When we say, ‘Never Again’ we must mean it.

PA Representative Dwight Evans’ statement in response to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comments on Adolph Hitler.

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned Hitler in reference to the most recent chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Assad and said, “you had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” This incredibly careless and disrespectful comment demonstrates Mr. Spicer’s clear mischaracterization of history.  Mr. Spicer’s inexcusable comments fall during Passover. We can never tolerate Holocaust denial, but it certainly is in even greater distaste during this reflective and meaningful time for Jewish communities across the US and our globe.  Holocaust denial and a general lack of understanding for communities who have suffered the worst form of persecution throughout our history and those who are still being persecuted today is something we as a nation cannot and will not stand for. I am glad to see Mr. Spicer apologize for his comments yesterday but I repeat when we say, #NeverAgain we mean Never Again.

Watch Sean Spicer’s original comments comparing Hitler and Assad:

Obama: ‘The Light of Hope Must Outlast the Fire of Hate’

— by Bill Leopold

President Obama spoke about the messages of the story of the Maccabees in front of more than 500 people at a Hanukkah party, in a White House full of elaborate, tasteful holiday decorations and exquisitely prepared glatt kosher food:

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President Obama at the Hanukkah party at the White House. Photo: Jeanne Goldberg-Leopold.

In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

Among the guests at the party were the chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, Josh Shapiro, and his wife Lori. Mr. Shapiro said that it was a wonderful symbol of the U.S. democracy that the President presided over the Hanukkah party and spoke about our core values of freedom, peace, and equality.

The crowd cheered Obama’s news about Alan Gross, who had just been freed from Cuban prison as part of the country’s renewal of diplomatic relations with the U.S., and loved the President’s solid attempt to speak a few words in Hebrew. The U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra provided the crowd with a tribute to Jewish-American Composers.

photo 2

The menorah built by the students of the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish Bilingual School in Jerusalem. The text in Hebrew and Arabic enumerates the founding values of the school: community, dignity, equality, peace, education, friendship, solidarity and freedom. (Photo: Bill Leopold)

Obama introduced the makers of the menorah that was lit during the party, by relating the story of the decade-old Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish Bilingual School in Jerusalem, in which arsonists set fire to a classroom two weeks ago:

In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah… Each of its branches are dedicated to one of the values their school is founded on—values like community and dignity and equality and peace.

Two students from that school, Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim, and a parent, lit the candles. The president said that the students are teaching us that, “The light of hope must outlast the fire of hate.”

Not Alone – Protecting Students From Sexual Assault

by The White House Press Office

One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Most often, it happens her freshman or sophomore year. In the great majority of cases, it’s by someone she knows – and also most often, she does not report what happened. And though fewer, men, too, are victimized.

The administration is committed to putting an end to this violence. That’s why the President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses.  
Today, the Task Force is announcing a series of actions to: (1) identify the scope of the problem on college campuses, (2) help prevent campus sexual assault, (3) help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted, and (4) improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts. It will continue to pursue additional executive or legislative actions in the future.

These steps build on the Administration’s previous work to combat sexual assault. The Task Force formulated its recommendations after a 90-day review period during which it heard from thousands of people from across the country — via 27 online and in-person listening sessions and written comments from a wide variety of stakeholders.

Helping Schools Identify the Problem: Climate Surveys

Campus sexual assault is chronically underreported – so victim reports don’t provide a fair measure of the problem. A campus climate survey, however, can. So, today:

The Task Force will provide schools with a toolkit for developing and conducting a climate survey. This survey has evidence-based sample questions that schools can use to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and craft solutions. The administration will call on schools to voluntarily conduct the climate survey next year and, based on what it learns, it will further refine the survey methodology. This process will culminate in a survey for all schools to use.

The Task Force will explore legislative or administrative options to require colleges and universities to conduct an evidence-based survey in 2016. A mandate for schools to periodically conduct a climate survey will change the national dynamic: with a better picture of what’s really happening on campus, schools will be able to more effectively tackle the problem and measure the success of their efforts.  

Preventing Sexual Assault – and Bringing in the Bystander

The college years are formative for many students. If the task force implements effective prevention programs, today’s students will leave college knowing that sexual assault is simply unacceptable. And that, in itself, can create a sea change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a systematic review of primary prevention strategies for reducing sexual violence, and is releasing an advance summary of its findings. This review summarizes some of the best available research in the area, and highlights evidence-based prevention strategies that work, some that are promising, and those that don’t work. The report points to steps colleges can take now to prevent sexual assault on their campuses.

