Vote Wisely

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (Rick T. Wilking/Pool via AP)

Hillary Clinton is the only choice for president.

It’s easy to say both sides do it and they’re all the same because often those clichés are true — that’s how they became clichés. But have we become so cynical, so intellectually lazy, so unable to tell right from wrong that we really believe that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are equivalent?

Hillary is not perfect — no candidate is perfect. But Trump is more corrupt and dishonest than any major party presidential candidate in our lifetime. The media likes to tell a story, and the story of a qualified candidate with mainstream ideas running against an utterly unqualified, bigoted, hateful candidate is not much of a story. So now we’re seeing a false equivalence, as if both candidates are equally flawed. That’s just wrong.

Jay Michaelson explains that while there is good reason not to trust Trump, on the Clinton side, the evidence against her is “mostly smoke and mirrors.”

Jonathan Chait writes that “Trump is the figure whose corruption stands out on a historic scale.”

Seth Meyers framed the dilemma:

Do you pick someone who’s under federal investigation for using a private email server?

Or do you pick someone who called Mexicans rapists, claimed the president was born in Kenya, proposed banning an entire religion from entering the US, mocked a disabled reporter, said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured, attacked the parents of a fallen soldier, bragged about committing sexual assault, was accused by 12 women of committing sexual assault, said some of those women weren’t attractive for him to sexually assault, said more countries should get nukes, said that he would force the military to commit war crimes, said a judge was biased because his parents were Mexicans, said women should be punished for having abortions, incited violence at his rallies, called global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, called for his opponent to be jailed, declared bankruptcy six times, bragged about not paying income taxes, stiffed his contractors and employees, lost a billion dollars in one year, scammed customers at his fake university, bought a six-foot-tall painting of himself with money from his fake foundation, has a trial for fraud coming up in November, insulted an opponent’s looks, insulted an opponent’s wife’s looks, and bragged about grabbing women by the…?

In a similar vein, Slate goes into even more detail.

David Frum makes the conservative case for Hillary, writing that

To vote for Trump as a protest against Clinton’s faults would be like amputating a leg because of a sliver in the toe; cutting one’s throat to lower one’s blood pressure.

Yitzhak Rabin’s daughter, Yuval Rabin, writes that she is convinced that Hillary Clinton has “more than proved [her] loyalty to not only to Rabin and his memory but even more so to Israel’s security and well-being,” and she asks that we watch a short video on the right.

David Horovitz, the founding editor of the Times of Israel, writes that

If Donald Trump wins next week’s elections, which he might, America will have chosen as its leader a self-centered, misogynistic rabble-rouser, whose nasty bluster should have doomed his candidacy in its infancy. It will have confused the skills required to succeed in reality television with the skills required to succeed in reality.

The Economist endorsement of Hillary mentioned that Trump “would be a terrible president” and that “his ideas on revenue and spending are an affront to statistics.”

No Jew should vote for Trump. And whether you’re Jewish or not, listen to James Franco: Vote wisely.

Sanders Strips the Facts From Gaza

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got it very wrong on Israel and Gaza. In an interview with the editorial board of The New York Daily News, Sanders absurdly claimed that Israel killed 10,000 innocent people in the 2014 Gaza War. After the Anti-Defamation League called on Sanders to correct his misstatement, the Sanders campaign issued a statement saying that Sanders was thinking of the number wounded, not the death toll, and that Sanders “immediately accepted” the interviewer’s finding that 2,000 Palestinians were killed. The ADL welcomed Sanders’ clarification, but Shai Franklin explains why Bernie-Come-Lately does no favors for Mideast peace.

There is no evidence in the record that Sanders accepted the 2,000 figure or that he acknowledged that the death toll included over 900 militants. Sanders’ ignorance of the death toll in Gaza demonstrates that he is not ready to be president and shows that while his heart might be in the right place, his head is not in the game.

Yair Rosenberg argues that Sanders’ “mistake had nothing to do with his being anti-Israel, and everything to do with his not knowing much about foreign policy.” Throughout the interview, Sanders showed his ignorance not only of foreign policy matters, but of domestic matters as well.

