GOP Presidential Debate Reminds Jews Why They Vote Democratic


— David A. Harris

Tonight’s dismal Republican debate may have been painful to watch for many Americans — but especially so for American Jews. On national television, we witnessed a field of Republican candidates doing just about everything they could to remind Jews why they overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party.

From attacking health care reform and the social safety net to proposing flawed solutions to Medicare and Social Security, the candidates in tonight’s debate made it clear that they are uninterested in preserving the programs and policies valued by the vast mainstream of our community. And that is to say nothing of their collective positions tonight on social issues, which so many American Jews find socially regressive, if not repugnant.

Moreover, the performance by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Herman Cain left me wondering where they were yesterday when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded President Barack Obama’s speech to the UN and said that Obama wore his support of Israel like a ‘badge of honor.’ It is profoundly disturbing that these candidates would continue to engage in such attacks against this pro-Israel President based purely on partisan politics — despite all of the statements from Israeli leaders, the President’s widely-applauded record of diplomatic and military support for Israel, and the growing number of impartial, Republican, and Democratic observers calling out these candidates for their inappropriate and dangerous behavior. (NJDC, AP)

More after the jump.
As the candidates gain more exposure over the coming months, the historic bond between the American Jewish community and the Democratic Party will be reaffirmed and strengthened because most in our community will witness — again and again — that today’s Republican Party is deeply out of touch with their Jewish values. The Republican primary process will help prove that the Democratic Party remains the one natural political home for American Jews.

Obama Defends Israel and Rebukes Palestinian UDI at the UN

— Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

We wish to express our thanks to President Barack Obama for passionately and eloquently standing up for Israel and the Jewish State’s security needs at the United Nations today. In clearly rebuking Palestinian efforts to declare statehood unilaterally through the UN, President Obama could not have made it clearer that he stands with Israel. He communicated to the world — in front of the world’s leaders — that he personally understands and empathizes with all Israelis who have experienced violence and uncertainty. For that and his consistent work to bolster Israel’s peace and security, he has distinguished himself as Israel’s strongest advocate on the international stage.

This morning President Obama reiterated the position that only direct negotiations — not resolutions from the United Nations — will lead to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He did so by restating America’s consistent position that any peace agreement must account for Israel’s security needs.

“America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were. Those are facts. They cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition.”

Complete transcript of Obama’s remarks follow the jump.
Remarks by President Barack Obama in Address to the United Nations General Assembly

United Nations, New York, New York

10:12 A.M. EDT, September 21, 2011

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen:  It is a great honor for me to be here today.  I would like to talk to you about a subject that is at the heart of the United Nations — the pursuit of peace in an imperfect world.

War and conflict have been with us since the beginning of civilizations.  But in the first part of the 20th century, the advance of modern weaponry led to death on a staggering scale.  It was this killing that compelled the founders of this body to build an institution that was focused not just on ending one war, but on averting others; a union of sovereign states that would seek to prevent conflict, while also addressing its causes.

No American did more to pursue this objective than President Franklin Roosevelt.  He knew that a victory in war was not enough.  As he said at one of the very first meetings on the founding of the United Nations, “We have got to make, not merely peace, but a peace that will last.”

The men and women who built this institution understood that peace is more than just the absence of war.  A lasting peace — for nations and for individuals — depends on a sense of justice and opportunity, of dignity and freedom.  It depends on struggle and sacrifice, on compromise, and on a sense of common humanity.

One delegate to the San Francisco Conference that led to the creation of the United Nations put it well:  “Many people,” she said, “have talked as if all that has to be done to get peace was to say loudly and frequently that we loved peace and we hated war. Now we have learned that no matter how much we love peace and hate war, we cannot avoid having war brought upon us if there are convulsions in other parts of the world.”  

The fact is peace is hard.  But our people demand it.  Over nearly seven decades, even as the United Nations helped avert a third world war, we still live in a world scarred by conflict and plagued by poverty.  Even as we proclaim our love for peace and our hatred of war, there are still convulsions in our world that endanger us all.

I took office at a time of two wars for the United States. Moreover, the violent extremists who drew us into war in the first place — Osama bin Laden, and his al Qaeda organization — remained at large.  Today, we’ve set a new direction.

At the end of this year, America’s military operation in Iraq will be over.  We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations. That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq — for its government and for its security forces, for its people and for their aspirations.

As we end the war in Iraq, the United States and our coalition partners have begun a transition in Afghanistan. Between now and 2014, an increasingly capable Afghan government and security forces will step forward to take responsibility for the future of their country.  As they do, we are drawing down our own forces, while building an enduring partnership with the Afghan people.

So let there be no doubt:  The tide of war is receding.  When I took office, roughly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to decline.  This is critical for the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan.  It’s also critical to the strength of the United States as we build our nation at home.

Moreover, we are poised to end these wars from a position of strength.  Ten years ago, there was an open wound and twisted steel, a broken heart in the center of this city.  Today, as a new tower is rising at Ground Zero, it symbolizes New York’s renewal, even as al Qaeda is under more pressure than ever before.  Its leadership has been degraded.  And Osama bin Laden, a man who murdered thousands of people from dozens of countries, will never endanger the peace of the world again.

So, yes, this has been a difficult decade.  But today, we stand at a crossroads of history with the chance to move decisively in the direction of peace.  To do so, we must return to the wisdom of those who created this institution.  The United Nations’ Founding Charter calls upon us, “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.”  And Article 1 of this General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and in rights.”  Those bedrock beliefs — in the responsibility of states, and the rights of men and women — must be our guide.

And in that effort, we have reason to hope.  This year has been a time of extraordinary transformation.  More nations have stepped forward to maintain international peace and security.  And more individuals are claiming their universal right to live in freedom and dignity.

Think about it:  One year ago, when we met here in New York, the prospect of a successful referendum in South Sudan was in doubt.  But the international community overcame old divisions to support the agreement that had been negotiated to give South Sudan self-determination.  And last summer, as a new flag went up in Juba, former soldiers laid down their arms, men and women wept with joy, and children finally knew the promise of looking to a future that they will shape.

One year ago, the people of Côte D’Ivoire approached a landmark election.  And when the incumbent lost, and refused to respect the results, the world refused to look the other way.  U.N. peacekeepers were harassed, but they did not leave their posts.  The Security Council, led by the United States and Nigeria and France, came together to support the will of the people.  And Côte D’Ivoire is now governed by the man who was elected to lead.

One year ago, the hopes of the people of Tunisia were suppressed.  But they chose the dignity of peaceful protest over the rule of an iron fist.  A vendor lit a spark that took his own life, but he ignited a movement.  In a face of a crackdown, students spelled out the word, “freedom.”  The balance of fear shifted from the ruler to those that he ruled.  And now the people of Tunisia are preparing for elections that will move them one step closer to the democracy that they deserve.

One year ago, Egypt had known one President for nearly 30 years.  But for 18 days, the eyes of the world were glued to Tahrir Square, where Egyptians from all walks of life — men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian — demanded their universal rights.  We saw in those protesters the moral force of non-violence that has lit the world from Delhi to Warsaw, from Selma to South Africa — and we knew that change had come to Egypt and to the Arab world.

One year ago, the people of Libya were ruled by the world’s longest-serving dictator.  But faced with bullets and bombs and a dictator who threatened to hunt them down like rats, they showed relentless bravery.  We will never forget the words of the Libyan who stood up in those early days of the revolution and said, “Our words are free now.”  It’s a feeling you can’t explain.  Day after day, in the face of bullets and bombs, the Libyan people refused to give back that freedom.  And when they were threatened by the kind of mass atrocity that often went unchallenged in the last century, the United Nations lived up to its charter.  The Security Council authorized all necessary measures to prevent a massacre.  The Arab League called for this effort; Arab nations joined a NATO-led coalition that halted Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks.

In the months that followed, the will of the coalition proved unbreakable, and the will of the Libyan people could not be denied.  Forty-two years of tyranny was ended in six months.  From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free.  Yesterday, the leaders of a new Libya took their rightful place beside us, and this week, the United States is reopening our embassy in Tripoli.

