Hagel Proves Republican Critics Wrong

Remember the vicious campaign against Chuck Hagel waged by the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Protect Our Heritage PAC and other Republican groups? They were wrong. Totally wrong.

The outgoing Defense Minister was a true friend of Israel. Said who? Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon said. New Republic noted that Republicans attacked Hagel for being anti-Israel, but he turned out to be Israel’s closest friend.

Do not expect these Republicans to apologize for wasting our time and for attempting to besmirch Hagel’s reputation, though, and do not expect anyone to hold them accountable.

The Jerusalem Post noted that “when Jewish organizations turn out to be so wrong about their diagnosis of a particular candidate — as they were with Hagel — they end up paying a price”:

The next time they attempt to campaign against a nomination they will inevitably be less convincing. It would, therefore, be prudent to save clout and credibility for the truly important battles. The nomination of Hagel, it turns out, certainly wasn’t one of them.

Many of the same Republicans who blasted Hagel also “warned” us about Samantha Power, who blasted U.N. prejudice against Israel last week:

[T]he United States remains profoundly troubled by the repetitive and disproportionate number of one-sided General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel — a total of 18 this year.

This grossly one-sided approach damages the prospects for peace by undermining trust between parties and damaging the kind of international support critical to achieving peace. All parties to the conflict have direct responsibilities for ending it, and we are disappointed that UN Members continually single out Israel without acknowledging the responsibilities and difficult steps that must be taken on all sides.

These unbalanced, one-sided resolutions set back our collective efforts to advance a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East, and they damage the institutional credibility of the United Nations.

This administration has in common with every administration since 1967 its strong opposition to settlements, which Power also reiterated. But no administration has backed Israel at the U.N. to the extent the Obama administration has.

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Hagel, Power, Malley: Obama’s New Appointee Will Silence Critics


Robert Malley.

— by Steve Sheffey

The pattern is predictable: President Obama appoints someone, the far right waxes hysterically about how horrible he or she is for Israel, and then, once the person in question is appointed, none of the dire prophecies come true.

When was the last time you heard about Chuck Hagel or Samantha Power from our Republican friends? Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth that preceded their confirmations?

After taking office, Hagel issued a statement firmly reiterating our support for Israel and our commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Then, he went to Israel and finalized a huge arms deal with the Jewish State.

After taking office, Power reiterated our determination to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. She recently announced that the U.S. “strongly supports Israel’s candidacy” for a seat on the U.N. Security Council and that she will “never give up” on that effort.

Last week, Obama appointed Robert Malley to the National Security Council, and those of us who are subscribed to the “right” emails are now being treated to another round of Republican hysteria, courtesy of recycled smears from 2008.

More after the jump.
Dennis Ross, Sandy Berger, and Martin Indyk wrote in The New York Review of Books that those attacks on Malley were “unfair, inappropriate, and wrong.”

Gershom Gorenberg wrote in The American Prospect that “Of all the recent efforts to smear Barack Obama, none strikes me as stranger than the claims that one of his informal advisers on foreign affairs, Robert Malley, is anti-Israel.”

But don’t worry. Once Malley takes office, you will hear nothing but crickets from our right-wing friends.

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2013 in Review: U.S.-Israel Relationship Stronger Than Ever

— by Steve Sheffey

The U.S.-Israel relationship emerged stronger than ever in 2013.

  • Remember the right-wing hysterics about the nominations of Chuck Hagel and Samantha Power?
    Both have proven in word and deed to be solidly pro-Israel.
  • Remember the right-wing claims that once re-elected, President Obama would turn against Israel?
    Instead, shortly after his re-election, he unequivocally supported Israel’s right to defend itself in Operation Pillar of Defense.
  • Remember what our Republican friends told us about Obama when he ran for president in 2008?
    Here is what they did not tell us:
    • that Obama would always back Israel at the U.N.,
    • that he would never cut aid to Israel, and
    • that regardless of any disagreement with Israel, he would never even threaten retaliatory action against Israel.

    This is a far cry from the George W. Bush days, when loan guarantees were cut in response to settlement activity and when the U.S. stood idly by as the U.N. condemned Israel.

