Peres lauded in star-studded ceremony


World leaders praised and serenaded Israeli President Shimon Peres in honor of his upcoming 90th birthday.

The prime-time birthday celebration Tuesday night marked the start of the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference. Two of every three Israeli television viewers tuned in to the ceremony, which was broadcast on four Israeli television networks, according to Globes.

Peres was serenaded by Barbra Steisand with the traditional “Avinu Malkeinu” and by her signature “People.” She was preceded in song by popular Israeli singers Eyal Golan and Shlomo Artzi.

“We have our queen and you have your Shimon,” said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who started off the evening.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalled meeting Peres for the first time at the funeral of his brother, Yoni, who was killed while rescuing Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda. He said he will never forget the words of comfort offered by Peres when he came to sit shiva with the family.

He also discussed the president’s contributions to the state.

Barbra

Left to right, Barbra Streisand, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Peres’ 90th birthday celebration in Jerusalem, June 18, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/FLASH90)

“Shimon Peres has devoted his life to building Israel and building peace. A strong Israel creates the conditions for peace,” Netanyahu said. “We extend our hand in peace to our neighbors, but we are always ready to defend ourselves. This is what I’ve learned from Shimon Peres: Look to the future, remember the past and be prepared to defend yourself.”

Former President Bill Clinton, who sat next to Peres in the front row of the ceremony, called Peres “the world’s social Einstein.”

“You have tried to put together a unified theory of meaning,” the ex-U.S. president said. He recalled that the two men have “buried people we love together.”

“The thing that I love about you is the remarkable combination of mind and heart that allow you to always be big,” Clinton said

Heads of state not in Israel for the ceremony offered recorded greetings and praise to Peres, including President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Dozens of children participated in the program, including filling the stage and the aisles while singing John Lennon’s iconic “Give Peace a Chance.”

Peres spoke about how his life has dovetailed with the history of the State of Israel.

Peres

Israeli President Shimon Peres bestowing the Presidential Medal of Distinction upon former U.S. President Bill Clinton during Peres’ 90th birthday celebration in Jerusalem, June 18, 2013. ( Uriel Sinai/Getty)

“On this occasion, I feel grateful because the chapters of my life are entwined with the story of the birth and the development of the State of Israel. Because I have been given the wonderful privilege to serve my country. To take part in the building of its strength. To pursue peace, our heart’s truest desire,” he said.

On the topic of peace, he added, “I believe that Israel can go higher and higher, if we make the necessary decisions. We genuinely and truly strive to be a nation among nations, a nation that gives. We long for peace with our neighbors.”

Peres is the oldest sitting head of state; his birthday is on Aug. 2. The Presidential Conference, attended by nearly 5,000 world leaders and innovators, ends on Thursday.

What’s the Strategy?


A couple of years ago a private conversation between then French President Nicholas Sarkozy and President Obama was caught on a live mike. Sarkozy said I can't bare Netanyahu, he's such a liar.” Obama responded: “You're fed up with him but I have to deal with him more than you do.”
 
After the latest stunt one wonders how anyone can disagree with the President's irritation.  Recall that the Prime Minister was widely perceived in Israel and the United States as overstepping the normal propriety of neutrality in a Presidential election. He pressed for a meeting with President Obama on his United Nations visit in September to get a commitment on American action in Iran. Obama wisely refused to take the meeting. 
 
Why would anyone want an American commitment to bomb Iran and perhaps to go to war to be made in a political context on the eve of the election with the Jewish vote supposedly at stake in the swing states of Florida and Ohio?
 
Recall also that in the aftermath of the election, the President backed Israel to the hilt on its battle in Gaza clearly defending Israel's right to defend its citizens attack rocket attack – justifiably so, properly so. Recall that it was Obama that approved US economic support for the Iron Dome, which proved its value during the recent attacks on Israel, after the Bush administration had not been as forthcoming. The President and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were essential to the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and US Special Forces have been placed in the Sinai to keep quiet on the border between Israel and Egypt and perhaps to constrain Hamas.
 
The administration worked hard to oppose the overwhelming vote to give Palestine the status of an observer state in the United States and was certain to veto another Palestinian effort to gain Security Council recognition of the Palestinian State.
 
On the horizon, seemingly looms an existential threat to Israel of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Though Israel talks of attacking Iran, the more it talks about such an attack, the more clear it becomes that Israel does not want to take military action alone and would prefer that the United States with its greater capability would lead the attack.
 
And the Obama administration may be called upon to intervene in the civil war – perhaps we should call it a genocide – in Syria if the Assad resorts to using chemical weapons on his enemies, domestic or foreign. The US will be essential to easing Assad out of office as the discussions between the UN representative, the US Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister of Russia seem to indicate.
 
So why spit in the eye of the President and announce retaliation against Mahmoud Abbas by approving settlements connecting Ariel and Jerusalem and thus dividing the West Bank?
 
I know the domestic considerations. Palestinians were cheering the establishment of a their state – as if that was the outcome of the UN action. Hamas is cheering its “victory” in Gaza – one wishes them many more such victories. 
 
And many Israelis would have preferred a ground war in Gaza to defeat Hamas once and for all. They were expressing sentiments of the heart not of the mind. IDF leadership and the Defense Minister have said time and again that the Gaza problem cannot be solved militarily, at least not without a political strategy, of which there is none.
 
So after working hard to protect Israel's interest and to defend Israel in the international community, the Israeli Prime Minister thumbs his nose at the reelected President and not only expands settlements but moves into the E1 sector. Were these plans actually to materialize, at least according to some informed sources, they would divide the West Bank and make a contiguous Palestinian State impossible.
 
Netanyahu had not only alienated the President but European leaders as well. His news conference in Germany was sidetracked into a defense of settlement while the most that the German Chancellor could say was that “we agreed to disagree.” It is not exactly wise to alienate Europe further if action is needed on Iran – intensifying sanctions, tacitly supporting the military action. [As an aside, one wonders why the American Jewish community has not been more vocal in support of the Administration's red line on the use of chemical warfare. There is a strange silence on Syria.]
 
Netanyahu is a masterful tactician, but one wonders what is his strategy going forward, especially if he needs the President's good will for actions – diplomatic, political and potentially military against Iran?
 
If Iran is an existential threat to Israel, the strategy of an Israeli Prime Minister – any Israeli Prime Minister — should be to gather international support against Iran. As one looks at current actions, it seems that the only strategy that this Prime Minister has is his own reelection. 

Senators chide Clinton on Israel’s exclusion from counterterrorism forum


U.S. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Mark Kirk have written a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing their disappointment with Israel’s exclusion from the inaugural meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum.

In the letter, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told Clinton that “there are few countries in the world that have suffered more from terrorism than Israel, and few governments that have more experience combating this threat than that of Israel.”

“One of the stated missions of the GCTF is to ‘provide a needed venue for national [counterterrorism] officials and practitioners to meet with their counterparts from key countries in different regions to share [counterterrorism] experiences, expertise, strategies, capacity needs and capability-building programs.’ We strongly believe that Israel would both benefit from, and contribute enormously to, this kind of exchange,” Lieberman and Kirk wrote. 

