Desert Storm, the Last Classic War

August 7, 2015

Last Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of the Gulf War. Fought swiftly and successfully, today it looks like something of an anomaly, but its lessons remain valuable.

An Op-Ed by Richard Nathan Haass

Former Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State and advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Richard Nathan Haass

Richard Nathan Haass

It was mid-July 1990, and for several days the U.S. intelligence community had been watching Saddam Hussein mass his forces along Iraq’s border with Kuwait. Most of us in the administration of President George H.W. Bush—I was then the top Middle East specialist on the National Security Council—believed that this was little more than a late-20th-century version of gunboat diplomacy. We figured that Saddam was bluffing to pressure his wealthy but weak neighbor to the south into reducing its oil output.

Iraq was desperate for higher oil prices, given the enormous cost of the just-concluded decadelong war with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran and Saddam’s own ambitions for regional primacy. Saddam’s fellow Arab leaders, for their part, were advising the Bush administration to stay calm and let things play out to the peaceful outcome they expected. In late July, Saddam met for the first time with April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and her cable back to Washington reinforced the view that this was all an elaborate bit of geopolitical theater.

But by Aug. 1—25 years ago this week—it had become apparent that Saddam was amassing far more military forces than he would need simply to intimidate Kuwait. The White House hastily assembled senior staff from the intelligence community and the Departments of State and Defense. After hours of inconclusive talk, we agreed that the best chance for avoiding some sort of Iraqi military action would be for President Bush to call Saddam. I was asked to pitch this idea to my boss, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and the president.

I rushed over to Gen. Scowcroft’s small West Wing office and brought him up to speed on the deliberations. The two of us then walked over to the East Wing, the living quarters of the White House (as opposed to the working part). President Bush was in the sick bay, getting a sore shoulder tended to after hitting a bucket of golf balls. I briefed him on the latest intelligence and diplomacy, as well the recommendation that he reach out to Saddam.

We were all skeptical that it would work but figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. The conversation shifted to how best to reach the Iraqi leader—a more complicated task than one might think since it was 2 a.m. on Aug. 2 in Baghdad.

We were going through the options when the phone rang. It wasRobert Kimmitt, the acting secretary of state, saying that his department had just received word from the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait that an Iraqi invasion was under way. “So much for calling Saddam,” said the president grimly.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the first major crisis of the post-Cold War world had begun. Looking back on that conflict, which stretched out over the better part of the following year, it now has a classic feel to it—very much at odds with the decidedly nonclassic era unfolding in today’s Middle East. But the Gulf War is still worth remembering, not only because its outcome got the post-Cold War era off to a good start but also because it drove home a number of lessons that remain as relevant as ever.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait had taken us by surprise, and it took a few days for the administration to find its bearings. The first National Security Council meeting chaired by the president on Aug. 2—the day of the invasion—was disheartening since the cabinet-level officials couldn’t reach a consensus on what to do. To make matters worse, the president said publicly that military intervention wasn’t being considered. He meant it only in the most literal sense—i.e., that it was premature to start going down that path—but the press interpreted him to mean that he had taken a military response off the table. He hadn’t.

As the meeting ended, I went over to Gen. Scowcroft, who looked at least as worried and unhappy as I did. We quickly agreed that the meeting had been a debacle. He and the president were about to board Air Force One for Aspen, where the president was to give a long-scheduled speech on nuclear weapons and meet with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Gen. Scowcroft asked me to produce a memo for himself and the president outlining the stakes and the potential courses of action, including a U.S.-led military response. I returned to my office and typed away. “I am [as] aware as you are of just how costly and risky such a conflict would prove to be,” I wrote. “But so too would be accepting this new status quo. We would be setting a terrible precedent—one that would only accelerate violent centrifugal tendencies—in this emerging post-Cold War era.”

A second NSC meeting was held when the president returned the next day. It was as focused and good as the first one had been inchoate and bad. The president wanted to lead off the session to make clear that the U.S. response to this crisis would not be business as usual, but Gen. Scowcroft, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (filling in for James Baker, who happened to be in Siberia with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze) and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney all argued that once the commander in chief spoke, it would be impossible to have an open and honest exchange.

The president reluctantly agreed to hold back. Instead, those three top advisers opened the meeting by making the strategic and economic case that Saddam couldn’t be allowed to get away with the conquest of Kuwait. Nobody dissented. A policy was coming into focus.

The next day (Saturday, Aug. 4), much the same group (now including Secretary Baker) met at Camp David for the first detailed discussion of military options. Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led off, after which Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (who oversaw U.S. Central Command) gave a detailed assessment of Iraq’s military strengths and weaknesses, along with some initial thoughts about what the U.S. could do quickly. What emerged was a consensus around introducing U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia to prevent a bad situation from getting far worse—and to deter Saddam from attacking another oil-rich neighbor. A delegation headed by Mr. Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates would go to Saudi Arabia to make the arrangements.

The U.S. had already put economic sanctions in place and frozen the assets of both Iraq and Kuwait (in the latter case, to ensure that they wouldn’t be looted). The U.N. Security Council—including China and the Soviet Union, with their vetoes—had called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from all of Kuwait.

After the meeting at Camp David, everyone but the president hustled back to Washington. He didn’t return until the next afternoon. Gen. Scowcroft called to tell me that he couldn’t be there when the president’s helicopter touched down and asked me to meet Marine One and let the president know what was going on. I hurriedly summarized the latest on a single page and borrowed a navy blazer, arriving on the South Lawn just moments before the president.

Once on the ground, President Bush motioned me over and read my update on the military and diplomatic state of play. He scowled as we huddled. Saddam was showing no signs of backing off, and the president had grown tired of assurances from Arab leaders that they could work things out diplomatically if just given the chance. The president was also frustrated with press criticism that the administration wasn’t doing enough. After our brief discussion, he stalked over to the eagerly waiting White House press corps and unloaded with one of the most memorable phrases of his presidency: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

The stage was thus set for the next six months. Diplomacy and economic sanctions failed to dislodge Saddam. In mid-January, Operation Desert Shield—the deployment of some 500,000 U.S. troops, along with their equipment, to the region to protect Saudi Arabia and prepare to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait—gave way to Operation Desert Storm. The administration not only won U.N. assent for its bold course but also assembled a global coalition, stretching from Australia to Syria, for the military effort. In the end, it took six weeks of air power and four days of land war to free Kuwait and restore the status quo that had prevailed before Saddam’s invasion.

