Obama Talks to Jews

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

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

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

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

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

Video Clip of the Week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talking About Chamberlain

Disagree with the Iran talks? Then use informed 2015 arguments, not the 1938 Munich analogy! (Courtesy of Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.)

Disagree with the Iran talks? Then use informed 2015 arguments, not the 1938 Munich analogy! (Courtesy of Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.)

Many politicians and advocates use the specter of Nazi appeasement to scuttle an Iran deal.

Certainly Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich Agreement handed over the Sudetenland in exchange for empty promises and paved the path towards World War II.

However, what would have happened if the Munich Agreement had resembled the currently proposed agreement with Iran?

Imagine if Germany had not be given control of any new territory, but only allowed normal trade with the rest of the world. Suppose further if Germany had agreed to:

  • Destroy or sell abroad 97% of their tanks, armored transports and aircraft – just as Iran agrees to dispose of 97% of their enriched uranium.
  • Destroy or sell abroad 60% of their guns including all of their machine guns and high caliber weapons – just as Iran agrees to dispose of 60% of their centrifuges leaving only the most primitive ones based on 1970s technology.
  • Allow international observers to be stationed permanently at all military bases, weapon warehouses and weapon factories – just as Iran agrees to allow monitors of their nuclear program from the mines, to the processing, and the storage.
  • Place tracking devices on all military officers – just as Iran agrees to have GPS tracking of their nuclear scientists.
  • Allow international observers to be sent to any location based on any intelligence found – including information from these tracking devices – just as Iran agrees to do.
  • Immediate and verifiable halt to the rocket program being researched by Werner von Braun and others – just as Iran agrees to halt their research into a possible plutonium weapon, now being undertaken at Arak heavy-water reactor.

If Germany had made all of these agreements, Europe would likely have remained at peace and perhaps there would never have been a World War II.

Such an agreement would not have been a panacea. Such an agreement would not have improved the prospects of life for the Jews in Germany itself no more than a nuclear deal with Iran is likely to turn that country into a Western-style democracy tolerant of all religions and sexual orientations.

Nevertheless the deal is a step forward, and I hope it is signed, ratified and implemented by both countries.

Iran Deal Is the Best Way to Stop Its Nuclear Program

The framework for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not as emotionally satisfying as bombing Iran into a parking lot or strangling Iran’s economy with sanctions, but it is the option most likely to permanently stop Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

This framework does not provide absolute certainty, but no option will eliminate the potential for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The best we can do is perpetually prevent Iran from actually acquiring nuclear weapons, which this deal does with greater certainty and more likelihood of success than scuttling the deal and either increasing sanctions now or taking military action.

iran-deal_bomb_withandwithout

The deal does not require Iran to recognize Israel, rid itself of ballistic missiles, stop terrorism, or end domestic repression. However, Fred Kaplan reminds us that “the U.S.-Soviet strategic arms treaties, signed throughout the Cold War, didn’t require the Soviet Union to disavow communism, end its support of Third World insurgencies, or institute Jeffersonian democracy,” but they did cap and eventually reverse the nuclear arms race. Would you rather have an Iran vowing to destroy Israel in possession of nuclear weapons or without nuclear weapons?

In Politico, Sandy Berger explained that “the idea of a better deal is a chimera, an illusory option, and it should not lull us into thinking there is another agreement to be had if only we were to bear down harder.”

In The New York Review of Books, Jessica Mathews wrote that the “lesson of sanctions — from Cuba to Russia and beyond — is that they can impose a cost on wrongdoing, but if the sanctioned country chooses to pay the price, sanctions cannot prevent it from continuing the sanctioned activities.”

Between 2003 and the start of current negotiations, sanctions cost Iran nearly $100 billion and Iran grew its number of centrifuges from 3,000 to 19,000. Iran is now only a few months from nuclear breakout. Even the strongest sanctions would not work quickly enough to stop Iran from producing what it needs for a nuclear bomb.

Our allies would not join us in further sanctions if they believed we were jettisoning a reasonable framework. If a deal falls through, multilateral sanctions will fall apart. Moreover, we cannot unilaterally enact sanctions that have extraterritorial reach, as we have previously done.

Military action would only delay Iran’s progress for between two and four years, much less than the length of the proposed deal. Iran would end inspections, we would know far less than we do now about Iran’s facilities, and Iran would be convinced that it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself.

The deal is not based on Reagan’s “trust but verify” dictum but on John Kerry’s “distrust and verify” principle. Nevertheless, many are concerned that Iran will cheat. But that is an argument against any deal, and if we have no deal, we will have a nuclear Iran. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy says that President Obama is right:

One of the arguments being voiced against the continuation of the talks is that Iran has a history of lies and cunning, and can thus be expected to breach the agreement and deceive the world. True, the Iranians have a tendency to deceive, but they could do so even if they agreed to zero centrifuges, the closure of all their nuclear facilities, and supervision on the part of the Mossad itself. Loopholes can always be found, so there is no such thing as a “good agreement.” The Iranians will uphold an agreement only if it is worth their while.

The silliest argument against a deal is that Obama is trying to stave off an Iranian bomb until he leaves office so that he will leave with a legacy of no bomb. Do you not think that Obama realizes that if Iran goes nuclear after he leaves office because of a flaw in the deal he negotiated, his legacy will be forever tarnished?

Obama came into office as a strong proponent of nuclear non-proliferation. If his legacy motivates him to ensure that Iran never gets the bomb, that is fine with me. That is what he means when he says “not on my watch.”

Can We Trust Obama on Iran?

(NJDC) In his latest op-ed in The Hill, political commentator Steve Sheffey described why Israel and the American Jewish community can trust President Obama as diplomatic negotiations with Iran continue.

Flickr_-_Israel_Defense_Forces_-_Iron_Dome_Intercepts_Rockets_from_the_Gaza_Strip

“After a frosty reception for Iron Dome from the George W. Bush administration, Obama fully backed Iron Dome and asked for funding above what Congress appropriated.”

