Biden, seeking to ease U.S.-Israel strains, pledges delivery of new warplanes


WASHINGTON – Seeking to ease U.S.-Israeli tensions, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday promised Israel delivery of top-flight fighter jets next year to maintain its military edge and vowed that any final nuclear deal with Iran would ensure Israel’s security.

Addressing an Israeli Independence Day celebration in Washington, Biden insisted that Barack Obama “has Israel’s back,” despite a recent strains between the U.S. president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Iran nuclear talks and Middle East diplomacy.

Biden won applause from a pro-Israel audience when he told them the United States would begin delivery of Lockheed Martin’s new F-35 jets to its ally next year, making Israel the only country in the Middle East to have the new stealth warplane.

But he was met with silence when he reaffirmed U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an allusion to White House objections to Netanyahu’s comments last month casting doubt on his commitment to a Palestinian state.

“We’ve had our differences,” Biden said. But he added: “We love each other and we protect each other.”

Biden's appearance at an event hosted by the Israeli Embassy was the latest sign of White House efforts to lower the temperature after a period of acrimony between Obama and Netanyahu.

Ties became badly frayed early last month when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to speak to the U.S. Congress, where he railed against Obama’s quest for a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu later condemned a framework deal reached earlier this month with Tehran as a threat to Israel’s survival.

Obama, who has faced complaints from some fellow Democrats that the public feud had gone too far, has reached out to U.S. pro-Israel groups and American Jewish leaders seeking to soothe their concerns.

Biden sought to reassure his audience of Obama's commitment to making sure that any final nuclear agreement with Iran maintains Israel’s security.

But with talks now aimed at reaching a comprehensive accord with Tehran by a June 30 deadline, there is little chance of a meeting of the minds between Obama and Netanyahu, who have a long history of testy relations.

Biden said any deal with Iran would be “based on hard-hitting, hard-headed uncompromising assessments, what’s required to protect ourselves, Israel, the region and the world.”

If a final deal does not meet Obama’s requirements, Biden said, “we simply will not sign it.”

And he warned: “If Iran cheats at any time and goes for a nuclear weapon, every option we have to respond today remains on the table and – your military will tell you – and more.”

Iran denies seeking a nuclear bomb. Israel is widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state.

Biden was hosted by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu confidante blamed by Obama’s aides for orchestrating the prime minister’s congressional address.

Dermer acknowledged disagreements but said the two allies would weather them. Biden’s speech marked the administration’s highest-level direct contact with the Israeli government since Netanyahu's speech to Congress.

Touting U.S. efforts to maintain Israel's “qualitative advantage” in the Middle East, Biden said: “Next year we will deliver to Israel the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, our finest.”

Israel bought 19 F-35s in 2010 for $2.75 billion and signed a contract in February to buy an additional 14 of the Lockheed Martin Corp fighter jets for about $3 billion.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)

Partisan Jewish groups focus on budget in assessing Ryan pick


Partisan Jewish groups focused on Paul Ryan’s leading role in the budget stand-off in assessing Mitt Romney’s pick as running mate.

Rep. Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives budget committee, has taken a lead role in the stand-off between the White House and the Democratic-led Senate on one side and the Republican-led House on the other, that has stymied passage of a budget.

“Paul Ryan has challenged both party leaderships in Washington to face up to growing fiscal problems that threaten to blight our nation’s future,” Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Saturday after Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, presented Ryan as his vice presidential pick at a rally in Norfolk, Va.  “And while congressional Republicans have responded to the challenge, Democrats have ducked responsibility.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council said Ryan does “not reflect Jewish community values.”

David Harris, the NJDC president, said in a statement that “Ryan’s signature budget plan drew the profound concern and even ire of many in the American Jewish community because of its plans to end Medicare as we know it, slash vital social safety net programs, and increase the burden on seniors, the middle class, and the poor.”

A broad array of Jewish groups have criticized elements of Ryan’s budget proposals, although without naming him.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish public policy umbrella, the Reform movement and B’nai B’rith International have protested proposed GOP cuts to social safety net programs, including Medicaid, which provides medical coverage for the poor, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The Jewish Federations of North America has this year maintained a low profile in the rancorous budget debate, and has not weighed in on Ryan’s proposals.

In 2011, however, JFNA was bluntly critical of plans that originated with Ryan to transition parts of Medicare, the medical program for the elderly, into a voucher program, and to convey Medicaid funds in block grants to the states, which reduces federal controls over how the money is spent.

“Within the current framework of Medicaid and Medicare, we believe that it is possible to restrain growth and rein in costs,” read the the April 2011 from JFNA and JCPA to Congress members. “We are capable of strengthening their long-term viability without a fundamental restructuring that turns Medicaid into a block grant or Medicare into a voucher program.”

Ryan, 42, is likely to help Romney, the former Masachusetts governor, in keeping the right wing of the party energized.

A close associate of House majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the most senior Jewish lawmaker in Congress, Ryan is a stalwart of budget and social policy hawks who are wary of Romney because of his reputation as a moderate.

Ryan also will be valuable to the campaign in his home state and in neighboring Michigan, both considered possible swing states.

Ashley Biden marries Jewish doctor


Ashley Biden, the daughter of Vice President Joe Biden married a Jewish doctor.

Ashley Biden, 31, and Dr. Howard Krein were married Saturday in Wilmington, Del. in an interfaith Jewish-Catholic ceremony at the Biden family’s church. Biden and Krein reportedly dated for a year before they became engaged last September. Biden is a social worker. Krein is an ear, nose and throat specialist at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

“We’re happy to welcome Howard into our family, and we wish them all the best in their new life together,” said a statement from the vice president and his wife Jill, issued after the wedding.

The couple will reside in Philadelphia.

Hallie Biden, married to the vice president’s son, Beau, is also Jewish.

Biden: Israel still has time to strike Iran [VIDEO]


Israel still has time to strike Iran and the right to decide for itself whether to do so, Vice President Joe Biden said.

Biden, appearing Tuesday in Atlanta at the annual convention of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said “the window has not closed in terms of the Israelis if they choose to act on their own militarily.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has suggested that Israel has until the fall to strike; the Obama administration has been pressing Israel to give time for sanctions and diplomacy to work.

Story continues after the jump.

Biden made the case that Obama’s strategies have worked, but said the decision to strike must be Israel’s.

“I would not contract out my security to anybody, even a loyal, loyal, loyal friend like the United States,” he said.

Biden also said that Israel’s perception of Iran as an existential threat was “justifiable.” He warned Iran that its window was closing for a diplomatic way out of its isolation because of its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The vice president also called efforts to delegitimize Israel “the most significant assault” on Israel since its independence.

Jewish leaders meet Biden in Thanksgiving week appeal for Pollard


Four drug dealers, a trafficker in stolen goods, a gambler and a turkey made President Obama’s Thanksgiving freedom list, but Israel’s best-known spy did not.

But advocates of releasing Jonathan Pollard aren’t giving up hope. Seven Jewish leaders who met Monday with Vice President Joe Biden said they were “encouraged” after more than an hour of back and forth.

A statement issued jointly by the seven groups noted that Biden had invited the group in response to their earlier request for a meeting. It described the meeting and exchange as “meaningful and productive.”

That was all any participant said, although Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, emphasized—as others did, off the record—that the phrase “meaningful and productive” was more than boilerplate.

Foxman says he has an Israeli staffer who asks him after every meeting,  “Haya kedai?”—“Was it worth it?”

“I told him it was worth it,” Foxman said.

One measure of the seriousness of the conversation was how long it lasted—more than an hour, in Biden’s White House office.

Another was the composition of the Jewish group, representing three major streams of Judaism and the spectrum of pro-Israel outlook.

In addition to Foxman, those in attendance included Michael Adler, vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish community’s public policy umbrella; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella; Simcha Katz, president of the Orthodox Union; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The day before, Pollard’s wife, Esther, said in a statement that her husband, who is said to suffer from an array of grave medical problems, may not survive another year in prison.

“In the last year, as Jonathan’s [medical] condition became worse, he was too weak to even sit through a one-hour visit. I feel he’s withering away in front of my very eyes,” Esther Pollard said in the statement.

She added that after “26 years, all his systems are feeble and we both know that the next emergency hospitalization or operation are just a matter a time, and that no one is promising us he’ll make it through.”

Pollard has been hospitalized four times this year.

Biden promised last month at a holiday reception at his home that he would meet with Jewish leaders on the Pollard case after telling a group of rabbis at a meeting in Florida that “President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time.’ “

The movement to free Pollard has gathered steam in recent months. Starting the ball rolling a year ago was Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who spearheaded a letter from 39 members of the U.S. House of Representatives calling for clemency for Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst sentenced to life in 1987 for spying for Israel.

Frank—and Pollard’s supporters—were frustrated that they were unable to sign on a single Republican to the effort. Within the national security community, opposition to Pollard’s release still runs strong.

Since then, however, a trickle of current Republican officeholders have joined the calls for clemency for Pollard, among them Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, and Tea Party-aligned Reps. Allen West (R-Fla.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.).

Additionally, an array of former Republican senators and former top officials of Republican administrations—some who played a role on Pollard’s incarceration—also have called for his release.

“We do not condone espionage, nor do we underestimate the gravity of Pollard’s crime,” says an Oct. 26 letter signed by 18 former senators. “But it is patently clear that Mr. Pollard’s sentence is severely disproportionate and (as several federal judges have noted) a gross miscarriage of justice.”

A number of the signatories had served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, including Sens. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and David Durenberger (R-Minn.)—a position that would have allowed them access to secret information that opponents of Pollard have alleged implicates him more seriously than the publicly known information he shared with Israel.

Biden’s meeting came the same day that Obama announced five pardons and a commutation for Thanksgiving. None of those pardoned are still serving time. The action clears their record, and frees them to participate in areas of public life previously denied them, such as voting. (As it happens, it was also the 26th anniversary of Pollard’s 1985 arrest.)

Presidents may pardon and commute at will—it is one power not subject to any oversight. Traditionally they issue pardons around holidays; expect another round before Christmas. Obama has been relatively parsimonious with his releases; he has issued 22 pardons and one commutation. Bill Clinton gave pardons or commutations to 456 people in eight years, while George W. Bush issued 200.

The meeting also came the week that the White House announced that the president would observe the decades-old tradition on Wednesday of pardoning a turkey headed for the Thanksgiving table.

Esther Pollard last week published an appeal to Obama in The Jerusalem Post that noted the tradition of pardoning turkeys.

“While the pardoning ceremony is light-hearted, the values it demonstrates are solemn and deeply cherished,” she wrote. “As the president of the United States, your granting clemency to a lowly barnyard bird demonstrates to the world the great respect that the American people have for the values of justice, compassion and mercy. It is in this light that I write to bring to your attention once again to the plight of my husband, Jonathan Pollard.”

Biden prevented Pollard clemency, NYT reports


President Obama was considering clemency for convicted spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard until Vice President Joseph Biden prevented it, the New York Times reported.

“President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, ‘Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time,’ ” Biden said during a meeting with rabbis in Boca Raton, Fla., according to the newspaper. “If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life,” he reportedly added.

Pollard was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel. He is scheduled for mandatory parole in November 2015.  In recent months, Obama has received a flood of appeals from Congress members and former government officials to grant Pollard clemency.

Pollard recently successfully underwent kidney-related surgery.

Obama is relying on Biden for help in his reelection campaign with American-Jewish voters, the New York Times article said.

“Mr. Biden has taken on the job of fund-raising among Jewish Democrats, at the same time that he has been seeking to assure the party’s base that the Obama administration remains a loyal friend to Israel,” the article said.

Biden, through his foreign policy work in the Senate, has built lifelong ties with Israeli politicians, something Obama does not have on his resume, the report pointed out.

Klain resigns as Biden’s chief of staff


Ron Klain, Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, is resigning.

“As my chief of staff in the White House, Ron has done an exceptional job of building my team, implementing my direction on top priorities, and providing invaluable counsel,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday.  “He has also played a key role in establishing the strong, positive relationship that exists between my staff and the President’s team.”

This White House has been notable for the smooth relations between President Obama and Biden.

Klain, who had served as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore from 1995 to 1999, will become president of Case Holdings, an investment company, The New York Times reported.

Klain led the Gore team during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida.

Midler, Seinfeld, Biden headline Jewish museum opening


Vice President Joe Biden, Jerry Seinfeld and Bette Midler headlined a festive opening weekend for the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

The gala events marked the culmination of a decade-long, $150 million effort to move from a small space adjoining a synagogue to an impressive structure situated in the center of historic Philadelphia, near the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Constitution Center, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent reported.

Midler jokingly wondered why the museum was located in Philadelphia rather than New York, where “there are more Jews in my building than in this town.”

