WASHINGTON — The State Department’s New Year’s Eve release of over 5,000 pages of former secretary of state and current Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s emails from her private server reveals correspondence with one-time adviser Sidney Blumenthal regarding Israel, with Blumenthal citing the work of his son, writer Max Blumenthal.
The younger Blumenthal, author of the book Goliath, is a fervent critic of Israeli policies and a self-described anti-Zionist. The senior Blumenthal referred his son’s work to the secretary of state, sending her transcripts and links to articles. On at least one occasion, Clinton appears to have asked that one of the younger Blumenthal’s articles be printed out in multiple copies for distribution.
The Times of Israel has previously reported on correspondence between Sidney Blumenthal and Clinton regarding Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The latest emails provide further insight into the opinions of the secretary’s confidant.
In March 2010, Blumenthal plugged his son’s work — this time, playing up links between evangelical Pastor John Hagee and Netanyahu — in the context of an article (written by a different writer) discussing a controversial Pentagon briefing on US relations with Israel and the Arab world.
The briefing had dealt with the lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American concerns over a growing perception among Arab leaders that the US was incapable of standing up to Israel.
“I’ve included an article by Max Blumenthal, who spends his time on this issue and plans to move to Israel for about 6-8 months to write a book,” Blumenthal wrote to Clinton. “He tracks a lot of things that do not appear in the mainstream press.”
Clinton instructed a staffer to print out five copies of the articles, though “without the heading from Sid.” It was not clear from the email which articles from the email were supposed to be printed — the original article, which was featured in Foreign Policy; the Blumenthal piece; or both.
Blumenthal also sent Clinton a piece by leftist Israeli Uri Avnery, who also analyzed the Pentagon briefing by leveling a damning critique against Netanyahu. Clinton asked Blumenthal, in response, how she should use this material in an upcoming talk she was supposed to have with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Blumenthal promised to give Clinton suggestions, but the response either never came or was not included in the declassified correspondence, even though Clinton wrote to Blumenthal later in the day, asking if his recommendations were forthcoming.
The book by Max Blumenthal to which Sid Blumenthal referred would turn out to be Goliath, a work released in 2013 that excoriated Israeli policies and that was itself widely critiqued. The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg described it as “an unpleasant book” and the Nation called it “the I Hate Israel handbook.”
According to The Nation’s media editor Eric Alterman, the younger Blumenthal’s “case against the Jewish state is so carelessly constructed, it will likely alienate anyone but the most fanatical anti-Zionist extremists, and hence do nothing to advance the interests of the occupation’s victims.”
While Max Blumenthal worked on Goliath, his father continued to send his articles to Clinton. The elder Blumenthal emailed the secretary of state on a number of topics, but was not employed by the State Department. Clinton was allegedly blocked from hiring the longtime adviser and Clinton Foundation employee due to bad blood remaining between Blumenthal and President Barack Obama’s confidant, Rahm Emanuel, over Blumenthal’s tactics in support of Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries.
The emails indicate that he remained in close correspondence with the secretary of state throughout her tenure in Foggy Bottom.
In 2012, Blumenthal sent his son’s article in al-Akhbar, “The Bibi Connection,” to Clinton, who then relayed it onward. The article emphasized Netanyahu’s intent to campaign against Obama’s reelection in 2012, arguing that “Netanyahu’s shadow campaign is intended to be a factor in defeating Obama and electing a Republican in his place.”
The article reflected upon Netanyahu’s ties to prominent Republicans such as Newt Gingrich, as well as the prime minister’s right-wing pedigree. It noted that when his father, Benzion Netanyahu, “returned to Israel to launch a political career, the elder Netanyahu was rejected by Menachem Begin, the (then-)Likud Party leader, who, as right wing as he was, considered him dangerously extreme.”
Clinton was not, however, entirely on board with the senior Blumenthal’s ideas where Israel was concerned.
In April 2010, Blumenthal offered “a note of skepticism” regarding the disclosure of intelligence reports that Syria had Scud missiles and could transfer them to Hezbollah.
