Hebrew word of the week: Nasi’/President


The English word president and the verb preside are from the French-Latin presider(e), “sit in front (of everybody else)”; similar to the Hebrew yoshev rosh “sits ahead, chair.” Nasi’ is from the root nas'a’, whose basic meaning is “to raise”; hence, nasi’ is “one raised (above all others).” 

The name in the Bible refers to a tribal chieftain (Numbers 7:10-78); in Rabbinical times, nas'i’ was the head of the Sanhedrin, as Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi’ (died c. 193 C.E.). In modern times, nasi’ is used for the “president” of a state, as well as a company or an institution, as nasi’ bet ha-mishpaT ha-‘elyon, “Chief Justice.” The plural nesi’im means “rising vapors or clouds” (Proverbs 25:14).*

A variant form is (n)si’, for “summit, highest record.” Another possibility is that nasi’ is “a speaker” from the common sense nasa’ davar/ne’um “speak in public, give an address,” similar to nagid “rector, governor” from higgid “speak.”

*The proverb, “(Many) clouds, (a lot of) wind, but no rain,” which is to say: “A lot of hot air (empty promises), but none is fulfilled,” is applicable for demagogues.

Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Yeshiva U’s search for a new president: Is a Ted Cruz aide the answer?


As Yeshiva University continues its search for a new president with an emphasis on financial sustainability, JTA has learned the name of at least one candidate: the deputy chief of staff for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign this year.

Nick Muzin, who earned a medical degree at Yeshiva’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has met the head of the search committee multiple times in the effort to find a successor to Richard Joel, who said he is stepping down after his term expires in 2018. Muzin helped raise more than $100 million for the Texas Republican’s campaign.

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the former president of George Washington University who is heading the search, told JTA that the search could be over in a matter of weeks. Trachtenberg would not say whether the committee has a shortlist of candidates and did say he is still taking recommendations.

“We have a very long list of candidates,” Trachtenberg said. “There are discussions with numerous candidates. There are different levels of discussion. Until we’re convinced we’ve got a winner and have made an offer, we’re happy to hear from new people.”

Trachtenberg didn’t share any names of those under consideration and would not confirm whether Muzin or any other person was among them. But Trachtenberg praised Muzin, who also graduated from the Yale Law School, as “attractive.”

“This is a guy who went to Yeshiva University but got a medical degree, and went on to get a law degree from Yale,” Trachtenberg told JTA. “He is an example of a very successful Yeshiva University graduate.”

Trachtenberg told JTA that ensuring the institution’s continued financial well being is his top priority.

Financial sustainability has been a prime concern for Y.U. since the school lost money in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme in 2008. It ran an operating deficit for seven straight years, losing $64 million in 2013 and $84 million in 2014, according to the Forward. Last year, it offloaded the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to the Montefiore Health System, which took over its finances and operations. Y.U. lost half of its endowment in the deal.

Y.U.’s officials believe that separating from Albert Einstein, a perennial drain on the budget, will fix its financial woes. But Y.U.’s losses have led Moody’s, the credit rating agency, to downgrade its bond rating.

Y.U. has also been rocked in recent years by a series of accusations of physical and sexual abuse that took place at its affiliated boys’ high school in the 1970s and 1980s. The cases could not be prosecuted because they exceed the statute of limitations, and Trachtenberg said the scandal hasn’t been discussed by the search committee.

Trachtenberg said that Y.U.s financial health is “sufficient,” but that its future stability demands “a creative person who know what they’re doing.”

“The financial side is a very big challenge,” Trachtenberg said. “The challenges are those of money. Running a university is a labor-intensive enterprise. Jewish philanthropy is being drawn in all directions.”

Before joining the Cruz team in 2014, Muzin served as director of coalitions for the House Republican Conference. He has also served as an aide to Rep. Tim Scott, R-Texas, later directing Scott’s PAC, Tomorrow is Meaningful. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, and works as a lawyer in private practice.

But Muzin would be a stark change for an institution that was led from its beginning by rabbis and most recently by a high-profile Jewish communal professional. Joel arrived at Y.U. after serving as president of Hillel International, where he was credited with reviving a sleepy network of campus Jewish centers.

The Y.U. president who preceded him, Rabbi Norman Lamm, was a Ph.D. who was widely respected as a modern Orthodox thinker.

Muzin, who is modern Orthodox, would arrive at Y.U. with no previous professional experience in the Jewish world or higher education. JTA reached out to Muzin, who declined to comment on the matter.

He would also come after working on a political campaign. As Y.U. is a nonpartisan institution, Muzin’s strong identification with not only a political party but a specific candidate may make trustees hesitant to select him.

Other candidates considered for the job are more traditional choices. David Schizer, who served as dean of Columbia Law School, reportedly was considered, as was Rabbi Leonard Matanky of Chicago, the former president of the Rabbinical Council of  America and dean of the Ida Crown Jewish Academy (this reporter is an alumnus). Rabbi Meir Soleveitchik, a prominent modern Orthodox writer who serves as director of Y.U.’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, also appeared on externally composed lists of potential candidates

Trachtenberg suggested that it’s time to reevaluate what’s most important in a Y.U. president, prioritizing a nuts-and-bolts candidate over an innovative modern Orthodox philosopher. While he said being modern Orthodox is a must for any Y.U. president, he isn’t sure that if Lamm applied under today’s circumstances he would hire him.

“I said to the committee, to the faculty, to the rabbis and the board of trustees that they needed to learn from past experiences and be more flexible,” Trachtenberg said. “What you want to do is open yourself up to a greater definition of what it means to be a scholarly person.”

Trump, Clinton rack up big wins on Super Tuesday


Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton rolled up a series of wins on Tuesday, as the two presidential front-runners took a step toward capturing their parties' nominations on the 2016 campaign's biggest day of state-by-state primary contests.

Trump and Clinton turned their sights on each other after their Super Tuesday wins, with Trump promising to “go after” Clinton and the former secretary of state decrying what she called Trump's divisive rhetoric.

U.S. networks projected Trump won six and Clinton seven states on Super Tuesday, when 12 states were voting. Trump won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia, while Clinton won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Trump's rival Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, won his home state and neighboring Oklahoma, bolstering his argument he had the best chance to stop the controversial Trump. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, favorite of the Republican establishment, was projected the winner in Minnesota, his first victory.

Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist U.S. senator from Vermont, also won his home state along with Colorado, Minnesota and Oklahoma and vowed to pursue the battle for the nomination in the 35 states that had yet to vote.

Super Tuesday was the biggest single day of state-by-state contests to select party nominees for the Nov. 8 election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama.

Opinion polls heading into the voting had shown Trump leading in most of the 11 Republican contests up for grabs, raising the possibility of a big night that would intensify worries among Republican leaders who fear the billionaire could inflict long-term damage on the party.

“I am a unifier,” Trump told reporters in Palm Beach, Florida, dismissing concerns that his nomination would rip apart the party. “Once we get all this finished, I'm going after one person – Hillary Clinton.”

The networks had yet to project a winner for Republicans in Alaska.

Clinton had Trump on her mind in her victory speech, although she never mentioned him by name.

“The stakes in this election have never been higher and the rhetoric we’re hearing on the other side has never been lower,” Clinton, 68, told supporters in Miami. “Trying to divide America between us and them is wrong, and we’re not going to let it work.”

Sanders won his home state of Vermont and Oklahoma, two of five states he was targeting for victory on Tuesday. He lost to Clinton in Massachusetts, another state he was hoping to win.

Sanders thanked cheering supporters in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, and assailed the Republican front-runner.

'DONALD TRUMPS OF THE WORLD'

“We are not going to let the Donald Trumps of the world divide us,” said Sanders, 74, adding that he expected to pile up “hundreds” of convention delegates in voting on Tuesday.

Trump, 69, has worried many in the Republican establishment with proposals such as building a wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants and slapping a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

Even as Trump advances, many Republican Party leaders do not support him and worry that he would be easily defeated in November if Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee.

Cruz told supporters at his victory party in Texas that Trump was a “Washington dealmaker, profane and vulgar, who has a lifelong pattern of using government power for personal gain.”

The crossfire between Trump and establishment Republicans threatened to tear the party apart at a time when it will need to generate momentum behind a prospective nominee.

“If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, it will split the Republican Party and it will basically, I think, split the conservative movement,” Rubio told CBS News.

But while Trump's campaign has confounded many Republican leaders, the New York real estate developer cites his high poll numbers and big primary wins as proof he is not dividing the party but grown its ranks.

“We have expanded the Republican Party,” he said in Florida.

With his string of victories on Tuesday, Trump extended his lead in convention delegates over Cruz, Rubio, Ohio Governor John Kasich and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

On the Democratic side, Clinton took advantage of her strong performance with black voters to cruise to big wins in several Southern states, where blacks make up a big bloc of the Democratic electorate.

While some Democrats have begun to question whether Sanders should continue his challenge to Clinton, he said he had no intention of dropping out anytime soon.

“At the end of tonight, 15 states will have voted, 35 states remain,” Sanders said in Vermont. “And let me assure you that we are going to take our fight for economic justice, for social justice, for environmental sanity, for a world of peace to every one of those states.”

Clinton, Sanders clash over Obama as they vie for minority votes


Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed sharply in a debate on Thursday over their support for President Barack Obama, with Sanders accusing Clinton of “a low blow” after she compared him to Republicans.

As the Democratic race moves to states with large minority populations, both candidates openly courted black and Hispanic votes during a debate that was far more restrained and cordial than last week's contentious debate in New Hampshire.

In the sharpest exchange of the night, Clinton attacked Sanders for being too critical of Obama, who is extremely popular with the black voters who will play a big role in the outcome in South Carolina and other upcoming nominating contests.

“The kind of criticism that we've heard from Senator Sanders about our president, I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” said Clinton, who served as secretary of state during Obama's first term.

“Madam Secretary, that is a low blow,” said Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont. Sanders said he had been an Obama ally in the Senate even if he did not always agree with him.

“Do senators have the right to disagree with the president?” Sanders said.

