Senate Democrats line up behind Iran nuclear deal: How votes are likely to play out


Another senator declared support on Wednesday for the U.S.-led nuclear agreement with Iran, providing a crucial 34th vote to protect it from being killed by Republicans in Congress.

Democrat Barbara Mikulski provided the pivotal commitment to defending the deal negotiated by the United States and other world powers. The pact would put new limits on Iran's nuclear program while lifting sanctions on the country.

President Barack Obama needs the backing of 34 senators to ensure lawmakers cannot override a likely veto by him of a measure to disapprove the agreement. Counting Mikulski, 32 Democratic senators and two independents who vote with Democrats have pledged support for the deal.

The following describes how votes are likely to play out:

– When Congress returns on Sept. 8 from its long August recess, debate will begin on a Republican-sponsored “resolution of disapproval” against the deal.

– In the Senate, the Republicans must gather 60 votes to move the resolution forward under Senate procedural rules. If they can, they will then need 51 votes to approve the resolution. They have until Sept. 17 to get this done.

– There is no similar procedural barrier in the House. The resolution is expected to easily win approval there.

– If both chambers approve the resolution, it would go to Obama's desk for review. He has vowed to veto it.

– If he does, opponents would try to override the veto. This would take a two-thirds majority in each chamber. The Senate has 100 members; the House, 434, plus one vacant seat.

– Democrats could block an override in the Senate with 34 votes. So far, 34 senators have committed to back the deal.

– In the House, if Republicans voted unanimously against the deal, they would need to get at least 44 Democrats to vote with them to override a veto.

– The Iran deal is not a treaty, so it does not need a two-thirds vote in the Senate. The “resolution of disapproval” mechanism was part of a law Obama signed in May to give Congress the right to weigh in on the Iran deal.

– If Congress were to pass a resolution of disapproval and override a veto, Obama would be barred from temporarily waiving most of the U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program. Proponents of the agreement argue that this would kill the deal.

Democrat Ted Lieu to succeed Waxman in Congress


State Sen. Ted Lieu, a Democrat, will succeed longtime Rep. Henry Waxman in California’s 33rd Congressional District after defeating Jewish Republican Elan Carr.

Lieu won the seat in the seventh most Jewishly populated district in the country, 58 to 42 percent. He was bolstered by the endorsement of the esteemed Waxman, a liberal Democrat who represented the West Side of Los Angeles in Congress for 40 years.

Carr, a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County, touted his close ties to Israel and garnered the support of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to Republican candidates, but could not overcome the district’s strongly Democratic leaning.

The race was largely cordial, with both candidates pitching themselves as moderates and strong supporters of Israel. In the final week, however, a pro-Carr Super PAC sent out mailers attempting to tie Lieu to Hamas.

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg 1924-2013


Frank Lautenberg’s rise to wealth and prominence is a classic rags-to-riches story. Born in Paterson, N.J., the son of Polish and Russian immigrants who came to the United States through Ellis Island, his early life was unsettled as his parents moved about a dozen times while struggling to support the family. Lautenberg's father, Sam, worked in the silk mills, sold coal, farmed, and once ran a tavern. When Lautenberg was 19, his father died of cancer. Lautenberg blamed his father’s untimely death on the environmental conditions he faced and he later became a champion of protecting the environment. To help his family, he worked nights and weekends until he graduated from Nutley High School.

Lautenberg served in the Army Signal Corps in Europe during World War II, where he reached the rank of corporal. He was the last of the greatest generation to serve in the Senate. Following the war, he attended Columbia University on the GI Bill of Rights, which helped convince him of the efficacy of government programs, the hallmark of his liberalism. He later sponsored a new GI Bill for soldiers who served in post 9/11 military.

Lautenberg worked as a marketing specialist in Henry Taub's accounting practice. By sheer salesmanship, and later by strategic acquisitions, he helped the business grow rising to president and later CEO of Automatic Data Processing [ADP], which had the then unique idea of outsourcing payroll processing. Lautenberg, along with his partners, developed ADP into one of the largest computing services companies in the world, processing the payrolls of hundreds of thousands of companies. He rewarded his workers with a stock ownership plan and they rewarded their officers by refusing to unionize.

As he amassed a fortune, he entered Jewish life, rising to be national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, then at the pinnacle of Jewish fundraising and president of the American Friends of the Hebrew University. His philanthropy in New Jersey and in Israel is vast. Numerous institutions bear the Lautenberg name.

He was proud of the Lautenberg the Lautenberg Center for Immunology and Cancer Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which was directed by Lautenberg’s cousin Dr. David Weiss, a most prominent Israel scientist.

Denied a Jewish education in his youth, he learned basic synagogue skills only as an adult. But his Jewish identity was central to his philanthropy as well as to his sense of self. I was with him in the Choral Synagogue in Moscow during the peak of the Soviet Jewry movement when he received the “kohen aliyah” and told the Soviet Jews we met how as an adult he came to get a basic Jewish education.

As a Senator, he sponsored the Lautenberg Amendment which passed in October 1989, and facilitated the emigration of former Soviet Jews by relaxing the stringent standards for refugee status, granting immigrant status to those who could show religious persecution in their native lands. It has also helped Jews from Iran and people of many faiths who had to flee their homelands because of persecution.

Before running for office, Lautenberg served as a New York/New Jersey Port Authority commissioner (1978–82) and as a commissioner of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Lautenberg, running as a Democrat for a New Jersey senatorial seat, beat veteran congresswoman Millicent Fenwick, then 72. He campaigned as the young upstart against a veteran incumbent who had long served in combat – he called her a national monument. It was a tactic that was later to be used against him as he developed seniority and aged in office. He was elected twice after the age of 78 and even after being diagnosed with cancer was reluctant to announce his retirement when his term expired in 2014. He was not pleased when Mayor Corey Booker announced his interest in Lautenberg’s seat. Lautenberg wanted to go out as he had lived — on his own terms.

Lautenberg came to the world of public service from the world of Jewish philanthropy, the transition was natural. His values remained constant, only his stage had changed, his reach expanded, and so too, his potential impact. And he was always proud of what he had achieved as a Jew in the United States, proud of his service to Israel and the Jewish people which he saw as a seamless statement of all he held dear.

I recall his incredulity when right-wing and hawkish Jews challenged his pro-Israel credentials. Their “holier than thou” attitude baffled him and then annoyed him and they stood open mouthed as he reeled off the charities he supported in Israel, the institutions he founded, the trips he had made and the projects he had launched.

Over his first three terms in the U.S. Senate, Lautenberg built a solid record of accomplishment on a broad range of issues. He voted against the use of military forces in the Persian Gulf, a position that he defended even after the American victory by castigating Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for not honoring their commitments. He was best known for his anti-smoking campaign and for his advocacy of mass transportation essential to his New Jersey constituents. A New Jersey Transit Rail Transfer Station in Secaucus proudly bears his name.

I remember being with him shortly after Governor Chris Christie refused to spend the funds that New Jersey would have to contribute toward the new mass transit tunnel under the Hudson River. Lautenberg, who had worked tirelessly to amass the Federal funds, was seething. He well understood its implications for future generations.

Lautenberg retired from the U.S. Senate in 2000 at the age of 76, a decision he soon regretted. He was still vigorous and an ardent skier—in his eighties he was injured taking a ski run that people half his age would not dare—he missed the action of the Senate. Fate provided him with an opportunity when his fellow Democrat and acrimonious rival Robert Torricelli got caught up in a scandal and was forced to withdraw from the race. Democratic Party leaders turned to Lautenberg to preserve the Democratic seat. With his widespread name recognition and his own funding and fundraising prowess—Torricelli would not give him a penny of the $5.1 million campaign chest he had amassed–as well as assistance from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Lautenberg ran again and won handily, returning to the Senate after a two years' absence. With his loss of seniority, he was freed from leadership responsibilities and became an ardent critic of the Bush Administration, calling Vice President Dick Cheney, a “chicken hawk” for having avoided military service but sending others to die in battle.

Among his accomplishments in the Senate: he was instrumental in passing laws that raised the legal drinking age to 21, prohibited domestic-violence convicts from buying guns and required companies to disclose the chemicals they release into the environment, an early “right-to-know” provision that became a model for others. He helped Amtrak gain more than $20 billion in governmental funding.

He also was a lead champion of women’s rights, advancing laws mandating sex education and keeping pharmacists from invoking religious beliefs in order to deny service to women seeking birth control medications.

