Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Ron Kampeas

 

Israel gags news of soldier turned journalist under arrest

Israel has held a journalist under secret house arrest since last December based on allegations that during her military service she leaked classified documents suggesting that the Israeli army violated laws dealing with targeted killings.

Anat Kam, 23, was arrested last December and charged under Israel’s espionage and treason laws, JTA has learned.

Prosecutors are seeking a 14-year sentence, which is considered severe by Israeli standards.

Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability, was sentenced to 18 years, eventually serving the full amount.

At the time of her arrest, Kam was working as a reporter for the Israeli Internet site Walla, which was partially owned by Haaretz until last week. But the charges relate to Kam’s service in the Israeli army, when she is alleged to have photocopied sensitive documents. Bloggers have speculated that those documents served as the basis for a November 2008 Haaretz story suggesting alleged army violations.

Kam has denied the charges.

image
From the Website RichardSilverstein.com.

Her arrest has been under a gag order in Israel, which Haaretz says it is appealing. With the gag order in place, it is impossible to know the prosecution’s reasoning for a 14-year sentence.

Israel sustains vibrant freedoms of speech and press, but there is a strong taboo in the country against relaying information garnered while in service. The fact that Kam allegedly photocopied the documents while in uniform may weigh against her.

Dov Alfon, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, said the linkage between Kam’s arrest and the 2008 article, made in a number of blogs, is “absurd.” He implied that the investigative reporter, Uri Blau, had obtained the information without assistance from Kam.

“Haaretz asked the court to lift the gag order, not just in the public interest but also to allow us to defend ourselves from this absurd allegation,” Alfon said. “More than a year passed between the publication and her arrest, a year in which Uri Blau published several other front-page articles criticizing the army’s conduct.”

Eitan Lehman, one of Kam’s lawyers, refused to comment or confirm any details. The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment.

JTA confirmed details of the case with sources close to the matter.

The Nov. 26, 2008 story in Haaretz revealed the existence of documents defying a 2006 Supreme Court ruling against assassinating wanted militants who otherwise might be arrested safely.

In one March 28, 2007 document reprinted by Haaretz, Gen. Yair Naveh, then the central commander, permitted open-fire procedures upon identification of any of three leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, even if it were not apparent that they posed a threat.

Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff then and now, approved the targets on March 29, 2007, according to minutes of a meeting reproduced by Haaretz, and also said that troops were to withhold fire only if they were unable to identify “more than one” passenger in the targeted vehicle.

Both orders violated the law, according to experts cited by Haaretz.

One of the three wanted men, Ziad Malisha, was killed near Jenin on June 20, 2007 in what the IDF at the time said was an “exchange of fire.”

Naveh told Haaretz that troops under his command at times did not observe arrest procedures if the suspect was a “ticking bomb” and did not immediately surrender. The newspaper also quoted the army as saying that arrest was not possible in the Malisha case.

Kam, 23, reportedly served in Naveh’s office at the time of the memos.

The military censor, which prevents publication of information that could harm Israel’s national security, approved the Haaretz story for publication.

By contrast, Israeli courts have gagged not only the details of Kam’s arrest but news of the arrest itself. The appeal against the gag order, which has been joined by other media outlets, will be heard April 12 in Tel Aviv District Court.

In the past, Israeli authorities have issued such orders in sensitive national security cases. Gag orders still apply, for example, to aspects of the Vanunu case.

But it’s not clear why a gag order was imposed in this case, Kam’s supporters say, especially since the military censor approved publication of the original Haaretz story. Some have speculated that the prosecution is using the gag order to prevent public outrage, which could result in sympathy for Kam and a reduced sentence.

The investigation into Kam was a joint effort of military intelligence, the police, and the Shin Bet internal security service.

Kam’s editor, Yitzhak Tessler, wrote an oblique column in Maariv on Jan. 24 describing an imaginary “Shu-Shuland” in which a young female journalist is held under house arrest and none of her colleagues come to her defense.

“A good thing Israel doesn’t resemble Shu-Shuland,” he wrote.

A Facebook group called “Where did Anat Kam disappear to?” was launched and shut down within days.

In the United States, blogger Richard Silverstein has covered the matter. Other Israeli bloggers have posted and then removed accounts of the case.

As a media entity based in New York and reporting from Washington, JTA is not subject to the Israeli gag order.

On Tuesday, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent a letter urging Israel’s attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein, to rescind the gag order.

“It’s unclear to us what aim the ban serves,” wrote ACRI’s chief legal counsel, Dan Yakir. “Whatever the rationale for the order, in light of the widespread publicity on the subject in Israel and abroad, it seems its only purpose is to violate Israelis’ right to information, hinder freedom of the press, and stymie public debate on the case.”

Wednesday’s New York Times reported that retired Supreme Court judge Dalia Dorner, now president of the Israeli Press Council, has criticized the news blackout, urging that it be fought.

The article noted that Dorner’s comments have unleashed a vigorous debate in Israel about gag orders themselves, although the case in question still cannot be discussed.

JTA

 
 

Jewish leaders caught between criticizing, defending Obama

WASHINGTON – With anxiety over the White House’s Middle East policy mounting in some pro-Israel circles, several Jewish organizational leaders have found themselves in a discomfiting position: criticizing the Obama administration in public while stridently defending the president in private against the most extreme attacks.

It’s an upside-down version of what pro-Israel groups usually do: lavishing praise on the U.S. government of the day for sustaining the “unbreakable bond” while making their criticisms known quietly, behind closed doors.

News Analysis

The criticism has come in the form of mostly polite statements and newspaper ads questioning Obama administration pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, particularly regarding building in eastern Jerusalem. Such criticisms are voiced as well in private meetings with administration officials.

The defense comes up in dealings with irate donors and constituents, in phone calls, e-mails, addresses to small Jewish groups, shul talk. The theme of the complaints is consistent, and shocking, said multiple leaders, who all spoke off the record, and reflect the subterranean rumblings about the president heard during the campaign: His sympathy lies with the Muslims, he doesn’t care about Israel, he’s an anti-Semite.

The Jewish Federations of North America is sufficiently concerned about the phenomenon to have convened a “fly-in” of Jewish organizational leaders to Washington for an as yet unannounced date in May. The leaders will meet with White House, State Department, and congressional officials, in part to “to convey concerns about U.S.-Israel relations” — but also, insiders say, to allay those concerns.

One recent flood of anxious queries followed the Obama administration’s announcement earlier this month of its long-awaited nuclear policy. The reality of the policy was a pledge not to threaten with nuclear weapons those nations that provably disavow their nuclear weapons capability. Nations that continued to maintain a threatening nuclear posture, the policy made clear, would still face the prospect of a U.S. nuclear response should they attack the United States or its allies.

Obama named Iran as such a nation.

Yet instead of being reassured, donors and members of national Jewish groups flooded Jewish leaders with anxious queries about a posture that they interpreted as being aimed at embracing a nuclear Iran and forcing Israel to abandon its own reported nuclear capability.

Another persistent — and unfounded — rumor has it that Obama removed the phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem” from the White House seder in March.

