Worst Holiday Sermon of the Year

No matter how bad were the sermons you heard this year on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, they were not worse than the Rosh Hashanah sermon by Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Marietta, Georgia.

The gist of the sermon was that the world is filled with bloodthirsty Muslims just waiting to kill us, and we better open our eyes. Maybe Lewis should open his eyes.

In a sermon that sounded like a Fox News parody, Lewis spoke about “50 million Koran-waving, Allah Akbar-howling Muslim murderers out there planning to slit our throats, blow us up or forcibly convert us.” He cited no proof for his 50-million assertion.

Lewis then criticized the other 950 million Muslims for not speaking out. Maybe Fox News did not report it, but the vice president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Ahmet Ogras, said that ISIS “is not a state; this is a terrorist organization. I call them terrorists because that’s what they are.” That sounds like speaking out to me.

The Forward’s Nathan Guttman noted that “many Muslims across the world have spoken out and taken action against radical Islamists, and in the last few months, against the group known as ISIS in particular.”

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, with some 205 million who claim the religion as their own, has banned any pro-ISIS activity in the country. The government clamped down years earlier on domestic al-Qaeda affiliates, as well. The country’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, called ISIS’s violence “a new wake-up call to international leaders all over the world, including Islamic leaders.”

Several Middle East Muslim states have joined the American-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. In America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America, two of the country’s largest Muslim organizations, have issued repeated condemnations of terrorism, and of ISIS and al-Qaeda specifically.

On September 24, CAIR issued a letter signed by Muslim leaders and prominent scholars rejecting the ideology of ISIS and calling on its supporters to repent.

BuzzFeed reported that “Muslim activists are sharing photos with the hashtag #NotInMyName on Twitter and Instagram to send a clear message that ISIS does not speak for them.”

Lewis spoke about the three Israeli teens murdered over the summer. But even after falsely accusing Muslims of remaining silent about ISIS, he did not mention the Arab teen who was burned to death by Jews.

Why was Lewis silent? Should not he be speaking out for the same reason he expects Muslims to speak out? Did Lewis speak out when Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslims while they were praying?

Did you write a letter to the editor condemning Goldstein? I did not. Do you know why? Because I felt no particular obligation to speak out. Of course I think that those acts were wrong, but I identify not one whit with those who burned the Arab teen, or with Goldstein.

All Jews are responsible for one another, yet I do not consider their ideology mine. Spokespeople for major Jewish organizations condemned Goldstein’s acts, just as the Muslim organizations mentioned above condemned ISIS. But the vast majority of the world’s 14 million Jews did not issue statements of condemnation.

The vast majority of Muslims probably feel the same way about ISIS and other radical Islamic extremists as we feel about Goldstein and the murderers of the Arab teen, and thus feel no need to condemn them.

Lewis, of course, offered no solution to the problem he imagines. Does he want us to kill 50 million Muslims? Does he want us to wage war on the entire Muslim world? That is where his “logic” seems to lead, but he did not quite go there. He did not go anywhere.

Lewis’s sermon was nothing but fear-mongering and stereotypes, designed to appeal to the worst parts of ourselves and leave us with nothing but a rationale for our prejudices.

Lewis’s sermon had elements of truth, as all effective demagoguery does: We do have plenty of real enemies in the Muslim world, including ISIS, Hamas, and Hizballah. We cannot minimize the real threat they pose to us and our allies, and the U.S. is fighting ISIS.

However, we would not help ourselves by taking our eyes off the ball and demonizing the entire Muslim world. Still, I am not going to condemn Rabbi Lewis. Why should I? He is Jewish, but I do not identify with him or the narrow-minded misinformed views of his sermon; he does not speak for me.

Bonus: Baseless Accusations Against Obama

And what right-wing diatribe would be complete without a few shots at President Obama?

