Netanyahu: Scarlett Johansson Should Be Applauded

— by Steve Sheffey

In his AIPAC keynote speech last Tuesday, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasized that Iran is an “outlaw terrorist state” that should not be permitted to enrich uranium:

Pressure is what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, and only more pressure will get [them] to abandon their nuclear weapons program. Greater pressure on Iran will not make war more likely; it will make war less likely — because the greater the pressure on Iran and more credible the threat of force on Iran, the smaller chance that force will ever have to be used.

Netanyahu made a case for the peace process, noting that peace with the Palestinians would open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and the Arab world, leading to great economic and other gains in the region.

More after the jump.
Barak Ravid wrote in Ha’aretz that, “For the first time in a major speech, Netanyahu used ‘leftist’ language and stressed ‘the fruits of peace’ that Israel will enjoy if it reaches an agreement with the Palestinians. For a moment one could have thought that it was Shimon Peres at the podium or, God forbid, John Kerry.”

Bibi asked how anyone could “fall for the BS in BDS”:

Today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state… attempts to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism.

Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.

Everyone should know what the letters B-D-S really stand for: bigotry, dishonesty and shame. And those who oppose BDS, like Scarlett Johansson, they should be applauded.

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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.

Secretary Kerry’s Remarks at the AIPAC Policy Conference

Secretary of State John Kerry at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference

Today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side.  

I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama — and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact — there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security.  The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled.  And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so.  That is what we’ve done.  

Security.  Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to.  And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel:  preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

Full transcript follows the jump.
Norm, thank you.  Thank you very, very much.  Thank you all, 14,000 strong or more.  (Applause.)  Howard, Howard Friedman and Executive Director Howard Kohr, incoming president Bob Cohen, incoming chairman Michael Kassen, outgoing chairman Lee Rosenberg, and Ambassador Ron Dermer and Ambassador Dan Shapiro.  I don’t know where our ambassadors are.  Would they — somebody ought to applaud both of them here.  (Applause.)  There they are.  Thanks for your own, Norman.

Let me tell you, it really is an enormous pleasure for me to be able to be here.  It’s a privilege.  And good to see so many friends, all 14,000 of you — a little frightening to see myself on about eight, nine, ten screens up here — (laughter).  The last time I spoke to AIPAC, I joined your national summit in Napa Valley.  I did it via satellite.  And you were in the vineyards, I was overseas — a different kind of vineyard.  So today, I think I’m getting the better end of the deal because I am here with you in person, and your wine selection is a lot more limited this time.

I have to tell you, I had the pleasure of speaking to AIPAC back in the 1990s, it was a great honor, and every time I come here, whether I get a chance to talk to a smaller group during the daytime sessions or otherwise, this is a remarkably inspiring gathering — people from every corner of the country coming together to demonstrate our deep support as Americans for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.  (Applause.)

And it is no exaggeration.  It’s not just words to say that every single one of you brings here such a special passion to a cause that you so fiercely believe in.  And let me tell you something unequivocally:  After almost 30 years in the United States Senate, I can tell you that is precisely why AIPAC’s work is in the best traditions of American democracy, and I thank you for practicing it.  (Applause.)

I want you to know that in my judgment, these democratic values are stamped in the DNA of both the United States and Israel.  But we also share something much deeper than that.  Like no other two countries on the planet, against the deepest odds, both America and Israel confidently, purposefully set out to be examples to the world.  Think about it.  From its earliest days, Israel has always said it’s not enough just to be one of many in a community of nations; Israel has strove since Isaiah’s time to serve as a light unto the nations.  (Applause.)  And that responsibility to be a light unto the nations sounds actually unbelievably similar to something that we as Americans know is part of who we are, too.

My grandfather ten times over — too hard to count in other terms — was a man by the name of John Winthrop.  And he came to what was then the New World, and he came in search of freedom, freedom to worship as he wished.  He was a minister.  He and his congregants were outcasts, persecuted, heading into a rough and unforgiving land with no guarantee even of survival.  And on his way here, he delivered a now fairly famous sermon at sea in which he called on his community to create a city upon a hill in their new home, America.

So whether you call it a city upon a hill or a light unto the nations, it actually means the same thing: being a model to the world.  It means having a home that sets a standard, a standard of dignity and a standard of freedom.  So the foundation of the friendship between the American people and the people of Israel was actually laid centuries before a single stone was set under the U.S. Capitol or under the Knesset.  And looking around this room tonight, it is clear that our friendship has never been stronger.  (Applause.)

And I’ll tell you why.  Because today, as Israel faces serious challenges to her future, it is America that will stand firmly by her side.  (Applause.)  I will tell you that with the leadership of President Obama — and you can look it up, you can measure it; this is not an exaggeration, it’s a matter of fact — there has been a complete, unmatched commitment to Israel’s security.  The record of this Administration in providing aid and assistance, consultation, weapons, help, standing up in various international fora, fighting, I am proud to tell you, is unrivaled.  And the bottom line, pure and simple, has been making sure that Israel has the means to defend itself by itself and defending Israel’s right to be able to do so.  That is what we’ve done.  (Applause.)

Security.  

Security is fundamentally what President Obama is committed to.  And so too is he committed to using the full force of our diplomacy to resolve the two great questions that most matter when it comes to ensuring the security of Israel:  preventing a nuclear Iran and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  (Applause.)

Now let me start with Iran because I know there are many questions.  I know many people — there’s been a healthy debate about the approach.  We welcome that.  But let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal:  

We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period.

 (Applause.)  Now, I added an eleventh word just for punctuation.  (Laughter.)

But I want you to understand there are no if, ands, or buts.  This is not a political policy.  This is a real foreign policy.  And we mean every word of what we say.  You have the word of the President of the United States that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.  Now, as we said at the outset, and I say it again today, our diplomacy is guided by a simple bottom line:  No deal is better than a bad deal.  (Applause.)  And we absolutely will not accept a bad deal.  We are committed to a deal that gets the job done.  (Applause.)

Why?  Because we get it, we understand it.  As President Obama said in Jerusalem, no one can question why Israel looks at the Iranian program and sees an existential threat.  We understand it.  We understand it in our gut.  And we also know something else.  This is not some favor that we do for Israel.  This is something that is also in the interest of the United States of America, and it’s in the interest of countries surrounding Israel.  (Applause.)  A nuclear bomb for Iran would also threaten the stability of the region, indeed the entire world.  It would produce an arms race among the surrounding countries.  There is no way the world is safer anywhere in the world with a nuclear weapon in Iran, and we are not going to let it happen, period, end of story.  (Applause.)

Now, to do that, to achieve this all-important goal, important for America’s security and for Israel’s security, it is crucial that we seizes what might be the last best chance to be able to have diplomacy work, and maybe the last chance for quite some time.  Because the reality is only strong diplomacy can fully and permanently achieve the goal.  Those who say strike and hit need to go look at exactly what happens after you’ve done that, whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities, including Iran leaving the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regimen.  That’s a possibility.  Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away for good instead of just going underground and becoming more dangerous.  Only the exhaustion of diplomacy can justify more forceful options if you have to take them in the end.

So we say — President Obama and myself and others — we say let’s seize the diplomatic moment.  And that’s what we are trying to do.  And the truth is it is strong diplomacy that has actually made this moment possible.  And we need to give it the space to work.  We need to make sure that if this opportunity were to elude us, it is not because we are the ones that close the window.

Now, I understand the skepticism.  I’ve been around this city for 29-plus years as a senator, became chairman of the foreign relations committee, worked with most of the members of your board and with AIPAC and others around the country, and proud to tell you that during that time I had a 100 percent voting record for Israel.  (Applause.)

And I’m not coming here to stand up in front of you and tell you that I know that Iran is going to reach an agreement.  I don’t know.  I don’t know what they’ll do.  I don’t know if they are able to make some of the tough decisions they’re going to have to make in the months ahead.  But I know that if the United States is going to be able to look the world in the eye and say we have to do something, we have to have exhausted the possibilities available to us for that diplomatic peaceful resolution.  Let me make it clear our approach is not Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets — We’re not looking at this and saying trust, but verify.  Our approach is a much more complex and dangerous world — it’s verify and verify.  And that’s what we intend to do.  (Applause.)

Now, there is very good reason for these sanctions to exist in the first place, and good reason that we have kept the architecture of these sanctions in place.  And we continue to enforce it even as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement.  In the last weeks, we have announced additional sanctions with respect to individuals who have been tempted to go around it or violate it.  We have not changed one piece of the sanctions architecture.  And yet we are able to negotiate.  Our eyes, my friends, are wide open.  This is not a process that is open-ended.  This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran.  This is about testing Tehran.  And you can be sure that if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel.  That, I promise.  (Applause.)

Now, we have taken no options off the table, but so far there is no question but that tough sanctions and strong diplomacy are already making Israel and America safer.  The first step agreement, the first step agreement — it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step agreement — and the agreement that’s in force today didn’t just halt the advance of the Iranian nuclear program for the first time in a decade; it’s actually rolled it back.  And we all remember how Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium in the 2012 speech at the United Nations.  Well, today Iran is reducing its stockpile of 20 percent uranium.  And without the agreement in force today, the opposite would have been in effect.  The stockpile would have grown even more dangerous, and the amount of breakout time that they have would have grown smaller.  Because of the agreement, Iran will soon have to take its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero.  Zero.  Zero.  (Applause.)  You don’t have to be a math major to know that Israel is safer when Iran has zero uranium enriched to 20 percent, and that’s what we’ve achieved.

The same independent inspectors who also tell us that Iran has halted its advances on the heavy water reactor known as the Arak reactor, without the agreement in force today, we could not have stopped them making progress on the Arak heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor.  Iran has also stopped enriching all uranium above 5 percent, and it has given inspectors daily access to the facilities at Natanz and at Fordow.  You know Fordow, you’ve heard about it, that underground facility that was a secret for so long.  We’ve never had people in it.  But because of this first step agreement, we now have people inside Fordow every single day telling us what is happening.  (Applause.)

None of these things would have happened without forceful diplomacy by the United States and our international partners.  But now, my friends, we have to finish the job.  Like I tell my staff, there aren’t any exit polls in foreign policy.  It’s results that count, final results.  And that means we have to let forceful diplomacy keep working in order to put this test to Iran.

Now, right now we are carefully — and I mean carefully — negotiating a comprehensive agreement.  We are consulting with our friends in Israel constantly.  The minute Under Secretary Wendy Sherman finished her last set of meetings in Vienna the other day, she went immediately to Israel, briefed thoroughly on the talks, then went to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and continued to brief and briefed our European partners.

You might be asking:  If no deal is better than a bad deal, what does the United States consider a good deal?  Well, you have my word — and the President’s — that the United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way.  First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon?  Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims?  And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?

Those are the tests.  Those are our standards for any comprehensive agreement.  It’s that simple.  And those objectives, if they’re not met, then there won’t be an agreement.  (Applause.)  Now make no mistake, make no mistake; we can’t resolve the answer to those questions.  It’s up to Iran.  It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that its program is peaceful, and the world will hold Iran accountable.

