An “outreach” meeting was held today by Democratic Senate leadership with a number of Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, the Conservative Union, the UJC, AIPAC, J Street, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Union for Reform Judaism, Bet Tzedek, the American Jewish World Service, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the Jewish Labor Committee, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Orthodox Union and Rabbi Levi Shemtov of Chabad. Senators in attendance included Stabenow, Levin, Whitehouse, Feingold, Reid, Burris, Cardin, Kaufman, Dodd, Brown, Menendez, Udall, Bennet (of Colorado), Specter, Franken, Kerry, and Klobuchar.
I am informed that many of the Jewish representatives took this valuable opportunity to make pitches on domestic issues having nothing specific to do with Israel or Iran. Their affiliation with Jewish groups gives them the chance to make their pitch on the liberal wish list of concerns on everything from abortion to cap-and-trade. Nevertheless, those with knowledge of the meeting said each group that was called up began by saying that Iran was the Number One issue for the community.
Rabbi Shemtov gave a pointed address, declaring that they are all for peace. He said: “Show me a Jew who is against peace and I will ask what is his biblical source. Show me a Jew who is for Palestinian suffering and I will ask his source. Just as there are many ways to be pro-Israel, there are many ways to be pro-peace.” (A dig at the left-wing groups that posit themselves as the ones in favor of a peaceful solution to the conflict.)
Both the ADL and the JCPA raised the issue of Iran. The most vocal on foreign policy, according to those with direct knowledge of the meeting, were Howard Kohr of AIPAC and David Harris of the AJC. Kohr spoke on Iran and “issues on the ground” in Israel. He pointed out the progress made by Israel in the West Bank, including the removal of over 150 roadblocks, and the economic progress that has achieved working with the Palestinians despite a worldwide recession. He explained that this is what is possible when Israel and the Palestinians work together. He took to task the Arab states that have not stepped up to help the PA. On Iran, he spoke in support of sanctions to aid the Obama administration engage Iran on more favorable terms and increase the pressure on Iran, to which Sen. Levin and Sen. Dodd responded favorably.
Two sources not associated with his organization singled out Harris, who spoke passionately about Obama’s one-sided Cairo speech, the lack of recognition of Israel’s historical narrative, and the apparent double standard that the Obama administration is now employing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Sen. Lautenberg assured everyone that Obama was a staunch friend of Israel. J Street’s representative, despite his eager requests for recognition, was not called on by the senators.
Perhaps the tide has now turned and at least some American Jewish leaders are stepping to the forefront on Israel and Iran. If so, it would be a welcome development.