How Not To Advocate for Israel

Obama%20Fox%20530[1]Last week we saw four examples of how not to advocate for Israel:

1. Don’t back lawsuits you can’t win.

The Supreme Court struck down a law that forced the President, through the Secretary of State, to identify, upon request, citizens born in Jerusalem as being born in Israel even though the United States has never acknowledged Israel nor any other country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem.

President Bush did not enforce this law, and neither has President Obama. No one should have been surprised that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Executive Branch. But as a result of this short-sighted lawsuit, which never should have been brought, the Palestinians are claiming victory and pro-Israel groups are upset.
[Read more…]

Remarks of Treasury Secretary Lew at AIPAC

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew at the 2014 American Israel Public Affair Committee Policy Conference

The reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable.  And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism-you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in.  This is not just your right as Americans.  It is your responsibility.  It is the essence of our democratic system.

And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel.  This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.

Full transcript follows the jump.
I want to thank President Kassen, incoming President Cohen, the Board of Directors, and everyone for inviting me here today.  There are so many familiar faces in this room-friends of many years from my time in Washington, New York, and around the country.  It is truly wonderful to be with you.

Before turning to the focus of my remarks, let me say that we are closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine with grave concern.  As President Obama told President Putin yesterday, Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity is a breach of international law.  I have spoken several times to the Ukrainian Prime Minister who assures me that the government is prepared to take the necessary steps to build a secure economic foundation, including urgently needed market reforms that will restore financial stability, unleash economic potential, and allow Ukraine’s people to better achieve their economic aspirations.

The United States is prepared to work with its bilateral and multilateral partners to provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth, if the new government implements the necessary reforms.

An IMF program should be the centerpiece of the international assistance package, and the United States is prepared to supplement IMF support in order to make successful reform implementation more likely and to cushion the impact of needed reforms on vulnerable Ukrainians.

Now the reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable.  And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism-you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in.  This is not just your right as Americans.  It is your responsibility.  It is the essence of our democratic system.

And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel.  This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.

In fact, in 1948, it took President Truman only 11 minutes to recognize the Jewish state of Israel.  And from then on, the American-Israel relationship has not been a Democratic cause or a Republican cause, it has been an American cause.

President Obama has remained true to this proud legacy since the first day he took office, and he has made it clear that for him and for this Administration, America’s commitment to Israel is ironclad.  As he said as President-elect, before he even took office: “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable.”  And he has never wavered from that position.

Like the President, Israel’s security is not only a public policy conviction for me, it is a personal one.  As many of you know, no one grew up with a deeper appreciation for the state of Israel than I did.  And I have no doubt that a strong and secure Israel is vital to America’s strength and America’s security.  

As we meet, America’s support for Israel’s security has never been stronger.  And over the next three days, you’re going to hear about all the things that the Administration is doing to advance Israel’s security-from promoting a lasting peace with the Palestinians to preserving Israel’s military edge so it can protect itself against any threat.

Today, I will discuss one of the most pressing national security concerns for Israel and the United States-and that is Iran’s nuclear program.

Let us not forget that when President Obama took office, Iran was strengthening its position throughout the region and the international community was unable to provide a unified response.  But because of President Obama’s leadership, Congressional actions, American diplomacy, which AIPAC has supported, we put in place a historic sanctions regime and Iran now finds itself under the greatest economic and financial pressure any country has ever experienced.

Initially, many claimed sanctions on Iran would never work, but we have proven exactly the opposite. From the beginning, this sanctions program has had one purpose: Persuade Iran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.  There can be no alternative.

To be clear, we never imposed sanctions just for the sake of imposing sanctions.  We did it to isolate Iran and sharpen the choice for the regime in Tehran.  And we did it by bringing the community of nations together.  We are talking about China, Russia, India, Japan, Europe, Canada, South Korea, and the list goes on.

Having the international community united in opposition to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon made an enormous difference.

We now have in place the most sweeping, most powerful, most innovative, and most comprehensive sanctions regime in history.  And because of the impact of these unprecedented, international sanctions, Iran finally came to the negotiating table seeking relief and fully aware that to get relief, it had to take concrete steps to curtail its nuclear program.  Those negotiations led to the Joint Plan of Action, which went into effect in January.

