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.
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.
The story about Nabi Saleh was framed in the context of a Palestinian village testing “the limits of unarmed resistance.” Those were the words Times’ editors placed on the cover of the Sunday magazine (yeah, I’m old-fashioned, and still read in print) and it was the concept that undergirded Ehrenreich’s story. I questioned that because, to me, regularly throwing stones at other people is not unarmed resistance. Stone-throwers may be at a disadvantage when faced with guns and tanks, but they can still inflict harm and still commit acts of violence.
If the villagers of Nabi Saleh were able to stand up to the Israeli occupation without arms, and if Palestinians across the West Bank were to do the same, I believe that they would change the conversation entirely, and shame both Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a real negotiated settlement. But that’s not what is happening.
Evidently what really galled Gharib, though, was the way I questioned Ehrenreich’s credibility because of a strongly anti-Zionist opinion piece he published a few years ago. Gharib said I should say why. I thought that was obvious.
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.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu party announced Friday afternoon Israel-time that the coalition negotiations are complete, and the government will be presented to President Shimon Peres on Saturday night. Expect a swearing in on Monday (just don’t ask what Sara Netanyahu will be wearing for this swearing in).
There was a last-minute hitch last-night which saw Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett going of in a huff over Netanyahu’s refusal to make him and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid vice prime ministers. But today, Bennett backed down, and the path is clear for the new government.
The debacle over the vice prime ministers title is indicative of just how much the final phase of the negotiations turned out to be about one thing — honor — and not about policies or ideals. The vice prime ministers is basically honorific, and means very little in day-to-day political life. But it’s become a staple of the Israeli scene.
Netanyahu doesn’t seeme to have had any desire to dispense with the vice PM roles before the election. After all, why would it matter to the invincible Bibi at a time when nobody could even conceive of anyone else as PM? But after his battering at the ballot box, and loss of face in coalition negotiations faced with Yesh Atid and Jewish Home’s stubborn refusal to do as he said and sit with Haredim, he was on the look out for ways to claw back some respect and impression of control. And so, after a chaotic coalition negotiation, he got in one final snub for Bennett, and in true Bibi style ensured that he got the last word.
Netanyahu is almost there. As Israeli politicians took a pause in their discussions for the Shabbat break, all sides expressed optimism that a new coalition could be announced within days.
Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu party is close to finalizing a deal with its two major coalition partners: Yesh Atid and HaBayit HaYehudi. According to press reports, in meetings that took place on Friday, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid agreed to give up his previous demand to become foreign minister and instead will take the treasury portfolio. This will leave the foreign ministry open, a position Netanyahu wishes to keep for Avigdor Lieberman, if and when he is cleared on the corruption-related trial. As part of the emerging deal, Naftali Bennet, leader of the right-wing HaBayit HaYehudi party will get the commerce portfolio with some added-on areas of responsibility.
This coalition deal will provide Netanyahu with a stable government that, for the first time in over a decade, will not include members of the ultra-Orthodox parties. Such a coalition will allow Lapid to move forward with his plan to increase the military draft for Haredi men, many of whom are currently exempt of military service.
On the Israeli-Palestinian front, however, the emerging coalition does not carry much promise for change. According to some reports, Netanyahu will agree to drop any mention of support for a two-state solution from the new government’s guidelines in order to ease Bennet’s way into his government. He may also re-negotiate the coalition agreement reached with Tzipi Livni to limit her responsibilities relating to the peace process.
Lapid, in his way into Netanyahu’s coalition, is also willing to make some concessions. His demand to limit the number of cabinet ministers to 18 was only partially accepted and the next government will have 24 ministers, instead of 28 who currently serve in cabinet-level positions. Lapid, according to the Israeli media, will also have to forgo his early demand to include in the government’s platform support for gay marriage and for allowing public transportation on Saturday.
Coalition talks are scheduled to resume on Saturday night with a possible agreement signed toward the middle of the Week. Netanyahu has until the end of next week to form a new government.
If it were a movie, Israel’s real-life nightmare would be a cross between “The Birds” and “The Ten Commandments.”
Just in time for Passover, the Holy Land has been plagued by millions of locusts swarming in from across the Egyptian border.
Hysterical news reports warned Israelis in the southern part of the country to stay inside and close all doors and windows to protect against the Biblical calamity, said to be the worst to descend upon the Holy Land in decades.
But at the same time, some were searching out the pests in hopes of hauling in a tasty — and arguably kosher! — treat.
The skies across southern Israel were blackened this week by the flying insects. Some fields were damaged before the Agriculture Ministry was able to send out crop-dusters to battle the tiny beasts. Fortunately, the pesticide application to 1,865 acres that began early Wednesday morning and extended throughout the day managed to prevent the locusts from doing more damage and moving on to the country’s central regions. Also, a cold front is expected to come in and knock out any remaining swarms.