But at the official dedication ceremony Sunday afternoon, which was heralded by a chorus of 50 shofar blowers, several dignitaries gave Midler her answer.

“The stories are Jewish stories, but they’re American stories above all else,” Biden told the crowd in his keynote address. “I can think of no other city that would be a fitting showcase for them.”

George Ross, co-chair of the museum’s board of trustees and chairman of the capital campaign, said he didn’t think he could have raised the $150 million for the museum if not for the prominent location in the middle of the city’s most historic square mile.

“If we can bring our children and grandchildren closer to that wonderful heritage, that moral compass that has preserved the Jewish people, then we will be a success,” Ross said at the ceremony, which also featured Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania’s outgoing governor, Ed Rendell.

Rendell, who is Jewish, complimented Ross for managing to get money from the state not just once but on four separate occasions.

“He wouldn’t accept the fact that this would be hard to do. His belief was so strong, his passion so great, he was impossible to say no to,” Rendell said. “It is something special for Philadelphia, for Pennsylvania, for America and for the world.”

The crowd ate up Seinfeld’s Jewish-tailored shtick. As the emcee and one of the chief entertainers, he riffed on everything from his mother who couldn’t figure out a cell phone to the undignified nature of bathroom stalls.

Barbra Streisand, who is one of only three living individuals honored in the museum’s Hall of Fame, was one of 800 guests to attend the opening dinner Saturday night.

Biden meets with Chabad group


Chabad emissaries convening in Washington met with Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden met the emissaries, who came from around the world and the United States, during their meetings Thursday with administration officials.

The U.S. leader reviewed Chabad teachings he had acquired over the years, including the necessity of combing “wisdom, knowledge and understanding,” and explained how these could be applied to statecraft.

The two-day emissaries’ conference, organized by American Friends of Lubavitch, also featured meetings with 20 members of both houses of the Congress, including the majority and minority leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives, a dinner featuring a speech by Nobel Peace laureate and Holocaust memoirist Elie Wiesel, and a lunch with ambassadors from countries where Chabad emissaries serve.

Jack Lew, an undersecretary of state, shared stories about having to build a busy schedule around his Shabbat observance.

Top Turkish diplomats attended the lunch and the dinner with Wiesel, part of a bid to reassure American Jews that Turkey’s Jewish community remains safe despite recent Turkey-Israel tensions.

Jewish organizations mostly at ease with Obama appointees


WASHINGTON (JTA) — Barack Obama’s “team of rivals” is turning into a collection well known to the Jewish community, which should comfort those who expressed apprehension about who the president-elect would appoint to his Cabinet.

Obama is fulfilling pledges he made during a grueling election campaign by reaching out to notables in both parties with deep wells of experience.

While Obama has yet to announce his foreign policy team formally — he publicized his economic team Monday — a welter of leaks has lined up U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of state and former NATO commander Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser.

Some Jewish observers are uneasy over who might prevail in a rivalry between Clinton, who is seen as pro-Israel, and Jones, about whom some Jewish observers have expressed reservations.

Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC foreign policy chief who now writes a blog hosted by the Middle East Forum, has raised concerns about Jones that have redounded in the conservative Jewish world through e-mails. Rosen’s piece on Jones was titled “Jones to be National Security Adviser; wrote harsh report on Israel.”

Condoleezza Rice, the current secretary of state, added Jones last year to her team of generals monitoring the “road map” peace plan launched by President Bush in 2003. Jones reportedly wanted to publish a report that was harshly critical of Israel’s failure to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian security force and to allow more freedom of movement for the Palestinians.

But the report, which was never published, also was tough on the Palestinian force, expressing doubts about its readiness to meet Israeli expectations that it would contain terrorism. And in public forums and as NATO’s commander in chief, Jones has been friendly to Israel and its regional security concerns.

As for Clinton, her deep ties to the pro-Israel community date back to her days as the first lady of Arkansas, when she gained an admiration for the Jewish nation after introducing Israeli early childhood programs in Arkansas.

She endured some criticism from pro-Israel groups while her husband was president — for her infamous embrace of Yasser Arafat’s wife and for being a stalking horse for Palestinian statehood, floating the idea without President Clinton’s administration formally proposing it — but as a U.S. senator Clinton has been solidly pro-Israel, emphasizing the need for Palestinians to temper incitement against Israel as a precondition for peace.

Her likely deputy will be James Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser under President Clinton. Deputy secretaries of state often serve as day-to-day point men in dealings with the Middle East, and Steinberg’s record is reassuring to the pro-Israel establishment. He has advocated an increased role for Arab states in helping to create conditions for a Palestinian state, long the position of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Some in the pro-Israel community have expressed concerns about others who might make it into Obama’s inner circle, noting that after the election it emerged that Obama had been speaking frequently with Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush who supports making eastern Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state and advocates putting an international peacekeeping force in the West Bank.

In an Op-Ed column in the Washington Post of Nov. 21, Scowcroft argued in favor of those positions in a piece that was co-authored by Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser and a longtime critic of the pro-Israel lobby.

But Steven Spiegel, a UCLA political scientist who advises the Israel Policy Forum, said the fact that Scowcroft and Brzezinski felt they needed to make their case in a newspaper rather than privately to Obama demonstrates that they don’t have the president-elect’s ear when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“If Scowcroft was sure the president-elect was on his side, he wouldn’t be taking this public,” Spiegel said.

Seymour Reich, a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Obama’s deliberative style means that he’s unlikely to press Israel into an accelerated peace process, especially with Hamas terrorists still controlling the Gaza Strip and making a comprehensive deal unworkable.

“He’s very pragmatic, during the campaign and in his appointments,” Reich said of Obama. “For those who want him from day one to put two feet in the peace process, it’s not going to happen. It’s going to be deliberate; nothing’s going to happen overnight.”

Obama’s emphasis will be the economic crisis, Spiegel said. On foreign policy, he said, Obama is deliberatively choosing people who will have the independence to handle the international stage, but without drama: Clinton as diplomat, Jones as a tough-minded coordinator.

“What these appointments suggest to me is that he’s got to solve his economic problems first and foremost,” Spiegel said.

It was “ridiculous” to worry about Jones, he said, with a Cabinet that includes Clinton and a White House that has as senior advisers Rahm Emanuel and David Axelord — both of whom are deeply pro-Israel.

Meanwhile, Obama’s domestic choices have been widely praised among Jewish groups.

The United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization has issued several news releases hailing Obama’s appointments, including the selection of former Sen. Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as chief of Homeland Security.

By contrast, over the past several years the UJC criticized the Bush administration for starving federal entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Obama also pledged during the campaign to move away from Democratic Party dogma when it comes to church-state issues, favoring, for instance, vouchers for families who send their children to private schools, including parochial schools.

The Jewish community is divided on the voucher issue and is waiting to see what Obama’s education appointments augur.

However, the Orthodox Union already has praised two appointments announced Monday to the White House’s Domestic Policy Council: The incoming director of the council, Melody Barnes, and her deputy, Heather Higginbottom, are both former Senate staffers who helped author legislation protecting religious rights in the work place and in federal institutions.

Briefs: Secular candidate new Jerusalem mayor, Netanyahu would nix talks


Poll Shows Barkat Winning Jerusalem Mayoralty

Secular businessman Nir Barkat appeared to be the new mayor of Jerusalem, according to exit polls.

Channel 1 TV showed Barkat with 50 percent of the vote Tuesday to 42 percent for Rabbi Meir Porush, an ultra-Orthodox Knesset member. The third contender, former Russian oligarch Arcadi Gaydamak, was well behind.

Early exit polling, however, has proved to be unreliable in the past.

Many Jerusalemites view this year’s municipal elections to replace the current mayor, Uri Lupolianski, as a turning point for a city that is Israel’s poorest, still vulnerable to terrorist attacks and wracked by economic, political and religious divisions. Still, turnout was low, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Lupolianski was the city’s first Charedi, or ultra-Orthodox, mayor.

Netanyahu Would Halt Annapolis-Launched Talks

Benjamin Netanyahu would end Israel’s current negotiations with the Palestinians if elected prime minister, his office said.

A spokeswoman for Netanyahu, the Likud Party candidate for prime minister in elections scheduled for Feb. 10, said Netanyahu believes the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks launched a year ago at a peace summit at Annapolis, Md., have failed, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s premature to talk about a final peace deal, and sharing control of Jerusalem is out of the question,” Netanyahu spokeswoman Dina Libster said, adding that the Likud leader believes talks with the Palestinians should focus on economic issues.

On Monday, the AP reported that Netanyahu said he would continue Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but that negotiating over Jerusalem was out of the question.

Biden, Livni Discuss Iran, Peace

Joe Biden discussed Middle East peace and Iran in a phone call with Tzipi Livni.

The U.S. vice president-elect spoke to the Israeli foreign minister after last week’s elections, said a statement released Tuesday by Livni’s office.

Biden, a senator from Delaware for 35 years, is expected to take a lead foreign policy role in the Barack Obama administration. He is well known to Israeli leaders, having made his first visit to the region just before the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

“Livni thanked Vice President-elect Biden for his long-standing friendship and support of Israel and said that she looks forward to continuing to work with him,” the statement said. “They agreed to work together to advance the shared interests and values of Israel and the United States in the Middle East.”

The statement emphasized concerns about Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program and control of the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists.

“It is very important that we continue our cooperation and work together against the Iranian threat,” it quoted Livni as saying. “Time is not working in favor of the moderates in Iran. Hamas and the extremist elements are studying our moves and they must understand that the world will not tolerate extremism and terror.”

Livni is leading the centrist Kadima Party in Feb. 10 elections.

Enriched Uranium Reportedly Found in Syria

Investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reportedly found traces of enriched uranium in Syria.

The finding by the agency, which works under the auspices of the United Nations, is a potential sign that Syria had been attempting to develop a nuclear program, Reuters quoted diplomats familiar with the IAEA probe as saying.

According to Monday’s report, the uranium was discovered at the same site that was allegedly bombed by the Israeli Air Force in September 2007.

The leaked information came shortly after the IAEA Director Mohammed El Baradei announced he would release a formal, written report on the subject, Reuters reported. The IAEA had no immediate comment.

“It isn’t enough to conclude or prove what the Syrians were doing, but the IAEA has concluded this requires further investigation,” a diplomat with ties to the organization said.

Birthright Cuts Budget by $35 Million

Birthright Israel is cutting its budget by $35 million for 2009.

Birthright, which sends Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 on free 10-day trips to Israel, had a budget of $110 million in the fiscal year that just ended, enabling the organization to send some 42,000 people to Israel. In the coming year, Birthright will only be able to send 25,000 because the program’s budget is dropping to $75 million, the president and CEO of the Birthright Foundation, Jay Golan, told JTA.

Golan, however, said that Birthright will most likely not be affected by the financial troubles of the company of its largest private benefactor, Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands company. The casino company is on the verge of bankruptcy, according to Bloomberg News.

Adelson gave some $60 million to Birthright Israel in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, he pledged $30 million to the organization to be paid out over the next two years. The money will pay for 6,000 trips, Golan said.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Jews looked past worries to embrace Obama


For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream: unsettling and then settling in, and then, suddenly, revelatory.

Ari Wallach described breaking through to elderly Jews in Florida who had resisted voting for the son of the man from Kenya, the tall black man with the middle name “Hussein.”

“It wasn’t only his policy on Israel and Iran, on health care,” said Wallach, whose ” target=”_blank”>Great Shlep,” an effort to prod young adults to get their Jewish grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama. “His biography feels so Jewish, it feels like an Ellis Island archetype. People felt more comfortable when I talked about where he came from, it resonated so deeply surprisingly among older Jews.”

For months, polls showed Obama languishing at about 60 percent of the Jewish vote, a critical chunk short of the 75 percent or so Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) garnered in 2004. But exit polls from the Tuesday election showed Obama matching those results, garnering about 78 percent of the Jewish vote against 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his Republican rival.

Wallach credited the campaign’s late-campaign blitz of Jewish communities, joined by groups like his own, for converting the candidate from stranger to standard bearer for a Jewish ethos.

It was an uphill battle, starting with rumors that Obama was a hidden Muslim, that he wasn’t a genuine, born American. The subterranean campaign soon burst through semi-legitimate and then legitimate forums; Obama was not a Muslim, these conservatives and Republicans said, but he might have been raised a Muslim and later had radical associations.

The ” target=”_blank”>reject the RJC ads, said it was vindicated.

“Tonight, American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multimillion dollar campaign of baseless smears and fear waged against him by the right wing of our community,” J-Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in a statement. “Surrogates and right-wing political operatives in our community stopped at nothing in their efforts to sway Jewish voters against Obama. With exit polls showing Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote equal to 2004 levels, it is absolutely clear that their efforts failed.”

