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.)

Oppose Iran to Stand Up for Human Rights, Sideman Says

“The 23 kiloton “Badger” explosion at the Nevada Test Site. (Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration, April 18, 1953.)

In the recent hubbub surrounding the proposed Iran nuclear deal, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the deluge of differing opinions and perspectives. On the diplomatic level, Israel has been a clear and consistent opponent to any such détente.

I had the opportunity to discuss the Iran nuclear deal with the Israeli consul general to Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman. Sideman explained Israel’s position in a short and simple manner, so it would be easy for a layperson to understand:

Do you want the most dangerous regime in the world to obtain the most dangerous weapon?

The comprehensive nuclear deal that the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, Germany, and the European Union are proposing with Iran will ultimately enable Iran to have a functioning nuclear weapon.

What does this mean for Israel? Israel takes Iran’s pronouncements very seriously. When Iran says that it wants to wipe Israel off the map, Israel believes it. Iran currently sponsors Hezbollah, militias in Iraq, and the Assad regime in Syria. Iran is making Syria and Iraq unstable. Iran has been designated by the U.S. State Department as an “active state sponsor of terrorism”, supplying arms, funds, training, and personnel to numerous known terror groups.

Like ISIL, Iran wants to impose its ideology on the world. How much more frightening will this be when the world is being threatened with a nuclear bomb, instead of the knives used by ISIL? If Iran is able to obtain the bomb, its proxies will be emboldened. Iran will swallow countries one by one. Iran does not respect the human rights of its own people. What do you think it will do with the human rights of others?

Iran is currently developing intercontinental ballistic missiles. As soon as it can arm them with nuclear heads, it can aim them at Israel; which it calls “The Little Satan”; and the U.S., which it calls “The Big Satan.”

Sideman spoke of a video that he had been shown, of a young Iranian woman accused of adultery. The video was smuggled out of Iran to show how she was stoned to death by a mob. The Iranian authorities are not pleased that this video is available for the world to see.

Sideman expressed hope that the agreement will be improved:

There is still time to delay this agreement. The U.S. can bring Iran back to the negotiating table. The U.S. can get a better deal — one that will not allow Iran to threaten the U.S. with utter destruction.

Elad Strohmayer: Philadelphia’s New “Ambassador” to Israel

Elad Oren Wedding with Mayor Nutter

Elad Strohmayer (right) and Oren Ben-Yosef (left) at their wedding with Mayor Michael Nutter (center).

Israeli Deputy Consul General Elad Strohmayer’s three year posting to Philadelphia is coming to its conclusion. As he plans his return to Israel, he says that while he needs to leave Philadelphia, Philadelphia will never leave him. “Consider me Philadelphia’s ‘ambassador’ to Israel,” he remarked.

Philadelphia has left an indelible seal upon Elad’s heart. It is where he married the love of his life, Oren Ben-Yosef. Mayor Nutter officiated at their wedding in City Hall. As he described his wedding with these words, “We were embraced by the whole community, Jewish and non-Jewish.”

Elad Strohmayer loves Philadelphia. “Philadelphia has a great relationship with Israel. It is a place that has historically been open to other cultures, and has welcomed Israeli cultural contributions,” he enthused.

Strohmayer explained about the opportunities for business collaboration between Israel and Philadelphia:

There is a synergy between Israel and Philadelphia which creates an ecosystem that allows ideas to grow. Israeli start-ups looking to expand internationally are coming to Philadelphia. The consulate and the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce are working hard to make Philadelphia attractive to Israelis. Mayor Nutter traveled to Israel to cultivate those relationships.

On August 24, Elad Strohamayer will bid Philadelphia goodbye, and Moran Birman will be welcomed as the new deputy consul general. A graduate of the Hebrew University Law School, Deputy Consul General Birman will be Israel’s newest representative in the City of Brotherly Love. Let us welcome him as warmly as we did Elad Strohmayer.

No Place for Hate Crimes in Israel

— by Yaron Sideman, Consul General Of Israel, Mid-Atlantic RegionImageProxy.mvc

Last week we witnessed two hideous attacks in Israel: The first was an arson attack on a Palestinian family, in which an 18-month old toddler was murdered. His parents and 4-year-old brother were seriously injured. There is evidence pointing to the attack having been carried out by Israeli extremists. The second was a stabbing spree at the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem that injured six people, two of them seriously, carried out by an ultra-Orthodox man with an existing criminal record.

 Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Every society has its negative elements: miscreants who seek to undermine its fundamental values and pollute it with their hateful agendas. Such criminal elements belong behind bars, but unfortunately they will succeed, on occasion, in rearing up their ugly heads and spreading mayhem and destruction. No society, even the most democratic and enlightened, is free of such “bad weeds.”

There are no other words to describe these attacks other than “despicable acts of terror.” They shocked the Israeli public and were condemned unequivocally by public figures from across the political spectrum. The murderous attack against the Palestinian family was condemned as well by the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

Such attacks are an assault on all who cherish human dignity. They are, in effect, an attack on Israel as a democratic society, as described in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, released immediately after the attack on the Dawabsha family:

This is an act of terrorism in every respect. The State of Israel takes a strong line against terrorism regardless of who the perpetrators are.

Netanyahu said similar things in response to the attack at the Gay Pride parade:

A despicable hate crime was committed this evening in Jerusalem. In Israel everyone, including the gay community, has the right to live in peace, and we will defend that right. I welcome the Israeli religious leadership’s condemnation of this terrible crime, and I call on all those in positions of leadership to denounce this contemptible act.

Our hearts and minds today are with the grieving Dawabsha family and with those injured at the parade attack in Jerusalem. We wish them healing and a speedy recovery.

Missiles Fired at Israel Set Back World Progress

At only 67, Israel is the most reliable, capable, predictable, democratic and unreserved ally of the U.S. This is in direct contrast to the violent, unreliable, turbulent and generally anti-U.S. Arab street.

Amb. (retired) Yoram Ettinger recently wrote about Israel’s importance to the U.S. in his blog:

Israel is the most battle-tested, cost-effective laboratory of the US defense industries, sharing with US manufacturers thousands of upgrades and modifications, enhancing the US global competitiveness, exports, research and development and employment. Israel is to the US defense industry what triple-A tenants are to shopping malls: increasing value and drawing clients – a mega-billion dollar bonanza. (April 22, 2015)

Some 280 global high tech giants (mostly from the US) have given kudos to Israel’s economy, in general, and Israel’s brain power, in particular, by establishing research and development (R&D) centers in the Startup Nation. Thus, Intel operates four R&D centers, Microsoft – 2, IBM – 3 R&D centers, etc. (June 5, 2015)

[Read more…]

Fast Track Bill Strikes Blow Against BDS Movement

bdsflyer1— by Ronald S. Lauder, president of World Jewish Congress

Yesterday, Senate approved a strong stand against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement included in the bill granting fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The BDS amendment discourages actions by potential U.S. trading partners such as the European Union that prejudice or discourage trade between the U.S. and Israel, in particular “politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel and to seek the elimination of politically motivated nontariff barriers on Israeli goods, services, or other commerce imposed on the State of Israel.” It also seeks “the elimination of state-sponsored unsanctioned foreign boycotts against Israel or compliance with the Arab League Boycott of Israel by prospective trading partners.”

The legislation was already passed by the House of Representatives and can now be signed into law by President Obama.

The amendment by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL 6) throws a wrench in the works of the campaign to boycott Israel. It upholds the principle that those who seek to harm the Jewish state cannot subvert free global commerce for their own perverse political agenda. America’s elected representatives today made it again clear that they stand with Israel and against BDS.

Rambam Medical Center Conducts Live Simulation of Underground, Fortified Hospital

Rambam live simulation— by Jake Sharfman

Sirens and lights blazing, an ambulance raced into the underground parking lot of Rambam Medical Center where doctors, nurses and other staffers had already converted a portion of the 2,000-bed below grade fortified hospital for incoming wounded. The live simulation was held last week as part of Rambam 2015 Heath Care Summit that brought supporters from around the world and leading doctors and researchers to the facility to discuss innovations in healthcare.

The Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital, which is converted from the hospital’s parking garage into a 2,000-bed, full-service medical clinic in just 72 hours, is the largest of only three such structures in the world. The underground hospital is segmented for different wards of the hospital, including neurology, surgery, and OBGYN. Furthermore, the garage can also become a sealed bomb shelter against biological and chemical attacks for up to three days.

