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Netherlands records spike in anti-Semitic incidents

September 22, 2010 Leave a comment

AMSTERDAM (Press Release)–Anti-Semitism in the Netherlands nearly doubled in 2009 compared to 2008. Police said that 209 incidents had been documented last year, accounting for nearly a tenth of all discriminatory incidents in the country. Experts said this increase might only be “the tip of the iceberg”.

This represented a 48 per cent rise year-on-year against Jews and Jewish sites. During Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip in January 2009, 98 attacks were documented, including nine physical assaults. Other incidents in 2009 included vandals damaging synagogues and spraying graffiti on Jewish monuments.

The Jewish community in the Netherlands numbers around 30,000, less than 0.3 per cent of the country’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Foreign Ministry canceled a visit by Israeli mayors to the Netherlands because the delegation was to include leaders of West Bank settlements. Participants in the delegation, sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, would have included the heads of 30 small local councils, including from Arab communities.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress

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Please explain where your true sympathies are, Mr. President

August 20, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Ben Kamin

Rabbi Ben Kamin

SAN DIEGO — Muslims themselves should not take too much solace in President Obama’s recent avowal of support for the Cordoba House and mosque project at the cusp of ground zero.  Spoken in the midst of a Ramadan gathering at the White House, the president‘s jaw driven outward in a now trademark signal of thrust conviction, his eyes staring upward rather than at the audience he is actually addressing,  he nonetheless began to disavow his guttural outburst almost immediately.

I didn’t actually say I was in favor of that mosque, what I meant was even though I do feel Muslim Americans should build a mosque wherever they e pluribus unum, I probably was thinking more generally though I may or may not have had the ground zero mosque, er, community center in my mind.  Or maybe not.

Jews should mark the occasion with a great deal of interest and concern.  We heard from the president’s soul when he was so uncharacteristically “incautious” at the White House.  We heard from his political advisers when he cynically back-pedaled on his revelatory burst so expediently. 

In Holland, for so long wrongfully considered a benevolent place via its exported Anne Frank / anti-fascist mythology, Muslims account now for 10% of the population and the bulk of its harrowing wave of anti-Semitic harassment, hate-mongering, and personal violence.   A lot of extremist Muslims, including those building a nuclear weapon in Iran, will see the ground zero mosque as nothing less than Koranic affirmation of their unhinged war against Judeao-Christian civilization.

We see stark evidence of radical Islamic brutality via the systematic mutilation of women’s faces, breasts, and reproductive organs—not to mention stoning to death.  Blackberry units, You Tube, and rock music are shut down, from northern Africa to Saudi Arabia.  Our efforts to save Afghanistan from its Taliban essence (Mr. Obama’s benighted and/or naïve strategy at the expense of American lives) are doomed, even as we share goals with the country’s thoroughly corrupt and ungrateful presidential-despot.

No, President Obama is not a Muslim, and these charges about his background are ignorant and devilish.  That whole discussion is steeped in bigotry and contempt.  But if he is deeply sympathetic to a highly questionable and hurtful project that insults American sensibilities and memories, that gives the radical Muslims who want us all vaporized or veiled a stunning triumph at the expense of our 9/11 grief, let him just say so.

Who are you, Mr. President?  We want to know more than whom you are not.

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Rabbi Kamin is a freelance writer based in San Diego

Commentary: Scapegoating versus politics in the Middle East

August 9, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Some basic definitions useful for living in civilized societies and on their fringe:

A scapegoat is an individual or group blamed for faults properly due to some other individual or group. Scapegoating is a way to pass on responsibilities for offenses real or imaginary.
A minority is often chosen as a scapegoat, and Jews have been chosen for the role time and again. In the Middle East, that means Israelis.
Most recently Israelis have been blamed by Hizbollah for the murder of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik Harari. These charges have come along with reports that an international commission is about to accuse Hizbollah of the crime.
Israelis are also being blamed for rocket attacks, apparently sent from the Sinai toward Eilat, which caused injuries and at least one death in the Jordanian city of Aqaba. Leaving aside the Egyptian claim that the rockets did not come from the Sinai, the indications are that they did, and were most likely fired by Hamas operatives or individuals allied with Hamas. Hamas is also the source of accusations against Israel. According to its logic, they were directed in a way to harm Jordanians and to give Israelis an excuse for retaliating against Palestinians.

Politics
is a way of dealing with conflict without violence. It involves discussion, negotiation, voting for the purpose of deciding which individuals or groups ought to have the most influence, and then deciding on matters of dispute in ways to preserve at least a minimum of the comity necessary to avoid violence.

