Full Text Israel Political Brief November 10, 2015: PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Address to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly

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PM Netanyahu’s Address to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly

Source: PMO, 11-10-15


PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the GA
Photo by Haim Zah, GPO Click Here to Enlarge Picture

-Transcription-

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Remarks at the GA

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m delighted to be here today with you, the leaders of Jewish communities across North America. You work tirelessly to strengthen Jewish identity and you work tirelessly to support the State of Israel. You are Israel’s partners, you are my partners in building the Jewish future.

Now, this past year has not been simple. Great issues were debated. Passions ran high and the stakes were even higher. But we must always remember two simple truths. The first one is that no matter what disagreements there are between Israel and the United States, Israel has no better friend than America and America has no better friend than Israel. Here’s the second truth: No matter what disagreements there have been within the Jewish community, maintaining the unity of our people is of paramount importance. There is only one Jewish people. There is only one Jewish state. And now, more than ever, we must work together to unite the Jewish people and secure the Jewish state.

Israel is a state of amazing, amazing successes. If we were in the South, I would say amazing grace. I’m saying it here too – amazing success, amazing grace. You know all about the start-up nation. You know that Israel is a global epicenter of innovation, of ingenuity – a leader in water technology, in agritech, in medicine, in science, in cyber.

I want to give you two numbers. First on water: We had twice the rainfall in 1948, the year of Israel’s founding and one-tenth the population. So in 67 years, the water supply has gone down by half from rainfall, roughly half, and the population has grown ten times. Our GDP per capita has grown 40 times, and with it goes water usage. So we had to have a big water problem, but we don’t. We have a water surplus. Israel leads the world by far in the recycling of waste water and in so many other technologies related to water. And people are coming to us and they say: Teach us. Or la’goyim. Teach us. Teach us what you’ve done for yourself. We can do it in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America. Every week somebody else comes and says teach us how to get water out of the stone.

So here’s another little factoid. Is that how you call it, factoid? Factum? Fact. Okay, here’s another fact. In 2014 Israel was receiving 10% of the global investment in cyber security. That’s an extraordinary number given that we are… It’s about 100 times our size in the relative population of the world. In 2015 that number has changed. It grew from 10% to 20%. It doubled in one year, one year. So in cyber, Israel is punching 200 times above its weight. That’s an extraordinary figure.

In cyber, in water and in many, many other fields of Israeli technology, our economy continues its remarkable ascent. In 1948, Israel had roughly the same GDP per capita as our neighbors. Today Israel’s GDP per capita has surpassed the European average and according to three of the four indices that I looked at before I came here, it surpassed that of Japan. And as our economy has grown, so has the reach of Israeli exports. Today Israel is dramatically increasing trade with India and China. I point that out because they’re two small countries, and together with our small country, we encompass about a third of the population of the world, which is another factoid you can file away. The combination of new innovations, really new products and services, and new markets, is propelling Israel’s economy to ever greater and greater heights.

That’s important because, you see, while we have tremendous opportunity, we also have one or two challenges. I think you’ve heard about them. We have to pay for defense. Defense is very, very expensive. In fact, it gets more and more expensive all the time, so the principal way by which we pay for our defenses is by growing our economy. And the other, I have to say, is the generous support that we are getting from the United States of America, and yesterday I had a wonderful discussion with President Obama how to secure that assistance for the coming decade. Thank you America and thank you President Obama.

I know that all of you are proud of Israel’s stunning technological achievements. But I think we should no less be proud of Israel’s values. And you see those values on display every day. You see it in our freedom – when you watch the passionate speeches in our Knesset, if you bring noise plugs, and indeed when you read the spirited debate in our press – bring pink sunglasses; it’ll lower the glare. But this is democracy. This is intense, robust democracy.

You see it in our pluralism – in our growing and thriving Christian population, the only Christian population in the Middle East that is growing and thriving and not shrinking and being decimated; in our proud and our strong LGBT community. Tel Aviv is a renowned capital of pluralism and diversity and tolerance, as is Israel altogether.

You see it in our egalitarianism. You see it in an Arab schoolboy who knows that – or schoolgirl – they can grow up to be Knesset members or ambassadors or a Supreme Court justice. We have an Arab Supreme Court justice, in case you didn’t know. And it’s the only truly independent court in a very, very large radius. You see it in Israeli schoolgirls who know they can become fighter pilots, central bank governors and prime ministers. We’ve had one of each, actually more than one of each – one of each for prime minister.

You see our compassion when you visit the hospitals, the field hospital that we’ve set up that treat thousands of wounded Syrians from the battles inside the Syrian inferno. We set up a field hospital I think about ten or fifty yards away, on our side of the Syrian border, and we take in these people who’ve suffered unbelievable tragedy. We take care of them at our expense and we’ve been doing so for years. You won’t read about it, but you should know about it. It’s very important.

