• Taylor Force Act updated in Senate

    Friday, February 16, 2018

    Senate Republican have updated the Taylor Force Act (bipartisan legislation that would cut off U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until they cease payments to families of terrorists) by removing…

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  • What Obama told an NYC synagogue crowd

    Friday, January 26, 2018

    Jewish Insider obtained an audio recording from former President Barack Obama’s appearance at Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center in NYC on Wednesday evening. In a conversation with Rabbi Joshua Davidson, Obama defended his administration’s…

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  • Why a GOP veteran might support an Oprah 2020 ru...

    Wednesday, January 10, 2018

    While the entertainment and political worlds converged this week on the idea of Oprah Winfrey possibly running for President in 2020, after her viral Golden Globes speech, one…

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  • Experts on Bannon’s idea of giving Gaza to...

    Thursday, January 4, 2018

    In an excerpt shared by Michael Wolff of his new book about the Trump White House, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Bannon is quoted sharing his policy…

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  • Dershowitz commends Trump for ‘long overdu...

    Wednesday, December 20, 2017

    President Donald Trump’s commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, the former Chief Executive of Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, on Wednesday, citing concerns about the “excessive” 27-year sentence “in…

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  • HBO’s Plepler has a steller Shimon Peres imita...

    Friday, December 15, 2017

    Richard Plepler, Chairman and CEO of HBO, on The Atlantic Interview with Jeffrey Goldberg: “[Shimon Peres] was a transcendent figure on the world stage. The story is that…

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  • Senate misses 60 day window to reimpose Iran san...

    Wednesday, December 13, 2017

    WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced with great fanfare that he was decertifying the nuclear deal with Iran on October 13. Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear…

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  • Jack Lew on Shabbat during White House years

    Tuesday, December 12, 2017

    HEARD LAST NIGHT — at Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies: Former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recalled his experience working with former House Speaker Tip O’Neill,…

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  • Following Jerusalem, is Golan Heights next?

    Friday, December 8, 2017

    This post has been updated WASHINGTON – After US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, 22 years after Congress originally passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, we…

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  • Senators split over US recognition of Jerusalem

    Tuesday, December 5, 2017

    WASHINGTON – Anticipation is rising in Washington for the Trump administration’s upcoming decision on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, breaking a 50 year bipartisan precedent. Axios reported last…

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Daily Kickoff: Taylor Force Act updated in Senate | Why Warren Buffett loves Teva | Report: Soros boycotts Bibi in Munich | 38 Tel Aviv restaurants

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Ed note: We’ll be back Tuesday. Have a wonderful Presidents’ Day Weekend! 

DRIVING THE WEEKEND — World leaders and government representatives are expected to attend the Munich Security Conference, a high profile annual security gathering, held this weekend in Munich, Germany. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo will represent the U.S. at the conference. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak on Sunday, followed by a Q&A discussion moderated by Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the MSC. [Agenda

REPORT — George Soros boycotts Netanyahu lunch in Munich: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke today to dozens of heads of some of Germany’s largest corporations during a lunch hosted by Netanyahu and Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Funds. According to Israel Hayom’s Eldad Beck, George Soros declined an invitation by the organizers to attend the lunch due to Netanyahu’s presence.” [IsraelHayom]

“Netanyahu to Follow Putin in Munich Wake-Up Call to the West” by Marc Champion, Jonathan Ferziger and David Wainer: “A decade ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin chose the West’s annual security conference in Munich to say “what I really think” about the U.S. … Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu plans to use this week’s event for a similarly blunt wake-up call about the threat of war with Iran. “The prime minister will tell the world if you want to avoid a huge war in Israel — stop Iran,” said Yaakov Amidror, a retired general and former Israeli national security adviser…  It isn’t clear Netanyahu will be able to muster the support Israel seeks — any more than Putin succeeded in doing so a decade ago. “In the end,” said Amidror… “Israel is alone.” [Bloomberg]

DRIVING THE CONVO — Senate Republican have updated the Taylor Force Act (bipartisan legislation that would cut off U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until they cease payments to families of terrorists) by removing a sunset clause that would have required Congress to re-pass the bill in several years, Senate Republicans also pulled vaccinations for children and wastewater projects. The two exemptions were added to the bill passed unanimously by the House of Representatives last December. A previous exemption for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, a specialty health care facility, was maintained.

— “Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., is expected to bring the new version to the floor imminently, several sources told Al-Monitor.” [Al-Monitor]

WHY IT MATTERS: On Sunday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer promised to do “everything I can to pass” the bill by unanimous consent. “I’ve checked with every Democratic senator,” Schumer said. “Not a single Democrat would block it.” The new version, however, which we’re told is still backed by Schumer, could face opposition among some Democratic lawmakers, forcing a floor fight.

Schumer’s spokeswoman Marisa Kaufman tells us… “Senator Schumer strongly supports the Taylor Force Act and, as Minority Leader, will do everything possible to help get it passed. Just this week, Senate Republicans made changes to the House-passed version, which senators are now closely reviewing.”

Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-CO) urged Majority Leader McConnell and Schumer to bring the Taylor Force Act for a vote on the Senate Floor in a letter signed by another 62 House members. “It is time we hold the Palestinian Authority accountable for financially incentivizing terrorism. My colleagues and I urge the Senate to provide this critical legislation with a vote without delay,” Lamborn said in a statement.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? We’re told the bill was ‘hotlined’ earlier this week, which means leadership notified the Senate that they want to pass the bill by unanimous consent. Apparently no Republican Senators objected but it is unclear if any of the Democrats will object. If even one Senator objects, the bill will head for a floor vote. If the Senate passes the new version, the House would either have to pass the identical version of the bill or there could be a conference committee where members of both the House and the Senate work out a compromise bill, which is then passed by both chambers.

A Foreign Relations Committee aide tells us… “Senator Corker is proud of this bill. It reflects emerging consensus for the U.S. to finally ensure that no American tax dollars can benefit the Palestinian Authority until they end the despicable practice of rewarding terrorists like the one who murdered Taylor Force. The legislation received strong bipartisan support in committee, and we expect it to pass both chambers by a wide margin and become law in the near future.”

QUESTION REMAINS: Where is the White House on the updated version of the Taylor Force Act?

‘DAYLIGHT’ EXPLAINED — “In Pursuit of Peace, Trump Generates Rare Friction With Netanyahu” by Mark Landler: “The lack of visible progress, and the cone of silence, surrounding the peace initiative have raised questions about how much of a plan the White House really has. Several officials, however, said that the proposal being devised by two of Mr. Trump’s aides, Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt, was detailed and substantive, and that Mr. Trump’s willingness to risk friction with Mr. Netanyahu over it showed that he was more, not less, committed… Aides recount, for example, that last month, when he reached Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on his cellphone in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Mnuchin relayed that he was in a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan. Mr. Trump requested to speak to the king, whom he then asked for help in dealing with the aggrieved president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas…” [NYTimes]

HEARD YESTERDAY ON THE HILL — Former Senator Joe Lieberman during a panel discussion on Hezbollah and Iran in the Middle East hosted by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) on the Hill: “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments on recognizing the reality that Hezbollah plays a role in Lebanon’s political process is “confusing and troubling… it is at best confusing, and at worst it puts us on a slippery slope to accepting the unacceptable… It gives Hezbollah a pass it doesn’t deserve.” [Pic]

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL): “Separating Hezbollah’s political wing from its military wing is like saying on a plane that the left wing is good, but the right wing is bad. Both are part of the plane. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization at its core.”

