When President Obama nominated Jack Lew to be his next treasury secretary, he could not avoid teasing Lew for his only known fault – his illegible signature. “Jack assures me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency should he be confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury,” Obama joked back in January.
And Lew took notice.
After two and half months in office, Jack Lew unveiled his new signature, doing away with the loopy squiggly John Hancock that had become his trade mark, in favor of a way more conventional “Jacob Lew” signature, with a pronounced J and L and a winding W at the end.
Lew is the most senior Jewish member on Obama’s team and the only Orthodox Jew to hold a top cabinet position. When first nominated, handwriting experts said his eccentric signature, made up of a series of loops, indicated a personality that can “adapt quickly” and Lew proved to be just that, with his complete signature makeover.
Attention to Lew’s signature was not only an item of curiosity and a rare glance into the head of the otherwise perfectly molded civil servant. As Treasury Secretary, Lew’s signature will be on every new currency bill printed in the United States. And so the threat of having dollar bills carry an strange looking string of circular loops has been lifted, depriving Americans from an opportunity to see a more whimsical signature adorn bills in their wallets.
A new poll indicates that Barack Obama’s Middle East visit left Israelis less convinced that he is pro-Palestinian.
A survey conducted before the visit found that 36% of Israelis considered the president more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli. This fell a remarkable 20% to 16% in a survey published today. Smith Research conducted both surveys.
Though Israelis now view Obama as less pro-Palestinian, there has been only a tiny increase in those who say that he is more pro-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. Only 27% of respondents took this view, compared to 26% before the visit.
The Jerusalem Post, which commissioned both Smith polls, stated that the new survey shows that Obama made an impression on Israelis but “not the impression he was trying to make.” But one wonders if this is a fair interpretation.
The results were a way of Israeli’s saying that they’re less skeptical and less convinced that Obama is on “the other side” but not yet ready to endorse him, which is only a natural part of the process of warming to him. Or at least, it’s a natural way of them expressing themselves if confronted with this rather odd line of questioning.
Why ask people which “side” Obama is taking, constructing pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli as polar opposites? This makes an assumption that not all Israelis accept, but which all respondents are forced to adhere to. And perhaps in part the fact that the pro-Palestinian figure dropped without any significant increase in the pro-Israeli future points to the problem with this model of questioning.
Just before the doors of the Old Family Dining Room swing open to welcome Elijah to the White House Seder, Dr. Eric Whitaker, a friend of President Obama, reads aloud the Emancipation Proclamation.
Last week, as I researched the Obama Seder (the only Seder hosted by a sitting President), I was struck by several things, including the homey feeling of it and the extraordinary circumstances of the first Seder on the campaign trail in 2008. But nothing struck me as much as this profound reminder of the real meaning of Passover.
The Emancipation Proclamation is perhaps the grandest-named document in American history aside from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. But the practical implications for slaves when it was enacted on January 1, 1863, were far fewer than its name would imply.
Issued by Abraham Lincoln, the document only liberated a very small number of slaves. Freedom for most black Americans didn’t come about until the Civil War was won and the 13th Amendment was adopted nearly three years later. And, of course, it took a century more before even a semblance of real equality was achieved.
Despite its shortcomings, the sentiment of the document can not be overlooked. It was a crucial step in the fight to create a country where freedom and equality are rights granted to everyone.
Similarly, during the Seder, we end the story of the Exodus long before the Jewish people reach the Promised Land (40 years, to be precise). And most of those liberated from Egypt would die on that long journey towards a truly free life.
Strategically sandwiching his public criticism of Israeli policy in the middle of three days committing himself to Jewish history and hopes, President Barack Obama flies out of Ben Gurion airport hoping that Israelis will remember the balance in his visit.
The visit was all about critical mass. He wanted a critical mass of poignant words, actions and visits that would push the buttons of Israelis, in order to make the reprimand for Israeli policy towards Palestinians in his speech yesterday just one part of a bigger picture. The reprimand was essential for his agenda, but for it to be received by mainstream Israel as caring not denigrating, all of the rest of the trip’s content was important. Here’s five things to remember about the historic trip:
Joke’s on Bibi Obama made himself him seem familiar and friendly. Hence his joke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his sons are “very good looking young men who clearly got their looks from their mother.”
