Under the heading “Evolving Politics of the Jewish Community,” J Street presented a panel discussion about Jewish politics and, in addition, about how the perception of J Street has changed. The panelists were David Axelrod, Peter Beinart, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D – Brooklyn) and Jim Gerstein. The speakers set out some of the important shifts in the beliefs and values of the American Jewish community. [Read more…]
— by Robert Tabak
Senator Bernie Sanders has focused almost exclusively on US economic policy and domestic issues in his presidential campaign. Numerous articles, including from writers friendly to the Vermont senator, have critiqued his lack of attention to foreign policy. For example, Yair Rosenberg, writing in the Jewish on-line journal Tablet Magazine on March 20, 2016, quoted Vox’s Max Fisher who wrote “Sanders appears to have no foreign policy at all.” Rosenberg continued, “A candidate who has deliberately not delivered a single speech devoted to foreign policy during his entire campaign was not about to start with Israel/Palestine.” But Rosenberg was wrong. Two days later Sen. Sanders’ talk was the one he hoped to give via video to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the large pro-Israel lobbying group meeting in Washington DC. He was refused permission (unlike Mitt Romney four years ago). Much of the media attention, general and Jewish, focused on Donald Trump, attempts to boycott his talk (with limited success), Trump’s rousing reception, and the embarrassed walk-back from AIPAC leaders striving to maintain a bi-partisan veneer. Hillary Clinton’s talk got some press, and the other Republican candidates received less coverage. But most of these talks covered familiar ground, with each speaker claiming to support Israel. In the Republicans’ case the candidates again opposed the Iran nuclear agreement, which AIPAC and the prime minister of Israel also opposed (despite polls showing most American Jews supported it). All these AIPAC presentations had their expected applause lines. [Read more…]
Most of the contenders for president gave speeches at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., and expressed strong support for the defense of Israel. Links to videos and written transcripts of the speeches are provided. [Read more…]
National Security Adviser Susan Rice outlined the U.S. demands in its negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. (Video and transcript below.)
Rice said that “a good deal is one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”
Any deal must prevent Iran from developing weapons-grade plutonium at Arak, or anywhere else.
Any deal must prevent Iran from enriching uranium at its nuclear facility at Fordow — a site we uncovered buried deep underground and revealed to the world in 2009.
Any deal must increase the time it takes Iran to reach breakout capacity — the time it would take to produce a single bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium. Today, experts suggest Iran’s breakout window is just two to three months. We seek to extend that to at least one year.
Any deal must ensure frequent and intrusive inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites — including the uranium mills that produce the material fed into Iran’s enrichment and conversion facilities — to create a multi-layered transparency regime that provides the international community with the confidence it demands. That’s the best way to prevent Iran from pursuing a covert path to a nuclear weapon — to stop Iran from working toward a bomb in secret.
Any deal must address the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. And, going forward, we will not accept a deal that fails to provide the access we need to ensure that Iran’s program is peaceful.
And, any deal must last more than a decade — with additional provisions ensuring greater transparency into Iran’s program for an even longer period of time.
Rice added that “we cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal.”
I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment capacity entirely. But, as desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable.
Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable. The plain fact is, no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses.
Susan Rice: I want to thank Bob Cohen, Michael Kassen, Lillian Pinkus, my old friend Lee Rosenberg, and all of AIPAC’s board and members for welcoming me tonight. I want to thank all the Members of Congress who represent America’s strong bipartisan support for the State of Israel; and all the young people here today, some 3,000, who represent the bright future of the U.S.-Israel special relationship.
I brought one of those young people with me, my seventeen year-old son Jake, who insisted he had to come to AIPAC. But, I want to take a moment before I begin, to remember three young men who aren’t with us today. I want to call us back to those terrible days last summer, when we were united in grief over the horrifying kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah. As a mother, my heart breaks for such unspeakable loss. Those boys were our boys, and we all continue to mourn their tragic loss.
The last time I spoke at AIPAC, it was to the synagogue initiative lunch. This group tonight is… a little larger. But, when I finished that speech, more than 400 rabbis sang to me. In Hebrew. Now, that is something I will never forget. And the words of their song reflect the spirit that brings me here tonight. Hinei ma’tov uma-nayim, shevet achim gam yachad. “How good it is and how pleasant when we sit together in brotherhood.” It’s a great psalm—though I will admit that where I first encountered it – in church – it was not in the original Hebrew. That psalm always reminds me how much we can do together when we unite in common purpose. And, it goes to the heart of what AIPAC is all about—what the relationship between Israel and the United States is all about. Brotherhood. Togetherness. Unity.
That’s because the U.S.-Israel alliance is not just rooted in our mutual interests, vital as they are. It’s also rooted in the values of freedom and democracy that we share. It’s in the friendship and fellowship between ordinary Israelis and Americans. And, for me personally, it’s a warmth that’s rooted in my very first visit to Israel. I was just 14, traveling with my younger brother and my beloved late father. My Dad was on the Board of TWA – some of you are old enough to remember that once-great airline. We arrived on one of the first-ever flights from Egypt to Israel, just after the Camp David Accords were signed. We had an unforgettable visit, the power of which has stayed with me all my life. We bowed our heads in sorrow at Yad Vashem. We walked the lanes of the Old City, climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, and picked fruit at a kibbutz. I learned by heart the words of the sh’ma. My first memories of Israel remain etched in my soul.
Put simply, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is not just one between states. It is between two peoples and the millions of intimate, personal connections that bind us. Our relationship has deepened and grown through different presidents and prime ministers for nearly 70 years.
It was President Truman, a Democrat, who—just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence—made the United States the first country to recognize the State of Israel.
It was President Nixon, a Republican, who made sure America stood with Israel as it fought for survival one terrible Yom Kippur, so that its people could declare am Yisrael Chai –“the people of Israel live.”
It was President Carter who helped Israel forge an historic peace with Egypt that endures to this day. And, it was President Clinton and President George W. Bush who backed Israel as it took more brave steps for peace, and as it endured terrorist attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas.
The relationship between the United States and the State of Israel is not a partnership between individual leaders, or political parties. It’s an alliance between two nations, rooted in the unbreakable friendship between our two peoples. It is not negotiable. And it never will be.
Our alliance grows l’dor va’dor, from generation to generation. That’s what counts. That’s what we have to protect. As John F. Kennedy said, back in 1960, “friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter. It is a national commitment.”
No one knows this better than all of you. For decades, AIPAC has built bipartisan support for America’s special relationship with Israel. That’s why every President—from Harry Truman to Barack Obama—has begun from a fundamental, unshakable premise: strengthening the security of Israel is in the national interest of the United States of America.
President Obama’s commitment to Israel is deep and personal. I know, because I see it every day. I first saw it when I accompanied then-Senator Obama to Israel in 2008. I saw it when he surveyed with horror the stacks of charred rockets that Hamas had fired on Israel, and when he walked through the hollowed out homes of Sderot.
That same year, President Obama came to this conference, still a senator, and he made a promise. He said, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct.” And, each day, over the past six years, President Obama has kept that promise. The President is profoundly committed to ensuring that Israel is never alone. That’s why, today, security cooperation between our countries is not just strong. It’s stronger than it has ever been. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have called it “unprecedented.” And that’s the way it’s going to stay.
President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more times than with almost any other world leader. As national security advisor, I am in nearly constant communication with Yossi Cohen, my friend and my Israeli counterpart, who I am so pleased is here tonight. Thank you, Yossi. Together, we host the U.S.-Israel consultative group to ensure we’re working closely across the highest levels of our governments. Our armed forces conduct extensive exercises together, and our military and intelligence leaders consult continually.
Under this Administration, in times of tight budgets, our security assistance to Israel has increased. Since President Obama took office, the United States has provided Israel with more than $20 billion in foreign military financing. Last year, we provided Israel with the largest package of security assistance ever. That’s money well spent, because it goes directly to bolstering Israel’s ability to defend itself in a very tough neighborhood, to protecting Israeli citizens, and to strengthening a vital American ally.
We are maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge with new defense technologies and access to the most advanced military equipment in the world. President Obama is determined to ensure that Israel can defend itself, by itself. So, when Israel receives the F-35 joint strike fighter next year, it will be the only nation in the Middle East with a fifth-generation aircraft.
Since 2009, we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing and producing the David’s Sling missile defense program and the Arrow anti-missile system. We’ve invested more than $1 billion dollars in the Iron Dome system. When I visited Israel last May, I saw this technology first-hand at Palmachim air force base. And, last summer, as Hamas’ terrorist rockets rained down on Israeli cities, the world saw how Iron Dome saved lives, literally, every day.
During the height of that conflict—with sirens wailing and Israeli civilians huddling in bomb shelters—the United States stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks, even as we worked with the Israeli government to find a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. And, when the Israeli government made an urgent request for an additional $225 million to support Iron Dome’s batteries, President Obama’s response was immediate and clear: “Let’s do it.” Within days, legislation was drafted, passed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, and President Obama signed it into law. At that critical moment, we replenished Israel’s arsenal of Iron Dome interceptor missiles. That’s what it means to be an ally.
