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

Trump decertifies Iran deal, slaps Iran Revolutionary Guard with sanctions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From left: Janice Kamenir-Reznik, David Frum, Zev Yaroslavksy, Peter Beinart and David Lehrer attend "Challenges of Trump's America," a panel discussion at Valley Beth Shalom. Photo by Robert Lurie.

Moving & Shaking: Pundits discuss Trump, Cedars Sinai honors LA Rams Owner


Political pundits David Frum and Peter Beinart participated in “The Challenges of Trump’s America,” a panel discussion held Sept. 26 at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and moderated by Rabbi Ed Feinstein.

Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic, spoke about the intense reaction he has received for his prediction that Trump would lose the presidential election and the importance of political involvement to create change. His forthcoming book, “Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic,” focuses on “Trump as a system of power.”

“Donald Trump as a personality is a combination of the disappointing, the dysfunctional, but he is just one man,” Frum said. “The United States is a giant bureaucratic state with all kinds of checks and balances and rules and regulations, and the question is, how much harm can one man do? The question isn’t to ask, who is he? … The question is, what happened around him? How is this system of power possible in a constitutional republic, and how is it enabling it?”

Beinart, a contributor to The Atlantic, a senior columnist at The Forward and a CNN political commentator, discussed the impact of Trump’s presidency nationally and internationally.

“It is very significant that Donald Trump is the first American president since the 1990s who does not publicly support the two-state solution … and has therefore liberated [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu to no longer publicly support the two-state solution, either,” Beinart said. “That, I believe, is going to have profound long-term implications. Once we permanently foreclose the possibility [for] millions of Palestinians who live in the West Bank under Israeli control but without citizenship and democratic rights, we have planted a bomb underneath the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state.”

Beinart called out Trump for bigotry and asked for unity among Jews and Muslims in the wake of rising prejudice.

“The anti-Semitism is frightening, but we have to be careful not to become narcissists,” he said. “The anti-Semitism that is rising does not have powerful members of the White House and of the United States Congress egging it on. The anti-Muslim bigotry that is emerging in the Trump era is entirely different than the anti-Semitism cause; it has the active support of some of the most powerful politicians in the United States. [Trump] goes after soft targets; we are not a soft target. Muslims are a soft target, and that’s why we must stand for them.”

Frum ended the presentation on a lighter note, emphasizing the importance of being proactive.

“I’m not an optimist by nature, but I’m determined in the Trump years to be an optimist by conviction,” he said. “The thing I resent about the question ‘What do you think will happen?’ is that it makes me a spectator. I’m a citizen and a participant and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know what I’m going to do.”

— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

Young adults turned out for an evening of comedy, cocktails and networking on Sept. 14 at West Hollywood bar Now Boarding in support of Visions, The Next Generation of Israel Cancer Research Fund.

About 50 young adults turned out for an evening of comedy, cocktails and networking on Sept. 14 at the West Hollywood bar Now Boarding in support of the group Visions, The Next Generation of the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF).

The young leadership group attracts individuals dedicated to supporting cancer research in Israel by raising money for ICRF, a North American organization that supports Israel’s educational and scientific resources in the fight against cancer. ICRF describes itself as the largest single source of private cancer research funds in Israel

The event raised about $1,000.

Performers included Iranian-American stand-up comic Tehran Von Ghasri, the son of an Iranian-American father and African-American mother whose Instagram page shows him wearing a T-shirt declaring, “Persian Is the New Black.” Ghasri goes by the stage name “Tehran,” which also is the name of Iran’s capital city.

Comedian and actor Kirk Fox (“Parks and Recreation”); Jewish comedian Leah Lamarr, who was born Leah Goldman; and Sofiya Alexandra (Comedy Central’s “This is Not Happening”) also performed.

Attendees — including Visions L.A. board President Aaron Cohen and Vice President Colin Coggins — enjoyed food from the Feast From the East restaurant.

Cohen, 34, a real estate agent with Rodeo Realty, said he appreciates the opportunity of engaging his peers in philanthropy.

“When you are able to look at your peers and tell them they can actually make a difference in someone’s life — and most young professionals don’t necessarily think about philanthropy — they get interested in it and move forward in it and realize we have made money at an event we can donate to a scientist who can help cure cancer,” he said. “That is the most rewarding for me — knowing my peers and myself can have a say in philanthropy and it’s not just elderly people donating money from their estate.”

Marty Finkelstein, the Journal’s executive director of advertising, serves as the president of the ICRF L.A. board of directors.

Ittay Hayut, CEO of Hoopo, speaks at a reception organized by Fusion LA, the first Los Angeles accelerator for startups. Photo by Kelly Hartog.

Fusion LA, an early investment group for Israeli startups in Los Angeles, held a Sept. 26 VIP reception at the Rose Room in Venice, in partnership with the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

About 75 people from the tech and venture capital industry, many of them Israeli, mingled, sipped wine and ate kosher canapés before sitting down to hear about the work being done by Fusion LA co-founders Yair Vardi and Guy Katsovich.

Fusion LA selected six Israeli cutting-edge companies to participate in an intensive four-month program at its workspace in Santa Monica. The process repeats every six months with six new companies.

“Our vision is to connect Israel, which is the biggest startup ecosystem outside of the U.S., with Los Angeles, which is the most growing tech ecosystem in the U.S. after Silicon Valley and New York,” Katsovich said at the event.

Of the initial six startups, one is headed by women. Fuse.it, the brainchild of Liat Sade-Sternberg, enables people to interact with their favorite video content, including movies, music and sports events.

Uniper, another of the companies, is a platform that helps the elderly live more independent lives through interactive TV-based programs. It’s already proved to be a success in Israel, and with $800,000 raised, is looking to tap into the U.S. market.

— Kelly Hartog, Contributing Writer

Younes and Soraya Nazarian, through their Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, contributed $3 million to a $100 million capital campaign supporting Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design’s new campus in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Y&S Nazarian Family Foundaton.

The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem announced on Sept. 28 that it has reached the $70 million mark in its $100 million capital campaign, thanks, in part, to a $3 million donation from the Los Angeles-based Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.

Local philanthropists Younes and Soraya Nazarian started  the foundation, which is “dedicated to the promotion of education as the most important catalyst for societal change,” according to its website.

The capital campaign is funding a future 400,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art home in the “Russian Compound” area of Jerusalem. Slated to open in 2021 under the name the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design Jerusalem, Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Campus, it will bring together the school’s 2,000 students and 500 faculty members. Designed by SANAA, a Japanese-based architectural firm, the academy will feature both a modern glass exterior and Jerusalem stone, “speaking to Bezalel’s vision of bridging the old with the new,” a press release said.

The campus will bear the name of Morton Mandel, a philanthropist and CEO of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation, who contributed $25 million to the campaign.

Established in 1906, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is a prestigious art school and Israel’s oldest institution of higher education.

Other contributors to the campaign are the Russell Berrie Foundation, the Polonsky Foundation, the William Davidson Foundation, Romie and Blanche Shapiro, and Linda and Ilan Kaufthal.

Professor Adi Stern, president of Bezalel Academy, praised the progress of the capital campaign, saying, “Our new campus in the heart of the city is the most significant project being undertaken in Jerusalem today.”

CBS Los Angeles Sports Director Jim Hill (right) hosted the 2017 Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Gala, which honored L.A. Rams owner and chairman E. Stanley Kroenke and benefitted the Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute. Photo by Alex J. Berliner.

The Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Board of Governors Gala on Oct. 4 at the Beverly Hilton hotel raised $1.3 million for Cedars-Sinai’s Regenerative Medicine Institute.

The event honored Los Angeles Rams owner and Chairman E. Stanley Kroenke with the Board of Governors Visionary Award. Kevin Demoff, the Rams chief operating officer and executive vice president of football operations, presented Kroenke with the award.

“Thanks to Cedars-Sinai and the board of governors. My family and I are inspired by the work of Dr. [Clive]Svendsen and the Regenerative Medicine Institute,” Kroenke said, referring to the institute’s director. “We are so happy to partner with Cedars-Sinai and the board of governors to support them as well as work toward new paths to help those in need and their families.”

Additional honorees were Hollywood producer Gordon Gray and his wife, Kristen, who were presented with the inaugural Luminary Award. The Grays founded the Charlotte and Gwyneth Gray Foundation to Cure Batten Disease for their young daughters, who are suffering from the nervous system disorder, for which there is no cure. Svendsen presented the Grays with the award.

Boyz II Men performed their hits “I’ll Make Love to You,” “End of the Road” and “Water Runs Dry” as well as an acoustic performance of “Free Fallin’ ” as a tribute to the late Tom Petty. The L.A. Rams cheerleaders also performed.

Gala co-chairs were Lisa DeBartolo Miggs, Don Miggs, Nikki DeBartolo and Chad Chronister.

The Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors is the primary fundraising and leadership group of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Where Were the Liberals When Weinstein Betrayed Them?


When I first heard about the Harvey Weinstein scandal, my initial reflex was to see it through a Jewish lens: Oh no, I thought, not another Jewish scandal. As anti-Semitism reaches a tipping point, this is the last thing we need.

And then I read The New York Times story detailing three decades of sexual misconduct, and the stories that have come out since then. Sickening stories that, as a woman and as a mother, make my blood boil. Stories that would make me sever ties with a man who was capable of just one of them, let alone dozens. Stories that have apparently been an “open secret” in Hollywood for years.

As an outsider looking in, I am dumbfounded that the women of Hollywood, the women of the Democratic Party, would keep silent about these transgressions. For what? His money? His glamorous parties? His ability to “make your career”? After a certain point, you don’t get to claim that you’re a feminist, that you support women’s rights, if you know that there is a very powerful man destroying the emotional fortitude of young women on a daily basis.

As an independent, I have no dog in the Democrat versus Republican hyper-partisan mega-fight. Both sides play up the scandals of the other side, and play down the scandals on their own side.

But as a liberal, as a feminist, I care about women subjected to repeated abuse — verbal, physical, psychological, sexual. And so I ask the liberal women of Hollywood: How could you let this happen for three decades? I ask Hillary Clinton: How could you take money from this man?

I ask the liberal establishment: How could you allow your hatred of the GOP — and we’re talking pre-Trump here — to undermine your ability to honor your own principles? To stop you from stopping Weinstein from scarring yet another young woman’s life?

We have come to over-politicize nearly everything. If it’s bad for the other side, we go hysterical. If it’s bad for our side, we stay quiet. If the abuser is a right-winger like Bill O’Reilly, the left goes ballistic. If it’s a Democratic lion like Harvey Weinstein, it goes silent.

Perhaps the ugliest episode of the Weinstein saga is that, according to a report by Sharon Waxman at The Wrap, the Times gutted a story on Weinstein’s sexual misconduct in 2004, after coming under pressure from Weinstein and his liberal Hollywood pals. How many women would have been spared the scars of sexual abuse had this predator been called out earlier?

While the Times’ explosive piece on Weinstein should be applauded, the “paper of record” was one of his enablers. “So pardon me,” Waxman writes, “for having a deeply ambivalent response about the current heroism of the Times.”

There’s nothing ambivalent or partisan about the moral depravity of using power to abuse women. To its credit, the Times published an op-ed by Bari Weiss that nails this point: “Will Liberals Give Weinstein the O’Reilly Treatment?” In her piece, Weiss notes that “prominent feminists like Gloria Steinem didn’t waste any time discarding sexual harassment guidelines when it came to Bill Clinton’s sexual predations as president. Principle rapidly gave way to partisanship and political opportunism.”

The one good that can come from all this is a deep self-reflection on the part of everyone who knew what was going on but chose to remain silent. Some liberals, like Meryl Streep and Lena Dunham, have begun to speak up. Of course, now that Weinstein’s star has dimmed, it’s a lot easier to show outrage.

Streep, who has worked with Weinstein for years, says she didn’t know anything about the overt daily harassment — he was known for throwing tables at employees when he was angry — and huge financial settlements. Perhaps she didn’t. But with her statement of outrage, Streep now can go back to attacking the right for its moral failings.

To redeem politics and scale back the cynicism that is corroding our discourse, both sides must choose moral principles over politics. We can’t hate “the other party” more than we hate sexual predators or Islamic terrorists. Every time we put politics ahead of what’s obviously right, we put another nail in the political coffin.

