Obama administration presses for $225M addition to Iron Dome funding


The Obama administration asked Congress to fast-track Israel’s request for an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

The administration cited Israeli needs arising from the Gaza war in pressing for the extra funding.

“The Government of Israel has requested $225 million in additional funding for Iron Dome in order to accelerate production of Iron Dome components in Israel and maintain adequate stockpiles,” Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told JTA in an email.

“The Department of Defense has reviewed and supports this urgent request,” she said. “Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Iron Dome has saved countless Israeli lives.”

In a meeting Wednesday of Democratic senators and Jewish leaders, some of the senators said they had already started the procedure to include the new money in this year’s appropriations.

A day earlier, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate asking that the money be appropriated above the $351 million Congress is considering for the system.

Israeli officials have estimated that Iron Dome has had an 86 percent rate in intercepting rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip since the July 8 launch of Israel’s campaign against Hamas.

Senate, House resolutions back Israel’s actions in Gaza


Both Houses of the U.S. Congress unanimously passed resolutions expressing support for Israel's “inherent right to act in self-defense.”

The identical non-binding resolutions passed Thursday in the Senate and Friday in the U.S. House of Representatives,

Initiated in the Senate by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) in the House, each resolution “expresses unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders, and recognizes and strongly supports its inherent right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism.”

By Thursday evening, the Senate resolution had garnered 64 cosponsors.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a statement praised “the leadership of Senators Gillibrand and Kirk, and the extraordinary show of support by the Senate for Israel’s struggle against terrorist attacks on its citizens.”

The resolutions are the first such proposed legislation in the wake of Israeli airstrikes launched Wednesday in retaliation for rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip

Unlike statements of support for Israel's actions from the Obama administration, the resolutions do not call on both sides to exercise restraint or express regret at casualties on both sides.

“We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, told reporters on Thursday. “There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately in order to allow the situation to de-escalate.”

Twenty-eight Palestinians, including at least two children, and three Israelis have been killed in the escalated violence between Israel and Palestinian terrorists. Among the dead Palestinians is a terrorist leader, Ahmed Jabari.

A host of lawmakers have issued statements in support of Israel, and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on Wednesday briefed five senators from both parties — Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

“As a bipartisan group of Senators committed to Israel's security, we express our solidarity with Israel during this deeply challenging period and denounce the reprehensible and indiscriminate rocket attacks launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad against innocent Israeli citizens,” the senators said in a joint statement.

AIPAC praised the outpouring of congressional support.

“These statements demonstrate that America continues to firmly stand with Israel and her right to defend herself,” it said. “No nation can tolerate constant barrages of rockets against its civilian population.”

Opinion: Christians’ letter was reasonable, worded sensitively


There has long been an unwritten covenant between the Jewish establishment and Christian leaders when it comes to interfaith dialogue: “We can talk about any religious issues we like, but criticism of Israel’s human rights violations is off limits.”

Over the past few weeks, we’ve painfully witnessed what can happen when Christians break this covenant by speaking their religious conscience.

On Oct. 5, 15 prominent American Christian leaders released a letter that called on Congress to make military aid to Israel “contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”

While most Americans wouldn’t consider it unreasonable for our nation to insist that an aid recipient abide by U.S. laws, some Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, lashed out at their Christian colleagues, eventually walking out on a scheduled Jewish-Christian roundtable. They are now requesting that the Christian leaders come to a “summit meeting” to discuss the situation.

Considering the vehemence of such a response, one might assume that the Christian leaders’ letter was filled with outrageous and incendiary anti-Israel rhetoric.

But in fact their letter is a sensitively worded and faithful call supporting “both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being,” as well as acknowledging “the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions,” the “horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings,” and “the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society.”

Yes, the authors of the letter also expressed their concern over “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others.”

As painful as it might be for these Jewish groups to hear, however, these are not scurrilous or arguable “allegations.” They long have been documented by international human rights groups, including the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem. The letter points out that a 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices has detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.

Why has the Jewish establishment reacted so violently to a relatively balanced and religiously based call? Because by speaking their conscience, these Christian leaders had the audacity to break the unwritten covenant: If you want to have a dialogue with us, leave Israel alone.

A recent JTA Op-Ed by Rabbi Noam E. Marans, who serves as director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, provided an interesting window into the mechanics of this covenant. In his Oct. 21 piece, “Christians’ letter is an unworthy tactic,” Marans said nothing about the substance of the letter itself, choosing instead to vehemently attack the Protestant leaders and reject the statement as nothing less than “the opening of a new anti-Israel front.”

Marans went on to surmise that this reasonable, religiously based call for justice was the product of “certain leaders” who are frustrated with “their own failure to convince denominations to use divestment as a club to pressure Israel.” Nowhere did he address the issue of Israeli human rights violations (except to refer to them as “allegations.”) In the end, he suggested that this letter represents “the anti-Israel sentiment of some Christian leaders and their small but vocal, energetic and well-funded following who are attempting to hijack the positive trajectory of Christian-Jewish relations.”

