Posts Tagged ‘NJDC’

Jewish Leaders in the White House: Take Two

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

President Barack Obama spoke directly and powerfully to the concerns of the Jewish community today.

Obama invited 16 Jewish leaders from 14 organizations into the White House for a wide-ranging discussion focused on Israel, Middle East policy, and Iran. There’s no transcript, but what comes through in press reports — based on interviews with those in attendance — is President Obama’s iron-clad support for Israel as a safe, secure Jewish state.

Most fundamentally, he addressed head-on community concerns that by calling on Israel to freeze settlements, he is applying more pressure on Israel than he is on the Palestinians.

The National Jewish Democratic Council’s executive director Ira Forman, one of the 16 invitees, told Politico’s Ben Smith that Obama “said we have been very specific with the Arab world on incitement, violence, commitments on accepting the reality of Israel and conveying that to their street as well.”

According to The Forward, the president said that “forceful” pressure is being applied to the Palestinians to move forward on the peace process — flatly contradicting claims by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that all Palestinians have to do is sit and wait for Israel to make concessions. The president told the group that among other things, he has sent letters to all the Arab states, urging them to join the peace process.

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

One participant quoted the president as saying that “There’s not a lot of courage among the Arab states; not a lot of leadership among the Palestinians.” …

“The view was expressed among the organizations at a minimum there was concern about an imbalance in pressures placed on Israel as opposed to on the Palestinians and Arab states,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JTA. “The president indicated he had a sensitivity to the perception of that imbalance and had to work harder to correct that perception.”

Moreover, Obama specifically said, according to the Jerusalem Post, there’s a “likelihood that Israel would retain the major settlement blocs in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, but said it was an issue that needed to be resolved between the parties.”

And yet again — and this always strikes me about Obama — he didn’t kowtow to his audience by telling them only what they wanted to hear. This, for example, is from the AP report:

Some participants in the meeting flatly told Obama that only when the United States are Israel are in lockstep support is any progress made. Obama replied that there was no distance between the U.S. and Israeli positions for the last eight years, and that no progress was made under President George W. Bush.

“Where people pushed back, the president stood firm,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace political action committee and lobby.

“I don’t think the peace process will be advanced by hiding natural disagreements, disagreements within the family,” Obama was quoted in The Forward as saying. 

Which, ultimately, gives him infinite credibility when his White House puts out statements like this, as it did after the meeting today: “The President reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace.” 

“[Obama] talked about Israel as a Jewish state with no hesitancy,” Forman told ABC News.  “He also reiterated what he has said before about the fundamental bond between Israel and the United States and the fundamental commitment the U.S. has, no matter what disagreements there are, to Israel’s peace and security.”

It’s high time for the skeptics in the Jewish community to take him at his word.

‘You Are All Shareholders in this Victory’

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

A lead-up to history.

Spent yesterday afternoon at the Speaker’s Cabinet Luncheon, at Mellon Hall. Soaring indoor columns rising maybe sixty feet to ceilings edged in ornate gold. Soft blue light projecting up along the walls. A stage with a dozen tall American flags. Everywhere, the flags.

It was a luncheon hosted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, featuring the performances by Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, and New Jersey’s own, Jon Bon Jovi.

The music — Speaker Pelosi said — was the way she wanted to celebrate this awesome moment.

And it wasn’t just a concert. You could tell, because Sheryl Crow’s parents were there, and Lyle Lovett’s fiance, and Jon Bon Jovi’s wife and kids, and Pelosi’s kids and grandkids. In fact, she introduced them each by name at one point, and had them stand up, in that crowd of maybe 500. And — here’s the thing about her grandkids — they loved their moment; one or two kind of hammed it up: they were just, well … kids.

A Change’ll Do you Good Sheryl Crow sang, and then, her song inspired by the Dalai Lama: If we could only get out of our heads … out of our heads, and into our hearts.

I felt like crying. The music was right there. Working it’s way inside me.