And you see our values when you follow our expert rescue teams to faraway places like Haiti and Nepal. Just recently we had this horrible earthquake in Nepal and the biggest rescue delegation was from India. That’s a small country. The second largest in the world came from Israel. Second largest rescue delegation in the world.

Now, the demonstration of liberal democratic values would be impressive anywhere, anytime. But what is truly remarkable is that Israel upholds these values in the darkest and most oppressive region on earth and when facing unmatched security challenges. This is why when our detractors defame Israel, we must defend Israel. This is why when they tell us that we should be ashamed of Israel, we must tell them we are proud of Israel.

From my office in Jerusalem the dangers facing Israel can sometimes appear daunting. Israel is surrounded by many forces driven by fanaticism and hatred. Militant Islam is on the march – the Sunni extremists led by ISIS, the Shiite fanatics led by Iran.

But despite these enormous dangers, I have no doubt that Israel will continue to flourish in the years and decades ahead because the people of Israel are strong, because the alliance between America and Israel is strong and because the partnership between Israel and Jewish communities around the world is strong.

Through decades of war and terrorism, three generations of Israelis have shown extraordinary fortitude and resilience. I visit our troops just about every week. I go and see our young men and women in uniform and it is an experience that I hope that all of you can share, possibly have shared. To talk with our young men and women in uniform is to be inspired by their deep faith in the justice of Israel’s cause and by their fierce determination to defend our homeland. We’re going to be celebrating Hanukkah. These are the new Maccabees. They have such fortitude, such courage, such spirit. These soldiers are Israel’s future. So believe me when I tell you, Israel’s future is in very, very good hands.

The second source of my confidence in Israel’s future is the unshakeable alliance between Israel and America – an alliance that I believe will only get stronger. And as I said, yesterday I had a very good meeting with President Obama at the White House, and I deeply appreciate his commitment to bolster Israel’s security at the time when the Middle East is becoming more dangerous than ever.

And I also want to say that we are sharing so many things. The United States is giving indispensable help to Israel, indispensable, but Israel is returning that assistance almost on a daily basis in intelligence and in many other things. I think that what is important is not merely President Obama’s commitment to bolstering Israel’s security for the next ten years, but also his commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can defend itself by itself against any threat. That is the most important commitment. And despite our disagreement over the nuclear deal with Iran, I believe that America and Israel can and should work together now to ensure Iran complies with the deal, to curb Iran’s regional aggression and to fight Iranian terrorism around the world.

Now, the third reason I am confident about the future is the tremendous partnership between us. Since the founding of Israel, well, even before the founding of Israel, you have been our partners in building the Jewish future. Your support has been invaluable in helping Israel successfully absorb millions of immigrants, build world-class hospitals, create an oasis of modernity in the middle of the desert, and in the last two decades, well, in the last two decades, well, Israel has begun investing in you.

This was a revolutionary idea that was put to me, a young prime minister, 20 years ago. They said, well, you know, the Diaspora and Jewish communities, especially in North America, have been investing in Israel, you know, for five decades. How about returning the favor? As our economy grows, we could invest in Jewish education, in Jewish identity. And I said, well, that’s a crazy idea. I like that. So well before we reached our current economic levels, we began, and Natan Sharansky remembers that very well, we began to invest in Birthright, which I thought was an extraordinary idea.

Now, half a million people later, half a million young Jews, young men and women who have visited Israel, I’m proud to say that we’ll continue to invest in Birthright. It is, after all, our birthright. And tens of thousands of course, tens of thousands have participated in the longer Masa programs. And thousands have decided to make Israel their permanent home. I think the hundreds of thousands have come back to their communities – this is a large number. Hundreds of thousands who come back to the Jewish communities with stronger Jewish identities and a stronger commitment to the Jewish future – that strengthens the Jewish world. It is a remarkable program. And whether Jews decide to live in Israel or not, I want to guarantee one thing to each and every one of you: As Prime Minister of Israel, I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel – Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews – all Jews.

As a testament to my commitment to this principle, I have established a roundtable, headed by my Cabinet Secretary, to address the concerns of the different streams of Judaism in Israel. That’s significant. That’s a governmental decision. You want to know our politics? Not now, but that’s a significant decision. This is a roundtable of the Government of Israel in which the various streams of Judaism sit together side-by-side to discuss problems and more importantly to discuss solutions. And now, for the first time, the Government of Israel is joining with the Jewish Agency to invest in strengthening Reform and Conservative communities within Israel. I am also hopeful that we will soon conclude a long overdue understanding that will ensure that the Kotel is a source of unity for our people, not a point of division. And we’re getting there, I have to say.

My dear friends,

The unity of the Jewish people is important at all times, but especially at this time. It’s especially important when the assault on the Jews is not confined to the Middle East, because as Michael said correctly there is a wave of anti-Semitism that is raging across Europe, but it goes beyond there to other continents as well.