Lewis quoted Thomas Friedman’s paraphrase of President Obama’s policy that the U.S. will only get more deeply involved in the Middle East to the extent that different communities there agree to an inclusive politics of no victor, no vanquished, but he omitted the President’s verbatim explanation of what he meant: “societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions. And the more diverse the country is, the less it can afford to take maximalist positions.”

What sane person could disagree with that?

Lewis also seems unaware of the strong, unequivocal support for Israel that Obama provided during the Gaza conflict. Obama said that Israel has “every right” to defend itself and that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders… so we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.” No moral ambiguity was there.

The President’s strong support for Israel is not in any way diminished by his concern about innocent Palestinian civilians. Israel itself was concerned about Palestinian civilians and took tremendous care, more than any other army in the world, more than the U.S. and its allies are currently taking in the campaign against ISIS, to ensure that innocents were not killed.

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Is Everyone Really Against Us?

Last month, Rabbi Richard Block wrote in Tablet about why he was unsubscribing to The New York Times:

The straw that broke my subscription’s back came on Aug. 19, when Hamas violated yet another truce, sending a fusillade of rockets into Israel. The Wall Street Journal’s headline read, “Gaza Rocket Strikes End Cease Fire.” A U.S. State Department spokesperson condemned the renewed rocket fire, holding Hamas responsible for causing the ceasefire to break down. The Times headline: “Rockets From Gaza and Israeli Response Break Cease-Fire.” Seriously? A newspaper that cannot distinguish between starting a fight and defending oneself is intellectually deficient, morally obtuse, and profoundly unworthy of its readers.

I know the Times won’t miss me. The feeling is mutual.

If you read Block’s post, then you owe it to yourself to read Chemi Shalev’s response in Ha’aretz:

It all makes for the depressingly insular, self-righteous, with-us-or-against-us mentality that is delineating Israel and many of [its] followers abroad as an island unto themselves. In this cloister, the only benchmark for judging the worth of anyone — countries and institutions, newspapers and opera companies, artists and authors — is whether they accept or reject the Israel-good, Arab-bad narrative. By this standard, the bible itself, with its constant harping on Israel’s bad ways and the Lord’s displeasure would probably be blasted from Brooklyn to Beit Shemesh today for its negative portrayal of Jews.

By parting ways with the New York Times and “not missing” the great intellectual wealth that it offers, day in and day out, Block would have Jews return, mutatis mutandis, to the kind of stifling ghetto that drove his theological forefathers, two centuries ago, to set up the Reform movement in the first place.

Is Obama “Enraged” at Israel?

Last week in The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens started an entire column by referring to an interview in which Martin Indyk said that President Obama was “enraged” about the way Israel treated Secretary of State John Kerry.

Stephens then pretended that Obama himself had used the word “enraged” and compared that to the President’s statements on other world issues.

What exactly prompted Indyk to characterize the President as “enraged”? Stephens would not tell you, but I will: Indyk said that an unnamed Israeli official “described Kerry as launching ‘a strategic terror attack.’ That was just outrageous and it enraged the president.”

This was Indyk speaking, not the President, but most reasonable people would be enraged at such a statement. Stephens claimed that President Obama was “enraged” at Israel, but it is clear from Indyk’s comments that the President was enraged (in Indyk’s view) at the statement, not at Israel, and not even at Israel’s overall treatment of Kerry — a big difference that Stephens ignores.

Indyk also said in the same interview that Obama has “been absolutely clear that whatever the differences he may have with the Israeli prime minister, he’s not going to touch the security relationship. And he’s been very strongly supportive of Israel’s security requirements, notwithstanding the real tension in the personal relationship.” Stephens forgot to mention that part.

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Obama’s War on Terror: Rhetoric vs. Reality

President Obama’s actions against terrorism are much stronger than his rhetoric against it.

