Photo from Flickr/ccPixs.com.

Republican Proposals Are a Good Start


Presidents Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George Bush (43) all organized major tax cuts that generated significant economic growth.

Donald Trump has staked his presidency on gross domestic product rates far above President Barack Obama’s years (1.5 percent per year).  He badly needs a political victory, and the GOP needs something to show for its majority, heading into 2018.

“On the one hand,” as economists say, the Trump tax plan is overdue. Lowering corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent will make U.S. business more competitive with Canada, Europe and Asia. Apple and other large enterprises will repatriate some of the $3 trillion held offshore, creating jobs and raising employee wages.

Economist Larry Lindsey predicts that lower corporate taxes and deregulation will increase productivity, capital formation, new business startups and employee education and re-training, though growing corporate earnings have already pushed the Dow Jones industrial average, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the NASDAQ composite to all-time highs.

“On the other hand,” keeping popular tax deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable giving risks growing our national debt if promised economic growth does not materialize.

To generate revenue, then, the president advocates ending the federal deduction of state and local taxes. Democrats argue this is an unfortunate, partisan shot at taxpayers in high-tax states like California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.  They are correct.

Some Republicans wrongly argue that blue states are subsidized by more fiscally prudent red states. But California is a net donor state, bearing the burden of one-third of the entire nation’s welfare cases, plus other costs associated with federal failure on illegal immigration.

The GOP tax plan, then, unfortunately favors corporate lobbyists and the super wealthy, the top 1 percent of the 1 percent, the Manhattan hedge fund billionaires and Silicon Valley masters of the universe.  These are not mostly Republicans, by the way, nor part of the Trump electoral coalition.

A wealth tax on the top 1 percent — the high-income earners who pay some 40 percent of all federal income taxes; as well as the top 10 percent — who pay some 70 percent of all federal income taxes — would ungenerously label as “rich” those taxpayers who already pay way more than their fair share, due to progressive tax rates that punish striving, sacrifice and success, and discourage investment, saving, hard work and self-reliance.

Taxes are about incentives. The late economist Milton Friedman taught that what we tax, we get less of.  As he said, “We need not more taxes, but more taxpayers.”

The GOP effort to reduce the tax rate on the middle class is popular, as is the rejection of a border adjustment tax, which would disfavor importers, retailers and consumers.

Simplifying the tax code may save individual taxpayers time and costs preparing annual federal returns.  Ending the complex alternative minimum tax (AMT) tax and the federal estate tax are good ideas, too.

Perhaps it’s time for the flat tax — real individual tax reform and simplification — or a consumption tax, which raises revenue without disproportionately hurting the working poor.

Perhaps it’s time for the flat tax.

Half of our citizens with low income now don’t pay any federal income tax, (although they do pay federal payroll, Social Security and Medicare taxes). Perhaps low-income workers should bear the responsibility of even small income taxes, too.

Joseph Isaac Lifshitz’s careful study of the biblical and rabbinic corpus, “Judaism, Law and the Free Market” offers instruction from talmudic tractate Berakhot: “One who benefits from his own labor is greater than one who fears heaven.” And from Pesahim, in a teaching of Rabbi Akiva to his son: “It is better to make your Sabbath meals ordinary than to become dependent on others.”

Albert Einstein asserted that the tax code was purposely confusing: “This is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher.”

Former Chief Justice John Marshall noted that: “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” while Benjamin Franklin warned: “It would be a hard government that took even one-tenth of a people’s income.”

Like death, taxes are certain. Current proposals to offer some relief for hardworking citizens make good public policy.


Larry Greenfield is a fellow of The Claremont Institute and a wealth advisor in Los Angeles.

Photo from Flickr/www.ccPixs.com.

Democrats Need a Tax Plan, Too


The Republican tax-reform plan is marginally less generous to the wealthy than many conservatives would like. As the GOP struggles to cobble together an actual bill that can unite their fractious party, it’s tempting for Democrats to sit back and enjoy the show.

But that’s shortsighted. How can Democrats steer Congress toward constructive reform without a proposal of their own? And how can the Democratic Party rebuild its own credibility on economic issues if it has no vision on tax policy?

For Americans, and for the viability of their own party, Democrats need to offer a progressive road map for tax reform that clearly spells out what they would change in our existing tax laws, and why. The party is going to need a coherent and principled basis for judging and improving the package that Republicans come up with, which will explode the debt while delivering the biggest tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest families.

At the moment, Democratic tax policy can be summed up this way: Raise taxes on the rich. That’s not good enough. Though the approach may excite hardcore partisans and class warriors, it doesn’t speak to working- and middle-class aspirations for better jobs and higher wages.

Taxing the rich won’t pay for everything.

Americans want a forward-looking and concrete plan for pulling the country out of its slow-growth rut and ensuring that workers without a college degree can find middle-income jobs in today’s knowledge economy.

Rather than sit mute as Republicans flail, Democrats ought to view the coming debate over tax reform as an opportunity to show Americans what they stand for, and offer, if not a detailed tax bill, these basic progressive tenets:

A well-designed tax overhaul could breathe new life into the economy by eliminating market distortions and inefficiencies that misallocate capital. Democrats should push for ending, or at least limiting, a host of tax-preference items that channel investment into tax-favored activities rather than productive ones. They also should call for cutting taxes on startups, the most fertile source of new jobs. In the long term, Democrats should advocate for a fundamentally different way of financing government — one that taxes consumption more, and income and innovation far less.

Democrats are right when they say that America’s wealthiest families can and should contribute more. But taxing the rich won’t pay for everything. Democrats need to tap new revenue sources. For instance, they should scale back costly tax preferences for health insurance and housing that disproportionately benefit high-income households. They also should lower the payroll tax, which hits working Americans harder than the income tax. Reducing the payroll tax would create an immediate bump in overall economic growth.

Democrats should propose bringing business tax rates down to competitive levels and taxing business activity where it occurs. Not only does our outdated corporate tax system burden many U.S. companies with higher nominal and effective rates than their foreign competitors, it also gives our companies a perverse incentive to park profits overseas.

The American tax system is not just outdated. It’s positively byzantine. Streamlining the code would make it much easier for working families to file their taxes. What’s more, many of the most complicated tax preferences serve to benefit corporations and the country’s richest households. Removing or reforming these items and creating a simpler, more transparent tax code would boost public confidence in our system of voluntary compliance.

Republican leaders in Congress are backpedaling from campaign promises to pass “revenue-neutral” tax reform and reverting to the long-discredited claim that tax cuts will pay for themselves by turbo-charging the economy. As American fiscal policy suffocates under the weight of $20 trillion in national debt, Democrats can’t let Republicans get away with such nonsense. The drain in revenue would put intolerable pressure on public investment and lead to the freezing of much-needed government programs.

To help millions more Americans reach the middle class, and to define themselves as the real party of jobs and growth, Democrats need to put forward a tax plan of their own.


Will Marshall is president of the Progressive Policy Institute.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, U.S. July 25, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernest/REUTERS.

A double standard for Trump on Israel


The double standard that too many Jewish supporters of Donald Trump apply to this president was on sad display last week.

A young Palestinian man entered the home of a Jewish family in the village of Halamish on July 21 and stabbed Yosef, Chaya and Elad Salomon to death. No justification. No mercy. No humanity. 

Our hearts cried out for universal condemnation. Our president needed to set the example of moral leadership. As of this writing, he has said nothing. 

Well, not nothing. Immediately following news of the butchery, President Donald J. Trump did tweet. This is what he said: “It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.”

Trump was so focused on the perceived treachery of Republicans who refuse to go along with some half-baked Obamacare repeal that he passed on the opportunity to call out terrorists, fanatics and their enablers.

My reaction to Trump’s bizarre tweet was, What if President Obama had done this?

What if Barack Obama had said nothing about the indescribably awful photos of the Salomon family murder scene? His Jewish detractors would have pilloried him — and rightly so.

The contrast points to something more and more apparent: a double standard applied by the pro-Israel community to Trump and his predecessor.

Three weeks ago, Trump recertified Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. I believe this was the right thing to do, but then again, I supported the deal originally.  Trump didn’t. But when he reversed himself, did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fly to Washington and speak to Congress to publicly condemn Trump? Did Trump’s Jewish supporters call him a traitor to Israel and an Iranian puppet? Nope. Double standard.

One week ago, the Trump administration cut a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a Syrian ceasefire that leaves Hezbollah troops close to Israel’s northern border.  Israel vehemently opposed the idea. But Trump sided with Putin. “The Americans completely conceded to the Russians,” a senior Israeli military official told Al-Monitor. “The very names of Iran or Hezbollah do not appear in the agreement, and there is no expression of Israeli concerns at all. Our security needs are completely ignored.”

I’m not sure the ceasefire wasn’t the right move. But I do know what holy hell the pro-Israel right would have raised if Obama had signed that deal. In this case, they said nothing. Double standard.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised he would move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem  “on Day One.” Jewish and Christian audiences leapt to their feet at Trump’s promise.

Two months ago, Trump declined to move the embassy. The protest from those who applauded him? Barely a word. Double standard.

Keep in mind these all are examples from the past couple of months. Want to go back further? Imagine what the Republican outcry would have been if Obama refused to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day? Or if Obama had said he “doesn’t know anything about” Louis Farrakhan, as candidate Trump said of KKK Grand Nincompoop David Duke.   

A healthy swath of the Jewish community, and the larger Republican crowd, reviled Obama. But time and again they grade Trump on a curve. Obama signed a $38 billion aid deal with Israel, helped fund its Iron Dome program, stood by Israel during the Gaza War and firmly declared anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism — two years before French President Emmanuel Macron did. Did it matter? Nope. Double standard.

With one notable exception — the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein — the president’s Jewish supporters give him a pass on issues, statements and actions they would have slammed Obama for.

Obama could do no right, Trump can do no wrong. Can you even imagine the derision if Obama’s State Department had blamed Israel for Palestinian terror, as Trump’s State Department did in a report released this week?

Here’s what I wonder: Why does Trump get a pass? Maybe United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley buys Trump all the indulgences he will ever need. Maybe Obama haters simply used Israel as a wedge issue to gain Jewish votes when their real concern was other Democratic policies. Or maybe these supporters cut Trump slack because they believe he supports Israel deep down in his kishkas, or guts, and — so they like to say– Obama just didn’t.

If it’s the last reason, then I have one question that Jewish supporters of the president must consider: Does it matter if you have Israel in your kishkas if you are otherwise incompetent, unprepared, uniformed and relentlessly self-concerned?

In July 2014, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found murdered by Palestinian terrorists — a horror no less shocking and unjustifiable than the Salomon murders last week. Almost immediately, then-President Barack Obama sent his condolences to the families of the teenagers and condemned the “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”

It’s not asking too much of a president to respond with humanity to inhuman acts. And it’s not expecting too much of his supporters to call him out when he falls short.


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

Dating 101: The Politics of Love


I have been dating George for six months. We spend a lot of time together and have settled into a comfortable space. He makes me laugh and I feel protected, valued, cherished, respected, and entertained. He is kind and gentle, yet not at all a pushover. He is a good man, which I noticed immediately because one often takes notice of things they have never encountered before. I like him very much.

George and I don’t fight. Not to say we don’t disagree on things, because we do, but there is no yelling, disrespect, regret in what we say, or how we say it. There are a lot of things that are new about this relationship. I thought the biggest obstacle would be that George is not Jewish. Turns out that isn’t actually a deal breaker. He has come with me to Shabbat Services, met my Rabbi, and embraced how I embrace my faith. I am Jewish enough to carry my faith on my own, which is an empowering feeling as I always felt my partner needed also be Jewish.

