Trump wins first debate

Apparently, pretty much everyone I know is a bed-wetter.

The term gained currency in politics in January 2010 when Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, in a Washington Post “>tweeted. “Clinton will enter August with strong electoral college advantage.” But that lead has since been blown, and now my in-box is positively leaking anxiety.  

Tell me Trump won’t win, my friends are emailing. It’s a slow-motion train wreck, they’re saying, and I feel helpless to stop it. Why is the media letting Trump get away with it? I wouldn’t be so nervous if it weren’t for Gary Johnson; if it weren’t for millennial apathy, for alt-right propaganda, for Paul Ryan’s cowardice; if it weren’t for sexism, racism, infotainment, Idiocracy, plutocracy, Citizens United, voter suppression…. Help!

Now comes the first debate, adding fresh impetus to stock up on mattress pads. Yet no matter what Clinton does, the Trump-wins-first-debate narrative has already been written:

– Trump and Clinton will share the same stage. He is not a normal candidate, or even a normal person. She is. No matter what happens during the debate, it is declared afterward that the one-on-one matchup has “normalized” Trump. So Trump wins.

– Because the bar for a successful Trump performance has been set so low, when Trump fails to threaten to punch Clinton, it is acclaimed as evidence of his presidential temperament and general election pivot.  Trump wins.

– Trump will attack Clinton. Clinton will defend herself. The verdict: Trump was strong; Clinton was on the defensive. But people want strength. Trump wins.

– The moderator, NBC’s Lester Holt, will call Trump on a lie. Trump will heap scorn on Holt, NBC, MSNBC, the Commission on Presidential Debates and the corrupt, dishonest media. Gallup – Clinton will nail Trump for lying. He’ll lie so much, she won’t be able to keep up with him. Fact-checkers will say, after the fact, that his pants were on fire, but it won’t matter. The debate will be scored for entertainment value, not truth-value. Clinton’s zingers will be called scripted. Trump’s taunts will be so uncivil, so beyond the political pale, so viciously funny, he will be crowned the change candidate in a change election year. Trump wins.

– Trump and Clinton will go after each other so relentlessly that the debate will be called a draw. But the Beltway consensus is that Clinton needs to win; Trump just needs to tie. So a tie is a win. Trump wins.

Even if Clinton wipes the floor with Trump, the media’s inherent bias is for suspense. The media business model requires capturing and keeping the audience’s attention, so corporations can sell our eyeballs to advertisers. It doesn’t matter how the debates go, or what the polls say; the press will portray the final stretch of this horserace as neck and neck, a photo finish, you won’t want to miss this, stay tuned.

Four years ago, I “>admitted on air, “We got played again by the Trump campaign, which is what they do.” No doubt Trump’s base loved that humiliation. But will the press ever learn? By the time the media figures out that its addiction to BREAKING NEWS is a standing invitation to be punked, the guy who’s gaming them may be sitting in the Oval Office.

I do see signs that Trump’s press bullying is losing octane. The Los Angeles Times’ lead story out of that birther event was headlined, “Trump trades one falsehood for two more,” and the New York Times led with “Trump Gives Up a Lie But Refuses to Repent.” If cable news covers the debates that unflinchingly, maybe Bed Bath & Beyond can let its inventory of waterproof bedding dwindle.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

Donald Trump: Debating trailing Bernie Sanders would be ‘inappropriate’

Donald Trump said he would not debate Bernie Sanders because it would be “inappropriate” in light of Sanders trailing Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary fight.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, addressed the possibility of debating the Vermont senator on Friday in a statement, CNN reported.

“Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and crooked Hillary Clinton and [Debbie] Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second-place finisher,” Trump said in a statement, referring also to the head of the Democratic National Committee.

Trump also said news networks “are not proving to be too generous to charitable causes,” which he previously had said would be a goal of debating Sanders.

The two populist candidates had floated the idea of debating each other throughout the week. Sanders has been trying to debate Clinton ahead of the California primary on June 7, but she has declined.

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles, Sanders said he was disappointed that Trump changed his mind.

“I hope that he changes his mind again. Mr. Trump is known to change his mind many times in a day,” Sanders said. “Trump is a bully, he’s a big tough guy. Well, I say to Mr. Trump, what are you afraid of?”

On Thursday, Trump told supporters in Bismarck, North Dakota, that he’d “love to debate Bernie.”

“He’s a dream,” the real estate magnate said. “If we can raise [money] for maybe women’s health issues or something. If we can raise $10 or $15 million for charity, which would be a very appropriate amount.”

“I understand the television business very well. I think it would get high ratings,” Trump added.

The idea of the two debating surfaced Wednesday night when ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel told Trump he had a question from the Sanders campaign asking if Trump would be willing to debate the Democratic hopeful.

Trump warns of riots, pulls plug on Republican presidential debate

Republican front-runner Donald Trump warned on Wednesday of riots if he is denied the party's presidential nomination and pulled the plug on a scheduled debate among candidates, raising the temperature even more in a heated White House race.

The outspoken New York businessman scored big wins in primaries in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina on Tuesday, bringing him closer to the 1,237 convention delegates he needs to win the nomination.

Trump also claimed victory in Missouri but lost the crucial state of Ohio, and left the door open for those in the party trying to stop him from becoming the Republican nominee for the Nov. 8 election.

Trump might fall short of the majority of delegates required, enabling the party's establishment to put forward another name at the July convention in Cleveland to formally pick its candidate.

In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Trump said the party could not deny him the nomination should he fail to win enough delegates.

“I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically. I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. I'm representing many, many millions of people.”

While the Republicans were mired deeper in turmoil, Hillary Clinton won victories in at least four states on Tuesday that put her in good shape to defeat U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and win the Democratic Party's nomination.

Republican Party leaders are appalled at Trump's incendiary rhetoric and reject policies such as his vow to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, temporarily ban Muslims from the United States and build a wall along the Mexican border.

The party tried to play down his riot comments, only days after Trump supporters and protesters clashed at a rally for the Republican in Chicago that was later scrapped.

“First of all, I assume he is speaking figuratively. If we go into a convention, whoever gets 1,237 delegates becomes the nominee. It's plain and simple,” Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN.

Recent outbreaks of violence during protests at Trump rallies have prompted President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and mainstream Republican figures to speak out against the billionaire.

A North Carolina sheriff's office looked into charging Trump or his campaign with “inciting a riot” at a rally in the state last week where a protester was punched, but decided not to proceed.


In comments likely to raise more concern in the Republican establishment about Trump's lack of experience and temperament, the former reality TV show host said he was for the most part his own foreign affairs adviser.

“I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” he told MSNBC's “Morning Joe” show. “I know what I'm doing. … My primary consultant is myself.”

Trump's closest national challenger is first-term U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who prides himself in being a grassroots conservative often at odds with Republican leaders.

He too warned of severe reactions against an attempt to stage a so-called brokered convention or contested convention to install a Republican candidate supported by party leaders.

“I think that would be an absolute disaster. I think the people would quite rightly revolt,” Cruz told CNN.

A brokered convention is a complicated process of sequential votes that opens the way for horse trading.

The Republican establishment's bid to stop Trump may have come too late as the field of candidates has dwindled to only three, with Trump, 69, in command ahead of Cruz, 45, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, who won his state's Republican primary on Tuesday.

Growing in confidence, Trump pulled out of a Republican debate scheduled for Monday in Utah, saying it clashed with a speech he plan to give to a pro-Israel group. Debate hosts Fox News then canceled the event.

Senator Marco Rubio quit the White House race after defeat in his home state of Florida, leaving former investment banker Kasich as the last moderate Republican presidential candidate standing.

Trump now needs to win about 55 percent of the roughly 1,100 delegates still up for grabs in state-by-state nominating contests to guarantee the nomination. It is not an insurmountable challenge.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said it might be tough for the party to block Trump at the convention.

“A contested convention would be justified if Trump only had around 35 or 40 percent of the delegates locked up. However, if he is very close to getting the majority of delegates, it would be politically difficult for the establishment to try stop him by backroom wheeling and dealing without risking a serious backlash from voters,” said Bonjean. The strategist is not affiliated with any of the candidates.

Given the panic amid party leaders at the likelihood of a Trump nomination, some Republicans have urged U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan to step in.

But Ryan, the country's top elected Republicans and a self-described budget wonk, will not accept a nomination to be a presidential candidate, said his spokeswoman, AshLee Strong.

Party figures are divided about whether to throw their weight behind Trump despite his downsides or to go on trying to halt him. Florida Governor Rick Scott endorsed Trump on Wednesday but another influential Southern governor, South Carolina's Nikki Haley, declared her support for Cruz, the state's Post and Courier newspaper said.

The election season is likely to become more politicized after Obama nominated judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a showdown with Senate Republicans who have vowed to block any Obama nominee.

On the Democratic side, wins on Tuesday for former Secretary of State Clinton, 68, gave her an almost insurmountable edge over Sanders, 74.

Seeking to become the United States' first woman president, Clinton needs to win only around a third of the Democratic delegates remaining to become her party's nominee.

Clinton, Sanders clash over trade and auto bailout in Michigan debate

Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton clashed angrily over trade, the auto industry bailout and Wall Street in a Michigan debate on Sunday, with Sanders accusing Clinton of backing trade deals that robbed the state of jobs.

In a debate in Flint, Michigan, Sanders said Clinton supported “disastrous” trade policies that moved manufacturing jobs out of cities like Flint and Detroit and shifted them overseas.

But Clinton said Sanders' opposition to the 2009 auto bailout, a crucial issue in a state that is home to the U.S. auto industry, would have cost the state millions of jobs. The bailout, which Clinton supported, passed Congress and has been credited with helping save the U.S. industry.

“If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed, taking 4 million jobs with it,” Clinton, the former secretary of state, said ofSanders.

The debate came as Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, struggled to slow Clinton's march to the nomination to face the Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 general election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama. Media organizations predicted that Sanders would win Sunday's Maine caucus.

Sanders also questioned the sincerity of Clinton's conversion to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal.

Clinton “has discovered religion on this issue, but it’s a little too late,” he said. “Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America.”

The two contenders cut each other off on several occasions, a rare occurrence in a race that has been much more polite than the raucous Republican presidential campaign.

“Excuse me, I'm talking,” Sanders said to Clinton when she tried to interrupt. “If you're going to talk, tell the whole story,” Clinton responded.

Sanders repeated his charge that Clinton is too close to Wall Street and demanded again that she release the transcript of paid speeches she has given to Wall Street firms. Clinton said she would release them when all the candidates, including Republicans, also release transcripts of similar talks.


Throwing up his hands, Sanders said: “I'll release it. Here it is. There ain't nothing! I don’t give speeches to Wall Street!”

Both candidates said they would beat Republican front-runner Donald Trump if they face the brash billionaire businessman in the November presidential election.

“I think Donald Trump's bigotry, his bullying, his bluster, are not going to wear well on the American people,” Clinton said. “We have to end the divisiveness.”

The debate was held in Flint to highlight the city's water contamination crisis, and both candidates expressed outrage at Flint's plight and demanded state and federal money begin to flow immediately to begin relief and rebuilding efforts.

Both candidates condemned local officials who they said abetted the crisis in Flint, and demanded the resignation of Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan.

“People should be held accountable, wherever that leads,” Clinton said, adding an investigation should determine who in state and federal government was responsible. “There has to be absolute accountability.”

“What is going on is a disgrace beyond belief,” Sanders said, plugging his plan to spend $1 trillion to rebuild crumbling infrastructure across the United States.