Lautenberg was a proud Jew. When President Reagan went to Bitburg, Lautenberg went to Germany. The day before, he visited Dachau with a survivor of the camp and from there he went to Munich to pay tribute to the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics. As the President toured Bitburg, Lautenberg went to the massive U.S. military cemetery at Henri Chapelle in Belgium, where Lautenberg laid wreaths on the gravestones of three New Jersey soldiers — one Jewish and two Christians. He had opposed the grand gesture of the Holocaust Memorial Council resigning to protest the President’s visit. Twenty years after its successful opening and 35 million visitors later, with Regan long gone and German Chancellor Kohl only a distant memory, Lautenberg’s caution seems vindicated.

I worked with Frank Lautenberg for many years, first on the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and later on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Lautenberg served on the President's Commission on the Holocaust and was both a Congressional and a citizen appointee to the Museum’s governing Council.

We travelled together on business and he was a friend of many years. I could approach him to support projects and to help young scholars. He was generous in ways large and small.

Two personal stories come to mind that give a measure of the man. We first traveled together when I was in my early 30s. Given the imbalance of resources between us, Lautenberg graciously picked up the bills for our food. Young and somewhat brazen, I once reached for the check and he looked at me as if I had taken leave of my senses. I said: “At least let me take you to breakfast” and that became our custom, he would treat me to lunch and dinner, and breakfast would be on me. For many years even as he served in the Senate, I would get a call, “I’m running low on funds and I need someone to pick up the breakfast tab.” It became a running joke with us.

As I think of the government sequester, I remember the time that Lautenberg and I served together on a foundation board. One day the Executive Director came in and proposed a five percent across-the-board cut to meet a budget deficit. Much to the surprise of the rest of the board, Lautenberg immediately called for an Executive Session. He began the session by telling a story: “When I was a young man, I was broke, my company was broke; my mother and my in-laws were mortgaged to the hilt; so too, my partners and their families. We were going broke but we had a fantastic product. A friend put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘triple your marketing budget and suspend your development people.’ Either your marketing people will be able to sell the product and the company will make it or you will have to go bankrupt in three months. And that’s what we did. The result is ADP. Anyone who suggests across the board cut is not managing. Make strategic choices where to invest and where to cut.”

We came out of the Executive Session and told the stunned Executive Director that an across the board cut was unacceptable; decisions had to be made and justified. When the next meeting was held, strategic choices were made and the foundation was far stronger to the exercise.

Frank Lautenberg never forgot where he came from and how far he had traveled. He was grateful for all that he had been achieved and he knew that to those to whom a lot is given, a lot is expected. He welcomed that responsibility. He never forgot his friends and his stood proudly with his people.

Was Frank Lautenberg sufficiently pro-Israel?


Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post berates AIPAC for what she calls its “fawning” remembrance of Frank Lautenberg, the longtime New Jersey senator who died yesterday:

As for Lautenberg, AIPAC’s fawning can be chalked up to the gradual lowering of the bar for Democrats in an era in which most are pro-Israel, except when inconvenient. They therefore chose to overlook Lautenberg’s support for anti-Israel Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and his demands for a unilateral settlement freeze by the Jewish state. It wasn’t so long ago (1988 to be exact) when he signed a letter to George Shultz lambasting publicly then prime minister Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on Israel’s negotiating posture. AIPAC, I suppose, chose to overlook Lautenberg’s muteness during this administration when the president “condemned” Israel for building in its capital.

“Fawning” suggests a transactional relationship. Rubin does not make clear what AIPAC derives, exactly, from praising the dead.

According to Rubin’s standard, the Republican Jewish Coalition also is lowering the pro-Israel bar:

Frank Lautenberg was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader in Jewish communal life. He served his country during World War II and in decades of dedicated public service. His work in the Senate helped thousands of Soviet Jews and other victims of religious persecution to reach freedom. He was a proud Jew and a proud American.

Lautenberg’s Israel record, as the RJC notes, predates his time in the Senate; As UJA chairman in the 1970s, he oversaw an increase in fundraising for — and concomitant growth in U.S.-Jewish identification with — Israel in the country’s dark post-Yom Kippur War years.

Some of the most earnest praise I’ve heard for Lautenberg, paradoxically, comes from Jews whose views are diametrically opposed to his liberalism. This is because his signature 1989 law, the Lautenberg Amendment, facilitating emigration from the former Soviet Union and Iran, flooded this country with Jews whose politics trend more conservative than those of the established community.

I don’t know if Lautenberg ever considered whether he was “undercutting” his natural Jewish constituency when he wrote the law, or whether he cared that its inadvertent end was the advancement of Rubin’s stated mission, which is to correct what she sees as the skewed liberal temperament of the American Jewish community. From what I knew, he championed the law because he believed in extending to others the freedom of political and religious choice that was his birthright.

UPDATE: Gil Hoffman, a longtime Israel correspondent at the New Jersey Jewish News, outlines Lautenberg’s Israel record for the Jerusalem Post — including more than 80 visits to the country. Hoffman goes into detail about how Lautenberg first heard of the Sept. 11 attacks while visiting Israel.

Joe Biden has started a kind of audio blog, “Being Biden.” Yesterday, he gave it over to his friendship with Lautenberg:

Senators assail Obama’s Hagel nomination, question judgment


Republican lawmakers harshly attacked Chuck Hagel on Thursday at a contentious hearing over his nomination to become the next U.S. defense secretary, questioning his judgment on war strategy and putting him broadly on the defensive.

In one of the most heated exchanges, influential Senator John McCain aggressively questioned Hagel, interrupting him and talking over him at times. He openly voiced frustration at Hagel's failure to say plainly whether he was right or wrong to oppose the 2007 surge of U.S. troops in Iraq.

“Your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not,” McCain said.

Hagel, who like McCain is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, declined to offer a simple yes or no answer, responding: “I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.”

As President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Pentagon in his second term, Hagel may yet win Senate approval with help from majority Democrats, but he appeared to pick up little fresh Republican support as his hours-long hearing wore on.

Hagel's fellow Republicans dredged up a series of his past controversial statements on Iran, Israel and U.S. nuclear strategy, trying to paint him as outside mainstream security thinking. Even in polarized Washington, the grilling was highly unusual for a Cabinet nominee.

Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina laid into Hagel for once accusing a “Jewish lobby” of intimidating people in Washington, comments Hagel repeatedly said he regretted. Asked whether he could name one lawmaker who had been intimidated, Hagel said he could not. It was one of the many times he appeared uncomfortable.

“I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate or the Congress than what you said,” Graham said.

SEEKING TO SET RECORD STRAIGHT

If he is ultimately confirmed, Hagel would take over the Pentagon at a time of sharp reductions in defense spending, but with the United States still facing major challenges, including China, Iran and North Korea.

Hagel, speaking publicly for the first time since the attacks against his nomination began, at times seemed cautious and halting. He sought to set the record straight, assuring the panel that he backed U.S. policies of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and supporting a strong Israel.

“No one individual vote, no one individual quote, no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record,” Hagel said in opening remarks to the packed hearing room.

“My overall world view has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world.”

In an unusual reversal of partisanship, Democrats, more than his fellow Republicans, gave Hagel sympathetic support and time to air his views.

The committee's Democratic chairman, Carl Levin, said his concerns, especially over Hagel's past comments about unilateral sanctions on Iran, had been addressed. “Senator Hagel's reassurance to me … that he supports the Obama administration's strong stance against Iran is significant,” Levin said.

Despite the harsh tone from many Republicans, some senators from the party approached Hagel more collegially.

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia called Hagel by his first name and exchanged jokes with him during his testimony. He served alongside Hagel in the Senate. Roy Blount of Missouri had a cordial exchange about the strength of the country's industrial base.

But Hagel years ago angered many Republicans by breaking with his party over the handling of the Iraq war.

It was one of several contentious chapters of modern U.S. history that surfaced during the session, from the Vietnam War, where Hagel served as an infantryman and was wounded, to President Ronald Reagan's call for nuclear disarmament.

Hagel also was questioned on his view of the Pentagon budget. He is known as an advocate for tighter spending controls.

WRONG MAN FOR THE JOB

Even before Hagel started speaking, James Inhofe, the panel's senior Republican, called him “the wrong person to lead the Pentagon at this perilous and consequential time.”