“Where the ____ are they getting this?” asked a senior official at an organization that has been publicly critical of Obama since last summer.

Angst was stoked, too, when Obama spoke last week of peacemaking throughout the world necessitated by the cost of “American blood and treasure” through involvement in conflicts. It didn’t help that a New York Times analysis suggested the president had said that the lack of Israeli-Palestinian peace threatened U.S. troops in other parts of the globe — even though the transcript of Obama’s remarks did not bear out any such linkage and Obama administration officials flatly denied one existed.

Jewish officials said a share of the blame lay with the Obama administration, partly for not adequately reaching out to Jews and to Israel, and partly because of the emergence of what appears to be internecine policy wars.

“The real story of The New York Times story is not that he’s changing Israel policy,” said another leader of an organization that has not been shy about criticizing the Obama administration. “The real story is, why are officials leaking” misrepresentations of his policy “to The New York Times?”

On the other side, one leader blamed the Netanyahu government for sending mixed signals on how to handle the tensions between Israel and the United States over settlement policy.

“Some are saying quiet is the best answer and others are saying loud noise is the best answer,” the Jewish organizational official said.

The official cited reports that Netanyahu personally approved public letters — from Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, and Elie Wiesel, the internationally known Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate — criticizing Obama’s demand for a halt in Jerusalem building.

Despite mounting criticism by some Jewish leaders, polls show that Obama’s support among Jews in general remains strong. His backing has dropped from astronomical highs after he was elected, but remains about 10 points stronger than in the general population. Moreover, to the degree that it has eroded, the dissatisfaction with Obama appears to have more to do with unhappiness over his handling of health care and the economy than it does Israel.

Those who are expressing their concerns, however, are among the most active members of the pro-Israel community and help set the tone for the trilateral U.S.-Israel-Jewish leadership ties. Some are acquiring their information from anti-Obama e-mail blasts and consistently partisan critics of Obama.

Richard Baehr, writing in the conservative online magazine The American Thinker, cited The New York Times’ misreading of Obama’s remarks in arguing that “this president is the greatest threat to the strategic alliance of the U.S. and Israel since the founding of the modern Jewish state in 1948.”

McLaughlin & Associates, a GOP polling firm, touted signs last week that Jewish support for Obama was eroding, but the survey questions were premised on shaky assertions. One question posited that Obama would support a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence, although U.S. officials have consistently said they would oppose such a move. Another suggested that Obama was ready to force Israel to give up the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, although there has been no such pressure.

Administration defenders cite signs suggesting that beyond the settlement rhetoric, the relationship is improving: Obama has increased defense cooperation, for instance, and strategic consultations between officials of both nations are more frequent than they have been in a decade.

“Our bond with Israel is unshakable and unbreakable both as it relates to security, as it relates to a common set of values and also as a common strategic vision because the threats to Israel are similar to some of the threats the United States faces,” Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, said Monday on Bloomberg TV.

Jewish leaders welcome such reassurances but say they are made defensively, and repeatedly call on the Obama administration to become proactive.

Robert Wexler, the former Florida congressman who was Obama’s chief Jewish proxy during the election and now heads the Center for Middle East Peace, suggested a more proactive posture was in the offing.

“Actions in the next several months will begin to reflect it,” he told JTA.

Notably, Emanuel held a behind-closed-doors meeting Tuesday with a group of leading Orthodox rabbis.

Meantime, Jewish leaders are walking a tightrope trying to balance traditional deference to the administration with concerns over the tensions. They also object to what they see as the unwarranted pressure on Netanyahu as opposed to relatively little pressure on the Palestinians to join talks that Israel has embraced with enthusiasm. Israel, they hasten to argue, remains America’s best friend in the region.

Lee Rosenberg, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, made the Israel-is-our-best-friend case last week at Israel Independence Day celebrations, sharing the stage with Obama’s top political adviser, David Axelrod.

“Israel stood by America in spirit and in action after the tragic events of 9/11,” Rosenberg said. “As both our great nations fight the same scourge of terrorism and Islamic extremism, it is Israel which serves on the front lines as an outpost of American interests in a dangerous part of the world.”

The Wiesel and Lauder letters offered a suggestive contrast over how to handle the tensions.

Wiesel’s critique was oblique, not naming Obama, and deferred to U.S. orthodoxy that a final-status agreement must accommodate Palestinian claims to the city.

“What is the solution?” Wiesel asked. “Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be.”

Lauder, by contrast, directly addressed Obama and suggested that the president was sacrificing Israel to improve relations with the Muslim world.

“The administration’s desire to improve relations with the Muslim world is well known,” said Lauder, an active Republican. “But is friction with Israel part of this new strategy? Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims?”

One of the Jewish leaders said the contrast was instructive.

“For all intents and purposes, the WJC’s relationship with the White House ended last week,” he said of the group Lauder heads. “That’s not a relationship that pro-Israel groups can afford to have over the next couple of years.”

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has publicly criticized the administration on several Israel-related fronts. Still, he said, Jewish leaders have a responsibility to defend the president “when talking to those who accuse him of being an enemy of Israel or a Muslim.”

“For many years, you had a lot of Jews who didn’t vote for President Bush who would say, ‘I don’t like Bush but I love what he’s doing on Israel,’” Foxman said.

“Now the paradigm is changing. A lot of Jews are saying, ‘I like Obama, but I don’t like what he is doing on Israel.”

Foxman added that the most frequent question he hears when speaking to Jewish audiences is whether Obama is a friend of Israel.

“I say yes — but what’s wrong is the implementation of what he promised. What’s flawed is the strategy, not the goal,” Foxman said.

The ADL leader quickly added that despite promises to learn from past mistakes, the administration’s handling of Israel-related issues is “going from bad to worse.”

JTA

 
 

Obama spreads the love, keeping Jewish leaders happy — for now

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is projecting a new attitude when it comes to Israel, and is selling it hard: unbreakable, unshakeable bond going forward, whatever happens.

Jewish leaders have kicked the tires and they’re buying — although anxious still at what happens when the rubber hits the road.

News Analysis

“It’s a positive development,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the recent Jewish outreach blitz by the administration. “There are two questions, though, that will only be answered over time: Will the outreach be sustained, and will the policy be consistent with the positions being expressed in the outreach?”

Tensions between the administration and Israel were sparked in the first week of March, when Israel announced a major new building initiative in eastern Jerusalem during what was meant to be a fence-mending visit by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden’s rebuke of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the trip was followed by a 45-minute phone berating by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then statements by senior administration officials that the announcement had been an affront.

That in turn spurred howls of protest by top Jewish figures saying that while Netanyahu indeed had blown it, the backlash should have ended with Biden’s rebuke. Worse, opinion-makers in Washington had seized on a paragraph in 56 pages of Senate testimony last month by Gen. David Petraeus in which the Central Command chief said that one of many elements frustrating his mission in the Middle East was the Arab-Israeli peace freeze.

The turning point, Solow said, was the letter he received April 20 from President Obama.

“Let me be very clear: We have a special relationship with Israel that will not be changed,” Obama wrote. “Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections, and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests.”