Looking at the President’s record after six years in the Oval Office, Sheffey wrote, “No Republican president has been a better friend of Israel than Obama.”

It is a measure of the strength of Obama’s commitment to Israel that he has not let personal tensions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu get in the way of a strong U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Under Obama, U.S. aid to Israel has reached record levels. After a frosty reception for Iron Dome from the George W. Bush administration, Obama fully backed Iron Dome and asked for funding above what Congress appropriated, which saved thousands of Israeli lives during the 2014 Gaza conflict. Obama also gave Israel access to the munitions it needed to replenish its supplies during that conflict.

Obama’s record clearly demonstrates that he has earned the trust of the global community in working to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Sheffey criticized Congress’ recent actions against the administration’s diplomatic efforts:

Diplomacy remains our last best hope of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. We still don’t know if Iran will agree to our conditions. If they do, we’ll all have a chance to see if the deal meets the expectations the administration has set. Until then, Congress should not jeopardize the success of negotiations by legislation or back-channel communications.

The Obama administration has earned our trust and deserves a chance to succeed.

Iran Foreign Minister: Senators’ Letter “Mostly Propaganda Ploy”

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said that the 47 Republican Senators’ open letter threatening to cancel any agreement on Iran’s nuclear program after President Obama’s term “has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy”:

It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.

Senate[1]In the letter the Senators wrote, “Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.”

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

(Full text below.)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that “Republicans are undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs.” Obama said that he found it “somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran.”

Senator John McCain said to Politico, “I saw the letter, I saw that it looked reasonable to me and I signed it, that’s all. I sign lots of letters.”

However, Amanda Taub found that “McCain’s decision to sign the letter is more disturbing if he thinks it was merely a minor act.”

 It’s one thing to decide to actively and publicly undermine the president’s conduct of foreign affairs, not just in this treaty negotiation but potentially in all other future negotiations, with all other countries, who will now also be able to point to this same letter as evidence that the president cannot be trusted to negotiate agreements on behalf of the United States. But at least take that seriously. At least treat it as a weighty decision that carries significant, far-reaching consequences. Don’t act like it’s just more boring paperwork!

Several Republicans refused to sign the letter: Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Dan Coats (R-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Senator Flake explained, “These are tough enough negotiations as it is. I just didn’t think it was useful.” [Read more…]

Netanyahu Warns Congress About “Very Bad” Iran Deal

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the upcoming agreement on Iran’s nuclear program between it and the P5+1 countries is “a very bad deal” in his speech to Congress. (Video and transcript below.)

Netanyahu said that the deal would not ensure that Iran will not be able to produce nuclear weapons:

According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed.

Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s breakout time would be very short – about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.

And if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that breakout time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.

True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.

Israel’s prime minister said that an even greater danger is that “virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade.”

Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.

Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount – 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.

Netanyahu: My friends, I’m deeply humbled by the opportunity to speak for a third time before the most important legislative body in the world, the U.S. Congress. I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.

I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade. I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel. The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics. It must always remain above politics. Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope. Israel is grateful for the support of America’s people and of America’s presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel. Now, some of that is widely known. Some of that is widely known, like strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing, opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.

Some of what the president has done for Israel is less well-known. I called him in 2010 when we had the Carmel forest fire, and he immediately agreed to respond to my request for urgent aid. In 2011, we had our embassy in Cairo under siege, and again, he provided vital assistance at the crucial moment. Or his support for more missile interceptors during our operation last summer when we took on Hamas terrorists. In each of those moments, I called the president, and he was there.

And some of what the president has done for Israel might never be known, because it touches on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. But I know it, and I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support.

And Israel is grateful to you, the American Congress, for your support, for supporting us in so many ways, especially in generous military assistance and missile defense, including Iron Dome. Last summer, millions of Israelis were protected from thousands of Hamas rockets because this capital dome helped build our Iron Dome.

Thank you, America. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel.

My friends, I’ve come here today because, as Prime Minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons.

We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies. The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.

Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of antisemitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated – he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.

For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy. He said: If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.

But Iran’s regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world. To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime. The people of Iran are very talented people. They’re heirs to one of the world’s great civilizations. But in 1979, they were hijacked by religious zealots – religious zealots who imposed on them immediately a dark and brutal dictatorship.

That year, the zealots drafted a constitution, a new one for Iran. It directed the revolutionary guards not only to protect Iran’s borders, but also to fulfill the ideological mission of jihad. The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, exhorted his followers to ‘export the revolution throughout the world.’

I’m standing here in Washington, D.C. and the difference is so stark. America’s founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran’s founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad. And as states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void to do just that.

Iran’s goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Backed by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Backed by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world’s oil supply. Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. That’s just last week, while they’re having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran’s attacks against the United States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too real.

Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped al-Qaeda bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C.

In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran’s aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow.

So, at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations. We must all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.

Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!  Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before.

Last year, the same Zarif who charms Western diplomats laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh. Imad Mughniyeh is the terrorist mastermind who spilled more American blood than any other terrorist besides Osama bin Laden. I’d like to see someone ask him a question about that.

Iran’s regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America,” that same America that it calls the “Great Satan,” as loud as ever. Now, this shouldn’t be surprising, because the ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.

Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire.

In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.

The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. We must always remember – I’ll say it one more time – the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen.

But that, my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.

Let me explain why. While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You don’t need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it. Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran.

The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short breakout time to the bomb. Breakout time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed.

Because Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s breakout time would be very short – about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.

And if Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that breakout time could still be shorter, a lot shorter.

True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them.

Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn’t stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb.

Now, we’re warned that within five years North Korea could have an arsenal of 100 nuclear bombs.

Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. It’s done that on at least three separate occasions – 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras. Now, I know this is not going to come as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught – caught twice, not once, twice – operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn’t even know existed.

Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don’t know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, ‘If there’s no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn’t have one.’ Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that’s why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal.