Clinton, who has eagerly embraced Obama's legacy, said Sanders had called Obama weak and a disappointment, and “that goes further than saying we have our disagreements.”

With Clinton looking to rebound after her crushing 22-point loss to Sanders in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, the two also differed over healthcare and Wall Street.

Even so, the restrained exchange on Thursday was unlikely to change the trajectory of a race that has intensified dramatically over two weeks.

Clinton accused Sanders of misleading Americans on his healthcare. She said his proposal for a single-payer, Medicare-for-all healthcare plan would mean dismantling the program known as Obamacare and triggering another intense political struggle.

“Based on every analysis I can find by people who are sympathetic to the goal, the numbers don't add up,” Clinton told Sanders. “That's a promise that cannot be kept.”

Sanders said he was simply moving to provide what most industrialized countries have – healthcare coverage for all.

“We're not going to dismantle anything,” Sanders said. “In my view healthcare is a right of all people, not a privilege, and I will fight for that.”

Sanders also repeated his accusation that Clinton is too beholden to the Wall Street interests she once represented as a U.S. senator from New York, noting her Super PAC received $15 million in donations from Wall Street.

“Let's not insult the intelligence of the American people,” he said. “Why in God's name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it, they want to throw money around.”

Clinton said the donations did not mean she was in Wall Street's pocket, and noted that President Barack Obama had taken donations from Wall Street during his campaigns.

“When it mattered, he stood up and took on Wall Street,” she said.

THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM AND RACE

With an eye to on the minority vote, both candidates decried the high incarceration rate of African-Americans and called for broad reforms of the criminal justice system. Sanders said the disproportionately high rate of incarceration for black men was “one of the great tragedies” in the United States.

He called for “fundamental police reform” that would “make it clear that any police officer who breaks the law will in fact be dealt with.”

Clinton criticized what she called “systemic racism” in education, housing and employment. “When we talk about criminal justice reform  we also have to talk about jobs, education, housing and other ways of helping communities of color,” she said.

They both agreed on the need for immigration reform, an important issue to Hispanic voters, though they clashed over the Obama administration's actions on handling a wave of undocumented children who entered the country alone. Clinton criticized Sanders for voting against a reform measure in 2007, which Sanders defended because of a provision in the bill for guest workers.

Clinton entered Thursday's debate under acute pressure to calm growing nervousness among her supporters after her drubbing in New Hampshire and a razor-thin win the prior week in the Iowa caucus. Both states have nearly all-white populations.

For his part, Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist, hoped to harness the momentum and enthusiasm he gained from the first two contests and prove he can be a viable contender to lead the Democratic Party to victory in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

“What our campaign is indicating is that the American people are tired of establishment politics,”Sanders said. “They want a political revolution.”

Clinton dodged an opportunity to distance herself from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's recent controversial comments that there was “a special place in hell” for women who don't support other women.

“Look, I think that she's been saying that for as long as I've known her, which is about 25 years. But it doesn't change my view that we need to empower everyone, women and men, to make the best decisions in their minds that they can make,” she said.

On the foreign policy front, Sanders criticized Clinton for her warm relationship for Henry Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under Republican President Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War. Sanders called Kissinger “one of the most destructive secretaries of state.”

Asked by Clinton about who his foreign policy advisers were, Sanders shot back: “Well it ain't Henry Kissinger.”

The race now moves to what should be more favorable ground for Clinton in Nevada and South Carolina, states with more black and Hispanic voters, who, polls show, have been more supportive of Clinton so far.

Jeb Bush pleads with New Hampshire voters: reset race for president


Jeb Bush didn’t lose any time to go on the attack Monday evening as he seeks to regain his footing in the presidential race. Mere hours before Iowa voters gathered to pick their choices for president in 2016, the former Florida Governor made his case in front of some 200 people at a town hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Three minutes into his speech, Jeb turned up the heat against the three candidates likely to emerge at the top in the Republican’s Iowa caucuses on Monday – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – without mentioning them by name, by characterizing them as being unqualified to serve as commander-in-chief.

“The front-running candidate in Iowa, at least as it stands now, is someone who it is all about him. Insulting his way to the presidency is the organizing principle,” he said. “That is not leadership. That is not what we need in DC. And the two other candidates – likely to emerge in Iowa – are two people that are backbenchers, that have never done anything of consequence in their lives. They are gifted beyond belief; they can give a great speech. But I think it’s time for us to recognize that, maybe, what we need is someone who can lead, someone who has a proven record.”

“We need someone with a steady hand and a backbone” to lead American in the world and serve as commander-in-chief, Jeb stressed. Adding that, on his first day in office, “It’s my watch, it’s my responsibility. I won’t cut and run. I will accept responsibility and lead.”

Jeb concluded his opening remarks by pleading with New Hampshire voters to help him deliver an upset next Tuesday regardless of Monday night’s outcome. “New Hampshire voters reset elections, and you do it in an extraordinary fashion,” he stated. “The reset has started as of tonight, and I know you will not let this country down.”

“On next Tuesday, we are going to surprise the world,” he proclaimed.

Rubio promises first trip to Israel as president


Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio promised to make a visit to Israel his first foreign trip if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee and goes on to win the White House next fall.

During a town hall meeting in Florida on Monday, Rubio was asked by a person in the audience, “What will be your first foreign trip and why?”

“Israel,” Rubio said to loud applause.

Mitt Romney made the same pledge when he was running for the Republican nomination in 2012. “I will travel to Israel on my first foreign trip. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable,” Romney said during an appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum in December of 2011. In the end, it was President Barack Obama who travelled to Israel in the first trip abroad after his reelection.

Rubio’s rival for the nomination, former Florida Governor Jeb bush refused to make the same pledge. During a recent interview with Jewish Insider, Jeb was asked if he is planning a trip to Israel during the campaign or as the first trip abroad as president? “I’ve been to Israel five times. I don’t have plans to visit there,” he said. “But what I’ve said is that on Day One, I would announce that the U.S. Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

President Donald J. Trump’s State of the Union Address or: ‘The Plot Against America II’


January 16, 2018

“My Fellow Americans, Vice President Palin, distinguished members of Congress, and esteemed guests, I am deeply honored to offer this State of the Union address, my first since being elected your president in November 2016. 

I must commence with a warning.  America is in a conflict unlike any ever before. We face a mortal enemy with whom we are engaged in a civilizational war over the very values that define our way of life and being.

As you know well, it is not my habit to beat around the bush.  This enemy must be named again and again: it is Islam.  And we in the West must wage battle against it to defend the Christian values on which our societies are built.  As my distinguished predecessor President George W. Bush once wisely declared, we are embarked on a new Crusade in the name of our American virtue.

Some critics have accused me of bigotry and discrimination.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have known and gotten along with Muslims in the past; some are loyal citizens of this country.  I have nothing against Muslims as individuals.  I do have a serious problem with the religion to which they pledge allegiance, for it is a religion of hatred and violence.

I have a very good sense of history.  I understand that war can be long and brutal.  The Thirty Years’ War in seventeenth-century Europe pitted combatants from competing religions against one another.  Since the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, we have been engaged in a war that has already lasted 25 years.  We must redouble our resolve to defend our homeland and defeat the enemy.

Toward that end, I report to you on the following:

1)  In this state of war, we will take the battle to wherever the enemy is to be found.  Immediately upon assuming office, I ordered repeated bombing raids against ISIS forces in Syria.  This campaign has been effective in displacing ISIS from its stronghold in Raqqa.  Yes, there has been collateral damage, but that is the unfortunate cost of a total war against evil.   We have chopped off the head of the snake, but the body continues to writhe, supported by hundreds of thousands of new recruits drawn to the noxious ideology of ISIS and its new allies, Al Qaeda, the Al Nusra Front, and Boko Haram.

2)  I have committed to date 300,000 American ground forces to eliminate the enemy in various battle theaters where the poison of radical Islam permeates: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Nigeria.  We will not rest in our efforts to remove this dire threat.  I am grateful that the United States has been joined by two partners willing to defend the Christian West – France and Russia.  I commend my good friends President Marine Le Pen and President Vladimir Putin for their courage and conviction.  At the same time, our hearts go out to the families of the 28,000 American soldiers who have given their lives so far in the defense of liberty.  There will be more sacrifices, I’m afraid.  But we must make them to defeat the enemy.

3)  On the home front, we are also at war, and this requires emergency measures. I have instructed Secretary of Defense Ted Cruz, Attorney General Frank J. Gaffney Jr., and Special Advisor for Muslim Affairs Pamela Geller to intensify our efforts to monitor the Muslim population of this country.  I do not believe that all Muslims in America are disloyal, but far too many subscribe to the tenets of radical Islam.  This is the lesson we learned from the tragic terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California in 2015.  I repeat: we are at war at home!  Accordingly, I have put in place the following steps: 

a.  Regardless of nationality, all Muslims are being denied entry to this country at every port of entry.  At my request, the Attorney General has established a classification scheme to determine who is to be deemed Muslim.

b.  All mosques, community centers, and organizations devoted to Muslims in this country will be closed effective immediately.  Membership in them will be illegal until further notice.

c.  Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is creating internment camps to house all Muslims inside this country, without exception.  This step is necessary to insure that acts of terrorism not be perpetrated on American soil.

Some may regard these steps as un-American. But I remind you that one of my great predecessors, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, issued Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, declaring that “the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities.”  This order allowed the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans who required surveillance in the wake of Pearl Harbor, when Japan was our declared enemy.  

As a businessman, I know what works.  And this internment worked.  Not only was the homeland secure during this period, but Japanese-Americans were compliant.  In fact, there were polls of the internees in which a substantial number asserted that they were content and even thankful for the protection afforded them.  I have little doubt that the Muslim population in this country will feel the same.

I hasten to mention three additional steps intended to restore pride and security to this country:

First, all homes must, by order of law, visibly display American flags on their doors or front lawns.

Second, the home of every loyal American citizen will be provided with an effective firearm to guarantee defense of our homeland.

