Steve Bannon walking into the Oval Office after arriving back at the White House on Feb. 24. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Steve Bannon’s 25-year-old protege has a liberal bubbe


Julia Hahn, the onetime Breitbart firebrand who is now a special assistant to President Donald Trump and reports to Trump’s influential consigliere Stephen Bannon, is elusive.

Not in her opinions: She became known at Breitbart for policing any signs of moderation among leading Republicans. Her targets included House Speaker Paul Ryan (a “double agent” and “migration enthusiast”), and Marco Rubio, the Florida senator defeated by Trump in last year’s primaries (“one of the most ardent and successful champions of the donor-class’s open borders trade and immigration agenda”).

[Related: The Jewish education of Stephen Miller]

But she was hard to track down, and did not cooperate with profiles like this one in the New Yorker that were inevitable for an increasingly influential 25-year-old. Information came from classmates at L.A. prep school Harvard-Westlake and the University of Chicago, who described a kind friend they presumed was liberal, in part because she’s a Jewish woman from California.

Thursday’s Washington Post scored a breakthrough interview with a somewhat closer source: Hahn’s Jewish grandmother, Lynn Honickman, a contributor to Jewish and Israeli causes — and the Democratic Party.

Honickman, like anyone’s bubbe whose confidence you gain sitting next to her at the seder, is loving — but also a little blunt.

“She really is the type to listen to other arguments, to learn from the people around her,” Honickman told the Post. “I think she took advantage of something she saw and is doing the best she knows how.”

But does she really buy into an ideology so alien to her grandmother’s?

“What she feels in this particular moment, could be different three days from now,” Honickman said.

You can almost see the barely perceptible shrug and the slightly cocked eyebrow.

President Donald Trump. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

‘He’s not all bad’: A Democrat defends Trump


Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, I’ve been trying to decipher the indecipherable psyche of The Trump Voter.

I want to understand how a person of conscience could have voted for him and how such a person would defend the actions of his office. 

So I did a little research project by calling my Uncle Rich, a 76-year-old cardiologist and Trump supporter. As far as I know, he’s sane, rational and verifiably humane since he’s spent the last 47 years saving people’s lives.

Uncle Rich and I have been arguing about politics since I was 15. Last week, he emailed me an article about Trump doubling down against anti-Israel bias at the United Nations under the subject line: “He’s not all bad.” I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath and invited him to argue with me a little more — if not for the sake of heaven, then at least for the sake of my column.

First, I asked why on earth he’s a Republican.

“I am a registered Democrat and have been since I was 21,” he declared.

“I have voted both ways. I’m a great believer that America comes first and the parties come second. So, I’m open-minded to any candidate — Republican, Democrat, Black, white, Jewish, woman, etc.”

I asked him to describe his paramount political values, but he said they change with each election cycle. In 2016, his top concerns were: terrorism, the economy and health care.

“In the beginning, I was a little bit ambivalent about [Trump],” he admitted. “But as time went on, I began to see that he was serious. And he was willing to step out of an unbelievably successful business and into a job that I don’t know if I envy. I began to say, ‘Wow.’

“I felt this was a man who really recognized the problem of terrorism. I liked that he was vigorous and emphatic on the necessity of vetting people, particularly from certain areas. You know, profiling is a term I think gets a bum rap.”

This is only one area where Uncle Rich and I part ways. To me, profiling is a form of legalized discrimination that contributes in no small part to the mass incarceration of people of color and the poor.

“I profile in medicine,” he said. “If I see a person of a certain background, I’ll order certain tests based on their background. To say there aren’t certain groups of people who are more likely to be terrorists, that’s foolish. We need to be exquisitely careful in order to avoid a situation of tremendous, tremendous terror …

“As far as [economics], the man is a financial success.”

Never mind his bankruptcies? Or his record of failing to pay employees what he owed them?

“I’m a businessman myself. When I started in medicine, we were told not to be businessmen. We were told, ‘You’re a doctor, and you’ll work for oranges and grapefruits,’ which I would have. We were discouraged from negotiating with a hospital, for example. ‘Just take the job.’ [Trump] is a negotiator, and I became a negotiator.”

If Trump was such a negotiating wizard, I asked, what about his signature failure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare?

“Health care is an extremely complicated issue. At the end of the day, I think Republicans and Democrats want the same things: quality care, access and preventative medicine. Obamacare had great ideas — who could argue with what I just said? The problem is cost. This is a business problem.”

I argue it’s also a moral problem. Part of the reason the legislation failed is because its underlining interests were providing tax cuts for the wealthy and eliminating vital health care services for the nation’s most vulnerable: the old and the poor.

“I don’t think Mr. Trump wants a program where someone who is 64 can afford health care and someone who is 65 can’t. What makes America great is that we have the ability to create a system with some equality. Certainly, you’re going to have concierge medicine the way you can have a Mercedes or you can have a Chevy — but a Chevy is a good car!”

Then why don’t more rich people drive Chevys?

Still, I countered, the Great Negotiator failed to unify his party and pass his first major piece of legislation.

“You want to feel good about the fact that you were right? Come on! He’s been in office for three months. If you tell me three years from now that he’s failed in all his legislation, I’ll say, ‘You know, you’re right, I made a mistake.’ But not three months in.”

Well, what about Trump’s Russia ties? Should he get a pass on that, too?

“I’m not bothered yet because I come from a school of medicine where you have to deal with results. If we find out that Trump did things undercover with the Russians, then I’m gonna be upset about it. But I’m not gonna get caught up in the rumor mill. This stuff is still unsettled.”

It’s clear that where I see moral and legal transgression, my uncle sees a man who hasn’t yet hit his stride. Surely, though, he wouldn’t defend the terrible things Trump has said maligning women, immigrants and Muslims.

“He’s sometimes quick to speak,” Uncle Rich allowed. “He’s a hand-to-mouth guy, and sometimes what he says doesn’t go completely to his brain.

“What I was thinking when that was going on was: If we lived in a dictatorship, I would have been much more worried about Donald Trump than I am in the system we are in, which is a checks-and-balances system. Because a man who sometimes speaks like that may try to act like that.” 

Finally, Uncle Rich, we agree.


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

Why are some of Donald Trump’s ‘worst’ tweets sent on Jewish holidays?


After the shooting death of Dwyane Wade’s cousin in August, Donald Trump tweeted, “Just what I have been saying. African-Americans will VOTE TRUMP!”

The previous month, he posted to Twitter a six-pointed star containing the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” stamped on an image of Hillary Clinton and hundred-dollar bills.

A few weeks before that, the Republican presidential nominee responded to the Orlando nightclub massacre with a tweet saying, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

These tweets have more in common than just being ill-advised. They were also all blasted into the public discourse on Jewish holidays: Shabbat, Shabbat and Shavuot, respectively. And they suggest to at least one friend of Trump’s family that when the Republican candidate’s Orthodox Jewish daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are off observing the holy days, Trump loses two of his most important filters.

In her profile of Ivanka Trump published Wednesday in the Huffington Post Highline magazine, Hannah Seligson credits the theory to an anonymous friend of the would-be first daughter and her husband. (Seligson’s list also includes the example of a Shabbat tweet of an image of Donald Trump as a train, a meme “tangentially” associated with the white supremacist alt-right movement.)

According to Seligson, the friend’s observation was that “some of Donald’s worst tweets of the campaign” came on Jewish holidays when Ivanka Trump and Kushner were “off the grid.” The couple observes the rabbinic laws that proscribe work or the use of electronic devices, among other things, on Shabbat, Shavuot and other holidays.

“It could be a big problem if the people who make our president not crazy aren’t available one day a week,” the friend told Seligson.

Of course, Trump has sparked outrage on days with no special Jewish significance. This summer alone, he has said gun rights supporters could take action if Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, is elected; called President Barack Obama the “founder of ISIS”; suggested the mother of a Muslim-American soldier killed in action was not  “allowed” to speak at the Democratic National Convention, and accused a “Mexican” federal judge of being biased by his background.

Amid public outcry, Trump went on to tweet about all these subjects, in some cases repeatedly. But the controversies didn’t start on Twitter.

If the theory about Jewish holidays is true, then, Ivanka Trump and her husband are most effective at reining in Donald Trump specifically before he gets himself into Twitter trouble. Ivanka Trump “is extremely scared of her father, like everyone else,” an anonymous Trump adviser tells Seligson. “She knows you can’t push him. She knows once he goes off on these things, he won’t back down.”

Kushner, a real estate tycoon in his own right, is “deferential” to Donald Trump too, according to Seligson.

Trump is a prolific tweeter, lobbing thousands of insults at at least 258 different targets on the social network, according to The New York Times’s politics blog, The Upshot.

And tweets he made before the campaign — before, one supposes, Ivanka Trump and Kushner would have started weighing in — have since come back to haunt him.

As Clinton pointed out in her July foreign policy speech cum Trump takedown, her rival tweeted in 2012 that the Chinese invented global warming.

In April 2013, Trump criticized Jon Stewart in a tweet, referring to “The Daily Show”  host by his given name, Jonathan Leibowitz. Many observers took that as an anti-Semitic put-down.

And on Wednesday night, Trump was on the defensive during a candidates forum over a tweet he posted in May 2013, suggesting that military rape is the inevitable consequence of putting “men & women together.”

For what’s its worth, all three tweets went out on a weekday.

Sanders returns to childhood home in Brooklyn


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Friday returned to the Brooklyn neighborhood he was brought up as a child, kicking off his New York weekend with campaign rally outside his childhood home on E. 26th street in Midwood.

“Thank you for coming out to my old neighborhood. I spent the first 18 years of my life in apartment 2C right here,” Sanders said standing on a stage outside 1525 East 26th street. “Right on this street, I spent thousands of hours playing punch ball.”

As Sanders gave his traditional stump speech, some local Jewish teenagers yelled, “We love you, Bernie,” as one of them waved a campaign poster with “Shabbat Shalom” scribbled on the top.

“>fired back at the Jewish senator’s critics, accusing them of distorting his comments. “As many people know, Sen. Sanders, as a young man, spent months in Israel and, in fact, has family living there now. There is no candidate for president who will be a stronger supporter of Israel’s right to exist in freedom, peace and security,” Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs said in a statement. “The idea that Sen. Sanders stated definitely that 10,000 Palestinians were killed is just not accurate and a distortion of that discussion. Bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be easy. It would help if candidates’ positions on this issue are not distorted.”

The clarification wasn’t good enough for Assemblyman Hikind. After attempting to 

Polling shows Sanders, Clinton tied in high favorability among Jewish voters


Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have virtually the same high approval ratings among American Jews.

Gallup said in a March 24 article on its website that an aggregation of Jewish respondents to its daily polling showed Jewish voters favor Sanders, an Independent Vermont senator, at 61 percent favorable, and Clinton, a former secretary of state, at 60 percent.

Sanders’ unfavorable ratings are 30 percent and Clinton’s are 35 percent.

Among Republican presidential candidates, only Ohio Gov. John Kasich has higher favorable than unfavorable ratings among Jewish voters, 45 percent to 28 percent. Kasich is last among candidates with delegates accumulated in the primaries.

The GOP front-runner, Donald Trump, a real estate magnate, scores 72 percent unfavorable to 24 percent favorable, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 72 percent unfavorable to 20 percent favorable.

Gallup did not publish a margin of error, but said it had aggregated “a large sample of interviews” with Jewish respondents since January.

In the same article, Gallup said that among the general population, 24 percent agreed that the United States should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, 20 percent disagreed and 56 percent agreed that they “don’t know enough to have an opinion.”

That was based on polling from March 9 to 14. Gallup did not publish a margin of error, but generally its daily election polling has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

All three Republican presidential candidates have said they would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Separately, a poll by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that Jews and Muslims are more likely to identify as Democrats rather than Republicans.

The January poll by the institute, which assesses issues of concern to American Muslims, found that Muslims are 44 percent likely to declare as Democrats, 41 percent as Independents and just 6 percent as Republicans. Jews, the poll found, are 50 percent likely to declare as Democrats, 29 percent as Independent and 16 percent as Republicans.

Catholics are equally split among the three categories — 34 percent Democrats, 34 percent Republicans and 31 percent Independents — and Protestants identified as Republican at 47 percent, Democrat at 25 percent and Independent at 24 percent.

The poll’s margin of error was 7 points for Muslims and Jews. Its data for Catholics and Protestants appeared to be culled from other polls.

Sanders: Absurd to suggest I should drop out of presidential race


Responding to reports that President Barack Obama called on Democrats to rally around Hillary Clinton as the likely nominee, Bernie Sanders said he would not drop out of the race.

Obama privately told a group of Democratic donors on March 11 that Sanders was nearing the point at which his campaign against Clinton would end, and that the party must soon come together to back Clinton, the New York Times reported Thursday.

“The bottom line is that when only half of the American people have participated in the political process … I think it is absurd for anybody to suggest that those people not have a right to cast a vote,” Sanders, who is Jewish, told MSNBC in an interview on Thursday.

Clinton has won the Illinois, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio primaries — crucial victories that bolster her claim that she is her party’s only candidate who can win diverse states that will be pivotal in the November general election.

Sanders, a senator from Vermont and self-proclaimed democratic socialist, said he did not want to comment directly on Obama’s reported remarks but he pushed back on the idea that his campaign had run its course and he should throw in the towel.

The White House on Thursday said Obama did not indicate which candidate he preferred in his remarks to the donors.

Clinton, a former secretary of state in the Obama administration, has a large lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. Sanders said he will do better in upcoming contests in western states, after losing to Clinton in a number of southeastern states.

“To suggest we don’t fight this out to the end would be, I think, a very bad mistake. People want to become engaged in the political process by having vigorous primary and caucus process,” he said.

Why the Republican Party is dying


Last Sunday, 2016 Republican presidential nominee front-runner Donald Trump appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper. Tapper — in the mold of many journalists of leftist persuasion — attempted to smear Trump with those who support him by asking Trump about former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump had repeatedly disavowed support from Duke, once in August 2015 and then again on Feb. 26. In 2000, Trump explicitly predicated his abandonment of the Reform Party on Duke joining it; he wrote, “So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. [Patrick] Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. [Lenora] Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.”