Israel had not been invited to the forum allegedly due to objections by Turkey, which also blocked Israel’s participation in the recent NATO summit in Chicago.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the Times of Israel that the Israeli government will participate in working groups formed by the forum, and said that Israel had not been planning on attending the meeting.

The rift between Israel and Turkey has been ongoing since the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010. Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens during a hostile exchange after the ship tried to run Israel’s Gaza maritime blockade.

Kirk, who suffered a stroke in January, is still recovering in Chicago, while Lieberman is completing his final term as a U.S. senator.

Israel will not apologize to Turkey, despite Clinton request


Israel will hold fast to its decision not to apologize to Turkey for its raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla ship, despite a direct request from the United States, Israeli officials reportedly said.

Israeli media are citing unnamed Israeli officials as saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned down an Obama administration request to apologize to Turkey for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, including one Turkish-American citizen, in a Navy commando raid on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010, during a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The findings of a United Nations inquiry into the incident are expected to be made public early next week. The Palmer report, whose publication was delayed by several weeks in order to give Turkey and Israel more time to reconcile, is reported – according to advance copies given to the two countries – to vindicate Israel for blockading the Gaza Strip.

Turkey has said it will not reconcile with Israel until Israel offers a formal apology and compensates the families of the victims. Israel so far has offered its “regret.“Meanwhile, Ynet reported that Jerusalem is concerned that Turkey will not approve Israel’s new ambassador to the country, who is scheduled to arrive in Ankara shortly after the release of the Palmer report.  Current Ambassador Gabby Levy’s term is scheduled to end in two weeks. Levy had been asked to extend his term for a second time, which does not require Turkey’s approval, according to Ynet, but he refused.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador shortly after the flotilla incident.

Relations between Israel and Turkey had begun to deteriorate even before the flotilla incident, beginning with the one-month Gaza war that began in December 2008.

Reps urge Clinton to protect U.S. citizens on Gaza flotilla


Six Democratic lawmakers urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ensure the safety of the American citizens who join the Gaza flotilla.

U.S. Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), William Clay (D-Mo.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) signed a letter to Clinton last Friday expressing their concern for the safety of the passengers who will be aboard the U.S. ship The Audacity of Hope. Filner is Jewish.

“We request that you do everything in your power to work with the Israeli government to ensure the safety of the U.S. citizens on board,” they wrote.

At least 36 Americans are set to travel with the flotilla.

Their concern, the letter said, stems from Israeli actions taken against the Gaza flotilla in May 2010, in which nine civilians, including one American, were killed and others injured during a confrontation.

“We wholeheartedly support Israel’s right, and indeed its duty, to protect its citizens from security threats,” the letter said. “The measures it uses to do so, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law. We are encouraged that The Audacity of Hope organizers have stated that their cargo ‘is open to international inspection’ and that they ‘are fully committed to nonviolence and the tenets of international law.’ “

Clinton: U.S. not ready to intervene in Syria


The United States is not ready to send troops to Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

“Certainly we deplore the violence in Syria,” Clinton said during an interview on the “Face the Nation” program on CBS Television that aired Sunday. “We call—as we have on all of these governments during this period of the Arab awakening, as some have called it—to be responding to their people’s needs, not to engage in violence, permit peaceful protests and begin a process of economic and political reform.”

Thousands of demonstrators marched in southern Syria over the weekend. On Sunday, protesters called for a nationwide general strike in a country that borders Israel.

Dozens of protesters have been killed in the violence, according to reports. Amnesty International has reported that at least 55 people have been killed in the southern Syria city of Daraa.

Clinton said the situations in Libya, where U.S. troops have joined other allies in protecting a no-fly zone, and in Syria are “unique” and that Syria’s circumstances do not yet warrant a U.S. military operation.

She said the U.S. would require significant international support in order to intervene militarily on Syria.

Wikileaks cable: Netanyahu’s patience with Abbas has ‘run out’


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s patience with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has “run out,” a WikiLeaks cable leaked on Monday revealed.

In a “secret” December 2009 cable dispatched to Washington from the embassy in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu’s senior policy aide Ron Dermer is also quoted as telling two U.S. senators that Israel has no partner to peace.

Dermer, who is considered once of Netanyahu’s closest confidantes in the Prime Minister’s Bureau, met with Michael Kuiken, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Perry Cammack, of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in Jerusalem on December 14, 2009. The moments of that meeting were included in a cable sent by Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Marc Sievers.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Ehud Barak: Final status talks within months


After meeting with U.S. leaders, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted that comprehensive talks with the Palestinians on all final status issues would begin within months.

“We will have a serious discussion in coming months on security, borders, Jerusalem and refugees,” Barak told reporters Monday, ending a visit in which he met with Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.

Clinton, in an address Dec. 10 at the Saban Forum, urged the sides to address those core issues, just days after the United States abandoned its efforts to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians walked out of the talks in October after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial settlement freeze.

Barak did not say how the talks would proceed, if not directly.

“The mechanics will be resolved in the coming weeks,” he said. Netanyahu has insisted on direct talks, and has preferred to focus only on borders and security for now.

Barak also dismissed the controversy subsequent to his remarks at the Saban Forum following Clinton’s address in which he said a final status plan would include a Jerusalem shared with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials within hours said that Barak’s position was not that of the government’s.

Speaking to reporters, Barak acknowledged as such, saying it was his personal view that Jerusalem is necessarily a topic to be considered in talks.

U.S. trying to help Israel fight fire


The Obama administration is seeking ways to assist Israel in combating its forest fires, while New York sent Israel a shipment of fire retardant.

A 747 loaded with Fire Troll 931, a fire retardant chemical, left New York Thursday night bound for Israel. The shipment was arranged by the Fire Dept. of New York and the office of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“I want to begin by offering our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of all of those who’ve died as a result of the terrible forest fire in northern Israel,” President Obama said Thursday evening, launching the annual White House Chanukah party. “As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster.”

A number of countries, including Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Jordan are assisting in attempts to squelch the blaze in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa, which has led to the deaths of 40 people and the evacuation of 15,000. The Palestinian Authority also has offered assistance.

“A short while ago, our ambassador in Tel Aviv, Jim Cunningham, issued a disaster declaration, which has launched an effort across the U.S. government to identify the firefighting assistance we have available and provide it to Israel as quickly as possible,” Obama said. “Of course, that’s what friends do for each other.”

Separately, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “We are moving as quickly as we can to provide this assistance, and are heartened by similar efforts to contribute resources from Israel’s other friends around the world.”

Poll: Most Palestinians support direct negotiations with Israel


A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza conducted last month by a research firm for the Israel Project, a nonprofit education organization, found that a majority of Palestinians support direct peace negotiations with Israel and a two-state solution to the conflict.