Comity
is a sense of community. It assumes a sufficient sharing of culture, language, and values to provide mutual trust that allows participants in conflict to believe one another, at least enough to give up some preferences for the purpose of keeping matters that are subjects of conflict from straying into violence.
The question at the bottom line of this discourse is, Where scapegoating is common, is there enough comity to support politics rather than violence? For us the practical question: Is peace possible between Israel and Palestinians when the Palestinians are closer in their culture to Hizbollah and Hamas than to Israel?
 
The matter is not only an issue at the upper levels of national and international politics. It also bothers us folks down in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where cultural clashes tempting violence are never far away. 
We usually pass by groups of young Arabs from the nearby neighborhood of Isaweea during our walks through French Hill. Usually the encounters are uneventful, and occasionally pleasant, but sometimes one hears insulting words in Arabic directed against us. Is it worth all the implications of confronting 10year olds in order to teach a  lesson?
More serious was the case of a young man who pushed a female jogger to the ground, and might have been intent on something more serious until we yelled and he ran in the direction of Isaweea. That was an occasion for delaying our walk, and staying with the young woman until the police arrived.
Jews are also guilty. An American visitor described meeting with an Arab merchant in the Old City, and going up on the roof of his store to look at the view.

“On the roof, there were yeshiva boys. Young orthodox boys with yalmakas and tzitzit and pay-itz around 12-15. As soon as he opened the door without any exchange of words,  they started swearing at him and taunting him.”

One of my neighborhood friends is a Dutch journalist who writes for a Christian newspaper. We often wave and say hello, and occasionally stop to exchange stories. On one occasion he told me that his church had been vandalized. It is located near an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. While the guilty had not been identified, that is a standard way for some of the ultra-Orthodox to express their sense of righteousness. The church is also not far from an Arab neighborhood, and Muslims have a history of trashing the religious sites of others. A lack of information requires us to leave open the question of guilt. 
The wider madness that focuses on us comes from the daily threats of destruction by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Jewish morons who join various Goyim in sending e-mails insisting that Barack Obama is a Muslim, most likely born in Africa or Indonesia, and intent on Israel’s destruction. No less disturbing are the students and faculty of universities of high and low status, and simpletons like those of Olympia, who are intent on punishing Israel for defending itself in ways that are less destructive of human life, and no less justified than what has been visited on various countries by the forces of the United States and its allies.
And do not forget the messianic Jews who want to populate Arab neighborhoods in ways sure to cause trouble for us all.
What to do in the midst of all this ignorance, animosity, and lack of comity?
Putting aside the occasional temptations for finishing my life in a more placid place with weather at least as good as Jerusalem’s (is there such a locale on the coast of Oregon, or would New Zealand provide a residence permit and access to health insurance?), the sole prospect is to continue coping. Avoid neighborhood walks too late at night or too early in the morning, and urge the hyper-actives in the Obama administration to stop making things worse by promoting a peace process that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are capable of producing. 
Both Israel and Palestine would be better off if their officials could spend more time dealing with their domestic issues, and less time being pushed by intense
Americans and having to maneuver around one another.
Most likely European politicians would stop if the Americans would stop. And no one else matters.
On objective measures of crime, poverty, family crises and other conventional social indicators, Jerusalem probably does as well or better than cities of comparable size. Israel as a whole performs better than a lot of the countries that produce individuals wanting to punish or destroy it. 
So why all the destructive attention?
Now we’ve come back to the topic of scapegoats.
There is also a nagging insistence by religiously-motivated Christians and
Jews that Jerusalem and Israel be better places than elsewhere.

Unfortunately, their persistence, combined with their ignorance, may prod the locals to make things worse. It is best to leave us alone. Good is good enough. 

   
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Jerusalem tourism waxes and wanes with international politics

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–More than two million overseas visitors arrived in Jerusalem during a recent year. The attractions are well maintained places linked to individuals and events featured in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and a functioning Old City enclosed by walls built in ancient times and last reconstructed in the 16th century. The Old City offers sites and shopping for tourists, and four distinctive neighborhoods that are the homes of 30,000 Jews, Muslims, Armenians and other Christians. Only a short ride away is Bethlehem, equally compelling for those wanting to see the roots of Christianity. Jericho is not much further in another direction. It offers winter visitors a chance to dine comfortably in an outdoor restaurant, while ten miles away in Jerusalem it may be raining and close to freezing.
While the numbers coming to Jerusalem are impressive, and often a nuisance to locals having to cope with crowds and traffic, the city ranks lower than 50 others in the numbers of tourists it attracts. London, New York, Bangkok, Paris, and Rome attract from three to seven times the number of international tourists as Jerusalem. Dublin, Amsterdam, and Prague get twice as many, while even Kiev and Bucharest, plus resorts near Bangkok attract 50 percent more international visitors than Jerusalem.

