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Follow Me on Twitter This Election Cycle: @neuroticdem …

Monday, October 1st, 2012

… and learn more about President Obama’s strong pro-Israel record, and why I’m supporting him for re-election in 2012.

One last point to make here: Note that whenever Obama talks about Israel, especially on the world stage, he talks not just about the importance of Israel as a democratic ally in a volatile region — but about the absolute need for a safe and secure “Jewish” state. This is an extremely significant choice of words from the American president — a strong, consistent signal to the Arab world — at a time when many deny that there should even be an inherently Jewish character to a democratic state of Israel.

Here, for instance, is President Obama in his speech to the United Nations, Sept. 25, 2012:

Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on a prospect of peace. Let us leave behind those who thrive on conflict, those who reject the right of Israel to exist. The road is hard, but the destination is clear — a secure, Jewish state of Israel and an independent, prosperous Palestine.

I have heard Obama speak twice about Israel to small Jewish audiences — the first in Cleveland during the presidential primary in ’08, and the second last June in Washington, D.C. I have absolutely no doubt he gets Israel in his “kishkes” — and that is why he has made stopping Iran’s nuclear capability one of his signature foreign policy objectives. (And if you doubt the Obama-led sanctions regime is having an impact, please read: Israel Finance Minister says Iran Economy on the ‘Verge of Collapse.’):

Israeli officials appear increasingly ready to acknowledge the effect of recent American and European sanctions designed to restrict Iran’s lifeline oil exports.

“The sanctions on Iran in the past year jumped a level,” Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio, noting that as finance minister, he follows Iran’s economy. “It is not collapsing, but it is on the verge of collapse. The loss of income from oil there is approaching $45-50 billion by the year’s end.”

For all of the facts on President Obama’s policies designed to stop Iran, please read and share this.

[UPDATE: Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has compiled a list of some of Obama’s strongest statements about Iran here: “Obama’s Crystal-Clear Promise to Stop Iran From Getting a Nuclear Weapon.”]

For all of the facts about President Obama’s policies that strengthen Israel — including information about how Obama restored Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” — please read and share this.

And for information about how Obama’s general policies reflect Jewish values, please read and share this.

I knew from the moment I met Obama that he had a quintessentially Jewish soul. In ’08, when I asked him to sign an autograph for our  son, he asked — when he heard the name — if our son was named for Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. How many people in public office today — let alone the president — even know who Rabbi Heschel was? (How many Jews know him?) How many of our leaders could cite Heschel on a dime in a rope line?

Many of Obama’s critics on Israel — some of whom are my dear friends — like to tell me that while Obama says the right things, it doesn’t ultimately matter; it’s just words. But as Rabbi Heschel said: “Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out in a sound, ends in a deed.”

That’s why when Obama speaks repeatedly not just about a safe Israel, but a secure Jewish state, its significance should not be understated.

Rabbi Heschel also famously said: “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

That’s why I’m doing all I can — through my writing on Twitter this year — to help re-elect President Barack Obama. Please follow me @neuroticdem. Thanks.




What Mitt Would Actually Do

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Here, in a nutsell, is what scares me about Mitt Romney. From Hendrik Hertzberg, the New Yorker, Jan. 16, 2012:

By lineage and temperament, Romney, the likely nominee, is the pragmatic moderate he quite convincingly played on the Massachusetts stage. His problem now, and possibly his (and the nation’s) salvation later, is the suspicion that he changes his opinions to suit the political (and, one would hope, substantive) circumstances. No one, maybe not even Romney, knows if Romney means what he says. But as President, especially if the Republicans complete their takeover of Congress, he would be under irresistible pressure to do what he says. And what does he say? That he would let states recriminalize abortion; that he would seek constitutional amendments outlawing new same-sex marriages and requiring two-thirds congressional majorities for tax increases; that he would sabotage “Obamacare” (never mind that “Romneycare” was its prototype) and seek its repeal, destroying its cost savings and consigning tens of millions to the ranks of the uninsured and untreated; that he would replace unemployment benefits with unemployment “savings accounts”; that he would supercharge income inequality with further huge tax cuts for the wealthy; that he would gut financial regulation; that he would “double Guantánamo,” reauthorize torture, and deport undocumented aliens en masse (including President Obama’s Kenyan uncle); and more.

