AIPAC: Obama administration peddling ‘inaccuracies’ about lobby

AIPAC said the Obama administration is peddling inaccuracies about the pro-Israel lobby’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

AIPAC President Robert Cohen emailed the organization’s activists on Monday, linking to a New York Times article published last week about tensions arising between the lobby and the administration, and said it reflects “multiple inaccuracies stemming from claims by the administration.”

AIPAC’s facts, Cohen said “are well-substantiated and accurate.” President Barack Obama has said that opponents to the deal have peddled arguments distorting or omitting elements of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached July 14 between Iran and six major powers.

An AIPAC affiliate, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, has run a TV ad addressing the substance of the deal.

“This ad does not single out the president in any way,” Cohen said. According to the Times article, Obama in a meeting last week with Jewish leaders conflated the CNFI ad with others attacking Obama personally.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee treated administration speakers who addressed about 700 activists who flew in last month to lobby against the deal “with courtesy and respect,” Cohen said. Administration officials have said that the speakers, among them top negotiators on the deal, were not permitted to take questions. AIPAC said the officials were free to use the 30 minutes allocated them as they pleased.

Cohen noted that AIPAC took no position on the Iraq War. Obama has said that some of the opponents of the Iran nuclear deal backed that conflict, but has been careful to distinguish these from those who oppose the deal out of concern for Israel. Some defenders of the deal have made the link between AIPAC and the Iraq War on social media.

Congress has until mid-to-late September to consider whether or not to reject the deal.

Sen. Robert Menendez’s rock star moment at AIPAC

Sen. Robert Menendez hands down got the most enthusiastic reception of any speaker so far at AIPAC’s annual conference.

I’d say you could barely hear the New Jersey Democrat on Monday night but for the whoops and shouts, except that Menendez has a preacher’s style and his rich tenor and rolling cadences rode the cheering like a rodeo cowboy. He was in control, and everything he said was crystal clear.

When it came to standing ovations, he definitely bested Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who was no slouch when it came to earning cheers.

So what happened?

Well, for one thing Menendez is the Democrat who puts the “bi” back in partisanship, a one-man bulwark against the notion that hewing to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Iran-skeptic precepts makes you a Republican.

His tough talk was just the tonic for a lobby battled by perceptions that it is increasingly identified with the GOP.

“The fact is — the U.S.-Israel relationship and security of the Israeli people is much more important than any one person or any speech to Congress,” he said. “It is sacrosanct, untouchable. It transcends faith, party affiliation or political philosophy.”

Menendez has his name on both pieces of legislation AIPAC activists are taking to Congress on Tuesday: one that would add sanctions should Iran walk away from a nuclear deal and one that would subject any deal to congressional review.

“I can tell you one thing,” he said. “As long as I have an ounce of fight left in me, as long as I have a vote and a say and a chance to protect the interest of Israel, the region and the national security interests of the United States — Iran will never have a pathway to a weapon. It will never threaten Israel or its neighbors, and it will never be in a position to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Not on my watch!”

The most pointed reason for the joyous reception Menendez got, though, was the release he offered AIPAC activists after two days of making nice about the tensions between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government over “Speechgate.”

Netanyahu spent Monday morning insisting that tensions over the speech he arranged in secret with congressional Republicans, and the pushback from congressional Democrats and the White House just didn’t matter. What mattered, the prime minister said, was the U.S.-Israel relationship, which was solid, and Iran, which was dangerous.

That evening, just before Menendez strode out, the crowd was polite for Susan Rice, the national security adviser who last week said that Netanyahu’s speech was “destructive” of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Then Menendez came, and polite was so last half hour.

First he took on his own party.

“And, when it comes to defending the U.S.-Israel relationship, I am not intimidated by anyone — not Israel’s political enemies, and not by my political friends when I believe they’re wrong,” he said.

Then he took on Rice.

“I may agree with some Democrats that the political timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s invitation to speak to Congress tomorrow may have been unfortunate, and that we must work fervently to keep the US-Israel relationship a strong bipartisan endeavor,” he said. “But I take issue with those who say the prime minister’s visit to the United States is ‘destructive to U.S.-Israel relations.’

“And tomorrow I will be proud when I escort Prime Minister Netanyahu to the House chamber to give his speech! To show him the respect he deserves from every American who cares about our relationship with the only true democracy in the Middle East.”

The crowd went wild.

Day 1 at AIPAC: Trusting Congress, expecting little from White House and anxious about Bibigate

The marching orders to the reported 16,000 attendees were clear on the first day of this year’s AIPAC policy conference: push legislators to pass a proposed bill that would give Congress the right to approve or reject any nuclear agreement signed between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime.

And the implications, too, were clear: AIPAC, an organization built on fostering bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and the White House, all but expects the president to sign a “bad” deal with Iran, one that the group believes would make Iran a threshold nuclear power and would endanger Israel’s existence.

This dynamic—relying on Congress to counterbalance the White House—along with the anticipation and anxiety over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Tuesday address to Congress, characterized the first day of AIPAC’s three-day conference in Washington, D.C.

While AIPAC’s top brass and politicians addressing the conference did not ignore the drama surrounding the circumstances of the speech—which has further frayed an already troubled relationship between Obama and Netanyahu—the focus was on the two bills AIPAC and its army of citizen lobbyists will push when they pack Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

First, the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2015”, a bill introduced on Jan. 27 that would automatically introduce new sanctions on Iran if nuclear talks collapse. Second, the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015”, introduced last Friday, which would require Obama to obtain Congressional approval over any nuclear deal with Iran.

As Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s CEO, said, “Thank goodness for Congress.”

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), appearing together on stage Sunday morning in symbolic bipartisan fashion, praised the AIPAC members for what the two said is their influence on lawmakers.

“To my AIPAC friends, you’re going to make more difference than any speech any politician could deliver,” said Graham, a crowd favorite. “AIPAC is the glue that holds this relationship together.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) (R), interviewed by Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University Frank Sesno in Washington on March 1. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The South Carolina senator said that he will be in the “front row” of Netanyahu’s Tuesday speech to a joint session of Congress, which news reports have suggested he will use as an opportunity to inform lawmakers of particularly risky and dangerous elements of the deal.

“Let us commit ourselves to get as many eyes as possible on this deal before it becomes binding,” Graham said.

Cardin, stating that Israel must never become a “political wedge issue”, also helped pump up the crowd in preparation for their Tuesday lobbying mission. “We need you on Capitol Hill. We have to keep strong sanctions against Iran,” Cardin said. “We could use your help.”

For all the talk, though, about how support for Israel cannot become a Republican or Democratic issue, by putting its weight and resources behind Congress as a sort of nuclear negotiations watchdog, AIPAC's message is clear—the White House is headed toward a dangerous deal, and only Congress can stop it.

“There are some real strains in the relationships,” Kohr admitted. “There is a serious policy difference, particularly over Iran.”

About 30 Democrats reportedly plan to skip Netanyahu's Tuesday speech to Congress, which has further worsened an already toxic relationship between the current governments in Washington and Jerusalem. Netanyahu critics have argued that he’s using the speech as a political tool for upcoming elections in Israel, that he disrespected the Obama administration by not informing it beforehand of the address, and that he’s turning Israel into a partisan issue in Washington.

Netanyahu’s office has repeatedly said that he has an obligation to speak up for Israel because it stands the most to lose from a bad deal with Iran, and that it was not the responsibility of Netanyahu’s office to inform the White House, but of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office, which officially invited Netanyahu. Boehner’s office reportedly informed the White House of Netanyahu’s acceptance two hours before it was publicly announced.

Sunday at AIPAC, although Kohr and politicians in attendance stressed the importance of attending Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, there were few, if any, public endorsements of his decision to address lawmakers.

“There’s no question that the way this speech has come about has created a great deal of upset among Democrats in Congress—House and Senate,” Kohr said. “It’s created some upset, frankly, outside the Capitol and, frankly, it may have upset some people in this room.”

On Feb. 26, Al-Monitor columnist Ben Caspit reported that AIPAC’s top officials “were in shock” after they learned of Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress, and that the group warned Netanyahu that some Democrats would “boycott” the speech.

And even though Kohr did not endorse Netanyahu’s decision, he stressed that AIPAC believes “it’s an important speech.”

“We have spent active hours lobbying for members of the House and Senate to attend this speech,” Kohr said. “When the leader of our greatest ally in the region comes to Washington to speak about the greatest challenge of our time, we hope and urge members of Congress to be there to hear what he has to say.”

Cardin, striking a similar tone, said that the “circumstances surrounding the invitation are not how it should’ve been.”

“But don’t lose focus,” he continued. “The bad guy is Iran.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Ca.), who represents a district in Los Angeles and sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an afternoon panel session about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, that the “personal and partisan” nature of the hostility between Obama and Netanyahu makes it harder for Democrats to go against Obama and vote on sanctions while negotiations with Iran are ongoing.

“Back home they view this as a personality contest between two people, Bibi Netanyahu and President Barack Obama,” Sherman said. “It's hard for people in districts where the president got 60, 70, 80 percent of the vote to vote against Obama's position on sanctions now that it's such a personal, high profile issue.”

“It is much more difficult for me to go to Democrats,” he said.

Obama should send high-level rep to AIPAC conference

 The Obama administration reportedly will not be sending a senior representative to address next week’s annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Snubbing AIPAC will help lock in the caricature of a president who dislikes Israel and disrespects the pro-Israel community. By contrast, sending a high-level representative would reflect the reality of strong relations, especially at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been the one angering and undermining many in the pro-Israel community, AIPAC included.

Substantive concerns over the current negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program have been eclipsed by Netanyahu’s insistence on proceeding with a speech to Congress, despite the objections of the normally supportive FoxNews, Commentary magazine and the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman. In his Jan. 21 statement announcing the speech, Republican House Speaker John Boehner framed Netanyahu’s address as a direct rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

“There is a serious threat that exists in the world,” Boehner said, “and the president last night kind of papered over it.”

AIPAC and the administration apparently were equally surprised by the arrangement between Netanyahu and Boehner. But only AIPAC has seen its own strategy — new sanctions against Iran before any nuclear agreement is reached — collapse as a result. Even if the president had vetoed the bill as he has promised, a strong bipartisan showing could have spooked the Iranian leadership enough to prevent a deal.

By making the issue more about his defiance of Obama than about stopping Iran, and by alienating sympathetic Democrats, Netanyahu has essentially made any early sanctions bill radioactive. Mossad briefings also reportedly convinced a few key Republicans to let talks play out instead of derailing them.

AIPAC isn’t the only ally Netanyahu left out in the cold. He and Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, have each blamed Boehner for misleading them. Netanyahu’s address to AIPAC will come across as an anti-Obama victory lap and an awkward afterthought to his self-styled Churchill moment on Capitol Hill.

This leaves the door open for Obama to find some common cause with AIPAC, the Republicans and hawkish Democrats. No, he won’t sweep away doubts about the Iran talks, and it’s inconceivable that he’ll diminish Netanyahu’s clout among the AIPAC faithful. But at least he can help show the way forward on U.S.-Israel relations. Everyone agrees that’s worth pursuing, including Netanyahu.

To be effective politically and diplomatically, the administration needs to demonstrate that differences with a specific Israeli government don’t mean that Barack Obama and other Democrats have given up on Israel.

It’s been known for weeks that Vice President Joe Biden won’t be around for Netanyahu’s highly charged speech to Congress, where as the Senate’s presiding officer he would normally sit next to Boehner on the dais. Convenient.

An appearance by another prominent administration official, perhaps National Security Adviser Susan Rice or United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, would signal to AIPAC as well as Israelis that American Jews have not been sidelined in the relationship and that, regardless of GOP and Likud efforts, neither has the late-term Obama administration.

In late 2013, feeling betrayed by Obama’s overture to Iran, AIPAC went to war with the administration, privately expressing anger and publicly pushing for new sanctions legislation in Congress. This time, the Mossad warning against new sanctions has cut into Republican support, while the full-throttle challenge from Boehner and Netanyahu has scared off Democratic skeptics of the Iran negotiations. And unlike last year, AIPAC has kept out of the latest acrimony between Netanyahu and Obama.

The Obama administration failing to send a high-level representative to AIPAC will be seen as a lack of concern — for the Iran issue, for U.S.-Israel relations and for the American Jewish community. It will be taken as confirmation that the dispute really is between Obama and Israel, not just between two rival leaders. It will back up the stereotype, believed by anti-Semites and many Israelis, that all Diaspora communities are merely extensions of the State of Israel. And it will be needless.

The administration’s relationship with AIPAC must not depend on who sits in the Oval Office or the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. The more Democrats can show they still respect Israel and are among its best friends, the more the president and any possible Democratic successor can hope to find common ground with Republicans — and American Jews — regarding Iran and other international challenges.

(Shai Franklin is senior fellow for United Nations Affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy in Washington.)

Biden: Obama ‘not bluffing’ on Iran

Vice President Joe Biden said President Obama is “not bluffing” when he says he will stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. commitment “is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon period, end of discussion, period,” Biden told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference in Washington on Monday.

“Prevent — not contain, prevent,” Biden said. “President Barack Obama is not bluffing.”

Biden said other options should be exhausted before it comes to military action.

“If, God forbid, we have to act, it's important that the rest of the world is with us,” he said.

AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann said the lobby, which attracted 13,000 activists to its conference, was “very pleased” by Biden's statement “that the president is not bluffing in his commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Wittman called the vice president's address “a very strong and eloquent speech.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following Biden in a satellite broadcast from his Jerusalem office, said Iran has yet to cross the red line Netanyahu set out last September, when he told the United Nations that an Iranian capability to weaponize uranium would constitute a pretext for military action.

Netanyahu dismissed the latest round of talks between the major powers and Iran on its suspected nuclear weapon as Iran “buying time.”

The major powers, including the United States, have said they were encouraged by the talks and have planned new talks for this month.

Netanyahu said that words and sanctions would not stop Iran.

“Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail,” he said.

Netanyahu said he and Obama would discuss Iran, the turmoil in Syria and the peace process with the Palestinians when the U.S. president travels to Israel later this month.

The Israeli leader said the “step-by-step” approach to peace with the Palestinians was the “realistic” path, a sign that he will push back against attempts to revive final-status talks. Notably, Netanyahu did not refer to a two-state solution as an outcome.

Obama offers Netanyahu assurances over Iran

President Barack Obama, aiming to head off any premature Israeli strike on Iran, sought to assure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that the United States would always “have Israel’s back” but said there was still time for diplomacy.

Netanyahu, in a show of unity with an American leader with whom he has had a rocky relationship, said at the White House that both Israel and the United States stood together on the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“The bond between our two countries is unbreakable,” Obama said. “The United States will always have Israel’s back when it comes to Israel’s security.”

The two men, sitting side by side and smiling at each other in the Oval Office, sought to present a united front in the Iranian nuclear standoff after weeks of mounting concern that Israel would preemptively strike Iran on its own.

In one of the most consequential meetings of U.S. and Israeli leaders in years, they made no mention of any differences they may have over red lines that could trigger military action to curb an Iranian nuclear program that Israel sees as a threat to its existence.

“We believe there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution,” Obama said.

Netanyahu made clear that Israel would be the “master of its fate” in deciding how to deal with Iran, which has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

“It must have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Netanyahu said, echoing remarks Obama made a day earlier in a speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

Obama has been urging Israel to allow sanctions more time to work against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while balancing that with assurances of his resolve to do whatever is necessary to keep the Islamic republic from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

At the White House meeting, Obama told Netanyahu the United States reserved “all options” in dealing with Iran. The president has made clear that would include a possible military component.