This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.  Now, all of us have a responsibility to support the new Libya — the new Libyan government as they confront the challenge of turning this moment of promise into a just and lasting peace for all Libyans.

So this has been a remarkable year.  The Qaddafi regime is over.  Gbagbo, Ben Ali, Mubarak are no longer in power.  Osama bin Laden is gone, and the idea that change could only come through violence has been buried with him.  Something is happening in our world.  The way things have been is not the way that they will be.  The humiliating grip of corruption and tyranny is being pried open.  Dictators are on notice.  Technology is putting power into the hands of the people.  The youth are delivering a powerful rebuke to dictatorship, and rejecting the lie that some races, some peoples, some religions, some ethnicities do not desire democracy.  The promise written down on paper — “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” — is closer at hand.

But let us remember:  Peace is hard.  Peace is hard.  Progress can be reversed.  Prosperity comes slowly.  Societies can split apart.  The measure of our success must be whether people can live in sustained freedom, dignity, and security.  And the United Nations and its member states must do their part to support those basic aspirations.  And we have more work to do.

In Iran, we’ve seen a government that refuses to recognize the rights of its own people.  As we meet here today, men and women and children are being tortured, detained and murdered by the Syrian regime.  Thousands have been killed, many during the holy time of Ramadan.  Thousands more have poured across Syria’s borders.  The Syrian people have shown dignity and courage in their pursuit of justice — protesting peacefully, standing silently in the streets, dying for the same values that this institution is supposed to stand for.  And the question for us is clear:  Will we stand with the Syrian people, or with their oppressors?

Already, the United States has imposed strong sanctions on Syria’s leaders.  We supported a transfer of power that is responsive to the Syrian people.  And many of our allies have joined in this effort.  But for the sake of Syria — and the peace and security of the world — we must speak with one voice. There’s no excuse for inaction.  Now is the time for the United Nations Security Council to sanction the Syrian regime, and to stand with the Syrian people.

Throughout the region, we will have to respond to the calls for change.  In Yemen, men, women and children gather by the thousands in towns and city squares every day with the hope that their determination and spilled blood will prevail over a corrupt system.  America supports those aspirations.  We must work with Yemen’s neighbors and our partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful transition of power from President Saleh, and a movement to free and fair elections as soon as possible.

In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability.  We’re pleased with that, but more is required.  America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc — the Wifaq — to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people.  We believe the patriotism that binds Bahrainis together must be more powerful than the sectarian forces that would tear them apart.  It will be hard, but it is possible.

We believe that each nation must chart its own course to fulfill the aspirations of its people, and America does not expect to agree with every party or person who expresses themselves politically.  But we will always stand up for the universal rights that were embraced by this Assembly.  Those rights depend on elections that are free and fair; on governance that is transparent and accountable; respect for the rights of women and minorities; justice that is equal and fair.  That is what our people deserve.  Those are the elements of peace that can last.

Moreover, the United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy — with greater trade and investment — so that freedom is followed by opportunity.  We will pursue a deeper engagement with governments, but also with civil society — students and entrepreneurs, political parties and the press.  We have banned those who abuse human rights from traveling to our country.  And we’ve sanctioned those who trample on human rights abroad.  And we will always serve as a voice for those who’ve been silenced.

Now, I know, particularly this week, that for many in this hall, there’s one issue that stands as a test for these principles and a test for American foreign policy, and that is the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine.  I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own.  But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves.  One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences.  Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May of this year.  That basis is clear.  It’s well known to all of us here.  Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security.  Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.

Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress.  I assure you, so am I.  But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal.  And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades.  Peace is hard work.  Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.  Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side.  Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them:  on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.

Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied.  That’s the lesson of Northern Ireland, where ancient antagonists bridged their differences.  That’s the lesson of Sudan, where a negotiated settlement led to an independent state.  And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties.

We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve.  There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long.  It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.

But understand this as well:  America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable.  Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.  And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.

Let us be honest with ourselves:  Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses.  Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them.  Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map.  The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are.  Those are facts.  They cannot be denied.

The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland.  Israel deserves recognition.  It deserves normal relations with its neighbors.  And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

That is the truth — each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard.  And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes.  That’s what we should be encouraging.  That’s what we should be promoting.

This body — founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide, dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every single person — must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity.  And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears.  That is the project to which America is committed.  There are no shortcuts.  And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.

Now, even as we confront these challenges of conflict and revolution, we must also recognize — we must also remind ourselves — that peace is not just the absence of war.  True peace depends on creating the opportunity that makes life worth living.  And to do that, we must confront the common enemies of humanity:  nuclear weapons and poverty, ignorance and disease.  These forces corrode the possibility of lasting peace and together we’re called upon to confront them.

To lift the specter of mass destruction, we must come together to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.  Over the last two years, we’ve begun to walk down that path.  Since our Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, nearly 50 nations have taken steps to secure nuclear materials from terrorists and smugglers.  Next March, a summit in Seoul will advance our efforts to lock down all of them.  The New START Treaty between the United States and Russia will cut our deployed arsenals to the lowest level in half a century, and our nations are pursuing talks on how to achieve even deeper reductions.  America will continue to work for a ban on the testing of nuclear weapons and the production of fissile material needed to make them.

And so we have begun to move in the right direction.  And the United States is committed to meeting our obligations.  But even as we meet our obligations, we’ve strengthened the treaties and institutions that help stop the spread of these weapons.  And to do so, we must continue to hold accountable those nations that flout them.

The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful.  It has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power.    North Korea has yet to take concrete steps towards abandoning its weapons and continues belligerent action against the South.  There’s a future of greater opportunity for the people of these nations if their governments meet their international obligations.  But if they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation.  That is what our commitment to peace and security demands.

To bring prosperity to our people, we must promote the growth that creates opportunity.  In this effort, let us not forget that we’ve made enormous progress over the last several decades.  Closed societies gave way to open markets.  Innovation and entrepreneurship has transformed the way we live and the things that we do.  Emerging economies from Asia to the Americas have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty.  It’s an extraordinary achievement.  And yet, three years ago, we were confronted with the worst financial crisis in eight decades.  And that crisis proved a fact that has become clearer with each passing year — our fates are interconnected.  In a global economy, nations will rise, or fall, together.

And today, we confront the challenges that have followed on the heels of that crisis.  Around the world recovery is still fragile.  Markets remain volatile.  Too many people are out of work.  Too many others are struggling just to get by.  We acted together to avert a depression in 2009.  We must take urgent and coordinated action once more.  Here in the United States, I’ve announced a plan to put Americans back to work and jumpstart our economy, at the same time as I’m committed to substantially reducing our deficits over time.

We stand with our European allies as they reshape their institutions and address their own fiscal challenges.  For other countries, leaders face a different challenge as they shift their economy towards more self-reliance, boosting domestic demand while slowing inflation.  So we will work with emerging economies that have rebounded strongly, so that rising standards of living create new markets that promote global growth.  That’s what our commitment to prosperity demands.

To combat the poverty that punishes our children, we must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right. The United States has made it a focus of our engagement abroad to help people to feed themselves.  And today, as drought and conflict have brought famine to the Horn of Africa, our conscience calls on us to act.  Together, we must continue to provide assistance, and support organizations that can reach those in need.  And together, we must insist on unrestricted humanitarian access so that we can save the lives of thousands of men and women and children.  Our common humanity is at stake.  Let us show that the life of a child in Somalia is as precious as any other.  That is what our commitment to our fellow human beings demand.

To stop disease that spreads across borders, we must strengthen our system of public health.  We will continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  We will focus on the health of mothers and of children.  And we must come together to prevent, and detect, and fight every kind of biological danger — whether it’s a pandemic like H1N1, or a terrorist threat, or a treatable disease.

This week, America signed an agreement with the World Health Organization to affirm our commitment to meet this challenge.  And today, I urge all nations to join us in meeting the HWO’s [sic] goal of making sure all nations have core capacities to address public health emergencies in place by 2012.  That is what our commitment to the health of our people demands.