It wasn’t very funny – in fact it would’ve been far funnier if he suggested they got their dress sense from their mother – but it sent Israelis the message that Obama isn’t sparring with their Prime Minister, and if Bibi is sharing jokes with him, who are they to be suspicious?
Touch of Hebrew Whether it was Obama speaking in Hebrew on a few occasions, or making reference to the Israeli television satire Eretz Nehederet, it sent the signal out that Obama appreciates their culture and has made some efforts to understand it.
Barack Obama stepped down from the podium a couple hours ago after delivering what my gut tells me was a historic speech.
I have two reasons for thinking this is true, but take these comments as a quick, first reaction.
More than any other American president who has spoken about Israel and the conflict, Obama used a thoroughly Israeli vocabulary. He described how an Israeli perceives the security situation in terms that spoke directly to Israel’s historical memory, siege mentality, and utter fatigue with high-minded talk of peace.
Here’s how he described what it means to be an Israeli:
You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected the right of your nation to exist, and your grandparents had to risk their lives and all that 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’ve never met may hate them because of who they are, in a region that is full of turmoil and changing underneath your feet.
This was the language that hit its mark, the Israeli kishkes, more than the name checks of Sharon, Ben-Gurion, and Rabin, or the tortured attempts to throw out a word in Hebrew here or there.
And it felt like a departure from past rhetoric, which spoke about the necessity for peace without acknowledging why it might be so hard for Israelis to take the concept seriously any more.
Barack Obama had young Israelis eating out of his hand, during his speech in Jerusalem, ticking all the boxes that the audience hoped, and throwing in a few good laughs.
He reiterated his commitment to Israel’s security, spoke of the importance of the missile defense systems in the south to ensure that children can “sleep at night,” gave reassurances on Iran, with “all options” on the table and asserting that it’s “no wonder” that Israelis view it as an existential threat. He echoed Jerusalem’s desire to see Hezbollah labeled internationally as a terrorist organization.
But the unique element of this speech was his raising of the themes he hasn’t discussed at length in front of Netanyahu and Peres. He asked the young Israelis to put themselves in the shoes of Palestinians, and spoke of the difficulties faced by Palestinians, with implied criticism for Israeli policy in the West Bank. He asserted that Israel does have partners for peace at the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. “There’s an opportunity, there is a window,” he said. And most significant of all, he called on the young to be an agent for change, and push their leaders to move forward on the cause of peace. And with this plea, he lived up the expectation that he would, in at least one area, circumvent Israel’s leadership and try over its head to communicate his vision to normal Israelis.
He did it with conviction and grace, even dealing with a heckling situation with wit, and employed Hebrew to tell the audience “atem lo lovad” or you are not alone (real meaning: “don’t listen to all of your government’s panicking as the U.S. won’t let anything happen to Israel).
Obama’s humor was a real hit with the crowd, especially his well-researched gag that reports of discord between him and Netanyahu have been a ploy to generate material for Israel’s most popular satire show, Eretz Nehederet.
Moshe Ya’alon was one of the first ministers that Obama met for more than a handshake and a brief chat, as he was part of the small party that accompanied him to the Iron Dome.
Moments before they viewed the installation, Obama said: “We stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land,” which for him means the two-state solution. “Even as we are clear eyed about the difficulties, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbors.”
Well, actually, Ya’alon is pretty clear that he’s lost sight of the kind of vision for peace Obama refers to. He is a left-winger who has taken a sharp turn. As the Forward reported last week, he thinks that the two-state option is a lost cause, and has said that anybody who sees a solution on the horizon is engaging in “self-deception” and promoting a “golden calf.”
And Ya’alon, while often portrayed as restrained on the issue of Iran, has been rather cutting about where Obama stands on the issue in the past. Early last year he claimed that his administration was too cautious over imposing sanctions on Iran because of “election year considerations.” Britain and France, he said, were being very firm on sanctions, but not so America.
“In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-one, to impose these sanctions, and in the U.S. administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations,” he said. “In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now.”
Ya’alon’s predecessor Ehud Barak signed off settlement building plans, as is required of his office, but wasn’t pro-active in this area, delayed a lot of applications, and evacuated some illegal settler homes. Ya’alon by contrast is enthusiastic about settlements, and sees them growing.
When the last Israeli government, Washington often communicated with Barak out of preference to with Netanyahu, finding his positions, in some respects, close to those of Washington. Obama’s encounter with Ya’alon will have directed his attention on just how different the atmosphere between Washington and this government office is likely to become over the coming months.