I want to say something about anti-Semitism. My father was a great historian and a student of this phenomenon. It has ancient roots. It goes back roughly to Hellenistic times, five hundred years before the birth of the Christian era. It has a long tradition and old traditions die hard. Sometimes they don’t die. For centuries the world believed the worst things about Jews – and these lies were believed not just by the ignorant masses; they were believed as well by the educated elites. They said about us that we were poisoners of wells, spreaders of plagues, killers of children. Now the lies that were once leveled at the Jewish people are now leveled at the Jewish state. They say that Israel harvests organs, spreads AIDS and executes innocent children.

Once, the Jewish people couldn’t even raise its collective voice to fight against these lies, these slanders. Today, we have a voice. Today we have a voice. And we must ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear. We must speak out against the slander of the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Now, whether it’s the Prime Minister of Israel speaking at the United Nations or Jewish students speaking at a college campus, we can and must fight lies and the only way you fight lies is telling the truth. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We have everything to be proud of. Stand up proudly. Speak the truth about Israel. Be proud as Jews.

The truth is Israel is a great country, a deeply moral country. Of course, like all countries, Israel is not a perfect country. But Israel is constantly judged by many in the international community according to a standard of perfection that is applied to no other country and that no country could possibly meet.

There is a name for holding the Jews to a different standard than other people. You know what it’s called. It begins with an “a” and it ends with an “m”. We recognize it for what it is. You cannot, you cannot hold the Jewish state to what I call the triple standard. One standard is for the dictatorships – you don’t expect much of them. The second standard is for the democracies. And the third standard – it’s not even a double standard, it’s the triple standard. There’s a special defined standard for the democracy called Israel. No way, no double standards, no triple standards. Treat Israel fairly. Treat Israel decently.

Now I have a friend whom you may know. His name is Alan Dershowitz. And he gave what I think is a very good test. He said this in the Oxford Student Union. By the way, he said he was the only one who won an Oxford Student Union debate on Israel. He gives a great fight. So here’s what our friend Alan Dershowitz, a great exponent of the truth, said. He said name a single country in the history of the world faced with threats comparable to those faced by Israel that has a better record of human rights, complies more rigorously with the rule of law and does more to minimize civilian casualties. He asked that and the answer was: There is no other country. Israel stands at the top of the list.

And I think we have to speak the truth about peace as well. The truth is that the reason that we don’t have peace yet with the Palestinians is not because of the settlements or a territorial dispute, the territories that that were won in our defensive war of 1967. Israelis and Palestinians had a conflict for half a century – almost 50 years – before Israel captured any of those territories or built even a single one of those settlements. And afterwards, we left part of that territory – Gaza. Left it to the very last centimeter or inch. Stripped out the settlements, went to the ’67 boundaries, uprooted all the people who were there, disinterred people from their graves. What did we get? Peace? We got rockets.

The truth is that the reason that there isn’t peace between Israelis and Palestinians is the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary. That’s the truth. If you recognize the problem, you’ll be able to get to its solution.

And here’s another simple truth: The truth is that Israel seeks peace. The truth is that I seek peace. And when Israel, the people of Israel, the governments of Israel, met Arab leaders who wanted peace equally, like Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein, Israel made peace. We could do so when you meet an Arab leader who essentially says we’re burying the past. We’re seizing the future. We have no more demands of the Jewish state.

And when Israel will face a Palestinian leadership that seeks peace, that is willing to bury the past, that will make no more demands on the State of Israel – not get a state next to Israel in order to displace Israel, not get a state next to Israel in order to flood the adjoining State of Israel with millions of Palestinian descendants; when we meet a leader who actually is willing to recognize finally the Jewish state, we will have peace and that is the first requirement, the most essential requirement.

I remain committed to a vision of two states for two peoples where a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state, and Israel will continue to work for peace in the hope that what is not achievable today might be achievable tomorrow.

My friends,

If you have any doubts about Israel’s future, I suggest you think about how far Israel has already come. You know, for each of us, especially the older ones, we have a personal perspective that we can… we can assess the future based on the road we’ve travelled so far. I was born a year after the founding of the state, and the change, in my perspective, has been nothing less than stunning.

I remember as a child the excitement that gripped my friends and the entire country as we celebrated our first decade of independence, chag asor. It was a decade in which we won our War of Independence and doubled our population. And as Israel turned 20, I celebrated as a young soldier, with my fellow soldiers and with the people of Israel – I’d enlisted shortly after our great victory in the Six Day War and I was still awed that only a year earlier we had liberated and reunited our eternal capital Jerusalem.