“We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world,” Obama said.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Will Dunham

Obama and Netanyahu will meet under the shadow of Iran and their own histories

As if their own fraught history and the prospect of a nuclear Iran weren’t enough, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu will bring to their meeting on Monday each nation’s vexing and at times self-contradictory relationship with war.

Obama, facing what could be a tough reelection battle, must reconcile dueling American impulses: to stand up to bullies, and to keep away from protracted bloody involvements overseas.

Netanyahu must reconcile the contradiction that has dogged Israeli leaders since the birth of the Jewish state: the desire for friendship and validation, and the deep-seated belief that Jews can rely only on themselves.

The contradictions were evident both in President Obama’s speech Sunday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and in Netanyahu’s response.

Obama made it clear that Iran and its suspected drive to a nuclear weapon was the villain of this piece.

“No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction,” he said.

The hall was silent, however, when Obama outlined the considerations that keep him insisting on trying all diplomatic options.

“I have a deeply held preference for peace over war,” said Obama, whose victory in the 2008 Democratic primaries had much to do with having been an authentic voice opposing the Iraq War in 2003. “I have sent men and women into harm’s way. I have seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who have come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. For this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.”

The tension between a hawkish posture and a reluctance to commit to war played out in the first session of the AIPAC conference, in a foreign policy panel that featured Jane Harman, a former Democratic congresswoman from California who was the longtime top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney who was also a top State Department Middle East official in the Bush administration.

“Everyone in the room understands” that Obama has made statements “more focused on containing Israeli actions than they have been on containing Iran,” Cheney said.

Harman countered that “this administration has done more than any in history to help Israel protect itself,” citing unprecedented levels of defense assistance and close cooperation on missile defense.

She also framed Obama’s efforts to keep Iran from going nuclear against what she depicted as the failed wars of the administration that employed both Cheneys.

“We have paid dearly in treasure and lives, and the results in those countries are very unsettling,” Harman said, referring to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and enduring Cheney’s withering glare. The pro-Iranian tilt of the Iraqi government was “very, very troubling,” Harman added.

But it won’t just be Obama bringing history into Monday morning’s Oval Office meeting. Netanyahu, too, must balance efforts to cajole Obama into a tougher posture with an Israeli tradition of approaching its crises with a sense of- self-sufficiency.

Israeli leaders “still want it to be the world against Iran,” Dennis Ross, who until December was Obama’s top Middle East adviser, said last week in a conference call organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, which now employs him. “But Israel is also a country that obviously always makes its own decisions when it comes to dealing with national security threats, and this is one that is seen as being an existential threat.”

Ross said that such views would be known inside the White House.

“I’ve known every Israeli prime minister for the last 30 years, and the one thing I’ve been struck by in knowing all of them is they’ve always wanted to preserve their own freedom of action because they want Israel in the end to take the steps it needs to take to deal with its national security in the way it defines it,” he said.

Obama made clear in his speech that he got the message.

“I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders,” he said. At another point, describing his commitment to Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge, Obama said: “Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

That line drew effusive thanks to Obama from Netanyahu. Netanyahu—who was in Canada on a state visit – concluded his statement responding to Obama’s speech by saying: “Perhaps most important of all, I appreciated the fact that he said that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who delivered the speech immediately prior to Obama’s, said afterwards that he was moved more by Obama’s speech than his own.

“I can’t remember a pro-Israel speech like we heard today,” Peres told Israeli reporters. “In depth, in details, he answered all the questions Israel is asking.”

The expressions of gratitude had potential political implications, if unintended. Much of Obama’s speech was pushing back against Republican claims that he has not done enough to defend Israel.

“If during this political season you hear some question my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts,” Obama said. He also rejected GOP claims that he would be willing to live with a nuclear Iran.

“Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment,” he said to applause. “I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”

The statements come in the wake of a string of strong defenses of Obama’s Israel policies last week from top administration officials as well as from the Obama re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Among those delivering the message in congressional testimony were Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, military chief of staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Jewish chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee spearheaded outreach through op-eds, her own congressional statements and a video that featured Israeli leaders praising Obama.

Ross noted that there still were significant differences, and that it could take the hard work of a meeting to resolve them.

“It was appropriate that those conversations would involve the two leaders,” he said.

David Suissa: Sitting shivah for peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech to the U.S. Congress on May 24, was like a battered fighter entering the final round of a championship bout. He knows his only chance to win is by a knockout. With nothing to lose, Bibi got up, and with the “Rocky” music blazing in his ears, fought the fight of his life.

It is hard to overstate the brilliance of Bibi’s speech. Knowing he needed America on his side, and that he couldn’t succumb to President Barack Obama’s demands, he put all his chips on the U.S. Congress and mesmerized a nation. No better case for Israel’s position has ever been made. He was rewarded with 26 standing ovations from the most powerful legislative chamber in the world.

Sadly, the speech was 18 years too late.

Bibi’s message should have been delivered to the world in 1993, at the very beginning of the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians.

That was the perfect time to declare that “Israel is not a foreign occupier” and that while it is willing to make painful compromises for peace, it “will never compromise” on things like defensible borders and security guarantees, the unity of Jerusalem and the impossibility of a Palestinian right of return.

Had Israel been resolute with its red lines from the start, it would have better established the credibility and justness of its cause.

Instead, the opposite happened. It was the Palestinians who stuck to their guns, and the Israelis who kept undermining their own position. At every step, the Palestinians pocketed Israeli concessions and just waited for more. They realized all they needed to do to strengthen their cause was to keep saying no.

Meanwhile, Israel, desperate to be loved by the world and to make peace with a hostile neighbor, went bipolar. One day, it would make an “unprecedented” peace offer; the next, it would become disillusioned with Palestinian violence and unleash its military. In 2005, it even showed the world how it can dismantle settlements by expelling 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank.

On and on this game went, until Israel woke up one day and said: “Hey, wait a minute. The more we compromise, the more the world hates us. The less they compromise, the more the world loves them.”

The breaking point came with President Obama’s “1967 lines” speech, when Obama asked Israel to make more unilateral concessions, without, at a minimum, opposing a Palestinian “right of return” that would effectively end the Zionist project.

That’s when Bibi said “dayenu.” He saw how, after nearly two decades of unilateral concessions and rejected offers, here was Israel sitting isolated and hated, while the uncompromising Palestinians, who had just joined forces with the terrorist group Hamas, were sitting pretty on top of the diplomatic world — and delegitimizing the Jewish state at every turn.

So Bibi went for broke. He unleashed a stunning and unapologetic speech that reverberated with candor. Instead of offering false hopes, Bibi offered the naked truth.

What was that truth? The reason there is no peace has little to do with Israel’s refusal to make more concessions, and everything to do with the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish state — settlements or no settlements.

The speech forced us to confront the worst- kept secret in the Middle East: Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a mirage. The conflict is about existence, not borders. The Palestinians would have had their own state 63 years ago if they could make peace with the Jews. But how could they make peace with those they have been taught only to hate?

As I see it, it’s time now for Jews to sit shivah for this false peace. We sit shivah all the time for loved ones who pass away. Well, peace with the Palestinians is a loved one that has passed away.

The death of a cherished illusion isn’t the end of the world. Freed from the burden of chasing a mirage, Israel can still ensure its Jewish and democratic character. How? By filing for divorce.

Israel can implement, at a time of its choosing, Bibi’s vision of defensible borders with maximum security provisions. Peace or no peace, this would remove the “occupation” albatross around Israel’s neck and co-opt Palestinian moves to get their state recognized at the United Nations. Instead of the world giving Palestinians a state with “1967 borders,” Israel would give them a state with “Bibi borders.”

If you ask me, it’s better to have a good deal without an agreement than a bad deal with an agreement. Let’s face it, any deal agreeable to the Palestinians would be terribly dangerous to the Jewish state — and who could trust the Palestinians to even honor it?

But here’s the clincher for Israel: Because Obama has coupled the two “wrenching” issues of Jerusalem and the right of return, and because the Palestinians are unlikely to compromise on their “sacred” right, under this scenario, Israel would keep a united Jerusalem indefinitely, and maybe forever.

In other words, Israel has a chance to protect its Jewish and democratic future, remove the stain of occupation, keep Jerusalem united, and divorce an enemy that can’t stomach its existence.

It wouldn’t be the first time Jews made the best of a tragic situation.

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”” title=””} or

U.S. visit “important” and Americans supportive, Netanyahu says

Benjamin Netanyahu called his visit to Washington “important,” and said he found “broad American support for Israel’s fundamental claims.”

The Israeli prime minister made his comments upon his return to Israel following a visit to Washington, where he addressed both Houses of the U.S. Congress, as well as 10,000 participants in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and met at the White House with President Obama.

“We found broad American support for Israel’s fundamental claims especially the recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish People, and the need for secure borders and the complete repudiation of Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

“The great majority of people in Israel are united around the broad diplomatic outline that I proposed in the U.S.  The time has come for the Zionist parties to unite around these principles.  The time has also come for the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel’s just claims.”

Netanyahu’s outline included a military presence along the Jordan River of a demilitarized Palestinian state, excluded repatriation of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and called for leaving Jerusalem as Israel’s united capital. He also said that Israel would give up some settlements under a peace agreement.

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Wednesday that Netanyahu’s warm welcome by Congress showed that ” Israel is a close partner with the United States,” and said that the ” rousing reception that Prime Minister Netanyahu received in addressing Congress was in keeping with the strong relationship that many in this government, in this Administration and on the Hill feel towards Israel.”

He also said that the United States would work to get the Israelis and Palestinians back to face-to-face negotiations, where they could discuss the principles that President Obama outlined in his Middle East policy speech at the State Department last week.

At AIPAC, Obama’s Words Take Spotlight

On the morning of May 22, at the opening plenary of the 2011 AIPAC Policy Conference, the grand ballroom of the convention center here felt like a grand courtroom. The case: the organized pro-Israel Jewish community versus President Barack Obama’s May 19 speech.

Among the 10,000 attendees were more than 1,000 Los Angeles delegates representing Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations, including Democrats, Republicans and independents. And while the mood at the conference is famously nonpartisan, Los Angeles delegates, like all other attendees, lay in wait for Obama’s address, which most expected to be a statement, or restatement, of what seemed to many to be a shift in American policy.

As the head of Los Angeles’ largest delegation, with 200 members present, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple observed that the meaning and timing of Obama’s earlier remarks at the State Department, just days before, warranted clarification.

“I think the administration’s view was that it wasn’t a radical departure,” he told The Jewish Journal minutes ahead of Obama’s speech. “At the same time, you’re in such a charged atmosphere that the differences in nuance to people become huge differences of substance.”

All eyes were on Obama as he began to speak, and the crowd’s reception would measure the president’s success. “I want to see good feedback that no one stands up for him when he speaks,” said Yakov Abergel, a member of Marina Shul Beit Menachem in Marina del Rey. He recalled rambunctious standing ovations for President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton in previous years. “I think what he did last week was he really gave a passport for the Palestinians to open a different course against Israel.”

Afterward, the general verdict was that Obama had addressed the crowd’s concerns.

“I think he took the right approach in his speech yesterday,” said Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation in Los Angeles, who led a delegation of 100 members. “He explained the comments in the speech that were controversial. It was amazing that he came here to show his support of the America-Israeli relationship and that he felt the need to come here and explain himself, which was interesting.”

“He did a good job in clarifying what he said and what he meant by what he said,” said Rabbi Spike Anderson of Stephen S. Wise Temple, which had a delegation of 180.

Before the speech, Anderson had worried that some delegates would behave disrespectfully, but he was pleased by the etiquette. “There was applause and people stood, and people disagreed, but at least it was polite and respectful.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, came with about 100 members. Feinstein said he was relieved that only one person booed, but he was hesitant to make any premature judgments on Obama’s words. “In the end, what he said is not going to be nearly as important as what he does,” Feinstein said.

But not all fears were allayed. “The speech didn’t calm me down. I think he’s straddling the fence,” said Yoni Peleg, a Milken Community High School and USC graduate bound for Columbia University Medical School this fall. He was among some 100 university students from Los Angeles. “I don’t believe he’s as aligned with Israel as past presidents.”

Other conference speakers from Capitol Hill (including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) took light jabs at Obama’s 1967 remark, to surefire applause. Overall, the atmosphere of the convention center, which spans four city blocks, was alternately a pro-Israel pep rally; an adult Zionist summer camp (especially in the complaints about the food and humidity); a mass Jewish reunion with nonborder-related Jewish geography a favorite topic; a singles scene for the students and young leadership crowd; and a graduate seminar on Israeli and American foreign policy. While last year’s sessions focused on stopping Iran, this year a slew of other Middle East game-changers were introduced: the unrest throughout the Middle East, the Fatah-Hamas pact and the possibility of Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood in September.

The Arab spring formed the crux of the panel sessions, with skeptics arguing that the Arab uprisings are a series of military coups while optimists see in them the seeds of true democracy.

“Nobody knows — and that’s why it’s so interesting,” Feinstein said.

But the AIPAC policy conference isn’t about making predictions or asserting this or that position. The conference is first and foremost about the America-Israel relationship, with activists rallying around this year’s slogan, “Better Together.” In lobbying-training sessions, delegates were provided with guidance on effective lobbying on Capitol Hill. A memo with talking points instructed delegates on how to make an effective case for U.S. foreign aid to Israel, for stopping Iran, rejecting Hamas and opposing a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations .

“We just come to be counted,” said Lewis Rudzki, a member of Temple Emanuel. He and his wife, Judy, scheduled appointments with congressmen from Rhode Island and Vermont, states with much smaller Jewish populations than California. They didn’t get hung up on the speech. “I think there was a misunderstanding, honestly, and that was exacerbated by the media,” Rudzki said.

On the night of May 23, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stand to provide the closing remarks, delegates wondered how he would balance respect for Obama with his own position.

The ballroom was overtaken by security and men in dark suits waiting to pounce on hecklers, who interrupted Netanyahu throughout the first half of the speech, while the second half of the 30-minute address was uninterrupted, except for standing ovations.

“It was stirring,” Wolpe e-mailed minutes after the speech. “He clearly staked out Israel’s position, its fears and its promise. And his security guy looked fearsome.”

And while much of the conference was overshadowed by the Obama drama, for Feinstein the symbolic significance of the conference is what is most important.

“If you know Jewish history and you know the history of Israel [and] Zionism, and you realize the first Zionist Congress in 1897 had 204 delegates — there are 10,000 people here today. And you know during the second world war how difficult it was for American Jewish leaders to get the attention of the American government to rescue Jews — this was a miracle.”

At AIPAC, effort to shift focus back to agenda: Iran, foreign aid, Capitol Hill relationships

Let’s get past this U.S.-Israel relationship thing, so we can get on with important stuff, like the U.S.-Israel relationship.

That seemed to be the message this week at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

With a record 10,000 people and both the U.S. and Israeli leaders in attendance—plus 67 U.S. senators and 286 members of the U.S. House of Representatives at the gala dinner on Monday night—this AIPAC parley was the biggest and in many ways the most impressive ever.

After the bickering last week between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, AIPAC leaders were keen to focus on what they had hoped would be the headline-makers for this conference: Yanking the public’s attention back to Iran after months of distraction by the so-called Arab Spring, and bludgeoning the Palestinian Authority with the threat of isolation if it presses forward with its inclusion of Hamas and its quest for statehood recognition at the United Nations in September.