The crisis in Flint, a predominantly black city of 100,000, was triggered when an emergency city manager installed by Snyder switched the city's water supply to the nearby Flint River from Lake Michigan to save money.

The change corroded Flint's aging pipes and released lead and other toxins into the water supply, exposing thousands of residents including children to high lead levels that have sparked serious health problems.


Opinion polls show Clinton, 68, leading in Michigan and Mississippi, which vote on Tuesday. She also leads in polls in several big states that vote on March 15, including Ohio and Florida.

Sanders, 74, faces a tough challenge erasing Clinton's lead of about 200 bound delegates who will choose the nominee at the July convention. Since the Democratic race awards delegates in each state proportionally, she will keep gathering delegates even in those states she loses.

The Democratic debate occurred one day after Sanders won nominating contests in Kansas and Nebraska, and Clinton won the bigger prize of Louisiana, a win that allowed her to slightly expand her delegate lead.

On the Republican side, Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas were angling on Sunday for a two-man race for the party's presidential nomination after splitting four state nominating contests at the weekend.

The wins for Trump, 69, and Cruz, 45, on Saturday were a setback for party leaders, who have largely opposed Trump and hinted they prefer Rubio, 44, who took third or fourth in Saturday's four Republican contests.

Cruz has been predicting a two-man race with Trump for several weeks. 

On Sunday, Rubio was projected to win in Puerto Rico, his second victory to date in nominating contests across U.S. states and territories. Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, the only other candidate remaining from a starting field of 17, has yet to win any state.

Trump will ‘definitely not’ participate in Thursday Fox debate

Donald Trump will “definitely not” participate in Thursday's Fox News U.S. Republican presidential debate, Trump's campaign manager told the Washington Post. 

“He's definitely not participating in the Fox News debate,” the Post quoted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as saying. “His word is his bond.” 

He said Trump would remain in Iowa as planned and would instead host a event in the state to raise money for wounded warriors and other veterans groups, the Post reported.

GOP debate analysis: Rubio earns top spot

Republican presidential candidates showed up on Wednesday to yet another audition in front of millions of Americans as they were supposed to debate each other and present their vision for the future in constricted soundbites for the third GOP debate on CNBC.

But instead of being able to address their vision and draw a contrast with one another, the candidates were grilled and skewed by the moderators. But it came back to haunt CNBC as the candidates and the audience fought back aggressively.

In the remaining time they had to answer questions or address policy issues, there were two candidates who stood out, dominated the conversation and earned positive marks: Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Going into the debate, Rubio’s stakes were high. The eyes of potential backers – such as Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer – were glued to the TV screen not only to examine his performance and answers on the issues of the day but to determine whether the moment has come to put their faith in his candidacy as a viable choice.

Rubio has done pretty well in previous debates. On TV and in public speeches, the Florida Senator inspires. He’s articulate, measured, but more importantly he’s appealing. And in recent months, Rubio has been climbing the ladder in public opinion polls and all of the post-debate polls. But somehow, despite his rise in the polls, situating himself in the top 5 spots in every single national and state poll, he hasn’t been able to break out. His fundraising numbers are far from impressing, and despite missing a substantial amount of time casting votes in the Senate, he hasn’t been seen too often in the early primary states, and the amount of time spending in attending fundraisers and meeting bundlers doesn’t seem to be too productive.

Politico reported Tuesday that Singer, who considers Rubio as his favorite, is still wondering if he can create a big-time national campaign and succeed in building a formidable political operation to compete or even win the early primary states. Adelson, too, is closing in on Rubio but was said to be waiting for tonight’s debate to make a final and unregrettable decision

Rubio’s hawkish views on foreign policy issues are a plus for him in courting the heavy Jewish Republican donors. But it hasn’t helped him, so far, to bite into Ted Cruz’s base.

That changed on Wednesday night. Rubio stood his ground to the questions hurled at him, stuck to his basic campaign theme, but more importantly, threw back a punch to his main rival Jeb Bush as the two sparred at the beginning of the two-hour debate.

When he was challenged for skipping more votes than any senator to run for president, Rubio made a fair comparison to previous senators running for president, including President Barack Obama and John Kerry. “This is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative movement,” he said.

Bush, looking for a breakout moment against the charismatic Senator from Florida, countered that argument: “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” he said.” I mean, literally, the Senate — what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job.”

But Rubio threw the Romney kitchen sink right at Jeb. “Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened to Jeb as he walked around the country and said that you’re modeling your campaign after John McCain, that you’re going to launch a furious comeback the way he did, by fighting hard in New Hampshire and places like that, carrying your own bag at the airport. You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you’re now modeling after?,” he asked the former Republican frontrunner. “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record. The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

Rubio also got positive marks for attacking the mainstream media, which is always a plus in the Republican primary.

If I were a fly on the wall in the Adelson living room tonight, I would’ve heard Sheldon telling his wife Miriam that the deal is closed, he has it. Rubio might have earned the Vegas casino mogul’s support, even though foreign policy wasn’t even mentioned once during the entire debate, for hitting a grand slam in a game he’s pitching perfect against the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Christie also had his moments. When the moderator asked Bush about the government getting involved in fantasy football, the New Jersey Governor chimed in: “Wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and al-Qaeda attacking us and we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? Seriously, how about this? How about we get the government to do what they are supposed to be doing, secure our borders, protect our people and support American values and American families.”

Rand Paul, though wearing the best tie, failed to score a breakout moment just for the fact that he was given less time to speak, and the substantive answers he gave were diluted by the candidates continued clashes with the moderators.

Just like the Democratic debate early this month, Israel was not mentioned once during the debate. In fact, the fight against ISIS and the Iran nuclear deal was only mentioned by Trump and Christie during indirect answers on other issues.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who had a good performance, quoted the Talmud in his closing remarks: “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9)

This also marked the first time in over three months that the frontrunner Donald Trump, already being challenged by Ben Carson for the first spot, failed to dominate the conversation and despite standing center stage, he was not the center of the discussion and was mostly ignored by the other candidates on the stage.

Other than the ten candidates standing on the stage, Senator Lindsey Graham also had a great night in the undercard debate aired on CNBC at 6:00 pm. His performance earned him a high five by the guy who became the nominee four years ago: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. “After hearing @LindseyGrahamSC talk foreign policy tonight, it’s clear he belongs on the big stage,’ Romney tweeted.

Indeed, Graham with his knowledge of domestic and international affairs and sense of humor belonged on the main stage on Wednesday.

The 14 GOP hopefuls will get another opportunity to earn some support next month. But to sum up tonight’s debate, Jeb Bush failed to save his flailing campaign and he failed big in picking a fight with Rubio. Christie, who does well on stage, will likely benefit from Bush’s downfall in the short term. But most importantly, Rubio, as mentioned above, proved he’s ready to take it to top-tier by using to maximum his strength at the podium. Similarly, Cruz shined in the moments he was given the mic.

Clinton tacks to the left ahead of Democratic debate

Hillary Clinton has veered hard to the left ahead of Tuesday's first Democratic presidential debate, hoping to inoculate herself from criticism by rival Bernie Sanders and woo the union members and liberal activists who have been slow to embrace her.

But in a Democratic race so far featuring few political attacks or policy clashes, Clinton's move to protect her left flank on issues like the Asian trade pact and Keystone oil pipeline could open the door during the televised debate to questions about her sincerity and to charges of flip-flopping.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, and Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who is her prime challenger, will take part in the first of six scheduled debates in the race to be the party's nominee in the November 2016 presidential election.

Programming of the event on CNN starts at 8:30 p.m. EDT but the debate itself begins at 9 p.m.

The two main candidates will be joined by former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee and former U.S. Senator James Webb of Virginia. The showdown will give Sanders his first broad national exposure and offer Clinton a chance to ease the concerns some Democrats have about her.

After two raucous Republican debates that drew big television audiences attracted by the fireworks generated by front-runner Donald Trump, the Democratic encounter in Las Vegas, is likely to be a tamer affair.

It comes at a critical time for Clinton, whose once overwhelming lead among Democrats in polls has slipped amid questions about her use of a private email server instead of a government account when she was secretary of state.

In addition, she faces the threat that Vice President Joe Biden could enter the race – something he has been increasingly urged to do as Clinton's lead falters.

Draft Biden, a political action committee created to urge the vice president to jump into the race, on Tuesday released a new ad portraying him as an advocate for the dignity of work.

Almost half of the nation’s Democrats want Biden to run, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday.

Forty-eight percent of Democrats surveyed wish he were a candidate, compared with 30 percent who said he should stay out.


Sanders, a self-described socialist, has excited the party's

left wing and generated big crowds with a message of eradicating income inequality and reining in Wall Street.

In response, Clinton took stances on several key issues recently that align her with Sanders. She reversed course to announce her opposition to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that she had praised when she was secretary of state, and she rejected the Keystone XL pipeline that she had said in 2010 she was inclined to approve. Sanders is a longtime opponent of both projects.

Sanders, who has repeatedly refused to directly attack Clinton, signaled over the weekend he would make an issue in the debate of Clinton's tardiness in embracing liberal positions on some of those topics, noting he opposed Keystone and the TPP “from day one.”

Clinton, who still faces ambivalence about her candidacy from much of the union rank-and-file, won praise from labor leaders for her opposition to the TPP. Labor has opposed the pact out of fear it would cost manufacturing jobs and weaken environmental laws.

“I don't think she ever had any inclination to back TPP,” said R. Thomas Buffenbarger, a Clinton ally who is president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has endorsed Clinton.

Some subtle policy differences remain between the two top Democratic contenders. Sanders has pushed for what he calls a sensible approach on gun control and voted against the 1993 Brady handgun bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law.

Clinton broke with the White House to back a no-fly zone in Syria to give refugees a safe corridor. Sanders opposes it, saying it could be a step toward pulling the United States into Syria's civil war.

Sanders has discouraged Super PACs from raising funds on his behalf, warning of the influence of corporate money. Clinton is backed by several Super PACs.

Eric Davis, a professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College in Vermont, expects Sanders “to have a vigorous critique of Hillary Clinton on things like campaign finance,” saying he can criticize her for “the way she is financing her campaign and her perceived closeness to Wall Street interests.”

Iran deal debate rages on throughout L.A.

Activist Sam Yebri and USC lecturer Josh Lockman have read every page of the controversial Iran deal, but they’ve come to very different conclusions.

“Iran wants this deal. They need it. We can do better than this deal,” Yebri said, garnering applause during a community debate on Aug. 24 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. 

“Getting a better deal at this point is illusory,” Lockman countered.

The two were matched up during an evening event titled “Should Congress Approve or Reject the Iran Nuclear Deal?” moderated by Temple Emanuel Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin. Yebri is a local attorney and president of the Iranian-American organization 30 Years After, and Lockman is a USC Law School lecturer on international law and U.S. foreign policy.

The debate on the deal — which would lift sanctions against the country in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program for at least 10 years — attracted an attentive audience of more than 150 people of all ages. 

Although the two speakers offered little in the way of fresh arguments about the agreement, they demonstrated intimate familiarity with the comprehensive deal’s fine print as they went back and forth about centrifuge reduction, “snap-back” sanctions and other talking points for more than an hour. 

The event was one of numerous debates and speaking events about Iran that have taken place in Los Angeles ever since the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany came to an agreement with Iran in July about its nuclear program. Although different speakers have represented the various points of view at each of these events, one thing the events have had in common is a captivated audience participating in the Q-and-A portions.

During this debate, audience members were asked to submit questions on notecards. One person asked about a possible alternative to this deal, given President Barack Obama and other supporters have maintained the only other option is war.