Third, my immediate predecessor as president remains under arrest pending investigation of his links to radical Muslim terrorists cells.  He is in good physical condition, but will be treated with the full severity of the law should any criminal connection be found. 

My fellow Americans, these steps will assure the health and safety of our country at this critical time.  Now is the time for unity, not dissent.  We must join together under the Stars and Stripes to wage battle against the enemy, both beyond our borders and within them.  God bless all those who are willing to embark on this moral and virtuous Crusade.”


David N. Myers is the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA.  Inspiration came from Philip Roth’s counterfactual novel The Plot against America and the television series “The Man in the High Castle.” 

POLL: After Paris, Americans see Trump, Clinton as most able to address terrorism


American voters are evenly split between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as their top choice to address the issue of terrorism following the Paris attacks, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

Asked to choose between the entire field of 2016 presidential hopefuls, 20 percent of 1,106 respondents surveyed between Nov. 16-17 opted for Trump. An equal share picked Clinton.

Given Clinton's background as a former secretary of state it is perhaps not surprising that she did reasonably well in the poll. However, Trump's good showing upends an emerging narrative that the Paris shootings and suicide bombings would prompt voters to rethink their support for the real estate billionaire, who leads the field of Republican presidential candidates.

Some pollsters and political pundits had predicted that Republican voters would now gravitate toward establishment candidates like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who has been languishing in the polls. Both are seen as stronger on foreign policy than Trump and his main Republican rival, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Neither have any experience in government and are running as Washington outsiders.

During a campaign rally on Saturday, Trump blamed stringent gun laws in Paris for the attacks, telling attendees that it would have been a “much different situation” if the victims had been armed. He has also said he would close some mosques to stop Muslim extremist attacks in the United States.

Mirroring national primary polls, Clinton and Trump also took the top marks in the Reuters/Ipsos survey when looking at just voters from their own party. Asked to pick the best Democratic candidate, 52 percent of Democrats polled selected Clinton. When Republicans were asked to choose among their potential nominees, 33 percent said Trump.

After Trump, Republican voters viewed Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee known for his hawkish views, as the strongest candidate (17 percent) to deal with terrorism. Carson was tied with Bush at around 9 percent. 

Of the Republicans polled, 36 percent said they now have more confidence in Trump's ability to be president – the largest show of support in the primary field. Only 10 percent said they were less confident in his abilities following the attacks.

Carson and Rubio were also viewed more favorably as potential presidents by Republicans in the poll. Bush, however, got no immediate bump in confidence of his ability to be president. And only 8 percent of Republicans polled thought he would be the best leader to address terrorism.

The biggest damage came to a trio of Republican candidates who have struggled to rise in the polls. 

Of those Republicans polled, 16 percent said they now have less confidence in former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, 22 percent felt the same about Ohio Governor John Kasich and 19 percent said they have less confidence in Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – who has distinguished himself as the least hawkish candidate in his party.

The poll has a credibility interval of 3.4 percentage points for all voters. When looking at just Democrats or Republicans, the poll has a credibility interval of about 5.4 percentage points.

Bernie and me


I spent a good portion of the winter of 1981 on the snowy porches of aging wooden homes in the blue-collar, Old North End of Burlington, Vt., watching Bernie Sanders promote his outsider candidacy for mayor against an entrenched Democratic Party incumbent.

Hunched up inside a wool coat, his voice raspy in the cold, the 40-year-old Sanders’ thick Brooklyn accent and machine-gun delivery was worlds apart from the terse yet lilting cadences of the city’s French and Irish-Catholic natives.

I was the newly minted City Hall reporter for the Burlington Free Press, as well as a newly minted Vermonter. Like Sanders, I also was an outsider — a Jewish Brooklynite transplanted to the Green Mountain State.

As my articles began reflecting what I perceived as Sanders’ rise in popularity, I came under sharp and personal attack. One day, as I sat in a downtown diner whose walls were lined with photos of Democrats such as Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter, its owner, a member of the city’s political inner circle, slid into my booth and pressed me against the window.

“He’s not from around here,” the owner said. “He’s from New York. He isn’t like us. He doesn’t know what we need. He can’t win here. Say, aren’t you from New York, too? Are you helping him?”

“I just want to eat breakfast,” I said, and nodded to the waitress hovering nearby, unwilling to take my order while the owner was there.

A few days later, toward the end of the campaign, a crudely drawn, mimeographed flyer made the rounds of downtown. It called itself the “Flea Press” and was festooned with grade-school level drawings. It “reported” on the fact that my parents and Sanders were friends who had gone to the same Brooklyn high school, and that I was therefore in the candidate’s pocket. It didn’t need a Jewish star or big-nosed caricature to communicate its anti-Semitic message: “New York” was — and still is, in some eyes — code for “Jew.”

The Flea Press was partially right. My parents did go to James Madison High School, as had Sanders. But they weren’t friends; my parents were more than a decade older than Sanders and didn’t know him from a hole in the ground.

The pairing of Bernie and me then was ironic in many ways. As has been well reported, Sanders has little love for the media. He sparred with the Free Press over the years and continues to berate the media for focusing on trivia and not his ideas.

Sanders never warmed to me personally, either. In the weeks after his election as mayor, I interviewed him several times in an effort to understand him and therefore explain him to the city of Burlington. He never played the Brooklyn card in seeking to win me over, and was stingy with the kind of personal details that I was seeking for a magazine feature.

[See Alan Abbey's 1981 Bernie Sanders profile here]

It would be “toh-tully” untrue (as Sanders would say in his Brooklyn growl) to claim that we were friends then or now. Yet today, as I think about his presidential campaign, I think that our coincidental similarities can help me offer an understanding of seminal and uniquely Jewish elements that shaped his character.

First was the impact of the Holocaust on his father’s family and his subsequent awareness of the danger of totalitarianism, especially that which grew out of a nominally democratic process. Second was post-war, Jewish New York, a milieu well known for turning out phenomenally successful and assimilated Jews and weaving them into the fabric of America. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are just two of many other graduates of Madison from that environment.

Sanders has often spoken of his family’s financial straits, yet he made sure he attended university. The drive for a secular education is, of course, a hallmark of the mainstreaming of American Jews. That he first attended Brooklyn College but graduated from the University of Chicago speaks to the collapse of academic anti-Jewish quotas after World War II.

Finally, there is Sanders’ description of his time on an Israeli kibbutz. He spoke of it to me in 1981: “It was owned by the people. There were no bosses. Decisions were made democratically with women having an equal say. The residents worked hard because it was their place. It impressed me.” As a brief sidebar, I will say here that I didn’t fact-check the statement at the time, as I had no reason to question it. Yet there has been a nagging if unstated concern in recent stories in the Jewish media, as no one has yet been able to pinpoint the name and dates of Sanders’ kibbutz sojourn, and he hasn’t offered any help in answering the question.

On the larger question of his stance on Israel, Sanders has navigated a nuanced course that has satisfied neither its critics nor its supporters.

A year ago, right after Sanders flirted with the idea of a presidential candidacy on “Meet the Press,” the Washington Post cited a flimsy poll of 309 registered Iowa Democrats showing his standing at 5 percent to bluntly state, “If Sanders does run, of course, he won't win.”

The latest Iowa polls tell a different tale, yet the election is a long ways off. The usually perspicacious Nate Silver and his team at fivethirtyeight.com say that endorsements from politicos are historically among the best predictors of candidate success, and Sanders is lagging badly in that “primary.”

Sanders’ Jewish storyline hasn’t been told much in the mainstream media, yet some of the coarse stereotypes used against him in 1981 have already cropped up. As the campaign unfolds and questions of character and personality begin resonating with the American public, it will be interesting to see if his background, a narrative familiar to American Jews yet never exposed to the hothouse of a presidential race, will harm his political ambitions.


Alan D. Abbey is the director of media at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Bernie Sanders finally opens up about Jewish childhood


I interviewed Bernie Sanders a couple years ago, when word first circulated that the Vermont senator might seek the presidency. Though he knew about JTA going in — and must have known questions about his Jewish background were coming — he didn’t want to get into it.

wrote at the time:

“But Sanders is hesitant to draw a connection between his Jewish background and his priorities as a senator. With a series of observations about the Jewish history of rootlessness and oppression, Sanders begins to describe the role of his lower-middle-class upbringing in forging him into the Congress’ only self-described socialist. Then he catches himself. ‘This isn’t a profile,’ he declared, interrupting himself.”

It kind of is though, I remember thinking.

Now deep into a serious bid for the Democratic nod, Sanders, in a New Yorker profile, realizes he has to give a little on his biography — including the Jewish stuff. Margaret Talbot gets the goods, but first must field a version of Sanders’ objection to me.

She writes: “When I asked Sanders a question about his early years, he sighed with the air of a man who knows he can no longer put off that visit to the periodontist. ‘I understand,’ he said. ‘I really do. For people to elect a president, you’ve got to know that person — you’ve got to trust them.’ He insisted that he was happy to talk about his life. But he couldn’t resist sermonizing first: ‘When I talk about a political revolution, what I’m talking about is how we create millions of decent-paying jobs, how we reduce youth unemployment, how we join the rest of the world, major countries, in having paid family and sick leave. I know those issues are not quite as important as my personal life.’ And then, unnecessarily: ‘I’m being facetious.’”

Then he dives right in, and it turns out the Jewish thing looms large, at least in a cultural-political way. Writes Talbot:

“Sanders did say that two aspects of his upbringing had exerted a lasting influence. One was coming from a family that never had much money. And the other was growing up Jewish — less for the religious content than for the sense it imbued in him that politics mattered. Sanders’ father was a Polish Jew who, at the age of 17, came to America shortly after his brother, and struggled through the Depression in Brooklyn …

“Sid Ganis, a Hollywood producer who grew up in the same building as Sanders, described their neighborhood as an enclave of ‘ordinary secular Jews,’ adding, ‘Some of us went to Hebrew school, but mainly it was an identity in that it got us out of school on Jewish holidays.’ Sanders told me that, in the aftermath of the Second World War, his family ‘got a call in the middle of the night about some relative of my father’s, who was in a displaced-persons camp in Europe someplace.’ Sanders learned that many of his father’s other relatives had perished. Sanders’ parents had been fundamentally apolitical, but he took away a lesson: ‘An election in 1932 ended up killing 50 million people around the world.’

