B’nai B’rith to Senate: Carefully Review Hagel’s Record and Hearing

Just ahead of the Senate vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, B’nai B’rith International has released the following statement:

B’nai B’rith International remains concerned with many aspects of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s responses to questions during his confirmation hearing for the position of Secretary of Defense. Since then, more questions have been raised about Hagel’s views on a number of important issues.

During the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Hagel did not assuage our reservations on how he would approach such topics as terrorism, Iran and Israel. We urge all Senators, as they prepare to vote, to carefully review Hagel’s record and hearing responses to determine his qualifications for the post.

More after the jump.

We are concerned that Hagel, unlike the vast majority of his Senate colleagues, underestimates the threat of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.

Hagel was in the minority when 88 of his then-Senate colleagues called on the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah has been a global terror group since it was founded around 30 years ago. Its decades of terror include the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon that killed 241 Marines, soldiers and sailors, and the July 2012 attack on Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver and wounded 30 others. After a six month investigation, the Bulgarian government issued a report unequivocally blaming Hezbollah for that attack.

We are also troubled that Hagel, during his confirmation hearings, undermined the importance of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He appeared to endorse a policy of containment of a nuclear Iran before being advised that containment was not administration policy.

In recent days, Hagel has disavowed, or said he didn’t remember, making certain past comments about Israel. At a 2007 speech he is said to have referred to the U.S. State Department as “an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office.”

Our hesitation on his nomination is based on our uneasiness with such updates to his record.

B’nai B’rith International expresses the expectation that members of the Senate will give his record a thorough review prior to the vote.

Jewish Organizations Applaud Obama’s Speech in State of Union

Obama visiting shooting victims last July

“Last night, the President discussed his policy proposals to pursue justice and build opportunity,” said JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow.

Our nation is one of ambition and aspiration, and the President spoke to both these fundamental values. He discussed some of the most intractable issues that face our nation: gun violence that leaves 30,000 Americans dead every year, an immigration system that breaks apart families and forces individuals into the shadows, an energy system that pollutes our planet and changes our climate, and an economy that has left millions without work and millions more with wages insufficient to support their families. Now, after the drama of the election and the pomp of the inauguration, our elected leaders must focus on the hard work of governance.

More after the jump.

In a few short weeks, the ‘sequester’ is poised to eliminate nutrition assistance for 600,000 women and children through cuts to WIC and end early childhood education for 70,000 young students enrolled in Head Start programs. Such policies are wrong, simply wrong. Our national challenges are opportunities to renew our shared commitments to one another and empower our communities. Over the next year, we urge the President and Congress to work in good faith in dealing with the proposals offered tonight. We must maintain focus and work together to strengthen our economy and ensure that nobody who works full time lives in poverty, protect our environment while spawning new green industry, and provide a path for prosperity for all.

“We find ourselves at a critical juncture for both policy and politics, and consensus and cooperation will be central to our success. Bipartisanship has characterized the President and Congress’ support for Israel and we were pleased to hear the President reaffirm his commitment to Israel’s security and against a nuclear armed Iran in tonight’s speech,” said JCPA chair Larry Gold.

A new model for bipartisanship on domestic issues was demonstrated in the fiscal cliff compromise of last year. We are encouraged by the serious proposals on immigration and gun violence put forward by groups of Senators and Representatives from both parties. In just a few short weeks, dramatic spending cuts will threaten important national programs from national security to education, to foreign assistance and medical research. We must make tough choices and we appreciate the President’s candor. In the next few weeks the JCPA and our member agencies will continue to work with members of Congress, community organizations, and civil society groups to develop constructive, consensus policies that protect the most vulnerable and position our nation for growth.

Bnai Brith International has released this statement:

B’nai B’rith International is encouraged President Obama will focus on aging programs, energy independence, immigration reform and reducing gun violence in his second term. His renewed commitments to Israel’s security and to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons are also positive.

