ANALYSIS: Who advises McCain and Obama?

WASHINGTON (JTA) — When the question of recognizing Israel landed on President Harry Truman’s desk in May 1948, he had to balance the advice of his old friend, Clark Clifford, against the general he deeply admired, George Marshall.

In the end Truman went with his friend, recognizing the new Jewish state.

It may be easy to read too much into who a candidate’s advisers are during an election campaign, but it’s also risky to avoid the tea leaves.

Obama’s Advisers

In sizing up the candidates’ advisers, most of the scrutiny in the Jewish community has been on Barack Obama — in part because of his inexperience on the national stage and in part because of Republican campaign tactics.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has issued a string of statements and ” title=”Dennis Ross”>Dennis Ross, who played a lead role in peace talks during the first Bush and Clinton presidencies. Ross is now at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he is joined by a staff that has leaned more toward neo-conservatism — and Republicans — than he has. Ross’ position at the institute is a testament to his ability to cross the aisle — an approach that jibes with Obama’s insistence that he will be a bipartisan president.

Ross is widely respected in the Jewish community but has been criticized in more conservative circles for what critics say was his failure to hold Yasser Arafat accountable for failing to live up to Palestinian commitments.

In his 2004 book, Ross made it eminently clear that at times he found then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be untrustworthy. But Ross also has insisted that the United States and Israel should have done more to hold the Palestinians to their agreements — and has consistently blamed Arafat for the failure to reach a final settlement at the end of the Clinton administration.

Ross has criticized the Bush administration for not being engaged enough in peace talks — but also for announcing unrealistic goals for achieving a two-state solution.

By contrast, he told JTA, an Obama admnistration would play a more hands-on role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking — but also steer clear of any “artificial” timelines. He says the creation of a Palestinian state is impossible so long as Hamas controls Gaza.

For these reasons, Ross has suggested, Obama’s emphasis would be more on Iran. Ross is one of the principle architects of Obama’s Iran policy: engagement induced through tough sanctions. His laundry list of possible new sanctions aimed at getting Iran to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program — the re-insurance industry, refined petrol exporters, central bank — echoes exactly those of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby.

Obama’s other key advisers include:

  • Anthony Lake, Clinton’s first national security adviser and an early Obama backer, apparently hopes to return the post. A relatively recent convert to Judaism, Lake has said that rallying the international community to further isolate Iran would be Obama’s first foreign policy priority.
  • Mara Rudman, a deputy on the Clinton national security team, also could end up in an Obama administration. Since leaving government, she served as a deputy to Lawrence Eagleberger, the former secretary of state, during his chairmanship of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. Last year, she helped launch Middle East Progress, a group that puts out a thrice-weekly e-mail bulletin partly to counter the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization’s influential Daily Bulletin, which has been accused of having a sharp neo-conservative tilt.
  • Dan Shapiro and Eric Lynn are two Obama campaign officials who straddle the policy and politics arms of the campaign. Lynn is Shapiro’s deputy. Both help shape policy — Shapiro is said to be the lead writer on Obama’s Middle East speeches — and both spend a lot of time campaigning in the Jewish community. Both also have Florida connections and can boast of insider status in the pro-Israel community. Lynn was an intern at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 1998; Shapiro played a major role in drafting the 2003 Syria Accountability Act, that year’s marquee victory for AIPAC.
  • Daniel Kurtzer joined the Obama camp during the primaries. President Clinton made him the first Jewish U.S. ambassador to Egypt, and the current President Bush went one better, making him the first Orthodox Jewish U.S. ambassador to Israel. Kurtzer, who left the diplomatic corps in 2005 after his Israel stint for a teaching job at Princeton University, may have the most dovish views on the foreign policy team.

    Prior to joining the campaign this year, Kurtzer co-authored a U.S. Institute of Peace tract that advocated equal pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. While he was ambassador to Israel, the Zionist Organization of America pressed Bush to fire him. But Kurtzer’s Jewish street cred has helped alleviate concern in many pro-Israel circles — in addition to his stint in Israel, Kurtzer is a product of Yeshiva University and trains kids for bar mitzvah.

  • The word from Obama circles is that two Republican senators — Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who is retiring and whose wife has endorsed Obama, and Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — could end up in an Obama administration.

