A Nation Grieves: Israeli Teens Kidnapped by Hamas Found Dead

— by Alex Lipton, Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region

Following extensive searches led by the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Security Agency and the Israel Police, the bodies of Eyal Yifrach (19), Gilad Sha’er (16) and Naftali Frenkel (16), who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on June 12, 2014, were discovered today in the area northwest of Hebron.

A community memorial service will be held today, July 1st at 6:30 p.m. at Congregation Mikveh Israel, 44 North 4th Street, Philadelphia.

All of us, who for the past 18 days have been hoping and praying for the boys’ safe return home, grieve today along with their families.

More after the jump.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, referred to the developments at a security cabinet meeting yesterday:

In the name of the whole of Israel, I ask to tell the dear families — to the mothers, the fathers, the grandmothers and the grandfathers, the brothers and sisters — our hearts are bleeding, the whole nation is crying with them.

Israel’s outgoing president, Shimon Peres, said that “Israel bows its head”:

For 18 days we hoped and prayed with one voice that we would find the boys safe and well. With this bitter news all of Israel mourns their deaths. Along with our deep sense of loss we remain committed to bringing the terrorists to justice. Our resolve in the fight against terror will only strengthen and we will ensure that murderous terrorism of this sort will not dare to rear its head again.

Israel Celebrates July 4th

In Israel, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro hosted 2,000 guests at his residence to celebrate the Fourth of July. The State Department posted video of the party and concert here. Israel’s political leaders attended, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “July 4 is more than an American holiday — it is cherished by all those who cherish freedom around the world” while also describing Israel as an island of democracy in a sea of instability. President Peres delivered remarks and said that the United States is a “beacon of hope for the values of freedom, peace and justice around the globe.”

A congratulatory statement by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren follows the jump.

We are proud to join with the United   States of America in celebrating its 237th birthday. The democracy and freedom upon which this great nation was founded are the same values that help form the foundation of the unbreakable U.S.-Israel bond. This alliance found its most outstanding expression earlier this year during President Obama’s visit to Israel, where he was greeted by crowds exuberantly waving the flags of both of our countries. Since the State of Israel’s establishment 65 years ago, the U.S.-Israel alliance has become more robust and multi-faceted. We look forward to continuing to strengthen this friendship.

From the people of Israel to our friends across America, Happy Independence Day!

Old Joke

There is an old Jewish joke that runs like this.

The Synagogue President greets the Rabbi with a hearty handshake. “You will be pleased to know, Rabbi, that last night the board of directors voted 8-5 in favor of wishing you a happy birthday.”

In that spirit, we have two articles related to Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th Birthday Bash: one for and one against.

Enjoy.

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.

Hold Peres Accountable: Questions to Ask the President of Israel

— by David Bedein

The President of Israel, Shimon Peres, pushing 90, celebrates his longevity with a birthday bash this week that include thousands of invited guests and hundreds of reporters.

It behooves the journalists who cover the Peres birthday event to hold Peres accountable for policies that Peres stands for. In the media, longevity allows for long memories.

14 questions follow the jump.