To preserve our planet, we must not put off action that climate change demands.  We have to tap the power of science to save those resources that are scarce.  And together, we must continue our work to build on the progress made in Copenhagen and Cancun, so that all the major economies here today follow through on the commitments that were made.  Together, we must work to transform the energy that powers our economies, and support others as they move down that path.  That is what our commitment to the next generation demands.

And to make sure our societies reach their potential, we must allow our citizens to reach theirs.  No country can afford the corruption that plagues the world like a cancer.  Together, we must harness the power of open societies and open economies.  That’s why we’ve partnered with countries from across the globe to launch a new partnership on open government that helps ensure accountability and helps to empower citizens.  No country should deny people their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.

And no country can realize its potential if half its population cannot reach theirs.  This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation.  Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down the economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls.  This is what our commitment to human progress demands.

I know there’s no straight line to that progress, no single path to success.  We come from different cultures, and carry with us different histories.  But let us never forget that even as we gather here as heads of different governments, we represent citizens who share the same basic aspirations — to live with dignity and freedom; to get an education and pursue opportunity; to love our families, and love and worship our God; to live in the kind of peace that makes life worth living.

It is the nature of our imperfect world that we are forced to learn these lessons over and over again.  Conflict and repression will endure so long as some people refuse to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Yet that is precisely why we have built institutions like this — to bind our fates together, to help us recognize ourselves in each other — because those who came before us believed that peace is preferable to war, and freedom is preferable to suppression, and prosperity is preferable to poverty.  That’s the message that comes not from capitals, but from citizens, from our people.

And when the cornerstone of this very building was put in place, President Truman came here to New York and said, “The United Nations is essentially an expression of the moral nature of man’s aspirations.”  The moral nature of man’s aspirations.  As we live in a world that is changing at a breathtaking pace, that’s a lesson that we must never forget.

Peace is hard, but we know that it is possible.  So, together, let us be resolved to see that it is defined by our hopes and not by our fears.  Together, let us make peace, but a peace, most importantly, that will last.

Thank you very much.  

Republican Bob Turner Wins Weiner’s Former Seat 53%-47%

— by David A. Harris

Since the day seven-term House Democrat Anthony Weiner resigned in disgrace, keeping this seat in Democratic hands has been an uphill battle. The overwhelmingly unfavorable view of Mr. Weiner, the previous Democratic congressman in this district, has only hurt David Weprin’s efforts to win this election. Tonight, we saw some of the effects of that unpopularity.

One thing we know beyond the shadow of a doubt is that this election was about many things –but not Israel. As authoritative polling in the past four days demonstrated  Siena Poll, September 9, 2011, only a tiny fraction of constituents — seven percent — indicated that Middle East policy would drive their vote. Moreover, the two candidates agreed completely on Israel; both clearly supported a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, with not a bit of difference between them.

More after the jump.
In the end, in this difficult economy, Americans — including in New York’s Ninth District — are hurting. In this atypical district, they’ve reacted atypically. After many tremendous Democratic victories in special congressional elections in recent years, tonight we unfortunately have a loss. But we look forward to many, many more victories than losses in 2012.

Response from Jews for Sarah


— Benyamin Korn, Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin

Regarding David Streeter’s rather shrill indictment of our ad in the Washington Jewish Week for a shabbaton featuring a public talk by Gov. Sarah Palin, in conjunction with the pro-life group Heroic Media: JewsForSarah is proud to be offering this event in conjunction with the banquet dinner of Heroic Media. Our sole reason for not describing Heroic Media’s pro-life mission in our ad for the shabbaton (a question raised originally by Politico‘s Ben Smith) — there simply was no room to do so.

It is typical of news media treatment of Gov. Palin to want to divert the conversation about her to side issues. As our ad indicates, JewsForSarah‘s main reasons for supporting her are our opposition to the “progressive” takeover of the American government, our opposition to Pres. Obama’s relentless diplomatic pressure on Israel, our support for American energy independence, and our opposition to the runaway fiscal and spending policies of Pres. Obama and the “progressive” Democrats. We support Gov. Palin because we find her to be the most effective public advocate for these positions, and the President’s most effective critic.

But since he fairly raises the question of our cooperation with a pro-life group, may I say that Mr. Streeter does an injustice simply by throwing the label “anti-choice” onto Heroic Media and their work. Anyone may visit HeroicMedia.org, where this self-description is found:

Heroic media’s mission is to reduce abortion and create a Culture of Life by connecting women facing unexpected pregnancies to life-affirming resource centers.

More after the jump.

This type of work may not be pro-abortion, but it is hard to see how it is “anti-choice.”

Now Mr. Streeter may take a certain comfort that many American Jews keep him company in the precincts of the “pro-choice” movement. And some JewsForSarah supporters agree with him, nevertheless rallying behind Gov. Palin for the reasons stated above.

But we are astonished by the silence in morally-attuned Jewish circles to the stark fact that 87,273 abortions were performed in New York City in the year 2009 (we do not have Philadelphia data), where a staggering 41% of pregnancies ended in abortion. Among African-American women in New York in that year, nearly 60% of pregnancies were ended by abortion. (New York Sun)

Moreover, in our view, the Jewish community suffers from a demographic crisis of our own, and would do well to more fully embrace a “Culture of Life.” (Perhaps even needing our own Heroic Jewish Media.)

Finally, as to Mr. Streeter’s denunciation of Gov. Palin’s “extremist position on women’s rights,” Philadelphia Jewish Voice readers are recommended to Kay Hymowitz’s excellent essay, Sarah Palin and the Battle for Feminism. If Mr. Streeter believes that orthodox, left-wing feminism still holds a monopoly on the American women’s movement, he was disproved on Nov. 4, 2010, when an unprecedented number of conservative, mostly Republican, women shattered numerous glass ceilings and entered American public office, and he is in for a rather rude awakening in November 2012.  

Jews for Palin Advertises and Sponsors anti-Choice Event with Palin

— David Streeter, Communications and Research Associate for the NJDC

As further proof of the distance between rumored 2012 Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the vast majority of American Jews, Palin’s primary group of Jewish supporters will be co-hosting an overtly anti-choice event with Palin in Maryland this month. Curiously though, as Politico‘s Ben Smith reported, the anti-choice focus of the event is omitted from the event advertisement that was placed in Washington Jewish Week:

Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak later this month in Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs at an event being promoted by her Jewish supporters.

The event is in fact a benefit for Heroic Media, an anti-abortion group, where Palin will share the stage with anti-Planned Parenthood activist Lila Rose. Abortion isn’t, traditionally, an issue of particular concern even in the Orthodox Jewish community, and the ad above, which appeared in Washington Jewish Week, makes no mention of abortion. Heroic Media’s announcement, meanwhile, makes no mention of the Jewish event.

The upcoming event is not only a demonstration of Palin’s extremist positions on women’s rights, but also an indication that even her own supporters know that her extremist positions must be masked in order to engage Jews. The event further demonstrates that the Republican Party and its leaders simply do not reflect the values and positions of the vast majority of American Jews. Worse, it demonstrates and confirms the willingness by some right-wing partisans to use misleading advertising campaigns to cover up the ever-widening gap between the GOP and American Jews.  

Jewish Republicans: Playing Politics With Israel Again

— David A. Harris

For Jewish Republicans or anyone to in any way question the stellar pro-Israel record of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is ridiculous and frankly mind boggling. But to make the suggestions that some have made recently regarding Rep. Wasserman Schultz and Israel’s security are much worse — they are offensive in the extreme.