But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade. Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it’s the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It’s a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.

Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount – 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.

My long-time friend, John Kerry, Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires.

Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.

And by the way, if Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program is not part of the deal, and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reaching corners of the Earth, including to every part of the United States. So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That’s why this deal is so bad. It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb; it paves Iran’s path to the bomb.

So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse?

Well, I disagree. I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would only whet Iran’s appetite for more.

Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it’s under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?

Why should Iran’s radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both worlds: aggression abroad, prosperity at home?

This is a question that everyone asks in our region. Israel’s neighbors, Iran’s neighbors, know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it’s been given a clear path to the bomb. And many of these neighbors say they’ll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own. So this deal won’t change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet.

This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.

If anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, we’ll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve come here today to tell you we don’t have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better. We don’t have to gamble with our future and with our children’s future.

We can insist that restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world. Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.

If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires. If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.

My friends,

What about the argument that there’s no alternative to this deal, that Iran’s nuclear know-how cannot be erased, that its nuclear program is so advanced that the best we can do is delay the inevitable, which is essentially what the proposed deal seeks to do?

Well, nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn’t get you very much. A racecar driver without a car can’t drive. A pilot without a plane can’t fly. Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons.

Iran’s nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.

Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table – and this often happens in a Persian bazaar – call their bluff. They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.

And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more. My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.

Now we’re being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That’s just not true. The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal: a better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short breakout time; a better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in place until Iran’s aggression ends; a better deal that won’t give Iran an easy path to the bomb; a better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally. And no country has a greater stake – no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat.

Ladies and gentlemen,

History has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war. The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity.

You don’t have to read Robert Frost to know. You have to live life to know that the difficult path is usually the one less traveled, but it will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace we all desire.

My friends, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, ‘Never Again.’ And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.

But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over. We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves.

This is why as Prime Minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel. You stand with Israel because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history’s horrors.

Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the Land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today, ‘Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.’

My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope.

May God bless the State of Israel and may God bless the United States of America.

Rice: Eliminating Iran’s Nuclear Program “Neither Realistic nor Achievable”

National Security Adviser Susan Rice outlined the U.S. demands in its negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. (Video and transcript below.)

Rice said that “a good deal is one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.”

Any deal must prevent Iran from developing weapons-grade plutonium at Arak, or anywhere else.

Any deal must prevent Iran from enriching uranium at its nuclear facility at Fordow — a site we uncovered buried deep underground and revealed to the world in 2009.

Any deal must increase the time it takes Iran to reach breakout capacity — the time it would take to produce a single bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium. Today, experts suggest Iran’s breakout window is just two to three months. We seek to extend that to at least one year.

Any deal must ensure frequent and intrusive inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites — including the uranium mills that produce the material fed into Iran’s enrichment and conversion facilities — to create a multi-layered transparency regime that provides the international community with the confidence it demands. That’s the best way to prevent Iran from pursuing a covert path to a nuclear weapon — to stop Iran from working toward a bomb in secret.

Any deal must address the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. And, going forward, we will not accept a deal that fails to provide the access we need to ensure that Iran’s program is peaceful.

And, any deal must last more than a decade — with additional provisions ensuring greater transparency into Iran’s program for an even longer period of time.

Rice added that “we cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal.”

I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment capacity entirely. But, as desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable.

Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy.  If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable. The plain fact is, no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses.

Susan Rice: I want to thank Bob Cohen, Michael Kassen, Lillian Pinkus, my old friend Lee Rosenberg, and all of AIPAC’s board and members for welcoming me tonight. I want to thank all the Members of Congress who represent America’s strong bipartisan support for the State of Israel; and all the young people here today, some 3,000, who represent the bright future of the U.S.-Israel special relationship.

I brought one of those young people with me, my seventeen year-old son Jake, who insisted he had to come to AIPAC. But, I want to take a moment before I begin, to remember three young men who aren’t with us today. I want to call us back to those terrible days last summer, when we were united in grief over the horrifying kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah. As a mother, my heart breaks for such unspeakable loss. Those boys were our boys, and we all continue to mourn their tragic loss.

The last time I spoke at AIPAC, it was to the synagogue initiative lunch. This group tonight is… a little larger. But, when I finished that speech, more than 400 rabbis sang to me. In Hebrew. Now, that is something I will never forget. And the words of their song reflect the spirit that brings me here tonight. Hinei ma’tov uma-nayim, shevet achim gam yachad. “How good it is and how pleasant when we sit together in brotherhood.” It’s a great psalm—though I will admit that where I first encountered it – in church – it was not in the original Hebrew. That psalm always reminds me how much we can do together when we unite in common purpose. And, it goes to the heart of what AIPAC is all about—what the relationship between Israel and the United States is all about. Brotherhood. Togetherness. Unity.

That’s because the U.S.-Israel alliance is not just rooted in our mutual interests, vital as they are. It’s also rooted in the values of freedom and democracy that we share. It’s in the friendship and fellowship between ordinary Israelis and Americans. And, for me personally, it’s a warmth that’s rooted in my very first visit to Israel. I was just 14, traveling with my younger brother and my beloved late father. My Dad was on the Board of TWA – some of you are old enough to remember that once-great airline. We arrived on one of the first-ever flights from Egypt to Israel, just after the Camp David Accords were signed. We had an unforgettable visit, the power of which has stayed with me all my life. We bowed our heads in sorrow at Yad Vashem. We walked the lanes of the Old City, climbed Masada, floated in the Dead Sea, and picked fruit at a kibbutz. I learned by heart the words of the sh’ma. My first memories of Israel remain etched in my soul.

Put simply, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is not just one between states. It is between two peoples and the millions of intimate, personal connections that bind us. Our relationship has deepened and grown through different presidents and prime ministers for nearly 70 years.

It was President Truman, a Democrat, who—just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence—made the United States the first country to recognize the State of Israel.

