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January 28, 2014 5:11 pm

State of the Union Address: What Jewish Leaders Want to Hear

avatar by Dmitriy Shapiro / JNS.org

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Jewish leaders meet with President Obama.

JNS.org – Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations and the Iran nuclear program are at the top of the Jewish community’s agenda ahead of tonight’s annual State of the Union address.

Like presidents before him, President Barack Obama has traditionally used this address before Congress to lay out an ambitious agenda—and he probably still will—but it would be difficult to do so without acknowledging the saga endured by the plans he touted in his State of the Union address last year.

One of his highest priorities, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, has been plagued by errors and delays. Undoubtedly, the president will point to the success stories resulting from the legislation, while reminding the public that the errors and missteps—some of which he attempted to solve through executive order—are to be expected from any monumental, but fledgling, government program.

Judging from statements emanating from the White House, however, even recalcitrant Republicans might not hinder Obama, who has previously shown his willingness to use his executive authority to enact regulations without the backing of Congress. Today, the office of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that while the president in tonight’s speech will tout raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, through Congressional passage of the Harkin-Miller bill, he also plans to commit himself to using “executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for those working on new federal contracts for services.”

Other accomplishments that Obama might review in the State of Union include his recent reforms in accountability and transparency, instigated by the revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was putting extra scrutiny into their auditing of Tea Party and right-wing-affiliated groups, and that the National Security Agency was collecting information beyond what many Americans believe is acceptable.

What appears to interest the Jewish community most, however, is the president’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations being facilitated by Secretary of State John Kerry, and the P5+1 conferences in Geneva aimed at reducing Iran’s nuclear capability. If the subject comes up tonight, the president will likely hail the Joint Plan of Action initiated earlier this month as a major breakthrough in relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran—a nation that the U.S. had not had diplomatic relations with in 30 years. At the same time, he will urge the public to have patience and faith in the process and urge lawmakers to not support the Menendez-Kirk bill and avoid interfering with the diplomacy currently underway.

To preview the speech, JNS.org asked various leaders in the Jewish community to identify what they think should be included in the president’s address. Here are their responses:

William Daroff, senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America:

“Jewish Federations urge President Obama to reiterate his commitment to ensuring Iran does not develop a nuclear weapons capacity, while keeping ‘all options on the table.’ Federations also urge the President to continue promoting the critical importance of charities in our society, speak out in support of Senate passage of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and to advocate for assessable long-term care for older Americans and services for their care-givers.”

Sarah Stern, president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth:

“I would like the President Obama to clearly state that the United States and Israel are engaged in a shared and existential struggle with radical Islam and that the greatest threat facing the United States, Israel and most of Europe is a nuclear Iran.

“I’d be encouraged to see him say that ‘yes, we’d like to see two states living in peace side by side, but it is unlikely to come about, as long as the Palestinians continue to teach their children that one day all of the land will be theirs. In order to achieve the lofty goal of peace, the Palestinians must end their incitement, which is based on an unjustifiable hatred that is unacceptable. If and when that day comes America will be ready to assist the Israelis and Palestinians in peace.’

“On the topic of negotiations with Iran, I’d like to see the president assert that it is necessary to use all means to defeat a nuclear Iran, including negotiations, sanctions and the military option. I’d like to see the president say, ‘I have taken notice of the Iranians’ claim that the negotiations do not impede their goal of nuclear capability. I differ in that view, but if that is their view, then they have proceeded to negotiate in bad faith, and it is reasonable to prepare new sanctions, and I support such efforts.'”

Fred Zeidman, national chairman of Israel Bonds and vice chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition:

“We all have a fair idea of what he might be saying on the domestic issues.

“The only thing I truly will be listening for is to what he says with regard to the security of the state of Israel and the relationship with Iran. I’m anxious to hear his comments. I’ve been less than satisfied with the approach that they’ve taken to date.

“I’m obviously not happy with the Iran deal and I would like to hear him say that if Iran doesn’t meet all of the expectations, not only will the U.S. pull out, but they will at the same time ratchet up sanctions that they’ll impose in the Menendez-Kirk bill.

