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Op-Ed: So far, so good with Obama administration

DALLAS (JTA) — During his first 100 days in office, the U.S. Jewish community has already taken great pleasure with the performance of President Barack Obama.  He has begun to develop a deep and substantive relationship with the Jewish community by, among other things, hosting the first presidential Seder, creating strong outreach with our community, and working on key domestic and international issues of interest to American Jews.  Impressively, in less than three and a half months, the Obama administration has already made marked progress with progressive policies that are important to our community: the economy, Israel, the Middle East, reproductive rights, renewable energy, and stem cell research.

The aforementioned Seder caused quite a buzz in our community. Not only was it the first presidential Seder in our nation’s history, but it has become symbolic of the intimate and deep relationship our president has with our community (I must have received 50 photos of the Seder from friends and family). Not only has the president embraced one of our most important rituals, he has comforted us as a community by including in his administration individuals with whom we have long-standing, close relationships. Obama has put together a dream team of excellent advisors and appointments, several of whom are members of our faith.

As a community, we are grateful that the President has spoken out loudly against hate and intolerance. Last week, Obama spoke at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Capitol and called on Americans to “contemplate the obligations of the living” and fight against “those who insist the Holocaust never happened, who perpetrate every form of intolerance.”  Earlier this month, under his direction, the United States boycotted a vehemently anti-Israel United Nation’s conference on racism (known as Durban II).

Being a leader in the Jewish community during the Obama administration means more than just being invited to Hanukkah parties and events at the White House. Thus far, the Obama administration has made a concerted effort to communicate with and involve our community in major policy decisions. For example, the administration briefed Jewish community leaders on regular high-level conference calls during the formulation of policy toward Durban II. Before then, the administration invited community leaders to participate in a hour-long conference call with George Mitchell, U.S. special envoy to the Middle East. The conversation was substantive, candid and meaningful. Those on the call were impressed by both Mitchell’s grasp of the issues and his attentiveness to the participants’ questions.

In these first 100 days, the most senior members of this administration not only reached out to the Jewish community, they listened. Although Obama’s critics continue to search for ways to prove that he is anti-Israel, their message lacks substance and has very little resonance within the wider Jewish community.

Of critical importance to us, Obama’s foreign policy has immeasurably improved America’s image abroad. Both his foreign and his domestic policy objectives make Israel and the U.S. more secure. The president’s policies moving America toward renewable energy and off Middle East oil have already begun to be implemented. These priorities, as well as those whom Obama has appointed to serve in his administration, subscribe to strategies that give the utmost importance to Israel’s peace and security.

On the domestic front, Obama has acted swiftly on critical issues and has revised some of President George W. Bush’s damaged policies. On the economy, the president has shown bold leadership to lead America’s economy out of this crisis and will create or save millions of American jobs, provide tax relief, and invest in our long-term economic security. Obama also ensured that we will not fall behind other leading countries in important areas of research and development by lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Exploring this burgeoning field will ensure that the United States is expanding its scientific frontier and provide Americans with the most advanced medical treatments.

As with stem cells, the President chose good policy over partisan politics when he struck down the infamous Global Gag rule, which prohibited U.S. money from funding international family-planning clinics. This provided life saving health services to women and also provided counseling or referrals about abortion services.  And finally, after many years of politicization at the FDA, Obama is putting science over blind ideology, including allowing Plan B, the morning after pill, to be available without a prescription to women 17 and older.

We should not overstate the importance of Obama’s first 100 days. There are, after all, over 1,300 days left in the President’s first term. However, we are happy to say that the first 15 weeks of his presidency have made us proud and have fulfilled his promise of much needed change for our country.

(Marc R. Stanley is chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.)

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