Those days seem distant from what we now face in the Middle East, with virtual anarchy in much of the region and jihadist extremists holding large stretches of territory. But the Gulf War is not just ancient history. Its main lessons are still well worth heeding.

Economic sanctions can only do so much. Even sweeping sanctions supported by much of the world couldn’t persuade Saddam to vacate Kuwait—any more than they have persuaded Russia, Iran or North Korea to reverse major policies of their own in recent years. Moreover, sanctions against Iraq and Cuba demonstrate that sanctions can have the unintended consequence of increasing government domination of an economy.

Assumptions are dangerous things. The administration of George H.W. Bush (myself included) was late in realizing that Saddam would actually invade Kuwait—and too optimistic in predicting that he would be unable to survive his defeat in Kuwait. Just over a decade later, several assumptions made by a second Bush administration proved terribly costly in Iraq. So did later rosy assumptions made by the Obama administration as it pulled out of Iraq, staged a limited intervention in Libya, encouraged the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and called for regime change in Syria.

Multilateralism constrains the U.S., but it can yield big dividends.Broad participation ensures a degree of burden-sharing. Due to contributions from the Gulf states and Japan, the Gulf War ended up costing the U.S. little or nothing financially. Multilateralism—in this case, the support of the U.N. Security Council—can also generate political support within the U.S. and around the world; it supplies a source of legitimacy often judged missing when the U.S. acts alone.

Even successful policies can have unforeseen negative consequences. Our one-sided military victory in the Gulf War may have persuaded others to avoid conventional battlefield confrontations with the U.S. Instead, urban terrorism has become the approach of choice for many in the Middle East, while other enemies (such as North Korea) have opted for nuclear deterrence to ensure that they stay in power.

Limited goals are often wise. They may not transform a situation, but they have the advantage of being desirable, doable and affordable. Ambitious goals may promise more, but delivering on them can prove impossible. The U.S. got into trouble in Korea in 1950 when it was not content with liberating the south and marched north of the 38th parallel in an expensive and unsuccessful attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.

In the Gulf War, President Bush was often criticized for limiting U.S. objectives to what the U.N. Security Council and Congress had signed up for: kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. Many argued that we should have “gone on to Baghdad.” But as the U.S. learned the hard way a decade later in Afghanistan and Iraq, getting rid of a bad regime is easy compared with building a better, enduring alternative. In foreign lands, modest goals can be ambitious enough. Local realities almost always trump inside-the-Beltway abstractions.

There is no substitute for U.S. leadership. The world is not self-organizing; no invisible hand creates order in the geopolitical marketplace. The Gulf War demonstrated that it takes the visible hand of the U.S. to galvanize world action.

Similarly, there is no substitute for presidential leadership. The Senate nearly voted against going to war with Iraq 25 years ago—even though the U.S. was implementing U.N. resolutions that the Senate had sought. The country cannot have 535 secretaries of state or defense if it hopes to lead.

Be wary of wars of choice. The 1991 Gulf War—unlike the 2003 Iraq war—was a war of necessity. Vital U.S. interests were at stake, and after multilateral sanctions and intensive diplomacy came up short, only the military option remained. But most future U.S. wars are likely to be wars of choice: The interests at stake will tend to be important but not vital, or policy makers will have options besides military force. Such decisions about the discretionary use of force tend to be far harder to make—and far harder to defend if, as is often the case, the war and its aftermath turn out to be more costly and less successful than its architects predict.

The historical impact of the Gulf War turned out to be smaller than many imagined at the time—including President Bush, who hoped that the war would usher in a new age of global cooperation after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The U.S. enjoyed a degree of pre-eminence that couldn’t last. China’s rise, post-Soviet Russia’s alienation, technological innovation, American political dysfunction, two draining wars in the wake of 9/11—all contributed to the emergence of a world in which power is more widely distributed and decision-making more decentralized.

The Gulf War looks today like something of an anomaly: short and sharp, with a clear start and finish; focused on resisting external aggression, not nation-building; and fought on battlefields with combined arms, not in cities by special forces and irregulars. Most unusual of all in light of what would follow, the war was multilateral, inexpensive and successful. Even the principle for which the Gulf War was fought—the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by military means—has been drawn into question recently by the international community’s passivity in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

It is a stretch to tie the events of 1990-91 to the mayhem that is the Middle East today. The pathologies of the region—along with the 2003 Iraq war and the mishandling of its aftermath, the subsequent pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, the 2011 Libya intervention and the continuing U.S. failure to act in Syria—all do more to explain the mess.

The Gulf War was a signal success of American foreign policy. It avoided what clearly would have been a terrible outcome—letting Saddam get away with a blatant act of territorial acquisition and perhaps come to dominate much of the Middle East. But it was a short-lived triumph, and it could neither usher in a “new world order,” as President Bush hoped, nor save the Middle East from itself.

This article appears in full in The Wall Street Journal by permission of its original publisher.

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The Meaning of Israel: A Personal View

January 15, 2014

In light of the obsessive, hypocritical focus by several scholarly groups taking aim at Israel, not to mention the permanent chorus of Israel’s detractors both here and abroad, David Harris wants to offer a totally different view of the Jewish state. This is a time to stand up and speak out.

An op-ed by David Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, January 15, 2014

Against the backdrop of recent efforts in some academic circles to vilify and isolate Israel, let me put my cards on the table right up front. I’m not dispassionate when it comes to Israel. Quite the contrary.

The establishment of the state in 1948; the fulfillment of its envisioned role as home and haven for Jews from around the world; its wholehearted embrace of democracy and the rule of law; and its impressive scientific, cultural, and economic achievements are accomplishments beyond my wildest imagination.