Obama suggested that the letter was prompted by the “concerns” Solow had expressed to White House staff. Solow said the letter was a surprise.

Whatever the case, the letter was only one element in a blast of Israel love from the administration, including speeches by David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, at the Israeli Embassy’s Independence Day festivities, and to the National Jewish Democratic Council; Clinton to the Center for Middle East Peace last week and to the American Jewish Committee this week; Petraeus, keynoting last week’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s commemoration at the U.S. Capitol; Rahm Emanuel, the White House Chief of Staff, meeting recently with a group of 20 rabbis; Jim Jones, the national security adviser, last week at the pro-Israel think tank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Jones’ deputy, Daniel Shapiro, addressing the Anti-Defamation League next month.

The main theme of the remarks is, as Jones put it, “no space — no space — between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”

Petraeus especially seems to have developed a second career keynoting Jewish events. He also spoke recently at the 92nd Street Y in New York and is addressing a Commentary magazine dinner in June.

Much of his Holocaust address, naturally, concerned itself with events of 65 years ago, but he couldn’t help wrenching the speech back into the present tense to heap praise on Israel.

Speaking of the survivors, he said, “They have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies.”

The blitz also has assumed at times the shape of a call and response. After the initial “crisis,” a number of Jewish groups wondered why the administration was making an issue of Israeli settlement and not of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to renew talks until Israel completely froze settlement-building and of continued incitement under Abbas’ watch.

In fact, the administration repeatedly warns against any preconditions and has made a consistent issue of Palestinian incitement, but Clinton appeared to get the message that the message hasn’t been forceful enough.

“We strongly urge President Abbas and his government to join negotiations with Israel now,” she told the Center for Middle East Peace on April 15. She also called on the Palestinian Authority to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians.”

Jewish leaders also were wounded by what they saw as a dismissive attitude to Israel’s contributions to the alliance.

“It is Israel which serves on the front lines as an outpost of American interests in a dangerous part of the world,” Lee Rosenberg, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee president, said April 14 at Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. “Israel’s military expertise and the intelligence they share with us help the United States remain on the offense against those who seek America’s destruction in some of the darkest and most difficult places on the planet.”

Cue Jim Jones, addressing the Washington Institute exactly a week later.

“I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America,” Jones said. “Our military benefits from Israeli innovations in technology, from shared intelligence, from exercises that help our readiness and joint training that enhances our capabilities, and from lessons learned in Israel’s own battles against terrorism and asymmetric threats.”

The feel-the-love show extends to Israelis as well, a marked change from the no-photos snub Netanyahu received when he met at the White House with Obama in late March.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates rolled out the red carpet for his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, on Tuesday, a signal that the sides are coordinating closely on Iran containment policy. And when the Israeli defense minister met at the White House with Jones, Obama dropped by Jones’ office to chat informally — a signal that presidents have traditionally used to underscore the closeness of a relationship.

Furthermore, the administration is not limiting its message to Jewish audiences. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke last week to the Arab American Institute and made points that essentially were the same as Clinton’s when she addressed the Center for Middle East Peace.

“Our position remains clear: We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” Rice told the Arab American group. “Israel should also halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority should continue to make every effort to ensure security, to reform its institutions of governance, and to take strong, consistent action to end all forms of incitement.”

Differences remain — like Rice, Clinton has emphasized that the Obama administration is not about to let the settlements issue go. More subtly, Obama is not going to concede in his overarching thesis of a “linkage” that has been repudiated by Israel and its defenders here: that Arab-Israeli peace will make it much easier to secure U.S. interests in the region.

“For over 60 years, American presidents have believed that pursuing peace between Arabs and Israelis is in the national security interests of the United States,” Obama said.

That’s essentially true — Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made the same point multiple times, but not with the doggedness and emphasis of Obama.

Jewish leaders said they would closely watch the aftermath of next month’s visit to Washington by Abbas, when the sides are expected to announce the resumption of talks. The nitty-gritty of the talks may yet derail the new good feelings; how that works depends on communications, said William Daroff, who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“This charm offensive is part of a prefatory way of setting up the communications so that when we get to proximity talks we will all move forward instead,” he said.

Critical to that success was listening, said Nathan Diament, who heads the Orthodox Union’s Washington office.

“Too many of the tensions of the past months have been generated by a lack of communication,” Diament said. “But just as important is for the administration to talk with, not just at, the community. The president benefits from having more input inform his policy choices.”

JTA

 
 

White House charm offensive pays off:  Wiesel says tension ‘gone’

image
President Barack Obama lunches with Elie Wiesel in the Oval Office’s private dining room on Tuesday. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

WASHINGTON – When Elie Wiesel says it’s all kosher, it’s good.

For now, anyway.

President Obama capped an intensive two weeks of administration make-nice with Israeli officials and the American Jewish community by hosting Wiesel, the Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust memoirist, for lunch at the White House.

News Analysis

“It was a good kosher lunch,” was the first thing Wiesel pronounced, emerging from the White House to a gaggle of reporters.

And not just the food.

“There were moments of tension,” Wiesel said. “But the tension I think is gone, which is good.”

That echoed Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, who a few days earlier told leaders of the American Jewish Committee that the “slight disagreements are behind us.”

The tension and the “slight” disagreements, of course, were between the United States and Israel — and by extension, the mainstream pro-Israel community — and started March 8, when Israel announced a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden rebuked Israel, but it didn’t stop there. Next came an extended phoned-in dressing down from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and claims by Clinton and other U.S. officials that Israel had “insulted” Biden.

Then, when Netanyahu arrived in Washington to address the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, Obama all but snubbed the Israeli leader, agreeing to meet him only without photo ops.

The pro-Israel community was virtually unified in its reaction: Yes, Netanyahu had screwed up, but this was piling on.

As the recriminations grew more pronounced, so did concerns about the relationship: Did this portend a major shake-up? Was Obama distancing himself from Israel?

In private, Jewish organizational leaders reached out to White House friends and said, whatever you’re selling, you need to explain it before “tensions” become a full-fledged “crisis.”

There were signs of that, with messages — some blunt, some oblique — about the dangers of pressing Israel on Jerusalem. The author of one of the messages, in the form of a full-page New York Times ad, was Wiesel.

In response to such rumblings — around the time of Israel Independence Day, mid-to-late April — the Obama administration launched its love assault. If you were a Jewish organization, no matter how particularized, you would get administration face time from Clinton (the American Jewish Committee) through Attorney General Eric Holder (the Anti-Defamation League) down to Chuck Hagel, the co-chairman of Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board (American Friends of Hebrew University.)

Clearly there was a checklist for the speakers:

• Mention that there is “no gap — no gap” (and say it like that) between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security. (Jim Jones, the national security advisor, to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; his deputy, Daniel Shapiro, to the ADL.)

• Repeat, ad infinitum, the administration’s “commitment to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.” (Clinton to the AJC; Dennis Ross, the top White House official handling Iran policy, to the ADL and just about everyone else.

• Make it clear that while resolving the conflict would make it easier to address an array of other issues, the notion that Israel is responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in the region is a calumny. (Robert Gates, the defense secretary, at a news conference with Barak: “No one in this department, in or out of uniform, believes that.” Shapiro to the ADL: “We do not believe this conflict endangers the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.”)

