President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 16. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Does AIPAC prefer Pence over Trump?


AIPAC confirmed on Friday that Vice President Mike Pence will be speaking at its annual Policy Conference in March. The pro-Israel group has remained mum about President Donald Trump implying, that unlike last year, the real estate mogul turned commander-in-chief is unlikely to attend this year’s gathering as well.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“I am not surprised that Pence is going. AIPAC always plays it very straight,” Matt Nosanchuk,  former White House Jewish Liaison during the Obama administration, told Jewish Insider. “If the President would’ve wanted to go, I am sure — like last year — they would’ve welcomed him. But I also can tell you that not everybody would’ve welcomed him,” he added.

Josh Block, CEO of the Israel Project told Jewish Insider, “Pence was a strong leader on Israel-related issues in Congress and continued to be as Governor of Indiana is a sign from the White House to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community of the importance this administration attaches to the U.S. – Israel relationship.”

Last year, Trump delivered an impassioned speech at the conference calling for “dismantling” of the Iran deal and vowing to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. The former GOP candidate also used his time to lash out at President Barack Obama. “He may be the worst thing that ever happened to Israel,” while adding, “President Obama [is] in his final year — yay!” The remark received some applause from the packed crowd in Washington’s Verizon Center arena.

The next morning, AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus publicly apologized for the applause and rebuked Trump. “Last evening, something occurred which has the potential to drive us apart, to divide us. We say, unequivocally, that we do not countenance ad hominem attacks, and we take great offense against those that are levied against the President of the United States of America from our stage,” Pinkus explained.

“Every time Trump speaks there is a layer of unpredictability. There is no doubt of that,” Tevi Troy, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush Administration, explained to Jewish Insider. Troy added, “Look I think it makes sense for all involved. Pence has a long history of being very, very pro-Israel. I think if Pence speaks there still might be some people who want to protest, but I think if the AIPAC folks said we’ve got to treat the administration and the Vice President with respect, then that would probably be heeded. But, I don’t think AIPAC is as confident that the same would happen if Trump were to speak.”

Other commentators emphasized that Trump not speaking at AIPAC is hardly unusual. Phil Rosen, a top GOP fundraiser and former foreign policy advisor to presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio, noted in an interview, “The last time a US President spoke at AIPAC was in 2012 when President Obama was running for reelection. There has not been a US president speaking at AIPAC since that date and in fact, Vice President Biden and others spoke on his behalf.”

Troy added, “He is the president and he has a lot of competing obligations and offers. I bet Trump wasn’t thrilled with the way it worked out last time. AIPAC obviously had some issues. This is the best solution for everyone,”

“Pence is well known and trusted in the AIPAC community — I would expect him to further burnish his credentials,” Noam Neusner, former White House Jewish Liaison in the George W Bush Administration, told Jewish Insider.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who has spent more than 15 years in pro-Israel work, says she has seen evangelicals rallying to the cause. Photo courtesy of Cardoza-Moore

Evangelicals are ready to speak for Israel in Trump’s Washington


Evangelicals, who have been advocating for Israel for years, have historically let the Jews take the lead.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, for one, is excited that they are poised to take on a prominent role. An evangelical TV host and activist, Cardoza-Moore backs President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a supporter of the settlement movement who is deeply skeptical of the two-state solution.

And she is confident Trump will make good on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I am excited to see this development. It further illustrates the commitment of this [incoming] administration,” she recently told a Christian news service. “And God willing, Friedman will be the one who helps orchestrate that transition.”

Cardoza-Moore was in Israel last week filming a new episode of “Focus on Israel,” which is widely syndicated on Christian television. In an interview at a Tel Aviv café last week, she said in over 15 years of pro-Israel work as the president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, she has seen evangelicals rally to the cause.

“After the 9/11 attacks, a lot of Christians were ready to hear our message,” she said. “Having read the Bible, they felt we were under a curse and the way to change that curse was to make sure we supported Israel. I always knew if we could get the information to the Christians, they would respond and they would stand up.”

But while that support is undeniable and certainly welcomed by a Jewish state that could use all the friends it can get, it still discomfits many in the pro-Israel camp, especially liberals. They worry evangelicals’ Bible-based views are too right wing, both on social issues as well as Israel affairs.

“There’s a real danger because most evangelicals are very hawkish and hard-line on Israel,” said Dov Waxman, a political scientist at Northeastern University who studies American Jews and Israel. “The more they get involved, that risks alienating more liberal Jews from pro-Israel advocacy and from Israel.”

Cardoza-Moore’s commitment to Israel is unquestioned, and often indistinguishable from what mainstream Jewish groups might take on. In 2013, she gained national attention with a campaign against a geography textbook being used in her Tennessee school district that asked students to consider whether a Palestinian suicide bomber who kills “several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant” is acting as a terrorist or as a soldier fighting a war.

Cardoza-Moore spoke at school board meetings, gathered hundreds of signatures and appeared on Fox News to advocate against using the book. The local Jewish federation took her side. In the end, the school board concluded the book was not biased, but the publisher removed the offending line from electronic and future print editions.

Perhaps Cardoza-Moore’s biggest victory came in 2015, when at her urging, the Tennessee legislature passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, the first of its kind in the nation. Although the resolution took no action against BDS, it labeled the movement “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”

Since then, Cardoza-Moore has pushed for similar resolutions in other states. Ten states have now passed them, and three more are considering doing so. Governors in 15 states have signed laws that prevent the boycott of Israel.

It likely helps that the Republican Party in recent years has been dominant in state politics. The GOP has increasingly become the pro-Israel party. Evangelicals, who make up more than a quarter of the American population and overwhelmingly vote Republican, have shaped the party’s identity on Israel in many ways.

“If we look at why the Republicans tend to take pro-Israel positions, I think a major reason for that is evangelical Christians,” Waxman said. “In red-state America, it’s the views of evangelicals that really matter when it comes to Israel.”

And with Trump’s victory, red-state America is in control of the executive branch. Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, has been ramping up its activities in Washington, D.C. The Israel lobby claims 3.3 million mostly evangelical members. By contrast, the mostly Jewish AIPAC has approximately 100,000, though it is more experienced and better funded.

After long deferring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, CUFI founder and board member David Brog said his group planned to get “a little more aggressive” in pushing its policies in the Trump era, when it has clout and connections, including to evangelical Vice President Mike Pence.

“At a time when we have a Republican in the White House and Republicans control the House and Senate, we see CUFI as able to play a leading role in speaking to governing majorities that know they owe their election in large part to our base,” he said.

Brog described CUFI as “within the mainstream” and respectful of AIPAC’s history of bipartisanship. But he acknowledged that CUFI’s members tend to be “right of center” and “skeptical of the two-state solution.” The group, he said, would not necessarily sit out debates or avoid criticizing ideological opponents in an effort to keep them in the pro-Israel camp.

“We need to draw clear lines and be clear about where we stand,” he said. “That does not necessarily damage bipartisanship. Drawing clear lines may help define what it means to be pro-Israel.”

As Bloomberg’s Eli Lake pointed out, CUFI has not taken a position on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which AIPAC officially supports, and has backed legislation to defund the Palestinian Authority, which AIPAC has not. CUFI has also thrown its weight behind Trump’s pro-settlement pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

Some Jewish observers have suggested that growing evangelical involvement in Israel advocacy could turn Israel into a right-wing Republican issue. Aside from concerns about the implications for Israel, they say, that could make it less attractive to more liberal Jews, who already are drifting away from the community and are increasingly critical of Israel’s policies.

“It’s like a brand. If Israel is associated with right wing and ‘reactionary’ forces, then it’s going to be a turnoff to younger American Jews,” Waxman said. “It may be superficial, but we’re talking about public perceptions.”

Brog, who is Jewish, argued Israel and its supporters could not afford to apply a “religious test” on the issue.

“I got involved in Christian advocacy because I can count,” he said. “If the pro-Israel community is limited to the Jewish community, it’s too small. The reason the American government is pro-Israel is because the American people are profoundly and overwhelmingly pro-Israel. But we can’t take that for granted.”

A senior official at a dovish Israel advocacy group said he thought American Jews and Israel would ultimately define their own relationship, regardless of who else was in the picture.

“I’d be foolish to say evangelical Christians don’t have an effect. But I don’t really care what they say,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. “At the end of the day, it’s a homeland for the Jewish people. So it’s how we choose to express our love for Israel that really matters.”

Participants in the 18th annual Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame are: Geoffrey Schwartz, Stanley Tarshis, Andi Murez, Andrew Lorraine, Andrew Bailey and Mitchell Schwartz; Andy Hill, Jerry Weinstein, Ramona Shelburne, Roy Firestone (master of ceremonies), Glenn Diamond, Marc Stein, Steve Kuechel and Erik Affholter. Photo by Lee Salem Photography

Moving & Shaking: Jewish athletes celebrated, NFL players visit home shul, AIPAC holds gala


Fourteen athletes and sports media members were inducted into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 28, during the organization’s 18th annual induction ceremony at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The 2016 inductees were Andrew Lorraine (baseball); Andy Hill (basketball); brothers Mitchell and Geoffrey Schwartz (football); Erik Aff-holter (football); Stanley Tarshis (gymnastics); Glenn Diamond and Marc Stein (media); Ramona Shelburne (softball); Andi Murez (swimming); Steve Kuechel (tennis); Andrew Bailey and Ashley Grossman (water polo); and Jerry Weinstein, a sports broadcasting producer who was awarded the Eli Sherman Pillar of Achievement Award.

The event also recognized as high school athletes of the year Allyson Rosenblum, a member of the Mater Dei High School girls basketball team, and Ben Goldberg of the Palisades High School tennis team. Henry Vogel, a student at Harvard-Westlake School, received the Allan Malamud Memorial Scholarship.

The Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame spotlights distinguished amateur and professional athletes and people in sports-related activities and careers.


Kevin Taylor, representative of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti; Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair Judy Shore; Arie Schachner, co-founder of Save a Child’s Heart; and international president and Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair David Shore attend the Israeli-based international humanitarian organization’s concert event. Photo by Pal Photography

Kevin Taylor, representative of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti; Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair Judy Shore; Arie Schachner, co-founder of Save a Child’s Heart; and international president and Save a Child’s Heart West Coast co-chair David Shore attend the Israeli-based international humanitarian organization’s concert event. Photo by Pal Photography

long list of artists donated performances on Jan. 29 to the Symphony of the Heart concert, benefiting the Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) organization, at the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge.

The Israeli-based international humanitarian organization has provided lifesaving heart surgeries for children from 53 developing countries and creates centers of medical competence in those countries. The children are screened by volunteer doctors from SACH and then flown to Israel, where they are treated at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

More than 4,000 children have been treated at the Israeli center. One of those kids, Benjamin Baldwin, 7, was found in an orphanage in China, suffering from multiple heart problems. He was flown to Israel and had several heart operations. The little boy, who was adopted by a couple from Orange County, Melissa and Larry Baldwin, was all smiles during the gala event.

Producer and television writer David Shore and his wife, Judy, who are supporters of SACH, attended the event. Holding Benjamin in his arms, David Shore, who created the TV series “House,” told the touching story of the boy, who was not able to run and play like other kids his age due to his illness but is now healthy and physically active.

“So, what do you like to do best?” Shore asked Benjamin, expecting an answer along the lines of “Run, climb and jump.” Benjamin hesitated for a moment before answering,“Play with my iPad,” eliciting a roar of laughter from the audience.

Among the performers at the concert were Israeli singer Rita; her daughter, singer Meshi Kleinstein; singer Melissa Manchester; singer Liel Kolet; the Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble; and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony.

Pianist Emily Bear, 15, stole the show while performing a piece she composed three years ago, along with a jazz rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Bear started playing at age 2 and already has 10 years of experience as a professional concert pianist.

The concert ended with the audience standing and singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” along with the performers onstage.

Among the 1,500 attendees was astronaut Buzz Aldrin, 87, the second man to walk on the moon and a supporter of SACH.

— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer


Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rachel, join Deanna and Allen Alevy at the Dinner Party Charity Soiree. Photo by Jonah Light Photography

Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rachel, join Deanna and Allen Alevy at the Dinner Party Charity Soiree. Photo by Jonah Light Photography

Pico-Robertson Orthodox congregation Pico Shul held its Dinner Party Charity Soiree at the Mark for Events on Jan. 31.

During the event, which drew about 160 attendees, Pico Shul Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and his wife, Rachel, presented philanthropic husband and wife Allen and Deanna Alevy with the 2017 Bubbe and Zaide of the Year award. The Alevys have underwritten Bookstein’s position at the shul, “so that all funds raised during the year are for Pico Shul overhead, staff and programming,” according to the event website.

The evening featured Pico Shul resident yogi Marcus Freed leading meditation sessions in a “Soul Revival” tent while a guitarist fingerpicked “Jerusalem of Gold” on the opposite side of the room. Meanwhile, Simon Wiesenthal Center co-founder Rabbi Marvin Hier, Chai Center Vice President Mendel Schwartz and others mingled over glasses of kosher wines from Shirah Wine Co. and appetizers prepared by, among others, Mexikosher chef Katsuji Tanabe, Kosher Latin chef Deborah Benaim and organic kosher food expert Sarah Zulauf.

Artwork by Fabian Lijtmaer decorated the walls; members of the band Moshav played upbeat traditional music. Lijtmaer, when not discussing his artwork to admirers, staffed a carnival-style game testing players’ Torah knowledge.

Founded three years ago, Pico Shul operates in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood out of a former fish market. The community comprises 20- and 30-somethings interested in leading observant lives while participating in activities such as Shabbat celebrations at music festivals and camping trips in the mountains.

Pico Shul’s Bookstein has led Jewish communities all over the world, including in Poland, Long Beach and Los Angeles.


Mitchell and Geoff Schwartz, along with Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, participate in a recent program at Adat Shalom. The Schwartzes attended religious school and became b’nai mitzvah there. Photo courtesy of Adat Shalom

Mitchell and Geoff Schwartz, along with Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz, participate in a recent program at Adat Shalom. The Schwartzes attended religious school and became b’nai mitzvah there. Photo courtesy of Adat Shalom

NFL players Mitchell and Geoffrey Schwartz appeared at congregation Adat Shalom on Jan. 29 to discuss their book, “Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family and Faith,” in a conversation with the synagogue’s Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz.

The visit to the West Los Angeles synagogue was a homecoming for the brothers, who attended religious school and became b’nai mitzvah at Adat Shalom. Geoffrey, the older of the two, is a free agent who has played for five NFL teams, while Mitchell plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. The two offensive linemen are the first pair of Jewish brothers to play in the league in nearly 100 years.

We were overjoyed to have them back,” Lebovitz said in an email following the event, which drew more than 120 people. “The entire community had a ton of fun with them.”


Firefighter Ben Arnold at the AIPAC gala dinner. Photo by Timothy J. Carr

Firefighter Ben Arnold at the AIPAC gala dinner.
Photo by Timothy J. Carr

The pro-Israel lobbying organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Los Angeles held its gala dinner Feb. 1 at the Beverly Hilton.

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, a former NATO commander and the evening’s keynote speaker, appeared in an interview with AIPAC Los Angeles Director Julie Munjack. The two discussed the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

The event also featured appearances by Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter Ben Arnold, who leads the Emergency Volunteers Project, an Israeli-backed organization that trains emergency responders abroad to assist in Israel in times of need, and AIPAC Regional Director Wayne Klitofsky, who delivered the “State of AIPAC” address.

The event also commemorated late Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres, who died in 2016.

Attendees included California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After.

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Obama won the Jewish vote without winning over the pro-Israel mainstream


Fraught record on issues of race and anti-Semitism? Check.

Much-hyped meeting to get Benjamin Netanyahu’s hechsher? Check.

Stirring speech at AIPAC to quiet the naysayers? Check.

Jewish validators galore? Check. Administration top-loaded with Jewish staffers? Check.

Welcome to Inauguration Day 2009.

President-elect Barack Obama walked into the White House eight years ago with a Jewish profile that bears similarities to the one tucked away in Donald Trump’s baggage.

There are key differences, of course, and how Obama handled his relationship with the Jewish community could provide a blueprint for Trump as he goes forward – both in emulating Obama’s successes and avoiding his failures.

Obama’s presidency was one that thrilled majorities of Jewish voters with its portent of an American reconciliation that would set aside once and for all the intimations of alienation that have haunted non-Christians and non-whites since before the republic’s dawn.

It was also a presidency that often left the Israeli government and much of the U.S. Jewish establishment feeling shunned and shunted aside.

Obama could work a crowd: His galvanizing speech on “one America” at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston, thick with hope, threw into relief the one-note, warrior-turned-peacemaker candidacy John Kerry was peddling.

The confident and youthful state senator from Illinois who walked onto the Fleet Center stage that July evening did not have to prove himself, as the actual party nominee, nearly two decades his senior, always seemed to be doing.

The America Obama described was not mired in the 1960s angst embedded in Kerry’s past both as war hero and then as war protester. It signaled a 21st century – one that now seems fanciful — where blacks and whites, Jews, Muslims and Christians, conservatives and liberals lived in mutually supportive harmony.

“We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America,” he said.

Obama, like Kerry, like every politician, started out talking about himself – but unlike Kerry, this Hawaii-born constitutional lawyer could handily pivot, almost imperceptibly, to talking about you, about everyone.

Obama could also work a Jewish room similarly, making his interlocutors feel as if he had lived among them forever. It was a skill he had cultivated as a community worker, and he worked it in the Jewish retirement homes north of Chicago as he ran for the U.S. Senate that year.

In those settings he said that his first name had the same meaning as “Baruch,” a knowing wink signaling that he knew his name was weird, just like his listeners’ grandparents and great-grandparents knew their names were weird. Not only that, Jan Schakowsky, a Chicago-area congresswoman who was already very much smitten with him, said then, “He pronounced Baruch impeccably.”

Obama was in similar form seven years later with his “Hineni” speech in 2011 to the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial. It wasn’t just his repeated (and again, correctly pronounced) invocation of Joseph’s declaration to Jacob, or in how he again made the speech about his listeners, reciting with emotion the contributions that Reform Jews had made to the civil rights movement.

His empathy, his facility for making everyone in a vast room feel like his best friend, was evident most of all in an impromptu aside when he shuddered remembering the short dress his daughter Malia wore to the first bat mitzvah she attended. Laughter, at first a low rumble and then in full force, rolled through the auditorium. Every Jewish parent got it.

And just as quickly as Obama could turn a Jewish room on, he could turn it off, chilling the air with an insensitive aside. The cutting putdowns seemed to come from the same place as the moments of elation, from his unerring belief that he understood what his listener wanted, that he somehow knew you better than you knew yourself.

It was there in 2008, when he met with Jewish leaders in Cleveland – a community known to be more conservative than coastal Jewish communities. He defended himself from charges that he was distant on Israel and too cozy with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his pastor, whose expressions of sympathy for anti-Israel militants were transitioning then into blatant hostility toward Jews.

The meeting went well, and then, during a Q&A, Obama said, “This is where I get to be honest and I hope I’m not out of school here. I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel, and that can’t be the measure of our friendship with Israel. If we cannot have a honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we’re not going to make progress.”

Some folks in the room said later that their jaws dropped (to be fair, others said the meeting went over well). The Likud was not then in power, but it was a major party in Israel, and as president he would likely have to deal with it. Indeed, his eight years in office almost wholly coincided with Likud-led governments.

More sensitively, saying the dialogue was not “honest” seemed to some derived from the toxic narrative prevalent in the post-Iraq War period that pro-Israel groups forced an unnatural foreign policy on the United States.

Remarkably, the contents of what was supposed to be an off-the-record meeting were leaked – by Obama’s camp. They thought the meeting was a success and they couldn’t wait to put out the word.

Similar charges of tone-deafness were leveled less than six months into his presidency when he met with Jewish leaders unsettled by burgeoning tensions with Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

In July 2009, at another closed meeting between Obama and Jewish leaders, Obama asserted that the policy of “no daylight” between the United States and Israel, which had prevailed under his two predecessors, had done no favors to either country.

The statement has haunted Obama’s relationship with pro-Israel activists — at least groups on the center and right, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which tend to defer to Israel’s sitting government and dominate the American Jewish discourse on Israel. J Street and other groups on the left, it should be said, found his statement to be a bracing bit of truth-telling from a good friend.

More telling, however – and shocking to some of those present — was another, smaller moment: Discussing settlements, Obama grabbed the arm of his then-chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who is Jewish and has an Israeli father.

“Don’t think that we don’t understand the nuances of the settlement issues,” Obama said. “We do. We understand there is a profound political edge to Israeli politics. But Rahm understands the politics there and he explains them to me.”

Obama may have thought he was reassuring the room, telling them that one of their own was his right-hand man. Instead he was alienating many of them; what these folks heard was “I don’t need you.”

That perceived “I don’t need you” played out again and again for Obama throughout his relationship with the Jewish establishment, and with Israel, whose diplomats tensed every time Obama or one of his top aides reassured them that the Iran deal exchanging sanctions for a nuclear rollback was in Israel’s best interests.

In Obama’s speech at American University pitching the Iran deal in the summer of 2015, Israelis and many pro-Israel activists heard buzzwords that they felt were designed to marginalize them. Critics of the deal were “alarmists,” he said. “They’re just not being straight with the American people,” they “accept the choice of war.” He didn’t name AIPAC, but it was leading the lobbying against the deal.

It didn’t help that Netanyahu – and the pro-Israel establishment – at times seemed to go out of their way to reciprocate the dismissive posture. Netanyahu especially seemed to delight in marking Obama’s territory, in the Oval Office in 2011, lecturing a visibly furious Obama on the realities of the Middle East, and then in 2015 in a speech to Congress on the Iran deal that the Israeli leader had secretly planned with Republicans.

Then there was AIPAC’s sullen reluctance, in the run-up to the congressional vote on the deal in 2015, to meet with his top officials despite Obama’s invitation.

Yet Obama has often needed Jews — for advice, for support, for friendship and for inspiration — and has said as much. His first mentors politically were Abner Mikva, the judge and Democratic activist; Robert Schrayer, the Chicago philanthropist; Penny Pritzker, the hotel heiress who is now his commerce secretary, and Alan Solow, the lawyer and former Presidents Conference chairman who has fundraised for Obama from the start of his political career. Among the staffers closest to him and the first lady were David Axelrod, his top political adviser in his first term, and Susan Sher, Michelle Obama’s first chief of staff.

Obama throughout his political career has sought to close the circle of Jewish and black solidarity forged in the civil rights era and torn asunder as the communities drifted apart in the aftermath of the era’s successes. It takes a lot to bring an AIPAC crowd to its feet invoking anything other than Israel, and yet he did it in 2008 in his speech to the lobby’s annual conference.

“I would not be standing here today,” he said, if it were not for “the great social movements in our country’s history. Jewish- and African-Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder. 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.”

It was that bond, between Jews and blacks, Obama invoked in an interview last week with Israel’s Channel 2, seeking to explain why he allowed – for the first time in his presidency – the United Nations Security Council to vote for a resolution opposed by Israel, in this case condemning settlement in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Asked about bigotry and its reemergence this U.S. election season, he said: “As an African-American, when I see those kinds of attitudes harden, I remember my history and I remember the history of the Jewish people.”

Obama’s voice was hoarse; he seemed at times during the interview to crumple. The night it was broadcast in Israel, he delivered his farewell in Chicago and wept. The promise Obama made in 2004 and 2008 of reconciliation seemed to dissipate in the wake of a profoundly divisive election, one in which the many Americas that he once described as coming together were retreating into silos.

How a president relates to a Jewish community has always been a function of how a president relates, period. Obama’s successes and failures with Jews are of a piece with autopsies of his presidency: He was an inspiration. He was aloof.

So what can the incoming president learn, writ large and small, from how Obama related to the Jews?

