Daily Kickoff: Michael Oren on his future | Experts question accuracy of Mideast peace plan ‘leak’ | The Forward ends its print run

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TOP TALKER — The Atlantic Magazine’s March cover story — Yoni Appelbaum writes… “Impeach Donald Trump: With a newly seated Democratic majority, the House of Representatives can no longer dodge its constitutional duty. It must immediately open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and bring the debate out of the court of public opinion and into Congress, where it belongs.”

“Even if the impeachment of Donald Trump fails to produce a conviction in the Senate, it can safeguard the constitutional order from a president who seeks to undermine it. The protections of the process alone are formidable… Congress must decide whether the greater risk lies in executing the Constitution, or in deferring to voters to do what it cannot muster the courage to do itself.”

“Trump is easily the most pugilistic president since Johnson; he’s never going to behave with decorous restraint. But if impeachment proceedings begin, his staff will surely redouble its efforts to curtail his tweeting, his lawyers will counsel silence, and his allies on Capitol Hill will beg for whatever civility he can muster. His ability to sidestep scandal by changing the subject—perhaps his greatest political skill—will diminish. As Trump fights for his political survival, that struggle will overwhelm other concerns. This is the second benefit of impeachment: It paralyzes a wayward president’s ability to advance the undemocratic elements of his agenda.” [TheAtlantic]

— Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s Editor-in-Chief, notes“In our recently posted digital feature, “Unthinkable,” 50 of our writers examined the most outlandish moments of Trump’s first two years in office, incidents that we could not imagine occurring in other administrations, whether Republican or Democratic. If you’ve read “Unthinkable,” you’ll understand why I consider Yoni’s cover story, “The Case for Impeachment,” worth publishing.”

— Yoni tells us he started working on the March cover story back in September.

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — CH13’s Barak Ravid reports, based on notes from a recent briefing by a U.S. official: “President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan would propose a Palestinian state on as much as 90 percent of the occupied West Bank, with a capital in East Jerusalem – but not including its holy sites… The plan would entail Israel annexing Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank while isolated settlements would either be evacuated or their construction halted. Trump wants the proposed Israeli moves to be supplemented by territorial swaps with the Palestinians, and for East Jerusalem’s walled Old City – site of major Jewish, Muslim and Christian shrines – to be under Israeli sovereignty but with the joint management of the Palestinians and Jordan.” [Reuters10TV]

Senior White House official tells us: “As in the past, speculation with regards to the content of the plan is not accurate. We have no further comment.”

— Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt, however, did have further comment. “While I respect Barak Ravid, his report on Israel’s Ch. 13 is not accurate,” Greenblatt tweeted. “Speculation about the content of the plan is not helpful. Very few people on the planet know what is in it… for now. Over the coming period, unnamed sources will peddle narratives to the media and others based on motivations that are far from pure. Peddling false, distorted or biased stories to the media is irresponsible and harmful to the process. Israelis and Palestinians deserve better. I highly recommend that people listen only to official statements directly from POTUS, David Friedman, Jared Kushner, or me about the plan.”

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM ― Former Knesset Member Dr. Einat Wilf emails us: “The response of Israelis to Trump’s peace plan will in large part depend on the reaction in the broader Arab world — if Israelis would get the sense that by saying yes to the deal, they would receive full peace and normalization with the entire Arab and Islamic world, and that the Arab world will mobilize to ensure that the Palestinians finally put behind them their maximalist demands for the entirety of the land in the form of ‘return,’ the response will be a resounding yes.”

The Yamin HeHadash Party, led by Ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, said in a statement: “The United States is Israel’s greatest friend, and President Trump is a true friend of Israel. However, Israel’s security and Israel’s well-being precede any other interest. Therefore, the Yamin HeHadash Party will not sit in a government that will divide Jerusalem and establish a Palestinian state.”

WAS THIS A TRIAL BALLOON? ― Amb. Dan Shapiro tells us: “It’s hard to know how authoritative this report is. If this were the plan that the Trump Administration presents, it would almost certainly be rejected by both sides. Besides the Palestinians’ estrangement from Trump, this plan would fall short or is silent on several issues of importance to them. On the Israeli side, the current coalition, and an ongoing election campaign, are not hospitable to several elements of the plan.”

“I continue to believe that it likely that no plan will ever be presented, and it is a near certainty none will be presented before a new Israeli government is in place. At some point, presentation of a well-rounded, realistic vision of two states  — which this is not — could be useful, not as a basis for near-term negotiations, but as a tool to help keep the two-state solution alive and viable for later negotiations when different leaderships have emerged.”

CFR’s Martin Indyk emails: “The details make the Trump Plan sound very close to the Kerry Plan, which makes me suspect that it’s not accurate. Besides, one thing Kushner’s team does very well is not leak.”

Elliott Abrams: “I have no reason to think this report is accurate and I actually think it’s wrong.”

Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller tweets“I remember in 1999, telling my friend and colleague Dennis Ross how impressed I was that [Ehud] Barak had offered Palestinians 85% of West Bank, thinking that we might be able to do a deal. Not sure what I was smoking. In 2018, neither Bibi nor Abbas can accept that.”

2020 WATCH — Israel Will Be The Great Foreign Policy Debate Of The Democratic Primary — by Emily Tamkin and Alexis Levinson: “I think every 2020 presidential contender will be asked how can they stand by Benjamin Netanyahu when he openly supports Trump’s border wall and compares it to his own draconian policies,” said Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats… which rose to prominence in 2018 with its early backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez… The questions regarding Israel won’t change: Do you believe that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel? Should the US Embassy be in Jerusalem? Should the United States provide aid to Israel? Does the United States support Israel’s right to defend itself? But if candidates want to win young left-leaning voters, the candidates may find that they have to give different answers.”

‘WEDGE?’ — “IfNotNow… will launch a “public push to get 2020 candidates to not attend [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s] annual conference in March,” founding member Yonah Lieberman told BuzzFeed News. By not attending AIPAC, he said, presidential hopefuls would “show the growing progressive coalition that they stand with us.” In 2016, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders made headlines by skipping the conference.”[BuzzFeed]

Robert Fisk on what another Bernie Sanders run means for Israel and the Middle East… The Draft Beto movement is raising money for a 2020 presidential run and releasing a campaign-style video… On the first day since her announcement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand road tested her 2020 campaign themes at a diner close to home… Sen. Cory Booker has relied on outside money and big donations, even as potential rivals swear off super PACs… Sen. Chuck Schumer on the growing list of presidential candidates: “Let a thousand flowers bloom.”…

Group aligned with Ocasio-Cortez prepares to take out Democrats — by Laura Barron-Lopez and Heather Caygle: “Justice Democrats, the liberal group that engineered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s meteoric rise… is ready to go to war. The opening salvo? An eight-minute video released Wednesday starring Ocasio-Cortez and calling for a new crop of activists and community organizers to run against the Democratic machine.” [Politico]

WATCH — PBS host Christiane Amanpour asks Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) if she regrets previous comments about Israel’s ‘evil doings’ in Gaza. “What is really important to me is that people recognize that there is a difference between criticizing a military action by a government that has exercised really oppressive policies and being offensive or attacky [sic] to particular people of faith,” Omar replied. [Video]

