Yesterday’s State of the Union address was a success for Obama. From ending the war in Afghanistan and helping to revive the economy, the president touted his accomplishments. The same accomplishments his fellow party members were reluctant to use to their advantage in the last elections.
So many stood up and applauded as he mentioned the most controversial topics and spoke frankly about them. Global warming — it’s real. Women — they’re not second-class citizens. Racism and discrimination — not in our home. Biden was beaming behind him like a guardian angel and John Boehner looked like his face was about to melt off in a giant frown.
There were a lot of good things for Jews to fist-pump over in last night’s address. Overwhelmingly, we care about women, care about the environment and care about education. But here are four things that made it especially good for us:
Even France was reluctant to say the recent attacks targeted Jews. And in a world where some are reluctant to use the “A” word, Obama said it loud and clear: “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened… It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.”
Obama is caricatured as Che Guevara, an iconic symbol of Cuba’s revolution, on the cover of Brazilian magazine Veja / Getty Images
As a life-long Democrat, I was deeply disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to act unilaterally on the Cuban question. The policy option may have been a valid one, but the process invoked raises major concerns.
Realizing that his presidency would be without a Democratic majority in either the Senate or House for the remainder of his term, did Obama decide that his Administration would conduct the business of foreign policy outside of the traditional policy framework of bipartisanship?
The embargo on Cuba was set into place 54 years ago, in 1960. We need to remind ourselves that both Republicans and Democrats embraced the actions taken at that time by the Eisenhower Administration.
Obama’s arbitrary action, taken without any public input or Congressional oversight, raises a set of challenging questions. Do each of the president’s recent pronouncements, including his executive order on immigration and the Iran nuclear agreement, suggest a different framework for decision-making by this White House? Will we continue to see a series of new political pronouncements without the engagement of the Congress or the input of public opinion?
I introduce these questions in the context of my particular concern for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Could such a proactive decision-making pattern have some potential linkage to a change in America’s special and historic relationship with Israel? Could the Administration’s frustration with the Netanyahu government produce a similar outcome, namely a shift in its balance of support?
Thank you, Mr. President.
You’ve just made it harder for me and every other parent and educator to convince young people that taking selfies at memorials and on solemn occasions is not okay.
Just what were you thinking when you leaned in close to Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron to snap a group self-portrait at the memorial service for the late great South African Nelson Mandela on Tuesday?!
The folks behind the “Selfies at Funerals” Tumblr blog said it best: “Obama has taken a funeral selfie, so our work here is done.”
Sadly, I fear, that the image of you grinning in to the lens of that mobile phone you held up together with Thorning-Schmidt is going to be recalled far more clearly and much longer than anything you said in your well-written four-and-half-minute-long eulogy for Mandela.
I completely understand that you were too busy to read my piece about the unfortunate and misguided (some would say disgusting) trend of young visitors to Holocaust sites and memorials in Europe taking cheery (and sometimes sexy) selfies and posting on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. But for parents like myself and educators, a world leader setting this example only reinforces that these pictures are ok for teens to take.
I’m sure your wife Michelle also didn’t have a chance to read my piece, but from the look of disapproval on her face, it seems she didn’t have to in order to know how a world leader should act at a memorial service.
It was right and proper that President Obama address the American public from a simple podium with no special effects or distractions, methodically laying out his reasons for a military strike against Syria and addressing the doubts of so many about the wisdom and efficacy of such a risky move.
But part of me wished that the White House could have replayed the horrifying videos as a backdrop.
Obama mentioned them at the top, the “sickening images” of men, women and especially children frothing and writhing and suffering from the effects of the August 21 chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime against its own people. That’s the reason why I personally believe that the U.S. has a strategic and moral responsibility to respond forcefully to the use of a weapon most of the world wishes to see never used again.
Sure, pictures of dead children are a ploy — a ploy that his administration should have used for greater effect during these last couple weeks of confusing messaging and shifting approaches. I don’t know whether what Obama said tonight was enough to change the minds of those who don’t agree with him. But those images sure stuck with me.
“There are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes — love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere,” Shimon Peres tells Ronen Bergman in an illuminating interview in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine.
