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July 14, 2009
Jewish leaders get back of the bus treatment from Obama
President Obama held a one-hour meeting with more than a dozen U.S. Jewish leaders on July 13 -- a session the White House tried to keep secret and off-the-record. The White House also was careful to exclude Jewish leaders it deemed too inimical to the president's Mideast agenda.
While the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations approached the White House to set up Obama's first formal meeting in the Executive Mansion with a constituency that overwhelming voted for him in November, it turned out to be a belated, carefully orchestrated damage-control exercise.
The encounter of Jewish leaders with Obama came well after his far higher-priority outreach to the Muslim world during previous trips to Turkey and Egypt, when in each instance he avoided stopovers in Israel.
In the meantime, by ratcheting up pressures on Israel to make unilateral concessions on settlements without getting any peace overtures in return from Palestinians and Arab leaders, Obama sent shock waves through the ranks of a growing number of Israel's supporters in the U.S.
So it was time to pull out the presidential charm and charisma to allay such concerns and criticism, but without granting U.S. Jewish leaders full first-class treatment at the White House.
As reported by Politics Daily, the White House tried to keep the meeting under wraps by omitting it from the official public calendar of Obama's July 13 meetings. The calendar noted that the president would meet with labor leaders at 1:15 PM, with a soccer team at 2:20 pm, and participate in an urban policy symposium at 4 PM. But the 3 PM session with Jewish leaders somehow didn't make it on the list of presidential engagements. Until that is, Politics Daily exposed the omission and the White House only then scrambled to acknowledge it.
While the Conference of Presidents sought the meeting, the White House carefully controlled the list of leaders of 16 Jewish groups who were invited to meet with Obama.
Notably on the invitation list were J Street, an anti-AIPAC group bankrolled by billionaire George Soros with an agenda to pressure Israel to do all the heavy lifting and taken enormous security risks in peacemaking efforts, and American Friends of Peace Now, with a similar agenda.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive editor of J Street, rushed out after the meeting and immediately sent an e-mail to the Daily Kos gloating over his success in informing Obama that he's absolutely on the right track and fully in sync with the views of most American Jews. Ben-Ami labeled Jewish groups and leaders who think otherwise as negligible members of a "vocal minority." The Daily Kos, incidentally, is one of the most vociferously anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian radical sites in the blogosphere.
While J Street and American Friends of Peace Now were welcomed at the White House, Team Obama conspicuously snubbed a far more dedicated supporter of Israel -- Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
The Jewish Telegraph Agency speculated that Klein may have been boycotted by Obama because the ZOA president recently said Obama could turn out to be the "most hostile" U.S. president in Washington relations with Jerusalem.
But one would think that Obama, who of all people is a stout exponent of engaging some of the world's harshest critics of U.S. policy., would want to accord the same courtesy to Morton Klein, whose views of this administration are nowhere near as denunciatory as the invectives directed against Obama by the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez.
Yet, Morton Klein was kept out of the way at a safe political distance.
It'll be interesting in the next few days to see whether rank-and-file U.S. supporters of Israel will fall for Obama's attempts to keep them in his corner.