The answer may lie studded throughout Obama’s two terms, not in the dramas of the disagreements but in how he sought to overcome them. Jeremiah Wright? He stood by him, and then he did not, and when he abandoned him, Obama said candidly, he could no longer abide his pastor’s hostility to Israel.

The Likud? In Cleveland in February 2008, he cast the party as an obstacle to peace. That summer, visiting Israel, he sought out the party’s leader, Netanyahu, and pleased the Israeli opposition leader by soliciting his views on the dangers posed by Iran.

In Obama’s 2009 speech to the Muslim world, critics charged that his depiction of Israel relied too much on its role as a refuge for the Jews after the Holocaust and too little on the Jewish people’s ancient and historical relationship to the land. In 2013, he toured the country and sought out markers celebrating its ancient Jewish heritage and the redemptive promise of Zionism.

Was the Iran deal debate corrosive? Obama invited Netanyahu to the White House in its immediate aftermath and launched the process that would deliver to Israel its biggest-ever defense assistance package.

Not every attempt by Obama at reconciliation was successful. In the wake of the Security Council vote, Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu and standing among the most influential Jewish organizations is ending on a markedly sour note, probably unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations.

For all their pronounced differences, Trump has endured a fraught courtship with the Jewish community that has echoes of Obama’s 2008 run: Trump has wondered aloud whether the U.S.-Israel relationship could use more “neutrality” when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, and has weathered accusations that he is too cozy with actors who embrace ideas hostile to Jews.

Trump has retreated from some of the postures that unsettled the pro-Israel community. The incoming president has met with Netanyahu, delivered a rousing AIPAC speech and left neutrality on Israel so far behind, he appears set to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He has put forth an ambassador to Israel who is a gung-ho supporter of the settlements and an antagonist of the Jewish left.

But Trump is also adamant in his refusal to renounce counselors who, like Wright, have extolled racial and cultural divisions.

What was Obama’s relationship with the Jewish community? For the majority who voted for him twice, and for whom Israel ranks fairly low in their considerations as voters compared to issues like the economy and health care, he was an exemplar of their political views, their values and their hopes for the country.

As for Jews who prioritize Israel as voters and activists, he ranged from a good if sometimes standoffish friend to bitter antagonist, who at least according to Alan Dershowitz, “repeatedly stabbed Israel in the back.”

Of course, the degree to which any of those assessments stick depends on how Jews endure – or rejoice in – President Donald Trump.

The story of Obama and the Jews is not over yet. Ask again a hundred days into the Trump administration — and then again a thousand days in.

Trump’s ambassador to Israel on ADL: ‘They’re morons’


This story originally appeared on “>interview with Jewish Insider on the eve of the election, Friedman referred to leaders of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “morons” for condemning Trump’s campaign rhetoric and commercials that were perceived as dog-whistles to his anti-Semitic supporters.

“People talk about dog-whistles and about Trump with dog-whistles,” Friedman said in a wide-ranging interview. “As soon as Jonathan Greenblatt accused Trump of somehow being anti-Semitic, what did we hear next? We heard this clown from Minnesota, [Senator] Al Franken, who should go back to his career as a comedian. (Franken

Where are Jewish leaders on Trump?


I am 29  years old; like most Jews of my generation, I was raised in a Holocaust-heavy curriculum that started with “Number the Stars” in third grade and culminated in a full year of religious school dedicated to the topic in eighth. I find our communal obsession with that part of our history both understandable and exhaustingly, upsettingly macabre — I get why we do it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish we would stop. 

I’ve always been able to accept it, though, as long as Jews could also look past our own suffering and oppression to see that we are surrounded every day by suffering and oppression — that we understand “never again” not as a warning against future danger, but a rallying cry to present work.  

 And so it has been particularly devastating, in a time when every day brings devastating news, to watch the legacy of the Holocaust used as a justification to support an incoming administration so deeply, obviously, proudly racist that it seems likely to encourage Holocaust-style atrocity. To witness conservative, pro-Israel American Jewry react to President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon as a senior adviser with the complicity of silence is to understand viscerally that having endured your own suffering does not make you compassionate. It just makes you scared.  

I have been profoundly disappointed to watch groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) fail to denounce Trump’s selection of Bannon, a man who has boasted of creating a media platform for extremists who label themselves “alt-right,” thus enabling them to avoid their proper identity as neo-Nazis. Like the Jewish obsession with the Holocaust, I understand the impulse to make nice with Trump’s administration: It is an attempt to align themselves with an abuser in order to avoid being abused. It is the product of the racism that is the inheritance of every American but which, for Jews specifically, is compounded by a lifetime of being told to see the future of our people as endangered by the continued existence of the Muslim world. And it is a move undergirded by the deep-seated fear that has drilled into post-Holocaust Jewish heads from Day One: that we are and always have been a persecuted people. That we must be concerned, first and foremost, with how we will save ourselves. 

Other Jewish groups have spoken out against Bannon, notably the Anti-Defamation League and countless Jewish professionals and writers, but as far as I am concerned, “some” aren’t enough. For years, I have allowed myself to imagine that the Jews I love and agree with are the face and voice of our religion; this election has been a rude reminder that, in fact, they are not. And among the faces the Jews are showing the world right now  are our ugliest. 

I have never related to the idea of the Jews as a Chosen People, perhaps because I was born into an interfaith family — my mother converted eventually, but not until I was 12. Instead, what I have always loved about the religion is that it has allowed me to choose it: that it asks us to choose it in action and deed, minute and mundane, every single day, just as much as in faith and prayer on the holy ones.  

I was born white, given power and privilege rooted in violent history, and which can be exercised only at someone else’s expense. Many other Jews are born the same. I was born white but I try to choose to be Jewish: to believe that it is my work to help put a broken world back together, and that if being vulnerable teaches me anything, it is that it is my particular work to stand in solidarity with those even more vulnerable than I am. And at a moment when I need my faith and my tradition most of all, it is gutting to know that so many in our community are abandoning its core value of the justice: justice we have been commanded to pursue. 

If I believe we were chosen for anything, it is not adulation or exemption but instead the holy action of work — that since such a good teaching has been given to us, it is our sacred duty to live by its principles, instead of being governed by our animal fears.

We are in a precarious position now, the Jewish people, in which many of us can turn toward our whiteness and the history of selfishness and exploitation that the label entails; we can try to get close to people in power who we know to be vicious, and live on the prayer that they don’t turn their viciousness onto us when they are done with other victims. We can call ourselves chosen, and use it as an excuse to choose ourselves. Or we can choose to turn toward our Jewish history, and remember that we, too, have been “othered” and oppressed, and that what this means is that it is our work as a people to do everything in our power to make sure it doesn’t happen to us — but also to anyone else — ever, ever again.


Zan Romanoff is a writer who lives in Los Angeles. Her first novel, “A Song to Take the World Apart,” was published by Knopf in September. 

ZOA opposes AIPAC giving platform to anti-Israel group “Breaking the Silence”


It is appalling that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) organized and conducted a panel discussion event for visiting rabbis in Jerusalem last month that gave a platform to the vicious anti-Israel propaganda group “Breaking the Silence” (“BtS”).

Breaking the Silence is notorious for inventing and publishing throughout the world (and providing to the already biased-against-Israel UN investigators) false, unverifiable, anonymous “testimonies” defaming and demonizing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as war criminals who deliberately target, shoot, and beat up Palestinian and Gazan civilians (See NGO Monitor report).  BtS also defames Jews living in Judea and Samaria with blood libels (that are then propagated throughout the world), such as falsely accusing Jews living in Judea/Samaria of “poisoning the entire water supply” of a Palestinian Arab village” and causing the “entire village being evacuated for a period of several years” – neither of which ever happened.

BtS also lectures and displays its false “photo exhibits” and “testimonies” demonizing Israel, and participates in anti-Israel, pro-BDS events in Scotland, Switzerland, the EU Parliament, South Africa, U.S. college campuses and numerous other international locales.   

The UN Report of the “Independent” Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza War quoted extensively from BtS’s false, anonymous “testimonies.” A Hamas press release complained that even more BtS falsehoods should have been included – namely, “explicit confessions” by “many soldiers affiliated to the Israeli organization of ‘Breaking the Silence’’’ of Israeli soldiers’ and officers’ “war crimes” and “direct instructions to target civilians.”

An Israeli Channel 10 study found that in a sample of ten Breaking the Silence testimonies, two claims of beating detainees and shooting innocents were complete lies, two were exaggerated and four were impossible to verify.  Mr. Admit Deri, the head of Israeli Reservists on the Front, said that the study affirmed what Reservists on the Front had been saying for months, and noted: “This is very serious research that was conducted by journalists who previously stated their support for Breaking the Silence, like Raviv Drucker. In the end it came out that the group does lie. . . . We need to exclude this organization [Breaking the Silence] from all forums and not invite them to speak.” (“More proof of Breaking the Silence’s lies,” Israel National News, July 15, 2016).

NGO Monitor estimates that Breaking the Silence receives 65% of its funding from anti-Israel European groups. BtS also receives funding from the extremist left-wing New Israel Fund (which has funded several groups that malign Israel and promote anti-Israel boycotts) and George Soros’s Open Society Institute (Soros is a notorious self-avowed anti-Zionist.)

Moreover, documents obtained by NGO Monitor (from the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits) show that several BtS funders (including the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, ICCO (primarily funded by the Dutch government), and Oxfam Great Britain) conditioned their grants to BtS on BtS obtaining a minimum number of negative (anti-Israel, anti-IDF) “testimonies.”  See “Europe to Breaking the Silence: Bring Us As Many Incriminating Testimonies As Possible,” NGO Monitor,May 04, 2015.

The Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky (who was a prisoner of conscience in the ex-USSR) wrote: “Breaking the Silence Is No Human Rights Organization – and I Should Know.”

Interestingly, a video clip from the AIPAC/BtS event reveals that BtS knows full well that it is maligning the IDF to promote BtS’s political agenda.  In other words, their “human rights” label is a cover to hide BtS’s true purpose.  In the video clip, founding BtS member Yehuda Shaul admitted:  “Very deep inside, at Breaking the Silence, we don’t believe the IDF is the problem.  We believe the political mission the IDF was sent to carry out is the problem.”    (BtS Facebook page, July 14, 2016 10:37 a.m.) 

Breaking the Silence may also be engaging in anti-Israel espionage.  Israel’sChannel 2 news recently broadcast a video showing Breaking the Silence questioning ex-IDF soldiers (who were undercover agents) to obtain sensitive intelligence information about IDF security operations, equipment, tactical maneuvers, special forces deployed, and tunnel detection methods used along the border with Gaza – all of which had nothing to do with BtS’s supposed interest in exposing immoral IDF activities.   After the video was aired, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated: “Breaking the Silence has crossed another red line.  The investigative security forces are looking into the matter.” See Are Breaking the Silence Traitors?, Israel National News, Mar. 23, 2016.  Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin denounced and accused BtS of treason and espionage after the video aired.  See Breaking the Silence guilty of ‘treason, espionage,’ Likud minister says,” Jerusalem Post, Mar. 18, 2016.

BtS’s Facebook posting (July 14, 2016, 10:37 a.m.) boasted that “we [Breaking the Silence] took part in a panel discussion organized by AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Jerusalem, conducted by the director of AIPAC in Israel.”

By organizing and conducting this event, AIPAC gave unwarranted aid, comfort, legitimacy and credibility to a vicious immoral group that invents and purveys lies that damage Israel and weaken the IDF’s ability to protect Israel and the Jewish people.  

Both personally and on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America, I thus urge AIPAC to publicly apologize and disassociate itself from “Breaking the Silence” and to publicly resolve not to organize and conduct events with BtS in the future. 

Morton Klein is the President of the Zionist Organization of America.

David Siegel leaves impressive legacy as his diplomatic tenure in L.A. ends


Later this summer, David Siegel will return home to Israel after five years serving as Israeli consul general for the southwestern United States from his base in Los Angeles. So, what has he been doing during that time?

