Benjamin Netanyahu dramatically, effectively — and perhaps, dangerously — raised the stakes in his speech to Congress today.
The Israeli prime minister employed his considerable rhetorical skills to command the room, describing Iran in terms designed to frighten and excite, painting a ferocious picture of a nation hell bent on exporting its vicious brand of revolutionary terror and “gobbling up” nations all around its volatile region. And he did a masterful job of critiquing what he said are the current terms of an agreement being negotiated by the United States and other Western powers to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a deal that he claimed would “all but guarantee” that Iran would, sooner or later, become an atomic power with evil intentions.
Netanyahu may have accomplished what his Congressional patron, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, intended: To make it difficult, if not impossible, for lawmakers to approve the deal so ardently sought by President Obama. Netanyahu may well have also accomplished his main political motive in Washington: To secure his own reelection, by delivering a stirring speech laced with Jewish themes and a touch of Hebrew, beamed to prime-time Israel just weeks before it goes to the polls.
But this high stakes gamble also entails its own risks to the prime minister and the nation he wishes to continue to lead, and to the United States.
(JTA) — Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
As American Jewish progressive Zionists, we are deeply worried about the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel. We know you would like pro-Israel Jews to publicly defend your positions on Iran and your plans to speak to Congress next week. But we need some clarifications:
1) Is there any outcome you would endorse that Iran could conceivably accept?
You have made clear that you want Iran to be stripped of its nuclear capacity, without even a limited ability to enrich uranium. But people involved in the negotiations say the zero enrichment demand cannot be achieved because Iran would never accept it. If that is your demand, aren’t you precluding any possibility of a negotiated deal?
You are reportedly going to call for tougher sanctions on Iran. If they are imposed, do you expect that any Iranian leader would survive if he proposed relinquishing all nuclear research and development, which has been a national priority since the days of the shah? We’ve searched hard and can’t find any experts on Iran who believe that will be possible.
2) If you won’t accept any agreement that could in fact be reached with Iranian leaders, what alternatives do you propose and how do you expect us to defend them?
Let the finger-pointing begin.
Two weeks into the Bibi-gate (or perhaps Bohener-gate, or simply speech-gate) controversy, with no sign of Democratic anger subsiding, Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies are starting to look for excuses.
The defense Bibi has settled on can be summed up in three words: “It’s Boehner’s fault.”
Policymakers and congressional staff members have been hearing this line in closed-door meetings with Israelis for the past week. Israelis, including Netanyahu’s office and the Israeli embassy in Washington, have been arguing that they were blindsided by House Speaker John Boehner.
It was all, they say, one big misunderstanding.
According to this explanation, Netanyahu, through his ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer, had understood that Boehner would make sure that Democrats were on board with the idea of inviting the Israeli leader to address a joint meeting of Congress on the problem of Iran’s nuclear development activities. Maybe not all Democratic leadership, but at least enough to allow all sides to say with a straight face that it was a bipartisan invitation.
Furthermore, Netanyahu and Dermer did not know — at least according to people who have been in touch with Israeli officials dealing with the mess created by the invitation — that Boehner would announce the visit the morning after President Obama delivered his State of the Union speech. The timing appeared designed to rebut the president’s stand on Iran, thus infuriating the president and his fellow Democrats.
(JTA) — Imagine your ideal Passover getaway. What would it include? Sandy beaches? Emerald green fairways? Kosher haute cuisine? Sen. Ted Cruz?
If the Prime Hospitality Group is any judge, you’ll want all of those things. Especially the last one.
Politico is reporting that the Prime Group, which specializes in offering lavish getaways for religiously observant Jews, is billing the firebrand Texas senator as a prime attraction for its 2015 Passover packages. Prime lists Cruz as a featured speaker for vacationers at high-end destinations including Aspen, Colo.; Westlake Village and Monach Beach, Calif.; and Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, alongside prominent rabbis such as Jonathan Sacks and Marvin Hier, and top communal officials like Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.