While the 89-year-old President of Israel tells the journalist he “asks foolish questions,” Bergman gets frank answers from Peres on Obama, Iran and the path to peace in the Middle East. Throughout the piece, a theme of challenging relationships — between Peres and Netanyahu, Israel and the U.S. and Israel and Iran — emerges:
It’s no secret Peres and Netanyahu don’t see eye to eye on diplomacy. In the interview, Peres speaks out on the harsh consequences he believes will come from the Prime Minister’s approach:
If there is no diplomatic decision, the Palestinians will go back to terror…the silence that Israel has been enjoying over the last few years will not continue, because even if the local inhabitants do not want to resume the violence, they will be under the pressure of the Arab world…Most of the world will support the Palestinians, justify their actions, level the sharpest criticism at us, falsely label us a racist state. Our economy will suffer gravely if a boycott is declared against us. The world’s Jews want an Israel they can be proud of and not an Israel that has no borders and that is considered an occupying state.
Now that Obama has won the Electoral College, two questions remain. First, will he win the popular vote? Second, will Republicans let him govern? There are some very big decisions to make, starting with a deal on the budget and the debt, and addressing the growing climate crisis. Will the Republicans be chastened by their strategy of obstructing everything, or will they sit down and begin talking about real compromise?
Will the Senate Republicans the chamber do business, or will they keep tying everything up in filibusters? Will the House negotiate in good faith? Or will they double down on the policy of blocking everything to make the administration look incompetent?
Another question relates to Israel. Bibi got a big splash of cold water in the face. Olmert and Livni are generally thought to be holding out to see whether they will have a cooperative, competent and experienced White House to help them work on the peace process. Now that they’ve got it, will they jump in? And can they work out a big center-left coalition to face Bibi-Liberman?
Chemi Shalev at Haaretz tweets that a rumored GOP internal exit poll “allegedly” gives Obama 281 electoral votes.
7:11 pm Early returns on MSNBC: Romney projected to win Indiana (11 electoral votes) and Kentucky (8 electors). Obama projected in Vermont (3 electors).
Mourdock (R) is leading Donnelly (D) 48%-46% in the Indiana Senate race, but it’s considered too close to call. In Vermont, Bernie Sanders is projected to win.
Republican candidate Mitt Romney came out swinging Monday at President Obama’s foreign policy, promising to end any “daylight” between the United States and Israel and a tough stance toward Iran.
Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney sought to present Obama’s Middle East policy and his response to the Arab Spring as lacking leadership.
As in previous foreign policy addresses, Romney spent time criticizing Obama for his tense relationship with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The relationship between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel, our closest ally in the region, has suffered great strains,” Romney said. “The President explicitly stated that his goal was to put ‘daylight’ between the United States and Israel. And he has succeeded.” Romney argued that this daylight has “emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran.” He promised that if elected president “the world will never see any daylight between our two nations.”
Want a new iPad 3? Spend fifty hours phone banking for the Republican Jewish Coalition and the $599 model is yours.
Only have forty hours? That’s okay — the RJC can still hook you up with the $499 version.
RJC volunteers in California, Washington, New York and Florida who rack up phone banking hours between now and the election are eligible for the prizes, according to RJC executive director Matt Brooks.
“It’s a token way of saying thank you for people who are giving up a lot of time,” Brooks told the Forward.
Volunteers who make calls for 30 hours will receive an older iPad model, and volunteers who work for 20 hours will get a $100 gift card.
Political groups don’t usually offer volunteers expensive incentives like iPads, according to Michael Tobman, a New York-based political consultant who’s run volunteer phone banks and paid phone banks. “iPads seem a bit excessive, but if the money’s there and a group wants to do that, I guess the new normal is being defined upward,” Tobman said. “Generally it’s pizza, thanks, and credit for having done it.”
Phone banks organized by the National Jewish Democratic Council have not offered similar incentives, according to that group’s president and CEO David Harris.
The expensive gifts are another sign of the economic heft of the Republican group, which released a lengthy video this week featuring Israelis criticizing President Obama’s record on Israel.
Casino billionaire and Romney super PAC donor Sheldon Adelson is a major supporter of the RJC.
Armed with a $200,000 donation from a son of George Soros, the pro-Obama Jewish group that behind The Great Schlep is posed to play a major role this election cycle.
The group, called the Jewish Council for Education and Research, ran a high-profile campaign to send young Jews to lobby their grandparents to vote for Obama in 2008. Now a super PAC, the organization has raised nearly as much so far this cycle as they raised in the entire 2008 campaign.
“We were able to do a lot last time,” said Mik Moore, treasurer of the group, officially known as the Jewish Council for Education and Research. “But there was a lot we didn’t do, and we’re starting a lot earlier.”
In recent weeks, the group received a $200,000 donation from Alexander Soros, the 26-year-old son of the billionaire hedge fund magnate and progressive philanthropist George Soros. Moore said that the group hoped to raise $1 million by the end of the election cycle.
