Illustration by Steve Greenberg

Why some Jews still support Trump


Watching President Donald Trump equivocate during his criticism of the recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., many liberal Jews saw a new low for an administration they felt never occupied high moral ground in the first place.

But many of Trump’s most ardent Jewish supporters had an entirely different reaction, responding to his freewheeling commentary with little more than a shrug, as if to say, “What’s the big deal?” To them, criticizing Trump for a lack of moral clarity because he failed to single out neo-Nazis for condemnation was just another example of the liberal media and the Democratic establishment blowing his comments out of proportion.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis,” said Warren Scheinin, a retired engineer in Redondo Beach. “He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

For right-leaning Jews in the Southland like Scheinin, who have stood by the president so far, the media rather than Trump or even neo-Nazis pose the greatest threat to American democracy. To many Trump supporters, if Charlottesville mattered at all, it mattered far less than his promises to reverse the course of the previous administration at home and abroad, especially on difficult issues involving Israel, North Korea and immigration.

While it’s difficult to estimate the percentage of Jews who still support the president, it’s likely small. More than two-thirds didn’t vote for him in the 2016 election.

Among all Americans who cast ballots for Trump, however, many apparently continue to stand by him. A CBS News poll found that 67 percent of Republicans approved of his response to the violence in Charlottesville.

In a separate poll this month by Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., 41 percent of those surveyed expressed approval for the president. Of those, 61 percent said nothing he could do or fail to do would cause them to change their minds about him.

Steven Windmueller, a professor emeritus at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles who researches Jewish political sentiment, said it is difficult to measure how many Jews continue to enthusiastically support Trump rather than merely accept his leadership.

“For those who are in bed and comfortable with him, and even with his quirks and his inconsistencies, there’s little that will push them away from him,” Windmueller said. “But for those who are troubled by at least some of his statements and actions, I think they’re simply hoping for some way out of this nightmare.”

Windmueller pointed to a “credibility gap” between those who put their faith in Trump and those who trust mainstream media outlets.

“Whatever he said, the media would twist it,” said Alexandra Joans, 66, a property manager in Tarzana who supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries but shifted her support to Trump once he became the nominee. “If he said today was Friday, they would say, ‘You’re a damned liar, you should be impeached.’ ”

President Donald Trump answers questions about his response to the violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City on Aug. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

 

Benjamin Nissanoff, 45, the founder of a line of body-care products who lives in West Los Angeles, said the media are quick to label Trump a Jew hater, but they didn’t criticize President Barack Obama when, in an interview with Vox, he did not denounce a 2015 attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris as anti-Semitic. (In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Obama said: “Anti-Semitic attacks like the recent terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris pose a threat that extends beyond the Jewish community.” However, he did not refer to anti-Semitism in the Vox interview.) 

“The media not only didn’t challenge [Obama] on it, they defended him against it,” Nisanoff said. “To me, that is almost an equivalent, analogous situation. Where this president, in my opinion, made a gaffe and — instead of defending him like they did for Obama — they went on offense and they attacked him for a poorly worded and phrased condemnation.”

For some Jewish voices that have defended Trump in the past or stayed silent while others attacked, the president’s comments on Charlottesville seemed to cross a line. But that put them out of lockstep with his base among conservative Jews.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s inauguration ceremony in January, said he wished that Trump had been a more effective communicator at a time of crisis.

“If he was concerned there not be any violence at the demonstrations, he could have said, ‘I appeal to all Americans to obey the police and not violate any of the rules,’ ” Hier said. “But instead, he seemed to draw a moral equivalency between perpetrators and victims.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), which praised the president when he appointed a diplomatic amateur, David Friedman, as ambassador to Israel, and withheld criticism when he failed to mention Jews in an International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, spoke out against his Charlottesville comments.

“People were getting upset with him because he didn’t specifically say he hated Nazis. He also didn’t mention that the sun rises in the east.”

Responding to Trump’s assertion that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests, the group’s national chairman, Norm Coleman, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota, and Matt Brooks, its executive director, contradicted him in an Aug. 16 statement, saying, “There are no good Nazis and no good members of the [Ku Klux] Klan.

“We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism,” they wrote.

But other Jewish Republicans saw nothing objectionable in the president’s comments, only the backlash that ensued. After the California Jewish Legislative Caucus, a group of 16 lawmakers in Sacramento, rebuked Trump for his comments, the only Republican member, State Sen. Jeff Stone of Riverside County, resigned from the caucus.

In an Aug. 17 statement, the caucus said Trump “gives voice to organizations steeped in an ideology of bigotry, hate and violence.” Stone fired back hours later with a statement of his own, saying the caucus “receives state resources to merely criticize our duly elected President.”

Carol Greenwald of Maryland, co-founder of the grassroots group Jews Choose Trump, who supported him throughout the 2016 campaign, dismissed the criticism from organizations like the RJC.

“They’re a bunch of hypocrites,” she said. “They didn’t support Trump for a minute during the campaign.”

She sees the fallout from Trump’s Charlottesville remarks as part of a crusade by the media aimed at damaging the president.

“They ran out of the Russian collusion [story], that Trump is a traitor, because there’s obviously no evidence for it, and so they’re now trying to destroy his presidency by saying Trump’s a racist,” she said.

Scheinin also believes Democrats are running with the Charlottesville story to damage Trump.

“The only reason he’s being harassed about it is because the left loves to harass the president,” he said.

Counterdemonstrators attack a white supremacist during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 

The former Northrop Grumman engineer agreed with the president that both sides in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence.

“I don’t know why people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he said of the media coverage. “If the counterprotesters hadn’t showed up, nobody would have been killed. It would have blown over.”

Like Joans, Greenwald and others interviewed for this story, Scheinin said he sees far-left groups such as antifa, known for its use of violence to intimidate conservative speakers and protesters, and Black Lives Matter, which has equated Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with genocide, as more of a threat to democracy and Jewish life in America than the far right.

“The skinheads don’t really bother me,” Joans said. “They’re useless to me. I worry about the left more because they’re the true fascists.”

For Trump stalwarts, the perception that violence and hatred are rampant on the left makes it easier to sympathize with the president’s suggestion that both sides of the Charlottesville rallies should be targeted for condemnation.

Estella Sneider

Estella Sneider, a celebrity psychologist who campaigned for Trump and appeared frequently on television to support him, disputed allegations that Trump is a racist or a xenophobe, pointing to his Orthodox Jewish daughter and son-in-law, foreign-born wife and Blacks he appointed to positions in his administration, such as White House communications aide Omarosa Manigault. “Why are people not seeing this?” Sneider said.

Sneider’s family on her father’s side was almost entirely annihilated by the Holocaust. She said she was nauseated by the Nazi symbols and chants at the torchlight march in Charlottesville. After watching Trump’s remarks, however, she was satisfied that he had unequivocally condemned the white supremacists.

“It would be unfair to lump every single Trump supporter into being white supremacists and white nationalists and neo-Nazis, in the same way it would be unfair to lump all liberal Democrats into being antifa,” she said. “Trump was right in saying that not everybody there was a neo-Nazi.”

Nissanoff, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said he was offended by comparisons between Charlottesville protestors who chanted “Jews will not replace us” and Nazis.

“The word ‘Nazi’ is such a powerful idea that to dilute it and start to equivocate with a bunch of losers who run around with tiki torches I think diminishes what a Nazi and Nazism really was,” he said.

In Los Angeles, members of the Israeli community continue to provide a source of Jewish support for Trump.

Ari Bussel, 51, who runs a liquor distributorship in Beverly Hills, was born in the United States but spent his childhood in Israel. He described himself as a proud Republican and said he felt Trump has not been given a chance to lead the country. He said Trump has been “vilified as the greatest Satan, the actual fulfillment of imaginary fears and baseless accusations.”

“As for the latest accusations,” Bussel added, “whatever the president would have said would not have satisfied some people and the American-Jewish leadership — exactly those who vocally and fiercely fought against his being elected.”

For Adi Levin, 47, a homemaker in Woodland Hills who emigrated from Israel in 2000, Trump’s support for Israel is more important than his record on race relations. She said the coverage of Charlottesville has been biased against the president.

“They like to criticize Trump and will continue doing so no matter what he’ll say or do,” she said. “I never heard them criticize Obama the same way, even though he never criticized or said anything about Muslim extremists.”

However, Levin said she wishes Trump would pick his words more carefully.

Cheston Mizel

“It’s obvious that the media doesn’t like him,” she said, “but I don’t think it will hurt to try and be more politically correct.”

The Orthodox community has been another source of pro-Trump sentiment in Los Angeles and beyond. For some of his observant supporters, Trump’s record on religious liberties and Israel far outweigh his handling of race relations.

Cheston Mizel, president of Mizel Financial Holdings and a congregant of Pico Shul, an Orthodox synagogue in Pico-Robertson, said the attention to Charlottesville and to other presidential controversies has distracted from Trump’s successes, including appointing the pro-Israel Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and nominating Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“While there are obviously things that are problematic about this presidency, Nikki Haley and Neil Gorsuch are two clear bright spots,” he said.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft, 58, owns the Mitzvah Store on Beverly Boulevard and goes to synagogue nearby at Congregation Kehilas Yaakov. He grew up in a liberal Democratic family in Kansas City, Mo., but in the 1980s, after meeting Ronald Reagan at a Kansas City Jewish country club where he was a lifeguard, he changed his party affiliation to Republican.

Rabbi Shimon Kraft

Although he originally supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the primaries, once Trump made it to the general election, Kraft’s choice was clear, he said: He voted to make America great again.

Asked whether he feels Trump has adequately denounced white supremacists, Kraft pulled out his iPhone and played a YouTube video of clips edited together to show Trump repeatedly denouncing white supremacist David Duke in various interviews with reporters.

“It was sufficient,” Kraft said of Trump’s response to Charlottesville. “Those who hate Trump could not accept his condemnation of the violent left.”

Ayala Or-El contributed to this article.

President Donald Trump speaks about the violence, injuries and deaths at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

RJC, Orthodox groups reject Trump’s ‘both sides’ remarks


Jewish American groups closely aligned with Trump or with Republican traditional positions have joined the widespread criticism against the President for drawing a moral equivalence between the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists chanting anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans in Charlottesville with the counter protesters.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

In a rare statement issued on Wednesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership implored Trump to dispel any notion of moral equivalency and forcefully reject Nazis and white supremacist groups. “The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are dangerous anti-Semites. There are no good Nazis and no good members of the Klan,” RJC National Chairman Senator Norm Coleman and Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “ We join with our political and religious brethren in calling upon President Trump to provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry, and antisemitism.”

Trump has remained defiant in face of the backlash and is “without regret,” CNN reported on Wednesday.

The Rabbinical Council of America, the leading organization of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in North America, called the failure to unequivocally reject hatred and racism “a failing of moral leadership.”

“While as a rabbinic organization we prefer to address issues and not personalities, this situation rises above partisan politics and therefore we are taking the unusual approach to directly comment on the words of the President,” Rabbi Elazar Muskin, president of the RCA, said in a statement. Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President, added, “The RCA joins with politicians of all parties, citizens of all political persuasions, and people of all faiths calling on President Trump to understand the critical consequences of his words.”

Appearing on i24News, Orthodox Union (OU) President Moshe Bane said he was “a bit confused” by Trump’s response to the weekend events in Charlottesville, Virginia. “It seems very inconsistent with his general sensitivities to bias crimes, hatred and terrorism,” Bane noted. “We are assuming – for our purposes – that he really didn’t mean the moral equivalency that he suggested because if he did, that would be totally unacceptable and abhorrent to us.”

“We are hoping that this is a communications issue, that he doesn’t appreciate the message that is being sent by saying there is blame on all sides,” Bane added. “ I can’t believe that any of [his Jewish advisors] would be supporting a moral equivalency message. I do not know what kind of communications they have on this kind of issue, I don’t know how receptive he is to input on his articulations of his views, but I am certain that they don’t have a perspective of moral equivalency in this situation.”

Agudath Israel of America issued a response to Trump’s comments late Wednesday evening. “While, as the president said, there were violent individuals in both camps, there is obviously no comparison between a group of people who gather to espouse a philosophy of hatred and exclusion and a group that gathered to oppose that odious message,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, a spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America, told Jewish Insider. “Had the president ended his addressing of the Charlottesville issue with his second set of remarks, it would have been a much clearer message than the one he left us with on Tuesday night. I don’t think he is either a racist or an anti-Semite, but it’s important to not give comfort, intentionally or inadvertently, to such lowly elements of society.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in Washington, D.C., on July 27. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

AIPAC backs Taylor Force Act in letter to senators


After months of declining to explicitly endorse the Taylor Force Act, AIPAC announced on Wednesday their support of the bipartisan legislation that would cut off U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until they cease payments to families of terrorists.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“We urge all members of the committee to work together to move this important legislation forward and to VOTE YES to report the bill from committee,” Brad Gordon and Marvin Feuer, AIPAC’s Directors on Policy and Government Affairs, wrote in a letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We are hopeful that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup will produce a strong, bipartisan bill that will send a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority: Stop these payments to terrorists and their families or your assistance will be cut.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the bill on Thursday morning.

AIPAC appears to be persuaded by the revised version of the bill released on Tuesday. The updated version allows continued payments towards Palestinian humanitarian programs and also contains an exemption for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. “The Taylor Force Act does not affect U.S. funding for security cooperation, nor does it cut humanitarian programs,” AIPAC noted. Unlike the Jerusalem Embassy Act, this legislation does not contain a waiver allowing the president to delay implementation of the funding cut.

The bill had no Democratic backing when it was first introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in February. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation in June. However, despite the bipartisan support, AIPAC remained unwilling to actively lobby for the bill. “We strongly support the legislation’s goals and we are working with Congress to build broad bipartisan support that will require the Palestinian leadership to end these abhorrent payments,” AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann told Jewish Insider at the time.

On Monday, Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced a deal was reached with members of the committee to advance the legislation. “This is yet another sign of the bipartisan commitment in Congress to the security of Israel and to ending the Palestinian Authority’s outrageous incitement to violence against Israelis,” the conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement.

The House version of the bill, introduced by Doug Lamborn (R-CO), has increasedsubstantially the number of co-sponsors to 100, but without any Democratic support.

“For too long, some supporters of Israel have feared cutting funding to the PA because it would ‘destabilize’ a supposed peace partner. Now, hopefully, [they] all understand that continuing to fund the PA while it funds murder legitimizes their policy and keeps peace further away,” Eugene Kontorovich, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, told Jewish Insider. “The Palestinian government’s salaries for convicted terrorists is not just a reward for murder, it is murder-for-hire.”

