President Obama’s Circle of Friends

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
By: RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks

When President Obama came into office in 2009, he had big plans: close Gitmo, strengthen the economy, cut unemployment, make friends with the Muslim world, make peace in the Middle East, and bring about the day when “the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal…”

Many of those plans, including the ones about making friends with the Muslim world and bringing peace to the Mideast, failed miserably in Obama’s first term. His second term is looking pretty tough, too. So like many an embattled president, Obama has called his old-time friends to the White House, to circle the wagons and advise him at the highest levels of government.

There are half a dozen old friends of the President who became Cabinet members, were nominated to a Cabinet post, or were chosen to be a top advisor in his second term. Some of these names were too controversial to put forward for Senate confirmation before, but here they are today, to reassure the President that his early ideas were the right ones and to “have his back” in the policy fights to come as he tries to flesh out his administration’s legacy. The record of each one’s relationships with Pres. Obama and especially his or her record on Israel and Middle East issues raise serious concerns.

Robert Malley
Robert Malley is reportedly a frontrunner for the post of deputy assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and special advisor on Syria. Malley went to Harvard Law School with Barack Obama. He served in the Clinton administration and was a member of Clinton’s Mideast policy team during the Camp David talks in 2000. Malley blamed Israel for the lack of success of those talks. Later he acted, in the Obama presidential campaign’s words, as an informal advisor to candidate Obama. The campaign severed ties with Malley in May 2008 after the British Times newspaper reported that Malley had met directly with representatives of Hamas, a group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Malley has long advocated for bringing Hamas into the Mideast peace process. Malley served on J Street’s Advisory Council.

Samantha Power
Samantha Power has written and worked extensively on human rights and genocide, which brought her to the attention of then-Senator Barack Obama. She was a senior advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign until March 2008, when she resigned in the backlash to having called Hillary Clinton “a monster” in a public interview. She joined Obama’s State Department transition team and became a special assistant to the President on the National Security Council regarding human rights. She was the first head of the President’s Atrocities Prevention Board, which was silent on the violence in Syria and in South Sudan, and other conflicts. She has made several controversial anti-Israel remarks in the past. She was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, replacing Susan Rice in that post.

Susan Rice
Susan Rice served on the National Security Council under President Clinton and later went to the Brookings Institution. She was a senior policy advisor to presidential candidate Obama and was on his transition advisory board. President Obama restored the position of ambassador to the United Nations to a Cabinet level post when he chose her for that job in 2008. Rice was a controversial ambassador who was criticized for missing important U.N. sessions. In an official statement explaining the U.S. veto on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, she said, “Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity… Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.” Rice famously lied on the Sunday morning talk shows about the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. She became the symbol for the administration’s evasions and lies about what happened that night. In the subsequent uproar, she withdrew her name from consideration for Secretary of State. President Obama has now named her national security advisor, a post that does not require Senate confirmation.

Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel and Barack Obama became friends as members of the U.S. Senate. As a veteran Senator, Hagel advised freshman Senator Obama on various issues. He served as an advisor to presidential candidate Obama. After retiring from his Senate seat in 2008, Hagel entered academia. Pres. Obama nominated him to be Secretary of Defense in January 2013. Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran caused the RJC and several other major groups to protest his nomination in the strongest terms. Hagel reportedly called the State Department “an adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Minister’s office” and said, “The Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up [in Congress].” Hagel opposed sanctions against Iran and called for direct negotiations with the Iranian regime. He has also advocated for direct talks with Hamas and Hezbollah in the past. All but four Senate Republicans opposed his Defense nomination, but it was approved with unanimous Democrat backing in February.

Michael Froman
Michael Froman went to Harvard Law School with Barack Obama and was on the law review with him. He advised then-Senator Obama on economic policy and was central in helping presidential candidate Obama develop his economic team. Froman served as national security advisor for economic affairs. He was nominated to be U.S. Trade Representative in May 2013 and was confirmed in June.