Some Democrats said McCain, once popular among Jews because of his willingness to reach across the aisle, hurt himself in the community by choosing the deeply conservative and relatively inexperienced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

An American Jewish Committee poll commissioned in September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin pick, compared to just 15 percent who disapproved of Obama’s decision to tap Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

But Obama’s appeal to Jews might have been most deeply rooted in shared values, said Mik Moore, Wallach’s partner in JewsVote.org.

“Folks just wanted to be with us, with the more progressive candidate; it’s where their heart is,” he said.

ANALYSIS: Rough race takes toll on McCain’s image


NEW YORK (JTA)—When John McCain stopped in New York one Tuesday in October 2007 to make his pre-primaries pitch to a room full of Jewish bigwigs, he spent virtually all his time discussing foreign policy—but only after an emotional introduction from James Tisch that focused less on policy than the character of the presidential candidate standing before them.

Tisch, a scion of a family real estate empire, proud Republican and decorated Jewish communal leader, invoked the memory of the late Washington power lawyer David Ifshin and his unlikely friendship with McCain.

Back when McCain was a prisoner of war being held and tortured by the North Vietnamese, Ifshin—then a hard-core anti-war protester—visited Hanoi to speak out against U.S. involvement in the war. His remarks were piped into McCain’s cell.

A few years later, the story goes, Ifshin found himself living on a kibbutz in Israel when the Yom Kippur War erupted. Watching U.S. aircraft arrive with supplies to aid the beleagured country triggered a transformation in Ifshin that would culminate with his becoming a lawyer for AIPAC and then the Clinton administration.

Along the way, after McCain had entered the U.S. Congress, Ifshin sought out the Republican lawmaker and asked his forgiveness.The two became friends and worked together on human rights causes.

“It was,” Tisch told the 50 people assembled, “an inspiration for many of us.”

And, one could reasonably add, a powerful example of why—before the twists and turns of an increasingly bitter presidential race—McCain commanded respect in Democratic and liberal circles. To be sure, the veteran Arizona senator has always been a staunch conservative on a range of economic, social and foreign policy issues. But when it comes to grand themes—his emphasis on personal redemption, reconciliation, bipartisanship, sacrifice—McCain’s message has resonated across party lines.

It is true that in the heat of the race, McCain’s “Country First” campaign slogan can sound to the Democratic ear like a swipe at the patriotism of the opposing ticket. But when voicing the fuller version—when grounding his commitment to country in his realization in a Vietnam prison camp that the greatest fulfillment in life is serving a cause greater than one’s self—McCain could be mistaken for John F. Kennedy urging a new generation to embrace the notion of putting service to country first.

Just as important in understanding McCain’s initial appeal among Democrats, independents and the mainstream media is his willingness to work with liberal stalwarts—Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy on immigration and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance—and his willingness to criticize conservative efforts to demonize politcal opponents.

During his own failed bid for the 2000 Republican nomination, McCain lashed out at the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, calling them “agents of intolerance” after they lined up behind then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

And on Election Night in 2002, while others in his party were celebrating big Republican gains, McCain was on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart lamenting the defeat of Democrat Max Cleland in Georgia. It was not the first time that McCain tore into the GOP over its strategy of questioning the patriotism of Cleland, a fellow veteran who lost three limbs in Vietnam.

It was not so long ago, in other words, that McCain was known for palling around with liberal East Coast media elites and being a target of some evangelical leaders and conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh.

In recent weeks, however, as McCain ratcheted up his attacks on Obama, he has found himself being accused of embracing the same dirty campaign tactics that he has so often criticized. McCain’s detractors argue that his reputation for straight talk is no longer deserved, pointing to ads suggesting that Obama wants to teach kindergarten students how to have sex and accusing him of associating with domestic terrorists.

Even several Republican lawmakers and McCain’s own running mate have joined Democrats in criticizing his campaign’s recent strategy of flooding the phone lines in swing states with anti-Obama robo-calls.

Democrats have also taken aim at McCain’s status as a maverick, increasingly painting him as a clone of President Bush when it comes to the economy and foreign policy. They note that the candidate has surrounded himself with neoconservative advisers who back the Iraq war and oppose robust diplomatic intiatives with Syria and Iran.

Despite McCain’s opposition to abortion rights, as well as the mounting assertions that he has betrayed his reputation as a straight-shooting maverick, the Republican nominee had seemed poised to make serious inroads among Jewish voters. Polls for months showed McCain already surpassing the 25 percent of the Jewish vote that Bush took in 2004, with plenty of undecideds still up for grabs.

Undoubtedly, McCain received a boost from his reputation for bipartisanship and bucking religious conservatives, his long record of support for Israel, tough talk on Iran, a prominent endorsement from U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and lingering questions about Barack Obama.



AUDIO: John McCain and Joe Lieberman’s conference call with Jewish leaders


While Jewish GOPers have attempted to paint Obama as someone who might end up tilting toward the Palestinian side in the peace process, McCain has focused more on Iran and Iraq in attempting to challenge Obama’s preparedness to lead on the Middle East. McCain has pounded again and again on Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iran’s president, and argued that Obama’s timeline for a pullout from Iraq would threaten Israel and the United States.

“Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including a very much emboldened Iran,” McCain told thousands of pro-Israel activists in June. “We must not let this happen.”

One of his key advisers on such issues is Lieberman, who crossed party lines to endorse the McCain shortly before the New Hampshire primary. Even before the endorsement, Lieberman had infuriated many Democrats with his unflinching support for the Iraq war and decision to carry on with a third-party bid after losing Connecticut’s Democratic senatorial primary in 2006.

In the process, however, his stature seemed to grow within centrist and right-leaning pro-Israel circles, and he still can draw a crowd at Florida retirement communities that remember him fondly as the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate.

“From the moment the next president steps into the Oval Office, he or she will face life-or-death decisions in this war,” Lieberman told a Republican Jewish Coalition crowd in January during a stop in Boca Raton shortly before the GOP primary in Florida. “That’s why we need a president who is ready to be commander-in-chief from day one, a president who won’t need any on-the-job training. John McCain is that candidate and will be that president.”

It was one of the first of many appearances that Lieberman would make in the Sunshine State and in front of Jewish audiences on behalf of McCain.

But Lieberman has emerged as more than a surrogate. The Connecticut senator is a trusted adviser and has become a regular travel buddy joining McCain on many of his campaign trips, as well as his visit in late May to Iraq, Jordan and Israel.

It was Lieberman who quietly pulled McCain to the side during a news conference in Jordan, prompting the candidate to correct his mistaken assertion that Iran was training members of al-Qaida. And it was Lieberman who was dispatched by the McCain campaign to brief reporters after Obama and McCain both delivered solidly pro-Israel speeches at the AIPAC policy conference in June.

Soon after, in the weeks leading up to the Republican convention, speculation was rampant that McCain wanted to tap Lieberman as his running mate—a move that some observers say would have helped the Republican nominee with many Jewish undecideds. But according to some reports, warnings from prominent Republican strategists that the selection of a pro-choice quasi-Democrat would trigger a conservative revolt ultimately led McCain to settle on the surprise choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

(Lieberman is said to remain on the short list for either secretary of state or secretary of defense in a McCain administration.)

From the start, the McCain camp appeared bent on underscoring Palin’s pro-Israel bona fides. Her first meeting at the convention was a closed-door session with leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The Republican Jewish Coalition circulated a video clip showing a small Israeli flag displayed in her office in Alaska.

Palin herself took up the task of speaking out against Iran and defending Israel’s right to defend itself. Like McCain, she did so while also voicing support for a two-state solution, saying during the vice-presidential debate that it would be a “top priority.”

Ultimately, however, it appears that attempts to paint her as unqualified and a product of the religious right have been successful. A survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee in early September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin choice, compared to just 15 percent who felt that way about Obama’s selection of U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

Increasing unhappiness with Palin, along with the economic crisis, has coincided with a drop in the polls for McCain, both in the general electorate and among Jewish voters. New polling data from Gallup released Oct. 23 shows Obama winning 74 percent of the Jewish vote. Of course, even more alarming for the McCain camp is the overwhelming majority of surveys showing him trailing nationally and on the state-by-state map.

And if a signifcant defeat were not enough, McCain’s critics appear ready to carry on the fight beyond Election Day.

“Back in 2000, after John McCain lost his mostly honorable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he went about apologizing to journalists—including me—for his most obvious misstep: his support for keeping the Confederate flag on the state house” in South Carolina, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein recalled in a recent blog post titled “Apology Not Accepted.”

“I just can’t wait for the moment when John McCain—contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat—talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment,” he added. “Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.”

This view is the overwhelming verdict among liberal bloggers as they rush to permanently redefine the real McCain as a dishonorable fraud, and it is gaining ground among media pundits and Democratic officials. In fact, the attempts at McCain revisionism during this presidential cycle go back to at least 2006, when he faced criticism for accepting an invitation from Falwell to speak at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

Liberal bloggers ripped into McCain, pointing to the speech and the accompanying sit-down with Falwell as proof that the Arizonan was set to sell out his principles to win the GOP nomination in 2008.

But taken together with separate addresses McCain delivered in New York a few days later to students at Columbia College and the New School, the speech at Liberty could just as easily be seen as reinforcing the image of McCain as someone willing to cross lines and build bridges. After all, how many other presidential candidates could boast of such a trifecta, especially in one week?

In all three speeches, McCain argued for vigorous debate—and mutual respect. To help make the point, during his Columbia speech, McCain reflected on his relationship with Ifshin.

“I came to admire him for his generosity, his passion for his ideals, for the largeness of his heart, and I realized he had not been my enemy but my countryman … and later my friend,” McCain reportedly said.

“His friendship honored me. We disagreed over much. Our politics were often opposed, and we argued those disagreements. But we worked together for our shared ideals,” he said. “David remained my countryman and my friend until the day of his death, at the age of 47, when he left a loving wife and three beautiful children, and legions of friends behind him. His country was a better place for his service to her, and I had become a better man for my friendship with him. God bless him.”

If nothing else, for anyone paying attention, McCain’s willingness to bury the political hatchet with Falwell should have seemed perfectly in character.

Gotcha? You betcha!


John McCain and Sara Palin have been complaining that there’s too much “gotcha journalism” going around.

If only.

When they say “gotcha journalism,” what they’re really trying to do, of course, is to demonize journalism itself — to de-legitimize asking tough questions, and following up with more tough questions when the answers are mealy-mouth evasions, and holding politicians accountable when they inadvertently emit a truth.

McCain says gotcha journalism is reporting that Palin, at a public event, told a voter her thoughts about attacking terrorist targets in Pakistan — which inconveniently is the same view that McCain is excoriating Obama for holding.

The McCain camp cried gotcha journalism when Charles Gibson asked Palin whether she agrees with the Bush Doctrine, and when Katie Couric asked her what Supreme Court cases she disagrees with, and when Gwen Ifill asked her about the powers of the vice president. But I didn’t hear Republicans complain about gotcha journalism when debate moderator George Stephanopoulos twice asked Obama, “Does Reverend Wright love America as much as you do?”

If gotcha journalism means asking presidential candidates which of their dreams will have to be deferred because of the $700 billion bailout, as a frustrated Jim Lehrer did again and again, then maybe we need more of that kind of questioning, not less.

We certainly could have used more gotcha journalism during the decade leading up to the worst economic debacle since the Great Depression.

In 1999, when the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, letting commercial banks go into the investment banking and insurance businesses, the country would have been a lot better off if the mainstream media had paid gotcha attention to the downside of deregulation, instead of being obsessed by the mythical Y2K bug.

In 2000, when Senator Phil Gramm slipped a measure forbidding the SEC and the CFTC from regulating credit default swaps into the omnibus spending bill, imagine if the press had blown the whistle on that lobbyist-owned legislator taking advantage of the final moments of a lame-duck session of Congress instead of focusing single-mindedly on the hanging chads story.

In 2003, when Alan Greenspan told global investors that he was going to keep the Fed Funds rate at an unappetizing one percent, thus opening the global floodgates to the mortgage backed securities industry, just think what might have happened if the surge in no-income-no-asset mortgages had been covered as intensely as the goings-on at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

In 2006, when the size of the global collateralized debt obligation market approached $2 trillion, with Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and Wachovia becoming the top CDO underwriters, consider how investigative journalism might have revealed the fatal vulnerability of those houses to toxic assets when the housing bubble would inevitably burst, rather than spending its energies falsely convicting the Duke lacrosse team of rape.

In 2007, when the subprime mortgage fiasco hit, think how things might have played out differently at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if cable news had spent as much time covering the liquidity crisis as it did the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

In 2008, when SEC chairman Chris Cox told the Senate Banking Committee that he wanted no increased authority and no increased budget to oversee conflict-of-interest riddled credit rating agencies like Moody’s, what if the consequences of Cox’s emergency ban on naked short-selling – bizarrely lasting only one month and affecting only 19 companies — had been pursued as aggressively as the first photos of the Brangelina twins?