The other agenda item for the AIPAC crowd was trying to make sense of how to foster support for Israel in a U.S. electorate that is changing more rapidly and dramatically than it has in generations.

Lee Rosenberg, AIPAC’s president, described for the convention in dramatic terms the realities posed by a Congress that has turned over by a third in just two years.

“Capitol Hill is no longer a place of entrenched incumbency,” Rosenberg said. “Knowledge and institutional memory—gone! Continuity—gone! Relationships—gone!”

Those elements, for decades the basis of AIPAC’s success in cultivating long-term relationships, have been jeopardized by the Tea Party insurgency. AIPAC insiders and conference speakers said the lobbying group has little to fear from the Republican Party’s conservative wing, which has embraced the party’s pro-Israel posture.

Nonetheless, the massive turnover in Congress hinders efforts to form the lasting relationships on Capitol Hill that get AIPAC activists into the door and give their priorities a hearing.

Those relationships are key to getting the lobby’s preferred bills “dropped”—Washington parlance for introduced—and as usual, many of these were rushed to the floor in the days before the conference. The bills appeared in the kits that the AIPAC attendees picked up at registration.

One bill, already under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives and likely to appear soon in the Senate, would considerably tighten Iran sanctions that already were enhanced less than a year ago. The newest bill would expand sanctions against Iran’s financial institutions, target human rights abusers, facilitate assistance to democracy activists and, most critically, reduce to $5 million from $20 million the minimum amount in annual trade with Iran’s energy sector that would invite sanctions.

AIPAC has been unhappy with the pace of the Obama administration’s imposition of the most recent sanctions, and has recruited top Democrats and Republicans in the House to advance new sanctions.

The other legislative initiatives that the conference’s attendees were slated to raise during their annual lobbying day Tuesday—when thousands of activists drop in on Capitol Hill for face-to-face conversations with their senators and congressional representatives—are nonbinding resolutions in both houses that call on the Obama administration to review assistance to the Palestinian Authority in light of its pact with Hamas and U.N. initiative for statehood.

The lobbying group also was focused on maintaining current levels of aid for Israel at $3 billion a year and, more broadly, of sustaining foreign aid in general. Republicans and Tea Party leaders for the most part have committed themselves to sustaining those levels of assistance but want to slash foreign aid. AIPAC insiders oppose separating Israel aid from the regular foreign assistance package, saying it would undercut friendliness to Israel overseas and make Jews at home vulnerable to claims of special treatment.

In a video at the launch of the conference, Ester Kurz, the lobby’s legislative director, made clear that AIPAC’s agenda encompasses all foreign aid.

“Foreign aid is only 1 percent of our budget and virtually all of that is spent here at home,” she said.

Rosenberg, the lobby’s president, said sustaining support for Israel faced a threefold challenge: Populations were shifting to the South and West, meaning more change in Congress and to states with fewer Jews; Congress was turning over more rapidly than ever; and political giving is not growing in the pro-Israel community.

“The number of pro-Israel Americans contributing to those campaigns has not increased,” he said. “It is not sustainable.”

AIPAC, Rosenberg said, is now training its activists to be political givers. It was not enough to fund the lobby; activists must fund candidates.

“Being involved in AIPAC and not making financial contributions to politics is like riding a bicycle without pedals,” he said.

A succession of activists then crossed the stage, recounting their journeys from apathy to deep political involvement.

Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, told the conference that it was critical to get across the AIPAC message, particularly on Iran, because world attention to the Middle East has been sapped by the Arab Spring.

“In January and February, we had momentum when it came to Iran,” Kohr said. “Then the Arab demonstrations began and the focus shifted. Nations everywhere began dealing with the very legitimate challenges and problems that the turmoil presented, and suddenly the world was not talking about Iran with the same sense of clarity and purpose.”

He went on, “And so, it falls to us: We must refocus our policymakers’ attention on what Iran is doing in this time of turmoil: its efforts to cultivate fifth columns in neighboring nations to advance Iranian ends, its use of terror by proxy, its relentless march toward a nuclear weapon.”

Kohr made it clear that he did not want that agenda clouded by the latest Obama-Netanyahu contretemps.

On May 19, in a Middle East policy speech at the State Department, Obama had said that it was the U.S. position that Israeli-Palestinian peace would be negotiated on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, with land swaps. Netanyahu immediately countered that those lines were “indefensible.”

Three days later, addressing AIPAC on Sunday morning, Obama made clear that by “definition” any Israeli-Palestinian border would be “different” than the 1967 lines. Netanyahu said he “appreciated” the distinction.

That was good enough for Kohr, who kept on praising Obama’s role in advancing AIPAC initiatives.

“It is so important that America and Israel work out whatever differences arise between them privately, and when tensions do arise that the leaders work together to close those gaps,” he said Monday. “The president’s speech to us yesterday reflected just such an effort to close those gaps.”

Netanyahu, in his speech to the lobby Monday night, also went out of his way to put the matter behind him, praising Obama.

“President Obama has spoken about his ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” he said. “He rightly said that our security cooperation is unprecedented. He spoke of that commitment not just in front of AIPAC but in two speeches heard throughout the Arab world. And President Obama has backed those words with deeds.”

That didn’t stop the politicking, nor did it assuage an AIPAC crowd still shellshocked from the bitterness of just days earlier. Obama earned warm applause for his condemnations of Iran, call to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, denunciations of Hamas and vows of America’s commitment to Israel, but the applause for the president wasn’t as loud as the applause later in the day for Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader.

When Cantor, hours after Obama’s AIPAC speech, told the conference crowd that the root of the conflict was Arab hatred of Israel and Jews and “not the ‘67 lines,” he received a 40-second standing ovation. It may have been the biggest cheer of the conference.

Netanyahu at AIPAC: ‘Israel is America’s indispensable ally’

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at AIPAC Policy Conference Monday night, reassuring the public that Israel remains the United States’ ‘indespensible ally’, despite his rejection of U.S. President Obama’s call for a peace deal based on 1967 borders last week.

Netanyahu began his speech offering condolences to those affected by the tornado that ravaged Missouri on Monday, saying how Israel identifies and sympathizes with their tragedy.

The prime minister added that Israel stands with the United States “on this day and every day”.

Netanyahu thanked the attendees of the Israel advocacy group’s conference and millions across the United States for their commitment to Israel’s security and supporting its right to defend itself. “Israel is America’s indispensable ally,” the prime minister said.


Hamas response to Obama speech: Still won’t recognize Israel

Hamas condemned President Obama’s AIPAC speech, saying it will not recognize Israel despite the United States president’s demand.

The Obama administration is “not a friend to the people of the region,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Ma’an Palestinian news service.

Abu Zuhri said Obama’s continued support of Israel showed that the U.S. is biased, and will “support the occupation at the expense of the freedom of the Palestinian people.”

“The US administration will fail, just as all others have in the past, in forcing Hamas to recognize the occupation,” Abu Zuhri said.

In his response to Obama’s speech, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told journalists in Jordan, where he is currently on a diplomatic visit, that “Hamas is part of Palestinian society, and will take part in the democratic game as opposition.”

He said the new Palestinian unity government, whose composition still has not been announced, will conduct future peace negotiations with Israel.

Obama to AIPAC: Israelis, Palestinians should negotiate a new border [VIDEO]

President Obama said his call for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines did not mean the future state of Palestine would have those exact borders.

“By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama said on Sunday morning to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”

Last week, Obama said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be based on the pre-’67 lines, with mutually agreed swaps. He also said the difficult issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees should be deferred for later. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called such borders “indefensible.”

“If there is a controversy, it’s not based on substance,” Obama said Sunday. “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”

AIPAC Rejects Obama Plea To Support START

According to Nathan Guttman in the Forward and Ron Kampeas at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, AIPAC is in agony. It desperately wants to support the US-Russia START treaty aimed at limiting nuclear warheads because the treaty would greatly advance Israel’s security.

But it is afraid of defying right-wing Republicans in the Senate. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), in particular, is telling AIPAC “don’t you dare.” His reason is simple: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has ordered Republicans to block anything the President submits to the Senate except, of course, tax cuts for millionaires. That includes START.  (The good news is that Kyl may come around and then AIPAC can too.)

The case that START is critical to Israel is impossible to dispute. In a letter to AIPAC, Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) explain that there is one gigantic factor that should matter more to the so-called pro-Israel lobby than pleasing Republicans: Iran. Rejecting the treaty will probably cause Russia to abandon the US-led effort to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

The treaty is an opportunity to improve relations with Russia, a nation that has provided considerable support for U.S.-led efforts to pressure Iran.

Last spring, Russia voted infavor of the U.N. Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Iran. This fall, Russian President Medvedev agreed not to fulfill a previously agreed upon sale of air defense missiles to Iran.

There are many economic and geopolitical incentives for Russia to do business with Iran; their decision not to do so in these instances is a strong testament to the importance of the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Like you, we are committed to preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon capability, and we share your deep concern for the threat a nuclear Iran would pose to the United States and Israel. As a leading voice in favor of crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime, AIPAC cannot afford to stand on the sidelines as the Senate debates the New START treaty.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak agrees. He believes that containing Iran can only be achieved through a “paradigm shift” in relations with Russia. “The other issues are not so important,” he says.

In other words, if AIPAC really believes what it says about the Iranian threat to Israel, it must support START because if START isn’t ratified and Moscow responds by opting out of the “contain Iran” alliance, a major obstacle to Iran’s nuclear program disappears.

And why would AIPAC hesitate in supporting START? After all, every other major Jewish organization is supporting the president on this one.  (Two minor far-right “pro-Israel” organizations oppose START. One is the very Republican and ultra-neocon Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. The other is the crackpot Emergency Committee for Israel, which was established by right-wing Republicans to try to defeat Democrats by running ads claiming Democrats are anti-Israel. These two represent the company AIPAC is now keeping.)

AIPAC argues that it does not get involved in congressional battles that do not directly involve Israel. Of course, they do. They always have. Even when I worked at AIPAC decades ago, they put their full lobbying weight behind a then-controversial plan to establish a military base on the Pacific island of Diego Garcia. 

Why? Because the Republican President at the time asked them to. More recently, AIPAC made sure that its friends in Congress knew that the “right vote” for Israel was supporting both Iraq wars. (Had AIPAC not indicated its support for war, far fewer Democrats would have voted for the second Iraq war.)

But now, suddenly, AIPAC has only “no comment” on START, a treaty directly beneficial to Israel — not to mention America.

Come on! Does AIPAC owe absolutely nothing to a government that AIPAC itself calls “Israel’s lifeline.” For $3.5 billion a year in aid, isn’t it a tad unseemly to give President Obama, or any President, the brush off?

I don’t know what AIPAC will do in the end. After all, they are clearly preoccupied with former employee Steve Rosen’s lawsuit alleging that he should not have been fired for trafficking in secret government documents because, Rosen argues, that is what AIPAC does.

He wants a $20 million pay off or he will tell everything he knows. (AIPAC’s donors are generous souls, so they may give him the money. After all, AIPAC has already spent $10 million of its donors’ money first defending Rosen, then defending themselves, and now trying to destroy Rosen.) Here is the latest on all that from the Forward.

So they are clearly preoccupied.

And then there is Rosen’s legacy: the pronounced AIPAC tilt to the Republicans. Before Rosen arrived at AIPAC in 1982, it was bipartisan. But Rosen vehemently argued that pro-Israel Jews need to be right-wing Republicans. He engineered the firing of former executive director Thomas A. Dine, the organization’s most successful leader, because he had been a long-time aide to Democratic senators.  And he hired (Rosen did the hiring through an executive board under his control) right-wing GOP House aide Howard Kohr, who is as close to Newt Gingrich as Dine was to Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden.

Ever since, AIPAC — although not most of its membership — has essentially been a Republican organization.

But now it is taking its bias for the GOP to the next level. It is refusing to support a Democratic President who has asked for its support, despite the fact that AIPAC knows (its staffers admit it in private) that START is critical for Israel.

This should send a clear message to Democrats that the established “pro-Israel” lobby is a pro-Republican lobby.

I hope it comes around, not because I have any illusions about AIPAC.  I hope it comes around because, even as it declines, it is still a lobbying powerhouse. It can, I believe, put the START treaty over…and that is critical for my family, and yours and for families in Israel too.

Is it too much to ask AIPAC to do the right thing? After all, Mitch McConnell isn’t Moses and the return of the neocons under President Sarah Palin is not the Promised Land.

AIPAC gets ripped from both sides as it navigates Bibi-Obama gaps

Days after AIPAC’s apparent success navigating the churning waters between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, the pro-Israel lobby is being criticized by Jewish groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

Pro-Israel groups on the right and left have assailed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee because of elements of its agenda that emerged from its annual policy conference this week.

The Zionist Organization of America registered a protest about AIPAC’s backing for Palestinian statehood. Meanwhile, three groups that backed the U.S.-sponsored peace process—Americans for Peace Now, J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom—rallied supporters to help roll back Tuesday afternoon’s Capitol Hill blitz by 7,000 AIPAC delegates, suggesting the organization had failed to fully endorse Obama’s peace moves.

The AIPAC conference suggested a middle road that could reconcile differences between the two young governments over a key issue—whether to press toward Palestinian statehood.

The AIPAC delegates’ wish list included endorsements for two congressional letters that unequivocally support a “viable Palestinian state,” albeit with the usual preconditions about an “absolute” end to Palestinian violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to maintain ambiguity over his views on a Palestinian state, but such an endorsement for the concept by AIPAC is unlikely to have come without some sort of nod from Jerusalem: Netanyahu addressed the conference via satellite and sent some of his top advisers.

Having the pro-Israel lobby endorse a Palestinian state now may spare him from having to explicitly endorse the concept himself—and elicit the opprobrium of his coalition’s pro-settler flank—when he meets with President Obama in two weeks.

Good save, Israel-side, but it upset the ZOA—the most prominent American pro-settler group—stateside.

In a statement, the ZOA said it “opposes this move by AIPAC because supporting or promoting a Palestinian Arab state under prevailing conditions is seriously mistaken and because AIPAC is thereby supporting a major policy affecting Israel’s vital interests despite the fact that the Israeli government has not supported such a policy.”

The three groups from the left taking shots across AIPAC’s bow have never had a problem differing with Israeli policy. What was unclear was where they substantively disagreed with AIPAC, at least on the Palestinian front.

Americans for Peace Now encouraged activists to call lawmakers and make the following four points: “I am pro-Israel, and I want you to support the Obama administration’s peace efforts in the Middle East”; “I am pro-Israel, and I want you to support the president’s request for supplemental assistance for the Palestinians”; “I am pro Israel, and I want you to support the president’s effort to open the window for responsible engagement with a Palestinian unity government”; and “I am pro-Israel, and I want you to reject efforts to promote new Iran sanctions legislation, or efforts to impose any artificial deadlines for ending diplomacy with Iran.”

The e-mail blast also stated that AIPAC’s “agenda is often not the same as ours.” Action alerts from Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and J Street to their followers did not explicitly target AIPAC but similarly urged backing for Obama’s peace principles the very week that AIPAC delegates were making their case in Washington.

Yet the congressional letters backed by AIPAC back the first two principles in the Peace Now alert—Obama’s initiative and supplemental assistance.