Now, if it turns out that Iran cannot address the world’s concerns, I guarantee you it will face more pressure, Iran will face more pressure, more and more isolation.  And Congress will introduce more tough sanctions.  And let me assure you — I know Eric Cantor is here, sitting here — I assure you it’ll take about two hours to get it through the House and the Senate and it won’t be delayed and the Congress will have to do nothing more than schedule the vote, because President Obama and I fully support those sanctions under those circumstances.  (Applause.)

In the meantime, as I said earlier, we are enforcing every letter of the existing sanctions.  I have personally instructed every State Department bureau and mission around the world to watch vigilantly for any signs of the sanctions being skirted.  And to any country that wants to trade with Iran with these sanctions firmly in place, the United States will tell them exactly what I have told foreign leaders in no uncertain terms:  Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs.  (Applause.)

Now, strong diplomacy is also essential to another threat to Israel’s security:  ending the conflict with the Palestinians, and in doing so, preserving the Jewish and democratic nature of the state of Israel.  (Applause.)  I’ve had some folks ask me why I’m so committed to these negotiations and why I’m so convinced that peace is actually possible.  And they ask, “Why does John Kerry go to Israel so often?”  I think I heard Steny Hoyer say he’d been there 13 times, Eric Cantor who’s been there 12 times.  I’ve been there more times than that just in the last nine months.  (Laughter.)  And I’ve been in the Middle East more times than even that in the last months because I don’t always wind up going to Israel.

But apart from the question, I’m surprised because people ask, because apart from my affection for Israel which dates back to my first visit back in 1986, and it just strikes me that it’s the wrong question to ask, why do I go.  This isn’t about me.  This is about the dreams of Israelis and the dignity of Palestinians.  It’s about reconciling two peoples who want at long last to live normal secure lives in the land that they have fought over for so long.  It’s about answering King David’s timeless call that we seek peace and pursue it.  It’s about fulfilling the fervent prayer for peace that Jews around the world recite to welcome Shabbat.  It’s about parents from Tsefat to Eilat who want to raise their families in a region that accepts the nation-state of the Jewish people is here to stay.  (Applause.)

Now, it’s not news to any Israeli to hear me say that they live in a difficult neighborhood.  Israelis know that better than anyone.  No one needs to explain the importance of peace and security to a mother who has just sent her daughter to the army or a son who is waiting for his father to come home from another mission.  No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than those who will inherit them for generations to come.  And I have seen all of these realities in so many different ways in my travels in Israel, from the rocket casings in Sderot to the shelter in Kiryat Shmona that I visited years ago where children had to hide from Katyusha rockets.  I’ve seen it.

My friends, I also believe that we are at a point in history that requires the United States as Israel’s closest friend and the world’s preeminent power to do everything we can to help end this conflict once and for all.  Now, that is why America — (applause) — that is why America helped bring the parties back to the table, where, let’s be honest, Israelis and Palestinians have difficult choices to make.  And no one understands just how complex those choices are or how emotional they are better than the leaders who have to summon the courage in order to actually make them.

I have sat with Bibi Netanyahu for hours and hours and days and days.  We have become good friends.  (Applause.)  I believe — in fact, he ought to be charging me rent.  (Laughter.)  I’ve seen up close and personally the grit and the guts of this man and his love of country.  And I can tell you with absolute certainty and without question, Prime Minister Netanyahu has demonstrated his courage and his commitment in pursuit of peace with security.  (Applause.)  He knows that it is the only way for Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state; not a bi-national state.  (Applause.)

As President Obama said publicly in the Oval Office today, and I quote him:  “Prime Minister Netanyahu has approached these negotiations with a level of seriousness and commitment that reflects his leadership and the desire of the Israeli people for peace.”

Thus far, I will tell you also that President Abbas, and I know there are many doubters here — I’ve heard the arguments for 30-plus years, 40 years — that there’s no partner for peace, that Abbas won’t be there, that — both sides, by the way, say the same thing about each other.  That’s one of the difficulties we have to try get through here.  A very small needle to try to thread in terms of the trust deficit.  Thus far, President Abbas, I will tell you, has demonstrated he wants to be a partner for peace.  He’s committed to trying to end the conflict in all of its claims, but he obviously has a point of view about what’s fair and how he can do that.  Let’s be candid.  I know that some of you doubt that.  But as Israeli security officials will attest, President Abbas has been genuinely committed against violence, and his own security forces have worked closely with Israel in order to prevent violence against Israeli citizens.

I’ve also spent many hours with President Abbas, and I believe that he clearly understands both the tremendous benefits of peace and the great costs of failure.  He understands that in terms of his own people, his own grandchildren, the country he hopes to be able to lead, and in terms of the history that beleaguers all.  He knows the Palestinian people will never experience the self determination that they seek in a state of their own without ending the conflict in a solution that delivers two states for two peoples.  (Applause.)

And so does Prime Minister Netanyahu.  When Bibi looks me in the eye and says, “I can’t accept a deal with Palestinians that doesn’t make the people of Israel safer,” we agree 100 percent.  (Applause.)  But I argue that there is a distinction between a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon or from Gaza where nothing is resolved, and a phased withdrawal that is negotiated where everything is at least in an agreement resolved.

Now, I learned about Israel’s security on many different trips over there, but one stands out.  I was — I’d been a pilot since I was in college and I was on a trip over there.  I was having a luncheon at Ovda Airbase with the Israel Air Force.  And the colonel who was in charge was — had flown.  He was an ace from the Six-Day War.  And we were having lunch at the time at Ovda and I had been badgering them to maybe let me go up and fly.  And they disappeared at lunch and finally he comes back and he says, “Senator, I hope you don’t eat too much.  We’re going flying.”  I said, “Wow, great.  This is what I’ve wanted.”  And we went out, the two of us, drove out to this jet, and he trusted me.  We put on our helmets, got in the jet, and he says, “The moment we’re off the ground, it’s your airplane.”

So literally, we took off, I take the stick, we go up, we’re flying around.  Next thing I know in my ear he says, “Senator, you better turn faster.  You’re going over Egypt.”  (Laughter.)  So I turned very fast and then I asked him if I could do some aerobatics over the Negev.  And I turned upside down and did a big loop and I was coming down, I was looking upside-down, and I said to myself, “This is perfect.”  I could see all of the Sinai.  I could see Aqaba.  I could see Jordan.  I see all of Israel below me, each side to each side.  Said, “This is the perfect way to see the Middle East upside-down and backwards.”  I understand it.  (Applause.)

The real point of this story is just to tell you that I can’t tell you the imprint on me, being up there and tiny — almost turning.  You had barely space to turn.  You get the sense of a missile from here, or a rocket from there, or the threat of war.  You understand it’s impossible to ignore just how narrow those borders are, how vulnerable Israel can be, and why Israel’s security is our first priority.  We understand that.  (Applause.)

That is why, my friends, President Obama sent a four-star general, John Allen, one of the most respected minds in United States military to do something we’ve never done in all the history of administrations negotiating for Israel’s and Palestinians’ future and that is to work with Israelis and Jordanians and Palestinians to make the Jordan River border as strong as the strongest borders on Earth.  That’s what makes this effort different from anything we’ve ever done before.  With the combination of the best military experience America can offer and the best ideas in the Pentagon and the best technology that we could deliver, we believe we can deliver to Israel security that Israel needs in order to make peace, and President Obama is committed to doing that.

Now we have no illusions.  We saw what happened after Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza and Lebanon.  We all learned lessons from that, I hope.  That’s why a negotiated agreement is so important.  That’s why the security arrangements that we are helping to design will need to be operationally proven.  We’re not doing this on a whim and a prayer.  We will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza.  (Applause.)

My friends, we understand that Israel has to be strong in order to make peace.  But we also understand that peace will make Israel stronger.  Any peace agreement must also guarantee Israel’s identity as a Jewish homeland.  (Applause.)  As Ehud Barak said on this stage last year, a two-state solution is the only way for Israel to stay true to its founding principles — to remain both Jewish and democratic.  At last year’s AIPAC conference, he said statehood is not a favor for the Palestinians, and let me reaffirm:  He is right; it is not.

Israel also needs peace in order to create greater prosperity.  All of you here know the great economic benefits of peace.  All of you have already seen what Israel has already been able to build with the forces of the region that raid against it.  Just imagine what it will be able to build as a result of peace with Palestinian neighbors.  I’ve had the foreign minister of one of the surrounding countries — a very wealthy country and a very smart foreign minister say to me if we make peace — this is under the Arab Peace Initiative and the Arab Follow-on Committee that is following everything we’re doing very closely and supporting it — and they said if we make peace, Israel will trade more in this community within a few years than it trades with Europe today.  That’s what we have available to us.  (Applause.)  And I believe that we need to stand together with a single voice to reject any of the arbitrary unwarranted boycotts of Israel.  For more than 30 years, I have staunchly, loudly, unapologetically opposed boycotts of Israel — (applause) — and I will continue to oppose those boycotts of Israel.  That will never change.  (Applause.)

Every time that Israel is subjected to attacks on its legitimacy, whether at the United Nations or from any nation, the United States will use every tool we have to defeat those efforts and we will stand with Israel.  (Applause.)

Finally, peace demands that Israel fulfill its destiny not just as a nation but also as a neighbor.  And that begins with the Palestinians, and it extends to the entire Arab League whose Arab Peace Initiative can open the door to peace and normalized relations with 20 additional Arab countries and a total of 55 Muslim countries.  The upheaval in the Middle East has shown us all that Arabs and Israelis share some of the very same security concerns.  Without the Palestinian conflict to divide them, these common interests can grow into real relationships and transform Israel’s standing in the region.  And I just invite you — I promise you these conversations take place.  I’ve had them throughout the Gulf region, throughout the Middle East, where increasingly those countries begin to see the possibilities of mutual security interests coming together for all of them against an Iran, against terrorism, against religious extremism.  This is a commonality that is a new thread in the region, and I believe it brings the potential of new possibilities.

It is also important to remember that ending the conflict means ending the incitement.  President Abbas has called incitement a germ that must be removed.  And he has sought our help in order to try to deal with the problem.  And I can tell you that with any final agreement it will also include a larger endeavor in order to help people on both sides move beyond a painful past and promote a culture of peace and tolerance.

After all these years, my friends, it is really no mystery what the end-game really looks like.  I think you know that in your hearts.  We understand what the end-game is.  I know what peace looks like.  When I talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, I think everybody shares this because this is not new.  After Camp David and Oslo and Wye and Annapolis and Taba and all of these efforts, what the end-game should look like is straightforward:  security arrangements that leave Israelis more secure, not less; mutual recognition of the nation-state of the Jewish people and the nation-state of the Palestinian people; an end to the conflict and to all claims; a just and agreed solution for Palestinian refugees, one that does not diminish the Jewish character of the state of Israel; and a resolution that finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the City of Peace.  (Applause.)

It will take hard work.  I’m not pretending any of the answers — these are all narrative issues.  They’re tough issues.  They complicated.  But there is a vision of peace, and it takes tough choices on both sides, especially over the coming days.  I guarantee you that America, that President Obama and this Administration will be there every day of the week, every step of the way.  And we will stand with Israel’s leaders today and with the leaders of the future.  And we will ensure that our light shines not just throughout the nations, but throughout the generations.

