President Obama

Netanyahu Speech Deepens Rift Between Israel, U.S. — and American Jews

President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac with Israeli Prime Minister Benja

President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Image courtesy White House/RNS.

American Jewish leaders and activists are worried about widening political divisions between Israel and the White House, sparked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress on Tuesday despite strident objections by President Obama.

Many are concerned about the threat to Israel from Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of a weak deal with the United States to curb it, an issue on which Netanyahu has been an outspoken Obama critic. Even so, they believe Netanyahu’s unrestrained attacks on the White House and in-your-face visit jeopardizes the close ties Israel has long enjoyed with the United States.

“People are upset about it,” said Rob Eshman, publisher and editor in chief of the Jewish Journal, a Los Angeles-based publication and website.

“They’re obviously concerned about Iran and want a good deal and think it’s really unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing this — creating a conflict outside the existing conflict.”

The divisiveness among Americans mirrors that of many Israelis equally concerned the visit will plunge traditionally close relations between U.S. and Israeli leaders to an unprecedented low.

Weekly Wrap 2.13.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

Courtesy Amy Poehler's Smart Girls

Courtesy Amy Poehler's Smart Girls

1. How David Carr Described His Messy Relationship with Faith
“I am a man who swears frequently, goes to church every Sunday, and lives in search of faith.” New York Times media columnist David Carr died Thursday after collapsing in the newsroom. He was 58.

2. Friends of the Chapel Hill Shooting Victims Share Their Memories
In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C., Coming of Faith compiled stories from friends of the victims. And view a collection of moving images from the Wednesday evening vigils that brought together three rival colleges and an entire community.

3. AUDIO: 'Hello, My Name is Yusor Abu-Salha'
“Growing up in America has been such a blessing. … I feel so embedded in the fabric that is our culture. And here, we’re all one.” In May 2014, one of the victims of Tuesday’s Chapel Hill shooting recorded a StoryCorps interview with her 3rd grade teacher. Here are clips from that interview and her teacher’s reflection on Yusor’s death.

4. U.S. Slams Sudan for Blocking Darfur Mass Rape Investigation
“Speaking at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power referred to a new report by New York-based Human Rights Watch, which accused Sudanese soldiers of raping at least 221 women and girls in the village of Tabit over the course of three days. … ‘To this day, the government of Sudan has shamefully denied the U.N. the ability to properly investigate this incident,’ Power told the 15-nation council.”

5. WATCH: Things Everybody Does But Doesn’t Talk About
In case you’re not one of the 20+ million people who have already watched this clip, check out President Obama’s BuzzFeed video debut. … You know you have trouble pronouncing February too.

Does Obama Owe Christians An Apology?

Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

Obama in prayer. Image courtesy Stephen C./shutterstock.com

I’m very offended. Or so I’m told. As a believing Christian, I’m supposed to be deeply troubled by the remarks that President Barack Obama delivered at the recent National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore had this to say:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

Strong words. But what were Obama’s terribly offensive remarks? Here’s what the president said:

And lest we get on our high horse and think [religious violence] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Wait… what? Why should I be offended by that? That’s a fact. That’s our history. Every Christian should be aware of what we are capable of when we turn our eyes away from the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and instead turn Christianity into an ideology that justifies terror, brutality, oppression, and war.

It should be impossible to study Western history without getting some glimpse into the terrifying possibilities that any religious system — including Christian ones — hold out for those who seek to dominate others. We humans have a long track record of twisting our most precious faith into a weapon of violence and hatred. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it should be a matter of ongoing repentance and prayer for people of faith everywhere.

So I’m confused.

 

We Need to Talk About Modern-Day Slavery

Freedom concept. Image courtesy frank_peters/shutterstock.com

Freedom concept. Image courtesy frank_peters/shutterstock.com

In his annual State of the Union address last week, President Obama began his foreign policy focus by saying, “If there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.” 

Unfortunately, an insidiously prevalent challenge and hugely profitable crime facing the world — modern slavery and human trafficking — was not mentioned in the President’s list of current global concerns facing the U.S. on Tuesday night. To be fair, he has given a major address on the topic before. But no president has ever raised the issue in his big annual address.

That needs to change.

Incidentally, the President just finished a multi-day trip to India, home to almost one-half of the world’s enslaved people. In a surprise and welcome development, he brought up the topic in his last speech there — a pointed one on human rights — saying, “Together, we can stand up against human trafficking and work to end the scourge of modern-day slavery.”  

Raising the issue in this context is an important step in naming the problem. Indeed, one of our country’s most effective tools for fighting slavery — the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report — consistently pulls its punches specifically on India, declining to hold them fully accountable for the massive level of human exploitation there. Given India’s size and wealth, our larger foreign policy apparatus deems it more important to avoid “risking” other geopolitical concerns with the diplomatic fallout that could come from telling the truth on slavery. 

State of the Union and Inequality: What Are You Going to Do Now?

durantelallera / Shutterstock.com

durantelallera / Shutterstock.com

This week, there was a lot of commentary about the State of the Union, the title of the president’s annual January speech before a joint session of Congress. I thought it was one of Obama’s best addresses recently because he focused on what is real for this country — growing economic inequality where only a few are doing “spectacularly well” while many families are still struggling just to get by.

