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.

Video: Inside the Israeli Anti-Missile “Iron Dome”

As uncertainty continues in Israel’s neighboring countries, the Iron Dome system is more important than ever. To better understand its role in Israel’s defense, the Technoion has produced this video.

Iron Dome launches interceptors to destroy rockets before they can cause injury, property damage and, most importantly, loss of life. The video features a student from Sderot, a small town in the south of Israel that has been the recipient of countless rocket attacks. It also explains how the system protects Israeli citizens.

Obama Proposes $3.4 Billion in Israel Aid for Fiscal Year 2014


An Iron Dome battery near Sderot

— by Jacob Miller

President Barack Obama has requested that American aid to Israel remain untouched for Fiscal Year 2014 despite budgetary belt tightening in other areas. Under the President’s proposed budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year, Israel would receive a total of $3.4 billion in military aid, including $220 million for the Iron Dome missile defense system. The Times of Israel noted:

For the first time, funding for the joint US-Israel missile defense system Iron Dome appears in the presidential budget request, which still must be approved by Congress. A senior source in a pro-Israel organization in Washington familiar with the issue called the earmark “significant.”

More after the jump.
Israel Hayom summarized the budget:

Israel would receive $3.4 billion in total military aid under the 2014 U.S. budget proposal sent to Congress by President Barack Obama on Wednesday, virtually unchanged from its current level of military aid from the U.S.

Obama’s proposal includes $3.1 billion in general military aid for Israel, similar to 2013, plus a separate request for $220 million to finance the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system….

Obama’s 2014 proposal also allocates $96 million for joint U.S.-Israel research and development projects, including the David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems.

The overall budget proposal that Obama submitted to Congress on Wednesday totalled $3.8 trillion.

A recent Bloomberg article outlined more specific terms of the missile defense funding for Israel:

The money, if approved during the annual defense budget process, would be on top of $486 million the White House and Congress have requested or added for the system in recent years after formal budgets were submitted. This includes $211 million added in the defense appropriations bill for this year, which President Barack Obama signed into law last month.

The $220 million request for fiscal 2014 “is new money, and it is the first time funding specifically for Iron Dome procurement has been requested in our budget submission,” Missile Defense Agency spokesman Richard Lehner said in an e-mail.

The article from Bloomberg also outlined how the American Missile Defense Agency requested funds to continue collaborative programs the United States works on with Israel, specifically the David’s Sling and Arrow programs. David’s sling is a shorter range system, and Arrow is intended to intercept long and medium range ballistic missiles.  

Obama Inspects Iron Dome, Holds Meetings with Peres, Netanyahu

Following his landing in Israel, President Obama arrived in a black SUV to inspect Iron Dome and other air-defense systems lined up outside an hangar on the tarmac. They are a mix of rockets and mobile anti-missile batteries.

“I’m a young man. I’m always looking for any chance to walk,” Obama said to Israeli military officials after hopping out of the SUV.

Obama listened as an officer explained the functions of an Iron Dome battery, a squat, desert-grey weapon pointed skyward. He then entered what appeared to be a control room.

Back outside, Obama shook hands with a line of Israeli officials in front of Iron Dome. He paused again in front of the battery, gesturing with his hands, as an officer spoke to him.

Video and remarks after meeting with Peres after the jump.
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then walked, in shirt sleeves, to Marine One, for the short flight into Jerusalem.

After freshening up at the King David Hotel, President Obama headed to the residence of the Israeli president. The two Presidents strolled together in the late-afternoon sunlight to gaze at fig and olive trees and then to dedicate a small magnolia tree that is a gift of President Obama. “A magnolia tree, just like what we have outside the White House,” Obama said to reporters. “I want everyone to know, this was on Air Force One.”

Turning over two spades of dirt on the freshly-planted tree, Obama said:

It is an incredible honor to offer this tree to this beautiful garden, and to someone who is champion of the Israeli people and a champion of peace.

“And we’re very good gardeners,” Obama added.

The two men then began a bilateral meeting inside. Secretary of State John Kerry took a seat to Obama’s right. Ambassador Michael Oren to Peres’ left. President Obama and President Peres met for about 55 minutes at the Israeli president’s residence. They emerged to make brief statements, standing at two podiums on a small stage with three U.S. flags and three Israeli flags behind them.

Peres said there is a common vision uniting the two countries: “The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran,” he said. “We trust your policy […] You have made it clear that your intention is not to contain but to prevent.”