• Resolve to resolve differences “as allies” and don’t forget to criticize the Palestinians as well, for incitement and for recalcitrance in refusing to come to direct talks (proximity talks are resuming this week).

• And explain the fundaments of what is good about the relationship: defense cooperation.

The most pronounced evidence of this approach was in the ADL’s double whammy: The civil rights group got two speeches from two officials, Ross and Shapiro, who had not spoken publicly since taking their jobs in the administration. Each was in a position to go into detail about the details of the defense relationship, Ross handling the Iran perspective and Shapiro handling Israel and its neighbors.

“We have reinvigorated defense cooperation, including on missile defense, highlighted by the 1,000 U.S. service members who traveled to Israel to participate in the Juniper Cobra military exercises last fall,” Shapiro said. “We have intensive dialogues and exchanges with Israel — in political, military, and intelligence channels — on regional security issues and counterterrorism, from which we both benefit, and which enable us to coordinate our strategies whenever possible.

“We have redoubled our efforts to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, which has been publicly recognized and appreciated by numerous senior Israeli security officials. And we continue to support the development of Israeli missile defense systems, such as Arrow and David’s Sling, to upgrade Patriot missile defense systems first deployed during the Gulf War, and to work cooperatively with Israel on an advanced radar system to provide early warning of incoming missiles.”

Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, was impressed, saying this was more than just rhetoric.

“We’ve heard all kinds of phraseology in the last few weeks, but this is an inventory,” he said.

Tom Neumann, who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, agreed that the defense relationship remains strong — but wondered whether the rhetoric did not portend more substantive changes.

“On a soldier-to-soldier basis it remains solid,” Neumann said. “But much of the defense relationship is ultimately dictated by the administration. Obama may yet put pressure on Israel through the transfer of arms through how to confront Iran.”

JTA

image
President Barack Obama lunches with Elie Wiesel in the Oval Office’s private dining room on Tuesday. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
 
 

Elena Kagan seen as brilliant and affable — and a mystery

WASHINGTON – Rabbi David Saperstein runs through a shopping list of superlatives on Elena Kagan — “self-evidently brilliant” and “steady, strategic, and tactical” — before acknowledging that he doesn’t have much of a handle on what President Obama’s choice to fill a U.S. Supreme Court seat actually believes.

In the Jewish community Saperstein, the head of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, apparently is not alone.

Community reaction to Obama’s selection of Kagan, the U.S. solicitor general, is enthusiastic until officials consider what it is, exactly, she stands for.

Kagan, 50, has never been a judge — she would be the first Supreme Court justice without bench experience since 1974. It’s a biography the White House touts as refreshing, but also has the convenience of lacking a paper trail of opinions that could embarrass a nominee in Senate hearings.

image
President Barack Obama meets with Solicitor General Elena Kagan in the Oval Office last month. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

“When someone’s a solicitor general, it is really difficult to know what is their own position and what is the position of the state they are charged to represent,” Saperstein said.

A similar murkiness haunts how Kagan handles her Jewishness — she has alluded to it, but has not explicitly stated it since her nomination.

Her interlocutors in the Jewish community say Kagan is Jewish-savvy, but they are hard pressed to come up with her own beliefs.

The White House strategy going into Senate hearings appears to be blame whatever controversy trails her on her employer, on her client — on anyone but Kagan herself.

The first such controversy to emerge since Obama announced the nomination Monday was Kagan’s defense, as dean of Harvard University’s Law School, of the campus practice of banning military recruitment through the main career office (veterans were allowed to recruit independently) because of the military’s discriminatory hiring policies on gays.

Kagan inherited the policy when she became dean in 2003, but she was not shy about agreeing with it. When the Bush administration in 2004 threatened to withdraw funding, she rescinded the ban, but wrote to the student body, according to the authoritative SCOTUS Blog, of “how much I regret making this exception to our anti-discrimination policy. I believe the military’s discriminatory employment policy is deeply wrong — both unwise and unjust. And this wrong tears at the fabric of our own community by denying an opportunity to some of our students that other of our students have.”

Such stirring defenses are absent from White House materials that have emerged on the matter. Instead, the Obama administration is distributing an opinion piece that appeared Tuesday in the conservative Wall Street Journal by her predecessor at Harvard Law, Robert Clark.

“As dean, Ms. Kagan basically followed a strategy toward military recruiting that was already in place,” Clark wrote, not mentioning her stated ideological investment in the matter.

Another debate pertains more closely to an issue that divides the Jewish community: federal funding for faith-based initiatives.

Kagan clerked for Thurgood Marshall in the late 1980s, and in a memorandum to the Supreme Court justice, she said there was no place for such funding.

In her Senate hearings last year for the solicitor general post, Kagan outright repudiated the position she had forcefully advanced in 1987.

It was “the dumbest thing I ever read,” she said. “I was a 27-year-old pipsqueak and I was working for an 80-year-old giant in the law and a person who — let us be frank — had very strong jurisprudential and legal views.”

Her defense was convenient — Marshall, of course, is long dead and unable to defend himself — and troubling to Saperstein, whose group joins the majority of Jewish organizations in opposing such funding.

“People aren’t quite sure what to make of that,” he said.

The Orthodox Union’s Washington director, Nathan Diament, on the other hand, knows just what to make of it — hay.

“As strong proponents of the ‘faith-based initiative,’ and appropriate government support for the work of religious organizations, we at the Orthodox Union find Ms. Kagan’s review and revision of her views encouraging,” he wrote on his blog Tuesday.

Saperstein noted that the Religious Action Center — along with other Jewish civil liberties groups, like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee — is preparing questions for Kagan to be submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. RAC is soliciting questions from the public as well at a Website, AskElenaKagan.com.

These groups have welcomed the nomination; the National Council of Jewish Women has endorsed it. NCJW President Nancy Ratzan cited Kagan’s affirmation during her solicitor general confirmation hearings of Roe v. Wade as established law protecting a woman’s right to an abortion, and her defense of federal campaign funding restrictions as solicitor general before the Supreme Court — a case the government lost.

“She gave us clarity as a champion for civil rights,” Ratzan said of Kagan. “We think she’s going to be a stellar justice.”

Other groups say that whatever she argued as solicitor general — or whatever she said in seeking the job representing the U.S. government before the high court — might be seen more as reflecting the will of her boss, Obama, and is not necessarily a sign of how she would function as one of the nine most unfettered deciders in the land.

“There’s a lot we have to learn,” said Richard Foltin, the AJC’s director of national and legislative affairs, even after 15 years of interacting with Kagan dating to her days as a Clinton White House counsel on domestic policy.

Foltin and others who have dealt with Kagan say she is affable and easy to get along with, simultaneously self-deprecating and brimming with confidence. She accepts with equanimity the nickname “Shorty” that Marshall conferred upon her, and charmed her Senate interlocutors at her solicitor general confirmation hearings when she said that her strengths include “the communications skills that have made me — I’m just going to say it — a famously excellent teacher.”