For centuries, Jews around the world prayed for a return to Zion. We are the lucky ones who have seen those prayers answered. I am grateful to witness this most extraordinary period in Jewish history and Jewish sovereignty.

And when one adds the key element, namely, that all this took place not in the Middle West but in the Middle East, where Israel’s neighbors determined from day one to destroy it through any means available to them—from full-scale wars to wars of attrition; from diplomatic isolation to international delegitimation; from primary to secondary to even tertiary economic boycotts; from terrorism to the spread of anti-Semitism, often thinly veiled as anti-Zionism—the story of Israel’s first 65 years becomes all the more remarkable.

No other country has faced such a constant challenge to its very right to exist, even though the age-old biblical, spiritual, and physical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is unique in the annals of history.

Indeed,  that connection is of a totally different character from the basis on which, say, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the bulk of Latin American countries were established, that is, by Europeans with no legitimate claim to those lands who decimated indigenous populations and proclaimed their own authority. Or, for that matter, North African countries that were conquered and occupied by Arab-Islamic invaders and totally redefined in their national character.

No other country has faced such overwhelming odds against its very survival, or experienced the same degree of never-ending international demonization by too many nations that throw integrity and morality to the wind, and slavishly follow the will of the energy-rich and more numerous Arab states.

Yet Israelis have never succumbed to a fortress mentality, never abandoned their deep yearning for peace with their neighbors or willingness to take unprecedented risks to achieve that peace, never lost their zest for life, and never flinched from their determination to build a vibrant, democratic state.

This story of nation-building is entirely without precedent.

 Here was a people brought to the brink of utter destruction by the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany and its allies. Here was a people shown to be utterly powerless to influence a largely indifferent world to stop, or even slow down, the Final Solution. And here was a people, numbering barely 600,000, living cheek-by-jowl with often hostile Arab neighbors, under unsympathetic British occupation, on a harsh soil with no significant natural resources other than human capital in then Mandatory Palestine.

That the blue-and-white flag of an independent Israel could be planted on this land, to which the Jewish people had been intimately linked since the time of Abraham, just three years after the Second World War’s end—and with the support of a decisive majority of UN members at the time—truly boggles the mind.

And what’s more, that this tiny community of Jews, including survivors of the Holocaust who had somehow made their way to Mandatory Palestine despite the British blockade, could successfully defend themselves against the onslaught of five Arab standing armies that launched their attack on Israel’s first day of existence, is almost beyond imagination.

To understand the essence of Israel’s meaning, it is enough to ask how the history of the Jewish people might have been different had there been a Jewish state in 1933, in 1938, or even in 1941. If Israel had controlled its borders and the right of entry instead of Britain, if Israel had had embassies and consulates throughout Europe, how many more Jews might have escaped and found sanctuary?

Instead, Jews had to rely on the goodwill of embassies and consulates of other countries and, with woefully few exceptions, they found there neither the “good” nor the “will” to assist.

I witnessed firsthand what Israeli embassies and consulates meant to Jews drawn by the pull of Zion or the push of hatred. I stood in the courtyard of the Israeli embassy in Moscow and saw thousands of Jews seeking a quick exit from a Soviet Union in the throes of cataclysmic change, fearful that the change might be in the direction of renewed chauvinism and anti-Semitism.

Awestruck, I watched up-close as Israel never faltered, not even for a moment, in transporting Soviet Jews to the Jewish homeland, even as Scud missiles launched from Iraq traumatized the nation in 1991. It says a lot about the conditions they were leaving behind that these Jews continued to board planes for Tel Aviv while missiles were exploding in Israeli population centers. In fact, on two occasions I sat in sealed rooms with Soviet Jewish families who had just arrived in Israel during these missile attacks. Not once did any of them question their decision to establish new lives in the Jewish state. And equally, it says a lot about Israel that, amid all the pressing security concerns, it managed to continue to welcome these new immigrants without missing a beat.

And how can I ever forget the surge of pride—Jewish  pride—that  completely enveloped me in July 1976 on hearing the astonishing news of Israel’s daring rescue of the 106 Jewish hostages held by Arab and German terrorists in Entebbe, Uganda, over 2,000 miles from Israel’s borders? The unmistakable message: Jews in danger will never again be alone, without hope, and totally dependent on others for their safety.

Not least, I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, my very first visit to Israel. It was in 1970, and I was not quite 21 years old.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I recall being quite emotional from the moment I boarded the El Al plane to the very first glimpse of the Israeli coastline from the plane’s window. As I disembarked, I surprised myself by wanting to kiss the ground. In the ensuing weeks, I marveled at everything I saw. To me, it was as if every apartment building, factory, school, orange grove, and Egged bus was nothing less than a miracle. A state, a Jewish state, was unfolding before my very eyes.

After centuries of persecutions, pogroms, exiles, ghettos, pales of settlement, inquisitions, blood libels, forced conversions, discriminatory legislation, and immigration restrictions—and, no less, after centuries of prayers, dreams, and yearning—the Jews had come back home and were  the masters of their own fate.

I was overwhelmed by the mix of people, backgrounds, languages, and lifestyles, and by the intensity of life itself. Everyone, it seemed, had a compelling story to tell. There were Holocaust survivors with harrowing tales of their years in the camps. There were Jews from Arab countries, whose stories of persecution in such countries as Iraq, Libya, and Syria were little known at the time. There were the first Jews arriving from the USSR seeking repatriation in the Jewish homeland. There were the sabras—native-born Israelis—many of whose families had lived in Palestine for generations. There were local Arabs, both Christian and Muslim. There were Druze, whose religious practices are kept secret from the outside world. The list goes on and on.

I was moved beyond words by the sight of Jerusalem and the fervor with which Jews of all backgrounds prayed at the Western Wall. Coming from a nation that was at the time deeply divided and demoralized, I found my Israeli peers to be unabashedly proud of their country, eager to serve in the military, and, in many cases, determined to volunteer for the most elite combat units. They felt personally involved in the enterprise of building a Jewish state, more than 1,800 years after the  Romans defeated the Bar Kochba revolt,  the last Jewish attempt at sovereignty on this very land.