Today, for the first time in a decade, progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key elements have been rolled back.

The temporary deal struck in Geneva provides us with a six-month diplomatic window to try to hammer out a comprehensive, long-term resolution, without fear that Iran, in the meantime, will advance its nuclear program.  Now, I want to emphasize something: Before we agree to any comprehensive deal, Iran will have to provide real proof that its nuclear program, whatever it consists of, is-and will remain-exclusively peaceful.

This deal will only be acceptable if we are certain that Iran could not threaten Israel or any other nation with a nuclear weapon.

Yet make no mistake: Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place.  Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate.  And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

We are under no illusions about who we are dealing with.  Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence, supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and has failed to live up to its promises in the past.

Still, it is critically important that we give negotiations, backed by continuing economic pressure, a chance to succeed.  I have sat with two presidents as they weighed the enormous decision to send men and women into harm’s way to protect our nation.  And while all options must remain available, I believe it is our responsibility to do as much as we reasonably can to reserve force as a last option.

This is as much a strategic obligation as it is a moral one.  You see, maintaining the sanctions regime that has crippled Iran’s economy requires international cooperation.  No amount of U.S. sanctions would have the same crippling power as this international effort.  For other nations to continue to remain steadfast with us, they need to know that we have given negotiations every chance to succeed.  And if the moment comes when we have to use force, the whole world needs to understand that we did everything possible to achieve change through diplomacy.

To that end, we do not believe that now is the time to adopt new sanctions legislation.  We do not need new sanctions now – the sanctions in place are working to bring Iran to the negotiating table and passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective.  But as I have said, and as President Obama has said, we continue to consult closely with Congress, and if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.

Now, in the next two days or so, you may hear some say that the very narrow relief in the interim agreement has unraveled the sanctions regime or eased the chokehold on Iran’s economy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And I want to take a few moments to go through a few basic facts.

The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the sanctions, monitors the numbers carefully.  And when you consider the ongoing sanctions that remain in place, the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief is extremely limited-totaling an estimated $7 billion.  To put that into context, during the same six month period, Iran will lose roughly $30 billion in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place.

Put simply, this relief will not enable Iran’s economy to recover from the deep economic damage inflicted by the sanctions program.  The bulk of this relief does not come from suspending sanctions on economic activity like manufacturing or exports.  It comes from the measured release of Iran’s own funds that are now impounded in overseas banks.  The fact is, because of years of sanctions enforcement, Iran has about $100 billion locked up in overseas banks.  The interim agreement allows Iran to access $4.2 billion of these funds.

I want to underscore that Iran’s access to this limited relief is neither immediate nor instantaneous.  It will be provided in separate installments on a rolling basis over the six-month period of the Joint Plan, and it will only flow if Iran demonstrates week by week that it continues to comply with its agreement to freeze and rollback its enrichment program.

Other measures amount to less than $2 billion-the limited suspension of sanctions on the export of plastics, the import of parts for Iran’s automotive sector, and tuition assistance for students studying abroad.  And the core architecture that makes the program work, oil and financial sanctions, remains in effect fully.  

If at any point Iran fails to fulfill its commitments under the Joint Plan, the money will stop, and the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place.  And when the six-month deal expires, so does the relief.

The bottom-line is: Promises are not enough-Iran must meet its obligations.  This is not a case of trust and verify.  This is a case of verify everything.

No matter what, Iran’s economy will continue to feel severe economic pressure from our ongoing sanctions regime.  For example, our oil sanctions that remain in place have forced Iran’s oil exports to drop by more than 60 percent over the last two years. And we will continue to enforce them.  

All told, the crushing sanctions have deeply damaged economic conditions in Iran. There are four key indicators that tell the whole story: first, last year the economy shrunk by 6 percent and it is expected to shrink again this year; second, the value of its currency, the rial, has plummeted, having lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar; third, the unemployment rate is over 15 percent; and finally, the inflation rate is about 30 percent, one of the highest in the world.

The economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy on many fronts.

