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Obama to Meet With U.S. Jewish Leaders at White House

5 years ago
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On Monday, President Obama meets formally for the first time with the heads of more than a dozen major Jewish organizations, and while some domestic issues are expected to be discussed, Iran's nuclear threat and Obama's demand for an Israeli settlement freeze also will be on the agenda.

Though there is a longstanding tradition of presidents meeting with Jewish leaders -- that is, most members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations -- the White House did not want to highlight this meeting in the Roosevelt Room by including it on Obama's Monday schedule.

The president will see labor leaders at 1:15 p.m., the Columbus Crew soccer team at 2:20 p.m. and deliver remarks at an Urban and Metropolitan Policy Roundtable at 4 p.m. Not on the daily lineup is his 3 p.m. meeting with the influential group of Jewish leaders, coming in the wake of Obama's June 4 demand in Cairo for Israel to stop expansion of West Bank settlements. (Update: The White House decided to disclose the meeting Monday morning--after this column was posted.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted Obama's pressure to halt the growth of settlements -- especially without concessions from Arab governments. Obama views a settlement freeze as a key step to moving forward with an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In his Cairo speech, Obama said, "Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

Alan Solow, who chairs the Conference of Presidents, told me, "There will be a variety of viewpoints in the room." While the groups have differing approaches to U.S.-Israeli policy, they "are all unified in a common bond, whether from the left or the right" in keeping Israel safe and secure.

"There are nuances and differences between various people and organizations as to the best approach," he said. "It is good for Obama to hear from people who may not have the same approach he does. And for Obama to explain his approach."

Solow said he asked for the meeting because Obama has been in office almost six months, and "it made sense to me; this was a good time to do it and the administration agreed." Solow is especially well connected to the Obama White House. A Chicago attorney and head of the Conference of President since January, he has known Obama since the 1990s, when they both lived in Hyde Park.

I'm told that the list of invitees was put together by the Obama administration and includes three organizations not included in Bush White House meetings -- Americans for Peace Now, which has been opposed to settlements for years, J Street, organized to provide a counter-viewpoint to the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). When the GOP holds the White House, the NJDC's counterpart, the Republican Jewish Coalition is invited.

In addition, Obama will meet with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Orthodox Union, United Jewish Communities, Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Jewish Women.

Obama's liaisons to the Jewish community are Susan Sher, who is also chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama, and Danielle Borrin, who is also on Vice President Biden's staff.

"Monday's meeting is a chance for the President to meet with key leaders from various Jewish American groups to have a discussion about important issues," White House spokesman Shin Inouye told me in an e-mail exchange.

One Jewish organization leader -- not Solow -- told me: "My guess is there will be frank discussion on U.S.-Israeli relations and specifically on the administration demand on a settlement freeze and Iranian nuclear proliferation.

"There is not a lot of consensus on these issues. . . . There are people who have a lot of consternation with Obama pushing for a confrontation with the Israelis. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the meeting."

The White House put out a list of who attended the meeting on Monday afternoon.

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


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