Teach your children, best you can , she sang.

She spoke about her upbringing in Southern Missouri, where she was an elementary school teacher. “We feel like this is going to bring out the best of all of us,” she said, “to see the disenfranchised have a moment of great pride in the future, of great hope. …I, for one, feel very emotional about the next few days.”

Every day is a winding road, she sang. I get a little bit closer to feeling fine.

Between acts, Speaker Pelosi made a toast to Obama.

“I believe history is in a hurry for this young man to get a job done,” she said.

Then Lyle Lovett sang I will rise up and If I had a Boat. He was followed on stage by Bon Jovi. Like the other two singers before him, he expressed his gratitude to Pelosi for inviting him to the party.

“I really, really, really, really really figured out years ago the world should be run by women,” he said.

He sang haunting, stripped down versions of Who Says You Can’t Go Home and Living on a Prayer, guitar and electric violin stretching out forever in the hall.

Hold on, he sang. We’re half way there.

He talked about the fact that one of the things that’s always drawn fans to the band is a sense of optimism that underlies their music.

“I leave you with a song … I think you know this one.”

And then, he reached back to George Harrison.

Little darling

It’s been a long, cold lonely winter.

Little darling

It feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun ….

And, in fact, for the first time in a long time in Washington, DC, it felt like it.

Later in the day, in a different part of town, the Jewish community celebreated with a kind of pre-inauguration party at the Hilton, sponsored by National Jewish Democratic Council and several other groups. In the end, it was noted, 78 percent of the Jewish community voted for Obama.

Nobel Laureate Elie Weisel spoke. “Because we have faith in him,” he said, “we salute him.”

And then, David Axelrod, who ran Obama’s campaign, and who, in a few hours, will be senior advisor to the president, took the stage.

“I know the world is going to look at us tomorrow with great admiration and awe,” he said.

You could tell, Axelrod knew he was among friends. Listening to him you knew: it’s not really about the election anymore. It’s about what happens next.

“You are all shareholders in this victory,” he said. “You are all shareholders in this great triumph of hope.”




Indyk: Jews ‘Have a Responsibility to Get Behind’ Obama

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, said this morning that Obama needs to take an active role in Middle East peacemaking, adding: “We as a [Jewish] community have to abandon the notion that — oy gevalt — pressure on Israel” is somehow bad for the Jewish state.

The alternative, he said, is that “Israel will have failed terrorists states on all of its borders.”

Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East policy, spoke at a breakfast event at Marriott Metro Center, sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

He said many in the Jewish community were mistaken, during the Bush years, to conclude that Bush was terrific for Israel, because he supported Israel with a blank check. Bush’s approach for the first seven years of his administration, Indyk said, was to let the parties negotiate amongst themselves — and that doesn’t work. The U.S., he said, has to be willing to play an active role.

Still, he said there are lessons to be gleaned from the Clinton administration, which, he noted, also ultimately failed to achieve a lasting solution.

Clinton, Indyk said, attempted to forge a new Middle East through peacemaking. Bush tried to do it through warmongering. Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said, must approach the quagmire with much more humility — influence what we can, without setting out specifically to mold the region to suit our own national interests.

Noting that, just this morning, Hamas ordered a cease fire in Gaza (after Israel unilaterally did the same last night), he said he was hopeful that Gazans would come to understand that there are serious and unacceptable consequences to the terrorists organization’s continued unprovoked assaults on Israel.

He said the Obama administration should take to heart the perspective that “We’re not talking about a two-state solution; we are talking about a 23-state solution.” Which is to say, peace between Israel and the Palestinians would also mean “peace with the entire Arab world.”

Indyk was not a Pollyanna. He spoke about the real and deep divisions that exist in Israel — and among Palestinians. He noted that Iran is moving ever closer to achieving its nuclear ambitions, and that Ahmadinejad continues to stoke hatred of Jews and Israel on the Arab street.