Jerusalem may have more of a mystic pull than these other places. The “Jerusalem syndrome” is a documented condition whereby some visitors believe themselves to be biblical characters. Jewish and Christian sufferers act as David, Jesus, or some other figure associated with their faith. I am not aware of visitors to London and Paris thinking that they are Henry VIII, Napoleon, or any of the other figures associated with local history.
Why does Jerusalem rank only #51 on a sophisticated ranking of international tourism? 
Distance has something to do with it. Visitors to Western Europe can avail themselves of numerous attractive destinations as part of the same trip from home. There are decent beaches and other features in Tel Aviv and Netanya, but they attract only 60 and 10 percent of the overseas visitors as Jerusalem. Tiberias is on the Sea of Galilee and close to sites important to Christians, but draws only 25 percent of the number of visitors to Jerusalem. 
 
There are other sites in countries close to Jerusalem, notably Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, but the borders of the Middle East are not as easy to cross as those of Western Europe. For some years now Israeli security personnel have not allowed Israeli Jews to visit Bethlehem or Jericho without special permits, and others have to pass through barriers and inspections meant to protect us.

Politics and tension are more likely to figure in a decision to visit Jerusalem than other cities. The number of overseas tourists to Israel dropped from 2.4 million in 2000, which was mostly prior to the onset of the latest intifada, to a bit over one million in 2003, which was one of the bloodiest years. Numbers increased to 1.9 million by 2005 when the violence had diminished significantly. No other country included in the regions of Europe and the Mediterranean surveyed by the United Nations tourist agency showed comparable variations in the same period. Even on a mundane issue like this, the U.N. is unable to consider Israel part of the Middle East region, which includes all of the countries bordering it and Palestine.

Jerusalem has drawn more tourists that some well-known sites in Europe. It does better than Florence and Venice, and is pretty much tied with Athens. Why less than Kiev and Bucharest? There are mysteries in the world of tourism that may boil down to nothing more than current fashion or a lack of precision in the numbers.

Tourist flows change with politics and economics. Thirty years ago there was virtually no direct travel between Israel, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Now Russian visitors are in second place behind those from the United States; there are sizable numbers from Ukraine and Poland. Thousands come each year from India, Korea, Japan, China, and Nigeria. Indonesia and Morocco receive Israelis and send visitors to Israel, even though there are no formal diplomatic relations. There are even a few hundred visitors annually from Malaysia and Iran, whose officials are usually among our most intense critics .

My latest Jerusalem experience may be part of a multicultural gesture to attract overseas visitors, or it may reflect nothing more than the lack of experience or attention by the person responsible. While I usually pay no attention to the music piped into the exercise room at the university gym, this morning I became alert to something familiar. It was Silent Night, in the English version I was required to sing many years ago at the Highland School. But only in December. Never in July.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Music of hope and resistance featured at Melbourne concert

July 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Joseph Toltz

MELBOURNE,  26 July – A special performance of the music of  the Theresienstadt Ghetto (Terezin) was presented in Melbourne on Sunday, July 25.

Terezin, a small garrison town built in 1780 by Emperor Franz-Josef II, lies peacefully among
meadows and gardens, 38 miles northwest of Prague. To us, its German name is well known:
Theresienstadt, one of the most infamous Nazi ghettos, a place where 148,000 people lived.
Eighty-eight thousand passed through on their way to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death and labour camps, while 33,000 died of disease and malnutrition in the camp. On May 8, 1945, the Soviet army liberated 17,247 people on the verge of starvation.

Terezín was the holding camp for Bohemian and Moravian Jews ­ proud, sophisticated communities who had existed in the Czech lands for more than 800 years, embracing full emancipation under the enlightened rule of President Tomás Masaryk’s First Czechoslovak Republic. Joining the Czech Jews in Terezín were 57,000 ‘privileged’ German and Austrian Jews ­ the elderly, decorated war veterans, prominent Jewish intellectuals, community leaders and famous musicians.

In time, Jews from Holland, Luxembourg and Denmark arrived to add to the mix. The intensity of artistic ability that came to Terezín was harnessed by the inmates, for the inmates,
through the organisation of ‘leisure time activities’ ­ music, theatre, cabaret, sports,
art classes, lectures by academic experts. The cream of Central European intellectual life,
those who could not escape the Nazi talons did not sit idly by in this ghetto ­ they created,
formed and breathed life into the most unique and amazing creations.

On July 25, I directed and performed in a concert presented by the Jewish Museum of
Australia that was inspired by the cultural life of Terezín; it complemented the museum’s current exhibition “Theresienstadt: Drawn from the Inside,” a series of intimate artworks by Paul Schwarz and Leo Lowit bequeathed to the museum in 1980 by Regina Schwarz. What made the concert unique was that it was not just a presentation of the music created in Terezín, but it provided a diverse journey into the musical lives of survivors, discussing the importance of music to maintaining hope, providing distraction and entertainment,
offering an opportunity for spiritual resistance, as well as providing an outlet for processing
what was happening to them at the time.

