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Obama Gathers a Wide Spectrum of Jewish Groups

President-elect Obama is proving to be very interested in hearing from a spectrum of views on Israel and the Mideast. Though that will make right-wingers very nervous, it suggests that, based in Obama’s deep appreciation for and support of Israel, we might see some creative, wide support for negotiations and peace efforts in that troubled region. (Also in attendance was the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center).

JTA, in its Election Central Blog, reports that:

President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team’s first official encounter with the Jewish community suggested a substantial change in how his administration will deal with Jewish groups: Present were the array of dovish pro-Israel groups, including the Israel Policy Forum, J-Street, Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.

Of those groups, only IPF made the occasional appearance at meetings with Bush administration officials – and that was because the group has always been careful to cast a non-partisan tint to its pro-negotiations posture, effusively praising the Bush administration’s peace-brokering efforts, however infrequent those were until a year or so ago. Other more liberal groups at the table – including the Reform movemen’ts Religious Action Center – were also occasionally invited, but the emphasis is on “occasionally.”

What was remarkable about Thursday’s meeting is that the Obama team also reached out to the other side, including the Zionist Organization of America. Dan Shapiro, the transition official who handled foreign policy at the meeting, made it clear he wanted to hear all voices.

The Bush administration’s infamous tetchiness at criticism seemed to be a thing of the past: ZOA has slammed Obama’s transition team for including strident Israel critic Samantha Power in a post that barely registers above chief cook and bottle washer, but has failed to praise it for installing true-blue pro-Israel types like Jim Steinberg in more senior posts.

And that was fine with the dovish types, or at least with Diane Balser who directs Brit Tzedek, a group that has lobbied in recent years for increased aid to the Palestinians, even as ZOA has lobbied against it.

“The Obama team said they were open and understood everyone had a seat,” Balser told me. “To acknowledge there is more than one view on Israel, that we’re not monolithic – I consider that a step forward for us.”

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