I remember the feeling, I remember the feeling at the end of the Six Day War. I’d grown up in Jerusalem, and my father’s office – he was the editor-in-chief of the Hebrew Encyclopedia – and his office was right next to the wall separating Jerusalem. And I would go there because the bicycle fixers were there, so I always knew that I couldn’t go that direction because I’d hit the wall and Jordanian snipers. And all of a sudden, there was, at the end of the Six Day Way, there was a breach in the wall and we started flowing, just thousands, tens of thousands flowing through that breach into the Old City to the Kotel. And we went there and just stood next to the Kotel. Nobody said anything. We were just so mesmerized by realizing the dream of ages. That was what I remember from the third decade of Israel’s existence, the beginning of the third decade.

And then, at the end of it, when Israel turned 30, we were on the verge of achieving a great historic peace with the largest Arab country, with Egypt. And when I was privileged to preside over Israel’s 50th anniversary celebrations as prime minister, we were already at peace with Jordan and we were busy welcoming home nearly a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Now, two decades have passed since that 50th anniversary – nearly two decades since that 50th anniversary celebration, and we have since then liberalized our economy, won eight more Nobel Prizes – that’s a large number – built 21st century roads and rails, discovered gas, transformed Israel into a global technological power and reversed that joke, “How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Start with a big fortune”. Turned it completely on its head. And we are showing the world new ways to travel, new ways to enrich life, new ways to protect health, new ways to grow crops. Today we’re forging new ties with countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and no less important, today we’re forging new ties with Arab states in the region that increasingly see Israel not as an implacable enemy but as a valued ally, as a partner, in confronting common dangers together. I hope they also see it as a partner in seizing the future for the betterment of their peoples in this great battle between modernity and medievalism. Modernity must win.

So now that Israel is approaching the end of its seventh decade, we can only marvel at what we have been able to achieve against impossible odds. And I have no doubt that despite the enormous challenges we still face, Israel will continue to thrive because I believe in the indomitable spirit of our people, because I believe in our unshakable bond with the United States and because I believe in you, in the unbreakable bond that unites Jews everywhere with the Jewish people. It’s a bond of faith. It’s a bond of hope – not the shallow hope of wishful thinking but the deep wellspring of confidence that comes from a people who have forded history’s most turbulent rivers and emerged triumphant on the other side in the Promised Land. That’s what I believe in.

Thank you all for your indispensable part in our common journey. And thank you all for your unceasing efforts to secure our common future. Thank you all. Thank you very much.

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Israel Political Brief September 14, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Rosh Hoshanah Greeting

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President Obama’s Rosh Hoshanah Greeting

Source: WH, 9-13-12

As we look forward to the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays Sunday night, I want to extend my warmest wishes to all those celebrating the New Year.

This is a joyful time for millions of people around the world. But Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are also opportunities for reflection. They represent a chance to take stock of our lives and look forward to the coming year with clear eyes and renewed purpose.

In that spirit, the Jewish Tradition teaches us that one of the most important duties we have during this period is the act of reconciliation. We’re called to seek each other out and make amends for those moments when we may not have lived up to our values as well as we should.

At a time when our public discourse can too often seem harsh; when society too often focuses on what divides us instead of what unites us; I hope that Americans of all faiths can take this opportunity to reach out to those who are less fortunate; to be tolerant of our neighbors; and to recognize ourselves in one another. And as a nation, let us be mindful of those who are suffering, and renew the unbreakable bond we share with our friends and allies – including the State of Israel.

In that spirit, Michelle and I wish you and your families a sweet year full of health, happiness, and peace. L’Shana Tovah.

Israel Political Brief December 16, 2011: President Barack Obama to Reform Jews at Union’s General Assembly: Don’t let anyone challenge my Israel bona fides

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Obama to Reform Jews: Don’t let anyone challenge my Israel bona fides

Source: JTA, 12-16-11

President Obama told a gathering of Reform Jewry not to let anyone challenge his record of support for Israel, which he said was “unprecedented.”

“No U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours — none,” he said in an address Friday afternoon to more than 5,000 people at the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism. “Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. It is a fact.”

The crowd at a hotel in the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington gave him a standing ovation.

 

“Even though it is a few hours early, I’d like to wish all of you Shabbat shalom,” Obama opened. “I want to give a shout-out, NFTY I understand is in the house,” he went on, earning a raucous cheer from the National Federation of Temple Youth.

After a brief d’var Torah — “It never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion,” Obama said — the president listed several areas of close cooperation with Israel and the Jewish community, including missile defense and Iran sanctions. Of the sanctions, he said they were the “hardest hitting” ever. He repeated his pledge that he would take “no options” off the table when it comes to forcing Iran to back down from its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Obama peppered his speech with Jewish references, joking about his daughter Malia’s eagerness to attend bar and bat mitzvahs. His speech was based on the story of Joseph’s declaration “Hineni” — “Here I am” — to his father, Jacob.

