22 senators sign letter to Obama urging Israel support


Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. Senate signed on to a bipartisan letter urging President Barack Obama to support Israel around the world.

Twenty-two senators signed the letter, which was written “in response to your welcomed recent remarks at Congregation Adas Israel” on May 22 concerning his commitment to Israel’s security. The letter was sponsored by Sens. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

While welcoming Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to Israel’s security, the signers also want the Obama administration to remain committed to the United States’ “long-standing policy” of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians as the way to peace.

The letter specifically asked the administration to oppose Palestinian efforts for membership in the United Nations and other international bodies.

Among the signers are five Jewish Democrats: Ben Cardin of Maryland, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

The signers wrote that they were “deeply concerned by previously reported and unattributed comments by U.S. officials that the U.S. might change its approach to the peace process at the United Nations Security Council.”

“The United States has a critical role to play in facilitating these direct negotiations,” the senators wrote.

Obama: Egypt transition ‘must begin now’ [VIDEO]


Transition in Egypt “must begin now,” President Obama said.

Obama spoke Tuesday about two hours after after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he would not run in presidential elections scheduled for September, and would prepare for a peaceful handing over of power to his successor.

It was not clear from Obama’s statement whether this was sufficient, or if he wanted Mubarak to step down sooner. Opposition groups have said that Mubarak must step down now.

“An orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful and must begin now,” Obama said. “It shouldd include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties.”

Obama said he had spoken to Mubarak after the Egyptian president’s address.

“He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place,” he said.

Obama said it was not the role of outside governments to determine what happens next in Egypt, but stressed that he is “committged to a partnership” with Egypt.

 

Obama’s First 100 Days Offer Cause for Concern


As Americans examine the first 100 days of the Obama administration, it is important to make a candid assessment of the president’s actions so far. These first months are widely considered an indicator of the policies the president will pursue in the years to come. So what have we seen in the first 100 days of this presidency?As Iran continues to work feverishly to acquire nuclear weapons, the United States continues to pursue its policy of “engagement.”

North Korea launched a long-range missile. The next day, the administration announced drastic cuts in missile defense funding, including a halt to further deployment of Alaska-based interceptors designed to counter missiles from North Korea.

Our president, in a handshake seen around the world, embraced Hugo Chavez while Venezuelan Jews face virulent, government-sponsored harassment.

We have seen the president reverse the Bush administration’s policy of boycotting the U.N. Human Rights Council, the body that organized the Durban II conference against racism and that continuously focuses on condemning Israel and turning a blind eye to the genocide in Darfur and other human-rights abuses.

The Obama administration chose Charles “Chas” Freeman to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman is a long-standing apologist for the Saudi regime, a harsh and ideological critic of Israel, and a proud subscriber to the Walt/Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis. After a public outcry against Freeman taking such a sensitive security post, Freeman stepped down.

Many mainstream media outlets have reported on the growing “tension” between the Obama administration and the new Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Obama administration has asked Congress to relax sanctions against the terrorist group Hamas, so that if Hamas and Fatah ever come to share power in a Palestinian unity government, the United States can continue to send millions of dollars to the territories.

We have seen trillions and trillions of dollars allocated to bailouts and new government spending. The massive growth of government engendered by this spending, and the debt burden to our children and grandchildren, will haunt us for decades.

Our security agencies have been paralyzed by the double punch of released intelligence memos and vague threats to prosecute those who protected this country from harm in the previous administration.

Despite promises of “transparency” and “openness,” only one of the 11 bills signed by the president so far have been made available to the public for review before signing. (In fact, some of them weren’t actually reviewed by members of Congress before they were whisked up to the president’s desk.)

The president promised not to appoint lobbyists to his administration. He has appointed several, including former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn to be deputy secretary of defense.

We have seen thousands of people across the country protest against the high taxes and unimaginable government spending proposed by this president. These “tea parties”—peaceful, truly grass-roots demonstrations of public opinion—were called “unhealthy” by senior White House adviser David Axelrod.

