November 16, 2018

Why Democrats Missed the Boat in Jerusalem

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks at the Milken Institute 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

On May 14, the Donald Trump administration officially opened the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. It was a moment to cherish: an acknowledgment by the most powerful nation on the planet that Jerusalem was indeed Jewish, that it is the eternal capital of Israel, and that neither revisionist history nor sheer anti-Semitic malice can separate Jerusalem from her people.

Naturally, zero elected Democrats showed up.

On the surface, this decision makes little sense. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled his excitement over the Trump administration’s decision: “In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem. Every nation should have the right to choose its capital. I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.” Back in 1995, Congress passed a law mandating the embassy move with bipartisan support; in the Senate, the bill passed 93-5. In June 2017, a bill reaffirming the principles of the 1995 vote passed 90-0 in the Senate.

Yet no Congressional Democrats showed up to the Jerusalem event. By contrast, a bevy of elected Republicans, showed up in Jerusalem to celebrate.

According to Israeli reporter Ariel Kahana, every member of Congress was invited to attend, but “people involved in the process blame the Democratic leadership of Congress.”

So, why didn’t the Democrats show up?

Antipathy for Trump is no answer — this was a foreign policy ceremony intended to cement relations with America’s key ally in the region. Trump’s warm welcome in Israel should not have put off Democrats from doing honor to a nation that a Democratic president, Harry Truman, had a strong hand in founding.

Democrats didn’t want to attend the opening of the embassy because they were afraid of their own base.

No, more likely, Democrats didn’t want to attend because they were afraid of their own base. Unfortunately, the Democratic base has moved in a significantly anti-Israel direction over the past two decades — as of January 2018, while 79 percent of Republicans sympathized with Israel, just 27 percent of Democrats did. Again, this makes little sense considering that Israel is the only democracy in the region, the only LGBT-friendly country in the region, and the only country in the region that allows serious religious diversity. But for Democrats, considerations of governmental liberalism take a back seat to intersectionality.

Intersectionality posits that Western civilization has victimized particular groups, and that those groups therefore must have the leading role in discussing politics. Thus, Israel’s success has actually cut against Democratic support: By becoming more prosperous and powerful, Israel now becomes a perpetuator of the “system” intersectionality wishes to attack. Thus, gay Jews waving rainbow flags with stars of David have been barred from Dyke Marches in Chicago on behalf of Palestinian sympathizers, even though rainbow flags likely end with beatings under Palestinian rule. Thus, Linda Sarsour, an openly anti-Semitic fellow traveler of Louis Farrakhan, continues to maintain her popularity with the Women’s March, even as she tweets hatred about Israel.

Israel has become too successful to maintain its appeal to the coalition of victimhood promulgated and celebrated by the intersectional left. And so Israel must be denied legitimacy.

The problem for Democrats is that in order to deny Israel legitimacy — especially at a time when Palestinians are ruled by terrorist groups Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Islamic jihad — Israel’s historical ties to the land of Israel must be soft-pedaled. These terrorist governments have no moral claims to the land, not when they are busily pursuing murder and repression and impoverishment of their own people. So they must make historical claims that deny the Jewish connection with Israel. This they do with alacrity.

Never has there been less of a case for Democrats to split with Republicans on Israel — not in the face of Iran’s genocidal aspirations, Syria’s horrors and the rise of terrorist groups on all of Israel’s borders. Yet the split grows wider, not narrower. Until Democrats throw aside victimhood ideology in favor of the morality that used to govern their party, it will continue to widen.

Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author.

IAC Celebrates Israel’s 70th Birthday with Over 60 Members of Congress

Photo courtesy of the Israeli-American Council.

The Israeli-American Council (IAC) hosted a celebration of Israel’s 70th anniversary on April 17 with over 60 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C.

According to a press release from the IAC, attendees included Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NY). Menendez spoke at the event and hailed the Israeli-American community for being “a living bridge between people in the United States and in one of our closest allies, Israel.”

“I am grateful for all that they do to communicate to fellow Americans and fellow Israelis the importance of a strong, vibrant partnership,” Menendez said.

Another senator who spoke at the event, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), echoed Menendez in stating that Israeli-Americans are “a critical link in our special relationship with Israel.”

It has been a big year for the IAC, given the recent passage of the Taylor Force Act, scores of anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) bills being passed in various states, raising over $16.5 million at their March gala.

“As we see from the incredible crowd of Democratic and Republican elected leaders here this afternoon, America’s alliance with Israel is an issue that can bring us together across party lines,” IAC chairman Adam Milstein said at the event.

Other notable attendees at the event included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who donated $13 million to the IAC at the March gala.

At AIPAC, Vice President Mike Pence Affirms U.S.-Israel Bond

Vice President Mike Pence addresses the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference

At the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence opened his speech on Monday night by calling Trump the “most pro-Israel president in American history.” He began the statement, however, by calling Trump the “most pro-life president” but then corrected himself to say pro-Israel.

It was the one gaffe in an otherwise well received speech in Washington D.C., on the second night of the three-day AIPAC conference. Multiple times during his remarks Pence reiterated the U.S. commitment to supporting the State of Israel.

“American stands with Israel, today, tomorrow and always,” he said.

Frequently garnering applause during his approximately 20-minute remarks, Pence denounced the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions, saying the U.S. “would no longer certify the disastrous nuclear deal,” which was ratified under former U.S. President Barack Obama.

He indicated the possibility the U.S. would withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement.

He said the recent decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel set him apart from his predecessors.

“While every president for the past two decades promised to recognize the capital of Israel, President Trump did more than promise—he delivered,” Pence said.

“By finally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States has chosen fact over fiction and fact is the only true foundation for a just and lasting peace,” he added.

The U.S. plans to open its embassy in Jerusalem this May, he said, which would move the American embassy in Israel from its current location in Tel Aviv.

While the Arab world denounced the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Pence spoke of the changing political landscape in the Middle East, saying that Israel is finding unlikely allies in the Muslim world.

“The winds of change are blowing across the Middle East. Longstanding enemies are becoming partners; old foes are finding new ground for cooperation and the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are coming together in common cause to meet, as the president’s said, history’s great test, and conquer extremism and vanquish forces of terrorism, and we will meet that test together,” Pence said.

Sen. Schumer: Don’t return trove of Jewish artifacts to Iraq

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer exhorted the State Department not to send back to Iraq a trove of artifacts that belonged to its now exiled Jewish community.

In a letter shared with JTA, the New York Democrat on Tuesday urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to work with Jewish groups and the Iraqi Jewish community in the United States and abroad to find a place for the Iraqi Jewish Archive.

“These items belong to the people who were forced to leave them behind when the Iraqi government chose to exile them from their homes. Since the exile of Jews from Iraq virtually no Jewish life remains in the country – this treasured collection belongs to the Jewish community and should be made available to them,” the Jewish lawmaker said in the letter.

Last month, the State Department told JTA that the archive will be returned to Iraq in September 2018, according to an agreement reached with the Iraqi government.

“Maintaining the archive outside of Iraq is possible,” State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez told JTA, “but would require a new agreement between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government.”

Discovered in the flooded basement of the Iraqi secret service headquarters by U.S. troops in 2003, the items, many of which were looted, include religious materials, books, personal documents and photographs. The U.S. government spent over $3 million to restore and digitalize the archive — which include a Hebrew Bible with commentaries from 1568, a Babylonian Talmud from 1793 and an 1815 version of the Jewish musical text Zohar — and it has been exhibited around the country.

Iraqi jewish Archive

This Passover haggadah from 1902, one of very few Hebrew manuscripts recovered from Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters, was hand-lettered and decorated by an Iraqi youth. (National Archives)

Schumer is among a group of U.S. lawmakers who have joined Jewish groups in lobbying to keep the archive in a location accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants, who today live outside Iraq after being driven out amid intense persecution. Iraq and proponents of returning the archive say it can serve as an educational tool for Iraqis about the history of Jews there and that it is part of the country’s patrimony.

“It’s disheartening that parchments of a Torah scroll and prayer books were discovered in such poor condition inside a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center. After the United States preserved this ancient collection, it makes no sense to return the items to the Iraqi government, where they will no longer be accessible to the Jewish community,” Schumer said Tuesday in a statement released along with the letterFri.

Earlier this month, Rodriguez said the United States “will urge the Iraqi government to take the proper steps necessary to preserve the archive, and to make it available to members of the public to enjoy.”

Major Jewish groups have remained largely silent on the issue following the announcement of the 2018 return date. The Zionist Organization of America released a statement last month urging the State Department not to send back the archive, and Israeli lawmaker Anat Berko told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure the U.S. to not send back the artifacts.

The archive is set to be exhibited at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from Oct. 15 to Jan. 15.

Schumer says US should back independent Kurdish state

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking with the media at the Capitol building, Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has called on the Trump administration to recognize the Kurdish bid for independence — a position embraced among nations virtually only by Israel.

“Monday’s historic vote in Iraqi Kurdistan should be recognized and respected by the world, and the Kurdish people of northern Iraq have my utmost support,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Wednesday, referring to the referendum in which 92 percent of 3 million voters said they favored Kurdish independence. “I believe the Kurds should have an independent state as soon as possible and that the position of the United States government should be to support a political process that addresses the aspirations of the Kurds for an independent state.”