But it was hard not to detect a note of optimism humming just beneath the surface of his words: that with this change here in Washington, Obama may just be at a moment of rare possibility for the Middle East.

And we, the Jewish community in America, “have a responsibility to get behind him.”

Best of the NJDC Policy Conference

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

BEST JOKE: Joe Biden

Every year, the Yeshiva University crew team takes on the Harvard crew team, and, every year, Yeshiva gets creamed. Finally, the Yeshiva coach says he’s had enough, and asks one of his team members to go spy on the Harvard team, to learn why they are so successful.  The guy goes and hides in the bushes alongside the river, and watches the Harvard team as it passes by. Then, he leaps up, runs from the riverside, and finds his coach.

"I’ve got it!" he says. "I know the secret to their success! They’ve got eight guys rowing, and only one yelling!"


Who added: "That’s what we have to do this election: Ignore the malarkey, distractions, emails, and get behind Barack Obama. Straight up, folks."


"Thank you Marc. Thank you Ira. Thank you Jews. Thank you Democrats. Thank you members of the press — some of whom are probably Jews."


Who noted that he was running against Sen. Norm Coleman (a Jew) who had succeeded Sen. Paul Wellstone (also a Jew), and concluded: "Minnesota is just not ready for a gentile."

MOST OPTIMISTIC ANALYSIS: William Galston, senior fellow, Brookings Institution

"Assuming Sen. Obama does not stumble badly, the odds are he’ll score a narrow but significant victory along the lines of Bush."

BEST ANALYSIS OF SENATE RACES: Amy Walter, Editor-in-chief of the Hotline

"Essentially in the bank" Democratic pickups: Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, New Hampshire

Democrats have a very good shot: Alaska

Possible Democratic pickups, but still a stretch: Oregon, North Carolina

Tougher races for Democrats: Minnesota, Maine

On election night: 4 or fewer Democratic Senate pickups would be a bad night; 5 or 6 are likely to go Democratic; getting over 6 "means that all hell has broken lose."

BEST ANALYSIS OF HOUSE RACES: Nathan Gonzales, political editor, Rothenberg Political Report

"The Democrats are going to pick up seats, we just don’t know how many yet."

He said, possibly: More than 19.

Among the reasons: There are 26 open GOP seats; only 6 open Democratic seats. Also, the Democrats hold a distinct money advantage: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has $54 million in the bank, compared to $14 million for their GOP counterparts. Democrats are outspending Republicans right now 2-to-1 in competitive districts.


"It’s hip to like Barack Obama. It’s hip to wear an Obama T-shirt. I don’t think many people think it’s cool to wear a John McCain T-shirt."


Who explained that pollsters believe young people who have only cell phones don’t vote differently from young people who have land lines. (Which would mean the notion that Obama’s support is under-counted in the national polls because many of his supporters only have cell phones is likely false.)


Who compared the election to the baseball season. Most people, she said, are just tuning in to the baseball season now, as the playoffs are about to start. "I have no idea who led the league in June," she said. "But I know it now." She added: "All those games played during the season mean very little to me." Similarly, she said, so much of what happened during the primaries and even into the general election — for instance, the Rev. Wright controversy — has little impact on people tuning in now. "It’s just stuff that happened," she said.

BEST SOUNDBITE: Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada

Who described a meeting she had in March of 2007 with Condi Rice, who was lobbying for support of the administration’s plan to sell $20 billion worth of advanced weapons to the Saudis. (The sale eventually went through, as was reported by the press in July 2007.)

Berkley was very resistant to providing so much deadly weaponry to a Middle East enemy of Israel.

According to Berkley, Rice said: "The president would not do anything to hurt Israel."

At which point Berkley replied: "With all due respect Madame Secretary. In ten months, you won’t be secretary of state. Bush won’t be president. But I’m still going to be Jewish."

BEST FOREIGN POLICY POINT: Congressman Brad Sherman of California

Who said that without Russia’s help, it would be difficult if not impossible to effectively pressure Iran. Yet McCain and Palin appear ready to start and "rigorously wage" a new Cold War with Russia.

