Obama, Congresspersons Call for Justice System Reform at Local NAACP Convention

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

The thousands of NAACP delegates, alternates and supporters who descended on the Philadelphia Convention Center for the 106th national convention of the NAACP were rewarded for their travels and loyalty. Many members of Congress spoke at the plenary sessions and themed workshops.

President Barack Obama, just on the heels of the successful negotiation with Iran, flew from Washington to Philadelphia to address the NAACP convention. His speech focused on domestic priorities, with no mention of the Iran deal, but the news spread and no one needed to be reminded that the President has had a couple of really good weeks.

Speakers like Congressman James Clyburn (SC-6) and U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, spoke passionately about the need to reform the criminal justice system, to root out discrimination and profiling and unequal sentencing for African Americans.

President Obama, in his speech, explained why he commuted sentences for dozens of prisoners who, if they had been charged and sentenced today, would have received far less severe prison terms for non-violent drug offenses or possession of drugs like marijuana. He gave examples of ex-offenders he had just met, who had served their sentences and then redeemed their lives. They are now tax-paying citizens.

Right before I came out here, I met with four former prisoners, four ex-offenders. Two of them were African American, one of them was Latino, one of them was white. All of them had amazing stories. One of them dropped out of school when he was a young kid. Now he’s making film about his experience in the prison system.

One of them served 10 years in prison, then got a job at Five Guys — which is a tasty burger — and they gave him an opportunity, and he rose up and became a general manager there, and now is doing anti-violence work here in the community.

It was a treat to watch the NAACP session on resolutions, the debates from the floor, the challenges to the chair, the re-counts, the urging of the NAACP member from Georgia to pass a resolution requiring the removal of ALL Confederate flags from every single state’s public grounds. This amended resolution, or “game-changer,” as the NAACP calls them, passed overwhelmingly.

And it was heartening on the day of the first plenary session to hear Cornell Brooks, the national president of the NAACP, tell a story about a baby born down south who weighed only three pounds and was not expected to survive until night-time. But the doctor who delivered the baby told the mother to pray, if she believed in God. Brooks said the woman called for a chaplain in the hospital, but no preacher or minister was available. But here was a rabbi serving as chaplain, and he came and prayed with the mother.

Senator Bob Casey was featured at the NAACP Convention opening plenary session.  He urged the 8000 attendees from around the country to contact their members of Congress and push for Casey's funding bill for universal early education.

At the NAACP Convention opening plenary session, Senator Bob Casey urged the 8000 attendees to contact their members of Congress around the country and push for his universal early education funding bill.

Then Brooks delivered the punch-line: “And that is why I am standing here today!”

Although I did not hear a mention of the three martyred civil rights workers, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, I thought about them often as I traveled the halls of the Philadelphia Convention Center from plenary session to workshops. Listening to heroes like Congressman Jim Clyburn, Senator Bob Casey (PA), Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Senator Corey Booker (NJ), was inspirational.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Wasserman Schultz, from Florida, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, focused on voting rights reform in her address to the entire corps of NAACP members. She told me about the unfairness of the voter ID laws in many states and of her intention to increase registration and voting patterns of African Americans.

I bumped into Joyce Kravitz, the president of Tikvah/AJMI, the Philadelphia region’s nonprofit agency for families with members dealing with mental illness. Kravitz, a social work professor, has been an NAACP member for many years, and she attended this year’s convention with her former student, an African American social worker.

Pennsylvania state Representative Jim Roebuck, who has been advocating for Governor Tom Wolf’s budget which restores funding for pre-K and public education, was in attendance. Congressmen Chaka Fattah (PA-2) and Brendan Boyle (PA-13) accompanied President Obama on Air Force One from D.C. to the convention.

NAACP has made national news every day of the convention, and President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made the closing day of the convention memorable.

Photo credit: Bonnie Squires

The Real Reason for the Bergdahl Controversy

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_Cropped— by Steve Sheffey

Should we have traded five Taliban prisoners for one U.S. prisoner of war? It is amazing that we are even asking this question.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is rarely accused of being soft on terrorism, negotiated with Hamas and traded more than 1,000 prisoners, many of whom with blood on their hands, for Gilad Shalit, whose conduct prior to his capture was not exactly heroic.

