There was a time when Administrations seeking to gauge the political temperature of the political community might call in a Steven Rosen, Malcolm Hoenlein, or Abe Foxman and feel confident that what they heard represented the communal consensus. And invariably, the tune they sang was straight pro-Israel and slanted toward Likud.
Thank God, that’s no longer the case. When Dan Shapiro, Obama’s Jewish liaison, decided the transition team should hear from the Jewish leadership, he included the usual suspects. But it was also important to hear from J Street, Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek (ZOA was also included and JTA’s Ron Kampeas gave him far too much copy as usual). Some of these groups have never been so close to presidential power. It’s practically unheard of, and confirms the new-found clout of Jewish peace groups.
One of my informants who knows a thing or two about such events claims the meeting was a relatively useless dog and pony show. Getting representatives of 29 groups into one room guarantees almost nothing useful will be said or done. While I certainly concede he is right, I still think it means that access to the White House will no longer be denied to the peace lobby.
Another Jewish editor pointed out to me an even more signifcant aspect of this meeting I wasn’t aware of: in the past, the Conference of Presidents was seen as the Jewish “umbrella” network under whose auspices these meetings always took place. No longer. The Conference had no part in the meeting except as one of the 29 invitees. Consequently, Malcolm Hoenlein refused to attend due to “scheduling difficulties.” Could it be this might be Obama’s “payback” for Hoenlein’s attempt to foist Sarah Palin on the Jewish community as a major speaker at an anti-Iran rally outside the UN just before the election?
I understand Mort Klein had a full-fledged hissing and grunting attack about the enemies of Israel with whom he was sitting in the room. He even complained the roster of invitees couldn’t possibly be balanced since the Obama people hadn’t invited one of his kissin’ cousin right wing groups, Americans for a Safe Israel.
I am hoping that a more moderate Administration Middle East approach translates into a more pragmatic legislative agenda regarding Israel relations and less bellicose proposals championed by Aipac’s supporters.
No one’s claiming that Aipac or other Israel lobby groups won’t be heard since they command powerful megaphones. But they don’t own the PA system as they used to. It’s a new day.