To be sure, nation-building is an infinitely complex process. In Israel’s case,  it began against a backdrop of tensions with a local Arab population that laid claim to the very same land, and tragically refused a UN proposal to divide the land into Arab and Jewish states; as the Arab world sought to isolate, demoralize, and ultimately destroy the state; as Israel’s population doubled in the first three years of the country’s existence, putting an unimaginable strain on severely limited resources; as the nation was forced to devote a vast portion of its limited national budget to defense expenditures; and as the country coped with forging a national identity and social consensus among a population that could not have been more geographically, linguistically, socially, and culturally heterogeneous.

Moreover, there is the tricky and underappreciated issue of the potential clash between the messy realities of statehood and, in this case, the ideals and faith of a people. It is one thing for a people to live their religion as a minority; it is quite another to exercise sovereignty as the majority population while remaining true to one’s ethical standards. Inevitably, tension will arise between a people’s spiritual or moral self-definition and the exigencies of statecraft, between our highest concepts of human nature and the daily realities of individuals in decision-making positions wielding power and balancing a variety of competing interests.

Even so, shall we raise the bar so high as to ensure that Israel—forced to function in the often gritty, morally ambiguous world of international relations and politics, especially as a small, still endangered state—will always fall short?

Yet, the notion that Israel would ever become ethically indistinguishable from any other country, reflexively seeking cover behind the convenient justification of realpolitik to explain its behavior, is equally unacceptable.

Israelis, with only 65 years of statehood under their belts, are among the newer practitioners of statecraft. With all its remarkable success, consider the daunting political, social, and economic challenges in the United States 65 or even 165 years after independence, or, for that matter, the challenges it faces today, including stubborn social inequalities. And let’s not forget that the United States, unlike Israel, is a vast country blessed with abundant natural resources, oceans on two-and-a half sides, a gentle neighbor to the north, and a weaker neighbor to the south.

Like any vibrant democracy, America is a permanent work in progress. The same holds true for Israel. Loving Israel as I do, though, doesn’t mean overlooking its shortcomings, including the excessive and unholy intrusion of religion into politics, the marginalization of non-Orthodox Jewish religious streams, the dangers posed by political and religious zealots, and the unfinished, if undeniably complex, task of integrating Israeli Arabs into the mainstream.

But it also doesn’t mean allowing such issues to overshadow Israel’s remarkable achievements, accomplished, as I’ve said, under the most difficult of circumstances.

In just 65 years, Israel has built a thriving democracy, unique in the region, including a Supreme Court prepared, when it deems appropriate, to overrule the prime minister or the military establishment, a feisty parliament that includes every imaginable viewpoint along the political spectrum, a robust civil society, and a vigorous press.

It has built an economy whose per capita GNP exceeds the combined total of its four contiguous sovereign neighbors—Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

It has built universities and research centers that have contributed to advancing the world’s frontiers of knowledge in countless ways, and won a slew of Nobel Prizes in the process.

It has built one of the world’s most powerful militaries—always under civilian control, I might add—to ensure its survival in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood. It has shown the world how a tiny nation, no larger than New Jersey or Wales, can, by sheer ingenuity, will, courage, and commitment, defend itself against those who would destroy it through conventional armies or armies of suicide bombers. And it has done all this while striving to adhere to a strict code of military conduct that has few rivals in the democratic world, much less elsewhere—in the face of an enemy prepared to send children to the front lines and seek cover in mosques, schools, and hospitals.

It has built a quality of life that ranks it among the world’s healthiest nations and with a particularly high life expectancy, indeed higher than that of the U.S.

It has built a thriving culture, whose musicians, writers, and artists are admired far beyond Israel’s borders. In doing so, it has lovingly taken an ancient language, Hebrew, the language of the prophets, and rendered it modern to accommodate the vocabulary of the contemporary world.

It has built a climate of respect for other faith groups, including Baha’i, Christianity and Islam, and their places of worship. Can any other nation in the area make the same claim?

It has built an agricultural sector that has had much to teach developing nations about turning an arid soil into fields of fruits, vegetables, cotton, and flowers.

Step back from the twists and turns of the daily information overload coming from the Middle East and consider the sweep of the last 65 years. Look at the light-years traveled since the darkness of the Holocaust, and marvel at the miracle of a decimated people returning to a tiny sliver of land—the land of our ancestors, the land of Zion and Jerusalem—and successfully building a modern, vibrant state against all the odds, on that ancient foundation.

In the final analysis, then, the story of Israel is the wondrous realization of a 3,500-year link among a land, a faith, a language, a people, and a vision. It is an unparalleled story of tenacity and determination, of courage and renewal.

And it is ultimately a metaphor for the triumph of enduring hope over the temptation of despair.


American Jewish Committee begrüßt Stellenwert Israels im Koalitionsvertrag: „Sicherheit Israels für uns nicht verhandelbar“.

December 2, 2013

Pressemitteilung

Berlin, den 02.12.2013

Das American Jewish Committee (AJC) begrüßt das deutliche Bekenntnis zu Deutschlands Verantwortung für die Sicherheit Israels im Koalitionsvertrag und wertet die Aussagen als wichtiges Fundament für den Ausbau der deutsch-israelischen Beziehungen. Zugleich mahnt das AJC vor dem Hintergrund der jüngsten EU-Antisemitismusstudie die zügige Umsetzung des Bundestags-Maßnahmenbeschlusses an.

„Dass in diesem Koalitionsvertrag noch stärker als in der vergangenen Vereinbarung von 2009 die besondere Verpflichtung Deutschlands für den Schutz der Sicherheit Israels betont wird, zeigt den besonderen Stellenwert der deutsch-israelischen Beziehungen auf. Wir begrüßen zudem, dass die Feierlichkeiten zum 50-jährigen Jubiläum der Aufnahme diplomatischer Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und Israel für das Jahr 2015 im Koalitionsvertrag hervorgehoben werden und das deutsch-israelische Verhältnis dadurch eine besondere Würdigung erhält“, so Deidre Berger, Direktorin des AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations.

