Daily Kickoff: How a game of basketball landed Avrahm Berkowitz in the Trump White House | Ivanka’s Rabbinic Pass | Bernard-Henri Lévy on Trump

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EXCLUSIVE: How Avrahm Berkowitz Landed in the West Wing — From a simple game of pickup basketball to a top West Wing position in the Trump White House: For Avrahm (Avi) Berkowitz, an encounter on the court with Jared Kushner at a Passover hotel program in Arizona several years ago has led to a number of unique opportunities. The latest manifestation of this journey was announced Thursday in a Trump press release listing Berkowitz’s new title: Special Assistant to the President and assistant to Senior Advisor Jared Kushner… When Kushner and Berkowitz first met during a Passover program at the historic Arizona Biltmore Hotel, Berkowitz was attending classes at Queens College. The two kept in touch and when Avi graduated, Kushner hired him to join his family’s real estate company where Berkowitz helped manage the firm’s apartment portfolio.

On Thursday, Trump suggested that Kushner would serve as a mediator for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, saying “If [Kushner] can’t produce Middle East peace, nobody can.” While some reports suggested that Trump and Kushner were annoyed with AIPAC’s apology at its Policy Conference last year (after a number of AIPAC delegates cheered when Trump attacked President Obama, calling him “the worst thing ever to happen to Israel”), the new Administration doesn’t appear to be holding any grudges. In fact, to the contrary, Berkowitz’s first cousin is former AIPAC President Howard Friedman. David Cordish serves on AIPAC’s National Board. His son Reed, also a friend of Kushner, was appointed this week to serve as Assistant to the President for Intragovernmental and Technology Initiatives. How Trump’s White House and Kushner’s West Wing will operate is anyone’s guess but no one can deny the power of a pickup basketball game. If nothing else, expect to see activity on the White House basketball court come next Passover. [JewishInsider]

“Trump: If Ivanka’s husband can’t broker Middle East peace, no one can” by Caitlin Yilek: “Trump is setting the bar high for his eldest daughter’s husband, Jared Kushner. “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can,” Trump said on the eve of his inauguration at an event for campaign donors in Washington, D.C. “All my life I’ve been hearing that’s the toughest deal in the world to make. And I’ve seen it. But I have a feeling Jared’s going to do a great job.” … “I sort of stole her husband,” Trump quipped about his daughter and Kushner on Thursday.” [WashExaminer]

“Wealthy donors, once Trump’s punching bags, get VIP treatment at inauguration” by Matea Gold:On Thursday, the president-elect headlined a luncheon at his downtown hotel honoring GOP congressional leaders, where he singled out and thanked mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson for their support… Wealthy contributors may have served as punching bags for Trump on the campaign trail, but they are enjoying VIP treatment in Washington this week.” [WashPost] • Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam arrive this morning at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol for Trump Inauguration [Pic]

“Trump’s New York real estate buddies descend on DC” by Kathryn Brenzel and Will Parker: “A cadre of real estate bigwigs are descending on the nation’s capital to watch one of their own be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. The guest list isn’t surprising: Outspoken supporters like Richard LeFrak, Howard Lorber and Steve Witkoff have all confirmed that they will attend Friday’s ceremony. Vornado Realty Trust’s Steve Roth will most likely also be in the crowd, though he hasn’t yet confirmed his plans.” [RealDeal]

“Trump supporters wish rest of the country shared their enthusiasm for the inauguration” by Hunter Walker: “In an interview with Yahoo News on SiriusXM’s POTUS radio channel on Thursday, [Boris] Epshteyn relentlessly stuck to his message that the inauguration is “all about the people” rather than any big-name talent. “It’s about the peoples’ voices being heard throughout this country and throughout the world,” Epshteyn said.” [YahooNews

REPORT: “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Get Rabbinic Pass to Ride in Car on Inauguration Shabbat” by Thea Glassman: “In an interview with Kol Barama radio, Mark Zell, the chair of the Republican Party in Israel, said the couple have been granted special permission by a rabbi to use a vehicle because of “safety” concerns.” [Forward; NYPost]

Jake Sherman: “Joe Lieberman, also an observant Jew, said he would walk to inauguration ceremonies in 2001 — if Gore won.” [Twitter]

— NYTimes report from August 14, 2000 — by Bernard Weinraub and Elisabeth Bumiller:“Just this morning, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman was asked by Tim Russert on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’ what would happen if the Gore-Lieberman ticket won the presidency. The inauguration date is Jan. 20, 2001, a Saturday. As an Orthodox Jew, Mr. Lieberman strictly observes the Sabbath, from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays, which ostensibly prohibits working, riding in vehicles and other activities. Mr. Lieberman smiled. ‘Well, as my mother would say, Tim, if she were here, “Sweetheart, we should have such a problem.”’ He went on to say that he would probably stay near the Capitol on Friday night, to avoid having to travel by car. And, if the Secret Service agreed, he would walk from the Capitol to the White House to participate in the events. Mr. Lieberman said that he has driven on the Sabbath in the past if important issues were at stake.” [NYTimes] • h/t Playbook

Rabbi Levi Shemtov tells us: “I think one should know of and be able to confirm all the details, including perhaps intelligence or other specific factors which could impact such a singular halachic decision for a specific individual and circumstance, before they comment about it. I won’t comment further.”