On the third issue, JTA has learned that AIPAC has signed off quietly on a policy that would involve the United States engaging with a Palestinian national unity government that included individuals approved by Hamas, as long as those individuals explicitly committed to the three principles Hamas abjures: an end to terrorism, recognition of Israel and an agreement to abide by earlier peace agreements. That more or less aligns with the policies outlined in recent week by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On the fourth issue, Iran sanctions, it is true that AIPAC strongly backs the tough sanctions legislation opposed by the three left-wing groups.

An official for one of the three groups acknowledged—and welcomed—AIPAC’s endorsement of the Obama administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives. The official said he now saw the difference as more one of emphasis, arguing that the three groups’ endorsement of support for the Palestinian Authority was much more aggressive.

Analysis: AIPAC decision a victory—with qualifiers

Baruch Weiss, the young lawyer who helped cripple the government’s case against two former AIPAC staffers, says the prosecution’s loss is a “great victory” for free speech and for Israel’s friends.

He’s not wrong, but—like any legal document—the government’s motion Friday to dismiss classified information charges against Steve Rosen, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst, begs for footnotes and qualifiers.

The decision upholds as a matter of law the right of lobbyists to relay information to allies like Israel. The drawn-out case, however, unquestionably wounded the pro-Israel community’s reputation as unassailable. It also defers a looming crisis for one of the fundamentals of reporting: the right of a reporter or lobbyist or anyone to listen to a source without running to tell the feds.

Rosen and Weissman had been awaiting trial ever since an FBI raid in August 2004 on AIPAC offices resulted in charges that they had obtained and relayed information relating to Iran’s threat against Israel. In the last three years, the government’s case suffered numerous setbacks in various pre-trial court rulings.

In a statement Friday, Dana Boente, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said, “Given the diminished likelihood the government will prevail at trial under the additional intent requirements imposed by the court and the inevitable disclosure of classified information that would occur at any trial in this matter, we have asked the court to dismiss the indictment.”

Weiss, Weissman’s attorney, said Friday’s move by the government to drop the case represented a “great victory for the First Amendment and for the pro-Israel community.”

But Boente made it clear that while Rosen and Weissman are free, the government likes the tool it unearthed in an obscure section of the 1917 Espionage Act—the ability to charge civilians with dealing in classified information—and it’s going to keep it.

The 1917 statute criminalizes information that “could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”

The problem for the government came in a pre-trial ruling in August 2006, when trial judge T.S. Ellis III interpreted that line to mean that prosecutors had to show that U.S. interests were harmed, and not just that Rosen and Weissman relayed secrets to a foreign power: Israel.

Relaying secrets to friends of the United States, Ellis suggested, was not in and of itself criminal. For a crime to be committed, he said, the accused must have sought both benefit to another nation as well as harm to the United States.

Boente said that ruling went too far. “The District Court potentially imposed an additional burden on the prosecution not mandated by statute,” he complained.

The core of the indictment against Weissman and Rosen was that, as part of an FBI sting operation, they were told – falsely, it turns out – that Iranian agents were plotting to kill Israelis and Americans in northern Iraq. They allegedly relayed the information to Israeli diplomats, media and colleagues.

“Relaying information to a friendly power” describes the essence of what AIPAC and a roster of other Jewish groups do—and what any number of ethnic lobbies do.

With his 2006 ruling, Ellis enshrined that as legal, so long as it doesn’t harm the United States.

That might prove a relief to the pro-Israel community, but also raises questions for AIPAC on the eve of its annual policy conference about why it is so quick to throw Rosen and Weissman to the prosecutorial wolves.

AIPAC fired the two seven months after the charges were announced, saying their practices didn’t comport with AIPAC’s standards, without ever elaborating what those were.

With the notable exceptions of Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, prominent organizations and communal leaders took years to weigh in—if they did at all.

How does such behavior square with AIPAC’s carefully cultivated reputation for standing tall and tough?

Allowing Ellis’ decision to stand also upholds the part of the statute that alarmed free speech advocates when Rosen and Weissman were first charged in 2005: The idea that anyone who even hears information that could harm the United States is liable to face 10 years behind bars if he or she doesn’t immediately call the authorities.

Boente’s statement Friday suggested that the government may rely on that statute in the future when it comes to prosecutions.

In movie parlance, that leaves a hole big enough for a sequel.

ANALYSIS: Obama worked hard to gain Jewish trust

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (JTA)—A major Republican tack against Barack Obama has a simple theme: By his friends you shall know him.

For the McCain campaign, in recent weeks this has meant repeatedly linking the Democratic presidential nominee to William Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground. But Jewish Republicans had been employing the strategy for many months in the run-up to the Nov. 4 vote, with the goal of portraying Obama as soft and unreliable in his support for Israel.

Jewish GOPers point to Obama’s 20-year membership in the church of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his associations—however limited—with Palestinian activists and his consultations with some foreign policy experts seen as critical of either Israel or the pro-Israel lobby.

To buttress this line of attack, they stress Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iranian leaders. Hovering in the background—and at times right up in the voters’ faces—have been Internet campaigns and outright pronouncements by some conservative pundits depicting Obama as an Arab or a practicing Muslim.

Obama has responded by explaining how he has dropped troubling relationships, touting his ties to some Jewish communal leaders in Chicago and pro-Israel lights, casting himself as a lifelong supporter of Israel and presenting himself as a leader who would work to revitalize black-Jewish relations.

He has insisted repeatedly that Israel’s security is “sacrosanct,” cited his defense of Israel’s military tactics during the 2006 war in Lebanon and pressed for tighter U.S. sanctions against Iran as part of his pledge to do everything in his power to block Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The U.S. senator from Illinois has spoken thoughtfully about Jewish holidays and religious traditions, as well as the early influence of Jewish and Zionist writers on his worldview. And last Martin Luther King Day, Obama used the pulpit of the slain civil rights leader to condemn anti-Semitism in the black community.

“I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time,” Obama told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year, noting “theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.”

“So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves. And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

Such policy and ideological pronouncements were enough to secure support during the Democratic primaries from a few pro-Israel stalwarts in the U.S. Congress (most notably Robert Wexler of Florida) and the media (New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz). And even the recently defunct New York Sun—a neoconservative newspaper that had plenty of problems with Obama’s domestic and foreign policies—felt inspired to publish an editorial in his defense on the general question of support for Israel.

“We’re no shills for Mr. Obama, but these Republicans haven’t checked their facts,” the newspaper declared in the January 9, 2008 editorial. “At least by our lights, Mr. Obama’s commitment to Israel, as he has articulated it so far in his campaign, is quite moving and a tribute to the broad, bipartisan support that the Jewish state has in America.”

Still, despite such sentiments and Obama’s feverish efforts to allay Jewish concerns, polls showed him having trouble with Jewish voters—first during the primary season, when he reportedly trailed his main party rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and then throughout much of the general election race when surveys showed him failing to match the totals of previous Democratic nominees.

In recent weeks, however, as the Republican ticket has had to cope with the nation’s economic collapse and the declining popularity of vice-presidential choice Sarah Palin, Obama has been able to flood swing states with waves of newfound Jewish surrogates who were either neutral or with Clinton during the primaries but are now speaking out for him.

Their effectiveness was in evidence last week in a Gallup Poll that showed Obama breaking through a plateau that had dogged him for months: The Democratic candidate garnered 74 percent Jewish support, matching past Democratic candidates and bypassing the persistent 60 percent showing since the primaries.

The trend toward Obama was tangible earlier this month at the B’nai Israel synagogue in Rockville, Md., where the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Noah Silverman made the case for GOP nominee John McCain in a debate with Michael Levy of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Unlike the false depictions of Obama as a radical Muslim that have spread through the Internet, Republican Party reminders of Obama’s past associations with alleged radicals “are not smears,” Silverman said.

The packed hall burst into sustained laughter. Such derision, however, has not inhibited the guilt-by-association attacks. John Lehman, a Reagan administration Navy secretary, at this city’s Jewish community center last week cited the usual litany. He even tossed in Wright, though McCain has banned the use of the pastor’s liberation theology as a cudgel.

“You’re known by the company you keep,” Lehman said several times.

He later defended his mention of Wright, who once described Israel as a colonial power and used the phrase “goddamn America” in a sermon about the continued struggle facing blacks.

“It’s an important issue,” Lehman told JTA. “I don’t see how someone could sit in a pew for 20 years and listen to that crap.”

The Youngstown audience wasn’t interested—it peppered Lehman and the Obama surrogate with questions about policy.

That doesn’t mean that some of the attacks are not substantive. In an interview with JTA during the primaries, Obama failed to say how he could not have been aware of Wright’s radical views on Israel over a 20-year relationship with his church.

“It doesn’t excuse the statements that were made, it’s just simply to indicate it’s not as if there was a statement like this coming up every Sunday when I was at church,” Obama said at the time, evading the question, which was how Obama responded to Wright’s radicalism on those occasions, however infrequently he may have encountered it.

A few weeks later, Wright’s public appearances grew intolerable, and the Obamas left the church and cut off the pastor.

On other fronts, Obama has been less decisive in walking back from what many Jewish and pro-Israel activists—including his own supporters—see as obvious blunders.

Obama still won’t acknowledge that his “I would” reply to a debate question in 2007 about whether he would meet unconditionally with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant just that. And his clear declaration of support for Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital at the AIPAC policy conference in May was followed up by poorly conceived clarifications to the Palestinians, then to the pro-Israel community, then to anyone who was still bothering to ask.

The most effective Republican tack has been his status as a blank slate: Obama is 47 and has barely four years of experience on the national stage.

What has smoothed these concerns has been a strategy of systematically cultivating the Jewish community since his first run for state Senate in 1996. His closeness to scions of Chicago’s most influential Jewish families—including the Pritzkers and the Crowns—propelled a state-by-state outreach that strategically targeted similar dynasties.

For instance, the campaign’s Jewish outreach director in Ohio, Matt Ratner, came on board after a meeting between the candidate and his father, Ron, a leading Cleveland developer. The campaign has set up Jewish leadership councils in major communities and hired Jewish outreach directors in at least six swing states.

Obama used the same strategic outreach in building his policy apparatus. The foreign policy team making the case for an Obama administration that engages in intense Middle East diplomacy features several accomplished Jewish members.

In addition to Wexler, Obama’s circle of advisers on Israel and Iran policy includes familiar veterans of the Clinton administration such as Dennis Ross, once America’s top Middle East negotiator; Dan Shapiro, a lobbyist who once headed the legislative team for U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.); and Mara Rudman, a former national security councilor.

Obama reached out to Wexler, a make-or-break figure among Florida’s Jews, before announcing for president, and since 2005 has been consulting with Ross—the most reputable name among Jews in Middle East peacemaking.

“His vision of direct American engagement” with leaders in Tehran “for the purpose of stopping Iran’s nuclear program was so compelling I wanted to be a part of it,” Wexler told JTA.

“Direct American engagement” with Iran was once inconceivable as a pro-Israel position. Due in part to a concerted effort by Obama and his Jewish friends, however, it has gone mainstream, most recently in a bill co-authored by the Democratic nominee that promoted tightened anti-Iran sanctions as well as the utility of engagement. The bill, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives but was killed by Senate Republicans without explanation.

The bill is just one example of how Obama has offered detailed policy proposals that have meshed his emphasis on diplomacy with some of the hallmarks of Israeli and pro-Israeli strategies, especially when it comes to Iran. By the time Obama or his surrogates have rattled off a detailed sanctions plan that includes targeting refined petroleum exporters to Iran, the insurance industry and Iranian banks, listeners at some forums almost appear to have forgotten about Obama’s one-time pledge to meet with Ahmadinejad. It doesn’t hurt that the McCain campaign is short on such specifics.

In a trip to Israel over the summer, Obama impressed his interlocutors by internalizing their concerns over Iran and immediately integrating them into his own vision for the region, Ross said in an interview.

“He told the Israelis during the trip that ‘Iran with nuclear weapons was not only an existential threat to Israel, and I view it that way, but I also would view it as transforming the Middle East into a nuclear region, undermining everything I’d hope to accomplish,’ ” said Ross, who accompanied Obama on the trip.

None of this guarantees a smooth pro-Israel presidency. During the primaries, Obama cautioned Cleveland Jewish leaders that to be “pro-Israel” does not mean being “pro-Likud,” an encomium that could haunt the U.S.-Israel relationship if Obama is elected and the Likud Party—as projected—returns to power in case of early elections in Israel. Still, Obama supporters credit a meeting with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu for some of the nominee’s initiatives dealing with the Islamic Republic.

But it is the overemphasis on Obama’s Middle East views and associations—real or imagined—that might prove the critical weakness in Republican efforts to cut down Obama’s support among Jews. It’s not just that it’s true now, as it has been in past campaigns, that Jews are not single-issue voters. It is also that Obama has uncovered an exquisite Jewish spin to his broader appeal to generous notions of America’s liberal past.

In making the case that Obama is an unreliable flip-flopper, Republicans note that one of the biggest applause lines in his AIPAC speech was his Jerusalem pledge. But they don’t mention that the biggest applause line had nothing to do with Israel—especially extraordinary considering the foreign-policy-first crowd.

“In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder,” Obama said in his conclusion. “They took buses down south together. They marched together. They bled together. And Jewish Americans like Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were willing to die alongside a black man—James Chaney—on behalf of freedom and equality. Their legacy is our inheritance.”

In Washington’s culture of sarcastic bon mots, surely there lurks a line about what it takes to make an AIPAC activist cry. Judging by some of the faces in the crowd that day in May, Obama found the soft spot.

Questions for Obama’s California strategist, Mitchell Schwartz

Mitchell Schwartz heads up Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in California and also sits on the board of Temple Israel of Hollywood. He has worked on campaigns for Sen. Barbara Boxer, Gov. Gray Davis and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as well as Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He also traveled to Israel with Clinton while working for the State Department.

Schwartz’s Los Angeles-based public relations firm, Bomaye Co., directed publicity for the film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the Save Darfur Campaign.

Jewish Journal: How did you get involved with Obama?

Mitchell Schwartz: I’m 47, have been involved in politics for quite a while. I thought I was too old but got very inspired by his message. I went to a rally in February of ’07 and was very impressed with what I saw.

JJ: What more does the campaign plan to do to appeal specifically to Jewish voters in close races like Florida and Ohio?

MS: Many members of Congress are Jewish. We have those who know Obama speak everywhere. They will go to Florida, where the condos are, and go to synagogues and temples. Mel Levine, Adam Schiff, Brad Sherman, Henry Waxman, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer all speak for us. We have them go out and say Obama is a great friend of the Jewish community and Israel.

JJ: Why should a Jew believe that Obama would be a friend of Israel and the Jewish community?

MS: I think the concern in the Jewish community is overstated. I think we will do great. AIPAC give him a great record; Jewish [representatives] and senators say what a great friend of Israel he will be. For a lot of people, we are still learning about Obama and getting comfortable with him. The numbers I’ve seen are that Jews are strong supporters of this ticket. He does have a name that sounds foreign, and he is new. We just have to get his record out there, and we feel confident we will garner support of the majority of the Jewish community.

JJ: Was Gov. Sarah Palin wrong to have alluded to Obama’s relations with Bill Ayers?

MS: As President Clinton said that campaigns are a contact sport. I won’t complain; I’ll let others decide what is moral or not. Everything is fair game.

What I would ask is, is that really important that he knew that guy? I would ask, is this what Americans are really interested in? I don’t think so. It is completely irrelevant to what is going on today. It’s not going to work.