We’re running out of nails.  


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and curator. Author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday), her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 9, 2015. Photo by Alexey Kudenko/Getty Images

Iran attempted to buy illegal nuclear technology several times last year


Iran reportedly attempted to purchase illegal technology for its missile and nuclear programs numerous times in 2016, according to German intelligence.

The Jerusalem Post reports that German intelligence found that Iran tried 32 times to procure such technology in the German North Rhine-Westphalia state, most of which involved their missile program. Iran uses various “front companies in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and China” to get around restrictions, according the Post.

According to German intelligence, Iran’s missile program has developed to the point where it will “be able to threaten not only Europe.”

Prior German intelligence reports found that Iran hasn’t completely changed their nuclear activity since the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and that they are seeking “products and scientific knowhow for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology,” according to the Post.

The latest findings on Iran come at a time when President Trump will soon decide if the United States will re-certify the Iran deal. Should Trump go that route, Congress would have 60 days to decide if they will re-impose sanctions on Iran.

America’s European allies are urging Trump to remain in the nuclear deal, arguing that the deal is a necessary enforcement mechanism against Iran’s nuclear program. German diplomats argued to the Post that Iran’s efforts to ramp up its missile program are outside of the scope of the Iran deal and should be handled outside of the deal.

Critics of the Iran deal argue that Iran is in violation of the deal and that it paves the way for Iran to develop a nuclear arsenal. Trump has previously called the deal “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Photo from Salvador Litvak.

War at the Book Club


At a recent meeting of our book club, we were discussing a novel about a self-loathing comedian when the conversation veered into politics. The guys in the club all are Jewish and about the same age, though our careers and backgrounds vary broadly.

Our host, whom we’ll call “Larry,” turned to “Jake,” who’d just defended President Donald Trump, and said, “You sound like the yahoos we fly over.”

I said, “Larry, you can’t mean that. You’re insulting half the country just to belittle Jake.”

“Sure, I can. They voted for the chief yahoo.”

“Let’s stick to the debate,” I replied. “We all understand that you disagree with Jake on Trump’s immigration policy. I challenge you to articulate Jake’s best argument in a manner to which Jake will say, ‘Yes, that’s my belief.’ ”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because that’s the only way you’ll ever get Jake to listen to your best argument with an open mind.”

“Exactly,” chimed in another guy.

“That’s ridiculous,” Larry said. “I’m not going to argue for the opposite of what I believe.”

“Come on, Larry,” said our oldest member, “you can do it.”

Did Larry argue the other side? Would you if you were in his shoes?

The stakes have never been higher. Americans are passionately divided over a growing number of issues. Friendships are ending and family ties are bursting because we fear for the country’s future. It seems everyone has a core issue — or two or three — that they’re ready to shout and fight about.

At a time like this, we can benefit greatly by recalling a 2,000-year-old episode from the Talmud:

R’Abba said in the name of Shmuel: for three years the followers of Shammai and the followers of the Hillel debated each other. These said the law follows their view and those said the law follows their view.

Keep in mind that this was not an academic argument. The disputants believed the destinies of their countrymen’s eternal souls were at stake.

A heavenly voice went forth and declared: Both these and those are words of the living God, but the Law follows the House of Hillel.

Now, if these and those are both the words of the living God, why did the House of Hillel merit to fix the Law according to their view?

Because they were easy and forbearing, and they would study both their opinion and the opinion of the House of Shammai. And not only that, but they would state the opinion of the House of Shammai before their own (Eruvin 13b, B. Talmud).

Now, maybe we hold like Larry in a debate of national importance, or maybe we hold like Jake. Either way, if our purpose is to do more than vent, virtue-signal or commiserate with the choir, it would behoove us to advocate like the House of Hillel. This means catching the attention of folks across the aisle by demonstrating that we’ve heard, understood and considered their best arguments. Only then will our own views have a chance to be heard, understood and considered by the people we think must hear those views. That, in my view, is where progress begins.

As for what happened at the book club, Larry declined to state Jake’s opinion with anything but sarcasm — the least effective strategy for opening any heart or mind.

Two weeks later, however, Larry and I were playing golf. As we walked up a fairway, he said, out of nowhere, “I’ve been thinking about your challenge at the book club. I was nothing but belligerent, and I missed an opportunity. Next time, I’ll articulate the other side.”

May our community merit to evolve as much as my friend Larry.


Salvador Litvak shares Jewish wisdom with his followers every day as the Accidental Talmudist (accidentaltalmudist.org).

People take part in the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Toward a Radical Middle


I never thought I’d be writing a column for a publication that had the word “Jewish” in its name. Trained as a reporter, I moved fairly quickly into the realm of opinion journalism, mostly at The New Republic. Owned by Marty Peretz at the time, the magazine often covered Israel, but my deeply personal relationship to Judaism was never a part of my writing or professional identity.

That changed abruptly in June 2014 when the Gaza War broke out. I had been pushed to have a “social media presence” to help promote a book on design. Facebook seemed the least objectionable option, so I had built up a mélange of artist and designer friends. Much to my shock, many of those friends — smart, sophisticated people — took Hamas’ side in the conflict. And then they began to spread lies about Israel.

For the first time in my life I went from being a private Jew to a public Jew.

Even before I began, this caused problems. A friend of nearly 25 years said to me: “If you’re going to defend Israel publicly, I’m not sure we can still be friends.” And so began a rather rude awakening about where Israel stood in elite, leftist circles. When I started to defend Israel, to provide facts, the spouses of two of my closest friends blocked me. Two close friends took me out for dinner for an intervention — they thought something must be horribly wrong in my personal life for me to oppose leftist doctrine so blatantly.

I quickly learned that the banning of free speech didn’t involve just Israel. One wasn’t allowed to criticize President Barack Obama — not a word or you would be called racist. Strange ideas had pervaded the discussion: Truth and reality apparently no longer existed. Identity politics reigned, and if you were at the top of the Victim Olympics — the Arab/Muslim world — criticism was verboten.

Jews, of course, were at the bottom. Why? Because, to the left, we were “white colonialists” who were — worst sin of all — successful. Despite the expulsions, pogroms, the Holocaust. Despite the fact that our grandparents had arrived in this country with nothing, did menial work and never complained (OK, they complained, but not publicly). Despite the fact that we aren’t white.

Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz also had a problem with what the left had become. He had dared to denounce terrorism, to link it to a radical, politicized version of Islam — and leftists went nuts. Nawaz coined the term “regressive left” to describe the illiberal takeover of the left, the slow chipping away of every liberal value.

I eagerly awaited the 2016 election. I saw it as a moment that would begin to turn around things, to bring the left back to its senses. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Donald Trump — inexperienced, impetuous, a bull in a china shop — was elected. There was little self-reflection on the left as to its part in his election. And then the Trump right began to mirror the left: hyperpartisan, unable to criticize Trump, demanding adherence to a very specific agenda — or you would be publicly shamed.

How do we get out of this mess? For one, we need to return to real — classical — liberalism. But what does that mean?

The easiest way to describe real liberalism is that there are certain principles — freedom of speech; freedom of religion; a dedication to liberty, justice and individuality — that are nonnegotiable.

But — and here’s a very big but: Liberalism allows for policy differences. You and I don’t have to agree on immigration, tax reform, even abortion — but our arguments must be rooted in liberal principles. Freedom of speech, for instance, involves defending the right of others to express their opinions, even if we disagree with them.

But No. 2: Politics need not color our culture or our lives. You can watch a movie or see an art show and — get this — just enjoy them, even if they have no connection whatsoever to social concerns.

Finally, But No. 3: Along with rights come responsibilities. There is a set of values attached to liberalism, what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the content of your character.”

Because of how skewed the political spectrum is, classical liberalism now sits in the center. That’s OK. It is precisely this ideology that can create common ground between the right and the left and nurture a saner society.

Call it the rebellion of the radical middle.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and curator. Author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday), her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

It Was A Fraud From the Start. It’s Time to Decertify It.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President George W. Bush discussed both regime change for the Republic of Iran and the pre-emption of its nuclear program.

By 2003, Iran had procured equipment necessary for nuclear weapons development and had conducted hydrodynamic experiments, cast and shaped uranium metal into hemispheres for a nuclear implosion device and achieved a sophisticated nuclear weapon design. It had conducted nonfissile explosive testing in a containment chamber; developed and tested exploding bridgework detonators; manufactured neutron initiators used to start a fission chain-reaction in a nuclear weapon; and drafted 14 workable designs for a nuclear weapon to fit inside the re-entry vehicle for the high-explosive warhead of Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range missile.

Not only that, it had developed fusing systems for a nuclear missile warhead to perform a ground-burst or high-altitude burst above 3,000 meters.

Despite all this, in 2009, new President Barack Obama — lacking any military experience, national security expertise or real-world business negotiation skills — secretly plotted rapprochement with Iran, which was part of Bush’s “axis of evil.”

Obama falsely asserted that his outreach to the mullahs occurred only after the 2013 election of supposed moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Instead, to curry favor with Tehran, the Obama administration abandoned the dissidents of the 2009 Green Revolution and twisted American foreign policy during the brutal Syrian civil war, failing to enforce the red line after President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

While Tehran carved “Death to Israel” inscriptions on its bombs, Obama repeatedly tilted against the Jewish state, “creating space” between the U.S. and our closest moral and military ally in the region.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal rewarded a terror state, solidified mullah theocratic rule, deflated and endangered Iranian dissidents, and, astonishingly, gave Iran billions of U.S. dollars in unmarked cash, without congressional knowledge or approval. These funds fuel Iran’s nefarious roles in Iraq and Syria and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council’s increased support of Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, and renewed alliance with Sunni Hamas in Gaza, all under a potential Iranian nuclear umbrella.

The Persians — who invented the ultimate game of strategy, chess — saw Obama’s ambitions for a grand deal and craftily negotiated both an end to international economic sanctions and new business contracts from European companies.

The Obama administration conducted a self-admitted propaganda campaign to smear deal opponents, even questioning the dual loyalty of American Jews. Ben Rhodes, a failed short story creative writer with no national security credentials, became Obama’s apologist in chief, proclaiming the 58 U.S. Senators who voted against the deal part of a “blob,” and admitting he made up a “narrative” that the media lapped up.

Barely avoiding a 60-vote rebuke, Obama’s Iran legacy is a Neville Chamberlain-like piece of paper, an appeasement that also signaled weakness to the North Korean dictatorship.

Netanyahu has said, “Iran has become more dangerous since [the deal] was signed, is better funded, and has sponsored more terrorism.

“Now they are going to build ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach the U.S. and have the multiple warheads to do that. That is horrible. It is dangerous for America, dangerous for Israel and dangerous for the Arabs.”

President Donald Trump decried it as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen. … My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon.”

Every 90 days the president must decide whether to certify the following four conditions related to the nuclear deal: 
• Iran is fully implementing the agreement and all related agreements;
• Iran has not committed a material breach with respect to the agreement or, if it has, it has rectified that breach;
• Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program;
• Sanctions relief is “appropriate” to Iran ending its illicit nuclear program and “vital to the national security interests” of the U.S. 

According to congressional testimony in April, Iran has failed to implement the deal and its related agreements on export controls, centrifuge development, procurement, International Atomic Energy Agency access, ballistic missile development, conventional arms activities, heavy water, enriched uranium amounts and levels, and natural uranium imports.

North Korea’s “No. 2” official, Kim Yong Nam, visited Iran to boost prohibited military trade, and Tehran has opened up new arms routes to Yemen, Syria and Russia. And recently, top Iranian political and military officials admitted they launched the Khorramshahr ballistic missile, with multiple warheads and a 1,250-mile range that can reach Israel.

The Iran nuclear deal was a fraud from the start, empowering a tyranny and its continuing deceptive activity, and giving the United States and our allies nothing in return except the contempt of Tehran. It’s time to decertify it.


Larry Greenfield served as executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

From left: European Union Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan, French Ambassador Gerard Araud, British Ambassador Kim Darrouch and German Ambassador Peter Wittig at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 25. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Decertifying Would Not Increase U.S. Leverage


It is no secret that President Donald Trump does not like the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He has twice certified Iranian compliance with the agreement. He must decide whether to do so again by Oct. 15.