Our unwavering commitment to Israel’s lasting security is why we will also never give up on a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It will require hard decisions, but the United States will remain a steadfast partner. Like past administrations, Republican and Democratic, we believe that a truly lasting peace can only be forged by direct talks between the two parties. Like past administrations, we are concerned by unilateral actions that erode trust or assault Israel’s legitimacy. Like every administration, Republican and Democratic, since the Six Day War, we oppose Israeli settlement activity—and we oppose Palestinian steps that throw up further obstacles to peace, including actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court. The only path to ensure Israel’s long-term security is to bring about a viable, sovereign Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with a democratic, Jewish State of Israel.
Israel’s security—our mutual security—is also at the heart of one of President Obama’s most important foreign policy objectives: ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. As President Obama has repeated many times: we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. As he said in Jerusalem: “Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.” And he added, “America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”
President Obama said it. He meant it. And those are his orders to us all.
That is still the way we see the danger of a nuclear Iran today. Given Iran’s support for terrorism, the risk of a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the danger to the entire global non-proliferation regime, an Iran with a nuclear weapon would not just be a threat to Israel – it’s an unacceptable threat to the United States of America.
We understand the unique concerns of our Israeli friends and partners. In Jerusalem, President Obama made plain: “when I consider Israel’s security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel’s destruction. It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat. But this is not simply a challenge for Israel; it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States.”
I want to be very clear: a bad deal is worse than no deal. And, if that is the choice, there will be no deal.
Negotiations continue. And, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. As of today, significant gaps remain between the international community and Iran. I’m not going to get into details about ongoing negotiations – nor should sensitive details of an ongoing negotiation be discussed in public. But, I do want to make five key points about our approach to the negotiation.
First, with the Joint Plan of Action, we have already succeeded in halting Iran’s nuclear program and rolling it back in key areas. Let’s recall what has been achieved over the last year. Iran is doing away with its existing stockpile of its most highly enriched uranium. Iran has capped its stockpile of low enriched uranium. Iran has not constructed additional enrichment facilities. Iran has not installed or operated new centrifuges, including its next-generation models. Iran has stopped construction at its potential plutonium reactor at Arak. In short, Iran is further away from a nuclear weapon than it was a year ago—and that makes the world safer, including Israel.
Moreover, we’re not taking anything on trust. What matters are Iran’s actions, not its words. That’s why, as part of the Joint Plan of Action, we’ve insisted upon—and achieved—unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear program. Before the Joint Plan, inspections happened only every few weeks, sometimes every few months. Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency has daily access at Iran’s key nuclear sites at Natanz and Fordow, verifying that Iran is meeting its commitments. If I can paraphrase, President Reagan, with a twist, our approach is “distrust and verify.”
Second, we’ve kept the pressure on Iran. I know this firsthand because, when I was U.N. ambassador, President Obama personally directed me to make sure that the Security Council’s sanctions had bite—and they do. Today, even with limited sanctions relief, Iran’s economy remains isolated from the international finance system and cut off from the vast majority of its foreign currency reserves. Iran’s oil exports have dropped almost 60 percent since 2012. The rial has depreciated by more than 50 percent. And, Iran’s overall GDP has shrunk by almost 10 percent. All told, sanctions have deprived Iran of more than $200 billion in lost oil revenues.
But sanctions are a tool, not an end in themselves. The question now, after the pressure that we and our partners have brought to bear, is whether we can verify that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon. The question now is whether we can achieve a comprehensive deal. A good deal.
This is my third point—a good deal is one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Every single one.
Any deal must prevent Iran from developing weapons-grade plutonium at Arak, or anywhere else.
Any deal must prevent Iran from enriching uranium at its nuclear facility at Fordow—a site we uncovered buried deep underground and revealed to the world in 2009.
Any deal must increase the time it takes Iran to reach breakout capacity—the time it would take to produce a single bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium. Today, experts suggest Iran’s breakout window is just two to three months. We seek to extend that to at least one year.
Any deal must ensure frequent and intrusive inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites—including the uranium mills that produce the material fed into Iran’s enrichment and conversion facilities—to create a multi-layered transparency regime that provides the international community with the confidence it demands. That’s the best way to prevent Iran from pursuing a covert path to a nuclear weapon—to stop Iran from working toward a bomb in secret.
Any deal must address the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. And, going forward, we will not accept a deal that fails to provide the access we need to ensure that Iran’s program is peaceful.
And, any deal must last more than a decade—with additional provisions ensuring greater transparency into Iran’s program for an even longer period of time.
That’s what we’re working toward—a good, long-term, comprehensive deal that verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
This brings me to my fourth point —we cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal. I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment capacity entirely. But, as desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable. Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable. The plain fact is, no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses.
We must also understand what will happen if these negotiations collapse. I know that some argue we should just impose sanctions and walk away. But let’s remember that sanctions have never stopped Iran from advancing its program. So here’s what’s likely to happen without a deal. Iran will install and operate advanced centrifuges. Iran will seek to fuel its reactor in Arak. Iran will rebuild its uranium stockpile. And, we’ll lose the unprecedented inspections and transparency we have today.
Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran, but they shouldn’t play the spoiler now. Additional sanctions or restrictive legislation enacted during the negotiation would blow up the talks, divide the international community, and cause the United States to be blamed for the failure to reach a deal—putting us in a much weaker position and endangering the sanctions regime itself. Meanwhile, the Iranians are well aware that if they walk away from a deal, Congress will pass new sanctions immediately—and President Obama will support them.
So, if Iran refuses to resolve this matter diplomatically—and is clearly to blame for that failure—its isolation will only increase. The costs will continue to grow.
Finally, I know that some question a deal of any duration. But, it has always been clear that the pursuit of an agreement of indefinite duration would result in no agreement at all. The question is, what is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? A deal that extends for a decade or more would accomplish this goal better than any other course of action – longer, by far, than military strikes, which would only set back Iran’s program for a fraction of the time. And, at the end of any deal, Iran would still be required to offer comprehensive access to its nuclear facilities and to provide the international community the assurance that it was not pursuing nuclear weapons. And, if it failed to do so, we would have the ability to make our own decisions about how to move forward, just as we do today. There’s simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better—or longer—than the type of deal we seek.
We can always bring consequences to bear for the sake of our shared security—harsh consequences. But, precisely because this is such a serious issue, we must weigh the different options before us and choose the best one. Sound bites won’t stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Strong diplomacy – backed by pressure – can. And, if diplomacy fails, let’s make it clear to the world that it is Iran’s responsibility.
One final word on Iran: even if we succeed in neutralizing the nuclear threat from Iran, we will still face other threats—Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, its gross violations of human rights, its efforts to destabilize neighboring states, its support for Assad and Hamas and Hezbollah, its intolerable threats against Israel. Our sanctions against Iran on these issues will remain in place. We will continue to counter Iran and the full range of threats it poses. Tehran must understand—the United States will never, ever waver in the defense of our security or the security of our allies and partners, including Israel.
The bottom line is simple: we have Israel’s back, come hell or high water—and I’ve been right there with you all through some pretty high waters. I was proud to fight again and again for Israel’s security and its basic legitimacy at the United Nations – from leading the charge against the deeply flawed Goldstone report to casting this administration’s only veto in the Security Council to block a counter-productive resolution.
As Ambassador Power described to you this morning, when it comes to combating the shameful bias against Israel at the U.N., Israel has no better friend than the United States. Last March, we were the only ‘no’ vote in the Human Rights Council against anti-Israel measures five separate times. Earlier today, Secretary Kerry told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, point blank, that its obsession with Israel risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization. And last month, with Israel and the European Union, the U.S. organized the first U.N. General Assembly meeting to combat anti-Semitism.
No country is immune from criticism—take it from a former U.N. Ambassador. But when criticism singles out one country unfairly, bitterly, viciously, over and over—that’s just wrong, and we all know it. When one democracy’s legitimacy is attacked, over and over, uniquely among the U.N.’s member states, that’s ugly, and we all know it. And, when anti-Semitism rears its head around the world, when Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris are singled out and murdered by terrorists, when synagogues are attacked and cemeteries defaced, we have to call it by name. It’s hate. It’s anti-Semitism. It reminds us of the most terrible chapters of human history. It has no place in a civilized world, and we have to fight it.
These are big challenges. But the United States and Israel have mastered plenty of big challenges before. Israel and the United States are sister democracies built on the bedrock value that we are all created b’tzelem elokim—in the image of God. And, like the Psalm says, how good it is when we sit in brotherhood together. But God calls us to do more than sit. God calls us to stand up. To act.
This weekend, President Obama will travel to Selma, Alabama, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic marches there. He’ll pay tribute to those brave souls who took enormous risks for civil rights, including Jews and rabbis from across the country—from St. Louis and San Francisco; the Northeast and the Deep South. They faced tear gas and billy clubs, Torahs in hand. They were jailed. They conducted Shabbat services behind bars, and they sang “Adon Olam” to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” They broke the fast of Esther in prison. They even started a trend. Some black marchers, moved by the solidarity of their Jewish brethren, started wearing yarmulkes—they called them “freedom caps.”
As you recalled last night, one of those on the front lines in Selma was the great teacher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. After marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Dr. King, he reflected, “our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship.” Our march was our worship.
