Jewish groups slam Trump for call to block entry of Muslims


Jewish groups blasted Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his proposal to block all Muslims from entering the United States.

“A plan that singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement Monday evening hours after Trump, a real estate billionaire and reality TV star, issued his call.

“In the Jewish community, we know all too well what can happen when a particular religious group is singled out for stereotyping and scapegoating,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “We also know that this country must not give into fear by turning its back on its fundamental values, even at a time of great crisis.”

The American Jewish Committee’s director of policy, Jason Isaacson, noted the timing of Trump’s statement, which called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” coincident with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

“As Jews who are now observing Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” Isaacson said. “You don’t need to go back to the Hanukkah story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”

Trump in his news release alluded to the massacre in San Bernardino, California, last week of 14 people by a couple apparently radicalized by the Islamic State terrorist group.

“Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension,” he said. “Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

Other Jewish groups condemning the comments included J Street, Bend the Arc, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Israel Policy Forum, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and JAC, a Jewish political action committee.

Hillary: Own the Iran deal


Laugh all you want, but the only Republican presidential candidate to have put forth a realistic position on the Iran nuclear deal is Donald Trump.    

While his blustery co-stars — I mean, opponents — have said they would rip up the deal on day one, Trump said he would do no such thing.

“I would police that contract so tough that they don’t have a chance,” he said, injecting some realism and nuance into a debate that has been all but black-and-white.

As the debate drags on, the arguments on both sides have grown louder, angrier and more predictable. Beyond a simple no or yes, I have found the most interesting voices to be those who say “Yes, and,” “No, but” and “No, and.”

The “Yes, and” people think the best and least-risky way forward is to approve the deal and enter into security arrangements with Israel and others to constrain or, as The Donald says, “police” Iran. The “No, but” people see a way to reject the deal temporarily, then go back and fix its weaknesses, unilaterally or through negotiations. The “No, and” people number just two: Isaac Herzog and Tsipi Livni. Initially, they opposed the deal along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But this week, their position changed: They still hate the deal, but they wouldn’t fight it like Bibi would; they’d work with the Obama administration to help Israel maintain its security in light of it.

I am firmly in the “Yes, and” camp — a camp whose most effective spokesperson shouldn’t be Donald Trump. It should be Hillary Clinton. 

The “No, but” camp has an effective spokesman. It is the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Robert Satloff, whose influential column in The Atlantic outlined a way a “no” vote would provide the president with time — and motivation — to strengthen the deal. “ ‘No’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no, never.’ It also can also mean ‘not now, not this way,’ ”Satloff wrote. 

I wrote a series of challenges to Satloff’s points, and he was kind enough to respond to them, one by one. His bottom line: If Congress overrides the president’s veto, there is a chance that the United States and its allies can maintain pressure on Iran until weaknesses in the deal are strengthened.  

“If Senators and Congressmen believe the deal provides, as President Obama says, a fool-proof, ‘permanent’ solution to the Iran nuclear problem, they should vote for it,” Satloff wrote. “If, however, Senators and Congressmen are concerned about the flaws in the agreement and are hungry for the administration to take sensible measures to fix them, I believe the limited downside risk of voting no is greatly exceeded by the benefits of ‘a better deal.’ ”

Many experts at Satloff’s level believe his analysis is too optimistic. They predict that if Congress overrides the veto, Iran will go ahead and fulfill its end of the deal and, in six to nine months, will get plenty of sanctioned money anyway. Russia and China and other countries will go their merry way, cutting their own deals with Iran. Iranian hardliners will push out the moderates. More centrifuges will start spinning.   

“The agreement has strengths and weaknesses,” nuclear expert Gary Samore said in an interview with Vox’s Max Fisher. “But then you weigh those strengths and weaknesses against the alternative. And I’m skeptical that we can reject this agreement and negotiate a substantially better deal within any kind of reasonable time frame. Over a period of years, we might be able to reassemble the sanctions pressure and build up enough pain so that Iran returns to the bargaining table, but at that point they’re going to have another 20,000 centrifuges! And I don’t know that we could get a substantially better deal.”

Who is Gary Samore? In addition to being executive director for research of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, he has been working on the Iran nuclear program since the Reagan administration. Until last week, he was president of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), for years the leading advocacy group against Iran’s nukes. Then he came out in support of the deal and stepped down from UANI, which opposes it. That’s big. That’s like Texas’ Republican Sen. Ted Cruz saying the scientists are right about climate change. Samore is definitely a “Yes, and.”

That leaves Hillary Clinton as the most important voice you haven’t heard from on the Iran deal. Yes, she has thrown her support behind it, and yes she has offered up a tepid defense here and there, but she has yet to really sign on as its second-most-important defender.

This is what Hillary can do to save the deal: First, she should make clear that approving the deal as it stands presents the least-risky option for keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Then she should say that, on day one of her presidency, she will take all necessary actions to make the deal’s provisions stronger, its enforcement more likely and Israel more secure. That she will commit every resource to holding Iran to its end of the deal. That she will stand resolutely by voices of moderation and democracy in Iran. That she will hold Iran’s leaders accountable for every dollar of Iran’s sanctions bonanza that is used for terror, anywhere on the globe.    

These actions are achievable unilaterally, or with willing partners like Israel and America’s other allies. They won’t scare Iran off, but will put it on notice. The next president will be this deal’s No. 1 enforcement officer, and Hillary can give those who are leery the confidence that she’s the one to walk the beat.


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

Emanuel Pleitez: From East L.A. to City Hall?


This is one in a series of profiles of the five leading Los Angeles mayoral candidates running in the March 5 election.  See below for a video analysis.

Before delivering an extended policy speech on Feb. 5 at Los Angeles Trade Tech College, Emanuel Pleitez walked around a carpentry classroom meeting students. Pleitez (pronounced play-TEZ), 30, is the youngest and least-known of the leading candidates running for Los Angeles mayor; he is also a former management consultant and analyst at Goldman Sachs, but as he chatted with students about where they were from, he offered up anecdotes about his own childhood, growing up poor in South and East Los Angeles.

When Pleitez met Jamie Gaitan, the candidate towered over the soft-spoken, 20-something student but with just a few questions, he teased out her story — of abandonment at a young age and homelessness.

“My mom and my younger sister have a very similar story,” Pleitez told the audience gathered for the event minutes later. He paused, visibly affected. “We’re very lucky we were never homeless. But we had to move around 10 times before I was 10 years old.”

In campaign speeches, Pleitez emphasizes his upbringing in some of Los Angeles’s most underserved neighborhoods to make the case that he is best-suited among those hoping to lead the city.

“Put aside my resume and all of my experiences,” Pleitez said, during an interview in his campaign office in Boyle Heights later that afternoon. “It’s that feeling, where I know that there are kids right now that just decided today that they’re not going to school, or that someone just got shot and killed. I feel that urgency to really address it.”

The son of Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants, Pleitez contends that he’s competing for all voters, particularly those who aren’t affiliated with any party.

“They’re disaffected with the party establishment,” he said, “and that is where my base of voters are – people who are tired of what is going on.”

Pleitez’s resume is impressive. A Stanford graduate, he served for a year as special assistant to then-Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, worked just under two years for Goldman Sachs, and for about 70 intense days starting in Nov. 2008, he was part of President Obama’s transition team. He also worked as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company for 19 months, and as the chief strategist for the online company Spokeo for about a year. Then, in December 2012, he put all of that aside to focus full-time on running for mayor.

Pleitez is considered by most pundits to be a long-shot candidate, nevertheless he has been able to raise enough money from donors across the country to qualify for public matching funds from the city. Pleitez has been invited to all but a few of the mayoral debates, where he focuses most of allotted time contrasting himself with the better-known and better-funded leading candidates – City Councilwoman Jan Perry, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, and City Controller Wendy Greuel.

“You’ve got three great options if you like the way we’re going,” Pleitez said. “If you don’t, I’m your option who actually understands the city, who actually understands the problems, and can deliver on solutions.”

Pleitez’s critiques and solutions often sound remarkably similar to those of another top candidate, former radio talk show host Kevin James, who like Pleitez has never held elected public office. Both support moving city workers to 401K-style pension plans and renegotiating those employees’s benefits. But while James, a Republican, has tied with Perry in some polls, Pleitez, a Democrat like Perry, Garcetti and Gruel, has never broken out of the single digits.

His challenge may be that Pleitez is hard to pin down: He can sound like a dyed-in-the wool progressive when talking about the need to invest in underserved neighborhoods, but he’s much more conservative when addressing fiscal policy.

While at Trade Tech Pleitez unveiled a proposal to offer city workers the choice of cashing out their pensions at current value. The city would need to borrow as much as $16 billion on the bond market to do so, he said, but the plan would make city budgets more predictable. However, pension buyouts, while used in the private sector, are virtually unheard of in the public sector.

“It’s a plan that would give city workers something today instead of nothing tomorrow, which is what could happen if we continue to slide towards bankruptcy,” Pleitez said on Feb. 5, standing in front of a model home outfitted with solar panels.

However, bond issues carry their own risks, as has been the case for some cities that have explored pension obligation bonds, among them Oakland and the now-bankrupt Stockton. Both borrowed money with the express purpose of making good on pension commitments and both lost millions of dollars as a result.

“If you can borrow the money at a low enough rate and invest it and generate a high enough return, then it works out,” Keith Brainard, research director for the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, explained when asked about the viability of Pleitez’s plan. “It’s not uncommon, especially in the last few years, with borrowing costs so low.”

Pleitez’s campaign is powered by young staffers, about 20 of whom are living together in a rented house in South Los Angeles. The campaign pays for their room and board (among the expenditures made by the campaign are purchases of “campaign house furniture” at Ikea, plumbing services, and at least one mattress), and it pays each worker a stipend of $200 per month.

Pleitez recruited a similar crew for a Congressional run in 2009.

“We had about 50 people living in a couple of homes,” said Eric Hacopian, who worked as Pleitez’s campaign consultant in that race, but this time is working for Perry in the mayoral race.

“We shocked the hell out of everyone,” Hacopian said of Pleitez’s Congressional bid. Then 26, Pleitez won 7,000 votes, about 13 percent of the vote, finishing third behind two more established candidates.

“Can you replicate that in a mayor’s race, which is five times larger? Not really,” Hacopian said. “But is he going to finish at two or three percent? No, people are wrong about that. He’ll do better than people think.”

Jan Perry, “tough” mayoral candidate, faces challenging route


This is one in a series of profiles of the five leading Los Angeles mayoral candidates running in the March 5 election. See below for a video analysis.

Following a recent televised debate featuring the five top candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles, some campaign watchers wondered why the candidates weren’t being grilled more intensely. “It was genteel, for the most part, but I don’t want genteel,” Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez wrote in a blog on Jan. 29. “I want hardball, not softball.”

City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who currently is running third in fundraising and in the polls,  didn’t escape his critical assessment — Lopez wondered whether she “had her eyes closed the whole time.” In fact, Perry herself registered objections to the tone of the campaign that were similar to Lopez’s in an interview with the Journal in early January.

“It’s been exceedingly polite,” Perry said, adding that she would prefer more back and forth between candidates during debates. “But some of that is due to the framework.”

This mayoral race, with a crowded field that includes two others city hall veterans who are running on their records of achievement in city government, as well as two untested outsider candidates running on similar anti-incumbent messages, presents a challenge to be heard for all the candidates, but perhaps particularly for Perry.

Perry has represented the ninth council district since 2001, but the other two city hall veterans in the race — City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel –each have raised more than twice as much money as Perry has and have picked up more endorsements from the city’s most powerful unions.

Perry’s positions on a number of key issues – abolishing the city’s current business tax and pursuing reforms to the pensions of city workers — don’t differ dramatically from Garcetti or Greuel’s stances, which only helps the two other candidates in the race, attorney and talk-show host Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez, a young former mayoral aide and businessman, to lump all three city hall veterans in their attacks.

Perry appears to be trying to thread the needle between the two pairs. In public appearances, she presents herself as a straight-talking, experienced politician who has helped bring jobs to Downtown and to advance social initiatives that protect her numerous vulnerable constituents. She also pledges to talk tough to the municipal workers unions and other entrenched interests that frequently hold sway in L.A. city government. The result is a message that sounds like a call for modest reform by an insider who knows all too well of what she speaks.

“This is not an easy place to govern,” Perry said, sitting in a coffee shop near her home Downtown, an area of the city she used to represent until last year, when the City Council-approved redistricting plan removed it from her district. “You have to be persistent, you have to be tenacious. You have to be very, very patient. You have to listen to people.”

Perry is proud of her toughness, and of a multifaceted identity that she says makes her well-suited to lead Los Angeles, which is arguably the most diverse city in the world.

“I’m an African American woman who is Jewish who has represented a Latino district for the last 11 years,” Perry said at a forum hosted by Sinai Temple on Jan. 29. “The mayor can be the bridge-builder; I’ve been the bridge-builder, and I’ve seen the results of that, and they have been good.”

Perry grew up going to an African American church with her parents in the suburbs of Cleveland — she fondly remembers the call-and-response during services. Perry said she had difficulty with the idea of original sin, though, and explained that part of what drew her to Judaism was the religion’s being “grounded in the belief that what we do here now is the only thing that will really matter.”

So Perry, who came to Los Angeles to study journalism at the University of Southern California, eventually found her way to the Hillel at UCLA, where she studied with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller to prepare for conversion.

“What was attractive about Jan was her passion and her intelligence, and I think she carries that with her with dignity,” said Seidler-Feller said, thinking back on his sessions with Perry, about 30 years ago. “She knows the issues and she can argue the issues with the best of them.”

Perry says she appreciates when disagreements are played out in the open, and decries what she sees as the increasingly “transactional” character of city hall. Perry says she eschews exchanges of favors between representatives, and instead focuses on building citizen support for her agenda items.

“I work from the outside in,” Perry said. “I spend a lot of time on the outside talking to stakeholders, building support, building momentum, building consensus, hearing what people have to say.

“By the time I bring a project in for a vote,” she continued, “it’s been vetted, it’s been researched, it’s been documented.”

Perry has completed a number of projects during her tenure on the council, including getting 5,000 new units of affordable housing in her district. A former planning aide to former City Councilman Mike Woo and chief of staff to her predecessor in the 9th district, former Councilwoman Rita Walters, Perry said she enjoys digging into the details of a development, and she’s proud of having helped bring the Expo line to fruition. But on the campaign trail, Perry frequently talks about returning to “core services” – like street repair, public safety and zoning  — and getting the city out of other services, calling for the city to extricate itself from operating the convention center and the zoo.

Perry has a good deal of support from businesspeople in Downtown.

“Speaking for the business community we were all very happy with her,” said Selma Fisch, whose family has significant real estate holdings along Santee Alley in the Fashion District. “She works really hard, and she’s really smart.”

In January, Perry and her supporters managed to muster enough support from delegates to prevent either of the other two leading Democratic candidates from securing the Los Angeles County Democratic party nomination, and Eric Bauman, the county party chair, said it would be a mistake for Garcetti or Greuel to count her out.

“Nobody’s really paying attention to Jan,” Bauman said, “although with $2 million and [campaign consultant] Eric Hacopian and Jan’s fortitude, they ignore her at their own risk.”

Hacopian declined to speak about any specific strategies he’s using in running Perry’s campaign, but Perry – like Greuel and Garcetti – is certainly making a play for the Jewish vote, evidenced by the advertisements for Perry that have been displayed alongside articles on the Journal’s Web site, JewishJournal.com.

Jewish voters, who only make up about six percent of registered voters, may end up casting as much as 20 percent of ballots between now and March 5, the day of the citywide primary election. Whether Perry can assemble enough support from voters citywide to finish in one of the top two spots remains to be seen.

But Perry, for her part, is optimistic.

“As long as I know that I’m moving in an upward trajectory, I’m pleased,” she said.

Kevin James: The still-evolving outsider runs for mayor


This is one in a series of profiles of the five leading Los Angeles mayoral candidates running in the March 5 election.  See below for a video analysis.

As the race for Los Angeles mayor heats up, many descriptors have been applied to Kevin James, one of the least-known of the leading candidates. A former radio talk show host who has worked as an attorney for 25 years, James is a fiscally conservative gay Republican. But in introducing himself to voters who will choose the city’s next mayor, James has emphasized one qualification above all: His status as an outsider.

“My opponents, they’ve been in office for over a decade; they’ve proven that their experience has failed the city,” James said in an interview with the Journal in January. “That opens the eyes of voters who are looking for new leadership.”

James, 49, has never before held public office, and he typically refers to the three leading candidates as if they were one block, holding them all – City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Controller Wendy Greuel, and Councilwoman Jan Perry – jointly responsible for a Los Angeles that is, in his view, mired in crisis.

