Today, First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, visited Berlin's Holocaust memorial to commemorate the European Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. This stop was part of their tour of four key sites related to Germany's history during WWII and the Cold War.
At the memorial, the first family was faced with 2,700 concrete slabs that evoke a cemetery, engaging visitors who come to pay their respect to the millions of Jews who were murdered. The site was cleared of visitors and the family was able to wander the area alone. Photos show Michelle Obama hugging her daughters as they enter the emotional Holocaust memorial.
Yesterday, Israeli President Shimon Peres started his 90th birthday celebration in the only way he knows: in style. The list of celebrities and politicians joining President Peres is long, and it includes President Bill Clinton, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barbara Streisand and Robert De Niro.
Haaretz wrote about what President Clinton had to say to President Peres:
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered his much awaited speech, telling Peres, "You are the world's social Einstein."
"You have tried to put together a unified theory of meaning to unite politics and philosophy and psychology and history and science and technology," he said. " Every one of us who has been blessed enough to know you... has been made a little bigger, a little stronger, and a little more optimistic that one day your theory will be real."
"On your 90th birthday, what we really celebrate, is your great gift to all of us. God bless you."
Following the jump are a excerpts from the interviews the press has been conducting with President Peres.
The National Jewish Democratic Council expressed concern over today's vote by House Republicans in support of its latest extreme anti-choice bill.
"With all the talk of broadening the GOP base, Republicans seem unable to resist taking extreme action on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives," said NJDC Executive Director Aaron Keyak. "By forcing a vote on a doomed and radically anti-choice bill, Republicans are once again alienating the vast majority of American Jews — including Jewish Republicans who have specifically urged the GOP to ease up on social issues."
On Saturday, The Jewish Daily Forward's Nathan Guttman published an article on Samantha Power, President Obama's nominee for U.N. Ambassador, and her commitment to Israel. Guttman's piece opened with a story from 2009 in which Power is meeting with Israeli officials. In the middle of their discussion, she pulled out a picture of her son and described how her husband Cass Sustein is a descendent of the, "Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer, the 18th-century Jewish sage who is considered the greatest talmudic scholar of his time."
Guttman concluded that while this might partially explain Power's commitment to Israel, it is not the only reason. Former Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C. Dan Arbel explains that for as long as he has known Power, her strong sentiment towards Israel has always been second nature. He states, "Her starting point has always been, 'How do we work together to overcome obstacles and to ensure that both the United States and Israel get out of these U.N. situations with the least damage?"
Guttman also discussed how Power dealt with almost every Israel-related issue at the U.N. during Ambassador Susan Rice's tenure. According to an Administration official, "She was involved in any brush fire at the United Nations. After [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice, she was the most influential person on U.N. issues."
The United States called for the resignation of Richard Falk, U.N. special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, following his statements against the pro-Israel group UN Watch. Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, said:
The United States completely rejects and condemns the irresponsible call by Mr. Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories, to investigate a legitimate and U.N.-accredited NGO, UN Watch. His statement and recommendation, if given credibility, would threaten the independent voice of civil society at the United Nations.
Yesterday, President Obama announced that after more than four years overseeing the work of the National Security Council, Tom Donilon will depart in July as National Security Advisor and will be succeeded by Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice will be succeeded by Samantha Power as the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pending Senate confirmation.
Reactions from BBI, NJDC and JCPA follow the the jump.
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the last World War II veteran in the Senate, died today at the age of 89. (John Dingell (D-MI) and Ralph M. Hall (R-TX) are the two surviving World War II veterans in the House of Representatives.) He served in the Senate continuously in the years 1982-2001, and again since 2003.
His legislation has also lowered the blood alcohol level threshold for drunk driving to 0.08%.
During the Bush administration, Lautenberger repeatedly introduced legislation to close the terrorist loophole which allowed American companies to set up offices in the Cayman Islands and continue to do business with the National Iranian Oil Company.