The American Jewish Committee correctly noted that Sanders still needs to clarify his “stinging and unjust” accusation that Israel’s self-defensive response was “indiscriminate.”

Compare Sanders’ views on the Gaza War to Hillary Clinton’s. Watch Hillary Clinton refuse to let Jon Stewart goad her into unfairly criticizing Israel’s conduct during the Gaza War. Hillary puts the blame squarely where it belongs: on Hamas.

The Case for Hillary Clinton

My name is Steven Sheffey. I am running as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention supporting Hillary Clinton because she is the most qualified candidate in either party to move our country forward. The Republicans have promised to undo the progress we’ve made in the past eight years.

With as many as four Supreme Court slots on the line, we must ensure that the next president is a Democrat. And since Republicans will likely control of one or both chambers of Congress, we need a Democratic president who can work across the aisle to build on the success of the last eight years.

You say you want a revolution? We’re not going to get one with a Republican Congress. But trying for a revolution could risk losing the White House, which is the only check we have on the Republicans. Under Hillary Clinton, we can move forward and continue to make as much progress as is realistically possible.

As a lifelong pro-Israel activist, I am especially proud of Hillary’s foreign relations accomplishments. Hillary served as Secretary of State in one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history. Hillary first visited Israel in 1981 and has proven to be a strong friend of the Jewish State throughout her career in public service.

As a U.S senator, Hillary fought to get Magen David Adom accepted to the International Red Cross when other nations tried to exclude the organization. She wrote and co-sponsored bills that isolated terror groups, and she pushed to crack down on incitement in Palestinian textbooks and schools.

As Secretary of State, Hillary helped assemble the international coalition necessary for effective sanctions against Iran. These tough sanctions forced Iran to the table and made possible the deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Hillary is committed to making the deal work and to enforcing the deal, with military action if necessary, if Iran does not live up to its commitments.

Hillary supported Iron Dome, which has saved thousands of Israeli lives, she defended Israel at the U.N. (the Obama administration has a perfect record on Israel at the U.N.), and she opposed the biased Goldstone Report.

She firmly opposes the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel because she understands that only a two-state solution negotiated by the parties can solve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Military and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel rose to record levels during the Obama administration. Hillary is committed to ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge and favors expanding high-level U.S.-Israel strategic consultations.

Hillary’s foreign policy achievements make her not only the best qualified candidate in either party, but the candidate most likely to win in November — which is why I am proud to be running as a delegate supporting her nomination for president of the United States.

But what has Obama done for us lately?

Courtesy of Mike Stanfill.

Courtesy of Mike Stanfill.

Compare and contrast

Under George W. Bush, we suffered the worst terrorist attack in history on American soil (thousands murdered on 9/11), we became embroiled in a pointless war in Iraq where 4,000 more Americans were killed, and North Korea acquired nuclear weapons.

Under President Obama, there have been no terrorist attacks anywhere near the magnitude of 9/11, we killed Osama bin Laden, we rid Syria of chemical weapons without firing a shot, and last week not only did Iran release five American hostages (as well as the sailors who strayed into Iranian waters), but we implemented the Iran deal, which prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

During the few hours when the fate of the sailors who strayed into Iranian waters was uncertain, many Republicans could not resist the opportunity to exploit their plight for partisan gain. Typical was Rep. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth), who attacked President Obama for not acknowledging “the ten U.S. sailors who were being held in Iranian custody” in his State of the Union speech. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) demanded that the Iran deal itself be held hostage to the return of the sailors.

We now know that while President Obama was delivering his speech, his administration was (successfully) negotiating not only for the peaceful release of the sailors, but for the release of other American hostages. Talking about it would only have endangered those negotiations.

Kirk and his Republican friends also attacked President Obama for not sanctioning Iran for its ballistic missile tests. But the administration had its eye on the ball, and once the Iran deal was implemented, the administration announced the sanctions that it said all along that it had every intention of imposing.