“Senator Hagel's record is deeply troubling and out of the mainstream. Too often it seems he is willing to subscribe to a worldwide view that is predicated on appeasing our adversaries while shunning our friends,” Inhofe said as the hearing opened.

McCain's harsh attitude toward Hagel – who he also singled out for opposing Obama's surge of forces in Afghanistan – was a far cry from their past, warm ties. McCain campaigned for Hagel in 1996, and Hagel was national co-chairman of the Arizona Republican's unsuccessful 2000 presidential bid.

On Thursday, McCain said that concerns about Hagel's qualifications ran deep.

“Our concerns pertain to the quality of your professional judgment and your world view on critical areas of national security, including security in the Middle East,” he said.

In the entire Senate, which would vote on Hagel if he is cleared by the committee, only one of the 45 Republicans – Mississippi's Thad Cochran – has said he backs Hagel.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on Thursday joined the list of Republicans who said they will vote against Hagel.

In written responses to wide-ranging questions submitted by lawmakers ahead of the hearing, Hagel said that if confirmed, he would ensure that the military is prepared to strike Iran if necessary but stressed the need to be “cautious and certain” when contemplating the use of force.

Hagel told lawmakers all options must be on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – language used to suggest the possibility of a nuclear strike.

“My policy is one of prevention, and not one of containment,” he said.

Hagel also voiced support for a steady U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, pledged to ensure equal treatment for women and homosexuals in the military and assured the committee that the United States would maintain an “unshakeable” commitment to Israel's security.

Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Warren Strobel and Jackie Frank

73 Senators sign AIPAC-backed letter urging continued Iran restrictions


A letter backed by AIPAC urging President Obama to keep up pressure on Iran even as he negotiates with the regime garnered signatures from 73 U.S. Senators.

“We strongly believe there should be absolutely no diminution of pressure on the Iranians until the totality of their nuclear program has been addressed,” reads the letter, initiated by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and signed by another 70 senators. “The time for limited confidence-building measures is over.”

The letter, sent Thursday and backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, says the senators “remain very skeptical of any proposal that would allow the current Iranian government to possess an enrichment capability in any form, given its long track record of deceptive and illicit conduct.”

A press release casts the letter in the context of reports that the United States, together with the other major powers negotiating with Iran, is prepared to relaunch talks.

“A bipartisan supermajority of Senators today sent a letter to President Obama laying out four steps that they urge the Administration to take, as it prepares for the possible resumption of nuclear negotiations with Iran,” said a statement from Menendez's office.

Many of the postures the letter recommends contradict opening gambits leaked to the press over recent weeks — including lifting restrictions on civilian aircraft parts in exchange for verifiable freezes in enrichment activity, as well as a longstanding Western offer to consider allowing minimal enrichment for civilian purposes in exchange for a verifiable end to the weapons program.

Other measures recommended in the letter roughly correspond with Obama administration policies, including enhancing existing sanctions and making clear that a military option is still on the table.

A number of senators otherwise notable for their closeness to the pro-Israel community did not sign the letter, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Also not signing were Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the body's majority leader, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), its Foreign Relations Committee chairman and a likely contender to be secretary of state in Obama's second term.

Senator Daniel Inouye, hailed by pro-Israel groups, dies at 88


Daniel Inouye, the longtime Hawaii senator described by pro-Israel groups as one of Israel's best friends in the Senate, has died.

Inouye, 88, and a decorated World War II hero, died Monday of respiratory complications at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“Senator Inouye deeply understood the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, worked tirelessly and effectively to ensure that America’s ally, Israel, had the necessary resources to defend her people,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement. “He will be missed by all who appreciated his many decades of leadership in strengthening the ties between America and Israel.”

Inouye enlisted in 1943 as soon as a ban on Japanese Americans serving in the Army was lifted. He lost his arm in Italy in 1945 but persisted in leading an assault on a ridge heavily manned by German troops, an act that won him the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Recovering in a hospital, he heard from a fellow patient about his discovering bodies in ovens at a camp liberated by U.S. forces.

Recounting the memory as recently as October, to students in a high school in Jerusalem, Inouye said he asked his fellow patient what their crime could have been. He was told “they were Jews,” and the answer changed his life, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Inouye's first job was selling Israel Bonds in Hawaii, and he considered converting to Judaism, but pulled back, worried that his devoutly Christian mother would be upset.

Inouye, first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, rose to become the top Democrat on its Appropriations Committee. He enjoyed a convivial relationship with Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, for years his Republican counterpart.

Pro-Israel Republicans and Democrats mourned his passing on social media. The National Jewish Democratic Council called Inouye “a true mensch in every sense of the word.”

Inouye was a lead sponsor of the legislation in the mid-1990s that recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. His role as a lead appropriator helped guarantee U.S. defense assistance to Israel.

“Our people owe him an immense historic debt,” Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said in a statement. “The Iron Dome system that recently intercepted hundreds of terrorist rockets aimed at our homes stands as enduring proof of his commitment to the defense of the Jewish State.”

Josh Mandel falls to Sherrod Brown in Ohio


Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel failed in his bid to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Republicans hoping to win control of the U.S. Senate had placed great hope in Mandel, a former Marine who is Jewish. Brown is a strong ally of organized labor and a pillar of the Democratic Party's progressive wing.

George McGovern, former U.S. senator and presidential candidate, dies


George McGovern, a former U.S. senator and presidential candidate who said the U.S. government sometimes “bowed to pressure” from a powerful Israel lobby, has died.

McGovern died Sunday in hospice care in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was 90.

A three-term U.S. senator from South Dakota, McGovern won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, and campaigned relentlessly on a platform of American withdrawal from Vietnam. In losing to incumbent Republican Richard Nixon, he suffered one of the greatest defeats in a presidential race in U.S. history.

In an address to the annual conference of the Middle East Institute in Washington in 1991, McGovern discussed his support of Israel.

“For the 22 years that I served in Congress, like most of my colleagues, I supported Israel, out of a combination of conviction and self interest,” he said. “We were constantly aware of the power of the lobby for that country. Sometimes, against our best instincts, we bowed to pressure.

“It is bad enough for the Israeli people to be led by their own ideologically motivated right wing. But for the American government to take instructions from that faction is insupportable.”

McGovern flew a B-24 “Liberator” bomber in World War II. Among his targets were German synthetic oil factories in occupied Poland — some of them less than five miles from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

In 2004, McGovern spoke on camera for the first time about his WWII experiences in a meeting organized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies with Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Sigmund Rolat and filmmakers Stuart Erdheim and Chaim Hecht.

McGovern dismissed the Roosevelt administration’s claims that bombing Auschwitz and the railroad lines leading to it would be a dangerous diversion of planes that were needed elsewhere. The argument was “a rationalization,” he said, noting that no diversions would have been needed when he and other U.S pilots already were flying over that area.

“There is no question we should have attempted … to go after Auschwitz,” McGovern said in the interview. “There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.”

In his address accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Fla., in July 1972, McGovern said that “in an age of nuclear power and hostile forces” it was important for the United States to be militarily strong.

“We will do that not only for ourselves, but for those who deserve and need the shield of our strength — our old allies in Europe and elsewhere, including the people of Israel, who will always have our help to hold their Promised Land,” he said.

The 1972 Democratic Party platform was the first of any party's to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and call to move the U.S. Embassy there.

During the Kennedy administration, McGovern started and ran the Food for Peace program, and kept it operating in at least a dozen countries. McGovern also published a dozen books.

GOP senators plan resolution promising support should Israel strike Iran


Republican senators plan to introduce a non-binding resolution pledging military, economic and diplomatic backing for Israel should it strike Iran.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told JTA on Tuesday that he and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) were drafting the resolution for introduction next month in the Senate.

Graham, attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week, said he was seeking Democratic co-sponsors.

The resolution would underscore the Senate’s hopes for peace and for sanctions to force Iran to make its nuclear program more transparent, he said.

“But in the event Israel had to take preventive action, we would have their back,” Graham said, in terms of military, economic and diplomatic support.

Czech Senate to consider property restitution


Czech Jewish leaders said they hoped their Senate would approve restitution of confiscated religious property.

The Czech Parliament on July 14 voted in favor of distributing $3.7 billion among 17 religious denominations, including the Jewish community. The money is compensation for property nationalized during the communist regime. The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal in the next two months.

“This legislation is a good compromise,” Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, told JTA.

