Sen. Kamala Harris of California addressing the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C., on March 28. Photo from AIPAC

Lawmakers press Trump administration anew on bias crimes, anti-Semitism


Lawmakers in Congress continued to press the Trump administration to address perceived spikes in bias crimes in the United States and in anti-Semitism abroad, reflecting bipartisan concern that President Donald Trump remains insufficiently engaged on the issues.

The Senate resolution, approved unanimously late Wednesday, urged the Trump administration “to continue Federal assistance that may be available for victims of hate crimes” and “to continue safety and preparedness programs for religious institutions, places of worship, and other institutions that have been targeted because of the affiliation of the institutions with any particular religious, racial, or ethnic minority.”

Separately, top House of Representatives lawmakers introduced legislation that would elevate the role of the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor.

Bipartisan backing for the initiatives suggests a rare example of an adversarial relationship between the White House and both parties in Congress. And they reflect concerns at Trump administration plans to roll back funding since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 for initiatives and positions that protect Jews and other minorities.

A number of Jewish groups have expressed alarm at Trump administration plans to roll back security assistance for nonprofits, currently at $20 million, into broader emergency planning funding, which they fear will see the program’s elimination. Lawmakers have called on the administration to keep the funding separate and to more than double it to $50 million.

The Senate resolution also urged federal agencies to improve the reporting of hate crimes, which anti-bias groups have said for years is uneven and at times unreliable, and calling for an interagency task force “to collaborate on the development of effective strategies and efforts to detect and deter hate crime in order to protect minority communities.”

Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., initiated the resolution. Harris first announced she would introduce the resolution at last month’s policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“We applaud the Senate for forcefully condemning hate in all its forms and for urging the federal government to take concrete steps to fight back against discrimination and bias-motivated crimes,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, said in a statement. “Anti-Semitism and bigotry are affecting countries all over the world, and the U.S. is no exception. But the rigor of America’s response and the solidarity we demonstrate for each other across diverse communities is exceptional.”

Also Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly apologized during testimony for not yet responding to a letter sent last month by all 100 senators urging him and other top U.S. security officials to address bomb threats to Jewish institutions.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., asked Kelly during the secretary’s testimony to the Senate’s Homeland Security committee why he had failed to reply 29 days after the letter was sent to Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI director James Comey.

“It should have been a long time ago, I’ll apologize and I’m on it,” Kelly said.

Since the letter was sent, an Israeli Jewish teenager believed to be responsible for the bomb threats has been arrested, but Kelly suggested a broader threat remained and extended it to mosques and African-American churches as well.

“I’ve told my people, let’s not just talk one religion, let’s not just talk terrorists for that matter, how about white supremacists?” Kelly said.

Separately on Wednesday, a bipartisan slate of House members introduced legislation that would elevate the position of State Department anti-Semitism monitor, a response to reports that Trump plans to scrap the position.

The legislation, introduced by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., would elevate the position to ambassador level and ban “double-hatting,” or assign the position to someone who already has another assignment.

Jewish leaders testifying last month before a session of the House human rights subcommittee chaired by Smith urged the preservation of the position.

“Jewish communities here and abroad continue to be targeted for hatred and deadly violence,” Smith, who helped author the 2004 law creating the position, said in a statement. “The Special Envoy is critical to focusing and redoubling our leadership and this bill enhances the position.”

Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a separate statement noted recent attacks in Europe.

“Just this week, a Jewish Community Center in Sweden closed due to security threats, tombstones were desecrated at a Jewish cemetery in France, and vandals damaged a Greek Holocaust Memorial,” he said. “We continue to see the steady rise of anti-Semitic political parties in places like Hungary, Greece, and even France.”

A view of the Lawrence Family JCC in San Diego. Screenshot from YouTube

Bipartisan bill would boost penalties for anti-Semitic bomb threats


A bipartisan bill would increase the federal penalty for bomb threats and other threats of violence against religious institutions and ensure such acts can be prosecuted as a hate crime.

The bipartisan Combating Anti-Semitism Act of 2017, introduced Monday by Reps. David Kustoff, R-Tenn., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., comes after over 150 bomb threat hoaxes were called into Jewish community centers starting in January. Although a Jewish teenager with dual Israeli-American citizenship was charged last week in the bulk of those threats, both sponsors focused on their impact on the dozens of JCCs and their clientele.

“The rise in threats at religious community centers is deeply disturbing and makes it clear that existing federal laws do not suitably deter these acts of hate,” Kustoff, who is Jewish, added in a statement. “Religious tolerance is the bedrock on which our great nation was founded. We must defend the individual liberties of our neighbors of all faiths and protect places of worship, and I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that addresses the issue head on.”

Added Kilmer: “No American should be made a target because of his or her faith. Sadly, religious community centers across the country have increasingly had to lock down their facilities and call in bomb squads.”

The statement noted that JCCs were forced to evacuate as result of the threats, and families using Hebrew schools and early childhood education programs “have been forced to choose between their safety and their faith community.”

This bipartisan legislation would amend the Church Arson Prevention Act enacted in 1996 to ensure that individuals who make bomb threats and other “credible threats” of violence based on the religious nature of the target can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime.

The current law limits the consequences for “credible threats” to misdemeanor charges. The new law would create a penalty of up to five years in prison if such threats lead to damage or destruction of property.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Reps. Ted Poe, R-Tenn.; Ted Deutch, D-Fla.; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Joseph  Kennedy III, D-Mass.

Photo by Reuters

Jewish groups urge Congress to preserve anti-Semitism monitor


Jewish defense groups urged Congress to preserve the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor.

Representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Secure Community Network testified Wednesday before the human rights subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the subcommittee chairman, convened the hearing to examine connections between increases in anti-Semitism in Europe and in the United States.

The witnesses spoke to the topic, but also made the case for preserving the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. A report last month said that President Donald Trump’s administration was planning to scrap the position. No successor has been named for the the most recent anti-Semitism monitor, Ira Forman, who was on hand for the hearing.

The position is mandated by a 2004 law that Smith helped author, and the New Jersey lawmaker has joined Democrats in opposing any bid to scrap it. An array of Jewish groups and lawmakers have also urged the Trump administration to keep the post in place.

Naming a replacement for Forman “will ensure that the U.S. maintains a specialized focus on anti-Semitism,” said Stacy Burdett, the director of ADL’s Washington office.

Mark Weitzman, the director of government affairs for the Wiesenthal Center, said the position should be elevated to the ambassador level.

Speakers suggested — sometimes gently, sometimes less so — that Trump’s team needed to exhibit more sensitivity to the issue of anti-Semitism.

Weitzman cited the White House’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which omitted any mention of Jews. He noted that anti-Semites seized on the statement as a means of denying Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

“Even a mistake in the context of this background can be used by people with bad intentions,” he said.

Burdett said that “political leaders have the most immediate and significant opportunity to set the tone of a national response to an anti-Semitic incident, an anti-Semitic party or an anti-Semitic parliamentarian.”

Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jewish affairs for the AJC, focused on manifestations of anti-Semitism on the left and right in Europe.

Paul Goldenberg, the director of SCN, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that extremist groups in the United States and Europe are “increasingly the context for each other” by echoing one another in the themes they embrace.

Refugees, most of them Syrians, struggle to leave a half-sunken catamaran carrying around 150 refugees as it arrives on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing part of the Aegean sea from Turkey, October 30, 2015. REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

Evoking Holocaust, lawmakers demand ‘never again’ for Syria


WASHINGTON – Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined together on Tuesday urging the US government to act more decisively to stop the Syrian bloodshed while drawing upon the lessons of the Holocaust. When displaying the photos of “Caesar” — the codename of a Syrian military defector who smuggled out of the country over 28,000 images of torture and death in Assad prisons — Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee explained, “When you see the images of the Holocaust in the 1940s and the images of Syria in the 21st century, one can just get chilled to think that what has humanity learned all these years? We used to think things couldn’t happen here or any place else and now we see, we were really wrong.”

Over 400,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict erupted in 2011, many of whom are innocent civilians. Over 11 million Syrians have been displaced, over half of the country’s population in the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce (D-CA) recalled his father who took photos of the Dachau Concentration Camp after it was liberated in 1945. “When high school students would hear his lecture, they would ask why was the world so asleep to Hitler’s concentration camps? He would explain there was very little visual evidence at that time until those camps were liberated,” the California lawmaker noted. “That’s why he (Caeser) ran that risk so that the visual evidence would be right here in front of us. So, what is our excuse?”

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Democratic Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) also spoke at the gathering beside large posters of the gruesome photos taken by Caesar of Syrians brutally tortured and slaughtered. Al Munzer, a Holocaust survivor from Nazi-Occupied Holland evoked his murdered relatives and said, “Like in the Holocaust, inaction is to be complicit. I am here today to give voice to my sisters and to 1.5 million other children killed in the Holocaust who call out to the children burned and maimed and orphaned by bombs in Syria,” Munzer added “Their plight must be front and center of this country’s foreign policy and the world’s attention.”

In a deeply personal plea, Qutaiba Idlbi, a Syrian from Damascus who was tortured in Assad’s prisons urged President Trump, “I know that the new administration has the power to stand in the face of all types of terror.” Idlibi detailed the necessary steps he believes to stop the bloodshed. “I plead with you to establish safe zones in my country that will stop the Assad regime planes and the Iranians from targeting civilians,” he urged. “There are people that remain detained for six years in these prisons awaiting your support. Do not let them down.”

Photo by Reuters

115 House members sign letter warning about one-state outcome


Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) have circulated a letter calling on President Donald Trump to “reaffirm” America’s support for the two state solution while warning against a one state scenario, which would lead to “endless conflict”.

Connolly told Jewish Insider on Thursday evening that at least 115 Members of Congress have co-signed the letter including two Republican Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and John Duncan (R-TN). Jewish Insider has obtained the text of the letter, which has not yet been publicized.

The Congressional letter expresses concern about a one state reality. “It is our belief that a one-state outcome risks destroying Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, denies the Palestinians fulfillment of their legitimate aspirations, and would leave both Israelis and Palestinians embroiled in an endless and intractable conflict for generations to come.”

In a conversation with Jewish Insider, Price cited the President’s press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15 as motivating the letter. “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said.

“Today, we remain convinced that a two-state solution is the only outcome that would quell ongoing incidents of violence, maintain Israel as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state, and provide a just and stable future for the Palestinians,” the letter states.

