Watch the White House Kasher Kitchen in Preparation for Hanukkah

— by Jason Attermann

The New York Times detailed the White House’s efforts to ensure that the catering at the annual Hanukkah celebration was certified Kosher for their Jewish guests. Led by Rabbi Levi Shemtov of the American Friends of Lubavitch, the White House kitchen staff joined with some mashgiachs to completely and flawlessly kasher the kitchen.

Extract after the jump.

The following night would bring the Hanukkah party for 550 guests, politicians and Supreme Court justices among them. Rigorous koshering (sometimes called kashering) would ensure that the kitchen would be in compliance with Jewish dietary laws. Guests could eat without qualms, knowing their religious commitment had been respected.

‘We do the basic cleaning,’ says the White House’s executive sous-chef, Tommy Kurpradit, as he directs five workers (he learned about koshering from Bush White House Hanukkah celebrations). ‘Then the rabbis do the super-cleaning.’

Imagine the earnest anxiety of non-Jews eager to please the observant; the exacting scrutiny of the observant, dedicated to ancient laws; a ticking clock; and a soup├žon of Marx Brothers….

White House usher [Daniel] Shanks has been on staff for 17 years. He recalled Clinton White House events when kosher meals were brought in for guests, and a time when a separate kosher table was set up.

‘To see us evolve to do as much as we do now,’ he says, ‘it’s a great honor.’

Memory of Hanukkah’s Past: “Get Israel Whatever It Needs. Now!”

— by Jason Attermann

During the White House Hanukkah celebration last week, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren recalled last year’s reception in which President Obama came to Israel’s aid “without hesitation” and sent an American fire-fighting team to help put out the Carmel Forest fires.

Adam Kredo of the Washington Jewish Week reported:

“On route to the President’s Hanukkah reception, right outside of the White House, my cell phone started ringing,” Oren recalled, according to a transcript of his speech. “It was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Carmel Forest in North Israel was ablaze … and the fire was descending on Haifa. Israel needed fire-fighting planes, at once, but it had none.”

Netanyahu directed his ambassador to, “Quick, go ask President Obama for help.”

That’s when Oren entered the White House and asked to see the president.

“I told him the situation and without hesitation, President Obama turned to one of his aides and said, ‘get Israel whatever it needs. Now,'” Oren recalled.

He explained to those in attendance at Wasserman-Shultz‘s Hanukkah party that “America has 11 fire-fighting planes; the next morning, 8 of them took off for Israel, along with a team of fire-fighting commandos.”

“Later that night,” Oren continued, “I learned, that the President left the Hanukkah reception and flew secretly to Afghanistan. Upon arriving, he called Washington and the first question he asked, ‘Has Israel gotten its planes?’ He also called Prime Minister Netanyahu and expressed his condolences for Israel’s losses and America’s commitment to Israel’s well-being.”

Is This Romney’s Idea of Increased Support for Israel?

— Jason Attermann

Former Representative Mel Levine (D-CA) helped differentiate between the facts of President Barack Obama’s extensive pro-Israel record and the distorted portrayals created by many of the Republican presidential candidates. In his op-ed in Haaretz, Levine took special aim at former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for disregarding Obama’s efforts to protect Israel and isolate the Iranian regime. Levine wrote:

Gov. Romney recklessly and inaccurately misrepresents President Obama’s record of leadership in foreign policy in general. His disdain for the President Obama’s foreign policy conveniently ignores the president’s leadership in building international coalitions which have imposed exceptionally stiff sanctions on Iran….

And, ironically, in terms of inventing his own facts, the core policies Romney advocates have already been accomplished by President Obama. (Perhaps the former Governor has not been paying attention.) For example, Romney argues that current sanctions against Iran are weak and specifically states that ‘if there ever was a possibility of gaining the Kremlin’s support for tougher sanctions against Tehran … President Obama foreclosed it.’ But he fails to recognize that President Obama succeeded, where others had failed, in obtaining both Russian and Chinese support for international sanctions against Iran, sanctions as a result of the president’s leadership are the strongest that have been obtained by any U.S. president.

During the GOP presidential debates, Romney agreed with Texas Governor Rick Perry’s call for all U.S. aid to other countries to begin at “zero.” For Perry,  Israel is included. Levine questioned, “Is this his idea of how the U.S. should increase needed support for Israel?”

