Perelman Union Breaking Shatters Friendships

— by Rita Ross

Last March, the school board of the Perelman Jewish Day School held a meeting at which they decided to dissolve the teachers’ union. This was done with no negotiation, no discussion and no participation of the people whose lives this would most directly affect: the teachers.

The board decided unilaterally to have each teacher negotiate his or her own contract, with tenure and seniority being eliminated and a general clause in the new handbook stating that any teacher could be terminated at will, with no due cause.

Perhaps one of the troubling aspects of this non-negotiation termination of the union is in what has happened to the once-warm and caring relationship that the teachers shared with parents and board members. People who once had close friendships are now avoiding each other and do not even make eye contact.

More after the jump.
The union was in place when I first started teaching at the Solomon Schechter Day School (now called the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School). I have never known of any irreconcilable differences, although the tenure and seniority policy never overindulged the teachers. The union accomplished important things: It allowed dedicated teachers to feel valued and appreciated by offering health and welfare benefits, and the security of knowing that they were assured of employment.

In my tenure as a parent of an alumnus and a teacher of 27 years, I had always felt myself to be part of a community, a member of the Perelman family. How the board’s action can improve Jewish education and benefit our children and the teachers is hard to reconcile given the hard feelings that it has engendered.

Rita Ross taught first grade for 27 years at the Perelman Jewish Day School. She is now retired as a teacher and is the author of Running from Home, a memoir of her experience during the holocaust. She is a frequent lecturer on anti-Semitism and the need for tolerance.

Book Review: One Egg Is a Fortune

miso marinated Atlantic salmon with shiitake mushrooms, grilled scallions and a miso glaze— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

One Egg is a Fortune, edited by Pnina Jacobson and Judy Kempler, is three books in one: a high quality gourmet Jewish cookbook, a table book of magnificent food photographs, and an anthology of fascinating narratives from fifty contributing authors from around the world.

The editors put ten years into developing this beautiful volume, and it is perfect as a gift.

Taste test? The closest to that that we can do is to offer a section from the narrative of the former United States ambassador, Dennis Ross, and his excellent recipe as well. B’tayavon!

Ross’ narrative and salmon fillet recipe follow the jump.

I was sent as ambassador of the United states to meet with Arafat in Tunis in 1993. This was to be the first of many meetings. Arafat liked to play the host, insisting on serving our delegation lunch.

We were about ten people around the table, four from the United States. A meal of roast chicken and potatoes had been prepared. Arafat was determined to not only serve the meal, but also to carve the chicken.

Banter lightened the situation with words to the effect of, “Are you actually going to cut my food for me as well?” with a reply of, “If you like,” and my response of, “No, thank you. The last person to cut my food was my mother.”

Dessert followed and Arafat passed around an assortment of Arabic sweets such as baklava and kanafi, a Middle Eastern dessert made from cheese and brown sugar. The meal was, in fact, good and just what both parties needed to continue.

From then on food became part of the negotiation process. Dennis fish is a variety of bream found in the Red Sea, so when I walked into a meeting, I would ask, “Let me guess what we are eating today — Dennis fish?” Arafat would laugh and at least in this context, he had a sense of humour.

This repartee continued every time we met. I heard that even in my absence Arafat would mention this wordplay just to irritate the Israeli delegation. (Page 197)

All of the vignettes bring personal stories from very interesting lives to our attention. The contributing authors come from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, Ukraine, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, England, Canada and the United States.

Salmon Fillets with Green peppercorn, Mushroom & Macadamia Nut Sauce

  • 6 × 180g (6.5 ounces) salmon fillets
  • garlic salt
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 15 macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped

Sauce:

  • 50g (2 ounces) butter
  • 250g (9 ounces) mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon bottled green peppercorns, vinegar strained
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Sprinkle the salmon fillets with garlic salt. Pour over lemon juice and marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Grill or BBQ salmon, skin side down until almost cooked through. Turn and cook the other side for a minute or two.
  3. Make sauce: Prepare while fish is cooking. Melt butter in a non-stick fry pan. Add mushrooms, lemon juice, peppercorns, garlic salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms wilt and just begin to turn in color.
  4. Spoon sauce over fish and sprinkle with nuts and herbs.

(Serves 6)

Resounding Victory for Women


New Hampshire is the first state to have an all female delegation: Senator Kelly Ayotte (R, not pictured), Governor Elect Maggie Hassan D), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D), Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D) and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D).

Maggie Hassan will be the country’s only Democratic woman governor.


(TPM) Voters Tuesday elected a record number of women to Congress, thanks largely to gains on the Democratic side of the aisle.

In the Senate, where every incumbent Democrat won re-election, there will be a record 20 women Senators come January – a net gain of three. Women will also set a new record in the House of Representatives with 78 women elected – a number that could rise as a final handful of races are called.

In addition to the 12 Democratic women already in the Senate, Democrats will welcome newcomers Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and Mazie Hirono from Hawaii. While two Republican women retired — Texas’s Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Maine’s Sen. Olympia Snowe — Republican Deb Fischer won in Nebraska.

The gains, of course, could have been even higher if not for a few losses. Democrat Shelley Berkley lost an uphill challenge to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada. In Utah, Republicans had hoped Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love would become the first black, Republican woman elected to Congress. Love fell short in her challenge to incumbent Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson. In addition, both parties a few female incumbents in the House.

— by Sari Stevens and Audrey Ann Ross

HARRISBURG, PA – President Obama’s reelection is a historic victory for women’s health, driven by a substantial gender gap, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and PAC said Wednesday morning.

“This is a resounding victory for women. More than ever before, women’s health was a decisive issue in this election. Americans on Tuesday voted to ensure that women will have access to affordable health care and be able to make their own medical decisions,” said executive director Sari Stevens.

“This election sends a powerful and unmistakable message to members of Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature that the American people do not want politicians to meddle in our personal medical decisions, and that politicians demean and dismiss women at their own peril.”

Women’s health issues played a defining role in the presidential election, with preliminary data showing candidates and advocates nationwide aired broadcast ads 46,141 times highlighting the issues — a 350% increase in spending from 2008. Throughout the campaign, these issues have presented one of the starkest contrasts between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama vowed to fully implement the Affordable Care Act and ensure that millions of women get preventive care at no cost, require insurance companies to cover birth control, protect funding for Planned Parenthood and federal family planning programs, and protect access to safe and legal abortion. Romney took the opposite position on all of these issues, and then tried unsuccessfully to cast himself as more of a moderate on women’s health in the final weeks of the campaign.

More after the jump.
In Pennsylvania, pro-choice candidates scored major victories with the stunning election of Rob Teplitz in the open seat of retiring Jeff Piccola, Steve Santarsiero’s crushing defeat of tea party challenger Anne Chapman, Matt Smith’s victory in the seat of retiring Senator John Pippy and Dave Levdansky’s defeat of far-right incumbent Rick Saccone in a moderate Western PA district.

In Senate District 15, Teplitz closed out the final two weeks of the race with a major TV ad buy highlighting opponent John McNally’s out of touch views on women’s health, specifically his opposition to legal abortion in cases of rape and incest. McNally went so far as to oppose sex education in public schools and protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation, positions highlighted in Planned Parenthood’s direct mail to a universe of 25,000 predominantly republican and independent women voters. “Rob trusts women to make their own health care decisions, and Rob won on Tuesday because voters want a strong advocate for women to represent them” said Stevens. Planned Parenthood PA PAC invested $50,000 in the Teplitz victory.

