Joe Biden’s son Beau dies of brain cancer; 46


Former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, died on Saturday after battling brain cancer, the vice president said. He was 46.

“The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words,” Vice President Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

“We know that Beau's spirit will live on in all of us, especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter,” he said.

Beau Biden had announced last year he planned to run for governor of Delaware in 2016.

He was diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2013 and underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. After getting a “a clean bill of health” in November of that year, his cancer recurred in the spring of 2015, the vice president's office said.

He sought aggressive treatment and had been hospitalized this month at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington. His family was with him when he died.

“Beau embodied my father's saying that a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did,” the vice president said. “In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”

Beau Biden was very close to his father and a familiar presence in his political campaigns.

After eight years as attorney general in Delaware, Beau Biden joined the investor law firm Grant & Eisenhofer in 2015.

He served a year-long tour in Iraq as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard. He suffered a mild stroke in 2010.

President Barack Obama said he and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, were grieving. He paid warm tribute to Beau Biden, saying he took after his father.

“He studied the law, like his dad, even choosing the same law school. He chased a life of public service, like his dad, serving in Iraq and as Delaware’s Attorney General,” Obama said in a statement.

“Like his dad, Beau was a good, big-hearted, devoutly Catholic and deeply faithful man, who made a difference in the lives of all he touched, and he lives on in their hearts.”

The vice president has not publicly ruled out a run for president in 2016, but he would face tough odds to gain an advantage over his friend, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is far ahead in public opinion polls in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton expressed condolences over Twitter on Saturday.

“My heart is broken for the family of Beau Biden – a wonderful man who served his country with devotion and lived his life with courage,” she wrote.

The vice president has faced family tragedy before.

Shortly after winning election to the U.S. Senate in 1972, his wife Neilia and three children were in a car crash. Neilia and their daughter were killed, while their two sons, Beau and Hunter, were injured.

Biden opted not to move to Washington, choosing instead to make the 2 1/2-hour daily round-trip train commute from Delaware to his Senate job so he could spend more time with his sons. He married Jill Jacobs some five years after his first wife died.

Biden took office as vice president when Obama entered the White House in January 2009. He has a deep knowledge of Washington politics after decades in Congress and a folksy, avuncular style that contrasts with what many consider Obama's more aloof manner.

Biden regularly mentions his family in speeches and sometimes has his grandchildren accompany him on diplomatic trips abroad.

VP hopeful Paul Ryan meets with Sheldon Adelson


Paul Ryan met with Sheldon Adelson, a major giver to Republicans in the effort to defeat President Obama, just days after being tapped by presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as his running mate.

Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, met Tuesday with Adelson and other major Republican donors at the casino magnate’s Venetian hotel in Las Vegas.

The New York Times reported that the private meeting was geared in part at assessing the foreign policy views of Ryan, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee who is better known for his tough proposals to slash government spending.

Romney named Ryan as his vice presidential choice on Saturday in what was seen in part as a bid to consolidate grass-roots conservative support for the ticket.

Adelson, perhaps the biggest single American donor to pro-Israel causes, has pledged up to $100 million to defeat Obama.

Ayn Rand … Rosenbaum?


The first public cause to which Ayn Rand donated her own money was the State of Israel.

I find this little-known nugget fascinating for two reasons.

One, it contradicts the idée fixe of Rand as not really Jewish. And two, it contradicts the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Rand’s followers often obscure, or quickly pass over, her Jewishness.  The official Ayn Rand Web site, aynrand.org, doesn’t mention it. Neither does the Web site of her most popular book, atlasshrugged.org, nor the hagiographical site, facetsofaynrand.com.

But none of this is exactly a secret. In her excellent 2011 book about Rand, “Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right,” Jennifer Burns tells the story. Alisa Rosenbaum was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on Feb. 2, 1905, to Zinovy Rosenbaum, a pharmacist, and Anna Rosenbaum, the high-strung daughter of a wealthy tailor, whose clients included the Russian Army.  The Rosenbaums were largely non-observant, but celebrated Passover and were by no means completely assimilated—Alisa sat out of class during religious instruction.

[Related: How Paul Ryan will motivate Jewish voters]

Intellectual, withdrawn and immersed in her fantasy worlds, Alisa yearned to leave her country behind. When she was 21, Jewish relatives in Chicago—the Portnoys, of all names—helped her arrange a visa.  Once in America, she grew tired of her relatives’ insular Jewish world, and headed for the source — you could say the fountainhead — of her fantasy: Hollywood.

In Hollywood, the aspiring screenwriter Alisa Rosenbaum became Ayn Rand. An Eastern European émigré who breaks free from the claws of tradition and family, gentrifies her name, assimilates and devotes herself to creating stories about an idealized America — if that’s not the very definition of a 20th century Jew, what is?

Rand was a classic 20th-century Jew in another way as well: she was a devout atheist. She replaced God with her philosophy, just as Freud did with psychology and Einstein with physics. She loathed religion as much as the Communists, whom she loathed, loathed religion. In a 1979 interview, Rand told talk-show host Phil Donahue that religion, “gives man permission to function irrationally, to accept something above and outside the power of their reason.”

All this matters now because Ayn Rand matters now — perhaps more than ever. Gov. Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, is a self-described Ayn Rand devotee — and not of her early screenplays.

Ryan requires all his staff members to read Rand’s seminal novels, “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” The ideas she developed in these novels, as Burns writes, have become the ideological touchstones of the modern Conservative movement.

