Blog Posts Related to the American Jewish Community

  • Chief of Staff Denis McDonough Underscores America’s Solidarity with France, and with Jewish Communities Across the World

    On Tuesday, January 13, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough joined Members of Congress; France’s Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency Gérard Araud; the American Jewish Committee (AJC); and hundreds of people from the local Jewish community and many other Jewish organizations at “A Gathering of Solidarity and Remembrance With the People of France and Its Jewish Community” at Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.

    His remarks underscored our nation’s solidarity with the people of France and with Jewish communities throughout the world following the terrorist attacks in Paris, as well as our commitment to combat the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world.

    McDonough’s remarks as delivered follow:

    Thank you for the opportunity to join you this evening to pay tribute to the victims and heroes from last week’s terrorist attacks in France. On behalf of the President, I am here to affirm our nation’s solidarity with the French people and the Jewish community in France and around the world, to condemn in the strongest terms the violent attacks of last week and to remember the precious lives of the fallen.

    The violence, hatred and intolerance that motivated these senseless attacks upon people going about their daily lives – at work at Charlie Hebdo or at their local kosher supermarket just before Sabbath, must be condemned and will be defeated.

    I’m honored to be here this evening with Ambassador Araud, AJC, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Alan and Judy [Gross], a couple that personifies strength and perseverance, and all of you who have come here tonight in solidarity and remembrance with our brothers and sisters in France and all of you who have come here tonight in solidarity and remembrance with our brothers and sisters in France.

    As President Obama has said, France is our oldest ally. Ours is a relationship that goes back centuries to the founding of our two great republics.  We stand in solidarity with the French people, and share a steadfast commitment to the values of liberty, free expression, coexistence, and religious freedom that were so cruelly and violently assaulted in Paris last week.

    The violent assault on the Jewish community in France that took place on Friday afternoon – as the Jewish community in Paris was in the final hours of preparing for the restfulness and peace of the Sabbath – was the latest in a series of troubling incidents in Europe and around the world that reflect a rising tide of anti-Semitism.  

    We will not waver in our commitment to combating the scourge of anti-Semitism.  This is not an issue for any single community or nation to deal with by itself. We must all do our part.  And we will.  From the President on down, you have my commitment that we will wage this fight together.

    Thank you for giving me and my colleagues the opportunity to be with you this evening.

    The Chief of Staff was joined at the service by White House colleagues, including Charlie Kupchan, NSC Senior Director for Europe; Steve Pomper, NSC Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights; Melissa Rogers, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; and Matt Nosanchuk, NSC Director for Outreach. In addition, Julieta Valls Noyes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor Combat Anti-Semitism, represented the State Department.

  • A Real Festival of Lights: Hanukkah at the White House 2014/5775

    On Wednesday, December 17, the President and Mrs. Obama welcomed members of the American Jewish community to the White House to celebrate Hanukkah. For the second year, they hosted two receptions in the Grand Foyer of the White House. Guests represented the breadth of the Jewish community, including leaders from a wide range of local and national Jewish organizations, religious leaders representing the various Jewish denominations, state and local elected officials, Administration officials, Members of Congress, academics, musicians, authors, and other members of the Jewish community.

    The receptions featured performances from Jewish college a cappella groups and the U.S. Marine Band. The food preparation occurred under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.

    Watch on YouTube

  • President Obama: "Happy Hanukkah, Everybody!"

    We've koshered the kitchen and set up the menorah. And this afternoon, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed hundreds of guests here at the White House for the second night of Hanukkah.

    Watch on YouTube

    Joined by the First Lady and Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, President Obama retold the story of Hanukkah, "a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors."

    In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

    The President also took time to highlight a new Hanukkah story: the return of American aid worker Alan Gross from Cuba.

  • Five Things to Know About How President Obama’s Executive Action Impacts Undocumented Immigrants

    Last week, the President took action to fix as much of our broken immigration system as possible within the scope of his existing legal authority. The President’s Immigration Accountability Executive Actions are an important step to fix our broken immigration system. Millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows want to play by the rules, pay their fair share of taxes, and get right with the law. The President is taking action to fix as much of the problem as he can, while continuing to work with Congress to pass a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill.

    The President has been clear that he can’t fix the immigration system entirely on his own; whatever action he takes will not be a substitute for long-lasting solutions that only comprehensive immigration legislation can provide.

    Here are the five things that you should know about the President’s initiatives impacting undocumented immigrants in the United States.

