Amid all the excitement from the United Jewish Communities this morning over their announcement that President Obama will address its upcoming General Assembly meeting, we wondered when was the last time a president appeared at the annual event, which draws together the senior leadership of local Jewish federations throughout the country. And guess what? After a look through the archives, a UJC publicist confirmed that the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is never. The only other president to come close was Bill Clinton, who delivered remarks by satellite to the 4,000-person gathering in Indianapolis back in 1997. (George H.W. Bush also addressed the group, when he was still Ronald Reagan’s vice-president, as did Al Gore.)
So the next question, of course, is why now? There are all kinds of political benefits, of course—Obama, whose Middle East policies have been heavily criticized in some quarters of the Jewish community, can take his case for peace directly to people who can communicate it back to their local communities. And he’s apparently been able to draw Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, into making the trip from Jerusalem, which means another opportunity for them to talk in person. But the insider scuttlebutt we’ve heard notes a perfectly good reason much closer to home: the event is being chaired by UJC executive committee member Dede Feinberg and her husband, Kenneth—the Treasury’s special master for compensation who has, of course, just finished putting in place an extremely contentious Administration plan for cutting pay to the top dogs at bailed-out Wall Street banks. In other words, it may just be the president’s way of saying thanks.
Earlier: Obama to Address UJC Assembly