We hear so much “Obama said this,” “Obama didn’t say that” that one would think we were in middle school. The reality, as Jeff Goldberg explained in Bloomberg View, is that Obama is stronger on terror than he sounds:

It is important to remember that Obama is perhaps the greatest killer of terrorists in American history…

Obama has launched strikes against Islamist terror targets in several countries. He has devastated the leadership of core al Qaeda, and just this week — as Washington opinion-makers collectively decided that he was hopelessly weak on terror — the president launched a (quite possibly successful) strike in Somalia against the leader of al-Shabab, a terror group nearly as bloodthirsty as Islamic State.

After Goldberg wrote this, the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. did kill Ahmed Abdi Godane, the leader of al-Shabab.

However, too many of us prefer mindless rhetoric to thoughtful action, and put a growing pressure on Obama “to do something stupid.”

In the New York Daily News, Michael Cohen explained how the constant chorus of Obama’s “do something” foreign policy critics gets it wrong:

Despite missteps along the way — in particular, the dreadful 2009 decision to surge 30,000 American troops in Afghanistan — Obama’s foreign policy stewardship has increasingly become a model of deliberation and restraint. That approach often produces outcomes that are less than satisfying — but it doesn’t mean the underlying policy is unwise.

Ironically, ignoring the chorus of critics persistently calling for the Obama administration to “do something” — and do it quickly — is evidence of the resoluteness that the President is so often accused of lacking.

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Who’s to Blame for Palestinian Deaths?


No one, least of all Israel, disputes that the deaths of Palestinian civilians is tragic. That’s why Israel did not object to Secretary of State John Kerry’s pledge of $47 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza– the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza is immense.

If we really believe that Hamas is using innocent people as human shields (we do), if we really believe that Israel is doing all it can to prevent needless suffering (we do), if we are really proud that Israel itself provides humanitarian aid to Gazans (we are and it does), then how can we object to U.S. humanitarian aid?

Israel doesn’t object and we shouldn’t either. For more on Kerry’s  pledge and his commitment to Israel, see Kerry’s exchange with CNN’s Candy Crawley.

[Read more…]

If Gaza Were Near the U.S.

— by Steve SheffeyHamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel this week.Can you imagine what the U.S. would do if hundreds of rockets were coming into it from the Delaware Bay? It would not exercise a tenth of the restraint Israel has exercised.Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) spoke for all of us last Tuesday: 

Families in Israel are once again hearing incessant alarm sirens and racing to bomb shelters as Hamas launches hundreds of rockets from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians. No nation would, nor should accept such attack without firm response. I support Israel’s right to defend herself against threats to her citizens and efforts to restore quiet to the region

The fundamental duty of any state is to protect its citizens. The reason so few Israelis die from rocket attacks is that Israel does everything it can to protect its citizens from rocket fire. The reason so many Palestinians die from Israeli air strikes is that despite Israeli leaflets and other warnings that attacks are imminent, Hamas launches rockets from hospitals and densely-populated areas, and deliberately keeps civilians in harm’s way.Some people urge a “proportionate” response on Israel. What would that be? Firing dozens of rockets randomly into Gaza?The correct amount of force is the amount necessary to stop the Hamas rocket attacks. If anything, the Israeli response has been insufficient, as the rocket attacks keep coming.The Jewish Federations of North America have issued a statement commending President Obama “for his continuing support of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

You may have seen misleading headlines about White House Middle East coordinator Philip Gordon’s major speech last Tuesday. However, it was a good summary of the U.S. policy on Israel, Syria, Iran, and the peace process:


Over the past several days, Hamas and other terrorist groups have launched dozens of rockets at Israeli towns and cities, forcing local populations into their shelters.The United States strongly condemns these attacks. No country should have to live under the constant threat of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians.

We support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks. At the same time, we appreciate Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for acting responsibly. We, in turn, call on all sides to do all they can to restore calm, and to take steps to protect civilians.

Israel is doing exactly what Gordon urges. The only way to restore calm is to stop the rocket attacks, and Israel is doing all it can to protect civilians.

Unlike previous administrations, the Obama administration has never condemned, threatened, or punished Israel for using military force to protect its citizens. Who can argue with what Gordon said?