Claims that Iran’s economy is undergoing a recovery because of the Joint Plan of Action are just plain wrong.  After the election of President Rouhani last June, and well before the Joint Plan took effect, there was a slight drop in the country’s very high inflation rate and small improvements in other economic indicators.  This was due to a wave of public optimism that greeted the election of a new president, the appointment of a more capable economic team, and the hope that a deal to lift sanctions would soon materialize.

But the slight improvements in these indicators only mean that a badly wounded economy is not getting worse.  It does not mean the economy is getting better.  And it certainly does not mean that the Joint Plan has led to a recovery.

Further, if Iran fails to reach a deal with us, business and consumer confidence will quickly erode as will many of the gains the economy has seen over the last few months.  

Iran’s economy suffered a serious blow from sanctions, and the impact of sanctions is not being reversed.  Iran’s economy remains in the same state of distress that brought the government to the table in the first place.  Imagine how any economy would feel, if, by a recovery, it meant leveling off at the bottom of a recession.  That is what is happening in Iran today.

There is no question that the relief provided under the six-month plan will not steer Iran’s economy to a real recovery.  It is a drop in the bucket.  In fact, there will be a net deepening of the impact of sanctions when you consider the new damage that will be inflicted like the $30 billion in additional lost oil sales.

What this relief will do is give the people of Iran and their leaders a small taste of how things could improve if they were to take the steps necessary to join the community of nations.  This is a choice for Iran to make. If it wants to pull its economy out of the deep hole it is in, it must remove any doubt that its nuclear program is peaceful and come to a comprehensive agreement with the international community.  Until then, we will remain steadfast in our enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions.

Now, when I say we remain firm in our enforcement of sanctions, these are not just words, we are talking about action.  For instance, shortly after the Joint Plan went into effect, we moved against more than 30 Iran-related entities and individuals around the globe for evading U.S. sanctions, for aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and for supporting terrorism.  As President Obama recently said, if anyone, anywhere engages in unauthorized economic activity with Tehran, the United States will-and I quote-“come down on them like a ton of bricks.”

I have personally delivered that message to hundreds of business and banking executives in America and around the world, and we are in regular contact with our international partners-including Israel-to sustain the pressure on Iran’s government.

On top of that, our enforcement officials at the Treasury Department who have been responsible for crafting and implementing this historic sanctions regime have been traveling around the world and putting their expertise and unremitting effort to bear to keep Iran isolated.

Even though I have said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business. Have no doubt, we are well aware that business people have been talking to the Iranians. We have been very clear that the moment those talks turn into improper deals, we will respond with speed and force.  Anyone who violates our sanctions will face severe penalties. Our vigilance has not, cannot, and will not falter.

In closing, let me say, this is a time of great uncertainty.  But during difficult times like these, the bonds between the United States and Israel do not grow weaker, they grow stronger.

The U.S.-Israel relationship, which is rooted in our shared story of people yearning to be masters of their own destiny, is as vibrant as ever.  And that vibrancy is very much on display here.  As I look out across this room, I am reminded of how every year hundreds of young people come to this conference from every corner of the United States.  They travel to our nation’s capital because of their boundless hope, their sense of duty, and their unshakable belief that the future can be brighter, better, more prosperous and more secure.  And I am confident that by all of us working together, we can make that happen.

Thank you.

Jack Lew’s Shabbat Helper

— by Nathan Guttman

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward

When Jack Lew was appointed chief of staff to President Obama in January, many in the Jewish community wondered how he could observe Shabbat in such a demanding position.

Luckily, Lew has the most powerful man in the world to keep track of time as the sun starts to dip low in the sky on Friday afternoons.

“I saw the president on many occasions on Friday afternoons look at his watch, and ask: ‘Isn’t it time for you to get going?'” Lew said, “or, ‘Why are you still here?’ The president was not checking the clock “because he doesn’t think I can keep time,” Lew said. Rather, the extra care on this issue reflects the President’s wish “to remind me that it’s important to him, not just to me, that I be able to make that balance.”

Lew, who is Orthodox, revealed the details about his keeping Shabbat in an extraordinary interview with the Forward that touched on his need to observe the Jewish holy day.

“And he’s respected that time and again,” the chief of staff said of Obama.