“It’s like an insect cemetery down here,” Omri Eytana, a farmer from Moshav Kmehin the Nitzana area, told Army Radio as he inspected his fields after the crop-dusting was over. He reported that his tomato plants, which were protected by nets were in good shape, but that there was extensive damage to potato crops.
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.”
The official deadline on Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition building falls this weekend, but with just one faction on board apart from his own — the six-seat Tzipi Livni Party — he is still short of the Knesset majority he needs.
Only 37 of the Knesset’s 120 seats are in the bag, meaning that another 24 are needed for a majority — and many more for the kind of majority that Netanyahu wants. He is desperate for a coalition large enough that no single party can bring it down.
Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu faction says that it is close to a deal with Jewish Home, and announced today that it will meet with Yesh Atid tomorrow, but relations are far from simple with both of these potential partners. Which leads some to ask, could it be the time for Labor to re-enter the game?
Labor said that it wouldn’t serve in a rightist-led government, but the slow progress in coalition building has led to this suggestion being raised from the most unexpected of quarters: the staunchly left-wing Yossi Beilin, former Labor and Meretz lawmaker.
Beilin, who initiated the secret negotiations with the Palestinians that led to the Oslo Accords, has written that things have changed since the January 22 election.
“The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” have already succeeded in breaking one of Israel’s biggest taboos: airing out its dirty laundry on the big screen, for the whole world to see. Now the two films are both heading to the biggest stage of all: the Academy Awards.
If either one of the films from Israel/Palestine wins in the Best Documentary category, it will be a symbolic achievement for all those who believe Israeli government policies and the occupation are untenable and want to see it held accountable for the violent cycle Israelis and Palestinians continue to be in.
But there are salient and important differences between the films. Most obviously, “The Gatekeepers” provides the perspective of the privileged and powerful occupier, while “5 Broken Cameras” speaks for the powerless and debilitated occupied. While each film exposes Israel’s systematically unethical treatment of Palestinians, if one is chosen by the Academy as the winner, it will mean very different things.
“The Gatekeepers,” directed by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh, who previously made a movie about Ariel Sharon and his decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005, brings together six former Shin Bet agents to expose the moral and tactical failures in the country’s secret internal security infrastructure. “5 Broken Cameras” is a documentary jointly directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, chronicling the West Bank village Bil’in’s response to Israel’s construction of the separation wall and routine Israeli Defense Force harassment and raids.
To make the $1.5 million-film, Moreh had to gain access to some of Israel’s most elite and authoritative figures on national security. It was filmed in a polished studio, providing the six interviewees with impeccable make-up and lighting and includes highly sophisticated digitally recreated archive footage.
To make the $250,000 “5 Broken Cameras,” Burnat pretty much just had to get hold of a camera and turn it on. It shows rough and at times jumbled footage shot by Burnat with his five different cameras, all of which are an objective testament to the damage inflicted by IDF methods over the course of years of weekly protests in Bil’in.
While both films reflect a different piece of the harsh reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they exist in entirely separate political discourses. “The Gatekeepers” takes place within Israel’s national ethos, from a conscious place of privilege and power. Palestinians are not really present in “The Gatekeepers,” except as the legitimate enemy as well as the victimized “other.”
Given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hardly famed for his enthusiasm on the peace process, it’s interesting that his first signing for his new coalition is the party that ran the campaign with the strongest make-peace-with-the-Palestinians emphasis
Today, Netanyahu recruited the six-seat Tzipi Livni Party, and announced that the party’s leader Tzipi Livni, will become a “senior partner” in the government on this issue. She is widely expected to lead negotiations, and will also serve as Justice Minister.
One wonders what was going through Livni’s mind as she made the agreement. She spoke of her “strategic and moral imperative” to “become a part of any government that commits to bringing peace.”
Now, when did she come to that conclusion? This statement showed a huge change in her thinking since the 2009 election. She won that poll, returning her then-party Kadima to Knesset as the largest party, but flatly refused to form a unity government or any other kind of alliance with Netanyahu. Then, going in with Likud would have made her Prime Minister; now, it will make her a “senior partner” on the Palestinian issue and Justice Minister.
Why was sitting with Likud inconceivable in 2009, but an imperative now? Has her political philosophy changed? If so, how?
It’s worth wondering where Israel would be is she had come to this conclusion back in 2009 and served as Prime Minister, either alone or in some type of rotation with Netanyahu. Would she have continued the progress of her predecessor Ehud Olmert towards peace — maybe even closed a deal? Would Kadima still be a large party instead of the shriveled two-seat entity it is today? And could Livni possibly be, right now, starting her second term as Prime Minister?
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.
