Holocaust Is Not a Matter of Opinion


Jews being selected for labor or death in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

— by Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region

Last Monday I participated in the dedication of the Holocaust and Liberators Memorial on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. I participated in this emotional ceremony along with Ohio Governor John Kasich, who spearheaded the project and shepherded it until its completion this week.

The Holocaust is not a matter of opinion. It is an undisputable historical fact. Holocaust denial is, therefore, a despicable practice rooted in one of the most ancient and ugly form of hatred — anti-Semitism. The fact that Holocaust deniers these days are not always overt neo-Nazis parading around with swastikas, but rather so-called academics operating within established university settings, only makes it all the more troubling.

More after the jump.
I recently read about an adjunct professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who has questioned the number of Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.

So-called professors who deny the Holocaust are nothing more than wolves in sheep clothing. Their motivations are anything but academic. On the contrary, they are anti-academic in that they seek to deliberately obstruct and distort objective, historic truths. They are driven by hatred and prejudice. They should be called out for what they are and condemned.  

Kerry Said What?


Kerry from 0:55:00 to 1:00:00 is not portraying Israel as the villain; in fact, he goes out of his way to praise Prime Minister Netanyahu.

— Steve Sheffey

Secretary of State John Kerry, a strong supporter of Israel, testified last week that both parties — Israel and the Palestinians — have recently taken unhelpful steps, but he continues to work to bring the two sides together, as he should.

Don’t want to deal with the implications of climate change? Deny it! Don’t like the Obamacare sign up numbers? Make up your own! Don’t want Israel to give up the West Bank? Wish away the demographic facts! Don’t like how your candidate is doing in the polls? Invent your own numbers! (No link — just ask President Romney how to do it.)

Experiencing cognitive dissonance because contrary to everything you were told or secretly wished to believe, President Obama has turned out to be a strong friend of Israel? Then invent a conflict!

During President Obama’s first term, we were treated to rumors about a snub of Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House that turned out to be completely false and headlines about forcing Israel to return to the 1967 borders that turned out to be utter nonsense. Last week, the Republican Jewish Coalition and others claimed that Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Israel for the latest impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

More after the jump.
Fortunately, Kerry’s April 8 testimony was videotaped. Here in relevant part is what he said (bolding emphasized in Kerry’s voice):

Both sides, whether advertently or inadvertently, wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful. Clearly, [the Palestinians] going to these treaties is not helpful, and we have made that crystal-clear… Unfortunately, prisoners were not released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by, day two went by, day three went by. And then in the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment. We find ourselves where we are.

Ron Kampeas:

“Memo from reality: Reciting an accurate chronology is not ‘blaming,’ it is reciting an accurate chronology.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that “John Kerry was again crystal clear today that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and at no point has he engaged in a blame game. He even singled out by name Prime Minister Netanyahu for having made courageous decisions throughout process.”  

I haven’t been able to find a transcript of the hearing, but if you really care about this, at least watch just the key five minutes where this issue is discussed. At about 55:00 (the video is 2-1/2 hours long) Kerry says that the administration supports recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the question is when (not if) during the negotiations the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Kerry next explains what led to the impasse. Watch Kerry from 55:00 to 1:00:00, just five minutes, and you’ll see that Kerry is not portraying Israel as the villain; in fact, he goes out of his way to praise Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Jeff Goldberg is right:

Kerry, one of the last of a generation of intuitively, emotionally pro-Israel Democratic leaders, is not delusional to think that Israel is in trouble. Nor is he delusional to believe — as he does — that the average Palestinian on the West Bank is made miserable by the policies of Israeli occupation authorities. Nor is he delusional to believe that Palestinians already inclined to hopelessness might rise up in the absence of a Palestinian state and begin a third uprising…

Kerry believes that Netanyahu is capable of [risking his political career for a final deal]. Which is why he is sticking with the peace process, despite all the criticism. Kerry may be wrong about Netanyahu, and he may be wrong about Abbas. But he is not wrong to keep trying.

The peace process is not a favor to the Palestinians. No matter how unreasonable the Palestinians may be, no matter how incendiary their rhetoric and counterproductive their actions, it remains in Israel’s best interests to reach an agreement that will allow Israel to vacate most of the West Bank. Israel cannot occupy the West Bank indefinitely and remain both Jewish and democratic. We might not like it, but that’s reality.  

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Gubernatorial Forum at Gershman Y

— by John Oliver Mason

Candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania were asked questions as a community forum held in the Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium of the Gershman Y on Sunday, March 23, 2014. The participants were:

Governor Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Tom Wolff were invited but did not attend.

Synopsis after the jump.
Introductions

Gloria Gilman, Chair of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and Co-Coordinator of the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn, greeted the audience, saying,    

The coalition’s goal is to help educate voters (about) the upcoming primary, to be held May 20th-remember that date-and to recognize the importance of the role the Governor (of Pennsylvania) plays in our lives. We came together to look at the issues upon which the governor has influence that effect the grassroots of this city. We’re posing questions on issues that really matter to us, in which the candidates have not necessarily committed to their positions, or where we think it might be possible to differentiate their perspectives.

Tracy Gordon, Deputy City Commissioner of Philadelphia, spoke of a new effort of the City Commissioners’ office (which oversees voting in the city) for assuring voter turnout in the May primary.  Gordon read a letter from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was in Harrisburg at the time:

While many Philadelphians vote in presidential elections, many fewer vote in midterm elections. This low turnout has far-reaching consequences. One in every eight registered voters in Pennsylvania (live in) Philadelphia. But candidates for statewide office spend less than one-eighth of their time campaigning in Philadelphia. They favor the counties with higher voter turnout, and who can blame them?

The result is statewide officials, such as governors, who don’t understand us or respond to our needs as well as they would if (voters) turned out to vote in large numbers…Every vote you cast is a vote not only for a candidate, but also for your neighborhood, and for your demographic group. Every vote you cast supports the work of local leaders who represent you. Every vote you cast  makes Philadelphia strong.

Gordon displayed a new handbook from Singer’s office for voters with questions about election procedures, and she directed voters to Singer’s office’s new website for more information. The book, said Gordon, explained how to vote by absentee ballot, how to write in a vote, and deadlines for registering to vote.

The moderators for the forum were Daniel Denvir, writer for Philadelphia City Paper, and Holly Otterbein, correspondent for WHYY-FM. “The gubernatorial election is in November,” started Denvir, “and there’s a lot at stake for our schools, the environment, and the welfare of our city’s people.” Otterbein described the format of the forum, saying, “We’re going to give each candidate one minute and thirty seconds to respond to each question.” The candidates gave brief introductory statements.

On Pennsylvania’s Refusal to Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

On health insurance, Otterbein said that Pennsylvania has not expanded its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act; Governor Corbett has asked for federal funds to pay for private coverage for residents.

Katie McGinty said,

You always have to look at a person’s track record… This is a governor who, as attorney general, fought tooth and nail to stop the availability of health care coverage. He’s not changed his stripes. This is a governor who has presided over ninety-seven thousand people being dropped from our health care and medical assistance rolls.

McGinty said the Corbett plan was a “voucher-izing” of  Medicaid, which means

there would be fewer people covered, it will cost more, and coverage will be less effective…We want to expand Medicaid, we want to say yes to the forty-billion dollars that should come to Pennsylvania as five hundred thousand people get that health care.

Allyson Schwartz said that the Medicaid plan the Corbett administration submitted to the federal government

creates obstacles, reduces benefits, and it hurts people who are on Medicaid or should be…As governor, one of the first things I would do is accept that Medicaid money…and we use it for our Pennsylvania residents.