No other power in the region except for Israel favored the referendum, with Iraq’s government threatening military action and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatening to suspend normalization talks with Israel because of its backing.

Kurds for decades have functioned as a U.S. ally in the region and for even longer have had ties — at times open — with Israel, facilitated by the substantial Kurdish Jewish community in Israel. In northern Iraq, Kurds have been semi-autonomous since the late 1990s, when the United States and Britain helped push the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein out of the region. His regime was responsible for the mass murder of Kurds.

The Trump administration opposed the vote, fearing it could damage the regional alliance combating the Islamic State terrorist group.

Trump again condemns ‘both sides,’ including ‘alt-left,’ for Charlottesville violence

President Donald Trump giving a statement on the violence this past weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia at the White House, Aug. 14, 2017. Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images.

President Trump reverted to blaming left-wing counterprotesters as well as white supremacists for the violence that erupted at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In startling, off-the-cuff comments at a press conference Tuesday, the president appeared to backtrack from his statement Monday that explicitly condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence on Saturday. On the day of the rally, Trump’s initial statement condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides, on many sides,” a statement that shocked members of both parties for neglecting to call out white supremacists.

On Tuesday, Trump called out “the left, that came violently attacking the other group.”

“I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said at the news conference Tuesday in New York. “What about the alt-left that, as you say, came charging at the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

The “Unite the Right” rally Saturday saw hundreds of people on America’s racist fringe converge in defense of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and brawl with counterprotesters. After the rally was dispersed by police, a white supremacist, James Fields, rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring at least 19. Two police officers also died when their helicopter crashed while monitoring the rally.

Attendees at the rally waved Nazi and Confederate flags, and shouted anti-Semitic and racist chants, in addition to giving Nazi salutes. But Trump said at the press conference that not all of the attendees were white supremacists.

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis,” he said. “I’ve condemned many different groups. but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.”

The president also appeared to equate Confederate generals with the founding fathers in questioning the drive to remove statues and other symbols of the Confederacy. He noted that George Washington owned slaves.

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee,” he said. “I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop? George Washington was a slave-owner.”

David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, thanked Trump on Twitter “for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa,” references to the Black Lives Matter movement and Antifa, a loose movement that combats white supremacists, sometimes violently.

But Congressional leaders shot back at Trump’s comments, calling for an unequivocal condemnation of white supremacists. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, called white supremacy “repulsive” while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, criticized Trump for sowing division in America.

Sen. Charles Schumer joins sponsors of bill cutting payments to Palestinian Authority

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaking with the media at the Capitol building, Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer added his name as a co-sponsor of a bill that would substantially cut U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as it maintained payments to the Palestinians killed in or jailed for attacks on Israelis, all but assuring it becoming law.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of the Taylor Force Act because it aims to put an end to this disturbing practice, which only perpetuates the cycle of violence and undercuts the drive to peace,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Friday.

Schumer’s co-sponsorship, a rare move for the leader of a party in the Senate, ensures that Democrats will not use parliamentary maneuvers to block the act. A similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives is also likely to pass.

The Taylor Force Act, named for an American who was stabbed to death in a 2016 terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, was approved a day earlier by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a 17-4 vote. It had bipartisan support after being softened to attract backing from Democrats as well as centrist pro-Israel groups.

Instead of broadly cutting all assistance to the Palestinian areas, the measure would withhold assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority and its programs unless the payments end. Humanitarian assistance would be left in place.

Bipartisan backing builds for Taylor Force Act

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

With the issue of Palestinian payments to families of terrorists receiving increased attention on Capitol Hill, a growing number of influential Senators — including top Democrats — have signaled their intention to support the Taylor Force Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told an audience at the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Leadership Mission on Thursday that he “feels so strongly” about the bill, which would completely defund US assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) if the stipends do not end. “If the President is unable to get Palestinians to cease these payments, Congress is going to act,” Schumer said.

[This story originally appeared on]

The Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Ben Cardin (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, “I very much support what Senator (Lindsey) Graham (R-SC) is attempting to do.” (Graham is the lead sponsor of the Taylor Force Act). Cardin clarified that he does not oppose in principle the cutting of all US assistance to the PA, while acknowledging that the bill “may need some adjustments.”

“We must end the practice of Palestinians rewarding those who kill Jews,” announced Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who also serves on the SFRC, to a cheering OU crowd. “We are working very hard with our colleague Senator Graham, who sponsored the Taylor Force Act, to define it in a way that meets that goal but doesn’t undermine in some respects the potential challenges that the state of Israel has.”

Chairman of the SFRC Bob Corker (R-TN) noted on Tuesday during Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s testimony that he intends to advance a form of the legislation past the SFRC by the August recess. The Tennessee lawmaker also stressed on Thursday to Jewish Insider that the bill would be a “Taylor Force-like Act.”

However, some Democrats expressed skepticism. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) emphasized, “I am not sure that it’s in anyone’s interest to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority.” Supporting the spirit of the bill, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was concerned about the potential fallout of a complete cut-off. “To the extent that it is a targeted way to remove financial support for the despicable practice of providing bonuses for the families of suicide bombers or terrorists, I will support that. To the extent that it is overly broad and cuts off all assistance to all Palestinian entities, I don’t think that’s in the security interest of Israel or the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), an original co-sponsor of the Taylor Force Act, reiterated his enthusiasm for the legislation. “We need to bring it up. We need to vote on it. We need to pass it.” The Texas lawmaker also cited his resolution that he introduced in January to completely defund the United Nations due to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement constructions.

In addition to the Taylor Force Act, Senators at the Orthodox Union event also discussed the importance of fighting the BDS movement, Thursday’s 98-2 Iran sanctions vote, and the Jerusalem reunification resolution recently passed. “It’s been a pretty good two weeks for Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel),” asserted Schumer.

Cardin was introduced as the only sitting Senator who is a member of an OU Synagogue.

While not mentioning President Donald Trump’s decision to sign a waiver and keep the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, Cruz charged, “I believe it is long pass time to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem where it belongs.” The top Senate Democrat agreed with the Cruz on the issue of the US Embassy with Schumer explaining the importance of transferring the Embassy to Jerusalem, “We ought to get it done once and for all.”

Party leaders offer partisan shots at AIPAC conference

Sen. Charles Schumer, the Senate minority leader, at the AIPAC policy conference, March 28, 2017. Photo courtesy of AIPAC.

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders tussled on the AIPAC stage on the final day of its policy conference over which party’s prescriptions were better for Israel.

The display of partisanship on Tuesday morning, hours before pro-Israel activists headed to the Capitol to lobby for their issues, was an extraordinary moment for the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where bipartisan comity has always been a paramount aim.

Equally as extraordinary, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read aloud a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reaffirm support for the two-state solution signed virtually only by Democrats – and drafted by AIPAC’s rival, J Street, the Jewish Middle East policy group.

The partisan splits illustrated the struggles of the lobbying giant as it seeks to reconcile increasingly divided notions of what it means to be pro-Israel. Traditionally, the final day of the conference features leaders of both parties saying that if they agree on little else, they agree on how to be pro-Israel — through working with AIPAC.

But the opening speech by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was a jeremiad against the policies of former President Barack Obama that the Senate majority leader said had left the U.S.-Israel alliance frayed and Israel less secure.

“We’ve got to rebuild our partnerships,” McConnell said. “The past eight years gave witness to a serial degrading of our alliances and partnerships all across the globe.”

He said the Iran nuclear deal reached by Obama, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, had emboldened Iran, in part because Obama’s preoccupation with preserving the pact diminished the will to confront the Islamic Republic.

McConnell said Iran needed concrete examples of how it would be penalized if it launched a weaponized nuclear program, and pledged to lead Congress in an authorization of force in that instance.

He also pitched President Donald Trump’s proposal to increase the military budget, although the Kentucky lawmaker did not address one of AIPAC’s three legislative asks — namely sustaining the budget for overall foreign assistance against Trump’s proposal to slash it by nearly a third.

AIPAC has long argued that assistance to Israel, which Trump wants to maintain at current levels, should never be separated from foreign assistance. Foreign assistance is a positive way to project U.S. power, the lobby says, and helps open doors for Israel in countries that might otherwise be wary of ties with the Jewish state.

Calls to sustain that assistance were central to the speeches of the Democratic leaders who spoke: Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, and Pelosi, the House minority leader.

Pelosi cast support for foreign assistance as fulfilling a responsibility to Israel.

“A strong America in the world is good for Israel,” she said. “I fiercely oppose proposals that would slash our State Department funding by 28 percent.”

Both Democrats took shots at Trump’s alliance with leaders of the far right, including his appointment of Stephen Bannon, the former publisher of Breitbart News, which he himself called a “platform” for the alt- or anti-establishment right.

Schumer’s barbs aimed at Trump were implied.

“There are some who would retreat from the world stage,” he said. “They even borrow from Charles Lindbergh.”

The aviator led the World War II-era anti-Semitic America First movement; Trump has embraced “America First” as one of his slogans.

Schumer joined a multitude of speakers, both Democrats and Republicans, who decried the Obama administration’s decision in its final days to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlements.

“The United States should have vetoed Resolution 2334 in December and it should never use the United Nations as a forum to put pressure on Israel for any kind of agreement,” he said to thunderous applause.

