First Lady Michelle Obama Visits the Berlin Holocaust Memorial

— by Lena Salzbank

Today, First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial to commemorate the European Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. This stop was part of their tour of four key sites related to Germany’s history during WWII and the Cold War.

At the memorial, the first family was faced with 2,700 concrete slabs that evoke a cemetery, engaging visitors who come to pay their respect to the millions of Jews who were murdered. The site was cleared of visitors and the family was able to wander the area alone. Photos show Michelle Obama hugging her daughters as they enter the emotional Holocaust memorial.

Happy 90th Birthday President Peres!

— by Jason Berger

Yesterday, Israeli President Shimon Peres started his 90th birthday celebration in the only way he knows: in style. The list of celebrities and politicians joining President Peres is long, and it includes President Bill Clinton, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barbara Streisand and Robert De Niro.

Haaretz wrote about what President Clinton had to say to President Peres:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered his much awaited speech, telling Peres, “You are the world’s social Einstein.”

“You have tried to put together a unified theory of meaning to unite politics and philosophy and psychology and history and science and technology,” he said. ” Every one of us who has been blessed enough to know you… has been made a little bigger, a little stronger, and a little more optimistic that one day your theory will be real.”

“On your 90th birthday, what we really celebrate, is your great gift to all of us. God bless you.”

Following the jump are a excerpts from the interviews the press has been conducting with President Peres.
Washington Post:

Q: How do you see Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to get the peace process going again?

A: I’m impressed by his seriousness, his devotion, but I don’t underrate the difficulties that he’s facing. I think we have to stand by his side and help him to fulfill his mission, which is our hope…

Q: You’ve been outspoken in saying Israel should not bomb the Iranian nuclear program unilaterally. Do you still feel that way?

A: I won’t talk about it. I want to say that I think President Obama proposed a policy which is reasonable and, in my eyes, acceptable. He committed himself that he will not permit a nuclear Iran, and he says the way to achieve it is to start by nonmilitary means without excluding such a [military] possibility. Now, what America can do, we cannot do. But if America and we can act together, it is for us the right thing to do. I don’t think we have to monopolize the danger of Iran, because I think Iran is a danger to all of us.

AP:

A: For me, what is important is tomorrow, the next day. What happened until now is over, unchangeable. I’m not going to spend time on it. So I am really living in the future. I really think that one should devote his energies to make the world better and not to make the past remembered better…

I am not running for anything and I am not running away from anything. I am trying where I can to be a unifier, to unite. When I have to voice my view I do, and I shall continue to do it.

Foreign Policy:

Q: How important is the United States to the survival of Israel?

A: Very. I believe vision precedes strategy; not only for Israel, but for the entirety of humanity. Many nations became great or attempted to achieve greatness by taking from the other. The United States became great by giving, not by taking. The one that contributes generates friendship, which is always wiser and cheaper than creating animosity…

Q: What impact did President Obama’s visit have?

A: A tremendous impact. He was wise, sincere, and friendly. He brought a fresh breeze to the Middle East, which reinvigorated public opinion in the region and encouraged everyone to believe that we can achieve a better tomorrow. The people of Israel want peace and are willing to pay the price for peace. President Obama’s visit encouraged them to believe that it can happen and made clear to the people of Israel, once again, that the United States is a true, dedicated, and loyal friend of the state of Israel. It was a historic visit and a hopeful moment for us all.

Alienating Chosen People With Extremely Anti-Choice Bill

— by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council expressed concern over today’s vote by House Republicans in support of its latest extreme anti-choice bill.

“With all the talk of broadening the GOP base, Republicans seem unable to resist taking extreme action on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives,” said NJDC Executive Director Aaron Keyak. “By forcing a vote on a doomed and radically anti-choice bill, Republicans are once again alienating the vast majority of American Jews — including Jewish Republicans who have specifically urged the GOP to ease up on social issues.”

More after the jump.
Polls show that the Jewish community is one of the most pro-choice demographics in America. The Public Religion Research Institute found in 2012 that 93% of the Jewish community as a whole supports a woman’s right to choose, including 77% of Jewish Republicans.

In addition, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) specifically urged the Republican Party to focus less on social issues. The RJC said in its “Blueprint for Victory” video that there are “real concerns over the Republican Party’s views on social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage,” and that the GOP “must earn the trust and votes of non-traditional Republicans” — which includes Jews and women.

For Samantha Power, Support for Israel Is Deeply Personal & Proven

— by Jason Berger

On Saturday, The Jewish Daily Forward‘s Nathan Guttman published an article on Samantha Power, President Obama’s nominee for U.N. Ambassador, and her commitment to Israel. Guttman’s piece opened with a story from 2009 in which Power is meeting with Israeli officials. In the middle of their discussion, she pulled out a picture of her son and described how her husband Cass Sustein is a descendent of the, “Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer, the 18th-century Jewish sage who is considered the greatest talmudic scholar of his time.”

Guttman concluded that while this might partially explain Power’s commitment to Israel, it is not the only reason. Former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Dan Arbel explains that for as long as he has known Power, her strong sentiment towards Israel has always been second nature. He states, “Her starting point has always been, ‘How do we work together to overcome obstacles and to ensure that both the United States and Israel get out of these U.N. situations with the least damage?”

Guttman also discussed how Power dealt with almost every Israel-related issue at the U.N. during Ambassador Susan Rice’s tenure. According to an Administration official, “She was involved in any brush fire at the United Nations. After [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice, she was the most influential person on U.N. issues.”

More after the jump.
Most impressively, though, are the Israelis who are praising the Power selection. Guttman noted:

Israeli officials noted Power’s leadership role in getting the administration to pull out of the 2009 Durban II anti-racism conference because of its anti-Israel bias. They also applauded her work in defeating the P.A.’s 2011 drive to achieve recognition for Palestine as an independent state through the United Nations Security Council. Power’s strong profile on these two issues, said Jarrod Bernstein, who served until recently as liaison to the Jewish community at the White House, shows “two instances in which she distinguished herself as being on the right side of the community.”

Power also participated in discussions that sought to dissipate the difficulties that Israel faced as a result of the 2009 Goldstone Report, which alleged that Israel had committed war crimes during its military campaign in Gaza the previous year.

Power was instrumental, too, in protecting Israel following the widespread condemnation it faced in 2010 for its attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that sought to deliver a shipment of humanitarian goods to Gaza in violation of the blockade that Israel had imposed on the territory. Before leaving her NSC post, Power, according to an official involved in those talks, worked on strategies for preventing Israel’s adversaries in this episode from pursuing their case at the International Criminal Court in Hague.

U.S. Calls for Richard Falk’s Resignation From the UN


Eileen Donahoe

— by Sara Fried

The United States called for the resignation of Richard Falk, U.N. special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, following his statements against the pro-Israel group UN Watch. Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, said:

The United States completely rejects and condemns the irresponsible call by Mr. Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, to investigate a legitimate and U.N.-accredited NGO, UN Watch. His statement and recommendation, if given credibility, would threaten the independent voice of civil society at the United Nations.

Continued after the jump.

Mr. Falk’s most recent statement, which he dramatically and recklessly included in an official U.N. document, is characteristic of previous reprehensible comments and actions he has made during his tenure as a special rapporteur. It once again starkly demonstrates that he is unfit to serve in his role as a U.N. special rapporteur.

His views and behavior, both official and unofficial, are offensive and provocative and do nothing to advance peace in the Middle East or to further the protection and promotion of human rights. We again call for his resignation.

According to JTA, Falk accused UN Watch of “‘demeaning’ and ‘defaming’ his character, damaging the ‘credibility,’ ‘effectiveness’ and ‘substantive intention’ of his mandate.” His criticisms of UN Watch followed the organization’s resolution to remove him from his position, after he blamed the Boston Marathon bombings on “the American global domination project” and “Tel Aviv.”


Abraham Foxman

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) praised Ambassador Donahoe for her statement against Falk. ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said:

We fully agree with Ambassador Donahoe’s conclusion that Mr. Falk is ‘unfit to serve in his role as a U.N. special rapporteur.’ His continued affiliation with the U.N. makes a mockery out of the Human Rights Council’s founding purpose, and undermines the important work of the U.N. If he does not leave voluntarily, the Human Rights Council should remove him.

Rice and Power Picked for Top Foreign Policy Jobs

Yesterday, President Obama announced that after more than four years overseeing the work of the National Security Council, Tom Donilon will depart in July as National Security Advisor and will be succeeded by Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice will be succeeded by Samantha Power as the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pending Senate confirmation.

