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Behind the Headlines: Pro-israel Activists Hail New National Security Adviser

Pro-Israel activists are hailing President Clinton’s newly named national security adviser Samuel “Sandy” Berger as a sound choice who will be an important asset as the administration works to push the Middle East peace process forward.

“He has been fully supportive of a set of values, principles and priorities that the pro-Israel community has a deep interest in,” said Steve Grossman, chairman of the board of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Berger, a 51-year-old Jew who has served as deputy national security adviser the last four years, was part of the new foreign policy team named last week.

Although not much is known about his Jewish organizational affiliations, he is known to be a member of a synagogue in Washington where his chldren became B’nai Mitzvah..

In 1991, Berger gave a contribution to the left-wing Americans for Peace Now – – a donation that Gail Pressberg, the group’s Washington director, characterized as “small.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, welcomed the appointment.

He “understands Israel’s security needs,” Hoenlein said.

Pressberg said there is enthusiasm among Peace Now members about Clinton’s entire new foreign policy team, but stressed that her organization does not take positions on specific appointments.

She added that she did not think that any personal views Berger holds with respect to the Middle East would be relevant in his new post.

“His views about foreign policy issues have been complicated by the fact that he’s been in the White House,” Pressberg said. “He’s looking out for American interests first and foremost.”

She added, “He’s always been a middle-of-the-road Democrat, not out on the left on Israel or anything else.”

For his part, Grossman said, “Sandy has been a key architect of policies that were designed to create a comfort level on the part of the Israeli people and its leadership at a time when they were taking meaningful and dramatic risks for peace.”

Tom Neumann, executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a conservative pro-Israel think tank, said his organization would “wait and see” how Berger approaches the new position.

For now, Neumann said, “we have good feelings about him. We think he’ll be fine.”

Berger, a friend of Clinton’s from college, is known in particular for his ability to straddle the intersection of politics and foreign affairs.

“It is obvious that the president trusts Sandy fully and unequivocally — not only his judgment on policy, but his thoughtful political judgment as well,” Grossman said.

Berger does not require Senate confirmation.

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