The CDC and the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will pilot and evaluate prevention strategies on college campuses. This work will build on the CDC’s systematic review, and will identify and fill gaps in the research on sexual violence prevention.

Getting Bystanders to Step In and Help Is a Promising Practice.  Bystander intervention programs work to change social norms, and teach everyone to speak out and intervene if someone is at risk of being assaulted. These programs are among those the CDC found most promising.

Helping Schools Respond Effectively When A Student is Sexually Assaulted: Confidentiality, Training, Better Investigations, and Community Partnerships

By law, schools that receive federal funds are obliged to protect students from sexual assault. It is the Task Force’s mission to help schools meet not only the letter, but the spirit, of that obligation. And that can mean a number of things – from giving a victim a confidential place to turn for advice and support, to providing specialized training for school officials, to effectively investigating and finding out what happened, to sanctioning the perpetrator, to doing everything it can to help a survivor recover.

Many survivors need someone to talk to in confidence. While many survivors of sexual assault are ready to press forward with a formal complaint right away, others aren’t so sure. For some, having a confidential place to go can mean the difference between getting help and staying silent. Today, the Department of Education is releasing new guidance clarifying that on-campus counselors and advocates can talk to a survivor in confidence.  This support can help victims come forward, get help, and make a formal report if they choose to.

The Task Force is providing a sample confidentiality and reporting policy. Even victims who make a formal report may still request that the information be held in confidence, and that the school not investigate or take action against the perpetrator.  Schools, however, also have an obligation to keep the larger community safe. To help them strike this balance, the Task Force is providing schools with a sample reporting and confidentiality policy, which recommends factors a school should consider in making this decision.

The Task Force is providing specialized training for school officials. School officials and first responders need to understand how sexual assault occurs, the tactics used by perpetrators, and the common reactions of victims. The Justice Department will help by developing new training programs for campus officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases and by launching a technical assistance project for campus officials. The Department of Education will develop training materials for campus health center staff to improve services to victims.

The Task Force will give schools guidance on how to improve their investigative and adjudicative protocols. It needs to know more about what investigative and adjudicative systems work best on campus. The Justice Department will undertake this work, and will begin evaluating different models this year with the goal of identifying the most promising practices. The Department of Education’s new guidance also urges some important improvements to the disciplinary process.

The Task Force is helping schools forge partnerships with community resources. Community partnerships are critical to getting survivors the help they need: while some schools can provide comprehensive services on campus, others may need to partner with community-based organizations. Rape crisis centers in particular can help schools better serve their students. The Task Force is releasing a sample agreement between schools and rape crisis centers, so survivors have a full network of services in place.

Improving and Making More Transparent Federal Enforcement Efforts

To better address sexual assault at our nation’s schools, the federal government needs to both strengthen its enforcement efforts and increase coordination among responsible agencies.  Importantly, it also needs to improve communication with survivors, parents, school administrators, faculty, and the public, by making its efforts more transparent.

On Tuesday, the Task Force is launching a dedicated website – www.NotAlone.gov – to make enforcement data public and to make other resources accessible to students and schools. On the website, students can learn about their rights, search enforcement data, and read about how to file a complaint. The website will also help schools and advocates: it will make available federal guidance on legal obligations, best available evidence and research, and relevant legislation. Finally, the website will have trustworthy resources from outside the federal government, such as hotline numbers and mental health services locatable by simply typing in a zip code.

The Department of Education is providing more clarity on schools’ legal obligations. The Department of Education is releasing answers to frequently asked questions about schools’ legal obligations to prevent and respond to sexual assault.  Among many other topics, the new guidance makes clear that federal law protects all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear questions about a survivor’s sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator shouldn’t be permitted during a judicial hearing, and also that a previous sexual relationship doesn’t imply consent or preclude a finding of sexual violence. And that schools should take steps to protect and assist a survivor pending an investigation.

The Departments of Justice and Education have entered into an agreement clarifying each agency’s role. Both agencies have a critical role to play in enforcing the laws that require schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault on their campuses. The agencies have entered into a formal agreement to increase coordination and strengthen enforcement.