SCENE IN JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with approximately 60 members of AIPAC’s leadership and board, including AIPAC President Morton Fridman and past President Lillian Pinkus, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Wednesday. [Pic] • “The most important thing that happened in the last year, in our region is the decision by President Trump to move out of the [Iranian nuclear] agreement,” the PM said in remarks to the delegation. [Video]

ROAD TO THE NEW KNESSET — In an apparent dig at his former party, Naftali Bennett told AIPAC leaders that the New Right is against religious coercion… Yair Rosenberg on why Naftali Bennett decapitated the settler right and what it means for Israel’s future… The United Torah Judaism party, which includes the Agudath Israel and Degel Hatorah factions, signed an agreement for a joint list… Benny Gantz has chosen a dozen people to top his list in the April 9 election, with former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi expected to receive the No. 2 slot if he joins the list… Gantz released on Thursday his campaign slogan: “Israel first”… In a rare acknowledgment of Likud’s narrative, Labor head Avi Gabbay is quoted in a leaked conversation that Gantz’s views were the same as Labor… New polls show Likud expanding the lead over its rival parties… Ynet reports: The White House is considering holding a state dinner to express “presidential support” for Netanyahu when he visits Washington, DC in March…

PROFILE — This Man Must Decide Whether to Indict Israel’s Netanyahu — by Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber: “When Avichai Mandelblit first considered an offer to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration in 2013, he told Israel’s prime minister that he’d accept if he could finish his doctorate and stay out of politics, aides to him say… But now as Israel’s attorney general, he is at the center of one of the country’s biggest political storms… “He basically holds Israel’s political destiny in his hands,” said Shalom Lipner.” [WSJ] • Netanyahu turns fire on attorney-general as election looms [FinancialTimes]

PODCAST PLAYBACK — Outgoing MK Michael Oren discussed why he isn’t running in the April elections and what’s next for him on the Jewish Journal’s Two Nice Jewish Boys podcast with Naor Meningher and Eytan Weinstein: “My party (Kulanu headed by Moshe Kahlon) sort of disintegrated. It didn’t deliver on the promise it made… I was there to deal with diplomacy. but as a member of the party, I suffered the consequences. So the party doesn’t look like it’s going to make it into the next Knesset. But it doesn’t have any interest in foreign policy and that’s where I come in. I might have stood a chance for the primaries in Likud but there are currently about 20 candidates for every position in the Likud, and my ability to maybe get into Knesset in a position that actually would have influenced foreign policy and influence decision making on a national level was limited almost to naught.”

Q: So you’re not saying you’re done with politics?

MO: “Not in the least. It’s just a hiatus for now. My political career has just begun, and I’m already aiming for the next Knesset after the [upcoming] one and I will build a base that will be wider and more effective… I can write books that can influence many, many thousands of people, I can appear on TV, and I can speak my mind – things I couldn’t do when I was in politics… One of the most difficult things in politics was that as a member of the government I can’t publish books. I can write them but I can’t publish them. And I write every morning… And yes, I have written some books and now I will be able to publish them.” [JewishJournal]

MUELLER WATCH — Rick Gates Tells Mueller About Trump Team’s Dealings With Israeli Intelligence Firm — by Erin Banco: “Rick Gates, the former campaign aide to Donald Trump, is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe… Gates has answered questions specifically about Psy Group, an Israeli firm that ex-employees say drew up social media manipulation plans to help the Trump campaign… Mueller’s team also asked Gates about interactions with Psy Group’s owner, Joel Zamel, and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, who worked as an emissary for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.” [DailyBeast

DEEP DIVE — Jewish strategists concocted George Soros smears — by Oliver Moody: “The architects of Viktor Orban’s war on Mr. Soros have now been revealed to be two secretive American political strategists, themselves Jewish… The campaign’s mastermind was Arthur Finkelstein, a Republican pollster who worked for Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and is said to have advised Donald Trump to go into politics. His business partner George Birnbaum, a former chief of staff to Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said that the pair had identified Mr. Soros as the ideal scapegoat for Mr. Orban in 2013. “The perfect opponent is one whom you punch over and over again and who never hits back,” Mr. Birnbaum, 48, told Das Magazin, a Swiss weekly.” [TheTimes]

Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin writes… “Keep religious tests out of the Senate: It’s a shame that a Catholic nominee should face this kind of hostile questioning during his confirmation process. In previous decades, adversarial hearings were used in attempts to keep Jews out of the judiciary.” [LATimes]

** 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: Leon Black’s Apollo Nears Deal to Buy Arconic for More Than $10 Billion [WSJ• Blackrock’s Larry Fink Calls on Businesses to Lead, Not Just Live, With Purpose [NYTimesFinancialTimes] • Fortissimo buys Shari Arison’s Salt of the Earth [Globes] • How Hudson Yards developer Stephen Ross is changing the way New York is built [FinancialTimes] • Israeli games developer Playtika buys Austrian card games maker [Reuters]

STARTUP SPOTLIGHT — Why Buy From Amazon When You Can Buy From Your Friends? Thanks To Storr, You Can — by Brittain Ladd: “Torie Crown, Storr head of business development, described the company as a “transactional Pinterest.” … “The brands we have on board are really forward-thinking,” says Crown, “In a world where Facebook and Instagram ads are increasingly expensive and less effective, brands see Storr as a new opportunity to connect with the customers who genuinely love their products.” [ForbesGlossy]

SPORTS BLINK — Malaysia says it won’t host any more events involving Israel: “Malaysia’s foreign minister said Wednesday that the government will not budge over a ban on Israeli athletes in the [2020 Tokyo Paralympics] and has decided that the country will not host any events in the future involving Israel… Israel’s Paralympic Committee said later Wednesday that together with the International Paralympic Committee, it hopes “to find the right solution before July.” “We believe that any additional statements at this stage may only be harmful,” Leah Schneider, an official representing the committee, said in an email.” [AP]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Jason Spindler survived 9/11. Then he died at the hands of terrorists in Nairobi — by Siobhán O’Grady: “After Jason Spindler graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2000, he moved to New York to work as an investment banker on Wall Street. Then 9/11 happened. That morning, as thousands of people fled from the collapsing World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, Spindler did the opposite: He ran straight into the rubble and began pulling people out, his college roommate Kevin Yu told The Washington Post on Wednesday… Spindler survived the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, but he was killed Tuesday when terrorists stormed an office and hotel complex in an upscale neighborhood of Nairobi. He was one of at least 21 people who died in the attack by al-Shabab militants… Yu said Spindler, the oldest of three brothers from Houston, was a “ball of energy” who served in a remote area of Peru as a Peace Corps volunteer and traveled the world in search of adventure and fulfillment.” [WashPost]

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cancels 2 upcoming events — by Eli Watkins: “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will not attend scheduled talks in the upcoming weeks in Los Angeles and New York, following her surgery in December… The 85-year-old justice was supposed to attend an event on January 29 at Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center. A long-planned conversation between Ginsburg and the financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein was scheduled for February 6, and the 92nd Street Y said Wednesday that it was working to reschedule the event.” [CNN]

Ultra-Orthodox rabbi visits North Korea — by Talia Lakritz: “Mier Alfasi spent five days touring North Korea, calling himself the first Chabad rabbi to visit the country. He couldn’t speak openly about Judaism and hid his religious books and ritual objects from authorities. But he did wear his black hat and bekishe… “I heard on the news that Trump and Kim [Jong-un] were talking together and I decided that maybe this is a good time for Chabad to come,” he told This Insider. “I thought, I’ll check it out. I’ll be the first Chabad rabbi ever to go to North Korea.” [ThisInsider]

MEDIA WATCH — Storied Jewish publication The Forward ending 121-year print run — by Keith Kelly: “The Forward is stopping — its print editions. The storied Jewish-American publication is suspending its print operations and plans to lay off about 40 percent of its editorial staff — including Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner — while moving to digital-only… The Forward will continue to produce an English-language and a Yiddish-language edition online. “The Forward is taking the next step in making our brand more relevant to our readers and more connected to their lives,” said publisher and CEO Rachel Fishman Feddersen.” [NYPost]

TRANSITION — Laura Adkins, deputy opinion editor at the Jewish Daily Forward, will join the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) later this month as opinion editor.

