Special AIPAC Conference Report

Highlight video

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

— by Steve Sheffey

The 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference was a huge success, with over 13,000 delegates, 339 members of the Senate and House, and lobbying appointments with every member of the Senate and House.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Conference by live video, expressing his appreciation for President Obama’s work and emphasizing three priorities: Iran, Syria, and peace with the Palestinians.

Vice President Joe Biden was amazing. His outline of the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy was frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations.  

We lobbied for the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, the United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, Senate Resolution 65, which reiterates our commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, and security assistance for Israel.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is off to a strong start. His first meeting as Secretary of Defense with a foreign counterpart was with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak wished Hagel well in his Policy Conference speech. When Hagel met with Barak on Tuesday, Hagel reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security and to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Hagel also noted his outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister.

Barak said at the Policy Conference that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is the only long-term solution to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

Much more after the jump.
Over 13,000 people attended the AIPAC Policy Conference last week in a powerful display of bipartisan support for a strong US-Israel relationship. Some of us left on Monday to avoid being stranded by the snowstorm in Chicago on Tuesday. Over 1700 flights were canceled at O’Hare on Tuesday, mainly based on fear of what the storm might be rather than what the storm turned out to be. The flight I would have been on was not canceled. I could have stayed. Good job National Weather Service!

Please read my article on AIPAC and J Street if you need a refresher on what AIPAC is and isn’t. I’m not going to repeat it here.

This year marked the first time in AIPAC Policy Conference history that AIPAC members scheduled meetings with every lawmaker in Congress for the Tuesday lobbying meetings.  Nearly half of Congress has turned over in the past four years, so pro-Israel activism more important than ever.

The Policy Conference itself was attended by 65 Senators, 274 members of the House, 33 representatives of the Obama administration, 77 Israeli officials, representatives from more than 65 countries, and over 13,000 delegates, including more than 700 from the Chicago area.

Chemi Shalev wrote that

Regardless of one’s political convictions – whether you believe Israel is warmonger or peace seeker, aggressor or defender, victim or victimizer, hero or villain, sinner or saint – the Annual AIPAC Policy Conference is a sight to be seen, a pageant to behold, a formidable spectacle that cannot be ignored.

It’s hard to decide which is more impressive: the sheer scale of the event, the many thousands of participants, the professional management, the impeccable execution, the creative pyrotechnics, the mind-boggling percentage of American lawmakers and officials who grace the event with their presence or their unequivocal, across the board, no ifs or buts support for the Israeli government and its policies.

You can save $200 off the registration fee for the March 2-4, 2014 Policy Conference by clicking here and signing up before March 18.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Conference by live video from Israel. Bibi explained that while putting together a coalition government is consuming his time now,

The first thing that my new government will have the privilege of doing is to warmly welcome President Obama to Israel. I look forward to the President’s visit. It will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel.

Netanyahu said his discussions with President Obama would focus on Iran, Syria, and the need to find a responsible way to advance the peace with the Palestinians.

Vice President Joe Biden rocked the house. His speech was amazing and was frequently interrupted by standing ovations. I’ll give you just a taste, but if you have time, you should read it or watch it. It’s worth watching rather than reading because Biden’s delivery is so effective. Said Biden:

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel and the United States to reassess old and settled relationships. Iran — Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program and its continued support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas not only endanger Israel but endanger the world. Attempts — (applause) — attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the state of Israel are increasingly common and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these — all these pressures are similar but different. And they’ve put enormous pressure on the state of Israel. We understand that. And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence, but if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence. (Applause.)

And that’s why — that’s why from the moment the president took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not: our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel. That has not changed. (Cheers, applause.) That will not change as long as I and he are president and vice president of the United States.

It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative. All of you — I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment.

Lobbying is a key component of the AIPAC Policy Conference. This year, we lobbied for The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, The United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, S. Res. 65, and security assistance for Israel. You can read the AIPAC summaries here.

The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 (HR 850) states that United States policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability would embolden its already aggressive foreign policy, increase the risk that Iran would share its nuclear technology and expertise with extremist groups and rogue nations, destabilize global energy markets, and likely lead other governments in the region to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs.

HR 850 requires the Secretary of State to determine whether Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization. The bill also imposes additional sanctions on Iran. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is an original co-sponsor.

The United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (HR 938) designates Israel as a major strategic partner of the United States. It also provides for increased assistance and cooperation with Israel, including the enhancement of the David’s Sling Weapon System, the enhancement of the joint United States-Israel Arrow Weapon System (Arrow 2 and Arrow 3), and the procurement and enhancement of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.

Senate Resolution 65 contains an excellent history of Iran’s actions and statements on nuclear weapons and recognizes “the close military, intelligence, and security cooperation that President Obama has pursued with Israel.”  The bipartisan Resolution leaves no doubt about our nation’s commitment to stopping Iran, reminding the world that

  • In his State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013, President Obama reiterated, “The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”
    On March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, ‘Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
  • On October 22, 2012, President Obama said of Iran, “The clock is ticking . . . And we’re going to make sure that if they do not meet the demands of the international community, then we are going to take all options necessary to make sure they don’t have a nuclear weapon.”
  • On May 19, 2011, President Obama stated, “Every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
  • On September 21, 2011, President Obama stated, “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.”
  • On March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, “And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
  • On October 22, 2012, President Obama stated, “Israel is a true friend. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency . . . I will stand with Israel if they are attacked.”

Anyone who doubts President Obama’s commitment to Israel and to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons hasn’t been paying attention.

The Resolution, which does not have the force of law, “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence” but also states that “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.”

We also lobbied for security assistance for Israel. Click here to read more.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is off to a strong start. I’m sure that Chuck Hagel came up at some of the break-out sessions, but the only mention I noticed of Hagel at the plenaries was when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, congratulated Hagel and wished him well. It was obviously an applause line, but some AIPAC delegates didn’t get it and the applause was tepid.

This is what Ehud Barak, who has known Hagel for ten years, said: “[Secretary Hagel] will, no doubt, serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served, both on the battlefield and in Congress.”

Many of us had concerns about Hagel. But the nomination fight is over. Hagel is our Secretary of Defense. Regardless of whether we were for him or against him, we should all wish him well and judge him on how he does going forward. So when Israel’s Defense Minister (who might even be more pro-Israel than we are) applauds our Secretary of Defense, those of us who place a strong US-Israel relationship above partisan politics should join in that applause.

Thus far, Hagel is proving his critics wrong. His first meeting as Secretary of Defense with a foreign counterpart was with Ehud Barak on Tuesday. Here is the full Department of Defense statement on the meeting. Judge for yourself the state of US-Israel relations in the Hagel era:

Secretary Hagel hosted Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak today at the Pentagon for his first meeting with a foreign counterpart since taking office as secretary of defense.  Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel’s security, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and continued U.S. support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints.

Secretary Hagel and Minister Barak agreed that the United States-Israeli defense relationship has never been stronger than during the Obama administration and that both nations will continue this unprecedented close cooperation.

