Obama Transition Team Meets the Jews

Friday, December 19th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

After his November 4 election, there was widespread speculation about which Jewish and pro-Israel groups would have access to Barack Obama’s White House – and which would be frozen out.

Thursday’s mass meeting between officials of the Obama transition team and representatives of 29  Jewish groups offered a partial answer.  A wide range of groups were represented at the meeting – from  Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, an aggressive pro-peace process group to AIPAC, the major pro-Israel lobby group.

Also present: Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who told the transition team that a growing number of Israelis now reject a two state solution.  But representatives of Americans for Peace Now, J Street and the Israel Policy Forum were also in the room, urging the new administration to move aggressively on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

Equal time was allotted for domestic and foreign policy issues.  Representatives of the major Orthodox groups – the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of American and American Friends of Lubavitch –  were there, as well as officials of the Reform and Reconstructionist movements.  Several participants noted that there were more women than usual for such meetings.

Topics included the urgent need for an economic stimulus plan, immigration reform, judicial nominations, hate crimes legislation and church-state issues.

NCSJ, a group focused on Eastern Europe, called attention to growing concerns about a reemergent Russia; numerous groups pressed the new administration to focus heavily on preventing Iran from going nuclear.

Several participants praised the transition team’s willingness to listen to diverse views.
“It’s absolutely remarkable the openness and complete willingness to take the time to hear the community’s views on so many issues,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington director for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).  “It’s heartening.”

The meeting was videotaped, and portions will be posted online – another first for a transition team that says it wants to stress transparency.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.