The View From Here | An Ambassador Comes to Town


Daniel B. Shapiro, like his successor David Friedman, is not your typical American diplomat.

At times in the long history of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the post of ambassador to Israel has been filled by a career foreign service officer, but Shapiro — like Friedman — was a political appointee, in a way rewarded the job for his support of the chief executive. (In Shapiro’s case, the Chicago native was an Obama campaign adviser on foreign policy and issues pertaining to the Jewish community prior to joining the National Security Council in President Obama’s first term. He became an ambassador in 2011.)

Daniel B. Shapiro (Daniel B Shapiro ambassador.jpg by U.S. Department of State licensed under public domain)

Now that he’s out of office, Shapiro has been living as an American expatriate in Israel, working as an academic at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. It’s a move easily imaginable for President Trump’s envoy whenever he leaves office — Friedman, a New York native, has deep ties to Israel, particularly to communities in Judea and Samaria, having once run American Friends of Bet El Institutions.

Granted, Friedman’s embrace of these communities runs counter to the distinctly anti-settlement posture of the administration that Shapiro served, but even the most extremely partisan of our community’s right and left flanks would be hard-pressed to classify either of these Jewish diplomats, who are likely polar opposites in other political realms, as anything but staunch lovers of Israel.

Maybe that’s what makes Shapiro — a fiercely pro-Israel, Jewish Democrat who backs Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, albeit alongside a renewed push for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians — such a fitting observer of the U.S.-Israel relationship now that he’s a private citizen.

When he came to Philadelphia last week during a visit coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, he was the rare pro-Israel guest on WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. Coming on the heels of the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Shapiro delivered a welcome and needed exclamation point to AIPAC’s message of broad-based bipartisan consensus when it comes to American support of the Jewish state.

But in drawing a packed house that night at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, Shapiro delivered a much more necessary message for a crowd whose pro-Israel credentials should never be in doubt.

It’s no secret that we live in perhaps the most politically divided era in American history, exempting the Civil War, the Revolution and our pre-Constitution days. Sadly, that divisiveness has infected the Jewish community, where party identification and partisan leanings are increasingly seen by many as the sum total of a man.

So you lived in Israel? You give to charity? You attend synagogue? For a growing group on the right, all is naught if you have the temerity to criticize the sitting president, while the same can be said for a growing group on the left if you voted for him. (If you think I’m kidding, I’d be happy to offer a peek at some of the emails I receive on a daily basis.)

“I took some encouragement from the atmosphere and the tone on display at the AIPAC Policy Conference,” Shapiro told me during an interview prior to his Wynnewood talk. “There’s a very concerted effort to say that you’re welcome if you define yourself into this community. It was noticed and appreciated by many people in my political camp.”

Would that be the case here in Philadelphia?

Shapiro’s presence at the synagogue came as part of a series of civil dialogue events the local Jewish Community Relations Council is convening as part of the Jewish Federation’s overall celebration of Israel’s upcoming 70th anniversary. Their theory is that the more those of us on opposing sides of an issue debate and reason as opposed to impugn and vilify, the more we’ll come to see each other as fellow members of the Jewish people and the American body politic.

Shapiro, who decried what he called the “siloing” of America, agrees.

“As a general principle, I would urge people to challenge their own assumptions, to break out of your own bubble,” he said. “A well-argued speech or op-ed that you disagree with is often a better use of your time than reading five articles that you agree with.”

At worst, by allowing ourselves to be exposed to contrarian points of view, we’ll be better able to hone our own analyses. But at best, we’ll come to appreciate the people and the minds behind them.

How else could we ever see ambassadors from such diametrically opposed administrations as not only accomplished professionals deserving of our respect, but at their simplest level, fellow Jews committed to the well-being of the entire Jewish people. 

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here