To repeated applause, Obama ran through his domestic policy achievements on health care, and women’s and gay rights, among others.

Republicans have scored Obama for his at-times tense relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, particularly over the peace process. Obama said he was still dedicated to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace but did not allude at all to his differences with Israel over settlement building in the West Bank.

The Republican National Committee on Friday published data showing Obama vulnerable to losses among Jewish voters in key states, particularly Florida.

“The truth is, America’s security interests are intertwined with Israel’s, and when President Obama does a disservice to Israel, he does a disservice to our country as well,” RNC chairman Reince Preibus said in an Op-Ed in the conservative Human Events magazine.

Full Text Israel Political Brief December 16, 2011: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism — Transcript

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism

Source: WH, 12-16-11
Gaylord Hotel
National Harbor, Maryland

2:37 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  Please, please have a seat.  You’re making me blush.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Eric, for that extraordinary introduction and for your many years of leadership in the Reform movement.  And even though it is a few hours early, I’d like to wish all of you Shabbat shalom.  (Applause.)

Now, there are a lot of familiar faces in the house:  David Saperstein.  (Applause.)  Alan Solow, Rick Jacobs.  (Applause.)  Howard Kohr.

I want to welcome Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  (Applause.)  The cooperation between our militaries has never been stronger, and I want to thank Ehud for his leadership and his lifelong commitment to Israel’s security and the quest for a just and lasting peace.  (Applause.)

I also want to recognize Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who’s with us here today.  (Applause.)

And finally, I want to give a shout-out to NFTY, I understand is in the house.  (Applause.)  Young people are going to lead the way, and they’re leading the way.  (Applause.)  There you go.  I’m fired up just listening to them.  (Laughter and applause.)

I am honored to be here because of the proud history and tradition of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing more than 900 congregations, around 1.5 million American Jews.

I want to congratulate all of you on the golden anniversary of the Religious Action Center.  (Applause.)   As Eric mentioned, When President Kennedy spoke to leaders from the RAC in 1961, I was three months old, so my memory is a bit hazy.  (Laughter.)  But I am very familiar with the work that you’ve done ever since, and so is the rest of America.

And that’s because you helped draft the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  (Applause.)  You helped to liberate Soviet Jews.  (Applause.)  You have made a difference on so many of the defining issues of the last half-century.  And without these efforts, I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.  So thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  You have brought to life your faith and your values, and the world is a better place for it.

Now, since my daughter Malia has reached the age where it seems like there’s always a Bar or Bat Mitzvah — (laughter) — every weekend, and there is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these Bat Mitzvahs — (laughter) — do you guys have these conversations as well?  (Laughter.)  All right.  I just wanted to be clear it wasn’t just me.  (Laughter.) What time you get home.

As a consequence, she’s become the family expert on Jewish tradition.  (Laughter.)  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from her, it’s that it never hurts to begin a speech by discussing the Torah portion.  It doesn’t hurt.  (Laughter and applause.)

So this week — (applause) — congregations around the world will retell the story of Joseph.  (Applause.)  As any fan of Broadway musicals will tell you — (laughter) — there is a lot going on in this reading.  (Laughter.)  But many scholars have focused on a single word that Joseph uses when he replies to his father Jacob.

In Hebrew, that word is “hineni.”  It translates — (applause) — it translates to “Here I am.”  Hineni.  It’s the same word Abraham uses to reply to God before the binding of Isaac.  It’s the same word Moses uses when God summons him from the burning bush.  Hineni.  The text is telling us that while Joseph does not know what lies ahead, he is ready to answer the call.

In this case, “hineni” leads Joseph to Egypt.  It sets in motion a story of enslavement and exodus that would come to inspire leaders like Martin Luther King as they sought freedom.  It’s a story of persecution and perseverance that has repeated itself from Inquisition-era Spain to Tsarist Russia to Hitler’s Germany.

And in that often-tragic history, this place, America, stands out.  (Applause.)  Now, we can’t whitewash the past.  Like so many ethnic groups, Jews faced prejudice, and sometimes violence, as they sought their piece of the American Dream.  But here, Jews finally found a place where their faith was protected; where hard work and responsibility paid off; where no matter who you were or where you came from, you could make it if you tried.  Here in America, you really could build a better life for your children.

I know how much that story means to many of you, because I know how much that story means to me.  My father was from Kenya; my mother was from Kansas –- not places with a large Jewish community.  (Laughter.)  But when my Jewish friends tell me about their ancestors, I feel a connection.  I know what it’s like to think, “Only in America is my story even possible.”  (Applause.)

Now — I have to interrupt.  My friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz just got in the house.  (Applause.)  Now, the Jewish community has always understood that the dream we share is about more than just doing well for yourself.  From the moment our country was founded, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect.  Your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, they remembered what it was like to be a stranger, and as a result treated strangers with compassion.  They pursued tikkun olam, the hard work of repairing the world.  (Applause.)