First and foremost, this effort to smear an excellent choice is pure politics, plain and simple. President Barack Obama made an outstanding choice when he selected a true Jewish American leader — a member of the Forward 50 at that — to lead the Democratic National Committee. Rep. Wasserman Schultz has led on issues ranging from establishing Jewish American Heritage Month to expanding social services for Holocaust survivors, from ensuring Israel’s security to the domestic range of issues on which the vast majority of American Jews agree with the Democratic Party. Of course Republicans had to find something negative to say. But this is not it.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz clearly supported Israel’s actions in Gaza in 2008, for example, noting that “there is no one to blame for the escalation of violence but Hamas.” She went on to co-sponsor a resolution recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself that overwhelmingly passed Congress. She slammed the infamous United Nations Goldstone Report in 2009. She staunchly stood up for Israel’s right to self defense in the face of world condemnation during the flotilla incident in 2010. She has met with Israel’s leaders repeatedly, and led other members of Congress to Israel to help educate them. The list goes on and on.

Representative Wasserman Schultz isn’t just a pro-Israel member of Congress — she’s a genuine leader. Suggesting otherwise is profoundly offensive and wrong. And it plays politics with something of paramount importance, which should be above politics: the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Rice Reiterates U.S. Commitment to Fighting Anti-Israel Bias at UN

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice testified before Congress and pledged that the United States will continue to fight against the anti-Israel bias at the United Nations. Rice said today:

We also continue to fight for fair and normal treatment for Israel throughout the UN system. The tough issues between Israelis and Palestinians can only be resolved  by direct negotiations between the parties, not in New York and that is why we vetoed a Security Council resolution in February that risked hardening both sides’ positions. We consistently oppose anti-Israel resolutions in the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and elsewhere.

Full text of her remarks follows the jump.
Thank you very much Madame Chairman, Representative Lowey, Members of the Committee, it’s an honor to come before you and I thank you for the opportunity to include my full statement in the record. I also want to thank you both for your kind words of sympathy for the losses that the United Nations has experienced over the last week in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in Cote d’ Ivoire.

I want to begin just briefly with the UN’s response to the crisis in Libya which further reminds us of its value in an age of 21st-century challenges. With U.S. leadership, the Security Council swiftly authorized the use of force to save lives at risk of mass slaughter, established a no-fly zone, and imposed strong sanctions on the Qadhafi regime. With broad international support, we also suspended Libya from the UN Human Rights Council by consensus-a historic first.

As we well know, America’s resources and influence are not limitless, and that’s why the United Nations is so important to our national security. It allows us to share the costs and burdens of tackling global problems, rather than leaving those problems to fester or the world to look to America alone.

I therefore ask for the Committee’s continued support and support this year for the President’s budget request for the CIO and CIPA accounts to help us advance U.S. national interests. Our leadership at the UN makes us more secure in at least five fundamental ways.

First, the UN prevents conflict and keeps nations from slipping back into war. More than 120,000 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers are now deployed in 14 operations, in places such as Haiti, Sudan, and Liberia. Just 98 of them are Americans in uniform. UN missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are promoting stability so that American troops can come home faster. This is indeed burden-sharing at its best.

Second, the UN helps halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Over the past two years, the United States led efforts that imposed the toughest Security Council sanctions to date on Iran and North Korea.

Third, the UN helps isolate terrorists and human rights abusers by sanctioning individuals and companies associated with terrorism, atrocities, and cross-border crime.

Fourth, UN humanitarian and development agencies often go where nobody else will to provide desperately needed assistance. UN agencies deliver food, water, and medicine to those who need it most in Darfur, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

Fifth, UN political efforts help promote universal values that Americans hold dear, including human rights, democracy, and equality-whether it’s spotlighting abuses in Iran, North Korea, and Burma or offering support to interim governments in Egypt and Tunisia.

Let me turn now briefly to our efforts to reform the United Nations and improve its management practices. Our agenda broadly speaking focuses on seven priorities.

First, UN managers must enforce greater budget discipline. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently instructed senior managers to cut 3 percent from current budget levels-the first proposed reduction compared to the previous year of spending in ten years.

Second, we continue to demand a culture of transparency and accountability for resources and results. We aggressively promote a strengthened, independent Office of Internal Oversight Services and an improved ethics framework including protection for whistleblowers.

Third, we are pushing for a more mobile, meritocratic UN civilian workforce that incentivizes service in tough field assignments, that rewards top performers, and removes dead wood.

Fourth, we are improving protection of civilians by combating sexual violence in conflict zones, demanding accountability for war crimes, and strengthening UN field missions.

Fifth, we are insisting on reasonable, achievable mandates for peacekeeping missions. Not a single new UN peacekeeping operation has been created in the last two years, and in 2010, for the first time in six consecutive years, we closed missions and reduced the UN peacekeeping budget.

Sixth, we are working to restructure the UN’s administrative and logistical support systems for peacekeeping missions to make them more efficient, cost-effective, and responsive to realities in the field.

And finally, we are pressing the UN to finish overhauling the way it does day-to-day business, including upgrading its IT platforms, procurement practices, and accounting procedures.

But the UN clearly must do more to live up to its founding principles. We have taken the Human Rights Council in a better direction, including by creating a new Special Rapporteur on Iran. But much more still needs to be done. The Council must deal with human rights emergencies wherever they occur, and its membership should reflect those who respect human rights, not abuse them.

We also continue to fight for fair and normal treatment for Israel throughout the UN system. The tough issues between Israelis and Palestinians can only be resolved by direct negotiations between the parties, not in New York and that is why we vetoed a Security Council resolution in February that risked hardening both sides’ positions. We consistently oppose anti-Israel resolutions in the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, and elsewhere.

It goes without saying that the UN is very far from perfect. But it delivers real results for every American by advancing U.S. security through genuine burden-sharing. That burden-sharing is more important than ever at a time when threats don’t stop at borders, when Americans are hurting and cutting back, and when American troops are still in harm’s way.

Thank you Madame Chairman, and I look forward to answering the Committee’s questions.

Ross to ADL: U.S. Commitment to Israel “Iron-Clad and Unshakable”

— David Streeter

Dennis Ross, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region, addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s national conference and conveyed to the audience that the Obama Administration is standing squarely with Israel amid the changes taking place in the Middle East. Ross also outlined the Obama Administration’s priorities for the Middle East and emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible with the current regional changes taking place.

Ross reiterated America’s commitment and expressed similar sentiment as Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding the current state of U.S.-Israel relations:

Our relationship with Israel becomes more important during a time of change and upheaval in the Middle East. Israel is an enduring partner whose stability can be counted on. We are bound by shared values and interests, and our commitment to Israel’s security is iron-clad and unshakable. For the Obama Administration, those are not just words.  Many of you may have heard what Secretary Gates recently said in Israel: ‘I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship. The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion-cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.’ Our cooperation contributes to Israel’s security every day, signified by Israel’s recent deployment of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, which we helped fund with more than $200 million in support this year. I too cannot recall a time when security cooperation between our two countries has ever been as intense or focused.

Ross also had strong words regarding Iran’s recent provocative behavior:

Iran, in particular is trying to exploit the political changes in the Arab world, and using its proxy Hezbollah to enflame sectarian tensions in countries like Bahrain at precisely a moment when sectarian differences and legitimate grievances need to be overcome politically and not exacerbated. Iran has also been quick to criticize Arab governments for using the very repressive tactics it continues to employ against its own people. Indeed, it is the height of irony that at a time when Arab publics throughout the Middle East are finding their voice, the Iranian leadership seeks to quash the voice of Iranians who are asking only for their rights.

The Iranians are fooling no one. And, they are also fooling no one as they continue to pursue their nuclear program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions.  As National Security Advisor Tom Donilon stressed last week, ‘Even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East, we remain focused on the strategic imperative of ensuring that Iran does acquire not nuclear weapons.’ On our own and with others, we will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime. On March 24, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution appointing a special rapporteur charged with investigating and monitoring human rights abuses in Iran – a move that the ADL praised. Iran continues to contend with sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before, and as a result, it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in Euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure-and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued. Other sectors are clearly being affected as well as leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran and are no longer doing so.

Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure.  

 

In addition, Ross outlined the potential for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to flourish with the backdrop of a changing Middle East:

For too long, illegitimate governments have looked to blame others for their problems, to deflect attention from their own shortcomings by stoking hostilities toward the United States or Israel.

