Inside the Middle East
September 23, 2010
Posted: 1618 GMT

Former American President Bill Clinton and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair (CNN IReport)

Suggesting that Russian immigrants in Israel pose an obstacle to a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, former U.S. president Bill Clinton stepped into the mire of Middle Eastern politics this week and prompted a wave criticism from Israeli politicians including the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.   

Clinton, speaking at a panel discussion of his Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday, told audience members "An increasing number of the young people in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem. It's a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian."   

Referring to the over one million Russians immigrants who have come to the Jewish state since 1989 Clinton remarked "They've just got there, it's their country, they've made a commitment to the future there...they can't imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it."   

The controversial comments, first reported by the website of Foreign Policy magazine,  come as the Obama administration, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, mediates high-stake direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians in an attempt to reach a historic peace agreement within the next year.   

In Israel reaction to the Clinton's remarks has been extremely critical. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed "regret" over the comments late Wednesday and said "As a friend of Israel, Bill Clinton definitely knows that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have contributed a great deal to the advancement, development and strengthening of the IDF and the State of Israel."   

During the course of his comments Clinton recalled a 2000 conversation he had with then Israeli cabinet minister and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky in which he asked why Sharansky could not support the Camp David peace proposal he helped broker. Sharansky's response according to Clinton was 'I can't vote for this, I'm Russian... I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you."   

Clinton went on to say that Sharansky "was nice about it, a lot of them aren't" referring to Russian immigrant's attitudes toward land for peace proposals.   

In a statement to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Sharansky denied ever making such comments to Clinton and added "I am particularly disappointed by the president's casual use of inappropriate stereotypes about Israelis, dividing their views on peace based on ethnic origins. I must add that these are uncharacteristic comments from a man who has always been a sensitive and thoughtful listener and conversation partner"   

Israel's nationalist political party Yisrael Beiteinu headed by Israeli foreign minister and former Soviet Union born Avigdor Lieberman also condemned Clinton's comments accusing the former president of "meddling in the internal affairs of another country" and scolding that he "forgot who turned down his far-reaching offer which demanded painful concessions from Israel's side, it was in fact the chairman of the Palestinian Authority Yasser Arafat"   

CNN was unable to reach representatives from Clinton’s office via phone or email for comment, but in an interview with CNN earlier this week Clinton expressed his optimism that a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians could be reached calling a deal "imminently doable" but said the Palestinians made a mistake in 2000 not accepting the Camp David proposal commenting that "Arafat flaked out".

Posted by:
Filed under: Clinton •Israel •Palestinians •Peace Talks •U.S.

Share this on:
Sharon   September 23rd, 2010 5:00 pm ET

America's unshakable friendship with Israel is the equivalent of having an unshakable friendship with the USSR.

The biggest difference between Israels and Russia's relationship with America is Israel sends more spies to the USA and the USA sends more aid to Israel.

pete D   September 23rd, 2010 5:29 pm ET

Clinton told it like it is. get over it murdering jews

pete D   September 23rd, 2010 5:30 pm ET

Clinton told it like it is. get over it financial terrorist jews

Bill   September 23rd, 2010 7:28 pm ET

Way to go Bill. Since 16% of Israel's population are Russian immigrants,
why dont they get all the money we send them from Russia. Then we can say, " free at last, thank you Lord we are free at last."

miriam   September 23rd, 2010 9:54 pm ET

These are irresponsible comments from someone who should know better than parroting the rhetoric of the Israeli far-left.

Military service in Israel is mandatory and the army should reflect the make-up of the population with three exceptions. Israeli Arabs do not have to serve, the ultra-orthodox have been controversially exempt since the re-establishment of the state and finally the far left who selfishly leave defending their right to live to others as a result of their paciifism, loss of nationalism and loss of identity, characteristics they share with their political partners in Europe and elsewhere.

Not only does this third group refuse to obey Israeli law by refusing to serve their country, they also attack those who do and who exhibit any love for their country, namely the national religious and seemingly the "Russians" just because there is one right-wing party in Israel led by a former Soviet immigrant.

If anything, this opinion demonstrates the discrimination shown against the religious and immigrants within Israeli society coming from those who supposedly stand for equal freedoms and rights for all.

Perhaps it also indicates the fact that Soviet immigrants, who have had their own struggles adapting to life in a free democracy after years of religious suppression and discrimination under communism, have developed a stronger Israeli identity than the spoilt, post-nationalist, paciifist left-wing who seem more intent in aiding those who wish to see Israel's destruction.

John A   September 24th, 2010 7:08 am ET

Miriam, you could have reduced your lengthy blog to one sentence i.e. Israel is a fake state.

Most Jewish immigrants are not practicing Jews, they have no historic connection with the holy lands. They go to Israel as their lives will be subsidized by American taxes and they will able to build homes on cost free land stolen from Palestinians.

The simple solution to the middle east is that Israel offers Palestine an equal share of land with equal access to water supplies. With peace based on equality, Israels security will be improved. Israelis can then start to repay all the tax dollars which they have used to fund their history of illegal expansion.