So when Tapper asked Trump about Duke and the KKK, Trump’s answer should have been simple: He should have said that he had already repeatedly disavowed any support from Duke and the KKK and told Tapper that he should have asked Barack Obama about support from anti-Semite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the Communist Party.

Trump didn’t.

Instead, he equivocated, and pretended ignorance. He said, “I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. … I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to take a look.”

Trump’s followers defended him — defended the indefensible — vociferously.

All of which raises the question: Why is Donald Trump winning? What is driving millions of Americans into the arms of a personally authoritarian ignoramus, a blustering bully, a policy dilettante, a parodic mashup of Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Joe Pesci’s Tommy from “Goodfellas”; a reality television star most famous for his tacky hair, tackier taste in women and tackiest taste in hotel adornments?

It certainly isn’t conservatism.

The left couldn’t be more excited about Trump’s rise — he provides them an easy club with which to beat the conservative movement. But the conservative movement opposes Trump wholesale. Fox News has made clear its disdain for Trump: In the first Republican debate, Megyn Kelly hit him with everything but the kitchen sink for his sexism and corruption. National Review ran an entire issue titled “Against Trump.” I’ve personally cut a video viewed more than a million times in just one day titled “Donald Trump Is a Liar.” This week, the hashtag #NeverTrump took over conservative Twitter, with thousands upon thousands of conservatives vowing never to pull the lever for The Donald. For months, Trump has had the highest negatives in the Republican field.

Conservatism stands for small government, individual liberty, constitutional checks and balances, strong national defense, and social institutions such as churches and synagogues promoting responsibility and virtue. Trump stands for large government (he’s in favor of heavy tariffs as well as government seizures of private property for private use, and he says he’ll maintain all unsustainable entitlement programs), executive authority (he has never spoken of the constitutional limitations of presidential power), and foreign and domestic policy based on personal predilection (he’s friendly to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin because Putin praised him; won’t take sides between democratic Israel and the terrorist Palestinian unity government out of his pathetic, egotistic desire to make a “deal”; and has never held a consistent conservative policy position in his life).

So what the hell is going on? What is driving the Donald Trump phenomenon? Why is it set to destroy the Republican Party?

Anger at ‘the Establishment’

Americans on all sides of the political aisle are angry with the way Washington, D.C., operates. That anger isn’t well defined — it’s not merely a specific anger over failure to negotiate by Republicans and Democrats, or anger over bureaucratic incompetence. It’s a generalized anger that the entire system has failed to operate properly — a feeling that they’ve been lied to about the supposedly booming economy, about the supposedly non-rigged game. A year-end CNN/ORC poll showed that fully three-quarters of Americans said they were dissatisfied “with the way the nation is being governed,” with 69 percent “at least somewhat angry with the way things are going in the U.S.”

Americans on the left believe that Washington, D.C., has climbed into bed with Wall Street and corrupted the political process to the benefit of the few; Americans on the right believe that Washington, D.C., has become a cesspool of government avarice in which those elected to stop the government from usurping power turn on their own constituencies in favor of promoting their personal political interests. In both cases, Americans have turned against the “establishment” — people whom they imagine defend the status quo in Washington, D.C., as not all that bad. If this seems vague, that’s because it is: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are widely perceived to be members of the “establishment,” but they disagree about virtually everything. Everything, that is, except for a generalized belief that it’s better to go along to get along than to stand strong against determined opposition.

On the left, this has resulted in the surprising rise of a 74-year-old socialist senator from Vermont who strongly resembles Larry David. On the right, it has resulted in Trump. Sanders will lose to Clinton on the left — the anger against the Democratic Party isn’t strong enough on the left to destroy the party wholesale for an openly socialist temper tantrum. 

On the right, however, the anger against the Republican Party is palpable. That CNN/ORC poll showed a whopping 90 percent of Republicans dissatisfied with national governance, and 82 percent angry with the way things are going in the country. Among Trump supporters, that number was 97 percent dissatisfied and 91 percent angry. Republicans look at their leadership and see people who lied to them over and over again: lied about how “mainstream” candidates such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would earn the love of the media and sweep to victory; lied about how if Republicans took over Congress in 2010, they’d stop Obamacare dead; lied about how if Republicans took over the Senate in 2014, they’d kill President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty.

If this is the best the professionals in the establishment could do, many Republicans believed, then it is time for an outsider — someone who can take an ax to the system. Poll after poll for the past year has demonstrated that Republicans prefer an outsider to a candidate with experience in Washington.

Anger at political correctness

That generalized anger at the establishment alone wouldn’t have skyrocketed Trump to the top of the polls. After all, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has spent his entire career in the Senate ticking off the Republican establishment, to the point of calling McConnell a liar on the floor of the chamber. Republican establishment types hate Cruz with the fiery passion of a thousand flaming suns; they despise Cruz so much that former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said he’d prefer Trump to Cruz, a perspective mirrored by much of the GOP establishment.

So why not Cruz instead of Trump? Because Trump channels a second type of anger better than anyone else in the race: full-scale rage at political correctness. Political correctness is seen — correctly — by non-leftists as a way of silencing debate about vital issues. Political correctness quashes serious discussions with charges of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia, and in doing so, destroys the possibility of political honesty as well as better solutions. The Obama administration has brought political correctness back from the brink of extinction to place it in the central halls of power: The White House and its media lackeys have suggested that legitimate criticism of Obama’s policies represents bigotry, that serious concerns about radical Islam represent Islamophobia, that real worries about encroachment upon religious liberty represent homophobia, and that honest questions about individual responsibility for crime represent racism. And establishment Republicans, eager to be seen as civil, have acquiesced in the newfound reign of political correctness.

Trump entered the race vowing to bring that reign to an end. Because of his celebrity, he’s been able to say politically incorrect things many Republicans believe must be said: that Muslim refugees to the United States must be treated with more care than non-Muslim refugees thanks to the influence of radical Islam, for example, or that illegal immigration brings with it elevated levels of criminality. He’s slapped the leftist media repeatedly, something that thrills frustrated conservatives.

But Trump has gone further than fighting political correctness: He has engaged in pure boorishness. His fans have lumped that boorishness in with being politically incorrect. That’s foolishness. It’s politically incorrect — and valuable — to point out that single motherhood rates in the Black community contribute to problems of poverty and crime, and that such rates are not the result of white racism but of the problematic values of those involved. It’s simply rude and gauche to mock the disabled, as Trump has, or mock prisoners of war, as Trump has, or mock Megyn Kelly’s period, as Trump has. The list goes on and on.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 25. Photo by Mike Stone/Reuters

The distinction between being a pig and being politically incorrect is a real one. But Trump and his supporters have obliterated the distinction — and that’s in large part thanks to the pendulum swinging wildly against political correctness.

Anger at anti-Americanism

Even the revolt against political correctness wouldn’t be enough to put Trump in position to break apart the Republican Party, however. Republicans have railed against political correctness for years — Trump isn’t anything new in that, although he’s certainly more vulgar and blunt than others. No, what truly separates Trump from the rest of the Republican crowd is that he’s a European-style nationalist.

Republicans are American exceptionalists. We believe that America is a unique place in human history, founded upon a unique philosophy of government and liberty. That’s why we’re special and why we have succeeded. In his own way, Trump believes in American exceptionalism much like Barack Obama does — as a term to describe parochial patriotism. Obama infamously remarked in 2009, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Obama meant that dismissively — American exceptionalism is just something we do because we’re American, not because we’re actually special. But Trump means it proudly. His nationalism is a reaction to Obama’s anti-nationalism. It says: “Barack Obama may think America isn’t worthy of special protection because we’re not special. Well, we’re America, damn it, even if we don’t know what makes us special.” According to Trump, we ought to operate off of the assumption that Americans deserve better lives not because they live out better principles or represent a better system, but because they’re here.

This sort of nationalism resembles far more the right-wing parties of Europe than the historical Republican Party. The Republican Party has stood for embrace of anyone who will embrace American values; extreme European right-wing parties tend to embrace people out of ethnic allegiance rather than ideological allegiance. Trump uncomfortably straddles that divide. His talk about limiting immigration has little to do with embrace of American values and much more to do with “protecting” Americans from foreigners — even highly educated foreigners willing to work in the United States without taking benefits from the tax system. It’s one thing to object to an influx of people who disagree with basic constitutional values. But Trump doesn’t care about basic constitutional values. He simply opposes people coming in who aren’t us. There’s a reason so many of his supporters occupy the #altright portion of the Internet, which traffics in anti-Semitism and racism.

The rise of ‘The Great Man’

Trump poisons the brew of justified anger at the establishment, justified anger at the political correctness and justified anger at anti-Americanism from the left. People feel victimized by a government that centralizes all power in the back corridors of D.C., a media dedicated to upholding nonsensical sloganeering as opposed to honest discussion, and a president who sees America as a global bully and an international pariah in need of re-education. Trump has channeled that sense of victimization into support. 

But there’s one more spice he adds to that toxic concoction: worship of “The Great Man.”

Republicans have typically been wary of The Great Man. Democrats have not. Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1906, “The president is at liberty both in law and conscience to be as big a man as he can. His capacity will set the limit.” Franklin D. Roosevelt came as close to dictatorship in America as anyone in history. Barack Obama obviously sees little limit to executive authority; he chafes at constitutional restrictions on his power. The presidency, according to Democrats, is a position of elected dictatorship — at least when Democrats run the show.

Conservatives have always believed in the constitutional checks and balances. Republicans have not; there were Republicans who cheered the Bush administration’s abuses of executive power, for example. But as the proxy for the conservative movement, the GOP at least paid lip service to the idea that power resided in the people, then local government, then the states, and last and weakest, the federal government. Republicans supposedly stood for the proposition that the government was the greatest obstacle to freedom.

Trump overthrows all of that. Thanks to Obama’s usurpation of power, many Americans are ready for a Reverse Obama — someone who will use the power of the presidency to “win” for them, as opposed to using a powerful presidency to weaken the country. And that’s what Trump pledges to do. He pledges to singlehandedly make deals — great deals! He promises to make America great again, not through the application of constitutional liberties, but through the power of his persona. He’ll be strong, his supporters believe. When he expresses sympathy for Vladimir Putin and says at least Saddam Hussein killed terrorists and admires the strength of the Chinese government in quashing protest at Tiananmen Square (in a 1990 interview with Playboy), his supporters thrill. Because Trump is a strong leader. He’s no wimp. Give him control, and watch him roll!

Like Obama, Trump has built a cult following on worship of power. Big government has prepared Americans for tyrannical central government for a century. Republicans resisted that call.

Trump does not. 

Is this the end of the Republican Party?

If Trump is nominated, there will be a split in the national GOP. There will be those who hold their noses and vote for him, but who see him as a horrible historical aberration; there will be those who stay home altogether. There may be a third party conservative who decides to provide an alternative to the evils of Trumpism. The Republican Party will remain a major force at the local and state levels regardless; national elections do not reshape parties at these lower levels immediately.

But over time, they can. Is Trumpism temporary, or is it here to stay? The answer to that question may lie with the establishment Republicans, who will have to make peace with actual conservatives if they hope to stanch the rise of populism. Establishment Republicans got behind Jeb Bush in this election cycle, and they stayed behind him even as he flailed; they made clear they’d prefer Trumpism to hard-core conservatism. Now we’re seeing the result. 

The Republican Party can come back, but only if it recognizes that decades of standing for nothing breed reactionary, power-addicted, nationalist populism. That’s a hard realization, but it will have to be made. Otherwise, the Republican Party will, indeed, become the party of Trump rather than the party of Lincoln and Reagan.


Benjamin Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, senior editor-at-large of Breitbart News, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and co-host of “The Morning Answer” on KRLA-AM in Los Angeles and KTIE-AM in the Inland Empire. He is also the author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America,” Simon *& Schuster (2013).

Where does Bernie Sanders, the Jewish candidate for president, stand on Israel?


Bernie Sanders’ best friend is a Zionist who teaches Jewish philosophy, he had a formative experience on a kibbutz and “Saturday Night Live” dubbed him the “old Jew.”

Still, Sanders can’t get away from the inevitable “But where is he on Israel?” question, especially now that the Democratic presidential contender, an Independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, has pulled ahead of Hillary Rodham Clinton in New Hampshire, the first primary state.

“Do you view yourself as a Zionist?” the left-leaning online magazine Vox asked Sanders in a July 28 interview.

It’s a funny question for Sanders, who if there were an “out and proud” metric for Jews in politics would score high.

Sanders, 73, is best friends with Richard Sugarman, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the University of Vermont who champions Zionism to his left-leaning students. His other best friend – and former chief of staff – is Huck Gutman, a University of Vermont professor of literature who is a passionate aficionado of the poetry of Yehuda Amichai.

When the comedian Sarah Silverman introduced Sanders at an Aug. 10 rally in Los Angeles, she shunted aside for a moment her caustic Jewish shtick.

“His moral compass and sense of values inspires me,” she said. “He always seems to be on the right side of history.”

Silverman ticked off a list of Sanders’ qualifications that align him with positions that polls show American Jews overwhelmingly favor: for same-sex marriage, for civil rights, against the Iraq war. She might have added favoring universally available health care.

“He is a man of the people,” Silverman said. “He has to be; his name is Bernie.”

Fresh out of the University of Chicago and already deeply involved in left-wing activism, Sanders spent several months in the mid-1960s on a. The Brooklyn-born and accented Sanders has been shaped by the murder of his father’s extended family in the Holocaust.

“As everyone in this room knows, I am a Jew, an old Jew,” actor Fred Armisen said while playing Sanders in a 2013 “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

Sanders’ well-known pique surfaced in June when Diane Rehm, the NPR talk show host, declaratively told him he had dual U.S.-Israel citizenship, citing an anti-Semitic meme circulating on the Internet.

“Well, no, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel,” Sanders said. “I’m an American. I don’t know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period.”

So where does Bernie Sanders stand on Israel? Here’s a review.

He backs Israel, but he believes in spending less on defense assistance to Israel and more on economic assistance in the Middle East.

Is Sanders a Zionist? Here’s what he told Vox’s Ezra Klein:

“A Zionist? What does that mean? Want to define what the word is? Do I think Israel has the right to exist? Yeah, I do. Do I believe that the United States should be playing an even-handed role in terms of its dealings with the Palestinian community in Israel? Absolutely I do.