The Jewish community amplified the rightness and the urgency of the civil rights movement with its own unassailable moral compass—guided by the basic principle that people should be free in their own land. And, I stand before you knowing that I and many others would not be where we are today without all those who fought for equal rights – African Americans and white Americans, including so many Jewish Americans. As we mark that Selma anniversary, as we gather here to celebrate an improbable dream that grew into the great State of Israel, we remember what we can accomplish together, when we’re at our best.
In a spirit of brotherhood, we have overcome so many trials to reach where we are—as nations, as peoples. In a spirit of brotherhood, inspired by all those who marched and struggled and sacrificed before us, let us continue the work. Let us never succumb to hopelessness or cynicism, to division or despair. Let our legs utter songs, and let our hands reach out together. That is how we fulfill our common commitment to mend our imperfect world, to do the holy work of tikkun olam. And, as we do, at home and around the world, the United States will always stand with our Israeli friends and allies.
That’s our enduring commitment. That’s our sacred duty. That’s the hope and the future for our children. So, let us keep marching arm in arm together.
— by Steve Sheffey
In his AIPAC keynote speech last Tuesday, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasized that Iran is an “outlaw terrorist state” that should not be permitted to enrich uranium:
Pressure is what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, and only more pressure will get [them] to abandon their nuclear weapons program. Greater pressure on Iran will not make war more likely; it will make war less likely — because the greater the pressure on Iran and more credible the threat of force on Iran, the smaller chance that force will ever have to be used.
Netanyahu made a case for the peace process, noting that peace with the Palestinians would open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and the Arab world, leading to great economic and other gains in the region.
More after the jump.
Barak Ravid wrote in Ha’aretz that, “For the first time in a major speech, Netanyahu used ‘leftist’ language and stressed ‘the fruits of peace’ that Israel will enjoy if it reaches an agreement with the Palestinians. For a moment one could have thought that it was Shimon Peres at the podium or, God forbid, John Kerry.”
Bibi asked how anyone could “fall for the BS in BDS”:
Today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state… attempts to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism.
Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.
Everyone should know what the letters B-D-S really stand for: bigotry, dishonesty and shame. And those who oppose BDS, like Scarlett Johansson, they should be applauded.
Click here to sign up to Steve Sheffey’s newsletter.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew at the 2014 American Israel Public Affair Committee Policy Conference
The reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable. And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism-you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in. This is not just your right as Americans. It is your responsibility. It is the essence of our democratic system.
And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel. This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.
Full transcript follows the jump.
I want to thank President Kassen, incoming President Cohen, the Board of Directors, and everyone for inviting me here today. There are so many familiar faces in this room-friends of many years from my time in Washington, New York, and around the country. It is truly wonderful to be with you.
Before turning to the focus of my remarks, let me say that we are closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine with grave concern. As President Obama told President Putin yesterday, Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity is a breach of international law. I have spoken several times to the Ukrainian Prime Minister who assures me that the government is prepared to take the necessary steps to build a secure economic foundation, including urgently needed market reforms that will restore financial stability, unleash economic potential, and allow Ukraine’s people to better achieve their economic aspirations.
The United States is prepared to work with its bilateral and multilateral partners to provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth, if the new government implements the necessary reforms.
An IMF program should be the centerpiece of the international assistance package, and the United States is prepared to supplement IMF support in order to make successful reform implementation more likely and to cushion the impact of needed reforms on vulnerable Ukrainians.
Now the reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable. And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism-you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in. This is not just your right as Americans. It is your responsibility. It is the essence of our democratic system.
And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel. This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.
In fact, in 1948, it took President Truman only 11 minutes to recognize the Jewish state of Israel. And from then on, the American-Israel relationship has not been a Democratic cause or a Republican cause, it has been an American cause.
President Obama has remained true to this proud legacy since the first day he took office, and he has made it clear that for him and for this Administration, America’s commitment to Israel is ironclad. As he said as President-elect, before he even took office: “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable.” And he has never wavered from that position.
Like the President, Israel’s security is not only a public policy conviction for me, it is a personal one. As many of you know, no one grew up with a deeper appreciation for the state of Israel than I did. And I have no doubt that a strong and secure Israel is vital to America’s strength and America’s security.
As we meet, America’s support for Israel’s security has never been stronger. And over the next three days, you’re going to hear about all the things that the Administration is doing to advance Israel’s security-from promoting a lasting peace with the Palestinians to preserving Israel’s military edge so it can protect itself against any threat.
Today, I will discuss one of the most pressing national security concerns for Israel and the United States-and that is Iran’s nuclear program.
Let us not forget that when President Obama took office, Iran was strengthening its position throughout the region and the international community was unable to provide a unified response. But because of President Obama’s leadership, Congressional actions, American diplomacy, which AIPAC has supported, we put in place a historic sanctions regime and Iran now finds itself under the greatest economic and financial pressure any country has ever experienced.
Initially, many claimed sanctions on Iran would never work, but we have proven exactly the opposite. From the beginning, this sanctions program has had one purpose: Persuade Iran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. There can be no alternative.
To be clear, we never imposed sanctions just for the sake of imposing sanctions. We did it to isolate Iran and sharpen the choice for the regime in Tehran. And we did it by bringing the community of nations together. We are talking about China, Russia, India, Japan, Europe, Canada, South Korea, and the list goes on.
Having the international community united in opposition to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon made an enormous difference.
We now have in place the most sweeping, most powerful, most innovative, and most comprehensive sanctions regime in history. And because of the impact of these unprecedented, international sanctions, Iran finally came to the negotiating table seeking relief and fully aware that to get relief, it had to take concrete steps to curtail its nuclear program. Those negotiations led to the Joint Plan of Action, which went into effect in January.
Today, for the first time in a decade, progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key elements have been rolled back.
The temporary deal struck in Geneva provides us with a six-month diplomatic window to try to hammer out a comprehensive, long-term resolution, without fear that Iran, in the meantime, will advance its nuclear program. Now, I want to emphasize something: Before we agree to any comprehensive deal, Iran will have to provide real proof that its nuclear program, whatever it consists of, is-and will remain-exclusively peaceful.
This deal will only be acceptable if we are certain that Iran could not threaten Israel or any other nation with a nuclear weapon.
Yet make no mistake: Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place. Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate. And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
We are under no illusions about who we are dealing with. Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence, supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and has failed to live up to its promises in the past.
Still, it is critically important that we give negotiations, backed by continuing economic pressure, a chance to succeed. I have sat with two presidents as they weighed the enormous decision to send men and women into harm’s way to protect our nation. And while all options must remain available, I believe it is our responsibility to do as much as we reasonably can to reserve force as a last option.
This is as much a strategic obligation as it is a moral one. You see, maintaining the sanctions regime that has crippled Iran’s economy requires international cooperation. No amount of U.S. sanctions would have the same crippling power as this international effort. For other nations to continue to remain steadfast with us, they need to know that we have given negotiations every chance to succeed. And if the moment comes when we have to use force, the whole world needs to understand that we did everything possible to achieve change through diplomacy.
To that end, we do not believe that now is the time to adopt new sanctions legislation. We do not need new sanctions now – the sanctions in place are working to bring Iran to the negotiating table and passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective. But as I have said, and as President Obama has said, we continue to consult closely with Congress, and if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.
Now, in the next two days or so, you may hear some say that the very narrow relief in the interim agreement has unraveled the sanctions regime or eased the chokehold on Iran’s economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I want to take a few moments to go through a few basic facts.
The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the sanctions, monitors the numbers carefully. And when you consider the ongoing sanctions that remain in place, the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief is extremely limited-totaling an estimated $7 billion. To put that into context, during the same six month period, Iran will lose roughly $30 billion in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place.
Put simply, this relief will not enable Iran’s economy to recover from the deep economic damage inflicted by the sanctions program. The bulk of this relief does not come from suspending sanctions on economic activity like manufacturing or exports. It comes from the measured release of Iran’s own funds that are now impounded in overseas banks. The fact is, because of years of sanctions enforcement, Iran has about $100 billion locked up in overseas banks. The interim agreement allows Iran to access $4.2 billion of these funds.
I want to underscore that Iran’s access to this limited relief is neither immediate nor instantaneous. It will be provided in separate installments on a rolling basis over the six-month period of the Joint Plan, and it will only flow if Iran demonstrates week by week that it continues to comply with its agreement to freeze and rollback its enrichment program.
Other measures amount to less than $2 billion-the limited suspension of sanctions on the export of plastics, the import of parts for Iran’s automotive sector, and tuition assistance for students studying abroad. And the core architecture that makes the program work, oil and financial sanctions, remains in effect fully.
If at any point Iran fails to fulfill its commitments under the Joint Plan, the money will stop, and the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place. And when the six-month deal expires, so does the relief.
The bottom-line is: Promises are not enough-Iran must meet its obligations. This is not a case of trust and verify. This is a case of verify everything.
No matter what, Iran’s economy will continue to feel severe economic pressure from our ongoing sanctions regime. For example, our oil sanctions that remain in place have forced Iran’s oil exports to drop by more than 60 percent over the last two years. And we will continue to enforce them.
All told, the crushing sanctions have deeply damaged economic conditions in Iran. There are four key indicators that tell the whole story: first, last year the economy shrunk by 6 percent and it is expected to shrink again this year; second, the value of its currency, the rial, has plummeted, having lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar; third, the unemployment rate is over 15 percent; and finally, the inflation rate is about 30 percent, one of the highest in the world.
The economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy on many fronts.
Claims that Iran’s economy is undergoing a recovery because of the Joint Plan of Action are just plain wrong. After the election of President Rouhani last June, and well before the Joint Plan took effect, there was a slight drop in the country’s very high inflation rate and small improvements in other economic indicators. This was due to a wave of public optimism that greeted the election of a new president, the appointment of a more capable economic team, and the hope that a deal to lift sanctions would soon materialize.
But the slight improvements in these indicators only mean that a badly wounded economy is not getting worse. It does not mean the economy is getting better. And it certainly does not mean that the Joint Plan has led to a recovery.
Further, if Iran fails to reach a deal with us, business and consumer confidence will quickly erode as will many of the gains the economy has seen over the last few months.
Iran’s economy suffered a serious blow from sanctions, and the impact of sanctions is not being reversed. Iran’s economy remains in the same state of distress that brought the government to the table in the first place. Imagine how any economy would feel, if, by a recovery, it meant leveling off at the bottom of a recession. That is what is happening in Iran today.
There is no question that the relief provided under the six-month plan will not steer Iran’s economy to a real recovery. It is a drop in the bucket. In fact, there will be a net deepening of the impact of sanctions when you consider the new damage that will be inflicted like the $30 billion in additional lost oil sales.
What this relief will do is give the people of Iran and their leaders a small taste of how things could improve if they were to take the steps necessary to join the community of nations. This is a choice for Iran to make. If it wants to pull its economy out of the deep hole it is in, it must remove any doubt that its nuclear program is peaceful and come to a comprehensive agreement with the international community. Until then, we will remain steadfast in our enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions.
Now, when I say we remain firm in our enforcement of sanctions, these are not just words, we are talking about action. For instance, shortly after the Joint Plan went into effect, we moved against more than 30 Iran-related entities and individuals around the globe for evading U.S. sanctions, for aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and for supporting terrorism. As President Obama recently said, if anyone, anywhere engages in unauthorized economic activity with Tehran, the United States will-and I quote-“come down on them like a ton of bricks.”
I have personally delivered that message to hundreds of business and banking executives in America and around the world, and we are in regular contact with our international partners-including Israel-to sustain the pressure on Iran’s government.
On top of that, our enforcement officials at the Treasury Department who have been responsible for crafting and implementing this historic sanctions regime have been traveling around the world and putting their expertise and unremitting effort to bear to keep Iran isolated.
Even though I have said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business. Have no doubt, we are well aware that business people have been talking to the Iranians. We have been very clear that the moment those talks turn into improper deals, we will respond with speed and force. Anyone who violates our sanctions will face severe penalties. Our vigilance has not, cannot, and will not falter.
In closing, let me say, this is a time of great uncertainty. But during difficult times like these, the bonds between the United States and Israel do not grow weaker, they grow stronger.
The U.S.-Israel relationship, which is rooted in our shared story of people yearning to be masters of their own destiny, is as vibrant as ever. And that vibrancy is very much on display here. As I look out across this room, I am reminded of how every year hundreds of young people come to this conference from every corner of the United States. They travel to our nation’s capital because of their boundless hope, their sense of duty, and their unshakable belief that the future can be brighter, better, more prosperous and more secure. And I am confident that by all of us working together, we can make that happen.
Secretary of State John Kerry at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference
Today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side.
I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama — and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact — there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security. The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled. And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so. That is what we’ve done.
Security. Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to. And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel: preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Full transcript follows the jump.
Norm, thank you. Thank you very, very much. Thank you all, 14,000 strong or more. (Applause.) Howard, Howard Friedman and Executive Director Howard Kohr, incoming president Bob Cohen, incoming chairman Michael Kassen, outgoing chairman Lee Rosenberg, and Ambassador Ron Dermer and Ambassador Dan Shapiro. I don’t know where our ambassadors are. Would they — somebody ought to applaud both of them here. (Applause.) There they are. Thanks for your own, Norman.
Let me tell you, it really is an enormous pleasure for me to be able to be here. It’s a privilege. And good to see so many friends, all 14,000 of you — a little frightening to see myself on about eight, nine, ten screens up here — (laughter). The last time I spoke to AIPAC, I joined your national summit in Napa Valley. I did it via satellite. And you were in the vineyards, I was overseas — a different kind of vineyard. So today, I think I’m getting the better end of the deal because I am here with you in person, and your wine selection is a lot more limited this time.
I have to tell you, I had the pleasure of speaking to AIPAC back in the 1990s, it was a great honor, and every time I come here, whether I get a chance to talk to a smaller group during the daytime sessions or otherwise, this is a remarkably inspiring gathering — people from every corner of the country coming together to demonstrate our deep support as Americans for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. (Applause.)
And it is no exaggeration. It’s not just words to say that every single one of you brings here such a special passion to a cause that you so fiercely believe in. And let me tell you something unequivocally: After almost 30 years in the United States Senate, I can tell you that is precisely why AIPAC’s work is in the best traditions of American democracy, and I thank you for practicing it. (Applause.)
I want you to know that in my judgment, these democratic values are stamped in the DNA of both the United States and Israel. But we also share something much deeper than that. Like no other two countries on the planet, against the deepest odds, both America and Israel confidently, purposefully set out to be examples to the world. Think about it. From its earliest days, Israel has always said it’s not enough just to be one of many in a community of nations; Israel has strove since Isaiah’s time to serve as a light unto the nations. (Applause.) And that responsibility to be a light unto the nations sounds actually unbelievably similar to something that we as Americans know is part of who we are, too.
My grandfather ten times over — too hard to count in other terms — was a man by the name of John Winthrop. And he came to what was then the New World, and he came in search of freedom, freedom to worship as he wished. He was a minister. He and his congregants were outcasts, persecuted, heading into a rough and unforgiving land with no guarantee even of survival. And on his way here, he delivered a now fairly famous sermon at sea in which he called on his community to create a city upon a hill in their new home, America.
So whether you call it a city upon a hill or a light unto the nations, it actually means the same thing: being a model to the world. It means having a home that sets a standard, a standard of dignity and a standard of freedom. So the foundation of the friendship between the American people and the people of Israel was actually laid centuries before a single stone was set under the U.S. Capitol or under the Knesset. And looking around this room tonight, it is clear that our friendship has never been stronger. (Applause.)
And I’ll tell you why. Because today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side. (Applause.) I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama — and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact — there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security. The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled. And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so. That is what we’ve done. (Applause.)
Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to. And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel: preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Applause.)
Now let me start with Iran because I know there are many questions. I know many people — there’s been a healthy debate about the approach. We welcome that. But let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal:
We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period.
(Applause.) Now, I added an eleventh word just for punctuation. (Laughter.)
But I want you to understand there are no if, ands, or buts. This is not a political policy. This is a real foreign policy. And we mean every word of what we say. You have the word of the President of the United States that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. Now, as we said at the outset, and I say it again today, our diplomacy is guided by a simple bottom line: No deal is better than a bad deal. (Applause.) And we absolutely will not accept a bad deal. We are committed to a deal that gets the job done. (Applause.)
Why? Because we get it, we understand it. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, no one can question why Israel looks at the Iranian program and sees an existential threat. We understand it. We understand it in our gut. And we also know something else. This is not some favor that we do for Israel. This is something that is also in the interest of the United States of America, and it’s in the interest of countries surrounding Israel. (Applause.) A nuclear bomb for Iran would also threaten the stability of the region, indeed the entire world. It would produce an arms race among the surrounding countries. There is no way the world is safer anywhere in the world with a nuclear weapon in Iran, and we are not going to let it happen, period, end of story. (Applause.)
Now, to do that, to achieve this all-important goal, important for America’s security and for Israel’s security, it is crucial that we seizes what might be the last best chance to be able to have diplomacy work, and maybe the last chance for quite some time. Because the reality is only strong diplomacy can fully and permanently achieve the goal. Those who say strike and hit need to go look at exactly what happens after you’ve done that, whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities, including Iran leaving the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regimen. That’s a possibility. Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away for good instead of just going underground and becoming more dangerous. Only the exhaustion of diplomacy can justify more forceful options if you have to take them in the end.
So we say — President Obama and myself and others — we say let’s seize the diplomatic moment. And that’s what we are trying to do. And the truth is it is strong diplomacy that has actually made this moment possible. And we need to give it the space to work. We need to make sure that if this opportunity were to elude us, it is not because we are the ones that close the window.
Now, I understand the skepticism. I’ve been around this city for 29-plus years as a senator, became chairman of the foreign relations committee, worked with most of the members of your board and with AIPAC and others around the country, and proud to tell you that during that time I had a 100 percent voting record for Israel. (Applause.)
And I’m not coming here to stand up in front of you and tell you that I know that Iran is going to reach an agreement. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll do. I don’t know if they are able to make some of the tough decisions they’re going to have to make in the months ahead. But I know that if the United States is going to be able to look the world in the eye and say we have to do something, we have to have exhausted the possibilities available to us for that diplomatic peaceful resolution. Let me make it clear our approach is not Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets — We’re not looking at this and saying trust, but verify. Our approach is a much more complex and dangerous world — it’s verify and verify. And that’s what we intend to do. (Applause.)
