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Coffee Break with Lobbyist Jason Epstein

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Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies LLC, a public affairs and lobbying firm specializing in the Middle East and Israel. Jason began his political career as an intern in the office of Rep. Ben Gilman (R–NY) and later worked as director of legislative affairs for B’nai B’rith International. In 2003, he opened his own consulting firm. His first big client was the Turkish embassy in Washington, and since then he’s forged a network of ties in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

The Turkey-Israel relationship has been strained for some time now. Is there any hope for better relations?

I have long considered myself both pro-Israel and pro-Turkey, and I am aware that some of the warm feelings of the 1990s and of the last decade are not coming back any time soon, I acknowledge that, but at the same time I believe it is not unrealistic to expect some measure of improvement. There are political challenges that have to be overcome and I think they eventually will be.

I have the additional distinction of being pro-Israel, pro-Turkey, and pro-Saudi, wanting all of these countries to work with the United States. I realize that there is an even greater challenge there.

But especially now, when the concern is about the regime in Tehran, Washington, Jerusalem, Ankara, and Riyadh should all be on the same page.

Can you explain to readers what a lobbyist actually does?

It could be a foreign company that hires me for some corrective action, or an NGO based in the Unite States that would like to call attention to a particular issue. We go to members of Congress or the administration or the federal agencies and advance a particular cause or lobby against one.

What is your take on the new relations between Israel and Arab countries like Oman and Chad?

It’s remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. For decades we made so little progress, and now it seems like nothing is impossible. There is a very good reason to be optimistic about Israel’s future in the greater Middle East. We’re also seeing that this mantra that the Israel-Palestine issue must be solved, that it’s the center of all the problems in the Middle East, is being acknowledged as a myth. What will actually bring us closer to peace, if not peace itself, is the eradication of extremism.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 748)


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