“Rand advanced a deeply negative portrait of government action,” Burns writes. “In her work, the state is always the destroyer, acting to frustrate the natural ingenuity and drive of individuals. Her work … helped inspire a broad intellectual movement that challenged the liberal welfare state and proclaimed the desirability of free markets.”

It is hard to read Ryan’s plan for addressing the Federal deficit and not see Rand’s ideological pencil marks.

The Ryan budget, wrote David Stockman, the conservative Republican former budget director under President Ronald Reagan, “shreds the measly means-tested safety net for the vulnerable: the roughly $100 billion per year for food stamps and cash assistance for needy families and the $300 billion budget for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled.”

In other words, the Ryan budget is Ayn Rand’s philosophy made flesh. 

I understand the origins of Rand’s emphasis on initiative and ingenuity. She was an exceptional individual, an outsider who by sheer force of intellect and will forged not just a life, but a movement. 

I understand her faith in capitalism and the free market. The Bolsheviks shattered her family, and few understood better than she the failure of Communism.

I even understand her rejection of religion — in her day it was most often a force of repression and superstition.

What I don’t understand is how, given these beliefs, Rand also could urge her followers to donate money to Israel.

“Give all help possible to Israel,” said Rand, then in her late 60s, in a lecture in 1973. “Consider what is at stake.”

Rand made clear she loathed Arabs and the Soviet Union, and saw Israel as a bulwark against both — even if it was socialist.

“This is the first time I’ve contributed to a public cause,” Rand said, “helping Israel in an emergency.”

Really, how do you explain such a thing? True, she saw Arab culture as “primitive,” but she acknowledged individuals had no responsibility to help citizens of other countries. She didn’t act out of logic or rationality — she acted because she felt, in dire circumstances—part of a collective. In that time, I believe, she wasn’t The Individual, she was part of a group: The Jews.

That feeling, that impulse, may not be rational, but it is powerful. There is a very real sense, as Jews, as Americans, as people, that we are bonded to one another despite, or even because of, our essential individualism. 

Rand’s religious blind spot is also Ryan’s policy blind spot. The most successful countries on Earth do not just fund defense, police and the courts, as Rand would have it. They invest in research, education and innovation. They provide a safety net to the sick and needy. They keep defense spending in check. They protect the environment from over-exploitation. They make cuts and raise taxes, so that society’s costs and benefits are shared.

Ayn Rand couldn’t see this. I hope Paul Ryan can.

Editorial Cartoon: Mitt Romney’s electrifying choice


Ryan hailed by Jewish GOPers, organizations see him as a face of budget confrontations


Anointing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney attached a name and face to his fiscal policy.

Jewish Republicans, including the House majority leader, say they are thrilled with Wisconsin’s Ryan emerging as the ticket’s fresh face, hailing the lawmaker as a thoughtful and creative budget guru bent on taming out-of-control federal spending.

Ryan’s name is well known to Jewish community leaders who have been grappling with the Republicans’ chief budget shaper since the party retook the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.

It’s just not one they’re happy pronouncing.

The Washington groups that deal with budget policy have had many interactions with Ryan, who as chairman of the House Budget Committee authors Congress’ proposed budget.

They have not been happy ones, although speaking on background, the first thing Ryan’s Jewish and Democratic interlocutors emphasize is that he is as affable and gracious one on one as he appears to be in public. But Jewish groups see Ryan’s plan threatening Medicare and Medicaid, programs that are cornerstones of care for the Jewish elderly—a population growing faster than among most other religious and ethnic groups.

“The Republicans can write off Florida, or at least its Jewish vote,” said one organizational insider who has a strong working relationship with both parties.

Jewish Democrats made it clear that they were ready to seize the moment.

“Ryan’s signature budget plan drew the profound concern and even ire of many in the American Jewish community because of its plans to end Medicare as we know it, slash vital social safety net programs, and increase the burden on seniors, the middle class and the poor—yet Romney today proudly hitched his horse to Ryan’s dangerous plan,” the National Jewish Democratic Council said Saturday after Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate, announced his pick.

Ryan and his defenders argue that his proposals will drive down costs by spurring competitive pricing and save popular entitlement programs from eventual bankruptcy.

“Paul Ryan has challenged both party leaderships in Washington to face up to growing fiscal problems that threaten to blight our nation’s future.,” the Republican Jewish Coalition said in its statement welcoming Romney’s announcement on Saturday.  “And while congressional Republicans have responded to the challenge, Democrats have ducked responsibility.”

Outside of his leaderdship on budget issues, Ryan, 42, has not been preeminent in many of the areas that traditionally have attracted Jewish organizational interest.
Elected in 1998, he visited Israel in 2005 on a trip organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Along with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), he has joined Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, as the “young guns” heralding a more robustly conservative Republican Party, one that appeals more to the Tea Party insurgents who fueled the Republican takeover of the House in 2010.

Cantor has often pointed out the diversity embodied by the trio—Cantor is a Southeastern observant Jew, Ryan is a Midwestern Roman Catholic and McCarthy is a Western Protestant.

“Having worked closely with Paul, I’ve seen firsthand the energy and commitment he brings to pursuing the kind of pro-growth economic policies we need to create jobs and reduce our massive debt,” Cantor said in a statement. “Quite simply, Mitt Romney could not have made a finer choice for the future direction of our country.”

