Wednesday Night: The Speeches

It was surprising how hard last night’s speakers went after Donald Trump. I had thought they would all stay positive, in diametric opposition to the RNC’s no-ideas-only-hatefest last week. But the main speeches were intertwined with condemnation of Trump, and positiveness of we Americans, democracy, the Democratic Party, and Hillary Clinton. It’s hard to pick a favorite between Mike Bloomberg and Joe Biden. It really is. For different reasons, both were masterful. Mike, for being a billionaire and an Independent talking honestly about what a con artist Trump is, and for showing all of us how the rich really act. Uncle Joe, for reminding us what it means to be proud, patriotic Americans with liberal values. [Read more…]

US Delegation Mourns Passing of Ariel Sharon

— by Elanna Cahn

President Obama designated the following presidential delegation to Israel, to attend the state funeral of the former prime minister, Ariel Sharon:

  • Vice-President Joe Biden, leader of the delegation;
  • the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro;
  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee;
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the Democratic National Committee chairperson; and
  • the former ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer.

Statements by Biden and Engel follow the jump.
Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden:

When a close-knit country like Israel, a country that has been tested as much as Israel, loses a man like Prime Minister Sharon, it doesn’t just feel like the loss of a leader, it feels like a death in the family.  And many of my fellow Americans, some of whom are here, feel that same sense of loss.

I say to Prime Minister Sharon’s beloved and devoted sons, Omri and Gilad, and the entire family, particularly the sons who spent so much time caring for their father in the last few years, it’s a great honor you’ve afforded me on behalf of my country to bring the sympathies of the President of the United States and the American people on this occasion.

To you, to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government of Israel, to President Peres, and to the grieving men and women of the nation of Israel, but most particularly to his beloved IDF, his fellow warriors, I fear an attempt to capture him and what he stood for is beyond my capabilities. I knew him for over 30 years.  He was not only a powerful man, he was a powerfully built man.  And as a young senator, when you first met him you could not help but understand, as they say in the military, this man had a command presence.  He filled the room.

The first time I was invited to his office, he said to me — and I remember thinking, is he serious? — he said, Senator, you are mostly welcome.  I didn’t know if it was a matter of something being lost in translation or whether he was pulling my leg, as we say in the States, until I spent a few moments with him and realized how incredible his hospitality was.  But when the topic of Israel’s security arose, which it always, always, always did in my many meetings over the years with him, you immediately understood how he acquired, as the speakers referenced, the nickname “Bulldozer.”  He was indomitable.

Like all historic leaders, Prime Minister Sharon was a complex man about whom, as you’ve already heard from his colleagues, who engendered strong opinions from everyone.  But like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a North Star that guided him — a North Star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated.  His North Star was the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, wherever they resided.

In talking about his spiritual attachment to the land of Israel back in an interview in the late ’90s, he said, and I quote, “Before and above all else, I am a Jew.  My thinking is dominated by the Jews’ future in 30 years, in 300 years, in a thousand years.  That’s what preoccupies and interests me first and foremost.”  And because he possessed such incredible physical courage — and I would add political courage — he never, never, never deviated from that preoccupation and interest, as he referred to it.  It was his life’s work that even someone on the shores hundreds of — thousands of miles from here could see, could smell, could taste, could feel, and when you were in his presence there was never, never any doubt about it.

The physical courage he had to lead men straight into enemy lines and deep behind them.  I remember, as a young senator, that iconic picture of him with that bandage around his head, standing there after a decisive victory, which seemed to symbolize, as Bibi — as the Prime Minister said, an Israel that had reclaimed its roots of standing up and fighting, needing no help, standing on its own.  The political courage it took, whether you agreed with him or not, when he told 10,000 Israelis to leave their homes in Gaza in order, from his perspective, to strengthen Israel.  I can’t think of much more controversial; as a student of the Jewish state, I can’t think of a much more difficult and controversial decision that’s been made.  But he believed it and he did it.

The security of his people was always Arik’s unwavering mission, an unbreakable commitment to the future of Jews, whether 30 years or 300 years from now.  We have an expression in the States:  never in doubt.  Arik was never uncertain from my observation.  I don’t know him nearly as well as the Israeli people and his colleagues, but he seemed never in doubt.  But there were times when he acted, and those actions earned him controversy and even condemnation.  And in certain instances, American leaders — American Presidents — had profound differences with him, and they were never shy about stating them nor was he ever shy about stating his position.  As I said, from my observation he was a complex man, but to understand him better I think it’s important history will judge he also lived in complex times, in a very complex neighborhood.

