Top White House posts go to Jews
After appointing Joshua Bolten to be the White House chief of staff, US President George W. Bush nominated another Jewish staffer, Joel Kaplan, to serve as Bolten's deputy, putting him in charge of the daily policy planning.
The fact that White House policy is now in the hands of two Jews is not seen as significant by activists in the American Jewish community.
"He is simply appointing the best people for the job," said Nathan Diament, who heads the Washington office of the Orthodox Union. Another Jewish activist added that he "wouldn't read too much into it."
Bolten, who first served as head of the Office of Management and Budget, was the first Jewish member of Bush's cabinet. Ever since Bush took office, there has been a custom of opening cabinet meetings with a brief prayer and so, before his first cabinet meeting, Bolten's assistant contacted Diament and asked for help in finding a Jewish prayer for the security and well-being of the cabinet members. The Orthodox Union provided him with the text in English and in Hebrew and Bolten read it aloud at the next cabinet meeting.
Bolten and Kaplan will probably be the most prominent Jewish members of the Bush administration, but not the only ones. Apart from Bolten, there is another Jewish cabinet member, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and there are other Jewish senior staff members, including Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams and White House staffer Jay Lefkowitz.
In the past year, several Jews who were holding senior posts in the administration have left, among them deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense Doug Feith, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby and political adviser Ken Mehlman, who now heads the Republican National Committee.
Yet the policy of the administration has little to do with the religious beliefs of the staffers. "The president sets the policy goals and it is now the job of Josh [Bolten] and Joel [Kaplan] to help achieve these goals," said Noam Neusner, who served as the liaison to the Jewish community in Bush's White House from 2002-2005.
Other Jewish activists, both Republican and Democrat, agree that the nomination of Bolten and Kaplan have no affect on policy.
For Republicans, there is still a feeling that Bush does not receive the credit he deserves from the Jewish community. "We have Israel's best friend and it still hasn't changed the way the Jewish community sees him," said Fred Zeidman, a close friend of Bush and chairman of the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. "I keep hoping that one day our community will see the light and support President Bush."
Neusner recalled that in the Bush White House there was always great respect for religious practices of the staffers and predicted that this policy would remain now that Bolten is running its daily operations.
One tradition likely to go on is the reading of the Purim megilla led by Chabad Rabbi Levi Shemtov, which attracts many of the Jewish staffers.
The relatively small number of Jews in Bush's cabinet became an issue largely due to the comparison with his predecessor, Bill Clinton. The former administration had such Jewish cabinet members as Robert Reich, Robert Rubin, Sandy Berger, Lawrence Summers and Madeline Albright and State Department officials Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Aaron Miller.
"I don't support this idea of bean counting," said Jay Footlik, who was Clinton's liaison to the Jewish community. He sees the fact that the former administration had many Jewish members as significant to the policy the president had in regard to the Jewish community. According to him, the reason Jews were so visible in Clinton's administration was merely a result of the community being "drawn to public involvement and political activity."