The leaders discussed the range of security interests shared by the U.S. and Israel, including the need for the Syrian regime to maintain control over chemical and biological weapons in their country; the leaders pledged to continue U.S.-Israel contingency planning to counter that potential threat.

Regarding Iran, Secretary Hagel reiterated that President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon with all options on the table.  He stated that the United States continues to believe there is still time to address this issue through diplomacy, but that window is closing.

Secretary Hagel noted the two have had an outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister and he thanked Minister Barak for his kind words at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.  Secretary Hagel expressed his desire to visit Israel soon and Minister Barak stated that Israel looks forward to hosting him in the near future.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the Policy Conference that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is the only long-term solution to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Barak said that a two-state solution is essential for Israel, not a favor for the Palestinians. In one of the break-out sessions, David Makovsky said that both sides want a two-state solution, but each doubts the other’s sincerity.  Makovsky thinks that synchronized political messaging can help build trust on both sides. He thinks it’s important for Israel to set clear limits on settlement expansion.

Jeff Goldberg sums up in three paragraphs the essence of the occupation and what it means for Israel:

Remember, the occupation itself was originally justifiable: Jordanian forces fired on Israel from the West Bank, and Israel subsequently took the territory from which it was being assaulted. It was when some Israelis succumbed to messianic temptation and moved to the West Bank, with the help of successive Israeli governments, that the true problem began.

Israel faces only two choices here: It can offer citizenship to the Palestinians whose lives are affected by its decisions, or it can negotiate an end to settlement, especially the far-flung settlements that project deeply into the West Bank, and then work toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Will Jews be allowed to live and pray in that Palestinian state? I certainly hope so; it would be a crime to deny Jews access to their holy sites. Hebron is Judaism’s 2nd-holiest city, Jews lived there for millenia until they were massacred by some of their Arab neighbors (other Arabs played a role in the rescue of the remnant of the Jewish community) and Jews quite obviously have a right to live in all parts of their historic homeland.

That said, the Jewish state cannot maintain a double-standard in these areas, because it is also a crime to deny people full enfranchisement based on their ethnicity. Most Israelis want to maintain their country as a Jewish state, and as a Jewish haven. Jews, because they are an ancient people, and because they have suffered at the hands of Christians and Muslims for centuries, have earned the right to independence. Having finally earned the privilege of Jewish autonomy, Israelis do not want to become citizens of the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. But eventually, if the Palestinians of the West Bank aren’t freed from Israeli domination, that is what they will become.

Have you seen this amazing speech by Ruth Calderon? At a break-out session on Israel’s recent election, Dr. Jonathan Rynhold recommended that we watch this video of new Knesset member Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid). A secular woman gives a Talmud lesson on pluralism and religious freedom in the Knesset during which the Speaker of the Knesset (from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party) not only participates, but says “amen” at the end. Truly remarkable.

As for the Israeli elections, the panel (which also included David Horovitz from the Times of Israel) agreed that Netanyahu would likely form a coalition government prior to President Obama’s scheduled visit. Rynhold said that the difference between Israeli and American democracy is that the American system was designed by geniuses to be run by idiots, whereas the Israeli system was designed by idiots and can only be understood by geniuses.

Both panelists agreed that the peace process was not much of an issue in the election–not because Israelis don’t think it’s important, but because there is a national consensus in favor of a two-state solution and a national despair of reaching a two-state solution with current Palestinian leadership.

And finally, a personal story. For some reason, there was no Republican Jewish Coalition presence at the Policy Conference, but there was a strong National Jewish Democratic Coalition presence. On Sunday morning, the NJDC’s Aaron Keyak and David Streeter gave me a Proud Pro-Israel Dem button to wear and a few dozen more to give to anyone who wanted one.

Later that afternoon, as I was walking down a crowded stairway, I tripped and fell down the stairs. My bag dropped and the buttons flew all over the stairs. Chevy Chase would have been proud of the way I took the fall, although if Aaron Stein hadn’t grabbed my arm I might have broken my neck. Within seconds, two security guards rushed to my side and everyone was looking at me. After reassuring the guards that I was okay, while still sitting on the stairs, I somehow had the presence of mind to loudly say “Now that I’ve got your attention, who wants a button?” Many people took buttons. It was pretty cool.  

Biden Shows Full Commitment to Israel at AIPAC Policy Conference‏

— by Marc Stanley

Vice President Biden once again made it abundantly clear yesterday that he and the President are firmly committed to the pro-Israel community’s agenda. His words this morning reiterated an unmistakable message to Iran’s leaders that the President will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Further, the Vice President sent a warning to all of Israel’s enemies that, as Israel pursues a permanent peace with its neighbors, the Obama Administration has Israel’s back — a promise that has been proven time and again over the last four years. The Administration deserves tremendous praise for its unwavering support and we are eagerly awaiting the President’s trip to Israel, during which he can continue to demonstrate his unprecedented support for the Jewish state.

Full remarks after the jump.


Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz provides Biden with NJDC Proud Pro-Israel pin after his speech. (Order yours here.)

Remarks at AIPAC Meeting by Vice-President Joe Biden

Ladies and gentlemen, oh, what a difference 40 years makes. I look out there and see an old friend, Annette Lantos. Annette, how are you? Her husband, Tom Lantos, a survivor, was my assistant, was my foreign policy advisor for years. And Tom used to say all the time, Joe — he talked with that Hungarian accent — he’d say, Joe, we must do another fundraiser for AIPAC. I did more fundraisers for AIPAC in the ’70s and early ’80s than — just about as many as anybody. Thank God you weren’t putting on shows like this, we would have never made it. We would have never made it.

My Lord, it’s so great to be with you all and great to see — Mr. President, thank you so much for that kind introduction. And President-elect Bob Cohen, the entire AIPAC Board of Directors, I’m delighted to be with you today. But I’m particularly delighted to be with an old friend — and he is an old friend; we use that phrase lightly in Washington, but it’s real, and I think he’d even tell you — Ehud Barak, it’s great to be with you, Mr. Minister.  Great to be with you.

There is a standup guy. There is a standup guy. Standing up for his country, putting his life on the line for his country, and continuing to defend the values that we all share. I’m a fan of the man. Thanks for being here, Ehud. It’s good to be with you again.

Ladies and gentlemen, a lot of you know me if you’re old enough. Some of you don’t know me, and understand I can’t see now, but in the bleachers to either side, I’m told you have 2,000 young AIPAC members here. We talked about this a lot over the years. We talked about it a lot: This is the lifeblood. This is the connective tissue. This is the reason why no American will ever forget. You’ve got to keep raising them.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder, a lot of us in this auditorium, defending the legitimate interest of Israel and our enduring commitment over the last 40 years. And many of you in this hall — I won’t start to name them, but many of you in this hall, starting with Annette Lantos’s husband, who is not here, God rest his soul — many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators, and that is not hyperbole. You literally have been.

But my education started, as some of you know, at my father’s dinner table. My father was what you would have called a righteous Christian. We gathered at my dinner table to have conversation, and incidentally eat, as we were growing up. It was a table — it was at that table I first heard the phrase that is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough — first I heard the phrase, “Never again.”

