November 17, 2018

Report: Obama Admin Gave Iran License to U.S. Financial System

REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah/File Photo

A new investigation conducted by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has found that the Obama administration granted a permit that gave the Iranian regime access to the United States financial system.

According to the Associated Press (AP), Iran yearned to convert $5.7 million held up in an Omani bank to dollars and then to euros. They were also complaining that despite the lifting of sanctions under the Iran deal, there were still enough sanctions on the regime that discouraged investment in the country.

The Obama administration had promised that Iran would never have access to the U.S. financial system, so they quietly gave a license that allowed Iran to use two American banks to convert that money.

However, the banks declined to participate out of fear that doing so would harm their reputations.

“Issuing the license was not illegal,” the report states. “Still, it went above and beyond what the Obama administration was required to do under the terms of the nuclear agreement, in which the U.S. and world powers gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.”

Former Obama administration officials argued to the AP that the move “adhered to the spirt of the deal” and that the license did not necessarily grant Iran access to the entire U.S. financial system.

However, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) told the AP, “The Obama administration misled the American people and Congress because they were desperate to get a deal with Iran.”

The AP report is the latest controversy to stem from the Iran deal; others include reports that the Obama administration inhibited law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on Hezbollah, Iran’s terror proxy, in order to achieve their desired deal and the administration gave pallets of cash to the regime in exchange for hostages.

President Trump announced in May that the U.S. would be exiting from the deal. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, recently announced that Iran has completed a new enrichment centrifuge.

Lies and More Lies

President Barack Obama tweets his first tweet from the Oval Office, May 18, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

So, the Iranians lied.

So did the Obama administration.

On April 30, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed that in a stunning intelligence coup, the Israelis had somehow obtained 100,000 files from Iran’s secret atomic archive in Tehran. The files showed that Iran had ardently pursued nuclear weapons for years, lying about it all the while; that they had then failed to turn over the information showing the extent of their program during negotiations over the Barack Obama administration-pushed Iran deal; and that they had hidden those files in a secret warehouse with the obvious intent of reviving their nuclear program the minute they can get away with it.

According to Netanyahu, Iran “is brazenly lying when it says it never had a nuclear weapons program.” Furthermore, Netanyahu claimed that nuclear development “continued … in a series of organizations over the years, and today, in 2018, this work is carried out by SPND, that’s an organization inside Iran’s Defense Ministry.” The head of Iran’s earlier nuclear program currently heads the SPND.

Advocates for the Obama administration have come forward to contend that there’s nothing new here — that everyone knew Iran had been lying about its nuclear program. But when the deal was signed, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Iran would have to disclose past military-related nuclear activities: “If there’s going to be a deal, it will be done. … It will be part of a final agreement.”

Other advocates say that Israel’s intelligence would be damaging to the Iran deal — but those nefarious Jews made it up. According to Tommy Vietor, former Obama National Security Council spokesman, “After years of bashing U.S. intelligence agencies for getting Iraq wrong, [Donald] Trump is now cooking up intel with the Israelis to push us closer to a conflict with Iran. A scandal hiding in plain sight.”

The Obama administration played propagandists for the Iranian government.

So, to get this straight, Vietor is claiming that Israel “cooked up” the intelligence information to bluff America into war — as always, it’s the devious Jews. Furthermore, Vietor is claiming that Trump went along with this Israeli manipulation. Also, the Iranians are complying with the terms of the awful deal. This from a key member of the same administration that admitted in print to having deceived the American public about the Iran deal. Former Obama national security guru and professional fiction writer Ben Rhodes bragged openly about lying to Americans regarding the supposedly more “moderate” Iranian leadership seeking a deal.

Here’s the reality: The Obama administration, desperate to cut a deal with the Iranian government, played propagandists for the Iranian government. They fibbed that the Iranians had gone moderate; they lied that the only alternative to their rotten deal was war; they signed a deal that gave Iran enormous quantities of cash to use for terrorism, and that did nothing to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile program. Finally, they looked the other way as Iran lied about its maintenance of secret nuclear information.

And yet we’re supposed to believe their protestations now?

The Iran deal was garbage from the start. It was a way for Obama to declare triumph in the region even as the world’s worst terror sponsor pursued utter carnage from Tehran to Beirut. Whether Trump kills the deal at this point is of secondary import — the Trump administration knows that the deal is dead, and it’s just a question of whether to declare it so. The real question is why the same international community that accepted Iran’s word should be trusted to verify Iran’s compliance.

The simple answer: They shouldn’t. The Iran deal was an outgrowth of motivated thinking, not evidence-based policymaking. The only question now is whether it’s too late to stop the Iranians from finally achieving their dream of placing Israel and Saudi Arabia within the radius of Iranian nukes.

Ben Shapiro is an author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” podcast.

Report: Obama Admin Forged Secret Deal Waiving Sanctions on Iranian Propaganda Outlet

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waves towards the media as he exits Mecca Masjid following Friday prayers in Hyderabad, India February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

The Trump administration reportedly waived sanctions on Iran’s chief propaganda outlet due to a secret deal forged between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the Obama administration and Iranian regime came to an agreement in 2013 where the State Department would waive sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) every six months provided that the IRIB ceased its practice of censoring content.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson decided to waive sanctions on the IRIB yet again in January, even though there is evidence that the Iranian propaganda outlet continues to jam “broadcasts and other signals it finds objectionable.”

“This waiver is vital to the national security of the United States because it furthers the free flow of information into Iran, a key element of the president’s new U.S. strategy on lran,” Tillerson told Congress.

Iranian dissidents and protestors were furious at the decision, as the Trump administration had promised to slap the IRIB with a new batch of sanctions. Tillerson’s State Department seems to think that the secret agreement needed to be upheld.

According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, the IRIB has a penchant for “jamming international satellite broadcasts” in addition to local broadcasts. The IRIB also broadcasts coerced confessions from prisoners, show trials and other propaganda from the Iranian regime.

“IRIB continues to be a central tool of state repression; it has not earned the continuation of the waiver,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran in 2014.

Report: Obama Admin Payment to Iran Was Funneled to Hezbollah

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is seen on a video screen as he addresses his supporters in Beirut, Lebanon January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

A new report states that $1.7 billion from the Obama administration to the Iranian regime in 2016 was used to fund various terror organizations, most notably Hezbollah.

According to the Washington Times, Hezbollah, Iran’s Quds Force and the Houthi rebels in Yemen were among the recipients of the $1.7 billion, although it’s unclear what the exact amount was for each terror organization.

The $1.7 billion payment was said to be due to a settlement based on a failed arms deal in 1979, however some have argued that it was actually a ransom payment as part of the Obama administration’s attempts to appease the regime in Tehran.

The report comes amidst a letter from Israeli United Nations Ambassador Danny Dannon to the U.N. warning that Iran and Hezbollah will become “dangerous and destabilizing” to the Middle East if the U.S. and U.N. don’t crack down on Hezbollah. Danon specifically cited Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi visiting Hezbollah in a U.N. buffer zone as an example of how the next Hezbollah-Israel conflict could feature a wide range of Islamic terrorists fighting against Israel.

“These Iranian efforts not only threaten Israelis, but also directly endanger the citizens of Lebanon by putting them on the frontlines where they are sure to pay a painful price resulting from possible future escalations,” Danon wrote.

Israel is also reportedly worried about Hezbollah’s growing influence on the Lebanese Armed Force (LAF), Lebanon’s military that was paid $120 million by the U.S. in 2017.

The Obama administration also reportedly undermined law enforcement efforts to crack down on Hezbollah so he could forge a nuclear deal with Iran.

Pro-Israel Group Receives Apology from IRS for Unfair Scrutiny

Photo from Flickr/Cliff

A pro-Israel organization received a formal apology from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on Feb. 1 for facing unfair scrutiny from the agency.

The Department of Justice announced that a settlement has been reached between the organization, Z Street, and the IRS after Z street filed a lawsuit against the agency in 2010 for viewpoint discrimination. Z Street claimed that the IRS was slow-walking the organization’s application for tax exempt status simply because Z Street is a pro-Israel advocacy group that was publicly at odds with the Obama administration’s treatment of Israel.

The apology from the IRS is part of the settlement.

“It is improper for the IRS to single out groups for different treatment based on their names or ideological positions,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Any entitlement to tax exemption should be based on the activities of the organization and whether they fulfill requirements of the law, not the policy positions adopted by members or the name chosen to reflect those views.”

“There is no excuse for this conduct. Hundreds of organizations were affected by these actions, and they deserve an apology from the IRS. We hope that today’s settlement makes clear that this abuse of power will not be tolerated.”

Z Street was designated by the agency as part of the “Occupied Territory Advocacy” subset of the IRS’s “progressive” category; any groups under that subset would be flagged by the agency as needing higher scrutiny.

The IRS claimed they scrutinized Z Street under the auspices “that Z Street might be engaged in the funding of terrorism because ‘there is a higher risk of terrorism in Israel,’” according to Hot Air.

