November 12, 2018

Halie Soifer: Getting Out the Young, Jewish Vote for Democrats

Halie Soifer

Most people aren’t in the business of swinging presidential elections at the ripe old age of 30 but Halie Soifer isn’t most people. 

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Soifer helped swing Florida in favor of an upstart Illinois senator by playing a key role in securing a crucial electorate: the state’s Jewish vote. After heading Jewish outreach in Florida for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign, Soifer’s journey has included stops in the national security realm and as a behind-the-scenes political operative. 

Soifer, 39, previously served as an adviser to Obama’s United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, then performed the same role on the staff of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif). Now she heads up the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), a progressive political organization founded in 2016 that supports Democrats running for office. At the helm of JDCA, she has her sights set on influencing another critical election. 

With November’s midterms fast approaching, Soifer spoke to the Journal about her organization, President Donald Trump, the Democratic Party’s U.S.-Israel stance and why she’s confident Jewish voter turnout can help the Democrats win back the House. 

Jewish Journal: What drew you to a burgeoning organization like JDCA? 

Halie Soifer: Once President Trump took office, I decided it was time to leave government and help change the composition of the Congress and Senate as opposed to working for one member. JDCA was a natural fit. It’s advocacy in terms of issues I care about as a Jew, such as fighting against unjust immigrant policies, the Muslim ban and standing up for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship in a way that feels particularly pressing in this moment in our history. 

JJ: You said previously JDCA was created “to fill a vacuum and in response to this administration.” Can you elaborate? 

HS: In the aftermath of Charlottesville, [Va., violence] I think all Jews throughout the country were shocked to see Nazis marching in the streets and Jewish Democrats, in particular, didn’t have one organization to represent their voice in that moment. It was really out of that sense of urgency that JDCA was born: to serve as the voice of Jewish Democrats, whether it was responding to the rise of anti-Semitism in the country or other troubling trends we’ve seen in regard to the Trump administration. It’s also focusing on advocating in the affirmative agenda, which we’re doing in this upcoming election. That means helping to get Democrats who share our values elected to Congress. 

“We’ve seen no less than nine neo-Nazi, white supremacist, Holocaust deniers running for office in this election cycle. They now feel legitimate in the Trump era to the point of running for Congress.”

JJ: What’s JDCA looking at specifically when figuring out which candidates to support?   

HS: We’re looking at close races where either there’s a strong Democratic challenger to a Republican incumbent, or a vacancy, or a Democratic incumbent who needs our help; but only where the race is predicted to come down to a margin that’s smaller than the Jewish community. Our assessment comes down to this: Can the Jewish community make the difference?  

JJ: You recently wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post titled “Record Number of Jewish Voters Will Reject Trump in November.” What’s fueling your optimism about the midterms? 

HS: It’s the issues superseding politics that are antithetical to Jewish values, such as zero-tolerance immigration, and separating children from their parents at our border. I’ve been traveling to organize events for Jewish Democrats. Last week, we started our midterm volunteer program. We’re readying canvassing for Sean Casten in Chicago, Jennifer Wexton in Virginia. I hear it everywhere I go. And it’s not even a partisan issue. These are deep-seated concerns about the direction of our country, and I’m confident the November results will reflect that. 

JJ: The U.S.-Israel relationship has become an increasingly partisan issue. Are changing views or shifting party lines a threat to Jews continuing to loyally vote Democratic? 

HS: I don’t believe that views on Israel have changed among Democrats. If you look at voting patterns in Congress, there’s no change for support for a two-state solution, no change in U.S. military assistance to Israel and no change in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. I believe that while some Republicans would like to create a narrative that there’s been a change in the Democratic Party on its Israel stance, the reality is that there has not been a marked shift.  

JJ: What do you say to critics who argue that a different anti-Semitism, one mired in anti-Israel views, that exists in far-right circles, is permeating parts of the Democratic Party, even gaining momentum among younger Democrats? Is that legitimate? 

HS: I certainly would not equate the two. On the right, we’ve seen no less than nine neo-Nazi, white supremacist, Holocaust deniers running for office in this election cycle. That’s astounding. It’s not that these people and these movements didn’t exist previously, but they now feel legitimate in the Trump era to the point of running for Congress. That’s a problem the Republican Party has to grapple with. 

JJ: How does your organization speak out against these people? 

HS: On the left, there have been three candidates for Congress who have expressed views with regard to Israel that we, as an organization, have disagreed with publicly. We’ve not referred to them as anti-Semites, because, again, we don’t equate the two. 

JJ: Who are those candidates? 

HS: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. 

JJ: Those three names, especially Ocasio-Cortez, appear to represent the future of the Democratic Party. 

HS: In the case of someone like Ocasio-Cortez, we share her views on many, in fact, most other issues. For those three candidates, we’ve made it clear, while we don’t share that view, we’re interested in engaging. I think when these three candidates arrive in Washington, they’ll soon see that the Democratic Party supports a strong bipartisan relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which includes full military funding for Israel. We don’t expect that to change with these three being elected to Congress.


A correction has been made on Oct. 22. An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the volunteer program canvassed for Peter Roskam. It did not.

So, What The Hell Do We Do Now?

Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

In the aftermath of another horrible and heartbreaking mass shooting at an American school, the same political game took place that always takes place. That game breaks down into three stages: before the facts come in, once the facts are in, and the actual political debate.

Before The Facts Come In. Before the facts come in, proponents of gun control point at foreign countries and the lack of mass shootings in those countries and suggest that Congress ought to do something — anything, really — to make it more difficult for evil people to obtain guns. They do not specify what that something is. But it must be a law, and it must restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to guns. Furthermore, any Congressperson who opposes such unspecified laws is the tool of the “gun industry.”

Meanwhile, those who oppose gun control urge caution until we know the facts; often they offer thoughts and prayers. Proponents of gun control then mock those thoughts and prayers in order to imply that gun control opponents don’t care about dead children, and merely want to avoid responsibility by throwing the problem at God.

The Facts Come In. As the facts come in, proponents of gun control maintain their staunch advocacy for their position, but are often forced to acknowledge that their preferred measures wouldn’t have done anything to stop the shootings at issue. That doesn’t stop them from clubbing about the ears gun control opponents, who maintain that gun control measures must be tailored toward stopping actual events.

Meanwhile, opponents of gun control usually suggest two measures: mental health screening that would take dangerous people off the streets and into treatment, and security in schools. These are rejected out of hand by gun control proponents, who say they don’t want those who are mentally ill avoiding treatment in order to avoid the consequences of such treatment, and add that placing security in schools would somehow “militarize” the school environment.

The Political Debate. Congress usually proposes some measure of gun control. That measure of gun control is usually far more unpopular in specifics than it was in theory; it usually restricts rights most Americans care about, and fails to properly target the underlying problem at issue. Such measures almost universally fail. When they do pass, they show little evidence of impact on mass shootings.

So, where does all of this leave us?

Here’s what we know. The shooter used an AR-15, the most common rifle in the United States. The shooter was on the radar of school authorities, and he was reportedly in frequent contact with the police; he was reported to the FBI as well, but follow-up was apparently insufficient. People warned authorities about him, and they didn’t do anything or couldn’t do anything. That’s probably the best place to start looking for answers.

