Meeting the President
Meeting the President
Why does Jewish opinion loom so large in the United States and in particular to the Obama administration at this particular juncture in history?  Though a tiny percentage of the US population and even smaller than that on the world stage, something here seems disjointed and certainly out of proportion.

Over Pesach and in the immediate aftermath of much analyzed and criticized framework agreement with Iran, the President of the United States reached out to Jewish community leaders and asked them to come to the White House to discuss the matter.

Allen Fagin, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union was one of those leaders asked to attend the White House meeting that took place just two days after yom tov (the holiday) concluded.  He spoke with us openly about the DC visit and the audience in the White House though he was circumspect about specifics honoring the commitment to keep the Presidents exact remarks off the record.

Mr. Fagin though, feels comfortable discussing the setting and the atmosphere at the meeting.  The President, he says, did most of the talking, though there was time after he concluded his remarks for participants to ask questions.  The week prior the same group met at the State Department in a longer more detailed session with Secretary of State John Kerry.

The administration’s policy is that the current negotiations are strictly about nuclear weapons. Terrorism is not to be discussed...
I asked Allen Fagin about his impression of the awesomeness of such a conclave that impacts so dramatically on Israel specifically and in general that of the worldwide Jewish community.   “Actually I am in awe of the emphasis placed on the view of the Jewish community more than anything else,” Fagin said as we discussed the mood that surrounds these types of high level encounters.

This is an interesting item to dwell on even beyond the substance of the meeting and fabric of what was accomplished at the meeting.  Mr. Fagin said though that after listening to the President for well over an hour, he sensed that the President was somewhat at a loss or puzzled by so much criticism being directed at him and his administration by segments of the Jewish community.

The President has maintained in this type of meeting in the past that Jewish leaders would be hard pressed to point to any previous administration in Washington that has been more supportive of Israel than the Obama administration.   Of course that assessment is subject to interpretation.  Certainly when one considers that, as it stands, the current Iran framework agreement is creating a legal pathway for Iran to become nuclear capable, one would be hard pressed to understand how this agreement can be chalked up to the stated objective to enhance the security of the Jewish state going forward.

And those sentiments were made known to the President as they were the previous week to Secretary Kerry.  Neither the President or the Secretary for that matter view what is taking place in that context.

I asked Mr. Fagin what the Presidents reaction is to the dichotomy in opinion among the Jewish leaders at these White House meetings.  I mean after all, Mr. Obama calls together Jewish leaders to assess or perhaps influence their positions on policy---so that they can go back home and communicate these sentiments to their memebership-- only to find out that the leaders perhaps and the community itself is split on both the Iran agreement and administration policy toward Israel, among other things.

To this issue Allen Fagin says that on the core issues like a nuclear Iran and foundational support for Israel there is far greater unity among the leaders of various Jewish representative groups than one might otherwise believe.  He says when it comes to the safety and security of Israel there is far more agreement on the issues than there are debates or disagreements amongst the various factions.

As far as his interactions with the President he said that he asked questions on various topics to both Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry in the State Department meeting but felt that divulging the contents of that dialogue would not be in stride with the policy of keeping the contents of the meeting off the record.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating or dynamic aspects of the current exchange between the Jewish community and the White House is over the Iranian support of terror and terror groups around the world while at the same time seeking to enter into an honorable and serious agreement on nuclear arms with the United States of America.

Israel, Jewish leaders and the Jewish community is having a hard time reconciling how the US can negotiate in good faith and at the same time look the other way as Iran carries on terrorist operations in a "business as usual" manner.

This might be the greatest point of contention today between the Jewish community and the White House.  After all, the objective of the talks with Iran is to reduce crippling economic sanctions against the despots and zealots that have firm control of that country.  If and when access to frozen Iranian assets and other monies become available, it unfortunately follows quite logically that parts of  that same money will be used by Iran to fund their terror campaigns in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.

This type of formulation is representative of the fundamentally different outlooks  on the current negotiations process with Iran.  When not only Jewish leaders, but other Middle Eastern and even European leaders ask Mr. Obama how he can negotiate a nuclear deal with a rogue state that supports terror, the response is quite puzzling.

Today the administration’s policy is that the current negotiations are strictly about nuclear weapons.  Terrorism is not to be discussed and the administration feels that committing terror acts or funding terror acts is placed on the agenda the entire process might collapse.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry have said in the past that the Iranian support of terrorism around the globe is being dealt with in a forum apart from the nuclear talks.

The fascinating thing here is the importance with which the Obama White House sees Jewish opinion.  We briefly discussed why it is that way, why in this vast universe of over seven billion people what Jewish leaders and Jewish communities in general think about various policies is so important so as to have leadership groups invited to the White House for lengthy discussions.

On the matter that Jewish impact and influence might be disproportionate as some believe, Allen Fagin says there are more than several issues at play here.  He says that he is certain that there is a political consideration as the administration views Jewish communities as voting in blocks and sharing somewhat of a unified sentiment on issues like Israel’s future and security.

And he added that the reality is that the community generates an impression of articulation, that it is influential, vocal, smart and that our leadership and prominent personalities play important roles in industry, the professions, and media.

Of course there is little room in diplomacy for miracles, but if you can take a step back from the process we have to consider that a possibility that is very much at play here.