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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Oval Office’

Netanyahu, Obama, Address Middle East Threats

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Just days after U.S. President Barack Obama became telephone buddies with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Israel’s Prime Minister urged Obama not to let up on the international sanctions imposed on Iran because even for diplomacy to work, “those pressures must be kept in place.”

The two heads of country met in the Oval Office on Monday, September 30, and discussed several matters including the ongoing discussions between Israeli and Arab Palestinian negotiators, and the crises in Syria and Egypt.

One of the primary topics of mutual concern was whether there has been a sea change in Iran’s dealing with the West – and more importantly, its nuclear weapons program – or if Rouhani is merely better at public diplomacy than was his predecessor.

There was a brief press conference following the meeting.

President Obama spoke first.  He started by mentioning the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Arab Palestinians, and then turned his attention to the other threats in the Middle East.

The U.S. president stated that he was “clear-eyed” going into the new rounds of negotiations with the Iranians, and he also confirmed that “we take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have a — nuclear weapons in Iran that would destabilize the region and potentially threaten the United States of America.”

When it was the Israeli leader’s turn to speak, Netanyahu immediately pointed out, first, that the U.S. has “no better ally, more reliable, more stable, more democratic other than Israel in a very broad, dangerous place,” and second, that “the most important challenge is preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu spent the bulk of his remarks focused on Iran.

“Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction,” is the way Netanyahu described the situation. In the simplest possible language, and in the present tense, the Israeli prime minister made clear he does not believe a change in the Iranian presidency has altered Iran’s position towards Israel, regardless of the happy holiday message Rouhini sent to the Jewish people and in spite of the condemnation of Nazi atrocities.

For the Jewish State, unless Iran fully and publicly dismantles its machinery for creating nuclear weapons, there is no question that the country remains an existential threat to Israel.  As Netanyahu put it: “the bottom line, again, is that Iran fully dismantles its military nuclear program.”

In praising the U.S. leadership on international sanctions against Iran, Netanyahu explained he believes “that it’s the combination of a credible military threat and the pressure of those sanctions that have brought Iran to the negotiating table.”  He firmly urged Obama and other world leaders to maintain the pressure of those sanctions, and not to loosen them in response to the more cheerful countenance than Ahmadinejad showed throughout his presidency.

The Israeli leader said that it is the position of his country that if it is determined Iran is moving forward on its path to the creation of nuclear weapons, the sanctions should be strengthened.

The most succinct formulation of Netanyahu’s approach to dealing with Iran is, as he put it on Monday, “a credible military threat and strong sanctions, I think, is still the only formula that can get a peaceful resolution of this problem.”

At the end of his remarks, Netanyahu again referred to the negotiations between his country and the Arab Palestinians, and thanked Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for helping to “advance peace” between the two peoples.  While stating that he remains committed to that peace, he once again put on the record, that “for peace to endure, it must be based on Israel’s capacity to defend itself by itself.”

What Netanyahu said from the Oval Office on Monday provided language which the Obama team can use to show Netanyahu is grateful for the leadership the Americans have shown.

However, the actual words used by the Israeli leader on Monday made clear he doesn’t trust the new Iranian president any more than he did the last one. And Netanyahu also stated clearly that Israel will not agree to weaken itself in order to abide by demands made by the Arab Palestinians, or by demands made on their behalf.

Don’t Touch Nixon, He Saved my Life

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

JTA and the Forward are pushing a Reuters story suggesting the late President Richard Milhous Nixon made even more antisemitic statements in the Oval Office, both in person and over the phone.

This incriminating information emanated from 340 hours of tapes covering April 9 through July 12 1973, which have just been released by the Nixon Presidential Library.

In anticipation of Jewish demonstrators humiliating him with their “let my people go” demands concerning Soviet Jewry, right in front of the Soviet delegation to an upcoming cold war summit meeting, Nixon tells his pal Henry Kissinger, still national security adviser at the time (he was made Secretary of State on September 22, 1973):

“Let me say, Henry, it’s gonna be the worst thing that happened to Jews in American history. If they torpedo this summit — and it might go down for other reasons — I’m gonna put the blame on them, and I’m going to do it publicly at 9 o’clock at night before 80 million people.”

Did you just read the above quote as a Nixon impersonation? I know I did. And while that quote is at least anchored in a political strategy—many, including the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, believed that quiet, behind the scenes politics worked better for Soviet dissidents than Rabbi Kahane’s in-your-face demonstrations—other antisemitic quips were uttered with no political context, because the man had the antisemitism of his generation branded on his psyche.

I’ve learned over the years to ignore, if not outright accept that side of President Nixon, because of two big reasons: I believe he was the last great U.S. president, capable of utilizing the power of his office to deliver enormous benefits to a huge segment of humanity; and he saved my life.

An F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft is being loaded onto a C-5 Galaxy aircraft. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman David Carbajal

An F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft is being loaded onto a C-5 Galaxy aircraft. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman David Carbajal

The second part is easy: along with my own generation, I was an enlisted man during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. It began on October 7—my 19th birthday—and lasted 17 days, but by about the 10th day, the Israeli army had run out of practically everything. You name it – we didn’t have it.

