DHS Secretary Napolitano Visits Israel for Strategic Talks

— by David Streeter

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited Israel this week for a number of strategic talks with high-level Israeli officials.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a press release recapping the first day of her trip:

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano … traveled to Jerusalem where she met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and other Israeli officials to discuss security-related issues, and signed a Joint Statement on the implementation of the Global Entry trusted traveler program for Israeli citizens with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

‘This agreement is part of the United States’ strong and enduring partnership with Israel, dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of both our countries,’ said Secretary Napolitano. ‘Global Entry will expedite the customs and security process for trusted Israeli air travelers arriving in the United States, while maintaining the highest standards of security.’

Recap of the second day of the trip after the jump.
DHS said in a press release summarizing her second day in Israel:

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano … concluded her visit to Israel, delivering remarks on the Department’s collaboration with international partners to combat terrorism and facilitate trade and travel at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, and meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials to discuss security-related issues.

‘The United States remains steadfastly committed to Israel’s security.  The bonds between our two nations are unshakeable, lasting and critical to both our peoples,’ said Secretary Napolitano.

During her remarks, Secretary Napolitano underscored the importance of partnering with Israel to address shared challenges – from preventing terrorism to securing the global supply chain to preparing for and recovering from natural disasters….

Secretary Napolitano also met with Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilani to discuss cooperation and recent progress on issues related to information sharing, global supply chain security, aviation security and emergency management.

Albright, Karski, Peres Among President Medal of Freedom Recipients

President Barack Obama named thirteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  The awards will be presented at the White House in late spring. President Obama said,

These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation.  They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place.  I look forward to recognizing them with this award.

The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

  • Secretary Madeleine Albright,
  • Attorney General John Doar,
  • Bob Dylan,
  • Dr. William Foege,
  • Senator John Glenn,
  • Prof. Gordon Hirabayashi,
  • Dolores Huerta,
  • Jan Karski,
  • Juliette Gordon Low,
  • Toni Morrison,
  • Israeli President Shimon Peres,
  • Justice John Paul Stevens, and
  • Pat Summitt.

Biographies follow the jump.

Madeleine Albright
From 1997 to 2001, under President William J. Clinton, Albright served as the 64th United States Secretary of State, the first woman to hold that position.  During her tenure, she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead the Alliance’s campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe.  From 1993 to 1997, she was America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.  Since leaving office, she founded the Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management, returned to teaching at Georgetown University, and authored five books.  Albright chairs the National Democratic Institute and is President of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.

John Doar
Doar was a legendary public servant and leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s.  He served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.  In that capacity, he was instrumental during many major civil rights crises, including singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Mississippi, following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evars in 1963.  Doar brought notable civil rights cases, including obtaining convictions for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and leading the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  He later served as Special Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as it investigated the Watergate scandal and considered articles of impeachment against President Nixon.  Doar continues to practice law at Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in New York.

Bob Dylan
One of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century, Dylan released his first album in 1962.  Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades.  He has won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award.  He was named a Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Art et des Lettres and has received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.  Dylan was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Arts.  He has written more than 600 songs, and his songs have been recorded more than 3,000 times by other artists.  He continues recording and touring around the world today.

William Foege
A physician and epidemiologist, Foege helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s.  He was appointed Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1977 and, with colleagues, founded the Task Force for Child Survival in 1984.  Foege became Executive Director of The Carter Center in 1986 and continues to serve the organization as a Senior Fellow.  He helped shape the global health work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and remains a champion of a wide array of issues, including child survival and development, injury prevention, and preventative medicine.  Foege’s leadership has contributed significantly to increased awareness and action on global health issues, and his enthusiasm, energy, and effectiveness in these endeavors have inspired a generation of leaders in public health.

