President Obama will be meeting in the White House with 16 leaders of Jewish organizations at 3 p.m. Monday. Those on the guest list say they are still waiting to hear from the White House whether the meeting will be on or off the record.
Not only should the meeting be on the record, the White House should provide a full transcript.
1) TRANSPARENCY: This administration came into office pledging plenty of it and has stressed repeatedly that public candor is especially required when it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Now’s a good time to put those ideals into action.
2) POLITICS: An exclusive White House powwow may help to ease concerns that some Jewish organizational leaders have about the administration’s repeated calls for an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank. But if the goal is to reassure the wider Jewish public, then the president is better off making his case directly instead of relying on intermediaries. Releasing a transcript or a recording also would make it more difficult for critics to use inaccurate leaks and baseless speculation to paint his administration as being bent on scaling back U.S. support for Israel.
3) SPEAKING TO THE JEWS: With the rise of J Street on the left and virulent attacks against Obama on the right, an important debate has been brewing for months over which organizations and organizational leaders speak for the Jews. The answer, of course, is none of them. Jewish groups ultimately represent the views of their board members, who undoubtedly care a great deal about Israel, the United States and the fate of the Jews, but nonetheless are viewed by many of Jews as an unelected and unaccountable self-appointed elite.
4) HOLDING LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE: American Jews should not only be privy to what the president has to say, but also are entitled to a full accounting of what is said by those claiming to speak in their collective name.
To be clear, there is a time for closed-door meetings, especially between allies like Israel and the United States working to hammer out policy understandings. And there is nothing unkosher about the president or his aides confidentially tapping a well-placed observer for insight into the inner workings of the Jewish community or perspectives in Israel.
But today’s meeting isn’t about formulating plans; it’s about explaining and debating existing policy. And the question is whether the Obama administration wants to force millions of American Jews to be dependent on the leaks, spin and judgment of a select few, or empower them to make up their own minds.