Since he passed away, in the days ahead, there will be much written about the Prime Minister.  And it’s right for the Israeli people to reflect on all aspects of his life — the triumphs as well as the mistakes, taking full measure of the man, the arc of his life.  For I would argue the arc of his life traced the journey of the State of Israel.

And through it all, the United States whether we agreed or disagreed with a specific policy has been unflagging in its commitment to the State of Israel.  We have never stepped away.  We have never diminished our support.  We have never failed to make Israel’s case around the world.  We have never failed to defend Israel’s legitimacy.

And no one in any corner of this world has any doubt about where America stands with regard to Israeli security, the independent State of Israel that is the ultimate refuge for Jews wherever they are in the world.  And that will never change.

As President Obama said when he was here in Jerusalem last year, and I quote, “Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above because Israel is not going anywhere.  So long as there is a United States of America, you are not alone.”

For his part, Arik Sharon greatly valued that close friendship between the United States and Israel, and particularly during his years as prime minister, he worked hard to deepen our relationship.

I find it fascinating, maybe it’s I’m getting older — I find it fascinating how some look at Israel today and say its success was inevitable.  Why didn’t everyone understand this was just inevitable?  But at the outset it was anything but inevitable.  It was the opposite of inevitable.  Israel’s very survival was against all odds.  But thankfully Israel was blessed with a founding generation that understood exactly what it took to overcome those odds.  So many of that generation, because of the people of the United States, I have the great honor of personally meeting and getting to know.  I did not know David Ben Gurion, but I knew all but one — every Prime Minister since that time.

President Peres, you and Prime Minister Sharon are part of one of the most remarkable founding generations in the history not of this nation, but of any nation.  Historians will look back and say, but for — but for — the rare and unique men and women at that moment, but for that it’s hard to see how we’d be standing here on this day — leaders like David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, the list goes on, and you, Mr. President, you all had one thing in common from an outside observer’s perspective, despite your political differences, it was that you knew in your bones, as one Israeli Prime Minister told me over 35 years ago when I was opining of the difficulty Israel faced surrounded by hostile neighbors at the time, looked at me and said, Senator, don’t worry.  We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle in the region.  We have nowhere else to go.

That realization, it seems to me, is what energized your entire generation of leadership.  I believe that’s one of the reasons by Arik Sharon and so many others fought so hard their whole lives.

Prime Minister Sharon was not only loved by the Jewish people, he not only loved them — the Jewish people — but he loved the land of Israel.  Not just the idea of it, but the actual land itself.  Born on a farm, about to be buried on a farm, a ranch, I remember one of the meetings I had with him.  It was a somewhat heated, and he had his maps.  And he spread them out in his office again.  And I somewhat irreverently said, Mr. Prime Minister — I said, do you want me to do it, or are you going to do it?  Because I had heard his presentation many times.  And in the midst of it, he looked at me, and he said, let me tell you about the new calf that I just got on my ranch.  And he started talking about a calf.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Book of Genesis says, “Arise and walk the length and breadth of the land.”  Arik Sharon did just that.  He tilled it as a farmer.  He fought for it as a soldier.  He knew every hilltop and valley — every inch of the land.  As I said, he loved his maps.  He used to come to the meetings with maps of the land rolled up under each arm.  They were always maps.

I’m reminded — my mother’s blessed memory, I’m reminded of — if you’ll forgive me — an Irish poet, an Irish writer.  I’m sure Prime Minister Blair will forgive me.  That Irish writer was James Joyce.  And he said, “When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart.”  I am absolutely sure the land of Israel, the Negev is etched in Arik Sharon’s soul as it was written on Joyce’s heart.

And the defining attributes of this great man’s character — passion for the Jewish people, physical and political courage, and love of this land — they have all played out on the canvas of the State of Israel’s historic trajectory.

Arik Sharon’s journey and the journey of the State of Israel are inseparable.  They are woven together, in war, in politics, in diplomacy.

Toward the end of his life, he said, I’ve been everywhere.  I’ve met kings, queens, presidents.  “I’ve been around the world. I have one thing that I would like to do:  to try to reach peace.”  