A Cruz adviser told Politico that the senator would only be speaking once, at Monarch Beach, suggesting that “well-meaning program organizers overstated his participation.” But the fact that Prime Group is eager, or even over-eager, to tout Cruz to its well-heeled, kosher-observant clientele suggests that Cruz is successfully carving out a niche for himself in the Jewish world, and that, in turn could have major repercussions for the 2016 presidential race.
(JTA) — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has cultivated Jewish support as he considers a presidential run, tells Chris Moody of Yahoo News that he never made a legislative proposal to cut assistance to Israel.
“I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.”
Cue the pile-on.
First, Moody, just one paragraph later, who notes that Paul did in fact propose cutting aid to Israel:
But that was in fact his position.
In 2011, the newly elected Paul proposed a budget that would have cut $500 billion from the federal budget in part by cutting off foreign aid to all countries, including financial grants to Israel.
I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” Paul said in 2011 during an interview with ABC News. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”
He even pointed to Israel as an example of a nation that doesn’t need foreign aid because of its own wealth.
“I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” Paul said, also in 2011. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”
Dave Weigel at Slate recalls his own interview in which Paul proposed cutting Israel aid. So does Mediaite, which has video, and Ian Sams, a Democratic Party flack.
And naturally, so does the joint statement from the National Hewish Democratic Council and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
No defense of Paul from Republican Jewish redoubts.
Dan Cantor, right, isn’t exactly broken up over the political demise of the man who shares his last name.
Not all Cantors are mourning over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning fall from political power.
Dan Cantor, the national director of the progressive Working Families Party, shamelessly celebrated the downfall of the man who shares his last name (and little else).
The GOP Jew’s loss “should not be seen as a referendum on Cantors everywhere — only on right-wing ones,” Dan Cantor said in a statement.
“Progressive Cantors are seeing more success than ever,” the politically liberal Cantor continued. “Eric, this means you’re bringing the barbecue grill to the next family picnic.”
The Cantor nemeses are not related, but both are Jewish. All the more reason to celebrate, according to the WFP leader.
“He’s the only Jewish Republican in congress,” Cantor told the Forward. “Now there are zero – which is better for us all.”
The Republican Congressman lost his seat in a June 10 primary upset by Tea Party favorite Dave Brat.
(Reuters) — The shocking defeat of Eric Cantor was dubbed an “apocalyptic” moment for the Republican mainstream as Tea Party populist conservatives showed off their grassroots muscle — and proved virtually no lawmaker is safe from a challenge from the right.
Cantor’s defeat to a political unknown is likely to halt any efforts to craft a House immigration reform bill, as nervous Republicans hustle to protect themselves against future challenges from the right ahead of the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
It could also make Republicans even more hesitant to cooperate with President Barack Obama and Democrats for fear of being labeled a compromiser.
“We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm, now we will see them run further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot,” said U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York, who heads the House Democratic campaign committee.
The victory emboldened conservative leaders who had seen a string of primary losses by Tea Party candidates this year to candidates backed by the Republican establishment, and it could encourage a conservative challenge to Boehner at the end of the year when the new leadership team is chosen.
“Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment. The grassroots is in revolt and marching,” said Brent Bozell, a veteran conservative activist and founder of the Media Research Center.
Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson has never been known for holding his tongue in political debates and so his remarks about the government shutdown shouldn’t come as a great surprise.
Still, the Jewish lawmaker who won back his central Florida seat in 2012 and who’s considered to be one of the main speakers of the progressive end of the Democratic Party, caught some headlines when he offered his own analysis of the Republican Party during a discussion about the shutdown.
Speaking onHBO’s Bill Maher Real Time show last week, Grayson provided his view on the GOP’s make up. “I think there’s really 3 Republican parties,” he said. “There’s the corporate shills; there are the religious fanatics; and then there are the freedom fiends, the ones who wants to make sure you have the right to sleep under a bridge.”
Host Bill Maher added his color to Grayson’s classification of Republicans, saying that there are “Jesus freaks, gun nuts, generic obese suburbanites – and let me add, the super rich.”
“Yeah,” Grayson responded, adding that currently the “corporate shills” in the minority in the GOP and cannot force their will over the party.