It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel. I remember my father, a Christian, being baffled at the debate taking place at the end of World War II talking about it. I don’t remember it at that time, but about how there could be a debate about whether or not — within the community, of whether or not to establish the State of Israel.

My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble it was, like the United States. Everybody knows it’s real. But I want you to know one thing, which some of you — I’ve met with a lot of you over the last 40 years, but the last four years as well. President Obama shares my commitment. We both know that Israel faces new threats, new pressures and uncertainty. The Defense Minister and I have discussed it often. In the area of national security, the threats to Israel’s existence continue, but they have changed as the world and the region have changed over the last decade.

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel — and the United States — to reassess old and settled relationships. Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program, and its continued support of terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah and Hamas, not only endanger Israel, but endanger the world. Attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel are increasingly common, and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these pressures are similar but different, and they put enormous pressure on the State of Israel. We understand that. And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence. But if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence. And that’s why, from the moment the President took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not: our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel. That has not changed. That will not change as long as I and he are President and Vice President of the United States. It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative.

And to all of you, I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment. And while we may not always agree on tactics — and I’ve been around a long time; I’ve been there for a lot of prime ministers — we’ve always disagreed on tactic. We’ve always disagreed at some point or another on tactic. But, ladies and gentlemen, we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own, must be able to do it on its own, and we must always stand with Israel to be sure that can happen. And we will.

That’s why we’ve worked so hard to make sure Israel keeps its qualitative edge in the midst of the Great Recession. I’ve served with eight Presidents of the United States of America, and I can assure you, unequivocally, no President has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Barack Obama.

President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel — the most in history. He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership.

I can say with certitude, in the last eight Presidents, I don’t know any time, Ehud, when there has been as many meetings, as much coordination, between our intelligence services and our military. Matter of fact, they’re getting tired of traveling back across the ocean, I think.

Under this administration, we’ve held the most regular and largest-ever joint military exercises. We’ve invested $275 million in Iron Dome, including $70 million that the President directed to be spent last year on an urgent basis — to increase the production of Iron Dome batteries and interceptors.

Not long ago, I would have had to describe to an audience what Iron Dome was, how it would work, why funding it mattered. I don’t have to explain to anybody anymore. Everybody gets it. Everybody saw — the world saw firsthand why it was and remains so critical.

For too long, when those sirens blared in the streets of the cities bordering Gaza, the only defense had been a bomb shelter. But late last year, Iron Dome made a difference. When Hamas rockets rained on Israel, Iron Dome shot them out of the sky, intercepting nearly 400 rockets in November alone. It was our unique partnership — Israel and the United States — that pioneered this technology and funded it.

And it is in that same spirit that we’re working with Israel to jointly develop new systems, called Arrow and David’s Sling, interceptors that can defeat long-range threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — equally as urgent. And we are working to deploy a powerful new radar, networked with American early warning satellites, that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of an attack. This is what we do. This is what we do to ensure Israel can counter and defeat any threat from any corner.

But that’s only the first piece of this equation. Let me tell you — and I expect I share the view of many of you who have been involved with AIPAC for a long time. Let me tell you what worries me the most today — what worries me more than at any time in the 40 years I’ve been engaged, and it is different than any time in my career. And that is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. That is the single most dangerous, pernicious change that has taken place, in my humble opinion, since I’ve been engaged.

And, ladies and gentlemen, it matters. It matters. To put it bluntly, there is only one nation — only one nation in the world that has unequivocally, without hesitation and consistently confronted the efforts to delegitimize Israel. At every point in our administration, at every juncture, we’ve stood up on the legitimacy — on behalf of legitimacy of the State of Israel. President Obama has been a bulwark against those insidious efforts at every step of the way.

Wherever he goes in the world, he makes clear that although we want better relations with Muslim-majority countries, Israel’s legitimacy and our support for it is not a matter of debate. There is no light. It is not a matter of debate. It’s simple, and he means it: It is not a matter of debated. Don’t raise it with us. Do not raise it with us. It is not negotiable.

As recently as last year, the only country on the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against — I think it’s 36 countries, don’t hold me to the exact number — but the only country on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to vote against the establishment of a fact-finding mission on settlements was the United States of America.

We opposed the unilateral efforts of the Palestinian Authority to circumvent direct negotiations by pushing for statehood and multilateral organizations like UNESCO. We stood strongly with Israel in its right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report was issued in 2009. While the rest of the world, including some of our good friend, was prepared to embrace the report, we came out straightforwardly, expressed our concerns and with recommendations.

When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla in 2010, I was in Africa. We spent a lot of time on the phone, Ehud and — the Defense Minister and I. And Bibi and I spent a lot time on that phone with my interceding, going to the United Nations directly by telephone, speaking with the Secretary General, making sure that one thing was made clear, Israel had the right — had the right — to impose that blockade.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s why we refuse to attend events such as the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference on Racism that shamefully equated Zionism with racism. That’s why we rejected anti-Semitic rhetoric from any corner and from leaders of any nation. And that’s why I’m proud to say my friend, the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, spoke out against the kind of language in Ankara just this Friday. By the way, he’s a good man. You’re going to be happy with Kerry.

And it was in the strongest terms that we vigorously opposed the Palestinian bid for nonmember observer status in the General Assembly, and we will continue to oppose any effort to establish a state of Palestine through unilateral actions.

There is no shortcut to peace. There is no shortcut to face-to-face negotiations. There is no shortcut to guarantees made looking in the eyes of the other party.

Ladies and gentlemen, Israel’s own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they’ve all called for a two-state solution and an absolute secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state. But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game.

We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve. Even some of you in the audience said, “why do we even talk about it anymore?” Well, it’s going to require hard steps on both sides. But it’s in all of our interests — Israel’s interest, the United States’ interest, the interest of the Palestinian people. We all have a profound interest in peace. To use an expression of a former President, Bill Clinton, we’ve got to get caught trying. We’ve got to get caught trying.

So we remain deeply engaged. As President Obama has said, while there are those who question whether this goal may ever be reached, we make no apologies for continuing to pursue that goal, to pursue a better future. And he’ll make that clear when he goes to Israel later this month.

We’re also mindful that pursuing a better future for Israel means helping Israel confront the myriads of threat it faces in the neighborhood. It’s a tough neighborhood, and it starts with Iran. It is not only in Israel’s interest — and everybody should understand — I know you understand this, but the world should — it’s not only in Israel’s interest that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, it’s in the interest of the United States of America. It’s simple. And, as a matter of fact, it’s in the interest of the entire world.

Iraq’s [sic] acquisition of a nuclear weapon not only would present an existential threat to Israel, it would present a threat to our allies and our partners — and to the United States. And it would trigger an arms race — a nuclear arms race in the region, and make the world a whole lot less stable.

So we have a shared strategic commitment. Let me make clear what that commitment is: It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Period. End of discussion. Prevent — not contain — prevent.

