Jews mostly at ease with Obama appointees
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Jews mostly at ease with Obama appointees

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Gen. James Jones, left, a former NATO commander, tours Afghanistan on Oct 4, 2005. President-elect Barack Obama reportedly is ready to name Jones as his national security adviser. NATO

WASHINGTON ““ Barack Obama’s “team of rivals” is turning into a collection well known to the Jewish community, which should comfort those who expressed apprehension about who the president-elect would appoint to his cabinet.

News AnalysisObama is fulfilling pledges he made during a grueling election campaign by reaching out to notables in both parties with deep wells of experience.

While Obama has yet to announce his foreign policy team formally – he publicized his economic team Monday – a welter of leaks has lined up U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of state and former NATO commander Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser.

Some Jewish observers are uneasy over who might prevail in a rivalry between Clinton, who is seen as pro-Israel, and Jones, about whom some Jewish observers have expressed reservations.

Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC foreign policy chief who now writes a blog hosted by the Middle East Forum, has raised concerns about Jones that have redounded in the conservative Jewish world through e-mails. Rosen’s piece on Jones was titled “Jones to be National Security Adviser; wrote harsh report on Israel.”

Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state, added Jones last year to her team of generals monitoring the “road map” peace plan launched by President Bush in 2003. Jones reportedly wanted to publish a report that was harshly critical of Israel’s failure to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian security force and to allow more freedom of movement for the Palestinians.

But the report, which was never published, also was tough on the Palestinian force, expressing doubts about its readiness to meet Israeli expectations that it would contain terrorism. And in public forums and as NATO’s commander in chief, Jones has been friendly to Israel and its regional security concerns.

As for Clinton, her deep ties to the pro-Israel community date back to her days as the first lady of Arkansas, when she developed an admiration for the Jewish nation after introducing Israeli early-childhood programs in Arkansas.

She endured some criticism from pro-Israel groups while her husband was president – for her infamous embrace of Yasser Arafat’s wife and for being a stalking horse for Palestinian statehood, floating the idea without President Clinton’s administration formally proposing it. But as a U.S. senator, Clinton has been solidly pro-Israel, emphasizing the need for Palestinians to temper incitement against Israel as a precondition for peace.

Her likely deputy will be James Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser under President Clinton. Deputy secretaries of state often serve as day-to-day point men in dealings with the Middle East, and Steinberg’s record is reassuring to the pro-Israel establishment. He has advocated an increased role for Arab states in helping to create conditions for a Palestinian state, long the position of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Some in the pro-Israel community have expressed concerns about others who might make it into Obama’s inner circle, noting that after the election it emerged that Obama had been speaking frequently with Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush who supports making eastern Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state and advocates putting an international peacekeeping force in the west bank.

In an op-ed column in the Washington Post of Nov. 21, Scowcroft argued in favor of those positions in a piece that was co-authored by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the pro-Israel lobby.

But Steven Spiegel, a UCLA political scientist who advises t he Israel Policy Forum, said the fact that Scowcroft and Brzezinski felt they needed to make their case in a newspaper rather than privately to Obama demonstrates that they don’t have the president-elect’s ear when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Obama’s deliberative style means that he’s unlikely to press Israel into an accelerated peace process, especially with Hamas terrorists still controlling the Gaza Strip and making a comprehensive deal unworkable.

“He’s very pragmatic, during the campaign and in his appointments,” Reich said of Obama. “For those who want him from day one to put two feet in the peace process, it’s not going to happen. It’s going to be deliberate; nothing’s going to happen overnight.”

JTA

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