“Tillerson on Thursday says Hezbollah must be constrained” by Nicole Gaouette: “Tillerson, speaking at a news conference in Beirut alongside Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said [Hezbollah] “uses terrorism to advance its political agenda inside Lebanon, across the region, and around the world… It is unacceptable for a militia like Hezbollah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese government,” Tillerson said. “The only legitimate defender of the Lebanese state is the Lebanese Armed Forces.” [CNN]

SCENE YESTERDAY IN AMMAN — Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations met yesterday with Prince Feisal bin Hussein, the brother of King Abdullah II, in Jordan as part of a Mideast tour, which included a trip to the UAE. “Talks covered efforts aimed at achieving a just and all-inclusive peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis based on the two-state solution and the resolutions of international legitimacy,” the Jordan Times quoted a government news agency. “Prince Feisal stressed that the issue of Jerusalem must be settled within the framework of a holistic and long-term solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” [Pic

The annual Conference of Presidents’ Mission to Israel begins Sunday at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem. President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin will speak at the opening gala. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address the conference on Wednesday.

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — “In Netanyahu’s Israel, the Divisiveness Is Now All About Him” by David Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner: “Mr. Netanyahu’s Israel is as polarized as it has been in generations, and under his lengthy tenure, the national conversation has become steadily more toxic. Now, as the prime minister awaits a possible criminal indictment, his efforts to cling to power could pose even greater strains on a society that already seems at risk of tearing itself apart… Some, including in Israel’s national security establishment, worry that Mr. Netanyahu has practiced partisanship at the expense of the country’s long-term interests.” [NYTimes]

“Bibi Is Burning Down the House” by Michael Koplow: “Netanyahu has always done or said whatever he thought he needed to in order to remain in power. Annexing settlements, even if it is limited to the Jerusalem bedroom community of Maale Adumim, would bring unparalleled international condemnation, a crisis with neighboring Jordan, and turmoil among West Bank Palestinians, but it would also go a long way toward ensuring that Netanyahu is not replaced by his own party… While the conflagration might be months away, there is no doubt that Netanyahu is preparing to strike the match.” [ForeignPolicy]

INSIDE THE ADMIN — “VA chief fights for his political future amid internal strife and allegations of subterfuge” by Lisa Rein, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Josh Dawsey: “Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s standing with Trump appears tenuous, a White House official said. Trump, who has held Shulkin in high regard and publicly praised his efforts to turn around the troubled agency, is said to be upset, though there are no immediate plans to fire him…  White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly summoned Shulkin on Thursday afternoon, but details of their conversation were tightly held… White House officials have been told not to defend or attack Shulkin, the officials said.” [WashPost]

NEW DC FIRM: Michèle Flournoy and Tony Blinken have started WestExec Advisors, a new strategic advisory firm. Flournoy is the co-founder and former CEO of the Center for a New American Security and former under secretary of defense for policy, while Blinken is a former deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser to President Obama. Other principals include Robert Work, Avril Haines, David Cohen, Lisa Monaco, Matt Olsen and Dan Shapiro. Nitin Chadda and Sergio Aguirre are the firm’s founding partners. [PoliticoPlaybook]

Romney makes it official: He’s running for Utah Senate seat: “The former presidential nominee made his campaign official Friday in an online video after a delaying his launch following a deadly shooting at a Florida high school. Romney is considered a heavy favorite for the Senate seat held by Orrin Hatch. The longtime Republican senator is retiring. Romney has been a persistent critic of President Donald Trump, but those close to Romney say he’ll focus his campaign instead on Utah.” [AP]

** Good Friday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Why Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway loves loathed Israeli drug stock Teva [CNBC• Bezeq Is Said to Accept Elliott Demand to Hire New Directors [Bloomberg] • Antony Ressler’s Ares Becomes Litmus Test for Buyout Firms Mulling Tax Change [Bloomberg] • A battle for control of Russia’s Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel) resurfaced on Friday as billionaires Vladimir Potanin and Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich made counter offers for each others shares [Reuters Carlyle’s Three Founders Take Home $193 Million in 2017 Payouts [Bloomberg] Harry’s Raises $112 Million to Move Beyond Shaving [NYTimes] • Penn Alumni Argue Over Yanking Steve Wynn’s Name From Commons [Bloomberg] • Ron Perelman’s Creeks Puzzles Almost Solved [EastHamptonStar]

SPOTLIGHT — Trump’s Inaugural Committee Paid $26 Million to Firm of First Lady’s Adviser” by Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel: “The company that received the biggest payment — $26 million — was WIS Media Partners of Marina del Rey, Calif. Records show that the firm was created in December 2016, about six weeks before the inauguration, and its founder… was Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a longtime friend of [Melania] Trump’s… Ms. Winston Wolkoff has subsequently been brought on as a senior adviser to the first lady’s official government office…”

“An operative who worked with the inaugural committee… said Ms. Winston Wolkoff’s firm handled everything from securing venues and table settings to arranging Instagram filters and satellite feeds, as well as the transportation of heavy equipment. The operative said Ms. Winston Wolkoff personally received $1.62 million for her work.” [NYTimes]

“Steve Schwarzman Makes The Biggest-Ever Donation To A Public High School” by Susan Adams: “Billionaire private equity titan Stephen Schwarzman startled educators gathered at the annual American Association of School Administrators conference today when he announced that he was giving his public high school in suburban Philadelphia a gift of $25 million… Schwarzman’s donation to Abington High School appears to be the largest-ever gift to a single public school…” [Forbes]

PROFILE — “The Jewish sheriff leading the response to the Florida school shooting quotes the Talmud” by Ben Sales: “Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel… is the county’s first Jewish sheriff, and it’s an identity he has embraced. A 2016 campaign flier reported on that year by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel centers on the role that faith in general, and Judaism in particular, plays in his life… In speeches, Israel is known to quote the Bible… “As Broward’s first Jewish sheriff, I carry a heavy burden knowing I am making history,” the campaign flier said… Israel told the Sun-Sentinel that he attends the Parkland Chabad…” [JTA]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Museum manager fired for plot to block Israel celebration” by Carl Campanile: “The head of the Queens Museum and a top deputy have been ousted after a boneheaded move last year to try to prevent Israel from celebrating its 70th anniversary at the facility… The investigative report found that museum director Laura Raicovich and deputy director David Strauss “exercised poor judgment” and “knowingly misled” the board… Raicovich had a massive conflict. She was a staunch critic of Israel and did not disclose her hostility to the museum’s board, the report said.”[NYPost]

PIC OF THE DAY — Redskins’ Josh Norman spotted in Israel while on a week-long trip organized by American Voices in Israel. Former MK Dov Lipman: “Of particular note was his “chai” necklace which he was been wearing with great pride for four months!” [Pic]