More after the jump including The Cartoon Kronicles’ review of 2013.
In March, Obama became the fifth sitting president to visit Israel. While in Israel, Obama received Israel’s Medal of Distinction.

Obama also worked hard in 2013 to find diplomatic solutions to Israel’s two existential threats: a nuclear-armed Iran and a permanent occupation of the West Bank. We will have a much better sense in 2014 of whether his efforts were successful.

No matter how good the U.S.-Israel relationship is, we always want more. That is why historical perspective matters.

Last week, Haim Saban wrote:

Observers may bemoan the lack of personal chemistry between Obama and Netanyahu, but international relationships needn’t be love affairs between leaders. They rest on common interests, common values and reciprocity.

This foundation is what has sustained an exceptional U.S.-Israel partnership through 65 years, 12 U.S. administrations and plenty of rocky news cycles.

2013 reviewed by The Cartoon Kronicles:

Cartoons Courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com/ and The Cartoon Kronicles @ http://cartoonkronicles.com

Sec. Hagel Meets with Israeli Counterpart; Provides V-22 Test Drive

— by Sara Fried

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon during his first official visit to Washington on Friday. In April, Hagel announced that the Obama Administration would provide Israel with the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft “as part of an unprecedented package of advanced military capabilities that will increase Israel’s qualitative military edge.”

According to the Department of Defense, Yaalon flew to the Pentagon in the V-22, and “Yaalon and his delegation experienced some of the Osprey’s unique capabilities as Israel plans to incorporate the aircraft into future military planning.”

More after the jump.
During his visit to Washington, Yaalon also spoke before the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He praised Secretary Hagel’s remarks to the Institute six weeks earlier:

What was expressed in Secretary Hagel’s briefing here is the bond between the United States and the State of Israel, based on common interests and common values, and I can tell you that…we have established intimate, earnest dialogue between us… for the benefit of our two countries. And today, my visit is part of these ongoing discussions which has to be done frequently according to the changes in our neighborhood, the Middle East.

Yaalon further emphasized the commonalities between the United States and Israel, and the role of the United States in working with Israel.

Department of Defense photo by Eric A. Kirk-Cuomo.

Politico: Former GOP Critics Praise Hagel

— by Jacob Miller

Some of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s toughest Republican critics have praised his tenure as Secretary of Defense. From Politico:

“I’m very pleased,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who during his confirmation hearing grilled Hagel on controversial remarks he made about Israel. Graham voted against Hagel but now says he’s happy with the way Hagel has tackled a flurry of national security challenges in his first three months on the job.

More after the jump.
Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), also formerly a staunch Hagel opponent, approved to Politico of the job he has done thus far:

I think he’s trying to bring people together, even people who didn’t support him. So I appreciate his efforts, and I think he’s off to a good start.

In his short tenure as Secretary of Defense, Hagel has astutely navigated the immense challenges of sequestration — a $40 billion cut on his first day — an unpredictable and dangerous North Korea, and the volatile Middle East. It is great to see that Republicans are giving credit where credit is due. Hagel has done an great job thus far — especially concerning the US-Israel relationship.

Hagel: Israel is America’s Closest Friend and Ally in the Middle East

— by John Tackeff

In a speech at the Washington Institute on Thursday night, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reaffirmed the close relationship between the United States and Israel:

Israel is America’s closest friend and ally in the Middle East. During a series of meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a former Washington Institute fellow, Minister of Defense Ya’alon, President Peres, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, I conveyed our continued commitment to enhancing defense cooperation — which has reached unprecedented levels in recent years.

More after the jump.
Secretary Hagel made it clear that Israel has the full right to defend itself, and that the collaboration between the United States and Israel is as strong as ever:

One of the core principles of U.S.-Israel security cooperation is America’s commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge — it s capacity to defeat any threat or combination of threats from state or non-state actors. As I emphasized during the trip, Israel is a sovereign nation and has the right to defend itself.

The Department of Defense works closely with the Ministry of Defense to develop and field the versatile range of advanced capabilities Israel needs to defend its people and its interests. One current example, among many, is our close cooperation on rocket and missile defense efforts — including Iron Do me, Arrow, and David’s Sling.

