POWER Legislative Assembly at Arch Street UM Church

Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), a coalition of religious congregations formed to deal with the social problems of Philadelphia, gathered for a legislative assembly at the Arch Street United Methodist Church on Monday, January 18, 2016, Martin Luther King Day.

The Reverend Robin Hyneka, pastor of Arch Street UM Church, greeted the people representing many of POWER’s member congregations – Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and others. “Today, we’re gathered,” He said, “because we care about public education, we care about economic dignity, we care about racial justice. We care about these things from the bottom of our hearts and in the depth of our souls. We’re going to reorient ourselves in our work tonight, we’re going to hear some reports about what work is going on, and what work we need to do, in those three areas and some other areas.” Then, Hyneka asked for a roll call of the member congregations represented in the assembly.

The Reverend Leslie Callahan, Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, led a faith reflection for the group, saying, “It’s wonderful to be here, to share with all of you in this day of remembering with you the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., and moreover to be with POWER” [where the assembly participants] “not only celebrate in theory, we actually live out and practice the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Speaking on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Callahan said, “Not too long ago, we were paying attention to Detroit, and whether water is a right, as the residents of Detroit were threatened with having their water cut off. Meanwhile in Flint, the residents were experiencing, as a large community, and in a continuous way, the poisoning of their water.” The water supply of Flint, Callahan continued, has been poisoned “not by a natural disaster, but by the piping in of polluted and corroded water that has been untreated, ignoring the cries of citizens who said ‘Our water doesn’t smell right, it doesn’t taste right’; and ignoring the work of pediatricians who said ‘My patients are coming in, more and more of them poisoned by lead’. Finally, when it could no longer be ignored, there was an acknowledgement on the part of Governor Rick Snyder, whose own emergency manager in Flint had been ignoring the problem since 2014, when the Flint River water had been piped in, and now, as a nation, we have been paying attention.”

The water crisis in Flint, said Callahan, “reminds us of the reality of environmental racism, reminds us of the reality of the connection between placing profits over people, reminds us of the connection of lead poisoning,” reminding everyone that Dr. King spoke of the problems of lead poisoning of children in the Sixties, adding “in 2016 it’s still an issue.” The state of emergency for Flint, she said, “did not develop in 2016, it is the result of the very kinds of practices of putting profits above people that are part of so many of the administrations of our nation, is cities and in rural areas across the nation.”

41K0n4t7NCL._SX442_BO1,204,203,200_The job of members of POWER, said Callahan, “is to remember that we are all interconnected with Flint, but not just with Flint. We are interconnected with Flint, whose crisis we are aware of now, but we are interconnected with the crisis of all Philadelphians whose crisis are ongoing now, who won’t hear the declaration of a state of emergency until far later.” Callahan spoke of Dr. King’s statement in the Letter from the Birmingham Jail that “we are all in an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny.”

The Reverend Dwayne Royster, Executive Director of POWER, spoke of the group’s “renewal and reflection process,” saying, “Over the course of the last several months…we have slowed things down for a minute,” adding, “we weren’t engaging in actions at the same level and capacity as we have been, and we needed to go back and think about where we are.”

“Over the course of the years,” said Royster, “we (POWER) have grown, and we have had an opportunity to engage and have become more powerful,” but “we were more successful and grew larger than we ever imagined at the beginning, and as we became more powerful, we are doing more work.”

Royster recalled POWER’s campaign to change the City Charter for a higher minimum wage for employees of companies contracted with the City. “We needed to change the way Philadelphia was operating, so we no longer were legislating poverty in our communities.” He said, “We worked at that. We continue to fight day in and day out, and we eventually came to a place where we realized we needed to stop for a minute and figure out where we are, because we were growing exponentially, faster and faster, and we didn’t have the structures in place to [deal with] that, and to figure out where we needed to go forward.”

The board of POWER, said Royster, hired a consultant, “and we began the process of listening throughout the organization, figuring out where they were, and figuring out where we needed to go to be able to grow more powerfully in the future.”

