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June 13, 2012 1:48 pm

Obama Administration Continues High Level Communication with Jewish Leaders

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano shared bagels and conversation at the 2012 Met Council Legislative Breakfast with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

In a continuing series of White House meetings with high level Jewish leaders conducted by the President and members of his administration, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano met with leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) on June 11.   The Monday morning meeting at the White House brought together leaders from across the nation “to underscore the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) commitment to partnering with faith-based communities to prevent, prepare for and respond to threats.”

“Homeland security begins with hometown security, and our nation’s faith-based organizations play a critical role in keeping our communities safe,” said Secretary Napolitano. “DHS works closely with communities all across the country so they are better prepared to deal with threats that may originate within this country or abroad.”

Napolitano, who received the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty’s National Leadership Award for her “continued leadership and dedication to keeping Americans safe in their communities,” at its June 3 legislative breakfast, has been honored by many organizations in the Jewish community. Accepting her award, the secretary said, “We partner with organizations like Met Council because their expertise can help us help communities to prepare for, respond to, and be able to recover from disasters and other hazards.”

DHS says it is committed to collaborating with the Jewish community at home and abroad, and towards that end, Secretary Napolitano signed a joint statement US-Israel agreement on the implementation of the Global Entry trusted traveler program during her recent (May) trip to Israel, expediting clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Her earliest visit to Israel was when, as attorney general of Arizona, she joined eight other state attorney generals on an American-Israel Friendship League delegation studying U.S.-Israel cooperation in legal affairs.

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NYC police commissioner Raymond Kelly with Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

At the White House meeting, Napolitano announced the expansion of the “If You See Something, Say Something” public awareness campaign to the Jewish community in partnership with JFNA and the Secure Community Network.  SCN is an information sharing mechanism for “faith- and community-based organizations designed to improve security awareness in a crisis situation.”

During Jewish Heritage Month, the White House certainly kept the faith – or, at least, kept meeting with the faithful. On May 29, the president and his chief of staff, Jack Lew, met with a group distinguished conservative rabbis and thinkers including Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.   The President thanked the conservative Jewish community leaders for their involvement in community building and their “commitment to rebuilding our economy.”  According to the White House Press Office, President Obama reaffirmed his ” unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” and discussed the strong cooperation between the Obama Administration and the State of Israel, highlighting steps his administration has taken to enhance the alliance, including “unprecedented security cooperation and the toughest-ever sanctions on Iran.”

During the following week, President Obama met with a delegation of about seventeen Orthodox leaders, including congregational rabbis, leaders of the Orthodox Union and Richard Joel, President of Yeshiva University.  Nathan Diament, spokesman for the OU, told JointMedia News Service that the meeting was “an opportunity to engage in conversation with the president on key issues of concern to the Orthodox community.”  He noted that, following a half hour meeting withJack Lew, an observant, shomar Shabbat Jew, the group was joined by the president for an anticipated twenty five minute meeting.   The actual meeting lasted more than forty five minutes, and provided a forum to “talk real issues.”

Diament told the Algemeiner that the president “gave lengthy and thoughtful answers to three questions” including what assistance the federal government can give to assist non-public schools (including Jewish day schools).  He noted that two major federal education funding programs – including the ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – provide services to non-public school students and “they ought to be getting services  – as designated by law.” He said the president “wants to work with the Orthodox Jewish community on finding ways to ‘break the bottlenecks’ and push local providers to service eligible children.”

Army Reserve Chaplain Goldstein with Secretary Napolitano. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Obama has said publicly that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict through the two state solution is in the long term interest of Israel. Asked by the Algemeiner what was the OU’s position regarding the two state solution, Diament stated that with regard to security issues confronting Israel, its general rule was “to defer to the judgment and decisions made by the elected government of Israel.”

Religious liberty, particularly in regard to the administration’s demand that all health care options must be available was the third area of discussion.  Diament pointed out while the Orthodox Union does not have the same position as the Catholic Church vis a vis contraception, the OU was concerned that the new administration’s regulations are “creating two classes of religious institutions” with houses of worship being exempt from the regulations but other religious institutions – such as hospitals, schools or community centers – subject to different requirements.  The president, said Diament “still is committed to providing health care services and is trying to strike a delicate balance.”

In summary, he said, “it was a very good meeting, very respectful, substantive and thoughtful, a good exchange of views and ideas on a series of important issues.”

“The delegation was not necessarily about whether minds were changed.  It was more about communicating our respective views and understanding each other better.”

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