Ariely   September 24th, 2010 9:03 am ET

Long time not hear your voice Ms . Clinton.

The November elections are not promising for the Democrats lead by ""OBAMA THE CHANGE?

Are you Mr Clinton the additional value?
*to the Islamic ambassador in USA," OBAMA THE CHANGE"?
*offering Islamist more legitimacy worldwide without receive any mutuality from the Muslims?

Mr Clinton pls considers to be the "CHANGE "democrat voice demanding to stop the whole selling of moral and values.

Mr Clinton- President Clinton was different compared to the citizen Mr Clinton.
Demand to CHANGE;
- The leading by impressive TV imaging
-Charismatic speeches, not backed by facts.

!!! Covering the emptiness of" OBAMA THE CHANGE!!!

Mr Clinton- Demand to deal with the main issues:
Which lead to worldwide terror.
USA is the big satin. End of democracy. Denying human rights. Main terror supporter.
Don't permit the world to be threatened by terrorists protected by Iran NUKS.
*Avoid repeating the root cause of many conflicts due artificial borders.
Remember: Belgian Flames. Basques.Scoots, Irish,balkans,kashmir, cyprus, kurds, russia,africa.
Demand that the solution will lead to:

Israel will hand over to Palestinian government land inhabited by Arabs from Israel and Jews from settlements will be governed by Israel.
Both Arabs and Jew will remain in their current homes – nobody will have to move physically.

Mr Clinton- can you "CHANGE; the emptiness of president : "OBAMA THE CHANGE"?

miriam   September 26th, 2010 3:14 pm ET

John A,

Israel is a sovereign state, the national homeland of the Jews, re-established in 1948 in accordance with the legally binding resolution of the League of Nations.

Your simple solution has failed repeatedly with the Arabs refusing offers of even more than an "equal share".

Before any so-called "occupation" or mention of any "Palestinian" state, Israel was attacked by Arab armies and terrorist organizations. Before the re-establishment of the Jewish state, Jewish communities in the Holy Land were attacked and massacred. Israel withdrew completely from Gaza and rockets rain down on surrounding communities.
The security of the Jewish state is vulnerable to any potential Hamas or other take-over of the West Bank should the weak PLO/PA be over-run. Nevertheless, Israel continues to negotiate in an attempt to grant the Palestinians an independent state.

Jews do not need to be "practising" to have an historical connection to the Land. Jews are not just a religious group but a nation with a history and a culture centred around the Holy Land.

US aid is military and not economic, and almost all repaid.
Homes are built and bought on land that has been legally purchased. If not, they are illegal under Israeli law as they would be anywhere else in the world.

2122wisdom   September 27th, 2010 12:11 am ET

israel have to kiss the great u.s feets every day,because if was not for the u.s,israel would never ever existed,not in a million year,because all the jews would have disapeered from the map of the earth,and all the homeles russians would not finde a home in israel.thank you mr clinton,former president of the great land of united states of america.

Smith in Oregon   September 27th, 2010 4:14 am ET

Israel had better hope and pray the computer worm attack on the Germany-American Siemen's industrial control modules in Iran and now expanding thru-out the world DOESN'T get proven to have Israeli Connections. If so, Germany would slap Israel like a rag doll and place existing and future military weapon's transfers and sells from Germany to Israel in a great deal of jeopardy.

Siemen's is a well respected company in America and America's manufacturing base widely uses Siemen's industrial control modules. It would be an extreme abuse of governmental power for America's NSA to have done that themselves risking a very large profit and client loss of Siemen's, the strong and utter condemnation of Germany and the outrage of the German people.

Who's next General Mills, Proctor and Gamble? The country that did that to Siemen's will eventually be found out and receive a very deserved retribution for trying to destroy a world wide business with nations all around the world.

John A   September 27th, 2010 2:07 pm ET

You forgot important facts again. The violence started with the first middle east terror groups Irgun and the Sterngang. They were Jewish!

In 1947 war the Arabs deployed a small token gesture army against Israels much larger force, to save the Palestinians from Jewish terror groups Irgun and Sterngang. These gangs had the full backing of the new Israeli state and her American weapons, but they committed war crimes under the name of terror groups so Israel would not be blamed for the mass murder. The Arabs wanted to stop the Jewish atrocities when they sent a fraction of their armies to help the defenceless Palestinians.

The 1967 war by admission of Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion was started by Israel. Israel attacked Egypt and at the same time Israel sunk the USS lIberty which was off shore and monitoring actions. Israel killed American service men in an attempt to prevent the world from knowing how the war started. But later even David Ben-Gurion claimed Egypt did not have enough soldiers on its boarder with Israel to pose any threat.

Miriam your account of history is nothing more than what Israel and American Jews have cooked up. But your lies are coming to an end as the world now sees Israel as the true aggressor!!

miriam   September 27th, 2010 8:05 pm ET


Trust you to immediately blame Israel.

It's about time you realized that parroting the rhetoric of the Iranian leadership puts you firmly on the wrong side of history.

