In the Washington area, just about every politically active member of the Jewish community considers himself or herself a Jewish liaison to one or more politicians. In the case of the White House, however, it is the president who chooses the person who will convey the administration’s message to organized Jewry and who will respond to Jewish opinions aimed at the administration. That same person also has the highly sensitive responsibility of deciding who gets invited to the annual White House Chanukah party.
Last week, State Department staffer Chanan Weissman was named as the White House’s associate director of public engagement, the Jewish liaison’s official title. Weissman, 32, is a Baltimore native who attended the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and spent several years as a resident of Greater Washington while studying for his bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland and his master’s degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He attends services at Pikesville Jewish Congregation.
Weissman succeeds longtime liaison Matt Nosanchuk, who stepped down from the post in March after nearly three years. Nosanchuk’s tenure was not easy. He weathered the U.S.-led Israel-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed in 2013, and struggled to survive the Jewish communal split over the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Nosanchuk deserves credit for his endurance, and we wish him well.
Weissman’s tenure won’t be as long. It will be barely eight months before the next president will be sworn in — still, Weissman will get to preside over invitations to the last Obama Chanukah celebrations. Weissman will be Obama’s sixth Jewish liaison. Seven people held the post in George W. Bush’s eight-year administration.
So what can we expect from Weissman? Given his record of accomplishment, we doubt that he will be a mere placeholder. Obama is still hunting for his legacy. And although reports indicate that Obama has publicly given up hope of achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority before he leaves office, the administration does not appear content to let things lie. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry has given a green light to French-led peace talks over the objection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a move that will likely reopen the still-healing communal wounds of the Iran deal and the last round of peace talks. It will fall to Weissman to deal with those very sensitive issues.
Weissman deserves a hearty mazel tov for being tapped by the president. But in extending that wish to him, we emphasize the literal translation of the words: Good luck.