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.
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.
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.
Over the weekend, President Barack Obama reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself with respect to Syira. President Obama said in an interview with Telemundo:
What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon.
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.
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.
They were wrong about the Republicans they told us to support who are leading the fight against gun control, wrong about President Obama and Israel, and wrong about Chuck Hagel. But don't hold your breaths waiting for apologies from the Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Protect Our Heritage PAC, and like-minded right-wing organizations.
President Barack Obama has requested that American aid to Israel remain untouched for Fiscal Year 2014 despite budgetary belt tightening in other areas. Under the President's proposed budget for the 2014 Fiscal Year, Israel would receive a total of $3.4 billion in military aid, including $220 million for the Iron Dome missile defense system. The Times of Israel noted:
For the first time, funding for the joint US-Israel missile defense system Iron Dome appears in the presidential budget request, which still must be approved by Congress. A senior source in a pro-Israel organization in Washington familiar with the issue called the earmark "significant."
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.
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.
Turkish and Israeli Prime Ministers Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Binyamin Netanyahu.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder today warmly welcomed the thaw in relations between Israel and Turkey. Lauder said the news has been met by "a sigh of relief" in many Jewish communities around the world. He praised Prime Minister Netanyahu's call to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said it had been "the right thing to do in this situation", despite the "very justified reservations" Netanyahu and others in Israel had had against such a step. Lauder expressed hope that the gesture by Israel would effectively end the diplomatic crisis between the two countries:
Turkey and Israel must work together. There are so many issues in the region where these two countries can make a difference. One of them is military cooperation in order to secure geopolitical stability in the Middle East.
B'nai B'rith International's response after the jump.
Imagine a world without hate. The ADL produced a powerful 80 second video that you should watch and share, as well as a list of actions we can all take to fight bigotry.
— by Steve Sheffey
President Obama's trip to Israel left no doubt about his strong support for Israel. He emphasized America's unshakeable alliance with Israel. He told the world that Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but because of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again. He reiterated that the only path to Palestinian independence is through direct talks with Israel.
President Obama reaffirmed America's commitment to Israel's security and to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He reiterated that America stands with Israel because of shared values and because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel.
Two senior administration officials addressed the issue of the phone call held today between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish PM Erdogan.
Netanyahu apologized for the Mavi Mamara flotilla incident and acknowledged "operational mistakes," said one official. Erdogan accepted the apology, according to this official.
The other SAO called this a "first step" toward normalization of relations between the two countries. They said this had been the subject of talks between Obama and Netanyahu in Jerusalem this week.
The call took place in the trailer at the airport just before Obama took off. The leaders talked for about 30 minutes. At some point, Obama got on the phone.
I welcome the call today between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan. The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security. I am hopeful that today's exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities.
President Barack Obama finished his visit to Israel today and moved over to Jordan. The departure ceremony was shortened due to hard weather conditions and included handshakes only. Prior to his departure, the President visited Holocaust Museum Yad VaShem today. Below are his remarks:
"Unto them I will give my house and within my walls a memorial and a name... an everlasting name that shall not be cut off."
President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Chairman Shalev, Rabbi Lau — thank you for sharing this house, this memorial, with me today. And thank you to the people of Israel for preserving the names of the millions taken from us, of blessed memory — names that shall never be forgotten.
President Obama's second day in Israel concluded with a State Dinner in Israeli President Shimon Peres' residence. Israel's Presidential Medal of Distinction was conferred on President Obama, and singers Rita and David D'or performed. Below are the remarks of the two Presidents:
Peres: President Barack Obama, my dear friend, let me say first, Bravo. Bravo, President. It is my great pleasure to welcome you tonight. I was moved the way in which you spoke to the heart of our young Israelis. Our youngsters, in time of need, are always willing to stand up and defend their country. Today, you have seen how much the same young people long for peace. How enthusiastic they were, how engaged they were, listening to the vision of peace, which you beautifully delivered and moved the heart.
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.
Following his landing in Israel, President Obama arrived in a black SUV to inspect Iron Dome and other air-defense systems lined up outside an hangar on the tarmac. They are a mix of rockets and mobile anti-missile batteries.
"I'm a young man. I'm always looking for any chance to walk," Obama said to Israeli military officials after hopping out of the SUV.
Obama listened as an officer explained the functions of an Iron Dome battery, a squat, desert-grey weapon pointed skyward. He then entered what appeared to be a control room.
Back outside, Obama shook hands with a line of Israeli officials in front of Iron Dome. He paused again in front of the battery, gesturing with his hands, as an officer spoke to him.
Video and remarks after meeting with Peres after the jump.
President Obama will visit Israel for the third time next week, becoming only the fifth sitting president to visit Israel. President Obama's visit will emphasize the strong, historic ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. Shimon Peres will award him the Israeli Presidential Medal of Distinction, the first time a US president has received such an honor.
Some Republicans, having criticized President Obama for not going to Israel, are now criticizing him for going. No matter what happens, they'll find something wrong.
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".
— by Marc R. Stanley — Originally Published on JNS.org
Later this month, President Barack Obama will take his first presidential trip to Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Obama's trip "will give me and the people of Israel the opportunity to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel." To show Israel's gratitude for Obama's support, Israeli President Shimon Peres announced that he would present Obama with Israel's Medal of Distinction during a special ceremony in Israel.
Since taking office in 2009, Obama has made supporting Israel one of his highest priorities. From championing sanctions against Iran to providing Israel with expedited supplemental assistance for the Iron Dome, Obama has been Israel's most important ally. Peres said when he announced the award that Obama "is a true friend of the State of Israel, and has been since the beginning of his public life" and that he has "has stood with Israel in times of crisis."
The Israeli Prime Minister's Office held a preparatory meeting ahead of US President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to Israel. In addition to personnel from the PMO, representatives from the Israeli President's Residence, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Israel Police, the Jerusalem Municipality, Ben-Gurion International Airport and other agencies also attended the meeting. National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said:
It is very important that the visit be marked by three points: One, that it go smoothly from start to finish. It is important for us that the Prime Minister and the President have fruitful and productive talks — this is the basis for the continuation of work over the next four years. It is important to us that the President and all those who watch the visit see the beautiful Land of Israel as much as possible given the short schedule. Cooperation between all elements — among all the Israelis, and between us and the Americans — is also vital for the success of the visit.
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.
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.
And it came to pass in the third year of the reign of the tall, swarthy king from the distant islands of the great Western Sea, that a multitude of foes sought to depose him, saying, "By my life and the lives of my ancestors, he shall not reign for another four years." And the king, who was not descended from the Angles and the Saxons, but bore a name that resembled the language of the Israelites, a middle name from the language of the Ishmaelites, and a family name from the language of the Hamites (some would say, from the language of the Celts), accepted the challenge and did struggle valiantly to retain his throne. Among the multitude of foes were two bounders named Rick, one from the northern province of Pennsylvania in the district called Alabama. This Rick was renowned for his misconception (pun intended) of the workings of the female body. The other Rick sought to separate his great southern realm from the vast expanse of territory extending from the great Western Sea to the great Eastern Sea, to the frozen northwest and to the islands whence arose King Barack who had replaced King Dubya.
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