Royster spoke of his reading King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail as part of his spiritual discipline, recalling that the white clergy asked for “moderation” from King and waiting for time to pass. “We in POWER,” said Royster, “are in that same situation right now, having to face the reality of why we can’t wait, when young black men and black women are being killed indiscriminately by police departments, in jails and prisons across the country, we can’t wait. When our brothers and sisters who happen to be created in the image and likeness of God but might be from another country, and we call them illegal – but there’s nobody that’s illegal in the sight of Go – and are being deported, and people are making money off their back, we can no longer wait. When our children are being given less than an adequate education, not because they don’t have great teachers but because we don’t have enough money to give them the resources that they need in their classrooms, we can’t wait. We no longer have the luxury to be able to say we want to build prisons but we can’t fund education, if we fund education we won’t need prisons on the flip side.

“We can’t wait,” Royster continued, “when people are making $7.25 an hour working forty hours a week, and still can’t feed themselves and their families, when income inequality is at its highest level ever, we can’t wait any more, and we can no longer be silent or passive in these moments and hours.”

The assembly broke into strategy teams to discuss economic dignity, education, racial justice, fundraising, and communications. They reassembled, and joined in the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the African-American anthem written by James Weldon Johnson.

The assembly concluded with a prayer action led by the Reverend Maria McCabe and Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan in honor of Mayor Jim Kenney, who had just visited the Station House homeless shelter in North Philadelphia, “seeing people doing God’s work by serving others,” as he put it. Kenny, he said, spoke to the residents of the shelter and said, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and he commended the staff of the shelter for their work.

The Fight for Fair School Funding Continues

Save-Our-Schools-2[1]Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), the coalition of religious congregations dedicated to fixing the problems of unemployment and education in Philadelphia, continues its campaign for full and fair funding of schools.

Last month I joined my synagogue, Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir (Reconstructionist), along with other POWER-member congregations, in a teach-in and demonstration on school funding in Harrisburg. Named a “Moral Takeover,” this event was part of an alliance between POWER and other faith-based activist groups in Pennsylvania to demand equitable funding of schools, and to protest cuts by the legislature in state funding for schools while corporations receive tax breaks.

We arrived in Harrisburg, in front of the state capitol, and the participants gathered for the prayer service and teach-in in Grace United Methodist Church, on State Street near the capitol.

The Reverend Vernal Sims, a special education teacher in the Harrisburg public schools, spoke of the problems he has had with the schools being underfunded and parents therefore not sending them there.

Darlene Sistrunk, associate minister at Grace Christian Fellowship in South-West Philadelphia, quoted the former South African president, Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” She also described the change of atmosphere in local schools in recent years:

Our beautiful children feel the pressure of underfunded schools. They’re reaping the pain of $355 million being taken out of the school budget in just 2011-2012 alone…

The hopeful chatter that used to fill our school halls has been replaced with questions about where the school nurses are, where the guidance counselors are, why is my principal drinking so much Pepto-Bismol, and why are there forty kids in my classroom.

Shelley Gombs-Faircloth, from Allentown, explained why she moved her daughter to a private school:

For three years, my daughter was a student in the Allentown school district. But statistics, like the one I’m about to share, are part of the reason why I moved her from this (school) district and placed her in a private school. These statistics are part and parcel of adequate funding and a failed funding formula have a devastating impact on our school district.

According to the Pittsburgh Times, the Allentown school district is ranked 486th, out of 500 Pennsylvania school districts, based on PSSA results, in reading, writing, mathematics, and science. Only 14 school systems ranked worse. Every day on average, three students are pushed out of the district prior to graduation. In fact, the Allentown school district has one of the highest dropout rates in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And of the students that remain in the district and graduate from one of its two high schools, only 19% go on to a four-year college. In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has identified 50% of the district’s 20 schools as persistently low-achieving schools…

There are students who dutifully attend classes and have no books to study from at home, because teachers must carry books from class to class. There are also classes where books are so old it’s certain much of the information within them have changed.