Yebri’s answer was declarative: “The fact that it’s either this deal or war is a false dichotomy.”

Bassin told audience members to hold their applause until the end, but that did not stop them from applauding Yebri’s criticism of the deal. 

Bassin pushed for people in the crowd to contact their local representatives and let them know how they feel about the deal, whether they support it or are against it. 

Lockman, in a later phone interview with the Journal, said he thought the debate over the Iran deal, if nothing else, underscored the variety of opinions local community members hold about issues pertaining to Israel and beyond. 

“This issue exemplifies the American-Jewish community does not think monolithically, whether about U.S.-Israel relations or about the Middle East at large,” he said. “There is a lot of diversity and [a] spectrum of opinions on how the United States should lead and strengthen our alliance with Israel and protect Israel.”

Audience member Mati Cohen, who told the Journal he was against the deal, said that while he was pleased with the dialogue between the two speakers, he was hoping for more discussion about how Iran will likely use the funds that it will receive after sanctions are lifted. 

“I wanted to see if they would address the main issues,” Cohen said, when asked why he attended the event.

The debate was organized by American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS Los Angeles and co-sponsored by Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Israel of Hollywood and 30 Years After. 

Trump draws boos as he bristles at ‘war on women’ question

White House contender Donald Trump, known for his inflammatory rhetoric, reacted with pique at a Republican presidential debate on Thursday when asked about his past comments calling women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.”

Trump dismissed as “political correctness” a question from Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly, who asked him to answer charges that he was part of a “war on women.”

“What I say is what I say,” said Trump, who is leading the sprawling Republican field of 17 candidates.

He drew boos from the audience when he pushed back against Kelly by accusing her of not treating him well.

“Honestly Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me,” Trump said. “But I wouldn't do that.”

Trump, a real estate mogul and former reality TV star, stood at center stage by virtue of his lead in opinion polls. His base of support is overwhelmingly male, and his comments could further erode his support among women voters.

The Republican Party has been trying to broaden its base by reaching out to women and minority voters, many of whom gravitate to the Democratic party.

Iran: What Now? A Panel Discussion on the Nuclear Deal


The Jewish Journal held a debate on the Iran nuclear deal on Aug. 2, 2015.


Mel Levine / Former U.S. Representative
Dalia Dassa Kaye / Iran Expert, RAND
Omri Ceren / The Israel Project


David Suissa / TRIBE Media Corp. & Jewish Journal President

Sponsored by The Jewish Federation, Beth Jacob and the Jewish Journal

Israel needs fans, not cheerleaders

As the New England Patriots qualified for yet another Super Bowl, my thoughts went to my late father-in-law, Harvey Kirstein, z”l, a huge fan of the team and season-ticket holder who died tragically before they became successful and never saw any of their triumphs.

It was Harvey who took me to my first game on my first trip to the United States, which was also my honeymoon. Having grown up in Britain and lived in Israel, I had no idea what was happening on the field. But I was fascinated by the cheerleaders, another example of American popular culture that was new and unfamiliar as well as strangely alluring. No matter what was happening on the field, they pranced and danced, shaking their sculpted bods and waving their pom-poms, the same plastic smiles on their perfect faces.

It prompted some thoughts on the difference between fans and cheerleaders. Whereas cheerleaders do their thing regardless of the success of the team or lack thereof, fans are much more passionately engaged. They want the team to do well — but they do not spare their opinions, thoughts and criticisms when the team is doing badly. Do we need a new quarterback? Is the head coach up to the job? Are we drafting the right players? Do we have the right game plan?

This difference between engaged fans and cheerleaders is at the center of a debate within the American-Jewish community between those who would have us play the part of cheerleaders and those who would have us be fans. 

For much of my life, I was a cheerleader. I didn’t want to hear anything negative about Israel. After all, I reasoned, it has enough critics in the world. It didn’t need one more.

This changed somewhat in the eight years I actually lived in Israel, including the period when I served in the Israel Defense Forces. Living there gave me permission to be as critical as I liked and to take full part in the democratic life of the country. After all, the decisions of the government affected every aspect of my life — including my security and that of my family. But once I returned to the Diaspora, my previous attitude reasserted itself.

For two years, during which I worked for an organization called The Israel Project, this “hear no evil” attitude became the watchword of my professional work. My job was to work with foreign journalists, providing them with access to Israeli sources and information. But whenever the subject of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank or its settlement-building arose, my only recourse was to try to talk about something else. As a cheerleader, I had nothing useful to contribute.

Instead, I would try to divert attention to Israel’s high-tech industry, its growing wine industry, alternative energy programs, water purification plants and drip agriculture technology, as well as its medical advances. Almost every day, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem sends out information on these topics as well as Tel Aviv nightlife, pop music, the booming gay scene — anything other than settlements and the occupation.

Eventually, I reached a point when I no longer wanted to be a cheerleader. I wanted to engage Israel fully, with my heart and my mind, instead of kicking up my legs and waving a pom-pom. I concluded that this would be healthier and more honest for me and healthier for Israel as well. Hence, my decision to join J Street.

Going back to the world of professional football, there is another analogy that may be apt. In Washington, D.C., fans are quite engaged — but need to be much more engaged — in the controversy surrounding the name of the local franchise. Many Native Americans and others have spoken out against the name “Redskins,” but the team owner is not listening. I predict that he will only start listening when a critical mass of the team’s fans — those who fill stadium seats, buy season tickets and team gear — start speaking out against the name.

So it is with Israel. As fans, we have a privileged position. We have a chance to be listened to in a way that uninvolved observers never would be. We must express our unconditional love for Israel. But we must also speak out about the direction in which the country is headed.

Do we need a new quarterback, a new manager, a new game plan? Fans can debate this. Cheerleaders cannot. This government has failed to pursue peace with the same conviction that it has pursued settlements. The Palestinians also share some of the blame for the failure of peace talks, but the fact remains that if the occupation continues, there will soon be a Palestinian majority in the land that Israel controls. At that point, Israel will have to choose between remaining a Jewish homeland and remaining a democracy. 

When a team has a bad season, or a series of bad seasons, some fans get discouraged and walk away. The cheerleaders continue prancing. But it is those fans who stay — and who vocalize their feelings — that constitute the heart and soul of the franchise.

I want to be in that number.

Alan Elsner is vice president for communications at J Street.

J Street, StandWithUs debate best way to support Israel

Representatives of StandWithUs (SWU) and J Street — two Jewish organizations with very different takes on Israel — faced off Jan. 13 in a debate on why their respective group is a better friend to the Jewish state.

The free event, at Temple Judea in Tarzana, featured attorney, writer and UCLA graduate student Philippe Assouline in support of SWU, and J Street Vice President for Communications Alan Elsner. Temple Judea’s Rabbi Joshua Aaronson served as moderator for the hour-long debate, which attracted more than 400 attendees. 

The two organizations are often pitted against each other. SWU is a pro-Israel education-and-advocacy organization that concentrates resources on bolstering Israel’s image on college campuses, which are becoming increasingly anti-Israel. J Street is a progressive organization that supports a two-state solution, often criticizes the Israeli government and lobbies United States congressional leaders on legislation related to Israel.

Aaronson began the night by asking the debaters to discuss public perceptions about their respective organizations and to comment on why those perceptions even exist. Assouline blamed J Street, along with pro-Palestinian organizations, for marginalizing SWU to the extent that it is seen as little more than a mouthpiece of the Israeli government.  

“Those two things combined have given StandWithUs a completely undeserved right-wing reputation. If I had to put a label on the people I work with, it would be center-left,” he said. “There is not one person I work with who is against Palestinian self-determination and who has come out vocally against a two state-solution,”

As for J Street, which is generally seen as more of a left-wing group, any misperceptions about it come from a different place, Elsner said.

“Since J Street’s inception, there have been people in the Jewish-American establishment who felt threatened by our organization, and have tried very, very hard to spread falsehoods and dishonesty and basically blackmail the organization,” he said, “and I find it bizarre.”
Each speaker was not afraid to throw darts at the other’s organization. Assouline called J Street a lobbying organization — and not in a good way — saying, “J Street doesn’t merely try to inject new voices into the discussion; it is a lobbying group that tries to influence American policy, to change Israeli policy over and against the wishes of the Israeli electorate, sometimes.”

After the debate, Elsner described SWU to the Journal as “just a classic hasbarah cheerleading group that pushes the case of the Israeli government. That’s perfectly legitimate, but let’s not call them what they’re not.”

Another source of tension between the two groups is the documentary “The J Street Challenge,” which takes a critical view of J Street. Attorney and author Alan Dershowitz is among those who speak negatively about the progressive group in the film.

SWU did not finance “The J Street Challenge,” but it has organized screenings of it in Los Angeles and elsewhere. During last week’s debate, Elsner criticized the journalistic integrity of the film, indicating that J Street leaders did not have a real opportunity to participate in it.

Aaronson repeatedly asked the audience to withhold its applause for both debaters, but people applauded anyway, including for SWU’s Assouline’s comment about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses: “This is a campaign to kosherize killing Jews, to kosherize terrorism and to make the eliminationist rhetoric of the Palestinians noble. It is an abuse of compassion to disguise hatred as concern, and it is not about 1967, to my distress; it is about 1948.” 

When an audience member asked if the two speakers could envision their respective organizations ever working together, Assouline said he believes middle ground lies in combating the BDS movement, which has made the climate on college campuses so hostile toward Israel that supporting the country has become an act of courage. Still, Elsner said, combating BDS requires a broad appeal beyond pro-Israel groups, which SWU lacks.

In an interview following the debate, Ilanit Maghen, 31, a Santa Monica-based architect who attended the event, expressed frustration with both sides.

“It just doesn’t make sense that within ourselves as Jews — American Jews, Israeli Jews, whatever you call it — that there is such a split in belief. This is what doesn’t work in my opinion about the peace process,” she said. “I don’t support anything. I support peace. I support people who support peace.”

The Ferocious Battles for Israel on Western Campuses

The Jewish State is fighting wars for its very survival against barbarous, genocidal foes like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. But far outside the Middle East ferocious battles are being fought on the campuses of the world’s great Universities for Israel’s reputation and good name. The consequences of failure are too horrible to contemplate, including the destruction of Israel’s economic lifeline through economic boycotts that germinate on campus and pass into the mainstream.

I became an Israel campus warrior in 1988 when the Lubavitcher Rebbe first sent me as Rabbi to Oxford University. A steady stream of attacks on Israel were launched by the likes of Hanan Ashrawi, Saeb Erekat, and Yasser Arafat himself. Many of these speeches took place at the world-famous Oxford Union. Our Oxford University L’Chaim Society responded with five Israeli Prime Ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Shamir, and Ehud Olmert. We partnered with the Union for most of the speeches including mesmerizing defenses of the Jewish state delivered by a young and hyper-charismatic Bibi Netanyahu.

Since those days the battles have become ever more ferocious with the much more timid pro-Israel groups at America and Europe’s leading Universities being clobbered by Students for Justice in Palestine, Israel Apartheid Week, and BDS.

At NYU, in the heart of a city with 2.5 million Jews, SJP regularly stages die-ins that feign murder at the hands of the IDF, an Israeli apartheid wall, and serves “IDF Eviction Notices” on students to convey the brutality of the Israeli regime. In September Mahmoud Abbas received 20 standing ovations from NYU students three days before he accused Israel of genocide at the UN. Aside from my son Mendy who is an NYU undergraduate, there was not a single protest. The formal pro-Israel group on campus would later tell the New York Observer that they did not protest Abbas lest they legitimize BDS, as if there is some comparison between holding a banner outside a lecture theater and calling for the economic destruction of an innocent nation.