So here is where we stand:

Kindness                 Check

Chemistry                Check

Sense of Humor     Check

Respect                   Check

Handsome              Check

Tall                           Check

Blue Eyes                Check

Thinks I Rock         Check

Religion                   All Good

Politics                    Oy Vey

I am a person who likes to talk about politics. I am fascinated by what is happening in America and enjoy not only the banter that politics inspires, but learning about how the political system works. It is a truly unique time for this country and I want to talk about it. Not just politics, but the news in general. From the alleged treason of Donald Trump and his family, to the senseless killings of African Americans by law enforcement, to people who sold pot being in prison next to people who sold heroin, I want to not only talk about it, but try to fix it. Whether writing about race relations, calling my Congressman to have my voice heard, or advocating for medical marijuana, it all matters to me.

It has forced me to look at my relationship in a way I never have before. I have to decide what is important and why I think it is important. Does it matter that I be with someone who thinks exactly like me? Am I holding my partner up a different level of scrutiny than I do my friends? Do I value someone who treats me well?  Is not talking about politics a deal breaker? Can I only love someone who thinks the exact same way as me?  At the end of the day it forces me to think about what I want, what I deserve, and what I am afraid of. Am I simply using politics as a way to run away from someone wonderful because I’m scared?

Rachelle Friberg is a friend of mine. I have never met her in person mind you, but she is my friend. She is a lovely young woman who reached out to me on social media after I wrote a series of blogs about a random encounter with Sarah Palin. She was hosting a radio show and asked if I would come on and talk about it. While I am sure there are many republicans in my life, she was the first one who was really out there with her politics. She is proudly republican. She is also young, educated, religious, and close with her family. With the exception of our political affiliations, we are actually quite similar and I like her very much. We have been friends for several years and she is my go to republican.

I asked Rachelle a few questions because I value her opinion on politics. She’d be a great politician and perhaps after her career as one of the best school teachers this country has to offer, she will run for office. Rachelle has always been a republican. Both her parents are republicans. She used to consider herself a conservative republican, but her views have shifted a little over time. While she still considers herself a fiscal conservative, which I suppose I am too, she considers herself more of a moderate when it comes to social issues. She has coined herself a “common-sense republican”, which I love.

I asked Rachelle if she would date democrat and it was the first time she’d ever been asked the question. She never gave the topic much thought. When it comes to dating or being in a relationship, she looks at the individual and could care less whom the guy she’s dating voted for in an election. If the chemistry is there, why would she let political differences stand in the way of her having a committed, lasting relationship? She expanded by saying having differences in beliefs whether it comes to something as important as politics, or as trivial as what kind of pizza toppings you prefer on pizza (ham and pineapple is her winner), can be a good thing in that you’ll never run out of things to talk about. Healthy debates can be a good thing and can add an element of fun to a relationship.

When we spoke about President Trump, Rachelle shared that this was the first presidential election since voting in her first election at age of 18, she didn’t vote for the republican nominee. When it came to voting day, she could not vote for an individual whom she felt did not represent her as a republican or her values. That said, she said since President Trump won, and is now president of the United States, he is her President. She respects the office of the land and believes we live in the greatest country on earth. She believes it is her duty to stand by her country, but she wishes he would stop tweeting already.

At the end of the day Rachelle does not think political affiliation of your significant other should determine whether or not you can jump all in. If you have chemistry, who cares whom they voted for? Would it make it easier if they vote the same way as she did? Probably. But Rachelle reminded me nothing comes easy without hard work and grit. Relationships can be messy, but they are also amazing testaments to the value that comes with loving someone through the good and the bad. Sometimes the best relationships come from the most unexpected circumstances. You’ll never know unless you take a leap of faith.

Rachelle made me see things differently. If she can date a democrat, then certainly I could date a republican! In a final attempt to get her to get me to walk away from George, I asked my lovely Christian friend if she would date a Jew. Her answer was really surprising to me. It was a tough question for her. She is deeply rooted in her religion but it is not the be-all, end-all of a relationship for her. She would date someone who practices a different religion because love is love and she understands how special and rare it is to find someone. Oh. My. God. I might actually be in love with Rachelle. She is a wonderful human being.

As I write this I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing. Am I trying to push away a man because of politics? Am I so certain I have yet again picked the wrong person, I am willing to get rid of him before my heart is hurt? Am I brave enough to jump in and fall in love with a man who makes no sense anywhere but my heart? It is all rather complicated and I suppose that is the thing about love. It is not relationships that are complicated, but rather love. Love is also grand and I have been searching for it for a long time. The possibility of finding it is terrifying. Not sure what I’m doing, but I am certain politics shouldn’t play a role in love.

George is a lovely man but the simple truth is that not only is he a republican, but he voted Donald Trump. At the end of the day that is something that has me stuck. This man has been gentle with my heart and inspired me to view things differently, but how can I respect someone who not only voted for, but continues to support Trump? It may simply be impossible. I hope to have a happy ending one day, and whenever that is, and whoever it is with, I will be grateful, afraid, excited, and as always, keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dating 101: Politics and Religion


I have been dating “George” for several months and for the first time in my life I am not in a rush to define it. He calls me his girlfriend, which is lovely. We are in an exclusive and committed relationship that matters to me, but I am not searching for labels or declarations. That is new for me because as a hopeless romantic I am so hopeful that my view of relationships has been distorted.

I have loved men who were unworthy of me. By unworthy of course I mean they should never date. Ever. I have not been interested in men who were probably good for me. I have cried more tears than anyone should, yet I am certain I will find love. I will meet someone wonderful who gets, deserves, and appreciates me. We will build memories that are happy rather than sad. It is just a matter of time.

When it comes to George, I have never been treated so kindly by a man. He is sweet, attentive, supportive, and lovely. He does not look like anyone I’ve ever dated, and he is not Jewish, which is how I have always rolled. He is a republican, which is how I never roll. We have nothing in common and were raised very differently, yet we are in a relationship and it is all really quite nice.

I am at a point in my life when I understand how hard it is to simply have nice. Nice is a wonderful word to describe a relationship and I don’t think people understand how important it is to have things be nice. To be clear it is not boring, just nice. We are respectful of each other’s opinions and communicate without fear. I enjoy his company and how he treats me. Most importantly, he makes me laugh.

There is however, one unsettling thing. When we talk politics, I find myself wanting to punch him in the face. We are on different pages and it makes my lower back spasm. The truth is no matter how much George thinks he is a Republican, I think he may actually be Independent. Perhaps I am one too! He believes his views are patriotic, but they are actually not at all in the best interest of the country.

I like him, but politics are a road block. I used to think I could never date a man who wasn’t Jewish, but it turns out dating a republican is much harder. It could just be me getting nervous that everything is good and therefore I’m finding things to sabotage. It could also be that I’m simply not able to date someone so different on two very important subjects of politics and religion.

It is hard to know if I am making the right choices. On Friday night George came with me to Shabbat services. He held my hand while I prayed, participated in the traditions, and met my Rabbi. It is great that he is open to my faith and will celebrate with me. I appreciate it, but we will undoubtedly speak about the political drama of the week, and I will struggle to not punch him. Oy vey.

At this point in our relationship I need to either jump in or get out. I want very much to set aside politics and focus on the nice, but I am not sure I can do it. I am open to all perspectives, but am struggling with politics, which is strange because I was certain it would be religion that got in my way. George is not a religious person. He believes on God, but does not practice any faith.

That makes things surprisingly easy. I am a practicing Jew, but I do not need him to practice with me to be satisfied in my faith. It is enough that he supports and respects how I practice Judaism. Having him at services with me was lovely. He was comfortable and open to all of it. This is a wonderful man who checks a lot of my boxes. I want to make it work, but will I be able to?

Can you fall in love with someone who is fundamentally different from you? Can you build a life with someone who’s political perspective changes how you view them? Should you invest in someone who you want to change? I adore this man but politically we are beyond not being on the same page, we are actually reading different books. It seems silly, but is a real struggle.

The internal battle I thought I would face over religion never happened. Instead my struggle is political, but love should never be political. Should it? I believe people should think, feel, and believe whatever they want. I also believe in love, and love is grand. The most important thing in love is respect, so can I love someone who’s views I don’t respect? It is all rather complicated.

The problem is that I have written here many times that love should not be complicated. My past relationships have always had something that was complicated, and the complication ultimately ends things. I am in a relationship now where the complication has been front and center from the beginning. There are no surprises. I knew what the differences were right from the start.

Time will tell if this complication brings us closer together or tears us apart. George is of the belief it makes us interesting as a couple. He is also a republican, so what does he know? Oy! It has been a wonderful weekend with George. We went to temple, hung out with my son, and enjoyed our time together. As for the future, he might be my bashert so I am putting politics aside, and keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish groups lambaste Trump’s pullout from climate accords


President Donald Trump on Thursday said he will withdraw the United States from the landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change, earning statements of dismay from critics, including Jewish groups who regard the pullout as a diplomatic and environmental disaster.

Speaking Thursday at ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said the so-called Paris accords, signed by every country except for Syria and Nicaragua, place “draconian” financial and economic burdens on American businesses and taxpayers and give other countries a trade advantage over the United States.

“As someone who cares deeply about our environment, I cannot in good conscience support a deal which punishes the United States,” he said. “The Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued a statement on behalf of the Reform movement saying the announcement was “an abdication of responsibility to address global climate change and is both physically dangerous and morally reprehensible.

“The decision disregards vitally important environmental efforts to protect both our planet and the population, with consequences that will reverberate for generations,” wrote Pesner. “Reneging on the agreement diminishes U.S. leadership and undermines longstanding alliances, placing an undue burden on other nations to address climate change.

American Jewish World Service, which advocates for people in developing nations, said such countries would bear the brunt of the severe storms, flooding, droughts and famine that a scientific consensus regards as the already apparent signs of the effects of man-made global warming.

“The longer the U.S. denies climate change and fails to take responsibility for its outsized contribution to global warming, the greater the risk posed to the entire world, especially the poorest people on Earth,” said Robert Bank, president and CEO of AJWS, in a statement.

Added Banks: “We stand proudly as Jews who cherish the Earth to object in the strongest terms to the President’s shortsighted and damaging decision. As American Jews, we will continue to raise our voices in solidarity with the people worldwide who have done the least to cause global warming but who suffer the most.”

Vatican officials also signaled their dismay with Trump’s decision. The Catholic church strongly supported the climate accords. Last month, the Union for Reform Judaism, AJWS and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life joined 20 other religious groups in urging Trump to adhere to the agreement, which was reached in 2015 and signed in 2016.

The 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement pledged to adopt nonbinding plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans largely applauded Trump’s decision to pull out of the accords, although reports indicated that there was opposition among some of his closest advisers, including Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council; Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and unpaid adviser, and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

Neither Ivanka Trump nor her husband attended the announcement ceremony, which fell on the second day of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Both are observant Jews.

Rep. Adam Schiff speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on March 30 about the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The making of Adam Schiff: Why is this man taking on the president?


This is hardly the first time Adam Schiff has had Russia on his mind.

Years ago, and long before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Schiff was a United States Attorney in Los Angeles who led the prosecution of an FBI agent  convicted on spy charges.

“Sex for secrets,” he recalled in a telephone interview with the Jewish Journal last month. “He was seduced by an attractive KGB asset named Svetlana — they’re always named Svetlana. I had to work extensively with the FBI even though it was the first time an FBI agent was ever indicted for espionage. … It’s so odd to be working on a case again involving the bureau and Russia. But it does feel like it’s come full circle.”

Congressman Adam Schiff, 56, is one of 18 Jews serving in the House, and these days, one of the most prominent of the chamber’s 193 Democrats. He’s been everywhere lately — a guest on CNN and MSNBC, a focus of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. His Twitter following is growing exponentially. Already, people are suggesting he could become a presidential candidate in 2020.

And all this for one reason: Schiff is the ranking member — the top Democrat — on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating whether the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign had a role in it.

With Democrats in the minority, Schiff has only so much power in setting the panel’s agenda. Nonetheless, he has emerged as a forceful counterweight to President Donald Trump’s defenders, who insist the current investigations into Russia’s election activities — the Senate and FBI are holding their own probes — are little more than politically motivated witch hunts designed to undermine the Trump presidency.