Gordon also discussed the specifics of President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, removing chemical weapons from Syria (a huge success that was achieved without firing a shot), and the prospects for peace with the Palestinians, even as rockets are striking Israel. This is where the headlines have been misleading.

I urge you to read what Gordon said, all of it, and decide for yourself if these are the words of a friend or if he is “blasting Israel.”

Palestinians Celebrate Kidnapping of Israeli Teens

— by Steve Sheffey

The three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in the West Bank earlier this month still have not been found.

The Palestinians have been celebrating the kidnapping with “The Three Shalits” campaign, named after the previously-kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, in which they picture themselves holding three fingers in the air.

The Palestinian Authority (PA)’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, called for the return of the kidnapped boys, saying that the kidnappers were trying to destroy the PA. And yet, one cannot help but conclude that the sick celebration of the kidnapping, which included this appalling cartoon on the PA’s website, is the result of the constant anti-Semitic incitement against Israel that has occurred for decades throughout Palestinian society.

More after the jump.

Secretary of State John Kerry strongly condemned the kidnapping and called for the immediate release of the boys, offering “full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and other members of the Illinois congressional delegation have released statements condemning the kidnapping.

Schneider called on Abbas “to disassociate from Hamas, and any entity that is demonstrated to have participated in this horrible crime.


Furthermore, the abduction of these innocent boys, the widespread celebrations in the Palestinian Territories of the kidnapping, and ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza, shed light on the broad spectrum of threats that Israelis live with on a daily basis. It is critical that the international community unites in opposition to these types of terrorist activities, and openly condemns those who advocate and celebrate such heinous actions as legitimate.

Schakowski urged “all parties, including the Palestinian Authority, to do everything possible to achieve the prompt release of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.”

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Why Does Israel Still Transfer Money to the PA?

In forming this technocratic government, Hamas agreed to conditions it was never previously willing to accept, such as giving Abbas veto power over all ministers and approving the formation of a government in which it has no ministers, which is why this unity government might succeed.

— by Steve Sheffey

The pro-Israel community is concerned about the new Palestinian unity government.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a lifelong advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, a supporter of a two-state solution, and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement on the subject last week:

I remain deeply concerned that the Palestinian Authority continues to move forward with a reconciliation government that includes the internationally-recognized terrorist group Hamas. Hamas continues to advocate violent action against Israel, and its political leadership refuses to recognize Israel.

Hamas’ participation in a unity government raises serious doubts as to the Palestinians’ commitment to a negotiated peace with Israel and raises significant questions regarding future U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.

While I support efforts by the Palestinian Authority to form government institutions capable of representing the Palestinian people, a unity government with Hamas, without Hamas agreeing to the “Quartet Conditions,” which includes renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and honoring past agreements, will hinder the peace process and will not result in a future Palestinian state.

President Abbas must understand the two-state agreement can only be achieved through good faith negotiation with Israel. I hope he and his government will take the steps to further the prospects for peace for his people and the region.

More after the jump.
AIPAC called on Congress to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), while Congress “conducts a thorough review of continued U.S. assistance to ensure that U.S. law, which prohibits to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence, is completely followed and implemented.”

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago wrote that the “inclusion of Hamas at any level of a Palestinian government undermines the goal of the United States and Israel for a negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

Israel criticized the decision of the U.S. to work with the new Palestinian unity government. But the White House pointed out that the same day the technocratic Palestinian unity government was established, Israel transferred more than 500 million shekels (about $145 million) to the PA government.

Haaretz reported that a senior White House official said, “It is unclear to us why some in the Israeli political leadership are staking out such a hard line public position that is fundamentally at odds with their own actions.” The official added that the transfer “was no accident and reflects the Israeli establishment’s clear interest in maintaining a functioning and stable PA that can effectively administer Palestinian areas.”

Israel has no interest in seeing the PA collapse and their actions this week reinforce this clear-eyed understanding, despite what some Israeli officials are saying publicly.