But where Schumer was uncharacteristically restrained in criticizing the new administration and defending the past one, Pelosi was robust. She decried Trump’s “presidential campaign with hate speech that went unchallenged, an atmosphere that emboldened anti-Semites to desecrate Jewish cemeteries, white supremacists that feel emboldened and connected to the White House.”

Pelosi, like other Democrats who spoke throughout the conference, emphasized two states as the preferred outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Republicans pulled support for two states from their platform last year, and Trump earlier this year said he was agnostic on the issue, ending 15 years of U.S. policy favoring the solution.

But Pelosi took it a step further, taking out her phone to read out loud a letter sent last week asking Trump to reaffirm U.S. support for two states, emphasizing twice that the vast majority – 189 of its 191 signatories — were Democrats.

What she left unmentioned was that J Street drafted and lobbied for the letter; AIPAC did not have a position on it.

“I wanted you to hear it as written, not out of context. I wanted to read it to you in the spirit of strong support for a Jewish, secure and democratic Israel,” Pelosi said, borrowing rhetoric J Street might easily use. “An Israel that recognizes the dignity and security of the Israelis and Palestinians.”

That line earned her moderate applause.

AIPAC has been trying, after years of its own tensions with the Obama administration, to reassert its bipartisan profile and hold on to the ground between  pro-Israel groups that appear to gravitate to the Democrats (J Street) or Republicans (the Zionist Organization of America).

Its three legislative asks, while crafted to earn support from both parties, do not include mention of two states. (All speakers endorsed the legislative agenda, which in addition to sustaining foreign aid backed bills that would add non-nuclear sanctions on Iran and impose fines on businesses for cooperating with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.)

The two-state notion persists in AIPAC policy. Its executive director, Howard Kohr, on Sunday evening envisioned “a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in security with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

But it is nowhere near front and center as it is with other centrist Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, each alarmed by erosion for support for the outcome among Republicans in the United States as well as in Israel’s government.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who leads the Union for Reform Judaism and was at the conference, said failing to robustly defend two states undercut AIPAC’s mission to combat BDS.

“Without a strong commitment to two states, it’s pretty hard to work on BDS,” he said. “The only way you fight BDS” on campuses and in churches “is to say it is undermining the two-state solution.”

FCC grants temporary waiver allowing JCCs to receive caller information

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 2. Photo by Yuri Gripas/REUTERS.

The Federal Communications Commission has granted Jewish Community Centers throughout the country a temporary waiver allowing them to receive caller information, in response to the recent series of bomb threats on the Jewish institutions.

The waiver, approved on Friday, comes days after 29 JCCs and Jewish schools across the country received called-in bomb threats, the fifth such incident in less than two months. It was also approved the same day that a St. Louis man was charged for making at least eight bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers and the Anti-Defamation League.

On Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader from New York, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking him to grant the targeted institutions special waivers allowing them to work with law enforcement to access caller ID information, calling the waiver “critical.”

The FCC said “there is good cause to grant such a waiver on an emergency basis due to a large number of recent bomb-threat calls targeting these facilities and substantial disruption and fear caused as a result.”

The decision also serves as a notice for public comment on whether to make the waiver permanent.

“I applaud the FCC’s decision to grant a special waiver to targeted JCCs, which will help us track down and identify perpetrators making threatening calls that frighten communities and waste the precious resources of local law enforcement. Already, one suspect has been taken into custody and I am hopeful today’s decision will help catch and deter any future copycats. All communities and entities targeted by intimidation and fear deserve access to all of the tools needed to ensure these criminals are brought to justice,” Schumer said in a statement.

Trump’s Israel envoy pick David Friedman: ‘No excuse’ for past rhetoric on liberal Jews

David Friedman testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel on Feb. 16. Photo By Yuri Gripas/Reuters

David Friedman at the launch of U.S. Senate hearings to confirm him as ambassador to Israel said there was “no excuse” for his past rhetoric targeting liberal Jews.

In his opening remarks, Friedman said his attacks were “partisan rhetoric” during a heated presidential election campaign. Friedman is Trump’s longtime lawyer and was a key surrogate to the Jewish community during the campaign.

He called the liberal Middle East policy group J Street “kapos” and the Anti-Defamation League “morons.” He also likened Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who appeased Adolf Hitler.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking member of the Foreign Relations committee, which must approve Friedman to advance his nomination to the full Senate, said the terms seemed to go beyond partisan rhetoric.

Cardin said he and Friedman had in common that “our parents were proud Zionists who worked and did everything they could in support for the State of Israel.” But noting his father was the president of a synagogue – Friedman’s was a rabbi – Cardin added, “My father taught me to respect different views.”

The Maryland lawmaker also noted that some of Friedman’s statements – particularly his attack on Schumer, made during the heat of the battle over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – came before the campaign and in many cases were written comments.

“I’m having difficulty understanding your use of those descriptions and whether you really can be a diplomat,” Cardin said.

Friedman appeared chastened.

“I provided some context for my remarks, but that was not in the nature of an excuse,” he said. “These were hurtful words and I deeply regret them. They’re not reflective of my nature and character.”

Cardin also pressed Friedman about past statements that appeared to oppose a two-state solution addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and noted his backing for settlements, including some deep inside the West Bank.

Friedman replied that he had been skeptical of a two-state solution, but would welcome any solution arrived at by the Israelis and Palestinians that ended suffering for both peoples.

Protesters interrupted the hearings at least three times, including by a contingent from the Jewish protest group If Not Now who sang as they were ejected “Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” “Build a world of kindness.”

Jewish groups praise court for upholding stay on Trump’s travel ban

Demonstrators at Chicago’s O’Hare airport protesting Donald Trump’s executive order on Jan. 29. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Jewish groups welcomed a federal appeals court ruling upholding a stay on President Donald Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees and of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“We applaud the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and hope that it sends an important message to the nation and the world that the United States is a nation that does not exclude people based on their faith and welcomes those seeking refuge,” the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement it posted on Twitter just minutes after the court ruled on Thursday.

The tweet noted that the ADL had joined an amicus brief in the legal action originally brought by the State of Washington against the ban.

The unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit panel of three judges was a narrow one, upholding last week’s decision by a federal court in Seattle to stay the ban pending further consideration of its legality.

Also commending the ruling was the American Jewish Committee. “We welcome the 9th Circuit ruling–an important moment for U.S. democracy and values,” it said on Twitter.

HIAS, the Jewish group advocating on behalf of immigrants and refugees, tweeted links to the decision. It also has joined an amicus brief against the ban, in Maryland.

One of the HIAS tweets was a reminder that its battle against the ban is not over; Trump’s ban may yet be upheld by the courts.

“We will continue fighting Pres. Trump’s executive order until we’ve re-secured the American tradition of #WelcomingRefugees to our shores,” it said.

HIAS is spearheading rallies on behalf of refugees to take place in nearly a dozen states this Sunday. A focus will be Trump’s executive order. Also backing the rallies are the ADL, the American Jewish World Service, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the rabbinical associations of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called the court’s ruling “a victory for American freedom over Presidential tyranny.”

“The court has sided with refugees who thirst for hope over a president who yearns to hate,” the center said in a statement.

Trump appeared ready to take his case to reinstate the ban pending further legal review to the Supreme Court. “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” he said on Twitter.

Neither Trump nor his team has explained what imminent danger cannot withstand the temporary stay on his order, issued about a week after he assumed office last month; no terrorist committing a crime on U.S. soil has hailed from any of the seven nations listed in the ban.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate, called on Trump to give up on the executive order.

“President Trump ought to see the writing on the wall, abandon proposal, roll up his sleeves and come up with a real, bipartisan plan to keep us safe,” he said on Twitter.

Alan Dershowitz, the noted constitutional lawyer, had similar advice.

“Precedent trumps President Trump,” he said on CNN.

Dear Chuck Schumer: Stop David Friedman

Dear Senator Schumer,

We represent a broad constituency of scholars of Jewish studies committed to the democratic values that gave rise to the United States of America. We are alarmed by the prospect that new administration may erode these values and are particularly troubled by a number of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed appointments. We write you today to register our concern about Mr. David Friedman’s nomination as our country’s Ambassador to the State of Israel.

Mr. Friedman has no diplomatic experience and has spoken in the most undiplomatic terms on issues about which we have scholarly expertise. He has written that members of J Street, a strong supporter of the two-state solution, are “worse than Kapos,” referring to the oft-reviled cell-block attendants in Nazi concentration camps. We were also alarmed to hear Mr. Friedman pro­claim that the Anti-Defamation League, one of the oldest and most venerable of American Jewish organizations, is comprised of a bunch of “morons” and that its director is outside of the Jewish communal mainstream. These outrageous claims attest to an absence of good judgment and lack of historical understanding. One expects to hear such language from anti-Semites, not a Jew who fashions himself a supporter of Israel, and cer­tainly not from a potential diplomat. Mr. Friedman’s comments cheapen the Holocaust and demon­strate his disdain for those who face discrimination.

Mr. Friedman’s rhetorical extremism is cause for grave concern on its own. But it is matched, if not super­seded, by the extremism of his positions on Israel, which demonstrate that he cannot be an impartial broker of peace or an effective diplomat. He is the president of a charity supporting Beit El, a radical West Bank settlement that hosts the far-right website Arutz Sheva, to which he himself has contributed. Of even greater concern, Mr. Friedman’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict place him to the far right even of the current Israeli govern­ment. He is opposed to a two-state solution, which has been America’s own policy for several decades. He favors annexation of the West Bank, in contravention of international law, the conse­quences of which would be the denial of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and, if the Palestinians of the West Bank are not granted Israeli citizenship, the end of Israeli democracy.