Next Steps

The action steps highlighted in this report are the initial phase of an ongoing plan and commitment to putting an end to this violence on campuses. The Task Force will continue to work toward solutions, clarity, and better coordination. It will review the legal frameworks surrounding sexual assault for possible regulatory or statutory improvements, and seek new resources to enhance enforcement. Campus law enforcement agencies have special expertise- and they, too, should be tapped to play a more central role. And it will also consider how its recommendations apply to public elementary and secondary schools – and what more we can do to help there.

Solid Job Growth in November

— by Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers

With solid job growth in November — in addition to strong data on manufacturing activity and auto sales — it is clear that the recovery continues to gain traction.

Today’s report was yet another reminder of the resilience of America’s private sector following the disruptive government shutdown and debt limit brinkmanship in the first half of October.

Nevertheless, today’s jobs numbers show that too many Americans who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer are still struggling to find jobs.

That is why the President is calling on Congress to pass the extension of emergency unemployment insurance before it expires at the end of the year, just like they have always done when long-term unemployment remains elevated.

The President also continues to work to increase overall growth while ensuring that growth is shared broadly in the form of higher wages and more mobility, which is why he is fighting for a minimum wage increase and expansion of educational opportunities.

Five key points in today’s report after the jump.
1. America’s resilient businesses have added jobs for 45 consecutive months, with private sector employment increasing by more than 8 million over that period.

Today, we learned that total non-farm payroll employment rose by 203,000 in November, with 196,000 of that increase in the private sector. Private sector job growth was revised up for September (to 168,000) and October (to 214,000) so that over the last three months, private employment has risen by an average of 193,000 per month.

2. Real average hourly earnings for private production and non-supervisory workers rose 1.4% in the twelve months ending in October, the largest increase since 2009, and today’s data on nominal wages in November suggest that this growth likely continued.

These data signal that the recovery in the labor market continues to progress, but are also a reminder that more work remains to boost not only job creation but also earnings.

The real wage growth observed in recent months reflects both low inflation and a pickup in nominal wage growth, which continued into November, when the average private sector production and nonsupervisory worker earned $20.31 per hour, up 2.2% relative to a year earlier (data on inflation and real wages in November will be available on December 17).

Looking over a longer period, real average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers have risen on net only about 3% since 1979 — a period when labor productivity rose by more than 90%.

These statistics underscore the importance of taking steps to ensure that even as our overall economy continues to strengthen, those striving to get into the middle class are not left behind.

3. While many retailers add additional workers to accommodate heightened customer traffic during the holiday season, the magnitude of holiday hiring differs substantially across retail subsectors.

The chart on the right shows the varying extent of seasonal hiring by comparing the raw, unadjusted level of payroll employment in a given sector to the seasonally adjusted level. Sectors with higher ratios can be said to exhibit a more pronounced seasonal hiring pattern.

In November, the overall retail trade industry had 15,773,100 payroll positions (not seasonally adjusted), which represents 15,320,500 positions on a seasonally adjusted basis — the unadjusted level is about 3% higher than the adjusted level.

For clothing and clothing accessory stores, the sector with the most pronounced holiday hiring effect, unadjusted employment was about 10% higher than the seasonally adjusted level in November.

In contrast, for building material and garden supply stores, unadjusted employment was about 2% less than seasonally adjusted employment in November — perhaps unsurprising, since cold weather prevents Americans in many parts of the country from gardening during the winter months.

While the unadjusted data can provide interesting insights into the patterns of our economy and society, the seasonally adjusted data are the best benchmark of the economy’s progress.

And crucially, the seasonally adjusted data show that overall hiring in the retail trade sector has been solid in recent months, with employment rising by an average of 36,000 per month over the last six months.

4. While still unacceptably high, the unemployment rate fell 0.3% to 7.0%, the lowest in five years, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ broadest alternative measure of labor underutilization also posted a notable decline.

The “U-6” rate is the broadest alternative measure of labor underutilization because it includes the unemployed, persons working part-time for economic reasons, and those marginally attached to the labor force.

This measure fell by 0.6% in November, the largest one-month drop on record (following a shutdown-related increase in October), and also reached its lowest level in five years.

The concurrent improvement in the broadest official alternative measure of labor underutilization is another signal that the labor market is healing.