Connolly explained that controversial subjects — such as the current situation in Gaza — were not included in the text to ensure that the letter would receive maximum Congressional support.

The letter has obtained over support from over 25 percent of the House including Brad Sherman (D-CA), Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) Deputy DNC Chair Keith Ellison (D-MN), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), John Lewis (D-GA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD). 

“There are those who argued that this is just a party line letter, so when we got two Republicans, I was able to say, ‘not anymore,’” Connolly added.

Screenshot-2017-03-10-at-11.29.05-AM-1

“Leadership from the United States is crucial at this juncture. We must ensure that a comprehensive agreement between the two parties is not imposed and oppose unilateral actions by either of the two parties that would push the prospects for peace further out of reach,” the letter added.

Abraham Foxman. Photo by David Karp

Foxman: New approach needed to new phenomenon of anti-Semitism


President Donald Trump’s statement condemning a rash of anti-Semitic attacks, bombs threats at Jewish Community Centers, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries across the nations, at the start of his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday was welcomed by Jewish American leaders as a meaningful response.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“That he chose to focus on fighting anti-Semitism and hate (at the start of his address), we really welcome that,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation Leauqu (ADL),  said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. “That was a notable change from what we have seen. It was incredibly meaningful.”

Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major Organizations,  Stephen Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, said in a statement, “By reaffirming America’s strong commitment to speaking out against hate, President Trump sent an important message of support to the American Jewish community at a very difficult time and set an example for other political, religious and civic leaders to follow.”

Now that the President issued that much-needed clear and unequivocal statement, former ADL National Director Abe Foxman thinks the Jewish community should move on and focus on working with law enforcement authorities to apprehend the culprits and design strategies to protect the community from anti-Semitic attacks and threats.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Foxman suggested that this new phenomenon requires a new approach. “We have to fight it from the outside and the inside,” he asserted. “The outside is to get the political, moral, religious, and civic leadership, to condemn it and making it unacceptable. And number two is law enforcement. Law enforcement needs to take it seriously – to utilize all law enforcement techniques and institutions to combat it. And when you arrest a culprit, to make sure that the punishment is serious and not just a slap on the wrist.”

According to Foxman, it’s not the job of President Trump to come up with a plan. “His job is to condemn it and speak out. I don’t think it’s his job, though he has to fight prejudice, period.”

The former ADL head, who now serves as Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, further cautioned Jewish American organizations not to exaggerate the threat. “Our responsibility is to make sure that while we take it seriously, it doesn’t intimidate Jews from wanting to be Jews,” Foxman stressed.” Because, God forbid if we make it more of a threat than it is, the result will be that Jews will not want to be Jewish.” 

“The Jews, after every tragedy, stood up, brushed themselves off and reaffirmed their desire to continue to be Jews. And that’s the secret of Jewish survival,” he explained. “And therefore, here too, we face every single day when we talk about the dangers to our community centers, to our cemeteries, that is not, God forbid, undermining that commitment of Jews to continue to want to be Jews.” 

Congress defers ‘anti-Semitism’ bill to 2017


The story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

The House of Representatives failed to pass a bill targeting campus anti-Semitism, delaying the legislation until 2017, according to two informed Congressional staff members who spoke with Jewish Insider. On December 1, the Senate unanimously passed the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016,” two days after it was introduced. The legislation expands the Department of Education’s definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism that “demonizes” and “delegitimizes” Israel or applies a “double standard” against the Jewish state.

A Congressional staff official, who insisted on anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told Jewish Insider that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, was responsible for deferring the measure.  Since this is the House’s final week in session, Goodlatte opposed  “rushing” the bill through without adequate study, noted the Hill staffer. Goodlatte “thought the wording was a little vague and there were definitely first amendment issues as well,” the Congressional official added.   

The House Committee on the Judiciary did not immediately respond to Jewish Insider’s request for comment.

The bipartisan measure, led by Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA), Ken Buck (R-CO), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Peter Roskam (R-IL), defined anti-Semitism by a 2010 State Department guideline. “This legislation will help the Department of Education investigate incidents of discrimination motivated by anti-Semitism in our schools,” Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), sponsors of the Senate version, explained.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt enthusiastically supported the measure.  “This act addresses a core concern of Jewish and pro-Israel students and parents; When does the expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment, and anti-Zionist beliefs cross the line from First Amendment protected free expression to unlawful, discriminatory conduct,” he said.  

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told Jewish Insider that the bill was especially important since he believes that most American universities have “either closed their eyes to the problem (of anti-Semitism) or given a wink and a nod” to the issue. When asked about the charges that the measure would limit free speech, Cooper dismissed these critiques. “When there is a pushback against bullies, very often they (those attacking Israel) will present themselves as victims,” he added.   

Despite the delay, the Congressional official emphasized, “I am quite certain that based on the overwhelming support this bill receives from outside groups and members that there will be an interest and a drive to consider this and review it next year.” A second Hill staffer noted that generally the Senate operates more cautiously when advancing legislation, but in this case, the House was the body that delayed the anti-Semitism bill.

Although most of the established Jewish community backs the measure, some liberal organizations including Americans for Peace Now have publicly opposed the bill for not addressing the rise in anti-Semitism led by the “alt-Right” while also “policing” university debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. J-Street is undecided about the measure explaining that the bill requires additional Congressional study.

Given that both the House and Senate will need to reintroduce the bill in the next session, Norm Brownstein, a superlobbyist who led the effort in supporting this legislation, quoted his friend the late Senator Edward Kennedy as best describing the current environment and the way forward in 2017. “The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.”

Donald Trump, the Jewish savior


Think back to a year ago. 

The Jewish wars were raging. Israel’s prime minister brought the fight over the Iran nuclear deal to the floor of Congress, directly confronting the American president. Israeli Jews stood with Bibi. American Jews were split. A slim majority backed the deal, an enraged and anxious minority fought tooth and nail against it. We were divided, weakened, uncertain.

And then came Donald.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric and behavior, his shape-shifting policies and free-style facts have derailed American politics. But give the man credit for one seemingly impossible feat: Donald Trump has united the Jews.

A year ago, if someone had asked you what will heal the deep partisan division between American Jews, what would you have said? An Arab war. A new season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The messiah. It’s a short list. 

Who would have guessed the correct answer was a race-baiting billionaire from reality TV? I know I’ve written about this before, but Jewish unity is like Halley’s comet. You don’t get many chances in a lifetime to see it.

But if a poll released last week is correct, that’s exactly what’s happening. A survey of 500 Florida Jews found that if the election were held today, 66 percent would choose Hillary Clinton and 23 percent would go for Trump. That’s a steep drop from the 30 percent of Jews whom Gov. Mitt Romney won running against Barack Obama in 2012.

Keep in mind that Romney received between 5 and 10 percent more of the Jewish vote than did Sen. John McCain in 2008. Trump hasn’t just put a halt to the upward trend, he’s reversed it. These numbers show that whatever momentum Republican Jews had gained, Trump lost. 

Even more telling is Trump’s unfavorable rating among Jews. The poll, conducted by Jim Gerstein from GBA Strategies, a progressive-leaning polling group, found that 71 percent have an unfavorable view of him. Seventy-one percent! I’ve been burning up Google trying to find another controversial issue on which Jews poll with such unanimity.   

The only one I could find was Passover. A 2013 Pew study found that 70 percent of American Jews mark the Passover holiday.  I can see Trump’s PR spin on this: “Vote Trump. He’s as Popular as  Seder.”

The Iran debate was close. Those of us who supported the deal did so with deep reservations, with divided hearts and minds. But the numbers on Trump reveal no such waffling. In fact, I think they tell us a lot about who we are:    

1. We believe in b’tselem Elohim all people are created in the image of God. The poll found that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric was a particular turn-off to Florida Jewish voters. They had “strong objections” to Trump’s plan to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Only 19 percent supported it. Think about that: More Jews oppose Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration than celebrate Passover. Americans as a whole are split on the idea of the Muslim ban. It has to be telling for Trump that the people most hated by the likes of ISIS are the people least likely to scapegoat all Muslims.

2. We were once strangers. Trump’s singling out of Mexicans and Latino Americans fell even more flat with Jewish voters. According to the survey, only 12 percent approve of his call to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. 

3.  A strong America equals a strong Israel. Much is being made of the finding that Israel ranked near the bottom of concerns for Florida Jewish voters. It was ninth out of 13 issues, with the economy, ISIS and future Supreme Court nominees at the top. Only 8 percent named Israel as the most important issue.  The lesson is not that American Jews care little about Israel, but that they take both parties’ support for Israel as a given, and understand that Israel’s security depends in large part on America’s strength.

4. Hiten zol men zikh far di freind, nit far di feint. Yes, I had to Google that. It’s the translation of a bit of ingrained Yiddish wisdom: “Beware of your friends, not your enemies.” I’m sure there’s a Ladino equivalent. Donald Trump’s friends, more often than not, disgust us.  His popularity on the hate-right, his selection of Breitbart’s Steve Bannon as campaign manager, his love affair with Ann Coulter — you don’t have to think the man is racist or Hitler — which he isn’t — to feel he has given way too much cover to kooks.

These are the lessons of the 71 percent of Jews who disapprove of Trump, but of course they raise the most perplexing question:  What’s with that 26 percent who say they’re voting for him? If so many prominent Republican Jews have vocally come out against Trump; if anecdotally we each know so few Republican or independent Jews who say they’ll vote for him,  who are these people? 

For that answer, I turned to professor Steven Windmueller, who has been studying American Jewish voting patterns for decades. Trump’s Jewish base, he said, are people still concerned by the Iran deal who want to “punish” Clinton for her support of it. They are people who prioritize Israel and believe Democrats in general and President Obama in particular put too much pressure on it. 

“Trump is perceived as willing to take on Islamic extremists, the Iranians and others who are seen as threats to Israel and to American global interests,” the professor emailed me. “These are priorities for a core group of Jewish Republicans where international security is a driving factor.”

But Windmueller also pointed out that Trump is far less popular among Republicans despite these actual numbers: Not only are there those unfavorables, but he has done far worse than previous Republicans raising money from Jewish donors. 

Why?  Consider the words of Charles Fried, professor at Harvard Law School and former solicitor general of the United States under President Ronald Reagan — and a Holocaust refugee.  

“This is a man about whom the best you can say is that he doesn’t believe anything he says,” Fried wrote on CNN.com. “After that, it’s downhill all the way.”