Frankly, the McCain campaign is doing anything to not talk about issues. That that even got attention when stock market is going down and hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent on bailout, that she wants to talk about someone he knew in Chicago is just indicative of the kind of campaign they are running — a meaningless, devoid of issues campaign.

JJ: And what of Obama’s connections to people like Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia professor who worked as a PLO spokesperson while it was listed as terrorist organization and has been a strident critic of Israel since?

MS: I don’t know anything about that.

All this stuff is what I think we will see from McCain — more and more attacks. They will desperately avoid talking about the issues. They will try to smear him with passing relations. They won’t talk about the issues and just attack our guy. So we expect these unwarranted attacks, because there is no way they can talk about the issues.

JJ: What is the biggest difference between Obama’s approach to Iran and McCain’s?

MS: What McCain did by supporting war in Iraq was helping Iran. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the war is Iran. He did it unwittingly because of a lack of judgment, and it made Iran stronger; they were the big winner. Now Iran is stronger and poses a bigger threat to Israel.

Both said they won’t allow Iran to become a nuclear power. Obama’s position on ending war in Iraq will be a huge factor in making that whole area hopefully less … in bringing down the temperature a bit.

JJ: How did President Clinton handle or mishandle the peace process, and how will that compare to Obama’s plans?

MS: What I give President Clinton tremendous credit for is how engaged in the peace process he was. You can’t have Bush’s hands-off policy. America has to be a leader in the peace process. It is not easy and not sexy.

[President Clinton] worked hard ’til his last day in office trying to make a peace settlement. He was unsuccessful, but he tried and it didn’t work. You can make treaties. Israel has treaties with Jordan and Egypt. It is difficult work. The worst thing is to not engage diplomatically, and Obama will engage diplomatically. Obama will be a big break with the Republican way of handling it and more in line with what Clinton was trying to do.

JJ: Clinton recently blamed Democrats for resisting Republican efforts to tighten regulatory and accounting standards on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when there was a push to ease home loan rates for lower-income brackets. Isn’t the current meltdown a bi-partisan mess, and shouldn’t the Obama campaign stop using it as a means to attack McCain and the Republicans?

MS: Obama did warn that there was not enough regulation — he is on record two years ago warning about that. The blame being bipartisan, yeah, I would agree with that. But I would definitely put more blame on the Republicans — they think the market is king; they want to deregulate. That is their philosophy.

We saw what happened when they thought that they didn’t need safeguards, and now we are paying the price. The barn door opened, and the horses are out, and now they want to lock the door. They have to live with what they did when they were in charge. They can’t back out of what is their philosophy. That is why they will try to smear Barack with attacks.

McCain for America — and Israel

As a patriotic Jewish American, I care deeply about Israel’s wellbeing and security, as well as that of our own country. In having to choose between the two presidential candidates, I find myself looking closely at their statements, record of accomplishments and the people

who advise them now and those they were influenced by in the past. I do this with America’s future foremost in mind and what we could expect their policies would mean to Israel going forward. This measuring rod is critically important in the face of the unprecedented national security challenges that we will face in the next few years.

Today, the choice for the pro-Israel community is clear — Sen. John McCain is the one. I regret that my choice is not shared by more of my co-religionists, but I believe that too many fail to appreciate the growing menace of Islamic extremism to the United States and Israel, voting Democratic more out of habit than self-interest or deep conviction.

I realize that for many Jewish Americans, Israel’s and America’s safety and security appear to be a lower priority than certain social issues, such as preserving abortion rights. I’ve heard this expressed often by those who sincerely feel that the next president’s Supreme Court appointments are more crucial than how a president will face up to the jihadist threat to Israel and the United States. If McCain had made the abortion issue a defining one of his public life, then this concern might have some validity. But this is not the case. Instead, McCain has focused his energies on issues pertaining to our national security and understands how to deal with the threat to America and free peoples around the world.

Sen. Barack Obama might be the choice of those Jewish Americans who have an “it’s all Israel’s fault” mentality and who feel anti-Semitism today is the result of Israel’s own actions. But for Jews who are troubled by the moral equivalence argument sustained by our State Department and some mainstream media like The New York Times, it is time to review a predilection to support Obama because he is a Democrat and seriously consider voting for McCain.

In my years in Washington going back to my first job in the JFK administration, I have worked for a liberal Democratic congressman and a liberal Democratic Senator. But I am much more closely aligned today with the diminishing number of Democrats who are considered centrists of the Joe Lieberman-Henry “Scoop” Jackson variety. The loudest voices now in the Democratic Party belong to the Michael Moores, Dennis Kuciniches and the progressive types who are enamored with Obama.

When Lieberman, now an independent Democrat, endorsed McCain for president, he said, “I have worked with Sen. McCain on just about every national security issue over the past 20 years…. I have seen Sen. McCain time and time again rise above the negativism and pettiness of our politics to get things done for the country he loves so much.”

This resonates with me and contrasts starkly with the shallow background and thin resume of McCain’s opponent. Obama’s boosters credit him with transcending race and by extrapolation, everything else, including divisions of region, class, party, generation and ideology. But his very lean record in the Senate to date indicates none of this. Aside from winning elections and writing two books about himself, what accomplishments can he point to?

Comparisons between Obama and the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy also come up short. Actually, it is McCain, not Obama, who, like Kennedy, was commissioned as a naval officer, awarded the Purple Heart and decorated for helping his comrades. And McCain, much like JFK, has pledged to fight for freedom around the world and not to retreat from our enemies. This is certainly what we need today, more than meaningless slogans like “change we can believe in” and “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Many in Congress have excellent Israel-related voting records. Obama, in his very brief career, is among them. But some of these same legislators also appear reluctant to confront the growing menace of Islamofacism and the threat it presents to America’s vital interests in the Middle East and to Israel’s survival. Only one presidential candidate repeatedly states that “the transcendent challenge we face today is the menace of Islamic extremism.” McCain asserts this to all kinds of audiences and at all times. McCain offers a clear choice to voters on Nov. 4, as he acknowledged the grim reality of today’s world.

One can respect Obama for his ambition, his meteoric rise and his rhetorical skills. But his equivocation on issues like Jerusalem, public campaign financing and the success of the surge in Iraq are disturbing, as is his approach to dealing with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When not scripted, he has spoken of the “legitimate grievances” of Hezbollah and Hamas. Also worrisome is his ultraliberal voting record in the short time he has served in the U.S. Senate. He has been ranked as having the “most liberal” voting record in the entire U.S. Senate — a record that does not fit with one who claims to be a “unifier.” A unifier might be expected to come from the middle of a party, the place that gave us the constructive and bipartisan Senate “Gang of 14,” which forged a compromise on judicial appointments. Obama was nowhere to be seen in that group. And it is McCain, not Obama, who has pledged to appoint members of both parties to his presidential Cabinet.

Another primary concern is Obama’s meager national security record. Instead of arriving at well-established positions through years of intensive deliberation and consideration, he will have to rely more heavily on a group of advisers — some 300 by his own count. Given both the backgrounds of several of the more permanent people who have counseled him to date and the endorsements he has received from an infamous list of Israel bashers, this is surely not a promising sign. One speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee cannot make up for off-the-cuff remarks that paint an entirely different picture.

If one believes we live in a very dangerous world with unprecedented challenges, the choice before the American people and the Jewish community should be an easy one. On that fabled “day one,” Iran, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, China, global terrorism, Middle East oil and, almost incidentally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be at the top of the new president’s agenda. Given the two candidates’ records, experience and core values, the choice for the pro-Israel community and the American people should not be a difficult one. McCain for president.

Morris J. Amitay, a Washington, D.C., attorney, is a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and founder of the pro-Israel Washington PAC (

A self-proclaimed Zionist, Joe Biden is a friend of Israel

I returned from the Democratic National Convention in Denver with the announcement of Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, the memorable acceptance speech by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and the announcement of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

It was the most momentous week of this or, perhaps, any election cycle.

Yet with all the excitement, I must admit that it has left me disappointed with our level of political discourse — particularly in the Jewish community. When the Biden vice presidential nomination was announced on Aug. 23, Republican voices in the Jewish community called his selection by Obama “risky” and talked about his inconsistent support for Israel and his “wrong” views on Iran.

These people must be talking about a different Biden than the one I know.

I have known and worked closely with Biden for more than 36 years, and the caricature that is being painted of him by some who value partisanship over truth is truly astounding. Perhaps even more distressing than the attacks on a good friend of the Jewish community is the use of the U.S.-Israel relationship as a partisan wedge issue.

Biden publicly labels himself a Zionist. He has stated that “I do not accept the notion of linkage between Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict,” according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “[Biden] has a sterling voting record on pro-Israel issues and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has helped shepherd through key pro-Israel legislation.”

He has worked cooperatively with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir. His knowledge of the wider Middle East, as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict, is unsurpassed by any other member of Congress.

Republicans have not let these facts get in the way. They use votes not related to Israel in an effort to besmirch Biden in the Jewish community. Supporters of Biden can readily go to the voting record files and show that he has a significantly higher percentage of pro-Israel votes than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

We, too, could take some obscure issues to try to argue that the GOP nominee is insufficiently pro-Israel. The fact of the matter is that McCain is pro-Israel. Obama is pro-Israel. Biden is pro-Israel. These attempts to use the U.S.-Israel relationship for partisan purposes distorts the truth and weakens the bipartisan consensus behind support for Israel in this country.

Moreover, it is not just Israel upon which we should judge Biden. Perhaps no politician in America, Jew or non-Jew, has a better rapport with Jewish leadership and Jewish audiences. He is a strong supporter of the separation of church and state, and he has opposed Republican attempts to return prayer to the public schools. Biden also has opposed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in the public schools and is pro-choice.

Biden’s profile in the Jewish community is starkly different from that of McCain’s nominee for vice president. Palin has no foreign policy experience and has never visited Israel. She is against a woman’s right to choose, even in cases of rape and incest. She favors teaching intelligent design in the public schools and believes climate change is not caused by human activity.

I have long believed that the game of trying to show that friends of Israel are really enemies is destructive to our community’s interest. But it really hits home when a close friend like Biden is vilified after all these years of friendship with our community. In these times, it seems that some people would charge Yitzhak Rabin with being anti-Israel if he ran for office as a Democrat.

It would be far healthier for American democracy, as well as for our community, if we would reject the use of Israel as a partisan issue and look at the policy areas where candidates from the two major parties truly do differ.

Michael Adler is the immediate past chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council and was the national finance chair of Sen. Joe Biden’s last presidential campaign.

Courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews

When Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate today, the Jewish political blogosphere — as loud and fast and opinionated as (for lack of a better word) the Gentile Web — came to a screeching halt.

After all, you can fight about John McCain, and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden . . .but Sarah Palin?

It took an Internet eternity for Jewish Republicans to come out swinging for Sarah, an just as long for Jewish Democrats to hit back.

“Homerun!” Larry Greenfield, the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, wrote me via e-mail five hours after McCain’s announcement. “Governor Palin has a very close relationship with the Jewish community of Alaska, with Chabad (Rabbi Greenberg) and with AIPAC. She is close to the Frozen Chosen!”

Seconds later came a blast from Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) claiming Palin endorsed Pat Buchanan’s presidential run in 2000: “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans.”

Oh, now it’s getting good.

When Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden last week, the Democrats had nothing but praise for the long term senator, citing positive comments from AIPAC and decades of foreign policy experience. And Jewish e-mail boxes filled with Biden’s now familiar quote: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”

Then Republican Jews struck.

An e-mail quickly circulated linking to an article on a right-leaning web site claiming Biden was in the pocket of the Iranian mullahs. As for AIPAC’s kind words about Biden? “AIPAC has to say nice things,” a Republican activist told me. “They have to be bi-partisan.” And that pro-Zionist quote? Pretty words, just like his boss, Obama.

The Dems responded with a further defense of Biden’s record. If you could call Biden’s support for Israel into question, said the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council Ira Forman, then you could call Golda Meir’s loyalty to Israel in question.

The Veep debate among Jews is important because there are many Jewish voters who are still a bit leery about Obama. Jews traditionally vote Democratic (upwards of 75 percent voted for John Kerry in 2004 — and we didn’t even really like him). A growing number of Jews have found a home in the Republican party, and are fairly candidate-proof — they vote red no matter what.

A significant number of Jewish voters, however, will change their vote depending on which candidate they perceive as “better for Israel.” These voters believe that Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Palestinian terror, from a near-nuclear Iran, and from over-eager politicians forcing it to make dangerous territorial concessions for the sake of elusive peace. These voters — call them “Israel Firsters” — see their one vote as crucial to preventing another Holocaust, and theirs are the votes that Jewish Dems and Jewish Republicans are fighting over.

Obama and Israel is the battleground issue for Jewish voters in the 2008 election — these are the Jewish votes up for grabs in this race. If Republicans can paint Obama as a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer, as an appeaser to Iran, as inexperienced on foreign policy, as insufficiently caring about Israel in his kishkes — the Yiddish word for guts — then they can peel off Jewish votes.

This strategy won’t matter in heavily pro-Democratic states like California and New York, but it can matter in swing states like Ohio and Florida. And it matters elsewhere in the race: Jews give money, Jews get involved, Jews shape opinion far out of proportion to their numbers. (Yes, there are only six of us in the entire country. Amazing what controlling the media will get you!)

Enter Sarah.

If McCain had picked Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or — cue the bar mitzvah band — Joe Lieberman, he would have unquestionably swept up the Israel Firsters. These men have track records and gravitas when it comes to Israel and foreign policy. (This debate among Jews and Israel reflects the larger foreign policy concerns about Obama that Republicans are making the centerpiece of their opposition. Many conflicts in Jewish life mirror conflicts in the larger culture — that’s Anthropology 101).

But he chose Sarah Palin: former mayor of a small Alaska town, governor of Alaska, devout Christian.

For Jews who are not necessarily Israel Firsters, she carries some positives and negatives. Positives: she is a crusader for good government and a fiscal conservative. She is smart and successful and patriotic. Jews like all these things.

“As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska’s Jewish community. She has demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the community and has been accessible and responsive,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks.

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

Jews are among the largest pro-choice constituency in the country. She has, according to one web site, supported the idea of teaching Creationism and evolution in public schools. “‘Teach both,” she was quoted as saying on a local TV station. “You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'”

Dependence on foreign oil is a major issue for American Jews, since a lot of that oil comes from regimes that hate Israel and support terror.

Republican Jews are emphasizing Palin’s desire to drill Alaskan oil and develop domestic oil resources as away to decrease our dependence.

“Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing American and Israel’s foreign policy,” Brooks said in his statement.

But Jews are also pro-environment, and have jumped on the alternative energy (hybrid) bandwagon in a big way. Obama’s convention speech calling for a 10 year campaign to switch to alternative sources of energy may carry deeper resonance.

For the Israel Firsters, Palin may be a problem. Palin has no foreign policy experience. No Israel experience. Her AIPAC rating? When you enter her name on the AIPAC home page, you get this:

Your search - palin - did not match any documents.
No pages were found containing "palin".

The RJC’s Greenfield says her AIPAC relationships are great, but confined to Alaska. And Republicans are now marshalling a great comeback to the charge that Palin once supported Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan is anathema to the Jews. He is someone who has blamed Israel and American Jews for directing American foreign policy against American interests. He has spoken kindly of Adolph Hitler — who is not popular with Jews — and, well, this is going to be interesting.

Sarah Palin might cause the Israel Firsters, who seemed to be pretty much done with Obama, to take a second look.

Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and

Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster

Biden’s the one

Sen. Joe Biden is a first-class vice presidential choice for Sen. Barack Obama.

If Biden didn’t exist, Obama would have to invent him.

Biden is just naturally what the Democrats used to be, the party of lunch- pail-carrying working people, not politically correct, prone to saying inappropriate things, but with a great credibility.

Sometimes Obama reminds me of Adlai Stevenson, the first politician to inspire me as a child. Obama is more dynamic, and has a spectacular organization, but also has some of Stevenson’s elevated tone. It has taken Democrats a few generations to realize how successfully Republicans have painted Democratic candidates just as they did Stevenson; the “egghead” they called him.

But Republicans have never had a good answer to a different type of Democrat, neither smooth nor inspirational, but tough as nails, and that’s Harry S. Truman. In fact, in David Halberstam’s great book on the Korean War, “The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War” (Hyperion, 2007), he traces the bitter anger of the Republican Party today to its failure to defeat the feisty and apparently doomed Truman in 1948. Obama’s choice of Biden suggests that he knows that it’s time to morph from Stevenson into Truman if he is to win this election, and before Sen. John McCain turns himself into a Trumanesque underdog.

I would hazard a guess that Biden is the one person Republicans did not want Obama to select. He fills the key gaps for Obama; he’s a major leader in foreign policy; he’s very popular with Jews and a staunch supporter of Israel; he has a working-class background and a great and touching life story. And, most of all, he’s full of beans and ready for a fight. When is the last time you could say that about a Democrat? When President Bush addressed the Israeli Knesset and associated Obama with Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, Democrats were “disappointed.” Biden called it “bull—-.”

You can understand a lot about how Jewish voters are looking at this election by thinking about Stevenson and Truman. Stevenson’s greatest appeal was to educated voters, particularly Jews. He did not, of course, have Obama’s appeal to African Americans, a formidable combination that even the vaunted Clinton machine could not overcome. But for older Jews, and for those who are less drawn to an intellectual style of politics, there was nothing like Harry Truman. Imagine if a number of recent Democratic candidates had adopted Truman’s aphorism about politics: “Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don’t ever apologize for anything.”

If FDR was the crafty politician who could be all things to all people, Truman was exactly what he appeared to be, no more and no less.

The Democratic Party today is an uneasy mixture of several different constituencies: minority voters, African American and Latino; upscale and upwardly mobile whites, often well educated; working-class and often struggling whites (“downscale Democrats,” in pollster Stan Greenberg’s formulation), and elderly whites, often Jews in key states like Florida. Democrats keep thinking if they win an extra state or two, then all will be well. But it’s not just about states, except in the final count of electoral votes. It is about types of people and how hard it is to keep them in the same tent even when their “interests” coincide. As George Lakoff has written: “People do not necessarily vote in their own self-interest. They vote their identity.”

Sometimes these blocs pull together, especially in congressional elections, but more often than not in presidential elections Republicans succeed in playing them against each other. Sure race is part of it, but not all of it. Much of it is about culture and other values. And there’s also the resentment of elitism, of sophistication and worldliness, of political correctness. FDR was such a massive force that he could bridge the differences, but he was at heart an aristocrat. Truman was the genuine middle- class, upwardly mobile article. At first he resisted full U.S. commitment to Israel. But when we decided to take that position, he meant it without guile and with heart.

Older voters do not see the world the same way as younger voters. Young voters are usually ready to take a chance, to take a risk, while older voters see risks and downsides to great change. For younger Democrats, especially Jews, Obama is a great find, and many are pumped and ready to go along for the ride. Older voters, including many Jews, worry that Israel’s security may not be in experienced hands, that Obama represents a risk, that he is a strong and different flavor. Once Hillary Clinton was seen that way, as a risk, but in time she came to seem safe. To have picked Tim Kaine or Evan Bayh or any of the other new faces on the scene would have been to assume that the desire for change that seems to be driving Americans would mean the same thing to each of those pieces of the Democratic Party. Get a state or two. Forget the idea that Obama needed to reinforce the image of change.

Instead he picked the exact opposite of the kind of change he offers: an older, white haired guy with a history of support among older voters, among Jews, and among downscale whites. He misspeaks and goes on too long. But he has heart. How many politicians would say, as Biden did, that he is a Zionist?

As great a choice as Biden is, there is no guarantee that it will lead Obama to victory. The key is whether Obama and Biden have found something in each other that elevates the game of each. Obama’s strengths are truly remarkable, and Biden can draw on them. And for Obama, it’s not enough to have a Truman with you; you’ve got to be a bit of a Truman, too. If that is what this choice means, that is good news for the Democrats.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. Read Sonenshein’s blog on the Jewish vote and the presidential campaign,

Now that Obama is in Israel, what should we expect?


Barack Obama arrived in Israel and stressed the historic ties between the United States and the Jewish state.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is on a Middle East and European tour aimed at shoring up his foreign policy credentials.

“I want input and insight from Israeli leaders about how they see the current situation,” Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, said Tuesday night at Ben Gurion International Airport. “I’ll share some of my ideas. The most important idea for me to reaffirm is the historic and special relationship between the United States and Israel, one that cannot be broken and one that I have reaffirmed throughout my career.”

Obama will meet Wednesday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Earlier Tuesday in Jordan, Obama said as president he would begin working on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal from his first day in office.

“There’s a tendency for each side to focus on the faults of the other rather than look in the mirror,” Obama told reporters in Amman before heading to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“The Israeli government is unsettled, the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas, and so it’s difficult for either side to make the bold move that would bring about peace,” Obama said.

“My goal is to make sure that we work, starting from the minute I’m sworn into office, to try to find some breakthroughs.”

Obama was careful to point out that peace would not come about overnight and that a U.S. president could not “suddenly snap his fingers and bring about peace.”

NEW YORK (JTA)—It’s not quite as big a stage as the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, but plenty of pundits and Jewish observers will be paying attention Wednesday as Barack Obama visits Israel (the first half of the sentence was a joke … I think).

Obama spoke at the AIPAC parley back in early June, the morning after the final Democratic primaries came to a close and most everyone in the country (except Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton and a few loyalists) had recognized him as the party’s presumptive nominee.

That speech was supposed to be the final word—it was going to put to rest any doubts among Jewish voters about Obama’s pro-Israel bona fides. And not a moment too soon, with hawkish Jewish Democrats starting to think about their options in the fall and a Gallup poll showing Obama winning a bit more than 60 percent of the Jewish vote in a hypothetical matchup in the general election against John McCain—five points worse than Clinton and about 15 points below John Kerry’s numbers in 2004.

To be sure, judging from the applause, the AIPAC speech was well received by the 5,000-plus in attendance, but the subsequent flap over Obama’s call for a “united Jerusalem”—culminating with one aide saying Obama had misused the term and the candidate himself blaming “poor phrasing”—took some wind out of Team Obama’s sails. It also raised some legitimate questions about whether the campaign was ready to handle the prime-time balancing act required in navigating the domestic and international politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

So here we go again: Now the Obama campaign is facing yet another key moment with Jewish voters. And again it comes on the heels of a poll—this one commissioned by J Street, the fledgling left-wing Middle East advocacy group—showing Obama stuck at about 60 percent.

With that in mind, here are a few things to watch during Obama’s day in Israel and the West Bank, which is scheduled to include visits with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad.

MESSAGE: The challenge is for Obama to reassure AIPAC types about his commitment to Israel’s security, without angering his base, which sees the Democratic nominee as someone willing to break from President Bush’s neocon foreign policy. Already feeling testy following Obama’s vote in favor of the FISA bill, many of his most enthusiastic supporters will not take well to an AIPAC-sounding Obama in Israel.

So does Obama focus on the need for an end to Palestinian violence? Israeli settlements and restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank? The goal of achieving a Palestinian state? Will Obama and his advisers be sure to avoid additional poor phrasings?

JERUSALEM: Representatives of Orthodox and right-wing organizations are holding a press conference and a rally in Jerusalem Tuesday night, during which organizers say they will ask for clarification on Obama’s views on Jerusalem. Organizers say they were spooked by Obama’s comment to Fareed Zakaria that the Clinton parameters from 2000—which included the idea of assigning the Israelis and the Palestinians control over different parts of Jerusalem—“provides a starting point for discussions between the parties.” Obama did go on to stress that the “parties are going to have to negotiate these issues on their own, with the strong engagement of the United States.” The “let the parties decide” position puts him in the same boat as McCain, but if Obama sticks to the idea that Clinton’s proposal is a good starting point, then he can expect some pushback from some Jewish and Israeli corners.

DENNIS ROSS: The Republican Jewish Coalition took aim at Obama when it mistakenly thought that he was bringing Chuck Hagel with him to Israel, noting that Joe Lieberman was McCain’s wing man during his trip in May to the Jewish state.

Well, as Time noted, Obama is bringing Dennis Ross with him to Israel. In Ross, Obama has a tour guide with more hands-on experience in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian leaders than Lieberman, and possibly commands more respect across a wider range of the political spectrum. Ross is a longtime proponent of an active U.S. peacemaking role with ties to the think tank most associated with AIPAC and has logged time as a commentator for FOX News (and unlike the liberals who get brought on to serve as a punching bag, Ross is often on by himself, and the hosts seem to listen to him).

The Jewish Agency for Israel tapped Ross to chair its think tank about the future of the Jewish people. In short, it’s hard to imagine a better person for Obama to hang out with in Israel if the goal is to say, “Yeah, I’m for a two-state solution—but relax, I come to it from the pro-Israel perspective, not the Mearsheimer-Walt worldview.”

MAHMOUD ABBAS and SALAAM FAYYAD: The meetings with Palestinian leaders could prove to be the most challenging part of the trip, at least politically. Never mind that Bush has repeatedly made clear that Abbas and Fayyad are his guys, or that McCain says he shares the president’s positive view of them—conservatives will be waiting to pounce on any word or image suggesting that Obama is at home with Palestinians.

At the same time Obama, like Bush and McCain, believes the U.S. should be doing whatever it can to help Fatah in its struggle with Hamas. So how does he manage to signal strong support for Abbas and Fayyad without providing too much ammo to Republican Jewish Coalition and the right-wing blogosphere. Another wrinkle: The Abbas meeting comes amid reports that the P.A. leader reportedly congratulated Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar on his release from an Israeli prison. (It doesn’t help Obama in some circles that McCain passed on meetings with Palestinian leaders during his May trip, though he made a point of praising Abbas.)

EHUD OLMERT: Last year, the Israeli prime minister ruffled some Democratic feathers at the AIPAC conference by overtly siding with Bush on the Iraq war. During his speech at this year’s gathering, he made several on-the-fly departures from his prepared text, all seemingly aimed at striking a more bipartisan tone than he did the year before.

With Obama ahead in the polls, and Israel in need of U.S. leadership on Iran, will Olmert continue to do a better job of hedging his (and by extension his country’s) bets? The Democratic candidate doesn’t need Olmert to undercut Bush and McCain, as the Iraqi prime minister did Tuesday by essentially endorsing Obama’s idea of a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops. Just a decent photo op without any grumblings about Obama from unnamed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office could provide a boost.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Bibi, the Likud opposition leader, has never been shy about making common cause with neocons and Christian conservatives (ask Bill Clinton). And Obama has objected to the “strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt a unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.”

Netanyahu and Obama are a sharp contrast in styles and worldviews. Polls suggest that come next year they will be leading their respective countries, so now would be a good time to start playing nice—or to start positioning for the upper hand in what could prove to be a bumpy relationship.

AIPAC, Persian tragedy, Christian support for Israel


Do You think it is fair and balanced news to print only Sen. John McCain’s comments to AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]?

I listened to Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hilary Clinton’s comments and feel they deserve the same coverage in The Jewish Journal (“McCain Raps Obama on Iran and Iraq at AIPAC“).

How do you justify not printing their comments? Not everyone has access to a Web site.

Charlotte Novatt
Los Angeles

Editor's Note: The Journal went to press before Clinton and Obama gave their speeches at the AIPAC conference. Sen. Obama's prepared remarks are online here, and Sen. Clinton's speech is online here.

Persian Tragedy

I think I speak for the entire Jewish community when I say that we are all saddened and in disbelief at the tragedy surrounding the death of Bianca Khalili (“Persian Tragedy,” June 13).

However, the horror is further exacerbated by the fact that we have not been able to stop the labeling of Jews. There are Russian, Moroccan, Mexican, Israeli, Sephardic, Ashkenazi and, yes, Persian Jews in our midst. Some of us are more or less observant; and, some of us are more or less accepted. Why? Persian Jews have been here since the late 1970s ,and I think that they have earned the right to be part of the entire community. Not Persian Jews, not separated from the rest of the Jewish community, but an integral, accepted and loved part of the Jewish community. Isn’t it time for all Jews to finally unite and stop putting up a mechitzah between us? This was not a Persian tragedy.

This was a Jewish tragedy.

Tamar Andrews
Los Angeles

I learned many huge lessons from the tragic events that recently occurred:
I will not allow myself the audacity to stand in judgment of another: will never “assume” anything about a person’s state of mind. No one knows who a person really is, what they are feeling or thinking at any given moment, what goes on in their homes, their hearts, their wallets…. I will not assign meanings to anyone’s behavior, or judge them to be anything, other than “an imperfect human being” just like me.

People talk, and that’s all it is: “talk.” You want facts? Good luck. I hear of lashon hara, I hear of police reports, of the “Jewish Way,” and you are one of the first to mention the human way.

I do not hear about “judgment,” or the law where you are innocent until proven guilty. I used to go to Beverly Hills High School; I have two teenagers, and I see what goes on … it can be brutal. However, I believe the real tragedy here is living within us, today.

There were two people there that night. One cannot ever talk again, and the other talks but no one wants to listen. The bottom line is none of us were there. None of us know what really happened, so for anyone to pass such cruel and dignified judgments is an utter tragedy of epic proportions, and a disgrace to logic and common sense.

I have spent three weeks at parties and gatherings listening to such ugly, baseless gossip, all of which was hearsay, illogical nonsense and just pure fantasy. People talked and talked, spewing words from their mouths so easily, as if they were reciting a poem, or reading street signs, without a moment’s hesitation to consider what they were saying, where it all came from, whether it was fact or hearsay … living their “C.S.I.” fantasy moment … well, because they just know everything and that makes it automatically a fact, of course; right?

The deceased is gone. Yet the living is left sinning, hurting, reeling, and lost. I only hope and pray that our people can find ourselves again, and learn from this.

It is time to stop, and put an end to this vicious cycle. Let the police and the courts take care of their business. Let us allow some breathing room for the families involved to grieve in peace and, God willing, someday heal.

Tannaz Rahbar
via e-mail

AIDS/HIV Supplement

I seldom miss an issue of The Jewish Journal, and I’m so glad I found the June 6 issue. Thanks so much for the supplement “AIDS and HIV” — it is fantastic and so important.

I have donated to AIDS Project Los Angeles and Project Angel Food but just learned of Project Chicken Soup.

GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network] is a fine group helping students and schools become inclusive for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender students. They all need the same safe environments to study, learn and become productive, useful citizens, unharmed.

For me to realize (thru this supplement) that the Jewish community is open to helping is so rewarding and welcome. Please accept my sincere appreciation.

Dorothy L. Linder
Culver City

Christian Support for Israel

Thank you for finally publishing a positive article about Christian support for Israel in the May 30 article, “Interfaith Pep Rally For Israel Rocks the Forum.”