Penny Pritzker
Penny Pritkzer is an old Chicago hand, part of a very influential family known for having owned the Hyatt hotel chain, the TransUnion credit bureau, and the Royal Caribbean cruise line, among other prominent holdings. Pritzker chaired the national finance committee for the Obama campaign in 2008. Thanks to her business connections and strong support for Obama, she raised the millions of dollars that helped get him elected President. She was considered a top choice for Secretary of Commerce in 2009, but was involved at that time in the breakup of Pritzker family-owned Superior Bank, in the subprime home mortgage meltdown. It was thought too controversial to put forward the owner of a large failed bank as a possible commerce secretary. She remained in the finance world until President Obama tapped her for commerce secretary in May 2013. She was confirmed on June 25.

In a second term, Presidents feel they have “more flexibility” to do what they want, whether the voters would approve or not. In this instance, President Obama has nominated some people who were too hot to nominate in 2009, but whose ideas and past statements are no longer a political issue. Some of those ideas – like Robert Malley’s take on the peace process, Susan Rice’s thoughts on Israeli policies, and Chuck Hagel’s views on Iran – raise particular concern about the trajectory of Obama administration policies in the next three years.
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RJC Statement on Ron Dermer Being Named as Ambassador-Designate from Israel to the U.S.

Washington, D.C. (July 9, 2013) - The Republican Jewish Coalition released a statement today in response to the announcement that Ron Dermer will be Israel's next Ambassador to the U.S, replacing current Ambassador Michael Oren.

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said, "The RJC extends warm congratulations to our friend Ron Dermer on this well-deserved honor. Ron is known for being a trusted and effective aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Responsibility for maintaining the Jewish state's most vital international alliance is a heavy one, but knowing Ron as we do, we are confident that he is up to the job.

"A visit with Ron has been a highlight on the itinerary of recent RJC delegations to Israel. We look forward to reciprocating his hospitality during his posting in Washington, DC. Mazel tov, Ron.

"This is also a moment to thank Ambassador Michael Oren for four years of exemplary service during which he advanced the cause of U.S.-Israeli friendship in countless ways. We wish Ambassador Oren well in his future endeavors."


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RJC Statement on the Nomination of Samantha Power to be U.N. Ambassador

Washington, D.C. (June 5, 2013) -- The Republican Jewish Coalition released a statement today in response to the announcement that President Obama intends to name Samantha Power as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said, “Samantha Power has a record of statements that are very troubling to Americans who support Israel. We urge members of the U.S. Senate to question her closely about her past statements and writings. She must respond to the strong doubts about her views raised by that record. Senators should also examine her tenure as head of the President’s Atrocity Prevention Board to see what results, if any, came out of her time there.

“The U.S. has an important role to play in the United Nations to defend freedom, Western values, and our democratic allies. We need an ambassador who will fight for U.S. interests in the international arena. Samantha Power must show the Senate and the American people that she can fill that role.”

In 2008, as an academic who taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Samantha Power suggested  that the U.S. should invade Israel militarily to impose a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and protect “a new state of Palestine.” Her writing and public appearances reflected her views that special-interest lobbies in this country (read, the “Israel lobby”) have too great an impact on our foreign policy in the Middle East.

More recently, she served as the first director of President Obama’s new Atrocity Prevention Board. In her months in that role, the APB was silent about the thousands of civilians killed by the Syrian government, the attacks by the Sudanese government of the Nuba tribes in South Sudan, and other crises around the world. The APB has no web site or social media presence, and has not responded to letters from human rights activists and genocide scholars regarding ongoing atrocities.
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RJC Statement on the Passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg

Washington, D.C. (June 3, 2013) -- The Republican Jewish Coalition notes the passing today of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said, "Frank Lautenberg was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader in Jewish communal life. He served his country during World War II and in decades of dedicated public service. His work in the Senate helped thousands of Soviet Jews and other victims of religious persecution to reach freedom. He was a proud Jew and a proud American. May his family and friends be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem."
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RJC Applauds Florida Families First Budget

Governor Scott Signs into Law Historical, Cultural, and Business Items Important to Floridians and the Jewish Community

Boca Raton, FL (May 31, 2013) -- Today the Republican Jewish Coalition of Florida and Board of Directors member Ambassador Mel Sembler applauded Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature for completing a budget that included initiatives important to Florida's Jewish community and all Floridians.

The following statement was released:

On behalf of the members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, I applaud Governor Rick Scott and his partners in the Florida Legislature who included three key items in the final budget signed into law. The Florida Families First Budget includes:

  • $950,000 for the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, to continue the important mission of educating our youth to remember and respect the Holocaust, its victims and survivors.