We’ll never know what the ultimate arc of Arik Sharon’s life would have been had he been physically able to pursue his stated goal.  That will be for historians to speculate and debate.  But we do know this:  As prime minister, he surprised many.  I’ve been told that, in reflecting on the difference between how he viewed things as a general and as prime minister, he would paraphrase an Israeli song lyric that said, things you see from here, look different from over there.  What would have — what would they have looked like had he lived in good health and led those eight years?

He left us too soon, but the work of trying to reach peace continues.  And to quote Shakespeare:  He was a man, take him all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.

May the bond between Israel and the United States never, ever be broken.


Remarks by Rep. Eliot L. Engel:

The world has lost one of the strongest defenders of Israel-a man who fought in nearly every one of Israel’s wars and devoted his public life to ensuring that the Jewish state be able to defend itself against those committed to its destruction.

I was fortunate enough to receive his counsel on a number of occasions regarding our shared goals of strengthening the bonds between the United States and Israel. He was as committed to the U.S.-Israel relationship as he was to promoting Israel’s own security.  His passing marks the end of a unique and important chapter in Israel’s history.

Biden: “It’s Beyond My Capacity to Do Justice to Lautenberg”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s funeral was held yesterday at the Park Avenue Synagogue. Among the speakers were Vice President Joe Biden, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). 41 Senators, Gov. Chris Christie and six members of the House of Representatives attended the event.

Menendez said:

Frank Lautenberg was a man for his time. One of the greatest generation. The last of the Senate to have served in World War II. His story was an American story, but from his heart and for his lifetime, he was a kid from Paterson, New Jersey.

More after the jump.

Anyone who knew Frank knew he was destined to make something of himself. And he did.

Clinton said:

Frank always had something to say. It was usually a running commentary of what we were doing and what we weren’t doing. You just couldn’t help but have a smile on your face at least one time during the conversation.

Biden, who gave the longest speech, said:

I realize it’s beyond my capacity to find the words to do justice to Frank Lautenberg.

The Vice President also told that Lautenberg met with him around Christmas and asked his advice about whether he should run for another term in the senate. Biden told him he should. “it was clear that he desperately wanted to run again,” he said. “He never quit anything. He never gave up. He never gave in.”

Biden joked that he often rushed to Union Station to catch the train back to Delaware. One time, he said, he got to the station late and found the conductor waiting on the platform. “I got up to the conductor and he said ‘Hey Joe, don’t worry. You’re Okay. We’re holding it up for Lautenberg.’ They never once held it for me.”

Lautenberg’s wife, Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg gave the final speech. She said the only thing that would have made her husband more happy than seeing all his friends there was to see them at a campaign fundraiser for him. “He taught us how to think at a much deeper level,” she said.

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.

Obama Discusses Gun Violence With Law Enforcement Leaders

President Barack Obama met this morning with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and a dozen of his fellow police chiefs and sheriffs:

  • Police Chief Daniel Oates, Aurora, CO (scene of 2012 movie theatre shooting) seated two to Obama’s right,  
  • Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Newtown, CT (scene of 2012 Elementary School shooting) seated next to Biden,
  • Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, Montgomery County, MD (scene of many of the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks),
  • Police Chief Robert Villaseñor, Tucson, AZ (scene of 2011 attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords),
  • Police Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City, UT (scene of the 2007 Trolley Square shooting),
  • Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Minneapolis, MN (scene of the 2012 Accent Signage Systems shooting),
  • Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, Las Vegas, NV (scene of the 2010 Federal Courthouse shooting),
  • Police Chief John Edwards, Oak Creek, WI (scene of the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting),
  • Sheriff Richard Stanek, Hennepin County, MN (scene of the 2003 Court Tower shooting),
  • Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Chicago, IL,
  • Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald from Story County, IA, and
  • Sheriff Larry Amerson from Calhoun County, AL

They discussed gun violence prevention in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Biden’s chief of staff Bruce Reed.

Obama spoke for roughly three minutes about the importance of hearing from law enforcement leaders on the issue of gun violence and what communities across the country need from the federal government in order to curb the number of mass shootings throughout the the country.

Mr. Obama thanked the police chiefs and sheriffs for coming to the White House today and recalled the executive actions he took earlier this month, as well as his legislative goals, and called on Congress to work with the administration to pass them.

Transcript follows the jump.

Vice President Biden and I just want to thank the police chiefs and sheriffs who are here today representing law enforcement officials all across the country who obviously share our deep concern about issues of gun safety and how we can protect our communities and keep our kids safe.

