Before Opposing Iran Deal, Consider the Alternatives

From left to right: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 14, 2015, during their talks on the Iranian nuclear program. (Joe Klamar/Pool Photo via AP)

Iranian nuclear talks concluded on July 14, 2015 in Vienna.

President Obama announced a deal with Iran on Tuesday. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to block the deal. This decision will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren and is one of the most important votes Congress will take in our lifetimes. We are far better off with this deal than without it, and we could not have gotten a better deal.

Yet before the ink was dry, some groups announced pre-planned campaigns to defeat the deal. Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) claimed he read and analyzed the deal Tuesday morning and published an op-ed opposing the deal that very afternoon. Dold had 60 days to make the most important decision of his congressional career, but he made it in a matter of hours. I guess he can use the remaining 59 days and 18 hours to campaign.

We owe it to ourselves to think this through. Don’t rely on weak versions of the administration’s case presented by opponents of the deal. Read the administration’s position in its own words. You don’t have to agree, but you’ve got to understand. President Obama’s press conference last week is mandatory reading for anyone who truly seeks to understand — he covers many key objections.

The 24-day inspection access requirement for non-declared sites (the deal gives us 24/7 access to all of Iran’s known sites) deserves special attention. Critics compare it to giving a drug dealer 24 days to cover up, but that’s a false and misleading analogy. As James Acton explains, an “access delay — even one of 24 days — wouldn’t make any material difference to the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities.”

And if you still disagree? Then you have to ask what the alternative is. What happens after Congress blocks a deal that our allies and Iran think is a good deal? Those who tell us in such great detail what is wrong with this deal have an obligation to tell us their alternative in just as much detail, so that we can weigh the merits and decide which course is best.

Some argue that the alternative is not war, but a better deal. A better deal! Why didn’t Obama think of that? Jeff Goldberg is right:

I’m not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I’m judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let’s not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September. What will happen, should Congress reject the deal, is that international sanctions will crumble and Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon, and it would start this pursuit only two or three months away from the nuclear threshold.

No responsible person can oppose this deal without understanding the implications of blocking the deal and knowing what realistic alternatives we have. The “better deal” opponents want invariably turns out to be an deal that Iran would never accept and that our European allies do not think is reasonable or necessary for Iran to accept.

That leaves military action as the only realistic alternative. Military action can, at best, set back Iran’s program only a few years — while guaranteeing that Iran will pursue and obtain nuclear weapons in far less than ten years.

What About Israel?

Many in Israel’s military and intelligence community support the Iran deal. Former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon said that the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives.”

Tel Aviv University physics professor Uzi Even, who served as a scientist at Israel’s Dimona reactor, supports the deal:

the deal that was signed is preferable to the current situation because it delays Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb by at least 15 years and in practice ends its nuclear aspirations.

Yet many Israeli political leaders across the spectrum oppose the deal. We have yet to hear any arguments from those politicians that differ from what we’ve heard here, nor have we heard any realistic alternatives from them.

In this case, it’s not that they know something we don’t. Israel is more at risk from a nuclear Iran than the U.S. and Europe. Reading between the lines, it seems that they just don’t trust the U.S. and Europe to actually enforce the deal or to actively stop Iran on other fronts not covered by the deal. Six years of non-stop anti-Obama indoctrination from the Prime Minister hasn’t helped. This makes for a terribly uncomfortable situation, but what choice do we have other than to evaluate the deal on its merits and ask ourselves if there are better, realistic alternatives?

Everyone agrees on the urgent necessity of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Before Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) even read the deal, he said President Obama wants “to get nukes to Iran.” His opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), believes that Congress should carefully review this deal, without rushing to judgment or resorting to reckless partisanship. (Kirk later walked back his statement without apologizing.)

The deal does not require Iran to recognize Israel, to stop terrorism, or to free American captives. The purpose of the deal is only to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We negotiated with Iran because we are safer with an evil regime that does not have nuclear weapons than one that does.

Reagan and Nixon faced similar criticism for negotiating with the Soviet Union, which was also committed to our destruction. We negotiate with our enemies, not our friends.

This deal is consistent with the framework announced on April 2 and with the criteria established by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By its terms, it is a good deal. Let’s ask questions, but let’s remember the stakes and let’s do so responsibly.

My message to Congress and staff: It’s not unusual for constituents to lobby you on issues that they know more about than you do. But on this issue, because of your access to the White House, you know more, and can get more information, than your constituents. Don’t doubt their passion and sincerity, but please make a fact-based decision and support this deal. Please also support any measures that would enhance Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities. No deal can provide absolute certainty, so it is incumbent upon us to provide Israel with the tools it needs if our worst fears are realized.