Representative Steve Santarsiero scored a resounding victory Tuesday night, proving once again that the voters of the 31st House District will not tolerate politicians with extreme, out of touch views on women’s health. His opponent, Anne Chapman, was the embodiment of that dangerous agenda. During the Republican primary, Chapman vowed to defund Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services – centering her campaign around limiting women’s access to health care and involving politicians in women’s personal health decisions. Chapman was so out of touch with the 31st district, she aligned herself with the Todd Akin view of women’s health through her opposition to legal abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Akin was another casualty of the Tuesday election, falling to Claire McCaskill after showing callous disregard for victims of rape.

A significant investment was also made on behalf of Matt Smith who was elected Tuesday night, demonstrating that Western Pennsylvania voters will not tolerate politicians with extreme, antiquated views on women’s healthcare.
In Senate District 37, the republican candidate, D. Raja, would have gone too far in interfering in personal health care decisions best left to a woman and her doctor – including support for an intrusive Pennsylvania mandatory ultrasound bill. Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC communicated with a universe of 25,000 female voters about the out of touch views of Raja, and Matt Smith’s strong support for women’s reproductive health care.

Additional victories for women’s health were in the election of Democrat Sean Wiley in the retiring seat of Jane Earll in Senate District 49 and Mark Painter over anti-choice Tom Quigley in House District 146.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC worked hard to educate voters across Pennsylvania about what was at stake in this race for women’s health. The PAC spent a record $250,000 on state races, with the biggest investments on behalf of Matt Smith in Senate District 37 and Rob Teplitz in Senate District 15. Over 250,000 pieces of mail, 80,000 phone calls and 10,000 door to door knocks were generated through months of efforts.

Nationally, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Vote’s spent more than $15 million dollars to educate voters in key battleground states, employing television and radio ads, direct mail, online ads, tele-townhalls, and a variety of other methods.

  • All of the messaging throughout the Planned Parenthood Action Fund campaign focused on Mitt Romney’s positions in his own words — to repeal the birth control insurance benefit, repeal coverage for preventive care, eliminate the nation’s family planning program, defund Planned Parenthood, and overturn Roe v. Wade – contrasted with President Obama’s strong record for women’s health.
  • Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Votes also invested in 20 Senate, Congressional, and gubernatorial races to elect candidates with strong records and positions on women’s health.  
  • In the final four days of the campaign, the Action Fund and local Planned Parenthood advocacy organizations collectively ran neighborhood canvasses in 22 states and phone banking operations in 24 states. In just these four days, the groups made more than 845,000 calls, knocked on more than 100,000 doors, and organized more than 2,000 volunteers in key states including Virginia, Ohio, Montana, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.

“Planned Parenthood Action Fund fought hard in this campaign to protect the programs and policies that millions of Americans, especially women, rely on to lead healthy lives,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and PAC said. “We will focus on working with lawmakers at all levels, from all political parties, to ensure that millions more Americans can get the health care they need, while Planned Parenthood health centers provide the essential health care that one in five American women has relied on Planned Parenthood for at some point in their lives.”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its 74 affiliates nationwide are underscoring their commitment to helping women, men, and young people lead healthy lives with a new tagline “Care. No matter what.” The refreshed logo and new tagline, which went live earlier today on websites and social media properties, are part of Planned Parenthood’s ongoing effort to reach millions more patients with quality, affordable, confidential health care.

“As a trusted and essential provider of health care in every part of the country, Planned Parenthood stands ready to serve the millions of people who will soon have access to health care under the Affordable Care Act — to provide millions more with care, no matter what,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates and PAC said.

Rodin Museum Gala Attracts 350 Patrons


Chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art trustees, the Honorable Constance Williams, joins His Excellency François Delattre, the French ambassador to the U.S., and Michael Scullin, Esq., Honorary French Consul in Philadelphia. Photo: Bonnie Squires.

— by Bonnie Squires

Jules Mastbaum, the Jewish philanthropist who, in the early 20th century, created and donated to the City of Philadelphia his fabulous collection of Rodin sculptures and the “jewel box” of a museum to house it, would have been very pleased with the number of Jewish philanthropists who turned out on September 15 for the Rodin Gala and fundraiser.

Mastbaum, who made his fortune as a movie theater mogul, spared no expense in having his “jewel box” of a Beaux Arts museum designed and built to house his collection.

More after the jump.  


Daniele Cohen, her husband Jerry Grossman, and her French-born friend Michele Rosen, who served on the Rodin Gala Committee. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


Committee members Hope Cohen (left) and Richard Green (middle), of Firstrust Bank, join Marina Kats, Esq. (right). Photo: Bonnie Squires.


(Left to right) Roberta and Carl Dranoff join  Constance Williams at the gala. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


(Left to right) Sheldon Margolis, committee members Jeanette and Joe Neubauer, and Marsha and Dr. Richard Rothman. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


Joyce and Dr. Herbert Kean. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


(Left to right) Lyn Ross and Leslie Anne Miller, Esq. Photo: Bonnie Squires


In the Balzac room at the Rodin Museum, Joe Rishel, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum, welcomes (right) Iris Cantor, of the Iris and G. Bernard Cantor Foundation, and  (left) Iris’ friend Pamela Hoefflin. Photo: Bonnie Squires

The four-year restoration of the Rodin Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was guided by the original blueprints and now sparkles as it did when it first opened in the 1920s. Joe Rishel, the Art Museum’s curator of the Rodin Museum, escorted Iris Cantor, Chairman and President of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, to the gala. Her foundation, a major collector of Rodin sculptures, has loaned the massive “The Three Shades” to the museum, and it sits in the rejuvenated Rodin Museum gardens.

You could not walk two steps without bumping into either a patron of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which also runs the Rodin Museum, or a genuine Francophile.  In fact, the French Ambassador to the U.S., the Honorable François Delattre, was in cheerful attendance, along with Catherine Chevillot, Director of the Musée Rodin in Paris, and Michael Scullin, Esq., the Honorary French Consul in Philadelphia and Wilmington..

Among the 350 guests who paid a lot of money to attend the gala and to support the Rodin Museum at 22nd and the Parkway were many leaders of the Jewish community.  Many of them are also major donors at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other arts and culture institutions in the region, including Lynne and Harold Honickman, Richard Green and Hope Cohen, Lyn Ross, and the chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Honorable Constance Williams.

After hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in the fabulous gardens, as well as remarks inside the totally restored museum, guests were treated to a gourmet dinner in a tent on the grounds of the museum.  Going from day to night, the sculptures and gardens glowed, first in sunlight, and then in artificial lights after sunset.





Admiring the sculptures are Judge Arlin Adams and his wife Neysa.
Photo: Bonnie Squires.



(Left to right) Alison Perelman, her mother Marsha Perelman, and friend Maya Capellan.
Photo: Bonnie Squires.



(Left to right) Lynne Honickman and Joyce deBoton
Photo: Bonnie Squires.

