November 18, 2018

An American Hero’s Final Words: ‘Do Not Despair’

Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Editor’s Note: An aide for the late Sen. John McCain shared a farewell statement from the long-serving Arizona Republican on Aug. 27. McCain died  on Aug. 25 at his ranch near Sedona, Ariz., after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. He was 81. Here are his final thoughts:

“My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans,

Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.

I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.

I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America’s causes — liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people – brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.

‘Fellow Americans’ — that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process.

We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.

Ten years ago, I had the privilege to concede defeat in the election for president. I want to end my farewell to you with the heartfelt faith in Americans that I felt so powerfully that evening. I feel it powerfully still.

Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

Farewell, fellow Americans. God bless you, and God bless America.” 

 

Schumer to Propose Resolution Renaming Senate Building After McCain

Photo from Flickr.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has announced that he will propose re-naming the Senate building after the recently deceased Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

McCain died at the age of 81 on August 25 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. In a statement following McCain’s death, Schumer called McCain one of the “few truly great people” in life.

“His dedication to his country and the military were unsurpassed, and maybe most of all, he was a truth teller – never afraid to speak truth to power in an era where that has become all too rare,” Schumer said. “The Senate, the United States, and the world are lesser places without John McCain.”

Schumer added, “Nothing will overcome the loss of Senator McCain, but so that generations remember him I will be introducing a resolution to rename the Russell building after him.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has publicly stated his desire to be the first Republican to co-sponsor the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that a committee of Republican senators would be established to determine the best way to honor McCain. McConnell suggested a portrait or renaming the Armed Services Committee office after McCain.

The current name of the Senate building, the Russell Senate Office Building, is named after the late Richard Russell, a staunch segregationist who served in the Senate for 38 years as a Democrat from Georgia.

ZOA: MSNBC Should Fire Joy Reid for Perpetuating ‘Sinister Anti-Semitic Canards’

Screenshot from Twitter.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is calling for MSNBC to fire host Joy Reid for promoting “sinister anti-Semitic canards” in old blog posts.

The June 11 statement on the ZOA’s website highlights old posts from Reid in which she echoes former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that Israel doesn’t have a right to exist, calling Israel’s use of force against Hamas the “population equivalent of 100 9/11s” and claiming that the U.S. went to war in Iraq at the behest of Israel.

“It is truly remarkable and a sign of the sickness of our times that someone who espouses sinister anti-Semitic canards and gives voice to bizarre conspiracy theories hold a major broadcasting position on a TV network,” ZOA President Mort Klein said. “More outrageous still is the fact that Joy Reid’s outrageous record, once discovered and publicized, has not led to her immediate firing, which the ZOA urges MSNBC to do without a moment’s delay.”

Other controversies from Reid’s now-defunct blog includes her photoshopping an image of ailing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) onto Virginia Tech shooter Seng-Hui Cho in 2007 and other posts that have been criticized as homophobic. Reid has apologized for the McCain image; as for the latter, she originally claimed that she was hacked but later apologized after no evidence of hacking was found.

H/T: Daily Wire

This is your brain on Trump

Locals react as President Donald Trump arrives at a rally in Huntington, West Va., on Aug. 3. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Do you ever find yourself wondering what the story is with those thrilled faces behind Donald Trump at his rallies?

Unlike us, they’re not spies in a house of horrors.

That sea of Make America Great Again hats doesn’t give them the creeps. When Trump cues them, as he did in Phoenix on Aug. 22, to jeer John McCain, no ambivalence about belittling a war hero battling brain cancer tempers their contempt. When Trump whines and whinges about the coverage his Charlottesville rant got, they realize, and don’t care, that he’s rewriting what he said — they heard him confer moral equivalence on neo-Nazis and anti-Nazis. But his act entertains them, and their complicity in his edits adds a perverse pleasure to the press hatred he rouses in them.

Who are these people?

They can’t all be the 9% of Americans who believe that holding white supremacist or neo-Nazi views is acceptable.

But there’s a decent chance they’re among the 62 percent of Trump voters who think millions of illegal votes won Hillary Clinton the popular vote; the 54 percent of his voters who say the most oppressed religious group in America is Christian; the 52 percent who believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya; the 46 percent who believe Clinton ran a satanic child-sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor; the 45 percent who say the racial group facing the most discrimination in America is white people; and the 40 percent whose main source of news is Fox News.

I get that Trump’s base feels marginalized, left behind by a minimum-wage economy, powerless to control their futures, dissed by urban elites. I know why they’re fed up with partisan gridlock (I am, too); I see why they’d favor a business brand over a political name as president. They’re disgusted by the corruption in Washington (ditto); no wonder they’re drawn to a bull who’d break some china and a bully who’d break some heads.

But after seven months of lying, sleaziness, impulsiveness, laziness, vengeance, arrogance, ineptness, ignorance, nepotism, self-love and Putin love, how can 3 out of 4 Republican voters still be sticking with him? How come those faces I see on TV don’t see the nightmare I see? (I don’t mean that bizarre “Blacks for Trump” guy; I mean the rest of them.)

That’s what I’m wrestling with. Here’s what I got:

It’s not because they’re stupid. It’s because they’re human. It’s not because they’re so different from me. It’s because they’re so much like me.

But here’s what makes that hard to swallow: I can’t muster the humility to believe we’re both wrong, and I can’t summon the relativism to believe we’re both right. But believing that I’m right and they’re wrong, as I do, gets me laughably crosswise with everything I know about human cognition.

Homo sapiens have refined a method of study and understanding — science — that’s reaped powerful knowledge about the world. But the more we’ve used science to study ourselves, to probe the neurobiology of how we think and what we feel, the more inescapable it’s become that “rational” is too flattering a term to describe what makes humans tick, even when we’re at our best.

It’s not pretty to admit, but no matter how practiced we are at critical thinking, how hip we are to the social construction of reality, how savvy we are about manipulation and framing, we still conflate what we want to be true with what actually is true. Our minds unconsciously invent retroactive rationales — we reverse-engineer justifications — for what our bodies already have made us think, say and do. What we call reason turns out to be a byproduct of our addiction to feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Human cognition is a captive of confirmation bias: We seek out and believe information that reinforces what people like us already believe. Confronted by evidence that contradicts what we think, we double down; confronted by chance, we confect necessity. Instead of changing our minds, we tell ourselves stories and cling fast to our tribal identities. A universe that’s run by luck is terrifying, but a good narrative imposes causality on randomness, finds patterns in chaos and purpose in lives. Our hunger for knowledge isn’t as strong as our yearning to belong, to defeat fear and loneliness with affiliation and family. We may call the baskets into which we sort facts “true” and “false,” but at bottom they’re euphemisms for “us” and “other.”

And yet my awareness of the limitations of logic, my appreciation for the ways human hardwiring privileges feelings over facts — they don’t inoculate me from maintaining that Trump is objectively unfit for office. I can’t let neuroscience discount my claim to truth-value: I don’t think calling Trump a liar illustrates confirmation bias at work. The reason the people I see at Trump rallies on my TV screen believe the psychopath at the podium is telling the truth may well be their membership in Tribe Trump. That explanation may nudge my empathy for them upward, but it doesn’t dampen my conviction that I’m right and they’re wrong, and it doesn’t make their belief in the falsehoods he spews any less scary.

Science may be humbling, but humility doesn’t make me feel like a dope when I call out dopiness when I see it.


MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Four times John McCain went maverick with his Jewish friends

Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) listens as he is introduced at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., on October 28, 2008. Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — war hero, presidential candidate, force of nature — has brain cancer, his family said Wednesday night, and he is garnering well-wishes from across the spectrum.

More than a few are from Jews: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called McCain “A hero. A fighter. A friend.”

 

Norm Eisen, the ethics chief under President Barack Obama who has emerged as one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest critics, has worked in the past with McCain on lobbying reform. “Sending you ammo John: our prayers.”

 

Some of the most heartfelt wishes came from McCain’s colleagues on the other said of the Senate aisle, a rare display of comity in a polarized Washington, including from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and from Al Franken of Minnesota:

 

There was even a nod from actor Jason Alexander, the politically active alum of “Seinfeld”:

 

McCain, a maverick who has stubbornly resisted shifting political tides and who embraces an interventionist foreign policy rooted in an idea of America as a shining example to the world, has a natural affinity for Jews. He has been an ardent defender of Israel, visiting the country countless times, and joined pro-Israel centrists in leading opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. His 2008 campaign for the presidency was chockablock with Jewish advisers, particularly in the national security sphere.

Here are four times he has joined with Jews in bucking expectations:

McCain-Feingold, or approving the message

McCain joined with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, then one of the most liberal Democrats, to keep corporate money out of campaign financing. Republicans hated the law — its first legal challenge was by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who is now the majority leader — and it eventually backfired. Banned from directly funding candidates, corporations exploited a loophole that allowed funding againstcandidates — and such so-called “soft money” was even harder to track. The Supreme Court in 2010 struck down key portions of McCain-Feingold as unconstitutionally impinging on free speech.

McCain-Feingold was so bogged down in acrimony and infighting, the cartoon series “Family Guy” made it a joke in 2010, featuring the bill as a laugh line that only irredeemably boring Washington insiders would get. It has one notable legacy: The “I’m Jane Doe and I approve this message” lines that tag political ads, designed to curb vituperation among candidates.

Quixotic? Yes. But the conservative, blue-talking southwestern Episcopalian and the soft-spoken Jew from Wisconsin remain friends, and Feingold was among McCain’s well-wishers on Wednesday.

 

Vice President Joe Lieberman, part II

McCain’s two closest friends in the Senate have been Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman, Democrat and then Independent of Connecticut. They advanced the robust foreign policy now out of fashion with Republicans with frequent visits to conflict zones, dubbing themselves the “Three Amigos.”

That “then Independent” in Lieberman’s biography is key. Lieberman and McCain were always close — like McCain, Lieberman remained a champion of the Iraq War long after other erstwhile backers changed their minds. But Lieberman’s defeat in the 2006 Democratic primary for his seat and his subsequent win as an Independent freed him to openly back McCain in the 2008 election, although he continued to caucus with Democrats.

McCain sorely wanted Lieberman as his running mate, but the Republican establishment — in the form of Karl Rove — fiercely resisted, saying he would be guaranteed to lose the election if he took on a Democrat in all but name. (So much for that: McCain’s eventual pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, pleased the base, but also likely was critical in driving away moderates and handing the election to Barack Obama.)

Lieberman had already made history in 2000 as the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket when Democratic nominee Al Gore chose him as his running mate. Had McCain prevailed, he would have made history again, as the first vice-presidential nominee to make the ticket for both parties.


Five liberal rabbis walk into a Republican’s office

McCain bucked the George W. Bush presidency in objecting to its sanction of torture in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (He also has clashed with President Donald Trump on the issue.) It was personal for McCain: As a prisoner of war in Vietnam, he had been tortured, and the notion that his beloved country would embrace the practice struck him as unconscionable.

Among his partners in his quest to ban the practice? Rabbis for Human Rights (now T’ruah), which met with him in 2005. It wasn’t a mere courtesy meeting: The group briefed McCain on Israel’s Supreme Court 1999 ban on even “moderate physical pressure,” and the fact that Israel was able to combat terrorism without torture became a talking point for the senator.

Going kosher because, why not

McCain, speaking at an Israeli embassy event in 2012 honoring Lieberman, who was wrapping up his career as a senator, shocked the room by saying he was considering converting to Judaism. Not because he loved the faith’s practices, but because he had endured enough of them traveling with Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, that he figured he might as well.

He was joking, of course, but it was a memorable — and salty — evening, as our coverage described it atthe time:

“I’ve had for so many years had to put up with the bulls**t,” McCain said. “I might as well convert.”

He started with Shabbat elevators, whose point he never quite got: “Pushing all those buttons — and nothing!”

Then McCain got to the dining. “Why in every f**king kosher menu do we have to have salmon?” he said to peals of laughter. “I’d like to have a round of applause tonight because we don’t have salmon.” (The main dish was roast beef.)

Then there were the long walks on winter Sabbaths, accompanying Lieberman home from the Senate. And that time McCain fell asleep on a plane ride. “I hear this mumbling and I look and there’s this guy wearing a shawl — I thought maybe I’d died.”

McCain now knows what a tallit is and even cited two “Hebrew” words in his lexicon, “Mensch and Oy Vey.”

But Lieberman, in his own speech, got in a zinger of a rejoinder: “John, your entry into the covenant was a lot less painful than mine.”

Let Trump be #NeverTrump

I bet a friend dinner that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. Now I need to decide whether to bet a bottle of wine that Trump will beat Hillary Clinton. What I take from the tightening polls is that either side could win, a prospect that terrifies me, and not just because I’d be out a good Bordeaux. What will tip the election, I suspect, is whether Trump can make more people hate Clinton than the Clinton campaign can make hate Trump.

When Maureen Dowd asked Trump last Friday about his Twitter feud with Elizabeth Warren, his reply was, “You mean Pocahontas?” We already knew he has a black belt in bullying. His contribution to the art of negative campaigning is that it’s Trump himself – the candidate, not his running mate, surrogates, paid ads or PACs – who’s slinging the feces. His case against Crooked Hillary is the familiar right-wing trash talk of the past quarter-century, with an accent on her marriage. The only open question is how close Trump’s tone will come to the Facebook page of Tony Senecal, his faithful Mar-a-Lago butler (“Stop the LYING BITCH OF BENGHAZI, NOW—killery Clinton!!!!!! She should be in prison awaiting hanging!!!!!!!”).

The Clinton campaign has signaled that she’ll stay out of the mud and leave the daily back-and-forth to her messengers. When asked by the press about Trump’s charge that she was her husband’s enabler and is therefore herself anti-women, she frames her answer in terms of Trump’s failure to fight for issues women care about. But what if he slimes her on the debate stage? Shaming might work, if not with him, then with voters: “Have you no sense of decency?” Or she could adapt Carly Fiorina’s “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” She could even do a version of Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no JFK” to Dan Quayle: “You’re not a tenth the man that Bill Clinton is.” And if Trump tries to pull it more than once, there’s always Reagan’s debate line to Jimmy Carter: “There you go again.”

Clinton’s ads could use Trump’s own words against him, but they may not stick; that’s why Trump has been called a Teflon candidate, as was Reagan. The Clinton campaign can try to brand Trump a liar, but though fact-checkers have given him a record number of pants-on-fires and Pinocchios, people aren’t joining or leaving him because of accuracy; that’s not what a protest movement is about.  Besides, fact-checking just plays into Trump’s applause line that the media are disgusting liars.

The irrelevance of facts is part of what observers mean when they say that the normal rules of politics don’t apply to Trump. What’s also abnormal is his obliterating the boundary between campaigning and reality TV, an absorption of politics by entertainment that is abetted, and profited from, by the media. This transformation of the election into a soft-core S&M reality show is also where Trump’s greatest vulnerability lies.

Reality TV is the spectacle of humiliation. So is Trump’s campaign. He won the primaries by humiliating his rivals. Now he’s unifying his party by humiliating them again.