Peres spoke of the threat of chemical weapons in Syria, saying that they cannot allow those weapons to fall into terrorist hands. He also said that Obama made clear that “peace is not only a wish but a possibility.”

Obama said he reaffirmed to Peres that in the work ahead, Israel will have no greater friend than the U.S. He praised Peres as someone with astonishing vision and a practical-minded politician. Obama said Mr. Peres’ work had planted the seeds of progress, security and peace.

According to Nadav Tamir, foreign policy adviser to the president:

We spoke about the Iranian threat, Syria, the peace process for the Palestinians, and change in the Middle East. The meeting was good and President Obama was in a listening mood. On the Iranian threat, we were convinced by the commitment and the determination of the Americans to deal with the issues. President Obama reaffirmed that all options remain on the table. On Syria, the chemical arsenal was mentioned but I cannot say more. On the peace process, it is achievable. We have to resume the negotiations as soon as possible and President Obama agreed with that.

After the meeting, the two president carried short remarks:

President Peres: President Obama, it is a great privilege for me and for the people of Israel to host you here in Jerusalem.

It was a real pleasure to sit with a true friend — very knowledgeable, fortunately — and sit candidly and discuss issues openly and freely.

After the meeting we just had, I have all confidence that your vision can transform the Middle East. Your vision is achievable. You arrived here already with an impressive record of answering our needs, particularly — and unforgettably — in the domain of security. I want to thank you personally, dear friend, for the long days and for many long, sleepless nights — you know about them — which you spend caring for our country and for our future.

We live in an age that is both global and domestic, inseparably. Interest may divide people; vision may unite them. There is common vision uniting us to confront the dangers, to bring peace closer as soon as possible. The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran — so you said, so you do. We trust your policy, which calls to, first, by non-military — to fight by non-military means with a clear statement that other options remain on the table. You made it clear that your intention is not to contain but to prevent.

We are trying together to start negotiations with the Palestinians. We already agreed that the goal is a two states for the two people solution. There is no better one, or more achievable one. We consider that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, is our partner in that effort to stop terror and bring peace.

Hamas remains a terror organization that targets innocent people. On our northern border, Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, continues to stockpile arms and threaten our civilians while they target innocent people across the world. Hezbollah is destroying Lebanon and supporting the brutal massacre of the Syrian people by President Assad. Fortunately, the Syrian nuclear capacity was destroyed. But unfortunately, thousands of chemical weapons remain. We cannot allow those weapons to fall in the terrorists’ hands. It could lead to an epic tragedy.

There is an attempt to bring spring to the Arab world. It is an Arab choice. It is an Arab initiative. It may bring peace to the region, freedom to the people, economic growth to the Arab states. If realized, it can lead to a better tomorrow. We pray it will become a reality.

I really believe the vision is within skeptics and those who believe in peace. Your voice will encourage belief. You came to us with a clear message that no one should let skepticism win the day — a vision that states clearly that peace is not only a wish, but a possibility. I fully support your call. There is no other way to make the future better. There is no better leader to make it possible.

Your visit is a historic step in that direction.  We shall journey with you all the way. Thank you.

President Obama: Thank you so much.

Well, thank you, President Peres, for your very generous words and your warm welcome. It is wonderful to be here once again. I first visited you when I was still a senator and had the opportunity to visit the lovely garden, and for me to be able to bring a tree from the United States that will find a home in that garden I think is symbolic of not only the friendship between our two nations, but between the two of us personally.

Mr. President, you once remarked that a prime minister’s job is to rule, a president’s job is to charm. Well, as with all our visits together, I have once again succumbed to your charms and I’m grateful to your hospitality.

It is wonderful to be back in Jerusalem, the Eternal City. And I’m pleased to begin my visit with a son of Israel who’s devoted his life to keeping Israel strong and sustaining the bonds between our two nations. President Peres knows that this is a work of generations. Just as he joined the struggle for Israeli independence in his early 20s, he’s always looking ahead, connecting with young people. And I’m especially grateful for the time he allowed me to share with those extraordinary Israeli boys and girls.

Their dreams are much the same as children everywhere. In another sense, though, their lives reflect the difficult realities that Israelis face every single day. They want to be safe. They want to be free from rockets that hit their homes or their schools. They want a world where science and technology is created to build and not destroy. They want to live in peace, free from terror and threats that are so often directed at the Israeli people. That’s the future that they deserve. That’s the vision that is shared by both our nations. And that is Shimon Peres’s life work.