Have you seen statements from these Republicans thanking President Obama for securing the release of the sailors, thanking him for securing the release of the hostages, thanking him for implementing a deal under which all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon are now blocked (literally, with cement, in the case of the Arak reactor), or thanking him for imposing sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile tests?

Neither have I.

The Iran deal was not intended to address hostage taking, ballistic missile testing, or Iran’s support for terrorism. Its sole objective was to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and that is the sole criterion on which it should be judged. But we learned last week that what the administration told us all along was true: The Iran deal does not remove any tools previously available to us to address these other issues, and in some cases (such as the lines of communication that led to the quick release of the sailors), the Iran deal provides ancillary benefits.

Daniel Drezner has a lesson for our Republican friends: In thinking about foreign policy, it’s best to count to 10 slowly before speaking. And yet there is a foreign threat that President Obama has failed to deter.

Administration’s Strong Condemnation of Ezra Schwartz’s Murder

Ezra_Schwartz_Funeral_11222015-0552-635x357Ezra Schwartz was murdered by Palestinian terrorists on Thursday, November 19, while en route to deliver food to Israeli soldiers. He was an 18-year old American citizen just out of high school and on a gap program in Israel.

All terrorist victims tug at our hearts, but Ezra’s murder hit home hard. Even those of us who did not know him personally know kids just like him who participate in similar programs, including our own kids.

At times like these, we expect solace and recognition from our own government. Within days, President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, State Department Spokesman John Kirby, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro had all condemned the attack, specifically mentioning Ezra. President Obama and Secretary Kerry personally called the family to convey their condolences.

Yet even before Shabbat ended on November 21, some of us were expressing outrage — not at the terrorists who murdered Ezra, but at the administration, even though Dan Shapiro condemned the attack almost immediately and even though the State Department (which is run by John Kerry, who reports to President Obama) condemned it on November 20.

Maybe some of us were not aware of the condemnations, but before we criticize the administration’s response to such an awful tragedy, do we not owe it to ourselves and our friends to verify before posting? It is not that hard with Google. Maybe some of us did not know that the ambassador to Israel (the official U.S. representative in Israel) and the State Department both report up to the President and speak for him. The President uses spokespeople of necessity because there are so many pressing issues and so little time.

On Monday, November 23, the day after Ezra’s funeral, Kerry spoke to the family and condemned the attack. Kerry mentioned Ezra again the following day, adding that “Israel has every right in the world to defend itself and it has an obligation to defend itself.”

President Obama also called the family on Monday and condemned the attack in the strongest terms.

Is the day after his funeral, the second day of shiva, really too late?

Perhaps we should reserve our anger for the terrorists and acknowledge that the administration’s response to this tragedy was more than sufficient. And to the extent we have questions, let us get answers before assuming the worst.

Should our first instinct be to wonder whether the President condemned a self-evidently horrific attack? Should our first priority be to look at our watches to see if he spoke out in time? My guess is that those who were concerned–whose sincerity I do not doubt and to whom this would never have otherwise occurred–were prompted by social media that ultimately came from the usual suspects, that small but vocal segment of our community for whom nothing President Obama does is good enough.

It’s an easy game to play, straight out of Negative Politics 101: Accuse any politician of not responding, then of not responding fast enough (because it will never be fast enough), and then of issuing a response that was not strong or thorough enough (because more can always be said). And when it is the president, complain that the person speaking for the president was not at a high enough level (it will never be high enough).

Those who shared this misleading information were the victims of yet another partisan Internet hoax. The blame rests with the people who started these rumors and petitions in the first place, making them look as official and legitimate as possible, knowing that they would be shared and recirculated by people who were genuinely grieving for Ezra Schwartz. The purveyors of these falsehoods knew all too well that Mark Twain was right: A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can put its pants on.

President Obama has earned the benefit of the doubt. Neither his personal differences with Prime Minister Netanyahu nor the steady stream of invective from some quarters of the American Jewish community has prevented him from strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship.