We could have used a whole lot more gotcha journalism about Wall Street and banking deregulation than most people regularly encountered over the past decade. And we would have been better served as citizens if terms like “naked short selling” and “mark-to-market” and the rest of the gobbledygook now haunting us had long ago become part of the minimum daily dose of financial literacy delivered to us by the news media.

The exceptions to this journalistic inability to know what’s important, and to explain what’s difficult, are worth celebrating. Chief among them are public radio programs like “>Planet Money, and public radio reporters like “>Adam Davidson.

There’s no better way for a lay person to understand the current crisis than by listening to two episodes of This American Life – ““>Another Frightening Show About the Economy,” which aired last weekend. And while you’re at it, check out the ““>two

Debate wrap up: Palin contradicts McCain, will make peace process a ‘priority’


ST. LOUIS (JTA)—Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would be a priority of a McCain administration, Sarah Palin said last night.

“A two-state solution is the solution,” Alaska Gov. Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, said in her debate with the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). “And Secretary Rice, having recently met with leaders on one side or the other there also, still in these waning days of the Bush administration, trying to forge that peace. And that needs to be done, and that will be top-of-an-agenda item also under a McCain-Palin administration.”

Palin was referring to recent shuttle diplomacy by Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State, aimed at securing an Israeli-Palestinian agreement before President Bush leaves office in January.

In an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published in May, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pledged to play a “hands-on” role in Israeli-Palestinian talks and said he would serve as “chief negotiator.” In recent weeks, however, some of his advisers have criticized the Bush administration’s current peace push and played down expectations of McCain’s involvement in forging a deal, saying there were several other more pressing foreign policy issues.

During the debate, Palin and Biden sparred at length over who would better protect Israel’s interests.

Palin targeted a commitment last year by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic presidential candidate, to meet with leaders of rogue states within his first year of office without preconditions.

“A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the Earth an ally like we have in Israel, should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first,” Palin said.

Obama has since retreated somewhat from that position—originally stated in an answer to a debate question—saying he meant he would not rule out such a meeting and would prepare for it extensively. He and his surrogates also have suggested that in the case of Iran, such a meeting would involve the courty’s religious leadership rather than Ahmadinejad.

Palin also suggested she opposed Iran’s achieving nuclear energy capacity, not just nuclear weapons. That would be a shift from Bush administration policies, which have been to offer Iran nuclear energy independence as an incentive to ending its nuclear weapons program.

“A leader like Ahmadinejad, who is not sane or stable when he says things like that, is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons,” Palin said.

In the debate, Palin also repeated a pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Obama’s campaign will not make such a pledge, hewing to policies embraced by presidents for decades that such a move would prejudice the outcome of final-status talks. As soon as he assumed office in 2001, Bush reversed his own campaign pledge to move the embassy.

Biden said Republican policies had endangered Israel, targeting Bush’s encouragement of elections in the region and the administration’s reluctance to engage with Iran until late in Bush’s term.

“Speaking of freedom being on the march, the only thing on the march is Iran,” Biden said. “It’s closer to a bomb. Its proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.  We will change this policy with thoughtful, real, live diplomacy that understand that you must back Israel in letting them negotiate, support their negotiation and stand with them, not insist on policies like this administration has.”

Biden chided the Bush administration for discouraging Israel from engaging in peace talks and diplomacy with its adversaries.

“You must back Israel in letting them negotiate, support their negotiation and stand with them, not insist on policies like this administration has,” he said.

Shame on Rabbis for Obama, hooray for Amy Klein, thanks for Marty Kaplan


Online Dating Addict

True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict” — “Cathy” it’s not (Sept. 26). It’s brilliant, and one of the smartest singles columns I’ve read. I love reading each week’s adventure. Klein’s journey is familiar, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. This strip is so innovative, and I can’t think of another comic or column like it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it winds up with a following like “Bridget Jones Diary,” which also started as a weekly column. I hope you continue to publish it for a long time, barring Amy meeting her “Prince Charming” online.

Alycia Witzling
Los Angeles

Rabbis for Obama

I take exception with the group “Rabbis for Obama” (“Rabbis for Obama Seen As First in American Politics,” Sept. 19). When one obtains the title of rabbi, he is obligated to keep religion and state separate. A rabbi is not just an ordinary citizen. His public statements carry a subliminal message that all Jews think as he does. The separation of church and state is the foundation for religious freedom in our great country. Shame on you Rabbis for Obama.

Hershey Gold
via e-mail

Economic Atonement

God has a sense of irony (“The Crash,” Sept. 26).

In the next few days, we’ll conclude the Shmita year, the seven-year agricultural cycle. Among the rules of the of the Shmita year, at the end of the one, all debts are nullified.

In the past few months and weeks, and especially the past few days, we have witnessed the collapse of many financial behemoths, and the devaluation of hundred of billions of dollars of debt instruments. Many hundreds of billions of dollars of debt are being wiped off the books.

In a similar vein, Jewish law prohibits charging interest on loans. There was something unseemly about making money from money. Thus, at the same time as massive loans are being written off, we are observing a free fall of our economy due from many obscure, and obtuse, derivative financial instruments (such as credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations), which brought about the redundant pledging and excessive leveraging of financial instruments.

Interest on a loan was the first step that led to derivative financial instruments.

God indeed has a sense of irony.

Jeffrey Rabin
via e-mail

Presidential Politics

I must commend The Journal for the two informative articles on Sarah Palin (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” “Sarah Palin, Chabad Share Same Appeal,” Sept. 19).
However, I cannot believe that not a single letter in favor of the articles was received.

Allow me to correct this discrepancy by saying that the articles were superb illustrations of a uniquely capable woman.

Larry Schlesinger
Encino

Two McCain advisers recently stated that a McCain administration wouldn’t “actively [engage] in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” (“McCain Advisers: ‘No’ to Syria Talks,” Sept. 26).

Not only has a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict been the consensus position of the U.S. government for the last 10 years, but more than 70 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution, according to a recent poll commissioned by the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street. It is unclear what McCain seeks to gain by taking such an unpopular position.

Real peace and security for Israel and the United States will only come through a negotiated end to the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and either of these peace agreements are unlikely to happen without strong leadership from an American president.

We need a president who understands this basic fact.

Cathy Colloff
Toluca Lake

Post-Palin Depression

Since Marty Kaplan believes Democrats are far more educated than Republicans, who he says embody the antithesis of intellectual pursuit, he might benefit from learning a short history lesson he obviously missed during his academic career: That the senior Nazi officials attending the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 held advanced university degrees, including doctorates (“Post-Palin Depression,” Sept. 12).

Apparently being highly educated and cultured did not prevent them from enacting the Final Solution to the Jewish Question.

While Kaplan is entitled to his misguided beliefs, he should realize that those of us who support McCain-Palin, especially in liberal territory, must do a lot of research to back up our views.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize many highly degreed professors on the left are babbling fools, while lacking a college degree is no barrier to possessing common sense.

Leslie Fuhrer Friedman
Venice

Rosh Hashanah and Change

Marty Kaplan evoked all the feelings and thinking that I’ve been stumbling to communicate — to my friends on both the left and the right (“Is Change Possible,” Sept. 26).

Our tradition and our government both offer us a mirror to reflect and an opportunity to transform what we don’t like. Of course, Kaplan said so much more, so much better. Still I wanted to let him know I’m profoundly moved and grateful for his eloquence.

So what are you working on now?

Bett Lujan Martinez.
Executive Director
The Possible Society of CA

Tashlich on the Beach

To set the historical record straighter concerning Tashlich on the beach (“Best Tashlich Custom Is a Toss-Up,” Sept. 26).

In 1985, when our rabbi, Jeffrey Marx, arrived at Santa Monica Synagogue, he brought 60 of us to the edge of the water on Rosh Hashanah to toss away our sins.

Over the years, in addition to meditations and music, we have written our sins on helium balloons and then released them up into the heavens; recorded them on edible paper which we fed to a live scapegoat; put them in a collection bag held by a scuba diver who came up out of the sea; and built a Western Wall of sand onto which we scratched our sins.

For more than two decades, we have freely shared our Tashlich ideas and services with other Los Angeles congregations. Now, each year, as more than 800 of us gather on the beach, we kvell that Jewish communities from Malibu down to Venice, from Agoura to as far east as Hollywood, have followed our example.

Lori Daitch
Director of Education
The Santa Monica Synagogue

StandWithUs Responds

The five academics sidestepped the issues we raised, instead focusing on issues we didn’t raise (Letters, Sept. 19). Our concern was never traditional anti-Semitism on campuses, but rather anti-Zionism, which distorts facts to demonize and incite prejudice against Israel and its supporters, a well-documented trend in academia.

Dissenting faculty — let alone students — have difficulty speaking out for fear of ostracism and possible penalties in their reputations, grades, promotions and opportunities for publication, grants and participation on academic committees and review and editorial boards. Yet, these five academics take refuge in speaking about “negligible anti-Semitism,” thereby denying the painful experiences of many students and faculty — in effect, abandoning them.

Our attempts to cooperate have repeatedly resulted in the attitude expressed in their letter — they alone know about campus life, and campuses are their exclusive turf.

They disrespectfully dismissed 20,000 SPME [Scholars for Peace in the Middle East] academics, StandWithUs and students and other faculty at UCLA and across the country who believe the problem is serious. The five should at least have the modesty to admit they do not represent all students and faculty and perhaps are unaware of some information available to others.

People can interpret situations differently. Consider UCLA. Several professors continue promoting their anti-Zionist agenda in and outside the classroom and under the guise of “Middle East history” courses with no history courses offered with alternative perspectives. On Yom HaZikaron in May 2008, students on Bruin Walk encountered a mock “apartheid wall” covered with photos of IDF soldiers aiming their guns at Palestinian women and children.

The five academics may believe these incidents have no short- or long-term impact, and should be ignored. StandWithUs respectfully disagrees, but recognizes that this debate is important and has been occurring on many campuses. Therefore, in a spirit of cooperation, we invite the five to a private and/or public discussion about these issues.

Roz Rothstein,
International Director
Roberta Seid
Director of Research/Education
StandWithUs

Sarah Palin

David Suissa’s praise for Sarah Palin, “A likable adrenalin junkie,” “folksy charm” (unlike Hillary’s “steely demeanor”), “flirting with her husband,” a woman who can cause a tough Israeli war hero to “fall under her spell,” was certainly fitting if she was an “American Idol” contestant (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” Sept. 19).

But Palin is running for the second highest office in our land, one that is, literally, a heartbeat away from the presidency.

What does Suissa have to say about her total lack of foreign policy and national experience? She’s a “quick study.” She has enough “street smarts” (how about education and experience?) “to quickly improve herself.” But this is the running of a country that we’re talking about here not a local business. The issues now facing our nation are far too serious and complicated for on-the-job training.

This is not the time for any candidate for high office to begin their studies.

Our tradition teaches us: “Don’t look at the container but what’s inside of it.”

Suissa and all of us would be better served by looking at the political track record and experience of our candidates, not their looks and personalities.

Rabbi Jeff Marx
Santa Monica

Now that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain’s running mate, has visited the United Nations and met with representatives of several countries, the McCain campaign can claim that she has international relations experience with countries in addition to Russia, the “neighbor” she understands well because she can see it from Alaska.

No doubt, meeting some world leaders, even for the first time, makes her well-qualified to become vice president and to be just a heart beat away from the presidency. In fact, whenever the issue of Palin’s experience for the position arises, McCain’s campaign spokesmen respond immediately that she has more “executive” experience than Sen. Barack Obama.

However, since when does having been in an administrative position guarantee that the individual has developed or demonstrated the qualities essential to being an effective executive? After eight years, is there anyone who still believes that George W. Bush’s executive experience as governor of Texas qualified him to be president?

Given Obama’s extensive educational background and varied work experiences — graduation from Columbia University and Harvard University School of Law, a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, a two-term Illinois State senator, a first-term U.S. senator and almost two years on the campaign trail, he has already demonstrated the leadership, organizational, problem solving and prudent decision making abilities essential to being an effective executive. In a word, there is simply no contest between the experiences of Palin compared with those of Obama.

As David Brooks wrote in a recent New York Times column, “Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.”

Rachel Galperin
Encino

The debates won’t matter


Let me hedge my bet.

At the vice presidential debate, the talking points Sarah Palin’s handlers have been stuffing her head with will come out of her mouth so butchered that even Republican voters will say, like Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”: “The horror, the horror!”

Or, at one of the remaining presidential debates, a contemptuously smirking John McCain will finally become so enraged by having to share a stage with Barack Obama that he will pop his notorious cork right there in front of a hundred million Americans.