At the request of the Journal, Siegel’s office compiled a rundown of the diplo-mat’s public activities, which include the following:

• Some 1,500 speaking engagements, mostly in the evenings, at times logging three speeches on the same day.

• Appearances at least once, sometimes more frequently, at every major synagogue in the Los Angeles area.

• Meetings with the principals of nearly all Jewish day schools throughout his jurisdiction, which stretches westward from Colorado and Wyoming to Southern California and Hawaii.

• Seventeen regional town halls, mostly for audiences that generally have had little contact with Israel.

• Attendance at nearly every regional dinner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the annual galas of other Jewish organizations.

In truth, this list skims only the surface, but it gives a picture that Siegel, now 54, did not accept the Los Angeles post in 2011 for surfing and cocktail parties.

In addition to his public appearances, Siegel worked mainly behind the scenes on many of his key accomplishments. These include a landmark accord for joint entrepreneurial collaboration between Israel and California, working with rabbis to promote religious pluralism in Israel, and bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition to Los Angeles.

It is a given that Israeli diplomats around the world often face international crises of one sort of another on a regular basis.

For Siegel, a few months after his arrival in Los Angeles, he saw as his overriding task to impress upon the nearly 40 million Americans in his region that Iran’s nuclear program was a threat not only to Israel’s
existence, but also to the entire Middle East and beyond.

A seasoned diplomat, Siegel had previously been stationed at Israel’s Foreign Service headquarters in Jerusalem, as well as at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., where he was involved in formulating and implementing Israel’s foreign policy during parts of the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

Nevertheless, five years ago, given the choice of returning to a senior position at the Israeli embassy in Washington or becoming consul general in Los Angeles, the Siegel family unanimously chose the latter option.

“Los Angeles is considered one of the most important assignments in our foreign service, as a world communication center whose movie and television studios impact every country,” Siegel said during a recent interview in his West Los Angeles office, which is lined with award plaques and citations, alternating with photos of his family.

During Siegel’s first day after arriving in Los Angeles, he met with the editorial staff of the Journal and, in short order, laid out a list of his goals and priorities. Asked to review this wish list five years later, Siegel cited the Israel-California Partnership Agreement as his most important achievement and a real “game changer.”

After two years of laying the groundwork, in March 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and California Gov. Jerry Brown signed an agreement that provides for a working partnership in such areas as water conservation — in which Israel is a world leader — cybersecurity, biotechnology, agricultural technology and cultural/educational exchanges.

This master treaty has since been buttressed by additional agreements between Israel and the cities of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, Los Angeles County, the Southern California Association of Government and others.

Siegel gives credit for achieving the agreement to the backing of Jewish community organizations, as well as Brown, state legislators including Assemblymen Bob Blumenfield and John Perez, and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer, among many others.

On the priority list of just about every Israeli diplomat, since the opening of L.A.’s first consulate in 1948, has been to channel some of Hollywood’s worldwide clout to the benefit of Israel.

While past consuls general have often focused primarily on enlisting big-name celebrities to speak out in defense of Israel against propaganda attacks, Siegel has focused more on actual productions.

He has met with stars and studio heads, but also worked with production and location executives on movie and TV projects. Thus, he counts as signs of the “prospering relationship” between Israel and Hollywood the shooting of the TV series “Tyrant” and “Big” in Israel, and the openings of offices for Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency in Tel Aviv and Israel’s Keshet mass media company in Los Angeles.

A major event in bridging the 8,000 miles between Hollywood and Tel Aviv was a visit by Israel’s then-president, elder statesman Shimon Peres, to the DreamWorks studio in 2012, where Peres addressed 1,000 Hollywood executives and actors.

Like all of his predecessors, Siegel has been fascinated by the vibrancy and diversity of Los Angeles and its Jewish community, despite the latter’s occasional fractious infighting.

Siegel takes considerable pride that the Israeli consulate has frequently served as a kind of neutral ground, bringing together rabbis of different denominations and organizational heads who, at least, can all join together in their support of Israel.

Born in Burlington, Vt., and the son of a rabbi who was a founder of the Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel, Siegel was educated in a Chabad school and in an Orthodox yeshiva in Israel, and later taught at a Reform school. His background enables Siegel to comfortably move among the denominations, and he was able to pull together a task force of rabbis who otherwise rarely interact.

Another of his priorities has been to facilitate trips to Israel by present and future leaders, Jewish and gentile, among them some 7,000 college students. 

Nothing, Siegel said, is more important for Americans, who may know Israel only through newspaper headlines or brief TV news segments, than to see the Jewish state “with their own eyes, in order to understand the complexity and gravity” of the Middle East situation.

“Israel, now a country of close to 9 million people, with 7 million of them Jews, is the culmination of 4,000 years of Jewish history, and we need to show what we have achieved in two generations, especially in one of the most difficult regions in the world,” he said.

While David Siegel has warm words for Los Angeles, his wife, Myra, strikes a positively exuberant note.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we came here,” she said. “The warmth, the commitment, the can-do attitude of the people from every walk of life are beyond everything I have ever seen,” she said. “It has been an enormous privilege to represent Israel here and to meet so many amazing people.”

Quite amazing, too, were Myra Siegel’s commitments during her stay. She continued working full time at her job with the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, while also assuming the social responsibilities of a diplomat’s spouse and shepherding three kids, currently ages 9, 13 and 16, through three separate Jewish day schools.

Asked what aspect of his job has been most frustrating, the consul general first maintained a diplomatic silence, then allowed that the American media, with their emphasis on crises and occasional violence in Israel, rather than on the country’s many accomplishments, can be tremendously frustrating.

He followed up with a shrug, “That’s the nature of the media.” 

The Siegel family arrived in L.A. in September 2011 as the 2012 United States presidential election was beginning to crank up, and they are leaving just as the 2016 election promises a full display of fireworks.

Asked for a comment on the ongoing political campaign and candidates, Siegel raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “God forbid,” adding “Israel must stay above the fray and must never be seen as a partisan.”

Siegel said he was surprised by how many young men and women from the L.A. region are volunteering to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, and he helped launch an organization to support the so-called “lone soldiers” while in Israel, as well as to provide moral encouragement to their parents and grandparents back home.

Upon his arrival, Siegel also inherited the long-festering problem of anti-Israel agitation and hostility on college campuses, especially, in his early days, at the Irvine campus of the University of California.

Over the past five years, the situation on the UC campuses has improved considerably, with visits to Israel by UC chancellors to meet their Israeli counterparts, and UC Irvine has now signed 12 agreements for joint research projects with Israeli universities in agriculture, water conservation and stem cell research.

Siegel and his family will return to Israel at the end of July, but before doing so, they are first embarking on the traditional round of farewell parties, with 15 scheduled so far.

In May, the first of these took place at the Skirball Cultural Center at a celebration marking Israel’s Independence Day, where Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and a string of public officials heaped praise on Siegel, citing his impact on L.A.’s general populace as well as its Jewish communities.

Other farewells are being hosted at L.A. City Hall as well as by a group of Hollywood friends, AIPAC and by San Diego’s Jewish community, among others.

Asked about future plans, Siegel said he is “looking at various possibilities,” but whatever he does, he said, will be in line with his commitment to Israel.

Sam Grundwerg, a native of Miami Beach, Fla., will succeed him in August. Coincidence or not, the two are the first American-born envoys to serve as Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles.

In addition, Israel’s current ambassador in Washington is Ron Dermer, who was born in Miami, and the two have been friends since their childhood days in Miami Beach.

Asked what advice Siegel might pass on to his successor, he mentioned the importance of the continuing fight against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. He also urged creation of a long-range program to engage the energy and idealism of the millennial generation in the Diaspora. Noting that some 30,000 civic organizations currently exist in Israel, including some focused on Jewish-Arab ties, Siegel said a ready connection is available for any overseas volunteers or immigrants interested in strengthening and improving Israeli society.

Netanyahu rejects ‘expressions of panic’ over missile defense aid


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AIPAC ‘disappointed’ at WH objection to increased funding for Israel’s missile defense system


The White House announced its opposition to a congressional proposal to increase funding by $445 million for Israel’s missile defense program in the 2017 budget.

In a “Statement of Administration Policy” released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, the administration said it “opposes the addition of $455 million above the FY 2017 Budget request for Israeli missile defense procurement and cooperative development programs.”

Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee 

Cornel West: Democratic party beholden to AIPAC


Addressing the issue of settlements in the Democratic Party’s platform or calling Israel’s presence in the West Bank as “occupation” would only undermine the “common objective” of reaching a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Hillary Clinton’s representatives on the platform drafting committee said on Thursday.

“I would not support and would, in fact, oppose, the use of the word ‘occupation’ for the very reason that it undermines our common objective – your objective, my objective, and more importantly the objective of Secretary Clinton, of President Obama, of the Democratic Party – to achieve a negotiated two-state outcome,” Robert Wexler, a former Congressman and president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, told Dr. Cornel West during a hearing of the Democratic platform drafting committee. “A negotiated two-state outcome will result in an agreement on borders. And one you have borders, the issue that propels your concern regarding what you refer to as ‘occupation’ will be resolved. We have to consistently keep with behavior that promotes and encourages a two-state outcome. That should be the focus of the Democratic platform.”

Wexler also clashed with James Zogby, a pro-Palestinian activist and a Democratic Party insider, over the issue of settlements. “It has been recognized by every U.S. administration that there is an occupation,” Zogby stressed. “Would you not feel that it is more important to include the word ‘occupation’ which our president, this current president has mentioned and every previous president has mentioned, as a way simply of clarifying that to get to two states an occupation has to end.”

Wexler admitted that the Democratic platform’s position on settlements shouldn’t be more or less than the position held by all presidents going back to Johnson. However, by focusing just on settlements, “you undermine the whole equation that supports a negotiated two-state outcome.”

According to Wexler, just like nobody has suggested that the platform should include a solution to the issues of Jerusalem, refugees and security, the party should not litigate the issue of settlement. Instead, he suggested, the platform should outline a blueprint “to bring the two sides to a conclusion where our shared objectives are met – the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic state of Israel.”

Former Congressman Howard Berman, appointed by Hillary Clinton as a member of the drafting committee, echoed the same sentiments. “I could come up with a list – if we want this platform to get into it – of issues like incitement, the failure of the Palestinian Authority leadership to say yes, or yes but, to rewarding the families of [terrorists]. I could go through all of this,” he said. “I don’t want that to be what this platform does.”

“Our differences are really with the Republican Party in how we prosecute peace, not war, in the Middle East,” added Wendy Sherman, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. “We are all in agreement that there needs to be a two-state solution… And getting there is really something that should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.”

During the hearing, Dr. West said, “For too long the Democratic Party has been beholden to AIPAC” and “for so long the U.S. has been so biased toward Israeli security.” He also questioned whether the Democratic Party would respond in the same way if there was “a Palestinian occupation of our precious Jewish brothers and sisters.”

“I support the BDS, not because I think it’s anti-Semitic,” he added. “We have got to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish hatred – it goes hand in hand with every Christian civilization and many Islamic civilizations. It’s wrong, it’s unjust – but that cannot be the excuse of in any way downplaying the unbelievable misery that we see in Gaza, in the West Bank and other places.”

Micah Gill: Born leader draws inspiration from AIPAC conference


MICAH GILL, 18
HIGH SCHOOL: Shalhevet High School
GAP YEAR: Yeshivat HaKotel, Israel
GOING TO: University of Pennsylvania

Shalhevet High School graduating senior Micah Gill’s mother is a runner. She swears by it, saying it gives her a runner’s high.

Micah enjoys running, too, but a different kind: The school leader gets his kicks from public speaking and, in particular, running weekly town hall meetings at Shalhevet as agenda chair, a position equivalent to student council president. 

“It’s definitely a hard, but very meaningful and very rewarding, task,” he said. 

Micah’s role in student leadership had its perks. This past year, the 18-year-old enjoyed a subsidized trip to the 2016 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C. Being around so many like-minded, pro-Israel community members was incredible, he said.

“Being in the room … with almost 20,000 Jews and 20,000 Israel supporters is an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. An ambience, a feeling stuck with me for a while,” he said.