SCENE YESTERDAY — William Daroff, Daniel Gordis, Jonathan Schanzer, Danielle Pletka, Ann Lewis and Archie Gottesman spoke at Israel on Campus Coalition’s Winter Field Professional Retreat in Georgetown. Representatives included staffers from AIPAC, Hillel, Israeli-American Council, A Wider Bridge, the Philos Project, and JNF, among other groups. [Pic]

Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, met with ⁦Rep Elissa Slotkin⁩ (D-MI) on Capitol Hill to discuss policy priorities. [Pic]

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) had dinner with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “We talked about my passion for economic justice and fighting for corporations to pay their fair share,” Tlaib writes on Instagram. “This man gets me.” [Pic]

DESSERT — Shari’s Bistro, a new gourmet kosher restaurant on the bay, is now open in Somers Point, New Jersey — by Ellen Weisman: “Shari’s Bistro at 800 Bay Avenue in Somers Point is “not like any other kosher restaurant you’ve ever been to,” said Ira Trocki, who opened his new, picturesque Glatt kosher restaurant overlooking the bay on November 30. What sets it apart? First and foremost, its location: a fully restored Victorian mansion, built in 1884. “It’s not often that a Jewish person can eat in a gorgeous kosher restaurant,” stressed Trocki. What’s more, this beautiful Victorian building backs onto the bay.” [JewishVoicesNJ]

BIRTHDAYS: Former member of the Virginia House of Delegates (1980-1996), in 1967 he was the attorney who won the Supreme Court case banning state laws against interracial marriage, Bernard S. Cohen turns 85… Former two-term member of Congress from Iowa (1973-1977), he is the father-in-law of Chelsea Clinton, Edward Mezvinsky turns 82… Host of television’s tabloid talk show “Maury,” originally known as the “Maury Povich Show,” Maury Povich turns 80… Reporter, columnist and editor covering religion, education and NYC neighborhoods for The New York Times (1984-2014) and author of four books, Joseph Berger turns 74… Australian neuroscientist, engineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and former Chancellor of Monash University (2008-2016), he is designated as Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel turns 66… Economist, professor, New York Times best-selling author and social entrepreneur, he has written eleven books and is the founder of six companies, Paul Zane Pilzer turns 65… President and co-founder of Bluelight Strategies, a marketing and media relations, Steve Rabinowitz turns 62… Executive health care editor at Politico, she was a long time correspondent for Reuters (1984-2008), Joanne Kenen turns 61…

Majority owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, founder and Chairman of Quicken Loans and investor in dozens of companies, Dan Gilbert turns 57… Professor of Law at Harvard University, Jesse M. Fried turns 56… Film director, television director, screenwriter and film producer, Bart Freundlichturns 49… President of the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute since 2014, he was previously a member of the Knesset for the Kadima party (2007-2013), Yohanan Plesner turns 47… Kansas City-native, now DC-based Director for PR firm Finsbury, previously VP of media strategy at Ketchum, and for 15 years prior to that a reporter for both Reuters and Bloomberg, Jeremy Pelofsky turns 44… Odessa-born, dancer, choreographer and dance instructor, widely known as one of the professional dancers in “Dancing with the Stars,” Maksim Chmerkovskiy turns 39… J Street’s senior grants and marketing associate, Becca Freedman turns 37… Deputy chief of staff at the City of Hoboken, he was previously a fundraiser for the ADL (2017-2018), Moishe House (2015-2017) and the JCC Association (2014-2015), Jason Freemanturns 30… Politics reporter for CNN, she was previously the national political reporter at RealClearPolitics and a writer for the Washington Examiner and Buzzfeed, Rebecca Berg Buck turns 29… Freelance writer and social media manager at Emily’s List, Alyssa Franke turns 27…




Daily Kickoff: DNC, 2020 Dems avoiding Women’s March | Ken Pollack’s new book | Remembering Ray Perelman

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LONG READ — Aboard the private jet of billionaire owner Marc Lasry as the Milwaukee Bucks are flying high — by Frank Isola: “There is commercial air travel, and then there is traveling like this; aboard a luxury private jet and landing courtside to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo lead the Bucks to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. It’s a dizzying seven-hour excursion from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey to Milwaukee and back that Lasry, usually accompanied by 12 invited passengers, makes approximately 25 times each NBA season.”

”All 30 NBA owners see the game the same way and many — including the Mavericks’ Mark Cuban, the Clippers’ Steve Ballmer and the Suns’ Robert Sarver — are not shy about voicing their displeasure publicly. Lasry is no different. In fact, the only begging that Lasry’s ever done in his life is for a foul call. Otherwise, everything Lasry has is the residue of hard work and, as he likes to say, “luck.” Before striking it rich, Lasry, 59, started at the bottom. His family settled in West Hartford, Conn., in the late 1960s with Lasry sharing a bedroom with his two sisters. Their father, Moise, was a computer programmer, and their mother, Elise, was a schoolteacher. The elder Lasrys stressed education and solid work ethic.”

“The plane arrives in New Jersey at approximately 12:15 a.m., and the mood, thanks to the Bucks’ comeback victory, is light. It’s been a long day for Lasry, who in the morning met with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) about a possible presidential run. Having Lasry’s support and resources is crucial. Lasry is a major donor in the Democratic Party. He is good friends with former President Bill Clinton, himself an alumnus of the Lasry Shuttle to Milwaukee. In fact, Lasry does a spot-on Clinton impersonation and even had Greg Monroe impressed when Lasry used Clinton’s voice during a free agency meeting four years ago.” [TheAthletic]

2020 WATCH — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced she was forming a 2020l exploratory committee during an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert… Hillary Clinton donors are unhappy with Gillibrand for speaking out against former Senator Al Franken… Mike Bloomberg said during an appearance at the University of Toronto on Tuesday that he can be elected president despite his age. “There is nothing wrong with people being young. But there is also nothing wrong with people being older,” said Bloomberg, who turns 77 next month… Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will visit all four early presidential primary and caucus states in a tour starting later this month…

ON THE HILL — On Tuesday, the House approved a resolution condemning white supremacy by a vote of 424-1. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), whose comments about white supremacy were the reason the resolution was introduced, voted in favor. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) voted against the resolution because he seeks King’s formal censure and is pushing for a vote this week.