“And with regard to Israel, I don’t know exactly where we are in this peace process, but it certainly doesn’t sound like Secretary Kerry’s approach to date has been what’s necessarily in the best interest of Israel. I’d like to hear him further clarify what he’s going to do to secure Israel, especially as you look at what was going on this past week in the West Bank with terrorist attacks being planned.”

Alan Elsner, vice president of communications at J Street:

“I think that he will definitely address the two major issues: Iran and the Kerry initiative for the two-state solution.

“We know that the president is committed to this effort; what I think we would like to hear is a renewed commitment to Israel, to Israel’s security, and to the idea that this conflict with the Palestinians can be settled and it could be done now, this year. And that he will back to the hilt Secretary Kerry’s efforts, and that he will personally intervene at the right moment, and that this is a time for the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to show leadership and to take bold decisions for peace. But that the United States will always have Israel’s back and would never abandon that.”

Steve Rakitt, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington:

“I hope to hear President Obama reaffirm that the United States stands firmly with the people of Israel in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat and in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute of the American Jewish Committee:

“I would like to hear the president say that comprehensive immigration reform is a top priority for his administration. This issue is in the national interest and the smart thing to do. Fixing our broken immigration system has to contemplate a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, effective enforcement, increased visas for high and low-skilled immigrant workers to satisfy the labor needs of American businesses to remain competitive in a global economy, and support for family reunification.

“He should also say that he will spare no effort or resource and will invest whatever political capital necessary to make this a reality, hopefully with the concurrence of those in Congress and the majority of the American people, who are convinced, as I am, that this anomalous situation runs counter both to our values and our interests.”

Alan Ronkin, Washington, DC, regional director for the American Jewish Committee:

“The president should address the deep concern about Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons at a time when the Middle East is teetering between order and chaos. He should address the growing gaps between our society’s political extremes and call for a renewed American dialogue based on the values of civility, patriotism and the divine call to build a better world. And, finally, he should speak passionately about the Jewish value of welcoming the stranger—a value that leads us to embrace the immigrant and refugee and help them find their place in our country.”

Mark Olshan, associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International:

“One of the things I would love to hear in the State of the Union, though I don’t think it’s going to come up although we would love to see it, is the commitment to senior citizens housing, in particular, but more nationally, the issues relating to refocusing our nation’s housing policy to persons who might need affordable rental housing.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion and rhetoric over the last number of years about homeownership and I’d love to see us have a little more of an emphasis back to affordable rental housing—in particular where older persons can receive community services at a place where they live, which is significantly cheaper and much easier and cost effective than having to go to institutional settings when they don’t really need it.

“In years past we’ve had a strong affordable housing policy, but that has changed over the years as the pie has gotten significantly smaller. So I’d love to see much more emphasis back on affordable housing for older persons, especially since the population is getting that much older.

“The nature of domestic spending has gotten significantly less over the years and with all the discussion that we heard on the Hill over the last couple of years, it is getting more and more difficult with the sequestration; all of that is less and less money for senior housing. So the affordable housing pot has just begun to get smaller and that has been difficult for those of us who are particularly interested in this issue.

“One of the other things would be with regard to health reform, which I’m sure he will mention in his speech. We’d like to see references in particular to the importance of continued outreach to the younger, more-healthy older population—those in their 50s and 60s who could not get insurance coverage before the health reform and affordable care was enacted, but now obviously can, and we strongly endorse and support that.

“Lastly, we want to reinforce our strong commitment in support of the state of Israel.”

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  • Leon

    It would appear that under the reign of Sheik Obamo the USA has taken a deep plunge into the nether nether never

  • rachel robinson

    bravo!! i will send this article to all my friends so that they can send it to all their friends, and so on and on, maybe Obama and his supporters will read it and see where the country is and what this President who received on his inauguration the greatest country that was ever created and what he did to it in a few short years. it is not conceivable that there are so many people who are unable to understand what is happening and are still supporting this destruction. why are they supporting this evil presidency? we have to fight them in every way we can, I hope many people will realize this and work to remove the evil from our midst.

  • BuckDePublick

    Let’s hear HUSSEIN AL-BUMMAH announce his immediate resignation!