“The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain [Trump’s] worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy.” — Adam Schiff

Undaunted, Schiff is pressing ahead, an effort that draws together the most salient parts of a life in public service — his Judaism, his law background, four years in the California Senate and his 16-plus years in the House — not to mention his role as a Big Brother to a young African-American boy who Schiff’s father, Ed Schiff, says made Adam “a better person.”

It’s a foundation that also has cemented his confidence in American institutions despite the current chaos of Washington.

“I think our democracy is resilient enough; we’ll get through this, I think, even if the president doesn’t operate within established norms of office,” Schiff said. “The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain his worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy. I think we’ll get through this. But certainly, there are some rough roads ahead.”

Schiff was born in Boston in 1960, a few months before John F. Kennedy was elected president, as the younger of two sons to Ed and Sherri Schiff. Theirs was a mixed marriage: Ed, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla. — “living the ‘Seinfeld’ life,” his son said — is a Democrat; Sherri, who died around 2009 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, was a Republican.

Adam Schiff poses during his bar mitzvah in June 1973 at Temple Isaiah in Northern California. Photo courtesy of Ed Schiff

Ed Schiff was a businessman who moved around the country as a regional sales director for Farah, a men’s pants manufacturing company. Sherri, “bored with country club life … went into real estate, where her boss said, ‘You are wasting time writing copy. Why don’t you get into sales?’ ” Ed said.

After a few years of living in Arizona, the Schiffs moved in 1970 to Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, where Ed got out of the “rag business,” as he called it, and purchased a building materials yard.

In those days, Adam was a studious boy who, according to his father, always did his homework, adored his mother and had a friendly sibling rivalry with his older brother, Dan, a relationship Adam would later write about in a screenplay — never produced — called “Common Wall.” Adam became a bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah, a Reform congregation in Lafayette, Calif., in June 1973.

“I certainly do remember making tape recordings of my [bar mitzvah] practice sessions on cassette tape with a little cassette recorder, and I think I may even have one of those,” Schiff said. “It’s funny to hear your voice back then.”

In 1978, he entered Stanford University. A pre-med student, he also studied political science, and upon graduation, he was unsure if he wanted to pursue law or medicine. He decided on the former and enrolled at Harvard Law School.

After graduating in 1985, he clerked for federal Judge Matthew Byrne, a Los Angeles native who presided over the trial involving Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Later, Schiff spent six years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in L.A. During that time, he met his wife, Eve Sanderson Schiff — yes, they’re Adam and Eve — and prosecuted Richard Miller, the FBI agent convicted of espionage.

Schiff’s success against Miller, as well as Byrne’s influence, accelerated his interest in politics.

“After Adam convicted the FBI agent of treason, he called me and said, ‘Dad, can you imagine what it’s like to have representatives of the most powerful nation in the world calling you and offering to help you in any way they could? Dad, I will never have another case like that in my life,’ ” Ed recalled his son saying. “ ‘I’m going into politics.’ ”

Twice he ran unsuccessfully for the California Assembly but promised his supporters he would do better next time. In 1996, he was elected to the State Senate.

“Adam takes things in progression, and the learning curve … with each loss made it that much easier the next time,” his father said.

In 2000, Schiff ran for Congress to unseat Republican James Rogan in what was then the most expensive House race of all time. Rogan was a two-term Congressman who had his own national profile, in part, from working to impeach President Bill Clinton. Schiff sought help from his mother, asking if she’d make phone calls to voters on his behalf.

“He said, ‘Mama, I would like you to do something for me. I would like you to call these people and tell them a little about me and ask them to vote for me. She jumped into that for 2 1/2 years like it was eating ice cream,” Ed said. “Her spiel went like this: ‘Good evening. My name is Sherri Schiff. My son Adam is running for Congress in your district. May I tell you a little about him?’ ”

Schiff currently is serving in his ninth two-year term in the House, representing a district that now extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest. He has a reputation as a moderate who works with members of both parties. With a large constituency of Armenians, he has championed legislation that would formalize United States recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915-17. He once delivered an entire speech on the House floor in Armenian and worked with the Armenian members of a hard-rock band, System of a Down, toward seeking recognition of the genocide.

Regarding Israel, which is never out of the headlines, he said, “I’m deeply concerned with a trend I’ve seen over the last several years, where the U.S.-Israel relationship, which always had been very bipartisan regardless of who was in office in Israel or in the U.S., has been trending toward a situation where you have a GOP-Likud relationship and Democratic relationship with other parties in Israel. I think that’s a very destructive trend.”

In 2015, as Jews became polarized over the Iranian nuclear agreement, Schiff considered both sides, then came out in favor of it. Recently, he expressed concern that in the event Trump believes Iran has violated the agreement by developing a nuclear weapon, the president’s outlandishness on Twitter and elsewhere will undermine his credibility in efforts to galvanize allies into action against Iran.

“I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system.” — Adam Schiff

“If they are cheating and the president calls them out on it and thinks there should be some response to it, will the country believe it?” he asked. “The allies we’d need to participate with us, would they believe us? The intelligence agencies that he’s maligning? This is the reason why presidential credibility is to be treasured and not squandered.”

Like Trump, Schiff uses Twitter to communicate his positions. One of his most shared tweets — more than 43,000 retweets and nearly 83,000 likes — addressed Trump’s tweet aimed at the “so-called judge” who had blocked his executive order barring individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.:

This ‘so-called’ judge was nominated by a ‘so-called’ President & was confirmed by the ‘so-called’ Senate. Read the ‘so-called’ Constitution.”

Tweets aside, Schiff’s 17-minute opening statement during the Intelligence Committee’s first public hearing on Russia on March 20 was less attack-dog and, befitting his usual public demeanor in television interviews, more lawyerly. He cited events of the presidential campaign that could suggest coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign, improving the Republican’s chance of victory.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and are nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible,” Schiff said, addressing FBI Director James Comey and Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency. “But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected, and not unrelated, and that the Russians used … techniques to corrupt U.S. persons. … We simply don’t know.”

In the interview with the Journal, he said, “I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system, and so, I certainly think there is more than a grain of truth to the idea this is a different kind of role for me.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in West L.A. met Schiff five years ago at a memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills. Wolpe was leading the service, and Schiff said he was impressed with how eloquently and powerfully he spoke. The two struck up a friendship, exchanging book recommendations via email. The first book Schiff recommended to Wolpe reflected Schiff’s earlier involvement with Russia. It was “Eugene Onegin,” a masterpiece by the Russian novelist Alexander Pushkin.

“When he’s in town, we have lunch,” Wolpe said. “I talk a little bit about politics, but we talk a lot about literature and life.”

“When I saw him at AIPAC [in March], I told him how proud I am of how he’s been conducting himself,” Wolpe continued. “He’s in a tricky position. This is a very fraught time and I think he has conducted himself with a great deal of dignity. I am not trying to take political sides; I try my best not to. I think he is a nice, thoughtful, decent, caring and very intelligent man, so I’m impressed with him.”

Schiff’s own rabbi concurs.

“I felt personally very proud that Adam has taken stances on issues that really move him personally, and he hasn’t backed down on that,” said Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

“From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now.” — Ed Schiff, father of Adam Schiff

For all his supporters, not everyone appreciates his approach to the investigation.

“Adam Schiff is a bright guy. He’s a talented legislator, but right now, instead of focusing on the substance of the investigation, he’s focusing on politics and partisanship,” Ken Khachigian, a San Clemente-based Republican strategist and former senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan, told the L.A. Daily News last month.

Schiff and his wife, who is Catholic, are raising their two children, Alexa, 18, and Elijah, 14, Jewish. The family has belonged to Temple Beth Ami since 2010. They formerly belonged to Temple Sinai in Glendale. Alexa is involved with the Hillel at Northwestern University, where she is a freshman. She has traveled to Israel with a Jewish summer camp and will be working as a counselor at the camp this summer, Weiss said.

As a House member, Schiff said he draws on the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (repairing the world) to influence his work in Congress.

“We have a responsibility to mend the torn fabric of the world,” he said.

For all of his success as a prosecutor, state legislator and congressman, it might have been his experience with a Black kid from Inglewood that has shaped Schiff most. In his mid-20s, fresh out of law school, he volunteered to become a “big brother” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. He was paired with David McMillan, a child of a single mother who needed a male role model for her son.

The two hit it off immediately, bonding over “The Big Lebowski,” Billy Joel and the beach. Three decades later, they are still part of each other’s lives. McMillan, now a television writer and playwright living in Los Angeles, was in Schiff’s wedding and recently attended Elijah Schiff’s bar mitzvah. There, Adam’s father approached McMillan and said, “I want to thank you for making Adam a better person.”

“I certainly would like to hope my relationship has had a positive impact, not just in how he conducts politics but also as a human being,” McMillan said.

“My ‘big brother’ is leading the resistance and is emerging as a leader not just of the Democratic Party but of all people who care about our democratic institutions and making sure they just survive.”

schiff-bbbs

Left: In 1986, 25-year-old Adam Schiff gets together with David McMillan, his Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles “little brother.” Photo courtesy of David McMillan
Right: Congressman Adam Schiff and David McMillan were paired 30 years ago through Big Brothers Big Sisters. The two would become lifelong friends. Photo courtesy of David McMillan

Speculation over Schiff’s future includes whether he might run for the Senate to succeed Dianne Feinstein, who is 83 and shares the same birthday, June 22, as Schiff. Feinstein, a senator since 1992, has not said whether she intends to seek another six-year term next year, but Schiff running to succeed her is a possibility his father won’t rule out.

“I think it would be a tremendous honor for him to step into the Senate if he wanted it, but I don’t know,” Ed Schiff said. “From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now. And where that goes, how that goes, and so forth, I think it all depends on which way our country is going.”

In March, Schiff gave a speech at the Westwood home of Karl S. Thurmond, a friend of more than 30 years. In his 40-minute talk, Schiff denounced the president and expressed hope for the future of the Democratic Party before taking questions from the audience.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon. Below: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon.
Right: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Thurmond is an attorney and member of the Milken Community Schools board of trustees. He and Schiff were classmates in law school and both moved to L.A. after graduation, becoming part of a group that committed to becoming involved with a nonprofit to affect change. It was a pledge that led Schiff to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

They were 30 at the time, and Schiff was living in Venice. Training for the Los Angeles Marathon, he and Thurmond went on runs from Venice to Malibu and back, using the time to discuss career ambitions. Adam confided in Thurmond that he wanted to be president one day, to follow in the footsteps of his idol, John F. Kennedy.

“We would talk about our aspirations in life and one of his biggest from Day One was to run for political office so he could give back. His idol at the time, and I think still is, was President Kennedy,” Thurmond said. “I firmly believe, as he moves up, one day he will be running for president. And I can’t think of a better person to hold that office.”

For his part, Schiff declined to address his future.

“I don’t have much time even to eat lunch,” he said, “let alone think about anything other than what’s going on in the intelligence world.”

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey addresses the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., March 5, 2013. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Senate introduces bipartisan bill with new Iran sanctions on eve of AIPAC conference


A bipartisan slate of senators has introduced new sanctions targeting Iran for its missile testing and destabilizing actions days before AIPAC’s national conference.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 was introduced Thursday by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Ten senators, from both parties, co-sponsored the measure.

The act establishes new sanctions targeting Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles and its backing for terrorism, and also seeks to block the property of any entity involved in the sale of arms to or from Iran. It does not reintroduce sanctions lifted from Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The text was not yet available.

The bill is timed ahead of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference taking place March 26-28 in Washington, D.C. AIPAC, after two years of tensions with Democrats over Iran policy, and emerging tensions with Republicans over the lobby’s endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wants the conference to celebrate its reputation for bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship was a theme in the release announcing the sanctions.

“The spirit of bipartisanship of this important legislation underscores our strong belief that the United States must speak with one voice on the issue of holding Iran accountable for its continued nefarious actions across the world as the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Menendez said.