It was President Nixon, a Republican, who made sure America stood with Israel as it fought for survival one terrible Yom Kippur, so that its people could declare am Yisrael Chai –“the people of Israel live.”

It was President Carter who helped Israel forge an historic peace with Egypt that endures to this day. And, it was President Clinton and President George W. Bush who backed Israel as it took more brave steps for peace, and as it endured terrorist attacks from Hezbollah and Hamas.

The relationship between the United States and the State of Israel is not a partnership between individual leaders, or political parties. It’s an alliance between two nations, rooted in the unbreakable friendship between our two peoples. It is not negotiable. And it never will be.

Our alliance grows l’dor va’dor, from generation to generation. That’s what counts. That’s what we have to protect. As John F. Kennedy said, back in 1960, “friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter. It is a national commitment.”

No one knows this better than all of you. For decades, AIPAC has built bipartisan support for America’s special relationship with Israel. That’s why every President—from Harry Truman to Barack Obama—has begun from a fundamental, unshakable premise: strengthening the security of Israel is in the national interest of the United States of America.

President Obama’s commitment to Israel is deep and personal. I know, because I see it every day. I first saw it when I accompanied then-Senator Obama to Israel in 2008. I saw it when he surveyed with horror the stacks of charred rockets that Hamas had fired on Israel, and when he walked through the hollowed out homes of Sderot.

That same year, President Obama came to this conference, still a senator, and he made a promise. He said, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct.” And, each day, over the past six years, President Obama has kept that promise. The President is profoundly committed to ensuring that Israel is never alone. That’s why, today, security cooperation between our countries is not just strong. It’s stronger than it has ever been. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have called it “unprecedented.” And that’s the way it’s going to stay.

President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more times than with almost any other world leader. As national security advisor, I am in nearly constant communication with Yossi Cohen, my friend and my Israeli counterpart, who I am so pleased is here tonight. Thank you, Yossi. Together, we host the U.S.-Israel consultative group to ensure we’re working closely across the highest levels of our governments. Our armed forces conduct extensive exercises together, and our military and intelligence leaders consult continually.

Under this Administration, in times of tight budgets, our security assistance to Israel has increased. Since President Obama took office, the United States has provided Israel with more than $20 billion in foreign military financing. Last year, we provided Israel with the largest package of security assistance ever. That’s money well spent, because it goes directly to bolstering Israel’s ability to defend itself in a very tough neighborhood, to protecting Israeli citizens, and to strengthening a vital American ally.

We are maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge with new defense technologies and access to the most advanced military equipment in the world. President Obama is determined to ensure that Israel can defend itself, by itself. So, when Israel receives the F-35 joint strike fighter next year, it will be the only nation in the Middle East with a fifth-generation aircraft.

Since 2009, we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing and producing the David’s Sling missile defense program and the Arrow anti-missile system. We’ve invested more than $1 billion dollars in the Iron Dome system. When I visited Israel last May, I saw this technology first-hand at Palmachim air force base. And, last summer, as Hamas’ terrorist rockets rained down on Israeli cities, the world saw how Iron Dome saved lives, literally, every day.

During the height of that conflict—with sirens wailing and Israeli civilians huddling in bomb shelters—the United States stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks, even as we worked with the Israeli government to find a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. And, when the Israeli government made an urgent request for an additional $225 million to support Iron Dome’s batteries, President Obama’s response was immediate and clear: “Let’s do it.” Within days, legislation was drafted, passed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, and President Obama signed it into law. At that critical moment, we replenished Israel’s arsenal of Iron Dome interceptor missiles. That’s what it means to be an ally.

Our unwavering commitment to Israel’s lasting security is why we will also never give up on a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It will require hard decisions, but the United States will remain a steadfast partner. Like past administrations, Republican and Democratic, we believe that a truly lasting peace can only be forged by direct talks between the two parties. Like past administrations, we are concerned by unilateral actions that erode trust or assault Israel’s legitimacy. Like every administration, Republican and Democratic, since the Six Day War, we oppose Israeli settlement activity—and we oppose Palestinian steps that throw up further obstacles to peace, including actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court. The only path to ensure Israel’s long-term security is to bring about a viable, sovereign Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with a democratic, Jewish State of Israel.

Israel’s security—our mutual security—is also at the heart of one of President Obama’s most important foreign policy objectives: ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. As President Obama has repeated many times: we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. As he said in Jerusalem: “Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained.” And he added, “America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.”

President Obama said it. He meant it. And those are his orders to us all.

That is still the way we see the danger of a nuclear Iran today. Given Iran’s support for terrorism, the risk of a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the danger to the entire global non-proliferation regime, an Iran with a nuclear weapon would not just be a threat to Israel – it’s an unacceptable threat to the United States of America.

We understand the unique concerns of our Israeli friends and partners. In Jerusalem, President Obama made plain: “when I consider Israel’s security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel’s destruction. It’s no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat. But this is not simply a challenge for Israel; it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States.”

I want to be very clear: a bad deal is worse than no deal. And, if that is the choice, there will be no deal.

Negotiations continue. And, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. As of today, significant gaps remain between the international community and Iran. I’m not going to get into details about ongoing negotiations – nor should sensitive details of an ongoing negotiation be discussed in public. But, I do want to make five key points about our approach to the negotiation.

First, with the Joint Plan of Action, we have already succeeded in halting Iran’s nuclear program and rolling it back in key areas. Let’s recall what has been achieved over the last year. Iran is doing away with its existing stockpile of its most highly enriched uranium. Iran has capped its stockpile of low enriched uranium. Iran has not constructed additional enrichment facilities. Iran has not installed or operated new centrifuges, including its next-generation models. Iran has stopped construction at its potential plutonium reactor at Arak. In short, Iran is further away from a nuclear weapon than it was a year ago—and that makes the world safer, including Israel.