  1. In 1981, Peres opposed and tried to interfere with Menachem Begin’s 1981 decision to bomb Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi nuclear reactor. Does Peres have any regrets for his opposition to the destruction of that nuclear reactor?
  2. Peres is proud of the Oslo peace accord which he helped facilitate between Israel and the PLO on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993. However, on October 7, 1993, the left wing newspaper Al HaMishmar revealed that the PLO would not ratify that accord, and, indeed, the PLO has never ratified that accord. Instead of heeding the Al HaMishmar report, Peres, then Israel’s foreign minister, dispatched his Deputy Minister, Yossi Beilin, to fly to Tunis to thank Arafat for ratifying the Oslo accord, which Arafat and the PLO never did. Why does Peres promote an unratified accord?
  3. In 1994, Rabin, Peres, and Arafat made an agreement that Arafat’s armed forces would comprise no more than 9,000 inductees, and that any Palestinian under arms would first have to be vetted by Israeli intelligence to ensure that he did not have a background in terror activity. Yet as early as December 1993, it was discovered that the PA had drafted two Arab residents from the Arab village of Tequa who had murdered the curator of the Herodian, David Rosenfeld, in 1982. In December, 1995, Arafat announced that his commanders for Ramallah and Nablus were men who planted bombs in Jerusalem’s Zion Square on July 5, 1975, killing thirteen people. As of 1995, the PA armed forces counted as many as 19,000 under arms by 1995 and now comprise a least 30,000. Since 1995, the IDF acknowledges that it no longer knows who has been recruited into the PA security force. Can Peres answer the question as to whether the PA armed forces now include volatile terrorists within its ranks?
  4. Throughout 1994 and 1995, when private agencies produced videos of Arafat’s speeches where Arafat expressed support for Jihad to liberate Palestine, Peres implored Israel TV not to air Arafat’s speeches in the Arabic language. Peres also asked the US Congress not to view the videos of what Arafat was saying in Arabic? Does Peres express regret for trying to obfuscate Arafat’s message in the Arabic language?
  5. In December 1994, when Peres and Rabin conducted a briefing for the media in Oslo before they both received the Nobel Peace Prize together with Arafat in, I asked them if Arafat had fulfilled his commitment to crush the Hamas. Both Rabin and Peres indicated that he would do so. A few hours later, when I asked Arafat the same question, as to whether the PLO leader would crush the Hamas, Arafat’s response was clear: “Hamas are my brothers. I will handle them in my way.” And Arafat did handle the Hamas – by bringing them into his new regime, as full coalition partners. In May, 1995, Arafat’ security forces announced that they would provide Hamas with arms. In December, 1995, Arafat invited Hamas to join his provisional regime. In 1996, Arafat appointed Hamas officials to run the religious departments and schools under his authority. By fall 2001, the IDF confirmed that Islamic terror groups train and operate in the full view of the Palestinian Authority security services, and that the Islamic terrorists get a clear message that their activity operates with the full blessing of Arafat’s regime. The promise of the Oslo process was that Arafat would crush the Hamas, not co-opt Hamas. Does Peres feel today that Arafat betrayed him?
  6. Norwegian statesmen Kare Kristiansen resigned from the Nobel Prize committee because of the Nobel Prize bestowed upon Arafat. The same  Kare Kristiansen told the Norwegian media that Peres had promised financial remuneration to fellow Nobel Prize Committee member Terje Larsen in order to ensure that he would share the Nobel Peace Prize with the late Prime Minister Rabin. In 2002, I interviewed Mr. Kristiansen and he explicitly affirmed that he had witnessed the deal made between Peres and Larsen which assured Larsen that he would be “well rewarded for his efforts.” How does Peres respond to the allegation that he paid good money for the Nobel Peace Prize?
  7. The Palestine National Council, meeting in April 1996, did not vote to nullify the PLO charter to destroy Israel. However, Peres proclaimed that Arafat did fulfill his promise to nullify amend the PLO charter. It turned out that the resolution that Arafat had told Peres that they would pass was not even brought up for a vote. What is Peres’s current perspective of the PLO charter, which was never changed?
  8. In March 2007, when a new “Palestinian unity government” was formed to include Hamas and the Fatah in a coalition government, Peres declared that “only with economics can we make peace.” Peres went on to say that if members of terrorist groups perceive economic incentives, they will cease to be terrorists. Does Peres   truly believe that a terrorist organization which acts upon a deep rooted ideology can be enticed by a good business opportunity to abandon the path of terror?
  9. Peres repeats over and over that the “gap between Israel and the PA is very small,” while consistently describing Abbes as “Israel’s hope for peace.” However, Peres refuses to comment on the war curriculum that Abbas and the PA ministry of education have introduced in the PA. Peres consistently refuses to say if he has even reviewed the new PA school books, which have introduced a curriculum of war for the next generation of Palestinian Arab school children. On March 1, 2000, Peres addressed an international colloquium for the Jewish media, where Peres announced that the PA had adopted a PA school curriculum for peace. When I pointed out to Peres that the curriculum that he had quoted from had been vetoed by the PA, Peres moved away from the microphone and said “I know.” The Israeli intelligence report on PA school books now being used in PA schools, prepared by Dr. Noah Meritor, is accessible at http://www.terrorism-info.org….  Why will Peres not comment on the current PA curriculum of war?
  10. Before the Gaza retreat, Peres, then deputy Prime Minister, Peres announced on July 7th, 2005 that the American government had allocated $2 billion to cover the costs of disengagement. That assurance was quoted by the mainstream Israeli media for months to come. However, on July 12th, 2005, the spokesman for the US treasury department told Israel’s leading business newspaper, GLOBES, that the US was not giving one penny for the Disengagement Policy. Where did Peres get the idea that the US would fund the Israel retreat from Gaza?
  11. Before Israel’s 2005 retreat from Gaza, Shimon Peres accused southern Israelis of “stoking hysteria” about the rockets and asked “What’s the big deal?”, while calling the kassam missile as a harmless. “Kassam Shmassam”, said Peres. Since the southern region of Israel has suffered  29,000 aerial attacks from Gaza and 49 people killed over the past ten years, what is Peres’s perspective on the assurances that he gave the people of Southern Israel before Israel withdrew its civilians, soldiers, and bases from Gaza?
  12. In 2011, Shimon Peres dispatched a letter of praise to J Street, one day after J-Street called on the US to support the PLO resolution at the UN Security Council calling for the halt of settlement construction, including east Jerusalem, which the Obama administration vetoed after all other permanent members voted were in favor. Does Peres have any second thoughts about sending such a letter of support to J Street?
  13. On January 4, 2013, Machmud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, delivered a new year’s message in which he lauded Adolf Hitler’s Arab ally, Haj Amin Al Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, as someone whose legacy should be emulated” by the Palestinian people, Since Israel’s President Shimon Peres never stops in his adulation of Abbas, Peres was asked if he would condemn Abbas’s praise of the Mufti, yet Peres refused comment on Abbas’s praise of the Mufti. Why would Peres not condemn Abbas’s praise of the Mufti?
  14. Peres continually endorses an independent Palestinian state under the leadership of Abbas, as a Palestinian state that would coexist as a peaceful neighbor with Israel. Yet UNRWA remains in tact, maintaining 5 million Arab refugees and their descendants in “temporary” refugee camps, under the premise and promise of the right of return to Arab villages that no longer exist within Israel. Why does Peres not support a change in the UNRWA mandate, which contradicts his vision of a “two state solution”?

