Dovish Groups Get Surprise Invitation to White House

By Nathan Guttman

Published July 15, 2009.
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A coveted invitation to meet with President Obama at the White House was extended to the leaders of 14 Jewish groups, including many of the expected mainstream organizations and two surprises: the dovish J Street and Americans for Peace Now.

Just as notable was the list of groups that did not receive invitations to the July 13 meeting in the Roosevelt Room: the Zionist Organization of America, National Council of Young Israel and Chabad-Lubavitch, as well as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. All these groups share sympathy with the settler community and are considered by many in the Jewish community to be on the hawkish side of the political spectrum.

The list of participants was prepared by the White House in consultation with Jewish groups.

“The participants represent a broad set of viewpoints, and no one group was excluded — or included — because of their specific positions,” said Shin Inouye, director of specialty media at the White House.

White House invitations have long stirred internal quarreling within the Jewish community. Viewed as a measure of the group’s relations with the presidents and their senior staff members, Jewish organizations have consistently tried to ensure their place around the table, despite the changing political winds in Washington.

In the past, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group on foreign policy issues, was responsible for compiling the invitation lists, but beginning in the Clinton administration and through the Bush era, the Presidents Conference’s role declined, as the White House became more dominant in choosing its Jewish guests.

Bush made an attempt to refresh the list of Jewish participants and often chose to invite community rabbis and representatives of smaller groups to his White House events. Left-leaning groups were generally unwelcome at meetings held with Bush.

Of the 14 groups invited to the meeting with Obama (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Presidents Conference each got two seats), two were not members of the Presidents Conference: J Street and the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Right-wing groups were not the only ones left out. Two dovish organizations, the Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, both of which had attended meetings with Obama’s transition team, did not receive invitations. Also left off the list were two of the Jewish community’s oldest mainstream organizations: B’nai B’rith International and the American Jewish Congress.

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