“Sanders’ close friend Richard Sugarman, an Orthodox Jew who teaches religious studies at the University of Vermont, said, ‘He’s not what you would call rule-observant.’ But, Sugarman added, ‘if you talk about his Jewish identity, it’s strong. It’s certainly more ethnic and cultural than religious — except for his devotion to the ethical part of public life in Judaism, the moral part. He does have a prophetic sensibility.’ Sugarman and Sanders were housemates for a while in the ’70s, and Sugarman says that his friend would often greet him in the morning by saying, ‘We’re not crazy, you know,’ referring to the anger they felt about social injustices. Sugarman would respond, ‘Could you say good morning first?'”

Yet for all the protestations that Sanders’ identity is not about religion, this is Talbot’s kicker, quoting Sanders addressing Liberty University, an Evangelical Christian school in Virginia, and quoting from Amos:

“The occasion also played to the prophetic side of Sanders — the register in which he can sound like an Old Testament preacher. Unlike his slicker rivals, Sanders is most at ease talking about the moral and ethical dimensions of politics. ‘We are living in a nation and in a world — the Bible speaks to this issue — in a nation and in a world which worships not love of brothers and sisters, not love of the poor and the sick, but worships the acquisition of money and great wealth.’ His voice broke — all those stump speeches had been leaving deep scratches on the record. But his outrage was unmuffled. Staring at the crowd, he quoted the Hebrew Bible, his fist punctuating nearly every word: ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.'”

Still left unanswered: Which kibbutz helped shape Sanders in the mid-1960s?

Cartoon: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump compared


Republican Walker to drop out of 2016 US presidential race


Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin plans to drop out of the 2016 U.S. presidential race after deciding he has no path to win his party's nomination, a Republican familiar with the decision said on Monday.

Walker's campaign announced he would hold a news conference in Madison, Wisc., at 6 p.m. ET (2200 GMT) on Monday, but it did not say what he would discuss. His campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Walker, who gained national attention for fighting unions in his state and surviving a heated recall election in 2012, struggled to distinguish himself from a crowded Republican field. He received 3 percent of support in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll of the Republican field.

Walker's decision to pull out was first reported by the New York Times.

Bernie has it. Trump has it. Joe has it. Does Hillary?


As Joe Biden polls family and friends about entering the presidential fray, he’s getting two kinds of advice – personal and political.  The personal is about his life, his values and what he can give to his country.  The political is about Hillary Clinton’s vulnerability.

Honesty and trustworthiness are top issues for voters, but majorities in swing states “>said on “Face the Nation,” “because he’s a billionaire.” The “logical consequence” of Trump’s argument: “The only people who can run for office in America who don’t have to curry favors are billionaires themselves.” Sanders’ alternative is the 350,000 people who’ve contributed an average of $31 to his campaign.  This is peanuts, but it makes him real.

Clinton, too, wants campaign finance reform, and Sanders’ catching fire with the base on that issue is probably what got her to talk more about it.  At the same time, her campaign plans to raise $2.5 billion.  Barack Obama’s credibility on campaign finance reform cratered in 2008, when he became the first major candidate “>voters’ top issue in NBC/Wall Street Journal and New York Times polls.  Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig has even launched a quixotic presidential campaign on this one issue. 

Clinton won’t go as far as Lessig wants her to, and she won’t go as far as Sanders is, but she can’t afford to be seen as any less credible on money in politics than Trump.  Straight talk from her would be electrifying. Did the hours she spent dialing for dollars ever make her want to take a shower? Was there a contribution to her Senate campaigns she regrets accepting?  Have donors asked for things that crossed a line?  Where does she draw that line? (And did she really go to Trump’s wedding just because she thought “>More than half of the money that Republican candidates have raised has come from just 130 families and their businesses.  Trump’s candor about the contributor class – his rupture with donor omertà – has turned the other candidates’ evasions into anvils around their ankles. Questions about Clinton’s money machine won’t go away.  They give her an opportunity. But if her answers sound as weasely as Jeb Bush’s, it won’t do wonders for her trustworthiness.

Another taboo Trump broke:  he trumpeted the Cleveland debate’s TV ratings.  “There should have been 2 million people watching,” he said, but instead there were 24 million. “Who do you think they were watching – Jeb Bush? I don’t think so.”  It’s a casual admission that campaigns are spectacles, candidates are infotainment talent and news is a corporate cash cow. The debate contained more than 17 minutes of paid ads and Fox News self-promotion.  Networks and stations monetize the eyeballs of the audiences that their political programming attracts.  Candidates win or lose, but media oligarchs always come out ahead.

It didn’t used to be that way (hello, League of Women Voters!), and it doesn’t have to be that way now. Why should parties and networks run the debate schedule and format? Why should Fox News or CNN get to say who gets prime time, who gets the children’s table, whether there’s a live audience and whether they’re encouraged to emote, as they were in Cleveland, where “>proposed that primary debates randomly mix Republican and Democratic candidates, he distanced himself from bipartisan compliance with corporate media kabuki. Clinton could spring herself, too. Unless a candidate picks a fight, the only It prize at an establishment debate is an Authentic Hack badge.

“You know, they’re calling it ‘the summer of Trump,’” Trump martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Why Trump is soaring


The more outrageous Donald Trump gets in his noisy and obnoxious campaign for the Republican nomination, the more his front-running poll numbers seem to be soaring.

What's going on? Are people that shallow? Don't they get that his shtick is just that — a shtick? Can't they see he's an arrogant blowhard?

Well, here's one possibility: Maybe a lot of people flocking to Trump know darn well it's all a big show, and they're enjoying it. It tickles them. They don't trust politicians anyhow, so why not go with someone who will at least entertain them?

It's like professional wrestling. People know it's an act, but they can't take their eyes off. The drama never stops. It's honest in its dishonesty. You're sure to always get your money's worth.

But Trump's entertainment value alone wouldn't bring him these great results if there weren't something else to go along with the act – something more serious, more meaningful. After all, people don't like to think of themselves as stupid and shallow. They need to be given something that will flatter them and their choice of candidates.

This is where Trump's real secret sauce comes in: His American swagger.

Let's face it — there's still a significant segment of America that loves to win and feels superior to the rest of the world. The archetype of the American winner – from the early explorers to the swashbuckling cowboys to the army generals — is still part of the American consciousness.

Trump projects a cosmopolitan strain of that archetype straight from the Big Apple, the ultimate winner's town. He carefully manicures an image as the artist of the deal, the guy who never gets ripped off, the guy whose name is worth more than one of his skyscrapers.

Even when Trump loses, he makes it look like he's winning. How American!

This winning swagger can be so intoxicating that people will forgive you the worst excesses, like attacking war heroes. In a perverted way, these blunders can even reinforce the image of the daredevil candidate who's so confident in his shtick he doesn't mind offending half the world. Of course, he never apologizes. That's for wusses.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media gleefully runs after the serial blunderer to make him look like a modern-day Houdini who keeps getting out of jams. WHICH BLUNDER WILL FINALLY TAKE TRUMP DOWN? has become America's favorite new reality show.

Trump's timing couldn't be better. America has spent the past seven years with a president who might be the very antidote to Trump — cerebral, composed, refined.

In an image-obsessed world, it's easy to misjudge President Barack Obama's restrained style as a sign of weakness. Conversely, it's easy to misjudge Trump's boisterous swagger as a sign of strength.

Among his followers, though, there's a clear sense that America has lost its mojo, and that a straight shooter from New York may be just what the country needs. It's a sign of how much body language has become a substitute for substance.

Of course, when you negotiate, body language does count. Maybe that's another reason people are flocking to Trump– they think America got ripped off in the nuclear talks in Vienna, and they believe their man Trump would have driven a much tougher bargain with the wily mullahs. Who knows, on that one count, they may be right.

But whether it's true or not is beside the point. More than any candidate in recent memory, Trump's currency is not truth but perception.

Let's see how long the show lasts.

Donald Trump tweeted a photo of his face, the American flag and Nazi soldiers


Donald Trump has had a rocky (though high polling) start to his presidential campaign.

He reportedly paid actors $50 to watch his announcement speech.

His hard stance on immigration has landed him in hot water with NBC and other former business affiliates.

He learned not to mess with a comedy writer on Twitter.

Today he learned that what you post on the internet lasts forever.

Above a call for “real leadership,” Trump posted a photo of himself with a super-imposed American flag that included Nazi soldiers wearing the patches of Waffen SS (h/t to Michael Niemerg). He has since deleted the tweet – so we have it for you to view it all of its glory!

Thanks for keeping things interesting!

Clinton launches White House bid with promise to champion everyday Americans


Hillary Clinton cast herself as a champion for everyday Americans on Sunday, kicking off her long-awaited second run for the White House with a vow to fight for a level playing field for those recovering from tough economic times.

Clinton, who begins the 2016 presidential race as a commanding Democratic front runner, entered the fray with a video announcement in which she said the economic deck was still stacked for those at the top.

“Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,” she said in the video, which was posted on her new website on Sunday afternoon. “So you can do more than just get by, you can get ahead. And stay ahead.”

Clinton, who lost a bruising Democratic nominating battle to Barack Obama in 2008, said in a tweet that she would be traveling to Iowa, the state that holds the kickoff contest in the parties' nominating process in early 2016.

Clinton's campaign will emphasize her plans to address economic inequality and will tout the historic nature of her effort to become the first woman U.S. president, aides said.

One of the biggest challenges for a woman who has been one of the most famous figures in the United States since the early 1990s, will be to show a more down-to-earth side while connecting with ordinary voters.

Critics, including liberals in her own party, say she has grown out of touch after decades as the wife of former President Bill Clinton, a U.S. senator and secretary of state.