Im Koalitionsvertrag heißt es: „Wir bekennen uns zu der besonderen Verantwortung Deutschlands gegenüber Israel als jüdischem und demokratischem Staat und dessen Sicherheit. Das Existenzrecht und die Sicherheit Israels sind für uns nicht verhandelbar. 2015 feiern wir das 50-jährige Jubiläum der Aufnahme diplomatischer Beziehungen zum Staat Israel. Dieses Jubiläum wird die Bundesregierung angemessen würdigen.“

Auch die transatlantischen Beziehungen werden im Vertrag besonders betont.

„Ein wichtiges Signal angesichts der jüngsten Spionage-Diskussionen“, sagte Berger weiter.

Beim Thema Antisemitismus und Rechtsextremismus wollen CDU/CSU und SPD zivilgesellschaftliche Initiativen und Programme verstetigen. Weitergehende Umsetzungsstrategien zum Thema Antisemitismus finden sich im Koalitionsvertrag jedoch nicht. Erst am 13. Juni beschloss der Deutsche Bundestag einen fraktionsübergreifenden Antrag zum Thema Antisemitismus. Die Resolution forderte die Bundesregierung dazu auf, den Maßnahmen-Katalog zur Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus umzusetzen.

„Die Ergebnisse der jüngsten EU-Studie, wonach mehr als 63% der deutschen Juden angaben, das Tragen jüdischer Symbole aus Angst vor Antisemitismus zu vermeiden, erhöhen den Handlungsdruck. Es braucht nun einen Umsetzungsplan der beschlossenen Maßnahmen, auch damit die Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus verbindlicher und kontinuierlicher erfolgen kann“, sagte Berger weiter.

Der Bundestags-Beschluss vom 13. Juni sieht unter anderem Förderprogramme zum deutsch-israelischen Austausch, Maßnahmen zur Unterstützung von Holocaust-Überlebenden durch deutsche Jugendliche und eine bessere Darstellung jüdischen Lebens im deutschen Schulunterricht vor.

Zum Thema Ghettorente vereinbarten CDU/CSU und SPD, dass „den berechtigten Interessen der Holocaust-Überlebenden nach einer angemessenen Entschädigung für die in einem Ghetto geleistete Arbeit Rechnung getragen wird“.

„Es ist wichtig, dass die zukünftigen Koalitionsparteien endlich eine Lösung beim Thema Ghettorenten erzielen wollen. Nun kommt es darauf an, dass CDU/CSU und SPD in den nächsten drei Monaten einen Umsetzungsplan für das Thema Ghettorenten vorlegen. Die noch wenigen Überlebenden können nicht noch länger warten, um verspätete Entschädigungszahlungen zu bekommen“, so Berger abschließend.

Pressekontakt

Deidre Berger, Director

Email: berlin@ajc.org

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Berlin Office

Leipziger Platz 15, Mosse Palais

10117 Berlin

Tel.: +49 (0)30 22 65 94-0

Fax: +49 (0)30 22 65 94-14


Anti-Semitism, A Warning Sign for Europe

November 29, 2013

An op-ed by David Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
El Pais, November 29, 2013

davidharris

The European Union has had its share of daunting challenges.

From sluggish growth to punishing austerity, from high levels of unemployment to fears of brain drain, and from volatile political environments to relentless migration, there are more than enough issues to keep EU and national leaders focused 24/7. And while some countries are more at risk than others, the ties that bind the 28 member states mean that no one is entirely immune from the gusty winds and storm clouds.

Now, there is another issue to add to the list. Earlier this month, the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) issued a comprehensive study on the experiences of Jews in eight of the 28 nations – Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom—whose Jews comprise 90% of the EU’s total Jewish population. Nearly 6,000 respondents took part.

Confirming the findings of earlier surveys done by outside groups and local Jewish communities, it raises serious concern. That concern should not be limited to Jews, since when Europe’s Jews feel at risk, the EU as a whole is endangered in two ways.

First, the EU’s laudable commitment to protecting the human dignity of each of its citizens is jeopardized.

And second, the history of anti-Semitism demonstrates that, ultimately, those who target Jews usually have democracy itself, including the rights of minority groups, in their crosshairs. In other words, bigotry may begin with Jews, but it rarely ends with them.

Here are some of the disturbing findings from the just-published FRA report:

Two-thirds of Jewish respondents consider anti-Semitism to be a problem today in their countries.

Three-fourths believe the problem has gotten worse in the past five years.

One-third fears a physical attack against themselves, as Jews, within the next 12 months.

More than one-half claim they personally witnessed an incident where the Holocaust was denied, trivialized, or exaggerated.

Twenty-three percent say they at least occasionally avoid attending Jewish events or visiting Jewish sites because of safety concerns.

And more than 40 percent of those surveyed in Belgium, France, and Hungary indicate they have considered emigrating because of the situation.

Equally troubling, to quote the study, is the following result: “A majority of the victims of anti-Semitic harassment (76%), physical violence or threats (64%), or vandalism of personal property (53%) did not report the most serious incident, namely the one that most affected the respondent, in the past five years to the police or to any other organization.”

In other words, if the majority of victims of anti-Semitic incidents are not even reporting them to the authorities, then they do not have confidence in the system, fear retribution from the perpetrators, are unaware of where to go for help, or have somehow come to accept the bigoted behavior as part of the “price” of being Jewish.

Whatever the explanation, it is unacceptable. Going forward, EU governments should strive mightily to ensure not only a dramatic decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, but also that those that do occur are reported to the proper authorities. Citizens of a democratic society should never have to feel helpless or abandoned.

And it should make no difference if the anti-Semitic act comes from extreme-right, extreme-left, radical Islamic, or other sources. Targeting an individual because of his or her specific group identity – in this case, as a Jew – is a potential hate crime, and should be treated as such.