President Obama supported record levels of aid to Israel and raised military and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Israel to unprecedented levels. Unlike his predecessor, President Obama enthusiastically supported and funded Iron Dome, which has saved countless Israeli lives. President Obama, at Bibi’s request, immediately intervened to save the lives of the Israeli diplomats trapped in the Israeli embassy in Egypt (do you know their names? Probably not — because Obama saved them). Also at Bibi’s request, President Obama immediately ensured fast U.S. help with the Carmel forest fires. And now we are complaining that a phone call to Ezra’s family the day after his funeral was not fast enough?

Unlike his predecessors, President Obama’s record of support for Israel at the U.N. is 100%. He even vetoed a Security Council resolution on settlements deliberately worded to match long-standing U.S. policy on settlements (to make it harder for the U.S. to veto) just to affirm the principle that the conflict must be resolved by the parties to the conflict, not one-sided international pressure on Israel.

And what about Iran? If Congress had blocked the Iran deal, we might be at war with Iran or preparing for the imminent possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran. I still do not know whether to be amused or saddened by claims that we could have held the sanctions regime together, even though all of our allies said it would fall apart and even though the same people who accuse President Obama of failing to lead somehow expected him to use his Jedi mind control techniques to hold it all together.

I still marvel that the same people who accused President Obama of undue reluctance to use force (even though he killed Osama bin Laden and has ordered over 6,000 airstrikes against ISIL) said out of the other side of their mouths that if Congress blocked the deal, we could stop Iran with force. Who did they think would authorize it? The Iran deal removed the biggest threat to Israel and world peace and is already emerging as one of our greatest foreign policy achievements. With all that is going on in the world today, imagine where we would be if President Obama had not taken Iran off the table.

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State Department’s Double Standard on Killing Civilians

Kill Team Afghanistan

Afghan farmer killed by U.S. soldiers, 2010.

The U.S. condemned Israeli missile strikes that killed civilians, saying that “this heavy-handed action does not contribute to peace.” Yet the White House rejected comparisons to U.S. attacks in Afghanistan that killed hundreds of civilians.

These statements were made by the Bush administration in 2002. And now in 2015, the U.S. once again killed civilians in Afghanistan and once again refuses to apply the same standard to Israel that it applies to itself.

So should we harshly condemn both countries for committing what in hindsight were grievous errors, or should we shrug our shoulders in both cases and say “stuff happens”?

We have to ask ourselves why two administrations as dissimilar as the Bush and Obama administrations behave similarly in these situations. Maybe both administrations were especially sensitive to the misuse of American-supplied weapons by an ally that the U.S. consistently defends in international forums, especially when it creates difficulties with our other allies. That might be the real reason, but it is still troubling, even though neither administration took any concrete action against Israel and remained supportive of Israel. We should rather be harder on ourselves and more understanding of Israel. American parents do not have to worry about rockets fired from Afghanistan hitting their kids in playgrounds. Israeli parents worry every day about rockets fired from Gaza.

(We might also ask ourselves why the Bush and Obama administrations, sometimes using identical language, consistently urge both side to refrain from violence when it is so clear to us that the Palestinians are more to blame, but that is a subject for another article.)

The AP’s Dirty Story on Soil Samples

2687218_762[1]Many people breathlessly shared an AP article about how Iran might provide its own soil samples to IAEA inspectors at Parchin. This is nothing new; it all came out in July and the administration has explained this arrangement to Congress in classified briefings. This does not set any precedent and is wholly unrelated to the intrusive inspections required in the JCPOA going forward.

If you are the least bit concerned, read Max Fisher’s analysis:

The bottom line here is that this is all over a mild and widely anticipated compromise on a single set of inspections to a single, long-dormant site. The AP, deliberately or not, has distorted that into something that sounds much worse, but actually isn’t. The whole incident is a fascinating, if disturbing, example of how misleading reporting on technical issues can play into the politics of foreign policy.