  • Wishing You a Sweet, Happy, and Healthy New Year

    Shanah Tovah from the White House! On Wednesday evening, Jews in the United States and around the world will begin celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

    The High Holidays offer the Jewish community a moment of pause, a time to reflect on the previous year and recommit to the unending task of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Together, working with people of all faiths, we can bring greater peace and prosperity to the world in 5775.

    In his 2014 video message for the High Holidays, President Obama extends his wishes for a sweet new year and discusses why this time of year is so significant.

    Watch on YouTube

    Read the remarks: 

    Hello. As Jews across America, Israel, and the world gather together for the High Holidays, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to you and your families for a sweet and happy new year.

    My good friend Elie Wiesel once said that God gave human beings a secret, and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again. These days of awe are a chance to celebrate that gift, to give thanks for the secret, the miracle of renewal.

    In synagogues and homes over the coming days, Jews will reflect on a year that carried its shares of challenges. We’ve been reminded many times that our world still needs repair. So here at home we continue the hard work of rebuilding our economy and restoring our American dream of opportunity for all. Around the world, we continue to stand for the dignity of every human being, and against the scourge of anti-Semitism, and we reaffirm the friendships and bonds that keep us strong, including our unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel.

    So let’s approach this new year with new confidence and new hope. Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the values we share as individuals and as a country. Above all, let’s embrace this God-given miracle of renewal, this extraordinary opportunity to begin again in pursuit of justice, prosperity, and peace. From my family to yours, shanah tovah.

  • National Security Advisor Susan Rice Visits Israel and the West Bank, and Joins the Embassy of Israel to Celebrate Israel Independence Day

    Ambassador Susan Rice recently took her first trip to Israel since becoming the National Security Advisor. There, she met with senior Israeli officials, including President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Advisor Yossi Cohen, and participated in the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group meeting, to discuss the close security cooperation between our two countries. Ambassador Rice also visited Palmachim Air Force Base, where she spoke of the common bonds linking the United States and Israel:

    Our two nations are forever bound by our shared history and our shared values, and every American dollar spent on Israel's security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share—whether that's preventing rockets from terrorizing the Israeli people, defending against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region, or advancing our commitment to defend freedom and democracy.

    National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Israel

    (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

    Her full remarks at Palmachim Air Force Base can be found here.

    Ambassador Rice also met with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah during her visit. As she did in her meetings with Israeli officials, she emphasized the importance of each side managing the current situation in a way that reduces tensions and preserves space to pursue a two-state solution when both parties are prepared to take the decisions necessary to resume substantive negotiations. While we have come to a pause in the parties' talks, the United States believes the only way to achieve lasting peace is through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that lead to two viable, independent states living side-by-side in peace and security.

    National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Israel

    (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

    Upon returning to Washington, Ambassador Rice delivered remarks at the annual Israel Independence Day Celebration hosted by the Embassy of Israel at the Mellon Auditorium. Her full remarks as prepared, marking the State of Israel's 66th birthday, follow:

    Good evening everyone—erev tov—and happy Independence Day. This year, I've been fortunate to mark Yom Ha'atzmaut both here and in Israel, on my first trip there as President Obama's national security advisor.

    I want to thank Ambassador Dermer for inviting me to join the party today. Ron and I have spent many hours together recently. I made Ron—I think this is the right verb—schlep to Israel for my trip last week. Along with many of the most senior officials from both our countries, we had busy days of close and productive consultations.

    My most important meeting, once again, was with Prime Minister Netanyahu. In my previous job, we worked side-by-side in the muddy trenches of New York over the deeply flawed Goldstone Report and many other fights to protect Israel's legitimacy in UN forum after UN forum. On this, my most recent trip, I was proud to reaffirm and deepen the unprecedented security cooperation between our countries, and the prime minister and I had a very constructive conversation on a range of important issues.

    I was also pleased, once again, to spend time with my Israeli counterpart, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen— as well as with one of Israel's national treasures and one of the world's global treasures, President Shimon Peres. I know President Obama is looking forward to welcoming him back to the White House next month for the umpteenth time since his first visit to the White House under President Kennedy. To both your prime minister and your president, on behalf of the United States, I reiterated President Obama's personal and unwavering commitment to Israel's peace and security.

    It was an excellent visit—and just the latest in a series of memorable visits to Israel. In particular, I was privileged to join President Obama, then still Senator Obama, on his visit to Israel in 2008—and I still remember the look of grim determination on his face when we saw the countless stacks of rockets that Hamas terrorists had fired from Gaza on the civilians of Sderot.