We are pleased with the president’s spirited defense of both domestic discretionary spending and the jobs created by these programs. The president spoke of aging programs like Medicare, and we are open to hearing more about his plan. B’nai B’rith is particularly interested in hearing about savings in Medicare from lower prescription drug costs and from encouraging better health care. We remain concerned, however, that unreasonably or arbitrarily high savings targets could force ill-advised measures that weaken the nature of the program by undermining its universality or eroding benefits.

Energy independence received renewed attention from the president during his address. Our current dependence on foreign oil undermines our security, forcing the United States to rely on fossil fuels from countries whose interests are adverse to our own. B’nai B’rith supports the president’s call for investment in alternative energy programs.

B’nai B’rith has long been a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and we are pleased the administration is making it a priority. Creating a path to citizenship for millions of the country’s undocumented immigrants is important for the well-being of the country.

We commend the president’s insistence that the United States will “do what is necessary” to prevent Iran from “getting nuclear weapons.” Iran, the world’s largest state-sponsor of terror, continues to pursue nuclear weapons, even as an international coalition has instituted tough sanctions.

B’nai B’rith is also encouraged the president outlined a firm commitment to Israel: “And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.”

We welcome the president’s commitment to reducing gun violence. The president said: “Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.”

Last month, 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. B’nai B’rith pledges to work with all political parties, interest groups and coalitions to make sure meaningful bipartisan gun regulations become reality.

Of course the president’s annual address to Congress and the nation offers a framework for the president’s priorities. B’nai B’rith will review details as they emerge and work to ensure action on our key priorities.

All Mourn the Loss of Ed Koch

Update: Koch’s funeral was held yesterday (Monday). Speakers included:

  • Former President Bill Clinton,
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and
  • Israeli Consul-General Ido Aharoni

See video on the right.

In an official statement, President Barack Obama mourned the loss of Koch, who died Feb. 1 at the age of 88:

Ed Koch was an extraordinary Mayor, irrepressible character, and quintessential New Yorker. He took office at a time when New York was in fiscal crisis, and helped his city achieve economic renewal, expand affordable housing, and extend opportunity to more of its people. In public office and beyond, his energy, force of personality, and commitment to causes ranging from civic issues to the security of the state of Israel always informed and enlivened the public discourse. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Ed’s loved ones, and to the city that survives him.

Jewish organizations’ response after the jump.
Many Jewish organizations have also expressed their sorrow:

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) is deeply saddened by the news that former Representative and New York City Mayor Ed Koch (D-NY) has passed away. Koch was a consummate and proud Jewish Democrat who advocated fiercely for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the progressive domestic policies in which he truly believed. Koch’s leadership was vital in mobilizing Jewish voters in the 2008 and 2012 elections, and our community will not be the same without his prominent voice. Koch leaves behind an indelible legacy of public service and activism that has made our country a better place and strengthened America’s relationship with the Jewish State. His voice and his energy will truly be missed.

The Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said:

Mayor Koch was a passionate and principled leader and an outspoken defender of Israel and the Jewish community. He chose principle over politics and didn’t engage in partisan bitterness. In a long and controversial public career, he remained true to his commitment to do what was right for his constituents, his community, and his beloved State of Israel. The RJC was honored to work with Mayor Koch over the years. He was a patriot and we will miss him.

Bnai Brith International has released this statement:

Known for his plainspoken nature and charisma, Koch was mayor of New York City during a particularly troubled time and became the face of New York around the world.

During three terms as mayor, serving from 1978-1989, Koch connected with New Yorkers of every background. His eager query to New Yorkers, “How’m I doing?” became his signature.

Before his storied tenure as mayor, Koch served in the U.S. Congress from 1969-1977.

His forthright support for Israel, and his great pride in his Jewish faith, were always part of his persona.