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

Wasserman Schultz challenger ties himself to anti-Iran deal Democrats


In an invitation to a meet and greet in Hollywood on Tuesday, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s challenger, Tim Canova, tied himself to top Democratic representatives who voted against the Iran nuclear deal.

“When called upon to protect Israel some legislators step up,” the pamphlet reads, quoting excerpts from statements issued by Reps. Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel and Senator Chuck Schumer against the Iran deal. “Debbie Wasserman Schultz waffled back and forth before voting for the Iran nuclear deal, choosing party and personal political ambition over principle. Tim Canova sides with Deutch, Schumer, and Frankel.”

Deutch and Frankel have endorsed Wasserman Schultz in the primary. Schumer still hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the primary.

Canova, who is supported by former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, questions whether Wasserman Schultz can “really be trusted to protect Israel’s security in the future,” while touting his opposition to the Iran deal and “strong personal connection to the state of Israel.” Canova, like Sanders, mentions that he worked on an Israeli kibbutz for five months in his first time visiting the Jewish State.

“>billboard – back in April – criticizing her for not standing with the president on payday loans.

He also rebuked the congressional candidate for suggesting that Wasserman Schultz “waffled” on the nuclear deal. “As someone who was with her during her deliberations, it is just wrong,” said Weinstein. “She had the vice president come down to meet with members of her district; she met with rabbis and people of all sides of the issue, and she had briefings. She wasn’t waffling. She was doing her job by evaluating the deal.”

Canova and Wasserman Schultz are competing in a Democratic primary in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District on August 30th. A recent poll showed Wasserman Schultz leading Canova 46-38 percent with 16 percent undecided. Another 


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White supremacist David Duke planning congressional bid


White supremacist leader David Duke is gearing up to run for Congress, saying his decision was bolstered by the killing last week of five white Dallas policemen at the hands of a black gunman.

Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told the Daily Beast on Tuesday that he plans to challenge incumbent Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., saying he has “very seriously set up an exploratory committee” and expects to make a decision “in a few days.” The ballot deadline is July 22.

Speaking about the Dallas killings, Duke said: “I don’t take any satisfaction in the fact that I was right, but I have been right. Unless European Americans stand up, they are going to lose everything they care about in this country.”

 

Duke has asserted publicly that Jews control the Federal Reserve Bank, the U.S. government and the media. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990 and for Louisiana governor in 1991, losing in a runoff election to Edwin Edwards.

He has endorsed Donald Trump for president and compared himself to the presumptive Republican nominee.

“I’ve said everything that Donald Trump is saying and more,” Duke said, according to the Daily Beast. “I think Trump is riding a wave of anti-establishment feeling that I’ve been nurturing for 25 years.”

In February, Duke endorsed Trump on his radio program, telling his listeners to volunteer for and vote for Trump.

In an interview days after the endorsement on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Trump told host Jake Tapper: “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.”

Trump disavowed the endorsement hours after the “State of the Union” interview, for the second time in three days, after refusing to do so on the program.

Scalise, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2008 and is now the majority whip, reportedly once called himself “David Duke without the baggage.”

Westside congressman facing first re-election bid discusses Israel


Los Angeles Rep. Ted Lieu is quick to shoot off a friendly tweet. With a computer science degree from Stanford University, he’s one of the more tech-savvy members of Congress. 

After a panel on cybersecurity at Politicon, a political convention held June 26 in Pasadena, Lieu stuck around to shake hands, pass out business cards, connect digitally with his constituents — and speak with the Jewish Journal.

Five members represent the Jewish population centers of Los Angeles in Congress. Lieu, who immigrated with his family from Taiwan when he was a child and represents the 33rd District, is the most junior among them. In November, he’ll face his first bid for re-election, against South Bay surgeon Kenneth Wright in a district stretching from Malibu to Palos Verdes and jutting into Beverly Hills.

As a Democrat, he is expected to again win the heavily liberal district. His predecessor, Henry Waxman, who is Jewish, maintained his seat for 40 years.

A large portion of the voter base is Westside Jews, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Lieu takes a staunchly pro-Israel position. A reserve Air Force colonel, his military service also may contribute to his desire to see Israel maintain a qualitative military edge in the Middle East.

Sitting down with the Journal after his Politicon panel, Lieu took stock of the national security issues his Jewish constituents care most about — namely, Israel and its less-than-friendly neighbors.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jewish Journal: You participated in the Democratic sit-in last week on the House floor calling to reform gun laws in this country. Why should voters care about gun violence in places like Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, which you represent?

Ted Lieu: There are some common-sense reforms we can do right now that don’t take anyone’s guns away, but makes America safer. … If you’re going to be on a no-fly list, 85 percent of Americans believe you shouldn’t be able to go in and buy an assault rifle. The reason people should care in the 33rd District is that every single day, 297 people in America are shot. That means every five minutes someone gets shot. Who will that be? Will it be someone you know? Will it be a child? Will it be an acquaintance or relative?

JJ: What do you say to people who feel the issue Congress should be discussing is Islamic terror, or perhaps mental health, rather than gun reform?

TL: Mental health is an incredibly important issue, and I believe we can get bipartisan support on both mental health, in terms of providing more funding to people who are doing the work of delivering mental health services, and also addressing it in the context of gun violence. Unfortunately, right now there is no bill moving. The Republican majority has pretty much put a hammerlock on any sort of gun-safety legislation. … In terms of terrorism, I served active duty in the Air Force. I’m still in the reserves. My view is we need to hunt down terrorists and kill them. And there are a lot of ways to try and mitigate terrorism in the United States, but clearly, having easy access to guns is something I think that benefits terrorists more than it will hurt terrorists.

JJ: It’s been about a year since the Iran deal was ratified. You opposed that deal. Are you confident that you made the right choice?

TL: Yes, but not because of the last year. We won’t actually know for about five to 10 years whether this was a good deal, a bad deal or something in between. But what the last year showed is that Iran has in fact not moderated. They have continued to launch ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations sanctions; they have continued to fund terrorist networks. In the elections they had, they basically hand-selected those who could run. … So to me, there is no indication that they are any closer to moderation than they were a year ago.

JJ: Are there any steps that could be taken to change that?

TL: Iran needs to suffer consequences for violating United Nations sanctions in a far greater way than they have. And I also think we need to reauthorize the expiring U.S. sanctions so that if, in the future, Iran were to violate the Iran deal, the president, whoever she may be, can implement those sanctions immediately.

JJ: The Obama administration has hesitated to sign a memorandum of understanding that would grant Israel an increase in military aid. What’s your view on military aid to Israel?

TL: Let’s take a step back. One of the predictions I had for the Iran deal was that it was going to increase military sales to the Middle East, that it was going to cause a Middle East arms race. We are starting to see that happen. The U.S. has sold large amounts of munitions to Saudi Arabia. We’ve sold them ships. We’ve sold them rockets. Other countries are asking for military equipment from the U.S., as well, and you’re going to see, I believe, a buildup of military arms at exactly the wrong time, when the Middle East is on fire. It’s like putting fuel on the fire. Having said that, I think it’s critical that Israel retains its qualitative military edge, and I fully support the U.S. military aid to Israel. … It’s very clear to me that Israel is at the tip of the spear. They’re the only democracy in a very troubled region of the world, and they are a bulwark against terrorists and terrorism networks, and the U.S. needs to do whatever we can to protect Israel and her security. 

JJ: In terms of the amount of aid, do you support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for an increase?

TL: I would support Israel’s request.

JJ: You were a member of the California State Assembly, where a proposal is now floating around to legislate against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeted at Israel. What is your view on legislating against BDS at the state and federal level?

TL: At the federal level, I am one of the founding members of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combatting Anti-Semitism in Congress. The goal is to push back against the false facts of BDS. … One way to fight back is to talk about the enormous benefits of a U.S.-Israel relationship, across a whole variety of different areas. So I have legislation that talks about the economic benefits of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and all the technologies that California, the U.S. and Israel work on together, such as technology to help the drought. It passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on a bipartisan basis. One reason I introduced that legislation is to try and reframe the issue so that people have a much fuller understanding of the U.S.-Israel relationship instead of just focusing on one narrow issue.

Both Jewish 25-year-olds bidding to be youngest member of Congress come up short


Erin Schrode and Alex Law, Jewish 25-year-olds running to become the youngest lawmakers in Congress, both lost to incumbents in their respective Democratic primary races Tuesday for a House of Representatives seat.

Schrode, an environmentalist and entrepreneur, garnered 7 percent of the vote in Northern California’s 2nd District in falling to two-term incumbent Jared Huffman, who had nearly 75 percent.

Days before the election, Schrode was flooded with anti-Semitic social media and cellphone messages. The progressive activist called the messages “pure evil” and told Buzzfeed that people contacted the FBI on her behalf.

Law, a former IBM consultant, won 30 percent of the vote in Southern New Jersey’s 1st district in his loss to Donald Norcross, who had 70 percent.

Both of the young candidates — who each told JTA they support Bernie Sanders — had made national headlines for their upstart efforts but were projected as heavy underdogs.

Schrode entered the race on March 29.

Law, who earned an endorsement from the Philadelphia Inquirer, faced an opponent supported by what is widely acknowledged as the most powerful political network in New Jersey. Norcross, 57, was a longtime union leader before being elected to his House seat in 2014 after former Rep. Robert Andrews, also a Democrat, resigned in the wake of an ethics probe.

Congress to block Obama’s proposed cuts to anti-terror funding


Congress is moving towards passing a Homeland Security budget that will restore $270 million in funds for the Urban Area Security Initiative in the 2017 budget, back to the 2016 funding level of $600 million, Senator Chuck Schumer announced on Thursday.

Since February, Schumer 

In Nevada primary, a Muslim facing a Jew says he was passed over for his faith


Come November, Nevadans in this suburban Las Vegas district may well elect to Congress Jacky Rosen, a software developer and president of her synagogue.

A Jordanian-American lawyer says her win would be at his expense, and it’s because of his Muslim faith.

But Jesse Sbaih isn’t blaming Rosen. Rather he is blitzing the Nevada media with his claim that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Democratic boss in the state, counted him out of the race in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District because he is a Muslim.

Sbaih was more than happy to present his argument to JTA, and at no point suggested that Rosen – who was ultimately Reid’s pick in the bid to replace Joe Heck, a Republican whose run for Senate leaves his seat open –was selected because she is Jewish. Instead, he said, Reid was simply seeking someone who was not Jesse Sbaih.

