By MORDECAI SPECKTOR
Samuel L. Kaplan, a prominent Minneapolis lawyer and influential DFL Party activist, has been nominated as U.S. ambassador to Morocco by President Barack Obama. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Kaplan, 72, will become one of the few American Jews to serve as envoys to Arab nations.
Kaplan and his wife, Sylvia, were early backers of the late Paul Wellstone, a Carleton College professor who engineered one of the great upsets in Minnesota political history by defeating the incumbent Republican U.S. senator, Rudy Boschwitz, in 1990. The Kaplans also supported the candidacy of Keith Ellison, who won the Fifth District DFL primary in 2006 and went on to become the first Muslim ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Geri Joseph, a member of the Minneapolis Jewish community who served as the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands during the Carter administration, told the Jewish World this week that she recently had lunch with the Kaplans.
“We talked about what some of the challenges can be… but by and large I think they’re both going to do great. They’re both quite excited about it,” said Joseph, who served as an ambassador from 1978-1981.
Joseph acknowledged that a posting to Morocco, a moderate Muslim country (with a Jewish community numbering about 5,000), will be different than representing the U.S. in Europe. “That area of the world, not necessarily Morocco, is still pretty troubled,” commented Joseph, who added that Kaplan will “have plenty to do.”
In addition to conveying messages from Washington to the Moroccan government, Kaplan will be called upon to give speeches articulating U.S. government policies, explained Joseph, who added, “You aren’t really your own personality, but you represent the United States — that’s what you’ve always got to be thinking about.”
Joseph also mentioned that the Kaplans have been involved in a variety of local issues. “They care a lot about public policy, and I think they will be excellent representatives,” she said.
(The other local Jewish ambassador is Boschwitz, who, in 2005, was appointed to represent the U.S. at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.)
“I am grateful that these fine individuals will serve in my administration and I am confident that they will well represent our nation abroad and help strengthen our relationships within the international community. I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead,” President Obama said, in announcing the nomination of Kaplan and several other individuals selected to represent the U.S. in foreign capitals.
The Center for Responsive Politics lists Sam and Sylvia Kaplan as among the major “bundlers” of campaign contributions for the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, in the range of $100,000 to $200,000. The group’s Web site, OpenSecrets.org, explains: “Bundlers are people with friends in high places who, after bumping against personal contribution limits, turn to those friends, associates and, well, anyone who’s willing to give, and deliver the checks to the candidate in one big ‘bundle.’”
Kaplan, a founder and partner in the Kaplan, Strangis and Kaplan, P.A. law firm in Minneapolis, was president of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation from 1996-1998, according to Joshua Fogelson, the Federation’s executive director. Fogelson said that Kaplan is still active as a solicitor for the Federation’s annual fundraising campaign.
The Kaplans are members of Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis. Sam Kaplan is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the U of M Law School, where he was president of the University of Minnesota Law Review.