Only 30 percent of those surveyed believe that the two-state solution should be permanent. Sixty percent said that establishing Jewish and Palestinian states side by side should be temporary, with the ultimate goal being the establishment of a single Palestinian state. Only one-fifth accepted that Israel has “a permanent right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people.”

The survey, conducted in early October by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a firm based in Washington, D.C., interviewed 854 people face-to-face in the West Bank and Gaza. Questions were asked in Arabic, and different formulations of similar questions often led to seemingly contradictory results. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they favored direct negotiations between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet 58 percent agreed with the statement “this is a time for armed struggle,” with only 36 percent choosing the other alternative, “this is the time for engagement with Israel.”

The mixed results present a nuanced picture of Palestinian public opinion. “It offers a special window into Palestinian thinking at this critical juncture.  There are some things to applaud, some to note and some things that are concerning,” Stan Greenberg, the research firm’s chairman and CEO, said in a press release.

When pollsters described what a peaceful resolution might entail—including land swaps and the division of Jerusalem as laid out by President Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000—respondents were less enthusiastic about the prospects of an agreement, with only 29 percent supporting such a solution.

But Palestinian support for “recognizing Israel as Jewish state” went up significantly—to 50 percent—when pollsters added in two preconditions: building up Palestinian institutions and moving toward an agreement on borders.

“The hostility and misconception towards Israel and Jews among our neighbors shows the urgent need of direct communication between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Marcus Sheff, Israel director of The Israel Project, the non-profit educational organization that sponsored the survey. “In order to change the perceptions we must work with the Palestinian and Arabic media.”

Netanyahu’s office: Clinton talks did not include E. Jerusalem


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s discussions with the Obama administration for a new freeze on settlement building did not include extending the freeze to eastern Jerusalem, his office said.

The Obama administration reportedly also is unwilling to commit to a promise not to seek another freeze after 90 days.

Netanyahu on Sunday told his Security Cabinet that he had been assured by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that eastern Jerusalem would not be part of a new moratorium on building in West Bank settlements. The Palestinians have said they will not return to peace negotiations unless all construction is halted, including Jerusalem.

The Israeli Cabinet reportedly will not vote on the deal until the administration clarifies its package of incentives, as well as the issues of Jerusalem and a freeze extension, in writing.

The U.S. offer of incentives to freeze Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank for an additional 90 days is said to include a gift of an additional 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets in addition to the 20 Israel already has committed to buy at a cost of $3 billion, a promise to veto anti-Israel motions in international bodies and security guarantees.

U.S.: One year may not be enough to achieve Mideast peace


Mideast peace talks may not reach fruition before their initial September 2011 deadline, a U.S. State Department official said on Monday, citing recent negotiations deadlock over Israel’s refusal to extend its moratorium on settlement building as one reason for the delay.

Speaking prior to September’s relaunch of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said that the administration thought it could negotiate an agreement “within a one-year time frame.”

The sentiment was also echoed at the time by U.S. Special Mideast Envoy George Mitchell as well as by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he did not return to the post of prime minister in order to do nothing and that he was willing to make unprecedented concessions.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Netanyahu updates Cabinet on U.S. settlement freeze proposal


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present to his Cabinet an American proposal to convince Israel to again freeze settlement construction in an effort to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu updated the Cabinet on the American offer Sunday during its regular meeting. Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday in New York for seven hours.

“This proposal was raised during my talks with Secretary of State Clinton.  It is still not final; it is still being formulated by Israeli and the American teams.  If and when it is complete, I will bring this proposal to the appropriate Government forum, which in this case is the Cabinet.  In any case, I insist that any proposal meet the State of Israel’s security needs, both in the immediate term and vis-à-vis the threats that we will face in the coming decade,” Netanyahu told the Cabinet at the beginning of Sunday’s meeting.

The U.S. reportedly has offered to supply 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets in a deal worth $3 billion; to veto all United Nations Security Council and international resolutions that criticize or delegitimize Israel; and to provide Israel with additional security guarantees once a peace deal is reached. The U.S. deal requires Israel to halt all construction in the West Bank for 90 days, including on building work in process, and says that the U.S. will not ask for an extension of the new freeze.

A 10-month Israeli freeze on construction in the West Bank ended on Sept. 26. President Obama has said he believes that he can help Israel and the Palestinians to agree on final borders for Israel and a Palestinian state during a three-month settlement construction freeze.

At a meeting of Netanyahu’s Likud Party ministers before the Cabinet meeting, at least four ministers, including two vice premieres, reportedly expressed vehement opposition to a second West Bank construction freeze.

Palestinians leaders also reportedly are against the deal, because it does not include a freeze on construction in eastern Jerusalem. The United States reportedly has not consulted with the Palestinians on the deal it offered to Netanyahu.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” said a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office last week.

After electoral ‘shellacking,’ Obama ‘unwavering’ on peace


President Obama’s commitment to Middle East peace talks is “unwavering,” even after crushing midterm elections, a top aide said.

“The president has made it very clear that he is committed to doing whatever he can to foster talks in the Middle East – that’s unwavering,” Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior adviser for public engagement, said in a conference call Wednesday with a broad array of special interest groups, including Jewish groups. “That’s not a partisan issue; his commitment to that is unwavering.”

Jarrett initiated the call to reassure several sympathetic groups about the White House’s commitment in a number of “progressive” areas in the wake of Tuesday’s Republican sweep of the U.S. House of Representatives—one that Obama has described as a “shellacking.”

The new GOP leadership has said it will actively intercede in the peace process, including penalizing the Palestinian Authority unless it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. A number of conservative commentators have called on Obama to limit, in the wake of the midterm electoral defeat, his ambition to arrive at a peace deal within a year.

Clinton, Syrian FM discuss Israel-Syria talks


Hillary Rodham Clinton met with the Syrian foreign minister and discussed reviving Israeli-Syrian peace talks.

The U.S. secretary of state met with Walid Muallem on the sidelines of the launching of this year’s U.N. General Assembly, the signature annual event that brings together foreign ministers otherwise not inclined to meet one on one.

“The secretary affirmed our objective of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, which includes the Syrian track,” the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said in a conference call with reporters. “Foreign Minister Muallem was very interested in pursuing that, and there was a pledge that we would develop some ideas going forward on how to proceed.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is not interested in reviving talks with Syria where they left off under his predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Those talks, mediated by Turkey, operated under the assumption that Israel would return the entire Golan Heights, the strategic plateau captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, should a comprehensive peace be secured.

Netanyahu says he will only restart talks with no preconditions and has suggested that he is not willing to return the entire Golan.

Syria’s official news agency, Sana, described the Clinton-Muallem meeting as “very constructive.”

The Obama administration has kept in place most of the sanctions imposed on Syria by President George W. Bush, but is seeking to return a U.S. ambassador to Damascus. That nomination is held up in the Senate.

Crowley said Clinton and Muallem discussed the issues that led to the imposition of the sanctions, including alleged Syrian interference in Lebanon and Iraq, and Damascus’ backing for terrorist groups that target Israel.