Israelis awoke this morning to hear that four Palestinian rockets were launched towards Israel from Gaza and two had slammed in to the town of Sderot, without causing injuries. After months of quiet on the border following Israel’s Gaza operation in November, the Gaza militants who launched the rockets clearly intended to send a strong message to Obama.
It goes something like this. You may arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, talk at length with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the American-Israeli security partnership, and inspect the Iron Dome missile defense system that you have funded. But it can’t completely seal the Israeli south from attacks – you can’t ignore us.
There’s more. The second part of the message refers to internal Palestinian politics, and goes like this. You’re going to Ramallah today to talk to the Palestinian Authority. Don’t imagine that you can reach an agreement with the PA and ignore us and our opposition – we’re here, and ready and willing to unleash violence.
The rockets followed demonstrations against the visit in Gaza, which involved the burning of photographs of Obama and American flags. “We are out here today to say enough to the ongoing pressure on the Palestinian people and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority seeking to impose a unilateral settlement, and US preconditions forcing the PA to make more concessions,” declared Khalid al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader. Hamas voiced similar views.
With news of the rocket attack, Obama began the second day of his trip. After a day yesterday of back patting and banter with Bibi, and competition with his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres to see which president could be more complimentary to the other, he ventured in to stormy Palestinian politics. (First he visited the Israel Museum INSERT LINK). The demonstrations that awaited him yesterday in Jerusalem were relatively sedate affairs calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is in a US prison as punishment for spying for Israel. But in the West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians dug in their heels at a camp in E1, a 4.6-square-mile piece of the West Bank just outside Jerusalem where Netanyahu wants to build, protesting the occupation and Israeli policies.
There was also anger in Hebron, where around two-dozen minors were arrested by the Israeli military. Palestinians alleged that some were under the minimum age for detention, 12, and said that the arrests were unjustified. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement that the arrests were unjustified. However, Israeli military spokesman Eytan Buchman told the Forward: “There was rioting in the area and they were involved in rioting.”
In central Ramallah, as Obama arrived, around 250 people protested against his visit and push towards peace with Israel. Some held shoes, a sign that they wanted him to leave Palestinian territory. Slogans included the claim that the U.S. “voted for occupation” when it opposed the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations in November.
Even as Obama was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after being greeted by a Palestinian guard of honor, Hamas was trying to grab the Palestinian headlines. Ismail Haniyeh, the Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, declared: “We believe American policies perpetuate the Israeli occupation and settlements in Palestine under a slogan of peace,” adding: “The PA must realize that they have to abide by national principles and reconciliation.”
Obama went to Ramallah and held a summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today. The comments that the two men made afterwards were predictable enough – harsh criticism of Israeli settlement by Abbas along with Obama’s reiteration of his opposition to settlements; affirmation by Obama that he wants a Palestinian state along with warnings from Abbas that some Palestinians are losing hope in the two-state solution.
A slightly more interesting aspect of the summit was the fact that Ramallah’s Prisoners’ Affairs Minister Issa Qaraqe was included. This reflects the ever-growing frustration of Palestinians over the issue of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The issue is always an important one to Palestinians, but takes on even greater significance at the moment, following the death of 30-year-old Palestinian Arafat Jaradat in Israeli detention last month, and in the light of hunger strikes, including a large-scale strike that ended in June.
There is another factor that most likely led to Qaraqe’s inclusion in the talks. In internal Palestinian politics, his kudos needs boosting, and meeting with Obama certainly improves his credentials. Why is this important? Because his office, which is meant to be the key address for prisoner-related matters, was badly humiliated by the fact that Hamas managed to do more for prisoners in 2011 than it did for years. It secured the release of 1,027 prisoners in the deal to free Gilad Shalit.
Qaraqe gave Obama a letter saying: “More than half a million Palestinian citizens were detained since 1967, and about 4,900 are being held now including men, women, children, lawmakers, elderly people, disabled people, civil servants, militants, former minister and politicians. They are living in inhuman condition and subjected to abusive procedures under military regulations which breach international law and human rights conventions.”
In terms of Qaraqe’s opinions, he believes strongly that the international community should intervene on the issue of Palestinian prisoners. “The entire world, as well as the United Nations, are responsible for protecting Palestinian prisoners … deprived of their basic rights as stated in international law,” he said last year. He takes the view that the United States should be demanding prisoner releases, and insisting on improved rights for detainees.
