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July 15, 2009: That Meeting

August 9, 2009

The Monday meeting, of course, with 16 representatives of American Jewish organizations and President Obama, accompanied by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and political adviser David Axelrod.

There has been a bit of time for the dust to settle now — but the communication on this, and the sharing of articles, has been fast and furious. (To all of you, thanks)

There are certain things that must be understood up front: In no way was this a meeting to garner Jewish opinion, with an eye towards allowing it to modify policy. This was a carefully choreographed event in which a well-prepared Obama sought to mollify/bring on board American Jew leaders of a certain stripe.

He played his role well, from what I’m hearing. He’s a master at this sort of thing, which is how he got elected.

But do I believe for a split second that the pressure on us to freeze settlements is only a “family” disagreement, or that he puts as much pressure on the Arabs/Muslims as he does on Israel? Of course not.


What we need to look at is how he behaves, not what he says in such a meeting. Show me, please, the balance in his showcase Cairo talk, in which he singled out the settlements as an issue and vociferously made demands of us, while he offered Iran an outstretched hand and refrained from demanding that they stop their nuclear development. (What’s a nuclear bomb here and there, compared with Jews building homes on “Palestinian” land?)

Do I think it doesn’t matter that he bounces all over the globe, and bows to a Saudi king, but hasn’t seen fit to set foot on Israeli soil since he’s been elected? No, the symbolism of these acts matters.

Have I encountered indications of meetings between Mitchell and the PA Minister of Education designed to work out a plan for revamping the PA school books, which teach jihad? No… But last I looked teaching jihad is destructive to the “peace process.”

Have I heard of a single US demand that the PA rename every official institution or building that is currently named to honor a suicide bomber (a shahid, or “martyr,” in their vernacular)? That would be an easy-to-achieve “token of good faith.” Hey, we’ve taken down checkpoints (something I don’t think we should do) — would it be too much to ask the PA, in return, to stop honoring suicide bombers? There’s an intrinsic link here: Maybe we’d have less need for checkpoints if the PA stopped signaling their people that terrorism is good.

Since inherent rights and moral culpability are not equally balanced in our conflict with the Palestinians, I don’t actually believe that “even-handed” is fair or right. But when you look at Obama’s behavior you don’t even see the “even-handedness” he proudly professes to embrace.


I find it regrettable, but not surprising, that some people do buy what Obama is selling. There is for example, a quote in today’s Post from Rabbi Steven Wernick, who was at the meeting in his capacity as executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: “I am prepared to give the president an opportunity to test his assumptions and his principles…because he reassured me personally, and everyone else there, on the strength of…his and the administration’s commitment to Israel.”

Does Rabbi Wernick have the authority to speak for “everyone else there” with regard to this? Think not. What struck me is that a certain atmosphere was obviously created — easy to do when you’re the president and you’re welcoming people to the White House. Sort of a “bandwagon” mentality.

From what I read, only one person directly challenged Obama during discussion. I am assuming this was Steven Stavisky, president of the Orthodox Union, the most right wing group present. Stavisky put out a statement after the meeting saying that he “remains deeply troubled.”

What is perhaps exceedingly telling is that one representative (identified as male) who was present was willing to give a statement, but only anonymously. (Just as most of those with reservations refused to identify themselves.) What was he afraid of? Was the atmosphere that was created that intimidating? How can he do credible advocacy for Israel when so afraid?

At any rate, this anonymous person offered a serious critique:

“This meeting does not allay my concerns because it confirms that this isn’t just a willy-nilly decision by some Arabists in the State Department but part of a framework Obama thinks will solve all the problems in the region.”


Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who was there in his capacity as president of the Union for Reform Judaism, ended up calling Obama a “friend of Israel.” Not a surprise to me, for I know Yoffie’s positions. But this allows me to come full circle to the issue of definitions. Yoffie is able to term someone who thinks we need to go back to pre-’67 lines “a friend.” I am not.

Similarly, Ira Forman, CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, shared with NBC News Obama’s “fundamental commitment…to Israel’s peace and security.” More throw-away words that can take you off guard if you’re not careful. And if Obama thinks he’s serving our “security” by pushing a “two state solution”?


Obama didn’t call this meeting. Alan Solow, who is chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, requested it. It should be noted that Solow, a Chicago lawyer, is a huge supporter of Obama.

Once that request was made, it was the White House that controlled the guest list. I provide the list at the bottom of this discussion; in several places I have seen references to 16 organizations, but in fact there were 14 organizations represented — in two instances organizations had two representatives in attendance:

Both the president and the president-elect of AIPAC came, and, with Solow, Malcolm Honlein, who is Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents attended. (Malcolm, I will note, is not where Solow is, politically.) That the Conference should be on record with a political position strikes me as inappropriate in any event, as it an umbrella for a large number of organizations with great diversity.