“We have a jobs crisis, we have a budget crisis, we have an infrastructure crisis, an education crisis, a transportation crisis, a public safety crisis, a corruption crisis,” James said in his opening statement at a candidates’ debate held at Congregation Beth Jacob in early January. “In short, we have a leadership crisis.”

James, who grew up in Norman, Okla., is one of two candidates among the top five without a personal or familial connection to Judaism (“I have searched my family tree far and wide,” he said with a smile). He presents his resume as having prepared him well to become the leader of America’s second-largest city.

As a litigator and entertainment lawyer in the private sector, James said he developed negotiating skills that L.A.’s next mayor will need. James also pulled a stint in the public sector, as an assistant U.S. attorney in L.A., and he makes frequent mention of his work in the nonprofit sector, as a volunteer officer on the board of AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) for six years in the 1990s.

“We had a $20-million-a-year budget,” James said of APLA, adding that that Hermosa Beach’s budget was roughly that size at the time.

James said he realized he wanted to run the city of Los Angeles not through an epiphany, but rather as a goal that developed over time.

“It’s easier to point out the problems,” James said of his years hosting a late-night show on KRLA. “Offering solutions is harder, and I always wanted to focus on offering solutions, too.”

Listeners encouraged him to run for office, James said, and now he’s working to win over enough of the electorate between now and March 5 to make him one of the top two finishers in the city’s non-partisan primary election.

An ABC News poll released on Jan. 16 showed James with support from 12 percent of likely voters, tied for third place with Perry and trailing Garcetti and Greuel, who had 26 and 18 percent, respectively.

“I’m tied in polling with the millionaires in the race, if you will,” James said on the day that poll was released. “That’s a good place to be for a first-time candidate, for an outsider in this race.”

Greuel’s campaign dismissed the ABC News poll as “bogus,” and released its own poll showing Greuel leading the pack, with 20 percent support. In that poll, James had 7 percent support from likely voters.

Neither outcome would propel James into one of the two top spots necessary to move to a final runoff, so to win he’ll have to convince a lot of voters in a short time with not a lot of money. As of mid-January, he had just $48,000 in cash on hand, far less than Garcetti’s $3.5 million, Gruel’s  $2.9million, and Perry’s $1.2 million. A fifth candidate, businessman and former mayoral aide Emanuel Pleitez, has $320,000.

James does have the backing of an independent Super PAC, which is funded in large part by a conservative billionaire from Texas. That group recently released a video advertisement that takes aim at the three incumbents, presenting them as beholden to public sector unions and positioning James as an outsider and potential reformer of City Hall.

As James’ candidacy has advanced – he’s well-funded enough to get invitations to every major debate, including the Jan. 26 televised debate on NBC 4 – journalists and others are paying closer attention to things he wrote and said during his years as a conservative pundit.

At a recent debate among the mayoral candidates hosted by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, James was asked why he hasn’t talked more about the “illegal alien crisis” on the campaign trail, a subject he addressed on multiple occasions as a radio host.

And during a debate between the candidates for Los Angeles City Attorney in January, former Assemblyman Mike Feuer posed a sharp question to Greg Smith, another candidate for the city’s top lawyer spot, asking why Smith gave the maximum allowed donation to James, whom Feuer described as “an extreme, right-wing, Tea Party candidate.”

James has addressed Tea Party rallies in the past, and in the interview said he agrees with Tea Party positions on “some fiscal issues,” but he suggested some in the Tea Party would disagree with his support for same-sex marriage.

“Given my position on those social issues, I don’t think that I’m accurately described as a Tea Partier,” he said. “But if you want to talk about their concern for waste of federal money, of state money, of city money, then, yes, we’re going to align on those issues.”

As for immigration, James told the Journal his position has evolved, particularly after he participated as a volunteer lawyer at a naturalization workshop in 2010 sponsored by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

“I do think it’s fair to say that over time, I have certainly become much more familiar with a number of differing sides of the issue,” James said.

James presents his changing ideas as an asset, evidence of his desire to keep learning about the residents of the city he hopes to lead. As a radio host, James spent more than a year visiting approximately 60 different neighborhood council meetings across Los Angeles, hearing residents complain about public safety, zoning, education and sanitation, among other subjects. He came away from the experience with a deep appreciation for the work of the neighborhood representatives and disappointed not to have seen more council members come to those meetings.

“What’s been frustrating about the City of Los Angeles and our elected leadership,” James said, “is they seem to have stopped wanting to learn about the city.”

L.A. mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel’s coalition building


Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, born and raised Christian, is married to a Jew. The couple’s 10-year-old son studies Hebrew and is being raised in the Jewish tradition. The family attends synagogue.

“So with all this Jewishness around you, why haven’t you taken the next step and converted?” I asked.

“Well, we have definitely talked about that,” Greuel, currently the city controller, said. “It certainly is a part of my perspective of something I would like to do.”

There is an unusually strong Jewish affiliation among the candidates in this year’s mayoral election. City Councilman Eric Garcetti’s mother is Jewish; he is Latino on his father’s side. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is African-American, converted to Judaism while in college.  Also in the race are two non-Jews, Kevin James, an attorney and talk-radio host, and Emanuel Pleitez, who was born in South Los Angeles, raised in El Sereno, and graduated from Stanford. Pleitez ran and lost for Congress in 2009 after working on the Obama Treasury Department transition team.

This election is about candidates trying to build coalitions. It’s crucial for them in order to capture enough of the multiethnic, geographically sprawling Los Angeles electorate to finish in the top two in the March 5 primary and advance to the May 25 runoff.  Their appeal must cross ethnic and philosophical lines, uniting diverse supporters. But each of these candidates is starting from what they perceive as their base. 

The liberal Garcetti is taking advantage of his Latino roots and fluent Spanish, while also noting he considers himself part of the Jewish community. Pleitez speaks of his up-from-poverty background while battling Garcetti for Latino support. Perry, who has represented largely African-American and Latino South Los Angeles as well as the central city, is using those constituencies as a base while hoping to take advantage of her religious affiliation.  Republican James is aiming for conservative stretches of the San Fernando Valley, but also broadening his appeal by talking of his years as chairman of AIDS Project Los Angeles. Greuel, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, is going after the Valley electorate, plus adding other elements of the city’s ethnic mix. She hopes to revive the coalition of African-Americans and Jews that elected her political hero and former boss, the late Mayor Tom Bradley, who was African-American. 

I asked Greuel about Judaism when we talked last week. 

Greuel told me that when she and her husband, Dean Schramm, a lawyer, were dating, “Late one night, he asked me the question, ‘How did I feel about the religion of my children and would I be opposed to raising our child Jewish?’ And it was an immediate response, ‘I’d be happy to, yes, of course, I would raise our child Jewish. He asked me last night,” she said, referring to the night before our interview, “ ‘You responded so quickly, I’ve never even asked you why you did that.’ ”

Greuel said she told him, “Because I believe in the Jewish tradition and religion, the values that the community have are important to me. About giving back, about the good moral values, about being part of a community.”

I asked her if she and her husband discussed her converting.

“My husband has always been at a point where he would love to have that happen,” Greuel said. “We’ve been a little busy, getting married, having a child and getting elected.  It is something we have talked about doing, particularly as my son started religious school, and it is something that is a very important issue in our lives, particularly for our son.”

Also influential was a trip she and her husband took to Israel. It was, she said, “very emotional and transformative, and it was one of the times I thought, ‘This is the next step in my understanding and embracing of the Jewish tradition and Israel.’ ” It’s important, she said, “to have the mayor of the second-largest city in America standing up for Israel.”

Greuel’s father was raised in the Congregational Church and “we would go there and to a Presbyterian church in the Valley. We didn’t necessarily go every Sunday, but it was part of that life.”

Greuel grew up near the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills and had friends who belonged to it. Another Jewish connection was from her non-Jewish mother. “She was married once before to someone who was Jewish,” Greuel said. “So she swore there was some Jewish part of her. Her name was Golda Alice. She went by the name of Alice… My mom used to tell me that she always thought I would marry a nice Jewish boy, and I did.”

As a young aide in the office of Mayor Bradley, Greuel hung out with Jewish colleagues in an administration with many Jews and African-Americans. 

She said she learned from Bradley, “It’s about bringing everyone to the table. …  It is all about being a coalition builder, and that’s what I have learned at every level in my life.  And, again, I think [that’s] why I have had such a close relationship with the Jewish community; we have worked together on housing, homeless issues … child care and health services for the seniors. Those are all things I did in the mayor’s office that had a close relationship to the many Jewish organizations in L.A.”

Greuel also saw the Bradley coalition crumble — first in 1985, over the mayor’s  belated condemnation of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader with a taste for anti-Semitic rhetoric, when Farrakhan was speaking in Los Angeles, and in 1992, when ethnic alliances broke apart during the riots after the Rodney King verdicts.

Although those events may now seem distant history, they show the challenges that leaders face in forging political and social coalitions in this city of many ethnicities. And sometimes the ethnic groups themselves are divided from within, as we have seen in the Jewish community at times over matters such as Israel and the last presidential election.

Forging coalitions will likely be a tough calling for a candidate who, as a young woman, started in Tom Bradley’s office and now wants to continue his legacy in even more challenging times.


Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Voters to Netanyahu: Get new friends


These were the most interesting-boring elections one could ever hope for. Boring – as the top job was secured early on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Fascinating – as the parties, unburdened of having to compete for the top job, were free to combat one another for votes. And, obviously, Israelis paid attention: an intensive, almost hysterical campaign to convince them to go to the polls – preceeded by recent declines in voting turnout and a growing worry that Israelis no longer care as much as they once did – clearly succeeded. Or maybe the hysteria was unnecessary to begin with; maybe the worry was unfounded. Israelis turned out in large numbers to vote in this election; we don’t know why, but we know that they did.

They sent Netanyahu a message, one that he must understand: We – the voters – know that you are the only possible PM for the time being. No other candidate of the needed stature was available for us. We are not sure if you’re really the best candidate to be found, but right now you are the only game in town. However the rules of the game need to be changed. Netanyahu can be Prime Minister, but he can’t be the PM of the right-religious coalition. He can’t be the PM of harsh rhetoric; he can’t be the PM of wild legislation; he can’t be the PM of Haredi power; he can’t be the PM based on a coalition of which he is the most leftist member.

[For more on the Israeli elections, visit Rosner's Domain]

As this article is being written on election night, final results are not yet available. But even if the right-religious bloc can retain a majority large enough to form a coalition of 61, or 62, or even 63 mandates – even if Netanyahu can barely survive based on the traditional “base” of supporters – that isn’t the outcome he was hoping for. It isn’t a vote of affirmation. Netanyahu is lucky to have been the only PM-caliber candidate in the race, and he is lucky to have Yesh Atid – Yair Lapid’s party – as the big surprise of this election. Yesh Atid, unlike other parties on the center and the left, is a partner Netanyahu can live with.

It is a partner that is even comfortable for him. Netanyahu wanted a moderate coalition and now he has an excuse with which to convince his partners to his right that there really is no other choice. He can tell the leaders of Shas that a compromise on the Haredi draft is what the majority of voters forced upon him. He can tell Habait Hayehudi – the right-Zionist-religious party – that with all due respect to the settlements and to building in E1, the voters didn’t give him a mandate to rule from the right. So while the outcome of the elections is hardly an achievement for Netanyahu – it is hardly a compliment for the ruling coalition – the PM can make it work for him.

Most voters should consider this good news, because most voters want Israel to have a centrist policy. Centrist – not leftist. Those supporting the left voted for Meretz — and to the left of Meretz. The left benefited in this cycle from Netanyahu’s inevitable projected victory. When there’s no one to challenge Netanyahu, left-wing voters are not left with the quandary of comprising for a Livni, or an Olmert, in the hope that Netanyahu can be toppled. They can vote their conscience – and they did. The growth of Meretz, a party with dedicated clean-handed and energetic parliamentarians, is good news. Don’t take it from me: Uri Ariel, the settler-supporting right-wing number-two of the Jewish Home Party offered gentlemanly congratulations to Meretz on election night when he was interviewed live on his party’s achievements.

Other voters who didn’t want Netanyahu to remain in office voted for the Labor Party, and for Shelly Yacimovitz. Supporters of Lapid – which appears to have gained close to 20 mandates (not final) – want Netanyahu, but a different version of him. A Haredi-less Netanyahu; a Settler-less Netanyahu.

So the Prime Minister has a choice: If he wants to regain his footing and stay in power — and maybe convince more Israelis that he is the right man for the job and not just the no-alternative default man until someone better comes along –  he’ll have to reconsider his “base.” This isn’t going to be easy for him – Netanyahu has relied on his current base for many years and was planning to hold it together for years to come. The result is that this current cycle may present Netanyahu with a short-term vs. long-term dilemma: If he holds onto his longtime base, he won’t quite be able to form a stable coalition in 2013. But if he dumps the base, he could pay a high price for it in 2014, 2015, 2016. 

In the short term, coalition talks are going to be fascinating and tough. Netanyahu is going to pay a price, and his old partners are going to pay a price if they want to have a viable coalition. Some of them might decide to sit this one out – Shas is a candidate for such a possibility. And the new coalition will be made up of many, many fresh faces – possibly 50 new Knesset members.

This is a parliamentary tsunami — and a headache for the managers of the coming coalition. It is a recipe for instability. It is a recipe for contention and rough relations. The 2013 coalition is going to be fun to watch and easy to dismantle. And it will not last as long as the more coherent – but unacceptable – outgoing coalition.

Rosner’s ‘Voter’s Guide’ offers an insider’s view


Every four years, the same question is asked in America: Which candidate will win the Jewish vote? With the 2012 presidential election teetering on a razor’s edge, however, the question takes on new importance and even a certain poignancy. That’s exactly why it caught the attention of political reporter and analyst Shmuel Rosner in “The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney: A Voter’s Guide” (Jewish Journal Books: $9.99 paperback, $8 Kindle edition). After all, as Rosner sees it, as many as 5 million Jewish voters may go to the polls next month, and that could be enough to make a difference in an election as close as this one.

“That is not to say that where the Jews go, America also goes,” concedes Rosner. But, at the same time, he insists that “Jews are seen as major political players, because they believe that their vote really counts.”

Shmuel Rosner, of course, is senior political editor of the Jewish Journal, and “The Jewish Vote” is the first title to be published by Jewish Journal Books, a newly launched publishing imprint of TRIBE Media Corp. He’s one of our own, but his analysis is also worthy of attention on its own merits.

It’s significant that Rosner is an accomplished Israeli author and journalist who is writing for an American readership in “The Jewish Vote,” which underscores how much is at stake for the Jewish state in the American presidential elections. Rosner believes that Romney stands to gain the most by cutting into the traditional Democratic edge among Jewish voters: “If he gets 30 percent or more of the Jewish vote — not an easy benchmark — it’s almost like getting an insurance policy against losing.”

Rosner enters the debate between the polarities of what he calls “the-Republican-Party-is-not-an-option-for-most-Jews era” and “the Israel-as-wedge-issue era.” He sees a new geopolitical landscape in which “Republicans [are] drawing closer to Israel, and dangers [are] drawing closer to Israel.” He acknowledges that some Jewish voters do not even consider their Jewishness when they go to the polls, but he divides those who do into two camps: “a more utopian Judaism and a more hard-nosed Judaism.” 

He is tough-minded and blunt when it comes to his take on the Jewish community in America. He suggests that progressive Jews are drawn to the Democratic party because of their allegiance to “the new religion of humanistic values (as interpreted by the modern priests of humanistic religion — namely, university professors and ‘tikkun olam’ activists)” and he contrasts them with Jewish Republicans, for whom, he says, “[V]oting for a political party is not like lighting candles: it is a political deed, not a religious one.” He characterizes his own lively book, however, as a bipartisan effort to “focus on issues that are markedly ‘Jewish’ ” and to thereby enable Jewish voters to make an informed decision between Obama and Romney.

Significantly, the issues of greatest concern to Jewish voters do not necessarily include Israel. One survey placed the economy and health care at the top of the list, and “the growing gap between the rich and the poor” ranked higher than either Israel or “the danger of Iran” in another poll. That’s why, Rosner writes, “For Mitt Romney to find [the] hidden key with which to release the Jewish lock on Democrats would require much  more than talking about his affinity for Israel.” And that’s why “Obama had the wisdom to give Jewish voters some pride that is unrelated to Israel, to remind them that they and Obama are both members of the same community of ‘justice.’ ”

Intriguingly, Rosner insists that “[Sarah] Palin is Romney’s problem with Jewish voters” — or, as he goes on to suggest, “the shadow she casts over the Republican Party.”  It’s an example of the acuity of his political vision; Rosner understands that even those Jewish voters who are attracted to Romney may feel alienated by a Republican Party “in which religious Christians have a greater voice, in which heartland America has a greater voice, in which Palin can be a candidate, in which Paul Ryan can be a candidate.”