“Again, I think that you have volatile regions in the world, the Middle East is one of them, and the United States has got to work with other countries around the world to fight for Israel’s security and existence at the same time as we fight for a Palestinian state where the people in that country can enjoy a decent standard of living, which is certainly not the case right now. My long-term hope is that instead of pouring so much military aid into Israel, into Egypt, we can provide more economic aid to help improve the standard of living of the people in that area.”

He will defend Israel to a hostile crowd, but will also fault Israel – and will shout down hecklers.

At a town hall in Cabot, Vermont, during last summer’s Gaza war, a constituent commended Sanders for not signing onto a Senate resolution that solely blamed Hamas for the conflict, but wondered if he would “go further.”

“Has Israel overreacted? Have they bombed U.N. facilities? The answer is yes, and that is terribly, terribly wrong,” Sanders said.

“On the other hand – and there is another hand – you have a situation where Hamas is sending missiles into Israel – a fact – and you know where some of those missiles are coming from. They’re coming from populated areas; that’s a fact. Hamas is using money that came into Gaza for construction purposes – and God knows they need roads and all the things that they need – and used some of that money to build these very sophisticated tunnels into Israel for military purposes.”

Hecklers interrupted, some shouting epithets.

“Excuse me, shut up, you don’t have the microphone,” Sanders said. “You asked the question, I’m answering it. This is called democracy. I am answering a question and I do not want to be disturbed.”

His critical but supportive posture on Israel has been consistent and has included using assistance as leverage.

As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1988, Sanders was asked if he backed then-candidate for president Jesse Jackson’s support for the Palestinians during the first intifada. Sanders excoriated what he depicted as Israeli brutality as well as Arab extremism.

“What is going on in the Middle East right now is obviously a tragedy, there’s no question about it. The sight of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms and legs of Arabs is reprehensible. The idea of Israel closing down towns and sealing them off is unacceptable,” he said at a news conference, according to video unearthed by Alternet writer Zaid Jilani. “You have had a crisis there for 30 years, you have had people at war for 30 years, you have a situation with some Arab countries where there are still some Arab leadership calling for the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of Israeli citizens.”

Sanders said the United States should exercise the prerogative it has as an economic power.

“We are pouring billions of dollars in arms into Arab countries. We have the clout to demand they and Israel, who we’re also heavily financing, to begin to sit down and work out a sensible solution to the problem which would guarantee the existence of the State of Israel and which would also protect Palestinian rights,” he said.

He doesn’t think the Iran nuclear deal is perfect, but he backs it.

“It’s so easy to be critical of an agreement which is not perfect,” he told CBS News on Aug. 7. “But the United States has to negotiate with, you know, other countries. We have to negotiate with Iran. And the alternative of not reaching an agreement, you know what it is? It’s war. Do we really want another war, a war with Iran? An asymmetrical warfare that will take place all over this world, threatening American troops? So I think we go as far as we possibly can in trying to give peace a chance, if you like. Trying to see if this agreement will work. And I will support it.”

Congress members begin to take sides on Iran deal — sort of


Members of the House from districts across the Greater Los Angeles region — most of them Democrats — largely have remained silent so far on whether they will support the Obama administration on the Iran deal or join Republicans and a small but increasing number of Democrats in opposition. 

Among the Democrats who have remained mum are Reps. Maxine Waters of Inglewood, Tony Cardenas of the San Fernando Valley, Karen Bass of Los Angeles, Janice Hahn of Compton, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles and Loretta Sanchez of Anaheim. 

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, the Jewish congressmemember from Long Beach, is “studying the language and specifics of the agreement closely,” a spokesperson said in an email to the Journal.

Nationwide, the decision has proven particularly delicate and difficult for members of Congress from districts with large Jewish populations — such as those in Los Angeles, New York and South Florida — who have come under scrutiny from constituents and Jewish organizations on both sides of the agreement. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is spending upward of $20 million lobbying lawmakers in opposition to the deal. J Street, on the other hand, is involved in a $5 million lobbying effort in support of the agreement.  

Congressmember Ted Lieu, who represents the largely Jewish Westside seat long held by Henry Waxman, has remained quiet since issuing a statement on the day the deal was announced that said he was studying the agreement. Lieu was in Israel earlier this month on a biannual trip to the Jewish state for freshman members of Congress funded by AIPAC’s charitable wing.

“The Congressman is still reviewing the deal and listening to constituents on the subject,” Lieu’s representative wrote in an email to the Journal. 

Only two Democratic representatives from L.A. have announced their decisions: Adam Schiff and Brad Sherman, both of whom are Jewish, but who have come out on opposite sides of the issue. 

Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he would vote for it. In a statement, he pointed to the deal’s strength within the 15-year timetable. Although he expressed concern for particular components of the agreement, he said that, on balance, the deal is a step in the right direction.

“We will still need to guard against any Iranian effort to obtain nuclear material or technology from proliferators abroad — a reality even if they had given up all enrichment — but the agreement likely gives the world at least a decade and a half without the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon and without going to war to make that so. That is a major achievement,” Schiff said.

In contrast, Sherman, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, indicated that the possibility of Iran making a nuclear weapon at the end of 15 years is a significant reason he will oppose the deal. “The Ugly,” as Sherman called it in a statement, is that, “in 15 years or less, Iran is permitted to have an unlimited quantity of centrifuges of unlimited quality, as well as heavy water reactors and reprocessing facilities.

“We must force modifications of the agreement, and extensions of its nuclear restrictions, before it gets ugly,” Sherman said. 

To scuttle the agreement, opponents need to assemble 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and pass a resolution of condemnation. If they achieve this and President Barack Obama vetoes the measure, as he has promised to do, the deal’s opponents will then have the difficult task of rallying a two-thirds majority in both Houses to override the veto.

Congress returns from its break on Sept. 8 and has until Sept. 17 to review the agreement. 

In the Senate, all 54 Republicans are expected to stand against the agreement. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, a prominent Jew and the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, is the only member of Obama’s party in the upper chamber to announce opposition to the deal so far. 

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Jews from California, each have announced they will support the deal, as have Jewish Democratic Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Jewish independent senator and candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, Bernie Sanders. 

In the House, Republican Reps. Ed Royce of Orange County and Peter Roskam of Illinois each have floated resolutions condemning the deal. Although GOP members are expected to reject the deal via the bill authored by Royce, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Roskam announced on Aug. 3 that he had acquired 218 co-sponsors for his own measure, suggesting that either resolution would easily receive support from a majority of the House. 

Achieving 290 votes — the two-thirds majority number required for overriding a presidential veto — will be a more daunting task. So far, only nine House Democrats have announced opposition to the deal, but that group does include a few prominent Jewish representatives. Among the deal’s Jewish detractors are New York Reps. Steve Israel and Eliot Engel, the highest-ranking Jewish House Democrat and the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, respectively.

Two other Jewish Democrats — Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Sandy Levin of Michigan — have backed the deal. Levin is the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress.

Obama, Jewish leaders exchange concerns about distortions and attacks in Iran deal debate


President Barack Obama and pro-Israel leaders exchanged concerns about how each side distorts the other’s arguments in the debate over the Iran nuclear deal, and how the distortions are creating divisions in the Jewish community.

The meeting Tuesday evening at the White House between Obama and an array of Jewish leaders lasted more than two hours.

Participants said it was civil and friendly — Obama got a round of “happy birthdays” when he walked in the room — but that the president forcefully expressed his frustrations with how the deal has been presented in the Jewish community. In contrast with previous meetings, they said, much of the discussion focused on the effect the debate was having on American Jews, as opposed to the details of the agreement.

Pro-Israel officials confronted Obama about the impression they said he leaves that his opponents are “warmongers” and his suggestions that there is something untoward about their lobbying.

According to participants, Obama was especially frustrated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for not allowing activists who flew in last week to lobby the extended encounter he offered with his top officials (their presentation was limited by AIPAC to 30 minutes).

Obama met the Jewish leaders as deal opponents and supporters are waging a battle for the hearts and minds of Democrats in Congress, who are the key to success or failure of a resolution of disapproval in a legislative window that closes toward the end of September. Democratic lawmakers are facing intensive lobbying and a barrage of ads from both sides. AIPAC is leading the effort to kill the deal.

“He asked people in the room, state your positions, argue them as you wish, but at least represent the facts objectively,” said Robert Wexler, a former congressman from Florida who now directs the Center for Middle East Progress. “Don’t misrepresent what the agreement provides.”

Six other people in the room, among them officials who favored and opposed the deal and had yet to come to a decision, related accounts similar to Wexler, the first Jewish lawmaker in Congress to endorse Obama’s presidential run in 2007 and a backer of the backer. Five asked not to be identified. Also in the room were Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser.

In the first 30 minutes of the meeting, Obama picked through the sanctions relief for nuclear restriction deal reached last month between Iran and six major powers and argued that it cut off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon.

Obama displayed a familiarity with the arguments among opponents of the deal, even having read the talking points memo that AIPAC distributed to more than 600 activists who flew in last week, according to Greg Rosenbaum, the chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council and the only other participant besides Wexler to speak on the record.

Among the frustrations Obama expressed, Wexler said, was that some materials distributed by pro-Israel groups suggest sanctions relief will kick in straight away, and not after Iran has met the deal’s requirements to roll back uranium and plutonium enrichment. (It’s not clear if that was one of the AIPAC talking points.)

Wexler summed up Obama’s message: “The debate is too important for the promotion of inaccuracies and misleading misrepresentations.”

Obama was especially frustrated that AIPAC allowed his top officials just 30 minutes to explain their side of the deal last week in an encounter that included no questions from the audience.

AIPAC officials have said that the White House requested the meeting at the last minute with Denis McDonough, his chief of staff; Wendy Sherman, the top U.S. negotiator at the Iran talks; and Adam Szubin, Obama’s top sanctions enforcement official. More than 30 minutes would have impinged on lobbying appointments, the officials said.

Obama, who had directed his staff to ask AIPAC for the meeting, said he was ready to give AIPAC four hours after the activists finished their meetings.

The two AIPAC lay leaders at the White House meeting were Michael Kassen and Lee Rosenberg, both past presidents. Obama expressed disappointment that some of the organizations attacking the plan were led by friends, an apparent reference to Rosenberg, who was a fundraiser for Obama.

An AIPAC spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Deal opponents at the meeting complained that they had been depicted as warmongers because Obama insists that the only alternative to his plan is war. Obama said that there were among the plan’s critics those who favored war, but acknowledged that was not true of all of the opponents. Nonetheless, he said, he would continue to point out that the likely outcome of the plan’s failure was war.

The deal critics also criticized Obama for saying in a conference call with liberal groups last week that his opponents were funded by billionaires. Obama noted that an AIPAC affiliate was ready to spend between $20 million and $40 million to kill the deal, and he saw nothing wrong with pointing that out to his followers.

Much of the conversation focused on the split the deal is generating in the Jewish community, which Obama said concerned him, said Rosenbaum, whose Jewish Democratic group backs the Iran deal.

According to Rosenbaum, the president said that “he felt that if we continue to make this personal and substitute attacks for the deal pro or con, we weaken the Jewish community and the long-term U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Another participant said Obama acknowledged anxieties among some pro-Israel leaders about making public profound differences with Israel, but said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adamant opposition to the deal left him little choice.

Among the other groups represented were J Street and Ameinu, liberal Middle East policy groups that back the deal, and representatives of an array of groups that have yet to pronounce, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League and representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements. The Orthodox Union, which opposes the deal, was also present, as was the World Jewish Congress, which has been strongly skeptical of the deal. There were regional leaders present as well.

3 top Jewish Democrats in House oppose Iran nuclear deal


Three top Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives came out in opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

Reps. Nita Lowey and Steve Israel, both of New York, and Ted Deutch of Florida announced their opposition on Tuesday afternoon. Lowey is the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee; Deutch is the top Democrat on the House Middle East subcommittee; and Israel until last year led the House Democratic reelection effort.

They are the first leading Democrats and the first Jews in their party to oppose the deal.

Until now, the deal had garnered opposition only from four Democrats, none in the leadership.

A larger number of Democrats have declared for the deal, among them Jews who are in the leadership or are veterans in Congress: Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Sander Levin of Michigan, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. On Tuesday, the junior senator from California,  Barbara Boxer, came out for the agreement.

Congress has until mid-late September to consider whether to exercise legislation that would kill the deal. President Barack Obama has promised to veto any such bill, meaning that two-thirds of both chambers would be needed to override his veto.

Most Republicans oppose the deal, so the battleground will be among Democrats.

Obama and his Cabinet, backed by an array of liberal groups, including J Street, are campaigning for the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, vehemently opposes the deal.

Lowey, Israel and Deutch, in statements and Op-Eds in hometown newspapers, said they considered carefully before arriving at their decisions.

“This agreement will leave the international community with limited options in 15 years to prevent nuclear breakout in Iran, which will be an internationally-recognized nuclear threshold state, capable of producing highly enriched uranium,” Lowey said in a statement. “I am greatly concerned that the agreement lacks a crystal clear statement that the international community reserves the right to take all military, economic, and diplomatic measures necessary during the course of the deal and beyond to deter Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon.”

 

Boxer, in her statement favoring the accord, said, “If we walk away from this deal, Iran would have no constraints on its nuclear program and the international sanctions that helped bring the Iranians to the table would collapse. The strong support from the international community — including the announcement this week by the Gulf states [in favor of the deal] — underscores how this deal is the only viable alternative to war with Iran.”

U.S. Democrats see ‘fire wall’ holding to preserve Iran deal


U.S. backers of the Iran nuclear deal are increasingly confident of enough Democratic support to ensure it survives review by Congress, despite fierce opposition by majority Republicans and a massive lobbying drive.

By the time the House of Representatives recessed for the summer last week, no senior Democrat in the chamber had come out formally against the agreement and several central figures, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were strongly in favor.

Pelosi said she was confident that if, as expected, Republicans pass a “resolution of disapproval” to try to sink the deal, a promised veto of that measure by President Barack Obama would be sustained.

At least 44 Democrats in the House and 13 Democrats in the Senate would have to defy Obama and join Republicans in opposing the deal to get the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto.

“More and more of them (House Democrats) have confirmed to me that they will be there to sustain the veto,” Pelosi told reporters.

