Despite his administration's failure to bring peace to the Middle East, former President Bill Clinton still enjoys rock star-like popularity in Israel. That was amply demonstrated last Sunday night when Clinton received an honorary doctorate at Tel Aviv University from university President Hamar Rabinovich.
Clinton, who arrived earlier that day for a 30-hour visit, spoke at a fundraising dinner to establish a "Clinton Program for American Studies" at the university. He accepted no fee for the speech.
"The response was incredible," said Los Angeles Democratic activist Howard Welinsky, who flew to Israel for the event. "Clinton was like royalty. Everyone wanted to see him, touch him, come close to him."
Clinton covered much of the same ground in his remarks as he did the week before in an address at the Universal Ampitheatre sponsored by the University of Judaism's Department of Continuing Education. He chastised Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for obstructing the peace process, but urged the Israelis, "Don't quit on the peace process."
Israeli television carried the speech live on both channels. "No country received from him the extraordinary attention Israel did," wrote the Yediot Ahronot daily in an editorial during the visit. "Clinton was and remains the most admired leader in Israel. No Israeli politician approaches his popularity." Clinton visited Israel four times while in office. Last week marked his fifth visit to the country since 1992.
At least eight Southern Californians accompanied Clinton. They were Welinsky, businessman Paul Goldenberg; Sandy Glass, Karren Ganstwig; American Israel Public Affairs Committee leader Ada Horwich and her husband James; Sam Witkin, executive vice president of the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, and entertainment magnate Haim Saban.
Rabinovich developed a close relationship with Clinton when he served as Israel's ambassador to the United States from 1993 to 1996. He headed Israel's negotiations with Syria during the premiership of Yitzhak Rabin. "This was a real coup for Tel Aviv University and Itamar Rabinovich," Welinsky said.