Leaders like a fellow named Guy  — I’ll leave his last name out — but he’s a young Israeli who took part in an exchange program with the State Department, sponsors that brings Israelis and Palestinians together to talk about their histories and their hopes.  Guy’s  grandparents fled Europe.  He was born and raised in Jerusalem.  He served in the IDF.  And he worked as an entrepreneur in Israel’s booming tech industry.  And this is what he said in that program:  We respect our past, but we don’t want to live it.  We are young enough to dream, to believe that change is possible, and that fear can be defeated.

I think Guy is right.  Change is possible.  Fear can be defeated.  But those are choices we have to make now.

My friends, a few months ago I landed in Tel Aviv and it was the 18th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  I went straight to Kikar Rabin, and I stood with the late-prime minister’s daughter, Dalia, at the site of her father’s murder.  And we stood just steps away from where the great general, in the last moments of his life, sang the famous lyrics of Shir LaShalom:  Don’t whisper a prayer; sing a song of peace in a loud voice.  Don’t say the day will come; bring that day.  (Applause.)  That is our mission.  All of us, in whatever capacity that we can, but just as important our mission is also to raise our voices for peace, and we also need to listen.  We have to listen to those who first gave voice to our values, voices that still echo thousands of years later.

He almost — I think it was the first time I went to Israel.  I spent a week there and went all over the country and like many first-time visitors, I climbed Masada.  I climbed it with a guide — some of you may know him or heard of him, a fellow by the name of Yadin Roman.  Yadin, the publisher of Eretz Israel.  And our group debated Josephus Flavius’s account of what happened on the top of that mountain, the account of what happened 2,000 years before we were there.

Then Yadin, after we’d had this long debate, made us all vote to determine did it happen as he recounted or was it different.  And we all voted unanimously it did happen the way he recounted.  He told us to then walk to the edge of the precipice which we did, and to look out across the chasm and to shout, to shout across the ancestral home of the Jewish people.  And as we stood where every new Israeli soldier begins his or her service, by swearing an oath to honor that history and secure the future, Yadin instructed us to shout, all at the same time, “Am Yisrael chai.”  We shouted.  (Applause.)  And then I have to tell you, echoing across the chasm in the most eerie and unbelievably unforgettable way were these haunting echoes of “Am Yisrael chai, Am Yisrael chai, chai, chai.”  I’ll never forget hearing the echo of those words bouncing off that mountain.  It was literally like we were hearing the voices of the souls of those who had perished sacrificing their lives for Israel a thousand years ago.  And we were affirming those words, the state of Israel lives.  The people of Israel live.

We have to listen to those voices.  Those long ago who encouraged us to build a city on a hill to be a light unto the nations, an example to the world, to ensure Israel’s survival.  And we have to listen to the voices of young people whose futures depend on the choices that we, the leaders of today, make.  It’s for their future that we will give new strength to the U.S.-Israel partnership as AIPAC does like no other organization in our country.  It’s for their future that we will come together giving greater voice to the timeless oath and we will remember forever those words and be driven by them:  “Am Yisrael chai” will be said generations upon generations into the future because of the work you do and the work we will do together.

Thank you all very much.  Honored to be with you.  (Applause.)  

AIPAC Breaks With GOP on Iran Sanctions


Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

— by Steve Sheffey

The Kirk-Menendez bill started out as a bipartisan effort to increase pressure on Iran. It was introduced in December with 13 Democratic and 13 Republican cosponsors, amidst concerns that the clock was ticking and the interim agreement with Iran had not yet been implemented.

But once the interim agreement took effect, and after the administration shared more details about the plan, support for a vote on Kirk-Menendez began to evaporate, especially among Democrats. It began to look less like a bipartisan effort to do the right thing and more like a vehicle for Republicans to drive a wedge between pro-Israel Democrats and President Obama.

The bottom finally fell out on Thursday, when Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and 41 other Republican senators sent a letter demanding a vote. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the bill’s co-author, responded by warning against making the bill a partisan issue.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a statement saying that, “We agree with the Chairman [Sen. Menendez] that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”

More after the jump.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), said that Iran is “a serious, serious situation. For me to receive a totally partisan letter, we should not make this a partisan issue, and that’s what 42 Republicans have done. And I think it’s wrong.”  

One of AIPAC’s core principles is that support for legislation it backs must be bipartisan. This sometimes means compromise, but AIPAC knows that the U.S.-Israel relationship could be irreparably damaged if even the perception exists that congressional policy on Israel and Iran depends on which party is in power.

Forty-two GOP senators, led by “Partisan-in-Chief” Kirk, might want a vote right now, but AIPAC does not. It must have been hard for some AIPAC leaders to stand up to Kirk, but they made the right call. AIPAC stood up against partisanship on Israel, and in favor of its principles. We cannot let anyone turn Israel or Iran into a partisan issue.

AIPAC says it remains strongly committed to the passage of Kirk-Menendez. But unlike Kirk and his Republican partisans, AIPAC opposes an immediate vote on the legislation. No vote means no passage.

There may come a time when legislation like Kirk-Menendez is appropriate, but now is not the time. AIPAC’s position is very similar to the position the National Jewish Democratic Council articulated last month.

Chemi Shalev wrote in Ha’aretz last weekend that Kirk-Menendez “had no legs and no logic to stand on.”

Some of its supporters claimed that it was meant to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, when it was clear that they meant just the opposite: to weaken the President and to sabotage the talks. They couldn’t speak this truth outright, so they surrounded it, as Churchill once said, with a bodyguard of lies.

The bill’s supporters had no rational response to the Administration’s claim that the same conditional sanctions that the bill was pushing could be legislated in a day if the talks collapsed or if Iran reneged on its commitments. They could muster only disingenuous disclaimers to the unequivocal assertion, by both Washington and Tehran, that the legislation, if approved, would contravene the Geneva agreement and bring about an Iranian walkout.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration sent a clear signal that sanctions against Iran remain in place and are enforceable during the talks, by imposing sanctions on more than 30 individuals and entities last week.

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The Blind Alley of J Street and Liberal American Zionism

— by Abba A. Solomon and Norman Solomon

Since its founding six years ago, J Street has emerged as a major Jewish organization under the banner “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” By now J Street is able to be a partial counterweight to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The contrast between the two U.S. groups is sometimes stark. J Street applauds diplomacy with Iran, while AIPAC works to undermine it. J Street encourages U.S. support for “the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while AIPAC opposes any meaningful Israeli concessions.

In the pressure cooker of Washington politics, J Street’s emergence has been mostly positive. But what does its motto “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” really mean?

More after the jump.
That question calls for grasping the context of Zionism among Jews in the United States; aspects of history, largely obscured and left to archives, that can shed light on J Street’s current political role. Extolling President Obama’s policies while urging him to intensify efforts to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the organization has staked out positions apt to sound humanistic and fresh. Yet J Street’s leaders are far from the first prominent American Jews who have struggled to square the circles of the moral contradictions of a “Jewish state” in Palestine.

Origins of Debate Within the American Jewish Community

Our research in the archives of the American Jewish Committee in New York City, Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere shows that J Street is adhering to, and working to reinforce, limits that major Jewish organizations adopted midway through the 20th century. Momentum for creation of the State of Israel required some hard choices for groups such as the influential AJC, which adjusted to the triumph of an ideology — militant Jewish nationalism — that it did not share. Such accommodation meant acceding to an outward consensus while suppressing debate on its implications within Jewish communities in the United States.

In 1945, AJC staff had discussed the probability of increased bloodshed in Palestine and a likelihood of “Judaism, as a whole, being held morally responsible for the fallacies of Zionism.” In exchange for AJC support in 1947 for UN partition of Palestine, the AJC extracted this promise from the Jewish Agency: “The so-called Jewish State is not to be called by that name but will bear some appropriate geographical designation. It will be Jewish only in the sense that the Jews will form a majority of the population.”

A January 1948 position paper in AJC records spoke of “extreme Zionists” then ascendant among Jews in Palestine and the United States: The paper warned that they served “no less monstrosity than the idol of the State as the complete master not only over its own immediate subjects but also over every living Jewish body and soul the world over, beyond any consideration of good or evil.

This mentality and program is the diametrical opposite to that of the American Jewish Committee.” The confidential document warned of “moral and political repercussions which may deeply affect both the Jewish position outside Palestine, and the character of the Jewish state in Palestine.” Such worries became more furtive after Israel became a nation later in 1948.

Internal Communal Debate

Privately, some leaders held out hope that constraints on public debate could coexist with continuing debate inside Jewish institutions. In 1950 the president of the American Jewish Committee, Jacob Blaustein, wrote in a letter to the head of an anti-Zionist organization, the American Council for Judaism, that the silencing of public dissent would not preclude discussion within the Yiddish-language and Jewish press.

In effect, Blaustein contended that vigorous dialogue could continue among Jews but should be inaudible to gentiles. However, the mask of American Jewry would soon become its face. Concerns about growing Jewish nationalism became marginal, then unmentionable.

The recent dispute in the Jewish student group Hillel, about whether its leadership can ban Hillel chapters on U.S. college campuses from hosting severe critics of Israeli policies, emerged from a long history of pressure on American Jews to accept Zionism and a “Jewish state” as integral to Judaism. The Jewish students now pushing to widen the bounds of acceptable discourse are challenging powerful legacies of conformity.

During the 1950s and later decades, the solution for avoiding an ugly rift was a kind of preventive surgery. Universalist, prophetic Judaism became a phantom limb of American Jewry, after an amputation in service of the ideology of an ethnic state in the Middle East. Pressures for conformity became overwhelming among American Jews, whose success had been predicated on the American ideal of equal rights regardless of ethnic group origin.

Support of Zionism

Generally flourishing in a country founded on the separation of religion and state, American Zionists dedicated themselves to an Israeli state based on the prerogatives of Jews. That Mobius strip could only be navigated by twisting logic into special endless dispensations for Jewish people. Narratives of historic Jewish vulnerability and horrific realities of the Holocaust became all-purpose justifications.

Reassessment

As decades passed after the June 1967 war, while the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza wore on, younger American Jews slowly became less inclined to automatically support Israeli policies. Now, 65 years after the founding of Israel, the historic realities of displacement, traumatic for Palestinians while triumphant for many Jewish Israelis, haunt the territorial present that J Street seeks to navigate.

The organization’s avowed goal is an equitable peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians. But J Street’s pragmatic, organization-building strength is tied into its real-world moral liability: continuing to accept extremely skewed power relations in Palestine. The J Street leadership withholds from the range of prospective solutions the alternative of truly ending the legally and militarily enforced Jewish leverage over Palestinians, replete with the advantages of dominance (in sharp contrast to the precept of abandoning white privilege that was a requirement in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa).

Every conceptual lane of J Street equates being “pro-Israel” with maintaining the doctrine of a state where Jews are more equal than others. Looking to the past, that approach requires treating the historic Zionist conquest as somewhere between necessary and immaculate. Looking at the present and the future, that approach sees forthright opposition to the preeminence of Jewish rights as extreme or otherwise beyond the pale, and not “pro-Israel.”