The shooter’s gun was obtained legally. He had never been arrested; it’s difficult to think of a way to prevent the sale of a gun to a person with a clean record without a mass gun ban or confiscation. He also had a gas mask and grenades — and it’s unclear where he obtained the grenades. We could look at stronger prosecution of straw buyers, as Jim Geraghty of National Review suggests, but that wouldn’t have helped in this case.

So, where do we go from here? Obviously, I think that we ought to consider security in schools as a first step — I went to a Jewish high school in Los Angeles that received bomb threats at least twice a year; the building next door was scoped out by mass shooter Buford Furrow, but he left thanks to security there. It’s not too much to ask that we place armed security at our schools, as Israel does.

But this much is clear: snap Twitter excoriations focused on casting aspersions at the character of our political opposition tears our country apart right when we need to come together in comfort. We have an unfortunate tendency to roll our eyes when people say they’re waiting for the facts, whether we’re discussing mass shootings or terrorist attacks; I’ve done it, too. But waiting for facts is the responsible thing to do. And as the facts come in, perhaps better solutions will make themselves clearer.

This column was originally posted at The Daily Wire.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Q&A with Antonio Sabato Jr., Republican Candidate for Congress

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Antonio Sabato Jr. is an Italian-American actor with Jewish roots who is best known for his role as a Calvin Klein model and in the television shows “Melrose Place” and “General Hospital.” He is now running for Congress in the Ventura County area against Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA) after speaking at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Sabato Jr. talked to the Journal in a phone interview and discussed the campaign as well as the fires plaguing Los Angeles. The article has been edited for clarity.

Jewish Journal: Tell me a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run for Congress.

Antonio Sabato Jr.: I am an immigrant. Me and my family moved to the United States in 1985 from Rome, Italy. My mother was born in Prague, and she escaped the Communist Party and her mother escaped the Holocaust in World War II and the Nazi Party. So we know about socialism and communism very well and we don’t want to anything to do with it.

In the ‘80s we decided that the family wanted to move to this country and have a better life for me and my sister. My parents just wanted the best for us. We went to school here, learned the language… at a young age I wanted to pursue career of acting – my father was an actor, and that’s what I wanted to do. So we struggled and put in a lot of time and effort and it all worked out, so I’m very thankful for this country and what it’s done for me and my family.

JJ: So what made you want to run for Congress?

ASJ: Over the last decade I’ve seen the government take advantage of the American people. I believe that this is the greatest country in the world and we owe it to our country, and we have great laws, a great history… I’ve seen this country deteriorate in the wrong direction with a lot of socialism and liberals have this propaganda to change people’s minds on what this country is all about. I just wanted to put my consent, wanted to fight for my county that I live in, I lived in Ventura County for over 13 years and I love it. The congresswoman who has been representing us for six years has not done anything for the county. On the other hand, she’s been able to build policies like AB 109, Prop 47, 57 that have been a danger in our communities and definitely making it a lot harder for police officers to do their job.

I want to work for farmers, I want to work for the teachers, I want to be able to see if we can get more funding for our police stations and our schools that need more funding. Farmers need to be helped with regulations and a much better visa program that’s going to allow workers come here in more of a humane fashion. I just want to be able to give farmers and everyone in my community a chance to do better: to open up business and to be pro-business, to be pro-military. I’m pro-Second Amendment. I believe we do need the wall on our border and we need to reform our immigration system altogether because it’s definitely not working. I want to add to the solution, I don’t want to keep watching this. I believe that my country means that much to me, so that’s why I’m in it.

JJ: You talked about how the country is deteriorating, what are some examples of that?

ASJ: Food stamps. Unemployment. We live in a society right now where everything is entitlements: if I have a problem, I need the government to come and fix it for me. We are able to fix it for ourselves. We should only be able to go to government to get more for our community, to get more for our state, to get more for our country. At the end of the day, I want the government to make it easier for me to go to work and get a job and pay my own bills. So instead of getting less government, we got the biggest government under Obama for eight years. Our military was deteriorating, our country as a unit, as a light, a beacon for everyone to dream big, was going away. We were always apologizing for everything, we were always saying we’re not as big as we’re used to, we need to make our country smaller and equal like everyone else. We can’t allow that to happen. Our country need to be first and foremost there to help and be the greatest country in the world because that’s what America’s all about. We’re not like every other country in the world, I’m sorry. This is the country is the place that everyone wants to come to and create their dreams and have a better way of life. There’s not many places in the world where you can do that. I’m sick of apologizing. We’re still there in every country in the world protecting them, taking care of them, we should be appreciated and respected because anytime there’s a problem we’re always there.

Finally, we have a president who’s not apologizing, who’s pretty much saying how it is. We want our country back, we want things to be made in America, we want to show respect for our flag and respect for our country. I’m glad we’re heading in the right direction. The stock market is better than it ever was, unemployment is as low as it’s ever been, these are things that are related to the way that our president is attacking all the issues and problems and he is succeeding. I want to do the same thing for my county. My county needs me. The farmers need me. The police stations need revamping. We need to find the money to give the police officers everything they need. We need more police officers. We need to have more respect for our teachers and police officers and just our country. I want to represent our county and I want to be available to everyone. For example, we have been going through a lot of fires, a lot of turmoil, hundreds of thousands of acres and a lot of homes have been lost. I was there at the shelters. I was there bringing food, I was there helping  supplies and bringing food for our police officers and our firefighters. That’s the kind of congressman that I want to be, so I’m dedicating 24 hours a day seven days a week to become that congressman and help my community in any way shape or form.

I ask everyone to listen: liberal Democrats have been running the state, have been running this county for almost six years, what have they done for you? When was the last time you were able to call Congresswoman Miss Julia Santa Monica Brownley to come and then talk to you? When was the last time she picked up the phone and call you back? She lives in Santa Monica. Her productivity level in Washington D.C. is about a zero in almost six years. I want to do more. I think my family deserves more, deserves 100% from their congressman or congresswoman.

JJ: Being an actor you talk about how you think you’ve been blackballed as a conservative, I was hoping you could talk about that a little bit.

ASJ: It’s their way of bullying someone. They have the decision to say we’re going to hire you, we’re going to represent you, or we’re not. They have this hate. I believe liberals in Hollywood want to be right about everything, they lost a big race with Hillary Clinton and they’re going to hold this grudge for a long time. I’m going to keep working with people who want to work with me,  and it shouldn’t be about politics or parties. You should be able to like or dislike any parties you want or no parties at all. But that’s not the case. I’ve dealt with it for quite some time now. It is what it is, but I’m going to fight for it because I don’t like bullies, I don’t like people telling me I shouldn’t do something. I can do whatever I want if I’m not hurting anyone. I’m a law-abiding citizen and I should be doing what I like and it’s right for me. I urge everyone out there who’s a conservative in Hollywood to step up. Come to voteantonio.com. Join this race, which is a race that’s going to take us all over country. We need this seat in Ventura County District 26 to be red again.

JJ: And how exactly do you plan on making it red again?

ASJ: I’m going to talk to the people and knock on the doors. Those are the voters. The voters of my community are the ones that got to get to know me. We got to have everything in sync, we got to be on the same level, we got to understand each other, understand me, ask the questions. I’m going to go door-to-door. That’s how I’m going to win. The last three races, those are pretty much low-turning voting with a 110-111,000 people voted. I figure if I go to 200,000 homes and I knock on 200,000 doors then I’m going to get their votes and that’s what I’m planning on doing.