These are painful decisions, but countries like the U.S. and Israel do not leave their soldiers behind, and certainly not run a character and fitness test before deciding whom to rescue. General Dempsey was right when he said about Sergeant Bergdahl, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.”

More after the jump.
When we end wars, we trade for prisoners. Can you imagine the reaction if President Obama had refused to make this trade and Bergdahl had died or disappeared? Would our Republican friends have accepted “we let him die because we had questions about how he was captured” as an excuse?

The five Taliban prisoners would have been released in a few months anyway, so we really did not give up anything.

Also, these released prisoners will be monitored, and their movement will be restricted. Former Bush administration official John Bellinger noted that the “Administration appears to have reached a defensible, hold-your-nose compromise by arranging, in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, for the individuals to be held in Qatar for a year before they return to Afghanistan.”

But was it legal for President Obama to make this trade? The National Security Council spokesman, Caitlin Hayden, provided a convincing answer:

[T]he Secretary of Defense may transfer an individual detained at Guantanamo to a foreign country if the Secretary determines (1) that actions have or will be taken that substantially mitigate the risk that the individual will engage in activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests and (2) that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States. The Secretary made those determinations.

In The New York Times, David Brooks wrote that “the president’s instincts were right. His sense of responsibility for a fellow countryman was correct. It’s not about one person; it’s about the principle of all-for-one-and-one-for-all, which is the basis of citizenship.”

So what really is behind the Bergdahl controversy? Obama ended two wars without being blamed for surrender, and that does not sit well with our Republican friends. In The Dish, Andrew Sullivan explained it perfectly:

What the Bergdahl deal does is give the right a mini-gasm in which to vent all their emotions about the wars they once backed and to channel them into their pre-existing template of the traitor/deserter/Muslim/impostor presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. This venting has been a long time coming, it springs from all the frustrations of losing wars, and it can have pure expression against a soldier with a hippie dad and a president they despise. It’s a bonanza of McCarthyite “stab-in-the-back” paranoia and culture war aggression. They don’t have to vent against Cheney, the true architect of the defeats, because now they have a cause celebre to pursue Obama over.They also get to avoid the messy awful reality that Cheney bequeathed us: an illegal internment/torture camp with 149 prisoners with no possibility of justice or release. Permanent detention and brutal torture of prisoners are not issues to the right. They invariably refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary cost of Gitmo to the moral standing of the US or its increasingly tenuous claim to be a vanguard of Western values. Instead, they wallow in terror of the inmates — being so scared of them that they cannot even tolerate them on American soil — and impugn the very integrity and patriotism of a twice-elected president when he tries to untie the knot Bush left him.

They have no constructive solution to this problem, of course. They have no constructive solution to anything else either — whether it be climate change, healthcare or immigration. But they know one thing: how to foment and channel free-floating rage at an impostor/deserter president for inheriting the national security disaster they created. This they know how to do. This is increasingly all they know how to do.

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Ron Dermer to Replace Oren as Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.‏


Dermer on the U.S.-Israel relationship

Ron Dermer, a U.S. born advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been confirmed to replace Michael Oren as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. “Ron Dermer has all the qualities necessary to successfully fill this important post,” Netanyahu said.

I have known him for many years and I know that Ron will faithfully represent the State of Israel in the capital of our greatest ally — the U.S. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I wish him great success.

Bipartisan praise for Dermer after the jump.
National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) Chair Marc R. Stanley:

On behalf of the National Jewish Democratic Council, I extend my warmest thanks to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his exemplary service on behalf of the State of Israel. The U.S.-Israel relationship has grown even stronger throughout Ambassador Oren’s tenure, and we salute him and his wife Sally for their dedication to the unique partnership between our two countries.

NJDC also congratulates Ron Dermer on his appointment as the next Israeli Ambassador to the United States. We very much look forward to working with Mr. Dermer in his new role as he builds upon Ambassador Oren’s legacy. Together, we will continue promoting a secure, democratic Jewish State of Israel. We wish Mr. Dermer and his family a hearty mazal tov on this historic accomplishment.

Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matt Brooks:

The RJC extends warm congratulations to our friend Ron Dermer on this well-deserved honor. Ron is known for being a trusted and effective aide to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Responsibility for maintaining the Jewish state’s most vital international alliance is heavy one, but knowing Ron as we do, we are confident that he is up to the job.

A visit with Ron has been a highlight on the itinerary of recent RJC delegations to Israel. We look forward to reciprocating his hospitality during his posting in Washington, DC. Mazel tov, Ron.

This is also a moment to thank Ambassador Michael Oren for four years of exemplary service during which he advanced the cause of U.S.-Israeli friendship in countless ways. We wish Ambassador Oren well in his future endeavors.

Larry Brown Among Nine Philly Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Inductees


Brown coaching the SMU Mustangs

— by Debbie Weiss

The Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Adolph and Rose Levis Museum (PJSHOF) will be celebrating its 16th anniversary by honoring nine new individuals at a reception to be held on Monday, May 20 at the Gershman Y.  

The 2013 inductees include Ellen Barkann, Bob Brooks, Larry Brown, Fred Cohen, Josh Cohen, Ron Cohen, Bonnie Kay, Marc Rayfield and Pillar of Achievement honoree, Jed Margolis. In addition, the 2013 JCC Maccabi Games’ Team Philadelphia Graduating Athletes will receive special recognition.

More after the jump.
The inductees into the PJSHOF represent the best of the best: those who through perseverance, dedication, superior talent and skills, have risen to the top of their respective sports. Their names and achievements will be celebrated within the walls of the museum.  

Each PJSHOF inductee has been involved in sports as an athlete, coach, manager, administrator, team owner, or member of the media. They must have at least one Jewish parent and have lived within, or competed within, the five-county Greater Philadelphia area. They have joined a special group of approximately 130 past honorees.  

This year’s special class includes one of the most successful coaches in basketball history, one of the winningest football coaches in Philadelphia’s high school history, a top radio broadcast manager, and more.

  • Ellen Barkann, a competitive figure skater, achieved the highest level in all disciplines of her sport: singles, pairs and ice dancing. In 2012 she created a nonprofit organization, The Barkann Family Healing Hearts Foundation, whose mission is to provide grants and financial assistance to families in the area who are overcome by family crisis, long term illness or sudden loss of life.
  • Bob Brooks was a multi-talented athlete as the starting pitcher on the University of Pennsylvania’s baseball team, and as a three-year starter on the basketball court who earned All-Ivy and All-State honors in his senior year. He is a longtime community volunteer.
  • Larry Brown is one of the most successful basketball coaches, at college and professional levels, of all time. He is the only head coach to lead teams to an NBA title (Detroit Pistons, 2004) and an NCAA Championship (University of Kansas Jayhawks, 1988). He is also the only coach in history to lead eight different NBA teams to the playoffs. He also is the only U.S. male to both play and coach in the Olympics, winning Gold Medals in 1964 and 2000, and is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. He is currently the head basketball coach at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  

    Fred Cohen playing for Temple, 1956

  • Fred Cohen achieved a stellar basketball career in high school and the upper levels of the college game. Playing for the Temple Owls, he set an NCAA playoff record for 34 rebounds in one game, that remains intact. He played with All-Americans Hal Lear and Guy Rogers, and their 1956 team went to the NCAA Final Four. He went on to graduate Yale Law School and has had a distinguished law career as a professor, then activist and author in the area of correctional mental health law.
  • Josh Cohen ranked among the top ten tennis players in the world in U.S. Juniors, and number one nationally in every USTA age group from 12-18; he won the International Grass Court Championship, competed in all four Grand Slam tournaments, and reached the quarterfinals in the French Open. In 2012, Billie Jean King named him head coach of her team, the Philadelphia Freedoms.  
  • Ron Cohen has been the head football coach at George Washington High School for the past 28 years and is the winningest coach in Philadelphia’s history. He has been named Coach of the Year on nine different occasions. He holds the city record for most playoff wins with 55, and has coached seven Big 33 football stars, including four players who have gone on to play in the NFL.
  • Bonnie Kay has been a Philadelphia area competitor in golf tournaments for over 40 years, having won the Women’s Stroke Play Championship and the Mixed Pair Championship as well as various country club championships. As a proud player in two Maccabi Games in Israel, she won a team Silver in 1985 and a team Gold in 1997. She is a consulting psychologist to Fortune 500 corporations, city and state agencies, and private family-owned companies.
  • Marc Rayfield is the senior vice president and market manager of CBS, Inc. where he is currently responsible for live broadcasts of the Phillies, Eagles and Philadelphia Union as well as Temple, St. Joe’s and Villanova athletics. His purview at CBS includes oversight of KYW Newsradio, WIP, WOGL, WPHT and cbsphilly.com.    
  • Pillar of Achievement honoree, Jed Margolis has been dedicated to using sports to strengthen Jewish identity and pride and love for Israel throughout his 40 years working in the JCC World and at Maccabi USA, where he has served as executive director since 2002. One of the many highpoints in his Maccabi USA tenure came in 2009, when he was honored as a member of the Maccabi USA Leadership Team by The National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He also represented the USA as a member of the Masters Men’s Gold Medal Basketball Team, coached by NBA Legend Dolph Schayes, at the 1995 Pan American Maccabi Games in Uruguay.