“I agree with the language in it. So I want to ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, let’s vote for this resolution,” King said on the House floor. “I’m putting up a yes on the board here because what you state here is right and it’s true and it’s just.” [Video]

HOW IT PLAYED — Republicans Rebuke Steve King but Face Vexing Question: Why Not Sooner? — by Jonathan Martin: “Why would Republicans wait until Mr. King flatly defended white supremacy to punish him? “I haven’t been following every utterance of Congressman King. I certainly followed this one, and I think the House Republican conference did the right thing,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, told reporters Tuesday. Asked the same question, [House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy shot back: “Have I been leader for years?” He said he had been the top House Republican for only “a short amount of time” and was now “in a position to take action.” [NYTimes

The Des Moines Register calls for King to resign: “Congressman Steve King should resign. He has lost even the potential to effectively represent his Iowa constituents… It wasn’t until a few weeks before the November election that top national Republicans and corporate donors started to abandon King. That was just after the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It also was just after it had been revealed that King spent time on a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial organization to meet with a far-right Austrian group associated with neo-Nazis.”

HEARD YESTERDAY — Attorney General nominee William Barr revealedduring a confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman approached him in June of 2017 about joining President Trump’s legal defense team. “My understanding was that he was interested in finding lawyers that could augment the defense team,” Barr said. “He asked me a number of questions like ‘What have you said about the President publicly?’ and ‘Do you have any conflicts?’ and so forth.” Barr added that he decided not to pursue the option. [Video]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Mueller Probe Likely to Restrict Michael Cohen’s Testimony — by Rebecca Ballhaus and Nicole Hong: “The testimony of Michael Cohen… before the House Oversight Committee next month is expected to be highly restricted to avoid interfering with the special counsel’s Russia investigation… While Mr. Cohen’s testimony may be restricted, he is expected to give an explosive recounting of his experience working for Mr. Trump… The House Oversight Committee is still in the process of consulting with Mr. Mueller and New York federal prosecutors on the terms of Mr. Cohen’s testimony.” [WSJ]

TOP TALKER — The Democratic Party Drops Its Sponsorship of The Women’s March Amid Farrakhan Blow-up — by Jackie Kucinich: “The Democratic National Committee has become the latest group to removed its name from the list of sponsors of the Women’s March less than 24 hours after one of the March’s leaders refused to denounce Louis Farrakhan during a nationally televised interview… That exchange appeared to be a breaking point for the DNC.” [DailyBeast] • 2020 Democrats Are Avoiding The Women’s March [BuzzFeed]

Rabbis Torn About Women’s March, Despite Secret Meeting With Sarsour, Mallory — by Aiden Pink: “Last week, 13 prominent rabbis held a secret meeting — with Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour, leaders of the Women’s March… The gathering, say those in attendance, was productive, but painful, and still inconclusive. It generated a letter of support for the march, signed by 9 of the 13 rabbis in attendance. And as of Tuesday night, lots of the rabbis still didn’t know what they would be doing come Saturday.” [Forward]

JI INTERVIEW — Halie Soifer, Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), discussed the Women’s March and the Senate Democrats’ opposition to the motion to proceed to a Senate floor debate on the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 in a phone interview with Jewish Insider‘s Jacob Kornbluh.

“As of December 20th, we came out publicly against the leaders of the Women’s March, and while we support the overall objective of the march and stand behind all the sister marches that are going to take place this weekend, we called on the leadership to step down. The fact that they continue to stand in line with Farrakhan and the fact that they haven’t publicly denounced anti-Semitism, is deeply concerning. And we support those organizations who have pulled their partnership with them.”

On the Israel-related legislation: “This whole charade in the Senate has very little to do with Israel. There’s overwhelming bipartisan support for this legislation. This was a bill that had unanimous support in the last Congress before Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) held it up. The story isn’t about Israel. The point Democrats are making here is that we are now in uncharted waters right now with the government shutdown and the focus has to be on reopening the government. And we stand behind the Democrats on this. Now obviously the Republican leadership has chosen to focus on other matters. And if the vote was just one vote, perhaps it would look as they were truly trying to pass that legislation. However, if they really wanted to pass this legislation in the previous Congress, McConnell could have found a way to do that. The fact that they have now scheduled the fourth vote on the same package exposes this strategy as it is, which is to make issues related to Israel partisan, and we reject that.”

Soifer on Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar’s recent remarks: “It’s important not to overstate their influence within the Democratic Party. They are the only two members of Congress out of 535 members that have publically expressed support for the BDS movement. The Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate is both strongly opposed to BDS and there’s absolutely no reason to believe that these two freshmen will have any influence on the party’s position beyond the influence they may have on social media. And we saw that with the clear condemnation of Tlaib’s dual loyalty claim.”

Hallandale commissioner: Muslim congresswoman might ‘blow up’ Capitol Hill — by Susannah Bryan: “A Jewish commissioner from Hallandale Beach, Florida has accused a Muslim congresswoman from Michigan of being an anti-Semite who might “blow up Capitol Hill.” … Hallandale Commissioner Annabelle Lima-Taub signed an online petition seeking to remove Rashida Tlaib from office and posted the petition on her personal Facebook page.” [SunSentinel]

STATE-SIDE — Florida governor goes after Airbnb over West Bank decision — by Terry Spencer and Gary Fineout: “Saying he would “make them feel the heat,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday called for sanctions against Airbnb unless it reverses its decision barring lodging listings in the disputed West Bank in the Middle East… “We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy; it does target Jews specifically,” said DeSantis… DeSantis also announced that his first overseas trip would be to Israel in May, and he pledged at least $2 million in state money to Jewish schools for security upgrades.” [AP]

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton defends anti-Israel boycott law — by Asher Price: “A state law barring governmental entities from doing business with contractors who support a boycott of Israel should not have been applied in the case of a school speech pathologist in Pflugerville — but the law should remain intact, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued in a court filing Tuesday.” [Statesman]

BOOK OF THE WEEK — Armies of Sand by Kenneth Pollack, Oxford University Press, 696 pages, $34.95.

Pollack tells us: “Armies of Sand looks at the question of why Arab militaries have underperformed so consistently in war after war since 1945, losing so many wars they should have won and winning modest victories when the material balance favored them so heavily. I look at 15+ cases of Arab militaries in combat—from the Jordanians and Syrians in 1948 to the Iraqis, ISIS, and Hizballah in 2012-2018—and I compare them to 6 non-Arab militaries. I ultimately conclude that it is a combination of underdevelopment, poor civil-military relations, and behavior patterns emphasized by Arab culture that have produced this parade of misfortune.”

“I end by warning that while Arab military weakness has been a critical element of the military balance in the modern Middle East, one that has actually led to a certain degree of stability because most of the Arab states learned by the 1970s that they did not have the wherewithal to fight conventional wars against Israel, the U.S., or one another, Arab society and warfare are both changing in very significant ways, and the next 25 years could be far more dangerous as various Arab groups and states begin to believe that they can win wars that they once tried to avoid altogether.”

Q: Could you explain Israel’s current military strategy as it relates to Syria and Lebanon, describing what it has been in the past and how it might change in the future?