The wife and mother from one of those families wrote the president a letter that seemed to have moved him, so he lifted up her “tight-knit family” trying to get through “hard times,” as she sat up in the gallery next to first lady Michelle Obama. Her family became a parable for the nation that is starting to do better economically but still faces hard choices that the president sought to address with very practical suggestions to support what he called “middle class economics."

Obama’s proposals for shifting tax breaks from the very wealthy to the middle class, to make possible child tax credits, days for sick leave, assistance with child care, and some relief from expensive educational costs are all proposals not likely to be supported by the new Republican Congress. But the speech begins to set what could be a long-term agenda to deal with our massive economic inequality — finally. Even the Republicans now might have to face up to the increasingly visible, embarrassing, alarming, and morally indefensible gaps between a small elite and the rest of the country.

President Obama's 2015 the State of the Union Remarks

American flag. Image courtesy STILLFX/shutterstock.com

American flag. Image courtesy STILLFX/shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: President Obama delivered his seventh State of the Union address last night (January 20, 2015). Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans: 

We are fifteen years into this new century. Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. 

But tonight, we turn the page.

Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

White House Says President Will Veto Next Keystone XL Bill

In November, when the Senate just barely failed to pass a bill approving TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) interrupted the debate that followed it to tell everyone that we hadn’t seen the last of Keystone XL. He vowed that a new bill authorizing the pipeline would be the first thing on President Obama’s desk in the next session of Congress.

Sen. McConnell is making good on that promise – with another upcoming vote, he says he has the 60 votes he’ll need to pass the pipeline, which the GOP has branded as a “jobs creation” bill with dubious claims about job numbers.

But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced today that “If this bill passes this Congress the president, wouldn't sign it.” This promise of a veto may have less to do with the environmental implications of the pipeline, the violation of a treaty with American Indians, or the years of steady protest from vocal opponents, and more to do with giving the State Department time to finish their review process. Regardless, it’s another stalled start for the would-be Keystone XL pipeline.

The White House needs to hear from Christians who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Click here to send a tweet to President Obama!

Read more.

Obama Extends U.S. Combat Role in Afghanistan

Photo via UK Ministry of Defence / Flickr.com

Photo via UK Ministry of Defence / Flickr.com

News agencies reported Saturday morning that weeks ago President Obama signed an order, kept secret until now, to authorize continuation of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan for at least another year. The order authorizes U.S. airstrikes “to support Afghan military operations in the country” and U.S. ground troops to continue normal operations, which is to say, to “occasionally accompany Afghan troops” on operations against the Taliban.

The administration, in its leak to the New York Times, affirmed that there had been “heated debate” between Pentagon advisers and others in Obama’s cabinet chiefly concerned not to lose soldiers in combat. Oil strategy isn't mentioned as having been debated and neither is further encirclement of China, but the most notable absence in the reporting was any mention of cabinet members’ concern for Afghan civilians affected by air strikes and ground troop operations, in a country already afflicted by nightmares of poverty and social breakdown.

While the concern for civilians may have been discussed even if not reported, it’s worth pointing out some of the suffering people on the ground continue to experience.  Here are just three events, excerpted from an August 2014 Amnesty International report, which President Obama and his advisors should ha considered (and allowed into a public debate) before once more expanding the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan:

Becoming a Better America

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Boston immigration rally, Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

I am a newly minted American. Four years ago I passed the naturalization test and took the oath of allegiance to the United States. But I had been living as a citizen before I took the oath. Those who do not have the legal status of citizen often act as citizens. They attend PTA meetings, pay taxes, and engage in spirited public discussions about the common good. Citizenship is not only a legal status, but also a moral category and a set of practices.

President Obama recognizes this. Last night’s address described executive actions that will protect up to five million people from deportation and provide them with permits to work legally. People without valid immigration documents will be eligible to stay in the country temporarily if they have lived in the United States for more than 5 years, if they have children who are American citizens or legal residents, and if they register and pass criminal background checks.

Obama is not offering people citizenship, but his address reflected on the meaning of community belonging. “These people” often act like citizens, he seemed to be saying, because they “came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America's success.” To those of us who are citizens legally, Obama also had a message: Become better Americans.

Evangelicals a Mixed Bag on Obama’s Immigration Move

Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association. Image

Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association. Image courtesy Adelle M. Banks/RNS.

While Republican leaders blast President Obama for taking executive action on immigration reform, some prominent evangelical leaders are welcoming the president’s plans to keep about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.

Evangelicals are a key voting bloc for the GOP, but on immigration some are taking a pragmatic step away from the party. They include Hispanic leaders such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who say the time has come to manage what has become a “de facto humanitarian crisis” for millions of immigrants.

“This merciful action takes place because for years our government, under the leadership of both parties, failed miserably as it pertains to immigration,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Rodriguez planned to be with Obama on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas, where the President hopes to rally for his new steps.

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