Israel Behind The News
Funds Needed to Continue Proactive News Investigations

  • Dangers of Further US Aid to the PLO Army
  • Threat of Planned PLO Army Deployment in Hebron and Jerusalem
  • UNRWA and PA for War Curriculum, financed by US and the West
  • Conflicts of Interests of Israeli businesses invested in the Palestinian Authority

Kerry in Israel: “No Option Is Off The Table” for Iran


Photo by Yad Vashem

— by Jacob Miller

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel to meet with Israeli officials this week. Secretary Kerry met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Before meeting with President Peres, Secretary Kerry spent Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — laying a wreath at Yad Vashem.

Before Secretary Kerry’s meeting with President Peres he delivered remarks:

Well, Mr. President, thank you very, very much for an extraordinarily generous and warm welcome. It’s really such an honor to be here today to share in Yom HaShoah and to be there at Yad Vashem to lay a wreath on behalf of the American people, but most importantly to simply share in the uniqueness of that expression of sorrow and honor for this remarkable moment in history that we marked.

Continued after the jump.

I was standing there listening to the siren wail and thinking of the stories people have told me of everybody in Israel stopping. If you’re in a car, you get out and you stand at attention. The whole country freezes. And I know it’s one of only two moments when that happens, for Yom HaShoah and for the fallen in battle in struggles. So that wailing had a profound impact on me. It was impressive. And I think the lesson of today is underscored in your comments about the possibilities for peace, the possibilities for people to live together without hatred, and finding the common ground. I believe in that, and I know you believe in that.


Photo by State Department

You are correct; we have known each other, I think, more than 30 years now. And I’ve had the privilege of watching you lead as a statesman. I’ve had the privilege of working with you in the different hats you have worn in government. And it’s a great privilege for me to be able to be here now representing President Obama and the American people in this effort to try to get us across the line.

We all know it’s not easy. But as you said yourself, it can be done. And it has been expressed by your leaders and others through years that people believe in the possibility of a two-state solution. I am convinced there is a road forward, and I look forward to the discussions with your leaders and yourself regarding how that road could be sort of reignited, if you will, once again setting out on that path […]

With respect to Iran and other threats, I am very pleased to confirm to you what I know you know, and what I hope the people of Israel know after the historic visit of President Obama here: You have a friend in President Obama. You have friends in this Administration, in the Congress, and in America. We understand the nature of the threat of Iran. And as the President has said many times — he doesn’t bluff; he is serious — we will stand with Israel against this threat and with the rest of the world, who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations.

No option is off the table. No option will be taken off the table. And I confirm to you, Mr. President, that we will continue to seek a diplomatic solution. But our eyes are open, and we understand that the clock is moving. And no one will allow the diplomatic process to stand in the way of whatever choices need to be made to protect the world from yet another nuclear weapon in the wrong hands.