However, as Hot Air points out, none of the publicly available IRS documents on Z Street mentioned anything about terrorism and Z Street was the only organization to be put in that “Occupied Territory Advocacy” subset.

Additionally, the IRS tried to argue in court viewpoint discrimination lawsuits didn’t apply to them, a claim thrown out by the judge.

According to the DOJ, Z Street’s settlement will be among the last between the IRS and organizations that allege the agency subjected them to higher scrutiny over their tax-exempt status applications due to their political viewpoint. Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Unit, admitted that the IRS unfairly targeted conservative organizations. However, Lerner never took responsibility for those actions repeatedly plead the Fifth when Congress grilled her on the matter.

Voters split on Iran cash payment as WH rejects criticism

The White House on Monday rejected renewed criticism of the “>pounced on the administration and Democratic candidates after State Department Spokesperson John Kirby confirmed on Thursday that the U.S. had made the release of the $400 million contingent on Iran releasing the hostages. “We deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously,” he said. “With concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release, given unnecessary delays regarding persons in Iran who could not be located as well as, to be quite honest, mutual mistrust between Iran and the United States, we, of course,sought to retain maximum leverage until after American citizens were released. That was our top priority.”

“The president and his administration have been misleading us since January about whether he ransomed the freedom of the Americans unjustly imprisoned in Iran,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement on Friday. “The president owes the American people a full accounting of his actions and the dangerous precedent he has set.”

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on National Security and International Trade and Finance, said on Sunday he would hold a hearing on whether the payment was a “quid pro quo for the release of American hostages” and if it was directed towards financing terror activities. “We can’t have the president of the United States acting like the drug dealer-in-chief,” Kirk said during an editorial board meeting last week with The (Springfield) State Journal-Register. “Those 500-euro notes will pop up across the Middle East. We’re going to see problems in multiple [countries] because of that money given to them.”

A new “>opposed the deal, while only 27 percent supported it.

Critics of the Iran nuclear pact wanted US prisoners to be part of the deal

You know the old joke about the definition of chutzpah? Well, critics of the nuclear deal with Iran are offering up a new punchline.

First they vilify President Obama for agreeing to a deal that neglected U.S. prisoners being held by Iran.

Then they cry ransom once the administration brings them home.

On Thursday State Department spokesman John Kirby made news by conceding that there was in fact a connection between the release of American citizens and a $400 million payment to Iran made as part of a settlement awarded to the Islamic Republic by a court in The Hague.

“We deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously,” he said. “With concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release, given unnecessary delays regarding persons in Iran who could not be located as well as, to be quite honest, mutual mistrust between Iran and the United States, we of course sought to retain maximum leverage until after American citizens were released. That was our top priority.”

Immediately Donald Trump and other Republicans pounced, claiming they had been vindicated in their campaign to paint the Obama administration as having paid a $400 million ransom in exchange for the release of three American prisoners.

President Obama and his lieutenants clearly have egg on their faces — and rightfully so after testing our collective intelligence by insisting that there was absolutely no connection between the sequence of events.

But the way Obama’s critics are talking, you would think that we offered cash in exchange for the release of the U.S. prisoners. But by most accounts, including the excellent investigative reporting by The Wall Street Journal, that is not what happened. It would be more accurate to describe both the prisoner release and the settlement payment as add-ons to the central deal — sanctions relief and the release of frozen Iranian monies in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program. As in the main deal, the Iranians were told they’d get the money owed them if they cleaned up their act. 

In fact, for years, one of the main arguments put forth by Obama’s critics was that in his zeal to strike a nuclear deal the president was ignoring Iranian bad behavior — including the imprisonment of U.S. citizens. And as it became clear that a deal was going to happen, opponents reamed Obama for failing to get the prisoners back.

Take, for example, The Israel Project, one of the loudest Jewish opponents of the Iran deal. In recent weeks the organization has been pushing the ransom payment line. But last summer, in its efforts to fight the deal, one of its talking points was that the agreement included no provisions for the release of the prisoners.

None of this is to let Obama and his aides off the hook. Instead of obfuscating, they should have unapologetically acknowledged that they refused to go through with the legal settlement payment until Iran made good on its commitment to release the prisoners.

Of course, from there Obama’s critics might have seized on a new, and maybe stickier, point: If we can’t trust the Iranians to release a handful of prisoners, why do we think they’ll live up to the key parts of the nuclear deal?

Trump hits Clinton over White House admission that Iran cash linked to prisoner release

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Republican Jewish Coalition found some common ground on Thursday, tying Hillary Clinton to the Obama administration’s payment to Iran and handling of the prisoner release.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal “>disputed the notion that it was a ransom payment for the release of American hostages. “We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future,” Obama said. “Those families know we have a policy that we don’t pay ransom. And the notion that we would somehow start now, in this high-profile way, and announce it to the world, even as we’re looking in the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage, and saying to them we don’t pay ransom, defies logic.”

However, at a Thursday press briefing, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby confirmed that the U.S. had made the release of the $400 million contingent on Iran releasing the hostages. “We deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously,” he said. “With concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release, given unnecessary delays regarding persons in Iran who could not be located as well as, to be quite honest, mutual mistrust between Iran and the United States, we of course sought to retain maximum leverage until after American citizens were released. That was our top priority.”

In a statement released hours after the press briefing, the Trump campaign indicated it felt vindicated by the Republican presidential nominee’s initial assertion that Hillary Clinton played a significant role in crafting the administration’s policy on Iran, which led to the Iran nuclear deal and the ‘ransom’ swap. “Today’s admission by the State Department that they paid a $400M ransom to release American hostages from Iran further cements Hillary Clinton’s role in crafting disastrous policies that have led to a more dangerous world,” said Trump’s spokesman Jason Miller.”Already under fire for lying to the American people about her illegal email server, Clinton is continuing to align herself with an Administration that has continually lied to Americans as well. By helping put together a deal that ultimately sent $400M to Iran that was likely used to fund terrorism, Clinton has proven herself unfit to be president of the United States.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition called on Clinton and all Democrats to “immediately condemn this ransom payment and reverse their support for the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran.”

Obama’s final religious freedom report slams Muslim countries’ blasphemy laws

The Obama administration’s final report on religious freedoms focused on oppressive blasphemy laws and societal norms in Muslim countries.

The report for 2015, posted Wednesday on the State Department’s website, begins with a harrowing account of the stoning death last year of Farkhunda Malikzada, a resident of Kabul who was wrongly accused of burning a Koran.

It notes also the swift justice Afghanistan authorities delivered to her killers, saying this “demonstrates that change is possible.”

“In many other Islamic societies, societal passions associated with blasphemy — deadly enough in and of themselves — are abetted by a legal code that harshly penalizes blasphemy and apostasy,” said the report, compiled under the direction of Rabbi David Saperstein, the ambassador at large for religious freedoms, and until this appointment, the longtime director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

“Such laws conflict with and undermine universally recognized human rights,” it said. “All residents of countries where laws or social norms encourage the death penalty for blasphemy are vulnerable to attacks such as the one on Farkhunda.”

It singled out for criticism, in the executive summary, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Pakistan.

The report’s tough tone comes after years of Obama administration outreach to the Muslim world, launched with a Cairo speech in 2009, shortly after he was elected.

That speech figured on a list of Obama administration accomplishments in advancing religious freedoms the White House posted Wednesday, separately from the State Department report.

The “Fact Sheet: Promoting and Protecting Religious Freedom Around the Globe” covering both of Obama’s terms had a slightly defensive tone.

“Throughout the Obama Administration, the U.S. Government has prioritized efforts to promote freedom of religion globally as a universal human right, a strategic national interest, and as a key foreign policy objective,” it said, and noted that advocacy to release religious prisoners of conscience often takes place behind the scenes.

Republicans and conservative Christian groups have accused Obama of deprioritizing advocacy for religious freedoms, compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Among other accomplishments listed in the White House release are speeches in 2014 and 2016, when Obama decried the rise of anti-Semitism among other religious persecutions, and the convening in 2015, at the behest of the United States, Israel, Canada and the European Union, of a special United Nations session on combating anti-Semitism.

The State Department report’s Israel section noted a rise in attacks on Israeli Jews last year over tensions regarding Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a site holy to Muslims and Jews, as well as retaliatory Jewish attacks on Muslims and Christians.

“Because religion and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize much of this violence as being solely based on religious identity,” it said.

It also noted the monopoly that the Orthodox rabbinate continues to maintain over Jewish religious life there.

“The government allowed persons of all religions to access the Western Wall, but with the strict separation of women and men,” it said. “The government implemented policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law; in July it reversed its previous decision to allow a wider spectrum of Orthodox rabbis to perform conversions. The government did not permit civil marriages, interfaith marriages, or marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis or nonrecognized religious authorities.”

In a separate section on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the report noted that “anti-Semitic material continued to appear” in official Palestinian Authority media in the West Bank and in Hamas media in the West Bank, and that Hamas and other radical groups often followed their rocket attacks on Israel with anti-Semitic statements claiming responsibility.