As Americans, we all want our president and our country to succeed in tough and challenging times. However, for those who care deeply about national security, the economy and other vital issues, these early days of the administration offer an opportunity to examine the president’s priorities and intentions that should not be missed.

While the president’s supporters will praise his actions in the first 100 days, many of the president’s actions have been cause for concern for American Jews. A balanced and honest review is in order.

Matt Brooks is the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

So Far, So Good With Obama Administration


The U.S. Jewish community has taken great comfort with the performance of President Obama in his first 100 days in office. He already has begun to develop a deep and substantive relationship with the community by, among other things, hosting the first presidential Passover seder, creating strong outreach and communications, and working on key domestic and international issues of interest to American Jews.

Impressively, in less than 3 1/2 months, the Obama administration has moved forward with progressive policies of interest to our community relating to the economy, Israel, the Middle East, reproductive rights, renewable energy and stem cell research.

In addition, the Jewish community has applauded the president for including in his administration individuals who have long-standing close relationships with us. These include David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president; Hillary Rodham Clinton, secretary of state; Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff; George Mitchell, Middle East special envoy; Peter Orszag, director of Office Management and Budget; Dennis Ross, senior adviser to the secretary of state; Kathleen Sebelius, secretary-designate of Health and Human Services; Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council; and others. Several of them are members of our faith themselves.

The seder caused quite a buzz in our community. Not only was it the first presidential seder in our nation’s history, it has become symbolic of the intimate and deep relationship our president has with our community. (I must have received 50 photos of the seder from friends and family). More importantly, before the first matzah was cracked on the 77th day of Obama’s presidency, his administration already had engaged with the Jewish community on a frequent basis. This included many in-person meetings, conference calls and appointing leaders in the Jewish community to key advisory positions.

As a community, we are grateful that the president has spoken loudly against hate and intolerance. Last week, President Obama spoke at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Capitol and called on Americans to “contemplate the obligations of the living” and fight against “those who insist the Holocaust never happened, who perpetrate every form of intolerance.”

Earlier this month, under his direction, the United States. boycotted the vehemently anti-Israel U.N. conference on racism known as Durban II.

As noted, the administration also should be commended for its efforts to communicate with and involve our community in major policy decisions. For example, the administration briefed Jewish leaders on regular high-level conference calls as the policy toward Durban II was formulated. Before then, the administration invited community leaders to participate in an hourlong conference call with Mitchell. The conversation was substantive, candid and meaningful. Those on the call were impressed both by Mitchell’s grasp of the issues and his attentiveness to the participants’ questions.

Being a leader in the Jewish community during the Obama administration means more than just being invited to Chanukah parties and events at the White House. In these first 100 days, the most senior members of his administration not only reached out to the Jewish community, they listened. Although Obama’s critics continue to search for ways to prove that he is anti-Israel, their message lacks substance and has little resonance within the wider Jewish community.

Obama’s foreign policy has immeasurably improved America’s image abroad. Both his foreign policy objectives and his domestic policy make Israel and the United States more secure. The president’s policies that move America toward renewable energy and off Middle East oil already have begun to be implemented. These policies and those whom Obama has appointed to serve in his administration subscribe to strategies that give the utmost importance to Israel’s peace and security.

On the domestic front, Obama has acted swiftly on critical issues and revised some of President George W. Bush’s damaging policies. On the economy, the president has shown bold leadership and smart policies to lead America’s economy out of this crisis that will create or save millions of American jobs, provide tax relief and invest in our long-term economic security. Obama also ensured that we will not fall behind other leading countries in an important area of research and development by lifting the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Exploring this burgeoning field will make sure that the United States is expanding the scientific frontier and providing Americans with the most advanced medical treatments.

As with stem cells, the president chose good policy over partisan politics when he struck down the infamous Global Gag rule that prohibited U.S. money from funding international family-planning clinics. These provided life-saving health services to women while providing counseling or referrals about abortion services. And finally, after many years of politicization at the FDA, Obama is putting science over blind ideology, including allowing Plan B, the morning-after pill, to be available without a prescription to women 17 and older.