Or maybe Obama or Joe Biden will goof or gaffe or otherwise give such a bloody bit of chum to the media sharks that the gazillionth replay of the sound bite will drive every swing voter in the country away from them. But I don’t think so.

Sure, cable yakkers will declare after each debate who won on points, and who on body language; who played Nixon, and who played Kennedy; who won their focus groups of undecideds, and who flatlined with them.

But my guess is that the prestige press headlines will continue to play it safe, as they did after the first debate — “candidates clash” (New York Times), “differ sharply” (Los Angeles Times), “quarrel” (Washington Post) — and that on television, it will be concluded that no one delivered a knockout blow, which will require audiences to remain in suspense, and therefore to keep tuning in, until the photo-finish end.

This election won’t be won or lost at the debates. Nor will it be determined by the two campaigns’ “ground games” — their get-out-the-vote efforts. Nor, unfortunately, will its outcome even depend on how many Americans wake up on Election Day intending to vote for one candidate or the other.

Instead, my fear is that the Electoral College results will hang on the swing state voting systems’ vulnerability to sabotage.

It’s already happening.

In El Paso County, Colo., the county clerk — a delegate to the Republican National Convention — told out-of-state undergraduates at Colorado College, falsely, that they couldn’t vote in Colorado if their parents claim them as dependents on their taxes.

In the towns of Mount Pleasant and Middleton, Wisc., Democratic voters received a mailing containing tear-out requests for absentee ballots pre-addressed to the wrong addresses. Both mailers were sent by the McCain campaign.

Florida, Michigan and Ohio have some of the country’s highest foreclosure rates. “Because many homeowners in foreclosure are black or poor,” The New York Times says, “and are considered probable Democratic voters in many areas, the issue has begun to have political ramifications.”

If you’re one of the million Americans who lost a home through foreclosure, and if you didn’t file a change of address with your election board, you’re a sitting duck for an Election Day challenge by a partisan poll watcher holding a public list of foreclosed homes. In states like New Mexico and Iowa, the number of foreclosures is greater than the number of votes by which George W. Bush carried the state in 2004.

In the 2006 election, according to the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network, black voters in Virginia got computer-generated phone calls from a bogus “Virginia Election Commission” telling them that they could be arrested if they went to the wrong polling place; in Maryland, out-of-state leafleters gave phony Democratic sample ballots to black voters with the names of Republican candidates checked in red; in New Mexico, Democratic voters got personal phone calls from out of state that directed them to the wrong polling place.

Does anyone think this won’t be tried again in 2008?

The reason behind Alberto Gonzales’ attempted purge of U.S. Attorneys was that some of them wouldn’t knuckle under to Karl Rove’s plan to concoct an “election fraud” hoax that would put Republicans in control of the nation’s voting lists.

“We have, as you know, an enormous and growing problem with elections in certain parts of America today,” Rove falsely told the Republican National Lawyers Association, an evidence-less problem crying out for a draconian solution. Does anyone think that Rove’s move from the White House to Fox has dampened Republican ardor for this ruse?

And if all of that doesn’t alarm you, consider the new report on electronic voting systems from the Computer Security Group at the UCSB, which concluded that “all voting systems recently analyzed by independent security testers have been found to contain fatal security flaws that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the voting process….

Unless electronic voting systems are held up to standards that are commensurate with the criticality of the tasks they have to perform, the very core of our democracy is in danger.”

And did I mention that on Election Day, some polling places in minority precincts in battleground states will be shocked, simply shocked, to discover that so many people want to vote that it will take hours of standing in line to vote? That is, of course, unless they run out of ballots.

So while the presidential and vice presidential debates will make for swell political theater, the likelihood is that victory will be determined not by how the debates move a small percentage of undecided Americans off the fence, but by the voting experiences of a few thousand voters in a few swing states on Nov. 4.

Joseph Stalin is reputed to have said, “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”

I think he had it half right.

Those who decide who cast the votes also decide everything.

One-Day U


Maybe it was because I had just helped my daughter move into her freshman dorm room and I was envious of the deliciously named courses she was thinking of
taking. Or maybe it was because I’ve always been a sucker for pitches like “Conversational Hebrew in One Day!” Or maybe it was because I didn’t know what else to do with my rage about the anti-intellectual matches that the Republican presidential campaign is playing with.

Whatever the reason, I was a sitting duck for a publicist’s offer to comp me to the first “One Day University” in Los Angeles. Judging from the full house paying $259 a pop at the Skirball’s Magnin Auditorium, I wasn’t alone.

The lineup included teachers from Columbia, Harvard, Dartmouth and USC. The subjects were Lincoln, the psychology of happiness, the history of cosmology and the foreign policies of an Obama or a McCain administration. The audience included not only the retirees seeking educational nourishment and brain fitness whom I had expected, but also boomers like me and more than a few people who looked to be in their 40s and 30s and even younger.

Three out of the four speakers really knew how to work a room, making good on the publicist’s promise of a day of engaging “edutainment,” and the fourth — even though, unlike the others, he worked from a prepared text and never left his spot behind the lectern — nevertheless held people’s attention with his material.

All day long, while learning things like the average age for the first onset of depression (14 1/2, compared to twice that a generation ago), and the proportion of the universe containing carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, the elements that people are made of (less than 1 percent), I kept wondering what bound us students together, besides our common jones for knowledge.

The answer came home to me during the foreign policy lecture by my friend and USC colleague, professor Steven Lamy.

In the midst of providing an analytic framework for understanding the traditions and belief systems of U.S. foreign policy, he pointed out the substantive poverty of the discussion of foreign policy occurring during this campaign, despite so many grave foreign policy issues that will face the next president. Security challenges and security strategies? Yes, those are in the campaign mix. But dealing realistically with the global economy, or thinking creatively about using the U.S.’s non-military power, or grappling with the social threat that traditional cultures see posed by the massive exportation of American entertainment, or with the environmental threat posed by exporting our consumerist culture: issues like these — not so much, or not at all.

The reason for this neglect is that the conduct of foreign policy is now all about electoral considerations, and the majority of the American people return the favor by not paying attention to it. The result, says Steve Lamy, is an uninformed American public easily manipulated by power players in Washington who prefer that the wide range of options potentially available for America’s role in the world not be put on the table for scrutiny.

The irony is that there is a rising generation that does see foreign policy as something more than shouting, “9-11!” At USC, as Steve pointed out, the 791 undergraduates majoring in international relations — one of the most popular majors in the college — do know what the Bush doctrine is.

Which brings me to the thread binding the newest alumni of One Day U. Yes, I could be projecting my own feelings onto them. But from the questions they asked the faculty, from conversations I heard during breaks, from the room’s reaction to Steve Lamy’s mention of the foreign policy credential claimed by Sarah Palin with a straight face (you can see Russia from an island in Alaska), I had the strong impression that the people in that auditorium were connected by a common sense of outrage at the demonization of learning going on in this campaign.

To be sure, every campaign, in both parties, relies on bumper-sticker slogans and 30-second ads, and, at least since the 1980s, television has proven itself dismally unequal to the opportunity for covering a campaign as a national conversation about the big issues facing the country.

Yet the way the McCain campaign has turned “elite” into a dirty word, and delightedly derided Obama’s education as effete, and turned the sow’s ear of Sarah Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience into the silk purse of salt-of-the-earth small town values — you have to go back to Spiro Agnew and his bullyboy ventriloquists, Pat Buchanan and William Safire, to find this kind of sneering contempt for educated people.

The neoconservative intellectuals who have fanned these fires have particularly dirty hands. With their Ivy League degrees and their perches as columnists and commentators, their collaboration with the Republican defamation of learning is especially unctuous. By being accomplices to what is arguably the most lying campaign in modern history, they are complicit with the same noxious rejection of reason that has brought us the teaching of “intelligent design” (aka creationism) in our schools; the politicization of science in everything from climate change to environmental regulations; and the intrusion of fundamentalist religious doctrines into the shaping of public policy.

I see adult education as a political act, a refutation of this neo-Know Nothingism. I see reading a good newspaper as a thumb in the eye to this anti-intellectual hypocrisy and to candidates who refuse to hold press conferences. I see the conversation occurring in some online precincts, and among people who have abandoned cable news for actual discussions about issues they care about, as a patriotic response to the political porn served up to us by mainstream media. I see studying and going to the best school you can and learning to think critically as a powerful antidote to the homespun yahooism that is being held up to us as the gold standard of competence.

Sure, some people may have signed up for One Day U because it looked like fun, or to get out of the house, or just because they were curious. But curiosity is a quality that has been lethally absent in the occupant of the White House these last eight years, and if you listen to the team that could well replace him, having a healthy intellectual appetite is wussily un-American.

I don’t doubt that Americans who love learning may constitute a minority. I just hope that enough of them live in battleground states to make a difference.

Marty Kaplan has been a White House speechwriter, a deputy presidential campaign manager, a studio executive and a screenwriter. He holds the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society at the USC Annenberg School. He can be reached at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Who you calling rebbetzin, why you dissing Palin, what college anti-Semitism?


The Rabbi’s Spouse

In her recent story, Danielle Berrin contemplates the role of the clergy’s spouse (“Who You Calling Rebbetzin?” Sept. 12).

It seems that one of the downsides is being misunderstood.  
 
I repeatedly emphasized to Danielle that my voluntary role in our community is one which I gladly fill both at our synagogue and in our children’s school, because these are the communities where our family belongs, and I feel a personal responsibility to help.  Never at any time did I or will I expect any financial compensation for the work I volunteer to do in my community. 

I created the position that I fill because I care about the community and am proud to help build our congregation along with my husband.  

I wish there would have been some way for that positive message to have been better expressed in the article.

Pnina Bouskila
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

We would like to thank Danielle Berrin for her article on the contemporary rebbetzin.

We were subjects in this piece, and we could not be more pleased. Within the Jewish world so many of us seek connection — with God, with community, with mitzvot, and yes — with the rabbi’s family!? Through her article Ms. Berrin gave our community a chance to get to know us a little better, with the hope of strengthening those connections — that is indeed a holy pursuit, a true mitzvah.

As rabbis who are also rebbetzins, we are grateful for Ms. Berrin’s attention to the value of the rabbinic spouse.

Rabbis Deborah and Brian Schuldenfrei
via e-mail

The Iranian Vote

Iranian American Jews are mostly wary and distrustful of the Obama-Biden ticket.
In your Aug. 11 Iranian American Jews blog report on my debate with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Judge Bruce Einhorn on the U.S. presidential elections, you mistakenly mentioned that I had emphasized the issue of Sen. John McCain’s experience.

In fact, my main and repeated emphasis was on the lack of understanding by Sen. Barack Obama of the nature and the threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the worldwide jihadist movement, as well as Sen. Joe Biden’s long-time record of encouraging appeasement and giving one-sided concessions to the Iranian theocratic dictatorship.

I mentioned that as a Democrat, I would strongly suggest putting aside our differences and voting for McCain, due to the overwhelming urgency of the worldwide threats facing us all.

I, like most Iranian Jews, fear that the Obama-Biden administration will fail to stand up to this worldwide threat.

Frank Nikbakht
Director
Committee for
Religious Minority Rights in Iran

Post-Palin Depression

I wanted you to know that I ran across your piece as I scoured the Internet looking for my minute-by-minute updates on the election (“Post-Palin Depression” Sept. 12).

I am just an average person that fits the person you describe in “Post-Palin Depression.” I do not have a therapist, but I have been in depression for almost two weeks now.

But your article inspired me to go nearly cold turkey on election news (I didn’t think about limiting to C-SPAN and, of course, I just can’t go without “The Daily Show”). One question, before I go into detox, can I finish out my obsession until I fall asleep tonight?

Thanks for the great piece. I can’t wait for my blood pressure to resume to normal levels.

Catherine Devericks
Via e-mail

Fields of Dreams

I would like to thank David Suissa and The Jewish Journal for the moving article comparing/contrasting Trochenbrod and Camp Ramah (“Fields of Dreams,” Sept. 12).

Filmmaker Jeremy Goldscheider is doing a big mitzvah in producing a film that will preserve a part of European Jewish History, which would otherwise be lost forever.

I would like to support this project and would like more information on how to get involved. I am writing as a representative of the Blitstein family of Trochenbrod.

Paula Verbit
Trochenbrod Descendant
Second Generation

Strange Love

In his recent letter to David Suissa, Jeff Kramer stated “The truth is that they (missionaries) don’t want your soul, what they want is to help you draw closer to God and in so doing, enjoy a fuller and more complete life now and in eternity.”

This statement is written more like a true believer in Jesus than a faithful Jew who understands that the roots of Christianity originate from Roman and Hellenistic paganism and belief in the trinity and bodily incarnation of God is considered idolatrous for Jews? (“Strange Love,” Aug. 22).