For the audience of this campaign – the people formerly known as voters – it’s sadistically sublime to watch Marco Rubio, who called Trump a “con man,” manacled by his pledge to support his party’s nominee.  It’s delicious to watch Rick Perry, who once said Trump was a “cancer on conservatism,” now say he’s commander-in-chief material. Chris Christie called Trump a “carnival barker” whom he would never endorse; seeing Christie turn up as an apprentice butler at Mar-a-Lago is as pleasurable as watching a “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant degraded.  Early on in the campaign, Trump, who evaded serving in Vietnam, called John McCain a “loser” because he was a prisoner of war, so now there’s pathos in watching McCain masochistically endorse him. But since McCain is also the man who nearly put Sarah Palin a heartbeat from the presidency, there’s schadenfreude in seeing that, too.

Trump will lose if his fans figure out it’s not just his rivals who are being humiliated – that they, his voters, are a bunch of losers to him, too. The political press calls Trump’s steady abandonment of his signature positions a “pivot.” That’s too elegant. What he’s really doing is demonstrating his contempt for his base.

Trump has to believe his supporters are cowards, because they’re not screaming bloody murder now that his “self-funded” campaign has hired a hedge fund veteran to raise a billion dollars of special interest money, kicked off by a $100 million bribe from gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson.  Trump has to believe his voters are Low Energy Jebs and sad Little Marcos, 98-pound weaklings who’ll eat whatever sand he kicks in their faces, like recasting his ban on Muslim immigrants as “just a suggestion.” “I’m very flexible, “ he says. What’s next to get flexed – the wall?

Voters need to see, and the Clinton campaign needs to say, that this show isn’t a story about Trump. It’s a story about them. The challenge isn’t to reveal Trump as a liar; it’s to reveal that putting your faith in him makes you a doormat in his eyes. It’s no accident that one of the phrases Trump uses most often is, “Believe me.” If you do, what you're really telling him is, “Step on me.”


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

Hillary, Donald and the Nadir of American Democracy

If, as looks likely at this moment, the presidential nominees of the two major parties of the United States in 2016 will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we may be witnessing the lowest point in American electoral history. We have never had two candidates of such low stature running for president.

Indeed, they have almost as much in common as divides them. She is, as the late Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist William Safire — a man who almost never engaged personal invective — called her, a “congenital liar.” And she likely compromised American national interests while secretary of state. 

Trump is a real estate tycoon who has lived a life dedicated to making money. A lifelong pursuit of money is not a crime, nor does it mean Trump is as crooked as Hillary Clinton. But he does share her lifelong preoccupation with self. 

And he is mean-spirited. His assertion that John McCain, a man tortured for years while a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, was not a war hero because he had been captured after being shot down; his mockery of a reporter’s physical disability; his cruel comments about Carly Fiorina’s looks; his lying about George W. Bush; his lowering of the discourse at every Republican debate in which he participated to the level of a high school food fight; and his constant use of personal insults are some of the examples of this mean-spirited — and immature — nature.

He is also prone to wild exaggeration and outright dishonesty. For example, his claims to have seen bodies flying from the World Trade Center — from his apartment more than 4 miles away — and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and to have opposed the invasion of Iraq before the invasion, are either highly improbable or demonstrably false.

Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state, placed her own interest in money and power above the security of the United States — behavior that has few, if any, parallels in American history. As reported by The Associated Press, “During Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state, Bill Clinton earned $17 million in talks to banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, real estate businesses, and other financial firms.” There can be no plausible reason for the enormous fees paid to Bill Clinton except to influence American foreign policy. But we can never know precisely who and how because, while she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton did what no other public servant has ever done: avoided creating a public record by using her own private email server, which she attempted to wipe clean after she left the government.

Moreover, like Trump, she has done nothing to merit being a presidential nominee, let alone a president. She got where she is in public life because she was married to a president. She accomplished little as a senator and was worse than unaccomplished as secretary of state; she used the position for her own ends.

Trump’s claims to be an “outsider” are a major source of his appeal, but he is no more an “outsider” than Clinton is. Both of their lives have revolved around being among, and relating almost only to, “insiders.” That is why Hillary Clinton attended Donald Trump’s wedding. 

One difference between them is this: Donald Trump has lived a life dedicated to acquiring wealth and fame; Hillary Clinton has lived a life dedicated to acquiring wealth and power.

That these are likely to be the two major presidential candidates is a testament to the impact of two unprecedented intellect-numbing influences in American life over the past half-century — television and college. He is taken seriously because of his television fame. And she is taken seriously by college graduates — because so many have been indoctrinated rather than educated, and because so many women left college believing that women must support a woman for president. Or, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, owner of master’s and doctorate degrees, said at a campaign event for Hillary Clinton regarding the obligation of women to vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Sen. Bernie Sanders, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women.”

That women who consider themselves feminists support Hillary Clinton — a woman who devised and orchestrated the campaign to smear the reputation of all the women who charged her husband with sexual harassment and even the woman who credibly charged him with rape — is testimony to the moral hypocrisy of the feminist movement.

Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others. More than a century before Churchill was born, the American Founders knew the inherent dangers of a pure democracy, which is why they founded America to be a republic, not a democracy.

That from among 330 million Americans this nation will likely choose two such unimpressive individuals to vie for the American presidency is cause for more than concern. It is cause for pessimism.

McCain: Obama-Netanyahu relationship ‘worst ever’

Sen. John McCain called President Barack Obama’s relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “the worst that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

“And that in itself is a tragedy because it’s the only functioning democracy in the entire Middle East,” McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview broadcast Sunday.

McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, said Obama was not entirely to blame, although he said the president also expected too much from Netanyahu.

“The president had very unrealistic expectations about the degree of cooperation that he would get from Israel, particularly on the Palestinian issue, as well as the nuclear issue with Iran,” he said.

McCain added that “no other president has had such a difficult relationship with the State of Israel since it became a country.”

Bash noted the parlous relations between the administration of President George H. W. Bush, whose secretary of state, James Baker, openly taunted then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir with the White House general access phone number should he be ready to make peace.

McCain agreed those were not good relations, but insisted they were not as bad.

“It never reached this level,” he said.

McCain said that he would have consulted with the White House before inviting Netanyahu to address Congress, although he backed the invitation last month by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who did not consult Democrats, the White House or the pro-Israel community before issuing it.

“Obviously I would have talked to the White House,” he said. “But I may have — and I hate to put myself in these leaders’ place — but I might have at least informed them. But I certainly agree that you don’t need their permission, given the state of relations.”

Kerry presses sides on framework agreement

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders to discuss a framework agreement.

Kerry, who met Friday in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, was on his 10th visit in the region to discuss the outlines of such an agreement, according to State Department officials who accompanied Kerry.

The framework Kerry hopes to achieve would address borders and Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

Kerry, in an impromptu appearance Friday afternoon at an event in Jerusalem for American students organized by the American Jewish Committee, said getting to a deal would be “very, very difficult,” Haaretz reported.

Palestinian and Israeli leaders have pledged to Kerry that they would not discuss the negotiations. But Saeb Erekat, the top Palestinian negotiator, told Israel Radio that the sides are further apart than ever. Netanyahu told two visiting U.S. senators, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), about his concerns regarding Kerry’s proposals.

“Netanyahu has serious, serious concerns about the plan as it has been presented to him, whether it be on the ability of Israel to defend its borders, on the reliability of a Palestinian state,” McCain was quoted by Haaretz as saying after the meeting.

U.S. senators urge Egypt dialogue, prisoner release

Two senior U.S. senators delivered a strong message on Tuesday to the Egyptian military, saying it should release political prisoners, start a national dialogue and return the Arab nation swiftly to democratic rule.

Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain were sent to Cairo by U.S. President Barack Obama to help resolve the crisis brought on by the army's overthrow of elected Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

They urged Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, many of whose leaders have been jailed including the deposed president himself, to avoid resorting to violence and to join a dialogue on a political way forward.

The two men's mission reflected Washington's anxiety at events in Egypt, a bulwark of its Middle East policy and the first Arab state to make peace with Israel.

But their comments after meeting army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, interim Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei and interim Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi fell well short of an endorsement of their actions.

“The people who are in charge were not elected. The people who were elected are in jail. The status quo is not acceptable,” Graham told a news conference.

They also described Morsi's overthrow as a coup – a definition that is hotly disputed by the rival Egyptian sides and among U.S. officials, and could trigger a cut-off off in the $1.3 billion U.S. military aid Egypt receives each year.

However, “cutting off aid would be the wrong signal at the wrong time,” McCain said.

Addressing both sides, he said: “If you think you can restore legitimacy by violence, you are wrong. Violence will only marginalize you. If you think you can only negotiate with people in jail, that's a huge mistake.”

COOL RESPONSE

A spokesman for the interim government, Sherief Shawki, gave a cool response to the senators' words.

He rejected their characterization of Morsi's overthrow as a coup and said the new authorities, installed by the army, had spelled out a plan for a political transition and new elections.

“There is a roadmap which means that what happened was not a coup and that it was Egyptian people who decided on the roadmap put (forward) by the military and which represents the Egyptian people. We don't want foreign intervention to be imposed on us.”

The government would stick by that plan, he said. He also rejected the call to release jailed Brotherhood members, saying they would be dealt with by the courts.

Egypt has been dangerously divided since the overthrow of Morsi on July 3 following huge demonstrations against his rule.

He became Egypt's first freely elected president in June 2012, 16 months after the overthrow of U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for nearly 30 years.

Morsi is now being detained at an undisclosed location and thousands of his supporters remain camped out at two protest sites in Cairo which the government has pledged to break up.

Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since the overthrow, including 80 shot dead by security forces in a single incident on July 27.

A diplomatic push led by envoys from the United States, the European Union, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates has so far helped to hold off further bloodshed between Morsi's backers and the security forces but not achieved a breakthrough.

McCain said the senators also met members of Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“All parties should be part of a national dialogue and reconciliation is the only way to bring out peace in this country, but also in order to take part in that national dialogue those parties should renounce violence,” he said.

U.S. QUANDARY

The crisis has put U.S. policy in a quandary. Mubarak was a close ally who kept Islamist militants under heel and maintained peace with Israel.

Washington was slow to support the popular uprising that ousted him and cautiously welcomed Morsi's election.

But fears that Morsi was trying to establish an Islamist autocracy, coupled with a failure to ease economic hardships afflicting most of Egypt's 84 million people, led to mass street demonstrations, triggering the army move.

On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and European Union envoy Bernardino Leon met jailed Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat El-Shater in the prison where he is being held.

They tried to persuade him to recognize that there was no realistic prospect of Morsi being reinstated and to accept a political compromise. A Brotherhood spokesman said Shater had insisted they should be talking to Morsi and the only solution was the “reversal of the coup”.

Government political adviser Mostafa Hegazy said on Tuesday the authorities would have to deal with the protesters at the Brotherhood camps at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Square.

“The crowds exist not to find a solution or to enter political life but to disrupt everyday life and endanger the future of the nation,” he told the MENA state news agency.

Security forces have promised the protesters safe exit if they quit the camps but have warned their patience is limited.

It is thought unlikely that they would take action before Sunday, the end of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the close of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Mike Collett-White

Democrats decry delay in vote for Hagel as defense chief

Chuck Hagel's nomination to be U.S. defense secretary went into political limbo on Thursday as Republicans stepped up blocking tactics and Democrats accused them of putting the country at risk by delaying the filling of a major security post.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made an impassioned appeal for Hagel's confirmation amid questions over whether he could get the 60 votes needed to overcome Republican roadblocks preventing a vote.

“This isn't high school getting ready for a football game. We're trying to confirm somebody to run the defense of our country,” Reid said on the Senate floor after Republicans said they would try to block Hagel's confirmation.

The Senate is to consider on Friday whether to clear the way for the confirmation vote.

Sources said Republicans were in heated negotiations with the White House on a compromise under which at least a handful of Republicans would agree to let the confirmation go ahead. A major sticking point is the Obama administration's refusal to release more information about the deadly September attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

The struggle over Hagel's nomination is one of many battles raging between Obama's Democrats and Republicans in Congress, including disputes over gun control, immigration rules and dealing with huge budget deficits.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, accused Republicans of trying to score political points by coming up with one reason after another to delay confirmation of a new Pentagon chief. He said is was a shame Republicans were using the blocking tactic known as a filibuster for the first time ever to prevent a vote on a defense secretary nominee.

“For the sake of our national security it is time for us to put aside political theater, and that's what it is. People are worried about primary elections,” Reid said.

If confirmed, Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former Republican senator from Nebraska, would replace Leon Panetta, who is retiring. Panetta said he will not leave before his successor is in place, but has expressed eagerness to return to his home in California.

Democrats, who have united in support of Hagel, control 55 seats in the 100-member Senate and could confirm Hagel without any Republican backing. A Cabinet nominee requires the support of only a simple majority to be confirmed.

However, they need the support of 60 senators to clear the procedural hurdles and allow the vote.

ANGER AT HAGEL STARTED WITH IRAQ

Hagel broke from his party as a senator by opposing former President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War, angering many Republicans. Some Republicans have also raised questions about whether Hagel, 66, is sufficiently supportive of Israel, tough enough on Iran or capable of leading the Pentagon.

His performance at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee also drew harsh criticism. Even some Democrats have said he appeared unprepared and at times hesitant in the face of aggressive questioning.

Earlier, two Republicans had said they would vote for Hagel and several others said they would oppose procedural hurdles, but those positions may have changed.

Republican Senator John McCain, for example, had said he opposed procedural tactics to block the vote on Hagel, but was reconsidering to press the White House to release more information on Benghazi.

A senior Senate Democratic aide said Republicans had informed Democratic leaders that there were not enough Republicans willing to join the Democrats to yield the 60 votes to allow the vote to go through.

Republicans insist that Reid brought the problem on himself by trying to rush Hagel's confirmation. Obama nominated Hagel on Jan. 7 and his hearing before the Armed Services panel took place on Jan. 31.

Democrats said a wait of two weeks for a vote after his hearing was not unusually short. They also noted that many of Hagel's most vocal opponents served with him during his two terms in the Senate from 1997 to 2009 and knew him well.

A White House spokesman said Obama still stands strongly behind Hagel, and said the “unconscionable” delay does not send a favorable signal to allies or U.S. troops.

“The president stands strongly behind Senator Hagel,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on board Air Force One. “It does not send a favorable signal for Republicans in the United States Senate to delay a vote on the president's nominee, a nominee who is a member of their own party, to be Secretary of Defense.”

The confirmation of another of Obama's national security nominees, John Brennan for CIA director, also faces a delay amid jockeying between the White House and lawmakers over the release of sensitive documents, including some related to Benghazi.

Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Phil Stewart and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Warren Strobel, Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen

Senators assail Obama’s Hagel nomination, question judgment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEEKING TO SET RECORD STRAIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRONG MAN FOR THE JOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Lieberman: No problem with Susan Rice

Departing U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman said he would not object to the nomination of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as secretary of state.

Tuesday's apparent endorsement by Lieberman (I-Conn.) of Rice is largely symbolic, as he is retiring as senator and likely will not be serving by the time Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current secretary of state, steps down — a move anticipated early next year.

However, Lieberman's statement this week after meeting with Rice that she was telling “the whole truth” about why she initially depicted the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as a spontaneous eruption and not a planned terrorist attack undercuts criticism of Rice as unreliable by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Throughout much of his career, Lieberman has joined with McCain and Graham as a foreign policy hawk. His dissent now that he is free from such alliances could be used by Democrats to depict GOP attacks on Rice as political and not substantive.

The Benghazi attack is believed to have been the work of terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida — intelligence that Rice says was not made available to her in the days after the attack, when she was the Obama administration's point person in explaining U.S. reaction.

Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in the attack.

President Obama has not said he would nominate Rice to the post, but also said he would not be deterred from doing so by McCain and Graham.

John McCain: Send Bill Clinton to negotiate Mideast peace

The United States needs to deploy a high-level envoy, like former President Bill Clinton, to help negotiate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, a top U.S. politician said on Sunday.

Senator John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee who lost his 2008 presidential bid to President Barack Obama, said Washington needed to show it was serious about wanting peace in the Middle East and sending someone as senior as Clinton would help.

“The United States of America has got to push as hard as we can to resolve this Israeli-Palestinian issue,” McCain said on CBS's “Face the Nation” program. “So many events are hinged on making that process go forward.”

“I'd find someone even as high ranking as former President Bill Clinton to go and be the negotiator,” McCain said. “I know he'd hate me for saying, that but we need a person of enormous prestige and influence to have these parties sit down together as an honest broker.”

In 2000 during his second term as president, Bill Clinton made a high-stakes Middle East peace push that ultimately failed. But he is widely perceived to have credibility with both Israelis and Palestinians.

Obama, traveling in Asia, said on Sunday he would prefer not to see an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza but put the onus on Egypt and Turkey to get Hamas to halt cross-border rocket fire.

Obama also warned those in the Middle East who support Palestinian aspirations for statehood that any peace deal would be pushed off “way into the future” if the Gaza conflict escalated.

Like other top U.S. Republicans, McCain said the United States needed to be “as heavily involved as it possibly can” in the latest conflict, which has been escalating in five days of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

But he said he did not know how much influence the Obama administration would have, following failed efforts in 2009 to help bridge differences between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We have a lot of work to do to regain some credibility because we're crumbling all over the Middle East,” McCain said.

McCain condemns Bachmann for claim of Muslim Brotherhood agents in U.S. gov’t

Sen. John McCain took to the Senate floor to condemn a suggestion by Rep. Michele Bachmann that the federal government has been penetrated by Muslim Brotherhood agents.

A letter sent last week to inspectors general of several federal agencies by Bachmann (R-Minn.) and four other Republicans in the House of Representatives suggested that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has made “deep penetration” into the federal government and that those agencies should launch an investigation to uncover the influence of the group’s agents.

Among the suspected “agents” named in the letter was Huma Abedin, a deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and wife of Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former House member from New York who had to resign after tweeting lewd photos of himself to a 21-year-old woman and lying about it. The letter asserted that three of Abedin’s family members are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and that Clinton’s office has “taken actions recently that have been enormously favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood and its interests.”

“It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Bachmann told the St. Cloud Times, a Minnesota newspaper. “It appears that there are individuals who are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have positions, very sensitive positions, in our Department of Justice, our Department of Homeland Security, potentially even in the National Intelligence Agency.”

Cosigning the letters were Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert, (R-Texas), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.).

At the Senate on Wednesday, McCain (R-Ariz.) called Bachmann’s claims “specious and degrading,” according to reports.

The first Muslim-American elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Fla.), said in a statement that if Bachmann “has sources for this type of information, she owes it to the country to reveal them to the proper authorities, but definitely not this way. If she doesn’t have this type of information, she should not be whipping up fear and hysteria about a very important matter.”

National Jewish Democratic Council removes Adelson petition

The National Jewish Democratic Council, citing peace among Jewish groups, has taken down a petition calling on Republicans not to accept money from Sheldon Adelson.

“Accusations against Mr. Adelson were made not by us, but by others, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ),” said a statement sent late Wednesday by NJDC President David Harris and Chairman Marc Stanley. “Nonetheless, we regret the concern that this campaign has caused. And in the interest of shalom bayit (peace in our home/community), we are going to take down our petition today. Moving forward, we’ll continue to work hard to fight against the unique threat posed by the outsized influence of certain individual megadonors, which rightly concerns most Americans and most American Jews.”

The petition based the call on allegations by a former employee suing Adelson for firing him that the billionaire casino magnate agreed to allow prostitution at his casinos in Macau, China; on the claim by McCain that Adelson, with the tens of millions of dollars he has infused into the Republican side of this year’s elections, was effectively introducing Chinese money into the campaign; and on federal investigations into allegations that Adelson has paid bribes in China.

A number of Jewish groups and figures, including the Jewish Federations of North America, the Anti-Defamation League, the Republican Jewish Coalition and Alan Dershowitz called the allegations unconscionable, noting that all had yet to be proven.

Harris and Stanley said in the statement that “we don’t believe we engaged in character assassination. We stand by everything we said, which was sourced from current, credible news accounts.”

Adelson and his wife, Miriam, have given tens of millions of dollars this year to political committees supporting Republicans in general and Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, in particular, although it is not clear if he has directly given to Romney.

He is a major giver to Jewish causes, especially the Birthright Israel program bringing young people to Israel and Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and has donated to causes associated with or favored by those who have defended him in this case.

Opinion: The audacity of WTF

We’re getting used to what’s been going on during this campaign.  That’s dangerous.  We should be reminding ourselves just how strange it is.

Start with this:  Billionaires are buying civic mindshare.

That’s right.  A web of plutocrats, guided by a cadre of Karl Roves, is backing their ideal front man, Mitt Romney.  Thanks to Frank Luntz, their class is known as the jobs creators, rather than, say, the Robber Barons, and pointing this out is known as class warfare. 

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s punting on disclosure, these billionaires are able to hack our elections secretly.  Surely there are other Joe Rickettses out there, test-driving messaging at least as reptilian as his Son of Willie Horton strategy; we just don’t know their names. It took a fluke – ” target=”_hplink”>hardwired to default to emotion.

The news media want our attention, too, and a surefire way for them to get it is to amplify the paid narratives in ads.  Fact checking doesn’t diminish the irrational power they wield.  If Mitt Romney says “character assassination” often enough, then holding him accountable for his Bain record, let alone for his dismal performance as Massachusetts governor, subliminally starts seeming unfair.  Like it or not, just as birthers are impervious to evidence, repetition trumps critical thinking.

It’s not hard to imagine Mitt Romney winning.  The filibuster, plus what has become semi-annual debt-ceiling highchair banging, will ensure that a recovery won’t be jumpstarted by Washington, and the global impact of Europe’s crisis is beyond our control, so the impact of the economy on the election will be a crapshoot. It’s likely that the press and the polls will declare the debates a draw.  Until the last week of the campaign, 90 percent of the country will remain evenly divided between people who loathe each other’s red or blue guts.  Enough of the unpredictable 10 percent living in the battleground states and bombarded by super PAC disinformation could easily swing a few thousand votes in Romney’s direction and clinch the Electoral College.  ” target=”_hplink”>Larry Lessig and groups like ” target=”_hplink”>FreePress hasn’t given up on media reform.  ” target=”_hplink”>Frontline haven’t let up on Wall Street bandits.  Austerity hasn’t stopped incensing ” target=”_hplink”>filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the Supreme Court to reconsider the Citizens United decision.  The case – ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

McCain bemoans ‘daylight’ between U.S. and Israel over Iran threat

The United States and Israel clearly have daylight in their assessment of the threat posed by Iran, U.S. Sen. John McCain said in Jerusalem.

“There should be no daylight between America and Israel in our assessment of the threat. Unfortunately, there clearly is some,” McCain (R-Ariz.), said Tuesday evening after meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

McCain, who is leading a delegation of five senators through the Mideast, added that it is “not helpful if there is a well-publicized tension between the U.S. and Israel. We would like to see the United States and Israel agree on a course of action that will lead us toward a goal we both share.”

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee said the Islamic Republic has been “undeterred” in its quest to get nuclear weapons.

“Whether they have actually made a decision or not, they’re on the path by assembling all the necessary components for a nuclear weapon, and that is something that is unacceptable to us and must be stopped,” McCain said. 

His delegation arrived in Israel from Egypt, where they had met with the military as well as leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to discuss the American nongovernmental workers who have been charged with fomenting unrest in Egypt.

Egyptians cancel meetings with U.S. lawmakers after aid warnings

An Egyptian military delegation abruptly cancelled its meetings with U.S. lawmakers to return to Cairo on Monday after warnings from both Congress and the White House that Egypt’s crackdown on non-governmental groups could threaten its $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

A spokesman for the Egyptian Embassy confirmed that the delegation had cancelled its meetings this week with U.S. lawmakers, but gave no reason.

Last week, the Egyptian army delegation met State Department officials who outlined both the U.S. position on the pro-democracy non-governmental groups and the new conditions that Congress recently imposed on American military assistance.

Nineteen Americans are among 40 foreign and Egyptian activists whose cases have been referred to criminal court by Egypt’s army-backed government. A number of the U.S. citizens involved have sought refuge in the American Embassy.

The resulting dispute has strained ties between Cairo and Washington, which backed the overthrow last year of Egypt’s longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, upon whom it relied for decades to uphold a peace treaty with Israel vital to U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

The Egyptian delegation had been scheduled to see Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, among others in Congress this week.

Senate aides said they did not know why the meetings were cancelled.

The U.S. senator who wrote the conditions placed on U.S. military aid to Egypt this year warned that “things will be a lot worse” for Egypt when Congress makes aid decisions for 2013 if Cairo does not demonstrate a commitment to democracy.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign aid subcommittee, suggested that he would not favor continuing U.S. military aid to Egypt, even with conditions, if it continued its crackdown on local and U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups.

“I’m not going to … say, keep on funding this, funding money that reflects the assumption that they are committed to democracy, if they are not,” Leahy told Reuters at the Senate.

“If they think I took a strong stand this year – if things don’t improve, next year will be a lot worse,” he said.

The White House said earlier on Monday that the Egyptian crackdown on pro-democracy non-governmental groups could threaten the country’s $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

“These actions could have consequences for our relationship and for our assistance programs,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

LEAHY’S CONDITIONS

Under the conditions written into the fiscal 2012 spending bill that Congress passed in December, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must certify that Egypt’s military-led authorities are meeting benchmarked steps toward democratic reform before the $1.3 billion in military aid—the usual amount Washington has provided in recent years—is released in fiscal 2012.

The conditions say that Clinton must certify that Egypt is “holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.”

Leahy said he had to “really fight the administration” of President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, to get those conditions placed on the aid for fiscal 2012, which began last October and ends September 1.

“Now everybody is glad it was done that way because it gives us, to the extent we have any leverage, that’s where the leverage is,” Leahy told Reuters.

At the White House, Carney said the administration continued to communicate to the Egyptian government its “grave concerns” about the crackdown on pro-democracy groups.

The individuals involved “have done nothing wrong. Their only assignment is to support Egypt in its transition to democracy.”

Egyptian authorities say the NGOs broke the law by accepting foreign funds without government approval.

Several U.S. citizens and others involved have been barred from leaving Egypt. They include Sam LaHood, the country director of the International Republican Institute and the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“Many of these groups have worked in Egypt for several years, and so their activities are not new. Moreover, they also served as observers for the recent parliamentary elections at the request of the government of Egypt,” Carney said.

Reporting By Laura MacInnis, Alister Bull and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Bill Trott

McCain joins calls for Pollard release

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is urging the release of Jonathan Pollard, the first active Republican politician to do so.

McCain, the GOP presidential candidate in 2008, spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday, according to a statement released by Netanyahu’s office and confirmed to JTA by McCain’s office.

Activists seeking the release of Pollard, convicted of espionage in 1987 and sentenced to life, have garnered dozens of leading Democrats, both sitting and retired, and Republican former officials in recent months to seek Pollard’s release.

Until McCain, however, they had failed to get the endorsement of a sitting Republican – considered critical to establishing broadbased support for clemency.

McCain’s voice is also significant, because of his storied career as a Navy pilot. Pollard was a Navy analyst when he was caught.

Pollard, who has been incarcerated since his 1985 arrest, is said to be ill.

Netanyahu has formerly asked President Obama to grant him clemency; so have 39 Democratic Congress members, led by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

ANALYSIS: Rough race takes toll on McCain’s image

NEW YORK (JTA)—When John McCain stopped in New York one Tuesday in October 2007 to make his pre-primaries pitch to a room full of Jewish bigwigs, he spent virtually all his time discussing foreign policy—but only after an emotional introduction from James Tisch that focused less on policy than the character of the presidential candidate standing before them.

Tisch, a scion of a family real estate empire, proud Republican and decorated Jewish communal leader, invoked the memory of the late Washington power lawyer David Ifshin and his unlikely friendship with McCain.

Back when McCain was a prisoner of war being held and tortured by the North Vietnamese, Ifshin—then a hard-core anti-war protester—visited Hanoi to speak out against U.S. involvement in the war. His remarks were piped into McCain’s cell.

A few years later, the story goes, Ifshin found himself living on a kibbutz in Israel when the Yom Kippur War erupted. Watching U.S. aircraft arrive with supplies to aid the beleagured country triggered a transformation in Ifshin that would culminate with his becoming a lawyer for AIPAC and then the Clinton administration.

Along the way, after McCain had entered the U.S. Congress, Ifshin sought out the Republican lawmaker and asked his forgiveness.The two became friends and worked together on human rights causes.

“It was,” Tisch told the 50 people assembled, “an inspiration for many of us.”

And, one could reasonably add, a powerful example of why—before the twists and turns of an increasingly bitter presidential race—McCain commanded respect in Democratic and liberal circles. To be sure, the veteran Arizona senator has always been a staunch conservative on a range of economic, social and foreign policy issues. But when it comes to grand themes—his emphasis on personal redemption, reconciliation, bipartisanship, sacrifice—McCain’s message has resonated across party lines.

It is true that in the heat of the race, McCain’s “Country First” campaign slogan can sound to the Democratic ear like a swipe at the patriotism of the opposing ticket. But when voicing the fuller version—when grounding his commitment to country in his realization in a Vietnam prison camp that the greatest fulfillment in life is serving a cause greater than one’s self—McCain could be mistaken for John F. Kennedy urging a new generation to embrace the notion of putting service to country first.

Just as important in understanding McCain’s initial appeal among Democrats, independents and the mainstream media is his willingness to work with liberal stalwarts—Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy on immigration and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance—and his willingness to criticize conservative efforts to demonize politcal opponents.

During his own failed bid for the 2000 Republican nomination, McCain lashed out at the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, calling them “agents of intolerance” after they lined up behind then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

And on Election Night in 2002, while others in his party were celebrating big Republican gains, McCain was on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart lamenting the defeat of Democrat Max Cleland in Georgia. It was not the first time that McCain tore into the GOP over its strategy of questioning the patriotism of Cleland, a fellow veteran who lost three limbs in Vietnam.

It was not so long ago, in other words, that McCain was known for palling around with liberal East Coast media elites and being a target of some evangelical leaders and conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh.

In recent weeks, however, as McCain ratcheted up his attacks on Obama, he has found himself being accused of embracing the same dirty campaign tactics that he has so often criticized. McCain’s detractors argue that his reputation for straight talk is no longer deserved, pointing to ads suggesting that Obama wants to teach kindergarten students how to have sex and accusing him of associating with domestic terrorists.

Even several Republican lawmakers and McCain’s own running mate have joined Democrats in criticizing his campaign’s recent strategy of flooding the phone lines in swing states with anti-Obama robo-calls.

Democrats have also taken aim at McCain’s status as a maverick, increasingly painting him as a clone of President Bush when it comes to the economy and foreign policy. They note that the candidate has surrounded himself with neoconservative advisers who back the Iraq war and oppose robust diplomatic intiatives with Syria and Iran.

