Kerry in Israel: “The Threat of Force Remains”

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel today, and spoke about Syria and the Israeli-Arab Peace talks in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu.

About the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Kerry said: “These are crimes against humanity, and they cannot be tolerated, and they are a threat to the capacity of the global community to be able to live by standards of rules of law and the highest standards of human behavior.”

Kerry added that last week, the United States and Russia agreed to “strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria.”

The Russians have agreed, they state, that the Assad regime has agreed to make its declaration within one week of the location and the amount of those weapons… President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains… We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs.

Netanyahu said:

The Syrian regime must be stripped all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer. The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction, because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.  

About the peace talks, Kerry said that “the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately with confidence that everybody will respect that process. And since I have asked for that from all the parties, I’m not going to break it now or at any other time. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.”

Netanyahu said to Kerry, “we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all.”

Full remarks after the jump.
Netanyahu: Mr. Secretary, John, a pleasure to welcome you again in Jerusalem. I very much appreciate the fact that you’re here today. You’ve got a lot on your plate. Despite that busy schedule of yours, you took the time to come to Jerusalem.  It’s deeply appreciated. I appreciate the fact that you’re making a great personal effort on matters of vital strategic importance for all of us.  

We have been closely following and support your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The Syrian regime must be stripped all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer. The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction, because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.  

Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community by its pursuit towards nuclear weapons. What the past few days have showed is something that I’ve been saying for quite some time, that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of Iran — or what is true of Syria is true of Iran, and by the way, vice versa.

John, I appreciate the opportunity we’ve had to discuss at some length our quest for peace with the Palestinians and the ongoing talks. We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all. I want to welcome you once again to Jerusalem. I want to promise all of those who are seeing us now that this will not be our last long meeting.

Kerry: No.  (Laughter.)  Not by any means.

Mr. Prime Minister, my friend Bibi, thank you very much for one of your generous welcomes here again. I’m very appreciative, very happy to be back here in Israel, and only sorry that it’s a short time and a short visit. I thank you for your generous hospitality and I pick up on your comments that the road ahead is not easy. If it were easy, peace would have been achieved a long time ago.  But what is clearer than ever today is that this is a road worth traveling. And so I’m delighted to have spent a good period of time — (clears throat) — excuse me, folks, the benefits of a lot of travel. (Laughter.)  

I’m really happy to have spent a serious amount of time with the Prime Minister this afternoon talking in some depth about the challenges of the particular road that we are on. This is a follow-up to a very productive meeting that I had in London last week with President Abbas, so I am talking to both presidents directly as we agreed —

Netanyahu: Don’t elevate me to the role of president.

Kerry: President — Prime Minister and President, I apologize.

Netanyahu:
I can’t reach those heights —

Kerry: (Laughter.) Both leaders.

Netanyahu: — and I respect Mr. Peres greatly and —

Kerry: I am talking to both leaders directly. And everybody, I think, understands the goal that we are working for. It is two states living side by side in peace and in security. Two states because there are two proud peoples, both of whom deserve to fulfill their legitimate national aspirations in a homeland of their own, and two states because today, as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, I think everybody is reminded significantly of the costs of conflict and the price, certainly, that Israelis have paid in the quest for their security and identity.

The Prime Minister and I and all of the parties involved have agreed that we will not discuss details at any point in time. We are convinced that the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately with confidence that everybody will respect that process. And since I have asked for that from all the parties, I’m not going to break it now or at any other time. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.

I do want to comment, however, as the Prime Minister has, on the challenge of the region and what we have just been doing in the last few days of negotiations in Geneva. And that is, as the Prime Minister has said, an issue that directly affects the stability of this entire region, and ultimately, weapons of mass destruction, which are at stake in this issue, are a challenge to everybody on this planet. So this is a global issue, and that is the focus that we have tried to give it in the talks in Geneva in the last days, but we want to make sure people understand exactly what we are trying to achieve and how.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has enormous implications for all of the neighbors — the press of refugees, the fact of weapons of mass destruction having been used against the people of their own state. These are crimes against humanity, and they cannot be tolerated, and they are a threat to the capacity of the global community to be able to live by standards of rules of law and the highest standards of human behavior.  

