American Jews are set to take up some of the most senior positions in president-elect Joe Biden’s White House team, with responsibilities both at home and abroad.
The incoming administration may be run by Ron Klain, Biden’s most likely chief of staff. This is a role Klain played for Biden while he was vice-president to Barack Obama, as well as for Al Gore while he was vice-president to Bill Clinton.
Likewise, Biden’s external focus could be shaped by Tony Blinken, another veteran of the Obama years, who is being touted as either a national security advisor or even a secretary of state – in essence, the top US diplomat.
The administration’s new foreign policy focus may also have an input from Ben Rhodes, who was deputy national security advisor for strategic communications under Obama, and – like Blinken – intimately involved in the Iran nuclear deal.
Born in Indianapolis to Jewish parents, Klain, 59, may lay claim to the most battle scars, and was even played by Kevin Spacey in the film ‘Recount’ depicting the fight over votes in the 2000 presidential election between Gore and George W Bush.
Rhodes, 42, who was born to a Jewish mother and Christian father in the Upper East Side district of Manhattan, may have seen the least Washington, D.C. wars, but he is nevertheless no stranger to dirty political tricks.
In 2018 award-winning journalist Ronan Farrow revealed that he and colleague Carl Kahl were targeted by an Israeli private security company hired to discredit them. That company was Black Cube, the same company hired by disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and the purpose of the targeting was reportedly to discredit proponents of the Iran nuclear deal.
The most influential, however, could be Blinken, 58, who was pictured alongside Obama and the generals in the White House situations room during the secret and successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Born to Jewish parents in New York, Blinken has suggested that he would be in favour of reviving the Iran nuclear deal, having criticised Trump’s withdrawal with no replacement, saying this risked putting Israel “first in the line of fire”.
His backstory is also among the most interesting. His father, Donald, was a banker who co-founded the EM Warburg Pincus & Co investment bank and was friends with artist Mark Rothko, while his mother, Judith, was an art expert.
Aged nine, Blinken’s parents divorced and he went to live in Paris with his mother and her new husband Samuel Pisar, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who was one of France’s most celebrated lawyers.
Pisar, whose neighbours at the time included the pianist Arthur Rubinstein and Princess Grace of Monaco, did not hide his numbered tattoo from his time at Auschwitz, and told the young Blinken of the death marches, of escaping from the Nazis, and of hiding in the woods for days, stories that would have a lasting effect on the young man.
While some or all may take their place into Biden’s sanctum come January, it appears a near-certainty that Jewish values will help guide presidential decision-making over the next four years.
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