Despite McCain’s opposition to abortion rights, as well as the mounting assertions that he has betrayed his reputation as a straight-shooting maverick, the Republican nominee had seemed poised to make serious inroads among Jewish voters. Polls for months showed McCain already surpassing the 25 percent of the Jewish vote that Bush took in 2004, with plenty of undecideds still up for grabs.

Undoubtedly, McCain received a boost from his reputation for bipartisanship and bucking religious conservatives, his long record of support for Israel, tough talk on Iran, a prominent endorsement from U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and lingering questions about Barack Obama.



AUDIO: John McCain and Joe Lieberman’s conference call with Jewish leaders



While Jewish GOPers have attempted to paint Obama as someone who might end up tilting toward the Palestinian side in the peace process, McCain has focused more on Iran and Iraq in attempting to challenge Obama’s preparedness to lead on the Middle East. McCain has pounded again and again on Obama’s stated willingness to meet with Iran’s president, and argued that Obama’s timeline for a pullout from Iraq would threaten Israel and the United States.

“Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq’s neighbors, including a very much emboldened Iran,” McCain told thousands of pro-Israel activists in June. “We must not let this happen.”

One of his key advisers on such issues is Lieberman, who crossed party lines to endorse the McCain shortly before the New Hampshire primary. Even before the endorsement, Lieberman had infuriated many Democrats with his unflinching support for the Iraq war and decision to carry on with a third-party bid after losing Connecticut’s Democratic senatorial primary in 2006.

In the process, however, his stature seemed to grow within centrist and right-leaning pro-Israel circles, and he still can draw a crowd at Florida retirement communities that remember him fondly as the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate.

“From the moment the next president steps into the Oval Office, he or she will face life-or-death decisions in this war,” Lieberman told a Republican Jewish Coalition crowd in January during a stop in Boca Raton shortly before the GOP primary in Florida. “That’s why we need a president who is ready to be commander-in-chief from day one, a president who won’t need any on-the-job training. John McCain is that candidate and will be that president.”

It was one of the first of many appearances that Lieberman would make in the Sunshine State and in front of Jewish audiences on behalf of McCain.

But Lieberman has emerged as more than a surrogate. The Connecticut senator is a trusted adviser and has become a regular travel buddy joining McCain on many of his campaign trips, as well as his visit in late May to Iraq, Jordan and Israel.

It was Lieberman who quietly pulled McCain to the side during a news conference in Jordan, prompting the candidate to correct his mistaken assertion that Iran was training members of al-Qaida. And it was Lieberman who was dispatched by the McCain campaign to brief reporters after Obama and McCain both delivered solidly pro-Israel speeches at the AIPAC policy conference in June.

Soon after, in the weeks leading up to the Republican convention, speculation was rampant that McCain wanted to tap Lieberman as his running mate—a move that some observers say would have helped the Republican nominee with many Jewish undecideds. But according to some reports, warnings from prominent Republican strategists that the selection of a pro-choice quasi-Democrat would trigger a conservative revolt ultimately led McCain to settle on the surprise choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

(Lieberman is said to remain on the short list for either secretary of state or secretary of defense in a McCain administration.)

From the start, the McCain camp appeared bent on underscoring Palin’s pro-Israel bona fides. Her first meeting at the convention was a closed-door session with leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The Republican Jewish Coalition circulated a video clip showing a small Israeli flag displayed in her office in Alaska.

Palin herself took up the task of speaking out against Iran and defending Israel’s right to defend itself. Like McCain, she did so while also voicing support for a two-state solution, saying during the vice-presidential debate that it would be a “top priority.”

Ultimately, however, it appears that attempts to paint her as unqualified and a product of the religious right have been successful. A survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee in early September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin choice, compared to just 15 percent who felt that way about Obama’s selection of U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

Increasing unhappiness with Palin, along with the economic crisis, has coincided with a drop in the polls for McCain, both in the general electorate and among Jewish voters. New polling data from Gallup released Oct. 23 shows Obama winning 74 percent of the Jewish vote. Of course, even more alarming for the McCain camp is the overwhelming majority of surveys showing him trailing nationally and on the state-by-state map.

And if a signifcant defeat were not enough, McCain’s critics appear ready to carry on the fight beyond Election Day.

“Back in 2000, after John McCain lost his mostly honorable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, he went about apologizing to journalists—including me—for his most obvious misstep: his support for keeping the Confederate flag on the state house” in South Carolina, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein recalled in a recent blog post titled “Apology Not Accepted.”

“I just can’t wait for the moment when John McCain—contrite and suddenly honorable again in victory or defeat—talks about how things got a little out of control in the passion of the moment,” he added. “Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.”

This view is the overwhelming verdict among liberal bloggers as they rush to permanently redefine the real McCain as a dishonorable fraud, and it is gaining ground among media pundits and Democratic officials. In fact, the attempts at McCain revisionism during this presidential cycle go back to at least 2006, when he faced criticism for accepting an invitation from Falwell to speak at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

Liberal bloggers ripped into McCain, pointing to the speech and the accompanying sit-down with Falwell as proof that the Arizonan was set to sell out his principles to win the GOP nomination in 2008.

But taken together with separate addresses McCain delivered in New York a few days later to students at Columbia College and the New School, the speech at Liberty could just as easily be seen as reinforcing the image of McCain as someone willing to cross lines and build bridges. After all, how many other presidential candidates could boast of such a trifecta, especially in one week?

In all three speeches, McCain argued for vigorous debate—and mutual respect. To help make the point, during his Columbia speech, McCain reflected on his relationship with Ifshin.

“I came to admire him for his generosity, his passion for his ideals, for the largeness of his heart, and I realized he had not been my enemy but my countryman … and later my friend,” McCain reportedly said.

“His friendship honored me. We disagreed over much. Our politics were often opposed, and we argued those disagreements. But we worked together for our shared ideals,” he said. “David remained my countryman and my friend until the day of his death, at the age of 47, when he left a loving wife and three beautiful children, and legions of friends behind him. His country was a better place for his service to her, and I had become a better man for my friendship with him. God bless him.”

If nothing else, for anyone paying attention, McCain’s willingness to bury the political hatchet with Falwell should have seemed perfectly in character.

Alan shrugged, Bouskila wrote, Suissa puffed

Alan Shrugged

I just read Marty Kaplan’s Alan Greenspan article … truly amazing journalism (“Alan Shrugged,” Oct. 13). I rarely read news columns with such insightful and poetic language … especially financially related.

Thank you — it’s nice to know there are some columnists who express their vision through the style of their words and not through the self-indulgence of their intellect.

Cutter LaKind
Via e-mail

Sit, Stay a While

Last week’s Torah Portion, “Sit, Stay a While,” made the rather astonishing claim that Jews who recite the blessing “lei-sheiv ba-sukkah” and subsequently sit down in fulfillment of the literal meaning of the words of the blessing are committing an error (Oct. 17). It is particularly remarkable coming from a Sephardic rabbi, since the basis for this custom is rooted directly in the words of Maimonides — a pillar of Sephardic Jewry — near the end of the sixth chapter of his rules on the Sukkah where he says explicitly that the “custom of the Sephardic rabbis” was to say the blessing standing and then, immediately afterward, sit down.

This view is then quoted by Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Sephardic author of the Code of Jewish Law. For Sephardic Jews, the practice of sitting after the blessing of “lei-sheiv ba-sukkah” is well founded, and should not be subjected to ignorant scorn.

Ian Jacobi
Pasadena

Rabbi Bouskila’s responds:

I refer the soft-spoken, respectful writer to the commentaries on Maimonides, who writes: “The meaning of ‘leshev’ is not ‘yeshiva mamash’ (actual sitting), for even if one stood in the Sukkah throughout the day and never actually sat down, he has still fulfilled the commandment.” Rav Yosef Karo — the authority in Sephardic halacha — does quote Maimonides, but his Shulchan Aruch immediately states that “this is not the custom.” In Sephardic communities, we follow Rav Karo, not Maimonides.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

Presidential Politics

In Morris J. Amitay’s article, he destroys all credibility of his pro-McCain statement (“McCain for America — and Israel,” Oct. 10). He claims that, for too many of us Jews, our concern for preserving abortion rights takes precedence over caring about the security of America and Israel. That declaration is insulting.

Does Amitay not recognize that people can have opinions on two (or even more, gasp!) issues at the same time? I believe that the expression of an opinion like Amitay’s can be the result of either stupidity or political dishonesty.

He cites also Joe Lieberman’s support for McCain because he rises above “the negativism and pettiness of our politics.” This, when practically all of McCain’s advertising consists of vicious negative attacks on his rival?

I hope that Mr. Amitay is ashamed of himself, but he probably isn’t.

Perhaps his mother is.

Lou Charloff
Encino

First the puff piece by David Suissa extolling Sarah Palin (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” Sept. 19), and now the article by Morris Amitay on why Americans should vote for McCain.

In the interest of brevity, just two points: First, even if one were to agree with Amitay’s statements, I found it rather revealing that he did not consider it significant to address the fact that if anything were to happen to McCain, Palin would assume the presidency. Now, if all the issues that Amitay raises regarding Obama’s experience are accurate, how does he rationalize that the governor’s experience is sufficient for the presidency? If the prospect of Palin assuming the presidency does not raise great concerns for Amitay, then he is completely blinded by his parochialism.

Second, it is not the issue of abortion that is a concern to many Jews with whom I speak; it is McCain’s own statement that he would “select Supreme Court justices in the image of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.”

So, with McCain, we have the prospect of Palin as president and several more right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court! No, I don’t think I’ll be voting for McCain, even though, as a Holocaust survivor, I appreciate the criticality of Israel’s survival as a haven for Jews, perhaps even more so than Mr. Amitay.

Nevertheless, I am not willing to subjugate my American interests to those of Israel.

Thomas Fleishman
Valley Glen

Reading The Journal’s articles and ads, one might conclude that Jews automatically must be Democrats and Barack Obama supporters (“Why Obama Is Better Than McCain for Israel,” Oct. 17).

In truth, more and more of us are concluding that the Democratic Party is no longer the party of Harry Truman, JFK, “Scoop” Jackson and Joe Lieberman, no longer is strongly supportive of Israel, and therefore no longer merits our unquestioning support.

Liberal Democrats have controlled the California Legislature for decades, and the result has been fiscal disaster for this state. They have had the same impact on the federal government since they took control of Congress two years ago. Now they are close to taking control of the presidency, too. If so, we are likely to see a repeat of the late 1970s Carter administration, which was the worst domestic and foreign policy disaster in American history.

In contrast, John McCain has always acted as a centrist, reaching across the aisle in a way Obama never ever has, whether in Illinois or Washington, D.C.
The only hope to prevent that is if enough Americans — including we Jews –think twice about their unquestioning support for this questionable candidate, and support the better candidate to be commander-in-chief, John McCain.

Peter Rich
Los Angeles

The Great Schlep

The Great Schlep of young Jews to Florida for the express and only purpose of convincing their elderly grandparents to vote for Barack Obama is a disgusting display of the arrogance, the chutzpah, of some of our young Jews (“My Great Schlep Pays Off in Politics and Grandma’s Food,” Oct. 17).

Can you imagine how the thinking in our community has been reversed? For how many generations have most societies recognized the truth, the common sense that generally speaking, our young learn from their elders? Elders are venerated in many societies.

So, now it’s the young life experience and abilities to make sound decisions that are superior to that of their elders — what gall! There seems to be an element of insulting condescension to their grandparents displayed in the stories about these grandchildren.

Leon Perlsweig
Woodland Hills

Jew Street

Rob Eshman, never missing an opportunity to smear Sarah Palin, inveighs against Westbrook Pegler a mid-20th century colorful journalist from whom Palin quoted on the virtues of small-town America (“Wall St., Main St., Jew St.” Oct. 10).

Before Pegler became a journalistic crank, in his earlier career he was an outspoken critic of Nazism and communism; he weighed against U.S. participation in the 1936 Olympic games as a vote against Hitler’s ideology and expressed sympathy and empathy for Hitler’s Jewish victims in the Holocaust.

Eshman’s reading of the current crisis as being driven by latent anti-Semitism bespeaks a narcissism that virtually all conflicts contain anti-Semitism at its core. The leading factor in Wall Street’s crisis emanates from the unregulated abuse of Fannie Mae, a protected stepchild of the Democrats who refused to allow investigations by the Republicans since 2003.

Aside from Barney Frank and Chuck Shumer, I don’t believe Nancy Pelosi, Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden, nor James Johnson and Franklin Raines (Obama’s financial advisers) are Jewish.

It looks like Eshman may have a reprieve from buying his plane ticket.

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

‘Obsession’

So Rob Eshman feels that an October release of the film “Obsession,” which concerns the threat from worldwide Islamic radicalism, turns “a serious if flawed movie and a life-and-death issue into a partisan campaign ploy” (“Return to Sender,” Oct. 17).

It is interesting that Eshman assumes that a film that takes the Islamist threat seriously, but does not endorse any presidential candidate, must somehow be intended to boost the election prospects of John McCain. Be that as it may, is Eshman advocating that life-and-death issues not be the subjects of partisan political debate? Isn’t it precisely such serious matters that should command attention in this presidential campaign? Or does Eshman feel that political partisans should confine their discussions to trivial issues?

Ralph B. Kostant
Valley Village

The Wright flap and the black candidate

Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy is providing a crash course on race in America.

Black candidates tread a different road than white candidates, especially when they are the first black candidates to seriously contend for an executive office, such as mayor, senator, governor and now president.

While there are some advantages to the black candidate, such as strong African American support and the sympathy of many white liberals, the disadvantages are also significant.

Qualities that might be appealing or at least acceptable in a white person can seem scary if the person is black. If an African American candidate had even half of John McCain’s temper, for instance, he or she would not even be competitive. Talk about an angry black man!

A white candidate who is a ladies man may be viewed as a charmingly bad boy. A black man like Harold Ford Jr. can lose a Senate race in Tennessee after a political ad shows a white woman saying, “Call me.”

The African American candidate is held responsible for the words and action of any black person with whom he or she has any contact, and sometimes even with no contact at all. When Tom Bradley ran for L.A. mayor in 1969, Sam Yorty linked this moderate city councilman and former police officer to Black Panthers who were very much in the news. As mayor, he often had to deal with Louis Farrakhan’s controversial statements about Jews and a host of other issues.

Was Bradley a secret Panther sympathizer, or was he really in the thrall of Farrakhan? For people who knew Bradley, the questions were ludicrous. But in his first race for mayor, enough voters bought the argument to re-elect the inept Yorty.

Imagine how much more damaging it is if it is the candidate’s long-time pastor and if his comments are as appalling as those of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama took a big risk by at first rejecting the message but not the man, but when Wright began his recent speaking tour highlighting his most outrageous comments, Obama went further and cut his ties to the minister. He had every obligation to do this, and voters were right to expect decisive action on his part.

In Sunday’s New York Times, though, columnist Frank Rich finally asked the obvious question: Why are we obsessed with the Rev. Wright’s relationship with Obama but glide right past the equally shocking views of John McCain’s political ally, the Rev. John Hagee? In fact, we now endlessly debate how Obama has handled the Wright, without once asking how McCain has handled Hagee. More importantly, Wright’s damaging media tour suggests he would never be a force in an Obama White House. On the other hand, Hagee’s recent low profile could allow him to have some influence in a McCain White House.

