White House Liaison to Jews is in a Position to Talk Policy

The long hours Jeremy Katz spends at the office don’t leave him much free time.

“I kind of feel like my work life is also my social life,” said Ross, President Bush’s special assistant for policy.

Ross’ schedule became even more crammed two months ago when he added the position of Jewish liaison, which makes him responsible for articulating the administration’s policies to the Jewish community.

“There’s a saying, If you want to get something done give it to a busy person,’ ” said Katz, 29.

But the longtime politico isn’t complaining.

“It really is the greatest honor of my life,” he said. Walking into the White House every morning, “you kind of get a tingle down your spine.”

“I’ve always really, really been interested in public service and politics,” Katz said.

One of his sisters, Gena, also works at the White House as a speechwriter.

Katz was active in student government at the University of Pennsylvania, but his bid to be student body president fell short by one vote.

“It was a learning experience,” said Katz, who added that the loss allowed him to focus on other things. “I’ve recovered.”

“I was so into the courses I was taking I ended up taking eight classes a semester,” he said. An English major, he graduated in 1999.

While in college Katz also worked for Republican candidate Bob Dole’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1996.

It was a contact Katz made during the campaign that alerted him to an opening for a senior policy adviser to then-Secretary of Commerce Don Evans in March 2001.

From there Katz came to the White House in February 2005, first working on the National Economic Council and moving two months later to the Chief of Staff’s Office.

Katz grew up attending a Conservative synagogue in Chicago. He now worships at the Conservative Ohr Kodesh in Chevy Chase, Md.

“My Judaism is really importa! nt to me , something that’s become increasingly important to me over the years,” he said.

Working for President Bush has strengthened his commitment to his religion, Katz said.

“Seeing his faith and how he respects people of other faiths, and how it’s made his life better, has inspired me,” he said.

Katz shares the president’s beliefs on issues of import to the Jewish community.

“The president is just fantastic on issues that the American Jewish community cares a lot about,” said Katz, citing Bush’s support for Israel and his commitment to stopping genocide in Darfur.

“He’s a bold president who has an ambitious vision with where he wants to take the country,” Katz said. “This president in particular will go down in history as one of the very best.”

Those messages can be a tough sell in the Jewish community.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that most of the Jewish community didn’t vote for the president,” Katz said, adding that doesn’t really affect the way Bush operates.

“He does what he thinks is right for the country and for the world, not because the American Jews did or didn’t vote for him,” Katz said.

Explaining administration policy is just part of the job. Listening to the community’s concerns is just as crucial.

“You listen and you speak on the president’s policy, and you listen some more,” said Jay Zeidman, who preceded Katz as liaison to the Jewish community. “Not everybody is going to understand and agree with your perspective.”

“Jeremy’s job is two-fold,” said William Daroff, vice president for public policy of the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella and a former deputy director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “He is the receptacle of Jewish communal opinion, but he’s also the taker-outer.”

Daroff said Katz can be especially effective at the job because he participates in shaping policy.

“He is literally engaged in every matter of public poli! cy that flows through the White House,” Daroff said. “For some of his predecessors this was just not the case.”

Katz, who works on a broad range of foreign and domestic issues, says most of the issues brought to his attention are related to policy, thus making it useful that he is so intimately involved in the White House policy process.

But Katz will make time for his liaison role.

“I’m making this a priority,” said Katz, who acknowledged that the Jewish community is not shy about expressing its opinions. “They are a vocal group, they’re active and I think that’s a good thing.”

Katz isn’t fazed when speaking with those who disagree with him.

“I identify for myself strongly as a Jew, so it’s like dealing with family, even when we don’t agree,” he said.

NEXT STORY