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Boxer, Eshoo, Schiff support Iran nuclear deal

Californians are adding their voices to the growing chorus of Democratic support for the P5+1 multilateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear activity.

Barbara BoxerU.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – long a supporter of strong U.S.-Israel ties – issued a statement Tuesday supporting the deal despite Israel’s opposition.

“I am more convinced than ever that a rejection of the Iran nuclear agreement would be a victory for Iranian hardliners and would accelerate their ability to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Boxer said. “Iran now has enough nuclear material to build ten bombs. In my view, this agreement is the only way to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is used exclusively for civilian purposes, which is in the best interest of the United States, Israel and the world.”

“If we walk away from this deal, Iran would have no constraints on its nuclear program and the international sanctions that helped bring the Iranians to the table would collapse,” she added. The strong support from the international community – including the announcement this week by the Gulf states – underscores how this deal is the only viable alternative to war with Iran.”

Boxer’s statement came one day after Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, voiced her own support in a statement explaining “one of the most consequential foreign policy votes I will cast during my tenure in Congress.”

“In the face of a legitimate threat of immense magnitude from a nuclear-capable Iran, I believe this agreement is the right path forward,” Eshoo said. “My decision is not based on trusting Iran. To the contrary, the regime has a long list of offenses that I deeply object to, but there must be a mechanism in place to keep them from becoming a nuclear power. Nor would I suggest the agreement is perfect. But, in my view, to reject it would be a grave mistake for the United States, a repudiation of our allies in the effort, a danger to Israel, and further deterioration in the Middle East.”

Adam SchiffAlso Monday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank – the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat – issued a statement of support that said the deal “realistically precludes Iran from developing an atomic bomb for fifteen or more years, and does so while reducing the chances of war.”

“As an American and as a Jew who is deeply concerned about the security of Israel, it is also intensely personal,” Schiff said. “I believe our vital interests have been advanced under the agreement, since it would be extremely difficult for Iran to amass enough fissionable material to make a nuclear weapon without giving the United States ample notice and time to stop it.”

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Who will skip Netanyahu’s speech to Congress?

The Bay Area delegation is split over attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday, March 3.

Democrats and the White House remain miffed that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, invited Netanyahu unilaterally. The Israeli leader is expected to speak against the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, instead urging Congress to impose further sanctions; also, the address comes two weeks before Israel’s legislative election. For these reasons, and as some pro-Palestinian groups urge a boycott, some Democrats are choosing to skip the speech.

Here’s how the Bay Area delegation shakes out:

Skipping the speech: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose

Attending the speech: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz

Undecided: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord; Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa

Didn’t respond to inquiries: Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo

A few of them offered explanations, or at least, comments:

Lofgren: “I am disappointed Speaker Boehner chose to irresponsibly interject politics into what has long been a strong and bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel. As President Obama has noted, it is inappropriate for a Head of State to address Congress just two weeks ahead of their election. I agree that Congress should not be used as a prop in Israeli election campaigns, so I intend to watch the speech on TV in my office.”

Huffman: “I call upon Speaker Boehner and Ambassador Dermer to do the right thing and postpone this speech. Once the election in Israel is over and the current P5+1 negotiating deadline has passed, they should respect protocol and confer with President Obama and congressional Democrats on a time for the Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress.”

Boxer: “Whether I wind up going or not, it was a terrible mistake by the Republican majority to play politics with this enduring relationship.”

McNerney, via spokesman Michael Cavaiola: “Rep. McNerney is not planning to attend the speech. He’s got several previously planned commitments for that day.”

DeSaulnier, via spokeswoman Betsy Arnold Marr: “Congressman DeSaulnier has not made a final decision as he hopes the Prime Minister will reconsider his plans particularly in light of the upcoming election.”

Honda, via spokesman Ken Scudder: “Congressman Honda regrets that Speaker Boehner ignored protocol in making this invitation. The speaker turned what should have been an important visit of one of our closest allies into a political stunt. Congressman Honda also has concerns about the potential political nature of this speech given Israel’s elections are less than two weeks away. Despite this, and the congressman’s disagreement with the Prime Minister’s opposition to the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, Congressman Honda is going to attend the address on March 3. The United States and Israel share strong cultural, economic and security partnerships, and he will attend the speech to hear firsthand what the Prime Minister has to say on these serious and complicated issues.”

Thompson, via spokesman Austin Vevurka: “We still don’t know what the Congressman’s schedule will be that week, but I will of course keep you posted as we know more. That being said, Congressman Thompson understands the importance of hearing from international leaders, but he is concerned that the speech has become overtly political. He hopes the speech is rescheduled and Netanyahu is invited back at a later date in a manner that respects long-established diplomatic protocol.”

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California Dems on Jerusalem synagogue attack

California Democrats are condemning the killing of four rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinians wielding a gun, an ax and a meat cleaver. (UPDATE @ 3:10 P.M.: A fifth victim – a police officer – has now died.)

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

“I am horrified by the barbaric murder of innocents in a sacred house of worship. This heinous and brutal act of terror has no place in a civilized world and only sets back the cause of peace and humanity. All my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families and I am praying for the recovery of those injured.”

