Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader, at the AIPAC policy conference, March 28, 2017. Photo courtesy of AIPAC.

Party leaders offer partisan shots at AIPAC conference


Democratic and Republican congressional leaders tussled on the AIPAC stage on the final day of its policy conference over which party’s prescriptions were better for Israel.

The display of partisanship on Tuesday morning, hours before pro-Israel activists headed to the Capitol to lobby for their issues, was an extraordinary moment for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where bipartisan comity has always been a paramount aim.

Equally as extraordinary, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read aloud a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reaffirm support for the two-state solution signed virtually only by Democrats – and drafted by AIPAC’s rival, J Street, the Jewish Middle East policy group.

The partisan splits illustrated the struggles of the lobbying giant as it seeks to reconcile increasingly divided notions of what it means to be pro-Israel. Traditionally, the final day of the conference features leaders of both parties saying that if they agree on little else, they agree on how to be pro-Israel — through working with AIPAC.

But the opening speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a jeremiad against the policies of former President Barack Obama that the Senate majority leader said had left the U.S.-Israel alliance frayed and Israel less secure.

“We’ve got to rebuild our partnerships,” McConnell said. “The past eight years gave witness to a serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships all across the globe.”

He said the Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, had emboldened Iran, in part because Obama’s preoccupation with preserving the pact diminished the will to confront the Islamic Republic.

McConnell said Iran needed concrete examples of how it would be penalized if it launched a weaponized nuclear program, and pledged to lead Congress in an authorization of force in that instance.

He also pitched President Donald Trump’s proposal to increase the military budget, although the Kentucky lawmaker did not address one of AIPAC’s three legislative asks — namely sustaining the budget for overall foreign assistance against Trump’s proposal to slash it by nearly a third.

AIPAC has long argued that assistance to Israel, which Trump wants to maintain at current levels, should never be separated from foreign assistance. Foreign assistance is a positive way to project U.S. power, the lobby says, and helps open doors for Israel in countries that might otherwise be wary of ties with the Jewish state.

Calls to sustain that assistance were central to the speeches of the Democratic leaders who spoke: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, and Pelosi, the House minority leader.

Pelosi cast support for foreign assistance as fulfilling a responsibility to Israel.

“A strong America in the world is good for Israel,” she said. “I fiercely oppose proposals that would slash our State Department funding by 28 percent.”

Both Democrats took shots at Trump’s alliance with leaders of the far right, including his appointment of Stephen Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart News, which he himself called a “platform” for the alt- or anti-establishment right.

Schumer’s barbs aimed at Trump were implied.

“There are some who would retreat from the world stage,” he said. “They even borrow from Charles Lindbergh.”

The aviator led the World War II-era anti-Semitic America First movement; Trump has embraced “America First” as one of his slogans.

Schumer joined a multitude of speakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who decried the Obama administration’s decision in its final days to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlements.

“The United States should have vetoed Resolution 2334 in December and it should never use the United Nations as a forum to put pressure on Israel for any kind of agreement,” he said to thunderous applause.

But where Schumer was uncharacteristically restrained in criticizing the new administration and defending the past one, Pelosi was robust. She decried Trump’s “presidential campaign with hate speech that went unchallenged, an atmosphere that emboldened anti-Semites to desecrate Jewish cemeteries, white supremacists that feel emboldened and connected to the White House.”

Pelosi, like other Democrats who spoke throughout the conference, emphasized two states as the preferred outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Republicans pulled support for two states from their platform last year, and Trump earlier this year said he was agnostic on the issue, ending 15 years of U.S. policy favoring the solution.

But Pelosi took it a step further, taking out her phone to read out loud a letter sent last week asking Trump to reaffirm U.S. support for two states, emphasizing twice that the vast majority – 189 of its 191 signatories — were Democrats.

What she left unmentioned was that J Street drafted and lobbied for the letter; AIPAC did not have a position on it.

“I wanted you to hear it as written, not out of context. I wanted to read it to you in the spirit of strong support for a Jewish, secure and democratic Israel,” Pelosi said, borrowing rhetoric J Street might easily use. “An Israel that recognizes the dignity and security of the Israelis and Palestinians.”

That line earned her moderate applause.

AIPAC has been trying, after years of its own tensions with the Obama administration, to reassert its bipartisan profile and hold on to the ground between  pro-Israel groups that appear to gravitate to the Democrats (J Street) or Republicans (the Zionist Organization of America).

Its three legislative asks, while crafted to earn support from both parties, do not include mention of two states. (All speakers endorsed the legislative agenda, which in addition to sustaining foreign aid backed bills that would add non-nuclear sanctions on Iran and impose fines on businesses for cooperating with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.)

The two-state notion persists in AIPAC policy. Its executive director, Howard Kohr, on Sunday evening envisioned “a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

But it is nowhere near front and center as it is with other centrist Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, each alarmed by erosion for support for the outcome among Republicans in the United States as well as in Israel’s government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who leads the Union for Reform Judaism and was at the conference, said failing to robustly defend two states undercut AIPAC’s mission to combat BDS.

“Without a strong commitment to two states, it’s pretty hard to work on BDS,” he said. “The only way you fight BDS” on campuses and in churches “is to say it is undermining the two-state solution.”

Calendar: March 24-30, 2017


SAT | MARCH 25

KENNY ARONOFF & FRIENDS

Kenny Aronoff & Friends will perform two sets in their long-awaited return to The Baked Potato stage. The trio features Aronoff (who has played with John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge and John Fogerty) on drums, James LoMenzo (Megadeth, White Lion, David Lee Roth) on bass and vocals, and Brent Woods (KISS, Sebastian Bach, Vince Neil) on guitar and vocals.  9:30 p.m., $30; 11:30 p.m., $25. The Baked Potato, 3787 Cahuenga Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-1615. thebakedpotato.com.

“ISRAEL AND SYRIA: WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW”

Andrew J. Tabler, the Martin J. Gross Fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute, will discuss the dynamics of Syria and how it affects Israel, the broader Middle East and the United States. Tabler, who has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, PBS and NPR, is the author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle With Syria.” Co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal. 9:30 a.m. Shabbat service; 11:30 a.m. lecture. Free. Limited seating; RSVP at info@beverlyhilllsjc.org. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246.

SUN | MARCH 26

“STREIT’S: MATZO AND THE AMERICAN DREAM”

For five generations, the Streit family business has held strong to Jewish tradition, but even these New Yorkers are not immune to the challenges that small businesses face. Come see the tradition and resilience surrounding this Lower East Side matzo factory in the documentary directed by Michael Levine. 2 p.m. $10; $6 for students; free for members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 400-4500. skirball.org.

“UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME”

Leaders of the Islamic Center of Reseda will answer visitors’ questions, such as: What are the core Islamic values? How do Muslims feel about Jews? Does Islamic theology drive ISIS? Hear about this and more at the Temple Etz Chaim Men’s Club Sunday Brunch. 10:30 a.m. $10; $8 for club members. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891. templeetzchaim.org.

“THE SEVEN QUESTIONS YOU’RE ASKED IN HEAVEN”

cal-wolfsonRon Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education in the Graduate Center for Jewish Education at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, will discuss “The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven: Reviewing and Renewing Your Life on Earth.” Wolfson’s books include “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community” and “The Best Boy in the United States of America.” 10 a.m. brunch; lecture to follow. Free. RSVP to Kehillat Ma’arav. 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

THE PERSIAN PASSOVER RITUAL

Shirin Raban, an award-winning designer, cine-ethnographer and educator, and Saba Soomekh, associate director of research at UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, will talk about Persian Passover ritual. 4 p.m. Free. RSVP required. USC Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. usc.edu/esvp.

“THE INNER WORLD OF IILSE KLEINMAN”

Join the opening reception for “The Inner World of Ilse Kleinman: Reflections on Oppression,” featuring a presentation by the artist’s son, Dennis Kleinman, and remarks by art psychotherapist Dr. Esther Dreifus-Kattan. The artist and her parents fled Berlin in 1933 and settled in South Africa as the country was facing the rise of apartheid. Kleinman’s art features Holocaust- and apartheid-related motifs. 2 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

EMAN EL-HUSSEINI and JESS SALOMON

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Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini

Stand-up comedians Eman El-Husseini and her wife, Jess Salomon — one Palestinian and one Jewish — will perform. They will be introduced by comedian Noël Elgrably. Food and drinks will be available. 7 p.m. $15. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. themarkaz.org.

JEWISH ABILITIES CENTER BENEFITS WORKSHOP

This Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center workshop will focus on “Working While Receiving Benefits.” Jerri Ward, who specializes in Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security with Disability Rights in California, will lead the program and cover topics such as Social Security’s calculation of income, “substantial gainful activity,” a nine-month “trial work period,” work incentives, and contribution of Medicare and Medi-Cal. 6:30 p.m. Free; RSVP required. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Goldman Center Rooms A&B, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. jewishla.org.

MON | MARCH 27

SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER CO-FOUNDER SPEAKS

Joseph J. Levin Jr., co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will discuss the history of the organization’s work, then talk about the current landscape of crimes, anti-Semitism and the pursuit of justice on behalf of vulnerable communities. Q-and-A to follow. 7 p.m. wine and cheese; 7:30 p.m. lecture. RSVP at Temple Isaiah. 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. templeisaiah.com.