Jack Wagner said,

I oppose Governor Corbett’s proposal, and I believe we need to (enroll) the five hundred thousand Pennsylvanians that need better health care…Even the very conservative governors across the country have adopted this proposal. It is federal tax dollars, that all of you have paid to the federal government, that will finance this proposal one hundred percent for several years…We are denying our own resources coming back to serve our own people.

Rob McCord called the governor’s health care proposal

immoral and inefficient… We’re depriving five hundred thousand people of coverage that’s already been paid for, with your taxpayer dollars…Medicaid is more efficient, not less efficient, than the short-term-oriented-profit-maximalizing firms in providing care to those who are currently not covered.

On Pennsylvania’s Ban of Abortion Coverage under the Affordable Care Act

The next health question was about the Pennsylvania’s ban on abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. McCord said,

We need to make private, personal health care decisions that women and men make private. I’m as profoundly pro-choice as anybody in the country.” McCord called it “absurd that we are subsidizing the consumption of Viagra, and making it difficult for women to make their own procreative choices.

McGinty said she opposed such restrictions, adding,

I would aggressively and determinedly to overturn it.” The Corbett administration would suggest, she added, “that this is about taxpayer-funded abortions…This is about whether individuals, and women in particular, have the right to shop for and choose  the health care that is best for them. This is about private companies offering that health care that women want to choose and select.

Schwartz reminded the audience of her work in Congress

during the whole debate on the Affordable Care Act to make sure that women have access to the full range of reproductive health services that we need to use…Many of you know I am not new to this issue,

and she mentioned her work in establishing the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Philadelphia.

Wagner said,

I believe that a woman should have access to safe health care under the law…But I will be very frank with everyone, I’m a pro-life Democrat, I believe that a woman should have access to abortion for rape, incest, and (to save) the life of the mother.

On Restoring the State’s Social Safety Net

Daniel Denvir asked questions about taxes and economic issues. Denvir pointed out cuts to poor people in state cash assistance, and cuts by Congress in the Food Stamp program; he asked if elected governor, would they reinstate these programs, and what would they do to strengthen the state’s social safety net.

McGinty said this approach was “wrong headed, (and) as the leader of the Commonwealth you want to lift people up and give them the ability to prosper, and this has been the opposite direction.” She called the cuts in Food Stamps “terribly wrong, and I would have opposed them,” and the federal Food Stamp cuts came along with the governor cutting state food assistance, adding “those dollars need to be restored.” McGinty added that Pennsylvania is fourth in the country in states with a long-term unemployed population.; with “job training, apprenticeships, job assistance, I will invest in people.”

Schwartz spoke of her time in the Pennsylvania Senate when Governor Tom Ridge cut people from general assistance; “It’s been going on for a while,” she said, “and I opposed those cuts…it hurt a lot of people, and it made it harder for them to be successful.” Noting her work in the Senate to extend long-term unemployment, “To make sure people can get back on their feet,” Schwartz added, “we do need to make sure that people can support them selves and their families, and that they have support during tough times.”

Wagner said,

Food assistance is as basic and as important as any (other social) program…As Auditor-General I looked at a wide variety of programs within (the welfare system), and quite frankly fraud, waste and abuse exist. But we never found that in the food assistance program,” which he called “one in which we should strongly support. We can actually save money in certain programs if we do a good job managing it, and provide more of those resources that we save into food assistance.

McCord said, “Yes, of course, I will restore general assistance for those who need it…This is really personal for me,” and he recalled his mother attending college and graduate school, and said, “I never would have thought, looking back at that beginning, that she would ever suffer from economic insecurity, but she did, and that motivates me.” Noting that “good, hard-working people often touch the edge of poverty,” McCord said, “It’s important not to blame the victim.”  

The forum was organized by Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn.org. Several groups in coalition co-sponsored the event, including the Jewish Labor Committee, AFSCME District Council 47, the AIDS Law Project, Americans for Democratic Action, the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, Ceasefire PA, Coalition of Labor Union Women Philadelphia Chapter, Bread and Roses Community Fund, Decarcerate PA, Education Voters of PA, Friends of Farmworkers, National Lawyers Guild, Liberty City Democratic Club, Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus, Philadelphia Jobs With Justice, PhillyCAM, and others. These sponsoring organizations submitted questions for the candidates to be asked.

Remarks of Treasury Secretary Lew at AIPAC

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew at the 2014 American Israel Public Affair Committee Policy Conference

The reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable.  And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism-you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in.  This is not just your right as Americans.  It is your responsibility.  It is the essence of our democratic system.

And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel.  This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.

Full transcript follows the jump.
I want to thank President Kassen, incoming President Cohen, the Board of Directors, and everyone for inviting me here today.  There are so many familiar faces in this room-friends of many years from my time in Washington, New York, and around the country.  It is truly wonderful to be with you.

Before turning to the focus of my remarks, let me say that we are closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine with grave concern.  As President Obama told President Putin yesterday, Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity is a breach of international law.  I have spoken several times to the Ukrainian Prime Minister who assures me that the government is prepared to take the necessary steps to build a secure economic foundation, including urgently needed market reforms that will restore financial stability, unleash economic potential, and allow Ukraine’s people to better achieve their economic aspirations.

The United States is prepared to work with its bilateral and multilateral partners to provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth, if the new government implements the necessary reforms.

An IMF program should be the centerpiece of the international assistance package, and the United States is prepared to supplement IMF support in order to make successful reform implementation more likely and to cushion the impact of needed reforms on vulnerable Ukrainians.

Now the reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable.  And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism-you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in.  This is not just your right as Americans.  It is your responsibility.  It is the essence of our democratic system.

And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel.  This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.

In fact, in 1948, it took President Truman only 11 minutes to recognize the Jewish state of Israel.  And from then on, the American-Israel relationship has not been a Democratic cause or a Republican cause, it has been an American cause.

President Obama has remained true to this proud legacy since the first day he took office, and he has made it clear that for him and for this Administration, America’s commitment to Israel is ironclad.  As he said as President-elect, before he even took office: “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable.”  And he has never wavered from that position.

Like the President, Israel’s security is not only a public policy conviction for me, it is a personal one.  As many of you know, no one grew up with a deeper appreciation for the state of Israel than I did.  And I have no doubt that a strong and secure Israel is vital to America’s strength and America’s security.  

As we meet, America’s support for Israel’s security has never been stronger.  And over the next three days, you’re going to hear about all the things that the Administration is doing to advance Israel’s security-from promoting a lasting peace with the Palestinians to preserving Israel’s military edge so it can protect itself against any threat.

Today, I will discuss one of the most pressing national security concerns for Israel and the United States-and that is Iran’s nuclear program.

Let us not forget that when President Obama took office, Iran was strengthening its position throughout the region and the international community was unable to provide a unified response.  But because of President Obama’s leadership, Congressional actions, American diplomacy, which AIPAC has supported, we put in place a historic sanctions regime and Iran now finds itself under the greatest economic and financial pressure any country has ever experienced.

Initially, many claimed sanctions on Iran would never work, but we have proven exactly the opposite. From the beginning, this sanctions program has had one purpose: Persuade Iran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.  There can be no alternative.

To be clear, we never imposed sanctions just for the sake of imposing sanctions.  We did it to isolate Iran and sharpen the choice for the regime in Tehran.  And we did it by bringing the community of nations together.  We are talking about China, Russia, India, Japan, Europe, Canada, South Korea, and the list goes on.

