October 30, 2013

Can Jewish leaders take 'yes' for an answer?

It's happening again... The Obama administration is inviting American Jewish leaders into the White House for substantive, high-level consultations on matters integral to U.S. and Israeli national interest, and (some of) these American Jewish leaders are publicly trash-talking the Administration within the same news cycle. 

During President Obama's first term, this happened a few times, when organizational leaders leveled complaints and demands to the President's face and to reporters. Last year, Jewish leaders were so critical of the President's nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, they gave journalists 'anonymous' negative quotes during the President's own Hanukkah party -- and trust me, that's no easy invite to snag.

This week, the President's National Security and other senior advisers met with Jewish leaders to discuss the Administration's approach to nuclear negotiations with Iran. Even as the White House guests described the meeting as "constructive", one of those same leaders was blasting Secretary of State John Kerry for publicly refusing to "succumb to fear tactics" by critics of the U.S.-Iran talks.

If the Secretary of State states something on Monday, and you're meeting the National Security Adviser on Tuesday, why not use that meeting to raise your concerns? Especially if your bone with the Secretary is that -- if he had any implied criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (the perennial Cassandra on Iran) -- he "should have made them privately." 

Substantively, there seems to be no alternative to talks with Iran, since a military solution is at best costly, and unlikely to achieve a decisive outcome. It's Obama, and not Bush or Netanyahu, who succeeded in instituting "crippling" multilateral sanctions against Iran, all for the purpose of securing a realistic halt to Iran's weapons-oriented nuclear projects. If Netanyahu and Obama (and Kerry) have a difference of opinion, do they really need an American Jewish arbitrator?

In this case, the particular Jewish leader's concern was that friends don't need to air their disagreements in public. By this measure, various Jewish leaders don't appear to be "friends" of the President or his administration, or his Secretary of State. But as loyal Americans and Israel advocates, they might consider which is the best path to securing our shared future, one based on trust and humility, not grandstanding and paranoia.

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