The Reverend Bishop Dwayne Royster, pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ and Executive Director of POWER, spoke on the “myth of scarcity” and how politicians say there is no money available from the state for schools: “We don’t have enough money for schools, but corporations in the state of Pennsylvania have gotten, over the last year, $3.9 billion dollars in tax cuts, grants, and other things.”

As an example, Royster spoke of the Comcast building in Center City Philadelphia, which “is not entirely full, but they are building a brand new building in Philadelphia that has $147 million in tax cuts from the city, and countless millions of dollars from the state, to build this brand new building.”

In the meantime, the School District of Philadelphia is short of the money that it needs to provide counselors, and teachers, and aides, and books, and toilet paper for the children that go to school there.

After the teach-in at Grace Church, participants moved to the open tent on the steps of the state capitol, where they laid their hands on people participating in a fast for fair and full school funding.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yair Rosenberg spells it all out:

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

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

Hagel Proves Republican Critics Wrong

Remember the vicious campaign against Chuck Hagel waged by the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Protect Our Heritage PAC and other Republican groups? They were wrong. Totally wrong.

The outgoing Defense Minister was a true friend of Israel. Said who? Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon said. New Republic noted that Republicans attacked Hagel for being anti-Israel, but he turned out to be Israel’s closest friend.

Do not expect these Republicans to apologize for wasting our time and for attempting to besmirch Hagel’s reputation, though, and do not expect anyone to hold them accountable.

The Jerusalem Post noted that “when Jewish organizations turn out to be so wrong about their diagnosis of a particular candidate — as they were with Hagel — they end up paying a price”:

The next time they attempt to campaign against a nomination they will inevitably be less convincing. It would, therefore, be prudent to save clout and credibility for the truly important battles. The nomination of Hagel, it turns out, certainly wasn’t one of them.

Many of the same Republicans who blasted Hagel also “warned” us about Samantha Power, who blasted U.N. prejudice against Israel last week:

[T]he United States remains profoundly troubled by the repetitive and disproportionate number of one-sided General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel — a total of 18 this year.

This grossly one-sided approach damages the prospects for peace by undermining trust between parties and damaging the kind of international support critical to achieving peace. All parties to the conflict have direct responsibilities for ending it, and we are disappointed that UN Members continually single out Israel without acknowledging the responsibilities and difficult steps that must be taken on all sides.

These unbalanced, one-sided resolutions set back our collective efforts to advance a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East, and they damage the institutional credibility of the United Nations.

This administration has in common with every administration since 1967 its strong opposition to settlements, which Power also reiterated. But no administration has backed Israel at the U.N. to the extent the Obama administration has.

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Hagel, Power, Malley: Obama’s New Appointee Will Silence Critics


Robert Malley.

— by Steve Sheffey

The pattern is predictable: President Obama appoints someone, the far right waxes hysterically about how horrible he or she is for Israel, and then, once the person in question is appointed, none of the dire prophecies come true.

When was the last time you heard about Chuck Hagel or Samantha Power from our Republican friends? Remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth that preceded their confirmations?

After taking office, Hagel issued a statement firmly reiterating our support for Israel and our commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Then, he went to Israel and finalized a huge arms deal with the Jewish State.

After taking office, Power reiterated our determination to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. She recently announced that the U.S. “strongly supports Israel’s candidacy” for a seat on the U.N. Security Council and that she will “never give up” on that effort.

Last week, Obama appointed Robert Malley to the National Security Council, and those of us who are subscribed to the “right” emails are now being treated to another round of Republican hysteria, courtesy of recycled smears from 2008.

More after the jump.
Dennis Ross, Sandy Berger, and Martin Indyk wrote in The New York Review of Books that those attacks on Malley were “unfair, inappropriate, and wrong.”

Gershom Gorenberg wrote in The American Prospect that “Of all the recent efforts to smear Barack Obama, none strikes me as stranger than the claims that one of his informal advisers on foreign affairs, Robert Malley, is anti-Israel.”