Having the international community united in opposition to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon made an enormous difference.

We now have in place the most sweeping, most powerful, most innovative, and most comprehensive sanctions regime in history.  And because of the impact of these unprecedented, international sanctions, Iran finally came to the negotiating table seeking relief and fully aware that to get relief, it had to take concrete steps to curtail its nuclear program.  Those negotiations led to the Joint Plan of Action, which went into effect in January.

Today, for the first time in a decade, progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key elements have been rolled back.

The temporary deal struck in Geneva provides us with a six-month diplomatic window to try to hammer out a comprehensive, long-term resolution, without fear that Iran, in the meantime, will advance its nuclear program.  Now, I want to emphasize something: Before we agree to any comprehensive deal, Iran will have to provide real proof that its nuclear program, whatever it consists of, is-and will remain-exclusively peaceful.

This deal will only be acceptable if we are certain that Iran could not threaten Israel or any other nation with a nuclear weapon.

Yet make no mistake: Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place.  Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate.  And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We are under no illusions about who we are dealing with.  Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence, supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and has failed to live up to its promises in the past.

Still, it is critically important that we give negotiations, backed by continuing economic pressure, a chance to succeed.  I have sat with two presidents as they weighed the enormous decision to send men and women into harm’s way to protect our nation.  And while all options must remain available, I believe it is our responsibility to do as much as we reasonably can to reserve force as a last option.

This is as much a strategic obligation as it is a moral one.  You see, maintaining the sanctions regime that has crippled Iran’s economy requires international cooperation.  No amount of U.S. sanctions would have the same crippling power as this international effort.  For other nations to continue to remain steadfast with us, they need to know that we have given negotiations every chance to succeed.  And if the moment comes when we have to use force, the whole world needs to understand that we did everything possible to achieve change through diplomacy.

To that end, we do not believe that now is the time to adopt new sanctions legislation.  We do not need new sanctions now – the sanctions in place are working to bring Iran to the negotiating table and passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective.  But as I have said, and as President Obama has said, we continue to consult closely with Congress, and if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.

Now, in the next two days or so, you may hear some say that the very narrow relief in the interim agreement has unraveled the sanctions regime or eased the chokehold on Iran’s economy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And I want to take a few moments to go through a few basic facts.

The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the sanctions, monitors the numbers carefully.  And when you consider the ongoing sanctions that remain in place, the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief is extremely limited-totaling an estimated $7 billion.  To put that into context, during the same six month period, Iran will lose roughly $30 billion in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place.

Put simply, this relief will not enable Iran’s economy to recover from the deep economic damage inflicted by the sanctions program.  The bulk of this relief does not come from suspending sanctions on economic activity like manufacturing or exports.  It comes from the measured release of Iran’s own funds that are now impounded in overseas banks.  The fact is, because of years of sanctions enforcement, Iran has about $100 billion locked up in overseas banks.  The interim agreement allows Iran to access $4.2 billion of these funds.

I want to underscore that Iran’s access to this limited relief is neither immediate nor instantaneous.  It will be provided in separate installments on a rolling basis over the six-month period of the Joint Plan, and it will only flow if Iran demonstrates week by week that it continues to comply with its agreement to freeze and rollback its enrichment program.

Other measures amount to less than $2 billion-the limited suspension of sanctions on the export of plastics, the import of parts for Iran’s automotive sector, and tuition assistance for students studying abroad.  And the core architecture that makes the program work, oil and financial sanctions, remains in effect fully.  

If at any point Iran fails to fulfill its commitments under the Joint Plan, the money will stop, and the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place.  And when the six-month deal expires, so does the relief.

The bottom-line is: Promises are not enough-Iran must meet its obligations.  This is not a case of trust and verify.  This is a case of verify everything.

No matter what, Iran’s economy will continue to feel severe economic pressure from our ongoing sanctions regime.  For example, our oil sanctions that remain in place have forced Iran’s oil exports to drop by more than 60 percent over the last two years. And we will continue to enforce them.  

All told, the crushing sanctions have deeply damaged economic conditions in Iran. There are four key indicators that tell the whole story: first, last year the economy shrunk by 6 percent and it is expected to shrink again this year; second, the value of its currency, the rial, has plummeted, having lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar; third, the unemployment rate is over 15 percent; and finally, the inflation rate is about 30 percent, one of the highest in the world.

The economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy on many fronts.

Claims that Iran’s economy is undergoing a recovery because of the Joint Plan of Action are just plain wrong.  After the election of President Rouhani last June, and well before the Joint Plan took effect, there was a slight drop in the country’s very high inflation rate and small improvements in other economic indicators.  This was due to a wave of public optimism that greeted the election of a new president, the appointment of a more capable economic team, and the hope that a deal to lift sanctions would soon materialize.

But the slight improvements in these indicators only mean that a badly wounded economy is not getting worse.  It does not mean the economy is getting better.  And it certainly does not mean that the Joint Plan has led to a recovery.

Further, if Iran fails to reach a deal with us, business and consumer confidence will quickly erode as will many of the gains the economy has seen over the last few months.  

Iran’s economy suffered a serious blow from sanctions, and the impact of sanctions is not being reversed.  Iran’s economy remains in the same state of distress that brought the government to the table in the first place.  Imagine how any economy would feel, if, by a recovery, it meant leveling off at the bottom of a recession.  That is what is happening in Iran today.

There is no question that the relief provided under the six-month plan will not steer Iran’s economy to a real recovery.  It is a drop in the bucket.  In fact, there will be a net deepening of the impact of sanctions when you consider the new damage that will be inflicted like the $30 billion in additional lost oil sales.

What this relief will do is give the people of Iran and their leaders a small taste of how things could improve if they were to take the steps necessary to join the community of nations.  This is a choice for Iran to make. If it wants to pull its economy out of the deep hole it is in, it must remove any doubt that its nuclear program is peaceful and come to a comprehensive agreement with the international community.  Until then, we will remain steadfast in our enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions.

Now, when I say we remain firm in our enforcement of sanctions, these are not just words, we are talking about action.  For instance, shortly after the Joint Plan went into effect, we moved against more than 30 Iran-related entities and individuals around the globe for evading U.S. sanctions, for aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and for supporting terrorism.  As President Obama recently said, if anyone, anywhere engages in unauthorized economic activity with Tehran, the United States will-and I quote-“come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

I have personally delivered that message to hundreds of business and banking executives in America and around the world, and we are in regular contact with our international partners-including Israel-to sustain the pressure on Iran’s government.

On top of that, our enforcement officials at the Treasury Department who have been responsible for crafting and implementing this historic sanctions regime have been traveling around the world and putting their expertise and unremitting effort to bear to keep Iran isolated.

Even though I have said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business. Have no doubt, we are well aware that business people have been talking to the Iranians. We have been very clear that the moment those talks turn into improper deals, we will respond with speed and force.  Anyone who violates our sanctions will face severe penalties. Our vigilance has not, cannot, and will not falter.

In closing, let me say, this is a time of great uncertainty.  But during difficult times like these, the bonds between the United States and Israel do not grow weaker, they grow stronger.

The U.S.-Israel relationship, which is rooted in our shared story of people yearning to be masters of their own destiny, is as vibrant as ever.  And that vibrancy is very much on display here.  As I look out across this room, I am reminded of how every year hundreds of young people come to this conference from every corner of the United States.  They travel to our nation’s capital because of their boundless hope, their sense of duty, and their unshakable belief that the future can be brighter, better, more prosperous and more secure.  And I am confident that by all of us working together, we can make that happen.

