June 26, 2019

How Graduates Should Fight Anti-Semitism

The following is the speech given at the graduation ceremony of American Jewish University by AJU President Jeffrey Herbst on May 19.

As this is my first graduation address as president of American Jewish University, I feel compelled to address a dark problem: the resurgence of anti-Semitism and how you, as citizens, rabbis, nonprofit leaders and educators, should respond.

The academic year was more or less bookended by the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh in October — the most violent attack on the Jewish community in American history — and the Poway shootings in late April. In between, there was substantial documentation that this age-old prejudice is on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that, “The U.S. Jewish community experienced near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018, including a doubling of anti-Semitic assaults.”

The reasons for this upsurge in hatred are complex and I cannot deal with them adequately here. I will say that the hatred for the Jews comes from the left and the right, from long-established American institutions and from emergent platforms. Certainly, no one should be sanguine that their side is without blame.

The question now is how to respond to anti-Semitism in the particular digital environment in which we live. In the past, the anti-Semitism that we saw in this country, while always abhorrent, was limited in time and space: the vandalism of tombstones, the Nazi graffiti, the assault on a person were acts that may have received attention locally but could not spread for long before the damage was repaired, the wall whitewashed, the victim healed.

Now, in large part due to the internet, every action is magnified, and the bigots have an instant world stage that they continually exploit. It seems almost quaint, those days when those who hated Jews distributed or quoted from the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Now killers, whether they be of Jews or others like the perpetrator of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, leave behind elaborate manifestos filled with memes and in-jokes on platforms like 8chan to celebrate themselves, justify their actions and encourage others worldwide. 

“Now, in large part due to the internet, every action is magnified, and the bigots have an instant world stage that they continually exploit.”

But it is not only the killers who seek to dominate the conversation. In a world with a 24-hour news cycle, Twitter feeds and instant communication, there is a serious danger that anti-Semites who use only smartphones will position themselves to reap enormous amounts of free publicity. Thus, when someone makes an apparently anti-Semitic tweet, we are now well accustomed to what follows: a whole range of Jewish institutions and personalities respond, rightfully, to what they see as a new manifestation of hatred; there is then a counterattack about what the original statement really meant; and then further receding waves of indignation for days or weeks until the next outrage. All the while, attention is showered on the hater.

I fully support the work of the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other institutions and people who respond to each and every one of the these outrageous statements. At the same time, I wonder if we are playing an old game in a new land. It used to be that responding directly to prejudice alone was the right response: Quite often, shame worked in what was also quaintly known as polite society to deter further utterances and the conversation could be contained. 

Today, there is no, or very little, shame because people become famous by becoming more outrageous, and they take the rightful attacks against their prejudice as evidence that they are on to something.

What then, as future leaders, can you do? Surely the answer is not to ignore the anti-Semitism that is found in tweets, posts and manifestos. Such nonchalance would reflect poorly on us as a society and, more directly, be perceived as a sign of weakness by our enemies.

I would therefore suggest the following:

Give no free publicity. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was undoubtedly correct in vowing to never say the name of the mosque shooter. We should be similarly circumspect about giving any additional publicity beyond direct refutation to anti-Semites. They should not get their picture printed, their vile arguments should not be endlessly repeated, and their manifestos should not be linked to for days or weeks after they speak. 

We must also gain control of the conversation. Saying that the anti-Semites are wrong is not enough and may be what they want. For instance, the dual loyalty canard is one of the most common messages of the anti-Semites. I no longer feel that it is enough to state defensively that support of Israel is not in tension with being a patriotic American. Rather, I am happy to say at all times, and not just when the anti-Semites attack us, that I am a proud supporter of both the United States and Israel, not least because that relationship has been of enormous strategic value to the United States. 

I also am not going to cringe when the bigots shout “Jews will not replace us.” Rather, I am happy to say unprompted that the Jews are better educated and wealthier because we have taken advantage of all this great country has to offer. If you do not like that, get rid of your tiki torches and go to school.

Finally, we have to be very careful about whether we should try to silence the haters. Many in our community celebrated when Facebook recently banned some of the bigots. That was certainly their right as a private company. And the social media platforms do have to be careful about their technologies being exploited to threaten specific individuals or used to promote criminal activities like human trafficking.

However, in this digital age, the bigots will always find another platform. Rather, a far more devastating rebuke of the digital racists and anti-Semites would have been to ignore them so that they died on the vine. Banning them gives them the very attention and the new set of grievances that they so desire. I would like to get to a point where we all agree that they are no longer worth our attention.

Ten years ago, I would not have given this speech. It pains me somewhat to think about the world our graduates are about to enter. However, I remain, in the end, relentlessly optimistic because I believe that you have been given the tools to fight the anti-Semites, the racists and the other bigots in this new order. Not by simple refutation but by painting the outlines of a new world of spirituality, service and education, where we can all live together and where those who speak of peace and hope are given the most attention.

Daftari: Rutgers’ Offer to Reschedule Speech Lacks ‘Integrity and Respect’

Journalist Lisa Daftari has rejected an attempt from Rutgers to reschedule her Oct. 16 speech, stating that she felt the university’s offer lacked “integrity and respect.”

Daftari was invited by Rutgers Undergraduate Academic Affairs to talk about free speech on college campuses; after some students accused her of Islamophobia, the event was canceled.

John Cramer, the director of public and media relations at Rutgers, sent the Journal an email from Rutgers Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Ben Sifuentes-Jáuregui to Daftari in which he offered a chance to reschedule her event.

“I want to write to clear up any confusion regarding your invitation to speak at the University,” Sifuentes-Jáuregui said. “To the degree that I may have contributed to the confusion, I hope you will accept my apology.

Sifuentes-Jáuregui then proposed four possible dates in November for her to reschedule her talk.

“I am certain that in the course of your comments and follow-up questions from our students, your views will be fully articulated and will generate respectful and vigorous discussion both by those who agree and those who disagree with those views,” Sifuentes-Jáuregui said. “Our position on the free exchange of ideas is clear; the ability to respectfully present, discuss and debate matters in the public interest is at the heart of what every great university does. Such free and respectful discussion is fundamental to Rutgers’ core values and is practiced every day at Rutgers.”

In a text message to the Journal, Daftari called the timing of Sifuentes-Jáuregui’s email “curious” and that it “only further supports the truth of what happened. She sent the Journal her response to his email “since the university felt it necessary to share our correspondence publicly without my knowledge.”

“With all due respect, in all our previous correspondence and communication, it was clear that the university unilaterally decided to cancel the event,” Daftari wrote to Sifuentes-Jáuregui. “To come back after the damage has been done to my reputation and suggest that this was some misunderstanding and to continue with the premise that the event was merely postponed, lacks the integrity and respect that I would have hoped from my alma mater.”

Daftari said, “Just as the university was sensitive to the concerns of a group of students who slandered my good name based on falsified quotes, I would hope that the university would now demonstrate the same level of consideration as we move on.”

Pompeo Threatens Iran With Harsher Sanctions

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the Trump administration's Iran policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, U.S. May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened the Iranian regime with harsher sanctions should they fail to comply with the United States’ set of demands.

In a speech at The Heritage Foundation, Pompeo explained that they were going to call on Iran to end their ballistic missile program, allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to have access to all of their nuclear developments sites and end their support of terrorists like Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Should Iran fail to acquiesce to these demands, they will face additional sanctions.

“Iran will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad,” Pompeo said. “It will not have the resources to do both.”

Pompeo also warned Iran that they would face “bigger problems” if they restart their nuclear program and made it clear that the U.S. would not accept Iranian aggression in the Middle East.

“We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region,” Pompeo declared. “We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them.”

Pompeo told the Iranian people that the U.S. stands with them.

“Is this what you want your country to be known for? For being a co-conspirator with Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda?” Pompeo said. “The United States believes you deserve better.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was not pleased with Pompeo’s speech.

“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world? The world today does not accept America to decide for the world, as countries are independent… that era is over…” Rouhani told Iranian state media. “We will continue our path with the support of our nation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, praised Pompeo’s speech at an event celebrating Paraguay moving their embassy to Jerusalem.

“No enrichment, tough sanctions and Iran should get out of Syria,” Netanyahu said. “We believe that it’s only policy that can ultimately guarantee peace. We call on all countries to follow America’s lead here.”

Arms Control Expert: Netanyahu Speech ‘Extremely Important’

Screenshot from Twitter.

Dr. Emily Landau, a senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) told reporters in an April 30 conference call that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was “extremely important.”

Landau stated that while Netanyahu didn’t necessarily provide anything new, it provided “a lot of information and a lot of flesh in regards to Iran’s work in the past on nuclear weapons programs.” For instance, Netanyahu’s speech accentuated the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s “damning” 2015 report about Iran’s ambitions to develop nuclear weapons that the P5+1 nations swept under the rug.

Consequently, the fact that Iran has never had to answer for their nuclear weapons program means that pertinent information on the latest developments of their weapons program is not available. But what Netanyahu revealed on April 30 provides concrete proof that Iran was lying in their repeated denials of developing nuclear weapons.

“People should be standing up and saying no that’s a lie,” Landau said, adding that “breaking that false narrative of nuclear innocence is important.”

Landau then pointed out that the IAEA was never allowed to interview Dr. Mohsen Farkhrizadeh, the scientist who lead Iran’s Project Amad program to develop nuclear scientists continued to lead the regime’s efforts at nuclear development under the guise of “scientific knowhow.” She argued that the fact that Iran kept information on their nuclear weapons “in an orderly program” shows that they were never serious about nixing their program.

Therefore, the goal of Netanyahu’s speech was to show “the extent to which Iran has lied and cheated and deceived the international community in the nuclear realm for decades.”

“To think this deal will cause Iran to back away… like it’s on very, very shaky ground,” Landau said.

Landau also pointed out the speech was an “implicit message that Israel has access to inner workings inside Iran.”

Landau highlighted some of the flaws in the deal, including the “convoluted” provisions of the deal regarding IAEA since they can only go to “declared nuclear facilities.” The deal also didn’t cover Iran’s ballistic missiles program.

Despite the deal’s flaws, Laundau thought that the ideal course of action going forward is to “strengthen” the Iran deal since it would be difficult to negotiate a new deal altogether.

“Iran needs to get the message that American and Europe are not happy with a lot of Iran’s activities,” Landau said.

Excerpts from the President’s Speech at the GA

Screenshot from YouTube

Dear friends, I remember the first and only time that my father slapped me.

It was just after my Bar-Mitzvah. Some relatives from the United States came to visit us.

I asked them: “Why don’t you make Aliyah?”

I told them: “Israel is the only place for Jews!”

And then my father slapped me.

He said: “Jews need  to take care of each other, not threaten each other.”

That slap made me realize that the relationship between us, the Jewish People, must be based on one simple demand: mutual responsibility.

A commitment to the security and the wellbeing of all our People.

This commitment, must be stronger than any disagreements. We have the challenge of establishing our relationship as a value. a value that is above any argument.

As for the Kotel agreement. The development of the agreement was a sensitive process, led by our government, in order to try and bridge the gap. I hope that in the future we can return to the table together, and reach an understanding on this important issue. It is our mutual responsibility, and a common interest. At the same time,we must all respect Israel’s democratic process. The decision-making process. Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish-democratic state, Religion and State is a political issue. Maybe the most explosive one.

Around five Israeli governments have fallen on questions like: “Can combat aircraft (not on mission) land in Israel on Shabbat?” Or on the question of “Who is a Jew?” That is Democracy.

My friends, You have real, positive and effective impact on the Israeli system and society. We have built strong channels of cooperation on strategic issues. You have great impact on the Israeli agenda. I ask you, don’t stop.

As part of the challenge of building the relationship between us, We need to create an honest and open dialogue between the sides, this is our only way to move forward.

Today, Iran is establishing its control through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and up to the Mediterranean. This is not just a threat to Israel – It is a threat to the entire world. Iran is the number one exporter of international terrorism. It is a country whose leaders call openly for the destruction of the state of Israel.

We cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear capability. That is madness.

We must work together to prevent that.

The current agreement puts both Israel and the united states in danger, and shakes the stability of the entire region.

It is not enough to enforce all parts of this agreement. It has to be improved, so that we will be prepared for the day after it expires.

This is the Jewish and democratic state that we all dreamed of for two thousand years.

A state based on the vision of the prophets of Israel. A state that respects the unique identity of each sector in Israeli society, and in the Jewish people. A state that regards equality and fairness as its guiding light. A state that demands shared responsibility from all. A state that does not compromise on it’s Jewish identity or it’s vision of Jewish people-hood, while also having a vision of a shared Israeli-identity, for all its citizens. Jews and non-Jews alike.

Obama’s statement on Orlando shooting: ‘We will not give in to fear’

President Barack Obama on Sunday said Americans would stand united and “not give in to fear or turn against each other” in the wake of a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, that killed 50 people.

Following is the full text of remarks, Obama delivered at the White House:

Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder – a horrific massacre – of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it's still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.

I just finished a meeting with FBI Director Comey and my homeland security and national security advisers. The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation, in partnership with local law enforcement. I've directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.

We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We've reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I've directed that we must spare no effort to determine what – if any – inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days, we'll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.

This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed the condolences of the entire American people. This could have been any one of our communities. So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need – they are going to get it. As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow and for all the days to come.

We also express our profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed into harm's way. Their courage and professionalism saved lives, and kept the carnage from being even worse. It's the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals make every single day for all of us, and we can never thank them enough.

This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends – our fellow Americans – who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub – it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.

So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation – is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.

Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.

In the coming hours and days, we'll learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names. Their faces. Who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends, and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families – that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable. And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more – as a country – by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts – friends who helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.

May God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May He comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love. Thank you.

Overcoming oration during a bar/bat mitzvah speech

As Jerry Seinfeld famously pointed out, studies show that people’s No. 1 fear is public speaking. Death is second. 

“This means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy,” the lauded comic once remarked.

This joke touches on something very real for many of us. Why are we more afraid of public speaking than we are of the grave? And why, year after year, do we continue to throw fresh-faced teens into the lion’s den that is delivering a dvar Torah on their bar or bat mitzvah day?

To Dexter Frank, an effervescent 11-year-old with freshly bleached hair, a speech in front of an entire congregation sounds more like waterboarding than a rite of passage steeped in tradition. 

“It sounds like torture,” Dexter told the Journal, his own bar mitzvah at Temple Israel of Hollywood about a year and a half away. “I wish the speech could be in front of three people, not 300.” 

Recalling her own visceral terror at her 2002 bat mitzvah at Temple Isaiah, public speaking coach Chiara Greene can certainly relate, but she also knows how mastering the art of public speaking can help teens throughout their lives. 

“I know, for myself, that fear is rooted in how you feel about yourself,” she said. “It can be specific to something like giving a speech, or broad and can hold you back in a job interview or college admission interview later in life.”  

She has launched a service, called Rock the Bimah (rockthebimah.com), to help youngsters deliver a dvar Torah with confidence. “I want kids to get over the fear so they can actually enjoy the service,” she said.

Greene said she also works with clients on their ability to captivate an audience with compelling storytelling. 

“Throughout history, great storytellers speak in present tense. It creates the world as if it’s happening and you become involved in it, sucking you in,” she said. “It’s not something we’re taught in school.”

Not all teens dread speaking to a crowd, of course. Chaz Frank, Dexter’s twin brother, said he doesn’t share his brother’s trepidation. 