Ryan has followed Cantor’s lead on foreign policy, co-sponsoring signature pieces of legislation that the majority leader initiated, most recently one that enhances security cooperation between the United States and Israel.

“America has no better friend in the Middle East than the nation of Israel. Not only is Israel the region’s only fully functioning democracy, with a government based on popular consent and the rule of law, but it is also a valuable ally against Islamic extremism and terrorism,” Ryan says on his congressional page.

Ryan has not interacted extensively with the small Jewish community in Wisconsin, but those who have met him say he’s an eager student of the Middle East.

“He’s thought a lot about those issues, although he might not be an expert like he is on the nitty gritty of the budget,” said Nat Sattler, who has been active in Wisconsin Republican politics and who has met Ryan at Republican and pro-Israel events. “Knowing his ability to suck up information, I’m sure he is becoming an expert.”

Ryan has backed cuts to the overall foreign assistance budget, although he favors funding at current levels for Israel. AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups generally are committed to maintaining foreign assistance funding overall, and not just for Israel.

It is in the area of domestic spending that the clashes between Ryan and the Jewish organizational community have been evident.

On the record, however, organizational criticism often does not often name Ryan because such groups do not want to make enemies or to seem partisan. But even absent names and party affiliation it can be scathing.

In 2011, the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs – the two leading policy umbrellas addressing economic issues – were blunt in a joint letter to Congress members slamming plans that originated with Ryan that would transition parts of Medicare, the medical program for the elderly, to a Medicare Exchange in which a variety of private plans would be made available.

The plan also would convey funds for Medicaid, government-funded insurance for the poor, in block grants to the states. JFNA and JCPA objected to the loosening of federal controls over how such money is spent.

“We recognize that this country’s very significant budget deficit threatens the long-term prosperity of our nation,” it said. “We also believe that the major entitlement programs protect the health and economic security of our most vulnerable citizens.”

It continued: “Within the current framework of Medicaid and Medicare, we believe that it is possible to restrain growth and rein in costs,” read the April 2011 letter.  “We are capable of strengthening their long-term viability without a fundamental restructuring that turns Medicaid into a block grant or Medicare into a voucher program.”

As the budget debate has become more rancorous this year, the JFNA has opted out, although among other Jewish groups the criticism has become more pointed.

Also featuring in the Jewish criticism of Ryan’s plans are his proposals to slash spending on assistance for the poor, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center has taken to naming Ryan in its broadsides against his budget.

“By ending the entitlement status of Medicaid and Medicare, fundamentally altering the tax system, and slashing spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and education programs, the Ryan plan would turn our backs on our obligation to care for all Americans,” said a statement in March from the RAC. “We are commanded in Deuteronomy, ‘Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.’ ”

Ryan’s defenders note that much of his plan was shaped in coordination with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who happens to be Jewish—although Wyden now disavows much of the claim. Wyden notes that he joined Ryan in shaping the plan in part based on the understanding that it would keep intact President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Romney and Ryan have pledged to repeal.

“If you repeal the Affordable Care Act, what Mr. Romney is saying is, he just wishes for the best,” Wyden told the Oregonian.

Jewish community officials say that privatization of entitlement programs is more likely to drive up costs for individuals than it is to keep overall costs down.

“A competition approach is not appropriate for people who are higher risk,” said Rachel Goldberg, the director of senior advocacy for B’nai B’rith International. Ryan’s plan, she said, would lure younger and healthier Medicare-eligible Americans into cheaper plans, which in turn would drive up costs for older and less healthy citizens.

Ryan’s defenders note that Obama’s plan also incorporates cuts to Medicare. They argue that Ryan’s plan, broadening options for recipients, is the more efficient and the likelier to prevent further cuts.

“Everyone acknowledges the program is the foremost driver of our long-term debt,” Rich Lowry wrote in National Review Online. “Both Ryan and the president use the same formula of roughly GDP growth plus inflation for setting Medicare’s global budget. The difference is that the president wants a bureaucratic board to get the savings through arbitrary limits on prices that ultimately will limit access to care, while Ryan wants to get the savings through competition and choice.”

How Ryan will motivate Jewish voters


Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate on the Republican ticket will help win Jewish votes.  For the Democrats.

Ryan may help Romney shore up support among Tea Partiers and evangelicals who don’t really trust his claims of conversion to their cause, but it is those issues that will cost him Jewish support.

Like everyone else in the Republican primaries, Romney ran hard to the right and was expected to follow the Nixon dictum and pivot toward the center for the general election.  Even senior advisors expected that when one spoke of the Etch-A-Sketch campaign.  But instead Romney moved further to the right with his choice of a running mate.

Turnout is critical and each party will be using Ryan to motivate its base to go to the polls, but for Republicans that appeal to hardline conservatives could cost them votes among undecided Jewish voters and independents in the center whose support will be critical in an election as close as this one appears to be.

Romney’s effort to make Israel a partisan wedge issue in this campaign is overrated.  Jews will still vote overwhelmingly Democratic again this year and it is questionable whether the GOP can draw off enough of their votes to make a difference in battleground states like Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Medicare-sensitive Florida. His real goal isn’t really votes anyway. It’s big bucks from conservative, deep-pocket donors who put Israel at the top of their agenda.

Foreign and defense policies are the Romney-Ryan ticket’s weak spots.  Neither man has any foreign policy experience — Romney’s recent overseas trip showed he’s not ready for prime time in that realm — and their combined military experience constitutes running down the gangplank on a mothballed World War II battleship Saturday morning to announce the young Wisconsin congressman’s selection.