The signers of this letter represent a diversity of views on Israeli and American politics. But we are united in our belief, drawn from the study of modern Jewish and Israeli history, that democracy is the best guarantee of equal rights for all, including Jews. We are concerned that the incoming administration, as reflected in this case in its nominee to the ambassadorship of Israel, does not hold to that basic truth. Mr. Friedman’s appointment, rather than promoting peaceful coexistence, will throw fuel on the fires of conflict in the Middle East with potentially catastrophic consequences.  Mindful of the abuses to which Jews and others have been subjected, we feel a sense of urgency in conveying to you our grave concern. Accordingly, we call on you and your colleagues to vote against this nomination.


Anne Albert, University of Pennsylvania

Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

Ari Ariel, University of Iowa

Eugene M. Avrutin, University of Illinois

Beverly Bailis, Brooklyn College

Omer Bartov, Brown University

Maya Barzilai, University of Michigan

Albert Baumgarten, Bar Ilan University

Adam Becker, New York University

Elissa Bemporad, Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center

Mara Benjamin, St. Olaf College

Sarah Benor, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, LA

Joel Berkowitz, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

David Biale, University of California, Davis

Jeffrey Blutinger, California State University, Long Beach

Ra'anan Boustan, Princeton University

Ross Brann, Cornell University

Benjamin Braude, Boston College

Francesca Bregoli, CUNY

Adriana Brodsky, St. Mary's College of Maryland

David Brodsky, Brooklyn College

Andrew Bush, Vassar College

Debra Caplan, Baruch College, CUNY

Jessica Carr, Lafayette College

Flora Cassen, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Bruno Chaouat, University of Minnesota

Julia Cohen, Vanderbilt University

Steven M. Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Alon Confino, University of Virginia/Ben-Gurion University

Jessica Cooperman, Muhlenberg College

Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University

Max Daniel, UCLA

Galeet Dardashti, New York University

Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University

Carolyn Dean, Yale University

Evelyn Dean-Olmsted, University of Puerto Rico

Rachel Deblinger, UC Santa Cruz

Lois Dubin, Smith College

Glenn Dynner, Sarah Lawrence College

John Efron, UC Berkeley

Jodi Eichler-Levine, Lehigh University

Susan Einbinder, University of Connecticut

Ellen Eisenberg, Willamette University

Todd Endelman, University of Michigan

Marc Michael Epstein, Vassar College

Kirsten Fermaglich, Michigan State University

Reuven Firestone, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, LA

Arnold Franklin, Queens College, CUNY

Joshua Furman, Rice University

Alexandra Garbarini, Williams College

Gary Gilbert, Claremont McKenna College

Maja Gildin Zuckerman, Independent scholar

Sharon Gillerman, Hebrew Union College

Amelia Glaser, UC San Diego

Erin Graff Zivin, University of Southern California

Denise Grollmus, University of Washington

Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union

Karen Grumberg, University of Texas, Austin

Aaron Hahn Tapper, University of San Francisco

Sarah Hammerschlag, University of Chicago

Alma Heckman, UC Santa Cruz

Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College

Ari Joskowicz, Vanderbilt University

Jonathan Judaken, Rhodes College

Daniel Judson, Hebrew College

Ava Kahn, Independent scholar

Brett Kaplan, University of Illinois

Marion Kaplan, New York University

Ruth Karras, University of Minnesota

Emily Katz, Duke University

Ari Kelman, Stanford University

Shaul Kelner, Vanderbilt University

Shira Kohn, CUNY Brooklyn College

Oren Kosansky, Lewis & Clark College

Rachel Kranson, University of Pittsburgh

Chana Kronfeld, UC Berkeley

Paul Lerner, University of Southern California

Mark Leuchter, Temple University

Laura Levitt, Temple University

Lital Levy, Princeton University

Jason Lustig, UCLA

Barbara Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary

Jessica Marglin, University of Southern California

Devi Mays, University of Michigan

Yitzhak Melamed, Johns Hopkins University

Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan

Regina Morantz-Sanchez, University of Michigan

David N. Myers, UCLA

Ranen Omer-Sherman, University of Louisville

Anne Perez, UC Davis

Shachar Pinsker, University of Michigan

Riv-Ellen Prell, University of Minnesota

Todd Presner, UCLA

Elliot Ratzman, Swarthmore College

Bryan Roby, University of Michigan

Monique Rodrigues Balbuena, University of Oregon

Naama Rokem, University of Chicago

Sara Ronis, St. Mary's University, Texas

Kate Rosenblatt, University of Michigan

Nora Rubel, University of Rochester

Gwen Satran

Allison Schachter, Vanderbilt University

Joshua Shanes, College of Charleston

David Shneer, University of Colorado

Jeffrey Shoulson, University of Connecticut

Amy Simon, Michigan State University

Neta Stahl, Johns Hopkins University

Ronit Stahl, University of Pennsylvania

Deborah Starr, Cornell University

Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan

Agnes Veto, Vassar College

Dov Waxman, Northeastern University

David Weinfeld, Virginia Commonwealth University

Steve Weitzman, University of Pennsylvania

Beth Wenger, University of Pennsylvania

Matthew Williams, Stanford University

Rebecca Winer, Villanova University

Diane Wolfthal, Rice University

Saul Zaritt, Harvard University

Steven Zipperstein, Stanford University

J Street cautions Schumer on Iran deal

J Street, likely to emerge after the 2016 election as a major force within the Democratic Party, is expecting from Senator Chuck Schumer to fall in line with supporters of the Iranian nuclear deal once he assumes leadership of the Democratic Caucus in the U.S. Senate.

“Senator Schumer understands that he’s very much in the minority in his own party and he would have a strong uphill battle were he to try to do anything that would actually undermine the deal,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told Jewish Insider on Wednesday.

“In the final vote, there were only four Democratic senators who did not vote to support the deal,” he asserted. “Senator Schumer did not work hard to rally opposition. He stated his personal view on this and he voted against it, but he was also very understanding and realistic that 90 percent of his colleagues in the Democratic caucus were in favor of the deal; sided with the president, with Secretary [Hillary] Clinton] and Senator [Tim] Kaine.”

In a recent speech at the Israeli American Council National Conference in DC, Schumer “>signed a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell asking that he “prioritize” a clean extension of the Iran Sanctions Act during the Senate’s end-of-year session. The extension, as proposed by the senior Democrats, would run through 2026. “It is essential that Congress keep Iran’s feet to the fire to make sure they do not violate the JCPOA. This bill would provide the sanction authority that helps us do just that,” Schumer said in July.

According to Ben-Ami, the reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act for ten years is something J Street can live with. “It is not viewed by us as a step to undermine the deal,” he said. “That in and of itself is not evidence of an intent on part of the senator to use his potential position (as Senate Majority Leader) in a way that might undermine the deal, in the years going forward.”

On Wednesday, J Street kicked off a “>earlier this year that the group has decided to seize the opportunity to expand its control and influence within the Democratic Party after scoring a victory on the Iran deal. “We see this as a unique opportunity to go on the offense and prove that standing up for a diplomacy first approach – which has been proven to be in the best interest of the U.S. and Israel – is not just smart policy but also savvy politics,” Shnider emphasized.

The pro-peace group was “>speech at the annual J Street gala in April. “Your organization played a critical role in mustering the support at home to get that deal through the United States Congress… “Thank you, thank you, thank you for your effort. You have made the world a little bit safer.”

Promising to expand the national campaign if needed, Ben-Ami stressed, “For us, this political fight represents the second chapter in the struggle to uphold the Iran nuclear agreement—and one that is every bit as important as the initial policy win. We need now to put candidates in office not only to defend against ongoing efforts to sink the deal in Congress, but also to protect the important precedent its passage set for pro-diplomacy-first policies going forward.”

Schumer: ‘Condoning’ terror against Israel led to Paris attacks

The world is now paying the price of not standing up to terrorism when it was directed only at Israel, as it had witnessed the murder of 132 people in the streets of Paris Friday night, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Sunday.

Speaking at the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education’s 75th annual dinner in Manhattan Sunday evening, Schumer said that while “we all mourn” what happened in France, “Israel and the Jewish people have been subject to the same type of terrorism since the 70s. And for so long, when it just happened to Israel, the world condoned it. They [may have not] condoned it, but maybe didn’t do much about it, and Israel had to fight terrorism on her own. And, because the world did not rise up, this terrorism, like a cancer, has spread throughout the world.”

“Had the world come down when the terrorists shot the Israeli athletes at the Olympics (in Munich 1972), or hijacked El AL planes, and come down on them hard, we wouldn’t have had what happened in Paris, today,” Schumer proclaimed.

The N.Y. Senator added, “The message other than fighting terrorism is to make sure that when it’s directed at one nation – like it has been directed in Israel for now decades – it’s directed at every nation. And the world must unite to defend Israel against the terrorism that is used against her day in and day out.”

This story originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

Democratic senators to Kerry: respond to Iranian missile test

This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

A group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in which they expressed ‘profound’ concern about the Iranian ballistic missile test last Sunday. 