But don’t worry. Once Malley takes office, you will hear nothing but crickets from our right-wing friends.

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2013 in Review: U.S.-Israel Relationship Stronger Than Ever

— by Steve Sheffey

The U.S.-Israel relationship emerged stronger than ever in 2013.

  • Remember the right-wing hysterics about the nominations of Chuck Hagel and Samantha Power?
    Both have proven in word and deed to be solidly pro-Israel.
  • Remember the right-wing claims that once re-elected, President Obama would turn against Israel?
    Instead, shortly after his re-election, he unequivocally supported Israel’s right to defend itself in Operation Pillar of Defense.
  • Remember what our Republican friends told us about Obama when he ran for president in 2008?
    Here is what they did not tell us:
    • that Obama would always back Israel at the U.N.,
    • that he would never cut aid to Israel, and
    • that regardless of any disagreement with Israel, he would never even threaten retaliatory action against Israel.

    This is a far cry from the George W. Bush days, when loan guarantees were cut in response to settlement activity and when the U.S. stood idly by as the U.N. condemned Israel.

More after the jump including The Cartoon Kronicles’ review of 2013.
In March, Obama became the fifth sitting president to visit Israel. While in Israel, Obama received Israel’s Medal of Distinction.

Obama also worked hard in 2013 to find diplomatic solutions to Israel’s two existential threats: a nuclear-armed Iran and a permanent occupation of the West Bank. We will have a much better sense in 2014 of whether his efforts were successful.

No matter how good the U.S.-Israel relationship is, we always want more. That is why historical perspective matters.

Last week, Haim Saban wrote:

Observers may bemoan the lack of personal chemistry between Obama and Netanyahu, but international relationships needn’t be love affairs between leaders. They rest on common interests, common values and reciprocity.

This foundation is what has sustained an exceptional U.S.-Israel partnership through 65 years, 12 U.S. administrations and plenty of rocky news cycles.

2013 reviewed by The Cartoon Kronicles:

Cartoons Courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com/ and The Cartoon Kronicles @ http://cartoonkronicles.com

Shalom Center Grasps at Straws to Find Substitute for War


“What happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.”

— by Amir Shoam

Last week, before the Russian suggestion to disarm Bashar al-Assad’s forces of chemical weapons, The Shalom Center’s Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote an article titled Drop Gas Masks, Not Bombs, opposing military action in Syria.

Waskow suggested that we “use the power of the U.S. in nonviolent, non-military, nonlethal ways” to stop the chemical war.

These surrogates for military action are each deeply flawed. Indeed, if Rabbi Waskow felt he had a good response, he would have probably given that response alone instead of a menu of responses each as ineffective as the next.

Waskow’s proposals and my comments follow the jump.


Waskow recommends distributing gas masks, but this is what you actually need to wear in order to fully protect yourself against sarin.

Waskow’s title suggestion “Drop Gas Masks, Not Bombs” (although the word “drop” was a metaphor) would not work, since gas masks do not offer complete protection against sarin.

Look what equipment the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends to use in a Level A sarin exposure:

  • A NIOSH-certified CBRN full-face-piece SCBA operated in a pressure-demand mode or a pressure-demand supplied air hose respirator with an auxiliary escape bottle.
  • A Totally-Encapsulating Chemical Protective (TECP) suit that provides protection against CBRN agents.
  • Chemical-resistant gloves (outer).
  • Chemical-resistant gloves (inner).
  • Chemical-resistant boots with a steel toe and shank.

Waskow recognizes that the suggestion in his title might not actually work, so he gives this alternative:

If gas masks would not meet the need, drop antidotes to the nerve gas sarin.

According to the CDC, sarin “is generally odorless and tasteless. Exposure to sarin can cause death in minutes. A fraction of an ounce (1 to 10 mL) of sarin on the skin can be fatal.”

Antidotes to sarin are only approved by the FDA for use by trained members of the U.S. Military, and would be useless or even dangerous in the hands of untrained Syrian citizens.