“‘Let me be blunt, you can’t win this race because you’re a Muslim’,” Sbaih quoted Reid as telling him last August when they met at a Las Vegas hotel.

Reid’s office acknowledges the meeting but flatly denies that Sbaih’s religion came up.

“We have said many times that Jesse is not telling the truth,” Kristen Orthman, the senator’s spokeswoman, told JTA.

Sbaih remains in the running for the June 14 congressional primary, but Reid’s full-throttled power is behind Rosen. Reid is retiring this year and wants to leave his mark on the state. Heck’s open seat is an opportunity – President Barack Obama won the district in 2008 and 2012, albeit by relatively small margins.

Reid’s Searchlight Leadership Fund political action committee is backing Rosen. She also has the backing of a political action committee associated with Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the powerful minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice Democratic women.

Sbaih, speaking to JTA in the boardroom of his law firm’s office in a strip mall, said Reid’s machine has cut off access to Democratic consultants who could help him. Much of his campaign is self-funded.

He says he is running to give back to the community — he arrived in the United States with his parents when he was 11. He has endorsed the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running a campaign emphasizing income inequality – and who incidentally is the first Jewish candidate for a major party to win nominating contests. (Sanders lost Nevada, but by a small margin, to Hillary Clinton.)

“I believe in the goodness and the spirit of the American people,” Sbaih said. “There are serious issues facing our community. In this district of 744,000 people, we have 64,000 people living below the poverty line.”

Did Reid bring up Sbaih’s faith? It comes down to he said/she said – quite literally.

Two weeks before meeting with Reid, Sbaih met with Rebecca Lambe, a political consultant to the senator. Sbaih said she was the first to suggest his faith could be an obstacle. Orthman referred JTA to Lambe’s statement last month to the Washington Post, when she said she raised a number of issues in that first meeting, including his religion, “to more fully understand the path and potential attacks from the other side.”

Sbaih showed JTA a series of texts he sent to Lambe after his Aug. 25 meeting with Reid, in which he candidly discusses whether he should suspend his campaign because of his “ethnicity/religion.” Lambe did not immediately cut him off – she refers to a possible federal appointment that Reid’s team discussed with Sbaih – so she does not appear to be put off or surprised by his reference to his religion or its political implications.

However, Sbaih’s references to his faith in the texts could refer to his earlier conversation with Lambe and not to the conversation with Reid. It is also not clear from the texts if she straight out said being Muslim would be a problem, or if he simply inferred that from her saying that he should anticipate attacks because of his religion — which she acknowledges.

What’s also not explained is why Democrats would fear running an Arab American or a Muslim for office. Multiple Arab Americans from both parties have served or are serving in Congress, and there are two Muslim Democrats from the Midwest — Sbaih would be the first member to be both Arab American and Muslim.

Where Sbaih has ammunition, however, is in the claim by Reid’s team that the senator simply wanted Sbaih, 40, to gain seasoning – through the statehouse or federal government work – before running.

“Senator Reid said, ‘You have a future, you should look at running for state Assembly or state Senate,” Orthman said. “That was the crux of the meeting.”

The problem with that argument is that Rosen also was not a known quantity. Reid, according to veteran Nevada politics reporter Jon Ralston, had hoped to find a “big name” before settling earlier this year on Rosen.

Why didn’t he go back to Sbaih, who was still asking to be considered?

“She’s been a community leader for years, she’s known in the district she’s running in,” Orthman said, referring to Rosen.

Sbaih says his work specializing in consumer rights lends him a high profile, which is burnished by his physician wife Sameera’s busy family practice in this suburb of casinos, resorts and strip malls.

The Rosen campaign deflected multiple requests by JTA to meet or interview the candidate. A video of her April 19 appearance at a town hall for the LGBTQ community shows a confident and warm speaker, albeit with name recognition issues. The group, the Stonewall Democratic Club, prepared a label for her as “Jack Rosen,” which she successfully turned into a joke.

She told the crowd she was fighting for “the freedom to be your authentic self, go to the bathroom wherever you choose, thank you very much — you can be Jack or Jacky Rosen,” she said, nodding at the label and earning appreciative laughter.

Regarding her leadership experience, all she cited was her presidency of Ner Tamid, a Reform synagogue here and the largest shul in the region. She noted the synagogue’s use of solar panels to conserve energy and said she balanced a budget of $2.5 million a year.

Otherwise, Rosen appeared to lack preparation, eager to avoid wonky topics and to focus on a feel-good message.

“We can talk about energy and education and economics, but what’s most important is to talk about is empowerment,” she said.

An accountant asked her about taxing carried interest. Rosen seemed at sea.

“I have looked a little bit at the carried interest,” she said, “but you can go ahead and explain it.”

Shots fired in Capitol complex, gunman caught


A police officer may have been injured by shrapnel on Monday in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center when a man fired a gun, media reports and congressional sources said.

There was confusion in early accounts about what occurred but police said a suspect was taken into custody with wounds after shots were fired.

MSNBC-TV reported that an officer who fired at an armed suspect may have been injured by shrapnel. Police said the suspect was taken to hospital. The officer did not identify or describe the suspect and he added that there were no additional suspects.

A U.S. government official told Reuters that initial reports were that a suspect walked into the Visitors Center, pointed a gun at one of the police officers on duty and a shootout erupted.

The official said no evidence had materialized of a connection to terrorism.

Separately, CNN reported that a person tried to gain entry into the White House but was caught.

Congress is in recess, with few lawmakers in Washington but the shooting happened just a few hours after a drill for an active shooter took place at the Capitol, creating further confusion.

The Secret Service temporarily cleared tourists from an area surrounding the White House after the incident, but activities quickly went back to normal. Capitol Hill was placed in lockdown immediately after the shooting but was later lifted.

Cathryn Leff, a licensed therapist, tweeted that she was at the visitor's center when she heard gunshots while going through a security check point.

“That moment when it goes down . Everyone is screaming & running and you can't see where the #ShotsFired are from,” tweeted Leff(@Cathrynlefflmft).

Obama makes final attempt to persuade Congress to close Guantanamo


President Barack Obama launched a final push on Tuesday to persuade Congress to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but lawmakers, opposed to rehousing detainees in the United States, declared his plan a non-starter.

In White House remarks, Obama, a Democrat, pleaded with the Republican-led Congress to give his proposal a “fair hearing.” He said he did not want to pass along the issue to his successor next January.

The Pentagon plan proposes 13 potential sites on U.S. soil for the transfer of remaining detainees but does not identify the facilities or endorse a specific one.

“We’ll review President Obama’s plan,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “But since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he should know that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal.”

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said Obama had yet to convince Americans that moving the prisoners to the United States was smart or safe. 

Obama pledged to close the prison as a candidate for the White House in 2008. The prisoners were rounded up overseas when the United States became embroiled in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. The facility in years past came to symbolize aggressive detention practices that opened the United States to allegations of torture.

“Let us go ahead and close this chapter,” Obama said. 

“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values … It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law,” he said.

 

EXECUTIVE ACTION?

Obama is considering taking unilateral executive action to close the facility, situated in a U.S. naval station in southeast Cuba, if Congress does not vote to allow transfers to the United States. Republicans oppose any executive order.

The White House has sought to buttress its argument for closing the prison by focusing on its high cost. Obama said nearly $450 million was spent last year alone to keep it running. The new plan would be cheaper, officials said.

The transfer and closure costs would be $290 million to $475 million, an administration official told reporters, while housing remaining detainees in the United States would be $65 million to $85 million less expensive than at the Cuba facility, meaning the transfer bill would be offset in 3 to 5 years.

The prison, which Obama said once held nearly 800 detainees, now houses 91 detainees. Some 35 prisoners will be transferred to other countries this year, leaving the final number below 60, officials said. 

Obama noted that his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, transferred hundreds of prisoners out ofGuantanamo and wanted to close it. Republican Senator John McCain, Obama's 2008 presidential opponent and a former prisoner of war during U.S. involvement in Vietnam, also wanted it shut.

The plan would send detainees who have been cleared for transfer to their homelands or third countries and transfer remaining prisoners to U.S. soil to be held in maximum-security prisons. Congress has banned such transfers to the United States since 2011.

Though the Pentagon has previously noted some of the sites it surveyed for use as potential U.S. facilities, the administration wants to avoid fueling any political outcry in important swing states before the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Israeli kibbutz can ‘feel the Bern’ of forgotten volunteer Sanders


An Israeli kibbutz is taking considerable pride in a former volunteer, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, even though no one on the communal farm can quite remember him.

In 1990 Sanders, then running for Congress, told Israel's Haaretz newspaper he had volunteered for several months as a young man at Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim, a community with deep socialist roots on the edge of the Biblical Jezreel Valley in northern Israel.

Sanders, 74, has mentioned in the past that he once worked on a kibbutz, but its name remained a mystery until Haaretz republished its interview with him earlier this month.

There are no records at Shaar Haamakim of Sanders' stint in 1963 and none of its veteran members can say for sure they ever met him.

That hasn't stopped journalists from streaming into the community to try to dig for details about Sanders' experience at the kibbutz, where the Brooklyn-born Vermont senator, who is Jewish, is now the talk of the farm.

“The fact that Bernie Sanders' name was linked with Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim is a big honor for the kibbutz,” said its chairman Yair Merom. 

“The values that Bernie Sanders speaks about and his ideology in the presidential race – the modern social democratic values – are incredibly compatible with Kibbutz Shaar Haamakim.”

Kibbutz elder Albert Ely, 79, told Reuters he couldn't put a face to the name but he remembered that “an American called Bernard” had once been a volunteer.

“Everybody mentions it. Now that the election campaign began, there is great happiness in the entire kibbutz,” said Gilad Hershkikovich, who tends to its cows.

“I'm sure he had a good time here.”

Shkreli insults Congress on Twitter after refusing to testify


Former Turing Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Officer Martin Shkreli on Thursday called members of Congress “imbeciles” on Twitter, moments after he refused to testify before a House of Representatives committee on why his company raised the price of a lifesaving medicine by 5,000 percent.

“Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government,” said Shkreli, using his @MartinShkreli Twitter handle.

Earlier, Shkreli invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions from lawmakers about drug price increases he engineered, such as hiking the price of 62-year-old Daraprim to $750 a pill from $13.50. 

During the hearing, Shkreli, whose youth and attitude have prompted some critics to label him “Pharmabro,” responded to questions by laughing, twirling a pencil and yawning. 