We should not overstate the importance of Obama’s first 100 days; after all, there are more than 1,300 days left in the president’s first term. We are gratified, however, that the first 15 weeks of his presidency have made us proud and fulfilled his promise of much-needed change for our country.

Marc R. Stanley is chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council

Groups Back Obama Budget, Concerned About Tax Proposal


WASHINGTON (JTA)—More than 100 Jewish community organizations are backing President Obama’s 2010 budget while expressing “significant concerns,” but not opposing, a proposed decrease in the tax deduction for charitable contributions.

In a letter sent last week to Congress members, the organizations highlighted four specific Jewish communal priorities, including “comprehensive health care reform” that reduces costs while improving quality and access, and the reauthorization of child nutrition programs.

The groups also declared their support for various discretionary spending programs—including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Development Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant and the Social Services Block Grant—and urged the inclusion of funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to build, rehabilitate and preserve housing for low-income families.

“Now, more than ever,” the letter asserted, “this economic crisis requires a federal budget that balances the need for long-term fiscal discipline with the need to sustain critical services in this time of economic crisis.”

The March 19 letter also raised questions about one Obama administration proposal.

“Many in our community have significant concerns” with the Obama administration’s plans to partially finance healthcare reform by the deduction for charitable contributions, the letter said.

It urged the administration to consider the impact of the measure on nonprofit organizations.

Signatories to the letter, which was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, included the United Jewish Communities, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, National Council of Jewish Women and the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, along with dozens of local community relations councils.

One group that did not sign was the Orthodox Union.

Public policy director Nathan Diament said the OU supported the measures endorsed in the letter but declined to sign on because the language objecting to the tax deduction change was not strong enough. Diament said the OU, which represents about 1,000 congregations and operates the largest kosher certification agency in the United States, wanted a “clear statement of opposition” to the reduction in the tax deduction.

JCPA’s Washington director, Hadar Susskind, said the letter took a moderate line because there was ³no community consensus² on the charitable deduction proposal. Some in the community were worried about it, but others believed it was good policy and unlikely to have much of an effect on nonprofit groups.

“There are varying opinions and nobody really knows what it’s going to do,” Susskind said, “but because it could have a negative impact, this was our attempt to express community concerns without implying opposition.”

Susskind said the issues emphasized in the letter were chosen because they are “big community priorities” that every agency involved in domestic policy cares about. They also encompass both short-term priorities—such as the child nutrition programs that are up for reauthorization this year—and longer-term goals such as health-care reform.

Obama’s Black-Jewish Pledge


Barack Obama’s pledge to use his presidency to revive the black-Jewish alliance starts on Day (minus) One — the day before he becomes president.

The president-elect’s inaugural committee has asked Jewish groups to make black-Jewish dialogue and joint outreach to the poor a focus of Martin Luther King Day commemorations on Jan. 19. Renewing the classic civil rights alliance is part of the inauguration’s “big picture,” a senior inauguration official said.

The emphasis comes after a bruising campaign in which Jewish voters were targeted by anonymous campaigns attempting to depict Obama as a secret Muslim, as well as conservatives who questioned the candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides. It also comes after decades of mistrust fueled by disagreements over affirmative action, Israel’s relationship with South Africa and outright expressions of hostility from prominent black figures, such as the Rev. Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan.

Obama, who has strong ties with influential members of the Chicago Jewish community, made clear during the campaign that the alliance, which helped bring about civil rights changes in the 1960s, was a central focus of his Jewish outreach.

Invoking this alliance was a linchpin of his speech in May to thousands of members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where references to domestic policy often fall flat. Not so with Obama: The Washington convention center filled with cheers when he invoked the memories of the three civil rights volunteers — two Jews and an African American — who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964.

“In the great social movements in our country’s history, Jewish and African Americans have stood shoulder to shoulder,” Obama said. “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.”