Pollack: “Israel faces a real conundrum in Syria. Its goal is first and foremost preventing Iran from building a military infrastructure there that threatens Israel—like the one that it helped Hizballah build in Lebanon. Iran is building up the capabilities to mount terrorist and rocket/missile attacks against Israel from Syria. That is why Israel has repeatedly struck Iranian targets in Syria. But, Israel does not want to start an all-out war with Iran, because Jerusalem is rightly concerned that if it does so, Hizballah and Iran will fire thousands of rockets and missiles at Israel’s cities. Israel may still “win” but it will pay a heavy price and Iran would doubtless start rebuilding immediately, just as Hizballah does after every war with Israel in Lebanon. Moreover, air power is not an ideal weapon to use for this task.”

“The only sure way to tear up the extensive military infrastructure Iran is building there would be to invade on the ground, but the last thing that Israel wants is to fight a major ground war in an Arab state—one that would require it to push through, if not temporarily occupy—Syrian cities like Damascus. That would be a nightmare for Israel. It’s why Israel’s strong preference is to have the U.S. remain engaged in Syria, build up the Syrian opposition, and either defeat Iran and force it to retreat, or force the Iranians to leave in return for an American agreement to stop backing the opposition. However, any of that would require a greater American effort in Syria, not the withdrawal that Trump has announced.” [JewishInsider]

Matti Friedman writes… “There Is No ‘Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’: Most of Israel’s wars haven’t been fought against Palestinians. Since the invasion of five Arab armies at the declaration of the State of Israel in May 1948, the Palestinians have made up a small number of the combatants facing the country… Over the decades when Arab nationalism was the region’s dominant ideology, Israeli soldiers faced Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Iraqis… The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.” [NYTimes]

Martin Indyk writes… “What Henry Kissinger Knew That Mike Pompeo Does Not: What about the Arab-Israeli peace process, through which Kissinger promoted an era of American dominance in the Middle East? Every other secretary of state since Kissinger has taken up that endeavor. Not Pompeo. In his Cairo speech, he devoted one sentence to it. He has left that difficult challenge to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who has been tinkering with his peace plan for more than two years now with no expectation that he will launch it anytime soon.” [TheAtlantic]

PALACE INTRIGUE — Chris Christie accuses Jared Kushner of political ‘hit job’ in explosive new book — by Ed Pilkington and Martin Pengelly: “In one of the most visceral passages of the book, Christie recounts for the first time how Jared Kushner badmouthed him to Trump in April 2016, pleading with his father-in-law not to make Christie transition chairman. Remarkably, he did so while Christie was in the room… Kushner went on to tell Trump that it wasn’t fair his father spent so long in prison… Trump, in an effort to settle the dispute, proposed a dinner between him, Jared and Charles Kushner, and Christie. Much to Christie’s relief, Jared didn’t acquiesce. In the end, Trump gave Christie the job. But according to Let Me Finish, Kushner had the final say.” [TheGuardian]

— Excerpt: “I did everything I could to make sure my friend Donald reached the White House fully prepared to serve. But a handful of selfish individuals sidetracked our very best efforts. They set loose toxic forces that have made Trump’s presidency far less effective than it would otherwise have been… In Bannon-speak, the KID is only one person. Not Donald Jr. Not younger son Eric. Not Ivanka or Tiffany. The kid is Jared Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump and the son of the real estate developer Charles Kushner, a man I once sent to prison.” [Axios]

Maggie Haberman tweets“Recurring theme from sources over last two days: Kushner is the de facto chief of staff, whether people realize it or not.”

** 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: Adam Neumann Makes Millions as Landlord to WeWork [WSJ] • James and Merryl Tisch listed as plaintiffs in a complaint filed Monday by Chubb Indemnity Insurance against New York City[DailyMail] • Barry Rosenstein’s Jana Is Closing Two Hedge Funds That Lost Money in 2018 [WSJ] • Goodbye, New York. Adam Moss Is Leaving the Magazine He Has Edited for 15 Years [NYTimes] • Israel Tax Authority to Demand Over NIS One Billion From Teva [Calcalist]

U.S. Urges Israel to Vet Foreign Investment Amid China Concerns – by Ivan Levingston: “Ahead of meetings with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and the head of Israel’s cyber directorate, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette told reporters Tuesday in Tel Aviv that Israel should take “aggressive steps” to check foreign investment. Otherwise, he said, potential vulnerabilities in Israeli infrastructure could put intelligence sharing with the U.S. at risk.” [Bloomberg

STARTUP SPOTLIGHT — New Mall Devotes a Floor to Online Retailers — by Esther Fung and Keiko Morris: “At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., shoppers can browse items from close to 30 mostly former online-only brands in a 10,000-square-foot store called Fourpost, which is a collection of multiple storefronts. The studio-shop concept, which includes brands such as Hagen and Oats, a local custom wood décor retailer, has already drawn 125,000 people so far since it opened in November last year, said Mark Ghermezian, founder and chief executive of Fourpost Inc. “We get knee-deep with the brands, their stories and help them with their retail strategies,” Mr. Ghermezian said, adding that Fourpost is also focused on sales, not just brand awareness.” [WSJ]

SPORTS BLINK — Aly Raisman says she represents Americans and Jews when she performs: “A letter from a Holocaust survivor helped Aly Raisman realize that when she performed, she was not only representing her country. “I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on the Jewish community,” Raisman said Tuesday, describing her 2012 gold medal-winning routine, which included a component to the music of “Hava Nagila.” … “I didn’t realize at the time I was representing not only the United States but the Jewish community,” Raisman told the Lion of Judah conference… Raisman has become a face of the #MeToo movement in the wake of her testimony against Larry Nassar, the former U.S. Olympics gymnastics team physician… In an interview at the event, Raisman told Bari Weiss, a New York Times editor, that the attention has become overwhelming, including anti-Semitic attacks on social media.” [JTA]

Roman Abramovich makes rare Chelsea appearance fronting Holocaust memorial campaign video — by Duncan Wright: “Chelsea owner Abramovich has been keeping a low profile this season while he remains outside of the UK due to visa issues. But the billionaire Russian joined forces with a string of Chelsea men’s and women’s stars as the club launched a video raising awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust and the dangers of all forms of racism… Abramovich, Eden Hazard, and Cesar Azpilicueta are all seen holding signs with the message #WeRemember ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.” [TheSun

SPOTTED — Joe Lieberman at Tavere on E 84th street last night. [Pich/t Zachary Silver

DESSERT — A Huge Hollywood Money Group Steps Up to Save Nate N’ Al in Beverly Hills — by Farley Elliott: “A group of wealthy Hollywood types is in line to keep the iconic Nate N’ Al deli alive… [Irving] Azoff has long been rumored to be a part of the purchase team for the decades-old deli in Beverly Hills. Now the Hollywood Reporter is saying he’s not alone: Shelli Azoff, Jay Sures (UTA), Rande Gerber/Cindy Crawford, Jeff Shell, and others are said to be involved. The big-money move comes just shy of the deli’s 75-year anniversary, and remains clouded in some uncertainty.” [EaterLA]

REMEMBERING — Raymond G. Perelman, master entrepreneur and philanthropist, dies at 101 — by Joseph DiStefano: “Raymond G. Perelman, who built a fortune buying and selling factories amid America’s industrial decline and gave more than $300 million to Penn’s medical school and Philadelphia art and Jewish charities, died Monday… The son of immigrants, Perelman bought and sold scores of companies with a decisiveness that inspired his contemporaries. Perelman found opportunities even in bankruptcies… He also became one of the Philadelphia region’s greatest philanthropists, leaving his mark at the University of Pennsylvania and beyond… In politics, he tended to back Republicans, including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Son Ronald, who works out of New York, is the head of the MacAndrews & Forbes conglomerate, which has included Revlon cosmetics and many other retail brands.” [PhillyInquirerSeattleTimes]

— Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, Chairman of Agudas Chassidei Chabad, emails us: “To me, Ray personally reflected an important span in our history. Fleeing the persecution of Europe, living through the wartime, after which we found him actively participating and indeed becoming a leader in Jewish communal life – in Philadelphia, nationally and generally on behalf of Israel. Jewish education and continuity was of paramount importance to him, and his legacy of compassion and strong Jewish identity – which the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe inspired and nurtured – will certainly continue robustly through Ronald and his family. May his memory be for a blessing.”