Right wing organizations — with the exception of OU, the most moderate of “right wing” groups — were excluded: JINSA (which I’ll return to in a minute), ZOA, Simon Wiesenthal Center, AFSI, etc. etc.

Leo Rennert, writing in the American Thinker, makes a pungent observation with regard to the blocking of right wing groups (in particular, Mort Klein, head of ZOA, who is a critic of the president): “But one would think that Obama, who of all people is a stout exponent of engaging some of the world’s harshest critics of U.S. policy, would want to accord the same courtesy to Morton Klein.” One would think. But one would be mistaken.

That far left organizations — notably, Peace Now and JStreet, neither of which are friends of Israel — were included, is no surprise.

The rest? Mainstream Jewish organizations — establishment, pretty much, but not exclusively, centrist-left with regard to Israel. But pro-Israel, broadly speaking. How they were selected, and not certain others, I cannot say.


Kennert writes:

“As reported by Politics Daily, the White House tried to keep the meeting under wraps by omitting it from the official public calendar of Obama’s July 13 meetings…Until that is, Politics Daily exposed the omission and the White House only then scrambled to acknowledge it.”



Lastly, here on this issue, I want to cite JINSA (Report #907):

“We in the American Jewish community have varied opinions about Israel, the threats it faces and the options it has to meet the threats. Most of us – liberals, conservatives and those in between – are passionately attached to the wellbeing of the Jewish state. But Israel has a government elected by its people in free and open elections. They choose their government, the government makes decisions and Israelis live with the consequences. We do not, and our government does not.

“…It would be a mistake for an American president to ask us what he should be asking the prime minister of Israel. It would be a mistake for an American president to tell us what he should be telling the Government of Israel. It would be a mistake for an American president to ask us to sell his program to the Government of Israel or to support him in pressuring the prime minister…

“…There are always people – ‘The Jews’ or a new administration – who think they know better than Israel and think the ‘judicious’ application of pressure ‘to do what is in Israel’s own best interest,’ will result in ‘peace.’ It would be a mistake for us – or any group of us – to ask the President to pressure an Israeli government, or cheer when he chooses to.

…”‘The Jews’ who covet their invitation to this – or any White House – and think they know better than the Government of Israel, do a disservice to Israel, to the White House and to ‘The Jews.’

“But mostly to Israel.”



The list:

AIPAC — Lee Rosenberg, President-elect
AIPAC — David Victor, President
American Jewish Committee — Jason Isaacson, Director of Government and International Affairs
Americans for Peace Now — Debra DeLee, President and CEO
Anti-Defamation League — Abraham Foxman, National Director
Conference of Presidents of Major Amer. Jewish Org. — Alan Solow, Chairman,
Conference of Presidents of Major Amer. Jewish Org. — Malcolm Honlein, Executive Vice Chair
Hadassah — Marla Gilson, Washington Director
J STREET — Jeremy Ben Ami, Executive Director
Jewish Council for Public Affairs — Andrea Weinstein, Chair
National Council of Jewish Women — Nancy Ratzan, President
National Jewish Democratic Council — Ira Forman, CEO
Orthodox Union — Stephen Savitsky, President
Union for Reform Judaism — Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President
United Jewish Communities — Kathy Manning, Chair, Executive Committee
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism — Rabbi Steven Wernick, Executive Vice President


I want to spread the word on this: Two marvelous activists, Lori Lowenthal Marcus of Philadelphia and Allyson Rowen Taylor of Los Angeles, have launched a proud Zionist advocacy organization: Z Street. It’s brand new and seeking support.

The group has obtained permits for a huge rally in front of the White House on October 27th – the same week that the anti-Zionist J Street holds its first annual meeting in the nation’s capital.

I don’t see it on the website yet, but ultimately there will be information on how to join. See http://ziostreet.wordpress.com/


Joke of the day (wish I really had one very day): Hamas is accusing Israel of importing gum containing aphrodisiacs into Gaza to corrupt their youth.


As ridiculous as this charge is, it occurs to me that if the Gazan young men were doing more of what an aphrodisiac would encourage them to do, they might actually be less morally corrupt with regard to more serious offenses such as violence, digging smuggling tunnels, and building rockets. That’s the bitter irony here: Hamas is building a sharia society that is supposed to be super pure with regard to sex, but which encourages acts of terrorism against innocents. The world is nuts.





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