Beyond rocket and missile defense cooperation, DoD has been working for more than a year to increase Israel’s ability to confront and respond to a range of other threats. These efforts culminated in our announcement last month that the United States has agreed to release a package of advanced new capabilities, including anti-radiation missiles and more effective radars for its fleet of fighter jets, KC-135 refueling aircraft and the V-22 Osprey. Along with Israel’s status as the only Middle Eastern nation participating in the Joint Strike Fighter program, this new capabilities package will significantly upgrade their qualitative military edge.

Hagel also noted that the Obama administration is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and stressed that no option of doing so is off the table:

The United States will continue to lead diplomatic efforts and international economic sanctions to pressure Iran into abandoning the pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and meeting their international obligations. There is a presidential election next month in Iran, and no one can predict with certainty if that might affect the future direction of Iranian policies. As you all know, President Obama has made clear that our policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and he has taken no option off the table to ensure that outcome. I stressed that point during my discussions in the Gulf.

Is Eating Crow Kosher? Hagel’s Critics Should Apologize

Hagel Meets then-Defense Minister Barak. Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo courtesy of the Defense Department

— by Marc R. Stanley (courtesy of the The Jerusalem Post)

Now that Chuck Hagel has completed his first trip to Israel as US defense secretary, it’s time for the pro-Israel community to acknowledge the obvious: Secretary Hagel has demonstrated that he is following the president’s lead when it comes to supporting Israel. Like his predecessors, Hagel has personally committed himself to strengthening the US-Israel defense relationship and working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and many others enthusiastically welcomed Secretary Hagel for a series of top-level meetings. The secretary’s trip was an unqualified success for the Obama administration.

More after the jump.
Netanyahu expressed his confidence in Secretary Hagel by declaring, “In the past four years, we’ve greatly enhanced the defense and security relationship between Israel and the United States, and I am absolutely confident that we will continue to further strengthen this under your stewardship of the American defense establishment.” Politico quoted a senior defense official traveling with the delegation as saying, “In Hagel’s meetings with Israeli leaders — including Prime Minister Netanyahu — they repeatedly offered strong praise for President Obama. They believe he is strongly committed to Israel’s security and clearly understands how Israel views the security challenges in the Middle East.”

Ya’alon also expressed his support for Secretary Hagel by saying, “I want, Chuck, to express my personal appreciation for your friendship and for your solid and powerful support for our country. Toda raba.”

The Israelis have good reason to be so welcoming to Secretary Hagel. He has proved himself firmly committed to America’s “iron-clad pledge… to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge [QME].” Under his watch, Israel will be a party to an unprecedented regional arms deal that will see the Jewish state receive advanced V-22 Ospreys, KC-135 refueling tankers, anti-radar missiles and advanced radar systems — some of which were denied for Israel by the Bush administration.

The new deal will simultaneously boost Israel’s QME and send a firm warning to Iran that force is a real option to stop its nuclear program. Secretary Hagel has also sought nearly $400 million in funding for the Iron Dome antimissile system, to be delivered in the coming years.

It’s no coincidence Secretary Hagel’s first meeting with a foreign leader was with then-defense minister Ehud Barak — a former prime minister and Israel’s most decorated soldier. Before their meeting, Barak declared at the 2013 American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference, “As secretary of defense [Hagel] will no doubt serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served both on the battlefield and in Congress.”

Admittedly, the National Jewish Democratic Council was sometimes critical of Hagel when he served in the Senate. In retrospect, certain aspects of the NJDC’s criticism may have gone too far. But our prior criticisms were negligible compared to the disgraceful treatment he received during the confirmation process: Hagel was wrongfully slandered as anti-Semitic, libeled as a so-called “Friend of Hamas,” and treated with complete disrespect by certain Republicans who seemed more interested in future primary challenges and the politics of personal destruction than the confirmation process.

Hagel’s tenure to this point has done more than enough to rebut these malicious and false charges leveled by his fellow Republicans.

Given this turn of events, it’s time for his harshest critics to start making amends and admit that they were wrong.