SPORTS BLINK: “N.B.A. Stars Get Into the Hollywood Game” by Brooks Barnes: “Hollywood is very much on the N.B.A. superstar’s mind, however. [Kevin] Durant and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, started an entertainment company, Thirty Five Media, in April. Last month, YouTube tapped them to develop sports programming… On Tuesday, Apple said it was working with Thirty Five Media and the Oscar-winning producer Brian Grazer to develop “Swagger,” a drama partly inspired by Mr. Durant’s rough-and-tumble adolescence. “I’m looking forward to giving my input and sharing my insight,” Mr. Durant said of the project, which Mr. Kleiman described as “‘Friday Night Lights’ with ‘Power’ and ‘The Wire’ mixed in.”” [NYTimes]

DESSERT — “The 38 Essential Tel Aviv Restaurants” by Keren Brown: “You can easily walk or bike — use the city­wide Tel­-O-­Fun rentals — across the entire city, from its beachfront boardwalks to its grittier neighborhoods, experiencing Tel Aviv through its kaleidoscope of eateries. Yemenite, Moroccan, Tunisian, Spanish, and homegrown Israeli food can all be relished here, from hole­-in-­the-­wall food joints to a groundswell of fine dining, and everything in between, while fresh produce can be picked up for a song in one of the city’s many bustling open­-air markets.” [Eater]

WINE OF THE WEEK — Benhaim 2004 Grand Reserve Cabernet — by Yitz Applbaum: “Before I decide which wine to review, one of the questions I ask myself is whether a wine is distributed widely enough for the reader to obtain it. For this reason, I was unsure whether to highlight the Benhaim 2004 Grand Reserve Cabernet, one of my favorite bottles. When I recently found it for sale online, I figured it was appropriate to review. Of course, once I found it online, I bought a bottle immediately and had a terrific experience drinking it.”

“The Benhaim 2004 Grand Reserve Cabernet is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and is aged for 24 months in predominantly new French oak.  The 13 years in bottle have allowed this once highly tannic wine to mellow out and balance.  The opening is primarily characterized by a blissful sweetness and the finish is equally memorable with notes of mellow plum.  The finish lingers a while and continues to engage the palate long after the liquid has vanished. This wine still has a few years to age in the bottle and is worth collecting. Drink it with anything.  It can stand alone, with no food, even under intense scrutiny.” [Benhaim]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Business magnate, activist shareholder and philanthropist, he served as a special advisor to President Trump on regulatory reform during 2017, Carl Icahn turns 82… Founding national director of American Friends of Lubavitch, Rabbi Abraham Shemtov turns 81… Educator, theorist, writer and professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, Michael Joseph Shapiro turns 78… Ecuador-born, interim executive director of the Jewish Federation of Howard County (MD), veteran of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as counsel and director of external affairs (1988-1999), Ralph Grunewald turns 62… Marrakech, Morocco-born co-founder and managing partner of Avenue Capital Group, Sonia Gardner turns 56… Co-director of “Women for Israel’s Tomorrow” (better known as Women in Green), a grassroots Israeli movement supporting settlements and annexation, Nadia Matar turns 52… Associate Regional Director of Birthright Israel Foundation, previously at NYC’s Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation, Marissa Schaevitz Levey turns 34… CEO of FinePoint, a PR, communications and professional development company, Meredith Fineman turns 31… Singer-songwriter and guitarist, Danielle Haim turns 29… Deputy national health, science and environment editor at the Washington Post, formerly at Politico, Susan K. Levine… Amy Kurtz… Rachel Rubenstein… Eric McDonald

SATURDAY: Former Treasurer of Massachusetts, he was President of AIPAC (1992-1996), Steven Grossman turns 72… Executive Director of HUC-JIR’s American Jewish Archives and professor of Reform Jewish History at HUC-JIR, Gary Phillip Zola turns 66… One of the most popular Israeli basketball players of all time, Miki Berkovich turns 64… Israel’s Minister of the Interior and leader of the Shas party, Aryeh Deri turns 59… Partner in the DC office of Skadden, Arps specializing in communications, national security, CFIUS, Congressional investigations and government policy, Ivan A. Schlager turns 57… Filmmaker Michael Benjamin Bay turns 53… Emmy-winning journalist, currently co-host of Bloomberg’s “Masters in Politics,” former executive producer of Meet the Press (2002-2013), executive in residence at American University, Betsy Fischer Martin turns 48… Israeli actress, Linor Abargil turns 38… Actor and filmmaker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns 37… Public policy official at San Francisco-based Stripe, an online payment firm, previously at the US Treasury, National Security Council and Goldman Sachs, Samantha Vinograd turns 35… Senior multi-platform editor for CNN Politics, formerly at Politico and Reuters, Dianna Heitz turns 34… Executive Director of the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life (the Columbia / Barnard Hillel), Brian Cohen… Executive editor of McClatchy Washington and a Politico alum, Kristin Roberts… Miriam Schulman

SUNDAY: Democratic US Representative from New York since 1989, ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel turns 71… Portfolio manager at Capital Group, Hilda Lea Applbaum… Chief Development Officer, Valley Alliance of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Lori Tessel turns 55… CEO of an eponymous Baltimore-based branding, marketing, PR, advertising and design firm, David F. Warschawski turns 47… Actor Isaac “Ike” Barinholtz turns 41… Singer-songwriter and pianist, Regina Spektor turns 38… Born in Israel and raised in Baltimore, national director of development for J Street, previously the West Coast Director for the OneVoice Movement, Adee Telem turns 37… Instagram celebrity known commonly as The Fat Jew, he is a writer, actor, model, vintner and entrepreneur, Josh Ostrovsky turns 36… National political  correspondent for The Washington Post and author of The Daily 202, James P. Hohmann turns 31… Dylan Sandler turns 30… Supreme Master of the Board of Governors of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the global Jewish college fraternity (2014-2016), Larry C. Leider… Associate producer at CBS Evening News, Rebecca Kaplan… Stacey Gardner… Ben Wofford… Scott Liebman

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Daily Kickoff: Bibi weathering political storm… for now | Scooter Braun on why some celebrities go crazy | The shift at Ike Perlmutter’s Marvel

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FLORIDA MASSACRE — Jewish student identified among dead in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting — by Graham Lanktree: “Student Jamie Guttenberg is the first confirmed fatality. Local outlet ABC News 10 reported that Guttenberg’s parents were notified that she died in the shooting after they had shared pictures of her on social media in hopes of locating her amidst the panic. Guttenberg’s Facebook page has since been turned into a memorial. Her brother Jesse Guttenberg is reported to be alive.” [NewsweekLocal10]

— “Rabbi Bradd Boxman of Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in the town inland from Boca Raton, said he knew of at least four Jewish high school students among the wounded, including three from his congregation. They were in area hospitals and had undergone surgery.” [JTA]

Sen. Chuck Schumer: “Another shooting in our schools, today at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Yes, our children are resilient, but this is not a burden they should ever have to bear. My heart aches for these children & their families. #StopGunViolence” [Twitter]

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee: “Just waking up in Israel to news of heartbreaking school shooting in FL; Reminded that Israel pretty much eliminated it by placing highly trained people strategically to spot the one common thread–not the weapon, but a person with intent. #PrayForParkland” [Twitter]

COMING SOON — President Trump will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office next month when the Israeli leader visits DC for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference (March 4-6). This will be their fourth meeting since Trump took office. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and possibly Vice President Mike Pence, will represent the administration at the annual gathering.