“This is the most sophisticated underground facility in the world and we take great pride in our responsibility to serve the 2 million people living in Northern Israel, as well as regional IDF troops should a crisis arrive,” said Rambam Medical Center Director General Prof. Rafael Beyar. “We are abreast of the increased threat from Israel’s enemies in the north and unfortunately need to stay fully prepared so that we do everything possible to keep patients of the hospital completely safe.”

A senior Home Front Command source recently stated that in just one northern town, situated near Rambam Hospital’s Haifa base, hundreds of rockets could strike, dozens would hit per day and hundreds of civilians may have to be evacuated. The army source went on to suggest that Hezbollah could fire as many as 1,500 rockets from Lebanon into Israel and that they are working tirelessly to prepare for such a scenario.

The live simulation was part of the annual Rambam Summit, this year themed “From Vision to Reality,” taking place June 7-9 at the hospital’s campus in Haifa and will see leading dignitaries, scientists and philanthropists from around the world attend and learn about Rambam’s vision and the hospital’s continuous advances in modern medicine. Former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks will receive the 2015 Rambam Award on the morning of June 9 for their lifelong contributions to Israel and the Jewish people. The summit is also celebrating the opening of the Joseph Fishman Oncology Center, Israel’s most modern cancer center, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the gala event on the evening of June 9.

Book Review: Islamo-Fascism and the War Against the Jews

Islamo-Fascism and the War Against the Jews: The Black Book of the American Left Volume 4 is indispensable for anyone who cares about the so-called “War on Terror” and identifying who the real enemies are of the United States and Israel — and nothing less than our Judeo-Christian culture and values are at stake. David Horowitz is an unfairly maligned writer by the mainstream press, liberal-leftists and academia in particular, but he is fearless, daring to go right into the “belly of the beast” and speak at dozens of college campuses about topics that opponents cannot refute on the merits, resorting to name-calling, and lying about his facts, sentiments and record instead.

This quick reading volume, which contains many short chapters and speeches on Islamo-Fascism, The Middle East Conflict, and the Campus War on the Jews, will horrify readers unfamiliar with how academia perverts the very essence of what the university should stand for: freedom of expression and the open market of ideas. Instead, Horowitz shows how he is consistently vilified and misportrayed- to the point he needs armed guards to even enter assembly halls because of the threatening behavior of Muslim student groups in particular, and even some Jewish ones, who only want to shut him down and brand him a racist hater. Why? Because he challenged them to confront the jihadists (he is not afraid to use proper identifiers), who are in a disturbing alliance with anti-American radicals, who cannot stand his use of concepts to counter their empty cries of “Islamophobia” when he points to Islam’s oppression of women and homosexuals, its true goals of Islamizing the world, creating dhimmis (second class citizens) of Jews and Christians, and ultimately to destroy our freedoms and democracy. Their plans to destroy Israel and deny Jews a sovereign state of their own are shown as naked anti-Semitism. And Israel is merely the canary in the coal mine.

Horowitz is a rare, brave and original thinker, and unlike most of his critics, he has the street “cred” to prove it: he himself became a leading Marxist “theorist” in the early 1960s and one of the founders of the New Left. It was after Vietnam, however, that he began to re-examine the damage these views had inflicted upon the country and realized that the Left had left him. But you cannot afford to leave him. This book deserves a serious read by any honest broker.

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.

Netanyahu Forms Right-Wing Coalition, Considers Adding Labor

Less than two hours before the official deadline, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, informed President Reuven Rivlin that his party, Likud, had reached coalition agreements with four of the five other right-wing parties in the Knesset.

netanyahu bennett

Netanyahu (right) with Habayit Hayehudi’s leader, Naftali Bennett, after reaching a coalition agreement.

 

The new coalition will only include 61 of the 120 Knesset members: Likud’s 30, Kulanu’s 10, Habayit Hayehudi’s eight, Shas’s seven and United Torah’s Judaism’s six. The leader of the remaining right-wing party, Yisrael Beytenu (six seats), Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, had decided to quit the government and not join the coalition.

Netanyahu will remain both prime minister and foreign minister, allegedly because he considers offering Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the Labor Party (24 seats in a list shared with Hatnuah), to become foreign minister. Herzog recently vetoed his party’s proposed decision of never joining the new government.