In a speech at the Washington Institute on Thursday night, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reaffirmed the close relationship between the United States and Israel:
Israel is America's closest friend and ally in the Middle East. During a series of meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with a former Washington Institute fellow, Minister of Defense Ya'alon, President Peres, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, I conveyed our continued commitment to enhancing defense cooperation — which has reached unprecedented levels in recent years.
Last weekend, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation presented former Representative Gabrielle Giffords with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In her remarks, Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, praised Giffords for her acts of courage and commitment to public service:
Today, we honor a woman who inspires the entire world, Gabrielle Giffords has turned a personal nightmare into a movement for political change. After an assassination attempt ended her Congressional career and left her with grave injuries, she fearlessly returned to public life as an advocate for new legislation to prevent gun violence. When others would have withdrawn from public life, she has challenged us all to reengage in the political process. When others would have given up hope, Gabby has been unwavering in her belief that politics can solve problems. When others would have looked for excuses, Gabby has inspired action. She perseveres not just for herself, but for Newtown, and Aurora, for Chicago and Tucson.
Since 2006, the United States has recognized the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month. For the last three years, President Obama has hosted an annual reception to mark this occasion. However, because of the budget sequester, the White House will not be holding a Jewish History Month event this year. In addition, White House tours have been eliminated and the President and many members of his staff have taken pay cuts.
Official Presidential proclamation marking Jewish Heritage Month:
In his second year in office, President George Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island — one of our Nation's first Jewish houses of worship — and reaffirmed our country's commitment to religious freedom. He noted that the Government of the United States would give "to bigotry no sanction [and] to persecution no assistance," and that all Americans are entitled to "liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship." Those words ring as true today as they did then, and they speak to a principle as old as America itself: that no matter who you are, where you come from, or what faith you practice, all of us have an equal share in America's promise.
When the Respect for Marriage Act (the legislation that repeals the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]) was first introduced and debated in the Senate in 2011, I began to focus on the issue of same-sex marriage much more intensely than I had before. As a candidate for the Senate in 2006 and 2012, and as a Senator, I have supported civil unions. I also supported strongly the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), was a leading co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and had stated publicly that I opposed efforts to enact constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage. In the six years I have been in the Senate, there have not been any floor votes to repeal DOMA or to legalize same-sex marriage. Both questions have now been argued before the Supreme Court and are being debated across our country. After much deliberation and after reviewing the legal, public policy, and civil rights questions presented, I support marriage equality for same-sex couples and believe that DOMA should be repealed.
Michelle and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating Passover here in America, in the State of Israel, and around the world.
Last week, I visited the state of Israel for the third time, my first as President. I reaffirmed our countries' unbreakable bonds with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I had the chance to speak directly with young Israelis about the future they wanted for their country, their region, and the world. And I saw once again how the dream of true freedom found its full expression in those words of hope from Hatikvah, lihyot 'am chofshi be'artzeinu, "To be a free people in our land."
Passover is a celebration of the freedom our ancestors dreamed of, fought for, and ultimately won. But even as we give thanks, we are called to look to the future. We are reminded that responsibility does not end when we reach the promised land, it only begins.
I am hopeful that we can draw upon the best in ourselves to find the promise in the days that lie ahead, meet the challenges that will come, and continuing the hard work of repairing the world. Chag sameach.
President Obama held a speech to the Israeli people today in the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Students from many Israeli universities were invited. See full remarks below.
Over the last two days, I've reaffirmed the bonds between our countries with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I've borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I've seen Israel's shining future in your scientists and your entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated at the same time.
Obama and Netanyahu tease NBC's Chuck Todd for asking so many questions on the eve of Passover.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: Mr. President, Barack, it's a great pleasure for me to host you here in Jerusalem. You've graciously hosted me many times in Washington, so I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to reciprocate. I hope that the good will and warmth of the people of Israel has already made you feel at home.
US President Barack Obama: Very much so.
Transcript continues after the jump along with full video.
President Barack Obama gave an interview yesterday to Channel 2 News, the most popular in Israel, prior to his visit of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. "Taking 25 minutes of his time for this interview in this time of sequestration shows the importance of this visit to him," said Yonit Levi, Channel 2 News' main program anchor, who interviewed him.
"We've had some big crisis here in the US, so there's been a lot of domestic work we had to do", said the President. "What this trip allows me to do is to, I think, is to once again have a chance to connect with the Israeli people. There's no substitute for that. The bonds between our two countries are so strong — not just shared values, but shared families and shared businesses".
— Alan Krueger, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers
While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides evidence that the recovery that began in mid-2009 is gaining traction. Today's report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that private sector businesses added 246,000 jobs in February. Total non-farm payroll employment rose by 236,000 jobs last month. The economy has now added private sector jobs every month for three straight years, and a total of 6.35 million jobs have been added over that period.
