After about a week in office, President Obama has made some policy/personnel decisions that have both pleased and disturbed groups in the Jewish community. While Jews (like everyone else) are vitally concerned about the economy and the military challenges facing the country, there are several issues that have had particular resonance for us and have therefore elicited some immediate reactions. While clearly it’s too soon to make any reasoned judgments on the president’s performance, we thought we’d hazard an initial evaluation, based on those issues.
In general, Jewish groups are pleased that the president apparently seems to recognize the importance of dealing immediately with the situation in the Middle East. However, his choice of George Mitchell as special envoy to that region has not pleased everyone. While organizations such as Israel Policy Forum, J Street, and Americans for Peace Now are pleased with the appointment, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman is a bit more wary, believing that Mitchell’s reputation for being “even-handed” may not be what’s needed here. Recalling that the Swiss were neutral in World War II, Foxman said that American policy in the Middle East “hasn’t been ‘even handed’ – it has been supportive of Israel when it felt Israel needed critical U.S. support.”
On another front, groups ranging from the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center to the American Jewish World Service have applauded the new president for repealing the “global gag rule,” a ban on U.S. funding for family planning services provided by overseas NGOs offering abortion services or counseling as part of their programs.
Said a RAC statement: “In a world where poor reproductive health remains the leading cause of death for women, and complications from unsafe abortion result in approximately 67,000 deaths and at least 5 million serious injuries annually, today marks an important step forward.” The Reform group, together with the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, also hailed Obama’s executive orders prohibiting torture.
Meanwhile, Jewish groups each have their own “wish list” for new executive orders and changes in policy. Hadassah, for example â€“ with its vast experience in the area of health care in both Israel and the U.S. – is particularly concerned with the issue of stem cells, hoping that the new president will soon sign an executive order permitting embryonic stem cell research.
As for other issues on which Jews have expressed strong opinions â€“ energy independence, unemployment, health care, the environment, human rights issues and hate crimes legislation â€“ we’ll have to wait and see.