When Diane met
By Ron Kampeas · December
How did it go in that speech? Folks in red
states who hate eavesdropping, folks in blue states who believe
in an awesome God?
Add to that folks in pro-Israel groups who want settlers in
the farthest reaches of the West Bank and folks in, ummm. ....
other pro-Israel groups who don't.*
President-elect Barack Obama's transition team's first
official encounter with the Jewish community suggested a
substantial change in how his administration will deal with
Jewish groups: Present were the array of dovish pro-Israel
groups, including the Israel Policy Forum, J-Street, Americans
for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.
Of those groups, only IPF made the occasional appearance at
meetings with Bush administration officials - and that was
because the group has always been careful to cast a non-partisan
tint to its pro-negotiations posture, effusively praising the
Bush administration's peace-brokering efforts, however
infrequent those were until a year or so ago. Other more liberal
groups at the table - including the Reform movement's Religious
Action Center - were also occasionally invited, but the emphasis
is on "occasionally."
What was remarkable about Thursday's meeting is that the
Obama team also reached out to the other side, including the
Zionist Organization of America. Dan Shapiro, the transition
official who handled foreign policy at the meeting, made it
clear he wanted to hear all voices.
The Bush administration's infamous tetchiness at criticism
seemed to be a thing of the past: ZOA has slammed Obama's
transition team for including strident Israel critic
Samantha Power in a post that barely registers above chief cook
and bottle washer, but has failed to praise it for installing
true-blue pro-Israel types like Jim Steinberg in more senior
And that was fine with the dovish types, or at least with
Diane Balser who directs Brit Tzedek, a group that has lobbied
in recent years for increased aid to the Palestinians, even as
ZOA has lobbied against it.
"The Obama team said they were open and understood everyone
had a seat," Balser told me. "To acknowledge there is more than
one view on Israel, that we're not monolithic - I consider that
a step forward for us."
Balser was so enchanted by the new order, that she sought out
the ZOA's Mort Klein afterwards, and they had a civil, even
pleasant conversation, she said, and discovered something in
common (aside, of course, from a love for Israel, however
differently slanted): Each, it turns out, has a sibling who
thinks their politics are, well, nuts.
Klein confirmed the conversation. "I tell my brother he's
adopted, and he reminds me we look alike," he said.
Klein said he thought Balser "was delightful and pleasant,
although her group's views are not delightful and pleasant."
Klein wasn't so sure about the breadth of the transition
team's outreach, noting that Americans for a Safe Israel, which
is similarly hawkish, was not present - although he was not sure
they were not invited.
Klein said he took the opportunity during the meeting to
contradict some of the dovish groups' positions, pointing out
shortcomings in the Arab League's peace plan (it is unclear, for
instance, on the status of Palestinian refugees and leaves open
the possibility of a mass return.)
He also said that he corrected misimpressions of support for
a two-state solution, noting that at least two Israel parties in
the Knesset are opposed - and that support among American Jews
has dropped in recent years to less than 50 percent.
*The Red State/Blue State nexus doesn't work here - Balser is
from Boston and Klein is from Philadelphia.
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Alliance for Justice and Peace
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