Terrorism in Israel: U.S. actions speak louder than words

In late June of this year, I returned from an enlightening journey to Israel after embarking on a trip sponsored by Birthright Israel, a program that sends thousands of Jewish teens and young adults to tour Israel. I traveled with my sister, Lauren, and we were amazed by the Jewish culture and history we were immediately immersed in as soon as we stepped on our El AL flight to Tel Aviv from JFK. As soon as the “fasten seat-belt” sign went off, an orthodox Jewish man went around the flight to bless some of the Birthright participants with Tiffilin (a set of two black boxes containing verses from the Torah) and I was one of the lucky ones. From that point onward, my travels in Israel—ranging from a spiritual stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to a fun visit at the Dead Sea—were incredible experiences that opened up the floodgates to my family’s history and customs. During my travels in Israel, signs of the precarious and ominous state of geopolitical security of the small Jewish state were ever-present. After traveling to Israel and experiencing firsthand the vibrant culture of the only true democracy in the Middle East, I was frustrated and angered more than ever by the media and our current President’s unjust treatment of a nation surrounded by enemies and danger on all borders. Nothing was more enraging to me, however, than to observe the Obama administration’s handling of the barbaric murder of a thirteen-year-old American-Israeli girl in the West Bank only three days after I returned from Israel.

Hallel Ariel was brutally murdered in her sleep by a seventeen-year-old Palestinian terrorist in a West Bank settlement, where her family lived. Photos of the scene released by the Israeli government showed sickening pools of blood in a brightly decorated child’s room. Security forces killed the assailant shortly after the murder and the Israeli government reacted immediately, canceling work visas previously granted to the killer’s family and establishing more security at the settlement. Our government’s response, however, was far less impressive; Jon Kirby, a State Department spokesman, condemned “in the strongest terms” the horrific terrorist attack.

This type of mechanical, unemotional statement from the Obama administration has only become the new norm from our country when responding to Palestinian terrorism. In fact, on June 8th, only a few weeks before I arrived in Israel, Hamas militants killed four Israelis at a Tel Aviv shopping district, an attack which the Obama administration condemned “in the strongest possible terms”. On November 19, 2015, another American-Israeli, Eric Schwartz was killed as he was gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist in the West Bank. President Obama, at a press conference that Sunday, three days later, delivered kind remarks regarding the deaths of two American citizens killed in terrorist attacks in Mali and France earlier that same week. Curiously, Eric Schwartz was never mentioned by President Obama during that press conference in which he mourned two other American citizens also killed abroad. After over 50,000 Americans signed a petition calling for the White House to acknowledge and condemn the murder of Schwartz, the Obama administration yet again condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms”, a statement that carries less and less weight with every monotonous recitation by members of the Obama administration.

Following the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris in October of 2015, the State Department rightfully declared the act as “evil, heinous, and vile” in a powerful statement calling on the world “to fight back against what can only be considered an assault on our common humanity”. The White House is clearly concerned with the barbarity of terrorism, so I’d like to ask the State Department why this clear display of emotional outrage has consistently been missing when Israeli-Americans are murdered in cold blood. Perhaps the death of half-Israelis—or Jews—is far less concerning to President Obama than the deaths of others. I have been to Israel and I have spoken at length with its people. Our President’s continuously passive and reluctant words of “strong condemnation” do nothing to stop Palestinian terrorism or show solidarity with the Israeli people.

President Obama’s lethargic approach to speaking out against Palestinian terrorism is far less detrimental than his deliberate actions to strengthen Hamas, the terrorist organization governing the Gaza Strip, or diplomatically weaken Israel. In his famous address to the Arab world in Cairo, the President remarked “…Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society…the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security.” The United States has a famous policy never to negotiate with terrorists, yet urges Israel to dutifully complete its “obligation” to ensure the development of Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip, an area governed by a group the United States lists as a terrorist organization. This screaming hypocrisy is seemingly ignored by President Obama’s administration.

Because of security concerns, Israel has maintained an embargo of potentially dangerous goods into the Gaza Strip, including building materials such as cement, from 2007 to the present. The Israeli government loosened the ban on building materials—after being pressured by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—to allow for the reconstruction of Palestinian infrastructure damaged in past wars. Cement flooded into the Gaza strip and the reconstruction was finally set to begin. However, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry Director, roughly 95% of all cement bags that entered the Gaza strip for humanitarian purposes were stolen by Hamas to build the infamous underground tunnel network used to conduct terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians in the Gaza War of 2014. To blame Israel for not attempting to alleviate the concerning humanitarian situation in Gaza is not only factually erroneous but also diplomatically dangerous to Israel; rather than focus on the heinous acts committed by Hamas, a group that calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people in its charter, the international community, with President Obama at the helm, instead points to Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank as a justification for terrorism originating in Gaza.

Since becoming politically active, I’ve always been a staunch supporter of Israel on cultural, ideological and logical grounds. My trip to Israel only reinforced those beliefs and once again reminded me of the double standard President Obama has practiced when it comes to Israel and the deaths of American Jews in Israel. While I never felt endangered in Israel, a small news story that barely garnered a few minutes on major news channels shocked me deeply: an El AL flight out of JFK to Tel Aviv, the same kind of flight I had taken to Israel, was escorted by French and Swiss jets to Israel following a bomb threat. Luckily there was no bomb and therefore no casualities. I was immediately thankful for my own safe return to my home in America, and then somberly considered for a moment that I could have been on that plane if my trip had been only two weeks later. But then I thought of the people actually on that plane. Surely there were other Jewish kids my age traveling to Israel as part of some Birthright program. I wondered, if that plane had been bombed and the passengers murdered simply because they were Israelis or Jews, how would President Obama have responded? Based on his past actions? Another “strong condemnation” from a monotonous, disinterested state department spokesperson.

US opposes settlements and outsiders imposing solutions, national security chief says

The Obama administration will continue to object to Israeli and Palestinian unilateral actions, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said, while also resisting outside attempts to impose a solution.

Rice told the American Jewish Committee’s annual Washington, D.C., conference on Monday that “we continue to strongly oppose Israeli settlement activity. It moves Israel toward a one-state reality.”

However, she also cited the occasions when the Obama administration opposed bids by the Palestinians and others to impose a solution through the United Nations, and said that policy would hold.

“When the Palestinians tried to short circuit the path to statehood, President Obama said peace will not come through resolutions at the United Nations,” Rice said.

Her remarks appeared to address concerns in Israel and among pro-Israel groups that the Obama administration is planning in its final months to join outside efforts to impose a solution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Earlier Monday, Rice told the Forward that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended a conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace called by the French government in order to moderate its message.

“Secretary Kerry participated because we are very much of the view that this very delicate issue has to be handled effectively and we can’t see efforts that might, in fact, complicate the situation on the ground be allowed to generate distraction — or worse, renewed or intensified frictions,” Rice said in an interview with the newspaper.

Israel’s government had strongly objected to the Paris conference. The conference’s concluding statement last week was more moderate than Israel expected, reportedly because of Kerry’s interventions.

Rice in her speech to the American Jewish Committee emphasized that the Obama administration was as committed to defending Palestinians as it was Israel.

“We continue to encourage [the Israelis and the Palestinians] to take meaningful actions on the ground,” she said, and named the challenges facing children in growing up in Netanya and Sderot in Israel and Jenin in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

“Children that are just like yours and mine deserve a future that is not consumed by this conflict,” she said.

“When Hamas digs tunnels so they can kidnap and kill Israelis, Israel is not alone. When one country is singled out time and time again on the floor of the United Nations, Israel is not alone. When angry forces attack Israel’s right to exist, Israel is not alone,” Rice said. “And when Palestinians are attacked by mobs shouting ‘Death to Arabs,’ when Palestinians’ mosques and churches are vandalized, the Palestinian people are not alone.”

Rice also enumerated U.S. assistance to Israel, noting that the country received more than half of all U.S. military assistance.

Rice denies Obama administration misled public on Iran deal

U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Sunday pushed back against the notion that the Obama administration misled the U.S. public and manipulated the media in selling the Iran nuclear deal as concluded from the 

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Obama sending mixed messages on Iran, charges ex-sanctions officer

A banker who once enforced U.S. sanctions on entities dealing with Iran said the Obama administration is sending mixed messages on whether it will penalize those who do business with the Islamic Republic.

“Washington is pushing non-U.S. banks to do what it is still illegal for American banks to do,” Stuart Levey, who was the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury from 2004-2011,wrote in Friday’s Wall Street Journal.

Levey, who is now chief legal officer for HSBC Holdings, a British bank, referred to a meeting this week in London in which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sought to persuade European financial institutions to do business with Iran.

Sanctions on direct U.S. business with Iran remain in place, inhibiting renewed commerce with the country, and Obama officials fear that if Iran does not feel some relief, extremists in the country could precipitate the collapse of the deal.

The calling out from Levey could prove embarrassing for the Obama administration. Levey was a George W. Bush administration appointee whom Obama purposefully kept in place to underscore consistency when it came to confronting Iran.