The group includes Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Nine out of the eleven Democratic senators listed as signatories supported the Iran nuclear deal. 

“We are writing to express our profound concern about Iran’s October 11 ballistic missile test…We urge you to consider unilateral and multilateral responses to this ballistic missile test. We believe calibrated pressure on Iran is appropriate due to its clear non-compliance with UNSCR 1929 and to deter future violations,” the Senators wrote in the letter. 

The Senators stated that the launch so close to the date of the implementation of the nuclear deal “is an attempt to test the world’s will to respond to Iranian violations of its international commitments.”

Read a full text of the letter below: 

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are writing to express our profound concern about Iran’s October 11 ballistic missile test. 

United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power clearly stated that Iran’s test was a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 which specifically states that “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.” 

We are concerned about the military significance of this test, which is part of a long-term Iranian program that seeks to improve the range and capabilities of its ballistic missiles. We are also convinced that the launch is an attempt to test the world’s will to respond to Iranian violations of its international commitments.

We strongly believe that the ability of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to prevent Iran from fulfilling its nuclear ambitions must be fortified by a zero-tolerance policy to respond to violations of the agreement and of applicable UN resolutions – and a unified plan of action between the United States and our European allies about what specific responses should be deployed to respond to incremental violations. 

There must be no ambiguity in our willingness to enforce Iran’s obligations under UN resolutions and the JCPOA.

We urge you to consider unilateral and multilateral responses to this ballistic missile test. We believe calibrated pressure on Iran is appropriate due to its clear non-compliance with UNSCR 1929 and to deter future violations.

Bernie and me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Democrats object to new Republican Iran measure

Senators Chuck Schumer and Ben Cardin, senior Democrats who oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran, will vote against a Republican effort to require new conditions before President Barack Obama could lift any sanctions under the deal, aides said on Wednesday.

After Senate Democrats twice blocked a disapproval resolution meant to kill the nuclear agreement, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced amendments to the measure that would bar Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran unless it recognizes Israel's right to exist and releases American prisoners.

Democrats have argued for months that the agreement should not be tied to non-nuclear issues.

Schumer, the number three Democrat in the Senate, and Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sided with Republicans and against fellow Democrats in the two previous procedural votes.

Under legislation Obama signed into law in May, Congress has until Thursday to pass a resolution disapproving of the nuclear agreement. If the resolution were to pass, it would cripple the deal by barring Obama from lifting many U.S. sanctions.

Schumer and Cardin remain opposed to the deal itself, their aides said.

Dear Congressman Sherman: Your ‘no’ vote on Iran deal threatens Israel

In the least plausible alternative version of my life, I would have stayed in the San Fernando Valley rather than leaving more than 40 years ago and moving to Jerusalem. In that scenario, I’d be represented in Congress by Democrat Brad Sherman — and I might be less infuriated by his recent announcement that he’ll vote against the Iran deal, because if I were an Angeleno rather than an Israeli, his decision wouldn’t pose a threat to me, my neighbors and my country.

At this distance of years and miles, I don’t usually pay much attention to an L.A. congressman, but a random tweet alerted me to Sherman’s statement. 

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer’s declaration that he’ll vote against the accord made more headlines and is even more upsetting, given the relatively greater weight of each vote in the Senate. In both cases, their statements barely mention Israel, but their explanations track Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talking points for foiling the deal in Congress. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that Schumer and Sherman have devoted much of their study of the issue to their constituents and have concluded that voters who support the Vienna accord are a captive audience for a Democratic incumbent, while passionate opponents are swing voters and perhaps swing donors.

I imagine that Sherman, Schumer and other Democrats who intend to vote against the agreement might respond that Netanyahu is, after all, Israel’s elected leader and therefore the accredited spokesman for its security concerns. But there would be a logical absurdity in that argument. They could not even consider opposing the agreement if they believed that the elected leader of their own country is the sole authority on its national security. They know that an election granted President Barack Obama the right to govern within constitutional limits. An election is not a certification of omniscience. The same is true of Netanyahu.

In Israel, the most prominent dissenters from Netanyahu’s position are veterans of its military and intelligence agencies. There’s Shlomo Brom, former head of strategic planning in the Israeli general staff, who has debunked precisely the myths of the Vienna accord that fill Schumer and Sherman’s statements. Ami Ayalon, former commander of the Israeli navy and former head of the Shin Bet security service, has stated, “When it comes to Iran’s nuclear capability, this [deal] is the best option.” Yuval Diskin, another former Shin Bet director, this week tweeted in Hebrew that he “identifies absolutely” with Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times on why Israelis should support the accord.

Yes, I’m picking my experts (though if space and patience allowed, I could list many more). What Ayalon, Brom, Diskin and colleagues who have expressed similar views have in common is that — to use Hebrew slang —they’re not “vegetarians.” They know there’s sometimes no choice but to use military force. But they also have an utterly unromantic understanding of the costs of using force and the limits of what it can accomplish. They are the kind of security experts that a Democratic member of Congress should want to consult. (There’s little point in discussing which experts a Republican lawmaker should consult: The GOP’s fundamental principle is that any agreement reached by Obama is illegitimate, which meshes sweetly with Netanyahu’s core belief that all diplomacy is delusion.)

I could go point by point through the errors in Schumer and Sherman’s criticisms of the deal. It’s either mistaken or deliberately misleading to state, as Schumer does, that there’s a “24-day delay before we can inspect.” That’s the outside limit for reimposing sanctions if Iran blocks inspection of a previously unknown site. It’s mistaken or deceptive to imply, as Sherman does, that Iran will be free to pursue a weapons program in 15 years. Inspections, surveillance and the ban on nuclear weapons last long after that.

But the real flaw in Sherman and Schumer’s arguments — and in Netanyahu’s — is that they measure the accord against the ideal agreement they wanted, or against the one they claim Obama could have reached. Such arguments are appropriate for an academic seminar. Were Obama running for re-election, they could be fairly raised by opponents challenging his foreign policy record.

But they are worse than irrelevant to a decision today about whether to vote for or against the agreement in Congress. The only relevant measurement for a member of Congress is the consequences of approving the accord versus the consequences of rejecting it.

Therefore, the burden of proof for opponents is to explain how, if the U.S. Congress manages to sabotage the accord, they propose to keep the current international sanctions intact and bring Iran back to negotiations. They must explain how, while scuttling the deal, they will avoid discrediting the moderate camp in Iranian politics and strengthening the hardline faction most committed to terrorist proxies across the Middle East. They must explain how the current reality, in which Iran’s enrichment program is unlimited, is safer than the limitations imposed by the agreement, and how they propose to prevent the regional nuclear arms race that is likely to ensue if Iran does produce a bomb.

Alternatively, they must explain how any military action short of full-scale invasion would slow Iran’s program more than the accord would — or explain how they’d convince the American public to support invading Iran, and why they think America would be more successful in creating a safe Iran from the ruins than it was in building a stable Iraq.

Otherwise, they must explain exactly why voting against this deal makes anyone — in the United States, Israel or anywhere else — safer than voting for it. And I’m not talking about “safe” as used in “safe seat.”

Mr. Sherman, Mr. Schumer: I suggest you quickly hold a consultation with Daniel Kurtzer and the other former American ambassadors to Israel who have endorsed the agreement, that you hold a video conference tomorrow morning with Ayalon, Brom and Diskin, and you announce that your concerns have been allayed. If a measure of integrity doesn’t convince you to do so, I hope that enough of your constituents remind you that you are not the only possible Democratic candidates for your seats. Because from where I sit, in Jerusalem rather than the San Fernando Valley, a vote against this agreement looks like premeditated irresponsibility.

Gershom Gorenberg is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, where this essay originally appeared. He is the author of “The Unmaking of Israel,” “The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977” and “The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount.” He blogs at South Jerusalem. Reprinted with permission.

Two senators defy Obama on Iran nuclear deal

A second U.S. Democratic senator lined up on Tuesday in opposition to the U.S.-led international nuclear agreement with Iran, defying President Barack Obama.

New Jersey's Bob Menendez said that, along with New York's Chuck Schumer, he was opposing the deal, which would place new limits on Iran's nuclear program while lifting economic sanctions on the country.

Obama is trying to gather 34 votes in the Senate to ensure that lawmakers cannot kill the agreement. Twenty-one senators, all Democrats, have said they will support it, meaning Obama needs to lock up 13 more votes. Twenty senators have not formally declared their positions.

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii became the latest to give her support on Monday. Nearly all Republicans oppose 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 so, opponents would then probably try to override the veto. This would take a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber. The Senate has 100 members; the House, 435.

–Democrats could block an override in the Senate with 34 votes. So far, 21 senators have committed to voting in favor of the deal; 19 have said they will oppose it.

– In the House, if Republicans voted unanimously to override, they would need to get at least 44 Democrats to do the same.

Why we disagree with Chuck Schumer on the Iran deal

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key voice in the Democratic Party leadership, has announced that he will not support the international agreement designed to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We realize that all senators must balance their concerns about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action against the consequences for the United States if Washington rejects it. We just do not agree with how the senator balances up the account. Here's why:

Schumer's explanation did not go into his views on the consequences of rejection. He says he will vote against the deal not because he believes “war is a viable option” or “to challenge the path of diplomacy.” Instead, his reasoning is based on his belief that “Iran will not change.” The deal, however, is not about trusting Iran, changing its regime or even avoiding war. It is about preventing Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Schumer's alternative to the agreement is to “keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more.”