There are worms attacking high tech all over the world, including Israel. What is important is the ability to protect systems from such attacks.

Perhaps the US and Germany should be embarrassed that Siemens is still operating in Iran. It's rather hypocritical to impose sanctions and then be found to be violating such policy. I wonder who'll receive the retribution?

miriam   September 29th, 2010 12:28 pm ET

John A,

History goes back further than the 1940s.

Even further than the 1920s when Arab attacks on Jewish communities left many Jews massacred and forbidden by the British to defend themselves in order to appease the Arabs.

Violence in the Middle East did not start in the 20th century, nor in the previous three millenia.

The background to the 1967 war preceeded June or even May 1967 and the US didn't provide weapons to Israel when she was invaded in 1948, let alone to the Irgun or Stern Gang during their brief existences.

It is very clear what a simplistic, vague and innacurate interpretation you have of history, invented to serve your dishonest, biased and hateful agenda.

John A   October 4th, 2010 10:05 am ET


"History goes back further than the 1940s". But Israels history does not.

Get it? Has the penny dropped? Or has a tin foiled hat slipped in front of your eyes?

Oladipo Akinyemi Omole   October 4th, 2010 2:48 pm ET

Greetings Kevin.
Ex-President Bill Clinton's observation about Russian Immigrants and Settlers in Israel is profound and outstanding.It's an allusion to the existence of other racial and ethnic groupings and nationalities in Israel without which, to say the least , a comprehensive and lasting resolution of the challenges in the region would be possible.It's truly outstanding and commendable.Israel has become a melting pot of sorts, like the United States, if you will and the world could only hope the Arab League and the PLO Factions and the terrorists see it that way and allow reason to prevail.They should change their bi-polar stance at peace meetings especially at this auspicious moment in the history of the Middle East.The lost Clinton Initiative at Camp David in 2000 was a very costly opportunity that was squandered by a largely self-centered and misguided Palestinian Leadership then.Even Ex-President George. W. Bush couldn't also make Arafat's PLO reason.It's hoped that next week, when the Arab League meets with the Palestinian Leadership, they would consider these issues and the aid President Bush gave to the PLO.The world should continue to pray to God Almighty or Allah as Muslims call him, because ultimately the solution(s) will come from him.
The world would remember Bill Clinton as an outstanding and extra-ordinary least I would.

shane C   October 5th, 2010 3:43 pm ET

This is all so exciting. Since I'm part Native American Indian and need to find a nice piece of land in the USA that my ancestors lived on. It’s only been a short 150 years, not like Israel which was much older. I will go and burn, throw stones and scare the residence out.

In fact, everyone in the world should trace their heritage back and claim what was theirs.

And if they ask for a deed I will simple say that God promised me this land. Just ask him.

Isaiah Tor   October 6th, 2010 12:28 am ET

I find Mr Clinton's statements highly reprehensible. The simple historical fact remains that for millenia the Jews, including the Russian Jews have viewed that land as their land promised to their forefathers as the Bible so reveals. The fact that the IDF counts among its ranks such Israelis of such strong aspirations and beliefs, the fact that 16% of Israelis speak Russian, who are unable to view an Israel divided, is much less a "staggering" impediment to peace, as Hamas' explicit and implicit vow to destroy the state of Israel. If Mr Clinton can tolerate convictions of a polarised kind under US democracy (evidence of which we see increasingly in the US domestic political scene of late), I find it hard that he should single out this so-called section of Israeli society, who are a "different Israel", people who operate under the auspices of Israeli democracy, when they have the democratic rights to be who they are, to propound their legitimate views, beliefs and convictions without fear or favour. Mr Clinton may have made mention of this "issue" in passing, but in view of the dignity of his position, this is by no means fair play. Peace is not made because there is a singularity of views and purposes in the nations seeking such peace; if that was so very few peace agreements would be satisfactorily and conclusively made in world history. And indeed it is sufficiently clear that the view of this "different Israel" as nurtured by ancient traditions and hopes is not the real problem; the views of a Hamas, that there should not be a Jewish state, the nation of Israel at all, categorically supported by nations like Iran, is the most salient and vicious obstacle against peace. Or are we to account the aggressors as worthy of more placation, whilst the party who is genuinely moving towards peace should receive undue and disproportionate critical scrutiny?

Allah is great   October 6th, 2010 4:38 am ET

I voted for Clinton twice I must be smart.

James   January 2nd, 2011 9:03 am ET

So, whats the difference between HAMAS who won't recognize Israel as a jewish state and the hardline Israeli parties such as Yisael Beiteinu that won't recognize Palestine as an Arab state?

subscribe RSS Icon
About this blog

Welcome to the Inside the Middle East blog where CNN's journalists post news, views and video from across the region. This is also a place where you can start the discussion so please keep your comments coming. We highlight not only current news stories but also anecdotes and issues that don't always make the top of the headlines.

Read more about CNN's special reports policy

Watch the show

Inside the Middle East airs the first week of every month on the following days and times:

Wednesday: 0930, 1630,
Saturday: 0430, 1830,
Sunday: 1130

(All times GMT)