Levey said the double messaging did not make sense, especially given that Iran has not decreased sanctions-triggering activities separate from its nuclear enterprise, including ballistic missile testing and backing terrorism.

“The U.S. Treasury Department’s designation of Iran, including its central bank and financial institutions, as a primary money-laundering concern also still stands,” Levey wrote. “The State Department neither controls nor plays any meaningful role in the enforcement decisions of these authorities.”

Levey said HSBC would not do business with Iran.

“Governments can lift sanctions, but the private sector is still responsible for managing its own risk and no doubt will be held accountable if it falls short,” he wrote.

Separately, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, fresh off his failed run for the Republican presidential nomination, in a New York Times Op-Ed called for increasing assistance for Israel’s missile defense in the wake of dangers he said were created by the Iran deal.

He called specifically for funding for the Arrow 3 and David’s Sling programs. “Congress should seize this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to Israel’s security and so to our own,” Cruz wrote. “That would send the leaders of the Islamic Republic an unmistakable signal that there are at least some in Washington who still take them at their word, and will act accordingly.”

Dermer: Spat over Iran deal proved strength of U.S.-Israel alliance

Disagreements with the Obama administration over the past few years attest to the strength of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said during a speech celebrating Israel’s 68th Independence Day in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“There is no denying that Israel has had differences with the Obama administration over the best way to block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and over the best way to advance a secure peace with the Palestinians,” said Dermer. “But the test of a relationship between two countries is not how strong it is when their two governments see eye-to-eye but rather how strong it is when they don’t – and the relationship between Israel and America has passed that test with flying colors.”

Dermer, the architect of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress last year, took the opportunity to express Israel gratitude “for its unique friendship
with the United States” and for “many concrete ways President Obama has supported Israel during his Presidency.”

“Israel is deeply grateful for the support of the United States,” the Israeli Ambassador said, expressing hope that Israel and America “will continue to stand side by side for generations to come.”

Also speaking at the embassy’s reception was White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. In his remarks, McDonough said that families often have disagreements, but “we care for each other, we look out for each other and we protect each other.”

“For the president, Israel is not just another foreign policy issue, not a political football,” he said.

Exclusive: Meet the new White House Jewish liaison

The Obama Administration is set to name a new liaison to the Jewish community later on Thursday, Jewish Insider has learned. Chanan Weissman will make the transition from the State Department to the White House, becoming the first Modern Orthodox Jew to assume this position for a Democratic administration, according to several sources.

Most recently, Weissman served as a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Matt Nosanchuk, who held the Jewish liaison position for nearly three years, recently transferred to the State Department, à la ‘Trading Places,’ where he is working as a senior advisor in the Office of Religion and Global Affairs. Observers can debate the respective perks of Foggy Bottom and Pennsylvania Avenue, but only one job comes with the pressure of managing the Administration’s relationship with a community rarely described as ‘shy.’

Among the job’s demanding responsibilities, organizing the annual White House Hanukkah parties ranks high. It was once a single event but thanks to Nosanchuk’s efforts to double the number of invited guests, there are now two separate parties. “Over the past three years – or, as anyone holding this role measures it, six White House Hanukkah receptions – I have had the chance to work with incredible colleagues here at the White House and throughout the Administration,” Nosanchuk told the “>stressed he will not be a lame-duck president, and questions remain about whether the White House will attempt another push for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations during the final year. According to “>Bill Clinton parameters before leaving office. If the White House decides to refocus on the Middle East, one can expect Weissman to play a critical role.

Scott Arogeti, appointed in July of 2008 to be President George W. Bush’s final Jewish liaison, is quite familiar with the timing of Weissman’s new role. “How do you move the ball down the field effectively at a point where the campaign season for your boss’s successor is already in full swing (taking media and public attention along with it) and most major policy battles are likely in the rear view mirror?” Arogeti told Jewish Insider by email. “From the last person to have this honor for President George W. Bush to the one who will presumably follow suit for President Obama, I wish you the best. (…oh, and good luck with the final Hannukah Party list!).”

Of historical note, Weissman is only the third Orthodox Jew — behind Tevi Troy and Marshall Breger — to hold this particular White House position and the first to do so under a Democrat. The Obama Administration, meanwhile, is no stranger to Orthodox Jews as prominent figures, including Treasury Secretary and former White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and Ambassador Norm Eisen, previously a Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform in the White House, have served closely with the President.

In an email to Jewish Insider, Eisen recalled being impressed Weissman early on. “I first met Chanan years ago at the ‘hashkama’ minyan at Kesher Israel in DC, when he was starting his career at the State Department,” Eisen related. “Over cholent, we talked about working in government as observant Jews. I said to myself, someday he will be in the White House. Now he is! He will be a great White House Jewish liaison, continuing the high standard set by Matt and all his predecessors.”

“I think there’s an advantage but also a challenge,” Troy, a Bush 43 liaison, told Jewish Insider about being Orthodox in this White House role. “The advantage is that you have instant credibility within the community as knowledgeable and credible representing the community. The challenge is that the bulk of American Jews are not Orthodox and you have to show you can reach out to all.”

Weissman could have less difficulty due to his prior experience working on human rights and social justice issues. “If they had to replace Nosanchuk, they could not have made a better choice than Chanan,” Steve Rabinowitz, head of Bluelight Strategies, told Jewish Insider. ”He’s knowledgeable about the issues, the community and the administration. He’s a modest guy, a politics guy, and a delightful guy. The whole package. And he hits the ground running.”

Weissman, a graduate of Beth Tfiloh High School in Baltimore, earned his Master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and his Bachelor’s degree in journalism and government & politics from the University of Maryland. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife and three little girls.

Obama takes Supreme Court fight to Republican senators’ home turf

President Barack Obama on Monday took the political battle over his pick for a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court to the home states of seven Republican senators up for re-election in November.

Obama conducted interviews with local television anchors where he argued that Republican senators should hold confirmation hearings and vote on his nomination of appellate Judge Merrick Garland to the top court.

“What my argument is: Let the American people see Judge Garland, let him answer questions, let them hear his responses,” the Democratic president told WDAF-TV FOX 4 in Kansas City, Missouri, a market that straddles states where Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas are up for re-election.

Republican leaders have been resolute that Obama's successor, who will be elected on Nov. 8 and take office on Jan. 20, should fill the vacancy left by February's death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans are hoping their party's candidate wins the presidency and can make the appointment.

The court is now split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals, meaning Scalia's successor could influence its ideological direction for years to come.

Obama has argued the Senate has a responsibility to formally consider Garland's nomination, telling ABC affiliate WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire, that the judge was “maybe the most qualified nominee that we've seen before the Senate for a Supreme Court seat.”

New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte is viewed as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents. She met with Garland but wants the Senate to wait until after the election to act on the nomination.

“I know that folks like Senator Ayotte met with him and the fact that they're not calling a hearing or vote means they're not doing their job,” Obama said in the interview.

In a separate interview with WMUR, Ayotte defended her position.

“In my view waiting for the election, we are in the midst of a presidential nomination process, to have the people weigh in the election in November is important considering we have a 4-4 court,” she said.

Obama also talked with a television anchor from Iowa, home to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who has helped lead efforts to block Garland.

The president spoke as well with anchors from Ohio, where Senator Rob Portman faces a competitive re-election race; Wisconsin, where Senator Ron Johnson is running again; and Phoenix, home to Senator John McCain of Arizona. 

Obama’s Jewish liaison says goodbye

You get to listen to Jews yelling at you. You get to listen to mandarins tell you why they won’t listen to Jews. You get to emcee a cappella competitions.

Who wouldn’t want to be White House Jewish liaison?

Matt Nosanchuk lasted nearly three years in a post — officially titled associate director of public engagement — that may be the apotheosis of thanklessness. He stepped down last week.

Notably, Nosanchuk wound it up with plenty of thanks from some of those who made clear their antipathy to the administration he represented.

One email said: “Matt. Best of luck. You were always gracious and a wonderful listener. Obama is fortunate to have you.”

That was from Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America and one of the Obama administration’s most lacerating critics.

Klein confirmed he sent the missive, which JTA obtained independently of Nosanchuk or Klein.

“Matt always took my calls, returned my calls, he listened to my concerns and responded respectfully, obviously supporting Obama, that’s his job,” Klein said. “Obama was lucky to have him.”

Nosanchuk’s key to lasting longer than his predecessors?

It was his preternatural ability to listen without judgment, according to Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, Chabad’s office here.

“Matt’s biggest strength might just be his ability to listen to opinions beyond his own or that of the administration and appreciate their merits,” Shemtov said. “That’s probably why he was so widely respected during his tenure.”

It’s a skill that guided Nosanchuk, 50, who lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., through some of the most fraught years of a fraught relationship among the Obama administration, the Israeli government and some organized Jewish groups. He took flak both from the Jewish community and, occasionally, the administration officials to whom he would relay Jewish community concerns.

Nosanchuk led outreach to the Jewish community during the talks over the Iran nuclear deal, which the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee adamantly opposed, as well as the 2013-14 U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed in recriminations among all sides.