AJC has devoted many years to developing response strategies to bias incidents, whether against Jews, Christians, Muslims, homosexuals, Africans, or others, and certain things are clear.

First, attitudes of tolerance or intolerance, respect or lack of respect, are formed primarily at home and at a young age.

Second, political leadership counts. Either governments act against bigotry, both symbolically and substantively, or, too often, they end up countenancing or rationalizing it. Neutrality is not an option.

Third, education, if utilized properly, can help teach respect and appreciation for difference. Otherwise, it is a lost opportunity.

Fourth, religious leaders can promote interfaith dialogue and friendship or, conversely, religious obscurantism and triumphalism. Which will it be?

And finally, the police and judiciary must understand the specific nature of hate crimes, collect proper data, and treat cases with the seriousness they merit.

The EU’s FRA report is a wake-up call. Sleeping through it, or pretending not to hear it, is not an option.


Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address 2011

January 26, 2011

In his State of the Union address on January 25, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned a plan for investment in crucial areas like education, high-speed rail, and green technology, as well as reforming the tax code to help the United States meet the challenge of globalization amid relentless competition from rising economies such as China and India.

A Member of Congress reads along as President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 25, 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza)
A Member of Congress reads along as President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber, January 25, 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza)

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” he said in his speech (see full transcript below). At the same time, Obama, who is facing massive deficits, did not call for new programs. Instead, he promised a five-year budget freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, which he said had the prospective to reduce the deficit by $400 billion over ten years.

When Obama did address U.S. foreign policy, he mainly focused on his latest successes – such as ratifying the new START arms control treaty with Russia and the trade agreement with South Korea, and concealed critical issues like drug violence in Mexico, instability in Pakistan, and climate change.

In an op-ed in The New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David E. Sanger argues that one of President Barack Obama’s “subtexts on Tuesday night was that doing big things these days may require a bit more humility, a lot more work, and some international partners that Americans rarely thought about twenty years ago but whose competition they have now grown to fear.”

Read full story.

Nota bene: for full coverage of the Union Address 2011 and more insight, check out also The Wall Street Journal.

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Remarks by the President in State of Union Address
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

January 25, 2011 – 9:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. (Applause.) And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague — and our friend -– Gabby Giffords. (Applause.)

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.  And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.  (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation.  What comes of this moment is up to us.  What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.  (Applause.)

I believe we can.  And I believe we must.  That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties.  New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans.  We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else.  It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded.  It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone.  We measure progress by the success of our people.  By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer.  By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on.Together. (Applause.)

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today.  Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more. These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

 Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors.  If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right. The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real.  But this shouldn’t discourage us.  It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.  (Applause.) No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?  What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still.  As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.”  Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn.  We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time.  We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  (Applause.)  We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.  We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government.  That’s how our people will prosper.  That’s how we’ll win the future.  (Applause.)  And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.  (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.  But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.  That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet.  That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.  Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon.  The science wasn’t even there yet.  NASA didn’t exist.  But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy.  Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company.  After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon.  But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.  Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country.  In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.  And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.  At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause.)  I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.  (Applause.)

 Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.  It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  (Applause.)  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility.  When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.  But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.  (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.  Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver.  Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs.  But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma.  Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”  (Applause.)  That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom.  In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.  (Applause.)  We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  (Applause.)  And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.  (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you.  (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  (Applause.)  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.  Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina.  Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town.  One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too.  As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  (Applause.)

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  (Applause.)  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.  (Applause.)

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America.  To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.  (Applause.)

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.  South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do.  Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.  China is building faster trains and newer airports.  Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

We have to do better.  America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System.  The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement.  They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry.  And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.  (Applause.)

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.  (Applause.)  This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.  For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down.  (Laughter and applause.)  As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.  This isn’t just about — (applause) — this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls.  It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.  It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world.  It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.  But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries.  Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all.  But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and it has to change.  (Applause.)

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.  (Applause.)

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.  Already, our exports are up.  Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States.  And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.  This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans — and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.  (Applause.)

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs.  That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.  (Applause.)

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations.  When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.  (Applause.)  But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people.  (Applause.)  That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century.  It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.  It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.  It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis.  (Applause.)  And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.  (Applause.)

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.  (Laughter.)  So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved.  If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.  We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.  (Applause.)

What I’m not willing to do — what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.  (Applause.)

I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered.  I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees.  As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ — parents’ coverage.  (Applause.)

So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward.  (Applause.)

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago.  And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.  That is not sustainable.  Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.  They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.  (Applause.)  Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts.  Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.  The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.  (Applause.)

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without.  But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  (Applause.)  And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight.  Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.  It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.  (Laughter.)

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget.  To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough.  It won’t.  (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear.  I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress.  And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.  (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.  The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit.  Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.  (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  (Applause.)  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.  (Applause.)

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  (Applause.)  Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success.  (Applause.)

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.  (Applause.)  This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.  (Applause.)

So now is the time to act.  Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done.  If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further.  We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.  We can’t win the future with a government of the past.  (Applause.)

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.  There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports.  There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.  Then there’s my favorite example:  The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.  (Laughter.)  I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste.  Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.  We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more.  But we need to think bigger.  In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.  I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.  (Applause.)

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government.  Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history.  Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.  And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this:  If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.  I will veto it.  (Applause.)

The 21st century government that’s open and competent.  A government that lives within its means.  An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas.  Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation.  It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges.  No single wall separates East and West.  No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion.  And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high.  (Applause.)  American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed.  This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.  America’s commitment has been kept.  The Iraq war is coming to an end.  (Applause.)

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.  Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies.  And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.  (Applause.) 

We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad.  In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces.  Our purpose is clear:  By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency.  There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance.  But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them.  This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead.  And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.  (Applause.)

In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001.  Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield.  Their safe havens are shrinking.  And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe:  We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.  (Applause.)

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war.  Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.  Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.  (Applause.)

