WASHINGTON (Aug. 31)
Benjamin Waldman, who served as assistant press secretary to the Rev. Pat Robertson during his unsuccessful 1988 presidential bid, will be starting Thursday as President Reagan’s new liaison to the Jewish community, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned Wednesday.
Waldman, who will assume the formal title of White House associate director for public liaison, told JTA Wednesday that his goals include providing Jews an “entry point for issues that are important to them.”
Waldman said he will also work on other areas such as child care, housing, foreign policy toward South Africa and the Strategic Defense Initiative.
“The main goal is to help provide continuity” between the Reagan administration and a future one. He said it is “possible” that he could end up staying on if Vice President George Bush is elected president.
Waldman was preceded by Matt Zachari, who served as interim acting liaison after Max Green stepped down from the post in late June.
Waldman’s last post was special assistant to the administrator of the General Services Administration. He also worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and as associate director of personnel at the White House in 1986, before he joined the Robertson campaign.
His wife, Rebecca, said he kept kosher on the campaign trail with Robertson by “eating a lot of vegetables.”
She said her husband considers himself less an Orthodox Jew than a “strong Conservative.”
Waldman, who will be 30 years old Sept. 4, has two children: a son, Zachary, 2, and a daughter. Kendall, 10 months.
A native of Claremont, Calif, Waldman earned a master’s degree in government from Claremont Graduate School, after receiving an undergraduate degree from Claremont Men’s College.
He was active in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and later the Jewish Community Relations Council of Los Angeles.
He was interviewed by The Atlanta Jewish Times March 4 after an appearance before 3,000 evangelical Christians in Atlanta’s Civic Center. In that address, he made mention of his Jewish roots, and recalled Wednesday that he must have given at least 30 similar speeches to evangelical groups.
The Atlanta weekly asked Waldman if he feels Jews are becoming more accepting of religion in the public domain.
“I think that the liberal Jewish organizations in America are being less and less tolerant of religion in the public sphere,” he said. “I think they are probably going too far in trying to eliminate any public affirmation of faith in God for anybody in the public arena or public sphere.”
Waldman also criticized those who feared Reagan, and later Robertson, was going to make the United States a Christian nation. “None of it came true for Reagan, and it’s not going to come true with Pat.” he told the Atlanta paper.
Deflecting criticism of Robertson for opposing abortion publicly on the campaign trail, Waldman took a swipe at some fellow Republican contenders, saying maybe Robertson might not do so “if he is a George Bush or Bob Dole type of candidate.”
But Waldman said he would have no trouble working for Bush, saying he is “very supportive” of the Republican presidential nominee.
David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, said, “I don’t know anything about him except what little I’ve read about his relationship to Pat Robertson.”
Jacob Stein, Reagan’s first liaison to the Jewish community and a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, “Ben is a highly qualified person who is very knowledgeable, and he will further the effort of the administration to establish a close and working relationship with the Jewish community.”
Stein said he has known Waldman for many years. “He was active in Washington Jewish events,” Stein said.
Chris Gersten, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican group, said Waldman headed the 1984 Jewish effort on Reagan’s behalf. He noted that Waldman worked out of the Reagan-Bush headquarters, since the coalition was not founded until 1985.
Gersten said Waldman “did an excellent job by most counts under difficult circumstances,” specifically citing Waldman’s attempts to diffuse the warm embrace of the evangelical right at a prayer breakfast during the 1984 Republican Party Convention in Dallas.
“A lot of people’s sights were set on seeing that the Jewish community does not support the Republicans,” Gersten said.
At the breakfast, New Testament Bibles were distributed and speakers praised Jesus.