A number of Congressional Republicans have started that process. House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-California) — an initial critic — now gives Secretary Hagel an A rating on his performance. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) — who skewered him during the confirmation process — told The Hill that the two now have a “professional relationship” and that “it is my job to work with him.”

Obviously Senator McCain has not offered a ringing endorsement and is unlikely to do so, but there are many who would be well served by following his lead.

If Secretary Hagel’s critics on Capitol Hill can begin to warm to him, then his most ardent critics in the pro-Israel community should as well. They co-opted the pro-Israel community’s agenda and used Secretary Hagel as a proxy for attacking President Obama. In the process, they spread baseless lies and undermined bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship. It’s time for them to undo the damaged they caused and apologize for their shameful behavior.

The writer is the chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Being a Republican Jew means never having to say you’re sorry

— by Steve Sheffey

They were wrong about the Republicans they told us to support who are leading the fight against gun control, wrong about President Obama and Israel, and wrong about Chuck Hagel. But don’t hold your breaths waiting for apologies from the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Protect Our Heritage PAC, and like-minded right-wing organizations.

More after the jump.
During Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings, we were deluged with nonsense from the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Protect Our Heritage PAC and like-minded right-wing groups telling us how terrible Chuck Hagel would be for Israel.

And what happened? After his confirmation, Hagel issued a statement firmly reiterating our support for Israel and our commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Then Hagel went to Israel and finalized “a huge arms deal with Israel… under which Israel will for the first time be permitted to purchase US aerial refueling planes and other ultra-sophisticated military equipment that could prove vital to any Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

The Times of Israel reported that

Hagel stressed repeatedly that Israel has a sovereign right to decide for itself whether it must attack Iran. He made no mention of the possibility that an Israeli attack would draw the U.S. into the conflict and lead to a wider regional war.

“Israel will make the decision that Israel must make to protect itself, to defend itself,” Hagel said as he began a weeklong tour of the Middle East.

And what do we now hear from our right-wing friends about Hagel? Crickets. In a brilliant must-read article, Chemi Shalev concludes that

Hagel’s critics were wrong…they intentionally inflated some possibly objectionable remarks made by Hagel during a long career…they subjected him to a callous and vicious campaign of defamation and character assassination for cynical political reasons [and] they were ready, willing and able to destroy Hagel’s reputation in order to advance their political agenda and to vindicate the exact same kind of malicious vendetta that they had waged against Obama during the presidential election campaign.

But that can’t possibly be true, because by now Hagel’s critics would have owned up to their mistake and profusely apologized, no? That would be the honorable thing to do, and as Antony famously said of Brutus and his friends, “So are they all, all honorable men.”

Let’s remember how wrong our Republican friends were about President Obama and Chuck Hagel when the next round of Republican attempts to divide us by using Israel as a partisan wedge issue comes in 2014.

Chuck Hagel was right about George W. Bush.

Hagel said that George W. Bush was the worst president since Herbert Hoover. The opening of the Bush Library (insert your own joke here) has prompted some people to re-evaluate Bush, but Hagel was right. Bush was terrible. It would take a separate newsletter to go over all of Bush’s misdeeds, but consider at least this from Steve Benen:

there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney’s tenure — after 9/11 — that shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, it’s a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, “Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush’s international unpopularity, the former president’s record on counter-terrorism was awesome.”

And finally, I’m not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the “other than 9/11” argument.

Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.

And Bush’s record on Israel?

George W. Bush rebuked then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 by rescinding $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity. In 2004, the Bush administration abstained rather than veto a UN resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza during a military operation aimed at stopping terrorism and weapons smuggling.

Bush pressured Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could never have otherwise achieved. Perhaps worst of all, Bush made little progress in stopping Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons and he allowed North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons.

Rescinding loan guarantees, failing to veto anti-Israel UN resolutions, allowing enemy countries to obtain nuclear weapons–sounds just like what our Republican friends said Barack Obama would do if he were elected president. He didn’t. Bush did.

But if you don’t count what he did in office, George W. Bush was the greatest president in American history @LOLGOP.