The Jewish community’s share of the lump sum “will not be very high,” he added. The Czech Republic already offered restitution for Jewish property in 1994 and 2000.

The Czech Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party—both in the opposition—object to the compromise. The opposition enjoys a majority in the Senate.

Kraus said he believed the Czech upper house would veto the compromise. Parliament then would vote again on the issue, probably in September.

The compromise offers to end state subsidies for clergymen by 2029. The Czech government spends approximately $70 million on their salaries.

“The compromise allows all parties to win,” Kraus said. “For religious bodies it’s a moral victory, while the state can end funding clergymen. If the compromise is torpedoed, state funding for clergy could increase. The opposition is overlooking this.”

The number of priests in the Czech Republic grew from 3,500 a decade ago ago to 4,755 in 2009.

The current compensation of $3.7 billion is slightly lower than the sum offered in negotiations in 2008 between religious bodies and the government, according to Petr Papousek, vice chairman of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities.

“Ending state subsidies for religious leaders could mean financial uncertainty for the Jewish community, so there is also ambivalence regarding the compromise. Yet a different government could offer even less,” Papousek said.

At UCLA, peacemaker Sen. George Mitchell gives insight Into Middle East


“We must be patient and realistic in our expectation regarding the Middle East,” Sen. George Mitchell told an audience at UCLA on March 1.

Mitchell delivered this year’s Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace, and he struck a tone that was, perhaps appropriately, but not overwhelmingly, pessimistic about the dim prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The architect of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 that paved the way for an end to the violence in Northern Ireland, Mitchell spent two and a half years as President Obama’s Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. Beginning in 2009, Mitchell tried but ultimately failed to help the Israelis and Palestinians break the impasse that has all but halted peace negotiations.

While he acknowledged last week that there are many reasons to be skeptical about the possibility of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis — first and foremost the uncertainty that has been brewing in the Arab world since the revolutions that deposed the dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 — Mitchell said he still believes a peaceful resolution to the conflict remains possible.

To illustrate what Israeli-Palestinian peace might look like, Mitchell cited a January 2009 speech by then President George W. Bush. Just before leaving office, Bush described the Palestinians’ goal as “a viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent state,” based on the 1949 armistice lines, with agreed swaps. The Israeli goal, Bush said, was to have a Jewish state “with secure, recognized, and defensible borders.”

These two goals could be achieved peacefully through difficult compromise, Mitchell told the 500 people in the audience, but only if both Israeli and Palestinian leaders can find a way to present it as a win-win solution.

Although Mitchell never ignored the difficulties of reaching such an agreement, his faith in the solvability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stood in stark contrast to the protests and counter-protests going on on campus during UCLA’s Palestine Awareness Week, sponsored by a pro-Palestinian student group.

Starting in February, campuses across the country have been marking the eighth annual Israel Apartheid Week.

As in previous years, campus pro-Israel organizations mounted public awareness campaigns to counter that narrative. One such campaign is Israel Peace Week, created by Hasbara Fellowships, a project of the Orthodox nonprofit organization Aish Hatorah. Now in its third year, the program is aimed at showing that “Israel wants peace and has demonstrated its willingness to make painful sacrifices for peace.”

Other pro-Israel campus organizations staged their own, differently themed, events to mark the week. The UCLA chapter of J Street U, the college division of the “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobbying group, sponsored a speech titled “Supporting Israel, Opposing Occupation,” where Uri Zaki, the United States director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, spoke to the student group at UCLA on Feb. 29, one of almost a dozen appearances on campuses across America this spring.

In his presentations, Zaki said he talks about the human rights abuses perpetrated against Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied territories, but also makes clear that at the same time, the existence of Israel as a democratic Jewish state is a remarkable achievement.

“An organization with a strong record on human rights advocacy can say, ‘Yes, but,’ ” Zaki said.

For his part, Mitchell, after concluding his remarks, took questions from National Public Radio’s Renee Montagne, as well as from the audience. Asked about what the United States should do about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Mitchell expressed support for the Obama administration’s policy of imposing sanctions without taking the military option off the table.

He added that a nuclear Iran would not only threaten Israel, but could also put at risk the success the nonproliferation treaty that has, for more than forty years, limited the spread of nuclear weapons to just nine countries.

A nuclear Iran, Mitchell said, “could lead to a rapid disintegration of that agreement.”

Protesters get jail time for pie attack on Jewish senator


Two war protesters were sentenced to 30 days in federal prison for throwing a pie in the face of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan.

Ahlam Mohsen, 24, and Max Kantar, 23, both of Michigan, attacked Levin in August 2010 while Levin was meeting with constituents in a deli in Grand Rapids. Kantar read a statement before Mohsen hit Levin in the face with the pie. After being arrested, Kantar acknowledged that his message had been “lost.”

Levin, who is Jewish, was targeted because of his role as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was unharmed.

According to mlive.com, U.S. District Judge Robert Bell criticized Mohsen and Kantar at their sentencing for attacking the senator even after Kantar had been given the opportunity to share his views.

A 2008 article on the anti-war site Information Clearinghouse attributed to a Max Kantar provided a “translation dictionary” of “the unspoken meanings” of terms referring to “U.S. Foreign Policy, Israel and International relations.” In it he defined “anti-Semitism” as “An accusation usually used to define criticism of Israel’s ongoing war crimes” and Israel’s “Right to Exist” as “Israel’s right to continue outwardly racist policies … apartheid … [and] a genocidal siege on Gaza.”

Senators introduce enhanced Iran sanctions bill


U.S. Senators introduced an enhanced Iran sanctions bill matching one recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The crux of both bills is a ban on business with any entity that does $1 million in a single trade with Iran’s energy sector, or $5 million over one year. The current threshold is $20 million in business per year.

Like the House bill introduced earlier this month, the bill introduced May 24 by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) includes sanctions on materials used by Iran to crush its democracy movement and expands funding for democracy groups.

It also requires the Obama administration seek further sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.

Members of both parties say the Obama administration has not sufficiently exploited enhanced sanctions passed and enacted a year ago. Authors of the bills in the House and Senate have said that the legislation is in part a bid to force the president’s hand.

Ex-Rep. John Adler of New Jersey dies


John Adler, a former New Jersey congressman, has died.

Adler, 51, died Monday of complications from a staph infection, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Adler, who was Jewish, had a long career in Democratic state politics when he won a swing seat in southern New Jersey in his party’s 2008 sweep of the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later he was ousted in a close election by the Republican candidate Jon Runyan, a former offensive lineman for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

Adler, among the first candidates in 2008 to endorse Barack Obama, later got flak from Orthodox Jews in the affluent town of Cherry Hill who believed that Obama had turned on Israel.

Ex-Sen. George Allen to announce bid to regain seat


Former U.S. Sen. George Allen, who said the denial of his Jewish roots helped bring about his ouster, is running for his old seat.

Allen was set to formally announce a bid Monday to replace Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who replaced Allen in 2006, The Washington Post reported.

Allen, addressing a Chabad Lubavitch event in August, said he believed denying his Jewish past helped cost him re-election.

During the 2006 campaign Allen, who lost by just 10,000 votes, heatedly denied any Jewish heritage, although research by the Forward and other Jewish media outlets made it clear that he had Jewish ancestors.

Allen’s use of the word “macaca,” a slur against people of color that is commonplace in North Africa, at a rally prompted the digging into his past.

He subsequently revealed that his Tunisian-born mother, traumatized by the Nazi occupation of her native land, had sworn him to secrecy about his Jewish roots.

“All sorts of things happened in that 2006 campaign, which we lost by 4/10ths of 1 percent,” he said at the August event.

His biggest takeaway, Allen said at the event, was greater sensitivity to minority rights. He said using the word macaca to needle a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent was a mistake, but he denied knowing that the term was a slur.

Lieberman notes barriers he broke in ending his political career


Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) noted his “barrier-breaking” vice presidential candidacy in announcing his decision not to run again.

Lieberman announced his decision Wednesday in Hartford. Present were four of his children and six of his grandchildren.

He noted to applause from his followers that an 11th grandchild is due next month, and then said he couldn’t help but recall his four grandparents “and the journey they traveled a century ago.”

They found freedom, he said, but they would never imagine that “their grandson ended up a United States senator and incidentally a barrier-breaking candidate for vice president of the United States.”

Lieberman became the first Jewish nominee on a major presidential ticket when Al Gore chose him as his running mate in 2000.