The United States was the prime negotiator in the July 14 agreement between world powers and Iran to curtail Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions, and its engagement is essential for implementing it.

In the last two weeks, the White House has rolled out its big guns at congressional hearings and private meetings to advocate for the deal, which Obama says is not perfect but is the best way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

Powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups that believe it would endanger the Jewish state by empowering Iran have been especially active, although some pro-Israel factions support the deal.

Opponents had hoped influential Democrats would come out against the deal early, to give momentum before the recess.

But despite signs of skepticism, the few Democrats who did openly oppose it, including Representatives Grace Meng and Juan Vargas, are not among those considered influential on the issue.

“That shows the strength of the firewall we have here,” a senior Democratic congressional aide said.

At least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House would have to join Republicans in opposing the deal to get the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto.

PRESSURE ON JEWISH LAWMAKERS

To date, no Senate Democrat has formally announced opposition, although many are undecided. A few influential leaders, including number two Democrat Dick Durbin, are strongly in favor.

The Senate recess begins on Friday and both houses return to Washington on Sept. 8. Congress then has until Sept. 17 to accept or reject the pact, which the White House considers one of the major foreign policy initiatives of the Obama presidency.

“I'm encouraged right now,” said Democratic Representative David Price, who has taken on the task of convincing lawmakers from both parties to back the deal. But he cautioned that it is still early in the process.

The pressure has been particularly strong on high-profile Jewish Democrats known as strong supporters of Israel.

The New York Post put Senator Chuck Schumer, the number three Senate Democrat, on its front page, under the headline: “Where's Chuck? Senator hides from Post's Iran questions.” Schumer says he has not made up his mind.

Other prominent Jewish Democrats say they are still undecided, including Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“There'll be a lot of pressure on Democrats to support the president,” Engel told Reuters.

Engel met with Obama in the Oval Office last Wednesday, and Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer at the Capitol on Thursday.

He said it would be “very tough” to win over enough Democrats to override the president's veto. But when asked if he would vote to do so, Engel said, “I'm considering it.”

Congressman Adam Schiff, a Jewish Democrat, announces he will support Iran deal


Adam Schiff, a Los Angeles congressman who serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, announced Monday morning that he plans to support the Iran nuclear deal. Schiff, who is Jewish with a record of strong support for Israel, serves a district that stretches from Los Feliz to Los Angeles’ northeastern suburbs; during the negotiations he expressed skepticism about the possible outcomes, but promised at that time to remain undecided until an agreement was reached.

In an interview with journalist Jeffrey Goldberg over the weekend and in a press release Monday, Schiff announced that while he remains concerned about some elements of the deal, he has come to view the plan as the best possible option.

“In the absence of a credible alternative, Congress should accept the deal and work with the Administration to strengthen its impact, while joining forces with our allies to better contain Iran’s conventional capabilities and nefarious conduct in the region and beyond,” Schiff said in Monday’s release.

“The primary objective of the United States in the negotiations was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Given the unthinkable consequences of Iran, the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, obtaining the bomb, this has been an overriding national security imperative of the United States for decades,” Schiff said. “As an American and as a Jew who is deeply concerned about the security of Israel, it is also intensely personal.  I believe our vital interests have been advanced under the agreement, since it would be extremely difficult for Iran to amass enough fissionable material to make a nuclear weapon without giving the United States ample notice and time to stop it.”

Schiff is the latest in a series of prominent congressional Democrats to come out in support of the deal. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren announced her support on Sunday, and on July 28,, Michigan Representative Sander M. Levin, the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress, announced he would support the agreement.

Schiff’s support could influence undecided members of the House Jewish caucus, as well as national-security minded Democrats. Many Democrats in both chambers of Congress remain undecided, and though a few Democrats have come out against the deal, none are considered influential voices on national security. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who is also Jewish, officially remains undecided, but a report in Politico on Monday said the influential senior Democrat is leaning toward voting against the deal.

Other prominent Democrats backing the agreement include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Pelosi has said that if Republicans are able to pass a “resolution of disapproval” to try to sink the agreement, a promised veto by President Barack Obama would be sustained.

In particular, Schiff said in the press release, given Iran’s history of cheating in its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he remains concerned about 24-day notice that the agreement allows Iran prior to inspections, as well as about the size of the enrichment program that Iran could have in 15 years.

Rather than reject the deal, Schiff said, Congress “should make it clear that if Iran cheats, the repercussions will be severe.”

“It is important to understand that even after 15 years – or 50 for that matter – as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran is never allowed to develop the bomb,” Schiff said.

Schiff also expressed concern over how Iran would use the influx of money that would result from the lifting of international sanctions. Iran is said to have $100 billion in frozen assets that would be released. But instead of rejecting the agreement, Schiff said he wants Congress to use its authority to strengthen the deal by working with Israel and other Gulf allies to make sure that “every action Iran takes to use its newfound wealth for destructive activities in the region will prompt an equal and opposite reaction.”

Schiff also said if Iran’s nuclear facilities are hidden from aerial attack, he supports sharing with Israel “all the technologies necessary to defeat those systems and destroy the facilities, no matter how deep the bunker.”

“The Iranian people will one day throw off the shackles of their repressive regime, and I hope that this deal will empower those who wish to reform Iranian governance and behavior.  The 15years or more this agreement provides will give us the time to test that proposition, without Iran developing the bomb and without the necessity of protracted military action,” Schiff said. “Then, as now, if Iran is determined to go nuclear, there is only one way to stop it, and that is by the use of force.  But then, at least, the American people and others around the world will recognize that we did everything possible to avoid war.”

Netanyahu declines Dems’ invitation for meeting during visit


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined on Tuesday an invitation to meet with U.S. Senate Democrats during his trip to Washington next week.

“Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic Senators, I believe that doing so at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter to Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein obtained by Reuters.

Durbin and Feinstein had invited Netanyahu to a closed-door meeting with Democratic senators in a letter on Monday.

Barney Frank on practically everything


Long a legislative lion for Democrats, Barney Frank retired from Congress two years ago. But he remains famously shrewd and caustic, feisty and funny, as well as the most prominent gay politician in the nation. With current roiling debate over the financial reform that Frank helped to legislate, along with his frequent appearances on CNBC and the publication of his memoirs in March, he's back in the spotlight.

Frank was in the U.S. House of Representatives for 32 years. In Congress, he was the controversial Democratic leader on the House Financial Services Committee and was a co-sponsor of the eponymous 2010 Dodd-Frank act, which brought sweeping reform to the financial industry. Now 74 and married, when he's not on TV or relaxing on the coast of Maine, he's giving paid speeches and teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

David A. Kaplan recently talked to Frank for Reuters in mid town Manhattan. During a wide-ranging exchange, in his characteristic Bayonne-meets-Boston mumble, Frank discussed the 2016 presidential election and his fear of Chris Christie; his prediction on a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage; the future of Dodd-Frank; his disappointment over President Obama; his distaste for Jon Stewart; and why, no, he didn't cause the 2008 financial crisis. Edited excerpts:

REUTERS: What do you make of Congress last weekend watering down Dodd-Frank, your signature bill?

BARNEY FRANK: One small piece of the law was affected, but it's mostly good news because of the furious response, which shows that financial reform continues to be a major public concern.

R: Would you encourage President Obama to consider not signing the bill?

BF: Yes.

R: And thereby shutting down the government?

BF: He could say, “Send me the same bill without the provision [affecting Dodd-Frank].” Any shutdown would be brief.

R: Did supporters of changing Dodd-Frank, even a little, miscalculate politically?

BF: Yes, Republicans misread public opinion. So did the Senate Democratic leadership and the White House.

R: And the banks themselves-the ones affected by Dodd-Frank?

BF: They're not concerned with public opinion.

R: What will Republicans do in terms of further rollback since they'll soon be in control of Congress?

BF: Given the response we just saw, it will be difficult for them to make any major changes in the face of what I am now confident will be very loud public disapproval.

R: Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was most vocal in opposing the current bill. How do you think she comes out?

BF: She showed she's a force to be reckoned with.

R: Do you miss not being part of the legislative action?

BF: I wouldn't want to have had to be involved in complex negotiations. But I was glad to speak out last week.

R: Are you happy with how Dodd-Frank has been implemented so far?

BF: Yes, with one exception. There's been one chip-away, but it came a coalition of left and right, with the support of lenders, realtors, homebuilders and in particular, advocacy groups. I wanted to say that no mortgage loans could be made and then 100-percent securitized without risk-retention; people refer to that metaphorically as “skin in the game.” But to get the bill through, we had to give in to create a special category of super-safe loans that didn't have to be risk-retained. I also was disappointed the Republicans under funded the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the SEC, but that hasn't really done any harm. Ideally, I'd have liked to merge the SEC and the CFTC.

THE SCOURGE OF POLITICS

R: What do you think of the midterms?

BF: I'm discouraged by more than simply the God-awful turnout. The root of our problem is people who are frustrated we haven't produced for them economically. You get into a vicious cycle in which people are disappointed in government because it hasn't delivered, so they then get mad at government and vote for people who dislike government, which makes it even less likely that government will do anything for them.

R: What's the fix?

BF: There are two things we should do to free up money. One, and I'm sorry the President appears to be back-pedaling on this, is cut military spending. And the time has also come for Democrats to look at the environmental issue. Part of that community makes two mistakes. They take a morally superior tone. It's possible to support laws on climate change, but still understand it will have a negative impact on some people and figure out how to compensate them. Not every environmental issue has the same moral importance.

R: So, better turnout next time isn't the solution?

BF: We have to persuade white guys that we really do care about their economic interests.

R: Do the midterms portend badly for Democrats in 2016?

BF: Not so much. We have a temporary advantage in that the Republicans are so badly split that they're going to have a hard time putting together a ticket that gets unified support. They're going to have the same problem Romney had.

GAY RIGHTS

R: Has the velocity of change gay rights surprised you?

BF: It's astonishing. I filed the first gay rights bill in Massachusetts history in 1972. And at any time these past 40 years, if you'd asked me to say, “Where's it going to be three years later?” I'd have been wrong.

R: Is that speed a function of the progressivity of the American people?

BF: Absolutely. If it hadn't been for gender equity and race, we wouldn't have gotten started. But once we did, the reason [for progress] is simple: We're much less different. Almost every straight person has gay and lesbian friends, relatives, etc. When we all started saying who we were, people realized it didn't make any difference. Reality beat the prejudice.

R: Will the U.S. Supreme Court rule on same-sex marriage?

BF: Yes, next year. Of course they'll say yes. Unless Ruth Ginsburg dies. But then they'll still say yes because it will be a 4-to-4 tie. Based on his prior votes [in other gay rights case], I'm sure [Justice Anthony] Kennedy is going to vote to uphold same-sex marriage.

R: So, you predict 5-to-4?

BF: Yes. Potentially 6-to-3, if [Chief Justice John] Roberts joins, but I doubt it. I was struck by what they did recently-their refusal to act. [Without comment, the Court let stand lower-court rulings that upheld a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.] There's a perfect sports analogy. They gave same-sex marriage an intentional walk. They weren't going to let us hit a home run, but they weren't going to try and get us out.

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE: 2016

R: Would you support Hillary?

BF: Pretty enthusiastically. I have slight differences with her on foreign policy-she's more hawkish. But the reality's going to force Democrats into a less intervention position. And you have an appealing candidate. So I'm supporting her and I'd urge others not to run against her.

R: Think there's a chance others will?

BF: No, especially because it doesn't look like we have the luxury of a fight. After the midterms, it's particularly hard for anybody who's thinking about running against her from the left.

R: Who will the Republicans nominate?

BF: They have a terrible problem. You have Jeb Bush on the one hand who has real problems on the right. You have Rand Paul or even a Rubio who have a certain implausibility. God is not that much of a Democrat for Ted Cruz to get nominated.

THE GOP AS LEADERS

R: Will the GOP behave differently now that it controls both houses of Congress?

BF: The real problem is House-versus-Senate. You're going to see great dysfunction. The House Republicans are a very right-wing group, They understand they're going to have a hard time getting anything done, so they're preemptively blaming Obama for their own failure to get together.

R: Is current congressional dysfunction unique in U.S. history?

BF: You have to go back to the Civil War. Things were not ground down under George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan, or Carter. It starts in 2011. In 2009 and '10, we passed financial reform and health care. We repealed “Don't ask, don't tell.” We did women's pay equity. Go back to W. You got No Child Left Behind, the prescription drug program. Under Clinton, even when Republicans were impeaching him, he was still working on a budget deal.

R: What will break the fever?

BF: If the Republicans lose badly in '16. The Democrats take back the Senate, win the presidency, and make gains in the HouseUsually when a party goes far to the extreme, as the Republicans did in '64 with Goldwater, or the Democrats in '72 with McGovern-they're punished at the polls. What was unique in 2010 was Republicans went to the right, but so did the country. It was anger over the things we had to do to respond to the financial crisis. So the Republicans didn't get penalized.

R: Which '16 Republican candidate would worry you most?

BF: Chris Christie maybe, although that bridge scandal was bad. But he'll have terrible trouble getting the nomination, because there's this perception of him being more moderate.

R: More so than Jeb Bush?

BF: If I thought Bush, I would have told you Bush.

R: He's articulate and thoughtful, and from an important state electorally.

BF: And he's a Bush. And his brother went out very unpopular. There's a sense of establishmentism. Christie conveys a sense of being an outsider.

R: If Hillary doesn't run, would Senator Warren be interested?

BF: Of course she'd be. Who's got an ambition in life to be a Triple-A shortstop?

OBAMA

R: You've praised Obama at times, even though you initially supported Clinton in 2008. What are the lessons from his presidency?

BF: He misunderstood partisanship in its best sense. I was worried when he said in 2008 he was going to be post-partisan, It gave me post-partisan depressionHis mistake was to think you can talk your way out of things and undervalue the reality of genuine disagreement. You win the right to cooperate only by being tough to start with. He skipped that part.

R: Is his failure related to race?

BF: Obviously he got elected. And I don't think that's why Tea Party members of Congress were so bad. But the whole birther thing was clearly based on race. And by the way, any sense that race is not a big factor in America is totally refuted by Ebola. If Ebola had broken out in Israel or Ireland, rather than with black people in Africa, it would be treated very differently here.