A couple of weeks ago, I appeared along with Joe to present the administration’s ideas in terms of steps that we have to take. And I issued a number of executive actions that should be taken unilaterally in order to improve our collection of data to make sure that we’re coordinating more effectively with state and local governments, and to do everything that we could to improve the issue of gun safety and to make our communities safer.

But, as we’ve indicated before, the only way that we’re going to be able to do everything that needs to be done is with the cooperation of Congress. And that means passing serious laws that restrict the access and availability of assault weapons and magazine clips that aren’t necessary for hunters and sportsmen and those responsible gun owners who are out there. It means that we are serious about universal background checks. It means that we take seriously issues mental health and school safety.

We recognize that this is an issue that elicits a lot of passion all across the country. And Joe and my Cabinet members who have been involved in this have been on a listening session over the last several months. No group is more important for us to listen to than our law enforcement officials. They are where the rubber hits the road.

And so I welcome this opportunity to work with them; to hear their views in terms of what will make the biggest difference to prevent something like Newtown or Oak Creek from happening again. But many of them also recognize that it’s not only the high-profile mass shootings that are of concern here, it’s also what happens on a day-in-day-out basis in places like Chicago or Philadelphia, where young people are victims of gun violence every single day. That’s why part of the conversation that we’re going to be having today relates not only to the issue of new laws or better enforcement of our gun laws, it also means what are we doing to make sure that we’ve got the strongest possible law enforcement teams on the ground? What are we doing to hire more cops? What are we doing to make sure that they’re getting the training that they need? What are we doing to make sure our sheriff’s offices in rural counties have access to some of the resources that some of the big cities do in order to deal with some of these emergencies?

So I’m looking forward to a robust conversation. I know that this is not a shy group, mainly because they’re dealing with life-and-death situations every single day. But I’m very grateful to them for their participation. This is a representative group. It comes from a wide cross-section of communities across the country. And hopefully, if law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take, Congress is going to be paying attention to them and we’ll be able to make progress.

Obama Announces New Measures To Curb Gun Violence


Transcript follows the jump
Vice-President Joe Biden:


The ammunition on the right is a .233 bullet, the same used to destroy the young bodies of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This ammunition isn’t meant for hunting, it’s meant for warfare.

Before I begin today, let me say to the families of the innocents who were murdered 33 days ago, our heart goes out to you.  And you show incredible courage — incredible courage — being here.  And the President and I are going to do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children and your wives with the work we take up here today.

It’s been 33 days since the nation’s heart was broken by the horrific, senseless violence that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 20 — 20 beautiful first-graders gunned down in a place that’s supposed to be their second sanctuary.  Six members of the staff killed trying to save those children.  It’s literally been hard for the nation to comprehend, hard for the nation to fathom.

And I know for the families who are here that time is not measured in days, but it’s measured in minutes, in seconds, since you received that news.  Another minute without your daughter. Another minute without your son.  Another minute without your wife.  Another minute without your mom.

I want to personally thank Chris and Lynn McDonald, who lost their beautiful daughter, Grace, and the other parents who I had a chance to speak to, for their suggestions and for — again, just for the courage of all of you to be here today.  I admire the grace and the resolve that you all are showing.  And I must say I’ve been deeply affected by your faith, as well.  And the President and I are going to do everything to try to match the resolve you’ve demonstrated.

No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented, but we all know we have a moral obligation — a moral obligation — to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again.

As the President knows, I’ve worked in this field a long time — in the United States Senate, having chaired a committee that had jurisdiction over these issues of guns and crime, and having drafted the first gun violence legislation — the last gun violence legislation, I should say.  And I have no illusions about what we’re up against or how hard the task is in front of us.  But I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook.  The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.

It’s in this context that the President asked me to put together, along with Cabinet members, a set of recommendations about how we should proceed to meet that moral obligation we have.  And toward that end, the Cabinet members and I sat down with 229 groups — not just individuals, representing groups — 229 groups from law enforcement agencies to public health officials, to gun officials, to gun advocacy groups, to sportsmen and hunters and religious leaders.  And I’ve spoken with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, had extensive conversations with mayors and governors and county officials.  

And the recommendations we provided to the President on Monday call for executive actions he could sign, legislation he could call for, and long-term research that should be undertaken. They’re based on the emerging consensus we heard from all the groups with whom we spoke, including some of you who are victims of this god-awful occurrence — ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands, as well as ways to take comprehensive action to prevent violence in the first place.  