“I don’t care. I’ll get up and speak in front of anyone,” Chaz said. There was no fear in his eyes at the prospect of speaking to a standing-room-only audience packed with peers, elders, strangers and (as brother Dex pointed out) a large extended family. 

“I’m really not afraid,” he insisted. “I’m just really looking forward to the party at the end of it.” 

And who can fault him? Bar mitzvah parties are often an extravagant reward for all the hard work that precedes them. But the hard work is a reward, too. And when that work is undertaken with a supportive tutor, cantor or rabbi, even teens who quiver in anticipation can find their bearings and leave their jitters behind. 

“My philosophy is that the rabbi should work directly with the kids on the speech,” Rabbi Jon Hanish of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills said. “So often we’re talking from the bimah and sending out newsletters. This is a rare chance to connect one on one.”

A graduate of USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Hanish works with b’nai mitzvah students to evoke realism in their performance and allow them to be themselves. 

“I want them to write and speak in 13-year-old voices. I’m not worried about them giving the world’s greatest presentation. I’m worried about them being who they are and presenting who they are to the community,” Hanish said.  

Finding one’s authentic voice to present to the congregation is critical. For 13-year-old Donovan Greenberg, one of Hanish’s pupils, that part of the process began with a question.

“It started with him asking me what I thought it meant to believe in God,” Donovan, who celebrated his bar mitzvah April 18, said. “It was really enjoyable talking openly about things like that with the rabbi. He never challenged what I believed. He never said I was wrong, which made it easy and really fun.” 

At the outset, Donovan wasn’t necessarily dreading his speech. His focus was on his Torah portion and making sense of it. Parashat Shemini makes mention of an alien fire offered by two sons of Aaron and how they are subsequently consumed in a fire that came forth from God. Hanish drew on his film background and sparked a discussion with the help of Steven Spielberg. 

“The rabbi showed me a clip of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ the part where the Nazis open the Ark and the fire comes out. That was actually based on my portion. It made me look at the movie and my portion in a different way. Things like that multiplied my interest a million times over,” Donovan said, recounting the experience excitedly over the phone. 

As for the particulars of delivering the speech on the big day, Donovan kept it simple, following the advice of Hanish. “He told me to tell the congregation about my Torah portion like I was just explaining it to a friend. That helped me a lot. In the end, it felt like just talking to my dad about my Torah portion,” Donovan said. 

Paul Greenberg, Donovan’s father, applauded Hanish for allowing his son to find his own answers to central questions raised in the portion’s text. 

“The rabbi never spoke down to him. He worked to find out Donovan’s true opinion on things,” he said. “The rabbi constantly … made him question things and didn’t just give him answers. It allowed Donovan to come up with his own answers. They were truly Donovan’s words.”

Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal of IKAR in West L.A. emphasized preparation when she spoke to the Journal about her work with her b’nai mitzvah students. 

“The process for us starts when they’re younger, looking at the text and asking questions. ‘Why did this happen? How does it relate to my life?’ We want them thinking about the Torah and how it applies to them early on,” Rosenthal said. 

IKAR students give a mini dvar Torah in front of their peers in sixth grade, a year before they have to do the real thing in front of the entire congregation. It serves as a taste of what’s to come. The following year, some four months before the service, Rosenthal gives her students their parshah and tasks them with formulating questions on the material. Meetings over the next few months involve examining rabbinic commentary and engaging in open dialogue about their questions, the goal for the students being to apply the meaning of the text to their own lives. 

“If the portion is about gossip, maybe they’ve been the victim of bullying in secular school and can connect on that level. For the most part, kids of this age aren’t asked to think in this way about the Torah,” Rosenthal said. “They don’t necessarily believe us when we tell them they can put themselves in the text.”

For the speechwriting, Rosenthal provides a basic structure: introduction; question; recite Torah; cite text study; one’s own interpretation; then a challenge or call to action to the community. Rosenthal made it clear that kids often deviate from this structure, making the process a very individualized one. The structure exists merely to give a foundation. The onus is on the student to prepare, study, put in the work and find his or her connection to the text. 

Rosenthal said the approach is invaluable, sometimes in unexpected ways. “I had one student who was adamant that she wouldn’t perform a speech. I told her she didn’t have to, but that she was required to go through the learning process. Afterwards, she felt such a sense of ownership over her ideas that she couldn’t imagine not getting up in front of everyone and sharing,” Rosenthal said.

“Every kid is so different, and every kid has something so remarkable to say.”

In Israel, Netanyahu’s rival campaigns on U.S. Congress controversy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to the United States Congress regarding Iranian nuclear ambitions — one of the most talked-about, divisive and politicized events in the recent history of U.S.-Israel relations — has also become a key talking point for Netanyahu’s top competitor back home.

Isaac “Buji” Herzog, leader of the center-left Labor Party and Netanyahu’s rival for prime minister in the March 17 elections, has slammed the speech as avidly as any Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activist or pro-Palestine pundit.

In a New York Times op-ed titled “Dividing the U.S. on Israel,” written by Herzog days before Netanyahu addressed Congress, he called the speech a “major mistake” that would “undermine Israel’s ability to influence the critical issue of securing a genuine guarantee that Iran will never gain access to nuclear weaponry.” Then, playing off the hype surrounding the speech in a televised interview with CNN, Herzog criticized not only Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress but also his general lack of diplomacy when dealing with delicate security matters that affect Israelis’ safety. “I think that he failed, and I’m trying to call his bluff on this,” Herzog said.

And on the evening of March 1, in an English-language address to a Tel Aviv auditorium full of ex-pats living in Israel, Herzog made Netanyahu’s Iran speech an integral part of his platform.  

“I don’t think that a speech that is divisive in terms of the internal politics of America is helping Israel’s cause,” Herzog told the crowd

Herzog slammed the “friction” that Netanyahu has created with the U.S. — “our only real staunch and strategic ally” — and promised that within the first 100 days of his own prime ministership, he would go about “strengthening the intimate relationship with the administration of the United States, recovering all the ill behavior that we’ve seen in recent months and recovering trust.”

Pacing a theater stage at the Eretz Israel Museum in north Tel Aviv, lit from above by artificial brights, Herzog appeared antsy, fidgety, yet determined to prove his strength.

“I’m very, very happy to be here to discuss my agenda and why I am the only alternative to replace Bibi Netanyahu,” he said in his opening statement. “And I intend to win.”

A Netanyahu defeat is not out of the question: The most recent polls of Israeli voters put Herzog’s “Zionist Union” (a partnership with Tzipi Livni of the Hatnuah Party) a couple of points ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud Party. And, significantly, more than 30 percent of those polled said they hadn’t yet decided who would get their vote.

Israeli campaign watchers have widely predicted that one of Herzog’s greatest hurdles in dethroning Netanyahu will be the physical differences between them. The two men cut polar-opposite silhouettes: Netanyahu is tall and boxy, with a cartoonish sneer and slow, rumbling speech; although Herzog is only a forehead shorter, his pinched facial features and tiny spectacles give him more the look of a tidy professor than a world leader.

Above all, there’s his voice. Herzog’s nasal monotone has become an integral jab in 2015 campaign sparring — so much so that Herzog’s team tried to reclaim and trivialize the issue last week with a campaign video in which the candidate lip-syncs to a manly voiceover. Israeli media outlets have reported that the prime minister hopeful is taking voice lessons.

There were no audible changes to Herzog’s speech at his March 1 address to the room of Tel Aviv ex-pats. His demeanor, though, was sharper and feistier than ever.

Herzog repeatedly asked for audience members’ names and addressed them directly. More than once, he wiggled his eyebrows. Near the end of the event, he shot a wink to his wife in the front row.

Herzog laid out his proposed domestic and foreign policy in quick, hard strokes: “If need be, I will travel to Ramallah, go into the Palestinian parliament and try to convince them that there is yet another chance,” he said. But he also threw out frequent pop-culture references and inside jokes: “Don’t you know politics? Go and watch ‘House of Cards.’ You don’t have to believe anything you hear right now.” Of far-right candidate Naftali Bennett, he joked, to wild laughter: “He’s flamboyant, and everything is simple, and he will annex 100,000 Palestinians overnight, and they will have blue IDs, and with blue IDs they will be loyal Israelis to the flag and to him.” 

And he constantly returned to Netanyahu’s speech in the U.S., using it as a symbol for all the areas of Israeli life that the prime minister had abandoned in favor of a steely security front.

“You know all too well how the rent market here is crazy,” Herzog said, promising to build tens of thousands of new, more affordable apartments. 

Before he left for the U.S., Netanyahu had tweeted: “When we talk about housing prices, about the cost of living, I do not for a second forget about life itself. The biggest threat to our life at the moment is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

Herzog’s indirect response, to his audience in Tel Aviv: “Stop selling us stories. It cannot be that Iran is the only issue of our lives.”

With a few exceptions, audience members seemed to bite. Michael Nimaroff, an 18-year-old New Jersey native in an “I <3 Buji” T-shirt, ran up to the stage once Herzog was finished to take a selfie with the candidate and ask how he could get involved in the campaign. To the Journal, Nimaroff said that Herzog was “a breath of fresh air.” His friend, a young Israeli-American, called Netanyahu’s speech in Washington an “absolute injustice in the name of the Jewish people.”

That same night, just a short drive south, along Tel Aviv’s central Rothschild Boulevard, a few dozen lefties had begun to pitch tents — an attempted revival of the 2011 social protests. “They’re constantly acting terrorized, like Iran is going to drop a bomb at any second,” said protester Gabriel Vinegered, 32, of the Netanyahu administration. “But it’s not only about the Iranian nuclear program. They don’t understand … that we can’t survive inside of their system.”

A 62-year-old taxi driver in red sunglasses, who shouted at the protesters as he drove by on Rothschild, disagreed. “Bibi is the man,” he said, smiling.

More from the cover: 

Netanyahu’s popularity rises after U.S. speech, polls show

Israeli opinion polls on Wednesday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a slight boost in popularity after his U.S. speech slamming an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, but he is still running neck and neck with his leading rival in a March 17 election.

A survey published by Channel 10 television indicated Netanyahu's Likud party would gaining two seats to 23 compared with what he had a week ago. That would still leave him in a tie with Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union.

The country's Channel 2 television had Netanyahu's right-wing party up by one seat to 23, just behind Herzog's left-of-center list.

In separate surveys conducted by the channels on each candidate's individual popularity, Netanyahu was favored by 44 percent for the job of prime minister, up two percentage points from a week ago. Herzog's number declined by two percentage points to 35 percent, results by Channel 10 showed.

But Netanyahu was further ahead of his rival in a Channel 2 popularity poll, with 47 percent choosing him and 28 percent opting for Herzog. All the surveys indicated Netanyahu had more potential political allies with whom to build a new governing coalition after the election.

In Israel's parliamentary election system, the public chooses parties rather than individual candidates, and the head of the party with the most political allies is the one who usually wins a presidential mandate to form a government.

Israeli critics said that Netanyahu, seeking a fourth term in office, risked damaging Israel's strategic alliance with Washington by speaking in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, for the sake of wooing voters before the closely contested election.

Netanyahu came under strong criticism from the Obama administration for his speech, which Washington said had injected destructive partisanship into U.S.-Israeli ties.

Republicans, who control Congress, had invited Netanyahu to speak without consulting President Barack Obama or other leading Democrats. As many as 60 of the 232 Democratic members of Congress boycotted the address.

Netanyahu rejected Obama's charges that his speech had offered “no viable alternatives” to an international deal being worked out with Tehran, saying he had presented a practical alternative in Washington to a “deeply flawed” nuclear accord being negotiated with Iran.

Netanyahu speech to Congress full text

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a controversial speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Tuesday where he urged the U.S. not to agree with Iran on a nuclear deal and compared Tehran to the Islamic State militant group. Netanyahu said a potential agreement between the U.S. and Iran would be a “very bad deal,” arguing that Tehran can’t be trusted to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu’s speech was littered with applause lines, including when he implored the world to “all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest, subjugation and terror.” He also compared Tehran to ISIS, contending that the Muslim nation and the militant group were engaged in a “deadly game of thrones” for control of militant Islam. You can read the entire speech below in a transcript published by the Washington Post:


Thank you.

Thank you…

… Speaker of the House John Boehner, President Pro Tem Senator Orrin Hatch, Senator Minority — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

I also want to acknowledge Senator, Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Harry, it's good to see you back on your feet.

I guess it's true what they say, you can't keep a good man down.

My friends, I'm deeply humbled by the opportunity to speak for a third time before the most important legislative body in the world, the U.S. Congress.

I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.

I want to thank you, Democrats and Republicans, for your common support for Israel, year after year, decade after decade.

I know that no matter on which side of the aisle you sit, you stand with Israel.

The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics. It must always remain above politics.

Because America and Israel, we share a common destiny, the destiny of promised lands that cherish freedom and offer hope. Israel is grateful for the support of American — of America's people and of America's presidents, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel.

Now, some of that is widely known.

Some of that is widely known, like strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing, opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.

Some of what the president has done for Israel is less well- known.

I called him in 2010 when we had the Carmel forest fire, and he immediately agreed to respond to my request for urgent aid.

In 2011, we had our embassy in Cairo under siege, and again, he provided vital assistance at the crucial moment.

Or his support for more missile interceptors during our operation last summer when we took on Hamas terrorists.

In each of those moments, I called the president, and he was there.

And some of what the president has done for Israel might never be known, because it touches on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister.

But I know it, and I will always be grateful to President Obama for that support. And Israel is grateful to you, the American Congress, for your support, for supporting us in so many ways, especially in generous military assistance and missile defense, including Iron Dome. Last summer, millions of Israelis were protected from thousands of Hamas rockets because this capital dome helped build our Iron Dome. Thank you, America. Thank you for everything you've done for Israel.

My friends, I've come here today because, as prime minister of Israel, I feel a profound obligation to speak to you about an issue that could well threaten the survival of my country and the future of my people: Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. We're an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we'll read the Book of Esther. We'll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

The plot was foiled. Our people were saved. Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated — he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn't exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.  For those who believe that Iran threatens the Jewish state, but not the Jewish people, listen to Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, Iran's chief terrorist proxy. He said: If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.  But Iran's regime is not merely a Jewish problem, any more than the Nazi regime was merely a Jewish problem. The 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis were but a fraction of the 60 million people killed in World War II. So, too, Iran's regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world. To understand just how dangerous Iran would be with nuclear weapons, we must fully understand the nature of the regime. 

The people of Iran are very talented people. They're heirs to one of the world's great civilizations. But in 1979, they were hijacked by religious zealots — religious zealots who imposed on them immediately a dark and brutal dictatorship.  That year, the zealots drafted a constitution, a new one for Iran. It directed the revolutionary guards not only to protect Iran's borders, but also to fulfill the ideological mission of jihad. The regime's founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, exhorted his followers to “export the revolution throughout the world.” I'm standing here in Washington, D.C. and the difference is so stark. America's founding document promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Iran's founding document pledges death, tyranny, and the pursuit of jihad. And as states are collapsing across the Middle East, Iran is charging into the void to do just that. Iran's goons in Gaza, its lackeys in Lebanon, its revolutionary guards on the Golan Heights are clutching Israel with three tentacles of terror. Backed by Iran, Assad is slaughtering Syrians. Back by Iran, Shiite militias are rampaging through Iraq. Back by Iran, Houthis are seizing control of Yemen, threatening the strategic straits at the mouth of the Red Sea. Along with the Straits of Hormuz, that would give Iran a second choke-point on the world's oil supply.