Video Satire: The Dealbreakers

Obama Talks to Jews

It’s okay to disagree with President Obama’s statements or policies. I disagree with some of them too. But too often, we base our opinion on statements or policies falsely attributed to President Obama. That’s why it’s so important to read for ourselves what President Obama actually says, in context, rather than relying on what we are told the president said by people who have an ax to grind (or, for that matter, by people who support the president).

Yesterday, Jeff Goldberg published an interview with President Obama covering the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, the nuclear deal with Iran, his relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. If you’re concerned about those issues, read the interview.

Two parts leaped out at me. The first was Goldberg’s statement that “As I listened to Obama speak about Israel, I felt as if I had participated in discussions like this dozens of times, but mainly with rabbis.”

The second was President Obama’s statement that “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind.”

When you look at the world that way, how can you not be pro-Israel? No wonder President Obama’s list of pro-Israel accomplishments is so long.

Video Clip of the Week.

This morning, in honor of National Jewish American Heritage Month, President Obama spoke at Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. If this isn’t pro-Israel, I don’t know what is. If this doesn’t make you feel good, I don’t know what will.

I strongly recommend that you watch it if you have time, but if you don’t, rather than rely on those who will take bits and pieces out of context, at least read the transcript below and decide for yourself what you think of today’s speech.

Remarks by the President on Jewish American Heritage Month
Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C.

I want to thank Rabbi Steinlauf for the very kind introduction. And to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome.

I want to thank a couple of outstanding members of Congress who are here. Senator Michael Bennet — where did Michael Bennet go? There he is. And Representative Sandy Levin, who is here. I want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, for his important work. There he is. But as I said, most of all I want to thank the entire congregation of Adas Israel for having me here today.

Earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one of your members, Jeff Goldberg. And Jeff reminded me that he once called me “the first Jewish President.” Now, since some people still seem to be wondering about my faith — — I should make clear this was an honorary title. But I was flattered.

And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by — and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo. But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because — I want to be invited back. Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”

Now, I wanted to come here to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month because this congregation, like so many around the country, helps us to tell the American story. And back in 1876, when President Grant helped dedicate Adas Israel, he became the first sitting President in history to attend a synagogue service. And at the time, it was an extraordinarily symbolic gesture — not just for America, but for the world.

And think about the landscape of Jewish history. Tomorrow night, the holiday of Shavuot marks the moment that Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, the first link in a chain of tradition that stretches back thousands of years, and a foundation stone for our civilization. Yet for most of those years, Jews were persecuted — not embraced — by those in power. Many of your ancestors came here fleeing that persecution.
The United States could have been merely another destination in that ongoing diaspora. But those who came here found that America was more than just a country. America was an idea. America stood for something. As George Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island: The United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

It’s important for us to acknowledge that too often in our history we fell short of those lofty ideals — in the legal subjugation of African Americans, through slavery and Jim Crow; the treatment of Native Americans. And far too often, American Jews faced the scourge of anti-Semitism here at home. But our founding documents gave us a North Star, our Bill of Rights; our system of government gave us a capacity for change. And where other nations actively and legally might persecute or discriminate against those of different faiths, this nation was called upon to see all of us as equal before the eyes of the law. When other countries treated their own citizens as “wretched refuse,” we lifted up our lamp beside the golden door and welcomed them in. Our country is immeasurably stronger because we did.

From Einstein to Brandeis, from Jonas Salk to Betty Friedan, American Jews have made contributions to this country that have shaped it in every aspect. And as a community, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect. The story of Exodus inspired oppressed people around the world in their own struggles for civil rights. From the founding members of the NAACP to a freedom summer in Mississippi, from women’s rights to gay rights to workers’ rights, Jews took the heart of Biblical edict that we must not oppress a stranger, having been strangers once ourselves.

Earlier this year, when we marked the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, we remembered the iconic images of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Dr. King, praying with his feet. To some, it must have seemed strange that a rabbi from Warsaw would take such great risks to stand with a Baptist preacher from Atlanta. But Heschel explained that their cause was one and the same. In his essay, “No Religion is an Island,” he wrote, “We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism.” Between a shared hope that says together we can shape a brighter future, or a shared cynicism that says our world is simply beyond repair.

So the heritage we celebrate this month is a testament to the power of hope. Me standing here before you, all of you in this incredible congregation is a testament to the power of hope. It’s a rebuke to cynicism. It’s a rebuke to nihilism. And it inspires us to have faith that our future, like our past, will be shaped by the values that we share. At home, those values compel us to work to keep alive the American Dream of opportunity for all. It means that we care about issues that affect all children, not just our own; that we’re prepared to invest in early childhood education; that we are concerned about making college affordable; that we want to create communities where if you’re willing to work hard, you can get ahead the way so many who fled and arrived on these shores were able to get ahead. Around the world, those values compel us to redouble our efforts to protect our planet and to protect the human rights of all who share this planet.