We should do as much as we can, as quickly as we can.  And we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  So some of what you will hear from the President will happen immediately; some will take some time.  But we have begun.  And we are starting here today and we’re going to resolve to continue this fight.

During the meetings that we held, we met with a young man who’s here today — I think Colin Goddard is here.  Where are you, Colin?  Colin was one of the survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre.  He was in the classroom.  He calls himself one of the “lucky seven.”  And he’ll tell you he was shot four times on that day and he has three bullets that are still inside him.  

And when I asked Colin about what he thought we should be doing, he said, “I’m not here because of what happened to me. I’m here because of what happened to me keeps happening to other people and we have to do something about it.”

Colin, we will.  Colin, I promise you, we will.  This is our intention.  We must do what we can now.  And there’s no person who is more committed to acting on this moral obligation we have than the President of the United States of America.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

President Barack Obama:  

Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat.  Good afternoon, everybody.  

Let me begin by thanking our Vice President, Joe Biden, for your dedication, Joe, to this issue, for bringing so many different voices to the table.  Because while reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn’t be a divisive one.  

Over the month since the tragedy in Newtown, we’ve heard from so many, and, obviously, none have affected us more than the families of those gorgeous children and their teachers and guardians who were lost.  And so we’re grateful to all of you for taking the time to be here, and recognizing that we honor their memories in part by doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.

But we also heard from some unexpected people.  In particular, I started getting a lot of letters from kids.  Four of them are here today — Grant Fritz, Julia Stokes, Hinna Zeejah, and Teja Goode.  They’re pretty representative of some of the messages that I got.  These are some pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people.  

Hinna, a third-grader — you can go ahead and wave, Hinna. That’s you — (laughter.)  Hinna wrote,

“I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children…I love my country and [I] want everybody to be happy and safe.”

And then, Grant — go ahead and wave, Grant.  (Laughter.)  Grant said, “I think there should be some changes.  We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook…I feel really bad.”

And then, Julia said — Julia, where are you?  There you go —

“I’m not scared for my safety, I’m scared for others.  I have four brothers and sisters and I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them.”

These are our kids.  This is what they’re thinking about.  And so what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing — not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country.  This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe.  This is how we will be judged.  And their voices should compel us to change.

And that’s why, last month, I asked Joe to lead an effort, along with members of my Cabinet, to come up with some concrete steps we can take right now to keep our children safe, to help prevent mass shootings, to reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.  

And we can’t put this off any longer.  Just last Thursday, as TV networks were covering one of Joe’s meetings on this topic, news broke of another school shooting, this one in California.  In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month.  And every day we wait, that number will keep growing.

So I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe’s task force.  And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.

And I’m going to do my part.  As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.

We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system.  We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans.  We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence — even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.  

And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it — and Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.  We don’t benefit from ignorance.  We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.

These are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today.  But as important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress.  To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act — and Congress must act soon.  And I’m calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away.

First:  It’s time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun.  (Applause.)   The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun.  But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.  That’s not safe.  That’s not smart.  It’s not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers.

If you want to buy a gun — whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller — you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one.  This is common sense.  And an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with us on the need for universal background checks — including more than 70 percent of the National Rifle Association’s members, according to one survey.  So there’s no reason we can’t do this.

Second:  Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines.  (Applause.) The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high-capacity magazines, has one purpose — to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible; to do as much damage, using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.  

And that’s what allowed the gunman in Aurora to shoot 70 people — 70 people — killing 12 in a matter of minutes.  Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater.  A majority of Americans agree with us on this.  

And, by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994, urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to “listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of [military-style assault] weapons.”  (Applause.)  

And finally, Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job.  We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals.  And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.  Since Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be — who has been Acting, and I will be nominating for the post.  (Applause.)

And at a time when budget cuts are forcing many communities to reduce their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on our streets.

Let me be absolutely clear.  Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. I respect our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen.  There are millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting, or sport, or protection, or collection.  

I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale.  I believe most of them agree that if America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown.  That’s what these reforms are designed to do.  They’re common-sense measures.  They have the support of the majority of the American people.  

And yet, that doesn’t mean any of this is going to be easy to enact or implement.  If it were, we’d already have universal background checks.  The ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines never would have been allowed to expire.  More of our fellow Americans might still be alive, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and graduations.  

This will be difficult.  There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.  And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.  

The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different — that this time, we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.  