And I’m going to talk to my Latino community. I speak Spanish. I understand what they’re going through, I’m an immigrant like they are. Liberal Democrats haven’t done much for the Latino communities. All they do is promises and promises and that’s not been working out too well. I believe in my core that a Latino family, a Latino community to the core is conservative. They go to church, they believe in God, they’re family-oriented and they love this country. They just have to find somebody who they can talk to and ask questions. Family members, that’s all they care about: they want to have their family protected and they want to be able to know they’re going to go to work and work hard for their families, so I’m going to talk to them and I’m going to talk to everybody. I’ve been talking to pretty much everybody and everybody has an option to call me and ask me questions. Like I said, this is the guy I want to be, the leader I want to be is someone you can talk to anytime.

Longtime Democrat Congressman Announces His Retirement in Wake of Sexual Harassment Allegations

U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) participates in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. July 12, 2016. Picture taken July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is retiring from his seat as he faces numerous allegations of sexual harassment.

Conyers gave his announcement in a Tuesday interview on a local Michigan radio station.

“I am retiring today,” said Conyers. “I am in the process of putting together my retirement plans.”

He endorsed his son, John Conyers III, to take his seat. Conyers’ great-nephew, Ian Conyers, will be running for his seat as well.

Conyers denied the myriad of allegations against him, claiming that they all stemmed from politics.

“We take what happens,” said Conyers. “We deal with it. We pass on and move on forward as we keep going trying to make as much as we can of this tremendous opportunity that has been given to me for so long.”

On the same day that Conyers announced his retirement, another accuser came forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. Delores Lyons claimed that Conyers pulled her hand onto his genitalia twice, prompting her to yell at him to stop and “go back to sleep.” Conyers simply responded with a “giggle.”

A total of eight women have made similar allegations against Conyers. One of the women, Marion Brown, received a taxpayer-funded settlement of $27,000 from Conyers in 2015 over allegations that Conyers fired her when she rebuffed his advances. Multiple women signed affidavits alleging that Conyers made unwanted sexual advances against them and used “congressional resources” to fly in women he had affairs with. Conyers is also accused of wearing only his underwear at times in front of staff members.

Attorney Lisa Bloom, who is representing Brown, chided Conyers for avoiding an investigation from the House Ethics Committee.

“He claimed he could not get ‘due process,’ but my client Marion Brown and the other accusers wanted the opportunity to testify before the committee and tell their stories, and Mr. Conyers could have also testified and called witnesses on his behalf,” said Bloom. “That’s what due process is. Yet he resigned to kill that hearing.”

Prior to his retirement announcement, Conyers was facing bipartisan calls to step down from his position, although some Democrats initially defended Conyers when the allegations first came out.

Conyers has been serving in the House since 1965 and is known for his work in promoting civil rights and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs.

The Taylor Force Act Advances the Path to Peace

Photo from Facebook.

Today, a Palestinian kindergartener living in Ramallah is surrounded by messages that demonize and dehumanize Israelis, while glorifying violence against them. Leaving their house in the morning, this child sees billboards that pay tribute to suicide bombers. Arriving at school he or she will read textbooks that encourage the murder of Jews. In media and mosques, Palestinian leaders spew invective, describing Jews as “satans” and calling Israel a “cancerous tumor that needs to be eliminated.”

This is not a fertile environment from which the conditions for peace emerge. Seeds of peace are watered by tolerance and mutual understanding, when leaders communicate to their people the need to give up old hatreds and accept paths of compromise. Yet, instead of raising the next generation of Palestinian children to embrace peace, the official institutions of the Palestinian Authority (PA) continue to lay the ground for further conflict and hatred.

The PA will devote some $344 million of its 2017 budget—which amounts to half of its foreign development assistance—to financially reward terrorists and their families. The budget allotment for rewarding violent acts is more than $100 million greater than the amount that the PA spends on welfare for Palestinians living under the poverty line. The welfare package for families of terrorists, incidentally, is higher than the welfare paid to impoverished Palestinian households, while the stipend for Palestinians held in Israel for violent acts is over four times the average salary in the West Bank. The priorities of the PA are laid bare by these discrepancies, and these priorities are clearly not peace.

The United States has a number of levers at its disposal to put an end to these practices. American taxpayers provide funding that is designed to support the development of Palestinian institutions—around $300-$500 million each year. Since its establishment in 1994, the Palestinian Authority has received more than $5 billion in bilateral economic and non-lethal security assistance from the United States, including assistance for the PA’s security forces and criminal justice system.

In order to make sure these funds are used for their intended purpose, the U.S. Congress is now considering the Taylor Force Act, which is named after an American citizen and Army veteran murdered by a terrorist while on vacation in Israel. This necessary piece of legislation advances the prospects for peace by conditioning continued U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority on the PA ending its policy of financially rewarding terrorists and their families. This would prevent hundreds of millions of dollars from incentivizing terror, so that these funds can be used towards the necessities of institutional development.

This summer, the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, where I serve as Chairman, initiated a wide-ranging advocacy campaign to bring together a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in support of this legislation. Israeli-Americans know firsthand—from our personal experience, through our friends and families who live in Israel, and through our consumption of Hebrew-language news—why ending this practice is so important for peace. Yet, as taxpayers in the United States, we continue to fund it.

In unprecedented ways, the IAC for Action’s nationwide networks of grassroots activists and some of the most prominent and influential Israeli-Americans and Jewish-Americans in our community have been engaged with their elected officials in support of the legislation.

As a result of our work, the bipartisan group of lawmakers publicly supporting the Taylor Force Act—originally introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—has grown significantly. House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) have introduced their own version of the bill, which will be marked up in the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday and is expected to pass with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Like the Israeli-American community, Congress understands that opposition to a rewards scheme for acts of terror by the PA is not a question of right or left, or Democrat or Republican. It is a question of right and wrong, of peace and terror. America can help move Israelis and Palestinians forward on the difficult path to peace by ending this subsidy for terror.

Trump decertifies Iran deal, slaps Iran Revolutionary Guard with sanctions

President Donald Trump on Aug. 22. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Trump announced on Friday that he will not recertify the Iran nuclear deal and will implement sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), moves that could have major implications on the United States’ Middle East policy going forward.

Trump delivered his announcement at the White House and declared that he “cannot and will not make this certification.”

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” said Trump. “I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.”

The president outlined ways that the deal could be improved, including eliminating the deal’s provisions that eventually remove restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and adding in provisions that deal with Iran’s missile proliferation. If Congress fails to implement these changes, then Trump announced that he will nix the Iran deal altogether.

Trump also declared that the IRGC will be slapped with sanctions for their support for terror, although he stopped short of designating them as a terrorist organization.

“We hope that these new measures directed at the Iranian dictatorship will compel the government to re-evaluate its pursuit of terror at the expense of its people,” said Trump.

Under the Iran nuclear deal, the president has to decide every 90 days if the Iranian regime is complying with the deal. If the president thinks it isn’t, he can decertify the deal and give Congress 60 days to amend the agreement or re-impose sanctions on the Iranian regime. Congress is reportedly planning on proposing tougher restrictions on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs with the threat of re-imposing sanctions if Iran refuses to accept such restrictions.