The chart above shows that over time, these two series tend to move in the same direction, but that the U-6 is always substantially higher than the official unemployment rate in both recessions and recoveries.

5. All of the reduction in unemployment in November was due to a drop in the number of short-term unemployed, while the average duration of unemployment rose to 37.2 weeks and remains markedly elevated.

The median duration of unemployment has come down from its peak of 24.8 weeks to 17.0 weeks in November, but the average duration has not come down as much from its peak of 40.7 weeks.

The substantial gap between the average and median duration of unemployment suggests that many of the remaining unemployed are concentrated at extremely lengthy durations of unemployment.

The additional weeks of unemployment insurance offered as a result of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program first signed into law by President Bush in 2008 serve as an important lifeline to those who are still struggling to get back on their feet in the wake of the crisis.

The critical need to extend the EUC program before it expires at the end of this year is outlined in this report, released earlier this week by the Council of Economic Advisers and the Department of Labor.

As the Administration stresses every month, the monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and payroll employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data that are becoming available.

Hanukkah Comes To Philadelphia (and DC)

Mayor Michael Nutter joined the festivities as enormous Hanukkah Menorahs were lit at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and on Independence Mall. The Philadelphia Lubavitcher Center says the Menorah on Independence Mall is the largest menorah in the world.

Happy Hanukkah.

Photo of the Mayor Nutter and the 30th Street Station Menorah by Gabrielle Loeb.

Videos of the National Menorah lighting near the White House follow the jump.

NJDC Welcomes New WH Jewish Outreach Director Matt Nosanchuk

— by Marc R. Stanley, National Jewish Democratic Council chair

Congratulations to Matt Nosanchuk on becoming the White House’s new Associate Director for Jewish Outreach. Mr. Nosanchuk brings with him a breadth of impressive experience and we look forward to working with him as he serves as the Obama Administration’s official liaison to the Jewish community. Mr. Nosanchuk’s predecessors have been an essential resource for us and they have all demonstrated the President’s deep and personal ties with Jewish-Americans.

B’nai B’rith to Host Top Israeli Biofuel Researchers


Fuel prices in Germany in Euros per liter.
US equivalent would be $4.87/gallon for bio-diesel and $5.51/gallon for diesel.

Today, B’nai B’rith International will host a welcome reception for 15 of Israel’s top biofuel researchers as they kick off a week-long scientific dialogue in the United States. The visitors, winners of the U.S.-Israel Bio-Energy Challenge, will begin their program with a briefing at the White House, followed by the event at B’nai B’rith headquarters.

Sponsored and coordinated by two not-for-profit organizations, The Israel Energy Partnership (TIEP) and the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation (USISTF), the U.S-Israel Bio-Energy Challenge fosters a scientific exchange between Israeli experts and their counterparts in U.S. government agencies and private industry. The goals are to build bilateral energy cooperation between the two countries and to spur research and development on alternative fuels that can replace fuels derived from imported oil.

“We applaud the organizers of the Bio-Energy Challenge and we’re excited to be hosting some of Israel’s top minds in the field of biofuel research at our event,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said.

Israel is a global leader in cutting-edge R&D in this area, so we hope the dialogue they begin with American experts during their trip here will help both countries advance their common goal of independence from traditional fossil fuels.

Continued after the jump.
The Israeli delegation’s trip will includes stops in Washington, D.C., Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Emeryville, Calif. The visitors will meet a number of senior officials from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, NASA and other agencies, as well as top private and academic researchers.

“It’s important the United States and Israel work on this issue together,” B’nai B’rith Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said.

For too long, the U.S. and its allies have relied on fuel from countries whose interests are adverse to our own. This oil dependence threatens our national security and we welcome increased cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in tackling this issue.

Sandy Hook Victim’s Mother: “Now is the Time to Act”

This week’s White House address was delivered by Francine Wheeler, whose six year old son, Ben, was murdered alongside nineteen other children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, four months ago. Now, Francine — joined by her husband David — is asking the American people to help prevent this type of tragedy from happening to more families like hers. Since that terrible day in December, thousands more Americans have died, and thousands more families have suffered the pain of losing a loved one to violence. Now that the Senate has agreed that commonsense gun safety reforms deserve a vote, they must finish the job and pass those reforms to protect our children and our communities. Now is the time for all Americans to help make this a moment of real change.