Not only that, but we don’t even need the IAEA to establish a baseline on Iran’s prior nuclear weapons research and development. According to current and former members of the House Intelligence Committee, our own “Intelligence is far more comprehensive and accurate than the statements we are likely to obtain from Iran’s scientists or the information we can gather from IAEA access to sites Iran has had a decade to bulldoze and sanitize.”

But if nothing else, remember this: Iran is not allowed to inspect itself.

Before Opposing Iran Deal, Consider the Alternatives

From left to right: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 14, 2015, during their talks on the Iranian nuclear program. (Joe Klamar/Pool Photo via AP)

Iranian nuclear talks concluded on July 14, 2015 in Vienna.

President Obama announced a deal with Iran on Tuesday. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to block the deal. This decision will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren and is one of the most important votes Congress will take in our lifetimes. We are far better off with this deal than without it, and we could not have gotten a better deal.

Yet before the ink was dry, some groups announced pre-planned campaigns to defeat the deal. Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) claimed he read and analyzed the deal Tuesday morning and published an op-ed opposing the deal that very afternoon. Dold had 60 days to make the most important decision of his congressional career, but he made it in a matter of hours. I guess he can use the remaining 59 days and 18 hours to campaign.

We owe it to ourselves to think this through. Don’t rely on weak versions of the administration’s case presented by opponents of the deal. Read the administration’s position in its own words. You don’t have to agree, but you’ve got to understand. President Obama’s press conference last week is mandatory reading for anyone who truly seeks to understand — he covers many key objections.

The 24-day inspection access requirement for non-declared sites (the deal gives us 24/7 access to all of Iran’s known sites) deserves special attention. Critics compare it to giving a drug dealer 24 days to cover up, but that’s a false and misleading analogy. As James Acton explains, an “access delay — even one of 24 days — wouldn’t make any material difference to the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities.”

And if you still disagree? Then you have to ask what the alternative is. What happens after Congress blocks a deal that our allies and Iran think is a good deal? Those who tell us in such great detail what is wrong with this deal have an obligation to tell us their alternative in just as much detail, so that we can weigh the merits and decide which course is best.

Some argue that the alternative is not war, but a better deal. A better deal! Why didn’t Obama think of that? Jeff Goldberg is right:

I’m not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I’m judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let’s not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September. What will happen, should Congress reject the deal, is that international sanctions will crumble and Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon, and it would start this pursuit only two or three months away from the nuclear threshold.

No responsible person can oppose this deal without understanding the implications of blocking the deal and knowing what realistic alternatives we have. The “better deal” opponents want invariably turns out to be an deal that Iran would never accept and that our European allies do not think is reasonable or necessary for Iran to accept.

That leaves military action as the only realistic alternative. Military action can, at best, set back Iran’s program only a few years — while guaranteeing that Iran will pursue and obtain nuclear weapons in far less than ten years.

What About Israel?

Many in Israel’s military and intelligence community support the Iran deal. Former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon said that the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives.”

Tel Aviv University physics professor Uzi Even, who served as a scientist at Israel’s Dimona reactor, supports the deal:

the deal that was signed is preferable to the current situation because it delays Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb by at least 15 years and in practice ends its nuclear aspirations.

Yet many Israeli political leaders across the spectrum oppose the deal. We have yet to hear any arguments from those politicians that differ from what we’ve heard here, nor have we heard any realistic alternatives from them.

In this case, it’s not that they know something we don’t. Israel is more at risk from a nuclear Iran than the U.S. and Europe. Reading between the lines, it seems that they just don’t trust the U.S. and Europe to actually enforce the deal or to actively stop Iran on other fronts not covered by the deal. Six years of non-stop anti-Obama indoctrination from the Prime Minister hasn’t helped. This makes for a terribly uncomfortable situation, but what choice do we have other than to evaluate the deal on its merits and ask ourselves if there are better, realistic alternatives?

Everyone agrees on the urgent necessity of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Before Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) even read the deal, he said President Obama wants “to get nukes to Iran.” His opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), believes that Congress should carefully review this deal, without rushing to judgment or resorting to reckless partisanship. (Kirk later walked back his statement without apologizing.)