TUES | MARCH 28

WORDS, WIT AND WISDOM

Brandeis San Fernando Valley Chapter presents lunch and a presentation by three authors — Gina Nahai, Carole Bayer Sager and Jonathan Shapiro — followed by a Q-and-A. The session will be moderated by Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. Book purchases and signing available. 10 a.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. brandeissfv.org.

WED | MARCH 29

“BEING JEWISH ON THE COLLEGE CAMPUS”

Harkham GAON Academy welcomes all Los Angeles high school students and their parents to an event focusing on learning Passover-related topics that can be shared at the Passover seder, as well as general information about Judaism on a college campus. 6:30 p.m. Harkham GAON Academy at the Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.

“HOLOCAUST ESCAPE TUNNEL”

A preview screening of the upcoming film “Holocaust Escape Tunnel” on PBS’ “Nova” (airing April 19) will be presented by the American Jewish University’s Sigi Ziering Institute with the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The film reveals the story of a lost city — Vilna, Lithuania — which for centuries was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, until the Nazis destroyed it. A team of archeologists excavating the remains of the city’s Great Synagogue uncovers a hidden escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site. A panel discussion and Q-and-A will follow the screening. Free. 7:30 p.m. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. gradassistant@aju.edu or (310) 440-1279.

MAGGIE ANTON

cal-maggie-antonMaggie Anton is the author of the “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy, “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” and its sequel, and, most recently,“Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say About You-Know-What.”  The writer, who was born in Los Angeles and still resides here, will take part in a book reading and discussion. 7 p.m. Free; donations appreciated. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 613-8444. templemenorah.org.

“ISRAEL, TRUMP, WEAPONS & THE MEDIA”

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Yaakov Katz

Jewish Journal’s Crucial Conversations, in partnership with Modern Minds on Jewish Matters, presents Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and co-author of “The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower,” in conversation with TRIBE Media Corp. President David Suissa. 7:30 p.m. $10 in advance. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911. bethjacob.org.

THURS | MARCH 30

“COMPETING VISIONS FOR ISRAEL”

Jewish settlers and J Street experience their fair share of demonization in the Jewish community and beyond. Both desire a secure Jewish future for the State of Israel — and Jews worldwide — amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but their vision for the path to that objective could not be more divergent. What happens when we stop paying attention solely to those who agree with us and listen to the other side? Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills will address this and other topics in the third of its Behrendt Conversation Series, “Competing Visions for Israel: J Street and a Settler in Conversation,” with Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, and Alan Elsner, special adviser to the president of J Street (see their op-ed pieces on Page 12). 7 p.m. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way. For more information or to RSVP, go to: tebh.org/
conversations or email Events@tebh.org.

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital


Maintaining Iran sanctions, crushing BDS and ensuring aid to Israel are high on the agenda, of course.

But the overarching message at this year’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is, if you want a break from polarization, come join us.

“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told JTA about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”

That might seem a stretch following two tense years in which AIPAC faced off against the Obama administration – and by extension much of the Democratic congressional delegation – over the Iran nuclear deal.

But check out the roster of conference speakers and you can see the lobby is trying hard.

Among Congress members, for instance, there are the usual suspects, including stalwarts of the U.S.-Israel relationship like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking, and so are the leaders of each party in both chambers.

But also featured is Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a freshman who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who had his request for a satellite feed at last year’s conference turned down. Also present this year and absent last year, for the most part: Democrats who backed the Iran deal.

Among the other speakers are Obama administration architects and defenders of the nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

One striking example is Rob Malley, a National Security Council official who didn’t join President Barack Obama’s team until his second term in part because pro-Israel objections kept him out in the first four years. (Malley, a peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton, had committed the heresy of insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians were to blame for the collapse of talks in 2000.)

If there’s a let-bygones-be-bygones flavor to all this, it results in part from anxieties pervading the Jewish organizational world about polarization in the era of Trump. Jewish groups get their most consequential policy work done lining up backers from both parties.

“We continue to very much believe in the bipartisan model because it is the only way to get things done,” said the official, who like AIPAC officials are wont to do, requested anonymity. “This is the one gathering where D’s and R’s come together for high purpose.”

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, demonstrated at its own policy conference last month that it was only too happy to lead the resistance to President Donald Trump, who has appalled the liberal Jewish majority with his broadsides against minorities and his isolationism. J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explicitly said he was ready to step in now where AIPAC would not.

AIPAC is also under fire from the right. Republican Jews who consider the lobby’s bipartisanship a bane rather than a boon were behind the party platform’s retreat last year from explicit endorsement of the two-state solution. More recently, Trump has also marked such a retreat, at least rhetorically.

The Israeli American Council, principally backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who in 2007 fell out with AIPAC in part over its embrace of the two-state outcome, has attempted to position itself as the more conservative-friendly Israel lobby. The right-leaning Christians United for Israel is similarly assuming a higher profile on the Hill.

And so, in forging its legislative agenda, AIPAC is doing its best to find items both parties can get behind. There are three areas:

* Iran: Democrats are still resisting legislation that would undo the nuclear deal, but are ready to countenance more narrowly targeted sanctions. AIPAC is helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region.

* Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: AIPAC will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

* Foreign assistance: AIPAC activists will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion). Support for such aid is a given, despite deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs in  Trump’s budget proposal.

Also a given will be the activists’ insistence that aid to Israel should not exist in a vacuum and should be accompanied by a robust continuation of U.S. aid to other countries. With a Trump administration pledged to slashing foreign assistance by a third and wiping out whole programs, AIPAC is returning to a posture unfamiliar since the early 1990s, when it stood up to a central plank of a Republican president.

Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.

AIPAC’s respect for Israeli voters


The theme of this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference — “Many Voices, One Mission” — speaks to the importance the Israel lobby group places on attracting a plurality of voices. This focus on bipartisanship has long been AIPAC’s bread and butter. By being sensitive to the democratic choices of Israeli voters, whether on the left or the right, AIPAC always had what looked like a reasonable and fail-safe strategy.

Indeed, for many years, that approach worked to strengthen AIPAC’s bipartisan image. When Israel was led by aggressive peacemakers, AIPAC could appeal to liberals, and when it was led by hawks, AIPAC could appeal to the right. Generally speaking, as Israel went, AIPAC went.

The problem for AIPAC is that about 15 years ago, after the failure of Camp David II and the ensuing Second Intifada, Israel went right and hasn’t looked back. Israeli voters, for better or for worse, lost faith in the “peace first” approach and fell back on “security first.”

This shift was reinforced by Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. The typical Israeli reaction was: “We called their bluff and gave them land and all we got was war.” As a result, the Israeli peace camp lost much of its credibility. Long gone were the days when the world media would cover Israeli prime ministers like Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert busily engaging in peace talks.

Those talks may have failed, but they provided good optics for AIPAC, as it enabled the group to connect with peace-obsessed American liberals. In recent years, however, behind a right-wing government that has failed to generate any peace momentum, AIPAC has found it harder to maintain that connection. J Street, which feels no obligation to respect the choices of Israeli voters, has happily exploited that gap.

The fact that AIPAC honors that core Israeli reality is an asset, not a liability.

AIPAC is faced with a tough balancing act. Although it has taken heat from some Jews on the right who feel it doesn’t go far enough, its biggest challenge is to maintain a connection with the new generation of liberal American Jews.

This challenge is magnified by the fact
 that American liberal Jews and Israeli Jews in general are going in opposite directions. While the peace camp may have shrunk in Israel, in America it is louder than ever. Liberal Jews not only idolize peace but they place most of the blame for its absence on Israel. They may be overly simplistic and idealistic, but their presence is real and growing.

So, is there a chance for AIPAC to attract more of these J Street Jews?

Only if it can create a deeper empathy for Israeli voters. It’s one thing to develop your political views while sipping cappuccinos
 on the Upper West Side or in Beverly Hills; it’s another to develop those views while calculating the 15-second distance to a bomb shelter in Sderot or Haifa. The fact that AIPAC honors that core Israeli reality is an asset, not a liability.

At this year’s conference, AIPAC will showcase what it calls “the various communities that shape and define our broad, bipartisan movement.” In my mind, the community that most shapes and defines AIPAC is the broad plurality of Israeli voters who are torn between the dream of peace and the reality of war.

In his keynote address at the 2016 AJC Global Forum, my friend and frequent AIPAC speaker Yossi Klein Halevi captured that dilemma:

“We face vexing challenges we could not have imagined in 1967. How can Israel safely extricate itself from the wrenching dilemma of ruling another people? A majority of Israelis know we must end that occupation — now approaching its 50th year — but fear the absence of a credible partner for a durable peace.

“Much of the international community trivializes our dilemma by insisting that Israel’s choice is between occupation and peace — ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism and a poisoned educational system that teaches Palestinian children to hate Israel and deny any Jewish connection to the land.

“Israel’s critics all but ignore the terrorist groups on our borders — Hezbollah and Hamas and Islamic State and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — and speak of solving the Palestinian conflict as though Israel were an island in the South Pacific.”