The President has flatly stated that. And as many of you in this room have heard me say — and he always kids me about this; we’ll be in the security room — and I know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz knows this because she hears it — he always says, you know — he’ll turn to other people and say, as Joe would say, he’s — as Joe would say, big nations can’t bluff. Well, big nations can’t bluff. And Presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff. And President Barack Obama is not bluffing. He is not bluffing.

We are not looking for war. We are looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully, but all options, including military force, are on the table. But as I made clear at the Munich Security Conference just last month, our strong preference, the world’s preference is for a diplomatic solution. So while that window is closing, we believe there is still time and space to achieve the outcome. We are in constant dialogue, sharing information with the Israeli military, the Israeli intelligence service, the Israeli political establishment at every level, and we’re taking all the steps required to get there.

But I want to make clear to you something. If, God forbid, the need to act occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected to avoid any confrontation. And that matters. Because God forbid, if we have to act, it’s important that the rest of the world is with us. We have a united international community. We have a united international community behind these unprecedented sanctions.

We have left Iran more isolated than ever. When we came to office, as you remember — not because of the last administration, just a reality — Iran was on the ascendency in the region. It is no longer on the ascendency. The purpose of this pressure is not to punish. It is to convince Iran to make good on its international obligations. Put simply, we are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make. They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program, or they can continue down the path they’re on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.

But even preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon still leaves them a dangerous neighbor, particularly to Israel. They are using terrorist proxies to spread violence in the region and beyond the region, putting Israelis, Americans, citizens of every continent in danger. For too long, Hezbollah has tried to pose as nothing more than a political and social welfare group, while plotting against innocents in Eastern Europe — from Eastern Europe to East Africa; from Southeast Asia to South America. We know what Israel knows: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Period. And we — and me — we are urging every nation in the world that we deal with — and we deal with them all — to start treating Hezbollah as such, and naming them as a terrorist organization.

This isn’t just about a threat to Israel and the United States. It’s about a global terrorist organization that has targeted people on several continents. We’ll say and we’ll do our part to stop them. And we ask the world to do the same. That’s why we’ve been talking to our friends in Europe to forcefully declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. This past month I’ve made the case to leading European heads of state, as Barack and Israelis know, together we have to continue to confront Hezbollah wherever it shows — sews the seeds of hatred and stands against the nations that sponsor campaigns of terror.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria as well. Assad has shown his father’s disregard for human life and dignity, engaging in brutal murder of his own citizens. Our position on that tragedy could not be clearer: Assad must go. But we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus.

That’s why our focus is on supporting a legitimate opposition not only committed to a peaceful Syria but to a peaceful region. That’s why we’re carefully vetting those to whom we provide assistance. That’s why, while putting relentless pressure on Assad and sanctioning the pro-regime, Iranian-backed militia, we’ve also designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization.

And because we recognize the great danger Assad’s chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States, to the whole world, we’ve set a clear red line against the use of the transfer of the those weapons. And we will work together to prevent this conflict and these horrific weapons from threatening Israel’s security. And while we try to ensure an end to the dictatorship in Syria, we have supported and will support a genuine transition to Egyptian democracy.

We have no illusions — we know how difficult this will be and how difficult it is. There’s been — obviously been a dramatic change in Egypt. A lot of it has given us hope and a lot of it has given us pause, and a lot of it has caused fears in other quarters.

It’s not about us, but it profoundly affects us. We need to be invested in Egypt’s success and stability. The stable success of Egypt will translate into a stable region. We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty. There’s no certainty about anything in the Arab Spring.

I expect President Obama to cover each of these issues in much greater detail. I’ve learned one thing, as I was telling the President, I learned it’s never a good idea, Ehud, to steal the President’s thunder. It’s never a good idea to say what he’s going to say the next day. So I’m not going to go into any further detail on this. But in much greater detail he will discuss this when he goes to Israel later this month, just before Passover begins.

I have to admit I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say “this year in Jerusalem,” but I’m the Vice President. I’m not the President. So I — when I told him that, I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not. But anyway.

As will come as no surprise to you, the President and I not only are partners, we’ve become friends, and he and I have spoken at length about this trip. And I can assure you he’s particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear directly from the people of Israel and beyond their political leaders, and particularly the younger generation of Israelis.

And I must note just as I’m getting a chance to speak to 2,000 young, American Jews involved and committed to the state of Israel and the relationship with the United States, he’s as anxious to do what I got a chance to do when I was there last, Ehud with you, as you flew me along the line. I got to go to Tel Aviv University to speak several thousand young Israelis. The vibrancy, the optimism, the absolute commitment is contagious, and he’s looking forward to seeing it and feeling it and tasting it.

The President looks forward to having conversations about their hopes and their aspirations, about their astonishing world-leading technological achievements, about the future they envision for themselves and for their country, about how different the world they face is from the one their parents faced, even if many of the threats are the same.

These are really important conversations for the President to have and to hear and for them to hear. These are critically important. I get kidded, again to quote Debbie, she kids sometimes, everybody quotes — Democrat and Republican — quotes Tip O’Neill saying, all politics is local. With all due respect, Lonny, I think that’s not right. I think all politics is personal. And I mean it: All politics is personal. And it’s building personal relationships and trust and exposure, talking to people that really matters, particularly in foreign policy.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me end where I began, by reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel. It’s not only a longstanding, moral commitment, it’s a strategic commitment. An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world is in the practical, strategic interests of the United States of America. I used to say when I — Lonny was president — I used to say if there weren’t an Israel, we’d have to invent one.

Ladies and gentlemen, we also know that it’s critical to remind every generation of Americans — as you’re doing with your children here today, it’s critical to remind our children, my children, your children. That’s why the first time I ever took the three of my children separately to Europe, the first place I took them was Dachau. We flew to Munich and went to Dachau — the first thing we ever did as Annette will remember — because it’s important that all our children and grandchildren understand that this is a never-ending requirement. The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the ultimate guarantor, it’s the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people in the world.

That was most pointedly pointed out to me when I was a young senator making my first trip to Israel. I had the great, great honor — and that is not hyperbole — of getting to meet for the first time — and subsequently, I met her beyond that — Golda Meir. She was the prime minister.

Now, I’m sure every kid up there said, you can’t be that old, Senator. I hope that’s what you’re saying. But seriously, the first trip I ever made — and you all know those double doors. You just go into the office and the blonde furniture and the desk on the left side, if memory serves me correctly. And Golda Meir, as a prime minister and as a defense minister, she had those maps behind her. You could pull down all those maps like you had in geography class in high school.

And she sat behind her desk. And I sat in a chair in front of her desk, and a young man was sitting to my right who was her assistant. His name was Yitzhak Rabin. Seriously — an absolutely true story. And she sat there chain-smoking and reading letters to me, letters from the front from the Six-Day War. She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family. This went on for I don’t know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it — oh, my God.

And she suddenly looked at me and said — and I give you my word as a Biden that she looked at me and said — she said, “Senator, would you like a photo opportunity?” And I looked at her. I said, well yes, Madam Prime Minister. I mean I was — and we walk out those doors. We stood there — no statements, and we’re standing next to one another looking at this array of media, television and photojournalists, take — snapping pictures. And we’re looking straight ahead.