“The peace process and Lebanon were the two most significant dimensions of the secretary’s discussion with the foreign minister,” he said. “And suffice it to say that we do have concerns about Syria’s activities inside Lebanon and its relationship with Hezbollah.”

Crowley said there would be follow-up, but would not provide details.

“We will follow up with the Syrians on how to best proceed in developing the Syrian-Israeli track,” he said.

Clinton while in New York also spoke by phone with Netanyahu to address difficulties already afflicting recently revived direct talks with the Palestinian Authority.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has interrupted the talks because Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on settlement building. Abbas also has said, however, that the issue will not end the talks.

Crowley said George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s senior envoy to the region, was set Monday evening to visit the region and meet with the leaders in an attempt to get past the impasse before Wednesday evening, the eve of Shemini Atzeret, a Jewish holiday.

Meeting again with Jewish leaders, Abbas broaches substance


For Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Jewish leaders, their second date featured a little more substance and a little less flirtation. And this time the Palestinian Authority president brought a wing man.

Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, met separately Tuesday evening with Jewish leaders in New York —a sign of understanding on the Palestinian side of the importance of Jewish sensibilities, in Israel and the Diaspora, to advancing the peace process.

Abbas at the meeting seemed ready to move forward on some substantive issues, which took place during the launch of the U.N. General Assembly session.

In the first meeting, in June, Abbas had frustrated Jewish leaders by dodging issues of substance—returning to direct talks and incitement—but set a tone unprecedented in Palestinian-Jewish relations by recognizing a Jewish historical presence in the land of Israel.

When a group of Palestinian intellectuals challenged Abbas on the issue a month later, instead of backtracking—typical of the one step forward, two steps back peace process tradition—his envoy in Washington, Ma’en Areikat, repeated and reaffirmed the comments.

In the interim, direct talks have been launched, and Abbas was prepared to move forward on some substantive issues at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I would like for us to engage in a dialogue where we listen to each other and where I can respond to your questions because I trust we have one mutual objective—to achieve peace,” he said, according to notes provided by the Center for Middle East Peace.

The center, a dovish group founded by diet magnate Daniel Abraham, sponsored the Abbas meeting, as it did in June. The Fayyad meeting was sponsored by The Israel Project, which tracks support for Israel in the United States and throughout the world.

Making his clearest statement to date on the matter, Abbas said he would not walk away from negotiations should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to extend a partial 10-month moratorium on settlement building set to lapse next week. The PA leader suggested that a way out might be if Netanyahu does not make a public issue of the end of the moratorium.

“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it’s very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Abbas said.

Netanyahu is under pressure from the settlement movement not only to end the moratorium, but to resume building at levels unprecedented in his prime ministership. The Israeli leader also is heedful, however, of Obama administration demands that the parties not go out of their way to outrage each other.

Among the Jewish leaders at the Abbas meeting were Malcolm Hoenlein and Alan Solow, the executive vice chairman and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director; and leaders of umbrella groups such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federations of North America.

Also on hand were Clinton administration foreign policy mavens such as Sandy Berger, Madeleine Albright and Daniel Kurtzer, who maintain close ties with Obama’s foreign policy team.

Abbas also showed that he was attempting to bridge a gap on what until now seemed an intractable issue.

The Palestinians have long accepted the inevitability of a demilitarized state, but they reject a continued Israeli military presence. Netanyahu told Jewish leaders in a conference call Monday that he would trust no one but Israeli troops to preserve Israel’s security on the West Bank’s eastern border. At the meeting, Abbas floated the idea of a non-Israeli force that would include Jewish soldiers.

On other issues, Abbas was less prepared to come forward.

Israel wants a clear commitment from the Palestinians that any discussion of the refugee issue would clearly preclude a flooding of Israel with descendants of refugees of the 1948 war, which Israelis say is a recipe for the peaceful eradication of Israel. Behind closed doors, the Palestinians have said they are ready to provide Israel the assurances it needs, but Abbas said at the meeting only that it is a final-status issue.

Another issue could yet scuttle the talks now that the parties seem ready to put the settlement moratorium behind them.

Netanyahu, having extracted what seems to be an irreversible Palestinian recognition of Israel during his previous turn in the job, in 1998, now wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state—a result of the emergence of movements that seek to strip Israel of its Jewish character.

Abbas has resisted, in part because he sees such recognition as cutting off the 20 percent of Israel that is Arab, but also because he seems baffled by the demand. He argues that states are free to define themselves and should not need the approbation of others.

“If the Israeli people want to name themselves whatever they want, they are free to do so,” the PA president said.

In a sign that he also was seeking conciliation on the matter, Abbas said at the meeting that he would accept the designation if it were approved by the Knesset. He repeated his recognition of Israel’s Jewish roots and decried Holocaust denial.

It was not far enough for some of his interlocutors.

Stephen Savitzky, the president of the Orthodox Union, wanted Abbas to recognize not only Jewish ties to the land but with the Temple Mount, the site of the third holiest mosque in Islam.

“President Abbas missed an opportunity this evening to make a key statement that would have created good will in the Jewish community,” Savitzky said in a statement.

Fayyad, less charismatic but deemed more trustworthy than Abbas by the pro-Israel intelligentsia, appeared to fare well in the dinner hosted by The Israel Project, which hews to the centrist-right pro-Israel line of much of the U.S. Jewish establishment. He scored points for admitting that the Palestinian Authority had not done enough to combat incitement.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, a founder of The Israel Project.

“We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas—especially when it can help lead to security and peace.”

Barely months into talks, will the freeze freeze a peace deal?


When the fat lady sings on Sept. 26, it may only be an intermission.

That’s the word from an array of Mideast experts across the political spectrum. They are predicting that the seeming intractability between Israel and the Palestinians over whether Israel extends a settlement moratorium beyond its end date will not scuttle the peace talks.

Instead, the observers say, the sides are likely employing the brinksmanship that has come to characterize Middle East peacemaking.

“Is this is a last-minute minuet before a compromise on both sides?” asked Steve Rosen, the former director of foreign policy at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “I don’t see the kind of anxiety you would associate with a collapse. They seem to be acting with something up their sleeve.”

Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, also saw compromise in the offing.

“Neither party can afford to be seen as scuttling the talks,” he said.

Israelis and Palestinians both are speaking—off the record, at least—in terms of an imminent threat of rupture, just weeks after direct negotiations restarted. Such talk begs the question of why the Obama administration relaunched the talks with much fanfare if the sides were not ready to go.

“It’s almost inconceivable that the administration would have gone down this road with all the hype without push and pull for both sides” on the settlement issue, said Aaron David Miller, a longtime negotiator in Democratic and Republican administrations, and now a fellow at The Woodrow Wilson Center.

Miller noted the praise lavished by Obama on the negotiators and the inclusion of the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders in the launch of the talks.

If the deadline scuttles the talks, he said, “it will go down as being one of the more boneheaded plays in the history of negotiations.”

