Jarrod Bernstein made his first public speech as President Obama’s liaison to the Jewish community Monday, at the second annual Agudath Israel legislative breakfast, in New York . As might be expected, he did his best to remind the members of the pro-Israel Haredi organization of what the administration is doing both for Israel and for the Jews at home.
Addressing an audience made up of people not generally known to be Obama fans, Bernstein pointed out that the Obama administration has allocated a record number of Pell grants, which benefit rabbinical and yeshiva students. He also highlighted the fact that Obama’s requests to Congress for aid to Israel have been the highest in history ($3 billion this year), and that this funding has been integral to the deployment of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has been saving Israeli lives. Bernstein also spoke of Obama’s efforts to thwart the Iranian nuclear threat.
Barack Obama may be America’s “first Jewish president,” this week’s New York magazine cover provocatively suggests.
The publication sets the phrase in quotation marks, placing it over a cover photo of Obama’s kippah-wearing head. The accompanying article — entitled “The Tsuris,” and written by staff political analyst John Heilemann — looks at at Obama’s relationship with both Israel and American Jews. Is the latter group truly up for grabs in next year’s election because of the president’s Middle East policy, as some Obama critics suggest? The article explores the issue via interviews with commentators on both sides, taking its cover quotation from Obama supporter and former White House counsel Abner Mikva, who in 2008 joked, “When this all is over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president.”
Supporters of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard jammed the White House’s switchboard over the weekend, demanding his temporary release so that he could attend his father’s funeral today. Morris Pollard died at the age of 95 in South Bend, Ind., on the morning of Saturday, June 18.
Angry that President Obama did not heed requests to grant Pollard “compassionate leave” to visit with his dying father, activists overloaded the White House phone system with calls to say that Pollard should at least be allowed to part with his father at the funeral. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in response to more than a week of pressure from the pro-Pollard lobby, agreed Sunday to issue a formal diplomatic request through Israel’s embassy in Washington, asking for Pollard to be allowed to attend the funeral.
A couple of things became apparent during the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s annual gala in Los Angeles last week, factors which will surely shape the run-up to the 2012 election. These factors did not include the “Yiddish songs of the labor movement,” which were performed entertainingly enough by singer Cindy Paley as guests shmoozed pre-dinner, but are unlikely to be adopted as campaign anthems unless David Dubinsky rises from the grave and runs for office.
The fund-raising dinner held at Temple Sinai in Westwood, where the merger between the PJA and — what’s that other org? many of the evening’s speakers joked — ah yes, the Jewish Funds for Justice was officially announced, also featured as guest of honor U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. A Latina and an L.A. native, Solis extolled the virtues of the country in which she rose from humble origins to a cabinet post. She received warm applause for praising the community organizer’s vocation, to which many in the packed banquet room, including Freedom Rider and PJA-founding member Ralph Fertig, had been called.
The warmest applause, however, came at the point in Solis’s speech when she hailed her boss, the President (another community organizer), saying she would be happy to serve Obama for another four years. And from the room’s unanimous reaction it was clear that the White House is wasting no time mobilizing its potent force of surrogates who are already on the campaign trail, firing up the Democratic base.
It appears that President Obama can cross “Rock and Roll All Night” off his list of potential 2012 campaign songs.
“If you’ve never been to the moon, you can’t issue policy about the moon. You have no [expletive] idea what it’s like on the moon,” Simmons said, apparently unaware that Obama has in fact visited Israel, if not outer space.
The White House can add one more senior staffer to its list of advisers with Jewish roots, and it is an unlikely name. Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s senior adviser and assistant for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement, disclosed her Jewish ancestry to a Jewish gathering on Monday.
Speaking on behalf of the administration at the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jarrett, who is African-American, told the story of the first Passover seder she attended as a child.
“Many, many years ago, my parents hosted a seder for a group of our Jewish friends, and it was here that my father first told me that my great-grandfather was Jewish. What a wonderful surprise for our friends, and for me! So Passover has always been a special holiday for me.”
Is a New York-Washington rivalry about to erupt over menorah size? While NY1 News is claiming Mayor Michael Bloomberg lit “the world’s largest menorah” to kick off Hanukkah in New York last night, some news sources are claiming the National Menorah on the White House Ellipse — ignited yesterday in a ceremony attended by a Jewish Obama Administration official — is, in fact, the biggest in the world.
As far as ceremonies go, Washington had the edge, with performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman, the United States Navy Band and The Three Cantors. The highest-ranking member of the cabinet, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew — accompanied by two rabbis — lit the first candle of the National Menorah. Contradicting NY1’s assertion, web sites like ThirdAge.com and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice were calling D.C.’s menorah “the world’s largest”.
In the tradition of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, Nathan Diament, the director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, will be sitting out an important event due to religious observance. Only this time, it’s not a baseball game, it’s a Ramadan feast — at the White House.
Last year, Diament joined Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Religious Action Center director David Saperstein and a long list of diplomats and politicians at President Obama’s interfaith dinner celebrating Ramadan.
The Forward has learned that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is not in Melbourne, Australia, as has been widely reported. According to documents that Assange accidentally leaked to his own website, Assange has set up shop in Rhinecliff, NY, where he and anonymous volunteers are amassing top-secret information about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding to Marc Mezvinsky.
The Forward has managed to plant moles in the Assange team, who have been issuing a steady stream of revelations about America’s most highly classified nuptials. Here are some of the highlights:
Ever since her first appearance in the national spotlight, Sarah Palin has garnered mild affection from the Jewish community for her frequent shout-outs to Israel (especially via Twitter and Facebook) and critiques of President Obama’s policies in the Middle East, most recently regarding the flotilla incident. But her social media war against Obama’s policies has taken a Hitleresque turn, and now some are crying foul.
In the space of 140 characters, Palin may have successfully undone whatever goodwill she was building in the Jewish community. “This is about the rule of law vs. an unconstitutional power grab,” she tweeted on June 25th regarding the BP oil spill, directing her almost 200,000 Twitter followers to an article by prominent conservative Thomas Sowell, in which he ominously warns that American democracy is being dismantled and then uses the BP escrow fund to compare the Obama administration to Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Countless Americans and people around the globe criticize Obama daily (it’s part of the job). But it’s just something special when a major celebrity (and father of a an even more major celebrity) does it in ink.
Jon Voight, actor and father of Angelina Jolie, attacked Obama’s treatment of Israel and Jews in an open letter published Tuesday in the conservative Washington Times:
You will be the first American president that lied to the Jewish people, and the American people as well, when you said that you would defend Israel, the only Democratic state in the Middle East, against all their enemies. You have done just the opposite. You have propagandized Israel, until they look like they are everyone’s enemy — and it has resonated throughout the world. You are putting Israel in harm’s way, and you have promoted anti-Semitism throughout the world.
True, it was an opportunity to shake hands with President Obama, to shmooze with Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan and to count more than 30 Jewish lawmakers who showed up for the first ever White House Jewish American Heritage Month reception.
But for many, the most thrilling moment was getting to shake hands with and ask for an autograph from baseball legend Sandy Koufax. At 75, Koufax was the biggest attraction in a room filled with accomplished Jewish Americans. Even Obama chose to make Koufax the center of the only joke he weaved into his speech. “Sandy and I actually have something in common — we are both lefties,” Obama said. “He can’t pitch on Yom Kippur; I can’t pitch.”
It’s the million dollar question here in Israel – what, exactly, does the public think of President Barack Obama? A Jerusalem Post poll in March indicated that just 9% of Jewish Israelis think that his administration is more pro-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. Now, figures from Tel Aviv University’s monthly opinion poll paint a very different picture.