They fought bigotry because they had experienced bigotry.  They fought for freedom of religion because they understood what it meant to be persecuted for your religious beliefs.  Our country is a better place because they did.  The same values that bring you here today led Justice Brandeis to fight for an America that protects the least of these.  (Applause.)  Those same values led Jewish leaders to found RAC 50 years ago.  (Applause.)  They led Abraham Joshua Heschel to pray with his feet and march with Dr. King.  (Applause.)  And over the last three years, they have brought us together on the most important issues of our time.

When we began this journey, we knew we would have to take on powerful special interests.  We would have to take on a Washington culture where doing what’s politically convenient is often valued above doing what’s right; where the focus is too often on the next election instead of the next generation.  (Applause.)

And so time and time again, we’ve been reminded that change is never easy.  And a number of the rabbis who are here today, when I see them, they’d been saying a prayer.  They noticed my hair is grayer.  (Laughter.)  But we didn’t quit.  You didn’t quit.  And today, we’re beginning to see what change looks like.

And Eric mentioned what change looks like.  Change is the very first bill I signed, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which says in this country an equal day’s work gets an equal day’s pay.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

Change is finally doing something about our addiction to oil and raising fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in 30 years.  That’s good for our economy.  It’s good for our national security.  (Applause.)  And it’s good for our environment.

Change is confirming two Supreme Court justices who will defend our rights, including our First Amendment rights surrounding religion — happen to be two women, by the way.  That’s also a good thing.  (Applause.)

Change is repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” so that in the first time in history, you don’t have to hide who you love to serve the country that you love.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

Change is working with the Reform movement, and other faith-based groups, to reform the federal faith-based initiatives, improving the way we partner with organizations that serve people in need.  Change is health care reform that we passed after a century of trying, reform that will finally ensure that in the United States of America, nobody goes bankrupt just because they get sick.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

Change is the 2.5 million young people — maybe some of those NFTY folks who have already — (applause) — who have health insurance on their parents’ plans because of Affordable Care Act.  That’s change.  (Applause.)

It’s making family planning more accessible to millions of Americans.  (Applause.)  It’s insurance companies not being able to charge you more just because you’re a woman, or deny you coverage if you have breast cancer.  (Applause.)

Change is committing to real, persistent education reform, because every child in America deserves access to a good school and to higher education — every child.  (Applause.)

And change is keeping one of the first promises I made in 2008:  After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq is ending this month and our troops are coming home.  (Applause.)

That’s what change is.  And none of this would have happened without you.  That’s the kind of change we’ll keep fighting for in the months and years ahead.

And just last night, you took another step towards the change we need and voted for a set of principles of economic justice in a time of fiscal crisis.  (Applause.)  And I want to thank you for your courage.  That statement could not have come at a more important time.  For as you put it, we’re at a crossroads in American history.  Last Tuesday, I gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, where I described that crossroads.  And I laid out a vision of our country where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.  (Applause.)  And these are not Democratic values or Republican values; they’re not Christian values or Jewish values or Hindu or Muslim values — they’re shared values, and we have to reclaim them.  We have to restore them to a central place in America’s political life.  (Applause.)

I said it last week, I’ll say it again:  This is not just a political debate.  This is a moral debate.  This is an ethical debate.  It’s a values debate.  It’s the defining issue of our time.  It is a make-or-break moment for the middle class and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.  (Applause.)  And for those of us who remember parents or grandparents or great-grandparents who had to fight to get in the middle class, but they understood that the American Dream was available to them because we were all in it together — that’s what this is about.  (Applause.)  And last night, you reaffirmed the moral dimension of this debate.  (Applause.)

We have to decide who we are as a country.  Is this a place where everyone is left to fend for themselves?  The most powerful can play by their own rules?  Or do we come together to make sure that working people can earn enough to raise a family, send their kids to college, buy their own home, have a secure health care and a secure retirement?  That is the story that almost all of us here share, in one way or another.  This is a room full of folks who come from immigrants, and remember what it was like to scratch and claw and work.  You haven’t forgotten.  You know what it’s like to see those in your own family struggle.

Well, we have to apply those same values to the American family.  We’re not a country that says, you’re on your own.  When we see neighbors who can’t find work or pay for college or get the health care they need, we answer the call — we say, “Here I am.”  And we will do our part.  (Applause.)

That’s what you affirmed last night.  But more importantly, it’s what you affirm every day with your words and your actions.  And I promise you that as you pray with your feet, I will be right there with you every step of the way.  (Applause.)  I’ll be fighting to create jobs, and give small businesses a chance to succeed.  I’ll be fighting to invest in education and technology.  I will fight to strengthen programs like Medicare and Social Security.  (Applause.)  I will fight to put more money in the pockets of working families.  I won’t be afraid to ask the most well-off among us -– Americans like me –- to pay our fair share, to make sure that everybody has got a shot.  I will fight alongside you every inch of the way.  (Applause.)