After his appearance, he tweeted: “I had prior counsel produce a memo on facial expressions during congressional testimony if anyone wants to see it. Interesting precedence.”

He retweeted several posts, including one from Michael J Lis (@mikeylis) that said: “Congress should just ask @MartinShkreli questions on Twitter instead of putting them in front of the house committee.” 

Shkreli, 32, also interacted with some journalists, responding to one remark on his voting record with “have never voted and never will.”

Shkreli, who sparked outrage last year after the big hike in the price of 62-year-old Daraprim, was a trending topic on social media following the hearing. There were about 40 posts per minute about him on Twitter as of midday Thursday, according to analytics firm Zoomph. About 92,000 people were talking about Shkreli on Facebook.

His appearance on Thursday angered members of Congress. Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders), U.S. senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate, tweeted: “The American people are fed up with the blatant profiteering of pharmaceutical company CEOs like Martin Shkreli. It must end.”

U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham (@RepLujanGrisham), a New Mexico Democrat, said: “With all of the smirking, does @MartinShkreli really take this issue seriously? #PharmaBro.”

Twitter sentiment was negative overall toward Shkreli, according to Zoomph, and some tweets indicated it was not much better toward members of Congress. 

WDW Vacationer (@WDWVacationer) tweeted: “Trey Gowdy might be worse than Shkreli,” referring to an exchange in which the Republican representative from South Carolina got Shkreli to confirm how his last name is pronounced and then said: “See? … You did just answer a question.”

Obama’s gun control measures to spark political, legal fights


President Barack Obama is igniting a political firestorm this week by bypassing Congress with new measures to tighten U.S. gun rules that are likely to redefine what it means to be a gun dealer and possibly spark legal challenges during his final year in office.

Shares in gun makers Smith & Wesson Holding Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co Inc rose against a falling stock market on Monday in anticipation of increased gun sales, as has happened before when the White House mulled weapon sales reform.

Obama was due to meet Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday afternoon to discuss his options. 

Stymied by Congress' inaction on gun control, the president asked his advisers in recent months to examine new ways he could use his executive authority to tighten gun rules unilaterally without needing congressional approval after multiple mass shootings generated outrage nationwide. 

One option was a regulatory change to require more dealers to get a license to sell guns, a move that would trigger more background checks on buyers. 

The White House had drafted a proposal on that issue previously but was concerned it could be challenged in court and would be hard to enforce.

Guns are a potent issue in U.S. politics. The right to bear arms is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the National Rifle Association, the top U.S. gun rights group, is feared and respected in Washington for its ability to mobilize gun owners. Congress has not approved major gun-control legislation since the 1990s. 

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday that the administration was prepared for legal challenges and had confidence that Obama's new proposals were legally sound.

“A lot of the work that has gone on has been to ensure that we would have confidence in the legal basis of these actions,” he said, adding that the proposals would be “within the legal ability of the president of the United States to carry out.”

The president's planned use of executive action launches his final year with a move that Republicans say exemplifies misuse of his powers. Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, rejected Obama's proposals for legislation to tighten gun rules in 2013.

“While we don't yet know the details of the plan, the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will,” Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said in a statement.

“This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it.”

U.S. states have taken their own approaches to addressing gun violence. Texas legalized openly carrying handguns, while New York and Connecticut have banned high-capacity magazines.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individual Americans to keep and bear arms. But the court also recognized that laws imposing conditions on commercial guns sale can be consistent with the Second Amendment.

Obama: New gun control measures are legal, could save lives


President Barack Obama said on Monday his new executive actions to tighten gun rules were “well within” his legal authority and consistent with the U.S. right to bear arms, a warning to opponents who are likely to challenge them in court.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Obama said his administration would unveil the new measures over the next several days.

Obama is igniting a political firestorm by bypassing Congress with the measures, which are likely to redefine what it means to be a gun dealer and spark increased use of background checks. Republicans say Obama is misusing his powers.

“The good news is .. these are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and the executive branch, but they're also ones that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support,” Obama said during a meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other advisers.

Shares in gun makers Smith & Wesson Holding Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co Inc rose against a falling stock market on Monday in anticipation of increased gun sales, as has happened before when the White House mulled weapon sales reform.

Stymied by Congress' inaction on gun control, the president asked his advisers in recent months to examine new ways he could use his executive authority to tighten gun rules unilaterally without needing congressional approval after multiple mass shootings generated outrage nationwide. 

One option was a regulatory change to require more dealers to get a license to sell guns, a move that would trigger more background checks on buyers. 

The White House had drafted a proposal on that issue previously but was concerned it could be challenged in court and would be hard to enforce.

Guns are a potent issue in U.S. politics. The right to bear arms is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and the National Rifle Association, the top U.S. gun rights group, is feared and respected in Washington for its ability to mobilize gun owners. Congress has not approved major gun-control legislation since the 1990s.

Obama he was confident his new measures were constitutionally sound. They would not prevent every mass shooting or violent crime, he said, but they did have the potential to save lives. 

'EXECUTIVE OVERREACH,' RYAN SAYS 

The president's planned use of executive action launches his final year with a move that Republicans say exemplifies misuse of his powers. Congress, which is controlled by Republicans, rejected Obama's proposals for legislation to tighten gun rules in 2013.

“While we don't yet know the details of the plan, the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will,” Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan said in a statement.

“This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it.”

U.S. states have taken their own approaches to addressing gun violence. Texas legalized openly carrying handguns, while New York and Connecticut have banned high-capacity magazines.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individual Americans to keep and bear arms. But the court also recognized that laws imposing conditions on commercial guns sale can be consistent with the Second Amendment.

Congress passes bill targeting Hezbollah’s finances


Legislation targeting the financing of Hezbollah passed both houses of Congress.

The House of Representatives unanimously approved the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 on Wednesday. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.

The act directs the president to prohibit foreign banks from doing business with the Shiite militant group. The treasury would further be compelled to ban or sanction financial institutions that facilitate transactions with Hezbollah, which the United States classifies as a terrorist organization.

The bill originated in the House and was approved by the Senate last month. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., authored the original legislation in their respective chambers.

The American Israel Public Affairs committee commended Congress for passing the legislation in a statement Wednesday.

President Donald J. Trump’s State of the Union Address or: ‘The Plot Against America II’


January 16, 2018

“My Fellow Americans, Vice President Palin, distinguished members of Congress, and esteemed guests, I am deeply honored to offer this State of the Union address, my first since being elected your president in November 2016. 

I must commence with a warning.  America is in a conflict unlike any ever before. We face a mortal enemy with whom we are engaged in a civilizational war over the very values that define our way of life and being.

As you know well, it is not my habit to beat around the bush.  This enemy must be named again and again: it is Islam.  And we in the West must wage battle against it to defend the Christian values on which our societies are built.  As my distinguished predecessor President George W. Bush once wisely declared, we are embarked on a new Crusade in the name of our American virtue.

Some critics have accused me of bigotry and discrimination.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have known and gotten along with Muslims in the past; some are loyal citizens of this country.  I have nothing against Muslims as individuals.  I do have a serious problem with the religion to which they pledge allegiance, for it is a religion of hatred and violence.

I have a very good sense of history.  I understand that war can be long and brutal.  The Thirty Years’ War in seventeenth-century Europe pitted combatants from competing religions against one another.  Since the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, we have been engaged in a war that has already lasted 25 years.  We must redouble our resolve to defend our homeland and defeat the enemy.

Toward that end, I report to you on the following:

1)  In this state of war, we will take the battle to wherever the enemy is to be found.  Immediately upon assuming office, I ordered repeated bombing raids against ISIS forces in Syria.  This campaign has been effective in displacing ISIS from its stronghold in Raqqa.  Yes, there has been collateral damage, but that is the unfortunate cost of a total war against evil.   We have chopped off the head of the snake, but the body continues to writhe, supported by hundreds of thousands of new recruits drawn to the noxious ideology of ISIS and its new allies, Al Qaeda, the Al Nusra Front, and Boko Haram.

2)  I have committed to date 300,000 American ground forces to eliminate the enemy in various battle theaters where the poison of radical Islam permeates: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Nigeria.  We will not rest in our efforts to remove this dire threat.  I am grateful that the United States has been joined by two partners willing to defend the Christian West – France and Russia.  I commend my good friends President Marine Le Pen and President Vladimir Putin for their courage and conviction.  At the same time, our hearts go out to the families of the 28,000 American soldiers who have given their lives so far in the defense of liberty.  There will be more sacrifices, I’m afraid.  But we must make them to defeat the enemy.

3)  On the home front, we are also at war, and this requires emergency measures. I have instructed Secretary of Defense Ted Cruz, Attorney General Frank J. Gaffney Jr., and Special Advisor for Muslim Affairs Pamela Geller to intensify our efforts to monitor the Muslim population of this country.  I do not believe that all Muslims in America are disloyal, but far too many subscribe to the tenets of radical Islam.  This is the lesson we learned from the tragic terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California in 2015.  I repeat: we are at war at home!  Accordingly, I have put in place the following steps: 

a.  Regardless of nationality, all Muslims are being denied entry to this country at every port of entry.  At my request, the Attorney General has established a classification scheme to determine who is to be deemed Muslim.

b.  All mosques, community centers, and organizations devoted to Muslims in this country will be closed effective immediately.  Membership in them will be illegal until further notice.

c.  Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is creating internment camps to house all Muslims inside this country, without exception.  This step is necessary to insure that acts of terrorism not be perpetrated on American soil.

Some may regard these steps as un-American. But I remind you that one of my great predecessors, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, declaring that “the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities.”  This order allowed the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans who required surveillance in the wake of Pearl Harbor, when Japan was our declared enemy.  

As a businessman, I know what works.  And this internment worked.  Not only was the homeland secure during this period, but Japanese-Americans were compliant.  In fact, there were polls of the internees in which a substantial number asserted that they were content and even thankful for the protection afforded them.  I have little doubt that the Muslim population in this country will feel the same.

I hasten to mention three additional steps intended to restore pride and security to this country:

First, all homes must, by order of law, visibly display American flags on their doors or front lawns.

Second, the home of every loyal American citizen will be provided with an effective firearm to guarantee defense of our homeland.

Third, my immediate predecessor as president remains under arrest pending investigation of his links to radical Muslim terrorists cells.  He is in good physical condition, but will be treated with the full severity of the law should any criminal connection be found. 