Last week I traveled back to Oxford with my close friend Dennis Prager for a debate on Israel versus Hamas that was easily the most hard-fought debate on Israel I have ever participated in. In an aggressive and merciless contest, our opponents in the debate threw monstrous charges that Israel is an apartheid regime, that it murders Palestinians with impunity, that Israel is a quasi-Nazi government, that Israel seeks the theft of Palestinian land and the eradication of the Palestinian people, and that Hamas is a legitimate resistance movement whose terrorism is an inevitable and organic response to Israeli colonial rule. As for America, it is like ISIS. Islamic State beheads only a few prisoners but America annihilates innocents in Pakistan each and every day with drone strikes. There is no real difference. 

Rising to speak, I looked at the huge assembled crowd of students and felt a righteous indignation bubbling up within me. My people were under attack. Whatever the odds arrayed against us, I had an opportunity to strike a blow at one of the most influential speaking platforms on earth.

Islam is a great world religion, I said, that took my people in from the Catholic expulsions of Spain and Portugal. Islam pioneered the just treatment of prisoners of under the greatest of all Muslim warriors, Sultan Saladin, who invited the Jews back to Jerusalem after his conquest in 1187. Ninety years earlier they had been slaughtered to the last woman and child after Crusader conquest. We Jews dare never forget Muslim kindness.

But Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Tonight we hear world-renowned academics justifying terrorist mass murder in Allah’s name because Palestinians feel aggrieved at Israel’s existence. When the Jews of Germany were turned into ash, soap and lampshades under Nazi rule they did not respond by blowing up German nurseries and buses. There is no excuse for terrorism. Not now. Not ever.

Islam is disgraced not only by those who murder in its name but by educated and lost souls who dignify terror with grievance. 

The Dalai Lama has been under brutal Chinese occupation since 1950 and he has never become a monster. 

As to the charges that the Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, the West Bank was illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948 yet noone ever complained of an occupation. Israel has tried since its creation to make peace with Arab states and has endangered its security with repeated territorial concessions that were met with nothing but terror attacks.  

What we learned from Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 is that should Israel withdraw from Judea and Samaria – which is not occupied but disputed – it would lead immediately to the creation of another terrorist state run by Hamas. Israel would be sandwiched between two terror launching pads intent on its total destruction.

Hamas is a genocidal organization that proudly touts its charter calling on the annihilation of Jews everywhere. It is a greater menace to Palestinians than Jews. It aids and abets honor killings of Palestinian women. It murders gay Palestinians, shoots Palestinians who dare protest its rule, ruthlessly crushes any form of criticism, and ululates when British and American civilians are murdered in Islamist terror attacks. It has ended any semblance of democratic rule in Gaza. When I arrived in Oxford tonight I did not see air force and army bases built in the heart of the College campus. No civilized nation would ever consider using students as human shields. But Hamas builds its military installations under hospitals and nurseries so that children can serve as bullet proof vests for cowardly terrorists. 

Israel is a just and righteous democracy which affords 1.5 million Muslims-Israeli citizens – almost the same number that live in Britain – greater freedoms and human rights than any Muslim country on earth. 

The world Jewish community and Israel’s non-Jewish allies need to wake up. Israel is under vicious attack at European, American, South African, Australian, and Canadian Universities. It’s a battle we can win if we step up our game on campus and begin to courageously fight back. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” served as Rabbi to Oxford University for 11 years. The international best-selling author of 30 books, he is also the winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year competition. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley

Sotloff family mourns, challenges Islamic State leader to Koran debate

The family of Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist beheaded by Islamic State militants, said on Wednesday he was “a gentle soul,” and challenged the group's leader to a debate on the peaceful teachings of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

The group, which has captured territory in Syria and Iraq, released a video on Tuesday of Sotloff being beheaded. U.S. officials confirmed its authenticity on Wednesday. President Barack Obama vowed to “degrade and destroy” the group.

Barak Barfi, a friend of Sotloff who is serving as family spokesman, began a prepared statement from the family in English, remembering the slain journalist as a fan of American football who enjoyed junk food, the television series “South Park” and talking to his father about golf.

The 31-year-old Sotloff was “torn between two worlds,” the statement said, but “the Arab world pulled him.”

“He was no war junkie … He merely wanted to give voice to those who had none,” Barfi said outside the family's one-story home in a leafy Miami suburb.

Barfi ended the statement with off-the-cuff remarks in Arabic, saying “Steve died a martyr for the sake of God.”

He then challenged Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to debate Islam, saying, “Woe to you. You said the month of Ramadan is the month of mercy. Where is your mercy?”

“God does not love the aggressor,” added Barfi, who is an Arabic scholar and research fellow at the New America Foundation think tank in Washington.

He went on, “I am ready to debate you with kind preachings. I have no sword in my hand and I am ready for your answer.”

The other American hostage killed in recent weeks in retaliation for U.S. air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq was journalist James Foley, who was shown being beheaded in a video released on Aug. 19.

Sotloff was a freelance journalist who traveled the Middle East writing for the magazines Time and Foreign Policy, among others.

“Steve was no hero,” the family said in its statement.

“Like all of us, he was a mere man who tried to find good concealed in a world of darkness. And if it did not exist, he tried to create it. He always sought to help those less privileged than himself, offering career services and precious contacts to newcomers in the region.”

Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013 after he drove across the border from Turkey.

He grew up in the Miami area and studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. A spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry said on social media website Twitter that Sotloff also was an Israeli citizen.

Sotloff “yearned for a tranquil life where he could enjoy Miami Dolphins games on Sunday,” his family said.

“This week we mourn,” it added. “But we will emerge from this ordeal … We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess – fear.”

Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Will Dunham and Clarence Fernandez

A community of arguers

Jewish day schools have a curious relationship with speech and debate programs. Argumentation is central to the Jewish tradition and to enduring stereotypes of the Jewish people — two Jews, three opinions — but speech and debate as an extracurricular activity has not been universally embraced across campuses. 

Some Jewish schools, including the high school I attended and now coach for, have strong and growing programs. Others are beginning to enter the field, and still others have been, at best, sporadically involved in the speech and debate world. We may be a community of arguers, but institutional enthusiasm for speech and debate often lags behind that for many other after-school opportunities. 

Why should Jewish schools have robust speech and debate programs? What value do they have for the students who join them and for the schools that support them?

The practical benefits are obvious. Members of speech and debate teams sharpen the skills that we associate with success in the 21st century. They hone their research and writing skills, gathering information on complicated topics and condensing it into concise speeches that any reasonably educated person could understand. They develop their communication skills, delivering arguments or speech scripts or impromptu remarks to judges who evaluate their performances. They work in teams, bouncing ideas off of each other in brainstorming sessions and coordinating with partners for team events. They become ambassadors for their schools and enhance the look of their college application packages. 

But there’s much more to it than that. We live in a demanding and complex world for which speech and debate provides excellent preparation.   

Speech and debate helps train students for the lifelong work of American citizenship: the ability to distinguish between good and bad evidence, recognizing that arguments appearing in reputable publications are not automatically true; appreciation of the many dimensions to a speech or debate topic, resisting the temptation to evaluate it solely with one’s opinions; the capacity to engage in civil discourse, firmly defending one’s position while fully respecting that of the opposing side. A democratic society relies on citizens who possess and use these talents, who participate in contemporary debates without losing their wits in the process. 

Andrew Delbanco, in his 2012 book “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be,” writes that liberal-arts colleges are “rehearsal spaces for democracy” that promote “inclusive democratic citizenship,” giving undergraduates forums within which to scrutinize popular wisdom and cordially exchange viewpoints. The same can be said of speech and debate programs. Students examine enduring and controversial questions, and articulate their arguments within the structured and intense environment of tournaments. They try to find a balance between conviction and respect, detail and brevity, complexity and clarity. Whatever the outcome of a round, they will develop the character and intellectual traits that permit sustained and substantive involvement in democratic discourse. 

If speech and debate is fundamental to the American story, it is all the more fundamental to the Jewish story. Abraham argues with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, and compels Him to change His test of justice for the cities. When God tells Moses He will destroy the Israelites for worshipping a golden calf, Moses beseeches God to spare them, and He relents. The Sages argue with Rabbi Eliezer over whether Akhnai’s oven is pure and proclaim that interpretive discussions of the Torah should be mediated through human debates, not divine intervention. 

Argumentative exchanges are ubiquitous in foundational Jewish texts and millennia of commentary, and are the process by which we seek truths that contribute to the peace of humanity. We cannot understand Judaism without understanding what Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks calls “argument as a sacred duty.” Jewish students in speech and debate programs embrace this central part of their religious heritage. They understand the power of a strong argument and recognize the obligation to use their argumentative prowess to repair the world. They join a rich intellectual tradition that has produced some of the world’s greatest thinkers and reformers, and that will produce new Jewish heroes in our lifetimes.  

Speech and debate programs are not perfect, nor are they for everyone. They represent one of many extracurricular offerings from which students can choose. But students should at least be able to make that choice. Their schools should at least have a debate club, or a speech elective, or a speech and debate team. Few activities give students such a vast array of professionally useful skills and such meaningful training in American and Jewish life. 

Making speech and debate more widely available on Jewish day school campuses will strengthen students’ educational journeys and the Jewish day school community writ large. And it will prove, perhaps once and for all, that the “two Jews, three opinions” stereotype is a gross understatement.

Danny Hirsch is the assistant speech and debate coach at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills.

Front-runners differ in county supervisor debate

Four candidates for the 3rd District seat of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — Bobby Shriver, Sheila Kuehl, John Duran and Pamela Conley Ulich — sat on the bimah at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) on the evening of April 6, grappling with the many challenges facing the county, from how to reform the sheriff’s department to how to increase support for the arts, and more.

The event also featured the race’s front-runners, Shriver and Kuehl, squaring off on a range of issues. 

For instance, on the subject of a sheriff’s department that has been engulfed in scandals of jail guards’ treatment of inmates, Shriver emphasized a need for better and more compassionate treatment of the incarcerated mentally ill. He proposed an alternative to jail sentencing for those who commit crimes.

“The good thing about treating the mentally ill outside of the jail setting is it frees up beds for the bad guys,” the former Santa Monica city councilman and mayor said.

Kuehl, who served the region for 14 years in Sacramento in the state’s Assembly and Legislature, said Shriver was evading the question put forth by the event moderator, Jewish Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky. 

Boyarsky had asked about ways the candidates would clean up the sheriff’s department, which Boyarsky described as a “battered agency.”

“The more important question is what do you do about the culture of violence among the deputies that has been condoned,” Kuehl said.

How these candidates have financed their campaigns also served to illustrate differences among them, in particular between the two leading contenders. Some 2 million people reside in the 3rd District,  which  encompasses the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, West Hollywood and parts of the Westside. 

The primary election takes place on June 3; if a winner is not voted in, a runoff of the two top finishers will take place.

The winner of the race will succeed termed-out Zev Yaroslavsky. 

Shriver, a philanthropist and the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as the brother of Maria Shriver, said he has contributed $300,000 of his own money to his campaign. His choice to not abide by the voluntary spending limit of $1.4 million in the primary race has limited individual donations to his campaign to a maximum of $300, though he can continue to spend as much of his personal money as he wishes on his campaign. He currently has gathered about $850,000 for the campaign, which includes his own money, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kuehl, who got her start as a child actor but has spent her adult life in public service and working for nonprofits, has chosen to stick to the spending cap. 