Now, there is very good reason for these sanctions to exist in the first place, and good reason that we have kept the architecture of these sanctions in place. And we continue to enforce it even as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement. In the last weeks, we have announced additional sanctions with respect to individuals who have been tempted to go around it or violate it. We have not changed one piece of the sanctions architecture. And yet we are able to negotiate. Our eyes, my friends, are wide open. This is not a process that is open-ended. This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran. This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure that if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel. That, I promise. (Applause.)
Now, we have taken no options off the table, but so far there is no question but that tough sanctions and strong diplomacy are already making Israel and America safer. The first step agreement, the first step agreement — it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step agreement — and the agreement that’s in force today didn’t just halt the advance of the Iranian nuclear program for the first time in a decade; it’s actually rolled it back. And we all remember how Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium in the 2012 speech at the United Nations. Well, today Iran is reducing its stockpile of 20 percent uranium. And without the agreement in force today, the opposite would have been in effect. The stockpile would have grown even more dangerous, and the amount of breakout time that they have would have grown smaller. Because of the agreement, Iran will soon have to take its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero. Zero. Zero. (Applause.) You don’t have to be a math major to know that Israel is safer when Iran has zero uranium enriched to 20 percent, and that’s what we’ve achieved.
The same independent inspectors who also tell us that Iran has halted its advances on the heavy water reactor known as the Arak reactor, without the agreement in force today, we could not have stopped them making progress on the Arak heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor. Iran has also stopped enriching all uranium above 5 percent, and it has given inspectors daily access to the facilities at Natanz and at Fordow. You know Fordow, you’ve heard about it, that underground facility that was a secret for so long. We’ve never had people in it. But because of this first step agreement, we now have people inside Fordow every single day telling us what is happening. (Applause.)
None of these things would have happened without forceful diplomacy by the United States and our international partners. But now, my friends, we have to finish the job. Like I tell my staff, there aren’t any exit polls in foreign policy. It’s results that count, final results. And that means we have to let forceful diplomacy keep working in order to put this test to Iran.
Now, right now we are carefully — and I mean carefully — negotiating a comprehensive agreement. We are consulting with our friends in Israel constantly. The minute Under Secretary Wendy Sherman finished her last set of meetings in Vienna the other day, she went immediately to Israel, briefed thoroughly on the talks, then went to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and continued to brief and briefed our European partners.
You might be asking: If no deal is better than a bad deal, what does the United States consider a good deal? Well, you have my word — and the President’s — that the United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way. First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon? Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims? And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?
Those are the tests. Those are our standards for any comprehensive agreement. It’s that simple. And those objectives, if they’re not met, then there won’t be an agreement. (Applause.) Now make no mistake, make no mistake; we can’t resolve the answer to those questions. It’s up to Iran. It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that its program is peaceful, and the world will hold Iran accountable.
Now, if it turns out that Iran cannot address the world’s concerns, I guarantee you it will face more pressure, Iran will face more pressure, more and more isolation. And Congress will introduce more tough sanctions. And let me assure you — I know Eric Cantor is here, sitting here — I assure you it’ll take about two hours to get it through the House and the Senate and it won’t be delayed and the Congress will have to do nothing more than schedule the vote, because President Obama and I fully support those sanctions under those circumstances. (Applause.)
In the meantime, as I said earlier, we are enforcing every letter of the existing sanctions. I have personally instructed every State Department bureau and mission around the world to watch vigilantly for any signs of the sanctions being skirted. And to any country that wants to trade with Iran with these sanctions firmly in place, the United States will tell them exactly what I have told foreign leaders in no uncertain terms: Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs. (Applause.)
Now, strong diplomacy is also essential to another threat to Israel’s security: ending the conflict with the Palestinians, and in doing so, preserving the Jewish and democratic nature of the state of Israel. (Applause.) I’ve had some folks ask me why I’m so committed to these negotiations and why I’m so convinced that peace is actually possible. And they ask, “Why does John Kerry go to Israel so often?” I think I heard Steny Hoyer say he’d been there 13 times, Eric Cantor who’s been there 12 times. I’ve been there more times than that just in the last nine months. (Laughter.) And I’ve been in the Middle East more times than even that in the last months because I don’t always wind up going to Israel.
But apart from the question, I’m surprised because people ask, because apart from my affection for Israel which dates back to my first visit back in 1986, and it just strikes me that it’s the wrong question to ask, why do I go. This isn’t about me. This is about the dreams of Israelis and the dignity of Palestinians. It’s about reconciling two peoples who want at long last to live normal secure lives in the land that they have fought over for so long. It’s about answering King David’s timeless call that we seek peace and pursue it. It’s about fulfilling the fervent prayer for peace that Jews around the world recite to welcome Shabbat. It’s about parents from Tsefat to Eilat who want to raise their families in a region that accepts the nation-state of the Jewish people is here to stay. (Applause.)
Now, it’s not news to any Israeli to hear me say that they live in a difficult neighborhood. Israelis know that better than anyone. No one needs to explain the importance of peace and security to a mother who has just sent her daughter to the army or a son who is waiting for his father to come home from another mission. No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than those who will inherit them for generations to come. And I have seen all of these realities in so many different ways in my travels in Israel, from the rocket casings in Sderot to the shelter in Kiryat Shmona that I visited years ago where children had to hide from Katyusha rockets. I’ve seen it.
My friends, I also believe that we are at a point in history that requires the United States as Israel’s closest friend and the world’s preeminent power to do everything we can to help end this conflict once and for all. Now, that is why America — (applause) — that is why America helped bring the parties back to the table, where, let’s be honest, Israelis and Palestinians have difficult choices to make. And no one understands just how complex those choices are or how emotional they are better than the leaders who have to summon the courage in order to actually make them.
I have sat with Bibi Netanyahu for hours and hours and days and days. We have become good friends. (Applause.) I believe — in fact, he ought to be charging me rent. (Laughter.) I’ve seen up close and personally the grit and the guts of this man and his love of country. And I can tell you with absolute certainty and without question, Prime Minister Netanyahu has demonstrated his courage and his commitment in pursuit of peace with security. (Applause.) He knows that it is the only way for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state; not a bi-national state. (Applause.)
As President Obama said publicly in the Oval Office today, and I quote him: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has approached these negotiations with a level of seriousness and commitment that reflects his leadership and the desire of the Israeli people for peace.”
Thus far, I will tell you also that President Abbas, and I know there are many doubters here — I’ve heard the arguments for 30-plus years, 40 years — that there’s no partner for peace, that Abbas won’t be there, that — both sides, by the way, say the same thing about each other. That’s one of the difficulties we have to try get through here. A very small needle to try to thread in terms of the trust deficit. Thus far, President Abbas, I will tell you, has demonstrated he wants to be a partner for peace. He’s committed to trying to end the conflict in all of its claims, but he obviously has a point of view about what’s fair and how he can do that. Let’s be candid. I know that some of you doubt that. But as Israeli security officials will attest, President Abbas has been genuinely committed against violence, and his own security forces have worked closely with Israel in order to prevent violence against Israeli citizens.
I’ve also spent many hours with President Abbas, and I believe that he clearly understands both the tremendous benefits of peace and the great costs of failure. He understands that in terms of his own people, his own grandchildren, the country he hopes to be able to lead, and in terms of the history that beleaguers all. He knows the Palestinian people will never experience the self determination that they seek in a state of their own without ending the conflict in a solution that delivers two states for two peoples. (Applause.)
And so does Prime Minister Netanyahu. When Bibi looks me in the eye and says, “I can’t accept a deal with Palestinians that doesn’t make the people of Israel safer,” we agree 100 percent. (Applause.) But I argue that there is a distinction between a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon or from Gaza where nothing is resolved, and a phased withdrawal that is negotiated where everything is at least in an agreement resolved.
Now, I learned about Israel’s security on many different trips over there, but one stands out. I was — I’d been a pilot since I was in college and I was on a trip over there. I was having a luncheon at Ovda Airbase with the Israel Air Force. And the colonel who was in charge was — had flown. He was an ace from the Six-Day War. And we were having lunch at the time at Ovda and I had been badgering them to maybe let me go up and fly. And they disappeared at lunch and finally he comes back and he says, “Senator, I hope you don’t eat too much. We’re going flying.” I said, “Wow, great. This is what I’ve wanted.” And we went out, the two of us, drove out to this jet, and he trusted me. We put on our helmets, got in the jet, and he says, “The moment we’re off the ground, it’s your airplane.”
So literally, we took off, I take the stick, we go up, we’re flying around. Next thing I know in my ear he says, “Senator, you better turn faster. You’re going over Egypt.” (Laughter.) So I turned very fast and then I asked him if I could do some aerobatics over the Negev. And I turned upside down and did a big loop and I was coming down, I was looking upside-down, and I said to myself, “This is perfect.” I could see all of the Sinai. I could see Aqaba. I could see Jordan. I see all of Israel below me, each side to each side. Said, “This is the perfect way to see the Middle East upside-down and backwards.” I understand it. (Applause.)