While Republicans argue that Ryan’s presence on the ticket will enhance its focus on jobs and the economy, in reality it will shift the focus to his budget proposals that would significantly alter Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other entitlement programs high on the Jewish agenda.

Romney has praised the Ryan budget as “marvelous” and said if he were president and it landed on his desk, he would sign it.  Translation:  He just bought it and made it his own.

Campaign aides scampered to distance Romney from the Ryan proposals, saying he’d have his own plan once elected, but his longstanding aversion to providing any specifics leaves the Ryan budget — now the Ryan-Romney budget — to fill the vacuum and provide Democrats a very inviting target for hard-hitting attack ads.

Ryan’s proposals call for cutting funding for social programs so deeply that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a national group of nuns have publicly criticized it as harmful to the neediest in society.

The National Jewish Democratic Council, a partisan group, noted that “A broad array of Jewish groups have criticized elements of Ryan’s budget proposals, although without naming him.”

Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee, is one of the most conservative members of the Republican Caucus.  The bishops and nuns may not like his plans to cut programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people,” but, unlike most Jewish voters, they do like his hardline views on abortion, gay marriage and reproductive rights.

Most damaging to the ticket may be his proposals to privatize Social Security, transform Medicare into a voucher system and turn Medicaid over to the states through block grants.

Democrats have dusted off their mantra and you’ll be hearing it a lot:  Romney and Ryan want to “end Medicare as we know it.”

Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee and is Jewish, said “families and seniors in my home state of Florida want no part of a Romney-Ryan economic scheme that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare.”

Imagine if George W. Bush had gotten his way in 2005 when he proposed privatizing Social Security by allowing contributors to put their money into the stock market instead of the government trust fund.  Much of that money would have been lost when the Bush administration plunged the country into its deepest recession ever.

Social Security is the proverbial third rail of politics and Romney may have just stepped on it.

The Ryan-Romney budget calls for more tax cuts for millionaires like Romney and his fat-cat contributors while making Draconian cuts in federal spending on food safety, energy research, environmental protection, infrastructure, college tuition aid, food stamps, prescription drug coverage, workplace safety, women’s health coverage, consumer protection, product safety and the like.

Ryan could do more to keep Jewish voters in the Democratic column than any other single factor in this election.  Republicans will try to avoid specifics about the impact of Romney-Ryan policies and they will tout Ryan’s courage in tackling tough fiscal issues like entitlements, but voters like their entitlements (not so much yours, but they like their own), and if they fear Ryan and Romney will take them away, they’ll vote Democratic.  Again.

Jewish voters, with their strong affinity for programs serving the needy and the elderly, could be the first to punch the “no sale” button on the Romney-Ryan ticket.

©2012 Douglas M. Bloomfield

Partisan Jewish groups focus on budget in assessing Ryan pick


Partisan Jewish groups focused on Paul Ryan’s leading role in the budget stand-off in assessing Mitt Romney’s pick as running mate.

Rep. Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives budget committee, has taken a lead role in the stand-off between the White House and the Democratic-led Senate on one side and the Republican-led House on the other, that has stymied passage of a budget.

“Paul Ryan has challenged both party leaderships in Washington to face up to growing fiscal problems that threaten to blight our nation’s future,” Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Saturday after Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, presented Ryan as his vice presidential pick at a rally in Norfolk, Va.  “And while congressional Republicans have responded to the challenge, Democrats have ducked responsibility.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council said Ryan does “not reflect Jewish community values.”

David Harris, the NJDC president, said in a statement that “Ryan’s signature budget plan drew the profound concern and even ire of many in the American Jewish community because of its plans to end Medicare as we know it, slash vital social safety net programs, and increase the burden on seniors, the middle class, and the poor.”

A broad array of Jewish groups have criticized elements of Ryan’s budget proposals, although without naming him.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish public policy umbrella, the Reform movement and B’nai B’rith International have protested proposed GOP cuts to social safety net programs, including Medicaid, which provides medical coverage for the poor, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The Jewish Federations of North America has this year maintained a low profile in the rancorous budget debate, and has not weighed in on Ryan’s proposals.

In 2011, however, JFNA was bluntly critical of plans that originated with Ryan to transition parts of Medicare, the medical program for the elderly, into a voucher program, and to convey Medicaid funds in block grants to the states, which reduces federal controls over how the money is spent.

“Within the current framework of Medicaid and Medicare, we believe that it is possible to restrain growth and rein in costs,” read the the April 2011 from JFNA and JCPA to Congress members. “We are capable of strengthening their long-term viability without a fundamental restructuring that turns Medicaid into a block grant or Medicare into a voucher program.”

Ryan, 42, is likely to help Romney, the former Masachusetts governor, in keeping the right wing of the party energized.

A close associate of House majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the most senior Jewish lawmaker in Congress, Ryan is a stalwart of budget and social policy hawks who are wary of Romney because of his reputation as a moderate.

Ryan also will be valuable to the campaign in his home state and in neighboring Michigan, both considered possible swing states.

Iranian VP blames ‘Zionists’ for illicilt drug trade


An Iranian vice president blamed “Zionists” for the global drug trade and said the Talmud encourages promoting addiction in non-Jewish communities.

Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Iran’s first vice-president, made the comments Tuesday during ceremonies marking the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Tehran. He said evidence of the Zionists’ direct involvement in illicit drugs is the fact that “you cannot find a single addict among the Zionists,” the semi-official Iranian FARS news service reported.

Referring to the Talmud, he said, “The book teaches them how to destroy non-Jews so as to protect an embryo in the womb of a Jewish mother.”

European diplomats were among those in attendence at the United Nations-sponsored ceremony.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman condemned the speech and added that “Hitler said crazy things too – and he was able to execute his plan.”

The Anti-Defamation League called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately condemn the incendiary anti-Semitic and conspiracy-laden speech.

“To all those who thought that anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, certainly this makes it very clear that it is alive and well again,” ADL National Director Abe Foxman said in a statement. “What makes it more sinister and dangerous is the fact that it comes from a leader of a country that has vowed to destroy the Jewish state and is making efforts to obtain the means to do it.”

Potential Republican VP candidate meets Israel’s top leaders


Sen. Rob Portman, reportedly on the short list for the Republican vice presidential nomination, met in Israel with its top leaders.

The Ohio Republican, traveling during the Memorial Day recess, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday.

Portman has been touted as a likely contender to be Mitt Romney’s choice as running mate in the fall election.

The U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Portman has had a long and close relationship with Ohio’s Jewish community.

The meetings with Barak and Netanyahu focused on the threat posed by a nuclear Iran and the potential challenges facing the region, particularly with humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Following his meeting with Barak, Portman highlighted the significance of the security cooperation between Israel and the United States

“U.S.-Israeli security cooperation is one of our most valued and important arrangements, and given the volatility in the region, one of our most significant,” Portman said.

During his trip this week, Portman, a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, visited a battery of the Iron Dome missile shield and noted the importance of the system in protecting Israel from terrorist rocket and mortars.

“The Iron Dome system is a proven way for Israel to defend its people from hostile threats,” Portman said in a press statement.  “This cooperative effort between our two governments will also help enhance U.S. missile defense capabilities.”

The Obama administration has asked Congress for $70 million to seed additional Iron Dome batteries. Legislation currently under consideration would ultimately budget $680 million for additional batteries.

Cheney: I wanted to bomb Syrian reactor in 2007


Dick Cheney urged former President George W. Bush to bomb Syria, according to the former Vice President’s new memoir.

According to the New York Times, which obtained an advance copy of the new book “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” Cheney advised Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2008.

Cheney’s advice was dismissed in favor of a diplomatic approach favored by other advisers.

“I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor,” Mr. Cheney writes in the book, reported the Times. “But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”

The Israeli Air Force eventually bombed the site in September of that same year after failed White House diplomatic attempts to get Syrian’s to abandon the secret project.

Ex-VP hopeful Geraldine Ferraro remembered as friend of Israel


Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate in U.S. history, was remembered as a defender of human rights and a friend of Israel.

Ferraro died Saturday at Massachusetts General Hospital of complications from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. She was 75.

She was Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in 1984 on the Democratic Party ticket, losing to popular incumbent Ronald Reagan and his running mate George Bush in the general election.

“One of America’s leading advocates for human rights and freedom, Geraldine Ferraro also was a steadfast friend of the State of Israel and Jewish people,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. “Her efforts to fight global anti-Semitism within the United Nations were especially noteworthy and laudable.”

Ferraro served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva from 1993 to 1996. During her tenure, the commission for the first time cited anti-Semitism as a human rights violation.

When the commission later discussed reforming its agenda structure, Ferraro objected to reform as long as Israel was singled out as the only country in the world addressed under a separate agenda item.

Ferraro was a Democratic congresswoman from the Queens borough of New York who served three terms in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 1984.

“Gerry Ferraro was one of a kind—tough, brilliant, and never afraid to speak her mind or stand up for what she believed in—a New York icon and a true American original,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.

“Today we mourn the passing of a great American success story,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who now represents the Queens and Brooklyn communities represented by Ferraro.

Egypt vice president Omar Suleiman survives assassination attempt, reports say


Fox News reported on Saturday that recently appointed Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman has survived an attempted assassination.

According to the report, armed assassins targeted the convoy in which Suleiman was travelling, killing two of his bodyguards.

Fox News reported that the U.S. confirmed the reports of the failed assassination attempt, however White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declined to address the reports.

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

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.

 

Allies and foes scrape through Palin bio for Jewish material


ST. PAUL (JTA)—A small Israeli flag propped up on a window frame. A Pat Buchanan button sported briefly as a courtesy. A prospective son-in-law with a biblical name.

Little about the Frozen North is Jewish outside the realm of fiction (see Mordechai Richler, Michael Chabon, “Northern Exposure”), so when Republicans pitch Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice presidential pick, to the Jews and Democrats try to undermine her, both sides tend to reach.

Picking through the trivia and smears for substance, there’s this: Palin, 44, has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents—6,000 or so—and appears to have a fondness for Israel. She also comes down on the strongly conservative side on social issues where Jews tend to trend liberal.

“Governor Palin has established a great relationship with the Jewish community over the years and has attended several of our Jewish cultural gala events,” Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Anchorage, wrote in an e-mail after McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee and longtime Arizona senator, announced that she was joining his ticket.

“Governor Palin also had plans to visit Israel with members of the Jewish community, however, for technical reasons, the visit has not occurred yet.”