A White House official tells us… “The President has a tremendous relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu and looks forward to meeting with him. This was a long planned meeting.”

REPORT — Trump and Netanyahu put annexation row behind them: “An official told Israel’s Hadashot news that the annexation kerfuffle “is already water under the bridge and has no consequence to our relationship with Netanyahu.”” [ToI

SPOTTED LAST NIGHT: Israeli Amb. Ron Dermer on United 84 from Newark to Tel Aviv.

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — “Israel’s Netanyahu Absorbs Fresh Political Shocks” by  Rory Jones: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, battling corruption allegations that threaten to bring down his government, is arguing that he is the best person to keep Israel safe amid sharply rising tensions with its Middle East foes… Mr. Netanyahu’s strong response this past weekend to Iran’s breach of Israeli airspace has bolstered the leader’s security credentials, said Yehudit Auerbach, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University… “Even among his rivals, he’s known as ‘Mr. Security,’ ” Ms. Auerbach said. “There’s no alternative leader who can play the role managing relations around the world, and especially in the Middle East.”” [WSJ] • Netanyahu, Linked to $300,000 in Bribes, Says He Won’t Quit [NYTimes]

“Israel’s Netanyahu may weather corruption allegations for now, but a storm is brewing” by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash: “Few expect Netanyahu not to fight to the bitter end. The prime minister and his wife are “addicted to power,” said Ben Caspit, the author of two books about Netanyahu… “He does not think he did anything wrong, and he really believes that no one else can lead Israel, and he cannot be himself anywhere else but here as the prime minister of Israel,” Caspit added.” [WashPost]

Alon Pinkus, a former Israeli Consul General in New York, tells us… “Ostensibly, Netanyahu has not been indicted yet and in any case innocent until proven otherwise, but his ability and legitimacy to carry out policy and make decisions is by nature impeded and restricted. His standing in the world, despite what he likes to think and how he brags about it, has never been high. However, this weakens him considerably in terms of how he is perceived and his political durability and longevity.”

VIEW FROM DC — “Trump Will Be the Big Loser If Netanyahu Falls” by Zev Chafets: ” Netanyahu is, for better or worse, one of the world’s most important statesmen. On matters pertaining to the Middle East, he has been President Donald Trump’s mentor, guru and partner. In some ways, his senior partner… He is a trusted and reliable go-between for Washington and Moscow…” [BloombergView]

DRIVING THE CONVO — “US Secretary of State meets key Hezbollah allies in Lebanon” by Andrea Rosa: “Tillerson was expected to discuss the heightened tensions in his talks with the country’s top officials, including President Michel Aoun, Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri — who all maintain close relations with the militant Hezbollah group… Aoun, who kept Tillerson waiting for several minutes at the palace ahead of their meeting, said he asked Tillerson to work on preventing what he said were ongoing Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty and said that Lebanon rejects Israeli claims over parts of the countries’ maritime border. It was not clear why Tillerson was left waiting, but he arrived at the palace earlier than scheduled. At his meeting with Berri, a pro-Hezbollah politician, one of the photographers asked the men to shake hands. Berri laughed and said: “Why do you need that?” They then looked at each other, chuckled and obliged.” [AP]

Ahead of Beirut visit, Tillerson says Hezbollah ‘part of political process’ in Lebanon: “We know that Lebanese Hezbollah is influenced by Iran. This is influence that we think is unhelpful in Lebanon’s long-term future,” Tillerson said at a press conference in Jordan. “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon.” Later, US Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said however that Lebanon “would be better off without Hezbollah’s terrorism and malign influence.” “We will continue our efforts at strengthening those institutions that bolster Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability.” [DailyMail]

HEARD THE OTHER DAY — State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert compares Israel to her best friend Julie when explaining why Tillerson skipped Israel on his Mideast tour: “We have a strong relationship with the Israeli people and the Government of Israel. There is no question about that… I kind of liken that to my relationship with my best friend from junior high school, Julie,” Nauert said. “She lives in the Midwest. Every time I go to the Midwest, I don’t get to see my friend Julie. Every time that Secretary Tillerson is going to go to the Middle East, he’s not going to be able to hit every single country.” [Video]

HAPPENING TODAY — United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) will host an event on Capitol Hill at noon to discuss Hezbollah’s future in Lebanon and the region. Speakers include former Senator Joe Lieberman, Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Brad Schneider (D-IL), and the Israeli Embassy’s Deputy Head of Mission, Reuven Azar.

“Jordan, a Pivotal Arab Ally, Gets More U.S. Aid Despite Rancor Over Jerusalem” by Gardiner Harris: “In a remarkably cordial reception that contrasted sharply with Vice President Mike Pence’s visit last month, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson signed an agreement that guarantees Jordan nearly $1.3 billion in annual assistance… With Mr. Tillerson, Jordanian officials were far less hectoring, as [King] Abdullah kept his meeting with Mr. Tillerson private. The softer response may have partly resulted… because Mr. Pence had stood smiling behind President Trump when he made the announcement about Jerusalem, while Mr. Tillerson was nowhere to be seen. Or maybe it was because Mr. Tillerson was known to have successfully lobbied President Trump to only halve funding for the United Nations agency that provides aid to millions of Palestinian refugees instead of eliminating it altogether.” [NYTimes]

“UN gets report on what Palestinians say is Gaza catastrophe” by Edith Lederer: “Nikolay Mladenov, the special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the council that drinking water is short, hospitals have been closed and “doctors stopped doing surgeries.” … [Bolivian Ambassador Sacha] Llorenty Soliz said he highlighted that the situation in Gaza has been worsened by the U.S. suspension of millions of dollars in funding for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees… Llorenty Soliz said he told the council the primary responsibility for “the catastrophic situation in Gaza” rests with Israel.” [AP]

“Top Secret Israeli cable warns of Syrian chemical attacks spillover” by Barak Ravid: “According to a “Top secret” cable sent to Israeli ambassadors earlier this week, Israel fears that the Assad regime will use the chemical weapons it still has left in a way which might spill over to Israeli territory… In the cable the ambassadors were asked to tell their counterparts, “Such an incident will mandate a harsh response by Israel”… “Israel does not want an escalation but has an obligation to defend itself,” the cable reads.”[Axios]

“What Iran Is Really Up To in Syria” by Sam Dagher: “After the downing of the F-16, Iran and Hezbollah signaled that they did not want escalation. They are, however, bent on using the recent events to blunt further moves by Israel against the military presence they have built up inside Syria to protect the Assad regime… With their position entrenched in Syria and their influence in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen secure, Iran and Hezbollah and their Shiite allies believe they have built a formidable, unified, border-spanning front. How they choose to exert their power could dictate the future for this region.” [TheAtlantic] • Russian official: If Iran attacks Israel, we’ll stand with you Israel [ToI

HEARD YESTERDAY ON THE HILL — Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, among others, addressed the Agudath Israel leadership mission in DC. Yeruchim Silber‏ tweeted: “Sen. Gillibrand compares herself to Queen Esther. Both plucked from obscurity and like Esther saved the Jewish people, Sen. Gillibrand says she stands ready to defend Israel and our community. Spoke forcefully against BDS and other hate speech and groups.” [Pic] • Schumer: “America is an amazing country – for everybody, but also for the Jewish people.” [Video]

— Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt also addressed the delegation at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building [Pic]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT… “Veterans Affairs chief Shulkin, staff misled ethics officials about European trip, report finds” by Lisa Rein: “Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for the secretary’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer… Shulkin also improperly accepted a gift of sought-after tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match, the investigation found, and directed an aide to act as what the report called a “personal travel concierge” to him and his wife… Shulkin wrote a check Wednesday to reimburse the government for the cost of his wife’s travel, his attorneys said, and he intends to repay the cost of the tennis tickets.” [WashPost]

** Good Thursday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Kushner Investors Subpoenaed by U.S. Tax Authorities, Source Says [Bloomberg] • Mark Zuckerberg is increasing his stock sales to fund the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative [Recode] • Tech Luminary Peter Thiel Parts Ways With Silicon Valley [WSJ]

PODCAST PLAYBACK — Talent manager Scooter Braun on The Bill Simmons Podcast discussing how Justin Bieber dealt with fame during his teenage years — Bill Simmons: “Why do most people who have a ton of success before they hit the age of 25 go crazy? You had Bieber and he’s a massive success at age 16 and went through a hard time but is now healthy.” Scooter Braun: “Look, I think Justin figured out something that we talk about all the time, that is the only reason that he did not go crazy. And that is and I’m going to get spiritual on you here — I don’t think human beings were made to be worshiped. I think we were made to serve. I think we worship something upstairs, whatever it may be, I respect anybody for their beliefs. But there’s something bigger than us that can be worshiped. I think as human beings, we’re here to serve each other and that’s the only way we can keep our sanity.”

“We hear of Fortune 100 CEOs killing themselves, and we’re like, ‘I can’t believe with everything they had, they would kill themselves,’ but we’re not surprised. But if I was to tell you, hey, there was a lifetime volunteer at a soup kitchen who killed themselves, you’d be like, ‘That makes no sense to me. I’ve never heard of anything like that.’ And it’s because people who serve, don’t go crazy. People who give back, don’t go crazy. And people who don’t, who just take and take and take, and are worshiped and are just receiving, they lose their mind because they don’t know where to give anything… With celebrity when you live far away by yourself and the whole world is just praising you all the time… the only way you survive is if you have an outlet to give.” Listen at the 42 minute mark [Audio]

The Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci, on The Axe Files: “I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. I know the difference between a sheigetz and a shiksa. Not a lot of Italians know that difference.” [AxeFiles]

MEDIA WATCH: “Observer names former Thrillist executive to top editor job” by Keith J. Kelly: “The Observer Media Group finally tapped a new editor-in-chief, naming former Thrillist Chief Creative Officer Ben Robinson to the post on Wednesday. The top slot has been vacant since Ken Kurson — a pal of then-publisher and Donald Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner — jumped back to the p.r. side as a senior managing director of Teneo Strategy in May 2017… His brother-in-law, Joseph Meyer, is now the managing partner of Observer Capital and chairman of Observer Media.” [NYPost]

“Leaked Chat Transcripts: New York Times Employees Are Pissed About Bari Weiss” by Ashley Feinberg: “Criticism flew in from all points of the compass — including from within the Times itself, where staffers were unusually frank in expressing their anger at both Weiss and the newspaper, according to an internal chatroom transcript obtained by HuffPost. People were outraged not only at the tweet ― which referenced a line from a song from “Hamilton” ― but also at Weiss’ refusal to acknowledge that perhaps she had been insensitive in placing an American citizen in the category of other… Many employees of The New York Times were not able to engage in this lively Twitter conversation thanks to the publication’s oppressive social media guidelines that seem only to apply to its reporters — not its opinion writers… So some employees took to Slack… to discuss the incident in a chatroom visible to the rest of the company.” [HuffPost]

“Who Is Weev, and Why Did He Derail a Journalist’s Career?” by Rachel Gutman: “In the span of about six hours… The New York Times announced the hiring of Quinn Norton as a tech columnist and then apparently fired her. The Times claims that their decision to “go their separate ways” was guided by “new information,” revealed… about her friendship with someone called weev… weev’s given name is Andrew Auernheimer. As Luke O’Brien reported for The Atlantic in December, Auernheimer is a white supremacist, Nazi, and internet troll who’s the webmaster for The Daily Stormer… In a podcast hosted by Christopher Cantwell in December, Auernheimer blamed Jewish people for the loss of a dot-com home for The Daily Stormer. He said, “If you don’t let us dissent peacefully, then our only option is to murder you. To kill your children. To kill your whole families.”” [TheAtlantic]

PROFILE: “This Prolific Nerd Is Shaping the Future of Wikipedia” by Daniel Malloy: “The Francisco article launched Steven Pruitt on a journey to become by far the most prolific English language Wikipedian — as the site’s editors are known — with more than 2.2 million edits pixeled into history (the next closest has completed a mere 1.8 million edits)… Time magazine recently named Pruitt one of the 25 most influential people on the internet, but unlike his fellow influencers Kim Kardashian and Chance the Rapper, Pruitt tells OZY he embraces a “stereotypical internet nerd” existence. The single 33-year-old lives with his parents, to help them as they age and to save money in the pricey Washington area.”

“With the thoroughness of a lengthy Wiki entry, Pruitt explains the global historical forces that shaped his personal narrative: A Leonid Brezhnev–era weakening of emigration restrictions for Jews allowed Pruitt’s mother to leave the Soviet Union, ostensibly for Israel, but she rerouted to the United States. Pruitt’s father was a college professor in Virginia and later a Russian linguist for the Navy. They immersed their only child’s ears in opera, his mind in literature and his eyes in art.” [Ozy]

HOLLYWOOD: “Marvel’s last four films have featured female leads of color. Here’s how the shift occurred” by Michael Cavna: “In May 2015, as IndieWire reported, an email by Ike Perlmutter that was sent the previous summer came under much scrutiny. According to the leaked email, Perlmutter… said in 2014 that superheroines weren’t profitable. Writing to Sony chief executive Michael Lynton, Perlmutter cited three female-led superhero movies — “Electra,” “Catwoman” and “Supergirl” — that he viewed as disasters or, at the least, “very, very bad.” Perlmutter’s email, once leaked, was widely interpreted as his argument against female-led movies, despite myriad other factors at play here — even as the email neglected to mention smash action franchises such as the Hunger Games trilogy or the Alien saga, which were led by female heroes. What that leaked email widely did, in fan perception, was paint Perlmutter as the chief obstructionist as Marvel took years to put “Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel” in motion.” [WashPost]

“What It’s Like Taking Photos of the Ultra Wealthy from Inside a Helicopter” by Tiffy Thompson: “Jeff Cully has a unique window into an exclusive world of obscene wealth, marauding development, and breathtaking beauty. He’s been hanging out of helicopters as an aerial photographer for nearly three decades. Now, shooting primarily over the Hamptons, Cully enjoys the view while he gets paid to capture the sprawling summer playgrounds of billionaires and celebrities… What are some memorable residences you’ve photographed? Ira Rennert’s Fair Field Estate in Sagaponack, NY. This place is nuts. It was America’s biggest residential compound—it’s sprawling and ridiculous. Multiple pools, gardens that go on and on, multiple tennis courts side-by-side. It’s completely over-the-top. Though his gardens create some really cool patterns so it photographs beautifully.” [Vice