Before meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary Kerry delivered brief remarks:

I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for, first of all, his extraordinary hospitality yet again. We had an extremely friendly, very productive, long discussion last night. I think it’s fair to say that we made progress, that we were pleased with the substance of the discussion and agreed, each of us, to do some homework. And we’re going to do our homework over the course of the next weeks, and today we’re going to continue some of that discussion with a view to seeing how we can really pull all of the pieces together and make some progress here. And I want to thank the Prime Minister for his good-faith efforts here. It’s been serious, it’s been focused, and I would characterize it as very productive.

Obama Concludes Second Day in Israel with State Dinner

President Obama’s second day in Israel concluded with a State Dinner in Israeli President Shimon Peres’ residence. Israel’s Presidential Medal of Distinction was conferred on President Obama, and singers Rita and David D’or performed. Below are the remarks of the two Presidents:

Peres: President Barack Obama, my dear friend, let me say first, Bravo.  Bravo, President. It is my great pleasure to welcome you tonight. I was moved the way in which you spoke to the heart of our young Israelis. Our youngsters, in time of need, are always willing to stand up and defend their country. Today, you have seen how much the same young people long for peace. How enthusiastic they were, how engaged they were, listening to the vision of peace, which you beautifully delivered and moved the heart.

Continued after the jump.
Mr. President, this morning several rockets were shot from the Gaza Strip towards civilian targets in Israel, including Sderot that you have visited. From here, in the name of all us, I want to convey our love to the inhabitants of the south around Gaza who carry this heavy burden courageously and continue to plow their land, plant their trees, raise their children. It is an inspiration to each of us. Today, the enemies of peace spoke in the only language they know — the language of terror. I am convinced that together we shall defeat them.

Dear Barack, your visit here is a historic event. We are so happy to receive you and your distinguished delegation. I am very glad to see Secretary John Kerry — an old friend. John, I know you are and I know you will be successful. I’m not sure that the prophets have had speechwriters — but if they had, I imagine Isaiah would have said — but actually he has said on that occasion — and I’m quoting him, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation.” Well, you have to be satisfied with my language — I cannot speak like him.

It is my privilege to present you with our country’s highest honor — the Medal of Distinction. This award speaks to you, to your tireless work to make Israel strong, to make peace possible. Your presidency has given the closest ties between Israel and the United States a new height, a sense of intimacy, a vision for the future.

The people of Israel are particularly moved by your unforgettable contribution to their security. You are defending our skies — to you, revelation in the name of intelligence, which is the right way to preempt bloodshed. The diplomatic and the military bonds between us have reached an unprecedented level.

When I visited you in Washington, I thought in my heart, America is so great and we are so small. I learned that you don’t measure us by size, but by values. Thank you. When it comes to values, we are you, and you are us. On occasions when we were alone you stood with us, so we were not alone. We were alone together. We shall never forget it.

During your previous visit to Israel, you asked me if I had any advice to offer. Well, it’s not my nature to let questions go unanswered. So just that while people say that the future belongs to the young, it is the present that really belongs to the young. Leave the future to me. I have time.

I think I was right, because the moment you came into office, you immediately had to face daunting and demanding challenges day in, day out. I prayed that you would meet them with wisdom and determination, without losing hope, without allowing others to lose hope. The prayers were answered — after all, they came from Jerusalem and they came to us as a great message. It is a tribute to your leadership, to the strength of your character, to your principles, that you have never surrendered to hopelessness. You stood and stand firmly by your vision.  Your values serve your nation. They serve our nation as well.

So I know that you will never stop to strive for a better world, as you said today in a good Hebrew — tikkun olam. We have a rich heritage and a great dream. As I look back, I feel that the Israel of today has exceeded the vision we had 65 years ago. Reality has surpassed the dreams. The United States of America helped us to make this possible.

Still the path to tomorrow may be fraught with obstacles. I believe that we can overcome them by our determination and by your commitment. I’m convinced that you will do whatever is necessary to free the world’s horizons and the skies of Jerusalem from the Iranian threat. Iran denies the Shoah and calls for a new one. Iran is building a nuclear bomb and denies it. The Iranian regime is the greatest danger to world peace. History has shown time and again that peace, prosperity and stable civil society cannot flourish when threats and belligerency abound.

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight the Iranian people are celebrating their New Year. I wish them from the depths of my heart a happy holiday and a real freedom.