For the past four years, my doctoral dissertation has involved interviewing survivors of the
Holocaust about musical experiences in ghettos and camps. My journey began 12 years ago, with survivors of Terezín, who discussed the place of Brundibár ­ a children’s opera composed by Hans Krasa, a Czech Jew ­ in their hearts and minds. They referred me to other survivors ­ from soloists from the children’s opera all the way to the two most esteemed pianists in the camp, the 96-year-old Edith Steiner-Kraus (in Jerusalem) and the 104-year-old Alice Herz-Sommer. Two years after our interview, Alice is still playing piano three hours a day, living independently in London. Over the course of four years, 25 Terezín survivors spoke to me of their incredible journeys in music in those years of hardship and trial, and their observations coloured our concert.

SO what was music in Terezín? It was an entire world of creativity, from the Jazz of Coco
Schumann and the Ghetto Swingers, to everyday pub songs and work songs. The first musical revues in 1941 were directed by the choral conductor Rafael Schächter and the Czech cabaret artist, Karel Svenk; in time they were joined by German cabaret artists such as Kurt Gerron (co-star in the 1920s with Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), Willi Rosen and others who had escaped Berlin to Holland in 1938  ­ sadly, not far enough away from Germany. Our concert featured some of these cabaret and jazz works.

There were four orchestras, including a famous Terezín string orchestra conducted by Karel An erl. An erl survived Auschwitz and other camps, and following liberation, rose to become
conductor of the Czech Philharmonic until his escape to Toronto in 1968. The concert featured a recorded performance by An erl’s orchestra, filmed as part of the 1944 propaganda
film made by the Czech Aktualita company.

Music became an essential part of children’s pedagogy through the opera Brundibár, the musical play Brou ci (the Fireflies) and participation in the children’s choirs. Adults also formed choirs ­ all male, all female and mixed. Such choirs were devoted to Zionist or Socialist songs,
others sang Yiddish lider (many of the residents singing the language of their grandparents for
the first time) or Jewish liturgical works, and the larger choirs undertook the great oratorios
of the repertoire. At our concert, the King David School Chamber Choir presented excerpts of some of this choral repertoire, including a small section of Brundibár.

There were hundreds of chamber music recitals, from baroque and rococo repertoire, all the way to completely new music composed and performed in the ghetto by students of Janá ek and Schönberg, and former members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Concert­ge­bouw (a concert hall in Amsterdam) and other orchestras. The
brightest stars of new Czech composition ­ Gideon Klein, Pavel Haas, Hans Krása and Viktor Ullmann ­ all were featured in our concert, performed by Anne Gilby, Eidit Golder and the A La Corda Quartet.

Music was not enough to help one survive though. If you were lucky enough to be in demand, then you could avoid resettlement (i.e. transport to Auschwitz), but by September 1944 this protection had evaporated and the vast majority of Terezín’s musicians were deported and murdered in the months of September and October.

In my discussions with survivors from Terezín here, in the UK, in Israel and the USA, I have
learnt one very important fact: music was an aspect that preserved the humanity for many
living in the appalling, conditions of the ghetto. Even if you weren’t a performer, music
provided an outlet, be it escape, hope, anger, and helped you process and adapt to the
conditions. It played a vital role for some in keeping their humanity alive, and it was the
preservation of that humanity that they carried throughout such terrible times, clinging to it, in order to remain sane.

Our concert was not just some missing link, providing the continuity in Jewish artistry and creativity in middle Europe. Nor was it a dry academic exercise, presenting an odd set of compositions that survived beyond all probability. Instead, it brought back to life the
humanity that existed in Terezín, against all odds. A humanity that we rarely think of when
considering life in the camps and ghettos, but a humanity that must have existed in order for our parents and grandparents, our uncles, aunts and cousins to have survived, to be able to build new lives and contribute so much of their own, rich musical culture to a place 12,000 miles away from the land of their birth.

This concert brought back to life the voices of the composers of Terezín. For the first time
in Australia, the Terezín polka sounded, forgotten by all except those interned in the camp, but notated by the sister of the composer who migrated to Tasmania after the war. The heritage of Czech Jewry lives in our Australian musical experience. Rudolf Pekarek, one-time
conductor of the Prague Radio Orchestra migrated to Australia with his wife after the war and
became the first conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, and later the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. Coco Schumann moved to Melbourne in 1950, where for four years he played successfully with Leo Rosner and his Gypsy Band. Karel An erl toured the Czech Philharmonic to Australia in the 1970s, to great acclaim. Hundreds of Czech survivors made their home in Australia, ordinary people who brought with them a love and devotion to music and the arts. This concert was dedicated to them and their memory and
also as a legacy to those who died, whose music carries a unique voice for future generations to hear.

