In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama gave the Jewish community plenty to ponder and much to cheer about.
Most significantly, Obama used a term we have not heard from him in such a prominent forum. He referred to Israel as “the Jewish state.”
This telegraphed a major concession to a pro-Israel community so often at odds with this president. The reference to “the Jewish state” affirms America’s commitment to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and strongly rebuffs any suggestion that the United States will waver on that point.
Coincidentally, the New York Times reported this week that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace proposals include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. So it appears this is now official American policy. Thus we applaud the president for invoking this telling phrase.
Equally important, the president admonished Congress about throwing a monkey wrench into the delicate nuclear negotiations with Iran by threatening to pass a new sanctions bill. Obama promised to veto any such legislation unless or until Iran proves it is acting in bad faith.
There are plenty of reasons to suspect Iran could be acting in bad faith, but considering that war is the likely alternative — a war that would surely involve attacks on Israel — we must support diplomacy.
As for domestic policy, Obama focused on issues of great importance to the Jewish consensus: reducing income inequality, increasing opportunities for women, reducing America’s carbon footprint, repairing the nation’s failed immigration system and shoring up the Affordable Care Act.
Unfortunately, the partisan divide in this country has grown so vicious, Congress so dysfunctional, there’s little reason for hope that the president’s ambitious agenda will succeed if it depends on that body alone. Thus, Obama’s promise earlier this month to use his executive authority to make changes — such as raising the minimum wage for federal workers — comes as no surprise, as he has made such statements before.
It is always troubling when any one branch of government appears to overreach. Declaring such a unilateral approach gives us pause. Still, we agree with the agenda outlined in the president’s speech, which is in keeping with the best in Jewish and American values.