Staying on the offensive in the latest New York Senate campaign controversy, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized opponent Rick Lazio again today after a photo surfaced of Lazio shaking hands with Yasser Arafat.
“People should be held accountable, especially when their words and actions aren’t the same,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters after a campaign event in Scarsdale today.
The photo, taken in December 1998 and obtained by ABCNEWS from the White House Sunday, shows Lazio shaking hands with Arafat and broadly grinning.
The White House released the picture one day after Lazio sharply criticized both Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, his opponent for New York’s open Senate seat, for their own greetings of controversial foreign leaders.
“I think we send the wrong message when we embrace, whether it’s Mrs. Arafat or Fidel Castro,” Lazio said on Friday.
Last fall, Mrs. Clinton sparked a controversy by kissing Arafat’s wife, Suha Arafat, after a speech in the Middle East during which Mrs. Arafat claimed Israelis had used poison gas on Palestinian women and children.
In July, the first lady defended the embrace, saying “some of you may or not have ever been to the Middle East, but a kiss is a handshake” there.
Campaigning Sunday in upstate New York, Lazio defended his actions, saying there was a “big difference” between his greeting of Arafat and President Clinton’s handshake with Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the United Nations Millennium Summit last week, an act derided by Lazio and other prominent Republicans.
“I would not shake Fidel Castro’s hand,” Lazio told reporters in upstate Laningsburgh. “The difference is, this is a person who we’re involved in peace negotiations with.”
Mrs. Clinton Holds Her Ground
When asked about the photo Sunday, Mrs. Clinton said it was “just another example of Lazio saying one thing and doing another.”
But Lazio blamed the White House for the controversy, saying, “It sure sounds like taxpayer money was used once again to further the Clinton campaign.”
Lazio added, “It’s typical of this White House, they’re willing to say or do anything including potentially break the law in order to try and affect this campaign.”
Mrs. Clinton, talking to reporters before attending a church service in Brooklyn, said “from the White House’s perspective he attacked the President.”
When questioned about a possible political motive in the release of the photo, Mrs. Clinton said, “You’ll have to ask the White House about that.”
The first lady, however, acknowledged that she knew about the photo release, saying, “We need to make sure people in New York have all the information needed to cast an informed vote.”
White House Cites Request
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told ABCNEWS Sunday that Lazio was making too much of the timing of the photo’s release.
“He’s protesting a little too much here,” said Lockhart. “We had a request for the picture and we released it. We get requests for photos all the time.”
Asked if President Clinton knew about the release, Lockhart said, “I’m sure he was aware of it,” but said it was not the president’s decision.
Lockhart indicated he authorized release of the picture, which was first published in Sunday’s New York Post.
Political observers question the White House’s decision, but say there is nothing illegal about releasing the photo.
“It raises very serious questions,” says Scott Harshbarger, President of Common Cause. “You’d think this would be something they’d be very careful about.”
But Charles Lewis, Executive Director of the Center for Public Integrity, says releasing photos is “totally discretionary,” adding “there are no rules, no laws about the use of photos.”
The photo comes as both candidates court the Jewish vote in a tight campaign. Due to her embrace of Suha Arafat and her 1998 call for a Palestinian state, Mrs. Clinton has struggled to gain the backing among New York’s Jewish community that Democrats usually enjoy.
A Quinnipiac University survey released in August shows Mrs. Clinton leading Lazio among the Jewish community 52 percent to 36 percent, a slimmer margin than other Democrats have held while winning state-wide races.
Mrs. Clinton also had to contend with reports in July, which she strongly denied, that she used an anti-Semitic slur in 1974.
—ABCNEWS’ Eileen Murphy, Stephen Yesner, Josh Gerstein and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Clintons Campaign Together
For the first time in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate candidacy, her husband appeared with her on the campaign trail.
President Bill Clinton, who knows a thing or two about hard-fought campaigns himself, appeared with his wife, the leading Democratic Party contender for New York’s open Senate seat, at an event focusing on violence in the entertainment industry at the Jewish Community Center in New Rochelle.
“This happens to me often, and I’m sure it will more and more now that Hillary is involved as a candidate, but very often I get to speak last and everything that needs to be said has already been said,” the president quipped.
Endorsing the Federal Trade Commission report on media violence that he requested last year, Clinton said, “The American people will give the entertainment industry a period now to fix this, but something has to be done.”
He added that the first lady has a “lifetime of commitment” to the issue.
For her part, Mrs. Clinton said she wanted the entertainment industry to “look very carefully” at the recommendations in the FTC report.
“This report sounds another loud and clear alarm to the industry … if they fail to meet the challenge voluntarily, then I along with others will support appropriate action to protect our kids,” said Mrs. Clinton.
—ABCNEWS’ Tamara Lipper contributed to this report.