A few months earlier, during a speech at last year’s commemoration of the King holiday at the slain civil rights leader’s church in Atlanta, Obama criticized anti-immigrant and anti-gay sentiment in some corners of the black community. He also lamented that the “scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community.”

Throughout his campaign, Obama made his desire to bridge the divide a focus of his talks with Jewish leaders, said Deborah Lauter, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) national civil rights director.

“When Abe met with Obama, Obama conveyed to him he would like to see the historic black-Jewish roots renewed,” Lauter said, referring to Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

Lauter said Obama’s commitment might help spur an alliance that has faltered in recent years. Charged with reviewing what ADL chapters had planned for Martin Luther King Day, she noticed that plans for events bringing blacks and Jews together had decreased.

“There are some pockets of activity, but they’re not what they used to be,” Lauter said. “The ones that exist work well, but it hasn’t been a priority.”

In recent weeks, however, Lauter said she noticed an enthusiasm for re-establishing the alliance. Obama’s 78 percent support among Jewish voters — higher than expected — was pivotal.

“The numbers were so strong in terms of the Jewish vote for Obama,” she said. “There’s a spirit of renewal, looking for opportunities to renew old ties and look forward generally.”

Rumors of the demise of the alliance are overstated, said Rabbi Marc Schneier, who co-founded the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding with hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons. The tensions stoked by the radical inclinations of an older generation had been replaced by the outreach favored by younger blacks, including Obama.

“Crown Heights was the lowest point,” he said, referring to the lethal 1991 riots in Brooklyn, “but since those difficult and trying days, there has been a cadre of African American and Jewish leaders dedicated to repairing and restoring the relationship.”

Schneier said he likes to tease Eleanor Tatum, publisher of the Amsterdam News, an African American weekly, that he sees more ads in Jewish papers for Martin Luther King Day activities than he does in hers.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who as the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center is a leader of national Jewish outreach to other civil rights and minority groups, said the relationship is thriving — in the leadership.

“The reality is day in, day out, blacks and Jews are working together for education, to help the poor,” he said. In the U.S. Congress, “the Black Caucus is overwhelmingly pro-Israel; the Jewish Caucus has been overwhelmingly supportive not just on civil rights but on aid for sub-Saharan Africa.”

It needs to trickle down, Saperstein said.

“There’s too little social interaction,” said the rabbi, who delivered the invocation the night Obama accepted the presidential nomination in August. “We can develop more opportunities for youth groups to work together on common projects. It is the building of levels of trust and personal connection that helps us through tough times.”

Using Internet outreach, the ADL is asking its activists and others to take the Martin Luther King Day service pledge.

“By signing this pledge, I recognize that respect for individual dignity, achieving equality and opposing anti-Semitism, racism, ethnic bigotry, homophobia or any other form of hatred is a nonnegotiable responsibility of all people,” it concludes.

An array of national and local Jewish groups have signed up with the inaugural committee’s black-Jewish outreach.

In Washington, Jews attending inaugural festivities also will be asked to join the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s “work day” on Jan. 19, helping the homeless.

“If you’re a Jewish person coming to Washington for the inauguration, you’ll see that — but you’ll also see homeless shelters and soup kitchens,” said the senior inauguration official, who spoke on the transition team’s strict condition of anonymity.

Other programs are more lighthearted.

The Greater Washington Jewish Community Relations Council is marking the King Day evening with the Black-Jewish Dialogues, which is described as “a hilarious two-actor, multimedia romp of sketches, theater and video that reveals the absurdity of prejudice and hate within the context of the American black-Jew experience.”

Schneier insisted such activities were not out of the ordinary — “we’re close to the heyday of the black-Jewish relations” — but he said it was thrilling in recent weeks to see the alliance at its most rarefied level.

“When I saw Rahm Emanuel appointed White House chief of staff,” he said, “I saw the black-Jewish alliance at work again trying to restore this country.”

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