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Bush’s New Jewish Liaison is Young, but Has Pedigree — and the Right Skills

April 5, 2006
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Jay Zeidman spent a lot of his youth at meetings for Jewish organizations in Texas. Now, he’s going as a representative of the White House. Zeidman, 22, was named White House liaison to the Jewish community last month, and has been tasked with selling Bush administration policies to Jews at a time when the president’s approval ratings are at historic lows.

Zeidman is the son of Fred Zeidman, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and a fund-raiser for President Bush in the Jewish community. The younger Zeidman said he attended a lot of meetings with his father for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League in Houston, and walked away with strong support for Israel and political activism.

“I’ve found the community to be quite receptive to our agenda, both domestic and foreign,” he said. “They are willing to listen.”

Zeidman replaces Jeffrey Berkowitz, an associate director of scheduling at the White House, who tried to balance both tasks for a year. Zeidman is a staffer at the White House Office of Public Liaison, and officials said he will have more time to devote to working with Jewish leaders, considered a full-time job in itself.

Zeidman is the fifth liaison to the Jewish community since Bush came to office in 2001.

In his first month on the job, Zeidman was tasked with coordinating Vice President Dick Cheney’s speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference. Now he is working on President Bush’s expected address to the American Jewish Committee on May 4.

Zeidman said he was impressed with the administration’s willingness to reach out to Jews.

“We’re speaking on all levels, from the president and vice president on down,” he said. “The president gets our message. He believes in the things we believe in.”

Zeidman came to the White House from Texas Christian University near Dallas, where he graduated last year with a degree in economics and was student body president. He said the school was an “unlikely place” for a Jewish student to thrive.

“He’s proud of his religion, proud of his heritage and was willing to withstand whatever peer pressure there might be to assimilate in the student community,” his father said. “He stood up for what was right.”

Zeidman began interning at the public liaison office over the summer, working with former Jewish liaisons Tevi Troy and Noam Neusner.

“He’s got an excellent temperament and judgment, which will really stand out,” Neusner said. “He stays involved and is educated on the issues and he understands when people need to know and when they need to know it.”

Zeidman said he wants to highlight the efforts the Bush administration is making to end the killing in Darfur, which has become an important topic for Jewish groups.

“There have been a lot of discussion that the administration has not taken enough action,” he said. “Bottom line, that is not accurate.”

He noted that Bush continues to refer to Darfur as a “genocide,” saying the word should resonate and have an impact in the Jewish community.

Zeidman also has been issuing more e-mails and updates to a “Jewish leaders” list the White House maintains, on issues from the Palestinian and Israeli elections to the war in Iraq and Darfur.

“It’s my job to get out there and make sure that the president and vice president and everyone else is speaking to the right groups and communicating the message, and gauge the feedback,” he said.

Zeidman knows he’s younger than most staffers, but said his bosses have placed a lot of confidence in him.

“I’m confident I’ve seen what I need to see to take the next step and to really work hands-on with our community,” he said.

Neusner said Zeidman immediately impressed people at the White House, adding that his understanding of the nuances of the Jewish community is beyond his years.

“Jay is rightfully judged on his skill and not on his age,” he said. “This White House values people who show a capacity for organization, judgment, skill — and he’s got all those things.”

Zeidman’s father has started referring to himself as the “elder Zeidman” when speaking with Jewish leaders. He says his son is not just following in his footsteps, but “is running right by me.”

“How can I be more proud than I am of my son and the job he has taken on?” Fred Zeidman said.

Both father and son acknowledge that some may try to depict the appointment as an act of nepotism. But Fred Zeidman said that after he introduced his son at the White House for the first time, he was on his own.

“He didn’t pick up the phone and ask anyone to get me this job,” Jay Zeidman said of his father. “I know I got this on my own.”

Jay Zeidman said he does not think about political office in his future. He hopes to return to Texas to get an MBA and go into business with his family.

“The days get long, the work gets tough,” he said. “You get here very early, you stay very late, but you’re working on something you believe in.”

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