The California Nurses Association has donated $75,000 to Kuehl’s campaign, and other unions are supporting her as well; she has raised more than $700,000 in total, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Regarding his use of personal wealth, Shriver played defense last week.

“I have my kids here, my wife here, I have a deep commitment to the county, and I felt it was important that there be a competitive race here, and that’s why I did it,” Shriver said. “I think it’s an important thing in politics that there’s competition for races.”

“Would you put in more [of your money] if needed?” Boyarsky asked him.

“If I felt I had to tell my story, sure I would — or if I were attacked, I felt, on an unfair basis,” Shriver said. 

Duran said that despite the fact he does not have the personal wealth or endorsements of the leading candidates, he is not naïve about the role money plays in races such as these.

“I think it’s just one of those necessary evils of politics,” Duran said. 

Duran, who serves on West Hollywood’s city council, and Ulich, a former Malibu city councilwoman, proposed ideas for how to bolster the arts within Los Angeles County. 

Duran said he hopes that county-run arts institutions will become more youth-friendly. 

He said there has been a “graying of the audience” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four venues that comprise the downtown Music Center, which belongs to the county.

Ulrich said she believes the county could increase revenue from merchandising, such as tote bags with new and fresh designs. “I think we need to be creative with how we raise revenue to go back into the arts,” Ulich said.

Shriver, 59, is an attorney. He co-founded, with pop singer Bono, HIV/AIDS charity organization (Product) RED. 

In addition to serving on Santa Monica’s city council — where he focused on homelessness issues and cleaning up the area’s beaches, according to his official Web site — Shriver served as the city’s mayor in 2010.

Kuehl, 73, was the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected to the California Legislature. After serving eight years in the state Senate and eight years in the state Assembly, she served as the founding director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College. She also focuses on LGBTQ issues and women’s reproductive rights, according to

Shriver and Kuehl both reside in Santa Monica.

Approximately 100 people turned out for the evening gathering, which its organizers said was held to increase awareness in the community about the county race.

“It’s all part of educating the community and making available to the wide community — not just ours — the political process,” TIOH executive director Bill Shpall said in an interview.

This was the third or fourth time that the Hollywood Reform congregation has sponsored debates among candidates running for local government, according to Shpall. The Jewish Journal was a co-sponsor of the evening. 

Abby Liebman, a congregant at TIOH, executive director of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and a Kuehl supporter — the two co-founded the California Women’s Law Center  — was among the attendees. Liebman echoed Shpall about the importance of shedding light on politics, saying that races for seats on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors fly “under the radar.”

“The opportunity to learn not only about the candidates, but the issues they see as critical and are in a position to influence greatly, is important to me,” Liebman said. 

Liebman, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that the discussion left out some issues, including health care. 

The debate of the year: David Suissa vs. Peter Beinart

Jewish Journal President David Suissa debates political author Peter Beinart spar about Israel in the debate of the year.

Moderated by Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe.

Beinart, Suissa face off on Israel

Peter Beinart is no stranger to the accusation that for a self-proclaimed passionate supporter of Israel, he treats the Jewish state too harshly.

Since the release of his book “The Crisis of Zionism” in 2012, he has traveled the country debating ardent Zionists such as Daniel Gordis and Alan Dershowitz. On the evening of Dec. 5 in Los Angeles, his opponent on the stage at Sinai Temple was David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal, and a columnist for this newspaper.

Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai’s senior rabbi, moderated the debate, which was co-sponsored by The Journal and Sinai Temple.  Both Suissa and Beinart presented their positions in opening statements, then Wolpe addressed questions to the two before taking audience questions.

Beinart is the editor of Open Zion, a blog dedicated to “an open and unafraid conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish future.” He is also an incoming contributing editor for both The Atlantic and National Journal and will become a senior columnist with the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, in January.

Formerly on AIPAC’s speaking circuit, Beinart has, in recent years, become an outspoken voice from the Left on Israel, going so far as calling for a “Zionist B.D.S.,” a boycott on products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

His basic argument, made in his book and in the Wednesday evening debate with Suissa, is that Israel is approaching a time where it will have to choose between becoming a non-democratic Jewish state, or a democratic state without a Jewish majority.

Beinart says the reason for Israel’s impending choice is its occupation of the West Bank and its policy of encouraging settlements by Israelis outside the pre-1967 borders.

Unless Israel acts soon to end its occupation of the West Bank and ceases to encourage the growth of Israeli settlements, Beinart argues, the Palestinians who support a two-state solution will turn to supporting one Palestinian state with a Jewish minority and Arab majority.

“If Israel makes permanent its occupation of the West Bank it will eventually be forced to choose between its Jewish and democratic character,” Beinart told the audience of about 250. “By supporting settlement growth, you are pushing Palestinians in exactly the direction we don’t want them to go.”

Suissa strongly objected to Beinart’s premise that settlements are the major obstacle to peace: “Settlements are an excuse for Palestinians to hide their rejectionism,” Suissa said,  and he charged that by questioning the legality of Israeli settlements, Beinart appears to call into question the legality of the entire nation of Israel.

“As long as we keep maligning settlements and calling them illegal, we reinforce the false narrative that Israel stole the land from the Palestinians,” Suissa said. “If we stole the land, the Palestinians owe us nothing, not even negotiations.”

Although the evening was peppered with some boos and interruptions alongside a handful of applauses, Wolpe quickly silenced outspoken members of the audience in favor of the speakers, and also made sure both Suissa and Beinart stayed focused on the task at hand—clarifying where they differ on Israel.

“If every settlement were gone, would peace be possible?” Wolpe asked Beinart.

Beinart responded that while he believes “100 percent” of Palestinians wish Israel had never been created, he also believes most Palestinians would accept a neighboring Jewish state, “because they are suffering so much” under the status quo.

Suissa disagreed, arguing that even without Israeli settlements, the Palestinians are holding out for a right of return—a deal for millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the diaspora to reclaim property in Israel, including refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, and also their descendants.

“If they compromise on the right of return, that means they are accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish State,” Suissa said, adding that such acceptance is necessary for a peaceful two-state solution.

The debate winded down with a discussion of the Gaza Strip, the land Israel unilaterally withdrew from in 2005 only to see Hamas, a terrorist group, be elected to power and launch thousands of rockets at southern Israel.

For years, Israel and Egypt have enforced a blockade on Gaza, making movement and economic trade difficult, even with the numerous smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

“When you have an economic policy that destroys the individual business class in Gaza—that could’ve been the opposition to Hamas—and you allow Hamas to take complete control of the economy in Gaza,” Beinart said. “You play into Hamas’s hands.”

Suissa, responding with incredulity, said, “For Peter to sit here and blame Israel for the situation in Gaza is beyond unfair.”

Although most of the crowd appeared to support Suissa’s point of view, there was a diversity of opinion throughout the evening.

“I felt like I was in some sort of Alice in Wonderland,” said Yigal Arens, likening the plight of the Palestinians to black Americans living under Jim Crow. “The closest thing to this would have been white leaders in the southern U.S. during the fight for civil rights arguing about what was the best way to preserve white privilege.”

“I’m probably more of a Suissa person,” said Mark Mendelsohn. “This is the first time I heard Beinart.”

“I actually thought he came across more Jewish and supportive of Israel than I thought he would,” Mendelsohn said.

The Conservative gay marriage debate

On Rosh Hashanah in 1992, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis stood before his Conservative congregation at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino and declared that despite the words of Leviticus, homosexuality is not an abomination. He argued that the same understanding and compassion Jews afford all human beings should be extended to those attracted to others of their own sex, and he told his congregation: 

“More than compassion is involved. Jewish wisdom and the morality of Jewish law are at stake. … Jews have the right, and the tradition, to interpret the text so that it sanctifies God’s name, our lives and that of our children. This is no heresy.” 

Schulweis spoke long before the arguments over gay marriage became prevalent in public discourse. He spoke well after gay pride had been established, but six years before the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay teenager. It was also a year before the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which would bar harassment of closeted soldiers serving in the military, while preventing gays and lesbians from being open about their lives. The rabbi had heard many tragic stories from gays in his congregation, but he did not know how his congregants might react to his words. 

They gave him a standing ovation.

Not all congregations, even ones in the same denomination, work according to the same clock. More than two decades later, just one month ago, Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a letter to his Conservative congregation at Sinai Temple, a prominent Westside synagogue less than 10 miles south of VBS, and told them that the rabbis at Sinai had “unanimously decided that it is in accordance with the great halachic [Jewish legal] principle of kavod habriot, honor due all of God’s creation, to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, once this possibility is afforded by California law.”

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J Street, StandWithUs heads tangle at Temple Isaiah

These are tough times for people hoping for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

A recent cover story in The New Republic optimistically called the prospects for a two-state solution “not altogether hopeless.” President Barack Obama has made clear that he will not present a new peace plan during his visit to Israel later this month. And in Los Angeles, a recent, tense conversation between two leaders of opposing pro-Israel groups at Temple Isaiah ended without any evidence of common ground between them. 

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobbying group, and Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the right-leaning pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs, appeared together on stage at the L.A. synagogue on March 11 for a well-attended conversation about Israel’s future and the role of the American Jewish community. 

Over the course of the 90-minute event, the two differed on a number of issues, including how much area in the West Bank was occupied by Israeli settlements and whether an American group had the right to lobby the U.S. government in support of policies that run counter to those of the Israeli government. 

But the chasm dividing the two speakers was most evident when the moderator, Los Angeles Times reporter (and Temple Isaiah member) Mitchell Landsberg, read a question from the audience asking each to describe, in one minute or less, their vision of an “achievable and fair” solution to the conflict. 

“First of all, it’s two states for two peoples,” Ben-Ami said. In about 100 seconds, he presented his preferred outcome: the border should be negotiated — start with the pre-1967 Green Line and use land swaps to bring most settlers into Israel proper — Jerusalem should be home to an Israeli capital in the west and a Palestinian capital in the east and the Palestinians should have no right of return to Israel. 

Following applause – from one side of the mostly filled 400-seat sanctuary — Rothstein, who at one point had criticized Ben-Ami for using language that she felt was not appropriate for an event in a synagogue, offered her own response. 

“I find it fascinating that you have a plan like that,” said Rothstein, who then proceeded to read a quote from a wealthy Palestinian who said that his people had wasted money and missed opportunities to build their own state. After some prodding from Landsberg, Rothstein answered the question directly. 

“My solution is that people need to come to the table,” she said. “Why do I need to come up with a solution when the Israelis and the Palestinians need to sit down and talk?” 

Supporters of each side left the event unconvinced by the other; still, Temple Isaiah Associate Rabbi Dara Frimmer said that she was glad the conversation was taking place at the synagogue. 

“As a Reform congregation, I think the more we talk about Israel, the better,” she said. 

“But on a conversational level,” Frimmer added, “I think there’s a lot of work we all need to be doing, about how we listen to one another, how we try to express our ideas, how we push back in a way that enhances our dialogue.”

Mayoral debate at Beth Jacob

On Jan. 3, in the first mayoral debate of 2013, Congregation Beth Jacob hosted five candidates seeking to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. 

Speaking to a crowd of about 350, the candidates answered questions about how they would manage the city’s public safety services, improve its public education system and unclog traffic — even as the city faces a $222 million budget deficit in the coming year. 

The three candidates who currently hold elected offices — Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry —have pledged to take a tough stance when negotiating with the city’s public employee unions, whose salaries and pensions are among the biggest drivers of the city’s budget deficit. In 2007, Garcetti, Greuel and Perry all voted to give city workers raises. 