Read more

Can We Talk?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Nothing like an election to get my neurotic juices flowing again.

I’ve been out of comission for awhile. Keeping up with a blog — doing it right — is tough work. But I didn’t think I could let this Republican House takeover go by today without commenting.

I’ll admit it’s hard, personally, to see how far we’ve come in two years. Watching returns tonight on CNN, I was reminded of watching returns two years ago — literally jumping up and hugging my wife when Ohio was called for Obama, and thus the presidency.

There is no shortage of pundits out there offering an explanation on why things have gone so awry for the Obama administration. GOP obstructionism only goes so far as an explanation. The influx of “secret” money is disturbing, but — as David Brooks argued in a recent column — ultimately not consequential. There is real disillusionment out there — much of it felt by the same people who voted for Obama two years ago; some of those, my friends.

I like much of what Obama has done — from health care to restarting the peace process in Israel to the auto industry bailout; from pro-consumer regulatory reform of the banks to a stimulus package which, by all nonpartisan estimates I’ve seen, created or saved thousands of jobs. I even like his cerebral approach, though I see why others wouldn’t.

What’s more, Obama said he would do all of these things, during his election campaign. When in history have we seen a candidate so roundly punished for following through on campaign promises?

I’m not sure I could say, with any real authority, why this wave election happened. What I’m wondering tonight is this: can we, on opposite sides of the spectrum, talk to each other, instead of screaming at each other? Can we try to understand each other, and find common ground?

I don’t have any real hope that those in Congress, or on CNN or Fox, will suddenly stop the shouting. I’m talking about the rest of us — friends, neighbors, family members. Me and my Uncle Randy.

I’m certainly guilty of shouting myself at times. I wonder: could this blog be re-energized around political conversations about issues that we disagree on?

Could any blog?

Stay tuned.

My Question for Elena Kagan

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Elena Kagan, newly nominated by President Obama for the Supreme Court, will surely be peppered with questions by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Something tells me, though, that at no point will Kagan be asked the most critical question.

As the Times reports this morning:

The young Ms. Kagan was independent and strong-willed. Mr. [Bill] Lubic [her father’s law partner of 20 years] recalls her bat mitzvah — or bas mitzvah, as it was then called — in a conservative synagogue, where Elena clashed with the rabbi over some aspect of the ceremony.

“She had strong opinions about what a bas mitzvah should be like, which didn’t parallel the wishes of the rabbi,” he said. “But they finally worked it out. She negotiated with the rabbi and came to a conclusion that satisfied everybody.”

I know that Supreme Court nominees are famously tight-lipped. But Americans — and most especially Jewish Americans — must know. Solicitor General Kagan: What battle did you wage with your rabbi at your bat mitzvah?

Did it have to do with Jewish gender roles? A disagreement about the interpretation of the HafTorah? A question about who could sit with the bat mitzvah girl on the bimah?

Let others debate whether Kagan is an activist judge (though it would hard to be more activist than Scalia, Roberts, et. al), or whether she is too progressive (her senior thesis at Princeton was about Socialism in New York City! She clerked for Thurgood Marshall!) … we need to know, Ms. Kagan: what prompted you, as a 13-year-old girl, to take on your rabbi, and how did you get him to cave?

I’ve got a hunch that this liberal Jewish woman — who has taken great pains in her career to reach out to conservatives, including Scalia — is exactly what’s needed on the increasingly conservative Roberts court.

Why I Mistrust Criticism of Obama on Israel

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

A good friend of mine in Israel sent me an article this morning from Y-Net, Israel’s largest and most popular news site. Headline: “U.S. ‘disappointed’ with Israel, Palestinians.”

My first thought: Oy. This is not the way to improve relations with the Jewish state, and earn back the trust of the Jewish community.