Waskow then makes this suggestion:

Test out what would happen if the U.S. invited physicians to be parachuted into Syria.

This is what would happen: The U.S. would ignore the first thing taught in a first aid course — do not risk lives in order to save lives.

  • If someone is injured on a busy road after a car accident, you should not go there.
  • If someone might be trapped inside a burning building, you should not go there.
  • If they offer you to be parachuted unarmed into a chemical war zone, you should not go there!

Waskow makes another suggestion, that also does not sound practical:

Drop leaflets and broadcast radio and social-media messages denouncing the use of chemical weaponry and offering amnesty and monetary rewards to anyone in the military who comes forward with information on their use.

If people in Assad’s army resisted his ways, would they still serve in his army, and not in one of the other armies in the country?

The following suggestion explains itself:

Bollix the Syrian military’s computer system just as the U.S. bollixed the Iranian nuclear-research system.

The U.S. is aware of that possibility — it just would not help.

Sarin is a binary compound, created naturally by the mixture of two gases stored separately in the shell. It does not need sophisticated electronics, and would be deployed in the field in the place of regular munitions, and not networked with a computer system, which made the Iranian centrifuges vulnerable to this kind of attack.

But the most flawed is Waskow’s final suggestion:

In Iran there is fierce opposition to chem-war because Saddam used it in Iraq’s war against Iran, killing tens of thousands…. Ask the government of Iran to intervene with its ally Syria to demand a total end to any use of chem-war, and offer Iran relaxation of U.S. sanctions against it if it does so.

Again, do not risk lives in order to save lives. Even assuming that Iran will accept this offer, a nuclear weapon in Iran’s hands is a threat to each and every person in the world.

Ambassador Samantha Power explained the situation last week:

It is only after the United States pursued these non-military options without achieving the desired result of deterring chemical weapons use, that the President concluded that a limited military strike is the only way to prevent Assad from employing chemical weapons as if they are a conventional weapon of war.

Indeed, after two years of diplomacy and sanctions, it is only the threat of military action which is finally getting the attention of Syria, and maybe will lead to a peaceful solution.

Waving a Red Flag Against Chemical Weapons

— by Steve Sheffey

We should be very skeptical about the use of military force in Syria, but we should not let our legitimate concerns blind us to what is actually being proposed, or to the consequences of inaction.

We are all tired of war. We are all concerned about the unforeseen consequences of military action. Our government lied to us about Vietnam. Our government lied to us about Iraq. Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. But is Syria Vietnam? Is Syria Iraq? Are we being lied to?

More after the jump.
We cannot afford to be gullible, but neither can we afford to assume that Syria is just like Vietnam or Iraq. We cannot necessarily accept at face value everything our government tells us, but neither should we assume that Obama, Kerry, Hagel, and Power, all known to be very skeptical about the use of force (didn’t our Republican friends oppose Hagel in part because of that?), are the same as Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, who were looking for any justification to invade Iraq, and didn’t let the absence of any justification stop them.

This is not about taking sides in Syria’s civil war — if it were, we would have used military force long ago. Many of the rebel groups are worse than Assad. This is about responding to the use of chemical weapons. The goal is not to topple Assad. The goal is to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction by anyone.

Why do we suddenly care about deaths in Syria, after so many have already been killed? Because chemical weapons cross an unacceptable threshold. As Steve Call explains:

Gas weapons cannot be aimed in order to spare children or other noncombatants. They cause fear and prolonged suffering in victims, and cripple some survivors. They can contaminate the environment with poisons that last beyond a war’s end.

The world failed to act when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons. We cannot fail again. Our ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, said on Friday:

In arguing for limited military action in the wake of this mass casualty chemical weapons atrocity, we are not arguing that Syrian lives are worth protecting only when they are threatened with poison gas. Rather, we are reaffirming what the world has already made plain in laying down its collective judgment on chemical weapons: There is something different about chemical warfare that raises the stakes for the United States and raises the stakes for the world.

There are many reasons that governments representing 98% of the world’s population — including all 15 members of the U.N. Security Council — agreed to ban chemical weapons.