One of the most remarkable features of the peaceful protests movements across the region has been their focus on domestic issues – the abuses of security forces, government corruption, and the limited opportunities to participate in government decisions. I fully expect that when these populations are empowered and responsible for shaping the future of their countries, they will also see the importance of pursuing peace and cooperation as essential to their own political futures. The more that countries are able to invest their resources in their own future and the less they invest in conflict, the more they will be able to address the needs of their people that prompted the revolts of the Arab Spring.

Many of you will remember how Shimon Peres – who is having lunch with President Obama tomorrow – spoke about the New Middle East in 1993 that would be built on the foundations of peace, cooperation, and trade. Unfortunately, Peres’s vision was not realized two decades ago, because such a future could not be built on an authoritarian foundation. The Middle East today has very little internal trade and investment. The region also has very few domestic or transnational institutions when compared to other parts of the world. All that needs to change, and the democratic movements today offer the prospect of a truly new Middle East – a vision that we must strive to realize. The United States can help support this process by facilitating the work of civil society and non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private-public partnerships to help countries in transition secure the resources and knowledge needed for a better future.

Specifically, Ross emphasized that any peace agreement take into account Israel’s security:

Peace is essential in the region not only to enhance the prospect of trade and cooperation, but to ensure that as a new generation of leaders emerge, they recognize the prospect that Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs can coexist in their own states without the ever-present prospect of renewed hostilities. New leaders need to see that peace is possible and not impossible. They need to see that negotiations can take place and actually produce. And, Israelis and Palestinians need to feel that their respective requirements for peace are understood clearly by each other and will actually be addressed. Israelis, particularly during a time of change with inherent uncertainty, must see that their security will be addressed meaningfully, and in a way that does not leave them vulnerable to the uncertainties of the future. Palestinians must know that they will have an independent state that is contiguous and viable. For Palestinians, that prospect is certainly made more credible when tangible steps are taken to show that the occupation is receding.

Ross concluded by summarizing the United States’ priorities in the Middle East:

We clearly have a full plate of challenges in the Middle East today. But our agenda is clear: support coalition forces in their mission to protect the civilians of Libya and support a peaceful, inclusive, and democratic transition there; help Egypt and Tunisia to conduct a successful, orderly, and credible transition; encourage others in the region undertake meaningful reform now before they too face destabilizing unrest; work to expand economic opportunities; continue the push for peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors; and build the pressure on Iran. This is a complex and demanding agenda, but it has the complete attention of the President and his full national security team.

Full transcript follows the jump.

Remarks by Ambassador Dennis Ross (as prepared), Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region to the Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Conference 2011

Washington, D.C., April 4, 2011

To say that a lot has changed in the Middle East since I had the opportunity to speak to you last spring would be an understatement.  Indeed, the Middle East has not experienced such political upheaval for as long as I’ve been working on the region — and unfortunately that has been a very long time.  If you had asked me last year about the chances that a popular revolt would drive Mubarak from Cairo and Ben Ali from Tunisia, that what is going on in Libya now, and that large-scale protests would be breaking out in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen on a regular basis, I probably would have placed the odds as slightly lower than Virginia Commonwealth’s run to the Final Four.

But it is happening, and in all seriousness, what we are seeing today in the Middle East represents a truly dramatic upheaval that carries with it both tremendous opportunities and significant risks:  opportunities for real freedoms, economic development, truly representative and legitimate governments, and the kind of interdependence that can produce genuine peace.  There is, however, also the risk of potential violence, instability, and the empowerment of radical actors hostile to the United States and our interests, if these transitions are not managed carefully.

I would like to talk to you this morning about how the Obama administration views the dramatic changes happening in the Middle East and what we are doing to try to seize this opportunity to advance a more peaceful, stable, free, and prosperous region.

Why did Middle East experts in the government and the academic world not foresee the changes that have occurred in 2011?  For many years, the analysis of the Middle East generally tended to be based on a set of assumptions:

  • regimes were too strong and ready to deploy their pervasive security apparatuses to instill fear and use force if necessary;
  • publics were simply to fearful with too little hope to challenge these systems, and  the more liberal actors in civil society were too weak and internally divided to bring about meaningful change;
  • the so-called Arab street cared more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their own domestic needs, and governments would always be quick to exploit these emotions  to divert attention away from their own failings;
  • and that regimes and people across the Middle East preferred stability to chaos and were willing to tolerate the status quo in order to avoid uncertainty.

But those traditional assumptions clearly don’t stand up to the realities we now see sweeping the region and that began with the revolt in Tunisia and moved onto Tahrir Square in Egypt.  What accounted for this dramatic change?  Perhaps, more than anything else, the loss of fear helped launch what is now referred to as the Arab Spring.  It has been the youth of the region, the “Facebook generation” that has led the way.  Demographically, there is a youth bulge in the region.  And, the level of frustration in the younger generation has been building and for good reason.   In far too many places, governments have provided for a select few, creating little economic opportunity and no promise of a better future, much less the possibility of inclusion and participation in shaping the future for the many.  Greater exposure to the outside through widely available satellite television, the internet, and more recently, social media platforms, showed this young generation the enormous gap between their limited opportunities and the prospects for participating fully in the 21st century world.  Lacking hope for a better future and faced with daily humiliation from insensitive, often brutal regimes, a few brave souls who had enough decided to defy the state.

In Tunisia, it was Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit vendor who was the catalyst for revolutionary change.  He set himself on fire in front of a government building after an official inspector sought to confiscate his fruit and slapped him in public when he tried to take back the goods that provided him a meager livelihood.

And in Egypt, it was the thousands of people who signed up to a Facebook page honoring the memory of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old businessmen brutally murdered by police after posting evidence of police brutality on the internet.  Those who joined the “We Are All Khaled Said” page knew they were signing up to be watched by state security services, but more than half a million people joined anyway.  And it was one of the creators of that page, the young Google executive Wael Ghonim, who himself became a powerful symbol of the opposition and galvanized thousands of protesters to join the movement in Tahrir Square after he emerged from 12 days in detention as defiant as ever.  The young people were not driven by any ideologies of religion or nationalism, but by the simple instinct to demand dignity in the face of humiliation.

In the face of the growing demands for change, how has the Obama administration responded?  Recognizing that we are neither the cause of what is happening in the region nor can we be the driver of these developments, we have established a set of basic principles to guide action:

  • First, we oppose the use of violence by governments and protesters alike.  Political change should emerge peacefully, not through force.
  • Second, we have insisted that governments must protect certain universal rights, such as the right for people to gather and express themselves peacefully and have access to information.
  • And third, the President emphasized from the beginning that governments should respond to inevitable change by instituting meaningful and credible reforms. As President Obama said very early on, “The world is changing; you have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity, and that if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change.  You can’t be behind the curve.”

We have committed to working closely with governments who have undertaken a meaningful effort to reform, and when governments have chosen the wrong approach and tried to preserve the status quo through their traditional but outdated modes of violence and coercion, we have spoken out.  On Friday, following another day of violence against demonstrators in Syria, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying: “We condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens demonstrating in Syria, and applaud the courage and dignity of the Syrian people.  Violence is not the answer to the grievances of the Syrian people.  What is needed now is a credible path to a future of greater freedom, democracy, opportunity, and justice.”  Over the past few months, we have spoken out when violence has occurred against peaceful protesters in Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen, and we will continue to do so, because if governments in the region should learn anything over the past few months, it should be that they cannot prevent dissent and seek to stifle legitimate grievances through force and coercion.   The Government of Bahrain, for example, should also recognize that restricting freedom of expression by shutting down newspapers or arresting bloggers is not the way to produce a political dialogue or make a political outcome more likely.

