State Department’s Double Standard on Killing Civilians

Kill Team Afghanistan

Afghan farmer killed by U.S. soldiers, 2010.

The U.S. condemned Israeli missile strikes that killed civilians, saying that “this heavy-handed action does not contribute to peace.” Yet the White House rejected comparisons to U.S. attacks in Afghanistan that killed hundreds of civilians.

These statements were made by the Bush administration in 2002. And now in 2015, the U.S. once again killed civilians in Afghanistan and once again refuses to apply the same standard to Israel that it applies to itself.

So should we harshly condemn both countries for committing what in hindsight were grievous errors, or should we shrug our shoulders in both cases and say “stuff happens”?

We have to ask ourselves why two administrations as dissimilar as the Bush and Obama administrations behave similarly in these situations. Maybe both administrations were especially sensitive to the misuse of American-supplied weapons by an ally that the U.S. consistently defends in international forums, especially when it creates difficulties with our other allies. That might be the real reason, but it is still troubling, even though neither administration took any concrete action against Israel and remained supportive of Israel. We should rather be harder on ourselves and more understanding of Israel. American parents do not have to worry about rockets fired from Afghanistan hitting their kids in playgrounds. Israeli parents worry every day about rockets fired from Gaza.

(We might also ask ourselves why the Bush and Obama administrations, sometimes using identical language, consistently urge both side to refrain from violence when it is so clear to us that the Palestinians are more to blame, but that is a subject for another article.)

Obama Refutes Criticism of Iran Deal

Remarks by President Barack Obama at American University, August 5, 2015

Between now and the congressional vote in September, you’re going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising. And if the rhetoric in these ads, and the accompanying commentary, sounds familiar, it should — for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.

[Read more…]

Philadelphia to Host 2016 Democratic National Convention

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney were nominated at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney were nominated at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. They went on to defeat Vice-President Al Gore and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) in the 2000 Presidential Election.

Mayor Nutter commented on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) decision, that Philadelphia will host the 2016 Democratic National Convention the week of July 25, 2016:

We believe that it was our proven track record of hosting big events safely and efficiently with a dynamic team of top-tier professionals to organize and manage a conference of this magnitude, paired with our City’s tremendous amenities, its accessible location and historical significance, which made Philadelphia the ideal choice for the 2016 DNC.

The last time Philadelphia hosted the Democratic National Convention, President Harry Truman was nominated to run against Gov. Thomas  Dewey (R-NY) and three dozen Southern delegates walked out to form the Dixiecrat Party and nominate Gov. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).

The last time Philadelphia hosted the Democratic National Convention, President Harry Truman was nominated to run against Gov. Thomas Dewey (R-NY) and three dozen Southern delegates walked out to form the Dixiecrat Party and nominate Gov. Strom Thurmond (R-SC).

The DNC’s technical advisory group evaluated cities across the country, looking at factors such as hotel capacity, transportation, security, financing and logistics.

The DNC chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, said that “In addition to their commitment to a seamless and safe convention, Philadelphia’s deep rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering.”

Additional details on the convention structure, host committee, and staff, will be made available in the coming weeks.

You Call That a Crisis?

Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 9, 2013. (Photo: Matty Ster.)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 9, 2013. (Photo: Matty Ster.)

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) responded Wednesday to Jeff Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic that quoted a senior U.S. official referring to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as a “chicken**t”:

There should never be any doubt that the special and strategic bond between the United States and Israel remains strong, steadfast and secure. In such a relationship, cooperation is celebrated and differences should be aired in confidence.

Unsubstantiated reports of inappropriate criticism and unprofessional name-calling are outrageous and unacceptable. And if proven true, the responsible individual should be held to full account. Whether they agree or disagree, friends engage with respect.

Dialog and professional engagement are essential to meeting the growing challenges that both Israel and the United States face. I hope that this moment provides an opportunity to reaffirm the distinct and critical relationship between our two countries.

