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Advising Presidential Campaigns

I received an invitation to attend an off-the-record meeting at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee with members of the Obama campaign staff. Those in attendance included a handful of representatives of Jewish organizations, as well as Peace Now and J Street.

 

The off-the-record meeting was opened by Ira Forman, who is directing the outreach to the Jewish community, saying, “I appreciate your coming and were you to receive a similar invitation from the Republican National Committee, you would attend and speak with them and give them advice as well.” It was also made clear to us that we were speaking to the campaign committee and not directly to the White House.

 

After some niceties and discussion of various issues, I spoke and suggested that there are three primary issues of concern to our community.

 

I lumped together in the first category domestic and economic issues, including health care and social security. The second area, which Ira alluded to in his introduction as well, was the lack of civility in political discourse today and how the negative antagonistic atmosphere between the parties is turning off so many young people to the political process.

 

Then I said, “And the third area is the ‘elephant in the room’ – Israel and the Middle East.” In addressing this, I knew that there would be some individuals whose positions about Israel would be different than mine. Nevertheless, I acknowledged that there may be differences on some issues, but that there was surely consensus in the Jewish community that Israel should not be singled out as being the primary cause of the problems in the region. I also said that for Jews, the “kishke,” test, is important – whether or not the candidate feels it in his gut. I specifically pointed to the president acting the “right way” when exercising the veto in the United Nations that would have condemned Israel for its settlement activity, but that the good will was squandered by Ambassador Rice’s statement that accompanied the veto and which equivocated significantly on the issue.

 

Finally, I also praised the president’s most recent statement at the United Nations primarily because it forcefully articulated the America’s position of support for Israel. Clearly there was no daylight between the United States and Israel and even more significantly, there was no attempt to try to balance support for Israel by adding supportive statements about the Palestinians. In conclusion I said this is the kind of message that our community has been looking for and waiting to hear.

 

As the only rabbi in attendance, I welcomed the opportunity and thought it was important to give our input so that the candidates know the feelings of the Jewish community and what issues are of concern to us.

 


Also published on Medium.

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Stuart Weinblatt

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt is the President of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. From 2009 - 2014 he served as Director of Israel Policy and Advocacy for the Rabbinical Assembly.
Rabbi Weinblatt is the rabbi of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, a vibrant Conservative synagogue of 650 families he founded in 1988, along with his wife and a handful of families.