Then, too, Rosner points out that Romney’s staunch support of Israel can be unsettling, rather than reassuring, to Jewish voters. After all, when Romney invokes Israel, the Mormon candidate is courting the Evangelical Christian vote as much as, if not more than, the Jewish vote. “If Romney can’t quite win over this vast pool of voters by force of his religious beliefs,” explains Rosner, “he can still convince them that, on matters important to them, he will pursue policies they will find more palatable.”

Obama comes under the same close and discerning scrutiny. “The list of Obama-induced assistance to Israel’s security is indeed very long, as Israeli officials readily admit,” he writes. But he also reminds us that Obama touched a nerve in the Jewish community when he stated in 2008 that “there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel that you’re anti-Israel.” The statement takes on a new meaning when we consider Netanyahu’s outspoken interest in American party politics: “Obama was basically telling both American and future Israeli voters this: If Israel elects Benjamin Netanyahu prime minister and Americans elect Obama president, expect trouble.”

Rosner insists that he comes to understand and explain the Jewish vote, not to influence it, and his book bears him out. Anyone who consults “The Jewish Vote” before Election Day will carry into the polling booth not Rosner’s political advocacy but the wealth of information that he has gathered and the nuanced analysis that he has conducted. 

 

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal. He blogs at jewishjournal.com/twelvetwelve and can be reached at books@jewishjournal.com.

Ayn Rand … Rosenbaum?


The first public cause to which Ayn Rand donated her own money was the State of Israel.

I find this little-known nugget fascinating for two reasons.

One, it contradicts the idée fixe of Rand as not really Jewish. And two, it contradicts the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Rand’s followers often obscure, or quickly pass over, her Jewishness.  The official Ayn Rand Web site, aynrand.org, doesn’t mention it. Neither does the Web site of her most popular book, atlasshrugged.org, nor the hagiographical site, facetsofaynrand.com.

But none of this is exactly a secret. In her excellent 2011 book about Rand, “Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right,” Jennifer Burns tells the story. Alisa Rosenbaum was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on Feb. 2, 1905, to Zinovy Rosenbaum, a pharmacist, and Anna Rosenbaum, the high-strung daughter of a wealthy tailor, whose clients included the Russian Army.  The Rosenbaums were largely non-observant, but celebrated Passover and were by no means completely assimilated—Alisa sat out of class during religious instruction.

[Related: How Paul Ryan will motivate Jewish voters]

Intellectual, withdrawn and immersed in her fantasy worlds, Alisa yearned to leave her country behind. When she was 21, Jewish relatives in Chicago—the Portnoys, of all names—helped her arrange a visa.  Once in America, she grew tired of her relatives’ insular Jewish world, and headed for the source — you could say the fountainhead — of her fantasy: Hollywood.

In Hollywood, the aspiring screenwriter Alisa Rosenbaum became Ayn Rand. An Eastern European émigré who breaks free from the claws of tradition and family, gentrifies her name, assimilates and devotes herself to creating stories about an idealized America — if that’s not the very definition of a 20th century Jew, what is?

Rand was a classic 20th-century Jew in another way as well: she was a devout atheist. She replaced God with her philosophy, just as Freud did with psychology and Einstein with physics. She loathed religion as much as the Communists, whom she loathed, loathed religion. In a 1979 interview, Rand told talk-show host Phil Donahue that religion, “gives man permission to function irrationally, to accept something above and outside the power of their reason.”

All this matters now because Ayn Rand matters now — perhaps more than ever. Gov. Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, is a self-described Ayn Rand devotee — and not of her early screenplays.

Ryan requires all his staff members to read Rand’s seminal novels, “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” The ideas she developed in these novels, as Burns writes, have become the ideological touchstones of the modern Conservative movement.

“Rand advanced a deeply negative portrait of government action,” Burns writes. “In her work, the state is always the destroyer, acting to frustrate the natural ingenuity and drive of individuals. Her work … helped inspire a broad intellectual movement that challenged the liberal welfare state and proclaimed the desirability of free markets.”

It is hard to read Ryan’s plan for addressing the Federal deficit and not see Rand’s ideological pencil marks.

The Ryan budget, wrote David Stockman, the conservative Republican former budget director under President Ronald Reagan, “shreds the measly means-tested safety net for the vulnerable: the roughly $100 billion per year for food stamps and cash assistance for needy families and the $300 billion budget for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled.”

In other words, the Ryan budget is Ayn Rand’s philosophy made flesh. 

I understand the origins of Rand’s emphasis on initiative and ingenuity. She was an exceptional individual, an outsider who by sheer force of intellect and will forged not just a life, but a movement. 

I understand her faith in capitalism and the free market. The Bolsheviks shattered her family, and few understood better than she the failure of Communism.

I even understand her rejection of religion — in her day it was most often a force of repression and superstition.

What I don’t understand is how, given these beliefs, Rand also could urge her followers to donate money to Israel.

“Give all help possible to Israel,” said Rand, then in her late 60s, in a lecture in 1973. “Consider what is at stake.”

Rand made clear she loathed Arabs and the Soviet Union, and saw Israel as a bulwark against both — even if it was socialist.

“This is the first time I’ve contributed to a public cause,” Rand said, “helping Israel in an emergency.”

Really, how do you explain such a thing? True, she saw Arab culture as “primitive,” but she acknowledged individuals had no responsibility to help citizens of other countries. She didn’t act out of logic or rationality — she acted because she felt, in dire circumstances—part of a collective. In that time, I believe, she wasn’t The Individual, she was part of a group: The Jews.

That feeling, that impulse, may not be rational, but it is powerful. There is a very real sense, as Jews, as Americans, as people, that we are bonded to one another despite, or even because of, our essential individualism. 

Rand’s religious blind spot is also Ryan’s policy blind spot. The most successful countries on Earth do not just fund defense, police and the courts, as Rand would have it. They invest in research, education and innovation. They provide a safety net to the sick and needy. They keep defense spending in check. They protect the environment from over-exploitation. They make cuts and raise taxes, so that society’s costs and benefits are shared.

Ayn Rand couldn’t see this. I hope Paul Ryan can.

Romney ad raps Obama for not visiting Israel [VIDEO]


A Mitt Romney campaign ad criticizes President Obama for not visiting Israel during his presidency and refusing to call Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

The 30-second television ad rolled out Aug. 5, which features American and Israeli flags and Romney at the Western Wall, is titled “Cherished Values” and begins with the question, “Who shares your values?”

“As president, Barack Obama has never visited Israel and refuses to recognize Jerusalem as its capital,” says the ad for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. “Mitt Romney will be a different kind of president — a strong leader who stands by our allies. He knows America holds a deep and cherished relationship with Israel.”

Obama visited Israel during the 2008 campaign. President George W. Bush did not visit Israel until his second term.

The ad comes on the heels of Romney’s recent trip to Israel and concludes with Romney noting, “It’s a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

Obama’s staff has pointed to the frequent sharing of information between Israel and the United States and the millions allocated by his administration for the defensive missile program Iron Dome and other weapons systems in showing his support for Israel.

Candidate calls rival ‘whore for AIPAC’


A candidate for the Democratic nod for Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seat called a rival a “whore for AIPAC.”

Lee Whitnum, an anti-Israel activist, in a televised debate Thursday night referred to U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), as the “whore here who sells his soul to AIPAC, who will say anything for the job.”

Whitnum, who is not considered viable for the nomination, had been barred from earlier debates, faced calls to keep her away from future debates after the attack.

Murphy defended his support for Israel as in the U.S. national security interest.

“I stand with the U.S.-Israeli relationship and I’m willing to defend my position on it,” he said. “It just should be done without name-calling.” The candidates are vying for the opportunity to replace Sen. Joseph Liebrman (I-Conn.), who is retiring.

Opinion: Can’t buy me love


It feels like spring, but there’s little love in the air for Mitt Romney.  The GOP frontrunner expected to have his party’s nomination sewn up by now so he could focus on sending Barack Obama back to Chicago.  But too many Republicans just can’t find it in their hearts to embrace the former Massachusetts governor and are still hoping someone will come along who can make them fall in love. 

The enthusiasm deficit has haunted him throughout the long and winding primary season.  It’s been said he has the charisma of Bob Dole, the GOP’s losing 1996 candidate and the aura of a loser.

But there’s a stronger emotion than love in this election; it’s loathing, and that is what Romney is counting on to lock up the nomination – and what the GOP is counting on to get out the vote against Obama.

Spreading fear and loathing has been the hallmark of the Romney campaign, and nearly all has been aimed at his Republican rivals.  The super PAC run by his friends and former aides has spent more than 90 percent of its money on ads trashing his rivals.

Romney’s rivals have responded with a shots few of their own, and you can bet the Obama campaign’s opposition research team in Chicago is collecting them for use this fall.

The primaries are expected to cost Romney about $75 million, but he has been raising more money than all his rivals and that will only improve after he locks up the nomination.

Newt Gingrich’s —and Bibi Netanyahu’s—most generous benefactors ($11 million plus), casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife are expected to shift their spending to Romney as soon as the former Speaker drops out of the race.

Most big Jewish GOP givers are backing Romney, according to a report in the Forward.  More than 10 percent of the $36 million raised by his super PAC came from Jewish donors, primarily ordinary people like Romney: mega-wealthy private equity investors, hedge fund managers and real estate developers.

Mitt’s money may not be able to buy love, but it can buy a lot of votes in what is expected to be a billion-dollar presidential election. Each campaign has its stable of billionaires, but Obama has what Romney lacks: a large network of small contributors, a sign of grass roots support.

The tough primary season has made Romney a better debater and campaigner, but it also has exposed two big weaknesses.  He has failed to connect with people on a personal level (and judging by the allocation of spending he hasn’t tried very hard) and he has demonstrated what one Republican operative and former advisor called a “generous flexibility” on the issues, a desire to do what’s popular rather than what’s right. That explains his failure to criticize Rush Limbaugh’s recent display of misogyny.

Romney faces a big problem in following the Nixon dictum: run to the right for the nomination and the center for the general election.  Most candidates can do it with guiltless ease, but Romney has moved so far from his roots as a Massachusetts moderate to being a self-defined “severely conservative” that making a U-turn could damage him on both ends.

The GOP’s ultra-conservative/tea party wing has had trouble accepting him despite his efforts to convince them of his ideological purity, and they may feel betrayed when he turns his attention to the middle-of-the-road swing voters both parties need to win this election.

If they see him moving too far to their left they may try to teach the GOP a lesson and stay home, not unlike what the anti-Vietnam movement did to the Democrats in 1968.

Many in the GOP’s evangelical base are troubled by Romney’s Mormon faith, but there’s no evidence it will be an issue for Jewish voters, and no one is blaming him for his church’s posthumous conversions of people like Anne Frank, Daniel Pearl and Holocaust victims.

His rhetoric on Israel has been a transparent attempt to make Obama look weak, but close examination shows their positions aren’t that much different.  Romney just sounds more strident.  The Washington Post Fact Checker, Glenn Frankel, said Romney’s charge that Iran would get the bomb if Obama is reelected is just “silly-hyperbolic campaign rhetoric.”

Republicans don’t need to love Romney to vote for him.  They just need to hate Barack Obama enough, and that is what we’ve been hearing from Romney when he hasn’t been smearing his fellow Republicans.  The pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC has already spent over $30 million on negative advertising compared to less than one million defining the candidate and his vision of America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this month showed voters’ greatest concerns about Romney were “he waffles on the issues” and he’s “too wealthy and does not relate to the average person.”

Romney may have the charisma of Bob Dole but he’s generating a kind of pragmatic enthusiasm in the corporate boardrooms, big banks, business schools and penthouses.  The resulting flood of money may not buy love but will help fuel a highly negative campaign that will do little to change the perception that Mitt Romney is the champion of the one percent.

Santorum’s Southern sweep mars Romney’s front-runner status


Rick Santorum swept two Southern states in Republican primaries, complicating Mitt Romney’s status as front-runner and all but burying Newt Gingrich’s chance for the nomination.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who emerged from last place in polling as recently as December to become the conservative challenger to Romney, scored 33 percent of the vote in Mississippi and nearly 35 percent in Alabama. Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker, finished second in both states, with 31 percent in MIssissippi and 29 percent in Alabama. Romney was third with 30 percent in Mississippi and 29 percent in Alabama.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) came in a distant fourth in both races after barely campaigning in either state.

Romney, who during the campaign has tried to shuck his reputation as a moderate, had campaigned hard in a bid to prove he could win in conservative Southern states. The former Massachusetts governor is leading substantially in delegates, but his path to the nomination has been far from smooth as conservative candidates continue to mount substantive challenges.

Gingrich had suggested that if he failed to win in Mississippi and Alabama, his campaign was in trouble, predicated as it was on winning Southern states.

If Gingrich leaves the race, campaign watchers will look to see who his main backer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, decides to support. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, twice salvaged Gingrich’s campaign with huge cash infusions; Gingrich and Adelson have been friends since the 1990s, in part because they share hard-line pro-Israel positions.

Romney has the backing of much of the Jewish Republican establishment, having attracted the bulk of Jewish donors and advisers. His appeal to Jews is based partly on his moderation and ability during his governance of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 to appeal to liberals and independents.

Additionally he and his wife, Ann, have referred in talks to Jewish groups to their Mormon faith, likening themselves to Jewish Republicans who have pushed for prominence in a party that still draws much of its support from a Protestant base.

Both Santorum and Romney have battered President Obama for what they depict as his hostility to Israel and his fecklessness on dealing with Iran, and both say that they will repeal much of the heath care reform package passed by Obama.

Some of Santorum’s domestic policies, including statements suggesting that a “Jesus guy” is most suitable for the presidency, have alarmed some Jewish groups.

ADL again slams Santorum on church-state issue


The Anti-Defamation League once again reprimanded Rick Santorum for his advocacy of a church role in governing.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator vying for the GOP presidential nod, told ABC over the weekend that a landmark 1960 speech outlining church-state separations by then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy almost made him “throw up.”

“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square?” Santorum said. “You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”

In a letter, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman and ADL National Chairman Robert Sugarman suggested that Santorum was misrepresenting the speech.

“The genius of the Founding Fathers was to find a way, with the establishment clause and the free exercise clause, to protect the new nation from the kind of religious persecution that had resulted from official state religions and religious wars in Europe,” the letter said.

It was the second time this election season that Santorum was rebuked by the group. In January, Santorum told a caller on a talk show that “we always need a Jesus guy” in the campaign, which the ADL rejected as “inappropriate and exclusionary.”

Perry set to drop out of presidential race


Rick Perry reportedly is dropping his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee.

CNN and The New York Times reported Thursday that the Texas governor will announce later in the day his decision to bow out; a news conference reportedly is scheduled in South Carolina.

Perry, a staunch backer of Israel who has longstanding ties with leading Republican Jews, surged in the polls when he announced his bid for the GOP nod last August, but he dipped following a number of poor debate performances.

After lagging in the Iowa and New Hampshire tests, he had hoped to rally in South Carolina, which goes to the polls on Saturday. The polls, however, show Perry trailing in the conservative state.

Perry’s exit would narrow the race to four candidates—front-runner Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Reuters reported that two Perry campaign sources said he is likely to endorse Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gingrich, an ex-congressman from Georgia, and Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, are expected to battle for Perry’s evangelical and social conservative backers.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who tied with Santorum in Iowa and won in New Hampshire, is currently leading in South Carolina polling.

Boyarsky’s teachable moment


Bill Boyarsky’s recent column discussing the Republican Presidential candidates’ support for Israel provides a stark example of the dangers of proffering an opinion founded on stereotypes.

In an effort to delegitimize Christian Zionism, Boyarksy employs two methods to demonize religious groups that the Jewish community will recognize all too well. First Boyarsky mischaracterizes the Evangelical Christian faith. Second, he holds Christian Zionists to an unfair double standard.

The mischaracterization of faith: Boyarsky asserts that Evangelical Christians oppose Israeli land-concessions to Palestinians because Christian Zionists seek to ensure what they believe will be the second coming of the Messiah. This is simply not true. 