Moreover, we’re not taking anything on trust. What matters are Iran’s actions, not its words. That’s why, as part of the Joint Plan of Action, we’ve insisted upon—and achieved—unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear program. Before the Joint Plan, inspections happened only every few weeks, sometimes every few months. Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency has daily access at Iran’s key nuclear sites at Natanz and Fordow, verifying that Iran is meeting its commitments. If I can paraphrase, President Reagan, with a twist, our approach is “distrust and verify.”

Second, we’ve kept the pressure on Iran. I know this firsthand because, when I was U.N. ambassador, President Obama personally directed me to make sure that the Security Council’s sanctions had bite—and they do. Today, even with limited sanctions relief, Iran’s economy remains isolated from the international finance system and cut off from the vast majority of its foreign currency reserves. Iran’s oil exports have dropped almost 60 percent since 2012. The rial has depreciated by more than 50 percent. And, Iran’s overall GDP has shrunk by almost 10 percent. All told, sanctions have deprived Iran of more than $200 billion in lost oil revenues.

But sanctions are a tool, not an end in themselves. The question now, after the pressure that we and our partners have brought to bear, is whether we can verify that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon. The question now is whether we can achieve a comprehensive deal. A good deal.

This is my third point—a good deal is one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Every single one.

Any deal must prevent Iran from developing weapons-grade plutonium at Arak, or anywhere else.

Any deal must prevent Iran from enriching uranium at its nuclear facility at Fordow—a site we uncovered buried deep underground and revealed to the world in 2009.

Any deal must increase the time it takes Iran to reach breakout capacity—the time it would take to produce a single bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium. Today, experts suggest Iran’s breakout window is just two to three months. We seek to extend that to at least one year.

Any deal must ensure frequent and intrusive inspections at Iran’s nuclear sites—including the uranium mills that produce the material fed into Iran’s enrichment and conversion facilities—to create a multi-layered transparency regime that provides the international community with the confidence it demands. That’s the best way to prevent Iran from pursuing a covert path to a nuclear weapon—to stop Iran from working toward a bomb in secret.

Any deal must address the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. And, going forward, we will not accept a deal that fails to provide the access we need to ensure that Iran’s program is peaceful.

And, any deal must last more than a decade—with additional provisions ensuring greater transparency into Iran’s program for an even longer period of time.

That’s what we’re working toward—a good, long-term, comprehensive deal that verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

This brings me to my fourth point —we cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal. I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forego its domestic enrichment capacity entirely. But, as desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable. Even our closest international partners in the P5+1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us, undermining the sanctions we have imposed so effectively together. Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable. The plain fact is, no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses.

We must also understand what will happen if these negotiations collapse. I know that some argue we should just impose sanctions and walk away. But let’s remember that sanctions have never stopped Iran from advancing its program. So here’s what’s likely to happen without a deal. Iran will install and operate advanced centrifuges. Iran will seek to fuel its reactor in Arak. Iran will rebuild its uranium stockpile. And, we’ll lose the unprecedented inspections and transparency we have today.

Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran, but they shouldn’t play the spoiler now. Additional sanctions or restrictive legislation enacted during the negotiation would blow up the talks, divide the international community, and cause the United States to be blamed for the failure to reach a deal—putting us in a much weaker position and endangering the sanctions regime itself. Meanwhile, the Iranians are well aware that if they walk away from a deal, Congress will pass new sanctions immediately—and President Obama will support them.

So, if Iran refuses to resolve this matter diplomatically—and is clearly to blame for that failure—its isolation will only increase. The costs will continue to grow.

Finally, I know that some question a deal of any duration. But, it has always been clear that the pursuit of an agreement of indefinite duration would result in no agreement at all. The question is, what is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? A deal that extends for a decade or more would accomplish this goal better than any other course of action – longer, by far, than military strikes, which would only set back Iran’s program for a fraction of the time. And, at the end of any deal, Iran would still be required to offer comprehensive access to its nuclear facilities and to provide the international community the assurance that it was not pursuing nuclear weapons. And, if it failed to do so, we would have the ability to make our own decisions about how to move forward, just as we do today. There’s simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better—or longer—than the type of deal we seek.

We can always bring consequences to bear for the sake of our shared security—harsh consequences. But, precisely because this is such a serious issue, we must weigh the different options before us and choose the best one. Sound bites won’t stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Strong diplomacy – backed by pressure – can. And, if diplomacy fails, let’s make it clear to the world that it is Iran’s responsibility.

One final word on Iran: even if we succeed in neutralizing the nuclear threat from Iran, we will still face other threats—Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, its gross violations of human rights, its efforts to destabilize neighboring states, its support for Assad and Hamas and Hezbollah, its intolerable threats against Israel. Our sanctions against Iran on these issues will remain in place. We will continue to counter Iran and the full range of threats it poses. Tehran must understand—the United States will never, ever waver in the defense of our security or the security of our allies and partners, including Israel.

The bottom line is simple: we have Israel’s back, come hell or high water—and I’ve been right there with you all through some pretty high waters. I was proud to fight again and again for Israel’s security and its basic legitimacy at the United Nations – from leading the charge against the deeply flawed Goldstone report to casting this administration’s only veto in the Security Council to block a counter-productive resolution.

As Ambassador Power described to you this morning, when it comes to combating the shameful bias against Israel at the U.N., Israel has no better friend than the United States. Last March, we were the only ‘no’ vote in the Human Rights Council against anti-Israel measures five separate times. Earlier today, Secretary Kerry told the Human Rights Council in Geneva, point blank, that its obsession with Israel risks undermining the credibility of the entire organization. And last month, with Israel and the European Union, the U.S. organized the first U.N. General Assembly meeting to combat anti-Semitism.

No country is immune from criticism—take it from a former U.N. Ambassador. But when criticism singles out one country unfairly, bitterly, viciously, over and over—that’s just wrong, and we all know it. When one democracy’s legitimacy is attacked, over and over, uniquely among the U.N.’s member states, that’s ugly, and we all know it. And, when anti-Semitism rears its head around the world, when Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris are singled out and murdered by terrorists, when synagogues are attacked and cemeteries defaced, we have to call it by name. It’s hate. It’s anti-Semitism. It reminds us of the most terrible chapters of human history. It has no place in a civilized world, and we have to fight it.