“Why I went from Catholic schoolgirl to Hasidic Jewish wife” by Doree Lewak: “I would drive through Williamsburg and I remember thinking, ‘What language is that?’ I thought they were Amish,” says [Yehudit] Chervony, 34… Reading “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism,” she realized that she was interested in the strictest form of the religion…  At age 25, she became an Orthodox Jew. “I went from the call-me-to-find-a-party girl to the Shabbos girl,” she says, referring to the Jewish day of rest that commences on Fridays at sundown…” [NYPost

DESSERT — “Temple Israel makes more sandwiches” by Dean Poling: “Temple Israel hopes to feed more than 10 percent of the Valdosta population with the annual Kosher Corned Beef Sandwich fundraiser. The area Hebrew congregation has set a goal of making and selling more than 6,000 sandwiches the second weekend of March, said Harriet Messcher, a member of Temple Israel… For a $12 ticket, a purchaser receives a third-pound of Hebrew National corned beef sandwich, chips, dill pickle, drink, a dessert, and condiments.” [ValdostaDailyTimes• Tallahassee Jewish Food Fest taking orders for that pastrami on rye [Tallahassee]

BIRTHDAYS: Burson-Marsteller’s founding Chairman, Harold Bursonturns 97… Professor emeritus of American Jewish history at Columbia University, Arthur A. Goren (born Aryeh Gorenstein) turns 92… British actress, Claire Bloom, whose paternal grandfather shortened his name from Blumenthal, turns 87… Chair of Jewish Studies at Arizona State University, a scholar of Jewish philosophy, Norbert M. Samuelson turns 82… Professor of cognitive science at both the University of Michigan and Indiana University, Pulitzer Prize winner, Douglas Hofstadter turns 73… Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives (1991-2017), Elliott Naishtat turns 73… Cartoonist, editor, teacher at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and long-time contributing artist for The New Yorker, Art Spiegelman (born Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev) turns 70… Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, television, film and stage actress, Melissa Manchester turns 67…

Host of the radio program “Jewish Moments in the Morning” since 1983, president of the Nachum Segal Radio Network, Nachum Segal turns 55… Washington director for the New Israel Fund, Karen Paul-Stern turns 55… Managing director of external affairs and development based in the DC office of CARE, the global poverty fighting organization, Elizabeth Ives (“Beth”) Solomon turns 52 (h/t Politico)… Founder of “Talking Points Memo,” he earned a Ph.D. in American history from Brown University, Josh Marshall turns 49… Director of business development at Treetop Development, Eric Distenfeld turns 38… Deputy executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Alex Siegel turns 32… Yogi Sanders

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Daily Kickoff: Facing possible corruption charges, will Bibi gamble with annexation? | Blackstone promotes Jon Gray | Rahm’s Jewish mother trick

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TALK OF THE TOWN — “Qatar and American Jews: News about an inflammatory documentary breaks just as a charm offensive is underway. What does Doha really want?” by Armin Rosen: “On Feb. 2, Philip Rees, a Doha-based manager of investigations at Al Jazeera, sent letters to several U.S.-based Jewish and pro-Israel organizations—along with various current and former employees of those organizations—informing them that they will likely be featured in a documentary “concerning the role of pro-Israel advocacy groups in the United States.” Qatar-based Al Jazeera is a subsidiary of the regime-owned Qatar Media Corp. The Feb. 2 letters confirm that an agent of the network had secretly recorded pro-Israel activists.”

“As one letter recipient explained, the vast majority of people in Washington hold insignificant jobs at insignificant organizations: “No one ever walks into these places and says, ‘Tell me how important you are.’ ” Little surprise that a charming and seemingly-earnest British-accented 23-year-old polyglot was able to get other 23-year-olds to exaggerate about their organization’s activities, or explain how they thought things really worked in the pro-Israel world.”

“If the documentary runs, it is an absolute certainty that there will be some kind of effort in Congress and the pro-Israel community to make Al Jazeera register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)… This past week, New Jersey congressman Josh Gottheimer began circulating a letter that called on the Justice Department to explore the issue further… citing “Al Jazeera’s record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts.” [TabletMag

–EXPLAINER: “Why are Jewish leaders fighting about Qatar? Here’s a scorecard” [JTA]

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing the fight of his career after Israeli authorities recommended charges of bribery and fraud. This follows a yearlong graft investigation in two alleged corruption cases. Israeli police said in a statement yesterday that it found evidence of “accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust” for accepting $282,000 in gifts over 10 years from Israeli movie producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, in addition to back-room dealings with the publisher Yediot Aharonot Arnon Mozes to shut down Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom in exchange of favorable coverage. Netanyahu is suspected of promoting significant tax exemptions to returning Israeli resident of Israel, and lobbying the U.S. administration for Milchan’s visa extension in the U.S. A key witness in the case is Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s main political rival who served as finance minister in the previous government. Packer will not face any charges.

BIBI’S REACTION — “I am sure that the truth will come to light,” Netanyahu said in a televised address as he defiantly proclaimed his innocence. “And I am sure that also in the next election that will take place on time I will win your trust again, with God’s help.” [Video

“After reading the recommendations report, I can say it is a biased, extreme document that’s as full of holes as Swiss cheese and that does not hold water,” Netanyahu said in a speech this morning. The opposition rushed to call for Netanyahu’s resignation, but Netanyahu’s political standing is not at risk for the moment as his coalition partners, mainly Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, indicated they will not quit the government until the AG announces his decision, expected sometime towards the end of the year. Likud ministers and Netanyahu supporters turned their fire towards Lapid and blasted the recommendations as “a coup” against the will of Israeli voters.

FOGGY BOTTOM’S VIEW — Asked to react to the news of the day during a press briefing yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “The only thing I have to say about that is that the United States has a very strong relationship, not only with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but also the Israeli government. We’re certainly aware of it, but we consider it to be an internal Israeli matter.”

WHY IT MATTERS: “The potential indictment comes with Netanyahu close to accomplishing one of his biggest goals: outstripping David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the modern Israeli state, as the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.  (Netanyahu is serving his third consecutive term as prime minister; if he holds on until July 2019, he will have spent more time in office than Ben-Gurion.)” [VoxBloomberg]

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Dan Arbell, a 25 year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service and a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, tells us… “Netanyahu will remain PM as long as his coalition partners continue to stand by him. Israeli law does not require him to resign until he is found guilty in a court of law for a serious offense. The decision is with AG Mandelblit and it’ll take some time before he makes a decision, and in any case, it will not happen before he holds a hearing for Netanyahu.”

“While it tarnishes his public image, worldwide, expect Netanyahu to continue with a similar approach on foreign policy. He’ll also try and conduct a “business as usual” schedule, including international travel, and this weekend is expected to participate in the Munich security summit. He most likely will make an effort to further consolidate his political base, hence expect him to continue with a tough approach towards the Palestinians, Syria and Iran (in Syria), as well as with the “fix it or nix it” approach on the JCPOA.”