A former two-pack-a-day smoker, Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes, federal buildings, and federally funded buildings that serviced children. This was one of the first restrictions on smoking in America.
The Senator also sponsored the legislation which bans access to firearms by people convicted of crimes of domestic violence.
After the jump: President Obama and Jewish organizations mourn the loss.
After 9/11, Bush made clear that Iran was on his sights
— by Jacob Miller
President Barack Obama's speech last week at the National Defense University has brought the United States' foreign policy and continuing war on terror to the forefront. Bloomberg's Jeffery Goldberg released an opinion piece entitled "Can Obama Clean Up Bush's National Security Mess?" Goldberg highlighted several mistakes and oversights President George W. Bush had on national security:
In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration made clear to the world that it had the Islamic Republic of Iran in its sights....
So it was with shock (and with something like the opposite of awe) that, seven years later, the newly elected Barack Obama learned that the Bush administration had never even drawn up plans for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities. Obama discovered this when he asked his generals for their plan, and they had none. Bush had never asked for one. The bellicose rhetoric on Iran, in other words, was empty of substance.
Some of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's toughest Republican critics have praised his tenure as Secretary of Defense. From Politico:
"I'm very pleased," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who during his confirmation hearing grilled Hagel on controversial remarks he made about Israel. Graham voted against Hagel but now says he's happy with the way Hagel has tackled a flurry of national security challenges in his first three months on the job.
Last week, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced the appointment of Roan Garcia-Quintana to her Grassroots Advisory Committee. A report from the Southern Poverty Law center showed that Garcia-Quintana had deep links to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). CCC is designated as a nationalist hate group. After pressure from the Southern Poverty Law Center and NJDC, Governor Haley announced she was removing Garcia Quintana. Garcia-Quintana's white supremacist statements and actions have also been well documented by the Anti-Defamation League.
Foreign Relations Committee Chair Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) arrived in Israel. Upon his arrival, he published an op-ed in Ha'aretz, detailing his views and opinions on issues most prevalent to the Jewish state.
On the US-Israel Relationship, he wrote:
Some in Washington look at the challenges in the new Middle East and advocate disengagement. I strongly disagree. We cannot stand up for America's interests — or Israel's — from the sidelines. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and engage in support of our ideals, values and interests.
During his speech at the National Defense University, President Obama spoke candidly about his support for foreign aid. He stated:
I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures — even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent.
Last night, TheTeaParty.net sent a fundraising appeal with a graphic that labeled the IRS "Obama's Gestapo." As unacceptable as their graphic was, the fact that they were looking to raise money off of their Gestapo comparison is even more offensive.
We've repeatedly seen Tea Party groups engaging in this type of behavior, and we demand that Republicans, including Tea Party mouthpieces Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), condemn this crass political stunt.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced new sanctions against Iran, as instructed in President Barack Obama's Executive Order 13382, which targets those that assist with the proliferation of or support in the development of weapons of mass destruction. Those targeted are part of a global network that are responsible for acquiring important components for Iran's nuclear program. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said:
As long as Iran continues to pursue a nuclear and ballistic missile program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions, the U.S. will target and disrupt those involved in Iran's illicit activities.
After the jump: Senate Passes Resolution 65 by Unanimous Consent
Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here are the highlights from their public address:
Netanyahu: Well, John, it's a pleasure to welcome you to Jerusalem. You're an old, personal friend and a longstanding friend of Israel. And that friendship was demonstrated in President Obama's historic visit here in March ... We'll discuss Iran. We'll discuss the terrible harm to stability in Syria. But above all, what we want to do is to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians.
The Pew Research Center released a new poll on Israelis' views of President Barack Obama. According to Pew's report, which comes after his highly successful trip to Israel, 64% of Jewish Israelis express confidence in the President. In addition, 93% of Israeli Jews characterize U.S.-Israel relations as "good."
This poll is further proof that the more Israelis get to know President Obama, the more their confidence in him increases.
Click here for Pew's full report, which surveyed 504 Israeli Jews.
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.
