Senator Robert Casey held a conference call Tuesday, July 13 to report on his recent nine-day trip to the Middle East. Casey said that he held 56 meetings in nine days, meeting with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, and the West Bank.
In Saudi Arabia, he delivered the message that one of the best things the Saudis can do for the peace process is to make their payments promised to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Casey said that at this time last year the Saudis had given $200 million. This year, they have only given $15 million. Casey said he urged them to make the payments to the PA.
There are positive developments in the West Bank because of Saudi Prime Minister Fayad who has worked hard to build the economy. If the PA can’t make payroll, it will injure their ability to continue momentum and progress. The Saudis can be a huge help on that.
Casey said he had some good briefings about Saudi efforts to stamp out terrorism. He recalled that about 7 years ago the Saudis had a horrific experience with terrorism. They asserted they have dismissed 2000 imams involved with extremism.
The next visit was to Kuwait where Casey met with the Foreign Minister. The Senator raised the issue of the American hikers being held hostage by Iran, asking Kuwait to make sure this was on the table when they have dialogue with Iran.
Casey spent the Fourth of July in an American military camp in Kuwait, and he saw how complicated it is for our troops to move vehicles and supplies to Iraq.
As for Iraq – what will happen to their government? Casey commented that the vote was so close that they have to reach an accommodation. He saw some good indicators that they recognize they have to come together. Vice President Biden met with Casey and his delegation, saying the same thing.
Casey raised the hikers issue when he met with Iraqi leaders, asking them to keep this issue on the table when speaking with the Iranian regime.
As for Israel and the West Bank, Casey commented that the peace process has been the subject of intense discussion in the last week to ten days. He sees positive momentum, even in the aftermath of the controversy regarding the flotilla incident. He observed that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu had a good meeting in Washington, DC while the Senator was in Israel. He reiterated his commitment to the two-state solution.
Casey said he spent some time on border issues, and he praised the 7% economic growth in 2009 in the West Bank, crediting Prime Minister Fayad for the growth. In Ramallah, he said, it is visually evident that the economy is more vibrant, more successful. The Prime Minister spoke about almost 1500 entities which had received $150,000 grants – mini economic development packages, all the more reason why the Saudis – and any other country that has not paid its pledge – should pay up and fulfill their commitment. America has fulfilled its obligation, he added.
In Lebanon – until recently, a country paralyzed by the terror campaign of Hezbollah – Casey chaired a hearing on the threat posed by Hezbollah. Government officials there are afraid to speak out because of threats by Hezbollah.
Recently, Lebanon has been able to build up the Lebanese armed forces because of American assistance. Casey said that the American people have paid for training of thousands of police in Lebanon and also helped with education and economic development. Lebanon has a smaller population than Massacusetts.
Casey said his visit of Egypt went well. The Egyptians are very grateful for the billions of dollars America has provided. They spoke of cracking down on smuggling on the Gaza border, mentioned helping the PA to help them build up their economy. Casey raised the question of Egypt’s human rights problems. Casey praised our close relationship with this country which has a strong presence in the Arab world.
I asked Senator Casey whom he met with in Israel, and whether he Israeli officials or the general public was suspicious of President Obama’s level of his commitment to Israel. Senator Casey replied that he had met with Israeli leaders Ehud Barak, Mrs. Livni (the head of the Kadimah Party), and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, whom he has known for years.
Casey said that Israeli leaders appreciate President Obamas’ commitment to move the peace process forward. In the very first hours of his presidency, he called leaders in the Middle East.
“I think the record is very clear when it comes to the basic and most important issue. For Israel, it’s the country’s security. The administration is putting dollars on the table helping with missile defense, to put the dollars in place to make sure people of Israel are safe and secure. Couple the military assistance plus constant focus on the peace process and assigning George Mitchell to do this full time, add Secretary of State Clinton, Vice President Biden, the whole team, and I don’t think more could be done.”
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
We were dismayed to learn this afternoon of the decision by MK David Rotem to put forward a version of the Conversion Law to be presented to the Law, Constitution and Justice Committee tomorrow morning. MK Rotem’s actions are contrary to the assurances we received in meetings with him and with others over the last several months. We write on behalf of the many Diaspora organizations listed below
We have been involved in regular and constructive conversations with various ministers and members of Knesset on this issue. Working together with the many Diaspora organizations and with representatives of the Jewish Federations of North America, we were encouraged by your request to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to resolve this matter by finding a formula acceptable to all parties.
For this reason, we are deeply disappointed to hear that the bill will now be presented in a new and even more problematic format. These new developments have transpired without any input from Mr. Sharansky or Diaspora communities. All of the discussions, understandings and efforts in which we have been engaged appear to have disappeared overnight.