And, Mr. President, Michelle and I have such fond memories of your visit to the White House last spring, when I was honored to present you with America’s highest civilian honor — our Medal of Freedom. And that medal was a tribute to your extraordinary life, in which you have held virtually every position in the Israeli government.

So today was another opportunity for me to benefit from the President’s perspective on a whole range of topics — from the historic changes that are taking place across the region to the perils of a nuclear-armed Iran, to the imperatives of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, to the promise of our digital age.

And I should note that one of the advantages of talking to President Peres is not only does he have astonishing vision, but he’s also a pretty practical-minded politician and consistently has good advice in terms of how we can approach many of these problems.

I reaffirmed to President Peres, as I will throughout my visit, that in this work, the State of Israel will have no greater friend than the United States. And the work we do in our time will make it more likely that the children that we saw today alongside children from throughout the region have the opportunity for security and peace and prosperity.

This obligation to future generations I think was well symbolized by the tree planting that we started our meeting with. The Talmud recounts the story of Honi, the miracle worker, who saw a man planting a carob tree. And he asked the man, how long before this tree yields fruit?  To which the man responded, “Seventy years.” And so Honi asked, “Are you sure you’ll be alive in another 70 years to see it?” And the man replied, “When I came into the world, I found carob trees. As my forefathers planted for me, so will I plant for my children.”

President Peres I think understands that story well. And so we want to all thank you for all the seeds you’ve planted — the seeds of progress, the seeds of security, the seeds of peace — all the seeds that have helped not only Israel grow but also the relationship between our two nations grow. And I believe that if we tend to them, if we nurture them, they will yield fruit in every hill and valley of this land, not only for the children we met today but for Israelis, for Palestinians, for Arabs across the region. That’s not only good for the children of this region, but it’s good for my children and the children of America.

I deeply believe that. And I couldn’t ask for a more wise or more thoughtful partner in that process. I’m very grateful for you hospitality, and I look forward to our continued work in the future.

President Obama then traveled to Netanyahu’s Residence for a bilateral meeting that was scheduled to last for 2 hours and 15 minutes.

President Obama presented Netanyahu with a framed wooden artifact from the George Washington Room in the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI. The synagogue is one of the oldest Jewish houses of worship in the United States that still stands, and its congregation dates back to the 1650s. President George Washington visited the synagogue in August of 1790, and in response to a letter from the congregation’s warden, wrote the famous Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport. The presentation of this special artifact includes a plaque with a passage from the letter, which reads “…every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

GOP Must Avoid Cuts To Iron Dome and Social Safety Net


Iron Dome hits Hamas rockets fired on Israel

— by Aaron Keyak

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) demanded that Republicans join with President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats in working to avoid the impending sequestration.

For all of their talk about opposing the sequester, Republicans have not taken meaningful action to avoid these catastrophic budget cuts. Sequestration will affect far too many of the top priorities of the Jewish community. These indiscriminate cuts may range from social safety net programs that help the least fortunate among us to Israel’s foreign aid and funding for missile defense programs like Iron Dome.

Sadly, as the President works to protect our nation’s social safety net and stands by our national security interests, Republicans are once again appeasing the far right elements of their party at the expense of the American people and our allies.

More after the jump.
According to Politico, many Congressional Republicans are in favor of letting the sequester take effect — including House Speaker John Boehner:

There seem to be three distinct camps: Most congressional Republicans appear willing to let the sequester happen since they can’t replace it in time. Others want the cuts to be even deeper […].

House Speaker John Boehner and the House GOP leadership represent the largest GOP faction — those who wish there was a better way to slash the deficit, but barring that, are willing to let the across-the-board cuts take effect on Friday as planned […].

This pro-sequester group includes GOPers like Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.), Mike Turner (Ohio) and Mike Pompeo (Kan.), who have all said they prefer a different way to cut government spending. But if there’s not a solution on the table by March 1, they think the sequester should be implemented […].

Another group is made up of people like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has been loudly proclaiming that the cuts are not nearly deep enough.

“It’s a pittance. I mean, it’s a slowdown in the rate of growth. There are no real cuts happening over 10 years,” Paul said on CNN this week of the sequester […].

“I think the sequester happens and it will be in some ways a yawn because the histrionics that are coming from the president saying, ‘Oh, we’re going to shut down and get rid of meat inspectors’ — I mean, is anybody not going to stand up and call his bluff on that ridiculousness?” Paul added.