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008

R: In prior financial epochs like Enron and the S&Ls, people went to jail. Why not this time?

BF: The abuses in many cases weren't yet illegal-ethically awful, but not illegal.

R: Was the Justice Department too timid?

BF: I think so. But liberals have to remember that an essential element of due process is you shouldn't be convicted on behavior that's ambiguously criminal. Part of it, though, was early on were worried about the fragility of the economy, and those other things-Enron, Tyco, World Com-didn't occur when the economy was on the brink.

R: Why would a fragile economy deter prosecutions?

BF: Because you'd make it more fragile by crashing institutions and high-level individuals.

R: Are you given insufficient credit for supporting free enterprise?

BF: I have a fundamental philosophical view, which is we have two systems in our democratic, capitalist society: private sector and public. In the private sector, the more money you have, the more influence you have. That's how a market economy works. If you work harder, you get more moneyAnd that's a good thing. the public sector is supposed to be one-person, one-vote. But weak campaign-finance laws allow you to buy more influence. You're supposed to be able to buy influence in the private sector, not in the public sector.

R: Don't people get the government they deserve?

BF: I agree absolutely. My formulation is this: politicians make a lot of mistakes, the press drives me crazy, and voters are no bargain, either. But part of the problem is unequal money.

R: What do you mean by “voters are no bargain, either”?

BF: It's interesting that the institution the public values the least is the one in which they have the greatest input in selecting: Congress.

PRESS PROBLEMS

R: If the press were so influential, wouldn't Paul Tsongas have been elected president in 1992?

BF: The press is very different today. It's a major contributing factor to pro-right-wing, anti-government feeling. Because even the liberal press is anti-government. Ever watched Jon Stewart say anything good about government?

R: He's part of the problem?

BF: Him and others. The effect is to tell people it doesn't make any difference who they vote for. I differentiate Bill Maher from Jon Stewart. Maher's very funny, but also has good and bad guys on the show. You say, “Oh, I agree more with this side than that side.” You come away from Stewart and especially Colbert, and say, “Oh, they're all assholes.”

R: Is your media critique that different than it would've been a generation ago?

BF: The most active people in society live in parallel media universes, which only reinforce what they believe. That's one reason we don't get compromise. Because when people who represent one faction try to compromise, they're told by supporters, “Why are you doing this?” If the response is, “We didn't have the votes,” you hear, “Of course you have the votes. Everybody I know is for it.”

R: Isn't there some good in how the Web makes information more accessible?

BF: Before the Internet, if you read something, except on a bathroom wall, people generally had to persuade somebody else that what they said had some plausibility. The Internet destroys that.

R: Shouldn't I expect my legislators to be smarter than to believe the echo chamber reflects reality?

BF: You missed the point entirely. You have the people who are going to vote for you overwhelmingly threatening not to vote for you if you compromise. If you think elected officials are entirely indifferent to their voters, you're wrong.

R: Might there not also be – God forbid I use the phrase-a “silent majority”?

BF: Not who vote in primaries.

R: Is your press critique an argument for greater press regulation?

BF: No. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

R: Say again?

BF: Who will guard the guardians?

R: What do journalists not ask you that they should?

BF: Good question. There's this misperception about who did what during the financial crisis, and particularly the irony that it was conservatives pushing for subprime loans. The liberals were trying to regulate them! There's been this great historical effort by conservatives to suggest otherwise.

R: Trying to turn you into the bad guy?

BF: Yeah. In 2007 a Wall Street Journal attacked me because we had a bill to restrict subprime loans. They said, “Don't you want poor people to have homes? These loans are wonderful-80 percent of them are paying off.” That's not a very good percentage.

PRIVACY IN PUBLIC

R: Is it fair game for journalists to speculate about the sexual orientation of public figures?

BF: There's a right to privacy, not a right to hypocrisy. If you're gay and you're voting for anti-gay stuff, then you should be outed. Let me ask you this: If the leader of the right-to-life movement got his daughter an abortion, would you publish that?

R: I'd have trouble. Because it's the daughter's privacy.

BF: If [gun-control advocate] Sarah Brady had an Uzi, would you report it?

R: Yes. That's not within the zone of privacy.

BF: Why not?

R: It's not about health, sexuality, finances, religion, and so forth.

BF: Here's the deal: Nobody thinks there's a zone of privacy as to whether or not you're heterosexual.

R: So if someone is gay that's not in a zone of privacy that journalism ought to respect?

BF: I didn't say you would go out [a public official]. I said it would be a good thing if he did it.

'TOO HARD ON PEOPLE'

R: What do you know now that you wished you'd known 30 or 40 years ago?

BF: I didn't fully understand how to integrate a democratic society with a capitalist system. I also wish I had a better sense I could be too hard on people. I've gotten a little gentler-being less explicit when I thought something was incredibly stupid.

R: Do those amount to regrets?

BF: Most people tell me that a lot changed when I fully came out in '87. If you muffle your sexuality and try to have your career make up for it, I believe that infects your career.

School-board member Allen battles women’s rights activist Fluke for District 26


They’re both young. They’re both Democrats. They’re both up-and-comers on the political scene. 

In fact, judging by their black-and-crimson outfits at a recent debate in Santa Monica, Sandra Fluke and Ben Allen — the two candidates vying to represent California’s 26th Senate District — even share a similar taste in color schemes.

It can be hard to pinpoint any difference of opinion between Fluke and Allen, who are both described as progressive Democrats in a race that has stirred an unusual level of interest among political heavyweights and the community at large.

Allen, 36, an attorney, lecturer at UCLA Law School and member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board, says he supports greater investment in early childhood and public education; environmental protections, particularly for the Santa Monica Mountains; improved public transportation infrastructure; gender equality; and campaign finance reform. 

So does Fluke, 33, an attorney and women’s rights activist, who in 2012 rose to national prominence by standing up to conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh following a virulent thrashing after she testified to members of Congress in favor of health-care coverage for birth control.

Fluke and Allen seek to replace current state Sen. Ted Lieu, who is running to fill the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman. The 26th District extends from West Los Angeles and Santa Monica to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, taking in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and most of the coastal South Bay.

“They’re very young, very strong, very eloquent,” said Margarita Valencia, 62, who like several district residents at a YWCA Santa Monica/Westside Town Hall debate between Allen and Fluke on Oct. 17, said they were having trouble deciding who to vote for. “They’re very good candidates.”

A Jew with roots in the district

Probably the greatest difference between Allen and Fluke is their backgrounds. Allen grew up in Santa Monica and has been heavily involved in district politics as a local school-board member. Fluke originates from rural Pennsylvania and moved to the district about seven years ago, although she spent some of that time at Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C. She’s worked as a social justice advocate locally and at the state level, standing up for low-wage workers and domestic violence victims among others, but she comes to the district race as a political outsider.

Allen is Jewish, with strong ties to the Jewish community. Growing up, he attended Kehillat Ma’arav, a Conservative congregation in Santa Monica, although he is now a member of the Reconstructionist congregation of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades. He went to public schools, graduating from Santa Monica High School in 1996, but also attended the supplemental Jewish education program at Los Angeles Hebrew High School.

While studying for his bachelor’s degree in history at Harvard University, Allen taught Hebrew and Jewish history at the Harvard Hillel children’s school. After graduating from UC Berkeley Law School in 2008, he returned to Santa Monica and was a member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ New Leaders Project and active in the Anti-Defamation League. 

Although sensitive to the nuances of Jewish life, Allen said he believes Jews in the district generally want the same as other constituents: vibrant schools, better transportation, a healthy economy. However, he said he’s been inspired by the long legacy of Jewish leaders in Los Angeles and credited his own background as steering him toward politics.

“Growing up in a Jewish family, you care about social justice, you care about good government, you care about ethics, you care about taking a thoughtful approach to decision making. It’s a part of our culture and a part of our heritage,” he said. “They’re values that got me thinking about working in government and working in public service.”

Earnest and thoughtful, Allen tends to offer detailed answers to policy questions reflective of years spent tackling the intricacies of government. 

“I’ve worked in the private sector, I’ve worked in the public sector. I’ve seen government work at various levels,” he said. “I’ve been really engaged in community-building for a long time now, and I’ve picked up a set of skills and experiences that will be very useful for me to be an effective legislator.”

Plenty of others seem to think so too. Allen has the endorsement of a slew of federal, state and local officials, including U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman and former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan. Supporters also include dozens of neighborhood and business groups, environmental leaders and labor organizations.

“He’s got a combination of ideals and ‘sechel,’ and he has both integrity and savvy,” said Donna Bojarsky, a behind-the-scenes political fundraiser and connector. “He’s one of these people who reminds me of the early Berman-Waxman days, the kind of caliber of young Jews who are willing to both idealistically and practically take on society’s needs.”

Grabbing the spotlight to seek political change

Fluke’s path into politics has been far less traditional. An unknown law student in early 2012, Fluke found herself thrust into the spotlight after Limbaugh’s misogynist attacks against her following her congressional testimony in favor of insurance coverage for birth control and women’s health. Instead of retreating from the public eye, Fluke stood up to Limbaugh, appearing on national news channels and talk shows to argue for women’s reproductive health rights.

Before being catapulted to national attention, Fluke said she hadn’t considered running for office. But calls from women’s activists and others prompted her to rethink.  

“They were looking for more women’s voices, more young people’s voices, more progressive voices in our elected officials,” she said. “I felt that I needed to honor those requests.”

Poised, confident and direct, Fluke is quick to acknowledge that a brush with Limbaugh doesn’t qualify her for political office. But she said her handling of the incident, her advocacy work and the values she stands for do. She said she is determined to fight for the interests of regular people, and her top priority is campaign finance reform. She emphasized her own campaign’s reliance on small-dollar contributions rather than deep-pocketed donors with special interests.  

“I have the independence to be able to be effective in Sacramento,” she said. “I will be a champion for working families.”

Fluke’s background is Christian — her father is an Evangelical preacher — but her husband, comedy writer Adam Mutterperl, is Jewish. Fluke said the two celebrate both traditions’ holidays and sometimes attend Temple Israel of Hollywood. She has also worked with local Jewish organizations, particularly the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, where she chairs their Advocacy Training Project.

Like Allen, Fluke has also garnered an impressive list of supporters, including U.S. Reps. Julia Brownley and Judy Chu, and many labor and community organizations, civic leaders and activists.

Leslie Gersicoff, who works as the executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee Western Region, said she’s impressed with Fluke. Emphasizing that her opinion is personal, and not that of her organization, Gersicoff said Fluke is a refreshing change from male-dominated politics.

“She has an incredible sense of integrity. She’s not business as usual. … She has a true social conscience, and I think the work she would do in Sacramento would benefit a very broad spectrum of individuals, particularly women,” Gersicoff said. “She knows her issues, she knows her stuff, she’s not afraid, and she’s positive, absolutely positive. She’s got good energy for California.”

Has Israel become a Democrat-Republican issue?


About a decade ago, my rabbi was promoting congregational AIPAC involvement.  His argument went that AIPAC was not necessary for our local liberal Jewish Congressman, who was a member of our synagogue.  If he ever did anything anti-Israel, the rabbi always had the option of reporting that fact to the Congressman’s mother.  However, he stated that AIPAC was necessary to make Israel’s case to the Congressman from northeast Louisiana, in other words, the Congressman for the folks from Duck Dynasty.  Ten years later, it seems that the pro Israel lobby needs to change its focus from the Congressman in northeast Louisiana to the one south-central Los Angeles.

In a recent CNN/ORC survey taken from July 18 to July 20, 2014, Americans had a favorable view of Israel, 60%-36%, which would appear promising.  When the data is broken down, there is some cause for concern.  Republicans viewed Israel favorably by a margin of 67%-31% and Independents 63%-35%.  Democrats, however, only viewed Israel favorably by a margin of 49%-48%.  In asking about the justification for Operation Protective Edge, Republicans viewed Israel as justified by a margin of 73%-19%, Independents 56%-36% and Democrats 45%-42%.  Looking at the data, Republicans and Independents are strong supporters of Israel; Democrats not so much.  The trend is alarming.  The key question is why?  What has happened to cause the gradual movement of Democrats from the pro-Israel camp?  There are of course, notable Democrats strongly supportive of Israel from Chuck Schumer to Alan Dershowitz, but if they are not the minority within their own party, they may well soon be. 

I have come up with four reasons to explain the polling data.  The first is moral relativism.  Since World War II, Democrats have never been comfortable in framing issues as good vs. evil.  They had trouble with the Cold War and Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire or George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil.  The fact that there would no need for Operation Protective Edge if Hamas did not fire thousands of rockets into Israel in an attempt (albeit ineffective) to murder as many innocent Jews as possible seems to be lost on certain Democrats.  To frame the issue as Hamas = evil and Israel = good is not a major intellectual breakthrough.  You just need to have a moral compass that finds indiscriminate murder as evil.  Democrats have no problem labeling Republican domestic policies as immoral, such as with the war on women, but their morality seems to go astray as soon as it is applied to the international arena.

The second reason is President Barack Obama.  As the ostensible leader of the Party, the President’s opinions on Israel matter a great deal.  Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Obama is not inherently anti-Israel.  He has approved Iron Dome funding and presided over unprecedented levels of security cooperation between the United States and Israel.  On the other hand, the President is not instinctively pro-Israel either.  One only has to look at his administration’s recent involvement in the cease fire negotiations regarding Operation Protective Edge, which the Israeli security cabinet described as a “betrayal.”  This is not a new issue for the President; Obama has been dogged since he first ran for President about whether he is supportive for Israel in his gut; i.e., the kishkes test.

The third reason is what I call the “Jimmy Carter” issue.  This issue stems from the Democrats being hardwired to support the underdog.  In that framework, all they see is a powerful western colonial Israel oppressing an indigenous third world Palestine.  However in framing the issue as such, Caterites consistently fail to understand the history of the conflict, how the United Nations voted to partition what was then Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab one, how the partition resolution was accepted by the Jewish community and rejected by the Arabs, who then assembled the armies of five nations to launch a war with the avowed aim of driving the Jews out of Palestine.  The fact that they failed is now described as the “Nakba” or catastrophe.  Carter sees this issue in terms of South African apartheid, which is evident by his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”  Despite Carter’s support for Hamas and his being absolutely and completely wrong about Israel, there appears to be an audience for him within the confines of the Democrat party.