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) said similar things:

Even in informal conversation, the use of the term was unprofessional and does not meet the standard of civility and deference that has typified the Administration even in disagreement with its long-time ally.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has the right and responsibility as the freely elected leader of a sovereign nation to conduct Israel’s foreign and domestic policies as he determines are in the best interests of his country and its people. Likewise, the United States has a strategic interest in pursuing peace, prosperity and security for Israel. Cooperation between the two countries has never been stronger.

The personal frustration that is reflected in the anonymous source’s ad hominem attack should be channeled to constructive engagement rather than rhetorical flourishes.

As pro-Israel advocates, even as we condemn this unacceptable name-calling, we must understand what was behind it.

We are in a difficult position because the current government in Israel also bears some of the blame for the rift in U.S.-Israel relations. It is not “anti-Israel” to recognize this reality any more than it is “anti-American” to recognize the flaws of the current U.S. government’s policy.

We have heard tales of rifts and snubs almost since the day President Obama was elected. Yet, the Obama administration has taken U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels: He provided Israel with record aid, including enthusiastic support for Iron Dome, which the George W. Bush administration was “frosty” on, and while continuing U.S. policy on settlements and Jerusalem that have been in place since 1967, he has not let this decades-old disagreement affect the U.S. strategic and diplomatic support for Israel.

During the Gaza War, even while calling for a cease-fire, Obama resupplied Israel with munitions. The delay in delivering Hellfire missiles, which have now been delivered, did not adversely affect Israel, which did not use those during the war.

The undeniable reality is that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong, and it is almost a testament to the strength of the relationship that the worst that President Obama’s critics can point to is name-calling. I would take name-calling over the tangible damage previous administrations have done to Israel any day.

No one in the Bush administration ever publicly referred to the prime minister of Israel as “chicken**t,” but let us not forget what did happen during the Bush tenure.

Bush rejected requests from Israel for special bombs to attack Iran and violated an agreement with Israel to maintain its qualitative military edge by selling arms to Arab states.

In 2002, Bush demanded that Israel stop its military offensive in the West Bank “now, not tomorrow.”

In 2006, when Israel invaded Lebanon, the Bush administration said, “We are urging restraint on both sides, recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself,” almost word for word what the Obama administration said during Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

The Bush administration pressured Israel into allowing Hamas to participate in the 2006 Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could not have otherwise achieved. The Bush administration rescinded $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity.

The Obama administration has never pressured Israel to act contrary to what Israel perceives as its best interests. If the Obama administration is in a crisis with Israel, we should only wish the Bush administration had similar crises.

President Nixon postponed the sale of 25 Phantom jets and 80 Skyhawks to Israel, and complained that “the f**king Jews think they can run the world.” President Ford called for a “total reassessment” of the U.S. policy toward Israel. As Lenny Ben-David wrote in The Jerusalem Post, the Bush 41-James Baker animus toward Yitzak Shamir “was so hot it could melt snow on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Nothing that is happening now comes close to the animus and venom that Menachem Begin displayed toward Ronald Reagan in 1981.

If you can think of a Republican administration that has been better to Israel than the Obama administration, I am all ears. Anyone who thinks we are at a low point in U.S.-Israel relations either has forgotten history or has conveniently chosen to forget.

So why the hatred of Obama from some of our Republican friends? Even psychoanalyst Richard Kaufman is not sure:

I wish I could understand the blind, irrational, paranoid rage so many people nurture toward Obama.

A lifetime in psychiatry, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis does not help me to figure out where this wrath comes from in otherwise sane, reasonable, loving, compassionate, highly educated, intelligent people.

I dislike, disrespect and disagree with many, if not most, politicians. But I don’t hate them. Perhaps the hypertrophied reaction to Obama is a type of monosymptomatic delusion? I do not know.

I do not know either, but let us keep the current tensions in perspective. We were told before President Obama’s election in 2008 that he would turn on Israel. It never happened. Then we were told that once re-elected in 2012 he would turn on Israel. It never happened either.

Instead, Obama visited Israel, becoming only the fifth sitting president to do so, and continued building the international coalition without which sanctions on Iran would not be effective. And he not only championed Iron Dome from the beginning, but he asked Congress for additional funding during the recent Gaza War, thus saving thousands of Israeli lives.

