Let’s Not Be 'Non-believers' and 'Overly Critical' of Trump, Says American Jewish Leader

American Jewish Congress chairman Jack Rosen does not anticipate major shift in policy toward Israel by the incoming administration.

Shahar Azran

One of America’s most influential Jews is urging disgruntled voters to give Donald Trump a chance and not over-react to the appointment of Steve Bannon, a radical right-winger accused of anti-Semitism, to a key White House position.

In an interview with Haaretz, Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, said Jews “shouldn’t necessarily start off immediately being non-believers or overly critical. We should give our new president an opportunity to set out his policies and goals, and we have to just wait and see.

"That’s the American way, and that’s how democracies work. You need to respect that there are outcomes to elections.”

Known for his close ties to both President Barack Obama and the defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Rosen said he would not read too much into harsh statements that were made “in the heat of the campaign.”

“It’s been a divisive campaign, and many things were said,” he noted. “Let’s hope that our new president brings everyone together and, no matter what the rhetoric was in the campaign, there are some things we can all agree on, domestically and internationally.”

Rosen, a New York real estate investor who was also close to former President George W. Bush, is in Israel this week for the annual International Mayors Conference, organized by the American Jewish Congress and the American Council for World Jewry, in collaboration with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Union of Local Authorities in Israel.

Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon at a Donald Trump rally in Canton, Ohio, September 14, 2016.
Mike Segar, Reuters

The conference brings together leaders of major cities around with world with Israeli high-tech, energy and cyber technology executives, as well as with urban development experts.

The wait-and-see attitude also applied to the controversial appointment of former Trump campaign chief and ex-Breitbart CEO Steven Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor to the new president, Rosen said.

“We’re aware of thing he’s said in the past,” Rosen noted. “How the president chooses to use him will indicate to what extent Bannon can influence decisions that matter to Americans.”

Bannon’s ex-wife has testified that he objected to their daughters’ attending a particular school because of its large Jewish student body. His latest appointment, announced on Sunday, has drawn sharp condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League and leading Democrats.

By contrast, said Rosen, the appointment of Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, as White House chief of staff, was a reassuring sign.  “He is not a divisive figure,” he said. “We’ve known him for a long time, and he’s been a big supporter of Israel.”

Asked if he was concerned about the numerous incidents of anti-Semitism reported since Election Day, Rosen said: “The fact that there’s an alt-right movement that would stand up and express anti-Semitism doesn’t surprise me. The David Duke types have been around, and we know what they think, what they feel and what they say. I would only hope this isn’t the beginning of more public-type outbursts by the alt-right, but I believe the president will put down that kind of stuff.”

Rosen urged the organized Jewish community to send a clear message to the incoming administration that “anti-Semitism, racism, and all the other isms” are unacceptable. He said he was hopeful that “as Trump puts his team together, we’ll hear more voices around him speaking out against this kind of behavior.”

Rosen declined to reveal the candidate he had voted for in last week’s election, saying that “since you’re interviewing me as chairman of the American Jewish Congress, I shouldn’t be saying that.”

Despite speculation to the contrary, Rosen said he did not anticipate any significant change in U.S. policy toward Israel and the region under a Trump administration. “I think we can expect the so-called ‘establishment’ of policymakers to continue being part of the decision-making process,” he said.

“The president, of course, is going to pave the way in one direction or another, but he’s not going to bring in a lot of new people who are novices and don’t know anything about conflicts in the Middle East.”

How tough Trump will come down on Israel, if at all, has yet to be determined, Rosen said. However, he regards it as absolutely clear that Trump will be a “friend of Israel.”

“I have no doubt about it,” he said. “He’s grown up in New York with Jews all around him.  Many of his friends are Jews. His daughter and grandchildren are Jewish. He’s going to be a friend of Israel’s for sure. The question is policy and, as we know, even Jews in Israel have different ideas about what direction policy should take.”

Asked to specify what being a friend of Israel entailed, Rosen said: “It does not have to mean total, unconditional love.”

He noted that Trump had expressed strong objections to the Iranian nuclear deal during the campaign and had promised to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, thereby officially recognizing the city as the country’s capital.

“But these are all complicated issues,” said Rosen, “and he’s going to have to work through the details now. We’ll just have to wait and see what the outcome is.”

 “It’s not that simple to rip up deals,” Rosen added.