Instead of constantly looking for fault in Christian support for Israel we need to embrace their support, which is genuine and based on a shared belief in a common Bible and common God not just on a “common enemy in Islamic extremism.”

I have personally witnessed Christian pilgrimages to Israel on the Jewish holidays and seen their genuine love and devotion to the State of Israel and the Jewish people and we must never forget to appreciate their support.

Amanda Gelman
Los Angeles


Due to editing errors in "Orthodox Schools Share Concern For Greener World" (June 6), Master Solar and Madam Geothermal were erroneously attributed to David Chameides. Chameides is not associated with those characters or with the Big Mountain program at Camp Max Strauss. Chameides has not spoken at Yavneh, nor did he speak with Shalhevet parents, though he was invited to attend Shalhevet's trip to the landfill.

Will ‘President Obama’ be good for Israel?

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Although Israeli officialdom is not commenting on the possibility of a Barack Obama presidency, in private some officials in Jerusalem are expressing mixed feelings about the prospect.

There are concerns in some government quarters that Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, might be soft on Iran, pressure Israel to make concessions on the Palestinian track and even change the tenor of the strategic relationship between Israel and the United States.

Yet Foreign Ministry experts on U.S. foreign policy say no American president, Obama included, would adopt an overtly anti-Israeli posture.

There are hopes on Israel’s left wing that an Obama administration will be more hands-on in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, perhaps even pressing the parties into a mutually beneficial deal. By the same token, there are fears on the right wing that an Obama administration and the Israeli government could be on a collision course, especially if the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu wins the next Israeli election.

Obama’s powerfully expressed commitment to Israel at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington on last week went a long way toward assuaging Israeli fears.

Israeli officials noted Obama’s readiness to use force against Iran if necessary, his promise to maintain the IDF’s qualitative edge, his support for isolating Hamas and his commitment to Israel’s Jewish character, with Jerusalem as its undivided capital.

” title=”Bloggish:”>Bloggish, February 1, 2008

Just before the big simcha at American University where Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) anointed Sen. Baruch Obama as JFK’s successor, Obama was on a 23-minute conference call with members of the Jewish press.

The phone call was yet another attempt to stop the lashon hara about Obama’s religion, honesty and pro-Israel record—lies and slander circulating in some Jewish communities on and off line.

The news of this call was eclipsed by the Kennedy blessing.  On any other news day, Obama’s outreach to Jews would have been a headline story.

I grabbed the MP3 of the conference call from our friends at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency so we could serve the audio locally, and save the JTA some bandwidth, and here it is:

Hillary Clinton’s address to AIPAC, June 4, 2008

Hillary Clinton’s prepared speech, AIPAC Conference, June 4, 2008

Thank you all very, very much. Thank you. It is wonderful being here with all of you, among so many friends and I feel like this is a giant family reunion. The largest AIPAC gathering in history and I feel like I am among family and thank you for the warm welcome. I want to thank my friend, Lonny Kaplan, for his leadership and that introduction. I also want to thank Howard Friedman for his leadership as president and to congratulate David Victor on his election. I want to commend Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s distinguished board of directors, and all of the AIPAC staff who work so hard every day all year round. And I particularly want to acknowledge the many students in the audience from around the country, the future of AIPAC and the U.S.-Israel relationship. I want to pay tribute to one member of the AIPAC family and my very good friend who is not with us this year, Congressman Tom Lantos. Tom bore witness to the worst of human cruelty and devoted his life to stopping it. He taught us to stand up for what’s right, even when it ‘s hard, especially when it’s hard. And we will always cherish his memory and his wonderful family will always be in our hearts. And finally, I want to thank all of you for coming to Washington, D.C., once again to stand strong with Israel and to strengthen that special bond between our countries. Being here today, I am reminded of a passage in Isaiah: “Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night, they shall never be silent.” Just like the sentinels of old, you are never silent, you never grow weary and you never stop standing up for and fighting for Israel.

Now, I know that there are some who say you shouldn’t be here, who say speaking up for a strong, American-Israeli relationship is somehow at odds with America’s interests. Well, I believe that speaking up for a strong American-Israeli relationship is essential to our interests. And I reject that our common commitment to Israel’s survival and well-being is not in the best interests of the United States of America. I think you not only have a right to stand up for what you believe in, you have a responsibility as Americans to do so. You are acting in the highest American tradition, exercising a right enshrined in our constitution – the right to petition your government. And I applaud you for it.

Of course, I am privileged to represent one of the largest Jewish constituencies in the world. Is there anyone from New York even here in this audience today? I know you will be talking to your Members of Congress this week, but you won’t need to ask me where I stand, because you already know the answer. I stand with you and for you. v

The United States and Israel have an incredible bond, as allies, friends, as partners. We have shared interests. We have shared ideals. These are not just common values. They are our core values: freedom, democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, a robust civil society. And we stand with Israel, because Israel demonstrates that democracy can flourish in the most difficult conditions, because its very existence is a stinging rebuke to hatred and the holocaust, because in defeating terror Israel’s cause is our cause, and because Israel’s struggle is a struggle not just for the Jewish people but for all people who want to live in peace and security under a democratically elected government.

President Harry Truman certainly understood the importance of Israel. He recognized the new nation just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion read the proclamation of independence. So it is with joy and some sense of relief that we celebrate the 60th anniversary of that day. And for all of the trials and tears, what a remarkable 60 years it has been. From my first trip to Israel in 1982 to my most recent, I have seen firsthand what Israel has achieved – the desert is blooming again. And we can be so proud of the role that America has played in this success. Every American president since Truman recognized the special relationship and has made it stronger. Israel is stronger because of us and because of you.

But even as we celebrate these achievements, we know the work is far from over. Israel is not yet safe. The values that Israel represents are not yet secure. Our hearts go out in particular to the courageous citizens of cities like Sderot and Ashkelon who live in fear that a rocket will fall on their homes or their children’s schools at any moment. I have seen these security challenges firsthand. In 2002, I went to the Sbarro Pizzeria with then President Olmert just a few weeks after that tragic suicide bombing there. I visited with victims of terrorism in the Hadassah Hospital. I have been to Gilo and seen the security fence protecting Israeli families from attacks in their own homes. I have stood up and have spoken out for their right to have that protective fence.

As a senator from New York, who has talked way too much, I have seen the tragic toll of terrorism on 9/11 here at home as well. My support for Israel does not come recently or lightly. I know it is right in my head, in my heart and in my gut. And that is exactly the commitment we need in our next president – a Democratic president, because the Democratic Party’s strong commitment to the state of Israel since the days of Harry Truman endures today. It is one of our party’s most cherished values and it will continue under the next Democratic president.

I know Senator Obama understands what it is at stake here. It has been an honor to contest these primaries with him. It is an honor to call him my friend. And let me be very clear: I know that Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel. I know that Senator Obama shares my view that the next president must be ready to say to the world: America’s position is unchanging, our resolve unyielding, our stance nonnegotiable. The United States stands with Israel, now and forever.

Let me underscore that I believe we need a Democrat in the White House next January because it is not just Israel that faces challenges in the 21st century, America does, too. The next president will inherit grave problems, difficult threats – a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq, America’s reputation at an all-time low, the continued threat of terrorism at home and abroad. President Bush has moved us in the wrong direction. For all the strong rhetoric you heard from Senator McCain on Monday, he will continue the same failed policies in Iraq and weaken our security, making the Middle East a more dangerous place. America needs a new beginning in our foreign policy to make our country stronger and, frankly, to make our position in the world more credible, to give us the strategic leverage back that we have lost over the last seven years. We cannot stand strongly with Israel if we are not strong at home and if we are not respected and considered strong and the leader of the world everywhere else.

We have a rare moment of opportunity to change America’s course and restore our standing in the world. We must seize this moment by leading our friends and allies in building the world we want rather than simply defending against a world we fear. We must build a world that will be safer, more prosperous, and more just. I believe security and opportunity go hand-in-hand. When children have hope, a real belief that there is opportunity ahead for them, we help to dry up the swamp of fear and pessimism that breeds terrorism. That means supporting education, not just for boys but for girls too. It also means that real economic opportunity can’t grow where there is no security. And that opportunity alone is not enough to overcome extremism.

I have been very specific about how I would make this new foreign policy vision that I share, and I think many of you do as well, a reality. Today I want to lay out three principles that I hope will guide us in all that we do with Israel and why it is important to put that relationship into the broader context of what foreign policy is in the best interests of the United States.

First, I have a bedrock commitment to Israel’s security because Israel’s security is critical to our security. When Islamic extremists, including the leaders of nations, proclaim death to America, death to Israel, we understand that our two nations are fighting a shared threat. Those of us in this room know this bond is so much more personal than any security agreement or risk assessment. We know a shared threat can also mean shared sorrow. When eight young men were killed in a Jerusalem yeshiva in March including a 16-year-old American named Abraham David Moses, we reunited in our grief. So, I strongly support Israel’s right to self-defense. Israel has both the right and the obligation to defend its citizens and I believe America should aid in that defense.

I am proud to support the $2.5 billion in security assistance for Israel and the Foreign Aid Bill and I am committed in making sure that Israel maintains a military edge to meet increasing threats. Part of our commit Israel’s security is a commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I am deeply moved by the legacies of so many leaders who have sacrificed so much in the quest for peace, like my friend Yitzhak Rabin, and the warrior, Ariel Sharon, who is in our thoughts and prayers.

We must support Israel and in making the tough choices for peace. I believe that U.S. diplomacy is critical to making progress and consistent U.S. involvement can lower the level of violence and restore our credibility in the region. We need to talk to all sides but all parties must know we will always stand with Israel in its struggle for peace and security. Israel should know that the United States will never pressure her to make unilateral concessions or to impose a made-in-America solution. Palestinians will need to do their part by renouncing violence and teaching their children the ways of peace and tolerance. We must show Palestinians and moderate Arabs that the path of reconciliation is better than the terrorist road to self-destruction.

I am deeply concerned about the growing threat in Gaza. Hamas has built a military force equipped with sophisticated weapons from Iran. Hamas’ campaign of terror has claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent Israelis. Its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. It has shown no commitment to peace or to renouncing violence. So, we must be clear about how we feel about our next president negotiating directly with Hamas. Here is how I feel: until Hamas renouncing terrorism and recognizes Israel, negotiating with Hamas is unacceptable for the United States.

We must continue to demand a return of the Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas and by Hezbollah – Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev, Gilad Shalit. I have been privileged to know Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud’s wife and I was proud to sponsor the resolution that passed the Senate calling for their immediate release. I will not stop fighting and pressing for these soldiers to come home until they finally are safely home with the families that are waiting for them.

The second principle is a simple one: no nuclear weapons for Iran. Iran is a country whose leaders, whose president denies the Holocaust. He defies the international community. His government trains, funds, and arms Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists in attacking Israeli civilians. He threatens to destroy Israel. Just this week, he said that Israel is about to die and will soon be erased. We can never let Iran obtain nuclear weapons. The next president will have to deal with the Iranian challenge from day one. This is not just in Israel’s interests. It is in America’s interests and the world’s interests, and this is a threat that I take very seriously. I’m a co-sponsor the Iran Nonproliferation Act. I support calling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard what it is: a terrorist organization. I have also said that should Iran ever, ever contemplate using nuclear weapons against Israel, they must understand what the consequences will be to them. But we must do everything in our power to prevent such an unthinkable day from ever happening and the best way to do that is to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons in the first place.

We should start by developing an international consensus against Iran’s nuclear program with a set of tougher sanctions if Iran continues to defy the international community. We should also work with Israel and moderate Arab neighbors to roll back Iran’s influence in that region. If the Iranian government wants to become a responsible member of the international community, we would wholeheartedly welcome that change but Iran simply cannot be allowed to continue its current behavior and I wish to underscore I believe that we are further behind in constraining Iran today because of the failed policies of President Bush than we would have been had we taken a much more aggressive engagement course earlier. That is why it is imperative that we get both tough and smart about dealing with Iran before it is too late.

Now my third principle is standing up against hatred and anti-Semitism wherever it is found and it is not only Israelis and Jews who need to be speaking out against anti-Semitism, it is every fair-thinking person who understands that it directly affects you as well.

I have spoken out for years against anti-Semitism in Palestinian schools. I am appalled, still today, the Palestinian textbooks reject Israel’s right to exist and describe Israel’s founding as a catastrophe that’s unprecedented in history. That is not education, it is indoctrination. We also know that the Saudis have textbooks describing Jews as wicked and we were all revolted when Iran’s President held a conference to deny the holocaust, but our vigilance against anti-Semitism must go beyond the Middle East. It must receive no quarter anywhere in the world.

The next president will face a test of resolve on this issue, at the 2009 Durban Conference, also called the Durban II. I will never forget how the world’s first conference against racism became a mockery of itself when it descended into anti-Semitism and hatred. The debacle at Durban must never be repeated. We should take very strong action to ensure anti-Semitism is kept off the agenda at Durban II and if those efforts fail, I believe that the United States should boycott that conference.

The challenge of fighting anti-Semitism is indeed great, but we know it is possible to change hearts and minds. We saw it recently when Magen David Adom was finally included in the international Red Cross after years of being singled out for being Israeli. On one of my trips to Israel, I met an MDA member named Natan, an Ethiopian Jew who had saved many innocent lives when he tackled a terrorist carrying explosives. It was a miracle that Natan had survived. His valor was extraordinary and it was just what you would expect from a member of the MDA. That’s why I was so proud to take up the MDA’s cause, sponsoring legislation and speaking out. And I was very pleased as all of us were when the International Red Cross righted this historic wrong. On a personal level, I was honored when Natan accepted my invitation to come to New York and walk with me in our Salute to Israel parade. In a way we are still walking together and the image of this very dignified Ethiopian Jew, now an Israeli, walking in that parade down Fifth Avenue, bearing the scars of his heroic rescue effort to prevent the terrorists from destroying more lives, was one I will carry with me my entire life because that was really Israel. It wasn’t just everyone on the sides of the streets waving. It was this proud young man who had kept Jewish traditions alive and as a long string of those for centuries who had done so and who had finally come home to Israel and had given so much to protect the country that had given him a new life.

So while it can be easy to be discouraged when we look at the challenges ahead, we can never lose our resolve and never give up hope. What gives me not just hope but the underlying reality that can be delivered by those who work together, is that the power of the values we share with Israel are such an unshakable and unbreakable bond, and the difference that America can make is so critical.

Let me leave you with just in glimpse of why America matters and why AIPAC matters. In her memoir, one of my personal heroines, Golda Meir, wrote about the wonderful moment, 60 years ago, when Israel joined the family of nations and America stood at her side. Here is what she wrote: “a few minutes after midnight, my phone rang. It had been ringing all evening and as I ran to answer it, I wondered what bad news I would hear now.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? “But the voice at the other end of the phone sounded jubilant. ‘Golda, are you listening? Truman has recognized us.’ I can remember what I said or did but I remember how I felt. It was like a miracle and I was filled with joy and relief.” That was the decision that one American president made, to be there for Israel at a time of need. That is the decision that the next president must be ready to make as well. To the members of AIPAC, just know your cause is just, your voice is strong. Washington and the world is listening. So go forth and speak up for what you know is right.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel and God bless America. Thank you all very much.

Obama, Clinton on same page at AIPAC parley

WASHINGTON (JTA)—After months of seeking to paint each other as opposites on Middle East policy, U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were on the same page Wednesday at the AIPAC policy conference as they ripped into the Bush administration and John McCain on several fronts.