Film Chat: The Hunger Games

— Hannah Lee

“The Hunger Games” opened this weekend to robust ticket sales, taking in a record $155 million in North America, according to The New York Times. The film and the book of the same name is about a dystopian future society, Panem, that arose after North America had been destroyed. Panem is governed autocratically from the Capitol, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. After a failed revolt some 74 years ago, the remaining 12 outlying districts are controlled by starvation rations and a cruel annual selection — the reaping — of one boy and one girl from each district to compete for their life in a televised survival competition called the Hunger Games. Beyond natural selection, they are subjected to man-made disasters — fire, creatures engineered to be more lethal, and artificially altered weather — as well as armed violence from the other contenders, the tributes, until only one survivor remains.

More after the jump.
The movie was thoughtfully done, but fans would notice some omissions and telescoping. The author, Suzanne Collins, was listed as a producer, so it was with her approval. Still, it would be hard to understand everything if one had not read the book. For instance, the first interaction of the protagonists, the two tributes assigned to represent District 12, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, was supposed to be when they were 11 — five years ago — and her family was starving after the death of her father and while her mother was subsumed by grief. A baker’s son, Peeta, intentionally burnt some loaves of bread and he was angrily instructed to throw them out to the pigs. He threw them to Katniss, whom he knew was hiding by the pen. The flashback was quick (as were all of them) and the viewer would not know the debt that Katniss felt she owed to Peeta, for giving her hope, especially since she then spied the first dandelion of the season and she realized she can forage for her family, and later hunt for them. A nice added touch in the movie was when Peeta later told Katniss that he regretted throwing the bread, instead of walking outside in the heavy rain to give them to her personally (but we knew he was in trouble with his mother already). The two young lead actors were superb in their roles — Jennifer Lawrence as the flinty Katniss and Josh Hutcherson as the sensitive Peeta.

The movie added some foreshadowing from the second book, Catching Fire, such as a rebellion in reaction to Katniss’s tender farewell to the dying Rue of District 11 (who reminded her of her younger sister, Primrose — whom Katniss had volunteered to replace in an unprecedented act of self-sacrifice — but this allusion was left out of the movie). A clever addition was the punishment for the Gamemaster, Seneca Crane, in which he was escorted to a locked room in which he finds a bowlful of the poisonous berries that were recognized as Katniss’s rebellion.

Fans of the books may denounce parts of the movie, such as Katniss appearing beautiful and well-kept, so the transformation in the Capitol did not make sense. They may deplore the contrast of Katniss in a sleek leather jacket (it was her father’s in the book) and well-made boots to her neighbors in District 12 who were dowdily dressed in Depression-era garb. I would argue that it was a testament to her skill as a hunter that she did not look starved. Her Games costumes at the Capitol, designed by Judianna Makovsky (who also designed for “The Last Airbender” and  “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) were delightful and artfully impressed the Panem audience as the “Girl on Fire, ” an unusual and colorful representation of her coal-mining district.

Another caveat is the decision of the director, Gary Ross, to soften Katniss’s character, making her less obstinate and cynical, more likeable but less unique. Coming on the heels of the culmination of the Harry Potter series, Katniss is a fierce heroine who stands apart from the intellectual Hermione Granger. Before serving as tribute for her district, Katniss had to fight for her family’s survival. Starvation is a lonely, quiet battle, but probably no less terrifying than the adrenaline-inducing attacks by tributes wielding sharp weapons.

The Capitol denizens were depicted as ridiculous (with gaudy colorations and body decorations) and morally tone-deaf to the life-and-death situation of the Hunger Games, which they enjoy as entertainment and which they accept as rightful public policy to suppress future rebellion. A shout-out to the spot-on performance by Stanley Tucci as Games host, Caesar Flickerman, one of the two Capitol residents with kind words for Katniss (and broadcast to the entire country!). The other character, Cinna, alas, was reduced to being a less frivolous leader of her styling team.

“The Hunger Games” is a fine dramatization of the first book of Collins’ trilogy (four films are planned). The PG-13 rating meant that some violence was omitted and what is left is mostly obliquely shown or in blurry detail. Younger fans of the book could be taken along, if their parents accompany them in attendance. However, I would not advise bringing younger siblings who have not read the books.

Cookbooks to Whet Reading

— by Hannah Lee

My younger child was a reluctant reader, so I tried different strategies to get her to read.  Her sister was willing to read anything I put in front of her, but she was choosy.  I got a boxful of books from the library each week but they were not engaging her.  However, she did gravitate towards my cookbook collection, especially the ones written for children and the themed ones based on beloved children’s books, such as Babe, Little House on the Prairie, and the Boxcar Children.  So, I started with cookbooks and expanded to books about geography, culture, and religion.

More after the jump.
According to Jill Ross, proprietor of The Cookbook Stall at the Reading Terminal Market, children’s cookbooks have become more popular than ever and there is now a boom in cookbooks marketed to teens.  She recommends the series by Meghan and Jill Carle, sisters who wrote their first cookbook when they were still in high school.  Readers followed them through college and their newest title is The First Real Kitchen Cookbook: 100 Recipes and Tips for New Cooks.  Another author she recommends for teens is Rozanne Gold, an award-winning chef who made her reputation with the general public with her pioneering three-ingredient cookbooks.  Her teen title, Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs was given a rave review by the New York Times when it was published in 2009.

I’ve mourned daily the closure of Borders, as there is not another general-interest bookstore in my neighborhood.  Ross, however, says that her direct competitor is not Borders, but Amazon, when people come to browse in her stop but then order through the Internet instead.

The trend in cookbook sales, according to Ross, is the farm-to-table concept.  People are more interested in where their food comes from.  Local produce is the new catchword.  Some of her customers are members of a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture)  and they want to learn  how to prepare the unusual vegetables they receive through their share.

Ross’s personal favorite titles are books by Heidi Swanson (whose newest title is: Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen) because she’s a vegetarian.  However, she also loves the River Cottage cookbooks by the British chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, because they’re so lovingly written and they’ve helped her learn how to prepare meat for others.  She also adores the reference books by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, whose newest title is The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine.

The Cookbook Stall is open at the Reading Terminal Market from Monday to Saturday from 10 – 5 and Sundays from 11 – 3.  If you have a particular title in mind, you may contact the proprietor at thecookbookstall@hotmail.com or 215-923-3170.  Discounted parking is available for up to 2 hours for just $4.00 in the 12th & Filbert Street garage.

Increased Sanctions Continue to Pressure Iran’s Economy

— Max Samis

It has been several weeks since President Barack Obama first increased sanctions on Iran, effectively cutting off Iran’s central bank from the global economy. To this point, the evidence is overwhelming that these sanctions have had a strong effect on Iran’s economy and government.

Previously a major importer of steel, Iranian steel traders have found their business “grinding to a halt.”

More after the jump.
According to Reuters:

Iranian buyers cannot obtain dollars or euros, forcing them to offer letters of credit in alternative currencies such as the Indian rupee, Korean won and Russian rubles.

Most steel traders, wary of currency risk and taxation issues, are not willing to accept this form of payment.

‘Now you can really feel the effects of the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe…It is very difficult to do any business with Iran at the moment,’ a steel trader at a Swiss metals trading house said.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Iranian oil flow has taken a massive hit. Reuters wrote:

Iran could be forced to place unsold barrels into floating storage or even shut in production in the second half of this year, the IEA said on Friday in its monthly Oil Market Report.