Miller said he believes that the sides were bluffing when they hinted—or outright said—no compromise was possible.

Each side has sent out mixed signals. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that there was “no choice” but to go ahead with talks, before meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. At the same time, his aides were leaking to the media that continuing the talks depended on an extension of the moratorium on Israeli construction in the settlements.

Israeli officials have suggested that they are preparing some kind of extension by telling American Jewish groups that they will need their backing when the Israeli settlement movement reacts adversely to a building freeze beyond Sept. 26.

On the other hand, in a conference call Monday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mention the possibility of a compromise. And his top aide, Ron Dermer, made it sound as if Israeli officials were bracing for a period of tensions over the settlement issue.

“We might have to agree to disagree for the next few months,” Dermer said on the issue of settlements. The carrot for the Palestinians, he said, was a final-status agreement that would put both sides past the settlement issue.

The question is how to get past the looming Sept. 26 date—or at least Sept. 30, when Israel’s Sukkot holidays end and the construction industry returns to work.

Ibish predicted that Abbas and his negotiators could live with Israel moving ahead with the building starts that have been put on hold for 10 months, when Netanyahu imposed the moratorium—as many as 2,000, according to an Americans for Peace Now analysis—but only if the Netanyahu government did not launch major new projects.

“Whatever the Israelis say, no one is going to believe it because of the grandfathering built in” to the moratorium, Ibish said. “What’s important that the Israelis don’t do anything further to radically alter the landscape.”

That would include holding back on major starts outside the “consensus areas,” settlement blocks adjacent to Israel that are likely to be incorporated in a final deal in exchange for land swaps. According to this view, it would also mean no building in a corridor between Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim that would choke off the main north-south route; no land appropriations; and no building in eastern Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods.

Rosen, who now directs the Middle East Forum’s Washington project, said an out may be Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader who is now in Washington and New York to meet with U.S. and United Nations officials.

As defense minister, Barak has veto over new initiatives: He could nix them while the Palestinians look the other way regarding settlement projects already in the pipeline. At the same time, Barak’s reputation as a go-it-alone dove could give Netanyahu cover with settlers. The prime minister could tell hawks that Barak is slightly out of control.

Meantime, each side is trying to extract as much as it can or concede as little as possible before talks continue, said Scott Lasensky, an analyst with the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace who tracks the region.

“Brinksmanship is a hallmark of Arab-Israeli negotiation. There’s no doubt the question will go to the last minute with uncertainty,” he said. “There’s been some good will, there’s been a warming of ties, everyone has an interest in making sure that this is renewed.”

Brinksmanship, on the other hand, often develops a momentum of its own, and there’s a chance it could scuttle the talks by the deadline, said David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel think tank.

The risk now, Makovsky said, was that with the talks still in their early stages, the sides were more beholden to hard-line constituencies than they were to a breakthrough.

“They don’t know if a deal is reachable, so why alienate your constituencies if a deal isn’t reachable yet,” he said.

Stephen P. Cohen, another longtime Middle East watcher and backer of an Israeli-Palestinian deal who has consulted with members of the Obama foreign policy team, said the administration’s leverage was the imminence of a permanent-status deal.

“I think Bibi [Netanyahu] wants to make a substantive agreement that would convince Abu Mazen [Abbas] that it’s worth staying even though he hasn’t renewed the settlement freeze because the substantive agreement allows Abu Mazen to stay,” said Cohen, the president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development.

Senate letter urges Obama to keep talks going


A letter is circulating among U.S. senators urging President Obama to keep the Israelis and Palestinians at the negotiating table.

The letter, initiated by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), thanks Obama for restarting direct peace talks and notes the threat to their success from what it calls “enemies of peace” Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

The letter praises Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for sticking with the talks after Hamas terrorists killed four Israelis in the West Bank as the talks were about to be launched on Aug. 31.

“We also agree with you that it is critical that all sides stay at the table,” the letter says. “Neither side should make threats to leave just as the sides are getting started.”

The letter is dated Sept. 24, meaning it is to be sent two days before Netanyahu’s temporary freeze on some settlement building is due to expire.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to bolt the talks if the freeze is not extended. Netanyahu wants the Obama administration to press Abbas to stay.

Barak, Abbas hold secret meeting


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly met secretly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the eve of peace talks.

Barak met with Abbas Sunday night in Amman, Israeli media reported, hours after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah at his palace. Barak reportedly returned to Israel to brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu between the meetings.

Barak and Abbas reportedly discussed an Israeli easing of security measures in the West Bank, and Barak reiterated Israel’s commitment to the success of the talks opening Wednesday in Washington.

Netanyahu left Israel Tuesday morning for Washington. He was scheduled to meet the next day with President Obama before attending a dinner with Obama, Abbas, Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Quartet envoy Tony Blair. Netanyahu is scheduled to meet separately with each attendee.

On Thursday, Netanyahu and Abbas will open peace talks joined by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Palestinians will leave peace talks over freeze


The Palestinians will withdraw from peace talks with Israel if construction in the settlements resumes, Mahmoud Abbas told the Mideast Quartet.

In a letter delivered Sunday to representatives of the Quartet grouping of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, which guides the Middle East peace process, the Palestinian Authority president said that if the settlement building freeze ends as scheduled on Sept. 26 then the Palestinian Authority will withdraw from the direct peace talks scheduled to be launched Sept. 2 in Washington.

Abbas called on the Quartet to follow previous resolutions dealing with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the 2002 road map to peace and the Arab Peace Initiative, all of which call for an end to settlement construction. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud Party ministers on Sunday that the freeze would end as scheduled.

Meanwhile, Hamas canceled reconciliation talks with Abbas’ Fatah party over the weekend due to the announcement of direct negotiations with Israel. The groups have remained split since Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

Israelis, Palestinians warming to ‘Clinton parameters’


Support for the “Clinton parameters” has increased among Israelis and Palestinians, a new poll showed.

Palestinians were split evenly at 49 percent on whether to accept the overall parameters; Israelis supported them, 52 percent to 38 percent.

The poll, published Tuesday, was conducted among Israelis by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and among Palestinians by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.

The overall parameters were based on those outlined by President Clinton following the 2000 Camp David talks and what unofficial negotiators agreed on in the 2003 Geneva Initiative.

They feature a return to 1967 lines, with some land swaps to accommodate the major Israeli settlements; a shared Jerusalem, with Israeli sovereignty in the western city and in the Old City’s Jewish quarter, and Palestinian sovereignty in the eastern city and the rest of the Old City; a demilitarized Palestinian state; a solution to the refugee issue that would have Israel decide how many Palestinian refugees to accept; security arrangements that would maintain an Israeli military presence in parts of the West Bank for at least 15 years; and an end of conflict.

In both cases, the numbers represented a spike: Palestinians a year ago had opposed the package, 61 percent to 38 percent, while Israelis were split at 46 percent for each side.

When the parameters were broken down into components, support dropped substantially—except for the end of conflict component, which won substantial majorities among both peoples. The “end of conflict” posits that no further claims will be made after a deal is reached.

