Politico's indefatigable gossip-queen Anne Schroeder Mullins has caught on to the hot story of the Obama administration's apparent attempt to shrink the White House Hanukah party, writing that the planned reduction is "not making for happy holidays."
Mullins refers to my piece for the JTA, which talked about my experiences dealing with the White House Hanukah party under Bush. Ira Forman of the National Jewish Democratic Council criticized me in the Huffington Post, writing that my piece may be "a reflection of conservative Jews searching for ways to knock the President." The truth is, as I told Mullins, I doubt many Republican Jews care about the size of the Hanukah party, as they have little to no expectation of being invited. My point is that the Hanukah party is a (relatively) easy way to do something nice for the Jewish community, and the Obama administration would be making a penny-wise, pound-foolish mistake to let the size of the party become an issue.
Forman told Mullins that the Jewish community has "a lot bigger fish to fry." He is right about that. On the divide between substantive and symbolic issues, the size of the party is definitely on the symbolic side of things. In fact, I wrote in the JTA piece that "the size of the party may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things." But in politics, symbolic gestures can help minimize substantive disagreements. The Obama administration has run into difficulty in both areas with the Jewish community thus far, on issues such as pressuring Israel for a settlement freeze and granting a Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson. Forman claims that "In terms of public policy and access, this administration has been great." I'm sure that's true for the National Jewish Democratic Council. I'm less sure that it's true for the American Jewish community as a whole.Mullins even quotes one Jewish Democrat who says, with a touch of understatement, "Let's just say their Middle East policy hasn't been perfect so far." I suspect that the reason for his anonymity is that he still holds out hope of getting invited to the party.