BIRTHDAYS: Physicist and professor of materials science at Oxford (1966-1992), Sir Peter Bernhard Hirsch turns 94… Editor-in-Chief (1960-1995; now Editor-at-Large) of Commentary magazine, author of the 2009 book “Why Are Jews Liberals?” Norman Podhoretz turns 89… Author of 12 novels for young adults, sports journalist for the New York Times, ESPN, CBS and NBC, he served as the Ombudsman for ESPN, Robert Lipsyte turns 81… Socially conservative talk radio host and relationship advisor since 1975, on Sirius XM Radio since 2011, author of over 20 books, Dr. Laura Schlessinger turns 72… Staff writer for the Atlanta Jewish Times, Suzi Brozman turns 72… Chef, food writer, culinary editor for the Modern Library, host of PBS’s “Gourmet’s Adventures With Ruth,” recipient of four James Beard Awards, Ruth Reichl turns 71… Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hazon Ovadia, Harav Yitzhak Yosef turns 67…

Uzbekistan-born Israeli billionaire and industrialist, Michael Cherney turns 67… Founder, Chairman and CEO of RealNetworks which produces RealAudio, RealVideo and RealPlayer, Robert Denis “Rob” Glaser turns 57… First employee and subsequently first president of eBay, internet entrepreneur, philanthropist and movie producer, Jeffrey Skoll turns 54… Educational entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, she is the founder and CEO of Cognition Builders, Ilana Kukoff turns 54… DC-native, back in DC after 10 years in London, a strategic communications consultant at Podium, Debbie Berger Fox turns 46… Researcher at McGill University, in 2018 he was awarded a Ph.D. at Columbia U, he is a former speechwriter for then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senator Chris Dodd, Rob Goodman turns 35… J.D. candidate at Seton Hall University School of Law, David Ptalis turns 29… Joseph Bornstein




Daily Kickoff: 3rd vote, no charm — Menendez now votes against anti-BDS bill | Seth Klarman’s complex $1B bet | New Florida Judge’s prayer

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DRIVING THE CONVO — House Republican leaders voted to remove Rep. Steve King (R-IA) from the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees on Monday following widespread calls for his reprimand for his comments last week which appeared to defend white nationalists and white supremacists.

Republican Party leaders, except for President Donald Trump, strongly rebuked King. “If he doesn’t understand why ‘white supremacy’ is offensive, he should find another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) called on King, who is now in his 9th term in Congress, to resign. “I think he ought to step aside and I think Congress ought to make it very clear he has no place there,” Romney said. Asked about King’s comments outside the White House, Trump told reporters, “I haven’t been following it.”

In a lengthy statement issued Monday night, King doubled down on his remarks, calling McCarthy’s decision to remove him from committees “a political decision that ignores the truth.” He vowed to “continue to point out the truth and work with all the vigor that I have to represent 4th District Iowans for at least the next two years.”

Abe Foxman emails us: “It’s better late than never. It’s about time for responsible Republicans to distance themselves and their party from bigots who have tried to embrace them. Now let’s hope POTUS does the same.”

Ari Fleischer captures the mood on the right: “I’m glad the GOP took this action against Steven King. Plain and simple, it’s the right thing to do. I also hope Democrats do the same thing and remove from their leadership and committees the Democrats who met with Louis Farrakhan.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats have scheduled a vote on a resolution of disapproval of King today. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the party’s No. 3 leader, said he would introduce the resolution to express “disapproval of Mr. King’s comments and condemnation of white nationalism and white supremacy in all forms.”

ON THE HILL —The Senate failed for the third time in a week to advance legislation that would reauthorize the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel and an anti-BDS measure after Senate Democrats blocked it from reaching the 60 vote threshold. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who voted against the motion, immediately filed for cloture again, setting up a fourth procedural vote.

— Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in the first two rounds voted with the GOP along with his Democratic colleagues Joe Manchin (WV), Doug Jones (AL) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), voted against the motion. “I don’t like the Majority Leader using the US-Israel relationship as a political pawn,” Menendez told Al-Monitor. Menedez seemed to have the backing of NORPAC, which calls itself the nation’s largest pro-Israel political action committee. “I would prefer for this legislation to be introduced at a time acceptable to both parties,” President Ben Chouake told JNS.

HEARD THE OTHER DAY — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in an interview with MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin on Sunday — Mohyeldin: “I know after your election you came out in support of boycott efforts, but you had some critics. They say you were vague about that during the election. How do you respond to your critics, and how would you vote if that bill makes its way to the House today?” 

Omar: “I was not vague about that issue. I actually did get an opportunity to vote on a state version of that bill, and I voted no. It is unconstitutional. One of the strongest ideals of this nation is that people have an ability to freely express themselves, and I really have [a] strong belief in the First Amendment.”[Video]

— Batya Ungar-Sargon tweets“She’s right — Ilhan Omar was not vague. She explicitly told the Jews in her district in no uncertain terms that she does NOT support BDS, and then came out in support of BDS after the election. No vagueness there — just an epic flip flop!”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib photographed with pro-Hezbollah activist who says Israel has no right to exist — by Philip Klein: “Freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was photographed with a Palestinian activist who praised the terrorist group Hezbollah, said Israel did not have the right to exist, and has called for Israeli “Zionist terrorist” Jews to return to Poland… Over the weekend, Abbas Hamideh tweeted out a photo of himself with a smiling Tlaib, writing, “I was honored to be at Congresswoman @RashidaTlaib swearing-in ceremony in Detroit and private dinner afterward with the entire family, friends and activists across the country.” [WashExaminerDailyMail]

Rep. Ayanna Pressley condemns anti-Semitism after quoting Alice Walker — by Nik DeCosta-Klipa: “Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) is making amends for quoting Alice Walker in a tweet last week, after the newly sworn-in Massachusetts congresswoman was made aware of the acclaimed author’s alleged history of anti-Semitism. “I fully condemn and denounce anti-Semitism, prejudice and bigotry in all their forms – and the hateful actions they embolden,” Pressley tweeted Monday afternoon.” [Boston]

WATCH — Meghan McCain grilled Women’s March Inc.’s Tamika Mallory on The View on Monday for refusing to condemn Louis Farrakhan’s past remarks about Jewish people: “I would never be comfortable supporting someone who said, ‘I am not anti-Semite, I am anti-termite.’ ‘It’s the wicked Jews, the false Jews, promoting lesbian, homosexuality.’ … A lot of people — and I include me in this — think you’re using your organization as anti-Semitism masked in activism and are using identity politics to shield yourself from critiques.” [Video]

TODAY AT THE UN — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to address the UN General Assembly at 10 AM in a ceremony to assume the chairmanship of the Group of 77, the largest bloc of developing countries at the United Nations. [Livestream]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Abbas yesterday and stressed that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only path to peace.