These are big challenges. But the United States and Israel have mastered plenty of big challenges before. Israel and the United States are sister democracies built on the bedrock value that we are all created b’tzelem elokim—in the image of God. And, like the Psalm says, how good it is when we sit in brotherhood together. But God calls us to do more than sit. God calls us to stand up. To act.

This weekend, President Obama will travel to Selma, Alabama, to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic marches there. He’ll pay tribute to those brave souls who took enormous risks for civil rights, including Jews and rabbis from across the country—from St. Louis and San Francisco; the Northeast and the Deep South. They faced tear gas and billy clubs, Torahs in hand. They were jailed. They conducted Shabbat services behind bars, and they sang “Adon Olam” to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.” They broke the fast of Esther in prison. They even started a trend. Some black marchers, moved by the solidarity of their Jewish brethren, started wearing yarmulkes—they called them “freedom caps.”

As you recalled last night, one of those on the front lines in Selma was the great teacher, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. After marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Dr. King, he reflected, “our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship.” Our march was our worship.

The Jewish community amplified the rightness and the urgency of the civil rights movement with its own unassailable moral compass—guided by the basic principle that people should be free in their own land. And, I stand before you knowing that I and many others would not be where we are today without all those who fought for equal rights – African Americans and white Americans, including so many Jewish Americans. As we mark that Selma anniversary, as we gather here to celebrate an improbable dream that grew into the great State of Israel, we remember what we can accomplish together, when we’re at our best.

In a spirit of brotherhood, we have overcome so many trials to reach where we are—as nations, as peoples. In a spirit of brotherhood, inspired by all those who marched and struggled and sacrificed before us, let us continue the work. Let us never succumb to hopelessness or cynicism, to division or despair. Let our legs utter songs, and let our hands reach out together. That is how we fulfill our common commitment to mend our imperfect world, to do the holy work of tikkun olam. And, as we do, at home and around the world, the United States will always stand with our Israeli friends and allies.

That’s our enduring commitment. That’s our sacred duty. That’s the hope and the future for our children. So, let us keep marching arm in arm together.

Netanyahu Declines to Meet Democratic Senators Before Congressional Speech

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

DEBKA reported that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declined an invitation for a closed-door meeting with Democratic Senators next week in a letter to Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein:

Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation, I believe that accepting it at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.

DEBKA added that National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the latest U.S. administration official to attack Netanyahu, sharply called his forthcoming speech on Iran to Congress “destructive to the relationship between the two countries” in an interview with Charlie Rose Tuesday night:

What has happened over the last several weeks by virtue of the invitation that was issued by the speaker and the acceptance of it by Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks before his elections is that on both sides there have been injected some degree of partisanship.

It is not only unfortunate but it is also destructive of the fabric of the relationship. It has always been bipartisan and we want to keep it that way. When it becomes injected with politics, that’s a problem.

Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry said in reference to the prime minister that “anybody running around right now jumping in to say, ‘Well we don’t like the deal,’ or this, or that, doesn’t know what the deal is.”

Previously, Netanyahu remarked on his upcoming speech:

This agreement, if signed, will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state – meaning that, with the powers’ consent, Iran will get a license to develop atom bombs – and this is a country which openly declares its intention to destroy the state of Israel. That is why I will go to Washington to speak before the US Congress, because the U.S. Congress may be the last defense before it is signed.

Netanyahu Demands U.S. Congress Pass Carbon Tax (Parody)

Parody courtesy of Disassociated Press

(Disassociated Press — Washington DC, March 3, 2015) Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel today startled the U.S. Congress by demanding that it pass a strong carbon tax to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions that lead to global scorching.

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

Biden (left) and Boehner (right) look on as Netanyahu speaks before Congress.

The State of Israel faces an extreme threat to its existence much more dangerous to us than Iran or the Palestinians. And only the United States can prevent this disaster.

Our best scientists have told me that if the world continues with business as usual in pouring CO2 into our air, the added heat will expand the size of the Negev Desert so that it will swallow up most of Israel. And sea levels of the Mediterranean will rise to put much of Tel Aviv under water.

I am sad to say that much of the present CO2 comes from unchecked fossil-fuel burning by American companies. Only a strong US carbon tax can end this. On behalf of the people of Israel and of the entire Jewish people, I implore you — I urge you — even I would say I demand of you — that you take this step as soon as possible.

Senators and Members of the House of Representatives were thrown into a buzzing uproar by Mr. Netanyahu’s speech. Speaker Boehner was seen to hit his hand against his head three times in what looked like frustration.

Until Mr. Netanyahu began to speak, it was widely expected he would call for Congress to impose even more draconian sanctions against Iran than now exist.

There were sharp divisions in American politics over having the speech at all.

On the one hand, the House Republican leadership had arranged it without informing the President or the Democratic Congressional leadership — an unheard-of procedure for inviting a foreign leader. The Republican leadership also invited several major supporters and donors to sit in seats of honor in the gallery.

Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson

One of these was Sheldon Adelson, multibillionaire head of a casino empire who has been one of Mr. Netanyahu’s strongest political supporters and donors in Israeli politics, and who has also been a major contributor to Republican candidates for President.

From his seat, as the speech took its unexpected turn, he began shouting, “No, No, No.” When forced to leave by the Capitol police, he came down outside the Capitol, roaring, “For this I paid the whole cost of the newspaper I invented to support him? What will I say to my friends Charles and David Koch? Did some Greenpeacer poison his coffee this morning?”

On the other hand, the White House had sharply criticized the invitation, and many critics had gathered outside the Capitol to protest what they had expected Mr. Netanyahu to say. They had argued that his policy would undermine President Obama’s diplomatic work to pull Iran away from nuclear weapons, would instead push Iran toward making them, and thus would likely lead to a disastrous war.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (front right) and other protesters.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (front right) and other protesters.