Any hopes that Avigdor Liberman had for a quick trial in time to become part of Israel’s new government were dashed today, when his trial opened in Jerusalem and looked set to become a slow affair.
Yisrael Beytenu party head Liberman, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned to face his charges shortly before the election, is accused of fraud and breach of trust. He allegedly promoted an Israeli diplomat in gratitude for information in to a police investigation against him.
He pleaded not guilty and denied all charges against him. But Liberman will pay a heavy price for the trial whatever its outcome, as the timescale under discussion is lengthy, to May and beyond — long after the new government is in place. This means that there’s no way he’s going to be cleared and ready to take up his old job in the Foreign Ministry by the time the new government takes office later this month or next month.
For Liberman this is the ultimate frustration. His party was at an historic juncture — it ran the election on a joint ticket with the ruling Likud party bringing it closer than ever to the real power it has longed for since he set it up in 1999. He had taken Beytenu from a niche Russian speakers’ party to a mainstream party of the right, and this was his big break. Plus, ironically the investigation that had dogged him for years — the one about which the diplomat allegedly gave him information — has been dropped.
As if things can’t get worse for Liberman, his former right hand man in the party and the Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon is expected to be one of the key witnesses and seems to have lots to say even before he appears in court. The Jerusalem Post reports that he has said that Liberman shouldn’t go back to the Foreign Ministry even if cleared, that the “world treated him like a leper,” and that while the diplomatic appointment in question was appropriate, he “put pressure [on the selection committee] to appoint certain people to the Foreign Service, which I succeeded in blocking, because I convinced him that they were not worthy.”
The new star of the Israeli right may be heading for the opposition benches. Israeli media are reporting that Naftali Bennett and his religious-Zionist Jewish Home party have rejected an offer that would have made it part of the government with control of the Education Ministry and other prominent positions.
To Bennett’s irritation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud-Beytenu alliance and convener of the new government, informed them of the offer via the media, so he rejected it via the media.
In addition to the education portfolio the Likud offer would have reportedly given the staunchly pro-settlement Jewish Home a socioeconomic portfolio and a deputy defense minister who would deal with settlements.
This is undoubtedly part of a bargaining game by Netanyahu and Bennett, along with a working through of bad blood that has existed been them since Bennett’s stint as his Chief of Staff, a position he left in 2008.
But it does appear that beneath all the negotiating talk, Bennett truly is unhappy with the offer, which is interesting. In years gone by the National Religious Party, the faction which rebranded to become Jewish Home, was excited at talk of holding the Education Ministry. One of its key priorities was impacting Jewish identity in the state, and it saw the educational realm as an important route for doing this.
The difference is that the NRP was focused on its religious-Zionist ideology and putting it in to action, and wanted the ministries that would best help it to do that. The Bennett Revolution in Jewish Home keeps largest of the ideology, but it’s all about making the party a contender to become the biggest mainstream right-wing faction in the country — he hopes bigger than Likud. Which is why, unlike most of his predecessors he sniffs at the Education Ministry and is desperate for a post where he feels that he can prove his ability to lead the nation. Can he bargain his way to what he considers real power? Well, let’s just say that nobody really believed that the leader of the formerly-niche immigrant party Yisrael Beytenu, Avigdor Liberman, could become Foreign Minister, and he held the position for the last Knesset session.
As it transpired, the brouhaha surrounding Brooklyn College’s BDS event was a good deal of hullabaloo over not a lot. Roughly 300 people turned up to listen to Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti speak about the need to boycott and divest from Israel, while outside the hall 150 protested either in favour of or against the event and the movement. In the end, those proposing that the event be shut down were made to look rather foolish.
Far better, perhaps, that Alan Dershowitz and others sought to negate their right to speak redirect their efforts and energies into cautioning against BDS’ even tacit acceptance by those liberal Zionists who earnestly wish to see the end of the occupation of the West Bank and the coming about of two states for two peoples. BDS, it has become apparent, has no interest in this – indeed, as a movement and an idea, it is fundamentally incompatible with Zionism.
That much is evident from its manifesto. For, in addition to advocating an end to the occupation, the dismantling of the Security Barrier, and the recognition of full rights for Arab Israelis, BDS demands “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” At present, there are five million Palestinians – one third residing in villages and camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and surrounding states – who are refugees according to the UNWRA standard.
Setting aside the impracticality of the proposition — would the Israeli authorities evict Jewish families from their homes in Haifa and Yafo? — permitting the influx of that many Palestinian exiles would only serve to undo and end the Zionist project. Instead of there being one Jewish and one Arab state between the river and the sea, there would instead be two Arab-majority states, and with time, one state. As such, and as Yair Rosenberg has argued, the right of return and BDS is “antithetical to the two-state solution, the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict accepted by majorities on both sides and the international community.”
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.