Without looking at me, she speaks to me. She said, Senator, don’t look so sad. She said, we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world. And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something. Because you can see the pictures, I still have them — I turned to look at her. We were supposed to be looking straight ahead. And I said, Madam Prime Minister — and never turned her head, she kept looking — she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go. We have no place else to go.

Ladies and gentlemen, our job is to make sure there’s always a place to go, that there’s always an Israel, that there’s always a secure Israel and there’s an Israel that can care for itself. My father was right. You are right. It’s the ultimate guarantor of never again. God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Thank you.

Capital Crime? Walking the Party Plank on Jerusalem

— Marsha B. Cohen, Ph.D.

It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,

declared Mitt Romney on September 4.

The deletion of a single sentence about Jerusalem in the Democratic platform, which reportedly had been vetted by officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), generated hysterical headlines that went viral and ricocheted throughout cyberspace, arousing panic among Democrats and glee among Republicans. (The Democrats reinserted the language on September 5 after President Obama “intervened directly.”)

Ironically, affirming Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel and the importance of relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been a largely Democratic strategy for nearly four decades, particularly when there has been an incumbent Republican president in the White House. Republicans latch on to it whenever a Democratic president is running for re-election.

Some historical perspective after the jump.
The Democratic party’s 1976 platform was the first to stipulate:

We recognize and support the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with free access to all its holy places provided to all faiths. As a symbol of this stand, the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

This stance was reiterated in the 1980 and 1984 platforms. In 1983, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called for relocating of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, in a bill co-sponsored by fifty senators. When State Department officials in the Reagan administration objected that moving the Embassy would strain diplomatic ties with Arab countries, Moynihan did not press for a vote. No mention of Jerusalem whatsoever was made in the Democratic platform in 1988, in the wake of Secretary of State George Shultz’s sharp criticism of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis for suggesting that, if elected President, he would consider transferring the Embassy to Jerusalem. “It’s shocking that anybody would make such a proposal,” the Reagan administration’s chief spokesman on foreign policy told NBC’s Today show. Since Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights “are regarded as occupied territory” and are “subject to negotiations” according to Shultz, who deemed any notion of moving the Embassy a “mistake.”

But Jerusalem was back in the 1992 Democratic platform, a seeming non sequitur tacked on to the Middle East Peace plank, minus the call for moving the US Embassy:

The United States must act effectively as an honest broker in the peace process. It must not, as has been the case with this Administration, encourage one side to believe that it will deliver unilateral concessions from the other. Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

Republicans were the latecomers to the Jerusalem capital-ism game. The GOP’s 1976 platform made no mention of Jerusalem. The 1980, 1984 and 1988 Republican platforms all declared that “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city with continued free and unimpeded access to all holy places by people of all faiths.” The same assertion appeared in the 1992 platform, followed by the coy sentence, “No genuine peace would deny Jews the right to live anywhere in the special city of Jerusalem.”

With a popular Democratic president in the White House, it was the Republicans’ turn to play the Jerusalem capital card. On October 24, 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Implementation Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Bob Dole (who just happened to be running for president), passed the Senate (S. 1323) in a 93-5 and the House (H.R. 1595) 374-37. President Clinton signed the bill two weeks later. The overwhelming bi-partisan support for the measure did not prevent Republicans from taking full credit, gloating in the 1996 GOP platform:

We applaud the Republican Congress for enacting legislation to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. A Republican administration will ensure that the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem by May 1999.

Clinton won the 1996 election. The US Embassy stayed in Tel Aviv. Then the 2000 Republican platform became even more strident:

The United States has a moral and legal obligation to maintain its Embassy and Ambassador in Jerusalem. Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

Nevertheless the Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, who had publicly pledged to thousands of attendees at AIPAC’s 2000 Annual Policy Conference that on his first day in office he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, did not do so after winning the election. Not on his first day, not on his last day, and at no point in between. The Republican platform in 2004 stayed low key, noting, “Republicans continue to support moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.”

Democrats stuck with their tried-and-true 1992 formulation in 1996, in 2000, in 2004, and in 2008, reiterating the city’s status as Israel’s capital and the right of people of all faiths to access it. Ironically, Republicans framed their mega-affirmation of Jerusalem being Israel’s capital in 2008 with an endorsement of the creation of a Palestinian state, which went largely unnoticed by the media:

We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine…We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.

Two democratic states living side by side! Uri Friedman points out that such language “provoked a raft of amendments arguing that, in endorsing the two-state solution, the Republicans were dictating the terms of a peace agreement to the Israeli government.”

Israelis have for the most part been amused by, even cynical about, the overblown rhetoric about Jerusalem in US elections. As Douglas Bloomfield explained four years ago, when GOP presidential candidate John McCain told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that if elected president he would move the US Embassy “right away,” not only wasn’t it going to happen — regardless of who was elected — but Israelis wouldn’t care either way:

Moving the embassy has never been a high priority for any Israeli leader in meetings with American presidents. They see it as a political football in an American game they prefer staying out of. All recent prime ministers have understood that an agreement on Jerusalem is critical to any peace settlement with the Palestinians — and that symbolic action like American politicians trying to force the embassy move can only make an agreement more elusive. But the game continues even though seasoned political observers understand it’s a sham. This year is no exception. Any politician who tells you he’s going to move the embassy before the Israelis and Palestinians come to an agreement on the city’s final status and borders thinks you’re wearing a name tag that says ‘chump.’

No prominent Democrat seems to know why the reference to Jerusalem was deleted in 2012. What is certain, however, is the fact that for the past 35 years the role of Jerusalem in both party platforms has had no practical effect in Israel, except perhaps to distract from – and thus implicitly condone – the unilateral Israeli tripling in size of the area within the municipal boundaries of “united Jerusalem” between 1967 and today. Politicizing the holy city has been one way that both American parties have tried to score points against the opposition, a distraction from more complex and urgent issues in US domestic and foreign policy. This year is no exception.

Meanwhile, Republicans seem to have soured on their “Embassy Sweets” commitment to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. That the 2012 GOP platform has dropped the call for the Embassy’s relocation has gone almost totally unnoticed by the ever-distracted media, except, oddly, by the Wall Street Journal.

Apparently Romney didn’t get the memo.

Crossposted from lobelog Foreign Policy blog.

Barry Rubin’s Fuzzy Thinking

Barry Rubin— by Steve Sheffey

A recent article by Barry Rubin provides a preview of the misleading arguments and half-truths we can expect from now until November. Rubin compresses so much nonsense into so little space that I’ll only cover some of his article today, and the rest later.

Rubin begins his article with a strawman argument, that we claim President Obama is good simply because he speaks warmly about Israel. It is true that President Obama speaks warmly about Israel, but his record is the basis for the claim that he is strong on Israel.

President Obama’s record on Israel is outstanding.

President Obama has called for the removal of Syrian President Assad, ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin-Laden, done more than any other president to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program, restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration, increased security assistance to Israel to record levels, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, taken US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against the one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution, opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

Not all presidents say “nice” things about Israel.