At Beth Jacob, Garcetti told the audience he would negotiate “respectfully but tenaciously” with public-sector union leaders over the terms of their contracts. 

Greuel, who served on the City Council before being elected controller, emphasized economic development as a way of closing the deficit, but also said some pension reform would be required, promising to crack down on the practice of “double-dipping,” when workers collect pensions while remaining on the city payroll. 

Perry, who has said that she regrets her 2007 vote, spoke about refocusing the city’s attention on providing core services — like public safety — and suggested Los Angeles might benefit from outsourcing management of its convention center and zoo, or privatizing those facilities completely. 

Neither of the two other candidates on the stage, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez, has held elected office, and both pointed to past actions taken by the city as evidence that their better-known opponents will be unfit to lead the city. 

Pleitez, 30, a self-described “progressive” candidate whose campaign reached the fundraising threshold to receive matching funds from the city two days before the debate, proposed raising the retirement age for public-sector workers. Pleitez also advocated converting city worker pensions to 401(k)-style plans and generally adjusting the benefits so that workers pay more and the city pays less. 

James, a gay Republican lawyer and former radio talk-show personality whose campaign has been getting more attention in recent weeks, has also promoted converting city worker pensions to 401(k) plans in the past. At Beth Jacob, he pledged to use the threat of bankruptcy as a bargaining tool with city workers and accused his opponents of “municipal malpractice.” 

CivicCare, a grass-roots group dedicated to engaging and educating Jewish voters in Los Angeles on matters of importance to local governance, organized the event. Jewish Journal President David Suissa moderated.

Is cutting Big Bird kosher?

When Governor Mitt Romney talked about ending funding for PBS – and Big Bird – during his first debate with President Obama, he was describing only one of the deep cuts in Romney-Ryan budget.

But it’s not just Big Bird. And it hits us hard, at home, in the Jewish community.

Governor Romney’s budget plan would affect us – dramatically. Calling for unprecedented budget cuts, a Romney Administration would negatively impact the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and yes, Jews who span each of these categories and more. As a community committed to tikkun olam, bettering the world, we have a responsibility to protect those in our community as well as those outside it and voting for a Romney-Ryan ticket would make that virtually impossible.

Jews across the country rely on federally funded social services every day. Just ask the thousands of the elderly living in Section 202 housing, a program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development used by both the Jewish Federation system and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to provide house assistance to low-income seniors. Or what about seniors who benefit from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), without which we would be “leaving our most vulnerable residents behind,” the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society told Congress in 2010.

Federally funded social services are not just relegated to the elderly. One program that the Jewish Federations of North America helped pioneer is the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, an extension of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a program developed to supplement the work of local social service organizations who serve those in need of emergency assistance. This program, which helps hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals across American, Jewish and non-Jewish, has been threatened ever since Republicans have taken control of the House.

And the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – a program designed to provide nutritious food and other services to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under the age of five – has slowly been chipped away at since Republicans took over the House in 2011. According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, proposed cuts to the program in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations budget would result in over 700,000 eligible low-come women and children being turned away. Cuts to programs like these are guaranteed to increase under a Romney Administration.

What’s more, those benefiting from federal funds are sometimes the last people you would suspect. What about those among us suffering from Tay-Sachs, which almost exclusively occurs among Jews, and Crohn’s Disease, which disproportionately impacts our community. In 2009, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $3.5 million four-year grant to the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium to aid in research of therapies for the disease. And according to the NIH, Crohn’s disease research received grants totaling $67 million in 2011. Think these are important? Well Congressman Ryan does not, as his budget demonstrates by cutting funding for biomedical research by NIH, which would result in fewer and fewer grants each year.

In the 2012 Jewish Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72% of respondents listed tikkun olam as important in shaping their political beliefs and actions. The Jewish community feels a responsibility to better the world and many support the use of federal funds for social services to accomplish this gain. But we forget that many in our own community not just use but desperately need these funds – funds that would most likely be cut or drastically reduced if Governor Romney were to become president.

We, as a community and as citizens of the United States, cannot afford a Romney Administration. We want to better our country, not make it worse for those who need help the most. President Obama and his administration’s policies have embodied this tenet of our religion, helping those in need and gaining my vote.

And when it comes these kinds of draconian cuts to much needed social service programs, the Romney-Ryan budget is definitely treif.

Marie Abrams, Lynn Lyss, and Andrea Weinstein are all former chairs of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the united voice of the organized Jewish community.

A week on the Florida campaign trail

Day One: Departing Israel

Spending a week in Florida on the eve of a presidential election has become a habit for me — one I cherish. Meeting the elderly women who suddenly become interested in politics; attending synagogues, to which the candidates flock in droves to speak; watching the hurried traveling convoys of dignitaries and emissaries and surrogates making their last-minute pitches; enjoying the hospitable weather.

As I left Israel to come here, the Knesset was about to officially disperse. Soon enough, Israel will have its own round of elections, and the speeches made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the opposition leader, were no more than election speeches.

The American public views Netanyahu in a positive light, according to a Gallup poll taken during the summer. Israel is also viewed positively by the American public, even more so than Netanyahu. Thus, as the two American presidential candidates play the Israel card in their public appearances, they play both offense and defense in somewhat tricky ways.

Consider this: For Mitt Romney, invoking Netanyahu’s name is a way of putting President Barack Obama in a tough spot. Naturally, Obama doesn’t want to acknowledge that his relations with Netanyahu are bad, that he can barely stand his presence and can hardly stomach the need to maintain contact with him. Such an admission would make matters even worse policy-wise, and might not fly with the voters who tell pollsters that they view Netanyahu positively. It might even seem problematic to voters who do not like Netanyahu but understand that having a contentious relationship with him does not serve any purpose.

Thus, when Romney calls forth the name “Netanyahu,” the only possible and credible response he can get from Obama is “Israel.” Obama doesn’t speak much about the prime minister. On the other hand, speaking about “Israel” is good for Obama, because Israel, as I mentioned above, is more popular than Netanyahu. Israel is what pro-Israel voters are concerned with. Israel is the way for Obama to circumvent “Netanyahu” or “the government of Israel.” The president has made it a habit to constantly express his support for the country, while constantly, if more subtly, expressing his dislike of its democratically elected leadership.

Day Two: Boca Raton

I began a big-fish debate night with the little fish: Florida congressional candidates speaking to a Jewish crowd. It was 7 p.m. on Oct. 16, and at the entrance to Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, dozens of young, Jewish campaign volunteers were waving signs at the coming cars, distracting drivers, threatening to scratch their side windows.

Volunteers for Republican congressional candidate Adam Hasner were mostly yarmulke-wearing young men who seemed markedly Orthodox. If their presence at the forum is any indication of Hasner’s chances — he might have one. But it could also be a sign that Hasner’s young, Jewish supporters are the ones with the commitment and the enthusiasm — though not necessarily the numbers. It was, after all, just one evening, one event, one crowded temple. Crowded, but not packed. (Well, is a temple ever packed except on Yom Kippur?)

Rabbi Dan Levin began the evening with a couple of words about the houses of Hillel and Shammai, of which the Talmud says: “These and these are both equally the words of the living God.” Which, naturally, reminded me of Obama and Romney. And if their words weren’t quite godly in their second debate, the heat and combative manner could certainly be compared to the Beit Hillel-Beit Shammai battle of ideas.

And, of course, moving from the Beth El forum to the Long Island debate didn’t feel like a huge leap. The Forward’s Gal Beckerman tweeted toward the end: “With questions from Carol Goldberg and Jeremy Epstein bookending this debate, it is officially the Jewiest debate ever.” Noah Pollack asked: “Was that a town hall debate or a meeting of Beth Shalom Congregation of Five Towns?”

More than an hour passed before the candidates got a question on foreign policy — Libya. Until then, immigration and a passing mention of China were the closest we got to the world beyond America’s borders. If anyone was still in need of any proof that American voters — Jews included — care in this election cycle only about the economy and jobs (no, not about Israel, and I also didn’t hear any question on Iran), this debate was proof enough for me.

And yes, the Libya moment was one of the highlights of the evening. But it was also more about America, not about the world. It was less about the right way to fix Libya or the guidelines for intervention in foreign wars and much more about Libya becoming a political football.

The space between the individual and the government

Is it the individual citizen who is more important in a free society, or is it the government? It’s easy to see this as the philosophical choice during this election season: One side seems to favor the liberty of the individual, while the other favors the primacy of the government.

But apparently it’s not so simple. 

In a provocative essay in the Weekly Standard titled “The Real Debate,” conservative writer Yuval Levin challenges the individual-versus-government cliché by explaining that “what matters most about society happens in the space between those two, and that creating, sustaining, and protecting that space is a prime purpose of government.”

He adds: “The real debate forced upon us by the Obama years — the underlying disagreement to which the two parties are drawn despite themselves — is in fact about the nature of that intermediate space, and of the mediating institutions that occupy it: the family, civil society, and the private economy.”

The problem, according to Levin, is that these mediating institutions have become a source of bitter ideological conflict. As he sees it, the bigger government becomes, the more it threatens the health of these institutions that live in the middle space.

“Progressives in America have always viewed those institutions with suspicion,” he writes, and have sought to empower the government to put in place “public programs and policies motivated by a single, cohesive understanding of the public interest.”   

Conservatives have resisted such a gross rationalization of society, Levin writes, and “insisted that local knowledge channeled by evolving social institutions — from civic and fraternal groups to traditional religious establishments, to charitable enterprises and complex markets — will make for better material outcomes and a better common life. 

“The life of a society consists of more than moving resources around, and what happens in that space between the individual and the government is vital — at least as much a matter of character formation as of material provision and wealth creation. Moral individualism mixed with economic collectivism only feels like freedom because it liberates people from responsibility in both arenas.”

But real freedom, Levin says, is “only possible with real responsibility. And real responsibility is only possible when you depend upon, and are depended upon by, people you know. It is, in other words, only possible in precisely that space between the individual and the state.”

As it turns out, I got a taste of that “intermediate space” last Sunday night in my neighborhood. 

The occasion was a community wedding at the Modern Orthodox YULA Girls High School.

Two months ago, members of the YULA community heard that one of their former students wanted to get married but couldn’t afford a wedding.

So, the head of school, Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, who always dreamed of using the school’s grounds for a simcha, and the dean of students, Brigitte Wintner, decided the school would “donate” the wedding. (I’m smelling a screenplay.)

Everyone in the community chipped in. Services like catering, flowers, rentals, bar, photographer, musicians, etc. all were either donated or offered at enormous discounts. YULA students, past and present, ran around setting everything up on the big day.

In the courtyard where my oldest daughter spent four years hanging out with her friends, there were now cocktail tables, a bar and waiters passing out appetizers.

In the parking lot where I would park when I had meetings with the head of school, there were multiple rows of folding chairs, a small chuppah and more rabbis than I could count.

On the far side of the lot was a tent covering enough tables to accommodate 250 guests.

Neighbors popped their heads out to discover there was an actual wedding happening on their street.

As I witnessed the ceremony, and saw more than a few grateful tears on the faces of family members, it struck me that maybe this is what Levin meant by the “space” between the individual and the government.

Yes, both the individual and the government are vitally important, but perhaps even more vital is the sacred space between the two.

In the Jewish world, this space is dominated by one word: community.

No matter how compassionate a government is, it could never create this community for us.