The real point of this story is just to tell you that I can’t tell you the imprint on me, being up there and tiny — almost turning. You had barely space to turn. You get the sense of a missile from here, or a rocket from there, or the threat of war. You understand it’s impossible to ignore just how narrow those borders are, how vulnerable Israel can be, and why Israel’s security is our first priority. We understand that. (Applause.)
That is why, my friends, President Obama sent a four-star general, John Allen, one of the most respected minds in United States military to do something we’ve never done in all the history of administrations negotiating for Israel’s and Palestinians’ future and that is to work with Israelis and Jordanians and Palestinians to make the Jordan River border as strong as the strongest borders on Earth. That’s what makes this effort different from anything we’ve ever done before. With the combination of the best military experience America can offer and the best ideas in the Pentagon and the best technology that we could deliver, we believe we can deliver to Israel security that Israel needs in order to make peace, and President Obama is committed to doing that.
Now we have no illusions. We saw what happened after Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza and Lebanon. We all learned lessons from that, I hope. That’s why a negotiated agreement is so important. That’s why the security arrangements that we are helping to design will need to be operationally proven. We’re not doing this on a whim and a prayer. We will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza. (Applause.)
My friends, we understand that Israel has to be strong in order to make peace. But we also understand that peace will make Israel stronger. Any peace agreement must also guarantee Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland. (Applause.) As Ehud Barak said on this stage last year, a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to stay true to its founding principles — to remain both Jewish and democratic. At last year’s AIPAC conference, he said statehood is not a favor for the Palestinians, and let me reaffirm: He is right; it is not.
Israel also needs peace in order to create greater prosperity. All of you here know the great economic benefits of peace. All of you have already seen what Israel has already been able to build with the forces of the region that raid against it. Just imagine what it will be able to build as a result of peace with Palestinian neighbors. I’ve had the foreign minister of one of the surrounding countries — a very wealthy country and a very smart foreign minister say to me if we make peace — this is under the Arab Peace Initiative and the Arab Follow-on Committee that is following everything we’re doing very closely and supporting it — and they said if we make peace, Israel will trade more in this community within a few years than it trades with Europe today. That’s what we have available to us. (Applause.) And I believe that we need to stand together with a single voice to reject any of the arbitrary unwarranted boycotts of Israel. For more than 30 years, I have staunchly, loudly, unapologetically opposed boycotts of Israel — (applause) — and I will continue to oppose those boycotts of Israel. That will never change. (Applause.)
Every time that Israel is subjected to attacks on its legitimacy, whether at the United Nations or from any nation, the United States will use every tool we have to defeat those efforts and we will stand with Israel. (Applause.)
Finally, peace demands that Israel fulfill its destiny not just as a nation but also as a neighbor. And that begins with the Palestinians, and it extends to the entire Arab League whose Arab Peace Initiative can open the door to peace and normalized relations with 20 additional Arab countries and a total of 55 Muslim countries. The upheaval in the Middle East has shown us all that Arabs and Israelis share some of the very same security concerns. Without the Palestinian conflict to divide them, these common interests can grow into real relationships and transform Israel’s standing in the region. And I just invite you — I promise you these conversations take place. I’ve had them throughout the Gulf region, throughout the Middle East, where increasingly those countries begin to see the possibilities of mutual security interests coming together for all of them against an Iran, against terrorism, against religious extremism. This is a commonality that is a new thread in the region, and I believe it brings the potential of new possibilities.
It is also important to remember that ending the conflict means ending the incitement. President Abbas has called incitement a germ that must be removed. And he has sought our help in order to try to deal with the problem. And I can tell you that with any final agreement it will also include a larger endeavor in order to help people on both sides move beyond a painful past and promote a culture of peace and tolerance.
After all these years, my friends, it is really no mystery what the end-game really looks like. I think you know that in your hearts. We understand what the end-game is. I know what peace looks like. When I talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, I think everybody shares this because this is not new. After Camp David and Oslo and Wye and Annapolis and Taba and all of these efforts, what the end-game should look like is straightforward: security arrangements that leave Israelis more secure, not less; mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people; an end to the conflict and to all claims; a just and agreed solution for Palestinian refugees, one that does not diminish the Jewish character of the state of Israel; and a resolution that finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the City of Peace. (Applause.)
It will take hard work. I’m not pretending any of the answers — these are all narrative issues. They’re tough issues. They complicated. But there is a vision of peace, and it takes tough choices on both sides, especially over the coming days. I guarantee you that America, that President Obama and this Administration will be there every day of the week, every step of the way. And we will stand with Israel’s leaders today and with the leaders of the future. And we will ensure that our light shines not just throughout the nations, but throughout the generations.
Leaders like a fellow named Guy — I’ll leave his last name out — but he’s a young Israeli who took part in an exchange program with the State Department, sponsors that brings Israelis and Palestinians together to talk about their histories and their hopes. Guy’s grandparents fled Europe. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. He served in the IDF. And he worked as an entrepreneur in Israel’s booming tech industry. And this is what he said in that program: We respect our past, but we don’t want to live it. We are young enough to dream, to believe that change is possible, and that fear can be defeated.
I think Guy is right. Change is possible. Fear can be defeated. But those are choices we have to make now.
My friends, a few months ago I landed in Tel Aviv and it was the 18th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. I went straight to Kikar Rabin, and I stood with the late-prime minister’s daughter, Dalia, at the site of her father’s murder. And we stood just steps away from where the great general, in the last moments of his life, sang the famous lyrics of Shir LaShalom: Don’t whisper a prayer; sing a song of peace in a loud voice. Don’t say the day will come; bring that day. (Applause.) That is our mission. All of us, in whatever capacity that we can, but just as important our mission is also to raise our voices for peace, and we also need to listen. We have to listen to those who first gave voice to our values, voices that still echo thousands of years later.
He almost — I think it was the first time I went to Israel. I spent a week there and went all over the country and like many first-time visitors, I climbed Masada. I climbed it with a guide — some of you may know him or heard of him, a fellow by the name of Yadin Roman. Yadin, the publisher of Eretz Israel. And our group debated Josephus Flavius’s account of what happened on the top of that mountain, the account of what happened 2,000 years before we were there.
Then Yadin, after we’d had this long debate, made us all vote to determine did it happen as he recounted or was it different. And we all voted unanimously it did happen the way he recounted. He told us to then walk to the edge of the precipice which we did, and to look out across the chasm and to shout, to shout across the ancestral home of the Jewish people. And as we stood where every new Israeli soldier begins his or her service, by swearing an oath to honor that history and secure the future, Yadin instructed us to shout, all at the same time, “Am Yisrael chai.” We shouted. (Applause.) And then I have to tell you, echoing across the chasm in the most eerie and unbelievably unforgettable way were these haunting echoes of “Am Yisrael chai, Am Yisrael chai, chai, chai.” I’ll never forget hearing the echo of those words bouncing off that mountain. It was literally like we were hearing the voices of the souls of those who had perished sacrificing their lives for Israel a thousand years ago. And we were affirming those words, the state of Israel lives. The people of Israel live.
We have to listen to those voices. Those long ago who encouraged us to build a city on a hill to be a light unto the nations, an example to the world, to ensure Israel’s survival. And we have to listen to the voices of young people whose futures depend on the choices that we, the leaders of today, make. It’s for their future that we will give new strength to the U.S.-Israel partnership as AIPAC does like no other organization in our country. It’s for their future that we will come together giving greater voice to the timeless oath and we will remember forever those words and be driven by them: “Am Yisrael chai” will be said generations upon generations into the future because of the work you do and the work we will do together.
Thank you all very much. Honored to be with you. (Applause.)
Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
— by Steve Sheffey
The Kirk-Menendez bill started out as a bipartisan effort to increase pressure on Iran. It was introduced in December with 13 Democratic and 13 Republican cosponsors, amidst concerns that the clock was ticking and the interim agreement with Iran had not yet been implemented.
But once the interim agreement took effect, and after the administration shared more details about the plan, support for a vote on Kirk-Menendez began to evaporate, especially among Democrats. It began to look less like a bipartisan effort to do the right thing and more like a vehicle for Republicans to drive a wedge between pro-Israel Democrats and President Obama.
The bottom finally fell out on Thursday, when Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and 41 other Republican senators sent a letter demanding a vote. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the bill’s co-author, responded by warning against making the bill a partisan issue.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a statement saying that, “We agree with the Chairman [Sen. Menendez] that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”
More after the jump.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), said that Iran is “a serious, serious situation. For me to receive a totally partisan letter, we should not make this a partisan issue, and that’s what 42 Republicans have done. And I think it’s wrong.”
One of AIPAC’s core principles is that support for legislation it backs must be bipartisan. This sometimes means compromise, but AIPAC knows that the U.S.-Israel relationship could be irreparably damaged if even the perception exists that congressional policy on Israel and Iran depends on which party is in power.
Forty-two GOP senators, led by “Partisan-in-Chief” Kirk, might want a vote right now, but AIPAC does not. It must have been hard for some AIPAC leaders to stand up to Kirk, but they made the right call. AIPAC stood up against partisanship on Israel, and in favor of its principles. We cannot let anyone turn Israel or Iran into a partisan issue.
AIPAC says it remains strongly committed to the passage of Kirk-Menendez. But unlike Kirk and his Republican partisans, AIPAC opposes an immediate vote on the legislation. No vote means no passage.