Grayson’s remarks may have broken ranks with fellow Jewish Democrats not only in style, but also in his choice of discussing the religious beliefs of members of his rival party.
While Grayson did not refer specifically to the religious identity of, what he described as, Republican “religious fanatics,” he accepted Maher’s definition of them as “Jesus freaks,” thus breaking with longtime Jewish Capitol Hill tradition of not raising faith as a reason for political differences.
It could come down to a tale of two Chucks.
Chuck Hagel’s chances of getting confirmed as Pentagon chief could hinge on whether Sen. Chuck Schumer is satisfied with Hagel’s stance on Iran.
Schumer, perhaps the most influential Jewish senator, is not pleased with Obama’s choice of Hagel for Secretary of Defense and has yet to decide whether to vote in favor of the nomination, Politico reported. Supporting Hagel, Schumer reportedly said, would be “very hard.”
Schumer, according to the report, expressed his misgivings about Hagel in private conversations and in discussions with Jewish leaders. But the New York senator would not make any direct comments on the issue and has pointedly refused to commit to supporting Hagel.
Given his position as the third ranking Democrat in Senate and his standing in the Jewish community, a refusal by Schumer to back Hagel could set the tone for other Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate and potentially derail the nomination.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) wants the government to mint a platinum coin worth…a cool $1 trillion..
Nadler, a Jewish Upper West Sider, thinks the minting of a ridiculously valuable coin could foil GOP attempts to hold Democrats hostage in debt ceiling negotiations. It would allow the government to pay its debts without going through Congress, which seems intent on dragging its feet on anything President Obama wants, especially after the bruising fiscal cliff drama.
“It sounds silly but it’s absolutely legal,” Nadler told the website Capital New York last week.
The idea’s gained some traction recent days. Economist Paul Krugman endorsed the trillion dollar coin on Monday, as have others.
So here comes the backlash.
A number of Jewish community activists are sending warning signals to the White House about a leading candidate to become President Obama’s choice for the next Secretary of Defense.
Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who reportedly is President Obama’s top pick for replacing Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, has a long record of tensions with the pro-Israel community. And now, after a period of rumblings below the surface, a high-profile Jewish communal leader has fired off a strong salvo in opposition to Hagel’s prospective selection.
“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin December 18. “His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, and former president Jimmy Carter.”
Foxman’s comments follow several attacks on Hagel from Jewish activists on the right of the political spectrum, such as Noah Pollack of the Emergency Committee for Israel, as the possibility of his nomination has emerged. But even beyond the hardcore right-wing, Hagel has not been viewed as a strong supporter on issues of concern to many who align with the positions taken by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the large, establishment pro-Israel lobby.
Media reports are full of examples of his departures from AIPAC’s views: Hagel opposed Senate legislation toughening sanctions on Iran; he called for increasing efforts to negotiate with Tehran; and, in general, refrained from supporting the use of sanctions as a means to pressure other nations.
Some news, apparently, is fit to print, but not too boldly. Take, for example, the demure self-censorship on display Saturday in the New York Times’ eye-opening report, headlined “On Island, Largely Blue, an Exception: Trump Tower,” on the handful of New York City neighborhoods that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Overall, the city voted Obama over Romney 81% to 18%.
The headline and the first five paragraphs were about the two isolated election precincts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan Island where Romney won half or more of the vote. It wasn’t until paragraph 7 to find out that the main news began to trickle out: that the “deepest single bloc of Republican support in all the five boroughs” was a four-square-block section of Gravesend, Brooklyn, “dotted with Sephardic temples and yeshivas.”
Finally, well into the jump, we learned that Romney “enjoyed strong support from a range of neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jews.” Many precincts in Borough Park, Kew Gardens Hills and Sheepshead Bay (which is largely Russian, not Orthodox) voted 90% GOP. A note on the accompanying map gave you the money quote: “Mr. Obama’s worst precincts were in Orthodox Jewish areas like Ocean Parkway and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Kew Gardens Hills in Queens.”