Israel will seize any opportunity for peace. Being small, we have to maintain our qualitative edge. I know that you responded and will respond to it. The strength of Israel is its defense forces. They afford us the ability to seek peace. And what America has contributed to Israel’s security is the best guarantee to end the march of folly, the march of terror and bloodshed.

We watch with admiration the way you lead the United States of America, the way you have stayed true time and again to your bonds of friendship with us. Your commitment and deeds speaks volumes about the principles that guides America. To strive for freedom and democracy at home, but also all over the world, you send the boys to fight for the freedom of others. What is uplifting is that the United States brought freedom not only to its own people, but never stops, and never will stop, to help other people to become free.

You represent democracy at its best. You have deepened its meaning — namely that democracy is not just the right to be equal, but the equal right to be different. Democracy is not just a free expression, but is self-expression as well.

You exemplify the spirit of democracy by striving for justice and equality and opportunity in the American society. As the world has now become global and yet remains individual, and you offer those principles. You have shown global responsibility and individual sensitivity.

On Monday night, Mr. President, we shall celebrate Passover, the Festival of Freedom, the Celebration of Spring. The Celebration of Spring means our journey from the house of slaves to the home of the free that started more than 3,000 years ago. We remember it every year. We are commended to feel as though each of us personally participated in that journey. We shall not forget where we came from. We shall remember always where we are headed, too, which is to make the Promised Land a land of promise, a land of freedom, justice and equality.

While reality calls for vigilance, Passover calls to remain believers. Israel is an island in a stormy sea. We have to make our island safe and we wish that the sea will become tranquil. We converted our desert into a garden. It was achieved by the talents of our people and the potential of science. What we have done, Mr. President, can be done all over the Middle East, as you have rightly said tonight. Israel is described as a start-up nation. The Middle East can become a start-up region.

Dear President, you noted in your address today that peace is the greatest hope for the human being. I share your vision. Your call to reopen the peace process may pave the way for the implementation of the two-state solution agreed by all of us — as you said, a Jewish state, Israel; an Arab state, Palestine.

If I’m not wrong, next to you sits our Prime Minister who was just reelected. He opened his address in the Knesset by reiterating his commitment to the two-state solution. Dear friends, I have seen in my life I earned the right to believe that peace is attainable. As you felt today, I know, this is the deep conviction of our people. With our resolve and your support, Barack Obama, we shall win and it will happen.

Mr. President, I am privileged to bestow upon you the Medal of Distinction. It was recommended by a committee of seven prominent Israeli citizens, headed by our former Chief of Justice Meir Shamgar, and includes our former President Yitzhak Navon. It was my view and I was glad to accept their recommendation. You inspired the world with your leadership. Toda raba, Mr. President. Toda from a grateful nation to a very great leader.

God bless America. God bless Israel.

Obama: President Peres; Prime Minister Netanyahu and First Lady Sara; distinguished guests and friends. This is a extraordinary honor for me and I could not be more deeply moved. And I have to say, after the incredible welcome I’ve received over the past two days and the warmth of the Israeli people, the tribute from President Peres, the honor of this medal — I mean, as you say, dayenu [enough].

Now, I’m told that the Talmud teaches that you shouldn’t pronounce all the praises of a person in their presence. And, Mr. President, if I praised all the chapters of your remarkable life, then we would be here all night. So let me simply say this about our gracious host.

Mr. President, the State of Israel has been the cause of your life — through bitter wars and fragile peace, through hardship and prosperity. You’ve built her. You’ve cared for her. You’ve strengthened her. You’ve nurtured the next generation who will inherit her.

Ben Gurion. Meir. Begin. Rabin. These giants have left us. Only you are with us still — a founding father in our midst. And we are so grateful for your vision, your friendship, but most of all, for your example, including the example of your extraordinary vitality. Every time I see your President I ask him who his doctor is. We all want to know the secret.

So, with gratitude for your life and your service, and as you prepare to celebrate your 90th birthday this summer — and since I’m starting to get pretty good at Hebrew —  let me propose a toast — even though you’ve taken away my wine — Come on. Bring another.

How are you?

Server: Here you are, sir.

Obama: A toast — ad me’ah ve’esrim [till 120]. L’chaim! Mmm, that’s good wine. Actually, we should probably get this out of the photograph. All these people will say I’m having too much fun in Israel.

Just a few more words, Mr. President. You mentioned that this medal is presented in recognition of progress toward the ideals of equality and opportunity and justice. But I am mindful that I stand here tonight because of so many others, including the example and the sacrifices of the Jewish people.