"I don’t think we can beat the Russians and the extremists in two simultaneous wars," he said. "We need a smart foreign policy, not an angry foreign policy."

BEST POLITICAL POINT: Ann Lewis, senior advisor to HillPAC

Asked why the issue of Supreme Court nominees has not resonated even more strongly among liberals, Lewis said the threat is still: "Two ifs away."

If I vote for John McCain and if he appoints someone opposed to reproductive rights. It’s less immediate, she said, then, for example, equal pay for equal work.


Speaking about John McCain’s plan to open up the health care market in the same way that the GOP has opened up the banking industry, he quoted his father: "Don’t tell me what you value, champ. Show me your budget — I’ll tell you what you value."

BEST OVERALL QUOTE : Steve Rabinowitz, President of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications

How much time should we be devoting in our communities between now and election day to help Obama win?

"I only ask you to spend your every waking moment," he said. "And then — you can do whatever you want."

RJC Peddles Lies About Obama, Hurting Israel

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) is peddling lies about Barack Obama’s record on Israel and, in so doing, harming the Jewish State.

That was the emphatic message of several speakers yesterday at the National Jewish Democratic Council policy conference in Washington, DC.

Here’s Mel Levine, former Congressman and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and one of Barack Obama’s Middle East foreign policy advisors: “I have never seen anything … that resembles this type of outrageous slander directed against Barack Obama being led by the Republican Jewish Coalition.”

Here’s Shelley Berkley, a Jewish Congresswoman from Nevada: “You cannot dissect and destroy and split our community in the interests of getting someone elected — and that’s exactly what they are doing.”

What has Berkley and Levine and many others in the Jewish community so upset is the push-like polling that RJC is conducting in swing states like Florida, New Jersey, and Ohio, phoning voters, and, after ascertaining that they’re Jewish, falsely linking Obama to the PLO and other anti-Israel forces.

As the Jewish Week reports, citing the AP:

Jewish voters in Florida were contacted by callers claiming to be survey researchers asking if they would be influenced if they “learned that Obama has donated money to the Palestinian Liberation Organization.”

Jewish voters in other states were also asked: “What if you were told that the president of Iran endorsed Obama?” and “What if you were to find out that Obama supported a united Jerusalem and then switched his opinion and believed in a divided Jerusalem?”

All of which are outright lies.

Obama has never donated money to the PLO.

Ahmadinejad has never endorsed Barack Obama. (I found this statement direct from Ahmadinejad on, the English language Iranian international news network: “I have never voiced support for Barack Obama. I merely said they would not allow him to become the US President,” adding: “It makes no difference to us who wins [the US election].”)

And in any event, Obama is on record, in absolutely unambiguous terms, opposing Ahmadinejad and everything he stands for. Here’s a recent AFP article:

CLEARWATER, Florida (AFP) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Tuesday condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Zionist and anti-US remarks in his speech at the UN General Assembly.

“I strongly condemn President Ahmadinejad’s outrageous remarks at the United Nations, and am disappointed that he had a platform to air his hateful and anti-Semitic views,” Obama said in a statement.

“The threat from Iran’s nuclear program is grave. Now is the time for Americans to unite on behalf of the strong sanctions that are needed to increase pressure on the Iranian regime,” Obama said.

And, finally, Obama has not flipped on his Jerusalem policy, and does not in any way believe in a “divided Jerusalem.” Here’s Obama’s recent statement to CBS news:

My policy hasn’t changed, and it’s been very consistent. It’s the same policy that Bill Clinton has put forward, and that says that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, that we shouldn’t divide it by barbed wire, but that, ultimately that is a final status issue that has to be resolved between the Palestinians and the Israelis.” (Obama, CBS News, 7/22/08)

Yet the facts to don’t stop the RJC from shamelessly attempting to scare Jewish voters away from Obama. This — despite that fact that ultimately, it hurts Israel.