A Good List To Be On: The NRA’s Blacklist

Do people still get blacklisted in America?  

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action has published a list of “organizations, corporations, publications, and celebrities that have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations.” It features a lot of Jews and Jewish groups:

  • American Jewish Committee
  • American Jewish Congress
  • Jewish Labor Committee
  • National Council of Jewish Women
  • Union of American Hebrew Congregations
  • B’nai B’rith
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Hadassah
  • Rabbi Paul Menitaff
  • Rabbi David Saperstein
  • Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
  • Actor Ed Asner
  • Actor and Producer Mel Brooks
  • Actor Hal Linden
  • Actor Leonard Nimoy
  • Actor Jerry Seinfeld
  • Actor Henry Winkler
  • Mayor Ed Koch z’l

They have also blacklisted medical groups such as the Ambulatory Pediatric Association, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the National Association of Public Hospitals and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the League of Women Voters of the United States, and the National Association of Police Organizations.

Read the complete list. I think you will agree that this is the sort of “blacklist” any self-respecting organization would like to be on.

More Foreign Policy Change Feared Following Lugar’s Loss

Senator Richard Lugar

Primary Election Defeat for Senator Richard Lugar

Although he was not considered to be one of Israel’s most outspoken supporters on Capitol Hill the defeat of Sen. Richard Lugar in the recent primary election has left many among the pro-Israel lobbyists concerned that there may be losing some key supporters in Congress.

More after the jump.

Shock Defeat

After 35 years in office the defeat comes as somewhat of a shock for the Republican senator. In that time Lugar has developed a reputation for independent thinking and many regard his exit as a door closing on that singular form of politics.

Consistent Support

During his time in office, and in his capacity as the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Lugar consistently supported the campaign for defence assistance for Israel. It is also worth noting that, during the 1980s, he led the calls for freedom for Soviet Jews.

Maverick Brand of Politics

His maverick brand of politics meant that he had divided loyalties with regard to Middle East policy. Although he supported the pro-Israel stance he also pursued a more proactive approach to the brokering of peace in the Middle East by the US. His views on this issue stood at odds with many among the pro-Israel lobby. He was also in favour of cautious progress with sanctions on Iran.

Tea Party Candidate

With the prospect of Lugar being removed by a Tea Party candidate the pro Israel groups came to his aid with financial backing, giving his campaign the logistical a monetary support he requested. Unfortunately it was not enough to carry the campaign. The reasons that the Israel advocates offered for extending their support to Luger were that he was seen as the type of lawmaker who could benefit the cause and that his ability to ‘reach across the aisle’ meant that he was at least able to listen to both sides of the argument.

Loss for Foreign Policy

Counterterrorism consultant Mike Kraft, who, during the 70s and 80s, was a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offers a commonly held opinion on Luger. He says “Lugar wasn’t actively pro-Israel, but he wasn’t anti either.”  He considers the senators defeat a loss, not just for the pro-Israel group, but on foreign policy in general. He added, “but generally losing a good, balanced, thoughtful guy on foreign policy is a real tragedy." Kraft considers the loss a blow to the system as a whole. He added, "It weakens the American political system.”