Glenn Beck's use of disgusting imagery, showing a leading Jewish American as a Nazi, at the National Rifle Association's convention was deeply offensive. The NRA and Republican leaders must stand with the ADL and B'nai B'rith in condemning Glenn Beck — especially those who selected him to give the NRA's keynote address. This isn't only about what Beck said, but the disturbing fact that his stunt was embraced with applause and cheers by attendees at the NRA's national convention. The NRA's crowd is the Republican base and all Americans must take note.
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.
Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Aaron Keyak called on former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to retract his inaccurate statement regarding Nazi Germany's conduct during WWII:
Ari Fleischer is a smart man, but even smart people can make ridiculous statements and should admit when they've make mistakes. Fleischer should think long and hard about his claim that Nazi Germany 'followed the law of war,' and retract it.
According to Think Progress, Fleischer said in reference to Nazi Germany:
They [Nazi Germany] followed the law of war, they wore uniforms, and they fought us on battlefields. These people are fundamentally, totally by design different. And they need to be treated in a different extrajudicial system.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and his father Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)
— by Aaron Keyak
In the last few weeks, South Carolina House candidate former Governor Mark Sanford has chosen to accept support from two individuals with questionable Israel records: Former Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).
As a Representative, Ron Paul was a leading opponent of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Now he has formed a think tank with anti-Semites and 9/11 truthers, according to a recent report. Given this, it is unacceptable for Sanford to have accepted his endorsement. After years in public service, Sanford should know better and reject the endorsement — but it seems that desperation is trumping common sense after each self-inflicted wound in Sanford's campaign. Republicans like Sanford who seek and flaunt Paul's endorsement cannot reasonably claim to be a friend of Israel or the American Jewish community. Period.
Now that Chuck Hagel has completed his first trip to Israel as US defense secretary, it's time for the pro-Israel community to acknowledge the obvious: Secretary Hagel has demonstrated that he is following the president's lead when it comes to supporting Israel. Like his predecessors, Hagel has personally committed himself to strengthening the US-Israel defense relationship and working to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, and many others enthusiastically welcomed Secretary Hagel for a series of top-level meetings. The secretary's trip was an unqualified success for the Obama administration.
Senator Rand Paul was featured on the cover of Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" issue because of his expanding role in American politics as a Republican leader. Former vice presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wrote a glowing profile of Senator Paul to accompany his ranking. It is puzzling why Palin, a self professed ardent supporter of Israel, continues to whitewash members of the Paul family (she defended former Congressman Ron Paul's Israel record on Fox News in 2012), given their obsession with cutting American aid to Israel and their dangerous views on Iran.
During his time in the House, former Representative Ron Paul was a leading opponent of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Now he's formed a think tank with anti-Semites and 9/11 truthers, according to a report published yesterday. Given this, it is unacceptable for Mark Sanford to accept his endorsement. After years in public service Sanford should know better and reject the endorsement — but it seems that desperation is trumping common sense after each self-inflicted wound in Sanford's campaign. Republicans who seek and flaunt Paul's endorsement cannot reasonably claim to be a friend of Israel or the American Jewish community. Period.
The bill proposed in North Carolina that would assert that states are not bound by the separation of church and state is very alarming to those of us who understand the utmost importance of this constitutional value, including American Jews. If this bill is seriously considered or becomes law, it will have consequences for all Americans and those who believe that government should not be making laws that show preference to some religions over others. We call for this bill to be completely rejected in North Carolina and withdrawn from consideration.
Will surprises ever cease. Not only are we having a "white Passover" thanks to a freak snow shower on the eve of Chag Aviv, but we are hearing praise for President Barack Obama from unexpected quarters.