Influencing Congress

Like the Obama administration, J Street is steadfast in advocating a “two-state solution” while trying to thwart the right-wing forces led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A goal is to reduce his leverage by altering the political environment he encounters in the United States, where AIPAC, riding high astride much of the U.S. Congress, is aligned with the hard right of Israeli politics. In contrast, J Street is aligned with a fuzzy center that copes with cognitive dissonance by embracing humane rhetoric about Palestinians while upholding subjugation of Palestinians’ rights.

Dialogue With Divestment Proponents

At J Street’s 2011 conference, Rabbi David Saperstein congratulated the organization: “When the Jewish community needed someone to speak for them at the Presbyterian Convention against the divestment resolution, the community turned to J Street, who had the pro-peace credibility to stunt the efforts of the anti-Israeli forces, and they were compellingly effective. They did so at Berkeley on the bus ad fights, debating Jewish Voice for Peace” [no relation to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice]. Saperstein, a Reform Judaism leader described by Newsweek as the USA’s most influential rabbi, lauded J Street for its special function among “the strongly pro-Israel peace groups that have the credibility to stand before strongly dovish non-Jewish groups and guide them away from delegitimization efforts.”

Such praise for being a bulwark against “delegitimization” is a high compliment for J Street. It is surely gratifying for its founder and president, Jeremy Ben-Ami. When he reaffirms “our commitment to and support for the people and the state of Israel,” he frames it in these terms: “We believe that the Jewish people, like all other people in the world, have the right to a national home of their own, and we celebrate its rebirth after thousands of years.”

Support For A Two State Solution

His official J Street bio says that “Ben-Ami’s family connection to Israel goes back 130 years to the first aliyah when his great-grandparents were among the first settlers in Petah Tikva [near present-day Tel Aviv]. His grandparents were one of the founding families of Tel Aviv, and his father was an activist and leader in the Irgun, working for Israel’s independence and on the rescue of European Jews before and during World War II.” Readers are left to ponder the reference to leadership of the ultranationalist Irgun, given its undisputed terrorist violence.

Whatever its differences with the Likudnik stances of AIPAC and Netanyahu, J Street joins in decrying the danger of the “delegitimization” of Israel, a word often deployed against the questioning of Jewish privileges in a Palestine maintained by armed force. In sync with U.S. foreign policy, J Street is enmeshed in assuming the validity of prerogatives that are embedded in Netanyahu’s demand for unequivocal support of Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

In the process, the secular USA massively supports a government that is using weapons of war emblazoned with symbols of the Jewish religion, while the U.S. Congress continues to designate Israel as a “strategic ally.” An AIPAC official was famously quoted by Jeffrey Goldberg as boasting, “You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin.”

J Street is aligned with more “moderate” personalities in Israeli politics, but what is considered moderate Zionism in Israel may not match sensibilities outside Israel. On a J Street-sponsored U.S. speaking tour, Knesset member Adi Koll said she is pleased that Palestinian refugees from 1948 are dying off, which she portrayed as good for peace: “This is what we have been waiting for, for more and more of them to die,” to finalize the War of Independence expulsion of Palestinians.

J Street’s Ben-Ami has warned of “the ‘one state nightmare,’ a minority of Jewish Israelis in a state with a majority of non-Jewish residents.” For J Street, an embrace of perpetual Jewish dominance as imperative seems to be a litmus test before any criticism of the occupation is to be deemed legitimate.

Progressive Double Standard

A human rights lawyer active with Jewish Voice for Peace, David L. Mandel, sees a double standard at work. “Too many progressives on everything else still are not progressive about Israel and Palestine,” he told us. “And J Street, by making it easier for them to appear to be critical, in fact serves as a roadblock on the path to a consistent, human rights and international law-based position.”

Covering J Street’s annual conference in September 2013, Mondoweiss.net editor Philip Weiss pointed out: “J Street still can claim to be a liberal Zionist organization that wants to pressure Israel to leave the settlements. But more than that it wants access to the Israeli establishment, and it is not going to alienate that establishment by advocating any measure that will isolate Israel or put real pressure on it.”

While evocations of the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel may sound uplifting, J Street ultimately lets the Israeli government off the hook by declaring that relationship sacrosanct, no matter what. The organization insists that political candidates funded by J StreetPAC “must demonstrate that they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, active U.S. leadership to help end the conflict, the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel, continued aid to the Palestinian Authority and opposition to the Boycott/Divestment/Sanction movement.”

The sanctity of the proviso about “the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel” became evident to one of us (Norman Solomon) while running for Congress in 2012 in California. After notification that J Street had decided to confer “On the Street” status on Solomon and another Democratic candidate in the primary race, the group’s leadership suddenly withdrew the stamp of approval, after discovering a Solomon op-ed piece written in July 2006 that criticized Washington’s support for the Israeli bombing of Lebanon then underway. In a specially convened conference call, J Street’s top leaders told the candidate that one statement in the op-ed was especially egregious: “The United States and Israel. Right now, it’s the most dangerous alliance in the world.”

In December 2013, while visiting Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry affirmed that “the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.” He added that despite occasional “tactical” differences “we do not have a difference about the fundamental strategy that we both seek with respect to the security of Israel and the long-term peace of this region.”  

Two days later, on December 7, at a Saban Center gathering in Washington, Kerry joined with President Obama in paying tribute to the idea of a nation for Jews. Obama endorsed the goal of protecting “Israel as a Jewish state.” He sat for an interview with billionaire Zionist Haim Saban, who joked: “Very obedient president I have here today!” For his part, Kerry addressed Israeli ethnic anxiety by urging that Israel heed U.S. advice for withdrawal from some territory, to defuse what he called the “demographic time bomb,” non-Jewish births, threatening the existence of a “Jewish and democratic” state.

Militant Jewish Nationalism

Although “militant Islam” is common coin in U.S. discourse about the Middle East, militant Jewish nationalism lacks a place in the conversation. This absence occurs despite, and perhaps because of, the fact that militant Jewish nationalism is such a powerful ideology in the United States, especially in Congress. Yet recent erosion of the taboo has caused some alarm. In May 2011 the Reut Institute, well-connected to the Israeli establishment, held a joint conference with the American Jewish Committee and met with smaller organizations to formalize a policy of  “establishing red-lines with regards to the discourse about Israel between legitimate criticism and acts of delegitimization.”

In its own way, J Street has laid down red-line markers along the left perimeter of American Zionism. For instance, some of the most telling moments of J Street’s existence came during the November 2012 Gaza crisis. As the conflict escalated, Israel threatened a ground invasion. J Street urged Israeli restraint but did not oppose the ongoing intense bombardment of Gaza. Instead, echoing President Obama, the organization endorsed Israel’s “right and obligation to defend itself against rocket fire and against those who refuse to recognize its right to exist and inexcusably use terror and violence to achieve their ends.”

J Street’s statement, titled “Enough of Silence,” eerily mirrored the brutal asymmetry of the warfare then raging and, for that matter, the asymmetry of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While far more Palestinians than Israelis were dying (87 Palestinian and four Israeli noncombatants lost their lives, according to a report from the human-rights group B’Tselem), J Street condemned the killing by Palestinians but merely questioned the ultimate efficacy of the killing by Israelis. While J Street was appropriately repulsed by the bloodshed, it could not plead for reversal of the underlying, continuing injustice beyond its advocacy of a two-state solution. During the years ahead, J Street is likely to be instrumental in establishing and reinforcing such red lines.

A rare instance when J Street has not endorsed President Obama’s approach in the Middle East came in September 2013, when the administration pressed for U.S. missile strikes on Syria following claims that the Bashar al-Assad regime had used chemical weapons. J Street remained officially silent on the issue; Jeremy Ben-Ami reportedly pushed for endorsement of an attack, but many others in the organization were opposed. The Forward newspaper quoted a J Street activist: “Jeremy is a pragmatist. He wants to keep us as progressive as possible without going too far from the mainstream.”

A New Way of Supporting Israel

J Street is striving to support Israel differently than AIPAC by fostering the more peaceful, humane streams of Zionism. Among new generations of U.S. Jews, the Zionist rationales for Israel as a whole are losing ground. In a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 93 percent of American Jews state they are proud of being part of the Jewish people, but only 43 percent say that “caring about” the State of Israel is essential to being a Jew, and the figure drops to 32 percent of respondents under 30 years old.  

The Jewish establishment has always represented those Jews choosing to affiliate with institutionalized Judaism. More and more, this leaves out large numbers who don’t believe that blood-and-soil Jewish nationalism should crowd out their Jewish and universalist values. As the Pew survey shows, American Jews are less sympathetic than American Jewish organizations to enforcing Jewish political nationalism with armed force.

Last summer, Ben-Ami told the New Republic, “We are advocating for a balance between the security needs of Israel and the human rights of the Palestinians. It is by definition a moderate, centrist place.” Ben-Ami highlighted his strategy for practicality, “We have the ear of the White House; we have the ear of a very large segment of Congress at this point; we have very good relations with top communal leadership in the Jewish community. If you want to have a voice in those corridors of power, then get involved with J Street.”

We recently submitted three questions to Ben-Ami. Asked about the historic concerns that a “democratic Jewish state” would be self-contradictory, he replied, “J Street believes it is possible to reconcile the essence of Zionism, that Israel must be the national homeland of the Jewish people, and the key principles of its democracy, namely, that the state must provide justice and equal rights for all its citizens. In the long run, Israel can only manage the tension between these two principles if there is a homeland for the Palestinian people alongside Israel.”

Asked whether relations with non-Jewish Palestinians would be better now if Jewish leaders who favored creation of a non-ethnically-based state had prevailed, Ben-Ami did not respond directly. Instead, he affirmed support for a two-state solution and commented, “History has sadly and repeatedly proven the necessity of a nation-state for the Jewish people. J Street today is focused on building support in the American Jewish community for the creation of a nation-state for the Palestinian people alongside Israel, precisely because it is so necessary if Israel is to continue to be the national home of the Jewish people.”

The shortest, and perhaps the most significant, reply came when we asked: “Do you believe it is fair to say that the Israeli government has engaged in ethnic cleansing?”  Ben-Ami responded with one word, “No.”

“They have destroyed and are destroying … and do not know it and do not want to know it,” James Baldwin wrote several decades ago. “But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.” Those who have seen to the devastation of “others,” and have even celebrated overall results of the process, cannot begin to atone or make amends without some genuine remorse. With a pose of innocence, in the absence of remorse, the foundation of J Street’s position is denial of the ethnic cleansing that necessarily enabled Israel to become what it is now, officially calling itself a “Jewish and democratic state.”

Population transfer of Arabs was part of the planning of Zionist leadership, and it was implemented. Benny Morris, the pioneering Israeli historian of the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel, said, “Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.”  

In a talk five decades ago at Hillel House at the University of Chicago, philosopher Leo Strauss mentioned that Leon Pinsker’s Zionist manifesto “Autoemancipation,” published in 1882, quotes the classic Hillel statement “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if not now, when?” but leaves out the middle of the sequence, “If I am only for myself, what am I?”  “The omission of these words,” Strauss said, “is the definition of pureblooded political Zionism.”  The full integrity of Rabbi Hillel’s complete statement, urging Jews not to be “only for myself,” is explicit in the avowed mission of J Street.