Our position has consistently been that the threshold for working with a PA government is that it recognize the Quartet principles and doesn’t include or share power with Hamas. It is against our interest — and Israel’s interests — to cut ties with and funding to such a PA government. A functioning, stable PA serves our interests, Palestinian interests, and Israeli interests.

Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the “U.S. does not recognize a government with respect to Palestine because that would recognize a state and there is no state.”

Hamas is a terrorist organization. It has not accepted the Quartet principles. It continues to call for the destruction of Israel. It continues even as it moves into this new posture. And so we are obviously going to watch closely what happens, but we will… work with it in the constraints that we are obviously facing.

Unless Kerry is mistaken on the facts, the U.S. is not required by law to cut off funding. Kerry said last week that Abbas “made clear that this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of non violence, negotiations, recognizing the state of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements and the Quartet principles.”

Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate.

The purpose of this technocratic unity government is to administer affairs in the West Bank and Gaza for purposes of having election in six months.

No one disputes that Hamas is an unrepentant terrorist organization. But neither Israel nor the U.S. believes that any of the ministers in the unity government are members of Hamas. Hamas is very weak as a result of restrictions imposed by Egypt, so it is in both Israel’s and the PA’s interests to capitalize on this weakness by forcing Hamas out of power in Gaza by elections.

In forming this technocratic government, Hamas agreed to conditions it was never previously willing to accept, such as giving Abbas veto power over all ministers and approving the formation of a government in which it has no ministers, which is why this unity government might succeed.

If the Palestinian Authority collapses, not only would Israel have to take over administration of the West Bank — which Israel does not want to do — but Israel would also lose the security cooperation that has virtually eliminated terrorist attacks from the West Bank into Israel. Perhaps that is why, despite its rhetoric, Israel continues to transfer money to the PA — and so should we.

Congress should work with the Administration to ensure that we have not been misled as to the composition of this unity government, and to monitor this unity government for acts that would render it ineligible for U.S. aid. Suspending aid now could imperil U.S. and Israeli security and administrative interests. It might be more prudent to suspend aid only if and when we have evidence that continued U.S. assistance would violate U.S. law.

The goal is to remove Hamas from power and create a government that can negotiate meaningfully with Israel, but the risk is that Hamas will use this government to expand its influence. A Palestinian government without Hamas that can negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is the ideal partner for peace. We must be careful not to take rash action.

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The Real Reason for the Bergdahl Controversy

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_Cropped— by Steve Sheffey

Should we have traded five Taliban prisoners for one U.S. prisoner of war? It is amazing that we are even asking this question.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is rarely accused of being soft on terrorism, negotiated with Hamas and traded more than 1,000 prisoners, many of whom with blood on their hands, for Gilad Shalit, whose conduct prior to his capture was not exactly heroic.

These are painful decisions, but countries like the U.S. and Israel do not leave their soldiers behind, and certainly not run a character and fitness test before deciding whom to rescue. General Dempsey was right when he said about Sergeant Bergdahl, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.”

More after the jump.
When we end wars, we trade for prisoners. Can you imagine the reaction if President Obama had refused to make this trade and Bergdahl had died or disappeared? Would our Republican friends have accepted “we let him die because we had questions about how he was captured” as an excuse?

The five Taliban prisoners would have been released in a few months anyway, so we really did not give up anything.

Also, these released prisoners will be monitored, and their movement will be restricted. Former Bush administration official John Bellinger noted that the “Administration appears to have reached a defensible, hold-your-nose compromise by arranging, in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, for the individuals to be held in Qatar for a year before they return to Afghanistan.”

But was it legal for President Obama to make this trade? The National Security Council spokesman, Caitlin Hayden, provided a convincing answer:

[T]he Secretary of Defense may transfer an individual detained at Guantanamo to a foreign country if the Secretary determines (1) that actions have or will be taken that substantially mitigate the risk that the individual will engage in activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests and (2) that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States. The Secretary made those determinations.