Palin is likeable enough that she got props from Ethan Berkowitz, the Jewish former minority leader in the Alaska House of Representatives who appears poised to become the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives since Nick Begich disappeared in a snowstorm in 1972.

“I like her and this is an exciting day for Alaska,” Berkowitz told JTA.

Republicans have been scouring the archives to uncover evidence of Palin’s outreach to Jews and to Israel.

Her single substantive act is signing a resolution in June marking 60 years of Alaska-Israel relations, launched improbably in 1948 when Alaska Airlines helped shepherd thousands of Yemeni Jews to Israel. However, she did not initiate the legislation: Its major mover was John Harris, the speaker of the Alaska House.

The paucity of material led the Republican Jewish Coalition to tout the appearance of a small Israeli flag propped against a window of the state Capitol in an online video in which Palin touts the virtues of hiking Juneau.

In an e-mail blast, RJC executive director Matt Brooks offered the screengrab as an answer for “those of you who have had questions regarding Sarah Palin and her views on Israel.”

In a seemingly equal bit of stretching in the other direction, some Democrats played up an Associated Press report that Palin—then the mayor of the small Alaska town of Wasilla—had sported a Buchanan button in 1999 when the Reform Party candidate visited there.

“John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans,” said an e-mail blast from the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president, quoting U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Obama’s top Jewish surrogate. “Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer with a uniquely atrocious record on Israel, even going as far as to denounce bringing former Nazi soldiers to justice and praising Adolf Hitler for his ‘great courage.’ ”

The problem was that Palin had corrected the record as soon as the AP report appeared, noting in a letter to a local newspaper that had published the account that she wore the button as a courtesy. In fact, in the 2000 election, during the GOP primaries, she was an official of the Steve Forbes campaign.

The hunger for Palin-Jewish news extended beyond partisan politics. Pulses quickened among some in the Israeli media when the McCain campaign revealed Monday that Palin’s 17-year old unmarried daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and that her fiance’s name is Levi. (It was revealed later that his last name is Johnston, so no seders in the immediate Palin family future.)

The National Jewish Democratic Council focused on a more substantive difference between Palin and the U.S. Jewish community: her staunch social conservatism.

“For a party which claims it is trying to reach out to the Jewish community, McCain’s pick is particularly strange,” NJDC director Ira Forman said in a statement. “On a broad range of issues, most strikingly on the issue of women’s reproductive freedom, she is totally out of step with Jewish public opinion. The gulf between Palin’s public policy positions and the American Jewish community is best illustrated by the fact that the Christian Coalition of America was one of the strongest advocates of her selection.”

Palin backs abortion only in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, opposes stem cell research and believes creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution.

Perhaps the most damning feature of her resume on Jewish issues is its thinness—her broader problem as well. Berkowitz, the Jewish congressional candidate, poked a little fun at the resume by citing Palin’s enthusiasm for guns and hunting.

“As far as Republican vice presidents go, she will be a much better shot than Dick Cheney,” he said. “But this is John McCain’s choice and an insight in terms of his judgment.”

Ben Chouake, who heads NORPAC, a New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee and one who is close to the McCain campaign, says he learned that McCain favored Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time Democrat and Al Gore’s vice-presidential pick in 2000, until the last minute but caved to arguments that Lieberman would alienate the Republican Party’s conservative base.

“I don’t know anything about her, but I’m not concerned because she is the governor, who is someone with executive experience,” Chouake told JTA.

Palin has served less than two years as governor and, as NJDC noted, has “zero foreign policy experience.”

Greenberg, the Chabad rabbi who has not endorsed a candidate, suggests that she makes up in soul what she lacks in experience, referring to her fifth child, Trig, a Down syndrome baby born just four months ago.

“I was personally impressed by Governor Palin’s remarks of hope and faith when she gave birth to a child with special needs,” he said. “We all feel that the Governor is a remarkable, energetic, and good person.”

(JTA staff writer Jacob Berkman contributed to this report from New   York.)

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews


When Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate today, the Jewish political blogosphere — as loud and fast and opinionated as (for lack of a better word) the Gentile Web — came to a screeching halt.

After all, you can fight about John McCain, and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden . . .but Sarah Palin?

It took an Internet eternity for Jewish Republicans to come out swinging for Sarah, an just as long for Jewish Democrats to hit back.

“Homerun!” Larry Greenfield, the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, wrote me via e-mail five hours after McCain’s announcement. “Governor Palin has a very close relationship with the Jewish community of Alaska, with Chabad (Rabbi Greenberg) and with AIPAC. She is close to the Frozen Chosen!”

Seconds later came a blast from Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) claiming Palin endorsed Pat Buchanan’s presidential run in 2000: “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans.”

Oh, now it’s getting good.

When Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden last week, the Democrats had nothing but praise for the long term senator, citing positive comments from AIPAC and decades of foreign policy experience. And Jewish e-mail boxes filled with Biden’s now familiar quote: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”

Then Republican Jews struck.

An e-mail quickly circulated linking to an article on a right-leaning web site claiming Biden was in the pocket of the Iranian mullahs. As for AIPAC’s kind words about Biden? “AIPAC has to say nice things,” a Republican activist told me. “They have to be bi-partisan.” And that pro-Zionist quote? Pretty words, just like his boss, Obama.

The Dems responded with a further defense of Biden’s record. If you could call Biden’s support for Israel into question, said the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council Ira Forman, then you could call Golda Meir’s loyalty to Israel in question.