Noah Pollak, an advocate in favor of the Taylor Force Act, said that AIPAC’s formal backing is a “welcome development and something we have been encouraging for many months. We hope that AIPAC will now put its considerable resources behind promoting the bill, even if it is not possible to earn a perfectly equal number of Republican and Democratic votes. We have worked hard to gain bipartisan support. But in the end, passage of a strong, meaningful bill is more important than the details of the vote count.”

In a statement emailed to Jewish Insider, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) applauded AIPAC’s support  and expressed hope that “Democrats will step up, join in, and support a strong and effective version of the bill without diluting it with amendments.”

When informed of AIPAC’s support of the bill, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the decision was helpful. While AIPAC’s view on the Taylor Force ACT isn’t conditional for Rubio, the pro-Israel organization’s position “is influential with me,” he added.

“Once this bill became bipartisan, it became easier for a wider range of groups to support it,” Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), explained. “It’s also important to see that the bill ensures continued security assistance to the PA, as well as humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in need. In short, the politics in Washington have made this easier to back, and the bill itself does not ignore the importance of stability.”

Jeremy Wynes. Photo from Twitter

Meet Jeremy Wynes: The former AIPAC, RJC staffer running for Congress


While the 2018 Congressional elections are more than 18 months away, Republican Jeremy Wynes launched his campaign this week to represent Illinois’ 10th District. A father of three, the Depaul Law School graduate previously worked at AIPAC and then switched to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in 2015 due to his ideological shift towards the GOP party, especially on areas of National Security. With the Chicagoland district swinging back and forth from the Democrats to Republicans each election cycle over the last decade, Wynes makes sure to emphasize his moderate views on social issues. In contrast to others in the GOP, Wynes is pro-choice and in favor of LGBT rights.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Claiming that voters are tired of partisanship, Wynes stresses his background at AIPAC where he worked with both Democrats and Republicans. “I have close to a decade of focusing in a bipartisan way on issues in Congress that are hugely important and we can only solve when both parties are on board,” he told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. While Wynes repeatedly stressed his pro-Israel credentials, it’s worth noting he’s running against a sitting Jewish member of Congress, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL). The Democratic lawmaker opposed the Iranian nuclear deal and voted with Republicans for House Resolution 11, which blasted the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in December.

“I don’t doubt that Congressman Schneider is a pro-Israel Congressman, but it’s also about to being a leader,” Wynes explained. “Let’s not forget that for a month that both Democrats and Republicans were in the trenches fighting that (nuclear) deal; when Members of Congress were making that decision whether they were going to be a no or a yes, we heard radio silence from Schneider on the issue.”

Wynes offered a more nuanced perspective on President Trump’s performance during his early months. He appreciates the Commander in Chief’s hardened policy against Tehran, but called the travel ban “misguided” and disagreed with the decision to withdraw from the TPP deal. “I don’t think firing the FBI Director was necessary at this point,” he added.

With Trump heading to Israel and the West Bank later this month to attempt to secure the “ultimate deal” between the parties, Wynes pushed for caution. “The Palestinian leadership has not acted as if they actually do want a peace deal… The ground-up approach is the only reliable, viable solution to the issue rather than a top-down diplomatic push.”

“We entrusted Jeremy with the responsibility of opening our Midwest office and building the RJC from scratch in the region. He did a superb job,” explained Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the RJC. “Over the years it was obvious to everyone he came in contact with that not only does he have a deep understanding of the policy issues facing the Jewish community but also a true passion for the cause. He will bring those same skills to serving the people of Illinois 10th congressional district.”

Accusing Schneider of nearly automatic opposition of the President and the Republican agenda, Wynes noting the highly competitive district and asked, “The question is whose message will appeal to the independent voters of this district who don’t care which party the Member of Congress aligns himself with? They care about what he says and his ability to be a leader.”

Jewish Insider: What makes your campaign unique when numerous Members of Congress have called for bringing “change” to Washington?

Jeremy Wynes: “I’ve actually done it and worked for close to 10 years on issues that are largely bipartisan when it comes to how Congress focuses on them. Part of what I did, both here in the 10th district and across the Midwest: travel around, advising and briefing Members of Congress and candidates on both sides of the aisle on these critical issues where too often the two sides can’t get together and work on this. So, I think that I have close to a decade of focusing in a bipartisan way on issues in Congress that are hugely important and we can only solve when both parties are on board.”

JI: You mention in your campaign video that you are “socially moderate.” Can you please list a few examples?

Wynes: “I’m pro-choice and support a woman’s right to choose. I am pro-LGBTQ rights and support gay marriage. Those are two big social issues where I think I show independence from national party leadership. Hopefully, over time there will be more and more Republicans that are willing to have this vision as well.”

JI: With President Trump heading to Israel and the West Bank later this month, what are the concrete steps you’d recommend that he takes?

Wynes: “The idea that it needs to be as a result of American pressure needs to be moved off of the table. Any deal will have to have both parties buy in. At this point of time, I’ve seen no signs that anything has changed with one-half of that calculus that the Palestinian leadership has not acted as if they actually do want a peace deal. They have been offered it multiple times over 50 years and they have always said nothing but no. Our position needs to be no preconditions and it has to come from both parties and can’t come through these big diplomatic pushes. It’s got to be built from the bottom-up and until we have a partner on the Palestinian side who is actually committed not just through their words not just committed when speaking with American diplomats, but through their actions on the ground. The ground-up approach is the only reliable, viable solution to the issue rather than a top-down diplomatic push.”

JI: Did you support the move to fire FBI Director James Comey?

Wynes: “I’ll have to take a look at this a little bit more, but I don’t think that this was the right road to go down here. We need to pursue a more independent commission and figure out what exactly Russia did during the election. There is no doubt that they intervened. What effect that continues to have? I don’t think firing the FBI Director was necessary at this point. It’s perfectly fair to criticize, both sides have. Certain things he said and did during the course of the election cycle perhaps was intervening too much in the election process.”

JI: How would you grade President Trump’s first months in office?

Wynes: “We’re four months in here. I don’t think it would be appropriate or fair to be giving any grades at this point a few months into his presidency. In my view, this is a big reason why I’m running and it’s different from the current Congressman of this district is that it’s not about automatic opposition or automatic support: It’s about calling balls and strikes. That is the position of any independent Member of Congress should take. There are things that the Trump administration has done in the first few months that I would not have done that are going down the wrong road. And there are things that he has done such as taking a tougher approach when it comes to Iran that I liked.”

JI: Where do you specifically disagree with President Trump?

Wynes: “I have a different position on trade and immigration than the current administration. I would not have voted to end the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). I thought the travel ban was misguided. I’m hopeful on the tax overhaul, a fairer and more effective tax code. The job of a Member of Congress is not just to be partisan and say yes or no based on which parties is pushing the issue, it’s actually to say yes when it’s the right thing to do and say no when it’s the wrong thing to do and represent your district.”

JI: Congressman Schneider opposed the Iran Deal and joined with Republicans to condemn the UN Security Council vote in December against Israel. What makes you different on Israel?

Wynes: “It’s not just about your vote. The 10th district is very unique in that there are a large number of constituents here are very passionate about this issue and the US-Israel relationship. I don’t doubt that Congressman Schneider is a pro-Israel Congressman. I wouldn’t suggest that he isn’t, but it’s also about to being a leader and when it comes to the Iran deal, what we have seen over the past few years both when he was in Washington and a candidate is an example of him being unwilling to break from his party in a real meaningful way. Yes, I give him credit for eventually coming out against the Iran deal. Let’s not forget that for a month that both Democrats and Republicans were in the trenches fighting that deal when Members of Congress were making that decision whether they were going to be a no or a yes, we heard radio silence from Schneider on the issue. Even though he wrote an op-ed a month earlier that the deal needed to meet these conditions or it would fall short in his mind. Anybody who has served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee knew that the deal fell considerably short in all of the preconditions that he said had to include so for a month I would question if you are going to be a leader on this issue: where was Congressman Schneider or then-candidate Schneider when those of us were in the trenches fighting? Is it leadership to wait a month until the party leadership gives you the ok because you are worried about a partisan primary? I don’t think that’s the leadership this district demands when it comes to this issue.”

JI: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Wynes: “The biggest thing people are wondering is what has Washington accomplished for them? We’ve seen the fighting and partisanship but we are not seeing a lot getting done. A lot of folks are wondering that Congressman Schneider has moved in and out of Washington over the last six years, they are wondering what is he accomplishing for this district and why is he different from any other Democratic candidate, what makes him an independent voice? I want to talk about new ideas and big ideas going forward and how can you tackle the short and long term problems. It’s early, the campaign just started yesterday but I am excited about the direction it’s going to go.”

JI: Do you believe that you have the fundraising and managerial skills necessary to win a complex race for Congress?

Wynes: “I do and I would not be running if I didn’t think that. My interest is in representing this district. This district has always been incredibly competitive for multiple election cycles and will remain the same. It will be a close race. I have no doubt that I will have the resources to run mine. The question is whose message will appeal to the independent voters of this district who don’t care which party the Member of Congress aligns himself with. They care about what he says and his ability to be a leader.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Feb. 24. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

Mike Pence to keynote AIPAC conference


Vice President Mike Pence and a bipartisan slate of top members of Congress are scheduled to address AIPAC’s upcoming annual conference.

An American Israel Public Affairs Committee official confirmed to JTA that Pence will keynote the conference scheduled for March 26-28 in Washington, D.C.

Pence, who enjoyed a long relationship with the pro-Israel lobby as a congressman and later as Indiana governor, spoke last month at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual confab and has taken a lead in condemning recent anti-Semitic incidents.

Also scheduled to speak will be top lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., its ranking member; and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the U.S. House of Representatives majority leader, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip.

Hoyer and McCarthy likely will continue a tradition of top Republican and Democratic lawmakers appearing to claim that while they may differ on some issues, they are agreed on support for Israel. However, fissures between the parties have emerged, with Democrats still forcefully backing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while President Donald Trump has retreated from explicitly backing that outcome.

Jewish Insider reported on Friday that a letter to Trump from House members asking him to reaffirm support for the two-state solution — led by Reps. David Price, D-N.C., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va. — has so far gathered 115 signatures, only two of them from Republicans.

Additionally, Democrats want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal reached by President Barack Obama, while Trump is skeptical of the deal and has said he might want to pull out of it.

AIPAC continues to back the two-state solution and backs measures that would subject the deal to a review.

Another area where there might be partisan tension is around support for funding the Palestinian Authority. Republicans propose cutting funding to the PA as long as it disburses compensation to families of terrorists, while Democrats oppose the measure, saying that the authority helps keep the West Bank stable, which is critical to Israel’s security.

From left, Lenny and Janet Rosenblatt, Max Webb, Holocaust survivor, 100th Birthday Honoree, Ken and Sheryl Pressberg pose during the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 2017 Los Angeles Dinner on Thursday, March 2, 2017, in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging.

Moving and Shaking: U.S. Holocaust Museum dinner, de Toledo names new head, Republican Jews meet in Vegas


The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on March 2 honored Janet and Lenny Rosenblatt and Sheryl and Kenneth Pressberg with the 2017 National Leadership Award, and recognized survivor and philanthropist Max Webb on his 100th birthday.

“As we gather tonight, we are thinking about the threats to JCCs, Jewish day schools and threats to Jewish cemeteries,” dinner co-chair Carol Stulberg said in her remarks. Her co-chairs were Steven and Debbie Abrams, Jill Black, Stanley Black, Fred and Dina Leeds, Nancy Mishkin, Carol and Jac Stulberg, and David Wiener.

The evening at the Beverly Hilton supported the museum’s current campaign, “Never Again: What You Do Matters,” and drew an estimated 1,000 attendees, including actress Rachel Bloom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, restaurateur Barbara Lazaroff, Remember Us director Samara Hutman and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.

The evening began with a video tribute to late Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, followed by remarks by Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe. Steven Klappholz, director of the museum’s Western regional office, also attended.

Wolpe spoke of Webb’s history as a dance teacher and said his survival and the survival of those like him had meant something to succeeding generations.

“Those of you who are survivors and have given us so much, like Max, you have not returned from hell with empty hands,” Wolpe said. “Your hands are full and you fill us, and we are grateful, and we bless you for that goodness, and we bless this land that opened its arms to so many of you and brought you into this nation and to our lives as a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, to the possibilities of reaching across generations and cultures to the great unending human dance.”


From left: Leah Schachter, director of Summer@ETTA; Danny Gott of Danny’s Farm; and Miriam Maya, director of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Caring for Jews in Need and the Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center, attend the third annual Jewish Community Inclusion Festival. Photo by Cathy Gott.

From left: Leah Schachter, director of Summer@ETTA; Danny Gott of Danny’s Farm; and Miriam Maya, director of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Caring for Jews in Need and the Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center, attend the third annual Jewish Community Inclusion Festival. Photo by Cathy Gott.

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, the third annual Jewish Community Inclusion Festival was held Feb. 26 at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services.

More than 200 members of the Jewish community turned out at the social services organization’s Cheviot Hills campus to enjoy gymnastics and fitness activities, arts and crafts, a book reading with children’s author Karen Winnick, a photo booth, a singing performance by children with special needs, and Danny’s Farm, which provides a farm setting for people living with disabilities.

The event was one of several Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Community Service Day projects.

Attendees included Miriam Maya, director of Federation’s Caring for Jews in Need (CJIN) and the Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center; Lori Klein, senior vice president of CJIN; Sarah Blitzstein, program coordinator at HaMercaz, a program of Federation and Jewish Family Service Los Angeles; Andrew Cushnir, Federation executive vice president; and Cathy Gott, co-founder of Education Spectrum and Danny’s Farm. Gott attended with her son, Danny, for whom Danny’s Farm was created.

Special needs children include those with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.


ms-shpallMark Shpall has been named the new head of school at de Toledo High School (dTHS), beginning July 1, 2018, when he will replace Bruce Powell, the founding head of school, Bruce Gersh, president of the school’s board of directors, announced in a March 3 letter.

“Mr. Shpall’s history within our community and his background make him uniquely qualified to lead dTHS and to expand upon the foundation built by our founding Head of School, Dr. Bruce Powell,” Gersh wrote in the letter.

Shpall has served in a variety of positions at the school, including dean of students, director of community programming, dean of 11th and 12th grades, and Advanced Placement government teacher. He has a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Barbara, a law degree from USC and a master’s degree in education from Pepperdine.

Shpall wrote in a letter that he is excited to assume his position: “We are a school that on a daily basis creates the next generation of Jewish leaders as we fill the souls and the minds of our students in equal measure. I look forward to deepening and strengthening this mission.”

During the 2017-18 school year, Shpall will become head of school designate under the direction of Powell.

Powell began his journey in Jewish day school education more than 30 years ago. He was the inaugural general studies principal at the boys and girls schools at Yeshiva University Los Angeles, where he worked for 13 years, and he served as principal of what is now Milken Community Schools before joining New Community Jewish High School, now known as de Toledo, in 2002. 