Rubin gets it wrong even on his own terms. Words do matter, and not all presidents say nice things about Israel. Gerald Ford threatened to reassess America’s strategic relations with Israel, Ronald Reagan condemned Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Bush I decried lobbyists for Israel (he actually attacked citizen lobbyists like you and me), and in 2003 Bush II rebuked then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by rescinding $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity. In 2004, the Bush administration abstained rather than veto a UN resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza during a military operation aimed at stopping terrorism and weapons smuggling. If President Obama had done anything like what Ford, Reagan, Bush I or Bush II had done to Israel, then maybe Rubin would have something to write about.

It is true that President Obama speaks warmly of Israel, but Rubin leaves out to whom President Obama speaks warmly about Israel.

It’s easy to tell AIPAC how important the US-Israel relationship is. AIPAC already knows. The difference between President Obama and previous presidents is that President Obama eloquently delivers the case for Israel and a strong US-Israel relationship to those who need to hear it most.

During the 2008 campaign, I participated in a conference call with Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), one of Israel’s best friends in Congress in either party. Rothman asked us to imagine the impact of a president named Barack Hussein Obama telling the entire world, including the Arab world, that America stands with Israel.

That’s exactly what President Obama did when he went to Cairo in 2009 and told the Arab and Muslim world that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable.”

He told the Arab and Muslim world, a world rife with Holocaust denial, that to deny the Holocaust is “baseless, ignorant, and hateful.”  He told them that threatening Israel with destruction is “deeply wrong.” He said that “Palestinians must abandon violence” and that “it is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.” And he said that “Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Who knows where we’d be today if previous Presidents had had the courage to personally deliver this message on Arab soil.

In 2011, President Obama went to the UN, another forum not known for its love for Israel, and told the world that

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were.

These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

The Israeli newspaper Yehidot Aharonot said that “An American President has never given such a pro-Israel speech at the UN.”

Isn’t that what we want from our President?

Under President Obama, the US-Israel relationship is warmer than ever.

Yet Rubin says that President Obama is “cold” toward Israel. Former Congressman Robert Wexler explained just last month that this “coldness” argument is

the argument Republican surrogates make. They say he’s cold. I hear that he doesn’t feel Israel in his kishkes. I think that’s something you say when you don’t have any factual arguments to make. What does it mean that he’s cold? Does being cold mean articulating the strongest pro-Israel argument ever at the UN – a forum not warm to Israel? Is it cold that America has engaged in the largest joint military operation between the US and Israel in Israel’s history during the Obama administration? Is it cold that more than 200 high-level Pentagon officials visited Israel during the last calendar year? Is it cold that America and Israel will likely engage in an even larger joint military exercise this year? And I’ll tell you one group who doesn’t believe the relationship is cold – that’s the current leadership in Tehran.

No wonder the vast majority of Jews vote Democratic and will continue to vote Democratic.

Aside from exceptions like Congressmen Joe Walsh and Ron Paul, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans support pro-Israel positions. But only the Democratic party is good on Israel and the other values we cherish.

Rabbi Ira Stone Describes AIPAC Conference

— by Rabbi Ira Stone

I begin with a belated beracha: “Shehechiyanu v’kimanu lazman hazeh,” giving thanks to God that I lived long enough to attend an AIPAC Policy Conference.

When in the long history of the Jewish people has it been possible for 13,000 Jews to gather together in peace, for our own purposes and to exercise our natural right as citizens to present our concerns to the representatives of our government?  2,000 years of Jewish lives would call this a miracle.  It is the miracle of America and we should not take it for granted.

Before I share any other highlights from the conference, let me describe one in particular that could equally justify my saying the beracha.  The opportunity to be in the same hall with Shimon Perez was unforgettable.  To stand and applaud a man who stood next to David Ben-Gurion in the founding of the State of Israel, to re-live imaginatively the transformations that he has lived and from Polish refugee, to Kibbutznik, to soldier in the War of Independence, to political leader, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, architect of peace even when it fails, committed to strength for the purpose of achieving peace — I felt like I was given the opportunity to listen to George Washington, but a George Washington whose rabbi grandfather, at the train station when he left Poland for Palestine, whispered in his ear: “Be Jewish.”  He never saw his grandfather again.  His grandfather was locked in his shtetl’s synagogue with the rest of his congregation and the synagogue was burned to the ground.  President Perez made it clear that “being Jewish,” articulating through his love and devotion to Israel those values that define what is means to be Jewish, has been his life’s work and is our life’s work.  Whether via an Israeli national identity or an American national identity, “being Jewish” is the transcendent theme of a Jewish life.

More after the jump.

Susan Rice on Israel

I will return in a moment to other highlights that occurred in the astonishing plenary sessions with 13,000 Jews listening to other historic talks.  However, most of the conference is not spent in plenary sessions, but in the more substantive break-out sessions.  The session I want to highlight this morning was a briefing by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.  We heard the details, and began to internalize the details of the day to day work that the Ambassador and her staff have to do — every single day — to combat the sheer multitude of anti-Israel rhetoric, resolutions and policy initiatives by a large segment of the UN membership and comprehended just how committed the United States is to daily standing by Israel.  But learning the depth of Ambassador Rice’s personal commitment to Israel was not only more moving, but more instructive.  She began her remarks by quoting in impeccable Hebrew, Hinei matov u’manayim shevet achim gam yachad — even pronouncing the chet appropriately.  She then described her first trip to Israel with her father when she was 14 years old.  This African American woman, though not Jewish, climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea and journeyed through Yad Vashem as a teenager, thus putting the lie to the knee-jerk Jewish assumption that we are always alone, that no one else “out there” gets it.  The basic assumption of AIPAC is precisely that there are many Americans that “get it” and with a little more effort by a lot more Jews that number could increase exponentially.  But the most incredible moment came when Ambassador Rice finished her talk.  As those gathered rose to applaud, 400 Rabbis of every denomination spontaneously began singing hinei mah tov u’manayim.  It was a spine-tingling, unforgettable moment.

Considerations about Iran

The primary function of AIPAC and the AIPAC Policy Conference is to work to make clear the shared values and shared vision of the United States and Israel and the strengthening of the alliance between the two countries on this basis and with a clear-eyed recognition of the fact that this alliance is the single most important factor in securing Israel’s survival.  Whatever critique one might ever have brought to these assertions in the past, their truth is obvious in this moment of history in the looming shadow of Iranian insanity.  Much of the focus of the conference was on Iran and the development of a joint U.S/Israeli strategy regarding Iran.  It was this theme that many of the plenary speakers spoke about including, of course, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Certainly just having the opportunity to hear the President and the Prime Minister, despite the security line hassles, has to also be included in any list of highlights.