The vast majority of Christian Zionists do not believe there is anything anyone can do to change the timing of the Messiah’s arrival. They primarily derive this belief from an interpretation of Matthew 24:36 which states that no human being can or should seek to impact the ‘end of days.’ Therefore their motivation for supporting Israel must be rooted elsewhere. Don’t take my word for it; just read then JTA writer Eric Fingerhut’s 2009 explanation of Christian Zionist motivations:

As for the allegation that Christian support for Israel is all part of an eschatology having to do with the Second Coming, I’ve talked to enough Christian Zionists over the past few years to believe that for the vast majority of them, their support for the Jewish state is genuinely motivated by Genesis’s admonition that God will bless those who bless the Jewish people, as well as their respect for Judaism as a foundation for Christianity or even their general beliefs about U.S. foreign policy.

Further, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S., decided at its founding to stand with the decisions of the democratically elected government of Israel. Pastor John Hagee, the organization’s founder, has addressed this matter without equivocation: “We have never, and will never, oppose Israeli efforts to advance peace.”

Boyarsky then applies an unfair double-standard to the largest block of Israel’s Christian supporters. He asserts that Evangelical Christians “feel Jews are doomed unless they accept Christ,” and that this belief is the “theological downside” to working with Christian Zionists.

While I find the choice of words here distasteful, I’m not disputing that Christians believe their faith is the one true faith. The real question is whether or not such a belief should prohibit interfaith activity.

Every faith, including Judaism, holds that its book is the true book, and that when we die, or when the world ends, we will all come to know the true nature of God. By the standard Boyarsky applies to Evangelicals, the Jewish community would never work with the true believers of any other faith.

Boyarsky once eloquently wrote of an “emotional high” he experienced while witnessing individuals from different backgrounds and faiths coming together to discuss improving local schools in “an afternoon of both spiritual and secular concerns.”

Why the double standard? Better yet, why demonize Christian Zionists and treat their support for Israel with disdain? The answer is simple: politics.

Throughout his piece, Boyarsky advances the assertion that Christian Zionists are in lock-step with Israel’s center-right Likud party – which presently holds the Israeli Premiership. Boyarsky seems to attribute this to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. But the truth is that the vast majority of Israel’s Christian supporters will stand with the Jewish State regardless of which way the Israeli political pendulum is swinging. Christian Zionists tend to respect the Jewish State’s democracy and the Israeli people’s right to make decisions for themselves.

Unfortunately Boyarsky seems unmoved by these facts. He considers Republican condemnation of the Obama Administration’s attitude toward Israel to be “wrong-headed,” and therefore in an effort to defend the President, seems to believe that a faith-based attack on Israel’s conservative Christian allies is justified. It is not. The demonization of faith groups has no place in an honorable political discourse.

Ari Morgenstern is the spokesman for Christians United for Israel.

Mitt Romney embraces the neocons


The top three vote-getters in the Iowa caucuses — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx.) — responded to success in very different ways.

Santorum, best known for his antediluvian views on gay rights and choice, emphasized the economy and job creation. Paul, keeping with the themes he has focused on his entire career, talked about personal freedom, the need to restrict “big government,” and preventing a new war in the Middle East.

And Romney, who is at this point the frontrunner for the nomination, started his speech by discussing the purported failure of Barack Obama to confront Iran.

With the economy still in the doldrums, Romney sees Iran as the most serious problem facing Americans.

ROMNEY: We face an extraordinary challenge in America, and you know that. And that is internationally, Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry, just down the road here. And this president, what’s he done in that regard? He said we would have a policy of engagement. How’s that worked out? Not terribly well. We have no sanctions of a severe nature, the crippling sanctions put in place. The president was silent when dissident voices took to the streets in Iran and, of course, he hasn’t prepared the military options that would present credibly our ability to take out the threat that would be presented by Iran. He’s failed on that.

Next, Romney turned to what he sees as the second biggest threat to Americans: “And then how about with regards to the economy…”

His disturbing emphasis on Iran, which in no way presents a military threat to the United States — over the economy, no less — is very telling.

Romney insists that the administration’s engagement efforts have failed. Not quite.

Obama has hardly engaged in any diplomacy with Iran. After an initial foray in that direction, he quickly pulled back, deterred first by the Iranian government’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 2009 and then by a Congress that, guided by AIPAC, vehemently opposes any negotiations with Iran.

According to Iran expert and journalist Barbara Slavin, the Obama administration has spent a grand total of 45 minutes in direct engagement with Iran.

Romney’s claim that “we have no sanctions of a severe nature” is just as false. The sanctions regime imposed by Obama is unprecedented in its severity. (Take a look at the full range of sanctions.)

According to a law signed by Obama in December, as of next summer, anyone who buys Iranian oil will be banned from doing business with the United States. We have the largest economy in the world, so this act could do much to damage not only Iran’s economy but also the economies of some of our most trusted allies, like South Korea. If Iran retaliates by keeping its oil off the world market and causing prices to skyrocket, the dire effects will be felt globally. Including here at home.

Sanctions will probably not succeed in preventing an Iranian bomb (since the days of the Shah, Iranians of all political stripes, including the Green Movement, have supported Iran’s right to nuclear development) but it is just absurd to argue that Obama has resisted imposing them.

As for the claim that Obama was “silent” when Iranian demonstrators took to the streets, Romney must know that America’s embrace of the demonstrators would have been the kiss of death. Or maybe Romney actually believes that their cause would have been advanced if they could have been convincingly portrayed as U.S. puppets.

The remaining Romney charge is the only one that matters because, unlike the other two, it is not just an example of misinformation or prevarication. It is a clear indication that Romney believes that the only way to deal with Iran is through war.

What else can it mean when Romney says that Obama has not “prepared the military options”?

Of course, Obama has. The president and the U.S. military fully prepare war contingency plans for use in every volatile international situation. To assert that they have none for Iran (a major U.S. adversary since 1979) is really an accusation that Obama is not ready for war now. Romney, on the other hand, clearly is.

And why wouldn’t he be?

Romney told us where he stands on Iran (and the Middle East in general) on October 7, 2011, when he announced the 22 members of his foreign policy team.

Fifteen of the 22 worked on foreign policy for the George W. Bush administration and six were members of the original neoconservative group, Project for the New American Century, that famously called on President Clinton in 1998 to begin “implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power.” Its rationale: Saddam was producing weapons of mass destruction.

We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country. If we accept a course of weakness and drift, we put our interests and our future at risk.

That was three years before 9/11 (after which members of the group decided, without any evidence, that Saddam Hussein was behind the monstrous attacks).

Clinton ignored the letter.

But, four years later in 2002, the next president, George W. Bush, with an administration packed with neoconservatives, heeded PNAC’s new call, not only for the removal of Saddam but also for an end to serious U.S. support for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

In that second letter, the neoconservatives were more explicit about where they stood and why.

No one should doubt that the United States and Israel share a common enemy. We are both targets of what you have correctly called an “Axis of Evil.” Israel is targeted in part because it is our friend, and in part because it is an island of liberal, democratic principles — American principles — in a sea of tyranny, intolerance, and hatred. As Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has pointed out, Iran, Iraq, and Syria are all engaged in “inspiring and financing a culture of political murder and suicide bombing” against Israel, just as they have aided campaigns of terrorism against the United States over the past two decades. You have declared war on international terrorism, Mr. President. Israel is fighting the same war.

Bottom line: The United States and Israel had the same enemies — specifically Iran, Iraq and Syria — and therefore had to engage in “the same war.”

A year later, the United States invaded Iraq.

Today, with U.S. troops finally out of Iraq, the selfsame neocons are pushing for war with Iran (the first target proposed in the 2002 letter to Bush).

Last time they wanted to fight because they claimed, without tangible evidence, that Iraq had WMDs.

This time they want to fight because they claim, without tangible evidence, that Iran is developing them.

With even less evidence, they insist that Iran would gladly use a nuclear weapon to destroy Israel even if it meant the destruction of Iran. And they have successfully sold their line to the likely Republican nominee for president.

Can the same gang fool us twice?

As MSNBC host Rachel Maddow put it: “With the greatest American failure in American policy hung around their necks, with the Project for a New American Century neocon fantasy a punch line now, Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate has decided to embrace them.”

It is like a terrible joke.

The people who helped inflict one of the worst disasters in U.S. history on the American people are back to do it again. And the leading GOP contender for the presidency is following their lead.

To make it even worse, there is little indication that the incumbent Democratic president has decided to resist the war lobby’s push for conflict.

There is some good news, however.

In 2008, as he was preparing to leave office, President George W. Bush was urged by the same advisers (led by Vice President Dick Cheney) who had advocated invading Iraq to give Israel permission to bomb Iran.

But Bush, to his credit, was skeptical. Additionally, the Cheney neocon team was weakened by the departure of three of the most influential war enthusiasts: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Scooter Libby. All three had left the administration unmourned by Bush and with their reputations in tatters.

Bush turned to Rumsfeld’s replacement, the anti-neocon Robert Gates, who told him that attacking Iran or allowing Israel to do so could turn the entire Middle East into a cauldron. Bush wisely said “no.”

It is hard to believe that his Democratic successor would say, “Okay, let’s bomb. It will be fine.” No Democrat is going to be more neocon than a Republican.

But Romney wouldn’t hesitate. That is why the neocons will be voting Republican this year. They are determined to get their old influence back and their next war started.

God help us if they succeed.

Wasserman-Schultz to JFNA: defend Obama’s record


Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic Party leader, urged Jewish leaders to push back against what she said were distortions of President Obama’s Israel record.

Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, defended Obama to the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, taking place this year in Denver, calling attacks on his Israel record “deliberate distortions.”

She urged those attending to “spread the word” about his increases in defense assistance to the Jewish state, and noted the recent coordination with Israel countering the Palestinian push for statehood recognition at the United Nations.

“Israel should never be used as a political football,” she said.

Republican and conservative critics of Obama have emphasized diplomatic tensions between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jon Huntsman visits the Lubavitcher rebbe’s gravesite


Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman visited the New York gravesite of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, visited the Queens gravesite of the late leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement last week. He was accompanied by his wife, Mary Kaye, and a number of movement luminaries, including Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the chairman of Chabad’s educational and social services network, and Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the director of its Washington office.

Huntsman was friendly with Chabad’s outreach effort in Utah when he governed the state from 2005 to 2009.

Most recently the U.S. envoy to China, Huntsman is among the lowest polling in a field of about 10 candidates for the GOP nod, but has carved a niche for himself as a relative moderate on foreign policy and social issues.

GOP candidates push back on cutting aid to Israel


Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain pushed back against a proposal by Ron Paul to cut funding to Israel.

Paul, a Texas congressman, during the GOP debate Tuesday in Las Vegas repeated his proposal to cut foreign aid, including the $3 billion Israel receives annually in defense assistance.

“That foreign aid makes Israel dependent on us,” he said. “It softens them for their own economy. And they should have their sovereignty back, they should be able to deal with their neighbors at their own will.”

Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, and Cain, a businessman, pushed back.

“We should not be cutting foreign aid to Israel,” Bachmann said. “Israel is our greatest ally. The biggest problem with this administration and foreign policy is that President Obama is the first president since Israel declared her sovereignty who put daylight between the United States and Israel. That’s heavily contributed to the current hostilities that we see in the Middle East region.”

Cain said, “If we clarify who our friends are, clarify who our enemies are, and stop giving money to our enemies, then we ought to continue to give money to our friends, like Israel.”

The debate was sponsored by CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference.

A Las Vegas focus group of likely GOP voters conducted on the eve of the debate by The Israel Project found unanimous support for continuing aid levels to Israel.

Palin on Israel visit to meet with Netanyahu


Potential 2012 presidential contender Sarah Palin is scheduled to have dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on her second and last day in Israel.

Palin will dine with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, on Monday before returning to the United States.

“As the world confronts sweeping changes and new realities, I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the key issues facing his country, our ally Israel,” Palin said in a statement on her official SarahPAC website.

The Republican nominee for vice president in 2008 and the former governor of Alaska landed Sunday in Israel for what is being called a private visit. She was returning to the United States from a speech she delivered to a business group in India.

Several possible Republican candidates for the 2012 U.S. presidential election have visited Israel in recent weeks, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. All of them also met with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.

On Sunday, Palin and her husband, Todd, took a tour of the Western Wall tunnels led by the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch. They were accompanied by Likud lawmaker Danny Danon.

Palin did not walk on the Western Wall plaza, so as not to disturb those reading from the Megillat Esther in observance of Purim in Jerusalem, Ynet reported.

For more on this story visit JewishJournal.com/keepingthefaith.

Jewish candidate favored for PM, Dutch poll shows


Opinion polls in Holland show that a majority of voters favor the Jewish former mayor of Amsterdam for prime minister.

Some 52 percent of those polled last week would vote for Marius Job Cohen as prime minister in national elections scheduled for June, the European Jewish Press reported.

Cohen was selected from a list that included current Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and extreme-right, anti-Islam campaigner Geert Wilders.

Cohen, the mayor of Amsterdam for nine years, was chosen as the new leader of the Dutch Labor Party on March 12.

State Assembly hopeful is a political and personal bridge builder


When Robert J. Blumenfield was 12, he covered the 1980 Democratic and Republican conventions as a reporter for a youth-oriented magazine, and he has been hooked on politics since.

In June, Blumenfield, 40, always addressed as Bob, won the Democratic primary to represent the 40th Assembly District in Sacramento, which in this heavily Democratic enclave in the San Fernando Valley is considered tantamount to election.

The Journal met with the candidate in a quiet coffee shop, close to the Van Nuys office of veteran Congressman Howard Berman, where Blumenfield’s multiple duties as district director include serving as liaison to the Jewish community.

To Blumenfield’s own surprise, he won the primary outright by 53 percent against three opponents in an Assembly district that includes Van Nuys, Northridge, Canoga Park and Woodland Hills.

The campaign to succeed the termed-out incumbent Lloyd Levine was acrimonious, fueled by chief opponent Stuart Waldman’s charges that Blumenfield’s father and Berman had funneled large contributions to the winning candidate through a nominally independent committee.

With national attention focused at the time on the Democratic presidential contest between Sen. Barack Obama, the first viable black presidential candidate, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, local political and social analysts took a special interest in Blumenfield’s family life.

His wife, Kafi, is black, has a law degree from UCLA and is now president and CEO of Liberty Hill, a foundation working for social, racial and economic equality in Los Angeles County.

Bill Boyarsky, a Journal columnist, moderated a debate among the Assembly candidates at a synagogue and filed a report on truthdig.com.

“Bob Blumenfield is white, Jewish and chairs the Valley Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League,” Boyarsky wrote. “His wife is African American. They live across the street from his parents. She was in the audience at the synagogue. Twenty-five years ago, this would have been impossible.”

Then, pointing to Obama’s campaign, Boyarsky observed, “It could be that race relations in America are taking a new turn, unfamiliar to those of us who see everything through the prism of mid- and late- 20th century conflict.”

Kafi Blumenfield touched on the same topic, though suggesting that the “new turn” still had some way to go.

Speaking at Liberty Hill’s Upton Sinclair dinner, she reminisced, “After I arrived in Los Angeles, I met a wonderful man. His name is Bob Blumenfield. We got married…. We have a beautiful baby, who I hope is home asleep right now.

“Last month, I was trying to find a part-time baby sitter, and I got a call from our search agency. ‘Mrs. Blumenfield,’ the agent said, ‘would you hire a black?’

“Bob and I face a lot of challenges building bridges between his heritage and mine. Our daughter, Nia, will also face challenges of dealing with racism and anti-Semitism…. What community does my daughter belong to? She is black, and she’s Jewish. At her day care center, the kids speak Spanish.”

Nia is now two-and-a-half years old and, said her father, is being raised “100 percent Jewish and 100 percent African American.”

To cement the Jewish part, Nia had a baby conversion ceremony, conducted by a Reform rabbi. A little later, the parents held a baby naming ceremony for “Ruth” at the 212-year- old Hebrew Congregation Synagogue in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, where some of the mother’s relatives live.

Asked how the respective families felt about the marriage, Bob Blumenfield said, “The reaction was generally positive, but there were a few hiccups. Our parents were very supportive.”

On the campaign trail, the interracial aspect tended to be a plus rather than a minus, and during debates the most hostile remark came from a questioner who wanted to know whether Blumenfield was loyal to the United States or to Israel.

Blumenfield was born in Brooklyn, but was raised in Scarsdale and celebrated his bar mitzvah at Beth Am Shalom, which he described as a Conservative/Reconstructionist temple. His father is a still-practicing psychiatrist and his mother a social worker.

“It was a mixed marriage,” said Blumenfield. “My father was a Republican and my mother a Democrat.” Eventually, mother and son brought the father over to their side.

After graduating from Duke University with a degree in public policy, Blumenfield headed for the nation’s capital in 1989 and landed a job as an aide to Sen. Bill Bradley, a New Jersey Democrat.