“Invitations in hand, West Bank settlers head to inauguration” by Josef Federman: “”I definitely agree that we are now getting the VIP treatment, which is something that we have been working on for many years,” said Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council… “You could basically argue that it has taken 50 years, since 1967, to be recognized on such a level for such an event.” … When asked if Trump, his incoming administration or inaugural committee had invited the settlers, inaugural committee spokesman Boris Epshteyn did not answer the question, saying in a statement only that no heads of state or heads of government were among the invited guests.” [AP] • Israeli Lawmakers Celebrate the New “King of the United States” With Evangelicals [TheIntercept]

“Michael Cohen will be personal attorney to POTUS” by Kathryn Brenzel: “The position means he’ll deal with legal matters that don’t pertain to the White House, but to Trump personally, Cohen confirmed to The Real Deal on Thursday. He wouldn’t specify where he’d be based, but said “If (Trump) wants me to sit in the Oval Office, I’ll be at the Oval Office. If he wants me in New York, I’ll be in New York.”” [TRD]  

JI INTERVIEW — Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks on what to expect from President Trump: “There can be no doubt in anybody’s mind in the Jewish community that President Trump is going to be a radical departure from President Obama, who systematically weakened and undermined the U.S.-Israel relationship over the last eight years with his administration. You’ve seen it precisely by the people that he has appointed to key positions already… He is surrounding himself with folks who are unabashedly supportive of Israel and are willing to stand up and defend Israel in the international community and in international forums like the UN, something that we have not seen during the last eight years of the Obama administration.”

Q: What will the relationship between the Trump administration and Jewish American organizations look like?

Brooks: “I have no doubt that President Trump would be able to work with any of the organizations or folks in the Jewish community if there’s an opportunity to do so. The bigger question is, are these organizations, which have invested so much publicly in their protests and condemnation of the Trump candidacy and the initial stages of the Trump incoming administration, going to be able to work effectively with this administration. I think there will certainly be a willingness to be inclusive on the part of the Administration. I question and would like to see, hopefully, whether those groups from the Jewish community really will have an open mind and be willing to engage in an honest and sincere manner with the Administration on the range of issues that are so important to our community.”

“The biggest message that I have for people in the Jewish community right now, who are issuing statements left and right about their concern about this and their opposition to that, is: give the guy a chance. It’s easy to criticize. Right now people are criticizing in the abstract. They have no idea what he’s really going to do, or what his policies are because he’s not even sworn in yet. I would say it’s perfectly legitimate for people to be critical of actual policies that run counter to the missions of their organizations or things that they’re concerned about, but right now there’s no actual policy. All this flurry of press releases and interviews criticizing and objecting to this administration, I think, are ill-timed at this point. I think we owe it, as a community, to give the president an opportunity to lead and an opportunity to see what he’s really doing. There will be plenty of time for people to jump on the bandwagon and criticize down the road if they so choose. I say, give the guy a chance, and I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider

“Following Trump’s inauguration: What’s next?” by Jacob Kornbluh and Aaron Magid: “Analysts in Israel, for example, are hoping the new commander in chief adopts a more assertive approach in the Middle East… Questions remain as to whether Trump’s presidency might push Israel away from the bipartisan support it traditionally has received… And there is still the eternally thorny issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how it might be impacted by the change in American leadership… What follows are not definitive answers to what we’re all wondering as the Trump era in America begins, but a sampling of perspectives from politicos, domestic and abroad, liberal and conservative.” [JewishJournal] • Dershowitz: Trump likely to be unpredictable on Israel [DetroitNews]

“Jews, Be Wary of Trump” by Bernard-Henri Lévy: “I cannot claim any knowledge of Donald Trump’s “heart” or of the sincerity of his commitment to the Jewish state. But there have been indications going back decades… Like all other American citizens, Jews must respect the president-elect in the forms provided in the Constitution. But they must not fall into the trap of believing in his inconsistent and ultimately double-edged benevolence. They must not forget that, no matter how many times Mr. Trump declares his love for Israel, for Benjamin Netanyahu or anyone else, he will remain a bad shepherd who respects only power, money and the perquisites of his palaces.” [NYTimes

