Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has been under intense scrutiny for accepting political contributions and speaking fees from an assortment of unsavory special interests, ranging from Wall Street firms and drug companies to weapons industry giants.
Clinton, in turn, has stood by her donors with energetic and at times bizarre rationalizations.
But that hasn’t always been the case.
Back in 2000, during a heated US Senate race in New York, Clinton came under attack for accepting political contributions from Muslim groups whose members were targets of a smear campaign generated by one of the Islamophobia industry’s most discredited operatives.
Without hesitation, Clinton condemned her Muslim supporters, returned their donations and refused to meet with Arab and Muslim Americans for the remainder of her campaign, all in the spirit of “wooing Jewish voters,” as The New York Times put it.
The Clinton campaign did not respond to The Electronic Intifada when asked if Clinton stands by her treatment of Arab and Muslim supporters during the 2000 campaign.
Today, Muslim voters say their top issue is Islamophobia and strongly favor Clinton over her opponent, Bernie Sanders, by 52 to 22 percent, according to polling conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
As Clinton slams Republicans for their anti-Muslim rhetoric, it is worth remembering her past willingness to throw Muslim and Arab Americans under the bus for political gain.
“Blood money” ’
It all started with a hit piece in the New York Daily News that went after Clinton for accepting $50,000 in political contributions from the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), a mainstream Muslim political group.
The article painted the AMA as an advocate for terrorism against Israel, based on allegations that some of its members had expressed support for the Palestinian right to resist Israel’s military occupation.
A career Islamophobe, Emerson famously blamed Arabs for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, a US army veteran and right-wing white extremist.
That didn’t stop Clinton’s opponent, Republican member of Congress Rick Lazio, from capitalizing on the smears, nor did it stop Clinton from joining in on the hate.
Lazio called the donations “blood money” and demanded Clinton give back the cash.
As part of her effort to court New York’s Jewish voting bloc, Clinton surrendered to bigotry and returned the $50,000 raised at a $500 per ticket AMA event in Boston that summer, calling the statements attributed its members “offensive and outrageous.”
She also returned $1,000 to the American Muslim Council (AMC) based on Emerson’s accusations that one of its board members had expressed support for Hamas.
Both the AMA and AMC were mainstream political organizations that belonged to an umbrella group, the American Muslim Political Coordination Council Political Action Committee, which regularly held fundraisers for Democrats and Republicans and had endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2000.
The group’s president, a professor of political science at California State University named Agha Saeed, insisted his comments and those of his fellow AMA members had been distorted by Emerson.
“I support the peace process,” Saeed told The New York Times. “But people living in this country who are citizens have the right to criticize the Israelis. I insist upon having that right. If they kill people, we are going to criticize them.”
But the damage was done. The story had spread from one media outlet to the next like wildfire, fueled in part by Clinton’s own attacks on the AMA.
Hillary piles on
Clinton argued that she had no idea the AMA had hosted the fundraising event, even though she was photographed accepting a plaque from its Massachusetts chapter president.
Clinton and her surrogates went on to accuse the AMA of deliberately sabotaging her campaign.
“I resent this organization that claims to have hosted this event,” Clinton said at a press conference outside City Hall. “I feel that I was taken advantage of, and I see that as offensive.”
The purpose of the press conference was to prove her unconditional loyalty to Israel.
To bolster her case, she was joined by prominent New York Jewish supporters, including former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and Liberal Party chairperson and Holocaust survivor Ray Harding, who told reporters, “there is a conspiracy at hand by these groups … to bring Hillary Clinton down.”
Incensed by the disturbing spectacle, Arab and Muslim leaders directed most of their ire at Lazio for bringing racism and bigotry into the campaign, though some noted Clinton’s unsettling complicity.
As Salon reported at the time, “rather than criticizing Lazio for baiting and stereotyping Arab Americans, candidate Clinton has been complicit in the complete isolation of Arab voters in New York.”
When the AMA declared its intention to support Clinton anyway, the Clinton campaign refused to accept the endorsement. Even George W. Bush, who was also endorsed by the AMA, didn’t stoop that low.
It wasn’t long before the scapegoating evolved into open incitement when the New York Republican party placed some 500,000 phone calls to potential voters falsely linking Arab and Muslim political groups to al-Qaida’s October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer, off the coast of Yemen.
Clinton slammed the phone calls for tying her to the groups and demanded that Lazio issue an apology not to the Muslims and Arabs who were slandered, but “to the families that lost their sons and daughters and loved ones on the USS Cole.”
The AMA responded that it was “deeply troubled” at the sight of “a prominent politician once again succumb[ing] to anti-Muslim McCarthyism” (“Hillary Clinton ‘outraged’ by terrorism link,” United Press International, 29 October 2000).
The shameless posturing got so out of hand, the Daily News, the original source of the smears, castigated the candidates for “the worst kind of political exploitation of New York’s ethnic diversity: Frighten New York Jews by depicting Muslims as bogeymen.”
But long before the AMA debacle, the Clinton-Lazio race was already dominated by a battle for Jewish voters at the expense of Arabs and Muslims.
Clinton in particular was “treating the violent crisis in the Middle East strictly in terms of playing the ethnic political percentages,” reported The Observer, noting that “even the most pro-Israel individual might have been struck by the reluctance of either candidate to earmark a syllable of compassion for the most explicitly blameless of Palestinians” – children.
The pandering got so out of hand, AMA board member Ghazi Khankan felt compelled to remind observers, “This is a race for the US Senate, not the Knesset.”
Social justice champion?
Clinton’s victory in 2000 marked the start of an ongoing pattern of demonizing Palestinians to secure the support of pro-Israel Jewish voters and donors like billionaire media mogul Haim Saban.
He has spent at least $6.4 million on efforts to get Clinton into the White House.
Clinton has promised Saban that as president she would join forces with him to work against the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel.
During the AMA controversy, Clinton said, “I am open to all supporters, but I will not silently stand by when incendiary comments are made that support violence.”
Of course, this standard has never applied to Saban or any other Clinton supporters who routinely call for violence against Arabs and Muslims.
What’s truly amazing is that despite this pattern, Clinton has successfully rebranded herself as a social justice champion in the current Democratic battle for minority votes.
But if Clinton’s contradictions have demonstrated anything, it’s that her words cannot be trusted. At the end of the day, she will not hesitate to exploit racism, bigotry and greed if that’s what it takes to further her own political ambitions.