My fellow Americans, these steps will assure the health and safety of our country at this critical time.  Now is the time for unity, not dissent.  We must join together under the Stars and Stripes to wage battle against the enemy, both beyond our borders and within them.  God bless all those who are willing to embark on this moral and virtuous Crusade.”


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.  Inspiration came from Philip Roth’s counterfactual novel The Plot against America and the television series “The Man in the High Castle.” 

The refugee dilemma: Fighting to defend the defenseless


On Nov. 19, less than a week after the deadly series of terrorist attacks in Paris, Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, the 134-year-old refugee resettlement organization, was summoned to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., to testify before Congress. The topic was the swelling Syrian refugee crisis.

Hetfield, 48, a lawyer and policy specialist in refugee and immigration resettlement, had been tracking the Syrian crisis since it began in 2011. What started as a civil war between Syrian president Bashar Assad and a handful of rebel groups seeking to unseat him had morphed in large part into a religious war with the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) leading the rebellion, internally displacing 11 million Syrians and pushing another 4.1 million out of the country.  

Hetfield hoped to convince Congress to take in 100,000 Syrian refugees “over and above” the United States’ annual refugee quota of 70,000, a number far exceeding the additional 10,000 Syrians President Barack Obama had already agreed to welcome. (In Hetfield’s address to Congress, he called the American gesture “tepid.”) Hetfield knew a green light was unlikely: In the week after the Paris attacks, the revelation that a fake or stolen Syrian passport may have been used by one of the terrorists to infiltrate the refugees streaming into Europe set off panic among some Americans that Syrian refugees are indistinguishable from the Islamic State terrorists they are fleeing. As the U.S. election cycle continues to heat up, the refugees have become a political flashpoint, with distortions and fear-mongering shifting focus away from their desperate situation.

As civil discourse last week descended into talk of Muslim registries and permitting only Syrian Christians to enter the U.S., Hetfield prepared to fight the toxic political climate of xenophobia and fear. 

“Politicians who fixate on the refugee crisis — it’s perplexing,” Hetfield said from his office in New York the night before his hearing. “They do it because it’s easy. Refugees are defenseless; they don’t have a constituency, they don’t vote. And it’s lot easier dealing with refugees than it is dealing with ISIS.”

The day before Hetfield testified, a number of U.S. governors had announced that their states would not host Syrian refugees, prompting a bill in Congress that would make passage into the United States even harder (the bill later passed, although President Obama has promised to veto it). National polling revealed that a majority of Americans were overwhelmingly opposed to taking in any Syrian refugees.

“It’s totally unacceptable and irrational to us,” Hetfield said. He was especially disappointed in the governors. “They just haven’t done their research,” he said. “Every refugee [admitted to the U.S.] is vetted right side up, upside down and sideways — they’re vetting these people to death. It would be so painful and so difficult and so slow for [a terrorist] to go through that, they’d have to be nuts. There are so many other, easier ways to get into this country.”

Hetfield earned his law degree from Georgetown University and practiced immigration law at a Washington, D.C., law firm before moving to the nonprofit sector. He joined HIAS in 1989, where he has spent the majority of his career, working in Rome, New York and now Washington. His credentials in refugee resettlement work also include a stint as senior adviser for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, where he directed a study on the treatment of asylum seekers. He also worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Washington and Haiti. 

Hetfield said the current Syrian crisis is among the worst humanitarian disasters he has seen in his 25-year career. Most Syrian refugees not only have the requisite “well-founded fear of persecution,” they have a well-founded fear of slavery, torture or death. Desperate to flee Islamic State barbarism, as well as Assad’s indiscriminate bombing and air strikes by the U.S., Russia and other Western countries, many families braved the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. This year alone, an estimated 3,329 people died journeying toward freedom. 

At the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security hearing, Hetfield pointedly described HIAS (formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) as an “agency of the American Jewish community.” Founded in 1881, HIAS was created to help Jews fleeing pogroms and other acts of violence in Russia and Eastern Europe, and calls itself the oldest refugee protection agency in the world. Although the matter of allowing Syrian refugees to immigrate to the U.S. has found both support and antipathy among American Jews, Hetfield believes Jews have a moral obligation to help. 

“Let’s face it, people turned away [refugees] because they were Jewish in the 1930s,” he said. “Refugees were not desirable, and it was specifically Jewish refugees that were not desirable.”

A Syrian refugee boy is seen shortly after arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos in a raft overcrowded with migrants and refugees, Nov. 20, 2015. Photo by Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

The current crisis has inspired a wave of comparisons between the plight of Syrian refugees and Jews fleeing Nazism. The Washington Post unearthed a 1938 article from the British Daily Mail archives lamenting, “The way stateless Jews and Germans are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage.” The Guardian noted the “rabid intolerance” with which Great Britain treated Jewish refugees in need. And in the U.S., the American Institute of Public Opinion found that, in 1939, 61 percent of Americans were opposed to taking in even 10,000 Jewish children. The same sort of xenophobia that has accompanied talk of Syrian refugees — conflating their identity as Muslims with terrorism — also afflicted the Jews. 

“Part of [the] hostility [toward Jews] was fueled … by stereotypes of the refugees as harbingers of a dangerous ideology,” The Washington Post reported, noting that many Europeans perceived Jews to be inclined toward communism and “anarchist violence.”

“Perhaps as many as half a million German Jewish asylum seekers were turned away by authorities ahead of the outbreak of World War II,” the Post reported. According to the Guardian, the only countries that took in Jewish refugees were Canada (5,000), Australia (10,000), South Africa (6,000) and the U.S. (33,000 before the war; 124,000 during the war), bringing the total to less than 200,000, while 6 million perished in the Holocaust.

“So, oddly enough, we find ourselves to be in solidarity with Muslim refugees,” Hetfield said. “Particularly when they’re targeted because they are Muslim. That makes us even more sympathetic, as a Jewish agency, to their plight.”

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust (LAMOTH) President E. Randol Schoenberg, an attorney specializing in the reclamation of Jewish goods stolen by the Nazis and a central character in the recent film “Woman in Gold,” wrote a Facebook post citing connections between the Jewish plight of the 20th century and the Syrian plight of today.

“Whenever there is anti-immigrant rhetoric, I am reminded of how our country refused entry to so many Jews during the Holocaust,” Schoenberg wrote. “Our own State Department instructed American consulates to withhold even the limited visas permitted under our strict immigration quotas. … ”

Schoenberg recalled, in particular, a satirical ad film director and producer Ben Hecht took out in the Los Angeles Times declaring, “For Sale to Humanity: 70,000 Jews” — that is on display at LAMOTH. Published in 1943, the ad called for the U.S. to rescue 70,000 Jews from Romania, promising, facetiously, that there would be “no spies smuggled in among these Jews.” “If there are,” read the ad copy, “you can shoot them.”

Then, as now, the stateless refugee was considered a dangerous threat. 

“Obviously, many American[s] in 1943 felt the same as many do today — that we cannot risk admitting enemy agents among the throng of refugees,” Schoenberg wrote. “During World War II, this type of fear meant that millions of honest, innocent people were unable to escape their murderers. … I hope we don’t make the same mistake again.”

After the Paris attacks, Bruno Stagno Ugarte, the French-based Human Rights Watch executive director for advocacy, took to the airwaves to debunk the myth that one of the Paris attackers was Syrian. “That’s a false association,” he told MSNBC. “The evidence points to the fact that … this ghastly attack here on [Nov. 13] was homegrown terrorism. It was planned, organized and executed by people born and raised in Europe [and] does not discredit the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are fleeing violence. These are people that need our compassion; these are people that need international protection.”

“It simply does not make sense for U.S. lawmakers to react to the situation in Paris by proposing drastic legislative changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.” — Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS

In Congress, however, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared a need for caution. “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than to be sorry,” he said. “[S]o we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

Already, all refugees hoping to enter the U.S. are subjected to rigorous security screenings that can take from 18 months to two years to complete. Much of this is the result of a program overhaul that took place after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the Department of Homeland Security inherited the refugee program from the Justice Department’s immigration office. “Their entire focus is on making sure we’re safe,” Hetfield said of Homeland Security. 

The typical refugee screening includes a series of intensive, detail-oriented interviews that are recorded and sent to Washington, where each is vetted for consistency and truthfulness. Refugees are also required to submit a set of fingerprints, which are checked against law enforcement databases and intelligence agencies, international and domestic. “The [Paris terrorist] with the Syrian passport was actually French, and he was a criminal,” Hetfield said, noting differences in the procedures for U.S. refugees versus European ones. “In [the U.S.], a case like that would have been picked up. In Europe, [migrants] are showing up uninvited — they’re asylum seekers. So they can’t be vetted until after they are already on European soil.” 

According to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, the U.S. has taken in 784,000 refugees since 9/11. “Only three have been arrested subsequently on terrorism related charges,” Canadian politician and historian Michael Ignatieff wrote in the New York Review of Books.

“Refugees who arrive in the United States have undergone extensive security vetting prior to setting foot on U.S. soil,” Hetfield told Congress. “Refugees to Europe are not screened until after they enter. This is the distinction. It simply does not make sense for U.S. lawmakers to react to the situation in Paris by proposing drastic legislative changes to the U.S. refugee resettlement program.” 

In 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) introduced eye scans of the iris into the refugee program, mainly for identification purposes in the distribution of aid. These days, however, Hetfield said the practice can also serve other important identification and tracking purposes — with nearly 100 percent accuracy. By this point, the scrupulousness of U.S refugee screenings has severely slowed, or in worse cases stopped, the ability to process refugees. Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, only 1,854 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. “So they’re not, like, pouring in,” Hetfield told the Journal.

He was blunt in his address to Congress: “[T]he security protocols in place [today] are stronger than anything I have seen in my 26 years of working in this field. So strong that it has made the refugee resettlement program into more fortress than ambulance, causing massive backlogs of holds of legitimately deserving and unnecessarily suffering refugees.” 

Where else can refugees go? Camps in Jordan and Turkey are massively overwhelmed, and aid is dwindling. An underfunded World Food Program has forced food rations down to 50 cents per person per day, and the UNHCR has amassed only half its projected budget for Syrian needs. A cease-fire in Syria does not seem likely anytime soon (a prospect Ignatieff’s New York Review of Books piece called a “cruel mirage”), and even if one comes, the country has been ravaged, leaving little left to return to in Syria.

