A prominent Jewish lawmaker representing one of the nation’s most highly populated Jewish districts surprised his constituents and his colleagues by announcing that he is leaving Congress to head a think tank that focuses on promoting Middle East peace.
Florida Democrat Robert Wexler, 48, announced on October 14 that he would be leaving office in January — a decision that left many in Washington baffled, since his congressional seat was seen as safe and he did not indicate a wish to leave politics. Calling his move a “bittersweet moment,” Wexler told reporters at a news conference in Boca Raton, Fla., that he believes leaving Congress is the “best plan for me at this time.”
Wexler will take over as president of the Center for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation, a Washington-based think tank founded by diet food billionaire Daniel Abraham. The center, which in the 1990s was a leading player in Washington’s Middle East scene, has shown little activity in recent years. Recruiting Wexler to head the think tank is meant, presumably, to raise its public profile.
A self-proclaimed “fire-breathing liberal,” Wexler usually aligned with the left-wing of the Democratic Party, although on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East he has taken a more centrist approach and argued against pressuring Israel.
Wexler was the first Jewish member of Congress to back Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries, at a time when most Jewish voters leaned in favor of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He campaigned vigorously for Obama before Jews in Florida and throughout the country. His close ties with the president could make Wexler, in his new position, an unofficial power broker in Middle East peace talks. The outgoing congressman did not elaborate on his plans, and said only that there are “significant opportunities to succeed in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Florida’s 19th District, which Wexler has represented since 1997, is home to about half the members of the state’s 750,000-strong Jewish community. Broward and Palm Beach counties include many retirement communities.
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Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman