Before Opposing Iran Deal, Consider the Alternatives

From left to right: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, Tuesday, July 14, 2015, during their talks on the Iranian nuclear program. (Joe Klamar/Pool Photo via AP)

Iranian nuclear talks concluded on July 14, 2015 in Vienna.

President Obama announced a deal with Iran on Tuesday. Congress has 60 days to decide whether to block the deal. This decision will affect the lives of our children and grandchildren and is one of the most important votes Congress will take in our lifetimes. We are far better off with this deal than without it, and we could not have gotten a better deal.

Yet before the ink was dry, some groups announced pre-planned campaigns to defeat the deal. Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) claimed he read and analyzed the deal Tuesday morning and published an op-ed opposing the deal that very afternoon. Dold had 60 days to make the most important decision of his congressional career, but he made it in a matter of hours. I guess he can use the remaining 59 days and 18 hours to campaign.

We owe it to ourselves to think this through. Don’t rely on weak versions of the administration’s case presented by opponents of the deal. Read the administration’s position in its own words. You don’t have to agree, but you’ve got to understand. President Obama’s press conference last week is mandatory reading for anyone who truly seeks to understand — he covers many key objections.

The 24-day inspection access requirement for non-declared sites (the deal gives us 24/7 access to all of Iran’s known sites) deserves special attention. Critics compare it to giving a drug dealer 24 days to cover up, but that’s a false and misleading analogy. As James Acton explains, an “access delay — even one of 24 days — wouldn’t make any material difference to the IAEA’s ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities.”

And if you still disagree? Then you have to ask what the alternative is. What happens after Congress blocks a deal that our allies and Iran think is a good deal? Those who tell us in such great detail what is wrong with this deal have an obligation to tell us their alternative in just as much detail, so that we can weigh the merits and decide which course is best.

Some argue that the alternative is not war, but a better deal. A better deal! Why didn’t Obama think of that? Jeff Goldberg is right:

I’m not going to judge this deal against a platonic ideal of deals; I’m judging it against the alternative. And the alternative is no deal at all because, let’s not kid ourselves here, neither Iran nor our negotiating partners in the P5+1 is going to agree to start over again should Congress reject this deal in September. What will happen, should Congress reject the deal, is that international sanctions will crumble and Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear weapon, and it would start this pursuit only two or three months away from the nuclear threshold.

No responsible person can oppose this deal without understanding the implications of blocking the deal and knowing what realistic alternatives we have. The “better deal” opponents want invariably turns out to be an deal that Iran would never accept and that our European allies do not think is reasonable or necessary for Iran to accept.

That leaves military action as the only realistic alternative. Military action can, at best, set back Iran’s program only a few years — while guaranteeing that Iran will pursue and obtain nuclear weapons in far less than ten years.

What About Israel?

Many in Israel’s military and intelligence community support the Iran deal. Former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon said that the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives.”

Tel Aviv University physics professor Uzi Even, who served as a scientist at Israel’s Dimona reactor, supports the deal:

the deal that was signed is preferable to the current situation because it delays Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb by at least 15 years and in practice ends its nuclear aspirations.

Yet many Israeli political leaders across the spectrum oppose the deal. We have yet to hear any arguments from those politicians that differ from what we’ve heard here, nor have we heard any realistic alternatives from them.

In this case, it’s not that they know something we don’t. Israel is more at risk from a nuclear Iran than the U.S. and Europe. Reading between the lines, it seems that they just don’t trust the U.S. and Europe to actually enforce the deal or to actively stop Iran on other fronts not covered by the deal. Six years of non-stop anti-Obama indoctrination from the Prime Minister hasn’t helped. This makes for a terribly uncomfortable situation, but what choice do we have other than to evaluate the deal on its merits and ask ourselves if there are better, realistic alternatives?

Everyone agrees on the urgent necessity of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Before Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) even read the deal, he said President Obama wants “to get nukes to Iran.” His opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), believes that Congress should carefully review this deal, without rushing to judgment or resorting to reckless partisanship. (Kirk later walked back his statement without apologizing.)

The deal does not require Iran to recognize Israel, to stop terrorism, or to free American captives. The purpose of the deal is only to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. We negotiated with Iran because we are safer with an evil regime that does not have nuclear weapons than one that does.

Reagan and Nixon faced similar criticism for negotiating with the Soviet Union, which was also committed to our destruction. We negotiate with our enemies, not our friends.

This deal is consistent with the framework announced on April 2 and with the criteria established by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. By its terms, it is a good deal. Let’s ask questions, but let’s remember the stakes and let’s do so responsibly.

My message to Congress and staff: It’s not unusual for constituents to lobby you on issues that they know more about than you do. But on this issue, because of your access to the White House, you know more, and can get more information, than your constituents. Don’t doubt their passion and sincerity, but please make a fact-based decision and support this deal. Please also support any measures that would enhance Israel’s military and intelligence capabilities. No deal can provide absolute certainty, so it is incumbent upon us to provide Israel with the tools it needs if our worst fears are realized.

Video Satire: The Dealbreakers

Obama, Congresspersons Call for Justice System Reform at Local NAACP Convention

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

The thousands of NAACP delegates, alternates and supporters who descended on the Philadelphia Convention Center for the 106th national convention of the NAACP were rewarded for their travels and loyalty. Many members of Congress spoke at the plenary sessions and themed workshops.

President Barack Obama, just on the heels of the successful negotiation with Iran, flew from Washington to Philadelphia to address the NAACP convention. His speech focused on domestic priorities, with no mention of the Iran deal, but the news spread and no one needed to be reminded that the President has had a couple of really good weeks.

Speakers like Congressman James Clyburn (SC-6) and U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, spoke passionately about the need to reform the criminal justice system, to root out discrimination and profiling and unequal sentencing for African Americans.

President Obama, in his speech, explained why he commuted sentences for dozens of prisoners who, if they had been charged and sentenced today, would have received far less severe prison terms for non-violent drug offenses or possession of drugs like marijuana. He gave examples of ex-offenders he had just met, who had served their sentences and then redeemed their lives. They are now tax-paying citizens.

Right before I came out here, I met with four former prisoners, four ex-offenders. Two of them were African American, one of them was Latino, one of them was white. All of them had amazing stories. One of them dropped out of school when he was a young kid. Now he’s making film about his experience in the prison system.

One of them served 10 years in prison, then got a job at Five Guys — which is a tasty burger — and they gave him an opportunity, and he rose up and became a general manager there, and now is doing anti-violence work here in the community.

It was a treat to watch the NAACP session on resolutions, the debates from the floor, the challenges to the chair, the re-counts, the urging of the NAACP member from Georgia to pass a resolution requiring the removal of ALL Confederate flags from every single state’s public grounds. This amended resolution, or “game-changer,” as the NAACP calls them, passed overwhelmingly.

And it was heartening on the day of the first plenary session to hear Cornell Brooks, the national president of the NAACP, tell a story about a baby born down south who weighed only three pounds and was not expected to survive until night-time. But the doctor who delivered the baby told the mother to pray, if she believed in God. Brooks said the woman called for a chaplain in the hospital, but no preacher or minister was available. But here was a rabbi serving as chaplain, and he came and prayed with the mother.

Senator Bob Casey was featured at the NAACP Convention opening plenary session.  He urged the 8000 attendees from around the country to contact their members of Congress and push for Casey's funding bill for universal early education.

At the NAACP Convention opening plenary session, Senator Bob Casey urged the 8000 attendees to contact their members of Congress around the country and push for his universal early education funding bill.

Then Brooks delivered the punch-line: “And that is why I am standing here today!”

Although I did not hear a mention of the three martyred civil rights workers, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, I thought about them often as I traveled the halls of the Philadelphia Convention Center from plenary session to workshops. Listening to heroes like Congressman Jim Clyburn, Senator Bob Casey (PA), Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Senator Corey Booker (NJ), was inspirational.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Wasserman Schultz, from Florida, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, focused on voting rights reform in her address to the entire corps of NAACP members. She told me about the unfairness of the voter ID laws in many states and of her intention to increase registration and voting patterns of African Americans.

I bumped into Joyce Kravitz, the president of Tikvah/AJMI, the Philadelphia region’s nonprofit agency for families with members dealing with mental illness. Kravitz, a social work professor, has been an NAACP member for many years, and she attended this year’s convention with her former student, an African American social worker.

Pennsylvania state Representative Jim Roebuck, who has been advocating for Governor Tom Wolf’s budget which restores funding for pre-K and public education, was in attendance. Congressmen Chaka Fattah (PA-2) and Brendan Boyle (PA-13) accompanied President Obama on Air Force One from D.C. to the convention.

NAACP has made national news every day of the convention, and President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made the closing day of the convention memorable.

Photo credit: Bonnie Squires

Obama: Iran Deal ‘Opportunity to Move in a New Direction’

President Obama praised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — to limit Iran’s nuclear program:

This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.  And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place. Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb.

Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb — and store them under constant international supervision. Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon. This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years.

Because of this deal, Iran will modify the core of its reactor in Arak so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. And it has agreed to ship the spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor. For at least the next 15 years, Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors.

The president referred to the expected debate in Congress on the deal:

As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative. Consider what happens in a world without this deal. Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program. Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure. And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission. We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution, and that is what we have done.

Obama expressed hope for continuing to improve relations between the U.S. and Iran:

Time and again, I have made clear to the Iranian people that we will always be open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. Our differences are real and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel — that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.

This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.

The President: Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not — a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change — change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure. This deal is also in line with a tradition of American leadership. It’s now more than 50 years since President Kennedy stood before the American people and said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” He was speaking then about the need for discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which led to efforts to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons.

In those days, the risk was a catastrophic nuclear war between two super powers. In our time, the risk is that nuclear weapons will spread to more and more countries, particularly in the Middle East, the most volatile region in our world.

Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region. Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.

This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring. Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off. And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place. Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb.

Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb — and store them under constant international supervision. Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade. Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons. Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon. This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years.

Because of this deal, Iran will modify the core of its reactor in Arak so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium. And it has agreed to ship the spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor. For at least the next 15 years, Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors.

Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments. That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification. Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.

*Iran [Inspectors] will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain — its uranium mines and mills, its conversion facility, and its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities. This ensures that Iran will not be able to divert materials from known facilities to covert ones. Some of these transparency measures will be in place for 25 years.

Because of this deal, inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location. Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary. That arrangement is permanent. And the IAEA has also reached an agreement with Iran to get access that it needs to complete its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear research.

Finally, Iran is permanently prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which provided the basis for the international community’s efforts to apply pressure on Iran.

As Iran takes steps to implement this deal, it will receive relief from the sanctions that we put in place because of Iran’s nuclear program — both America’s own sanctions and sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. This relief will be phased in. Iran must complete key nuclear steps before it begins to receive new sanctions relief. And over the course of the next decade, Iran must abide by the deal before additional sanctions are lifted, including five years for restrictions related to arms, and eight years for restrictions related to ballistic missiles.

All of this will be memorialized and endorsed in a new United Nations Security Council resolution. And if Iran violates the deal, all of these sanctions will snap back into place. So there’s a very clear incentive for Iran to follow through, and there are very real consequences for a violation.

That’s the deal. It has the full backing of the international community. Congress will now have an opportunity to review the details, and my administration stands ready to provide extensive briefings on how this will move forward.

As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative. Consider what happens in a world without this deal. Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program. Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure. And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission. We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution, and that is what we have done.

Without this deal, there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program. Iran could produce, operate and test more and more centrifuges. Iran could fuel a reactor capable of producing plutonium for a bomb. And we would not have any of the inspections that allow us to detect a covert nuclear weapons program. In other words, no deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

Such a scenario would make it more likely that other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world. It would also present the United States with fewer and less effective options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

I’ve been President and Commander-in-Chief for over six years now. Time and again, I have faced decisions about whether or not to use military force. It’s the gravest decision that any President has to make. Many times, in multiple countries, I have decided to use force. And I will never hesitate to do so when it is in our national security interest. I strongly believe that our national security interest now depends upon preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — which means that without a diplomatic resolution, either I or a future U.S. President would face a decision about whether or not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or whether to use our military to stop it.

Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East. Moreover, we give nothing up by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully. If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options that are available to me today will be available to any U.S. President in the future. And I have no doubt that 10 or 15 years from now, the person who holds this office will be in a far stronger position with Iran further away from a weapon and with the inspections and transparency that allow us to monitor the Iranian program.

For this reason, I believe it would be irresponsible to walk away from this deal. But on such a tough issue, it is important that the American people and their representatives in Congress get a full opportunity to review the deal. After all, the details matter. And we’ve had some of the finest nuclear scientists in the world working through those details. And we’re dealing with a country — Iran — that has been a sworn adversary of the United States for over 35 years. So I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue, and I welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement.

But I will remind Congress that you don’t make deals like this with your friends. We negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union when that nation was committed to our destruction. And those agreements ultimately made us safer.

I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interest of the United States and our allies. So I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.

We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict. And we certainly shouldn’t seek it. And precisely because the stakes are so high, this is not the time for politics or posturing. Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems. Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world’s major powers offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this deal will resolve all of our differences with Iran. We share the concerns expressed by many of our friends in the Middle East, including Israel and the Gulf States, about Iran’s support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize the region. But that is precisely why we are taking this step — because an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would be far more destabilizing and far more dangerous to our friends and to the world.

Meanwhile, we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations. We will continue our unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel’s security — efforts that go beyond what any American administration has done before. And we will continue the work we began at Camp David to elevate our partnership with the Gulf States to strengthen their capabilities to counter threats from Iran or terrorist groups like ISIL.

However, I believe that we must continue to test whether or not this region, which has known so much suffering, so much bloodshed, can move in a different direction.

Time and again, I have made clear to the Iranian people that we will always be open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. Our differences are real and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel — that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.

This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it.

We have come a long way to reach this point — decades of an Iranian nuclear program, many years of sanctions, and many months of intense negotiation. Today, I want to thank the members of Congress from both parties who helped us put in place the sanctions that have proven so effective, as well as the other countries who joined us in that effort.

I want to thank our negotiating partners — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, as well as the European Union — for our unity in this effort, which showed that the world can do remarkable things when we share a vision of peacefully addressing conflicts. We showed what we can do when we do not split apart.

And finally, I want to thank the American negotiating team. We had a team of experts working for several weeks straight on this, including our Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz. And I want to particularly thank John Kerry, our Secretary of State, who began his service to this country more than four decades ago when he put on our uniform and went off to war. He’s now making this country safer through his commitment to strong, principled American diplomacy.

History shows that America must lead not just with our might, but with our principles. It shows we are stronger not when we are alone, but when we bring the world together. Today’s announcement marks one more chapter in this pursuit of a safer and more helpful and more hopeful world.

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

How Not To Advocate for Israel

Obama%20Fox%20530[1]Last week we saw four examples of how not to advocate for Israel:

1. Don’t back lawsuits you can’t win.

The Supreme Court struck down a law that forced the President, through the Secretary of State, to identify, upon request, citizens born in Jerusalem as being born in Israel even though the United States has never acknowledged Israel nor any other country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

President Bush did not enforce this law, and neither has President Obama. No one should have been surprised that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Executive Branch. But as a result of this short-sighted lawsuit, which never should have been brought, the Palestinians are claiming victory and pro-Israel groups are upset.
[Read more…]

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.

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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.

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“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.

Obama: Combat Islamic Extremism with “Tolerance and Inclusion”

President Obama spoke at the first day of the White House three-day summit on combating violent extremism.

The United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.... May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.  - Pres. George Washington (1790)

The United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. – Pres. George Washington (1790)

For more than 238 years, the United States of America has not just endured, but we have thrived and surmounted challenges that might have broken a lesser nation. After a terrible civil war, we repaired our union. We weathered a Great Depression, became the world’s most dynamic economy. We fought fascism, liberated Europe. We faced down communism — and won. American communities have been destroyed by earthquakes and tornadoes and fires and floods — and each time we rebuild.

The bombing that killed 168 people could not break Oklahoma City. On 9/11, terrorists tried to bring us to our knees; today a new tower soars above New York City, and America continues to lead throughout the world. After Americans were killed at Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon, it didn’t divide us; we came together as one American family.

In the face of horrific acts of violence — at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, or at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City — we reaffirmed our commitment to pluralism and to freedom, repulsed by the notion that anyone should ever be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, or how they worship.

Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid. And I want to be as clear as I can be: As Americans, all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support.

My point is this: As Americans, we are strong and we are resilient. And when tragedy strikes, when we take a hit, we pull together, and we draw on what’s best in our character — our optimism, our commitment to each other, our commitment to our values, our respect for one another. We stand up, and we rebuild, and we recover, and we emerge stronger than before. That’s who we are.

And I say all this because we face genuine challenges to our security today, just as we have throughout our history. Challenges to our security are not new. They didn’t happen yesterday or a week ago or a year ago. We’ve always faced challenges. One of those challenges is the terrorist threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL. But this isn’t our challenge alone. It’s a challenge for the world. ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq, beheads and burns human beings in unfathomable acts of cruelty. We’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

So, in the face of this challenge, we have marshalled the full force of the United States government, and we’re working with allies and partners to dismantle terrorist organizations and protect the American people. Given the complexities of the challenge and the nature of the enemy — which is not a traditional army — this work takes time, and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective. But I’m confident that, just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.

And part of what gives me that confidence is the overwhelming response of the world community to the savagery of these terrorists — not just revulsion, but a concrete commitment to work together to vanquish these organizations.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate this scourge of violent extremism. And I want to thank all of you — from across America and around the world — for answering this call. Tomorrow at the State Department, governments and civil society groups from more than 60 countries will focus on the steps that we can take as governments. And I’ll also speak about how our nations have to remain relentless in our fight — our counterterrorism efforts — against groups that are plotting against our counties.

But we are here today because of a very specific challenge — and that’s countering violent extremism, something that is not just a matter of military affairs. By “violent extremism,” we don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people. We also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists — the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence. We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist, so there’s no way to predict who will become radicalized. Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths. It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography, or one period of time.

But we are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL. And this week we are focused on prevention — preventing these groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place. I’ve called upon governments to come to the United Nations this fall with concrete steps that we can take together. And today, what I want to do is suggest several areas where I believe we can concentrate our efforts.

First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence. Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge. So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy. They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.” And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam. That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people. We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.

Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well. Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts. They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.

And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith. They want to make very clear what Islam stands for. And we’re joined by some of these leaders today. These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind. Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.

But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.

The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.

So those beliefs exist. In some communities around the world they are widespread. And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization. And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues. We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas.

So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations. Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.

And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.

As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online. We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists. Their words speak to us today. And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised:

  • “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.”
  • “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.”
  • “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”
  • “I’m 28 — is this the only future I’m able to imagine?”

That’s the voice of so many who were temporarily radicalized and then saw the truth. And they’ve warned other young people not to make the same mistakes as they did.

  • “Do not run after illusions.”
  • “Do not be deceived.”
  • “Do not give up your life for nothing.”

We need to lift up those voices.

And in all this work, the greatest resource are communities themselves, especially like those young people who are here today. We are joined by talented young men and women who are pioneering new innovations, and new social media tools, and new ways to reach young people. We’re joined by leaders from the private sector, including high-tech companies, who want to support your efforts. And I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but to empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world. And that can be a calling for your generation.

So that’s the first challenge — we’ve got to discredit these ideologies. We have to tackle them head on. And we can’t shy away from these discussions. And too often, folks are, understandably, sensitive about addressing some of these root issues, but we have to talk about them, honestly and clearly. And the reason I believe we have to do so is because I’m so confident that when the truth is out we’ll be successful. Now, a second challenge is we do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances. Poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes somebody to become a criminal. There are millions of people — billions of people — in the world who live in abject poverty and are focused on what they can do to build up their own lives, and never embrace violent ideologies.

Conversely, there are terrorists who’ve come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden. What’s true, though, is that when millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester. The risk of instability and extremism grow. Where young people have no education, they are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and radical ideas, because it’s not tested against anything else, they’ve got nothing to weigh. And we’ve seen this across the Middle East and North Africa.

And terrorist groups are all too happy to step into a void. They offer salaries to their foot soldiers so they can support their families. Sometimes they offer social services — schools, health clinics — to do what local governments cannot or will not do. They try to justify their violence in the name of fighting the injustice of corruption that steals from the people — even while those terrorist groups end up committing even worse abuses, like kidnapping and human trafficking.

So if we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better. And the United States intends to do its part. We will keep promoting development and growth that is broadly shared, so more people can provide for their families. We’ll keep leading a global effort against corruption, because the culture of the bribe has to be replaced by good governance that doesn’t favor certain groups over others.
Countries have to truly invest in the education and skills and job training that our extraordinary young people need. And by the way, that’s boys and girls, and men and women, because countries will not be truly successful if half their populations — if their girls and their women are denied opportunity. And America will continue to forge new partnerships in entrepreneurship and innovation, and science and technology, so young people from Morocco to Malaysia can start new businesses and create more prosperity.

Just as we address economic grievances, we need to face a third challenge — and that’s addressing the political grievances that are exploited by terrorists. When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence. It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment. Terrorist groups claim that change can only come through violence. And if peaceful change is impossible, that plays into extremist propaganda.

So the essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it’s more democracy. It’s institutions that uphold the rule of law and apply justice equally. It’s security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity. It’s free speech and strong civil societies where people can organize and assemble and advocate for peaceful change. It’s freedom of religion where all people can practice their faith without fear and intimidation. All of this is part of countering violent extremism.

Fourth, we have to recognize that our best partners in all these efforts, the best people to help protect individuals from falling victim to extremist ideologies are their own communities, their own family members. We have to be honest with ourselves. Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims, especially those who may be disillusioned or wrestling with their identity. That’s the truth. The high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorist Twitter accounts — it’s all designed to target today’s young people online, in cyberspace.

And by the way, the older people here, as wise and respected as you may be, your stuff is often boring compared to what they’re doing. You’re not connected. And as a consequence, you are not connecting.

So these terrorists are a threat, first and foremost, to the communities that they target, which means communities have to take the lead in protecting themselves. And that is true here in America, as it’s true anywhere else. When someone starts getting radicalized, family and friends are often the first to see that something has changed in their personality. Teachers may notice a student becoming withdrawn or struggling with his or her identity, and if they intervene at that moment and offer support, that may make a difference.

Faith leaders may notice that someone is beginning to espouse violent interpretations of religion, and that’s a moment for possible intervention that allows them to think about their actions and reflect on the meaning of their faith in a way that’s more consistent with peace and justice. Families and friends, coworkers, neighbors, faith leaders — they want to reach out; they want to help save their loved ones and friends, and prevent them from taking a wrong turn.

But communities don’t always know the signs to look for, or have the tools to intervene, or know what works best. And that’s where government can play a role — if government is serving as a trusted partner. And that’s where we also need to be honest. I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement. And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.

So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities. Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith. Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance. We can’t “securitize” our relationship with Muslim Americans dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement. Because when we do, that only reinforces suspicions, makes it harder for us to build the trust that we need to work together.

As part of this summit, we’re announcing that we’re going to increase our outreach to communities, including Muslim Americans. We’re going to step up our efforts to engage with partners and raise awareness so more communities understand how to protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized. We’ve got to devote more resources to these efforts.

And as government does more, communities are going to have to step up as well. We need to build on the pilot programs that have been discussed at this summit already — in Los Angeles, in Minneapolis, in Boston. These are partnerships that bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect and create more dialogue and more trust and more cooperation. If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient.

And finally, we need to do what extremists and terrorists hope we will not do, and that is stay true to the values that define us as free and diverse societies. If extremists are peddling the notion that Western countries are hostile to Muslims, then we need to show that we welcome people of all faiths.

Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding. Generations of Muslim immigrants came here and went to work as farmers and merchants and factory workers, helped to lay railroads and build up America. The first Islamic center in New York City was founded in the 1890s. America’s first mosque — this was an interesting fact — was in North Dakota.

Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders, and protect our nation by serving in uniform, and in our intelligence communities, and in homeland security. And in cemeteries across our country, including at Arlington, Muslim American heroes rest in peace having given their lives in defense of all of us.

And of course that’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know — Muslims succeeding and thriving in America. Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is. It’s also a story that every American must never forget, because it reminds us all that hatred and bigotry and prejudice have no place in our country. It’s not just counterproductive; it doesn’t just aid terrorists; it’s wrong. It’s contrary to who we are.

I’m thinking of a little girl named Sabrina who last month sent me a Valentine’s Day card in the shape of a heart. It was the first Valentine I got. I got it from Sabrina before Malia and Sasha and Michelle gave me one. So she’s 11 years old. She’s in the 5th grade. She’s a young Muslim American. And she said in her Valentine, “I enjoy being an American.” And when she grows up, she wants to be an engineer — or a basketball player. Which are good choices. But she wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims…If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do.” And she asked, “Please tell everyone that we are good people and we’re just like everyone else.” Now, those are the words — and the wisdom — of a little girl growing up here in America, just like my daughters are growing up here in America. “We’re just like everybody else.” And everybody needs to remember that during the course of this debate.