Just last week, near Hormuz, Iran carried out a military exercise blowing up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. That's just last week, while they're having nuclear talks with the United States. But unfortunately, for the last 36 years, Iran's attacks against the United States have been anything but mock. And the targets have been all too real.  Iran took dozens of Americans hostage in Tehran, murdered hundreds of American soldiers, Marines, in Beirut, and was responsible for killing and maiming thousands of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Beyond the Middle East, Iran attacks America and its allies through its global terror network. It blew up the Jewish community center and the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. It helped Al Qaida bomb U.S. embassies in Africa. It even attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, right here in Washington, D.C. In the Middle East, Iran now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa. And if Iran's aggression is left unchecked, more will surely follow. So, at a time when many hope that Iran will join the community of nations, Iran is busy gobbling up the nations. We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror. Now, two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran. Some change! Some moderation!

Rouhani's government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before. Last year, the same Zarif who charms Western diplomats laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh. Imad Mughniyeh is the terrorist mastermind who spilled more American blood than any other terrorist besides Osama bin Laden. I'd like to see someone ask him a question about that. Iran's regime is as radical as ever, its cries of “Death to America,” that same America that it calls the “Great Satan,” as loud as ever. Now, this shouldn't be surprising, because the ideology of Iran's revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that's why this regime will always be an enemy of America. Don't be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn't turn Iran into a friend of America. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire. In this deadly game of thrones, there's no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don't share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone.

So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy. The difference is that ISIS is armed with butcher knives, captured weapons and YouTube, whereas Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. We must always remember — I'll say it one more time — the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can't let that happen. But that, my friends, is exactly what could happen, if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.  Let me explain why. While the final deal has not yet been signed, certain elements of any potential deal are now a matter of public record. You don't need intelligence agencies and secret information to know this. You can Google it. 

Absent a dramatic change, we know for sure that any deal with Iran will include two major concessions to Iran. The first major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure, providing it with a short break-out time to the bomb. Break-out time is the time it takes to amass enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a nuclear bomb. According to the deal, not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. Because Iran's nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran's break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel's. And if — if Iran's work on advanced centrifuges, faster and faster centrifuges, is not stopped, that break-out time could still be shorter, a lot shorter. True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran's nuclear program and Iran's adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors. But here's the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don't stop them. Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn't stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb. Now, we're warned that within five years North Korea could have an arsenal of 100 nuclear bombs. Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. It's done that on at least three separate occasions — 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras. 

Now, I know this is not gonna come a shock — as a shock to any of you, but Iran not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.  The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, said again yesterday that Iran still refuses to come clean about its military nuclear program. Iran was also caught — caught twice, not once, twice — operating secret nuclear facilities in Natanz and Qom, facilities that inspectors didn't even know existed.  Right now, Iran could be hiding nuclear facilities that we don't know about, the U.S. and Israel. As the former head of inspections for the IAEA said in 2013, he said, “If there's no undeclared installation today in Iran, it will be the first time in 20 years that it doesn't have one.” Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted. And that's why the first major concession is a source of great concern. It leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and relies on inspectors to prevent a breakout. That concession creates a real danger that Iran could get to the bomb by violating the deal. But the second major concession creates an even greater danger that Iran could get to the bomb by keeping the deal. Because virtually all the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade. 

Now, a decade may seem like a long time in political life, but it's the blink of an eye in the life of a nation. It's a blink of an eye in the life of our children. We all have a responsibility to consider what will happen when Iran's nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted. Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could product many, many nuclear bombs.  Iran's Supreme Leader says that openly. He says, Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.  My long-time friend, John Kerry, Secretary of State, confirmed last week that Iran could legitimately possess that massive centrifuge capacity when the deal expires.  Now I want you to think about that. The foremost sponsor of global terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons and this with full international legitimacy.  And by the way, if Iran's Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is not part of the deal, and so far, Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Well, Iran could have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to the far-reach corners of the earth, including to every part of the United States. 

So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That's why this deal is so bad. It doesn't block Iran's path to the bomb; it paves Iran's path to the bomb. So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse? Well, I disagree. I don't believe that Iran's radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would wet appetite — would only wet Iran's appetite for more. Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it's under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism? Why should Iran's radical regime change for the better when it can enjoy the best of both world's: aggression abroad, prosperity at home? This is a question that everyone asks in our region. Israel's neighbors — Iran's neighbors know that Iran will become even more aggressive and sponsor even more terrorism when its economy is unshackled and it's been given a clear path to the bomb.

And many of these neighbors say they'll respond by racing to get nuclear weapons of their own. So this deal won't change Iran for the better; it will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that's supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet. This deal won't be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear tripwires. A region where small skirmishes can trigger big wars would turn into a nuclear tinderbox.  If anyone thinks — if anyone thinks this deal kicks the can down the road, think again. When we get down that road, we'll face a much more dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare. Ladies and gentlemen, I've come here today to tell you we don't have to bet the security of the world on the hope that Iran will change for the better. We don't have to gamble with our future and with our children's future. We can insist that restrictions on Iran's nuclear program not be lifted for as long as Iran continues its aggression in the region and in the world. Before lifting those restrictions, the world should demand that Iran do three things. First, stop its aggression against its neighbors in the Middle East. Second… Second, stop supporting terrorism around the world. And third, stop threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state. Thank you. If the world powers are not prepared to insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal is signed, at the very least they should insist that Iran change its behavior before a deal expires. If Iran changes its behavior, the restrictions would be lifted. If Iran doesn't change its behavior, the restrictions should not be lifted. If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country. My friends, what about the argument that there's no alternative to this deal, that Iran's nuclear know-how cannot be erased, that its nuclear program is so advanced that the best we can do is delay the inevitable, which is essentially what the proposed deal seeks to do? Well, nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn't get you very much. A racecar driver without a car can't drive. A pilot without a plan can't fly. Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can't make nuclear weapons. Iran's nuclear program can be rolled back well-beyond the current proposal by insisting on a better deal and keeping up the pressure on a very vulnerable regime, especially given the recent collapse in the price of oil.

Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff. They'll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do. And by maintaining the pressure on Iran and on those who do business with Iran, you have the power to make them need it even more.

My friends, for over a year, we've been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It's a very bad deal. We're better off without it. Now we're being told that the only alternative to this bad deal is war. That's just not true.  The alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn't leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short break-out time. A better deal that keeps the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in place until Iran's aggression ends.  A better deal that won't give Iran an easy path to the bomb. A better deal that Israel and its neighbors may not like, but with which we could live, literally. And no country…

… no country has a greater stake — no country has a greater stake than Israel in a good deal that peacefully removes this threat. Ladies and gentlemen, history has placed us at a fateful crossroads. We must now choose between two paths. One path leads to a bad deal that will at best curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions for a while, but it will inexorably lead to a nuclear-armed Iran whose unbridled aggression will inevitably lead to war. 

The second path, however difficult, could lead to a much better deal, that would prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclearized Middle East and the horrific consequences of both to all of humanity. You don't have to read Robert Frost to know. You have to live life to know that the difficult path is usually the one less traveled, but it will make all the difference for the future of my country, the security of the Middle East and the peace of the world, the peace, we all desire.  My friend, standing up to Iran is not easy. Standing up to dark and murderous regimes never is. With us today is Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel.  Elie, your life and work inspires to give meaning to the words, “never again.” And I wish I could promise you, Elie, that the lessons of history have been learned. I can only urge the leaders of the world not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Not to sacrifice the future for the present; not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.  But I can guarantee you this, the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies, those days are over. We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand. But I know that Israel does not stand alone. I know that America stands with Israel. I know that you stand with Israel. You stand with Israel, because you know that the story of Israel is not only the story of the Jewish people but of the human spirit that refuses again and again to succumb to history's horrors. Facing me right up there in the gallery, overlooking all of us in this (inaudible) chamber is the image of Moses. Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land.

And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years. I leave you with his message today, (SPEAKING IN HEBREW), “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them.” My friends, may Israel and America always stand together, strong and resolute. May we neither fear nor dread the challenges ahead. May we face the future with confidence, strength and hope. May God bless the state of Israel and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you all.  You're wonderful.  Thank you, America. Thank you. Thank you.

Bibi to Congress: Don’t be suckers

As I watched from the press gallery in Congress on Tuesday morning as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu let loose with a cry of the heart, one thought kept popping up: If Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is watching this, he must be very, very happy that he’s not negotiating with this former Israeli commando.

In all the talk we’ve been hearing about “unachievable ideals” and “we don’t want another war” and “diplomacy is the best solution” and so on, we’ve lost sight of the most important and obvious thing: When you’re buying a rug in a Persian bazaar, the more eager you look, the more the price goes up.

And if there’s one thing President Barack Obama has shown from the very beginning, it is his eagerness to make a deal. While Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have played eager beavers, the wily mullahs just kept raising the price.

As a result, we’re left today with a deal Bibi and many others believe is way too expensive and that Yossi Klein Halevi told me “brings us to the edge of the abyss.” In his speech, Bibi didn’t speculate on a hypothetical deal — he quoted what is already in the public record and what Obama essentially confirmed in an interview with Reuters on Monday. 

For example, he quoted this concession: “Not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium would be left spinning. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed.”

This means, Bibi said, that “Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact, Iran’s break-out time would be very short — about a year by U.S. assessment, even shorter by Israel’s.” And, as far as depending on United Nations inspectors to monitor compliance, Bibi gave some pretty dramatic examples of how Iran “not only defies inspectors, it also plays a pretty good game of hide-and-cheat with them.”

But as dangerous and risky as that first concession is, Bibi then took on the mother of all concessions: “Virtually all the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program will automatically expire in about a decade.”

At the end of that decade, he said, Iran “would be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could produce many, many nuclear bombs.”

Who did he quote to back this up? Khamenei himself: “Iran’s Supreme Leader says that openly. He says Iran plans to have 190,000 centrifuges, not 6,000 or even the 19,000 that Iran has today, but 10 times that amount — 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium. With this massive capacity, Iran could make the fuel for an entire nuclear arsenal and this in a matter of weeks, once it makes that decision.”

When your civilization goes back 5,000 years, what’s another measly 10 years?

When your civilization goes back 5,000 years, what’s another measly 10 years?

I think you get my drift. Beyond all the fancy analyses of strategy, geopolitics and security doctrines, this is really about brass knuckles. It’s about doing whatever it takes to get the best possible deal.

It’s about looking your enemy in the eye and making him understand that you’re on to him. It’s about making it clear to that enemy that you don’t want a deal more than he does. And it’s about making your enemy believe, truly believe, that you’re not bluffing when you say that “all options are on the table.”

Seriously, is there anybody who believes that the wily mullahs are shaking in their boots when they see John Kerry? When they see President Obama threaten to veto any legislation that might give him more leverage, what are the mullahs hearing? “Please don’t walk away, because I really want this deal”?

Bibi’s speech was important not because he brought new facts to the table but because he brought timeless wisdom.

Yes, he talked about how Jews are an ancient people, and he gave me the chills when he reminded the world that the 6 million Jews living in Israel today are not the helpless 6 million Jews who were murdered in Europe seven decades ago.

His speech had all those emotional appeals that stirred my soul, but it had more than that. It had simple, timeless wisdom.

Bibi’s speech was important not because he brought new facts to the table but because he brought timeless wisdom.

It had the wisdom that says if your enemy thinks you’re bluffing, you’ll never get a good deal, and that the alternative to a bad deal is to drive a harder bargain.

It had the wisdom expressed in this simple and powerful line: “If Iran wants to be treated like a normal country, let it act like a normal country.”

And, above all, it had the timeless wisdom that says when you’re negotiating with a murderous enemy who’s a cheater, never act like a sucker.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Netanyahu’s full speech at the United Nations General Assembly


Thank you, Mr. President, 
Distinguished delegates, 

I come here from Jerusalem to speak on behalf of my people, the people of Israel. I've come here to speak about the dangers we face and about the opportunities we see. I've come here to expose the brazen lies spoken from this very podium against my country and against the brave soldiers who defend it. Ladies and Gentlemen, The people of Israel pray for peace. But our hopes and the world's hope for peace are in danger. Because everywhere we look, militant Islam is on the march. It's not militants. It's not Islam. It's militant Islam. 

Typically, its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one. Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Kurds – no creed, no faith, no ethnic group is beyond its sights. And it's rapidly spreading in every part of the world. You know the famous American saying: “All politics is local”? For the militant Islamists, “All politics is global.” Because their ultimate goal is to dominate the world. Now, that threat might seem exaggerated to some, since it starts out small, like a cancer that attacks a particular part of the body. But left unchecked, the cancer grows, metastasizing over wider and wider areas. 

To protect the peace and security of the world, we must remove this cancer before it's too late. Last week, many of the countries represented here rightly applauded President Obama for leading the effort to confront ISIS. And yet weeks before, some of these same countries, the same countries that now support confronting ISIS, opposed Israel for confronting Hamas. They evidently don’t understand that ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree. ISIS and Hamas share a fanatical creed, which they both seek to impose well beyond the territory under their control. 

Listen to ISIS’s self-declared caliph,Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. This is what he said two months ago: A day will soon come when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master… The Muslims will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism… and destroy the idol of democracy. Now listen to Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas. He proclaims a similar vision of the future: We say this to the West… By Allah you will be defeated. Tomorrow our nation will sit on the throne of the world. As Hamas's charter makes clear, Hamas’s immediate goal is to destroy Israel. But Hamas has a broader objective. They also want a caliphate. Hamas shares the global ambitions of its fellow militant Islamists. That’s why its supporters wildly cheered in the streets of Gaza as thousands of Americans were murdered on 9/11. And that's why its leaders condemned the United States for killing Osama Bin Laden, whom they praised as a holy warrior. So when it comes to their ultimate goals, Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas. And what they share in common, all militant Islamists share in common: • Boko Haram in Nigeria; • Ash-Shabab in Somalia; • Hezbollah in Lebanon; • An-Nusrah in Syria; • The Mahdi Army in Iraq; • And the Al-Qaeda branches in Yemen, Libya, the Philippines, India and elsewhere.
Some are radical Sunnis, some are radical Shi'ites. Some want to restore a pre-medieval caliphate from the 7th century. Others want to trigger the apocalyptic return of an imam from the 9th century. They operate in different lands, they target different victims and they even kill each other in their quest for supremacy. But they all share a fanatic ideology. They all seek to create ever expanding enclaves of militant Islam where there is no freedom and no tolerance – Where women are treated as chattel, Christians are decimated, and minorities are subjugated, sometimes given the stark choice: convert or die. For them, anyone can be an infidel, including fellow Muslims. Ladies and Gentlemen, Militant Islam's ambition to dominate the world seems mad. But so too did the global ambitions of another fanatic ideology that swept to power eight decades ago. The Nazis believed in a master race. The militant Islamists believe in a master faith. They just disagree about who among them will be the master… of the master faith. That’s what they truly disagree about. Therefore, the question before us is whether militant Islam will have the power to realize its unbridled ambitions. 