“It is important to see that the pattern of support for the overall package is more than the sum of its parts, suggesting that people’s calculus is compensatory and trade-offs are considered,” the pollsters said. “Despite strong reservations regarding some of the components, the overall package always receives greater support in both publics, where the desirable components and the chance of reaching a permanent status agreement seem to compensate for the undesirable parts.”

Pollsters interviewed 1,270 Palestinians face to face in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem between June 10 and 13, with a 3 percentage point margin of error, and 810 Israelis over the phone between June 6 and 16, with a 3.5 percent margin of error.

Reid to Clinton: ‘Reduce tension with Israel’


The U.S. Senate majority leader has called on Hillary Clinton to “reduce recent tensions with Israel.”

In a letter sent April 23 to the U.S. secretary of state, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also called on Clinton to work with the Congress to complete action on Iran sanctions legislation and for the United States to support direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“I strongly believe that our relationship with Israel makes the United States more secure,” Reid wrote. “We cooperate on critical intelligence matters, work together on weapons systems, and rely on Israel as our ally in a volatile part of the world.”

Reid also expressed concern about the threat Iran’s nuclear weapons program poses, saying that “I think congressional action can further our mutual goal to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons activities.”

“We are at a decisive moment both with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations; it is at such moments that U.S. leadership is crucial to ensure the security of Israel,” the letter said.

Clinton: Palestinian Relief Aimed at Statehood


The United States will use Palestinian emergency relief as a platform toward a two-state solution, Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

The U.S. secretary of state formally announced the U.S. contribution of $900 million at an international donors’ conference Monday in the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheik aimed at reconstructing Gaza.

Some 80 countries and international organizations are participating in the conference, which plans to raise at least $2.8 billion.

Clinton said she saw the initiative, in the wake of Gaza’s devastation after its Hamas overlords launched a war against Israel, as having short-term and long-term goals.

“It is not enough just to respond to the immediate needs of the Palestinian people,” she said. “Our response to today’s crisis in Gaza cannot be separated from our broader efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace. Only by acting now can we turn this crisis into an opportunity that moves us closer to our shared goals.”

Clinton emphasized that the partner in this effort was the moderate Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Hamas drove out Abbas loyalists in a bloody coup in the summer of 2007. Hamas was not invited to the conference, according to reports.

“They are offering their people the option of a peaceful, independent and more prosperous future, not the violence and false choices of extremists whose tactics—including rocket attacks that continue to this day—only will lead to more hardship and suffering,” Clinton said. “These attacks must stop.”

Clinton added that the U.S. assistance had been “designed in coordination” with the P.A. government.

“We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure that our funding is only used where, and for whom, it is
intended and does not end up in the wrong hands,” she said.

Also at the conference, Clinton said she was not optimistic that Iran would respond positively to a U.S. offer of engagement.

“We’re under no illusions; our eyes are wide open,” she told United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan about the prospect ofdirect talks with Iran, according to an account from a senior State Department official provided to The New York Times.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak opened the conference by stating that his country’s main priority is helping Israel and the Palestinians reach a truce. He also called on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and Hamas to form a unity government. Abbas told the donor countries that they must urge Israel’s new government to commit to a two-state solution and respect agreements signed by previous
governments.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Palestinians to back Abbas and proposed a summit to revive peace in theMiddle East to be held in Europe this spring. Sarkozy has notably negotiated for peace in the region through his working relationship with leaders close to Hamas, such as Syria’s Bashar Assad.

To “countries who have links to Hamas,” Sarkozy warned, “you have a particular responsibility to demand that Hamas join President Abbas, whose path toward peace is the only one that will produce results,” reported Reuters.

Rahm Emanuel is a fighting policy wonk with a Jewish soul


Political insight, killer in a fight, Yiddishkayt — it’s an inseparable package when it comes to Rahm Emanuel, say those who know President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to be the next White House chief of staff.

Since his days as a fundraiser and then a “political adviser” — read: enforcer — for President Bill Clinton, Emanuel has earned notoriety as a no-holds-barred politico. Accept the good with the bad because it’s of a piece, said Steve Rabinowitz, who worked with Emanuel in the Clinton White House.

“He can be a ‘mamzer,’ but he’s our mamzer,” said Rabinowitz, using the Yiddish term for “bastard,” speaking both as a Democrat and a Jew. “Sometimes that’s what you need.”

The apocrypha is legendary, if somewhat hard to pin down: Jabbing a knife into a table screaming “Dead!” as colleagues shout out the names of political enemies, sending a dead fish to a rival, screaming at friends and enemies alike for no good reason.

Even his allies acknowledge that Emanuel, 48, can be on edge at times.

“He’s not running for Miss Congeniality, ever,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who has known Emanuel since they worked at Illinois Public Action, a public interest group, in the early 1980s. “He is relentless; he doesn’t give up, but in a strategic way. He’s good at figuring out other people’s self-interest and negotiating in a way that comes out in his favor.”

Emanuel, an Illinois congressman who boasts strong ties to his local Jewish community and the Jewish state, also can be seen as embodying Obama’s stated commitment to Israeli security and diplomacy: During the first Iraq War, Emanuel flew to Israel as a volunteer to help maintain military vehicles. Two years later, he was an aide to Clinton, helping to push along the newly launched Oslo process.

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Ari, Rahm recalled, “beat the crap out of him” — not because of the bike, not to protect his brother, “but because of what he said about black kids.”

Rahm defended his brother in terms he might have applied to himself: “Where others see fierceness, I see loyalty. Where others see intensity, I see passion.”

In general, Emanuel is fiercely loyal to his family, and they were a consideration in his hesitation to take work he’s always dreamed of having — he waited two days to say yes. Obama, in his statement announcing the pick, recognized the pain it would cause Emanuel’s wife, Amy, and “their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah.”

Emanuel, born to an Israeli doctor who married a local woman after he moved to Chicago in the mid-1950s, speaks Hebrew and fondly recalls summering each year in Israel as a child — including just after the 1967 Six-Day War. He attends Anshe Sholom, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Chicago, and sends his children to Jewish day school.

His rabbi, Asher Lopatin, recalls Emanuel approaching him just before Rosh Hashanah this year, telling him that an effort to put together a bailout package for the hard-hit stock market before the holiday had failed and asking whether it was permissible to take conference calls on the holiday in order to salvage the bill.

“I asked, ‘Is it as serious as people say it is?'” the rabbi recalled. “He said, ‘Without this bill there could be a meltdown of the financial system.'”

Lopatin considered the effect such a failure would have on children and the poor.

“I felt it was a case of pikuach nefesh, the commandment that places the saving of life above all other commandments,” Lopatin said, and gave Emanuel the OK.

The somberness of the request couldn’t quell Emanuel’s acerbic wit. Lopatin recalled Emanuel’s teasing, wondering whether the status of the rabbi’s 401(k) investments wasn’t also behind the heksher.

“He kibitzed with me about that,” the rabbi said.