“What the RJC is doing is undermining bipartisan support for Israel and … weakening Israel in terms of the long-term U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Levine, who knows a thing or two about the topic, having worked for a decade in Congress between 1983 and 1993 to try to gin up Republican support for Israel, including at times when the GOP was cool to the Jewish state.

“What the RJC is doing,” he added, “is denigrating the record and associations of strong friends of Israel, starting with Barack Obama.”

“The RJC is intent on tearing apart someone for purely partisan reasons … regardless of the impact on the long-term U.S.-Israel relationship.”

“In my view it is irresponsible, it is harmful.”

For the record, Obama has a perfect voting record of support for the Jewish State, including backing all foreign aid to Israel, in the U.S. Senate.

In 2006, Obama told Palestinian university students in Ramallah that the U.S. would never distance itself from Israel.

Obama is cosponsor of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which outlaws direct assistance to any entity of the Palestinian Authority controlled by Hamas.

Obama authored and introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act in May 2007 – aimed at containing Iran through tough sanctions and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (The bill, which would make it easier for state and local governments to divest their pension funds from companies that invest in Iran’s energy sector, has been blocked in the Senate by Republicans who don’t want to give Obama a victory in an election year – again, like the RJC, putting partisanship over Israel.)

Obama has written a letter to the European Union pressing the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The Jews who know Obama best, in Chicago – including Lester Crown and Penny Pritzker – have attested to Obama’s rock-solid commitment to Israel and its security for years.

And, yet, the RJC shows no signs of letting up in its campaign to undermine Obama.

“They have apparently made a decision that they are willing to do anything to try and destroy Barack Obama’s reputation in the Jewish community,” Levine said. “They don’t care what the facts are – they are just out to destroy Barack Obama.”

“I regret coming to that conclusion,” he added, less angry than wistful. “But I have no doubt that’s the conclusion.”

McCain’s September Surprise: The Giuliani Comparison

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

I just returned to Akron from Washington, DC. I’d planned to finish blogging tonight on the NJDC policy conference. I will — tomorrow. In the meantime, I want to say something about McCain’s September Surprise — his call to postpone debates.

If you want the partisan red meat on this, click over to Huffingtonpost, which has a huge screaming headline “McCain Wants a Time-Out,” over a picture of a slightly dazed McCain. Or, watch the clip from Letterman, who got wind of McCain’s announcement during the taping of the show. This, from Drudge:

Earlier in the show, Dave kept saying, “You don’t suspend your campaign. This doesn’t smell right. This isn’t the way a tested hero behaves.” And he joked: “I think someone’s putting something in his metamucil.”

“He can’t run the campaign because the economy is cratering? Fine, put in your second string quarterback, Sarah Palin. Where is she?”

I want to take this in another, more personal direction.

I was sitting in the audience at the policy conference when the NJDC board chair announced the breaking news that McCain was seeking to postpone the debate. A sort of audible boo-hiss rose from the crowd. I heard at least a couple people make mock chicken sounds. Bawk bawwwwwk.

I’m the Neurotic Democrat, though. I immediately worried: What’s he up to? As soon as I had the chance, I walked upstairs and found a TV at the bar. It quickly became apparent that McCain was positioning this as he had positioned the postponement of the GOP Convention with Gustav bearing down. He was assuming the mantle of leadership, rising above partisanship. It worked for him then — reporters went gaga over his presidential, for-the-good-of-the-nation posturing. Why wouldn’t it work for him now?

I had no idea what Obama should do. Once again, I fretted — as with Sarah Palin — McCain had thrown the world, starting with me, for a loop.

I went back downstairs and started asking everyone I could for their opinion on what Obama should do. A well-respected pollster suggested Obama should hold the economic debate the next night. A top Democrat in the Jewish community said he hoped Obama would stand firm — and make the point that a president should be able to multi-task.

