President Peres to bear gifts at own White House ceremony
Although Peres will be awarded the President's Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, he will not come to the White House empty-handed.
1. Peres comes to Washington
President Shimon Peres didn't receive his President's Medal of Freedom last month with other award recipients - he will have his own ceremony on Wednesday, June 13, at the White House, one that will end with special performance for about 140 guests.
As protocol requires, the president will bring special gifts for his host and wife: a letter from Chaim Weizmann urging U.S. President Harry Truman to recognize the State of Israel; a short letter signed by Truman, in which he recognized Israel's first government; and a missive from David Ben-Gurion thanking Truman for recognizing Israel's provisional government. First Lady Michelle Obama, in addition, will receive a special necklace made from "uniquely Israeli materials" and prepared by people with disabilities.
Of course, the veteran statesman won't cross the ocean for just one evening, memorable as that evening may be, with a pretty eventful schedule before and after the festive event. He will land in New York on Sunday, grant some interviews and have some meetings.
On Monday, he'll move on to Washington, D.C. and meet with top Pentagon officials. On Tuesday, he will take part alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a special discussion hosted by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings Institution. On Thursday, there will be more interviews and meetings with officials - as well as a special reception at the Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's house.
2. Israeli Ambassador to become UN General Assembly VP
The same week that the Israeli Ambassador to the UN extended his hand to the Syrian people in his General Assembly speech, Ron Prosor marked another important milestone in his diplomatic mission in New York: in September of this year, he will become the Vice President of 67th UN General Assembly. He will have to deal with some sensitive topics on the agenda, such as Iran, Syria, the Arab Spring and a likely attempt to get recognition for a Palestinian state. In the past, Abba Eban and Danny Gillerman received the same honor (in 1952 and 2005, respectively).
3. Jews vs. Mormons
With Scott Walker reinstated as governor of Wisconsin following a special recall election, it's probably not the best week for Democrats. However, they can find some consolation in a new Gallup poll: yet another survey shows 64% (18% more than among the general electorate) of Jews support Barack Obama, while only 24% support Mitt Romney.
The same poll checked Mormon electoral preferences (each group - Jews and Mormons - constitute about 2% of the U.S. population), and according to the results, 84% of Mormons prefer Mitt Romney while only 13% will vote for Obama. And yes, Romney, who will officially become the first Mormon candidate for president is doing better among Mormons than John McCain did in 2008, who had 75% of their support.
It is said that in politics it's hard to make everybody happy. But from the reactions of the Jewish Democrats and Republicans, both sides were quite satisfied with the poll. Republican Jewish Coalition Matt Brooks called the poll results "another sign of the erosion of support for Obama among Jewish voters," adding that "if the president wins just 64% of the Jewish vote, it would be a disaster for him and his party. Jewish voters are increasingly disillusioned with the President and that's why Mitt Romney is making real inroads in the Jewish community this year."
National Jewish Democratic Council stressed that "the bottom line of Gallup's findings reflect what poll after poll has found - that American Jews overwhelmingly support President Obama, as they have continuously since before he was elected President."
4. "Jackson-Vanik" amendment to be replaced with "Magnitsky Act"?
For U.S. Jewish activists who spent years to make their government mount pressure on the Soviet Authorities, the Jackson-Vanik amendment which tied together U.S.-Russian trade relations with human rights of Soviet Jews and marked an historic achievement.
Now it seems obsolete - not only because Russian-Jewish delegations and religious officials tried to convince American lawmakers they are doing just fine in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia. With Russia's expected entrance into the World Trade Organization later this year, U.S. companies might be the ones who will suffer from this law. Under pressure of the companies, Congress probably will vote to repeal the law, but U.S. lawmakers feel deeply troubled with ignoring the human rights abuses in Russia and the recent crackdown on the opposition protests following the inauguration of new-old President Vladimir Putin.
The new law (called after Sergei Magnitsky, after a Russian lawyer who investigated government corruption and was arrested and died in 2009 in prison at the age of 37 after being badly beaten), is expected to tackle the human rights abuses issue in Russia. The act was marked up on Thursday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen accused the Kremlin of "devoting enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human rights activists." Howard Berman, ranking member of the committee, said that "in addition to Sergei’s tragic death, we are deeply concerned about a range of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, the serious irregularities in recent elections, and legislation enacted by several city councils, including Saint Petersburg, to restrict the ability of Russia’s LGBT community to exercise their rights of expression, association and assembly."
Republican Senator John McCain recently said the "restart" policy vis-a-vis Russia has failed.
Rep. Elliot Engel is also "deeply disappointed over the progress made," yet still thinks "you always have to try". Engel told Haaretz that the U.S. "has some fundamental principles that we stand for, and we can't compromise those principles - and part of that is freedom of expression and other things we hold very dear in this country, and I think there have been some incidents of repression by the Russian government - and it's obligation to speak forcefully against them. Obviously, they are important country and we need to have respectful bilateral relations with them, but I don't think we can stand idly by when we see human rights abuses and feel they are wrong."