The U.S.-Israel relationship has always had its ups and downs. By any historical measure, the Obama administration, with all personal tensions, remains among the ups.

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

— by Steve Sheffey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week, Haim Saban wrote:

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

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

2013 reviewed by The Cartoon Kronicles:

Cartoons Courtesy of Yaakov “Dry Bones” Kirschen and The Cartoon Kronicles @

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.

Hillary Clinton Receives National Constitution Center Liberty Medal

— article and photos by Bonnie Squires

The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia held another one of its world-class events last week, as Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received the Liberty Medal before an audience of 1,300 people.

The medal honors men and women of courage and conviction, who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. Secretary Clinton was recognized for her advocacy of women’s rights and human rights around the globe.

More after the jump.

(Left to right) Bill Sasso, Esq., Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and Jeffrey Rosen, CEO of the National Constitution Center, each praised Hillary for her life-long activities for the common good.

ABC News Anchor and Correspondent Elizabeth Vargas served as the mistress of ceremonies, and presenters included:

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, chairman of the National Constitution Center’s Board of Trustees;
  • Dr. Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania and National Constitution Center Trustee;
  • Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter;
  • No Labels Co-Founder Mark McKinnon;
  • Journalist and Human Rights Advocate Roxana Saberi; and
  • National Constitution Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen, who presented the medal to Secretary Clinton.

Appearing in video tributes during the ceremony were:

  • Former British Prime Minister and previous Liberty Medal recipient Tony Blair;
  • Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan;
  • tennis legend Billie Jean King;
  • actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen;
  • News Political Commentator Cokie Roberts, and
  • other friends, sponsors and dignitaries.

Governor Bush and Secretary Clinton were both gracious in their remarks about each other, even though it is possible that in 2016 each of them will represent their respective political parties in the presidential election.

Dr. Amy Gutmann, Penn president, who chaired the Liberty Medal selection committee, gave a rousing speech about Hillary Cllinton’s accomplishments in gaining equality for women and minorities around the world. Gutmann also got excited when she predicted that Clinton would become the first woman president of the U.S.

(Left to right) Marciarose Shestack, Bob Rovner, Esq., Commissioner Josh Shapiro and his wife Lori Shapiro, and Bill Sasso, Esq., host of the reception.

(Left to right) Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, Tom Knox and Anne Ewers, CEO of the Kimmel Center, joined hundreds of guests at the President’s Reception.

(Left to right) Sandy and Steve Sheller, Esq., were delighted to talk with former Governr Ed Rendell.

(Left to right Patrons Barbara and Len Sylk are joined by Diane Semingson.

Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler speaks to her friend Dr. Afaf Meleis, dean of the Penn School of of Nursing.

Obama Fixes Absence of Plan to Attack Iran

After 9/11, Bush made clear that Iran was on his sights

— by Jacob Miller

President Barack Obama’s speech last week at the National Defense University has brought the United States’ foreign policy and continuing war on terror to the forefront. Bloomberg’s Jeffery Goldberg released an opinion piece entitled “Can Obama Clean Up Bush’s National Security Mess?” Goldberg highlighted several mistakes and oversights President George W. Bush had on national security:

In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration made clear to the world that it had the Islamic Republic of Iran in its sights….

So it was with shock (and with something like the opposite of awe) that, seven years later, the newly elected Barack Obama learned that the Bush administration had never even drawn up plans for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Obama discovered this when he asked his generals for their plan, and they had none. Bush had never asked for one. The bellicose rhetoric on Iran, in other words, was empty of substance.

More after the jump.
This revelation is surprising given that President Bush made a point of highlighting Iran as a member of the “axis of evil.” President Obama has rectified this mess. Instead of blaming President Bush, he has taken action:

A senior administration official told me that Obama soon ordered Robert Gates, the holdover secretary of defense, to draw up preparations. Not because Obama wanted to attack, but because it seemed absurd and irresponsible that his predecessor had labeled Iran a member of the “axis of evil” without even having a plan to confront such evil, and because Obama, despite allegations to the contrary, takes the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously.