    But the trip I remember most vividly, the one that forever sealed my affection for Israel, was my very first visit—back when I was 14 years old. My late father sat on the board of TWA – some of you will remember such airlines only from the "Mad Men" era. So, my Dad was able to take me and my younger brother on one of the first-ever flights from Cairo to Tel Aviv just after the Camp David accords. To this day, I remember walking the Old City, visiting the original Yad Vashem, hiking the stony path up Masada, bobbing in the Dead Sea, and learning by heart the Sh'ma, which speaks of God's oneness.

    Like so many Americans, I have long felt the power of the enduring bonds between the United States and Israel. So at this reception to celebrate Israel's independence, I want to share a simple message: The United States will always be there for Israel. We will be there in those moments of silent sorrow. We will be there in the noisy bustle of normal daily life in the Jewish state. We will be there as friends and partners. And we will be there for Israel as supporters of peace, as champions of its legitimacy, and as defenders of your security.

    I was particularly moved by President Peres's Independence Day message to the Israeli people this year. Thinking back to 1948 and the newborn state, he said, "I have to admit that our dream was too small when I see the reality that was born out of it." To not just build a state after the horror of the Holocaust, to not just become a free people in an independent and democratic state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people, but to actually exceed even their own dreams—it's a stirring testament to the faith and determination of the Israeli people, passed on l'dor va'dor, from generation to generation.

    So, we will stay true to the cause of Israel's security. On Friday, I visited Palmachim Air Force Base and saw brave Israeli men and women, working alongside U.S. officers, using cutting-edge U.S. technology to ensure that Israel's air defenses remain unsurpassed. I got an up-close look at the tremendous Iron Dome and Arrow systems that have saved countless Israeli lives, with a U.S. investment that now totals nearly $900 million.

    That commitment to Israeli and U.S. security also means, as we discussed again last week, that Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, "America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran." As the United States and our P5+1 partners engage in negotiations with Iran on a long-term, comprehensive agreement that resolves the world's longstanding concerns about Iran's nuclear program, we all have a responsibility to give diplomacy a chance to succeed. But America won't be satisfied by mere words. We will only be satisfied by verifiable action from Iran. Put simply: if we are not, there will be no deal. And, as these negotiations progress, we continue to consult closely with Israel every step of the way.

    We will also stay true to the cause of peace — to working to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Even though we have reached a pause in the negotiations, we continue to encourage the parties to work and act toward a future of peace. It's worthwhile to recall the words of one the great civil rights leaders, Dr. Dorothy Height, who once said, "If the times aren't ripe, you have to ripen the times." So the United States will continue to do our part to help bring about the peaceful, hopeful future that both Israeli and Palestinian children deserve. Because, ultimately, the only path forward out of this tragic conflict is a secure, democratic, Jewish state living side-by-side in peace and security with a viable, independent Palestinian state.

    That's our commitment—and it's the mighty oak that grew from the seed planted by President Truman on May 14, 1948, when he recognized the State of Israel, at 6:11 p.m. in Washington—just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence at midnight in Tel Aviv. The United States was the first country to recognize Israel, and we are still honored to count ourselves as first among Israel's friends. America's commitment to the peace and security of Israel has spanned generations. It spans political parties. And it is not and never will be negotiable.

    Together, we reaffirm, in the words of Israel's Declaration of Independence, the "right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State"—a state "based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel." And together, I hope that, decades from now, when we examine our efforts to forge a future of peace and security among Israel and its neighbors, we too will be able to look back at all that has been accomplished and say, with deep satisfaction, "our dream was too small."

    Thank you so much.

    National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Israel

    (photo via U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

    Matt Nosanchuk is Director of Outreach on the National Security Council

  • White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough Addresses the American Jewish Committee

    On Tuesday, May 13, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough spoke at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum. The AJC Global Forum is an annual event that brings a diverse group of Jews together from around the world to advocate for shared values.

    His remarks highlighted the President’s priorities on the domestic front, focusing on immigration and the economy, and on foreign policy, reiterating the Administration’s unshakeable commitment to the State of Israel and to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

    His full remarks – as prepared for delivery – are below:

    Minister Kasoulides, Minister Steinitz, distinguished guests, it’s an honor to represent the Obama Administration at the AJC Global Forum. I especially want to thank your President, Stan Bergman, and your longtime executive director, David Harris, for their leadership, and for inviting me here tonight.   