From the very beginning, Reform and Conservative leaders in Israel and the Diaspora have shared our concerns on the impact of this bill on the conversion process. Those portions of the bill that give responsibility for the process of conversion to the Chief Rabbinate constitute a dramatic change in the status quo, are an affront to millions of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, and are dangerous on every level to the principles of Klal Yisrael.
In addition, we strongly oppose those portions of the bill that would preclude conferring Citizenship Status on anyone who did not qualify for such status on a prior visit. This provision is not in keeping with the spirit and letter of a law meant to encourage the growth of our community and welcoming with open arms those that wish to join and support our people and our land. The concerns noted above are shared by a powerful majority of Jews world-wide. We know that you are aware of the sensitivities that exist on this matter and that you appreciate the significant damage that passage of such a bill could cause to ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, at precisely the time when we are all working so hard to strengthen these ties and to deal with other concerns – such as Israel’s security and the nuclear threat from Iran – that properly require our full attention. We ask for your assistance in delaying any consideration of this bill and in resolving this issue in a way that is acceptable to all of the religious streams.
The time for action is now and we call on you to act decisively to prevent the introduction of this bill.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
Union for Reform Judaism
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
Executive Vice President
We are joined in this request by the following organizations:
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Union for Reform Judaism
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism
World Union for Progressive Judaism
ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America)
This past weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Fox News Sunday and discussed his relationship with President Barack Obama and the state of U.S.-Israel relations.
During her confirmation hearings this afternoon, Solicitor General Elena Kagan responded to a question from Senator Grassley (R-IA) about Israeli Justice Aharon Barak.
Watch the video here.
Kagan responded to the question by highlighting her Jewish heritage and her support for Israel saying, "And that's why I admire Justice Barak. Not for his particular judicial philosophy, not for any of his particular decisions. As you know, I don't think it's a secret I am Jewish. The state of Israel has meant a lot to me and my family."
SENATOR GRASSLEY: Will you look to Judge Barak's judicial method as a model for deciding cases?
SOLICITOR GENERAL KAGAN: I will not, Senator Grassley. I do admire Justice Barak, who was, of course – was for many years the chief justice of the state of Israel. I do admire him. He is very often called the John Marshall of the state of Israel because he was central in creating an independent judiciary for Israel and in ensuring that Israel – a young nation, a nation threatened from its very beginning in existential ways and a nation without a written constitution – he was central in ensuring that Israel, with all those kinds of liabilities would become a very strong rule of law nation. And that's why I admire Justice Barak. Not for his particular judicial philosophy, not for any of his particular decisions.
As you know, I don't think it's a secret I am Jewish. The state of Israel has meant a lot to me and my family. And – and I admire Justice Barak for what he's done for the state of Israel and ensuring an independent judiciary.
— Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ)
There are six hugely important developments that have happened in the last month that will provide extraordinary help to protect Israel’s security. Unfortunately, these events have been underreported in the media:
- On June 9, 2010, the U.N. Security Council passed a set of new sanctions against Iran with Russia, China, the U.S. and nine others voting in favor, with Brazil and Turkey voting no, and Lebanon abstaining. While these sanctions will have some additional effects, and are expected to result in even greater sanctions from the Europeans and the U.S., the most immediate, as well as long term benefit of the sanctions is that Russia has agreed not to sell its S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran! The S-300 system is extremely difficult to overcome, according to all knowledgeable military experts. If delivered to Iran, it would be a game-changer in Iran’s military position vis-a-vis Israel.
- On June 12, 2010, Saudi Arabia agreed to permit Israel to over fly a portion of its territory, should Israel feel it necessary to undertake military actions against Iran.
- On June 10, 2010, the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, publicly stated that Israel should not be forced to end its blockade of Gaza.
- On June 9, 2010, Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas publicly declared in Washington, D.C. that he and the Palestinians were ready to recognize that the Jewish people have a right to some portion of Israel and the territories.
- On May 10, 2010, Israel was admitted, unanimously, to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This enables Israel to join the world’s fellow economic powers as a co-equal, first class citizen for the first time.
- On May 13, 2010, President Barack Obama announced his intention to give the state of Israel $205 million so that Israel might purchase additional Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries for deployment throughout the State of Israel. On May 20, 2010, the House of Representatives voted 410 – 4 to affirm President Obama’s decision. The Iron Dome Short Range Artillery Rocket Defense System is designed to intercept short-range rockets, missiles, and mortars launched by terrorists in Gaza and southern Lebanon. It can protect Israel from rockets within a range of 2.5 – 45 miles.
All these six items have a major, positive impact on the security of the State of Israel!
Each of these six accomplishments was only made possible with the direct, powerful, and demanding insistence of President Barack Obama. In my opinion, the big picture for Israel’s security has improved!
There is, obviously, a long way to go, but progress such as this is important not to overlook, ignore, or belittle.
Congressman Steve Rothman (D-NJ) is in his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittees of Defense; and State and Foreign Operations, which appropriate all spending for the United States military, and all foreign aid, respectively.