— Francine Wheeler

Hi. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the President. I’m just a citizen. And as a citizen, I’m here at the White House today because I want to make a difference and I hope you will join me.

My name is Francine Wheeler. My husband David is with me. We live in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
David and I have two sons. Our older son Nate, soon to be 10 years old, is a fourth grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our younger son, Ben, age six, was murdered in his first-grade classroom on December 14th, exactly 4 months ago this weekend.

Remarks continue after the jump.
David and I lost our beloved son, but Nate lost his best friend. On what turned out to be the last morning of his life, Ben told me, quite out of the blue, “I still want to be an architect, Mama, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that’s what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does.”

Ben’s love of fun and his excitement at the wonders of life were unmatched. His boundless energy kept him running across the soccer field long after the game was over. He couldn’t wait to get to school every morning. He sang with perfect pitch and had just played at his third piano recital. Irrepressibly bright and spirited, Ben experienced life at full tilt.

Until that morning. 20 of our children, and 6 of our educators — gone. Out of the blue.

I’ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday. And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief.

Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.

Sometimes, I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day waiting at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse for the boy who would never come home — the same firehouse that was home to Ben’s Tiger Scout Den 6. But other times, I feel Ben’s presence filling me with courage for what I have to do — for him and all the others taken from us so violently and too soon.

We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass common sense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we never thought would happen to us.

When I packed for Washington on Monday, it looked like the Senate might not act at all. Then, after the President spoke in Hartford, and a dozen of us met with Senators to share our stories, more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to move forward.

But that’s only the start. They haven’t yet passed any bills that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. And a lot of people are fighting to make sure they never do.

Now is the time to act. Please join us. You can talk to your Senator, too. Or visit WhiteHouse.gov to find out how you can join the President and get involved.

Help this be the moment when real change begins. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

White House Condemns Turkish PM’s Anti-Israel Statements

— by David Streeter

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor condemned Turkish Prime Minsiter Tayyip Erdogan’s hateful remarks about Zionism:

We reject Prime Minister Erdogan’s characterization of Zionism as a crime against humanity, which is offensive and wrong. We encourage people of all faiths, cultures, and ideas to denounce hateful actions and to overcome the differences of our times.

Also, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to “bring Erdogan to task” for his comments during their bilateral meeting. As Secretary Kerry flew to Ankara, a Senior State Department Aide criticized the remarks:

This was particularly offensive, frankly, to call Zionism a crime against humanity […] It does have a corrosive effect (on relations). I am sure the secretary will be very clear about how dismayed we were to hear it.

B’nai B’rith International’s statement on the subject after the jump.
B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement on the subject:

At a United Nations “Alliance of Civilizations” summit, convened to focus on global tolerance, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan engaged in a deplorable act by calling Zionism “a crime against humanity.”

B’nai B’rith International strongly condemns Erdoğan’s effort to revive inflammatory language equating Zionism with racism. This insidious canard was introduced at the United Nations in 1975 and rightly revoked in 1991. Erdoğan has reintroduced this odious charge to the U.N. environment.

Zionism is the embodiment of the millennia-old Jewish longing for self-determination and a return to the Jewish homeland.

Erdoğan made his pronouncement before an audience of senior-international leaders in Vienna, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

This is not the first time Erdoğan has made inciteful remarks about Israel or Jews. In November, he called Israel a “terrorist state,” during the Hamas-instigated fighting in Gaza.

B’nai B’rith calls on Erdoğan to apologize for his remarks and urges the United Nations to condemn these sentiments.

White House Condemns Morsi’s Anti-Semitic Statements

— by David Streeter

President Barack Obama’s Press Secretary Jay Carney forcefully condemned previous anti-Semitic comments made by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Politico reported:

“President Morsi should make clear he respects people of all faiths”, Carney said during a press briefing Tuesday. He said the administration has raised its concerns with the Egyptian government: “[…] We have raised our concerns over these remarks with the government of Egypt”.

“We strongly condemn these comments”, he said. “[…] This type of rhetoric is unacceptable in a democratic Egypt”.

Carney added that the remarks are an example of the type of discourse that has long fanned hatred in the region:

“We believe that language like that is too tolerated in the region”, he said. “[…] It is counter to peace”.