AIPAC understands that Israel is not an island in the South Pacific, because it has always stayed connected to the complicated reality and hard choices of Israeli voters. Those voters live on the front lines, and if you ask me, 
it is their voices that American Jews of the left and right should hear first.

An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

ZOA endorses Israel’s anti-BDS law


The Zionist Organization of America endorsed a new Israel law that would ban entry to supporters of boycotting Israel or its settlements, setting it apart from an array of Jewish groups who oppose the law.

“The ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ (‘BDS’) movement against Israel is unjustified, discriminatory, harmful economic terrorism, powered by virulent Jew hatred,” the ZOA said Friday in a statement.

“Israel thus has every right to protect herself with this law, which bans entry of persons who are not Israeli citizens or permanent residents if they, or the organization in which they are active, knowingly issued a public call to boycott Israel or pledged to boycott Israel or areas controlled by Israel,” the group said.

The law, adopted Monday by the Knesset, bans entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements. It has drawn mounting criticism from American Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, as well as the Reform and Reconstructionist movements. First to condemn the law were an array of left-wing Jewish groups, including J Street and the New Israel Fund.

On Friday, the Association for Israel Studies condemned the law, saying it would turn Israel into an “isolated entity open only to those who ascribe to official policy.”

The Trump administration has said that border crossings are a sovereign matter, but added that it favors free expression.

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting. March 5. Photo by Abir Sultan/REUTERS.

AJC joins US Jewish groups criticizing Israel’s anti-BDS entry law


The American Jewish Committee said it was “troubled” by a new Israeli law banning entry to foreigners who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

The AJC’s statement, released a day after the law’s passage, was the first signal from the American Jewish establishment that it was unhappy with the law. An array of American groups on the left — including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, the New Israel Fund, and T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group — condemned the law as soon as it passed.

“Every nation, of course, is entitled to regulate who can enter, and AJC, a longtime, staunch friend of Israel and opponent of the BDS movement fully sympathizes with the underlying desire to defend the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” AJC CEO David Harris, said Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, as history has amply shown throughout the democratic world, barring entry to otherwise qualified visitors on the basis of their political views will not by itself defeat BDS, nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East it is, or offer opportunities to expose them to the exciting and pulsating reality of Israel,” Harris said.

According to the final wording of the boycott bill, the ban applies to any foreigner “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott – if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” It includes those who urge limiting boycotts to areas under Israeli control, such as the West Bank settlements.

Backers of the bill say it would be used only against those active in organizations that support BDS, and would not block an individual for something she or he might once have said.

David Friedman in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Senators Van Hollen, Duckworth troubled by Friedman’s nomination


Two Senators added their concern on Tuesday regarding David Friedman’s nomination for U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, “At this moment, I do not intend to support his nomination.” The Maryland lawmaker added, “His record clearly indicates that he is not in the bipartisan tradition of seeking out the two state solution. He is much more an advocate for some kind of one state solution. I think his views are so far out of the bipartisan mainstream.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) shared a similar viewpoint with Jewish Insider. “I’m deeply concerned about his nomination. His past comments have been pretty incendiary, and I don’t think he would help with any type of movement towards reconciliation and a two state solution,” she noted.

On Thursday morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will vote on Friedman’s nomination. No date has been announced for a Senate wide vote. Senator Rand Paul — the most independent minded Republican on the SFRC — told Jewish Insider on February 15 that he is “favorably disposed” to Friedman’s candidacy. It appears likely that all of the other Republicans on the committee will back the New York attorney propelling him to a floor wide vote.

Yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)  published an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle where she described Friedman as “unfit” for the posting because of his previous support of settlements and calling J Street “worse than Kapos.”

Bernie Sanders speaking at the J Street 2017 National Conference in Washington, D.C., Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Bernie Sanders at J Street: One can be pro-Israel and rap its government


U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaking with affection of his life in Israel decades ago, told a rapturous J Street conference that one could sharply criticize the Israeli government’s policies and be pro-Israel.

Sanders, I-Vt., speaking Monday in his first Middle East policy speech since ending his bid last June for the Democratic presidential nomination, also blasted President Donald Trump for retreating from a commitment to a two-state solution and not speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism and bigotry.

Sanders’ recollection of his time in Israel was rare – he barely addressed it during his presidential run, and indeed has not been as expansive about his life on kibbutz since he first ran for Congress in 1990.

He laced his call to urge Israel to adopt more progressive policies with appeals to progressives to embrace Israel as a Jewish homeland.

“Now, as many of you know, I have a connection to the State of Israel going back many years,” Sanders said, addressing the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group’s annual conference.

“In 1963, I lived on a kibbutz near Haifa,” he said. “It was there that I saw and experienced for myself many of the progressive values upon which the State of Israel was founded. I think it is very important for everyone, but particularly for progressives, to acknowledge the enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution, and particularly after the horror of the Holocaust.”

Sanders said that recognizing the ensuing Palestinian suffering should not diminish support for Israel.

“But as you all know, there was another side to the story of Israel’s creation, a more painful side,” he said. “Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees. To acknowledge this painful historical fact does not ‘delegitimize’ Israel, any more than acknowledging the Trail of Tears delegitimizes the United States of America.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made combating “delegitimization” of Israel a central plank of Israeli diplomacy, and Sanders said opposing Netanyahu did not amount to being anti-Israel.

“We can oppose the policies of President Trump without being anti-American,” he said. “We can oppose the policies of Netanyahu without being anti-Israel. We can oppose the policies of Islamic extremism without being anti-Muslim.”

Explicitly citing a need to oppose Islamic extremism also sets Sanders apart from some other progressives, who fear singling out Muslim extremism fuels anti-Muslim bigotry.

Sanders began his speech by slamming Trump for what he said was his failure to address the spike in anti-Semitic and other bias incidents since his election.

“When we see violent and verbal racist attacks against minorities – whether they are African-Americans, Jews, Muslims in this country, immigrants in this country, or the LGBT community, these attacks must be condemned at the highest levels of our government,” he said.

“It was rather extraordinary that in the White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, the murder of 6 million Jews was not mentioned by the Trump administration,” Sanders said, referring to a controversy still brewing. “I hope very much that President Trump and his political adviser Mr. [Stephen] Bannon understand that the world is watching. It is imperative that their voices be loud and clear in condemning anti-Semitism, violent attacks against immigrants in this country, including the murder of two young men from India, and all forms of bigotry here and around the world.”

He also faulted Trump for retreating earlier this month in a meeting with Netanyahu from the U.S. commitment since 2002 to a two-state solution.

David Friedman in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Jewish Federations chairman endorses David Friedman for Israel envoy


The chairman of the Jewish Federations of North America endorsed David Friedman, President Donald Trump’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel.

“I believe he’s a very intelligent individual, and I think he’ll be a good representative if he is confirmed,” Richard Sandler, chair of the board of trustees of the major umbrella group said Sunday during a meeting of the Jewish Agency board of governors in Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported. “My expectations of him are very positive,” added Sandler, who said he had met Friedman on several occasions.

[J Street’s goal: Isolate Ambassador Friedman]

Sandler also said he was impressed with Friedman’s knowledge about Israel and its relationship with the United States.

Friedman has been a controversial choice for the position, which serves in part as a liaison between American Jewry and Israel.

He serves as president of American Friends of Bet El Institutions, which supports a large West Bank settlement. He has expressed skepticism about the two-state solution and harsh criticism of left-wing pro-Israel groups in a series of op-eds in Arutz Sheva, a news website serving Israel’s settlement movement, including calling J Street supporters “kapos.”

During his confirmation hearings last week Friedman said there was “no excuse” for his past rhetoric targeting liberal Jews.

“Obviously he made certain comments before he knew he was going to be vetted for the position of ambassador, but I thought he explained himself very well during the Senate hearings,” Sandler told the Jewish Agency meeting.

He also defended Trump, saying he thought that liberal Jewish Americans underestimate him and his desire to make peace in the region.

“I think he is probably more knowledgeable than some people think on a number of topics, and I think he’s serious about wanting to find a solution here, Sandler said. “I’m sure that whatever policies he and those around him decide are the right ones Mr. Friedman will reflect when he is here.”

David Friedman in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 16. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

J Street’s goal: Isolate Ambassador Friedman


Opponents of the Trump administration’s choice for U.S. Ambassador to Israel conceded on Monday that the campaign against David Friedman will not lead to their desired outcome, given the Republican majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, leaders of J Street and its supporters stressed that the ultimate goal is to challenge the administration on Israeli-Palestinian issues and isolate Friedman from the White House decision making process.

“I do expect a roughly party-line vote in the committee. I also acknowledge that there’s very little precedent for a nominee being struck down in an actual floor vote,” Dylan Williams, Vice President of Government Affairs for J Street, told Jewish Insider at the J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C. “With that in mind, it’s important to realize that a large part of this fight is about where this administration should take U.S. policy with respect to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

According to Williams, Friedman’s longheld views on the issues are looming over the battle going on between the national security establishment and President Trump’s close advisors over what the administration’s policy should be on the two-state solution. If the outcome of the campaign against Friedman would result in diminishing his influence on policy, Williams declared “we would see that as a victory.”