He does not explain how his strategy would be accomplished without the support of Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, the other parties to the deal besides the United States and Iran. He also does not address the consequences if Washington fails to honor its commitment to a multilateral agreement negotiated over 18 months.

Rejection of the agreement would severely undermine the U.S. role as a leader and reliable partner around the globe. If Washington walks away from this hard-fought multilateral agreement, its dependability would likely be doubted for decades.

Rejection would also destroy the effective coalition that brought Iran to the negotiating table. China and Russia would likely resume trade with Iran. U.S. allies, unsettled by Washington's behavior, would move their own separate ways.

The other five negotiators would likely have little stomach for going back to Iran “for a better deal.” The ambassadors of the five countries recently assured members of Congress that their governments would not return to the negotiating table should Washington reject the agreement.

Future sanctions would then have to be largely unilateral U.S. efforts – and less effective. There would be no coalition standing by to restore sanctions or apply other pressures if Iran did not comply. It would also be difficult to develop joint forceful action against Iran should it decide to go for a nuclear weapon.

Schumer's suggestion that the United States “impose secondary sanctions on other nations” would likely be challenged by Washington's friends and allies. It could rapidly lead to alternative financial arrangements disadvantageous to America over the long term. A U.S. policy of extending unilateral sanctions to other nations that had agreed to lift them on Iran would also risk damaging the power and influence of the U.S. Treasury.

Tehran would be the winner of this U.S. rejection because it would achieve its major objective: the lifting of most sanctions without being required to accept constraints on its nuclear program. Iran could also claim to be a victim of American perfidy and try to convince other nations to break with U.S. leadership and with the entire international sanctions regime.

Meanwhile, Israel would be the loser, as Iran would resume its nuclear program without inspections and would garner support from other nations around the world. Ninety countries, including Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, have already supported the deal. Though Israel opposes it, many key Israelis do not, including retired senior generals and a former Mossad leader.

The history of Iran's efforts to build a nuclear program without constraints is instructive. From 2005 to 2013, Iran rocketed from about 200 installed centrifuges to 20,000, while Washington sought to stop them through sanctions. Unrestrained by the joint nuclear agreement, Iran could quickly resume its aggressive nuclear program: move from 20,000 to 200,000 installed centrifuges, resume enriching uranium to 20 percent in its deeply buried facility, finish its plutonium reactor and develop reprocessing.

Vindicated in his distrust of the United States, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would no longer have any incentive to negotiate. The much flaunted and powerful Iranian “hard-liners” would likely return to dominate national politics and push President Hassan Rouhani's more centrist team aside permanently. A return to the “hard-trodden path of diplomacy,” as Schumer proposes, would have to be conducted without Iran and its six negotiating parties.

The scuttling of the agreement could also put the United States on a path to another war in the Middle East. The uncertainty about the restored, unrestrained Iranian nuclear program would rapidly become an unacceptable mystery. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors would find the unprecedented inspections program of the Iran nuclear agreement foregone, probably forever.

The hair-on-fire spiral from fears of Iranian intentions would lead again – as in 2012 and 2013 – to demands for military action. As uncertainty mounted, Israel might again find it necessary to attack Iran and expect U.S. support.

Paradoxically, full U.S. military action against Iran would achieve only a three- to five-year delay in an Iranian surge toward a bomb, while the international nuclear deal would allow 15 years to test whether the agreement was on track to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. An Israel-U.S. military attack would more than likely assure a decision by Iran to move rapidly for a nuclear weapon, a decision it has not yet taken, according the director of U.S. national intelligence.

Within a month, Congress will face a momentous decision to kill this last chance for Washington to reach a verifiable Iranian commitment not to build a nuclear weapon. Congress can either accept or reject it by overriding an expected presidential veto – thereby taking sole and exclusive responsibility for the grave consequences for U.S. national security that would certainly follow.

Former Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is now chairman of The Lugar Center. Former Senator J. Bennett Johnston, Democrat of Louisiana, served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The opinions expressed here are their own.

Iran debate devolves with charges of ‘dual loyalty’ and ‘dog whistles’

The dredging up of the dual loyalty charge — that lawmakers who reject the Iran nuclear agreement and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is lobbying against it, are more closely aligned with Israel than the United States — illustrates just how tense the debate over the deal has become.

The charge came to the fore after Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the highest-ranking Jewish Democrat in the Senate, announced last week that he was opposing the deal reached July 14 between Iran and six world powers. A weekly cartoon on Daily Kos, a liberal website, depicted Schumer as a woodchuck, and in the course of a TV interview, the flag in the woodchuck’s office changes from American to Israeli and the moderator, a basset hound, calls Schumer a traitor. The cartoonist, Eric Lewis, has had drawings published in the New Yorker.

The cartoon has drawn outraged responses.

“There is room for a legitimate debate on the Iran deal, however charges” of disloyalty “against Senator Schumer — and any other members who articulate on fact-based but alternative views — are beyond inappropriate,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the new national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Times of Israel.

With most Republicans against the deal, Democrats have become the battleground — and Schumer has been under especially intense scrutiny. Congress has until late September to decide whether to reject the agreement.

The Democratic caucus generally defers to those within the party with the biggest stake in an issue, and traditionally has looked to its Jewish caucus, some 27 members, for leadership on Israel-related issues. Six have declared against the deal and 10 have declared for it. But Schumer’s coming out in opposition was seen as a watershed because he is line to succeed Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the party’s leader in the Senate who is retiring next year.

MoveOn, the liberal activist group, immediately launched a drive to defund Schumer, headlining one email to supporters, “Unbelievable. Schumer. War.” In an interview, Ilya Sheyman, MoveOn’s executive director, repudiated anti-Semitism in the debate, but said likening Schumer to those who want war was justified. Sheyman, who is Jewish, said Schumer’s Jewishness was not a factor in the MoveOn campaign.

“Part of the reason you’re seeing this is Chuck Schumer is the first and so far only Senate Democrat to come out against the deal and he is likely to be the next leader,” Sheyman said. (Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has indicated he will oppose the deal but has yet to formally declare.) “Siding with those who would take us into another war in the Middle East is not a comfortable path to be on.”

AIPAC’s president, Robert Cohen, on Monday in an email to supporters pushed back against what he said were the Obama administration’s misrepresentations of his pro-Israel lobbying group’s policy.

The differences arose last week in an exchange between Lee Rosenberg, an Obama backer and a past AIPAC president, and Obama at a meeting the president convened with Jewish leaders at the White House. At the meeting, attendees said, Obama noted TV ads paid for by an affiliate of AIPAC, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, and appeared to conflate them with other ads that liken Obama to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister widely seen as having appeased Hitler.

The CNFI ad addresses the substance of the deal and “does not single out the president in any way,” Cohen said in the email.

Online, some Obama critics lost no time in drawing a line between the Daily Kos cartoon and Obama’s rhetoric defending the deal.

“The president’s dog whistles are heard by the president’s dogs,” David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and now a senior editor at The Atlantic, tweeted.

A number of conservative commentators had already said that Obama was insinuating anti-Semitic tropes about dual loyalty in addresses he has delivered defending the deal.

Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush who is now a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Obama in an Aug. 5 address at American University insinuated that AIPAC and other Jewish groups are counseling war with Iran.

Writing in the conservative Weekly Standard, Abrams quoted Obama from the speech: “Does anyone really doubt that the same voices now raised against this deal will be demanding that whoever is president bomb those nuclear facilities?” Obama asked.

“Who are these people who will be ‘demanding’ war?” Abrams wrote, and then said Obama was referring to AIPAC “and Jewish members of Congress like Chuck Schumer and Eliot Engel and Ted Deutch.”

Obama in his speech at American did say that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” Yet he also explicitly distinguished opponents whose skepticism for the deal stems from support for Israel from Republican partisans, whom he accused of beating the drums for war, and he expressed sympathy for the pro-Israel outlook.

“I do think it is important to acknowledge another more understandable motivation behind the opposition to this deal, or at least skepticism to this deal,” he said, “and that is a sincere affinity for our friend and ally Israel. An affinity that, as someone who has been a stalwart friend to Israel throughout my career, I deeply share.”

Notably, the distinction between pro-Israel and partisan Republican opposition to the deal came a day after the White House meeting with Jewish leaders. Those attending the meeting said Obama had agreed to make the distinction clear going forward.

Report: Schumer to oppose Iran deal

A top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, will come out against the Iran deal on Friday, according to a report from The Huffington Post.

The report quotes three unnamed sources familiar with the senator’s thinking.

Schumer, a Jewish lawmaker from New York who is poised to become his party’s leader in the Senate in 2017, has come under intense pressure from the White House and critics of the deal.

Analysis: Chuck Schumer now the most important man in the world

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is one of two dozen Republicans racing for the White House, on Tuesday challenged Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who will become the Senate Democratic leader in 2017, to turn his back on President Barack Obama and help kill the Iran deal.

“Chuck Schumer is supposed to be the guardian of Israel. He goes around everywhere and says, ‘My name is Schumer. It means guardian of Israel,'” Graham said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Well, if you care about Israel, you will not put her in this box,” Graham said. “If you care about the United States, you will not allow our chief antagonist to become a nuclear threshold nation guaranteed in nature with no restrictions for them to go beyond that.”