Emanuel repeated the story, to raucous laughter, in caucus meetings on the Hill — an example of how he will skid in the same sentence from Judaism to a liberal commitment to social reforms to hard-nosed politics, Schakowsky said.

“There’s barely a caucus meeting where he doesn’t make some reference to being Jewish, often in a humorous way,” she said.

But his Jewishness does more than inform his sense of humor, Emanuel’s rabbi said.

“He has a very deep commitment and feel for Yiddishkayt,” Lopatin said, “and it’s a Yiddishkayt that’s about tikkun olam, having a positive effect on the world.”

VIDEO: JTA’s Wednesday Convention Summary


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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Briefs: U.S. House recognizes Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Woody Allen sues American Apparel


Woody Allen Sues Over Rabbi Billboard

Woody Allen is suing a clothing company for advertisements showing the actor dressed as a rabbi. Allen filed a $10 million lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan against American Apparel Inc. for using an image from one of the filmmaker’s movies of him dressed as a rabbi. The text of the billboard and online ads, which were published without Allen’s consent, read “The Holy Rebbe” in Yiddish.

The billboards were put up last May in New York and Hollywood. Allen does not commercially endorse any products in the United States, the suit said.

House Recognizes Jews From Arab lands

The U.S. House of Representatives recognized the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in any final peace deal.

The nonbinding resolution, backed by a bipartisan slate of lawmakers, passed in a voice vote Tuesday. It urges any U.S. government to ensure that the rights of such refugees — believed to number approximately 850,000 — are part of a final peace deal between Israel and the Arabs.

Pro-Palestinian groups criticized the legislation as undermining the claims of Palestinian refugees, but U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D-N.Y.), the legislation’s lead sponsor, rejected such claims.

“This should not be an impediment to the peace process in any way,” Nadler said in a conference call Wednesday. “It is important to raise the question of Jewish refugees and the property left behind in Arab countries. It does not in any way say that the rights of Palestinian refugees should not be handled.”

Stanley Urman, the executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, the Jewish group that led the lobbying effort for the resolution, said it “restored truth to the Middle East narrative.”

Leading Pennsylvania Jews Endorse Obama

A group of prominent Pennsylvania Jews endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in advance of the state’s April 22 primary.

In a letter to the state’s Jewish community, about 60 Jewish supporters of Obama, including some politicians, rabbis and community leaders, dismissed concerns raised about the candidate’s commitment to Israel, praised his response to the controversial statements of his pastor and urged them to support the Illinois lawmaker in the Democratic primary.

Among the signatories were two Jewish Montgomery County Pennsylvania legislators — Reps. Josh Shapiro and Daylin Leach.

“Senator Obama has earned our respect and gratitude because of his support for traditional Jewish values and his commitment to a peaceful and prosperous Israel,” the letter said.

The letter also lauded Obama’s recent speech in which he repudiated the views of his controversial pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., and compared support for Obama to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s famous description of marching for civil rights in Selma as “praying with his feet.”

“We have each chosen to pray with our feet and stand with Barack Obama because he is sensitive to the issues of the Jewish community and a stalwart supporter of Israel,” the letter said.

Jewish Clinton Backers Warn Pelosi on Meddling

Twelve of the 20 Clinton backers who warned Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco)to keep out of the Democratic presidential primaries are Jewish.

The 20 signatories to the letter sent recently to Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, are major donors to the Democratic Party and strong supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). The donors were incensed by a March 16 interview in which Pelosi said that party “superdelegates” should heed the will of the majority in selecting a candidate.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has a nearly insurmountable lead in the pledged delegate count and in the popular vote. But he cannot lock up the nomination because 800 delegates — split between elected officials and local party leaders, including a handful of party elders — have unpledged “superdelegate” status. Early counts showed the superdelegates leaning to Clinton, although in recent months some have switched to Obama as he has taken the lead among pledged delegates.

The donors’ letter appears to warn Pelosi that she could lose their support in important congressional elections.

“We have been strong supporters of the DCCC,” it says, referring to the Democratic congressional elections campaign. “Superdelegates, like all delegates, have an obligation to make an informed, individual decision about whom to support and who would be the party’s strongest nominee,” it says. “Both campaigns agree that at the end of the primary contests neither will have enough pledged delegates to secure the nomination. In that situation, superdelegates must look to not one criterion but to the full panoply of factors that will help them assess who will be the party’s strongest nominee in the general election.”

In a statement, Pelosi’s office responded: “The speaker believes it would do great harm to the Democratic Party if superdelegates are perceived to overturn the will of the voters. This has been her position throughout this primary season, regardless of who was ahead at any particular point in delegates or votes.”

The donors’ letter was revealed by Talkingpointsmemo.com, an investigative news Web site. Among the 20 signatories are Haim Saban, the Israeli-born entertainment magnate who is a funder of Middle East peace initiatives; Sim Farar, a media investor known for his closeness to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.); Mark Aronchick, a top Philadelphia lawyer; and Alan Patricof, a new media investor.

Report: Settlement Building up Since Annapolis

Jewish construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem has increased since Annapolis, a Peace Now report found. Although Israel promised to freeze construction in the settlements at the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007, the left-wing organization said in its report released Monday that the construction has continued and increased.

Construction has taken place in 101 settlements, excluding East Jerusalem, in the past four months, according to the report. About 275 new buildings were started since Annapolis, with 20 percent of the construction taking place east of the national security fence. In addition, the Defense Ministry has approved plans for the construction of 946 units. In eastern Jerusalem, tenders for the construction of 750 housing units were granted after the summit, while in the year before the summit only 46 housing units were approved.

The report also found that there was construction in 58 “illegal outposts,” including 16 permanent structures, and that none were evacuated.

Israelis keep a close eye on U.S. elections


Hillary Clinton is the favorite U.S. presidential candidate at Itzik Nir’s tiny juice stand, a veritable neighborhood listening post where opinions pile up as quickly as the signature orange-banana-passion fruit blends are served.

Customers giggle trying to pronounce Mike Huckabee’s name and see Barack Obama as an unknown. They’d rather stick to Clinton, who they see as a sure thing for Israel, Nir said.

“We are so closely influenced by what happens in the United States, so people think it’s in their own self-interest to support Hillary, assuming she will do more for Israel,” he said.

With a mix of concern for their future and amusement at the marching bands and baby-kissing style of U.S. electoral politics, Israelis are tuning in to see who might be the next U.S. president.

“Of course we are all following the elections: This is going to be our president, too,” said actor Michael Koresh, speaking only slightly tongue in cheek. He, too, is rooting for Clinton.

Israeli media had been giving top billing to stories about the U.S. campaign until President Bush arrived in the country Wednesday and the focus shifted to the current American president.

In the lead-up to the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, Israeli TV reporters breathlessly reported on the suspense and twists of the campaigns in live reports from the primaries’ battle grounds.

Just like American reporters, they also speculate on the effect of Clinton’s tears, McCain’s comeback and Obama’s charisma, and they salivate at the signs of a real race.