To address that, Clinton's website and the announcement video feature Americans talking about their futures, and an image of her holding a paper coffee cup at a table with a couple of elderly people.

Clinton is then seen listening to voters before the video cuts to her speaking outside a home. “I'm getting ready to do something too, I'm running for president,” she says, before emphasizing to voters that it is “your time.”

“Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top,” she said.

Within a half hour of Clinton's announcement, the campaign kickoff video posted to her Facebook page had been viewed nearly 90,000 times and she topped the list of topics trending on Twitter.

The campaign is aware of the pitfalls of star power. In a memo made public on Saturday, Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, told staff to stay humble.

“We are humble: we take nothing for granted, we are never afraid to lose, we always out-compete and fight for every vote we can win,” he said.

PRE-EMPTIVE ATTACK

Even before Sunday's much-anticipated announcement, potential opponents in what is shaping up to be a crowded Republican presidential field took swings at Clinton.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush criticized her guidance of U.S. foreign policy as secretary of state.

“We must do better than the Obama-Clinton foreign policy that has damaged relationships with our allies and emboldened our enemies,” Bush said in a video released by the political action committee Right to Rise.

Bush, brother to former President George W. Bush, is currently exploring a presidential bid.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who formally began his campaign for the Republican nomination last week, made the rounds of Sunday talk shows to slam Clinton's handling of a 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton dismissed the Republican criticism of her handling of the attacks as exploiting a tragedy for political gain.

Many Democrats have been waiting for Clinton to get back into the White House fight since the day in June 2008 when she pulled out of her primary battle against Obama with an expression of regret that she could not crack “that highest and hardest glass ceiling this time.”

But Clinton still has to convince some liberals that she is the best candidate to tackle issues like income inequality and the power of Wall Street banks. Some liberal groups are pushing Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has vocally criticized some Wall Street practices, to challenge Clinton.

Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. federation of labor unions, praised Clinton's public service record and said he hoped her candidacy would elevate the “critical debate” in the country over how to raise wages.

The Clinton campaign's finance chair, Dennis Cheng, emailed donors and bundlers on Sunday telling them to expect an email message from Clinton herself, one donor said. Cheng's email, according to the donor, said Clinton would be explaining her vision for the campaign and her presidency.

Marc Stanley, a Dallas lawyer and a prominent Democratic fundraiser, said he and a colleague planned to send “several hundred” messages to donors on Sunday asking them to support Clinton.

Rand Paul promises to ‘take our country back’ in 2016 White House bid


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) promised to be a different kind of Republican on Tuesday, launching a 2016 White House bid that he said would highlight the conservative principles of reduced government and spending as he vowed to break up “the Washington machine.”

The senator from Kentucky, a libertarian who has built a national reputation for challenging party orthodoxy, criticized Republicans in Congress and recent Republican presidents for helping to drive up the federal debt and reducing personal liberties.

“We have come to take our country back,” he told cheering supporters on a flag-draped stage in Louisville, Kentucky, promising to break up “the Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives.”

With his announcement, Paul becomes the second major Republican to announce presidential ambitions for 2016, after Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. A crowded field is expected, with candidates competing hard for constituencies ranging from the Christian right to traditional Wall Street Republicans.

Paul starts the campaign in the second tier of Republican candidates, drawing the support of 8.4 percent of Republicans, according to a March Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll.

That puts him behind former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is considered a top contender among Republicans although he has not declared himself a presidential candidate; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

He is in a statistical tie with four other candidates – Cruz, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Paul, who entered Congress on the Tea Party wave of 2010, has been reaching out in recent months to attract more mainstream voters.

The anti-war agitator who mounted a 13-hour filibuster to call attention to the United States' use of drones recently proposed a boost to military spending. The firebrand who wants to scale back the authority of the Federal Reserve has been quietly courting Wall Street donors.

And the 52-year-old former eye surgeon who harnessed the anti-establishment energy of the Tea Party movement, has been raising money for fellow Republicans, at times upsetting the grassroots activists who have made him a national figure.

Paul told the Louisville crowd he would campaign with “the Constitution in one hand and the Bill of Rights in the other.”

Paul's father, Ron Paul, the libertarian former congressman and failed presidential candidate, attended the announcement but did not speak at the rally.

Obamacare will be Obama’s second big takeaway


We tend to use shorthand to talk about our presidents. Lincoln saved the Union and freed the slaves. Kennedy committed us to the moon landing and built the Peace Corps. FDR ended the Depression, created Social Security and won World War II.  

It’s hard to know in the middle of a presidency what will be remembered, and even then it may change. Right now, LBJ is getting a new look beyond Vietnam, to include civil rights, poverty and Medicare. Someday Nixon will move beyond Watergate, and negotiations with the USSR and China will have their due. Even poor Jimmy Carter may someday get some props for the Middle East peace agreement. Can’t hold out a lot of hope for George W. Bush, though, unless painting becomes a historical test of presidents.

In the moment, presidencies are so eventful, it’s hard to guess what will last. The killing of Osama bin Laden? Who talks about that anymore?  More people talk about Monica Lewinsky, which sadly will loom large in remembering Bill Clinton, an otherwise very successful president.

It’s clear, though, that for Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is going to be the second takeaway after the first African-American presidency. Not so many weeks ago, people were talking about the collapsed Obama presidency and his limited role in history. The ACA was on its last legs. That, however, may be about to change.

Historians will surely note how many turns there were, how many debatable choices and some mistakes, mostly preventable, this White House made before the turnaround. Making health care priority No. 1 in 2009 reduced the Obama administration’s ability to fight more aggressively for a larger economic stimulus, costing his party massive losses in 2010 and resulting in Congressional gridlock that deepened the economic recession. Letting a group of Senate centrists delay passage of the health care law until the summer of 2009 allowed the Tea Party to negatively define the law, an image that only now is being challenged as Obamacare’s implementation finally takes shape.  

Of course, the utterly foreseeable catastrophe of the health care rollout in September completely squandered the Democratic gains that might have come from the government shutdown.

But through it all, the president held onto his path and has been rewarded with results that are simply stunning. His bet on a flawed, complicated half-loaf health care program that not only enraged his opponents but also demoralized many of his supporters may yet pay off in the long run. The new numbers of enrollees are concrete evidence that this has happened, and it is big both governmentally and politically.  Nearly 10 million Americans have a crucial benefit they didn’t have before, yielding virtually unlimited personal stories for political debate.  

If the law continues to expand its reach within the red states that have blocked Medicaid expansion, millions more will be added to the rolls of those with assured health care. It’s really remarkable that in most cases this law drives the cost of benefits lower rather than higher and that Democrats were not afraid of its anti-poverty elements. This will be the first broad working-class and lower-middle-class law that Democrats have implemented since the 1960s.  

In fact, this is so big that, as in the past, previous presidencies will now be seen in a new light. When LBJ signed the Medicare Act in 1965, he went to the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., so that Harry S. Truman, who had tried and failed to win such a law, could witness the signing. As we continue to revise our understanding of LBJ’s presidency, his 1965 victory on Medicare will be amplified by the success of the ACA.  And reminders of Republican opposition to Medicare are already making the rounds of the political world, to suggest to voters how history might be repeating itself.

It’s also remarkable that the long-cherished goal of widespread health coverage has taken a perhaps irreversible step at roughly the same moment that the Supreme Court decided to further open the floodgates for oligarchy in campaign spending, leading to claims that American democracy is dead. And even more oddly, the Supreme Court is also the one institution that could have stopped the ACA, and despite its right-leaning tendencies, it was the one, by a 5-4 majority, that allowed the law to survive — on Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote.  Talk about dramatic stakes. I wonder if Roberts worried that the court’s conservative majority could not do to the ACA what an earlier court did to Roosevelt’s early New Deal without setting off a political war it could not win, and that might jeopardize its other goals.  

The ACA is not out of the woods yet. In fact, the next obstacle in the long and winding story of the ACA is the potential for a Supreme Court decision to block subsidies for health care under the ACA in states that did not set up exchanges. If people already have insurance and subsidies, the court may be wary of taking them away. There may be a race against time to get those benefits locked in before the High Court rules.

If the ACA keeps going, much of Obama’s remaining time in office may focus not only on an economic agenda (minimum wage, equal pay and other measures) but also on working through the ramifications of the new health care law and fixing problems that arise. The impact of expanded health insurance is going to expand beyond health care. A new study for the Rand Corp. contends that the ACA will have the effect of lowering the cost of liability for auto insurance. Unbound from restrictions on pre-existing medical conditions, people may also feel freer to leave bad jobs and look for new ones, competition that may drive up wages and strengthen coalitions for a higher minimum wage. And the Medicaid expansion alone puts Democrats back on a path they have veered from since the days of Lyndon Johnson: directly helping low-income and lower middle-class Americans to survive and thrive. 

In theory, Democrats would be more likely to get the active votes of working people who need things that they don’t have (a belief that animated much of the Romney camp’s explanation for his defeat). But it often doesn’t work that way. Being hopeless and overwhelmed can make the act of voting seem to be a waste of time.

Latinos, working-class voters, young people and unmarried women all are widely known to be stay-at-homes in off-year elections like 2014 — and then they get hammered in public policy, including the voter suppression laws aimed at keeping them away from the polls that passed after the 2010 Republican sweep.  

 For folks who are struggling, it’s more important to gain something worth protecting than to have to dream of getting it. As Obama is discovering with Latinos with regard to deportations, Democrats are foolish to think they will win votes by saying, “Look how hard we are trying to get you what we need, while those mean Republicans keep it away from you.” 

A little security can do wonders. Having the ability to see the doctor without going bust may make enough of an impression to create a bit of that sense of “political efficacy.” What opponents of the ACA have called “dependency” on government is really something quite different — the creation of confident people who are more likely to play their role in the governance of American democracy.


Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

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

Meeting John F. Kennedy


I was tutoring a student. We were reading about Colonial America. Every facet of life in that distant era seemed so bizarre to her 21st century sensibilities. She winced when we read that roasted squirrel was considered a tasty treat. She was visibly disturbed to learn that children got whipped for whispering in church. And she was shocked that even though most families had at least six children, they frequently lived in a one-room house. She kept saying “That’s not normal!”