‘International sanctions targeting Iran’s existing oil exports do not come into effect until July 1, but they are already having an impact on crude trade flows in Europe, Asia and the Middle East,’ it said.

‘Although there are five months before restrictions on existing contracts take effect, European customers have already curtailed imports of Iranian crude and Asian buyers are lining up alternative sources of supply,’ the IEA said, adding that European customers were likely to look to Russia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia for replacement barrels.

Bloomberg added that owners of over 100 supertankers have now said they will stop loading oil supplies from Iran.

In an interview with Haaretz, Dennis Ross, Obama’s former Middle East advisor, stated that ‘The fact is [Iran's] currency has devalued by half in the last six weeks… I’d say sanctions are working, if that’s the case.’ Haaretz wrote:

These sanctions, Ross said, are the crippling sanctions Israel has called for, and can affect Iran’s behavior. When the Iranians feel they are under sufficient pressure, they look for a way to reduce it, Ross said, and right now they are under pressure they have not been under before. ‘It’s not an accident that suddenly they want to meet with the P5 +1,’ Ross said, referring to the forum of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

Ross also stated his belief that sanctions are forcing Iran to the negotiating table in an op-ed in The New York Times. Ross wrote:

Iran cannot do business with or obtain credit from any reputable international bank, nor can it easily insure its ships or find energy investors. According to Iran’s oil ministry, the energy sector needs more than $100 billion in investments to revitalize its aging infrastructure; it now faces a severe shortfall.

New American penalties on Iran’s central bank and those doing business with it have helped trigger an enormous currency devaluation. In the last six weeks, the Iranian rial has declined dramatically against the dollar, adding to the economic woes Iran is now confronting…

Now, with Iran feeling the pressure, its leaders suddenly seem prepared to talk. Of course, Iran’s government might try to draw out talks while pursuing their nuclear program. But if that is their strategy, they will face even more onerous pressures, when a planned European boycott of their oil begins on July 1.

As sanctions continue to take effect, international pressure will only continue to increase against Iran’s nuclear program.  

Anti-Defamation League Honors Ambassador Dennis Ross

Ambassador Dennis Ross (left) accepts the Anti-Defamation League’s Distinguished Public Service Award from Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, in recognition of his role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East Peace Process.  Mr. Ross, who recently retired from his role as a top Middle East advisor in the Obama Administration, is currently a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  Mr. Ross was presented with the award, a crystal Eagle representing America’s commitment to pursuing the ideals of freedom and democracy abroad, in a ceremony during the League’s annual dinner, February 9, 2012 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo: David Karp/ADL)

Ross to ADL: U.S. Commitment to Israel “Iron-Clad and Unshakable”

– David Streeter

Dennis Ross, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region, addressed the Anti-Defamation League’s national conference and conveyed to the audience that the Obama Administration is standing squarely with Israel amid the changes taking place in the Middle East. Ross also outlined the Obama Administration’s priorities for the Middle East and emphasized that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible with the current regional changes taking place.

Ross reiterated America’s commitment and expressed similar sentiment as Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding the current state of U.S.-Israel relations:

Our relationship with Israel becomes more important during a time of change and upheaval in the Middle East. Israel is an enduring partner whose stability can be counted on. We are bound by shared values and interests, and our commitment to Israel’s security is iron-clad and unshakable. For the Obama Administration, those are not just words.  Many of you may have heard what Secretary Gates recently said in Israel: ‘I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship. The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion-cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.’ Our cooperation contributes to Israel’s security every day, signified by Israel’s recent deployment of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, which we helped fund with more than $200 million in support this year. I too cannot recall a time when security cooperation between our two countries has ever been as intense or focused.

Ross also had strong words regarding Iran’s recent provocative behavior:

Iran, in particular is trying to exploit the political changes in the Arab world, and using its proxy Hezbollah to enflame sectarian tensions in countries like Bahrain at precisely a moment when sectarian differences and legitimate grievances need to be overcome politically and not exacerbated. Iran has also been quick to criticize Arab governments for using the very repressive tactics it continues to employ against its own people. Indeed, it is the height of irony that at a time when Arab publics throughout the Middle East are finding their voice, the Iranian leadership seeks to quash the voice of Iranians who are asking only for their rights.

The Iranians are fooling no one. And, they are also fooling no one as they continue to pursue their nuclear program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions.  As National Security Advisor Tom Donilon stressed last week, ‘Even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East, we remain focused on the strategic imperative of ensuring that Iran does acquire not nuclear weapons.’ On our own and with others, we will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime. On March 24, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution appointing a special rapporteur charged with investigating and monitoring human rights abuses in Iran – a move that the ADL praised. Iran continues to contend with sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before, and as a result, it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in Euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure-and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued. Other sectors are clearly being affected as well as leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran and are no longer doing so.

Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure.  

 

In addition, Ross outlined the potential for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to flourish with the backdrop of a changing Middle East:

For too long, illegitimate governments have looked to blame others for their problems, to deflect attention from their own shortcomings by stoking hostilities toward the United States or Israel.

One of the most remarkable features of the peaceful protests movements across the region has been their focus on domestic issues – the abuses of security forces, government corruption, and the limited opportunities to participate in government decisions. I fully expect that when these populations are empowered and responsible for shaping the future of their countries, they will also see the importance of pursuing peace and cooperation as essential to their own political futures. The more that countries are able to invest their resources in their own future and the less they invest in conflict, the more they will be able to address the needs of their people that prompted the revolts of the Arab Spring.

Many of you will remember how Shimon Peres – who is having lunch with President Obama tomorrow – spoke about the New Middle East in 1993 that would be built on the foundations of peace, cooperation, and trade. Unfortunately, Peres’s vision was not realized two decades ago, because such a future could not be built on an authoritarian foundation. The Middle East today has very little internal trade and investment. The region also has very few domestic or transnational institutions when compared to other parts of the world. All that needs to change, and the democratic movements today offer the prospect of a truly new Middle East – a vision that we must strive to realize. The United States can help support this process by facilitating the work of civil society and non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private-public partnerships to help countries in transition secure the resources and knowledge needed for a better future.

Specifically, Ross emphasized that any peace agreement take into account Israel’s security:

Peace is essential in the region not only to enhance the prospect of trade and cooperation, but to ensure that as a new generation of leaders emerge, they recognize the prospect that Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs can coexist in their own states without the ever-present prospect of renewed hostilities. New leaders need to see that peace is possible and not impossible. They need to see that negotiations can take place and actually produce. And, Israelis and Palestinians need to feel that their respective requirements for peace are understood clearly by each other and will actually be addressed. Israelis, particularly during a time of change with inherent uncertainty, must see that their security will be addressed meaningfully, and in a way that does not leave them vulnerable to the uncertainties of the future. Palestinians must know that they will have an independent state that is contiguous and viable. For Palestinians, that prospect is certainly made more credible when tangible steps are taken to show that the occupation is receding.