In addition to his interactions with Kagan during her Clinton years, Foltin — a Harvard Law alumnus — was impressed as well by her ability as dean of the school to bring conservatives and liberals together.

“This is an incredibly smart attorney who is able to reach out to people, take in diverse perspectives, and bring people together,” he said.

Obama cited Kagan’s outreach in announcing her nomination.

“At a time when many believed that the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus,” he said.

Saperstein, who also recalls Kagan from her Clinton White House days, says she brings the same deep understanding of all sides of a debate to the Jewish community.

“She was quite aware of where there were differences — aid to education, government funding of religious institutions,” he said.

Kagan, whose nomination is believed to be secure — Republicans have said they are not likely to filibuster over it — would bring the number of Jews and women on the highest bench in the United States to three. That’s unprecedented in both cases. She would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer as Jewish justices. Sonia Sotomayor, like Kagan a native New Yorker, is the third female justice.

Stephen Pease, whose book “The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement” chronicles disproportionate Jewish representation in the law, in academe, and in the arts, said a third Jewish justice was not remarkable. Kagan would be seen as getting the job on her merits: clerking to two famous judges, teaching at the University of Chicago, advising the Clinton White House, heading Harvard Law, and then as the administration’s second most important lawyer, all by the age of 50.

“She’s done some pretty incredible stuff fairly quickly in her career,” Pease said.

Despite Kagan’s familiarity with the Jewish community, there are few clues as to her Jewish preferences. Her late father was on the board of West End Synagogue, a Reconstructionist shul in Manhattan, where she grew up on the Upper West Side. She had a bat mitzvah at the synagogue and, according to a New York Times profile, argued with the rabbi — over what it’s not clear.

Like Obama, she is close to Abner Mikva, a former federal judge and a law professor at the University of Chicago. It’s not clear, however, whether she shared Mikva’s deep involvement in the Jewish community. During her years as a lecturer at the University of Chicago, from 1991 to 1995, she was not involved with the local federation.

The White House did not shy away from Kagan’s Jewishness in making the announcement, nor did it make her faith explicit. Invitees to the announcement included the usual array of representatives from Washington offices of national Jewish groups: the AJC, ADL, NCJW, and RAC, along with the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“Elena is the granddaughter of immigrants whose mother was, for 20 years, a beloved public schoolteacher — as are her two brothers, who are here today,” Obama said.

Kagan added that “My parents’ lives and their memory remind me every day of the impact public service can have, and I pray every day that I live up to the example they set.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish groups welcome Iran sanctions but want more

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 21 May 2010

WASHINGTON – U.S. Jewish groups welcomed the announcement of the unified front by major world powers on Iran sanctions.

But they want to know the details — and they’re still pressing for unilateral sanctions by the U.S. Congress.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council had agreed on “strong” Iran sanctions.

The announcement came partly in response to Iran’s attempt this week to defang international efforts to monitor its nuclear development by agreeing to a nuclear exchange with Turkey and Brazil.

“We have been working closely with our P 5+1 partners for several weeks on the draft of a new sanctions resolution on Iran,” Clinton said, referring to the five Security Council members and Germany. “Today, I am pleased to announce to this committee we have reached agreement on a strong draft with the cooperation of both Russia and China.”

Those two countries have been the most reluctant to expand existing U.N. sanctions on Iran.

The American Jewish Committee, one of the groups at the forefront of efforts to galvanize international support for multilateral sanctions against Iran, welcomed the announcement.

“Secretary Clinton’s announcement is very encouraging,” said David Harris, AJC’s executive director. “We hope the U.N. Security Council will accelerate its deliberations and adopt a new resolution to significantly tighten the sanctions regime to thwart Iran’s ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons capability.”

Clinton did not outline the proposed sanctions, noting that the draft resolution must circulate among all 15 members of the Security Council. Reports in recent months have suggested that the sanctions under consideration would expand the list of individuals and entities already sanctioned in earlier resolutions and also target Iran’s financial sector.

The U.S. Congress is considering its own set of expanded and tougher unilateral sanctions that would target third-party entities — companies, individuals, and countries — that deal with Iran’s energy sector.

The Obama administration is wary of the package, fearing it would drive away partners from multilateral sanctions.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called on the Obama administration to embrace the congressional package — likely to pass within weeks — as a complement to the multilateral sanctions.

“American and international sanctions on Iran must be overwhelming to change the dynamic within Iran and to alter the policies of Iranian leaders,” AIPAC said in an analysis it distributed after Clinton’s announcement. “Sanctions should target Iran’s finance, insurance, shipping, transportation, natural gas, and manufacturing industries in addition to Tehran’s dependence on refined petroleum.”

Clinton drew a direct link between her announcement and Iran’s attempt this week to head off additional sanctions by agreeing to a diluted version of an earlier U.S.-initiated proposal to enrich some uranium to medical research levels in exchange for transparency. Under the agreement, Iran would export half its low-enriched uranium to Turkey and Brazil for enrichment to medical research levels.

The Obama administration has rejected the deal as inadequate. U.S. officials noted that under the original U.S. proposal, Iran would have had to relinquish its entire existing store of uranium and make its program more transparent. Under the Brazil-Turkey deal, Iran would retain enough low-enriched uranium to manufacture a single nuclear bomb should it obtain the means to further enrich it.

AIPAC called the deal a “stalling tactic.”

“The Iran-Brazil-Turkey deal fails all counts,” AIPAC spokesman Josh Block said. “It leaves them with enough material to make a bomb, Iran has said it plans to continue enriching nuclear fuel, and there is no indication that Iran is even willing to talk about suspending enrichment as called for by four U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Clinton said the administration’s announcement of an agreement on Security Council sanctions against Iran “is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken in Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide.”

JTA

 
 

White House meets with rabbis to assuage concerns on Israel

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 21 May 2010

WASHINGTON – If you tell the rabbis, they will spread the word.

That was the thinking behind two intimate White House meetings — the second of which took place on May 13 — with a carefully selected slate of 15 rabbis from across the country and representing the Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative streams.

Jack Moline, a Conservative rabbi at Cong. Agudas Achim in Alexandria, Va., initiated the meetings after a talk he had with his friend Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, about the Obama administration’s perceived lack of friendliness toward Israel.

image
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, seen here at the national menorah lighting on Dec. 13, 2009, arranged two White House meetings in recent weeks for a select group of rabbis. Creative Commons

The two meetings, the first of which was held last month, were part of a “charm offensive” after relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments hit a low in early March, when Israel announced a major building start in eastern Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The Obama administration wants Israel to freeze settlement in the west bank and building in the eastern part of Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War and subsequently annexed.

In recent weeks, several high-profile Jewish communal figures have slammed the Obama administration over the intensity and public nature of its criticisms of Israeli actions on these fronts. Some of the critics accused the White House of exerting much more pressure on Israel than the Palestinian Authority.

Moline said the rabbis, all of whom attended both of the meetings, were selected because of the high profiles they have in their communities, and because they had concerns about how the Obama administration was conducting Middle East policy — but they had not displayed outright hostility to the president.

“The rabbis who were in this group were chosen because they’re in touch with their different congregations in different parts of the country,” Moline said.