Earlier on Monday, Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, suggested that Friedman’s influence on the Administration’s policy is being exaggerated. “He’s going to be in Jerusalem, he’s not going to be in Washington,” Indyk said during a panel moderated by NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman. “He is not going to be in the White House. His ability to actually influence policy when his job is to implement policy shouldn’t be exaggerated.”

Alon Pinkas, former Israeli Consul General to New York, echoed the same sentiment during a panel on Sunday. “Friedman is not going to drive policy. He is going to do what he is being told,” said Pinkas. “It is along the lines of the changing role of the Ambassador.”

In response to a reporter’s question if J Street has adopted an excessively negative campaign against Friedman, Williams replied: “The thrust of our campaign about Mr. Friedman has been using his own words. To the extent that anyone views the tone as unpleasant or confrontational, it is the words of Mr. Friedman that they are having a visceral reaction to.”

David Friedman testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel on Feb. 16. Photo By Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Trump’s Israel envoy pick David Friedman: ‘No excuse’ for past rhetoric on liberal Jews


David Friedman at the launch of U.S. Senate hearings to confirm him as ambassador to Israel said there was “no excuse” for his past rhetoric targeting liberal Jews.

In his opening remarks, Friedman said his attacks were “partisan rhetoric” during a heated presidential election campaign. Friedman is Trump’s longtime lawyer and was a key surrogate to the Jewish community during the campaign.

He called the liberal Middle East policy group J Street “kapos” and the Anti-Defamation League “morons.” He also likened Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Adolf Hitler.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member of the Foreign Relations committee, which must approve Friedman to advance his nomination to the full Senate, said the terms seemed to go beyond partisan rhetoric.

Cardin said he and Friedman had in common that “our parents were proud Zionists who worked and did everything they could in support for the State of Israel.” But noting his father was the president of a synagogue – Friedman’s was a rabbi – Cardin added, “My father taught me to respect different views.”

The Maryland lawmaker also noted that some of Friedman’s statements – particularly his attack on Schumer, made during the heat of the battle over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – came before the campaign and in many cases were written comments.

“I’m having difficulty understanding your use of those descriptions and whether you really can be a diplomat,” Cardin said.

Friedman appeared chastened.

“I provided some context for my remarks, but that was not in the nature of an excuse,” he said. “These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them. They’re not reflective of my nature and character.”

Cardin also pressed Friedman about past statements that appeared to oppose a two-state solution addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and noted his backing for settlements, including some deep inside the West Bank.

Friedman replied that he had been skeptical of a two-state solution, but would welcome any solution arrived at by the Israelis and Palestinians that ended suffering for both peoples.

Protesters interrupted the hearings at least three times, including by a contingent from the Jewish protest group If Not Now who sang as they were ejected “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” “Build a world of kindness.”

David Friedman in New York City on June 21, 2016. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

The case against David Friedman


Who ever thought that the savior of the Jews would be Rand Paul?

The libertarian Republican senator from Kentucky may just end up casting the decisive vote in the confirmation of David Friedman to be the United States ambassador to Israel. If Paul joins with the Democrats on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, President Donald Trump’s pick would find his ascension to the high profile and sensitive job blocked.

Senator Paul, do it.  For our sake.

Here’s my pitch: Within reason, presidents have the right to choose their representatives.  Ambassadors don’t make policy, they help communicate or enact it.  As Trump’s longtime bankruptcy lawyer, Friedman is more than qualified to do Trump’s bidding– assuming he can figure out what that is.

During his campaign, Trump came out very strongly for moving the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for supporting the current government’s settlement policies and for ripping up the Iran nuclear deal.

Those are all positions that garnered Trump ardent support from a minority of Jews. And they are positions that Friedman, who has served Trump as his personal lawyer, holds as well. Friedman is an ardent supporter of Israel’s settlement enterprise. He has donated money to help build at least one of them. He speaks Hebrew and has a home in Jerusalem, where he said he will conduct official business. He also despises the Iran deal.

But now President Trump no longer seems as keen on any of these promises as Candidate Trump. In fact, over the past three weeks, Trump has completely walked back or broken them all. After a brief meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, he decided to go very, very slowly on moving the embassy. As for settlements, in a Feb. 9 interview with Israel Hayom newspaper, Trump said, “Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace.”

Wait, no. President Barack Obama said that in a 2013 speech. Here’s what Trump actually said to Israel Hayom: “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

Anyway, same difference.

On the Iran deal, Trump ate a lavish meal of hot, roasted crow. Last week, The Wall Street Journal headlined the fact that Trump administration officials are “Committed to Keeping the Iranian Deal Alive.” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), once among the deal’s most outspoken critics, echoed his boss, I mean, the president, saying it appears to be working.

All these reality checks will no doubt lead to some challenging questions for Friedman as he appears before the committee beginning Feb. 16.  He will have to serve up a more thoughtful, realistic and nuanced view of U.S. policy in the Middle East than the stories Trump told his eager and, alas, most gullible Jewish supporters.

But wherever Trump– or Friedman — stands on these positions isn’t why I want Sen. Paul to vote against him. The fact that he is a diplomatic neophyte in an extremely complex region might give some people pause, but not me.  He certainly won’t be the least qualified person the president has selected, and as we now know, he is far from the most compromised.

The reason I’m hoping the committee’s hawkish Democrats and Paul vote against Friedman has less to do with Israel, and more with the Jews.

During the election, Friedman referred to the pro-Israel peace organization J Street as “kapos” and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “morons.” When Jewish groups expressed outrage, Friedman doubled down. On a right-wing website, he answered whether he could possibly equate Jews who support a two-state approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with Jews who collaborated with Nazis to kill their fellow Jews.

“The answer,” Friedman wrote, “actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos — Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”

To my ears, those sentences disqualify Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel.

As I’ve written before, a plurality of American Jews support a two-state approach. This doesn’t necessarily translate into support for J Street. You can support two states and still disagree with J Street’s strategy or its positions on other issues. But in any case, Friedman is drawing a battle line and damning, in the most vicious and undiplomatic way, a significant portion of American Jewry.

What Friedman said is bad for Israel, which has long depended on broad support among American Jewry to ensure bipartisan support in Congress. And it’s bad — really bad — for the American-Jewish community. As much as the ambassador represents the U.S. to Israel, he or she also serves as one of the most high-profile leaders of American Jewry.  There are not so many of us that we can afford leaders who denigrate and write off entire portions of this community, who stoke enmity and inflame hatred.

After this column went to press for the Jewish Journal print edition, various web sites reported that Friedman, in a private meeting with the New York Board of Rabbis, apologized for his “kapo” comments.  He will have to do so sincerely, and publicly, before that apology is accepted.

Israel will survive David Friedman; American Jewry, I’m not so sure. Sen. Paul, strange as it seems, we’re looking to you.

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

President Donald Trump's candidate for ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Photo taken in June 2016 by Mike Segar/REUTERS.

Letters from rabbis, Holocaust survivors decry Trump Israel envoy pick David Friedman


Letters to the Senate from hundreds of rabbis, and dozens of Holocaust survivors and scholars say the abuse of the term “kapo” by President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, should be a factor in considering his confirmation.

An array of liberal Jewish groups organized three separate letters this week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: one each from rabbis and cantors, from Holocaust survivors and from Holocaust scholars. The letters will be delivered to senators on the committee before Friedman’s confirmation hearing commences Thursday.

The letters from the rabbis and the cantors, which has accrued more than 600 signatures from clergy of all streams, and from 31 Holocaust survivors urge the committee to reject Friedman.

The 29 Holocaust scholars – including a handful not based in the United States – in their letter stop short of a call to reject Friedman, but say: “We hope that you will keep Mr. Friedman’s disrespectful and politically cynical use of the Holocaust in mind as you consider his nomination to serve as our ambassador to Israel.”

Each of the letters focuses principally on Friedman’s use of the term “kapo” to attack J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle Eastern policy group.

“The historical record shows that kapos were Jews whom the Nazis forced, at pain of death, to serve them in the concentration and extermination camps,” the Holocaust scholars say.

“These Jews faced terrible dilemmas, but ultimately were made into unwilling tools of Nazi brutality. To brand one’s political opponents, members of one’s own community, as kapos, merely for engaging in legitimate debate, is historically indefensible and is a deeply disturbing example of the abuse of the Holocaust and its victims for present political gain.”

The survivors call Friedman’s use of the term “slanderous, insulting, irresponsible, cynical and immensely damaging to our people.”

The rabbis call it the “very antithesis of the diplomatic behavior Americans expect from their ambassadors” and also focus on Friedman’s long association with the settlement movement, including major donations.

“We are very concerned that rather than try to represent the U.S. as an advocate for peace, Mr. Friedman will seek to mold American policy in line with his extreme ideology,” their letter says.

Friedman is a longtime friend and lawyer to Trump.

Organizing the push to persuade the Senate to block his confirmation are J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, the National Council of Jewish Women, the New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel and T’ruah, a rabbinical human rights group.

Partners for Progressive Israel, a group affiliated with leftist Zionist parties in Israel, urged its activists on Monday to call senators and voice their opposition to Friedman.

Christians United for Israel ran a full-page ad in the Capitol Hill daily, The Hill, on Tuesday urging Friedman’s confirmation and was set to run a similar one on Wednesday in the Washington Post.

“The only serious complaint about Friedman is that some disagree with him on policy,” said the ad.