Lieberman lost favor with Democrats over his support for the Iraq war.

He lost the Connecticut primary in 2006 but ran as an independent and won.

He caucused with the Democrats, but backed the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

Video by Associated Press.

 

Six degrees of Senator Joe Lieberman


It was an innocuous interview about a subject I no longer remember.  A dozen years ago, I made arrangements to meet Joe Lieberman in a Manhattan office building where he had other business.  The Connecticut senator, who announced this week he won’t seek re-election for a fifth term, would be able to spare 15 or 20 minutes between appointments for a taped conversation to be broadcast on the television network where I was then employed.

I arrived at the location with my cameraman, who had barely started to unload his equipment when Senator Lieberman walked into the room.  Knowing that it would take a minimum of 15 minutes to set up the lights and camera, I had to play for time… and what better game than Jewish geography?

“You know, Senator”, I began, “I think we know some people in common.  My friend Mindy is principal of a day school in New Haven, where you live”.  “Ezra Academy?”, he replied.  “Of course I know it… and I know who she is too!” 
We went down the list of who among his friends and relatives attended or supported the school, and spoke of other acquaintances in the area.

The videographer was barely halfway through his process, and paying little attention to our banter as he tested camera angles and audio levels.  I started to shvitz… just a little… and the lights weren’t even on yet.

“You’re not originally from New Haven, though, are you?”, I ventured.  “Oh, no”, Lieberman said, “I’m a Stamford boy, born and bred.  My mom still lives there”.
“Really?  Do you know the Goldsteins?”, I asked.  “The Goldsteins?  With those two wonderful disabled sons?  Sure I do.  How do you know them?”  “Went to Camp Ramah with the older boy, Howie”, I answered.

And so my filibuster went for another ten minutes until finally, thankfully, we were ready to roll tape.  The interview went well, and we bid each other a fond farewell after taking a typical politician-posed photo together.

As we packed up the equipment, the cameraman said, “So, how do you know him?”  “What do you mean?”, I asked, confused at the question.  “Obviously, you guys go way back; I was eavesdropping a little as I set up”.

“Actually, no”, I said.  “Never met him before”.  The cameraman looked at me, incredulous.  “What are you talking about?  You were like old buddies, talking about all your friends and relatives!”

I mumbled something about “Coincidence, I guess”, as my colleague continued to express his astonishment at the many links between Lieberman and myself.
I had no idea how to explain to a non-Jew the concept that we Hebrews are all connected somehow in one grand, global mishpacha… and that a member of Congress can be just another Member of the Tribe.

Steve North is a longtime broadcast journalist, currently with CBS News

Lieberman reportedly to announce he’s done


U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman reportedly will not run for re-election.

Lieberman (I-Conn.), who became the first Jewish nominee on a major presidential ticket when Al Gore chose him as his running mate in 2000, will announce his decision Wednesday in Hartford, Politico reported.

Lieberman lost favor with Democrats over his support for the Iraq War. He lost the Connecticut primary in 2006 but ran as an independent and won.

He caucused with the Democrats, but backed the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

Lieberman’s overall ratings are low, ” title=”Politico.com” target=”_blank”>Politico.com.

 

 

Utah’s Lee tours Israel


Mike Lee, Utah’s senator-elect and among the most prominent of Tea Party conservatives, met in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lee, who ousted moderate Republicans in primaries in the recent election, toured Israel last week under the auspices of the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups are reaching out to such conservatives in a bid to persuade them not to cut foreign aid. The Tea Party insurgency helped the Republicans sweep the U.S. House of Representatives and cut into the Democrats’ majority in the Senate by promising cuts in government spending.

Ted Kennedy Dead at 77


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U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a major figure in the Democratic Party who took the helm of one of America’s most fabled political families after two older brothers were assassinated, died late on Tuesday at age 77.

“Edward M. Kennedy, the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply, died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port (Massachusetts),” the Kennedy family said in a statement.

“The Jewish community knew three Ted Kennedys,” wrote Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, ” and not all will be mourned equally. There was Ted the Brother, Ted the Scoundrel, Ted the Israel-Lover.”

Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Read the full statement here:

Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.

Obituary links:
To read Rob Eshman’s commentary, “Ted Kennedy, Israel and the Jews,” click here.
NYTimes.com
LATimes.com

Jews should oppose Senator Craig’s ouster


Long before Sen. Larry Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, American Jewish groups harbored serious doubts about the Idaho Republican. In June 1990, when Craig, then a congressman, was running for an open Senate seat, the Jerusalem Post bemoaned his “miserable” record on Israel. Pro-Israel political action committees raised more than $55,000 for Craig’s Democratic opponent in the race.

Now Craig, who over the weekend announced that he will step down later this month, is a man with very few friends.

One of his few outspoken defenders in recent days has been a gay, pro-Israel Jewish Democrat from Massachusetts, Rep. Barney Frank. While acknowledging that Craig’s conduct was “hypocritical,” given the Idahoan’s anti-gay rights record, Frank said his crime was “not an abuse of office” and does not warrant resignation.

Frank seemed to be speaking from his experience as an openly gay man, not from his experience as a Jew. But the American Jewish community as a whole should be upset over the Republican rush to drive Craig from office, and not just because as a senator he ended up being a pleasant surprise for pro-Israel activists.

As the late Yale historian John Boswell showed, where there is homophobia, anti-Semitism very often lurks around the corner.

“The same laws which oppressed Jews oppressed gay people; the same groups bent on eliminating Jews tried to wipe out homosexuality,” Boswell wrote.

While his study was based on medieval Europe, his words ring true in modern America. Jews may disagree about the status of homosexuals within our own religious communities, but when there is an upsurge of homophobia in society at large, all Jews should take note.

Craig, even though he insists he is not gay, appears to be a victim of homophobia.

Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives have long tolerated members in their midst who carried on extramarital affairs – with women. Craig’s crime in the court of law is that he allegedly sought to have sex in an airport bathroom, but his sentence in the court of public opinion is so severe because he allegedly sought to have sex with a man.

A double standard is being invoked here, and Jews, as the historical victims of double standards, have a duty to speak up.

The National Jewish Democratic Council is fulfilling that duty, at least in part. In an Aug. 30 statement, the council noted the discrepancy between the GOP’s lenient treatment of Republican Sen. David Vitter, the first-term Louisianan whose name appeared in a female prostitute’s Rolodex, and its swift punishment of Craig, who lost his major committee assignments after the sex scandal surfaced and was pressured into announcing his resignation.

Yet it is one thing to assail the Republican leadership and quite another to put in a good word for Craig himself. We may condemn Craig’s apparent attempt at adultery; we may disagree with Craig’s views on almost every topic; we may support the idea of a Democrat winning his Senate seat in 2008. But the fact remains that in the first year after his election to the Senate, Craig underwent a remarkable evolution from isolationist to Israel supporter. While his colleagues condemn Craig’s “conduct unbecoming a senator,” American Jews should remember Craig’s conduct on becoming a senator.

By 1990, Idaho’s senior senator, the Republican James McClure, had amassed, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “one of the most anti-Israel records.” Craig, who voted in the House against aid to Israel, seemed likely to follow in the retiring McClure’s footsteps.

As a freshman senator, however, Craig reconsidered his views. He visited Israel and spoke out on the Senate floor in favor of a $10 billion package of loan guarantees to pay for the absorption of Soviet and Ethiopian immigrants. Though he is unlikely to appear on any list of the “most pro-Israel senators,” Craig has consistently cautioned his colleagues about the threats posed to Israel’s security by global jihadists and a nuclear-armed Iran.

The Book of Proverbs instructs us: “Do not forsake your friend.” Craig has been forsaken by his own party, but as Craig has shown concern for the fate of the Jews, we should likewise show concern for him.

Of course, Craig’s pro-Israel stance is not the only reason why American Jews ought to oppose Craig’s ouster. We ought to oppose his ouster because it would signal a victory for forces of hate within the Republican Party.

Seventeen years ago, American Jews tried to prevent Craig from becoming a senator, but now we should be outraged over how he lost his job.

Daniel Hemel is a 2007 Marshall Scholar and is studying international relations at the Oxford University.

Hillary Clinton touts tough Israel stand as ’08 race begins


In her first address to a Jewish group since announcing her candidacy for president, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to convince doubters that she’ll stand by Israel in times of peril.

