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Obama Backer Nominated to Chair Conference of Presidents

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A nominating committee proposed a confidante to Barack Obama as the next chairman of the foreign policy umbrella for U.S. Jewish groups.

“We had an unusual group of outstanding candidates, each with unique capabilities and qualities,” said James Tisch, a past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who chaired the nominating committee, in a statement. “The Nominating Committee faced a daunting task and unanimously recommended Alan Solow, who has been involved for decades in Jewish communal affairs.”

The nomination goes to the full conference, made up of more than 50 national Jewish groups, next month. There were at least four national Jewish leaders besides Solow who were nominated for the position.

Solow, a Chicago-area bankruptcy lawyer and philanthropist, has backed President-elect Obama since his first run for Illinois state senate in 1996.

Solow currently chairs the Jewish Community Centers Association.

The release from the Presidents Conference also cited Solow’s involvement in the World Confederation of Jewish Community Centers; the Jewish Community Centers of Metropolitan Chicago; the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago; the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago; the Jewish United Fund of Chicago; the United Jewish Communities; CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Solow’s selection would help heal what some Democrats and Jewish communal insiders describe as a rift between Obama’s team and the Presidents Conference. Relations were never smooth, partly because the conference all but embraced Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq; opposition to that war was Obama’s signature foreign policy during his campaign.

Matters worsened at several points during the campaign, notably when Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Presidents Conference, was quoted in Israel as worrying that Obama’s supporters might want to see the United States adopt less pro-Israel positions. Hoenlein insisted that he was misquoted, and had been speaking more generally about the followers of all the candidates.

Tensions also surfaced in September, when the Presidents Conference invited Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin to a rally protesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech to the United Nations. U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) already had agreed to come, but Democrats were upset that after the decision to bring Palin, the Presidents Conference initially failed to extend the same invitation to her Democratic counterpart as vice-presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden.

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