What differentiates Kerry from Hagel, pro-Israel officials say, is his willingness to engage even when he disagrees, and his familiarity with the issues.
“Will we always agree? No,” Foxman said. “But we’re going to have in place someone who is knowledgeable, and that always works well for us.”
Daniel Mariaschin, who directs B’nai B’rith International, said he hoped that as secretary of state Kerry would show awareness of the uncertainties roiling the region, particularly in Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has asserted control, and in Syria, which is mired in civil war.
Even before Obama’s announcement, Kerry had the backing of Senate colleagues, Republicans as well as Democrats. He has a longstanding friendship with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz); both men are Vietnam veterans and in the 1980s paved the way to reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam.
The pick earned quick plaudits from a leading pro-Israel stalwart in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.
“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has worked to marshal support for tough sanctions against Iran and defend our ally Israel, and played a critical role as an envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Lowey said in a statement.
Kerry has a solid voting record on issues favored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but rarely has taken the lead on legislation AIPAC favors.
Kerry was a leader in the 1980s on Soviet Jewry issues in Congress, and he has maintained close ties with the successors to the Soviet Jewry advocacy movement, said Mark Levin, who directs NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and Eurasia.
“For the last 20 years he’s been intimately involved in every issue impacting the U.S.-Russia relationship,” Levin said. “He’s had an open door on Russia when it comes to xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”