“They don’t like his support for Jewish communities in the West Bank. They object to his skepticism towards a two-state solution,” it said. “But agree or not – these views are far from extreme. Friedman’s positions represent those of a significant and growing percentage of Israelis and Americans.”

Palestinian statehood: An idea whose time has passed


J Street is worried. It sees its cherished dream of a Palestinian state slipping away.

J Street recently sent a letter to its supporters in which it complained that the Republican Party left Palestinian statehood out of its platform this year, and that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee reportedly left the issue out of a talking points sheet that it recently distributed.

Here’s another reason for J Street to worry. Speaking Dec. 4 at the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, Knesset Member Michael Oren said that the election of Donald Trump “spells the end of the two-state solution.” Oren is not some extremist. He is the widely respected former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., a representative of the moderate Kulanu Party, and himself a supporter of Palestinian statehood (with certain limitations).

It’s time to read the writing on the wall: Palestinian statehood is an idea whose time has passed.

It’s not as if creating a Palestinian state is some kind of cherished principle that has been recognized and supported by everybody since time immemorial. In fact, it’s a very recent proposal, and has always been fraught with problems.

There have been 12 American presidents since 1948. Only two (George W. Bush and Barack Obama) advocated creating a Palestinian state. Official U.S. policy has favored Palestinian statehood during only 16 of the 68 years since Israel was founded.

I’m not including those who advocated Palestinian statehood after they left office, namely Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. When presidents are in office, they need to deal with the real world, which is why a cockamamie idea like creating a Palestinian state has never come to fruition. Once presidents no longer have to deal with real-world consequences, they feel free to advocate any irresponsible policy that suits their post-presidential convenience. 

There have been 12 different Israeli prime ministers since the Jewish state was established in 1948. Only two of them (Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert) advocated creating a Palestinian state. I’m not including Benjamin Netanyahu, because his concept of a fully demilitarized “Palestine” that accepts Israel as a Jewish state is so far removed from what the Palestinians and their supporters demand that his position is really only hypothetical.

There have always been two arguments in favor of creating a Palestinian state. Neither of them has withstood the test of time.

The first was that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Arabs had given up their goal of destroying Israel and had forsaken terrorism. According to this argument, they had changed their ways, so they could be trusted with their own state in Israel’s backyard.

This argument faced two major tests, and failed both times. President George H.W. Bush accepted this argument shortly after his election in 1988, and recognized Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Eighteen months later, when a major PLO faction tried to attack Israeli beachgoers in Tel Aviv and the nearby U.S. embassy, Bush realized he had been wrong and ended his relationship with Arafat. Then the U.S. recognized Arafat and the PLO a second time, after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. That blew up when Arafat tried to smuggle 50 tons of weapons into Gaza on the motor vessel Karine A in 2002.

The second argument for a Palestinian state was what became known as the “demographic time bomb” — the allegation that because of the high Arab birthrate, Israel will need to agree to a Palestinian state or it will become an apartheid-like ruler over the Palestinians. Yitzhak Rabin resolved that problem. In 1995, he withdrew Israel’s forces from the cities where 98 percent of the Palestinians reside. Now, they are residents of the Palestinian Authority, and they vote in Palestinian elections. They will never be Israeli citizens, will never vote in Israeli elections and will never threaten Israel’s Jewish demographic majority.

So Arafat settled the first debate. And Rabin settled the second debate. The debates are over. It is now plain as day that the Palestinians have not given up terrorism or forsaken their goal of destroying Israel, and would use a Palestinian state to advance that goal.

There may be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in our generation; not all international conflicts have solutions. One thing has now become clear: A Palestinian state next to Israel is not the solution. 


Stephen M. Flatow, a New Jersey attorney, is vice president of the Religious Zionists of America and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 1995. 

Foxman: Friedman’s comments on ADL, J Street are ‘unacceptable’


This story originally appeared on “>described as “worse than Kapos,” and for

Trump’s ambassador to Israel on ADL: ‘They’re morons’


This story originally appeared on “>interview with Jewish Insider on the eve of the election, Friedman referred to leaders of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “morons” for condemning Trump’s campaign rhetoric and commercials that were perceived as dog-whistles to his anti-Semitic supporters.

“People talk about dog-whistles and about Trump with dog-whistles,” Friedman said in a wide-ranging interview. “As soon as Jonathan Greenblatt accused Trump of somehow being anti-Semitic, what did we hear next? We heard this clown from Minnesota, [Senator] Al Franken, who should go back to his career as a comedian. (Franken

If J Streeters are ‘kapos,’ so are half of all Israelis


David Friedman, the man President-elect Donald Trump just selected to be the next United States Ambassador to Israel, has pre-offended a good chunk of American Jewry by referring to the supporters of the liberal Zionist group J Street as “kapos.”

Kapos were the Jews forced or designated by the Nazis to help kill other Jews during the Holocaust.  It’s about the lowest thing you can call a fellow Jew. But then, in a column in a right-wing newspaper, Friedman doubled down.

J Street supporters, he wrote, are actually “worse than kapos.”

“The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one?” Friedman wrote. “But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas — it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”

J Street is a pro-Zionist lobbying group that promotes a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. For some observant Jews, the very idea of giving back the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank, is anathema. For a minority of American Jews, religious or not, territorial compromise with the Palestinians solution is a recipe for the destruction of Israel. 

Even so, I’m not sure the majority of Jews who oppose compromise would call J Street supporters “kapos,” since many of those supporters are their own sons, daughters and friends.

But putting aside the coarseness of the term, there’s another reason it is, on the face of it, wrong-headed: because almost half or more of all Israelis support the J Street agenda as well.

Poll after poll shows Americans, who will be paying Mr. Friedman’s salary, prefer a negotiated solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.  That’s the J Street position.

But even more striking is that Israelis, who unlike Mr. Freidman have suffered through all the terror and wars that the conflict has wrought, hold the same position.

According to the

J Street cautions Schumer on Iran deal


J Street, likely to emerge after the 2016 election as a major force within the Democratic Party, is expecting from Senator Chuck Schumer to fall in line with supporters of the Iranian nuclear deal once he assumes leadership of the Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Senate.

“Senator Schumer understands that he’s very much in the minority in his own party and he would have a strong uphill battle were he to try to do anything that would actually undermine the deal,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told Jewish Insider on Wednesday.

“In the final vote, there were only four Democratic senators who did not vote to support the deal,” he asserted. “Senator Schumer did not work hard to rally opposition. He stated his personal view on this and he voted against it, but he was also very understanding and realistic that 90 percent of his colleagues in the Democratic caucus were in favor of the deal; sided with the president, with Secretary [Hillary] Clinton] and Senator [Tim] Kaine.”

In a recent speech at the Israeli American Council National Conference in DC, Schumer “>signed a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell asking that he “prioritize” a clean extension of the Iran Sanctions Act during the Senate’s end-of-year session. The extension, as proposed by the senior Democrats, would run through 2026. “It is essential that Congress keep Iran’s feet to the fire to make sure they do not violate the JCPOA. This bill would provide the sanction authority that helps us do just that,” Schumer said in July.

According to Ben-Ami, the reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act for ten years is something J Street can live with. “It is not viewed by us as a step to undermine the deal,” he said. “That in and of itself is not evidence of an intent on part of the senator to use his potential position (as Senate Majority Leader) in a way that might undermine the deal, in the years going forward.”

On Wednesday, J Street kicked off a “>earlier this year that the group has decided to seize the opportunity to expand its control and influence within the Democratic Party after scoring a victory on the Iran deal. “We see this as a unique opportunity to go on the offense and prove that standing up for a diplomacy first approach – which has been proven to be in the best interest of the U.S. and Israel – is not just smart policy but also savvy politics,” Shnider emphasized.

The pro-peace group was “>speech at the annual J Street gala in April. “Your organization played a critical role in mustering the support at home to get that deal through the United States Congress… “Thank you, thank you, thank you for your effort. You have made the world a little bit safer.”

Promising to expand the national campaign if needed, Ben-Ami stressed, “For us, this political fight represents the second chapter in the struggle to uphold the Iran nuclear agreement—and one that is every bit as important as the initial policy win. We need now to put candidates in office not only to defend against ongoing efforts to sink the deal in Congress, but also to protect the important precedent its passage set for pro-diplomacy-first policies going forward.”

Democrats slam J Street’s ‘Pro-Trump’ campaign


Hillary Clinton’s representatives on the Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee refused to negotiate additional language on Israel with Bernie Sanders’ team, James Zogby said on Tuesday.

“Clinton’s envoys to the committee arrived in St. Louis for negotiations with Sanders’ team carrying a precise message: Don’t even try to insert language on Israel’s occupation or settlement activity in the West Bank,” The Jerusalem Post “>launched an online campaign that highlights what they called are anti-Israel voices in the Democratic Party. “Radical Democrat. Stridently anti-Israel. Hand selected to be a Member of the twenty sixteen Democrat Platform Committee,” the narrator says in three separate ads, each highlighting statements made by the three Sanders appointees. “Sadly this isn’t the old Democratic Party. It’s today’s Democratic Party.”

A J Street spokesperson declined to comment.