    Both men have shared Obama’s concerns about the conduct of the Iraq war. Of the two Republicans, Hagel is the more problematic for the pro-Israel community. He didn’t make friends last year when he told an Arab American Institute dinner that his support for Israel was not “automatic.” Lugar has not made such missteps, but his willingness to criticize Israeli policies in Senate hearings and his advocacy of direct dialogue with Iran have raised eyebrows.

McCain’s Advisers

” title=”self-described Independent Democrat”>self-described Independent Democrat for secretary of state. Lieberman’s longstanding friendship with McCain and a shared commitment to a tough interventionist neo-conservative foreign policy led to an endorsement a year ago that helped McCain resuscitate his campaign in New Hampshire.
  • James Woolsey, like Lieberman, is one of a small army of “Scoop” Jackson Democrats at the core of the McCain campaign: Like their late idol Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.), who ran a couple of abortive presidential campaigns in the 1970s, they are domestic liberals who have set aside social differences to join conservatives in pressing what they consider the more urgent matter: American preeminence overseas.

    Woolsey, a Clinton administration CIA director, is a tough-minded environmentalist: According to Mother Jones, a Web site devoted to investigative journalism, Woolsey drives a hybrid car plastered with the sticker “Bin Laden Hates This Car.” Early on he pressed for the Iraq war, and he is notorious for being among the first to blame Iraq — erroneously — for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also exemplifies how the McCain campaign talks tough about confronting Iran while emphasizing behind-the-scenes that the military option should be a last resort.

  • Randy Scheunemann, like Shapiro in the Obama campaign, straddles policy and politics in the McCain campaign. A veteran of years on Capitol Hill who worked principally for former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and an icon among neo-conservatives, Scheunemann has shaped some of the toughest campaign attacks on Obama, including those related to Obama’s stated willingness to sit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Scheunemann also led efforts to pitch the Iraq war to the American public prior to the invasion.

    In recent years, Scheunemann has lobbied for a number of nations seeking membership in NATO. His expertise on Georgia helped McCain gain the upper hand over a flustered Obama during the crisis over the summer when Russia invaded Georgia.

    Scheunemann is also close to the pro-Israel community. Working with Lott, he authored the 1995 legislation that would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; a year later, Scheunemann’s advice led Bob Dole — the Republican presidential candidate that year — to pledge to do so. This year, McCain has picked up that pledge.

  • Max Boot is too young to have been an architect of neo-conservatism; at times he embraces the term and at times he chafes at it.

    A historian who is probably the McCain adviser most steeped in theory and least steeped in policy-making, Boot wrote the definitive article arguing for the expansion of American power in the wake of 9/11. At a recent retreat organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Boot said a McCain administration would de-emphasize Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian talks to an even greater degree than the Bush administration (though McCain and his running mate both have suggested that the Arab-Israeli peace process would be a top priority). Boot, currently a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, says the late push by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is regrettable.

  • Richard Williamson is President Bush’s special envoy to Sudan. His work pressing the regime to end the genocide in its Darfur region have deepened his ties with the Jewish community, which date back to Williamson’s time as a member of the Reagan administration’s U.N. team.

    Williamson’s pre-campaign writings are very much in the realist camp. A veteran of disarmament talks, he wrote an article in 2003 for the Chicago Journal of International Law praising the efficacy of multilateral treaties, a bugbear of neo-conservatives. But Williamson’s shift at the recent Washington Institute retreat to neo-conservative talking points could be a signal of how much McCain has invested in that camp.

    At the retreat, Williamson suggested that a McCain administration would not avidly pursue Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace, and he touted McCain’s proposal for a “league of democracies,” a repudiation of conventional thinking on multilateralism.

    Youth Groups Are Worth the Fight

    Here is a dreaded conversation familiar to most parents of Jewish teens:

    Them: “Hi, this is your synagogue youth adviser calling to make sure you received the flyer about our upcoming youth group event. Will your child be joining us?”

    You: “Thank you for your phone call. I talked with Jordan (or David or Rafi) about this, but the thing is, he is already over-booked. With soccer practice, homework, birthday parties and baseball games, he has too much on his plate and doesn’t want to go. I’m choosing my battles, and I don’t want to fight this one.”

    Come to think of it, I’m not especially fond of that conversation either, because I’m the person on the other side, the one urging you parents to send your child to the Jewish youth group.

    Everyone who has ever worked with Jewish kids will tell you that Jewish youth group, camping and informal education are influential and meaningful activities, more so than many competing ones. They create memories, friendships and a positive Jewish identity. It is during these informal experiences that learning is truly natural and exciting. Kids form friendships with Jewish peers that might not develop in the classroom. And hanging out with positive Jewish role models creates lasting bonds and deeper levels of understanding and appreciation for Jewish culture.

