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William "Bill" Clinton

(1946 - )

William "Bill" Jefferson Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States.

Clinton (born August 13, 1946) was born in Hope, Arkansas, as William Blythe III and at the age of fifteen he adopted his stepfather's surname, Clinton.

With the aid of scholarships, Clinton attended Georgetown University, receiving a Bachelor's degree in Foreign Service in 1968 and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa national honor society. He spent the summer of 1967 as an intern for Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. After graduation, Clinton accepted a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

After Oxford, Clinton attended Yale Law School and earned a J.D. in 1973. It was at Yale that he met fellow law student Hillary Rodham. They married on October 11, 1975, and their only child, Chelsea, was born on February 27, 1980.

Clinton returned to Arkansas and became a law professor at the University of Arkansas after finishing at Yale. In 1974, he ran for the House of Representatives but was beaten by incumbent John Paul Hammerschmidt. Clinton, however, was elected Arkansas Attorney General in 1976, a post he held until 1979 when he was elected as governor of Arkansas, a position he would hold until 1993, following the 1992 presidential election.

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 Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Daniel Glickman, Michael Kantor and Robert 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 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, Benjamin 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 Israel-Jordan peace treaty that Rabin and King Hussein 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 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 the Camp David Summit 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.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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