I believe that it is imperative that we realize how essential the support of the United States for Israel is in whatever is coming in the situation with Iran.  It is assuring this support that AIPAC is all about.  Certainly it is clear that at the moment both the President and the Congress do sincerely support Israel, but that support is likely going to be put to the test.  President Obama is rightly using every non-military option at his disposal to precipitate a change in the policies of the Iranian leadership.  This is the wise thing for a responsible leader to do.  I applaud him, but I’m afraid that the policy will not work.  After all, if Adolph Hitler was willing to sacrifice almost certain victory in Europe by wasting a huge amount of resources to persecute Jews, it should be clear that reason will not be a factor in the Iranian’s policy.  Moreover, Iran has so much to gain in the long run through the acquisition of nuclear weapons — complete hegemony over the Middle East, complete control of the distribution of oil in the world — that the short term suffering that they will need to absorb will be worth it.  

If and when the President’s attempt to use non-military measures to solve the crisis fails, the impact on America will be significant.  Maintaining the support of the President and more importantly Congress when the American public begins to experience the consequence of Iranian intransigence will require constant effort.  All of us will have to become not only lobbyists of Congress, but lobbyists of our neighbors, our co-workers, even our own friends and family.  Second, it is imperative that starting now we help to change the nature of the discourse surrounding these issues.  Israel is not threatening nor refraining from a pre-emptive military action.  Israel is restraining itself at no little risk from a defensive response to an aggressor.  Israel has no border with Iran.  Whatever issues there are between Israel and her neighbors have nothing to do with Iran except that Iran has continually supplied military supplies to those terrorist groups that are on Israel’s borders, Hezbollah and Hamas. It has continually supplied money and material to a world-wide network of terrorists who have carried out attacks against Israel, against Jews in other countries and against the United States.  Coupled with these real and recognized acts of war, Iran has consistently repeated its chief foreign policy goal: the annihilation of the Jewish State.  In the face of these undeniable acts of war, Israel has and continues to show unprecedented restraint.  When Israel determines that its survival will no longer allow such restraint it will act and when it does it will not be launching an attack but finally defending itself from attack.

When, God forbid, this happens, there will be consequences for all of us.  I hope you can tell from my remarks today that this was an almost unprecedented experience.  In the words of so many of the speakers at the conference: “God bless the Jewish people and the State of Israel and God bless the United States of America.”

Ira Stone received his education at Queens College, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was ordained a Rabbi in 1979.

He has served congregations in Seattle, Washington and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he has been the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel since 1988. You can read some of his sermons on mussar.

New Republican Budget Guts Medicare, Social Safety Net

Today, House Republicans unveiled their new budget that — like their budget from last year — fails to address America’s budget needs responsibly or preserve vital social safety net programs.

Last year, several Jewish community organizations and leaders expressed deep concern about the Republicans’ budget proposals. The GOP’s budget this year contains similar policies that only amplify the Republican Party’s message that it does not support the programs supported by the mainstream of the American Jewish community.

Indeed, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Associate Director Mark Pelavin said:

As an affirmation of our national priorities, the budget is inherently and inescapably a moral document. We support, and have long supported, a federal budget that reflects our solemn moral obligation to guard the most vulnerable in our society. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), however, has chosen a different path. By ending the entitlement status of Medicaid and Medicare, fundamentally altering the tax system, and slashing spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and education programs, the Ryan plan would turn our backs on our obligation to care for all Americans.

More after the jump.
And JTA reported on the Jewish reaction to this year’s budget:

Jewish groups are among dozens of religious denominations and organizations endorsing a ‘Faithful Budget’ in opposition to the Republican budget proposal, which would cut Medicaid spending and disproportionately shift Medicare costs to fixed-income seniors….

‘During this time of great need in this country, it is essential that we lift our collective voices to speak to the social and ecological challenges our nation faces,’ Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in a statement. ‘The Faithful Budget begins that effort.’…

‘The proposal before the House Budget Committee would cut spending for and reduce access to SNAP and other critical human needs programs,’ Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said in a statement. ‘We should not balance the federal budget on the backs of the most vulnerable. Instead, we should be offering them support to help them get back on their feet and get our economy back on track.’

In addition, B’nai B’rith International President Allan Jacobs noted in a statement that ‘the proposals would shift costs to Medicare beneficiaries while cutting programs that make critical investments for the poorest Americans who are least able to absorb these cuts.’

‘We shouldn’t be asking those with the fewest resources to give first,’ said Jacobs.

White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said about the GOP’s budget plan:

The House budget once again fails the test of balance, fairness, and shared responsibility.  It would shower the wealthiest few Americans with an average tax cut of at least $150,000, while preserving taxpayer giveaways to oil companies and breaks for Wall Street hedge fund managers. What’s worse is that all of these tax breaks would be paid for by undermining Medicare and the very things we need to grow our economy and the middle class – things like education, basic research, and new sources of energy. And instead of strengthening Medicare, the House budget would end Medicare as we know it, turning the guarantee of retirement security into a voucher that will shift higher and higher costs to seniors over time.

Reuters contrasted the Republicans’ approach with the plans supported by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats:

Where Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and boost near-term spending on infrastructure and education, the Republicans want to cut taxes and spending on healthcare and social safety net programs – benefits used more by the poor and middle classes….

The Republican budget achieves much of its deficit-reduction goals through savings gained by dismantling Obama’s 2010 healthcare reform law and by turning social safety net programs like food stamps and the Medicaid program for the poor into block grants for states.

The Republicans’ latest budget ends Medicare as we know it by replacing long-standing guaranteed retirement program with a voucher system that will leave future seniors to cover extra costs. Reuters noted the key difference between the Republicans’ plan and the plan supported by the President:

Future retirees would get an allowance to help them buy healthcare insurance. They would be able to choose private insurance plans or traditional Medicare, both of which would be offered on a special exchange. This is a slight change from Ryan’s proposal last year, which was met with loud criticism from Democrats and retiree groups. Outside experts estimated out-of-pocket expenses for the elderly would have risen by about $6,000 a year under Ryan’s Medicare reforms unveiled a year ago.

Obama’s budget calls for Medicare savings, but mostly by cutting payments to medical providers, not beneficiaries.

Think Progress noted that the Republicans’ budget also calls for the repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. In particular, the Republicans aim to:

  • Repeal the ban on discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions
  • Repeal tax credits that prevent health care costs from ravaging an individual’s income
  • Roll back the expansion of Medicaid to those living poverty

Click here to read Think Progress’ analysis. And click here to read their list of the “Top Five Worst Things About the House GOP’s Budget.”

The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer analyzed the Republican budget’s impact on the social safety net:

Over the next decade, Ryan would spend 30 percent less than the White House on ‘income security’ programs for the poor – that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. (Ryan’s budget would spend $4.8 trillion over this timeframe; the White House’s would spend $6.8 trillion.) Compared with Obama, Ryan would spend 38 percent less on transportation and 24 percent less on veterans. He’d spend 20 percent less on ‘General science, space, and basic technology.’ And, compared with the White House, he’d cut ‘Education, training, employment, and social services’ by a full 44 percent.

Click here to read Plumer’s analysis of the Republican budget. Click here to learn why Plumer’s colleague Ezra Klein considers the GOP budget to be unrealistic.  