“Ted Cruz is not my guy, but at the end of his speech, he said … ‘Am Yisrael chai’ (the People of Israel live), and everyone just erupted. I felt a sense of unity with people I’ve never met; I felt a sense of pride of being a Jew, of being an Israel visitor, an Israel supporter,” said Micah, who plans to vote for Hillary Clinton. “It was an awesome experience for me.”

Agenda chair is one of many ways Micah is involved with the school community. He is captain of the school’s flag football team and — a die-hard Dodgers fan — plays center field on the varsity baseball team. He also has been a member of the school’s Model Congress team all throughout high school, giving his public speaking skills more of a workout.

He helped create a newsletter called Nitzotzei Torah, (Hebrew for “sparks of Torah”), which features student writing about the weekly Torah portions. To date, Shalhevet has released 15 to 20 issues of the publication.

Micah said he loves the collaborative nature of the project. 

“I love energizing and galvanizing people to do projects, especially projects involving Torah. It’s a good way to flex my muscles with writing, with Torah, and it’s good for Shalhevet as a whole,” he said.

Micah, who attends Shalhevet with his twin brother, Jonah, said he loves the Shalhevet community and hopes he was able to contribute a lot to what others there were able to accomplish. 

“Being agenda chair is a prime way to take Shalhevet — to take the school — into my own hands,” he said. “I think I’ve shown ninth-graders it’s OK to get up and make a fool of yourself and make a comment [during town hall], shown 12th-graders who are virtually done with high school that they have a lot to learn from [themselves] and about others. … I love my high school more than anything.”

That said, Micah, who identifies as Modern Orthodox, remains excited about what the future has in store. He will be spending the 2016-17 academic year at Yeshivat HaKotel, an educational institution in Jerusalem, before he begins at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2017. 

What does he plan to study at Penn? 

“If I’m not mistaken, I’m an undecided liberal arts major — a big emphasis on the ‘undecided.’ ”

Ted Cruz in, Bernie Sanders out on senators’ letter urging more ‘robust’ defense package for Israel


An AIPAC-backed letter to President Barack Obama urging a more “robust” defense package for Israel reportedly has garnered the signatures of 83 senators, including Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz but not Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Reuters reported Monday that 51 Republicans and 32 Democrats, more than four-fifths of the Senate, had signed on to the document.

The letter, initiated by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Chris Coons, D-Del., was one of the lobbying day requests during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference last month.

Reuters said Cruz, of Texas, had signed and Sanders, an Independent of Vermont, did not. Sanders is the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests.

Israel and the United States are negotiating a 10-year defense assistance package, or Memorandum of Understanding, to follow the package set to expire next year that guarantees $3 billion annually. The new agreement is widely expected to be significantly larger.

AIPAC praised the letter.

“We applaud this statement from the Senate of overwhelming bipartisan support for a robust, new Memorandum of Understanding with Israel that increases aid while retaining the current terms of the existing program,” the prominent Israel lobby’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, said in a statement.

The letter does not specify an amount to increase the overall defense assistance package, but notes that Congress is already considering increasing the nearly $500 million annually it budgets for missile defense cooperation, which until now has been considered separately from the defense package.

It cites a series of what it depicts as enhanced threats in the region, including a missile buildup by Hezbollah in Lebanon; Syria becoming a battleground for an array of forces hostile to Israel, including Iran and militant Sunni Islamist groups, and an increase in terrorism in the Sinai.

The letter also notes what it says is the influx of weapons into the region and the possibility that Iran will abrogate the recent nuclear deal and seek nuclear weapons.

“The nature and breadth of the current threats mean that the United States must enhance its investment in the long-term security requirements of our closest Middle East ally,” the letter said. “We urge you to conclude an agreement for a robust MOU that increases aid while retaining the current terms of our existing aid program.”

23 Jewish activists from Simone Zimmerman’s anti-occupation group arrested at Passover protests


Police arrested 23 activists from an anti-Israeli occupation group at two protests, one at an Anti-Defamation League office and another at an American Israeli Public Affairs Committee headquarters.

Seventeen protestors were arrested in the lobby of the ADL’s headquarters in New York City Wednesday. Six were arrested at AIPAC’s Boston office Tuesday after chaining themselves to a symbolic Passover seder table.

The activists were protesting on behalf of IfNotNow, a group formed in 2014 calling for “the end of the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation.” The group was co-founded by Simone Zimmerman, who was fired by the Bernie Sanders campaign two days after being hired as its Jewish outreach coordinator last week. Zimmerman, a former J Street activist, had called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “manipulative asshole” in a Facebook post.

A similar protest was planned for Thursday in San Francisco.

At the New York protest, some 100 protestors held a sign reading “Liberation Passover seder” in the lobby of the building where the ADL is located, the Forward reported. They wore shirts reading “No liberation with occupation” and sang songs in Hebrew.

In Boston, around 75 protestors held a mock seder outside the AIPAC office building. Six who chained themselves to the seder table and refused to leave were arrested.

“The occupation is a daily nightmare for Palestinians who live it and a moral disaster for Jews who support and administer it. This year, we say that nobody can be free while others are oppressed,” IfNotNow said in a press release Wednesday.

In a statement Thursday, ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt said IfNotNow and the ADL share the same goal of a two-state solution.

“ADL had no role whatsoever in the arrest of the protesters,” Greenblatt said. “The protesters trespassed in the lobby of a private office building in which ADL happens to be one of dozens of tenants.”

“It is unfortunate that [If Not Now] seems to be more interested in spectacles and ultimatums than in discussion and dialogue grappling with the difficult issues involved in achieving peace,” he added.

Former ADL chief Abe Foxman had called for Zimmerman’s firing last week.

“I believe Bernie Sanders needs to fire Simone Zimmerman,” former Anti-Defamation League chief Abe Foxman told Jewish Insider last Thursday. “No amount of word changes can cure her ugly characterization of the Prime Minister of Israel and the Israeli army and people defending themselves.”

Joe Biden to address J Street on heels of AIPAC address


Vice President Joe Biden will address J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group announced Monday.

The April 18 event comes a month after Biden, the Obama administration senior figure closest to the pro-Israel community, addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent Israel lobbying group often at odds with J Street.

Biden will speak to the group as media speculation increases over whether President Barack Obama will outline the parameters of a two-state solution before he leaves office in January. J Street since its inception has backed an assertive U.S. role in advancing peace talks, while AIPAC counsels greater U.S. deference to Israel on whether and how to initiate peace talks.

The 2013-14 peace talks spurred by the Obama administration collapsed in mutual recriminations; officials on both sides are wary of what Obama would include in his vision for a permanent peace deal.

Biden last spoke to J Street in 2013, months after he had addressed AIPAC.

Donald Trump’s son-in-law’s newspaper says it will stop helping the candidate


The New York Observer said its editor would no longer consult with the campaign of Donald Trump, whose son-in-law, Jared Kushner, owns the weekly.

The statement Tuesday, reported Monday by the Huffington Post, came a day after a New York magazine profile of the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nod said that Observer editor Ken Kurson had assisted Kushner in writing Trump’s speech last month to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“A recent report about Observer Editor Ken Kurson’s input on a speech delivered by Donald Trump before AIPAC has resulted in new scrutiny of our newspaper’s relationship with Mr. Trump, who is the father-in-law of our publisher, Jared Kushner,” the newspaper’s political editor, Jill Jorgensen, said in the statement. “Going forward, there will be no input whatsoever on the campaign from Mr. Kurson or anyone on the editorial side of the Observer.”

The statement said the Observer would start covering Trump as it would any other candidate. The paper had held back from some reporting about the candidate because of his family tie to Kushner.

Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter, is married to Kushner, who is Orthodox Jewish. Kushner has been the subject in recent days of multiple profiles because he is in the small circle of advisers to his father-in-law’s campaign, albeit in an informal capacity.

The scion of a real estate family that has given heavily to Jewish and pro-Israel causes, Kushner has advised his father-in-law to pivot to a more traditional campaign, Reuters reported this week, and to reach out to establishment Republican donors. Kushner and his father, Charles, are prominent givers to AIPAC, and Kushner arranged for Trump to travel to Israel last December to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders.

Trump canceled the trip after Netanyahu criticized the candidate’s call to keep Muslims from entering the United States. His campaign denied a report Trump reprimanded Kushner for suggesting the visit.

Jewish Insider hosts wine-tasting event in D.C.


SCENE LAST WEEK: On Monday March 21st, Jewish Insider hosted a late night wine tasting with Congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-California) at Rep. Turner’s condo building in downtown D.C. The 150 attendees, many of whom were in town for AIPAC's Policy Conference, enjoyed upscale Israeli wine courtesy of our weekly wine columnist Yitz Applbaum, along with kosher short ribs from LambBaacon.

SPOTTED: Sen. Norm Coleman, Hillary's foreign policy advisor Laura Rosenberger, Rep. Jeff Denham, State's Ira Forman and Chanan Weissman, Majida Mourad, Rabbi Jack Moline, Cruz National Finance Co-Chair Edward & Elissa Czuker, former AIPAC President Howard Friedman, CSPAN’s Howard Mortman, Adam Howard, Ari Mittleman, Singer Foundation’s Daniel Bonner, Jordan Hirsch, AIPAC’s Tara Brown, OU’s Nathan Diament, JFNA’s William Daroff, Hudson Institute CEO Ken Weinstein, Senior Advisor to Israeli Amb. Yarden Golan, former Bush 43 staffer Scott Arogeti, Tribe Media’s David Suissa, Leora Levy, Kahal's Alex Jakubowski, Rep. Bob Dold, Miranda May, Nathaniel Rosen, CoP’s Sam Schear, Rabbi Steve Wernick, Noah Pollak, Rep. Kevin Yoder, Aaron Keyak, Steve Rabinowitz, Jacob Kornbluh, Jared Sichel, Josh Lauder, Glass-U’s Daniel Fine, Homrun Group's Dan Smith, United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer, IAC’s Miri Belsky, Arab-Christian Israeli diplomat George Deek, NEA’s Andrew Schoen, Suzy Appelbaum, B’nai B’rith’s Dan Mariaschin, Loop88’s Dave Weinberg, Rachel Glazer, Laura Adkins, and Alex Friedman.

All photos by Ron Sachs from CNP

Ecumenical rather than sectional


On the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the beautiful new memorial for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. displays a host of inspiring lessons that were taught by the great civil rights leader.  Among them are these words, spoken by Dr. King in Atlanta on his final Christmas in 1967:  “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

As a rabbi, I am proud to be the inheritor and guardian of a religious tradition that is founded upon the “ecumenical rather than sectional” loyalties that Dr. King modeled for us all.  Our Torah teaches no less than thirty-six times that we are commanded to love the stranger – the one who is not of our tribe.

Just a few miles from Dr. King’s memorial, the AIPAC Policy Conference convened this past week and was broadcast live by all of America’s major news networks and more expansively throughout the world.

I am deeply troubled by the multiple standing ovations that were afforded this past Monday evening to a man whose words, actions, and values are so regularly at odds with the peace-directed ideals of our Jewish tradition and our country – ideals elevated by Dr. King and so many of our nation’s greatest visionaries.

It’s one thing to be polite. Derekh eretz (the Jewish discipline of interpersonal decency) is an important value, and it is proper and fitting to greet a guest – even one with whom you might disagree – politely.  But politeness does not demand cheering from a Jewish audience for a person who eschews the very “world perspective” that Dr. King prayed might characterize our nation.

The celebration of a person who tramples so many of our Jewish values simply because he spoke in support of one of them caused a lie about Jews to be broadcast to the world.  This is an embarrassing failure on the part of the Jews in the convention hall on Monday night.

I am about to send my eldest child to college, where life is already hard enough for pro-Israel Jews.  We can be sure that it just got harder, with the world looking on as the worst anti-Semitic sentiments – that Jews have way more power than they deserve… that Jews trade away their other “purported” global ethical values in favor of whatever is good for themselves… that Jews are loyal only to Israel/themselves, not the countries in which they live – seemed to be playing out before their eyes.

