A look at Biden’s Jewish picks for staff, Cabinet

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

This feature is dedicated to the memory of Melvin L. Newmark, St. Louis attorney and Jewish community leader, who served as president of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees from l969-l972. In his memory, Mr. Newmark’s family and friends established the Melvin L. Newmark Memorial Fund, which has funded and sponsored commentary articles and special features on a topic of current Jewish interest. The St. Louis Jewish Light is grateful to Melvin Newmark’s family and friends, for establishing the fund.

This year has tested our mettle, with the twin scourges of the lethal and growing COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most bitterly divisive presidential elections in American history. Without being Pollyannaish, is there any silver lining that could dissipate the dark clouds of a disease that has already claimed more than 260,000 American lives?

Perhaps it can be found in the advancement of two vaccines, which drug makers report have no serious side effects and are  more than 90% effective. The first injections could begin before the end of the year. 

Not only that, but whatever one’s political leanings, Jews can take pride in the fact that President-elect Joe Biden has chosen an impressive number of very qualified Jews for key posts, especially his choice of the experienced and highly regarded Antony Blinken to be the 71st secretary of state. Blinken is the son of Holocaust survivors.

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“Tony Blinken has the breadth and depth of experience to ably oversee the implementation of U.S. foreign policy under President Biden,” David Harris, American Jewish Committee president and CEO, said in a statement, adding that Blinken is supportive of issues of Jewish concern, “including full-throated support of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, widening the growing circle of Arab-Israeli peace, the fight against global anti-Semitism and the danger posed by Iran and its proxies.”

In addition to Blinken, Biden has chosen four other impressive Jewish candidates for key jobs: Ron Klain as White House chief of staff; Janet L. Yellen as treasury secretary; Alejandro N. Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security; and Avril Danica Haines as director of national intelligence. These are men and women of integrity with proven experience.

Our parents and grandparents might have said, “Only in America could so many of our people rise to such prominent positions!’’

And they would be right. We are proud of our fellow Jews and the fact that their Judaism is not a barrier to high office.

And then there is Biden himself, who in his half century as a senator and vice president has been a consistent ally and supporter of Israel and who has many Jews in his family; all three of Biden’s children married Jewish spouses.

Supporters of President Donald Trump point out that his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism. Her husband, Jared Kushner, has also been praised for his key role in getting the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan to normalize relations with the Jewish State, as well as Trump’s moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Biden has said he supports keeping the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and has praised the Abraham Accords, the name of the agreement between Israel and the Arab states.

The Biden transition team and Trump’s administration must urgently work together to get the most effective vaccines distributed as soon as possible. Hopefully that will be the first page in a new chapter of American history.

Biden has said he wants to represent all Americans, not only the 80 million who voted for him, but also the 74 million who voted for Trump. That will be a daunting task.

But like President Gerald Ford, who calmed the nation after Watergate, or President Lyndon B. Johnson after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Biden has the right temperament and political capital and experience to assume the awesome burdens of the presidency.

As Americans, regardless of party, let us wish him well.