The fourth reason is Jewish Democrats themselves.  J Street is a lobbying group that portrays itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.”  What they have done successfully is peel off liberal Jews from AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations.  You can find Israelis with views similar to J Street; you would not even call them hard left.  The difference is that J Street uses its influence on US policy towards Israel, while Israeli leftists, whose children serve in the IDF, use their influence on the democratically elected government of Israel, who is responsible for the safety and well-being of its citizens.  There is debate within the Jewish community about the “Pro-Israel” component of J Street, but you cannot debate that J Street has made it acceptable within the Jewish community to lobby the United States government to apply pressure on Israel.  It is not a giant step to conclude that they have not done as good job within the liberal community of making the case for Israel as they have in making the case for pressuring Israel.

How can we change the Democrats outlook towards Israel?  The data does not say that they are anti-Israel, but the trend is worth noting.

DNC chair: Perception of division on Israel within Democratic Party is totally untrue


Jewish values and Democratic Party values are in sync; there is no split among elected Democratic officials when it comes to Israel; the rise in anti-Israel movements on American campuses must be fought; and the Republicans are going to give Democrats a run for their money in November elections, but will fail to win the Senate.

These were some of the key points made by Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a recent interview with the Journal at the University of Southern California, where the Florida congresswoman and chair of the Democratic National Committee was attending the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on April 12 to promote her 2013 release, “For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation’s Problems.”

A common figure on the Sunday and weekday news shows, Wasserman Schultz is known for her concise, forceful, sometimes aggressive remarks on issues such as health insurance, unemployment, abortion, and the Republican Party.

Florida’s first elected Jewish congresswoman, Wasserman Schultz has risen quickly within the party, becoming one of the most well known political faces at only 47.

And as “a liberal Democrat who’s not afraid to say it out loud,” as Wasserman Schultz said, pro-Israel Jews who vote Democrat should feel confident that their party stands behind the Jewish State as strongly as it always has.

“Despite millions of dollars being thrown by Republicans to try to persuade the Jewish community to support Republicans,” Wasserman Schultz said, “The Jewish community voted 70 percent in 2012 for Barack Obama.”

Wasserman Schultz even expounded on why she believes Judaism and Democratic Party values are in sync, and why American Jews tend to overwhelmingly vote Democrat.

“We are raised to believe in the importance of tikkun olam,” she said. “Being our brothers keeper and looking out for one another—those are all things that are hallmarks of the Democratic Party.”

“The Republicans are wrong on all those issues that matter to Jews,” Wasserman Schultz continued. “Democrats have made those issues priorities.”

While she said that the Tea Party has taken over the Republican Party, particularly in the House of Representatives, Wasserman Schultz feels confident that Democrats will buck many pundits’ predictions this November, and maintain control of the Senate.

Why? Because Americans’ attitudes towards the Tea Party, and thus towards the Republicans, have worsened since its peak in 2010.

“The Republicans have allowed the Tea Party to take them over, they have been obsessed with obstruction,” she said. “They were willing to shut the government down over denying health care.”

Asked during the interview about the perception that there is a divide on the Democratic left about support for Israel, Wasserman Schultz responded pointedly, “That’s just completely fabricated, it’s just totally untrue. That perception has not been growing.”

Although the vast majority of elected Democrats consistently support pro-Israel legislation, as Wasserman Schultz said, perception of division grew when, at the 2012 Democratic national convention in Charlotte, party leaders had to jump into crisis management mode upon a row over the party’s decision to reinstate into its platform that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, something that was removed following its presence in the 2008 party platform.

When former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for verbal “ayes” and “nos” amongst the conferences attendees, in regards to reintroducing the Jerusalem clause, the crowd sounded roughly split. Determined to put an end to the uncomfortable situation, Villaraigosa pushed the measure through, and reinstated the clause. Democratic leaders, including Wasserman Schultz, have insisted that the omission was unintentional.

In recent months, most attention within pro-Israel circles has been focused on two sets of negotiations. One, between the Israelis and Palestinians, which only recently fell apart. The second, between Western powers and Iran, on its nuclear program, which have made little, if any progress, since they were announced in Fall 2013.

Although, according to a January Huffington Post report, Wasserman Schultz had quietly opposed potential legislation that would automatically reinstate sanctions on Iran if a permanent deal on its nuclear program is not reached, she told the Journal that if no agreement is reached by the July 20 deadline, she would vote to immediately reapply the eased sanctions.

“Congress will send President Obama even stronger sanctions,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Like the President, I’m a pretty significant skeptic on whether or not this is actually going to result in a final agreement, but we have to try.”

She added that, when it comes to the boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) movement, which anti-Israel campus groups in the United States have recently spearheaded, Democrats must “push hard against it.”

“A lot of the young people who have embraced that movement, I don’t think they fully grasp the siege that Israel has been under for so long,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Part of it is, sadly, some anti-Semitism.”

David Suissa: Why won’t liberals defend Israel?


As I was reading about “engagement” — the new buzzword regarding Israel that came out of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial this past weekend in San Diego — I wondered: Did anyone at the convention notice the other hot word circulating regarding the Jewish state?

This one would be the all-too familiar “B” word: Boycott.

While America’s largest Jewish denomination was discussing its engagement with Israel, the American Studies Association (ASA) became the country’s largest academic group to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. This comes on the heels of a similar boycott last April, by the Association for Asian American Studies.

These nasty assaults on Israel don’t just violate the spirit of academia; more importantly, they discriminate against the Jewish state. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the ASA president himself, Curtis Marez, who admitted to The New York Times that there are plenty of nations in the world with a worse human rights record than Israel’s.

So, he was asked, why pick on Israel?

In a statement that might well enter the anti-Semitic Hall of Fame, Marez replied, “One has to start somewhere.”

Forget about starting with nations where women are stoned to death, gays are lynched and children are murdered. 

No, Marez has to start somewhere — so why not start with the Jews?

Activist lawyer Alan Dershowitz issued a clever challenge to Marez’s group while they were considering the boycott: “I asked them to name a single country in the history of the world faced with threats comparable to those Israel faces that has had a better record of human rights, a higher degree of compliance with the rule of law, a more demanding judiciary, more concern for the lives of enemy civilians, or more freedom to criticize the government than the State of Israel.”

As Dershowitz writes in Haaretz, “Not a single member of the association came up with a name of a single country. That is because there are none. Israel is not perfect, but neither is any other country, and Israel is far better than most.”

Here’s the point: You can be the biggest peacenik in the world and criticize Israeli settlements all day long and still be completely justified in expressing revulsion at the blatant discrimination routinely inflicted on Israel.

Which brings me to the new buzzword on Israel for the URJ — engagement — which Allison Kaplan Sommer describes in Haaretz as “the trendy umbrella term that both acknowledges the existence of disagreement in the relationship, and endorses using any avenue of interest to get Reform Jews more involved with Israel.”

These disagreements, which include the need for greater respect within Israel for non-Orthodox streams, are genuine and should not be downplayed.

But here’s my question for URJ head Rabbi Rick Jacobs: You spoke eloquently at the biennial about your deep love for Israel and the need to engage Israel, but why did you not speak about the need to defend Israel against unfair and discriminatory attacks?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the global lies that have soiled the name of Israel?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the hypocrisy of the United Nations, where Israel gets condemned more than the top 16 violators of human rights combined?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the anti-Zionist BDS movement that aims only to delegitimize the Jewish state you so love? 

I get that the focus of your movement’s relationship with Israel is based around a healthy and honest engagement of issues, with some “tough love” thrown in, just as one would do with family.

But there’s something else one does with family: One defends it when it is unfairly attacked.

One thing I admire about Rabbi Jacobs is how he jumps over the walls that often divide the Jewish family, as when he recently attended the annual gathering of the Chabad movement. I’ve heard him talk of how we can all learn from one another.

So, next time the rabbi is in Tel Aviv, I have an idea for another wall he can jump: Visit the offices of Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center), and hear from legal expert Nitsana Darshan-Leitner how the ASA boycott violates international, federal and state law in the United States, and how her group plans to defend Israel against this illegal and unconscionable assault.

Also, hear about the group’s track record of bringing lawyers from across the world to prosecute institutions, governments and private companies that discriminate against Israel. If you like what you hear, find out how your movement can help.

Fighting discrimination — whether against Israel or any other country — should be a proud liberal cause. One can engage and even criticize Israel and also fight to defend it against unfair attacks. Liberal icon Dershowitz, who criticizes Israeli settlements, is a rare case of a liberal lover of Israel who’s not afraid to take the gloves off to defend the Jewish state.

He should be the keynote speaker at the next Reform convention.


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

Media tycoon Saban Says dreams of Hillary Clinton as U.S. president


Israeli-American media tycoon Haim Saban, a major donor to the U.S. Democratic party, said on Friday he would back former secretary of state Hillary Clinton with his “full might” should she run for president in 2016.

Clinton, 66, whose four-year tenure as U.S. secretary of state ended in February, has said she is considering running for the presidency but that she will most probably decide next year.

As a candidate, she would be widely viewed as the favorite for the Democratic nomination – which she contested in 2008 but lost to Barack Obama, who is in his second term.

Billionaire financier George Soros, another party bankroller, also pledged support for the wife of former President Bill Clinton last month.

“I hope she will run. She would be a wonderful president,” Saban told Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. “If it happens, we will of course pitch in with full might. Seeing her in the White House is a big dream of mine.”

Saban, producer of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, gave $1 million to three Democratic political action committees in 2012, when Obama won reelection.

Another potential Democratic candidate in the 2016 race is Vice President Joe Biden. A Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll in September found him nearly 40 percentage points behind Clinton.

Some Biden supporters have questioned whether Obama was showing sufficient support for him after a new book about the 2012 campaign, “Double Down”, said the president had weighed replacing him on the ticket with Clinton.

Obama did not deny that his political aides had pre-tested the idea, but said he would have rejected it.

“I think that if Vice President Biden decides to run, Obama will stay neutral, but if Biden does not run and she does, he will support her,” Saban said. “The general feeling is that Hillary is Obama's natural successor.”

Reuters/Ipsos polling has shown Clinton to be Americans' top choice for president, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as her closest potential challenger among rival Republicans.

Americans preferred Clinton over Christie by 19 points, the September poll said.

Writing by Dan Williams, editing by Elizabeth Piper

Pew finds Jews mostly liberal


One of the most interesting findings of the respected Pew Research Center’s poll of American Jews was the continuing theme of Jewish liberalism and approval of Barack Obama’s performance — a vote of confidence in the president exceeded only by that of African-American Protestants and Hispanic Catholics.

“Jews are among the most strongly liberal, Democratic groups in U.S. politics,” the Pew report said. “There are more than twice as many self-identified Jewish liberals as conservatives, while among the general public, this balance is nearly reversed. In addition, about seven-in-ten Jews identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. Jews are more supportive of President Barack Obama than are most other religious groups. And about eight-in-ten Jews say homosexuality should be accepted by society.”

The survey is a landmark in research on the Jewish states of mind, the first such major survey since the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001. It digs deeply into religious practice, participation in community activities, educational and economic attainment, demographics, and social and political views. It will help shape writing, commentary and research on Jewish American life for years to come.

It was taken between Feb. 20 and June 13 of this year, including a diverse sampling of 3,475 Jews, who are representative of the 6 million-plus American Jews. 

The pollsters were aware of the difficulty of defining who is a Jew. “This is an ancient question with no single, timeless answer,” they said. They divided Jews in two ways. One was by religion — those who “say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion).” The other was “Jews of no religion — people who describe themselves … as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way.” Interestingly, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of Jews considered themselves Jewish by religion.

The findings on Jewish attitudes toward Obama come at a significant time. While the Pew pollsters were in the field, the president was under fire for his policies on Syria, Iran and Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly didn’t like the way he was going.

In addition, he was headed toward yet another brutal confrontation with Republicans, especially the GOP in the House of Representatives. His approval ratings in national polls had dropped sharply since his 2012 re-election.

That drop wasn’t the case among Jews. A total of 65 percent of those surveyed by Pew said they approved of the way Obama was doing his job. Both women and men felt the same way, by just about the same percentage — a contrast to surveys of the general population, which show Obama more popular among women. The same is also true among age groups — with 64 percent of Jews over 50 approving of him and 66 percent of those under 50 agreeing.

Only African-American Protestants, with 88 percent, and Hispanic Catholics, 76 percent, give the president higher approval ratings.

However, the same percentages of Orthodox Jews do not share these beliefs, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, the survey found. For example, 82 percent of Jews overall feel that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 58 percent of the Orthodox Jews felt it should be discouraged, with that sentiment reaching 70 percent among the ultra-Orthodox. And just 33 percent of Orthodox Jews gave Obama a favorable job-performance rating, with the number even lower among the ultra-Orthodox, 28 percent.

This minority is growing. The Orthodox Jewish community has double the birthrate of the rest of the Jews, and it is substantially younger. Those trends add up to increased Orthodox influence in the political world if they chose to use it. 

Jewish Republicans have tried to mobilize them in past presidential elections, but, so far, each time the Democratic candidate has received a solid majority, the numbers hardly wavering from one election to the next. 

But in recent weeks, their efforts have been damaged by the cadre of radical Republicans in the House, and by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who closed down the federal government in their effort to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

You might think the Republicans are on the right track after the Obamacare Web sites’ troubled introduction, and after months of conservative attacks on the ACA, with polls showing that, while negative sentiment is declining, the Affordable Care Act is still unpopular.

But that’s not the case with Jews. They back Obamacare. The American Jewish Committee’s Web site noted that most public opinion polls show a majority of Jews favor the ACA. The Pew survey explains why. 

The poll shows that even among the irreligious, Jewish identity is intertwined with feelings of obligation to society and remembrance of how Jews have been persecuted. Jews worry about the underdogs, who are on the difficult road that they, their parents or grandparents traveled.

The Holocaust is deep in Jewish consciousness. Pew reported that roughly seven in 10 U.S. Jews (73 percent) say remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. Nearly as many say leading an ethical and moral life is essential to what it means to be Jewish. And a majority of U.S. Jews say working for justice and equality in society is essential to being Jewish.