There is one place where that could soon happen: The Islamic State of Iran. For 35 years, Iran has relentlessly pursued the global mission which was set forth by its founding ruler, Ayatollah Khomeini, in these words: We will export our revolution to the entire world. Until the cry “There is no God but Allah” will echo throughout the world over… And ever since, the regime’s brutal enforcers, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, have done exactly that. Listen to its current commander, General Muhammad Ali Ja'afari. And he clearly stated this goal. He said: Our Imam did not limit the Islamic Revolution to this country… Our duty is to prepare the way for an Islamic world government… Iran's President Rouhani stood here last week, and shed crocodile tears over what he called “the globalization of terrorism.” Maybe he should spare us those phony tears and have a word instead with the commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
He could ask them to call off Iran's global terror campaign, which has included attacks in two dozen countries on five continents since 2011 alone. To say that Iran doesn't practice terrorism is like saying Derek Jeter never played shortstop for the New York Yankees. This bemoaning of the Iranian president of the spread of terrorism has got to be one of history’s greatest displays of doubletalk. Now, Some still argue that Iran's global terror campaign, its subversion of countries throughout the Middle East and well beyond the Middle East, some argue that this is the work of the extremists. They say things are changing. They point to last year's elections in Iran. They claim that Iran’s smooth talking President and Foreign Minister, they’ve changed not only the tone of Iran's foreign policy but also its substance. 

They believe Rouhani and Zarif genuinely want to reconcile with the West, that they’ve abandoned the global mission of the Islamic Revolution. Really? So let's look at what Foreign Minister Zarif wrote in his book just a few years ago: We have a fundamental problem with the West, and especially with America. This is because we are heirs to a global mission, which is tied to our raison d'etre… A global mission which is tied to our very reason of being. And then Zarif asks a question, I think an interesting one. He says: How come Malaysia [he’s referring to an overwhelmingly Muslim country] – how come Malaysia doesn't have similar problems? And he answers: Because Malaysia is not trying to change the international order. That's your moderate. 

So don’t be fooled by Iran’s manipulative charm offensive. It’s designed for one purpose, and for one purpose only: To lift the sanctions and remove the obstacles to Iran's path to the bomb. The Islamic Republic is now trying to bamboozle its way to an agreement that will remove the sanctions it still faces, and leave it with the capacity of thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium. This would effectively cement Iran's place as a threshold military nuclear power. In the future, at a time of its choosing, Iran, the world’s most dangerous state in the world's most dangerous region, would obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons. Allowing that to happen would pose the gravest threat to us all. It’s one thing to confront militant Islamists on pick-up trucks, armed with Kalashnikov rifles. It’s another thing to confront militant Islamists armed with weapons of mass destruction.
I remember that last year, everyone here was rightly concerned about the chemical weapons in Syria, including the possibility that they would fall into the hands of terrorists. That didn't happen. And President Obama deserves great credit for leading the diplomatic effort to dismantle virtually all of Syria's chemical weapons capability. Imagine how much more dangerous the Islamic State, ISIS, would be if it possessed chemical weapons. Now imagine how much more dangerous the Islamic state of Iran would be if it possessed nuclear weapons. Ladies and Gentlemen, Would you let ISIS enrich uranium? Would you let ISIS build a heavy water reactor? Would you let ISIS develop intercontinental ballistic missiles? Of course you wouldn’t. Then you mustn't let the Islamic State of Iran do those things either. Because here’s what will happen: Once Iran produces atomic bombs, all the charm and all the smiles will suddenly disappear. They’ll just vanish. It's then that the ayatollahs will show their true face and unleash their aggressive fanaticism on the entire world. 

There is only one responsible course of action to address this threat: Iran's nuclear military capabilities must be fully dismantled. Make no mistake – ISIS must be defeated. But to defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war. To defeat ISIS and leave Iran as a threshold nuclear power is to win the battle and lose the war. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, The fight against militant Islam is indivisible. When militant Islam succeeds anywhere, it’s emboldened everywhere. When it suffers a blow in one place, it's set back in every place. That’s why Israel’s fight against Hamas is not just our fight. It’s your fight. Israel is fighting a fanaticism today that your countries may be forced to fight tomorrow.
For 50 days this past summer, Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israel, many of them supplied by Iran. I want you to think about what your countries would do if thousands of rockets were fired at your cities. Imagine millions of your citizens having seconds at most to scramble to bomb shelters, day after day. You wouldn't let terrorists fire rockets at your cities with impunity. Nor would you let terrorists dig dozens of terror tunnels under your borders to infiltrate your towns in order to murder and kidnap your citizens. Israel justly defended itself against both rocket attacks and terror tunnels. Yet Israel also faced another challenge. We faced a propaganda war. Because, in an attempt to win the world’s sympathy, Hamas cynically used Palestinian civilians as human shields. It used schools, not just schools – UN schools, private homes, mosques, even hospitals to store and fire rockets at Israel. As Israel surgically struck at the rocket launchers and at the tunnels, Palestinian civilians were tragically but unintentionally killed. There are heartrending images that resulted, and these fueled libelous charges that Israel was deliberately targeting civilians. 

We were not. We deeply regret every single civilian casualty. And the truth is this: Israel was doing everything to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas was doing everything to maximize Israeli civilian casualties and Palestinian civilian casualties. Israel dropped flyers, made phone calls, sent text messages, broadcast warnings in Arabic on Palestinian television, always to enable Palestinian civilians to evacuate targeted areas. No other country and no other army in history have gone to greater lengths to avoid casualties among the civilian population of their enemies. This concern for Palestinian life was all the more remarkable, given that Israeli civilians were being bombarded by rockets day after day, night after night. As their families were being rocketed by Hamas, Israel's citizen army – the brave soldiers of the IDF, our young boys and girls – they upheld the highest moral values of any army in the world. Israel's soldiers deserve not condemnation, but admiration. Admiration from decent people everywhere. Now here’s what Hamas did: Hamas embedded its missile batteries in residential areas and told Palestinians to ignore Israel’s warnings to leave. And just in case people didn’t get the message, they executed Palestinian civilians in Gaza who dared to protest. No less reprehensible, Hamas deliberately placed its rockets where Palestinian children live and play. Let me show you a photograph. It was taken by a France 24 crew during the recent conflict. It shows two Hamas rocket launchers, which were used to attack us. You see three children playing next to them. 

Hamas deliberately put its rockets in hundreds of residential areas like this. Hundreds of them. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a war crime. And I say to President Abbas, these are the war crimes committed by your Hamas partners in the national unity government which you head and you are responsible for. And these are the real war crimes you should have investigated, or spoken out against from this podium last week. Ladies and Gentlemen, As Israeli children huddled in bomb shelters and Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system knocked Hamas rockets out of the sky, the profound moral difference between Israel and Hamas couldn’t have been clearer: Israel was using its missiles to protect its children. Hamas was using its children to protect its missiles. By investigating Israel rather than Hamas for war crimes, the UN Human Rights Council has betrayed its noble mission to protect the innocent. In fact, what it’s doing is to turn the laws of war upside-down. Israel, which took unprecedented steps to minimize civilian casualties, Israel is condemned.
Hamas, which both targeted and hid behind civilians – that a double war crime – Hamas is given a pass. The Human Rights Council is thus sending a clear message to terrorists everywhere: Use civilians as human shields. Use them again and again and again. You know why? Because sadly, it works. By granting international legitimacy to the use of human shields, the UN’s Human Rights Council has thus become a Terrorist Rights Council, and it will have repercussions. It probably already has, about the use of civilians as human shields. It’s not just our interest. It’s not just our values that are under attack. It’s your interests and your values.
Ladies and Gentlemen, We live in a world steeped in tyranny and terror, where gays are hanged from cranes in Tehran, political prisoners are executed in Gaza, young girls are abducted en masse in Nigeria and hundreds of thousands are butchered in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Yet nearly half, nearly half of the UN Human Rights Council's resolutions focusing on a single country have been directed against Israel, the one true democracy in the Middle East – Israel. where issues are openly debated in a boisterous parliament, where human rights are protected by independent courts and where women, gays and minorities live in a genuinely free society. The Human Rights… (that’s an oxymoron, the UN Human Rights Council, but I’ll use it just the same), the Council’s biased treatment of Israel is only one manifestation of the return of the world’s oldest prejudices. 

We hear mobs today in Europe call for the gassing of Jews. We hear some national leaders compare Israel to the Nazis. This is not a function of Israel’s policies. It's a function of diseased minds. And that disease has a name. It’s called anti-Semitism. It is now spreading in polite society, where it masquerades as legitimate criticism of Israel. For centuries the Jewish people have been demonized with blood libels and charges of deicide. Today, the Jewish state is demonized with the apartheid libel and charges of genocide. Genocide? In what moral universe does genocide include warning the enemy's civilian population to get out of harm's way? Or ensuring that they receive tons, tons of humanitarian aid each day, even as thousands of rockets are being fired at us? Or setting up a field hospital to aid for their wounded? Well, I suppose it's the same moral universe where a man who wrote a dissertation of lies about the Holocaust, and who insists on a Palestine free of Jews, Judenrein, can stand at this podium and shamelessly accuse Israel of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
In the past, outrageous lies against the Jews were the precursors to the wholesale slaughter of our people. But no more. Today we, the Jewish people, have the power to defend ourselves. We will defend ourselves against our enemies on the battlefield. We will expose their lies against us in the court of public opinion. Israel will continue to stand proud and unbowed. Ladies and Gentlemen, Despite the enormous challenges facing Israel, I believe we have an historic opportunity. After decades of seeing Israel as their enemy, leading states in the Arab world increasingly recognize that together we and they face many of the same dangers: principally this means a nuclear-armed Iran and militant Islamist movements gaining ground in the Sunni world. Our challenge is to transform these common interests to create a productive partnership. One that would build a more secure, peaceful and prosperous Middle East. Together we can strengthen regional security. We can advance projects in water, agriculture, in transportation, in health, in energy, in so many fields. I believe the partnership between us can also help facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Many have long assumed that an Israeli-Palestinian peace can help facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab World. 

But these days I think it may work the other way around: Namely that a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace. And therefore, to achieve that peace, we must look not only to Jerusalem and Ramallah, but also to Cairo, to Amman, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and elsewhere. I believe peace can be realized with the active involvement of Arab countries, those that are willing to provide political, material and other indispensable support. I’m ready to make a historic compromise, not because Israel is occupying a foreign land. 

The people of Israel are not occupiers in the Land of Israel. 

History, archeology and common sense all make clear that we have had a singular attachment to this land for over 3,000 years. I want peace because I want to create a better future for my people. But it must be a genuine peace, one that is anchored in mutual recognition and enduring security arrangements, rock solid security arrangements on the ground. 

Because you see, Israel's withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza created two militant Islamic enclaves on our borders from which tens of thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel. These sobering experiences heighten Israel's security concerns regarding potential territorial concessions in the future. Those security concerns are even greater today. Just look around you. The Middle East is in chaos. States are disintegrating. Militant Islamists are filling the void. Israel cannot have territories from which it withdraws taken over by Islamic militants yet again, as happened in Gaza and Lebanon. That would place the likes of ISIS within mortar range – a few miles – of 80% of our population. Think about that. The distance between the 1967 lines and the suburbs of Tel Aviv is like the distance between the UN building here and Times Square. Israel’s a tiny country. 

That’s why in any peace agreement, which will obviously necessitate a territorial compromise, I will always insist that Israel be able to defend itself by itself against any threat. Yet despite all that has happened, some still don't take Israel’s security concerns seriously. But I do, and I always will. Because, as Prime Minister of Israel, I am entrusted with the awesome responsibility of ensuring the future of the Jewish people and the future of the Jewish state. And no matter what pressure is brought to bear, I will never waver in fulfilling that responsibility. I believe that with a fresh approach from our neighbors, we can advance peace despite the difficulties we face.
In Israel, we have a record of making the impossible possible. We’ve made a desolate land flourish. And with very few natural resources, we have used the fertile minds of our people to turn Israel into a global center of technology and innovation. Peace, of course, would enable Israel to realize its full potential and to bring a promising future not only for our people, not only for the Palestinian people, but for many, many others in our region. But the old template for peace must be updated. It must take into account new realities and new roles and responsibilities for our Arab neighbors. Ladies and Gentlemen, There is a new Middle East. It presents new dangers, but also new opportunities.
Israel is prepared to work with Arab partners and the international community to confront those dangers and to seize those opportunities. Together we must recognize the global threat of militant Islam, the primacy of dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons capability and the indispensable role of Arab states in advancing peace with the Palestinians. All this may fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but it’s the truth. 

And the truth must always be spoken, especially here, in the United Nations. Isaiah, our great prophet of peace, taught us nearly 3,000 years ago in Jerusalem to speak truth to power.
לְמַעַן צִיּוֹן לֹא אֶחֱשֶׁה וּלְמַעַן יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֹא אֶשְׁקוֹט עַד-יֵצֵא כַּנֹּגַהּ צִדְקָהּ וִישׁוּעָתָהּ כְּלַפִּיד יִבְעָר. For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent. For the sake of Jerusalem, I will not be still. Until her justice shines bright, And her salvation glows like a flaming torch. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Let's light a torch of truth and justice to safeguard our common future. 
Thank you.

The easy way to write your speech for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah

Most people are happier being reaudited by a fiber-deficient IRS agent than speaking in public. They’re even more fartutst about writing their own speeches. 

Sometimes, we have to do both. 

It’s easy for me. I’ve been a speechwriter all my life. But you can do it, too, anxiety-free, as long as you follow a few rules. In fact, if you’ve been asked to speak at someone’s bar or bat mitzvah, you may even find the process of writing a speech quite simple and fun. (Notice I said process.)

Where do you start? 

1. Prepare early. The minute the date is set and you know you’ll have a speaking part in the celebration, start thinking about what you might say. That gives you a year. Don’t wait until it’s 8:52 on Saturday morning, and the bar mitzvah begins in eight minutes. At that point, it’s almost too late for even a professional to help you.

2. Find a theme for your speech. There is a portion of the Torah read at every bar or bat mitzvah. It corresponds to that particular week and is called a parasha. It’s easy to look it up, along with its modern meaning. Maybe the theme is trust. Maybe bravery. Overcoming hardship. Tie that in with your special feelings for the child being celebrated. Add to it by sharing some of the best memories of that young person. “I remember the scooter when …” 

You could also refer to the honoree’s Hebrew name, connecting it to the biblical character with the same moniker, if there is one. However, if the child who is coming of age is named Boo Boo or Bugsy, you might have to be a little creative.

Your speech might also discuss the Jewish values and traditions you observe together. Lighting the Shabbat candles is one. Saying Kiddush. Celebrating Chanukah. That’s a classic approach. To be more contemporary, you could talk about how you and the bat mitzvah girl go rippin’ along the Pacific Coast Highway on your Harley every Sunday, or how you and the bar mitzvah boy have watched every episode of “Breaking Bad” over and over together, and are in the same 12-step program to stop. 

3. Don’t be intimidated. You’re not addressing Congress or the Supreme Court. This isn’t your Harvard entrance essay. It’s a private, family gathering. You’re not Jimmy Fallon and you won’t be appearing on national TV. You probably won’t even be on YouTube, unless the challah somehow starts dancing the lambada. It’s just you, your extended family and your friends. Everybody will be cheering for you. 

4. Make lists. Before trying to write sentences for my speeches, I make lists. Then my lists make lists. I move ideas around and add new ones. As a writer, I know better than to sit down at my desk, thinking I’ll nail something perfectly in the first draft. In reality, as ideas pop into my head, I scribble them on anything I can find, including the upholstery in my car. 