Speaking Feb. 1 at a dinner for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Northeast region, the New York Democrat — the early front-runner for her party’s presidential nomination — sought to answer several of the questions Jewish voters will be asking of presidential candidates over the next year and a half.

Clinton, 59, who was tough on Hamas and Hezbollah, said Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear power, and declared her unequivocal support for the Jewish state.

“I have been, I am now and I always will be proud to stand with all of you as a strong supporter of Israel,” the former first lady said. “We believe that Israelis have the right to live in their country without the constant threat of terrorism, war and rocket fire.”

Though it’s too early to predict who will take the Jewish vote in 2008, candidates are expected to woo Jewish voters because of their traditionally strong support for Democrats and their deep pockets as political contributors.

Observers say Clinton has made strides as a vocal supporter of Israel during her six years as a New York senator, even though she still may be a tough sell to those who have not forgiven her embrace and kiss with Suha Arafat at a November 1999 event in Gaza — just after Arafat had accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian babies.

Clinton claimed Arafat’s comments hadn’t been translated correctly, and she became aware of the allegations only after the event.

Still, her supporters say that those who bring up that incident now — after Clinton has consistently supported legislation in support of Israel — are grasping at straws.

Speaking before a crowd of 1,700 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City, Clinton described the “unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States based on shared interests and rooted in strength.”

Israel, she said, is a beacon of democracy in a tyrannical neighborhood, and the threats it faces from Hezbollah and Iran are threats not just to Israel but to the entire Middle East, the United States and the rest of the world.

Clinton berated Iran and the Holocaust denial conference in December, hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, though she didn’t mention Ahmadinejad’s name.

The conference “was beyond the pale of international discourse and acceptable behavior,” Clinton said, calling it an insult to survivors and Allied solders who bore witness to Nazi atrocities. “To deny the Holocaust places Iran’s leadership in the company of the most despicable bigots and historical revisionists.”

She said the conference only added urgency to the need to deal with Iran.
“U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal: We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons,” Clinton said. “As I have said for a long time, no option should be taken off the table” in dealing with this threat.

But the United States should first try to engage Iran in dialogue, she said.
“I’m not sure anything positive would come out of it,” Clinton said, but at least such a dialogue would give the United States more information about its adversary, possibly provide some leverage and — if military force ultimately is necessary — show the world that other options had been exhausted first.

In a speech in which she sentimentally recalled several trips to Israel, Clinton also said Hamas and Hezbollah must give up terrorism and accept Israel as a reality. She called on both groups to return three captured Israeli soldiers without condition.

Clinton, who lobbied for the International Red Cross (IRC) to accept Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response organization, said she had sent a letter to IRC President Jacob Kellenberger asking the Red Cross to make sure the captured soldiers are safe and are released. Two are being held in Lebanon and one in Gaza.

Clinton also said she would do “an event” next week in the Senate to highlight the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric that remains part of the Palestinian educational curriculum.

Though AIPAC does not support political candidates, some of the group’s supporters said before the speech that they were curious to hear what Clinton had to say.

“I think she is going to answer a lot of the questions,” Gail Levine, a Clinton supporter from Greenwich, Conn., said as she walked into the banquet hall.

Some, like Jules Spotts, a clinical psychologist from New Canaan, Conn., were not yet sold on Clinton. He said he was skeptical because Clinton had been a supporter of the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1960s.

“That is a long time to go back, but it is a large shift from where she was then to where she is now,” Spotts said before the speech.

It’s much too early to predict how Clinton will fare with Jewish voters in November 2008, said Morris Amitay, a former AIPAC head and co-founder of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

“There hasn’t even been any debate,” he said. “It’s the earliest we have ever had a presidential campaign start. The only thing you can say about the Jewish vote now is that it’s heavily Democratic.”

Still, debate already has begun among political pundits, said Betsy Sheerr, past president of the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, a political action committee that supports congressional candidates who are both pro-Israel and pro-choice.

While Clinton may be leading in polls now, early front-runners often fade and dark horses can gain momentum later in the race. Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign offers a perfect example of a candidate who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the presidency, Sheerr said.

“At this stage of the game, there are a lot of wait-and-see attitudes and there’s going to be no clear preference in the Jewish community for any of the candidates — except, obviously, their pro-Israel credentials will have to be very solid,” Sheerr said. “I think people are looking to see that they can back a winner.”

A Novel Boxer Novel


Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has joined the long list of solons who have dabbled in writing. Unlike John Kennedy, she admits to collaborating with a professional writer. Also unlike Kennedy, she is not likely to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Still, her just-released novel offers an inside look at politics that few know as well as California’s 65-year-old three-term senator.

With freelance writer Mary-Rose Hayes, Boxer, who reportedly received an advance of just under $16,000 from San Francisco-based publisher Chronicle Books, has brought forth “A Time to Run.”

In yet another case of art imitating life (or is it life imitating art?), “A Time to Run” is framed by an impending Senate vote on a conservative woman nominated for the Supreme Court. In between, the novel flashes back to the heady 1970s at Cal Berkeley, where Ellen Downey, an idealistic child rights advocate; Josh Fischer, an aspiring politician; and Greg Hunter, Fischer’s journalist roommate, meet as seniors at the fabled left-wing bastion.

All three characters are guilty of infidelities and other transgressions, but the aptly named Hunter is the one who always goes for the kill.

What defies comprehension is why Ellen ever listens to him again after he manipulates her into bed with him — when she is practically engaged to Josh.

Later on, after Hunter has co-authored a book about a right-wing actor famous for his cowboy roles (John Wayne, anyone?), after he has joined the payroll of a right-wing senator, after he has done everything possible to undermine the Senate bid of Josh (who dies in a car crash) — after all the dirty tricks, how can Ellen agree to meet him, let alone initially accept his evidence suggesting that the Supreme Court nominee is a child abuser.

Ellen, a diminutive California Senator, may seem like a barely disguised alter ego for Senator Boxer, but the fictional protagonist is cast as roughly 12 years younger, a product of the 1960s and 1970s, not the prudish Eisenhower-era ’50s. And Boxer herself, who was not available for an interview, denies any comparison. “She’s not me,” she told Associated Press. “She has no children. She’s younger…It’s a totally different life.”

“Time” is beset with anachronisms such as the verb “dis,” slang that was not common vernacular in 1974, and platitudes, such as Ellen’s observations at Josh’s funeral. (“A child wasn’t supposed to die before the parent…It was so wrong.”) However, “Time” does get better as it builds toward a climax. And Boxer provides a privileged look at the secret hideaways in the bowels of the Capitol. She also effectively reveals the insidiousness of politics. Reading about Greg Hunter is enough to leave readers feeling almost contaminated.

The release of the book at the time of Harriet Miers’ nomination appears to be coincidental since Boxer says she worked seven years on the novel. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that Boxer has nothing to say about the nominee. The senator, who voted against the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, told the New York Times Magazine that high court nominee Miers “doesn’t bring stellar experience to the job. That’s a fact.”

No Boxer Rebellion


The latest Field Poll shows U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer coasting toward re-election to a third term. She leads her Republican challenger, former California Secretary of State Bill Jones 48 to 32 percent.

The race will probably get closer, but it is hard to see how Jones can catch up as long as Boxer maintains the stranglehold on Democratic voters she has maintained since her first election in 1992. In each of her elections, she has dominated the Democratic electorate (including Jewish voters), run up big totals in Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, painted her Republican opponents as out-of-the-mainstream conservatives and won rather easily. Jones seems to be about to become the latest victim of the Boxer train.

Once buoyed by the 2003 recall and the election of GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republicans must feel that they are on the verge of missing yet another chance to knock Boxer out. There were reasons to think Boxer would have a particularly hard time this year. Last year, President Bush was quite popular in California. Schwarzenegger had taken over California politics and endorsed her opponent, Jones.

With greater Republican interest in statewide politics due to the recall, there might be a high turnout of Republican voters, just as there had been in October 2003. Most of all, the percentage of voters who thought Boxer should be re-elected hasn’t been over 50 percent in the Field Poll for more than year, a serious warning sign for an incumbent.

Yet here she is. Bush’s popularity is falling in California and Democrats are energized. The Senate race is moving into a zone of disinterest, overshadowed by the presidential election and statewide ballot measures.

The worst news for Jones has to be the low level of interest in the Senate race. According to the Field Poll, 9 percent of voters were following the Senate campaign very closely in August; now it is only 8 percent.

