The special guest at this year's White House Hanukkah Party was Israel's President Reuven Rivlin (note the photo credit). This 15-minute video of President Barack Obama, President Rivlin, St. Louis Rabbi Susan Talve, and the candle-lighting ceremony captures some of the excitement.
During Rabbi Talve's rousing speech, she refers to her "sisters who lit these lights at the Kotel this year" at 10:05. Watch President Rivlin applaud. Watch all the whole video. You'll feel good.
Everyone who attended the reception has one man to thank: Matt Nosanchuck, Barack Obama's Jewish flack catcher. Matt will be remembered by history for building support for the Iran deal, but we will also remember him for his menschlichkeit.
Matt chaired the Jewish Community Policy Briefing on a variety of topics with representatives from the State Department and National Security Council earlier in the day. My summary (any mistakes are mine):
There are more than 4 million Syrian refugees, in addition to 6 million Syrians displaced within their own country. In FY 2015, the United States plans to admit a total of 85,000 refugees, of whom only 10,000 will be Syrians. No Syrian refugees who pose security risks will be admitted into the U.S.
Safety is the administration's top priority. The administration realizes that any security incident could compromise the integrity of the entire refugee program. Pausing the process is unnecessary; safety is already built into the system. If you are concerned - -and you should be -- decide for yourself whether the 18-month vetting process is sufficiently stringent.
The administration is negotiating a renewed Memorandum of Understanding with Israel that will continue America's commitment to Israel's security. The negotiations were paused at Israel's request while the Iran deal was debated so that Israel's willingness to accept additional U.S. aid would not be seen as a tacit endorsement of the Iran deal.
Iran will get no sanctions relief until it fully complies with the preconditions outlined in the agreement. The Iran deal has only one purpose: to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran's recent ballistic missile tests are troubling, but while they violate U.N. Security Council Resolutions, they don't violate the Iran deal. Iran's ballistic missile testing, along with its other nefarious activities, must be dealt with. These would be issues with or without the Iran deal.
The Iran deal takes the biggest issue off the table. An Iran that tests ballistic missiles is a problem. An Iran that had nuclear warheads to put on those missiles would be a catastrophe. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action verifiably prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and Iran will not get sanctions relief to the extent it does not comply.
Secretary of State John Kerry's Dec. 5 speech outlines the administration's strategy to defeat ISIL, its approach to Iran, and its approach to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. If you want to disagree with Kerry, at least disagree with the administration's actual positions, not caricatures of the administration's position that we read in the right-wing press. If all I knew about Kerry and Obama was what I read on Facebook, I'd probably oppose them too. That's why it's so important to read Kerry's speech and decide for yourself.
Support the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 (H.R. 2297). The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is urging Congress to pass this bill. This is the bill that former Congressman Brad Schneider (D-IL) fought for when he was in Congress. Under Brad's leadership, it passed the House, only to stall in the Senate. Please urge your member of Congress to support this important bill and to get Brad's bill passed and signed into law.