John Glenn
Glenn is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator.  In 1962, he was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth.  After retiring from the Marine Corps, Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate in Ohio in 1974.  He was an architect and sponsor of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act and served as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs committee from 1978 until 1995.  In 1998, Glenn became the oldest person to visit space at the age of 77.  He retired from the Senate in 1999.  Glenn is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Gordon Hirabayashi
Hirabayashi openly defied the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he refused the order to report for evacuation to an internment camp, instead turning himself in to the FBI to assert his belief that these practices were racially discriminatory.  Consequently, he was convicted by a U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle of defying the exclusion order and violating curfew.  Hirabayashi appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943.  Following World War II and his time in prison, Hirabayashi obtained his doctoral degree in sociology and became a professor.  In 1987, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  Hirabayashi died on January 2, 2012.

Dolores Huerta
Huerta is a civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate. With Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America.  Huerta has served as a community activist and a political organizer, and was influential in securing the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and disability insurance for farmworkers in California.  In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing community organizers and national leaders.  In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.

Jan Karski
Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II and carried among the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world.  He worked as a courier, entering the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, where he saw first-hand the atrocities occurring under Nazi occupation.  Karski later traveled to London to meet with the Polish government-in-exile and with British government officials.  He subsequently traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt.  Karski published Story of a Secret State, earned a Ph.D at Georgetown University, and became a professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.  Born in 1914, Karski became a U.S. citizen in 1954 and died in 2000.

Juliette Gordon Low
Born in 1860, Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912.  The organization strives to teach girls self-reliance and resourcefulness.  It also encourages girls to seek fulfillment in the professional world and to become active citizens in their communities.  Since 1912, the Girl Scouts has grown into the largest educational organization for girls and has had over 50 million members.  Low died in 1927.  This year, the Girl Scouts celebrate their 100th Anniversary, calling 2012 “The Year of the Girl.”


Toni Morrison
One of our nation’s most celebrated novelists, Morrison is renowned for works such as Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988.  When she became the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1993, Morrison’s citation captured her as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”  She created the Princeton Atelier at Princeton University to convene artists and students.  Morrison continues to write today.

Shimon Peres
An ardent advocate for Israel’s security and for peace, Shimon Peres was elected the ninth President of Israel in 2007.  First elected to the Knesset in 1959, he has served in a variety of positions throughout the Israeli government, including in twelve Cabinets as Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Transport and Communications.  Peres served as Prime Minister from 1984-1986 and 1995-1996.  Along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Foreign Minister during the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords. Through his life and work, he has strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.

John Paul Stevens
Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, when he retired as the third longest-serving Justice in the Court’s history.  Known for his independent, pragmatic and rigorous approach to judging, Justice Stevens and his work have left a lasting imprint on the law in areas such as civil rights, the First Amendment, the death penalty, administrative law, and the separation of powers.  He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford, and previously served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  Stevens is a veteran of World War II, in which he served as a naval intelligence officer and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Pat Summitt
In addition to accomplishing an outstanding career as the all-time winningest leader among all NCAA basketball coaches, Summitt has taken the University of Tennessee to more Final Four appearances than any other coach and has the second best record of NCAA Championships in basketball.  She has received numerous awards, including being named Naismith Women’s Collegiate Coach of the Century.  Off the court, she has been a spokesperson against Alzheimer’s.  The Pat Summitt Foundation will make grants to nonprofits to provide education and awareness, support to patients and families, and research to prevent, cure and ultimately eradicate early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.  

The Final Day At AIPAC

Today is the final day of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Defense Sec. Leon Panetta and three of the four top GOP candidates addressed the conference’s 13,000 supporters. Presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (right) appeared in person while Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) appeared via satellite.

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American’s Ambassador to the United Nations made remarks to the group and addressed the current state of the Israel and Iran.

On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres and US President Barack Obama addressed the conference hall. Obama said his policy toward Iran is not one of containment but of preventing the nation from developing a nuclear weapon.  He also defended his policies toward Israel and stated the U.S. commitment to preserve Israel’s security.