The school, located in West Hills, has 400 students in grades nine through 12.

— Kylie Ora Lobell, Contributing Writer


 From left: Josh Kaplan, Mati Geula Cohen, Allen Alevy, Brandon Kaufman and Gabrielle Goldfarb attend the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas. Photo by Ryan Torok.

From left: Josh Kaplan, Mati Geula Cohen, Allen Alevy, Brandon Kaufman and Gabrielle Goldfarb attend the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas. Photo by Ryan Torok.

Members of the Los Angeles Jewish community were among the more than 500 attendees at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual national leadership meeting at the Venetian Las Vegas Resort Hotel Casino on Feb. 24-26.

Cal State Northridge student Brandon Kaufman kvelled about the opportunity to hear from Vice President Mike Pence, who spoke on the first day of the conference.

“It was an incredible experience to hear him speak,” said Kaufman, whose attendance at the exclusive event, which drew coalition donors and their guests, was subsidized by Los Angeles philanthropist Allen Alevy.

“I’m almost 80 years old,” Alevy, who also was in attendance, said. “I’m old enough to have my eyes open. President [Franklin] Roosevelt [a Democrat] … could’ve saved 6 million Jews. He saved no one. … If you learn from history, if you care about the Jewish people, then you are a Republican Jewish Coalition member. … If you don’t care, then you can vote any way you want. Remember, the liberal Democrats have done nothing for us [Jews] ever.”

Kicking off the weekend event — called a gathering of “poker, politics and policy” — Pence discussed the U.S.-Israel relationship, the Trump administration’s support for Jews at a time of increased anti-Semitism, and President Donald Trump’s intention to scrap his predecessor’s health care plan, create jobs and enforce a strict immigration policy.

“We’re going to enact real immigration reform that gives families more choices and will end the broken system that puts the status quo ahead of our kids, and we’re going to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and the values we hold dear,” Pence told the crowd, which included Angelenos Fred Leeds, Adam Milstein, Mati Geula Cohen, Adam King, Elan Carr and Josh Kaplan.

Additional speakers included Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is Jewish, and Rep. David Kustoff, the freshman congressman from Tennessee, who is one of two Jewish Republicans in the House of Representatives. The other is Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York.

Gabrielle Goldfarb, a student at the University of Wisconsin, attended with her father, Laurence, of Great Neck, N.Y. The younger Goldfarb told the Journal she was grateful to have a moment away from a university she described as a “very liberal school” and to spend time with like-minded people.

“It’s great to come together and be with people with similar beliefs and values,” she said, “and be surrounded by successful people who want a strong United States and Israel relationship.”


Attendees at the B’nai-David Judea 69th annual dinner include (from left) Danielle Kupferman, David Kasirer, Steven Kupferman, honoree Rachel Kasirer, and Tammy, Ben, Ethan and Coralia Lesin. Photo by Laura Casner Photography.

Attendees at the B’nai-David Judea 69th annual dinner include (from left) Danielle Kupferman, David Kasirer, Steven Kupferman, honoree Rachel Kasirer, and Tammy, Ben, Ethan and Coralia Lesin. Photo by Laura Casner Photography.

Recognizing successive generations of B’nai David-Judea Congregation members, the synagogue’s 69th annual dinner on Feb. 26 honored Gail Katz and Mayer Bick with the Migdal David Award, Steve Lowenstein with the Chasdei David Award, and Rachel Kasirer, Zev Nagel and Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg with the Tzemach David Award.

Katz, Bick and Lowenstein were honored “for their lasting contributions to the spiritual life of the B’nai David community,” and Kasirer, Nagel and Schwarzberg, members of the Modern Orthodox synagogue’s young professionals minyan, were recognized “for their commitment to communal growth,” said B’nai David-Judea executive director Adynna Swarz.

More than 300 people came to Stephen Wise Temple to celebrate the honorees, several of whom were involved with bringing to the congregation its first female clergy member, Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn. Attendees included the congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, who “has built B’nai David-Judea into a leading center of modern Orthodoxy,” according to the congregation’s website; and congregation president Shana Fishman, vice president at large Duke Helfand, secretary Nick Merkin and treasurer Ranon Kent.

“The dinner was a major success and raised important funds for B’nai David,” Swarz said.

Moving and Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com.

Mike Pence’s remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition [Full Transcript]


U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered the following remarks on Feb. 24 at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas to a gathering of supporters of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), after being introduced to the more than 500 people at a Shabbat dinner by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Thank you Vice President Cheney, thank you for that kind introduction. It’s hard to describe what a privilege it is for me to have the opportunity to sit behind the same desk where you once sat, and let me take this moment to say thank you to personally, President Trump and I are both grateful Mr. Vice President for your steadfast support…

As a congressman, as a secretary of defense, and as vice president of the United States you [Cheney] served our country with integrity.

Would all of you [the audience] mind standing for a moment? Get on your feet and join me in thanking the 46th vice president of the United States…

It’s a great privilege to be back with the Republican Jewish Coalition, I want to thank [former] Senator Norm Coleman for stepping up in a leadership role [Coleman was named chairman of the RJC during the leadership meeting in Vegas], [RJC Executive Director] Matt Brooks for leading this great organization at such an important time in the life of our nation and in the life our most cherished ally, Israel.

On behalf of myself and my wife of 31 years, Karen Pence, Karen and I want to say Shabbat shalom to you all.

Last time I was here was nearly 2 years ago. It was April 2015, right as the presidential campaign was starting to take shape.

It is deeply humbling for me standing here tonight — thanks to all of you for your generous support and your hard work — as vice president of the united states.

I’m here because of the confidence of our new president. And because of all of you. Because of your hard work, your support and your prayers, my family and I now have the privilege to serve.

More importantly, because of all of you, my friend, Donald Trump, is the 45th president of the United States.

President Trump personally asked me to join you tonight. He told me to pass along his greetings, and a message: he asked me to say thanks, and to give you his great respect. The Republican Jewish Coalition endorsed President Trump last May [not exactly] and you stood with us every step of the way on to victory, to the American people’s victory on November 8.

The President and I both know you took a lot of flak for your courage. But you stuck with it, you stuck with us, so thank you all. This room is filled to the brim with true leaders and true patriots…that description, there is none who deserve it more than two great Americans who are with us tonight, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson [applause].

Sheldon and Miriam, your patriotism and your leadership of this organization, in this country and your efforts on behalf of the people of Israel, in so many ways have given America a second chance. Your leadership I believe will impact this nation and the Jewish state of Israel for generations to come, and may God bless you.

So many here tonight I want to thank. I want to assure all of you that President Trump and I will never forget your unwavering support and rest assured we’re going to keep our end of the bargain, too.

Because President Donald trump is going to fulfill the promises he made to you and made to the American people, this White House is in the promise-keeping business.

Tonight I would like to focus on a few of those promises but before I do, know this community has been on our minds and in our hearts a great deal. I would like to address for a moment the recent threats against the Jewish community across this country, including the appalling act of vandalism at a historic Jewish cemetery in Missouri. Speaking on Tuesday [Feb. 21] President Trump aptly called those attacks horrible and painful. He said they were in his words “a sad reminder of the work still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” Let me be clear, we condemn these vile acts of vandalism and those who perpetrated them in the strongest possible terms. Hatred and anti-Semitism have no place in America.

The Jewish community is a beautiful thread in our national fabric. And rest assured under President Trump we will protect this community from all who would ever dare threaten it. Our Jewish communities have a special place in the heart of every freedom loving American.

I saw that love and compassion in everyday American for their Jewish neighbors just a few days ago in Missouri where with the leadership of Governor Eric Greitens [applause] hundreds of volunteers from every walk of life and every background came out to rake and restore that hallowed ground. [“Thank you, Mike Pence,” crowd member yells out.].

It was a truly inspiring moment and I want to thank Gov. Greitens, who is with us here tonight … [applause drowns out Pence’s words].

America’s support for the Jewish people doesn’t end at our nation’s border. In the days to come under President Trump let me assure you of this: If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel. [cheers]. …Her cause is our cause, her values are our values, her fight is our fight.

Under this President’s watch, the bond between our nations and our peoples is already growing stronger. I’ve seen firsthand the president’s firm commitment to Israel. It was the morning after the election where he and I had about two hours sleep, he was already at his office at 9 in the morning, and I had the great privilege of being in the room when Prime Minister Netanyahu called President Trump to congratulate him. I also heard President Trump in that moment express strong and unwavering support for the United States for Israel. I saw it again last week when President Trump hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House [cheers]. …[it has] been evident in the actions our President has taken over the past month, starting with naming Nikki Haley to be America’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Ambassador Haley is already fighting tirelessly to defend Israel from the endless bias in the U.N., especially when it comes to nations neither democratic or free.

You can also see it in the president’s decision to nominate David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel. [applause]. After he is confirmed … I say with confidence he will be confirmed. The president and I know he will be an unabashed advocate for a stronger Israel-America relationship.

We’re also reviewing additional steps to demonstrate America’s support including assessing whether the American embassy in Israel should be relocated to Jerusalem.

President Trump is personally invested in forging a last peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sheldon [Adelson] and I were talking about that issue just tonight. Under President Trump, let me assure you, America will support the negotiation process but as the president said any agreement must be reached by both sides and where there will undoubtedly will have to be compromises know this, the Trump administration will never compromise the safety and the security of the Jewish State of Israel.

National security: making America safe again is actually where the Trump agenda begins. Under President Trump America will be strong, strong enough to defend out nation, our allies and our interests around the word. As we speak, President Trump is making plans to make the United States military the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen… we will rebuild our military, we will restore the arsenal of democracy, we will provide our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guard with the resources and training they need to accomplish their mission and come home safe and we will hunt down and destroy ISIS…

We will stand strong in the face of ongoing provocations and efforts by Iran to destabilize the region … President Trump already put the leading state sponsor of terrorists on notice. We told the Ayatollahs in Tehran they should check the calendar: there’s a new president in the Oval Office. [cheers, whistles]. For too long Iran has been funneling weapons and cash to terrorists in places like Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip, gone to great lengths to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and due to the disastrous end of the nuclear related sanctions under Iran they have more resources to devote to these efforts.

Let’s be clear … President Trump will never allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. [cheers drown out his words]. … President has been focusing on security all over the world, we’re also working tirelessly on president’s three-part agenda, you might remember it from the campaign: jobs, jobs and jobs.

President Trump has already taking action putting America back to work…and I’m pleased to report to my friends at the Republican Jewish Coalition it’s been exciting to watch. Right out of the gate he authorized the Keystone and Dakota pipelines. He ordered every federal agency and department to find two regulations to get rid of before issuing any new federal red tape.

…[requested] businesses across the country to keep tens of thousands of jobs here at home already and create tens of thousands of new ones too. When Ford Motor Company canceled plans to build a plant in Mexico a little while back and chose to create those jobs in Michigan they said it was a “vote of confidence in the leadership and vision of President Donald Trump.”

And we’re just getting started folks. I’ll make you a promise I said last night at a gathering in Washington D.C. [at CPAC]: America’s Obamacare nightmare is about to end. Despite the best efforts of global activists at town halls across the country, the America people know better. Obamacare is a nightmare, and Obamacare must go…Talk about your fake news: just look at the promises Obama and the liberals made about Obamacare, they told us the cost of health insurance would go down, not true. They told us if you liked your doctor you could keep him, not true. They told us if you like your health plan you can keep that too, not true. Now we all know the truth.

Today Americans are paying $3,000 more a year on average for their health insurance. Last year premiums skyrocketed by a stunning 25 percent and millions of Americans have lost their plans and lost their doctors. Highest costs, fewer choices, and worse care. That’s Obamacare.

And if that weren’t bad enough, Obamacare is also a job killer…we’re about to change all that, by repealing Obamacare once and for all and eliminating its mandates, and taxes, and intrusion into our lives and into our businesses.

Obamacare is going to be replaced with something that actually works, something that is built on freedom and individual responsibility. President Trump and I want every American to have access to quality and affordable health insurance which is why we’re designing a better law, working with many of the members of the congress who are with us tonight that focuses on the lowering the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government. We’re going to let American people purchase health insurance across state lines, just like you buy health insurance, just like you buy car insurance. We’re going to make sure Americans who have preexisting conditions have access to health insurance, and the security they need, and we’re going to get states across the country the flexibility and freedom they need to take care of the least fortunate in their states…

Despite the fear mongering from the left, make no mistake about it: we’re going to have an orderly transition to a better healthcare system that finally puts the American people first.

And once we repeal and replace Obamacare, we’re not going to stop there. We’re going to get this economy moving again by cutting taxes across the board, for working families, small businesses…

We’re going to roll back Dodd Frank and wasteful government spending.

We’re going to keep slashing job killing regulations and we’re going rescind unconstitutional executive orders signed by Barack Obama.

We’re going to enact real immigration reform that gives families more choices and will end the broken system that puts the status quo ahead of our kids and we’re going to uphold the constitution of the United States of America and the values we hold dear.

When it comes to the highest court in the land, in Judge Neal Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominated justice to the Supreme Court, we’re going to keep faith in our constitution, the God given liberties enshrined there, in the tradition of the late and great justice Antonin Scalia…

Men, women of the Republican Jewish Coalition it’s time. And I promise you the president and I will work our hearts out to make America safe again, to America prosperous again.

The success of our cause, and more importantly – so much more importantly – the success of our country depends as much on all of you as it does on us.

We must in the moment always rise to the challenge before us, today and tomorrow and every day thereafter.

It should be obvious on your television screens the other side is not sitting idly. And their allies in the media are more than willing to amplify their defense of the fatal status quo.

Now more than ever (as we did before, the Republican Jewish Coalition was apart of [it] when we won back the Congress in 2010 and won back the White House in 2016) we need to mobilize, we need to march forward, as if this was the most important time in the history of our cause because there is no time like the present to make America great again.

From this day forward, in that cause, President Trump and I need every ounce, every ounce, of your energy and enthusiasm, your conviction, your courage, your passion and your prayers. I know we will succeed, the American people and the world depend on American leadership and strength. I was poignantly reminded of this just last Sunday, Karen and I had traveled to Munich, Germany to speak at an international security conference. We took time to travel to the first Nazi concentration camp, a place called Dachau. I’d been there as a young man touring through Europe. But we wanted our daughter to see it too. We arrived at the camp in early morning fog, we were accompanied on our tour by a Dachau survivor. … he was imprisoned in Dachau when he was a 17-year-old boy. He described the hellish life he endured there, toiling away as a slave while those around him were taken one by one, never to return. At 92-years-old, he lives in Israel but he comes back to travel through Bavaria … and to hear his account of his experiences in that place was chilling. As we walked and the fog began to lift, he stopped…[and began] talking around the march he was on in the waning days of the war. And then looked up to me with his tears in his eyes and said words I’ll never forget, in the midst of that hellish experience, he said, “Then the Americans came [applause].”