Special AIPAC Conference Report

Highlight video

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

— by Steve Sheffey

The 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference was a huge success, with over 13,000 delegates, 339 members of the Senate and House, and lobbying appointments with every member of the Senate and House.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Conference by live video, expressing his appreciation for President Obama’s work and emphasizing three priorities: Iran, Syria, and peace with the Palestinians.

Vice President Joe Biden was amazing. His outline of the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy was frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations.  

We lobbied for the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, the United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, Senate Resolution 65, which reiterates our commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, and security assistance for Israel.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is off to a strong start. His first meeting as Secretary of Defense with a foreign counterpart was with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak wished Hagel well in his Policy Conference speech. When Hagel met with Barak on Tuesday, Hagel reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security and to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Hagel also noted his outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister.

Barak said at the Policy Conference that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is the only long-term solution to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

Much more after the jump.
Over 13,000 people attended the AIPAC Policy Conference last week in a powerful display of bipartisan support for a strong US-Israel relationship. Some of us left on Monday to avoid being stranded by the snowstorm in Chicago on Tuesday. Over 1700 flights were canceled at O’Hare on Tuesday, mainly based on fear of what the storm might be rather than what the storm turned out to be. The flight I would have been on was not canceled. I could have stayed. Good job National Weather Service!

Please read my article on AIPAC and J Street if you need a refresher on what AIPAC is and isn’t. I’m not going to repeat it here.

This year marked the first time in AIPAC Policy Conference history that AIPAC members scheduled meetings with every lawmaker in Congress for the Tuesday lobbying meetings.  Nearly half of Congress has turned over in the past four years, so pro-Israel activism more important than ever.

The Policy Conference itself was attended by 65 Senators, 274 members of the House, 33 representatives of the Obama administration, 77 Israeli officials, representatives from more than 65 countries, and over 13,000 delegates, including more than 700 from the Chicago area.

Chemi Shalev wrote that

Regardless of one’s political convictions – whether you believe Israel is warmonger or peace seeker, aggressor or defender, victim or victimizer, hero or villain, sinner or saint – the Annual AIPAC Policy Conference is a sight to be seen, a pageant to behold, a formidable spectacle that cannot be ignored.

It’s hard to decide which is more impressive: the sheer scale of the event, the many thousands of participants, the professional management, the impeccable execution, the creative pyrotechnics, the mind-boggling percentage of American lawmakers and officials who grace the event with their presence or their unequivocal, across the board, no ifs or buts support for the Israeli government and its policies.

You can save $200 off the registration fee for the March 2-4, 2014 Policy Conference by clicking here and signing up before March 18.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Conference by live video from Israel. Bibi explained that while putting together a coalition government is consuming his time now,

The first thing that my new government will have the privilege of doing is to warmly welcome President Obama to Israel. I look forward to the President’s visit. It will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel.

Netanyahu said his discussions with President Obama would focus on Iran, Syria, and the need to find a responsible way to advance the peace with the Palestinians.

Vice President Joe Biden rocked the house. His speech was amazing and was frequently interrupted by standing ovations. I’ll give you just a taste, but if you have time, you should read it or watch it. It’s worth watching rather than reading because Biden’s delivery is so effective. Said Biden:

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel and the United States to reassess old and settled relationships. Iran — Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program and its continued support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas not only endanger Israel but endanger the world. Attempts — (applause) — attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the state of Israel are increasingly common and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these — all these pressures are similar but different. And they’ve put enormous pressure on the state of Israel. We understand that. And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence, but if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence. (Applause.)

And that’s why — that’s why from the moment the president took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not: our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel. That has not changed. (Cheers, applause.) That will not change as long as I and he are president and vice president of the United States.

It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative. All of you — I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment.

Lobbying is a key component of the AIPAC Policy Conference. This year, we lobbied for The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, The United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, S. Res. 65, and security assistance for Israel. You can read the AIPAC summaries here.

The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 (HR 850) states that United States policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability would embolden its already aggressive foreign policy, increase the risk that Iran would share its nuclear technology and expertise with extremist groups and rogue nations, destabilize global energy markets, and likely lead other governments in the region to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs.

HR 850 requires the Secretary of State to determine whether Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization. The bill also imposes additional sanctions on Iran. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is an original co-sponsor.