Trump has repeatedly slammed the deal as “one of the worst and one-sided deals” that America agreed to. Britain, France and Germany have re-iterated their defense of the Iran deal in light of Trump’s announcement, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump.

“If the Iran deal is left unchanged, one thing is absolutely certain- in a few years’ time, the world’s foremost terrorist regime will have an arsenal of nuclear weapons and that’s tremendous danger for our collective future,” Netanyahu said in a video statement. “President Trump has just created an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran’s aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism.”

For both sides of the decertification debate, be sure to check out Larry Greenfield’s column in the Journal in favor of decertification and Dalia Dassa Kaye’s Journal column against decertification, as well as Journal political editor Shmuel Rosner’s analysis.

Can the U.S. Congress Still Influence Israeli Policy?

Photo by Gali Tibbon/Reuters

Last week, a group of U.S. senators sent a stern letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter was signed by seven U.S. senators, among them Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“We fear actions like the conversion bill and the suspension of the Kotel agreement will strain the unique relationship between our two nations,” the senators warned, “particularly if the majority of American Jews see the movements to which they are committed denied equal rights in Israel.”

What was Netanyahu’s reaction? He politely ignored it. The conversion bill was shelved by Netanyahu months ago, and the Kotel agreement is unlikely to materialize.

How times have changed.

Seven years ago, in 2010, U.S. senators seemed to have more leverage over Israel. Back then, another piece of Israeli legislation — the conversion bill initiated by Knesset member David Rotem — irked Jewish Americans. They pressured the government and then used their ultimate weapon: members of Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) drafted a letter to Netanyahu. Fellow Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Carl Levin of Michigan joined him. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) phoned the prime minister. The impact of their actions was clear: Netanyahu shelved the bill, never to be resurrected.

But now there is silence. Strange silence. The letters are similar; the argument similar; the prime minister is the same prime minister; all the U.S. legislators involved, still, are Jewish; and all are Democrats. And yet, we see no sign that Israel is about to change its policy. We see no sign that Netanyahu is feeling pressured by the letter.

Why? There are many reasons, but I’d like to address the reasons on the U.S. side. And they begin with the fact that the Democratic Party is not the same party it used to be. Senators such as Al Franken of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Brian Schatz of Hawaii do not carry the weight of a Lautenberg and a Levin. The current government of Israel does not see them as pillars of U.S.-Israel relations. It does not see how ignoring their letter is going to hurt Israel. What will they do? an Israeli senior official (who actually favors the Kotel agreement) asked me, sarcastically, “Will they vote for the Iran deal?”

The Jews of America might not realize it yet, but their tools for swaying Israel are not as compelling as they used to be. The recent senators’ letter, once the biggest stick over Israel’s head, only exposed that reality and made it public. Highly liberal Democratic senators, such as the ones who signed the letter, will not do the trick. The Democratic Party in general — being out of power and moving leftward — is less of a tool of pressure. And most Jews do not have allies other than liberal Jewish senators on these Israeli state-religion issues.

But something more significant has changed between 2010 and today. It is the U.S. — the great ally, the most important friend — that has lost some of its leverage over Israel. This should not come as a surprise. A U.S. that is less interested in world leadership; less involved in Middle East affairs; less dependable as a defender of Israel’s interests and security; more willing to let others, such as the Russians, call the shots; that was governed by a lead-from-behind President Barack Obama; and is now governed by a lead-by-Twitter President Donald Trump; will inescapably lose some of its leverage over Israel.

Usually, when we think about U.S. leverage over Israel, we think about the peace process (and how Obama failed to force concessions on Netanyahu), or about Iran (how Obama failed to deter Netanyahu from speaking before Congress, yet deterred him from attacking Iran). But U.S. leverage is also about the ability of U.S. Jews to make Israel accept their priorities and accommodate their wishes. It is about the usefulness of letters from senators concerning matters of lesser importance, such as the Kotel agreement.

In 2010, a letter proved to be useful. In 2017, another letter proved to be meaningless.

The untold story of DACA’s Israeli recipients

Picture in your mind a “Dreamer,” an immigrant brought to the United States as a child and now living without documentation in this country. Chances are you’re not picturing an Israeli. But here in Los Angeles, young undocumented Jews from Israel are among those facing the looming threat of deportation.

President Donald Trump’s administration recently rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, with a six-month delay to provide time for Congress to plan a path for DACA recipients to gain permanent legal status. Whether that pronouncement sticks remains unclear. 

After a meeting with Democratic leaders and a swirl of messages out of the White House, some of them contradictory, Trump said on Sept. 14 he supports legislation to protect the Dreamers, and further consideration of a wall on the southern border would be done separately.

The policy was created during President Barack Obama’s administration in 2012 as a temporary reprieve to shield young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Trump’s Sept. 5 announcement has been roundly criticized by Democrats, many Republicans and Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jewish organizations.

There are an estimated 800,000 DACA recipients, the vast majority of them Latino, with 79 percent coming from Mexico. More than a quarter of the total live in California. At a Sept. 10 rally, hundreds of pro-immigration demonstrators gathered in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park, many holding signs written in Spanish and waving Mexican flags.

Israel isn’t among the two dozen countries where most DACA recipients originate. But for various reasons — often having to do with fraudulent legal advice given to their parents — these young Jews are caught in a legal limbo, unable to receive federal student aid or travel outside the country.

While their status is identical to that of other Dreamers, they are different in subtle ways, as their individual stories suggest. For example, because the number of Latinos facing deportation is so much larger, they tend to feel more comfortable sharing their concerns and anxieties with one another.

Not so for Jewish Dreamers. For many, their status is an embarrassing stigma, something they would just as soon hide from even their closest friends. 

On the other hand, because Jews are often lighter-skinned than Latinos, they tend not to be subjected to the stares and derision from citizens who support the administration’s decision to eliminate DACA protections.

Furthermore, Jewish Dreamers tend to be better off financially than those from other countries, a distinction that provides securities — even if temporary — that others might not have.

In the end, however, all Dreamers are equal in the eyes of a government policy that would remove them unless a change is forthcoming from a Congress that is deeply divided on immigration issues.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), one of more than a dozen Jewish House members, is among those who favor continuing protections for all Dreamers, including those from Israel.

“The history of the Jewish people is characterized by migration in search of safety and a better future, and I believe our own experience teaches us to empathize with the Dreamers, although relatively few are Jewish or came here from places like Israel,” he said in an email to the Journal. “The administration would treat these young people as unwanted guests in the only country they know. But I view Dreamers as part of the fabric of our nation and believe Congress must act to ensure these young people can continue to live and work in the United States without fear.”

Below are stories of a few undocumented Israeli immigrants. They agreed to share details of their lives with the Journal under the condition that their last names not be used, and in some cases, that their first names be changed to protect their identities. Although the specifics of their cases differ, they share a feeling of being Americans first and foremost, and face an uncertain future.

‘I don’t even remember what Israel looks like’

Bar, a 16-year-old high school junior in the San Fernando Valley, has known for her entire life that she was undocumented.

“It did suck not to be able to go to Israel and visit when all my friends would go,” she said. “All my family is in Israel.”

A resident of Sherman Oaks, her parents arrived on a tourist visa in 2001, when she was 6 months old. Their visas expired a year after they arrived.