It’s particularly important to remember now, given the tumult that is taking place in so many corners of the globe, in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods, those shared values compel us to reaffirm that our enduring friendship with the people of Israel and our unbreakable bonds with the state of Israel — that those bonds, that friendship cannot be broken. Those values compel us to say that our commitment to Israel’s security — and my commitment to Israel’s security — is and always will be unshakable.

And I’ve said this before: It would be a moral failing on the part of the U.S. government and the American people, it would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and prosper. Because it would ignore the history that brought the state of Israel about. It would ignore the struggle that’s taken place through millennia to try to affirm the kinds of values that say everybody has a place, everybody has rights, everybody is a child of God.

As many of you know, I’ve visited the houses hit by rocket fire in Sderot. I’ve been to Yad Vashem and made that solemn vow: “Never forget. Never again.” When someone threatens Israel’s citizens or its very right to exist, Israelis necessarily that seriously. And so do I. Today, the military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries is stronger than ever. Our support of the Iron Dome’s rocket system has saved Israeli lives. And I can say that no U.S. President, no administration has done more to ensure that Israel can protect itself than this one.

As part of that commitment, there’s something else that the United States and Israel agrees on: Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. Now, there’s a debate about how to achieve that — and that’s a healthy debate. I’m not going to use my remaining time to go too deep into policy — although for those of you who are interested — we have a lot of material out there. But I do want everybody to just remember a few key things.

The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program. Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution. I will not accept a bad deal. As I pointed out in my most recent article with Jeff Goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise. I want a good deal.

I’m interested in a deal that blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — every single path. A deal that imposes unprecedented inspections on all elements of Iran’s nuclear program, so that they can’t cheat; and if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on. A deal that endures beyond a decade; that addresses this challenge for the long term. In other words, a deal that makes the world and the region — including Israel — more secure. That’s how I define a good deal.

I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached. We’re hopeful. We’re working hard. But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And I’ve made clear that when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table.

Moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional destabilization, and ugly threats against Israel. And that’s why our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead. And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.

Now, that does not mean that there will not be, or should not be, periodic disagreements between our two governments. There will be disagreements on tactics when it comes to how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is entirely appropriate and should be fully aired. Because the stakes are sufficiently high that anything that’s proposed has to be subjected to scrutiny — and I welcome that scrutiny.

But there are also going to be some disagreements rooted in shared history that go beyond tactics, that are rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values. I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war. The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world. Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive. And those values in many ways came to be my own values. They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.

And to a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating. The example of Israel and its values was inspiring.

So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully. For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship.

Before I came out here, the Rabbi showed me the room that’s been built to promote scholarship and dialogue, and to be able to find how we make our shared values live. And the reason you have that room is because applying those values to our lives is often hard, and it involves difficult choices. That’s why we study. That’s why it’s not just a formula. And that’s what we have to do as nations as well as individuals. We have to grapple and struggle with how do we apply the values that we care about to this very challenging and dangerous world.

And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland. And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.

Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy. The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners. The neighborhood is dangerous. And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.

But it is worthwhile for us to keep up the prospect, the possibility of bridging divides and being just, and looking squarely at what’s possible but also necessary in order for Israel to be the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.

And that same sense of shared values also compel me to speak out — compel all of us to speak out — against the scourge of anti-Semitism wherever it exists. I want to be clear that, to me, all these things are connected. The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people. And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity. That’s what Jewish values teach me. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me. These things are connected.

And in recent years, we’ve seen a deeply disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in parts of the world where it would have seemed unthinkable just a few years or decades ago. This is not some passing fad; these aren’t just isolated phenomenon. And we know from our history they cannot be ignored. Anti-Semitism is, and always will be, a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire. And when we allow anti-Semitism to take root, then our souls are destroyed, and it will spread.

And that’s why, tonight, for the first time ever, congregations around the world are celebrating a Solidarity Shabbat. It’s a chance for leaders to publicly stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its forms. And I’m proud to be a part of this movement, and I’m proud that six ambassadors from Europe are joining us today. And their presence here — our presence together — is a reminder that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Our traditions, our history, can help us chart a better course as long as we are mindful of that history and those traditions, and we are vigilant in speaking out and standing up against what is wrong. It’s not always easy, I think, to speak out against what is wrong, even for good people.

So I want to close with the story of one more of the many rabbis who came to Selma 50 years ago. A few days after David Teitelbaum arrived to join the protests, he and a colleague were thrown in jail. And they spent a Friday night in custody, singing Adon Olam to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” And that in and of itself is a profound statement of faith and hope. But what’s wonderful is, is that out of respect many of their fellow protesters began wearing what they called “freedom caps” — yarmulkes — as they marched.

And the day after they were released from prison, Rabbi Teitelbaum watched Dr. King lead a prayer meeting before crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And Dr. King said, “We are like the children of Israel, marching from slavery to freedom.”