So I want people to understand the key elements of what we agreed to in Geneva. It is a framework, not a final agreement. It is a framework that must be put into effect by the United Nations now. But it is a framework that, with the Russian and U.S. agreement, it has the full ability to be able to, as the Prime Minister said, strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria. The Russians have agreed, they state, that the Assad regime has agreed to make its declaration within one week of the location and the amount of those weapons. And then we will put in place what we hope to put in place through the United Nations, what Russia and the United States agreed on, which is the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal effort well beyond the CWC that has been designed.

Now this will only be as effective as its implementation will be, and President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains. The threat of force is real, and the Assad regime and all those taking part need to understand that President Obama and the United States are committed to achieve this goal. We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs because that affects all other issues, whether Iran or North Korea or any other.  

The core principles with respect to the removal of these weapons and the containment of these weapons, which we want to achieve, as we said in the document, in the soonest, fastest, most effective way possible — if we achieve that, we will have set a marker for the standard of behavior with respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea and any other state, rogue state, group that decide to try to reach for these kinds of weapons.

The core principles will have the full backing of the international community through the U.N. Security Council. And Russia agreed that any breach of compliance, according to standards already set out in the CWC, any breach of the specifics of this agreement or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria will result in immediate referral and action by the Security Council for measures under Chapter 7, which means what they select, up to and including the possibility of the use of force.

So again, I reiterate diplomacy has always been the preferred path of the President of the United States, and I think is any peace-loving nation’s preferred choice. But make no mistake, we’ve taken no options off the table. President Obama’s been absolutely clear about the remainder of the potential of use of force if there is noncompliance or refusal to take part, because the egregious use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against innocent men, women, children, their own citizens all indiscriminately murdered in the dead of night, is unacceptable. And we have said in no uncertain terms that this should never happen again. This country understands the words, “Never again,” perhaps better than any other.

I’ve been in contact with many of my counterparts, with Foreign Secretary Hague of the United Kingdom, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Their partnership on these issues has been essential. And I will see both of them tomorrow and Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey in Paris, where I’ll also meet Foreign Minister Saud Faisal of Saudi Arabia in order to talk about the road ahead to achieve our goals.  

Our attention and our efforts will now shift to the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN Security Council, and the international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its commitments, and we expect Russia to join with us in holding them accountable.  

I also want to make clear this effort is not just about securing chemical weapons in Syria. We are not just standing up for a redline that the world drew some 100 years ago, and which is worth standing up for. Our focus now must remain on ending the violence, ending the indiscriminate killing, ending the creation of more and more refugees that is not only tearing Syria apart, but threatens the region itself.  

As President Obama has said, and I have said many times, there is no military solution to this conflict. We don’t want to create more and more extremist elements and we don’t want to see the implosion of the state of Syria. So our overall objective is to find a political solution through diplomacy, and that needs to happen at the negotiating table, and we will stay engaged with a sense of urgency. And I say to the Syrian opposition and all those in Syria who recognize that just removing the chemical weapons doesn’t do the job, we understand that, and that is not all we are going to seek to do. But it is one step forward, and it eliminates that weapon from the arsenal of a man who has proven willing to do anything to his own people to hold onto power.

Foreign Minister Lavrov and I met with Special Envoy Brahimi yesterday. We will meet again in New York. We are committed to continue to work towards the Geneva 2. And we have made clear that our support to the opposition in an effort to get there will continue unabated.  

So, Mr. Prime Minister, I know you and I are both clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. We have to summon the grit and the determination to stay at this, to make the tough decisions — tough decisions about eliminating weapons of mass destruction and tough decisions about making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will not lose sight of the end game. I know that from talking with the Prime Minister today. And I think both of us remain deeply committed, and we hope very much with our partners in the region, to doing our best to try to make this journey towards peace get to its destination.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.  

