Hillary Rodham Clinton’s warm embrace of Suha Arafat, wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, created waves last fall among the Jewish voting bloc that she hopes to draw in her U.S. Senate campaign against New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
But when the first lady on April 12 yanked her endorsement from a charity dinner hosted by an Arab-American group that excludes Israel, she brought on a new wave of acrimony.
Mrs. Clinton told organizers of the Mosaic Foundation’s annual soiree she would not be honorary chair a title she has agreed to for the past two years unless representatives from the Israeli Embassy were invited.
“Under these circumstances, Mrs. Clinton will no longer be able to serve as honorary chair of the Mosaic Foundation event,” a statement from the first lady’s office said.
“That’s not going to happen until there is peace in the Mideast,” countered one disgruntled organizer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Mosaic Foundation was formed by the wives of 17 Arab ambassadors to the United States. Mrs. Clinton has lent her name to the event for the past two years, although she has never attended a dinner.
This year’s May 3 dinner is to benefit Save the Children.
“I don’t think that the needs of children should be caught up in political issues,” said Dianne Sherman, a Save the Children spokeswoman.
Mrs. Clinton lends her name to dozens of charity events. The first two Mosaic Foundation dinners grossed over $1 million. Guests pay $400 for admission, with some attendees donating up to $300,000.
“Hillary is a strong supporter of the peace process and does not want to serve as honorary chair of an event which excludes Israelis,” said her campaign spokesman, Howard Wolfson.
The first lady continues to draw Jewish support in polls, and her decision to remove her name from the Mosaic event could endear her even more.
“Mrs. Clinton has made the right decision,” said Kenneth Bandler, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee. “We are in the midst of an active peace process in which the U.S. people are heavily invested.”
Mrs. Clinton has publicly traced her Jewish lineage, but angered Jews in 1998 with remarks supporting a Palestinian state.
It was her West Bank gaffe with Mrs. Arafat that seriously raised eyebrows among Jews.
In that November incident, Mrs. Clinton silently listened to Mrs. Arafat charge that Israel had been using gas to poison Palestinian children.
While any Democrat nationwide should be able to count on at least two-thirds of the Jewish vote, “some of these natural Clinton constituents are reserving judgment,” said Republican pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick.
Mr. Wolfson flatly denied that. “I think the vast majority of New Yorkers are supporters of the peace process. We’re a long way from the election, and she is not taking anyone for granted.”
Mrs. Clinton last ran afoul of the Arab-American community in July, when she called Jerusalem the “eternal and indivisible capital of Israel.”
Leaders accused her then of making the Middle East part of her “political campaign rhetoric,” according to a statement from the National Association of Arab-Americans.
“This election is going to be decided by the swing vote,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “And we should not be taken for granted.”
Mrs. Clinton has now insulted both groups, he said, which will eventually place the first lady in a predicament.
Still, the state’s 1.6 million Jewish voters account for 9.1 percent of the state’s population while the Arab-American vote numbers around 300,000.
More recently the first lady has appeared to court the Jewish Orthodox vote. She reportedly visited New York City Assemblyman Dov Hikind at his Brooklyn home last week.
The Jewish vote has historically proven itself willing to forgive missteps, though, and perhaps the Arab-American vote will as well.
Or maybe, as one member of that community ventured, the situation is mired in a messy combination of politics and money.
“The largely affluent Israeli groups are going to spend more money, and I think she sees that this will help her,” said Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “Israel has always given more than the Arab-American community. This contributes to the assembly of political power.”