Corker said the bill “demonstrates the strong bipartisan support in Congress for a comprehensive approach to holding Iran accountable by targeting all aspects of the regime’s destabilizing actions.”

Tensions arose between AIPAC and Democrats over the Obama administration’s deal with Iran trading sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback. AIPAC, along with the Israeli government and most Republicans, opposed the deal. A key stumbling block to bipartisan bills extending sanctions to Iran was Democratic fears that measures backed by republicans were aimed at killing the deal, known as JCPOA.

The areas targeted for sanctions in the new bill are outside the ambit of the nuclear deal.

“This legislation was carefully crafted not to impede with the United States’ ability to live up to its commitments under the JCPOA, while still reaffirming and strengthening our resolve by imposing tough new sanctions to hold the Iranian regime accountable for threatening global and regional security,” Menendez said in the release.

A staffer for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations committee, said Cardin led Democrats in their efforts to make sure the bill did not undercut the Iran deal. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., also played a leading role in making sure the bill was in compliance with the agreement.

Among measures favored by Republicans but removed by Democrats, the staffer said, were language that would have limited the ability of a president to waive the provisions of the bill for national security reasons; language that would have written oversight of the Iran deal’s sanctions relief into the new bill; language targeting the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran, which was liberalized as part of the nuclear deal, and limitations on dollar transactions allowed Iran under the nuclear deal.

Also introduced this week in time for the AIPAC conference were identical bipartisan bills in the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would “encourage new areas of cooperation” between Israel and the United States in the economic sphere.

AIPAC officials have said the lobby stands out as a focal point for bipartisanship at a time of polarization under President Donald Trump.

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

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No need to shame the Federation


This column is a response to a column posted March 17 at jewishjournal.com, “A Deafening Silence from the Jewish Federation,” taking the Los Angeles Jewish Federation to task for not speaking out against certain policies and statements of President Donald Trump. You can join a Facebook discussion on this issue here.

Our local Federation can do no right. When it took a public stand two years ago against the Iran nuclear deal—which many of us considered bad for Israel and America, and still do—it got reamed by local Jews who felt the Federation should not exclude the many Jewish voices who favored the deal.

Although I was against the deal, I had sympathy for that pushback, since politics in general is very divisive and the Federation’s role is to be as unifying and inclusive as possible. The Federation learned its lesson. 

But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, some of those same voices are taking the Federation to task for staying out of politics and keeping quiet. In a joint op-ed in the Journal by four prominent progressive Jews, the Federation is shamed for remaining “deafeningly silent” in the face of the outrageous words and actions from our new president.

This goes against a long local tradition, the authors write, where “Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes.”

But the authors cite no precedent of past Federations taking on a president, or even a political cause. They use the loose term “Jewish leaders” without specifying if those were Federation leaders.

What they do suggest is that if anyone as bad as Trump would have become president over the past forty years, “The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition.” 

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way.

Fair enough, but here’s the problem with that position: I know a lot of Jews in Los Angeles who think Obama was pretty bad, too. They believe Obama increased the racial tensions in our country, did virtually nothing to stop the massacre of 500,000 civilians in Syria and the worst refugee crisis of the century, and tried to turn America into another failed, socialist European state.

Some of those Jews claimed Obama’s policies violated Jewish values, and that it was a Jewish value to oppose him. In fact, had progressive Jews mobilized to oppose Obama during the massacres in Syria, and implored the Federation to speak out in the name of Jewish values against Obama’s Syria policy, they might be getting a better hearing today.

Either way, I have no political dog in this fight. I’ve written columns urging Republicans to “dump” Trump and even wrote a piece calling him worse than a liar. Personally, I enjoy seeing the Trump opposition movement—it shows me our diverse community in action.

That long and noble tradition that the authors write about, of Jews being “active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances,” is alive and well. It reminds me of how much I cherish our freedom to protest and hold our leaders accountable, which I never take for granted.

But should that be the role of the Federation at the expense of further dividing our community? I don’t think so.

It’s interesting to note that when the authors try to strengthen their case by showing examples of prominent conservatives who had the guts to take on Trump, they cite three newspaper pundits. These pundits, they write, “all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage—but they spoke out nevertheless.”

Yes, but speaking out is the core role of a pundit. Pundits don’t have the duty to unify a community or help it heal. Federations do. Our Federation has made its share of mistakes over the years; I just don’t think that aiming for bipartisanship in tremendously divisive times is one of them.

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way. Instead of picking one voice, the Federation would convene multiple voices. Maybe really smart people will find a middle ground that can project Jewish values in a Trumpian world without dividing us any further.

As the Journal’s Esther Kustanowitz wrote on a Facebook post, “It’s easy to emerge as leaders, with a statement to rouse community to action, when everyone agrees. It’s when people disagree—when a community holds different beliefs in tension with each other—that emerging as a community leader gets difficult.”

If you ask me, any leadership move that can bring Jews together under the most divisive and stressful circumstances would be worthy of the highest Jewish value—Trump or no Trump.

Melanie Steinhardt comforting Becca Richman at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, Feb. 26. Photo by Dominick Reuter/Getty Images.

Poll: 87 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of Republicans say anti-Semitism a ‘serious’ problem


Seventy percent of American voters see anti-Semitism in the country as a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem, up from 49 percent a month ago, according to a new poll.

The responses differed by party identification, with an overwhelming majority of Democrats, 87 percent, seeing anti-Semitism as a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem, and slightly more than half of Republicans, 53 percent, seeing it as such, according to the poll released Thursday.

The survey was was conducted by Quinnipiac University at the beginning of March.

Jewish institutions, including community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices, have been hit with more than 100 bomb threats so far this year, all of them hoaxes. In the past three weeks, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in Philadelphia,St. Louis, and Rochester, New York.

Respondents were split on President Donald Trump’s response to the bomb threats and vandalism, with 37 percent approving and 38 percent disapproving. Most Republicans, 71 percent, approved of Trump’s response, while most Democrats, 66 percent, disapproved.

The poll also found that 63 percent of American voters think hatred and prejudice has increased since Trump’s election, while two percent say it has decreased and 32 percent say it has stayed the same.

Trump has come under fire for his delayed response to the incidents. Concerning the threats on Jewish establishments, Trump at first deflected questions – and in one instance shouted down a reporter who asked him about it – before calling them “horrible.”

Last month, the president noted the bomb threats and vandalism of cemeteries in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.

The Kansas City incident occurred after a patron ejected from a bar after hurling racial epithets at two workers from India allegedly returned with a gun and killed one of the men and wounded another.

Lee Zeldin: Trump’s Jewish mini-me


At a time when most Congressional Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Donald Trump, one is behaving like a cheap clone of his party's presidential candidate, complete with mind-numbing outrageous charges and incendiary rhetoric.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, the lone Jewish Republican in the 114th Congress, has called Barack Obama a “racist,” sounded like a Trump birther clone questioning the president's heritage and loyalty and accused him of having “no idea what he is doing.”

Zeldin, a freshman representing New York's first district at the eastern end of Long Island, likes to imitate his idol, Trump, by phrasing an accusation as if he's not the one who actually made the charge.

He said the return of $400 million in frozen funds to Iran was a “cash ransom to the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism,” virtually accusing the president of treason by suggesting he “is playing for the other team.”

The charge of dual loyalty is particularly offensive coming from a Jewish congressman.

Speaker Paul Ryan's called Trump's attack on the Mexican heritage of Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel “the textbook definition of racist,” but Zeldin defended the mogul, telling CNN not Trump but “the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric.” 

Trump, like many on the right, have trouble accepting an African-American or a woman as the president of their white man's Christian country.  Sounds like Zeldin does, too.

Huffington Post has said Zeldin has “shown a willingness to engage in some of the basest forms of politics.”

As the GOP's lone Jew in Congress Zeldin is often expected to give a hechsher or approval to his colleagues' positions on Israel. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but the New York Post reported he “skipped out” on two thirds of the meetings in his first year that focused on ISIS and the Syrian crisis despite all “his tough talk” on those issues.

Zeldin told the Jerusalem Post that Trump would be a more reliable friend of Israel than Hillary Clinton despite saying he'd be neutral in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and that neither side really wants peace. He also flip-flops on where in Israel the U.S. embassy should be located, and has said Israel and other countries should reimburse Washington for past foreign aid.  

More alarming, 50 leading Republican former national security officials have said Trump would be an unreliable ally to America's foreign friends like Israel and is unqualified to be commander in chief.

The GOP approach to the Jewish community is based on being super-hawks on the three I's – Israel, Iran and ISIS – and hoping we're stupid enough to overlook their generally dismal records on domestic and social issues that are at least if not more important.

It doesn't work, and as new evidence listen to the far right Israeli politician and settlement leader, Dani Dayan, who just became Prime Minister Netanyahu's consul general in New York.  “Any American president is good for Israel,” he told the New York Times. 

After former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned from Israel recently saying Netanyahu prefers Trump, the prime minister's office quickly announced he is not taking sides this year.

When Netanyahu criticized Trump's planned Muslim ban last December, the reality TV performer was offended and cancelled a planned trip to Israel. 

Hating Muslims has been a cornerstone of Trump's campaign and no doubt some Jews, especially on the right, may share that, but the overwhelming Jewish reaction has been rejection, perhaps because they understand that for hatemongers like Trump “we could be next.”  

Zeldin, 36, an Iraq war veteran, has predicted Trump would “annihilate” Clinton in his Long Island district, which went Democrat in the past two elections.  

His opponent is Anna Throne-Holst, a former Southampton town supervisor.   Unlike the incumbent, she supports the Iran nuclear agreement, the two-state solution and is receiving contributions from the pro-peace JStreet PAC. 

Zeldin has strong support from anti-abortion and gun groups. The NRA gave him its A rating and National Right to Life scores him 100 percent. Planned Parenthood, NARAL, ACLU and the Friends Committee on National Legislation all give him zero ratings.

He opposes same-sex marriage and is sponsoring legislation that would sanction discrimination based on “a religious belief or moral conviction” opposed to same sex marriage. GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence signed a similar law as governor of Indiana.

Zeldin has met at least twice with the rightwing group Oath Keepers, which the New York Daily News said dabbles in “fringe conspiracy theories,” claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax and called President Obama a “Muslim/Extremist.”  Its founder has said war hero Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is “a traitor who should be hung by the neck until dead.” 

Zeldin initially justified the meetings by saying he's available to all constituents, but after numerous protests said he doesn't agree with “100%” of the group's message.

He also defended majority whip Steve Scalise's (R-LA) meeting with white supremacists linked to former KKK grand dragon David Duke, saying it wouldn't harm “Republican progress towards reaching minorities and the Jewish community.”  Three months later Scalise For Congress sent Zeldin a $2,000 campaign contribution.

In Trumpian tradition, Zeldin excoriated the media for bringing up the “not a big deal” incident and attacked Obama for having “82 meetings with Al Sharpton.”

Zeldin has tied his wagon to Donald Trump in a district that went Democrat in three of the past four elections.  Non-partisan election experts rate Zeldin's race a toss-up.


Douglas Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist; Washington, D.C., lobbyist; and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

House Dems: GOP sanctions bill undermines bipartisan stance on Iran


House Democrats are urging Republican leaders to forgo a vote on new Iran sanctions before the House adjourns on July 14 in order to maintain Congress’s traditionally bipartisan approach to Iran.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expected to bring three Iran-related bills to the floor for a partisan vote exactly one year after the Iran nuclear agreement was announced in an effort to shine light on Iran’s illicit behavior and alleged violations of the nuclear deal, the Washington Post first 

Corker: Republicans are not more supportive of Israel than Democrats


Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee pushed back against those who are trying to make the U.S.-Israel relationship a wedge issue in the presidential campaign, during an appearance at the AJC Global Forum on Monday.

“I would love to say to the audience that, you know, Republicans are much more supportive of Israel than Democrats are, but that’s not true,” Corker said during a discussion on the U.S.-Israel relationship. “Thankfully, that is not true.”