Israel Policy Forum’s Michael Koplow emails… “I think it’s too early to make any conclusive predictions about Bibi’s political future since this is only Act One of a long production, and his coalition allies do not want to upend things unless their hand is forced. The immediate impact is likely to be that Bibi will do whatever he must to keep potential defectors in his corner, and with the makeup of Likud and the rest of this government that means allowing a rash of nationalist legislation to proceed that he has been blocking up until now. In particular, I expect the push to annex settlements will gather even more steam now than it already has, and in a similar manner to how Olmert thought a peace agreement with Abbas would save his premiership, Bibi may gamble that annexation will keep his political allies behind him.”

“Can Netanyahu Survive?” by Gregg Carlstrom: “While he waits for the attorney general’s decision, Netanyahu will put a simple question to his supporters: As international tensions flare, would you risk removing an experienced prime minister over some cigars and chats with a newspaper publisher? … The law may eventually catch up to Netanyahu. But for now, it seems the politics will not.” [Politico

SPOTLIGHT ON MANDELBLIT: “Promoted by Netanyahu, Israel’s Attorney General Must Now Scrutinize Him” by Isabel Kershner: “[Avichai] Mandelblit became the one who will ultimately decide, in consultation with state prosecutors, whether the evidence warrants taking Mr. Netanyahu to court… He was catapulted into the political limelight when Mr. Netanyahu appointed him as his cabinet secretary in 2013. In his mid-50s, and a father of six, Mr. Mandelblit is known to be an avid soccer fan… Although Mr. Netanyahu has blamed the left and the news media of plotting to oust him by legal means because they cannot beat him at the ballot box, Mr. Mandelblit hardly fits the profile of a politically motivated insurgent intent on bringing down the government.” [NYTimes]

TILLERSON’S MIDEAST TOUR — “U.S. Mideast peace plan fairly well advanced, Tillerson says” by Yara Bayoumy and Suleiman al-Khalidi: “The United States has a fairly well advanced Middle East peace plan that has been under development for a number of months, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday during a visit to Jordan.” [Reuters]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in interview with Al Hurra TV while in Kuwait: “Just prior to leaving for my trip to the region, I had a very lengthy telephone conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the strikes, and we had a long discussion around the threats that Israel is confronted with that emanate both from Lebanon due to Lebanese Hizballah, but also from Syria. We take the threats to Israel seriously and we take a view that Israel has every right to defend itself from those threats. We are concerned about Syria not creating instability and opportunities for further threats to Israel…”

— Tillerson also rejected Michael Oren’s assertion that the U.S. is “not in the game” when it comes to Syria. “I think in terms of this observation that the U.S. has little leverage or role to play is simply false,” Tillerson told reporters.

“Former White House adviser says only 3 people in Trump’s Cabinet wanted to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem” by Alex Thomas: “At a D.C. Young Republicans event Monday night at the Capitol Hill Club, [Sebastian] Gorka said… “This is from a cabinet member — I can’t give you the Cabinet member’s name — but the decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem. Only three people in the Cabinet supported the President. Okay, only three people. Everybody else didn’t want to do it or wanted to slow roll it, said it would create a cataclysm… The President said ‘I promised the American people… I have promised the people of Israel, our best friends in the Middle East. Oh, and by the way, it’s the right thing to do!’ As far as I’m concerned, this is the most pro-Israel administration since 1776,” Gorka later added.” [Rare]

HAPPENING TODAY — The House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing titled, “Israel, the Palestinians, and the Administration’s Peace Plan,” in the Rayburn Building at 2:00 PM.FDD’s Clifford May, former ambassador Daniel Shapiro, and Washington Institute’s Ghaith al-Omari are expected to testify.

Shapiro in a written statement submitted to the committee: “In the current circumstance, the Administration has no way to get their plan out, at least until tempers cool somewhat, without it being dead on arrival. I hope the administration will resist the advice they are getting from some quarters to rush out a one-sided plan in full knowledge that the Palestinians will reject it out of hand. That would deal yet another blow to the already battered prospects for two states.” [Doc]

Tom Friedman writes… “Syria: You Own It, You Fix It, So Just Rent It: The Iranians and Hezbollah will most likely continue to prod and poke Israel, but not to such a degree that the Israelis do what they are capable of doing, which is to devastate every Hezbollah neighborhood in Lebanon and hit Iran’s homeland with rockets… Maybe, eventually, the players will get tired and forge a power-sharing accord in Syria, as the Lebanese eventually did in 1989 to end their civil war.” [NYTimes]

PALACE INTRIGUE: “Conversations over possible Kelly successor heat up” by Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Jamie Gangel, Jim Acosta and Jeremy Diamond: “Sources say the conversations center on chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as possible successors [to Kelly]. A source said that while Cohn had an issue with Trump over his reaction to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that run-in showed that he pushes back, which would be needed in the chief of staff job.” [CNN

2018 WATCH —  “Mitt Romney to announce Senate run Thursday on social media” by David Drucker: “Sources in Utah told the Washington Examiner that Romney that will officially jump into the 2018 Senate race with a digital announcement, rather than holding at a staged rally with supporters.”[WashExaminer]

“Alan Grayson says he’s running for Congress, but won’t say where” by Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo: “Firebrand Democrat Alan Grayson says he wants to return to Congress in 2018, but he is not yet saying which seat he’s running for… Central Florida Democrats for more than a month have been buzzing with talk that Grayson might run against his Democratic successor, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who defeated Grayson’s current wife and his former aide in the 2016 Democratic primary when the former congressman decided to run for U.S. Senate.” [Politico]

** Good Wednesday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Jon Gray Named President and Chief Operating Officer of Blackstone [PressReleaseForbes] • Llyod Blankfein: Tax cuts plus more spending while economy grows is like throwing ‘lighter fluid on a fire’ [CNBC] • New Hedge-Fund Tax Dodge Triggers Wild Rush Back Into Delaware [Bloomberg] • Trump tax reform hits US expat business owners hard, says US tax attorney Monte Silver [Globes] • Steven Cohen’s Point72 Seeks to Seal Employee’s Discrimination Suit [Bloomberg] • Israeli tech firm undercuts facial recognition to bolster privacy [Reuters] • Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz is partnering with the NBA to change the way you watch basketball [Recode]

“AT&T Is Said to Want Antitrust Official on Witness List for Trial” by Cecilia Kang: “AT&T is requesting that the antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, testify in the trial, which is scheduled to begin March 19. AT&T has also asked for internal communications between the Mr. Delrahim’s office and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to two people with knowledge about company’s demands. Antitrust regulators are required to make decisions independently of the White House. Mr. Delrahim has denied any interference in the decision to block the merger.” [NYTimes]

“Mike Bloomberg blasts the Trump administration and its ‘insane’ immigration policy” by Julia La Roche: “Speaking at the Goldman Sachs (GS) 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg told a room of more than 2,000 small business owners… “Washington has not been helpful,” he said, noting that they’re “considering hurting small business by keeping people out from all around the world who want to start more businesses. As a matter of fact, they are trying to do something even stupider — that’s to have people here working and creating small businesses and forcing them to leave the country. That’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard.””[YahooFinance]