Netanyahu: John, another sound bite. (Laughter.)

Shalom Center Grasps at Straws to Find Substitute for War


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

— by Amir Shoam

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

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

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

Waskow’s proposals and my comments follow the jump.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waskow then makes this suggestion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following suggestion explains itself:

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

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

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

But the most flawed is Waskow’s final suggestion:

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

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

Ambassador Samantha Power explained the situation last week:

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

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

Waving a Red Flag Against Chemical Weapons

— by Steve Sheffey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creamer continues:

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

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

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

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Congresspersons’ Syria Dilemma

Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch.

There are a lot of “whip counts” on the House of Representatives, indicating a firm "nay" on intervening in Syria. From the Senate whip count, it appears that there are more undecideds than anything else. That this may well change after President Barack Obama's Tuesday night address, but from reports it seems that the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to any action in Syria, except humanitarian aid and diplomacy, which will tend to make Reps. wary of voting "yea."

The Senate will vote first, which potentially precludes a House vote. The first thing to note is that the Senate, and some members of the House, know a lot more about what is going on in Syria then we do. That is why they call them "classified briefings," and they may be the reason that so many Senators are undecided. 

More after the jump.

Some believe it is imperative to bomb Syria, and their reasons are simple: Chemical weapons cannot be tolerated; reining president Bashar al-Assad will use them again if we do not stop him; and we are the United States, so it is our responsibility to lead the world. 

Others are so war weary, that they do not care about the chemical weapons. They just see the situation as a way to get embroiled in 10 years of yet another war in the Middle East, with the potential to spread outside of Syria, and possibly into a World War III. 

If I had to prognosticate, I would believe we will bomb, beginning on Sunday, Sept. 15. In addition to bombing, we will surgically remove Assad and his regime. 

But what I am interested in is the party politics going forward. We have been saying since 2009 that the Republican Party is imploding, and there is a huge schism caused by the rise of the Tea Party. And this is another rift for them: the GOP has always been the party of war, of neocons, and of the military-industrial complex. The "daddy" party, if you will. If they all vote “nay,” or enough of them do to preclude congressional concurrence, Obama can certainly still bomb, and if it is successful, that wing of the party is in trouble for 2016. In every debate they would get asked, "Why didn't you stand up for America?"

A different set of problems presents itself for the Democrats. All House Democrats, and a lot of Democratic Senators, will be running next year. Into their calculus is certainly whether they would want to be seen as standing with or against the President on the issue. If the bombing turns into a war, voting "yea" would hurt them. However, voting "nay" before a successful bombing would mean a lot of explaining to the rank and file during any primaries, and possibly problems raising money down the road.

The decision that each member of Congress makes will not be simple. While some people are incredibly hawkish, and would vote “yea” for any  military action; and while the Democratic leadership is obligated to vote with the President; this is a vote of conscience, not of party.  For the first time since he has been in office (since 2001), my Congressman sent me an email, asking my opinion as to go or no-go. I am pretty sure that this email went to every email address in the district that his office could get its hands on. I understand that a lot of Reps. have been reaching out, in addition to taking calls. 

The countrywide discussion is a good thing. I am sorry that not every country has this sort of verbal intercourse prior to every potential military action. There may be options which will solve the problem of chemical weapons without causing additional deaths. 

My personal preference is to seek a diplomatic solution, and failing that, to arm the moderate rebels, and not the jihadists. It is also important to lead a humanitarian relief effort for the Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Greece, and the other countries to which they have escaped. I do not see an upside to the bombing — only potential disasters. But that is just one girl's opinion. What is yours?

Jewish Goups Call Congress to Authorize Military Action in Syria


People killed by a chemical attack in Ghouta last month.

Before Rosh Hashanah, Jewish groups expressed support for President Obama’s plan for a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and urged Congress to authorize the action.

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:

B’nai B’rith International supports President Barack Obama’s call for Congressional authorization of military action in response to the Syrian government’s use of nerve gas against civilians last month.