And rather than feel the panic of having to sit there and finish this speech tonight tonight tonight, I make an appointment with myself to write for five minutes a day on weekdays. Not everybody has a couple of hours each morning, but we all have five minutes — no skipping. I mark the appointment with me in my day planner. And even if the page is blank when my five minutes are up, I check off that time anyway. I’ve kept my commitment. Maybe tomorrow something good will appear during my warm-up session. Eventually, it always does. 

When I get a draft — no matter how scattered it is, I congratulate myself and haul out the candy corn. Rewards for good work go a long way. 

5. Hook ’em with a great opening. You have a captive audience. Don’t lose them by starting with recycled language. You’re not a cliché. Your speech at a bar or bat mitzvah shouldn’t be one, either.

In your opening sentence, be clever. Maybe a little funny, too. If you’re speaking at a reception, instead of simply thanking the chefs who brought hors d’oeuvres, how about, “The CIA confirms that Aunt Puddy, Auntie Lacy and Great Aunt Yakabovsky caught the carp, the whitefish and the pike themselves. Now that’s gefilte fish. And nobody named Manischewitz was involved.”

6. How long should I speak? Less is more. Keep it short. If you’re the only speaker, five minutes. If you’re sharing the time-slot, three. You want to say what’s in your heart, leave your fingerprint in the room, congratulate the honoree and his or her family, then sit down.

7. How do I end my speech? Mazel tov!” and “L’chaim!” get ’em every time.

Molly-Ann Leikin is an executive speechwriter and Emmy nominee living in Santa Monica. Her Web site is anythingwithwords.com.

Chanukah at the White House

My new favorite way to celebrate Chanukah is lighting candles with Barack Obama.

The White House Chanukah Party was held Dec 5, a day after Chanukah.  It was my first time attending the annual event, which President George W. Bush began in 2001.  I don’t expect it’s one of those experiences I’ll ever get used to.

This year the White House held two Chanuka parties, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, each for about 400 invited guests. 

Why in this year did Obama dip twice?

“Frankly,” one long time guest, a well-known pundit, told me,  “he needs Jewish support,” 

The evening party began at 6 pm.  We lined up outside the East Wing and proceeded slowly through three stations of security.

The doors to the East Wing were ringed in gold wreaths. A Marine guard greeted us, and we made our way down a hallway lined with family pictures of Christmases past—the Clintons, the Bushes, the  Obamas– those families.

The rooms inside were a Christmas fantasy.   The first tree was decorated with gold stars, to honor service men and women killed in the line of duty.  Guests stopped and wrote personal holiday notes to soldiers.

As we entered, the a capella group Pizmon, composed of students from Columbia and Jewish Theological Seminary, sang Hebrew songs.  Large oil portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson looked down.

Story continues after the video.

Inside, more trees — so many trees! — and bunting and crèches.  The effect was warm and festive, not gaudy. Each room was a small museum of presidential portraits, American art, rare books. 

In the two larger rooms, four buffet tables bore endless platters of grilled vegetables, tabouli salad, chicken galantine, pastries and of course crisp latkes, each the size of a Kennedy half dollar. Rabbi Levi Shemtov supervised the White House kitchen for the event, making it kosher. Lamb was specially butchered to produce thick, lollipop-sized chops, each seared until just pink, and exquisitely tender.

“I think I ate a whole flock,” said one guest.

Rabbi Shemtov also oversaw the installation of the giant menorah on the Mall. We stood in front of the curved bay window in the Red Room and the bearded Lubavitch rabbi pointed it out to me, shining in the distance.  Two feet behind us in the center of the room rose a massive decorated Christmas tree. 

Most Jewish events are fundraisers, heavy on donors, or conferences, heavy on professionals, or services, heavy on rabbis.  At the White House Chanukkah, they all come together.  I spotted journalists (Jeffrey Goldberg and David Makovsky),  academics (Norman Ornstein and Dr. Arnold Eisen), rabbis (Capers Funnye, Shmuely Yakelovitz, David Ingber, Noah Farkas, Sharon Brous), Jewish professionals (Rachel Levin, Malcolm Hoenlein), professional atheletes (Craig Breslow  of the Boston Red Sox, the Houston Rockets’ Omri Casspi), Israeli Americans (Adam Milstein), cookbook author Joan Nathan, consultant Steve Rabinowitz, all four Jewish Supreme Court Justices, Congressman Henry Waxman and Brad Sherman, former congressmen Robert Wexler and Howard Berman, and White House staffers (Special Assistant to the President Jonathan Greenblatt and Matt Nosanchuk, the new Director of Jewish Outreach as well as many lay community leaders and donors.

There were rabbis of all denominations, from Lubavitch to Reconstructionist, and Jews of all political stripes. To get such a diverse group of Jews together and celebrating under one roof you’d have to be, well, President of the United States.

“You’re not exactly a fan,” one woman said to her husband as they posed in the Obama’s entryway.   

The husband took a few steps until he was beneath a portrait of former First Lady Laura Bush.

“Here,” he said, “now take the picture.”

Before the President and First Lady Michelle Obama entered and after they left, the most well-known face in the room was the man standing by a Christmas tree in the State Dining room, surrounded by a admirers:  Larry David.  The other celebrity in the crowd was Joshua Malina, who came with his wife Melissa Merwin. Malina  currently stars in the White House centered-drama Scandals.   

“You must have been here before,” a guest asked Malina, who rose to fame in another White House drama,  “The West Wing.”

“No,” he said, “I only get to meet fake Presidents.”

A Marine guard stepped away from her official duties, broke out a big smile and asked for a photo beside Malina.   

The biggest celebrities entered the Grand Foyer at about 8 pm. Between the first celebration and the evening one, news came that Nelson Mandela had died, and Obama’s remarks quickly moved to remembering his personal hero.

“Tonight our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family,” he said.  They mourn a moral giant who sought to bring about justice, not only in South Africa but he inspired people around the world to do that. The idea that every human being deserves dignity and the notion that justice shall prevail.”

“Yes!” — an audience member interjected.

“A Supreme Court justice just said that,” the President pointed out.

“Over the last eight days Jews around the world have gathered with friends and family to light the menorah and tell the story of a miracle, of a people who surmounted overwhelming odds, to reclaim their homeland and the right to practice their religion. …We light these candles tonight to remind us we’re still writing the chapters of that story today.”

Obama tied the spirit of Chanukah to the need to remain vigilant in the face of oppression.

“We need to partner with our allies that share those values, including the state of Israel,” Obama said.   “Together with our Israeli friends we’re determined that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.”

The crowd greeted this with cheers and applause, and the President continued.

“For the first time in a decade we have stopped the progress of Iran’s nuclear program,” he continued. “The toughest of our sanctions will remain in place, that’s good for us, that’s good for Israel.  Over the next months, we’re going to continue our diplomacy, to reach a comprehensive solution. And through it all, as always, our commitment to Israel and its security will remain ironclad and unshakable.”

The President then introduced the brass menorah.  It was rescued from a synagogue destroyed by Nazis in the  former Czechoslovakia.  Surrounded by the ornate Christmas decorations, it looked especially humble.

A rabbi who is also an army chaplain led the Shechechyanu and a Chanuka blessing  that did not include the traditional words for the actual lighting of the candles. A conclave of Orthodox rabbis meeting in an adjacent room had earlier decided on the best way to approach the post-Chanuka candle-lighting.

Two Holocaust survivors joined the President in lighting the candles.  The crowd spontaneously began singing “Maoz Tsur”—Rock of Ages.  The President beamed.

In a lighter mood afterwards, he showed off a turkey-shaped menorah that had been given to him at the afternoon ceremony.  He explained that Chanuka and Thanksgiving won’t coincide for another 70,000 years. 

“We call this a ‘Menurkey,” he said.   

At his Chanukah parties,  President  Bush would stand two hours in an actual receiving line, and each guest got a picture.   In years past, Obama came down for the blessings, said a few remarks and left—ten minutes tops.  The feedback from the crowd that made the pilgrimage-slash-schlep to shake his hand was that this did more harm than good.

“Obama got the message,” said one repeat guest.

This time, after the ceremony, Obama descended the podium and shook hands with guests who crowded toward him from behind a cordon.  He spent a half hour making his way around a semi-circle, disappeared behind some doors for a few minutes, then reappeared and crossed the room, speaking with more guests, shaking more hands.

The political reasons aren’t hard to fathom.  The President needs the Jewish community on his side to back him on his current talks with Iran, and on whatever negotiations he may still attempt between Israel and the Palestinians.

And if his drive to reduce rising inequality in America is his professed rest-of-term agenda, he will find natural allies among the mostly well-heeled Chanuka celebrants who traditionally vote liberal on social justice issues.

Earlier that day I toured the Newseum, which had an exhibit on newspaper coverage of the Freedom Summer, when black and white students went South to register black voters and encountered vicious beatings and racism together. Now, I thought, look who’s President.  And look who is singing “Maoz Tsur” in the White House, just  few feet from Bess Truman's piano.

I suppose nothing in Washington operates in a politics-free zone, but it would be cynical, too cynical, to write that evening off as just politics.   There was true hospitality, true thanksgiving, and a bit of the miraculous.

When my turn came to face Obama amid the crush,  we shook hands and I said, “Thank you, Mr. President.”  And I meant it. I really did.


Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Tribe Media Corp. Follow him  @foodaism.

Writing your perfect wedding speech

You’re getting married! He finally popped the question: “Will you sign the prenup here and here?”  

Oh, and he asked The Big One, too. Since you said yes, Vera Wang has been gowning, Jimmy Choo, shoeing. Mothers have been kvelling. Daddies have been liquidating portfolios — and that’s just for the cake.    

Now you have to write your speech. And you want it to be worthy of your sparkling day. Here are a few suggestions that never miss.   

Dig for original thoughts, not what the rest of the world has already recycled. Aren’t you more special than that? Surely you don’t want your speeches clogged up with clichés. 

Don’t expect your remarks to pop out whole and perfect in 10 minutes. Start jotting down notes. In those notes, make a list of things you might want to include. Like a grocery list. Don’t cross anything out. Save it all. There are no wrong answers. You can choose the best items later; now you’re just scribbling down ideas and feelings. 

On your “grocery list,” instead of “linguini, zucchini, scaloppine and gum,” you might write, “Just thinking about you makes me happy.” Then start a new page for all the reasons you’re honored to be your fiancé’s life partner. After that, tell a story or two about your courtship, and you’ve already got a good start on your wedding speech. See?   

Procrastinating is normal. Even with everything you do to avoid writing, the warm-up is part of any creative process. Each warm-up is different. While you’re doing it, you will feel completely nuts. But you aren’t.    

As an example, here’s what I do. While getting ready to write, I go shoe shopping, take long walks, devour candy corn (Brach’s brand only), lock my phones in the trunk and grab my writing ritual stuff: a blue glass of water, a second chair on which I rest my right foot, and Post-its saying “I can do it I can do it I can do it” that I hang around my computer monitor. Next, I roll my shoulders backward and forward, stretch my jaw six times, and finally type something silly, like, “If Brad Pitt divorced Angelina Jolie and begged me to marry him on Wilshire Boulevard in rush hour traffic, I’d have to say no because I love you and…”

At that point, I actually have something on paper, and I’m playing with the words, instead of clobbering any syllable that isn’t perfect. I revise and revise and revise. Eventually, something clicks in my gut saying I’m finished.      

Here are five additional tips for writing your wedding speech.   

• Start early. Don’t wait until the flowers flop over before you commit quality time to what you want to say. As soon as that ring is on your finger, set aside five minutes a day.       

• Practice. Once your speech is finished, rehearsing will help you relax. Honest.  

• Be brief. This is about love, not a debate on health care.     

• Say what you feel, what only you can say because nobody but you is you.         

• Be a little funny, a little teary, and finish on a happy note.  

To show you the importance of choosing every word carefully, I was contacted many years ago by The Hershkowitz (not his real name). He had already asked a remarkable lady to marry him, twice, and got “no way” both times. So he asked me to write his marriage proposal.         

I did. She said yes. He and Julie have been married 27 years.                                 

Now the pressure of the proposal is behind you and your fiancé. And as you approach your wedding, you have all the tools to be sure that somewhere inside you there’s a basket of beautiful words from which to choose just the right syllables for your one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime wedding speech.

Molly-Ann Leikin is an executive speechwriter and Emmy nominee living in Santa Monica. Her Web site is anythingwithwords.com.

Obama full speech from the U.N.

President Barack Obama addressed the United Nations this morning and had plenty to say about Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Video of the speech is at the bottom of this article. The full transcript of his speech is below:

Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: each year we come together to reaffirm the founding vision of this institution. For most of recorded history, individual aspirations were subject to the whims of tyrants and empires. Divisions of race, religion and tribe were settled through the sword and the clash of armies. The idea that nations and peoples could come together in peace to solve their disputes and advance a common prosperity seemed unimaginable.

It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking. The leaders who built the United Nations were not naïve; they did not think this body could eradicate all wars. But in the wake of millions dead and continents in rubble; and with the development of nuclear weapons that could annihilate a planet; they understood that humanity could not survive the course it was on. So they gave us this institution, believing that it could allow us to resolve conflicts, enforce rules of behavior, and build habits of cooperation that would grow stronger over time.

For decades, the U.N. has in fact made a real difference – from helping to eradicate disease, to educating children, to brokering peace. But like every generation of leaders, we face new and profound challenges, and this body continues to be tested. The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.

For much of my time as President, some of our most urgent challenges have revolved around an increasingly integrated global economy, and our efforts to recover from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized, and people are being lifted out of poverty. But this progress is fragile and unequal, and we still have work to do together to assure that our citizens can access the opportunity they need to thrive in the 21st century.

Together, we have also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war-footing. Beyond bringing our troops home, we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible, and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties. We are transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law, while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work, and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago. But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates the dangers that remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. In Pakistan, nearly 100 people were recently killed by suicide bombers outside a church. In Iraq, killings and car bombs continue to be a horrific part of life. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has splintered into regional networks and militias, which has not carried out an attack like 9/11, but does pose serious threats to governments, diplomats, businesses and civilians across the globe.

Just as significantly, the convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa have laid bare deep divisions within societies, as an old order is upended, and people grapple with what comes next. Peaceful movements have been answered by violence – from those resisting change, and from extremists trying to hijack change. Sectarian conflict has reemerged. And the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction casts a shadow over the pursuit of peace.

Nowhere have we seen these trends converge more powerfully than in Syria. There, peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter. In the face of carnage, many retreated to their sectarian identity – Alawite and Sunni; Christian and Kurd – and the situation spiraled into civil war. The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge. Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is still-born. America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis. Assad’s traditional allies have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

The crisis in Syria, and the destabilization of the region, goes to the heart of broader challenges that the international community must now confront. How should we respond to conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa – conflicts between countries, but also conflicts within them? How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war? What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct? What is the role of the United Nations, and international law, in meeting cries for justice?

Today, I want to outline where the United States of America stands on these issues. With respect to Syria, we believe that as a starting point, the international community must enforce the ban on chemical weapons. When I stated my willingness to order a limited strike against the Assad regime in response to the brazen use of chemical weapons, I did not do so lightly. I did so because I believe it is in the security interest of the United States and the world to meaningfully enforce a prohibition whose origins are older than the U.N. itself. The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches; Jews slaughtered in gas chambers; and Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods. It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

I know that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, there were those who questioned the legitimacy of even a limited strike in the absence of a clear mandate from the Security Council. But without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all. However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue, and in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them.