I will put everything I’ve got into this, and so will Joe.  But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it.  And by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country.  We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those congressional districts, where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and to say this is important.  It can’t just be the usual suspects.  We have to examine ourselves and our hearts, and ask ourselves what is important.  

This will not happen unless the American people demand it.  If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, enough; we’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue — then change will come.  That’s what it’s going to take.

In the letter that Julia wrote me, she said,

“I know that laws have to be passed by Congress, but I beg you to try very hard.”

 (Laughter.)  Julia, I will try very hard.  But she’s right.  The most important changes we can make depend on congressional action.  They need to bring these proposals up for a vote, and the American people need to make sure that they do.  

Get them on record.  Ask your member of Congress if they support universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Ask them if they support renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  And if they say no, ask them why not.  Ask them what’s more important — doing whatever it takes to get a A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?  (Applause.)

This is the land of the free, and it always will be.  As Americans, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights that no man or government can take away from us.  But we’ve also long recognized, as our Founders recognized, that with rights come responsibilities.  Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same.  We don’t live in isolation.  We live in a society, a government of, and by, and for the people.  We are responsible for each other.  

The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado.  That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness — fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate, and all the families who’ve never imagined that they’d lose a loved one to a bullet — those rights are at stake.  We’re responsible.

When I visited Newtown last month, I spent some private time with many of the families who lost their children that day.  And one was the family of Grace McDonald.  Grace’s parents are here. Grace was seven years old when she was struck down — just a gorgeous, caring, joyful little girl.  I’m told she loved pink. She loved the beach.  She dreamed of becoming a painter.  

And so just before I left, Chris, her father, gave me one of her paintings, and I hung it in my private study just off the Oval Office.  And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace.  And I think about the life that she lived and the life that lay ahead of her, and most of all, I think about how, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now — for Grace.  For the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give.  For the men and women in big cities and small towns who fall victim to senseless violence each and every day.  For all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm.  Let’s do the right thing.  Let’s do the right thing for them, and for this country that we love so much.  (Applause.)  

Thank you.  Let’s sign these orders.  (Applause.)

(The executive orders are signed.)  (Applause.)

All right, there we go.  (Applause.)

Jewish Organizations Applaud Obama’s Gun Violence Reducing Plan

In a speech at the White House today President Barack Obama has announced a plan with 23 executive steps for reducing gun violence:

I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe [Biden]’s task force. And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.

And I’m going to do my part. As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.

We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence — even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.

More after the jump.
In response, B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:

B’nai B’rith International praises President Obama for his plans to introduce a legislative package next week that, among other things, would include reinstating the assault weapons ban, limiting the number of rounds in ammunition magazines, implementing universal background checks for those purchasing firearms and enacting new gun trafficking laws.

B’nai B’rith calls on both parties in Congress to work with the administration to swiftly pass effective gun legislation.

The shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., a month ago and several other gun related tragedies in recent years have demonstrated a growing need for reform of the nation’s gun laws.

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, B’nai B’rith was quick to call on the president and Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban, believing there is no sane, acceptable, reasonable need in a civilian setting to fire off large rounds of ammunition.

On Jan. 14, the B’nai B’rith International Executive Committee passed a formal resolution that called for a ban on assault weapons, as well as a limit on ammunition magazine capacity.

This country needs meaningful, bipartisan gun regulation. B’nai B’rith pledges to work with all political parties, interest groups and coalitions to make these regulations a reality.

“We thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for these thoughtful and comprehensive proposals to prevent gun violence in America,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

We recognize that this is a complex issue. In the month since 26 first graders and educators were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, over 900 Americans have lost their lives from gun violence. The memory of Newtown is still fresh, and so is Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood and other massacres that remind us that something must be done — and that there isn’t a single solution to preventing mass violence. We appreciate the Administration’s understanding that there are multiple causes which must be addressed. It is crucial that passions not ebb nor our country return to complacency. Gun violence claims new lives every day. We encourage the President to continue to move this conversation forward during his State of the Union address, keeping the protection of Americans front and center. As a community that has experienced mass violence, we appreciate the careful consideration that is being given to this issue. It is a national priority and we must keep up the momentum.

Lori Weinstein, Jewish Women International (JWI)‘s executive director issued the following statement:

JWI applauds President Obama’s bold leadership on reforming gun laws in an effort to reduce gun violence in our nation. JWI has pledged its commitment to support the banning of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines as well as strengthening and expanding background checks for gun purchasers. The executive orders announced by the President will give us added tools and strategies to further gun violence prevention. JWI calls on Congress to follow the President’s lead by enacting effective legislation.