Thank you.

Secretary Kerry’s Remarks at the AIPAC Policy Conference

Secretary of State John Kerry at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference

Today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side.  

I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama — and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact — there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security.  The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled.  And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so.  That is what we’ve done.  

Security.  Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to.  And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel:  preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

Full transcript follows the jump.
Norm, thank you.  Thank you very, very much.  Thank you all, 14,000 strong or more.  (Applause.)  Howard, Howard Friedman and Executive Director Howard Kohr, incoming president Bob Cohen, incoming chairman Michael Kassen, outgoing chairman Lee Rosenberg, and Ambassador Ron Dermer and Ambassador Dan Shapiro.  I don’t know where our ambassadors are.  Would they — somebody ought to applaud both of them here.  (Applause.)  There they are.  Thanks for your own, Norman.

Let me tell you, it really is an enormous pleasure for me to be able to be here.  It’s a privilege.  And good to see so many friends, all 14,000 of you — a little frightening to see myself on about eight, nine, ten screens up here — (laughter).  The last time I spoke to AIPAC, I joined your national summit in Napa Valley.  I did it via satellite.  And you were in the vineyards, I was overseas — a different kind of vineyard.  So today, I think I’m getting the better end of the deal because I am here with you in person, and your wine selection is a lot more limited this time.

I have to tell you, I had the pleasure of speaking to AIPAC back in the 1990s, it was a great honor, and every time I come here, whether I get a chance to talk to a smaller group during the daytime sessions or otherwise, this is a remarkably inspiring gathering — people from every corner of the country coming together to demonstrate our deep support as Americans for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.  (Applause.)

And it is no exaggeration.  It’s not just words to say that every single one of you brings here such a special passion to a cause that you so fiercely believe in.  And let me tell you something unequivocally:  After almost 30 years in the United States Senate, I can tell you that is precisely why AIPAC’s work is in the best traditions of American democracy, and I thank you for practicing it.  (Applause.)

I want you to know that in my judgment, these democratic values are stamped in the DNA of both the United States and Israel.  But we also share something much deeper than that.  Like no other two countries on the planet, against the deepest odds, both America and Israel confidently, purposefully set out to be examples to the world.  Think about it.  From its earliest days, Israel has always said it’s not enough just to be one of many in a community of nations; Israel has strove since Isaiah’s time to serve as a light unto the nations.  (Applause.)  And that responsibility to be a light unto the nations sounds actually unbelievably similar to something that we as Americans know is part of who we are, too.

My grandfather ten times over — too hard to count in other terms — was a man by the name of John Winthrop.  And he came to what was then the New World, and he came in search of freedom, freedom to worship as he wished.  He was a minister.  He and his congregants were outcasts, persecuted, heading into a rough and unforgiving land with no guarantee even of survival.  And on his way here, he delivered a now fairly famous sermon at sea in which he called on his community to create a city upon a hill in their new home, America.

So whether you call it a city upon a hill or a light unto the nations, it actually means the same thing: being a model to the world.  It means having a home that sets a standard, a standard of dignity and a standard of freedom.  So the foundation of the friendship between the American people and the people of Israel was actually laid centuries before a single stone was set under the U.S. Capitol or under the Knesset.  And looking around this room tonight, it is clear that our friendship has never been stronger.  (Applause.)

And I’ll tell you why.  Because today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side.  (Applause.)  I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama — and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact — there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security.  The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled.  And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so.  That is what we’ve done.  (Applause.)

Security.  

Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to.  And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel:  preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  (Applause.)

Now let me start with Iran because I know there are many questions.  I know many people — there’s been a healthy debate about the approach.  We welcome that.  But let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal:  

We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period.

 (Applause.)  Now, I added an eleventh word just for punctuation.  (Laughter.)

But I want you to understand there are no if, ands, or buts.  This is not a political policy.  This is a real foreign policy.  And we mean every word of what we say.  You have the word of the President of the United States that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.  Now, as we said at the outset, and I say it again today, our diplomacy is guided by a simple bottom line:  No deal is better than a bad deal.  (Applause.)  And we absolutely will not accept a bad deal.  We are committed to a deal that gets the job done.  (Applause.)

Why?  Because we get it, we understand it.  As President Obama said in Jerusalem, no one can question why Israel looks at the Iranian program and sees an existential threat.  We understand it.  We understand it in our gut.  And we also know something else.  This is not some favor that we do for Israel.  This is something that is also in the interest of the United States of America, and it’s in the interest of countries surrounding Israel.  (Applause.)  A nuclear bomb for Iran would also threaten the stability of the region, indeed the entire world.  It would produce an arms race among the surrounding countries.  There is no way the world is safer anywhere in the world with a nuclear weapon in Iran, and we are not going to let it happen, period, end of story.  (Applause.)

Now, to do that, to achieve this all-important goal, important for America’s security and for Israel’s security, it is crucial that we seizes what might be the last best chance to be able to have diplomacy work, and maybe the last chance for quite some time.  Because the reality is only strong diplomacy can fully and permanently achieve the goal.  Those who say strike and hit need to go look at exactly what happens after you’ve done that, whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities, including Iran leaving the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regimen.  That’s a possibility.  Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away for good instead of just going underground and becoming more dangerous.  Only the exhaustion of diplomacy can justify more forceful options if you have to take them in the end.

So we say — President Obama and myself and others — we say let’s seize the diplomatic moment.  And that’s what we are trying to do.  And the truth is it is strong diplomacy that has actually made this moment possible.  And we need to give it the space to work.  We need to make sure that if this opportunity were to elude us, it is not because we are the ones that close the window.

Now, I understand the skepticism.  I’ve been around this city for 29-plus years as a senator, became chairman of the foreign relations committee, worked with most of the members of your board and with AIPAC and others around the country, and proud to tell you that during that time I had a 100 percent voting record for Israel.  (Applause.)

And I’m not coming here to stand up in front of you and tell you that I know that Iran is going to reach an agreement.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what they’ll do.  I don’t know if they are able to make some of the tough decisions they’re going to have to make in the months ahead.  But I know that if the United States is going to be able to look the world in the eye and say we have to do something, we have to have exhausted the possibilities available to us for that diplomatic peaceful resolution.  Let me make it clear our approach is not Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets — We’re not looking at this and saying trust, but verify.  Our approach is a much more complex and dangerous world — it’s verify and verify.  And that’s what we intend to do.  (Applause.)

Now, there is very good reason for these sanctions to exist in the first place, and good reason that we have kept the architecture of these sanctions in place.  And we continue to enforce it even as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement.  In the last weeks, we have announced additional sanctions with respect to individuals who have been tempted to go around it or violate it.  We have not changed one piece of the sanctions architecture.  And yet we are able to negotiate.  Our eyes, my friends, are wide open.  This is not a process that is open-ended.  This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran.  This is about testing Tehran.  And you can be sure that if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel.  That, I promise.  (Applause.)

Now, we have taken no options off the table, but so far there is no question but that tough sanctions and strong diplomacy are already making Israel and America safer.  The first step agreement, the first step agreement — it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step agreement — and the agreement that’s in force today didn’t just halt the advance of the Iranian nuclear program for the first time in a decade; it’s actually rolled it back.  And we all remember how Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium in the 2012 speech at the United Nations.  Well, today Iran is reducing its stockpile of 20 percent uranium.  And without the agreement in force today, the opposite would have been in effect.  The stockpile would have grown even more dangerous, and the amount of breakout time that they have would have grown smaller.  Because of the agreement, Iran will soon have to take its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero.  Zero.  Zero.  (Applause.)  You don’t have to be a math major to know that Israel is safer when Iran has zero uranium enriched to 20 percent, and that’s what we’ve achieved.