There may come a time when legislation like Kirk-Menendez is appropriate, but now is not the time. AIPAC’s position is very similar to the position the National Jewish Democratic Council articulated last month.
Chemi Shalev wrote in Ha’aretz last weekend that Kirk-Menendez “had no legs and no logic to stand on.”
Some of its supporters claimed that it was meant to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, when it was clear that they meant just the opposite: to weaken the President and to sabotage the talks. They couldn’t speak this truth outright, so they surrounded it, as Churchill once said, with a bodyguard of lies.
The bill’s supporters had no rational response to the Administration’s claim that the same conditional sanctions that the bill was pushing could be legislated in a day if the talks collapsed or if Iran reneged on its commitments. They could muster only disingenuous disclaimers to the unequivocal assertion, by both Washington and Tehran, that the legislation, if approved, would contravene the Geneva agreement and bring about an Iranian walkout.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration sent a clear signal that sanctions against Iran remain in place and are enforceable during the talks, by imposing sanctions on more than 30 individuals and entities last week.
Click here to sign up to Steve Sheffey’s newsletter.
— by Abba A. Solomon and Norman Solomon
Since its founding six years ago, J Street has emerged as a major Jewish organization under the banner “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” By now J Street is able to be a partial counterweight to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The contrast between the two U.S. groups is sometimes stark. J Street applauds diplomacy with Iran, while AIPAC works to undermine it. J Street encourages U.S. support for “the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while AIPAC opposes any meaningful Israeli concessions.
In the pressure cooker of Washington politics, J Street’s emergence has been mostly positive. But what does its motto “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” really mean?
More after the jump.
That question calls for grasping the context of Zionism among Jews in the United States; aspects of history, largely obscured and left to archives, that can shed light on J Street’s current political role. Extolling President Obama’s policies while urging him to intensify efforts to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the organization has staked out positions apt to sound humanistic and fresh. Yet J Street’s leaders are far from the first prominent American Jews who have struggled to square the circles of the moral contradictions of a “Jewish state” in Palestine.
Origins of Debate Within the American Jewish Community
Our research in the archives of the American Jewish Committee in New York City, Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere shows that J Street is adhering to, and working to reinforce, limits that major Jewish organizations adopted midway through the 20th century. Momentum for creation of the State of Israel required some hard choices for groups such as the influential AJC, which adjusted to the triumph of an ideology — militant Jewish nationalism — that it did not share. Such accommodation meant acceding to an outward consensus while suppressing debate on its implications within Jewish communities in the United States.
In 1945, AJC staff had discussed the probability of increased bloodshed in Palestine and a likelihood of “Judaism, as a whole, being held morally responsible for the fallacies of Zionism.” In exchange for AJC support in 1947 for UN partition of Palestine, the AJC extracted this promise from the Jewish Agency: “The so-called Jewish State is not to be called by that name but will bear some appropriate geographical designation. It will be Jewish only in the sense that the Jews will form a majority of the population.”
A January 1948 position paper in AJC records spoke of “extreme Zionists” then ascendant among Jews in Palestine and the United States: The paper warned that they served “no less monstrosity than the idol of the State as the complete master not only over its own immediate subjects but also over every living Jewish body and soul the world over, beyond any consideration of good or evil.
This mentality and program is the diametrical opposite to that of the American Jewish Committee.” The confidential document warned of “moral and political repercussions which may deeply affect both the Jewish position outside Palestine, and the character of the Jewish state in Palestine.” Such worries became more furtive after Israel became a nation later in 1948.
Internal Communal Debate
Privately, some leaders held out hope that constraints on public debate could coexist with continuing debate inside Jewish institutions. In 1950 the president of the American Jewish Committee, Jacob Blaustein, wrote in a letter to the head of an anti-Zionist organization, the American Council for Judaism, that the silencing of public dissent would not preclude discussion within the Yiddish-language and Jewish press.
In effect, Blaustein contended that vigorous dialogue could continue among Jews but should be inaudible to gentiles. However, the mask of American Jewry would soon become its face. Concerns about growing Jewish nationalism became marginal, then unmentionable.
The recent dispute in the Jewish student group Hillel, about whether its leadership can ban Hillel chapters on U.S. college campuses from hosting severe critics of Israeli policies, emerged from a long history of pressure on American Jews to accept Zionism and a “Jewish state” as integral to Judaism. The Jewish students now pushing to widen the bounds of acceptable discourse are challenging powerful legacies of conformity.
During the 1950s and later decades, the solution for avoiding an ugly rift was a kind of preventive surgery. Universalist, prophetic Judaism became a phantom limb of American Jewry, after an amputation in service of the ideology of an ethnic state in the Middle East. Pressures for conformity became overwhelming among American Jews, whose success had been predicated on the American ideal of equal rights regardless of ethnic group origin.
Support of Zionism
Generally flourishing in a country founded on the separation of religion and state, American Zionists dedicated themselves to an Israeli state based on the prerogatives of Jews. That Mobius strip could only be navigated by twisting logic into special endless dispensations for Jewish people. Narratives of historic Jewish vulnerability and horrific realities of the Holocaust became all-purpose justifications.
As decades passed after the June 1967 war, while the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza wore on, younger American Jews slowly became less inclined to automatically support Israeli policies. Now, 65 years after the founding of Israel, the historic realities of displacement, traumatic for Palestinians while triumphant for many Jewish Israelis, haunt the territorial present that J Street seeks to navigate.
The organization’s avowed goal is an equitable peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians. But J Street’s pragmatic, organization-building strength is tied into its real-world moral liability: continuing to accept extremely skewed power relations in Palestine. The J Street leadership withholds from the range of prospective solutions the alternative of truly ending the legally and militarily enforced Jewish leverage over Palestinians, replete with the advantages of dominance (in sharp contrast to the precept of abandoning white privilege that was a requirement in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa).
Every conceptual lane of J Street equates being “pro-Israel” with maintaining the doctrine of a state where Jews are more equal than others. Looking to the past, that approach requires treating the historic Zionist conquest as somewhere between necessary and immaculate. Looking at the present and the future, that approach sees forthright opposition to the preeminence of Jewish rights as extreme or otherwise beyond the pale, and not “pro-Israel.”
Like the Obama administration, J Street is steadfast in advocating a “two-state solution” while trying to thwart the right-wing forces led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A goal is to reduce his leverage by altering the political environment he encounters in the United States, where AIPAC, riding high astride much of the U.S. Congress, is aligned with the hard right of Israeli politics. In contrast, J Street is aligned with a fuzzy center that copes with cognitive dissonance by embracing humane rhetoric about Palestinians while upholding subjugation of Palestinians’ rights.
Dialogue With Divestment Proponents
At J Street’s 2011 conference, Rabbi David Saperstein congratulated the organization: “When the Jewish community needed someone to speak for them at the Presbyterian Convention against the divestment resolution, the community turned to J Street, who had the pro-peace credibility to stunt the efforts of the anti-Israeli forces, and they were compellingly effective. They did so at Berkeley on the bus ad fights, debating Jewish Voice for Peace” [no relation to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice]. Saperstein, a Reform Judaism leader described by Newsweek as the USA’s most influential rabbi, lauded J Street for its special function among “the strongly pro-Israel peace groups that have the credibility to stand before strongly dovish non-Jewish groups and guide them away from delegitimization efforts.”
Such praise for being a bulwark against “delegitimization” is a high compliment for J Street. It is surely gratifying for its founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. When he reaffirms “our commitment to and support for the people and the state of Israel,” he frames it in these terms: “We believe that the Jewish people, like all other people in the world, have the right to a national home of their own, and we celebrate its rebirth after thousands of years.”
Support For A Two State Solution
His official J Street bio says that “Ben-Ami’s family connection to Israel goes back 130 years to the first aliyah when his great-grandparents were among the first settlers in Petah Tikva [near present-day Tel Aviv]. His grandparents were one of the founding families of Tel Aviv, and his father was an activist and leader in the Irgun, working for Israel’s independence and on the rescue of European Jews before and during World War II.” Readers are left to ponder the reference to leadership of the ultranationalist Irgun, given its undisputed terrorist violence.
Whatever its differences with the Likudnik stances of AIPAC and Netanyahu, J Street joins in decrying the danger of the “delegitimization” of Israel, a word often deployed against the questioning of Jewish privileges in a Palestine maintained by armed force. In sync with U.S. foreign policy, J Street is enmeshed in assuming the validity of prerogatives that are embedded in Netanyahu’s demand for unequivocal support of Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
In the process, the secular USA massively supports a government that is using weapons of war emblazoned with symbols of the Jewish religion, while the U.S. Congress continues to designate Israel as a “strategic ally.” An AIPAC official was famously quoted by Jeffrey Goldberg as boasting, “You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin.”
J Street is aligned with more “moderate” personalities in Israeli politics, but what is considered moderate Zionism in Israel may not match sensibilities outside Israel. On a J Street-sponsored U.S. speaking tour, Knesset member Adi Koll said she is pleased that Palestinian refugees from 1948 are dying off, which she portrayed as good for peace: “This is what we have been waiting for, for more and more of them to die,” to finalize the War of Independence expulsion of Palestinians.