It is noteworthy that Rich has raised this issue, because most of the media coverage seems to assume that only the Wright story is worth covering. Rich concludes, “If we’re to judge black candidates on their own most controversial associates — and how quickly, sternly, and completely they disown them — we must judge white politicians by the same yardstick.”

People come up with fairly lame excuses for the disparity. One is that Hagee is “only” a political ally while Wright is Obama’s pastor. Let’s reverse the roles. Suppose Obama did not know Wright personally, but had once denounced him and others like him as “agents of intolerance,” earning acclaim for his courage. Then, when gearing up to run for president, Obama found that Wright could move thousands of like-minded followers, and therefore changed course and formed a political alliance with him and others like him. If Obama had done this, the Wright controversy would be an even bigger story than it is today, but this is exactly what McCain has done with right-wing preachers.

Because most whites do not see themselves as part of a white community, but as individuals, many are more comfortable treating white candidates as individuals. So we only ask if McCain himself believes that a proposed event by the gay community caused a divine hand to punish New Orleans by flood (a typical morsel of Hagee’s philosophy) or that the Catholic Church is “the great whore.” A mild rejection of Hagee’s views seems enough to make the issue go away.

On the other hand, almost nobody asks whether Obama actually believes the things that Wright is saying. If we did, he would probably give the same answer. McCain doesn’t think like Hagee, and Obama doesn’t think like Wright.

Jewish voters must have a feeling of deja vu. There’s some history here. In the 1960s the historic black-Jewish alliance around civil rights was sorely tried by battles over a new black militancy. Jews were deeply hurt and angered by anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel from some quarters in the black community. The best reassurance was a strong denunciation of such comments by established African American leaders such as Bradley. For African Americans, though, the path to a new self-determination at times conflicted with the need to reassure Jews.

Because the two groups had been so intertwined, African Americans and Jews had high expectations of each other, and were more deeply hurt, angered, and disappointed when the other fell short. Jews expected to be acknowledged as a major partner in the civil rights movement and in campaigns to elect African American mayors. African Americans expected to be seen as an independent, self-directed community that could choose its own way. The Wright controversy brings that history back up in a way that the Hagee phenomenon does not.

So where do we go from here? We should resolve that African American candidates get to speak for themselves in all their variety, just as white candidates do. The variety of beliefs, characters and personalities among African Americans is tremendous. Without making excuses for Rev. Wright’s incendiary remarks, we should try to find a consistency across racial lines. Candidates of all races should tell us what they really think about their associates, whether Wright or Hagee, no matter how many votes that minister can deliver, or how close one’s relationship is to him or her. We’ll be better off if all the candidates are held to the highest standards both in their own beliefs and in their choices about their associates.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. You can read his daily blog on the Jewish vote and the presidential campaign,

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Wiesenthal Center: Democratic candidates favor hands-on peace approach; McCain, not so much

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama favor an active U.S. role in encouraging Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, while Republican John McCain advocates more of a hands-off approach.

The three contenders cited their stands, often in lengthy statements, in response to a 10-part questionnaire sent them by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“We must engage in regional diplomacy to gain Arab support for a Palestinian leadership that is committed to peace, rejects violence, and is willing to make the painful concessions necessary to end the conflict,” elaborated Clinton.

Obama wrote that while an agreement was ultimately up to the main parties involved, he pledged “a personal commitment” that his administration would “support Israel as it makes the tough choices for peace.”

McCain reaffirmed “our commitment to a two-state solution,” but did not detail a specific American role. However, he pledged that he would work “to further isolate the enemies of Israel, such as Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah.”

Most of the 10 questions dealt with foreign policy in the Middle East, mostly focusing on Israel, but they also dealt with policy toward Iran. Two questions examined the U.S. economy and immigration policy.

All three candidates affirmed that Israel must ultimately make its own decisions, free of U.S. pressure, and must retain its character as a Jewish state.

Obama used the occasion to again condemn the incendiary remarks of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and promised to “pursue policies that further seek to eradicate discrimination from our society…and close the wealth and health care gaps.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, explained that he and his communications director, Avra Shapiro, designed the questionnaire as a public service and that the center, as a non-profit organization, could not and would note endorse any candidate.

He recounted that in the 1984 election, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president, the Wiesenthal Center had criticized his allusion to New York City as “Hymietown.”

Soon after, Hier received a letter from the Federal Communications Commission warning him against endorsing or attacking any candidate.

Hier said that the candidates’ detailed responses to the questionnaire pointed to the attention they paid to the Jewish vote, as the election draws nearer.

For the full list of questions and responses, go to www.wiesenthal.com.

John McCain’s running mate

20 questions with John McCain

“Hey, Rob, how are you!” John McCain said on the other end of the phone. He sounded like he’d been hovering over his cell phone, just waiting for me to dial his number.

I spoke to the senator, now the presumptive Republican candidate for president, last Wednesday, while he was in Los Angeles for a full schedule of speeches and fundraisers. One of his local supporters arranged the interview, the only one he’s given to the Jewish press since clinching the nomination early last month, and the McCain campaign agreed to talk because they understand something uncommon is happening in this election: The Jewish vote is in play.

Edited and condensed TRANSCRIPT of a March 26, 2008 telephone interview with Rob Eshman, editor-in-chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and Jewishjournal.com , and Sen. John McCain, presumptive Republican candidate for President.

John McCain: Hello Rob, how are you?

Rob Eshman: Hi Senator, I appreciate your time thank you.

JM: Itâ€(tm)s a pleasure.

RE: I was at your speech this morning at the World Affairs Council.. and I wanted to continue to explore those issues, but from the perspective of American Jewish voters.

So I guess weâ€(tm)ll start with the Israel. You know all three of the candidates espouse faithful support of Israel, and there seems to be a longstanding bilateral U.S. consensus on Israel regarding the conflict of the Palestinians. I wonder how you think your support for Israel differs from that of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

JM: Well I donâ€(tm)t know what their support is so itâ€(tm)s hard for me to compare it. I would just say that my first trip there was back in the late 70s with Scoop Jackson. (laughs). And I will never forget at the airport there was a crowd of people that were there to show their appreciation for Scoop, and he stopped some in the crowd and told us to stop so that he could greet Nathan Saranskyâ€(tm)s wife, and I will never forget that one as long as I live. So again itâ€(tm)s like on other national security issues, itâ€(tm)s a matter of knowledge, background, experience and judgment. Thatâ€(tm)s all.

RE: Senator Obamaâ€(tm)s advisor General Merrill McPeak has been criticized pretty harshly for statements he made of the effect that American Jews wield too much influence over Americaâ€(tm)s Middle East policy. But his comments echo very similar ones made in the past by one of your advisors, [former Secretary of State] James Baker. Is criticism of those statements legitimate, or is it kind of a partisan game that weâ€(tm)re watching?

JM: Former Sec. Baker is not quote an advisor of mine. He runs an institute at Rice University, and I certainly admire and respect Sec. Baker, and I have to say that because he was Chief of Staff to President Reagan and he was Sec. of State, he has a long and illustrious career, but that does not mean that Secretary Baker and I are in agreement on every issue. I think he plays a far different role in my campaign than General McPeak does, and it was only recently that former Sec. Baker endorsed me. It was just before some the later primaries. But look, I in no way distance myself from Sec. Baker, and my respect for what heâ€(tm)s done for the country. We just may not agree on every issue that affects the state of Israel or other issues.

RE: As you know thereâ€(tm)s strong support for Israel in the evangelical Christian community, and that community is also strongly opposed to aspects of Palestinian �”Israeli peace negotiations, such as territorial compromise and the division of Jerusalem. Because the evangelicals are a significant source of your support or youâ€(tm)d like them to be, how do you convince them then to go along with the painful compromises Israel will need to make whether at Annapolis or under your administration? What would you say to them to get them to go along?

JM: Well Iâ€(tm)m not asking them to go along with anything. Iâ€(tm)m expressing my appreciation for their support of the State of Israel, for the absolute criticality of its survival. You canâ€(tm)t jump ahead here. I know they favor a peace process. I know they favor that because of my close relations with them and Pastor John Hagee, whoâ€(tm)s been heavily criticized as you know for other things, [but] is one of the leaders of the pro-Israel-evangelical movement in America. Look, I just have to tell you that we should be so grateful for the support of the evangelical movement for the state of Israel given the influence that they have, beneficial influence that they have over millions of Americans, and then weâ€(tm)ll worry about a peace process later on, but I know that they are committed to peace between Palestinians and Israelis as well.

RE: …As a military person, someone with deep background and knowledge as you said, no one has clear answers on what to do with the Hamas rockets landing on Sderot and Askelon, but if [Israeli Defense Minister] Ehud Barak were to ask you for some advice, what would you say Israel should do?

JM: Well I wouldnâ€(tm)t presume to give him advice because heâ€(tm)s a good friend of mine for many years, and heâ€(tm)s very very very smart on military issues. In fact we all know heâ€(tm)s a national hero. But I said in Sherdrot [Sderot]�”I always mangle the pronunciation of the town — when I was there I stated unequivocally that every nation has the right to defend itself against attack, and the fact is that the children have a 15 second warning of some 900 rockets that have landed in the last less than 3 months, so I think its clear that every right has the….every nation has the right to defend itself against attack.

RE: You said at the speech of the World Affairs Council that you would be personally and deeply involved in the peace process. President Bush waited until the end of his administration to get involved. Do you see yourself getting involved earlier than that?

JM: Immediately. Immediately. And as I said I donâ€(tm)t know how many trips Iâ€(tm)ve made to Israel. I know all of the leadership well. I know the parameters that theyâ€(tm)re operating under, and I feel fully qualified to hit the ground running.

RE: Has our commitment in money and manpower in Iraq limited our ability to act militarily in Iran?

JM: I donâ€(tm)t think so. I think the United States of America has the capability to defend its national security interests.

RE: So if there needs to be a military solution to Iranâ€(tm)s nuclear programs, do you think the amount of money and manpower that weâ€(tm)ve spent in Iraq wonâ€(tm)t hinder us?

JM: I think that the United States of America militarily is fully capable of defending itself and against all threats, against all national security threats. So, because when you say “can it defend itself,” it depends on you know the scenario of what quote defending itself means and so that is a [UNCLEAR] discussion.

RE: In terms of dealing with Iran on the nuclear issue, is there any chance that you would negotiate with them, or is that not an option right now?

JM: Well when you say negotiate with them, our ambassador in Iraq, I believe, has been there three times. Thereâ€(tm)s been Iranians there in Baghdad. Theyâ€(tm)ve had conversations. Thereâ€(tm)s plenty of ways to communicate…many ways to communicate if a country wants to reach an agreement, but no I donâ€(tm)t like to enhance the prestige of someone who announces his nationâ€(tm)s dedication and policy to the extinction of the State of Israel.

RE: On Iraq, you said you were optimistic that the surge is working in terms of bringing military security to our forces and to the Iraqis, but you acknowledge that the political stability is less promising. Now weâ€(tm)re seeing today whatâ€(tm)s happening in Basra with the potential that Muqtada al Sadr could lash out again. Is there a point when you would say, look, either run your country responsibly or become another Lebanon, itâ€(tm)s your country, and weâ€(tm)ve done our best. Do you think at some point we would have to say that?

JM: Well let me just say that Iâ€(tm)m very satis �” I believe that there has been political progress. I want it to be more rapid. Iâ€(tm)d like to see political progress in the United States of American. We might even consider doing a budget or maybe sitting down together and fixing social security and Medicare–and Iâ€(tm)m a bit sarcastic. But the point is that they are making some progress. Looks like now we will have provincial elections. They did pass a law on addressing the amnesty issue for Sunis. There is de facto revenue sharing from the oil revenues. Democracy is tough, so I am gratified by the progress thatâ€(tm)s been made militarily and I see as all counterinsurgencies do, progress on the social, economic and political front and I believe that worst thing we can do is set a date for withdrawal and thatâ€(tm)ll be chaos, genocide, and by the way I also feel that itâ€(tm)ll place the state of Israel in much greater danger because it will enhance the prestige and power of Iran in the region.

RE: Do you think the warâ€(tm)s strengthened Iranâ€(tm)s hand in the region?

JM: I think that our failures for nearly four years obviously did it. But I believe that that is being reversed as the surge succeeds, and I think that the Iranians are very possibly going to step up their assistance to the Jihadists because they donâ€(tm)t want us to succeed in Iraq. But Osama Bin Laden has stated that Iraq is the central front. Osama Bin Laden has stated that they have to help their quote Palestinian brothers…now, we know what that means. But Osama Bin Laden has said that the central front in the battleground is Iraq and their Palestinian brothers are next. So what are the implications to the State of Israel if they prevail on Iraq? I think theyâ€(tm)re very obvious.

RE: So the Iraq Study Committee, the Baker-Hamilton Commission…recommended that the US deal directly with Iran and other nations around Iraq such as Syria, and try to stabilize Iraq through this external diplomatic effort. Is that something you would take a look at?

JM: I didnâ€(tm)t agree with that any more than I agreed with the call by Baker-Hamilton Commission to withdraw from Iraq, so you know I have great respect for them and appreciation, but I expressed my disagreement at the time.…Look, Iran is a state sponsor of terror. They are sponsoring Hezbollah, right in Lebanon. They are trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Theyâ€(tm)re committed to the extinction of the State of Israel. They are exporting the most lethal explosion devices into Iraq thatâ€(tm)s killing young Americans. Letâ€(tm)s have no doubt about the threat that this nation poses, not only the Americaâ€(tm)s national security interests, but that of Israel and the entire middle east. If they develop a nuclear weapon, every expert that I know says that there will be proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.

RE: But do have more leverage when you have contact?

JM: These are not discon—(inaudible). Tell me the kind of leverage we have with North Korea?

RE: We sanctioned talk with them, right?

JM: Weâ€(tm)ve had talks with them. Tell me how much theyâ€(tm)ve succeeded. But North Korea is not advocating the extinction of any of its neighbors. Iran is.

RE: I want to switch because I only have you for a little bit, so I want to switch to energy. Every president since President Nixon has promised to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Why do you think youâ€(tm)ll succeed?

JM: Because I believe I can inspire the American people and I think that when the price of oil went over $100/barrel that there was certainly a psychological barrier there. I think Americans are ready to serve/conserve(?)

RE: As long as the warâ€(tm)s going on, one of the criticisms that has been leveled at President Bush is that he hasnâ€(tm)t asked the Americans here to sacrifice …in conjunction with the Americans who fight over there. Would you ask something of Americans here to bring the war home in some sense?

JM: Iâ€(tm)ve asked…will ask many times for Americans to serve a cause greater than their self interests…thatâ€(tm)s always been what Iâ€(tm)ve (inaudible).

RE: And anything in specific as far as the war?

JM: Sure, thereâ€(tm)s a hundred ways to serve oneâ€(tm)s country and to serve one causes greater than their self interest and Iâ€(tm)m convinced they will do so.

RE: You spoke out today very eloquently about torture of suspected terrorists and I was wondering if you think it was right or wrong to torture somebody like Khalid Sheik Muhammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks?

JM: Of course not.

RE: Even him.

JM: Of course not. No, not even him (laughs).

RE: You know we all watch too much “24.” Maybe thatâ€(tm)s the problem.