The chief of staff noted it was Obama who brought up the issue of Shabbat when first offering Lew the job.

“He raised it with me saying: ‘I know that things are going to come up where there’s an emergency on Saturday or that you need to be here. I know you well enough to know that this is not an issue. I want you to know that I’m never going to ask you to work on Saturday if it’s not really necessary. It’s important for me that you know that.'”

On his behalf, Lew provided the President with his own assurances.

More after the jump.
“I’ve made it clear,” Lew said, “that you don’t have to wonder if there’s a crisis whether I’m available. If you need me, I don’t even consider it a violation of my faith to be doing the things I need to do to make sure people are not in harm’s way.”

In practice, this arrangement has worked out well. On Fridays, Lew leaves the White House before Shabbat begins and he is off on Saturdays. In the cases where his presence was needed on Shabbat, the chief of staff usually walked to the White House and back.

Rabbis he consulted with assured Lew that when there is a real necessity, Jewish tradition approves of working on the Sabbath. The number of times Lew actually had to work in Saturday has been “limited,” he said.

Lew had dealt with the potential conflicts between observing Shabbat and working in top level positions under President Bill Clinton, when he served as the White House budget director. Clinton made sure not to have his top budget adviser busy from sundown Friday to the end of Saturday, and Lew made himself available when emergencies occurred.

“I have found that if you are true to your own beliefs, people respect it,” Lew said. “I’ve found that President Obama considers it a sign of strength and value that there is something in my life that reflects principles that I adhere to.”

Reprinted courtesy of The Forward.

Obama Sits Down With Rabbis

— by Rachel Shabad

Recently, White House Director of Jewish Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement Jarrod Bernstein sat down with President Barack Obama and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to meet with Jewish leaders from the Conservative and Orthodox communities. The group discussed a wide range of topics as part of “a continuing dialogue with various strands of the American Jewish community.”

Bernstein wrote:

At the meeting with Conservative Jewish leaders, the President was given the traditional blessing for heads of state by Rabbinical Assembly Executive Vice President Julie Schonfeld. The role of faith leaders in communities across the country was discussed and celebrated, with the President speaking to the important role these clergy play in our everyday lives. From the social safety net to advocacy on issues around the globe, leaders of religious movements have helped to make this a ‘more perfect union.’

The meeting with Orthodox leadership covered many topics, as well, including how the government and faith leaders can work together to ensure that all students get access to the services they are entitled to by law. The group discussed the President’s unshakeable support for Israel and our commitments to peace and security for Israel and the entire Middle East. The group finished its meeting with a brief visit to the Oval Office, where they presented the President with a copy of George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Rhode Island written in 1790.

List of attendees follows the jump.
Attendees at meeting of Orthodox Rabbis:

  • Dr. Simcha Katz, President – Orthodox Union
  • Rabbi Steven Burg, Managing Director – Orthodox Union
  • Mr. Nathan Diament, Executive Director for Public Policy – Orthodox Union
  • Mr. Yehuda Neuberger, Public Policy Chairman – Orthodox Union
  • Mr. Allen Fagin, Senior Vice President – Orthodox Union
  • Mrs. Shira Yoshor, Orthodox Union Community Network Leader, Houston, TX; Trustee, Yeshiva University
  • Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, President – Rabbinical Council of America
  • Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun, New York
  • Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Boca Raton Synagogue, Florida
  • Rabbi Benjamin Blau, Green Road Synagogue, Cleveland, Ohio
  • Rabbi Avraham Shmidman, Lower Merion Synagogue, Pennsylvania
  • Rabbi Shalom Baum, Congregation Keter Torah, Teaneck, New Jersey
  • Mrs. Ellen Lightman, Board Member – Orthodox Union

Attendees at meeting of Conservative Rabbis:

  • Rabbi Bruce Dollin
  • Rabbi Ed Farber
  • Rabbi Jeffrey A Wohlberg            
  • Rabbi Amy Greenbaum
  • Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin
  • Rabbi Daniel Greyber
  • Rabbi Danielle Upbin
  • Rabbi David M Ackerman
  • Rabbi Harold Berman
  • Abby Joseph Cohen:
  • Dr. Arnold Martin Eisen
  • Mr. Marc Gary
  • Rabbi Luis Felipe Goodman
  • Rabbi Joseph Howard Krakoff
  • Rabbi Andrea L. Merow
  • Rabbi Jack L. Moline
  • Rabbi Danny S. Nevins
  • Rabbi Julie Schonfeld
  • Rabbi Steven Curtis Wernick
  • Richard Skolnik
  • Rabbi Eric S Yanoff