Two years after its negotiation, the agreement is working. Every other signatory, including our European partners, believes Iran is adhering to its side of the bargain. The agreement is not perfect, but Iran is no longer on the brink of being able to produce a nuclear weapon as it was just over two years ago. The International Atomic Energy Agency has issued multiple reports confirming Iranian compliance, and credible nuclear nonproliferation experts are in agreement. Even Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran is in compliance, despite his continued valid concerns about Iran’s regional behavior

But the JCPOA was not about changing Iran’s overall behavior — it was about stopping Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. To recap, the basic contours of the agreement required Iran to reduce significantly its enriched uranium and plutonium capabilities (the possible pathways to a bomb) in exchange for the United States and other world powers removing nuclear-related economic sanctions

The agreement has not made Iran a responsible regional player. It continues to meddle in regional politics. Iran’s support for Hezbollah is a particular concern. But imagine how much worse it would be if Iran, like North Korea, were nuclear-armed. Decertifying the JCPOA will do nothing to improve Iranian behavior, and it might even make it more difficult to rally international support to counter troubling Iranian activities. Indeed, one result of Trump’s bellicose rhetoric at the United Nations was to convince the world that, if the agreement were to fail, it would be America’s — not Iran’s — fault.

Some argue that the agreement can go on without the U.S. But over the long term, the agreement is unlikely to survive decertification. If the president fails to certify, Congress must decide whether to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, which would violate the agreement. Maybe the administration could convince Congress to withhold sanctions, but it would be a strange case to make after claiming the deal isn’t serving the U.S. interest and Iran is in violation. The congressional record of voting overwhelmingly in favor of sanctions against Iran would not instill confidence that Congress would pass up the opportunity to punish Iran once again if given the opportunity.

Even if Congress did not reapply nuclear-related sanctions, the spectacle in Washington would create such economic uncertainty and political pressure within Iran that its incentives to continue adhering to nuclear restrictions would decrease. If Iran responds by failing to adhere to the strict safeguards of the JCPOA, putting global sanctions back in place would be almost unimaginable, particularly if the international community perceives the U.S. as responsible for unraveling the agreement.

This would be the worst outcome — Iran’s returning to a troubling nuclear program with weakened international resolve to challenge it. The advantages of the JCPOA, particularly regular and intrusive inspections and monitoring, would be lost. With the United States out of the picture, the possibilities are either the end of the JCPOA or a weaker agreement.

The suggestion that decertifying would increase U.S. leverage to renegotiate and strengthen the agreement is unrealistic at best. The Europeans, Russians and Chinese oppose renegotiation. Europe may be willing to discuss areas of concern like Iranian missile development and sunset clauses, but only if the administration accepts the JCPOA as the starting point. Continuing to adhere to the JCPOA will put the U.S. in a better position to lead such efforts; bolting from the JCPOA will ensure that negotiations for add-on agreements are dead in the water. Why would European partners, let alone Iran, discuss new agreements if they don’t believe the Americans lived up to the initial deal?

In 2015, fears and predictions about how things might unfold were speculative. Today, we know that the JCPOA is achieving its only stated aim: to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state. This is the judgment of nearly the entire international community. Why would the U.S. want to needlessly isolate itself, generate new risks of nuclearization and create a crisis of its own making with no clear return?


Dalia Dassa Kaye is the director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp.

US president Donald Trump with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on May 23. Photo by Flash90

With America’s blessing, Abbas signals a reconciliation with Hamas


The Trump administration is encouraging the Palestinian Authority to assume control of the Gaza Strip and leaving the door open for a role by Hamas in the subsequent Palestinian government.

But if such a move was once seen as a traditional predicate to a two-state solution, top Palestinian leaders are hedging their bets, saying they would not rule out a “one-state” solution in which Palestinians have the same one-person, one-vote rights as Israelis. Israeli leaders have long said that would mean the end of the Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority government officials returned this week to the Gaza Strip, the first en masse visit — by Cabinet and security officials along with top bureaucrats — since Hamas’ bloody ouster of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement a decade ago.

It was a visit twice blessed by the Trump administration, first through a statement last week by the Quartet, the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and Russia that guides the peace process, and again Monday with a statement from Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator.

“The United States welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza, as noted in the September 28 Quartet statement,” Greenblatt said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

The Quartet statement, while itself also abjuring mention of “two states,” made it clear that it foresaw a single Palestinian entity under P.A. rule. It urged “the parties” — the Palestinian Authority and Hamas — “to take concrete steps to reunite Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority.”

This week’s P.A. visit to Gaza, brokered by Egypt, a key ally to the United States and Israel, is only for several days, but Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington and a top Abbas adviser, anticipated a consolidation of the Palestinian Authority presence there.

Zomlot, speaking Monday to reporters here, noted that Hamas dissolved its governing body last week and said the Palestinian Authority expected this week that Hamas would formally hand over governance of the strip. The final stage, he said, would be elections.

“The return of the Palestinian Authority” to Gaza “is a milestone for the Palestinian Authority and of President Trump’s deal of the century,” Zomlot said, using a phrase Abbas used in a meeting with Trump on Sept. 20.

A signal of the White House’s seriousness is the likelihood that Hamas will continue to play a role in governing the strip. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, heeding Israeli concerns, rejected any role for Hamas in Palestinian governance, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly it would be a deal breaker.

Now, however, careful phrasing by U.S. and Palestinian officials strongly suggests that Hamas will not fade into the night. Zomlot called the changes in Gaza “the return of the consensus government,” the joint Hamas-P.A. venture that existed uneasily in 2006-07 and infuriated the administration of George W. Bush.

Greenblatt in his statement nodded to concerns about Hamas, a State Department-designated terrorist group, but in language vague enough to accommodate a Hamas role.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said.

That elides over earlier Israeli demands that not just a Palestinian government, but all of its components, must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday to a Likud party meeting in the West Bank, maintained — at least in part — a tough line on the terms of a reconciliation acceptable to Israel. He said Hamas must be disarmed, but did not count out explicitly keeping Hamas figures within the Palestinian Authority bureaucracy.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, to recognize a Jewish state, and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence,” Netanyahu said in Maale Adumim, a settlement of 40,000 located just east of Jerusalem.

“Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: Recognize the State of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm, sever the connection with Iran, which calls for our destruction, and so on and so forth. Even these very clear things must be clearly stated,” he said.

Without mentioning the two-state goal, Greenblatt’s statement nevertheless called on the Palestinian government to abide by “previous agreements.” These would presumably include the 2003 “road map” that was to have culminated in Palestinian statehood.

Still, Zomlot said the Palestinians wanted more clarity from the Trump administration.

“We cannot travel a journey without knowing a final destination,” he said. Zomlot referred to Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu in February, when the president said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

From the launch of the Oslo process in 1993 until now, Palestinian Authority officials have spoken of a one-state outcome only in pessimistic terms, casting it as a dystopia engendered by a failed process. Last month, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas in a first for a Palestinian leader said that if the two-state option collapses, Palestinians could embrace one state. It would not be a predominantly Jewish state covering Israel and most of the West Bank, an outcome popular among the Israeli right, but a binational state in which West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have full rights as citizens.

Abbas warned in his U.N. address that in the failure of a two-state solution, “neither you nor we will have any other choice but to continue the struggle and demand full, equal rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine. This is not a threat, but a warning of the realities before us as a result of ongoing Israeli policies that are gravely undermining the two-state solution.”

Zomlot expanded on that possibility at his news briefing Monday.

“As long as we mean one man and one woman, one vote, we are fine with this,” he said, adding however that the two-state solution “remains absolutely the best option.”

Zomlot also addressed the Taylor Force Act, legislation named for an American stabbed to death last year by a Palestinian terrorist that would slash funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continued to subsidize the families of Palestinians jailed for or killed attacking Israelis.

Palestinians say the payments mostly go to the families of the wrongfully imprisoned. Zomlot said the Palestinians proposed a tripartite commission, to include the United States, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that would consider whether to remove some families from the payrolls.

“We have engaged with the administration, we have a trilateral commission,” he said. “We would offer to the United States to be the sole arbitrator and we will accept [the decision]. Guess who rejected it? Israel.”

A senior Trump administration official suggested that Zomlot was overstating the offer.

“We only received a brief general outline about this proposal which did not answer key questions or present a viable solution to the real problem, which is the official policy of paying terrorists and their families,” the official told JTA.

A senior Israeli official told JTA that the offer missed the point — the Palestinians can stop the payments on their own.

“The Palestinians don’t need Israel, the U.S. or anyone else, they just need to do it,” the official said. “Unfortunately they won’t.”

Otto Warmbier arriving at a court for his trial in Pyongyang on March 16, 2015. Photo by Xinhua/Lu Rui via Getty Images

Coroner contradicts Trump, Otto Warmbier’s parents on torture claim


An Ohio coroner said that a post-mortem examination of Otto Warmbier, the Jewish-American college student who died after being imprisoned in North Korea, did not show any obvious signs of torture.

The Wednesday statement contradicted President Donald Trump and Warmbier’s parents, who claimed the 22-year-old was tortured by North Korea. Trump said Warmbier “was tortured beyond belief by North Korea.”

Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, the Hamilton County coroner, painted a different picture.

“I felt very comfortable that there wasn’t any evidence of trauma” to the teeth or jawbone, Sammarco said Wednesday, according to CNN. “We were surprised at [the parents’] statement.”

Warmbier’s father, Fred, said Tuesday that his son’s “bottom teeth look like they had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged them.”

The parents opposed doing an autopsy on their son, so the coroner’s report and Sammarco’s statement were based on an external examination.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, which has denied torturing Warmbier, shot back at Trump, calling the president an “old lunatic” in a Thursday statement, BBC reported.

Warmbier died in the United States in June, days after after being sent back here in a coma. In 2016, North Korea sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster while on a student tour there. North Korea released Warmbier, saying his health had deteriorated after a bout of botulism. Warmbier’s doctors in the U.S. said he suffered extensive brain damage.

Prior to Warmbier’s death, JTA reported that he had been active in the Hillel at the University of Virginia. Following his death, it was revealed that his family hid their son’s Jewishness from the public as negotiations for his release took place.

A family spokesman, Mickey Bergman, told The Times of Israel that the family chose not to disclose Warmbier’s Jewish background as negotiations went forward so as not to embarrass North Korea, which had announced that Warmbier stole the poster on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio.

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman with his daughter, who just made aliyah, at Ben Gurion airport on Aug. 15. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90

‘Settlements are part of Israel,’ US Ambassador David Friedman says


U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said a Trump administration-proposed peace plan likely will go public in months and that it was always understood that Israel would expand into the West Bank.

Israel’s Walla news website posted excerpts of an interview with Friedman on Thursday morning, and was scheduled to release the rest of the interview in the evening.

Friedman said a peace proposal was advancing in Washington.

In answer to a question about when a plan would go public, the ambassador said, “I would speculate within months, but we’re not holding ourselves to any hard deadline. We’ll try to get it done right, not done fast.”

Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who owns a home in Jerusalem, would not say whether the U.S. plan includes Israel giving up any settlements.

“I think the settlements are part of Israel,” he told Walla. “I think that was always the expectation when Resolution 242 was adopted in 1967. It remains today the only substantive resolution that was agreed to by everybody.”

Friedman was referring to the U.N. Security Council resolution passed following the Six-Day War that called for Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace with its Arab neighbors.

“The idea was that Israel would be entitled to secure borders,” he said. “The existing borders, the 1967 borders, were viewed by everybody as not secure, so Israel would retain a meaningful portion of the West Bank, and it would return that which it didn’t need for peace and security.”

“So there was always supposed to be some notion of expansion into the West Bank, but not necessarily expansion into the entire West Bank. And I think that’s exactly what, you know, Israel has done. I mean, they’re only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank. There is important nationalistic, historical, religious significance to those settlements, and I think the settlers view themselves as Israelis and Israel views the settlers as Israelis.”

Friedman also told Walla that the concept of a two-state solution “has lost its meaning, or at least has a different meaning for different people.”

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on Sept. 18. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

After Trump’s third meeting with Netanyahu, experts perplexed with approach


Even back in 2004, when Donald Trump was the host of the reality television show The Apprentice, the real estate developer expressed supreme confidence in his ability to solve the decades long Israeli-Arab conflict. Trump told former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry that year: “It would take me two weeks to get an agreement.”