The same independent inspectors who also tell us that Iran has halted its advances on the heavy water reactor known as the Arak reactor, without the agreement in force today, we could not have stopped them making progress on the Arak heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor.  Iran has also stopped enriching all uranium above 5 percent, and it has given inspectors daily access to the facilities at Natanz and at Fordow.  You know Fordow, you’ve heard about it, that underground facility that was a secret for so long.  We’ve never had people in it.  But because of this first step agreement, we now have people inside Fordow every single day telling us what is happening.  (Applause.)

None of these things would have happened without forceful diplomacy by the United States and our international partners.  But now, my friends, we have to finish the job.  Like I tell my staff, there aren’t any exit polls in foreign policy.  It’s results that count, final results.  And that means we have to let forceful diplomacy keep working in order to put this test to Iran.

Now, right now we are carefully — and I mean carefully — negotiating a comprehensive agreement.  We are consulting with our friends in Israel constantly.  The minute Under Secretary Wendy Sherman finished her last set of meetings in Vienna the other day, she went immediately to Israel, briefed thoroughly on the talks, then went to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and continued to brief and briefed our European partners.

You might be asking:  If no deal is better than a bad deal, what does the United States consider a good deal?  Well, you have my word — and the President’s — that the United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way.  First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon?  Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims?  And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?

Those are the tests.  Those are our standards for any comprehensive agreement.  It’s that simple.  And those objectives, if they’re not met, then there won’t be an agreement.  (Applause.)  Now make no mistake, make no mistake; we can’t resolve the answer to those questions.  It’s up to Iran.  It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that its program is peaceful, and the world will hold Iran accountable.

Now, if it turns out that Iran cannot address the world’s concerns, I guarantee you it will face more pressure, Iran will face more pressure, more and more isolation.  And Congress will introduce more tough sanctions.  And let me assure you — I know Eric Cantor is here, sitting here — I assure you it’ll take about two hours to get it through the House and the Senate and it won’t be delayed and the Congress will have to do nothing more than schedule the vote, because President Obama and I fully support those sanctions under those circumstances.  (Applause.)

In the meantime, as I said earlier, we are enforcing every letter of the existing sanctions.  I have personally instructed every State Department bureau and mission around the world to watch vigilantly for any signs of the sanctions being skirted.  And to any country that wants to trade with Iran with these sanctions firmly in place, the United States will tell them exactly what I have told foreign leaders in no uncertain terms:  Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs.  (Applause.)

Now, strong diplomacy is also essential to another threat to Israel’s security:  ending the conflict with the Palestinians, and in doing so, preserving the Jewish and democratic nature of the state of Israel.  (Applause.)  I’ve had some folks ask me why I’m so committed to these negotiations and why I’m so convinced that peace is actually possible.  And they ask, “Why does John Kerry go to Israel so often?”  I think I heard Steny Hoyer say he’d been there 13 times, Eric Cantor who’s been there 12 times.  I’ve been there more times than that just in the last nine months.  (Laughter.)  And I’ve been in the Middle East more times than even that in the last months because I don’t always wind up going to Israel.

But apart from the question, I’m surprised because people ask, because apart from my affection for Israel which dates back to my first visit back in 1986, and it just strikes me that it’s the wrong question to ask, why do I go.  This isn’t about me.  This is about the dreams of Israelis and the dignity of Palestinians.  It’s about reconciling two peoples who want at long last to live normal secure lives in the land that they have fought over for so long.  It’s about answering King David’s timeless call that we seek peace and pursue it.  It’s about fulfilling the fervent prayer for peace that Jews around the world recite to welcome Shabbat.  It’s about parents from Tsefat to Eilat who want to raise their families in a region that accepts the nation-state of the Jewish people is here to stay.  (Applause.)

Now, it’s not news to any Israeli to hear me say that they live in a difficult neighborhood.  Israelis know that better than anyone.  No one needs to explain the importance of peace and security to a mother who has just sent her daughter to the army or a son who is waiting for his father to come home from another mission.  No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than those who will inherit them for generations to come.  And I have seen all of these realities in so many different ways in my travels in Israel, from the rocket casings in Sderot to the shelter in Kiryat Shmona that I visited years ago where children had to hide from Katyusha rockets.  I’ve seen it.

My friends, I also believe that we are at a point in history that requires the United States as Israel’s closest friend and the world’s preeminent power to do everything we can to help end this conflict once and for all.  Now, that is why America — (applause) — that is why America helped bring the parties back to the table, where, let’s be honest, Israelis and Palestinians have difficult choices to make.  And no one understands just how complex those choices are or how emotional they are better than the leaders who have to summon the courage in order to actually make them.

I have sat with Bibi Netanyahu for hours and hours and days and days.  We have become good friends.  (Applause.)  I believe — in fact, he ought to be charging me rent.  (Laughter.)  I’ve seen up close and personally the grit and the guts of this man and his love of country.  And I can tell you with absolute certainty and without question, Prime Minister Netanyahu has demonstrated his courage and his commitment in pursuit of peace with security.  (Applause.)  He knows that it is the only way for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state; not a bi-national state.  (Applause.)

As President Obama said publicly in the Oval Office today, and I quote him:  “Prime Minister Netanyahu has approached these negotiations with a level of seriousness and commitment that reflects his leadership and the desire of the Israeli people for peace.”

Thus far, I will tell you also that President Abbas, and I know there are many doubters here — I’ve heard the arguments for 30-plus years, 40 years — that there’s no partner for peace, that Abbas won’t be there, that — both sides, by the way, say the same thing about each other.  That’s one of the difficulties we have to try get through here.  A very small needle to try to thread in terms of the trust deficit.  Thus far, President Abbas, I will tell you, has demonstrated he wants to be a partner for peace.  He’s committed to trying to end the conflict in all of its claims, but he obviously has a point of view about what’s fair and how he can do that.  Let’s be candid.  I know that some of you doubt that.  But as Israeli security officials will attest, President Abbas has been genuinely committed against violence, and his own security forces have worked closely with Israel in order to prevent violence against Israeli citizens.

I’ve also spent many hours with President Abbas, and I believe that he clearly understands both the tremendous benefits of peace and the great costs of failure.  He understands that in terms of his own people, his own grandchildren, the country he hopes to be able to lead, and in terms of the history that beleaguers all.  He knows the Palestinian people will never experience the self determination that they seek in a state of their own without ending the conflict in a solution that delivers two states for two peoples.  (Applause.)

And so does Prime Minister Netanyahu.  When Bibi looks me in the eye and says, “I can’t accept a deal with Palestinians that doesn’t make the people of Israel safer,” we agree 100 percent.  (Applause.)  But I argue that there is a distinction between a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon or from Gaza where nothing is resolved, and a phased withdrawal that is negotiated where everything is at least in an agreement resolved.