— Stuart Force, the father of slain U.S. Army Capt. Taylor Force, will be joined by approximately 200 students at a rally to protest Abbas outside One UN Plaza at 1 PM EST. Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist living in Jericho, will also speak at the rally, addressing the corruption within the Palestinian Authority.

TALK OF THE REGION — Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, on a visit to Lebanon on Monday, said the U.S. will step up efforts to counter Iran’s “dangerous activities” around the region including the financing and activities of Hezbollah. He also said it is “unacceptable” to have a militia outside the control of the state digging attack tunnels into Israel and threatening regional stability.

POMPEO’S MIDEAST TRIP — Mike Pompeo’s Anti-Iran Tour Faces Obstacles of a Fractious Middle East — by Edward Wong and Ben Hubbard: “Jetting from capital to capital, meeting with kings, princes and presidents, [Sec. Pompeo’s] goal was to get Arab countries to work together to roll back Iranian influence in the region and take on the militias Iran is backing. But as the trip drew to a close on Monday, it was unclear whether he had made any notable progress on that front. The obstacles toward building such a coalition are formidable. In practice, it will be difficult for the Arab nations to work closely together on anti-Iran policies because of the complexity of relationships in the region.” [NYTimes]

THE DEBATE — Walter Russell Mead writes… “Trump’s Mideast Strategy: The Trump administration hopes that with limited American support, Israel, Turkey and the Sunni Arab countries can together contain Iran. If so, Mr. Trump can claim credit for improved Israeli-Arab ties and a more stable region even as he cuts back on American troop and aid levels. This is a sounder strategy in the abstract than the Obama team’s gamble on Iranian restraint.” [WSJ]

Hudson Institute’s Mike Doran: “Israel’s fate is a lonely one, but Israel is very powerful militarily, possibly more powerful than at any time in its history, and it is not at all isolated… In the Trump conception, the Middle East is not a round table but a rectangular table. On one side are the United States and its traditional allies. On the other side are its adversaries: Russia and Iran, their proxies, and the Sunni terror groups. The job of the United States, in this conception, is to elevate the power of its friends over its adversaries while simultaneously mediating among the allies, who are a fractious bunch.”

— Elliott Abrams responds to Doran: “Michael Doran is gambling that a policy of aid and comfort to our allies in the Middle East will be sufficient without any American military effort or presence to back it up. He believes this gamble is our best bet, or at least our only realistic bet. I think it won’t work.”

Israel will begin exporting gas to Egypt in a few months’ time — by Aidan Lewis: “Israel will begin exporting natural gas to Egypt in a few months’ time, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday, a key step in the country’s plans to sell its expanding gas production abroad and bolster diplomatic ties.” [Reuters]

STATE-SIDE — Governor Ron DeSantis names Robert Luck to Florida Supreme Court — by David Ovalle: “Robert Luck, a well-respected appellate judge, was named to the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, the second judge from Miami’s appeals court to be named to the high court under new Gov. Ron DeSantis… DeSantis made the announcement Monday morning at the Scheck Hillel Community School in Northeast Miami-Dade, a prominent Jewish school. Luck is the first Jewish justice appointed in over 20 years.” [MiamiHerald

Marc Caputo on the scene: “Judge Luck praises DeSantis for his support of “Israel and, by extension, the Jewish community.” … Judge Luck closes with the blessing known as Ata Chonen from the Jewish prayer, Amidah: “You grace humans with wisdom and teach humanity perception. Bestow upon us Your knowledge, insight and understanding. Blessed are you the grantor of wisdom.”

ROAD FOR THE NEW KNESSET— Drawing fire from the right and the left, Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz told Druze activists that he will fix controversial nation-state law… David Horovitz explains why Israel is vulnerable to election cyber meddling… Ehud Barak charged yesterday that Netanyahu broke with Israel’s ambiguity over its strikes against Iranian targets in Syria for political reasons… MK Bezalel Smotrich was elected as head of the right-wing National Union party on Monday night. He expressed hope to head a religious-Zionist bloc… Yair Lapid ruled out joining forces with MK Tzipi Livni, vowing he “won’t unite with the left”…

2020 WATCH — Interviews with senior aides for several top Democratic prospects indicate that the waiting game to jump into the presidential is almost over… Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is expected to announceshe’s forming a 2020 exploratory committee ahead of a trip to Iowa… Bernie Sanders to meet with former campaign staffers about 2016 harassment issues… Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden will attend Rev. Al Sharpton’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Washington, D.C. next week…

** Good Tuesday 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: Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi Faces Quandary: Meeting Ambitious Content Goal [TheInformation] • Gary Barnett taps Sush Torgalkar of Westbrook Partners as CEO of Extell [TheRealDealWSJ] • Documents show Glencore provided nearly $1 billion in loans to aid investments by accused businessman Dan Gertler [WSJ] • Facebook, fighting off skeptics, plans to invest $300 million in journalism programs [CNNBusiness] • Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron wrestles with the Bezos divorce [VanityFair]

SPOTLIGHT — Seth Klarman’s Hedge Fund Baupost Has a Complex $1 Billion Bet on PG&E — by Miles Weiss, Allison McNeely and Katherine Doherty: “Seth Klarman’s Baupost Group has been the poster child of the hedge fund industry’s ill-timed stock-market bets on the troubled utility PG&E Corp., which announced plans for bankruptcy… Baupost also bought $1 billion of legal claims in November that an insurer held against the utility, giving the hedge fund the right to recover losses incurred from the deadly wildfires in 2017… For Baupost, the claims are in keeping with Klarman’s penchant for knotty litigation and bankruptcy workouts, from Puerto Rican debt to U.S. nuclear power plants… Since the end of September, when Baupost last reported its equity holding, PG&E’s shares have plunged about 82 percent… PG&E’s plight is magnified because in California utilities can be held liable for property damage from a fire caused by their equipment. State investigators have already found the utility responsible for sparking 17 of the 2017 wine country fires.” [Bloomberg]

Justice Department issues new opinion that could further restrict online gambling — by Tom Hamburger, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey: “The Justice Department late Monday issued a legal opinion that could further restrict online gambling even as some states have been moving to embrace it — a restriction long sought by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who controls one of the world’s largest casino empires… Curtailing such online gambling ventures has been a major goal of Adelson, who with his allies has argued that Web-based gambling would hurt children, invite criminal activity and produce little actual revenue for states.” [WashPost]

Ben Brafman to Quit Harvey Weinstein’s Defense Team — by Lachlan Cartwright: “Ben Brafman has decided to leave Harvey Weinstein’s defense team… Superstar attorney Brafman clashed with his client after Weinstein informed him of the plan [to hire new lawyers], according to Page Six. Brafman will now have to seek court permission from Justice James Burke to depart the team.” [DailyBeast]