[This article originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Nonetheless, in the over 34 weeks since Trump has taken office and after his third round of meetings last week at the United Nations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the peace process remains stagnant.  This week, with Israeli and Palestinian officials trading insults after Ramallah successfully joined Interpol on Wednesday and a Palestinian terrorist killing three Israeli security officials at a West Bank crossing this week, analysts note that the Trump administration-led process appears unable to sustain positive momentum.

Michael Koplow, Policy Director at the Israel Policy Forum, criticized Trump’s refusal to endorse the two state solution while meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. “To continue to be coy about it and not utter the phrase two state solution and act is if there is some sort of magical answer that nobody else has ever discovered is ridiculous,” he told Jewish Insider.

“I don’t exactly know right now what the strategy is from the US,” said Grant Rumley, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and co-author of a recent biography on Abbas. Rumley added that without a framework going forward, the Palestinians are concerned that they would take unpopular domestic steps such as cutting the payments to families of terrorists and “follow the Trump team to something that ended up as a status quo quasi- agreement, leaving them in the cold.”

Into the 10th month of the Trump presidency, the administration has still declined to outline any concrete proposal towards relaunching talks. “There is a good chance that it (peace) can happen. The Israelis would like to see it. And I think the Palestinians would like to see it and I can tell you that Trump administration would like to see it,” the President declared on September 18.

For all the attention on the Trump administration, David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute expressed skepticism about the attitudes towards peace in Jerusalem and Ramallah. “I do not think both the Israelis and Palestinians have the requisite domestic political will to do anything that is politically hard for them. It is hard to imagine a breakthrough at this time.” Makovsky cited the inability for the PA to curb incitement along with the Israeli cabinet freeze of a proposal to expand housing units in the Palestinian city of Qalqilya as signs that Jerusalem and Ramallah remain unable to take the steps necessary towards peace.

In a September 19th speech to international donors, Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt highlighted how the current US approach “departs from some of the usual orthodoxy” while emphasizing collaborative wastewater projects and economic assistance. Noting the economic challenges in Ramallah, Greenblatt added, “The PA is still dependent on international donors and is unable to afford important services which Israel is willing to provide – so I encourage all of us to work with the parties, in a coordinated manner, to reduce fiscal losses and ensure that the PA collects the taxes it is owed.”

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, explained that without a “top-down component” addressing core political issues including Jerusalem, borders and refugees, then the infrastructure projects “will become conflict management tactics rather than conflict resolution tactics.”

In contrast to the friction between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government, many supporters of Israel appreciate the warmer approach taken by the Trump White House towards the Jewish state. Trump made a point during his UN meeting not to publicly criticize Netanyahu’s government and Greenblatt has repeatedly thanked the Israelis for taking steps that improve the West Bank economy.

Yet, some worry that the bear hug towards Israel could impair the U.S. ability to serve as a fair broker. In a recent interview, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman departed with longstanding State Department policy by referring to the “Alleged Occupation.” Palestinians were also disappointed when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley vowed to block any Palestinian from serving in senior UN role as a way to counter UN bias against Israel. “You also at some point cross a line from being tilted to the Israeli side and going full blown of being Israel’s advocate against the Palestinians,” Koplow said.

“We know from a very long and unfortunately sad experience that the absence of a serious process will over time result in pressures building up that contribute to the resumption of violence,” Kurtzer concluded.

President Donald Trump in Indianapolis on Sept. 27. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump facing increased pressure from lawmakers to abide by Iran nuclear deal


Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.

“If we violate a U.N. resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”

Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.

He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.

Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.

“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”

Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by Oct. 15.

Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.

“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.

Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.

Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among U.S. allies to end the deal.

“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.

Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.

The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”

And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.

Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.

“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.

Trump derided the deal last week during the U.N. General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.

This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.

“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, an independent congregation, delivering an invocation at the inauguration of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in July 2017. Photo courtesy of Ikar

Why some rabbis used their High Holy Days sermons to bash Trump – and others demurred


As spiritual leader of one of the most widely known Reform synagogues in America, Rabbi Joshua Davidson tries not to be divisive on the holiest days of the year.

So on the High Holy Days of years past, when he stood before thousands of congregants at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, Davidson stuck to universal and uncontroversial topics. In 2015, he spoke about the synagogue’s history and mission. A year ago, in the heat of an acrimonious election, he talked about civic duty and the value of political participation.

But this year, Davidson criticized President Donald Trump.

His Rosh Hashanah sermon last week was on “trying to lift ourselves above the dishonesty, the incivility, the indecency which so many feel has become the societal norm,” he said. One of the hallmarks of that indecency, according to Davidson, was Trump’s response to the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I certainly mentioned the president in certain contexts,” he told JTA. “I mentioned his response to Charlottesville and condemned it. We have to condemn any sort of equivocation when it comes to bigotry in the strongest terms. His response was an affront to decency.”

Whether or not to use the bimah as a bully pulpit has become a particularly burning issue in the first year of the Trump presidency, which even his supporters acknowledge has been unusually divisive. Non-Orthodox Jews, who make up the vast majority of American Jewry, voted against Trump in wide margins. According to a recent poll, a majority of Orthodox Jews voted for him and approve of his performance.

But rabbis disagree when it comes to talking politics from the pulpit, especially when more Jews attend their synagogues than at any other time of the year. For every rabbi who insists on taking clear stands, others worry about alienating congregants who may disagree.

Rabbi Shalom Baum advocated policies as a past president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America. But he avoids discussing politics from his pulpit at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey. The High Holy Days, he said, are a time to rediscover the good in other people, not to find more reasons to disagree.

“It’s a time for spiritual growth which increases both our connection to God and our connection to people,” he told JTA. “When it comes to the way we view other people I try to focus, on the High Holy Days, on what’s right with other people, as opposed to the things that divide us.”

Rabbi Joshua Davidson delivering a High Holidays sermon at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, September 2017. (Courtesy of Temple Emanu-El)

Other politically active rabbis agree that partisan political opinions don’t belong in a sermon — and especially not on the holiest days of the year.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., protested Trump’s 2016 speech at the AIPAC conference while wearing a prayer shawl. But he studiously avoids talking politics in synagogue.

Herzfeld’s first sermon focused on his experience volunteering to clean up Houston following Hurricane Harvey. His Yom Kippur sermon will be about the Charlottesville rally, but it won’t mention Trump. And though he has titled the sermon “Removing Our Walls,” Herzfeld insisted to JTA that he is not alluding to the border wall with Mexico that Trump has proposed.

“This group of Nazis was trying to put up walls between different communities,” he plans to say in the Yom Kippur sermon, referring to the marchers in Charlottesville. “If we are an ‘us against them’ world, an ‘us against them country’ and an ‘us against them community,’ then we are all in big trouble.”

Davidson is one of several prominent rabbis who used their pulpit on the holiest days of the year to criticize the president. Some are open about their politics and said opposition to Trump was either a matter of consensus in the congregation, or his actions have been too egregious to ignore.

“This isn’t a time for us to be silent or to be too careful not to offend anybody,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, an independent congregation in Los Angeles. “But instead, it’s a time for us to speak as clearly as we possibly can about the dangers we are facing as a community and a nation.”

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Brous in her sermon accused Trump of making America “a place in which anti-Semitism is condoned by the state.” She also criticized establishment Jewish organizations for not speaking out enough against Trump for what she said are rhetoric and actions condoning the white supremacists.

Brous has opined publicly about her politics in the past and delivered an invocation at President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration. Her second-day Rosh Hashanah sermon this year advocated reparations for African-Americans.

“Many of our Jewish institutions failed to find the words to condemn the spike in anti-Semitic attacks that coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign,” Brous said in the first-day sermon, adding that they “failed to speak out against white nationalist sympathizers — men who have trafficked in anti-Semitism and racism for years — becoming senior White House officials.”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor speaking to his Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif. (Courtesy of Creditor)

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBT synagogue in Manhattan, likewise accused Trump of cozying up to anti-Semites. Her whole congregation opposes the president, she said, so calling him out was not a risk.

“I don’t think everyone agrees with me on everything, but overall our congregation is horrified at what’s happening in our country,” Kleinbaum said. “As Jews who are all immigrants, we’re horrified. As gay people, we’re horrified at the gender violence.”

In May, Trump signed an executive order allowing clergy to endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit. The order effectively repealed the Johnson Amendment, which threatened the tax-exempt status of religious institutions if they appeared partisan.

While a range of Jewish groups criticized the order as eroding the separation of church and state, Trump characterized it as an expansion of freedom of religion.

Another rabbi unafraid to get political, Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, sermonized about not becoming ensnared in the now-endless stream of headlines and presidential tweets. While he stressed that his point was not to be consumed by any one issue, his sermon did criticize Trump’s policies on immigration and climate change.

He also spoke about the virtue of mixing religion and politics, which has been a hallmark of his career. An outspoken advocate for immigrant rights and gun control, Creditor announced recently that he would be leaving his pulpit to become a full-time activist.

“I think the posture of religion has always been within the world,” he told JTA. “Even the most devout of religious communities all band together to vote in certain patterns, act in certain patterns to influence the world. To abdicate that responsibility is to become islands and ultimately self-idolize.”

President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington on Sept. 26. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Jewish groups condemn new US travel ban


Several Jewish groups criticized the Trump administration’s new travel ban, which tailors restrictions on eight countries — three more than in the current ban being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The executive order signed Sunday by President Donald Trump replaces one that detractors said was an attempt to keep Muslims out of the country.

The new ban adds citizens of Chad and North Korea, as well as some Venezuelan government officials and their families, to Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It goes into effect Oct. 18.

On Monday, the Supreme Court signaled it may dismiss the challenge to the ban after the White House announced the new order, Reuters reported. Legal experts said the new restrictions stand a better chance of holding up in court.

But the Anti-Defamation League was among the Jewish groups that stood against the new ban.

“Another day, another discriminatory #TravelBan. We’re standing firmly against it,” the ADL said in a tweet.

In a statement, the group added, “This new proclamation, like the first two travel bans, tears families apart and runs counter to our values as a nation that has stood as a beacon of hope for people around the world.”

J Street called the revised travel ban “ill-conceived, discriminatory and dangerous.” The liberal Middle East policy group’s statement noted that the ban likely would not prevent the entrance to the United States of real terrorists.

“Rather than making Americans safer, the travel ban will further erode the United States’ image around the world, helping the cause of terrorist organizations which promote anti-American sentiment,” it said.

Bend the Arc Jewish Action CEO Stosh Cotler said in a statement that the ban “undermines fundamental American and Jewish values with its explicit bigotry and xenophobia.”

U.S. courts have struck down earlier bids by Trump to install a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

Rabbi Sharon Brous

Rabbi Sharon Brous’ Rosh Hashanah sermon: The bug in the software of the West


America is turning from a place with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state. What are we going to do about it?

The synagogue in Charlottesville, bracing itself for the Nazi rally planned in late August, requested a police presence to protect worshippers on Shabbat morning. You may have heard: the police failed to send even a single officer, so the synagogue hired a private armed security guard to stand in front of the building. As Nazis paraded by, waving swastika flags, they shouted, “There’s the synagogue!” and “Seig Heil.” Learning that Nazi websites had specifically posted a call to burn the place, congregants left out the back exit and removed the sifrei torah from the premises. It’s true that law enforcement was busy that weekend, but also confounding that they would fail to understand the particular threat neo-Nazis pose to Jews.

I’ve never given a High Holy Day sermon on antisemitism. It’s not that it wasn’t a problem before Charlottesville: it’s that there were always bigger, graver, more urgent problems. As Jews in an America facing moral crisis, plagued by racism and white supremacy, poverty, inequality and climate denial, I didn’t want us to focus primarily on our own victimization. Instead, I wanted to draw our attention to the ways in which Jews were called to engage as a fairly privileged segment of a broader culture. I still believe all of that, but this year I wanted to start with antisemitism both because it’s taking dangerous new shape in America, and because antisemitism is bound up in the broader challenges facing our country. Very simply: the way that the Jewish community addresses antisemitism today matters.