I explained to her that what’s considered normal changes with the times. What was normal then may no longer be called normal now. She got me thinking. I didn’t have to go all the way back to Colonial Times to see a different normal. Within the span of my generation, so much has changed, …

My father was pounding the table for emphasis. He wanted to ensure that his in-laws realized the error of their ways. He bellowed: “How could you vote for Eisenhower?” It was not a question. It was an accusation. But his father-in-law, mother-in-law, mothers’ sisters and fathers’ brothers didn’t take the bait. They just stared, shrugged and  explained: “We Like Ike!” My mother drew her hands to her heart, as if in prayer, and quietly affirmed, “Adlai Stevenson was our choice.”

I was just a kid. Even though politics was not yet my cup of tea, my parents took their civic responsibilities seriously.

Four years later, their commitment was rewarded. This time, their man won. John F. Kennedy beat Richard M Nixon. Now, it was time for the young, handsome man to occupy the White House. Even a knucklehead kid like me could sense a new excitement in the air. I wondered what the fuss was about. I asked my parents, “Why does everyone like President Kennedy so much?”

My mother paused, got a twinkle in her eye and, as if reciting, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” she said, “We like the Kennedys because they live life to the fullest! They do things like water ski.” She was trying to put it in terms that I would understand. My father put in his two cents. “They’re like us. They don’t sit around the house, in rocking chairs, looking at antiques. They go out and have fun!” 

Fun was important to my parents. I didn’t realize it then, but now, looking back, I see that they were reacting against their own parents. Frequently, my father would explain to anyone who would listen, “With my parents, everything had to be educational. I don’t want educational for my kids. I want them to have fun.”

While my parents enthusiastically pursued “fun,” both sets of grandparents regarded it with suspicion. My maternal grandparents would get tense and anxious if the fun meter dared to exceed “peaceful.” My father’s parents were born in Eastern Europe, a place so dark and dreary that it was never discussed. After fleeing the Old Country, they didn’t care about fun; they were content just to be alive. 

But my parents had a more ambitious agenda. And the Kennedys fit right in with that worldview. A vote for the Kennedys was a vote for a certain lifestyle.

Every Sunday, my parents would take my brother, sister and me out for a drive. The Sunday Drive was our adventure. And it was a real adventure, not the thin gruel of virtual experience. We explored all aspects of our home city of Washington, D.C. We could hike along Great Falls, which flowed into the Potomac River. Or my parents might skim the real estate section of The Washington Post. With those leads in hand, we’d drive down to Embassy Row to check out the mansions that were for sale. Occasionally, we would tour downtown to visit the national monuments. I always got a thrill seeing the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool on the Mall.

One Sunday, we were driving around the Ellipse, which is another term for the Presidents Park on the south side of the White House. Dad was in the driver’s seat, where he liked to be, literally and figuratively. Mom was by his side, scouting the terrain. Dad said Mom had eyes like a hawk, and she did. 

She spotted President Kennedy taking an afternoon stroll on the sidewalk, outside of the black wrought iron fence that encircled the White House grounds. He was dressed in an elegant suit, walking with a cane. The cane seemed to be more for style than for support. His thick chestnut brown hair caught the rays of a mild winter sun. Spotting him was like spotting a rare bird. He seemed to be walking alone. There was nothing between our family and our president. No obstacles. Looking back on that day, I’m sure the Secret Service men were nearby. But for the life of me, I don’t recall their presence at all.

Dad rolled down the window of our little VW Bug and stuck his arm out and waved, “Hello Mr. President!” President Kennedy walked over to our car.  He extended his hand inside our car for my father to grasp. Dad said, “How do you do, Mr. President.?”

How did my father know to call him Mr. President, instead of Mr. Kennedy?  Probably because Dad just knew stuff like that. President Kennedy responded by saying, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

I was in the back seat. I was 9 years old and so excited that I thought I’d burst. I blurted out, “We voted for you!” My parents and JFK had a chuckle over that one. I just glowed. President Kennedy continued on his walk. And we drove home.

When I look back on that Sunday afternoon, I realize it’s a snapshot from a bygone era. There is no way in today’s political climate that an American family could have a chance encounter with their president. All that spontaneity has been drained dry. Every presidential moment is scripted. Every exchange is planned and choreographed.   

It’s a bit like going to the zoo. You see the animals and you have fun, but think how much more exciting it would be to glimpse the animals in the wild. That afternoon, I saw the president in the wild, not caged in a zoo. He was radiant, and it was thrilling. And that thrill is something that we’ve lost. Meet the president of the United States by accident? That’s not normal.

In court, defiant Morsi says he is still Egypt’s president


Ousted Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi, given his first public forum since his overthrow in a trial where he could face execution, declared on Monday he was still Egypt's legitimate president and shouted: “Down with military rule!”

Morsi, an Islamist who was toppled by the army in July after mass protests against him, spoke with anger and passion, interrupting the first day of his trial repeatedly from his cage during an unruly hearing that the judge adjourned to January 8.

State television aired brief footage of Morsi, the first public sighting of the president since his overthrow in July. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, had been kept in an undisclosed location since then.

“I am Dr. Mohamed Morsi. I am president of the republic,” said Morsi.

Inside the courtroom, anti-Morsi Egyptian journalists chanted “execution”, “execution” as the deposed leader did his best to challenge the authority of the court, shouting repeatedly at the judge whose legitimacy he refused to accept.

“We are in a state, not a (military) camp. Down down with military rule,” said Morsi. “I am a witness that what is happening is a part of a military coup. I ask the Egyptian judiciary to not act as a cover for the military coup.”

The judge repeatedly asked Morsi to stop giving long speeches. “Please answer the question, do you agree to have a lawyer representing you?” judge Ahmed Sabry said.

Opponents of Egypt's army-backed government deride what they call a “show trial” as part of a campaign to crush Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood movement and revive the police state of Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule that ended in a 2011 popular revolt.

Hundreds of people were killed in the months that followed Morsi's overthrow, including many hundreds shot dead by police and troops who cleared out a weeks-long protest vigil by Morsi's supporters. Thousands of followers have been rounded up.

Egypt has become fiercely divided, with state media lionizing the military and police for their crackdown on “terrorists”, while the Brotherhood, once the country's most powerful political force, has retreated to the shadows where it spent more than 80 years as an underground movement.

Morsi, 62, who like many Islamists was also jailed under Mubarak, now faces charges of inciting violence that could carry the death penalty.

It is the second time Egypt has put an ousted president on trial since 2011, and taking place in the same venue – a police academy hall – where Mubarak has faced retrial over his conviction for complicity in killing protesters.

Morsi and 14 other Islamists face charges of inciting violence relating to the deaths of about a dozen people in clashes outside the presidential palace in December after Morsi enraged his opponents with a decree expanding his powers.

After stepping out of a white van and buttoning his jacket, he appeared in a cage in the courtroom beside other Islamist defendants, who were in white prison garb. They applauded when Morsi arrived, gave the Brotherhood's four-fingered salute, and at times turned their backs on the court.

“This trial is illegitimate,” said Morsi, who was dressed in a dark suit. “This is a criminal military coup.”

Hundreds of Morsi's supporters gathered outside the court building. One sign read: “The people's will has been raped”.

SECURITY PRESENCE

Trial proceedings were not aired on state television and journalists were barred from bringing telephones into the courtroom. Senior Brotherhood figures among the defendants used the chance to tell reporters they had been mistreated.

“I have been kept in my cell for 60 days,” Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagi told Reuters in the courtroom from inside a cage holding defendants. “I have been held under water in my cell and this has happened to other members.”

Another Islamist in the cage, Alaa Hamza, said he was tortured and lifted his shirt to show reporters what he said were torture marks.

After the hearing, Morsi was taken to Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria.

The military establishment's return to the forefront of power prompted Washington to cut some military aid, although Washington has not said whether the overthrow was a “coup”, language that would require it to halt aid to one of its biggest clients. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting Cairo on Sunday, expressed guarded optimism about a return to democracy.

The uprising that toppled Mubarak in 2011 had raised hopes that Egypt would embrace democracy and human rights and eventually enjoy economic prosperity.

Instead, the power struggle between the Brotherhood and the army-backed establishment has created more uncertainty in the country of 85 million which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal. Tourism and investment have collapsed.

INCITING VIOLENCE

The Brotherhood won repeated elections since Mubarak's fall. But millions of Egyptians grew disillusioned with Morsi's troubled one-year rule and took to the streets to demand his resignation. They accused Morsi of usurping power and mismanaging the economy, allegations he denied.

“We didn't see as much misery in the 30 years of Mubarak as much as we saw in one year of Morsi,” said Ali, a driver who was sipping morning tea at a cafe in downtown Cairo.

“He fooled us with his year in power.”

The army, saying it was responding to the will of the people, deposed Morsi and announced a political road map it said would lead to free and fair elections.

But the promises have not reassured Western allies, who had hoped six decades of rule by military men would be broken. Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who toppled Morsi, is very popular, and few doubt he would win if he runs for president.

The Brotherhood maintains Morsi's removal was a coup that reversed the democratic gains made after Mubarak's overthrow.

Mohamed Damaty, a volunteer defence lawyer for Morsi, said:

“It is clear that the goal of this trial as well as any action against the Muslim Brotherhood is to wipe out the group as well as any Islamist movements from political life.”

Additional reporting by Hadeel al-Shalchi, Asma Alsharif, Shadia Nasralla and Shaimaa Fayed; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Michael Georgy, Giles Elgood and Peter Graff

Shanah tovah from the White House


No real news here, but it’s not every day the president speaks directly to the Jews (except for this week, when it seems he did).

 

Vigilance, not optimism, in engagement with Iran


Hassan Rohani was sworn in as Iran’s president on Sunday. In his inauguration speech, he alleged that his government would walk the path of “detente” with the world, but that the international community should engage with Iran through “dialogue” and “respect” instead of sanctions. “Mutual transparency is key for opening doors of confidence,” he added.