Of course, these are matters that Obama is reluctant to get dragged in to, avoiding the subject of Palestinian prisoners about as assiduously as he’s avoiding the Jonathan Pollard issue on the Israeli side. He will have listened politely to Qaraqe’s requests, but tried to move on. But in all likelihood, Qaraqe will have left him with a very simple argument: Securing the release of 1,027 prisoners buoyed Hamas, so just imagine the boost to the Palestinian Authority and confidence in the US could come from a release following today’s meetings. And perhaps a parting thought from Qaraqe to Obama: Jaradat’s death didn’t result in the kind of widespread violence that some Israeli observers feared, but if tensions do boil over in the West Bank any time soon, the chances are high that the trigger could be prisoner-related.
Barack Obama’s first engagement today was a visit to the Israel Museum with an agenda that was, as the Forward’s Nathan Guttman has noted, laden with significance. So what did he actually see?
He started in the Shrine of the Book, where he seemed genuinely fascinated by the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many of the documents relate to the particular belief of the strict separatist sect that authored them, but a good number also contain Biblical texts. It is these that Israel was keen for Obama to see, as these ancient manuscripts underscore the connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.
The highlight of the Shrine of the Book visit appeared to be the viewing of the Isaiah Scroll, which was discovered in 1947. Dated to 125 BCE, it is believed to be the oldest manuscript of the Book of Isaiah in existence. The 54 columns contain all 66 chapters of the book, and the Hebrew text mostly matches the one in use today.
Aptly, for Obama’s visit to a troubled region, the manuscript is the oldest rendering of the famous prophecy: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up sword against nation; they shall never again know war.”
After viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls, a nod to Ancient Israel, he moved on to an exhibition assembled in his honor of seven blue-and-white technological inventions, a hat tip to modern Israel.
It was like a return from the dead today at Ben Gurion Airport’s Terminal 1. Ever since it was replaced by a newer terminal a decade ago, it has been a graveyard of abandoned conveyor belts, gaps where vending machines used to be, and check-in desks for a couple of budget airlines that can’t afford the main passenger-check facilities. But this morning it leaped back in to life as the HQ for the first part of Barack Obama’s Israel visit.
Press and security officials started arriving at 6am Israel time, ahead of his landing at 12.25 p.m. All 1,000 of them passed through Terminal 1 for repeated security checks, ready to board buses to an especially constructed outdoor stadium next to the landing spot for Air Force One.
In the stadium, as soon as they saw the sun shining staff pulled the rainproof plastic wrapping off the newly laid red carpet. But it’s going to take more than good weather to make this trip a success, given the troubled background between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama and Bibi have met nine times in the past, and it’s never particularly easy, given the very different ideological orientations of the two, personal discord, and deep divisions on the issue of settlements. But this time is even more complicated, given the fact that only on Monday, Bibi inaugurated his new government which is a far from Obamaphile line-up.
As the visit progresses, here at Forward.com we’ll be taking a look at where some members of the new ministerial team stand on the issues that are important to Obama, the first being Israel’s new Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon, who will be accompanying him to see an Iron Dome battery shortly after he lands.
President Obama’s itinerary for his upcoming visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank contains messages both direct and subtle. And one of the subtler messages seems to be embedded in his decision to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit in Jerusalem.
In case the intended message passes you by: When President Obama spoke to the Arab world in his June 2009 Cairo speech, Jewish leaders watched warily, and then issued their complaints. Most had to do with the fact that Obama chose to give his first major international speech in Egypt and did not make a stop in Jerusalem while in the region. Others took issue with the President’s strong language against Israel’s settlement activity, and some were bothered by what they saw as Obama’s attempt to ignore Jewish historical ties to the Holy Land.
This argument was based on Obama’s reference, in his speech, to U.S.-Israel ties being cultural and historical in nature and on Obama’s recognition “that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”
By invoking the Holocaust as the root rationale for Israel’s creation, argued Obama’s critics, the president ignored the claims of the Jewish people to the land as something going back to the time of Abraham. Some even claimed that by not mentioning this historical tie, Obama was, in fact, supporting the anti-Zionist narrative, which views the Jews as outsiders who came to Palestine after being chased out of Europe only to make the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Nazis.