From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:

“The murder of worshippers at morning prayer is an unconscionable and inhuman act of terror. This attack is beyond the circle of civilized behavior, and Congress and the American people stand united in condemning its brutality.

“Our hearts ache for the family, friends, and loved ones of those killed and wounded in today’s savage attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem. We join the mourning of American-born Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Rabbi Aryeh Kupinsky, and British-born Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg. Our thoughts and prayers, and the thoughts and prayers of all Americans, are with them and all the citizens of Israel at this time of mourning.”

From Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose:

“Today’s cowardly and brutal killing of three American and one British rabbi in Jerusalem is an affront to every civilized person and nation. Attacks such as these damage the ability for both sides to come to the table and work out a long-term solution to the underlying conflicts in the region.

“President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are right to condemn this attack. I agree with Secretary Kerry that the Palestinian leadership must also condemn this attack in the strongest way possible, and to take concrete steps to prevent such attacks in the future. No nation’s or people’s cause is aided by brutal acts of terrorism against innocent worshippers.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, the injured, the larger Jewish community, and all who stand for peace during this time of grief.”

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Barbara Boxer moves to beef up U.S.-Israel ties

As strife continues in the Gaza Strip, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has introduced a beefed up version of her bill to strengthen U.S. economic and security ties with Israel.

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., on Tuesday introduced S.2673, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, an updated version of a bill they first offered in March 2013. It’s co-sponsored by 77 Senators.

The bill would, among other things, spend $200 million more (to a new total of $1.8 billion) to stockpile U.S. weapons in Israel intended for use by U.S. forces in a crisis, but available to Israeli forces in emergencies.

It also requires the administration to take steps toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain U.S. technologies and products; authorizes the president to cooperate with Israel in policy areas including energy, water, homeland security, and alternative fuel technologies; and requires the president to study the feasibility of expanding U.S.-Israel cooperation on cyber security.

The bill encourages the administration to work with Israel to help the country gain entry into the Visa Waiver Program, which would make it easier for Israeli citizens to travel to the United States without first having to obtain a visa. And it requires the administration to provide more frequent and more detailed assessments on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.

“While we work toward a just peace in the Middle East and an end to the tragedy of war, it is critical that we reaffirm our enduring commitment to Israel’s security and the historic ties between our two nations,” Boxer said in a news release.“This legislation sends a clear message that America’s bond with Israel remains unbreakable, and I am proud that it has the support of more than three-quarters of the Senate.”

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Rep. Eric Swalwell joins House Dem trip to Israel

Rep. Eric Swalwell left Sunday for Israel and the West Bank as part of a massive Democratic congressional delegation “to gain a firsthand understanding of some of America’s most pressing foreign policy challenges,” his office reported.

Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, is with Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and 36 other House Democrats who’ll meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They’ll also meet with Israeli tech leaders to explore opportunities for bilateral economic and technological cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

“I look forward to visiting our strong ally in the Middle East, and as a Member of the Homeland Security Committee, I’m particularly interested in viewing the security situation on the ground and learning about the technology Israel is using in its fight against terror,” Swalwell said in a news release.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently has made a priority of restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“This is a critical time in the peace process with this new round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians,” Swalwell said. “The visit will be an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the quest for a peaceful two-state solution through meetings with a wide variety of leaders across the spectrum –Israelis, Palestinians, religious figures, opposition members, and ordinary citizens.”

The trip is organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, a group affiliated with AIPAC, the nation’s pro-Israel lobby. The delegation will return Monday, Aug. 12.

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Israel re-opens probe of Oakland activist’s injury

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Israel Defense Forces to reopen an investigation into the grievous head injury suffered by an Oakland activist during a West Bank protest in March 2009, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

Tristan AndersonTristan Anderson, then 39, was at a protest of Israel’s security fence in the West Bank city of Na’alin when a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier struck him in the head, causing severe brain damage.

The Israel Defense Force investigated whether the Border Police were at fault following the incident, but a petition to the court – filed by attorneys for Anderson’s family and by Yesh Din, an Israeli human-rights group – claimed the probe was inadequate. The petition said the army did not visit Na’alin and questioned only a few soldiers who were on the scene; it’s not clear whether the army questioned the soldier who fired the canister. No criminal charges have been brought against any police or military personnel involved in the case.

“It is the obligation of the State of Israel to investigate suspicions of unwarranted injury of protesters, which occur time after time,” Yesh Din attorney Michael Sfard said in a news release issued by Anderson’s supporters Wednesday. “It is a shame that it took three-and-a-half years for the High Court to intervene in order to force the investigators to implement basic investigative procedures.”

Anderson’s mother, Nancy Anderson, said in the release that her son “will live the rest of his life with serious mental and physical limitations and chronic pain. This has devastated his life and profoundly affected our family forever.” The family’s civil lawsuit against the Israeli military and government is scheduled to go to trial in November.

Gabrielle Silverman of Oakland – Anderson’s girlfriend, who was with him when he was injured – said Wednesday that Anderson was released from an Israeli hospital in June 2010 and now lives with his parents in Grass Valley. He remains hemiplegic – paralyzed on his left side – and suffers permanent cognitive and emotional impairments from his injury; he requires around-the-clock care, Silverman said.