Major American Jewish Groups Mull, Remain Largely Quiet on Trump Secretary of State Pick Oilman Rex Tillerson
Major American Jewish organizations are mulling over, yet remaining largely quiet about, President-elect Donald Trump’s official announcement on Tuesday that he would nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as the next secretary of state.
One group that did issue a statement on Tuesday was the American Jewish Committee, which said it “looks forward to working with the Trump administration’s secretary of state, as we have with previous secretaries of state for more than a century.”
However, the AJC went on to say, “We are unfamiliar with his [Tillerson’s] larger geopolitical view of the world and America’s place in it. As such, both before and during his Senate confirmation process, we will be particularly interested in his perspectives on a number of key issues.” The top two such issues listed by the AJC were US-Israel relations and Iran.
Earlier this week, Zionist Organization of America National President Morton A. Klein told the Jewish Insider, “As an oil man, he was obviously very close to many Arab countries, and had close relations with them. I am worried that this may indicate bias against Israel. His closeness with Russia concerns me as well because Russia has been enormously hostile to Israel.”
By Wednesday, however, Klein had warmed to Tillerson, telling The Algemeiner, “Since Donald Trump and most of his top aides are strongly pro-Israel, I don’t believe they would have allowed this appointment if he were hostile. It also bodes well that his company has funded research at Ben-Gurion University and has done significant business with Israel…Maybe his strong relationships with Arab countries and Russia would enable him to convince them to modify their hostile attitudes. Remember we all worried about Ronald Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz’s close ties to the Arab world and he turned out to be a friend.”
In a statement released on Tuesday, the National Jewish Democratic Council said, “With his latest pick, President-elect Trump continues to double down on his mixed record when it comes to issues the pro-Israel community cares most about. At best, Tillerson is an unknown quantity when it comes to Israel, at worst his affinity for [Russian President Vladmir] Putin and business dealings with some of Israel’s worst enemies adds to the growing list of fears for supporters of the US-Israel relationship.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition had not commented as of Wednesday morning on the Tillerson nomination.
Speaking with The Algemeiner on Monday, former State Department Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller — now a vice president at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, DC — said, “Tillerson’s views — whatever they are — will need to mirror Trump’s. There are no lone ranger secretaries of state in this business.”
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show on Monday, co-host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough said, “If you can pick somebody to reverse the damage of the past eight years [done to] America’s relationships with the Gulf states and Sunni Arab nations across the Middle East, it will be hard to find somebody that can do that better than Rex Tillerson, because he has been doing business with these people and making lots of money for everybody for 15-20 years. But, as close as he is to those Sunni Arab nations, that also is a blind spot regarding Israel because, of course, he hasn’t done business with Israel — because there is no oil in Israel.”
“They (the Trump team) are obsessing over a possible Mideast peace deal,” Scarborough went on to say. “That’s what they want to do. They want to hit the grand slams. Tillerson is lined up very well to do that — with Arab countries. But there is this issue of Israel that, obviously, they are going to have to work and finesse, and that could be a challenge as well that they have to overcome.”
Israel, however, has been quietly developing ties with the Sunni-Arab axis in the Middle East. In his September address to the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in addition to Egypt and Jordan, which already have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state, “Many other states in the region recognize that Israel is not their enemy. They recognize that Israel is their ally. Our common enemies are ISIS and Iran. Our common goals are security, prosperity and peace. I believe that in the years ahead we will work together to achieve these goals.”