This community is created by the teaching of Jewish values and the living of those values in everyday life. One of those values is a sense of obligation toward other members of the community. This is not a theoretical or global value, it’s deeply local. 

It’s a value you see on the streets, in thrift shops, when people volunteer to clean the sidewalks, in warehouses that feed the needy on Shabbat, and, yes, even in weddings in schoolyards. 

It’s a value that is dependent not on government, but on character.

No matter who wins on Nov. 6, that truth will endure. 

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Once upon a time: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agree on Israel

Israel had a starring role in the third and final presidential debate last Tuesday night. How big? China, a country of 1 billion people to which America owes $1 trillion and whose military and economic decisions will affect us for years to come, rated 32 mentions. Israel, a country of 6 million people that receives $3 billion in aid from America each year, received even more — 34 mentions, to be exact. The European Union, Latin America, Eastern Europe — in short, most of the rest of the world — got 18 mentions, total. Imagine a New Yorker cover showing a map of the world according to the candidates: There are only three countries — the U.S., China and Israel — with Israel slightly larger than the other two.

It would be flattering, all this attention for one little Jewish state, if it also weren’t so dangerous. The special attention is a direct consequence of what happens when Israel is used as a political wedge issue, a way to peel Jewish voters away from Democratic candidates.

The danger is that instead of enjoying the broad, bipartisan support it has long received, Israel will come to be seen as a one-party cause. In a country that’s frequently split down the middle, that can’t bode well for Israel.

As I watched the debate unfold — and the inexorable Israel question arise — I fantasized the way I’d like to see these candidates, and all future ones, handle it. What follows is that fantasy, in transcript:

Bob Schieffer: Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which of course is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan?

President Barack Obama: You know, Bob, let me stop you there. Of course, I’m tempted to knock that softball straight over Miami Beach clear to Cleveland Heights. But I’m not going to do it.

Because this is what will most certainly happen. I will use the opportunity to boast about how much my administration has done for Israel, and about how much Israel means to me; I might even hum a few bars of “Hatikvah.” And then Gov. Romney will get his two minutes, and he will profess his love and support for Israel, and then accuse me of turning my back on Israel, of putting “daylight” between America and Israel. And then in my rebuttal I’ll call into question his ability to protect Israel, and our parties and our defenders will join in the accusations and defamations, and in all the noise, the American people will lose sight of the most important, essential truth: America’s support for Israel is bipartisan. It is good for America, and good for the world. And it is unshakeable. That is true whether you elect me or Gov. Romney, a Democrat or Republican.

Schieffer: Gov. Romney, your rebuttal?

Gov. Mitt Romney: I agree with the president. In fact, if you noticed when we walked out on stage to your applause, we exchanged a few words and smiled. I said to the president, “I won’t take the Israel bait,” and he said, “I’m with you there.”

We want to set an example for the American people that some issues are too important to politicize, and Israel is one of them. After all, what candidates argue over which party supports England more, or which of us has Brazil’s back? Earlier this year, the Senate passed the bipartisan United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act. The vote was 100-1. In August, the House voted to increase sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act, by a vote of 421-6. And you expect me to stand here and accuse the leader of his party of endangering Israel? I guess what I’m saying, Bob, is the president and I want every American to know there is no daylight between Republican and Democratic support for Israel.

Obama: Look, this doesn’t mean the governor and I will approach every problem in the same way. And it doesn’t mean that we will agree with Israel on every issue. Anyone who tells you that both Republican and Democratic presidents haven’t had strong disagreements with Israel over the years hasn’t cracked a history book. Ronald Reagan fought with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin over the Lebanon war; Richard Nixon threatened sanctions, and George H.W. Bush denied Israel loan guarantees because of settlements. And don’t get me started on Jimmy Carter. We want a strong, secure Israel living in peace with its neighbors. Sometimes we may even disagree with whatever Israeli government is in power over how best to achieve that — but our genuine commitment and support does not waver.

Romney: That’s why we have both stressed the need for the Israelis and Palestinians to come to some kind of agreement. Presidents of both parties have tried — and failed — to broker an accord, not because we like the room service at the King David, but because we understand the status quo is unsustainable and a peaceful, just resolution is in Israel’s strategic interest.

Schieffer: Outstanding, gentlemen. In that spirit, can I suggest you also pledge to find bipartisan solutions to our country’s economic problems?

Obama: Bob, don’t push your luck.

At final debate, Israel and Iran take center stage—and the candidates find common ground

Israel, a heated issue throughout the campaign, finally took center stage at the final presidential debate.

It was mentioned a total of 29 times by President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney at Monday night's foreign policy debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Actual policy differences, however, seemed to be in short supply.

Israel and the Iranian nuclear program were among the main topics in a debate that largely focused on the Middle East. But whether the subject was Iran sanctions, the need to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or the U.S. commitment to Israel, the clashing candidates sounded surprisingly similar notes.

Aaron David Miller, a vice president of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, said the broad areas of agreement on the Middle East reflected a growing consensus among both parties that any president's priority should be to focus on the struggling American economy and tread carefully overseas.

“There were tactical political reasons why the governor wanted to create the impression that he is a centrist,” said Miller, a former top Middle East negotiator in Republican and Democratic administrations, speaking of Romney. “But I think we are faced now for the first time since the end of the Cold War with a remarkable consensus on what we can do in the world. The public understands that we need to fix America's broken house, but that we are also stuck in a region of the world where we can't fix it or extricate from it.”

With sharp policy differences mostly missing, both candidates painted their support for Israel in personal terms. Romney cited the strength of his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama spoke of how he was affected by a 2008 visit to Israel, with stops at its national Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and the embattled town of Sderot.

Romney's remark came as he dismissed out of hand a hypothetical proposal by the moderator, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, positing a last-minute warning call to the White House from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli bombers were on their way to Iran.

“Our relationship with Israel, my relationship with the prime minister of Israel, is such that we would not get a call saying our bombers are on the way or their fighters are on the way,” Romney said. “This is the kind of thing that would have been discussed and thoroughly evaluated well before.”

To draw a contrast, Romney accused Obama of saying that he wanted to “create daylight” between Israel and the United States. (The reference was to a 2009 meeting with Jewish leaders in which the president was pressed to have a policy of “no daylight” with Israel, to which Obama responded that such an approach had not advanced peace in the past. Obama, however, is not known to have called for a policy of proactively creating daylight between the two countries.)

Romney also criticized the president for not visiting Israel during his travels to the region. Obama responded by suggesting that Romney's recent visit to Israel contrasted unfavorably with his own 2008 visit to the Jewish state as a presidential candidate.

“When I went to Israel as a candidate, I didn't take donors,” Obama said. “I didn't attend fundraisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable.”

Obama went on to recount his visit to the southern town of Sderot, which is near the Gaza Strip.

“And then I went down to the border towns of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas,” he said. “And I saw families there who showed me there where missiles had come down near their children's bedrooms. And I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids. Which is why as president, we funded an Iron Dome program to stop those missiles.”

The acrimony underlying the exchanges contrasted with the many overall agreements on policy that were acknowledged by the candidates a number of times.

Romney opened his statement during the Israel and Iran portion of the debate by seconding the president's response to a question about whether the U.S. should regard an attack on Israel as an attack on itself.

“I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I'm president of the United States, when I'm president of the United States, we will stand with Israel,” Romney said. “And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.”

Romney expressed support for Obama’s Iran sanctions, although he faulted the president for introducing them later rather than sooner and claimed credit for calling for tougher sanctions in 2007 — although lawmakers for years before had been pressing the Clinton and second Bush administrations to institute such sanctions.

More critically, Romney’s emphasis was on “diplomatic and peaceful means” — a posture that aligned with Obama’s preference for exhausting all options before considering a military strike to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“It is also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means,” Romney said. “It's absolutely the right thing to do, to have crippling sanctions. I would have put them in place earlier. But it's good that we have them.”

A Congressional Research Service report published last week found that sanctions were seriously affecting Iran’s economy but had not yet stopped its suspected nuclear weapons program. The report held out the prospect of that happening soon.

“A broad international coalition has imposed progressively strict economic sanctions on Iran’s oil export lifeline, producing increasingly severe effects on Iran’s economy,” the report said. “Many judge that Iran might soon decide it needs a nuclear compromise to produce an easing of sanctions.”

At the debate, Obama argued that the sanctions on Iran have been a policy success, saying that his administration “organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy.”

Both candidates appeared to be on the same page when it came to adjudicating what circumstance would trigger consideration of a military strike.

“The clock is ticking,” Obama said. “We're not going to allow Iran to perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere. And I've been very clear to them. You know, because of the intelligence coordination that we do with a range of countries, including Israel, we have a sense of when they would get breakout capacity, which means that we would not be able to intervene in time to stop their nuclear program.”

Romney agreed, saying, “Of course, a military action is the last resort. It is something one would only — only consider if all of the other avenues had been — had been tried to their full extent.”

The candidates also shared agreement on other Middle Eastern issues. Romney’s campaign has assailed Obama for months for not doing enough to intervene in Syria, but during the debate the Republican candidate made clear that he, like the president, opposed direct U.S. military involvement. Romney did favor arming some of the rebels.

Romney also accused Obama of failing to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace. Liberal critics of Romney had seized upon a secretly recorded meeting he had in May with Florida donors in which he expressed doubt that there would be any opportunities to advance the peace process in the near future.

But at the debate, Romney seemed to suggest that the failure to make progress for peace was not inevitable but rather a policy failure by the president.

“Is — are Israel and the Palestinians closer to — to reaching a peace agreement? Romney asked. “No, they haven’t had talks in two years.

Israeli debate of political party heads waiting for Bibi’s answer

Leaders of Israel's major political parties accepted an invitation to an American-style debate, except for Likud leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The debate sponsored by the Citizens' Empowerment Center is scheduled for Jan. 1 at Tel Aviv University, according to the organization's website.

“We all — left and right, religious and secular, Jews and Arabs — have a clear interest in knowing exactly who we choose and why,” the Citizens' Empowerment Center said on its website. “Are you sure you do know the subtle but critical differences between the positions of the various candidates, not on a superficial level, but on the level of the specific nature and intentions? The answer is no.”

Party chairs Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu) reportedly have agreed to participate, according to the Israeli media. Yair Lapid, chair of the new Yesh Atid party, also has accepted.

Lieberman said he will participate if Netanyahu agrees to join the debate. Netanyahu has not yet responded, according to Ynet.

Yoni Cohen-Idov, who won the World Debate Championship in 2010 and serves as a debate coach at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and Bar-Ilan University, will supervise the debate.

The last political debate was held in Israel in 1999, the second and final time that there were direct elections for prime minister. The leading candidates did not participate.

Obama, Romney meet for final debate as race tightens

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney face off in front of the cameras for a final time on Monday as opinion polls show their battle for the White House has tightened to a dead heat.

With 15 days to go until the Nov. 6 election, the two candidates turn to foreign policy for their third and last debate, which starts at 6 p.m PST.

The stakes are high, as the two candidates are tied at 46 percent each in the Reuters/Ipsos online daily tracking poll.

The debate will likely be the last time either candidate will be able to directly appeal to millions of voters – especially the roughly 20 pct who have yet to make up their minds or who could still switch their support.

Obama comes to this debate with several advantages. As sitting president, he has been deeply involved with national security and foreign affairs for the past three-and-a-half years. He can point to a number of successes on his watch, from the end of the Iraq war to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

But Romney will have many chances to steer the conversation back toward the sluggish U.S. economy, a topic on which voters see him as more credible. He will also try to use unease about a nuclear Iran and turmoil in Libya to sow doubts about Obama's leadership at home and abroad.