Particularly in a presidential election year, the AIPAC Policy Conference is not just another platform for the internecine American Jewish debate about Israel.  The entire world watches this one Jewish event – and only this one Jewish event.  We can only assume that many millions of non-Jews were reaching their conclusions about who the Jews are and what they stand for on Monday night.

Lest anyone who tuned in to the convention come away with the false impression that Jewish self-concern can ever be embraced at the expense of our religious tradition’s other fundamental values, I wish to be perfectly clear.

The Jewish people’s loyalties “transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation.”

The Jewish people celebrates the Torah’s command to love more than just ourselves.

The Jewish people of America love our country and are determined to join with Americans of all faiths to uphold the soul of this nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

This is not a political matter.  It is blind to partisanship and party allegiances.  Whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, America’s Jews are devoted to our “ecumenical rather than sectional” loyalties, and we always will be.

Make no mistake – I love and support the land, people and state of Israel.  I believe in the legitimacy and importance of a safe and secure Israel, and I will never stop working for the day when Israel will live in peace with all of its neighbors.  But we, the Jewish people, do not need nor wish to check all of our other sacred religious values at the door in service of this one commitment, no matter how important it is to us.  To do so is to debase our own Jewish heritage.  To do so when the world is watching us so closely is to debase ourselves.

Wakeup call to US Jewry


The AIPAC conference opened few days ego is one of the most important conventions of the Jewish communities in the US. It has always been regarded as one of most focal events that Israeli leaders – especially the prime minister – regularly attended. There they would present Israel’s case and their views while expounding what has to be done in order to make sure that Israel continues to prosper. They would ask for the continued approval, support and cooperation of American Jewry.

But this year, for reasons unknown, Bibi Netanyahu did not bother to take part in the convention: he did not go to the US, he even cancelled (at the last moment) a pre-arranged meeting with President Obama.

It seems that Bibi is absolutely certain that no matter what he does, he has the support of American Jews; he takes it for granted because he is the Jewish state Prime Minister. He even completely ignores the effect of his behavior on the Jewish American community.

So I’d like to put a few questions to AIPAC leaders:

How did it come about that universities with a very large number of Jewish students became out-of-bounds for the representatives of the state of Israel?

How did it become easier to wave an ISIS flag in Berkeley than an Israeli flag?

Can it all be explained by antisemitism, which has always been around? Or could it be that the conduct of the Israeli government and its action are not in keeping with the Jewish values on which you brought up your children?

How could you let a prime minister offend your president? It was so clear that such move not only would not be useful – it would be downright detrimental.

Can you imagine that all members of the Israeli Knesset will be present when the prime minister of a foreign country comes to make a speech against our PM’s policies? Did you not see the insult of the symbol of your country which has always supported Israel and still supports it as a proper action which promotes Israel?

Why did you not stand up and say ‘No more’? What did AIPAC gain from this maneuver? What did Israel gain? We all lost, big-time.

How can you support a government which is disdainful of the way you chose, most of you, to practice your Jewish faith?

The danger now does not center on the decrease in public support for Israel in the US and the Jewish community. The danger is that your sons’ generation will cut themselves off not just from the state of Israel but from the Jewish values they grew on; because when you blindly support a policy which is the opposite of Jewish values, this is the inevitable result.

Whenever I talk to Jewish audiences around the world I notice their reluctance to ask difficult questions or voice doubts; when I encourage them to speak up they tell me that when they do so they are usually told by Israelis that they have no right to criticize, since “neither you nor your children have served in the IDF or lived on the border so don’t tell us what to do”.

It is then that I go back to the Declaration of Independence and say that the state of Israel’s right to exist stems only from that dream-come-true to realize the Jewish people historical right to live in a state of their own and stress that they have the duty to fight for the character of that Jewish home so that it is suits all the Jews who believe in Jewish values.

Now is the time for you to express your opinion because it is important and it counts no less than mine or that of other Jewish inhabitants of the state of Israel.

The danger looms over all of us. Without strong support of Jewish congregations around the world but especially in the United States, Israel is a state whose national security is deficient, while in any place in the world a Jewish congregation without a principled, strong Jewish state, will go back to be a persecuted congregation whose continued existence is uncertain.


Brig. Gen (Res) Asaf Agmon initiated and planned the rescue operations of Ethiopian Jews with the IAF Hercules planes during Operation Solomon. He has also been awarded the highest decoration of the IAF commander for extraordinary professionalism over enemy territoryn. Currently Agmon is leading the Nature Defense Force project, aiming to create a cultural revolution in the IDF  to safeguard the unique environment and nature of Israel. Agmon is also the founder of several hi-tech and technology companies and sits on the board of directors of the Ramat Gan College for Law and Business.

Hillary Clinton invited to speak at Golda Meir exhibition


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has landed a possible speaking role at a local New Jersey conference, which will feature a special photographic exhibition about the life of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir after she expressed her admiration of Meir during her address at AIPAC’s annual policy conference on Monday.

Limmud FSU officials confirmed that they have invited Hillary Clinton to be an honorary speaker at its New York area conference, April 1-3, following her remarks at AIPAC.

During her speech at AIPAC, Clinton – aspiring to become the first female U.S. president – recalled, “Some of us remember a woman, Golda Meir, who led the Israeli government decades ago and wonder what’s taking us so long here in America.”

The Limmud FSU photo exhibition, “Where are all the women leaders? A tribute to Golda Meir,” will celebrate Meir as history’s only woman Mideast leader and will be followed by a special panel discussing the scarcity of women political leaders and its impact.

Limmud FSU New York is a volunteer-driven and pluralistic Jewish festival of culture, creativity.

Jeffrey Goldberg recently 

ADL condemns Cruz for call to patrol ‘Muslim neighborhoods’


The Anti-Defamation League condemned Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for calling on police to patrol Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S.

On Tuesday, Cruz called in a statement for new powers for law enforcement to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium, before the residents “become radicalized.”

“If you have a neighborhood where there’s a high level of gang activity, the way to prevent it is you increase the law enforcement presence there and you target the gang members to get them off the streets,” the Texas senator told CNN’s Anderson Cooper later in the day. “I’m talking about any area where there is a higher incidence of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Responding in a statement Tuesday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said: “As we saw in Brussels today, violent terrorism is a legitimate concern for the home front. But demonizing all Muslims is a misguided and counterproductive response to the terrorist threat posed by those motivated by a radical interpretation of Islam.”

He also said: “The overwhelming majority of Muslims in America are law-abiding people who are as outraged by terrorism and bigotry as Americans of every other faith. Sweeping generalizations about them can serve only to foment discrimination and hate crimes against innocent, devoted Americans. Furthermore, our law enforcement agencies need the cooperation of Muslim communities and community leaders to combat and deter crimes, including violent extremism.”

Calling the patrols of Muslim neighborhoods “an irrational approach,” Greenblatt said: “Ordering special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods will almost certainly create an adversarial relationship between law enforcement and the communities they have sworn to protect, making those communities more vulnerable, more frightened, and often less willing to help. The approach is contrary to the principles of individual rights, equality, justice, and religious freedom on which this nation was founded.”

The ADL on Tuesday also sent a letter to Cruz expressing concern about two individuals he has identified as members of a national security coalition that he would put together if elected president. The individuals were identified as Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin and Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., “who have a history of anti-Muslim bigotry and have promoted outrageous conspiracy theories involving Muslims,” according to ADL.

When Jews cheer for Fascism: Trump at AIPAC Policy Conference


On March 21, Donald Trump was one of four presidential candidates to address the annual Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). One needs no introduction to the fascist policy proposals that have propelled the businessman’s campaign into the national spotlight. Even Jews who have no family connections to the Holocaust easily observe the parallels in his scapegoating of ethnic minority groups, proposed mass deportations, immigration bans and national registries. Therefore, it was disconcerting (to say the least) to watch thousands of our brethren stand on their feet and cheer for the man whose core platform points resemble 1930s Germany more so than any modern presidential candidate’s. 

Over the years, American Jews’ political support has hinged on a candidate’s willingness to throw his or her weight behind the pro-Israel community and all of its facets. So much so, that oftentimes the candidates’ general platform points take a back seat to their stances on Israel. This has been an advantageous strategy, and one that has resulted in a strengthening of ties between the U.S. and Israel. But there is a point at which every moral Jew must ask himself or herself, how much are they willing to sacrifice for this relationship? Would we sacrifice our liberties or those of our neighbors? Or can we muster the courage to draw the line well before that? Are we willing to support a candidate who calls for a national registry of an ethno-religious minority, so long as he throws jabs at President Barack Obama’s stance on Israel? Are we willing to put aside his scapegoating tactics so that we may hear a few additional sound bites on Palestinian nationhood (or lack thereof)? Are we willing to put aside the very values that Judaism embodies, in favor of a slightly more hawkish stance on our foreign policy in the Middle East? 

In this age of political disillusionment, hyper-partisanship and changing tides, Jews’ place as a voice of political reason is becoming ever more important. The values of tikkun olam are no longer localized calls for grass-roots volunteerism. They are a real driving force behind many of the actions young Jews across the nation are undertaking: mass political action, progressive rallying and intersectional social justice. Indeed, as Jews, it is always our responsibility to embody the principles that Hillel the Elder so famously stated. And we must ask, if we are not for Muslims, what are we? If we are not for Latinos, what are we? If we don’t stand up to fascism, what are we? And if not now, when? 

So, no, we will not stand up and applaud Donald Trump for saying he will support Israel. We will not turn a blind eye to bigotry and fascism because it is politically convenient, or because it is not yet targeted at us. We will not wait until all those who stood in solidarity with us are imprisoned, deported or murdered. And this is simply because we know all too well that if we do so, there will be no one left to stand with us.


Guy Singer is an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara.

Trump at AIPAC: Is the pro-Israel lobby going astray?


I watched Donald Trump speak to AIPAC from my office, 3,000 miles away from Washington, D.C., staring at C-SPAN on my laptop while eating hummus.

So why was it that afterward, I still felt I needed a shower?

I cringe as I write this, but it wasn’t Donald who made me feel kind of yucky. It was AIPAC.

I cringe, because a big part of me has the utmost respect for the important work of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. I am grateful such a lobbying group exists. Although you wouldn’t know it from watching the coverage of AIPAC’s annual convention, Jews are actually a minority in the world, even in America.

And somehow, to a degree almost as miraculous as Israel’s own creation, a small group of American Jews built an organization that can amplify the pro-Israel cause within the halls of power. Many of us take their work for granted, and even more of us pick at every misstep such a large lobbying group is bound to make.

Given AIPAC’s current size and influence, it is easy to forget the forces that were arrayed against Israel when AIPAC came into existence in 1951: far, far more powerful oil and gas interests with ties to the Arab world, a subtly anti-Semitic Harry Truman administration and State Department, knee-jerk anti-Western reactionaries, arms dealers eager to cash in on the Middle East conflict, numerous nations actively seeking to destroy Israel. Would Israel have survived without the U.S. support garnered through AIPAC’s influence? Probably. Would it have thrived? Unlikely.

And it’s not as if today’s world makes AIPAC any less necessary. Israel is powerful, but it’s hardly a superpower. Big Oil, with its deep ties to OPEC, spends more on lobbying than any other group. I can’t help but wonder if the progressives who constantly slam AIPAC feel so much better letting Saudi and Gulf State emirs have their way on Capitol Hill. In the real world, where powerful financial, political and ideological forces are arrayed against Israel and where politicians are not known for their unwavering moral stands, it’s a good thing AIPAC is good at what it does.

And that’s exactly why Monday’s speeches left me feeling unsettled, if not unclean. Precisely because AIPAC’s mission is so important, I worry that it is going astray.

The world is not privy to the serious policy work, sincere bipartisan outreach and thoughtful analysis that make up so much of AIPAC’s behind-the-scenes success.

What the world saw was one presidential candidate after another throwing red meat to the crowd.