So connected to New York that he insisted on being buried there, five years ago, he purchased a burial plot at Trinity Church Cemetery, the only cemetery in the city that had space. He even ordered and inscribed his tombstone, which features the final words said by Daniel Pearl, the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

Sandra Kahn, co-founder of Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union), said:

Ed Koch played a massive role for the Jewish community of New York. Outside of him being a great Mayor for the city, he also played an influential role in bringing Russian Jewish immigrants to New York during the Russian waves of immigration. He was always open and understanding to all cultures in New York and was very welcoming to the Russian Jewish community, a community that contributed to the cultural mosaic of the city. The Jewish community is forever indebted to Mayor Koch.

The Russian-American Jewish community will honor the life of Koch at the annual Limmud FSU Summit in Princeton, NJ on March 15-17. He will be remembered at a special ceremony during the Summit, where his family will be invited to participate.

Article By UN-Supported Palestinian Outlet Calls Jews “Evil”

— by Bnai Brith International

B’nai B’rith International condemns an outrageous anti-Semitic article written by Sawsan Najib Abd Al-Halim and posted on the Ma’an News Agency’s website, a Palestinian news outlet. In the article, the author calls the Jewish people “outcasts in every corner of the Earth,” “evil,” “scheming” and the “root of conflict in the world,” which Allah has “decreed humiliation and degradation upon them until Judgment Day.” The article was translated from Arabic and exposed by Palestinian Media Watch.

What makes this article even more alarming is the fact that Ma’an News Agency is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Ma’an also receives funding from the European Commission, the Danish and Dutch governments and UKaid, the development fund of the United Kingdom.

More after the jump.

Apart from the gross nature of these comments, we are most worried about the funding sources of this so-called news agency which publishes blatantly anti-Semitic content, B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. Agencies of the United Nations and governments of Europe, which denounce hate speech on their own continent, are acting hypocritically by funding Ma’an.

The article — titled “Israel is Trembling!” — has since been removed from the website for “hateful content” that does not “represent the opinion of Ma’an or its editorial policies,” according to a statement from the news agency’s administration.

This isn’t the first time Ma’an has published something outrageous and hateful directed toward the Jewish people, B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. The international community must immediately demand accountability from recipients of funding. The U.N. agencies and governments who fund this operation must cut off financial resources to those who traffic in hate. That’s the best way to get their attention and those others who would contemplate publishing anti-Semitic articles.

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.

Welcome Supreme Court Decision On Jerusalem Passport Case

The Supreme Court of the United States directed the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide on the constitutionality of a case regarding whether Americans born in Jerusalem may cite Israel as their birthplace on their U.S. passport.

Ari Zivotofsky and Naomi Siegman Zivotofsky, parents of their Jerusalem-born son Menachem, have fought for years to convince the U.S. State Department to allow their son to designate Israel as his place of birth on his passport, citing a 2002 law passed by Congress. Though the law was signed, it was never implemented due to State Department concerns that indicating “Israel” as the birthplace of a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem would amount to an official U.S. statement about Jerusalem’s status.

More after the jump.

B’nai B’rith was one of 10 major Jewish organizations to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the family. “There’s no reason why Israel cannot be named as one’s country of birth. Omitting this fact changes a fundamental part of one’s identity,” said Allan J. Jacobs, president of B’nai B’rith International. “By only allowing a child to name a city, not a country, as a birthplace, is denying that child the right to have a country of origin. It should not be up to the U.S. government to determine what cities fall within the borders of a given country.”

Today’s 8-1 decision overruled lower court decisions that had argued this case does not fall under the jurisdiction of the judiciary because the courts are not responsible for determining foreign policy. State Department policy states that passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem can only identify “Jerusalem” as their place of birth, not “Israel.”

“A passport is a document of identity, not a foreign policy manifesto,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “Americans born in Israel-whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere in the country-have the right to acknowledge Israel as their birthplace.”

B’Nai B’Rith Condemns Terror Attacks in Norway

–by Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International condemns in the strongest terms possible the terrorist attacks perpetrated against the citizens of Norway. The first attack occurred at 3:30 local time on July 22, when a vehicle bomb exploded outside of the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, killing seven people and leaving an unknown number injured.

