The White House's Jewish liaison makes his public debut, citing Obama's fight against a nuclear Iran
12:47 pm Nov. 7, 2011
President Barack Obama made his case today, through an emissary, to Israel-minded Jewish voters in New York.
In his first public remarks as the White House's Jewish liaison, Jarrod Bernstein gave the introductory speech this morning at the second annual legislative breakfast for Agudath Israel.
"The mere fact that the president has appointed you, Jarrod, to serve as his liaison to the Jewish community speaks eloquently and it speaks volumes about how he, in fact, is deeply concerned about the well-being of our community," said Agudath's executive vice president, David Zweibel, in his introduction.
Bernstein's appointment last month came just a few weeks after Democrats lost a closely watched special congressional election in New York's heavily Democratic Ninth District. The winner of that race, Representative Bob Turner, was also on hand at this morning's event, to deliver a keynote address on homeland security.
Bernstein has deep ties in New York—he spent seven years working for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and his wife, Hildy Kuryk, oversaw the New York fund-raising for Obama's campaign in 2008—and he played up his local connections.
"I come from New York and one day hopefully I will return here, so I have a vested interest in a strong and vibrant Jewish community here, one that is safe and secure from all kinds of issues," he said.
Agudath is the kind of hawkishly pro-Israel group with which the president has had some trouble, and while Bernstein's remarks were deliberately un-newsworthy—at one point, he quoted at length from the president's speech to the United Nations in September—his appearance alone was meant to convey seriousness in the president's efforts to engage them.
The event drew a litany of local elected officials, including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, prospective mayoral candidates Scott Stringer and John Liu, and about a dozen state and local officials, including Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who is mulling a challenge to Turner next year.
Bernstein, who was plucked from an assistant secretary position in the Department of Homeland Security, touted the administration's record-setting allocation of Pell grants, "which are important to rabbinical and yeshiva students," but he mostly focused on the administration's commitment to Israel.
"To help insure the safety and security of Israel, we have realized unprecedented levels of military cooperation with the state of Israel," he said.
Bernstein said the administration's request for $2.775 billion to aid in Israel in fiscal year 2010 was "the largest request in history."
"So, in F.Y. 2011, we requested even more," he said of the administration's $3 billion request, which he tried to put in human terms.
"We're talking about the realization of the Iron Dome missile defense system that will be funded out of this money and it will be saving Israeli lives from rockets, wherever they come from," he said. "That is real—that is not just a number, folks, that is a real live tangible impact on Israelis' lives."
Bernstein also contended that the president was winning the diplomatic war over Iran's nuclear program.
"On Iran, the president has spent more time trying to block Iran's nuclear ambitions than any other foreign policy issue," he said. "And it's something that he raises every single time he's in a room with a foreign world leader, about what more we can be doing.
"He's also galvanized the international community to impose the toughest set of sanctions on Iran to date. In fact, he made the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acknowledge in the Iranian parliament how hard of a time he's having because of the American sanctions. And that is not something you hear very often in Iran, folks."
Before he wrapped up his remarks, and began working the room, shaking hands and handing out business cards, Bernstein told the group they could call him anytime.
"You know how to get a hold of me," he said. "And I will be there for you."