Not all the rabbis came away entirely mollified, but nonetheless they were impressed by the seriousness of the outreach.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of the Orthodox Boca Raton Synagogue in Florida said he left the meeting still wondering if the administration is on the right track, but still “cautiously optimistic” because of the depth of commitment to Israel he heard.

“I left with a clear impression that these individuals have a real passion about Israel,” even if he did not agree with them on tactics, Goldberg said. Their interlocutors at the two meetings were high level: Dennis Ross, who runs Obama’s Iran policy; Dan Shapiro, the deputy national security adviser who supervises policy for Israel and its neighbors; Susan Sher, the chief White House liaison to the Jewish community; and Emanuel.

“Among the rabbis there was a diversity of those who support the administration policies and feel the message hasn’t trickled down, and those who have problems with some of the policies,” Goldberg said. “But the universal message was you need to show more love; this is not how you treat family.”

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of B’nai Tzedek, a Conservative congregation in suburban Potomac, Md., said he felt it was especially incumbent upon the administration to explain its actions, given the misgivings about Obama that had circulated in the Jewish community prior to his election in a rumor campaign driven by e-mail that described him as anti-Israel and sympathetic to Muslims.

“I even mentioned hesitantly the flurry of e-mails prior to the election that were widely circulated in the Jewish community,” he said. “This was one of the reasons there was concern, and this was why the concerns had to be allayed. The potential for that perception is out there already, and the recent actions didn’t contribute to dispelling that approach.”

The rabbis put questions to the group that ranged from the substantive to repetitions of rumors about the president and how he was perceived to have treated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poorly during a visit to Washington in March.

The White House staffers answered the questions politely and with equanimity, Moline said.

“There was a lot of highlighting of the actual activities and policies of the administration,” Moline said — “and some frustration that” what the Obama administration has done for Israel “has not been comprehensively and accurately reported. They emphasized that whatever the messaging has been over the past year and a half, the policies have been in place.”

The officials emphasized, for instance, the closeness of the defense relationship. On May 13, as the rabbis were meeting with the staffers, for instance, the Obama administration authorized $205 million on top of the annual $3 billion in defense assistance for Israel to complete its Iron Dome short-range missile defense system.

The administration officials “spent a considerable amount of time emphasizing that the United States is addressing Israel’s security concerns in a manner that [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak called better than at any previous time,” Moline reported.

The rabbis in attendance — whose congregations ranged from Florida, the Midwest, Las Vegas, the Northeast, and the South — seemed receptive and took the message home.

“Our president is every bit as committed to Israel’s safety and security as any previous administration,” Rabbi Aaron Rubinger said in a May 8 Shabbat morning sermon at Congregation Ohev Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Orlando, Fla. “I do not believe the president is abandoning Israel or has any intention of abandoning Israel.”

Rubinger seemed even more upbeat in an extensive interview with the Heritage Florida Jewish News after the second meeting.

The rabbi said he had gone into the first meeting “with grave concern that even the public perception of too much space between Israel and the U.S. might give a signal to Iran that the U.S. was not as committed to Israel’s security as previous administrations were.”

Now, Rubinger said, he was assuaged.

“We are mending and moving beyond this controversy,” he said.

Rubinger’s fellow Floridian Goldberg said his congregants needed to know more.

Goldberg said some rabbis accepted the White House staffers’ argument that until recently they had not communicated their message effectively. Others, including Goldberg, thought that put too much weight on the message and not the substance of the policy.

“It’s easy to repeat the phrases ‘unbreakable bond’ and ‘shared values,’” he said. “We want to hear in no uncertain terms that Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear, that it’s great that the proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians “have started, but inevitably there will be an impasse, and when that happens, will they only apply pressure Israel, or have they learned something? My community in Palm Beach County is confused and has questions but is seeking answers.”

Weinblatt also pressed his interlocutors on the perceived imbalance in U.S. criticism of Israel.

“In many respects, I think there was a recognition on their part that the mistakes had been made in regard to the way Israel had been singled out so strongly,” he said.

Rubinger listed what he called “significant” administration talking points: The refusal to participate in the U.N.’s Durban Review Conference against racism last year in Geneva because the president believed Israel would be unfairly criticized; the rejection of Richard Goldstone’s U.N. report on Israel’s actions during last year’s war in Gaza, which pro-Israel advocates called inaccurate and biased; the refusal to participate in joint military exercises with Turkey when Ankara said it would withdraw if Israel were included; the ongoing cooperation between the United States and Israel on missile defense issues; and numerous recent visits to Washington by Barak, Israel’s defense minister.

Rubinger said he believes these actions far outweigh the negativity surrounding the housing “flap.”

JTA

 
 

Beinart pins his thesis to the synagogue door

WASHINGTON – Peter Beinart attends an Orthodox synagogue, once edited The New Republic (the closest thing to a smicha for Jewish policy wonks) and backed Sen. Joe Lieberman’s quixotic 2004 bid to become the first Jewish president.

Pro Israel, with questions

Which is why he’s always been counted among the Washington pundits who defend Israel, Zionism, and the right of American Jews to lobby for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

Beinart also frets about how Jewish his kids will be.

image
Peter Beinart has pundits and Jewish officials debating about his recent essay asserting an increasing American Jewish alienation from Israel.

Which is why he worries about how Israel behaves, how it is perceived, and what it means for American Jewry. And why, he says, he published a lengthy essay in last week’s New York Review of Books arguing that American Jews are becoming alienated from Israel and blaming U.S. Jewish groups for refusing to criticize the Israeli government’s perceived rightward shift.

“Having kids makes you react differently to things,” Beinart told JTA, speaking of what brought about his 5,000-word (not counting several subsequent rebuttals to rebuttals) piece.

“It made me think more, not about my own Zionist identity, but about what Zionism was going to be available to them,” Beinart said. “I began to grow more and more concerned about the choice they would make, which would have been agonizing for me to watch unfold” — between an American universalism stripped of Zionism or an “anti-universalistic Zionism that has strong elements in Israel, and in the Orthodox community for which I have strong affection.”

Beinart’s essay has had an impact, unleashing a stream of responses. It is being examined as well in the uppermost precincts of organized U.S. Jewry, and has become fodder for lunchtime chats, insiders say.

“Everyone’s read it and everyone is talking about it,” said Marc Pelavin, the associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center.

The essay comes as dovish and leftist groups in Israel and the United States are beginning to push back against the conventional wisdoms that define organizational American Jewish attitudes about Israel. The most prominent case is the rise in recent years of J Street, but there are other examples: B’Tselem, the human rights group, recently exported an Israeli staffer to direct its Capitol Hill operation.

Officials of Ir Amim, a group that counsels accommodating some Palestinian aspirations in Jerusalem as a means of keeping the peace in the city, are touring the United States this week. They are sounding out Jewish leaders about how to make the case for a shared city to an American Jewish polity where dividing the city is something of a third rail.

For the most part, the debate has assumed something of the tone of an earnest, friendly exchange, with the combatants avoiding the sort of dueling take-no-prisoners charges of dual loyalty and anti-Semitism that sometimes marks such exchanges.