Throughout, he maintained friendly relationships with the antagonists in those battles, testified by rare on-the-record praise from AIPAC and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington.

“The embassy enjoyed working with Matt, who also attended many of our events, and I wish him much success in the future,” Dermer told JTA in an email.

“We are grateful to Matt for his strong efforts to build the relationship between the administration and the pro-Israel community,” said Marshall Wittmann, AIPAC’s spokesman.

Nosanchuk would make a beeline for his adversaries in hopes of winning them over. At a recent conference of the Israeli-American Council, he sat at the same table as Sheldon Adelson — the council’s funder along with being a Republican kingmaker — and made pleasant small talk. Adelson, a casino magnate, had gone to great lengths in 2012 to stop President Barack Obama’s reelection.

In a biographical sketch he sent friends as he readied to leave, Nosanchuk listed near the top, “keeping lines of communication open with those in the community who are critical of” Obama. (Toward the end, he also lists “Emceed Kol HaOlam Jewish a cappella singing group competition.”)

Nosanchuk, a member of the Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in suburban Washington and a gay man, came to the job experienced in negotiating change in less than amenable environments. As a Justice Department official, he advocated for LGBT rights in the first Obama term, which evolved from agnosticism on same-sex marriage to full-throated support of marriage equality.

“When you are at the White House, it is very easy to shut the door and say we will not meet with people who do not agree with us,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America. “The White House under Matt never shut the door. He made sure the Iran deal was in a silo, so those who disagreed on Iran could work with the administration on 99 other issues. His personality and relationships were such that that open door was always there.”

The JFNA did not take a position on the Iran deal, but many of its constituent agencies were opposed.

Nosanchuk’s modus operandi was to frame contentious issues in familiar, even homey settings. At the height of the Iran debate a year ago, Nosanchuk organized Obama’s speech at Adas Israel, a Washington synagogue. He also set up the president’s online address to the Jewish community during the Iran debate through the JFNA. In 2013, for the first time, a sukkah was in place for the vice president’s annual Jewish community reception.

A signal of the post-Iran deal reconciliation between Obama and Netanyahu – and Dermer, Netanyahu’s right-hand man – was the president’s Holocaust memorial address in January at the Israeli Embassy, also brokered by Nosanchuk.

Nosanchuk’s last week was a busy one. In addition to organizing a Purim Megillah reading for administration officials at the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room, he shepherded Vice President Joe Biden’s well-received March 20 valedictory speech to AIPAC’s annual policy conference.

Less noticed was a speech delivered the next day by Tony Blinken, the deputy secretary of state, to AIPAC’s luncheon for rabbis and cantors. Nosanchuk had a prominent hand in its writing, which featured an almost seamless meld of Yiddishkeit and the typical strong Obama administration defense of its policies as being pro-Israel.

Blinken opened by joking about his bar mitzvah – “I can’t shake this feeling I have that I forgot to practice something” – and closed with references to the Jewish tradition of going out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. In between, Blinken argued that the Iran deal was producing results limiting Iran’s threat in the region, and listed the ways in which the Obama administration has maintained a robust security relationship with Israel.

Nosanchuk was adept, too, at that most dreaded of White House traditions among Jewish liaisons: organizing the annual Hanukkah party. Drawing up the invitation list – and fielding the anguished calls from the uninvited – is a protocol challenge of the first order. In fact, in the canned quote the White House media operation allowed him to release to JTA, Nosanchuk seems to take pride in the fact that under his watch, an extra Hanukkah party was added each year to handle the throngs.

“President Obama speaks often about the values that he and his entire administration share with the Jewish community, as well his deep connections to the community,” Nosanchuk said in the statement. “Over the past three years – or, as anyone holding this role measures it, six White House Hanukkah receptions – I have had the chance to work with incredible colleagues here at the White House and throughout the Administration, and with many individuals and organizations in the Jewish community, to put those values into action.”

Nosanchuk will be staying on in the government in a position that has yet to be announced. His successor has not been named publicly.

White House denies it will go public with outline for Israeli-Palestinian talks

The White House denied a report that it was contemplating jump-starting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by advancing its own solution.

“There has been no change to our policy or strategy with regard to this issue,” a White House official told JTA, responding to a Wall Street Journal article posted Monday describing plans under consideration by the Obama administration to announce publicly what the United States would consider the acceptable parameters of a final-status arrangement.

The outline, the story said, could include making the 1967 lines the basis for a two-state solution, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Israeli recognition of eastern Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

According to the Journal, the Obama administration could reveal its plans through U.S. support for a United Nations Security Council resolution; a major speech by President Barack Obama, perhaps at the U.N. General Assembly opening in September, or a statement by the Quartet, the body comprising the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union that has guided Middle East peacemaking since the early 2000s.

The White House official, in an email to JTA, hewed to the position that Obama administration officials have taken since the collapse in April 2014 of the last round of U.S.-brokered talks: Solutions must come through negotiations between the sides.

“Our position has been clear,” the official said. “We believe a two-state solution is absolutely vital for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and will only come through negotiations.”

The official said the Obama administration would continue to urge both sides to return to the table and not to act unilaterally.

“We continue to encourage Israelis and Palestinians to take affirmative steps which we think are important to stop the violence, improve conditions on the ground, and restore confidence in the two-state solution,” the statement said. “We also continue to engage with our partners to find a constructive way forward in terms of advancing our shared goal of a two-state solution.”

Advocates brief White House on barriers for the Jewish disabled

Jewish advocates for the disabled briefed Obama administration officials on barriers to Jewish life for those with disabilities.

The two-hour event Thursday was organized by the White House and held at the neighboring Eisenhower Executive Office Building as part of Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, an initiative of a number of local and national Jewish organizations.

Matt Nosanchuk, associate director and liaison to the Jewish Community at the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Maria Town, associate director and liaison in the disability community in that office, moderated the discussion.

Judith Heumann, the special advisor for International Disability Rights in the Department of State, cited tikkun olam, the ancient rabbinical imperative to repair the world, and said: “The Jewish community has an obligation, I believe, to be leaders.”

When a building is not accessible and there are no braille reading materials or sign language interpreters, those with a disability get the message they are not welcome, said panelist Ruti Regan, co-founder of Anachnu, a group promoting inclusion within the Jewish community.

Along with Regan, the panel included Sheila Katz, vice president for social entrepreneurship at Hillel International; Aaron Kaufman, senior legislative assistant at Jewish Federations of North America, and John Winer, the executive director at the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities.

In attendance among others were representatives of RespectAbility, an advocacy group that has been canvassing presidential candidates about how their platforms address the needs of the disabled.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, RespectAbility’s president, said the event was an opportunity for networking and sharing best practices for a cohort scattered throughout the country.

“It’s an ingathering of the leaders around the country doing exemplary work but who don’t get enough time to network,” said Mizrahi, whose group advocates for greater inclusion within the Jewish community.

The panelists addressed the need for inclusion not just in programming and services but also in Jewish social life.

“No individual wants to feel like they are a chesed project,” Winer said, using the Hebrew word for charity.

Kaufman said inclusion is important, but added that events designed for the disabled can also be salutary. Kaufman, who is in a wheelchair and has cerebral palsy, said he had a great experience on a recent Birthright trip to Israel designed for disabled people.

He urged everyone working on inclusion to include people with disabilities in their meetings. “Nothing about us without us,” he said. It is also important to realize the costs of making a synagogue, organization or event totally inclusive, he said.

“Everybody can say, ‘Oh, we are all created in the image of God,’ and that’s wonderful, but if they are really serious, they have to be willing to put money to it,” Kaufman said.

Katz of Hillel said she would like to see more Jewish leaders talk about their own disabilities and become role models. It’s important to reach out to those with disabilities and “meet you wherever you are on your Jewish journey. We have a responsibility,” she said.

“The best mosaics are made up of the most beautiful pieces,” Winer said, noting, that should be “the fabric of our Jewish life.”

Jewish groups join call for swift Senate consideration of Obama Supremes nominee

An array of Jewish groups joined a call on Senate leaders to consider whomever President Barack Obama nominates to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Thirteen of the 31 groups signing the letter sent Friday to Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee were Jewish, among them groups representing the Reform movement and the Reconstructionist movement as well as the Anti-Defamation League, the Habonim Dror youth movement, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Jewish Women International.

“A seat intentionally left vacant for an extended period of time – either through a delayed nomination or delayed consideration – threatens the ability of the government to operate at full capacity, as well as the ability for justice to be served in a timely fashion,” said the letter, organized by the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “Justice delayed is anathema to us as Americans and as people of faith seeking to create a more just nation and world.”

McConnell has urged Obama to leave any nomination to the next president and has suggested that the Republican-led Senate simply would not consider a nomination. Grassley, whose committee would first consider any nomination, has been more equivocal, saying that he would not out of hand refuse to consider an Obama nominee, but also doubting that one would clear the Senate before Obama leaves office next January.

