Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Jewish Groups Convene For Obama Transition Meeting

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on December 19, 2008

Politico via Huffington Post

barack-obama-capitolHigh-ranking officials with Barack Obama’s transition team met for roughly two-and-a-half hours with a wide range of Jewish groups that encompassed nearly the entire ideological spectrum.

The meeting, which involved 29 organizations ranging from hawkish (Zionist Organization of America and, to a lesser extent, AIPAC) and conservative (the Orthodox Union) to Democratic (the National Jewish Democratic Council) and progressive (J Street, Peace Now), took place in the transition’s Washington D.C. office on Thursday afternoon.

Reflecting the variety of viewpoints at the table, a host of foreign policy and domestic topics were raised for discussion. Disagreements between the groups were aired before the Obama officials, which included deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, public liaison Michael Strautmanis, Jewish outreach coordinator Dan Shapiro, and aides Tonya Robinson and Eric Lynn.

On several occasions, the Obama team was pressed to define the president-elect’s position on a paramount issue to Jewish groups: U.S. policy towards Iran.

“They assured us, as the vice president-elect has said, that the Iran/nuclear issue is one of the things at the very top of the agenda,” said an attendee. “They repeated the idea that we should be focusing on it diplomatically and not just militarily. Some of the more right-wing groups were saying that it can’t be carrots and no sticks, that we are running out of time…. The Obama team said [in response] that preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is an issue that the president-elect, as he’s made clear during and after the election, considers a primary concern. It is not something that will fall off the radar.”

Participants in the meeting, which was first reported by Politico’s Ben Smith, also addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Pretty much everybody in there but a handful of people were for a two-state solution,” said an attendee. Obama’s positions on energy and health care received attention as well.

“On domestic issues, except for some of the orthodox groups, it sounded like a cheerleading session for the transition team’s format,” said the source.

What stood out, above all else, was not any particular policy statements, but rather the gathering of such ideologically disparate groups under one roof. The meeting, the attendee noted, was very much in line with the Obama campaign’s stated mission to listen to a whole host of opinions when it comes to formulating foreign policy.

“The fact that they took time to do this,” said the source, “and that they did this with senior transition people, was deeply appreciated.”