Rohani promised Iran would pursue “peace and stability in the region” and be “a haven of stability”.

He presented the Majles, the Iranian parliament, with his cabinet choices. The Majles is expected to vote on the list next week.

The US said it was ready to work with Mr Rohani’s government if it were serious about engagement. “The inauguration of President Rohani presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Unlike Mr. Carney, the Iranian people seemed not to see much opportunity in the event. Apart Hassan Rohani’s past record marking continuous presence and action in security agencies of the clerical regime for three decades; apart his strong and flawless loyalty to the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, permitting him to take part in a presidential election where only eight people among more than 800 were allowed to attend; his choice of ministers is tell-tale of his internal intentions: his proposed candidate for the sensitive post of Justice Ministry is Mostapha Pour-Mohammadi, for years a strongman in the feared Ministry of Intelligence and a member of the three-judge panel that condemned thousands of political prisoners to death in 1988.

At that time, just after the Iran-Iraq war, Iran put thousands of political prisoners to death during a few months. During those months, the three-judge panel retried thousands of inmates already serving sentences. The hearing lasted a few minutes for each prisoner. Those inmates who stood by their opposition to the regime were ordered immediately hanged. As many as 30,000 prisoners were thus massacred according to the opposition.

As for “peace and stability in the region,” Mr. Rohani is a fervent supporter of the Iranian military engagement in Syria. He stressed in a recent interview with an Arab leading newspaper: “Syria is the only country in the region which has resisted the expansionist policies and conducts of Israel.”

Yesterday a leading  French weekly revealed how Iran trained Iraqi Chiites in a base close to Tehran before sending them to suppress popular uprising in Syria.

But even more than his freak record back home his own conduct during the period he was in charge of the nuclear negotiations with the West should ring bells. During the two year period of 2003 – 2005, as head of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team, he assured the European Troika formed by Great Britain, France and Germany as his negotiating counterparts that uranium enrichment in Iran’s nuclear facilities had stopped while they were talking. The Sunday Telegraph however wrote later in 2006: “In a speech to a closed meeting of leading Islamic clerics and academics, Hassan Rohani, who headed talks with the so-called EU3 until last year, revealed how Tehran played for time and tried to dupe the West after its secret nuclear program was uncovered by the Iranian opposition in 2002.” In fact cascades of centrifuges were completed during all the time Rohani was negotiating with the Europeans with not a single machine coming to a halt.

As for mutual transparency, the Iranian opposition revealed only two weeks ago a hidden nuclear site located in tunnels beneath a mountain near the town of Damavand, 44 miles northeast of Tehran.

According to the opposition, the site has existed since 2006 with the first series of subterranean tunnels and four external depots recently completed.

They claimed Hassan Rohani had a “key role” in the program.

It seems that optimism towards Rohani is unfounded. With the absolute power in the hands of the supreme leader Khamenei, and with Rohani’s obedience towards Khamenei in spite of existing relations with other factions in the regime, it is obvious that he would try to buy time before anything else, if there would be anything else.

So vigilance, and not optimism, has to remain the motto in any engagement with Iran.

Extremely moderate


Iran’s president-elect Rohani: More of the same or a bridge to the West?


Former national security adviser, former nuclear negotiator, a decades-old friendship with the supreme leader — Hassan Rohani is as Iranian establishment as it gets.

Which is why, some Iran watchers say, he may be an invaluable asset in the quest to reduce tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States.

In his first remarks following his election to the Iranian presidency last week, Rohani sustained the moderate image that helped sweep him into office with more than 50 percent of the vote, obviating the need for a runoff against one of the other five candidates.

Rohani, 64, described Iran’s parlous relationship with the United States as “an old wound which must be healed,” according to The New York Times translation of his news conference on Monday, while also defending Iran’s “inalienable rights” to enrich uranium. He intimated, however, that he was willing to make the country’s nuclear program more transparent.

Skeptics were none too impressed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Rohani did not present a change from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his predecessor who was notorious for anti-Semitic rantings, Holocaust denial and oft-repeated wish that Israel would one day disappear.

Both men, Netanyahu said, emerged from a small pool of candidates selected by a council that answers to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini.

“Among those whose candidacies [Khameini] allowed was elected the candidate who was seen as less identified with the regime, who still defines the State of Israel as ‘the great Zionist Satan,’ ” Netanyahu said Sunday.

The Obama administration also expressed skepticism, although unlike Netanyahu, it held out hope that Rohani’s moderated rhetoric represented an opening.

“President-elect Rohani pledged repeatedly during his campaign to restore and expand freedoms for all Iranians,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said. “In the months ahead, he has the opportunity to keep his promises to the Iranian people.”

Kerry also repeated his readiness to “engage directly with the Iranian government” to meet Western demands that it make its nuclear program more transparent.

Rohani was born in northern Iran to a religious family that sent him to seminary when he was 12. He went on to earn advanced law degrees at Glasgow Caledonian University and to publish two books in English on Islamic jurisprudence. Until his election he was the managing editor of two scholarly foreign affairs periodicals, in English and in Farsi.

For much of his career, Rohani has been deeply embedded in Iran’s corridors of power. Ten of the 16 entries under “professional experience” in his English-language biography posted on the website of the think tank he has led since 1992, the Center for Strategic Research, detail his security establishment credentials.

Rohani served two stints as national security adviser, from 1989 to 1997 and 2000 to 2005, and was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005.

During his mid-2000s ascent under the reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami, Western diplomats speculated that Rohani was being groomed for the presidency, noting both his facility for engagement with the West and ties to the conservative establishment and the supreme leader. Rohani is fluent in English, along with several other Western languages, and has an active presence on Twitter.

In his published works, Rohani offers some clues about his views concerning engagement with the West, particularly in nuclear negotiations.

According to Farideh Farhi, a University of Hawaii analyst writing this week on LobeLog, a foreign policy website, Rohani seems to believe that engagement offers more for Iranian security than isolation.

“The foundation of security is not feeling apprehensive,” Rohani wrote in his 2011 book, “National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy,” according to a translation by Farhi. “In the past 6 years” — since the departure from power of moderates led by Khatami — “the feeling of apprehension has not been reduced.”

Western diplomats who led nuclear talks with Rohani in the mid-2000s told reporters at the time that they saw Rohani as someone coming to the table ready to forge deals. It was during Rohani’s term as chief nuclear negotiator that Iran suspended its enrichment of uranium, although talks ultimately foundered over the extent of the Iranian suspension.

Rohani no longer favors such a suspension, but has suggested that he is ready to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent as a means of lifting Iran’s isolation.

“The best way to characterize Rohani is that he realizes the extent of the crisis facing the Iranian regime due to multiple reasons, but also because of the nuclear program and sanctions,” said Alireza Nader, an Iran policy analyst at the Rand Corp., a think tank with close ties to the Pentagon. “Rohani is not someone who believes Iran must sacrifice everything for resistance.”

During his campaign, Rohani suggested that the price of “resistance” championed by Ahmadinejad and some of the hardliners running against him had cost Iran too much.

It would be nice “that while centrifuges are working, the country is also working,” was one of his slogans, according to Meir Javedanfar, an Iran-born Israeli analyst.

Skeptics emphasized Rohani’s establishment ties, which according to the Times date to 1967, when he met and befriended Khameini on a long train ride.

The Israel Project in its biography of Rohani emphasized that his ascension to the upper echelons of the Iranian government came about through his friendship with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the country’s president throughout much of the 1990s. It was under Rafsanjani that international terrorism operations and nuclear development expanded greatly.

Khameini, as many have noted, remains the ultimate power in Iran. But Nader said Rohani’s establishment past and the swell of moderates who carried him into office over hardline regime favorites such as Saeed Jalili, also a former nuclear negotiator, could position him as a bridge between the two camps.

“Rohani is not transformative. He is part of the conservative establishment and the national security establishment,” Nader said. “He’s acceptable to both sides, to Khameini and the conservatives and to the reformists. He’s a figure who will try and bridge the gap between the components of the regime.

“This is an opportunity for Khameini to make concessions to change and to save face.”

The off-campus Yudof


Mark Yudof, the soon-to-retire president of the University of California system, was born in Philadelphia, the son of an electrician, and during a distinguished career as head of the Universities of Minnesota, Texas and California multicampus systems, has never quite lost his taste for the blue-collar lifestyle, especially when it comes to food.

In an interview earlier in his tenure, he had alluded to his dogged search for the perfect pancake, and the Journal asked him to report on his progress.

 “It is an endless quest, somewhat like the search for truth,” he responded, “but the journey continues.”

After a tough day contending with legislators in Sacramento or with campus protesters, Yudof likes to reward himself by ordering a hamburger, fries and a soda at In-N-Out Burger. “I feel I deserve it,” he said.

His wife, Judy, agrees that he is entitled to his comfort food and shares his enjoyment of pancakes, though without the syrup and toppings.

At home, however, she is the one who initiated a kosher kitchen, and, in general, her husband credits her with intensifying his Jewish observance and connections.

Judy Yudof leads by example. She has just completed a six-year stint on the council of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the nation’s capital, and her resume includes such posts as international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, representing 760 synagogues. She is the first woman to hold the post in the organization’s nearly 100-year history.

Currently, she is involved on the local, regional or national levels with the Jewish Community Centers, American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Hillel. In addition, as Mark Yudof notes with mock exasperation, his wife frequently “volunteers” him as speaker for national and local Jewish organizations.

Mark and Judy Yudof have been married for 47 years and have two children, Seth and Samara. The couple attends services at B’nai Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Walnut Creek, which draws its membership of some 300 households from East Bay cities, including Oakland.

Aderet Drucker, B’nai Shalom’s rabbi, describes the Yudofs as “incredibly supportive,” both of herself when she took over the pulpit last year, and of the congregation as a whole.

Recently, the couple hosted one of the congregation’s regular parlor meetings at their home, allowing some 15 members to discuss their ideas and concerns in a small, intimate setting.