But the Obama administration’s approach is not just guided by what we say, but what we have done.  Nowhere has our commitment to preventing violence been demonstrated more clearly than in our response to the Qadhafi regime’s brutal efforts to quell internal opposition.  As Qadhafi’s troops advanced toward the city of Benghazi and he promised “no mercy” on his own population, we helped to mobilize a broad international coalition committed to preventing what would surely have been a humanitarian catastrophe — a human slaughter and a moral disaster that could easily have led to chaos, instability, and potentially enormous refugees flows into neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, precisely at a time these countries are attempting to navigate their own political transitions peacefully.

Having helped produce two UN Security Council Resolutions, we joined a broad international consensus that included Arab contributions from the UAE and Qatar to enforce the UN-authorized no-fly zone and to protect the civilians of Libya.  From the outset of this conflict, the President made clear that the American contribution to this effort would be largely on the front end and we would use our unique capabilities to create an environment in which others would be able to take the lead in carrying out the No Fly Zone and civilian protection mission.  That transition happened last week when NATO assumed full operational command for all missions in Libya.  We will continue to support the NATO mission with electronic jamming capabilities, aerial refueling, and intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance.   Now that the international coalitions has created space and time for the Libyan people, we hope to see a democratic transition in Libya through a broadly inclusive process that reflects the will and protects the rights of the Libyan people.

Elsewhere in the region, we are actively supporting transitions and supporting governments seeking to undertake peaceful transitions, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia.  In Egypt, we have been in a regular dialogue with the Egyptian military and the new government since the transition as well as with a diverse range of nongovernmental and civil society actors, making it clear that we support principles, processes, and institutions — not personalities.  Egypt has made remarkable strides in just a short period.  On March 19, more than 18 million people turned out to vote in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments.  They did so peacefully and orderly in a process fully supervised by Egypt’s respected judiciary.  Egypt faces many challenges ahead, including a struggling economy and the management of a complicated transition that will involve parliamentary and presidential elections this year as well as the drafting of a new constitution.

We have made a number of suggestions as to how this process can unfold freely, fairly, and peacefully, and we have committed to helping this transition in whatever way we can, because we understand what is at stake. We have reassigned $150 million in assistance to support Egypt’s transition, and we are working to establish a much needed Enterprise Fund that will stimulate private sector investment, support competitive markets, and provide business with access to low-cost capital — and we are working closely with our allies on the steps that can be taken to ensure economic stabilization over time.  If the Tahrir movement and the March referendum are any indication, there is reason to be optimistic that the Egyptian people will become increasingly invested in their government, establishing a degree of legitimacy that was missing for so many years.

Renewed legitimacy of governments in the Middle East will not only improve the stability of these countries internally, but will provide new opportunities for regional cooperation, and ultimately peace.  For too long, illegitimate governments have looked to blame others for their problems, to deflect attention from their own shortcomings by stoking hostilities toward the United States or Israel.

One of the most remarkable features of the peaceful protests movements across the region has been their focus on domestic issues — the abuses of security forces, government corruption, and the limited opportunities to participate in government decisions.  I fully expect that when these populations are empowered and responsible for shaping the future of their countries, they will also see the importance of pursuing peace and cooperation as essential to their own political futures.  The more that countries are able to invest their resources in their own future and the less they invest in conflict, the more they will be able to address the needs of their people that prompted the revolts of the Arab Spring.

Many of you will remember how Shimon Peres — who is having lunch with President Obama tomorrow — spoke about the New Middle East in 1993 that would be built on the foundations of peace, cooperation, and trade.  Unfortunately, Peres’s vision was not realized two decades ago, because such a future could not be built on an authoritarian foundation.  The Middle East today has very little internal trade and investment.  The region also has very few domestic or transnational institutions when compared to other parts of the world.  All that needs to change, and the democratic movements today offer the prospect of a truly new Middle East — a vision that we must strive to realize.  The United States can help support this process by facilitating the work of civil society and non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private-public partnerships to help countries in transition secure the resources and knowledge needed for a better future.

Peace is essential in the region not only to enhance the prospect of trade and cooperation, but to ensure that as a new generation of leaders emerge, they recognize the prospect that Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs can coexist in their own states without the ever-present prospect of renewed hostilities.  New leaders need to see that peace is possible and not impossible.  They need to see that negotiations can take place and actually produce.  And, Israelis and Palestinians need to feel that their respective requirements for peace are understood clearly by each other and will actually be addressed.  Israelis, particularly during a time of change with inherent uncertainty, must see that their security will be addressed meaningfully, and in a way that does not leave them vulnerable to the uncertainties of the future.  Palestinians must know that they will have an independent state that is contiguous and viable.  For Palestinians, that prospect is certainly made more credible when tangible steps are taken to show that the occupation is receding.

If anything, our relationship with Israel becomes more important during a time of change and upheaval in the Middle East.  Israel is an enduring partner whose stability can be counted on.  We are bound by shared values and interests, and our commitment to Israel’s security is iron-clad and unshakable.  For the Obama Administration, those are not just words.  Many of you may have heard what Secretary Gates recently said  in Israel:  “I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.”  Our cooperation contributes to Israel’s security every day, signified by Israel’s recent deployment of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, which we helped fund with more than $200 million in support this year.  I too cannot recall a time when security cooperation between our two countries has ever been as intense or focused.

All this is important because, as I noted earlier, political change in the Middle East does not come without risk, and it is occurring under the backdrop of ongoing threats.  Iran, in particular is trying to exploit the political changes in the Arab world, and using its proxy Hezbollah to enflame sectarian tensions in countries like Bahrain at precisely a moment when sectarian differences and legitimate grievances need to be overcome politically and not exacerbated.  Iran has also been quick to criticize Arab governments for using the very repressive tactics it continues to employ against its own people.  Indeed, it is the height of irony that at a time when Arab publics throughout the Middle East are finding their voice, the Iranian leadership seeks to quash the voice of Iranians who are asking only for their rights.

The Iranians are fooling no one.  And, they are also fooling no one as they continue to pursue their nuclear program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions.  As National Security Advisor Tom Donilon stressed last week, “Even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East, we remain focused on the strategic imperative of ensuring that Iran does acquire not nuclear weapons.”  On our own and with others, we will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime.  On March 24, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution appointing a special rapporteur charged with investigating and monitoring human rights abuses in Iran — a move that the ADL praised.   Iran continues to contend with sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before, and as a result, it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in Euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure — and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued.   Other sectors are clearly being affected as well as leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran and are no longer doing so.

Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure.    

We clearly have a full plate of challenges in the Middle East today.  But our agenda is clear: support coalition forces in their mission to protect the civilians of Libya and support a peaceful, inclusive, and democratic transition there; help Egypt and Tunisia to conduct a successful, orderly, and credible transition; encourage others in the region undertake meaningful reform now before they too face destabilizing unrest; work to expand economic opportunities; continue the push for peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors; and build the pressure on Iran.  This is a complex and demanding agenda, but it has the complete attention of the President and his full national security team.

Thank you very much.

Sec’y of Defense Robert Gates on Strength of US-Israel Relationship

— David Streeter

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to Israel and held a high level meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The two have met multiple times over the last two years and their latest meeting underscores the Obama Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security in the face of a changing Middle East.

During the post-meeting press conference, Barak praises Gates’ personal commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship:

I would like to welcome Secretary Gates in his visit here to Israel, and a leading American and a leading friend of the whole region and of Israel as well.  I would like to draw our attention once again to the pivotal role of the relationship and the unique relation between the United States and Israel in shaping our security, the qualitative military edge of Israel, and the stability of the whole region.

I would like to thank you, Secretary Gates, for your friendship, for your personal and institutional contribution to making our security-related exchanges more profound, more substantial than ever in the past.  We highly appreciate this, and we wish you all the best in this visit all around the region and back home.  Thank you.

Gates spoke on the current state of U.S.-Israel relations during his prepared remarks:

I would start by joining President Obama in condemning yesterday’s terrorist bomb attack in Jerusalem, as well as the rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza in recent days and even today.  The thoughts and condolences of the American government and the American people are with the victims and their families.  We underscore that Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.