The Republican Jewish Coalition pounced on the divide within the Democratic Party over the issue. “It’s no secret that Democrats for years have been infighting about Israel. Now as anti-Israel progressive liberals are taking more and more space from moderate Democrats these fights are exploding into the open,” RJC spokesman Mark McNulty told Jewish Insider on Tuesday. “The RJC is proud that the GOP is unapologetically pro-Israel. We will continue to make the case to Jewish voters that now more than ever they have one home and that is with the GOP.”

J Street memo to Democrats calls for ‘balanced position’ on Israel


J Street is joining Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ push to make the party platform’s language more balanced when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group is also urging platform drafters to note that the party opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

In a petition headlined “Support Israeli security AND Palestinian rights,” J Street calls for adding language “noting concern about the expansion of settlements, which entrench the occupation and endanger peace.”

In addition, according to a report on Politico Monday, the group is circulating a memo among members of the party’s drafting committee calling for a “a balanced position” that includes recognizing Palestinian claims to eastern Jerusalem.

“The overall tone of the document should establish the party’s deep commitment to meeting the essential needs of both Israelis and Palestinians,” the June 2 memo notes.

Sanders recently sparked concerns among pro-Israel Democrats by appointing Cornel West, Rep. Keith Ellison and James Zogby, three people known for pro-Palestinian activism and criticism of Israel, to the platform drafting committee. West is a prominent BDS backer and Zogby has spoken forcefully against attempts to marginalize the movement.

The Democratic Party platform for years has favored a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but has also cast that posture on pro-Israel terms and laid the blame for the longstanding impasse mostly on the Palestinians.

Sanders, who is Jewish, has been more critical of Israel than front-runner Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state. In a campaign speech last week focused on foreign policy and security issues, Clinton said the United States has a “moral obligation” to support Israel.

Yes, there is a Jewish left on campus, and it needs to be heard


Recently, in an article for JTA, “The Missing Left: Where’s the support for liberal Zionists on campus?,” Andrew Silow-Carroll noted that “many American pro-Israel organizations and leaders ignore or ostracize liberal Zionists.” In the absence of progressive Zionist groups on campus, who should be able to both criticize and love Israel at the same time, he wrote, the Israel debate on campus is left to those who defend Israel uncritically, or who join the ranks of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

In fact, there is a large, thriving home for pro-Israel, pro-peace students on campus — and J Street is it.

Founded just six years ago, J Street U has spread to over 100 schools across the country, with over 70 full-fledged chapters. Our leaders are front and center in campus conversations about Israel, and regularly engage in debate over Israel’s future in local and national press. Last year, we hosted over 1,100 students at our national conference in Washington, D.C. We are the bridge between liberal values and support for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

I’m always surprised when I find myself in a room — be it the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America or other communal spaces — surrounded by Jewish leaders asking why there isn’t a pro-Israel left on campus. I and the other J Street U student organizers are exactly who they’re looking for. We’re leaders of a pro-Israel movement that isn’t afraid to hold its leaders accountable, that loves Israel but feels a deep urgency to end the occupation, that stands for a two-state solution and recognizes that boycotts are not an effective way to get there.

We’re loud and present at our Hillels, in our student governments and at national Jewish and pro-Israel gatherings. We are the pro-Israel left. So why do some leaders seem not to notice us?

My guess is the mainstream Jewish community doesn’t actually know what it wants from a progressive Zionist group on campus. Silow-Carroll wrote in his article that had Bernie Sanders given his speech critical of Israeli policy at the America Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in March, it “might have signaled to young liberal Zionists that the pro-Israel mainstream is at least willing to air such views, even if they don’t like them.” Having a place to “air views” is important, but it’s not why I’m in this movement and it’s not what J Street U believes will end the conflict. We believe that our support for a two-state solution and opposition to settlement expansion are mainstream positions held by the majority of American Jews, and we want our communal leadership to reflect those positions and to act on them.

But I understand that leadership is often resistant to change, hesitant to upset the status quo in which criticism of Israeli policy is anathema and in which there is little room for discussing alternate narratives. When J Street U speaks out loudly and clearly about our values, it challenges our communal leaders to look honestly at their own role in ending the conflict  — so much so that they may prefer to ignore us, rather than seriously reckon with our concerns.

Sometimes, I sense that Jewish communal leaders disapprove of my work, despite the fact that I love Israel and want to help secure its future, just as they do. Some in the community have pressed me to stop organizing for and affiliating with J Street U.

I’ve encountered enough of these sentiments to know the anger usually arises from a place of fear and uncertainty, not of genuine disagreement. Issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation are difficult and contentious, and I understand that many prefer to look away rather than deal with them directly — or to focus exclusively on the anti-Israel sentiments of the far left and ignore the chorus of important questions young pro-Israel progressives are asking.

It may seem easier to ignore J Street U and wait for another progressive, pro-Israel group to come around — one that, magically, could attract and engage thousands of young people without talking about the issues that deeply concern them. Good luck finding it.

In the meantime, J Street U exists — and we’re growing. I urge leaders of our community to come meet with us, question us and listen to us, as many have and continue to do. We are the pro-Israel, pro-peace, progressive group of young people that you have been calling for. You won’t like everything we have to say — and we certainly will have our disagreements with you. But the time has come for us to act together to help address the challenges facing Israel and our community.

Brooke Davies is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in peace, war and defense. She is the current J Street UNC chapter chair and also serves as the J Street U national communications chair.

At J Street, Emily’s List president blasts AIPAC’s papers


Emily’s List’s President Stephanie Schriock on Sunday called AIPAC’s policy papers on Israel “shocking” as she described her work on congressional campaigns, going back to the early 1990′s, during a panel, “Pundits, Pollsters & Politicos: How Will Israel Play in the 2016 Elections?,” on the first day of J Street’s National Assembly in DC.

Panelists included NPR’s Mara Liasson, Center for American Progress’ Neera Tanden, pollster Jim Gerstein, J.J. Goldberg and WH liaison Matt Nosanchuk. New York Times’ columnist Roger Cohen served as the moderator.

“I worked for candidates in the 90’s as their Finance Director,” Schriock recalled. “And I would come on a congressional race, I am a twenty something kid who also knows nothing beyond the state borders, and you thought about where you are going to go to raise the money that you needed to raise to win a race. You went to labor, you went to the choice community, and you went to the Jewish community. But before you went to the Jewish community, you had a conversation with the lead AIPAC person in your state and they made it clear that you needed a paper on Israel. And so you called all your friends who already had a paper on Israel – that was designed by AIPAC – and we made that your paper. This was before there was a campaign manager, a policy director or a field director because you have got to raise money before you do all of that.”

“I have written more Israel papers that you can imagine,” Schriock said to laughter from the crowd. “I am from Montana. I barely knew where Israel was until I looked at a map, and the poor campaign manager would come in, or the policy director, and I’d be like, ‘Here is you paper on Israel. This is our policy.’ That means that these candidates who were farmers, school teachers, or business women, ended up having an Israel position without having any significant conversations with anybody.”

“It’s astounding. And when I look back at it, it’s shocking,” she said. “Jeremy Ben-Ami and I had the great pleasure of meeting each other during the Howard Dean campaign and one of the conversations we had was, ‘Oh my gosh. Is there really only one foreign policy on this?’ Because it felt like it.”

Schriock said that now that J Street exists, she is able to brief and guide candidates, out of 50+ federal candidates every year, on issues related to Israel by presenting them the various sides on the issues. ”So when something like the Iran deal came up – early in the election cycle when we already had candidates running who were not going to take a vote but were asked for a position – there was a lot of angst over what to do, and how to handle that,” she asserted. “And these are folks who have not been briefed, do not have access to these briefings, do not have any of the information other than what they are reading in the newspaper, and it was a really trying time to help guide the candidates. As someone who has been doing this now for two decades, I realized that I have freedom as an operative and a strategist to say to some of our candidates – which I, in fact, did – is do what you feel is right here. There’s enough energy around all of it now than there used to be. If you decide to be against the deal, there are going to be folks that are going to be with you. If you’re going to be for the deal, there’s going to be folks who are going to be with you.”

Biden thanks J Street for Iran deal campaign


Vice President Joe Biden thanked J Street for its lobbying and successful campaign in support of the Iran nuclear deal last summer as he addressed the annual J Street gala in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

“You deserve great credit for the [Iran deal],” Biden said. “Your organization played a critical role in mustering the support at home to get that deal through the United States Congress. You all stood up and your voices were heard throughout the community and beyond. you made sure that the voices of those who supported Israel and supported the deal were heard. Jewish Americans across this country as well as many Israel security experts, including former top military intelligence officials in Israel, they all agreed with you.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for your effort. You have made the world a little bit safer,” the vice president said to loud applause. “And it payed off. The deal is working exactly as it should. Iran is keeping up their end of the bargain as it relates to the nuclear deal… Iran is further away from a nuclear weapon today than it was a year ago, and that’s a huge, huge step towards our security and the security of the entire region.”

According to Biden, Iran’s recent ballistic missiles activities have damaged Iran’s reputation in the world that has resulted in making the sanctions relief on trade and financial deals more complicated.

Biden also criticized Israel’s current settlement policy as he urged the Israelis and Palestinians to take “meaningful steps to reduce tension” in the Middle East region.