Scalia, one of the court’s most conservative justices, died suddenly last weekend. Obama has said he would soon nominate a replacement.

In addition to signing onto this letter, eight leaders of the Reform movement sent a similar letter to McConnell and Grassley citing Jewish teachings.

“Many of the Torah’s commandments and rabbis’ teachings specifically deal with the importance of a fair judicial system,” said the letter sent Friday.

“The delay of justice is said to be a cause of violence, as we are taught, ‘The sword came into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied’ (Pirke Avot 5:8),” said the letter, signed by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as lay and professional leaders of four other branches of the movement. “These lessons in the importance of a fully functioning judicial body inspire our belief that a delay in filling the open Supreme Court seat would inhibit the delivery of justice and undermine our nation’s judicial system overall.”

White House says it does not support ‘territories’ component of anti-BDS legislation

The Obama administration said it does not support the portion of a new trade law that requires actions against entities that boycott goods manufactured in the West Bank.

“As with any bipartisan compromise legislation, there are provisions in this bill that we do not support, including a provision that contravenes longstanding U.S. policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity,” the White House said in a statement Thursday.

The United States does not recognize the West Bank as belonging to Israel.

The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, aimed at removing unfair barriers to competitive U.S. trade, is otherwise acceptable in its current form, the White House said, and the president will sign it. Versions of the bill were passed last year by both chambers, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a reconciled version in December and on Thursday the Senate passed it as well.

The bill, in a lengthy section on promoting U.S. Israel trade, requires non-cooperation with entities that participate in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and reporting on such entities. The section includes within its definition of an Israel boycott actions that would target businesses in “Israeli-controlled territories.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a statement praised the bipartisan slate of lawmakers who advanced the anti-BDS provision, although the statement did not specify inclusion of the problematic “Israeli-controlled territories” language.

“The provision puts the U.S. firmly on record opposing BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and supporting enhanced commercial ties between the United States and Israel,” it said. “It further establishes new requirements for administration reporting on an array of global BDS activities, including the participation of foreign companies in political boycotts of Israel. The provision also provides important legal protections for American companies operating in Israel.”

Dovish pro-Israel groups, including J Street and Americans for Peace Now, had advocated for the removal of he “Israeli-controlled territories” language.

The European Union, over strenuous Israeli objections, last year adopted a policy requiring the labeling of goods manufactured in Israeli settlements, a practice that would facilitate the targeting of settlement businesses. The Obama administration last summer said it would not object to the policy.

U.S. policy since the 1990s has also required distinct labeling of products manufactured in the West Bank; however, unlike the E.U. regulations, the rule applies not only to settlements, but to goods manufactured throughout the territory, including by Palestinians. Additionally, the George W. Bush administration on at least two occasions issued orders overriding the requirement, allowing goods manufactured in the West Bank to be labeled as made in Israel.

Separately, a bipartisan slate of lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would make it easier for state legislatures choosing to target BDS, authorizing the divestment of state monies from entities engaged in BDS.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V. in the Senate and Reps. Robert Dold, R-Ill, and Juan Vargas D-Calif., in the House, follows the passage recently of a bill in Illinois targeting BDS. “This bipartisan bill would authorize state and local governments in the United States to follow Illinois’s lead and divest from companies engaged in boycotts and other forms of economic warfare against Israel,” Kirk said in a statement.

The Illinois law specifies protections for companies operating in territories controlled by Israel, as do a number of other proposed bills circulating in legislatures throughout the country. A number of proposed state-level anti-BDS bills do not specify the territories.

Separately, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Thursday introduced legislation that would shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington until the Palestinian Authority has been proven to end incitement against Israelis, stops paying subsidies to the families of terrorists who are in jail or who have been killed, ends its bid to obtain statehood recognition in international forums outside the framework of negotiations with Israel and pulls out of the International Criminal Court, which is investigating war crimes charges against Israeli officials. Cruz is among the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination.

The PLO has maintained an office in Washington since 1994, following the launch of the Oslo peace process.

Is Marco Rubio really outraged about US spying on Israel?

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has made seemingly contradictory statements about the seriousness of reported U.S. spying on Israel.

Democrats have been eager to point out the apparent discrepancy.

In the aftermath of the Wall Street Journal revelation last month that the National Security Agency eavesdropped on Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Rubio, speaking on Fox News, offered a nuanced take.

“This is one of those complicated issues when it comes to intelligence matters,” he said. “We have to be very careful about how we discuss it, especially since there’s a press report that I don’t think gets the entire story.”

Rubio was less guarded in remarks to Rep. Trey Gowdy, T-S.C., overheard by Breitbart in Iowa.

“We spy on everyone. That’s the nature of intelligence. It’s more complicated than the [WSJ] story makes it seem,” he reportedly said.

Indeed, Rubio would be aware of the pervasiveness of U.S. spying on foreign leaders — he’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So why in listing the purported sins of President Barack Obama in a recent campaign ad does Rubio include: “He spies on Israel”?

JTA reached out to Rubio’s campaign and has not heard back.

Obama administration rejects likening Israel’s NGO law to US lobbying registry

The Obama administration has rejected the comparison between an Israeli bill requiring registration of foreign-funded NGOs and U.S. laws registering foreign interest lobbyists.

State Department spokesman John Kirby, asked by JTA on Wednesday about Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Op-Ed this week likening the two laws, also said the United States had expressed concerns to the Netanyahu government about the measure.

“They’re two different things altogether,” Kirby said, referring to the law approved this week by Israel’s Cabinet and the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act. Kirby did not specify the differences.

Shaked’s bill would require NGOs that receive a majority of their support from “foreign political entities” to declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report or speak with a public official. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires agents who lobby on behalf of foreign governments to register and report their activities.

Kirby also said that since the Israeli Cabinet green-lighted the bill, U.S. officials have expressed concerns about the dangers it could pose to a “free and functioning civil society.”

He noted the bill must undergo multiple readings in the Knesset, a process that could modify the language.

The American Jewish Committee has also expressed concerns about the bill.

“The proposed solution poses as many risks as the problem itself, including the risk to Israel’s reputation as a confident and open society that has long been true democracy’s sole Middle East outpost,” the AJC said Tuesday in a statement.

Obama administration: Still a ‘big no’ on supporting settlement building

The Obama administration is standing by its “big no” when it comes to supporting any new settlement building in Israel, a spokesman said.

“I can be very clear that we’re not changing – again, we’re not changing – the decades-old U.S. policy regarding settlements,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday when asked at the daily briefing about reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded recognition of Israel’s right to build in the West Bank in exchange for granting Palestinians the same right.

“Every U.S. administration since 1967, Democrat and Republican alike, has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines, and this administration’s been no different and will be no different,” Toner said.

“The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them, and by extension does not pursue policies that would legitimize them. And administrations of both parties have long recognized that settlement activity and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine the goal of a two-state solution.”

Asked by a reporter if that was a “big no,” Toner said, “That’s a big no.”

Toner would not characterize the specifics of the meeting Monday between Netanyahu and Secretary of State John Kerry. Israeli media have reported that Kerry asked Netanyahu to institute reforms that would help quell the recent intensification of violence in the West bank, among them granting Palestinians in the area building permits.

According to these reports, Netanyahu asked in return for U.S. recognition of Israel’s right to build within settlement blocs that Israel believes it will keep as part of a final-status agreement.

Regarding reports of Kerry’s request to allow Palestinian building, Toner said, “We’ve been very clear not to get into specifics of some of the confidence-building measures or some of the efforts that we want to see, affirmative actions that we want to see both sides take. But we’ve been very clear that we want to see tensions de-escalated. And we’ve suggested some of the steps that Israel might take, but I’m not going to confirm that that was one of them.”

Democratic candidates pledge robust ISIS fight, implicitly chiding Obama

The three Democratic presidential candidates pledged during their debate to lead the United States in the fight to crush the Islamic State terrorist group, with each suggesting that the Obama administration has come up short.

The candidates in the debate from Iowa broadcast Saturday night by CBS eagerly embraced increasing U.S. engagement and called for the absolute defeat of the terrorist group in the wake of its massive terrorist attack in Paris the previous night.

Implicit in the pledges were critiques of Obama administration policy in the face of the rise of ISIS, which critics have said has been, at least until recent weeks, feckless and deferential to other world powers fighting the group.

“We have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network,” said the campaign front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former secretary of state.

“It cannot be contained, it must be defeated,” she said. “There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal, not just military force which should be used as a last resort, but our diplomacy, our development aid, law enforcement, sharing of intelligence in a much more — open and cooperative way — that we can bring people together.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who trails Clinton but has launched a stronger campaign than many observers anticipated, agreed that the United States must lead the fight against ISIS. But he also launched a broadside against moderate Muslims, saying they must step up in the battle.

“We have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, all of these nations — they’re going to just have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground,” Sanders said at the event at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, the first caucus state in the primary season. “They are going to have to take on ISIS. This is a war for the soul of Islam.”

The hawkish posture embraced by Sanders, who is Jewish, was unusual in a race in which he has mostly targeted Clinton from the left, most pronouncedly on income gap and banking reforms.