An aside: according to, the roots of the name Schumer are in Middle Low German, a schumer is “good-for-nothing,” “vagabond.” But what’s in a name?

“The Iran drama is only beginning. Assuming that Obama can sell this deal to Congress — Chuck Schumer, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you,” Jeffrey Goldberg wrote Tuesday night. And he’s absolutely right.

Many Democrats in the Senate will be taking their cue from Schumer on the Iran deal. “He will be the canary in the coal mine,” writes Doug Bloomfield. “He will be watched for his dual roles as a party and Jewish leader – he has boasted of being Netanyahu’s best friend on Capitol Hill,” and he has close to 1.8 million Jewish constituents, the vast majority of whom love Israel and loath President Obama.

Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, signed into law by the president, directs the President, within five days after reaching an agreement with Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program, to transmit to Congress the text of the agreement and all related materials and annexes and affidavits.

It also directs the Secretary of State to prepare a report assessing all the various relevant agencies’ capacity to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement.

The foreign relations committees then hold hearings and briefings to review the deal for 60 days, ending sometime in the second week of September, 2015.

The Congress disapproves. It’s part of the law, as is the presidential veto that follows, it’s as if those guys were writing a screenplay:

The President may not remove the sanctions for:

12 days after the date of passage by both Houses of Congress of a congressional joint resolution of disapproval, and

10 days after the date of a presidential veto of a congressional joint resolution of disapproval passed by both Houses of Congress.

If Congress passes the resolution of disapproval with a veto-proof, two-thirds majority — then the sanctions cannot be lifted, the deal is dead.

That last part is the most crucial: can Congress beat a presidential veto? Possibly. But only if Chuck Schumer wants it. And for Schumer to want it means that the most prominent act of the next leader of the Senate Democrats would be to defeat a Democrat in the White House.

Not likely.

On the other hand, there are those 1.8 million New York Jews, and AIPAC, and Bibi…

This is what Schumer said in a statement he released on Tuesday:

“Over the coming days, I intend to go through this agreement with a fine-tooth comb, speak with administration officials, and hear from experts on all sides. I supported legislation ensuring that Congress would have time and space to review the deal, and now we must use it well. Supporting or opposing this agreement is not a decision to be made lightly, and I plan to carefully study the agreement before making an informed decision.”

It probably means he’ll take his time, and then take some more time, and then, over the rest of the summer, start leaking hints that this is the best deal we could hope for, and by the time Labor Day comes and goes, he’ll side with the President.

Meanwhile, the Administration will come up with ways to compensate the Israelis, and Schumer will be part of it. They’ll shmear and shmooze and promise and ply and bribe and become friends again. Because you have to.

And then Israel will have to figure out how to bomb the Iranian nuclear bunkers before the price becomes too high.

Alan Gross, ‘normalization’ of U.S.-Cuba relations and the American spy flying under the radar

The news on Dec. 17 about the sudden thaw in diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana was so surprising that we really won’t know for months — or years — what the impact will be. In the meantime, here are seven key points about the deal:

1. The timing made sense.

President Barack Obama knew he would draw sharp criticism from powerful Republican and Democratic politicians, and in just a few weeks, Republicans will officially take control of the Senate, giving them a much louder microphone. If Obama had any hesitation about political blowback from an outgoing Congress, his feet would be a lot colder in February.

He also found himself in the position of trying to accomplish something without hurting his party’s chances of retaining the White House in 2016. In that regard, timing was, again, important. In six months, most Americans will forget anything ever happened. It helps that the political gamble may not have been huge — and perhaps not even a gamble. Polls indicate a majority of Americans support Obama’s detente.

2. Gross was not the most valuable American in captivity.

Gross is the face of this deal, but perhaps the real ace in the hole was Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, a Cuban-born spy who was apparently a treasured American intelligence agent. It appears that Trujillo, like Gross, was always going to be a crucial piece of any larger diplomatic breakthrough. All we know about him is that he was in a Cuban prison for nearly 20 years and was working for the Cuban government as a cryptologist before the CIA turned him.

Trujillo helped uncover numerous Cuban intelligence operations in the U.S. and apparently even helped bring down the “Cuban Five,” intelligence agents who were arrested in Florida in 1998 and convicted and imprisoned for espionage. The three remaining Cuban prisoners (one died and one was released) were also always going to be part of any prisoner deal or normalization.

3. The normalization deal favors Cuba.

Washington demanded little from Havana in exchange for normalized relations and the privilege of hosting an American embassy in Havana. We don’t know whether Cuba would release Gross without a larger detente, but if the two aspects of the deal are analyzed separately, Havana clearly won the normalization part. It held on to its communist political and economic systems, and did not renounce any of its routine human rights abuses.

The extent of Cuba’s compromise in this deal was a yet-to-be-fulfilled commitment to release 53 prisoners being held in Cuban prisons.

4. The U.S. owed it to Gross to make a deal, even a bad one.

The State Department put the administration in this position when it sent Gross to Cuba in 2009 on what can be called a crackpot, democracy-building mission. Gross had zero experience or training in covert or discreet fieldwork. In Cuba, setting up illegal Internet networks without attracting attention requires someone with operational experience in totalitarian countries; Gross was not that person. He’s a telecommunications expert who had a passion for bringing 21st-century technology to underserved communities.

5. U.S.-Cuba relations are still far from normal.

The focus on the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba distracts from the fact that the deal does little to restore any type of open economic relationship. Only Congress can lift America’s economic embargo on Cuba and, even if that is lifted, only the Cuban government can pull its own population out of abject poverty by opening its market.

A fact sheet put together by the White House notes American businesses will be authorized to export “certain building materials for private residential construction, goods for use by private sector entrepreneurs and agricultural equipment for small farmers.” U.S. banks and financial institutions will be able to open accounts at Cuban banks, and American travelers will be able to use credit and debit cards in Cuba. But the impact of these moves likely will be marginal.

6. Life in Cuba still will be miserable for the average Cuban.

American telecommunications companies will be able to export equipment that will (hopefully) be used to connect more Cubans to the Internet. The big question, though, is whether the Castro regime will give Cubans any meaningful access to the outside world.

The agreement does little, if anything, to change the totalitarian nature of the regime. It wasn’t designed to do that. But maybe it’s the first step. Supporters of this deal have long said that increasing the amount of interaction between Cubans and Americans (and American goods) may also increase the penetration of American ideas into Cuba.

7. American Jews made sure Gross’ freedom was a deal-breaker.

Addressing the media in Washington, Gross sounded thrilled to be home. After five years in confinement, he was eager to thank everyone who helped make the deal happen, including the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and its executive director, Ron Halber, who was among Gross’ loudest advocates, along with his wife, Judy, and attorney, Scott Gilbert.

Halber organized signature campaigns that were sent to top White House officials, led vigils outside a Cuban government office in Washington and met with State Department officials to discuss Gross’ fate. Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (the parent body of the JCRC), told the Journal in September that American Jews had to continue pushing for Gross’ release in order to ensure he remained a top priority on the State Department’s to-do list.

We may never know the extent of the impact Jewish leaders had in ensuring that Washington demanded Gross’ release as part of a larger deal, but their work surely helped keep his fate at the forefront of the minds of key players in Washington.

Has Israel become a Democrat-Republican issue?

About a decade ago, my rabbi was promoting congregational AIPAC involvement.  His argument went that AIPAC was not necessary for our local liberal Jewish Congressman, who was a member of our synagogue.  If he ever did anything anti-Israel, the rabbi always had the option of reporting that fact to the Congressman’s mother.  However, he stated that AIPAC was necessary to make Israel’s case to the Congressman from northeast Louisiana, in other words, the Congressman for the folks from Duck Dynasty.  Ten years later, it seems that the pro Israel lobby needs to change its focus from the Congressman in northeast Louisiana to the one south-central Los Angeles.

In a recent CNN/ORC survey taken from July 18 to July 20, 2014, Americans had a favorable view of Israel, 60%-36%, which would appear promising.  When the data is broken down, there is some cause for concern.  Republicans viewed Israel favorably by a margin of 67%-31% and Independents 63%-35%.  Democrats, however, only viewed Israel favorably by a margin of 49%-48%.  In asking about the justification for Operation Protective Edge, Republicans viewed Israel as justified by a margin of 73%-19%, Independents 56%-36% and Democrats 45%-42%.  Looking at the data, Republicans and Independents are strong supporters of Israel; Democrats not so much.  The trend is alarming.  The key question is why?  What has happened to cause the gradual movement of Democrats from the pro-Israel camp?  There are of course, notable Democrats strongly supportive of Israel from Chuck Schumer to Alan Dershowitz, but if they are not the minority within their own party, they may well soon be. 

I have come up with four reasons to explain the polling data.  The first is moral relativism.  Since World War II, Democrats have never been comfortable in framing issues as good vs. evil.  They had trouble with the Cold War and Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire or George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil.  The fact that there would no need for Operation Protective Edge if Hamas did not fire thousands of rockets into Israel in an attempt (albeit ineffective) to murder as many innocent Jews as possible seems to be lost on certain Democrats.  To frame the issue as Hamas = evil and Israel = good is not a major intellectual breakthrough.  You just need to have a moral compass that finds indiscriminate murder as evil.  Democrats have no problem labeling Republican domestic policies as immoral, such as with the war on women, but their morality seems to go astray as soon as it is applied to the international arena.