According to the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, while there’s an unprecedented “tenseness” that currently exists in the relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, once a new president is elected, “What you are going to see is a return to the norm, regardless who comes out of this cycle.”

“But in Congress, certainly, there is bipartisan support for Israel,” Corker said.

A recent Gallup poll 

Jewish Republicans, come home to the Democratic Party!


This is a dismal time to be a Jewish Republican. Unless he’s struck by lightning or attacked by a swarm of killer bees, Donald Trump will be the Republican Party candidate for president.

(If you are an enthusiastic, die-hard Trump-ette, you can stop reading this. You are beyond reasoning with.)

To briefly recapitulate just some of the reasons Trump is so awful, and unimaginable as president:

• Trump encourages his followers to beat up protesters.
• He promises to torture terrorists, and kill their wives and children.
• He has to be prodded and berated to unenthusiastically repudiate the support of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
• He mocks and denigrates women and the physically handicapped, among others.
• On his foreign policy advisors: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”
• He admires strongmen and dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung-Un.
• He’s “neutral” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, then Israel’s best friend, and who knows what next week.
• He has no fixed principles in either domestic or foreign policy, no allegiance to truthfulness, and no ethical or moral standards.

When “Is he more like Juan Perón or Benito Mussolini?” is a genuine question about your candidate, your political party is in more trouble than a convention of radical feminists in Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, millions of people have voted for Trump. Republican leaders who earlier rated him lower than bubonic plague now endorse him. He could indeed become the next president, particularly since a dispiriting quantity of Berniacs swear that they’ll vote for Trump rather than Hillary Clinton in November.

Where does that leave a rational Jewish Republican? Many current Jewish Republicans are former Democrats who checked out because the party shifted too far from the political center. As Dennis Prager has said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the party left me.”

But the GOP has been boarded and captured by people who prefer David Duke and Patrick Buchanan to William F. Buckley and Mitt Romney. Under Trump, the Republican Party is no longer a place for any self-respecting moderate voter, which most Jewish Republicans are. And that means supporting Clinton, maybe even rejoining the Democratic Party.

Now, Hillary is a flawed candidate. That’s another way of saying she isn’t a perfect candidate. Is there ever a perfect candidate? Does she hold precisely the positions on, for example, Israel, we would like? Probably not, depending on who “we” are. But she is the most consistently pro-Israel—and generally the most sensible—candidate on the ballot. Republicans are in the habit of demonizing Clinton as a radical, but the Huffington Post recently ran a piece titled, “There Is a Moderate Republican in This Race, But She’s Running as a Democrat.” That’s how the illiberal Left understands Clinton, which should reassure moderate Republicans.

Jewish Republicans, come back to the Democratic Party. At least organize a chapter of “Republicans for Clinton.” Anything to keep Trump out of the White House.

Paul Kujawsky is an Executive Board member and former President of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Incendiary?


After the recent disruption and cancellation of a Donald Trump campaign event in Chicago, the media — and Trump’s Republican opponents — blamed Trump for what had transpired. Specifically, he was blamed for the incendiary remarks he had made at previous events encouraging violence against some protestors. For example, he announced that he would pay the legal bills to defend a man who punched an anti-Trump protestor as he was being escorted out of a Trump event (while extending his middle finger to the crowd).

That those comments were incendiary is incontrovertible. In my last column, I listed many additional reasons for my opposition to Donald Trump.

However, when the left levels the charge of “incendiary,” it betrays a lack of self-awareness that is a marvel to behold. When it comes to incendiary statements in American life, the left has close to a monopoly. And these statements are not made by one individual whose affiliation with the left is new and tenuous — as Trump’s affiliation with Republicans and conservatives is — but by the most distinguished politicians, artists, writers, academics and journalists on the left.

Such comments are made so often that most folks on the left do not consider them incendiary — just everyday truths.

The president of the United States has contributed to a level of racial tension unlike any we have seen in a generation. Black anger at America has actually increased since Barack Obama was elected. Perhaps this was inevitable given how many hopes most Black Americans placed on having a Black president. But incendiary statements by the president have exacerbated this tension. 

The most egregious and damaging has been the president’s reiteration of the term “Ferguson,” as if the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer in that Missouri city was an act of wanton — and race-based — murder. That is incendiary, because it is a lie. Blacks who witnessed that incident and who have no love for the police testified to how legitimate the white officer’s actions were. 

Nearly every Democratic leader and liberal columnist has stated that much of the Republican criticism of Barack Obama is due to racism — as if Republicans were easier on Bill Clinton or will be on Hillary Clinton because they are white. 

Writing during the debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that Republicans are “probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.” It’s not Obamacare the Republicans opposed, he suggests, it’s largely Obama’s race. “The driving force,” he continued “is probably … cultural and racial anxiety.”

Is that incendiary?

Former President Jimmy Carter: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a Black man, that he’s African-American.” 

Is that incendiary?

New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal: “There has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama for the last three years.” 

Is that incendiary?

What about the “White Privilege” doctrine that the left uses in almost every college to indoctrinate students against whites? Or the notion close to universally held among left-wing academics that only whites can be racist?

Are those incendiary?

The left labels every white who opposes race-based affirmative action a racist, and labels every Black who opposes it an “Uncle Tom.”

Is that incendiary?

While Donald Trump’s provocative comment that he’d like to punch the nose of a protester who disrupted one of his rallies may have led to one man being punched at a different rally, the left’s drumbeat of incendiary anti-police rhetoric has led directly to police and innumerable others being killed. So many police have disengaged from proactive policing in Black neighborhoods because of the “Ferguson Effect,” that the number of murders in cities such as Chicago has increased dramatically. 

But the left’s incendiary comments are hardly confined to charges of racism.

Left-wing professors at virtually every American university regularly call Israel an “apartheid state.” In my debate at the venerable Oxford Union in 2014, one of my opponents, a left-wing Ph.D. from Berkeley, said that Israel is doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews. And during the last Israel-Hamas war, actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, and director Pedro Almodovar labeled Israel’s actions in Gaza “genocide” and a “war of extermination.”

Are these left-wing libels of Israel incendiary?

For that matter, recall the left-wing reactions to my completely respectful column in the Jewish Journal on the Torah teaching the importance of maintaining the male-female distinction. I was accused of cruelty, intolerance, bigotry, hate, publicly humiliating someone, being like a murderer, ignorance, and much more by left-wing rabbis and other left-wing Jews in leadership positions.

Is that incendiary?

The left labels every American who believes that marriage should remain defined as the union of a man and a woman a hater, a bigot, and, of course, a homophobe.

Is that incendiary?

The left labels Americans troubled by the influx of many millions of illegal immigrants “xenophobic,” “nativist” and “racist.”

Is that incendiary?

Here’s a difference between conservatives and liberals one might ponder. Virtually every major Republican and conservative, myself included, has called Donald Trump’s statements incendiary. Yet there isn’t a left-wing voice of which I am aware that has labeled any of the above incendiary.

Conservatives criticize their own. The left only criticizes the right. 

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles from 9 a.m. to noon on KRLA (AM 870). His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

A 2016 election column that doesn’t mention Donald Trump


The 2016 presidential campaign is a real doozy and not only because of colorful personalities and bitterly fought primaries. It is nothing less than a test of the strength of two competing visions of America grappling with a wide range of issues that have been sucked into what increasingly seems a zero-sum game.

If 2008 was a big step, 2016 is the other shoe dropping, and we don’t know if that second shoe will be on the left or the right foot.

Everything else is noise.

The historic 2008 election was a turning point, when a reshaped Democratic coalition backing Barack Obama came to power. With Obama’s election, the Democratic coalition was transformed by a new multiracial and younger party base quite different from the 1990s party that had backed Bill Clinton. This new coalition won two presidential majorities for Democrats, a rarity since Franklin D. Roosevelt. And it made a profound difference in government.

The Affordable Care Act was the biggest expansion of medical coverage since Medicare passed in 1965. Diplomatic agreements with Cuba and Iran have changed the calculus of world politics. A new global agreement on climate change has created the possibility of a unified human response to the greatest threat the species has faced. New executive orders moved immigration reform forward.

Obama’s election set off a profound reaction on the conservative side that implicated everything about people’s view of themselves and of America. The conflict is about the role of government, but also about identity — about whose America this is. The stakes of winning and losing keep getting higher. It’s no coincidence that there is a “hope gap” in the polls and in political rhetoric. Older white voters are the most pessimistic about the country’s direction, while Latinos are among the most optimistic.

Who will prevail in 2016 — the vision of change that Obama presented and, to a significant degree, accomplished and on which he was re-elected in 2012, or the dream of rolling back those changes that prevailed in the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014? The final nominees from the two parties will completely disagree about whether these changes should stand or be rolled back.

With the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the stakes got even higher. A 5-4 conservative majority has become a 4-4 split, and the battle over whether Obama can name the ninth justice has occupied Washington. If a new 5-4 liberal majority emerges, a host of decisions made by the conservative court, including the campaign finance ruling known as Citizens United, might be overturned. What had seemed to necessitate a constitutional amendment is now within reach. Conversely, a renewed conservative majority on the Court will last a generation, and Roe v. Wade might be overturned.

In fact, the next president will be able either to consolidate the direction charted by Obama and take it further, or conversely, go beyond eliminating what Obama did and push in the other direction. A Democratic president might be able to appoint a new Supreme Court majority, or extend the health care law and environmental regulations. Based on the experience of states controlled by Republicans, a Republican president and Congress might pass a national voter ID law that would drastically reduce Democratic voting, or pursue legislation to limit collective bargaining by unions.

There was a time when an election to succeed a two-term president was not about everything. We could assume that some things would change and some would stay the same, no matter who won. Those days are gone.

It does not matter who wins the Republican nomination, whether one of the four in the field, or one of those watching from the sidelines and waiting for the call of his party. While each Republican will come from a different place in the party, with a unique style, each will be pledged to undo the policies of the last eight years. If, as seems likely, Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, she will be pledged to protect Obama’s policies and “finish the job” (in the words of Vice President Joe Biden).

Despite all the turmoil in the Republican Party today and the divisions over who will be the nominee, Republicans are likely to be highly unified and mobilized around the direction they want the country to go. Democrats are different, struggling to connect with their own grass roots and not quite able to explain to undecided or reluctant voters the stakes of the election in a way that will resonate. Republicans have invested in their vision of stopping and reversing Obama’s presidency, while Democrats have been struggling to paint a picture of a mountain climb that requires the nation to keep ascending against great resistance, portraying change as a marathon, not a sprint.

Behind this consequential battle, one that has largely been overlooked in the daily, personality-driven media coverage of this campaign, is a potential tipping point in American democracy.

Juan José Linz, a Yale political scientist and sociologist who died in 2013, has been getting some attention lately. When I was a Yale graduate student in the early 1970s, I took his course “Why Democracies Fail.” It was a remarkable and at times alarming class as we saw how democracies have fallen (and, at times, risen again). In his later work on “presidentialism,” Linz argued that the United States was the only nation with a separation of powers between president and Congress that had survived. He believed that our presidential system had survived because the parties were not fully cohesive in the way of parliamentary parties, but instead were filled with diverse and contradictory ideological forces. Now, as each party becomes more ideologically cohesive than ever before, we could be headed for a crackup. With Democrats doing well in presidential elections and Republicans dominating midterms, we have competing legitimacies.

Republicans have taken the lead in transforming our system of a separation of powers into a quasi-parliamentary model, at least for Democratic presidents. In other words, they have tried to prevent Democratic presidents from governing when Republicans hold one or both houses of Congress on the grounds that congressional legitimacy is equal to that of the president. This was the basis for the famous meeting held by Republicans on Capitol Hill in 2009 right after Obama’s victory, and it is evident again in their current refusal to consider an Obama nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy. There is reason to think that if the Republicans hold onto the Senate in the upcoming election, they would not confirm a Hillary Clinton appointee to the high court by arguing they have the electoral legitimacy to refuse. 