The Veep debate among Jews is important because there are many Jewish voters who are still a bit leery about Obama. Jews traditionally vote Democratic (upwards of 75 percent voted for John Kerry in 2004 — and we didn’t even really like him). A growing number of Jews have found a home in the Republican party, and are fairly candidate-proof — they vote red no matter what.

A significant number of Jewish voters, however, will change their vote depending on which candidate they perceive as “better for Israel.” These voters believe that Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Palestinian terror, from a near-nuclear Iran, and from over-eager politicians forcing it to make dangerous territorial concessions for the sake of elusive peace. These voters — call them “Israel Firsters” — see their one vote as crucial to preventing another Holocaust, and theirs are the votes that Jewish Dems and Jewish Republicans are fighting over.

Obama and Israel is the battleground issue for Jewish voters in the 2008 election — these are the Jewish votes up for grabs in this race. If Republicans can paint Obama as a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer, as an appeaser to Iran, as inexperienced on foreign policy, as insufficiently caring about Israel in his kishkes — the Yiddish word for guts — then they can peel off Jewish votes.

This strategy won’t matter in heavily pro-Democratic states like California and New York, but it can matter in swing states like Ohio and Florida. And it matters elsewhere in the race: Jews give money, Jews get involved, Jews shape opinion far out of proportion to their numbers. (Yes, there are only six of us in the entire country. Amazing what controlling the media will get you!)

Enter Sarah.

If McCain had picked Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or — cue the bar mitzvah band — Joe Lieberman, he would have unquestionably swept up the Israel Firsters. These men have track records and gravitas when it comes to Israel and foreign policy. (This debate among Jews and Israel reflects the larger foreign policy concerns about Obama that Republicans are making the centerpiece of their opposition. Many conflicts in Jewish life mirror conflicts in the larger culture — that’s Anthropology 101).

But he chose Sarah Palin: former mayor of a small Alaska town, governor of Alaska, devout Christian.

For Jews who are not necessarily Israel Firsters, she carries some positives and negatives. Positives: she is a crusader for good government and a fiscal conservative. She is smart and successful and patriotic. Jews like all these things.

“As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska’s Jewish community. She has demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the community and has been accessible and responsive,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks.

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

Jews are among the largest pro-choice constituency in the country. She has, according to one web site, supported the idea of teaching Creationism and evolution in public schools. “‘Teach both,” she was quoted as saying on a local TV station. “You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'”

Dependence on foreign oil is a major issue for American Jews, since a lot of that oil comes from regimes that hate Israel and support terror.

Republican Jews are emphasizing Palin’s desire to drill Alaskan oil and develop domestic oil resources as away to decrease our dependence.

“Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing American and Israel’s foreign policy,” Brooks said in his statement.

But Jews are also pro-environment, and have jumped on the alternative energy (hybrid) bandwagon in a big way. Obama’s convention speech calling for a 10 year campaign to switch to alternative sources of energy may carry deeper resonance.

For the Israel Firsters, Palin may be a problem. Palin has no foreign policy experience. No Israel experience. Her AIPAC rating? When you enter her name on the AIPAC home page, you get this:

Your search - palin - did not match any documents.
No pages were found containing "palin".

The RJC’s Greenfield says her AIPAC relationships are great, but confined to Alaska. And Republicans are now marshalling a great comeback to the charge that Palin once supported Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan is anathema to the Jews. He is someone who has blamed Israel and American Jews for directing American foreign policy against American interests. He has spoken kindly of Adolph Hitler — who is not popular with Jews — and, well, this is going to be interesting.

Sarah Palin might cause the Israel Firsters, who seemed to be pretty much done with Obama, to take a second look.


Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and JewishJournal.com.




Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster

McCain campaign checks out sole Jewish Republican Congressman as possible VP


WASHINGTON (JTA) — U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor bridges two unlikely constituencies, say those hoping to see the Virginia Republican on John McCain’s presidential ticket: Jews and hard-core, red state conservatives.

Pressed, however, these Cantor devotees admit there’s not much between those two constituencies that the Jewish deputy minority whip in the House of Representatives would bring to the race to keep the White House Republican.

“There’s a positive and negative to not being a household name,” said William Daroff, the top Jewish lobbyist here focused on domestic issues and himself a former Republican operative.

“The positive is that it gives him the opportunity to frame anew who he is and what he’s all about, a vision for the future. The negative is that other than helping him in Virginia and in some battleground states because of his Jewishness, he doesn’t have a proven national brand,” said Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the federations’ umbrella, the United Jewish Communities.

The campaign for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has asked Cantor, 45, to present papers for vice-presidential vetting. Political insiders say Cantor is still a longshot, however. Most bets are on McCain’s rival for the nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and on Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Cantor and his staff declined to be interviewed for this article. But even as recently as May, the only Jewish Republican in the House discounted suggestions that he would place on the ticket, giggling as he told JTA that such speculation was “ridiculous.”

Even the Republican Jewish Coalition, Cantor’s biggest booster, seemed skeptical that Cantor would be the VP pick, issuing a statement that sounded a lot like the “we were happy to just be considered” speeches delivered by also-rans.

“Regardless of what McCain decides, Cantor has a very bright future ahead of him,” said Suzanne Kurtz, the RJC spokeswoman. “He is an appealing and articulate leader for Jewish Republicans and all Republicans. As the GOP continues to make inroads in the Jewish community, it is a wonderful moment to introduce this rising star to a wider audience.”