As an organization that works every day to prevent violence against women and girls, we have seen all too often the devastating effects of gun violence. We and our network of more than 25,000 pledge to work with the Administration to make gun violence prevention a priority for the country. This issue will be of primary importance to JWI throughout the 113th Congress, and we hope for quick passage of gun laws to curb gun violence.

American Jews Support Gun Law Reform

Since last week’s massacre in Connecticut, Jewish politicians and organizations have showed their support of reform in gun laws.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition. Following the event the coalition has launched the Demand A Plan campaign:

Our efforts cannot bring back the 20 innocent children murdered in Newtown, CT — or the 34 people murdered with guns every day in America. But we can prevent future tragedies by passing common sense legislation that will:

  1. Require a criminal background check for every gun sold in America.
  2. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  3. Make gun trafficking a federal crime, including real penalties for “straw purchasers.”

Demand that your members of Congress and the president support these legislative priorities.

More after the jump.

Over 300,000 Americans have already signed the campaign’s petition, and the coalition itself has over 750 mayors as members.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has announced on her website that she will introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the first day of the new congress.

“Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition-feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds? These weapons are not for hunting deer — they’re for hunting people”.

Additionally, over 10,000 Americans have signed a Jewish Council for Public Affairs petition to make access to guns and mental health care a national priority.

“There has been an immediate emotional reaction across the entire country of shock, horror, and deep sadness. But this was not an isolated event. In the past few months, we have seen shootings at malls, theaters, and places of workshop; each one followed by a return to complacency and status quo,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The grotesque shooting at Newtown and the massive outpouring of support for this petition mark a tonal shift in our country where the need for a comprehensive approach to guns and mental health care are urgent priorities we can no continue to ignore. The thousands of signers are the beginning of a national and sustained effort to make sure future tragedies like this are unimaginable.”

The Jewish Women International organization applauded yesterday president Barack Obama’s announcement of gun violence task force:

“JWI strongly supports the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden in reforming our nation’s gun laws in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. We applaud the creation of an interagency task force to address gun violence and urge Members of Congress to enact tough restrictions on guns, most urgently banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. JWI also believes that Congress must improve the quality and accessibility of our nation’s mental health services. As an organization that has worked to address the devastating effects of gun violence and domestic violence for decades, we applaud the Administration’s efforts and urge thoughtful and decisive action from all levels of government.”

In a speech in the House of Representatives, Rep. Alysson Schwartz (D-PA) stated:

We have seen far too many moments of violence and loss. This loss is too devastating to ignore. I believe that even in this time of deep sadness and grief, we must resolve to end such violence. We must do better to understand and treat mental illness. And we must come together to move our nation towards common sense, responsible gun laws. Laws that recognize the responsibility of gun-ownership, and ensure safety and security in our homes, schools, communities, and public spaces.

Heard At The Electoral College

Florida Democratic electors sign election-results certificates in the Florida Senate chambersMembers of the electoral college met today in all fifty state capitals and the District of Columbia to officially cast their votes for President and Vice-President of the United State. Here are some highlights from Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona.

“What! No write-in votes for me?” — State Senator Daylin Leach (D-PA).

“I will quote loosely Vice-President Biden: ‘This is a…. uh… big deal.'” — State Party Chairman Rod Smith (D-FL)

AZ GOP Chairman Tom Morrissey and John Rhodes, sign Electoral College papers casting their vote for Mitt Romney. Both men said they have doubts about President Obama's birth certificate and his right to serveArizona Public Radio reports that the state’s electors cast their ballots for Romney — but not before three of them said questions remain about whether Barack Obama was born in this country. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve seen. I think for somebody in the president’s position to not have produced a document that looks more legitimate, I have a problem with that.” — State Party Chairman Tom Morrissey (R-AZ)

According to the Los Angeles Times:

More than five weeks after election day, almost all the presidential votes have been counted. Here’s what the near-final tally reveals: The election really wasn’t close.”

In the weeks since the election, as states have completed their counts, Obama’s margin has grown steadily. From just over 2 percentage points, it now stands at nearly 4. Rather than worry about the Bush-Kerry precedent, White House aides now brag that Obama seems all but certain to achieve a mark hit by only five others in U.S. history – winning the presidency twice with 51% or more of the popular vote