    Of course, I’m an obvious choice to join you this evening.  After all, May is Jewish Heritage month, and who better to reflect on Jewish heritage than a guy named Denis McDonough? 

    But the truth is, so much of the heritage we celebrate this month is shared.  My grandparents came to this country in search of a better life.    But this country, more than anyplace else, held out a promise of opportunity: that here, universal human rights would be protected, and that no matter who you were or where you came from, you could make it if you tried. 

    For more than a century, the American Jewish Committee has helped our country keep alive that promise of opportunity for all.  You’ve stood up for our shared values around the world.  You’ve honored the American tradition of perfecting our union with hard work and sacrifice, and the Jewish tradition that teaches that while we are not obligated to finish that work, neither are we free to desist from it.

    These ideas of shared responsibility, of obligations that are bigger than ourselves, are what motivate President Obama every day.  Under his leadership, and thanks to the determination of the American people, an economy that lost about nine million jobs has now created 9.2 million private sector jobs.  More families know the economic security of health care.  Troops who were fighting two wars are coming home.

    But we also recognize that our work is far from finished.  That’s why President Obama has laid out an opportunity agenda to keep America’s founding promise alive for future generations.  He’s fighting to create more good jobs with good wages, and a world-class education for the next generation.  He’s fighting for equal pay for women, and a fair minimum wage for our workers.

    And as the American Jewish Committee knows well, President Obama is fighting to fix a broken immigration system.  I want to spend some time on this, beginning by thanking you – because for years, you have been a key partner in this effort.  You have argued, loudly and forcefully, that our current immigration system is unfair to businesses, workers, and families alike.  You’ve helped bring a moral dimension to this debate, one rooted in the biblical edict, “You shall not oppress a stranger, having been a stranger in the land of Egypt.”  And last year, thanks in no small part to your hard work, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate came together and passed a bipartisan, common-sense immigration bill. 

    The question now is whether House Republicans will live up to that example.  It’s clear what the right choice is, not just morally, but economically.  A report by the Congressional Budget Office found that passing the Senate’s bipartisan immigration bill will grow our economy by more than 3 percent in one decade, and more than 5 percent in two decades.  That means we could be looking at an extra $700 billion in our economy by 2023, and $1.4 trillion in 2033.  And it will shrink our deficits by more than $150 billion over the next 10 years, and about $700 billion in the decade after that.

    But as we’ve seen before, in today’s Washington, just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it will get done.  So in addition to thanking you for helping us get to this point, I want to urge you keep making your voices heard.  Make sure our lawmakers know what’s at stake.  Ask them to put aside politics and do what is right. 

    President Obama believes there is still time to make reform a reality.  Just today, he invited law enforcement officials from across our country who know how important this is to come to the White House.  So I promise you that as you continue your efforts to fix our broken immigration system, your president will be with you every step of the way.   Because he believes that ultimately, this issue is about much more than politics – it’s about our responsibility to keep alive the basic values we share. 

    Of course, even as he works to make real our country’s promise of opportunity for all, President Obama recognizes that our responsibilities don’t end at home – and those other responsibilities are what I would like to close with today.  Part of what makes America great is that we stand by the countries that share our values around the world.  That’s why throughout its history, the State of Israel has had no greater friend than the United States of America. 

    The United States is proud to be the first country to recognize the existence of a Jewish State – just 11 minutes after Israel’s independence was declared.   Today, we celebrate a diverse, democratic ally, a “start-up nation” where entrepreneurship thrives.   The unbreakable bonds between our two countries are as strong as ever.

    And as President Obama put it last year at the United Nations General Assembly, “the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state.”  Time and time again, he has stated his firm conviction that Israel has a right to defend itself, and to maintain its qualitative military edge.

    Over the last five and a half years, President Obama has backed up those words with action.  Today, the cooperation between our militaries and intelligence services has never been stronger.   At this very moment, there are Israeli children sleeping more soundly because of the Iron Dome defense system that America invested in. 

    And with so much tumult across the region—including Egypt and Syria—we are consulting closely with our Israeli partners every step of the way, as we saw again in Susan Rice’s visit to Israel last week.  Susan led the U.S. delegation of the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group, a dialogue launched several years ago.  The ICG, as we call it, is a first of its kind, a spot where we consult on our shared threats, including from Iran, with Israel.  It has been led by the President’s National Security Advisors, Tom Donilon and now Susan.  This intensive and candid discussion reflects the unprecedented level of cooperation between our two countries, and President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security. 