Given this, Democratic presidents will succeed only by putting public pressure on Republicans or by solving their colossal and increasing problem of low voter turnout in midterm elections magnified by rampant voter suppression. They have to explain to their own supporters why change is so agonizingly slow. The Republican strategy has the political virtue of demoralizing Democratic voters who expected change to happen much more quickly.

I will definitely be watching and enjoying the presidential race with all of its drama, its personalities and down-low fun. I’m no prude about this stuff. But I am also keeping my eye on the actual stakes of the election and on the prospects for a successful American democracy. 

Raphael J. Sonenshein is the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.

Cartoon: Scalia’s final action


Trump beats Republicans, not Clinton, in one-on-one matchups


Donald Trump would win a hypothetical head-to-head contest against either of his two closest Republican U.S. presidential rivals, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but he would fall short of beating Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton if the election were held today, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Monday.

If the Republican primary featured a face-off between Trump and Cruz, a Texas senator, Trump would win the support of 41 percent of Republican and independent voters, the poll showed. Cruz would take 31 percent, while 28 percent said they would not vote in a Cruz-Trump contest.

If Rubio, a Florida senator, were pitted against Trump, the billionaire real-estate mogul would take 40 percent support of Republican and independent voters to Rubio's 34 percent, according to the poll. Twenty-seven percent said they would not vote. In this matchup, Trump's lead over Rubio is within the survey's credibility interval.

Cruz and Rubio currently sit in second and fourth place of all Republican candidates, respectively, in the run-up to the November 2016 presidential election, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Friday.

Despite months of leading the Republican polls, Trump would fall short in a general election competition held today against Clinton, the poll showed. In a one-on-one match-up, the former secretary of state would take 40 percent support of all voters to real estate mogul Trump's 29 percent.

Eight percent of respondents said they did not know which candidate they would support in a Clinton-Trump competition. Fourteen percent said they would not vote for either one, and another 9 percent said they would not vote at all.

The survey of 1,627 likely voters from all parties was conducted between Dec. 16 and Dec. 21, with a credibility interval of 2.8 to 3.7 percentage points.

For whom the polls toll


The horserace polls dominating today’s political news are worse than misleading – they’re bad for democracy. They’re as corrosive of America’s self-image as the news industry’s obsession with murder and disaster, a black hole wildly unwarranted by actual crime and catastrophe. They’re as toxic to our spirit as the advertising industry’s brilliant cultivation of loneliness and desire, a yearning it persuades us to slake by spending money. Worse, once the nominees are chosen, the point of poll coverage will be that, unless you live in a handful of zip codes, your vote for president is irrelevant. How’s that for civic uplift?

It’s more instructive to look at the people being polled than to look at the candidates. This cycle, despite a race on the Democratic side, it’s the Republican electorate – specifically, likely Republican primary and caucus voters – whose enthusiasm for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina et al has so disproportionately affected the nation’s sense of its psyche. Who are these 120,000 Hawkeyes, these quarter-million Granite Staters, these engaged Republicans in a small number of states whom pollsters have repeatedly surveyed in batches of a thousand? How representative are they of you or me or people we know? According to a “>quiz here: “>11, “>five or just “>decided by a crowd that wouldn’t fill the Rose Bowl. Though there will be some effort to pump up the turnout of the base, most advertising buying, ground game spending and candidate scheduling will be driven by the pursuit of those undecided voters.

Next fall, if you want to know what winning the White House is about, ignore the liberal or conservative tribes. The data most worth knowing will describe people who will have spent the past two years ignoring pretty much everything that Democrats and Republicans say they stand for and will do. These Americans will be unlike you, but the difference will not be ideological. It will be the difference between being passionate about a leader who shares your beliefs, and being uninformed, disengaged, alienated, indifferent.

Just like you, they’ll have only one vote to cast. But theirs will actually make a difference.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

No, there are still two pro-Israel parties


Last week, Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) head Matthew Brooks told The Hill, “We as a Jewish community have to take a long, hard step back and acknowledge the reality … that today there is one pro-Israel party and that is the Republican Party.”

What a boneheaded thing to say – both because it isn’t true, and because it’s a sure-fire way to hurt Israel. 

(Full disclosure: I’m a proud RJC member.)

Let’s look at some of the ways we know the Democrats continue to support Israel:

• In a survey last December (https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/15/widening-democratic-party-divisions-on-the-israeli-palestinian-issue/), nearly three times as many Democrats said they want US policy to lean toward Israel than those who want the country to support the Palestinians.

• CNN found that Democrats were more likely to feel that Israel’s actions in Gaza last summer were justified than unjustified.

• In fact, 40 out of 55 Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted for a resolution offering strong support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas. None of the rest voted against. 

• There are many powerful voices within the Democratic Party taking Israel’s side even on hot-button and mostly partisan issues, such as the four Senators who voted against the Iran nuclear deal. One of them is widely expected to lead the entire Democratic caucus after next year’s election – Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

• All of the Democratic presidential candidates are on the record supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and defend itself against attack. Each has visited Israel at least three times.

Granted, a lot of those numbers are better, even much better, when the statistics regarding Republican Party are examined. But the question is not which party is best for Israel. Brooks says the GOP is the only pro-Israel party, and his claim is plainly not true.

In fact, at least some of the Democratic drift from Israel can be fairly laid at our own party’s feet. Every time we have treated support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative policies as a litmus test for supporting Israel as a whole, it was entirely predictable that support for Israel among liberals would diminish. In the last few years, our party (mostly with an eye on pro-Israel Evangelicals) has sought to make Israel a partisan issue, such as when it invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in a manner disrespectful to Democrats.

I would of course love all my fellow Jews to vote Republican (you should hear my conversations at various Shabbat tables and family events). But within today’s Jewish community, proclaiming the GOP the only pro-Israel Party is more likely to hurt Israel than to hurt the Democrats. The “social justice” mantra and irrational phobia about conservative Christians entrenched among American Jews means that given the choice, liberal Jewish Democrats will turn against a Likud-led Israel much more quickly than against a Clinton- and Obama-led Democratic Party.

Worse than being unwise, though, the triumphalist language is completely unnecessary. 

Let’s say Israel, God forbid, once again had to enter Gaza to stop rocket attacks, and prominent Democrats began to press Israel to withdraw. The RJC should put aside partisanship and say something like this:

“The Republican Jewish Coalition wishes to express its concern about the voices in the Democratic Party urging Israel to put the lives of its citizens in danger. We are glad to be allied with the seven Democratic Senators and 38 Democratic Congressmen who are on record against this move, and we encourage other Democrats to return to their party’s historic roots in supporting the only democracy in the Middle East, which is one of America’s greatest friends anywhere.”

Even if someday Democratic support for Israel really does dry up, Republicans still mustn’t trumpet that change, because Israel needs support from both parties. The fact is, sometimes the Democrats do control one or more branches of government, and when that happens, Israel supporters need to find an open door and a willingness to listen.

Certainly, if Matthew Brooks and the rest of the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition are more interested in GOP electoral success than the safety of Israel, they can continue declaring themselves the only pro-Israel party. But doing so shows American Jewry that they put political self-interest over defending Israel – which couldn’t be more off-message.

David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Amid GOP disarray, Jews in DC search memories and Rolodexes


“Do I know this person?” has been a common refrain in the Washington offices of national Jewish organizations since Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, resigned as House speaker last month and his chosen successor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the majority leader, flamed out last week.

Every day sees a new Republican contender named in the media. Some, like Rep. Pete Roskam of Illinois, are well known to Jewish officials. Others, like Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, have community professionals flipping through their virtual Rolodoxes trying to pinpoint the last time they had a meaningful chat.

“The community has a history of building relationships, and we’ll reach out and build relationships where they do not exist, not just in D.C. but in field offices,” said Richard Foltin, the American Jewish Committee’s national and legislative affairs director. “To the extent that I have concerns, it’s having voices who oppose compromise and who are not comfortable with the notion that governing is about reaching accommodation both within the party and the other side.”

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the director of American Friends of Lubavitch, said that his Chabad-affiliated group already had ties with a broad swath of the 247 GOP members, noting that Chabad had offices in 320 of 435 congressional districts.

“If it’s not one of the members we know, we’ll have someone we can connect to them,” he said before noting that Blackburn met recently with a Chabad rabbi from Tennessee.

Among the half dozen or so unconfirmed contenders for the post are Blackburn and Roskam, who led House opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, as well as Texas Rep. Bill Flores, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, the party’s more established conservative caucus. Declared candidates include Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida, members of the harder-line conservative wing of the Republican Party that prompted Boehner to step down.

Hovering above them all is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the tax-law writing Ways and Means Committee. Ryan has indicated that he does not want the top spot, but is under pressure by the party establishment to step into the breach.

The GOP caucus is overwhelmingly pro-Israel — each of the prospective speakers put out a statement in March welcoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, an address that riled the White House and congressional Democrats.

But the Jewish community has closer ties to the establishment figures who have fallen out of favor among Republican conservatives. Boehner, who orchestrated the Netanyahu speech, has ties to Jewish federations in Ohio dating to his days in the 1980s as a municipal official in the Cincinnati area.

McCarthy and Ryan, together with former Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., were the self-described “Young Guns” who rode the wave of GOP disaffection in 2010 to win the House and assume party leadership positions. Cantor is Jewish and has longstanding ties to national Jewish groups. Ryan, the 2012 vice-presidential pick of Mitt Romney, grew close to Romney’s Jewish backers. And McCarthy is a favorite of the Republican Jewish Coalition — his speech to the group in April generated vice-presidential buzz.

In recent years, however, the Tea Party insurgents have been gunning for the Young Guns they had raised to leadership, saying they were doing too little to reverse President Barack Obama’s agenda, particularly his signature health care reforms. Cantor was ousted by an anti-immigration candidate in the primaries, losing his historic post as the first Jewish majority leader in the House of Representatives.

McCarthy succeeded him as leader and seemed eager to step into Boehner’s slot. But he withdrew last week upon realizing that he would not win the speakership on GOP votes alone and was loath to rely on Democratic votes.

Ryan does not appear ready to give up the chairmanship of his committee — one of the most powerful in the House — assuming the speakership would require that move.

One worry for pro-Israel groups is that newcomers, while broadly pro-Israel, may not yet get the nuances of the pro-Israel lobby’s agenda — for instance advancing funding not only for Israel’s defense, but for other nations as a means of maintaining U.S. influence abroad.

A staffer for a senior GOP House member said the turnover in the caucus presented a challenge for pro-Israel groups who seek to educate lawmakers.

“About half if not more of the GOP conference has changed in the last six years,” said the staffer, who asked not to be identified.

Cantor decried in a New York Times Op-Ed on Sept. 25 the unwillingness of the party’s hard-line wing, numbering 40 or 50 members, to accommodate Obama on any level.

“Somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies,” Cantor wrote. “Strangely, according to these voices, the only reason that was not occurring had nothing to do with the fact that the president was unlikely to repeal his own laws, or that under the Constitution, absent the assent of the president or two-thirds of both houses of Congress, you cannot make law.”

In the short term, Boehner’s resignation helps keep government running. Freed from threats from the right to unseat him, he can use his lame duck period to pass spending laws, including a defense bill that boosts Israel’s anti-missile capability. Boehner originally said he would leave on Oct. 31, but has indicated he may stay until a credible array of candidates emerges.

The AJC’s Foltin named immigration reform, voting rights and energy security as issues the AJC and the broader community want addressed in the longer run.

“We have to be able to move forward on the basis of negotiation and compromise,” he said. “How will we deal with the big picture on these issues?”

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., the sole Jewish Republican in Congress, said he was confident that whoever became speaker would protect pro-Israel funding.

“I would not anticipate any delay whatsoever with regards to any legislation that strengthens the relationship between the United States and Israel,” he said in an interview.