Support from NORPAC

New Jersey based pro-Israel action group, NORPAC , contributed $20,000 to Lugar’s campaign, the most sizable donation made to any individual candidate in this cycle of elections. The reasons they outlined were because Lugar had come to them and requested the support. Ben Chouake, the group’s president explained, “We sent extra money to Lugar because he called and asked.”

Referring to the 80yo candidate’s reputation Chouake accepted that he was not the most pro-Israel congressman, but had the kind of integrity which meant that he could not be easily influenced in other directions. He stated of the support, “Sometimes you have to back someone because of who a person is.” During the campaign Lugar also received financial backing from supporters of Israel at events in New York and Indiana.

Hard Working and Diplomatic

There is no doubt that Lugar also had a reputation for being a very industrious politician and even at his age he was not the kind of candidate that required an invitation to get off the sofa and into the office. Over the course of his career he had particularly developed a reputation for managing to get Republicans and Democrats to work together.

Inevitable Defeat

Defeat in the end was inevitable and the result in the May 8th primary was by a considerable margin. Lugar lost the seat to Indiana’s state treasurer Richard Mourdock by a resounding 61%-39%. Consequently Mourdock will stand against Republican Joe Donnelly in the general election.

Mourdock offers a much harder line and the premise of his campaign was an opposition to compromise. During a Fox News interview Mourdock summarised his point of view by stating, “I have a mind-set that says bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view.”

Location May Have Been an Issue

There are those who think that the defeat was a direct result of Lugar’s vulnerability caused by where he has chosen to live. The senator had chosen not to remain in his home for the past three decades. It is this point which ultimately may have ultimately contributed to his political demise. Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, summarised this issue by stating, “No matter how long you've been in office, politics starts at home — and maybe it would be a good idea to have a home in the state.”

Republican Jews Dismayed by Ron Paul’s Candidacy

Matthew Brooks, RJC Executive Director

As Americans who are committed to a strong and vigorous foreign policy, we are deeply concerned about the prospective presidential campaign of Congressman Ron Paul. While Rep. Paul plans to run as a Republican, his views and past record place him far outside of the Republican mainstream. His candidacy, as we’ve seen in his past presidential campaigns, will appeal to a very narrow constituency in the U.S. electorate. Throughout his public service, Paul has espoused a dangerous isolationist vision for the U.S. and our role in the world. He has been a virulent and harsh critic of Israel during his tenure in Congress. Most recently Paul gave an interview in which he voiced his objection to the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden.

We certainly respect Congressman Paul’s right to run, but we strongly reject his misguided and extreme views, which are not representative of the Republican Party.

Joe Lieberman Will Retire From Senate Next Year


Sen. Joe Lieberman with his 2004 running mate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)


Sen. Joe Lieberman endorsing 2008 Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

The National Jewish Democratic Council, and the Republican Jewish Committee both issued statements saluting the Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who recently announced that he would not be seeking relection next year.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Sen. Kent Concrad (D-ND) have also announced that they will be retiring. According to the betting site InTrade, the Republicans have a 70% chance of taking control of the Senate in 2012.

David A. Harris, National Jewish Democratic Council

“The National Jewish Democratic Council thanks Senator Joe Lieberman for his years of dedicated and loyal service to our country. He has stood out as a leader who always did what he believed was right, regardless of whether or not it was politically popular. We will always remember the important steps he took to break the glass ceiling for the Jewish community in public service, from his appearance in Washington as the first Orthodox Jewish Senator to his acceptance of our party’s Vice Presidential nomination in 2000. Lieberman has also been a vocal advocate for issues of importance to American Jews, including support for Israel and — especially in recent months — the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ We have appreciated his friendship and partnership on these and other key issues over the years. NJDC wishes Lieberman the best of luck in his future endeavors – his presence and voice in the Senate will be missed.”

Matthew Brooks, Republican Jewish Committee

“Senator Lieberman is a true mensch and a great American.  He showed that it’s possible to have a successful political career while doing what you feel is right – even when what’s right is not what’s in your political best interests.  Time and again, Senator Lieberman put principle over politics.  He was a role model and a shining example of all that’s good and decent about public service.”

“He’s been called the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats, but he is one of a kind and irreplaceable.  We’ll dearly miss his friendship  – and the leadership he showed through more than two decades in the Senate.”