And so it was President Richard Milhous Nixon who ordered the U.S. army to start flying us everything we needed, from M-16 rifles to tank shells to dark green work uniforms to whatever else we needed.

I had the opportunity on a number of occasions to be present at the international airport in Lod and to watch the military C-5 Galaxy planes landing, packed with replenishment goods. It was like watching enormous spaceships landing in the dark. They kept coming, rows of them, and they were one major reason we got out of that cursed war by the skin of our teeth. We lost 3,000 soldiers, my age, in a little over two weeks—the entire war of independence cost us 6 thousand lives, over two years.

In Europe, no one would allow the planes to land for refueling, except for Portugal. The nice people in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Hamburg refused to get involved. Wouldn’t be fair. Only a Portuguese gentleman by the name of António de Oliveira Salazar, with a strong anti-democratic reputation, let the Galaxies land. So I don’t care much for bad language against him, either. He, too, saved my life.

And I’m aware of the fact that it was U.S. foreign policy which drove Israel into the unexpected war of 1973 in the first place. Even that does not change the fact that I am filled with gratitude to President Nixon.

That’s the personal stuff. But he was a giant among presidents on so many other fronts. I believe, in general, America has done best with a Liberal Republican in the White House and Democrats controlling the legislator. It’s a powerful mix that gave birth to the EPA, opened the trade route to China and ended the war in Vietnam, to name but three major achievements. None of those things came without a price, and later presidents have squandered the wealth Nixon had left them. No matter, I still believe he was the greatest U.S. president in my lifetime.

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Famous Last Words

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are pictured in the Oval Office, Nov. 29, 2012.

What does one say on such an occasion?

“Would you care for some dog?”

“Yes, it was actually Kenya. Now I’ll have to kill you.”

“Wanna’ see some amazing Area 51 photos?”

“Why don’t you buy yourself an island and become their president?”

“We were looking for a good nuclear waste dump and, guess what, Utah’s name came up.”

“I could really use your clout in negotiating with the Republicans…”

That last one would probably sting the worst. Unlike senator McCain, who kept his day job back in 2008, Romney is just going to have to retire with nothing to his name other than $300 million, give or take.

And he doesn’t even drink or smoke. I can’t believe only 30% of the Jews voted for him. What’s wrong with you, people?

Meanwhile, President Obama will be preparing to go after Netanyahu for the expansion of Jerusalem all the way to Maale Adumim, virtually scrapping the idea of a contiguous Palestinian state.

“Care for some dog?”

Kissinger And The Moral Bankruptcy Of Détente

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history.

But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision.

Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning two million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes.

But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.”

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of six million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference.

Bush: Israel Has The Right To Defend Herself

Friday, July 12th, 2002

President Bush gave Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon an overwhelmingly warm welcome at the White House Monday, reiterating his lack of trust in Yasir Arafat and his support of Israel?s right of self-defense.

President Bush listens as Israeli Prime Minister Sharon speaks during Oval Office visit on Monday.
AFP / Tim Sloan
President Bush listens as Israeli Prime Minister Sharon speaks during Oval Office visit on Monday.


?No one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government,? Bush told reporters as Sharon stood by his side.

Although some political observers had expected Bush to take a somewhat harder line with Sharon than he had in the past, particularly after the visit to Washington last week by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the meeting with Sharon went about as well as Israeli officials could have hoped.

Rejecting Mubarak?s suggestion that the U.S. set a timetable for negotiations on eventual Palestinian statehood, Bush insisted that the restructuring of the Palestinian Authority take precedence at the moment.

?First things first,? the president said. Reform of the PA?s security, judicial and economic infrastructure must be undertaken, according to Bush, ?to give the Palestinian people hope and to give the Israelis confidence that the emerging government will be someone with whom they can deal.?

The president also minced no words in defending Israel?s latest siege of PA headquarters in Ramallah. Referring to the encirclement of Arafat?s compound by Israeli tanks begun just hours before Sharon?s Washington visit, Bush said ?Israel has a right to defend herself.?

Asked about the potential timing for a summit, Bush told reporters: ?Let?s get the summit in context… the proposed summit this summer, a ministerial summit of people to come together to work toward the conditions necessary to establish a peace. See the conditions aren?t even there yet.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said after the meeting that no decision had yet been made about whether Bush or someone else in the administration would make a speech on the U.S. vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians before any future Middle East conference.

Bush, Fleischer said, still has to mull over the conflicting views expressed by Mubarak and Sharon. Mubarak has insisted a final peace deal be negotiated along the 1967 armistice lines. Sharon rejects that border as a starting point for talks.

The administration also endorsed Israel?s incursions into the West Bank as a means of self-defense. Fleischer said the White House understands the most recent incursion was of a limited duration.

After his meeting with Bush, Sharon met separately with Vice President Dick Cheney.

This was Sharon?s sixth meeting with Bush since taking office last year. In contrast, the White House has refused to issue a single invitation to Arafat.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/news-magazine/bush-israel-has-the-right-to-defend-herself/2002/07/12/

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