They say that antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred—and its most pernicious manifestations, in Europe, left that land drenched in our people’s blood. Massacres, expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms, libels and ultimately gas chambers stand in eternal testimony to the danger of hatred fueled by church and state alike. James Carroll recently described antisemitism as “the bug in the software of the West,” that insidious, ever-present illness that excludes Jews from moral concern and allows for heinous crimes like the Holocaust to happen.

Antisemitism caused holy hell in Europe. In America, it has been ever-present, but it has never brought the same kind of existential risk that we confronted elsewhere. Thank God. For Jewish immigrants from Europe and Arab lands, even the cold embrace of America was a welcome contrast to the storm of bloodthirsty hatred overseas. Yes, Peter Stuyvesant, the Director-General of New Amsterdam called Jews “deceitful… repugnant… enemies and blasphemers.” Yes, we suffered a century of discrimination in employment, housing and education. The lynching of Leo Frank, wrongly convicted in the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, is seared into the Jewish collective conscience, and yes, Henry Ford funded mass distribution of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We must not downplay the sharp immigration quotas of eastern European nations with large Jewish populations and Jewish exclusion from American social, educational, political and economic life in the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was derisively referred to as the “Jew Deal,” and the SS St. Louis was mercilessly turned away and nearly 1000 Jews seeking asylum from Nazis were sent back, most to their deaths. We must remember to teach our children about the prohibitive housing covenants that restricted where Jews could live, and I will always remember the mix of confusion and shame I experienced as a child learning that two of the three country clubs in the New Jersey suburb I grew up in had strict “No Blacks, No Jews” policies.

Yes, we constantly joke about (and I hope also take seriously) the need to have our passports updated. And many of us still quietly note potential Nazi escape routes when deciding on a new home. But have we not come to feel pretty safe and comfortable here?

In America, Jews have achieved unprecedented prominence in nearly all sectors: political, social and financial. Here we have become Supreme Court Justices, Senators, Professors and Chief Oncologists. A few years ago, the mayors of the three largest U.S. cities were all Jews– one of them is a member of our own shul. Several years ago, when David and I walked into the Hanukkah party in the White House, I cried watching the West Point cadets, wearing kippot, sing “Ma’oz Tsur”—certain that my Grandma Harriet never could have dreamt of such a thing.

Yes, America has been good to us. So good that maybe we’ve forgotten a little bit who we are.

So good that many of our Jewish institutions failed to find the words to condemn the spike in anti- Semitic attacks that coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign. Failed to speak out against White Nationalist sympathizers– men who have trafficked in antisemitism and racism for years—becoming senior White House officials. Failed to protest when—again and again—our deepest Jewish commitments—care for the stranger, the poor and the vulnerable—have been thrashed about in a political tempest that demands outrage and resistance.

So good that somehow, Jewish senior cabinet members silently abided the President of the United States as he delivered one of the most damning equivocations in modern history, revealing a profound and disturbing inability to simply say: “There is no place for Nazism and white supremacy in this country. Take your hatred and get off our streets.”

What has happened to us?

I was recently asked in high-profile interview: “Why isn’t the Jewish community more involved in the struggle for the rights of targeted minorities in this country? Given your history, you’d think Jews would be on the front lines!”

My initial reaction: what are you talking about? We’re fighting with all we’ve got! Of course, I told her about all the Jews deeply involved in multi-faith and racial justice work today, about the electrifying presence of Jewish activists on the street, opposing efforts threatening the rights and dignities of Muslim and Mexican and LGBTQ allies and neighbors. Standing strong in solidarity and friendship. I spoke of how proud I was of our own community, with our inexhaustible Minyan Tzedek leadership inspiring folks to step up in strategic and meaningful ways. I talked about how Jews are on the front lines, fighting for democracy, equality and justice.

But even days later, I couldn’t get her question out of my head. What made her think the Jewish community wasn’t involved? And then I realized: who are the dominant voices in our community shaping the public perception?

There’s Israel’s Prime Minister, who frequently claims to speak for the Jews, who has repeatedly given cover to, indeed warmly embraced, this President, even after his most egregious missteps. There’s the Prime Minister’s son, who, in the week leading up to Rosh Hashanah, was the banner photo on the neo- Nazi Daily Stormer website after posting a classically antisemitic cartoon on his Facebook page. There are the President’s own family members, observant Jews, who have their rabbis contorting themselves to permit them to fly on AirForce One on Shabbat… I wonder: did they seek rabbinic dispensation for their silence in the face of the Muslim Ban, the rescinding of DACA, the ban on transgender people in the military? And of course, there are the unelected, self-appointed leaders of the American Jewish Establishment, funders and organizational heads who will, of course, decry Nazism, but fail to call out the clear and present role of the administration in normalizing white supremacy and antisemitism, for fear of falling out of favor.

Do you think I’m overstating the point?

I wonder how many here know the difference between white supremacy and White Nationalism? I didn’t, until I started reading and listening to Eric Ward, an African-American senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has been sounding the alarm on the difference between the two. White supremacy is an ideology of racial superiority and subjugation of people of color built into this country’s DNA. The much newer White Nationalism is a radical social movement committed to building a white-only nation. And antisemitism, Ward argues, is the beating heart, the fuel that moves the engine of White Nationalism.2 Thus, the conflation of Nazi and White Nationalist symbols and aspirations in Charlottesville: this is a movement modeled after Nazi Germany whose goal is to eradicate Jews and people of color from the country.

In his thirty years of studying and fighting White Nationalism, Ward says he has not seen the movement operating at such a level of sophistication as we’re now seeing. It has been simmering, he says, waiting for an opportunity. And now the perfect storm has occurred.

Derek Black, the now-estranged son of the Grand Wizard of the KKK explains: White Nationalists expect to be condemned by everyone. Every elected official knows it’s political suicide not to condemn Nazis and White Nationalists. Until one Tuesday in August when the President of the United States could bring himself only to say: “You had some very fine people on both sides.” According to Black, that was a huge victory for White Nationalists. “Tuesday was the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement.”

Make no mistake: not only was that Tuesday in August the most important moment in the history of the modern White Nationalist movement, it was a critical moment, potentially a turning point moment, for Jews in America. Because suddenly, in one press conference, America turned from a place, like so many, with an undercurrent of antisemitism, to a place in which antisemitism is condoned by the state.

Yes, these people, with their menacing hatred born of fear and ignorance, with their contorted faces and their murderous chants, they who play softball with words and symbols that cut to the heart of our people’s trauma, they who worship the statues—literally idols to an American past that degraded and dehumanized millions of Black Americans—they are the ones with whom the administration found sympathy.

Charlottesville did not happen in a vacuum—it is the inevitable outcome of racism being met with anything short of forceful, explicit condemnation. There’s a reason white supremacists didn’t wear hoods to march in streets this summer. They didn’t feel they had anything to hide… because this time they marched with nods of approval from the highest offices in the land.

There have always been angry white men who have held some kind of erotic fascination with Hitlerian symbols, who get high off of and may even kill for their Jew-hatred. But we know from history that the real danger comes when antisemitism is supported by the state. That’s what makes this moment different.

That’s what’s at stake when well-intentioned leaders ignore the whitewashing of Jews from Holocaust remembrance and remain silent at the suggestion of moral equivalence between Nazis and those protesting Nazis.

Mind you, these are some of the same Jewish leaders who continue to sound the alarm daily on any hint of antisemitism in the racial justice movement, where it does rear its ugly head all too often. Our allies on the left need to know who they’re getting in bed with when they dabble in, enable and give license to antisemitic trope. But it is communal malpractice to focus our collective outrage and resources on the left while excusing, minimizing and even ignoring antisemitism from the one place it’s ever presented an existential threat to our people: the armed and state-supported far right. As if BDS, problematic as it is, poses a greater danger to the Jewish people than Nazis emboldened by the President of the United States.

Is it wealth and power that have caused this misalignment? Is it our dependence on a few mega-donors who essentially control the public agenda of the Jewish community? I wonder: is it our voice, or our will that we’ve lost?

Listen to the terrifyingly prescient words of Hannah Arendt, written in 1942: “…Our people—those who are not yet behind barbed wire– are so demoralized by having been ruled by philanthropists for 150 years that they find it very difficult to begin to relearn the language of freedom and justice.”

Is that how we, too, have forgotten to see the world through prophetic eyes? Forgotten that we’re called “to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)? Is that how, only 70 years after our greatest tragedy, with the words “Never Again!” still emblazoned on our hearts and the walls of our institutions, we somehow find ourselves downplaying the danger of a regime that rose to power stigmatizing vulnerable minority populations and daily manifests disturbingly fascistic tendencies? Is “Never Again” just an empty promise?

Or is it that we now can only see through one lens: “Is it good for Israel?” As if it is in any way conceivable that an America that is profoundly morally compromised is good for Israel. How could we, who measure time in millennia, be so utterly myopic?

For 70 years, our driving force as a community was vigilance to antisemitism. Forgive us, but witnessing the near extermination of your people tends to leave an impression. Yes, much of our communal obsession was rooted in trauma. Some of it also came from the realization that there was no greater adhesion than shared terror; if we kept front and center others’ eternal hatred of us, we’d stick together in a country that offered more open doors, more access and more ability for many Jews to pass than any we’d previously inhabited.

So from trauma and fear, we set off five star alarms every time a swastika appeared on a school desk. For 70 years, we led with the threat of existential crisis—precisely, ironically, as our community grew to be the strongest and most secure we’ve ever been, anywhere in the world.

But now, as the smoke of antisemitic hatred fills the classroom, we’re asking the students to please stay calm and remain seated, because we don’t want to cause a stir. No need to threaten political alliances. Let’s not misconstrue bombast as ideology! And, by the way, why should I be worried if the Prime Minister of Israel is entirely unconcerned?

It’s no wonder the growing alienation of young people from the institutions our grandparents built. We desperately need a new play book.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for soul examination. It’s also a time for us to examine at the soul of our community and our nation. We do this in the hopes that some clear-headed thinking might help us figure out where our bruises and blind spots are, and what we can do to move forward.

In his 1965 commencement address at Oberlin, Martin Luther King, Jr. told the story of Rip Van Winkle. What Dr. King was taken by was not the fact that Rip slept for 20 years, but instead “that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up on the mountain, a great revolution was taking place in the world – indeed, a revolution which would, at points, change the course of history. And Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep.”

“There are all too many people,” King said, “who, in some great period of social change, fail to achieve the new mental outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”

In a few moments, we’ll hear the sound of the shofar, calling us to awaken from our slumber. This is the central moment of the Rosh Hashanah experience. Think of what it means that our tradition places an alarm clock right at the heart of the new year celebration. It’s as if the spiritual architects of our tradition understood one critical fact about human beings: we will sleep through the revolution. It’s human. But then Rosh Hashanah bursts into our September, shaking us awake, reminding us that sleeping while the world burns is simply not an option.

Last year, the shofar came as a jolt in the night, calling us to grapple with our nation’s moral crisis, to defiantly lift our gaze toward a politics of aspiration. The year before, the shofar was a call to action: to pair our broken hearts over three-year-old Aylan Kurdi in his tiny sneakers with some real effort on behalf of Syrian refugees.

Some years, the blasts of the shofar free us from the folly of presumed powerlessness. Some years, they come to awaken us from our privileged detachment. And some years, it’s about recalibration—a call back to our core values and true purpose.

Chants of “Jews will not replace us!” are our wakeup call this year. It’s our task to walk away from Charlottesville with a renewed sense that we were put here not to be comfortable, but to be prophetic.

Remember Joseph, thrown by his brothers into a viper pit and sold into slavery in Egypt? Abandoned by everyone who should have cared for him, Joseph is disoriented, dislocated, forced to rebuild his life in a land not his own.

But through some mix of grit, luck and divine intervention, this slave quickly rose in the ranks working וַיְ הי י ֵסף יְ ֵפה־ for the powerful Potiphar, giving him respect and authority. Until the Torah tells us that Joseph was well built and handsome (Gen 39:6). That’s a strange comment for the ת ר וי ֵ פה ַמ ְר אה׃ Torah, so sparse with words, to make. (This isn’t a Tinder profile, it’s the Book of Genesis. What’s going on here?) Rashi explains: As soon as Joseph began to gain power and influence in Potiphar’s home, he started to eat and drink and curl his hair. This infuriated the Holy One, who cried out: Your father mourns for you and you’re curling your hair? Has all this power and luxury made you forget who you are? You’re so enamored by Egypt that you’ve forgotten your people, their suffering, your destiny? Do you think this is what you are here for?