Romney launched his candidacy with an accusation that Obama was not representing U.S. interests aggressively enough, but after a decade of war voters have little appetite for further entanglements abroad. After a clumsy overseas trip in July, Romney will have to demonstrate to voters that he could ably represent the United States on the world stage.

“What he needs to do is get through this third debate by showing a close familiarity with the issues and a demeanor in foreign policy that is not threatening,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Presidential debates have not always been consequential, but this year they have had an impact.

Romney's strong performance in the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3 helped him recover from a series of stumbles and wiped out Obama's advantage in opinion polls.

Obama fared better in their second encounter on Oct. 16, but that has not helped him regain the lead.

The Obama campaign is now playing defense as it tries to limit Romney's gains in several of the battleground states that will decide the election.

Romney could have a hard time winning the White House if he does not carry Ohio. A new Quinnipiac/CBS poll shows Obama leading by 5 percentage points in the Midwestern state, but another by Suffolk University shows the two candidates tied there.


More than 60 million viewers watched each of their previous two debates, but the television audience this time could be smaller as it will air at the same time as high-profile baseball and football games.

Much of the exchange, which takes place at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, will likely focus on the Middle East.

Campaigning in Canton, Ohio, on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden reminded voters of Obama's pledge to pull troops out of Afghanistan in the next two years and pointed out that Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have made no such guarantees.

“They said, quote, it depends. Ladies and gentlemen, like everything with them, it depends,” Biden said. “It depends on what day you find these guys.”

At their second debate last week, the two presidential candidates clashed bitterly over Libya, a preview of what is to come on Monday evening. They argued over Obama's handling of the attack last month on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

The Obama administration first labeled the incident a spontaneous reaction to a video made in the United States that lampooned the Prophet Mohammad. Later, it said it was a terrorist assault on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This shifting account, and the fact that Obama went on a campaign trip the day after the attack, has given Romney ammunition to use at Monday's debate.

“The statements were either misleading by intention or they were misleading by accident. Either way, though, he's got to get to the bottom of this,” Romney adviser Dan Senor said on NBC's “Today” show.

Obama and his allies charge that Romney exploited the Benghazi attack for political points while officials were still accounting for the wellbeing of U.S. diplomats.

Regarding foreign policy overall, Obama's allies accuse Romney of relying on generalities and platitudes.

“It is astonishing that Romney has run for president for six years and never once bothered to put forward a plan to end the war in Afghanistan, for example, or to formulate a policy to go after al Qaeda,” U.S. Senator John Kerry, the Democrats' 2004 presidential nominee, wrote in a memo released by the Obama campaign on Monday.

Romney has promised to tighten the screws over Iran's nuclear program and accused Obama of “leading from behind” as Syria's civil war expands. He also has faulted Obama for setting up a politically timed exit from the unpopular Afghanistan war, and accused him of failing to support Israel, an important ally in the Middle East.

The Republican challenger is likely to bring up a New York Times report from Saturday that said the United States and Iran had agreed in principle to hold bilateral negotiations to halt what Washington and its allies say is a plan by Tehran to develop nuclear weapons.

The 90-minute debate, moderated by Bob Schieffer of CBS, will be divided into six segments: America's role in the world; the war in Afghanistan; Israel and Iran; the changing Middle East; terrorism; and China's rise.

What do (suburban) women want?

If you watched any of the debates on CNN, you saw two worms at the bottom of your screen. Well, they looked to me like worms, or maybe caterpillars, scrunching and stretching throughout the 90 minutes. Actually they were real-time graphs — with one color for men, another for women — recording the instant reactions of members of undecided focus groups to what they, and we, were watching. As they listened to the debate, these influential voters turned their hand-held dials up into the plus zone when they liked what they saw, and down when they didn’t. CNN calls this its “exclusive on-air undecided voters meter.” What they should call it is junk journalism.

How many voters? In the second presidential debate, 35 people in Ohio were wired to the worms. Actually, they weren’t completely undecided. As CNN anchor Erin Burnett explained, half of the 35 were for Obama, and half for Romney, but they said they might change their minds. I’m guessing the split was actually 18 to 17, or vice versa, unless they turned up one voter in Ohio who was split in two, half for Obama and half for Romney, or maybe they found someone all for Obama and all for Romney simultaneously — Burnett didn’t say. (The 35 were also split between men and women, suggesting that the odd man out was more precisely the odd man-woman out.)

I don’t know whether the TV screens these focus groups were watching carried the same CNN feed that I or anyone else in America might have been watching.  If they were — if their instant reaction to their own instant reaction could, in turn, instantly affect their own reaction — then Jorge Luis Borges and the makers of “The Matrix” have nothing on CNN.

Even for those of us in the audience not controlling the caterpillars, watching these meters’ ups and downs has been a strange experience. If you’re tuned to CNN, which brands itself as the only news network not committed to a candidate, your view of the debate is literally framed by the scrolling political vital signs of a non-nationally representative focus group. I bet it’s been pretty much impossible for anyone to watch the debates without paying attention to, and even being affected by, the impact of the candidates’ and moderators’ words and body language on this sample of a teeny tiny but immensely empowered sliver of the American electorate.

This made me a little bit crazy, especially when I found myself yelling “Yes!” to some things, like the president’s rediscovered willingness to nail his opponent, which the yellow line of undecided women didn’t much like at all. I was torn between feeling genuinely good about my guy getting his mojo back, but also wanting him to win over these voters who still can’t make up their minds despite all they’ve heard; whose belief in can’t-we-all-get-along comity is a suicidal strategy for countering ruthless Republican obstructionism; and who nevertheless are the magical swing voters in the magical swing states with the muscle to decide the election.

Framing a successful debate performance as the successful seduction of 35 undecided Ohioans disses other criteria for success. The meter readout of a group of people that, say, regularly consumes newspapers or watches “The Daily Show,” would likely take a different path. That graph might not predict how swing voters will break on Election Day, but it also might not discount the premium that at least some citizens want other citizens — and journalists — to put on facts, context, reason, history and reality.

Of course no one’s being forced to watch CNN’s swing-o-meter. But it can’t be long before real-time tabulation of the sentiments of various audience segments becomes an expected and common element of all infotainment. As we watch the TV screen, we’re already learning in real time what topics and attitudes are trending on social media, either because we’re simultaneously checking out another screen, like the Twitter feed on our smartphones (guilty), or because that information is embedded in the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen. The most popular news Web sites are already telling us which of their stories are the most popular right now so that we can check them out and make them even more popular. Self-surveillance is entertaining; we enjoy learning about us. But when technology puts a finger on the civic scale, when it skews what we esteem in political discourse, when it privileges popularity over other criteria for worth, an instant-reaction gizmo isn’t just fun, it’s potentially as subversive as the Electoral College, Citizens United or the ascendance of post-truth politics. 

This election will likely come down to the last-minute decisions of a few thousand people in a handful of states. Both campaigns conduct nightly tracking polls sensitive enough to detect each passing zephyr in undecided voters’ minds. They’re constantly testing phrases and issues to figure out what will move the meter for single noncollege undecided women in the suburbs of Columbus and Orlando, or whoever the decisive ones turn out to be at the end of the trail. Media organizations are also collecting increasingly subtle data about their audiences, some of them swapping editorial judgment for real-time metrics about what their customers want so that they can give them more of it. Micro-pandering: that’s how you win elections and ratings these days, and yes, winning is what counts. But I can’t help fantasizing about an alternative reality where candidates and coverage don’t routinely blow off the highest common denominators in their publics.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at

The top foreign policy questions for Obama and Romney

I concede that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama love Israel, are committed to its security and survival and they don’t want Iran to get nuclear weapons.

We’ve heard them say that over and over again, ad nauseam. Literally. Ad nauseam. This pandering is becoming nauseating.

I want to hear some specifics about what they plan to do. So far it sounds like Gov. Romney intends to outsource Middle East policy to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, and President Obama would like to continue what he’s been doing for the last two years since the peace process went comatose.

Neither man has given any real hints, much less details, of what he’d actually do.

When the candidates debate foreign policy on Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., I hope the moderator will ask them some of the tough questions they have so far avoided and not let them wiggle out with platitudes about their undying commitment to our Israeli ally.

Here are some suggested questions on a few topics:

IRAN — What are they really going to do about Iran besides huff and puff and imply they’d use military power? What if the sanctions don’t make the ayatollahs cry “uncle”? Will it take carrots as well as sticks to get a deal with the ayatollahs, and what are they willing to offer? What would the next president do if Israel is attacked? If Iran retaliates against Israel but states it will not strike any American interests, should the United States stand off?

SYRIA — What would they really do to hasten the fall of Bashar al-Assad? Obama’s policy seems to be wait and see while giving some covert aid, though he has said he’d act militarily if Syria tries to use its unconventional weapons. What would Romney do differently? Short of Assad using chemical weapons, what would it take for American direct intervention?

PEACE TALKS — What would each man do — specific examples — to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? Obama tried and failed more than once and seems to have shelved the whole thing. Romney hasn’t even indicated he’s willing to try. Sheldon Adelson, Romney’s largest benefactor, is adamantly opposed to the two-state solution; how would that influence Romney? Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have set certain criteria for resuming negotiations; should the president accede to their wishes? If not, what initiatives would Romney, as president, take? Or would it be best to leave it to the Israelis and Palestinians to work things out for themselves, and we should stand by until they call us in to help?

JERUSALEM — Both men, as candidates, have spoken of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The western half of the city, the pre-1967 areas, is not in dispute, so why not recognize that as the capital now? What are their views on moving the U.S. embassy there?

BORDERS — Every president for the past 45 years has said the 1967 borders would be the reference point for drawing new borders in any peace agreement, with mutually agreed modifications. Does Romney support that position, and if not, how would he change it?

PALESTINIANS — The Palestinians were very insulted by Romney during his quick visit to Israel this summer, summoning the prime minister to meet him in Jerusalem, snubbing their president and seeming to say Palestinian economic “accomplishments” can’t match those of Israel because of shortcomings in “culture and a few other things.” How does Romney plan to win the confidence of Palestinians?

EGYPT — Egypt just elected an Islamist president and is likely to elect an Islamist parliament. The military leadership that was close to the United States and worked with Israel to preserve the peace has been sacked in favor of one more aligned with the Islamists. What will our policies be toward such a government? Let’s hear some specifics about arms sales, intelligence sharing, shifting our aid emphasis from military to economic.

TURKEY — Turkey also has an Islamist government that has been turning more and more toward the East as it appears to be vying for leadership of the Islamic Middle East. It has vilified Israel, threatened war against the Jewish state and come close to breaking relations. As Israeli-Turkish relations have steadily chilled, U.S.-Turkish relations seemed to be warming.

The Obama administration has acquiesced to several anti-Israel moves by the new Turkish government. President Obama, how do you justify that? Mr. Romney, how would you balance U.S.-Turkey and U.S.-Israel relations in a changing Middle East? For both men, what should the United States do to repair the rift between Israel and Turkey?

VISITING ISRAEL — Mr. President, you visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the first few months of your administration. You’re one of the most-traveled presidents, having been to 40 or more countries, yet you’ve never found the time to stop in Israel. Why is that? Do you have any plans to go there in the future?

AID CUTS — At a time of deep cuts in federal spending in so many programs, including the social safety net and our own defense, should military aid to Israel be protected or share the burden?

Every president talks about his First Hundred Days agenda. What — specifics, not rhetorical generalities — is your agenda for the Middle East?