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, 1939.

If U.S. allies such as France and Germany are left alone to shoulder the majority burden of the refugee crisis, that, too, could lead to disaster, empowering far-right nationalist groups such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front that are calling for closed borders. “If Europe closes its borders, if the frontline states can no longer cope, the U.S. and the West will face millions of stateless people who will never forget that they were denied the right to have rights,” Ignatieff wrote.

The UNHCR has asked the U.S. to take in half of the 130,000 most vulnerable refugees they’ve identified at a Turkish camp — among them orphans, disabled and the badly injured. But in the current climate, as calls to monitor Muslim immigrants or accept only non-Muslims into the country have grown, this request seems unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon. 

The path is brighter after refugees are inside the U.S. Despite protests from Congress and governors, only the president and the Department of Homeland Security can determine a refugee’s path once he or she is resettled in America. State legislators cannot refuse refugees placed by Homeland Security in their state. And even if a state is hostile to refugees, refusing aid or other subsidies available through the refugee program (such as federal money for public education), they are still obligated to help refugees, who have legal protections and can ultimately decide to live wherever they want.

“Refugees have rights,” Hetfield said. “Unlike an undocumented immigrant, a refugee has the right to be here, and they have access to certain public benefits that other noncitizens may not have access to.” 

In Hetfield’s view, the problem with hostile rhetoric, particularly when it comes from state leaders, is that it sets the tone for the state. 

“We’re seeing a similar thing in Israel,” Hetfield said, “where the Israeli government sets the tone for asylum seekers they’re getting from Africa, calling them ‘infiltrators’ and ‘illegal work migrants.’ That tone trickles down and has an impact on way people are treated. Our concern is that you’re going to see a similar thing happen here, now that governors are say[ing] ‘Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise — particularly Syrian Muslims.’ It creates a very poisonous environment.” 

Last week, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington issued a statement drawing parallels between World War II and today, calling on Americans “to avoid condemning today’s refugees as a group.”

“Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism … we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.

“It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity.”

But even in the United States, distrust exists between Jews and Muslims. Hetfield does not deny this tension. “I don’t want to be totally Pollyannaish about it. Some Muslims we work with make assumptions about us,” he said, citing occasional verbal clashes between right-leaning Jews and pro-BDS Muslims who accuse Jews of oppressing Palestinians. “Those two sides reinforce one another,” he added. But antagonism “is definitely the exception, not the rule.” 

Hetfield said he is not bothered by the idea of helping Muslims. “We resettle people who need help. We do it on the basis of their protection needs, and that’s it. That’s the criteria of a refugee.”

What he fears most is that all this xenophobia is playing directly into the hands of the so-called Islamic State. “That’s a tactic of ISIS,” Hetfield said. “They’re trying to turn us against helping these refugees; they’re trying to make it look like the West hates all Muslims, to make them more vulnerable to recruitment and susceptible to that psychological warfare. They want to terrorize us; they want to scare us; they want to make us hate Muslims.

“That’s the most dangerous thing being done right now. The real threat to our national security and national character is the xenophobia and anti-Islam rhetoric that all these leaders are spewing.”

Wasserman Schultz: Iranian nuclear threat has been ‘pushed backward’


The Iranian nuclear threat has been considerably lessened in light of the nuclear deal signed with Iran in July, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said on Thursday.

“We have successfully pushed backward the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran,” the Florida congresswoman said during a speech at the Capitol honoring the U.S.-Israel security alliance. Going forward, she said, the U.S. must focus attention on combating Iran’s terrorist activities in the Middle East region, as well as securing the “most robust security package for Israel that we’ve ever seen.”

Wasserman Schultz said she joined President Barack Obama and his national security team in the White House Situation Room on Wednesday to discuss ways “in which we continue to ensure that Israel has all capabilities that she needs in order to protect her citizens.”

Highlighting her role as “the first Jewish woman to represent Florida in the U.S. Congress,” Wasserman Schultz emphasized, “My connection and commitment to the State of Israel is much deeper than F35s and missile defense.”

“I can assure you that as long as I am serving in Congress, Israel and U.S.-Israel relationship will always have a vocal and tireless advocate,” she promised. “As a Jewish mother, before anything else, nothing is more important to me than making sure Israel is safe and secure for the next generation.”

Also speaking at the Congressional Tribute to the Iron Dome and the U.S. –Israel relationship, hosted by The Friedlander Group, were Democratic Majority Whip Steny Hoyer and Reps. Hal Rogers, Ed Royce, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Peter Roskam, Nita Lowey, Lee Zeldin, Brad Sherman, Mike Rogers, Derek Kilmer, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Doug Lamborn, Luke Messer and Mike Turner.

“All of us raise our voice and say we’re strong allies of Israel. But words without action does not make a difference,” Hoyer said in his speech. “It is ever more important today that the Congress, the president, and the American people speak with a clarity that cannot be confused – clarity that if Israel is at risk, America is at risk. It is our clarity that will be our first line of defense. Israel’s sovereignty will never, ever be put at risk.”

Congressman Sherman expressed his support for the U.S. selling to Israel bunker busters so “the IDF is capable of putting all options on the table” in stopping Iran developing a nuclear bomb. He also suggested that the Obama administration should move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as part of restoring the warm relationship with the Israeli government in light of the recent rift over the Iran deal. “There has been some miscommunication between the governments; and I got my finger on one part we could solve, and that is we can make sure our Embassy is in Israel’s capital,” he said.

“The unwavering commitment of Congress to defend Israel has been proven time and time again, reaffirming America’s commitment to Israel’s security,” Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, told Jewish Insider. “Through the funding by both the House and Senate, Israel has been provided with a force field of protection as she defends herself against those who do not view freedom, democracy, and equality as common values. This mutual ground upon which both America and Israel have been built has strengthened their everlasting friendship in the fight against terror, wherever it may be.”

Bernie Sanders unveils climate change bill


Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders on Wednesday unveiled a climate-change bill that would crack down on fossil fuel extraction, a move sure to please activists who want party front-runner Hillary Clinton to make the same commitment.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, wants to halt new leases for fossil fuel extraction on public lands and for offshore drilling in the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico. He would prohibit drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean.

Sanders pushed for the proposal at a rally at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, alongside environmental leaders such as Bill McKibben, co-founder of the grassroots climate group 350.org.

The bill, which Sanders introduced with a fellow Democrat, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, will face fierce opposition in the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and is unlikely to become law. 

But it should help Sanders appeal to environmental activists and could pressure Clinton, who has said that abruptly halting extraction on federal lands would disrupt the U.S. economy.

“You can't talk the talk…and at the same time say we are going to extract,” Sanders said on Wednesday, adding that the U.S. must protect workers as it moves away from fossil fuels.

Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist, has been Clinton's main rival to be the party's nominee for president in the November 2016 elections. 

His liberal stances on the environment, trade and more have pressured Clinton to move to the left on those issues. Still, polls have shown the former U.S. secretary of state appeared to gain ground against Sanders after a strong showing in October.

Climate activists want Clinton to commit to be tougher on environmental issues if she is elected president. 

Clinton told an activist at a New Hampshire town hall in July that it would be irresponsible to abruptly halt oil, natural gas and coal extraction on federal lands. She instead called for phasing it out and increasing fees on companies operating on public lands.

“We still have to run our economy, we still have to turn on the lights,” Clinton said.

Clinton in August opposed Arctic oil exploration, putting her at odds with the Obama administration, which had just given Royal Dutch Shell PLC final approval to resume drilling off the coast of northern Alaska.

Jewish leaders welcome Ryan as House Speaker


U.S Jewish leaders welcomed the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan as he took over the gavel from outgoing speaker John Boehner by congressional vote Thursday morning.

Speaking of Boehner’s contribution to the welfare of the Jewish-American community during his 25 years of public service, Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, told Jewish Insider: “John Boehner was a great legislator and leader to work with, as we did over the years, especially on issues the OU cares most about – the security of Israel and educational opportunity and choice.”

“The good news is that Paul Ryan is committed to these policies and values as well, and we look forward to working with him,” Diament added.

In a conversation with Jewish Insider on Thursday, William Daroff, vice president for public policy for the Jewish Federations of North America, said, Paul Ryan and I both started our political careers working for the late Jack Kemp.”

Kemp served nine terms as a congressman for New York’s 31st congressional district (1971-1989). Ryan began working for the former congressman in 1993 as a policy aide.

“I am hopeful that Speaker Ryan will lead House Republicans in returning to Kemp’s founding philosophy of “compassionate conservatism” and recognizing the importance of caring for the vulnerable,” said Daroff. “I am certain that the new Speaker’s longstanding support for a strong US-Israel relationship will continue to strengthen the bipartisan support for Israel that already permeates both parties in the House and Senate.”

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who’s poised to become the Democratic Senate Leader in 2017, hailed the new Republican Speaker as “a smart, well-prepared, and honorable man.”

“While his views, particularly on Medicare, Social Security, and tax and spending issues, are far removed from where the American people are, he’s the kind of person who realizes that to get anything done in this country, we can’t have a ‘my way or the highway’ approach,” Schumer said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him.”

In an Op-Ed distributed to local media, Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, expressed hope that Speaker Ryan “will be instrumental in unifying his own party, and in bringing the Republicans and Democrats together to find solutions to our nation’s problems, even if that means making difficult compromises.”

Ryan got less of a warm reception by two Jewish Democratic groups, as reported by Jewish Insider on Wednesday. Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice group, and National Jewish Democratic Council blasted Ryan over his promises to the members of the House Freedom Caucus. “Ryan’s voting record and his right-wing politics were already far out of step with the American Jewish community. The Republican-controlled Congress is going to alienate Jewish voters even more under Speaker Ryan,” NJDC’s chairman Greg Rosenbaum told Jewish Insider.

The Republican Jewish Coalition welcomed Ryan’s election with a partisan twist as well. “The Obama administration has been antagonistic and hostile to Israel and the pro-Israel community. We can think of no one better than Paul Ryan to lead the effort to stand up against the dangerous and destructive policies of this White House and truly have Israel’s back,” RJC’s executive director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “As a stalwart ally of the pro-Israel community and a longtime friend of Israel, Paul Ryan will continue the strong support we’ve seen for Israel in Congress.”

Clinton defends her Benghazi record in face of Republican criticism


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday deflected harsh Republican criticism of her handling of the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, and urged her questioners in Congress to put U.S. national security ahead of politics.