In a few days, as we do at every Seder, we’ll break and hide a piece of matzoh. It’s a great way to entertain the kids. Malia and Sasha, even though they are getting older, they still enjoy it — and there are a lot of good places to hide it in the White House. But on a much deeper level, it speaks to the scope of our human experience — how parts of our lives can be broken while other parts can be elusive; how we can never give up searching for the things that make us whole. And few know this better than the Jewish people.

After slavery and decades in the wilderness and with Moses gone, the future of the Israelites was in doubt. But with Joshua as their guide, they pushed on to victory. After the First Temple was destroyed, it seemed Jerusalem was lost. But with courage and resolve, the Second Temple reestablished the Jewish presence.  After centuries of persecution and pogroms, the Shoah aimed to eliminate the entire Jewish people. But the gates of the camps flew open, and there emerged the ultimate rebuke to hate and to ignorance — survivors would live and love again.

When the moment of Israel’s independence was met by aggression on all sides, it was unclear whether this nation would survive. But with heroism and sacrifice, the State of Israel not only endured, but thrived. And during six days in June and Yom Kippur one October, it seemed as though all you had built might be lost. But when the guns fell silent it was clear — “the nation of Israel lives.”

As I said in my speech earlier today, this story — from slavery to salvation, of overcoming even the most overwhelming odds — is a message that’s inspired the world. And that includes Jewish Americans but also African Americans, who have so often had to deal with their own challenges, but with whom you have stood shoulder to shoulder.

African Americans and Jewish Americans marched together at Selma and Montgomery, with rabbis carrying the Torah as they walked. They boarded buses for freedom rides together. They bled together. They gave their lives together — Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner alongside African American, James Chaney.

Because of their sacrifice, because of the struggle of generations in both our countries, we can come together tonight, in freedom and in security. So if I can paraphrase the Psalm — they turned our mourning into dancing; they changed our sack cloths into robes of joy.

And this evening, I’d like to close with the words of two leaders who brought us some of this joy. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was born in Poland and lost his mother and sisters to the Nazis. He came to America. He raised his voice for social justice. He marched with Martin Luther King. And he spoke of the State of Israel in words that could well describe the struggle for equality in America. “Our very existence is a witness that man must live toward redemption,” he said, and “that history is not always made by man alone.”

Rabbi Joachim Prinz was born in Germany, expelled by the Nazis and found refuge in America, and he built support for the new State of Israel. And on that August day in 1963, he joined Dr. King at the March on Washington. And this is what Rabbi Prinz said to the crowd:

“In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody’s neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic concept. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.”

President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, friends — our very existence, our presence here tonight, is a testament that all things are possible, even those things that, in moments of darkness and doubt, may seem elusive. The stories of our peoples teach us to never stop searching for the things — the justice and the peace — that make us whole. And so we go forward together, with confidence, we’ll know that while our countries may be separated by a great ocean, in the realm of the spirit we will always be neighbors and friends.

I very humbly accept this award, understanding that I’m accepting it on behalf of the American people, who are joined together with you.

May God bless you and may He watch over our two great nations. Thank you very much.

Obama Inspects Iron Dome, Holds Meetings with Peres, Netanyahu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the meeting, the two president carried short remarks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Obama: Thank you so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Obama Landed in Israel: “Our Alliance is Eternal”

Full transcript after the jump.
President Peres (as prepared): President Barack Obama, Dear Friend, Welcome to Israel.

We welcome you as a great President of the United States of America. As a remarkable world leader. As a historic friend of Israel. Of the Jewish People. Your visit here is a crown demonstration of the profound relationship between our two nations.

The people of Israel welcome you with open hearts. From the depth of our hearts, From the depths of our history:

“תודה רבה” (Thank you very much)

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, America. Thank you for what you are. Thank you for what you do.

Thank you for the hopes you carry with you. In a few minutes you will be on your way to Jerusalem. Our ancient capital. The cradle of all believers, of all prayers. You will see the hills and mountains where our prophets preached. Where the soul of the Jewish People was born. Where the State of Israel was created.

America and Israel are somewhat different in size. In size, not in destiny. The American dream stems from the bible. The Israeli spirit is inspired by American exceptionalism. We are separated by an ocean and united by the commitment to freedom, to justice. By the ongoing struggle for peace. We face the same dangers. We share the same hopes.