The deal does not require Iran to recognize Israel, to stop terrorism, or to free American captives. The purpose of the deal is only to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We negotiated with Iran because we are safer with an evil regime that does not have nuclear weapons than one that does.

Reagan and Nixon faced similar criticism for negotiating with the Soviet Union, which was also committed to our destruction. We negotiate with our enemies, not our friends.

This deal is consistent with the framework announced on April 2 and with the criteria established by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By its terms, it is a good deal. Let’s ask questions, but let’s remember the stakes and let’s do so responsibly.

My message to Congress and staff: It’s not unusual for constituents to lobby you on issues that they know more about than you do. But on this issue, because of your access to the White House, you know more, and can get more information, than your constituents. Don’t doubt their passion and sincerity, but please make a fact-based decision and support this deal. Please also support any measures that would enhance Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities. No deal can provide absolute certainty, so it is incumbent upon us to provide Israel with the tools it needs if our worst fears are realized.

Video Satire: The Dealbreakers

How Not To Advocate for Israel

Obama%20Fox%20530[1]Last week we saw four examples of how not to advocate for Israel:

1. Don’t back lawsuits you can’t win.

The Supreme Court struck down a law that forced the President, through the Secretary of State, to identify, upon request, citizens born in Jerusalem as being born in Israel even though the United States has never acknowledged Israel nor any other country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

President Bush did not enforce this law, and neither has President Obama. No one should have been surprised that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Executive Branch. But as a result of this short-sighted lawsuit, which never should have been brought, the Palestinians are claiming victory and pro-Israel groups are upset.
[Read more…]

Obama Talks to Jews

It’s okay to disagree with President Obama’s statements or policies. I disagree with some of them too. But too often, we base our opinion on statements or policies falsely attributed to President Obama. That’s why it’s so important to read for ourselves what President Obama actually says, in context, rather than relying on what we are told the president said by people who have an ax to grind (or, for that matter, by people who support the president).

Yesterday, Jeff Goldberg published an interview with President Obama covering the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the nuclear deal with Iran, his relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. If you’re concerned about those issues, read the interview.

Two parts leaped out at me. The first was Goldberg’s statement that “As I listened to Obama speak about Israel, I felt as if I had participated in discussions like this dozens of times, but mainly with rabbis.”

The second was President Obama’s statement that “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind.”

When you look at the world that way, how can you not be pro-Israel? No wonder President Obama’s list of pro-Israel accomplishments is so long.

Video Clip of the Week.

This morning, in honor of National Jewish American Heritage Month, President Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. If this isn’t pro-Israel, I don’t know what is. If this doesn’t make you feel good, I don’t know what will.

I strongly recommend that you watch it if you have time, but if you don’t, rather than rely on those who will take bits and pieces out of context, at least read the transcript below and decide for yourself what you think of today’s speech.

Remarks by the President on Jewish American Heritage Month
Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.

I want to thank Rabbi Steinlauf for the very kind introduction. And to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome.

I want to thank a couple of outstanding members of Congress who are here. Senator Michael Bennet — where did Michael Bennet go? There he is. And Representative Sandy Levin, who is here. I want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, for his important work. There he is. But as I said, most of all I want to thank the entire congregation of Adas Israel for having me here today.

Earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one of your members, Jeff Goldberg. And Jeff reminded me that he once called me “the first Jewish President.” Now, since some people still seem to be wondering about my faith — — I should make clear this was an honorary title. But I was flattered.

And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by — and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because — I want to be invited back. Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”

Now, I wanted to come here to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month because this congregation, like so many around the country, helps us to tell the American story. And back in 1876, when President Grant helped dedicate Adas Israel, he became the first sitting President in history to attend a synagogue service. And at the time, it was an extraordinarily symbolic gesture — not just for America, but for the world.