One of the protesters, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center, is also a leader in urging the American Jewish community to work against the fossil-fuel burning that brings on climate chaos. Our reporter asked Rabbi Waskow what he thought of the speech.

I am astounded. A reminder that even bellicose, short-sighted politicians can still open themselves to the deepest truth, and amaze everyone — maybe even themselves.In Jewish spiritual life we call it tshuvah — literally, turning in a new direction, toward the God Who breathes all life. We pray, “You Who are the Breath of Life, May Your sacred winds of change turn us in a new direction – and then we will turn!”

All I can say this afternoon is, Amen to that!

7 Q&A: Iran’s Nuclear Program & Netanyahu’s Speech

450px-Arak_Heavy_Water4

Heavy water reactor in Arak, Iran.

1. How Can We Best Prevent Iran From Acquiring Nuclear Weapons?

A nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel and destabilize the region.

President Obama and members of his administration have repeatedly stated that Iran will be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons and that all options, including the military option, are on the table.

During the Obama administration, Congress passed, and Obama signed into law, increasingly tough sanctions against Iran. The President signed every sanctions bill that Congress sent him. These sanctions hurt Iran economically, because Obama built an international coalition that adhered to the sanctions. But Iran had only accelerated its progress toward nuclear weapons.

On November 24, 2013, the U.S. and its allies entered into an interim agreement with Iran called the Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Under the JPA, Iran agreed to freeze or roll back its nuclear program in return for a limited, reversible sanctions relief. The JPA stopped the clock so that Iran could not advance its program while talks were continuing.

The JPA has been extended twice and will expire on June 30, 2015, but the U.S. hopes that a framework for a final agreement will be in place by the end of March, with the remaining time used to work out the details.

The administration and its allies believe that diplomacy is our best chance to stop Iran. We tried sanctions. They brought Iran to the table, but they did not stop Iran’s progress — only the JPA did that.

Even the most crippling sanctions, assuming that our allies would agree to tougher sanctions, probably would not be sufficient to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons because Iran is already so close. Military action might set their program back, but unless we are willing to invade and occupy Iran, military action would ultimately succeed only in convincing Iran that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself.

Some lawmakers now want to pass more sanctions legislation or require that any final agreement be approved by Congress. The administration opposes such legislation, and so should we.

2. Is the Joint Plan of Action (interim agreement) Working?

As Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken testified, the interim agreement is working:

Today, as the result of the constraints in the JPA, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back in key areas for the first time in a decade, and it has allowed us to have greater insight and visibility through more intrusive and more frequent inspections.

The Arms Control Association details Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement in a chart, and Politifact verified the President’s statement about Iranian compliance.

Meanwhile, as Blinken said, despite the limited sanctions relief, “virtually the entire sanctions architecture remains in place. Indeed, throughout the existence of the JPA, sanctions pressure on Iran has not decreased — it has increased.”

3. How Can a Bill That Imposes Sanctions Only if a Deal is Not Reached Disrupt Negotiations?

The latest version of the Kirk-Menendez bill (sponsored so far by 30 Republicans and eight Democrats, and none of the Democrats want a vote until at least the end of March) would impose sanctions only if we did not reach a final agreement with Iran.

The administration opposes triggered sanctions for several reasons:

  • Such sanctions would be viewed by the international community as violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the JPA, freeing Iran to violate its commitments under the JPA and resume its nuclear program.
  • Such sanctions could provoke Iran to end negotiations.
  • If Iran did not walk away, Iran would likely adopt more extreme positions in response.
  • If our allies perceive that we are not serious about living into up to our commitments, their support for sanctions will wane.

The Brookings Institution’s Robert Einhorn said that new U.S. sanctions legislation would have a troublesome impact “on the internal debate in Tehran and on prospects for positive changes in Iran’s negotiating position”:

Opponents of a deal would seize on the new legislation to argue that the United States is violating the spirit of the JPA, that the U.S. has no intention of ultimately removing the sanctions, and that the U.S. Administration cannot be counted on to deliver its end of any agreement eventually reached.

The critics — whose strong influence has so far impeded the adoption of a pragmatic Iranian negotiating position — would be further strengthened. Playing on Iranian hyper-sensitivity to giving in to foreign pressures, they would demand that U.S. pressure tactics not be rewarded by making concessions in the talks.

Thus, instead of compelling Iran to be more flexible, new U.S. legislation could produce greater defiance, further entrench rigid Iranian negotiating positions, and increase support for the Supreme Leader’s pipedream of an “economy of resistance” that could manage effectively without a nuclear deal. So even if a new sanctions law did not precipitate an abrupt termination of the talks, it could increase the likelihood that the negotiations will ultimately fail.

However, Blinken is the one who spoke about the key point:

We can debate whether any or all of these things would happen. What I can tell you today is that those who are best placed to know — the diplomatic professionals who have been leading these negotiations and dealing directly with the Iranians and our international partners for the past several years — believe that the risks are real, serious and totally unnecessary. That is their best judgment.

Why run those risks and jeopardize the prospects for a deal that will either come together — or not — over the next two months? Why not be patient for a few more months to fully test diplomacy? There is nothing to be gained — and everything to be lost — by acting precipitously.

Iran fully expects that if talks break down, we will enact tougher sanctions. As Einhorn said, “There is no need to legislate those sanctions in advance to ensure their credibility.”

In the meantime, Iran is the country whose nuclear program has been frozen and they are the ones whose economy continues to suffer because of sanctions. As Einhorn said, “Iran, not the United States or its partners… is the clear loser the longer the JPA remains in effect.”

4. What If We Get a Bad Deal?

President Obama and his staff have been as clear as can be on two points: We will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and no deal is better than a bad deal.