These weapons kill in the most gruesome possible way. They kill indiscriminately — they are incapable of distinguishing between a child and a rebel. And they have the potential to kill massively.


The world failed to act when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons. We cannot fail again. Poison gas attack in Halabja, 1988.

Power also explained on Friday that “For more than a year, we have pursued countless policy tools short of military force to try to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons. We have engaged the Syrians directly and, at our request, the Russians, the U.N., and the Iranians sent similar messages.”

We have bent over backward to find a non-military solution. We have made every effort to engage the U.N. and other international forums. Power detailed all we have done and concluded:

It is only after the United States pursued these non-military options without achieving the desired result of deterring chemical weapons use, that the President concluded that a limited military strike is the only way to prevent Assad from employing chemical weapons as if they are a conventional weapon of war.

If you have any doubts at all about the wisdom of military intervention in Syria, please read what Power said on Friday. She directly addresses many concerns we’ve heard from both the left and the right. This is not a pleasant decision, but the choice is clear. As Power said, “There is no risk-free door #2 that we can choose in this case.” But the risk of inaction far outweighs the risk of action.

Concern for Israel’s safety is not a reason to oppose intervention in Syria. In fact, Israel supports President Obama’s position. Outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said, “I’ve heard it suggested that a reason why the U.S. should not act in Syria is fear of retribution against Israel. In response, I say unequivocally that Israel can defend itself and will respond forcefully to any aggression by Syria.”

On Tuesday, Oren released an official statement, in which he said:

Israel agrees with President Obama that the use of chemical weapons is a ‘heinous act’ for which the Assad regime must be held accountable and for which there must be ‘international consequences.’ Israel further agrees with the President that the use of chemical weapons promotes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and encourages ‘governments who would choose to build nuclear arms.’

Major pro-Israel organizations across the political spectrum also support the President’s position. (See separate article.)

Progressives especially should support Obama on this matter. Bob Creamer, who opposed the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, writes that “History will judge us harshly, if we stand by idly, and legitimate the use of chemical weapons — and weapons of mass destruction in general — by allowing their use in the view of the full world to go unpunished.”

Creamer continues:

Condemnation and “moral outrage” against the use of chemical weapons do not constitute a sanction. They are, in fact, no sanction at all. We would never allow the perpetrator of a rape or murder in the United States to be subjected to “moral outrage” and sent home to contemplate his deed. How much less can we allow that to the be case when a government has murdered 1,400 of its own people using weapons that have been universally condemned by the entire international community for almost 100 years. That defies common sense.

I would argue that the control — and ultimate elimination of weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear — is one of the most critical priorities for Progressives like myself, and for our entire society. To secure the future of our species, we must eliminate them, not only from the hands of tyrants like Assad, or unreliable nation states, or non-state actors but from all of the world’s arsenals, including our own.

The more we learn, the more clear it is that we should support military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons. Please contact your elected representatives and urge them to support military intervention in Syria — it will take you less than two minutes.

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

— by Jason Berger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RJC Mischaracterizes UN Ambassador Nominee Samantha Power

Author and former Congressional Candidate Rabbi Shmulay Beteach (R-NJ) has debunked the Republican Jewish Coalition’s over the top claim that UN Ambassador nominee Samantha Power “suggested that the U.S. should invade Israel militarily.”

In our conversation, she rejected utterly the notion that she had any animus toward Israel. She acknowledged that she had erred significantly in offering hypothetical comments that did not reflect how she felt. She said that opponents of President Obama had unfairly taken her disorganized comments further and characterized them as ‘invade Israel’ talk. She said that if she really believed that Israel could even be remotely accused of practicing genocide against the Palestinians, then the correct forum for her to express that view would have been somewhere in the 664 pages of her book, A Problem From Hell, wherein she details all the genocides of the twentieth century. She never even hints that Israel is guilty of such atrocity. She explained that the only time she has written about Israel was in a later book, Chasing the Flame, on slain UN Diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. There she described his time in UNIFIL, and included a discussion of the Government of Israel’s own findings on Sabra and Shatila.