In a side conversation, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu met Monday morning to discuss the status of the U.S.-Israel alliance.  The president reiterated that the U.S. did not want the possibility of nuclear weapons “falling into terrorist’s hands” and said there is a still a window that allows some negotiation. Pres. Obama also said he continues to reserve all options in dealing with Iran.

Other speakers included:

The policy conference is the largest gathering for America’s leading pro-Israel lobby, which works with both major parties to secure public policy that strengthens the U.S.-Israel relationship.

AIPAC has announced that up to 14,000 people are attending this year’s three-day conference, a crowd nearly twice the usual size.

Isreali President Shimon Peres speaks at AIPAC 2012

In his speech, Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked US President Barak Obama for his political and diplomatic support on the assistance he has given Israel during the three-and-a-half years of his presidency.

As The President of the State of Israel I came here first and foremost to say on behalf of my people:  

Toda

“Thank You”.

Thank you President Obama, for being such a good friend.

*Transcript continues after the jump.*

Thank you AIPAC, for your dedication and excellence.

It is great to be here. To be together. Strong and united.

I see old friends and new ones. I see many young faces. The future belongs to you.  Israel loves you.

I am moved by your generous tribute.

I stand here, before you, a hopeful man. Proud to be Jewish, Proud to be Israeli, Proud to be there at the birth of Israel, Proud to have served it for 65 years, proud of our alliance with the United States.

Israel, like America, was conceived as an idea, born in defiance of history; creating a new world by drawing on the values of the past and the innovations of the future.

Friends, the restoration of Jewish statehood after two thousand years in exile — is a historic miracle.

We started as a doubt and wound up as a certainty. We had to fight six wars in six decades. We did not lose one. We never will.

We cannot afford it. We had to defend ourselves. Self-defense is our right and obligation.

With little land, water or resources, Israel grew tenfold in population. Fifty-fold in gross domestic product. Israel’s high-tech and innovation enriches the world its agriculture makes deserts green. Israel built new villages, new cities, new universities, new theatres and cultural centers. Our children are speaking the language of the prophets. Hebrew literature is flourishing. From a dispersed people we became a united democracy.

No day of war ever interrupted a day of democracy.

Dear Friends, permit me a personal note. Fate placed me in the eye of the storm. I was eleven years old when my beloved grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Melzer, accompanied me to the train-station on my way to Israel. He hugged me and whispered in my ear only three words,

“Shimon…. stay Jewish.”

Those were his last words to me. I never saw him again.

In 1942, when the Nazis arrived to his village, they forced my Grandfather, together with the remaining Jews into the wooden synagogue and set it on fire.  No one survived. Not one.

What remained was my Grandfather’s legacy. His last words to me:

“Stay Jewish.”

Dear Friends, I was privileged to work with the father of our nation, my mentor, David Ben-Gurion.  For me, Ben Gurion’s  great leadership with my Grandfather’s legacy became my compass.

That compass is comprised of four core values:
Our moral code. Our pursuit of peace and security. Our quest for knowledge. Our alliance with America.

The moral code, the return to the Book and its values, enabled the Jewish people to survive, for four thousand years.

NOT because of quantity — because of quality.  Not due to thousands of guns — but due to Ten Commandments. We are guided by the call of our Prophets, to me it means:

  • To be just.
  • To do justice.
  • To never deny justice to others.

Dear Friends, the pursuit of peace, for us, is not a passing opportunity it is a moral imperative.  It is the tenet of our national security. To make peace, Israel must be strong. Let me assure you, Israel is strong.

Dear Friends, the Middle East is undergoing its greatest storm. With horrible bloodshed in Syria, where a tyrant is killing his people, killing children.  I admire the courage of the Syrian people. We wish them peace and freedom. In spite of the storm, we have to reach out to the young generation in the Arab world,  to those who strive for freedom, democracy and peace.  The Palestinians are our neighbors for life.  Peace can and must be achieved. A peace based on:

A Two State Solution

  • A Jewish state — Israel,
  • an Arab state — Palestine.