Reactions from BBI, NJDC and JCPA follow the the jump.


Susan Rice and Samantha Power

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement, welcoming Rice’s appointment:

Rice was previously the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and served as a positive force within the world body. She often defended Israel against malicious one-sided resolutions intended to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Rice spoke at the United Nations about the importance of direct negotiation between the parties to the Middle East conflict and urged the world body to resist unilateral measures aimed at circumventing the peace process.

Rice also expressed U.S. support for strong international sanctions against Iran and made clear America’s determination to prevent the regime in Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

B’nai B’rith looks forward to working with Rice in her new position. We hope that in her new role she will be a force for advancing the same principles she fought for at the U.N.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) Chair Marc R. Stanley said:

On behalf of the NJDC Board, I want to thank Tom Donilon for his service to the Obama Administration. Donilon has been a part of President Obama’s most significant defense policy decisions, including the Administration’s work to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Without question, Susan Rice has served the Obama Administration well in the United Nations and has made combatting anti-Israel bias a top priority for the U.S. delegation. NJDC commends her for her work at the U.N. and we know that she will serve the President effectively as his new National Security Advisor. We also congratulate Samantha Power on her selection and have full confidence that she will continue Rice’s work on behalf of the United States and Israel in U.N. bodies.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said:

Both Susan Rice and Samantha Power have been dedicated public servants and important partners in our work. As Ambassador to the U.N., Rice has played a crucial role in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and has been a steadfast ally for the Jewish state through many pressing challenges. Just a few weeks ago, leaders from the JCPA, The Jewish Federations of North America, UJA-Federation of New York, and the JCRC of New York visited Amb. Rice and gave her a mezuzah for her New York office in honor of her staunch support for Israel and as a symbol of her friendship with the American Jewish community.  We look forward to continuing our work together when she returns to Washington and assumes her new role.

We have also worked closely with Samantha Power over the years in her roles as journalist, activist, and government official.  Power has been a critical voice on human rights issues and we are very proud of our joint work to confront atrocities, including that in Darfur and the ongoing crisis in Sudan.

Senator Frank Lautenberg Dies at 89

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the last World War II veteran in the Senate, died today at the age of 89. (John Dingell (D-MI) and Ralph M. Hall (R-TX) are the two surviving World War II veterans in the House of Representatives.) He served in the Senate continuously in the years 1982-2001, and again since 2003.

  • Lautenberg wrote the legislation that set the national drinking age at 21. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this law saved 4,441 lives between 2003 and 2008.
  • His legislation has also lowered the blood alcohol level threshold for drunk driving to 0.08%.
  • During the Bush administration, Lautenberger repeatedly introduced legislation to close the terrorist loophole which allowed American companies to set up offices in the Cayman Islands and continue to do business with the National Iranian Oil Company.
  • A former two-pack-a-day smoker, Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes, federal buildings, and federally funded buildings that serviced children. This was one of the first restrictions on smoking in America.
  • The Senator also sponsored the legislation which bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence.

After the jump: President Obama and Jewish organizations mourn the loss.


Lautenberg was the last World War II veteran in the United States Senate.

The White House issued the following statement by President Barack Obama:

Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator Frank Lautenberg, a proud New Jerseyan who lived America’s promise as a citizen, and fought to keep that promise alive as a senator.

The son of working-class immigrants, Frank joined the Army during World War II, went to college on the GI Bill, and co-founded one of America’s most successful companies. First elected to the Senate in 1982, he improved the lives of countless Americans with his commitment to our nation’s health and safety, from improving our public transportation to protecting citizens from gun violence to ensuring that members of our military and their families get the care they deserve.  Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to Bonnie, the Lautenberg family, and the people of New Jersey, whom Frank served so well.

National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) Chair Marc R. Stanley issued the following statement:

The entire National Jewish Democratic Council family extends its deepest condolences to Senator Frank Lautenberg’s family, friends, and the people of New Jersey. The late Senator leaves behind a distinguished record of public and Jewish communal service that distinguishes him as a giant among American Jewish political leaders. He was a staunch defender of progressive ideals and a stalwart advocate for the State of Israel and the American Jewish community. Lautenberg was a true friend to NJDC and we will forever miss his wisdom and insight.

