The Passionate Attachment

America's entanglement with Israel

How Panetta learned to love the Jewish state

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In the Jewish Daily Forward, Nathan Guttman explains how America’s new Secretary of Defense became “a familiar and trusted figure to the Jewish and pro-Israeli communities”:

At first, Panetta showed practically no sign of interest in Jewish issues.

“He didn’t stand out on issues that the Jewish community worked on,” recalled Doug Bloomfield, who at the time was a lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Panetta had little to do with issues relating to Israel and was focused mainly on government budget concerns. “He has a reputation of a no-nonsense guy,” Bloomfield added.

That changed to some extent during his years in Inside the Beltway Democratic politics. Panetta shared a house in Washington with a prominent Jewish roommate, Democratic New York Senator Charles Schumer. This partnership helped lead to Panetta’s first visit to Israel.

In 1991, Schumer helped put together a congressional mission to Israel, organized by the Anti-Defamation League. Panetta was the senior congressman in the group, which also included Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat George Miller and Rep. Martin Russo, an Illinois Democrat. Both Miller and Russo were also roommates of Schumer and Panetta.

The numbers cruncher made an immediate positive impression on the Israelis.

“He was very open and very interested,” recalled Jess Hordes, the former ADL Washington director who accompanied the group in Israel. Panetta, a devout Catholic, showed special interest in Israel’s Christian religious sites. “He was very sympathetic to Israel, its story and its people,” Hordes added.

One wonders how many other public representatives have developed sympathy for Israel while staying at “Chuck’s Place.” In a 2002 New York Times piece, Katherine Marsh wrote:

Since 1982, when he was a freshman representative, Mr. Schumer has lived part of the week with a changing cast of three other legislators at the D Street house, going back every weekend to his wife and two daughters in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The group residence on Capitol Hill, owned by Mr. Miller, has a reputation as a locus of Democratic power.

Marsh’s piece also notes a domestic incident that must have been a powerful bonding experience for Israel’s “guardian” in the Senate and the future Pentagon chief:

Mr. Schumer recalls the time that he and a roommate, Representative Leon Panetta of California, chased particularly loud crickets up the stairs at 3 a.m. Both men were wearing their underwear.


Written by Maidhc Ó Cathail

July 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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