It was accepted by past and present Israeli Prime ministers and American presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The principle of the Two State Solution is a paramount Israeli interest.

We want to preserve an Israel that is Jewish, democratic and attractive.  I meet from time to time with President Abbas and PM Fayyad.  They need and want peace.

I believe that peace is possible.
They are our partners for peace.  Not Hamas.

A peace that is a dream for both of us, is a nightmare for the Ayatollahs in Iran. Iran is an evil, cruel, morally corrupt regime. It is based on destruction. and is an affront to human dignity. Iran is the center, the sponsor, the financier of world terror.  Iran is a danger to the entire world.  It threatens Berlin as well as Madrid, Delhi as well as Bangkok. Not just Israel.

Iran’s ambition is to control the Middle East, so it can control a major part of the  world’s economy.
It must be stopped. And it will be stopped.

Israel experienced the horrors of war. It does not seek it.  Peace is always our first option, but, if we are forced to fight, trust me…. we shall prevail.

President Obama is leading and implementing, an international complex and decisive policy, imposing economic and political sanctions against Iran.  President Obama made it clear that the US will not permit Iran to become nuclear. That containment is not a sustainable policy; all options are on the table. The United States and Israel share the same goal – to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  There is NO space between us.

Our message is clear: Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the quest for knowledge defines Jewish history. Judaism is a constant debate. It is about asking the right questions.  It is about being a liberal and pluralistic society.

I believe Jews are never satisfied because they are always seeking new answers.

A better tomorrow, Tikun Olam.

I believe that the next decade will be the most scientific, the most dramatic chapter  in human history. It will expose possibilities that today sound like science fiction. Its center will be brain research.

The more we shall know about ourselves, the more we shall be able to control ourselves. In a global world without a global government, self-control is vital.

Friends, in a world of science and knowledge, the Jewish people and Israel have an exciting role to play. Much to contribute.

Ladies and Gentlemen, members of Congress,
America was, is, and will remain the indispensable leader of the free world. The indispensable friend of our people. Today more than ever, the world needs America.

I have had the privilege to meet all American Presidents in the last fifty years, Democrats and Republicans. I was strongly impressed by their deep commitment. Their care for Israel. That commitment was and is bipartisan.

Mr. President, Members of the Administration, Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle:
We are forever grateful for your unwavering support of the unbreakable alliance between the US and Israel.

I first met President Barack Obama, our great friend, when he was a Senator from Illinois. I saw before me a born leader. His care and devotion to Israel’s security were evident.

Mr. President, I know your commitment to Israel is
deep and profound.

Under your leadership, security cooperation between the US and Israel has reached its highest level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We have a friend in the White House. He reflects the values that make America great and make Israel secure.

Thank you President Obama on behalf of my people.

Soon I will return home. Great challenges and promising opportunities await us. Thanks to your love and commitment and America’s great friendship. I return home, much more hopeful, much more encouraged.

Thank you very much,

God Bless America,

God Bless Israel.

Shalom.

Obama Speaking At AIPAC

One day before he meets with the Israeli Prime Minister, President Obama address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington. He addressed the situation in the Middle East, including the situation in Iran. Other speakers at the conference today include Israeli President Shimon Peres. Tomorrow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking and on Tuesday, Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be speaking.

Every time that I come to AIPAC, I’m impressed to see so many young people here – students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging in our democratic debate. You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel. And you have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to make your own mark on the world. For inspiration, you can look to the man who is being honored at this conference – my friend, President Shimon Peres.

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first World War. But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people, and when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea – towards home.

Transcript continues after the jump.
In his life, he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security. As a member of the Haganah and a Member of the Knesset; as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs; as a Prime Minister and as a President – Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today: the Jewish state of Israel. But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might – not the other way around.