This is something all denominations of Judaism agree represents the spiritual destruction of the Jewish soul.

So yes, regardless of their intention, the end result is that missionaries, who seek to convert Jews, want our soul and in doing so perpetuate a long history of anti-Judaism that disrespects and invalidates the spiritual integrity of Jews and Judaism.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Founder and Executive Director
JewsForJudaism.org

Sleight of Hand

The directors of Stand With Us have engaged in a bit of sleight of hand (Letters, Sept. 12).

Rather than confront the fact that anti-Semitism is a negligible presence on college campuses today, they engage in name-calling. We are “elitists,” a common epithet in today’s political discourse.

If by characterizing our response as elitist, Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid mean that we actually know what we are talking about, since we work on various college campuses (not just UCLA), then we plead guilty. Actually knowing what one is talking about is something that is very helpful in political discussions — both this one and larger national ones.

Professor Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Professor David N. Myers
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Professor Roger Waldinger

Sarah Palin

There are issues pertaining to Gov. Sarah Palin’s judgment privately that should be judged publicly (“Sarah Palin and the Jews,” Sept. 5).

First, why is it not immoral to have a baby when you know that the baby has Down syndrome and the baby is your fifth?

Second, why is it not immoral to get pregnant at age 42 with your fifth child when you know or should know that the odds of having a baby with Down syndrome is increased exponentially when a women reaches 40?

According to the March of Dimes Web site, at 25, a woman has about one chance in 1,250 of having a baby with Down syndrome; at age 30, a one in 1,000 chance; at age 35, a one in 400 chance; at age 40, a one in 100 chance; at 45, a one in 30 chance.

Lastly, why is it not immoral to have a fifth baby when given our current world environment. Zero population growth should be a goal for all of us? Why not adopt instead?

The above questions should all be asked of this person, but our media just won’t go there.

Martin H. Kodish
Woodland Hills

Yes, it was nice to know that Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has good relationships with Alaska’s Jewish population, although it was hardly surprising that she is strongly pro-Israel, given that she is an evangelical Christian.

However, to describe her simply as a social conservative is a gross understatement. From all we know of her, insufficient as that is as yet, she is a rabid, right-wing ideologue.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, with its clever one- and two-line zingers written by a group of the best-paid communications professionals in the business and rehearsed by Gov. Palin for at least five hours prior to its presentation, with a mixture of homey references to her family and herself, she likened her small-town roots to those of President Harry S. Truman (a senator from Missouri for 10 years before becoming vice president in January 1945).

It remains the challenge of the media to break through the blockade surrounding their access to her — talk about protectionism run amok — to ask penetrating questions about her positions on policy issues, among them: the kinds of justices she would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court; whether she believes in multilateral, rather than unilateral, approaches to international affairs; given her opposition to government intervention into our private lives, why a woman should not have the right to make her own reproductive choices without big brother dictating her decisions.

Also, how she intends to protect the guarantees of our Bill of Rights and their erosion in the name of fighting terror; why, if she is so staunchly pro-life, she does not support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research — using embryos that will be discarded or destroyed — to improve the quality of life of those living with terrible diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, etc.; why she opposes sex education in the schools, including teaching even kindergartners — as Barack Obama has proposed — about what they need to know, at the most primary level, in order to protect themselves from sexual predators.

In addition, where she stands on our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state, in general, and the teaching of creationism, along with the theory of evolution, in particular; regulating gun ownership; outlawing hate crimes; drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on and on.

With less than two months remaining before Election Day on Nov. 4, it is urgent that the media reveal what the new kid on the political block — who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency — believes about many of the most urgent issues facing our country.

Rachel Galperin
Encino

I am not a supporter of the Republican ticket. However, let’s be fair to Sarah Palin on Jewish issues. First of all, most gentiles are probably not familiar with Pat Buchanan’s views on matters of Jewish concern, particularly people such as Palin, who are not known for their deep knowledge of such things. So her wearing of a Buchanan button does not signify anti-Jewish feelings.

Second, whatever one’s views may be on abortion rights, it is not a Jewish issue. The Orthodox Jewish view on abortion is similar to that of most Christian religious groups. The only pertinent Jewish issue in today’s political world is support for Israel.

Marshall Giller
Winnetka

The disclosure that last month Gov. Sarah Palin’s church hosted the executive director of Jews for Jesus, who told congregants that violence against Israeli Jews is God’s punishment for their failure to accept Jesus, is going to be the next club that Palin’s leftist critics pick up against her.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes Palin’s pastor at Wasilla Bible Church, the Rev. Larry Kroon, as saying that he doesn’t believe Jews for Jesus are deceptive.

“Look at Paul and Peter and the others, they were Jews and believed in Jesus as the messiah,” he told JTA. “There’s gentile believers and there’s Jewish believers that acknowledge Jesus as messiah. There’re Swedish believers.”

Mainstream Judaism today rejects the idea that one can believe in Jesus and still be a practicing Jew. Anyone who maintains that the two beliefs are compatible is a pariah in the Jewish community.

But these columns have been cautioning against the idea that politicians need to be held accountable for every thing that is said from the pulpits of their congregations. In an editorial of March 18, 2008, “Obama’s Moment,” we said that religion by its nature calls forth great passion, and that religious institutions, churches, synagogues, mosques, are places where things are often said that strike the congregation in a way that they might not strike the wider public.

None of this is to excuse the errors of Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Kroon. But it is Obama and Palin who are running for office, not the clergymen.

To make a big issue of these kinds of things in respect of the candidates, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, would be to impose a religious test for office of the sort that the framers of the Constitution forbade right in Article VI, when they wrote, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

No, ever, any. They couldn’t have been more emphatic and not even in an amendment but right there in the original body of the Constitution.

Reyna Oro
via e-mail

McCain and Obama campaigns focus on sanctions as Iran threat looms


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The mounting anxiety over Iran’s nuclear program is sparking campaign chatter over a possible Israeli strike and prompting a bipartisan effort to revive long-stalled sanctions legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Time is running out, say advocates of new congressional sanctions against Iran, with some wondering if a nuclear deadline for the Islamic Republic looms as early as next year. But an election or three — in the United States, Israel and Iran — seem to stand in the way of coordinated action, and conventional wisdom posits that a U.S. president who is perhaps the lamest duck in decades is hardly in a position to carry through with meaningful action.

Against this backdrop, attention has turned increasingly to the possibility of Israel launching a pre-emptive strike, with reports claiming that U.S. officials have told Jerusalem not to take such action. At the same time, however, both vice-presidential candidates have said in recent weeks that the United States should respect any Israeli decision on the matter and both campaigns were planning this week to discuss their Iran policies with Jewish communal leaders.

In the Congress, escalating concerns about Iran have prompted Democrats and Republicans to set aside sharp election-year differences to coordinate with Israel and the pro-Israel lobby to push through sanctions legislation before year’s end, including the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

The measure would mandate the publication every six months of a list of companies invested in Iran’s energy and defense sectors in order to facilitate divestment from Iran by state pension funds. It also protects from lawsuits fund managers who divest from Iran.

Obama’s bill and the Iran Counterproliferation Act are under consideration for attachment to a defense authorization measure that must be passed this term.

The bills have been held up until now because of resistance from the Bush administration and congressional Republicans for myriad reasons: Some business interests have opposed the counterproliferation bill because it would close loopholes that have allowed American companies to continue working with Iran through foreign-owned subsidiaries.

Additionally, the Bush administration has aggressively opposed limitations on its executive prerogative in foreign policy. Pro-Israel insiders say that some Republicans have opposed the sanctions-enabling legislation because they don’t want to give Obama, the Democrats’ presidential nominee, a legislative victory in an election year.

But many of those differences have been set aside in recent weeks, pro-Israel insiders told JTA.

Dan Shapiro, an Obama foreign policy adviser and top Jewish outreach coordinator, confirmed to JTA that Obama’s bill, which would offer tort protections to pensions that divest from Iran, is likely to be part of the defense authorization measure that is set to pass.

“It has the support of several dozen senators,” Shapiro said.
He would not, however, count out resistance from the White House.

Earlier sanctions have had an impact: Businesses increasingly are reluctant to invest in Iran in part because of sanctions Bush has implemented on Iranian banks through executive order.

The perceived need for some kind of action has been exacerbated by the lame-duck status of Bush, who is exiting office as one of the least popular presidents in modern history, and Wednesday’s primaries in Israel. The Israeli vote is likely to be followed by weeks or months of political realignments ahead of new general elections.

In addition, Iran is set to hold presidential elections next June, raising hopes of ousting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose fiery rhetoric has fanned much of the anxiety about a nuclear Iran.

According to experts, the next president — whether it is Obama or U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — is likely to ramp up the pressure on Iran. But differences persist in how each man would go about increasing the pressure.

A bipartisan slate of five former secretaries of state — including Henry Kissinger, now a McCain adviser — met this week under CNN auspices and agreed that talks with Iran would likely be on the agenda next year, whoever is president. McCain repeatedly has criticized Obama’s willingness to talk with Iranian leaders and painted the Democratic candidate as dangerously naive on the matter.

Obama is considering how best to establish an international commitment to further isolate Iran; McCain is considering ways to encourage internal Iranian dissent toward regime change.

Both campaigns are making their case on Iran this week to segments of the Jewish community. On Wednesday, McCain’s senior advisers were to meet with Jewish backers in Arlington, Va., while Obama himself was to take part in a conference call with rabbinical leaders.

“This is an extremely important issue, an extremely serious issue, and an extremely urgent issue,” Tony Lake, Obama’s top national security adviser, said at an event organized by the Center for U.S. Global Engagement in Denver during the Democratic National Convention last month. “It could well lead to the worst crisis that we will see over the next five years because the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon will present a huge threat to the security of Israel, to others in the region, to the Europeans, including the Russians, and many others.”

Obama wants to see “progress between now and next January,” Lake said, but already is planning action “as soon as he takes office.”

Dennis Ross, the former top Middle East negotiator under Bush’s father and Bill Clinton, and now a senior Obama adviser, said the candidate’s preferred approach would be “serious sticks and serious carrots” — in that order.

“You’ve got to change the formula from weak sticks and weak carrots, which is not enough to concentrate the Iranian mind in terms of the negotiations and make them change behavior,” Ross told JTA.

An Obama administration would rally the international community to cut off refined petroleum exports to Iran, hitting almost half of its gas supply, and end investment in the Islamic Republic’s antiquated energy infrastructure.

The obstacles to such a strategy remain China and Russia, which maintain extensive business contacts in Iran. Ross described a strategy of first targeting China, which depends heavily on Iran for its oil supply. China, he noted, is even more dependent on Saudi oil, yet no serious effort has been made to recruit Saudi Arabia into leveraging the Chinese into isolating Iran, even though the Saudis have even more to fear from a nuclear Iran than Israel.

Ross said Obama also became interested, after touring Israel in July and meeting top security officials there, in targeting the five major re-insurers — the companies that underwrite insurance companies. A re-insurance boycott would go a substantial way toward crippling Iran’s energy sector.

The McCain campaign is similarly exercised about Iran, but is mapping a different approach focused on supporting internal political resistance to the regime.

“I think you’ll see John McCain, diplomatically, working very aggressively with countries throughout the Middle East who feel, and properly so, a threat from the rise of the Shi’a extremist regime, and try to get a larger condominium to address them,” said Richard Williamson, the Bush administration’s envoy to Sudan who also is advising the McCain campaign, earlier this month in Minneapolis.

McCain campaign officials did not return requests for interviews on the topic, but Williamson advocated a “soft” campaign of encouraging democratization within Iran as well as building up a regional front that would isolate the regime.

“There has to be a recognition that that regime has its own fissions, and divisions within it,” he said, before rattling them off: “The balance of power between the president, Ahmadinejad, and the supreme leader, constituencies, it has economic growth problems, it has an increasingly dissatisfied younger population and the majority of the country is under 30 years of age, and it has stresses with neighbors.”

Williamson added: “I think you’re going to see John McCain utilizing the instruments he has been involved in, all over the world, in over 90 countries, in trying to help civil society, endemic democratic institutions grow.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency

There’s too much religion in presidential campaign, says ADL’s Foxman


NEW YORK (JTA)—The political campaign season is now in high gear as the curtain falls on the Democrats in Denver and the Republicans in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

While much of the media’s focus has been on handicapping the candidates and their chances in November, we would like to call attention to one less-publicized aspect of the U.S. political scene in 2008, which we find troubling.

This year, there have been increasing signs that the presidential race will present the American public with a profoundly unsettling infusion of religion and religiosity.

The trend toward this growing insertion of faith into the presidential race was first evident in Denver, and then equally so in the Twin Cities.

