What say you, Madam Secretary?

It will be relatively easy for Republicans to navigate this newly partisan issue, as each primary candidate attempts to out-do the other over his or her commitment to Israel, the threat of Iran and the toxicity of Obama’s treatment of Netanyahu and Israel all these years. 

Jeb Bush learned this week just how hot the issue has become, when he had to distance himself from one of his own advisers who criticized Netanyahu’s post-election comments. Not only did a spokeswoman for the former Florida governor state that he “disagrees with the sentiments” that former Secretary of State James Baker expressed, but an op-ed published in the National Review on Wednesday made things extra clear. “This is no way to treat an ally ... this is no time for schoolyard antics,” Bush wrote of Obama chastising Netanyahu.

Clinton will be challenged to defend or disown her Israel policy as secretary of State. And the debate will affect her campaign’s bottom line as well. 

The Republican nominee will likely be backed by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and be ardently pro-Israel and hawkish on Iran. At a gathering of Israeli Americans in November, Democrat Haim Saban, a media mogul, joined Adelson in a commitment to supporting Israel and taking a hard line against Iran. He made it clear Clinton has earned his support and that he will do whatever it takes — read: spend — to get her elected. But Saban has criticized the negotiations with Iran and supports legislation to ensure any deal with Iran is submitted to Congress for a 60-day review. He is clearly not interested in the continuation of Obama administration policy on Israel.

Throughout the 2016 primary, the GOP will take aim at Obama on Israel, and, therefore, at Clinton. She wishes she could wait until the general election to address the issue, but the controversy is raging now. Obama has seen to that. Even critics of Netanyahu in Israel are circling the wagons as a result of Obama’s rhetoric about rethinking Israel policy.

Clinton could see a shift in American Jewish public opinion during the next two years. The number crunchers on Team Clinton trying to preserve the Obama coalition should take note of the uptick in Jewish Republican voters since Obama took office in recent Gallup polling. A Democrat is still likely to win the Jewish vote again in 2016, but Obama has upset many Jews in Israel as well as in America. It’s an opening for the next GOP nominee, particularly because Clinton will struggle to turn out as many young voters, African-American voters and new voters as Obama did twice. 

Republicans have already sunk their teeth in to this opportunity. And they won’t let go.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.