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, “slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.” He has lived those values. He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings. I am grateful for his life’s work and his moral example, and I am proud to announce that later this Spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America’s highest civilian honor – the presidential Medal of Freedom.

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations. The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about. A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can be truly responsive to the aspirations of citizens.

America’s Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel’s founding generation did. President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence: “I had faith in Israel before it was established,” he said. “I believe it has a glorious future before it – as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith. Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share – in security for our communities; prosperity for our people; and new frontiers of science that can light the world. But it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship. That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.

AIPAC’s work continually nurtures this bond. And because of AIPAC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next few days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture – at every fork in the road – we have been there for Israel. Every single time.

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.” That belief has guided my actions as President. The fact is, my Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every year. We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology – the type of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: we will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge – because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.

This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet. As a Senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border. I have visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot. That’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes, hospitals, and schools in that town and others. Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles.  Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

Just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we have been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to help save them. When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my Administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.

So if during this political season you hear some question my Administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts. And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America’s national security is too important. Israel’s security is too important.

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but my Administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So let me say this: I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and President Peres – each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.

I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest. The reality that Israel faces – from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment – demands a resolution of this issue. And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values – because of our shared belief in self-determination; and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.

Of course, peace is hard to achieve. There’s a reason why it has remained elusive for six decades. The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel’s neighborhood makes it that much harder – from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt. And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still – most notably, with Hamas’s continued rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not give in to cynicism or despair. The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less. And I have made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met. That is why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt. That’s why – just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace – we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. And that is why my Administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.

Last year, I stood before you and pledged that: “the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations.” As you all know, that pledge has been kept. Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns. I said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized. No President has made such a clear a statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time. People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one – not the General Assembly.

There wasn’t a lot of applause. But it was the right thing to do. And as a result, today there is no doubt – anywhere in the world – that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy. That will also be true as we continue our efforts to our pursuit of peace. And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today: Iran’s nuclear program – a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand: no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we have done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

That is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is what we have done.

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters. Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world. In the region, Iran was ascendant – increasingly popular, and extending its reach. In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t. In fact, our policy of engagement – quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime – allowed us to rally the international community as never before; to expose Iran’s intransigence; and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before. People predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us in moving toward pressure. They did, and in 2010 the UN Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort. Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime. They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011. Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports. But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us. And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally – the Assad regime – is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unsolved. The effective implementation of our policy is not enough – we must accomplish our objective.

In that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy – backed by pressure – to succeed. The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program. Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists. Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July – thanks to our diplomatic coordination – a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold. Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

Given their history, there are of course no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice. But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically. After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply-held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm’s way. I have seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who have come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. For this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built. Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: speak softly, but carry a big stick.  As we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times. But we have been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together. Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together. I am proud to be one of those people. In the past, I have shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me – from the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel; from sharing books with Shimon Peres, to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House; from the countless friends I know in this room, to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched my life.

As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue – no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views. But we agree on the big things – the things that matter. And together, we are working to build a better world – one where our people can live free from fear; one where peace is founded upon justice; one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel. But I am also mindful of the proverb, “A man is judged by his deeds, not by his words.” So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done – to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore. Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. And God bless the United States of America.

Peres’ View: We Have the Highest Respect for the President

— by Max Samis

Before his meeting with President Barack Obama this Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres took the time to speak with Barbara Walters on ABC’s morning talk show The View. When asked about what Israel and the United States are doing in regards to stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Peres briefly discussed cooperation between the Obama Administration and Israel and effusively praised the President for his leadership of international sanctions. Peres said:

I think there are three points which are totally agreed between the American administration and the Israeli government. Number one, that the world is in danger if Iran will get a nuclear bomb. It’s a very serious problem, not just because of the bomb but very much because of the nature of the present government. They support terror, they are hanging people without trial. They are really trying to take over the Middle East, and it may affect all the world….

