The Obama campaign, which has had problems in the past with its perceived — sometimes inaccurately — support of Palestinian interests over America’s best ally in the Middle East region, Israel, didn’t do itself any favors two weeks ago with pro-Israeli and mainstream Jewish groups.
That’s when Obama’s Jewish liaison, Dan Shapiro, along with several foreign-policy and Middle East transition team members, sat down with about 29 representatives of Jewish organizations. The difference: several high profile Israeli peace organizations were given prominent play at the meetings. Those groups included: Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, J Street, and Brit Tzedek.
Not invited to the meeting — under the guise of a “scheduling conflict” — was Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a middle of the road Jewish coalition group that has traditionally taken a lead role in setting up coalition meetings with national political figures.
Hoenlein gained some notoriety earlier this year for his attempts to get then-vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin invited to speak at an anti-Iranian rally in New York during United Nations week.
“President Obama had an opportunity to reconfigure the Jewish lobby and activist network here in the United States, which has long been controlled by the neo-cons,” says an Obama foreign policy transition adviser, who also has been identified in the past as an adviser to Obama on European affairs. “Meetings like this aren’t as important to the policy as they are in sending a message about whom the administration will seek advice and support from. This meeting makes it clear the peace movement is going to have a strong voice.”
But over the past week, those voices have been frustrated with Obama’s refusal to comment on the Israeli response to Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel. And while some of Obama’s aides, such as former peace negotiator Dennis Ross, have been getting briefed on U.S. activities surrounding the Israeli defense response, Obama has not immersed himself in the briefings beyond his daily national intelligence briefing in Hawaii.
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