Nehama Leibowitz describes that Joseph then found himself on the brink of spiritual disaster. “The plight of the poor and downtrodden exiled from their land is difficult enough,” she writes, “but doubly dangerous is the plight of one who achieves favor in the eyes of his masters so that they advance him for their own needs to the highest of positions.”

And it was in that moment that God plotted Joseph’s fall from grace.

Privilege, comfort, abundance: these are all great blessings. If we’re paying attention, the shofar wakes us up before they become curses.

So what can we do? I’m going to suggest three things.

First, we—the Jewish community—have to be clear and honest about the dangers we’re facing today. We cannot sugarcoat this. Especially in a time of all-out assault on truth, we have to speak openly and clearly about the threat. We need to hold our leaders accountable: this is not a moment for normalizing, justifying or hedging. Timothy Snyder warns that “Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.” Anticipatory obedience is when regular people voluntarily compromise on small values or principles, signaling to a regime how willing they are to conform to new standards. The problem is that eventually, it’s simply too late to stand up and resist. We cannot be party to this.

Second, we have to get creative and we have to be bold. On one hand, you heard about the 2014 counter-protest to the annual Nazi march in Bavaria, when residents sponsored the marchers in what they called Germany’s “most involuntary walkathon,” festooning the town in pink banners, throwing confetti at the Nazi marchers and encouraging them to keep walking because every meter brought in donations to an organization promoting defection from extremist groups. Inspired by this model, we did something similar last year when the antisemitic and homophobic Westboro Baptist Church protested outside this building, raising thousands of dollars for The Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth.

And at the same time, we have to be bold in our thinking and organizing, particularly around the advancement of racial healing in this country. We have to commit to helping America make teshuvah— reckon with and reconcile our nation’s past. I’ll be talking more about this tomorrow.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have to take the vulnerability that we felt from Charlottesville, in Ruth Messinger’s words, the “body shock” of seeing Nazis on US soil, and renew our commitment to join forces with other marginalized and vulnerable people in the US. Many of these communities have far fewer resources and are more directly and dangerously targeted than the Jewish community. What I’m suggesting is that at precisely the moment that we Jews feel most vulnerable in America, we need to turn to our Muslim, Latino, Black, Sikh and immigrant neighbors and double down on support, solidarity and love.

It is precisely in our moments of greatest danger that we must affirm exactly who we are. Now we need to lead with the Jewish values that are the air we breathe, that give us both life and reason to live. Now we must remember that we were put in this world to bring a message of justice and love, that the memory of degradation, dehumanization, near extermination lives in our bones, calling us to work to transform the societies we live in. Our goal is not to eat, drink and curl our hair. Nor is it simply to survive. We are called to a higher purpose, to be bearers of light and love, sources of hope and strength. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “To be or not to be is not the question. How to be and how not to be is the question.”

We are here to cry out against injustice, to fight for human dignity. To give love and to receive it. To pry open hearts and minds, to lift the fallen and strengthen the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless, to advance the causes of dignity and peace—for our people and for all people. We must not abandon our core commitments when things get tough; we must make justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a mighty stream.

Mother Teresa once brought food to a family with eight children who had not eaten in days. She entered their home and looked into the faces of children “disfigured by… the deep pain of hunger.” She handed a plate of rice to the mother, who divided the rice in two and left the house. When she returned a few moments later, she served the remaining half plate to her children. “Where did you go?” Mother Teresa asked her. “To my neighbors; they are hungry also.” “I was not surprised that she gave,” Mother Teresa recalled, “—poor people are really very generous. I was surprised she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.”

Antisemitism is a real and present danger in the US today, inextricably woven into the fabric of the racialized hatred that is tearing our country apart. It’s now more than ever that we must stand together. Join us for interfaith actions with our LA Voice partners. Join and support the Poor People’s Campaign. Go to an Iftar at the Islamic Center. Affirm that the best antidote to White Nationalist hatred is multiracial and multifaith alliances.

Luxury and power were a toxic combination for Joseph. He lost himself beneath those fancy dinners and curled eyelashes. It took many years for him to find himself again. At some point, with his estranged brothers standing before him, וְ לא־יָ כל י ֵסף ְלה ְת ַא ֵפק– Joseph could no longer constrain himself. He wept so loudly that all of Egypt heard him as he said, ֲא ני י ֵסף — I am Joseph (Gen 45:1). I look like an Egyptian, I live in the palace, but know that I am yours. #JeSuisJuif. I am a Hebrew. My loyalty is to my people.

His brothers were dumbfounded, but Joseph had never been more clear about anything in his life.

We should not be ashamed of our success or achievements in this country; we should be grateful for the opportunities we’ve found in America. But we also must never forget who we are, and who we are called to be in the world.

Susan Bro, mother of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, murdered by a Nazi on American soil in 2017, spoke at her daughter’s funeral:

“They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her. I’d rather have my child, but by golly if I got to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

Yes, Susan: we will make it count. May your daughter’s memory be a blessing—for you and for us all. This moment is a clarion call; it is a wakeup call. Let us not sleep through the revolution.


Sharon Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR.

Jared Kushner in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. Photo by Saul Loeb/Reuters

Jared Kushner used private email account to conduct government business


Jared Kushner, the senior White House adviser to President Donald Trump, used a private email account to conduct government business.

Politico first reported Kushner’s use of a personal email account, citing his lawyer.

“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Abbe Lowell said in a statement to Politico. “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

Lowell said Kushner, who is Jewish and Trump’s son-in-law, forwarded the messages though his official White House account in order to create an official record. The account was set up during the transition period.

Among the officials who corresponded with Kushner on his personal account since Trump took office in January are Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff; Stephen Bannon, the former chief strategist; National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and spokesman Josh Raffel, according to Politico.

There is no indication that Kushner shared any sensitive or classified material on his private account, according to Politico.

Kushner is not the only White House official to have been discovered using a personal account, according to The New York Times, but is the closest adviser to do so.

The revelation comes as Kushner remains under scrutiny in investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump harshly criticized Hillary Clinton, his opponent in the 2016 presidential race, for her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

Members of the New England Patriots take a knee during the national anthem on Sept. 24. Photo by Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots’ Robert Kraft ‘disappointed’ with Trump over clash with NFL players


New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he was “deeply disappointed” by President Donald Trump’s clash with NFL players.

Trump on Friday at a rally in Alabama fired the first salvo, calling out football players who kneel during the national anthem as a protest against the treatment of blacks by police and other officials.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,’” Trump said during the rally.

The president later posted a series of tweets on the issue, saying: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect…. our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”

He also tweeted: “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!”

Kraft, who is Jewish and known as a long-time friend of the president, posted a response to Trump on the team’s Twitter account on Sunday.

Kraft wrote: “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday. I am proud to be associated with so many players who make such tremendous contributions in positively impacting our communities. Their efforts, both on and off the field, help bring people together and make our community stronger. There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics. I think our political leaders could learn a lot from the lessons of teamwork and the importance of working together toward a common goal. Our players are intelligent, thoughtful and care deeply about our community and I support their right to peacefully affect social change and raise awareness in a manner that they feel is most impactful.”

Trump also got into a row with the National Basketball Association, disinviting in a tweet Golden State Warriors stand-out point guard Steph Curry to team visit to the White House.

The Warriors won the 2016 NBA League Championship. It is traditional for the winning team to visit the White House, an honor which team members had debated accepting due to Trump’s positions on racial issues, including the Charlottesville, Virginia rally. Curry had indicated on Friday that when the team gathered on Saturday to decide whether to make the traditional visit that he would vote against it.

Trump tweeted early Saturday morning: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, whose team lost to the Warriors in the championship, rose to defend Curry, tweeting to his 38.5 million followers that visiting the White House is no longer a great honor. “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

White supremacists, foreground, face off against counterprotesters, top, at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

5777: Coping with a year of rage


We hear the word “high” a lot during the High Holy Days — and it’s not just because we live in pot-friendly California.

This time of year is supposed to elevate us, lift us up. It’s so integral to the mission of the holidays, and it’s embedded into the choreography of the service: The ark is opened and we rise; the shofar calls us to stand and wake up; the fast on Yom Kippur alters the chemistry of our brains. Prayer itself promises to bring us “higher and higher,” inching us closer to the profound mystery at the heart of the universe we call God.

Everything about this 10-day annual ritual titillates us with the promise of spiritual intoxication: If we take the holidays seriously enough — if we repent, return, forgive — Jewish tradition tells us we can change our lives; that everything we thought lost is still possible. Begin again, we’re told. It’s a new year. 

But for so many of us, the task of getting high this year seems especially hard because this last year was so full of personal and global anguish. How do we reclaim a space for the spirit when life can be so profoundly dispiriting?

Most of the major events of 5777 have given us reason to worry, rage and fear. We lived through the most polarizing election in our lifetimes, followed by the installation of an equally polarizing administration. We learned about Russian subversion of our democratic process. We endured nuclear threats from North Korea and the rising threat of economic imperialism in China. We watched the Syrian civil war and genocide spread into its sixth tragic year. We divided ourselves over Israel, agonizing about the challenges it faces within and without. We witnessed terror in Europe.

And, most recently, we watched with utter helplessness as the wrath of nature devastated American cities and communities, and as DACA was rescinded, putting the futures of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in limbo. All of this courtesy of the constant churn of the 24-hour news cycle that knows no Shabbat. 

For these reasons and others, we feel drained. Can prayer and community have any impact on healing these wounds? And what if the very polarizing politics we wish to escape appear in our rabbi’s sermon?

For those of us who already are politically engaged, philanthropic and working with great devotion to fight injustice in this world, we hope the High Holy Days will pour some light onto the canvas of our aching souls.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, I asked Rabbi Mordecai Finley, the spiritual leader at Ohr Hatorah in Venice who teaches and counsels through the prism of psychology and philosophy, how we can move from a year of rage, grief or simply exhaustion to a period of spiritual elevation.

His answer was surprising — and kind of Buddhist.

“Every philosophical system that takes morality seriously detaches wisdom from emotions,” he said over warm apple pie at Sophos Café, the Italian-coffee hangout that serves as the lobby at his shul. (I had to put aside my extreme satisfaction with the pie to understand his point.)

But aren’t you angry about what you see happening in our country, or in the world, I asked?

“I don’t get that emotional [about it],” he said. “Anybody who is that upset [over politics], I’m wondering how efficacious their spiritual practice is to begin with. When people say to me, ‘It’s been the worst year ever,’ I say, ‘1862 was a bad year for our country [it was the Civil War and the Union was losing]. 1942 was a bad year for the world.’

“There are those who love divisiveness and get all emotional. It’s a choice you make. I’m among those who find [President Donald Trump] repugnant, but if I talk to somebody on the other side, I don’t bring that into the conversation. I say, let’s have rational conversation based on moral values. For people who say politics is personal, I think they like to be angry.”

Finley admitted that different people seek different things on the High Holy Days. Some people want and need to vent about politics.

“It can feel extremely satisfying when your leadership vents what you’re feeling,” Finley said. “But when people are venting, they don’t want to process. My congregation is populated by people who want an oasis during the High Holidays. I’ve asked, ‘Would you like me every week to rehash the new litany of Trump’s latest outrages?’ They say, ‘No, we get that from The New York Times.’ They’re after personal depth and transformation. They want leadership there.” 

Finley believes that for most of us, the way to a better world is through higher consciousness, by cultivating what he calls “the higher self,” or the soul. And the best way to test and exert the functioning of our higher self is through interpersonal relationships.

“There’s a moral framework in which we live that for most people, the first place they experience it is interpersonally,” he said. “You’ve been hurt by others; they’ve been hurt by you. That’s the first thing we have to deal with.”

It’s a lot harder to take on the problems of the world if we’re suffering at home. So for those of us who are grieving, heartbroken, angry or stuck, the holidays are a time to examine and refine our most sacred relationships.

Simple acts of being kinder, more generous and more compassionate can make our broken world a little brighter and bring us higher — indeed, closer — to God.