Clinton chided Sanders for including Jordan in the list, saying it was “very unfair” to include the kingdom – one of only two Arab states with a peace treaty with Israel – because it has suffered for the lead it has taken against extremist Islamist groups.

Sanders and the third candidate on the stage, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, took shots at Clinton for her involvement in policies, both under the Obama administration and during the presidency of President George W. Bush, which led to the unraveling of the Middle East. Clinton was Obama’s secretary of state in his first term, and as the U.S. senator from New York she voted for the 2003 Iraq War.

“It was not just the invasion of Iraq which Secretary Clinton voted for and has since said was a big mistake, and indeed it was,” O’Malley said. “But it was also the cascading effects that followed that. It was also the disbanding of many elements of the Iraqi army that are now showing up as part of ISIS. It was — country after country — without making the investment in human intelligence to understand who the new leaders were and the new forces that were coming up.”

Clinton, who has acknowledged that her Iraq War vote was a mistake, said that factors in place before the war as well as decisions taken afterward also contributed to the crisis.

Michael Oren: Obama abandoned ‘two core principles’ of U.S.-Israel alliance

Israel’s former ambassador to Washington accused President Barack Obama of abandoning “core principles” of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Michael Oren in an Op-Ed appearing Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal said Obama abandoned the principle of keeping disagreements private and  of “no surprises” between the countries.

Oren, who served as ambassador from 2009 to 2013, faulted the Israeli government for announcing settlement building at inopportune times, but said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not personally responsible for the missteps.

“But Mr. Obama posed an even more fundamental challenge by abandoning the two core principles of Israel’s alliance with America,” Oren wrote, adding that Obama was not anti-Israel and bolstered the security relationship.

“Immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America,” Oren said, referring to a July 2009 meeting with Jewish leaders in which Obama said that the policy of “no daylight” with Israel was detrimental to U.S. interests and to advancing the peace process.

Obama in his remarks at that meeting was referring to the tendency of his two immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, of keeping differences with Israeli leaders out of the public eye, although there were instances in both presidencies of open disagreement with Israel.

Earlier presidents, including George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, frequently disagreed publicly with Israel.

“The other core principle was ‘no surprises,’ ” Oren wrote. “President Obama discarded it in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution.”

Limits on settlement building and the two-state solution were policies in place since the Clinton administration.

Oren, now a lawmaker in the Israeli Knesset as a member of the center-right Kulanu party, advised a return to the policies of “no daylight” and “no surprises.”

“Now, with the Middle East unraveling and dependable allies a rarity, the U.S. and Israel must restore the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles,” he wrote. “Israel has no alternative to America as a source of security aid, diplomatic backing and overwhelming popular support. The U.S. has no substitute for the state that, though small, remains democratic, militarily and technologically robust, strategically located and unreservedly pro-American.”

Is Oren’s call for ‘no surprises’ in U.S.-Israel ties possible?

Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, caused a stir this week by publicly accusing President Barack Obama of abandoning the two core principles that undergird the U.S.-Israel relationship: no public disagreements and no surprises.

But should there be no public disagreements – “no daylight,” in diplomatic parlance – between the United States and Israel, and is that kind of shoulder-to-shoulder closeness even possible between allies?

Oren, the American-born diplomat who served as Israel’s ambassador in Washington from 2009 to 2013 and is now a Knesset member in Israel’s center-right Kulanu party, outlined his argument in an Op-Edpiece in The Wall Street Journal. The piece appeared the same week as the launch of Oren’s new book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.”

“Immediately after his first inauguration, Mr. Obama put daylight between Israel and America,” Oren wrote in the Op-Ed.

“With the Middle East unraveling and dependable allies a rarity, the U.S. and Israel must restore the ‘no daylight’ and ‘no surprises’ principles,” Oren wrote. “Israel has no alternative to America as a source of security aid, diplomatic backing and overwhelming popular support. The U.S. has no substitute for the state that, though small, remains democratic, militarily and technologically robust, strategically located and unreservedly pro-American.”

David Makovsky, a member of the U.S. State Department team that last year attempted to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, said open disagreements and mutual surprises have characterized the relationship for decades.

He mentioned events starting from President Dwight Eisenhower’s threats to isolate Israel during the Suez war in 1956 through President George W. Bush’s endorsement in 2002 of Palestinian statehood, which caught Israelis by surprise. Makovsky also noted Israeli decisions that caught Americans off guard, such as the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and Israel’s entry into Beirut during the 1982 Lebanon War.

“Aspirationally, there should be no surprises,” said Makovsky, who is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, a think tank regarded to have close ties to the U.S. and Israeli governments. “In all candor, this is not always the case on either side.”

While it’s true that disagreements long have characterized U.S.-Israel ties, Obama was the first president to make a policy of “daylight,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies whose expertise includes the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

“This is the first time that this has been a systematic approach to Israel,” Schanzer said, noting the report cited by Oren that Obama in July 2009 told Jewish leaders he believed the policy of no daylight was contrary to American and Israeli interests and to advancing the peace process.

“When tensions came up in the past, the approach was to try to downplay it,” said Schanzer, who monitored terrorist financing at the U.S. Treasury during the George W. Bush administration. “Over the last six years, when there has been a disagreement, this administration has doubled down on the conflict that existed and used those disagreements for political gain.”

Ilan Goldenberg, the chief of staff for the U.S. Middle East peace team until last year, said Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made their grievances public.

He noted Netanyahu’s strategy of public lobbying against the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers. Obama favors the deal, and his administration officials have urged Netanyahu to make his disagreements known in a private setting.

“Obama has been willing to express disagreement more than previous presidents,” said Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for a New American Security. “But the big violator of no daylight now is Netanyahu, much more than Obama, even as Obama tries to reach out.”

Goldenberg also took issue with some of Oren’s examples. Oren wrote that Obama abrogated the “no surprises” principle “in his first meeting with Mr. Netanyahu, in May 2009, by abruptly demanding a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the two-state solution.”

Those positions should not have taken Netanyahu by surprise, Goldenberg said: Two states had been a principle since the Clinton presidency, and freezes on settlement growth were the policies of U.S. administrations since almost immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured disputed territories.

“Saying ‘two states and 1967 lines with land swaps’ was unprecedented was dubious given 242 and the Clinton parameters,” Goldenberg said, referring to the 1967 U.N. Security Council resolution that called for Israel’s withdrawal from territories captured during the war.

Heather Hurlburt, a director at the liberal New America think tank, said she was taken aback by Oren’s insistence in the Op-Ed that Netanyahu’s offenses, including announcements of settlement building, were missteps, while Obama’s offenses were deliberate.

“Everything the Israeli side did that was damaging was accidental, but everything the Obama side did was a personal decision of Obama?” she asked incredulously.

The penning of such an Op-Ed by a recent ambassador suggests deeper problems in the U.S.-relationship, Hurlburt said.

“If that’s how he perceived it” when Oren was an ambassador, “it’s an enormous problem,” Hurlburt said. “This is recriminating over who hurt the other person more in the relationship. It’s embarrassing. When you get to that point in a relationship, you’re usually done.”

Will Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric cause further estrangement with Washington?

The Obama administration’s first response to news that Benjamin Netanyahu had been reelected as prime minister of Israel appeared to be avoidance.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday that the president would wait until Netanyahu had been formally charged with forming a government before congratulating him, although several European leaders and U.S. Republicans had already done so.

David Simas, the White House director of political strategy, managed to avoid even mentioning Netanyahu’s name when asked about the election by CNN on Wednesday.

Late Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Secretary of State John Kerry had made a “brief” call of congratulations to Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s relationship with the White House already was tense before Israelis handed him a third consecutive term as prime minister on Tuesday. But three actions ahead of the election further soured ties.

First, there was Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress, arranged with Republicans without the knowledge of the White House. Then the day before the Israeli vote, in an interview with the Israeli website NRG, Netanyahu rejected a central plank of American policy in the region when he declared that there would be no Palestinian state established under his watch as prime minister, reversing a position he has held since 2009. And on Election Day itself, he urged his supporters to go the polls by warning that “Arab voters are coming out in droves.”

“The United States and this administration is deeply concerned about rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest told reporters. “It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together.”

David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama, suggested on Twitter that Netanyahu’s election eve tactics may have won him the race, but at a price.

“Tightness of exits in Israel suggests Bibi’s shameful 11th hour demagoguery may have swayed enough votes to save him,” Axelrod wrote, referring to exit polls that showed Netanyahu faring much better than late polling had forecast. “But at what cost?”

Netanyahu’s rejection of two states would seem to preclude not merely the restarting of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but any sort of rapprochement with Washington. However, some in the pro-Israel community were quick to point out that Netanyahu’s pronouncement on a Palestinian state is not necessarily permanent and that election rhetoric does not always translate into policy.

“If every candidate in every country were held to the statements they made, they’d all be in big trouble,” said David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who nevertheless acknowledged that his organization was “concerned” about Netanyahu’s statement.