There is unintended symbolism in the organization’s name, which partly serves as an inside Washington joke. The absence of an actual J Street between I and K Streets is, so to speak, a fact on the ground. And sadly, the group’s political vision of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” is as much a phantom as the nonexistent lettered street between I and K in the Nation’s Capital; unless “peace” is to be understood along the lines of the observation by Carl von Clausewitz that “a conqueror is always a lover of peace.”

Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.'” Norman Solomon is the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, cofounder of RootsAction.org and the author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”
 

One Mensch, One Heart, Two Rediscovered Legs


At the 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference, spinal cord injury victim Daniel Webb met Amit Goffer, the Israeli inventor of ReWalk.

— by Dr. Helen Loeb

When my husband told me about the ReWalk demonstration in Ventnor, New Jersey, I immediately booked a hotel to spend Shabbat there, and be part of the event. The American Technion Society Philadelphia Chapter was hosting its annual “Down the Shore” program at Steve and Ilene Berger’s home. As the many guests enjoyed a copious summer buffet, anticipation grew about the event that was going to take place.

After a few words about various innovation projects at the Technion, Linda Richman, ATS Eastern Seabord Associate Regional Director, introduced Dan Webb, from Warminster, Pennsylvania, and his physical therapist John from MossRehab. Together, Dan and John are on a very unique path — the path to “ReWalk.”

More after the jump.
Dan Webb retraced his story for us. He recalled his deer hunting accident, when he fell from a tree, and immediately knew that he was paralyzed. He told us how after that dramatic fall, he managed to push his legs around to reach to his phone and call his wife. When he told her about the accident, he thought he was bleeding to death, and went on to say goodbye.


Dan Webb with (left to right) Steve, Ilene and Jeff Berger.

Fast forward a couple of years. Dan was bound to a wheelchair, and his wife and young children had learned how to live with this new situation. Yet, Dan was a fighter. He knows that sometimes good can come out of bad. Surfing the internet, he reads the story of Amit Goffer, Technion alum and founder of Argo Medical Technology.

Amit’s story is chilling. Amit was paralyzed in a 1997 car accident. As an engineer and entrepreneur, he set the goal for himself to help paralyzed patients stand, walk and even climb stairs through the use of an exoskeleton suit. Thus ReWalk was born, and now it gives new hope to paralyzed patients. Upon learning about this new device, Dan set to get enrolled in clinical trials. With hope and perseverance, he knew he could “ReWalk” one day.

Dan has been working tirelessly with MossRehab and is able to operate the exoskeleton suit. With a specialized control watch, he is able to generate commands for the robotic frame, to raise him from his wheelchair, make him walk along the hospital hallways, and get him to sit again after training sessions.

Last March, Dan and his therapist John set out for the AIPAC conference, where they demonstrated ReWalk. Thousands of people in the audience were in tears as Dan finally met Amit Goffer, the brilliant Israeli inventor who has changed his life. As Dan explains, it is not just the idea of walking, and the physical benefits that come with it, but also the satisfaction of being able to be up and talk to people face to face.

This story repeated itself this past Saturday, as the ATS brought in many Technion “friends” and supporters, who came to encourage Dan and listen to his story. Dan showed the speechless audience how he could raise himself from his wheelchair, walk around the living room, and chat with people. He said that gets a lot of energy from using the device and looks for every opportunity to do so.

Helen Loeb is a research engineer at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, with a doctorate in robotics from the Université de Bordeaux and a Masters in avionics from the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace. She looks forward to the next developments when batteries of lighter, more flexible materials can be used, and adaptive control allows the exoskeleton to respond to each individual’s pace and needs.

Special AIPAC Conference Report

Highlight video

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

— by Steve Sheffey

The 2013 AIPAC Policy Conference was a huge success, with over 13,000 delegates, 339 members of the Senate and House, and lobbying appointments with every member of the Senate and House.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Conference by live video, expressing his appreciation for President Obama’s work and emphasizing three priorities: Iran, Syria, and peace with the Palestinians.

Vice President Joe Biden was amazing. His outline of the Obama administration’s Middle East foreign policy was frequently interrupted by applause and standing ovations.  

We lobbied for the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, the United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, Senate Resolution 65, which reiterates our commitment to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, and security assistance for Israel.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is off to a strong start. His first meeting as Secretary of Defense with a foreign counterpart was with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak wished Hagel well in his Policy Conference speech. When Hagel met with Barak on Tuesday, Hagel reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security and to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Hagel also noted his outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister.

Barak said at the Policy Conference that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is the only long-term solution to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

Much more after the jump.
Over 13,000 people attended the AIPAC Policy Conference last week in a powerful display of bipartisan support for a strong US-Israel relationship. Some of us left on Monday to avoid being stranded by the snowstorm in Chicago on Tuesday. Over 1700 flights were canceled at O’Hare on Tuesday, mainly based on fear of what the storm might be rather than what the storm turned out to be. The flight I would have been on was not canceled. I could have stayed. Good job National Weather Service!

Please read my article on AIPAC and J Street if you need a refresher on what AIPAC is and isn’t. I’m not going to repeat it here.

This year marked the first time in AIPAC Policy Conference history that AIPAC members scheduled meetings with every lawmaker in Congress for the Tuesday lobbying meetings.  Nearly half of Congress has turned over in the past four years, so pro-Israel activism more important than ever.

The Policy Conference itself was attended by 65 Senators, 274 members of the House, 33 representatives of the Obama administration, 77 Israeli officials, representatives from more than 65 countries, and over 13,000 delegates, including more than 700 from the Chicago area.

Chemi Shalev wrote that

Regardless of one’s political convictions – whether you believe Israel is warmonger or peace seeker, aggressor or defender, victim or victimizer, hero or villain, sinner or saint – the Annual AIPAC Policy Conference is a sight to be seen, a pageant to behold, a formidable spectacle that cannot be ignored.

It’s hard to decide which is more impressive: the sheer scale of the event, the many thousands of participants, the professional management, the impeccable execution, the creative pyrotechnics, the mind-boggling percentage of American lawmakers and officials who grace the event with their presence or their unequivocal, across the board, no ifs or buts support for the Israeli government and its policies.

You can save $200 off the registration fee for the March 2-4, 2014 Policy Conference by clicking here and signing up before March 18.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Conference by live video from Israel. Bibi explained that while putting together a coalition government is consuming his time now,

The first thing that my new government will have the privilege of doing is to warmly welcome President Obama to Israel. I look forward to the President’s visit. It will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel.

Netanyahu said his discussions with President Obama would focus on Iran, Syria, and the need to find a responsible way to advance the peace with the Palestinians.

Vice President Joe Biden rocked the house. His speech was amazing and was frequently interrupted by standing ovations. I’ll give you just a taste, but if you have time, you should read it or watch it. It’s worth watching rather than reading because Biden’s delivery is so effective. Said Biden:

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel and the United States to reassess old and settled relationships. Iran — Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program and its continued support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas not only endanger Israel but endanger the world. Attempts — (applause) — attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the state of Israel are increasingly common and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these — all these pressures are similar but different. And they’ve put enormous pressure on the state of Israel. We understand that. And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence, but if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence. (Applause.)

And that’s why — that’s why from the moment the president took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not: our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel. That has not changed. (Cheers, applause.) That will not change as long as I and he are president and vice president of the United States.

It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative. All of you — I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment.

Lobbying is a key component of the AIPAC Policy Conference. This year, we lobbied for The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, The United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013, S. Res. 65, and security assistance for Israel. You can read the AIPAC summaries here.

The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 (HR 850) states that United States policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons capability would embolden its already aggressive foreign policy, increase the risk that Iran would share its nuclear technology and expertise with extremist groups and rogue nations, destabilize global energy markets, and likely lead other governments in the region to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs.

HR 850 requires the Secretary of State to determine whether Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps meets the criteria for designation as a foreign terrorist organization. The bill also imposes additional sanctions on Iran. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is an original co-sponsor.

The United States Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 (HR 938) designates Israel as a major strategic partner of the United States. It also provides for increased assistance and cooperation with Israel, including the enhancement of the David’s Sling Weapon System, the enhancement of the joint United States-Israel Arrow Weapon System (Arrow 2 and Arrow 3), and the procurement and enhancement of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.

Senate Resolution 65 contains an excellent history of Iran’s actions and statements on nuclear weapons and recognizes “the close military, intelligence, and security cooperation that President Obama has pursued with Israel.”  The bipartisan Resolution leaves no doubt about our nation’s commitment to stopping Iran, reminding the world that

  • In his State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013, President Obama reiterated, “The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”
    On March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, ‘Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
  • On October 22, 2012, President Obama said of Iran, “The clock is ticking . . . And we’re going to make sure that if they do not meet the demands of the international community, then we are going to take all options necessary to make sure they don’t have a nuclear weapon.”
  • On May 19, 2011, President Obama stated, “Every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
  • On September 21, 2011, President Obama stated, “America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring.”
  • On March 4, 2012, President Obama stated, “And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
  • On October 22, 2012, President Obama stated, “Israel is a true friend. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency . . . I will stand with Israel if they are attacked.”

Anyone who doubts President Obama’s commitment to Israel and to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons hasn’t been paying attention.

The Resolution, which does not have the force of law, “urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence” but also states that “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.”

We also lobbied for security assistance for Israel. Click here to read more.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is off to a strong start. I’m sure that Chuck Hagel came up at some of the break-out sessions, but the only mention I noticed of Hagel at the plenaries was when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, congratulated Hagel and wished him well. It was obviously an applause line, but some AIPAC delegates didn’t get it and the applause was tepid.

This is what Ehud Barak, who has known Hagel for ten years, said: “[Secretary Hagel] will, no doubt, serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served, both on the battlefield and in Congress.”

Many of us had concerns about Hagel. But the nomination fight is over. Hagel is our Secretary of Defense. Regardless of whether we were for him or against him, we should all wish him well and judge him on how he does going forward. So when Israel’s Defense Minister (who might even be more pro-Israel than we are) applauds our Secretary of Defense, those of us who place a strong US-Israel relationship above partisan politics should join in that applause.

Thus far, Hagel is proving his critics wrong. His first meeting as Secretary of Defense with a foreign counterpart was with Ehud Barak on Tuesday. Here is the full Department of Defense statement on the meeting. Judge for yourself the state of US-Israel relations in the Hagel era:

Secretary Hagel hosted Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak today at the Pentagon for his first meeting with a foreign counterpart since taking office as secretary of defense.  Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel’s security, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and continued U.S. support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints.

Secretary Hagel and Minister Barak agreed that the United States-Israeli defense relationship has never been stronger than during the Obama administration and that both nations will continue this unprecedented close cooperation.

The leaders discussed the range of security interests shared by the U.S. and Israel, including the need for the Syrian regime to maintain control over chemical and biological weapons in their country; the leaders pledged to continue U.S.-Israel contingency planning to counter that potential threat.

Regarding Iran, Secretary Hagel reiterated that President Obama is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon with all options on the table.  He stated that the United States continues to believe there is still time to address this issue through diplomacy, but that window is closing.