Mr. President, The United States became great by giving. Not by taking. Your generosity enabled freedom to prevail all over the world. A world without America’s leadership, without her moral voice, would be a darker world. A world without your friendship, would invite aggression against Israel.

Mr. President, Your story reflects the history of the world as it is. Your vision reflects the future as it should be. You have offered the American people and the peoples of the world a leadership of vision, a leadership of values. A leadership dedicated to a brighter tomorrow. In times of peace, in times of war, your support for Israel is unshakeable.

You enabled our security in an extraordinary way, to project strength. To strive for peace. Strengthening security is the best way to strengthen peace. We long to see an end to the conflict with the Palestinians. To see the Palestinians enjoying freedom and prosperity in their own state. We extend our hand in peace to all the countries of the Middle East.

America stood by our side from the very beginning. You supported us as we rebuilt our ancient homeland. As we defended our land. From Holocaust to redemption. From Truman to Obama.

Mr. President, Wherever you go in our land, you will meet the friendship and warmth of the people of Israel. The people of Israel want you to feel at home. Welcome home Mr. President.

Prime Minister Netanyahu: President Obama,

This is an historic moment.

You have chosen to come to Israel as the first foreign visit of your second term. You, the leader of the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, have chosen to come to our somewhat smaller but no less vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East, the one and only Jewish state of Israel.

On behalf of the government and the people of Israel, I come here today with a simple message for you and the American people: Thank you. Thank you for standing by Israel at this time of historic change in the Middle East.

Thank you for unequivocally affirming Israel’s sovereign right to defend itself by itself against any threat. Thank you for enhancing Israel’s ability to exercise that right through generous military assistance, revolutionary missile defense programs, and unprecedented security and intelligence cooperation.

Thank you, Mr. President, for upholding the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in our historic homeland, and for boldly defending that right at the United Nations. And thank you for strengthening the unbreakable alliance between our two nations during your Presidency.

In an unstable and uncertain Middle East, the need for our alliance is greater than ever. It is the key to thwarting dangers and advancing peace; it’s the key to achieve a stable and secure peace that the people of Israel yearn for all our neighbors and with all our hearts. We seek a peace with our Palestinian neighbors. I look forward to working with you over the next four years to make the alliance between our two countries even stronger.

Mr. President, on this historic visit, you will have an opportunity to see a different side of Israel. You will see past, present, and future in this tiny land which has left such a huge imprint on the course of civilization. You will see the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, the world’s oldest text of the Bible, written in Hebrew here 2,000 years ago, scrolls that bear witness to the timeless bond between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

You will meet the young men and women of Israel who make it one of the most creative and dynamic societies on earth. And you will see Israeli technology and innovation which are fundamentally transforming the way we live.

Mr. President, Barack — on a lighter side, I had an opportunity to see your interview on Israeli television the other day. I took note of your desire to go incognito around Israel, so if you have a few free minutes, and you can arrange to slip away from your security — a daunting task — well, we picked out a few cafes and bars in Tel Aviv, and we even prepared a fake mustache for you.

Mr. President,

The people of Israel are honored to have you visit our country. We warmly welcome you as our cherished guest. We deeply appreciate your friendship. And we share your hope that the Middle East will enjoy a future of freedom, prosperity and peace.

Mr. President, Baruch HaBa L’Yisrael: welcome to Israel.

President Obama: Shalom. (Applause.) President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and most of all, to the people of Israel, thank you for this incredibly warm welcome. This is my third visit to Israel so let me just say tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz (Good to be in this country again). (Applause.)

I’m so honored to be here as you prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of a free and independent State of Israel. Yet I know that in stepping foot on this land, I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.

Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be “masters of their own fate” in “their own sovereign state.” And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.

As I begin my second term as President, Israel is the first stop on my first foreign trip. This is no accident. Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril. So I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations, to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbors.

I want to begin right now, by answering a question that is sometimes asked about our relationship — why? Why does the United States stand so strongly, so firmly with the State of Israel? And the answer is simple. We stand together because we share a common story — patriots determined “to be a free people in our land,” pioneers who forged a nation, heroes who sacrificed to preserve our freedom, and immigrants from every corner of the world who renew constantly our diverse societies.

We stand together because we are democracies. For as noisy and messy as it may be, we know that democracy is the greatest form of government ever devised by man.

We stand together because it makes us more prosperous. Our trade and investment create jobs for both our peoples. Our partnerships in science and medicine and health bring us closer to new cures, harness new energy and have helped transform us into high-tech hubs of our global economy.