At a sometimes heated hearing, Republicans accused the front-runner in the 2016 Democratic presidential race of misinforming the public about the cause of the attack by suspected Islamic militants that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.

Republican Representative Jim Jordan said Clinton had misleadingly implied the attack was a reaction to an anti-Muslim video. On Thursday, Clinton, who denies suggesting the video was the cause, called Jordan's accusation “personally painful.”

“I've thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” she told the Republican-led panel. “I've lost more sleep than all of you put together. I've been racking my brain about what could have been done, should have been done.”

The appearance before the Benghazi panel was a major political test for Clinton, who has been on a hot streak with a strong performance in last week's first Democratic debate and the news on Wednesday that her strongest potential challenger, Vice President Joe Biden, will not seek the Democratic nomination for the November 2016 election.

The hearing also follows weeks of political brawling over whether the House committee's real goal was to puncture her front-running presidential prospects. The committee is made up of seven Republicans and five Democrats.

Clinton told the panel the attacks must not discourage U.S. action globally and said the incident already had been thoroughly investigated.

“We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad, leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology,” Clinton said in her only early reference to the political controversy that has dogged the panel.

17-MONTH-OLD PROBE

The panel has spent 17 months looking into the attacks that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans at the U.S. mission compound.

At one point, Clinton impassively stacked papers while Republican Chairman Trey Gowdy and senior Democrat Elijah Cummings argued loudly over Cummings' request that the closed-door testimony of Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal be publicly released.

Clinton listened intently, head in hand, as Gowdy heatedly questioned her about the constant emails she received from Blumenthal. Republicans noted that ambassador Stevens did not even have Clinton's email address.

“You didn't need my email address to get my attention,” Clinton said.

Cummings said congressional Republicans set up the panel for a partisan witch hunt.

“They set them loose, Madame Secretary, because you're running for president,” he told Clinton, calling for an end to the “taxpayer-funded fishing expedition.” He said the committee had spent $14.7 million of taxpayer money over 17 months.

Clinton defended her leadership in Libya as America's top diplomat and denied longstanding Republican allegations that she personally turned down requests to beef up security in Benghazi.

“He did not raise security with me. He raised security with the security professionals,” Clinton said of Stevens.

Republican Representative Peter Roskam told Clinton she was the chief architect of U.S. policy in Libya and that “things in Libya today are a disaster,” but Clinton said President Barack Obama made the final call on U.S. Libya policy.

Clinton's long-awaited appearance before the panel follows months of controversy about her use of a private home email server for her State Department work, a set-up that emerged in part because of the Benghazi committee's demand last year to see her official records.

GOWDY ON THE DEFENSIVE

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, has been on the defensive over a series of comments from his fellow Republicans implying the committee's real aim was to deflate Clinton's poll numbers.

“Madame Secretary, I understand some people – frankly in both parties – have suggested this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not,” Gowdy told Clinton.

“Not a single member of this committee signed up for an investigation into you or your email system.”

Clinton refrained from questioning the panel's motives, which she has done in recent public statements on the campaign trail.

“Despite all the previous investigations and all the talk about partisan agendas, I'm here to honor those we lost and to do what I can to aid those who serve us still,” she said.

She said the emails being made public and examined by the committee did not encompass all of the work she did as secretary of state.

“I don't want you to have a mistaken impression about what I did and how I did it,” she said. “Most of my work was not done on emails with my closest aides, with officials in the State Department, officials in the rest of the government.”

She cited communications through secure phone calls, in-person conversations and top-secret documents.

The committee's Democrats, who may discuss abandoning the inquiry after Clinton's appearance, say they think there is little left to unearth on Benghazi that more than a half-dozen previous inquiries did not find.

A 2012 report by a government accountability review board sharply faulted State Department officials for providing “grossly” insufficient security in Benghazi, despite upgrade requests from Stevens and others in Libya.

House Republicans in chaos as favorite McCarthy quits Speaker race


Republicans in Congress were plunged into turmoil on Thursday when California Representative Kevin McCarthy, considered the favorite to succeed House Speaker John Boehner, surprisingly dropped out of the race, throwing the party's ability to govern into question.

McCarthy, the No. 2 Republican in the House, had competition from more conservative lawmakers who felt marginalized under Boehner's leadership. The election for Speaker was postponed until further notice, House Republican Conference spokesman Nate Hodson said.

Meanwhile, one House Republican, moderate Representative Charlie Dent, said he expected Boehner to stay on the job until the leadership question is settled. Boehner is scheduled to retire on Oct. 30.

“McCarthy said he was dropping out of the race because he did not think he could unify a splintered caucus, Republicans said. “We were stunned,” Representative Tim Helskamp said.

The upheaval comes weeks before the United States is due to reach the limits of its borrowing authority. Congress faces a difficult vote to raise the debt limit to avoid a possible default, and lawmakers are also struggling to reach a deal with President Barack Obama, a Democrat, on spending levels before government funding runs out on Dec. 11.

McCarthy was elected to Congress from California in 2006 and had been one of Boehner's lieutenants in House Republican leadership since 2011. He has been majority leader since August 2014.

He had faced two challengers, Representatives Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida.

Webster had drawn the backing of the House Freedom Caucus, a bloc of about 40 conservatives. These Tea Party-aligned members noted that Webster, 66, led efforts that “empowered” individual lawmakers while he was speaker of the Florida House from 1996 to 1998.

In several closed-door meetings this week, McCarthy told them he would not be like Boehner, some lawmakers said afterward, but few seem to have found this convincing.

Boehner announced last month he would leave Congress down effective Oct. 30 after nearly five years as speaker that were marked by internal party battles.

McCarthy's ability to effectively communicate Republican initiatives was called into question last week when he made a connection between a special House committee investigating a 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's falling public opinion poll numbers.

Clinton was secretary of state during that attack and Republicans in the past year have been denying allegations from Democrats that the special House committee was created mainly as a forum for attacking Clinton.

Iran deal, J Street activism prompts Joel Rubin to pursue congressional bid


This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

A former State Department official and a staunch supporter of President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal has joined the crowded field of candidates seeking to replace outgoing Congressman Chris Van Hollen in 2016.

Joel Rubin, 44, announced on Monday that he will be seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, competing with another six candidates who’ve already announced their campaign.

In a conference call with reporters, announcing his run, on Monday he said that the Iran deal will be a centerpiece argument of his campaign.

Rubin recently left the Obama administration where he served as the U.S. State Department’s chief liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the founding political and government affairs director at J Street, and previously a congressional aid on foreign policy to Senators Tom Harkin and Frank Lautenberg.

In his capacity as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, Rubin was tasked with building congressional support in advance of the final weeks of the p5+1 talks in Vienna.

In an interview with Jewish Insider, Rubin said he brings to the race the “same kind of activism and energy, passion and progressive ideas” that he had developed while working with the pro-peace liberal Jewish group, and with the Obama administration.

Rubin boasted his pro-Israel bona fides while holding J Street’ out of the mainstream positions on the Middle East. “We need to do everything we can to help Israel defend itself. I have family in Israel; I understand what this means. I’ve lived there for a year of my life, I’ve led a high school teen tour there, I’ve been there about ten times. I have traveled in the West Bank. I’m telling you I feel it in my kishkes,” he said.

Commenting on the Iran deal, Rubin asserted that “Maryland constituents are a progressive group and understand that we need to make sure that we’re protecting our security and the security of the State of Israel. That’s why they supported this deal, because this deal does that, and it does it without getting into the other options of dealing with Iran, which is military action.”

Rubin, who won’t be in Congress before January 2017, if elected, said he’s “deeply concerned” that efforts are not being made to support the deal’s effective implementation. “As a candidate running for Congress, I’ll tell you, to me, I am deeply concerned about congressional attempts to undermine the deal at its roots,” he said in the phone interview. “We need to make sure that nothing is done to prevent this agreement from having the full chance to demonstrate its value. If moves are made to cut funding to the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, for example, to go and do their work, that will harm our ability to verify this deal, and that should be blocked. That’s the kind of stuff that I’ll be watching closely if I’m a member of Congress.”

The progressive congressional hopeful also rejected recent proposals of defunding the Palestinian Authority in the wake of recent terror attacks in the heart of Jerusalem and the West Bank. “I think if you would have asked the Israeli security establishment if it would be helpful to their security for the Americans to defund the Palestinian Authority they would make a resounding ‘no’ as their response, and I would stand with that,” said Rubin. “I do not believe that we should be playing politics with Israeli security, and anybody who advocates cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority is doing that.”

The Democratic primary for the congressional seat will take place on April 26, 2016. Other candidates running include State Senator Jamie Raskin, who is also Jewish, former Obama aide William Jawando, David Anderson, a Nonprofit executive, as well as state delegates Kumar Barve, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Kathleen Matthews.

All of the candidates except Anderson expressed their support for the Iran deal. Anderson, vice president of the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars, said he opposed the deal, and if elected he would focus on opportunities to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner, according to The Washington Post.

Joel Rubin, who helped pass Iran nuclear deal, running for Congress


Joel Rubin, the former U.S. State Department’s chief liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives who worked for the successful passage of the Iran nuclear weapons deal in Congress, is running for Congress.

Rubin announced Monday that he would mount a Congressional candidacy to replace Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is running to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

In his brief announcement, Rubin said, if elected, he would support a liberal agenda while “pushing back” against those who don’t support his “progressive values.”

Rubin, 44 and the father of three daughters, said he planned to make his work in getting the Iran deal adopted “a centerpiece” of his campaign. It shows that he can be successful in Congress, and his belief in diplomacy over war, he said.

Rubin, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, joins a crowded field of Democrats for the 8th Congressional District which includes parts of Montgomery, Carroll and Frederick counties.

Maryland State Sen. Jamie Raskin, former President Barack Obama aide William Jawando, Maryland State delegates Kumar Barve and Ana Sol Gutierrez, Marriott International executive vice president Kathleen Matthews, and non-profit executive David Anderson previously announced their candidacies. Both Raskin and Rubin are Jewish.

No one has yet announced on the Republican ticket in the heavily Democratic district.

Rubin previously worked at J Street as its political director and was involved in national security issues for Ploughshares Fund. He also was a congressional fellow for former Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and an aide to the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

He currently is president of Washington Strategy Group, a consulting company he founded.

All those running to replace Van Hollen except Anderson said they favored the Iranian nuclear weapons agreement, according to Bethesda Magazine.