It is difficult to read such a statement without concluding that Marans’ definition of “postive Christian-Jewish relations” means anything other than “no criticism of Israel allowed.”

It is important to note that the letter to Congress was not written by a few angry church renegades; it was authored by 15 prominent church leaders representing a wide spectrum of the Protestant faith community, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee.

While it is painful to read such accusations leveled at respected Christian leaders by a Jewish director of interreligious and intergroup relations, it is even more saddening that some Jewish organizations have chosen to walk away from a scheduled interfaith roundtable, then demand that the Christian leaders attend a “summit” on their own dictated terms.

It is not the role of Jewish organizations to dictate how their Christian partners can live out their conscience or their values, no matter how much they may disagree. Unpleasant realities cannot be discarded simply because these organizations regard such issues as off limits.

We can only hope that these Christian leaders will stand firm and that this sad episode will lead us to a new kind of interfaith covenant — one based on trust and respect, a willingness to face down our fear and suspicion of one another, and a readiness to discuss the painful, difficult issues that may divide us.

Will the American Jewish establishment be up to such a task?

Rabbi Brant Rosen is the co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace and a congregational rabbi in Evanston, Ill.

Seven Jewish lawmakers press Obama on Turkey


Seven Jewish House members urged President Obama to conduct an intensive review of the country’s relationship with Turkey.

“It appears that our long-standing ally in Ankara is drifting toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies,” said the letter sent Wednesday by the lawmakers, all Democrats.

The signers are U.S. Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee; Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee; Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

“In response, the United States needs to undertake an urgent review of our relations with Turkey and our overall strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the letter said.

The letter referred to Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador after a United Nations investigation partially vindicated Israel in its May 2010 raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship headed to the Gaza Strip—the raid resulted in a melee that killed nine Turks—as well as what it said were aggressive Turkish postures toward Cyprus and the European Union.

Separately, Engel and Berkley called for a suspension of sales of military equipment to Turkey.

“We urge our Congressional colleagues to join us in rejecting any attempt to supply weapons to a country that is threatening some of America’s closest allies and supporting terrorist groups like Hamas,” they said in a statement.

The Turkish charity that organized the May 2010 flotilla is believed to have ties with Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

U.S. halts UNESCO funding over Palestinian vote


The United States said on Monday it had stopped funding UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, following its vote to grant the Palestinians full membership.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters the United States had no choice but to halt funding because of U.S. laws passed in the 1990s, saying Washington would not make a planned $60 million transfer that was due in November.

“The United States … remains strongly committed to robust, multilateral engagement across the U.N. system. However, Palestinian membership as a state in UNESCO triggers long-standing legislative restrictions which will compel the United States to refrain from making contributions to UNESCO,” Nuland said.

Nuland also said the vote Monday by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as a member was “regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

The United States provides 22 percent of the funding of the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

That agency decided on Monday to give the Palestinians full membership, a vote that will boost their bid at the United Nations for recognition as a state.

UNESCO is the first U.N. agency the Palestinians have joined as a full member since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas applied for full membership of the United Nations on Sept. 23.

The United States and its ally Israel oppose the Palestinian diplomatic foray in the U.N. system, describing it as an attempt to bypass the two-decade old peace process. Washington says only a resumption of peace talks ending in a treaty with Israel can bring about the Palestinian goal of statehood.

Earlier Monday, Republican U.S. lawmakers demanded the funding cutoff, and the White House as well as other officials across the U.S. political spectrum criticized UNESCO’s action.

“I expect the administration to enforce existing law and stop contributions to UNESCO and any other U.N. agency that enables the Palestinians to short-cut the peace process,” said Representative Kay Granger, the Republican chairwoman of the House committee in charge of foreign aid.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the UNESCO move was “no substitute for negotiations, but it is deeply damaging to UNESCO.”

The laws passed in the 1990s prohibit U.S. funding to any U.N. organization that grants full membership to any group that does not have the “internationally recognized attributes” of statehood.

The language was intended to pre-emptively block normalization of Palestinian relations and activities in the international community, said Lara Friedman, policy director at Americans for Peace Now, an American Jewish group.

The American Jewish group J Street called on Congress to amend U.S. law to preserve American contributions to UNESCO, saying without U.S. support, the group’s work in development and expanding educational opportunities around the globe would be at risk.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told U.S. lawmakers earlier this month that the U.S. government should have the flexibility to decide whether to cut off money for such agencies if they take in the Palestinians.

Additional reporting by Debbie Charles, Andrew Quinn and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Philip Barbara

U.S. Congress members to Turkey’s Erdogan: Stop Gaza flotilla


Members of the U.S. Congress issued a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday in which they urge Turkey’s premier to stop the departure of another flotilla to the Gaza Strip.

“We write today to express our serious concern over reports that the so-called Free Gaza Movement and the IHH are planning to send another flotilla to Gaza in the coming weeks to provoke a confrontation with Israel,” read a signed letter by 36 members of Congress initiated by Rep. Steve Israel.

“As members of the United States House of Representatives we ask you to help discourage these efforts and work with the Israeli government in a productive way as it continues to allow legitimate aid, but not weapons, to enter Gaza.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.