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William Jefferson° Clinton

CLINTON, WILLIAM JEFFERSON° (Bill; 1946– ), 42nd president of the United States. Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas. He was attorney general of the state in 1977–79 and then served as governor in 1979–81 and 1983–93.

Although Clinton came from a state with a small Jewish community, he polled exceedingly well among Jewish voters in both the presidential primaries and the general election of 1992. In the general election he polled dramatically better among Jewish voters (80 percent) than any Democratic presidential nominee since Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

His close relationship with the African-American community led more than one African-American leader to remark that Clinton was the first black president. Similarly, his policies, his opening up of the White House to numerous Jewish events, and his remarkable ability to empathize with Jewish audiences led Jewish leaders to claim Clinton as one of their own.

Never before in American history have Jewish Americans had such a role in a presidential administration. Five Jews – Robert E. *Rubin, Lawrence H. *Summers, Daniel R. *Glickman, Mickey *Kantor, and Robert B. *Reich – were part of the Clinton cabinet. Moreover, both of his Supreme Court nominees (Stephen *Breyer and Ruth Bader *Ginsburg), and many other cabinet-level officials (such as UN Ambassador Richard *Holbrooke, National Security Advisor Samuel R. *Berger, Trade Representative Charlene *Barshevsky, and OMB Director Jack *Lew) were Jewish.

Clinton took an intense personal interest in the Middle East peace process from his earliest days in office. Once Israelis and Palestinians reached an agreement in secret talks held in Oslo, Clinton arranged for the PLO's Yasser *Arafat and Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak *Rabin to sign the Oslo Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993.

The president worked with four Israeli prime ministers – Rabin, Shimon *Peres, Binyamin *Netanyahu, and Ehud *Barak – to try to arrange peace accords between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Jordan. He hosted successful early efforts to construct the peace treaty that Rabin and King *Hussein of Jordan signed in 1994; he attended the Sharm El-Sheikh summit in an attempt to shore up Peres' peace efforts in 1996; he hosted Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat at the Wye River conference in 1998; and he attempted to bring about a Golan deal between Syria and Barak in Shephardstown, West Virginia, in 2000. Clinton tried in vain to persuade Arafat to accept generous peace offers from Barak at Camp David in summer of 2000 and again in January 2001 in Washington.

For Israelis he is perhaps best remembered for his close friendship with Prime Minister Rabin and his moving eulogy at Rabin's Jerusalem funeral in which he closed with the memorable words "Shalom ḥaver" ("Goodbye, friend").

Clinton's strong personal commitment to seeking Arab-Israeli peace agreements did not endear him to everyone in the American Jewish community. Some criticized him for investing too much in the peace process and for meeting too often during the peace process with Arafat. But these criticisms did not damage him among the vast majority of American Jewish voters, who continued to support him strongly on both his progressive domestic policies and his Middle East polices. In the 1996 election Clinton captured 78% of the Jewish vote.

Despite the Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton remained very popular with both American Jews and Israelis throughout his second term and into his post–White House years. As late as 2004–5 he remained among the most highly regarded political figures in both Israel and the American Jewish community.


B. Clinton, My Life (2004); D. Ross, The Missing Peace (2004); L.S Maisel and I.N. Forman (ed.), Jews In American Politics (2001).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.