“We were hoping we could fix everything before becoming illegal. We had other people giving us suggestions and it was wrong … bad advice, and we didn’t have the money at that point to fix it,” her father, Ron, said.

Ron ran a clothing factory in downtown Los Angeles and insisted on manufacturing in the U.S. but had to shutter the facility because of the high cost of labor.

“We’re paying all the debts that society is asking to pay, and we’re getting zero benefit out of it,” he said.

“I’m from L.A. This is where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t even remember what Israel looks like.” — Bar

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes but can’t collect benefits. He now runs a printing and packaging company that outsources to Mexico and China.

Bar’s mother, Karen, works for a catering business, serving and cooking food for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other big events.

Bar joined the DACA program late last year. Some of her friends know she’s undocumented and hope one day she’ll be able to join them on trips to Israel and Mexico. She took a driver education course and hopes to get a license soon but might need to apply for an AB 60 license, available for California residents regardless of immigration status, if her DACA status expires.

She’s been a member of the Tzofim movement (Israel’s scouts program) since seventh grade. Her younger sister and brother are scouts, too. They were born in the U.S. and are citizens.

Bar counsels younger kids in Tzofim. “They all tell me before summer starts, ‘We’re going to Israel,’ and I ask them how is that. Even the youngest kids tell me about their experiences in Israel and their family. I’m very excited to be able to go,” she said.

Bar works for a birthday party business where she paints little kids’ faces, dances with them and dresses up as characters from the popular Israeli children‘s show “Yuval Hamebulbal,” a dinosaur and a fire-fighting dog. After she graduates from high school, she expects to go to community college and transfer to a four-year university to study business and fashion design.

If the DACA program is canceled, putting her at risk of deportation, she said it would be “really, really upsetting.”

“I’m from L.A. This is where I’ve lived my whole life. I don’t even remember what Israel looks like,” she said.

‘This affects kids who are pretty much American in every way’

Eli grew up in Beverly Hills and describes himself as “a typical Persian-Jewish kid” in all ways but one: He’s in the country illegally. He was born in Tel Aviv and came here in 1991, when he was 8 years old. His parents overstayed their visa when their green card application was denied.

He earned a degree from UCLA, paying his tuition out of his own pocket, and hoped to go to law school but knew he wouldn’t be allowed to practice. He struggled for years with low-paying jobs.

“A soon as I got my DACA [status] in December 2013, three months later I got hired by a Fortune 500 company,” he said. “I knew I had the ability all along but I couldn’t prove it, because I didn’t have access to a real job.”

Now in his mid-30s, he owns his own business, offering “professional services” to corporate clients.

Outside of a small group of friends and his girlfriend, nobody knows about his status.

“I don’t want to jeopardize my business or do anything that can cause harm to that. In the Persian-Jewish community people talk, and I don’t want that information out,” he said.

Eli is a fitness enthusiast, spending hours a day at the gym training in Brazilian jiu jitsu. He considers himself a hard worker, a self-made entrepreneur, and can’t understand why people wouldn’t want him to be a citizen. After all, he said, he had no say in his parents’ decision to come to the U.S. and overstay their visa.

“You can’t blame somebody who didn’t commit the crime,” he said. “If you pull somebody over and their grandson is in the backseat, you don’t give the grandson in the backseat a ticket.”

He knows plenty of Iranian-American Jews who support Trump, and he doesn’t fault them for it.

“None of them go to KKK or neo-Nazi rallies or anti-immigration rallies. They’re pro-Trump mostly because of his pro-Israel stance, and they make good money and want tax breaks,” he said.

But he said he thinks a lot of them do have a racial bias.

“They look down on Mexican immigrants as low-skilled labor. They mow their lawn and garden their backyard and take care of their kids. … A lot of them probably think we should send them back to Mexico. They don’t understand this affects kids who are pretty much American in every way other than the fact that they don’t have their citizenship here, don’t have their green card.”

‘I’ll take my American education and I’ll go somewhere else’

Rebecca’s parents came to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. They planned to return to Israel after their B-2 tourist visa expired.

“When we got here, we started to feel like we wanted to stay here,” she said. They hired a lawyer who “ended up being a crook,” and their visa expired, she said.

Now 23, Rebecca has spent roughly half her life in the United States.

“My heart is in two different places. It’s hard every day to make the choice to be here. And it’s still a choice, despite all the inconveniences of being undocumented,” she said.

When she gained DACA status in 2012, “everything really changed.” The California Dream Act enabled her to receive state financial aid at UCLA, where she graduated with a double major in anthropology and Arabic.

While at UCLA, she participated in UndocuBruins, a research grant program for undocumented students and received funding to work with a South L.A. nonprofit that trains previously incarcerated people to work on urban farms in “food deserts.”

After she “decided that urban farming is really cool,” Rebecca completed a three-month fellowship at a Jewish community farm in Berkeley called Urban Adamah. Much like a kibbutz, the fellows live and farm together. This summer she worked as a garden educator at a Jewish summer camp in northern California and is now working with other UCLA grads at a startup nonprofit called COMPASS for Youth, which provides counseling for at-risk and homeless youth in Los Angeles.

Her undocumented status has inspired her to help others.

“I feel really blessed for that, because it’s opened my eyes and made me empathetic toward the stories of so many people that I wouldn’t have been able to empathize with beforehand,” she said.

“A lot of doors have been closed on me, and I had to push through a lot of doors. I got a lot of help [and] a lot of community support. … I’m grateful.”— Rebecca

While at UCLA, she was active at Hillel and in the Jewish community, but she had to navigate her place among the mostly Latino undocumented students and the feeling of guilt that accompanies a recognition of privilege.

“Ironically, my dad is also a construction worker, just like the dads of many of the undocumented folks that I know … [but] my dad’s been able to be more successful because he has resources, and he’s not Mexican, so he’s not looked at in a particular way. I look like a white person, so I don’t experience the sort of racist reality that comes with being undocumented in America.”

Rebecca’s mother is a self-published writer of poetry in Hebrew and English.

“A lot of [the poems] are about being away from home and being separated from her family. Her dad passed away while we were here, a few years into being here. So she wasn’t able to see him for the few last years of his life, and then not at his death, not at his funeral, and not now, many years later,” she said.

Rebecca was afraid of deportation, but becoming a DACA recipient “has given me breathing room,” she said. She’d rather move to Israel on her own terms than be deported, but hopes to stay here. She’s trying to make the world a better place in her own way.

“If America doesn’t want that, too bad,” she said. “I’ll take my American education and I’ll go somewhere else.”

Despite the fear that comes with being undocumented, “the immigrant experience is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said.

“I was totally uprooted and I had to cope, and assimilated to something that was 100 percent foreign to me. And that was really hard,” she added. “A lot of doors have been closed on me, and I had to push through a lot of doors. I got a lot of help [and] a lot of community support. … I’m grateful.”

‘The dreams come true here’

In the heart of affluent Beverly Hills, 17-year-old Jason harbors a secret. His family came from Israel when he was 5, and someone posing as a lawyer botched their citizenship applications and disappeared. Their work permits expired, and now Jason, his parents, and his younger brother live in the shadows.

His friends don’t know. Neither did his girlfriend, whom he considered marrying in order to gain a path to legal status. His parents actually pressured him to propose even though he knew “she would freak out, like, big time” if she found out he was undocumented.