President Obama’s policies toward Iran have been tough and clear. As has been his staunch support for Israel. This president understands the threat which a nuclear Iran poses to the international community. That a serious candidate for the Presidency would intentionally distort and misrepresent that clear policy does a disservice to our nation.

Dems Denounce Perry/Romney Call to “Zero Out” Aid to Israel

— by Jason Attermann

This weekend, leading Republican presidential candidates Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney called for zeroing out the foreign aid budget, which includes vital aid to Israel that maintains its Qualitative Military Edge.

Reactions from the NJDC, White House, DNC, Wexler, Levine and Bloomfield follow the jump.
National Jewish Democratic Council

On Monday, the National Jewish Democratic Council organized a petition to send a clear message to the Republican Party that zeroing out aid to Israel is not acceptable.

White House

The White House objected the proposal, citing instances in which President Barack Obama’s support to Israel-including record-breaking assistance above and beyond the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding — played a crucial role in defending the Jewish state. When asked about Perry’s and Romney’s policy to start aid at zero, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said:

Well, I can certainly say that is not an approach that this administration has taken.  There are a number of countries where the United States directly benefits from having a role in those countries, and that we can certainly help-that the provision of civilian assistance is critical to the success of promoting American interests and serving American interests in countries around the world.

The first one that comes to mind is obviously Afghanistan. But the other example that’s been talked about is Israel, and that certainly one of the things that the President has done is strengthened our ties with that country, and provided significant assistance in the form of the Iron Dome project and others that are critical to Israel’s security.

So these are the kinds of-it’s the President’s view that this is an appropriate use of government resources, particularly when we’re in the time when the federal government has to tighten-we have to tighten our belts, and we need to scrub the budget, go line by line to look for opportunities where we can reduce the budget and cut the budget. But we can’t do it at the expense of ensuring that our interests are well represented and well promoted all around the world….

I can say that it’s an approach that’s entirely different than the one that President Obama has pursued.

Democratic National Committee

Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) rebuked the candidates:

I’m aghast that the leading Republican contenders for President tonight, including Mitt Romney, pledged to zero out the foreign aid budget including the traditional and vital support the U.S. has provided the Jewish state of Israel for its security. I cannot think of a more irresponsible, risky or deplorable position towards our most important friend and ally. That Mitt Romney and these candidates would sacrifice the security of the state of Israel for an applause line at a debate and to appeal to the far right wing Tea Party faction of the Republican base, shows that not a single one of them has what it takes to be Commander-in-Chief.

Robert Wexler

Haaretz’s Natasha Mozgovaya reported on former Representative Robert Wexler’s (D-FL) press conference, in which he called the candidates’ position “troubling.”

‘Romney was torn between two constituencies. He had an opportunity to appease the Tea Party constituency. On the other hand, he knew those who support Israel would feel differently – and he made his choice,’ Wexler explained.

For almost half an hour, Wexler lashed out at the Republican presidential hopefuls’ approach. ‘What is the most troubling in the position the Republican candidates took with such enthusiasm, is the fact they ignored the memorandum of understanding with Israel in 2007 that America agreed to provide $30 billion of military assistance to Israel in 10 years, and now we are in the third year of it,’ he said.

‘They either ignore it or intend to violate it. This memorandum of understanding is sacrosanct – and they have no intention to implement it or strengthen it as President Obama did. Ideas to minimize it, relocate it, zero it out are unfortunately designed to put the foreign aid on shakier ground, and it’s unacceptable. It particularly sends disturbing and dangerous message to nations like Iran. If you zero out the foreign aid to other countries, the aid to Israel is unsustainable,’ he added.

He further warned of the dire consequences America and Israel would face if Israel’s foreign aid was cut as proposed.

Mel Levine

Former Representative Mel Levine (D-CA) questioned Romney’s agreement with Perry’s suggestion to zero out foreign aid, asking, “Is this his idea of how the U.S. should increase needed support for Israel?”

Gov. Romney recklessly and inaccurately misrepresents President Obama’s record of leadership in foreign policy in general. His disdain for the President Obama’s foreign policy conveniently ignores the president’s leadership in building international coalitions which have imposed exceptionally stiff sanctions on Iran….

And, ironically, in terms of inventing his own facts, the core policies Romney advocates have already been accomplished by President Obama. (Perhaps the former Governor has not been paying attention.) For example, Romney argues that current sanctions against Iran are weak and specifically states that ‘if there ever was a possibility of gaining the Kremlin’s support for tougher sanctions against Tehran … President Obama foreclosed it.’ But he fails to recognize that President Obama succeeded, where others had failed, in obtaining both Russian and Chinese support for international sanctions against Iran, sanctions as a result of the president’s leadership are the strongest that have been obtained by any U.S. president.