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Joseph Toltz is a professional singer and academic.

A modern-day journalist’s letter to Anne Frank

July 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Greg Gross

Editor’s Note:  Greg Gross, a retired reporter of the San Diego Union-Tribune recently visited Amsterdam and was moved to write a letter to Anne Frank after visiting the house in which she hid from the Nazis.  His letter is reprinted with permission from his new blog “I’m Black and I Travel.”

Dear Anne,

Paid a visit to your house this morning, along with a few thousand other folks, the one where you hid for two years during the German occupation in World War 2, until one of your neighbors ratted you out to the Nazis and they shipped you all off like cattle to Bergen-Belsen.

I saw the rooms in which you lived behind shuttered, darkened curtains day and night, not daring even to let a pinprick of light escape. I try to understand how that must have weighed on your spirit, the conflict you must have felt as a young girl who wanted to run and dance and laugh — and knowing that you dare not do any of those things.

Even after seeing your house, Anne, it is hard to imagine your life.

I saw the stairs you climbed up and down to get to and from the hiding places that also served as hearth and home. My God, but they were steep! More like the ladders aboard the Navy ships I used to visit as a boy who dreamed of going to sea.

I picture you and your sister, Margot, lightly and silently bounding up and down those stairs in all your youthful agility. I’m sorry to report that neither youth nor agility have remained with me here. But in that perpetual memory that you left behind in your diary, I still see you now as you were then, young and effortless in defying gravity up those steep, wooden stairs.

The world will forever see you that way, Anne. Young. Alert. Observant and insightful beyond your years.

It’s sad to think of what you might have gone on to create and achieve had you lived to the age that I am now, or even half of it. But I prefer not to be sad when I think of you. I’d rather dwell on the incredible record of life you left behind.

You said you wanted to be a journalist and later a writer. Well, Anne, you were both. You faithfully recorded the times and circumstances of your life — and in doing so, you spoke for millions. Maybe you never knew the joy of cashing that first paycheck in return for your writings, but you were in fact a journalist, and a writer. I’m addressing you here as a colleague, not a child.

I saw that you left behind an unfinished novel in your house, which is fitting. Not just because your young life ended as an unfinished work, but because the struggle to rid the world of hatred, the same hatred that turned you from a child into a fugitive, also remains unfinished.

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk these days about “tolerance,” how we should replace hate in the world with tolerance. I don’t know, Anne. Tolerance seems a little negative somehow, a little inadequate. It’s as if we’re saying “I still see you as a cockroach, but I’ll put up with your existence.”

I think we might do better if we forgot about tolerance and focused on acceptance. Acceptance of one other just as we are, just as you saw us all. As human beings.

Anyway, thank you for being who you were, for the writing that you did, for the humanity you maintained in spite of everything. One day, we will meet, you and I, and talk shop. One writer to another. We’ll have fun.

Best regards,
.greg

Ranking State Department official describes U.S. efforts to preserve Israel’s ‘Qualitative Military Edge’

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Following is a transcript of comments on Israel by Andrew J. Shapiro, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs as prepared for delivery Friday at the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy:

Good morning. I am particularly pleased to be here at the Saban Center to address the Obama Administration’s enduring commitment to Israel’s security. And I am proud to say that as a result of this commitment, our security relationship with Israel is broader, deeper and more intense than ever before.

Just last week, President Obama met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and stated that “Israel has unique security requirements.” President Obama has ensured that his Administration fully recognizes those requirements, and we have redoubled our commitment to meeting them. Indeed, as Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs, one of my primary responsibilities is to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, or QME.

Today, I’d like to tell you about how we’re preserving Israel’s QME through an unprecedented increase in U.S. security assistance, stepped up security consultations, support for Israel’s new Iron Dome defensive system, and other initiatives.

We recognize that today Israel is facing some of the toughest challenges in its history. This Administration is particularly focused on Israel’s security precisely because of the increasingly complex and severe threats that it faces in the region. Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments.

When talking about the threat assessment in the region, one must start with the Iranian nuclear program. As Secretary Clinton said in March, “For Israel, there is no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.”

While the most grave, the Iranian nuclear program is one of many serious security threats in the region. Iran and Syria both pose significant conventional challenges. And these conventional challenges intersect with the asymmetrical threats posed by Hezbollah and Hamas, whose rockets indiscriminately target Israeli population centers, and whose extensive arms smuggling operations, many of which originate in Tehran and Damascus, weaken regional security and disrupt efforts to establish lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.