Now, I learned about Israel’s security on many different trips over there, but one stands out.  I was — I’d been a pilot since I was in college and I was on a trip over there.  I was having a luncheon at Ovda Airbase with the Israel Air Force.  And the colonel who was in charge was — had flown.  He was an ace from the Six-Day War.  And we were having lunch at the time at Ovda and I had been badgering them to maybe let me go up and fly.  And they disappeared at lunch and finally he comes back and he says, “Senator, I hope you don’t eat too much.  We’re going flying.”  I said, “Wow, great.  This is what I’ve wanted.”  And we went out, the two of us, drove out to this jet, and he trusted me.  We put on our helmets, got in the jet, and he says, “The moment we’re off the ground, it’s your airplane.”

So literally, we took off, I take the stick, we go up, we’re flying around.  Next thing I know in my ear he says, “Senator, you better turn faster.  You’re going over Egypt.”  (Laughter.)  So I turned very fast and then I asked him if I could do some aerobatics over the Negev.  And I turned upside down and did a big loop and I was coming down, I was looking upside-down, and I said to myself, “This is perfect.”  I could see all of the Sinai.  I could see Aqaba.  I could see Jordan.  I see all of Israel below me, each side to each side.  Said, “This is the perfect way to see the Middle East upside-down and backwards.”  I understand it.  (Applause.)

The real point of this story is just to tell you that I can’t tell you the imprint on me, being up there and tiny — almost turning.  You had barely space to turn.  You get the sense of a missile from here, or a rocket from there, or the threat of war.  You understand it’s impossible to ignore just how narrow those borders are, how vulnerable Israel can be, and why Israel’s security is our first priority.  We understand that.  (Applause.)

That is why, my friends, President Obama sent a four-star general, John Allen, one of the most respected minds in United States military to do something we’ve never done in all the history of administrations negotiating for Israel’s and Palestinians’ future and that is to work with Israelis and Jordanians and Palestinians to make the Jordan River border as strong as the strongest borders on Earth.  That’s what makes this effort different from anything we’ve ever done before.  With the combination of the best military experience America can offer and the best ideas in the Pentagon and the best technology that we could deliver, we believe we can deliver to Israel security that Israel needs in order to make peace, and President Obama is committed to doing that.

Now we have no illusions.  We saw what happened after Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza and Lebanon.  We all learned lessons from that, I hope.  That’s why a negotiated agreement is so important.  That’s why the security arrangements that we are helping to design will need to be operationally proven.  We’re not doing this on a whim and a prayer.  We will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza.  (Applause.)

My friends, we understand that Israel has to be strong in order to make peace.  But we also understand that peace will make Israel stronger.  Any peace agreement must also guarantee Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland.  (Applause.)  As Ehud Barak said on this stage last year, a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to stay true to its founding principles — to remain both Jewish and democratic.  At last year’s AIPAC conference, he said statehood is not a favor for the Palestinians, and let me reaffirm:  He is right; it is not.

Israel also needs peace in order to create greater prosperity.  All of you here know the great economic benefits of peace.  All of you have already seen what Israel has already been able to build with the forces of the region that raid against it.  Just imagine what it will be able to build as a result of peace with Palestinian neighbors.  I’ve had the foreign minister of one of the surrounding countries — a very wealthy country and a very smart foreign minister say to me if we make peace — this is under the Arab Peace Initiative and the Arab Follow-on Committee that is following everything we’re doing very closely and supporting it — and they said if we make peace, Israel will trade more in this community within a few years than it trades with Europe today.  That’s what we have available to us.  (Applause.)  And I believe that we need to stand together with a single voice to reject any of the arbitrary unwarranted boycotts of Israel.  For more than 30 years, I have staunchly, loudly, unapologetically opposed boycotts of Israel — (applause) — and I will continue to oppose those boycotts of Israel.  That will never change.  (Applause.)

Every time that Israel is subjected to attacks on its legitimacy, whether at the United Nations or from any nation, the United States will use every tool we have to defeat those efforts and we will stand with Israel.  (Applause.)

Finally, peace demands that Israel fulfill its destiny not just as a nation but also as a neighbor.  And that begins with the Palestinians, and it extends to the entire Arab League whose Arab Peace Initiative can open the door to peace and normalized relations with 20 additional Arab countries and a total of 55 Muslim countries.  The upheaval in the Middle East has shown us all that Arabs and Israelis share some of the very same security concerns.  Without the Palestinian conflict to divide them, these common interests can grow into real relationships and transform Israel’s standing in the region.  And I just invite you — I promise you these conversations take place.  I’ve had them throughout the Gulf region, throughout the Middle East, where increasingly those countries begin to see the possibilities of mutual security interests coming together for all of them against an Iran, against terrorism, against religious extremism.  This is a commonality that is a new thread in the region, and I believe it brings the potential of new possibilities.

It is also important to remember that ending the conflict means ending the incitement.  President Abbas has called incitement a germ that must be removed.  And he has sought our help in order to try to deal with the problem.  And I can tell you that with any final agreement it will also include a larger endeavor in order to help people on both sides move beyond a painful past and promote a culture of peace and tolerance.

After all these years, my friends, it is really no mystery what the end-game really looks like.  I think you know that in your hearts.  We understand what the end-game is.  I know what peace looks like.  When I talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, I think everybody shares this because this is not new.  After Camp David and Oslo and Wye and Annapolis and Taba and all of these efforts, what the end-game should look like is straightforward:  security arrangements that leave Israelis more secure, not less; mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people; an end to the conflict and to all claims; a just and agreed solution for Palestinian refugees, one that does not diminish the Jewish character of the state of Israel; and a resolution that finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the City of Peace.  (Applause.)

It will take hard work.  I’m not pretending any of the answers — these are all narrative issues.  They’re tough issues.  They complicated.  But there is a vision of peace, and it takes tough choices on both sides, especially over the coming days.  I guarantee you that America, that President Obama and this Administration will be there every day of the week, every step of the way.  And we will stand with Israel’s leaders today and with the leaders of the future.  And we will ensure that our light shines not just throughout the nations, but throughout the generations.

Leaders like a fellow named Guy  — I’ll leave his last name out — but he’s a young Israeli who took part in an exchange program with the State Department, sponsors that brings Israelis and Palestinians together to talk about their histories and their hopes.  Guy’s  grandparents fled Europe.  He was born and raised in Jerusalem.  He served in the IDF.  And he worked as an entrepreneur in Israel’s booming tech industry.  And this is what he said in that program:  We respect our past, but we don’t want to live it.  We are young enough to dream, to believe that change is possible, and that fear can be defeated.

I think Guy is right.  Change is possible.  Fear can be defeated.  But those are choices we have to make now.

My friends, a few months ago I landed in Tel Aviv and it was the 18th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  I went straight to Kikar Rabin, and I stood with the late-prime minister’s daughter, Dalia, at the site of her father’s murder.  And we stood just steps away from where the great general, in the last moments of his life, sang the famous lyrics of Shir LaShalom:  Don’t whisper a prayer; sing a song of peace in a loud voice.  Don’t say the day will come; bring that day.  (Applause.)  That is our mission.  All of us, in whatever capacity that we can, but just as important our mission is also to raise our voices for peace, and we also need to listen.  We have to listen to those who first gave voice to our values, voices that still echo thousands of years later.

He almost — I think it was the first time I went to Israel.  I spent a week there and went all over the country and like many first-time visitors, I climbed Masada.  I climbed it with a guide — some of you may know him or heard of him, a fellow by the name of Yadin Roman.  Yadin, the publisher of Eretz Israel.  And our group debated Josephus Flavius’s account of what happened on the top of that mountain, the account of what happened 2,000 years before we were there.