Natan Sachs, an Israel expert at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said it may be too late to dismiss the rift as politics as usual.

“Bilateral relationships are damaged beyond repair,” Sachs said. “They have to work together, but there’s no trust among the leaders and there won’t be in the last two years of the Obama administration.”

Ilan Goldenberg, a former senior adviser to Kerry on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, said Netanyahu’s actions would make it harder than ever for U.S. officials to sustain the intimacy of the alliance, particularly when it comes to defending Israel in international forums.

“What Netanyahu said publicly — ‘No two-state solution on my watch’ — which is something this administration believes in strongly,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “You have video of Netanyahu sitting there diagramming how settlements are to keep Palestinians from having two states.”

Goldenberg was referring to the NRG interview, conducted during Netanyahu’s visit to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa on the eve of Election Day, during which he said he had authorized construction of the neighborhood in 1997 to prevent contiguity between Bethlehem and Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.

Netanyahu could soon have yet another opportunity to clash with the Obama administration: the March 24 deadline for an interim outline deal with Iran on its nuclear program.

“We’ll see more confrontation in Washington, including Netanyahu trying to galvanize support if a deal is reached,” Sachs said.

U.S. officials have emphasized repeatedly that the fundamentals of the U.S.-Israel alliance, including close intelligence sharing and security cooperation, remained sound, and they reiterated that position this week. On Tuesday, Earnest said before voting had concluded that Obama was confident of his ability to work with whomever Israelis chose as their leader.

But Sachs said there could be longer-term damage because of how Netanyahu is now perceived as leaning more toward Republicans. The perception was bolstered by the fact that several Democrats in Congress known for their closeness to Israel either had not weighed in by midday Wednesday or had seemingly gone out of their way to avoid any mention of Netanyahu.

“Now that the Israeli elections are over, I hope that Israel and the United States can resume the close, mutually supportive relationship we have had since President Harry Truman made sure that the U.S. was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel,” said Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), who has been a leader on pro-Israel issues.

Obama administration ‘deeply concerned’ about Netanyahu Arab comments

The Obama administration is “deeply concerned” about Likud Party rhetoric marginalizing Arab Israelis during the recent elections.

“There has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged yesterday that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday in his daily briefing.

Earnest did not name Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Israeli prime minister posted a video on Tuesday, election day, urging followers to vote, saying “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the ballot box. The Likud Party also texted voters warning them that voting in the Arab sector was high.

“The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest said.

Earnest, notably, volunteered the criticism; reporters did not raise the issue with him. He also cast the criticism against the “shared values” that U.S. and Israeli leaders have for decades said the two countries have in common.

“It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together,” he said.

“We’ve talked a lot about how our shared values are an important part of what binds our two countries together, and rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive,” Earnest said. “And I can tell you that these are views that the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”

Earnest also noted Netanyahu’s rejection in the election’s final days of a two-state solution for the foreseeable future.

“Based on those comments, the United States will evaluate our approach to the situation moving forward,” he said. He prefaced his comment by saying that the U.S.-Israel relationship remained close. “The unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel, including our strong military and intelligence relationships, will continue,” he said.

Earnest also said that President Barack Obama would congratulate Netanyahu once he was charged with forming a government.

For Netanyahu, urgency trumps niceties when it comes to Iran, anti-Jewish attacks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be running for office in Israel, but this week he had plenty of strong messages for Jews in the United States and Europe.

Speaking Monday in Jerusalem to leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Netanyahu said he would press ahead with plans to speak March 3 to the U.S. Congress even though the speech has roiled the U.S. capital.

“I think the real question that should be asked is how could any responsible Israeli prime minister refuse to speak to Congress on a matter so important to Israel’s survival?” Netanyahu said. “How could anyone refuse an invitation to speak on a matter that could affect our very existence when such an invitation is offered?”

Netanyahu also sparked controversy with his comments after the weekend attacks in Copenhagen that killed two people, including a synagogue security guard.

“To the Jews of Europe and to the Jews of the world,” Netanyahu said, “I say that Israel is waiting for you with open arms.”

In both cases, Netanyahu stuck with highly charged messages along with his repeated insistence that his top responsibility — even more than pleasing allies — is to speak out when Israeli security and Jewish safety are at stake.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, added fuel to the controversy over Netanyahu’s speech when he told Fox News over the weekend that he purposely kept President Barack Obama out of the loop regarding the invitation to the Israeli prime minister.

“It is no secret here in Washington about the animosity this White House has for Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Boehner said. “I simply didn’t want them getting in the way and quashing what I thought was a real opportunity.”

Boehner issued Netanyahu the invitation without consulting with the White House, notifying it just an hour or so before he issued the announcement on Jan. 21. Boehner also did not notify Democrats, and much of the pro-Israel community was kept out of the loop, too.

Top Obama administration officials have said they will not meet with Netanyahu in part because he is speaking just two weeks before Israel’s election and appearing with him would be inappropriate.

Netanyahu said that the looming March 24 deadline for an outline of an agreement between Iran and the major world powers trumped any other timing issue. That date is what “drives the speech,” he told U.S. Jewish leaders.

“Now is the time for Israel to make its case – now before it’s too late,” Netanyahu said. “Would it be better to complain about a deal that threatens the security of Israel after it’s signed?”

U.S. officials including Obama have said that any likely deal will leave Iran with the capacity to enrich uranium, albeit at a civilian scale. Netanyahu insists that even at minimum levels, an ability to enrich leaves Iran with breakout capacity.

Details of what minimum enrichment would look like have been leaked to the Israeli media, and the Washington Post reported Monday that this has led infuriated U.S. negotiators to limit what they convey to the Israelis after each session with the Iranians.

Netanyahu’s response, again, has been to intimate that the urgency of keeping Iran from going nuclear outweighs the niceties of keeping secret briefings from what both sides have agreed is an extraordinarily close defense and intelligence relationship.

“Just as Iran knows what kind of agreement is being offered, it’s only natural that Israel should know the details of the deal being formulated,” he told Haaretz as he headed into the meeting with the Presidents Conference. “But if there are those who think this is a good agreement, why must it be hidden?”

Officials on both sides have taken pains to assert that the strength of the relationship persists.

After news of U.S. plans to withhold information first made headlines in Israel, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz issued a statement noting that he recently met with the top two U.S. officials consulting on the Iran talks — Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state leading the U.S. side in the talks, and Phillip Gordon of the National Security Council.

The sides had differences, Steinitz said in his statement, but the meeting Monday with Gordon was in “a good and friendly atmosphere” and another one with Sherman a week earlier included a lengthy one-on-one session – code meant to convey that the United States was still sharing sensitive information.

Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, also was at pains to say that the defense and intelligence-sharing relationship persisted at full strength.

“Whether it be in the intelligence sphere, where we have reached new heights of intelligence sharing and cooperation, or with respect to joint training and readiness, our two defense establishments and our two fighting forces have never been closer,” Shapiro said at the annual conference of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.

He acknowledged, however, that there were “hot-button issues defining this election season,” but deferred to others at the conference to address them.

After his 2012 reelection, Obama said he would be tougher on Israel, one of his top advisers, David Axelrod, wrote in a book published this month titled “Believer: My Forty Years In Politics.”

Axelrod, who is Jewish, said Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, but he “felt he had pulled his punches with Netanyahu to avoid antagonizing elements of the American Jewish community.” CNN reported on the Israel sections of the book.

At the same time that the debate over Netanyahu’s speech to Congress raged on, the Israeli prime minister also found himself on the receiving end of criticism regarding his call for European Jews to consider making aliyah following the attacks in Copenhagen.

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home,” Netanyahu said. “We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are, Israel is the home of every Jew.”

Netanyahu made the statement on Sunday morning before Israel’s Cabinet approved a $46 million plan to encourage immigration and adapt the absorption process to Jews from France, Belgium and Ukraine.

In response, Denmark Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior said, “Terror is not a reason to move to Israel.”

Israel’s former president, Shimon Peres, sounded a similar note, telling more than 1,000 attendees at the Times of Israel gala in New York on Sunday that Jews should come to Israel “because you want to live in Israel.”

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt visited the synagogue late Sunday morning, laying a bouquet of flowers at its gate and vowing that Denmark “will do everything” it can to protect its Jewish community.

“Jews are a very important part of Danish society,” she said earlier at a news conference. “I say to the Jewish community, you are not alone.”

Netanyahu has pushed forward with such calls for aliyah, even as he works to cultivate close ties with European leaders in his bid to head off what he sees as a bad Iran deal, and also to limit the influence of those in Europe calling for boycotts of Israel because of its policies regarding the Palestinians.

One of Israel’s main allies in both spheres is France, perhaps the most hawkish of the six major powers negotiating with Iran. Still, Netanyahu has irked the French with the immigration plan passed Sunday, budgeting for an expected surge in aliyah from France in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris last month. The attacks included the siege of a kosher supermarket in which a terrorist killed four Jews.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls rejected Netanyahu’s call for European immigration to Israel, saying, “My message to French Jews is the following: France is wounded with you and France does not want you to leave.”