Jason became a DACA recipient in 2015.

“I had no idea what it was,” he said. In fact, until that point, his parents hadn’t told him or his younger brother about their immigration status.

“They didn’t know we were illegal because we didn’t want them to talk to their friends,” his father, Avi, said. “Only when the DACA program came out, after talking to Neil [Sheff, their immigration lawyer], only then we told the kids.”

Jason plays guitar and plans to enroll in a music program after graduating from Beverly Hills High School. But his immigration status has complicated his plans.

“I do want to travel at some point, and if I’m not documented I can’t do that,” he said.

Returning to Israel is not an option, his parents say.

“I have nothing to do in Israel,” his mother, Ravital, said. “It’s hard to live there. Here, it’s an easier life. The dreams come true here.”

Daniel, their 13-year-old son, wants to be an actor. Because he’s too young to gain DACA status, he can’t get a work permit and audition for roles.

“Now that [Trump] canceled it, it’s a lot harder. It’s impossible, unless I get married to an American girl,” Daniel said with a laugh.

Ravital owns a skin care company, and Avi works in software development. “We do everything by the book, and we find a way to pay taxes on time,” Ravital said.

“We probably pay more taxes than Trump,” Avi added.

Many of their Israeli and Orthodox Jewish friends are Trump supporters, and they fear social alienation if their immigration status is discovered. “Before you called, we closed all the windows around the house,” Avi admitted. “The stigma of people who are illegal here is very bad.”

‘Remember the stranger and the foreigner in your land’

There’s a disconnect between Jews and undocumented immigrants, says Beverly Hills immigration attorney Neil Sheff, who speaks Hebrew and Spanish fluently. About half of his clients are Israeli, and he hears a lot of rhetoric against immigration reform from his fellow Jews, even those born in other countries.

“Their responses are usually, ‘We came here the legal way.’ When many of the Jewish immigrants came here, the immigration laws were so relaxed and the process was so much easier, everyone could come here the legal way,” he said.

“Their plight isn’t really acknowledged by the greater Jewish community, especially the Orthodox Jewish community.” – Neil Sheff

Sheff believes there are many Israelis living in L.A. without documentation, as well as Jews from South Africa, Russia and an increasing number from France, looking to escape their country’s rising tide of anti-Semitism.

“Their plight isn’t really acknowledged by the greater Jewish community, especially the Orthodox Jewish community,” which supports Trump because they consider him to be pro-Israel, Sheff said.

The Torah extolls Jews 36 times to treat strangers well, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

“It’s part and parcel of who we are as Jews to remember the stranger and the foreigner in your land,” Sheff said. “That should translate immediately to empathy for the immigrants here, whether they are immigrants who have been here for generations or just arrived.”

ADL alarmed by author speaking to Congress who links gun control and Holocaust

Stephen Halbrook

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern that a witness at a congressional hearing on a controversial gun bill  wrote a book arguing that gun control rendered Jews defenseless during the Holocaust.

Stephen Halbrook, who wrote “Gun Control in the Third Reich” in 2015, is set to appear Tuesday at a meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, which is considering the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. The bill would loosen controls on transporting firearms across state lines, an area that Halbrook has litigated as a prominent gun rights attorney.

“We have long been concerned about facile comparisons of gun control legislation in America to policies upheld by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in an email to JTA. “The national debate over gun control is a divisive issue with many strong opinions. While there are legitimate arguments on both sides, the notion that Jews could have saved themselves from the Nazi onslaught is not one of them. It is historically inaccurate and deeply offensive to bring the Holocaust into this debate where it simply does not belong.”

Halbrook’s book argued that a key element in the Nazis’ repressive policies was the disarming of Nazi enemies, a theory embraced last year by the then-presidential candidate and now-Housing Secretary Ben Carson. Halbrook emphasizes in his book that gun control was not a factor leading to the Holocaust. Instead, he says, it facilitated it.

Historians of Nazi Germany have widely discredited the theory, saying that whatever restrictions on gun purchases the Nazis placed on Jews must be seen as part of the array of repressive measures Nazis imposed on Jews and not as Nazis favoring gun controls per se. In fact, the Nazis in 1938 loosened controls on gun ownership for non-Jewish Germans.

Others have questioned how Jews in Germany, who made up only 1 percent of the population, could have staged an effective rebellion against the Nazis’ military regime.

JTA was alerted to Halbrook’s scheduled appearance before the committee by Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun control advocacy group founded by Gabrielle Giffords, the Jewish Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who was shot and critically wounded by a gunman in 2011 in a deadly attack. She has since retired from Congress.

David Chipman, a senior adviser to the group, also appeared as a witness, testifying against a provision of the bill that would loosen restrictions on silencers. Its sponsor, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., says silencers protect hunters’ hearing.

Jewish groups attack Trump’s DACA decision as immoral

Demonstrators protest in front of the White House after the Trump administration scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Sept. 5. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

An array of Jewish groups and lawmakers attacked as immoral President Donald Trump’s move to end an Obama-era program granting protections to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

The Trump administration said Sept. 5 that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months. President Barack Obama had launched DACA in 2011 after multiple attempts failed in Congress to pass an immigration bill that would settle the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants. The program protected those who arrived as children from deportation and granted them limited legal status.

In statements, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the principal objection to Obama’s so-called Dreamers program was that it was unconstitutional because it was established by an executive order, and indicated that Trump was ready to sign any congressional legislation that would accommodate the “Dreamers.” It was unclear what would happen in the meantime or, should Congress not pass legislation, what would happen to the 800,000 people who have sought and received DACA’s protections.

Trump, in a statement, said his hand was forced by attorneys general from conservative states who plan to sue to kill DACA.

“The attorney general of the United States, the attorneys general of many states and virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court,” he said.

Republican leaders in Congress have expressed a willingness to pass the legislation necessary to protect the affected immigrants, but Jewish groups and lawmakers said ending the program presented immoral perils, given the failures of Congress in the past to agree on comprehensive immigration reform.

“DACA recognized these individuals for who they are: Americans in everything but paperwork,” Melanie Nezer, the vice president for public affairs of HIAS, a major Jewish immigrant advocacy group. “Their hopes and dreams are no different from kids who are born here, and there is no legitimate reason for inflicting this needless suffering on them and their families.”

The Reform movement called the action “morally misguided” and demanded that Congress act to redress the rescission.

“It is imperative that Congress step up in support of these young people who grew up in the United States and who want to give back to the only country they know as home,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “We call on Congress to protect DACA recipients from deportation by immediately passing a clean bipartisan Dream Act of 2017 — and on the president to support it.”

Richard Foltin, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government affairs, called the decision “devastating,” and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it was one of “a long list of actions and policies by this administration that have deeply hurt immigrants and their families.” The ADL noted the pardoning last month of Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who had been convicted of discriminatory practices against Latinos, and the threat to withdraw funding from cities offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Other Jewish organizations condemning the decision included Bend the Arc, J Street, the National Council of Jewish Women, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Shalom Center and the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Bend the Arc listed rallies across the country it would join to oppose the decision.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for public policy, said it “strongly opposed” the decision and called on Congress to act to protect the “Dreamers.”