In large part that’s because of Beinart’s biography and standing. Even his critics admit that Beinart — unlike other critics of U.S. Jewish support for Israel who have cast it as an anomaly at best and dual loyalty at worst — cannot be shooed away.

James Kirchick, like Beinart an alumnus of The New Republic, said in a critique published on Foreign Policy’s Website that Beinart’s arguments could not be dismissed.

“Beinart has never been part of American Jewry’s leftist faction; up until recently, he was a prominent spokesperson for the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party,” Kirchick said.

Beinart’s synagogue-door declaration of independence from what he says is establishment Jewish orthodoxy (small o) is framed in the politest of terms, although he names names: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“In theory, mainstream American Jewish organizations still hew to a liberal vision of Zionism,” he writes. “On its Website, AIPAC celebrates Israel’s commitment to ‘free speech and minority rights.’”

Beinart says the Conference of Presidents declares that “‘Israel and the United States share political, moral, and intellectual values including democracy, freedom, security, and peace.’ These groups would never say, as do some in Netanyahu’s coalition, that Israeli Arabs don’t deserve full citizenship and west bank Palestinians don’t deserve human rights. But in practice, by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire.”

The response, on the record from the pro-Israel commentariat and off the record from some of Beinart’s targets: He’s moved on. Once an Iraq war supporter, he is now affiliated with the New American Foundation, the liberal-realist think tank that is home to a number of pronounced critics of traditional American pro-Israel orthodoxies.

Shmuel Rosner, a blogger for The Jerusalem Post whose focus for years has been on relations between Israel and U.S. Jewry, wondered whether Beinart hadn’t made it a little too personal.

“It is a story worthy of telling, with careful attention to detail, with open mind,” Rosner wrote. “A story more interesting than the personal misgivings one Jewish liberal is trying to impose on the community as a whole.”

Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent at The Atlantic, and Leon Wieseltier, Beinart’s former colleague at The New Republic, chided Beinart for publishing his essay in The New York Review of Books, which has published material questioning the validity of a Jewish state. In response, Beinart has noted that it also has published tough defenses of Israel — and that it is an apt forum for a writer trying not only to reconcile Zionism with liberals, but liberals with Zionism.

More substantive complaints had to do with Beinart’s omissions: He mentions only in passing the Palestinian responsibility — through the failure to contain terrorism and incitement — for frustrating the peace talks, and also does not substantially treat the existential threat implied by Iran’s current rulers. He also focuses on Netanyahu’s 1993 book “A Place Among the Nations,” which severs the Palestinians from his vision of a peaceful Middle East instead of the prime minister’s more recent pronouncements acceding to a two-state solution.

Beinart, in follow-up essays in the online Daily Beast, another of his employers, argues that he glances by the Palestinians because he is writing about and for Jews.

“My piece never claimed to offer an overview of the Israeli-Palestinian or Israeli-Iranian conflict,” he writes. “Rather, it was a plea for American Jewish organizations to take sides in Israel’s domestic struggle between democrats and authoritarians, and thus help save liberal Zionism in the United States. Those American Jewish organizations, of course, don’t need to be encouraged to criticize Iran and the Palestinians.”

As for Netanyahu, Beinart argues that his acceptance of Palestinian statehood was only grudging and came under intense American pressure.

Rosner also picks over Beinart’s statistical analyses, wondering if they hold up. The research, Rosner says, shows that American Jews who believe in trading land for peace — and who conceivably would be at odds with its current government — nonetheless describe themselves as attached to Israel, whatever its current political posture. Kirchick notes that attachment to Israel has traditionally increased with age.

Steven M. Cohen, one of the sociologists whose work Beinart cites in his essay, thinks Beinart is right to say younger Jews are increasingly alienated from Israel, but wrong to blame it on politics. Instead, he argued in a response published by Foreign Policy, the main factor is intermarriage — more specifically, the “departure from all manner of Jewish ethnic ‘groupiness,’ of which Israel attachment is part.”

That said, Cohen added, “Jewishly engaged young adults” are turned off by their perception that debate over Israel is not welcomed in Jewish communal circles.

“If Israel is to retain the engagement of the coming (and present) generation of American Jews,” he wrote, “organized American Jewry will need to provide a third alternative — one that combines love of Israel with a rich and open discourse on its policies and politics.”

Whatever the dimensions of the threat, even some of Beinart’s named targets — speaking off the record — agreed that a crisis was imminent and that he raised worthwhile issues.

“Is my diagnosis as dour as his is? No, I’m probably not as pessimistic as Beinart is,” said one official. “But anybody’s who’s not worried about” disaffection among younger Jews, “whether they believe his thesis or not, is fooling themselves.”

Beinart’s best point, this official said, is that young Jews are not as prone to see themselves as victims as the establishment is.

“The most correct part of his analysis, the challenge for us, is a Jewish community that is changing,” the official said. “We have viewed ourselves as having been powerless and weak, but we have evolved into a community that is powerful and strong.”

Plenty of previous debates over Israel and the pro-Israel lobby have descended into name-calling and generated plenty of hostility. Not this time, according to Beinart.

“In all honesty, the thing I worried about most was the reaction of some of our friends because a lot of the people whose friendship I really value are significantly to my right, which isn’t surprising at an Orthodox synagogue. But I mostly worried for nothing,” Beinart wrote in an exchange with Goldberg. “There’s been a lot of disagreement, but nothing the least bit malicious. It’s made me realize how remarkable and unusual a community we live in, in fact. I think I may even have smoked out one or two hidden doves.”

JTA

 
 

Congress delays sanctions bill, with AIPAC blessing

WASHINGTON – In a sign of closer White House-congressional coordination on Iran, Congress is delaying an Iran sanctions bill several weeks to give the Obama administration time to shepherd new sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee blessed the delay, in part because parallel measures are under consideration that would stiffen existing sanctions aimed at getting the Iranian regime to stand down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

“We have always said that tough multilateral sanctions are the most effective means to persuade Iran to cease its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability — a demand repeated time and again by the international community — and we applaud the efforts of President Obama and his national security team to unite the other permanent members of the Security Council behind this urgent goal,” said a joint statement by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

The statement predicted passage by the “latter half of June.”

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of enhanced unilateral sanctions that would target third parties — including countries, individuals, and companies — that deal with Iran’s energy sector. The bills are undergoing reconciliation, and congressional leaders had said they would pass this month.

The Obama administration has lobbied hard to delay the congressional sanctions, fearing that they could alienate the major powers it has persuaded to join the Security Council’s multilateral sanctions.

The enhanced Security Council sanctions, targeting Iran’s banking sector and mandating inspections of Iranian ships, lack the bite of the congressional measures. However, they broaden multilateral sanctions to encompass whole sectors — banking and shipping — as opposed to individuals and entities. That would lay the foundations for future sanctions that could more broadly target the regime.

“AIPAC supports this decision and endorses Chairmen Dodd and Berman’s firm, public commitment to get tough, comprehensive Iran sanctions legislation on the President’s desk before the July 4th recess,” the lobby said in a statement. “We urge President Obama to sign and implement that legislation immediately upon its arrival on his desk.”