It may sound farfetched to Americans. But some Israelis are hoping Barack Obama will free Jonathan Pollard as a goodwill gesture ahead of the president’s upcoming visit to the Middle East
Activists and even members of Knesset are pressing for the release of the convicted Israeli spy and some have even suggested that Obama bring Pollard with him on Air Force One.
“I pray to that on the day we welcome the President of the United States, we will get to see Pollard walk on the land of Israel,” said Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a Labor Party lawmaker during a special discussion held on the Knesset floor Wednesday about the Pollard case.
Other lawmakers were equally forceful in their pleas to Obama. They are pressing him, at the least, to discuss Pollard’s fate during his visit to Jerusalem.
“Many Israelis view Pollard as a Prisoner of Zion,” said Likud MK Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin. “The Americans should know that Pollard’s case cannot be considered simply another point of disagreement that both countries can live with.”
One of Barack Obama’s hopes for his Israel visit is to address the Israeli public. Some commentators, such as Yoram Meital interviewed for a Forward article, have expressed the view that this lies at the crux of his trip, with him hoping to talk to Israelis about Iran over their Prime Minister’s head.
But anybody who knows Israel knows how complex the notion of addressing “Israelis” can be, with the country divided by so many religious, ethnic, geographical and class divisions. If fact, one of the least “typical” areas, if such a thing exists, is Jerusalem, often referred to within Israel as a kind of bubble inside the country. It is far more religious and far more Arab than most other areas, and has a mentality and culture all of its own.
All indications, however — including the leaked itinerary — are that Obama’s sole speech to the Israeli public will be in Jerusalem. This is despite a campaign by Israelis and invitation by Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai for him to talk to a huge crowd in the iconic Rabin Square, where the pro-peace rallies of the 1990s took place. Oh, and a tempting invitation to the settlement of Efrat where mayor Oded Revivi offered to help him “realize that the declaration of two states for two peoples is not realistic.”
A large Tel Aviv event — not large enough for him to be obviously talking over Netanyahu — would be a more natural choice than a small-ish event in Jerusalem of around 1,000 people, which is what is being discussed. This city would welcome him more, and most likely be more enthusiastic about his message. So why Jerusalem?
One explanation is logistical. It’s where his meetings are and the time and security operation for him to travel is unnecessary.
With barely two weeks to go before President Obama’s scheduled visit to Jerusalem, the Israeli right seems to be gearing up to prepare as hostile a welcome as possible.
Round one is a dubious claim that received considerable coverage Monday in the Israeli media, according to which Obama is demanding that Prime Minister Netanyahu give him a detailed “timetable for Israel withdrawal from the West Bank” when he arrives March 20.
The claim was first reported in a right-wing Washington news outlet, the World Tribune, which based it on anonymous “sources” in Jerusalem. The Tribune report was then widely re-reported in the Israeli media, including such mainstream outlets as the Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post and Ynet.
The World Tribune quoted its sources as saying that the Israeli plan “would be considered in what could be an imminent U.S. initiative to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2014.” The report said Obama had indicated to Netanyahu (given an “implication,” the report said) that “if Israel won’t give him something he can work with, then he’ll act on his own.”
In marketing, they say that branding is everything. And apparently there isn’t anything these days that can’t be branded — including a presidential trip to Israel.
Believe it or not, President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel already has a name, and an official logo to go with it is in the works. “Unshakeable Alliance” (*brit amim *, or alliance of nations, in Hebrew) is not just some security operation’s code name. It’s the Israeli government’s first-ever attempt at all-out branding of a visit by a foreign head of state.
With Obama’s past comments about the United States’ “unshakeable commitment to Israel,” and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks about an “unshakeable bond” between the two countries, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to come up with “Unshakeable Alliance.” However, deciding on the official logo seems to be a bit more complicated.
In a savvy public relations move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is calling on Israelis active on Facebook to vote for their favorite of three logos commissioned from different graphic artists by the PMO’s National Information Directorate.
As far as Sami Rahamim knows, the seating at the State of the Union address is random. He told the Forward that there “were couples invited who were separated.” His seat, as the guest of his congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was “up in the gallery, facing the President on the left side.”
The man he was seated next to was Ruben Reyes, a district director for the Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the congressman from the district bordering that of former representative Gabby Giffords. While waiting for the president’s entrance, Rahamim chatted with his seatmate and found that they were “aligned” on many issues and spoke about being an immigrant and “what it takes to make it in this country.” Another coincidence is that Reyes shares a first name and the same initials as Sami’s late father Reuven, who was fatally shot at his workplace, Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the day after Yom Kippur, September 27, 2012.