He moved on to become legislative director of Berman’s office in Washington and, following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, focused on getting emergency relief for the stricken area.

Blumenfield got an even closer look at Los Angeles politics as government affairs director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy between 1996 and 2000.

“It’s there I got to know a lot of political leaders, like Zev [Yaroslavsky] and Antonio [Villaraigosa], and also learned the difference between Sacramento and Washington politics,” he said.

Blumenfield made another switch in 2000 (“All my life decisions seem to coincide with presidential election cycles,” he observed) and became the district director for Berman’s congressional office in Van Nuys.

Surrounded by politics and politicians, Blumenfield had considered for a long time running for public office. After establishing a family, persuading his parents to leave the East Coast, and joining Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, he felt “rooted enough” to run for the Assembly seat.

If elected, one of his top priorities will be California’s “quality of life,” especially in upgrading the state’s infrastructure. “Every one dollar invested in infrastructure adds seven times that amount to the general economy,” he said.

Fundamentally, though, “everything begins and ends with the budget,” Blumenfield said, and he advocates eliminating the requirement for a two-thirds majority to pass the state budget, moving from a one-year to a two-year budget cycle and possible modifications of Proposition 13.

His Republican opponent in November is Armineh Chelebian, whose parents came to the United States from Iran in 1978 and who is of Armenian descent.

She is an accountant and describes herself as a mother, grandmother, pro-Israel and an optimist used to overcoming obstacles. “I am not a partisan politician,” she said. “I want to focus on the issues and serve the community.”

The Journal asked Howard Welinsky, the dean of Southern California Democrats and chair of Democrats for Israel, for his evaluation of Blumenfield.

Welinsky, who campaigned actively for Blumenfield in the primary, described the candidate as “very smart, experienced and thoughtful … in today’s world of blogs, it’s very hard to find someone like him.”

Welinsky added, “I favor candidates who are versed in public policy but realize that it takes politics to achieve their goals. Bob is one of the few who combines these qualities.”

Diversity lost


Forgive me for going on about this. I keep promising myself I’ll stop being outraged, turn off the radio and stop reading the papers. But if you’ll permit me one more question here:

Whatever happened to the Democrats being the party of tolerance and diversity?

These days, it’s gotten so people are afraid to say they still support Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y). They wait till they know if you’re a comrade before they say anything at all, and even then, they lower their voice and lean closer, as if confessing to some tell-tale mark of moral depravity, some innate but previously undetected propensity for corruption and vice and — God forbid — ambition.

She’s shameless she’ll stop at nothing to win she’s destroying the party Bill has lost it he’s playing the race card she should just go away and let Obama win.

All this from fellow Democrats, and I’m standing there thinking, Al Sharpton is threatening marches and demonstrations throughout the country if Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) doesn’t get the nomination. African American superdelegates who had pledged support to Hillary months ago and haven’t changed their mind are getting threatening messages from anonymous Obama supporters, something like 90 percent of the African American vote is for Obama and we blame Bill and Hillary — up until recently embraced by the African American community, Bill having been called “our first black president” by Toni Morrison — for bringing race into the equation?

Something like 14 million Democrats have voted for Hillary, given her their time and money, placed in her candidacy so many of their hopes and aspirations, and yet we blame her for the fact that the primaries have taken as long as they have?

If we have to find someone to blame, why not blame the Democratic Party’s proportional system? Michigan and Florida for breaking rules and being made to sit in a corner? Hell, why not blame Obama for getting into the race in the first place? Or the superdelegates who won’t declare themselves until they’re good and sure which side their bread is buttered on?

The notion that Hillary (or anyone else, for that matter, who still has the resources and the stamina and the faith to stay in the race) should just “go away” so that another candidate can coast to victory smacks of a sense of entitlement that, I dare say, is more suitable to a monarchical system than a democratic one. So does the argument that Obama’s record or abilities should not be scrutinized, held to the same high or low standards as those of other candidates throughout history. He’s been called a “unifier” and a “post-racial” candidate, and whatever little chink has appeared in his glossy image is being blamed on the fact that Hillary “just won’t go away.”

Are we electing a candidate based on his or her ability to lead the country, or are we crowning a king who looks good in pictures and who is above criticism, examination and challenge?

But the questions that have been raised about Obama in the past few weeks are ones that would have surfaced with time — during the primaries or the general elections. The fact that he became a phenomenon as quickly and unexpectedly as he did perhaps delayed the kind of scrutiny that other candidates are subjected to. But it seems to me that Obama supporters are doing exactly what Bush voters did in the last two elections: back him because he’s raised the most money; is likable and charming (I cringe when I say that, but there’s no accounting for taste); and promises them the world — No Child Left Behind, democracy in the Middle East, a permanent Republican majority.

True, there is a sense among young Democrats that Obama represents them better than an establishment candidate like Hillary. There’s equally a sense within the African American community that “our time has come.” Fair enough. They’re all entitled to their sentiments and entitled to support Obama as much as they want.

But by the same token, there is a sense among some of us woman folk in our 40s and 50s that our time has come, as well — that Hillary is the one female candidate with the brawn and the brain and the money and whatever else it takes to have a realistic chance at the presidency. That were she to lose — and I grant you, that seems more and more likely — there won’t be a female president in our lifetime. This may not seem like a big deal to our daughters’ generation, for whom women’s rights’ issues seem quaint. They’re energized by Obama’s message and the rock-star rallies. Fair enough. Go ahead and vote for him if you want, I say. Just don’t tell me that it’s OK to pick your candidate because he’s African American or young or a good speaker, but that it’s a betrayal of the party and a ruinous choice to pick her because she’s a woman who we believe is qualified.

Call me cynical, but I like Hillary in spite of the fact that she’s not Florence Nightingale. I think she’s as ethical or unethical as anyone else who has managed to navigate the treacherous waters leading to candidacy. On one level, I believe Gore Vidal when he said: “Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so.” I think that applies as much to Hillary as it does to Obama or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), that, again in the words of Vidal, “By the time a man gets to be presidential material, he’s been bought 10 times over.”

Yet, every time she’s attacked by the other Democrats in the media, every time a superdelegate previously pledged to her switches sides, every time New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson smirks into the camera and bashes Hillary in order to ride on Obama’s coattails (sorry, Bill, we all know the benefits of betting on a winner), anytime she digs her heels in and promises to keep going, I feel a sense of pride.

Here’s a woman who fights for what she wants to the bitter end; who doesn’t abandon her own dreams and the faith of people who have voted for her; who has the daring and the ambition to do what no other woman has been able to do in this country. And if that inconveniences anyone else — superdelegates, party bosses or Mr. Obama — it’s nothing that hasn’t been done, every election cycle in memory, by men.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in The Journal.

Rev. Wright’s outreach to Jews still unsettling for many


In a series of speeches otherwise notable for their defiant tone against his real and perceived enemies, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. sounded some conciliatory notes toward Jews, casting them as fellow strugglers against inequity and for peace.

But an outburst in a Q-and-A session and an analysis of what lies behind his remarks reveals that the Jewish community may still have reason to be less than comfortable with the former pastor to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Wright launched a media blitz this week just as Obama entered the final stretch of his bid to become the Democratic nominee for president. On Tuesday, Obama expressed outrage over Wright’s latest comments.

The media has highlighted inflammatory passages from Wright’s past sermons in which he suggests that white racism remains pervasive and U.S. foreign policy helped bring about terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. These remarks have dogged Obama’s campaign.

The Wright factor may have contributed to his defeat in the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, where he lost to U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), 55 percent to 45 percent. In the Jewish community, where the pastor issue has come up repeatedly, Clinton beat Obama 62 percent to 38 percent, according to exit polls.

The candidate has sought to distance himself from his former pastor, calling Wright’s rhetoric “offensive.” Campaigning Monday ahead of next week’s primaries in North Carolina and Indiana, Obama again repudiated the preacher he once said nurtured his Christian identity.

“He does not speak for me, he does not speak for the campaign,” Obama said.

In three major appearances over the last few days, Wright confronted what he said were the distortions in a campaign against him created primarily by Republicans but taken up also by Clinton advocates.

The appearances included a PBS interview last weekend with Bill Moyers; a dinner Sunday of the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and a speech Monday at the National Press Club in Washington.

The most strident of his speeches came at the press club, where Wright said the “corporate media” had ripped his statements from their context. That context, he said, was the African American church that has remained invisible for too long.

“Maybe now we can begin to take steps to move the black religious tradition from the status of invisible to the status of invaluable, not just for some black people in this country, but for all the people in this country,” he said there.

“This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” he said later during a Q-and-A session. “It has nothing to do with Sen. Obama. This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African American religious tradition.”

Also in the session, Wright addressed his association with Louis Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam leader in lectures in 1984 said Israel represents a “gutter religion” and that Jews in general had corrupted the word of God through “false religions.”

Wright said he disagrees with Farrakhan on some issues but also admires him.

“Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion,” he said. “And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for.”

The distinction between Zionism and Judaism will not placate many Jews. Nor will suggestions that to criticize comparisons between Israeli policies and apartheid is somehow “vilification.”

“How many other African Americans or European Americans do you know that can get 1 million people together on the mall?” Wright said, referring to the 1995 Million Man March that Farrakhan organized. “He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That’s what I think about him.”

Wright’s overall emphasis was on the liberation theology that emerged from the 1960s and 1970s. He often grounded that theology in the Torah texts Christians share with Jews.

“The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive,” he said. “Liberating the captives also liberates those who are holding them captive.”

Outlining such captor-captive dichotomies the evening before in Detroit, Wright placed both Jews and blacks in the “captive” category, criticizing groups who saw the “different” as “deficient”:

“In the past we were taught to see others who are different as somehow being deficient,” he said. “Christians saw Jews as being deficient. Catholics saw Protestants as being deficient. Presbyterians saw Pentecostals as being deficient. Folks who like to holler in worship saw folk who like to be quiet as deficient, and vice versa. Whites saw black as being deficient.”

As if to underscore such solidarity, he started the NAACP speech with a nod to what he said were his Jewish and Muslim supporters.

“I would also like to thank sister Melanie Maron, the former executive director of the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee and the current executive director of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American Jewish Committee,” he said. “I would like to thank my good friend and Jewish author, Tim Wise, for his support.”

Yet such thank-yous could undermine Wright’s efforts at conciliation. Wise is a Louisiana writer who has written extensively about white racism and tackled expressions of anti-Semitism on the left. But he also has repudiated Zionism as nationalist chauvinism while failing to address the chauvinism inherent in the Arab and Islamic movements that deny Israel’s existence.

In 2000, decrying Jewish pride in the selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) as the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Wise in Z Magazine described Judaism in the United States “as typified by an ‘objects culture’ of mezuzahs, dreidls and stars of David on the one hand; a popular culture of food, Jewish comedy and entertainment on the other; and all of it topped off by a ‘problems culture’ preoccupied with Israel and anti-Semitism: a negative identity based on real and potential victimhood.”

Wise’s claim that national chauvinism is intrinsic to Zionism jibes with Wright’s earlier reported views that equate the Palestinian experience with the experience of others who have been colonized.

Letter to Obama


I am a right-wing Jew who doesn’t trust “moderate” Palestinians, who believes the peace process is a charade orchestrated by weak leaders with personaland political agendas, and who is repulsed by the way the United Nations and a large part of the world unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation.

I believe the only way to deal with terror is to fight it until you achieve deterrence — and never reward the enablers of terror with money, arms or fake peace meetings that just raise false hopes. I have no respect for disingenuous crybabies like Mahmoud Abbas, who asks the world to “protect the Palestinian people from the IDF [Israel Defense Force],” when he knows full well that if no bombs were falling on Israeli civilians, there would be no need to fear the IDF.

And I can’t stand pacifists who expect Israel not to defend itself but to always “reach out for peace,” even when the other party is incapable of delivering peace.

That being said, Mr. Obama, I’m crazy about you.

I’ve read the numerous anti-Obama e-mails that have spread throughout the Jewish world, and I know it’s fashionable among many Jews to have doubts about you. Yes, we are a paranoid people, and often for good reason. In the Bible, we were the people of the stiff necks; today we are the people of the thin skins.

One reason we’re so paranoid is that we seem to always get burned — even by our best friends. Look at one of our all-time good buddies, Bill Clinton, whose favorite priest, on his deathbed, told him to always be good to the Jews. In his zeal to give us peace, Clinton honored and legitimized one of history’s greatest terrorists, the duplicitous Yasser Arafat, who responded to peace overtures by launching a terror war against Israel.

Years later, Clinton admitted he should never have trusted Arafat. But why hadn’t he listened to the many voices warning him that Arafat was a traitor to his own cause — a glory junkie who saw no drama or victory in achieving peace? Because, in the immortal phrase of his vice president, that was an “inconvenient truth.”

After Clinton the believer we had George Bush the bodyguard. This was no ordinary best friend. Here was an American president who could see through the wily ways of the terrorist mind. Finally, we had someone in the White House who understood that it is useless to negotiate peace with a society that has been taught only war and hatred, and who understood that only a reformation of Palestinian society could bring about the conditions for real peace.

But Bush the bodyguard became Bush the absentee father who became Bush the panicked peacemaker. So now we’re back to a peace process that still doesn’t address the underlying malignancies that have always plagued such efforts, and that does nothing to address the immediate threats to Israel, like a nuclear Iran or the terror armies on Israel’s borders who are sworn to its destruction.

So why am I so crazy about a liberal politician like you, Mr. Obama?

I think it’s for the same reason my 7-year-old daughter, Eva, wants to have an “Obama birthday party” next November: I like you. You’re sharp, but you’re not a phony. You’re a human being first and a politician second.

Because you care about all human beings, there’s a decent chance you won’t get sucked into believing that the Palestinian cause is the end-all and be-all of international causes; and that you’ll give equal empathy to the plight of the Tibetans, the Kurds, the Basques, the Sri Lankans, the Darfurians and other causes which haven’t used global terror to get the world’s attention.

Because of your humanity, when you look at the Middle East you will care about the gays in Egypt who are jailed because they are gays, the poets in Syria who get tortured because of what they write and the women in Saudi Arabia who are oppressed because they are women.

When you look at Israel, it won’t escape your sharp eye to see that the Arab populations with the most freedom and protected human rights in the Middle East are right there, in the Jewish state.

You’ll also notice that wherever Israel evacuated (Gaza and Lebanon), terror armies grew, and where Israel stayed (West Bank), terror was contained.

You don’t strike me as a stubborn ideologue who is intellectually lazy and who delegates his thinking to others, whether they be priests or expert advisers. You will go where the facts and the truth lead you, and that can only be good for the Jews.

Just like you had the courage to bring up the “scourge of anti-Semitism” at a black church on Martin Luther King Day, you will have the courage to bring up the “scourge of terrorism” and the “scourge of teaching hatred” when you visit a Palestinian mosque.

Many people think you’re not tough enough. I’m not so sure. I think pampered yuppies and loud cowboys are the weak ones. Cool gentlemen with street smarts like you can make the toughest and smartest warriors.

To paraphrase Andrew Sullivan in the Atlantic Monthly, I can’t wait for all those anti-American jihadists around the world to wake up one morning and see that the leader of the Great Satan is now called Barack Hussein Obama. There’d be no greater compliment to America, and the ideals it stands for, than to have a man like you as its leader.

If anybody will ever earn the respect of the warring parties of the Middle East and of the rest of the world, it will be a black American president with a Muslim name, a sense of universal fairness, and the courage to speak the truth as he sees it.

As someone who is deeply pained by how the world continues to malign the state of Israel, I have the audacity to hope that such a change will be good for the Jews.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Obama? Been there


I’ve been a Democrat since I was 16 years old and couldn’t vote because I was underage and not yet a U.S. citizen. I was a Democrat when most other Iranians
considered that a dirty word — because “Carter was a Democrat who lost Iran to the mullahs and Afghanistan to the Soviets. He might have had good intentions, but he was a disaster at foreign policy. What do you expect, really, from a peanut farmer whose great ambition in life, after being the leader of the free world, is to build cheap houses and write bad books?”

I was a Democrat when many Iranians claimed this was a betrayal of the motherland: “Democrats want to negotiate with the mullahs; Republicans want to overthrow them.” When many of my fellow Iranian Jews were calling G. W. Bush “Mashiach”: “He’s been sent from above to save Israel and the Jews everywhere; if you’re pro-Gore or Kerry, you’re anti-Israel.” When being a Democrat made you automatically suspect: “You must be getting paid off by someone high up in Kerry’s camp.” When admitting you were a Democrat was foolhardy at best: “Don’t you know people will ostracize you? They won’t invite you to their parties and won’t want to do business with you or let their son or daughter marry your son or daughter.”