And think about the landscape of Jewish history. Tomorrow night, the holiday of Shavuot marks the moment that Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, the first link in a chain of tradition that stretches back thousands of years, and a foundation stone for our civilization. Yet for most of those years, Jews were persecuted — not embraced — by those in power. Many of your ancestors came here fleeing that persecution.
The United States could have been merely another destination in that ongoing diaspora. But those who came here found that America was more than just a country. America was an idea. America stood for something. As George Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island: The United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

It’s important for us to acknowledge that too often in our history we fell short of those lofty ideals — in the legal subjugation of African Americans, through slavery and Jim Crow; the treatment of Native Americans. And far too often, American Jews faced the scourge of anti-Semitism here at home. But our founding documents gave us a North Star, our Bill of Rights; our system of government gave us a capacity for change. And where other nations actively and legally might persecute or discriminate against those of different faiths, this nation was called upon to see all of us as equal before the eyes of the law. When other countries treated their own citizens as “wretched refuse,” we lifted up our lamp beside the golden door and welcomed them in. Our country is immeasurably stronger because we did.

From Einstein to Brandeis, from Jonas Salk to Betty Friedan, American Jews have made contributions to this country that have shaped it in every aspect. And as a community, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect. The story of Exodus inspired oppressed people around the world in their own struggles for civil rights. From the founding members of the NAACP to a freedom summer in Mississippi, from women’s rights to gay rights to workers’ rights, Jews took the heart of Biblical edict that we must not oppress a stranger, having been strangers once ourselves.

Earlier this year, when we marked the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, we remembered the iconic images of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Dr. King, praying with his feet. To some, it must have seemed strange that a rabbi from Warsaw would take such great risks to stand with a Baptist preacher from Atlanta. But Heschel explained that their cause was one and the same. In his essay, “No Religion is an Island,” he wrote, “We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism.” Between a shared hope that says together we can shape a brighter future, or a shared cynicism that says our world is simply beyond repair.

So the heritage we celebrate this month is a testament to the power of hope. Me standing here before you, all of you in this incredible congregation is a testament to the power of hope. It’s a rebuke to cynicism. It’s a rebuke to nihilism. And it inspires us to have faith that our future, like our past, will be shaped by the values that we share. At home, those values compel us to work to keep alive the American Dream of opportunity for all. It means that we care about issues that affect all children, not just our own; that we’re prepared to invest in early childhood education; that we are concerned about making college affordable; that we want to create communities where if you’re willing to work hard, you can get ahead the way so many who fled and arrived on these shores were able to get ahead. Around the world, those values compel us to redouble our efforts to protect our planet and to protect the human rights of all who share this planet.

It’s particularly important to remember now, given the tumult that is taking place in so many corners of the globe, in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods, those shared values compel us to reaffirm that our enduring friendship with the people of Israel and our unbreakable bonds with the state of Israel — that those bonds, that friendship cannot be broken. Those values compel us to say that our commitment to Israel’s security — and my commitment to Israel’s security — is and always will be unshakable.

And I’ve said this before: It would be a moral failing on the part of the U.S. government and the American people, it would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and prosper. Because it would ignore the history that brought the state of Israel about. It would ignore the struggle that’s taken place through millennia to try to affirm the kinds of values that say everybody has a place, everybody has rights, everybody is a child of God.

As many of you know, I’ve visited the houses hit by rocket fire in Sderot. I’ve been to Yad Vashem and made that solemn vow: “Never forget. Never again.” When someone threatens Israel’s citizens or its very right to exist, Israelis necessarily that seriously. And so do I. Today, the military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries is stronger than ever. Our support of the Iron Dome’s rocket system has saved Israeli lives. And I can say that no U.S. President, no administration has done more to ensure that Israel can protect itself than this one.

As part of that commitment, there’s something else that the United States and Israel agrees on: Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. Now, there’s a debate about how to achieve that — and that’s a healthy debate. I’m not going to use my remaining time to go too deep into policy — although for those of you who are interested — we have a lot of material out there. But I do want everybody to just remember a few key things.