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM: “In video praising Trump, Jerusalem mayor says Obama ‘surrendered’ to radical Islam” by William Booth: “Then the viewer hears some rousing music, sees Trump mount a stage, watches a crowd cheering wildly and cuts to Trump addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby in Washington, vowing, “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem …” [Nir] Barkat follows: “ … Join me in signing a letter supporting President Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem and his decisions supporting Israel. Let’s make the U.S. and Israel relationship great again!” Barkat paid for the video out of his own pocket. His spokesman Avi Lerner said the letter campaign garnered more than 10,000 signatures in the first six hours.” [WashPost] • Israel’s right wing has grand plans for Trump era [Reuters]

COMING SOON: “Trump spokesman says of possibility of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem: ‘Stay tuned’” by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu: “Stay tuned,” incoming White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters, asked about the issue at a briefing the day before Trump takes office. “There’ll be a further announcement on that… “The president (Trump) has made it very clear that Israel has not gotten the attention it deserves or the respect in the last eight years. He intends to really show his respect for Israel, the importance of it in the Middle East.” [Reuters

“Netanyahu Briefed on Scenarios of Violence Should Trump Move Embassy to Jerusalem” by Barak Ravid: “Earlier this week, Netanyahu convened a special security consultation on preparations for an announcement by Trump on the embassy… According to two senior Israel officials with knowledge of the consultations, Netanyahu and other officials at the meeting said Israel did not have definite information on whether or when Trump would announce an embassy move. One official said Netanyahu had spoken by phone with Trump a number of times since his election, but as of the meeting he had not received a clear answer on the embassy.” [Haaretz

INBOX: “The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has expressed criticism and concern that South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Ambassador to the United Nations, said during her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill that she is a proponent of the “two-state solution”(meaning Hamas/Fatah Palestinian Arab Terror State) and that she understands how settlements “can hinder peace.”

“Donald Trump Should Isolate Iran Immediately” by Jeb Bush and Dennis Ross: “The United States has no shortage of tools for affecting Iran’s behavior. A good one to start with: aggressively enforce the existing sanctions architecture… Only through a new campaign of pressure can the U.S. demonstrate to Iran that it runs very great risks if its policies don’t change and if it is ever tempted to pursue nuclear weapons again.” [TIME]

“An insider’s view: Eight years watching the first Jewish US president” by Steve Rabinowitz: “Additionally, Obama had close relationships with the Crown family; Penny Pritzker, who would later become secretary of commerce; Eric Lynn, who would later work in the Defense Department; and Dan Shapiro, who Obama would seat on his national security staff before making him ambassador to Israel. What these Jews had in common was that they were all progressive liberals and staunch Zionists devoted to Israel and its well-being but who also didn’t think it was off limits to criticize Israeli policies, including settlements. Obama therefore developed an attitude toward Israel that reflected that of his friends: First, just as Jews respond viscerally when Israel is under attack, he doubled down on Israel’s security when it faced dangers. Second, loving Israel sometimes means disagreeing with it, a position that many Jews on the Right seem to reject even when it comes from a fellow Jew.” [JPost

** 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 **

SPOTLIGHT: “Private Equity Eyes Tax and Financial Reform in the Trump Era” by Melissa Mittelman: “Aside from assigning official posts, Trump has hosted a steady stream of private equity executives since the election. Carlyle Group LP co-CEO David Rubenstein, Blackstone’s real estate head Jon Gray, KKR’s Henry Kravis and Cerberus Capital Management’s Steve Feinberg have been among his visitors… Disapproval of the tax treatment of carried interest, the portion of a private equity fund’s profits paid to fund managers, was one of the few issues that Trump and rival Hillary Clinton agreed on during the 2016 election.” [Bloomberg]

“George Soros calls Trump a ‘would-be dictator’ who ‘is going to fail'” by Jeff Cox: “Uncertainty is the enemy of long-term investment,” Soros said. “I don’t think the markets are going to do very well. Right now they are still celebrating. But when reality comes in,” his bets against the market “will prevail.” [CNBC

“Homes Steeped in Jewish Heritage” by Katy McLaughlin: “Lane] Auten’s condos are one example of a new appreciation for traditionally Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Europe. Haunted by harsh conditions for Jews over the centuries and the specter of the Holocaust, these areas are now being embraced by both Jewish home buyers and non-Jews who value their unique character. Tourists are drawn by museums, guided tours and cultural events that explore Jewish history, and cafes, bars and restaurants have opened to cater to them.” [WSJ]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Cuomo: Bomb threats to Jewish centers won’t be tolerated” by Casey Seiler: “A day after three Jewish Community Centers across New York… received anonymous bomb threats, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement saying… ”We have zero tolerance for any individual who makes such threats – false or otherwise – which is against the law,” Cuomo said. ” … In these turbulent times, New Yorkers reject the divisive forces of hate and bigotry. We will not permit anti-Semitism or bias incidents to go unpunished – period.”” [TimesUnion]