The subdeck went from bad to worse: “National Security Advisor James Jones says peace could prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but adds ‘it must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside.’ ”

Double oy, I thought. Peace preventing Iran from getting the bomb? It sounds foolishly naive: Obama, exactly as he is portrayed by his fiercest critics.

I read the article, an account of Jones’ remarks yesterday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Curiously, nowhere in the article was Jones quoted expressing disappointment with Israel. And nowhere was he quoted saying anything close to to what the subdeck asserted, vis-a-vis Iran and nuclear weapons.

So I went to the transcript. Jones doesn’t say he’s disappointed with Israel. (He does say: “we are disappointed that the parties have not begun direct negotiations.” But presumably, so is Bibi Netanyahu, who has repeatedly stated his desire to open direct negotiations toward peace.) And Jones doesn’t say peace between Israel and the Palestinians will prevent Iran from getting nukes. (He does say: “Advancing this peace would also help prevent Iran from cynically shifting attention away from its failures to meet its obligations.” This isn’t warm and fuzzy hope; it’s shrewd Realpolitik that, whether you agree with it or not, highlights Iran’s corrupt core.)

For those who haven’t read it, you should; Jones’ talk is a virtual love note to Israel. You can read it here.

Jones was absolutely steadfast on the need to stop Iran from getting a bomb, asserting that if Iran continues on its current path, it “will face ever deepening isolation.”

Iran’s government must face real consequences for its continued defiance of the international community.  We hope that Iran will make the right choice and acts to restore the confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program. However, should Iran’s leaders fail to make that choice, President Obama has been very clear, and I want to repeat it here: the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. 

He goes on to say there has been “a lot of distortion and misrepresentation” of U.S. policy regarding Israel. Though the two have had differences, he said, “we will always resolve them as allies.” Not once, but twice he referred to the absolute imperative for Israel to be a “secure, Jewish state.” Note the emphasis: Jewish.

As President Obama declared in Cairo, “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known.  This bond is unbreakable.”  They are the bonds of history—two nations that earned our independence through the sacrifice of patriots.  They are the bonds of two people, bound together by shared values of freedom and individual opportunity.  They are the bonds of two democracies, where power resides in the people.  They are the bonds of pioneers in science, technology and so many fields where we cooperate every day.  They are the bonds of friendship, including the ties of so many families and friends.

 This week marked the 62nd anniversary of Israeli independence—a nation and a people who have survived in the face of overwhelming odds.  But even now, six decades since its founding, Israel continues to reside in a hostile neighborhood with adversaries who cling to the false hope that denying Israel’s legitimacy will ultimately make it disappear.  But those adversaries are wrong. 

 He goes on to criticize the Palestinians for refusing to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. “America’s commitment to Israel will endure,” the National Security Advisor said:

And everyone must know that there is no space—no space—between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable.  It is as strong as ever.  This President and this Administration understands very well the environment—regionally and internationally—in which Israel and the United States must operate.  We understand very well that for peace and stability in the Middle East, Israel must be secure. 

 The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel’s security. 

The United States will never waiver in defense of Israel’s security.

That’s why, he explained, the U.S. spends billions of dollars annually in security assistance to Israel; consults with Israel to ensure its “qualitative military edge”; and undertakes joint military exercises, including one that involved more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers.

I can also say from long experience that our security relationship with Israel is important for America. 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. 

Over the years, and like so many Americans—like so many of you here tonight—I’ve spent a great deal of time with my Israeli partners, including my friends in the IDF.  These partnerships are deep and abiding.  They are personal relationships and friendships based on mutual trust and respect.  Every day, across the whole range of our bilateral relationship, we are working together for our shared security and prosperity.  And our partnership will only be strengthened in the months and years to come.

And yet Y-Net, the most popular news site in Israel, chooses to run with: “U.S. ‘disappointed’ with Israel, Palestinians”?

What bothers me most about this, is not only that it’s inaccurate, but destructive. And whether this particular headline was intentional or not, it fits a false narrative — purveyed by too many in the Jewish community — that goes back to before the election: Obama is a Muslim; he has anti-Israel advisors; he removed “Next year in Jerusalem” from the White House Passover seder; his State Department is denying visas to Israeli nuclear scientists; he snubbed Bibi Netanyahu; he “hates” Netanyahu; he hates Israel.