The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution. I will not accept a bad deal. As I pointed out in my most recent article with Jeff Goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise. I want a good deal.

I’m interested in a deal that blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — every single path. A deal that imposes unprecedented inspections on all elements of Iran’s nuclear program, so that they can’t cheat; and if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on. A deal that endures beyond a decade; that addresses this challenge for the long term. In other words, a deal that makes the world and the region — including Israel — more secure. That’s how I define a good deal.

I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached. We’re hopeful. We’re working hard. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And I’ve made clear that when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table.

Moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional destabilization, and ugly threats against Israel. And that’s why our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.

Now, that does not mean that there will not be, or should not be, periodic disagreements between our two governments. There will be disagreements on tactics when it comes to how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is entirely appropriate and should be fully aired. Because the stakes are sufficiently high that anything that’s proposed has to be subjected to scrutiny — and I welcome that scrutiny.

But there are also going to be some disagreements rooted in shared history that go beyond tactics, that are rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values. I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war. The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world. Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive. And those values in many ways came to be my own values. They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.

And to a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating. The example of Israel and its values was inspiring.

So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully. For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship.

Before I came out here, the Rabbi showed me the room that’s been built to promote scholarship and dialogue, and to be able to find how we make our shared values live. And the reason you have that room is because applying those values to our lives is often hard, and it involves difficult choices. That’s why we study. That’s why it’s not just a formula. And that’s what we have to do as nations as well as individuals. We have to grapple and struggle with how do we apply the values that we care about to this very challenging and dangerous world.

And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland. And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.

Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy. The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.

But it is worthwhile for us to keep up the prospect, the possibility of bridging divides and being just, and looking squarely at what’s possible but also necessary in order for Israel to be the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.

And that same sense of shared values also compel me to speak out — compel all of us to speak out — against the scourge of anti-Semitism wherever it exists. I want to be clear that, to me, all these things are connected. The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people. And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.

And in recent years, we’ve seen a deeply disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in parts of the world where it would have seemed unthinkable just a few years or decades ago. This is not some passing fad; these aren’t just isolated phenomenon. And we know from our history they cannot be ignored. Anti-Semitism is, and always will be, a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire. And when we allow anti-Semitism to take root, then our souls are destroyed, and it will spread.

And that’s why, tonight, for the first time ever, congregations around the world are celebrating a Solidarity Shabbat. It’s a chance for leaders to publicly stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its forms. And I’m proud to be a part of this movement, and I’m proud that six ambassadors from Europe are joining us today. And their presence here — our presence together — is a reminder that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Our traditions, our history, can help us chart a better course as long as we are mindful of that history and those traditions, and we are vigilant in speaking out and standing up against what is wrong. It’s not always easy, I think, to speak out against what is wrong, even for good people.

So I want to close with the story of one more of the many rabbis who came to Selma 50 years ago. A few days after David Teitelbaum arrived to join the protests, he and a colleague were thrown in jail. And they spent a Friday night in custody, singing Adon Olam to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” And that in and of itself is a profound statement of faith and hope. But what’s wonderful is, is that out of respect many of their fellow protesters began wearing what they called “freedom caps” — yarmulkes — as they marched.

And the day after they were released from prison, Rabbi Teitelbaum watched Dr. King lead a prayer meeting before crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And Dr. King said, “We are like the children of Israel, marching from slavery to freedom.”

That’s what happens when we’re true to our values. It’s not just good for us, but it brings the community together. Tikkun Olam — it brings the community together and it helps repair the world. It bridges differences that once looked unbridgeable. It creates a future for our children that once seemed unattainable. This congregation — Jewish American life is a testimony to the capacity to make our values live. But it requires courage. It requires strength. It requires that we speak the truth not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

So may we always remember that our shared heritage makes us stronger, that our roots are intertwined. May we always choose faith over nihilism, and courage over despair, and hope over cynicism and fear. As we walk our own leg of a timeless, sacred march, may we always stand together, here at home and around the world.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you.