By contrast, historic numbers of U.S. voters are playing close attention to the presidential election. Without much media attention — the challenger’s oxygen against an incumbent — it may be hard for Jones to catch up.

Boxer may not be the sort of moderate candidate that, as a whole, California voters love, compared to, say, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. But she can raise tons of money, she is hugely energetic and she maintains her political base in the Democratic Party.

She is also surprisingly careful. In the 2003 recall, she distanced herself from the doomed Gray Davis by joining with Loretta Sanchez to float the idea of Feinstein running as a replacement candidate. She was rather judicious in what she said about Schwarzenegger, a man who keeps a close tally of friends and enemies.

Even as a liberal activist, Boxer stays below the radar and does not become a lightning rod for her political enemies. She is no Hillary Clinton, keeping the radical right up at night boiling with rage. She manages to be a liberal icon without stirring up a hornet’s nest.

Boxer’s biggest problem would not have been Jones, but Schwarzenegger. Had the governor thrown everything he had at Boxer, he might have disrupted her winning formula.

Fortunately for Boxer, the governor has other fish to fry. He is trying to block some gambling ballot measures and hoping to win some state legislative seats for his party.

He needs friends in Washington of both parties to win benefits for California and would be unlikely to expend a lot of energy trying to drive an incumbent senator out of office. Some even think that he has his eye on Feinstein’s Senate seat in 2006, should she step down.

If so, he would need to keep refining his bipartisan approach for a Republican in a Democratic state. His support among California Democrats has been dropping since he spoke at the Republican convention.

What is most surprising about Boxer’s impending re-election is that we no longer notice that California has two Jewish women senators. When they came on board together in 1992, this was a true phenomenon. Now there are 11 Jewish senators and numerous members of the House of Representatives, governors and even a vice presidential nominee in 2000. Some are Democrats, others are Republicans.

It is hard to imagine that a generation ago, Jews debated whether prominent Jewish officeholders would excite anti-Semitism. Now, political candidates brag about their long-lost Jewish relatives, Jews hold office in great numbers and the result has not been an upsurge of anti-Semitism.

While Jewish elected officials do not vote as a bloc, it is a sea change to have so many people in Washington, D.C., who directly understand the core issues of Jewish voters. And Boxer seems to show that with the right combination of moxie and luck, even a Jewish liberal can survive and thrive in high office.

Why John Kerry?


I have spent more than two decades working in Washington, D.C., to bolster the American-Israeli special relationship. I have worked with both Republicans and Democrats across the political spectrum.

After seriously considering the records of both President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, I can say without reservation that Kerry will be a better president for the United States and will enhance the American-Israeli relationship.

The Jewish community has myriad interests and cannot be characterized as “single-issue” voters. It is clear that on most foreign policy and domestic issues of chief concern to American Jews, both Sens. Kerry and John Edwards have provided strong leadership in the past and will do so when they are elected.

Kerry and Edwards have spoken out forcefully against all forms of anti-Semitism in this country and around the world. Recently, Kerry harshly criticized anti-Semitic statements by Saudi officials. He also pledged that, as president, he would support the creation of a State Department office dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.

Most American Jews also tend to agree with the Democratic nominees on such issues as reproductive choice, civil liberties, environmental protection, selection of judicial nominees, support for the public school system, commitment to science and crucial research — including embryonic stem cell research — and separation of religion and state.

While Jews are far from a monolithic voting bloc, support for Israel is the one issue that unites us and is critical when we consider candidates for public office.

I first met Kerry in 1984, when I was a lobbyist at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and he was a newly elected senator. Kerry immediately impressed me as a strong supporter of America’s special relationship with Israel.

He was aware of the legacy of Harry S. Truman and the Democratic Party in the birth, survival and rich development of Israel. Over the next 20 years of Kerry’s public service, he distinguished himself as a leader in Congress in support of Israel.

In remarks to B’nai Brith, Kerry described his commitment to Israel as “absolutely unwavering.” His actions bear out the truth of this statement. He has repeatedly stressed his “100 percent record of supporting Israel on every resolution, on every important vote, on every funding, on every effort.”

Kerry traveled to Israel on numerous occasions — not just in advance of a presidential election — and has developed close relations with both public officials and private citizens.

The best sign of Kerry’s dedication to Israeli security has been his support when it really counts. He has not been afraid to take on presidents when he felt Israel’s well-being was at stake.

For example, he stood up to the first President Bush in 1990, when that administration attempted to restrict loan guarantees to Israel.

Kerry has opposed every effort to sell weapons to Israel’s enemies, including Saudi Arabia.

Terrorism is the great scourge of the early 21st Century. Kerry warned of this threat long before Sept. 11. He has been a leader on promoting security for the people of this nation and for America’s friends abroad.

In particular, he understands that terrorism is a threat the United States and Israel share in common. As a decorated war veteran, Kerry knows, better than most, the right of Israel to defend itself against threats against its citizens and the need to ensure its security. He supports Israel’s right to build a security fence and to allow its Supreme Court, not the International Court of Justice, to address the issue of its location.

While advocating a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms that preserve and enhance Israeli security, he has ruled out Yasser Arafat as a credible negotiating partner. Kerry has also rejected “open-ended” Palestinian right of return as a “nonstarter” to any agreement.

Moreover, while endorsing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan from Gaza, Kerry stated that such a withdrawal must be done in a way to ensure that Gaza not remain a haven for terror attacks against Israel.

Kerry has been a leader in all efforts to enhance Israel’s security. In the Senate, he co-sponsored the Syria Accountability Act to ensure that Syria not acquire or distribute additional weapons.

Achieving long-term security for Israel will require sustained engagement by the United States. Periodic dabbling is not enough.

Kerry will keep the United States focused on the peace process without forcing Israel to take steps that will compromise its security.

He indicated his intention to appoint a high-level official to focus on these matters, rather than let conditions drift for months on end with ever-increasing casualties.

He will also initiate a plan for energy independence from Mideast oil, including research, exploration and developing new technologies.

Finally, throughout the region, he will pursue policies designed to promote democracy, enhance education that teaches skills rather than hatred, stimulate economies and counter Islamic fundamentalism.

In short, Kerry’s record as a leader in support of Israel is rock solid. He is right for the American Jewish community, right for Israel and, most important, right for America.


Ralph Nurnberger was a lobbyist at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (1981-89); he is currently a professor of international relations at Georgetown University and of counsel with Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds in Washington, D.C.

Support for IsraelElementary to Watson


She may not know the word shteibel, but she knows what’s going on.

"I represented [them] before, you know, in the ’80s when I was a state senator," said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), referring to the Jews of Hancock Park. "They wanted to pray, to have a temple in a house. I helped them get the permits."

When Watson runs for reelection this November, she’ll face some disadvantages not usually encountered by an incumbent politician. For one, she will have only represented her constituents for 18 months. She had won the House seat in a special election last year to replace the late Julian Dixon.

Another disadvantage is redistricting, which has changed the shape of her congressional district and added new voters groups that she has never represented in Congress before. Those new constituents include the active Jewish community of Hancock Park.

"I’m very pleased to have Hancock Park back," said Watson, whose redrawn 33rd District will retain her base in Culver City, Ladera Heights and South Los Angeles, at the same time adding Hancock Park and parts of the Hollywood and Silverlake areas. Watson represented much of the same area, including part of Hancock Park, when she became the first African American woman elected to state Senate in 1978, serving five terms.

In 1976, she became the first African American woman on the Los Angeles School Board. Before returning to elected office last year to fill Dixon’s congressional seat, Watson served two years as ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia.

As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Watson is aware of the tensions between African American and Jewish leaders that have grown during this election cycle, particularly the primary defeats of African American incumbents Earl Hilliard in Alabama and Cynthia McKinney in Georgia. Both incumbents were defeated with the help of Jewish organizations and individuals, largely from outside their House districts, concerned over their anti-Israel voting records.

In contrast to the two defeated House members, Watson has regularly supported Israel in Congress. She even met with Agudath Israel of America’s 2002 National Leadership Mission to Washington.

Watson, who sits of the House International Relations Committee, was quick to emphasize that the addition of the Jewish community in Hancock Park to her district does not add many Jewish voters to her constituency. The congresswoman explained that she lost Jewish voters in Cheviot Hills, the Pico-Robertson area and other parts of West Los Angeles in the same redistricting.