J Street’s Ben-Ami has warned of “the ‘one state nightmare,’ a minority of Jewish Israelis in a state with a majority of non-Jewish residents.” For J Street, an embrace of perpetual Jewish dominance as imperative seems to be a litmus test before any criticism of the occupation is to be deemed legitimate.
Progressive Double Standard
A human rights lawyer active with Jewish Voice for Peace, David L. Mandel, sees a double standard at work. “Too many progressives on everything else still are not progressive about Israel and Palestine,” he told us. “And J Street, by making it easier for them to appear to be critical, in fact serves as a roadblock on the path to a consistent, human rights and international law-based position.”
Covering J Street’s annual conference in September 2013, Mondoweiss.net editor Philip Weiss pointed out: “J Street still can claim to be a liberal Zionist organization that wants to pressure Israel to leave the settlements. But more than that it wants access to the Israeli establishment, and it is not going to alienate that establishment by advocating any measure that will isolate Israel or put real pressure on it.”
While evocations of the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel may sound uplifting, J Street ultimately lets the Israeli government off the hook by declaring that relationship sacrosanct, no matter what. The organization insists that political candidates funded by J StreetPAC “must demonstrate that they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, active U.S. leadership to help end the conflict, the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, continued aid to the Palestinian Authority and opposition to the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction movement.”
The sanctity of the proviso about “the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel” became evident to one of us (Norman Solomon) while running for Congress in 2012 in California. After notification that J Street had decided to confer “On the Street” status on Solomon and another Democratic candidate in the primary race, the group’s leadership suddenly withdrew the stamp of approval, after discovering a Solomon op-ed piece written in July 2006 that criticized Washington’s support for the Israeli bombing of Lebanon then underway. In a specially convened conference call, J Street’s top leaders told the candidate that one statement in the op-ed was especially egregious: “The United States and Israel. Right now, it’s the most dangerous alliance in the world.”
In December 2013, while visiting Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed that “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.” He added that despite occasional “tactical” differences “we do not have a difference about the fundamental strategy that we both seek with respect to the security of Israel and the long-term peace of this region.”
Two days later, on December 7, at a Saban Center gathering in Washington, Kerry joined with President Obama in paying tribute to the idea of a nation for Jews. Obama endorsed the goal of protecting “Israel as a Jewish state.” He sat for an interview with billionaire Zionist Haim Saban, who joked: “Very obedient president I have here today!” For his part, Kerry addressed Israeli ethnic anxiety by urging that Israel heed U.S. advice for withdrawal from some territory, to defuse what he called the “demographic time bomb,” non-Jewish births, threatening the existence of a “Jewish and democratic” state.
Militant Jewish Nationalism
Although “militant Islam” is common coin in U.S. discourse about the Middle East, militant Jewish nationalism lacks a place in the conversation. This absence occurs despite, and perhaps because of, the fact that militant Jewish nationalism is such a powerful ideology in the United States, especially in Congress. Yet recent erosion of the taboo has caused some alarm. In May 2011 the Reut Institute, well-connected to the Israeli establishment, held a joint conference with the American Jewish Committee and met with smaller organizations to formalize a policy of “establishing red-lines with regards to the discourse about Israel between legitimate criticism and acts of delegitimization.”
In its own way, J Street has laid down red-line markers along the left perimeter of American Zionism. For instance, some of the most telling moments of J Street’s existence came during the November 2012 Gaza crisis. As the conflict escalated, Israel threatened a ground invasion. J Street urged Israeli restraint but did not oppose the ongoing intense bombardment of Gaza. Instead, echoing President Obama, the organization endorsed Israel’s “right and obligation to defend itself against rocket fire and against those who refuse to recognize its right to exist and inexcusably use terror and violence to achieve their ends.”
J Street’s statement, titled “Enough of Silence,” eerily mirrored the brutal asymmetry of the warfare then raging and, for that matter, the asymmetry of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While far more Palestinians than Israelis were dying (87 Palestinian and four Israeli noncombatants lost their lives, according to a report from the human-rights group B’Tselem), J Street condemned the killing by Palestinians but merely questioned the ultimate efficacy of the killing by Israelis. While J Street was appropriately repulsed by the bloodshed, it could not plead for reversal of the underlying, continuing injustice beyond its advocacy of a two-state solution. During the years ahead, J Street is likely to be instrumental in establishing and reinforcing such red lines.
A rare instance when J Street has not endorsed President Obama’s approach in the Middle East came in September 2013, when the administration pressed for U.S. missile strikes on Syria following claims that the Bashar al-Assad regime had used chemical weapons. J Street remained officially silent on the issue; Jeremy Ben-Ami reportedly pushed for endorsement of an attack, but many others in the organization were opposed. The Forward newspaper quoted a J Street activist: “Jeremy is a pragmatist. He wants to keep us as progressive as possible without going too far from the mainstream.”
A New Way of Supporting Israel
J Street is striving to support Israel differently than AIPAC by fostering the more peaceful, humane streams of Zionism. Among new generations of U.S. Jews, the Zionist rationales for Israel as a whole are losing ground. In a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 93 percent of American Jews state they are proud of being part of the Jewish people, but only 43 percent say that “caring about” the State of Israel is essential to being a Jew, and the figure drops to 32 percent of respondents under 30 years old.
The Jewish establishment has always represented those Jews choosing to affiliate with institutionalized Judaism. More and more, this leaves out large numbers who don’t believe that blood-and-soil Jewish nationalism should crowd out their Jewish and universalist values. As the Pew survey shows, American Jews are less sympathetic than American Jewish organizations to enforcing Jewish political nationalism with armed force.
Last summer, Ben-Ami told the New Republic, “We are advocating for a balance between the security needs of Israel and the human rights of the Palestinians. It is by definition a moderate, centrist place.” Ben-Ami highlighted his strategy for practicality, “We have the ear of the White House; we have the ear of a very large segment of Congress at this point; we have very good relations with top communal leadership in the Jewish community. If you want to have a voice in those corridors of power, then get involved with J Street.”
We recently submitted three questions to Ben-Ami. Asked about the historic concerns that a “democratic Jewish state” would be self-contradictory, he replied, “J Street believes it is possible to reconcile the essence of Zionism, that Israel must be the national homeland of the Jewish people, and the key principles of its democracy, namely, that the state must provide justice and equal rights for all its citizens. In the long run, Israel can only manage the tension between these two principles if there is a homeland for the Palestinian people alongside Israel.”
Asked whether relations with non-Jewish Palestinians would be better now if Jewish leaders who favored creation of a non-ethnically-based state had prevailed, Ben-Ami did not respond directly. Instead, he affirmed support for a two-state solution and commented, “History has sadly and repeatedly proven the necessity of a nation-state for the Jewish people. J Street today is focused on building support in the American Jewish community for the creation of a nation-state for the Palestinian people alongside Israel, precisely because it is so necessary if Israel is to continue to be the national home of the Jewish people.”
The shortest, and perhaps the most significant, reply came when we asked: “Do you believe it is fair to say that the Israeli government has engaged in ethnic cleansing?” Ben-Ami responded with one word, “No.”
“They have destroyed and are destroying … and do not know it and do not want to know it,” James Baldwin wrote several decades ago. “But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” Those who have seen to the devastation of “others,” and have even celebrated overall results of the process, cannot begin to atone or make amends without some genuine remorse. With a pose of innocence, in the absence of remorse, the foundation of J Street’s position is denial of the ethnic cleansing that necessarily enabled Israel to become what it is now, officially calling itself a “Jewish and democratic state.”
Population transfer of Arabs was part of the planning of Zionist leadership, and it was implemented. Benny Morris, the pioneering Israeli historian of the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel, said, “Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.”
In a talk five decades ago at Hillel House at the University of Chicago, philosopher Leo Strauss mentioned that Leon Pinsker’s Zionist manifesto “Autoemancipation,” published in 1882, quotes the classic Hillel statement “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if not now, when?” but leaves out the middle of the sequence, “If I am only for myself, what am I?” “The omission of these words,” Strauss said, “is the definition of pureblooded political Zionism.” The full integrity of Rabbi Hillel’s complete statement, urging Jews not to be “only for myself,” is explicit in the avowed mission of J Street.
There is unintended symbolism in the organization’s name, which partly serves as an inside Washington joke. The absence of an actual J Street between I and K Streets is, so to speak, a fact on the ground. And sadly, the group’s political vision of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” is as much a phantom as the nonexistent lettered street between I and K in the Nation’s Capital; unless “peace” is to be understood along the lines of the observation by Carl von Clausewitz that “a conqueror is always a lover of peace.”
Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.'” Norman Solomon is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, cofounder of RootsAction.org and the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”
When my husband told me about the ReWalk demonstration in Ventnor, New Jersey, I immediately booked a hotel to spend Shabbat there, and be part of the event. The American Technion Society Philadelphia Chapter was hosting its annual “Down the Shore” program at Steve and Ilene Berger’s home. As the many guests enjoyed a copious summer buffet, anticipation grew about the event that was going to take place.
After a few words about various innovation projects at the Technion, Linda Richman, ATS Eastern Seabord Associate Regional Director, introduced Dan Webb, from Warminster, Pennsylvania, and his physical therapist John from MossRehab. Together, Dan and John are on a very unique path — the path to “ReWalk.”