JM: I think we do…I think, look, Lindsay Graham and I met with a high ranking member of Al Qaeda last Thanksgiving… I asked them how [they recruited members] after the initial invasion [of Iraq]. He said first the lawlessness and (inaudible) gave him a great opportunity. Second he said his greatest recruiting tool was Abu Ghraib. That should be enough evidence for anybody. … Every single military leader that I know and respect says we shouldnâ€(tm)t torture people.

RE: I have a friend. Sheâ€(tm)s a Jew, sheâ€(tm)s a Democrat. She said that [she] would vote for John McCain …because she loves your positions on so many things especially Israel and the Middle East, but sheâ€(tm)s worried that youâ€(tm)ll nominate Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v Wade. I find that sentiment echoed among a lot of the Jews who I speak with. I wonder how you would respond to that concern.

JM: I maintain that I will nominate Judges to the Supreme Court that strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and I think thereâ€(tm)s been too much legislating on the bench. I have no litmus issues nor is it proper to do so, but I will nominate Judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States. And if thatâ€(tm)s her most important issue that I nominate those people who strictly interpret the constitution of the United States, then I respect her priorities.

RE: You know American Jews voted overwhelmingly against George Bush in 2004, and now the common, popular democratic argument against you is that voting for John McCain is giving George Bush a third term. How do you respond to that?

JM: The American people know me and know me well and thatâ€(tm)s not reflected in the polls and so I think that they will select a leader that they want based on his or her vision and plans for the future not the past. Gotta go.

RE: Thank you senator.

A higher percentage of Jews than usual are expected to take a second look at the Republican candidate for president this year. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unprecedented. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan ran for president, he got 38 percent of the Jewish vote. Once again, Republicans believe, this could be their year.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, Jews are like most Democrats, only more so.

“A sizable proportion of Democrats would vote for John McCain next November if he is matched against the candidate they do not support for the Democratic nomination,” according to a recent Gallup poll of all Democrats. “This is particularly true for Hillary Clinton supporters, more than a quarter of whom currently say they would vote for McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee.”

On issues of foreign policy, the Middle East and Israel, Jews will be weighing the candidates carefully.

So as pollster Peter Hart told Maureen Dowd last week, the question voters will ask about Sen. Hilary Clinton, is, “Is she honest?” Of Obama they will ask, “Is he safe?”

As for Jews, I suspect the McCain question will be just as simple: “Is he Bush?”

Early Wednesday morning, I drove downtown to the Bonaventure Hotel to hear McCain deliver his first major foreign policy address as the Republican nominee.

The event was a World Affairs Council breakfast for about 1,000 people, and the subtext of his speech was clear: “I’m not Bush.”

McCain began with a description of himself as a 5-year-old watching a Navy officer drive up to his home and tell his father, a Naval commander, that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

“I rarely saw him again for four years,” McCain said.

“My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day,” McCain went on. “I detest war…. It is wretched beyond all description…. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.”

Into my mind popped memories of President George W. Bush landing on a flight carrier in his jumpsuit, as well as his recent remarks that he’s “envious” of soldiers engaged in “romantic” combat — which was just what McCain intended.

As pointedly, McCain made the thrust of his speech the importance of America working together with other nations in creating a safe and secure world. He quoted John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman.

“But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy,” he added.

He said he would immediately close down the prisons at Guantanamo. “We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured.”

He called for a new treaty to deal with global warming, a “League of Democracies” to lead the world, a nuclear nonproliferation regime.

All these policies together, McCain said, “will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: The threat of radical Islamic terrorism.”

In turning to the Middle East, he didn’t turn to Israel — and he didn’t mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “The oppression of the autocrats blended with the radical Islamists’ dogmatic theology to produce a perfect storm of intolerance and hatred,” he said, not letting America off the hook for our support of these petro-dictators.

In an election season with a very unpopular war as its backdrop, McCain’s serious ideas about Iraq are bound to be demeaned and caricatured, as they already have been, everywhere from YouTube to The Huffington Post. (In fact, McCain has gotten a fairer and more insightful hearing on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” where he has made 11 appearances, than he has on HuffPost.)

You can think he’s wrong when he says the surge of American troops into Iraq is working, but his plan is more detailed — and draws on more experience — than the plans put forth for withdrawal by either of his opponents.

In the World Affairs Council speech, McCain gave a bit more nuance to his statements that America could be in Iraq “another 50 years, 100 years.” When Americans say the cost of Iraq is too high, he said, they mean the cost in lives. To withdraw and leave behind an unstable country would be to destabilize the entire Middle East, to strengthen the forces of Al-Qaeda and Iran. The United States continues to have a military presence, he pointed out, in countries that are now our allies, where past wars are long over: Japan, South Korea and Germany, all places where not a single soldier is at risk. That’s what he meant by staying there.

One could argue that the actual dollar cost is just a bit upsetting to Americans, as well, but McCain pointed out that no one stands outside his speeches protesting the cost of our bases in South Korea (“And they’re protesting everything else,” he said).

Nevertheless, his much-maligned statement came off as neither Strangelovian or Cheney-esque (i.e.; “So?”), but as an informed assertion of America’s power and responsibility, and a pointed rejection of Bush’s foreign policy of the past seven years. Sitting in the Bonaventure ballroom, I realized that the Republicans, finally, after seven years, have the chance to replace a teenager with a grownup.

So when I called the senator later that day for the pre-arranged interview — Hey, Rob, how are you? — I had my questions on Israel, Iraq, etc. all teed up, with my overarching one — are you Bush? — saved for last.

I started with Israel, asking the senator to compare his policies toward Israel to those of Clinton and Obama. I told him my sense is that over the years a bipartisan consensus has developed on the major Israeli-Palestinian issues, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. McCain deflected.

“Well I don’t know what their support is, so it’s hard for me to compare it,” he said.

He reiterated an often-told story he’s made to Jewish groups, about flying to Israel for the first time with the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and landing at the airport, and witnessing Jackson being greeted by Soviet refuseniks he’d helped rescue.

“I’ll never forget that one as long as I live,” he said.

“Look,” he added, “like on other national security issues, it’s a matter of knowledge, background, experience and judgment. That’s all.”

I pointed out that President Bush had waited until the end of his second term to get involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. When would President McCain get involved?

“Immediately,” he said. “And, as I said, I don’t know how many trips I’ve made to Israel. I know all of the leadership well. I know the parameters that they’re operating under, and I feel fully qualified to hit the ground running.”

There also has been a “Battle of the Advisers” going on, with Republican Jews singling out Obama military adviser General Merrill A. “Tony” McPeak for statements that suggest American Jews wield too much influence over America’s Middle East policy. I asked McCain if he puts much stock in such critiques, given that his adviser, former Secretary of State James Baker, has said the same and worse (There was, for instance, Baker’s “F— the Jews,” although I didn’t cite this example).

“Former Secretary Baker is not a quote ‘adviser’ of mine,” McCain replied. “It was only recently that former Sec. Baker endorsed me. It was just before some of the later primaries. But look, I in no way distance myself from Secretary Baker and my respect for what he’s done for the country. We just may not agree on every issue that affects the state of Israel, or other issues.”

McCain also defended his support of the controversial Rev. John Hagee, a staunchly pro-Israel evangelical who has been criticized for his anti-Catholic comments. I asked the senator how he would get pro-Israel evangelicals, who have been staunchly opposed to Israel giving up territory or compromising on the status of Jerusalem, to support any peace agreement.

“You can’t jump ahead here,” he said. “I know they favor a peace process. I know they favor that because of my close relations with them, and pastor John Hagee … is one of the leaders of the pro-Israel-evangelical movement in America.”

I started to correct him — Hagee and other evangelicals most certainly don’t support compromise on territory or Jerusalem, and McCain must know this. That’s when I got my first taste of the famous McCain technique: I’ll-talk-so-you-can’t.

“Look,” he cut me off, “I just have to tell you that we should be so grateful for the support of the evangelical movement for the state of Israel, given the influence that they have, beneficial influence that they have over millions of Americans, and then we’ll worry about a peace process later on, but I know that they are committed to peace between Palestinians and Israelis as well.”

McCain had recently returned from a trip to Israel, where he visited the southern town of Sderot (“I always mangle the pronunciation,” he said). I asked him what advice he would give Israel in dealing with the constant barrage of rockets that Hamas regularly fires at Sderot’s residents.

“When I was there I stated unequivocally that every nation has the right to defend itself against attack,” he said.

But he added he wouldn’t presume to give advice.

Then we got to Iraq, the subject where McCain must realize he is the most vulnerable with independent voters, and Jewish voters, who, I pointed out, are largely opposed to the war. Even allowing that McCain’s plan is more developed than his critics have allowed, I asked him whether he would ever be prepared to tell the Iraqis that it is up to them, not us, to choose whether they want to be a stable democracy — or to become Lebanon.

His answer was long, rambling and, given the battle taking place in Basra that very day, a bit worrisome: “I believe that there has been political progress. I want it to be more rapid…. Looks like now we will have provincial elections. They did pass a law on addressing the amnesty issue for Sunnis. There is de facto revenue sharing from the oil revenues. Democracy is tough, so I am gratified by the progress that’s been made militarily, and I see … progress on the social, economic and political front. I believe that the worst thing we can do is set a date for withdrawal, and that’ll be chaos, genocide and, by the way, I also feel that it’ll place the state of Israel in much greater danger because it will enhance the prestige and power of Iran in the region.”

On Iran, McCain gave two different answers. When I asked if negotiations with Iran might help improve relations, he said, unequivocally, “no,” and rejected that recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. On the other hand, he didn’t rule out speaking with Iranians other than their crazy (my word) president.

“Our ambassador in Iraq, I believe, has been there three times,” McCain said. “There’s been Iranians there in Baghdad. They’ve had conversations. There’s plenty of ways to communicate.”

Does he think the war has strengthened Iran in the region?

“I think that our failures for nearly four years obviously did it,” the senator said. “But I believe that that is being reversed as the surge succeeds, and I think that the Iranians are very possibly going to step up their assistance to the Jihadists, because they don’t want us to succeed in Iraq…. Osama Bin Laden has said that the central front in the battleground is Iraq, and their Palestinian brothers are next. So what are the implications to the State of Israel if they prevail on Iraq? I think they’re very obvious.”

On the domestic front, I praised the senator in his call for energy independence, but pointed out that every president since Richard Nixon has issued the same call. Why would he succeed?

“Because I believe I can inspire the American people,” he said, “and I think that when the price of oil went over $100 a barrel that there was certainly a psychological barrier there.”

Then I turned to judicial nominations: McCain is opposed to legalized abortion, and the idea that he could appoint members of the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade would be a deal breaker for many otherwise-McCain-leaning Jews. What would he say to them?

“I have no litmus issues, nor is it proper to do so,” he said, “but I will nominate judges who will strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States. And if that’s the most important issue, that I nominate those people who strictly interpret the constitution of the United States, then I respect [their] priorities.”

In other words, if you don’t like it, vote for the other guy (or gal).

At this point, our allotted 20 minutes were winding down. The senator, I could hear, was in motion. But of course I still had one more question. The Question: What would you say, senator, to the charge that a vote for McCain is a vote for a third Bush term?

“The American people know me,” he said, “and know me well, and that [opinion] is not reflected in the polls, and so I think that they will select a leader that they want based on his or her vision and plans for the future, not the past. Gotta run.”

That was it. We didn’t get to the economy, healthcare, the stuff that decides elections.

Still, for days afterward, the first question people asked me was, “So, are you gonna vote for him now?” Or, as one put it, “Are you going to follow John McCain to the dark side?”

President Bush has understood the dangers facing the world, but was unable or unwilling to address them effectively. The result is a world where America is less safe, and Israel is less secure. From Bush we learned that the answer to the question, “Is he good for Israel?” really should be: “Is he good for America?” Because when America’s strength, leadership and credibility go astray, Israel is endangered.

McCain with his echoes of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, is undeniably more experienced, more learned — a grownup.

McCain has a plan for Iraq, the surge, and it is unfolding before our eyes. He may be out on his limb, but what he says is founded in a deep understanding of foreign policy and the uses and limits of military power. The Democratic candidates have justifiable criticism of the war, and both promise a speedy withdrawal, but they have no plan of what that really means, yet.

So for the Jews, or at least for those of us who think that war, and that region — and not just party loyalty — is still issue No. 1, the ball is in Obama’s and Clinton’s court.


Remarks By John McCain To The Los Angeles World Affairs Council

March 26, 2008

ARLINGTON, VA — U.S. Senator John McCain’s will deliver the following remarks as prepared for delivery today at the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, California:

National Review: Democrats’ Distortion
McCain on the War in Iraq

When I was five years old, a car pulled up in front of our house in New London, Connecticut, and a Navy officer rolled down the window, and shouted at my father that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father immediately left for the submarine base where he was stationed. I rarely saw him again for four years. My grandfather, who commanded the fast carrier task force under Admiral Halsey, came home from the war exhausted from the burdens he had borne, and died the next day. In Vietnam, where I formed the closest friendships of my life, some of those friends never came home to the country they loved so well. I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description. When nations seek to resolve their differences by force of arms, a million tragedies ensue. The lives of a nation’s finest patriots are sacrificed. Innocent people suffer and die. Commerce is disrupted; economies are damaged; strategic interests shielded by years of patient statecraft are endangered as the exigencies of war and diplomacy conflict. Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war. However heady the appeal of a call to arms, however just the cause, we should still shed a tear for all that is lost when war claims its wages from us.

I am an idealist, and I believe it is possible in our time to make the world we live in another, better, more peaceful place, where our interests and those of our allies are more secure, and American ideals that are transforming the world, the principles of free people and free markets, advance even farther than they have. But I am, from hard experience and the judgment it informs, a realistic idealist. I know we must work very hard and very creatively to build new foundations for a stable and enduring peace. We cannot wish the world to be a better place than it is. We have enemies for whom no attack is too cruel, and no innocent life safe, and who would, if they could, strike us with the world’s most terrible weapons. There are states that support them, and which might help them acquire those weapons because they share with terrorists the same animating hatred for the West, and will not be placated by fresh appeals to the better angels of their nature. This is the central threat of our time, and we must understand the implications of our decisions on all manner of regional and global challenges could have for our success in defeating it.

President Harry Truman once said of America, “God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose.” In his time, that purpose was to contain Communism and build the structures of peace and prosperity that could provide safe passage through the Cold War. Now it is our turn. We face a new set of opportunities, and also new dangers. The developments of science and technology have brought us untold prosperity, eradicated disease, and reduced the suffering of millions. We have a chance in our lifetime to raise the world to a new standard of human existence. Yet these same technologies have produced grave new risks, arming a few zealots with the ability to murder millions of innocents, and producing a global industrialization that can in time threaten our planet.

To meet this challenge requires understanding the world we live in, and the central role the United States must play in shaping it for the future. The United States must lead in the 21st century, just as in Truman’s day. But leadership today means something different than it did in the years after World War II, when Europe and the other democracies were still recovering from the devastation of war and the United States was the only democratic superpower. Today we are not alone. There is the powerful collective voice of the European Union, and there are the great nations of India and Japan, Australia and Brazil, South Korea and South Africa, Turkey and Israel, to name just a few of the leading democracies. There are also the increasingly powerful nations of China and Russia that wield great influence in the international system.