In addition, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin discovered that the budget contains cuts to the foreign aid budget-cuts that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the pro-Israel community have long opposed:

[A]pparently Ryan does not believe diplomacy and development are part of that tool kit, because his proposal would see the international affairs account slashed from $47.8 billion in fiscal 2012 to $43.1 billion in fiscal 2013, $40.1 billion in fiscal 2014, $38.3 billion in fiscal 2015, and $38.1 billion in fiscal 2016. The State Department and USAID wouldn’t see their budget get back to current levels until after 2022 if Ryan were to have his way….

‘The Ryan budget fails to recognize that diplomacy and development are essential to protecting our national security, alongside defense,’ said House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA). ‘In his own words, Chairman Ryan sets up a choice: “decline as a world power vs. renewed American leadership.” But by viewing the choice exclusively in terms of military spending, he cuts the very resources that would make strong and effective U.S. international leadership a reality. The Republican budget would take us down the road of decline as a world power.’

After examining the budget, the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post slammed the latest GOP budget. According to The Times:

As he rolled out his 2013 budget on Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, correctly said that he and his fellow Republicans were offering the country a choice of two very clear futures. The one he outlined in his plan could hardly be more bleak.

It is one where the rich pay less in taxes than the unfairly low rates they pay now, while programs for the poor – including Medicaid and food stamps – are slashed and thrown to the whims of individual states. Where older Americans no longer have a guarantee that Medicare will pay for their health needs. Where lack of health insurance is rampant, preschool is unaffordable, and environmental and financial regulation are severely weakened.

Mr. Ryan became well known last year as the face of the most extreme budget plan passed by a house of Congress in modern times. His new budget is, if anything, worse, full of bigger, emptier promises. It is largely in agreement with the plans of the Republican presidential candidates….

These extreme cuts and changes would greatly impede the nation’s economic recovery, and hurt those on the middle and lower economic rungs who suffered most from the recession. The contrast with President Obama’s budget, which raises taxes on the rich to protect vital programs while reducing the deficit, could not be more clear.

Click here to read The Times’ editorial.

Noting the criticism that has come from observers and experts alike, The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent succinctly summarized the newest GOP budget by writing:

[T]he verdict is in: Paul Ryan’s budget is a blueprint for radical right-wing economic extremism and a monumental con job.


President Obama’s Speech at AIPAC Spurs Sales of “Obamulkes”

Following President Obama’s address at the national AIPAC conference this past weekend, Obama-themed yarmulkes (Jewish skullcaps) popularly known as “Obamulkes” have experienced an overnight surge in sales. Made in the USA and available at Obamulkes.com, these ivory suede yarmulkes feature the “Obama 2012” logo professionally printed in red and blue.

Creator Matthew Walters sees the current spike in sales as a positive sign for President Obama’s re-election prospects, particularly in “swing” states like Florida and Pennsylvania – where strong Jewish support could be the deciding factor in November. “Compared to our average weekly sales over the past few months, this feels like a tangible ‘bump’ in the polls among Jewish voters. The interesting thing is that sales are coming from Jewish supporters all over the country: Colorado, Illinois, Michigan — not simply New York or D.C. where you might expect it,” he suggests.
First developed in September 2007 by an NYC grassroots volunteer group called Jews for Obama, more than 1,800 Obamulkes have been delivered to Jewish supporters all around the country thus far – but the most memorable recipient turned out to be the future President himself. “In November 2007, then-candidate Obama came to New York to give an historic speech at the Apollo Theater in Harlem,” Mr. Walters added. “I had a chance to meet him, so I handed him one of our 2008 Obamulkes. He laughed and showed it to his Secret Service guys. I think he got a little kick out of it.”

Obamulkes are available for $9 each at Obamulkes.com, plus a flat fee of $5 per order for shipping & handling. For residents of New York City, Obamulkes can also be purchased from J. Levine Books & Judaica, 5 West 30th Street New York, NY 10001.

Please note: The “Obamulke” yarmulke is not authorized by any candidate or political committee.

You Snooze You Lose: Gingrich Caught Napping At AIPAC Conference

To the right is the official video from CSPAN of Speaker Newt Gingrich’s remarks at AIPAC 2012.

Taegan Goddard gives the backstory which helps us understand this disconnected speech.  

Just before he was set to talk live via satellite to the AIPAC conference, Newt Gingrich was caught on video nodding off.

He woke up just as they went live and said, “I understand you have a panel. I look forward to any questions.”

After 12 seconds of silence he was told there was no panel and began an improvised speech.

Obviously candidates have an exhausting schedule on Super Tuesday, but they should have handlers who prepare them properly to speak to a conference with 14,000 participants.

The satellite feed showing Gingrich napping can be found after the jump.
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Mitt Romney Speaks At AIPAC Conference

— Commentary by David A. Harris, NJDC

It is simply beyond the pale to trivialize the deadly danger Iran poses by turning it into yet another political football — particularly for such an issue of profound interest to America’s and Israel’s security. These candidates have worked overtime to turn support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship into a partisan wedge issue, and now they’re doing it surrounding the effort to stop Iran – and it must stop, for the sake of America and Israel both. Of course their claims have zero basis in fact. The Washington Post just gave Mitt Romney ‘Two Pinocchios‘ for his claims regarding the President and Iran, and major American newspapers have noted that between the President and these candidates, their ‘approaches differ little‘ over Iran-political rhetoric notwithstanding.

The President’s words at AIPAC could not have been clearer, when he outlined his policy of prevention and his clear threat of use of force. And Prime Minister Netanyahu could not have been clearer when he noted that Israel and the United States under this Administration have ‘exactly the same policy’ regarding Iran. The record speaks for itself; the Obama Administration has leveled the toughest crippling sanctions against Iran ever, while clearly telegraphing that all options – military included — remain on the table. Anyone pretending otherwise is trying to get elected, without a policy alternative — facts-be-damned, and without regard to the damage done to Israel’s or America’s security.

Enough is enough. The time to irresponsibly place partisanship above stopping Iran has to stop for the GOP presidential candidates.

The Final Day At AIPAC

Today is the final day of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Defense Sec. Leon Panetta and three of the four top GOP candidates addressed the conference’s 13,000 supporters. Presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (right) appeared in person while Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) appeared via satellite.

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American’s Ambassador to the United Nations made remarks to the group and addressed the current state of the Israel and Iran.

On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres and US President Barack Obama addressed the conference hall. Obama said his policy toward Iran is not one of containment but of preventing the nation from developing a nuclear weapon.  He also defended his policies toward Israel and stated the U.S. commitment to preserve Israel’s security.

In a side conversation, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu met Monday morning to discuss the status of the U.S.-Israel alliance.  The president reiterated that the U.S. did not want the possibility of nuclear weapons “falling into terrorist’s hands” and said there is a still a window that allows some negotiation. Pres. Obama also said he continues to reserve all options in dealing with Iran.

Other speakers included:

The policy conference is the largest gathering for America’s leading pro-Israel lobby, which works with both major parties to secure public policy that strengthens the U.S.-Israel relationship.

AIPAC has announced that up to 14,000 people are attending this year’s three-day conference, a crowd nearly twice the usual size.