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Abba Cohen, right, with former Sen. Jesse Helms, a Republican from North
Carolina, has established close relations with conservatives and Christians.
have a Washington office."
Despite resistance from some OU
leaders who felt the group should con-
centrate on kashrut and other religious
issues, Ganchrow hired Diament as the
group's political director in the mid-
1990s and, in 1998, the OU set up shop
In the small community of activists
who represent Jewish groups in
Washington, Diament, a Harvard Law
graduate and the son of a Long Island
rabbi, became a hard-to-ignore figure.
At first, he angered some of his fellow
Jewish representatives in Washington
with what was seen as cockiness and a
lack of respect for the traditions of coali-
tion politics. Others were put off— and
maybe a little envious — of Diament's
media skills. He is a prodigious producer
of newspaper op-eds; his Rolodex quick-
ly filled with media contacts.
But even some political adversaries
were won over.
"He's very serious and very smart,"
said a top activist for a rival Jewish
organization. "He understood very
quickly that relationships are a big part
of this job. My own group rarely agrees
with the OU, but I've developed a
healthy respect for Nathan."
In addition to big-ticket legislative
issues, such as vouchers and the little reg-
ulatory changes that can have a big
impact on Orthodox Jews, both Diament
and Cohen have been active participants
in the effort to recalibrate the church-state
balance through the courts.
Both joined conservative Christian
groups in challenging the state of
Washington, which denied a state-spon-
sored scholarship to a divinity student
on church-state grounds.
That case — Locke vs. Davey —
could be this year's Supreme Court
blockbuster. A broad ruling could sweep
away provisions in many state constitu-
tions barring government aid to
Again, the debate pits the OU and
Agudath against groups such as the
Anti-Defamation League. They have
waded into debates over some of the
highest-profile moral issues of the day,
from physician-assisted suicide to stem
cell research, bringing to bear a generally
conservative perspective, but with some
of the nuances that rabbinic thinkers
bring to any debate.
Diament and Cohen don't always agree
with each other. For example, Agudath
supported the bill, recently signed by
Bush and sure to be challenged in the
courts, banning late-term abortions, a
top priority for religious conservatives.
The OU has declined comment on the
measure. Observers say that's because the
group is uncomfortable with blanket
prohibitions of a procedure that Jewish
law might consider appropriate under
Cohen said that while he and
Diament don't agree on some issues,
they work well together.
"To the extent that he has a different
approach, we are very complementary,"
he said. "Nathan is more of a schmoozer
than I am. I think I work better more
quietly. But you never know which
approach is going to hit the right but-
Both groups bring another advantage
into the political realm. Because they
represent a relatively unified slice of the
diverse Jewish community, they are able
to take stronger, clear positions than