Don’t count out Cantor or underestimate the impact he could make in the presidential election, said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who as minority whip functions as Cantor’s congressional boss.

Blunt said Cantor could tip the balance among Jews who are concerned about the pro-Israel credentials of the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

“At a time when many Jewish voters who voted Democratic in the past are going to look carefully between John McCain and Barack Obama on Middle East and economic issues, Eric Cantor can add a real boost to what I already believe will be a significant hard look by Jewish voters at John McCain,” Blunt told JTA.

The McCain campaign has worked hard to draw distinctions between the two candidates on Iran particularly. Obama favors increased diplomacy, while McCain leans toward confrontation and isolation.

Polls already show McCain reducing the 75 percent to 25 percent edge Democrats have had in past presidential races among Jews to a 60-40 split favoring Democrats. That, Blunt said, could bring swing states with significant Jewish populations into play, including Florida and New Jersey.

Cantor already has served as an attack dog on Jewish issues for the McCain campaign.

He told JTA in May that he was confident that McCain, with his reputation as a foreign policy hawk and a moderate on social issues, would take a bite out of the Jewish vote.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the American Jewish community is going to register an unprecedented number of votes for the Republicans and Mr. McCain,” Cantor said, suggesting specifically that Jewish voters will balk at Obama’s pledge of direct talks with Iran.

In a statement sent to reporters, Cantor misquoted Obama as telling the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that Israel was a “constant sore” in the Middle East. In fact, Obama was referring to the conflict, enunciating a view echoed by Bush administration officials, including the president himself.

Goldberg asked Cantor to retract the statement; Cantor has not.

That’s not atypical for the deputy whip, often the chief strategist in formulating political attacks. In 2006, Cantor launched a broadside against U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then the minority leader, for her efforts to include consideration of Lebanese civilians in a pro-Israel resolution on the Israel-Hezbollah war that summer.

Cantor painted Pelosi as insufficiently concerned about Israeli civilians, even though the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had approved her language.

Cantor has a personal story that could prove attractive to Jews and conservatives. He’s always been close to his family, and apart from college years spent in New York — where he met his wife, Diana — has spent his life in Richmond working in the family real estate business.

He made his first run for Congress in 2000 after serving in the Virginia House of Delegates. His family has deep ties in the local Jewish community; his mother and wife are active in the local Hadassah chapter.

Cantor’s rise in Congress was meteoric. In 2003, during his sophomore term, he was named to the powerful deputy whip position.

One blip along the way: He benefited from the largesse of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, taking more than $30,000 in campaign contributions from an operation eventually exposed for defrauding American Indians.

In 2006, after Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption charges, Cantor gave $10,000 of the money to charity. In 2003, Cantor was briefly caught up in “picklegate,” when his campaign neglected to pay Abramoff’s kosher deli, Stacks, for a fund-raiser.

Cantor apologized, paid the $1,700 and was not sanctioned.

Those close to him credit his prodigious fund-raising skills for his rapid rise in Congress.

“Congressman Cantor has an excellent relationship with Jews who are engaged in campaign finance activities whether as Republican Jewish Coalition leaders, AIPAC leaders or as Jewish federation stalwarts,” Daroff said.

That would help McCain, who is not a natural fund-raiser.

Cantor’s deeply held conservative convictions also would help a presidential candidate who has made conservatives nervous because of his maverick tendencies.

Democrats say that those same views — Cantor’s tough advocacy of right-to-life positions, of Bush administration secrecy policies and of pro-gun laws — could ultimately harm him among Jews when those views come to light.

“Eric Cantor is out of step with the values and views of the vast majority of the American Jewish community,” said Ira Forman, the director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Whether the issue is separation of church and state, women’s reproductive rights, stem cell research, health care or the environment, Eric Cantor votes wrong.”

Forman said the novelty of a Jewish Republican on the ticket would soon wear off.

“Hardly anyone outside the political elites in the Jewish community knows who Eric Cantor is,” he said. “The more people know about him the less they’ll like him.”

That’s true only if one expects a Republican to leave his convictions behind, said Brad Wine, a lawyer who is a fund-raiser for Cantor and heads the RJC’s Washington-area chapter. Wine said Cantor’s views on abortion stem from his Jewish observance.

“It’s true we’re not proportionately divided on the issue,” Wine said, referring to the Jewish tendency to favor pro-choice positions, “but it’s something we can disagree about based on Jewish learning.”

Cantor also gently presses fellow Republicans on issues where they diverge from the Jewish community, said Ron Halber, the executive director of the Greater Washington Jewish Community Council.

Halber said Cantor’s backing was critical to advancing Iran divestment legislation among his former Republican colleagues in the Virginian House. The state’s Republicans, still smarting from losing a fight over divestment from South Africa in the 1980s, believe that legislative mandates to divest state pensions amount to unwarranted political interference.

“Eric was involved quietly trying to persuade people,” Halber said. “His quiet diplomacy helped move it forward.”

Daroff said Cantor has been an effective representative of Jewish concerns to the Republican caucus. Cantor, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, helped resist efforts to limit tax exemptions for nonprofits, Daroff said, citing an issue of importance to the Jewish community.

Blunt affirmed that Cantor was the go-to man for the Republican leadership when it came to Jewish issues.

“The fact that Eric’s the only Jewish Republican member of the House creates an entry for the community,” he said.