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.  And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)

This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity.  With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense.  We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas.  Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it.  In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war.  (Applause.)  Thousands lined up before dawn.  People danced in the streets.  One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him:  “This was a battlefield for most of my life,” he said.  “Now we want to be free.”  (Applause.)

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.  And tonight, let us be clear:  The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.  (Applause.)

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere.  And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.  (Applause.)

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families.  Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us — by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American.  They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim.  And, yes, we know that some of them are gay.  Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.  (Applause.)  And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.  It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past.  It is time to move forward as one nation.  (Applause.)

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy.  All of it will take time.  And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.  The costs.  The details.  The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem.  If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed.  If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era.  It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future.  And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology.  And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help.  And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B.  His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment.  And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour — three or four days at a time without any sleep.  Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued.  (Applause.)  But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged.  He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”  (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

We do big things.  (Applause.)

The idea of America endures.  Our destiny remains our choice.  And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

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

END           10:13 P.M. EST


“How Can You Defend Israel?” Part II

January 2, 2011

An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, Januar 2, 2011

Since writing “How can you defend Israel?” last month, I’ve been deluged by comments. Some have been supportive, others harshly critical. The latter warrant closer examination.

The harsh criticism falls into two basic categories.

One is over the top.

It ranges from denying Israel’s very right to nationhood, to ascribing to Israel responsibility for every global malady, to peddling vague, or not so vague, anti-Semitic tropes.

There’s no point in dwelling at length on card-carrying members of these schools of thought. They’re living on another planet.

Israel is a fact. That fact has been confirmed by the UN, which, in 1947, recommended the creation of a Jewish state. The UN admitted Israel to membership in 1949. The combination of ancient and modern links between Israel and the Jewish people is almost unprecedented in history. And Israel has contributed its share, and then some, to advancing humankind.

If there are those on a legitimacy kick, let them examine the credentials of some others in the region, created by Western mapmakers eager to protect their own interests and ensure friendly leaders in power.

Or let them consider the basis for legitimacy of many countries worldwide created by invasion, occupation, and conquest. Israel’s case beats them by a mile.

And if there are people out there who don’t like all Jews, frankly, it’s their problem, not mine. Are there Jewish scoundrels? You bet. Are there Christian, Muslim, atheist, and agnostic scoundrels? No shortage. But are all members of any such community by definition scoundrels? Only if you’re an out-and-out bigot.

The other group of harsh critics assails Israeli policies, but generally tries to stop short of overt anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism. But many of these relentless critics, at the slightest opportunity, robotically repeat claims about Israel that are not factually correct.

There are a couple of methodological threads that run through their analysis.

The first is called confirmation bias. This is the habit of favoring information that confirms what you believe, whether it’s true or not, and ignoring the rest.

While Israel engages in a full-throttled debate on policies and strategies, rights and wrongs, do Israel’s fiercest critics do the same? Hardly.

Can the chorus of critics admit, for example, that the UN recommended the creation of two states – one Jewish, the other Arab – and that the Jews accepted the proposal, while the Arabs did not and launched a war?

Can they acknowledge that wars inevitably create refugee populations and lead to border adjustments in favor of the (attacked) victors?

Can they recognize that, when the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands until 1967, there was no move whatsoever toward Palestinian statehood?

Can they explain why Arafat launched a “second intifada” just as Israel and the U.S. were proposing a path-breaking two-state solution?

Or what the Hamas Charter says about the group’s goals?

Or what armed-to-the-teeth Hezbollah thinks of Israel’s right to exist?

Or how nuclear-weapons-aspiring Iran views Israel’s future?

Or why President Abbas rejected Prime Minister Olmert’s two-state plan, when the Palestinian chief negotiator himself admitted it would have given his side the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank?

Or why Palestinian leaders refuse to recognize the Western Wall or Rachel’s Tomb as Jewish sites, while demanding recognition of Muslim holy sites?

Or why Israel is expected to have an Arab minority, but a state of Palestine is not expected to have any Jewish minority?

Can they admit that, when Arab leaders are prepared to pursue peace with Israel rather than wage war, the results have been treaties, as the experiences of Egypt and Jordan show?

And can they own up to the fact that when it comes to liberal and democratic values in the region, no country comes remotely close to Israel, whatever its flaws, in protecting these rights?

Apropos, how many other countries in the Middle East – or beyond – would have tried and convicted an ex-president? This was the case, just last week, with Moshe Katsav, sending the message that no one is above the law – in a process, it should be noted, presided over by an Israeli Arab justice.

And if the harsh critics can’t acknowledge any of these points, what’s the explanation? Does their antipathy for Israel – and resultant confirmation bias – blind them to anything that might puncture their airtight thinking?

Then there is the other malady. It’s called reverse causality, or switching cause and effect.

Take the case of Gaza.

These critics focus only on Israel’s alleged actions against Gaza, as if they were the cause of the problem. In reality, they are the opposite – the effect.

When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it gave local residents their first chance in history – I repeat, in history – to govern themselves.

Neighboring Israel had only one concern – security. It wanted to ensure that whatever emerged in Gaza would not endanger Israelis. In fact, the more prosperous, stable, and peaceful Gaza became, the better for everyone. Tragically, Israel’s worst fears were realized. Rather than focus on Gaza’s construction, its leaders – Hamas since 2007 – preferred to contemplate Israel’s destruction. Missiles and mortars came raining down on southern Israel. Israel’s critics, though, were silent. Only when Israel could no longer tolerate the terror did the critics awaken – to focus on Israel’s reaction, not Gaza’s provocative action.

Yet, what would any other nation have done in Israel’s position?

Just imagine terrorists in power in British Columbia – and Washington State’s cities and towns being the regular targets of deadly projectiles. How long would it take for the U.S. to go in and try to put a stop to the terror attacks, and what kind of force would be used?

Or consider the security barrier.

It didn’t exist for nearly 40 years. Then it was built by Israel in response to a wave of deadly attacks originating in the West Bank, with well over 1000 Israeli fatalities (more than 40,000 Americans in proportional terms). Even so, Israel made clear that such barriers cannot only be erected, but also moved and ultimately dismantled.