The second reason is President Barack Obama.  As the ostensible leader of the Party, the President’s opinions on Israel matter a great deal.  Despite Republican claims to the contrary, Obama is not inherently anti-Israel.  He has approved Iron Dome funding and presided over unprecedented levels of security cooperation between the United States and Israel.  On the other hand, the President is not instinctively pro-Israel either.  One only has to look at his administration’s recent involvement in the cease fire negotiations regarding Operation Protective Edge, which the Israeli security cabinet described as a “betrayal.”  This is not a new issue for the President; Obama has been dogged since he first ran for President about whether he is supportive for Israel in his gut; i.e., the kishkes test.

The third reason is what I call the “Jimmy Carter” issue.  This issue stems from the Democrats being hardwired to support the underdog.  In that framework, all they see is a powerful western colonial Israel oppressing an indigenous third world Palestine.  However in framing the issue as such, Caterites consistently fail to understand the history of the conflict, how the United Nations voted to partition what was then Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab one, how the partition resolution was accepted by the Jewish community and rejected by the Arabs, who then assembled the armies of five nations to launch a war with the avowed aim of driving the Jews out of Palestine.  The fact that they failed is now described as the “Nakba” or catastrophe.  Carter sees this issue in terms of South African apartheid, which is evident by his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”  Despite Carter’s support for Hamas and his being absolutely and completely wrong about Israel, there appears to be an audience for him within the confines of the Democrat party.

The fourth reason is Jewish Democrats themselves.  J Street is a lobbying group that portrays itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.”  What they have done successfully is peel off liberal Jews from AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations.  You can find Israelis with views similar to J Street; you would not even call them hard left.  The difference is that J Street uses its influence on US policy towards Israel, while Israeli leftists, whose children serve in the IDF, use their influence on the democratically elected government of Israel, who is responsible for the safety and well-being of its citizens.  There is debate within the Jewish community about the “Pro-Israel” component of J Street, but you cannot debate that J Street has made it acceptable within the Jewish community to lobby the United States government to apply pressure on Israel.  It is not a giant step to conclude that they have not done as good job within the liberal community of making the case for Israel as they have in making the case for pressuring Israel.

How can we change the Democrats outlook towards Israel?  The data does not say that they are anti-Israel, but the trend is worth noting.

State Dept.: Israel’s discrimination keeps it out of visa waiver deal

Discrimination against visiting Arab-Americans is the primary reason Israel is not eligible for a program allowing Israeli tourists in to the United States without visas, the Obama administration said.

“The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program,” Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said March 21 in her daily briefing with reporters.

The State Department warns Americans of Arab descent that they may be delayed or even turned back when arriving at Israeli points of entry.

Israel says its rate of refusal of entry for Arab-Americans is not disproportionate and notes that under the Oslo agreements with the Palestinians, foreigners of Palestinian descent undergo a different entry protocol.

There have been a number of efforts in Congress over the years to exempt Israel from visa waiver rules; the most recent is stalled in the Senate.

Psaki’s remarks came after several weeks in which a number of lawmakers, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have criticized U.S. consular services for their rate of refusal of young Israelis.

The required maximum rate of refusal of entry for entering the U.S. visa waiver program is 3 percent. Last year, Israel’s was at 9.7 percent, up from 5.4 percent the year before.

Israel’s rate of refusal for visas is low relative to many other countries, and rates of refusal for other U.S. allies also spiked last year, but there is evidence that Israel’s number is climbing because consular officials are wary of young Israeli travelers illegally peddling Dead Sea wares on U.S. trips.

On Friday, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters she had spoken with Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, about the issue.

“These kids have completed their national service,” Lowey said, referring to the young Israeli travelers. “I’m concerned there aren’t many countries where they can travel safely” besides the United States.

Psaki in her briefing said the rate of refusal for young Israelis was not disproportionate.

“Over 90 percent of Israeli applicants for tourist visas to the United States are approved,” she said.”For young Israelis, over 80 percent of visa applicants are approved for a visa.”

Los Angeles activist attending Obama’s inauguration finds Jewish values in week’s festivities

The chill in the D.C. air never seems to diminish the warmth and excitement from a presidential inauguration. 2013 was no different, but it also felt uniquely Jewish.

As a college student and law student in Washington DC, and later as an activist from California, I’ve attended five inaugurations since 1989.   But this year in particular felt Like a family coming together after feuding, with Republicans and Democrats attending the celebration of American democracy, sitting down and breaking bread together at receptions, dinners, lunches and Inaugural balls and galas.

The 2012 Presidential election was one of the most divisive for the Jewish community in decades, but the clamor did not seem to extend to the week of festivities.  Attempts to partisanize s support for Israel was soundly rebuked this election cycle and such comments were nowhere to be found this week. .

If anything, people seem to be coming together.   The furor over the nomination of former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense seems to have faded with his endorsement by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and recent meetings with Jewish community leaders at the White House, where he had the chance to explain how the current situation in Iran, Syria , Egypt and Gaza has made his views evolve into more mainstream positions.  

At a breakfast for Jewish women put together by the National Jewish Democratic Council, the focus was on more domestic issues.  Congresswoman Susan Davis of San Diego and former Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Ann Lewis exhorted more women to get involved in politics and take leadership positions to ensure that issues of equality and access to reproductive health care stay at the forefront.  

With the economy still in recovery, the parties were smaller.   There were only two official Inaugural Balls (military and public) instead of the 10 that were in 2009.    The California Democratic Party’s event was held with 500 attendees in a hotel, compared with the thousands that attended the event at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 2009.   New California members of Congress Jared Huffman, Alan Lowenthal, Ami Bera and Scott Peters  (Peters and Lowenthal are Jewish) and more familiar faces such as Brad Sherman and John Garamendi added to the lineup of politicians in attendance.    There was also a job fair for Obama staff alumni with local non-profits, political consultants and technology companies to help those that put their lives on hold for months to find new opportunities and several small receptions where I saw California Republican Congressman Ed Royce, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, newly elected California Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod .

Jewish themes ran throughout the weekend.   Saturday was a national day of service, with projects from DC to Los Angeles, helping fix up the community.  President Obama’s inauguration speech also had themes that reflected Jewish values,

President Obama said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” 

Some may argue that the President’s speech was a defense of liberalism.   To me, I heard in those words a defense of the “Tikkun Olam” concept that when Americans create opportunity for those that don’t have access to such changes, it raises all of us up, and when we deny equality and dignity to one human being, it hurts us all.

He reminded us that our duty was to fight for equality and liberty. While the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness may be self evident, they have rarely been self executing.

I grew up and went to college in the Washington DC area, so it was a great chance to see friends and share pictures of my new daughter, with family and friends who I had not seen since she was born (which also felt very Jewish), but what I saw throughout this week was a very Jewish notion: The start of a natural healing process of every party, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender and ethnicity to come together as an “American family” to face the challenges of the next four years led by President Barack Obama, who is now the President for all of us.

Andrew Lachman is President Emeritus of Democrats for Israel and a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Hagel gets key Jewish endorsements for secretary of defense

Chuck Hagel added three major Jewish Democrats to his list of endorsers, clearing his way to likely confirmation as secretary of defense.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) each said they were satisfied Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, would advance the U.S.-Israel security relationship and would make a priority of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“I know some will question whether Sen. Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Schumer said in a statement Tuesday, a day after he conferred with Hagel. “But I don’t think so. Sen. Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.”

Lawmakers generally take their lead on sensitive issues from colleagues who are affiliated to the interest group in question, and the endorsement of Jewish senators has been seen as critical to him getting the job.

Also endorsing Hagel was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Hagel had drawn fire for past criticisms of Israeli policy, skepticism about the efficacy of unilateral Iran sanctions, wariness of the repercussions of a military strike on Iran, and willingness to engage with Iran and some terrorist groups, while also maintaining degrees of isolation.

In conversations with Schumer, Boxer and Wasserman Schultz, Hagel also apologized for having said the “Jewish lobby” is “intimidating” in a 2006 interview.

AIPAC calls for review of U.S.-Palestinian ties

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called for a “full review” of the U.S. relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization, including shutting its Washington office, in the wake of its obtaining non-member state status at the United Nations.

“In requesting this action, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is effectively turning his back on  talks with Israel and destroying his credibility as someone genuinely interested in a serious peace process,” AIPAC said in a statement after the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved non-member state status for the PLO ion Thursday evening, 138 to 9 with 41 abstentions.

“Congress has specifically linked continued aid and the operation of the PLO office in Washington to the Palestinians not seeking statehood status at the United Nation,” it said. “AIPAC applauds this congressional leadership and urges a full review of America’s relations with the PLO, including closure of the PLO’s office in Washington.”

In fact, laws passed by Congress to date impose penalties for full U.N. membership, not the non-member status obtained Thursday.

A number of proposed laws now under consideration would, however, extend those penalties to the Palestinian Authority and to the United Nations for obtaining non-member statehood recognition.

The likeliest to pass, proposed Thursday by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Barrasso (R-Wy.), is conditional: It would cut foreign assistance to the Palestinians in the event they used their new U.N. status to press charges against Israel in the U.N. court system, and would shut the Washington office only if the Palestinian do not return to meaningful talks with Israel.