Number two, all of us agree that he shouldn’t, that the Iranians shouldn’t have a nuclear bomb, then all options are on the table-all options are all options. We don’t have to specify.

But right now, President Obama started with a very sophisticated attempt to achieve the same thing by putting on sanctions – political and economic – and he put in this policy to get out of the Europeans and others. So the policy’s quite clear and well, there are different speculations. But right now the policy is to try to stop the Iranians from having a bomb by economic and political sanctions.

I think the relations with Obama are in a good shape. We have the highest respect for the President. I think there are ongoing talks… but right now we act together and I think in full agreement.

Gen. Dempsey in Israel: “America is Your Partner”

— by David Streeter

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey visited Israel to conduct high level meetings regarding the Iranian threat. The New York Times reported on Dempsey’s trip:

The meetings were closed and their contents were not revealed. But General Dempsey, on his first visit to Israel as military chief, was quoted in brief remarks released by the office of Israel’s defense minister as saying, ‘We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time, and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we’ll all be.’…

General Dempsey began his visit here with an intimate dinner on Thursday evening at a restaurant in Jaffa with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief of staff. The men were joined by their wives. Early Friday, General Dempsey was greeted at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv with an honor guard and held meetings with General Gantz and other senior commanders.

The top generals ‘discussed military-to-military relations, the new U.S. defense strategy, budget and economic issues and regional security challenges,’ Col. Dave Lapan, the Special Assistant for Public Affairs in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement.

Other meetings were held with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak and Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. General Dempsey also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, where he wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again.’ He departed Israel before the onset of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday.

Each of the meetings ‘reinforced the deep and special relationship shared by Israel and the U.S.,’ Colonel Lapan said, and ‘served to advance a common understanding of the regional security environment.’…

Mr. Peres told General Dempsey on Friday that ‘Even today in a very complicated situation we can find a common ground. We have profound trust in your democratic system and your armed forces.’ General Dempsey assured Mr. Peres that ‘America is your partner and we are honored to have you as a partner in that regard.’

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, General Martin E. Dempsey, visited Israel On January 19th — 20th, 2012. This was General’s Dempsey’s first visit to Israel, and he was hosted by the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.
During his visit, General Dempsey held a private meeting with Lieutenant General Gantz, as well as a briefing with senior commanders of the General Staff, focusing on cooperation between the two militaries, as well as mutual security challenges. During his visit, General Dempsey also met with the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, with the Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and with the President, Mr. Shimon Peres.

General Dempsey was welcomed to the IDF General Headquarters in Camp Rabin (the Kirya) by an IDF honor guard of soldiers and to the sounds of the national anthems of Israel and the United States of America. General Dempsey also visited the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he was very moved by the exhibition.

In brief remarks after the tour, Dempsey noted the significance of the date — 70 years to the day of the infamous Wannsee Conference held in that Berlin suburb on Jan. 20, 1942. It was at that meeting that senior officials of the Nazi regime discussed their “Final solution to the Jewish problem.”

“We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again,” Dempsey wrote in the museum’s visitor’s book.

Obama’s Right Wing Critics Should Be Dizzy from All their Spinning

— by Marc R. Stanley

Ever since President Barack Obama’s inauguration, his right wing critics have devoted countless hours and millions of keystrokes to spinning the President’s record of support for Israel so far from reality that it threatens the historical bipartisan foundation of American support for Israel. The vortex of right wing spin was fully on display last week as Republican partisans and right wing pundits pounced on selectively-chosen quotes and inaccurate media reports to continue their baseless attacks on Obama’s stellar record of support for Israel.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered-in front of a pro-Israel crowd gathered to substantively and civilly discuss Israel-an entire address that discussed the actual steps taken by the Obama Administration to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Right wingers took five words from the question and answer section, removed their context, and ran wild with them as if they nullified every pro-Israel action described in Panetta’s speech.