In my meeting today with Minister Barak, in addition to discussing these attacks, we discussed a range of important defense issues both in our bilateral relationship and across the region, including the dramatic political shifts taking place in the Middle East and the implications those changes hold for the future; Iran’s nuclear program; the security environment on Israel’s borders, including southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the ongoing military operation over Libya.

Our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world:  violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states.  And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.

Indeed, I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion-cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.

And during an exchange with a reporter Gates said:

President Obama is the eighth American president I’ve worked for.  And I don’t believe that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has ever been stronger than it is right now.  And the steps that we have taken in the last two years in terms of, just as one example, collaborating together on missile defense, I think are without precedent.  I see no change in prospect for that relationship.

Gates concluded his prepared remarks by affirming the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Every time I visit Israel, I’m reminded of the extraordinary challenges the Jewish people have overcome throughout their history, the tremendous accomplishment that the state of Israel represents and the importance of our alliance to ensuring Israel’s security.

Full transcript follows the jump.
Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister Barak from Tel Aviv, Israel

MIN. BARAK:  Good afternoon.  I will make a short statement in English, then a few words in Hebrew and then will yield to the secretary.  And then we’ll answer one question on each side, with your permission.

           I would like to welcome Secretary Gates in his visit here to Israel, and a leading American and a leading friend of the whole region and of Israel as well.  I would like to draw our attention once again to the pivotal role of the relationship and the unique relation between the United States and Israel in shaping our security, the qualitative military edge of Israel, and the stability of the whole region.

           We share with the United States a common set of values, and the main topic that we discussed is the developments in the region and the need to keep fighting against terror and the sources of radical behavior.

           Just in the recent hour, once again a rocket hit Ashdod and probably another one even north of Ashdod, and that’s part of an escalation which takes part in the last several days.  I would like to reemphasize that Israel will not tolerate these terror attacks, and we will not allow terror to rise once again.

           The Israel Defense Forces are our main guarantee for deterrence, consultation and even for the backing of our efforts to pursue peace in the region, which we continuously keep doing.

           And once again, I would like to thank you, Secretary Gates, for your friendship, for your personal and institutional contribution to making our security-related exchanges more profound, more substantial than ever in the past.  We highly appreciate this, and we wish you all the best in this visit all around the region and back home.  Thank you.

           (Continues in Hebrew.)

           SEC. GATES:  It’s a pleasure to be back in Israel and to have this opportunity to visit with my friend Ehud Barak, a true warrior-statesman and someone I’ve known and respected and worked with for over 20 years.

           I would start by joining President Obama in condemning yesterday’s terrorist bomb attack in Jerusalem, as well as the rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza in recent days and even today.  The thoughts and condolences of the American government and the American people are with the victims and their families.  We underscore that Israel, like all nations, has the right to self-defense and to bring justice to the perpetrators of these repugnant acts.

           In my meeting today with Minister Barak, in addition to discussing these attacks, we discussed a range of important defense issues both in our bilateral relationship and across the region, including the dramatic political shifts taking place in the Middle East and the implications those changes hold for the future; Iran’s nuclear program; the security environment on Israel’s borders, including southern Lebanon and the Palestinian territories; and the ongoing military operation over Libya.

           Our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because, as Minister Barak once said, Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world:  violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states.  And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.

           Indeed, I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.

           As you know, I have a full agenda here during my visit.  Later today, I will see President Peres.  Tomorrow, I will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss our defense relationship and the prospects for a two-state solution, and I will then have discussions with Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad.

           I know there may be a temptation during this time of great uncertainty in the region to be more cautious about pursuing the peace process, but in my meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, I carry a different message:  that there is a need and an opportunity for bold action to move toward a two-state solution.  And as the parties move forward, the United States stands ready to support them in any way we can.

           In closing, every time I visit Israel, I’m reminded of the extraordinary challenges the Jewish people have overcome throughout their history, the tremendous accomplishment that the state of Israel represents and the importance of our alliance to ensuring Israel’s security.

           Thank you, Ehud, for hosting us, and I look forward to seeing you again at dinnertime.

           STAFF:  Thank you.  Thank you both.

           Now two questions.  We start with an American question, then an Israeli question.

           STAFF:  (Off mic.)

           Q:  Thank you very much.  Good afternoon.  This is a question for both Minister Barak and Secretary Gates.  What is your opinion of the upheaval that has now reached Syria by all accounts?  Is this something that Israel’s encouraged by?  Perhaps not, given calls by yourself at times to approach the Assad government for peace.  I’d also like to deepen that question and ask whether Israel sees potentially a Syrian connection to the flare-up in Gaza.  It’s no secret that Islamic Jihad, Hamas have their headquarters in Syria.  Perhaps there’s an outside interest in opening up that front?

           SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I would say that what the Syrian government is confronting is, in fact, the same challenge that faces so many governments across the region, and that is the unmet political and economic grievances of their people, in some of these countries — Libya is an example, Syria is another example — where authoritarian regimes have suppressed their people and have been willing to use violence against them. Of course, the other example is the Iranian government prepared to use force against its own people.

           And so I think that what we see is the opening to the future that’s occurring in virtually all of these countries.  Some of them are dealing with it better than others.  I’ve just come from Egypt, where the Egyptian army stood on the sidelines and allowed people to demonstrate, and in fact, empowered a revolution.  The Syrians might take a lesson from that.

           MIN. BARAK:  First of all, I do not pretend to know exactly what happens now in Syria.  We learn it through a low-visibility kind of filters.  But if our — and I’m — I think that we are lucky enough to be at the center or the focal point of this internal (inaudible) Syria.  But if I would have to advise them, I would join the advice of the secretary, saying that we prefer the Egyptian model of behavior rather than the Libyan one to be adopted by our neighbors.

           In regard to the peace opportunities, once again, we cannot — we cannot pass a judgment right now whether it’s good or not, whether the situation really is right or not.  But in time, the Syrian government will decide that they are open to consider negotiating with us.  We will be open.  But it’s up to them.  It’s their decision.  We cannot pass a judgment.  I think that this difficult situation creates not just sweat and challenges but also opportunities.  And we have be — have to be alert to be able to see those opportunities the moment they emerge rather than let them slip out of our fingers and face the uncertainties of a deeper chaos in the Middle East.

           SEC. GATES:  Phil.

           Q:  Thank you.  And this is a question for both of you.  Do you believe a heavy-handed Israeli response to yesterday’s bombing and today’s rocket attacks would play into the hands of those in the region who want to sever peace talks?  And what path should Israel pursue in regards to peace?

           MIN. BARAK:  Can you repeat the question?  I’m not (inaudible).

           Q:  Sure.  Do you believe a heavy-handed Israeli response to yesterday’s bombing and today’s rocket attacks would play into the hands of those in the region who want to sever peace talks?  And what path should Israel pursue in regards to peace?

           MIN. BARAK:  I think that’s it not about giving a name or description to this response, though is a need to respond.  Every sovereign would have responded when its citizenry is — became a target for indiscriminate launching of rockets.  I do not know any government that would sit idle.  So we have to respond.

           Now, we do not want to become the — kind of the — kind of the victims of our own (inaudible).  So we keep the right to pass a judgment about how, when and in what kind of amount of firepower or ammunition to respond.  But we will respond.  We have to respond.  And we are determined to bring back tranquility to the region.  And unfortunately, this tough neighborhood, it cannot be done without the readiness and practice of using, from time to time, force.

           SEC. GATES:  I think the Israelis will have to make their own decision in terms of how to respond.  No sovereign state can tolerate having rockets fired at its — at its — at its people.

           I think one of the — one of the significant features of what is going on across the region is that as diverse as the countries are, where there is — where there are demonstrations and unrest, in virtually every case, the theme of those demonstrations has been directed inward at problems in those countries.  And I think we all just need to be mindful to keep that we don’t want to do anything that allows extremists or others to divert the narrative of reform that is going on in virtually all of the countries of the region.

           MIN. BARAK:  Please, last question for an Israeli reporter.