    And along with many other important pieces of business she conducted in Israel last week, Susan reaffirmed the President’s clear policy: the United States is committed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  Over the last few years, we have rallied the world behind unprecedented sanctions that have helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table.  Today—for the first time in a decade— progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key parts have been rolled back.   The IAEA has confirmed that Iran is meeting its commitments under the joint plan of action.  

    Today we started another round of tough negotiations among the Iranians on one side and basically the rest of the world on the other.  We are engaged in serious, substantive negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution that addresses the world's concerns with Iran’s nuclear program.  There’s no doubt that significant gaps remain and it is far from certain that we can reach a final agreement that sufficiently addresses our concerns.  But this is a chance to resolve this issue diplomatically, peacefully.  And throughout these focused negotiations, our bottom line has not changed and will not change.  A nuclear-armed Iran would be a grave danger to the United States, to Israel, and to the world, and we are committed to doing what we must to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.     

    Even as we pursue a resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, we remain focused – every single day – on countering Iran’s support for terrorism, and its destabilizing efforts in the region.  That includes our unprecedented support for Israel’s security, as well as the security of our Gulf Partners.  That includes our efforts to strengthen the Syrian opposition, and to apply pressure on the Assad regime. And that includes steady and coordinated efforts to expose Iranian support for terrorism; to stop the flow of weapons to terrorist groups like Hizbollah and Hamas; and to maintain our robust sanctions on Hizbollah and Iranian sponsorship of terrorist activity.

    Moreover, as President Obama said in Jerusalem last year: “Those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist … might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere.”  And with the question of Israel’s existence off the table, there is another question we must ask ourselves: What will Israel’s future hold?

    It was America’s commitment to Israel’s future—our abiding belief that Israelis and Palestinians deserve a future of peace and security—that guided our efforts over the past year.  Early in those talks, Secretary of State Kerry came here, to the AJC Global Forum, because your organization understands that peace and security are inextricably linked.  In the end, the interests of a Jewish State of Israel require two nations that can live in peace.  In the face of an unsustainable status quo, a two-state solution is not just desirable – it is necessary, for both sides.

    Today, we are profoundly grateful to Secretary Kerry, and to organizations like AJC, for the extraordinary efforts made over the past year.  No nation has done more to stand with the parties—Israelis and Palestinians—in their search for peace than the United States of America.  No nation.  And though talks may be suspended, President Obama has been very clear—the United States will never waver in our commitment to a just and lasting peace.  Both Israelis and Palestinians face hard choices.  Both must make difficult decisions.  And only Israelis and Palestinians can make the compromises that are necessary for two states to live side-by-side in peace and security.

    But just because peace is difficult doesn’t mean we can stop trying.  As President Obama reminds me often, “Hard things are hard.”  Fixing a broken immigration system is hard.  Bringing an end to a decades-old conflict in the Middle East is hard.  But our history, our heritage, teaches us that hard things are possible.  And with your help, I believe that we can leave behind for our children a country that keeps alive its founding promise of opportunity for all, and a world filled with prosperity and peace. 

    Thank you very much.

    Matt Nosanchuk is Director of Outreach on the National Security Council.

  • President Obama Speaks at the University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation

    On May 7, 2014, President Obama traveled to Los Angeles, California to speak at the USC Shoah Foundation 20th anniversary dinner. After making Schindler’s List, Shoah Foundation Founder Steven Spielberg was inspired to create the Foundation in order to preserve the memories of tens of thousands of survivors of the Holocaust and other mass atrocities through video eyewitness testimony. He introduced the President and presented him with the Foundation’s Ambassador for Humanity Award.

    Watch the video.

    In his remarks, which can be seen here, the President honored the many survivors of the Holocaust and other mass atrocities who were in attendance:

    Every day that you have lived, every child and grandchild that your families have brought into this world has served as the ultimate rebuke to evil, and the ultimate expression of love and hope.

    He also noted the administration’s commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors in need living in the United States, including the appointment of a Special Envoy for U.S. Holocaust Survivor Services and the $5MM Holocaust Survivor Assistance Fund proposed in the FY15 HHS Budget.

    The President called upon all of us to stand up to anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry and hatred wherever they exist, declaring that "silence is evil’s greatest co-conspirator."  And he recognized that memory imposes a "sacred duty":

    The voices of those recorded and unrecorded, those who survived and those who perished, call upon us -- implore us and challenge us -- to turn ‘Never Forget’ into ‘Never Again.'

    Read the President's full remarks here.

    Matt Nosanchuk is Director of Outreach, National Security Council