Secretary Hagel noted the two have had an outstanding working relationship dating back to Minister Barak’s days as prime minister and he thanked Minister Barak for his kind words at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference.  Secretary Hagel expressed his desire to visit Israel soon and Minister Barak stated that Israel looks forward to hosting him in the near future.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the Policy Conference that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is the only long-term solution to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Barak said that a two-state solution is essential for Israel, not a favor for the Palestinians. In one of the break-out sessions, David Makovsky said that both sides want a two-state solution, but each doubts the other’s sincerity.  Makovsky thinks that synchronized political messaging can help build trust on both sides. He thinks it’s important for Israel to set clear limits on settlement expansion.

Jeff Goldberg sums up in three paragraphs the essence of the occupation and what it means for Israel:

Remember, the occupation itself was originally justifiable: Jordanian forces fired on Israel from the West Bank, and Israel subsequently took the territory from which it was being assaulted. It was when some Israelis succumbed to messianic temptation and moved to the West Bank, with the help of successive Israeli governments, that the true problem began.

Israel faces only two choices here: It can offer citizenship to the Palestinians whose lives are affected by its decisions, or it can negotiate an end to settlement, especially the far-flung settlements that project deeply into the West Bank, and then work toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Will Jews be allowed to live and pray in that Palestinian state? I certainly hope so; it would be a crime to deny Jews access to their holy sites. Hebron is Judaism’s 2nd-holiest city, Jews lived there for millenia until they were massacred by some of their Arab neighbors (other Arabs played a role in the rescue of the remnant of the Jewish community) and Jews quite obviously have a right to live in all parts of their historic homeland.

That said, the Jewish state cannot maintain a double-standard in these areas, because it is also a crime to deny people full enfranchisement based on their ethnicity. Most Israelis want to maintain their country as a Jewish state, and as a Jewish haven. Jews, because they are an ancient people, and because they have suffered at the hands of Christians and Muslims for centuries, have earned the right to independence. Having finally earned the privilege of Jewish autonomy, Israelis do not want to become citizens of the world’s 23rd Arab-majority state. But eventually, if the Palestinians of the West Bank aren’t freed from Israeli domination, that is what they will become.

Have you seen this amazing speech by Ruth Calderon? At a break-out session on Israel’s recent election, Dr. Jonathan Rynhold recommended that we watch this video of new Knesset member Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid). A secular woman gives a Talmud lesson on pluralism and religious freedom in the Knesset during which the Speaker of the Knesset (from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party) not only participates, but says “amen” at the end. Truly remarkable.

As for the Israeli elections, the panel (which also included David Horovitz from the Times of Israel) agreed that Netanyahu would likely form a coalition government prior to President Obama’s scheduled visit. Rynhold said that the difference between Israeli and American democracy is that the American system was designed by geniuses to be run by idiots, whereas the Israeli system was designed by idiots and can only be understood by geniuses.

Both panelists agreed that the peace process was not much of an issue in the election–not because Israelis don’t think it’s important, but because there is a national consensus in favor of a two-state solution and a national despair of reaching a two-state solution with current Palestinian leadership.

And finally, a personal story. For some reason, there was no Republican Jewish Coalition presence at the Policy Conference, but there was a strong National Jewish Democratic Coalition presence. On Sunday morning, the NJDC’s Aaron Keyak and David Streeter gave me a Proud Pro-Israel Dem button to wear and a few dozen more to give to anyone who wanted one.

Later that afternoon, as I was walking down a crowded stairway, I tripped and fell down the stairs. My bag dropped and the buttons flew all over the stairs. Chevy Chase would have been proud of the way I took the fall, although if Aaron Stein hadn’t grabbed my arm I might have broken my neck. Within seconds, two security guards rushed to my side and everyone was looking at me. After reassuring the guards that I was okay, while still sitting on the stairs, I somehow had the presence of mind to loudly say “Now that I’ve got your attention, who wants a button?” Many people took buttons. It was pretty cool.  

Biden Shows Full Commitment to Israel at AIPAC Policy Conference‏

— by Marc Stanley

Vice President Biden once again made it abundantly clear yesterday that he and the President are firmly committed to the pro-Israel community’s agenda. His words this morning reiterated an unmistakable message to Iran’s leaders that the President will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Further, the Vice President sent a warning to all of Israel’s enemies that, as Israel pursues a permanent peace with its neighbors, the Obama Administration has Israel’s back — a promise that has been proven time and again over the last four years. The Administration deserves tremendous praise for its unwavering support and we are eagerly awaiting the President’s trip to Israel, during which he can continue to demonstrate his unprecedented support for the Jewish state.

Full remarks after the jump.


Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz provides Biden with NJDC Proud Pro-Israel pin after his speech. (Order yours here.)

Remarks at AIPAC Meeting by Vice-President Joe Biden

Ladies and gentlemen, oh, what a difference 40 years makes. I look out there and see an old friend, Annette Lantos. Annette, how are you? Her husband, Tom Lantos, a survivor, was my assistant, was my foreign policy advisor for years. And Tom used to say all the time, Joe — he talked with that Hungarian accent — he’d say, Joe, we must do another fundraiser for AIPAC. I did more fundraisers for AIPAC in the ’70s and early ’80s than — just about as many as anybody. Thank God you weren’t putting on shows like this, we would have never made it. We would have never made it.

My Lord, it’s so great to be with you all and great to see — Mr. President, thank you so much for that kind introduction. And President-elect Bob Cohen, the entire AIPAC Board of Directors, I’m delighted to be with you today. But I’m particularly delighted to be with an old friend — and he is an old friend; we use that phrase lightly in Washington, but it’s real, and I think he’d even tell you — Ehud Barak, it’s great to be with you, Mr. Minister.  Great to be with you.

There is a standup guy. There is a standup guy. Standing up for his country, putting his life on the line for his country, and continuing to defend the values that we all share. I’m a fan of the man. Thanks for being here, Ehud. It’s good to be with you again.

Ladies and gentlemen, a lot of you know me if you’re old enough. Some of you don’t know me, and understand I can’t see now, but in the bleachers to either side, I’m told you have 2,000 young AIPAC members here. We talked about this a lot over the years. We talked about it a lot: This is the lifeblood. This is the connective tissue. This is the reason why no American will ever forget. You’ve got to keep raising them.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder, a lot of us in this auditorium, defending the legitimate interest of Israel and our enduring commitment over the last 40 years. And many of you in this hall — I won’t start to name them, but many of you in this hall, starting with Annette Lantos’s husband, who is not here, God rest his soul — many of you in this hall have been my teachers, my mentors and my educators, and that is not hyperbole. You literally have been.

But my education started, as some of you know, at my father’s dinner table. My father was what you would have called a righteous Christian. We gathered at my dinner table to have conversation, and incidentally eat, as we were growing up. It was a table — it was at that table I first heard the phrase that is overused sometimes today, but in a sense not used meaningfully enough — first I heard the phrase, “Never again.”

It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel. I remember my father, a Christian, being baffled at the debate taking place at the end of World War II talking about it. I don’t remember it at that time, but about how there could be a debate about whether or not — within the community, of whether or not to establish the State of Israel.

My father would say, were he a Jew, he would never, never entrust the security of his people to any individual nation, no matter how good and how noble it was, like the United States. Everybody knows it’s real. But I want you to know one thing, which some of you — I’ve met with a lot of you over the last 40 years, but the last four years as well. President Obama shares my commitment. We both know that Israel faces new threats, new pressures and uncertainty. The Defense Minister and I have discussed it often. In the area of national security, the threats to Israel’s existence continue, but they have changed as the world and the region have changed over the last decade.

The Arab Spring, at once full of both hope and uncertainty, has required Israel — and the United States — to reassess old and settled relationships. Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapons program, and its continued support of terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah and Hamas, not only endanger Israel, but endanger the world. Attempts of much of the world to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel are increasingly common, and taken as the norm in other parts of the world.

All these pressures are similar but different, and they put enormous pressure on the State of Israel. We understand that. And we especially understand that if we make a mistake, it’s not a threat to our existence. But if Israel makes a mistake, it could be a threat to its very existence. And that’s why, from the moment the President took office, he has acted swiftly and decisively to make clear to the whole world and to Israel that even as circumstances have changed, one thing has not: our deep commitment to the security of the state of Israel. That has not changed. That will not change as long as I and he are President and Vice President of the United States. It’s in our naked self-interest, beyond the moral imperative.

And to all of you, I thank you for continuing to remind the nation and the world of that commitment. And while we may not always agree on tactics — and I’ve been around a long time; I’ve been there for a lot of prime ministers — we’ve always disagreed on tactic. We’ve always disagreed at some point or another on tactic. But, ladies and gentlemen, we have never disagreed on the strategic imperative that Israel must be able to protect its own, must be able to do it on its own, and we must always stand with Israel to be sure that can happen. And we will.

That’s why we’ve worked so hard to make sure Israel keeps its qualitative edge in the midst of the Great Recession. I’ve served with eight Presidents of the United States of America, and I can assure you, unequivocally, no President has done as much to physically secure the State of Israel as President Barack Obama.

President Obama last year requested $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel — the most in history. He has directed close coordination, strategically and operationally, between our government and our Israeli partners, including our political, military and intelligence leadership.

I can say with certitude, in the last eight Presidents, I don’t know any time, Ehud, when there has been as many meetings, as much coordination, between our intelligence services and our military. Matter of fact, they’re getting tired of traveling back across the ocean, I think.

Under this administration, we’ve held the most regular and largest-ever joint military exercises. We’ve invested $275 million in Iron Dome, including $70 million that the President directed to be spent last year on an urgent basis — to increase the production of Iron Dome batteries and interceptors.

Not long ago, I would have had to describe to an audience what Iron Dome was, how it would work, why funding it mattered. I don’t have to explain to anybody anymore. Everybody gets it. Everybody saw — the world saw firsthand why it was and remains so critical.

For too long, when those sirens blared in the streets of the cities bordering Gaza, the only defense had been a bomb shelter. But late last year, Iron Dome made a difference. When Hamas rockets rained on Israel, Iron Dome shot them out of the sky, intercepting nearly 400 rockets in November alone. It was our unique partnership — Israel and the United States — that pioneered this technology and funded it.

And it is in that same spirit that we’re working with Israel to jointly develop new systems, called Arrow and David’s Sling, interceptors that can defeat long-range threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — equally as urgent. And we are working to deploy a powerful new radar, networked with American early warning satellites, that could buy Israel valuable time in the event of an attack. This is what we do. This is what we do to ensure Israel can counter and defeat any threat from any corner.

But that’s only the first piece of this equation. Let me tell you — and I expect I share the view of many of you who have been involved with AIPAC for a long time. Let me tell you what worries me the most today — what worries me more than at any time in the 40 years I’ve been engaged, and it is different than any time in my career. And that is the wholesale, seemingly coordinated effort to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. That is the single most dangerous, pernicious change that has taken place, in my humble opinion, since I’ve been engaged.