The world heard the crowd cheer when Republican front-runner Donald Trump derided President Barack Obama and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. The world heard the crowd applaud Sen. Ted Cruz’s empty promise to “rip this catastrophic Iran deal to shreds.” The world watched as AIPAC’s carefully built reputation for seriousness and bipartisanship was drowned by blind ovations.

You could make the case that forcing one candidate after another to pander to the crowd and make empty promises on the record was, in its way, a show of power, a signal to Israel’s opponents that Washington belongs to AIPAC.

But if that’s the strategy, it’s time to rethink the strategy.

Inside the Verizon Center, there must have been a feeling of power and unity. Outside the Verizon Center, it read differently.

Bernie Sanders, whose candidacy has energized and mobilized the very college students whom AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups say they are most worried about, wasn’t allowed to speak at all. AIPAC said its rules prohibited candidates from making video addresses, though four years ago, the same rules allowed Republicans Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to do just that. College students have a word for that: BS.

Though Clinton received enthusiastic applause, her pre-dawn (by Pacific Daylight Time) speech was a distant memory by the time Trump stepped to the podium. The pro-Israel crowd spent prime time cheering the most hard-line and partisan pronouncements.

As I wrote last week, the fact that AIPAC gave Trump a platform without clearly condemning his attacks against Muslims and Mexicans, and his calls to violence only weakened the organization’s own standing among the minorities, moderates and liberals whose support Israel will certainly need in the future. Only Clinton and GOP candidate John Kasich alluded to the low road Trump has taken. Before the speech, AIPAC remained mum.

Its defenders argued that AIPAC is solely a pro-Israel advocacy group, and it shouldn’t be expected to weigh in on anything that doesn’t have to do with defending Israel.

But as I watched Trump speak to frequent ovations, I couldn’t help but wonder if there weren’t more American Jews like me, who don’t believe you have to check in your Jewish ethics to support a Jewish state.

On Tuesday, AIPAC leaders apparently woke up to the fact that Trump had put his foot in their mouths.  The organization's president, Lillian Pinkus, issued a statement  condemning Trump’s anti-Obama remarks and the (thousands of) audience members who applauded them.

“We are disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone,” Pinkus wrote.

Of course by then, the cameras were off. And the damage was done.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @foodaism.

Are we still allowed to cheer?


There’s a new sin in town – it’s not heckling or insulting or bullying.

It’s cheering.

Apparently, we’re no longer allowed to cheer, if who and what we’re cheering offends certain Jews, mostly liberal Jews.

I was there on the night of March 21 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, when thousands of Jews attending the AIPAC policy conference cheered Donald Trump’s full-throated defense of Israel, including his sharp criticism of President Barack Obama. These cheers evidently have upset and offended a lot of Jews.

Even AIPAC felt a need to apologize for the crowd’s reaction, as incoming President Lillian Pinkus read a statement saying, “We are disappointed that so many people applauded the sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”

“My personal discomfort with Trump’s speech wasn’t just with what he said,” wrote Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner. “My discomfort — in truth, my shame — was with the reception he received.”

Simply put, many critics feel that cheering for a man who has violated all standards of decency is shameful and immoral. Of course, the Jews who cheered for Trump were doing what most Jews have always done at AIPAC conventions: They were cheering any message they considered pro-Israel, whether the messenger was Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton.

Let's remember that many of these same Jews used to cheer for the dream of peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians, in the heady days before Israel got ambushed by reality. Peace lovers everywhere have been burned, if not traumatized, by these three events: 

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, backed by President Bill Clinton, made a generous offer to end the conflict and got rewarded with a Second Intifada that murdered over 1,000 Jews.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated all the Jews of Gaza and got rewarded with 15,000 Hamas terror rockets.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more generous peace offer and got rewarded with more Palestinian rejection and the continuous spreading of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism.

As this hard reality was shaping Israeli consciousness, the threats to Israel only increased. The Middle East exploded with even more radicalism and Islamic extremism. Today, ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas, all committed to Israel’s destruction, surround the Jewish state, while an empowered and genocidal Iran proudly declares its intention to annihilate Israel.

Evidently, none of that context seems to matter to the critics of the AIPAC crowd that dared to cheer the pro-Israel message of Donald Trump. They can’t imagine that, for one night at least, a sincere and instinctive desire to protect Israel against vicious enemies would trump other concerns.

Why is it “shameful” to put Israel at the top of your priorities while attending a conference that puts Israel at the top of its priorities? Why can’t critics allow some space for priorities that differ from their own?

What critics don’t seem to understand is that when you characterize cheering as “shameful,” it’s another form of bullying, of saying, “Don’t you dare cheer this man under any circumstances or I will publicly shame you.” 

If we continue with this line of thinking, should we admonish any crowd that cheers someone we despise? Is it “shameful” that African-Americans cheer Reverend Jeremiah Wright because the reverend is a disgusting anti-Semite? 

Beyond the sanctimonious pretensions of admonishing crowds, what the critics also seem to miss is that this “new AIPAC” crowd hasn’t become more partisan, it’s become more realistic. With the incredible dangers facing Israel today, they’re simply more in tune with Israelis who have to live with those dangers.

It’s not a coincidence that over the past decade, the peace camp in Israel has shrunk. It has fallen victim to the harsh realities of its increasingly violent neighborhood and especially to the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to recognize a Jewish sovereign state– no matter where its borders are drawn. No amount of worshipping Jewish values can change the primitive reality of having next-door neighbors who want to kill your children rather than make peace.

It is reality that has moved to the right in Israel, not Israelis.

The AIPAC crowd the other night didn’t cheer Trump, they cheered his strong defense of Israel. They did not suddenly become “right wing” carnivorous Trump voters. They internalized the many threats to Israel’s survival and channeled the sentiments of ordinary Israelis.

If they feel like exercising their right to cheer a pro-Israel message from a potential future president, even one we abhor, who are we to bully them and tell them to shut up?

Getting the story at AIPAC: The forgotten 56 million


So much of life depends on who you bump into. I bumped into a lot of people at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, a gathering of 18,000 highly caffeinated Jews in Washington, D.C., where the sport of choice is the handing out of business cards within 15 seconds of meeting someone, and the subjects of choice are politics, Israel and, this year, Donald Trump.

So, after two days of intense schmoozing about these hot issues, I was glad to bump into an old acquaintance, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, who had a whole other issue on her mind. I bumped into her while meeting with local PR impresario Steve Rabinowitz in the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, one of several hotels near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and Verizon Center, the two giant venues where the main activities took place.

I knew Mizrahi from her days as head of The Israel Project, and I knew she had started a nonprofit venture, RespectAbility, to help people who have disabilities. So, just like that, my AIPAC journey took an unexpected turn, and I ended up spending a good hour immersed in something hardly anyone is talking about during this election season: People with disabilities, and, more specifically, the millions of working-age Americans with disabilities who would love nothing more than to find work and become productive citizens.

Mizrahi is saddened that while the media have been so focused on Trump mania, and the candidates so focused on the usual hot-ticket items such as the economy, national security and immigration, the issue closest to her heart has been virtually forgotten.

“We’re spending so much time obsessing over Donald Trump,” she told me, “but we’re forgetting about things that can really improve people’s lives. The issue of dealing with people with disabilities and helping millions of them find work should be part of every stump speech.”

Considering the scope of the problem, it’s disappointing that it isn’t.

Mizrahi quoted data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that shows 1 in 5 Americans — that’s 56 million Americans — has some form of disability. Of those, about 22 million are working age (18 to 64), but only 34 percent are employed, some only part time and many others earning sub-par wages.

“Every year,” she said, “300,000 young people with disabilities enter the workforce, and most of them end up living on their parents’ couch and living on $14,000 a year in federal benefits. If we can do a better job of integrating them into the workforce, we won’t just save their dignity, we’ll save a lot of tax money.”

To put the issue on the national radar, RespectAbility has asked all of the presidential candidates to complete a questionnaire to help people with disabilities know where candidates stand on the issues.

To give you a sense of the thoroughness of the questionnaire, here’s the first of 16 question areas:

“Do you have a clear and transparent process for making decisions on disability issues? For example, how do you know/learn about disability issues and make decisions on the many policies that impact the one in five of Americans who have a disability? Have you studied the issues? Do you have a disability or a family member with a disability? Have you done meetings with disability leaders or citizens with disabilities? Do you have a disability advisor and/or advisory committee?”

So far, of the presidential candidates still in the running, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have completed the questionnaire, while John Kasich (who Mizrahi lauded for his work in this area as governor of Ohio) filled out parts of it, and the campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have yet to submit their answers (details are on therespectabilityreport.com).

For Mizrahi, what’s even more important than their responses to the questionnaire is whether candidates make the issue part of their stump speeches, something no candidate has done. “That’s the true test of how seriously they take the issue,” she said.

It’s also a test of a candidate’s heart: Will you care for people in need even if they don’t carry a lot of political clout? Will you care for an issue that rarely makes it to the front pages or the evening news? And if you’re in the media business, will you feature an issue that will get significantly lower ratings than the latest Trump explosion?

That’s the advantage of going to conferences. All too often, it’s not the stuff happening on the main stage that moves the heart. It’s the stuff on the side, the issues you bump into when you meet someone with fire in her heart.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

AIPAC apologizes for Trump’s cheering Obama’s departure


In an emotional apology, the AIPAC leadership expressed regret to President Barack Obama for an attack on him from its stage by Donald Trump, and for the loud applause it earned.

“While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the President of the United States and our President Barack Obama,” Lillian Pinkus, the newly installed president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said Tuesday, joined by other AIPAC lay and professional leaders.

AIPAC’s evident anguish in the aftermath of Trump’s remarks — delivered to its annual conference Monday night in Washington, D.C. — seem to reflect a divide among the 18,000 members in attendance. While many in the arena leapt to their feet in appreciation of the hard-line positions on Iran, terrorism and the current administration by the Republican presidential front-runner, others sat on their hands or even absented themselves from the event.

“There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night and for that we are deeply sorry,” Pinkus said, her voice choking. “We are deeply disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”

Launching a critique of Obama’s U.N. policy, Trump, a real estate magnate, started a sentence Monday evening, “With President Obama in his final year –“ Then he stopped himself and said “Yay!”

Cheers, laughter and applause arose from the crowd packed into the Verizon Center, a sports arena used by the lobby for the first time to accommodate record-breaking numbers.

“He may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me,” Trump said. “And you know it and you know it better than anybody.”

Pinkus said AIPAC does not “countenance ad hominem attacks.”

“We take great offense at those that are leveled against the president of the United States of America from our stage,” she said.

Trump’s candidacy has appalled a broad swath of the Jewish community because of his broadsides against Mexicans and Muslims, his insults directed at women and the disabled, and the violence at his rallies. AIPAC came under criticism in some quarters for inviting him to speak. The lobby countered that it had to invite the Republican front-runner. AIPAC leaders had called on Trump to deliver substance.

His speech included substantive content on how he would approach peacemaking and confronting Iran. But Trump could not resist departing from prepared remarks to deliver the red meat that has typified his boisterous remarks at rallies. In addition to his remark on Obama, his description of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, as a “total disaster” also drew cheers, applause and laughter.

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a progressive, told JTA that he adjusted his remarks at the confab Tuesday morning to address the fallout from Trump’s speech.

“We must not embrace the politics of hate,” Creditor said on stage after a video presentation on his career and pro-Israel activity immediately following Pinkus’ apology.

“AIPAC’s commitment to bipartisanship isn’t just about being mensches in the world,” he said. “The only way to keep Israel strong and to build a beloved community here in the United States is to regard the multiplicity of voices here and in our nation as sacred.”

Another moderate, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued a statement Monday night saying his group “was disappointed but not surprised that Mr. Trump did nothing tonight to allay our deep concerns about his campaign.” Ahead of Trump’s appearance, the group had criticized Trump for his “naked appeals to bigotry,” especially against Hispanics and Muslims.

“It still seems that he does not share our values of equality, pluralism and humility,” said Jacobs.

AIPAC’s plans to ‘come together’ undone by Trump


Hear out Donald Trump. Ignore Donald Trump.