The United States has a moral obligation to enforce a global norm against using chemical weapons. It is in the national security interest of the United States to prevent the use and spread of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction by Syria, Iran or terrorist organizations that are surely monitoring the situation. A U.S. military response would send a clear message that no one can engage in this depraved activity.

We urge bipartisan Congressional authorization for the White House proposal, sending a message that the immoral use of these chemical weapons of mass destruction will not be tolerated.

More after the jump.
Marc Stanley, National Jewish Democratic Council chair, stated:

We need to be clear about what is at stake here. This is not about choosing sides in Syria’s civil war or starting a war with Syria. This is about deterring the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again. The US should send a message to the world that the use of these horrible weapons is unacceptable and that the consequences of using weapons of mass destruction will always outweigh any perceived benefit.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) Chair Larry gold said:

For over two years now, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has proven himself unfit to rule his country, choosing to meet political protest and armed resistance with the massacre of tens of thousands of civilians. Now, with persuasive evidence that he has used large amounts of sarin gas in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), other international treaties and basic human decency, Assad himself has invited retaliation. The President’s plan is a clear message that we will no longer watch on the sidelines as civilians are gassed.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:

The use of force is never arrived at lightly. But given Assad’s indifference to the worldwide consensus that chemical weapons are too barbaric to use even against combatants, let alone civilians, he must face the consequences. We support President Obama’s decision to launch a targeted and limited military response. It will communicate to Assad and any others tempted to use or acquire weapons of mass destruction that the United States stands by our warnings and our values. The Congress should act quickly to authorize the action. We also strongly urge the United States and international community to enhance humanitarian aid to the millions of refugees fleeing Assad’s reign of terror.

A group of prominent American rabbis and Jewish leaders from the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative denominations of Judaism petitioned Congress last Tuesday. Evoking memories of the Holocaust, the rabbis stated that Congressional approval would deter enablers of atrocity and save thousands of lives.

Signatories to the petition included Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Yosef Blau, a rabbinic leader of Yeshiva University; prominent Jewish history professor Jonathan Sarna; popular Conservative leader Rabbi David Wolpe; lecturer and author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin; Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America; and Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, who founded the Jewish social justice group Uri L’Tzedek.

“Regardless of politics or denomination, the Jewish community has an instinctive response when we see that hundreds of children have been gassed to death,” said Yanklowitz. “That response is one of sympathy and a desire to protect the innocent. That response is in our DNA.”

The full text of the petition is included below:

Dear Congressional Leaders,

We write you as descendants of Holocaust survivors and refugees, whose ancestors were gassed to death in concentration camps. We write you as a people who have faced persecution for many centuries, and are glad to have found a safe refuge where we can thrive in the United States. We write as a people proud of our religious and historical tradition of helping the needy and defending the weak.

The recent chemical weapons attacks on the Damascus suburbs constitute a serious crime against humanity. These attacks killed upwards of 1400 people, the majority of them innocent women and children. As a people who themselves once faced the horrors of genocide and survived, we had hoped that we would never again open our newspapers to images of mass graves filled with suffocated young children. Now that we have seen such images coming from Syria, we call upon you to act.

Intelligence assessments from the U.S., U.K. France, Israel, Turkey, the Arab League, and many other allies all show conclusively that the Assad regime was responsible for the horrific chemical attacks of August 21st. We fear that if this attack passes without a decisive response, we might open our newspapers to more images of mass graves from Syria – and elsewhere — in the near future. We have learned from our own history that inaction and silence are the greatest enablers of human atrocity.

For this reason, we call upon you with great urgency to authorize the President to use force in Syria “in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction,” as outlined in his August 31st draft legislation. Through this act, Congress has the capacity to save thousands of lives.