           Q:  Mr. Secretary, you’ve just emphasized the special relationship between the United States and Israel.  In light of the recent events in the Middle East, could you comment on Minister Barak’s suggestion that the United States will expand its military aid to Israel by $20 billion?  And Mr. Barak, regarding the shootings from Gaza, do you see Hamas as the only — only Hamas as responsible for this situation, or do you make a distinction between Hamas and Islamic Jihad?

           MIN. BARAK:  I would like to answer, sir, with your permission.  I raised the issue of 20 billion [dollars] as a part of a wider development; will Israel sign a peace agreement with a major neighbor, be it the Palestinians or the whole region or Syria or whatever.  It’s only within this context when we are taking extra mile of risks in order to stabilize the whole region that we can afford turning to the United States and ask them, in spite of all the circumstances therein, to try to help us to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation.

           In fact, that’s nothing new.  I talked about it 10 years ago with Clinton.  I talked about it five years ago with President Bush.  I already talked to him about it more than once at the Pentagon and the (inaudible) Americans.

           So it’s nothing new about it.  In order to make peace in this tough neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak, no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves, Israel has to take further security risks for all potential development that could happen, as we see around there from time to time.  And that’s where we ask the United States to help us to upgrade our security capabilities by systems that sometimes they are the only one who produces (inaudible).  And we’ve sent in support for us in systems that only we know how to build and develop.

           In regarding to your other question, we see the Hamas as responsible because Hamas is basically not just a terrorist group.  It’s also the regime in Gaza.  And they have to enforce or impose their will upon — be it the Islamic Jihad or other dissident groups.  We cannot make this fine differentiation between different sources of rockets.  When the rockets come on the head of a family somewhere in Ashkelon or in Beersheba or in a small village or city around the Gaza Strip, it doesn’t matter for them whether it came from the — this gang or the other gang or from the Islamic Jihad or from the Hamas.  For us, Hamas is responsible for whatever comes from Gaza.

           SEC. GATES:  First of all, I understood the minister’s comment and in precisely the context that he described it.  And I would just restate what I said in my opening statement, that President Obama is the eighth American president I’ve worked for.  And I don’t believe that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has ever been stronger than it is right now.  And the steps that we have taken in the last two years in terms of, just as one example, collaborating together on missile defense, I think are without precedent.  I see no change in prospect for that relationship.

           David.

           Q:  Mr. Secretary, you’ve just come from Egypt.  And I wonder whether in your conversations with Field Marshal Tantawi and others you had any chance to think about whether Egypt will be as strong a partner as it has been in security issues — for example, in preventing smuggling of weapons to Gaza — and if you had any other questions or concerns after your visit.

           And Minister Barak, I’d be interested in your views about the new Egypt.  And also, as this revolution spreads, it seems now, to Syria, to lemon — to Yemen, to other countries, do you sometimes think —

           MIN. BARAK:  Well, not Iran.

           Q:  Well —

           MIN. BARAK:  We wish together that it will jump directly to Tehran, yeah.

           Q:  Include that in your answer.  But my question is whether you ever wonder whether the United States is — has been so supportive of change that perhaps it should think a bit more about stability in addition?

           SEC. GATES:  First of all, I was quite reassured by my conversations in Egypt, and in particular with Field Marshal Tantawi, about their commitment to the treaty with Israel and to their commitment to continuing a high-level dialogue on a routine basis between Israeli and Egyptian leaders.  They, too, are concerned about the smuggling problem.  And I offered our assistance to them, technical and otherwise, in terms of getting a handle on this.  But I came away persuaded that they take it seriously, and that they also take the relationship with Israel seriously.

           MIN. BARAK:  I think that the historic aspect that we see on the — all over — all around the Arab world is something unprecedented — we didn’t see such phenomena since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire some hundred years ago, almost hundred years ago, or the — or the demise of the French colonial empire some 60 or 50 — it depends how you count — years ago.

           And it’s really — historically speaking, it’s moving and inspiring phenomena; clearly promising for the future of the Arab people, for the young generation in the Arab world, for the right of women, for the right to self — express themselves and so on.

           But unfortunately, we are experienced (inaudible).  As the secretary mentioned today, you know, an optimist in the Middle East is a — a pessimist in the Middle East is an optimist with experience.  We have to follow historic experiences of similar revolutions.  Usually after a short period of elation from the romanticism and the idealism that spreads around the streets, there might come, and came in the past, a determined group, however small, who is ready to kill and be killed if necessary in order to come to power, and they come to power.

           So we have to look around us and make whatever we can.  We are extremely limited in our capacity to influence.  United States has more influence.  But the rest of the world should support the elements that provides or ensures stability in the short range and try to minimize the chances of extremist group to come to power.

           I believe that the basic process is good.  It’s true that the moderate (inaudible) leaders in the region, and I don’t count neither Libya or Iran among them, but the others who are extremely sensitive and responsible regarding to the stability issue and extremely sensitive to international commitments, including the Israeli-Egyptian peace.  So I feel that we have to be careful and open-eyed in the short term to minimize negative developments and minimize risk for stability, but in the long run it’s — it is an extremely positive phenomena.

           In regard to the Egyptian leadership, I know Field Marshal Tantawi for many years.  In fact, 35 years or so — 30 years ago, we fought each other.  We were both (inaudible) battalion commanders in the same — in the same sector when we crossed the Suez Canal.  He was protecting the Eastern Bank with his infantry battalion.  I came with my tank battalion.  When I talked to him after he took power, I told him we have an utmost responsibility to make sure that our younger generation will not find themselves in the same experiences we had been through.

           And I cannot quote him of course, but I have a reason to believe that as long as the Egyptian armed forces are in power, they’re a major pillar of stability within Egypt.  The peace agreement, as well as other Egyptian international commitments, will be respected and kept.

           Thank you once again, my friend, Bob Gates, and have a good stay here.  Thank you all.

Sen. Paul Call to End “Welfare” to Israel Rejected by Senate Dems

— David Streeter and David A. Harris

A group of Senate Democrats has sent a letter to Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), Chairman of the House Budget Committee, rejecting Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) proposal to cut foreign aid to Israel. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Casey (D-PA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) proclaimed in the letter that Paul’s “remarks are alarming and aim to weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel.”

This is the second time in as many weeks that Paul has advocated this dangerous and irresponsible policy. This time though, Paul went further and ludicrously claimed that American assistance to Israel is nothing more than ‘welfare.’

American assistance to Israel is certainly not welfare. For decades, the U.S.-Israel relationship has paid significant dividends for America’s national security and has helped Israel to become America’s greatest democratic ally in a difficult and dangerous neighborhood. This is not welfare; helping our democratic ally Israel helps America on so many levels.

Some may claim that Paul speaks only for himself. But if that truly is the case, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republican leaders must immediately speak out loudly and clearly to condemn the reversal in U.S. foreign policy that Senator Paul continues to advocate. They must do so before Paul’s disturbing and now weekly appeals for an end to American assistance to Israel become dogma among certain segments of the Republican Party’s base, threatening the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The text of the letter from Senate Democrats follows the jump.
February 1, 2011

Dear Chairman Rogers and Chairman Ryan:

We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel. Recently, Republican Senator Rand Paul suggested that the United States should “halt all foreign aid including its financial aid to Israel.” These remarks are alarming and aim to weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel. Both Republicans and Democrats are committed to reining in the federal deficit, but assistance to Israel is not a matter of “pork barrel spending” – rather U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates America’s rock-solid commitment to ensuring Israel’s right to exist.

Israel is the only democratic nation in the Middle East and one of our most trusted allies. A stable and secure Israel is strongly in our national security interest and has been a cornerstone of our foreign policy for over half-a-century. Using Congress’s bipartisan commitment to reining in government spending as a reason to abandon Israel is unacceptable and should be immediately rejected.

At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel.  As members of the United States Senate, we will work aggressively to prevent any attempts to abandon one of our most trusted allies. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Senator Stabenow

Senator Nelson

Senator Menendez

Senator Cardin

Senator Brown

Senator Casey

Senator Whitehouse