“I am going to say things that are very blunt,” Biden started off by saying. “No one has ever doubted I mean what I say. The problem is sometimes I say all that I mean, and I may tonight.”

“I have opposed settlements for more than three decades because I believe it is counterproductive for Israel’s security.” Biden told the pro-peace crowd. “The actions that Israel’s government has taken over the past several years – the steady and systematic expansion of settlements, the legalization of outposts, land seizures – they are moving us, and more importantly, they are moving Israel in the wrong direction. They are moving us toward a one-state reality, and that reality is dangerous.”

The vice president recalled getting into a shouting match with former Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1982 over the issue of settlements. He said the NY Times called the exchange during a closed session with 75 senators “the bitterest exchange of a highly-emotional confrontation.”

“The only way to guarantee Israel future security and its continued identity as a Jewish and democratic state; It’s the only way to ensure the dignity of the Palestinian people and provide for self determination they deserve – a two-state solution,” he said. “There is no other alternative.” Biden said that after long meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership during his recent visit to Israel and Ramallah, he went away feeling discouraged about the prospects of peace in the immediate future. “There is, at the moment, no political will that I observed among Israelis and Palestinians to move forward with serious negotiations. Both sides have to take responsibility for counterproductive steps that undermine confidence in the negotiations.”

Biden also called on the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn terror attacks when it occurs, to stop the incitement, and refrain from taking unilateral steps at international bodies.

Secretary of State John Kerry also address the gala. “We can’t just keep condemning the other side and not try to change lives and change the capacity to try and change choices,” Kerry said. “I can tell you that for these next nine months, we will not stop working to find a way to advance a two-state solution. We will continue to try to advance a two-state solution, the only solution because anything else will not be Jewish, and it will not be democratic.”

Will President Obama speak at J Street?


Speculation abounds that President Obama may refocus his attention, during the final year of his presidency, on the failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Observers now wonder where and when?

Election year initiatives are typically fraught with complications — in a world of complicated issues, Israel and the Middle East play in a league of their own. Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined an invitation to meet with President Obama at the White House prior to AIPAC’s Policy Conference. The official reason was Netanyahu’s desire to avoid interfering in U.S. elections by meeting with any of the presidential hopefuls addressing AIPAC.

The two leaders are in midst of negotiating a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) security package. Gaps remain (The U.S. is offering $3.4 billion of annual aid, while Israel seeks $5 billion) and could have contributed to Netanyahu postponing a visit until an agreement can be signed in-person. But a WSJ report on March 7 pointed to another source of tension: an American administration discussing new ideas to revive peace talks before Obama leaves office, and an Israeli Prime Minister fearing an Oval Office ambush.

According to Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli diplomat who participated in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations following the Camp David summit in 2000, there’s no doubt that at some point between now and January 2017, Obama will seek to outline his own version of the Bill Clinton parameters before leaving office.

One opportunity currently being discussed, according to a half dozen insiders interviewed for this story, is the upcoming J Street National Gala on April 18 in Washington, D.C. Whether the President will take the opportunity to address a group closely aligned with his administration’s policies — that prides itself on being Obama’s ‘blocking back’ in Congress — has yet to be confirmed.

J Street spokeswoman Jessica Rosenblum did confirm to Jewish Insider that the group reached out to the White House and eagerly awaits a decision on which administration official will keynote the Gala. Vice President Joe Biden and WH Chief of Staff Denis McDonough have addressed J Street’s annual conference in prior years.

As detailed in Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article on ‘The Obama Doctrine’, the President shows little interest, and perhaps a strong dislike of the D.C. foreign policy establishment. The opportunity to elevate J Street with a presidential address may be too great to pass up during the final year in office.

“I do know that the president is seriously considering making a major speech and presenting, what we call for a lack of a better term, the Obama parameters,” Pinkas told Jewish Insider. “I don’t know for a fact he would want to do this as early as April, but he could surprise us. But that said, he’s the president. He has every podium and every opportunity to do whatever he wants.”

Knesset Member Michael Oren (Kulanu), who served as Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. (2009-2013) and has since been critical of the President’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, told Jewish Insider in a phone interview, “It’s a possibility. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility.”

“I know that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is close to his heart,” Oren explained. “If he can do anything on the diplomatic sphere, he is going to do it.”

Others were more dismissive, noting the challenge this would present to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as she seeks to make additional inroads in a pro-Israel community weary of Donald Trump.

Aaron David Miller, an American Middle East analyst and Vice President for New Initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says there is no way Obama goes to J Street – or unveils anything prior the general election in the fall – that could potentially complicate Hillary Clinton’s White House bid.

“Why the President would go to J Street, given the nature of the relationship that exists right now, given the fact that he wants to elect her to succeed it, why would he want to complicate her life?” Miller told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. “I’m not sure it’s that much of a priority, and frankly, if he went to J Street and gave a pro-peace process speech it would probably just increase the gap between his words on one hand and what he was prepared to do on the other.”

Miller maintained that Obama would consider Hillary Clinton’s campaign before taking such a step. “Not since 1988 has a two-term president passed party control to a member of the same party,” he asserted. “That’s really important if he could manage to do that. That would mean between now and November trying to do things that don’t embarrass her, giving the Republican’s all kinds of ammunition and make life hard for her. Going to J Street, in my judgment, is just a needless aggravation. I don’t understand what it would achieve.”

While agreeing that such a speech could complicate matters for Clinton, Pinkas raised the possibility that Obama would outline his vision only once the MOU is signed, minimizing the risk to Clinton. “Once he signs the MOU, which will be worth anything between $3.6 and $4.1 billion annually, he could say ‘I just provided Israel’s security with an enhancement package that will support Israel. I care about Israel’s security. But! Israel must remain a Jewish democracy. I care about Israel losing its character,’” Pinkas explained. “Once he has the MOU in his pockets, you can’t really attack him. It will also make Hillary Clinton’s case easier.”

Dayan apologizes for calling J Street ‘Un-Jewish’


Designated Consul General in New York, Dani Dayan walked back his initial characterization of J Street as “un-Jewish” in a series of tweets of Thursday.

“Contrary to the headlines, I never called ]J Street] “un-Jewish” but only a specific action it took. Nevertheless, it was wrong,” Dayan tweeted.

As first reported by Jewish Insider, during an interview with i24News’ “FaceOff” program aired on Saturday, Dayan said the following: “I prefer the attitude of AIPAC to that of J Street, that endorses all the anti-Israel candidates – the more anti-Israeli you are, the more you are endorsed by J Street. That’s un-Jewish.”

J Street immediately repudiated the comments. “These kinds of slurs impugning our faith should simply be out-of-bounds for an official emissary of the Israeli government,” the group said in a statement. J Street proudly represent the mainstream beliefs of a large segment of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans… Particularly in New York, where Mr. Dayan will be posted, [where] he will find the beliefs of many in the Jewish community more in line with our world view than his.”

Dayan later acknowledged that his comments were “somewhat undiplomatic.” But on Thursday, Dayan maintained that he was just responding to a commentator on the program, who suggested that certain AIPAC attitudes contradict Jewish values. “My claim was actually a JStreet attitude does,” he said. “Mistakenly, along with the gong to end the program, I used the short and undoubtedly wrong form.”

J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami accepted the apology, tweeting, “@dandayan really appreciate this. Have always valued engaging with you. Look forward to continuing to disagree in NY as we have in Israel!”

Hillary advised to acknowledge J Street at AIPAC


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was advised to assail Netanyahu for abandoning his commitments to the peace process and publicly acknowledge J Street during a 2010 speech at AIPAC’s Policy Conference in Washington, DC, newly published emails show.

In an email sent on March 21, 2010 – on the eve of her appearance at AIPAC, Sid Blumenthal advised Hillary, “Hold Bibi’s feet to the fire, remind everyone he was at Wye, his key participant event in the peace process, and that it was successful. Reassure all players of our commitment to the process and the solution.”

“Perhaps most controversial,” Blumenthal continued, “I would argue something you should do is that, while praising AIPAC, remind it in as subtle but also direct a way as you can that it does not have a monopoly over American Jewish opinion. Bibi is stage managing US Jewish organizations (and neocons, and the religious right, and whomever else he can muster) against the administration. AIPAC itself has become an organ of the Israeli right, specifically Likud. By acknowledging J Street, you give them legitimacy, credibility and create room within the American Jewish community for debate supportive of the administration’s pursuit of the peace process. Just by mentioning J Street in passing, AIPAC becomes a point on the spectrum, not the controller of the spectrum.”

Blumenthal sketched out a rough plan how the then Secretary of State should address the controversial issue during her remarks. “Some critics say that citizens presenting their views to their government is somehow wrong, that it is a lobby, as though the word “lobby” is not kosher,” he wrote. “However, I welcome a healthy debate. Only through the marketplace of ideas will sound policies to help resolve complicated and seemingly intransigent problems be developed. This administration values everybody’s views. They are important. You are important. We welcome views across the spectrum, from AIPAC to J Street. All these views are legitimate and must be heard and considered.”

Needless to say, Hillary did not heed to Sid’s advice. Instead, she commended Netanyahu “for embracing the vision of the two-state solution,” and “for acting to lift roadblocks and ease movement throughout the West Bank.” Adding, “Last June at Bar-Ilan University, Prime Minister Netanyahu put his country on the path to peace.”