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew at AJC Global Forum

— by Matt Compton

Last night, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew spoke at the American Jewish Committee Global Forum. There, he praised the Committee’s decades of work to build a better world at home and abroad. He also stressed the steps the President has taken to prevent a second Great Depression and create an economy built to last. And he reiterated our commitment to the unbreakable bonds between the United States and Israel.

Transcript follows the jump.
Good evening.

Thank you, Bob, both for that introduction, and for everything you do for the American Jewish Committee. I want to acknowledge the distinguished foreign ministers who I am privileged to share this stage with tonight.

I also want like to thank my friend David Harris for his decades of leadership in the American Jewish community. And finally, I would like to recognize all the familiar faces in the audience, people I know from my work in government and the private sector, and from my neighborhood. It is a pleasure to be with all of you tonight.

During the AJC’s early years, one of the organization’s most important missions was to prevent the persecution of Eastern European Jews. And speaking at this year’s Global Forum means a lot to me personally, because my father was one of those people.

He was born in Poland. His family left their small town at the end of World War I. My mother’s family made the journey just a few years earlier.

They were lucky. They had the opportunity to leave before it was too late. And they were especially lucky to come here, to America – a country that has always stood for freedom, both within its borders and around the world.

My parents made sure that I grew up with a deep appreciation for how fortunate I was to be an American. I was raised in a family that placed high importance on preserving our Jewish values, and promoting our shared American values.

That is something the AJC has always placed high importance on as well. You have helped make our union more perfect, and our world a better place. In the 1920s, you supported immigrants like my father as they sought to realize the American dream.

In the 1950s and 60s, you helped advance civil rights for African-Americans.

In the 1980s, you organized on behalf of Soviet Jewry.

Today, you continue to fight for the basic promise of America: that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can make it if you try. Wherever your parents came from, you can be Chief of Staff to the President of the United States, and yes, even President of the United States.

Whether or not we are going to preserve that promise is the question being debated here in Washington today. And the stakes have never been higher: this is a make or break moment for the middle class, and for all those working hard to get into the middle class.

For many years, well before the crisis of 2008, wages were staying flat, as costs for everything from food and health care to college went up. When we were hit with the worst economic disaster of our lifetimes, the situation became even more dire.

With our economy on the brink of a second Great Depression, our leadership in the world was called into question.

These were the challenges President Obama faced, when he took office. We still have a long way to go before our economy is fully recovered – before everyone who wants a good job can get one. But today, we are beginning to see what change looks like.

Because over the past 25 months, businesses have added more than 4.1 million jobs.  Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s. And the American auto industry is back on top.

That’s not all. Today, taxes are at historically low rates for middle class families and small businesses have seen their taxes cut 18 times since President Obama took office.

At the same time, our dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent for the first time in more than a decade.

That’s good for our economy, and just as importantly, it’s good for our national security.

Of course, there’s so much more: protecting a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work;  historic healthcare reform that is already saving seniors money on prescription drugs, and helping young people buy insurance on their parents’ health plans; student loan reform that cuts out the middlemen, and gives more young people the chance to go to college.

That’s what change looks like. While we still have a long way to go, together we are restoring the values that helped build the world’s most prosperous economy and strongest middle class. Today, President Obama is fighting for an America where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

And just as importantly, he is also making sure that America stands up for its values around the world. When President Obama took office, two costly wars made it hard for us to address the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

And our diminished diplomatic standing made it hard for us to mobilize the international community to join us in common cause.

A little more than three years later, President Obama has kept his promises. He brought the war in Iraq to a responsible end, and he has restored America’s place as the one indispensable nation in world affairs.