As we move forward with these challenges, we all have responsibilities, we all have hard work ahead of us on this issue. We can’t paper over problems, and we’re not going to solve this if we’re always just trying to be politically correct. But we do have to remember that 11-year-old girl. That’s our hope. That’s our future. That’s how we discredit violent ideologies, by making sure her voice is lifted up; making sure she’s nurtured; making sure that she’s supported — and then, recognizing there are little girls and boys like that all around the world, and us helping to address economic and political grievances that can be exploited by extremists, and empowering local communities, and us staying true to our values as a diverse and tolerant society even when we’re threatened — especially when we’re threatened.

There will be a military component to this. There are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped. ISIL is killing Muslims at a rate that is many multiples the rate that they’re killing non-Muslims. Everybody has a stake in stopping them, and there will be an element of us just stopping them in their tracks with force. But to eliminate the soil out of which they grew, to make sure that we are giving a brighter future to everyone and a lasting sense of security, then we’re going to have to make it clear to all of our children — including that little girl in 5th grade — that you have a place. You have a place here in America. You have a place in those countries where you live. You have a future.

Ultimately, those are the antidotes to violent extremism. And that’s work that we’re going to have to do together. It will take time. This is a generational challenge. But after 238 years, it should be obvious — America has overcome much bigger challenges, and we’ll overcome the ones that we face today. We will stay united and committed to the ideals that have shaped us for more than two centuries, including the opportunity and justice and dignity of every single human being.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Does Obama Really Doubt Kosher Market Attackers’ Anti-Semitism?

paris62047[1]President Obama and other members of his administration have repeatedly condemned the January 9 Paris kosher market attack as anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community. (Barack Obama, January 22)

The violent assault on the Jewish community in France that took place on Friday afternoon – as the Jewish community in Paris was in the final hours of preparing for the restfulness and peace of the Sabbath – was the latest in a series of troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism. (Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, January 13)

All four [victims] were casualties of violent anti-Semitism–targets because they were Jews. All were killed playing some role in preparation for the celebration of Shabbat – a core practice of their faith. (Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, January 22,

But in a Feb. 9 interview with Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, the President was not as clear as he could have been, and his critics ignored all of his previous statements and leapt to the most implausible interpretation, as if this was the first time the President spoke about it.

Yglesis: Do you think the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this kind of chaos, as opposed to a longer-term problem of climate change and epidemic disease?

Obama: Absolutely. And I don’t blame the media for that. What’s the famous saying about local newscasts, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right? You show crime stories and you show fires, because that’s what folks watch, and it’s all about ratings. And, you know, the problems of terrorism and dysfunction and chaos, along with plane crashes and a few other things, that’s the equivalent when it comes to covering international affairs. There’s just not going to be a lot of interest in a headline story that we have cut infant mortality by really significant amounts over the last 20 years or that extreme poverty has been slashed or that there’s been enormous progress with a program we set up when I first came into office to help poor farmers increase productivity and yields. 7 It’s not a sexy story. And climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it’s a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.

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Cartoon courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen: http://drybonesblog.blogspot.co.il/

Look, the point is this: my first job is to protect the American people. It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris. We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that

Compounding matters, two White House spokespeople did a terrible job responding to questions, although they did get it right later that same day.

Our view has not changed. Terror attack at Paris Kosher market was motivated by anti-Semitism. POTUS didn’t intend to suggest otherwise. (John Earnest, White House Press Secretary, February 10)

We have always been clear that the attack on the kosher grocery store was an anti-semitic attack that took the lives of innocent people. (Jen Psaki, Department of State Press Secretary, February 10)

Yair Rosenberg spells it all out:

One of the downsides of Obama’s carefully cultivated intellectual persona is that onlookers often mistake his errors for intended actions, not realizing that this president makes miscues like any other. What critics would’ve written off as a gaffe if it came from George W. Bush, they instead see as part of deliberate plan when it comes from Obama. But those who would read a malevolent worldview–rather than mere mangled messaging–into this episode should remember that the Obama administration has in fact been a stalwart critic of rising European anti-Semitism. The president even dispatched his confidant Samantha Power to Berlin to hector European nations about not doing enough to fight it. It is exceedingly unlikely that the administration has suddenly decided that Jew hatred on the continent is no longer a problem.

Hopefully, the next time the president errs, his team will simply correct the record the first time, rather than awkwardly attempt to spin his mistake into something more sensible.