The hard-hearted Republican conduct of the past weeks, plus the House Republicans’ willingness to shut down badly needed government services run counter to those feelings. That will likely shape how a majority of Jews vote in the 2014 midterm election, as well as in 2016, when the country picks a successor to Barack Obama.


Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Character references: Eric Garcetti


In a few weeks, Eric Garcetti might become Los Angeles’ youngest mayor in more than a century. When Eric was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University from 1993 to 1996, we were close friends and he was a regular at my L’Chaim Society.

In this age of extreme political partisanship, it’s incumbent upon those in the know to highlight the character of candidates seeking public office in a manner that transcends party affiliation. Despite my own recent run for Congress on the Republican ticket, my endorsement of Eric, a Democrat, is based on 20 years of knowing him as one of the finest students I came across in my 11 years as rabbi at Oxford.

Eric was always a very pleasant, humble, wise, sincere and serious. We would often discuss his mixed heritage, coming from a Catholic father, who was famous as Los Angeles’ district attorney, and his Jewish mother. Eric would often come to our Friday night Shabbat dinners.

But there was one unforgettable incident that really defined his character for me in a moment of terrible tragedy.

[Related: Inherent in Wendy Greuel’s being is her moral compass]

One day in 1994, I received a phone call in the late afternoon from a student who was crying bitterly. She was almost incoherent with grief. The student, who was studying at Oxford, far away from home, had just received a phone call that her beloved father, with whom she was very close, had died in a terrible accident. She pleaded with me to help her in this moment of agony. I reached her family and we all decided the best thing would be for her to return home as soon as possible. I told them I would drive her to the airport in London.

There was one problem. I had already invited Eric over to our home for a private dinner with my wife and me. Given that this was before most students had cell phones, I could not tell Eric in time that the dinner was being canceled.

I drove to the student’s college dorm, where some of her friends were helping her pack her things. We drove straight to my home, where my wife could speak to her and where she could eat something before the long night ahead of her. As we walked into the house, there was Eric. He had no idea of the night’s events. I quickly introduced him to young woman. 

I said to Eric, “I’m so sorry that we have to cancel dinner tonight. You see, she has just learned that her father passed away just hours ago.” 

Moments like this show an individual’s true character. Here was Eric, a popular Rhodes scholar who had come to have dinner at his rabbi’s home. What followed was an interaction that has lingered in my mind and which I will never forget.

Confronted with a total stranger’s grief and tragedy, Eric looked right at the student and, in the gentlest words, said, “I am so sorry for your pain. I’m heartbroken to hear the news. Please tell me if there is anything I can do.” 

His face contorted in pain, Eric spent the next few minutes speaking with her. It was not what he said but the way he said it. He spoke with extreme empathy and understanding and the student felt that this total stranger was sharing her pain. 

It is quite remarkable that nearly 20 years later I can remember the scene so vividly. What I saw was genuine human compassion for the plight of a complete stranger. I remember thinking to myself that here was a young man with a soft and special heart, that he had the ability to connect genuinely and compassionately with those who were suffering.

Eric waited around and kept emphasizing that he wanted to help in any way that he could. He refused to leave the home until the student and I departed for the airport. 

For years to come, whenever I visited the student and her husband, she was so deeply touched by Eric’s caring that she would ask me how he was doing. Conversely, Eric regularly asks me about the welfare of the woman. I’m not sure if they ever met again, but for me, as a witness to a brief exchange between two people in a moment of tragedy, it was a demonstration of Eric’s desire to always be there for those who are suffering.

Indeed, Eric’s caring for those who are struggling would become his defining political legacy as a councilman and then as president of the Los Angeles City Council.

In Oxford, our organization specialized in hosting world personalities who lectured on values-based issues. About a year after this sad story, Eric was instrumental in helping me host his father, L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti, to lecture to our students. Gil was all over the news at the time, having been involved in the high-profile cases, such as O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson. I remember witnessing just how close Eric was to his father and the special bond they shared. It was something that I was reminded of recently, when I was invited to the birthday party of Eric’s young child, seeing the deference and respect Eric accords his parents and the loving bond with his wife, Amy, whom I also knew at Oxford. Gil is now an accomplished photographer and the son he mentored has grown to become a special man.

It is my hope that his father will have the privilege of taking the very first photograph of Los Angeles’ newest mayor.


Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Another Republican senator backs Hagel for Pentagon chief


Chuck Hagel's path to confirmation as President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense became more secure on Thursday when Republican Senator Richard Shelby said he would support the nomination.

Shelby joined almost every other Republican senator a week ago in delaying a vote on confirming Hagel in order to allow colleagues more time to examine Hagel's record, said spokesman Jonathan Graffeo.

Fifteen other Republican senators signed a letter to Obama on Thursday asking that he withdraw Hagel's nomination, saying they respect the military service of the decorated Vietnam War veteran, but he lacks the bipartisan support and confidence to serve effectively.

The White House said it still supports Hagel and expects he will be confirmed. Senate Democrats expect a vote on his confirmation next week, after Congress returns from a recess, and that Hagel will win the majority support he needs to become the chief civilian at the Pentagon.

Graffeo said Shelby now plans to vote for a motion to stop debate, ending the delay, and in favor of the nomination when the Senate considers whether to confirm Hagel, barring any surprises between now and the vote.

Shelby, a five-term senator from Alabama, served with Hagel during the nominee's two terms as a Republican senator from Nebraska. He is at least the third Republican – along with Mike Johanns and Thad Cochran – to say he will vote for Hagel.

Democrats control 55 votes in the 100-member Senate, and none has come out against Hagel. While he has long looked likely to garner the 51 votes he needs to be confirmed, his backers feel it will strengthen him as Pentagon chief to have as much bipartisan support as possible.

REPUBLICAN OBJECTIONS

Many Republicans have fiercely opposed Hagel's nomination as civilian chief at the Pentagon since it was announced on Jan. 7.

Hagel broke from his party as a senator by opposing former President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, infuriating some Republicans. Some have also raised questions about whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel or tough enough on Iran.

Republicans also worry Hagel will be too supportive of any effort by Obama to include cuts in Pentagon spending as a way to deal with yawning U.S. budget deficits.

Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services committee also drew harsh criticism. Even some Democrats said he appeared at times unprepared or hesitant in the face of aggressive questioning.

The pressure against Hagel's nomination continued with Thursday's letter from the 15 Republicans, which cited among other things statements by the former senator they said “proclaimed the legitimacy of the current regime in Iran.”

But the White House, blasting what it called continued political posturing by Republicans it contends puts the country at more risk, said there were no plans for Hagel's withdrawal.

“We firmly believe that Senator Hagel will be confirmed, but the waste of time is of consequence,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at his daily news briefing.

“There are 66,000 men and women in uniform in Afghanistan and we need our new secretary of defense on the job to be part of the significant decisions that have to be made as we bring that war to a responsible end,” he said.

Many of the senators who signed the letter have been among Hagel's most vocal opponents. They included James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate armed services panel, and five other Republican members of that committee – Lindsey Graham, Roger Wicker, David Vitter, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.

The other nine were Senators John Cornyn, Patrick Toomey, Marco Rubio, Daniel Coats, Ron Johnson, James Risch, John Barrasso, Tom Coburn and Tim Scott.

Editing by Todd Eastham

Senate panel sets Tuesday vote on Hagel nomination


A U.S. Senate panel plans to vote on Tuesday afternoon on the bitterly contested nomination of Chuck Hagel as President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense, the committee said on Monday.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which must approve Hagel's nomination as Pentagon chief before a vote by the full Senate, intends to ask the committee to vote in an open meeting at 2:30 p.m. EST.

Hagel, 66, a Republican and former Nebraska senator, has been the target of harsh criticism from senators in his own party, who raised questions over whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel and tough on Iran.

Hagel's testimony before the committee during his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing has also been criticized. Even some Democrats have said he appeared unprepared and at times hesitant during aggressive questioning by Republican panel members.

Levin intends to have the committee vote on Hagel's nomination after its members discuss it.

Hagel's backers are still convinced he will succeed the retiring Leon Panetta at the Defense Department and have called Republican delays and threats to prevent the vote on his nomination political posturing.

The Democrats have 14 votes on the armed services panel, to 12 for the Republicans, and Hagel needs only a simple majority to be cleared by the committee for a vote by the full senate, where the Democratic caucus outnumbers Republicans, 55-45.

No Democrat has come out against Hagel, and at least two Republicans – Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns, who holds Hagel's old Senate seat – have said they will vote for him.

A few other Republicans have said they would not support the use of any procedural mechanism that would force the Democrats to round up 60 votes to confirm Hagel.

Levin had hoped to have the committee vote on Hagel's confirmation last week, but delayed amid Republican demands for more information on issues including Hagel's business dealings and past speeches.

Levin has characterized some of the requests as an attempt to set a new standard for a cabinet nominee.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been among the most vocal Hagel opponents, on Sunday threatened to block a vote on his confirmation until the Obama administration provides more information about the deadly September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Graham had previously threatened to block the vote if Panetta did not appear before the committee to discuss Benghazi.

Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the committee in a four-hour hearing on Thursday, but Graham said he was still not satisfied.

Graham and some other Republican lawmakers have questioned Obama's response to the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi incident in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed.

Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jackie Frank and Philip Barbara

Is God a Democrat or a Republican?


With President Obama having just taken the oath for his second term in office, we can allow ourselves the luxury of thinking about substantive issues in ways that transcend party affiliations and divisions. We no longer have to debate how and for whom Jews should vote, and instead can confront the far more important question of what Jewish values teach us about the nature of a just society and the role and responsibility of the individual in shaping it.

Jewish teaching on this issue begins early in the Bible in Genesis Chapter 4, when we are introduced to the personality of Cain, who personifies injustice and serves as a model for what we must not become. In response to God's query regarding the whereabouts of his brother Abel, Cain offers a response which sets the foundation for Jewish morality: Am I my brother's keeper? (Gen. 4:9) The core of Jewish ethics may be summarized by the answer: “Yes. You are your brother and sister's keeper.” When you walk in the world as a Jew, you relinquish the singular perspective of self-interest and accept that the existence of others breeds responsibility to them. This responsibility is not the mere consequence of a social contract but a core aspect of what it means to be human. Others claim you, and their existence demands of you that you see them and respond to their needs.

In the Jewish tradition this principle gets translated into a Law of Non-Indifference which serves as the foundation for governing the relationships among human beings. “If you see your fellow's ox or sheep gone astray do not remain indifferent. You must take it back to him….you shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: You must not remain indifferent.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-3)

The defining feature of a Jewish public space is that it must be a safe one, safe not merely from harm, safe not merely from a Hobbesian definition of the state of nature as being a state of war of all against all, but safe in the sense that individuals who enter it know that their well-being is a concern of all who share in that space. A space is a safe one when all who inhabit it are “fellow keepers,” a space wherein the individuals recognize their responsibility to override their personal interests and not merely refrain from harming others but actually care for and respond to their needs.

The biblical law of lost property quoted above shapes a mode of behavior and consciousness whereby fellow citizens do not come into the public domain either to merely survive, or conversely, in search of benefiting from others' misfortunes. What could be more natural or simple than “looking the other way” when coming into contact with a lost piece of property. Who needs the hassle of trying to run down the owner? As a busy person, I don’t have time to be my brother's keeper, or more opportunistically, I can view such a moment as a prospect for personal gain. Who knows, I might reason, perhaps it is meant to belong to me. Perhaps it is a gift from God. In both cases the lens is actually a mirror: when I look at someone else's loss, I can only see myself, my needs and interests. Jewish tradition commands, however, that we walk in the public domain in a different way. At the heart of the ethic of non-indifference is the smashing of the mirror of self-interest to do what is just and right.

Jews in America have been blessed with the gift of freedom and equality and given the opportunity to not merely pursue our religious life free of persecution, but also the opportunity of full partnership in shaping the American public sphere. The First Amendment “wall of separation” between Church and State which Jews so judiciously protect, is meant to ensure that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Its aim is to separate Church from State but not religion and religious values from the public discourse.

I don’t know whether God is a Democrat or a Republican, nor do I want to argue that one of them is more conducive to creating a just society. I do want to argue, however, that as Jews we are inheritors of a value system which has much to contribute to a public discourse about the nature of such a just society. As Jews we must be the enemies of indifference and the advocates of a social contract which educates and obligates all to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers.

America is in the midst of a serious discussion about its present and future identity and how the values which it holds dear ought to impact on issues such as universal health care, entitlements, deficits, gun control, and environment, to name just a few. As Jews our role in this discussion should not merely be expressed in the way we vote but in the way we bring the values of our tradition to shape this public discussion.

Jewish Democrats low key, grateful at second inauguration


The inaugural poem included a “shalom,” and three rabbis and a cantor attended the traditional next-day inaugural blessing. But the message that Jewish Democrats were most eager to convey during President Obama’s second inauguration on Jan. 21 was that the long romance between the community and the party was nowhere near over.

There was no big Jewish Obama inaugural ball this year — overall, celebrations were fewer and less ambitious than in 2009 — but in small discreet parties across Washington this week, Jewish Democrats breathed with relief that their candidate was re-elected and had a substantial majority among Jewish voters.

“It’s easy to forget, as it already seems a long time ago, but despite a profoundly negative campaign aimed at the president in our community, he overwhelmingly won the Jewish vote,” David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said in an interview.

Obama scored 68 percent to 70 percent of the Jewish vote in November’s presidential contest, according to exit polls, a slight decline from the 74 to 78 percent he won in 2008.

Republicans throughout the Obama presidency have made claims of a drift between the Democrats and what for decades has been a core and generous constituency. They have cited in particular Obama’s tense relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; according to a recent report, Obama has said repeatedly that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”

Yet Obama’s Jewish ties seem as deep as ever.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, emceed the inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who has made a mantra of saying that the Democratic Party is the “natural political home for the Jews,” reassumed her position as Democratic National Committee chair on Jan. 22 at the committee’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C. Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., delivered an invocation at the event.

A few blocks away at the National Cathedral, four Jewish clergy participated in the presidential inaugural prayer service: Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi Sharon Brous, the founder of the IKAR Jewish community in Los Angeles (related story on p. 22); and Cantor Mikhail Manevich of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue just blocks from the cathedral.