Nevertheless, Hillary did adopt one line Blumenthal suggested as she addressed the peace process. “We are not condemned to perpetual conflict by history. There is an alternative history—the history of how we have overcome and resolved seemingly unbridgeable differences to make peace and create progress,” he advised her to say.

Here is what Hillary told the pro-Israel lobby: “Israel’s history is the story of brave men and women who took risks. They did the hard thing because they believed and knew it was right. We know that this dream was championed by Herzl and others that many said was impossible… Israel and the generations that have come have understood that the strongest among us is often the one who turns an enemy into a friend. Israel has shed more than its share of bitter tears. But for that dream to survive, for the state to flourish, this generation of Israelis must also take up the tradition and do what seems too dangerous, too hard, and too risky.”

But Hillary refrained from touching on sensitive issues, deciding not to mention even the word “J Street” during her speech.

Another email, dated March 20, 2010, reveals there were significant disagreements between Hillary’s aides over the content of the speech. “Having just sent in comments on the AIPAC draft (which were marked classified), I see a clear and relatively easy way for you to make a major difference here,” Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote. “I’m not naïve about the politics here, but we have a major opportunity and I hate to see us waste it.” But Jake Sullivan expressed his objection. In a reply email to Hillary, Sullivan wrote, “I’m going to call AMS now. I’m not sure I agree with her.” A half hour later, Sullivan sent another email: “Haven’t reached her yet, but now re-reading her suggestion, I think it might work. I’d want Mitchell’s take on what the response would be.”

Hillary/Sid AIPAC

Hillary/Sid AIPAC

RJC, J Street heads to discuss Israel in Las Vegas next month


The Republican Jewish Coalition and J Street are set to put aside their political differences for a brief pause to discuss the U.S.-Israel relationship next month in Las Vegas, according to a news release.

In a first-of-its-kind event, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks will appear together on March 9th at Temple Beth Sholom to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the relationship between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the policy preferences and beliefs of Jewish Americans, according to the organizers.

PBS’ Jon Ralston will serve as moderator.

The two organizations were on opposite sides of the aisle in last summer’s debate over the Iran nuclear agreement. J Street and the RJC are also fighting over the control of Congress in 2016, both invested in winning Congressional seats in battleground states across the country. J Street’s PAC has already announced it will spend as much as $3 million in over 100 local races across the country, challenging incumbents who have opposed the deal, while RJC aims to combat J Street race for race, and support the Republican incumbents.

In an interview with Jewish Insider in January, Brooks stated, “By definition, they [J Street] are anti-Israel and on the other side of where Israel is on critical issues such as the Iran deal.”

In return, Ben-Ami accused the RJC of wanting to “knock out” those who dared “to speak out when Netanyahu visits Congress to undermine the foreign policy of President Obama” and those who “dare to oppose the unrelenting expansion of settlements undermining Israel’s long-term security, democracy and Jewish character.”

According to J Street’s spokeswoman, Jessica Rosenblum, “The [March 9] event will emphasize the need for civil discourse around Israel in the Jewish community, as part of a “Year of Dialogue” series sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern Nevada.”

Sanders says he has consulted with J Street, Arab American Institute on Middle East


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he took advice on the Middle East from J Street and the Arab American Institute.

The Vermont Independent senator, mounting a tough challenge to front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton for the nomination, has been under pressure to provide details on his foreign policy.

Clinton, a former secretary of state, has an array of foreign policy advisers, while Sanders lists none as formally advising his campaign, which until now has focused mostly on income inequality.

“We’ve talked to people like Jim Zogby, talked to the people on J Street to get a broad perspective of the Middle East,” Sanders said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” Zogby is a founder and the president of the Arab American Institute.

Both groups confirmed conversations with Sanders, whom they said was one of several candidates with whom they consulted.

“Effective advocacy organizations provide their views and advice to campaigns,” said Jessica Rosenblum, a spokeswoman for J Street, a liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. “We’ve done that broadly in this cycle, without favor or endorsement.”

Both groups have clashed with the pro-Israel center and right, and Sanders has called for tougher pressure on Israel to make concessions in peace talks.

Sanders also has defended Israel from attacks from the far left, saying it has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks and from groups that seek its elimination. Additionally, he has been a regular among the majority of lawmakers who drop into the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Clinton’s campaign, meantime, is pounding Sanders for what it says is his naivete on the Middle East, honing in on his pledge to “normalize” relations with Iran in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, made during a January debate.

Clinton has argued that Iran still retains its pariah status for its backing of terrorism and its human rights abuses, and its compliance with the nuclear deal must be closely monitored. Sanders agrees that Iran remains a bad actor but says that normalization is likelier to create the conditions that would spur change.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who backs Clinton, convened a conference call on Sunday for reporters of Clinton’s foreign policy advisers, who picked apart Sanders’ proposals.

“Iran still remains the country trying to destroy Israel, it has a lot of history of cheating on sanctions,” said Daniel Benjamin, who was the coordinator for counterterrorism for Clinton when she was secretary of state, and who lives in New Hampshire, where Sanders and Clinton are facing off in a primary fight on Tuesday.

Expressions calling for the “warming of relations” between the United States and Iran are mistaken, he said.

J Street takes aim at GOP senators who opposed Iran deal


J Street will focus this year on unseating Republican senators in Illinois and Wisconsin who led opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

In an interview with JTA Friday, Ben Shnider, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group’s political director, said the group would focus on defeating Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

“They were two of the biggest detractors of the deal,” said Shnider, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers. “Iran is being defanged,” he said of its nuclear rollback confirmed this weekend by U.N. inspectors, “and they stood in the way.”

The deal, in which Iran gained relief from international sanctions in exchange for rolling back elements of its nuclear program, went into effect this weekend after U.N. inspectors confirmed Iran had met its obligations under the agreement.

J Street is backing former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who was ousted by Johnson in the 2010 Republican sweep. The group has yet to settle on an opponent to Kirk, although the candidate likely to emerge from the state’s Democratic primary on March 15 is Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., whom J Street has backed in the past for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kirk and Johnson are considered among the most vulnerable GOP incumbents, serving swing states in a presidential election year, when Democratic turnout is high.

J Street’s 2016 campaign, rolled out Friday on its political action committee’s website, includes 83 candidates who have agreed to accept the group’s endorsement — less than the 95 it endorsed in 2014, although Shnider said the group ultimately hopes to reach 110 endorsees.

A key aim of the rollout is preempting attacks on Democrats who backed President Barack Obama in his successful bid to stop Congress from killing the Iran deal. Centrist and right-wing pro-Israel officials said last summer that Democrats who backed the deal would be seen as vulnerable.

No such assault on Democrats who backed the deal has emerged yet, although NORPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee, has been aggressive in raising funds for the minority of Democrats who opposed the deal, among them Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Brad Sherman, D-Calif., Ted Deutch, D-Fla. and Grace Meng, D-N.Y.

And despite the angry talk over the summer, it’s not clear whether deal backers truly are vulnerable.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which led opposition to the deal, last week released a video emphasizing the importance of bipartisanship in cultivating support for Israel. AIPAC does not endorse candidates, but its members closely read its messages to determine where their political donations go.

Deborah Saxon, AIPAC’s assistant director for policy and government affairs, says in the video that casting Israel as a partisan issue is “shortsighted.”

“When it comes to strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship, our work relies on the support of both political parties, and today it has never been more important than to forge that kind of bipartisan support,” Saxon says.

J Street’s list this year notably does not include any Republicans. Shnider said that the group and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., its sole 2014 Republican endorsee running this year, had come to a mutual agreement to end the relationship.

Jones survived a well-funded onslaught against his 2014 bid by PACs associated with the Republic Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel, a right-wing group established in part to neutralize J Street.

Besides Feingold, J Street’s Jewish endorsees this year include: Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif.; Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.; Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky.; and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

Conservative movement praises Netanyahu for regrets on Arab voting statement


Conservative movement leaders applauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s regrets for an Election Day statement about Arab-Israelis and decried a pledge by J Street to press Jewish groups not to spend in the West Bank.

“The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism welcome and applaud today’s apology by Prime Minister Netanyahu during a meeting with minority groups in Israel,” said thestatement issued Monday from the groups, “calling out specifically his regret that ‘I know that the things I said a few days ago hurt some citizens in Israel, the Arab-Israeli citizens’ and that ‘this was not my intention and I am sorry.’”

The Rabbinical Assembly had sharply criticized Netanyahu for his Election Day appeal to voters of his Likud Party to get to the polls because Arabs were coming out in “droves.” The R.A. called Netanyahu’s language “indefensible.”

The statement Monday also said the relationship between U.S. Jews and Israel was “sacrosanct,” although there is “room for honest response to actions that trouble us.”

“What our community needs is more cooperation and unity in working together toward strengthening the U.S.-Israel partnership, not creating new divisions by seeking to attack fellow Jewish organizations or create new points of conflict,” the statement said.

A source authorized to speak on behalf of the Rabbinical Assembly told JTA that this was intended as criticism of J Street’s plan, announced this weekend at the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group’s national conference in Washington, to press Jewish groups to clarify whether their funds are expended in the West Bank.