The Republican Jewish Coalition spokesman, Mark McNulty, said his group had ties into virtually every caucus member and was ready to educate anyone who got the slot.

“That’s why we’re here, we have the resources to educate people,” he said. “We have a lot of confidence in the resources our legislative team has developed over the years.”

At Politicon, diversity and polarity make for entertaining (and loud) political fare


Partisan, political theater was on full display mid-afternoon on Oct. 10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, as two of the panels at the inaugural Politicon conference overlapped.

In “Independence Hall,” a panel included Democratic strategists David Axelrod, James Carville and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, while next door in “Freedom Hall,” right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter debated Cenk Uyger, a left-wing activist and commentator.

Some of the louder Democrats in the crowd chortled as Gingrich talked economics, and whooped when Axelrod defended President Obama’s economic record. Meanwhile it seemed Uyger and the standing-room only crowd next door couldn’t quite tell whether Coulter was serious when she said it would have been better had the United States dropped a nuclear weapon on Iraq instead of toppling Saddam Hussein and then withdrawing.

“ISIS, when they put somebody in a cage and burned him alive, we thought they were the worst monsters on earth. You say you’d like to do that on a grand scale, because that’s what a nuclear weapon does,” Uyger said to Coulter, to large applause. 

“In response to 9/11, yes,” Colter responded, “we should not have sent ground troops. We should have dropped…in retrospect, now that we know we’re in a country that can elect Barack Obama, instead of bothering to create a democracy in Iraq, which we did, and which was working beautifully,” she said, to boos. “Are we getting back to immigration, the topic of my book, and technically the topic of this panel?”

The two-day conference, which ran Oct. 9-10, attracted about 9,000 attendees, according to event organizers, and brought together some of the nation’s most recognizable figures in politics, media and entertainment, including “The Daily Show” host, Trevor Noah, who performed a stand-up routine followed up by a conversation with Carville, the political commentator who helped Bill Clinton win the presidency, as well as Paul Begala, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), John Avlon, editor in chief of the Daily Beast, with Edward Snowden, who became famous for leaking classified information from the NSA, appearing via live video from Russia.

Modeled after the wildly popular Comic-Con, Politicon’s first run was a sort of cholent for the political mind. There was the good – former Obama speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and Jay Leno-monologue writer and Democratic political consultant, Jon Macks on speechwriting; conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, broadcasting his show live and interviewing, via telephone, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. There was the bad – a woman who screamed out “bulls**t!” to one of Gingrich’s points and then bragged about it after the panel. And there was the weird – ranging from the “Beats, Rhymes and Justice” slam poetry session to the cleverly and thematically cosplay-dressed attendees who got in for free.

In “Democracy Village,” the physical proximity of booths from different organizations, despite their stark ideological contrasts, created a bit of a compromising, kumbaya feel. Local conservative radio station KRLA, for example, bumped shoulders with the LGBT Republican Log Cabin Republicans, while just a few feet away were a Teamsters Local Union booth, and one for the Los Angeles County Young Democrats.

“This is really the intersection of politics and entertainment,” said Macks, who, in addition to his comedy writing, has also done debate preparation sessions with Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and has done speechwriting for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others. “When politics is entertainment, when 24 million people are watching Donald Trump debate, this is a chance for everyone from your political junkies to political nerds to your issue-oriented people to everyday citizens who are just interested in finding out and having some fun.”

Did Politicon, with its variety and diversity, change minds or create some ground for compromise? Probably not, but that wasn’t really its purpose. Like any convention – whether for comic books, fashion, politics or entertainment – many, maybe even most of the attendees, were those already passionate about, and probably set in, their political and ideological beliefs. But with commentators on opposite sides of the spectrum sharing a stage, and with activists from the left and the right schmoozing and working only a few feet apart, Politicon did deliver on its slogan, “Entertain Democracy.”

Republicans and Planned Parenthood square off in Congress


Congressional Republicans on Tuesday challenged Planned Parenthood's U.S. taxpayer support, while the health organization's president said defunding it would disproportionately hurt low-income women.

Allegations that Planned Parenthood improperly sells fetal tissue to researchers for profit have reignited anti-abortion voter fervor during a turbulent Republican presidential primary campaign.

At a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards appeared alone to respond to hostile questioning from Republicans, some of whom have vowed to shut down the U.S. government if federal support for the group is not cut off.

“As far as I can tell … this is an organization that doesn't need federal subsidy,” said House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz.

Republican Representative Cynthia Lummis asked Richards why Planned Parenthood needed federal funding.

“You're making a ton of dough,” Lummis said, referring to Richards's annual salary of more than $500,000.

Richards said, “We don’t make any profit off federal money.” She added that Planned Parenthood was one of few health centers that will take in uninsured patients.

Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million annually in federal funds. It has been under fire for months over a series of secretly filmed videos. Produced and posted online by an anti-abortion group, the videos purport to show Planned Parenthood doctors discussing the illegal sale of fetal tissue.

At the hearing, Richards repeated the organization's stance that it has done nothing wrong. “There's been a great deal of misinformation,” she said. “The latest smear campaign is based on efforts by our opponents to trick doctors and clinicians into breaking the law … and our opponents failed.”

Democrats on the panel defended the group and questioned Republicans' motives.

“The disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today tells us what is really going on,” said Democratic Representative Gerald Connolly. “This isn't about some bogus video.”

“This is about some constitutional philosophy that says … we believe in rugged individualism and personal liberty with one big carve-out, and that is except when it comes to women controlling their own bodies and making their own health decisions.”

Candidates in GOP debate divided on whether to honor Iran deal


Candidates in a Republican presidential debate were divided over whether to honor the Iran nuclear deal.

The question of whether or not to abandon the deal drew unusually sharp divisions in the CNN debate on Wednesday evening at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. The sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached in July between six major powers and Iran has been described as President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement.

Of the 15 candidates, seven said they would kill the deal and three said they would abide by it. Two said they would make demands that would effectively quash the agreement and one urged Congress to stop it while there was time. Two candidates did not directly address how they would treat the deal.

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump, the front-runner in polls, called the Iran deal “one of the worst contracts of any kind I’ve ever seen,” but did not say whether he would kill it.

The exchange among the 11 candidates in the second round, which featured those with the most support in polls, was launched when moderator Jake Tapper asked Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to react to published comments by Ohio Gov. John Kasich deriding a pledge by Cruz to rip up the deal.

“This deal abandons four American hostages in Iran, and this deal will only accelerate Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons,” Cruz said. “You’d better believe it. If I am elected president, on the very first day in office, I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal.”

Cruz pivoted to an attack on Kasich.

“If there’s anyone up here who would be bound by this catastrophic deal with Iran, they’re giving up the core responsibility of commander in chief and as president. I would never do that,” Cruz said.

Kasich responded that he agreed the deal was a “bad” one, but said it was better to work with the allies who helped negotiate it.

“If we find out that they may be developing a nuclear weapon, then the military option is on the table,” he said. “We are stronger when we work with the Western civilization, our friends in Europe, and just doing it on our own I don’t think is the right policy.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., agreed with Kasich, calling Cruz’s proposal “absurd.”

Candidates seemed eager to weigh in one way or the other. Asked about his China policy, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker added, “I was one of the first ones to call for terminating the bad deal with Iran on day one.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush rejoined to Walker that “as it relates to Iran, it’s not a strategy to tear up an agreement.”

Instead, Bush said, “The first thing that we need to do is to establish our commitment to Israel which has been altered by this administration. And, make sure that they have the most sophisticated weapons to send a signal to Iran that we have Israel’s back.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also insisted on interjecting his view, saying that “we must, simply, make it very clear that the next president, one of us on this stage, will absolutely not honor that agreement, and will destroy it and will be tough with Iran, because otherwise we put every person in this world in a very dangerous place.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., derided those “who said we should trust this Iranian deal, see if the Iranians will comply.” Referring to the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rubio said, “Anyone who is paying attention to what Khamenei says knows that they will not comply.”

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina inserted her answer into a question about whether to fund Planned Parenthood, which was involved recently in an abortion controversy.

She said that on her first day in office, she would first call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to assure him “we will stand with the state of Israel” and then Khamenei “to tell him that unless and until he opens every military and every nuclear facility to real anytime, anywhere inspections by our people, not his, we, the United States of America, will make it as difficult as possible [to] move money around the global financial system.”

Fiorina did not directly say she would abrogate the agreement, but threatened sanctions unless Khamenei allows in American inspectors with unfettered access. Fiorina’s demands would effectively quash the deal.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in his closing remarks said, “I will not agree to anything with a country that says death to us and death to Israel and holds our hostages while we sign agreements with them.”

Among the 11 candidates in the second round, only Ben Carson, a physician, did not say how he would approach the deal.

Christie was among four candidates who included a reference to Israel in his closing remarks; the others were Cruz, Rubio and Huckabee. Cruz said one of his first acts would be to move the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Kasich quoted in his closing remarks from a Holocaust memorial on the statehouse grounds: “If you’ve saved one life, you’ve changed the world.”

Of the four candidates who participated in an earlier debate for candidates who were polling poorly, two – Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and former New York Gov. George Pataki – said they would abrogate the deal. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., stipulated the same conditions as Fiorina, which would effectively kill the deal. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called on Congress to seek avenues to kill the deal.

Why we lost the debate to kill the Iran deal, and how we could ultimately win


Early on in February of this year, as the President and his Secretary of State were starting to leak information on the  negotiations around the proposed deal with Iran, the world looked on and assumed like so many attempts before it, the prospects of success where slim – they would fail.  But the Israeli government took them seriously, they went into high gear, sending out messages through government operatives, generals and eventually the Prime Minister. This culminated in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s grand performance before congress. 

Mistake number #1.  No sitting president wants to be upstaged, nor embarrassed.   And no Democratic member of congress wanted to be part of a political maneuver that was staged not just by the Republican majority, but was blatantly used to manipulate the elections in Israel.  With that move, so began the slippery slope of alienating the key members of congress, the key democratic constituencies that could have turned the tide and killed what is arguably a “poor deal with Iran”.   

Then after the Netanyahu grandstanding, negotiations began to heat up as deadlines approached.  And Israel turned up the heat with its propaganda machine.  Leaking information on the Iranian nuclear program, placing editorials in newspapers, sending operatives from the Israeli lobby in the U.S. to media and events like congressional hearings. 

Mistake number #2 – Its not all about Israel — Its about the spread of terrorism and the importance of keeping sanctions.   As the elements of the deal leaked out in earnest in late April early May, the Israeli lobby began to attack the deal without any substance.  “We know this will be a bad deal for Israel.” stated a email from AIPAC.  “We cannot trust the Iranian's to keep their word” stated another one.  

Mistake number #3  While the Israeli lobby did the inside the beltway dance and shuffle, all the while the President and his people were out working the world stage putting pressure on our strongest allies to support a deal that they themselves had concerns about.  And setting in place U.S. based support with key Democratic constituencies.

Next up, the deal is getting done, the Iranians were close to walking away according to sources in the talks.  They did not want an extension.  We could have killed the deal right then and there.  But instead pro-Israel forces and members of the Israeli government chose a different path.  They focused their efforts on stirring up their base, sending out fundraising letters and attacking the wrong folks – the important Democrats that they were going to need in the coming months. 

Mistake number #4.  While the pro-Israel forces focused on attacking Democrats and let their Republican allies carry the message, the President and Secretary of State John Kerry were traveling the world, further pushing our allies into supporting the deal, and meeting regularly with the Democratic leadership to prepare for the eventual rollout of a flawed deal.  They knew it was flawed, yet they continued to think as they do today that this is the best deal we can get. 

Mistake number #5.  Already behind the eight-ball only weeks before the final announcement of the deal, finally the pro-Israel lobby meets in secret meetings in DC to plan what to do about a deal.    What do they do – they hire a Republican PR firm and Republican operatives to oversee the campaign, while leaking their strategy to the conservative media.   Not a great strategy, when you have to convince 30+ Democratic House members and a dozen or more Democratic Senators to oppose a flawed deal.   And in a typical inside baseball strategy they start running ads in national publications and doing TV advertising to an audience that has not been contacted in months as to their position, and has little connection to what is now become a partisan battle. 

