As someone who is both Jewish and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken would make this list no matter what. But one can argue that he is the first openly and proudly Jewish US secretary of state in that he always knew he was Jewish and identified as such, and he has never tried to downplay his Jewishness to stay in favor. (Though, in Henry Kissinger’s defense, it was a different era.)
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Blinken brings his Jewishness to the table as secretary of state. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, he released the video How My Stepfather Survived the Holocaust to tell the story of renowned international lawyer and author Samuel Pisar, and warn against antisemitism and hatred.
When it comes to support for Israel, the Biden administration – including Blinken – is very friendly but has been from the outset at odds with Israel when it comes to the Palestinians and settlements.
The same tensions exist when it comes to the way Washington is addressing the Iran nuclear threat. Blinken was also one of the architects of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He pushed for an American return to the agreement and, failing that, for an arrangement implemented in August that limited, but did not scale back, Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for allowing Tehran to access to funds blocked by US sanctions.
Beyond those longstanding points of friction, with the profoundly controversial judicial reform on Israel’s agenda, Blinken has emphasized that the US-Israel relationship is based not only on security but on democratic values. He has specified that those values entail “support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society.”
At the same time, Blinken has been instrumental in pushing for Israel-Saudi normalization, for which Israel has long hoped. Israel is another area where Blinken has put his Jewish heritage at the fore, recounting to AIPAC that his grandfather, Maurice Blinken, established the American Palestine Institute in 1946, publishing the report “Palestine: Problem and Promise” that helped convince skeptics in the US government to support the establishment of the Jewish State. The US-Israel relationship is “indispensable,” he said, and he and the Biden administration are hard at work to strengthen it.
Blinken recently held phone conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as the US works to broker a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
He also came under pressure recently from a group of 15 Democratic senators not to move forward with accepting Israel into the Visa Waiver Program until it meets all the conditions set by the US by the September 30 deadline.
This is one of the key issues spearheaded by former US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, and is expected to be taken up by the new ambassador, Jack Lew. Blinken has the power to swing the decision in Israel’s favor, enabling Israelis to travel to the US without the need to obtain a visa. This would be a significant step forward in US-Israel relations.