And here I was, all that time, telling people I thought Reagan was a bad actor whose presidency augured the decline of so much that has been good about this country, and that Bush I should have been impeached for the mere sin of having spawned Bush II, and that McCain may have been a good guy, but he sold his soul when he made that speech admiring Bush II at the Republican Convention in 2004.

And, yes, I would really like to see a Democrat in the Oval Office next January, I will certainly vote for one, and so will my kids — parties and business and marriage issues notwithstanding. I’d much rather it were Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, because I like Hillary. I think she’ll make a great president; she’s smart and tough and capable, and she has her heart and her politics in the right place, and, besides, I figure it’s high time this country caught up with Pakistan and India, Indonesia and Liberia, not to mention the UK and Germany and Israel, in giving a woman the chance at the highest office, but I’ll vote Democrat even if Hillary’s not the nominee.

I don’t like Obama much; he may be tall and good-looking, but I’m always weary of people who promise me the moon, and yet I figure any Democrat will do better than a Republican. So what if Obama’s wife is obnoxious and his speeches are laced with platitudes that offer no real answers. So what if his senior foreign policy adviser, Samantha Power, chokes when BBC asks her if Obama’s going to redefine the relationship between this country and Israel, and she gets so uncomfortable that the interviewer remarks that she’s twisted herself into a pretzel and can barely mutter some line about Israel’s right to exist. So what if he claims he’s a unifier but chooses to campaign in South Carolina with notorious gay-basher, gospel singer Donnie McClurkin.

There’s one “so what if” I haven’t managed to move beyond.

I’ve read some of those quotes Obama’s pastor posted on the church’s Web site, about Jews and Israel and the Holocaust. I’ve heard some of the comments that the Rev. Wright has made in some of those sermons that Obama claims to have magically skipped. I’ve listened to and read his “major speech on race” more than once. Still, I can’t understand how a person can claim he’s a unifier, and how his party can stand behind him and reinforce that claim.

I can’t understand how they can call him “the leader of a lifetime,” when for 20 years he has sat in the church and given money to the pastor and been either too dim to understand what is being said, or too cynical to risk alienating his base by contradicting the reverend, or too undisturbed by what was being said to bother with it either way.

And if it sounds like I’m giving myself permission here to cast the first stone, that’s because I am — because I’ve been there, a member of a minority group that has been wronged by history, a Jew in a Shiite country, an Iranian in Europe, a Democrat in Los Angeles’ Iranian Jewish community. I’ve been there and know the pressure to conform to the tribe, the desire to close ranks with one’s people against a hostile world, to keep one’s mouth shut and thereby avoid becoming an outcast, being called a traitor, becoming unpopular. I’m not a particularly brave person, but I’ve found myself, on more than one occasion, walking out of a synagogue where the rabbi was preaching intolerance, refusing to join groups that, under the banner of “traditionalism,” promote oppression of one kind or another. Here’s what I’ve learned about swimming against the tide, about the difference between sitting in the pews for 20 years or leaving halfway through the first service: There is such a thing as guilt by omission.

As for the much-hyped speech on race, which some in the media compared favorably to Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, what I heard were some pretty words and grand statements, followed by more self-serving politicking: Vote for me, and I will not only solve the problems of economy and war and terrorism, but also, once and for all, the issue of race in this country.

I don’t think Obama is a bigot or malicious. I think he’s someone who’s risen too high too fast, on the merit of some exceptional oratorical skills and some natural charm and charisma, at a time when this nation is hard-pressed to find a person in whom it can put its faith. I think he hasn’t even had a chance to examine his own loyalties and politics enough to know where he has stood up to now and how he can reconcile his “base” — the Louis Farrakhans and the Rev. Wrights of the world — with his new, much wider constituency. So instead of explaining why he belongs to a church that gave Farrakhan a lifetime achievement award, he talks about his white grandmother and black adopted uncle and manages to get away with it because the media and the general population in this country are just too smitten with the idea of a savior to demand real answers.

As German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo says, “Pity the nation that needs heroes.”

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in The Journal.

20 questions with John McCain


“Hey, Rob, how are you!” John McCain said on the other end of the phone. He sounded like he’d been hovering over his cell phone, just waiting for me to dial his number.

I spoke to the senator, now the presumptive Republican candidate for president, last Wednesday, while he was in Los Angeles for a full schedule of speeches and fundraisers. One of his local supporters arranged the interview, the only one he’s given to the Jewish press since clinching the nomination early last month, and the McCain campaign agreed to talk because they understand something uncommon is happening in this election: The Jewish vote is in play.

Edited and condensed TRANSCRIPT of a March 26, 2008 telephone interview with Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and Jewishjournal.com , and Sen. John McCain, presumptive Republican candidate for President.

John McCain: Hello Rob, how are you?

Rob Eshman: Hi Senator, I appreciate your time thank you.

JM: Itâ€(tm)s a pleasure.

RE: I was at your speech this morning at the World Affairs Council.. and I wanted to continue to explore those issues, but from the perspective of American Jewish voters.

So I guess weâ€(tm)ll start with the Israel. You know all three of the candidates espouse faithful support of Israel, and there seems to be a longstanding bilateral U.S. consensus on Israel regarding the conflict of the Palestinians. I wonder how you think your support for Israel differs from that of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

JM: Well I donâ€(tm)t know what their support is so itâ€(tm)s hard for me to compare it. I would just say that my first trip there was back in the late 70s with Scoop Jackson. (laughs). And I will never forget at the airport there was a crowd of people that were there to show their appreciation for Scoop, and he stopped some in the crowd and told us to stop so that he could greet Nathan Saranskyâ€(tm)s wife, and I will never forget that one as long as I live. So again itâ€(tm)s like on other national security issues, itâ€(tm)s a matter of knowledge, background, experience and judgment. Thatâ€(tm)s all.

RE: Senator Obamaâ€(tm)s advisor General Merrill McPeak has been criticized pretty harshly for statements he made of the effect that American Jews wield too much influence over Americaâ€(tm)s Middle East policy. But his comments echo very similar ones made in the past by one of your advisors, [former Secretary of State] James Baker. Is criticism of those statements legitimate, or is it kind of a partisan game that weâ€(tm)re watching?

JM: Former Sec. Baker is not quote an advisor of mine. He runs an institute at Rice University, and I certainly admire and respect Sec. Baker, and I have to say that because he was Chief of Staff to President Reagan and he was Sec. of State, he has a long and illustrious career, but that does not mean that Secretary Baker and I are in agreement on every issue. I think he plays a far different role in my campaign than General McPeak does, and it was only recently that former Sec. Baker endorsed me. It was just before some the later primaries. But look, I in no way distance myself from Sec. Baker, and my respect for what heâ€(tm)s done for the country. We just may not agree on every issue that affects the state of Israel or other issues.

RE: As you know thereâ€(tm)s strong support for Israel in the evangelical Christian community, and that community is also strongly opposed to aspects of Palestinian �”Israeli peace negotiations, such as territorial compromise and the division of Jerusalem. Because the evangelicals are a significant source of your support or youâ€(tm)d like them to be, how do you convince them then to go along with the painful compromises Israel will need to make whether at Annapolis or under your administration? What would you say to them to get them to go along?

JM: Well Iâ€(tm)m not asking them to go along with anything. Iâ€(tm)m expressing my appreciation for their support of the State of Israel, for the absolute criticality of its survival. You canâ€(tm)t jump ahead here. I know they favor a peace process. I know they favor that because of my close relations with them and Pastor John Hagee, whoâ€(tm)s been heavily criticized as you know for other things, [but] is one of the leaders of the pro-Israel-evangelical movement in America. Look, I just have to tell you that we should be so grateful for the support of the evangelical movement for the state of Israel given the influence that they have, beneficial influence that they have over millions of Americans, and then weâ€(tm)ll worry about a peace process later on, but I know that they are committed to peace between Palestinians and Israelis as well.

RE: …As a military person, someone with deep background and knowledge as you said, no one has clear answers on what to do with the Hamas rockets landing on Sderot and Askelon, but if [Israeli Defense Minister] Ehud Barak were to ask you for some advice, what would you say Israel should do?

JM: Well I wouldnâ€(tm)t presume to give him advice because heâ€(tm)s a good friend of mine for many years, and heâ€(tm)s very very very smart on military issues. In fact we all know heâ€(tm)s a national hero. But I said in Sherdrot [Sderot]�”I always mangle the pronunciation of the town — when I was there I stated unequivocally that every nation has the right to defend itself against attack, and the fact is that the children have a 15 second warning of some 900 rockets that have landed in the last less than 3 months, so I think its clear that every right has the….every nation has the right to defend itself against attack.

RE: You said at the speech of the World Affairs Council that you would be personally and deeply involved in the peace process. President Bush waited until the end of his administration to get involved. Do you see yourself getting involved earlier than that?

JM: Immediately. Immediately. And as I said I donâ€(tm)t know how many trips Iâ€(tm)ve made to Israel. I know all of the leadership well. I know the parameters that theyâ€(tm)re operating under, and I feel fully qualified to hit the ground running.

RE: Has our commitment in money and manpower in Iraq limited our ability to act militarily in Iran?

JM: I donâ€(tm)t think so. I think the United States of America has the capability to defend its national security interests.

RE: So if there needs to be a military solution to Iranâ€(tm)s nuclear programs, do you think the amount of money and manpower that weâ€(tm)ve spent in Iraq wonâ€(tm)t hinder us?

JM: I think that the United States of America militarily is fully capable of defending itself and against all threats, against all national security threats. So, because when you say “can it defend itself,” it depends on you know the scenario of what quote defending itself means and so that is a [UNCLEAR] discussion.

RE: In terms of dealing with Iran on the nuclear issue, is there any chance that you would negotiate with them, or is that not an option right now?

JM: Well when you say negotiate with them, our ambassador in Iraq, I believe, has been there three times. Thereâ€(tm)s been Iranians there in Baghdad. Theyâ€(tm)ve had conversations. Thereâ€(tm)s plenty of ways to communicate…many ways to communicate if a country wants to reach an agreement, but no I donâ€(tm)t like to enhance the prestige of someone who announces his nationâ€(tm)s dedication and policy to the extinction of the State of Israel.

RE: On Iraq, you said you were optimistic that the surge is working in terms of bringing military security to our forces and to the Iraqis, but you acknowledge that the political stability is less promising. Now weâ€(tm)re seeing today whatâ€(tm)s happening in Basra with the potential that Muqtada al Sadr could lash out again. Is there a point when you would say, look, either run your country responsibly or become another Lebanon, itâ€(tm)s your country, and weâ€(tm)ve done our best. Do you think at some point we would have to say that?

JM: Well let me just say that Iâ€(tm)m very satis �” I believe that there has been political progress. I want it to be more rapid. Iâ€(tm)d like to see political progress in the United States of American. We might even consider doing a budget or maybe sitting down together and fixing social security and Medicare–and Iâ€(tm)m a bit sarcastic. But the point is that they are making some progress. Looks like now we will have provincial elections. They did pass a law on addressing the amnesty issue for Sunis. There is de facto revenue sharing from the oil revenues. Democracy is tough, so I am gratified by the progress thatâ€(tm)s been made militarily and I see as all counterinsurgencies do, progress on the social, economic and political front and I believe that worst thing we can do is set a date for withdrawal and thatâ€(tm)ll be chaos, genocide, and by the way I also feel that itâ€(tm)ll place the state of Israel in much greater danger because it will enhance the prestige and power of Iran in the region.

RE: Do you think the warâ€(tm)s strengthened Iranâ€(tm)s hand in the region?

JM: I think that our failures for nearly four years obviously did it. But I believe that that is being reversed as the surge succeeds, and I think that the Iranians are very possibly going to step up their assistance to the Jihadists because they donâ€(tm)t want us to succeed in Iraq. But Osama Bin Laden has stated that Iraq is the central front. Osama Bin Laden has stated that they have to help their quote Palestinian brothers…now, we know what that means. But Osama Bin Laden has said that the central front in the battleground is Iraq and their Palestinian brothers are next. So what are the implications to the State of Israel if they prevail on Iraq? I think theyâ€(tm)re very obvious.

RE: So the Iraq Study Committee, the Baker-Hamilton Commission…recommended that the US deal directly with Iran and other nations around Iraq such as Syria, and try to stabilize Iraq through this external diplomatic effort. Is that something you would take a look at?

JM: I didnâ€(tm)t agree with that any more than I agreed with the call by Baker-Hamilton Commission to withdraw from Iraq, so you know I have great respect for them and appreciation, but I expressed my disagreement at the time.…Look, Iran is a state sponsor of terror. They are sponsoring Hezbollah, right in Lebanon. They are trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Theyâ€(tm)re committed to the extinction of the State of Israel. They are exporting the most lethal explosion devices into Iraq thatâ€(tm)s killing young Americans. Letâ€(tm)s have no doubt about the threat that this nation poses, not only the Americaâ€(tm)s national security interests, but that of Israel and the entire middle east. If they develop a nuclear weapon, every expert that I know says that there will be proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.

RE: But do have more leverage when you have contact?

JM: These are not discon—(inaudible). Tell me the kind of leverage we have with North Korea?

RE: We sanctioned talk with them, right?

JM: Weâ€(tm)ve had talks with them. Tell me how much theyâ€(tm)ve succeeded. But North Korea is not advocating the extinction of any of its neighbors. Iran is.

RE: I want to switch because I only have you for a little bit, so I want to switch to energy. Every president since President Nixon has promised to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Why do you think youâ€(tm)ll succeed?

JM: Because I believe I can inspire the American people and I think that when the price of oil went over $100/barrel that there was certainly a psychological barrier there. I think Americans are ready to serve/conserve(?)

RE: As long as the warâ€(tm)s going on, one of the criticisms that has been leveled at President Bush is that he hasnâ€(tm)t asked the Americans here to sacrifice …in conjunction with the Americans who fight over there. Would you ask something of Americans here to bring the war home in some sense?

JM: Iâ€(tm)ve asked…will ask many times for Americans to serve a cause greater than their self interests…thatâ€(tm)s always been what Iâ€(tm)ve (inaudible).

RE: And anything in specific as far as the war?

JM: Sure, thereâ€(tm)s a hundred ways to serve oneâ€(tm)s country and to serve one causes greater than their self interest and Iâ€(tm)m convinced they will do so.

RE: You spoke out today very eloquently about torture of suspected terrorists and I was wondering if you think it was right or wrong to torture somebody like Khalid Sheik Muhammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks?

JM: Of course not.

RE: Even him.

JM: Of course not. No, not even him (laughs).

RE: You know we all watch too much “24.” Maybe thatâ€(tm)s the problem.

JM: I think we do…I think, look, Lindsay Graham and I met with a high ranking member of Al Qaeda last Thanksgiving… I asked them how [they recruited members] after the initial invasion [of Iraq]. He said first the lawlessness and (inaudible) gave him a great opportunity. Second he said his greatest recruiting tool was Abu Ghraib. That should be enough evidence for anybody. … Every single military leader that I know and respect says we shouldnâ€(tm)t torture people.

RE: I have a friend. Sheâ€(tm)s a Jew, sheâ€(tm)s a Democrat. She said that [she] would vote for John McCain …because she loves your positions on so many things especially Israel and the Middle East, but sheâ€(tm)s worried that youâ€(tm)ll nominate Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v Wade. I find that sentiment echoed among a lot of the Jews who I speak with. I wonder how you would respond to that concern.

JM: I maintain that I will nominate Judges to the Supreme Court that strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and I think thereâ€(tm)s been too much legislating on the bench. I have no litmus issues nor is it proper to do so, but I will nominate Judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States. And if thatâ€(tm)s her most important issue that I nominate those people who strictly interpret the constitution of the United States, then I respect her priorities.

RE: You know American Jews voted overwhelmingly against George Bush in 2004, and now the common, popular democratic argument against you is that voting for John McCain is giving George Bush a third term. How do you respond to that?

JM: The American people know me and know me well and thatâ€(tm)s not reflected in the polls and so I think that they will select a leader that they want based on his or her vision and plans for the future not the past. Gotta go.

RE: Thank you senator.

A higher percentage of Jews than usual are expected to take a second look at the Republican candidate for president this year. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unprecedented. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan ran for president, he got 38 percent of the Jewish vote. Once again, Republicans believe, this could be their year.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, Jews are like most Democrats, only more so.

“A sizable proportion of Democrats would vote for John McCain next November if he is matched against the candidate they do not support for the Democratic nomination,” according to a recent Gallup poll of all Democrats. “This is particularly true for Hillary Clinton supporters, more than a quarter of whom currently say they would vote for McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee.”

