A popular community supper quiz question is: What country other than Israel has a Jewish president and prime minister? The answer is Ukraine. A more complex question might be: Who is the most influential Jewish person on the planet? Friends of Israel might well say the Prime Minister Naftali Bennett if they have caught up with the idea that Benjamin Netanyahu has been replaced as prime minister.
Those who buy into historic stereotypes might be inclined to say Baron David de Rothschild, the titular head of the investment banking dynasty, David Solomon, the chairman of Goldman Sachs, or social media tycoon Mark Zuckerberg. All would reject the trope, still propagated on social media, that Jews somehow run the world. It is totally unacceptable and a form of antisemitism with ancient roots.
Another approach might be to cite the heads of the major Jewish representative groups: Ronald Lauder at the World Jewish Congress or Moshe Kantor at the European Jewish Congress. A much as one might admire all that they do – looking after the interests of the Jewish people in the chanceries of the world and keeping the flame of Shoah memory alive and relevant – they don’t remotely control
a global policy agenda.
In fact, to all of these Jewish leaders in their own fields, I would say none of the above. It has long been my view that the most influential Jewish person is likely to be in Washington. During the financial crisis of 2008-9 and beyond it was the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Ben Bernanke who, using his expertise of the Great Depression, saved the financial system from a wipe-out.
His name is unlikely to trip off anyone’s lips any more than my current nominee, a little-known Democrat functionary who has never held public office. But with 78-year-old President Joe Biden currently occupying the White House, his Chief of Staff Ron Klain could well lay claim to the ‘most influential’ title.
A thoughtful lawyer hailing from the relatively obscure and solidly conservative Midwest state of Indiana, Klain has already been labelled as ‘prime minister’ by the Republican opposition. The choice of sobriquet is a double-edged sword used by Republicans as a means of deprecating the fading intellectual and rhetorical powers of the 78-year-old president.
Nevertheless, the ever wise and liberal New York Times managed to elevate the title into a headline and describe Klain as “the most influential chief of staff of recent vintage”. It is certainly a contrast to the four battered, bullied and abandoned chiefs of staff who served in Donald Trump’s fractured administration.
Klain has spent much of his adult life in government. After Harvard Law School, he became general counsel and a chief of staff to Vice-President Al Gore in President Bill Clinton’s administration. He served as Vice-President Joe Biden’s top aide when President Obama was in the White House. He earned the title of ‘Ebola czar’ for leading the US government’s response to an epidemic that reaped havoc across Africa but miraculously didn’t become a threat to the Western democracies.
He was the first name on the list as Joe Biden formed his new team, which may be the most Jewish in American history, with both the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the Treasury Secretary, former Federal Reserve chairman Janet Yellen, both drawn from the Jewish community. Blinken, a long-time associate, describes Klain as “the premier staff person of my generation”.
Klain has learned that when you are dealing with a veteran president, famed for his verbal slips, a steady hand is required on the tiller. He is just that, diligently sticking to the task of orchestrating policy. He is working from the White House to secure the president’s eye-popping £2.6 trillion post-Covid stimulus plan.
He is the administration’s troubleshooter, on hand to calm ruffled Congressional feathers when, for instance, the Vice-President Kamala Harris makes a political misstep. His training as a chief of staff in three successive Democrat-led administrations has made him the nation’s fixer and Oval Office doorkeeper in chief – and my ‘most influential’ nominee.