Obama names chief of staff with strong ties to Jewish groups

President Barack Obama on Jan. 25 named as his new chief of staff a security official, Denis McDonough, who has strong ties to Jewish organizations.

President Obama confers with Denis McDonough in 2009. photo/white house-pete souza

McDonough, until now the deputy to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, handled much of the National Security Council’s Israel-related traffic and has strong ties to Jewish groups. He addressed the Washington Institute for Near East Policy just weeks before the last presidential election.

“Over the last four years, in speaking privately with me, and more publicly with Jewish Federation leaders, McDonough has steadfastly and vigorously defended the administration’s Middle East policies,” William Daroff, the director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office, wrote in an email. “When he speaks, it is obvious that he has the president’s ear.”

In a Twitter posting, Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s Washington director, called McDonough a “person of great savvy and candor.”

McDonough takes over from Jacob Lew, an Orthodox Jew who has in his various capacities been the senior staff member taking calls from Jewish community leaders. Obama has nominated Lew to become treasury secretary.

Also announced Jan. 25 was the departure of Jarrod Bernstein, the White House’s liaison to the Jewish community for the last two years. In an email, Bernstein, who formerly ran specialty outreach for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said he was returning to that city. — jta