Those words made me proud to be an American, and they underscored the imperative of American strength and the immutable bond between our people and the people of Israel. It’s a bond of faith, it’s a bond of shared values, and it’s a bond of heritage and it’s a bond I promise you, in the days that come under the leadership of President Trump, it is a bond that will only grow stronger, and stronger, and stronger for the benefit of our people and theirs.

Over the mantle in our home since the first year I was elected to congress are framed and ancient words that inspired our family to serve this nation with confidence and faith. They come from the book of Jeremiah, and they read, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” With faith in those promises, with …confidence in the American people and in all of you gathered here, I know we will make America safe again, I know we will make America prosperous again, I know America will stand strong with our most cherished ally again and under the leadership of President Donald trump, I know we will make America great again. Thank you, god bless you, and God bless America.

The ADL director and the war against hate in Trump’s America


When Jonathan Greenblatt took the top job at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in July 2015, Donald Trump was an outside candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and a favorite punch line of TV pundits.

Today, Trump is weeks away from the world’s most powerful office, and the ADL’s frequent criticism of the reality-TV-star-turned-leader-of-the-free-world has become arguably the defining aspect of Greenblatt’s freshman year.

Even in a more normal year, Greenblatt, a nontraditional choice for the job, would have had his hands full stepping in for Abraham Foxman, his predecessor as ADL national director.

“I’m learning as I go,” Greenblatt told the Journal in a phone interview last month. “I don’t have the long history that my predecessor had. He worked in this organization for 50 years. Many of my peers, if you look at counterpart organizations, have also worked there for decades. Not me.”

Greenblatt’s early days at the helm of the 103-year-old civil rights watchdog have not been easy ones. The unexpected twists of the recent election season turned the young leader’s first year into a test not only for him, but also for the ADL and the Jewish establishment more broadly.


EVENT: Hear Jonathan Greenblatt speak Dec. 13 at the Journal’s
Crucial Conversation, “The New Reality: Jews in Trump’s America.” RSVP here.


The ADL’s selection of Greenblatt in late 2014 was seen as a broadening of its reach, enabling it to connect with young people who grew up in a world where anti-Semitism seemed a less pressing problem than other forms of ethnic and racial hatred. Unlike Foxman, Greenblatt wasn’t a longtime operator in the Jewish world.

The 46-year-old was born and raised in New England and earned his master’s in business administration at Northwestern University before moving to Los Angeles. There, in 2001, he married Marjan Keypour, then associate director of the ADL for the Pacific Southwest Region. The next year, he co-founded Ethos Water, a bottled water line that donates part of its profits to clean water programs in the developing world. Ethos pioneered a model later followed by brands such as Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, linking consumption to a cause. In 2005, Starbucks purchased Ethos for $8 million.

Greenblatt and Keypour put began to put down roots in Los Angeles, preparing to raise their children there.

“I felt pretty blessed to be there, my kids were happy,” he said.

Then, in 2011, President Barack Obama selected him to be the director the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and he took the opportunity.

“The president basically said to me, ‘I’ve got this office, it’s too much like a think tank. I want somebody who’s run businesses to run it,’ ” he recalled.

Greenblatt’s background made him an unusual choice for ADL director; his ties to the White House have been used to paint him as a partisan actor, a charge he dismisses. Though he attends a Conservative synagogue and keeps a kosher home on Long Island, and served on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, he didn’t have the long resume in the Jewish establishment many expected of a potential ADL chief.

In any case, he certainly wasn’t another Foxman, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor long seen as a top authority on Jew hatred in media and politics.

“They were looking for a guy who would energize young Jews broadly against hatred and for many of the causes that [Greenblatt] endorsed earlier,” said Jonathan Sarna, a history professor at Brandeis University who studies the American Jewish community. “And then, irony of ironies, anti-Semitism seems to be roaring back and his role has shifted.”

The truism that Donald Trump’s election changed everything about American politics is more apt for Greenblatt than most people.

If he had hoped for a honeymoon period of waiting and watching in his new role, those hopes were dashed when Trump descended the gilded escalator in Trump Tower and kicked off his run for the presidency by pronouncing that rapists and criminals were pouring over the border with Mexico.

“It is time for Trump to stop spreading misinformation and hatred against immigrants, legal and undocumented,” Foxman said in a statement shortly after Trump’s presidential announcement, and just weeks before handing the reins over to Greenblatt.

Foxman’s statement set the tone for the coming election. But as Trump moved from an outside candidate to Republican nominee, Greenblatt doubled down.

Soon, under Greenblatt’s leadership, the ADL became the loudest of the nonpartisan Jewish organizations criticizing Trump. When Jewish journalists faced harassment by Twitter trolls using Nazi imagery, the ADL was among the only Jewish organizations to point out that these trolls seemed energized by and aligned with Trump. Within a week of the election, it slammed the Trump campaign for a television ad it said evoked anti-Semitic imagery.

Greenblatt’s outspokenness put him in something of an awkward position in a community where, after all, almost a third of Jews who voted cast a ballot for Trump. After Trump clinched an Electoral College victory on Nov. 8, Greenblatt’s position became even more prickly.

Although that day was a sobering one for many in the Jewish community, it can be seen as a turning point for Greenblatt and the ADL.

“They’re certainly not going to be at the very top of the list of people to be invited to the White House,” said Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a professor of Jewish studies at Indiana University and a widely recognized expert on historical anti-Semitism. “On the other hand, politics tends to work pragmatically after a certain point.”

It remains to be seen whether the ADL’s relationship with the Trump White House is permanently soured. But in any case, it now must balance criticism of the next president with its commitment to working with government agencies at all levels (nationally, it trains more police officers in reacting to hate crimes than any other organization).

Greenblatt has made it clear that he won’t refrain from criticizing Trump now that he’s won the election. Less than a week after Election Day, he released a statement opposing the appointment of Steve Bannon, formerly the CEO of Breitbart News, as White House chief strategist and senior adviser, citing Breitbart as “the premier website of the alt-right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.”

The blowback was immediate. Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who’d clashed publicly with Greenblatt in August, released a statement urging the ADL to “withdraw and apologize for their inappropriate character assassination of Mr. Bannon.”

Some professional observers of the organized Jewish community wondered if Greenblatt had jumped the gun. Sarna said he was surprised the ADL chose to criticize Bannon without first seeking a meeting with him. Still, he saw it is an understandable choice.

“You’re afraid that you’re going to lose your brand unless you speak out at a certain moment,” Sarna said. “But the risk is there’s a penalty for speaking out too early and without all the information.”

Rosenfeld was less ambivalent: “To denounce [Trump] and his people right from the get-go is not in the interest of the American Jewish community,” he said. “Following Abe Foxman is bound to be difficult, but [Greenblatt] needs to take his time and think carefully about what he’s saying.”

Rosenfeld said he looks to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), as a model of how to combat anti-Semitism without overextending political capital.

Harris, in an interview with the Jewish Broadcasting Service shortly after the election, urged patience in the wake of Trump’s upset victory, saying “Let’s take a deep breath.”

As for Bannon’s appointment, Harris said, “There may be many issues to worry about or to wonder about. This is not near the top of my list.”

By Greenblatt’s telling, his decision to come out against Bannon was a natural one.

“I don’t make my decisions based on ‘Hmm, let’s make a tradeoff here. What works and doesn’t work?’ ” he said. “I focus on not what feels good but rather, when we see hate, how do we deal with it? And we know under Steve Bannon’s leadership, it was his stated attempt and then his successful goal to position Breitbart as the platform for the alt-right.”

Nonetheless, he said, the ADL is already in touch with Trump’s transition team to see how they can work together.

“We’re engaging with them,” he said.

He declined to provide specifics or elaborate further. But he maintained the ADL can work with the administration while acting as a watchdog when its rhetoric veers into intolerance or bigotry.

He pointed to immigration, for instance, as a place where the ADL could prove a nuanced and responsible partner for Trump.

“There’s good reason to be very careful and to use very rigorous screening to make sure that, in particular, refugees fleeing the catastrophe that is Syria, the Syrian civil war, [are] very carefully vetted,” he said. “We are not naïve about that. It’s really important, extremely important. It’s urgent. But at the same time, we think there are opportunities to be as humane as we always have been, as the Statue of Liberty required of us as Americans.”

The question remains whether the seemingly thin-skinned Trump will consent to work with his loudest critic within the Jewish mainstream establishment.

“There is a price to be paid for too many attacks on the president of the United States,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

“There hasn’t been a time in American history where liberal values were seemingly as challenged as they are right now in 20th-century history,” he went on. “It’s not that the ADL’s actions are unprecedented. It’s that the context is unprecedented.”

Sarna agreed that the ADL’s actions during the election constitute a historical watershed that future generations of Jewish leaders will look back on for insight. He framed the choice facing Greenblatt during the election as “silence, outrage, instruction or obstruction.”

“Those are always your choices,” he said. “The ADL elected to go with outrage. Some other organizations, I think, decided that maybe silence was the right way to go. … The problem with outrage is that you can’t be outraged all the time. You only have a certain capital of outrage.

“It’s hard being a Jewish leader,” he added. “I don’t envy Mr. Greenblatt.”

Greenblatt said he never saw much of a choice in the way he approached the situation, but he doesn’t blame other Jewish organizations, like the AJC, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and The Jewish Federations of North America for taking a less confrontational approach: “I just don’t think that way,” he said.

“I said what I said and we did what we did because it was consistent with ADL’s historic role,” he told the Journal. “As I said, for us it was a matter of our mission. Others need to do what they need to do. I don’t begrudge them.”

But there are Jewish leaders and organizations that have felt the need to question Greenblatt’s leadership.

“It seems to me at critical times [in the] course of this campaign, a pattern emerged that the ADL put their thumb on the scale in a way that hadn’t been done by Greenblatt’s predecessor,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), told reporters on a conference call the day after the election.

By attacking Trump, Brooks said, “The ADL has put itself in a potentially compromising position going forward.”

Greenblatt rejects the criticism that the ADL singled out Trump.

“We did not call out the Trump campaign per se,” he said. “What we did was call out particular ideas when we found them to be problematic.”

He pointed out that the ADL criticized Republican candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders when they made comments that were untoward or inflammatory. When Trump was criticized for making comments to the RJC in December 2015 that some perceived as anti-Semitic (“I’m a negotiator like you folks,” the candidate said), Greenblatt came to his defense: “We do not believe that it was Donald Trump’s intention to evoke anti-Semitic stereotypes,” Greenblatt said in a statement at the time.

In the weeks since the election, Greenblatt proved once again that he’s willing to go after Democrats and to change his position when new information arises.

Early in Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison’s bid to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, Greenblatt released a statement where he raised concerns about his record on Israel, but also described him as “a man of good character” and “an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism.” Yet after a recording came to light of Ellison questioning the United States’ relationship with Israel, Greenblatt changed course in a Dec. 1 statement, calling the remarks “both deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”

To the idea that he singled out Trump for censure, Greenblatt told the Journal, “It doesn’t map to the facts.” Instead, he said, the ADL spoke up each time somebody in the national spotlight ran afoul of its core values of equality, pluralism and tolerance.

“We speak out, not because someone is of a particular political persuasion, but because when ideas are in violation of those core American values, that’s when we think — that’s when the ADL has a role to play,” he said.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which combats hate and anti-Semitism, found himself in a similar position to Greenblatt during the election, and he echoed the need to pick moments and battles carefully.

“This is not going to be an easy road to go down,” Cooper said. “We have to engage with the people with the keys to the car.”

Greenblatt said his organization wants to collaborate positively with the new administration whenever possible, without yielding any ground on ADL’s commitment to its core mission.

“We’re going to hold them relentlessly accountable to the issues we care about,” he said, “and do what we can to make sure we continue to be a fierce advocate.”

Stephen Bannon backed in statement from Republican Jewish Coalition board member


A Republican Jewish Coalition board member has issued a statement supporting Stephen Bannon, who was appointed chief strategist for President-elect Donald Trump.

Tuesday’s statement from Bernie Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot, comes in response to condemnations of Bannon aired since his appointment Sunday, in part from several Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League.

Marcus calls the attacks on Bannon, which criticize him for having ties to white supremacists and anti-Semites, “nothing more than an attempt to undermine the incoming Trump administration,” according to Time magazine.

“I have been shocked and saddened to see the recent personal attacks on Steve,” reads the statement, as tweeted by Time reporter Zeke Miller. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The person that is being demonized in the media is not the person I know.”

Bannon was formerly the chairman of Breitbart News, a site that Bannon called “the platform for the alt-right,” a loose movement of the far right whose followers traffic variously in white nationalism, anti-immigration sentiment, anti-Semitism and a disdain for “political correctness.”

Marcus says in the statement that Bannon is stridently pro-Israel.

“I have known Steve to be a passionate Zionist and supporter of Israel who felt so strongly about this that he opened a Breitbart office in Israel to ensure that the true pro-Israel story would get out,” the statement reads. “What is being done to Steve Bannon is a shonda,” a Yiddishism for a shame or a scandal.

RJC kicks off GOTV push in swing states


Encouraged by recent polls that show the presidential race tightening in key battleground states and Senate Republican incumbents  “>conducted by Jim Gerstein from GBA Strategies showed Clinton is supported by 66 percent of Jewish voters in the state of Florida, while Trump is supported by 23 percent.

An RCP average of polls shows Trump trailing Clinton in Ohio by 2.5 percent and in Pennsylvania by 5.8 percent. Senators Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, and Rob Portman are all favorites to win their reelection bids.

What turns many Jews away from Trump energizes his Jewish supporters


In August 2015, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) asked 1,030 American Jews to name their favored candidate in the following year’s presidential primaries. Hillary Clinton was the clear winner with 39.7 percent, followed by Bernie Sanders with 17.8 percent. Donald Trump came in third with 10.2 percent, more than any of the other nine Republicans named.

A majority of Jews will almost certainly line up behind the Democrat in the November election: The same AJC poll found 48.6 percent of American Jews identify as Democrats, compared with 19 percent who say they are Republicans.

But some of the same factors that have turned many voters off Trump — his unyielding stance on immigration and fondness for insult, for instance — are some of what’s driving another group of Jewish voters, even some in liberal Los Angeles, to support his candidacy.

“I like the idea that somebody fresh and new and a little bit vulgar is getting ahead,” said Culver City resident Leslie Fuhrer Friedman, who attends the Pacific Jewish Center on Venice Beach.

“Does he say uncouth things?” she said. “Of course. You know, he’s kind of like an Israeli in the Knesset. He’s a little rude.”

For all the offense many Jews have taken to the Republican’s musings, others have found a set of reasons, specifically Jewish ones, to support him — from his close relationship with his Orthodox son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to his disdain for an administration many feel has disrespected Israel.