The Syrian government took a first step by giving an accounting of its stockpiles. Now, there must be a strong Security Council Resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so. If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the U.N. is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws. On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.

Agreement on chemical weapons should energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria. I do not believe that military action – by those within Syria, or by external powers – can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria – that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate. In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears of Alawites and other minorities.

As we pursue a settlement, let us remember that this is not a zero-sum endeavor. We are no longer in a Cold War. There’s no Great Game to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe-haven for terrorists. I welcome the influence of all nations that can help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war. And as we move the Geneva process forward, I urge all nations here to step up to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and surrounding countries. America has committed over a billion dollars to this effort, and today, I can announce that we will be providing an additional $340 million. No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to begin rebuilding their country – but it can help desperate people survive.

What broader conclusions can be drawn from America’s policy toward Syria? I know there are those who have been frustrated by our unwillingness to use our military might to depose Assad, and believe that a failure to do so indicates a weakening of America’s resolve in the region. Others have suggested that my willingness to direct even limited military strikes to deter the further use of chemical weapons shows that we have learned nothing from Iraq, and that America continues to seek control over the Middle East for our own purposes. In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors a contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades: the United States is chastised for meddling in the region, and accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy; at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems, and for showing indifference toward suffering Muslim populations.

I realize some of this is inevitable, given America’s role in the world. But these attitudes have a practical impact on the American peoples’ support for our involvement in the region, and allow leaders in the region – and the international community – to avoid addressing difficult problems. So let me take this opportunity to outline what has been U.S. policy towards the Middle East and North Africa, and what will be my policy during the remainder of my presidency.

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region.

We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends upon the region’s energy supply, and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when its necessary to defend the United States against terrorist attacks, we will take direct action.

And finally, we will not tolerate the development or use of weapons of mass destruction. Just as we consider the use of chemical weapons in Syria to be a threat to our own national security, we reject the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global non-proliferation regime.

Now, to say these are America’s core interests is not to say these are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interest to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous; and will continue to promote democracy, human rights, and open markets, because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity. But I also believe that we can rarely achieve these objectives through unilateral American action – particularly with military action. Iraq shows us that democracy cannot be imposed by force. Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community, and with the countries and people of the region.

What does this mean going forward? In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs, and America’s role in overthrowing an Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy, and directly – or through proxies – taken Americans hostage, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.

I don’t believe this difficult history can be overcome overnight – the suspicion runs too deep. But I do believe that if we can resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, that can serve as a major step down a long road towards a different relationship – one based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

Since I took office, I have made it clear – in letters to the Supreme Leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani – that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully, but that we are determined to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and UN Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, and President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic Republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

These statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people, while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable. After all, it is the Iranian government’s choices that have led to the comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place. This isn’t simply an issue between America and Iran – the world has seen Iran evade its responsibilities in the past, and has an abiding interest in making sure that Iran meets its obligations in the future.

We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. Given President Rouhani’s stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government, in close coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. For while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential – in commerce and culture; in science and education.

We are also determined to resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran: the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. I have made clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state. Earlier this year, in Jerusalem, I was inspired by young Israelis who stood up for the belief that peace was necessary, just, and possible, and I believe there is a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state. But the children of Israel have the right to live in a world where the nations assembled in this body fully recognize their country, and unequivocally reject those who fire rockets at their homes or incite others to hate them.

Likewise, the United States remains committed to the belief that the Palestinian people have a right to live with security and dignity in their own sovereign state. On the same trip, I had the opportunity to meet with young Palestinians in Ramallah whose ambition and potential are matched by the pain they feel in having no firm place in the community of nations. They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they recognize that two states is the only real path to peace: because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

The time is now ripe for the entire international community to get behind the pursuit of peace. Already, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have demonstrated a willingness to take significant political risks. President Abbas has put aside efforts to short-cut the pursuit of peace and come to the negotiating table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has released Palestinian prisoners, and reaffirmed his commitment to a Palestinian state. Current talks are focused on final status issues of borders and security, refugees and Jerusalem.

Now the rest of us must also be willing to take risks. Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon the realization of a Palestinian state. Arab states – and those who have supported the Palestinians – must recognize that stability will only be served through a two-state solution with a secure Israel. All of us must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future. Moreover, ties of trade and commerce between Israelis and Arabs could be an engine of growth and opportunity at a time when too many young people in the region are languishing without work. So let us emerge from the familiar corners of blame and prejudice, and support Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are prepared to walk the difficult road to peace.

Real breakthroughs on these two issues – Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli-Palestinian peace – would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa. But the current convulsions arising out of the Arab Spring remind us that a just and lasting peace cannot be measured only by agreements between nations. It must also be measured by our ability to resolve conflict and promote justice within nations. And by that measure, it is clear to all of us that there is much more work to be done.

When peaceful transitions began in Tunisia and Egypt, the entire world was filled with hope. And although the United States – like others – was struck by the speed of transition, and did not – in fact could not – dictate events, we chose to support those who called for change. We did so based on the belief that while these transitions will be hard, and take time, societies based upon democracy and openness and the dignity of the individual will ultimately be more stable, more prosperous, and more peaceful.

Over the last few years, particularly in Egypt, we’ve seen just how hard this transition will be. Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive. The interim government that replaced him responded to the desires of millions of Egyptians who believed the revolution had taken a wrong turn, but it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy – through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society, and opposition parties.

Of course, America has been attacked by all sides of this internal conflict, simultaneously accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, and engineering their removal from power. In fact, the United States has purposely avoided choosing sides. Our over-riding interest throughout these past few years has been to encourage a government that legitimately reflects the will of the Egyptian people, and recognizes true democracy as requiring a respect for minority rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, and a strong civil society.

That remains our interest today. And so, going forward, the United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counter-terrorism. We will continue support in areas like education that benefit the Egyptian people. But we have not proceeded with the delivery of certain military systems, and our support will depend upon Egypt’s progress in pursuing a democratic path.

Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point: the United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests. But we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We will reject the notion that these principles are simply Western exports, incompatible with Islam or the Arab World – they are the birthright of every person. And while we recognize that our influence will at times be limited; although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and will at times be accused of hypocrisy or inconsistency – we will be engaged in the region for the long haul. For the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation.

This includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. Ultimately, such long-standing issues cannot be solved by outsiders; they must be addressed by Muslim communities themselves. But we have seen grinding conflicts come to an end before – most recently in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants finally recognized that an endless cycle of conflict was causing both communities to fall behind a fast-moving world.

In sum, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion. Indeed, as the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed, the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war; rightly concerned about issues back home; and aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim World, may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe that would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. I believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional – in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all. I must be honest, though: we are far more likely to invest our energy in those countries that want to work with us; that invest in their people, instead of a corrupt few; that embrace a vision of society where everyone can contribute – men and women, Shia or Sunni, Muslim, Christian or Jew. Because from Europe to Asia; from Africa to the Americas, nations that persevered on a democratic path have emerged more prosperous, more peaceful, and more invested in upholding our common security and our common humanity. And I believe that the same will hold true for the Arab World.

This leads me to a final point: there will be times when the breakdown of societies is so great, and the violence against civilians so substantial, that the international community will be called upon to act. This will require new thinking and some very tough choices. While the U.N. was designed to prevent wars between states, increasingly we face the challenge of preventing slaughter within states. And these challenges will grow more pronounced as we are confronted with states that are fragile or failing – places where horrendous violence can put innocent men, women and children at risk, with no hope of protection from national institutions.

I have made it clear that even when America’s core interests are not directly threatened, we stand ready to do our part to prevent mass atrocities and protect human rights. Yet we cannot and should not bear that burden alone. In Mali, we supported both the French intervention that successfully pushed back al Qaeda, and the African forces who are keeping the peace. In Africa, we are working with partners to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army to an end. And in Libya, when the Security Council provided a mandate to protect civilians, America joined a coalition that took action. Because of what we did there, countless lives were saved, and a tyrant could not kill his way back to power.

I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson. They point to problems that the country now confronts – a democratically-elected government struggling to provide security; armed groups, in some places extremists, ruling parts of a fractured land – and argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail. No one is more mindful of these problems than I am, for they resulted in the death of four outstanding U.S. citizens who were committed to the Libyan people, including Ambassador Chris Stevens – a man whose courageous efforts helped save the city of Benghazi. But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better if Qadhafi had been allowed to kill, imprison, or brutalize his people into submission? It is far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.

We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye to slaughter. While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, and we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda or Srebrenica? If that’s the world that people want to live in, then they should say so, and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.

I believe we can embrace a different future. If we don’t want to choose between inaction and war, we must get better – all of us – at the policies that prevent the breakdown of basic order. Through respect for the responsibilities of nations and the rights of individuals. Through meaningful sanctions for those who break the rules. Through dogged diplomacy that resolves the root causes of conflict, and not merely its aftermath. Through development assistance that brings hope to the marginalized. And yes, sometimes, all this will not be enough – and in such moments, the international community will need to acknowledge that the multilateral use of military force may be required to prevent the very worst from occuring.

Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks – one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully, and prevent the kind of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs, whether they live in New York or Nairobi; in Peshawar or Damascus.

These are extraordinary times, with extraordinary opportunities. Thanks to human progress, a child born anywhere on Earth can do things today that 60 years ago would have been out of reach for the mass of humanity. I saw this in Africa, where nations moving beyond conflict are now poised to take off. America is with them: partnering to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and to bring power to places off the grid.

I see it across the Pacific, where hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in a single generation. I see it in the faces of young people everywhere who can access the entire world with the click of a button, and who are eager to join the cause of eradicating extreme poverty, combating climate change, starting businesses, expanding freedom, and leaving behind the old ideological battles of the past. That’s what’s happening in Asia and Africa; in Europe and the Americas. That’s the future that the people of the Middle East and North Africa deserve – one where they can focus on opportunity, instead of whether they’ll be killed or repressed because of who they are or what they believe.

Time and again, nations and people have shown our capacity to change – to live up to humanity’s highest ideals, to choose our better history. Last month, I stood where fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. told America about his dream, at a time when many people of my race could not even vote for President. Earlier this year, I stood in the small cell where Nelson Mandela endured decades cut off from his own people and the world. Who are we to believe that today’s challenges cannot be overcome, when we have seen what changes the human spirit can bring? Who in this hall can argue that the future belongs to those who seek to repress that spirit, rather than those who seek to liberate it?

I know what side of history I want to the United States of America to be on. We are ready to meet tomorrow’s challenges with you – firm in the belief that all men and women are in fact created equal, each individual possessed with a dignity that cannot be denied. That is why we look to the future not with fear, but with hope. That’s why we remain convinced that this community of nations can deliver a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world to the next generation.

Malala Yousafzai: ‘Our books and our pens are the most powerful weapons’

This is a transcription of the speech that Malala Yousafzai gave to the United Nations on 12 July 2013, the date of her 16th birthday and “Malala Day” at the UN.

In the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.

Honorable UN Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon, respected president of the General Assembly Vuk Jeremic, honorable UN envoy for global education Mr Gordon Brown, respected elders and my dear brothers and sisters: Assalamu alaikum.

Today is it an honor for me to be speaking again after a long time. Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life and it is an honor for me that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto. I don't know where to begin my speech. I don't know what people would be expecting me to say, but first of all thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and new life. I cannot believe how much love people have shown me. I have received thousands of good wish cards and gifts from all over the world. Thank you to all of them. Thank you to the children whose innocent words encouraged me. Thank you to my elders whose prayers strengthened me. I would like to thank my nurses, doctors and the staff of the hospitals in Pakistan and the UK and the UAE government who have helped me to get better and recover my strength.

I fully support UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his Global Education First Initiative and the work of UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown and the respectful president of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremic. I thank them for the leadership they continue to give. They continue to inspire all of us to action. Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing: Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.

[VIDEO: Malala speaks on education at U.N.]

There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them. So here I stand. So here I stand, one girl, among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.

Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.

I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. This is why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they kill female teachers. That is why they are blasting schools every day because they were and they are afraid of change and equality that we will bring to our society. And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist why are the Taliban against education? He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said, “a Talib doesn't know what is written inside this book.”

They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would point guns at people's heads just for going to school. These terrorists are misusing the name of Islam for their own personal benefit. Pakistan is a peace loving, democratic country. Pashtuns want education for their daughters and sons. Islam is a religion of peace, humanity and brotherhood. It is the duty and responsibility to get education for each child, that is what it says. Peace is a necessity for education. In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflicts stop children from going to schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering in many ways in many parts of the world.

In India, innocent and poor children are victims of child labor. Many schools have been destroyed in Nigeria. People in Afghanistan have been affected by extremism. Young girls have to do domestic child labor and are forced to get married at an early age. Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems, faced by both men and women.

Today I am focusing on women's rights and girls' education because they are suffering the most. There was a time when women activists asked men to stand up for their rights. But this time we will do it by ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women's rights, but I am focusing on women to be independent and fight for themselves. So dear sisters and brothers, now it's time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favor of peace and prosperity. We call upon the world leaders that all of these deals must protect women and children's rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable.

We call upon all governments to ensure free, compulsory education all over the world for every child. We call upon all the governments to fight against terrorism and violence. To protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world. We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, color, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.

Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child's bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change to our voice. We believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world because we ware all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people are suffering from poverty and injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of their schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright, peaceful future.

So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thank you.

Obama in Boston vows U.S. will find perpetrators of bombings

“You will run again,” President Barack Obama told an interfaith service on Thursday for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, in a stirring speech aimed at bringing solace to the city and settling the nerves of a rattled nation.

At a Boston cathedral about a mile from the spot where two bombs on Monday ripped through the crowds at the marathon finish line, killing three people and injuring 176, Obama sought to convey strength by vowing “we will find you” to the person or people behind the attack.

Monday's bombing began a week of security scares that rattled the United States and evoked memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks, ranging from false bomb reports to mail sent to the White House and other federal officials containing the deadly poison ricin.

Investigators in the Texas town of West were looking into the cause of an explosion on Wednesday night at a fertilizer plant that killed up to 15 people and destroyed dozens of homes.

Some of the victims of the Boston attack suffered gruesome injuries, and at least 10 lost limbs as a result of the blasts. Investigators believe the bombs were made of pressure cookers packed with shrapnel.

“As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you, your commonwealth is with you, your country is with you,” Obama said. “We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that, I have no doubt. You will run again.”

Hundreds of people crowded outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston's South End. Police were out in force, and some officers listened to Obama's speech over the radio while standing next to their squad cars.

Among them was Philip Beauregard of Boston, who said, “The president was fantastic. He made it clear that the country is behind the city of Boston.”

After his speech, Obama met with volunteers and Boston Marathon organizers, many of whom cared for the injured, and with victims at Massachusetts General Hospital.


While investigators have made no arrests yet, Obama said of the perpetrator or perpetrators of the attack, “We will find you and you will face justice.”

Investigators are combing through thousands of pieces of evidence, from cell phone pictures submitted by spectators to shards of shrapnel pulled from the legs of victims.

They have not identified any suspects but they want to talk to two men who they have identified in images taken before the blast, law enforcement and national security officials said on Thursday.

“There is some video that has raised the question of those that the FBI would like to speak with,” said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a hearing in Congress on Thursday. “I wouldn't characterize them as suspects under the technical term. But we do need the public's help in locating these individuals.”

Police had considered making an appeal to the public for more information at a news conference on Wednesday, a U.S. government source said, but the FBI canceled it after a number of delays. The FBI said on Thursday it will issue new information on the case at a 5 p.m. ET (2100 GMT) briefing.