We must recognize that the ever-evolving technology of war is making it harder to guarantee Israel’s security. For six decades, Israelis have guarded their borders vigilantly. But advances in rocket technology require new levels of U.S.-Israel cooperation. Despite efforts at containment, rockets with better guidance systems, greater range, and more destructive power are spreading across the region. Hezbollah has amassed tens of thousands of short- and medium-range rockets on Israel’s northern border. Hamas has a substantial number in Gaza. And even if some of these are still crude, they all pose a serious danger.

These and other threats to Israel’s security and civilian population are real, they are growing, and they must be addressed. And we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our Israeli partners to do so.

Coming to my current job after eight years as Secretary Clinton’s primary foreign affairs and defense policy advisor in the Senate, I can personally attest to her deep sense of pride in being a strong voice for Israel. I travelled to Israel with then-Senator Clinton in 2005 (to attend a Saban Center conference) and joined her on her first visit to Israel as Secretary of State in March 2009.

When it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, the policy guidance Secretary Clinton has given me for my current position is no different from the guidance she gave me when I worked for her in the Senate. As the Secretary mentioned in a recent speech, the management of our security relationship with Israel and preserving Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge must be one of my top priorities.

The unique relationship between the United States and Israel is rooted in common values, interwoven cultures, and mutual interests. U.S. support for the idea of a Jewish homeland dates back to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and can be traced through the letters of Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt. Indeed, when Israel was founded in 1948, the United States was ready to embrace its new partner. President Truman famously extended official, diplomatic recognition to the State of Israel in just 11 minutes.

America’s commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity has extended over many decades and across Democratic and Republican Administrations alike. Our leaders have long understood that a robust United States-Israel security relationship is good for us, good for Israel and good for regional stability.

President Nixon paid the first official visit to Israel to begin direct U.S. diplomatic engagement to help bring peace to the region. This began a long, bipartisan effort to work toward peace and, in doing so, to further bolster Israel’s security as a sovereign state. President Nixon’s effort was continued by President Carter with the Camp David Accords, George H.W. Bush at the Madrid Conference, President Clinton’s stewardship of the Oslo Accords and the Wye River Conference – in which Brookings’ own Martin Indyk played such a central role – and the previous administration’s engagement at the Annapolis Conference.

President Obama has also made achieving peace and recognized secure borders for Israel a top Administration priority. Secretary Clinton, in her speech to AIPAC earlier this year, explained the imperative of pushing the peace process forward because the status quo is unacceptable. In addition to a nuclear-armed Iran, Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, and democratic state is under threat from the dynamics of demography, ideology, and technology. The Obama Administration is working assiduously with the parties to restart direct negotiations toward a comprehensive peace as soon as possible.

We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.

Hand in hand with this commitment to peace has been the Administration’s unwavering dedication to ensuring that Israel is prepared to defend itself against the multitude of threats it faces. As the President said just last week, “the United States is committed to Israel’s security. We are committed to that special bond, and we are going to do what’s required to back that up, not just with words but with actions.”

Since day one, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have not only honored and re-energized America’s enduring commitment to Israel’s security, but have taken action to expand it to an unprecedented level. Our work is rooted in knowledge shared across the decades by presidents and policymakers on both sides of the aisle that a strong and secure Israel – and an Israel at peace with its neighbors – is critical not only to the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, but also to America’s strategic interests.

Peace and Security

As Secretary Clinton has often said, the status quo is unsustainable. Without a comprehensive regional peace, the Middle East will never unlock its full potential, and Israel will never be truly secure.

The dynamics of ideology, technology, and demography in the region mean that this continuing conflict poses serious challenges to Israel’s long-term security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state. This Administration believes that pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel and its neighbors can be a mutually reinforcing process. Today, it is more essential than ever to make progress on all tracks.

Regional peace must begin with the recognition by every party that the United States will always stand behind Israel’s security. As President Obama put it, “no wedge will be driven between us.”

Israel’s right to exist, and to defend itself, is not negotiable. No lasting peace will be possible unless that fact is accepted. It is our hope that the Administration’s expanded commitment to Israel’s security will advance the process by helping the Israeli people seize this opportunity and take the tough decisions necessary for a comprehensive peace.

Maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge

For decades, the cornerstone of our security commitment to Israel has been an assurance that the United States would help Israel uphold its qualitative military edge – a commitment that was written into law in 2008. Israel’s QME is its ability to counter and defeat credible military threats from any individual state, coalition of states, or non-state actor, while sustaining minimal damages or casualties. The Obama Administration has demonstrated its commitment to Israel’s QME by not only sustaining and building upon practices established by prior administrations, but also undertaking new initiatives to make our security relationship more intimate than ever before.