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

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Netanyahu prefers scrapping Iran deal over fixing it


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iran nuclear deal must be amended or canceled, but suggested that scrapping the deal may be preferable.

“Israel’s policy regarding the nuclear deal with Iran is very simple — change it or cancel it, fix it or nix it,” Netanyahu said Tuesday, addressing the launch of this year’s United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Netanyahu appeared to favor the cancel option, saying he “couldn’t agree more” with Donald Trump when the U.S. president said earlier from the same podium that the deal is an “embarrassment to the United States.”

The Israeli leader said canceling the deal would simply mean a return to massive sanctions as a means of pressure on Iran. The 2015 deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, traded sanctions relief for a rollback to Iran’s nuclear option.

Defenders of the deal say it would be near impossible to re-establish the international sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table.

Fixing the deal, Netanyahu said, would mean broadly expanding the number of sites available for impromptu visits by international nuclear inspectors, immediate penalties for any violations of the deal and ending the “sunset” clause — the restrictions on Iran that begin to lapse within the next decade.

Netanyahu said Iran’s rulers should be wary of their constant threats against Israel.

“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in peril,” he said.

Netanyahu also said that Israel would not allow a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, where Iran is aligned with the Assad regime in suppressing a civil war that has raged for more than six years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Why Trump’s U.N. speech thrilled Netanyahu — for the moment, anyway


The number of times President Donald Trump mentioned Iran or its derivatives in his U.N. speech?

Twelve, and each time to emphasize its threat.

The number of times he mentioned the Palestinians or derivatives? That would be zero.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, paying Trump the rare leader-to-leader gesture of attending his speech and applauding throughout, was clearly pleased.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” Netanyahu tweeted immediately after the 40-minute address on Tuesday. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

Short term, Trump delivered big time on the Netanyahu wish list: He came closer to pledging to kill the Iran nuclear deal reviled by the Israeli leader and did not even mention peace with the Palestinians, which Netanyahu does not believe has traction at this point.

But wait, there’s more. Trump mentioned the word “sovereign” and its derivatives 21 times on Tuesday, the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York.

Long term, Netanyahu and Israel may not be as enthused by Trump’s dream of a world in which nations make a priority of “sovereign” interests — or as the president put it, repeating a campaign phrase that unsettled many U.S. Jews, “America First.”

Trump’s overarching theme was a retreat from the robust interventionist role that to varying degrees has characterized U.S. foreign policy since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed, that undergirded the U.S.-led effort following World War II and its devastation to establish the United Nations.

“Our success depends on a coalition of strong and independent nations that embrace their sovereignty to promote security, prosperity and peace for themselves and for the world,” Trump said. “We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions or even systems of government.”

What that means practically is not clear, much like the rest of Trump’s foreign policy nine months into his presidency. But Israel’s security establishment has been wary of an American retreat from world affairs, especially when it comes to its war-torn neighbor Syria and the alliance between Syria’s Assad regime and Iran.

Trump’s emphasis on Syria — the thrust of much of his speech — was the routing of the Islamist terrorist threat embodied there by the Islamic State. Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah share that goal.

Secondarily, Trump said he would intervene when what he called the “criminal” Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

What Trump did not say — and what the Netanyahu government had demanded — was whether he would seek the removal from Syria of Iran and Hezbollah, which launched a war against Israel in 2006 and appears to be building a missile arsenal ahead of another war. (Trump did twice attack Hezbollah as a terrorist organization that threatens Israel.)

More broadly, Israeli Cabinet ministers — especially the defense minister, Avigdor Liberman — repeatedly expressed the concern that the Obama administration diminished the U.S. profile in the Middle East. Israel has long considered a robust U.S. profile in the region as key to its security.

On the Iran deal, Netanyahu could only be pleased at what he heard.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said of the 2015 agreement, which trades sanctions relief for rollbacks in Iran’s nuclear program. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Netanyahu said from the same podium several hours later.

He lavished plenty of praise on Trump in his speech. Referring to Trump’s visit earlier this year to the Western Wall, Neyanyahu said, “When the president touched those ancient stones, he touched our hearts forever.”

Netanyahu also said “we will act to prevent Iran” from establishing a permanent base in Syria, developing weapons to be used against Israel from Lebanon and Syria, and establishing a terrorist front against Israel on the Lebanon border.

The Israeli, who had a long meeting with Trump in the days before the General Assembly launched, suggested that his message was congruent with Trump’s.

“Today I will say things that the rulers of Iran and the people of Iran will remember always,” he said in Hebrew in a social media post two hours ahead of his speech. “I think they will also remember what President Trump says.”

President Donald Trump addresses the United Nations in New York on Sept. 19. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Trump ignores Israeli-Palestinian peace in UN speech, says US cannot ‘abide’ Iran nuclear deal


President Donald Trump told the U.N. General Assembly that the United States cannot “abide” the Iran nuclear deal as it stands but notably omitted mention of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for an eventual nuclear program,” Trump said Tuesday on the first day of this year’s General Assembly in New York. Again calling the deal “one of the worst” he had ever encountered, the president said it was “an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

Trump has said there will be a “dramatic” adjustment to how the United States treats the deal by next month, when according to U.S. law, the United States just recertify Iranian adherence to the deal.

The 2015 deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Critics of the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who, unusually for a leader, was in attendance during Trump’s speech — say the lifting of some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program starting within a decade pave its path to a nuclear weapon. Defenders of the agreement say that other provisions written into the deal are sufficient to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.

Trump coupled Iran and North Korea as rogue regimes threatening stability worldwide. Several times he singled out Iran for its backing of the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon and the threat posed by the group to Israel.

Netanyahu responded effusively to the 40-minute address.

“In over 30 years in my experience with the U.N., I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech,” the Israeli leader said. “President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

In not mentioning his administration’s efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, Trump departed from his predecessors. Saying an Israeli-Palestinian deal is critical to world peace is almost de rigeuer during the General Assembly, even for tiny far-flung nations that have no influence on the outcome.

President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House Sept. 13. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Watch Trump’s High Holy Days greeting


Per White House tradition, President Donald Trump released a greeting ahead of the Jewish High Holidays. The White House sent the video message on Monday, ahead of Rosh Hashanah, which starts this year on Wednesday evening.

Below is the transcript and video of Trump’s address:

“On behalf of all Americans, I want to wish Jewish families many blessings in the New Year. The High Holy Days are a time of both reflection on the past year and hope for renewal in the year to come. Jewish communities across the country, and around the world, enter into a time of prayer, repentance, and rededication to the sacred values and traditions that guide the incredible character, and spirit, of the Jewish people. We reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and we ask God to deliver justice, dignity, and peace on Earth. Melania and I wish everyone a sweet, healthy, and peaceful year, which we hope will bring many blessings to all. Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless America.”

A new year’s resolution: Emulating the shofar


Can the humble sound of a ram’s horn help unite our community? Can it encourage us to dialogue rather than to fight, to disagree honorably rather than to cut each other out? 

The communal rancor in the age of Donald Trump has been so ugly and intense, I’m not sure anything will help. Rabbis will surely weigh in on this subject with their holiday sermons. How could they not? I can’t recall our community being so divided. Never Trumpers versus always Trumpers versus sometimes Trumpers — the Trumpster hurricane is wreaking communal havoc.

What is behind this human rancor? In part, I call it the curse of being right. Something happens to people when they’re sure they have the whole truth on their side. They get on such a high horse they can’t see anything below. More than that, they refuse to see anything below.

I’ve seen family relationships break up over Trump. Why? Because we have become our ideology. More specifically, our political ideology. We have convinced ourselves that this is life or death, that we must all unite behind the same beliefs or a catastrophe will happen.

With that mindset, no civil dialogue is possible. If someone is not with you, they are worthy of contempt, or at least utter dismissal.

We have crossed the line from disagreement into rejection. It’s not just that I disagree with you, it’s that I am disgusted by your position. So disgusted that I am rejecting you.

When emotions are so raw, words can only go so far. To shake us up, we also need something transcendent, something nonverbal. That’s why I’m hoping that this year, the shofar will come to the rescue.

As we pray during the High Holy Days, we all will be hearing the same four sounds of the shofar: tekiah — one long blast; shevarim — three medium blasts; teruah — nine short staccato sounds; and tekiah gedolah — one extra-long blast.

I’d like to suggest that hidden in those four sounds is symbolic hope for communal healing.

Tekiah — the long blast — symbolizes the taking of a long breath before we speak. When we take that breath, we’re less likely to allow our anger to get the better of us, to say something that may irreparably damage a relationship.

Shevarim — three medium blasts — symbolizes the back and forth of a civil dialogue. Even if we are certain of our views, it behooves us to hear other views. Not because they will change our minds, but because hearing other views is an act of decency.

Teruah — nine short sounds — symbolizes sharp arguments. We can take on  each other, we can be passionate about our positions, but we don’t need to go as far as cutting people out of our lives, especially people we care about. Even, yes, if we are disgusted by their views.

On our deathbeds, will we think: I’m glad I stopped talking to this person who I care about because they said something good about Trump?

Tekiah gedolah — the extra-long blast — is, for me, the most meaningful sound. It symbolizes the long game. Why are we here? Why are we alive? What will we be thinking during the last few minutes of our lives?

Imagine, for example, that you are a liberal who is repulsed by Trump. You think he’s the worst thing that ever happened to America. You think he’s a racist and a bigot. You dream of his impeachment.

Now, you have a longtime friend or a relative who voted for Trump. Every time you see this person, it reminds you of their politics and it turns your stomach. Over time, it gets harder and harder to be in that person’s company.

Tekiah gedolah comes to remind us of the long game. We all are going to die, some of us sooner than others. On our deathbeds, will we think: I’m glad I stopped talking to this person who I care about because they said something good about Trump?

This is what turns my stomach: The notion that we can give politics the power to contaminate our relationships.

I have a friend who took me on in a nasty way recently over a political issue. Her Facebook comment shook me up because I adore this person. Not sure how to respond, I sent her this private message: “I am incapable of having any negative feelings for you. I’m trying, but I can’t.”

This is not kumbaya. This is a hard-nosed refusal to let ideology destroy a relationship.

So, here’s my suggestion: When we hear the four sounds of the shofar this year, let’s meditate on how those humble sounds can heal us. Let’s learn to express our views with passion but also with humility.

If the great Moses could do it, so could we.

Happy, sweet and peaceful new year.


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

Lorne Michaels, right, with Alec Baldwin at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Governors Ball in Los Angeles on Sept. 17. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

2017 Emmy Awards: On a historic night for diversity, ‘SNL’ quietly wins big


The 2017 Emmy Awards presentation, which is being hailed as a historic night for diversity in Hollywood, honored some Jewish talent.

“Saturday Night Live” led the way with eight of the TV awards, which were handed out Sunday night in Los Angeles.

“SNL” winners included Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin, for best supporting actress and actor in a comedy, respectively, for their portrayals of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath. Melissa McCarthy also won for her work as a guest actress on “SNL,” notably portraying former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

The show’s Jewish creator, Lorne Michaels, was a winner as the show took home the award for best variety sketch series. Michaels, who has produced the show for much of its four decades, now holds the record for most Emmy nominations.

Jewish filmmaker Ezra Edelman won the nonfiction directing Emmy for his work on the ESPN documentary “O.J.: Made in America.”

The Emmys also paid tribute to those in the industry who have died during the last year, including Jewish actresses Carrie Fisher and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

However, the night was most notable for other reasons. Donald Glover became the first African-American to win best directing in a comedy series and the first black actor to win best lead actor in a comedy since 1985. He is the star and creator of the FX show “Atlanta.”

Lena Waithe, who co-wrote the Netflix sitcom “Master of None” with Aziz Ansari, became the first black woman to win best comedy writing. Riz Ahmed became the first South Asian man to win an Emmy with his performance on the HBO miniseries “The Night Of.” And Sterling Brown, a star of NBC’s “This Is Us,” became the first African-American man to win outstanding lead actor in a drama series since 1998.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has French-Jewish heritage, broke the record for most consecutive wins in any Emmy category with her sixth straight best lead actress in a comedy award. The former “Seinfeld” star is the driving force behind HBO’s political satire “Veep.”