False. False. False. False. False. False. And false.

It’s dishonest. And it’s a big reason that, while I have specific concerns about how Obama’s handled Israel and the peace process, some of which I’ve blogged about, at the end of the day, my money’s on him.

The Ash Cloud

Friday, April 16th, 2010

I know thousands of people have had travel plans disrupted. I know airline flights have been cancelled across the globe. I know there will be an economic hit.

But putting that aside for a moment: there is something sublime in the huge high-altitude volcanic ash plume spreading across Europe; something the makes you stop, and take a breath, and think about things a little bit differently.

Here we are in 2010, surrounded by jaw-dropping technology that would have seemed Jetsonian just a few years ago. Our cars talk to us and tell us where to go.  Our phones link us to the farthest reaches of the planet in seconds. Manned space travel? Ho hum. We just built a machine that is smashing atoms together at an energy of 7 trillion electron volts per particle, so that we can get a bead on how our universe came to be.

And, yet, for the past 48 hours, tens of thousands of people across several continents have been stopped in their tracks by a small, cantankerous Icelandic volcano that’s been around since the Ice Age.

This is only the fourth time the volcano has erupted in the last 1,100 years; the first time was in 900 A.D. The resulting cloud of minute silicon particles has lit sunsets on fire across a half -dozen countries.

Say it with me: Eyjafjallajokull. That’s right. Eyjafjallajokull. For the record, it’s pronounced EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl. Sounds like something you’d get at a Greek restaurant, over rice, or maybe a new marketing campaign by Volkswagen.

These days, we regularly bend nature to our will. We send airplanes into the eyes of hurricanes to monitor wind speeds. We chase tornadoes. We hike the highest mountains and traverse the oceans and deserts. Our surfers seek waves that blot out the sun.

We live in houses that protect us from harsh elements in four seasons, and when bugs come in, we call the exterminator. (Or, if your house is like mine, you stop what you are doing and gather round to ooh and ahh, and then your kids demand you catch the critter in a Dixie cup — yes, even during dinner — and set it free outside.)

And then a volano erupts, and one after the other, all the great airports of Europe shut down. Heathrow. De Gaulle. Frederic Chopin. Closed. Closed. Closed.

In the end, perhaps, reminding us that despite what we might think, we’re not really in control. Reminding us that still today, the most powerful, the most terrible, the most beautiful forces driving our lives were here long before us, and will be here long after we’re gone.

Jews Still Support Obama

Monday, April 12th, 2010

For all the hyperventilating from American Jewish leaders about how terrible Obama is on Israel – Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post has gone as far to suggest that Obama is intentionally “fomenting a crisis in U.S. relations with Israel” — the latest polling shows a majority of American Jews firmly support the U.S. president on Israel.

According to the poll, 57 percent of American Jews support Obama, while 38 percent disapprove. And a full 55 percent approve of how Obama is handling Israel, while 37 percent take the opposite view.

(By comparison, only 50 percent of Jews approve of the way Obama is handling health care; 48 percent disapprove.)

And, despite all the huffing and puffing about a crisis between the two countries — a supposed material breach — a full 73 percent still view the U.S.-Israel relationship as somewhat or very positive.

What this tells me is that Obama may be more in touch with the pulse of the American Jewish community, writ large, than the Jewish leaders who pillory his policies.

Perhaps the most telling — and frightening — number in the entire poll is the very last one. While a solid majority (74 percent) say they feel fairly or very close to Israel, a full 25 percent say they feel fairly or very distant. That’s one out of four American Jews. And it does not bode well.

Glick, in her column, argues unpersuasively that Obama is intentionally trying to sabotage Israel’s image among American Jews, to drive down popular support for Israel.

These numbers suggest to me that Israel’s support is already diminished, as a generation of Jewish Americans who haven’t known anti-Semitism and have little connection to the Holocaust come of age — amid interminable Middle East conflict.