Each and every security assistance request from the Israeli Government is evaluated in light of our policy to uphold Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge. At the same time, QME considerations extend to our decisions on defense cooperation with all other governments in the region. This means that as a matter of policy, we will not proceed with any release of military equipment or services that may pose a risk to allies or contribute to regional insecurity in the Middle East.

The primary tool that the United States uses to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge is security assistance. For some three decades, Israel has been the leading beneficiary of U.S. security assistance through the Foreign Military Financing program, or FMF. Currently, Israel receives almost $3 billion per year in U.S. funding for training and equipment under FMF. The total FMF account is $5 billion annually and is distributed among some 70 countries. So it is a testament to our special security relationship that each year Israel accounts for just over 50 percent of U.S. security assistance funding distributed through FMF.

The Obama Administration is proud to carry on the legacy of robust U.S. security assistance for Israel. Indeed, we are carrying this legacy to new heights at a time when Israel needs our support to address the multifaceted threats it faces.

For Fiscal Year 2010, the Administration requested $2.775 billion in security assistance funding specifically for Israel, the largest such request in U.S. history. Congress fully funded our request for FY 2010, and we have requested even more – $3.0 billion – for FY 2011. These requests fulfill the Administration’s commitment to implementing the 2007 memorandum of understanding with Israel to provide $30 billion in security assistance over 10 years.

This commitment directly supports Israel’s security, as it allows Israel to purchase the sophisticated defense equipment it needs to protect itself, deter aggressors, and maintain its qualitative military edge. Today, I can assure you that – even in challenging budgetary times – this Administration will continue to honor this 10-year, $30 billion commitment in future fiscal years.

But our unique security assistance relationship with Israel extends beyond raw numbers. Unlike other beneficiaries of Foreign Military Financing, which are legally required to spend funds in the United States, Israel is the only country authorized to set aside one-quarter of its FMF funding for off-shore procurements. This exception provides a significant boost for Israel’s domestic defense industry, helps them to develop indigenous production capacity, and is one of many ways we demonstrate our commitment to meeting Israel’s unique security requirements.

A second way we build Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge is through training and joint military exercises, such as last fall’s JUNIPER COBRA 2010 ballistic missile defense exercises. More than 1,000 U.S. troops participated in JUNIPER COBRA, which was the largest U.S.-Israeli exercise in history. U.S. and Israeli forces take part in numerous exercises each year to test operational concepts, improve interoperability, and focus on urban terrain and counter-terrorism operations. These collaborative efforts enhance Israel’s military capabilities and improve our own military’s understanding of and relationship with the Israeli Defense Forces.

In addition, many Israeli officers and enlisted personnel attend U.S. military schools such as the National War College, where they can acquire essential professional skills and build life-long relationships with their U.S. military and other foreign counterparts.

Third, the United States supports Israel’s defense needs through both our government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program and Direct Commercial Sales, including releasing advanced products restricted to only the closest of allies and partners. In the past few years, we have notified Congress of a number of significant sales aimed at preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge, most notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35’s advanced capabilities will prove a key contribution to upholding Israel’s QME for many years to come.

Israel further benefits from a War Reserve Stockpile, which is maintained in Israel by U.S. European Command and used to boost Israeli defenses in case of a significant military emergency. And like many of our partners overseas, Israel is also able to access millions of dollars in free or discounted military equipment each year through the Department of Defense’s Excess Defense Articles program.

Fourth, the United States and Israel have long cooperated in research and development of military equipment. Given the threat Israel faces from short- and medium-range missiles, Israeli air and missile defense systems are an area of particular focus, including the Arrow Weapon System to counter long-range ballistic missile threats and David’s Sling to defend against short-range ballistic missiles. For our part, we are working with Israel to upgrade its Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, which was first deployed during the Gulf War, and have installed advanced radar systems to provide Israel early warning of incoming missiles.

Israeli-origin equipment deployed on Iraqi and Afghan battlefields are protecting American troops every day. This includes armor plating technology for U.S. military vehicles and unique medical solutions such as the “Israeli bandage” – a specially designed antibiotic-treated dressing that has been used widely by our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes sensors, surveillance equipment, unmanned aerial vehicle technology, and detection devices to seek out IED’s. Many such partnerships and investments between our two governments and U.S. and Israeli defense firms have yielded important groundbreaking innovations that ultimately make us all safer.

What I have laid out here represents the core pillars of U.S.-Israeli security cooperation. But given the breadth of our relationship, I have only really begun to scratch the surface. The United States and Israel are also working closely in a series of other activities to enhance our shared security, from efforts to shut down the vast network of tunnels being used to rearm Hamas to tracking and combating terrorist financing, to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials through the Proliferation Security Initiative.