Then Yadin, after we’d had this long debate, made us all vote to determine did it happen as he recounted or was it different.  And we all voted unanimously it did happen the way he recounted.  He told us to then walk to the edge of the precipice which we did, and to look out across the chasm and to shout, to shout across the ancestral home of the Jewish people.  And as we stood where every new Israeli soldier begins his or her service, by swearing an oath to honor that history and secure the future, Yadin instructed us to shout, all at the same time, “Am Yisrael chai.”  We shouted.  (Applause.)  And then I have to tell you, echoing across the chasm in the most eerie and unbelievably unforgettable way were these haunting echoes of “Am Yisrael chai, Am Yisrael chai, chai, chai.”  I’ll never forget hearing the echo of those words bouncing off that mountain.  It was literally like we were hearing the voices of the souls of those who had perished sacrificing their lives for Israel a thousand years ago.  And we were affirming those words, the state of Israel lives.  The people of Israel live.

We have to listen to those voices.  Those long ago who encouraged us to build a city on a hill to be a light unto the nations, an example to the world, to ensure Israel’s survival.  And we have to listen to the voices of young people whose futures depend on the choices that we, the leaders of today, make.  It’s for their future that we will give new strength to the U.S.-Israel partnership as AIPAC does like no other organization in our country.  It’s for their future that we will come together giving greater voice to the timeless oath and we will remember forever those words and be driven by them:  “Am Yisrael chai” will be said generations upon generations into the future because of the work you do and the work we will do together.

Thank you all very much.  Honored to be with you.  (Applause.)  

Jewish Dems Praise President’s Visionary, Practical Address

— by Rabbi Jack Moline

The President’s agenda — environmental responsibility, protection of voting rights, educational excellence, immigration reforms and financial security for all — speaks to the proactive values the Jewish community embraces, especially providing a livable minimum wage and pursuing gender equality in the marketplace.

The National Jewish Democratic Council’s will promote the values espoused by the President, with particular emphasis on promoting the landmark Affordable Care Act.

Last, but certainly not least, NJDC is grateful for the continued bi-partisan support for the State of Israel. Once again, the Administration has been explicit about supporting Israel’s security and essential national character.

Complete transcript of President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address follows the jump.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.

An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup, and did her part to add to the more than eight million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.

An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world, and did his part to help America wean itself off foreign oil.

A farmer prepared for the spring after the strongest five-year stretch of farm exports in our history. A rural doctor gave a young child the first prescription to treat asthma that his mother could afford. A man took the bus home from the graveyard shift, bone-tired but dreaming big dreams for his son. And in tight-knit communities across America, fathers and mothers will tuck in their kids, put an arm around their spouse, remember fallen comrades, and give thanks for being home from a war that, after twelve long years, is finally coming to an end.

Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: it is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.

Here are the results of your efforts: The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world — the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years. Our deficits – cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better-positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.

The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It’s an important debate — one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy — when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States – then we are not doing right by the American people.

As President, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here. I believe most of you are, too. Last month, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, this Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year’s severe cuts to priorities like education. Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country’s future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way. But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.

In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all — the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.

Let’s face it: that belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

Our job is to reverse these trends. It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.

As usual, our First Lady sets a good example. Michelle’s Let’s Move partnership with schools, businesses, and local leaders has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in thirty years – an achievement that will improve lives and reduce health care costs for decades to come. The Joining Forces alliance that Michelle and Jill Biden launched has already encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses. Taking a page from that playbook, the White House just organized a College Opportunity Summit where already, 150 universities, businesses, and nonprofits have made concrete commitments to reduce inequality in access to higher education – and help every hardworking kid go to college and succeed when they get to campus. Across the country, we’re partnering with mayors, governors, and state legislatures on issues from homelessness to marriage equality.

The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments, and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.

Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.

We know where to start: the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job. With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year. And over half of big manufacturers say they’re thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad.

So let’s make that decision easier for more companies. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs here at home.

Moreover, we can take the money we save with this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes – because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than three million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible.

We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. My administration has launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh and Youngstown, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So get those bills to my desk and put more Americans back to work.

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other. And when ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.

We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones. That’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery – whether it’s vaccines that stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria, or paper-thin material that’s stronger than steel. And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.

Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades.

One of the reasons why is natural gas — if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders, and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months, I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks, so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.

Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.

Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

The ideas I’ve outlined so far can speed up growth and create more jobs. But in this rapidly-changing economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.

The good news is, we know how to do it. Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit. She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make them. She just needed the workforce. So she dialed up what we call an American Job Center – places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or better job. She was flooded with new workers. And today, Detroit Manufacturing Systems has more than 700 employees.

What Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer – and every job seeker. So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now. That means more on-the-job training, and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy. But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.

Let me tell you why.

Misty DeMars is a mother of two young boys. She’d been steadily employed since she was a teenager. She put herself through college. She’d never collected unemployment benefits. In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home. A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved. Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter — the kind I get every day. “We are the face of the unemployment crisis,” she wrote. “I am not dependent on the government… Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society… care about our neighbors… I am confident that in time I will find a job… I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love. Please give us this chance.”

Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance. They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game. That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at that new job and new chance to support their families; this week, many will come to the White House to make that commitment real. Tonight, I ask every business leader in America to join us and to do the same – because we are stronger when America fields a full team.

Of course, it’s not enough to train today’s workforce. We also have to prepare tomorrow’s workforce, by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education.

Estiven Rodriguez couldn’t speak a word of English when he moved to New York City at age nine. But last month, thanks to the support of great teachers and an innovative tutoring program, he led a march of his classmates – through a crowd of cheering parents and neighbors – from their high school to the post office, where they mailed off their college applications. And this son of a factory worker just found out he’s going to college this fall.

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it’s worth it – and it’s working.

The problem is we’re still not reaching enough kids, and we’re not reaching them in time. That has to change.

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year, we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a race to the top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.

Last year, I also pledged to connect 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years. Tonight, I can announce that with the support of the FCC and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Sprint, and Verizon, we’ve got a down payment to start connecting more than 15,000 schools and twenty million students over the next two years, without adding a dime to the deficit.

We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career. We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education. We’re offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to ten percent of their income, and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt. And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential.

The bottom line is, Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete — and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise — unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year, let’s all come together – Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street — to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succees.

Now, women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs — but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages. Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.

In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here tonight with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. Only now he makes more of it: John just gave his employees a raise, to ten bucks an hour — a decision that eased their financial stress and boosted their morale.

Tonight, I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead and do what you can to raise your employees’ wages. To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you if you take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour — because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.

Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.

There are other steps we can take to help families make ends meet, and few are more effective at reducing inequality and helping families pull themselves up through hard work than the Earned Income Tax Credit. Right now, it helps about half of all parents at some point. But I agree with Republicans like Senator Rubio that it doesn’t do enough for single workers who don’t have kids. So let’s work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more Americans get ahead.

Let’s do more to help Americans save for retirement. Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can. And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations of Americans.

One last point on financial security. For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that.

A pre-existing condition used to mean that someone like Amanda Shelley, a physician assistant and single mom from Arizona, couldn’t get health insurance. But on January 1st, she got covered. On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would’ve meant bankruptcy.

That’s what health insurance reform is all about — the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything.

Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans.

More than nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage.

And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain, or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Now, I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice – tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first forty were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.

And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight. Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country, but he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families. “They are our friends and neighbors,” he said. “They are people we shop and go to church with… farmers out on the tractors… grocery clerks… they are people who go to work every morning praying they don’t get sick. No one deserves to live that way.”

Steve’s right. That’s why, tonight, I ask every American who knows someone without health insurance to help them get covered by March 31st. Moms, get on your kids to sign up. Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind – plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.