Politico also noted that Republican Governors are calling on Congressional Republicans to act:

Ask Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert what they think of Hill Republicans’ strategy on the sequester, and you get the exact same response: “What strategy?” […]

Their message for House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders: It’s not OK to just sit on the sidelines. It’s time to do something to stop the automatic cuts, and fast.

JTA reported on sequestration’s devastating impact for the Jewish community:

[D]ozens of Jewish organizations [are] grappling with the potential loss of federal funds from the so-called sequester, a measure adopted by the U.S. Congress last year to force itself to confront a hemorrhaging national debt and return the country to sound fiscal footing. Unless a budget compromise could be found, draconian across-the-board cutbacks of 8.5 percent were to have automatically taken effect on Jan. 1. The impact of those cuts was designed to be so devastatingly painful that Congress would in effect force its own hand […].

As the new deadline nears, some Jewish organizations are preparing for the worst, identifying non-essential services to be axed while lobbying federal officials to protect vital programs.

According to Globes, sequestration would have dire consequences for Israel’s missile defense systems, including the Iron Dome:

The pending US budget sequester on March 1, 2013, is liable to reduce military aid to Israel by over $700 million in the 2013 fiscal year, pro-Israeli sources in Washington told “Globes”. The cut includes a $250 million reduction in current aid, which is due to total $3.15 billion, and the possible loss of all financial aid for joint US-Israeli missile defense programs, amounting to $479 million, for a total of $729 million in reduced aid. In the best case, if the aid for anti-missile programs is only reduced, rather than eliminated, Israel will lose $300 million in aid.

The same article also included Israel’s perspective:

Top officials in Israel’s Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Defense are drawing up a strategy for dealing with the problem. One source believes that Minister of Defense Ehud Barak’s sudden visit to Washington, just after his previous visit, was related to the sequester. Until recently, Jerusalem believed that the Congressional Republicans and the White House would reach a last-minute budget compromise, and that Israel would avoid the budget axe, but this assessment was disproved a few days ago, when the Republican House leaders decided to go on recess.

Watch A Detailed Assessment Of The Iron Dome’s Effectiveness‏

— by David Streeter, NJDC

Israeli missile defense expert Uzi Rubin delivered a nonpolitical presentation to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that examined the Iron Dome’s effectiveness. To summarize Rubin briefly, the Iron Dome worked exceptionally well and it is a game changer for Israel’s security. However, one must watch Rubin’s presentation in its entirety to really understand the importance of the Iron Dome’s successful performance.

At the outset, Rubin explained that his presentation would be nonpolitical and focus on facts. However, he noted explicitly at the end of his presentation:

The help from the United States was timely and invaluable. Especially timely. $205 million is a sum that Israel can afford to spend. But what Israel didn’t have was the time to argue it out. The fact that United States stepped in and came with that money and decided the decision, saved Israeli lives. And for that as an Israeli, I am very thankful to President Obama personally, and to his staff and his previous Secretary of Defense and current Secretary of Defense for their help, and for U.S. Congress for its resolute and generous help.

Oren: “The Iron Dome Military Revolution”

In The Wall Street Journal, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren lauded the effectiveness of the Obama Administration-supported Iron Dome missile defense system. Oren wrote:

From drawing board to deployment in 2011, Israel completed the Iron Dome in a mere three years. The first two batteries-developed and financed entirely by Israel-took down dozens of Hamas rockets, making Iron Dome the first antimissile system ever to succeed in combat. The generous support of President Obama and the U.S. Congress enabled the construction of four additional batteries. Ultimately, 10 to 13 batteries and a full complement of interceptors will be needed to defend the entire country.

More after the jump.

Intercepting supersonic projectiles in midflight is literally rocket science. Israeli engineers pulled off the feat by combining cutting-edge tracking radar with electro-optic sensors and mounting them on highly mobile, all-weather air-defense systems. Iron Dome can hit multiple types of rockets and missiles at ranges of up to 75 kilometers. It can also be relocated swiftly to new sites and radically different terrain. (As part of our vast alliance with the United States, we have offered to share this pioneering technology.)

Most ingeniously, the Iron Dome determines within split seconds whether an incoming rocket is headed for an open space or a populated area-and saves its fire for the latter case. Millions of Israelis live within the terrorists’ range, with as little as 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter.

