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Bush & the Jews Groups Blame White House Liaison for Tense Relations with Community

June 24, 2003
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Many Jewish communal leaders say they had heard the phrase “you’re either with us or against us” long before the Bush administration used it in its post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism.

To them, that edict has defined how the White House has viewed the organized Jewish world. Jewish leaders complain that they have been pressured to support the president’s political agenda in full or lose access to the upper echelons of government.

Much of the criticism is focusing on Adam Goldman, who has served as the deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison and the main conduit between the White House and the Jews. Jewish leaders have nicknamed him “The Gatekeeper.”

“There is a high level of frustration in dealing with the White House and Adam,” said one veteran Jewish official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I have worked with a lot of these people over the years and I think Adam, stylistically, has been heavy-handed.”

Goldman has been known to call Jewish leaders to chastise them for negative news releases. He claims to keep a scorecard on how often Jewish groups have spoken favorably about White House policy, Jewish leaders said.

Higher scores have led to increased access and meetings with the White House, while organizations with lower scores have been shunned, Jewish leaders said.

Jewish leaders complain that their relations with the Bush White House have been politicized more than during previous administrations of either party.

“There was a crudeness in how he presented what they wanted,” the Jewish official said. “A kind of, ‘You’re not saying the right things about the president’s programs.’ “

Another Jewish leader said the end result was that no one in the Jewish community really took Goldman seriously.

Goldman and others at the White House did not respond to repeated requests for an on-the-record response.

A Bush loyalist who has worked for the president since his first campaign for Texas governor, Goldman is leaving the White House sometime this summer. Many in the organized Jewish community hope their difficulties with the administration will leave with him.

Jewish officials say Goldman articulated a policy, almost from day one, that access was conditional on support for the president’s entire agenda.

Jewish leaders say it’s unclear how much of their problem is based on Goldman’s personal style and how much is based on this administration’s philosophy of how to deal with the Jewish community. Goldman reports to Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser and the chief political strategist for the White House.

Some Jewish groups say their relationship with Goldman is the reason they have been left out of major events, such as the June 11 dinner in honor of a new Anne Frank exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Only two leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations were invited to represent the organized American Jewish world.

They also say Goldman is the reason that fewer White House officials have spoken to Jewish groups since Bush took office.

Such comments may further hurt their relationship with Goldman, but Jewish leaders say they are soldiering on. Veterans say they have fostered relationships with other figures in the administration and are able to circumvent the liaison office.

Others have found intermediaries — partners on individual issues who are closer to the White House — to speak on their behalf.

But it shouldn’t have to be that way, one of Goldman’s predecessors said. A liaison to the Jewish community during a previous administration, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said one of the job’s important duties is allowing even those who differ with the administration to make their views heard.

“I think the current method is a disservice to the community, but more than anything, a disservice to the president,” said the former liaison. “It’s bad for the community if the organizations don’t have an opportunity to get into the front door of the highest level of government and be heard,” and let the administration’s position “filter back to their community directly.”

The former liaison acknowledges that there are political aspects to the liaison job, but said that once inside the White House, the liaison must put aside overtly partisan motives.

“If you’re running an outreach shop for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, you have that luxury,” he said. “But when you’re acting out of the Office of Public Liaison of the White House, you have an obligation to reach beyond one party or one opinion.”

White House officials say privately that Goldman was seeking from Jewish groups any sign of support, which would make it easier for him to advance their requests up the administration’s food chain.

Once Goldman leaves, the Public Liaison’s Office does not plan to have an official responsible for contact with the Jewish community.

Instead, sources say a senior White House official who is Jewish will be given the Jewish community portfolio, with an additional person designated to handle logistics of the Jewish community’s requests. It appears that those assignments have yet to be set.

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