There were two distinct approaches to the Trump moment this week at AIPAC’s annual conference here, and there were mutual warnings that one or the other side would get burned.

The burn came fast, and it came to those who said listening to the front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nod was the right thing to do.

After days of repeated warnings to its activists not to disrupt Trump, and to treat speakers with respect, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee leadership issued an extraordinary apology on Tuesday morning – but not to Trump.

Instead, AIPAC said it was sorry for its members who had applauded his insulting remarks about President Obama during Trump’s Monday night speech at the Verizon Center. Many members roared and leapt to their feet when Trump suggested Obama was “the worst thing to ever happen to Israel.”

“While we may have policy differences, we deeply respect the office of the president of the United States and our President Barack Obama,” Lillian Pinkus, the lobby’s newly installed president, said from the AIPAC stage, joined by other AIPAC lay and professional leaders.

“There are people in our AIPAC family who were deeply hurt last night and for that we are deeply sorry,” Pinkus said, her voice choking. “We are deeply disappointed that so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”

The evident anguish in the aftermath of Trump’s remarks undid the hopes that his speech would not undo the prominent Israel lobby’s careful claims to bipartisanship, even as its Iran policy is more or less aligned wholly with Republicans. The Trump moment came during a conference with a slogan, “Come Together,” that AIPAC had hoped would signal a new day of bipartisanship.

Complaints that the lobby had given Trump a platform at its largest annual assembly without expressing official displeasure at his most controversial remarks about immigrants and Muslims led many to wonder how AIPAC would function in an election in which the likely GOP nominee has alienated much of the organized Jewish community.

AIPAC officials said before the conference that the event would be an opportunity for Trump, derided by his rivals for speaking mostly in vagaries, to finally attach substance to his ideas. Trump’s prepared remarks included substantive and critical assessments of Obama’s Middle East policies, which AIPAC expected and indeed would have welcomed.

He also softened two positions that have created unease among pro-Israel activists — insisting he would remain neutral in brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians, saying his negotiating skills as a businessman would be key to reaching a deal, and refusing to commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

On Jerusalem, Trump vowed to move the American embassy to the city, “the eternal capital of the Jewish people.” And he said the Palestinians must accept as a given the closeness of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

His extemporized flourishes, however, typified the red meat he likes to throw out at his rallies, and many in the massive Verizon Center hall, chosen to accommodate a record-breaking 18,000 activists this year, gobbled it up.

Launching a critique of Obama’s U.N. policy, Trump started a sentence Monday evening by saying, “With President Obama in his final year” – then stopped himself and said “Yay!”

Cheers, laughter and applause arose from the crowd, and not just from isolated pockets.

“He may be the worst thing to ever happen to Israel, believe me, believe me,” said Trump, a billionaire real estate magnate. “And you know it and you know it better than anybody.”

The largest group advocating some form of protest ahead of Trump’s appearance, the Reform movement, sounded a note of vindication the day after his speech.

“We were disappointed but not surprised that Mr. Trump did nothing tonight to allay our deep concerns about his campaign,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, said in a statement Monday. “It still seems that he does not share our values of equality, pluralism, and humility.”

Trump’s laceration of Obama is the last thing AIPAC needed at a time when the lobby is endeavoring to show it remains a bipartisan enterprise.

Hoard Kohr, the one-time Republican operative who has led the organization for decades, alluded in his opening remarks on Sunday to pressure from the right to simply give up on Democrats in the wake of the party’s almost wholesale embrace of an Iran nuclear deal that AIPAC continues to insist endangers Israel.

“There are those who question our bipartisan approach to political advocacy,” Kohr said. “Unless one party controls all branches of government forever, bipartisanship remains the only way.”

Trump spoke on a night that also included live addresses from his Republican presidential rivals, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also addressed the throng.

There were warm welcomes for Democrats at the conference, particularly Vice President Joe Biden, the closest administration member to AIPAC, who spoke of his decades of attachment to Israel in emotional terms.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, also spoke — earlier in the day than Trump — pitching herself to his right on Israel.

“American can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security and survival,” Clinton said to repeated cheers and applause. “Some things aren’t negotiable and anyone who doesn’t understand that has no business in being our president.”

Yet it was clear the lobby still had difficulties in reconciling with Democrats, especially progressives among them. Only one Democrat from the vast majority in Congress who voted last year in favor of the Iran deal — Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the minority whip — addressed the conference.

Hoyer’s appearance together with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the majority leader, was designed to show bipartisan support for Israel, yet tension crept into the buddy show. When McCarthy suggested that the Obama administration had sowed “doubt” about the U.S.-Israel relationship, Hoyer countered that the two nations’ security establishments “are cooperating as closely today as they have in the past.”

AIPAC’s activists, lobbying on Tuesday, were unable to recommend any specific legislation on Iran; there is none suitable that is backed by both parties.

Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont challenging Clinton for the Democratic nod, did not attend because he was in the West ahead of three primaries in the region on Tuesday. He offered to deliver remarks via video link but was rejected by AIPAC. Sanders did deliver the remarks — at a Utah rally — with his consistent message of support for Israel tempered by criticism of its actions on settlements and in waging war.

Aiming to appeal to progressives, the lobby screened a video presentation Tuesday morning on Menachem Creditor, a rabbi from Berkeley, California, who is a progressive leader and supporter of AIPAC.

Such profiles of AIPAC members are usually followed by short live appearances by the subjects, who usually deliver a few inspiring words of thanks.

Creditor presented his prepared remarks and added an indirect swipe at Trump, telling JTA after his address that he was prompted to the changes not just by Trump’s speech but by the applause it earned.

“We must not embrace the politics of hate,” he told the AIPAC crowd, appearing immediately after Pinkus’ apology.

 

“AIPAC’s commitment to bipartisanship isn’t just about being mensches in the world. The only way to keep Israel strong and to build a beloved community here in the United States is to regard the multiplicity of voices here and in our nation as sacred.”

Hillary Clinton to AIPAC: Donald Trump’s foreign policy ‘dangerously wrong’


Hillary Clinton derided Donald Trump as a feckless negotiator and told AIPAC that “walking away” from the Middle East was not an option for the United States, a broadside against the Republican front-runner that signaled her general election strategy.

“We need steady hands, not a president who says he is neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday and who knows what on Wednesday,” the former secretary of state and front-runner for the Democratic presidential nod said Monday addressing the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security and survival,” Clinton said, to repeated cheers and applause. “Some things aren’t negotiable and anyone who doesn’t understand that has no business in being our president.”

Trump, a real estate magnate, has staked much of his candidacy on his skills as a negotiator, and has made that the centerpiece of his pledge to seek Israeli-Palestinian peace. He also has said he would be neutral when brokering peace.

Clinton’s speech, running more than 30 minutes, made clear she would cast her experience, as chief diplomat, senator from New York and first lady, against Trump’s bid to stake his claim to the presidency based on his success as a businessman.

Clinton’s campaign has in recent days pivoted toward a strategy of challenging Trump’s self-presentation, as the candidates have emerged as their party’s likely candidates in the general election.

Clinton also took aim at calls to decrease American involvement in the region. “Candidates for president who thinks the United States of America can outsource Israel’s security to dictators or that America no longer has vital interests in this region are dangerously wrong,” she said.

Two of the Republican candidates, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as well as Clinton’s Democratic rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have called for a decreased American profile in the region and greater reliance on regional armies.

Clinton listed Trump’s more controversial calls, including a ban on Muslim entry into the United States and the violence he has at times encouraged at his rallies.

“Tonight, you will get a glimpse of a potential U.S. foreign policy that would insult our allies, not engage with them and embolden our adversaries, not defeat them,” she said, referring to Trump’s AIPAC speech scheduled for Monday night.

She recalled the U.S. failure to take in Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied Europe and noted the forthcoming Purim holiday, when Esther risked her life to speak up against oppression of Jews.

“If you see bigotry oppose it if you see violence condemn it, if you see a bully stand up to him,” she said to a standing ovation. “Let us never be neutral or silent in the face of bigotry.”

Joe Biden to AIPAC: Israeli, Palestinian apathy ‘incredibly disappointing’


Israelis and Palestinians must revive their will for peace, Vice President Joe Biden told AIPAC in a speech that earned thunderous applause for emotional expressions of affection for Israel and scattered boos for criticism of settlements.

Biden’s speech Sunday night to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference will be his last as a public official to the Israel lobby, and the cheers he earned throughout reflect his status as the Obama administration official most loved by the pro-Israel community.

“There is a lack of political will among Israelis and Palestinians to move forward,” Biden said he concluded from his talks with both sides during his trip to Israel earlier this month. “And that’s incredibly disappointing.”

U.S.-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down on June 14, just months before war erupted between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In describing the conditions behind the loss of will for peacemaking, Biden emphasized repeatedly the need for Palestinians and others in the Arab world to end incitement.

“No matter what the disagreements the Palestinian people may have with Israel, there is no excuse for killing innocents or remaining silent in the face of terrorism,” Biden said at the Verizon Center, a Washington, D.C., sports arena being used for the first time by AIPAC to accommodate the record-breaking 18,000 activists in attendance.

He said he delivered that message to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, earning the conference’s first standing ovation.

“The terrorism has to stop, the incitement … it must stop,” said Biden, who at 73 jogged onto the stage, but whose voice was hoarse.

A good portion of his speech was devoted to condemning terrorism and incitement, and to warning the Palestinians not to seek statehood unilaterally. But Biden also said Israel also should refrain from acts that would scuttle a peace plan.

He cited “steady and systematic” settlement expansion and the sanctioning of illegal settlement outposts under the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The remarks earned Biden a scattering of boos from across the cavernous hall.

Biden tied anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe, to the “seemingly organized” effort to delegitimize Israel, condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against the country to the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

“No nation is immune from criticism, but it should not be singled out,” he said.

Biden defended last year’s nuclear accord between Iran and six major powers that was bitterly opposed by AIPAC and the Netanyahu government.

“I hope you are as happy as I am that they [Iran] are further and further away from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he said of the sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal.

Biden stridently defended President Barack Obama’s Israel record.

“Israel is stronger and more secure today because of the Obama and Biden administration, period,” he said, alluding to the tensions that have beset the relationship with the president, the lobby and Netanyahu. “Not despite it, but because of it.”

Of the current round of talks between Israel and the United States over expanding defense assistance for Israel, he said, “Israel may not get everything it asks for, but it will get everything it needs.”

Biden told of meeting Golda Meir in 1973, a story he has repeated often to explain the visceral attachment he feels to the Jewish state. But he added a more recent experience — of finding out that his wife, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were dining just half a mile away from a stabbing spree in Tel Aviv earlier this month that killed an American tourist.

“It’s not imagined, it’s real,” he said of the anxieties Israelis feel. Biden said people asked him why he brought his grandchildren to Israel, considering the risks, and he said for the same reason he brought them to Dachau to understand the Holocaust.

“They need to know what happened, why Israel is so essential,” he said, choking up for a moment. “Israel is a place that creeps into your soul.”

The vice president has visited the country many times since his first trip in 1973, when he was a freshman Democratic senator from Delaware.

The AIPAC conference will host four out of five of the presidential contenders, including Donald Trump. Biden took a veiled shot at the real estate magnate and Republican presidential front-runner, alluding to Trump’s call to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, and his broadsides against Muslims.

“Any action that marginalizes a religious group imperils us all,” he said. “The future belongs to the bridge builders, not the wall builders.” The hall erupted into cheers.

Earlier, six Christian and Jewish clergy warned activists not to disrupt any speaker during the conference. A number of activists, including leading rabbis, have plans to walk out or otherwise show displeasure with Trump.

Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, alluded to the anxiety that Trump’s rhetoric has sowed throughout much of the Jewish community.

“At a time when American politics can be divisive, when it is easy to be consumed by rhetoric that divide us, we are united,” Kohr said. Israelis and Americans, he said, are “two peoples who embrace tolerance and inclusion of all nations, all religions and people from all walks of life.”

AIPAC Day 1: The Union for Reform Judaism’s Rick Jacobs and Jonah Dov Pesner discuss Donald Trump