More after the jump.
Despite what you may have heard or read, Panetta-who is widely regarded as being pro-Israel by many involved with the issue-made two things crystal clear. First, “Israel will always have the unshakeable backing of the United States,” and second, that the President is considering a “wide range of military options” as part of his approach to stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

As usual though, Republicans overlooked Panetta’s positive statements and continued their effort to make Israel a partisan wedge issue. The spin on Panetta’s speech was so far removed from reality that the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee weighed in and criticized the inaccurate reports of Panetta’s speech, in addition to setting the record straight on his strongly pro-Israel statements.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton-also a stalwart supporter of Israel-received similar treatment following an off-the-record session during the same Israel forum that Panetta spoke at. Clinton reportedly expressed concern over certain recent Knesset bills and incidents regarding women and Israel’s Orthodox community. Predictably, Obama’s right wing critics spun Clinton’s reported comments past the point of reality, and largely ignored the mainstream American Jewish leaders and organizations that vocally expressed similar concerns about similar issues.

These two recent incidents highlight the lengths that Obama’s right wing detractors will go to malign his Administration’s stellar record of support for Israel. After vocally opposing the Palestinians’ unilateral state declaration, increasing security cooperation with Israel to unprecedented levels-including supplemental funding for the Iron Dome missile system that protects Israelis from Hamas’ rockets, consistently defending Israel’s legitimacy at the United Nations, personally intervening to save Israel’s diplomats in Cairo, and personally authorizing the delivery of any equipment Israel needed to fight the Carmel fire, Obama’s naysayers simply have little substance to criticize.

As a result, those seeking to make Israel a partisan wedge issue create bogus stories based on inaccurate media reports and remarks taken out of context. Most seriously though, right wing partisans politicize the occasional tactical disagreements that have zero act on the fundamental core principles of the U.S.-Israel relationship. When Israeli and American leaders state publically that the U.S.-Israel relationship is as strong as it has ever been-as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren have all loudly and repeatedly stressed-right wing partisans tune out and keep pushing their spin and smears. Their hope is that their efforts will bring the mass exodus of Jews from Democratic Party to the Republican Party that they’ve been wishing for since at least the 1980’s.

Recent polls of American and Israeli Jews indicate that the right wing spin of Obama’s Israel record is not causing the massive Israel-based shift that Republicans want to see. Given the wide distance separating the Republican presidential field from the majority of American Jews, right wing partisans should be dizzy to the point of sickness by now. But since the GOP-from Party leaders to presidential candidates to rank-and-file members of Congress-has demonstrated its intent to politicize the U.S.-Israel relationship without regard to Obama’s actual record, those who support a strong bipartisan consensus of support for Israel must speak out loudly to refute the spin before the relationship suffers collateral damage from their partisan attacks.

Originally published in the Texas Jewish Post. Marc R. Stanley is the Chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

“Emergency Committee for Israel” Treats Truth Like a Punching Bag


A response to ads placed by the so-called “Emergency Committee for Israel” in major American newspapers today.

— by Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

Why does the “Emergency Committee for Israel” treat the truth like a punching bag? Why do they spread fictions and smears about President Barack Obama and his powerfully pro-Israel record? The answer is simple; because they are far-right Republican partisans. When members of their own party repeatedly suggest that foreign aid should ‘start at zero’ and then make no mention of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the U.S., they’re silent as can be. When 100 percent of House Republicans repeatedly side with business over strengthening Iran sanctions, they’re nowhere to be found. But they have plenty of cash on hand to spread myths about this President, and to shamefully turn support for Israel into a partisan football.

They have been called out by mass media for their lies and innuendo, and by non-partisan Jewish organizations trying to shame them towards a better path. But the sad truth is that they’re more committed to hurting this President than they are to helping the U.S.-Israel relationship, and that’s reprehensible.

More information on ECI’s false attacks follows the jump.

Watch live streaming video from sabanforum2011 at livestream.com

ECI: Wrong on Panetta.