In back-to-back speeches a day after Obama appeared to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination, the two senators eschewed any attempt to differentiate themselves. Instead they opted to argue that the Bush administration’s policies on Iran and Iraq have hurt American and Israeli interests.
Obama and Clinton also sought to paint McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate, as bent on carrying out those same policies if he were to reach the White House.

Obama began his remarks with praise for Clinton and her candidacy, and the New York senator returned the favor, assuring the thousands of delegates at the annual policy forum of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that her Democratic rival would be a dependable ally in the White House.

“I know Senator Obama knows what is at stake here,” Clinton said of her Senate colleague from Illinois, adding, “Let me be very clear: I know Senator Obama will be a good friend to Israel.”

Jewish Democratic insiders said the speeches not only signaled a rapprochement of sorts between the candidates but reflected the emergence of a wider, more aggressive party strategy for fending off Republican efforts to peel away Jewish votes and contributions.
A few years ago, many Democratic activists and lawmakers would have been content to stick with the line that both parties were equally strong on Israel-related issues. Now as Iran pushes ahead with its nuclear program, support remains low for the Iraq war and Israel continues to face Hamas rocket attacks, Jewish Democrats see an opening to rebut the GOP’s claim to be the party that’s best for Israel.

This is a new approach,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic consultant whose communications firm also does work for many Jewish organizations. “Two years ago many thought it would be difficult to persuade people that George W. Bush had not been good for Israel, even dangerous to try it. It’s not only a case that can be made now, it’s also true.”

Rabinowitz said many Democrats feel emboldened to push that argument given the GOP’s harsh rhetoric about Obama and Israel. McCain, an Arizona senator, has portrayed Obama as a Hamas-supported candidate, and Bush delivered a speech at the Knesset last month that many observers viewed as an attempt to tag the Illinois Democrat as an appeaser.

In his speech Monday to AIPAC, McCain took direct aim at Obama, arguing that his plan for a phased U.S. pullout from Iraq would lead to the creation of a “potential terrorist sanctuary” that would profoundly “affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including a very much emboldened Iran.”

In keeping with the increasingly popular Democratic approach, Obama fired back at the Republicans, painting them as advancing a reckless foreign policy that has hurt Israel.

“I don’t think any of us can be satisfied that America’s recent foreign policy has made Israel more secure,” Obama said. “Hamas now controls Gaza. Hezbollah has tightened its grip on southern Lebanon and is flexing its muscles in Beirut. Because of the war in Iraq, Iran—which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq—is emboldened, and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation.
“Iraq is unstable, and al-Qaida has stepped up its recruitment. Israel’s quest for peace with its neighbors has stalled, despite the heavy burdens borne by the Israeli people. And America is more isolated in the region, reducing our strength and jeopardizing Israel’s safety.”

“Senator McCain refuses to understand or acknowledge the failure of the policy that he would continue,” he said. “I refuse to continue a policy that has made the United States and Israel less secure.”

In a conference call immediately following the speech, McCain’s highest profile Jewish supporter, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), rejected Obama’s arguments, saying he was wrong to blame Iran’s resurgent power on the Iraq war.
“If Israel is in danger today, it is not because of American foreign policy,” Lieberman told reporters. “It’s because Iran is a terrorist, expansionist state.”

For most of the speech Obama voiced unabashed support for Israel. At one point, though, he did say that the Israelis could do more to ease Palestinian suffering and live up to prior commitments to refrain from new settlement construction. Obama also stressed the need for a two-state solution, adding that Israel must remain a Jewish state with secure borders.
Obama also sounded several notes more often associated with his hawkish Jewish critics: He insisted that Jerusalem must remain Israel’s undivided capital and stressed his willingness to resort to military force if stepped-up diplomatic efforts failed to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambition.

“I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” he said. “Everything.”

Obama appeared to move toward Clinton on the issue of how to deal with Iran, as he argued for boycotting “firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard” and stating that the corps has rightly been labeled a “terrorist organization.” He also appeared to hedge on what many observers understood as an openness to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

As for Clinton, while at an earlier stage in the campaign she would have belittled Obama’s willingness to meet with top Iranian leaders, on Wednesday she stressed her criticisms of the Bush administration for its failure to adopt a more effective diplomatic approach.
In another sign of the two sides coming together to advance a united front on Israel, U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)—a former Bill Clinton administration official who just endorsed Obama—said Hillary Clinton supported his decision to accompany Obama to a closed meeting Wednesday with top AIPAC leaders.

Though Clinton appeared to draw a warmer reaction, Obama received several standing ovations, including an impassioned one when he spoke of the Jewish religion’s commitment to social justice and the importance of forging strong ties between the Jewish and African-American communities.

U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a Clinton supporter who has said that Obama needs to do “repair” work in the Jewish community, praised the speech, saying it hit all the “right notes.” Obama, he added, needs to make more speeches like that.

Norman Katz of Bloomfield, Mich., described Obama’s speech as “very inspiring,” saying the Democratic candidate had the audience “in the palm of his hand.” Katz said that although he had been a supporter of Clinton, he would vote for Obama in November.

Lisbeth Fried of Ann Arbor, Mich., a Clinton supporter who is “very disappointed” that the former first lady won’t be the Democratic nominee, called Obama “outstanding.” Fried said it was the first time she had heard Obama speak and had not been skeptical about some of his positions.
“I believed a lot of the rumors that were flying,” she said. “My mind was put to rest today.”

Bonnie Gober of San Bernadino, Calif., was less enthusiastic. Gober said she was “glad to hear” Obama take a stance on issues of importance to Israel, but when asked if she would support him in November, she would say only, “I’ll vote Democratic.”

Others were impressed but not swayed. Another Ann Arbor resident, Marvin Gerber, who identified himself as a Republican, said Obama’s speech was “electrifying” and proved he would be a “credible opponent” against McCain.
“It was a terrific speech, so polished,” Gerber said. “He overpowers both McCain and Hillary. However, his policies will not make us strong and will not help Israel.”
Gerber said he would not support Obama at the polls.

“I just don’t trust him,” he said.

With reporting from JTA’s Mark Joffe and Uriel Heilman.

Obama to AIPAC: War in Iraq has hurt Israel

WASHINGTON [JTA] — Barack Obama told an AIPAC conference that the Iraq war had endangered Israel.

“Because of war in Iraq, Iran, which always posed a greater threat than Iraq, is emboldened,” the Illinois senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said Wednesday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy forum.

In a wide-ranging speech, Obama said he would be steadfast in his support for Israel and praised the Jewish state for destroying a nuclear reactor in Syria last September.

“I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said to a standing ovation while defending his policy of using direct diplomacy to persuade Iran to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

In a response organized by the campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain {R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. Joseph lieberman (I-Conn.) said Obama was wrong to blame Iran’s resurgent power on the Iraq war.

“If Israel is in danger today, it is not because of American foreign policy,” Lieberman said in a conference call. “It’s because Iran is a terrorist, expansionist state.”

Excerpt of Obama speech to AIPAC courtesy MSNBC

Here’s the prepared text of Barack Obama’s speech to AIPAC today:

Obama remarks at AIPAC (AS PREPARED for delivery)

It’s great to see so many friends from across the country. I want to congratulate Howard Friedman, David Victor and Howard Kohr on a successful conference, and on the completion of a new headquarters just a few blocks away.

Before I begin, I want to say that I know some provocative emails have been circulating throughout Jewish communities across the country. A few of you may have gotten them. They’re filled with tall tales and dire warnings about a certain candidate for President. And all I want to say is — let me know if you see this guy named Barack Obama, because he sounds pretty frightening.

But if anyone has been confused by these emails, I want you to know that today I’ll be speaking from my heart, and as a true friend of Israel. And I know that when I visit with AIPAC, I am among friends. Good friends. Friends who share my strong commitment to make sure that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, tomorrow, and forever.

One of the many things that I admire about AIPAC is that you fight for this common cause from the bottom up. The lifeblood of AIPAC is here in this room — grassroots activists of all ages, from all parts of the country, who come to Washington year after year to make your voices heard. Nothing reflects the face of AIPAC more than the 1,200 students who have travelled here to make it clear to the world that the bond between Israel and the United States is rooted in more than our shared national interests — it’s rooted in the shared values and shared stories of our people. And as President, I will work with you to ensure that it this bond strengthened.

I first became familiar with the story of Israel when I was eleven years old. I learned of the long journey and steady determination of the Jewish people to preserve their identity through faith, family and culture. Year after year, century after century, Jews carried on their traditions, and their dream of a homeland, in the face of impossible odds.

The story made a powerful impression on me. I had grown up without a sense of roots. My father was black, he was from Kenya, and he left us when I was two. My mother was white, she was from Kansas, and I’d moved with her to Indonesia and then back to Hawaii. In many ways, I didn’t know where I came from. So I was drawn to the belief that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional and cultural identity. And I deeply understood the Zionist idea — that there is always a homeland at the center of our story.

I also learned about the horror of the Holocaust, and the terrible urgency it brought to the journey home to Israel. For much of my childhood, I lived with my grandparents. My grandfather had served in World War II, and so had my great uncle. He was a Kansas boy, who probably never expected to see Europe — let alone the horrors that awaited him there. And for months after he came home from Germany, he remained in a state of shock, alone with the painful memories that wouldn’t leave his head.

You see, my great uncle had been a part of the 89th Infantry Division — the first Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp. They liberated Ohrdruf, part of Buchenwald, on an April day in 1945. The horrors of that camp go beyond our capacity to imagine. Tens of thousands died of hunger, torture, disease, or plain murder — part of the Nazi killing machine that killed 6 million people.

When the Americans marched in, they discovered huge piles of dead bodies and starving survivors. General Eisenhower ordered Germans from the nearby town to tour the camp, so they could see what was being done in their name. He ordered American troops to tour the camp, so they could see the evil they were fighting against. He invited Congressmen and journalists to bear witness. And he ordered that photographs and films be made. Explaining his actions, Eisenhower said that he wanted to produce, “first-hand evidence of these things, if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda.”

I saw some of those very images at Yad Vashem, and they never leave you. And those images just hint at the stories that survivors of the Shoah carried with them. Like Eisenhower, each of us bears witness to anyone and everyone who would deny these unspeakable crimes, or ever speak of repeating them. We must mean what we say when we speak the words: “never again.”

It was just a few years after the liberation of the camps that David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the Jewish State of Israel. We know that the establishment of Israel was just and necessary, rooted in centuries of struggle, and decades of patient work. But 60 years later, we know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and as President I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.

McCain raps Obama on Iran and Iraq at AIPAC

WASHINGTON [JTA] — No confessional bloc rejects the Iraq war more than American Jews do. But in a bit of political jujitsu, John McCain is making the policy his own in his plea for Jewish votes.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee made headlines — and drew heavy fire from Democrats — for launching this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Monday with an attack on Barack Obama’s Iran policy.

But more remarkable was how Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) chose to close his speech: Defending his commitment to an unpopular war by casting it as important for Israel’s safety.

“Another matter of great importance to the security of both America and Israel is Iraq,” he said. “You would never know from listening to those who are still caught up in angry arguments over yesterday’s options, but our troops in Iraq have made hard-won progress under Gen. Petraeus’ new strategy.”

McCain was referring to the troop escalation that he advocated a year ago, and that was carried out under the command of David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

“It’s worth recalling that America’s progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Sen. Obama vehemently opposed,” McCain continued. “Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including a very much emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen.”

The line earned applause at the AIPAC policy conference — the lobby’s membership skews far more Republican than the wider Jewish voting public — but how it will play with the broader American Jewish public remains to be seen.

Jews and black Protestants oppose the war in greater numbers than any other religious group — more than 70 percent, according to some polls. That and McCain’s commitment to conservative social mores — particularly his anti-abortion positions and stated admiration for recent GOP judicial nominations — would apparently make him a difficult sell to American Jews.

But recent polling has shown McCain — in a race against Obama, the likely Democratic presidential candidate — faring much better among Jews than any Republican candidate has since Ronald Reagan. In a Gallup poll of Jewish voters last month, McCain garnered 32 percent against Obama’s 61 percent, substantially better for the Republican candidate than the 24-75 break President Bush earned in 2004.

McCain’s backers credit a “straight talk” strategy, which would explain McCain’s tack Monday at the AIPAC conference: Voters favor a candidate who says what he means even when they don’t agree with him, the backers say.

“What is most strikingly different from other candidates is that he is strongly principled and an independent thinker,” Lew Eisenberg, a McCain campaign national finance co-chairman, said. He cited McCain’s backing for the surge a year ago and his backing for an unpopular immigration reform bill around the same time.

Democrats are not allowing McCain’s “straight talk” reputation to go unchallenged. In his AIPAC speech, McCain targeted Obama’s signature foreign policy distinction, his willingness to directly engage with the leaders of pariah nations, including Iran.

“The Iranians have spent years working toward a nuclear program, and the idea that they now seek nuclear weapons because we refuse to engage in presidential-level talks is a serious misreading of history,” he said.

That sparked a long and detailed reply from the Obama campaign outlining the Illinois senator’s advocacy of tough Iran sanctions bills and resolutions. The statement also continued a Democratic policy of associating McCain with Bush, the most unpopular president in polling history.

“John McCain stubbornly insists on continuing a dangerous and failed foreign policy that has clearly made the United States and Israel less secure,” the Obama statement said. “Here are the results of the policies that John McCain has supported, and would continue. During the Bush administration, Iran has dramatically expanded its nuclear program, going from zero centrifuges to more than 3,000 centrifuges.

“During the Bush Administration, Iran has expanded its influence throughout a vitally important region, plying Hamas and Hezbollah with money and arms. During the Bush Administration, Hamas took over Gaza. Most importantly, the war in Iraq that John McCain supported and promises to continue indefinitely has done more to dramatically strengthen and embolden Iran than anything in a generation.”

McCain’s campaign will not let the Bush linkage go unchallenged, and is working hard to distance the candidate from the president, particularly in its appeal to Jewish voters, a senior adviser said in an interview.

McCain “said in 2003 that unless we change things we’re going to be in real trouble, he argued for a change in strategy, a counterinsurgency, the troops that were needed,” the aide said.

In a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, McCain displayed a willingness to chart his own course, even while echoing much of Bush’s thinking on Iran and Iraq. In particular, he signaled a commitment to playing a more active personal role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“I would have a hands-on approach,” McCain said in the interview, in sharp contrast to the current president’s much-noted reluctance to play such a role. “I would be the chief negotiator. I have been there for 30 years. I know the leaders; I know them extremely well. Ehud Barak and I have gone back 30 years. I knew [Ehud] Olmert when he was mayor of Jerusalem. I’ve met many times with [Benjamin] Netanyahu. I’ve met with Mahmoud Abbas.”

Another tack for appealing to Jewish voters, McCain backers say, is to argue that although McCain backs conservative policies, he thinks for himself — an approach that they hope will go some way toward assuaging concerns of Jews who are concerned about the conservative shift in the U.S. Supreme Court.

McCain has stated his admiration for Bush’s judicial picks, but also drew the ire of conservatives several years ago, when he spearheaded the so-called Group of 14; the collection of seven Democratic and seven Republican senators who reached a deal that successfully headed off a partisan meltdown in the chamber and effectively paved the way for Democrats to block several of Bush’s most controversial judicial nominees, while permitting the appointment of dozens more.