The bombs in Boston killed an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard; a 29-year-old woman, Krystle Campbell; and a Boston University graduate student and Chinese citizen, Lu Lingzi.

Before his visit, Obama declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts, a move that makes federal funding available to the state as it copes with the aftermath of the bombing.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Cardinal Sean O'Malley also spoke at the service. Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney also attended.

“This is Boston, a city with courage, compassion and strength that knows no bounds,” said Menino, who was rolled to the podium in a wheelchair but stood for his remarks despite breaking a leg over the weekend. “We love the brave ones who felt the blast and still raced through the smoke with ringing in his ears … to answer cries of those in need.”

Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Daniel Lovering in Boston, Deborah Charles, Mark Hosenball and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Grant McCool

Barack Obama: Leader of the free word

Words matter, especially when spoken by people of power. I once read a book that dissected the 271 words of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Would that speech have become historic if, instead of phrases like “a new birth of freedom,” he had used phrases like “a reaffirmation of our values”?

Would Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech have the same power had he said, “I’m looking forward?”

President Barack Obama is a man who understands the power of words. He introduced himself to Americans with words that electrified a nation. He did the same in Israel.

“Barack Obama came to Jerusalem to win over the Israeli people,” Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in The New Republic, “and with a single speech he did. … It may have been the most passionate Zionist speech ever given by an American president.”

Halevi wrote that Obama’s embrace had “an explicit message for Israelis: Don’t give up on the dream of peace and don’t forget that the Palestinians deserve a state just as you do. But as the repeated ovations from the politically and culturally diverse audience revealed, these are messages that Israelis can hear when couched in affection and solidarity. After four years of missed signals, Obama finally realized that Israelis respond far more to love than to pressure.”

To express this love, Obama used all kinds of words — he used words in Hebrew, words from Abraham Joshua Heschel, words from the Bible, words from his heart.

As I reflected on the power of his words, it struck me that, as much as bombs and rockets play a part in the Arab-Israeli conflict, words play an equally important part.

Duplicitous words from a man named Yasser Arafat convinced America and Israel to deal with a man known globally as a terrorist.

Sincere words from a man named Anwar Sadat convinced the Jewish nation to give up the Sinai and make peace with their Egyptian enemy.

Hopeful words from President Clinton convinced much of the world that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was possible, and oh, so close.

Israeli Jews have had an ambivalent relationship with words. On one hand, words have expressed their hopes and dreams and captured their highest aspirations. Words that speak of the Jewish yearning to return to Zion — “If you will it, it is no dream”— can produce goosebumps. So can words that inspired the Jews to make a desert bloom while fighting off invading armies.

But words can also deceive. They can inflate expectations. They can lead to disappointment and cynicism.

This ambivalence — this complex and tortured relationship with words — is what greeted President Obama when he came to Israel.

Israelis wanted to dream with him. They wanted to follow his lead that we’re not just allowed to dream, we must dream.

But other words kept interfering.

While Obama was speaking of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a “true partner” for peace, the words swirling in many Israeli heads were those of Abbas denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem, or honoring the memories of Palestinian terrorists with the blood of Jewish children on their hands.

While Obama spoke with hope and cautious optimism about the Arab Spring, Israelis could hardly forget the words of hatred that have come their way for decades from the 22 Arab countries that surround them, many of them now in turmoil.

When Obama spoke with empathy about the plight of the Palestinians — “Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes” — the words of a heckler who interrupted the president provided a rude awakening.

“Are you really here to promote the peace process or are you here to give Israel more weapons to kill the Palestinian people with?” Rabiyah Aid, an Arab-Israeli student from Haifa, shouted to the president.

Whose words were more significant? Those of the leader of the free world expressing empathy for the Palestinians, or those of an Arab-Israeli rejecting that empathy?

Obama’s reaction to the heckler was telling — he used it to make a point about freedom of expression in democracies.

Yes, in democracies, words are indeed free. But in much of the Middle East, the words that are free are those that express hatred for Jews and for Israel. Words of love for the dreaded Zionist enemy, well, those are very expensive — they can easily land you in jail.

President Obama came to this crazy land armed with a laptop full of beautiful, powerful, evocative words that make people dream. And his words did put up a good fight against the words of cold reality.

But in the end, peace in the Middle East will come only when all the peoples of the region will be free to speak words of love — words that would make Lincoln, King and Obama proud.

President Obama: ‘People deserve to be free in a land of their own’ [FULL SPEECH]

Prepared text of Barack Obama's speech at the Jerusalem Convention Centre on 21 March, 2013

Shalom. It is an honor to be here with you in Jerusalem, and I am so grateful for the welcome that I have received from the people of Israel. I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together.

Over the last two days, I have reaffirmed the bonds between our countries with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I have borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I have seen Israel's shining future in your scientists and entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated. But what I've looked forward to the most is the ability to speak directly to you, the Israeli people – especially so many young people – about the history that brought us here today, and the future that you will make in the years to come.

Now I know that in Israel's vibrant democracy, every word and gesture is carefully scrutinized. But just so you know, any drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet.

I also know that I come to Israel on the eve of a sacred holiday – the celebration of Passover. And that is where I would like to begin today. Just a few days from now, Jews here in Israel and around the world will sit with family and friends at the Seder table, and celebrate with songs, wine and symbolic foods. After enjoying Seders with family and friends in Chicago and on the campaign trail, I'm proud to have brought this tradition into the White House. I did so because I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah, and the story at the center of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful.

It is a story of centuries of slavery, and years of wandering in the desert; a story of perseverance amidst persecution, and faith in God and the Torah. It is a story about finding freedom in your own land. For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and salvation. It is a part of the three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it is a story that has inspired communities around the globe, including me and my fellow Americans.

In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land. To African-Americans, the story of the Exodus told a powerful tale about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement. For generations, this promise helped people weather poverty and persecution, while holding on to the hope that a better day was on the horizon. For me personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.

Of course, even as we draw strength from the story of God's will and His gift of freedom expressed on Passover, we know that here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle, and working – through generation after generation – on behalf of that ideal of freedom. As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed – “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that… we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” So just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on – for justice and dignity; for opportunity and freedom.

For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice, pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.

That is why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own. And over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins.

And so Israel has been a refuge for the diaspora – welcoming Jews from Europe to the former Soviet Union; from Ethiopia to North Africa.

Israel has built a prosperous nation – through kibbutzeem that made the desert bloom, business that broadened the middle class, and innovators who reached new frontiers – from the smallest microchip to the orbits of space.

Israel has established a thriving democracy – with a spirited civil society, proud political parties, a tireless free press, and a lively public debate – lively may even be an understatement.

And Israel has achieved this even as it has overcome relentless threats to its security – through the courage of the Israel Defense Forces, and a citizenry that is resilient in the face of terror.

This is the story of Israel. This is the work that has brought the dreams of so many generations to life. And every step of the way, Israel has built unbreakable bonds of friendship with the United States of America.

Those ties began only eleven minutes after Israeli independence, when the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel. As President Truman said in explaining his decision to recognize Israel, “I believe it has a glorious future before it not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization”

Since then, we have built a friendship that advances our shared interests. Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. Together, we share a focus on advancing economic growth around the globe, and strengthening the middle class within our countries. Together, we share a stake in the success of democracy.

But the source of our friendship extends beyond interests, just as it has transcended political parties and individual leaders. America is a nation of immigrants. We are strengthened by diversity. We are enriched by faith. We are governed not simply by men and women, but by laws. We are fueled by entrepreneurship and innovation. And we are defined by a democratic discourse that allows each generation to reimagine and renew our union once more. So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different.

Yet I stand here today mindful that for both our nations, these are complicated times. We have difficult issues to work through within our own countries, and we face danger and upheaval in the world. When I look at young people within the United States, I think about the choices that they must make in their lives to define who we will be as a nation in this 21st century, particularly as we emerge from two wars and a painful recession. No matter how great the challenges are, their idealism, their energy, and their ambition always gives me hope.

I see the same spirit in the young people here today. And given the ties between our countries, I believe your future is bound to ours. So I'd like to focus on how we can work together to make progress in three areas that will define our times: security, peace, and prosperity.

I will begin with security. I am proud that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger: more exercises between our militaries, and more exchanges among our political, military and intelligence officials than ever before; the largest program to date to help you retain your qualitative military edge. Those are the facts. But to me, this is not simply measured on the balance sheet. I know that here, in Israel, security is something personal. So let me tell you what I think about when I consider these issues.

When I consider Israel's security, I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot – children, the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live. That's why we've invested in the Iron Dome system to save countless lives – because those children deserve to sleep better at night. That's why we have made it clear, time and again, that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and have stood up for Israel's right to defend itself. And that's why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from; who were robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families. That's why every country that values justice should call Hizbollah what it truly is – a terrorist organization. Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians, stockpiles rockets to shoot at cities, and supports the massacre of men, women and children in Syria.

The fact that Hizbollah's ally – the Assad regime – has stockpiles of chemical weapons only heightens the urgency. We will continue to cooperate closely to guard against that danger. And I have made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the transfer of these weapons to terrorists. The world is watching, and we will hold you accountable.

America will also insist that the Syrian people have the right to be freed from the grip of a dictator who would rather kill his own people than relinquish power. Assad must go so that Syria's future can begin. Because true stability in Syria depends upon establishing a government that is responsive to its people – one that protects all communities within its borders, while making peace with countries beyond them.

When I consider Israel's security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel's destruction. It's no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat. But this is not simply a challenge for Israel – it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States. It would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism, undermine the non-proliferation regime, spark an arms race in a volatile region, and embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.

That is why America has built a coalition to increase the cost to Iran of failing to meet their obligations. The Iranian government is now under more pressure than ever before, and that pressure is increasing. It is isolated. Its economy is in a dire condition. Its leadership is divided. And its position – in the region, and the world – has only grown weaker.

All of us have an interest in resolving this issue peacefully. Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Moreover, peace is far more preferable to war, and the inevitable costs – and unintended consequences – that would come with it. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That is what America will do – with clear eyes – working with a world that is united, and with the sense of urgency that is required.

But Iran must know this time is not unlimited. And I have made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained. As President, I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

For young Israelis, I know that these issues of security are rooted in an experience that is even more fundamental than the pressing threat of the day. You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected your right to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all they had to make a place for themselves in this world. Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Your children grow up knowing that people they have never met hate them because of who they are, in a region that is changing underneath your feet.

So that is what I think about when Israel is faced with these challenges – that sense of an Israel that is surrounded by many in this region who reject it, and many in the world who refuse to accept it. That is why the security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important – because it can never be taken for granted. But make no mistake: those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel's right to exist might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo lah-vahd.

The question, then, is what kind of future Israel will look forward to. And that brings me to the subject of peace.

I know Israel has taken risks for peace. Brave leaders – Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin –reached treaties with two of your neighbors. You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, and then faced terror and rockets. Across the region, you have extended a hand of friendship, and too often have been confronted with the ugly reality of anti-Semitism. So I believe that the Israeli people do want peace, and you have every right to be skeptical that it can be achieved.

But today, Israel is at a crossroads. It can be tempting to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace – particularly when an Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers, and so many other pressing issues demand your attention. And I know that only Israelis can make the fundamental decisions about your country's future.

I also know that not everyone in this hall will agree with what I have to say about peace. I recognize that there are those who are not simply skeptical about peace, but question its underlying premise, and that's a part of democracy and the discourse between our two countries. But it is important to be open and honest with one another. Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside, and express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do. But I want you to know that I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future, and I ask you to consider three points.

First, peace is necessary. Indeed, it is the only path to true security. You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine. Given the frustration in the international community, Israel must reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war – because no wall is high enough, and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm.

This truth is more pronounced given the changes sweeping the Arab World. I recognize that with the uncertainty in the region – people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of non-secular parties in politics –it is tempting to turn inward. But this is precisely the time to respond to the wave of revolution with a resolve for peace. As more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace with a handful of autocratic leaders are over. Peace must be made among peoples, not just governments. No one step can change overnight what lies in the hearts and minds of millions. But progress with the Palestinians is a powerful way to begin, while sidelining extremists who thrive on conflict and division.

Second, peace is just. There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, and leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is why security must be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiation. That is why, despite the criticism we've received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations.

But the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

Only you can determine what kind of democracy you will have. But remember that as you make these decisions, you will define not simply the future of your relationship with the Palestinians – you will define the future of Israel as well. As Ariel Sharon said, “It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all.” Or, from a different perspective, think of what David Grossman said shortly after losing his son, as he described the necessity of peace – “a peace of no choice” he said, “must be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice.”

Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Over the last few years, they have built institutions and maintained security on the West Bank in ways that few would have imagined a decade ago. So many Palestinians – including young people – have rejected violence as a means of achieving their aspirations.

Which leads to my third point: peace is possible. I know it doesn't seem that way. There will always be a reason to avoid risk, and there's a cost for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse to not act. And there is something exhausting about endless talks about talks; the daily controversies, and grinding status quo.

Negotiations will be necessary, but there is little secret about where they must lead – two states for two peoples. There will be differences about how to get there, and hard choices along the way. Arab States must adapt to a world that has changed. The days when they could condemn Israel to distract their people from a lack of opportunity are over. Now is the time for the Arab World to take steps toward normalized relations with Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable– that real borders will have to be drawn. I've suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for talks. But for the moment, put aside the plans and process. I ask you, instead, to think about what can be done to build trust between people.

Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people. Politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want – they're not so different from you. The ability to make their own decisions; to get an education and a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married and have a family. The same is true of the young Palestinians that I met in Ramallah this morning, and of young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.

That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in a carefully designed process, but in the daily connections that take place among those who live together in this land, and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.

I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at young people who have not yet learned a reason to mistrust, and those who have learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents because of the simple recognition that we hold more hopes in common than the fear that drives us apart. Your voices must be louder than the extremists who would drown them out. Your hopes must light the way forward. Look to a future in which Jews, Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. Look to the future that you want for your own children – a future in which a Jewish, democratic state is protected and accepted, for this time and for all time.

There will be many voices that say this change is not possible. But remember this: Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but also the courage to see the world as it should be. Ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Sometimes, the greatest miracle is recognizing that the world can change. After all, that is a lesson that the world learned from the Jewish people.

That brings me to the final area I will focus on: prosperity, and Israel's broader role in the world. I know that all the talk about security and peace can seem distant from other concerns that you have in your daily lives. And every day, even amidst the threats you face, Israelis are defining themselves by the opportunities you create.

Through talent and hard work, Israelis have put this small country at the forefront of the global economy. Israelis understand the value of education, and have produced 10 Nobel laureates. Israelis understand the power of invention, and your universities educate engineers and inventors. That spirit has led to economic growth and human progress: solar power and electric cars; bandages and prosthetic limbs that save lives; stem cell research and new drugs that treat disease; cell phones and computer technology that change the way we live. If people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv: home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers. And Israelis are so active on social media that every day seemed to bring a different Facebook campaign about where I should give this speech.

That innovation is just as important to the relationship between the United States and Israel as our security cooperation. Our first free trade agreement in the world was reached with Israel nearly three decades ago, and today the trade between our two countries is at 40 billion dollars each year. More importantly, that partnership is creating new products and medical treatments, and pushing new frontiers of science and exploration.