These are the Days of Awe for the Jewish people. In one of the climactic moments of our High Holiday prayers, we read “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who will pass and who will be created, who will live and who will die, who in his time and who before his time.” May this coming year be one of life and creation the world over, in which we cease to witness the deaths of so many innocent human beings.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, Founder & President, Uri L’Tzedek

Leon Wieseltier

Rabbi Avi Weiss, President-Emeritus, YCT Rabbinical School (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah)

Rabbi Yosef Blau, Rosh Yeshiva, Yeshiva University

Professor Jonathan Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

Rabbi David Wolpe, Senior Rabbi, Sinai Temple

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President- Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ)

Shlomo Bolts

Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, RCA (Rabbinical Council of America)

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Jason Herman, Director, IRF (International Rabbinic Fellowship)

Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Senior Fellow, Clal: The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, writer, Temple Beth Am, Bayonne, NJ

Rabbi Dr. Yehudah Mirsky

Rabbi Barry Dolinger

Rabbi Andy Koren

Rabbi Richard A. Block, President, Central Conference of American Rabbis

Where’s the Coverage? Israel Surrounded by Threats


Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ http://cartoonkronicles.com

CAMERA has reported:

Recent statements by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry portend a forceful American response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

Should the United States — and allies — strike Syria, both Iran and Syria have threatened to retaliate against Israel. This has received coverage in the popular press. The news media have also reported that Israel has had to call up reservists and deploy extra missile defenses, and even recounted:

In addition to [gas] masks, the Israeli government handed out small plastic tents designed to protect newborns and was running videos with step-by-step instructions on how to correctly don the gear.

What the media have missed are the multiple threats that Israel confronts beyond this immediate crisis. Israel literally faces peril on every border and Israelis are in danger from terrorists even when they travel abroad.

Infographic from the Israeli Embassy depicting some of the dangers, and more following the jump.

The embassy maintains:

It’s because of these threats Israel is ever more committed to maintaining our existing peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, and reaching an historic peace agreement based on the principle of two states for two peoples – Israel the nation-state and homeland for the Jewish people and an Arab Palestinian state as the homeland for the Palestinian people.

Israel and Israelis yearn for a peace that allows Israel to be able to invest in ourselves, building a better society for our children, and creating a prosperous future.

Israel committed to peace with its neighbors? Israel interested in reaching an agreement with the Palestinian Arabs? Well you certainly haven’t heard much of that from the media. As for the multiple, persistent threats all around… Where’s the coverage?

Syria: Why Are We Doing So Little to Prevent Mass Killing?


People killed by a chemical attack in Ghouta last week.

— by Steve Sheffey

Civilians are being gassed to death in Syria, but what precisely should we do? No one seems to know. Should we bomb Syria? Should we invade? (Would you want your children to fight in Syria?) And yet how can we stand by — not just now, but during the past year — when so many have been murdered? The Obama administration is considering options, but we really have no good options.

The immediate question is what can we do about Syria, but the real question is why historically has the United States done so little to prevent mass killing, and whether there really a spirit in America to do more.


Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ http://cartoonkronicles.com

In their book FDR and the Jews, Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman remind us that:

Woodrow Wilson, a true idealist, virtually ignored Turkey’s slaughter of a million or more Armenians, while Jimmy Carter, a human rights crusader, did nothing to prevent Pol Pot from exterminating 20 percent of Cambodia’s population. The Clinton administration took several years to respond militarily to the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in Bosnia, which required only air power, not soldiers on the ground, and it never confronted the mass killings in Rwanda. More recently, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama employed little more than words to condemn the atrocities in Darfur. Historically speaking, [Franklin] Roosevelt [who did not do enough to save the Jews, but did more than any other world leader] comes off rather well.  

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Nine Vegetarian Days

— by Ronit Treatman

The verse, “Out of the depths have I called Thee, O Lord,” (Psalms 130:1) perfectly captures the essence of Tisha B’Av. The fast day, which begins at sundown on Monday, July 15 this year, is one of the most solemn days in the Jewish calendar. It memorializes the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. The Sephardic community also mourns the issuing of the Alhambra Decree, or Edict of Expulsion. This dictum, ordering the banishment of the Jews from the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, was announced on Tisha B’Av in 1492.