And, ladies and gentlemen, it matters. It matters. To put it bluntly, there is only one nation — only one nation in the world that has unequivocally, without hesitation and consistently confronted the efforts to delegitimize Israel. At every point in our administration, at every juncture, we’ve stood up on the legitimacy — on behalf of legitimacy of the State of Israel. President Obama has been a bulwark against those insidious efforts at every step of the way.

Wherever he goes in the world, he makes clear that although we want better relations with Muslim-majority countries, Israel’s legitimacy and our support for it is not a matter of debate. There is no light. It is not a matter of debate. It’s simple, and he means it: It is not a matter of debated. Don’t raise it with us. Do not raise it with us. It is not negotiable.

As recently as last year, the only country on the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against — I think it’s 36 countries, don’t hold me to the exact number — but the only country on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations to vote against the establishment of a fact-finding mission on settlements was the United States of America.

We opposed the unilateral efforts of the Palestinian Authority to circumvent direct negotiations by pushing for statehood and multilateral organizations like UNESCO. We stood strongly with Israel in its right to defend itself after the Goldstone Report was issued in 2009. While the rest of the world, including some of our good friend, was prepared to embrace the report, we came out straightforwardly, expressed our concerns and with recommendations.

When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla in 2010, I was in Africa. We spent a lot of time on the phone, Ehud and — the Defense Minister and I. And Bibi and I spent a lot time on that phone with my interceding, going to the United Nations directly by telephone, speaking with the Secretary General, making sure that one thing was made clear, Israel had the right — had the right — to impose that blockade.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s why we refuse to attend events such as the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference on Racism that shamefully equated Zionism with racism. That’s why we rejected anti-Semitic rhetoric from any corner and from leaders of any nation. And that’s why I’m proud to say my friend, the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, spoke out against the kind of language in Ankara just this Friday. By the way, he’s a good man. You’re going to be happy with Kerry.

And it was in the strongest terms that we vigorously opposed the Palestinian bid for nonmember observer status in the General Assembly, and we will continue to oppose any effort to establish a state of Palestine through unilateral actions.

There is no shortcut to peace. There is no shortcut to face-to-face negotiations. There is no shortcut to guarantees made looking in the eyes of the other party.

Ladies and gentlemen, Israel’s own leaders currently understand the imperative of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — they’ve all called for a two-state solution and an absolute secure, democratic and Jewish State of Israel; to live side by side with an independent Palestinian state. But it takes two to tango, and the rest of the Arab world has to get in the game.

We are under no illusions about how difficult it will be to achieve. Even some of you in the audience said, “why do we even talk about it anymore?” Well, it’s going to require hard steps on both sides. But it’s in all of our interests — Israel’s interest, the United States’ interest, the interest of the Palestinian people. We all have a profound interest in peace. To use an expression of a former President, Bill Clinton, we’ve got to get caught trying. We’ve got to get caught trying.

So we remain deeply engaged. As President Obama has said, while there are those who question whether this goal may ever be reached, we make no apologies for continuing to pursue that goal, to pursue a better future. And he’ll make that clear when he goes to Israel later this month.

We’re also mindful that pursuing a better future for Israel means helping Israel confront the myriads of threat it faces in the neighborhood. It’s a tough neighborhood, and it starts with Iran. It is not only in Israel’s interest — and everybody should understand — I know you understand this, but the world should — it’s not only in Israel’s interest that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, it’s in the interest of the United States of America. It’s simple. And, as a matter of fact, it’s in the interest of the entire world.

Iraq’s [sic] acquisition of a nuclear weapon not only would present an existential threat to Israel, it would present a threat to our allies and our partners — and to the United States. And it would trigger an arms race — a nuclear arms race in the region, and make the world a whole lot less stable.

So we have a shared strategic commitment. Let me make clear what that commitment is: It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Period. End of discussion. Prevent — not contain — prevent.

The President has flatly stated that. And as many of you in this room have heard me say — and he always kids me about this; we’ll be in the security room — and I know that Debbie Wasserman Schultz knows this because she hears it — he always says, you know — he’ll turn to other people and say, as Joe would say, he’s — as Joe would say, big nations can’t bluff. Well, big nations can’t bluff. And Presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff. And President Barack Obama is not bluffing. He is not bluffing.

We are not looking for war. We are looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully, but all options, including military force, are on the table. But as I made clear at the Munich Security Conference just last month, our strong preference, the world’s preference is for a diplomatic solution. So while that window is closing, we believe there is still time and space to achieve the outcome. We are in constant dialogue, sharing information with the Israeli military, the Israeli intelligence service, the Israeli political establishment at every level, and we’re taking all the steps required to get there.

But I want to make clear to you something. If, God forbid, the need to act occurs, it is critically important for the whole world to know we did everything in our power, we did everything that reasonably could have been expected to avoid any confrontation. And that matters. Because God forbid, if we have to act, it’s important that the rest of the world is with us. We have a united international community. We have a united international community behind these unprecedented sanctions.

We have left Iran more isolated than ever. When we came to office, as you remember — not because of the last administration, just a reality — Iran was on the ascendency in the region. It is no longer on the ascendency. The purpose of this pressure is not to punish. It is to convince Iran to make good on its international obligations. Put simply, we are sharpening a choice that the Iranian leadership has to make. They can meet their obligations and give the international community ironclad confidence in the peaceful nature of their program, or they can continue down the path they’re on to further isolate and mounting pressure of the world.

But even preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon still leaves them a dangerous neighbor, particularly to Israel. They are using terrorist proxies to spread violence in the region and beyond the region, putting Israelis, Americans, citizens of every continent in danger. For too long, Hezbollah has tried to pose as nothing more than a political and social welfare group, while plotting against innocents in Eastern Europe — from Eastern Europe to East Africa; from Southeast Asia to South America. We know what Israel knows: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Period. And we — and me — we are urging every nation in the world that we deal with — and we deal with them all — to start treating Hezbollah as such, and naming them as a terrorist organization.

This isn’t just about a threat to Israel and the United States. It’s about a global terrorist organization that has targeted people on several continents. We’ll say and we’ll do our part to stop them. And we ask the world to do the same. That’s why we’ve been talking to our friends in Europe to forcefully declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. This past month I’ve made the case to leading European heads of state, as Barack and Israelis know, together we have to continue to confront Hezbollah wherever it shows — sews the seeds of hatred and stands against the nations that sponsor campaigns of terror.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States and Israel have a shared interest in Syria as well. Assad has shown his father’s disregard for human life and dignity, engaging in brutal murder of his own citizens. Our position on that tragedy could not be clearer: Assad must go. But we are not signing up for one murderous gang replacing another in Damascus.

That’s why our focus is on supporting a legitimate opposition not only committed to a peaceful Syria but to a peaceful region. That’s why we’re carefully vetting those to whom we provide assistance. That’s why, while putting relentless pressure on Assad and sanctioning the pro-regime, Iranian-backed militia, we’ve also designated al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization.

And because we recognize the great danger Assad’s chemical and biological arsenals pose to Israel and the United States, to the whole world, we’ve set a clear red line against the use of the transfer of the those weapons. And we will work together to prevent this conflict and these horrific weapons from threatening Israel’s security. And while we try to ensure an end to the dictatorship in Syria, we have supported and will support a genuine transition to Egyptian democracy.

We have no illusions — we know how difficult this will be and how difficult it is. There’s been — obviously been a dramatic change in Egypt. A lot of it has given us hope and a lot of it has given us pause, and a lot of it has caused fears in other quarters.

It’s not about us, but it profoundly affects us. We need to be invested in Egypt’s success and stability. The stable success of Egypt will translate into a stable region. We’re not looking at what’s happening in Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Again, our eyes are wide open. We have no illusions about the challenges that we face, but we also know this: There’s no legitimate alternative at this point to engagement.

Only through engagement — it’s only through engagement with Egypt that we can focus Egypt’s leaders on the need to repair international obligations — respect their international obligations, including and especially its peace treaty with Israel. It’s only through active engagement that we can help ensure that Hamas does not re-arm through the Sinai and put the people of Israel at risk. It’s only through engagement that we can concentrate Egypt’s government on the imperative of confronting the extremists. And it’s only through engagement that we can encourage Egypt’s leaders to make reforms that will spark economic growth and stabilize the democratic process. And it’s all tough, and there’s no certainty. There’s no certainty about anything in the Arab Spring.

I expect President Obama to cover each of these issues in much greater detail. I’ve learned one thing, as I was telling the President, I learned it’s never a good idea, Ehud, to steal the President’s thunder. It’s never a good idea to say what he’s going to say the next day. So I’m not going to go into any further detail on this. But in much greater detail he will discuss this when he goes to Israel later this month, just before Passover begins.

I have to admit I’m a little jealous that he gets to be the one to say “this year in Jerusalem,” but I’m the Vice President. I’m not the President. So I — when I told him that, I’m not sure he thought I was serious or not. But anyway.

As will come as no surprise to you, the President and I not only are partners, we’ve become friends, and he and I have spoken at length about this trip. And I can assure you he’s particularly looking forward to having a chance to hear directly from the people of Israel and beyond their political leaders, and particularly the younger generation of Israelis.

And I must note just as I’m getting a chance to speak to 2,000 young, American Jews involved and committed to the state of Israel and the relationship with the United States, he’s as anxious to do what I got a chance to do when I was there last, Ehud with you, as you flew me along the line. I got to go to Tel Aviv University to speak several thousand young Israelis. The vibrancy, the optimism, the absolute commitment is contagious, and he’s looking forward to seeing it and feeling it and tasting it.

The President looks forward to having conversations about their hopes and their aspirations, about their astonishing world-leading technological achievements, about the future they envision for themselves and for their country, about how different the world they face is from the one their parents faced, even if many of the threats are the same.

These are really important conversations for the President to have and to hear and for them to hear. These are critically important. I get kidded, again to quote Debbie, she kids sometimes, everybody quotes — Democrat and Republican — quotes Tip O’Neill saying, all politics is local. With all due respect, Lonny, I think that’s not right. I think all politics is personal. And I mean it: All politics is personal. And it’s building personal relationships and trust and exposure, talking to people that really matters, particularly in foreign policy.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me end where I began, by reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel. It’s not only a longstanding, moral commitment, it’s a strategic commitment. An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world is in the practical, strategic interests of the United States of America. I used to say when I — Lonny was president — I used to say if there weren’t an Israel, we’d have to invent one.

Ladies and gentlemen, we also know that it’s critical to remind every generation of Americans — as you’re doing with your children here today, it’s critical to remind our children, my children, your children. That’s why the first time I ever took the three of my children separately to Europe, the first place I took them was Dachau. We flew to Munich and went to Dachau — the first thing we ever did as Annette will remember — because it’s important that all our children and grandchildren understand that this is a never-ending requirement. The preservation of an independent Jewish state is the ultimate guarantor, it’s the only certain guarantor of freedom and security for the Jewish people in the world.

That was most pointedly pointed out to me when I was a young senator making my first trip to Israel. I had the great, great honor — and that is not hyperbole — of getting to meet for the first time — and subsequently, I met her beyond that — Golda Meir. She was the prime minister.