That is the kind of relationship that Israel should have – and could have – with every country in the world. Already, we see how that innovation could reshape this region. One program here in Jerusalem brings together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn vital skills in technology and business. An Israeli and Palestinian have started a venture capital fund to finance Palestinian start-ups. Over 100 high-tech companies have found a home on the West Bank, which speaks to the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of the Palestinian people.

One of the great ironies of what is happening in the broader region is that so much of what people are yearning for – education and entrepreneurship; the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, to connect to the global economy – those things can be found in Israel. This should be a hub for thriving regional trade, and an engine of opportunity. And this is already a center for innovation that helps power the global economy. I believe that all of that potential for prosperity can be enhanced with greater security, and a lasting peace.

Here, in this small strip of land that has been the center of so much tragedy and triumph, Israelis have built something that few could imagine sixty-five years ago. Tomorrow, I will pay tribute to that history – at the grave of Herzl, a man who had the foresight to see that the future of the Jewish people had to be reconnected to their past; at the grave of Rabin, who understood that Israel's victories in war had to be followed by battles for peace; and at Yad Vashem, where the world is reminded of the cloud of evil that can descend on the Jewish people and all of humanity if we fail to remain ever vigilant.

We bear that history on our shoulders, and we carry it in our hearts. Today, as we face the twilight of Israel's founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim the future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the story of this great nation.

As the President of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend, I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead. And as a man who has been inspired in my own life by that timeless calling within the Jewish experience – tikkun olam – I am hopeful that we can draw upon what's best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come; to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war; and to do the work of repairing this world. May God bless you, and may God bless Israel and the United States of America. Toda raba.

Palestinians insulted by Mitt Romney’s comments

Just eight weeks before the American presidential elections, Palestinians are furious over comments by Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The private remarks were made in May to wealthy donors but released only now.

Palestinians are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel,” Romney said, adding that prospects for a two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel were dim.

“You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this going to remain an unsolved problem, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that, ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”

According to Mother Jones magazine, which posted the video clip of Romney’s comments on its website, the former Massachusetts governor made the remarks at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser at Boca Raton, Florida. Boca Raton has a wealthy Jewish community, although it was not clear how many Jews were at the Romney fundraiser.

“It’s political illiteracy – has he even ever read a book about Palestine?” Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the president of the PASSIA think tank in east Jerusalem fumed to The Media Line. “On one level Palestinians are laughing at this, but on another level it will be very serious if this man has any say in our future.”

The comments come as the latest polls show a close race between Romney and President Obama. Although American Jews account for only two percent of the population, they represent significant voting blocs in important swing states like Florida. Polls show that more than two-thirds of Jews who plan to vote will cast their ballot for President Obama, although many believe he is not as supportive of Israel as were some of his predecessors.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the putative seat of Palestinian government, Palestinians reacted angrily to Romney’s comments.

“He’s buying votes,” 27-year old Morad Al-Siory told The Media Line. “How can you judge Palestine if you haven’t seen both sides? I’m right here and I see it with my own eyes.”

Al-Siory said he had come to Ramallah to visit his family. His father, Mohammed, who owns a falafel stand, agreed with his son’s comments.

“How can you swim if you don’t get wet?” he asked. “I’d love to see American policy in the Middle East change.”

He also said, however, that he was frustrated with President Obama’s policy and that there was only a slight chance that he might do something different than Romney if re-elected.

“In the last four years he’s done nothing” Al-Siory said. “He fooled the Arabs and the Muslims with his speech in Cairo.”

He was referring to the speech that President Obama made in Egypt soon after taking office in which he called for “a new beginning” in relations between the US and the Arab world. It was seen at the time as an effort to reach out to the Arab world.

Palestinian officials also responded angrily to Romney’s comments.

“No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians,” chief negotiator Sa’ib Ariqat told the Reuters news agency. “Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace.”

But other Palestinian analysts said the statements had to be seen in context — as part of the election campaign, where Jewish donors and voters play an important role.

“Palestinians have learned through experience not to take statements made during election campaigns seriously,” Ghassan Al-Khatib, a professor of contemporary Arab studies at Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. “When you compare what we hear during the campaign and what presidents do in the future, you don’t see the connections.”

At the same time, Khatib said the statements further reinforced previous Palestinian attitudes toward the Republican candidate, who is perceived to have little foreign policy experience.

“This is not a surprise for the Palestinians,” Khatib said. “The impression is that Romney has been extraordinarily hostile and negative towards Palestinians all along.”

Obama pledges commitment to Israel, unity against Iran

President Obama said the U.S. commitment to Israel's security “must not waver” and that the world must unite against Iran's nuclear ambitions.

“Our commitment to Israel's security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace” Obama said to cheers Thursday night, accepting the Democratic Party's nomination. “The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions.”

The party's convention here has been dogged this week by headlines reviving reports of tensions between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Democratic platform removed language recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and then restored it at Obama's behest.

Reports out of Israel suggest that its government is more exercised than ever by what it sees as Obama's refusal to make clear to Iran the consequences of not ending its suspected nuclear weapons program, including a possible military strike.

The speech President Obama must give on Syria

I believe that the first African-American president has a special responsibility to promote human freedom and the infinite worth of the human person. I believe the same obligation will be incumbent upon the first Jewish President, whomever he or she will be. Two communities that have experienced the wholesale decimation of their people have a special responsibility to promote the infinite value of human life.

For me, the greatest mystery of Barack Obama is why our President has failed to speak out forcefully and continually on behalf of the earth’s most oppressed people.

Now, I’m more puzzled than ever. Virtually every week, the President returns to the island of Manhattan to raise money for his reelection bid. Could he not take off a couple of hours from gathering cash, drive across Manhattan to the East Side, and address the United Nations about the innocent Arabs of Syria who are being slaughtered like flies by the arch-butcher Bashar al-Assad?



Words from the heart

The nerve-wracking morning of a bar or bat mitzvah will eventually be all that’s left standing between a student and his or her catered night of extravagant partying. The b’nai mitzvah coach already has helped detangle the Hebrew and trope, but the pressure of reading the Torah portion and haftarah, as well as delivering a speech in front of hundreds of family members, friends and congregants, might make even a usually unassuming bimah look terrifying.

That’s where Jane Jacobs of Speak the Speech comes in. An experienced communication coach, Jacobs provides performance training to public speakers—from corporate professionals to brides and grooms. She also works independently with b’nai mitzvah students across the San Fernando Valley. What she offers is quite different from the Hebrew-focused preparation of a b’nai mitzvah coach; it aims to create performances and speeches that leave remarkable impressions.

Whatever You’re Feeling Is What Your Listeners Get

Jacobs, a trained actor and singer, believes in the power of building any performance from the inside out. Of initial importance in this process is pinpointing the true motivations behind a young adult’s desire for a bar or bat mitzvah. If a teenager is acting only out of obligation or pressure, he or she may be unlikely to give a heartfelt speech or reading; personalized meaning and passion must be woven into every step of the performance.

“If you give a word meaning, the rest takes care of itself,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to connect with your meaning first. If you connect with your meaning, you’ll connect with your listeners.”

A Little Fear Is Healthy

According to national surveys, the fear of public speaking tops fears of illness, flying, terrorism and even death itself.

“In other words, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy,” comedian Jerry Seinfeld has joked.

Jacobs points out that, although partially a self-fulfilling prophecy in our culture, the fear of public speaking stems from the fact that a speaker’s body, voice and presence is left completely vulnerable to judgment.

Genuine confidence during a speech or Torah reading may be a great line of defense, but fear doesn’t always have to play the role of the enemy. Jacobs emphasizes that, when channeled correctly, a little stage fright is actually good for a performance.

“Adrenaline expresses itself in many ways: One is fear, one is excitement,” she said. “Which do you want to choose? It’s the same chemical.”

The type of energy created by converting anxiety into excitement often works to keep speakers on their toes and fully present during a rare moment that begs to be savored.

Winging It Is for the Birds

Preparation fosters the very confidence vital to all the day’s feats: a meaningful speech, a smooth performance, a feel-good sense of excitement and a relative amount of relaxation in an otherwise stressful situation.

“If you’ve rehearsed this thing enough, you’ve rehearsed successes,” Jacobs reminds her students.

Aside from repetitive practice, Jacobs encourages young people to set themselves up for success in every way, from the clothes they wear (“Dress for the part”) to what they eat and drink before standing up in front of an entire congregation.

Success Is Not Going to Be Perfection

Even the most prepared, articulate and confident student is fair game for the occasional slip-up—but it doesn’t matter. As with any public performance, many elements are out of a performer’s control, and audiences are particularly quick to forgive mistakes after they’ve been successfully distracted by something truly moving.

“People don’t remember what you tell them; they remember how you made them feel,” Jacobs said. “If you make a mistake [but] you’ve got them in the palm of your hand, they won’t even remember it.”

Ruminating on insignificant performance details not only diminishes the much higher importance of meaningful emotion, it also tends to be a fairly certain way to instantly kill a speaker’s focus.

The Parents’ Speeches Are Just As Important

Jacobs tells the story of one bar mitzvah student whose parents’ performance on the big day was just as shaky as their child’s: “It was time for the parents’ speech. The son was looking for approval in the room, the mother was looking at her notes—looking up and dropping her eyes and reading off the piece of paper—and the father stuck his hands in his pockets and rambled for 15 minutes. I don’t know what he said!”

In Jacobs’ experience, problems like severe stage fright tend to become more deeply ingrained in adults over time. Parents could take a cue from their kids by using the same methods of practice—and even coaching—to bring their own speeches to a heightened standard. The entire event will come together beautifully when every speech moves the listener. Maybe more important, if a bar or bat mitzvah is looking for an example of an effective and confident performer to emulate, who better than Mom and Dad?

For more information about Jane Jacobs and Speak the Speech, visit speak-speech.com

Arab-Israeli lawmaker in Ottawa speech calls for West Bank boycott

An Arab-Israeli member of Israel’s Knesset appears to have contravened an Israeli law by calling on Canadians to boycott Israel.

Ahmad Tibi, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, called for a boycott of companies and products linked to Israeli towns in the West Bank and other disputed territory, Canada’s Postmedia News reported.

During a visit to Ottawa on Monday, Tibi tested the Boycott Law, which came into force in Israel last July and allows civil actions against those who encourage boycotts against the Jewish state.

“I said that I am willing to test this immoral law trying to prevent me, as a member of the parliament, from expressing my views against the settlements in a peaceful way,” Tibi said.

Israeli Jewish settlements on the West Bank “are a cancer spreading all over Palestinian land, and cancer should be treated and eradicated,” he said. “I am talking about a peaceful and nonviolent way by not buying or selling or dealing in these products from these settlements.”

Tibi said Canada’s staunchly pro-Israel government “is not willing to differentiate between, for example, products coming from settlements and products coming from Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post reported that on the following morning, Israel Beiteinu Anglos, the English arm of the nationalist Israel political party, began a social media campaign against Tibi.

“It is about time we boycott Tibi,” a party spokesman wrote on the Israel Beiteinu Anglos Facebook Timeline. “He accepts the taxes of those brave Israelis who live over the ‘Green Line’ and then calls to boycott them.”

Opinion: Audiences should ‘RSVP’ to bullies

Over the past 10 years, we have repeatedly witnessed efforts to shut down guest speakers who present an Israeli perspective on college campuses and in communities.

There are times when sponsors publicize their upcoming Israel-related program, that anti-Israel groups mobilize to hijack the event and attempt to silence the speaker. Most often, members of these groups shout over the featured guest in a series of successive interruptions. They may also suddenly rush to the podium with large banners and shout slogans, or they may organize “silent” walkouts that disrupt the audience and distract the speaker. The lecturer becomes frustrated, unable to speak above the agitators’ commotion. Audience members become visibly upset.

Usually, audiences respond spontaneously with indignation and anger. When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly in New Orleans in 2010, anti-Israel hecklers stood up one by one to shout him down. Each time a heckler screamed, the surrounding audience members became incensed and began yelling back, “Get out of here!” or “You are an idiot!” or other expressions of outrage. When demonstrators crashed the breakout sessions on Iran and on-campus activities at the AIPAC conference in March 2012, attendees were furious, and some impulsively jumped up to surround the agitators and shout at them. The same audience scenario played out when two young Israelis spoke at UC Davis in February 2012, when agitators refused to stop hurling loud comments throughout the presentation. Similarly, during Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk at UC Irvine in February 2010, audiences reacted with outrage when the event was nearly hijacked by Muslim Student Association (MSA) students, who repeatedly interrupted Ambassador Oren according to their premeditated plan.

The audience reaction at these events should come as no surprise. Attendees have a visceral, almost instinctive reaction to the demonstrators’ aggression. They are startled. Their concentration has been rudely interrupted. They are outraged by the abuse of normally accepted decorum at public events and by the violation of their right to hear the speaker. Some audience members become particularly angry because they have been looking forward to the event or helped to plan or even finance it.

The agitators anticipate that the audience will react with anger. They have their video cameras ready to record the predictably unruly response by audience members. They then post their videos of the audience reaction on the Internet, often editing out their own provocations, and hope the footage will go viral because it makes the audience, not the disrupters, look aggressive and threatening.

Agitators at pro-Israel events are sharing their tactics with affiliated groups, so we anticipate similar disruptions at future Israel-related programs.

Sponsors and audiences of these events should not be surprised by these disruptions. They should expect them. But they can reply with “RSVP”—guidelines that will focus attention on the agitators instead of the anticipated anger of the audience.

R—Rules: Organizers should establish clear rules at the beginning of an event so attendees know how the audience should behave and the expected consequences for disrupters. After requesting that everyone participate civilly and respect the invited guest’s right to speak, the moderator should invite attendees to exercise their own right to free speech at the appropriate time during the Q and A. The moderator should also explain that those who do not follow these rules will be asked to leave.

S—Security: It would be wise to ensure that security officials are present and that they have been instructed to immediately escort any disrupters out of the room. If the police and school administrators are involved during the planning stage of an event, they are more likely to help reinforce the right to free speech, which includes the right to hear the speaker.

V—Video Camera: Audience members should bring their video cameras. Footage of the disruption can be extremely valuable. It can expose the thuggish tactics of the agitators and be used as evidence by officials to discipline or prosecute the offenders. Such footage provided important evidence for the proceedings against the MSA students who disrupted Ambassador Oren in 2010.

P—Professional: The atmosphere at an event would remain calmer if attendees would act like educated professionals, exercise restraint throughout a disruption, and refer agitators to security personnel instead of interacting with them. The agitators would be more conspicuous, and it would be easier for security to identify them and escort them out of the room. In addition, there would be no incriminating video footage for the anti-Israel activists to distribute. In some cases, audiences have spontaneously and calmly seized the upper hand by clapping and singing in unison, preventing the bullies from being heard or getting a “turn” to speak out of turn. This has been especially effective during events where anti-Israel attendees have conspired to make successive interruptions.

In short, event organizers and audiences do not have to simply be victims of the anti-Israel agitators. They can RSVP—act in constructive ways that counter and expose the bullies—and remain on the moral high ground, where they belong. It is important to RSVP and counter the disrupters, not just because they offend us personally, but also because they are trying to shut down pro-Israel mainstream voices, assaulting the very principles of free speech.

Roz Rothstein is a co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs, Roberta Seid, PhD is the research director of StandWithUs.

Israeli President Shimon Peres’ speech at Dreamworks

The Israeli President Mr. Shimon Peres, met with Dreamworks’ leaders and gave a speech in front of several hundred staff members of the company