Ross concluded by summarizing the United States’ priorities in the Middle East:

We clearly have a full plate of challenges in the Middle East today. But our agenda is clear: support coalition forces in their mission to protect the civilians of Libya and support a peaceful, inclusive, and democratic transition there; help Egypt and Tunisia to conduct a successful, orderly, and credible transition; encourage others in the region undertake meaningful reform now before they too face destabilizing unrest; work to expand economic opportunities; continue the push for peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors; and build the pressure on Iran. This is a complex and demanding agenda, but it has the complete attention of the President and his full national security team.

Full transcript follows the jump.

Remarks by Ambassador Dennis Ross (as prepared), Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region to the Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Conference 2011

Washington, D.C., April 4, 2011

To say that a lot has changed in the Middle East since I had the opportunity to speak to you last spring would be an understatement.  Indeed, the Middle East has not experienced such political upheaval for as long as I’ve been working on the region — and unfortunately that has been a very long time.  If you had asked me last year about the chances that a popular revolt would drive Mubarak from Cairo and Ben Ali from Tunisia, that what is going on in Libya now, and that large-scale protests would be breaking out in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen on a regular basis, I probably would have placed the odds as slightly lower than Virginia Commonwealth’s run to the Final Four.

But it is happening, and in all seriousness, what we are seeing today in the Middle East represents a truly dramatic upheaval that carries with it both tremendous opportunities and significant risks:  opportunities for real freedoms, economic development, truly representative and legitimate governments, and the kind of interdependence that can produce genuine peace.  There is, however, also the risk of potential violence, instability, and the empowerment of radical actors hostile to the United States and our interests, if these transitions are not managed carefully.

I would like to talk to you this morning about how the Obama administration views the dramatic changes happening in the Middle East and what we are doing to try to seize this opportunity to advance a more peaceful, stable, free, and prosperous region.

Why did Middle East experts in the government and the academic world not foresee the changes that have occurred in 2011?  For many years, the analysis of the Middle East generally tended to be based on a set of assumptions:

  • regimes were too strong and ready to deploy their pervasive security apparatuses to instill fear and use force if necessary;
  • publics were simply to fearful with too little hope to challenge these systems, and  the more liberal actors in civil society were too weak and internally divided to bring about meaningful change;
  • the so-called Arab street cared more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than their own domestic needs, and governments would always be quick to exploit these emotions  to divert attention away from their own failings;
  • and that regimes and people across the Middle East preferred stability to chaos and were willing to tolerate the status quo in order to avoid uncertainty.

But those traditional assumptions clearly don’t stand up to the realities we now see sweeping the region and that began with the revolt in Tunisia and moved onto Tahrir Square in Egypt.  What accounted for this dramatic change?  Perhaps, more than anything else, the loss of fear helped launch what is now referred to as the Arab Spring.  It has been the youth of the region, the “Facebook generation” that has led the way.  Demographically, there is a youth bulge in the region.  And, the level of frustration in the younger generation has been building and for good reason.   In far too many places, governments have provided for a select few, creating little economic opportunity and no promise of a better future, much less the possibility of inclusion and participation in shaping the future for the many.  Greater exposure to the outside through widely available satellite television, the internet, and more recently, social media platforms, showed this young generation the enormous gap between their limited opportunities and the prospects for participating fully in the 21st century world.  Lacking hope for a better future and faced with daily humiliation from insensitive, often brutal regimes, a few brave souls who had enough decided to defy the state.

In Tunisia, it was Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit vendor who was the catalyst for revolutionary change.  He set himself on fire in front of a government building after an official inspector sought to confiscate his fruit and slapped him in public when he tried to take back the goods that provided him a meager livelihood.

And in Egypt, it was the thousands of people who signed up to a Facebook page honoring the memory of Khaled Said, a 28-year-old businessmen brutally murdered by police after posting evidence of police brutality on the internet.  Those who joined the “We Are All Khaled Said” page knew they were signing up to be watched by state security services, but more than half a million people joined anyway.  And it was one of the creators of that page, the young Google executive Wael Ghonim, who himself became a powerful symbol of the opposition and galvanized thousands of protesters to join the movement in Tahrir Square after he emerged from 12 days in detention as defiant as ever.  The young people were not driven by any ideologies of religion or nationalism, but by the simple instinct to demand dignity in the face of humiliation.

In the face of the growing demands for change, how has the Obama administration responded?  Recognizing that we are neither the cause of what is happening in the region nor can we be the driver of these developments, we have established a set of basic principles to guide action:

  • First, we oppose the use of violence by governments and protesters alike.  Political change should emerge peacefully, not through force.
  • Second, we have insisted that governments must protect certain universal rights, such as the right for people to gather and express themselves peacefully and have access to information.
  • And third, the President emphasized from the beginning that governments should respond to inevitable change by instituting meaningful and credible reforms. As President Obama said very early on, “The world is changing; you have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity, and that if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change.  You can’t be behind the curve.”

We have committed to working closely with governments who have undertaken a meaningful effort to reform, and when governments have chosen the wrong approach and tried to preserve the status quo through their traditional but outdated modes of violence and coercion, we have spoken out.  On Friday, following another day of violence against demonstrators in Syria, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying: “We condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens demonstrating in Syria, and applaud the courage and dignity of the Syrian people.  Violence is not the answer to the grievances of the Syrian people.  What is needed now is a credible path to a future of greater freedom, democracy, opportunity, and justice.”  Over the past few months, we have spoken out when violence has occurred against peaceful protesters in Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen, and we will continue to do so, because if governments in the region should learn anything over the past few months, it should be that they cannot prevent dissent and seek to stifle legitimate grievances through force and coercion.   The Government of Bahrain, for example, should also recognize that restricting freedom of expression by shutting down newspapers or arresting bloggers is not the way to produce a political dialogue or make a political outcome more likely.

But the Obama administration’s approach is not just guided by what we say, but what we have done.  Nowhere has our commitment to preventing violence been demonstrated more clearly than in our response to the Qadhafi regime’s brutal efforts to quell internal opposition.  As Qadhafi’s troops advanced toward the city of Benghazi and he promised “no mercy” on his own population, we helped to mobilize a broad international coalition committed to preventing what would surely have been a humanitarian catastrophe — a human slaughter and a moral disaster that could easily have led to chaos, instability, and potentially enormous refugees flows into neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, precisely at a time these countries are attempting to navigate their own political transitions peacefully.

Having helped produce two UN Security Council Resolutions, we joined a broad international consensus that included Arab contributions from the UAE and Qatar to enforce the UN-authorized no-fly zone and to protect the civilians of Libya.  From the outset of this conflict, the President made clear that the American contribution to this effort would be largely on the front end and we would use our unique capabilities to create an environment in which others would be able to take the lead in carrying out the No Fly Zone and civilian protection mission.  That transition happened last week when NATO assumed full operational command for all missions in Libya.  We will continue to support the NATO mission with electronic jamming capabilities, aerial refueling, and intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance.   Now that the international coalitions has created space and time for the Libyan people, we hope to see a democratic transition in Libya through a broadly inclusive process that reflects the will and protects the rights of the Libyan people.

Elsewhere in the region, we are actively supporting transitions and supporting governments seeking to undertake peaceful transitions, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia.  In Egypt, we have been in a regular dialogue with the Egyptian military and the new government since the transition as well as with a diverse range of nongovernmental and civil society actors, making it clear that we support principles, processes, and institutions — not personalities.  Egypt has made remarkable strides in just a short period.  On March 19, more than 18 million people turned out to vote in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments.  They did so peacefully and orderly in a process fully supervised by Egypt’s respected judiciary.  Egypt faces many challenges ahead, including a struggling economy and the management of a complicated transition that will involve parliamentary and presidential elections this year as well as the drafting of a new constitution.