The three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av are known as Bein HaMetzarim (“between the straits”). They begin on the 17th day of Tammuz (June 25 this year) and end on Tisha B’Av. This is a time of mourning the destruction of the Temples and the exiles of the Jews from the land of Israel. Historically, these three weeks have been a time of danger for the Jewish community. It is customary to avoid hazardous situations during those three weeks. Many Jews eschew lawsuits, surgical procedures, or travels during this time. The Shulhan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 551:9-11) mentions a Jewish tradition to refrain from eating meat and drinking wine during the week of Tisha b’Av or even (for some at that time) the entire three weeks.

Out of these days of despair have emerged some of the most creative vegetarian recipes of the Jewish kitchen. Mejedra, a crown jewel of the Syrian Jewish kitchen, is such a dish.

Recipe for Mejedra follows the jump.
Mejedra is a rice, lentil, and onion pilaf.  It is a very ancient recipe, first recorded in 1226 in Kitab al-Tabikh (“The Cook’s Book”). Mejedra is a traditional dish of mourning, based on the stew that Jacob prepared when Abraham died (Genesis 25: 29-34). Traditionally, “Esau’s favorite” was cooked with rice and green or brown lentils. Here is a recipe adapted from Gilda Angel’s Sephardic Holiday Cooking:

Mejedra

  • 2 cups brown lentils
  • 2 cups Basmati rice
  • 1 large Spanish onion
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Pour the lentils into a bowl, and cover them with cold water.
  2. Allow the lentils to soak for two hours.
  3. Thinly slice the onion.
  4. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy pot.
  5. Add the onion, and fry until caramelized to a golden-brown color.
  6. Drain the lentils.
  7. Sautee the rice and lentils with the onion.
  8. Pour in the water, and season with salt and pepper.
  9. Cover the pot, and bring its contents to a boil.
  10. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  11. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan.
  12. Brown the pine nuts in the pan.
  13. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the mejedra.

You may serve the mejedra with warm pita bread, an Israeli salad, and some plain yogurt on the side.  

Time: Israel and U.S. Coordinating How to Target Assad’s Arsenal

— by Jason Berger

On Friday, Time reported that the United States and Israel are coordinating closely on how best to target President Bashar al Assad’s chemical weapons arsenals. Earlier this month, the U.S. placed F-16s and Patriot missile batteries in Jordan. In regards to the weapons placement, an Israeli official noted, “It’s a clear, purposeful presence of a strike force near the border of Syria. I think it’s a message, a clear message.” The U.S. also installed Patriot batteries in Turkey last year.

Most importantly, though, Israeli officials told Time that the U.S. and Israel were planning for assorted scenarios where they could conceivably search and destroy all of Assad’s 18 chemical weapons arsenals.

More after the jump.
According to Time:

One scenario would be the sudden removal of Assad from the scene, be it by flight, death or if he simply disappears. That would prompt the allies to launch operations on the estimated 18 depots and other sites where WMDs are stored, the officials said. Search and destroy operations would also be launched if the weapons appeared to be about to fall into the hands of the rebels, which include Islamist extremists aligned with al-Qaeda.

Israeli officials also emphasized that it had not been decided who would do what or if the U.S. would deploy troops on the ground. They said it is vital that all chemical and biological weapons are neutralized. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu mentioned his resolve to BBC in April:

The main arms of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria — these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game changers. They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries.

Cartoons reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com/

Obama Backs Israel’s Right to Self Defense Action Over Syria

— by John Tackeff

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself with respect to Syira. President Obama said in an interview with Telemundo:

What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon.

More after the jump.
Further, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Obama Administration is keeping in close contact with the Israeli Government to monitor the situation:

[Principle Deputy White House Press Secretary] Earnest said Obama believes Israel is justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining advanced weapons systems, including missiles. The U.S. “is in very close contact” with the Israeli government on a range of issues, Earnest added.