Less than 48 hours ago, I had the honor of travelling with the President to Afghanistan, where he signed a historic partnership agreement and again thanked our brave men and women in uniform. Thanks to them, Al Qaeda’s leadership has been decimated, and we have delivered justice to Osama bin Laden.  And from a hanger at Bagram Air Base, the President laid out his plan to complete our mission in Afghanistan, end the war, and turn responsibility over to the Afghan people.

Much has changed since President Obama took office. But one thing that has never changed is the President’s commitment to the state of Israel.

Now, it’s possible that over the next few months, you may hear some of our friends on the other side question President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security. But the facts tell a clear and very different story. A story I am proud to share.

In 2008, President Obama said, and I quote, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable.”

He has never wavered from that conviction.

The President believes deeply that the United States and Israel share common interests, and common values. And I invite you to look at what President Obama has done while in office. At every crucial moment during the last four years, we have been there when Israel needed us.

This begins with the cooperation between our militaries, which has never been closer. Even in the midst of a truly difficult budgetary environment, our military aid for Israel has increased every single year. We have shared cutting-edge military technology.

As the President has put it, and I quote, “We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge, because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

Put simply, President Obama gets it. As a Senator, he traveled to Sderot and met with families living in fear of rocket fire. He knows the threats that still exist. And that is why he has provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that otherwise could have cost innocent Israelis their lives.

President Obama has supported Israel through diplomacy as well. When the Goldstone Report unfairly singled out Israel, we challenged it. When the Durban conference was used as an excuse to attack the Jewish State, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism.

When the General Assembly of the United Nations convened last year, President Obama told the leaders gathered there that any lasting peace must acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and its legitimate security concerns.

That’s an easy thing to say here.

It was not such an easy thing to say there.

Now, one of the most pressing of those security concerns is Iran. When President Obama took office, international efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program were at a standstill. Iran was asserting itself throughout the region, and the international community could not come to agreement about how to respond.

Today, because of President Obama’s leadership, the situation is very different. After Iran’s leaders rejected the President’s diplomatic engagement, he mobilized the international community, and put the regime in Tehran under greater pressure than ever before.

Today, unprecedented sanctions have helped to slow Iran’s nuclear program, and tightened the economic screws on the regime. This summer, sanctions will become even tougher.

So in just a few years, the Iranian regime has seen a reversal of fortune. Today, their leadership is divided and under pressure.

Even as we continue to work towards a diplomatic solution, we’re going to keep up the pressure, because President Obama takes the threat from Iran extremely seriously. He has made clear his is not a policy of containment; it is a policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And in pursuit of that policy, the President has taken no options off the table.

And I am also proud to say that President Obama understands that part of maintaining Israel’s long-term security as a Jewish state is pursuing a just and lasting peace-he has echoed the call made by leaders such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and President Shimon Peres, in calling for a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  

No one has labored longer or harder in pursuit of peace than President Peres, and to honor his lifetime of service and achievement, President Obama looks forward to awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom this summer in Washington.

Now, peace is hard to achieve. But President Obama has always believed that just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it is not right. So in the days ahead, he will to continue to fight for an America that remains true to its ideals. He will do everything he can, not just to get our economy back to where it was, but to create an economy built to last for future generations. And he will stand firmly for Israel’s security, for peace, and for the basic rights and freedoms that we all cherish so deeply.

You know, I began tonight by talking about my father. I think about the world his generation handed down to me. Our task is to make sure that the world our generation leaves to our children is full of opportunity: the kind of place where you can achieve anything, if you’re willing to work for it – a world that is safer, more peaceful, and more free.

I’m proud to be a guest of an organization that is working to build that kind of world, bit by bit and step by step. And as you do, I want you to know that President Obama, and his entire administration, will be with you every step of the way.

Thank you.

Mazel Tov to New White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew

— David A. Harris

Throughout his time leading the Office of Management and Budget, Jacob “Jack” Lew has lived his Jewish values every day by working to strengthen the economy and ensuring that painful budget cuts do not strand vulnerable Americans. Mr. Lew has had such deep experience at the Department of State and the White House, and it’s wonderful to learn that President Barack Obama has selected him to help lead this White House staff forward — and to enact this President’s programs. We wish Jack a hearty mazel tov — congratulations — and wish him all the best in this crucially important new position.