The household survey showed that the unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent in January to 7.7 percent in February, the lowest since December 2008. The labor force participation rate edged down 0.1 percentage point to 63.5 percent in February.
President Obama's State of the Union address as prepared for delivery on Feb. 12, 2013
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:
Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress...It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union — to improve it is the task of us all."
Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.
Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that:
"Last night, the President discussed his policy proposals to pursue justice and build opportunity," said JCPA president Rabbi Steve Gutow.
Our nation is one of ambition and aspiration, and the President spoke to both these fundamental values. He discussed some of the most intractable issues that face our nation: gun violence that leaves 30,000 Americans dead every year, an immigration system that breaks apart families and forces individuals into the shadows, an energy system that pollutes our planet and changes our climate, and an economy that has left millions without work and millions more with wages insufficient to support their families. Now, after the drama of the election and the pomp of the inauguration, our elected leaders must focus on the hard work of governance.
See below for the complete transcript of the State of the Union Address along with illustrations.
— by Marc R. Stanley
President Obama's strong words in support of Israel tonight reflect his unyielding commitment to the safety and security of the Jewish state. From his leadership on the Iron Dome missile defense system and his vocal support for Israel's right to defend itself to his commitment to achieving peace, the President has been Israel's most important ally. We appreciate that the President reaffirmed his commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran tonight, and that he continued to make clear that he stands with Israel as its neighbors experience instability and violence. We commend the President for his leadership in strengthening the U.S.-Israel partnership and making our special relationship a top priority of his foreign policy agenda. Because of his exceptionally strong support for Israel, we are eagerly anticipating his upcoming trip to the Jewish state.
In November, Jewish-Americans voted overwhelmingly to give President Obama a second term. Tonight, the President made clear why. The policies laid out by the President on key domestic issues, such as immigration, climate change, protecting the environment, support for Israel, and other social issues are broadly supported by the vast majority of American Jews. Polls consistently demonstrate that the Democratic Party is the natural political home for American Jews and tonight's address by the President provides even further proof.
President Obama is right to make gun control a top priority of his second term. Too many American families have been devastated by gun violence and the time is right to put in place measures to prevent the next Sandy Hook, Tucson, or Columbine. NJDC has joined with the broader faith community to urge Congress to follow the President's lead, and we will continue to be there as the President and Congress work towards passing new legislation.
Full transcript of the President's remarks follows the jump.
The National Rifle Association's current President Wayne LaPierre once supported universal background checks. This stands to reason: Stopping criminals from buying guns in stores but allowing them to do so at shows is like locking your front door but leaving your sidedoor wide open. Wayne LaPierre no longer reflects the will of the majority of the NRA's membership — law-abiding gun-owners interested in self-protection of hunting. He now represents the interests of Gun manufacturers who would suffer if they were not able to sell this guns to criminals.
If the killing of 20 innocent children were not enough, today the gun lobby has another victim on their hands Hadiya Pendleton. Hadiya was a talented teen who performed days ago as a majorette at the events around the Presidential inauguration has been shot dead less than a mile from Obama's home in Chicago. She had just taken a final exam at her high school and was taking shelter from the rain in a playground when a gunman starting shooting. See coverage by CNN on the right.
Update:Koch's funeral was held yesterday (Monday). Speakers included:
Former President Bill Clinton,
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and
Israeli Consul-General Ido Aharoni
See video on the right.
In an official statement, President Barack Obama mourned the loss of Koch, who died Feb. 1 at the age of 88:
Ed Koch was an extraordinary Mayor, irrepressible character, and quintessential New Yorker. He took office at a time when New York was in fiscal crisis, and helped his city achieve economic renewal, expand affordable housing, and extend opportunity to more of its people. In public office and beyond, his energy, force of personality, and commitment to causes ranging from civic issues to the security of the state of Israel always informed and enlivened the public discourse. Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Ed's loved ones, and to the city that survives him.
Former Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), who was wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, delivered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. Giffords said in her impassioned and moving opening statement:
Thank you for inviting me here today.
This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats, and Republicans. Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important.
Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something.
It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.
Just one day after a group of Senators released a landmark bipartisan plan, President Obama announced his intention to work with Congress on comprehensive immigration overhaul. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs welcomed both proposals and expressed a desire to work with the President and Congress to ensure passage of a comprehensive bill that will offer hope, security, and opportunity to millions of immigrants.
"This is welcome and exciting news for all Americans," said JCPA Chair Larry Gold.
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) hailed the Senate's confirmation of Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to serve as Secretary of State. NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley said
We are pleased to see that the Senate has confirmed John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. Kerry has a long record of support for Israel and demonstrated during his confirmation hearing that he is the right person to be taking a global leadership role against a nuclear-armed Iran. To echo what so many have said already, we know that Kerry will make an excellent Secretary of State and we are proud that he will be serving as America's top diplomat.