Sami was at the State of the Union along with 120 other survivors of gun violence sponsored by the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns They are spending the day after the address in small groups, “visiting our members of Congress, particularly the swing votes, to show what we really mean in this fight,” he said.
He had met many of the other survivors at a press conference sponsored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on December 17 in New York, and says of the others that even though they have only met a few times “we are a close community, and share something extremely powerful.” In a dvar Torah he gave at his synagogue, Beth El in St Louis Park, Minn., on January 5, he wrote of how being with other survivors, there was a “profound lump sum of grief” and “yet, there was an immense feeling of strength and unity among us” because “we were all there to stand for something together.”
Five thoughts on President Obama’s State of the Union address:
• Obama called for “smarter government” but, as many noted, he also called for a bigger government – or, more precisely, a federal government with bigger ambitions to educate, protect and defend. (More on this in a moment.) But that expansive vision did not translate to the world outside our shores. Foreign affairs, especially concerning the Middle East, wasn’t merely put in the back seat of this address — it was locked away in the trunk.
Obama didn’t mention Iran until just a few minutes before 10 pm (EST). He promised to stand by a safe and secure Israel, a promise delivered in one sentence. He never even mentioned the Palestinians. And his description of the brutal civil war going on in Syria, which threatens the stability of the entire region, was dramatically downplayed.
The president is probably right in reading the public. His pledge to pull out of Afghanistan next year drew huge applause. Clearly, America’s global footprint is going to shrink. Which is good if that makes way for a major upgrade at home…
• Honestly, I couldn’t keep track of all the new federal programs he proposed. Promoting clean energy. Building high-tech manufacturing hubs. Something about fixing bridges and reducing housing payments. Reforming high schools. And the really big deal — extending pre-school opportunities to all young Americans.
As long as there is a way to responsibly pay for these programs (and I realize that is a gigantic if) I found it refreshing to hear a president dream big, especially when his goals are not to build more weapon systems but better schools and new factories.
It will be President Obama’s first State of the Union address in his second term and White House leakers are already promising an aggressive speech, designed to push Republicans ahead of the upcoming battle over budget sequestration cuts. It will also be a chance for Obama to outline a vision for his second term and to introduce two key issues which were largely ignored for four years: immigration reform and gun control.
Here are some of the Jewish issues you might want to look for in Tuesday night’s speech:
Guests: When camera’s cut to the balcony, take a good look at the invited guests and chances are you’ll see some Jewish faces. Each member is allowed to invite one guest to the speech and the First Lady traditionally invites several more. The idea is to bring to the event people whose life story demonstrates some of the themes in the President’s speech. This year, gun control is one of the key issues and among the guest will be many involved in the battle.
Democrats have invited families of Sandy Hook survivors and first-responders, as well as other key figures in the fight against gun violence. Republicans will have at least one pro-gun guest: musician and NRA member Ted Nugent. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has recently emerged as the leading voice for gun control legislation, will be sitting in the gallery alongside her husband Mark Kelly. This week, Giffords released the first video ad for her gun control super-PAC. “Take it from me. Congress must act. Let’s get it done,” she said, facing the camera.
Other Jewish gun violence victims will also be in attendance. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, a leading voice in the gun control debate, invited Joshua Stepakoff, who in 1999, was shot in the attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center. Stepakoff, who was six at the time, was attending a summer camp at the JCC. He is now a student at California State University Northridge.
Is Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel going to turn into a Yair Lapid love-in?
The Israeli daily Yedioth Araronoth, suggested in its editorial yesterday that Obama decided to come because Netanyahu is currently weak — because of the staggering success of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. The administration is working on the premise that “Netanyahu won, but he really lost, and therefore, he will do what is demanded of him,” Yedioth estimated.
So, as a result of Lapid-the-centrist’s success “Obama is coming to press Netanyahu’s weak point after the Israeli people have had their say and partly disproved the American concern over an Israeli lurch to the right.”
For a further Yair Lapid-related aspect of the trip, some are suggesting that it will compel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party in his coalition. Take, for example, this Haaretz article which reports:
One [Israeli] source even argued that Obama’s visit, scheduled for late March, is so close on the heels of the Israeli election as to constitute “inappropriate interference” in local politics, and that it would pave the way for Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid into the Israeli coalition.
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