On issues of foreign policy, the Middle East and Israel, Jews will be weighing the candidates carefully.

So as pollster Peter Hart told Maureen Dowd last week, the question voters will ask about Sen. Hilary Clinton, is, “Is she honest?” Of Obama they will ask, “Is he safe?”

As for Jews, I suspect the McCain question will be just as simple: “Is he Bush?”

Early Wednesday morning, I drove downtown to the Bonaventure Hotel to hear McCain deliver his first major foreign policy address as the Republican nominee.

The event was a World Affairs Council breakfast for about 1,000 people, and the subtext of his speech was clear: “I’m not Bush.”

McCain began with a description of himself as a 5-year-old watching a Navy officer drive up to his home and tell his father, a Naval commander, that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

“I rarely saw him again for four years,” McCain said.

“My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day,” McCain went on. “I detest war…. It is wretched beyond all description…. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.”

Into my mind popped memories of President George W. Bush landing on a flight carrier in his jumpsuit, as well as his recent remarks that he’s “envious” of soldiers engaged in “romantic” combat — which was just what McCain intended.

As pointedly, McCain made the thrust of his speech the importance of America working together with other nations in creating a safe and secure world. He quoted John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman.

“But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy,” he added.

He said he would immediately close down the prisons at Guantanamo. “We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured.”

He called for a new treaty to deal with global warming, a “League of Democracies” to lead the world, a nuclear nonproliferation regime.

All these policies together, McCain said, “will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: The threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”

In turning to the Middle East, he didn’t turn to Israel — and he didn’t mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “The oppression of the autocrats blended with the radical Islamists’ dogmatic theology to produce a perfect storm of intolerance and hatred,” he said, not letting America off the hook for our support of these petro-dictators.

In an election season with a very unpopular war as its backdrop, McCain’s serious ideas about Iraq are bound to be demeaned and caricatured, as they already have been, everywhere from YouTube to The Huffington Post. (In fact, McCain has gotten a fairer and more insightful hearing on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” where he has made 11 appearances, than he has on HuffPost.)

You can think he’s wrong when he says the surge of American troops into Iraq is working, but his plan is more detailed — and draws on more experience — than the plans put forth for withdrawal by either of his opponents.

In the World Affairs Council speech, McCain gave a bit more nuance to his statements that America could be in Iraq “another 50 years, 100 years.” When Americans say the cost of Iraq is too high, he said, they mean the cost in lives. To withdraw and leave behind an unstable country would be to destabilize the entire Middle East, to strengthen the forces of Al-Qaeda and Iran. The United States continues to have a military presence, he pointed out, in countries that are now our allies, where past wars are long over: Japan, South Korea and Germany, all places where not a single soldier is at risk. That’s what he meant by staying there.

One could argue that the actual dollar cost is just a bit upsetting to Americans, as well, but McCain pointed out that no one stands outside his speeches protesting the cost of our bases in South Korea (“And they’re protesting everything else,” he said).

Nevertheless, his much-maligned statement came off as neither Strangelovian or Cheney-esque (i.e.; “So?”), but as an informed assertion of America’s power and responsibility, and a pointed rejection of Bush’s foreign policy of the past seven years. Sitting in the Bonaventure ballroom, I realized that the Republicans, finally, after seven years, have the chance to replace a teenager with a grownup.

So when I called the senator later that day for the pre-arranged interview — Hey, Rob, how are you? — I had my questions on Israel, Iraq, etc. all teed up, with my overarching one — are you Bush? — saved for last.

I started with Israel, asking the senator to compare his policies toward Israel to those of Clinton and Obama. I told him my sense is that over the years a bipartisan consensus has developed on the major Israeli-Palestinian issues, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. McCain deflected.

“Well I don’t know what their support is, so it’s hard for me to compare it,” he said.

He reiterated an often-told story he’s made to Jewish groups, about flying to Israel for the first time with the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and landing at the airport, and witnessing Jackson being greeted by Soviet refuseniks he’d helped rescue.

“I’ll never forget that one as long as I live,” he said.

“Look,” he added, “like on other national security issues, it’s a matter of knowledge, background, experience and judgment. That’s all.”

I pointed out that President Bush had waited until the end of his second term to get involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. When would President McCain get involved?

“Immediately,” he said. “And, as I said, I don’t know how many trips I’ve made to Israel. I know all of the leadership well. I know the parameters that they’re operating under, and I feel fully qualified to hit the ground running.”

There also has been a “Battle of the Advisers” going on, with Republican Jews singling out Obama military adviser General Merrill A. “Tony” McPeak for statements that suggest American Jews wield too much influence over America’s Middle East policy. I asked McCain if he puts much stock in such critiques, given that his adviser, former Secretary of State James Baker, has said the same and worse (There was, for instance, Baker’s “F— the Jews,” although I didn’t cite this example).

“Former Secretary Baker is not a quote ‘adviser’ of mine,” McCain replied. “It was only recently that former Sec. Baker endorsed me. It was just before some of the later primaries. But look, I in no way distance myself from Secretary Baker and my respect for what he’s done for the country. We just may not agree on every issue that affects the state of Israel, or other issues.”

McCain also defended his support of the controversial Rev. John Hagee, a staunchly pro-Israel evangelical who has been criticized for his anti-Catholic comments. I asked the senator how he would get pro-Israel evangelicals, who have been staunchly opposed to Israel giving up territory or compromising on the status of Jerusalem, to support any peace agreement.

“You can’t jump ahead here,” he said. “I know they favor a peace process. I know they favor that because of my close relations with them, and pastor John Hagee … is one of the leaders of the pro-Israel-evangelical movement in America.”

I started to correct him — Hagee and other evangelicals most certainly don’t support compromise on territory or Jerusalem, and McCain must know this. That’s when I got my first taste of the famous McCain technique: I’ll-talk-so-you-can’t.

“Look,” he cut me off, “I just have to tell you that we should be so grateful for the support of the evangelical movement for the state of Israel, given the influence that they have, beneficial influence that they have over millions of Americans, and then we’ll worry about a peace process later on, but I know that they are committed to peace between Palestinians and Israelis as well.”

McCain had recently returned from a trip to Israel, where he visited the southern town of Sderot (“I always mangle the pronunciation,” he said). I asked him what advice he would give Israel in dealing with the constant barrage of rockets that Hamas regularly fires at Sderot’s residents.

“When I was there I stated unequivocally that every nation has the right to defend itself against attack,” he said.

But he added he wouldn’t presume to give advice.

Then we got to Iraq, the subject where McCain must realize he is the most vulnerable with independent voters, and Jewish voters, who, I pointed out, are largely opposed to the war. Even allowing that McCain’s plan is more developed than his critics have allowed, I asked him whether he would ever be prepared to tell the Iraqis that it is up to them, not us, to choose whether they want to be a stable democracy — or to become Lebanon.

His answer was long, rambling and, given the battle taking place in Basra that very day, a bit worrisome: “I believe that there has been political progress. I want it to be more rapid…. Looks like now we will have provincial elections. They did pass a law on addressing the amnesty issue for Sunnis. There is de facto revenue sharing from the oil revenues. Democracy is tough, so I am gratified by the progress that’s been made militarily, and I see … progress on the social, economic and political front. I believe that the worst thing we can do is set a date for withdrawal, and that’ll be chaos, genocide and, by the way, I also feel that it’ll place the state of Israel in much greater danger because it will enhance the prestige and power of Iran in the region.”

On Iran, McCain gave two different answers. When I asked if negotiations with Iran might help improve relations, he said, unequivocally, “no,” and rejected that recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. On the other hand, he didn’t rule out speaking with Iranians other than their crazy (my word) president.

“Our ambassador in Iraq, I believe, has been there three times,” McCain said. “There’s been Iranians there in Baghdad. They’ve had conversations. There’s plenty of ways to communicate.”

Does he think the war has strengthened Iran in the region?

“I think that our failures for nearly four years obviously did it,” the senator said. “But I believe that that is being reversed as the surge succeeds, and I think that the Iranians are very possibly going to step up their assistance to the Jihadists, because they don’t want us to succeed in Iraq…. Osama Bin Laden has said that the central front in the battleground is Iraq, and their Palestinian brothers are next. So what are the implications to the State of Israel if they prevail on Iraq? I think they’re very obvious.”

On the domestic front, I praised the senator in his call for energy independence, but pointed out that every president since Richard Nixon has issued the same call. Why would he succeed?

“Because I believe I can inspire the American people,” he said, “and I think that when the price of oil went over $100 a barrel that there was certainly a psychological barrier there.”

Then I turned to judicial nominations: McCain is opposed to legalized abortion, and the idea that he could appoint members of the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade would be a deal breaker for many otherwise-McCain-leaning Jews. What would he say to them?

“I have no litmus issues, nor is it proper to do so,” he said, “but I will nominate judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States. And if that’s the most important issue, that I nominate those people who strictly interpret the constitution of the United States, then I respect [their] priorities.”

In other words, if you don’t like it, vote for the other guy (or gal).

At this point, our allotted 20 minutes were winding down. The senator, I could hear, was in motion. But of course I still had one more question. The Question: What would you say, senator, to the charge that a vote for McCain is a vote for a third Bush term?

“The American people know me,” he said, “and know me well, and that [opinion] is not reflected in the polls, and so I think that they will select a leader that they want based on his or her vision and plans for the future, not the past. Gotta run.”

That was it. We didn’t get to the economy, healthcare, the stuff that decides elections.

Still, for days afterward, the first question people asked me was, “So, are you gonna vote for him now?” Or, as one put it, “Are you going to follow John McCain to the dark side?”

President Bush has understood the dangers facing the world, but was unable or unwilling to address them effectively. The result is a world where America is less safe, and Israel is less secure. From Bush we learned that the answer to the question, “Is he good for Israel?” really should be: “Is he good for America?” Because when America’s strength, leadership and credibility go astray, Israel is endangered.

McCain with his echoes of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, is undeniably more experienced, more learned — a grownup.

McCain has a plan for Iraq, the surge, and it is unfolding before our eyes. He may be out on his limb, but what he says is founded in a deep understanding of foreign policy and the uses and limits of military power. The Democratic candidates have justifiable criticism of the war, and both promise a speedy withdrawal, but they have no plan of what that really means, yet.

So for the Jews, or at least for those of us who think that war, and that region — and not just party loyalty — is still issue No. 1, the ball is in Obama’s and Clinton’s court.


Remarks By John McCain To The Los Angeles World Affairs Council

March 26, 2008

ARLINGTON, VA — U.S. Senator John McCain’s will deliver the following remarks as prepared for delivery today at the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, California:

National Review: Democrats’ Distortion
McCain on the War in Iraq

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father immediately left for the submarine base where he was stationed. I rarely saw him again for four years. My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home to the country they loved so well. I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description. When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue. The lives of a nation’s finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted; economies are damaged; strategic interests shielded by years of patient statecraft are endangered as the exigencies of war and diplomacy conflict. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war. However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us.

I am an idealist, and I believe it is possible in our time to make the world we live in another, better, more peaceful place, where our interests and those of our allies are more secure, and American ideals that are transforming the world, the principles of free people and free markets, advance even farther than they have. But I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist. I know we must work very hard and very creatively to build new foundations for a stable and enduring peace. We cannot wish the world to be a better place than it is. We have enemies for whom no attack is too cruel, and no innocent life safe, and who would, if they could, strike us with the world’s most terrible weapons. There are states that support them, and which might help them acquire those weapons because they share with terrorists the same animating hatred for the West, and will not be placated by fresh appeals to the better angels of their nature. This is the central threat of our time, and we must understand the implications of our decisions on all manner of regional and global challenges could have for our success in defeating it.

President Harry Truman once said of America, “God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose.” In his time, that purpose was to contain Communism and build the structures of peace and prosperity that could provide safe passage through the Cold War. Now it is our turn. We face a new set of opportunities, and also new dangers. The developments of science and technology have brought us untold prosperity, eradicated disease, and reduced the suffering of millions. We have a chance in our lifetime to raise the world to a new standard of human existence. Yet these same technologies have produced grave new risks, arming a few zealots with the ability to murder millions of innocents, and producing a global industrialization that can in time threaten our planet.

To meet this challenge requires understanding the world we live in, and the central role the United States must play in shaping it for the future. The United States must lead in the 21st century, just as in Truman’s day. But leadership today means something different than it did in the years after World War II, when Europe and the other democracies were still recovering from the devastation of war and the United States was the only democratic superpower. Today we are not alone. There is the powerful collective voice of the European Union, and there are the great nations of India and Japan, Australia and Brazil, South Korea and South Africa, Turkey and Israel, to name just a few of the leading democracies. There are also the increasingly powerful nations of China and Russia that wield great influence in the international system.

In such a world, where power of all kinds is more widely and evenly distributed, the United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone. We must be strong politically, economically, and militarily. But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy, by defending the rules of international civilized society and by creating the new international institutions necessary to advance the peace and freedoms we cherish. Perhaps above all, leadership in today’s world means accepting and fulfilling our responsibilities as a great nation.

One of those responsibilities is to be a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies. We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves, and we do not want to. We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact — a League of Democracies — that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.

At the heart of this new compact must be mutual respect and trust. Recall the words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence, that we pay “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies. When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

America must be a model citizen if we want others to look to us as a model. How we behave at home affects how we are perceived abroad. We must fight the terrorists and at the same time defend the rights that are the foundation of our society. We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured. I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control.

There is such a thing as international good citizenship. We need to be good stewards of our planet and join with other nations to help preserve our common home. The risks of global warming have no borders. We and the other nations of the world must get serious about substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years or we will hand off a much-diminished world to our grandchildren. We need a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, a cap-and-trade system that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner. We Americans must lead by example and encourage the participation of the rest of the world, including most importantly, the developing economic powerhouses of China and India.

Four and a half decades ago, John Kennedy described the people of Latin America as our “firm and ancient friends, united by history and experience and by our determination to advance the values of American civilization.” With globalization, our hemisphere has grown closer, more integrated, and more interdependent. Latin America today is increasingly vital to the fortunes of the United States. Americans north and south share a common geography and a common destiny. The countries of Latin America are the natural partners of the United States, and our northern neighbor Canada.

Relations with our southern neighbors must be governed by mutual respect, not by an imperial impulse or by anti-American demagoguery. The promise of North, Central, and South American life is too great for that. I believe the Americas can and must be the model for a new 21st century relationship between North and South. Ours can be the first completely democratic hemisphere, where trade is free across all borders, where the rule of law and the power of free markets advance the security and prosperity of all.

Power in the world today is moving east; the Asia-Pacific region is on the rise. Together with our democratic partner of many decades, Japan, we can grasp the opportunities present in the unfolding world and this century can become safe — both American and Asian, both prosperous and free. Asia has made enormous strides in recent decades. Its economic achievements are well known; less known is that more people live under democratic rule in Asia than in any other region of the world.

Dealing with a rising China will be a central challenge for the next American president. Recent prosperity in China has brought more people out of poverty faster than during any other time in human history. China’s newfound power implies responsibilities. China could bolster its claim that it is “peacefully rising” by being more transparent about its significant military buildup, by working with the world to isolate pariah states such as Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe, and by ceasing its efforts to establish regional forums and economic arrangements designed to exclude America from Asia.

China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries. We have numerous overlapping interests and hope to see our relationship evolve in a manner that benefits both countries and, in turn, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. But until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values.

The United States did not single-handedly win the Cold War; the transatlantic alliance did, in concert with partners around the world. The bonds we share with Europe in terms of history, values, and interests are unique. Americans should welcome the rise of a strong, confident European Union as we continue to support a strong NATO. The future of the transatlantic relationship lies in confronting the challenges of the twenty-first century worldwide: developing a common energy policy, creating a transatlantic common market tying our economies more closely together, addressing the dangers posed by a revanchist Russia, and institutionalizing our cooperation on issues such as climate change, foreign assistance, and democracy promotion.

We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia. Rather than tolerate Russia’s nuclear blackmail or cyber attacks, Western nations should make clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is indivisible and that the organization’s doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom.

While Africa’s problems — poverty, corruption, disease, and instability — are well known, we must refocus on the bright promise offered by many countries on that continent. We must strongly engage on a political, economic, and security level with friendly governments across Africa, but insist on improvements in transparency and the rule of law. Many African nations will not reach their true potential without external assistance to combat entrenched problems, such as HIV/AIDS, that afflict Africans disproportionately. I will establish the goal of eradicating malaria on the continent — the number one killer of African children under the age of five. In addition to saving millions of lives in the world’s poorest regions, such a campaign would do much to add luster to America’s image in the world.