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:

B’nai B’rith International mourns the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Lautenberg was a World War II veteran and a dear friend of the Jewish community. As a senator from New Jersey for more than 28 years, he was a staunch supporter of Israel, a champion of free emigration for Soviet and Iranian Jews, and a booster of the rights of Jewish refugees from the Middle East.

Lautenberg died the morning of June 3 at the age of 89 due to complications from viral pneumonia. He was the oldest member and the last World War II veteran to serve in Congress.

Lautenberg was a respected voice on many human rights issues, and he was key in enacting a number of health and safety laws.

The five-term senator was well respected amongst his colleagues and constituents. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.


Left to right: Joy Malkus, Marcia Balonick,
Sen. Lautenberg, and Betsy Sheerr

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow and Chair Larry Gold said:

Senator Lautenberg’s passing is a loss for all of us and we will be forever grateful for his leadership, thoughtfulness and friendship. He exemplified the Jewish values of social justice and compassion which is why we were honored to award him the Al Chernin Award in 2007, in recognition of his leadership and service. With his death, we have lost the last veteran of World War II in the Senate and a Jewish and American leader who was clearly committed to a better world for all.

The Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks said:

Frank Lautenberg was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader in Jewish communal life. He served his country during World War II and in decades of dedicated public service. His work in the Senate helped thousands of Soviet Jews and other victims of religious persecution to reach freedom. He was a proud Jew and a proud American. May his family and friends be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Obama Fixes Absence of Plan to Attack Iran


After 9/11, Bush made clear that Iran was on his sights

— by Jacob Miller

President Barack Obama’s speech last week at the National Defense University has brought the United States’ foreign policy and continuing war on terror to the forefront. Bloomberg’s Jeffery Goldberg released an opinion piece entitled “Can Obama Clean Up Bush’s National Security Mess?” Goldberg highlighted several mistakes and oversights President George W. Bush had on national security:

In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration made clear to the world that it had the Islamic Republic of Iran in its sights….

So it was with shock (and with something like the opposite of awe) that, seven years later, the newly elected Barack Obama learned that the Bush administration had never even drawn up plans for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama discovered this when he asked his generals for their plan, and they had none. Bush had never asked for one. The bellicose rhetoric on Iran, in other words, was empty of substance.

More after the jump.
This revelation is surprising given that President Bush made a point of highlighting Iran as a member of the “axis of evil.” President Obama has rectified this mess. Instead of blaming President Bush, he has taken action:

A senior administration official told me that Obama soon ordered Robert Gates, the holdover secretary of defense, to draw up preparations. Not because Obama wanted to attack, but because it seemed absurd and irresponsible that his predecessor had labeled Iran a member of the “axis of evil” without even having a plan to confront such evil, and because Obama, despite allegations to the contrary, takes the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously.

Inside the White House, the no-Iran-plan fiasco is used to illustrate a larger point: Obama, on taking office, inherited 10 kinds of mess from Bush on national security. The administration is cautious about publicly blaming Bush for these messes, because it suspects — correctly — that the public isn’t interested in excuses about problems created or exacerbated by a president who left office more than four years ago.

Politico: Former GOP Critics Praise Hagel

— by Jacob Miller

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

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

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

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

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

Gov. Haley Fixes Appointing White Supremacist as Campaign Co-Chair

— by Jacob Miller

Last week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced the appointment of Roan Garcia-Quintana to her Grassroots Advisory Committee. A report from the Southern Poverty Law center showed that Garcia-Quintana had deep links to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). CCC is designated as a nationalist hate group. After pressure from the Southern Poverty Law Center and NJDC, Governor Haley announced she was removing Garcia Quintana. Garcia-Quintana’s white supremacist statements and actions have also been well documented by the Anti-Defamation League.

Post and Curier report after the jump.
Today Brian Hicks of the Post and Courier wrote about the decision:

Last week, the National Jewish Democratic Council pointed out Garcia-Quintana’s affiliation with the Council of Conservative Citizens — a group that opposes the promotion of “non-white” races over European Americans — and asked the governor to dump him.

The cynical view here is that Haley used the holiday weekend to distance herself some from unnecessary controversy. Self-preservation is nothing new from the governor’s office.

But maybe Haley actually didn’t want to associate with a guy who holds intolerant views, which would bode well for her political maturity.

Or maybe she just realized it would have looked hypocritical to get indignant about Jake Knotts’ “raghead” comment and then ignore this.

Whatever the reason, she did the right thing.