    Most of us who are youth advisers have chosen this profession because of our experiences. Ask us — we’ll gladly tell you about that amazing sleep-away camp we attended or about the kids from youth group that we are still “best friends” with today or about the religious school weekend retreat we attended in the seventh grade that opened our eyes to Judaism.

    Yes, your child has been playing on the same soccer team since the second grade. Yes, school, homework and grades are important. Yes, sports, drama and clubs look good on college applications.

    So where does youth group or camp fit into this equation?

    My response is this: Parents must choose to fight this fight. I say “must” because the teen years are the most critical socializing years in anyone’s life. Your child’s peer group during these years can determine what kind of Jewish life your child will lead in young adulthood and beyond.

    Don’t you want to know that your children are in a safe, nurturing environment where positive Jewish role models, Judaism and acceptance are the norm? (By the way, these experiences, too, hold weight on a college application and provide great material for essays.)

    It might be hard to get your child to attend those first few events, which don’t start at age 4, like soccer practice. But it’s worth the push, because if your child does not attend youth events, the chances of him or her continuing Jewish involvement past confirmation get much slimmer.

    To this day — more than 10 years later — my closest friends are not the kids from my sports teams, my clubs, auxiliary or classes. My closest friends are still the people I knew from youth group and camp.

    At a youth group event not long ago, a parent offered the sort of analysis I love to hear. “Why wouldn’t I want my daughter coming to this event?” the parent said. “There are other Jewish teens, and an adult adviser I trust looking out for her. She feels comfortable enough to come to you if she needs anything. Plus, you’re celebrating Shabbat. Of course I want her with you!”

    Later on that night, as the teenage board members reminisced about the event and their youth-group lives, they began to talk about how youth group put them on a path they never knew existed.

    “For some reason, I feel closer with you guys than my friends at school,”one said.

    Another said: “This is the only place that I felt truly accepted.”

    A third voice added: “I see us still being friends in 30 years.”

    When asked if any felt that youth group was too much on top of sports, drama, school and other activities, one teen responded much as I would have hoped and predicted.

    “God no!” she said. “At first, when I didn’t know anyone it was a bit intimidating, but then I realized that everyone was in the same boat.

    “From then on, I always looked forward to coming to meetings and having events. Youth group has always been the calming part of my week. We have so much stress in our lives, coming to youth group is sometimes the only peaceful thing I have.”

    Lisa Greengard is youth and camp director for Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles and a member of the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Youth Professional Advisory Council.


    Social Issues Still Divide Jews, GOP

    Call it the tale of two Mellmans.

    Mark Mellman, one of John Kerry’s top four advisers, launched a talk with Jewish Democrats in Boston last month with a drasha (short sermon) on the meaning of Tisha B’Av, the Jewish fast day that happened to fall during the party convention. Then, with nary a comment from the crowd, Mellman glided into the case for the Massachusetts senator.

    Contrast that with the introduction this Sunday for Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman at a similar Jewish event.

    "One of us, Ken Mehlman — let me repeat that, one of us, Ken Mehlman — is running the Bush-Cheney campaign," said Morris Offit, a Republican and the president of the New York federation, barely containing his grin as he emphasized Mehlman’s Jewishness.

    The contrast could not be starker between the run-of-the-mill references to Yiddishkeit in Boston and the frissons of glee in New York at the mere mention of a Jewish name. It illustrates how far Jews have come in the Republican Party since the 1970s — yet how far they have to go to equal Jewish Democrats in number and influence.

    For every gratified reference to the packed rooms Jews have filled at the Republican convention, for all the invariable "we couldn’t fill a phone booth 20 years ago" jokes, there has been an acknowledgment that the status of Republican Jews in the party and the Jewish community is not anywhere near that of Jewish Democrats. The elephant in every Jewish ballroom at the convention is last month’s survey showing that Jewish preferences for Democrats have hardly budged since 2000, when George Bush scored less than 20 percent in exit polls. The poll was commissioned by Democrats, and no one here was buying into it entirely. But they still were setting expectations lower than a few months ago, when they believed Bush’s unprecedented closeness to Israel and his efforts against terrorism would win the Republicans levels of Jewish support seen only at the start of the Reagan era.