Israeli reporters also betray some amusement at the festive style of the campaigns, with their requisite balloons, cheerleaders and apple-pie-style applauding crowds.

“Listen to the crowd. Hear their cheers!” one Channel 10 reporter shouted over the din this week at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New Hampshire.

Israeli media are covering the Republican candidates less closely than the Democrats. One reporter even had to be prompted by his anchor in Israel to discuss the subject.

“And there are, after all, Republicans. What about them?” the anchor asked.

Danny Horvitz leaves on the TV set in his corner grocery so customers can watch the latest news, including the results from the U.S. primaries.

“People are watching what is going on because this is about our future, too,” he said.

Israelis seem relatively unfazed by the prospect of a black man or a woman in the White House for the first time.

“It’s more exciting for the Americans than it is for us,” Nir said at the juice stand. “We’ve already had a woman prime minister.”

Robert Grosz and his wife, Eden, have been arguing about Obama’s electability. She says Obama has momentum, but he thinks America is not yet ready for a black president. He’s backing Clinton.

Clinton’s famous husband seems to be her primary advantage in a country that fondly recalls Bill Clinton as a close friend with not only a political but also an emotional attachment to Israel. When Bill Clinton left the presidency in 2000, Israeli polls showed an overwhelming majority would vote for him to lead Israel if only they had the chance.

“I like Clinton because she’s the next closest thing to her husband,” Robert Grosz said.

Representatives of both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad in Israel said they have seen a surge of interest in the elections by Israelis and American Israelis.

Both groups have been flooded by requests by U.S. citizens for information about voting in the primaries — something that did not happen in the same numbers during the last election, they said.

Israelis are catching election fever, said Kory Bardsash, the chair of Republicans Abroad in Israel.

“They are beginning to get wind of it. There is lots of news on Clinton and ‘Who is this Obama guy?’ and ‘Who is the best person?’ ” he said. “I think they are beginning to recognize something is going on here.”

Whoever wins the general election in November, the Israelis interviewed did not seem too concerned that the next president would be anything but pro-Israel.

Shmuel Rosner, Ha’aretz’s U.S. correspondent reporting from New Hampshire, wrote in his blog that the U.S. elections and the changes it might bring are “a strange riddle for the Israeli decision-maker.”

He said the mix of familiar faces like Clinton and Rudy Giuliani and lesser-known quantities like Obama and Huckabee makes the election stage a bewildering place.

“The winds of sweeping change raise some questions: What will the approach of the elected officials be toward Iran? How will they want to advance the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue?” Rosner wrote.

Grosz said he and his wife find the American campaign style both hokey and a waste of money.

But Grosz said he does wish Israel would take one lesson from America’s political system of representation: “I wish I could have a senator — someone I could speak to and feel represented by,” he lamented. “There is lots to learn from Americans.”

Bill Clinton and Liel Kolet sing ‘Imagine’


Only 15 at the time, Israel’s Liel Kolet coaxes Bill Clinton onstage to sing ‘Imagine’ with a Jewish-Arab kids choir at a concert for Shimon Peres’ 85th birthday

Everyone’s Jewish — until proven otherwise


Strange doings in Virginia. George Allen, former governor, one-term senator, son of a famous football coach and in the midst of a heated battle for reelection, has just been outed as
a Jew.
 
An odd turn of events, given that his having Jewish origins has nothing to do with anything in the campaign, and that Allen himself was oblivious to the fact until his 83-year-old mother revealed to him last month the secret she had kept concealed for 60 years.
 
Apart from its political irrelevance, it seems improbable in the extreme that the cowboy-boots-wearing football scion of Southern manner and speech should turn out to be, at least by origins, a son of Israel.
 
For Allen, as he quipped to me, it’s the explanation for a lifelong affinity for Hebrew National hot dogs. For me, it is the ultimate confirmation of something I have been regaling friends with for 20 years and now, for the advancement of social science, feel compelled to publish.
 
Krauthammer’s Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise.
 
I’ve had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry — windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat — had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton — methodical Methodist — unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.
 
A less jaunty case was that of Madeleine Albright, three of whose Czech grandparents had perished in the Holocaust and who most improbably contended that she had no idea they were Jewish. To which we can add the leading French presidential contender (Nicolas Sarkozy), a former supreme allied commander of NATO (Wesley Clark) and Russia’s leading anti-Semite (Vladimir Zhirinovsky). One must have a sense of humor about these things. Even Fidel Castro claims he is from a family of Marranos.
 
For all its tongue-in-cheek irony, Krauthammer’s Law works because when I say “everyone,” I don’t mean everyone you know personally. Depending on the history and ethnicity of your neighborhood and social circles, there may be no one you know who is Jewish. But if “everyone” means anyone that you’ve heard of in public life, the law works for two reasons. Ever since the Jews were allowed out of the ghetto and into European society at the dawning of the Enlightenment, they have peopled the arts and sciences, politics and history in astonishing disproportion to their numbers.
 
There are 13 million Jews in the world, one-fifth of 1 percent of the world’s population. Yet 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, a staggering hundredfold surplus of renown and genius. This is similarly true for myriad other “everyones” — the household names in music, literature, mathematics, physics, finance, industry, design, comedy, film and, as the doors opened, even politics.
 
But it is not just Jewish excellence at work here. There is a dark side to these past centuries of Jewish emancipation and achievement — an unrelenting history of persecution. The result is the other, more somber and poignant reason for the Jewishness of public figures being discovered late and with surprise: concealment.
 
Look at the Albright case. Her distinguished father was Jewish, if tenuously so, until the Nazi invasion. He fled Czechoslovakia and, shortly thereafter, converted. Over the centuries, suffering — most especially, the Holocaust — has proved too much for many Jews. Many survivors simply resigned their commission.
 
For some, the break was defiant and theological: A God who could permit the Holocaust — ineffable be His reasons — had so breached the covenant that it was now forfeit. They were bound no longer to Him or His faith.
 
For others, the considerations were far more secular and practical. Why subject one’s children to the fear and suffering, the stigmatization and marginalization, the prospect of being hunted until death that being Jewish had brought to an entire civilization in Europe?
 
In fact, that was precisely the reason Etty Lumbroso, Allen’s mother, concealed her identity.
 
Brought up as a Jew in French Tunisia during World War II, she saw her father, Felix, imprisoned in a concentration camp. Coming to America was her one great chance to leave that forever behind, for her and for her future children. She married George Allen Sr., apparently never telling her husband’s family, her own children or anyone else of her Jewishness.
 
Such was Etty’s choice. Multiply the story in its thousand variations and you have Kerry and Clinton, Albright and Allen, a world of people with a whispered past. Allen’s mother tried desperately to bury it forever.
 
In response to published rumors, she finally confessed the truth to him, adding heartbreakingly, “Now you don’t love me anymore” — and then swore him to secrecy.
 

Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. This article is reprinted with permission from the author. You can reach the author at letters@charleskrauthammer.com