That’s what happens when we’re true to our values. It’s not just good for us, but it brings the community together. Tikkun Olam — it brings the community together and it helps repair the world. It bridges differences that once looked unbridgeable. It creates a future for our children that once seemed unattainable. This congregation — Jewish American life is a testimony to the capacity to make our values live. But it requires courage. It requires strength. It requires that we speak the truth not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

So may we always remember that our shared heritage makes us stronger, that our roots are intertwined. May we always choose faith over nihilism, and courage over despair, and hope over cynicism and fear. As we walk our own leg of a timeless, sacred march, may we always stand together, here at home and around the world.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. Thank you.

House Rule Change to Deny Disability Insurance Funding‏

ssalogo[1]— by Mark D. Olshan and Rachel Goldberg

Among the first acts of the 114th U.S. Congress was the adoption of a new rule that will undercut Social Security as a whole, and risks steep cuts in Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (DI) by late 2016.

During the summer, the 2014 Social Security and Medicare Trustees Report stated the DI trust fund is at risk of being depleted by 2016. The latest forecast is consistent with past reports, including expectations in the early 1980s, when funding allocations between retirement and disability benefits were last adjusted. [Read more…]

Kerry’s Support of Israel Is Unquestionable


Kerry and Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman.

— by Steve Sheffey

Last Sunday, The Daily Beast reported that it obtained a tape (which it has not released) of Secretary of State John Kerry at a private meeting with unidentified “world leaders,” in which he said that if a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not reached soon, Israel will risk becoming “an apartheid state”:

A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

If this sounds familiar to you, you are right. In 2010, then-Israeli Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak said that if Israel does not achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians, Israel will become either a binational state or an apartheid state.

More after the jump.
Barak said that “The simple truth is, if there is one state” including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, “it will have to be either binational or undemocratic… if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Barak is the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history. Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert are among the other Israeli leaders who have used the term “apartheid” similarly.

After Ehud Barak made his remarks in 2010, did the Zionist Organization of America and the Emergency Committee for Israel call on him to resign? Did Protect Our Heritage PAC urge its members to flood the Israeli embassy with protest calls? Did other organizations send stand-alone emails condemning his remarks?

None of that happened. But it did happen the day after Kerry’s remarks were reported, before he even had a chance to respond.

Kerry did not say Israel was an apartheid state. He said that if it does not reach a two-state solution, an apartheid state is one possible outcome.

One South African judge, Richard Goldstone, eloquently explained in The New York Times in 2011 why it is so wrong and inappropriate to call Israel and apartheid state:

In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.

Barak, Olmert, Livni, and Kerry were wrong to use the term not because they said Israel was an apartheid state — it is clearly not and they clearly did not — but because the term is so charged, loaded, and capable of misinterpretation. Using that term was a mistake.

But the over-reaction was also a mistake. If Kerry had really said Israel was an apartheid state, then the reaction would have been appropriate. But he did not, and it is clear even from the Daily Beast report what he meant.

The correct response, from a pro-Israel advocacy standpoint, would have been to tone down the response, lay off the panic button, and remember that Kerry has been a strong friend of Israel throughout his decades-long career. We have enough real enemies without creating for ourselves imagined ones.

Unfortunately, some of our right-wing friends just could not resist this “gotcha” moment. This forced centrist and even center-left organizations to join in, lest they be accused by the right or by certain of their donors of being soft on the apartheid accusation.

The result is that we have got the world entertaining the absurd notion that the U.S. Secretary of State might think that Israel is an apartheid state. Even the best public relations firm could not have given the Palestinians a better earned media bonanza. Nice job, guys.

Below is the full text of the strong statement Kerry released on Monday:

For more than thirty years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel, I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight. As Secretary of State, I have spent countless hours working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Justice Minister Livni because I believe in the kind of future that Israel not only wants, but Israel deserves. I want to see a two state solution that results in a secure Jewish state and a prosperous Palestinian state, and I’ve actually worked for it.

I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes, so I want to be crystal clear about what I believe and what I don’t believe.

First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.  Anyone who knows anything about me knows that without a shred of doubt.

Second, I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution. In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve. That’s what I said, and it’s also what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.

At least some organizations might have acted differently if they had just waited 24 hours.

The Anti-Defamation League welcomed Kerry’s statement:

While we may disagree from time to time, we have never doubted Secretary Kerry’s commitment to Israel’s security and his good faith efforts to find a fair, equitable and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a true friend of Israel. His statement makes that clear, and we consider this chapter closed.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, said that Israel deeply appreciates Kerry’s efforts to advance peace with the Palestinians, that Kerry did not threaten Israel, and that “his decades of support for Israel reflect an abiding commitment to Israel’s security and its future.”