Douglas Bloomfield

In writing about this topic, The Jewish Week’s Douglas Bloomfield made an interesting observation about the backpedaling statements issued by the Romney and Perry campaigns:

[M]ost revealing, neither candidate pledged to maintain the current level of U.S. aid to Israel under the agreement signed during the Bush Administration and extending beyond the end of the term of the president to be elected next year.

Obama Admin.-Funded Iron Dome “Crucial” to Israel’s Defense

— by Jason Attermann

The Washington Times reported on the extraordinary accuracy of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system at stopping rockets fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The system has been operational since April and has performed successfully at an 85% efficiency level against short-range rockets fired toward civilian areas. With such a high level of success, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that Israel’s third Iron Dome battery has been deployed to protect the city of Ashdod, with more batteries to come in other locations throughout the country. President Barack Obama spearheaded the U.S. funding effort for the Iron Dome as a demonstration of his commitment to securing Israel.  

Rahm Emanuel sworn in

— by Jason Attermann

Rahm Emanuel was sworn in today as the first Jewish Mayor of Chicago. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Democratic leadership and as White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama.

Rahm Emanuel was born in Chicago, Illinois in November 1959. He received his Bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 1981 and his Master’s degree in speech and communication from Northwestern University in 1985.

Emanuel’s political involvement began with David Robinson’s 1980 congressional campaign while he was still an undergraduate student. In 1984, he worked on Paul Simon’s U.S. senate campaign.

More after the jump.
Upon graduating from Northwestern, Emanuel worked for the public interest group Illinois Public Action. In 1988, he served as the national campaign director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and in 1989 was a chief fundraiser and senior advisor for Richard M. Daley’s mayoral campaign.

In 1991, Emanuel volunteered with the Israeli Defense Force during the Gulf War as a civilian volunteer. Later that year, he joined President Bill Clinton’s presidential primary campaign as the finance director. Following Clinton’s victory in the general election, he named Emanuel as one of his senior advisors from 1993-1998. Among his many achievements in this role, Emanuel worked to plan the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat in the White House Rose Garden.

Taking a brief respite from politics, Emanuel joined the investment banking firm Wasserstein Perella from 1998 until 2002. In 2002, he succeeded in his bid for the House of Representatives seat representing Illinois’ 5th district. He won re-election in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Following the death of DCCC Chair Bob Matsui in 2005, Emanuel was appointed as head of the DCCC by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. During his tenure, he orchestrated the large Democratic gains made in the 2006 midterm elections. He is credited by many for regaining a Democratic majority in the House for the first time since 1995. In 2007, the House Democratic Caucus elected Emanuel as Chairman for the 110th Congress.

After President Obama’s success in the 2008 presidential election, Emanuel accepted the position of White House Chief of Staff, and resigned his House seat. In a New York Times article, Emanuel was described as “perhaps the most influential White House chief of staff in a generation.” In September 2010, he announced his departure from his White House position in order to pursue the Mayor’s office in Chicago. Emanuel won the election in February 2011. By receiving 55% of the vote against 5 opponents, he avoided a run-off race in April.

Emanuel and his wife Amy Rule have three children, and currently reside in Chicago, Ill.

Obama Blocks Anti-Settlement UN Security Council Resolution

— Jason Attermann

Recently, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg explicitly stated the Obama Administration’s steadfast opposition to the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Steinberg testified that the United States has actively worked to prevent a vote on the resolution, and will “continue to employ the tools that we have to make sure that continues to not happen.” He also said:

We have made very clear to a lot of countries … that we think this is counterproductive. I’m disappointed, frankly, that we haven’t had more success, but it has been in our engagement at the highest levels.

Steinberg also took the opportunity to stress the Obama Administration’s “unwavering support for Israel’s security,” amidst the changes occurring in the region:

We continue to believe that the best path to the long-term security of Israel and the stability of the region is the committed pursuit of comprehensive peace. … As the recent Quartet statement of the United Nations, Russia, the European Union, and the United States made clear, at a moment of upheaval across the region, serious negotiations toward peace remain essential. …We are committed to ensuring that political changes on Israel’s borders do not create new dangers for Israel or the region.  By working for orderly transitions, we believe we can help ensure Israel’s long-term security just as we can support governments that are more responsive to their people.