“The Jewish community has a long history of active engagement in the struggles of new immigrants and in development of our nation’s immigration policy,” it said. “We believe that Congress must enact a permanent solution and we call on lawmakers to act immediately to protect immigrant youth by passing the ‘Dream Act of 2017,’ bipartisan legislation that would replace fear and uncertainty with permanent protection.”

Jewish Democrats also slammed the decision.

“Terminating #DACA now puts 800,000 talented young #DREAMers who love, contribute to, and live in America officially at risk of deportation,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Twitter.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Engel’s counterpart on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the decision was “clearly written with little thought of the human consequences.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called the decision “cruel and arbitrary.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, in a long and anguished statement, said he supported Trump’s decision but added that he would work to pass legislation to protect the undocumented immigrants.

“I am very much willing to work with any of my colleagues on either side of the aisle on this issue and others to find common ground however possible,” he said. “Working together productively and substantively, I am hugely confident that long overdue progress can absolutely be achieved at least in part to move the needle more in the right direction.”

Dreamers and their supporters on the night of Sept. 4 held a candlelight vigil outside the home of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the daughter and son-in-law of the president. The couple, who both serve as advisers to the president, reportedly advocated for continuing DACA.

The anti-BDS act: What’s at stake for Democrats?

Palestinians pray on a street outside Jerusalem's Old City July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

At the end of a week that was dominated by a virus (that’s why I wasn’t here for a few days), here are five comments on things I missed writing about since Monday:

1.

The Temple Mount crisis is in a short respite – not over. The specific tension that ignited the recent strife is calmed, but another round it all but inevitable. Why? Two reasons. 1. The Palestinians learned that Temple Mount serves them well, and can provide them with small victories. It is tempting to use such useful tool again. They will not be able to resist such a temptation. 2. Too many Israelis are displeased with the status quo and will keep working to weaken it. The record number of Jews that visited Temple Mount on Tisha BeAv is telling.

2.

The police might pull a decisive card in its investigation against Prime Minister Netanyahu, by having the PM’s former top aide Ari Harow as a state witness. Does this mean Netanyahu is doomed? There are two answers to this question: The answer of those convinced that Netanyahu is guilty, and that the only thing standing between him and a term in jail is a proper witness that could make his guiltiness official’ and he answer of those convinced that the investigation is a witch hunt, and that no witness can make a non-guilty person guilty.

What we do not know is this: Does Harow merely confirm the known facts– that is, he makes it even clearer that Netanyahu received many gifts from wealthy people – or does he contribute new facts to the mix, facts that make it impossible to argue that these were gifts and not bribe.

If it is all about gifts, the question will be one of interpretation: is it illegal for the PM to receive gifts, even many gifts, and is it an offense worthy of prosecution. If it is more than gifts – if someone can prove that Netanyahu was getting champagne in exchange for favors – that’s a whole different ball game.

3.

I understand why some people are furious with Jared Kushner and his sober comments on the Israeli-Palestinian process, but must say I find nothing objectionable about them. “We’re trying to follow very logically'” he said, “We’re thinking about what the right end state is, and we’re trying to work with the parties very quietly to see if there’s a solution. And there may be no solution, but it’s one of the problem sets that the president asked us to focus on. So we’re going to focus on it and try to come to the right conclusion in the near future”.

Why are some people angry with Kushner? For two main reasons:

  1. One complaint is about tactics: Because Kushner was open, and a broker should be more discreet (tactics is the prerogative of the tactician, and maybe Kushner decided that honesty is what the peace process needs).
  2. One complaint is about content: Because Kushner is not certain there is a solution – and some people think they have a solution (it usually involves forcing Israel to do things that will put it at risk).

There is no reason to be angry with Kushner, but a follow-up question is due: if there is no solution, what should be the next step? What should it be for the parties themselves, and what role is the US supposed to play in the coming years of no solution?

4.

The anti-BDS bill is becoming an interesting test for Democrats in Congress. The ACLU opposes the bill, and some legislators seem nervous about it – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) removed her name from the bill, and my guess is that she will not be the last one to do so. New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan is already under pressure to do the same. And progressive Democrats will continue to exert such pressure on members whom they deem vulnerable to it.

What’s at stake? The simple explanation is that there are concerns about the bill and its impact on free speech. The real story is different: Elements on the left wing of the Democratic party oppose the bill because of their support of BDS. These elements wisely see this occasion as an opportunity to score a rare victory for BDS in the US, by torpedoing a highly visible bill. What needs to happen for them to succeed is simple: more Democrats must decide that the political price they will pay for shunning progressive pressure is higher than the price they will pay for shunning pro-Israel voters. In other words: the more Democrats decide not to support the bill, the more it becomes clear that Democratic legislators can no longer sustain the gap between what Democratic voters think about Israel, and how the party leaders vote on Israel.

5.

When it was still widely assumed that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, I wrote (in the New York Times) the following paragraph about the Democratic Party and Israel:

For relations between Israel and the Democrats to remain strong, one of two things needs to happen: Either Democrats’ attitudes and Israel’s policies must converge, or Democrats must become convinced that weakening support for Israel will come with a political price. Mr. Netanyahu and Mrs. Clinton will have to find out which it is to be, or else the drift will continue.

A year later – it continues.

 

 

How the Dems can lose 2018

Activist Linda Sarsour in New York City on June 29. Photo by Joe Penney/Reuters

Last week, the Democrats released a new bumper sticker for their 2018 Congressional campaign: “I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

It’s not a bad political notion so far as it goes — opposition in politics is an effective tool, as Democrats learned from Republicans, who campaigned against Obamacare and Democratic spending policies to the tune of 1,000 state legislature seats, 12 governorships (including in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts), 10 Senate seats and 63 House seats. Now Democrats hope to reverse the math.

But there’s something else going on here, too. Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings. That’s because for all the talk by Democrats about Republican extremism, Republicans actually have moved closer to the center on policy, while Democrats have embraced an ugly combination of Bernie Sanders-style socialism and college campus-style intersectionality.

Leave aside the boorish antics of President Donald Trump and the incompetence of Congressional Republicans. Here is the fact: Trump is the most moderate Republican president since Richard Nixon. He has successfully passed almost no major policy in seven months. His foreign policy on North Korea and Syria is barely distinguishable from former President Barack Obama’s. His approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been praised by Palestinians and former Obama officials. He’s the most pro-LGBT Republican in presidential history; his stance on abortion has been vague; his White House chief strategist has openly embraced higher taxes on upper-income earners, as well as a massive infrastructure spending program; he has embraced the central premises of Obamacare. Trump may act in ridiculous ways that defy rationality — his Twitter feed is littered with stupidity and aggression, of course — but on policy, Trump is closer to Bill Clinton of 1997 than President Obama was.

Democrats, meanwhile, are moving hard to the left. When former Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times calling for Democrats to move back to the center, he was roundly excoriated by the leading thinkers in the Democratic Party. He was an emissary of the past; he had to embrace the new vision of the leftist future. That leftist future involved radical tax increases, fully nationalized health care, and — most of all — the divisive politics of intersectionality. Sens. Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may own the policy side of the Democratic coalition, but the heart of the Democratic coalition lies in polarization by race, sex and sexual orientation. Forget a cohesive national message that appeals to Americans regardless of tribal identity: The new Democratic Party cares only about uniting disparate identity factions under the banner of opposing Republicanism.

