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Advocate

Norman Eisen, an old friend of Obama’s from Harvard Law School, is bolstering the forces of liberalism as ambassador to the Czech Republic

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Eisen and Obama, from separate pages of the 1991 Harvard Law School yearbook. (Courtesy of the author)

On Aug. 11, just a few days after receiving Bátora’s letter and in the midst of the weeklong pride festival, Eisen delivered a speech at a workshop on hate-crimes prevention in Prague. Praising New York’s recent legalization of gay marriage and the fifth anniversary of the Czech government granting same-sex civil partnerships, Eisen took a not-so-subtle shot at Bátora. Lauding the Czech Republic for being “in many ways more progressive on the issue of LGBT rights than my own,” he noted that, unfortunately, “there are still those in this country that express intolerant views.”

A few days after the parade, emboldened by picking a fight with the American ambassador, Bátora wrote on his Facebook page that Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister, was a “sorry little old man.” The website Czech Position reported that, “The war of words might have simmered on a slower boil had Bátora … not made headlines last week for condemning US Ambassador Norman Eisen and other ambassadors’ support for Prague Pride.” In October, after ministers from Schwarzenberg’s party threatened to bolt the government, Bátora resigned. Robert Basch, of the Open Society Fund-Prague, told me that the fact that Eisen threw his weight as American ambassador into the dispute over Bátora was crucial in helping the Czechs sort out the problem of creeping extremism. “The open letter was really for us very important for supporting Prague Pride as such,” he says. “Especially now when a conservative elite is in power, especially President Klaus, there really was a strong influence to stop this kind of event in the Czech Republic.”

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When Eisen arrived in Prague last January, American-Czech relations were at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. The embassy had been vacant for 18 months since the resignation of the previous ambassador, a George W. Bush political appointee who left at the start of the Obama Administration. In July of 2009, a group of distinguished Central and Eastern European leaders, including former Czech President Havel and former Polish President Lech Walesa, signed an open letter to Obama expressing fear that “Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy” and that “Russia’s creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region.” The administration’s much-publicized reset with Russia alarmed Czech leaders, who feared that their interests and those of the other nations in the post-Soviet space would be demoted in pursuit of an entente cordial with Moscow.

Two months later, in September 2009, as if to confirm these fears, the Obama Administration abruptly announced that it would cancel the placement of anti-ballistic missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Though the Czech government did not publicly decry the move, (unlike the Poles, whose country had been invaded by the Soviet Union 70 years earlier to the day), the view of Czech officialdom was encapsulated in the remarks of former Defense Minister and Ambassador to the U.S. Alexandr Vondra, who called it “a U-turn in U.S. policy.”

The ambassadorship to the Czech Republic, (a small country that, due to its size and the fact that it’s not in the Eurozone, does not play a leadership role in Europe), is a plum assignment generally filled by political appointees—not career diplomats. Since the rebirth of independent Czechoslovakia in 1989, the country has been one of the United States’ most steadfast allies, so the ambassadorship is a relatively easy posting. But as the Obama Administration has emphasized repairing relations with Russia, the job has come to carry new burdens. Consider the way in which much of the Czech political establishment viewed the Obama Administration at the time of Eisen’s appointment. In a May 2010 speech at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, just months before he would re-enter government as defense minister, Vondra slammed Obama’s foreign policy as “enemy-centric,” alleging that it gives “carrots” to adversaries like Russia and China while failing to stand by allies.

Eisen, who befriended Obama at Harvard Law School, says that the job was never on his radar. “I thought of that as something that people did when they were further along in their careers and their lives generally,” he says. After two years serving as the president’s Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform, or ethics czar—his nickname was “Mr. No”—Eisen’s plan was to return to Zuckerman Spaeder, the Washington law firm where he had practiced for nearly two decades. (Over the past decade, Eisen has donated some $60,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates, and in the 2008 election cycle, he raised over $200,000 for Obama’s presidential campaign as a bundler.) Eisen was concerned not just with the strain that being ambassador might place on his family—he is married to Georgetown University Professor Lindsay Kaplan and has a young daughter—but on his own ability to deal with the horrors his parents experienced in Europe.

The president had other ideas. Obama knew Eisen’s family history—and his connections to the Czech Republic—intimately. The two had become fast friends at Harvard, where they were older than the majority of their classmates. “We had both done public interest work after college and before law school, I for the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles, he as a community organizer in Chicago, and we were both 28 when we arrived in Cambridge,” Eisen recalls. They remained close after graduation.

“The president thought it would be a remarkable thing for the son of a Czechoslovak Holocaust survivor to return and represent the U.S. here,” Eisen says. “No one from my immediate family had returned since my mother fled Communism in 1949 and the symbolism of coming back here was just too unique an opportunity to pass up.” So, in January of last year, the Eisens packed their bags.

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Beautiful piece!

Because of Jewish Liberalism we have caused in the USA an Uprise in Anti-Semitism from the Left and from the Right “Religites”. The Right is now claiming this country to be a Christian Country and in fact on Tea Party. Org Blogtalk radio on Jan 20, 2012, they had N.H. State Representative Harry Accornero from District 4, Laconia who agreed with them this is a Christian Country. There is no Law in the Constitution that states this! What they are going by are letters that were written by the founding fathers and not considering that a Jew Haym Solomon financed the war of 1776 and also was never paid back because Robert Morris an Anti Semite lost the note when it was presented to him.
I suggest anyone who comes out with “This is a Christian Country and not a country where Church and State should be separated” not be voted in.
This continued hate from the Right as well as from the Left is springing up because they need ah scapegoat, like in Nazi Germany, and the word Neo Con, Wall Street and Zionist as well as Billionaire and Millionaire are code words for Jew. Christian Country is an unwelcomed phase.
We must band together and stop looking at Obama as a friend to the Jews because he is against Israel. And the Right candidates, the ones who call themselves Christians, are against Jews and are for taking back not only America but to make Israel Christian, the 11th Crusade. We need to be very careful who we put into office and who we support. Without Israel we will end up in a 2nd Holocaust.
I am a Jew running against Barack Hussein Obama. I am for Israel and I understand what is coming and it’s not going to be pretty.
I believe we need a Jewish Movement that would benefit for ourselves and not let the Professional Politicians who are blind to the radical Islamic Jihad that is coming from both direction to kill Jews and it will happen since this President in the White House and this Congress in both Houses have stripped away our rights and Constitution

Jean Terry says:

It seems to me our ambassador should keep his mouth shut about this and not sign petitions in the country he is in. He should keep out of their internal affairs unless they are Nazi’s.

MH8169 says:

I find it facinating that an observant Jew would advocate for BHO. As a traditionalist Jew (not observant) and someone who is politically conservative,the Ambassador presents to me as an enigma. I am curious about his position on Israel. Does he agree with BHO’s penchant that stigmatizes and boxes Israel?

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Advocate

Norman Eisen, an old friend of Obama’s from Harvard Law School, is bolstering the forces of liberalism as ambassador to the Czech Republic