To bolster her argument, she mentioned that her former Professor at Harvard, Alan Dershowitz, whom I consider to be Israel’s most eloquent global champion, called her after A Problem from Hell was published, to applaud her for not remotely associating Israel with genocide, the way so many academic enemies had. I checked with my old friend, Professor Dershowitz, and he confirmed that he has warm feelings toward his former student, and considers her a moderate on Israel.

Listening to Power face-to-face and hearing her clarification set, amidst the visible hurt of being grouped together with Israel’s detractors, I found her argument convincing. Power, the world’s leading chronicler of genocide, is being dismissed as an enemy of the Jewish state based almost entirely on a fragment of a single interview lasting about two-and-a-half minutes. Most significantly, however we understand the meaning of her words in the unfortunate interview, they are utterly belied by her actions. She would later indeed become a senior adviser to the president of the United States, and not only would she never even remotely identify Israel as a genocidal power that needed to be stopped, but to the contrary, she would utilize her influence to advocate for military action against a genocidal Arab dictator, who is not only killing innocent Arab protestors, but is, along with Iran, one of Israel’s most outspoken enemies.

More after the jump.

In addition, some leading members of the American Jewish establishment shared with me that Power was instrumental in having America decline attendance in Durban II in April 2009, otherwise known as the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which promised to be, like Durban I in 2001, a UN-sponsored Israel hate-fest.

There have been other, more minor comments by Power that have been interpreted as hostile to Israel, but those interpretations rely on the assumption, generated in 2002, that she is an Israel-hater. Based on Ms. Power’s clarification, and much more importantly, her actions, I believe this perception to be without merit and justice. We should now move on from her comments and judge her instead by her actions.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my personal stake in the rehabilitation of Samantha Power’s reputation in the Jewish community. Firstly, it seems incongruous that a woman that has done more in modern times to highlight the atrocity of genocide than anyone else should be ostracized from a community that has most experienced its tragic effects. Indeed, in our meeting, Power told me that the Jewish community is by far the most vocal against genocide, and that at the Save Darfur rally of May 1, 2006 there was “an endless sea of yarmulkes.” Likewise, in A Problem from Hell she writes of the Jewish community’s role in mobilizing military intervention in Bosnia.

Second, Muammar Gaddafi owned the home right next door to me in Englewood, New Jersey. I have been sickened over the past two years to awaken every morning to the site of the Libyan flag flying fifty feet from my home. I have done everything in my power to fight and oppose this brutal dictator ever since he announced plans to personally occupy the home and pitch a tent next-door to me. I have lobbied mayors, Governors, Congressmen, and Senators. Amid my deep respect for President Bush and his efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East, I was disappointed that his administration chose to normalize relations with Gaddafi. But one of the few American officials with the president’s ear who advocated punishing Gaddafi for his wickedness was Samantha Power.

Third — and to me most importantly — I have spent a large portion of my life fighting Israel’s enemies in public forums. Whether it was my eleven years at the University of Oxford, where I brought five Israeli Prime Ministers and endless cabinet ministers to respond to false accusations against the Jewish state; or the past eleven years, where I have been a defender of Israel on the American airwaves, championing the truth about Israel as a benevolent and liberal democracy; it has been one of my life’s highest callings. But as important as it is to expose our enemies, it is equally important to exonerate those who are not. A person’s reputation is all they have, and I know what it is like to feel unjustly maligned. Samantha Power has done the Jewish people service by highlighting the crime of genocide, and we welcome her repudiation of earlier comments on Israel. They were said over a decade ago, and she has expressed her regret for comments that lent themselves to misinterpretation. Judaism teaches that a person is judged primarily by their actions.

Power has lectured all over the world about the holocaust. She has used her influence to prevent a dictator from killing more of G-d’s children. She has highlighted the central role of world Jewry in preventing genocide. These are heroic actions, that should be applauded rather than criticized.