Jewish support for Democrats was high in 2008, with 78% of Jewish voters casting their ballots for Obama. Republican group have already committed significant resources to winning away some of that support, especially in key swing states like Florida. Moore’s group is part of the Democrats’ effort to push back.
The Democratic National Committee has a new commercial, called “The Facts,” that seems targeted at pro-Israel voters (I didn’t say “Jewish voters” for a reason). It reminds them that they shouldn’t listen to the mud being slung at Obama for supposedly abandoning the Jewish State.
Republicans are called out for violating the tradition that holds that the “bond between the U.S. and Israel is beyond politics,” by making claims that “ignore reality” (that last quote cited from the AP). The DNC’s strongest argument is made by Bibi himself in a clip from an AIPAC appearance in which he said that the security cooperation between the two countries during Obama’s presidency is “unprecedented.” There are other points as well, like Obama’s strong opposition to the Palestinian’s statehood bid at the UN, the coordinated message on Iran, and the billions offered to bolster Israel’s defense.
But the most telling aspect of the commercial is that it exists at all. These are points that wouldn’t have to be reiterated in this way if the Republicans hadn’t been doing a good job establishing a very different narrative. The worry, on the DNC’s part, is not, I think, Jewish voters. It’s those many millions more, evangelicals and others, who see Israel as an abstract cause, theological for many, and have been affected by the simplistic and patently false claim that Obama is somehow anti-Israel. The DNC clearly thinks that the Republicans will continue making this argument as we slouch towards November.
The current issue of Newsweek has a must-read inside look at what drives President Obama’s Iran policy, including the ups and downs of his relations with Israel on the matter.
The article, by Newsweek writers Daniel Klaidman, Dan Ephron and Eli Lake (Lake is a former Forward correspondent), reports that Iran was the main topic of Mossad director Tamir Pardo’s secret trip to Washington two weeks ago. America is pressing Israel to give sanctions time to work before attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. Israel worries that by that time, Iran’s nuke infrastructure will be too secure for an Israeli raid to destroy, and only America will have the capacity. Among other things, Pardo wanted to know whether America is likely to attack, how advanced its preparations are, how it will react if Israel attacks and so on.
Israel has several times sought a promise from Obama to attack if sanctions fail, but hasn’t gotten one. As a result, Israel keeps its own intentions vague. This is an improvement from the total information blackout that Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed on Washington from June to October last year, in pique over Obama’s “based on the 1967 borders” speech. Today information sharing is quite extensive, though Washington keeps a certain amount of intelligence from Israel when it fears it could enable actions that violate U.S. law, like assassinations.
Obama first discussed Iran with Israeli leaders back in 2008, while he was still a candidate, and he “impressed everyone with his determination to stop Iran from going nuclear,” Newsweek reports. His conversation with then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, however, left Netanyahu troubled that Obama “didn’t talk specifically about Israel’s security”:
You know what they say: One is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, three is a trend. What about four? That’s how many leading commentators have weighed in over the past week with astonishingly gloomy prognoses about Israel’s future. They come from both left and right. The consensus is that the Jewish state is on the brink of a precipice.
The rightists seem to think there’s nothing Israel could do about it. The leftists say Israel could adjust its policies to respond to the changing realities in its region, but they don’t think Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to do it and they don’t see a more flexible, pragmatic government getting elected any time soon.
The titles include “Can Israel Survive?,” by neoconservative strategic affairs analyst Victor Davis Hanson, in the September 22 National Review Online; “Is Israel Over?” by Israeli dove-turned-hawk historian Benny Morris, in the September 11 Daily Beast; “Israel: Adrift at Sea Alone” by Thomas Friedman in the September 17 New York Times, and “Digging in, the essence of Netanyahu’s foreign policy” by Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, which was published in his paper’s September 16 weekend edition and has since been quoted, analyzed, dissected and massaged in dozens of journals around the globe.
The make a variety of arguments, but Benn’s opening paragraph tells you most of what they’re all getting at:
There are those who heard in Obama’s speech on the Middle East an attempt – as Mitt Romney elegantly put it – to throw Israel “under the bus” and those who thought it was just the same old steadfast support for Israeli positions that every American president expresses. Both sides, it’s clear, seem to only watch for and listen to the words and deeds most convenient for making their case. So even if you hear the president loud and clear and with shocked ears when he says, “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines,” somehow the volume drops off a second later when he adds, “with mutually agreed swaps.”
One thing that got totally overlooked in all the hysterics was Obama’s opposition to any unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations come September. He said this as plainly as possible.
Today there’s some proof that he meant what he said. And it comes from the Palestinians themselves who seem to be slowly backing away from September.