“Does Israel need reassurance on its own claims here? Unless this is part of a larger diplomatic movement that involves serious pressure to come soon on Israel,” Blumenthal wrote to Clinton. “Otherwise, back to square one, making statements without evidence and disclosing that the Obama administration is spooked by the Israeli inspired propaganda campaign against it involving everything from ads signed by Eli Weisel [sic] to statements signed by Harry Reid, et al, encouraging more of same. Unless of course you actually have the intel nailed down.”
Clinton responded tersely, informing Blumenthal simply that “skepticism not in order.”
Blumenthal quickly retracted his suggestion, responding, “Got it. Thanks. Skepticism endemic in sectors of Intel and military because of Bush hangover. I’d have Panetta or Blair inform Congress and have it reported. Let them stand on the intel. Understand public discussion of scuds from diplomatic standpoint. Provocative of Iran, foolish of Syria, yet changes nothing strategically.”
Still, Blumenthal could not keep Netanyahu out of his semi-retraction, hinting at missed peace opportunities by the Israeli leader: “Of course, if Bibi were to have engaged Syria in negotiations taking its previous gestures seriously…” he wrote, before changing the subject without concluding the hypothetical.
The emails, which were released as Washington was largely shut down in preparation for the New Year, which is a federal holiday, shed light on other policy questions concerning Israel addressed by the first Obama administration.
In April 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who had left her position as the State Department’s director of policy planning some two months earlier to return to her faculty post at Princeton University, wrote to Clinton suggesting that as the Arab Spring emerged, the time was right for the US to recognize Palestine.
Citing a no-longer available link to a piece by Eliot Abrams, Slaughter suggested that “it would allow you and POTUS to have accomplished the goal POTUS laid out at UNGA last year and would make it much harder for Syrians, Iranians, even Saudis to use this issue to divert domestic opposition, strengthening the seismic shift across the region to create fault-lines around reform/no reform instead of Arabs/US-Israel.”
Slaughter’s email reinforces claims that the Obama administration saw the Arab-Israeli conflict as central to the region’s “fault lines” — a belief that Dennis Ross asserted in his recent book was prevalent among administration members.
Clinton’s interest in Slaughter’s suggestion was indicated by a follow-up email to a staffer, reading “pls print.”
The emails also revealed a passing interest in other hot topics in Israeli politics beyond diplomacy. In December 2011, top Clinton aide Cheryl Mills forwarded the secretary a lengthy report from the embassy in Tel Aviv titled “Segregation and Harassment of Women Increases in Israel As Ultra-Orthodox Community Moves into Secular Cities.”
While few emails that mentioned Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas contained more than verbatim transcripts of his statements, multiple emails included personality analyses of Netanyahu offered by US and Israeli media outlets.
In reference to an analysis of an interview by former Netanyahu adviser Uzi Arad in the left-wing +972 Magazine, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman wrote that “Uzi’s been on the outs with Bibi for a while, but what he describes seems consistent with Bibi and Barak’s efforts in recent years to change out advisors who don’t agree with them, especially on Iran. That was behind (former IDF chief of staff) Gabi Ashkenazi’s departure, as well as the former head of the Mossad. Bibi has surrounded himself with people like (then-national security advisor Yaakov) Amidror who don’t offer opinions that diverge from Bibi’s predispositions.”
Feltman later clarified the context of Arad’s comments further, emphasizing that “you should be aware that the 972 blog on which the comments below were published is highly partisan, anti-BB, opposed to military action against Iran. Far left wing in Israeli political terminology.”
The emails also indicate the existence of a lengthy correspondence over attempts to reconcile Israel and Turkey following the events of the 2010 Gaza flotilla, but the emails are so heavily redacted as to expunge any clue as to what was actually discussed.
Another series details attempts in 2010 to broker direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with significant input from the parties involved in the Arab Peace Initiative.
The State Department was supposed to release 82 percent of Clinton’s nonconfidential emails from her tenure as secretary of state by January 1, 2016. The tranche released on the eve of the deadline fell short of that goal, and an additional 1,274 emails have been upgraded to “Classified” — effectively blocking their release. The State Department has indicated that it will release additional emails in January.