Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, a firm specializing in government and public relations, recently returned from Chicago where he attended the election night festivities at the headquarters of President-Elect Barack Obama. He shares his personal impressions below about the relationship between the Jewish community and the incoming administration.
Mr. Friedlander underscored the importance of following and engaging political campaigns at all levels. He pointed out that the community “needs to develop a level of sophistication in determining which candidate to support and how to differentiate between rhetoric and reality.” He emphasized that the hysteria —by some segments of the community — surrounding the candidacy of Barack Obama indicated a narrow approach.
“I was not officially involved with President-Elect Obama’s campaign; in fact, during the campaign season I was quoted as leaning toward voting for Senator McCain. However, as the campaign progressed, I realized that I was in a position to serve as a bridge between the community and the campaign so that relations between the community and a potential Obama administration, in the event of a victory, would maintain a healthy level of open communication.
“When someone accuses a candidate, who is running for the highest office, of unsubstantiated charges, and our community buys into the rhetoric, it does not do justice to legitimate issues of serious disagreements that our community may be concerned with,” says Ezra.
“Moreover, it subsequently causes a breakdown of communication and impedes serious dialogue from developing. Questioning a candidate and researching a candidate’s positions is the American way. However, all information needs to be viewed in the proper context, and that is what was lacking in our community.”
Mr. Friedlander commented on the recent appointments announced by President-Elect Obama, stating,“While it is very premature to rate and to know how each appointee will perform and how their decisions will impact our community, one can certainly make the case that Rahm Emanuel is a mainstream Democratic member of Congress with close ties to the Jewish community and has a strong record of supporting Israel. White House Chief of Staff is arguably the most trusted adviser that any president can appoint, and Rahm’s selection is one that should be looked upon with optimism.
“By no means should we give him carte blanche because of who he is or his prior history, but certainly it is an important yardstick for predicting how he would perform.” Another name that is expected to play a major role in formulating Congressional support for the incoming Obama’s legislative agenda is the Senior Senator of Illinois, Richard Durbin, who some consider a possible future Senate Majority Leader.
Durbin is a mentor to Barack Obama and is acknowledged as one of his closest advisors. Ezra Friedlander, who enjoys a warm relationship with Senator Durbin, emphasizes that Senator Durbin has displayed a “deep sensitivity on issues important to the Jewish community and can be relied upon to be a stalwart friend of our community in the U.S. Senate,” says Ezra.
“Additionally,” Ezra concludes, “the election of the nation’s first African-American President of the United States is a reflection of the progressive attitude of the American people. For individuals that belong to a minority group —like Orthodox and Chassidic communities who are identified initially by distinct names, dress, and customs — such progress can only bode well; it is a testament to the greatness of America as a whole.
“All I am trying to accomplish is to impress upon our community to stay engaged but with a sense of responsibility — we are highly visible and we need to stay focused with a clear perspective of our objectives and goals,” Friedlander concluded.