And as all of you know, standing up for our values at home is only part of our work.  Around the world, we stand up for values that are universal — including the right of all people to live in peace and security and dignity.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve worked on the international stage to promote the rights of women — (applause) — to promote strategies to alleviate poverty — (applause) — to promote the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians — (applause) — and people with disabilities — (applause) — to promote human rights and democracy.  And that’s why, as President, I have never wavered in pursuit of a just and lasting peace — two states for two peoples; an independent Palestine alongside a secure Jewish State of Israel.  (Applause.)  I have not wavered and will not waver.  That is our shared vision.  (Applause.)

Now, I know that many of you share my frustration sometimes, in terms of the state of the peace process.  There’s so much work to do.  But here’s what I know –- there’s no question about how lasting peace will be achieved.  Peace can’t be imposed from the outside.  Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them.  (Applause.)

And the fact that peace is hard can’t deter us from trying.  Because now more than ever, it’s clear that a just and lasting peace is in the long-term interests of Israel.  It is in the long-term interests of the Palestinian people.  It is in the interest of the region.  It is the interest of the United States, and it is in the interest of the world.  And I am not going to stop in pursuit of that vision.  It is the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

Now, that vision begins with a strong and secure State of Israel.  (Applause.)  And the special bonds between our nations are ones that all Americans hold dear because they’re bonds forged by common interests and shared values.  They’re bonds that transcend partisan politics — or at least they should.  (Applause.)

We stand with Israel as a Jewish democratic state because we know that Israel is born of firmly held values that we, as Americans, share:  a culture committed to justice, a land that welcomes the weary, a people devoted to tikkun olam.  (Applause.)

So America’s commitment — America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel’s security is unshakeable.  It is unshakeable.  (Applause.)

I said it in September at the United Nations.  I said it when I stood amid the homes in Sderot that had been struck by missiles:  No nation can tolerate terror.  And no nation can accept rockets targeting innocent men, women and children.  No nation can yield to suicide bombers.  (Applause.)

And as Ehud has said, it is hard to remember a time when the United States has given stronger support to Israel on its security.  In fact, I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours.  None.  Don’t let anybody else tell you otherwise.  It is a fact.  (Applause.)

I’m proud that even in these difficult times we’ve fought for and secured the most funding for Israel in history.  I’m proud that we helped Israel develop a missile defense system that’s already protecting civilians from rocket attacks.  (Applause.)

Another grave concern -– and a threat to the security of Israel, the United States and the world -– is Iran’s nuclear program.  And that’s why our policy has been absolutely clear:  We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)  And that’s why we’ve worked painstakingly from the moment I took office with allies and partners, and we have imposed the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced.  We haven’t just talked about it, we have done it.  And we’re going to keep up the pressure.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, rest assured, we will take no options off the table.  We have been clear.

We’re going to keep standing with our Israeli friends and allies, just as we’ve been doing when they’ve needed us most.  In September, when a mob threatened the Israeli embassy in Cairo, we worked to ensure that the men and women working there were able to get out safely.  (Applause.)  Last year, when raging fires threatened Haifa, we dispatched fire-fighting planes to help put out the blaze. (Applause.)

On my watch, the United States of America has led the way, from Durban to the United Nations, against attempts to use international forums to delegitimize Israel.  And we will continue to do so.  (Applause.)  That’s what friends and allies do for each other.  So don’t let anybody else tell a different story.  We have been there, and we will continue to be there.  Those are the facts.  (Applause.)

And when I look back on the last few years, I’m proud of the decisions I’ve made, and I’m proud of what we’ve done together.  But today isn’t about resting on our laurels.  As your tradition teaches, we’re not obligated to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.  (Applause.)

We’ve got to keep going.  So today we look forward to the world not just as it is but as it could be.  And when we do, the truth is clear:  Our union is not yet perfect.  Our world is still in desperate need of repair.  And each of us still hears that call.

And the question is, how we will respond?  In this moment, every American, of every faith, every background has the opportunity to stand up and say:  Here I am.  Hineni.  Here I am.  I am ready to keep alive our country’s promise.  I am ready to speak up for our values at home and abroad.  I am ready to do what needs to be done.  The work may not be finished in a day, in a year, in a term, in a lifetime, but I’m ready to do my part.  (Applause.)

And I believe that with tradition as our guide, we will seize that opportunity.  And in the face of daunting odds, we will make the choices that are hard but are right.  That’s how we’ve overcome tougher times before.  That’s how we will overcome the challenges that we face today.  And together, we will rewrite the next chapter in America’s story and prove that our best days are still to come.

