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Jewish Leaders Blast Clinton Over Israel Criticism

Zuckerman, Lawmakers, Local Jews Say Secretary of State Not the Hillary Clinton They Used to Know; Hillary Pressuring Israel to Speed up Aid to Gaza

by Marcia Kramer

NEW YORK - In a swift about face from her views as New York's senator, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now hammering Israel over its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks as US Middle East envoy George Mitchell looks on during a press conference following talks at the State Department in Washington. Clinton called for "an independent and viable" Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the goal of a negotiated settlement with Israel. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm) As First Lady, Clinton raised eyebrows when she kissed Suha Arafat.

Since she was then seeking a Senate seat the resulting brouhaha caused her to "re-think" her positions.

"I'm a very strong supporter of Israel," Clinton said back in February 2000.

On Thursday, as Secretary of State she had yet another about face in the form of angry messages demanding Israel speed up aid to Gaza. Jewish leaders are furious.

"I am very surprised, frankly, at this statement from the United States government and from the secretary of state," said Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of the New York Daily News and member of the NYC Jewish Community Relations Council.

"I liked her a lot more as a senator from New York," Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, said. "Now, I wonder as I used to wonder who the real Hillary Clinton is."

Clinton's decision to hammer Israel comes as the Clintons and President Barack Obama are planning to give the Palestinians $900 million toward the rebuilding of Gaza in the wake of the Israeli offensive that was sparked by Hamas rocket fire.

"We are working across the government to see what our approach will be," Clinton said.

"I don't believe that we should be in a position at this point to do anything to strengthen Hamas," Zuckerman said. "We surely know what Hamas stands for as I say they are the forward battalions of Iran."

For some, Clinton's change of position is upsetting.

"I feel it's unfortunate that they don't continue the policy of the Bush administration, which was much more pro-Israel," said Akiva Homnick of Jerusalem.

"I happen to have a lot of family who live in Israel and I feel, personally, when you are dealing with people who are very strong against you, you have to stand up to them," said Tami Davudoff of Kew Gardens.

"Hillary had Mrs. Arafat here and she invited Mrs. Arafat for lunch when she was the first lady," added Babak Chafe of Great Neck. "She is pro-Palestinian 100 percent, really. Of course, we always knew it."

"The easy way to make a peace agreement is to pressure Israel because you can't pressure the Arabs," said Solomon Loewi of Monsey, N.Y.

All this could lead to a chilly reception when Mrs. Clinton arrives in the Middle East next week.

The new U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, arrived in Israel on Thursday with a mission to inject new life into peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

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