    "Getting 30 percent of the Jewish vote would be an accomplishment," Republican pollster Frank Luntz said at an American Jewish Committee (AJC) panel Monday. Reagan won close to 40 percent of the Jewish vote in the 1980 election.

    The stakes are high this year in an election so close that it could come down to a few thousand votes in swing states — particularly in states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the Jewish vote could make the difference.

    The problem, Republicans say, is the gulf between the GOP and the Jewish community on social issues.

    "On issue after issue, on the economy and foreign policy, you are seeing more and more alignment between the Jewish community and the Republican Party — with the huge caveat of a social agenda," Luntz said. "Until this point the Republican Party has been unable to communicate an acceptable social policy."

    It won’t help Republicans that this year’s platform slams abortion repeatedly — referring to late-term procedures as "brutal," "inhumane" and "violent" — that it describes expanded stem-cell research as "the destruction of human embryos" or that it supports a federal amendment banning gay marriage.

    Instead, Republicans repeatedly stressed Bush’s record on Israel and against terrorism, so much so that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani — GOP stars and moderates who could have served as salves to the Jewish community on domestic issues — instead advised Jewish audiences to simply forget about the social agenda for now.

    "You’re never going to find a candidate you agree with completely," Giuliani said Sunday at the event sponsored by AIPAC and the UJC. "You’ve got to figure out what’s important."

    In an extraordinary move for a mayor whose bread and butter is economic and social issues, Bloomberg advised Jews at the event to regard Israel as "the one issue that matters."

    The few attempts to sell Bush’s domestic policies ultimately underscored the social gap between the community and the administration.

    David Frum, a contributing editor at National Review, suggested that presidents have little influence over social issues — although, with an aging Supreme Court, the next two appointments to the bench could be crucial in determining the availability of abortion.

    Daroff, the RJC’s deputy executive director, said that Bush’s school voucher program could help Jewish day schools. But that means little to the overwhelming majority of Jews who send their children to public schools.

    The GOP’s difficulty in appealing to Jewish social sensibilities was especially evident at the RJC’s keynote Monday night gala. During a speech-fest by about 20 members of Congress, Coleman was the only one to mention domestic policy — and then only in a half sentence about Jews and Republicans sharing concerns about education and prosperity.

    Instead, speaker after speaker focused on Israel and terrorism, lauding Bush’s record in isolating Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and in rejecting a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees or a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

    Moreover, the gloves were off in attacking Kerry’s Israel record, despite assurances months ago from party leaders that the GOP would emphasize that while Kerry might be good on Israel, Bush was better.

    "Our opponents in the coming election fail to grasp the importance of America’s relationship with Israel," Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate majority leader, told the UJC-AIPAC event.

    Mehlman, the campaign manager, assailed Kerry for calling Arafat a "model statesman," though the quote was ripped from its context — in the very same sentence of his book, Kerry called Arafat a thug — and made in 1997, when Arafat’s international reputation was considerably better than today.

    Yet, Mehlman’s role as campaign manager was not the only sign of increased Jewish influence in the GOP.

    The convention as a whole went out of its way to outdo Democrats in emphasizing the party’s pro-Israel credentials, from two mentions in Giuliani’s keynote speech Monday night to Vice President Dick Cheney’s scheduled appearance at an RJC event Thursday, which the group called "indicative of this administration’s commitment to reaching out and including the Jewish community."

    Still, there was considerable anxiety at the failure to make greater strides, anxiety reflected at times in a hectoring tone from non-Jewish Republicans.

    "Don’t the Jewish people get where they stand with the U.N.? Do the Jewish American people take a lot of confidence in the support of Europe?" Sen. Gordon Smith (R.-Ore.) asked the AJC group, his voice tinged with impatience.

    Sen. Rick Santorum (R-.Penn.) urged people at the RJC event to get out the vote for the Republicans.

    "I will not be satisfied with 40 percent of the vote," he said. "George Bush deserves a majority of the Jewish American vote."

    Such warnings had an effect.

    "Show the Democratic party they do not own the Jewish vote," Michael David Epstein, vice chairman of the RJC’s legislative unit, said Monday at the group’s event. "If we do not, the next Republican president may not have in his heart what this president has in his heart."

    All told, it may be a while before GOP leaders can comfortably discuss lesser Jewish holidays such as Tisha B’Av.

    "We’re not asking everyone to be a Republican," said the RJC’s Daroff. "We’re doing baby steps: Someone here will vote for the president this year, and in two years he’ll see your roof won’t fall down if you vote Republican in the House."