Thank you, God bless you, God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
3:08 P.M. EST

American Jews plan relief efforts in wake of Israeli blaze

Source:  JTA, 12-7-10

With Israel in desperate need of aid to fight the fire ravaging its north last week, countries from four continents sent help, including those with whom Israel has been at odds lately, such as Turkey.

Now that the fire is out, the question is what will Israel’s close friends, the American Jewish community, do to aid in the recovery process?

Damage estimates are ranging as high as $75 million, and the American Jewish community has opened fundraising mailboxes, started as emergency campaigns while the blaze was still burning.

The national branches of the three largest U.S. Jewish religious denominations launched fire assistance funds and asked their rabbis to address the topic in their sermons last Shabbat. Dozens of the country’s largest organizations, including the Jewish federation system, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International, also started funds.

The heaviest lifting in the nonprofit world likely will be done by the Jewish National Fund, which since Israel’s founding has been responsible for the forestation of the country.

With some 12,000 acres scorched and an estimated 5 million trees burned, the JNF has launched a $10 million campaign to be split between reforestation and other causes, such as rebuilding tourism in the area. In less than a week, JNF had raised nearly $2 million in cash and pledges. A number of organizations, such as Hadassah, have pledged to help JNF pay for more trees.

Reforesting the area will be a slow process, according to the JNF’s director of forestry for the northern region, Omri Bonneh. For the first year, JNF says it won’t plant any trees, allowing the land to replenish itself.

It’s not clear how much the American Jewish organizations’ total campaign will be; in some cases it’s not yet clear where the money will go.

The American Jewish Committee pledged $100,000 for reforestation, saying it will plant 10,000 trees to commemorate the 42 people — mostly police cadets from the Israeli Prisons Service — killed in the wildfire.

B’nai B’rith International, which by Tuesday had collected $12,000, will use the money to address unmet needs, according to its vice president of programming, Rhonda Love.

Last week, Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, deployed hundreds of medics, paramedics, emergency vehicles and volunteers to the scene of the fire. It’s American fundraising arm, the American Friends of the Magen David Adom, had raised about $150,000 online since the fire broke out, according to its director of marketing, Robert Kern.

A number of organizations are focusing on helping Yemin Orde, a youth village for immigrants to Israel that was 40 percent destroyed in the fire.

Hadassah is providing space for 500 families dislocated by the fire by opening several youth villages with which it is associated. The Jewish Agency for Israel has made space in its facilities for Yemin Orde to continue operating.

The two overseas arms of the North American federation system have been on the ground since the fire began. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped out in the evacuation of residents and supplied emergency needs such as food and blankets. Now the JDC is planning to provide programs for the disabled, psycho-social support and emergency preparedness, according to spokesman Michael Geller.

The Jewish Agency brought hundreds of children from the stricken area to Tel Aviv for respite, and planned to bring 4,000 by the end of Chanukah.

JDC and the Jewish Agency also are working on coordinating youth volunteers. In the long term, the fire could provide the Jewish Agency with an opportunity to test the value of a new strategic plan that places more emphasis on creating volunteer opportunities in Israel.

The agency has proposed a plan to focus volunteer mentors on the Druze town of Tirat HaCarmel, a development town near Haifa that was evacuated during the fire. Agency officials also have talked to the Jewish Federations of North America about creating through the agency’s MASA program a project to bring Diaspora Jews to help in rehabilitating the animal wildlife in Israel’s north, according to Jewish Agency director general Alan Hoffmann.

Agency officials also said they would like to set up a fund for grants to victims of the fire, much like the fund it has for victims of terror that gives out up to $35,000 to individuals and families affected by terrorism.

How much exactly the JDC and Jewish Agency will be able to do in the long run will be determined largely by how much the federations are able to raise for them. That’s not yet clear, though insiders said the federations would probably allocate approximately $2 million.

Their campaign received an early boost when the JUF-Jewish Federation of Greater Chicago immediately pledged $500,000 of its own money for the JDC and Jewish Agency’s fire relief efforts.

The question now is whether money will continue to come in now that the fire has been extinguished.

“It is clear that when the fires stop burning, also the flames of philanthropy tend to die down,” Hoffman said. “But there are clear needs that have been created here. The question is how can world Jewry play a part in restoring this place to where it was before, and that will require resources.”

Use any of the links below to donate to a variety of emergency campaigns established in the wake of Israel’s devastating forest fire.

American Friends of the Magen David Adom, Israeli Red Cross

America Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

American Friends of Yemin Orde

B’nai B’rith Israel Emergency Fund

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

Jewish Agency for Israel

Jewish Federations of North America

Jewish National Fund, Forest Fire Emergency Fund

JStreet and the New Israel Fund

Organizations of the Conservative/Masorti movement in North America

ORT America

Orthodox Union emergency fund

Union for Reform Judaism and ARZA

Young Israel charity fund

ZAKA, a recovery and identification organization

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