At the Democratic National Convention, the program included panels on “How an Obama Administration will Engage People of Faith,” “Moral Values Issues Abroad,” “Getting Out the Faith Vote” and “Common Ground on Common Good.”

Members of the clergy from across the religious spectrum had a significant presence, conducting Scripture readings at a multifaith “kickoff event” and offering invocations and benedictions. There was a clear effort to be interdenominational, but it was also apparent that the Democrats felt compelled to infuse religion into their convention in order to be politically viable.

At the Republican convention, religiously themed events played a prominent role as well. Members of the clergy led the convention in prayer each day, and there was considerable time devoted to discussing subjects such as “faith-based initiatives and family values,” which one Republican spokeswoman recently identified as being “at the heart of our party.”

There was less focus on religious diversity and less of an effort to call public attention to the convention’s religious content, probably because it was less of a departure from past Republican programs.

In raising our concerns, we mean no disrespect to religion or to family values. But there comes a point when being open about faith crosses a subtle line into pandering.

Some of what we have been seeing in this campaign is excessive and aggressive. It goes beyond a candidate’s discussing how religion shapes his or her worldview. Rather, it’s saying, “Vote for me because I’m a person of faith”—and that is directly contrary to the constitutional principle that there shall be no religious test for public office.

Both parties seem to have reached the conclusion that appealing to religious voters is good politics. But what kind of message does it send, in our religiously diverse society, when the two major presidential candidates sit in a church and forthrightly answer Pastor Rick Warren’s questions about their personal relationship with Jesus?

Renewed faith-based initiatives, religious outreach teams and religious programming at the conventions all work to curry favor with those who care which party is most favorable toward the religious.

This may be good politics, but it is not healthy for our nation.

This is not to say that Americans should oppose candidates who are religious, or that candidates shouldn’t feel free to discuss their religious beliefs with the body politic. It is understandable that candidates, from time to time, will want to express their religious beliefs—and how their faith will inform and influence their policymaking. And there’s nothing wrong with a candidate expressing his or her religious perspective—especially when confronted with misinformation, innuendo and rumor.

However, appealing to voters along religious lines can be divisive, and it is certainly contrary to the American ideal of including all Americans in the political process.

It is deeply troubling when religion is no longer just an element in understanding the character of a candidate but becomes a central part of a party’s efforts to win votes or to pander to a certain religious group or constituency. Government should not endorse, promote, or subsidize religious views—and particular religious views should not be the determining factor in public-policy decision making.

Anyone who legitimately aspires to public office in the United States must be prepared to set an example and to be a leader for all Americans, no matter his or her faith, or whether he or she even has a faith.

When candidates campaign, they should be encouraging voters to make decisions based on an assessment of their qualifications, their integrity and their political positions, not on how religious they are.

The next time a debate moderator asks the candidates to discuss their personal relationship with God, it would be refreshing to hear an answer similar to the one President Kennedy gave nearly 48 years ago, when he confronted questions about his Catholicism: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic.”

Religion, he was saying, is part of him, but it does not define him, and it should not be the primary lens through which Americans view him.

In this season, it is important to remind all political players that in this religiously diverse nation, there is a point at which an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling.

(Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.”)

Ed Koch backs Obama, says Sarah Palin is ‘scary’


NEW YORK (JTA)—Back in June,  Ed Koch was holding out on whether to endorse Barack Obama. Now the former Big Apple mayor—a Democrat who has endorsed Republicans, including President Bush in 2004—is on board (see full endorsement below).

What changed? Apparently, according to Politico.com, Koch is not a big fan of Sarah Palin:

“The designation of Palin to be vice president,” he said. “She’s scary.”

He said he was alarmed by the report that she’d triggered a conflict with the local librarian in Wasilla, Alaska by inquiring about the possibility of banning books.

“Any time someone goes to the library and says, ‘I want to ban books,’ and the librarian says ‘no,’ and she threatens to fire them — that’s scary,” he said.

(Palin at the time said she was just inquiring about the library’s policy on banning books, with no aim of actually banning any. “It was a rhetorical quesiton — nothing more,” the McCain-Palin campaign said in a memo yesterday. And no books were banned, the town says.)



Ed Koch

Presidential Endorsement

September 9, 2008

The time has come to declare whom I will be voting for.

When I made my decision four years ago and supported the reelection of George W. Bush, I said at the time the overwhelming issue for me was international Islamic terrorism, including al-Qaeda. The goal of Islamic terrorists was and still is to reestablish the Caliphate encompassing most of the Muslims living in a host of nations from Spain to Indonesia and placing them under a single religious leader with full authority over the civil affairs of the countries, in the style of Iran. That goal includes the deaths or forced conversions of Christians and Jews as infidels or the payment by them of tribute, and the elimination of the State of Israel.

In 2004, I concluded that the one person running for president who understood that danger best and was prepared to fight it and defend America and its allies was George W. Bush. Even though he is now at a low ebb in popularity, I have no regrets for having campaigned and voted for him. I said at the time I didn’t agree with him on a single domestic issue and so far as I can currently see that is still true with the exception of drilling for oil off our coasts and building nuclear energy plants.

I believe that Bush and Tony Blair, Bush’s main international ally with regard to the war in Iraq and against Islamic terrorism, will be redeemed by history. President Harry Truman was reviled when he left office, but is now honored for his courage and vision.

Now, once again, I have to make a decision to either endorse the Democratic ticket of Obama and Biden or support the Republican ticket of McCain and Palin. I am 83 years old. If I am lucky, I may yet vote not only in this election, but in the presidential election of 2012 and perhaps, if luckier, even in that of 2016. I believe I must vote my conscience, and that means for the presidential candidate who in my estimation will best protect the U.S. over the next four years.

I personally know two of those running: Joe Biden and John McCain. I like and admire them both. John McCain is a genuine war hero and patriot. Joe Biden is a friend well versed in foreign and domestic affairs, who had made judgment calls on domestic and foreign policy and legislation that I agree with. I do not personally really know the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, having spoken to him only once and briefly, or the Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

One foreign policy issue that particularly concerned me in 2004 was the security of Israel. I thought in 2004 that issue was better left to President George W. Bush, and I believe I was right. President Bush understood the need to support the security of Israel and did so. I did not feel that way about Senator John Kerry.

That is not an issue in this election. Both parties and their candidates have made clear, before and during this election campaign their understanding of the need to support Israel and oppose acts of terrorism waged against it by Hamas and other Muslim supporters of terrorism.

So the issue for me is who will best protect and defend America.

I have concluded that the country is safer in the hands of Barack Obama, leader of the Democratic Party and protector of the philosophy of that party. Protecting and defending the U.S. means more than defending us from foreign attacks. It includes defending the public with respect to their civil rights, civil liberties and other needs, e.g., national health insurance, the right of abortion, the continuation of Social Security, gay rights, other rights of privacy, fair progressive taxation and a host of other needs and rights.

If the vice president were ever called on to lead the country, there is no question in my mind that the experience and demonstrated judgment of Joe Biden is superior to that of Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is a plucky, exciting candidate, but when her record is examined, she fails miserably with respect to her views on the domestic issues that are so important to the people of the U.S., and to me. Frankly, it would scare me if she were to succeed John McCain in the presidency.

I reiterate the question each of us must answer in making our choice, who will best protect and defend America, domestically and with respect to the literal defense of the country? I hope I’ve made the right decision but only time will tell.

Whoever wins should and, I hope, will, following the election, receive the support of all Americans, no matter how they voted, especially in these perilous times. God Bless America and the next president and vice president of the U.S.

 

Biden, Palin lead campaign clash on Mideast


ST. PAUL (JTA)—The two vice-presidential candidates led the way Wednesday as the Obama and McCain campaigns worked to draw clear battle lines on Iran and Israel.

In a highly anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention, Alaska Gov. and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin mocked U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for saying more than a year ago that as president he would meet the leaders of pariah states unconditionally.

“Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay—he wants to meet them without preconditions,” she said during her acceptance speech Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center here.

Palin’s address followed a speech by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the most popular candidate among Jewish GOPers in the primaries. Giuliani warmed up the crowd with swipes at Obama, including an assertion that the Democratic nominee had flip-flopped on the issue of Jerusalem.

“When speaking to a pro-Israeli group, Obama favored an undivided Jerusalem, like I favor and John McCain favors it,” Giuliani said. “Well, he favored an undivided Jerusalem—don’t get excited—until one day later when he changed his mind.”

Earlier in the day, the Democrats launched their own Middle East-related attack when Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), used a 20-minute conference call with members of the Jewish media to blast the Bush administration and McCain, the Republican presidential nominee and longtime Arizona senator.

Biden blamed the Bush administration’s sluggish diplomatic efforts for slowing up Israeli-Palestinian talks and paving the way for the ascendancy of Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah. The Democratic vice presidential candidate argued that the administration has failed to respect Israel’s autonomy, citing reports that the White House at one time directed Israel not to engage in talks with Syria. And he appeared to reject the administration’s reported efforts to block Israel from taking military action against Iran.

“This is not a question for us to tell the Israelis what they can and cannot do,” Biden said. “I have faith in the democracy of Israel. They will arrive at the right decision that they view as being in their own interests.”

That said, Biden added, the Bush administration could have done much more on the diplomatic front to help avert the potential need for military action.

Taken together, Biden’s press call and the GOP convention speeches underscored the ramped-up efforts by both campaigns to paint the other side as promoting a reckless foreign policy that would endanger Israel and undermine U.S. interests.

They come as polls suggest that Obama commands about 60 percent of the Jewish vote—a solid majority, but at least 15 points below the percentages recorded by recent Democratic presidential candidates.

Even as both sides attempted to draw stark distinctions on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, it was unclear if any exist. The clearest gap appears to be on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

McCain has said he would do so when he enters office. In response, the Obama campaign accused McCain of lying.

The last two presidents made the same promise during their campaigns, but neither Bush nor Bill Clinton over the past 16 years ever even made an attempt to actually carry out that promise.

On the wider question of Jerusalem’s final status, however, it’s not clear that the candidates disagree.

Obama felt the need to clarify comments he made on the issue to thousands of pro-Israel activists in June, but both he and McCain have expressed essentially the same views: They share Israel’s concerns and say ultimately the two sides must decide the matter in negotiations.

Though for years the Bush administration was reluctant to dive into Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, McCain has pledged to do so. Both he and Obama favor a two-state solution, place most of the blame on the Palestinians for the failure to reach one, and back efforts to isolate Hamas and shore up Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Iran, however, the disagreements appear more pronounced—between Obama and the Bush administration and between the two presidential campaigns.

In mocking Obama’s stated willingness to meet with the president of Iran, Palin was echoing a longstanding line of attack against Obama employed not only by Republicans but by Obama’s main rival in the Democratic primaries, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

Since Obama first made the remark during a primary debate more than a year ago, he appears to have backtracked, saying he would require extensive preparations before such a meeting.

Still, Obama and Biden have stuck to the view that hard-nosed talks between the United States and Iran could ultimately lead Tehran to change its behavior—and, failing that, make it easier to build international support for tougher sanctions and possible military action against the Islamic regime.

McCain, on the other hand, has scoffed at the notion that talking with top Iranian leaders would do any good. At the same time, McCain has opposed several congressional measures backed by Obama that supporters say would place increased economic pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear pursuits.

Biden argued during the conference call that the net result of McCain’s positions is that he’s offering a choice between “unacceptable status quo or war.”

“There’s nothing in between with the McCain doctrine—nothing,” Biden said. “That is no option. That is a Hobson’s choice.”

In her speech Wednesday night, Palin expanded the Iran debate, arguing that the energy policies she favors—in particular, expanding oil drilling in the United States, especially Alaska—would help diminish the Iranian threat.

“To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries,” Palin said, “we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas.”

(Editor Ami Eden contributed in New York to this report.)

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews


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

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

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

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

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

Oh, now it’s getting good.

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

Then Republican Jews struck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter Sarah.

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

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

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

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

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster

McCain surrogates likely to echo Bush on Iran and Israel


DENVER (JTA)—John McCain’s campaign has walked a fine line between upholding the values of the GOP base that still reveres George W. Bush, while repudiating the legacy of the most unpopular president in modern history.

In at least one area, however, there’s no ambivalence: When it comes to Israel and how to deal with Iran, Republicans are happy to tout the Arizona senator’s consistency with the Bush presidency and his differences with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), his Democratic rival.

At next week’s GOP convention in St. Paul, Minn., expect McCain and his top surrogates, including lapsed Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to hammer home real policy differences between the two parties on the Middle East:

Such differences include Bush’s policy of continued democratization vs. Obama’s emphasis of reaching out to all governments; the Bush-Cheney preference for a tough military posture in the region vs. Obama’s pledge to intensify engagement in diplomacy and peacemaking.