By neutralizing most rockets headed for populated areas, the Iron Dome gives decision makers invaluable time to find diplomatic solutions. If salvos of rockets were pummeling Israeli homes, hospitals and schools, Israeli leaders would be under immense pressure to order ground operations that could yield significant casualties. By denying the terrorists a decisive offensive advantage, Iron Dome will save lives and prevent wars.

Before Israel’s recent Operation Pillar of Defense, Gaza terrorists fired some 700 rockets and mortars at southern Israel, many of which were taken out by Iron Dome. Still Israel was forced to take action, mounting precise sorties against terrorists and launch sites. In turn the terrorists fired 1,500 rockets, some aimed at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These might have inflicted severe human and material loss, but Iron Dome downed nearly 85% of those headed toward populated areas.

Combined with Israel’s world-class civil-defense system, Iron Dome thwarted the terrorists’ aim to wreak intolerable damage. Consequently, Israeli leaders had the time and space needed to join with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in working out a cease-fire….

Iron Dome is thus a game-changer, but it isn’t a game-ender. Terrorists on our borders have more than 70,000 rockets, and 15 of every 100 fired can still get through the Iron Dome. The danger even of conventional warheads is unacceptable, but nuclear warheads would pose an existential threat. That is why, together with the U.S., Israel has developed the Arrow to intercept orbital and suborbital ballistic missiles, and we have successfully tested David’s Sling, a long-range rocket-defense system.

These innovations will not only protect Israel but enhance security for America and its allies world-wide.

WSJ Reports On Iron Dome’s Development


DEBKAFile: “Israel’s operation was an intel coup to shut Iran’s gateway to Cairo via Hamas.”

— by David Streeter

In its story on the development of the Iron Dome missile defense system, The Wall Street Journal reported that President George W. Bush’s Administration gave a “frosty” response to the system when it was first brought to their attention.

Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system spent the past two weeks successfully blasting Hamas rockets out of the sky-many in dramatic nighttime explosions-helping to end the recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas in just seven days.

The battle to build Iron Dome, however, lasted years and provided fireworks of its own….

Despite initial Pentagon misgivings, President Barack Obama has given $275 million to the project since 2010 with the aim of reducing the rocket threat and eventually bolstering chances of a peace deal by making Israel feel more secure to agree to territorial concessions.

For years, Pentagon experts dismissed Iron Dome as doomed to fail and urged Israel to instead try a cheaper U.S. approach. Iron Dome faced similar skepticism at home. But an Israeli mathematician-general, along with a labor-organizer-turned-defense-minister, pushed the project through, overcoming the opposition of some of Israel’s most powerful military voices….

Israel’s Defense Ministry approached the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush with a request for hundreds of millions of dollars for the system. The reception at the Pentagon was frosty, according to current and former U.S. defense officials.

Mary Beth Long, the assistant secretary of defense who oversaw the Iron Dome review process, sent a team of U.S. military engineers to Israel to meet with the developers. After the trip, in a meeting in her office, the team voiced skepticism about the technology, citing poor performance in initial testing, Ms. Long said in an interview.

Rafael’s Mr. Drucker recalls an even harsher U.S. response. He said the U.S. team told them: ‘This is something that cannot be done.’

Some U.S. military officials argued that Israel should instead consider using a version of the U.S.’s Vulcan Phalanx system, which the Army was deploying in Iraq to try to shoot down incoming rockets, current and former defense officials say. Gen. Gold’s team had already considered and dismissed the Phalanx system.

By the end of 2007, Mr. Olmert and Mr. Peretz’s successor as defense minister, Ehud Barak, had both come around to backing Iron Dome….

Iron Dome got a significant boost soon after President Obama came to office in 2009. Mr. Obama visited Sderot as a presidential candidate and told his aides to find a way to help boost Israel’s defenses from the makeshift rockets, his aides said, although defense officials at the time still doubted Iron Dome was the way.

As president, Mr. Obama tapped Colin Kahl to run the Pentagon office overseeing U.S. military policy in the Middle East. Mr. Kahl found the Iron Dome request on his desk, decided to take another look and had what he later described as a light-bulb moment. ‘Ding, ding, ding. It just made sense,’Mr. Kahl said….

At the direction of a White House working group headed by then-National Security Council senior director Dan Shapiro (who today is the U.S. ambassador to Israel), the Pentagon sent a team of missile-defense experts to Israel in September 2009 to re-evaluate Iron Dome. The decision raised eyebrows in some Pentagon circles. Iron Dome was still seen as a rival to the Phalanx system, and previous assessment teams had deemed Iron Dome inferior.

