The ZOA asks, we answer (UPDATED)


The Zionist Organization of America, in full "inquiring minds" mode, wants to know: Why is Barack Obama turning away Israeli briefings during the Gaza war?

Well, we asked the Israeli briefers. But first, we should point out the question kind of answers itself in the ZOA release: The Wall Street Journal article cited by ZOA notes that the president-elect’s transition team is turning away all representations from abroad, observing his "one president at a time" convention.

But anyway, back to the Israeli briefers: The answer is, they haven’t been turned away — and that’s because they haven’t asked to brief. In part, this is because they are aware of Obama’s policy, whatever the foreign crisis (and let’s not get monomaniacal about it, there are plenty going on).

The Israelis have their own reasons, they tell us: Obama has been unusually successful in keeping his staff picks out of the public eye until the announcements are made; the Israelis believe it would be counterproductive to cultivate transition officials who are not going to get hired. I’ll add this: It might even alienate those officials who do get hired.

Next ZOA question: Why has Obama been shtum about Gaza?

Well he hasn’t, exactly. And neither has David Axelrod, one of his closest advisers. But it’s true that he has not been as expansive as he was on the November attacks in Mumbai. (The ZOA also cites Obama’s clearly stated positions on domestic policies, but Obama said this week that he sees a difference between pronouncing on domestic and foreign issues while President Bush remains in office — so his pronouncements on the economy, say, are not evidence of inconsistency.)

This time we turned to the Obama folks, and here’s what someone close to the team said — Mumbai was a completed action: Nothing Obama or anyone else said would have influenced the outcome. The same is not true of Gaza: Were Obama to announce a policy, it could conceivably delay resolution of the war.

And I can’t recall Obama pronouncing on another foreign policy crisis during the transition.

The ZOA has not been reticent about its Obama anxieties. That’s fine. I have yet to see a congratulatory note, though. That’s also fine, although such a statement would help the ZOA maintain an ideological rather than a partisan consistency.

So here’s a — not so much a challenge, but an "I wonder." Dan Shapiro, as a staffer for Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, probably did more in the Senate than anyone else to shape the Syria Accountability Act. The ZOA strongly backed the Syria Accountability Act. Shapiro may soon be named to a senior national security council post, running Middle East policy.

So ZOA + Shapiro + Syria Accountability Act = subject line: ZOA welcomes President-elect Barack Obama’s appointment of….?

I wonder.

UPDATE: Mort Klein, the ZOA president, fairly points out that I should note that in the broader context, the ZOA is scrupulously non-partisan; it’s true, he has over the years blasted George W. Bush and Bill Clinton equally. I’m referring specifically to this transitional period.

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