A prime example can be found in our joint effort to prevent and interdict the illicit trafficking of arms, ammunition and weapons components into Gaza. In 2009, the United States and Israel began intensive consultations to address this threat, a top agenda item whenever we meet for bilateral security talks. These efforts have since expanded into a wider international effort under the Gaza Counter Arms Smuggling Initiative – or GCASI. Under this multi-national partnership, the United States joins Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway and the UK – along with Israel and Egypt – to employ a broad range of diplomatic, military, intelligence and law enforcement tools to block the shipment of arms – including rockets, missiles and related components – into Gaza, safeguarding neighboring Israeli communities and promoting regional security.

A New Level of Security Cooperation

But what I really want to emphasize is that this Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is more than just a continuation and strengthening of existing policies. Rather, we have been cultivating new ways to ensure Israel’s security and enhance our bilateral political-military relationship.

During the past year, there has been an unprecedented reinvigoration of bilateral defense consultations through nearly continuous high-level discussions and visits. We have re-energized structured dialogues such as the U.S.-Israel Joint Political-Military Group and the Defense Policy Advisory Group, among others. I lead the U.S. government’s discussions within the Joint Political-Military Group (JPMG), which includes representatives from both the State Department and Pentagon on the U.S. side and the Foreign and Defense Ministries on the Israeli side. The JPMG discussions cover a wide range of political-military topics, including first and foremost maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge. Meanwhile, the DoD-led Defense Policy Advisory Group provides a high-level forum dedicated to enhancing defense policy coordination.

This only reflects what we have been doing publicly with our Israeli partners. Just as important as this public cooperation and collaboration is what you don’t see. For instance, our regular and well-established meetings have recently been supplemented by an unprecedented number of intimate consultations at senior levels of our governments. These small, private sessions allow us to frankly discuss a wide range of current security concerns ranging from defense procurement to regional security. These consultations provide an opportunity for our governments to share perspectives on policies, address mutual concerns, explain threat perceptions, and identify new areas for cooperation. Our constant communication with the Government of Israel over the past year has helped us to more fully understand and appreciate the many unique security challenges that Israel must live with each and every day.

Let me now turn to another area where we are deepening our security relationship with Israel. The rocket threats from Hezbollah and Hamas represent the most immediate challenge. This is a very real daily concern for ordinary Israelis living in border towns such as Sderot, who know that a rocket fired from Gaza may come crashing down at any moment. As a Senator, President Obama travelled to Israel and met with families whose homes had been destroyed by rockets. So the President understands this threat. Secretary Clinton understands it. And I understand it.

That is why earlier this spring, the President asked Congress to authorize $205 million to support the production of an Israeli-developed short range rocket defense system called Iron Dome. This $205 million for Iron Dome, which has been authorized by the House, is above and beyond the $3 billion in Foreign Military Financing that the Administration requested for Israel in FY 2011. One of my colleagues in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs recently had a chance to see the Iron Dome training battery while in Israel for bilateral consultations, and was able to witness a simulation of the system’s promising new capabilities.

Iron Dome will be part of comprehensive layered defense against the threat of short range rockets fired at the Israeli population. This funding will allow Israel to expand and accelerate Iron Dome production and deployment to provide timely improvements to their multi-tiered defense. This step is one in a series that demonstrates the strength of our mutual defense relationship and shows how serious we are about ensuring that our enhanced security dialogues translate into action.

Iron Dome fills a gap in Israel’s multi-tiered defense system. Israel has conducted thorough tests of Iron Dome components and we’ve conducted an evaluation of our own. We are confident that Iron Dome will provide improved defense for the people of Israel.

Helping to make Israel’s population more secure from the short range rocket and missile threat its border towns face is not only the right thing to do, but it is the type of strategic step that is good for Israel’s security and for the United States’ interests in the region.

Bolstering Israel’s security against the rocket threat will not by itself facilitate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Conversely, a two-state solution will not in and of itself bring an end to these threats. But our support for Iron Dome and similar efforts do provide Israel with the capabilities and the confidence that it needs to take the tough decisions ahead for a comprehensive peace.

U.S. support for Israel’s security is much more than a simple act of friendship. We are fully committed to Israel’s security because it enhances our own national security and because it helps Israel to take the steps necessary for peace. As Secretary Clinton has suggested, we cannot entrust Israel’s future to the status quo. And the most certain way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic state is through a sustainable regional peace.

We will also continue to support our words with concrete actions. The U.S.-Israel security relationship is too important to be anything less than a top priority. As surely as the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable, our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge has never been greater. And I can assure you that under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, our relationship will always receive the time, attention and focus that it deserves.

Thank you for your time and attention this morning. I look forward to your questions.

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Preceding provided by U.S. State Department