Political tidibits: OU unhappy with economic package, Obama’s secret dinner

  • Jewish leaders say there was nothing wrong with Ehud Olmert calling President Bush to get the U.S. to abstain on the UN Gaza cease-fire resolution, reports Nathan Guttman in the Forward. The problem was talking about it, and saying he "shamed" Condeleeza Rice:

“I have no problem with what Olmert did,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “I think the mistake was to talk about it in public.

“This is what friendships are about. He was not interfering in political issues. You have a relationship, and if you don’t like what is being done, then you go to the boss and tell him.”

Douglas Bloomfield, a former chief lobbyist for the Washington-based pro-Israel lobby the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, dismissed the episode as “a spitting match between two lame ducks.”

“This reinforces the perception that the Israeli prime minister and Israeli leaders have easy access to the leaders of the U.S.,” Bloomfield said. “It is a fact that the Israeli prime minister can get the president on the phone. Not every prime minister in the world can do that. It is no secret that Israel tried to influence the U.S. regarding U.N. votes. It reinforces what the rivals of Israel say about the enormous clout Israel has in Washington, and I see nothing wrong with that.”

But Bloomfield added, “It is a mistake to talk about it.”

  • The Forward’s Guttman also looks at likely Obama administration appointee Dennis Ross, noting some of his recent work since leaving the government:

Since 2004, Ross, who headed the Clinton administration’s mediation team in the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians under the Oslo Peace Accords, has served as founding chairman of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. The institute’s mission is to outline a policy for the future of the Jewish people, taking into consideration demographic trends and internal and external threats….

Less known is Ross’s involvement, parallel to his work with the Jewish think tank, on two Ramallah-based projects focused on empowering Palestinian reformists within Fatah. The programs — one for young activists, the other for more established political figures —were part of an attempt to lay the groundwork for the next generation of Palestinian leadership.

  • Laura Rozen in ForeignPolicy.com has details on the "secret dinner" Obama had last week with former Rep. Lee Hamilton and the scholars and staff at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

Among those who attended the off-the-record dinner: Iran scholar Haleh Esfandiari; Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid (who had flown in from Lahore); Obama friend and foreign-policy advisor Samantha Power of Harvard University (who accompanied PEOTUS to the meeting); incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel; and a few others. Obama told the group, none of whom reached would discuss the details, that he already felt in the bubble and was trying his best to meet with independent experts.

Scholars at the center noted the group leaned toward experts on the Middle East and South Asia. "They talked mostly about what was going on in the world, from Gaza to the financial crisis and its implications," one source summarized….

A source close to Hamilton explained that he had a long relationship with Obama, and noted that many former Hamilton staffers had gone on to be key staffers and foreign policy advisors to Obama.

Among them: Obama speechwriter Ben Rhodes, who wrote speeches and was a policy advisor for Hamilton for several years; Obama’s top foreign-policy advisor Denis McDonough; who worked for Hamilton on the staff of the House International Relations Committee, Obama Mideast advisor Daniel Shapiro, who worked for Hamilton as his professional staff member on the Middle East when Hamilton was chairman of the then-House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 103rd Congress (1993-94); Dan Restrepo, a top Obama Latin America advisor now with the Center for American Progress who worked for Hamilton on the Hill; and Mara Rudman, who worked for Hamilton on the Hill and is now a member of the formal Obama transition team.

  • Minnesota Rabbi Amy Eilberg writes a "Dear President Obama" letter in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, asking the president to end torture, pursue "constructive engagement" in foreign policy and stop the violence in the Middle East:

Bring this latest terrible war to an end immediately. Let both Israel and Palestine know that the United States deeply understands their national needs for security, autonomy, recognition, dignity and hope. Let the sides know that you will immediately engage in robust diplomatic activity, doing everything within your power to bring about a comprehensive peace agreement, resulting in peace, security and recognition for Israel, and autonomy, dignity, and economic renaissance for Palestine. The world desperately needs for you to make this happen very soon, before the window of possibility for a two-state solution has closed.

  • Joe Conason in Salon wants to know why in yesterday’s confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, no one mentioned what he calls "the real reason" Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich:

Still, it would have been a refreshing change from the usual confirmation minuet if instead of humbly apologizing, Holder had tartly instructed the buffoonish [Arlen] Specter, his fellow senators, the press, and the public about the actual circumstances of the Rich affair. He might have started with the fact that continuous lobbying on Rich’s behalf from the highest Israeli leaders and their American friends — among whom Specter no doubt counts himself — became even more intense in the days before Clinton left office. He could have noted that such pressures coincided with Clinton’s efforts to conclude a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. And he could have explained to Specter that Rich’s deals in Iran and Iraq were often related to his other role — as an asset of the Mossad who gathered intelligence and helped to rescue endangered Jews from those regimes.

  • The Orthodox Union is expressing disappointment over "unequal treatment" of non-public schools for the "green funding" projects in the economic recovery package:

This is a missed opportunity to give Jewish, Catholic and other schools – also suffering in the economic downturn – the means to meet green building standards, reduce costs, and aid our environment. President-Elect Obama has repeatedly stated he is interested in funding “what works” in this package and not subjecting its contents to ideological tests. Moreover, Mr. Obama and Democrats have successfully engaged in a great deal of outreach to faith communities – but this is their first test to move beyond outreach to practical policies that will benefit faith communities.

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