And then there are some Republican Jews who see Trump’s candidacy as merely the lesser of two evils.

Brian Goldenfeld, a Woodland Hills paralegal who contributes to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said he’s disappointed with both candidates but doesn’t view Clinton as an acceptable option.

“I don’t think just because you’re conservative you have to support Trump,” he said. “But what other alternative do we have?”

For its part, the RJC has offered Trump its lukewarm support: When it became clear he would be the party’s nominee, the RJC released a statement congratulating him, but it has yet to endorse him.

Yet there’s a sense, at least among the Jewish Trump supporters interviewed for this article, that his shoot-from-the-hip style allows him to speak political truths others avoid, especially on issues of foreign policy.

Clinton “has never admitted there is such a thing as Islamic terrorism,” said Phillip Springer, a World War II veteran who lives in Pacific Palisades.

Springer said he supports Trump because he sees him as the candidate most suited to protect the United States from terrorist attacks of the type that are increasingly common in Europe.

“He does not want New York to turn into Paris and Washington to turn into Brussels,” Springer said. “That will happen if the gates are opened to anybody that’s trying to get into this country.”

Among some of L.A.’s Iranian Jews, Trump has won support by loudly rejecting the Iran nuclear deal authored by the Barack Obama administration.

“It struck a very bad chord for us,” Alona Hassid, 29, a real estate attorney, said of the agreement. “The deal was no good.”

Hassid said many Iranian-American Jews like her parents, who fled the Islamic revolution, have trouble stomaching any kind of engagement between America and the current Iranian regime. Recent revelations that the U.S. leveraged a $400 million payment due Iran in order to secure the release of American prisoners only make matters worse.

“These are not people that you can negotiate with and make a deal with and hope that the deal will work out,” Hassid said.

Hassid said the great majority of her friends support Trump, though many shy away from saying so publicly for fear of reprisal.

Michael Mahgerefteh, 45, a Beverly Hills resident born in Tehran, said many Persian Jews fault the Obama administration for not projecting an air of strength that would help shield Israel from her enemies.

“A lot of us feel like Israel is our country, more than the U.S., or Iran even,” he said. “All the stuff that’s happened in the last seven or eight years, which I think Hillary will continue, is bad for Israel — not just the Iran deal, but just the way that when the U.S. gets weaker, the bad people in the world, the terrorists, feel stronger. They fill in the void.”

But Mahgerefteh doesn’t have to look past America’s borders for a reason to support the Republican nominee. Many Iranian immigrants feel the freedoms that helped them climb the socio-economic ladder here are under assault, he said.

“If you want to work hard or go to school or do whatever you want, there’s always been a lot of opportunity here,” he said. “But it feels like that’s changing, mostly in the last seven or eight years.”

He added, “It might be irreversible after that.”

Steven Windmueller, an emeritus professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who studies American Jewish political behavior, predicted that Jewish support for the Republican will decline compared with previous years due to Trump’s unpolished rhetoric and his failure to adequately disavow anti-Semitic supporters such as one-time Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

But some Persian Jews, along with Israelis, Russian Jewish immigrants and the Orthodox, constitute a “Republican emersion” that defies the Jewish liberal mainstream.

“Persians and Israelis come to this out of a sense of grave concern for national security, for protecting Israel, for isolating Iran and all the sort of foreign policy pieces,” Windmueller said.

As for observant Jews, polling indicates they are more likely to take a politically conservative stance out of concern for Israel’s security. In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, 34 percent of Orthodox Jews in the U.S. said they believe Jewish settlements in the West Bank help Israel’s security, compared with 16 percent who say they hurt it. Among Reform Jews, the numbers flip: 50 percent say settlements hurt Israel’s security while only 13 percent say they help.

Yet the majority of American Jews are not observant, and supporting the Republican candidate has long been a minority position in Jewish L.A. If anything, Trump’s candidacy has made it even worse.

After Friedman put up a George W. Bush lawn sign in 2004, an Israeli friend ripped the sign out of the ground and stomped on it to demonstrate his opposition. But this election foists an additional stigma on backers of the Republican candidate: that supporting Trump makes them bigots.

“That’s one of the accusations that they throw out,” she said. “You’re probably not educated or you’re married to your cousins.”

“People just try to bully you,” Mahgerefteh said of his experience as a Trump supporter. “They say, ‘Only certain type of people are behind Trump.’ ”

As a result, many Republican voters have learned to remain wary when political conversations arise.

“If it’s not going to be a healthy debate,” Hassid said, “I’m not going to bring it up.”

RJC ad ridicules Democrats for anti-Israel tone at convention


The Republican Jewish Coalition on Friday released a 60-second ad that highlights the display of a Palestinian flag on the floor of the convention and the burning of an Israeli flag outside the convention hall to make a point that today’s Democratic Party is less supportive of Israel than in the past. 

“Anti-Israel Democrats are on full display at the democratic convention,” the ad states. “While the Palestinian flag was waving inside the Democratic convention, the Israeli flag was burned right outside.” 

The Hillary Clinton campaign 

Uneasy Republicans and confident Democrats diverge on ‘Jewish’ issues


It’s never been easy for Jewish Republicans. Jews have broken overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates since Woodrow Wilson. Despite rising American Jewish affluence, usually a harbinger of conservative voting patterns, a plurality self-defines as liberal.

Republican Jews have poured millions into upping their share of the Jewish vote in recent elections, portraying the GOP as the pro-Israel party and telling largely affluent Jewish Americans to vote their economic self-interest. The needle has only moved a little, despite those efforts: 80 percent of Jews voted Clinton in 1992, 79 percent voted Gore in 2000 and 74 percent voted Obama in 2008.

Organizations like the Republican Jewish Coalition have kept pushing despite it all. Most Jews don’t vote primarily based on Israel, but as Democrats passed a controversial Iran deal and condemned Israel’s West Bank occupation, Republicans saw a window of opportunity.

Republicans doubled down on the Israel case at their national convention in Cleveland last month. Donald Trump, Mike Pence and a handful of other speakers included lines in support of Israel in their speeches and drew loud applause. President Barack Obama’s support of Iran’s nuclear program, anathema to the Israeli government, was a nightly punching bag.

Dozens of delegates told JTA that the main reason Jews should vote Trump is that he’s better on Israel than his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The Republican platform swung right on Israel, eliminating the long-held bipartisan consensus supporting the two-state solution, and rejecting the United States’ right to dictate terms on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Even so, Republican Jewish uneasiness showed at the convention. Big-name Jewish donors declined to attend. Republican Jews, from journalists Bill Kristol and Jennifer Rubin to former Republican operatives like Noam Neusner and David Frum, oppose Trump. The Republican Jewish Coalition held no events that were open to the media, a departure from previous conventions.

Much of this ambivalence has to do with Trump’s string of statements insulting minorities — Jews among them. It’s a point Democrats stressed every day of their confab a week later in Philadelphia. A video aired on the first night of the their convention featuring Trump’s retweet of an image widely called anti-Semitic. The convention’s explicit message was that anyone who cares about safeguarding minority rights has to vote Clinton.

The first night of the Democratic National Convention featured a string of Jewish public figures — Sarah Silverman and Sen. Al Franken among them — and it ended with a keynote speech by Bernie Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win a major party primary. Jewish entertainers, activists and politicians peppered every night’s roster, from singer Paul Simon to Senator Barbara Boxer.

Criticism of Israel was a recurring feature in Philadelphia, a point the RJC pressed in an ad released last week calling the party “stridently anti-Israel.” Many Sanders supporters wore pro-Palestinian stickers, and a few advocated changing the United States’ historically pro-Israel policy. On Wednesday, a night devoted largely to national security, no one mentioned the U.S. alliance with Israel. There was full-throated support for the Iran deal throughout the convention. At one point, protesters outside the convention burned an Israeli flag. At a roundtable discussion held outside the convention by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the American Friends Service Committee, Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson compared Israel’s West Bank settlement movement to termites.

But in the end, the party could point to the ways it shored up its traditional pro-Israel wing. The Democratic platform committee rejected an effort to even mention settlements and occupation in its section on Israel. Like Trump, Clinton threw a shout-out to Israel’s security into her acceptance speech, and didn’t mention Palestinians. Gen. John Allen, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, gave a convention speech in support of Clinton  that echoed neoconservative rhetoric, which tends to be forcefully pro-Israel. Even Bill Clinton got into the act, sporting a Hebrew “Hillary” button during Obama’s Wednesday night speech.

It could be that, in future election cycles, discord over Israel will drive more Jews to the Republican party. Part of Sanders’ dissent from Democratic orthodoxy was in his call for more criticism of Israel. In her acceptance speech, Clinton adopted much of his domestic rhetoric but none of his Middle East policies. But if Sanders delegates become the new Democratic mainstream, the party could gravitate away from its pro-Israel stance.

At Jewish Democratic events, though, the old guard held sway. If anything, the Democratic Jews’ biggest problem came from one of their own, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was ousted as chair of the Democratic National Committee at the convention’s start. Wasserman Schultz was the favorite daughter of Jewish Dems, a former National Jewish Democratic Council staffer who rose to be a congresswoman and party bigwig. Now, she’s facing a primary challenge and could exit political life.

Even as she was embattled, the NJDC stood with her, presenting her with an award on the convention’s final afternoon. Wasserman Schultz sounded defiant at the event, calling Trump a traitor and promising to win her primary. And despite her fall from grace, Jewish Democrats cheered her, as if to say that whatever the future held, they felt good about this year.

Jewish Dems launch super PAC to counter RJC campaign


Jewish Democrats are set to launch a super PAC to fight the Republican Jewish Coalition’s multi-million dollar campaign among Jewish voters in battleground states across the nation, Jewish Insider has learned.

In remarks to Pennsylvania Democrats at a Monday morning delegation breakfast in Philadelphia, Marc Stanley, the immediate past chair of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), announced the formation of a super PAC named ‘Jews for Progress’ aimed to fight back against the RJC’s campaign.

“Sheldon Adelson and the Republican Jewish Coalition, and their allies, have pledged to spend $25 million to fight a war in eight swing states,” said Stanley. “You are going to see horrible signs like, ‘We can’t trust Hillary; she sold out American and Israel.’ It’s the only thing they can talk about. So Jews, we’ve got a super PAC called ‘Jews for Progress.’ We are going to fight that $25 million.”

“I am here just to tell you that help is on the way,” he said.

Reality ‘Trumps’ preference for much of Republican Jewish Coalition


Joel Geiderman’s view of a potential Donald Trump presidency has shifted since March.

Two months ago, in an op-ed in these pages, Geiderman — the California chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and co-chair of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Emergency Department — wrote, “I would Dump Trump. If it came down to the choice between Hillary Clinton (another terribly flawed candidate) and him, I would either not vote at all or support a third-party conservative candidate, if that were an option.”

But last week, in an email to the Jewish Journal, Geiderman wrote that he was “encouraged but not yet convinced” by developments since March. Geiderman said Trump has “moderated his speech,” “made peace with some of the people he offended” and acted more “presidential.”

And Clinton, he said, has “moved further to the left, from offering free college for all, single-payer health care, to attacking Wall Street and banks.” 

“To be honest, for me, the balance has been tilted,” Geiderman said, and without saying outright that he plans to vote for Trump in November, he indicated he’s in a place similar to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican said early this month that he’s “just not ready” to endorse Trump, but has since met with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and wants the “party unified so that we are full strength in the fall.”

Is Geiderman’s movement in the past nine weeks representative of a shift among conservatives once-steadfast members of the #NeverTrump crowd? Or are most Republicans, regardless of who they supported in the primaries, already rallying behind their party’s presumptive nominee simply because, well, he’s not Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders?

“As this race materializes, and as we move through this process, and you really get people focused on a binary choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I think you’ll see a lot of the folks who have heretofore been critical coming around,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the RJC, said in an interview.

After Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspended his campaign on May 4 — one day after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz suspended his — the RJC released a statement congratulating Trump, but that was not so much an endorsement of him as it was a comment on the prospects of a Clinton presidency, which the RJC said would “compromise our national security, weaken our economy and further strain our relationship with our greatest ally, Israel.”

In December, Trump generated controversy when he spoke at an RJC forum in Washington, D.C., comparing the many businesspeople in the room to him, specifically in regards to negotiation skills. “Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room?” Trump said, evoking what critics said was a classical Jewish stereotype. “This room negotiates them, perhaps more than any other room I’ve ever spoken in.” 

He also said, “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians. That’s fine.”

RJC spokesman Mark McNulty rejected criticisms that Trump’s comments were anti-Semitic. The Anti-Defamation League, which has been highly critical of some of Trump’s comments during his campaign, also did not believe his remarks to the RJC were anti-Semitic.

In February, Trump was strongly criticized by many Israel supporters when he said he would try to be “neutral” between the Israelis and Palestinians. But the presumed Republican nominee has since taken a decidedly pro-Israel tack, particularly during his address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Policy Conference in March, which many Jewish Republicans were pleased with.

“His speech at AIPAC was terrific,” Geiderman said. “He would probably be very good for Israel. The person I have concerns about is Mrs. Clinton.” Geiderman specifically criticized the former secretary of state’s support for President Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, and “her attempt to punish Israel for extending some settlements contiguous to existing settlements.”

For some, like Florida businessman and RJC board member Marc Goldman, however, support for Trump is stronger than just party default. “There’s more reasons to vote for Trump than he’s just not a Democrat. He’s not out of the government,” said Goldman, who initially supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “Anyone who’s been in business knows … whatever the product, service or what have you that you’re providing, if you’re not providing it in a way that is satisfactory to your customers, and profitable, then the inherent discipline is: You go out of business — so you’re living in reality.”

“I think he has a chance to be very good, and I think people are ready for someone who’s going to come in and break up some of that status quo,” said Dr. Richard Roberts, a prominent Republican donor in New Jersey, who also initially backed Walker. “Trump is now reaching out to experts in a lot of different areas, and that’s a big relief to know that he’s doing that.”

In mid-March, Roberts told Jewish Insider he was “dismayed” by a conference call he was invited to with top Republican donors in advance of the Florida primary. The group — which included Hewlett Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman, Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, and hedge fund manager and RJC board member Paul Singer — was coordinating an anti-Trump effort, which Roberts characterized as a “disingenuous” attempt to “deny the groundswell of grass-roots voters their overwhelming choice.”

The RJC’s May 4 statement also focused on maintaining Republican majorities in the House and Senate, which most conservatives, #NeverTrump ones included, believe is important whether or not Trump is on the top of the ticket.

“We will support the nominee of the Republican Party,” said Ronald Krongold, a Florida real estate developer who initially supported the candidacy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Asked whether the RJC will put its focus on Senate and House races more than it did previous election cycles, he said, “I believe it will be the same as it is in any presidential year.”

Brooks declined to answer the same question, saying he doesn’t “want to telegraph to the Democrats our playbook.”