Mistake number #6.  Panicked and playing catch up, they put into place a last minute attempt to lobby members of congress during the recess.  The big problem —  they have no base of support, the constituents that would make the most impact to members are already either neutral or are not going to go up against the President.  Having been worked for months by the administration, the supporters have convincingly framed the debate, and the Israeli government having counted the votes now knows they need to be careful for fear of a increased Obama backlash. 

Is it too late?

So where are we today, the pro-Israel groups for the last 40 days have been desperately trying to work constituencies that have no skin in the game, and are more concerned about the last two years of an Obama presidency and important members of Congress that will be critical to their issues in the coming years.  Throw on top of this members being lobbied by the leadership to tow the line or else they may end up in the smallest office, working on the subcommittee on Post Office operations. 

And so we have a misguided plan, late execution, a lost moral high ground, and many pro-Israel supporters like myself left confused and disappointed.

So can we win this? Probably not.  But we could inflict enough damage and pain that the administration and the world will listen- – implementation is still yet to be determined.    How can we achieve this.  We need to enlist the Obama coalition – go grassroots, and capture the debate by shifting the narrative away from Israel and back to terrorism and protecting the Homeland. 

We cannot re-write the history of the last 6 months.  We cannot undo the Netanyahu speech, or even bring together members of the Democratic caucus to rally behind their most trusted allies – the Jewish community.  Nor can you take back the millions wasted on national media campaigns and robo calls to staff members who have more to loose in bucking the leadership.  

Opportunity number #1.  What we could do and what we should have done is to reach out to the traditional Democratic base, the coalitions of minorities, women and seniors, labor and others that have stood side by side with the American Jewish community for decades.  Fighting for human rights, civil rights and personal freedoms.   We should have utilized this most powerful of coalitions to push back on our friends in the Democratic establishment to support what is right and what is important.   There is nothing more persuasive than a local constituent or large contributor calling or writing a member of congress to say.  “Please think before you cast this vote….”   Staff members catch on when calls come in from individuals that don't even know whom they are talking to – pushed through by eager political operatives that are making big bucks, while the President and his team count favorable votes.

Over and over again, our community falls into the same trap.  We take for granted that the communities we have been so closely aligned with, will be there when we need them. 

Opportunity number #2. So moving forward as a community, lets cast off the traditional playbook, put energy into local third-party Democratic and independent groups and focus on the importance of protecting the USA.    We as a Jewish community need to dig deep into our strong alliances with groups that have for decades relied on our support to achieve personal justice – we need them now, and they should be with us.  We need to ask them to reach key Democratic leaders and tell them its important that this deal not be implemented without the support of the community it will impact.  

That is where we should be, that is where we need to be – unfortunately, we are weeks away from approval of this deal, while continuing to  watch ads that point fingers and talk down to the same people that we need to support us.

Cartoon: Republican Slogans


With Biden opting out, partisan row over Netanyahu speech intensifies


In a blow to Israel’s efforts to contain the controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress, Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would not attend the address.

Biden’s office informed the media on Friday that the vice president would be out of the country and would not fill his role as the president of the Senate during the joint meeting of Congress on March 3.

The announcement came as leading black and Hispanic Democrats indicated that they also would not attend. A Jewish lawmaker, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), told JTA that blacks in his district were asking him not to attend because they saw the speech as disrespecting President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in an interview with the Forward on Friday urged Netanyahu not to follow through with his plans to address Congress, saying the fracas had devolved into a “circus.” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, made the same call in an interview with the paper.

Administration officials had already said that the president and other senior officials would not meet with Netanyahu, ostensibly because the March 3 speech is just two weeks before the Israeli election. But until Friday it was not clear whether Biden would abjure his role of presiding over the Senate during the session.

Congressional Democrats say the speech is unacceptable because Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House of Representatives speaker, invited Netanyahu to rebut Obama’s continued backing of nuclear talks between the major powers and Iran. Netanyahu, like most Republicans, believes the talks are headed for a bad deal that will leave Iran on the threshold of a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu has phoned senior Democrats and Ambassador Ron Dermer has met with many of the rank-and-file in an effort to smooth over their differences. Netanyahu and Dermer have said the speech will emphasize bipartisan support for Israel and praise Obama for his backing of the country at critical times. They also said that Netanyahu is determined to keep the date because he believes he must urgently convey his warning about a nuclear Iran ahead of a March 24 deadline on achieving the outline of a deal.

Democrats, however, have grown more adamant in opposing the speech, with a growing number of prominent minority Democrats saying they will stay away. Party leaders in both chambers say they will attend but are warning that the speech might backfire.

Among the black lawmakers, Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranked House Democrat, joined Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights hero, and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, in saying he will not attend. The Hill newspaper has also reported that Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a prominent Hispanic lawmaker and the chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, will not attend.

Jewish lawmakers have met with Dermer and expressed their displeasure with the timing of the speech. Cohen, who is circulating a letter among colleagues urging Boehner to postpone the speech until after Israeli elections and congressional votes on an Iran sanctions bill, told Dermer on Thursday that African-American leaders in his Memphis district were asking him not to attend.

“It’s become less and less attractive” to attend, Cohen told JTA after the meeting. “My district is majority African-American and a lot of people see this as dismissive of the first African-American president.”

Cohen said Dermer told him that Netanyahu is determined to go ahead with the speech.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, suggested that Boehner misled the Israelis about the invitation, which Boehner said was made in the name of both parties. Within hours of Boehner announcing the invitation on Jan. 21, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, and the White House said they had been kept out of the loop.

“It appears that the speaker of Congress made a move in which we trusted, but which it ultimately became clear was a one-sided move and not a move by both sides,” Reuters quoted Hanegbi as saying Friday on an Israeli radio station.

A slate of 48 GOP House members signed on to a letter countering the one circulated by Cohen asking for a speech delay. The GOP letter, initiated by Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), thanked Boehner for organizing the speech, saying “it is necessary now for Congress to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu, and welcome his expertise on Iran’s regional designs.”

Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, suggested on Twitter that his party would use the issue against Democrats in elections.

“Dems have a choice — stand w/PM Netanyahu and the Jewish com against Iran or w/Pres Obama,” he said. The RJC “will make sure people know what they choose.”

After Scalise debacle, more hardball expected in the fight for minority vote


A recent revelation that a top Republican addressed a white supremacist group is reviving an age-old Washington debate: How important are false steps from the past in evaluating a party today?

Not very, say Republicans, in the case of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the majority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives sworn in on Tuesday. In 2002, when he was a state legislator, Scalise spoke to a group affiliated with the white nationalist David Duke.

Not so fast, counter Democrats, who say the speech, while not indicting Scalise as a racist, underscores what they claim is the GOP’s propensity to flirt with extremists.

Aaron Keyak, a consultant to Democrats and Jewish groups, says the issue is potent and serious enough to merit continued attention as both sides bid for the votes of Jews, blacks, Hispanics and women ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“There will be increased scrutiny of the schedule of Congressman Scalise and other Republicans,” said Keyak, who until last year was a senior adviser to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

He added: “There is a whole litany of reasons the Republican Party is out of step with the Jewish community, and this is only one symptom of how out of touch they are.”

Jewish Republicans say they would prefer that the past remain the past – but they are prepared to give as good as they get.

“You’re referencing a meeting that took place a dozen years ago,” said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), the sole Jewish Republican in the incoming Congress. “The next person may be concerned about the president meeting with Al Sharpton 82 times in the White House.”

Sharpton, a civil rights activist who is known for his fiery rhetoric about Jews during the 1991 Crown Heights riots, has visited the Obama White House 72 times, the majority for large events, according to a recent Washington Post report.

Scalise has said he regrets the 2002 speech and was not aware that the group had been founded by Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard.

The Anti-Defamation League said that Scalise’s statement puts the matter to rest for now, but also that the threat posed by Duke and other white supremacists should not be minimized.

A number of recent profiles of Scalise noted that as an ambitious Louisiana pol, he cultivated friendships and alliances with black leaders. However, he also looked to the base that had propelled Duke to prominence in Louisiana state politics in the 1990s, when Duke served as a state legislator and ran for several other offices.

Kenny Knight, a longtime Duke adviser, donated $1,000 to Scalise’s congressional campaign in 2008. And Scalise voted twice in the State Legislature against making Martin Luther King Day a holiday.

“It’s part of a narrative, a steady drip of policy announcements and appearances at events that seem to suggest a deaf ear to Jewish sensitivities and to minorities’ sensitivities,” said Greg Rosenbaum, the chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Ann Lewis, who headed communications in the Clinton White House, says the controversy is reminiscent of remarks made during the 2012 campaign by Todd Akin, a GOP candidate in Missouri for the U.S. Senate who suggested that rape could not lead to pregnancy in arguing against a rape exemption to any abortion ban.

Lewis, who also advised Hillary Rodham Clinton during her 2008 presidential run, says the GOP showed discipline in the 2014 elections in controlling such problematic statements, but charges that the policies underpinning the statements persisted.

“Candidates understood why 2012 was a problem,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to see any better support for women’s health issues.”

Lewis notes a concerted national campaign by the state Republican parties to add abortion restrictions through state legislative bids.

“Do you take this kind of behavior seriously, do you understand the signal you send?” she said. “With Scalise, what I hear from the Republican leadership is they are the victims because they are getting criticized.”

News of Scalise’s speech comes as Republicans are making a concerted effort to appeal to minorities and women, playing up the election to the House of Zeldin and Mia Love, a black woman from Utah.

But controversies over past political moves are hardly the domain of a single political party, says Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“On both sides of the aisle there’s a lot of this gotcha politics that goes on,” he said. Whether charges would stick, he says, depended “on the totality of the individual and the circumstance.”

Scalise will survive, Brooks says, in part because the incident is in the past and some Democrats are defending him now.

Zeldin says Republicans will appeal to minorities by focusing on bread-and-butter issues that trumped identity politics.

“When the debate is focused so much on budgets and job creation and improving the business climate, it becomes much more of a strategic advantage for Republicans to improve on that outreach with groups that have been primarily voting Democrat in the past,” he said.

Rabbi Jack Moline, who until November directed the NJDC, says Democrats should pitch their fight on an issues level and not focus on bad past decisions.

“What we needed to demand from Rep. Scalise was an explanation and we got it,” he said.

He cites issues where Republicans would easily lose Jews, including rolling back the social safety net, opposition to immigration reform bills and the growing wing within the GOP that opposes a robust U.S. role overseas.

“Those are things we ought to be debating, not whether or not someone who grew up in Louisiana has been exposed to bigotry,” Moline said.

 

Barney Frank on practically everything


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

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

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

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

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

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

BF: Yes.

R: And thereby shutting down the government?

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

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

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

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

BF: They're not concerned with public opinion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE SCOURGE OF POLITICS

R: What do you think of the midterms?

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

R: What's the fix?

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

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

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

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

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

GAY RIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE: 2016

R: Would you support Hillary?

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

R: Think there's a chance others will?

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

R: Who will the Republicans nominate?

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

THE GOP AS LEADERS

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

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

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

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

R: What will break the fever?

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

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

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

R: More so than Jeb Bush?

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

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

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

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

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

OBAMA

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

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

R: Is his failure related to race?

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

THE FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008

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

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

R: Was the Justice Department too timid?

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

R: Why would a fragile economy deter prosecutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESS PROBLEMS

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

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

R: He's part of the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BF: Not who vote in primaries.

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

BF: No. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

R: Say again?

BF: Who will guard the guardians?

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

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

R: Trying to turn you into the bad guy?

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

PRIVACY IN PUBLIC

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

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

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

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

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

BF: Why not?

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

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

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

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

'TOO HARD ON PEOPLE'

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

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

R: Do those amount to regrets?

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

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