We stand together because we share a commitment to helping our fellow human beings around the world. When the earth shakes and the floods come, our doctors and rescuers reach out to help. When people are suffering, from Africa to Asia, we partner to fight disease and overcome hunger.

And we stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land. For even as we are clear-eyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.

So as I begin this visit, let me say as clearly as I can — the United States of America stands with the State of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel. It makes us both stronger. It makes us both more prosperous. And it makes the world a better place. (Applause.)

That’s why the United States was the very first nation to recognize the State of Israel 65 years ago. That’s why the Star of David and the Stars and Stripes fly together today. And that is why I’m confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever — lanetzach.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

President Obama will visit Israel for the third time next week, becoming only the fifth sitting president to visit Israel. President Obama’s visit will emphasize the strong, historic ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Shimon Peres will award him the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction, the first time a US president has received such an honor.

Some Republicans, having criticized President Obama for not going to Israel, are now criticizing him for going. No matter what happens, they’ll find something wrong.

More after the jump.
Next week, President Obama will visit Israel for the third time. He previously visited in 2006 and 2008. This will be his first trip to Israel as a sitting president. The only other sitting presidents who visited Israel were:

  • Richard Nixon (last year of second term),
  • Jimmy Carter (first term),
  • Bill Clinton (first and second terms), and
  • George W. Bush (last year of second term).

Every president who visited Israel previously visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The only Middle East nations President Obama has visited thus far as president are Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia (the visits to Iraq and Saudi Arabia were just a few hours).

President Obama has a strong relationship with Israel. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes noted on Thursday that President Obama has spent more time with Prime Minister Netanyahu than any other foreign leader since he has been in office.

Rhodes said that President Obama’s trip to Israel will include a visit to see the Dead Sea Scrolls as a “testament to the ancient Jewish connection to Israel.” President Obama will also visit Yad Vashem. Why Yad Vashem? Writes Jeff Goldberg:

Since Obama’s visit is focused on Israel’s future, and on the deep past, will the Israeli government encourage him to skip Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial? Of course not, I was told by one Israeli official who asked not to be identified so he could speak freely. There’s no way he could come to Israel and not visit Yad Vashem. But wasn’t the complaint the last time around that he talks too much about the Holocaust? The official gave me a knowing smile and asked this question: If he didn’t visit Yad Vashem, what would the Republicans say?

Israeli President Shimon Peres will present President Obama with the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction. President Obama is the first president to receive this award. Israeli President Shimon Peres said that:

Barack Obama is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life. As president of the United States of America, he has stood with Israel in times of crisis. During his time as president he has made a unique contribution to the security of the State of Israel, both through further strengthening the strategic cooperation between the countries and through the joint development of technology to defend against rockets and terrorism.

 

One would expect Israeli leaders to praise any president of the United States, but Peres is going far beyond the requirements of diplomatic niceties in recognizing the strong friendship between President Obama and the State of Israel and in his unprecedented awarding of this medal to President Obama.

Read more from Marc Stanley about President Obama’s medal-worthy record on Israel. Click here for details on the President’s itinerary.

So what could possibly go wrong? If the criticism from our Republican friends during the campaign was sincere, one would expect them to be praising President Obama for fulfilling a campaign promise and visiting Israel. Our Republican friends claimed last June that the reasons President Obama didn’t visit Israel were his personal distaste for Israel, his fear of being booed and rejected by Israelis, his desire to distance himself from Israel, and a desire to avoid drawing attention to the failed peace process.

And what do they say now? These same Republicans now say that going to Israel is a mistake on President Obama’s part. Not the right time. I’m not making this up. If President Obama had visited Israel last year, do you think they would have praised President Obama for going or decried it as an election stunt? The President can’t win with this crew. If President Obama split the Sea of Reeds and walked through it dry-shod, they’d say he couldn’t swim.

When you’ve excoriated President Obama for four years for not visiting Israel, and then he does exactly what you’ve said was so important, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the President is doing something we should all be proud of and thankful for. The President of the United States is visiting the State of Israel. That’s good. There is never a bad time to visit Israel.

President Obama will make a major speech in Israel. No matter what he says, if our Republican friends are true to form, they will either

  1. tell us he said what he didn’t actually say,
  2. take what he actually said out of context,
  3. tell us what he should have said, or
  4. imply or outright say that what he said is new US policy when it really isn’t.

I hope I’me wrong, but they’ve been doing it for more than four years. Don’t expect them to stop now. Please keep these four techniques in mind when you read about his trip this week.