Singer, who supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, has said he will not back Trump or Clinton. Politico published a piece May 16 saying “plenty” of RJC board members, in addition to Singer, will not get involved in the presidential race and will instead focus on down-ballot races.

Geiderman, when asked whether he sees a #NeverTrump divide among Jewish Republicans, as there appears to be among conservative pundits, said, “There is no actual divide.”

In late April, at an RJC’s board meeting in Las Vegas, Geiderman said RJC members “expressed different opinions” and “engaged in thoughtful conversation.”

“But that was during the primaries,” he said. “In the end, I think most will work hard to elect the Republican candidate. It’s too important to hold onto the Supreme Court and the Senate.”

Geiderman, who is scheduled to be honored by the RJC on Sept. 25 at the Beverly Wilshire, said that after he penned his anti-Trump op-ed in March, he offered to step aside as honoree if his words would present a conflict. But he was encouraged to remain the honoree. “Republicans have a big tent and value a variety of opinions. No one retaliated against me or spoke out against me,” Geiderman said. 

“There is no party orthodoxy.”

Republican Jewish group congratulates Trump but doesn’t praise him


The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulated Donald Trump on becoming the presumptive Republican nominee, but otherwise withheld praise for the candidate.

“The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulates Donald Trump on being the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Republican Party,” said the statement from the group issued Wednesday, a day after it became clear that the real estate magnate had secured the party’s nomination with a crushing primary win in Indiana.

Much of the rest of the statement focused on why the RJC continues to believe Hillary Clinton is “the worst possible choice for a commander in chief.”

It did not otherwise mention Trump, unusual for such missives, which routinely lavish praise on the nominee’s record.

Additionally, the release said a focus of the RJC would be down-ticket: “Along with the Presidential race, the RJC will be working hard to hold on to our majorities in the Senate and the House. It is critical that these majorities be preserved,” it said.

There are concerns among Republicans that Trump’s negatives with groups where there is a tendency to perceive some of his statements as hostile, including women, hispanics and blacks, will harm Republicans hoping to keep their seats in Congress.

Many Jewish Republicans remain concerned about Trump’s changing positions on Israel. He has at times pledged neutrality in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, while at other times saying he would be firmly on Israel’s side. Trump’s positions on immigration, trade and his broadsides against hispanics and Muslims have also troubled some Jewish Republicans.

Fearing Trump, Republican Jews give Cruz another look


Ted Cruz came here to woo Republican Jews over the weekend, and in the absence of his opponents for the GOP presidential nomination came away with qualified support based not on who he is but who he is not — Donald Trump.

Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich skipped the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, leaving Cruz as the sole hopeful to address the 560 Jews packed into a conference room at The Venetian casino resort.

Trump’s high negative approval ratings among women and minorities coupled with his seeming fecklessness on Israel — pledging neutrality one week and support the next — seemed to drive many in attendance to give Cruz a second look after months of shunning the Texas senator for his social conservatism and reputation for not making nice with other Republicans.

“This is a room of dear, dear friends and people who are becoming dear friends,” Cruz said during his Saturday night address.

No one questioned Cruz’s Israel bona fides, and his impassioned expressions of support for the country earned standing ovations, the longest when he swore to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. But his more important qualification was the possibility that he could beat Trump, whose candidacy, as folks whispered in conversations in the corridors, would lead inexorably to President Hillary Clinton.

“There was a very clear realization that where we are today, Ted Cruz is our best choice to be the nominee,” Jay Zeidman, a Houston businessman, said after the RJC weekend. He and his father, Fred, had been leading bundlers for the campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “Everyone understands we need to get Cruz to get to the convention to at least stop Trump from getting the nomination.”

Trump had planned to attend the RJC event as part of a Western campaign trip, but the tour was canceled. Kasich, badly trailing Trump and Cruz, is working the corners of New York state hoping to garner enough delegates in its primary next week to make his remaining in the race seem less than absurd.

“Senator Cruz was the only one to accept our invitation,” Michael Epstein, a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in his introduction of the candidate. The room burst into grateful applause.

Cruz addressed the hesitation, the fraught quality of this getting-to-know-you session.

“Many of you started with someone else,” he said. “That’s a perfectly natural, reasonable thing to do.”

One of the more emotional moments came when Joel Geiderman, a Houston doctor and the child of a Holocaust survivor, refuted the TV pundits, including Geraldo Rivera, who said Cruz’s derision of “New York values” was a dog-whistle to anti-Semites.

“We don’t think you have an anti-Semitic bone in your body,” Geiderman said, stirring a standing ovation.

There were also anxious, awkward questions about his social policies.

“I recognize that is a question that many people here wrestle with,” Cruz said after one of the attendees earned applause for saying Cruz’s hard-line attitudes on abortion and gay marriage were unpopular with many Jewish Republicans.

Cruz said social issues devolve to the states and suggested he would not seek to impose his views as a president.

“Nobody wants to elect a hectoring scold,” he said.

Yet within minutes, he was hectoring, however politely. Wealthier Republicans needed to acknowledge the strong feelings of blue-collar voters who believe they are losing jobs to undocumented immigrants, Cruz said.

“You want to understand the rage,” Cruz said. “That frustration, that anger – median income has not changed in 20 years” for the working class.

He acknowledged that he would not win on a first vote at the convention.

“On a subsequent ballot,” he said, “we’re going to win the nomination.”

Cruz is working hard at it. He spent Friday at the RJC event meeting privately with fund-raisers. The reception was positive, said Nick Muzin, a senior adviser to the campaign.

“On issues that matter most, Ted is on the same side,” Muzin said. “He’s going to do what he says.”

Cruz flew early Saturday to Colorado to work its Republican Party state convention, to productive effect — he walked away with the state’s entire slate of pledged delegates.

He flew back to Las Vegas in the afternoon. Rains drenching the city kept him circling the airport for an hour or so while the RJC activists paced the cavernous Venetian casino, owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major funder of the RJC and a Republican kingmaker.

Cruz did not score the prized Adelson endorsement; the magnate left the RJC confab early for a wedding.

In the halls,  Jewish Republicans were more inclined to talk about whom they did not favor – Trump – than offer a glowing recommendation of Cruz.

“No one knows who [Trump] is,” said Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former Florida state legislator who backed Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator from her state. “His negatives are extremely high.”

What about Cruz?

Bogdanoff thought a moment. “I’d like to see someone who would win,” she said in a tone suggesting she wanted Cruz to convince her.

David Gilson, a lawyer from Arlington, Virginia, who backs Kasich, said conference-goers were not, at least, negative regarding Cruz.

“I do hear cracks about Trump,” he said.

One member explained his support for Trump — “so far” — in pragmatic terms.

“There’s no point in backing someone if he’s not going to be elected in November,” said David Pulver, a Florida businessman.

Mark Hirsch, a real estate investor from Scarsdale, New York, decried Trump’s “politics of personal destruction.”

“We haven’t focused on the failed presidency of Barack Obama or factored Hillary Clinton into it,” he said, worried that the momentum for such a narrative is slipping away.

Asked about Cruz, Hirsch — like others — paused, then said: “He’s brilliant but rigid.”

After Cruz spoke, many in the room appeared reassured.

“Ted Cruz helped himself a lot at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting,” Ari Fleischer, an RJC board member and the first-term spokesman for President George W. Bush, said on Twitter. “He’s going to leave here with a lot of support.”

Walking out of the room, Hirsch said: “I liked hearing that he feels he can bring the party together. He hasn’t run a negative campaign.”

Trump, Kasich to skip Republican Jewish Coalition event


Donald Trump and John Kasich are skipping a Republican Jewish Coalition forum for presidential candidates.

RJC officials told JTA on Monday that Trump, the real estate magnate and front-runner for the Republican presidential nod, and Kasich,the Ohio governor who is running third, will not be able to attend the event the group’s leadership meeting this weekend in Las Vegas.

Both had conflicts, an official said.

That leaves Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who is running second behind Trump, as the only candidate to address the forum.

Cruz to speak at RJC Spring Summit in Las Vegas


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz will be addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Spring Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas in April, the RJC announced on Tuesday. 

Governors Scott Walker, Tim Scott, Charlie Baker, Greg Abbott, as well as Senator Ron Johnson and Congressman Lee Zeldin will also speak during the confab taking place at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas on April 8-10. Dennis Prager will keynote the gala dinner, according to the RJC. 

Cruz also attended the 2015 summit along with George Pataki and Mitt Romney. “It isn’t complicated to come to the RJC and say you stand with Israel,” Cruz told the crowd. “Unless you’re a blithering idiot, that’s what you say when you come to the RJC. For anyone that doesn’t get that, we have medical treatment available.”

The RJC’s Vegas meetings, which are held at the Adelson-owned Venetian resort hotel and casino, have emerged as key stops on the GOP presidential donor-courting circuit. Adelson did not endorse a candidate in the 2016 Republican primaries. Cruz and former Florida Senator Marco Rubio were considered favorites in what has been dubbed by the media as the ‘Adelson primary.’ 

Last month, Adelson 

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


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

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

PBS’ Jon Ralston will serve as moderator.

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

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

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

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

Trump: ‘100 percent’ in favor of moving embassy to Jerusalem


Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump says he’s “100 percent” on board with the remaining field of candidates in support of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if elected president in the fall of 2016.

In an interview with The Brody File, published on Tuesday, Trump said “I am for that one hundred percent. We are for that one- hundred percent” when told by host David Brody that pledging to move the embassy to Jerusalem is a “tier-A issue for Evangelicals as it relates to support for Israel.”

Trump is currently tied for first place with Senator Ted Cruz in Iowa.

In December, Trump drew loud boos from the audience at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum as he refused to declare Israel was the undivided capital of Israel. “Can I at least pin you down on Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel? Is that a position you support?” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks asked.

“You know what I want to do? I want to wait until I meet with Bibi,” Trump replied. As he was loudly jeered by an audible member in the room, Trump turned to his left and asked, “Who’s the wise guy? Do me a favor, just relax. You’ll like me very much, believe me. Don’t worry about it.”

The Republican presidential hopeful also pledged to back Israel “very strongly” as president, in his interview with The Brody File on CBN News. “I just see what is happening and I am so saddened by this Iran deal. It’s one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen under any circumstances, any deal, not just deals between nations. I think it’s a tremendous liability to Israel,” said Trump. “I think it’s going to actually lead to nuclear proliferation and it’s going to cause a lot of problems.”

“I will be very good to Israel,” he pledged. “We have a president that I think is the worst thing that has ever happened to Israel. But I will be backing it very strongly. They’re our best ally. They’re our best ally in the Middle East. They’ve really been loyal to us. We have not been loyal to them.” Trump backed his pledge by noting that he has “so many friends from Israel,” that he has “won so many awards from Israel” and “was even the grand marshal for the Israeli Day Parade” in 2004.

Ben Carson cancels Israel trip


Ben Carson became the second Republican presidential candidate to cancel a scheduled trip to Israel which was set for the end of December.

On Thursday, the Carson campaign announced it has decided to cancel a week-long planned foreign policy trip to Israel and several countries in Africa.

“We decided yesterday afternoon to cancel based on significant security concerns that we had to take seriously,” communications director Doug Watts told ABC News. “We just made a decision based on pertinence.”

Earlier this month Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump announced he will be traveling to Israel and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on December 28. He canceled it a week later after Netanyahu publically rejected his call to ban Muslims entering the United States. Following Trump’s announcement, Carson announced he will be travelling to Israel for the 2nd time this year after coming under fire for his lack of foreign policy experience and a lackluster appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum in DC.

The Israeli Prime Minister decided earlier this year on a uniform policy to agree to meet with all presidential candidates from either party who visit Israel and ask for a meeting. “This policy does not represent an endorsement of any candidate or his or her views. Rather, it is an expression of the importance that Prime Minister Netanyahu attributes to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States,” the PMO’s said in a statement earlier this month.

Carson visited Israel earlier this year but did not get to meet Netanyahu due to a scheduling conflict.

The Forward’s CEO salary survey: Good statistics, questionable economics


Are the salaries of Jewish nonprofit CEOs too high, too low or just right? Is there gender discrimination when it comes to the salaries of female CEOs of Jewish nonprofits?

Each year, The Forward newspaper surveys the salaries and gender composition of the CEOs of some of the nation’s largest and most impactful Jewish nonprofit organizations, and when Matt Brooks. Photo by Republican Jewish Coalition

Jay Sanderson of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was listed as earning a salary of $460,870, and as being overpaid by 600 percent.

After these numbers had already zinged around the Internet for a few hours and sparked discussion and anger in online comment forums, The Forward corrected the glitch back to its original assessment of overpayment to 125 percent for Brooks and 6 percent for Sanderson. 

The larger and more important issue, however, and separate from the website glitch, is whether The Forward’s two key conclusions are accurate. The report — assembled by Eisner, Forward research editor Maia Efrem and University of Pennsylvania statistician Abraham Wyner — states that many CEOs of Jewish nonprofits are overcompensated (The Forward uses the term “overpaid”), and says many of these nonprofits discriminate against women in terms of position and pay.

These judgments are very serious accusations against the boards of many of the Jewish community’s premier nonprofits. The Forward asserted, for example, that the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier (2014 salary: $784,155) is “overpaid” by 103 percent; that Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America ($440,440) is “overpaid” by 53 percent; and that, overall, female CEOs are paid just 80 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Rabbi Marvin Hier. Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage

“Their analysis looks kosher — very kosher,” said sociologist Steven M. Cohen, a research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who has analyzed several other polls and studies for the Journal. The Forward’s formula showing a correlation between CEO salaries and the budget and staff size of a corporation is statistically sound, he said. That the output (salary) correlates with those two inputs (budget and staff size) among The Forward’s sample nonprofits is a mathematical fact.

But the economics, and the inputs and variables used for The Forward’s studies, may not be fair. UCLA economist Lee Ohanian cautioned that CEO salaries of businesses, whether nonprofit or for-profit, depend on a multitude of factors, and to determine what a salary should be based solely on the company’s budget and staff size would be simplistic.

Even Wyner, in a ” target=”_blank”>2005 study.

“Women are indeed concentrated in smaller organizations,” Wyner noted in his 2013 analysis, and “were leading organizations with average expenses of less than half” of large organizations. “Women’s pay seems to be converging with men’s, and will hopefully reach parity in the very near future,” Wyner wrote.

“If you look more broadly at issues like women’s compensation levels or women’s earnings relative to men’s, you get numbers like 80 cents on the dollar. The more adjustments you make, the more those numbers come in line,” Ohanian said in terms of the broad policy debate regarding the wage gap, referring to adjustments such as the number of hours worked, industry and the trade-off between working full time or part time and raising children.

In other words, the statistics and the number-crunching provoke a useful conversation, but the lack of inputs makes the topics of those conversations far from clear-cut.

