It Can't Happen Here -- Or Can It?

For some reason, I've been reading Sinclair Lewis's 1935 classic novel It Can't Happen Here. Read his description of a demagogic president elected in 1936:

Vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and his "ideas" idiotic [he would] jab his crowds with figures and facts -- figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happens, they were entirely incorrect ... while he innocently presented as his own warm hearted Democratic inventions, every anti-libertarian, anti-Semitic madness of Europe ... he was the Common Man 20-times-magnified by his oratory, so that while the other Commoners could understand his every purpose, which was exactly the same as their own, they saw him towering among them, and they raised hands to him in worship.

Remind you of anyone?

President Obama's last White House Hanukkah Party. This was the Obama administration's last Hanukkah reception, and many of us have still not come to terms with the enormity of the November election. 

Yet the message of the evening was one of hope for better days to come. President Barack Obama said it best: "The story of this community and the work you continue to do to repair the world forever reminds us to have faith that there are brighter days ahead ... Even in our darkest moments, a stubborn flame of hope flickers, and miracles are possible ... the Menorah we light today is a testament to such resilient optimism."

President Obama quoted from President George Washington's letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, reminding us that the United States "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

Let's remember the president's words for the next four years. We cannot give in to despair. We cannot give up. But also cannot let our rage -- even as we are and should be outraged each day -- prevent us from engaging with and understanding those who think differently from us. We lost, but we are not defeated. We will be back in the White House.

Danielle Hertz, Jarrod Bernstein, Matt Nosenchuk and Chanan Weissman, the White House liaisons to the Jewish community who did so much important work with the Jewish community during the Obama administration, deserve our special thanks. They are outstanding people and exemplars of what it means to be Jewish and engage in public service.

The Jewish Insider summarized the highlights of both Hanukkah parties, along with lists of machers spotted at each party, and this Hanukkah message from the White House contains clips and key messages from both parties. The mood was at times bittersweet, but I came home even more determined to make things right.

After the Hanukkah Party, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) hosted a Hanukkah reception at the Library of Congress. Rabbi Levi Shemtov thanked her for her service to the United States, Israel and the Jewish community, noting that putting politics aside, she "will always be our chairman." The room erupted in applause; we all agreed. 

The Iran Sanctions Act renewal became law. This was congressional recklessness at its worst. There was no reason to renew this legislation; if sanctions against Iran become necessary, Congress could have easily imposed sanctions at that time. Instead, Congress needlessly gave Iran an opportunity to claim that the U.S. was acting in bad faith. The legislation passed by overwhelming margins, so rather than veto it, President Obama let it go into law without his signature, sending a message to Iran that the president disapproves of this action.

Secretary of State John Kerry then renewed existing waivers "to ensure maximum clarity and convey to all stakeholders that the United States will continue to uphold our commitments under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]."

At the White House Hanukkah briefing the morning of the parties, we were told that Kerry believes that true diplomacy requires seeing the world through different people's eyes.

Let's hope that Congress behaves more responsibly when we have a president who might be less inclined to behave responsibly. Last week, the Arms Control Association explained why dismantling the Iran Deal would be dangerous and unwise. When you hear the words "rigorously enforce the deal," refer back to this article. The U.S. must enforce the deal and cannot trust Iran, but we have a lot to lose if "rigorous enforcement" becomes code for causing the deal to collapse.

An undiplomatic choice for ambassador. David Friedman is Trump's choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel. The Israel Policy Forum said that Friedman's policies, "which represent a radical departure from decades of U.S. policy," would be "disastrous for Israel."

Friedman, writes Daniel Kurtzer (who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under George W. Bush), "would be representing not the American people but a small, extreme minority of Americans who have in mind the interests of a small, extreme minority in Israel." 

Friedman has no diplomatic experience, has called President Obama an anti-Semite, has called J Street "kapos," opposes a two-state solution, supports settlement growth, and supports moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

The Senate should reject Friedman's nomination. As David Straub writes, "It does absolutely no good for the Senate to announce it takes anti-Semitism seriously, than immediately confirm someone who flouts the spirit of the standard they just articulated."

J.J. Goldberg writes that Friedman's appointment does not necessarily mean that Trump will move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and Aaron David Miller explains why moving the embassy now is unwise. 

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