Fact: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered a staunchly pro-Israel address recently at the Saban Center. He:

  • Reaffirmed this Administration’s iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security, and detailed the many steps-such as Iron Dome-this Administration has taken;
  • Emphasized that all options remain on the table for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran;
  • Discussed how “President Obama has stood steadfastly in the way” of efforts to delegitimize Israel at the United Nations; and
  • Expressed strong opposition to cutting foreign aid.

ECI: Wrong on the UN.

Fact: President Obama and his Administration have a perfect voting record at the United Nations, proactively defending Israel’s legitimacy at the UN. No other President since 1967 has a perfect voting record.

ECI: Wrong on Sarkozy and UNESCO.

Fact: The President used his time with Sarkozy to make the case to the world to place “unprecedented” pressure on Iran, and-behind the scenes-to argue to Sarkozy himself that he was wrong not to support the President and the Administration in firmly rejecting Palestinian efforts to gain membership in UNESCO. The President instructed the Administration to condemn UNESCO’s acceptance of Palestinian membership immediately, resulting in the withdrawal of one-fifth of UNESCO’s funding from the U.S.

ECI: Wrong on Clinton.

Fact: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an off-the-record and closed-door discussion with friends at the Saban Center, is reported to have voiced concern over Israeli legislation limiting foreign funding of Israel’s non-governmental organizations, and regarding women’s rights in Israel. In fact, leadership throughout the American Jewish community share precisely the same concern regarding pending legislation in Israel, and both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres have spoken this week about the importance of complete women’s equality in Israel.

ECI: Wrong on making Israel a partisan political football.

Fact: In truth, as NJDC Chair Marc Stanley argued in The Hill</a> last week, ECI is sadly nothing more than a GOP advocacy organization. The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, two major American Jewish non-partisan organizations, recently offered a “unity pledge” to help prevent this issue from becoming partisan; ECI notably, angrily refused to sign. The Forward reported in September about the criticisms leveled at ECI from many non-partisan pro-Israel advocates after ECI’s last dangerous ad. The American Jewish Committee in particular called their previous ad “highly objectionable.” The Forward has independently editorialized that each ECI “claim is either an outright falsehood or one that irresponsibly distorts the truth.” ECI puts partisanship above the U.S.-Israel relationship, and today’s ad proves it yet again.

ECI: Wrong on President Obama.

Fact: This President has a stellar pro-Israel record; just ask Prime Minister Netanyahu. This President doesn’t start foreign aid at zero; he has lifted aid to Israel to unprecedented levels. He’s gotten the funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that’s saving Israeli lives today. He has a perfect voting record at the UN, defending Israel’s legitimacy there and around the world. He personally intervened to save the lives of Israeli diplomats in Cairo. He has restored Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge which eroded during the previous Administration. He secretly got Israel the bunker-busting bombs it needed. He has ordered the largest-ever U.S.-Israel joint military operation (to occur in 2012). He has built a global coalition supporting withering sanctions against Iran.

The list goes on and on.  

Ameinu Contributes Funds to Burned Israeli Mosques

— Haim Simon

Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist membership organization in the United States, is designating funds to buy holy books to replace those destroyed by arsonists in the northern Israel Bedouin village of Tuba-Zangariyye. “Ameinu unequivocally condemns the mosque burning, the latest in a series of attacks by Jewish extremists in the West Bank and Israel proper,” said Ameinu’s president Kenneth Bob. “This is not Zionism, this is not Judaism and there is no place for this in a civilized society,” he added.

Ameimu joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres in condemning this attack. “This despicable act, which took place during these Days of Awe, should serve as a wake-up call to Israelis and Palestinians alike that a negotiated peace is the only way to silence extremists on both sides,” Bob continued. “It is our hope that Ameinu’s small act can bring some measure of comfort to the people of Tuba-Zangariyye,” he concluded.