  • Bart A. Charta

    THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION IN JUST 889 WORDS

    Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, fellow citizens:

    This summer we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.

    This senseless, destructive war was started and championed by politicians who cared nothing for the 9 million people who lost their lives.

    And in doing so, they began a century of warfare which continues to this day.

    Our military industrial complex is larger than ever. We have nearly 2 million troops and national guardsmen, plus 3.5 million civilians employed in the defense sector.

    With such awesome capabilities, we continue to resort to violence and death to exact political goals which benefit a tiny elite.

    All of this has created a police state in the Land of the Free that is a far cry from the country we all grew up in.

    Your government has spawned a culture of fear and intimidation. Nearly every federal agency, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, has its own gun-toting police force to pistol-whip citizens into submission.

    And we’re stocking up. Your government has recently procured 1.6 BILLION rounds of hollow-point ammunition to supplement our existing supplies.

    But frankly, we don’t need guns to harass citizens.

    Our tax authorities have become more threatening than mafia warlords. The plunder is so severe that record numbers of Americans are renouncing their citizenship and leaving the country.

    There are now dozens of federal, state, and local agencies and courts which have the power to confiscate your assets without any due process.

    In addition to your house, your business, and your savings, we also have the authority to take your children away from you as if they are property of the state.

    We are here to tell you what you can and cannot put in your own body, or whether you can collect rainwater that falls on own property.

    In fact, on any given business day, the federal government issues hundreds of pages of new ‘rules’, proposed regulations, draft bills, executive orders, and/or regulatory notices.

    And if you are not compliant with these rules, you may be committing a crime. Whether you know it or not.

    When this nation was founded, there were four federal crimes on the books. Today there are THOUSANDS. Plus we have millions of government employees at all levels to enforce the penalties.

    All of this, of course, is financed by you the tax slave.

    You (plus unborn generations) are the poor suckers charged with paying off the national debt we politicians have created.

    Officially the debt is just north of $17 trillion. But if you include Social Security and pension shortfalls, the figure is several times higher.

    You’ll never know for sure because we have become masters of deceit regarding official statistics, whether inflation, unemployment, or our liabilities.

    But the situation is so dire that the Congressional Budget Office projects the Social Security Administration’s disability insurance trust fund to RUN OUT by 2017.

    We get by year after year by increasing the debt. And at well over 100% of GDP, we have truly reached the point of no return.

    We are now in a position where we must default. Either we must default on our national debt, or we must default on our obligations to you the citizens.

    We may end up stealing your savings. Robbing your Social Security. Taxing you to death. Or simply inflating away the value of our debt.

    Naturally, we’re going to screw you in the process somehow… so be prepared for that. Especially the inflationary tidal wave that’s coming.

    Our central bank has expanded its balance sheet at an unprecedented pace, creating massive asset bubbles in its wake. These asset bubbles have disproportionately benefited the ultra-wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

    Such wanton money printing has also been tremendously destructive to our credibility. Other nations worry about our reckless irresponsibility. That’s why we keep spying on them.

    Make no mistake: the consequences of our actions are here. And the days of the United States as the world’s dominant superpower are finished.

    As the decline hastens, we will struggle to sell our debt to the world and to ship our dollars abroad. Fewer nations will be interested in our empty promises.

    And without the generosity of other nations loaning us money at record low interest rates that fail to keep pace with inflation, you will really be screwed.

    When this happens, you can absolutely count on us to clamp down even harder on the economy and control even more of your lives. For your own good, of course.

    No, this may not be the country that you all grew up in. But it is the state of our union… whatever remains of it.

    And so my fellow Americans, I urge you to grab your ankles and get ready for a little ‘shared sacrifice’.

    But don’t worry about me, or my senior staff. We will leave government with cushy pensions, $750,000 speaking fees, board seats on public companies, and top positions in the industries that we have accommodated at your expense.

    And of course I will be paid handsomely for the arrogant memoirs I will write in which I deny any responsibility for the shit I’ve gotten you all into.

    So when I say “shared sacrifice”, I really mean “your sacrifice”.

    Thank you. God bless you, and God bless these United States of America.

    • Steve Butman

      Right on!

      Bart Charta for President.

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