Inside the White House, the no-Iran-plan fiasco is used to illustrate a larger point: Obama, on taking office, inherited 10 kinds of mess from Bush on national security. The administration is cautious about publicly blaming Bush for these messes, because it suspects — correctly — that the public isn’t interested in excuses about problems created or exacerbated by a president who left office more than four years ago.

Being a Republican Jew means never having to say you’re sorry

— by Steve Sheffey

They were wrong about the Republicans they told us to support who are leading the fight against gun control, wrong about President Obama and Israel, and wrong about Chuck Hagel. But don’t hold your breaths waiting for apologies from the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Protect Our Heritage PAC, and like-minded right-wing organizations.

More after the jump.
During Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings, we were deluged with nonsense from the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Protect Our Heritage PAC and like-minded right-wing groups telling us how terrible Chuck Hagel would be for Israel.

And what happened? After his confirmation, Hagel issued a statement firmly reiterating our support for Israel and our commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Then Hagel went to Israel and finalized “a huge arms deal with Israel… under which Israel will for the first time be permitted to purchase US aerial refueling planes and other ultra-sophisticated military equipment that could prove vital to any Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

The Times of Israel reported that

Hagel stressed repeatedly that Israel has a sovereign right to decide for itself whether it must attack Iran. He made no mention of the possibility that an Israeli attack would draw the U.S. into the conflict and lead to a wider regional war.

“Israel will make the decision that Israel must make to protect itself, to defend itself,” Hagel said as he began a weeklong tour of the Middle East.

And what do we now hear from our right-wing friends about Hagel? Crickets. In a brilliant must-read article, Chemi Shalev concludes that

Hagel’s critics were wrong…they intentionally inflated some possibly objectionable remarks made by Hagel during a long career…they subjected him to a callous and vicious campaign of defamation and character assassination for cynical political reasons [and] they were ready, willing and able to destroy Hagel’s reputation in order to advance their political agenda and to vindicate the exact same kind of malicious vendetta that they had waged against Obama during the presidential election campaign.

But that can’t possibly be true, because by now Hagel’s critics would have owned up to their mistake and profusely apologized, no? That would be the honorable thing to do, and as Antony famously said of Brutus and his friends, “So are they all, all honorable men.”

Let’s remember how wrong our Republican friends were about President Obama and Chuck Hagel when the next round of Republican attempts to divide us by using Israel as a partisan wedge issue comes in 2014.

Chuck Hagel was right about George W. Bush.

Hagel said that George W. Bush was the worst president since Herbert Hoover. The opening of the Bush Library (insert your own joke here) has prompted some people to re-evaluate Bush, but Hagel was right. Bush was terrible. It would take a separate newsletter to go over all of Bush’s misdeeds, but consider at least this from Steve Benen:

there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney’s tenure — after 9/11 — that shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, it’s a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, “Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush’s international unpopularity, the former president’s record on counter-terrorism was awesome.”

And finally, I’m not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the “other than 9/11” argument.

Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”

Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.

And Bush’s record on Israel?

George W. Bush rebuked then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 by rescinding $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity. In 2004, the Bush administration abstained rather than veto a UN resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza during a military operation aimed at stopping terrorism and weapons smuggling.

Bush pressured Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could never have otherwise achieved. Perhaps worst of all, Bush made little progress in stopping Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons and he allowed North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons.

Rescinding loan guarantees, failing to veto anti-Israel UN resolutions, allowing enemy countries to obtain nuclear weapons–sounds just like what our Republican friends said Barack Obama would do if he were elected president. He didn’t. Bush did.

But if you don’t count what he did in office, George W. Bush was the greatest president in American history @LOLGOP.

President Obama Returns to Israel

Barack Obama and Joe Biden welcome Shimon Peres in the Oval Office.

— by Steve Sheffey

President Obama will visit Israel in March, fulfilling a campaign promise and making him only the fifth sitting president to ever visit Israel. He previously visited in 2006 and 2008. Only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton visited Israel during their first terms; Richard Nixon and George W. Bush visited Israel in the last year of their second terms.