A second attack occurred on the island of Utoeya less than an hour later, when an unidentified man dressed as a police officer opened fire at a youth camp, which was set to host the prime minister on July 23. Reports indicate that between 25-30 people were killed.

The New York Times reported that Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami (the Helpers of the Global Jihad), a group that says it is connected to al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

More after the jump.
This reminds us that terror can strike anywhere, and there is a need for those in the international community who are repulsed by these acts to redouble their efforts to combat the threat.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.

B’Nai B’Rith Commends European Parliament Members

Members Acknowledged for Standing Together Against Recognition of a Unilaterally Declared Palestinian State

–by Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International praises members of the European Parliament for joining together to send a letter to Baroness Catherine Ashton, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, urging rejection of a Palestinian initiative to achieve unilaterally declared independence at the United Nations General Assembly in September. The letter goes on to push for the 27 European Union member states to stand against such recognition.

The letter’s signatories call for direct, bilateral negotiations-affirming agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians as the only way to create lasting peace.

“The European Parliament members’ support of direct negotiation strengthens the argument against a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “We are hopeful that the nations of the European Union and around the world will heed this call to deny this initiative.”

The letter also outlines the invalidity of a unilateral declaration in the United Nations, citing the Oslo Accords’ requirement of negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians to form the basis of a resolution on the statehood issue.

More after the jump.
“It is encouraging that so many European countries have spoken out against a Palestinian unilateral declaration,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “European political figures are recognizing that unilateral declaration at the U.N. General Assembly can only hinder peace.

Remembering Bomb Attack on Argentina’s Jewish Community

–by Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International once again marks the anniversary of the bomb attack on the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building. The July 18, 1994 terror attack on the heart of the Argentinean Jewish community killed 85 and wounded 300. Seventeen years later, no one has been brought to justice, though Iranian officials have been tied to the attack.

Iran’s ties to the attack are well known. Five years ago, an Argentine prosecutor detailed how top Iranian leaders including Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s president at the time, ordered Hezbollah to kill Jews in Buenos Aires.

This makes the embrace of Tehran by some of Argentina’s neighbors all the more troubling.

“Iran is more dangerous now than it was in 1994,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “AMIA should serve as a cautionary tale to the far too many Latin American nations seeking closer ties with Tehran.”

More after the jump.
The recent official visit to Bolivia of Iranian Minister of Defense Ahmad Vahidi, a suspect in the AMIA case, was a travesty. Vahidi has been on an Interpol wanted list for his connection with the horrendous attack. Soon after the start of the trip, Bolivia asked Vahidi to leave the country and the Bolivian government apologized to Argentina’s government, saying the Defense Ministry was not aware of Vahidi’s affiliation with the bombing.

“Way too much time has passed, but it’s not too late to bring the perpetrators to justice,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “We must stay vigilant. This act of terror cannot go unanswered.”

For 17 years, B’nai B’rith, with its deep ties throughout Latin America, has called for those responsible for this attack to be brought to justice.

B’Nai B’Rith International Commends South Sudan upon Achieving Independence

Israel Plans to Recognize the New Nation

–by Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith welcomes the Republic of South Sudan as the world’s 193rd country as it formally declares independence on July 9. South Sudan’s independence is a peaceful outgrowth of a political negotiating process years in the making.

Decades of brutal civil war between the North and South, followed by a 2005 ceasefire and a January 2011 vote, have led to this moment.

The achievement of independence is truly noteworthy. The civil war left more than two million people dead and millions more displaced.

Israel has announced that it plans to recognize the new nation in the coming weeks. More than 8,000 Sudanese refugees live in Israel.

We hope that South Sudan will live up to democratic ideals and principles and that it will have good relations with fellow democracies around the world.

B’nai B’rith extends wishes of peace and prosperity to the fledgling nation.