In such a world, where power of all kinds is more widely and evenly distributed, the United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone. We must be strong politically, economically, and militarily. But we must also lead by attracting others to our cause, by demonstrating once again the virtues of freedom and democracy, by defending the rules of international civilized society and by creating the new international institutions necessary to advance the peace and freedoms we cherish. Perhaps above all, leadership in today’s world means accepting and fulfilling our responsibilities as a great nation.

One of those responsibilities is to be a good and reliable ally to our fellow democracies. We cannot build an enduring peace based on freedom by ourselves, and we do not want to. We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact — a League of Democracies — that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.

At the heart of this new compact must be mutual respect and trust. Recall the words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence, that we pay “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed. We need to listen to the views and respect the collective will of our democratic allies. When we believe international action is necessary, whether military, economic, or diplomatic, we will try to persuade our friends that we are right. But we, in return, must be willing to be persuaded by them.

America must be a model citizen if we want others to look to us as a model. How we behave at home affects how we are perceived abroad. We must fight the terrorists and at the same time defend the rights that are the foundation of our society. We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured. I believe we should close Guantanamo and work with our allies to forge a new international understanding on the disposition of dangerous detainees under our control.

There is such a thing as international good citizenship. We need to be good stewards of our planet and join with other nations to help preserve our common home. The risks of global warming have no borders. We and the other nations of the world must get serious about substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years or we will hand off a much-diminished world to our grandchildren. We need a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, a cap-and-trade system that delivers the necessary environmental impact in an economically responsible manner. We Americans must lead by example and encourage the participation of the rest of the world, including most importantly, the developing economic powerhouses of China and India.

Four and a half decades ago, John Kennedy described the people of Latin America as our “firm and ancient friends, united by history and experience and by our determination to advance the values of American civilization.” With globalization, our hemisphere has grown closer, more integrated, and more interdependent. Latin America today is increasingly vital to the fortunes of the United States. Americans north and south share a common geography and a common destiny. The countries of Latin America are the natural partners of the United States, and our northern neighbor Canada.

Relations with our southern neighbors must be governed by mutual respect, not by an imperial impulse or by anti-American demagoguery. The promise of North, Central, and South American life is too great for that. I believe the Americas can and must be the model for a new 21st century relationship between North and South. Ours can be the first completely democratic hemisphere, where trade is free across all borders, where the rule of law and the power of free markets advance the security and prosperity of all.

Power in the world today is moving east; the Asia-Pacific region is on the rise. Together with our democratic partner of many decades, Japan, we can grasp the opportunities present in the unfolding world and this century can become safe — both American and Asian, both prosperous and free. Asia has made enormous strides in recent decades. Its economic achievements are well known; less known is that more people live under democratic rule in Asia than in any other region of the world.

Dealing with a rising China will be a central challenge for the next American president. Recent prosperity in China has brought more people out of poverty faster than during any other time in human history. China’s newfound power implies responsibilities. China could bolster its claim that it is “peacefully rising” by being more transparent about its significant military buildup, by working with the world to isolate pariah states such as Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe, and by ceasing its efforts to establish regional forums and economic arrangements designed to exclude America from Asia.

China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries. We have numerous overlapping interests and hope to see our relationship evolve in a manner that benefits both countries and, in turn, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. But until China moves toward political liberalization, our relationship will be based on periodically shared interests rather than the bedrock of shared values.

The United States did not single-handedly win the Cold War; the transatlantic alliance did, in concert with partners around the world. The bonds we share with Europe in terms of history, values, and interests are unique. Americans should welcome the rise of a strong, confident European Union as we continue to support a strong NATO. The future of the transatlantic relationship lies in confronting the challenges of the twenty-first century worldwide: developing a common energy policy, creating a transatlantic common market tying our economies more closely together, addressing the dangers posed by a revanchist Russia, and institutionalizing our cooperation on issues such as climate change, foreign assistance, and democracy promotion.

We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia. Rather than tolerate Russia’s nuclear blackmail or cyber attacks, Western nations should make clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is indivisible and that the organization’s doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom.

While Africa’s problems — poverty, corruption, disease, and instability — are well known, we must refocus on the bright promise offered by many countries on that continent. We must strongly engage on a political, economic, and security level with friendly governments across Africa, but insist on improvements in transparency and the rule of law. Many African nations will not reach their true potential without external assistance to combat entrenched problems, such as HIV/AIDS, that afflict Africans disproportionately. I will establish the goal of eradicating malaria on the continent — the number one killer of African children under the age of five. In addition to saving millions of lives in the world’s poorest regions, such a campaign would do much to add luster to America’s image in the world.

We also share an obligation with the world’s other great powers to halt and reverse the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The United States and the international community must work together and do all in our power to contain and reverse North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and to prevent Iran — a nation whose President has repeatedly expressed a desire to wipe Israel from the face of the earth — from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We should work to reduce nuclear arsenals all around the world, starting with our own. Forty years ago, the five declared nuclear powers came together in support of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and pledged to end the arms race and move toward nuclear disarmament. The time has come to renew that commitment. We do not need all the weapons currently in our arsenal. The United States should lead a global effort at nuclear disarmament consistent with our vital interests and the cause of peace.

If we are successful in pulling together a global coalition for peace and freedom — if we lead by shouldering our international responsibilities and pointing the way to a better and safer future for humanity, I believe we will gain tangible benefits as a nation.

It will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism. This challenge is transcendent not because it is the only one we face. There are many dangers in today’s world, and our foreign policy must be agile and effective at dealing with all of them. But the threat posed by the terrorists is unique. They alone devote all their energies and indeed their very lives to murdering innocent men, women, and children. They alone seek nuclear weapons and other tools of mass destruction not to defend themselves or to enhance their prestige or to give them a stronger hand in world affairs but to use against us wherever and whenever they can. Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House, for he or she does not take seriously enough the first and most basic duty a president has — to protect the lives of the American people.

We learned through the tragic experience of September 11 that passive defense alone cannot protect us. We must protect our borders. But we must also have an aggressive strategy of confronting and rooting out the terrorists wherever they seek to operate, and deny them bases in failed or failing states. Today al Qaeda and other terrorist networks operate across the globe, seeking out opportunities in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and in the Middle East.

Prevailing in this struggle will require far more than military force. It will require the use of all elements of our national power: public diplomacy; development assistance; law enforcement training; expansion of economic opportunity; and robust intelligence capabilities. I have called for major changes in how our government faces the challenge of radical Islamic extremism by much greater resources for and integration of civilian efforts to prevent conflict and to address post-conflict challenges. Our goal must be to win the “hearts and minds” of the vast majority of moderate Muslims who do not want their future controlled by a minority of violent extremists. In this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs.

We also need to build the international structures for a durable peace in which the radical extremists are gradually eclipsed by the more powerful forces of freedom and tolerance. Our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are critical in this respect and cannot be viewed in isolation from our broader strategy. In the troubled and often dangerous region they occupy, these two nations can either be sources of extremism and instability or they can in time become pillars of stability, tolerance, and democracy.

For decades in the greater Middle East, we had a strategy of relying on autocrats to provide order and stability. We relied on the Shah of Iran, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family, and even, for a time, on Saddam Hussein. In the late 1970s that strategy began to unravel. The Shah was overthrown by the radical Islamic revolution that now rules in Tehran. The ensuing ferment in the Muslim world produced increasing instability. The autocrats clamped down with ever greater repression, while also surreptitiously aiding Islamic radicalism abroad in the hopes that they would not become its victims. It was a toxic and explosive mixture. The oppression of the autocrats blended with the radical Islamists’ dogmatic theology to produce a perfect storm of intolerance and hatred.

We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these out-dated autocracies is the safest bet. They no longer provide lasting stability, only the illusion of it. We must not act rashly or demand change overnight. But neither can we pretend the status quo is sustainable, stable, or in our interests. Change is occurring whether we want it or not. The only question for us is whether we shape this change in ways that benefit humanity or let our enemies seize it for their hateful purposes. We must help expand the power and reach of freedom, using all our many strengths as a free people. This is not just idealism. It is the truest kind of realism. It is the democracies of the world that will provide the pillars upon which we can and must build an enduring peace.

If you look at the great arc that extends from the Middle East through Central Asia and the Asian subcontinent all the way to Southeast Asia, you can see those pillars of democracy stretching across the entire expanse, from Turkey and Israel to India and Indonesia. Iraq and Afghanistan lie at the heart of that region. And whether they eventually become stable democracies themselves, or are allowed to sink back into chaos and extremism, will determine not only the fate of that critical part of the world, but our fate, as well.

That is the broad strategic perspective through which to view our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many people ask, how should we define success? Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is the establishment of peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states that pose no threat to neighbors and contribute to the defeat of terrorists. It is the triumph of religious tolerance over violent radicalism.

Those who argue that our goals in Iraq are unachievable are wrong, just as they were wrong a year ago when they declared the war in Iraq already lost. Since June 2007 sectarian and ethnic violence in Iraq has been reduced by 90 percent. Overall civilian deaths have been reduced by more than 70 percent. Deaths of coalition forces have fallen by 70 percent. The dramatic reduction in violence has opened the way for a return to something approaching normal political and economic life for the average Iraqi. People are going back to work. Markets are open. Oil revenues are climbing. Inflation is down. Iraq’s economy is expected to grown by roughly 7 percent in 2008. Political reconciliation is occurring across Iraq at the local and provincial grassroots level. Sunni and Shi’a chased from their homes by terrorist and sectarian violence are returning. Political progress at the national level has been far too slow, but there is progress.

Critics say that the “surge” of troops isn’t a solution in itself, that we must make progress toward Iraqi self-sufficiency. I agree. Iraqis themselves must increasingly take responsibility for their own security, and they must become responsible political actors. It does not follow from this, however, that we should now recklessly retreat from Iraq regardless of the consequences. We must take the course of prudence and responsibility, and help Iraqis move closer to the day when they no longer need our help.

That is the route of responsible statesmanship. We have incurred a moral responsibility in Iraq. It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation, if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing, and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible, and premature withdrawal. Our critics say America needs to repair its image in the world. How can they argue at the same time for the morally reprehensible abandonment of our responsibilities in Iraq?

Those who claim we should withdraw from Iraq in order to fight Al Qaeda more effectively elsewhere are making a dangerous mistake. Whether they were there before is immaterial, al Qaeda is in Iraq now, as it is in the borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Somalia, and in Indonesia. If we withdraw prematurely from Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq will survive, proclaim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the success of the surge, still exist, as various factions of Sunni and Shi’a have yet to move beyond their ancient hatreds, and are ripe for provocation by al Qaeda. Civil war in Iraq could easily descend into genocide, and destabilize the entire region as neighboring powers come to the aid of their favored factions. I believe a reckless and premature withdrawal would be a terrible defeat for our security interests and our values. Iran will also view our premature withdrawal as a victory, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly. These consequences of our defeat would threaten us for years, and those who argue for it, as both Democratic candidates do, are arguing for a course that would eventually draw us into a wider and more difficult war that would entail far greater dangers and sacrifices than we have suffered to date. I do not argue against withdrawal, any more than I argued several years ago for the change in tactics and additional forces that are now succeeding in Iraq, because I am somehow indifferent to war and the suffering it inflicts on too many American families. I hold my position because I hate war, and I know very well and very personally how grievous its wages are. But I know, too, that we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later.

I run for President because I want to keep the country I love and have served all my life safe, and to rise to the challenges of our times, as generations before us rose to theirs. I run for President because I know it is incumbent on America, more than any other nation on earth, to lead in building the foundations for a stable and enduring peace, a peace built on the strength of our commitment to it, on the transformative ideals on which we were founded, on our ability to see around the corner of history, and on our courage and wisdom to make hard choices. I run because I believe, as strongly as I ever have, that it is within our power to make in our time another, better world than we inherited.

Thank you.’

Dear Senator Obama

Dear Senator Obama:

Twelve-hundred Jews booed you last month.

This happened at the “Live for Sderot” concert at the WilshireTheatre on Feb 27. All three presidential candidates each appeared on screen to deliver a videotaped statement of support for the Israelis undergoing a brutal campaign of terror in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared first, spoke clearly and decisively and received a smattering of applause. Then you came on. The crowd jeered throughout your brief statement and booed and hissed at the end of it. I didn’t have the opposite of an applause meter with me, but I’d say the reaction hit a low point when you said we must all look forward to a day when “Israeli and Palestinian children can live in peace.”

Jimmy Delshad, the Persian Jewish mayor of Beverly Hills, bristled. “Palestinian?” he told me. “It’s like he has to throw that in our face.”

Then Sen. John McCain appeared on screen, and the place exploded. Applause, cheers, standing ovations. McCain spoke with utter conviction of Israel’s right to live in peace, and when he was through, even more cheers.

That brief audition was as clear a demonstration as any of something I’ve noticed happening over the last few months: the giant sucking sound of Jewish support for the leading Democratic candidate.

This isn’t normal. Sen. John Kerry received 76 percent of the Jewish vote against President Bush, and no one even liked him. People say you may make history as the first black president, but it’s possible you might also make history as the first Democrat to lose the Jewish vote since 1920, when Warren G. Harding was elected president. (But that doesn’t really count, since a good portion of the Jews then, including my grandmother, Leah Fink, voted for the socialist, Eugene Debs.) Can you survive without the Jews? Sure, but in a general election their activism, money, influence and actual votes can make the difference in swing states like Ohio and Florida.

If the reaction of the crowd at that concert provided any guide, McCain could reap 40 percent to 50 percent with nary a socialist in sight. Granted, the “Live for Sderot” concert drew an intensely pro-Israel crowd, including many Israelis, and it was not a scientific sampling. In the California primary, for instance, Jews voted 49 to 47 percent for you over Clinton.

But there are plenty of signs that if you indeed become the Democratic nominee, you will have a lot of explaining to do between now and November. Why is this happening to you among a constituency that has voted reliably Democratic?

My friend Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor of The New Jersey Jewish News, has a few ideas on this. Latent racism is one. The black- Jewish comity of the civil rights movement gave way to mutual distrust beginning with the urban riots, black nationalism and putative leaders like Louis Farrakhan, who thought the best way to raise black America up was to put Jewish Americans down. Those wounds left scars — which your relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. tore wide open.

Then there is the lack of a track record. Yes, you received a perfect score from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. You have longtime Jewish supporters, some of whom, like campaign manager David Axelrod, have been integral to your campaign. Your record on Israel and other Jewish issues is solid — but not long. “We know Hillary; we know McCain,” a Washington pro-Israel activist told me last week. “Obama — we don’t know him.”

With Israel facing Hamas to the south, Hezbollah to the north and Iranian nukes further east, it’s hard to blame Jews for being hesitant to cast their lot with an unknown. Finally, there is what Carroll calls the “kishkas factor,” the lingering question among less partisan Jews whether you feel for Israel in your guts, or kishkas.

Your speech last Tuesday sought to address those concerns. You distanced yourself from the political outlook of your pastor, saying it is “a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.” That’s a good sign.

But in the interest of making this a fair fight, let me offer you some more advice: Read the story of Purim. That’s right, the way into understanding us is to read the 2,300-year-old Book of Esther, which Jews read every Purim. It’s the story of a Jewish woman who, despite her acceptance into the upper reaches of non-Jewish society, retains her devotion to her people. And it’s the story of a people who, despite their acceptance into the king’s court, even into the king’s bed, must always be prepared to confront and defeat their mortal enemies.

