Jewish American Heritage Month Reception at White House

President Barack Obama hosted the annual Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at the White House to honor and celebrate the Jewish community’s contributions to America. Obama welcomed everyone to the celebration by remarking upon the Jewish community’s long and important history of civic involvement. 400 Jewish leaders from across the nation attended. A partial guest list follows the jump below.

Remarks by President Barack Obama
White House, East Room, May 30, 2012

This year, we celebrate Jewish Heritage Month — Jewish American Heritage Month, and we’re also commemorating an important anniversary.  One hundred-fifty years ago, General Ulysses Grant issued an order — known as General Orders Number 11 — that would have expelled Jews, “as a class,” from what was then known as the military department of the Tennessee.  It was wrong.  Even if it was 1862, even if official acts of anti-Semitism were all too common around the world, it was wrong and indicative of an ugly strain of thought.

But what happened next could have only taken place in America. Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision.  A Jewish merchant from Kentucky traveled here, to the White House, and met with President Lincoln in person.  After their meeting, President Lincoln revoked the order — one more reason why we like President Lincoln.  (Laughter and applause.)

And to General Grant’s credit, he recognized that he had made a serious mistake.  So later in his life, he apologized for this order, and as President, he went out of his way to appoint Jews to public office and to condemn the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Today, we have a few documents on display — maybe some of you saw them when you walked in.  There are two letters of protest from Jewish organizations to President Lincoln.  There is President Lincoln’s handwritten reply, saying that he had taken action.  And there is a receipt for the donation that President Grant made to the Adas Israel Synagogue here in Washington, when he attended a service there in 1876.

So together, these papers tell a story, a fundamentally American story.  Like so many groups, Jews have had to fight for their piece of the American dream.  But this country holds a special promise:  that if we stand up for the traditions we believe in and in the values we share, then our wrongs can be made right; our union can be made more perfect and our world can be repaired.

Today, it’s our turn, our generation’s turn.  And you guys, your generation’s turn.  You’re younger than us.  (Laughter.)  We got some later generations here in the front.  We’re the ones who have to stand up for our shared values.   Here at home, we have to rebuild an America where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same rules.

Beyond our borders, we have to stand alongside our friends who share our commitment to freedom and democracy and universal rights; and that includes, of course, our unwavering commitment to the State of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace.  (Applause.)

It’s no secret that we’ve got a lot of work to do.  But as your traditions teach us, while we are not obligated to finish the work, neither are we free to desist from that work.

So today, we don’t just celebrate all that American Jews have done for our country; we also look toward the future.  And as we do, I know that those of you in this room, but folks all across this country will continue to help perfect our union; and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.

God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

Guest list follows the jump.
More after the jump.
Partial Guest List

  • Rabbi Andrea Merow of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park
  • Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel in Merion Station
  • Rabbi David Ackerman of Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley
  • Representative Allyson Schwartz (D-PA)
  • NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley
  • NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris
  • Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren
  • Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
  • Representative Howard Berman (D-CA)
  • Representative David Cicilline (D-RI)
  • Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN)
  • Representative Susan Davis (D-CA)
  • Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL)
  • Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)
  • Representative Sander Levin (D-MI)
  • Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
  • Representative Jarrod Polis (D-CO)
  • Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
  • Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA)

NJDC, RJC and Legislators Meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Obama and Netanyahu

Leaders of the National Jewish Democratic Council and Republican Jewish Coalition, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DCCC Chair Rep. Steve Israel and others met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today at Blair House, across from the White House. They discussed the strong, unshakable relations between the United States and Israel.

 —  by Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris (NJDC)

 We leave our meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu even more certain that he will continue to be a strong partner with President Barack Obama as both nations seek a path towards peace in the Middle East that promotes and defends a secure, democratic Jewish State of Israel.

While we don't see eye to eye with the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition on many domestic policies, when it comes to the need for a powerfully strong U.S.-Israel relationship, on this we agree. We welcome this opportunity to place partisanship aside and discuss ways we can work together to help our close ally Israel — just as we strive every day to keep Israel from being used as a partisan wedge issue in the political arena. As we've said repeatedly, the stakes are too high for such antics.


We are confident that the shared goals and desires of both nations are far stronger than the counterproductive political rhetoric and false statements that some have tried to put forward during this productive and important visit. We look forward to doing everything we can to aid President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu as they continue the unprecedented strategic partnership between our two countries.



Jewish Republicans: Playing Politics With Israel Again

— David A. Harris

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

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

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

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