The administration’s refusal to sign a bad deal is the reason that the interim agreement was extended twice. We will hear all sorts of unconfirmed rumors about deals that are being contemplated, but do not waste your time: The only deal that matters, if a deal is to be, is the one that will be officially announced. Until then, we can do nothing (except scuttle negotiations and eliminate any hope of a deal, which seems to be the Republican plan).

We should oppose any efforts by Congress to approve a deal. This is not a treaty: This Congress would not have approved the JPA, and this Congress would only approve a perfect deal. But a good deal will not be a perfect deal.

As much as we would like to permanently and forever rid Iran of all nuclear capacity, that is not going to happen. An agreement that, in Einhorn’s words, “would allow a strictly limited and heavily monitored enrichment program” and would lengthen to at least one year, “the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a single nuclear weapon,” would be sufficient. The agreement itself would have to last at least ten years.

5. Should Netanyahu Address Congress?

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran will take place two weeks before Israel’s election. Netanyahu wants the Israeli public to see members of Congress give him standing ovations. It is also a blatantly partisan effort by Republicans in Congress to enlist Netanyahyu’s aid in lobbying Congress in favor of Republican legislation on Iran.

Netanyahu’s defenders sanctimoniously say that he needs to warn Congress about the threat posed by Iran. I am aware of no members of Congress who do not support preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or who do not know where Bibi stands.

This is not about the U.S. vs. Israel. This is not even Obama vs. Netanyahu. This is about a terrible political miscalculation by Netanyahu and his Republican ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, aided and abetted by the Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner.

Vice President Biden, a pro-Israel stalwart for more than 30 years, will skip the speech. He could not possibly attend following this major and deliberate breach of protocol.

Some Democratic members of Congress also might not attend because the disrespect shown to the President by Boehner and Netanyahu. Let us be clear: Democrats are firmly pro-Israel and firmly in favor of policies that prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. What they are not in favor of is being used as props for a foreign leader’s re-election campaign and to humiliate Obama.

Even Israel’s consul general in Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman, said that the purpose of Netanyahu’s speech is to defy and humiliate Obama:

It is our impression that these people’s support for the speech stems from their identification with, and admiration for, a move to defy and humiliate President Obama, more than from the importance they attribute to the Iranian issue, which should be the center of the speech.

The former Mossad head, Meir Dagan, and a close advisor to Israel’s former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dov Wiesglass, were also very critical of Netanyahu’s speech, calling it an “excessive provocation” and warning of the “terrible damage” it will do.

In The Jerusalem Post, Douglas Bloomfield wrote similar things:

There is no known precedent for a foreign leader working with the Congressional opposition behind a president’s back to come to Washington to lobby against an administration’s policies… Netanyahu’s supporters are accusing the administration of snubbing the prime minister, but it is actually the other way around. The Congressional appearance was arranged in secret and was intended to be a platform for pressing for new sanctions legislation that Obama has threatened to veto.

Former Congressman Mel Levine was one of Israel strongest advocates when he was in Congress. He wrote an op-ed in Ha’aretz with Israel’s former ambassador to Jordan and the European Union, Oded Eran, stating that Netanyahu’s impending visit breaks away from “the fundamental principles that form the bedrock of Israeli-U.S. relations”:

This relationship should never be owned in the United States by one party, nor should it ever become a political football between Republicans and Democrats. Furthermore, both the United States and Israel should refrain from interfering in the domestic politics of one another.

Netanyahu – who cannot be accused of not understanding U.S. politics or the history of the U.S.-Israeli relationship — is guilty of all three sins.

Levine and Eran suggest that Bibi defuse the situation by meeting with bipartisan leadership instead of addressing a joint session of Congress. But that would make way too much sense.

6. Did Speaker Boehner Inform the White House Prior to Inviting Netanyahu?

In an absurd attempt to pull themselves out of the muck, some of our Republican friends are pointing to a New York Times correction stating that Netanyahu accepted Boehner’s invitation after the White House had been informed of the invitation.

It is supposedly nice that our Republican friends have so much faith in the New York Times that they even read the corrections, but let us get real: Even if true, the correction does not state who supplied this information, or more importantly, exactly who was “informed.” The truth is that the White House was blindsided by the invitation and only learned about it from press reports.

The bottom line remains that Boehner did not consult with the White House or his Democratic counterparts before extending the invitation, and if there was notice — all of two hours — before Bibi accepted, there is really no difference between that and no notice at all. It was a done deal, secretly prepared by the Republicans for weeks without the knowledge of the White House or congressional Democrats.

7. How Will This Affect U.S.-Israel Relations?

The good news from a pro-Israel standpoint is that despite whatever his personal relationship with Netanyahu might be, Obama has been rock-solid in his support for Israel from day one.

During his first term, Obama:

  • ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin-Laden,
  • built the international coalition that enforced the toughest sanctions ever against Iran,
  • restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration (and secretly sold Israel the bunker-busting bombs it requested but did not receive during the Bush administration),
  • increased security assistance to Israel to record levels,
  • requested funding for Iron Dome above and beyond those levels,
  • boycotted Durban II and Durban III,
  • took US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against a one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution,
  • opposed the Goldstone Report,
  • stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and
  • organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

After winning re-election, Obama:

  • spoke out against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the U.N.,
  • reiterated his firm commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,
  • forcefully condemned Hamas while supporting Israel’s right to defend itself,
  • became only the fifth sitting U.S. president to visit Israel, and
  • supported even more funding for Iron Dome, which saved thousands of Israeli lives in the last Gaza conflict.

Obama has continued some U.S. policies that have been in place since 1967, such as vocal opposition and condemnation of settlements, not moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and urging “restraint” on both sides during wars, sometimes in almost the exact words used by the Bush administration. That is par for the course, even if our Republican friends continue to profess shock that the President adheres to decades-old U.S. policy on those issues, both in tone and substance.

Obama’s record on Israel is better than that of any Republican president. If this is how Obama treats Israel when he does not like Israel’s prime minister, imagine how he will treat Israel if Israel elects someone else.