AIPAC was assuaged in part by plans to insert language in other bills that would inhibit presidential waivers on existing sanctions. Recent reports have revealed that U.S. businesses that have illicitly traded with Iran have done $107 billion in business with the U.S. government. The businesses got away with the double dealing because successive presidents have not used sanctions at their disposal since Congress passed sweeping legislation in 1996.

House appropriators announced Tuesday that they would attach language to a supplemental appropriations bill that would require contractors to certify that they are not doing business with Iran. The sanctions would still be subject to a presidential waiver, but on a case-by-case basis, and on condition of certification to Congress that the waiver was necessary for national security.

“One of the most effective things we can do to compel compliance with the Iran Sanctions Act is use the power of the purse,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who worked on the legislation with fellow appropriators Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) under the supervision of Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who chairs the foreign operations appropriations subcommittee.

Israel told JTA that he was sensitive to Defense Department concerns that some companies discovered doing business with Iran also might be providing critical aid to U.S. troops, for instance with anti-explosive device materiel.

“Then the president should tell Congress, but it shouldn’t be done in the dark, it shouldn’t be behind closed doors,” he said.

Israel called attaching the language to the supplemental appropriations bill a “shot across the bow.” He was hoping to attach it eventually to all 12 appropriations bills in Congress.

Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) launched a parallel effort to attach similar language to defense authorization bills. His amendment would suspend for three years business with contractors that falsely certify that they are not doing business with Iran.

Authorization bills permit the government to carry out programs; appropriations bills fund the programs.

JTA

 
 

Welcome to Obama’s Jewish America

WASHINGTON – The athletes, the astronauts, the alternative music, the black rabbi, the white dress uniforms, and, above all, the left-handed baseball immortal: Welcome to Barack Obama’s Jewish America.

The inaugural Jewish America Heritage Month celebration at the White House, held May 27, underscored the Obama administration’s determination not to be locked into Washington’s conventional notions of Jewish leadership.

News Analysis

President Obama did not exactly snub the usual suspects who have peopled similar events for decades. Lee Rosenberg, the president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were on hand. Both also happen to have been major fund-raisers for Obama’s campaign, as were several others among the 250 or so in attendance.

image
Baseball legend Sandy Koufax attracted plenty of attention at the Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at the White House, May 27. The Jewish Channel

But the image that the White House sought to convey was of a Jewish America not necessarily bound to the alphabet soup of the Jewish organizational world and of pro-Israelism. Instead, Obama presented an array of Jewish heroes and celebrities who pronouncedly defied Jewish stereotypes. In addition to the major givers, the entrepreneurs, and the communal leaders, guests included sports heroes such as Sandy Koufax, veterans, nonprofit innovators, journalists, actors, and organizers.

Obama referred also to “the countless names that we don’t know — the teachers, the small-business owners, the doctors and nurses, the people who seek only to live honestly and faithfully and to give their children more than they had.”

The reception was in the works for months, and planning predated the tensions between Israel and the United States precipitated in early March when Israel announced a major housing start in eastern Jerusalem during an official visit there by Vice President Joe Biden, who also was at the reception.

Still, the White House’s pro-Jewish and pro-Israel messages were timely — coming in the wake of a weeks-long “charm offensive” launched by the White House to help allay anxieties over the recent tensions with Jerusalem. And luckily for those seeking an unadulterated feel-good moment, the event took place days before the international furor over Israel’s raid on the flotilla headed toward Gaza.

The reception included a traditional reference to the “unbreakable” Israel-U.S. alliance dating back to within minutes of Israel’s establishment.

Jewish values, Obama said, “helped lead America to recognize and support Israel as a Jewish homeland and a beacon for democratic values — beginning mere minutes after its independence was declared. In fact, we have the original statement by President Harry Truman on display here today.”

Obama also made it clear, however, that he sees the alliance as part of America’s strategy of global outreach.

“My administration is renewing American leadership around the world — strengthening old alliances and forging new ones, defending universal values while ensuring that we uphold our values here at home,” he said. “In fact, it’s our common values that leads us to stand with allies and friends, including the State of Israel.”

Overall, the festivities amounted to a bald emotional appeal to Jewish soft spots: The National Archives ran a session on stereotype-defying Jews in the military during the Civil War. The Library of Congress celebrated Jewish comediennes.

Nowhere were the emotions more in evident — yet more controlled — than at the White House reception.

The Heritage Month was established after legislation passed in 2006 by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), then a freshman in Congress. In subsequent years, Jewish Democrats fumed that President George W. Bush did nothing more to mark the month than issue a proclamation.

After such griping, it raised eyebrows last year when Obama did not mark the month, so the May 27 reception was seen as inevitable. When Obama pronounced this the “first-ever” such reception, Wasserman Schultz leaned back in her chair and beamed at her congressional colleagues.

Rabbi Alyssa Stanton of Greenville, N.C., the first black female rabbi, read the poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. When she smiled and raised her arm to pronounce, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” there was a gasp: A descendant of immigrants brought to America in chains was celebrating those who fled bondage and sought its freedom.

Regina Spektor, the “anti-folk” singer who performed on a grand piano, presented a similar contrast: An alternative music favorite of New York cosmopolitans who refuses to shake off her provincial roots as the little 9-year-old refusenik who came here in 1989 and who famously told New York magazine when her career was taking off: “The Jewish question — it still exists.”

Spektor had to breathe deep before starting. Prodded by a nod and a grin from Michelle Obama, she attacked her first song, “Us,” with lyrics suggestive of Jewish frustration at coping with how others define Jews: “They made a statue of us and put it on a mountaintop/ Now tourists come and stare at us, blow bubbles with their gum, take photograph, have fun.”

The military veterans were guided to their seats by service personnel in white dress uniforms. Among the athletes was Dara Torres, the five-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer whose son snapped a photo of her with Obama. (“Can you beat your mom yet?” Obama shouted at the strapping teenager, who murmured, “No.”)

Jewish astronauts were invited, a White House official said, but none could make it — although one, Garrett Reisman, carried Obama’s proclamation into space aboard the last mission of space shuttle Atlantis, which returned to Earth last week.

There were establishment journalists, like Roger Cohen and Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, but there was also Heeb publisher Josh Newman and Doug Bloomfield, an irreverent Democrat who for years has been excoriating conservatives in Jewish weeklies. There was Michael Adler, the Florida philanthropist and vice chairman of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America, but there also was Eli Winkelman, the college student who founded Challah for Hunger, which brings together students to bake challahs that are sold to raise funds for Darfur.

But the star of the afternoon was Koufax, the legendary Dodgers’ southpaw who made baseball history by pitching four no-hitters and Jewish history by bailing on a World Series game because it fell on Yom Kippur.

“We’ve got senators and representatives, we’ve got Supreme Court justices and successful entrepreneurs, rabbinical scholars, Olympic athletes — and Sandy Koufax,” Obama said. “Sandy and I actually have something in common — we are both lefties. He can’t pitch on Yom Kippur; I can’t pitch.”

JTA

 
 
 
Page 1 of 9 pages  1 2 3 >  Last »
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31