The United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (HR 938) designates Israel as a major strategic partner of the United States. It also provides for increased assistance and cooperation with Israel, including the enhancement of the David’s Sling Weapon System, the enhancement of the joint United States-Israel Arrow Weapon System (Arrow 2 and Arrow 3), and the procurement and enhancement of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.

Senate Resolution 65 contains an excellent history of Iran’s actions and statements on nuclear weapons and recognizes “the close military, intelligence, and security cooperation that President Obama has pursued with Israel.”  The bipartisan Resolution leaves no doubt about our nation’s commitment to stopping Iran, reminding the world that

  • In his State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013, President Obama reiterated, “The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”
    On March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, ‘Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
  • On October 22, 2012, President Obama said of Iran, “The clock is ticking . . . And we’re going to make sure that if they do not meet the demands of the international community, then we are going to take all options necessary to make sure they don’t have a nuclear weapon.”
  • On May 19, 2011, President Obama stated, “Every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
  • On September 21, 2011, President Obama stated, “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.”
  • On March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, “And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
  • On October 22, 2012, President Obama stated, “Israel is a true friend. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency . . . I will stand with Israel if they are attacked.”

Anyone who doubts President Obama’s commitment to Israel and to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons hasn’t been paying attention.

The Resolution, which does not have the force of law, “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence” but also states that “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.”

We also lobbied for security assistance for Israel. Click here to read more.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is off to a strong start. I’m sure that Chuck Hagel came up at some of the break-out sessions, but the only mention I noticed of Hagel at the plenaries was when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, congratulated Hagel and wished him well. It was obviously an applause line, but some AIPAC delegates didn’t get it and the applause was tepid.

This is what Ehud Barak, who has known Hagel for ten years, said: “[Secretary Hagel] will, no doubt, serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served, both on the battlefield and in Congress.”

Many of us had concerns about Hagel. But the nomination fight is over. Hagel is our Secretary of Defense. Regardless of whether we were for him or against him, we should all wish him well and judge him on how he does going forward. So when Israel’s Defense Minister (who might even be more pro-Israel than we are) applauds our Secretary of Defense, those of us who place a strong US-Israel relationship above partisan politics should join in that applause.

Thus far, Hagel is proving his critics wrong. His first meeting as Secretary of Defense with a foreign counterpart was with Ehud Barak on Tuesday. Here is the full Department of Defense statement on the meeting. Judge for yourself the state of US-Israel relations in the Hagel era:

Secretary Hagel hosted Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak today at the Pentagon for his first meeting with a foreign counterpart since taking office as secretary of defense.  Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel’s security, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and continued U.S. support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints.

Secretary Hagel and Minister Barak agreed that the United States-Israeli defense relationship has never been stronger than during the Obama administration and that both nations will continue this unprecedented close cooperation.

The leaders discussed the range of security interests shared by the U.S. and Israel, including the need for the Syrian regime to maintain control over chemical and biological weapons in their country; the leaders pledged to continue U.S.-Israel contingency planning to counter that potential threat.

Regarding Iran, Secretary Hagel reiterated that President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon with all options on the table.  He stated that the United States continues to believe there is still time to address this issue through diplomacy, but that window is closing.

Secretary Hagel noted the two have had an outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister and he thanked Minister Barak for his kind words at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.  Secretary Hagel expressed his desire to visit Israel soon and Minister Barak stated that Israel looks forward to hosting him in the near future.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the Policy Conference that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is the only long-term solution to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Barak said that a two-state solution is essential for Israel, not a favor for the Palestinians. In one of the break-out sessions, David Makovsky said that both sides want a two-state solution, but each doubts the other’s sincerity.  Makovsky thinks that synchronized political messaging can help build trust on both sides. He thinks it’s important for Israel to set clear limits on settlement expansion.

Jeff Goldberg sums up in three paragraphs the essence of the occupation and what it means for Israel:

Remember, the occupation itself was originally justifiable: Jordanian forces fired on Israel from the West Bank, and Israel subsequently took the territory from which it was being assaulted. It was when some Israelis succumbed to messianic temptation and moved to the West Bank, with the help of successive Israeli governments, that the true problem began.