***

Correction (Dec. 16, 11:40 a.m.): This article previously stated that the formula The Forward used to estimate its judgment of overpayment was flawed, which resulted in a glitch showing percentages of overpayment as 100 times what they should have been. It was in fact a temporary computer coding error — not a formula — that led to the inflated estimation of overpayment.

Trump questions Israel’s commitment to peace


Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday questioned Israel’s commitment to take the necessary steps in pursuing a lasting peace with the Palestinians.

In an interview with the Associated Press, published mere hours before he[‘s expected to take the stage at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Trump said that if elected president he will give it six months to determine whether Israel or the Palestinians are ready to advance towards a final settlement.

“I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it,” Trump told AP. “If I win, I’ll let you know six months from the time I take office.”

But he emphasized that it all rests with Israel. “A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things,” Trump said. “They may not be, and I understand that, and I’m OK with that. But then you’re just not going to have a deal.”

As usual, the Republican presidential frontrunner was short on specifics. Trump refused to say if he’ll demand a settlement freeze or whether he’s supportive of the two-state solution. “Well, I’m not going to even say that,” he told AP. Though adding that Israel’s building in West Bank settlements would be a “huge sticking point” in peace talks.

On Wednesday, Trump announced he will be traveling to Israel and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “very soon.”

“Very soon I’m going to Israel,” the Republican presidential hopeful said during a campaign rally in Virginia. “I’m going to be meeting with (Prime Minister) Bibi Netanyahu.” During his interview with AP, Trump said he also wants to meet with “other people” to “get some ideas on it.”

Republican candidates talk tough on ‘radical Islam’ after California attack


Republican presidential candidates said on Thursday a mass shooting in California was a sign that Americans are at risk from homegrown radicals, creating a campaign talking point out of the country's deadliest massacre in three years before a motive had been firmly established.

Candidates spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual conference to warn of the threat from Islamic State militants and pledge to take steps against the group, a sign of how the deadly Paris attacks last month have transformed the campaign running up to the November 2016 election.

“There can be no doubt that this is an effort to destroy our very way of life,” said Republican John Kasich, the governor of Ohio. “This is existential.”

Many candidates were quick to link the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., on Wednesday to the possibility of homegrown radicals. It was the deadliest shooting in the United States since 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. 

But a motive for Wednesday's attack is far from clear. The head of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office investigating the shooting said on Thursday it would be “irresponsible and premature” to say that terrorism was the motive.

Authorities are trying to determine whether the couple accused of the killing, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, had links to Islamic militant groups abroad. The two were killed in a shootout with police after Wednesday's massacre.

President Barack Obama said the gunfire that erupted at a holiday party was possibly “terrorist-related” but could have been the result of a workplace dispute.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz joined the attack, saying Obama had failed to take steps to protect the United States and declared it is time for a “war-time” president.

Real estate mogul and reality TV personality Donald Trump, who leads polls of Republican voters, said the California attack was likely related to what he called “radical Islamic terrorism.” He faulted Obama for refusing to use that term.

“There's something going on with him that we don't know about,” said Trump, who has repeatedly sought to raise doubts about whether Obama was born in the United States. Obama in 2011 produced his birth certificate to prove he was born in Hawaii.

Contrary to Democrats, who have called for tougher gun laws to prevent violent attacks, Cruz announced plans to hold a “second amendment” event in Iowa on Friday, in reference to the U.S. constitutional right to bear arms.

Candidate Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, said in an interview on Fox News ahead of her speech Thursday that “everything points to a terrorist attack, a homegrown terrorist attack” in San Bernardino.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was careful not to declare the California attacks the result of homegrown jihadists while it was still being investigated. Still, he said the West is waging war against radical “apocalyptic Islam.”

“We must not separate the threat to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv from the threat to Paris or London or New York or Miami,” Rubio said.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a foreign policy hawk who wants to send more American troops to Iraq, said he would pursue an aggressive policy against Islamic State and “kill every one of these bastards that we can find.”

Candidates also pledged to protect Israel and oppose the nuclear deal reached with Iran earlier this year.

“I will restore the trust that binds America's alliance with Israel and send the world the unmistakable message that we stand as one in our common effort to defeat the enemies of civilization,” said Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor, in prepared remarks.

Why Jews still back Obama


This entire week, people kept sending me emails with this screaming subject line: “OBAMA MULLING SANCTIONS ON ISRAEL.VERIFICATION ON GOOGLE.” 

Neither turned out to be true: Obama is not mulling sanctions, and Google doesn’t verify the fact (or any fact, for that matter). In fact, Google links to stories that cite a single Haaretz report saying the Obama administration is upset about Israeli plans to continue settlement in East Jerusalem. That is not a secret, and it is a concern shared by previous administrations of both parties. But some right-wing journalist decided to substitute the word “concern” for “sanctions.” And an army of forwarders took it from there, stoking the anti-Obama flames among Israel supporters.

This has been going on since the 2008 presidential race, and I predict it will never end, not even if Obama stands up in Jerusalem and declares his unwavering support for a secure Israel, which he did; not even if he promotes unprecedented levels of high-level security cooperation between America and Israel, which he did; and not even if he stands before the Arab world and demands the recognition of Israeli rights, which he did. 

And here’s what’s truly amazing: The scare tactic is not working.

In the midst of all the coverage of the Republican sweep of the midterm elections, one astonishing fact has been overlooked: The Jewish vote remained heavily pro-Democrat.

Even more noticeable, while President Barack Obama’s approval rating has been in free fall, 57 percent  of Jewish voters still approve of his performance, and 69 percent voted Democratic.  

These numbers come from an exit poll of 800 Jewish voters conducted by the liberal advocacy group J Street immediately following the November elections.  A similar poll conducted by Republican Jewish Coalition showed slightly less enthusiasm for the Democrats — about 4 percentage points less — but that number is within the margin of error. 

Obama’s approval rating among Jewish voters, according to J Street, is 15 points higher than among the general population. 

On the one hand, this reflects a slide in the president’s popularity.  A year ago, a Pew Research Center survey found 65 percent of Jewish voters approved of the president’s performance. And in 2012, he won 80 percent of the Jewish vote.  Why the slide?   

In foreign policy, the president’s approach to Syria, ISIS and the turmoil in the Middle East is faltering, as if he’s been calling the shots while focused on the Golf Channel.   

Stylistically, he has come across as withdrawn, cerebral and defensive. Obama seems to throw a punch, then retreat to his corner. People who elected him to stand up to Mitch McConnell and John Boehner feel he’s not 110 percent in the fight. At a time when America needs to be having a serious and sustained set of conversations and actions about race, Obama seems more follower than leader.  In other words, the disappointment with Obama among Jews isn’t because he’s too radical, but too removed.

But the poll results still show more upside than downside at a time when the rest of America has all but written him off.

That just can’t be explained away as traditional Jewish-American liberalism (not that there’s anything wrong with that). President Jimmy Carter only got 45 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980, running against Ronald Reagan and independent John Anderson. History shows it takes more than a big “D” after your name to win Jewish support.

In Obama’s case, his continued popularity with Jewish voters rests on several accomplishments: Obamacare, which a 2012 American Jewish Committee survey found popular with Jews (if not all Jewish doctors); the economy, which you might remember was barely breathing before Obama and his team resuscitated it and rescued the automobile industry; and his approach to immigration reform and the environment. Poll after poll shows these rank high among Jewish voters.

What about Israel? Jews don’t blame Obama for what is widely seen as frosty relations between the administration and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Only 21 percent in a recent poll said Netanyahu’s actions have helped American-Israeli relations. 

And there is also this: Support for Obama is informed by a deep distrust of the forces arrayed against him. Mainstream, economically conservative but socially liberal Republican voices with thoughtful foreign policy solutions who could credibly counter Obama have taken a back seat in their party to more hysterical, radically right voices. In the back of their minds, Jewish voters have to be wondering, “If not him, then who?

Since those midterm exit polls were taken, Obama has taken unilateral steps that have proven even more popular with liberal voters. He’s been a bit feistier, as his appearance on “The Colbert Report” this week showed. And he will get well-deserved credit for ending, early on, the CIA interrogation tactics that this week’s Senate report found brutal and ineffective. Will he leave office as beloved by Jewish voters as Bill Clinton? Maybe not. But there’s still a lot he may yet do to become even more popular, like give a rousing endorsement to a Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren ticket for 2016. And remind Americans of how far we’ve come since 2008.

Other voters already may have forgotten about these achievements, but Jews, who this week mark events from 167 B.C.E., have memories that can stretch back at least six years. 

Happy Chanukah.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Cantor’s loss leaves Jewish Republicans bereft


Eric Cantor’s defeat in one constituency, Virginia’s 7th Congressional district, triggered mourning among another: Republican Jews.

Since 2009, Rep. Cantor (R-Va.) has been the only Jewish Republican in Congress. After the 2010 GOP takeover of the House, he became the majority leader. He is the highest-ranking Jew in congressional history.

But the meteoric rise of Cantor, 51, came to a screeching halt on Tuesday when he was trounced in a Republican primary in his Richmond-area district by a poorly financed Tea Party challenger, Dave Brat, an economics professor.

“Obviously, we came up short,” Cantor told his stunned followers in a Richmond hotel ballroom. “Serving as the Seventh District congressman and having the privilege of being majority leader has been one of the highest honors of my life.”

The 55 percent to 44 percent defeat was a shock to Cantor and especially to Republican Jews for whom Cantor was a standard bearer.

“We’re all processing it,” said Matt Brooks, the president of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “He was an invaluable leader, he was so integral to the promotion of, to congressional support of the pro-Israel agenda. It is a colossal defeat not just for Republicans, but for the entire Jewish community.”

Cantor as also a natural ally for socially conservative Orthodox Jews who have sometimes been at odds with the Obama administration on religion-state issues.

In a statement, Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union, called Cantor “a friend and been a critical partner for the advocacy work of the Orthodox Jewish community on issues ranging from Israel’s security and the security of Jewish institutions in the United States, to religious liberty to educational reform, and opportunity to defending the needs of the nonprofit sector.”

Cantor was elected to Congress in 2000, when he was 37, after having served nine years in the Virginia legislature. From the start, he made clear he had three bedrocks: his faith, his state and his conservatism.

His first floor speech, on Jan. 31 2001, was in favor of making the Capitol Rotunda available for Holocaust commemoration, and in two minutes, he wove together the importance of Holocaust education, a nod to two Virginia founding fathers and an embrace of the foreign policy interventionism that would guide the George W. Bush administration.

“The remembrance of this dark chapter in human history serves as a reminder of what can happen when the fundamental tenets of democracy are discarded by dictatorial regimes,” a hesitant and nervous Cantor said.

“While we in the United States, the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, have experienced years of peace and prosperity, we must not forget that genocide and human rights abuses continue to occur elsewhere around the world,” he continued. “As the leader of the free world, the United States must use its power and influence to bring stability to the world and educate people around the globe about the horrors of the Holocaust to ensure that it must never happen again.”

Cantor’s popularity in his district, his ability to garner supporters in the Republican caucus and his fundraising prowess soon caught the eye of Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who in 2003 was set to become House majority whip. Blunt named Cantor his chief deputy, a stunning rise for a congressional sophomore who had not yet reached 40.

Cantor’s Jewish involvement deepened as his days grew busier; raised in a Conservative Jewish home, he started to keep kosher and to take private classes with Orthodox rabbis. The three children of Cantor and his wife, Diana, whom he met at Columbia University, were active in Jewish youth movements.

Confidants say his commitment to Israel intensified after a cousin, Daniel Cantor Wulz, was killed in a 2006 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

For Jewish leaders, Cantor was a critical address within the Republican Party for the Jewish community’s domestic agenda, said William Daroff, Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“When there was a need for a heavy lift for much of our Jewish federation agenda we could count on being able to call Eric and have him help us get to the finish line,” Daroff said.

Cantor at first seemed to be riding the Tea Party wave. During the 2010 midterm elections, he joined with Reps. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), calling themselves the party’s “Young Guns,”  in setting up a political action committee that championed younger conservatives in a party that the three had said had become to moderate and complacent.

In a book co-written by the three at the time, Cantor welcomed the Tea Party wave.

“They saw that the powers in charge here are ignorant of what the people want and frankly arrogant about it,” Cantor said in the book, referring to the protests against President Obama’s health care plan that had sparked the Tea Party movement.

In the book, he once again rooted his conservatism in the South and in his faith.

“I pray on Saturday with a Southern accent and Paul and Kevin go to church on Sunday and talk to God without dropping their ‘G’s,” referring to his colleagues.

At the time, Cantor seemed to think he could harness the Tea Party insurgency.

“Tea Party individuals are focused on three things: One, limited, constitutional government; two, cutting spending, and three, a return to free markets,” he told JTA in an October 2010 interview, on the eve of the midterm elections. “Most Americans are about that, and the American Jewish community is like that.”

As majority leader, Cantor stayed to the right of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), and many believed he would soon challenge Boehner to become the first Jewish House speaker.

Cantor and President Obama have not had a good relationship. Cantor, notably, has not attended a single Jewish event at the White House during Obama’s two terms, although he has been invited to all of them.

Until two weeks into the October 2013 government shutdown Cantor resisted agreeing to a deal, and he conceded only when it became clear that the shutdown was damaging Republican electoral prospects.

Heeding a Republican establishment that believed the Tea Party had gotten out of hand, Cantor more recently tilted toward the center, championing job creation programs, criticizing foreign policy isolationists within the GOP and expressing a willingness to consider elements of the 2013 Senate immigration reform bill, although until now he has resisted bringing it to the House floor.

That tilt and, according to some local news reports, a perception that Cantor was not sufficiently invested in his district helped contribute to Cantor’s defeat. Brat especially focused on criticizing Cantor’s tentative embrace of a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors.

Hadar Susskind, the director of Bend the Arc, a Jewish group that is a leader on immigration reform, said that it was bizarre to accuse Cantor of being overly accommodating on immigration.

“He has been the single largest obstruction in the effort to reform our immigration laws, so those efforts lose nothing with his defeat,” Susskind told JTA.

Democrats immediately seized on Cantor’s loss as evidence that the GOP is becoming increasingly extreme.

“When Eric Cantor, who time and again has blocked common sense legislation to grow the middle class, can’t earn the Republican nomination, it’s clear the GOP has redefined ‘far right’,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, in a statement.

Steve Rabinowitz, a publicist who represents Jewish groups as well as liberal and Democratic causes, said he was conflicted about Cantor’s departure. On the one hand, he couldn’t help but be amused that Cantor’s flirtation with the Tea Party came back to haunt him. On the other, Rabinowitz suggested that Cantor’s defeat was a minus for the Jewish community.

“Wearing my mainstream Jewish skullcap its clear the community needs people like Eric Cantor,” he said. “This is a loss for the Jewish community. I have my disagreements with him, but he’s been there for the community.”