Bloomberg’s Jeff Goldberg, who acknowledged that he too has used the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s possible future as well as today’s realities, explained why he no longer uses that term:

The problem is not inside Israel; the problem is on the West Bank. The settlers who entangle Israel in the lives of Palestinians believe that they are the vanguard of Zionism. In fact, they are the vanguard of binationalism. Their myopia will lead to the end of Israel as a democracy and as a haven for the Jewish people. The regime they help impose on Palestinians is cruel, unfair and unnecessary. Rather than label this regime in an incendiary fashion, I now prefer simply to describe its disagreeable qualities.

But if Kerry, following Barak’s lead, wants to warn about a possible apartheid future for Israel, I’m not going to condemn him as anti-Israel. Israeli leaders must open their minds to the possibility that he has their long-term interests at heart.

In the New Yorker, John Cassidy explained what we can learn from this episode:

As the prospects for a permanent peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians deteriorates, the standard of the debate in this country’s capital is deteriorating with it. Rather than supporting efforts to find peace, as they did in the not-so-distant past, Republicans are increasingly using Israel as a wedge issue to divide Democrats, raise money, and mobilize their own supporters…

That’s just politics, you (or Macbeth) might say — “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” To some extent, I would agree. But if there’s ever going to be an end to this wretched problem, somebody — and it’s almost certainly going to have be an American President or Secretary of State — is going to have to rise above politics and bring the two sides together. What just happened to John Kerry demonstrated why that’s getting even harder to do.

The goal of pro-Israel advocacy is to bring the U.S. and Israel closer, not to create divisions for partisan gain. That is why so many pro-Israel members of Congress from both parties wisely refrained from public comment. Following Kerry’s statement and the statement of support for Kerry from Israel, there is really not much more that can or should be said.

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What Does Hamas-PLO Unity Mean?‏


PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas, left, and leader of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashal.

— by Steve Sheffey

Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA) last week following reports that the PLO intended to form a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel.

The Obama administration, AIPAC and many lawmakers highlighted the dangers of the PLO’s path. And yet, others noted that a unity government could present new opportunities for reaching a two-state solution.

But it has not happened yet, and we do not know if it will. Similar attempts have failed before. Also, we do not know what the terms will be if it does happen, and whether Hamas will change any of its positions.

More after the jump.
According to a PLO fact sheet released on Friday, under the reconciliation agreement with Hamas, the “PLO will continue negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, supporting non-violence to end the occupation and upholding previous agreements signed with Israel. The interim government will adhere to those commitments and the PLO’s political agenda.”

If that is true, then this arrangement could bring us closer to peace. Indeed, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said on Saturday that the unity government will recognize Israel, reject violence, and recognize the legitimacy of international agreements.

Can we rely on Abbas’s word? I would not. But I would wait for his assurances to be proven false before taking action.

Some lawmakers have already threatened to cut off funding for the PA because Hamas a is terrorist group, and it is illegal for the U.S. to provide funds to terrorist-designated groups. But the State Department argues that until we get more information, we will not know whether the law requires the U.S. to cut off funds.

If you are not familiar with Hamas, read its charter (covenant), especially Article 7, which calls on Muslims to kill Jews, and Article 13, which says that “so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote in his website, “Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

Abu Mazen has formed an alliance with an organization whose covenant calls for Muslims to fight and kill Jews. Hamas has fired more than 10,000 missiles and rockets at Israeli territory and has not halted terrorist actions against Israel even for a minute.

The agreement between Abu Mazen and Hamas was signed even as Israel is making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians. It is the direct continuation of the Palestinians’ refusal to advance the negotiations. Only last month Abu Mazen rejected the framework principles proposed by the United States. Abu Mazen has refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish People. He violated existing agreements by unilaterally applying to accede to international treaties and then formed an alliance with Hamas.

Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.

The Obama administration backed Israel. Last week the State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said that “it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist” and that “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties.”

The George W. Bush administration pressured Israel into allowing Hamas to participate in the 2006 Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could not have otherwise achieved, and rescinded $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity. But the Obama administration has never pressured Israel to act contrary to what Israel perceives as its best interests.

AIPAC said that, “The announced formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government represents a direct affront to Secretary of State John Kerry and a severe blow to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.”

Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction and attacks innocent civilians. Any Palestinian government that includes Hamas cannot be a negotiating partner unless it meets longstanding Quartet demands ensconced in U.S. law: recognize Israel, reject violence, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Yet, a Hamas-PLO agreement could lead to peace. In his column in Haaretz, Barak Ravid noted that “it was Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and their colleagues in the cabinet who argued that Abbas doesn’t really represent the Palestinian people and no progress could be made so long as the PA didn’t control Gaza.”

The reconciliation agreement, if implemented, could provide a response to exactly these arguments by creating a government that represents all the Palestinians.

