Hillary goes for pragmatism

NEW YORK — The United States must not use foreign aid as leverage against Israel to thwart an arms deal with China, said Hillary Rodham Clinton in a recent interview.

"I don't think this should be a political football in the foreign-aid debate," the first lady and candidate for U.S. Senate from New York said in an hourlong meeting with editors and staff at the paper's Manhattan offices. "We have to take the attitude that we need to be using quiet diplomacy and use whatever intelligence we have available to persuade Israel of our position."

Israel's intention to sell advanced radar planes to China has spurred congressional efforts to cut a portion of Israel's aid. That move is alarming pro-Israel lobbyists.

The matter should be handled "behind closed doors with the Israeli government," commented Clinton. "I don't think it's something that should be turned into a cause celebre on the floor of Congress, especially at this delicate stage of the peace process."

By contrast, Clinton supported the use of U.S. aid to nongovernmental organizations in the Palestinian-controlled territories as leverage to persuade the Palestinian Authority to excise anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric from government speeches and school textbooks.

Clinton, who early in her campaign had taken heat on her views on a Palestinian state and her failure to address controversial anti-Israel statements by the wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said she has since developed a keen understanding of concerns about Israel and Jewish issues.

"I realize that one of the obligations of a United States senator from New York is to be a strong, constant and vital voice on behalf of Jewish interests and Israel, and that it is such a unique additional role that one assumes."

She expressed familiarity of the pain of the Flatow family of West Orange, N.J., whose daughter Alisa was killed in a terrorist attack in Israel, and the Busch family of Long Island, whose son, Gary, was killed in a police shooting in Brooklyn. Clinton said she would support a bill by New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would allow Americans to collect civil judgments against foreign countries sponsoring terrorism, which would help the Flatows obtain a $247.5 million judgment against Iran. That judgment has been blocked by the president.

The August shooting of Gary Busch, Clinton said, raised questions about "the way we train and equip and supervise our police officers." She supported the call by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who represents Brooklyn and Manhattan, for federal action in the case.

Clinton's strict interpretation of the constitutional wall separating church and state came up in several issues.

On charitable choice, which would allow the distribution of social-service dollars through faith-based organizations, Clinton called the idea "a dangerous proposition."

"Creating some kind of government agency that would make determinations between different groups [is] very troubling, and I don't think it's necessary," she said.

She presented a mixed view on the merits of religious-school education. At one point, she said it was "a choice that I support." At another, she cited the peace process in Northern Ireland and said Catholic and Protestant schoolchildren there had "never crossed the paths of anyone different than themselves." Bringing children together, she said, "is a social good that we should be promoting."

Clinton dismissed legislation passed in both houses of Congress to allow tax-free investment accounts for any education expenses as a "back-door way to vouchers."

Clinton was circumspect on the subject of Jonathan Pollard, the former naval intelligence officer imprisoned for espionage on behalf of Israel.

Asked if she would support the release of a classified memo by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger considered to have led to Pollard's life sentence, Clinton said only that she was "troubled by the apparent lack of transparency and the alleged disproportionality of the treatment."