  • $1 million for Space Florida R&D which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Israel, to support innovative research for the economic benefit of both nations.

  • $100,000 to establish a Tel Aviv office of Enterprise Florida. This will provide an Enterprise Florida location in Israel, focused on facilitating joint economic development between Florida and Israel.

These three items benefit all Floridians and are important to the Jewish community. They demonstrate a deep understanding for the struggle of the Jewish people and an appreciation of Florida's unique position in the business and cultural alliance between the United States and Israel.
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RJC Releases "Blueprint for Victory" Video

RJC's outreach in 2012 is a model for Republicans

Washington, D.C. (April 26, 2013) -- The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) today released a video, made in cooperation with our creative partner, Jamestown Associates, that highlights the RJC's successful outreach effort in the Jewish community in 2012, how it was accomplished, and the insights it offers for Republican Party outreach to other "non-traditional Republican voters" in the future.

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said, "The RJC's experience offers some ideas for how the Republican Party can effectively reach out to Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, women, younger voters, and other voters.

"We believe that by promoting an inclusive, conservative vision and adapting the RJC's strategies, the GOP will once again be the majority party in this country," Brooks said.

See the video on the RJC web site and on YouTube.
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RJC: Kerry's Remarks Must Not Stand

Brooks: Unconscionable to equate IDF self-defense with terrorist murders

Washington, D.C. (April 22, 2013) — The Republican Jewish Coalition strongly objected to Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks likening some Turks' anger over Israel's self-defense in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident to Americans' outrage over last week's terrorist attack on innocent spectators at the Boston Marathon.

RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks said, "Secretary Kerry should retract these remarks as soon as possible. It's unconscionable to compare the loss of life resulting from an act of self-defense to the results of cold-blooded, premeditated murder by terrorists."

Brooks added, "We understand that Secretary Kerry has reason to be deeply worried by the disappointing results to date from the President's push to end the rift between Israel and Turkey. But he needs to correct the record so that our allies and critics around the world don't get the idea that the world's most powerful democracy has lost its moral bearings."

During a press conference in Istanbul yesterday, Secretary Kerry said the following about Turkish anger over the 2010 incident, "I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them. And nobody – I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that." (Emphasis added)
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Republican Jewish Coalition Hires New Florida Director

Washington, D.C. (April 10, 2013) -- The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), the nation's only grassroots organization of Jewish Republicans, announced the hiring of Matthew Bogdanoff as the RJC's Florida regional director. Bogdanoff, a graduate of the Florida State University, comes to the RJC with extensive experience in political campaign management. Bogdanoff has worked on races including city commission, school board, the Florida House of Representatives, the Florida state Senate, and most recently the 2012 presidential campaign.

In addition to his campaign experience, Bogdanoff has worked in the Florida House as a legislative aide. During the 2012 presidential election, Bogdanoff worked as a Florida field representative for the RJC. As part of the RJC team, he assisted in delivering the RJC message to the Florida Jewish community and was instrumental in making the RJC's Florida outreach a huge success.

"The RJC is excited and fortunate to have Matthew Bogdanoff as our new Florida regional director," said RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks. "As a native Floridian, Matt understand the community and the state and we look forward to working with him to expand the RJC's outreach efforts in this critical part of the country."
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RJC Mourns Passing of Margaret Thatcher

Washington, D.C. (April 8, 2013) - The Republican Jewish Coalition mourns the passing of Margaret Thatcher, one of the pivotal figures of the late 20th century fight against tyranny.

As prime minister of Great Britain, Thatcher saved that country's economy, fought terrorism, and stood firmly with Israel. She was a fierce Cold Warrior who helped bring an end to the Soviet empire and proved that conservative principles - free markets, personal freedom, and personal responsibility - could indeed change the world for the better.

She was a remarkable woman and an inspiration to people around the world. Her strength, her leadership, and her clear-sighted approach to policy will be sorely missed.
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Happy Passover!

The officers and staff of the Republican Jewish Coalition wish you and your family a happy Passover, a chag kasher v'sameach.

All RJC offices will be closed on the first two days and the last two days of Passover, March 26-27 and April 1-2 . The RJC enewsletter will not be published on March 28.
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