The goal of the President’s trip is to reaffirm the strong friendship between the United States and Israel and to work with Israel on two key issues: Iran and Syria.

When it comes to the US-Israel relationship, we must stand together, regardless of partisan differences on other issues.

More after the jump.
President Obama returns to Israel in March. He visited Israel in 2006 and 2008. This will be his first visit as President. Former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl told reporters in June 2012 that “we can expect [Obama] to visit Israel in a second term should he be elected.” And so he is.

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said “We’re delighted that he’s coming. President Obama was always welcome in Israel. He’ll be received enthusiastically by the government of Israel, by the prime minister of Israel, by the people of Israel.”

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said “The visit will be a good opportunity to reaffirm the strong and enduring bonds of friendship between Israel and the US.” Shapiro emphasized that the most pressing issues facing the two countries are the Iranian nuclear program and the potential transfer of chemical weapons in Syria. Read more in the Jerusalem Post.

Only two presidents visited Israel in their first term: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon and George W. Bush visited Israel in the last year of the their second terms. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush never visited Israel as president.

During his first term, in 2003, George W. Bush did manage to participate in a summit at the Port of Aqaba in Jordan, just nine miles from Israel (closer to Israel than Cairo). But Bush didn’t visit Israel. Instead, Bush said that “we have a problem with Sharon” and was visibly irritated with the then-Prime Minister. Remember how the Democrats exploited this for political gain in the 2004 election? Me neither.

Only Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton visited Israel during their first term

During the 2012 campaign, President Obama was criticized by some people for not having visited Israel during his first term, as if US presidents routinely visited Israel. We were told how important it was for the President to visit Israel and what a shame it was that he hadn’t.

At the time, I said that I wished President Obama had visited Israel. Of course it’s good if the president visits Israel. It’s good if any politician visits Israel. The more times the better as far as I’m concerned. But the reality is that presidential visits to Israel are unusual. We in the pro-Israel community judge office holders on their policy positions, not their travel itineraries.

If the criticism from our Republican friends during the campaign was sincere, one would expect them to be praising President Obama for fulfilling a campaign promise and visiting Israel. Our Republican friends claimed last June that the reasons President Obama didn’t visit Israel were his personal distaste for Israel, his fear of being booed and rejected by Israelis, his desire to distance himself from Israel, and a desire to avoid drawing attention to the failed peace process.

And what do they say now? They say going to Israel is a mistake on President Obama’s part. Not the right time. I’m not making this up. If President Obama had visited Israel last year, do you think they would have praised President Obama for going or decried it as an election stunt? The President can’t win with this crew. If President Obama split the Sea of Reeds and walked through it dry-shod, they’d say he couldn’t swim.

It’s okay to disagree about policy. It’s okay to change your mind. But when you’ve excoriated President Obama for four years for not visiting Israel, and then he does exactly what you’ve said was so important, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that the President is doing something we should all be proud of and thankful for. The President of the United States is visiting the State of Israel. That’s good. And there is never a bad time to visit Israel.

Obama meets with Jewish organizations leaders, 2011

The reality is that prior to his re-election, President Obama eliminated Osama bin-Laden, did more than any other president to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program, restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration, secretly sold Israel the bunker-busting bombs it requested but did not receive during the Bush administration, increased security assistance to Israel to record levels, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, took US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against a one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution, opposed the Goldstone Report, stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in the UN Security Council.

After his re-election, freed from the need for Jewish votes, what did President Obama do? He spoke out against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the UN, stated yet again that “we’re not going to let Iran get a nuclear weapon,” and forcefully condemned Hamas and unequivocally supported Israel’s right to defend itself in Gaza. And now he’s going to Israel.

When it comes to the US-Israel relationship, we must stand together. This is essential reading from Aaron Keyak. We can’t afford to let Israel become a partisan issue. There are major policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, but Israel is not one of them.

Please send Aaron’s op-ed to anyone who loves Israel and the values we cherish — even (or perhaps especially) disillusioned Republican moderates looking for a political home. Better yet, share this entire article by using the symbols at the top or the bottom to post it on Facebook or Twitter.