President Barack Obama met this morning with Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and a dozen of his fellow police chiefs and sheriffs:
Police Chief Daniel Oates, Aurora, CO (scene of 2012 movie theatre shooting) seated two to Obama's right,
Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Newtown, CT (scene of 2012 Elementary School shooting) seated next to Biden,
Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, Montgomery County, MD (scene of many of the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks),
Police Chief Robert Villaseñor, Tucson, AZ (scene of 2011 attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords),
Police Chief Chris Burbank, Salt Lake City, UT (scene of the 2007 Trolley Square shooting),
Police Chief Janeé Harteau, Minneapolis, MN (scene of the 2012 Accent Signage Systems shooting),
Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, Las Vegas, NV (scene of the 2010 Federal Courthouse shooting),
Police Chief John Edwards, Oak Creek, WI (scene of the 2012 Sikh Temple shooting),
Sheriff Richard Stanek, Hennepin County, MN (scene of the 2003 Court Tower shooting),
Superintendent Garry McCarthy, Chicago, IL,
Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald from Story County, IA, and
Sheriff Larry Amerson from Calhoun County, AL
They discussed gun violence prevention in the White House's Roosevelt Room, along with Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Biden's chief of staff Bruce Reed.
Obama spoke for roughly three minutes about the importance of hearing from law enforcement leaders on the issue of gun violence and what communities across the country need from the federal government in order to curb the number of mass shootings throughout the the country.
Mr. Obama thanked the police chiefs and sheriffs for coming to the White House today and recalled the executive actions he took earlier this month, as well as his legislative goals, and called on Congress to work with the administration to pass them.
Secretary of State nominee Senator John Kerry (D-MA) testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and reiterated his and the President's commitment to preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. Kerry told the committee:
The world is well aware that we face a number of immediate and dangerous challenges particularly in the Middle East and South Central Asia. Given our extraordinary interest in nonproliferation, we must resolve the questions surrounding Iran's nuclear program.The President has made it definitive: we will do what we must do to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And I repeat here today, our policy is not containment it is prevention. And the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.
I'm putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe [Biden]'s task force. And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try.
And I'm going to do my part. As soon as I'm finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.
We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence — even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.
Eighteen years ago, I was born in Fuzhou, China. My orphanage gave me the name FuMian meaning "prosperous one who studies hard". To me, working hard to achieve one's goals, then paying that success forward so others can have a better life is the true measure of prosperity.
In college, I hope to pursue a medical career and become a pediatrician, which will allow me to help improve the health and welfare of my community. One day, I plan to return to China as a doctor and help provide much needed medical care to the children in the orphanages. I hope that my goals will not only improve the health of these children, but it will also have a positive effect on their overall quality of life. By achieving my own dream of going to college and becoming a pediatrician, I can hopefully inspire these children to have a prosperous future.
Additionally, my community has played an important role in shaping the young woman I am today. Being raised in a mentoring environment, I find my greatest reward is the ability to watch others not only succeed from help I gave them, but become mentors themselves.
I know I can make a difference to the world-at-large and that my role will only be enhanced as I gain more knowledge and experience. Whether it's through volunteering or as a doctor, I can and will have a real impact on my community's prosperity in the years ahead by continuing to be involved.
"Too Important to be Anything Less Than a Top Priority"
— by David Streeter
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro addressed The Jerusalem Post's Diplomatic Conference and proudly affirmed the Obama Administration's support for Israel. Shapiro said:
First of all, the cornerstones of the special relationship between Israel and the United States are our common strategic interests, our shared values of two democracies, and our broad and deep people-to-people ties. And, as recently demonstrated in our national elections - this partnership is historic, bi-partisan, and multifaceted. It is based not on any one political party or Administration, but on the commitment of the American people to support a flourishing, secure, Jewish, democratic State of Israel here in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.
Throughout our U.S. presidential campaign, we saw evidence of this widespread support as both candidates articulated in their platforms their positions in strong support of Israel, our closest ally in the region. As President Obama prepared to begin his second term, he has recommitted himself to continuing the policies of an unshakeable support Israel's security and a deep commitment to its future as a Jewish, democratic state.
In The Wall Street Journal, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren lauded the effectiveness of the Obama Administration-supported Iron Dome missile defense system. Oren wrote:
From drawing board to deployment in 2011, Israel completed the Iron Dome in a mere three years. The first two batteries-developed and financed entirely by Israel-took down dozens of Hamas rockets, making Iron Dome the first antimissile system ever to succeed in combat. The generous support of President Obama and the U.S. Congress enabled the construction of four additional batteries. Ultimately, 10 to 13 batteries and a full complement of interceptors will be needed to defend the entire country.
Over the weekend, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy honored Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. During her remarks, Clinton went into depth about her most recent experiences in the region, including the fighting between Israel and Hamas during operation Pillar of Defense. She also touched on a broad range of subjects including the deep cooperation between Israeli and American leaders, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, and the potential for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Following the jump are some highlights of her full speech.
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