In its final report, presented to the White House in October, the team declared Iron Dome a success, and in many respects, superior to Phalanx. Tests showed it was hitting 80% of the targets, up from the low teens in the earlier U.S. assessment. ‘They came in and basically said, “This looks much more promising…than our system,”‘ said Dennis Ross, who at the time was one of Mr. Obama’s top Middle East advisers.

That summer, Mr. Kahl’s office drafted a policy paper recommending that the administration support the Israeli request for roughly $200 million in Iron Dome funding.

Israeli Ambassador Oren Thanks Obama For Iron Dome

— by Jason Berger

Last Wednesday, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren thanked President Barack Obama and the United States government for their support for Israel and the Iron Dome missile defense system. In his op-ed, Oren said that the development of the Iron Dome is a “metaphor” for the US-Israel relationship since the early 1990’s. He explained:

The interests of the U.S. and Israel are intertwined. The two countries have common strategic interests and hold joint military exercises and intelligence exchanges, among other countless examples of the alliance. As a result of this relationship, the funding basis for most of the Iron Dome batteries lies in a resolution adopted by the U.S. Congress three years ago. At that time, Congress decided to support President Barack Obama’s request for more than $200 million to fund the purchase of four Iron Dome batteries, three of which are operational today, including the battery (Israel’s fifth overall) that was deployed in Tel Aviv this week and began to intercept rockets from Gaza

A few months ago, I wrote an article for the American news outlet Politico in which I explained that the Iron Dome not only saves lives but also prevents war and gives a wider diplomatic window for decision-makers. In response to the article, I received dozens of calls from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who wanted only to extend a hand and ask what they could do for Israel. From this, I gathered that Americans, like Israelis, understood the logic behind the wise investment called the Iron Dome and for this we are wholeheartedly thankful to President Obama, Congress, the Pentagon, the White House and all the other entities that were involved in the project. The Iron Dome is the embodiment and manifestation of the close relationship between Israel and the U.S.

The Iron Dome is credited as a major reason why there were not more Israeli deaths throughout the most recent flare up between Hamas and Israel. Reuters reported that the system destroyed 421 of the 1500 rockets fired between November 15 and last Wednesday’s truce. Israel says that is a 90% success rate since the system does not target rockets headed towards unpopulated areas. Civil Defense Minister Avi Dichter said that Iron Dome is so valuable that if it were traded on the Nasdaq, “It would have multiplied its share value several times over.”

To read more about the effectiveness of the Iron Dome missile defense system, click here.  

Cease Fire in Israel: Something to give thanks for on Thanksgiving

Ceasefire reached
Operation Pillar of Defense Ended on It’s Eighth Day

— The Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia

As Operation Pillar of Defense — a military operation to defend Israel’s 4.5 million citizens who are under rocket fire from the Hamas terrorist organization — enters its eighth day, attacks on Israeli towns and communities continue.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr in a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces ceasefire to come into effect at 9 pm.  Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with US President Barack Obama and acceded to his recommendation to give the Egyptian ceasefire proposal a chance to stabilize and calm the situation before there is a need to use greater force.

The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation to the President for his support of Israel during the operation and for his contribution to the Iron Dome system. The Prime Minister reiterated that Israel would take all necessary steps to defend its citizens.

Earlier today (Nov 21) a city bus was bombed in Tel-Aviv, injuring dozens of people. This horrific attack came at the height of international efforts to reach a cease-fire.

Since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense on November 14th more than 1,500 rockets have been fired at Israel.

Most of these rockets landed in the south and the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system was effective at intercepting these rockets. Currently, Iron Dome has prevented over 400 rockets from striking populated areas in Israel.

Throughout Operation Pillar of Defense Israel continued to supply nearly 62% of Gaza’s electricity and kept humanitarian aid arriving to Gaza. After the cease fire Israel will ensure that the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains stable.

On the other hand, the terrorist organization Hamas has targeted Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians. Israel has gone to great lengths to minimize harm to the residents of Gaza and regrets any injury bestowed upon them.

Despite the near constant rocket attacks and now — unfortunately — bus bombings, life goes on for most Israelis. Israel’s economy remains strong with most businesses and financial markets operating as normal. Thanks to the great support Israel received, its citizen’s remained resilient and strong.