Her well-documented support for Israel, she said, is the result of her "long relationship with Israel, going back to the ’60s." In that decade, during a teaching stint in France, Watson made a side trip on her own to the Holy Land. "I’m a Catholic by the way, so the Via Dolorosa was an important place to visit."

In the 1980s, already familiar with the issues of the region and the importance of a strong Israel, Watson made an official trip to the country with a delegation from the state Legislature. During the visit, Watson conceived and later helped bring to Tel Aviv a statue honoring [African-American] Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, who helped negotiate the end of Israel’s War of Independence.

In November 2001, she delivered the keynote address at the "All Eyes on Israel" conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee on Campus (AIPAC), where she said that United States has no greater friend than Israel. "I just think we need to be there for Israel," she told The Journal, "and we certainly are."

Watson’s voting record reflects her visits to Israel and her public statements in support of the country. In December 2001, she voted for a House resolution urging action against Palestinian terrorism. In March of this year, she signed a letter to President Bush urging the addition of the Palestinian groups Tanzim, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Force 417 to the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

Watson has also voted in favor of the congressional resolution expressing solidarity with Israel in the fight against terrorism, and in favor of a strong foreign aid package for Israel. Elliot Brandt, AIPAC western regional director, called Watson "stellar in her support of Israel."

Watson is expected to easily win reelection in the heavily Democratic district. The California Public Policy Foundation predicted a "slam dunk" for the Democrat in its California Political Review newsletter.

The prediction, based on Democrats making up 69 percent of registered voters in the district, questioned only whether Republican challenger Andrew Kim will be able to match Bush’s 13 percent showing in the district 2000 election.

In a district which she called "hugely diverse," Watson represents approximately one-third African American voters, one-third Hispanics and one-third "everybody, everybody." The district includes Little Armenia, Thai Town, Koreatown and a Greek community. Luckily, Watson said, in foreign policy and her home district alike, "I’m a negotiator, not a pugilist."

Capitol Hill Gains


One influential Jewish representative was defeated, one venerated Jewish senator retired and the number of Jewish Republicans in the House may have tripled as a result of this week’s elections.Overall, the Jewish presence in Congress will increase, with several new faces in the House of Representatives.

The 107th Congress will have at least 27 Jewish representatives and at least nine senators. The 106th Congress had 23 Jewish representatives and 11 senators.

Two House races in which Jewish challengers were attempting to unseat incumbents were still too close to call Wednesday morning, as the nation waited to see whether Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) would become the first-ever Jewish vice president.

If Lieberman does not make it to the White House, he will return to the Senate, ensuring a Jewish “minyan” in the upper chamber.

But a Democratic Jewish colleague from Lieberman’s home state, Rep. Sam Gejdenson, will not be returning to Congress. Gejdenson lost his House seat and the important standing as the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee when he was unseated Tuesday by Republican Rob Simmons.

Gejdenson has long been viewed as a friend to the Jewish community and particularly strong on Israel issues.

Jews are losing another longtime friend on Capitol Hill with the retirement of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who stepped down after 18 years. His successor, Democrat Jon Corzine, who poured millions of his own dollars into the campaign, can thank the majority of the state’s 600,000 Jews who helped vote him into office.

Two other Jewish senators up for reelection – Dianne Feinstein (D- Calif.) and Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) – both won.

Republican Jewish numbers in the House, meanwhile, may increase from one to two or three, depending on whether Republican Dick Zimmer succeeds in unseating incumbent Democrat Rush Holt and regaining the seat Zimmer once held.

Zimmer was originally declared the winner in New Jersey’s 12th District, but by noon Wednesday, the race was still too close to call.

The new Jewish Republican in the House is Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) was reelected.

New Democratic Jewish members of the House are Susan Davis and Adam Schiff of California, as well as Steve Israel of New York, who was the regional director for American Jewish Congress on Long Island in the 1980s.

Jane Harman (D-Calif.) returns to the House seat she once held after defeating Republican incumbent Steven Kuykendall.

Another race, in Florida’s 22nd District, was still too close to call Wednesday morning. There, 20-year incumbent Republican Clay Shaw was trying to stave off a challenge from Elaine Bloom, a Jewish Democrat. The bitter campaign had both candidates hurling accusations at each other and vying for the votes of the more than 100,000 Jews in the South Florida district.

The district is 40 to 45 percent Jewish, and both Bloom and Shaw have strong relationships with the community, said Luis Fleischman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Palm Beach County.

Some races were watched closely because the Jewish vote could have made a difference, while others highlighted a particular candidate’s positions that either turned on or turned off Jewish sensibilities. Among the results from key Senate races are:

In New York, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated Republican Rick Lazio. After a grueling campaign, the first lady rode to victory by an estimated 56 percent to 44 percent. But Jews, who made up 14 percent of overall voters, were deeply split.

Estimates were that anywhere between 53 percent and 58 percent of Jews voted for Clinton amid lingering concern over her controversial kiss last year of Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian Authority president, and her support of a Palestinian state. But Lazio may have tried too hard with his charges that Clinton had ties to Muslim groups advocating terrorism.

In California’s 27th District, Democrat Adam Schiff won a decisive victory over Republican incumbent Jim Rogan, after the candidates waged what was one of the most expensive House campaigns in history. Over $9 million later, Schiff beat out Rogan, one of the House managers during at the Clinton impeachment trial, by 54 to 43 percent.

In Nevada, Republican John Ensign defeated Jewish Democrat Ed Bernstein. A well-known trial attorney, Bernstein had been down more than 30 points and then pulled within four points of his opponent, but it was not enough. Nevada is a conservative state, and Bernstein’s liberal message did not play well, as he lost 56 to 40 percent. The open Democratic seat is a major loss to Senate Democrats, who were hoping for a gain in numbers.

In Colorado’s 6th District, Ken Toltz, a Jewish Democrat, went up against Republican incumbent Tom Tancredo but did not manage to unseat him. Tancredo beat the Jewish businessman 54 to 43 percent, as Tancredo’s conservatism appeared not to give him problems. Gun control had become a major issue in the campaign particularly because this district includes the town of Columbine, the scene of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.

In New Jersey, Democrat Corzine decisively beat Republican Bob Franks. For many Jews, the idea of anyone replacing Lautenberg, who was venerated by the Jewish community, will be tough. But Corzine spent $60 million on the campaign and reached out to a significant portion of the state’s 600,000 plus Jews. In the end, 72 percent of Jewish voters backed him.

In Michigan, Democrat Debbie Stabenow defeated Republican incumbent Sen. Spencer Abraham. In a very close race only declared Wednesday morning, Stabenow finally dealt Abraham, the only Arab American senator, a defeat.

Abraham was accused of running a lackluster campaign, while the two-term representative Stabenow’s health care ideas may have resonated with voters. The much-touted Arab-American voting bloc may not have come out strong enough for Abraham. Michigan has more than 100,000 Jews, and over 300,000 Arab Americans.

Among the House races involving Jewish candidates: In Illinois’ 10th District, Lauren Beth Gash, a Jewish Democrat, lost to Mark Kirk, a Republican. It was a close race for the open seat vacated by retiring Republican Rep. John Porter, who was well regarded by the 50,000-strong Jewish community on Chicago’s North Shore.

Gash, who was an active member of the Jewish delegation to the State Assembly and serves on the regional board of the American Jewish Congress, tried to reach out to Jews, but she fell short.

Kirk may have enjoyed some advantage because he worked for Porter, knows the Jewish community well and is adept with issues of importance to the community, such as aid to Israel and immigration, said Jay Tcath, director of the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council.

In Virginia’s 7th District, Republican Eric Cantor defeated Democrat Warren A. Stewart by a wide margin. Cantor, a Jewish real estate executive, was heavily favored to win the seat of retiring 10-term Republican Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr.

In New Jersey’s 3rd District, Democrat Susan Bass Levin gave Republican Jim Saxton a good run, but Saxton ended up winning by 58 to 42 percent. Saxton, a 16-year incumbent, beat Levin, the popular Jewish mayor of Cherry Hill, despite her work to get support of the area’s 30,000 Jews. Levin apparently did not boost her name recognition enough outside her home city.

Jews in the New Senate

Following is a listing of Jews who will serve in the next Senate. (An asterisk indicates senators who were elected or reelected Tuesday.) Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was also reelected and will serve if he does not become vice president.

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) * Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) * Carl Levin (D-Mich.) Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)