We also share an obligation with the world’s other great powers to halt and reverse the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The United States and the international community must work together and do all in our power to contain and reverse North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and to prevent Iran — a nation whose President has repeatedly expressed a desire to wipe Israel from the face of the earth — from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We should work to reduce nuclear arsenals all around the world, starting with our own. Forty years ago, the five declared nuclear powers came together in support of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and pledged to end the arms race and move toward nuclear disarmament. The time has come to renew that commitment. We do not need all the weapons currently in our arsenal. The United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament consistent with our vital interests and the cause of peace.

If we are successful in pulling together a global coalition for peace and freedom — if we lead by shouldering our international responsibilities and pointing the way to a better and safer future for humanity, I believe we will gain tangible benefits as a nation.

It will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. This challenge is transcendent not because it is the only one we face. There are many dangers in today’s world, and our foreign policy must be agile and effective at dealing with all of them. But the threat posed by the terrorists is unique. They alone devote all their energies and indeed their very lives to murdering innocent men, women, and children. They alone seek nuclear weapons and other tools of mass destruction not to defend themselves or to enhance their prestige or to give them a stronger hand in world affairs but to use against us wherever and whenever they can. Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House, for he or she does not take seriously enough the first and most basic duty a president has — to protect the lives of the American people.

We learned through the tragic experience of September 11 that passive defense alone cannot protect us. We must protect our borders. But we must also have an aggressive strategy of confronting and rooting out the terrorists wherever they seek to operate, and deny them bases in failed or failing states. Today al Qaeda and other terrorist networks operate across the globe, seeking out opportunities in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and in the Middle East.

Prevailing in this struggle will require far more than military force. It will require the use of all elements of our national power: public diplomacy; development assistance; law enforcement training; expansion of economic opportunity; and robust intelligence capabilities. I have called for major changes in how our government faces the challenge of radical Islamic extremism by much greater resources for and integration of civilian efforts to prevent conflict and to address post-conflict challenges. Our goal must be to win the “hearts and minds” of the vast majority of moderate Muslims who do not want their future controlled by a minority of violent extremists. In this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs.

We also need to build the international structures for a durable peace in which the radical extremists are gradually eclipsed by the more powerful forces of freedom and tolerance. Our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are critical in this respect and cannot be viewed in isolation from our broader strategy. In the troubled and often dangerous region they occupy, these two nations can either be sources of extremism and instability or they can in time become pillars of stability, tolerance, and democracy.

For decades in the greater Middle East, we had a strategy of relying on autocrats to provide order and stability. We relied on the Shah of Iran, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family, and even, for a time, on Saddam Hussein. In the late 1970s that strategy began to unravel. The Shah was overthrown by the radical Islamic revolution that now rules in Tehran. The ensuing ferment in the Muslim world produced increasing instability. The autocrats clamped down with ever greater repression, while also surreptitiously aiding Islamic radicalism abroad in the hopes that they would not become its victims. It was a toxic and explosive mixture. The oppression of the autocrats blended with the radical Islamists’ dogmatic theology to produce a perfect storm of intolerance and hatred.

We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these out-dated autocracies is the safest bet. They no longer provide lasting stability, only the illusion of it. We must not act rashly or demand change overnight. But neither can we pretend the status quo is sustainable, stable, or in our interests. Change is occurring whether we want it or not. The only question for us is whether we shape this change in ways that benefit humanity or let our enemies seize it for their hateful purposes. We must help expand the power and reach of freedom, using all our many strengths as a free people. This is not just idealism. It is the truest kind of realism. It is the democracies of the world that will provide the pillars upon which we can and must build an enduring peace.

If you look at the great arc that extends from the Middle East through Central Asia and the Asian subcontinent all the way to Southeast Asia, you can see those pillars of democracy stretching across the entire expanse, from Turkey and Israel to India and Indonesia. Iraq and Afghanistan lie at the heart of that region. And whether they eventually become stable democracies themselves, or are allowed to sink back into chaos and extremism, will determine not only the fate of that critical part of the world, but our fate, as well.

That is the broad strategic perspective through which to view our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many people ask, how should we define success? Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists. It is the triumph of religious tolerance over violent radicalism.

Those who argue that our goals in Iraq are unachievable are wrong, just as they were wrong a year ago when they declared the war in Iraq already lost. Since June 2007 sectarian and ethnic violence in Iraq has been reduced by 90 percent. Overall civilian deaths have been reduced by more than 70 percent. Deaths of coalition forces have fallen by 70 percent. The dramatic reduction in violence has opened the way for a return to something approaching normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi. People are going back to work. Markets are open. Oil revenues are climbing. Inflation is down. Iraq’s economy is expected to grown by roughly 7 percent in 2008. Political reconciliation is occurring across Iraq at the local and provincial grassroots level. Sunni and Shi’a chased from their homes by terrorist and sectarian violence are returning. Political progress at the national level has been far too slow, but there is progress.

Critics say that the “surge” of troops isn’t a solution in itself, that we must make progress toward Iraqi self-sufficiency. I agree. Iraqis themselves must increasingly take responsibility for their own security, and they must become responsible political actors. It does not follow from this, however, that we should now recklessly retreat from Iraq regardless of the consequences. We must take the course of prudence and responsibility, and help Iraqis move closer to the day when they no longer need our help.

That is the route of responsible statesmanship. We have incurred a moral responsibility in Iraq. It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation, if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing, and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible, and premature withdrawal. Our critics say America needs to repair its image in the world. How can they argue at the same time for the morally reprehensible abandonment of our responsibilities in Iraq?

Those who claim we should withdraw from Iraq in order to fight Al Qaeda more effectively elsewhere are making a dangerous mistake. Whether they were there before is immaterial, al Qaeda is in Iraq now, as it is in the borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Somalia, and in Indonesia. If we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist, as various factions of Sunni and Shi’a have yet to move beyond their ancient hatreds, and are ripe for provocation by al Qaeda. Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions. I believe a reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values. Iran will also view our premature withdrawal as a victory, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly. These consequences of our defeat would threaten us for years, and those who argue for it, as both Democratic candidates do, are arguing for a course that would eventually draw us into a wider and more difficult war that would entail far greater dangers and sacrifices than we have suffered to date. I do not argue against withdrawal, any more than I argued several years ago for the change in tactics and additional forces that are now succeeding in Iraq, because I am somehow indifferent to war and the suffering it inflicts on too many American families. I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later.

I run for President because I want to keep the country I love and have served all my life safe, and to rise to the challenges of our times, as generations before us rose to theirs. I run for President because I know it is incumbent on America, more than any other nation on earth, to lead in building the foundations for a stable and enduring peace, a peace built on the strength of our commitment to it, on the transformative ideals on which we were founded, on our ability to see around the corner of history, and on our courage and wisdom to make hard choices. I run because I believe, as strongly as I ever have, that it is within our power to make in our time another, better world than we inherited.

Thank you.’

Undressed up


One day last month, Barack Obama was having dinner with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. Hillary Clinton was on the floor of the Senate. And Tom Vilsack? He was at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Burbank, with me.

That's when I knew his campaign was in trouble.

Vilsack entered alone, schlepping a carry-on. He ordered his lunch — coffee with milk and a lemon poppy-seed muffin — and sat down at a small corner table with me, after 17 cities in 14 days, too tired even for small talk. Vilsack, a popular former two-term governor of Iowa, is tall, solid, a character out of “Our Town.” Our meeting was yet another reminder that while incumbency is wholesale, speaking to millions, campaigning can be depressingly retail, one on one on one.

I could quickly see why Vilsack thought he had a chance. His centrist politics, his mature demeanor, his life story were all compelling. Abandoned by his birth parents, he was raised by loving but troubled parents — an alcoholic and abusive mother, for starters. Vilsack went on to earn a law degree and reach the statehouse. He won every race he ever entered, as he liked to remind supporters.

He was a two-term Democratic governor in a solidly red state. He opposed the Iraq War from the start, and he left office with a solid surplus after inheriting a severe deficit. Though not flashy or overly charismatic, he is amiable and straightforward. Maybe not the guy you'd want to have a beer with, but definitely good for a muffin and coffee.

I sought out Vilsack because, of all the candidates so far, he had a detailed plan for achieving energy security — he had made it the cornerstone of his campaign.

In fact, that was another clue that Vilsack's days were numbered: When the media crowns you the winner of “the idea primary,” as the Washington Post did, that's like being named “Greatest Maimonides Scholar” at the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest. Nice skill, wrong contest.

Vilsack was unafraid to get specific on energy independence, in part because he had a track record, in Iowa, of achieving it.

Under his leadership, Iowa built six new state-of-the-art coal and natural gas power plants (the first in 20 years); became the leading state per capita in wind generation; and became the No. 1 producer of ethanol and soy diesel. Leading from the center, involving powerful industry and farm interests, he turned Iowa's energy economy around using clean technologies and creating a record level of employment.

Vilsack's campaign was built on doing the same for America.

Energy was Vilsack's key platform, because, he told me, energy is key to America's economic, environmental and national security. Solve the energy problem, he said, and you've made America safer, cleaner and more secure.

His platform detailed a range of federal incentives to increase the production and consumption of renewable fuel and energy; to sharply raise vehicle emission standards; to research alternative energy sources and increase conservation; to address the true costs of nuclear and coal-powered generations.

None of this was just bumper sticker slogans to Vilsack.

While governing a state basically known for growing corn and MFA's in creative writing, Vilsack correctly realized that corn is not the most efficient way of producing ethanol. He called for switching to other crops and in the meantime removing the tariff on Brazilian ethanol, which is made from sugarcane and whose importation corn growers have long opposed.

I asked Vilsack how that idea played among Iowa farmers.

“This campaign lacks a lot of things,” he said, “but guts isn't one of them.

“Look,” he said. “There's nothing easy about what I'm proposing about energy security. This is a significant commitment to changing our economy and changing our approach to the rest of the world. It has to be done.”

The line from Iowa wind to Brazilian sugarcane to Israel was clear to him.

“A substantial reduction in our reliance on Middle Eastern oil puts us in a position where we have greater independence from that part of the world,” he said, “because we aren't as beholden to Saudi Arabia, for example. Nor are we directly funding countries like Iran that wish to do us harm, and wish to do Israel harm. It's extremely important from a national security standpoint and from a global security standpoint that we become ultimately independent from that foreign source of oil.”

Anyway, never mind. Vilsack's name might get floated for vice president or, more likely, for secretary of energy. But as far as Campaign 2008 is concerned, he's through. Last week, Vilsack pulled out of the race, citing his inability to compete with high profile money-raisers like Clinton and Obama.

How appropriate that the presidential race is gearing up now, just as we mark the Purim holiday. To get even close to winning, the candidates must simplify their personas, or adopt different ones.

Either way, we end up voting for the mask, not the man or woman.

But Vilsack came out early, without the mask. It may be that some other candidate, Republican or Democratic, will pick up on Vilsack's plan and run with it. I hope so. But for that candidate such a policy may end up being part of the mask, not the core, as it clearly was for Vilsack.

“There's only one person in this race who actually created a renewable energy economy,” Vilsack reminded me, “and that's me.”

We spoke for an hour. His cell phone rang once or twice, then a very young aide came to take him away. The candidate's biggest media close-up was to occur in an hour, when he would appear on The Tonight Show. Jay Leno had made so much fun of Vilsack's last name, he invited him on for a couple of minutes in the name of good sportsmanship.

A couple of gags and a week later, and Vilsack was out of the race.

Tommy, we hardly knew ye.

Happy Purim.

Choice of Seminary Leader a Bold Move


The selection of professor Arnold Eisen as the new chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) represents a bold move of unpredictable consequences for its leadership.

Eisen is a distinguished scholar of modern Jewish thought and an insightful student of the American Jewish community. His work, “The Jew Within,” written jointly with Steven Cohen, explores the identity of marginally affiliated contemporary Jews and illustrates the crisis that institutional liberal Judaism has in maintaining the allegiance of a new generation of American Jews.

Few are as equipped as Eisen to understand the dilemmas of Conservative Judaism, which has been buffeted on the right by Chabad and Modern Orthodoxy and on the left by Reform Judaism. More traditional Jews, including many of those trained by the institutions of Conservative Judaism, such as Ramah and the Solomon Schecter Day Schools, move into Modern Orthodoxy. The less devout easily move to a retraditionalized Reform Judaism, and the categories of Conservative Judaism, a liberal, historically oriented halachic Judaism, are alien to virtually all of its members — save their rabbis — and to the overwhelming majority of contemporary Jews who seek to find their own Jewish path. For the religiously innovative, the renewal movement has been attractive, and the denominational identifications of the past generations have proven more porous among contemporary Jews who have chosen a congregation and a community rather than a movement

Eisen is a scholar and not a rabbi.

The unanswered question raised by his appointment is whether he will chose to be the head of an institution or the leader of a movement.

Traditionally, the chancellor of JTS was the principle spokesman, its most recognizable and authoritative voice in Conservative Judaism. Unlike Reform Judaism, where there are two centers of power, the Union for Reform Judaism (formerly the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) and the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the JTS chancellor was unrivaled for leadership of the movement. It is not known whether Eisen will choose to lead a declining movement or confine himself to rebuilding an academic institution whose graduates of the 1950-1970s dominate Jewish studies in universities and colleges throughout the world. Either way, his appointment is a serious diminishment of rabbinic authority within the Conservative movement.

The rabbi was once a figure of authority because he — and until the 1980s, all Conservative rabbis were men — alone was Jewishly learned; he alone had mastery of text and was intellectually equipped to handle Jewish learning. In the liberal movements of Judaism, learning has moved to the campus, where Jewish scholarship is flourishing and is no longer the monopoly of the rabbi.

Power now has to be shared. For almost a century, JTS was the only place where Conservative rabbis could be trained. Today, New York is one of several centers where Conservative rabbis can be trained. Students can chose Los Angeles or Jerusalem, which now produce rabbis for Conservative congregations. Hebrew College, the new seminary in Boston headed by Arthur Green, one of the most distinguished of JTS graduates from the ’60s, should also be producing rabbis, skilled men and women of serious religious commitment.

Eisen inherits an institution that had recently found itself in the unenviable position of being forced to dispose of valuable Manhattan property to rescue itself from cumbersome debts, all this at a time when elsewhere in the Jewish world, hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised for Jewish scholarship.

As a nonrabbi whose brilliant work is not oriented to classical texts and whose categories of interpretation are not those of Conservative Judaism, he will have quite a challenge in bringing JTS forth into the 21st century.

I would hope that he chooses to lead the movement and not just its seminary, for one wonders whether JTS can thrive without the Conservative movement to produce its students and employ its graduates. Without the congregational base, why would one choose the seminary when the academic study of Judaism is readily available elsewhere.

Were Eisen to assume leadership of the movement, he will find that it has many assets, synagogues where there is genuine community and also serious religiosity, liberal style. The movement includes Camp Ramah, which has been successful for more than half a century and has produced its current and Solomon Schecter schools, which are thriving. There is also the potential of the Masorati movement in Israel. There is much upon which to build.

If Eisen does not lead the Conservative movement, then leadership will have to come from elsewhere, from rabbis, scholars or perhaps lay leaders who can provide a vision of the new generation. Otherwise, the Conservative movement, despite its many assets, will fade from the scene. In conversations with colleagues last weekend, some see the diffusion of leadership as a major virtue, even though it will diminish the influence of JTS, which could not produce a viable candidate within to head the institution.

If reports are to be believed, the search committee rejected the obvious choice, Gordon Tucker, the rabbi who combined academic learning and rabbinic leadership. He faced the problem of many inside candidates whose flaws were known and whose manifold skills were taken for granted. One also suspects that the opponents he made more than a decade ago as dean of the rabbinical school got even and exacted their pound of flesh.

Furthermore, he was an outspoken supporter of the ordination of gays, a position that earned him the enmity of the chancellor, who felt it divisive to the movement and to those on the religious right of Conservative Judaism. Seemingly, Tucker could not be defeated from the right, so an outsider was chosen whose views were unarticulated, although one suspects clearly known.

American Jewry is best off with a strong center, with movements that are thriving; synagogues that are innovating; rabbis who are challenging, spiritually significant and religiously inspired. So one wishes Eisen well as he embarks on his boldest challenge.

Still, in the evolving Judaism of the 21st century, one must marvel at the irony of contemporary Jewish life that the president of HUC-JIR is a far greater student of classical texts, far more immersed in the text of halachic Judaism, than the chancellor of JTS or the president of Yeshiva University. Only in America!

Dr. Michael Berenbaum is professor of theology and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

 

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