That’s when an Orthodox rabbi, also a Democrat, said confidently that Obama should call McCain’s bluff. He reminded me of Rudy Giuliani’s move to postpone elections after 9-11, extending his term as mayor. Mark Green acceeded to Giuliani’s request. Green’s primary opponent Fernando Ferrer did not. And Green paid a steep price, as this NY Times article from September 2001 recalls:

These contrasting positions, in a year when all the candidates have struggled to balance criticism of Mr. Giuliani with praise of his tenure, caught the eye of many Democrats yesterday, among them Green supporters who were not happy with the turn of events. Some suggested that Mr. Ferrer, who waited for Mr. Green to issue a news release backing Mr. Giuliani before announcing his opposition, had seized the higher ground, at least from the perspective of Democrats who tend to vote in a primary.

Mr. Ferrer said that although the mayor had performed admirably since the attack, his handling of the crisis did not justify changing the law to allow him to linger in City Hall. Mr. Green, who is the public advocate, said he was trying to ensure that the city had an orderly transition during a difficult time.

Essentially, Ferrer was able to accuse Green of being rolled by Giuliani. ”Many Democrats may be suspicious of this kind of arrangement,” Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton’s communications director, told the Times. “Freddy looks big. He looks principled.”

Though Green held off Ferrer in a close run-off election, he eventually lost the mayoralty to Michael Bloomberg, 49 percent to 47 percent.

This may just be an apt comparison for what happened today.

What unnerved New York voters at the time was the suspending of the rule of law — and upending the orderly succession of power — especiallly given the tinge of potential partisanship that it carried.

In the same way, these presidential debates were planned a long time ago, by a bipartisan debate commission. They are an essential part of how we Americans determine the crucially important task of electing our leaders. Everything about them — from their timing to their spacing — is intentional, and agreed upon in an orderly fashion in advance. Suspending them would be a very big deal — and therefore it shouldn’t happen except under the most extraordinary conditions, for instance if our very national security were clearly and imminently at stake. And under no conditions should it happen in a way that gives one of the candidates a political boost.

Perhaps if McCain had avoided the whiff of partisanship — by discussing it with Obama in their conversation earlier in the day, before going to the media — the two could have worked out a mutual agreement, truly keeping politics out of this.

But, we now know: He didn’t. He cold-cocked Obama, who found out — like the rest of us — on CNN.

Obama had the wisdom to see that. And he had the good judgment and even temperament to react accordingly, calling McCain’s bluff, and declaring his intention to move ahead with the debate, exactly as planned.

The Jewish Gender Gap

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Jewish women are stronger supporters of Barack Obama than Jewish men.

That’s what pollster Anna Greenberg, the senior vp of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, said at the National Jewish Democratic Council’s policy conference this morning.

With all the polling I’ve seen about Barack Obama and the Jewish community, this was something new, and it suggests something very important about how we win this election.

We’ve known for some time that Barack Obama’s support in the Jewish community is between 62 and 65 percent — much lower than Kerry, Gore, and Clinton, who got betwen 75 and 80 percent of the Jewish vote. And we’ve known that much of Obama’s problems stem from his less-than-stellar support among older Jews.

But no one had looked closely at the Jewish gender gap to see if that also played a role.

Greenberg said Jewish men currently support Obama by 52 percent to 44 percent. Jewish women support Obama 67 percent to 28 percent. That’s a significant 15-point gap.

And it’s even more pronounced among younger Jewish women — 72 percent of whom support Obama.

The reasons for it, Greenberg said, are that Jewish women tend to feel more strongly about reproductive rights; they tend to be more alarmed about Sarah Palin; and they have been alienated by McCain’s strong tilt toward Evangelical Christians.

“Jewish women are such strong supporters of Barack Obama,” Greenberg said.

She added that in addition to younger Jews talking to older Jews about Barack Obama, Jewish women can play a key role in this election by talking to Jewish men about why they support Obama-Biden.

“It’s pivotal that younger Jewish women, 72 percent of whom are for Barack Obama, go out and talk to people about Obama,” she said.