The map shows the city’s 5,286 precincts as a sea of blue and red dots, shaded darker or lighter to indicate higher or lower percentages of partisan leaning. The darkest red voted over 80% for Romney, while pale pink gave him 50% to 65%. In addition to the broad swathes of dark red running down Brooklyn from Hasidic Borough Park down Sephardic Ocean Park to Russian Brighton Beach, there are dark red clusters in mostly Italian-American Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and mostly Irish-American (and storm-ravaged) Breezy Point, Queens.
With President Barack Obama’s reelection only a few days in the rear view mirror, the topic of the Jewish role in American politics is still brewing — and we learned some tantalizing details about Mitt Romney’s summer trip to Israel.
Democratic and Republican operatives sparred over the importance of the Jewish vote in the just-completed election at the only session devoted to discussing the results at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.
Tevi Troy, a former George W. Bush adviser who consulted the Romney campaign on Jewish issues, said the big headline coming out of the election had nothing to do with Jews.
Insteaed, it concerned the fast-growing Latino vote, which went strongly for Obama, prompting much hand-wringing about the future of the GOP.
“People are going to wonder going forward,” Troy said, “how much the Jewish vote really matters.”
With the presidential election only days away, it is time for both campaigns to pull out their strongest arguments and best presenters in order to make that final push just a little bit more effective.
For Jewish Democrats, this means getting out Ed Koch, former mayor of New York, for a warm endorsement of President Barack Obama. In a campaign video released Wednesday Koch speaks at length about Obama’s record on Israel, and then moves on to praise the president’s economic policies. To make clear at whom this ad is directed, producers of the video made sure to film Koch with a large menorah in the background.
Koch is an important figure for the Obama campaign not only because of his standing in the Jewish community. Koch is especially valuable because of his on-again, off-again endorsements of the President, which may give him credibility as a straight-shooter with some undecided voters.
An outspoken supporter of Israel, Koch has criticized Obama several times in the past four years, even as recent as last month Now, the Obama campaign can make the point that even Koch, 87, is convinced by Obama’s record on Israel.
Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has been making the rounds for the Republican Jewish Committee, joining former Bush White House spokesman Ari Flesicher and RJC director Matt Brooks in shuttling through swing states speaking to Jewish voters.
The trio has visited Ohio, Florida, Nevada and, well, Florida once again, speaking mainly on issues relating to Israel and foreign policy but also touching on some domestic issues Jewish voters care about.
And this is where Coleman got his chance to make some headlines, not all of them positive. Asked by a Jewish voter about Mitt Romney’s positions on abortions, the former lawmaker, who lost his reelection bid in 2006 to another Jewish candidate, comedian Al Franken, moved to reassure that nothing will change under a Romney administration.
“The reality is, choice is an issue for a lot of people, an important issue. President Bush was president eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. It’s not going to be reversed,” Coleman said at an RJC stop in Beachwood Ohio.
Luckily for President Barack Obama, Israel is no swing state.
A sneak preview of a poll which will be released tomorrow indicates that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has won the hearts and minds of Israelis. Asked which hopeful they preferred, some 57% of Jewish Israelis said Romney, while just 22% said President Barack Obama.
The poll, conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute, suggested that in the Arab sector, the picture was totally different. Only 15% preferred Romney while 45% wanted to see Obama return to the White House.
Interestingly, in Israel Romney even some following among those who define themselves as left-wingers. Some 30% of respondents who put themselves in this group said they preferred Romney. Among rightists and centrists the figures were 70% and 54% respectively.
Some analysts have suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could see a spillover benefit in his own election campaign if Romney wins, or suffer if Obama is reelected. But 69% of Israelis say that the US election results won’t impact the outcome of Israeli elections. Some 51% of Israeli Arabs believe they will.
Of course, voting behavior experts have often pointed out that voters’ analysis of how they make up their mind is often a world away from how they really choose their candidate. So we will have to wait until the early hours of January 23 to find out any true connection between the U.S. and Israeli elections.
This late in the campaign, everything is about swing states – and the foreign policy debate was largely about Florida, where moderate Jews could well decide who gets the state’s 29 electoral votes.