The reconciliation agreement is also an opportunity because Hamas’ serious problems might force the organization to change direction, as happened with Yasser Arafat and the PLO after the 1991 Gulf War. The unity deal calls for Hamas to join the PLO and accept its principles — which includes the recognition of Israel and acceptance of the Oslo Accords and the Road Map. The significance of this agreement is also that for first time, Hamas seems willing to give up some of its grip on the Gaza Strip in favor of a unity government.

Implementation of the agreement will also mean elections for president and the Palestinian parliament, which have not taken place for years. Given the precarious condition of the Hamas in Palestinian public opinion, especially in the Gaza Strip, new elections will almost certainly decrease its political power. New elections will also renew Abbas’ mandate — or bestow greater public legitimacy on whoever might be elected in his stead — making the Palestinian leader a stronger, more stable and more reliable partner for Israel.

And to those who say Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas, Ravid reminded that Netanyahu “reached at least two written agreements with the Gaza terror group; one in the 2011 deal in return for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and the second confirming the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.”

But can and will Hamas change its stripes? In his blog in The Forward, J.J. Goldberg explained that, “It’s highly unlikely that Hamas will agree between now and the end of the year to tear up its founding platform and formally embrace the principle of a Palestine partitioned into two states for two peoples.”

Militant religious movements don’t jettison their catechisms that fast. It is quite possible, however, that Abbas and his Fatah negotiators could obtain Hamas agreement to accept domestic portfolios in a unity government while Fatah holds the foreign affairs and security slots and handles peace negotiations with Israel. Some Hamas leaders have suggested such an arrangement in the past, with the understanding that if the negotiations produce an agreement and it’s approved in a Palestinian referendum, Hamas will accept the public’s will and live with it without endorsing it.

It’s not such a hard arrangement to understand. After all, Netanyahu heads up an Israeli government that hasn’t approved the two-state principle he himself says he embraces. Indeed, two of his coalition’s four parties, including Naftali Bennet’s HaBayit HaYehudi-Jewish Home party and Bibi’s own Likud, are formally, flatly opposed to Palestinian statehood. Put differently, they haven’t recognized the Palestinians or their right to a state. Bibi’s made it clear that he considers himself mandated to conduct negotiations toward a goal that his own party and a majority of his coalition oppose. If he’s as serious about peace as he says he is, he ought to be able to accept a Palestinian negotiating partner that operates under the same rules he does.

Can Bibi seize this opportunity? In Bloomberg, Jeff Goldberg made some good points:

Israel doesn’t get to pick its enemies. It has to make peace with the ones it has. Hamas is one of those enemies. And Netanyahu’s argument doesn’t take into consideration that, theoretically at least, the Palestinian Authority could, over time, help moderate Hamas and bring it more into the two-state fold.

But who am I kidding? Maybe both of Netanyahu’s superficially contradictory beliefs are true. Maybe he can’t make peace with a divided Palestinian entity. And maybe he can’t make peace with a unified Palestinian entity. Maybe he can’t make peace with any Palestinian entity because members of his own political coalition are uninterested in taking the steps necessary for compromise.

I hope Jeff Goldberg’s second paragraph is wrong, but Israel gets to elect its leaders, and Israel, not the U.S., will have to live, or die, with the risks it makes for peace and the chances they choose not to take.

We in the U.S. should not pressure Israel to act against its perceived interests. Rather, we should do all we can to bring the parties together and create an environment conducive to progress, recognizing, as President Obama does, that only the parties to the conflict can solve the conflict.

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ASA Israel Boycott Widely Condemned


Related Article: Is Your Alma Mater Complicit in ASA’s Israel Boycott? Includes universities’ contact information so that you can make your views known.

— by Steve Sheffey

The American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions has been condemned by organizations, politicians and public figures from all across the political spectrum.

The American Association of University Professors said in an official letter that it opposes academic boycotts, including the ASA boycott, as violations of academic freedom.

The Anti-Defamation League wrote in a press release, “This shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom by the [ASA] should be soundly condemned by all who are committed to the ideal that open exchange of ideas is the most effective way to achieve change.”

Targeting Israeli institutions solely because they are in Israel — the only democratic country in the Middle East where scholarship and debate are encouraged and flourish — is based on a myopic and fundamentally distorted perspective of Israel and the conflict and is manifestly unjust.

Comments from Ambassador Oren, Rep. Schneider, JStreet, Peter Beinart and Jeff Goldberg follow the jump.
The former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, wrote in his official Facebook page that the boycott “singles out the world’s only Jewish state, the Middle East’s only democracy, undermines academic freedom, and defies Abu Mazen’s opposition to such boycotts.”

More needs to be said about fighting back. The United States has long imposed strict penalties on companies complying with the Arab boycott of Israel. Similar measures should be enacted denying state and Federal funding for any activities associated with the promoters of this racist anti-democratic measure.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) tweeted that the “decision by ASA to boycott Israeli academic institutions is misdirected and wrong.”