We have made a number of suggestions as to how this process can unfold freely, fairly, and peacefully, and we have committed to helping this transition in whatever way we can, because we understand what is at stake. We have reassigned $150 million in assistance to support Egypt’s transition, and we are working to establish a much needed Enterprise Fund that will stimulate private sector investment, support competitive markets, and provide business with access to low-cost capital — and we are working closely with our allies on the steps that can be taken to ensure economic stabilization over time.  If the Tahrir movement and the March referendum are any indication, there is reason to be optimistic that the Egyptian people will become increasingly invested in their government, establishing a degree of legitimacy that was missing for so many years.

Renewed legitimacy of governments in the Middle East will not only improve the stability of these countries internally, but will provide new opportunities for regional cooperation, and ultimately peace.  For too long, illegitimate governments have looked to blame others for their problems, to deflect attention from their own shortcomings by stoking hostilities toward the United States or Israel.

One of the most remarkable features of the peaceful protests movements across the region has been their focus on domestic issues — the abuses of security forces, government corruption, and the limited opportunities to participate in government decisions.  I fully expect that when these populations are empowered and responsible for shaping the future of their countries, they will also see the importance of pursuing peace and cooperation as essential to their own political futures.  The more that countries are able to invest their resources in their own future and the less they invest in conflict, the more they will be able to address the needs of their people that prompted the revolts of the Arab Spring.

Many of you will remember how Shimon Peres — who is having lunch with President Obama tomorrow — spoke about the New Middle East in 1993 that would be built on the foundations of peace, cooperation, and trade.  Unfortunately, Peres’s vision was not realized two decades ago, because such a future could not be built on an authoritarian foundation.  The Middle East today has very little internal trade and investment.  The region also has very few domestic or transnational institutions when compared to other parts of the world.  All that needs to change, and the democratic movements today offer the prospect of a truly new Middle East — a vision that we must strive to realize.  The United States can help support this process by facilitating the work of civil society and non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private-public partnerships to help countries in transition secure the resources and knowledge needed for a better future.

Peace is essential in the region not only to enhance the prospect of trade and cooperation, but to ensure that as a new generation of leaders emerge, they recognize the prospect that Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs can coexist in their own states without the ever-present prospect of renewed hostilities.  New leaders need to see that peace is possible and not impossible.  They need to see that negotiations can take place and actually produce.  And, Israelis and Palestinians need to feel that their respective requirements for peace are understood clearly by each other and will actually be addressed.  Israelis, particularly during a time of change with inherent uncertainty, must see that their security will be addressed meaningfully, and in a way that does not leave them vulnerable to the uncertainties of the future.  Palestinians must know that they will have an independent state that is contiguous and viable.  For Palestinians, that prospect is certainly made more credible when tangible steps are taken to show that the occupation is receding.

If anything, our relationship with Israel becomes more important during a time of change and upheaval in the Middle East.  Israel is an enduring partner whose stability can be counted on.  We are bound by shared values and interests, and our commitment to Israel’s security is iron-clad and unshakable.  For the Obama Administration, those are not just words.  Many of you may have heard what Secretary Gates recently said  in Israel:  “I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship.  The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion — cooperation and support that ensures that Israel will continue to maintain its qualitative military edge.”  Our cooperation contributes to Israel’s security every day, signified by Israel’s recent deployment of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, which we helped fund with more than $200 million in support this year.  I too cannot recall a time when security cooperation between our two countries has ever been as intense or focused.

All this is important because, as I noted earlier, political change in the Middle East does not come without risk, and it is occurring under the backdrop of ongoing threats.  Iran, in particular is trying to exploit the political changes in the Arab world, and using its proxy Hezbollah to enflame sectarian tensions in countries like Bahrain at precisely a moment when sectarian differences and legitimate grievances need to be overcome politically and not exacerbated.  Iran has also been quick to criticize Arab governments for using the very repressive tactics it continues to employ against its own people.  Indeed, it is the height of irony that at a time when Arab publics throughout the Middle East are finding their voice, the Iranian leadership seeks to quash the voice of Iranians who are asking only for their rights.

The Iranians are fooling no one.  And, they are also fooling no one as they continue to pursue their nuclear program in defiance of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions.  As National Security Advisor Tom Donilon stressed last week, “Even with all the events unfolding in the Middle East, we remain focused on the strategic imperative of ensuring that Iran does acquire not nuclear weapons.”  On our own and with others, we will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime.  On March 24, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution appointing a special rapporteur charged with investigating and monitoring human rights abuses in Iran — a move that the ADL praised.   Iran continues to contend with sanctions that are far more comprehensive than ever before, and as a result, it finds it hard to do business with any reputable bank internationally; to conduct transactions in Euros or dollars; to acquire insurance for its shipping; to gain new capital investment or technology infusions in its antiquated oil and natural gas infrastructure — and it has found in that critical sector, alone, close to $60 billion in projects have been put on hold or discontinued.   Other sectors are clearly being affected as well as leading multinational corporations understand the risk of doing business with Iran and are no longer doing so.

Unless and until Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and all relevant UN Security Council resolutions, we will continue to ratchet up the pressure.    

We clearly have a full plate of challenges in the Middle East today.  But our agenda is clear: support coalition forces in their mission to protect the civilians of Libya and support a peaceful, inclusive, and democratic transition there; help Egypt and Tunisia to conduct a successful, orderly, and credible transition; encourage others in the region undertake meaningful reform now before they too face destabilizing unrest; work to expand economic opportunities; continue the push for peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors; and build the pressure on Iran.  This is a complex and demanding agenda, but it has the complete attention of the President and his full national security team.

Thank you very much.

Dennis Ross at J Street Conference 2011

Ambassador Dennis Ross is Special Assistant to the President and the Department of State’s Senior Director for the Central Region. He spoke today at  J Street’s Annual Conference in Washington, DC

When J Street began planning this conference, I’m sure you had in mind discussing a very different reality in the Middle East than exists today.  But a few months can feel like an eternity in the Middle East, and we have seen a remarkable transformation in the region over the last several weeks.  For the first time in generations, people in Tunisia and then Egypt took to the streets and unseated their leaders through popular, peaceful protests.  Thousands of people have followed them from Algeria to Bahrain to Yemen where we have seen governments begin to respond with different degrees of effectiveness.  And we have also seen utterly appalling violence in Libya where a detached and brutal leadership has chosen a desperate and irresponsible response to its people’s legitimate demands.

A few months ago, it was difficult to envision a Middle East without Ben Ali and Mubarak, stalwart representatives of an old order who governed with the belief that intimidation could preserve their rule.  Now, as we enter a period of uncertainty, and seek to ensure that the transitions in Egypt and Tunisia are peaceful, orderly and credible, we need to begin thinking about the Middle East in new ways.  As President Obama said a couple of weeks ago,

“The world is changing; you have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity, and that if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change.  You can’t be behind the curve.”