On those grounds, on the basis of issues important to Florida Jews, President Obama won this debate, but in a bizarre, looking-glass sort of way in which the candidates seemingly exchanged personalities. Mitt Romney sounded like Obama: reasonable, measured, and knowledgeable about foreign policy. Barack Obama sounded like Romney: making strong rhetorical points with little attention to detail.
On Israel, for example, it was Obama who struck first, citing his support of the Iron Dome defense system, and using the phrase “stand with Israel” numerous times. Romney, meanwhile, sounded like a Democrat: arguing for peace talks with the Palestinians, and a measured approach to Iran.
So too on the emotional issues likely to resonate with the bubbes and zaydes of Palm Beach County. Could anyone have predicted that President Obama would invoke the holocaust in his discussion of the State of Israel? And yet that’s what he did, noting that on his trip to Israel, he visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial, he explained to the non-Jewish voters who happened to be watching the debate too), whereas Romney went to fundraisers.
Of all of the tough sells in this election year, you have to hand it to former George Bush speechwriter Noam Neusner for coming up with one of the toughest. In an op-ed timed to coincide with the Republican National Convention, Neusner exhorts the largely Democratic, largely Jewish readership of the Forward :
“Vote Mitt Romney. He’s the real tikkun olam candidate.”
No one knows better than Neusner, who also served the Bush White House as liaison to the American Jewish community, the level of chutzpah embodied in his call. In fact, he himself cops to it from the very beginning:
“Regular readers of these pages are most likely strong supporters in the safety net programs set up in the New Deal, Great Society, and now Obamacare legislative eras,” referencing the Democratic administrations of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon Johnson in the mid-’60s.”
“They hold these programs to be good examples of America’s capacity to care for the ill, the poor, the destitute and the aged. And they find in these programs America’s expression of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world as it is, in the service of God and Torah.”
By the end of the piece, though, Neusner suggests that it is time that American Jews - 85 percent of whom voted for Roosevelt in 1936 and 1940, 90 percent for Johnson in 1964, and nearly 80 percent for Obama in ‘08 – made a historic turn.
Most of the people wouldn’t have known who Mitt Romney was if wasn’t for the large entourage. But word travelled fast around the courtyard of the Western Wall that the Republican presidential candidate had arrived.
The weather in Jerusalem is scorching and the atmosphere at the wall is intense, as people recite the special Afternoon Service for the Fast of Av, with passages mourning the destruction of the ancient temple, of which the wall is the last remnant. But when Romney arrived, for a moment many worshippers switched to more contemporary concerns, and made sure they caught a glimpse of the man who may become president.
“Beat Obama,” one worshipper shouted, as others echoed his sentiment, suggesting that Romney would be better for Israel.
Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall showed him around, and Romney followed tradition and placed a note in the cracks between the walls — as did his wife on the women’s side of the barrier that separates between the genders.
With Romney’s campaign on gaffe-alert following his stumbles in the British leg of his trip, one can speculate that the notes were carefully crafted with the help of press advisors.
Notes left at the Western Wall aren’t always entirely private petitions to God, as when Barack Obama visited on his campaign trail four years ago. His note was removed and published.
No word yet on whether Mitt asked for help in November in the swing states.
Mitt Romney has out Bibi-ed Bibi.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famous for saying that history is repeating itself. The way he tells it, we’re in the late 1930s, and today’s Nazis are the leaders of the Iranian regime, who threaten Israel’s future and perpetrate attacks like the recent one in Bulgaria through its proxies.
This morning, the Republican presidential candidate took Netanyahu’s penchant for linking history and present challenges, but outdid him by almost two millennia. Instead of being the Nazis who foreshadowed threats to Israel today, he managed to connect them to the events being mourned today, the Fast of Av, beginning with the destruction of the two ancient Jerusalem temples and the suffering that went along with it.
Planning Romney’s Israel trip for the Fast of Av was a gaffe by his campaign, but he was determined to turn it to his advantage, even going a little overboard and effusing that he was “honored” to be in Israel on the fast, as if it were a long-planned act of solidarity with Ancient Israel.
“I’m honored to be here on the day of Tisha B’Av, to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia, and come with recognition of the sacrifices of so many,” he told Netanyahu. “Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times.”