In its official blog, JStreet wrote that it “strongly opposes the American Studies Association’s decision today to boycott Israeli colleges and universities.”

Unilaterally placing blame on one party, as the ASA boycott does, is an overly simplistic and unhelpful approach to an incredibly complicated and dynamic political situation. And it is one that is not befitting of an academic community.

The Daily Beast columnist, Peter Beinart, wrote that the boycott is “dead wrong,” because it denies “the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, even alongside a Palestinian one.”

The Bloomberg columnist, Jeff Goldberg, wrote, “Is it a coincidence that these academics are singling out the world’s only Jewish-majority country for boycott? Only to those who know nothing of the history of anti-Semitic scapegoating.”

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The Israeli Right’s Evolution: From Jabotinsky to Begin to Netanyahu


— by the staff of the Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors

Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors presented an evening devoted to exploring the historical roots of the Israeli right, from Vladimir Jabotinsky to Menachem Begin to Benjamin Netanyahu, and a discussion of its current relevance to what is happening in Israel today.  Rick Richman, the editor of Jewish Current Issues, was one of the presenters.  Steven M. Goldberg, the National Vice Chairman of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), spoke as well.  Professor Louis Gordon,  whose work has appeared in the Forward, the Jerusalem Post, the Jerusalem Report, and numerous other publications, shared additional insights.

More after the jump.

Vladimir Jabotinsky was a journalist, essayist, translator, author, novelist, orator, military leader, and head of the Revisionist Zionist movement, which attempted to return Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s to its Herzlian roots. Menachem Begin was one his principal followers, the head of Jabotinsky’s youth movement in Poland and later the leader of its military wing, the Irgun. Benjamin Netanyahu’s father was Jabotinsky’s personal secretary, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has frequently cited Jabotinsky as an influence on him in considering the current threats against Israel.

Understanding the current status of the right in Israel requires an understanding of the connections – and also the differences — between these three historic figures. It may also provide some insights into the approach of the current Israeli government as it faces a continuing existential threat.  

The evening concluded with an excerpt from the documentary film, Flames of Revolt: The Story of the IRGUN, which includes rare footage of those who participated in the events leading up to the re-creation of the modern State of Israel.

Food Chat: Just a Pinch

— by Hannah Lee

When you might think of Jewish cooking in America, you might conjure the iconic Ashkenazic staples of gefilte fish and noodle kugel, but the earliest Jewish cooking in the Americas was Sephardic, said Emily August, Public Programs Manager, in her role as moderator for a program, “Just a Pinch: A Brief and Unofficial History of Jewish Cooking in America,” held on Wednesday at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Jews immigrating from Brazil brought their taste for almond pudding and fish fried in oil, which became a favorite food of our third president Thomas Jefferson, citing Ronit Treatman’s article in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

More after the jump.
Drawing upon the food-themed artifacts from its museum collections, she proceeded to delight and enlighten the audience with the assistance of the dramatic reading talents of four people: Francine Berk, currently playing the role of Bubbie in The Stoop on Orchard Street; B.D. Boudreaux, director of and playing Old Man in The Stoop on Orchard Street; Siobhan Reardon, the President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia; and restauranteur Audrey Claire Taichman, owner of Audrey Claire and Twenty Manning Grill. Multilingual volunteers from the audience also participated in descriptive narration.

In 1889, Bloch Publishing Company, the oldest Jewish publishing firm in the United States, issued Aunt Babette’s Cook Book: Foreign and Domestic Receipts for the Household. It encouraged accommodation to American life with recipes for Easter, oysters, and treyfe (sic).

In 1901, The Settlement Cook Book: The Way to a Man’s Heart was published by the Milwaukee Settlement House and it became an important staple of the American kitchen for more than 50 years. In an interview before his death in 1985, the noted gourmet and author, James Beard, known as “The Father of American Gastronomy,” called this cookbook his personal favorite.  This cookbook was to serve as a guidebook for the new immigrants, to help them learn about middle-class American culture.

In 1914, the Hebrew Publishing Company issued the first Yiddish cookbook and it encouraged readers to adopt modern ways of cooking, moving from gefilte fish to American cuisine. It was printed with recipe instruction in both English and Yiddish, to avoid the language gap, so that the immigrant and first-generation members could cook together.

World War I brought the Lever Food and Fuel Control Act, to ensure an adequate supply of essential supplies to our soldiers and allies in Europe. The U.S. government printed and distributed pamphlets in diverse languages — such as Italian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish — to guide homemakers on healthy and delicious substitutions for wheat, meat, fats, and sugar. Among the tips were: one meatless meal a week and no second helpings. Herbert Hoover, then head of the Food Administration, set the moral tone with his slogan, “Food will win the war.  Don’t waste it.”