President Donald Trump speaking to Jewish leaders in a conference call at the White House as staffers look on on Sept. 15. Photo from White House Press Office

In call with Jewish groups, Trump does not take questions


The debate has gone on for weeks among rabbis and Jewish leaders: If President Donald Trump does not formally renounce white supremacists, is it still worth engaging in a conversation with him?

This has been on much of the Jewish community’s mind since Aug. 23, when the leaders of three religious streams — Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative — said they would not organize the annual pre-Rosh Hashanah call with the president, which the rabbinical groups had instituted at the start of President Barack Obama’s administration. That call, principally for clergy, was aimed at helping to shape the High Holy Days.

But last week, the White House said it would hold a call with Jewish leaders — one that would be in line with the calls and meetings that Jewish leaders have had with the sitting president since the Dwight Eisenhower era. It would be initiated by the White House, not the rabbis, and lay and religious leaders would be invited.

On Sept. 15, Trump delivered his holiday greetings in a conference call with Jewish leaders that lasted barely eight minutes. He condemned those who spread anti-Semitism. He expressed his love for Israel. And he hoped for progress in the peace process.

He took no questions. By contrast, calls and meetings with past presidents have included exchanges — sometimes tough — and generally lasted at least 45 minutes.

Some of the participants expressed disappointment after having done public battle with the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements over whether one should engage Trump in conversation in the wake of his equivocations over white supremacists.

“Everyone would look less stupid if he had just put it on YouTube,” one said, encapsulating the one-way direction of the conversation.

But others said it was important that they take part, out of respect for the office and as part of their duty to represent a diverse community.

Not invited to join the call were leaders of  the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. The Conservative movement did receive an invitation but Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the CEO of its Rabbinical Assembly, declined to participate.

All the participants who spoke to JTA asked not to be identified because the call was off the record, although the White House released a transcript the same day.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, a Charedi Orthodox group, had argued in a Forward op-ed Sept. 14 that the rabbis who had opted out of the call with the president were missing an opportunity to raise the painful issue of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched last month in Charlottesville, Va., which culminated in an attack by an alleged white supremacist that killed one counterprotester and injured at least 20 others.

“There is a difference between respectfully asking a president to clarify that he does not equate proponents of white supremacism with protesters against the same and, however one might feel about him, publicly and starkly insulting our nation’s duly elected national leader,” he said.

In the end, there were no surprises. Trump covered the standard range of issues in these calls and did not depart from the script.

Anti-Semitism and bias: “We forcefully condemn those who seek to incite anti-Semitism, or to spread any form of slander and hate — and I will ensure we protect Jewish communities, and all communities, that face threats to their safety,” he said.

Israel: “The United States will always support Israel not only because of the vital security partnership between our two nations, but because of the shared values between our two peoples,” he said.

Trump noted that his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, was making a priority of keeping international bodies from singling out Israel for criticism.

“I can tell you on a personal basis, and I just left Israel recently, I love Israel,” he said.

Peace: “This next New Year also offers a new opportunity to seek peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and I am very hopeful that we will see significant progress before the end of the year,” the president said. “Ambassador David Friedman, Jared [Kushner], Jason [Greenblatt] and the rest of my team are working very hard to achieve a peace agreement. I think it’s something that actually could happen.” Friedman is the ambassador to Israel, Kushner is Trump’s son-in-law and a top adviser, and Greenblatt is the president’s top international negotiator.

Kushner, an observant Jew, opened the call by introducing the president, saying his father-in-law “takes great pride in having a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren.” Ivanka Trump, Jared’s wife, is also a top adviser to her father. Trump closed the call by saying he and his wife, Melania, are wishing all “a sweet, healthy and peaceful new year.”

The controversy surrounding the call began last month, when the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements cast their decision to cancel the call — an outcome of Trump’s equivocation after the Charlottesville violence, when he said “many sides” were to blame for the violence, and that there were “very fine people” among both the white supremacists and the counterprotesters.

“The president’s words have given succor to those who advocate anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia,” the joint statement said.

The day before the call, Trump again insisted that there was blame on both sides.

Those who participated in the call said that even absent a question-and-answer period, it still was better to be on the call than not.

“These are rabbis whose foremost cause should be the Jewish people and Israel,” said Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Klein, who was on the call, noted that he participated in similar calls and meetings with Obama, even though he rarely agreed with him.

“Why stupidly insult the president, who we need for those issues?” he asked.

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said in an email to JTA that because he was not on the call, he had no comment on what was said.

But, he wrote, “We stand by our decision to not host a High Holy Days call with the President this year. We are disappointed that the President continues to draw a false equivalency between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville.”

Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant on Aug. 21, 2010. Photo from Iran International Photo Agency via Getty Images

Israeli defense officials reportedly oppose changing Iran deal


Israel’s intelligence community opposes the drastic changes sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a report.

Several sources, who were not named, told the Haaretz daily that the defense establishment in Israel does not agree with the demand articulated by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that President Donald Trump scrap or revise the deal, the daily reported Friday.

On Thursday, Trump waived nuclear sanctions on Iran in compliance with the deal, but warned that he could take dramatic action on the deal as early as next month. Thursday was the deadline for Trump to waive sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear sector, according to the pact negotiated by six world powers, led by the United States, and Iran.

The agreement offers Iran sanctions relief for rolling back some elements of its nuclear program until 2025.

Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the deal was “one of the worst” and he planned on addressing it soon.

“The spirit of the deal is just atrociously kept, but the Iran deal is not a fair deal to this country,” he said. “It’s a deal that should have never, ever been made. And you’ll see what we’re doing in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be in October.”

On Tuesday, Netanyahu denied claims made to Reuters by a U.S. official who said Israel wishes to avoid changes to the deal, which Netanyahu condemned as “paving Iran’s path nuclear weapons.” The issue was a major point of contention between Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama, who led efforts to seal the deal.

Israel maintains that the United States should either “revise or scrap the deal,” Netanyahu said.

But senior officials told Haaretz that Israel’s intelligence community has identified no Iranian violations of the deal. Several officials said they feared an Iranian nuclear breakout — meaning a concentrated effort to obtain offensive capabilities – if the deal is scrapped.

“As in the United States, there is a disagreement on this issue in Israel,” one senior defense official told Haaretz. “Netanyahu and Liberman may share the same position on the deal, but the defense establishment does not share this view, necessarily.”

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Trump waives Iran sanctions, but warns of changes to deal next month


President Donald Trump waived nuclear sanctions on Iran in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal he reviles, but warned that he could take dramatic action on the deal as early as next month.

Thursday was the deadline for Trump to waive sanctions targeting Iran’s nuclear sector, according to the deal, which includes a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

Returning from Florida, where he had visited sites hit by Hurricane Irma, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the deal was “one of the worst” and he planned on addressing it soon.

“You’ll see what I’m going to be doing very shortly in October,” he said. “But I will say this: The Iran deal is one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen. Certainly, at a minimum, the spirit of the deal is just atrociously kept, but the Iran deal is not a fair deal to this country. It’s a deal that should have never, ever been made. And you’ll see what we’re doing in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be in October.”

According to U.S. law, Oct. 15 is the next deadline for Trump to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have certified that Iran is in compliance, but Trump says Iran is violating the “spirit” of the deal through its missile testing and military adventurism in the region.

Obama administration officials who negotiated the deal say it was never meant to address anything but the nuclear component. Removing Iran’s potential nuclear threat, they argue, freed the United States to pressure Iran in other areas.

“You’ll see. You’re going to see,” Trump said on the plane. “But we are not going to stand for what they’re doing to this country. They have violated so many different elements, but they’ve also violated the spirit of that deal. And you will see what we’ll be doing in October. It will be very evident.”

It’s not clear what Trump is contemplating, but a number of scenarios have circulated. One is that he will not certify Iranian compliance, which would put the burden on Congress to reimpose sanctions on Iran. Another is that he works with Europe to increase pressure on Iran in other areas. Some Trump advisers have cautioned that the United States should not be seen as sabotaging the deal lest it alienate its partners in the deal — including Russia, China and Western Europe.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will meet Trump next week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, says he wants the deal amended to remove “sunset clauses” that allow Iran to remove some restrictions on its nuclear activities within the next decade or so.

“In eight to 10 years, according to the agreement, Iran will be able to enrich uranium on an industrial scale,” Netanyahu told CNN en Español during his South America tour this week. “That means that they can make not one bomb, but an arsenal of bombs. This agreement should be changed. It should be changed so that the removal of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program should be not a matter of the change of the calendar, but a change in Iran’s aggressive behavior.”

Separately on Thursday, the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on nine individuals and eight entities it said were violating terrorism and cybersecurity-related sanctions against Iran. Also, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban the sale of replacement airplane parts to Iran. The Obama administration had removed such bans as part of the overall deal package.

President Donald Trump on Sept. 14. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump again blames both sides for deadly Charlottesville violence


President Donald Trump once again said both sides — white supremacists and those who opposed them — were responsible for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, an equivalence that has outraged Jewish groups, Jews in his Cabinet and lawmakers from both parties.

Trump, speaking Thursday on Air Force One as he returned from Florida, where he was meeting with victims of Hurricane Irma, described his meeting a day earlier with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., an African American Republican who has been critical of Trump on race-related matters.

“I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also,” he said when asked what he told Scott regarding the deadly Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville. Antifa is a loose coalition of leftists ostensibly organized to protect protesters but which has lashed out violently at times at its perceived enemies.

“And essentially that’s what I said,” Trump said. “Now because of what’s happened since then, with Antifa, you look at, you know, really what’s happened since Charlottesville.” he said, apparently referring to clashes between Antifa and right-wing protesters in Berkeley, California on Aug. 27. “A lot of people are saying — in fact a lot of people have actually written, ‘gee Trump might have a point.’ I said, you got some very bad people on the other side also, which is true.”

Antifa represented a small minority of the mostly peaceful counterprotesters in Charlottesville. There were limited skirmishes between its members and white supremacists who were protesting the planned removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Among the 500 or so white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan, many were armed and some sought out counterprotesters to attack. Some carried Nazi flags and shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans. An alleged white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring at least 20 people.

Trump at the time blamed “many sides” for the violence and said there were “very fine people” on both sides. That caused consternation among his Jewish advisers, including reportedly his daughter Ivanka Trump, his top economic adviser Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and David Shulkin, the secretary of veteran affairs. It also earned widespread condemnation from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and from Jewish groups.

Trump later seemed to withdraw from that posture and his spokeswoman said this week he looked forward to signing a congressional resolution squarely blaming the white supremacists for the Charlottesville violence.

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Jan. 28. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Trump to hold annual High Holy Days call with rabbis


President Donald Trump will hold a pre-High Holy Days, conference call on Friday with Synagogue Rabbis despite a boycott from rabbis who belong to the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“In commemoration of the Jewish High Holy Days, President Donald J. Trump would like to invite you to a conference call where he will send well wishes for the upcoming holidays and discuss his administration’s progress on issues of interest to the Jewish community,” the email invitation, obtained by Jewish Insider, reads. “We hope that you will accept our invitation to join this exciting call as the Jewish people welcome 5778 and reflect on the past year.”

The tradition started during the 2008 presidential campaign. It became an annual practice, with the participation of several hundred rabbis and Jewish leaders, during Barack Obama’s presidency. While the call was billed as a non-partisan briefing, President Obama often used the call to pitch and seek support for his administration’s domestic and foreign policy decisions, such as ObamacareMiddle East peace, and the Iran nuclear deal. In George W. Bush’s administration, similar conference calls took place but usually with a broad range of Jewish leaders and senior administration officials, according to an official who helped organize the briefings.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, Trump’s inauguration rabbi who criticized the President over his response to the Charlottesville protests, confirmed to Jewish Insider that he was invited to participate on the call. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan who oversaw Ivanka Trump’s conversion to Judaism, did not receive an invite. “But if I were, I would dial in, out of respect for the President of the US,” Lookstein told Jewish Insider in an email.

Graham Roth, Communications Director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said the initial boycott decided upon following Trump’s remarks on the Charlottesville protest still stands. “Our position has not changed. Reform rabbis, along with Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis, decided to forgo hosting the annualHigh Holy Day call with the President this year,” he said. “This was not a decision made lightly, but the President’s lack of moral leadership in the wake of Charlottesville made it necessary.”

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