DEEP DIVE: “Seth Rich wasn’t just another D.C. murder victim. He was a meme in the weirdest presidential election of our times” by Manuel Roig-Franzia: “The Jewish kid from Nebraska chose to attend a Jesuit college, Creighton, because he liked its political science curriculum. “He’d sometimes call himself a Jew with Jesuit values,” his father said… In June, an explosive story made headlines: A cybersecurity firm had determined that hackers associated with Russian intelligence had broken into DNC computers. “He was so upset,” a person who was very close to Rich said… “It was crazy. Especially for Seth. He said, ‘Oh, my God. We have a foreign entity trying to get involved in our elections?’ That made him so angry.” [WashPost]

TRANSITION: Longtime diplomat and Israeli Foreign Ministry official David Siegel tapped to serve as CEO of ELNET (European Leadership Network). Siegel served as Israel’s Consul General to the Southwest United States from 2011-2016. He also served as Chief of Staff to three of Israel’s Ambassadors to the United States, and later on as spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in DC. “There are significant opportunities to strengthen the important relationships between Europe and Israel, and the work ELNET does is more critical today than ever,” Siegel said in a statement. “I am honored to join ELNET and contribute to the exciting growth of the organization as we strengthen our presence in Europe and Israel and help deepen these important ties.

Politico’s Katie Glueck moves to McClatchy: “McClatchy DC is boosting its politics team with the addition of Roll Call senior political reporter Alex Roarty and POLITICO’s own Katie Glueck, where they’ll be covering the left and right, respectively. Glueck joins another POLITICO alum, former national editor Kristin Roberts, at McClatchy.” [Morning Media] • Hadas Gold joins FOX 5 as political contributor [Fox5DC]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS: Lakewood, NJ-born, American diplomat and former State Department official (1959-1991), later President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1991-1997), Morton I. Abramowitz turns 84… Israeli politician, refusenik during the 1970s and 1980s who spent nine years in Soviet prisons, since 2009 Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky turns 69… US Representative from Nevada (1999-2013), now CEO and senior provost for Touro University Western Division, Shelley Berkley (born Rochelle Levine) turns 66… Comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, animal rights activist, actor, media critic and host of HBO’s political talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” William “Bill” Maher turns 61… Governor of South Carolina since January 2011 and currently nominee to be US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley (born Nimrata Randhawa) turns 45… Philanthropist, professional equestrian, author and younger daughter of former NYC Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, Georgina Leigh Bloomberg turns 34… Member of the digital communications team at Purple Strategies, after internships on Capitol Hill and the MPAA, blogger for Mediabistro’s FishbowlDC, Alec Jacobs (h/t Playbook)… Jason Berger… Adar Belinkoff

Born in Kansas City, raised in Oklahoma City, co-founder of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, philanthropist Lynn Schusterman… Literary critic, feminist, writer on cultural and social issues, television critic for People magazine, Elaine Showalter (born Elaine Cottler) turns 76… Chinese-American Governor of Washington (1997-2005), US Secretary of Commerce (2009-11) and US ambassador to China (2011-14), Gary Locke turns 67… 82nd Attorney General of the United States (2009-2015), Eric Holder turns 66… Political editor at Newsweek, previously managing editor for White House coverage at National Journal, reporter for Time, blogger for Talking Points Memo, Matthew Cooper turns 54… Born in Trinidad and Tobago, SVP and Washington bureau chief for CNN since 2011, employed by CNN since 1991, Sam Feist turns 48… Ramat Gan native, director, producer and screenwriter of American films, best known as the producer or director of the six films in the “Paranormal Activity” series, Oren Peli turns 47… Rabbi and Dean of School at Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles, lecturer, educator and author, Shlomo Einhorn turns 38… Chief of Staff in the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Jordan Grossman turns 31… Former reporter in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press (2006-2011), who later wrote about the bias against Israel at the AP and the international media, author of two acclaimed books, Matti Friedman

Canadian philanthropist who created Shoppers Drug-Mart and Israel’s Super Pharm stores, co-founder of The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Murray Koffler turns 93… Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry in 2000, since 1982 a professor in the Physics Department at the University of California Santa Barbara, Alan J. Heeger turns 81… Brooklyn-born conductor, who during his tenure as artistic director of the Kraków Philharmonic became friends with Pope John Paul II for whom he later conducted multiple Papal concerts, Gilbert Levine turns 69… Co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics, senior political analyst for MSNBC and Bloomberg TV, co-author (w/ Mark Halperin) of “Game Change” and “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” John Heilemann turns 51… Senior Legislative Assistant in the DC office of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Matthew Lustbader… Michael Marquis… Ruth Lynn Sobel

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