One can read the Purim story at many levels, but for your purposes, understand what it says about Jewish insecurity, about the nagging sense that no matter how powerful and wealthy and popular we are — and we are all those things — we never feel truly secure.

Yes, sometimes our insecurity gets a leg up on our good sense — one can cherish Israeli children and still sympathize with Palestinian children, for example. But, as Leon Wieseltier recently wrote, “The political exploitation of fear notwithstanding, fear is not always a fantasy.”

If you don’t have time to read the Book of Esther, check out YouTube. There’s a video floating around of a ceremony held earlier this year. As Israelis sing “Hatikva” on the grounds of Auschwitz, three Israeli fighter jets scream through the sky above the former death camp. Those two impossibly paradoxical images are us, circa 2008.

Yes, we want to be inspired — we are suckers for the next JFK, the next Rabin. But we also want to rest assured, and you’ll need to work harder on helping us feel secure, in our kishkas.


Obama’s Tuesday night speech: ‘A More Perfect Union’

Briefs: Senate Democrats seek Iran bank sanctions, McCain to visit Israel

Senate Dems Target Iran’s Bank

Senate Democrats are circulating a letter asking President Bush to target Iran’s central bank for sanctions. The letter comes on the heels of a recent report in The Wall Street Journal that Bank Markazi was providing cover for commercial banks already targeted for sanctions for dealing with Iran’s energy sector and with those involved in its suspected nuclear weapons program. The Journal quoted intelligence officials in three countries.

Targeting Bank Markazi with U.S. sanctions could have a crippling effect, making it virtually impossible for Iran to deal with any entity that has dealings with the United States. At least 26 Democrats have signed on to the campaign spearheaded by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Among them is Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The American Israel Public Affairs Committee strongly backs the letter.

Clinton Campaign Drops Celebi

The Clinton campaign is no longer taking contributions from a Turkish American who financed a film that depicted an American Jew trading in Iraqi body parts.

Mehmet Celebi had been listed on the presidential campaign Web site of U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as a “Hill-raiser,” someone who had raised more than $100,000 for her presidential bid.

Celebi had co-produced “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq,” a 2006 film based on a popular Turkish TV series about a crack Turkish combat unit. The film depicts a Jewish American doctor harvesting organs from prisoners.

“We were unaware of Mr. Celebi’s involvement in this film and we obviously do not agree with it,” Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to the campaign said Friday in response to a query from JTA. Lewis, who plays a lead role for the campaign in dealing with the Jewish community, added: “He is no longer raising money for this campaign.”

Power Quits Obama Campaign

Samantha Power quit the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) Friday over a recent interview in which she described his rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as a “monster.”

Power, a leading expert on genocide, had advised Obama as senator for two years and her work on the topic is widely admired in the Jewish community, particularly for how she exposes non-intervention during the Holocaust. However, she also angered some in the pro-Israel community for her withering criticism of how Israel handled the Lebanon war and its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, going so far as to accuse Israel of war crimes.

McCain to Visit Israel

Israeli media reported this week that Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate in the U.S. presidential race, will visit at month’s end in a bid to shore up his American Jewish support base. The U.S. senator from Arizona is popular in Israel and the Diaspora for his hard-line views on foreign policy.

Vatican Done Changing Good Friday Prayer

Cardinal Walter Kasper, speaking to a German television audience this week, said there was no need to change the Good Friday prayer because “it is entirely correct from a theological perspective,” Catholic World News reported.

Kasper, the Vatican’s point man on Jewish relations, reportedly is slated to meet with Jewish leaders this week to discuss the controversy.

In June, Pope Benedict XVI upset many veterans of Catholic-Jewish interfaith encounters when he moved to revive the Latin, or Tridentine, Mass, a liturgy that includes a prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

In February, the pope released a revised text of the prayer that removed the most offensive passages — such as one referring to the “blindness” of the Jews — but retained the prayer for Jewish conversion.

HIAS Refutes Internet Refugee Claim

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) refuted an Internet campaign falsely claiming refugees receive higher Social Security benefits than other Americans. The scam e-mail, already exposed as a hoax by Snopes.com, has been targeting newspaper editors. It claims that refugees are entitled to benefits of $1,890 a month, while Americans born in 1924 are entitled only to $791.

The HIAS sent news editors an e-mail countering the campaign, noting that the most that elderly refugees and those granted asylum are entitled to is $637 a month along with a one-time grant of $425.

“The U.S. government requirements for eligibility in these categories are extremely strict, and non-governmental organizations, like HIAS, work to help these individuals find refuge here within the guidelines set by U.S. law,” the HIAS letter said.

‘Death to Jews’ Scrawled on El Al Plane

The phrase “Death to Jews” was hand-written in an El Al jet that flew to Milan Italy’s Malpensa Airport on Monday, apparently by a local Arabic-speaking baggage handler, Yediot Achronot reported.

The discovery sparked an investigation by Italian and Israeli counter-terrorism officials, rattled at the prospect of someone violently hostile to the Jewish state being able to freely access an El Al plane.

El Al, which generally posts guards full-time around its aircraft at foreign destinations, had no immediate comment.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Candidate profle: John McCain

John McCain’s reputation as a maverick holds true in the Jewish world, where his list of allies spans the political spectrum.

His long-term support for Israel and human rights issues along with his willingness to cross party lines has won him allies among conservative Republicans, independent Democrats and even some liberal Jews.

Topping his list of Jewish supporters is U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the independent Democrat who made headlines by endorsing the presidential bid of his Republican colleague from Arizona.

A U.S. senator from Arizona since 1986, McCain developed a reputation for breaking with his Republican colleagues. Most famously he joined with Russ Feingold, a Jewish Democrat from Wisconsin, in passing the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act in 2002.

In a recent poll of American Jewish opinion, McCain ranked behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the second-favored Republican. He scored a 32 percent favorability rating among Jews in general and 49 percent among Republicans, according to the American Jewish Committee survey.

Lieberman’s backing of McCain has led to mutterings among political insiders over the possibility of a McCain-Lieberman ticket in the general election. It would be Lieberman’s second bid for the vice presidency; he was the first Jew on a viable ticket when Al Gore picked him as a running mate in 2000.

Both McCain and Lieberman support the Bush administration’s position on the Iraq war and have taken a hard-line approach to Iran.

“I think it’s helped McCain a lot,” Ben Chouake, president of the pro-Israel Norpac and a member of McCain’s finance committee, told JTA in December, referring to Lieberman’s endorsement.

But McCain has drawn support from staunch Republican and politically conservative Jews as well.

Among them is Mark Broxmeyer, the national chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Last month McCain named Broxmeyer, a New York property developer, the chairman of his Jewish advisory committee.

JINSA has been among the most consistent supporters of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.

McCain at times also has drawn Jewish support — if not political backing — from left-wing Jews. The U.S. branch of Rabbis for Human Rights met with McCain to support his 2005 amendment to a defense appropriations bill that prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners, including those at Guantanamo Bay, and also narrowly defined acceptable interrogation practices.

He endured 5 1/2 years of torture at the hands of the Viet Cong after the Navy bomber he was flying was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. McCain remained in the Navy until 1981, when he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

McCain repeatedly has cited Israel’s 1999 ban on torture in refuting claims that it is a helpful tool in combating terrorism.

His relationship with Bush has changed over the years. Bush and McCain sparred fiercely in the 2000 presidential campaign, and the senator toyed with a vice presidency offer from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate in 2004.

That marginalized McCain among some party faithfuls, leading McCain to initially tamp down his criticisms of Bush in this campaign.

Recently, however, he reversed that policy, including a few barbs in his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition candidates’ forum in October — all the more notable because the RJC is a redoubt of Bush loyalists.

Noting reports of the success of the surge of ground troops in Iraq, McCain reminded the RJC crowd that his was a lonely voice advocating additional troops in 2004.

“I was criticized by Republicans because of my disloyalty,” he said.

McCain also said he did not trust Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in contributing to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“I looked into Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters – a K, a G and a B,” he said, referring to Putin’s earlier career as a spy. Bush had famously said that he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw a good soul.

The crowd ignored the barbs; almost every questioner started by saluting McCain’s military service.

Fred Zeidman, a Texas venture capitalist and political fund-raiser, has long been a McCain ally and is also very close to Bush. Zeidman agreed that McCain was earning respect in the party as his policies appeared to be vindicated.

“He has been steadfast in his beliefs and his opinions, but there has been a shift in the administration toward things McCain has been supportive of all along,” Zeidman said.

According to campaign contribution reports, McCain has raised $35,900 from individual board members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, surpassed only by Giuliani’s $58,750.

McCain drew criticism last fall after he told Cover stories Brad A. Greenberg:
Raphael J. Sonenshein:
Tom Tugend:
Arnold Steinberg:
Candidate profiles
Why I back ______________ Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
“>By Rep. Robert Wexler
John Edwards
Rudy Giuliani
John McCain
Mitt Romney

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John McCain has the ‘right stuff’

As the son of Holocaust survivors, I select my political candidates based on two criteria — what’s best for the country and what’s best for Jews everywhere, particularly Israel. In both respects, John McCain is unquestionably the best candidate running for President.

Why do we feel compelled to look to our forefathers such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln when searching for examples of “honest politicians,” a phrase in this day and age that smacks more of an oxymoron than anything else? Why do we have to glance back a century to Teddy Roosevelt to find a Republican president who cared deeply about protecting and preserving our environment? And why do we have to travel down memory lane over three decades to identify a fiscal conservative — Ronald Reagan — living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

John McCain is the right man at the right time to lead this country. America faces adversity, both at home and abroad, and adversity is a great clarifier. It reveals a person’s true character. Senator McCain’s life has been defined by the adversity he’s faced. America would be in much better shape today had John McCain been sitting in the Oval Office on 9/11.

Like it or not, we are at war, and we will be at war for a long time to come. The threat of Islamofascism is real and we ignore it at our peril. While extremists threaten our European allies, rogue nations and fundamentalist regimes continue to pursue their anti-Western agenda. Our next commander in chief will need a far broader and deeper understanding of our complex relationship to the world than on-the-job training can provide.

John McCain is the only candidate in either party who has a 20-year record of unequivocal support for the State of Israel. He understands Israel’s struggle against Islamic terrorists is the free world’s struggle. He has called Israel a “great democracy” and proclaimed that the U.S. “will defeat terrorism against America, and we will stand with Israel as she fights the same enemy. If we fail in Israel, where will we succeed?”

He unhesitantly backed Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006, opposing European pressure for Israel to withdraw: “What would we do if somebody came across our borders and killed and captured our soldiers? Do you think we would be exercising total restraint?” He has stated that, as president, he would “immediately” move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an important symbolic act that no prior administration has had the courage to do in 60 years of Israeli statehood.

Most recently, he urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to block a proposed UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, stating “the United States should oppose any UN statement or resolution that fails to condemn vociferously the terrorist tactics employed by Hamas, including its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.”

McCain, no stranger to personal adversity, understands that “Israel has been tested more, in less time, than any nation on earth. The tests continue today in the form of suicide bombers and rocket fire, in the anti-Semitism so pervasive in the Arab press, and in the existential threats issued routinely by the Iranian president.” His remarks and voting record reflect a long-standing commitment to Israeli security and skepticism about the readiness of Palestinians to peacefully coexist with Israel. “It is impossible to negotiate with people calling for one’s destruction. Israel lacks a partner for peace. Talk of concessions or of negotiations is premature so long as Hamas remains dedicated to the use of violence and the extinction of Israel. We have seen that elections don’t mean democracy; rule of law means democracy. There can be no comprehensive peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians until the Palestinians recognize Israel, forswear forever the use of violence, recognize their previous agreements and reform their internal institutions.”

And yet, McCain is quintessentially his own man, meaning he has not and will not pander to any special interest group, including us. In an address to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Congregations, he opposed the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst currently serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, a distinctly unpopular view in some Jewish circles. But right is on McCain’s side — Pollard betrayed his nation and should be punished for treason.

Consider the wisdom and courage McCain has displayed since the onset of the Iraq war. For four years, he stood alone in criticizing the Bush administration for sending in too few troops to quell the violence. When the President finally adopted McCain’s approach a year ago, the Senator championed the surge when virtually everyone in both parties either thought he was wrong or lacked the moral fortitude to stand with him, stating “I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war.” He did it knowing full well that it would cost him his media-darling status and potentially the presidency, but McCain had the courage and the vision to stand up for what he believed in, and he was right.

McCain’s resolute view is that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, it will create a vacuum that would be filled by Iran and inspire radical Islamic extremists throughout the region, a dangerous scenario that would be especially threatening for Israel. He has also gone on record stating that he does not trust Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in supporting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Where President Bush observed that he looked into Putin’s eyes and saw “a good soul,” John McCain remarked that “I looked into Putin’s eyes and I saw three letters — a K, a G and a B.”

The value of John McCain’s foreign affairs experience is multiplied by his integrity and independence. He has served four terms in the Senate, pushing through such landmark legislation as the bi-partisan McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, partnering with Russ Feingold, a Jewish Democrat from Wisconsin. Topping his list of Jewish supporters is Joe Lieberman, the independent Democratic senator from Connecticut who was Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate and could be John McCain’s.

He is a slave to no ideology or faction. McCain is usually the driving force at the head of coalitions in Congress to get the job done and is deeply respected by his colleagues in both parties. No one in politics today is as likely to fight, expose and defeat waste and corruption. Of all the senators running for president, he is the only one who doesn’t write “pork barrel” earmarks on legislation. In an age when too many candidates are driven by polls and focus groups, fashioning and re-fashioning their “core” beliefs, McCain is a man of unwavering conviction and integrity. He was among the first in the Republican party to identify global warming as a serious threat to the environment and to seek to address it. He also pushed the Bush administration to take the moral high ground on outlawing torture.

Experience, absolutely. Integrity, without a doubt. But John McCain’s most conspicuous virtue is courage. A McCain presidency would do much to restore confidence in American leadership, both at home and abroad. Before he was Senator McCain, he was Lt. Commander McCain, a naval pilot who was shot down over Vietnam during his 23rd combat mission. He spent five and a half years in solitary confinement in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” withstanding daily torture for not revealing information to his interrogators. He demonstrated his integrity and strength of character in the most difficult of circumstances, refusing an early “propaganda” release, citing the military policy of releasing prisoners in the order in which they are captured. When others despair, John McCain knows he has seen worse, and keeps striding forward. His “comeback candidacy” is a case in point.

There are times in this nation’s history so perilous that they cry out for a steady, experienced leader, a person so trusted that we would put the fate of the country in his hands. This is one of those times, and Senator John McCain is that leader. He has a brand of courage that is nearly extinct in the public arena, a courage forged in part by those years spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and in part by more than two decades of fighting for what he believes in on the floor of the U.S. Senate, regardless of party line. He’s the real McCoy in a field of wannabes and flip-floppers. He is that rare breed in politics, the principled leader who doesn’t take his marching orders from party bosses or special interests, who actually says what he believes and means what he says.

John McCain has shown more clearly than anyone on the American political stage today that he loves his country and would never mislead or dishonor it. He is unique in his determination to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost. He deserves our respect, admiration and support.


Lloyd Greif is President and CEO of Greif & Co., a leading Los Angeles-based investment bank serving middle market growth companies, and benefactor of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Southern California.