Jonathan Tobin is known to our community as the executive editor of Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent from 1998 to 2008. Since then he has been the senior online editor the non-Conservative monthly magazine Commentary. He has never been a fan of the Democrats, but Obama's visit to Israel last week seems to have impressed him:
But one thing has undoubtedly changed in the aftermath of the presidential visit to Israel: Barack Obama's image as an antagonist of the Jewish state. In terms of his attitude toward Israel, in the past three days Obama has altered his status in that regard from being the second coming of Jimmy Carter to that of another Bill Clinton. That won't exempt him from criticism, nor does it mean that he will have even a remote chance of succeeding in moving the region toward peace. But it does mean that many of his Jewish and Democratic defenders have been to some extent vindicated and his critics chastened, if not silenced.
Similarly, ZOA President (and Lower Merion resident) Mort Klein has villified Obama for his Cairo speech but now seems genuinely pleased with Obama's latest trip to the Middle-East:
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) today praised several important, positive statements made by President Barack Obama's during his visit to Israel. In speeches delivered in Israel, President Obama testified to the millennia-old Jewish religious and historical bond with the land of Israel; the success of Zionism in transforming the Jewish people into a genuinely free people in their own land; called for Hizballah to be labeled by all as a terrorist organization; called for the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state and for Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel; and affirmed America as Israel's strongest ally and greatest friend.
CPAC Straw Poll Results: 1. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) - 25%
2. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) - 23%
3. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) - 8%
4. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) - 7%
5. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) - 6%
6. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) - 5%
— by David Streeter
Earlier today, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) — the Senate's only proponent of cutting aid to Israel and the sole Senator who refuses to reject a policy of containment for a nuclear-armed Iran — won the Conservative Political Action Conference's (CPAC) annual straw poll. NJDC Executive Director Aaron Keyak said:
Regardless of political affiliation, American Jews should be alarmed that the Republican Party's core activists have selected Senator Rand Paul to be their preferred standard bearer for 2016. Senator Paul has called multiple times to cut and end American aid to Israel, and has refused to rule out a containment strategy vis-à-vis Iran. Paul's misguided foreign policy views are nothing short of dangerous, and his growing legitimacy among the GOP's base is only another reason why the vast majority of Jewish Americans consistently support the Democratic Party.
Reports are circulating that the House of Representatives will be voting on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as early as tomorrow. VAWA provides crucial protections to victims of domestic violence and there is no excuse for not reauthorizing this important bill.
Since it was first introduced in 1994 by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), VAWA had been repeatedly reauthorized with strong bipartisan support — until last year, when Republicans blocked reauthorization because it expanded protections to same sex couples, Native Americans living on tribal reservations, and undocumented immigrants.
When the Senate voted this year to reauthorize VAWA, it received more Republican "no" votes that it did last year — including from 22 male Republicans. Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans have demonstrated that even protections from domestic violence are not exempted from their subservience to the right wing of their party.
Domestic violence is a sad reality for too many women — we cannot afford to let VAWA fail in the House!
As the co-founders of NJDC's Women's Leadership Network, we urge you to take action now by calling your Representative and encouraging them to pass the Senate's version of VAWA.
Too many women are counting on VAWA for us to be silent.
Senators Barbara Boxer (left) and Diane Feinstein (right).
The National Jewish Democratic Council's (NJDC) newly-launched Women's Leadership Network (WLN) proudly announced today that all Jewish Democratic women in the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as former Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), have signed on as Honorary Co-Chairs of the new group. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said:
I am thrilled to be an honorary co-chair of the NJDC's new Women's Leadership Network — an opportunity for us to stand up as women, as Jews, and as Democrats for the priorities we share. From safeguarding our civil and reproductive freedoms, to strengthening our health and social safety net, to ending preventable gun violence, and bolstering support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, NJDC's WLN will serve as a valuable resource and powerful voice on the issues that matter to our community.
Speaking on behalf of the Republican Party, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) neglected to even say one word in support of Israel or our nation's efforts to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program. President Obama was clear that we must stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace, and do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Jewish Democrats are proud to stand with President Obama and his second term priorities that put support for Israel and preventing a nuclear Iran at the top of his foreign policy agenda. Republicans should support President Obama and his strong leadership on these important issues — or at least mention them when they choose to give a broad national address.
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