Now, I’m sure every kid up there said, you can’t be that old, Senator. I hope that’s what you’re saying. But seriously, the first trip I ever made — and you all know those double doors. You just go into the office and the blonde furniture and the desk on the left side, if memory serves me correctly. And Golda Meir, as a prime minister and as a defense minister, she had those maps behind her. You could pull down all those maps like you had in geography class in high school.

And she sat behind her desk. And I sat in a chair in front of her desk, and a young man was sitting to my right who was her assistant. His name was Yitzhak Rabin. Seriously — an absolutely true story. And she sat there chain-smoking and reading letters to me, letters from the front from the Six-Day War. She read letters and told me how this young man or woman had died and this is their family. This went on for I don’t know how long, and I guess she could tell I was visibly moved by this, and I was getting depressed about it — oh, my God.

And she suddenly looked at me and said — and I give you my word as a Biden that she looked at me and said — she said, “Senator, would you like a photo opportunity?” And I looked at her. I said, well yes, Madam Prime Minister. I mean I was — and we walk out those doors. We stood there — no statements, and we’re standing next to one another looking at this array of media, television and photojournalists, take — snapping pictures. And we’re looking straight ahead.

Without looking at me, she speaks to me. She said, Senator, don’t look so sad. She said, we have a secret weapon in our confrontation in this part of the world. And I thought she was about to lean over and tell me about a new system or something. Because you can see the pictures, I still have them — I turned to look at her. We were supposed to be looking straight ahead. And I said, Madam Prime Minister — and never turned her head, she kept looking — she said, our secret weapon, Senator, is we have no place else to go. We have no place else to go.

Ladies and gentlemen, our job is to make sure there’s always a place to go, that there’s always an Israel, that there’s always a secure Israel and there’s an Israel that can care for itself. My father was right. You are right. It’s the ultimate guarantor of never again. God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Thank you.

Capital Crime? Walking the Party Plank on Jerusalem

— Marsha B. Cohen, Ph.D.

It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,

declared Mitt Romney on September 4.

The deletion of a single sentence about Jerusalem in the Democratic platform, which reportedly had been vetted by officials from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), generated hysterical headlines that went viral and ricocheted throughout cyberspace, arousing panic among Democrats and glee among Republicans. (The Democrats reinserted the language on September 5 after President Obama “intervened directly.”)

Ironically, affirming Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel and the importance of relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been a largely Democratic strategy for nearly four decades, particularly when there has been an incumbent Republican president in the White House. Republicans latch on to it whenever a Democratic president is running for re-election.

Some historical perspective after the jump.
The Democratic party’s 1976 platform was the first to stipulate:

We recognize and support the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with free access to all its holy places provided to all faiths. As a symbol of this stand, the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

This stance was reiterated in the 1980 and 1984 platforms. In 1983, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan called for relocating of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, in a bill co-sponsored by fifty senators. When State Department officials in the Reagan administration objected that moving the Embassy would strain diplomatic ties with Arab countries, Moynihan did not press for a vote. No mention of Jerusalem whatsoever was made in the Democratic platform in 1988, in the wake of Secretary of State George Shultz’s sharp criticism of Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis for suggesting that, if elected President, he would consider transferring the Embassy to Jerusalem. “It’s shocking that anybody would make such a proposal,” the Reagan administration’s chief spokesman on foreign policy told NBC’s Today show. Since Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights “are regarded as occupied territory” and are “subject to negotiations” according to Shultz, who deemed any notion of moving the Embassy a “mistake.”

But Jerusalem was back in the 1992 Democratic platform, a seeming non sequitur tacked on to the Middle East Peace plank, minus the call for moving the US Embassy:

The United States must act effectively as an honest broker in the peace process. It must not, as has been the case with this Administration, encourage one side to believe that it will deliver unilateral concessions from the other. Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

Republicans were the latecomers to the Jerusalem capital-ism game. The GOP’s 1976 platform made no mention of Jerusalem. The 1980, 1984 and 1988 Republican platforms all declared that “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city with continued free and unimpeded access to all holy places by people of all faiths.” The same assertion appeared in the 1992 platform, followed by the coy sentence, “No genuine peace would deny Jews the right to live anywhere in the special city of Jerusalem.”

With a popular Democratic president in the White House, it was the Republicans’ turn to play the Jerusalem capital card. On October 24, 1995, the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Implementation Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Bob Dole (who just happened to be running for president), passed the Senate (S. 1323) in a 93-5 and the House (H.R. 1595) 374-37. President Clinton signed the bill two weeks later. The overwhelming bi-partisan support for the measure did not prevent Republicans from taking full credit, gloating in the 1996 GOP platform:

We applaud the Republican Congress for enacting legislation to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. A Republican administration will ensure that the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem by May 1999.

Clinton won the 1996 election. The US Embassy stayed in Tel Aviv. Then the 2000 Republican platform became even more strident:

The United States has a moral and legal obligation to maintain its Embassy and Ambassador in Jerusalem. Immediately upon taking office, the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

Nevertheless the Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, who had publicly pledged to thousands of attendees at AIPAC’s 2000 Annual Policy Conference that on his first day in office he would move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, did not do so after winning the election. Not on his first day, not on his last day, and at no point in between. The Republican platform in 2004 stayed low key, noting, “Republicans continue to support moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.”

Democrats stuck with their tried-and-true 1992 formulation in 1996, in 2000, in 2004, and in 2008, reiterating the city’s status as Israel’s capital and the right of people of all faiths to access it. Ironically, Republicans framed their mega-affirmation of Jerusalem being Israel’s capital in 2008 with an endorsement of the creation of a Palestinian state, which went largely unnoticed by the media:

We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine…We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.

Two democratic states living side by side! Uri Friedman points out that such language “provoked a raft of amendments arguing that, in endorsing the two-state solution, the Republicans were dictating the terms of a peace agreement to the Israeli government.”

Israelis have for the most part been amused by, even cynical about, the overblown rhetoric about Jerusalem in US elections. As Douglas Bloomfield explained four years ago, when GOP presidential candidate John McCain told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that if elected president he would move the US Embassy “right away,” not only wasn’t it going to happen — regardless of who was elected — but Israelis wouldn’t care either way:

Moving the embassy has never been a high priority for any Israeli leader in meetings with American presidents. They see it as a political football in an American game they prefer staying out of. All recent prime ministers have understood that an agreement on Jerusalem is critical to any peace settlement with the Palestinians — and that symbolic action like American politicians trying to force the embassy move can only make an agreement more elusive. But the game continues even though seasoned political observers understand it’s a sham. This year is no exception. Any politician who tells you he’s going to move the embassy before the Israelis and Palestinians come to an agreement on the city’s final status and borders thinks you’re wearing a name tag that says ‘chump.’

No prominent Democrat seems to know why the reference to Jerusalem was deleted in 2012. What is certain, however, is the fact that for the past 35 years the role of Jerusalem in both party platforms has had no practical effect in Israel, except perhaps to distract from – and thus implicitly condone – the unilateral Israeli tripling in size of the area within the municipal boundaries of “united Jerusalem” between 1967 and today. Politicizing the holy city has been one way that both American parties have tried to score points against the opposition, a distraction from more complex and urgent issues in US domestic and foreign policy. This year is no exception.

Meanwhile, Republicans seem to have soured on their “Embassy Sweets” commitment to moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. That the 2012 GOP platform has dropped the call for the Embassy’s relocation has gone almost totally unnoticed by the ever-distracted media, except, oddly, by the Wall Street Journal.

Apparently Romney didn’t get the memo.

Crossposted from lobelog Foreign Policy blog.

Barry Rubin’s Fuzzy Thinking

Barry Rubin— by Steve Sheffey

A recent article by Barry Rubin provides a preview of the misleading arguments and half-truths we can expect from now until November. Rubin compresses so much nonsense into so little space that I’ll only cover some of his article today, and the rest later.

Rubin begins his article with a strawman argument, that we claim President Obama is good simply because he speaks warmly about Israel. It is true that President Obama speaks warmly about Israel, but his record is the basis for the claim that he is strong on Israel.

President Obama’s record on Israel is outstanding.

President Obama has called for the removal of Syrian President Assad, ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin-Laden, done 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, increased security assistance to Israel to record levels, boycotted Durban II and Durban III, taken US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against the 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.

Not all presidents say “nice” things about Israel.

Rubin gets it wrong even on his own terms. Words do matter, and not all presidents say nice things about Israel. Gerald Ford threatened to reassess America’s strategic relations with Israel, Ronald Reagan condemned Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Bush I decried lobbyists for Israel (he actually attacked citizen lobbyists like you and me), and in 2003 Bush II rebuked then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon 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. If President Obama had done anything like what Ford, Reagan, Bush I or Bush II had done to Israel, then maybe Rubin would have something to write about.

It is true that President Obama speaks warmly of Israel, but Rubin leaves out to whom President Obama speaks warmly about Israel.

It’s easy to tell AIPAC how important the US-Israel relationship is. AIPAC already knows. The difference between President Obama and previous presidents is that President Obama eloquently delivers the case for Israel and a strong US-Israel relationship to those who need to hear it most.

During the 2008 campaign, I participated in a conference call with Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), one of Israel’s best friends in Congress in either party. Rothman asked us to imagine the impact of a president named Barack Hussein Obama telling the entire world, including the Arab world, that America stands with Israel.

That’s exactly what President Obama did when he went to Cairo in 2009 and told the Arab and Muslim world that America’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable.”

He told the Arab and Muslim world, a world rife with Holocaust denial, that to deny the Holocaust is “baseless, ignorant, and hateful.”  He told them that threatening Israel with destruction is “deeply wrong.” He said that “Palestinians must abandon violence” and that “it is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus.” And he said that “Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Who knows where we’d be today if previous Presidents had had the courage to personally deliver this message on Arab soil.

In 2011, President Obama went to the UN, another forum not known for its love for Israel, and told the world that

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, and our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day. Let’s be honest: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, looks out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile, persecution, and the fresh memory of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they were.

These facts cannot be denied. The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.

The Israeli newspaper Yehidot Aharonot said that “An American President has never given such a pro-Israel speech at the UN.”

Isn’t that what we want from our President?

Under President Obama, the US-Israel relationship is warmer than ever.

Yet Rubin says that President Obama is “cold” toward Israel. Former Congressman Robert Wexler explained just last month that this “coldness” argument is

the argument Republican surrogates make. They say he’s cold. I hear that he doesn’t feel Israel in his kishkes. I think that’s something you say when you don’t have any factual arguments to make. What does it mean that he’s cold? Does being cold mean articulating the strongest pro-Israel argument ever at the UN – a forum not warm to Israel? Is it cold that America has engaged in the largest joint military operation between the US and Israel in Israel’s history during the Obama administration? Is it cold that more than 200 high-level Pentagon officials visited Israel during the last calendar year? Is it cold that America and Israel will likely engage in an even larger joint military exercise this year? And I’ll tell you one group who doesn’t believe the relationship is cold – that’s the current leadership in Tehran.

No wonder the vast majority of Jews vote Democratic and will continue to vote Democratic.

Aside from exceptions like Congressmen Joe Walsh and Ron Paul, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans support pro-Israel positions. But only the Democratic party is good on Israel and the other values we cherish.