This morning I would like to talk to you about what has happened in Egypt, its impact on the region, and the actions taken by the Obama Administration in the region and beyond.  

More after the jump.
One thing became very clear on January 25th when the first group of brave young Egyptian men and women descended on Tahrir Square: the status quo in Egypt was neither stable nor sustainable.  For years, the Mubarak regime imposed its rule through a sprawling security apparatus operating under a three-decades-old Emergency Law.
But Egypt’s revolution showed that repression alone cannot stifle dissent.  That was the age-old tactic of the Mubarak regime: to arrest dissidents and activists; restrict the formation of political parties; and limit exposure to independent voices in the media.  The parliamentary elections in November where the ruling National Democratic Party and associated independents won 95 percent of 500 seats was a clear indication of the regime’s intention to disregard all suggestions to open political space.   The problem, however, was that the frustrations of the Egyptian people were growing and were being infused with a new dynamism from Egypt’s youth who have a profound yearning to join the 21st century.  They want jobs, housing, and a future that offers opportunity.  Unable to meet those needs and unwilling to satisfy the desire for openness, the Egyptian government fell back to what it knew best: coercion.

One case in particular exemplifies the fallacy of the old-fashioned thinking that dissident voices could simply be intimidated through force.  Last June, a 28-year-old businessman was pulled out of an internet café and beaten to death on the street by thugs from the security forces.  His crime: posting examples of police corruption on a blog.
His name was Khalid Said, and within five days of his death, a Facebook page was created called, “We are All Khalid Said.”  Within weeks, 130,000 people joined the page, which now has almost half a million followers.  And we now know that the page’s founder was a young Google executive named Wael Ghonim, who himself became a powerful symbol of the opposition following his disappearance and detention for 12 days during the protests.

Many of us who have followed Egypt’s problems for years, assumed the regime was simply too strong and repression was too pervasive for significant change to take place overnight.  As my friend Hala Mustafa, the editor of the Egyptian journal, Democracy¸ warned in the Washington Post in 2005,

“Unless the security services are reined in, real political change and efforts to implement ‘reform from within’ will continue to be blocked in Egypt and across the Middle East.  The enlightened political elite will remain powerless, individuals who can make genuine contributions will be systematically targeted, moderate groups and trends will continue to be excluded, and most citizens will remain absent from political life. In a word, the political arena will still echo only one voice.”

 The irony, of course, is that when the political space is restricted to one voice, frustration is bound to deepen, and when it comes to the surface, it is more likely to boil over quickly.  

The youth of the January 25th movement showed their countrymen how to overcome their fear and were soon joined by Egyptians of all walks of life who maintained a peaceful but persistent call for change.  Not that long ago, as many of you may rememeber, Egyptians were seized by heightened sectarian tensions and attacks against the Christian minority.  But the truly national movement that emerged in Tahrir Square witnessed both faiths, Muslim and Christian, praying together in an ultimate symbol of unity of purpose.

President Obama recognized the magnitude of change in Egypt very quickly.  He stated early on that Egypt could not go back to the way it was and the government had to take meaningful and tangible steps immediately to respond to the legitimate demands of the protesters.  That is what we communicated to our range of contacts within the Egyptian government including to President Mubarak directly.  It is important to note that conversation did not begin on January 25th.  Throughout our administration, we have stressed to the Egyptians the importance of opening the political system by taking tangible steps, such as lifting the Emergency Law and allowing international monitors to supervise last year’s parliamentary elections.   The Mubarak government chose not to heed these warnings, just as they did not realize the magnitude of the problem they faced on January 25th.

From the outset of Egypt’s upheaval, we made clear that the United States cannot dictate how others run their societies, but we also emphasized our support for universal principles, including freedom of assembly, association, speech, and access to information.

We stressed all along that the demonstrations should be peaceful-and so should the government’s response.  As the President stressed repeatedly, “We don’t believe in violence and coercion as a way of maintaining control.”

We encouraged inclusive negotiations between the government and a broad range of opposition and civil society figures, with the aim of supporting concrete reform and irreversible political change.  We expressed the belief that the best way for the government to demonstrate its commitment to reform was for it to articulate a timetable and roadmap to the constitutional and political changes needed, and to lift the Emergency Law.   We have sustained a broad outreach to a diverse range of nongovernmental and governmental actors in Egypt to encourage a negotiated transition and made it clear we support principles, processes, and institution-building – not personalities.

Now that Egypt enters a particularly delicate phase, we have committed to helping in any way we can.  Specifically, we reassigned $150 million in assistance to support Egypt’s democratic transition and aid in its economic recovery.  Despite the extraordinary budget difficulties facing our country, now is not the time to cut aid to Egypt.  The stakes are simply too high.  Egypt has long been a symbolic and practical leader of the Middle East.  The region looks to Egypt and will continue to do so now more than ever as other people from Algeria to Yemen seek to assert their own rights, and other governments determine how to respond to growing citizen demands.  If Egypt’s transition succeeds in establishing a truly representative and responsible government, it will establish a positive model for others and it will affect the whole Middle East.

While we have been encouraged by its initial steps, Egypt, as the President has said, is just at the beginning of its transition.  We have applauded the military’s professionalism and performance during the protests, choosing to safeguard the population at a time of great uncertainty.   The Egyptian military has been a source of stability throughout this period, but it now has an enormous responsibility for which there are no courses in military academies: to supervise an orderly, safe, and credible transition back to civilian rule.  The military has committed itself to undertaking such a transition, and we maintain excellent contacts with the military with whom our own armed forces have worked so closely for several decades.  We are also encouraged that in two of their early communiqués, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces reaffirmed its commitment to abide by all regional and international treaties, including its peace with Israel.  Maintaining that position will be critical for Egypt’s continued responsible leadership in the region and beyond-and that responsible, leading role is something we all clearly want to see.

As I said earlier, the challenges facing Egypt are not unique.  Over the last few weeks, demonstrations have occurred in Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, and, also Iran.  Each of these countries has particular circumstances, but if there is one lesson these governments should take away from Hosni Mubarak’s final days in office, it ought to be that repression does not pay.   That is why a smarter path for each and every government in the region to pursue is one of open, transparent, and credible reform to establish new, more legitimate contracts between governments and populations.  So far, we have seen initial positive steps in some places.  The King and Crown Prince of Bahrain have pursued a national dialogue initiative with the full spectrum of Bahraini society – an effort we strongly support.  This week, Algeria lifted its Emergency Law that had been in place for 19 years, a step President Obama commended.  These are important moves, but they are only just the beginning.  Each and every government across the Middle East has a responsibility to its citizens to take serious and credible steps toward reform, and to uphold the universal rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.  Those who have directed or encouraged violence must stop immediately.  As the President told Chanceller Merkel of Germany over the weekend, “When a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.

We have been looking closely at these challenges across the region for some time.  In fact, last August, the President signed a directive seeking a government-wide study on political reform in the Middle East and North Africa.  For several months, we held weekly interagency meetings examining questions of political reform across the region, looking at past efforts at reform in the region, assessing the lessons from other areas, and considering different kinds of options and approaches.  That preparation and process has helped us respond quickly and effectively to the events of the past month, and will help guide our regional focus on encouraging governments in the region to take on meaningful political reforms going forward.