The Catskills grew in prominence as a vacation spot for middle class Jews, after the Grossinger family purchased its 100-acre estate in Ferndale, New York. Several postcards from these resorts and summer camp were read aloud by audience members: they all highlighted the food, whether delicious, as from the former, and terrible, as from the latter.

Another major culinary milestone was the introduction of Crisco in 1911. Proctor & Gamble made a special effort to target the Jewish homemaker, touting its product as pareve, light, sweet-tasting, and shelf-stable. In 1933, they distributed the 77-page pamphlet, Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife, printed in Yiddish and English.  The product, ranging from a 1-lb to 9-lb cans, displayed a blue-and-white label.

As an antidote to the growing secularism of American Jews, the The Jewish Home Beautiful, published in 1941, was an attempt to preserve Jewish ritual with Jewish tableaux (pictures of set tables). As an example of its attention to minute detail, the book recommends for Shavuot: serve two blintzes dusted with 10 lines of cinnamon, to represent the Ten Commandments.

In 1955, Gertrude Berg published The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook, written in the voice of her television persona. Its marketing success was a testament of the purchasing power of the Jewish viewer.

The next major culinary milestone was the formation of Hebrew National and its campaign to promote its frankfurters with the pamphlet 31 Ways to Make Hot Meals Out of Hot Dogs issued in 1955. Soon, its success lead other manufacturers to also appeal to the Jewish market. Planters issued Manna About Town in 1965 to promote its peanut oil. In it, “heirloom recipes…[are] lovingly laced with legend and lore.” Manischewitz introduced a Passover menu planner cookbook in 1963 (and its Passover Hagadah has become a fixture on the Jewish table). The editors knew their stuff and listed as the first ingredient for breakfast, prune juice.

Credit: Hannah WhitakerFinally, Bon Appetit magazine featured the resurgence of the Jewish deli in its recent September issue. Its Editor-in-Chief, Adam Rapoport, in an interview in Haaretz, gave a fitting conclusion to this program: “If you find a good recipe, hold onto it, but share it with a friend.”

Romney’s GOP Baggage

— by David Streeter

The Forward‘s J.J. Goldberg wrote this week about the extra “GOP baggage” that would come along with a Mitt Romney presidency. Goldberg wrote:

It’s a wise old rule of the heart, too often forgotten: When you choose a spouse, remember that you’re not just marrying a mate – you’re also marrying into a family.

There’s a corollary that’s worth remembering when you enter the voting booth in November: You’re not just electing a president. You’re electing an administration and the party that will staff it up….

You’ll be choosing a head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is supposed to police Wall Street unless it decides to close its eyes and let the gamblers run the table. You’re choosing a head of the U.S. Forest Service, which protects national forests from developers, unless it’s headed by developers, and of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, whose scientists keep track of the terrifying trends in the earth’s climate while dodging the anti-science bullies of the Republican Congress.

You’re choosing the head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which was led at a key point during the last Republican administration by one Michael ‘Brownie’ Brown, whose professional background was in show-horses, a pursuit that seems to have quite a following among Republican politicians.

You’re choosing a pool of Supreme Court nominees. The next president will likely decide whether the court’s pro-life faction is enlarged to the point where it can overturn Roe v. Wade. Ironically, this is the same pro-life faction that would rather risk executing an innocent man than risk setting a murderer free.

And you’ll probably be choosing a foreign policy team that yearns to resurrect the cowboy diplomacy of the George W. Bush administration, which did so much to discredit American leadership in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere….

Just look at Romney’s leadership field. In the GOP-led House of Representatives, Space, Science and Technology Committee Chair Ralph Hall of Texas believes human activity can’t impact the global climate because ‘I don’t think we can control what God controls.’ Science investigations and oversight subcommittee chair Paul Broun of Georgia said in a September 27 speech that he believes ‘the earth is about 9,000 years old’ and ‘was created in six days as we know them,’ and that ‘evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.’

The farm team is even weirder. In Arkansas, the GOP-led legislature has a pair of members, Jon Hubbard and Loy Mauch, who are openly nostalgic for African-American slavery (you read that right), and a former member running for his old seat, Charles Fuqua, who favors enacting the biblical law of executing ‘rebellious’ children by stoning.

This, then, is the crux of the choice this November: Whether to entrust our government to a party that believes in sensible governance or one that doesn’t. It would be better if we had two parties with two rational approaches to governing, rather than one that’s for it and one that’s against it. Competition is a good thing. But that’s not on offer.

Click here to read Goldberg’s full piece.  

Romney Says He Shares Same “Red Line” as Obama on Iran

— by Aaron Keyak

Romney just agreed that “Obama also says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and…he therefore has the same ‘red line’ as Obama.” Romney told ABC that “My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon” while Obama has made his policy clear many times and told Jeffrey Goldberg that “preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the interest of Israel, it is profoundly in the security interests of the United States, and that when I say we’re not taking any option off the table, we mean it.”