TALK OF THE NATION — As Government Pulls Back, Charities Step In to Help Released Migrants — by Jose Del Real and Manny Fernandez: “The sole shelter in San Diego, run by Jewish Family Service of San Diego, has processed nearly 5,000 asylum applicants since it began operating two months ago. It was built “on a wing and a prayer,” according to [Kevin] Malone, and has had to move five times to find adequate space… Kate Clark, the director of immigration services at Jewish Family Service, said the organization stepped in nine weeks ago when it learned migrants were being “dumped at the border.” [NYTimes

TALK OF THE TOWN — A bat mitzvah girl debuts a new way for blind Jews to participate in an ancient tradition — by Michelle Boorstein: “When 12-year-old Batya Sperling Milner stood before her community at her bat mitzvah… she read from the Torah, just like any other Jewish kid. At the same time, the Saturday service at Ohev Sholom synagogue on a snowy D.C. Sabbath morning was absolutely unique to the little girl with the brown bob and the elaborate henna on her left hand… For Milner, who is blind, and her family, it was just a question of how it would happen… The N.W. Washington family thought innovations might be needed, so they went on a journey to find them. Milner’s mother, Aliza Sperling, wound up writing a 40-page paper that made the case for blind Torah readers and lectured from it in synagogue, launching a new conversation in the D.C. area’s Modern Orthodox community. A software engineer created encoding and a computer program that may wind up transforming the Torah-reading experience for visually-impaired people.” [WashPost]

Under the Chuppah in Havana — by Ruth Oratz: “I had never been to a group wedding. Nor did I ever think I would experience my first during a balmy December evening in Havana. But 60 years after Castro’s revolution, this wildly romantic and surreal event was the culmination of my visit to Cuba’s Jewish community, which today is reviving in ways most people could never expect. Indeed, standing in a synagogue where 16 couples joined together in Jewish traditions once outlawed on the island, one would think that it never ceased.”[Tablet]

‘McJesus’ art sculpture at Israeli museum upsets Christians, sparks calls for removal — by Nicole Darrah: “A sculpture of “McJesus” — Jesus modeled as Ronald McDonald — has upset Christians in Israel, where the art remains on display. Hundreds of Christians in the Middle Eastern country are calling for the art to be removed from the Haifa Museum of Art, where the display has been up for months. It was previously on display in other countries without any issues.” [FoxNews]

Israel to scour Danube in search for Holocaust remains: “Israeli divers are to search the Danube in Budapest with Hungarian help to recover remains of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, visiting Budapest, said remains would be sent to Israel for a Jewish burial.”[BBC]

TRANSITIONS — Josh Hammer, most recently a clerk for Judge Jim Ho on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is now Editor-at-Large of the Daily Wire. He will be of counsel at First Liberty.

Jennifer Blatus, most recently communications director for Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), is joining Stu Loeser & Co. as a media strategist. h/t New York Playbook

SPOTTED — Via Daniel Lippman: Treasury chief of staff Eli Miller having dinner with U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Ron Gidwitz at Fiola Mare on Monday night.

DESSERT — The Melbourne bakeries that tell a story of Jewish migration — by Ian Lloyd Neubauer: “Carlisle St in the suburb of Balaclava is home to Glick’s, a bakery founded in 1960 by Holocaust survivor Mendel Glick… Mr. Glick also came up with the idea of selling piping hot challah… There are now three more Glick’s bakeries in Melbourne and two in Sydney.” [BBC]

REMEMBERING — Elias M. Stein, Mathematician of Fluctuations, Is Dead at 87 — by Kenneth Chang: “Elias M. Stein, a mathematician who pioneered work in a field that was originally devised to describe the vibrations of strings but that proved to have a wide range of applications, including charting the fluctuations of stock markets and gravitational waves, died on Dec. 23 at a hospital in Somerville, N.J… Elias Menachem Stein was born on Jan. 13, 1931, in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1940, when he was 9, German troops invaded Belgium, and the Steins, who were Jewish, fled to the United States. Elias arrived with diamonds in the soles of his shoes; his father, a diamond merchant, had hidden them there. His family settled on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.” [NYTimes]

BDAY OF THE DAY — Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Wire Ben Shapiro turns 35. Asked how he’s celebrating, Ben told JI’s Adam Rubenstein: “Had dinner with the family on Sunday night, will take my wife out for dinner some other time this week. Then it’s off to DC to speak at the March for Life.”

BIRTHDAYS: Diplomat and attorney, former domestic policy advisor to President Carter, US Ambassador to the EU (1993-1996), Deputy Secretary of Treasury (1999-2001), Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat turns 76… Professor of electro-optics at the Jerusalem College of Technology, author of several books on Science and Judaism, Yehuda “Leo” Levi, Ph.D. turns 93… Entrepreneur and philanthropist, she is the owner of The Wonderful Company which operates POM, Fiji Water, Teleflora, Wonderful Pistachios and other businesses, Lynda Rae Resnick turns 76… Teacher at Santa Barbara City College and long-time member of Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, Madelyn Palley turns 70… Chair of the Aspen Institute’s Middle East Program and EVP at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Near Eastern Affairs, Toni G. Verstandig turns 66… President and managing partner of The Stagwell Group, a private equity fund focused on the marketing services industry, Mark Penn turns 65 (h/t Playbook)…

Football coach who has worked in both the NFL and CFL, he served in 2017 and 2018 as the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts, Marc Trestman turns 63… President and CEO since 2007 of Discovery Inc., an entertainment firm whose brands comprise 20% of the ad-supported pay-TV viewership in the US, David M. Zaslav turns 59… Cryptographer, computer security specialist, blogger, writer, author of 13 books, CTO at Resilient (an IBM company), a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Bruce Schneier turns 56… Former White House deputy press secretary, later VP at Goldman Sachs and managing director at both TPG and Mercury, LLC, Adam Levine turns 50… Basketball analyst for Fox Sports since 2017, after long stints at ESPN and CBS, he played basketball professionally in the USBL, Europe and for Maccabi Ra’anana, Doug Gottlieb turns 43… Senior policy correspondent at Vox focused on health care, Sarah Kliff turns 34…

Rand Paul aide reads Trump letter at Jewish wedding

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

President Donald Trump sent a personal letter congratulating a Jewish bride and groom on Tuesday. Shlomo Segal and Devorah Ganz were married last night at Ateres Chynka hall…

Kafe Knesset for December 18

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hate to say I told you so: Right-wing Twitter broke out in calls of “I told you so” this morning following the Politico story on Obama, Hezbollah and…

House committee advances Jordan MOU amidst rare Congressional critique of Amman

Friday, December 15, 2017

WASHINGTON – On Thursday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed legislation that would re-authorize a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen U.S. defense ties with Jordan….

Lawmakers on Abbas’ cancellation of Pence meeting

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

WASHINGTON – After President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed the White House on Sunday that it would be canceling…

Kafe Knesset for December 6

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Jerusalem is holding its breath: Excitement is building ahead of the Presidential address on Jerusalem this evening, but the Israeli PM is waiting to see what exactly will…

Kafe Knesset for December 4

Monday, December 4, 2017

Embassy watch: While the PMO is still keeping its distance from the explosive Jerusalem Embassy move or recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, some of Bibi’s senior ministers…