“He recognizes Israel’s right as a sovereign to defend herself against those who seek to harm and destroy her,” says the “Jewish Advisory Coalition” page on McCain’s campaign Web site. The statement appears beneath a picture of McCain and Lieberman, wearing blue and white yarmulkes and praying at the Western Wall.

It’s a pitch that works with Republican Jews and the small portion of Jewish voters who vote strictly on Israel preferences. Coupled with McCain’s reputation as a relative moderate and anxieties about Obama, a relative unknown, the strategy appears to have eaten into the traditional 3-1 Jewish vote in favor of Democrats. Obama’s ratings have been stuck at 60 percent in Jewish polls.

McCain’s selection Friday of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, however, might reinforce charges by Democrats that McCain’s pretensions to moderation are unfounded. Palin, 44 and governor for two years, is a staunch opponent of abortion rights and gay unions.

The McCain campaign is already casting the ticket as one of reform: Palin has earned plaudits for pushing through ethics reforms in a state where Republicans have become identified with cronyism.

“In Alaska, Governor Palin challenged a corrupt system and passed a landmark ethics
reform bill,” a McCain campaign statement said. “She has actually used her veto and cut budgetary spending.”

Palin is close to the state’s small Jewish community, and as governor has visited its synagogues. She was planning an Israel trip prior to her selection.

Still, the selection of a staunch conservative only reinforces the “yes, but” ambivalence of much of McCain’s campaign: Yes, the Iraq war didn’t turn out well, but McCain’s been saying so for five years. Yes, the Bush White House exacerbated partisanship, but McCain has a history of working with Democrats.

Now expect to hear: Yes, she’s a staunch social conservative, but McCain has in the past embraced some moderate positions, for instance on stem cell research.

Among the few relative moderates appearing at the convention, Jews figure prominently: Lieberman, hometown favorite Sen. Norm Coleman (D-Minn.) and Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle.

The two other Jewish speakers underscore the campaign’s emphasis on reaching out to the community: Rabbi Ira Flax of Birmingham, Ala. will deliver the invocation Wednesday night, and David Flaum, the Republican Jewish Coalition chairman, will speak on Thursday night, when McCain delivers his acceptance speech.

Jewish events at the convention include an RJC luncheon with Lieberman’s wife, Hadassah, as well as events honoring pro-Israel lawmakers, Republican governors and a session analyzing the Jewish vote. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee will run the same range of private events it ran at the Democratic convention, honoring lawmakers and meeting with advisers. Even J-Street, the dovish pro-Israel group that was a prominent presence at Jewish events at the Democratic convention in Denver, will hold an event in St. Paul.

The toughest distinctions will be on Iran. Expect McCain to repeat the pledge he made most recently to a group of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis never to “allow another Holocaust.”

Obama’s campaign is pitching what it calls its “integrated” foreign policy that incorporates diplomatic and economic pressure with outreach; at a Center for U.S. Global Engagement session in Denver, Tony Lake, Obama’s top foreign policy adviser, said dealing with Iran’s suspected nuclear program “is a perfect illustration of an integrated approach because all our options would be on the table, economic, political and military.

Lake said the Iranian challenge could become the “worst crisis we will see in the next five years” and said Obama would deal with it as soon as he takes office. “We have to have a set of very serious negotiations with the Iranians. We have to work with other nations at increasing the leverage.”

The McCain campaign, by contrast, debuted a TV ad last week emphasizing Iran as a “serious threat” that threatens to “eliminate Israel.”

Dems use speeches to hit GOP on Israel


DENVER (JTA)—President Bush and John McCain backed policies that have endangered Israel, Democrats argued during their convention speeches Wednesday night.

In a night dedicated largely to foreign policy and national security issues, several speakers at the Pepsi Center argued that Israel’s enemies have been emboldened by Republican mishaps. The strategy reflected an increased willingness of Democrats to go on the attack against the Bush administration over Israel, after years of simply insisting both sides of the aisle were equally supportive of the Jewish state.

Alan Solomont, a top fund raiser for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) this time around, told JTA that four years ago it was the “belief of the Kerry campaign that [Israel] was not a point of differentiation therefore the campaign did focus on other issues.”

Not this year. Among those who used their speeches to hammer home the new talking points were:

* Kerry: “George Bush, with John McCain at his side, promised to spread freedom but delivered the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. They misread the threat and misled the country. Instead of freedom, it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban and dictators everywhere that are on the march. North Korea has more bombs, and Iran is defiantly chasing one.”

* Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.): “Under George Bush, the Middle East has become more troubled. That hurts America and endangers our ally, Israel, which has been forced to confront a resurgent Hamas, an emboldened Hezbollah and an Iran determined to get nuclear weapons. That is not the change we need.”

* Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.): “We entered into an unnecessary war and remain bogged down in Iraq as Afghanistan backslides and the architects of Sept. 11 remain free. On Bush and McCain’s watch, we have witnessed the growing influence of a belligerent Iran that has destabilized the Middle East and threatens our ally, Israel.”

During their respective speeches, President Clinton and Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), focused on the harm done by what they described as the Bush administration’s failure to utilize diplomacy.

Clinton argued that America’s “position in the world has been weakened by,” among other things, a failure to consistently use the power of diplomacy, from the Middle East to Africa to Latin America to Center and Eastern Europe.” As for Biden, he pointed to Iran as a hot spot where the United States has failed diplomatically.

“Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he rejected talking with Iran and then asked: What is there to talk about? Or Barack Obama, who said we must talk and make it clear to Iran that its conduct must change,” Biden said. “Now, after seven years of denial, even the Bush administration recognizes that we should talk to Iran, because that’s the best way to advance our security. Again, John McCain was wrong. Barack Obama was right.”

Obama drew criticism from his onetime primary opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and from Republicans for his statement last year that he would be willing to meet with the president of Iran; he and Biden were two of just two dozen senators to oppose an amendment urging the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has since said that he supported the Bush administration’s ultimate decision to take such a step, but objected to the amendment out of fear that the Bush administration would unduly treat it as an approval for attacking Iran. In general, the Obama campaign has argued that its ticket would adopt a tougher and smarter approach to isolating Iran in an effort to short circuit its nuclear pursuits.

Republicans, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani earlier this week, have been painting Obama as naive and undependable when it comes to safeguarding Israel. And, in recent days, they have also attempted to challenge Biden’s pro-Israel bona fides. The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement Wednesday citing a 1982 clash that Biden had with Israel’s then-prime minister, Menachem Begin, in which the Delaware senator criticized Israeli settlement expansion and reportedly raised the possibility of cutting U.S. aid to Israel over the issue. In addition, the RJC cited several pro-Israel congressional letters and resolution that Biden did not sign on to.

Biden, who has worked closely with Israel and Jewish groups on many issues, was praised by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee upon being tapped by Obama.

During his speech, Wexler—who boasts of being the first Jewish congressman to back Obama’s presidential bid—described the nominee as a staunch supporter of Israel.

“In his heart, in his gut, Barack Obama stands with Israel,” Wexler said, adding that the candidate “understands the threats Israel faces from Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. And as President, Barack Obama will strongly support Israel’s right and capability to defend itself, and finally make progress toward the goal of a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s security as a Jewish state.”

VIDEO: JTA’s Wednesday Convention Summary


Eric Fingerhut and Ron Kampeas summarize the jewish events of the day at the election, while attending a jstreet function in downtown Denver.

 

Biden’s the one


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the games begin: GOP plays ‘Iran card’ against Democrats Obama and Biden


DENVER (JTA)—A year ago, the push for a congressional amendment that urged the declaration of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist group was signature legislation for much of the pro-Israel lobby. Only two dozen U.S. senators out of 100 opposed it.

Two of those opposed—Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.)—make up the Democratic Party ticket for president.

Republicans are hoping to score points on the issue, building on their criticisms of Obama for saying he would be willing to meet with the head of Iran without preconditions.

In a bit of political jujitsu, however, the Democrats are trying to turn the candidates’ opposition to the amendment into an asset.

Jewish Democrats rolled out the strategy this week on the first day of the Democratic convention here, saying the amendment sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) wasn’t serious. Obama and Biden, the Democrats say, have a better plan to secure Israel from attack.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) told a roomful of Colorado Jews on Sunday that Obama’s sponsorship of legislation that would facilitate sanctions against Iran until it proves it is not developing nuclear weapons was the substantive way to go.

“This is not some fluffy sense of Congress resolution,” Wasserman Schultz said in an apparent allusion to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which was nonbinding. “This is a resolution with real teeth.”

Wasserman Schultz—whose preference in the Democratic primaries, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was criticized by Obama supporters for backing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment—elaborated later in an interview with JTA.

“Barack Obama backs up his words with action,” she said, adding that nonbinding resolutions “are great, but they don’t empower.”

Democrats are vying to maintain the traditional 3-to-1 Jewish split in favor of Democrats, particularly in swing states such as Colorado and Florida.
The theme, repeated throughout the day at Jewish events: Obama’s coupling of tough sanctions with diplomacy and building alliances is likelier to face down the Iranians.

“We need allies in that war,” U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Sunday evening at a National Jewish Democratic Council gathering outside the modest brick Denver home that housed former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir when she was a teenager. “This administration has pushed off the people we need. We’re going to reach out to those people and pull in allies.”

Republicans made an issue of the vote within hours of Obama’s announcement of Biden as his running mate on Saturday.

“Biden has failed to recognize the serious threat that Iran poses to Israel and the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in a statement. “In 1998, Sen. Biden was one of only four senators to vote against the Iran Missile Proliferation Sanctions Act, a bill that punished foreign companies or other entities that sent Iran sensitive missile technology or expertise. Biden was one of the few senators to oppose the bipartisan 2007 Kyl-Lieberman Amendment labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.”

Lieberman, the one-time Democrat turned Independent who is backing U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, already has made an issue of the votes in pitches to pro-Israel arguments.

The attacks already were discomfiting Democrats.

“It will be an issue only to an extent that the Republicans try to misrepresent and distort the nature of that vote,” said Alan Solomont, the Boston philanthropist who was one of Obama’s earliest backers and is one of his leading fund-raisers.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly backed the Iran measures opposed by Biden. But any disagreement over the issue appeared to be history for AIPAC when it came to weighing in on the selection of the veteran senator for vice president.

“Sen. Biden is a strong supporter of the U.S.-Israel relationship and he has longstanding ties to AIPAC and the pro-Israel community,” spokesman Josh Block said in a statement, echoing similar praise it has lavished on Obama and McCain. “Throughout his career in the Senate, Joe Biden has been to Israel numerous times and has gotten to know many of Israel’s most important leaders.”

Biden cast one of the four “no” votes in 1998 against the sanctions bill, which was vetoed by President Clinton, arguing that it could undermine U.S. progress in convincing Russia to curb arms sales to Iran.

“The administration had made significant progress over the six months with the threat of this bill in place,” said Biden, according to a report from the time in The New York Times. “I’m trying to approach this from a practical point of view: How do we insure this doesn’t continue?”

As for opposing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, Obama, Biden and U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.)—all candidates competing in the Democratic primaries at the time – have said they did not oppose the step of labeling the Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist group. They had backed similar language in separate legislation, and an executive order by President Bush designating the corps as terrorist within weeks of the amendment’s passage caused barely a murmur.

Instead, according to the candidates, they objected to language tying efforts to contain Iran to American actions in Iraq. That, they said, would be handing Bush an excuse to intensify American involvement in an unpopular war.

Dodd, Biden and Obama used Clinton’s vote for the amendment as a cudgel to batter their rival among the party base—a turn of events leading some critics to accuse them of putting politics ahead of the effort to pressure Iran.

Water under the bridge, said Steve Grossman, a former AIPAC president and a leading Clinton backer.

“If there’s one area where Barack Obama has taken a leadership role, it’s on legislation on Iran,” Grossman said, citing the sanctions-enabling act the Democratic candidate is pushing.

The act is stuck in the Senate; an anonymous Republican senator has placed a hold on it.

Grossman didn’t think the Kyl-Lieberman votes would have an effect.

“Will it ultimately determine Jewish votes? I don’t think so,” he said.

In its criticisms of Obama’s choice of running mate, the Republican Jewish Coalition noted that during a debate last December, Biden said “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America” and told MSNBC that he “never believed” Iran had a weapon system under production.

Biden, who has said that a nuclear Iran is an “unacceptable” danger, made the comments following the release of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Iran has likely halted its nuclear weapons program. The senator used the news to paint the Bush administration as having further damaged America’s credibility and hurt its efforts to isolate Iran.

“It was like watching a rerun of his statements on Iraq five years earlier,” Biden said during the 2007 debate, sponsored in Des Moines by National Public Radio. “Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly, with the rest of the world at our side. But we’ve made it more difficult now because who is going to trust us?”