Solow: Netanyahu and Obama can bridge differences

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Alan Solow, who has known both President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu for several years, believes that “the two brilliant leaders who are very effective communicators” will find ways to reach common ground on the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Solow, a Chicago attorney and long-time friend and supporter of Obama dating back to his early entry into Illinois politics, is chair of the National Jewish Community Centers Association and chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He was the guest speaker at the newly dedicated Staenberg Family Complex of the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis last week.

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Solow’s topic was “Jews and World Politics in the 21st Century and Beyond,” but his wide-ranging talk touched on his excitement about the new Staenberg Family Complex, which he praised as “breathtaking,” as well as his admiration for both Obama and Netanyahu and his meetings with Pope Benedict XVI, who last week became the third reigning pontiff to visit the Holy Land.

Solow described his post as president of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group of 51 Jewish organizations that meet to hammer out unified positions on Israel and domestic issues of concern to the Jewish community, as “the best Jewish job in the world.”

“Well, maybe the prime minister of Israel has that job, but he has to campaign for office and deal with security issues. But I do have the great honor of representing the American Jewish community,” he said, adding that the Conference was created in the mid-1950s at the suggestion of then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, during the Eisenhower Administration.

Solow noted that during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations the White House and State Department had complained of being constantly lobbied by various separate Jewish groups discussing the same issues. Dulles strongly urged the creation of an umbrella organization to develop consensus positions on various issues.

“What we do is to provide a sounding board, and a formal means of getting together to discuss issues of major concern, including domestic issues as well as our support for Israel,” Solow said.

Solow said that early in his term, he went on the first of several “whirlwind trips” to Israel. “We spent about 36 hours on the ground, during which I met the mayor of Sderot, the southern Israeli town that had been hit by thousands of Hamas-fired rockets from Gaza, and also visited wounded IDF soldiers in a military hospital from Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. I learned that Israelis call things an operation rather than a war if they last more than six days,” he recalled.

Solow also had an opportunity to meet with Netanyahu, Israel’s new prime minister, whose “hard line” Likud Party rejects the two-state solution favored by both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

“I believe that in their first face-to-face meetings at the White House (conducted Monday), these two brilliant and well-spoken leaders will avoid being confrontational,” he said, referring to Netanyahu and Obama. “I also believe that the differences between them on the peace process are largely a matter of timing and choices of language. Ultimately, both leaders want there to be a lasting peace with security for both Israel and the Palestinians.”

Solow said that representatives of the Conference of Presidents had met with Pope Benedict XVI and “felt positive about his apology over the removal of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, his firm denunciation of anti-Semitism, and his reaffirmation of support for the reforms of Vatican II, including Nostra Aetate, which absolves Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus. It was a positive and reassuring meeting.”

Audience members praised Solow’s speech for its range and candor. “I found his talk to be very interesting and reassuring regarding the state of U.S.-Israeli relations and the position of American Jewry with the White House after the elections in both countries,” said Phil Levens. “He was forthright, candid and engaging.”

JCC volunteer and Light Board member Jane Tzinberg Rubin also found Solow’s talk enlightening. “He truly does wear many kippot in our American Jewish community, and we are fortunate that he represents us at the highest levels,” she said.

And while Phyllis Fuhrer, another audience member, said she doesn’t agree with Solow on all fronts, she added: “I enjoyed (Solow’s) inside information regarding (Ehud) Olmert, Netanyahu, the Pope and Obama. I am not sure that I share his support at this time for a two-state solution; I just want to be sure that Israel will not be put into a position of fatally weakening itself if it agrees to the Hamas idea for a 10-year truce, during which they could re-arm and threaten Israel.”