While the challenges of governance and reform are certainly foremost on our minds given the dramatic events of the past few weeks, I want to emphasize that we have not lost track of our core priorities across the region: maintaining our strong security partnerships, actively pursuing peace between Israel and its neighbors, and keeping the pressure on Iran.  Throughout the crisis in Egypt, we had close and ongoing consultations with our regional partners to share our assessments of the situation, explain our policies, and assure them of our continued commitments to their security.  In the past weeks, the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and many others on the national security team have spoken multiple times to key leaders throughout the region.  This week, Admiral Mullen, General Mattis, and senior state department officials have been in the Middle East.  And we are working as intensively with our partners in Europe to develop an effective assistance plan to help Egypt and Tunisia.  We have also been working closely with the Europeans and others on the steps that we unilaterally and collectively can take to respond to the crisis in Libya by conveying a unified international voice about the atrocities there and providing necessary humanitarian assistance.   That unity of purpose was reflected in the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1970 on Saturday night  –  a Chapter VII resolution that strongly condemns the crimes of the Libyan regime, and imposes an arms embargo and economic sanctions.  It was also the first time in history where there was unanimous support for referring the investigation of such crimes to the International Criminal Court.  

During this period we have also stayed in close touch with the Israelis.   We understand well that while change in Egypt is a source of concern for many in the region, for Israel, it has profound meaning.  Historically, Egypt broke the circle of isolation and denial of Israel.  Peace – even cold peace – with Egypt has fundamentally altered the prospect for wider wars in the Middle East.  Understandably, many Israelis worried about the meaning of change and wondered whether it might not be better to hold onto the old order.  But as events unfolded, and the problems that Mubarak’s regime had created became more apparent, many Israelis also came to see that the longer those problems festered, the more the extremists would benefit.  That is the last thing that we want to see.  

In this context and in this environment, it is also important to reaffirm a fundamental principle of the Obama administration’s policy toward the region: our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.  Despite all the budgetary challenges, we have protected support for Israel and maintained full funding of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system that will significantly enhance Israel’s defenses against short-range rockets and mortars.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen recently traveled to Israel to attend the farewell ceremony for outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, symbolizing the close relations of the very top echelons of our militaries.  Our ongoing strategic discussions with the Israelis have taken on a character, a range of issues, intensity, and a frequency that is simply unprecedented.  This is important not just because these steps demonstrate our commitment to our long-standing ally, but because a strong and confident Israel is one that can take the risks necessary for peace-particularly during a time of great transition in the region.

If Israel can view one lesson from the events in Egypt, it is the danger of getting stuck with an unsustainable status quo.  Just as the frustrations in Egypt grew over time, we should all recognize that the conflict with the Palestinians will only become more intractable over time.  Our efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace are ongoing, even when they are less visible.  Next week, they will continue with meetings between representatives of the Quartet and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.  I am not going to talk at length about these efforts, but I would like to make two broad points.

First, because there are a number clocks that are ticking, the longer it takes to forge an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the harder it will be to forge a two-state solution that meets the needs of both sides.  For example, the demographic clock is ticking and it is only a matter of time before it challenges the very foundations of the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state. The biological clock is ticking, and as a younger generation grows up with conflict and occupation and fading prospects for peace, the less likely we will be to see new leaders emerge who believe in coexistence.  And as the struggle between rejectionists and pragmatists continues across the region, there is a technological clock that will empower those committed to violence with increasingly deadly and indiscriminate weapons of terror that can spoil peace at any moment.  Hamas and Hezbollah had fewer rockets with shorter ranges just a few years ago; no doubt a few years from now, their arsenals will be even more dangerous and deadly if left unchecked.  Peace is therefore essential to fulfilling the national aspirations of both peoples; the longer it is deferred, the more elusive it will become.   We will continue to press both sides to engage seriously in negotiations – the only forum and the only mechanism that can resolve this historic conflict.  We will also continue our assistance to the Palestinians institutional development program under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, which is essential to realizing a two-state solution with a viable state of Palestine.  Indeed, Fayyad’s reform and development plan anticipated how Arab governments can be more responsive to the needs of their citizens by providing better governance and personal security.

This brings me to my second point.  The ongoing wave of political change will finally enable the region to address the long-standing problem that political stagnation actually limited the prospects for comprehensive peace and regional reconciliation.  The landmark 2002 Arab Human Development Report recognized that the lack of Arab-Israeli peace was “both a cause and an excuse for distorting the development agenda, disrupting national priorities and retarding political development.”  For these Arab scholars, Israel’s occupation was used to “justify curbing dissent at a time when democratic transition requires greater pluralism in society and more public debate on national development policies. ”  As a peace negotiator, I heard countless times from leaders in the region that reform could not take place without peace.  That was an excuse then; today, it is simply denial.  As governments begin to initiate reforms in response to the demands of their own citizens, they will soon realize that continued conflict will impede their efforts and national resources can be better applied to local concerns.  In the early 1990s, Shimon Peres described a “New Middle East” where economic opportunities and interdependence would propel the region to a new era of cooperation and coexistence.

Two decades later, let us hope that the people of the Middle East will begin recognizing these opportunities, and that leaders will seize the moment to take necessary reforms not just to advance the cause of local reform, but also to advance the prospects for a comprehensive peace in the region.  Reform and peace go hand in hand and offer the peoples of the region a future of hope and possibility.

Let me close with a few words about Iran.  Many of you probably noticed that the Iranian regime has tried to claim credit for the events in Egypt, but we know two things:  first, that their claims fell on deaf ears in Egypt where a nation rose up seeking only to improve their own lives under national – not sectarian – ideals; and second, Iran’s claims fell on deaf ears to many Iranians who once again took to the streets this week in an open act of defiance against their government.  Indeed, Iran has only exposed its own hypocrisy.  As the President Obama said,

“I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt when, in fact, they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people were who trying to express themselves peacefully.”

 And following Iran’s continued suppression of peaceful dissent,  Secretary Clinton said that

“It has been made clear to the world that Iran denies its citizens the same fundamental rights it continues to applaud elsewhere in the Middle East.”

 We support the universal rights of people to express themselves freely and peacefully – the very rights Iran denied in June 2009 and again these past weeks. We will continue to speak up on behalf of those rights when they are so brazenly denied.

In the meantime, we are keeping our eye on the ball with Iran.  We will keep the pressure on and we will increase it with our partners as Iran continues to face serious hardships as a result of international sanctions.  Over the past two weeks, the United States has designated an additional Iranian bank for supporting prohibited proliferation activities and imposed sanctions on two Iranian officials for human rights abuses.  While the door will always remain open for diplomacy, Iran must know that delay tactics and obfuscations will only lead to more pressure.  Iran’s continued unwillingness to engage seriously with the P5+1 and its continued failure to respond fully to inquiries by the IAEA will only add to that pressure.  Let me be very clear about one thing:  we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and we will not be deflected from that goal.

We clearly have a full plate of challenges in the Middle East today.  But our agenda is clear: help Egypt to conduct a successful, orderly, and credible transition; encourage others in the region to undertake meaningful reform now before they too face destabilizing unrest; continue the push for peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors; and build the pressure on Iran.  This is a complex and demanding agenda, but it has the complete attention of the President and his full national security team.

Thank you very much.