Rand Paul’s Jewish outreach finds receptive if wary audience


Can Rand Paul woo his party’s Jews?

The Kentucky senator and likely candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is stepping up his Jewish outreach. In recent weeks, Paul chatted with rabbis on a conference call and proposed legislation to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority unless it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

Making inroads with Jewish Republicans is an uphill battle for Paul, an ardent anti-interventionist and opponent of foreign aid. A few years ago, Jewish Republicans were sounding alarms over Paul’s foreign policy views, which they saw as inimical to the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Now, however, some are sounding a more conciliatory note.

The Republican Jewish Coalition’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, told JTA that Paul has “evolved.”

“He started off wanting to cut all foreign aid. Now he sees it as a long-term strategy. He wants to start scaling back to countries burning flags in their streets,” said Brooks, referencing Paul’s calls to cut aid to countries that are hostile to the United States.

It’s a major shift from 2010 when Paul was running for Senate. At the time Brooks had called Paul a “neo-isolationist” who was “outside the comfort level of a lot of people in the Jewish community.”

The changing tone reflects new political realities. No longer an insurgent Senate candidate, Paul is now a rising power within the Republican Party who is widely assumed to have larger ambitions.

Fred Zeidman, a leading fundraiser for GOP presidential campaigns, said that Paul’s new stature is one reason he deserves a more considered assessment from Republican Jews.

“He is a force to be reckoned with in a presidential race, which I think he is seriously considering,” said Zeidman, a former chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who met recently in Houston with Paul.

Brooks declined to discuss the possibility of a Paul presidential run, saying that to do so before the midterm congressional elections would be “premature.”

Paul’s outreach to Jews is consistent with his message that the Republican Party needs to get out of its comfort zone and reach out to constituencies that usually do not back it.

“One of the biggest issues that Senator Paul faced when it came to the Jewish community was the simple fact that there was not a strong relationship,” said Rabbi Chaim Segal, an Orthodox educator and conservative activist based in New York who has assisted Paul in his recent outreach.

Part of Paul’s Jewish problem has been his parentage: His father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), for decades was a critic of Israel, and his eponymous newsletters published pejorative material about gays, blacks and Jews. The elder Paul has since disclaimed knowledge of their contents.

The younger Paul backed his father’s 2012 presidential run. He has picked up his father’s libertarian and anti-interventionist agenda, updating it to heighten its appeal to mainstream conservatives.

Supporters of the younger Paul say he shouldn’t be held responsible for the sins of his father.

“If your dad did something, has a view, that has nothing to do with your views,” said Mallory Factor, who teaches political science at The Citadel, a South Carolina military academy, and initiated introductions between Paul and other Jewish Republicans. “That is a straw man. Criticize the guy and his own views.”

Paul’s Jewish supporters point to his outspoken advocacy of ending U.S. aid to potential enemies of Israel. But Paul’s new bill on Palestinian Authority funding has received a mixed reception from pro-Israel groups.

“We are not supporting the Paul bill,” an official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee told JTA. “We believe the law currently on the books is strong and ensures that aid is contingent on key conditions that help maintain America’s influence, keep Israel secure and advance the peace process. AIPAC supports a cutoff of aid to any Palestinian government that includes an unreformed Hamas, and this is what is provided for in current law.”

Paul has told the conservative Newsmax media outlet that he finds AIPAC’s opposition to his bill “very troubling.”

“If I were to speak to the 10,000 folks who come up here [to Capitol Hill] in support of AIPAC, the vast majority of them would support my bill,” he said.

Paul’s legislation did win praise from the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, whose national president, Morton Klein, noted in an April 30 statement that he had raised the issue of U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority in a meeting with Paul before the senator introduced his legislation.

“We are very pleased to see Senator Paul is taking action on this important issue,” Klein said in his statement.

Paul also has spoken at ZOA events.

But Ben Chouake, president of the New Jersey-based NORPAC, a leading pro-Israel political action committee, questioned the depth of Paul’s feeling for Israel. He noted that Paul is one of only two Republican senators who oppose new sanctions on Iran favored by AIPAC and an array of other pro-Israel groups.

“In terms of having the pro-Israel type of outlook, it would certainly help if he was not one of two Republicans not sponsoring the Iran sanctions legislation,” Chouake said.

Paul, according to a source close to him, opposes increasing punitive sanctions while nuclear talks aimed at keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon are underway. That position would align him with the stance embraced by President Obama and many congressional Democrats.

Whatever differences he may have with pro-Israel activists, Paul has made a sustained effort to build bridges to the Jewish community, enlisting the services of several Jewish intermediaries and finding common ground where he can.

Richard Roberts, a pharmaceuticals executive and GOP donor, helped pay for Paul and a group of Christian Zionists to tour Israel in January 2013. That summer, Roberts hosted Paul for a luncheon at his home in the Orthodox stronghold of Lakewood, N.J., and led the senator on a tour of the town’s Beth Medrash Govoha, one of the world’s largest yeshivas.

In a video of the tour, Paul appears engaged and curious about Orthodoxy.

“Was the Talmud all finished by a certain period of time?” he asks a yeshiva student in the study hall. “Did Rabbi Hillel have anything to do with the Talmud?”

Roberts has called Paul a “man of integrity and authenticity.”

Ahead of Paul’s visits to cities with Jewish communities, Segal arranges off-the-record meetings with local rabbis. More recently, Segal organized a May 8 conference call with what he called 72 “rabbi leaders.”

Speaking after the call, Paul suggested frustration with constant questions about his friendship with Israel.

“You know, Meir Dagan is not exactly Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said, referring to the former Mossad chief and the Israeli prime minister, who differ with each other on Iran policy. “You know, they are different people, but that doesn’t mean either one of them loves Israel any less. It’s the same in America. Do all Jews have the same exact opinion on every political issue, or even how we should resolve or find peace in the Middle East? No.”

While Paul has managed to build some bridges, it remains to be seen whether he can translate that to support. His foreign policy views remain at odds with those of more hawkish and internationalist-leaning Jewish Republicans, while his mix of social conservatism and economic libertarianism may be a tough sell to the liberal-leaning American Jews more generally.

A top staffer at a pro-Israel group suggested that Paul’s true target in his outreach efforts may be pro-Israel Christians.

“He knows that he has a problem because many of the Tea Partiers who are his natural constituency happen to be pro-Israel,” said the staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This stand with Israel act will show up in campaign videos that are targeting the pro-Israel Christian community.”

But Paul may have his work cut out for him with this constituency.

Last September, he drew expressions of outrage from some prominent Christian supporters of Israel after saying in an interview with BuzzFeed that “some within the Christian community are such great defenders of the promised land and the chosen people that they think war is always the answer, maybe even preemptive war.”

Paul’s office later clarified that he “was not speaking of any group as a whole.”

David Brog, the Jewish executive director of Christians United for Israel, was among those who criticized Paul’s remark at the time. He told JTA that any serious Republican contender for the presidency must contend with Christian voters who support Israel.

“If he harbors national aspirations, the Christian conservative vote, a top issue in primaries, this becomes one of their core issues,” he said. “Do you share your passion for Israel and concern for Iran, or is there something weaker behind it?”

The West Bank is under military occupation, and that’s a fact


According to press reports, the crowd at a recent Republican Jewish Coalition conference “noticeably gasped” when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie referred to the West Bank as “occupied territories.” Christie promptly apologized to the event’s host, mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, clarifying that his remarks “were not meant to be a statement of policy,” a source said.

This incident illustrates the many semantic land mines involved in talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The terms employed to talk about the separation barrier or the Israeli settlements or some of Jerusalem’s holy sites often belie a political agenda intended not only to describe reality but also to affect it.

[Related: ‘Occupied territories’ is a flawed and biased term]

Yet this incident also illustrates the way in which an inherently legal term has been branded as somehow part of a radical political agenda.

Acknowledging that the West Bank is presently subject to military occupation is not at all a statement of policy. It is a statement of fact.

Many Jews, both in Israel and in the United States, use the biblical names Judea and Samaria, highlighting the belief that this territory forms the foundation of the Jewish people. This territory is indeed the biblical heartland of the Jewish tradition, where according to our Bible the Patriarch Abraham purchased a plot of land for his family, where Joshua brought the people after 40 years of wandering in the desert and built the tabernacle to house the Ark of the Covenant.

But calling this area Judea and Samaria tells us nothing about the applicable legal framework: Who is the legislator in Judea and Samaria? Who is the executive branch of government in the West Bank? What is the judiciary there?

The answer to all three questions is the Israeli military. The military passes laws, in the form of military orders that supersede the local laws that otherwise remain in force. Even the fact that Israeli law applies in the settlements, and personally to settlers, is not due to legislation from the Knesset but because the military commander signed an order giving force to that particular piece of Knesset legislation.

The military is also the executive, administering all aspects of the governance of this territory. Many of the Israeli civil authorities operate in the settlements, and the Palestinian Authority has responsibility for civil affairs within Palestinian cities. However, all of these authorities operate within the overall control of the Israeli military.

And the military is the judiciary. The military legal advisors decide what is lawful and what is not. The Israeli military maintains a military court system in which Palestinians are tried for everything from security offenses to traffic violations.

All Palestinians — including those living in Area A under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority — are subject to the jurisdiction of the Israeli military. Some 300,000 Israelis live in this territory as well (not counting the 200,000 Israelis in the territory annexed to the city of Jerusalem). Though they also live in territory governed by military law, settlers enjoy all the rights of the Israeli democracy, as well as additional financial benefits intended to encourage Israelis to live there. The result is that two different and discriminatory legal systems operate in the same territory, with a person’s rights and benefits determined by his or her national origin.

The words “military occupation” might sound harsh to the American ear. Many Israelis don’t like the sound of it either. Yet the reality is indeed harsh. Millions of Palestinians have lived for almost half a century under military rule, denied basic rights and subject to the whims of a government they did not elect and have no ability to influence.

Adelson and his ilk may be able to dictate a form of censorship of the political conversation in the United States. This ostrich-like behavior, however, does not alter the reality on the ground. This is a rotten system. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is currently devoting massive efforts to address this problem. If his efforts are to have any hope of success, we must first of all call it like it is.


Jessica Montell is executive director of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

In Vegas, GOP Jews focus on Israel, while contenders focus on Adelson


The GOP Jewish faithful descended in force on Sin City, turning out in record numbers and striking a feisty, combative tone at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference.

According to organizers, some 400 people attended the gathering, where they were feted with poker and golf tournaments, and wooed by presidential hopefuls.

“In Jewish crowds, I’m tired of keeping my political views quiet,” said Barry Sobel, an asset manager from College Park, Ga. “It’s nice to be in a room of like-minded people.”

Jewish Republicans make up a distinct minority of American Jewry — President Obama won 69 percent of Jewish votes in the 2012 elections, according to exit polls — and a tiny proportion of the national electorate.

However, they wield a political clout that far exceeds their numbers, in large part because Jewish Republicans are some of the GOP’s most important donors. And no donor is more important than the host of this year’s conference, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

The conference was held in the Adelson-owned Venetian hotel and casino, and his presence loomed large over the gathering.

National media dubbed this year’s conference the “Sheldon Primary,” in recognition of the many potential Republican presidential candidates who arrived not only to address the crowds but for private sit-downs with Adelson, who spent a reported $93 million on the 2012 presidential election and has announced he will spend much more on 2016. He also is backing an effort to bring the 2016 Republican National Convention to Las Vegas.

Along with a Shabbat dinner address by Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, and a scotch-tasting with Israeli venture capitalist Jonathan Medved, this year’s conference featured a cattle call of sorts for GOP presidential hopefuls. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush spoke to an exclusive dinner held at Adelson’s private airplane hangar on Thursday. On Saturday, Govs. Chris Christie, Scott Walker and John Kasich, as well as John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed attendees.

As they gathered beneath the Venetian glass chandeliers, painted ceilings and gold leaf ornaments of the hotel’s palatial surroundings, conference-goers echoed many of the hot-button concerns that have dominated the GOP discourse — creeping socialism, the IRS, Benghazi. But one issue consistently stood out: Israel.

Conferees could be overheard sharing tales of Democrats’ fecklessness toward the Jewish state, and it was invocations of Israel that drew the loudest applause during the speeches.

“This administration has played Jews for suckers,” Sobel said, accusing the Obama administration of “trying to put Israel in its place.”

“Right now, Jews need to be one-issue voters,” he added.

Adelson, too, has long declared that Israel is his top political issue, above even banning online gambling.

Sensitivities surrounding Israel landed Christie in a bit of hot water during his otherwise well-received speech. The New Jersey governor was holding his audience spellbound with a rapturous description of his recent trip to Israel when he tripped a rhetorical landmine.

“I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across, and just felt, personally, how extraordinary that was to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day,” Christie told the crowd.

Although Christie received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, his use of the phrase “occupied territories” upset some attendees who felt that such wording casts aspersions on Israel’s claim to the West Bank.

“Chris Christie either does not understand the issues affecting Israel or he’s not a friend of Israel,” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Klein said he brought up the remarks with Adelson, and Politico subsequently reported that Christie had later apologized to Adelson in a private meeting.

The RJC’s executive director, Matthew Brooks, dismissed Christie’s remark as “a slip of the tongue.”

“I have every confidence that Governor Christie is an unabashed, unequivocal supporter of Israel,” Brooks said.

Christie was not the only candidate making an effort to connect with the crowd on a Judaic level. Walker spoke of how his son’s name, Matthew, translates from the Hebrew as “a gift from God,” and of lighting menorah candles at the Wisconsin governor’s mansion. Kasich described his effort to build a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse.

Bolton brought the crowd to its feet with his fierce denunciations of the Obama administration’s Iran diplomacy and his call for the United States to firmly back the Jewish state, even if Israel should choose to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But the candidates also touted their broader appeal, with Christie and Walker citing their experience as governors of traditionally Democratic states and Kasich defending his decision to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, though without explicitly referencing Medicaid or the act known as Obamacare.

All the speakers also pledged, with varying degrees of specificity, to pursue a muscular and assertive foreign policy.

“Unfortunately, we see within our own party a rising tide of what can only be called isolationism,” Bolton said.

That more isolationist strain in the GOP is particularly associated with a presumed presidential hopeful who was not at the Las Vegas conference, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Brooks said that Paul had been invited to attend but had declined in favor of a family commitment.

Brooks said the RJC’s focus was on this year’s midterm congressional elections rather than 2016. Like many Republicans, he is hopeful the party can take control of the Senate. Brooks said the RJC was aiming to broaden its outreach as part of the campaign.

Some of the politicians in attendance seemed to be tailoring their pitches more narrowly. Kasich made it clear that he had a particular target in mind as he concluded his speech to the conclave: “Hey listen, Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.”

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