Mark Yudof has met a number of times with Hillel rabbis on the various UC campuses, including Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA, who noted that while Jewish university presidents are no longer a rarity, Yudof represented a new breed among his peers.

“In previous generations, high-level administrators felt it necessary to de-ethnicize their Jewishness,” Seidler-Feller said, while Yudof, by contrast, was equally forthright in his public and Jewish personas.

Yudof is also an unabashed supporter of Israel. During his UC tenure, he has led two Project Interchange missions of university heads to Israel, sponsored by the AJC, to encourage a deeper understanding of higher education in both countries.

He also played a key role in reinstating the study abroad program at Israeli universities for UC students, specifically with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

After he leaves the UC presidency, Yudof will resume his former teaching career by becoming a law professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law. “I’ll have to do a lot of reading to catch up,” he noted.

He also plans to return to his longtime study and lectures on Moses Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, also known as the Rambam.“I am fascinated by the Golden Age of medieval Jewry in Spain and one day hope to visit Cordoba, Maimonides’ birthplace, and view his statue there,” Yudof said.

The Yudofs plan to continue living in the East Bay. “My hairdresser is there,” he said, pointing to his bald pate, adding, “and there are some really good cheesecake places there.” 

Obama quotes Hatikvah in Passover message


President Obama cited the Israeli national anthem's invocation of an ancient Jewish longing for a homeland in his Passover message.

“Last week, I visited the state of Israel for the third time, my first as president,” Obama said in his message reeled Monday just hours before the start of the holiday. “I reaffirmed our countries’ unbreakable bonds with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Shimon] President Peres.

“I had the chance to speak directly with young Israelis about the future they wanted for their country, their region, and the world,” Obama continued. “And I saw once again how the dream of true freedom found its full expression in those words of hope from Hatikvah, lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu, 'To be a free people in our land.'”

The Obamas on Monday evening hosted a seder, a White House tradition begun by Obama.

Included in the seder was a seder plate given as a gift by Sara Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister's wife, to Michelle Obama, the first lady.

Earlier Monday, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser who helped plan Obama's trip last week to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian areas, briefed Jewish and Arab American leaders about the trip in an off the record call.

Separately, the Rabbinical Assembly, the umbrella body for the Conservative movement, wrote Obama thanking him for the trip, saying it had created a “personal and intimate bond” between Obama and Israel's people.

“It is our fondest hope that this new and powerful connection, characterized by enhanced trust and respect, will open the door to renewed progress in the quest for an enduring peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” said the letter.

Did Obama’s charm offensive in Israel work?


President Obama had three goals for his first presidential trip to Israel.

He wanted to persuade Israelis that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He wanted to promote the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, albeit without any specific “deliverables.” Most of all, however, he wanted to charm the pants off the Israeli people.

He dropped Hebrew phrases into his speeches. He quoted the Talmud. He invoked the story of Passover.

So, nu, did it work?

“Does anyone doubt, still, that we’re talking about a friend here?” Itzik Shmueli, a Knesset minister from the center-left Labor party, wrote on Facebook.

Obama earned qualified praise even from Naftali Bennett, the pro-settler chairman of the nationalist Jewish Home party who now serves as minister of commerce and economics.

“Obama’s words certainly came out of concern for Israel and true friendship,” Bennett wrote, also on Facebook. Citing rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday, however, Bennett added, “A Palestinian state isn’t the right way. The time has come for new and creative approaches.”

A smiling Obama appeared side by side with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres to talk about their two nations’ shared values and security needs. He visited the Israel Museum, viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls, surveyed the Iron Dome missile defense system and saw a host of Israeli high-tech innovations. For Friday, his itinerary included visits to the graves of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, and slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

For the most part, the visit was a cornucopia of compliments and commitments to Israel’s security and the U.S.-Israel relationship.

“Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above because Israel’s not going anywhere,” Obama said during his speech Thursday night at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. “And today I want to tell you, particularly the young people, so that there’s no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America, 'atem lo l’vad.' You are not alone.”

Before the trip, Israelis were extremely wary about the U.S. president. He had visited Israel twice before, most recently in 2008, but Israelis were irked that he skipped Israel on a Middle East swing in 2009 that included his famous Cairo speech. They were put off by his public calls for a freeze on settlement building early in his presidency. They compared him unfavorably to his two predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

In a 2009 poll, fewer than 10 percent of Israelis had a favorable view of Obama. And a poll conducted this month by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that 54 percent of the 600 Jewish Israelis surveyed said they did not trust Obama to consider and safeguard Israel’s interests.

After his speech on Thursday, however, some listeners said they had warmed to him.

“He was very clear, and he conveyed a feeling of security, especially about Iran,” said Hagar Shilo, 23, a political science student at Tel Aviv University. “He made a lot of pro-Israel statements that we hadn’t heard yet — very much like Clinton.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads the government’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, wrote on Facebook, “Obama’s speech was important and inspirational. Our job is to apply our Zionist vision, which was reflected eloquently in his words for Israel’s youth.”

To be sure, Obama also challenged Israel on the trip. He visited the West Bank city of Ramallah and gave a statement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemning settlement construction. And in his speech to Israeli students on Thursday night, he made an extended appeal asking Israelis to take risks for peace and the two-state solution, calling peace “necessary,” “just” and “possible.”

“I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future,” Obama said. “You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

Mostly, though, Obama sought to use this trip to reassure Israelis, including on Iran.

“We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world and potentially an existential threat to Israel,” Obama said at a news conference with Netanyahu. “We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Even many of those who disagreed with Obama’s policies on Israel said they were encouraged by his decision to visit Israel.

Tel Aviv University student Yanai Cohen, who attended the Thursday night speech, said he doesn’t agree with the two-state solution and felt that Obama had disparaged Israel’s government.

But, he said, what mattered most now was Obama’s decision to visit Israel.

“Coming here is a sign,” Cohen said. “It shows commitment.”

Israel and the Palestinians gearing up for Obama visit


Preparing for a US presidential visit is a huge job. Preparing for a US presidential visit the week before Passover is an almost insurmountable task.

While in Jerusalem, the President will be staying at the historic King David hotel, which used to be the site of the British headquarters during the pre-state period. In 1946, an extremist Zionist group bombed the hotel, killing 91 people.

Officials say that security is the highest priority and the President’s delegation is taking over the whole hotel, for security reasons.

“Every effort is being made to ensure the safety of the President,” government spokesman Mark Regev told The Media Line.

But just three days after he leaves, well-heeled guests willing to pay upwards of $500 per room per night will arrive at the hotel for Passover. The food must be strictly kosher for Passover, meaning nothing leavened – no bread, no rolls, no cake. Just matza — thin, crumbly and similar to a cracker.

The extensive cleaning preparations needed to make the hotel kosher for Passover are already underway, and by Tuesday of next week, the day before the President arrives, they will be finished.

“The hotel will already be kosher for Passover and that really limits me,” chef Michel Nabet, 43, of the King David Hotel told The Media Line. “I’m doing everything I can to make the food as good as possible.”

Nabet declined to share the menu or special purchases he has made. He cooked for the President on his last trip, when he visited Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008.

“If I remember correctly, he ordered lamb chops,” Nabet said. “I’ve also cooked for President Bush and President Putin. I’m used to it already. I just want everyone, from the President on down to leave the dining room with a smile on his face.”

Jerusalemites have gotten used to the massive traffic jams caused by any head of state visit. This time, police say they will be posting live updates on their website and have come up with a special application that can be downloaded free showing residents which roads are closed.

“We ask that the public be aware of which areas will be closed and when,” Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “The public will be able to continue to make their way to work and to move in and around Jerusalem apart from the hotel area and the President’s residence.”

Rosenfeld said “more than 10,000 police will be deployed to ensure the President’s security.”

Hardest hit will be Jerusalemites who live near Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s residence. In the Jerusalem Post, Greer Fay Cashman, who lives on the same street as the Prime Minister, wrote that she had a visit from a member of Netanyahu’s security detail in advance of the Obama visit.

“The police young man told me that during the visit I could not have any visitors, including tradespeople,” she wrote. “Worse still, I was stold that any of my apartment’s side windows that look out onto the length of the street must be shuttered.” She also wrote that members of the security detail “traipse through the gardens of all the buildings on the street without asking permission.”

The President will also visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and possibly the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Palestinian officials declined to give details of the visit, including how the President will travel from Jerusalem to Ramallah.

The officials say that the US security guards will have primary responsibility.

“The American’s will be responsible for guarding the first circle of the US President’s security and not us,” Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces told The Media Line. “The Americans know that the Palestinian security forces are serious and professional and we have proved that before.”

Some Palestinian groups are planning demonstrations against what they believe is the pro-Israel bias of the US. “President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah. You won’t have mobile access to Internet. We have no 3G in Palestine”, read a banner draped across a main street.”

“President Obama once said that he doesn’t let go of his Blackberry at all,” Maher Alawneh, 31, the media consultant behind the banner. He said he hoped the President would see the difficulties Palestinians face.

President Abbas’s office in the center of Ramallah will be heavily guarded. Palestinian sources told The Media Line that Israeli, Palestinian and American security forces are holding coordination meetings to make sure there are no embarrassing incidents.

Obama pledges to stand with Israel, stop Iranian bomb, in State of the Union


President Obama pledged to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb and to “stand steadfast” with Israel in his State of the Union speech.

“The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” Obama said Tuesday evening.

Obama also said he would continue to back democratization throughout the Middle East.

“And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace,” he added. “These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.”

Much of Obama's speech was devoted to job creation proposals, particularly involving infrastructure building, and reducing the deficit through spending cuts and tax reform.

He also focused on other signature second term issues, including immigration reform, addressing climate change, and bringing about new gun controls.

Survivors of  shootings and relatives of fatalities were guests of the Obamas at the State of the Union.

Urging Congress to at least bring gun control laws to a vote, he singled out among others Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head in January 2011 in an assault that claimed six lives.

Giffords was present at the speech with her husband, Mark Kelley.