In The New York Times, David Brooks wrote that “the president’s instincts were right. His sense of responsibility for a fellow countryman was correct. It’s not about one person; it’s about the principle of all-for-one-and-one-for-all, which is the basis of citizenship.”

So what really is behind the Bergdahl controversy? Obama ended two wars without being blamed for surrender, and that does not sit well with our Republican friends. In The Dish, Andrew Sullivan explained it perfectly:

What the Bergdahl deal does is give the right a mini-gasm in which to vent all their emotions about the wars they once backed and to channel them into their pre-existing template of the traitor/deserter/Muslim/impostor presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. This venting has been a long time coming, it springs from all the frustrations of losing wars, and it can have pure expression against a soldier with a hippie dad and a president they despise. It’s a bonanza of McCarthyite “stab-in-the-back” paranoia and culture war aggression. They don’t have to vent against Cheney, the true architect of the defeats, because now they have a cause celebre to pursue Obama over.They also get to avoid the messy awful reality that Cheney bequeathed us: an illegal internment/torture camp with 149 prisoners with no possibility of justice or release. Permanent detention and brutal torture of prisoners are not issues to the right. They invariably refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary cost of Gitmo to the moral standing of the US or its increasingly tenuous claim to be a vanguard of Western values. Instead, they wallow in terror of the inmates — being so scared of them that they cannot even tolerate them on American soil — and impugn the very integrity and patriotism of a twice-elected president when he tries to untie the knot Bush left him.

They have no constructive solution to this problem, of course. They have no constructive solution to anything else either — whether it be climate change, healthcare or immigration. But they know one thing: how to foment and channel free-floating rage at an impostor/deserter president for inheriting the national security disaster they created. This they know how to do. This is increasingly all they know how to do.

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Another Republican Attempt to Use Iran for Political Gain

Congress can take action against any Iran deal with or without Senator Bob Corker’s amendment.

— by Steve Sheffey

The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), enjoys broad bipartisan support and was on its way to an easy passage.

But last week, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) indicated that he would introduce an amendment requiring Congressional hearings and a vote on a non-binding “joint resolution of disapproval” on any Iran nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration.

This is not a bipartisan effort: Corker does not have a Democratic co-sponsor. This is another Republican attempt to manipulate legitimate concerns about Iran for political gain.

Almost everyone supports the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. Why not let it pass with strong bipartisan support and vote separately on a bill to authorize a joint resolution of disapproval?

Corker wants all or nothing. He is willing to put the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act at risk to gain a talking point Republicans can use against Democrats who oppose his amendment.

More after the jump.
Boxer pulled the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act from consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to avoid a vote on the Iran amendment. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also opposes voting on Corker’s Iran amendment.

Corker’s amendment is unnecessary: Congress does and should have a role in the process. But Corker’s amendment does not give Congress any authority to block a deal with Iran; it just creates an opportunity for more grandstanding. As Boxer pointed out, Congress can take action against any deal with or without Corker’s amendment.

Some in Congress want a deal with Iran that is so airtight, so perfect, that it would be impossible to achieve. They do not seem to realize that the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiations table will not by themselves stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The alternative to diplomacy is not more sanctions — although more sanctions will surely be the first response if diplomacy fails — but either war or containment.

That is not to say that opponents of the interim deal process want war: They do not. They sincerely believe that merciless sanctions will stop Iran, even though Iran’s nuclear program had accelerated as sanctions increased, but has slowed down significantly since the interim agreement was put in place and a limited sanctions relief was granted.

The Obama administration’s position is that we need to give diplomacy a chance because:

  • Diplomacy might work (although President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton all give it a chance of less than 50% to succeed).
  • The case for even tougher sanctions, and if necessary, military action, will be much stronger. We will be much more likely to maintain the international coalition, that is essential if we are to have any chance of success, if we first try diplomacy and thereby convince the world that there really is no alternative to more sanctions or military action.