There were some hiccups: Muslim and Jewish clerics joined their Christian colleagues in a procession headed by ministers bearing aloft a crucifix. Brous substantially changed her prayer reading, which had been drafted by the cathedral, to make it more forthright. A genteel rebuffing of “favoritism” in her prepared text became a rebuke against “biases” in her delivered remarks.

The day before, when Obama fulfilled another time-honored inaugural tradition with a visit to historic St. John’s Church across the street from the White House, Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, and Rabbi Jack Moline, who helms the Conservative Agudas Achim synagogue in Alexandria, Va., delivered readings.

Sixth and I, the historic synagogue in the city’s downtown, drew several hundred to a Shabbat service for government and campaign workers. Wasserman Schultz delivered a sermon, and although she avoided blatant partisanship, she described Democratic policy objectives — among them, access to health care and a reinforced safety net for the poor — as Jewish values.

Otherwise, the Jewish profile was low-key. NJDC, along with J Street, the liberal Jewish group that had made its hallmark the backing of Obama’s Middle East policies, hosted private parties, reflecting the overall subdued festivities. There were only two “official” balls this year, instead of 10, and 800,000 people poured into the capital, a million fewer than four years ago.

A Jewish official said that, similarly, there were fewer Jewish visitors to Washington this year, which likely drove the decision by the major Jewish groups not to repeat the ball at the Capital Hilton. In 2009, hundreds of Jewish Chicagoans were in Washington; this year there was not as much interest.

Instead, many celebrators dedicated themselves to service, in line with a call from the White House for such projects to be timed with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The District of Columbia Jewish Community Center drew 25 volunteers to help refurbish two apartments for people transitioning from homelessness.

“Volunteering today was meaningful because service is very important to the president, and Martin Luther King is important to him,” said Erica Steen, the director of community engagement for the DCJCC.

J Street brought in 75 activists from across the country to distribute leaflets to passers-by asking them to urge Obama to make Middle East peacemaking a priority.

“Without strong U.S. leadership it won’t be resolved,” said Talia Ben Amy, a 26-year-old assistant editor from New York who was handing out literature near the National Mall.

Eran Sharon, a law graduate from the University of Texas at Austin who is on a fellowship with Jews United for Justice, was helping out at a homeless kitchen after the Sixth and I service. The second inauguration, he said, had brought on more of a sense of relief than exultation.

“It’s a new opportunity to finish the policies Obama has started,” said Sharon, 29. “Hopefully with less bickering with Congress.”

Los Angeles activist attending Obama’s inauguration finds Jewish values in week’s festivities


The chill in the D.C. air never seems to diminish the warmth and excitement from a presidential inauguration. 2013 was no different, but it also felt uniquely Jewish.

As a college student and law student in Washington DC, and later as an activist from California, I’ve attended five inaugurations since 1989.   But this year in particular felt Like a family coming together after feuding, with Republicans and Democrats attending the celebration of American democracy, sitting down and breaking bread together at receptions, dinners, lunches and Inaugural balls and galas.

The 2012 Presidential election was one of the most divisive for the Jewish community in decades, but the clamor did not seem to extend to the week of festivities.  Attempts to partisanize s support for Israel was soundly rebuked this election cycle and such comments were nowhere to be found this week. .

If anything, people seem to be coming together.   The furor over the nomination of former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense seems to have faded with his endorsement by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and recent meetings with Jewish community leaders at the White House, where he had the chance to explain how the current situation in Iran, Syria , Egypt and Gaza has made his views evolve into more mainstream positions.  

At a breakfast for Jewish women put together by the National Jewish Democratic Council, the focus was on more domestic issues.  Congresswoman Susan Davis of San Diego and former Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Ann Lewis exhorted more women to get involved in politics and take leadership positions to ensure that issues of equality and access to reproductive health care stay at the forefront.  

With the economy still in recovery, the parties were smaller.   There were only two official Inaugural Balls (military and public) instead of the 10 that were in 2009.    The California Democratic Party’s event was held with 500 attendees in a hotel, compared with the thousands that attended the event at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 2009.   New California members of Congress Jared Huffman, Alan Lowenthal, Ami Bera and Scott Peters  (Peters and Lowenthal are Jewish) and more familiar faces such as Brad Sherman and John Garamendi added to the lineup of politicians in attendance.    There was also a job fair for Obama staff alumni with local non-profits, political consultants and technology companies to help those that put their lives on hold for months to find new opportunities and several small receptions where I saw California Republican Congressman Ed Royce, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, newly elected California Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod .

Jewish themes ran throughout the weekend.   Saturday was a national day of service, with projects from DC to Los Angeles, helping fix up the community.  President Obama’s inauguration speech also had themes that reflected Jewish values,

President Obama said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” 

Some may argue that the President’s speech was a defense of liberalism.   To me, I heard in those words a defense of the “Tikkun Olam” concept that when Americans create opportunity for those that don’t have access to such changes, it raises all of us up, and when we deny equality and dignity to one human being, it hurts us all.

He reminded us that our duty was to fight for equality and liberty. While the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness may be self evident, they have rarely been self executing.

I grew up and went to college in the Washington DC area, so it was a great chance to see friends and share pictures of my new daughter, with family and friends who I had not seen since she was born (which also felt very Jewish), but what I saw throughout this week was a very Jewish notion: The start of a natural healing process of every party, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity to come together as an “American family” to face the challenges of the next four years led by President Barack Obama, who is now the President for all of us.


Andrew Lachman is President Emeritus of Democrats for Israel and a member of the Democratic National Committee.

As the Hagel battle intensifies, Pentagon nominee gets key support from Jewish Dems


Even as critics intensify their efforts to depict him as unfit to protect the U.S.-Israel relationship, Chuck Hagel has convinced several of the most prominent Jewish Democratic lawmakers to endorse his nomination to lead the Pentagon.

Since rumors of his nomination first surfaced in December, opponents have argued to varying degrees that Hagel is anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic. At the center of many of the attacks has been his 2006 comment to an interviewer that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates many people in Washington.

In recent days, Hagel has secured endorsements from three of the most identifiably Jewish and pro-Israel Democratic lawmakers: U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), as well as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The endorsements follow several discussions with lawmakers during which Hagel is said to have expressed regret for the “Jewish lobby” comment. In those discussions, he also assured lawmakers that he is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“In our conversation, Sen. Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do 'whatever it takes' to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force,” Schumer said in a statement regarding his Monday meeting with Hagel. “He said his 'top priority' as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran.”

Obama’s formal nomination of Hagel on Jan. 7 only intensified the battle lines over the former Nebraska senator and Vietnam War hero.

That day, one of his most prominent critics, Elliott Abrams, told NPR that Hagel “appears to be” an anti-Semite. Less than a week later, on the Jan. 13 broadcast of “Meet the Press,” one of Hagel’s more prominent defenders, Colin Powell, called such attacks “disgraceful.”

Powell’s rejoinder was all the more extraordinary because he and Abrams were the top shapers of foreign policy in the George W. Bush administration — Powell as secretary of state in the first term and Abrams as the deputy national security adviser who took the lead on Middle East issues.

“When they go over the edge and say because Chuck said Jewish lobby he is anti-Semitic, that’s disgraceful,” Powell said. “We shouldn’t have that kind of language in our dialogue.”

There was little sign that the sharp exchanges would fade ahead of confirmation hearings likely to take place as early as next month. The Emergency Committee for Israel, a group that has consistently opposed Obama’s Israel policies and backed only GOP candidates, ran a full-page ad in The New York Times on Tuesday urging readers to call Schumer and the junior senator from New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, also a Democrat, and tell them not to confirm Hagel.

“Ask them to put country ahead of party,” the ad said.

The Zionist Organization of America and Christians United for Israel continue to advocate against Hagel on Capitol Hill and through social media. On Tuesday they were joined by one of the preeminent political action committees, NORPAC, which asked its activists to tell their senators that they oppose Hagel’s nomination.

Liberal Jewish groups such as Americans for Peace Now, J Street and the Israel Policy Forum have backed Hagel. Centrist groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee at one time seemed poised to fight the choice — but not now.

For example, in letters to Democratic senators before the formal nomination, AJC pressed them to urge Obama not to nominate Hagel. Since the nomination, however, the group has said it is 'concerned' but does not formally oppose the nomination.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has not made any public statement on the matter, and Hill insiders say its officials also have been silent on Hagel in their private encounters. Josh Block, the former AIPAC spokesman who now runs The Israel Project, has been directing reporters to material critical of Hagel, but from his private email account.

Hagel, meanwhile, has barely granted any interviews — a JTA request is pending — but has reached out to top Jewish lawmakers to explain what appear to be past equivocations on Iran policy and to apologize for remarks in which he referred to an “intimidating” Jewish lobby.

Calling the term “Jewish lobby” a “very poor choice of words,” Hagel said in a letter to Boxer that “I used that terminology only once, in an interview. I recognize that this kind of language can be construed as anti-Israel.”

He delivered a similar apology over the phone last week to Wasserman Schultz, a flag bearer for Jewish causes among Democrats — it was her freshman legislation that in 2006 established Jewish Heritage Month.

“He realized some of the things he had said previously were offensive and inappropriate,” Wasserman Schultz told JTA.

Hagel already had the backing of two leading Jewish senators, Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif,), but insiders considered Schumer’s endorsement critical. Schumer has noted repeatedly to Jewish audiences that his name derives from the Hebrew word “shomer,” or guardian, and that he sees Israel’s security as his calling.

Boxer also is a go-to Jewish lawmaker — she was the lead on a bill last year that enhanced the U.S.-Israel security relationship.

“After speaking extensively with Sen. Hagel by phone last week and after receiving a detailed written response to my questions late today, I will support Sen. Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense,” Boxer said in a release late Monday. “First and foremost, he has pledged without reservation to support President Obama’s polices — policies that I believe have made our world safer and our alliances stronger.”

Beyond his remarks regarding a “Jewish lobby,” the issues that had exercised Boxer and Wasserman Schultz — as well as some pro-Israel groups — had to do with Hagel's past skepticism of the efficacy of unilateral sanctions as a means of keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, as well as his wariness of a military option in the same case.

In his letter to Boxer, Hagel reiterated his preference for multilateral sanctions, noting his past support, but added that unilateral sanctions in some instances were “necessary.” He did not mention the possibility of a strike.

But Wasserman Schultz said that in her phone call with Hagel, “he said that all options should be on the table, including a military option.”

In both interactions, Hagel also noted his solid Senate record voting to fund defense assistance to Israel.

Wasserman Schultz pressed Hagel to explain why he had not signed a number of letters organized by the pro-Israel and Jewish communities, particularly an American Jewish Committee-backed letter in 1999 asking Russian Jewish President Boris Yeltsin to address the rise of violent anti-Semitism. The letter drew 99 signatories out of 100 senators; Hagel was the only one to pass.

The Florida lawmaker told JTA that she was satisfied with his response — that as a senator he preferred not to write foreign leaders, but over the years wrote Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to express his concern about anti-Semitism overseas.

Nonetheless, his insistence on standing apart apparently gave Wasserman Schultz pause.

“I told him, when it's 99 to 1, everybody can't be wrong,” she said.

Left untreated in Hagel’s interactions with Wasserman Schultz and Boxer was the hostile worldview that critics have said holistically underpin Hagel’s history with Israel and its supporters.

“This is not a mere choice of words,” wrote Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s conservative blogger, referring to Hagel’s apology to Boxer for using “Jewish lobby.”

“Hagel said that the Jewish lobby ‘intimidates’ lawmakers,” wrote Rubin, a mainstay of the effort to keep Hagel from the top defense post. “Which lawmakers? Was he intimidated?”

Hagel made the “Jewish lobby” comment in an interview with Aaron David Miller, the author and former U.S. peace negotiator. Hagel also told Miller in the same interview that he was an “American senator,” not an Israeli one.

In her JTA interview, Wasserman Schultz paused before answering whether she agreed with Hagel that the pro-Israel lobby intimidates. She repeated the question and then said, “In our conversation he expressed regret and was apologetic that the reference was hurtful.”

Boxer in a conference call said those who read imputations of disloyalty against pro-Israel groups into Hagel’s remarks “were reading too much.”

“I don't think he thinks people are less loyal,” she said, adding, “I don't agree with what he said; I was concerned with what he said.”

Boxer noted that Hagel's letter to her had arisen out of a conversation she had with Hagel. She thought it was important to get his thoughts in writing, and he agreed.

“He told me, if there's one thing in his life that he could take back, it's that,” the California senator said.

Writing to Boxer, Hagel did not precisely retreat from his impassioned comments in 2006, when he said during Israel’s war with Hezbollah that “extended military action is tearing Lebanon apart, killing innocent civilians, devastating its economy and infrastructure.”

Instead, he said that in that war, “Israel was defending itself” but added, “these attacks were not perpetrated by the Lebanese government, which remains an important partner to the United States.”

Hagel gets key Jewish endorsements for secretary of defense


Chuck Hagel added three major Jewish Democrats to his list of endorsers, clearing his way to likely confirmation as secretary of defense.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) each said they were satisfied Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, would advance the U.S.-Israel security relationship and would make a priority of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“I know some will question whether Sen. Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Schumer said in a statement Tuesday, a day after he conferred with Hagel. “But I don’t think so. Sen. Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.”

Lawmakers generally take their lead on sensitive issues from colleagues who are affiliated to the interest group in question, and the endorsement of Jewish senators has been seen as critical to him getting the job.

Also endorsing Hagel was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Hagel had drawn fire for past criticisms of Israeli policy, skepticism about the efficacy of unilateral Iran sanctions, wariness of the repercussions of a military strike on Iran, and willingness to engage with Iran and some terrorist groups, while also maintaining degrees of isolation.

In conversations with Schumer, Boxer and Wasserman Schultz, Hagel also apologized for having said the “Jewish lobby” is “intimidating” in a 2006 interview.

Four Jewish Dems in top House committee slots


Four Jewish Democrats kept or earned top slots on U.S. House of Representatives committees.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) preserved his top slot on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, as did Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on the Energy Committee, after the caucus’ standing committee announced its selections last week.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) ascended to the top slot on the Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is now the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Lowey replaced Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who is retiring, and Engel succeeded Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who was defeated in the November election.

Berman is one of two Jewish Democrats relinquishing top committee spots. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is retiring, leaves the top slot on the Finance Committee to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).