After all, that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward. It’s the spirit of citizenship – the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.

Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote. Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened. But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it; and the bipartisan commission I appointed last year has offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote. Let’s support these efforts. It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.

Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

Citizenship demands a sense of common cause; participation in the hard work of self-government; an obligation to serve to our communities. And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.

Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.

The fact is, that danger remains. While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions.

We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s truly necessary; nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us – large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

So, even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks – through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners – America must move off a permanent war footing. That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence. That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.

You see, in a world of complex threats, our security and leadership depends on all elements of our power – including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles. American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve – a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear. As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel – a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side.

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of that program back – for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It is not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify, every day, that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and the mistrust between our nations cannot be wished away. But these negotiations do not rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.

The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war.

Finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.

Our alliance with Europe remains the strongest the world has ever known. From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy. In Ukraine, we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country’s future. Across Africa, we’re bringing together businesses and governments to double access to electricity and help end extreme poverty. In the Americas, we are building new ties of commerce, but we’re also expanding cultural and educational exchanges among young people. And we will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity, and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster – as we did in the Philippines, when our Marines and civilians rushed to aid those battered by a typhoon, and were greeted with words like, “We will never forget your kindness” and “God bless America!”

We do these things because they help promote our long-term security. And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold.

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might – but because of the ideals we stand for, and the burdens we bear to advance them.

No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform. As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care — including the mental health care – that they need. We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home. And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.

Let me tell you about one of those families I’ve come to know.

I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.

A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.

For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.

Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.

My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than two hundred years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress – to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen. The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us – none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.

Believe it.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Who Will Replace Rep. Allyson Schwartz in PA-13?

— by Ben Burrows

Three Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district:

debated at the Upper Dublin Township Building in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.

The remaining Democratic candidate former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies did not respond to five requests to participate in the forum.

The district is currently represented by Allyson Schwartz, who is now running for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor.

Since the congressional redistricting, the 13th district covers the Main Line suburbs, much of Montgomery County, and parts of Northeast Philadelphia. It is one of the five districts in Pennsylvania into which the Republican legislature packed as many democrats as possible in order to create Republican majorities in the other thirteen districts. Accordingly, the stakes in this democratic primary are very high as the general election is practically a foregone conclusion in this dark blue district which Allyson Schwartz carried in 2012 with 69% of the vote.

An audience of about 250 watched the forum organized by Montgomery County Democracy for America and the Area 6 Democratic Committee, and moderated by Philadelphia Daily News writer Will Bunch.

Kerry: Negotiations Are “the Best Chance” to Prevent Nuclear Iran

In an official statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said that “for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back.”

Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the [next] six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment…

While implementation is an important step, the next phase poses a far greater challenge: negotiating a comprehensive agreement that resolves outstanding concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program…

These negotiations will be very difficult, but they represent the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.

Full statement after the jump.
We’ve taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.

As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.

Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.

Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.

While implementation is an important step, the next phase poses a far greater challenge: negotiating a comprehensive agreement that resolves outstanding concerns about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.

As the United States has made clear many times, our absolute top priority in these negotiations is preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have been clear that diplomacy is our preferred path because other options carry much greater costs and risks and are less likely to provide a lasting solution.

We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress’ critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.

We are clear-eyed about the even greater challenges we all face in negotiating a comprehensive agreement. These negotiations will be very difficult, but they represent the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.

Kerry: Sharon “Risked It All” to Live the Dream of Israel

— by Secretary of State John Kerry

Ariel Sharon’s journey was Israel’s journey. The dream of Israel was the cause of his life, and he risked it all to live that dream.

I remember reading about Arik in the papers when I was a young lawyer in Boston and marveling at his commitment to cause and country.

I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became prime minister, as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process.

He was prepared to make tough decisions because he knew that his responsibility to his people was both to ensure their security and to give every chance to the hope that they could live in peace.  

During his years in politics, it is no secret that there were times the U.S. had differences with him. But whether you agreed or disagreed with his positions — and Arik was always crystal clear about where he stood — you admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State.  

In his final years as prime minister, he surprised many in his pursuit of peace, and today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger. We honor Arik’s legacy and those of Israel’s founding generation by working to achieve that goal.

Arik is finally at rest, and all of us in the U.S. pray along with his sons, Gilad and Omri, the Sharon family, and all the people of Israel. Our nation shares your loss and honors Ariel Sharon’s memory.

State Sen. Leach: ASA Israel Boycott Is “Misguided, Irrational”

In a letter to the president of the American Studies Association (ASA), Curtis Marez, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery County) attacked the boycott of Israeli institutions by the Association.

In the letter, that will be publicly released tomorrow (Tuesday), Leach wrote, “you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

“Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his ‘trial’ by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.”

Dear Mr. Marez,

As a former college professor and current Pennsylvania State Senator and member of the Senate Education Committee, I was disappointed (although, sadly, not surprised) to learn of the American Studies Association (ASA)’s decision to boycott academic establishments in Israel.

It is my view that this decision is misguided, irrational, and a slap in the face to the very concept of academic freedom.

Letter continues after the jump.
In your statement attempt the justify the academic boycott of Israel, the ASA said: “The Council voted for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as an ethical stance, a form of material and symbolic action. It represents a principle of solidarity with scholars and students deprived of their academic freedom and an aspiration to enlarge that freedom for all,” and that the boycott is warranted because “Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights.”

Really?

Certainly a case could be made that when it comes to human rights, Israel is imperfect. I would note that the same case could be made in regards to the United States, both in the past and currently.

But you did not issue a statement criticizing a particular practice of the Jewish State; you singled out Israel for an alleged widespread systematic abuse of human rights.

To my knowledge, you have call for a boycott of no other nation. This action suggests that Israel is uniquely deficient in its respect for basic rights.

Among the countries you have not chosen to boycott are Iran, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and even North Korea, which apparently just executed a former government official on the day of his “trial” by feeding him to a pack of starved wild dogs.

Even the Palestinian Authority, which you purport to be fighting for, conducts summary trials and executions and extra-judicial murders by militias of people deemed “collaborators” and has nothing resembling a free press.

Those countries are apparently fine. But you boycott Israel, which:

  • is a democracy;
  • respects the rights of women, who are considered fully equal in Israeli Society;
  • legally recognizes the rights of its gay and lesbian citizens;
  • has an independent judiciary which sometimes strikes down government actions;
  • has the rule of law;
  • has minority voting rights and Arab members of the Knesset; and
  • has a completely free press.

As you may already be aware, more than 100 American universities have taken issue with ASA’s decision, and have themselves decided to reject the boycott. The American Council of Education, the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors have also expressed their opposition.

Further, it has been noted in the media that only approximately 16 percent of the ASA’s 5,000 members actually voted in favor of the boycott. It was troublesome to learn that this decision, which has severe implications, was pushed through with minimal member input and significant public opposition.

Finally, in an examination of your association’s mission statement, is it not a violation of academic freedom and aspiration to target students and professors in a country for reasons beyond their control?

A goal of your organization is to “enlarge [academic] freedom for all”, but does the boycott not actually limit academic freedom, thereby only granting it to some?

I will conclude this letter by reinforcing what was previously expressed to you by Rep. Eliot L. Engel, senior Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, when he wrote that he encouraged you to review the most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the State Department.

I would reiterate his statement pointing out that the report says that “there were no government restrictions on academic freedom” apparent in Israel.