Obama has been clear that diplomacy might not work, and has been equally clear that we will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, repeatedly stating that no option, including the military one, is off the table. He has boxed himself in: He cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons without his presidency being judged a failure by his own standard.

If nevertheless you do not think that Obama will use military force, even if it will be the only way to stop Iran, then you should support diplomacy and oppose congressional initiatives that would complicate diplomatic efforts and make it harder for diplomacy to succeed. If diplomacy does not succeed, military action will be the only option left.

Now is not the time for Congress to upset the apple cart. There is no reason that Corker’s amendment needs to be voted on now — as opposed to later in the process — other than to create an election-year issue for the Republicans.

Senators Boxer and Menendez are good friends of the pro-Israel community. We should commend them for refusing to play Corker’s game.

This Week’s 5 Most Important Questions

— by Steve Sheffey

  • Does Israel spy on the US?
  • Will the US prevent a nuclear-armed Iran?
  • Is J Street pro-Israel?
  • Does Marco Rubio understand global warming science?
  • Is the #BringBackOurGirls campaign working?

Read the answers after the jump.
I strongly recommend that you read this fascinating exchange between former US ambassador to Israel Michael Oren and Foreign Policy’s David Rothkopf. It’s somewhat long, but it eloquently addresses many of the questions and concerns that trouble thoughtful friends of Israel.

Chuck Hagel defended Israel against spying allegations.

In response to a Newsweek report quoting unnamed US officials accusing Israel of espionage, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that “I’m not aware of any facts that would substantiate the report.” Hagel, on a three-day trip to Israel, also affirmed the strong bond between the US and Israel and noted that US aid to Israel is at record levels.

We will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Many critics of the interim agreement with Iran refuse to acknowledge that its purpose is not to end Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Its purpose is to delay progress on Iran’s program so that we can negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program without Iran using the time during negotiations to make significant progress.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice said on May 12 that (emphasis mine):

Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, “America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.” As the United States and our P5+1 partners engage in negotiations with Iran on a long-term, comprehensive agreement that resolves the world’s longstanding concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, we all have a responsibility to give diplomacy a chance to succeed. But America won’t be satisfied by mere words. We will only be satisfied by verifiable action from Iran. Put simply: if we are not, there will be no deal. And, as these negotiations progress, we continue to consult closely with Israel every step of the way.

The J Street Challenge.

My regular readers know that I’m a strong supporter of AIPAC, and I explained why in my report on AIPAC and J Street. But the disagreements we have with J Street do not negate the fact that J Street is a pro-Israel organization. If you’re really concerned about J Street and the fanciful charges that have been leveled against it, you owe it to yourself to read Setting the Record Straight, by J Street’s founder and Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami.

Barney Frank made a good point last week:

I have long noted an interesting phenomenon in the opinion of some American Jews that criticism of particular Israeli government policies from a more liberal position are a betrayal, while even harsher attacks on efforts by Israeli governments to pursue peace talks are entirely legitimate.

John Oliver and Bill Nye show the world how to debate with climate change deniers.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) denied global warming science.

Rubio proved that he is both ignorant of science and eminently qualified to be a GOP candidate for President by denying the reality that global warming is caused by human activity. Jeffrey Kluger explains why Rubio is wrong on climate change. This is the same Marco Rubio who, when asked the age of the earth, said “I’m not a scientist, man.” No kidding.

Kluger’s article is a great article to send to anyone who still doesn’t get it on climate change, but Carl Hiaassen’s approach works too.


I wonder if those mocking #BringBackOurGirls would have mocked the “Save Soviet Jewry” posters many synagogues put on their lawns not too long ago. The point of the “Save Soviet Jewry” signs was not that the signs themselves would free Soviet Jews, but that by constantly calling attention to their plight, we would make action more likely and more likely to succeed.

Hashtags are today’s signs. No one thinks that hashtags on Twitter are a substitute for action, but they are helping focus the world’s attention on the plight of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. Zach Beauchamp explains why #BringBackOurGirls is making a difference for Nigeria.

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