Israel faces only two choices here: It can offer citizenship to the Palestinians whose lives are affected by its decisions, or it can negotiate an end to settlement, especially the far-flung settlements that project deeply into the West Bank, and then work toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Will Jews be allowed to live and pray in that Palestinian state? I certainly hope so; it would be a crime to deny Jews access to their holy sites. Hebron is Judaism’s 2nd-holiest city, Jews lived there for millenia until they were massacred by some of their Arab neighbors (other Arabs played a role in the rescue of the remnant of the Jewish community) and Jews quite obviously have a right to live in all parts of their historic homeland.

That said, the Jewish state cannot maintain a double-standard in these areas, because it is also a crime to deny people full enfranchisement based on their ethnicity. Most Israelis want to maintain their country as a Jewish state, and as a Jewish haven. Jews, because they are an ancient people, and because they have suffered at the hands of Christians and Muslims for centuries, have earned the right to independence. Having finally earned the privilege of Jewish autonomy, Israelis do not want to become citizens of the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. But eventually, if the Palestinians of the West Bank aren’t freed from Israeli domination, that is what they will become.

Have you seen this amazing speech by Ruth Calderon? At a break-out session on Israel’s recent election, Dr. Jonathan Rynhold recommended that we watch this video of new Knesset member Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid). A secular woman gives a Talmud lesson on pluralism and religious freedom in the Knesset during which the Speaker of the Knesset (from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party) not only participates, but says “amen” at the end. Truly remarkable.

As for the Israeli elections, the panel (which also included David Horovitz from the Times of Israel) agreed that Netanyahu would likely form a coalition government prior to President Obama’s scheduled visit. Rynhold said that the difference between Israeli and American democracy is that the American system was designed by geniuses to be run by idiots, whereas the Israeli system was designed by idiots and can only be understood by geniuses.

Both panelists agreed that the peace process was not much of an issue in the election–not because Israelis don’t think it’s important, but because there is a national consensus in favor of a two-state solution and a national despair of reaching a two-state solution with current Palestinian leadership.

And finally, a personal story. For some reason, there was no Republican Jewish Coalition presence at the Policy Conference, but there was a strong National Jewish Democratic Coalition presence. On Sunday morning, the NJDC’s Aaron Keyak and David Streeter gave me a Proud Pro-Israel Dem button to wear and a few dozen more to give to anyone who wanted one.

Later that afternoon, as I was walking down a crowded stairway, I tripped and fell down the stairs. My bag dropped and the buttons flew all over the stairs. Chevy Chase would have been proud of the way I took the fall, although if Aaron Stein hadn’t grabbed my arm I might have broken my neck. Within seconds, two security guards rushed to my side and everyone was looking at me. After reassuring the guards that I was okay, while still sitting on the stairs, I somehow had the presence of mind to loudly say “Now that I’ve got your attention, who wants a button?” Many people took buttons. It was pretty cool.  

Hagel Expresses Commitment to Israel’s Security to Minister Barak

Photos by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo courtesy of the Defense Department

— by George Little, Pentagon Press Secretary

Secretary Hagel hosted Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak yesterday at the Pentagon for his first meeting with a foreign counterpart since taking office as secretary of defense. Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel’s security, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and continued U.S. support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints.

Secretary Hagel and Minister Barak agreed that the United States-Israeli defense relationship has never been stronger than during the Obama administration and that both nations will continue this unprecedented close cooperation.

More after the jump.
The leaders discussed the range of security interests shared by the U.S. and Israel, including the need for the Syrian regime to maintain control over chemical and biological weapons in their country; the leaders pledged to continue U.S.-Israel contingency planning to counter that potential threat.

Regarding Iran, Secretary Hagel reiterated that President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon with all options on the table. He stated that the United States continues to believe there is still time to address this issue through diplomacy, but that window is closing.

Secretary Hagel noted the two have had an outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister and he thanked Minister Barak for his kind words at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. Secretary Hagel expressed his desire to visit Israel soon and Minister Barak stated that Israel looks forward to hosting him in the near future.