Political tidbits: Obama dines with Jewish conservative pundits, Condi responds to Olmert

  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Phil Bronstein writes that there’s a lesson for Barack Obama in the current Israel-Hamas conflict:

The lesson for the President-elect is not that the Mideast is an intractable problem, that the Palestinian-Israeli beef is particularly complicated, that domestic and international constituencies are increasingly hard to please on the issue, or that practically any policy you can come up with for the region will likely haunt you. All of those things are true.

But the real point Mr. Obama should take from the fighting in Gaza and missiles in Southern Israel is that high expectations, including your own, can eat you alive.

  • Obama broke bread last night with some of the most well-known Jewish conservative pundits in the country, reports the Associated Press:

Obama dined Tuesday evening at the home of conservative columnist George Will in Chevy Chase, Md. That’s according to a report of the press pool that travels with the president-elect.

Also in attendance was William Kristol, another prominent conservative and the editor at the Weekly Standard as well as a columnist for The New York Times. Joining Kristol were David Brooks of The New York Times and Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post.

  • Julius Genachowski is reportedly Obama’s pick to head the FCC. Jewkey.com notes his Jewish background:

Mr. Genachowski attended yeshiva through high school and studied in yeshiva in Israel before going to Columbia and then Harvard, where he met Obama. Julius later clerked for Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Obama and Julius bonded in part because both were outsiders—one a former yeshiva boy and son of immigrants, the other an African American with international roots. Mr. Genachowski, is the father of three children and is married to Rachel Goslins, a documentary filmmaker. His parents are immigrants who survived the Holocaust. His children attend Gan HaYeled, the preschool at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington.

  • Haaretz reports that the Network of Spiritual Progressives bought an ad in the New York Times this week urging Obama to push for an immediate Gaza cease-fire and convene a Middle East peace conference"to facilitate a lasting and just settlement for all parties":

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, who convened the group, said the group had to buy the advertising space because the national newspapers would not make room for their perspective.

"They feel that AIPAC’s choice is overwhelming, and there’s no space left for empathy or objective coverage – the media, according to the group, simply ignored the voice of the Jewish opposition to war in Gaza," Rabbi Lerner said.

  • The Texas House of Representatives has its first Jewish speaker since Texas became a state, reports the Associated Press.The Austin American-Statesman has some more information about Republican Joe Straus, and the Texas House speaker of Jewish descent before statehood:

Before Texas was a state, from about 1839 to 1841, David S. Kaufman — namesake of the city and county of Kaufman — served as speaker of the House in the Congress of the Republic of Texas. Though Kaufman was of Jewish descent, historians have found no evidence he was a practicing Jew and he did not receive a Jewish burial, said Hollace Ava Weiner, editor of “Lone Stars of David: The Jews of Texas.”

Straus is a lifelong member of Temple Beth-El, a reform congregation just north of downtown San Antonio, said his rabbi, Barry Block. But the Straus family affiliation with Beth-El began before the state representative was born, Block said.

“His parents are members, both his sisters are members, his grandparents wereNew Entry | ExpressionEngine members,” Block said. They “are Texas Jewish pioneers.”

  • Glenn Kessler in The Washington Post says Hillary Clinton sounded ready to engage directly with Iran at her confirmation hearing yesterday:

Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday that the incoming Obama administration will seek to engage directly with Iran in an effort to persuade it to abandon its nuclear program and become "a constructive regional actor," underscoring a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy from the Bush administration.

In prepared testimony and remarks during her confirmation hearing — which were supplemented by 79 pages of formal answers to questions posed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — Clinton was careful not to tip her hand on specific plans or policies that the new administration might pursue. But she struck a consistent theme of active engagement and unyielding diplomacy, a sharp contrast to President Bush’s policy of refusing to deal with countries that did not first meet conditions set by the United States.

  • The New York Observer asks whether Clinton will "step away from Israel" now that she’s going to no longer be a senator from New York:

The transition from cheerleader to statesman has already happened. This is in evidence not only in her absence from the pro-Israel rally, but in her overall restraint in talking about the Israeli invasion — a silence maintained at the explicit request of  Obama senior staff, according to one member of the transition team….

This muting process, it should be said, is inevitable. Each step Mrs. Clinton takes toward the office of secretary of state is one further away from New York and her informal role—intrinsic to New York senators, Republicans and Democrats alike—as irreducible defender of Israel. 

New York’s senator is expected to be the Israel guy in Washington. It has always been so. The secretary of state, by definition, is a diplomat and a broker.

  • Shmuel Rosner in the Jerusalem Post has Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s retort to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s claim that she was "shamed" by having to abstain on the UN Gaza resolution last week, from a Bloomberg News interview:

SECRETARY RICE:  Well, first of all, I don’t know if the prime minister was – I hope – quoted out of context, because the story that I read in the newspaper is fiction. 

 QUESTION:  You had – what did you want to do with that resolution?  We abstained.
SECRETARY RICE:  The President and I talked about the resolution, about the importance of allowing the Council to send a signal even though the United States believed that the resolution was premature.  And I had made very clear that I thought the resolution was premature, and there were also concerns about a resolution that had Israel, a member-state of the United Nations, and Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, you don’t ever want there to be any equating those two. 
And so we talked.  We talked about abstention as a good option.  And I was quite aware of the President’s call to Prime Minister Olmert.  Of course, Prime Minister Olmert is not at all aware of what the President said to me.  And I repeat, his rendering of this is fiction – if, in fact, that was his rendering of it.  And I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps it’s not exactly what he said. 
  • Jim Besser in The Jewish Week says when it comes to the pro-Israel resolution passed by the House of Representatives last week, numbers don’t tell the whole story:
It is … true that the “yeas” include both those who support AIPAC down the line and also those whose views are closer to those of the Jewish peace camp, but for a variety of reasons choose to go with the flow.

Critics of AIPAC argue that the kind of hard-edged lobbying that produces such one-sided votes will eventually produce a backlash from lawmakers forced to make politically awkward choices.

That hasn’t happened yet  – in part because there really is a strong base of support for pro-Israel positions and because of the absence of an effective pro-Palestinian lobby.

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