Yet the outcry of Israel’s critics began not when Israelis were being killed in pizzerias, at Passover Seders, and on buses, but only when the barrier went up.

Another case of reverse causality – ignoring the cause entirely and focusing only on the effect, as if it were a stand-alone issue disconnected from anything else.

So, again, in answer to the question of my erstwhile British colleague, “How can you defend Israel?” I respond: Proudly.

In doing so, I am defending a liberal, democratic, and peace-seeking nation in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood, where liberalism, democracy, and peace are in woefully short supply.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Jerusalem Post.


“How can you defend Israel?”

December 27, 2010

An op-ed by David A. Harris
Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee
The Jerusalem Post, December 27, 2010

I was sitting in a lecture hall at a British university. Bored by the speaker, I began glancing around the hall. I noticed someone who looked quite familiar from an earlier academic incarnation. When the session ended, I introduced myself and wondered if, after years that could be counted in decades, he remembered me.

He said he did, at which point I commented that the years had been good to him. His response: “But you’ve changed a lot.”

“How so?” I asked with a degree of trepidation, knowing that, self-deception aside, being 60 isn’t quite the same as 30.

Looking me straight in the eye, he proclaimed, as others standing nearby listened in, “I read the things you write about Israel. I hate them. How can you defend that country? What happened to the good liberal boy I knew 30 years ago?”

I replied: “That good liberal boy hasn’t changed his view. Israel is a liberal cause, and I am proud to speak up for it.”

Yes, I’m proud to speak up for Israel. A recent trip once again reminded me why.

Sometimes, it’s the seemingly small things, the things that many may not even notice, or just take for granted, or perhaps deliberately ignore, lest it spoil their airtight thinking.

It’s the driving lesson in Jerusalem, with the student behind the wheel a devout Muslim woman, and the teacher an Israeli with a skullcap. To judge from media reports about endless inter-communal conflict, such a scene should be impossible. Yet, it was so mundane that no one, it seemed, other than me gave it a passing glance. It goes without saying that the same woman would not have had the luxury of driving lessons, much less with an Orthodox Jewish teacher, had she been living in Saudi Arabia.

It’s the two gay men walking hand-in-hand along the Tel Aviv beachfront. No one looked at them, and no one questioned their right to display their affection. Try repeating the same scene in some neighboring countries.

It’s the Friday crowd at a mosque in Jaffa. Muslims are free to enter as they please, to pray, to affirm their faith. The scene is repeated throughout Israel. Meanwhile, Christians in Iraq are targeted for death; Copts in Egypt face daily marginalization; Saudi Arabia bans any public display of Christianity; and Jews have been largely driven out of the Arab Middle East.

It’s the central bus station in Tel Aviv. There’s a free health clinic set up for the thousands of Africans who have entered Israel, some legally, others illegally. They are from Sudan, Eritrea, and elsewhere. They are Christians, Muslims, and animists. Clearly, they know something that Israel’s detractors, who rant and rave about alleged “racism,” don’t. They know that, if they’re lucky, they can make a new start in Israel. That’s why they bypass Arab countries along the way, fearing imprisonment or persecution. And while tiny Israel wonders how many such refugees it can absorb, Israeli medical professionals volunteer their time in the clinic.

It’s Save a Child’s Heart, another Israeli institution that doesn’t make it into the international media all that much, although it deserves a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Here, children in need of advanced cardiac care come, often below the radar. They arrive from Iraq, the West Bank, Gaza, and other Arab places. They receive world-class treatment. It’s free, offered by doctors and nurses who wish to assert their commitment to coexistence. Yet, these very same individuals know that, in many cases, their work will go unacknowledged. The families are fearful of admitting they sought help in Israel, even as, thanks to Israelis, their children have been given a new lease on life.

It’s the vibrancy of the Israeli debate on just about everything, including, centrally, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. The story goes that U.S. President Harry Truman met Israeli President Chaim Weizmann shortly after Israel’s establishment in 1948. They got into a discussion about who had the tougher job. Truman said: “With respect, I’m president of 140 million people.” Weizmann retorted: “True, but I’m president of one million presidents.”

Whether it’s the political parties, the Knesset, the media, civil society, or the street, Israelis are assertive, self-critical, and reflective of a wide range of viewpoints.

It’s the Israelis who are now planning the restoration of the Carmel Forest, after a deadly fire killed 44 people and destroyed 8,000 acres of exquisite nature. Israelis took an arid and barren land and, despite the unimaginably harsh conditions, lovingly planted one tree after another, so that Israel can justifiably claim today that it’s one of the few countries with more wooded land than it had a century ago.

It’s the Israelis who, with quiet resolve and courage, are determined to defend their small sliver of land against every conceivable threat – the growing Hamas arsenal in Gaza; the dangerous build-up of missiles by Hezbollah in Lebanon; nuclear-aspiring Iran’s calls for a world without Israel; Syria’s hospitality to Hamas leaders and transshipment of weapons to Hezbollah; and enemies that shamelessly use civilians as human shields. Or the global campaign to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy and right to self-defense; the bizarre anti-Zionist coalition between the radical left and Islamic extremists; the automatic numerical majority at the UN ready to endorse, at a moment’s notice, even the most far-fetched accusations against Israel; and those in the punditocracy unable – or unwilling – to grasp the immense strategic challenges facing Israel.

Yes, it’s those Israelis who, after burying 21 young people murdered by terrorists at a Tel Aviv discotheque, don the uniform of the Israeli armed forces to defend their country, and proclaim, in the next breath, that, “They won’t stop us from dancing, either.”

That’s the country I’m proud to stand up for. No, I’d never say Israel is perfect. It has its flaws and foibles. It’s made its share of mistakes. But, then again, so has every democratic, liberal and peace-seeking country I know, though few of them have faced existential challenges every day since their birth.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, it’s said. Israel is a good country. And seeing it up close, rather than through the filter of the BBC or the Guardian, never fails to remind me why.

Reprinted with kind permission of The Jerusalem Post.