Hungary unveils tougher proposed ‘Stop Soros’ laws: “The Hungarian government unveiled a tougher version of its package of planned laws targeting NGOs funded by the American billionaire George Soros on Tuesday… The new draft also retains provisions banning entry to Hungary for foreigners suspected of supporting the entry of asylum seekers… In addition, the latest version would see NGOs having to undergo a “check” by the security services before being authorised to operate.” [AFP] • Netanyahu met yesterday with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s foreign policy advisor, Jozsef Czukor [Pic]

“Do Israeli Students Need to Visit Auschwitz?’ by Shmuel Rosner: “Each year, tens of thousands of young Israelis (mostly students and also soldiers) visit Poland in what feels like the culmination of their Holocaust education… So why end these trips? First, because they contribute to a misperception by many Jews that remembering the Holocaust is the main feature of Judaism. Second, because they perpetuate the myth that Israel itself is born only of the ashes of Europe… Jewish youngsters would do better to focus their energies on the site that all generations of Jews have wanted to make pilgrimages to: Jerusalem.” [NYTimes]

PODCAST PLAYBACK — “Rahm Emanuel, David Schwimmer bond over fear of maternal criticism” by Kim Janssen: “Mayor Rahm Emanuel likes to play the alpha male, but there’s at least one woman he admits can make him quake in his dress shoes — his mom, Marsha Emanuel. And the mayor this week bonded with actor David Schwimmer over their shared plight at the hands of what they characterized as overbearing Jewish mothers. Appearing on Emanuel’s “Chicago Stories” podcast to promote “Plantation!,” the forthcoming Lookingglass Theatre Company production he is directing, the former “Friends” star told Emanuel, “My mom without a question is my harshest critic.”

“Schwimmer said his parents attend every play he puts on and that, after the play, “I will embrace my parents and thank them for coming and brace myself for the first thing out of my mom’s mouth.” “You are definitely a Jewish boy,” Emanuel said, laughing in recognition and adding, “We need at least another two hours about this.” … Emanuel said he typically will delay speaking to his mother after delivering a major speech, and will instead “talk with five or six people before I go over to Mom,” a trick he called “the Jewish young man’s survival kit.”” [ChicagoTribune]

“Why I swipe left on Trump voters” by Marcy Fleisher: “The morning after my Match profile went “live,” my in-box filled… “Can’t believe you are Jewish and didn’t vote for Trump,” [Jim] wrote. “No Democrat in recent history has stood up for Israel, and possibly no other president has embraced the Jewish people as Trump has. You are a beautiful lady, clever … and well educated but I think you are missing what is really important.” While strongly disagreeing, I wasn’t interested in debating Jim or pointing out that the Pew Research Center’s exit polling for the 2016 presidential election showed 71% of Jewish respondents said they voted for Hillary Clinton. Instead, I deleted Jim.” [CNN]

“D.C. area’s Jewish population is booming: Now the third largest in the nation, report says” by Julie Zauzmer: “The researchers at Brandeis’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute calculated that 6 percent of all Washington-area residents are Jewish, and that the Jewish community in the region is the third-largest in the United States — in a rough tie with Chicago, but far behind the New York area’s 1.2 million or so Jews… The researchers queried Jews about a variety of religious and cultural practices. Holiday celebrations in the home proved especially popular: 82 percent light Hanukkah candles, and 83 percent attend a Passover Seder.” [WashPost

MEDIA WATCH — “NY Times Abruptly Fires Its New Nazi-Befriending Editorial Board Hire” by Andy Campbell and Christopher Mathias: “The New York Times has fired journalist Quinn Norton, its brand new editorial board hire… At around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, the paper’s communications department tweeted that it had hired Norton as its “lead opinion writer on the power, culture and consequences of technology.” Twitter users immediately began pointing to her past tweets, in which she’s admitted she’s “friends with various neo-Nazis” ― though she says she has “never agreed with them.” [HuffPost]

DESSERT — “L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Has Eaten in 83 Countries. He Barely Survived Raw Ox” by Rico Gagliano: “As mayor, Mr. Garcetti, 47, spearheaded L.A.’s successful bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, a process that involved racing around the planet, lobbying Olympic decision makers from Denmark to Qatar. For the last year he’s also busily crisscrossed the U.S., with stops in Florida, Arizona and New Hampshire, among others. He travels, in other words, like a guy who’s thinking about running for president, which he’s indicated he might. But Mr Garcetti’s predilection for globe-trotting predates his political career. His worldly parents, each a mashup of ethnicities (his father’s descended from Italian-Mexicans, his mother from Russian Jews), met while working at Pan Am airlines. “Even if they had a lot of money, they wouldn’t spend it on cars or a house,” said Mr. Garcetti, “They’d say ‘We’re going on a trip.’ Not a vacation, ever, but a trip. So, I went to China when I was 12. I went to India as a teenager…all sorts of stuff.” [WSJ]

“NYC finally has kosher ramen” by Rebecca Santiago: “Dan Zelkowitz’s New York dream began, as so many do, with a tipsy night on the Lower East Side. “My wife and I had a drink, and were wandering around,” sometime last winter, the 27-year-old restaurateur and Orthodox Jew tells The Post. “It was freezing cold, and there were these huge, long lines outside of all the underground ramen places. She said, ‘Man, I really wish I could have that.’ ” The next morning, he headed to Chinatown’s Asian supermarkets with one aim: Creating a delicious bowl of ramen that was also kosher… One year later, he’s opened Boru Boru, an Upper West Side restaurant that’s the city’s first Orthodox-friendly ramen joint. He hopes it will shake up New York’s Jewish restaurant scene.” [NYPost

BIRTHDAYS: Chairman and CEO of Townsquare Media, he was previously Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (2001-2003), Steven Price turns 56… Former Mayor of NYC and CEO of Bloomberg L.P., Michael Bloombergturns 76… Award-winning investigative journalist for The Washington Post and author, who together with Bob Woodward did much of the original news reporting on the Watergate scandal, Carl Bernstein turns 74… British businessman and CEO of WPP plc, a multinational advertising and public relations company, Sir Martin Stuart Sorrell turns 73… Former Borough President of Brooklyn (2002-2013) and New York State senator (1979-2001), Marty Markowitz turns 73… Investor, private equity manager, philanthropist, chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, Stephen A. Schwarzman turns 71… Born in Lakewood, NJ, film producer and chairman and EVP of the NFL’s New York Giants, winner of a Golden Globe award, an Academy Award and two Super Bowl rings, Steven Elliot “Steve” Tischturns 69…

Host and co-executive producer of “Fresh Air” on WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, an interview program distributed throughout the United States by NPR, Terry Gross turns 67… Board member at the Los Angeles Museum of The Holocaust, Paulette Nessim turns 58…  Jewish hockey player selected in the first round of the 2002 NHL draft, he then played on four NHL teams and was also a player on the United States national team, Eric Nystrom turns 35… Financial advisor in the Boca Raton office of Morgan Stanley, Alan Feinberg Jr. turns 39… Co-founder of Run for Something, a PAC dedicated to helping progressive young people run for office, Amanda Litman turns 28 (h/ts Playbook)…

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