The clearest evidence for that alliance of convenience came earlier this month, when Democratic darling and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour was caught on tape promoting “jihad” against Trump. Sarsour said that the sort of “jihad” she liked was “a word of truth in front of a tyrant or leader.” But she deliberately used the word “jihad” because of its ambiguity, not in spite of it: Sarsour has stated that pro-Israel women cannot be feminists; she supports the imposition of “Shariah law” in Muslim countries; she has stated of dissident and female genital mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she wishes she could take her “vagina away”; she has long associated with the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood; she opened her “jihad” speech by thanking Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who has repeatedly advocated for a violent form of “jihad.”

Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings.

Democrats rushed to her defense nonetheless, hoping to preserve the intersectional concerns that animate their base. Never mind that Sarsour is no ally to LGBT rights, or that she blames “Zionists” for her problems. She represents an important constituency for Democrats, and so she must be protected. More than that, she speaks anti-Trumpese fluently, and thus is an important figure for Democrats.

This isn’t rare on the left anymore. Much of the Democratic establishment supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a longtime Nation of Islam acolyte who spent years defending that group’s most extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric — a man so radical that he openly associated with the Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which recently labeled Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) an “Israel Firster.”

Even as the Democratic Party embraced Sarsour and defended her ambiguous use of the word “jihad” — after all, she was opposing Trump the Impaler — leftist spokespeople rushed to microphones to denounce President Trump’s speech in Poland, in which he called for a defense of “the West” and “our civilization.” Leftist columnist Peter Beinart labeled the speech racist. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review points out, we now have a Democratic Party that spends its time defending the use of the word “jihad” against the president but labeling the phrase “the West” a problem.

Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it works out.

And so Democrats must focus on President Trump. They must hope that he smacks himself in the face with a frying pan. They must bank on some sort of Trump-Russia collusion revelation. They must pray that the focus stays on Republicans rather than turning back to Democrats. After all, Sanders-Sarsour doesn’t sound like a winning combination.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Nikki Haley’s chutzpah

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on April 25. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Nikki Haley has served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for only a few months, but she’s already achieved something virtually no other political figure in recent years has done: She’s united the Jewish community.

That’s saying a lot for someone appointed by a controversial president who managed to alienate 70 percent of the Jewish vote even as he claimed staunch support for Israel and his Jewish grandkids.

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche: “Nowhere has the U.N.’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel.” She was confirmed 96-4, even as other Trump appointees were stonewalled, grilled and flayed.

At a time when fractious political divisions have split many Jews, Haley has emerged as a unifying figure. If there’s anything both progressive and conservative Jews can agree on these days — and there isn’t much — it is the longstanding hypocrisy of the U.N. Security Council, which routinely “condemns,” “deplores” and “censures” Israel for its actions while ignoring more egregious abuses of power elsewhere.

“It was a bit strange,” Haley said of her first Security Council meeting in February. “The [Security Council] is supposed to discuss how to maintain international peace and security. But at our meeting on the Middle East, the discussion was not about Hezbollah’s illegal buildup of rockets in Lebanon … not about the money and weapons Iran provides to terrorists … not about how we defeat ISIS … not about how we hold [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad accountable for the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of civilians. No, instead, the meeting focused on criticizing Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East.”

That speech sealed broad Jewish support for Haley — and affirmed the conviction of right-leaning Jews that Trump would be a stalwart defender of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Haley’s “unequivocal support” and praised her agenda to put to rout the U.N.’s anti-Israel bias. “It’s time to put an end to the absurdity in the United Nations,” he wrote on Facebook.

At the AIPAC policy conference in March, Haley received a hero’s welcome, with a standing ovation that lasted long enough for her to bow, sit, then stand up again.

But even as Haley’s message was widely celebrated, I wondered whether they really were her words. Does her stance on Israel reflect her own personal values and commitments, or is she just one voice among many in an administration that often puts forth opposing views? How much freedom does Haley have to speak her mind?   

Apparently, too much.

Last week, The New York Times reported that Haley’s assertive voice is beginning to rankle those who outrank her in the White House.

As one of the few women in Trump’s cabinet and that rare non-white appointee, she is often “the first, most outspoken member of the Trump administration to weigh in on key foreign policy issues,” the Times said. Her strong criticisms of Syria and Russia (sometimes at odds with her bosses) and her prescient observations about the link between human rights abuses and the eventuality of violent conflict have swelled her status as a voice of conscience. But they’ve also overshadowed her superior, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Now, the State Department is trying to rein her in. According to an email the Times cited, Haley was encouraged to use predetermined “building blocks” when issuing public remarks and was reminded to “re-clear” her comments with Washington “if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue such as Syria, Iran, Israel-Palestine, or [North Korea].”

Haley’s willingness to buck the status quo and adopt moral stances is bold, and her confident stand at her Congressional confirmation hearing worked like an elixir on the Jewish psyche.

How ironic that an administration led by the reigning king of running his mouth, a president who disavows formalities and prides himself on speaking freely, openly and often coarsely, would seek to silence one of its most eloquent spokespeople. How ironic that the target of this hushing is a woman, descended from immigrants.

Perhaps this is all part of Trump’s foreign policy plan to remain unpredictable. Better to beam out mixed messages and retain the element of surprise so that provocative foreign powers like Russia and North Korea are kept in the dark, guessing. But another read on his plan is this: A predominantly white male administration needs to remind the world who the real masters are by diminishing the star of its most promising woman (sorry, Ivanka).

The climate of fear and anxiety Trump wants to cultivate abroad, he cultivates at home.

Last week, when Haley accompanied 14 members of the U.N. Security Council to the White House, Trump put her out on the ledge.

“Does everybody like Nikki?” the president asked his guests, knowing they were the ones she had criticized. “Because if you don’t, she can easily be replaced.”

The council members laughed.

“No, we won’t do that, I promise,” Trump said. “We won’t do that. She’s doing a fantastic job.”


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to commission Elie Wiesel bust in Capitol

Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel in 2015. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images via JTA

Two Congress members introduced a bipartisan bill to commission a bust of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who died last year.

Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., introduced the bill in the House of Representatives on Friday.

Wiesel, an activist against racism who was well known internationally for his many books, essays and educational projects about the Holocaust, died in July at 87.

Cohen, who is Jewish, and Ros-Lehtinen, an Episcopalian with Jewish heritage, praised Wiesel’s accomplishments in a statement Friday noting that they were introducing the bill during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Elie Wiesel was one of the greatest moral forces in the world,” Cohen said. “He is a member of that rare group of people who have had a major individual impact on our world, such as Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.”

Ros-Lehtinen said that a statue or bust of Wiesel in the Capitol “would memorialize him and ensure that we continue to share his story and remind ourselves that, as he said, ‘our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.’”

Among the bill’s 51 co-sponsors are 12 Jewish lawmakers: Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., Susan Davis, D-Calif, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., David Kustoff, R-Tenn., Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y.


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

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

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.”

Bipartisan bill would boost penalties for anti-Semitic bomb threats

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

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.

Jewish groups urge Congress to preserve anti-Semitism monitor

Photo by Reuters

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.

Evoking Holocaust, lawmakers demand ‘never again’ for Syria

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

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.”

115 House members sign letter warning about one-state outcome

Photo by Reuters

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.

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

Abraham Foxman. Photo by David Karp

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 

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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.