Daily Kickoff: Israel’s World Baseball Classic dream ends | A $1.6B Hoax | Tamir Pardo’s advice | Luxury hotel in lifeguard tower on Tel Aviv beach

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FIRST LOOK: “The 1.6 Billion Dollar Hoax” by Ken Bensinger, Jason Leopold and Craig Silverman: “An elaborate hoax based on forged documents escalates the phenomenon of “fake news” and reveals an audience on the left that seems willing to believe virtually any claim that could damage Trump. In the third week of January, an Israeli named Yoni Ariel flew from Tel Aviv to Rome carrying $9,000 in cash on a secret mission to bring down Donald Trump. There, he met with an Italian businessman… Ariel recalled, he handed over the cash. In exchange he was given a copy of a potentially explosive set of documents. Its 35 pages told the story of a $1.6 billion wire transfer from petroleum giant ExxonMobil to a European office of a Chinese mining company, which a day later transferred 1.4 billion euros to the Trump Organization…”

“The transfers appeared to have taken place in mid-June, at the exact same time that Exxon’s then chief executive, Rex Tillerson, was in St. Petersburg at an economic forum, which Russian President Vladimir Putin also attended. To Ariel, who is married to an American and calls Russia’s tampering in the elections “an act of war,” the implications of these billion-dollar transfers were clear: Exxon had secretly bribed Trump to name Tillerson to the powerful cabinet post. Alarmed, Ariel passed the documents to a network of Democratic and anti-Trump activists who in turn shared them with prominent news organizations including BuzzFeed News. The only problem: The documents were phony. The wire transfers never occurred, and the entire set of documents appear to have been forged as part of an elaborate scam.”

“Ariel is 60 years old and also goes by the name Jonathan Schwartz… He said he first heard about the Exxon documents late last year from Sheldon Schorer, an attorney who until recently was legal counsel and spokesman for Democrats Abroad–Israel… Schorer, in turn, said a former Israeli ambassador to Italy contacted him in the fall and asked if he might be interested in the documents. Both Schorer and Ariel declined to name the retired Israeli diplomat, but two sources confirm it was Gideon Meir, who from 2006 to 2011 held the Rome posting.” [BuzzFeed

“Tillerson To U.N. Rights Council: Reform or We’re Leaving” by Colum Lynch and John Hudson: “The Trump administration is threatening a withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council if it does not undertake “considerable reform,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned a group of nine non-profit organizations in a letter this week… “If they don’t make these reforms, we’re going to question the value of our membership,” said a senior aide to Tillerson. “We’re not taking withdrawal off the table.” … For the time being, Tillerson wrote, the U.S. will participate in the ongoing session of the Human Rights Council, to “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.” “Our aim is to fix the organization,” the Tillerson aide told FP.” [FP]  Tillerson’s Shrewd Ultimatum to UN Human Rights Council: Reform or We Withdraw [Tablet]

ON THE HILL — Sen. Ted Cruz talks with JI’s Aaron Magid regarding the delay of his and Sen. Graham’s bill to defund the UN in response to the December UNSC vote: “The decision about what to bring to a vote is a decision for leadership in both houses. I believe it is critically important that we vote on the legislation that I introduced along with Lindsey Graham to defund the UN unless and until they rescind this anti-Israel resolution. I know a great many people are urging leadership to bring this up for a vote and get every Senator on record. It’s very easy for Democratic Senators to pretend they disagree with the Obama administration’s anti-Israel agenda. Bringing this to a vote allows every Senator to go on record. I believe bringing this to a vote would deliver a major foreign policy victory for the Trump administration.”

Asked if he discussed his Taylor Force Act legislation with Trump when he met him for lunch at the White House the other week, Sen Lindsey Graham told us: “No, I didn’t but I will. That is a good point, I’ll bring that up to him.”

PALACE INTRIGUE: “Trump rejects push to oust NSC aide” by Kenneth Vogel and Eliana Johnson: On Friday, McMaster told the National Security Council’s senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, that he would be moved to another position in the organization… But Cohen-Watnick appealed McMaster’s decision to two influential allies with whom he had forged a relationship while working on Trump’s transition team — White House advisers Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. They brought the matter to Trump on Sunday, and the president agreed that Cohen-Watnick should remain as the NSC’s intelligence director.” [Politico] • Defense Secretary Mattis withdraws Patterson as choice for undersecretary for policy [WashPost

“‘People are scared’: Paranoia seizes Trump’s White House” by Alex Isenstadt and Kenneth Vogel: “It’s an environment of fear that has hamstrung the routine functioning of the executive branch. Senior advisers are spending much of their time trying to protect turf, key positions have remained vacant due to a reluctance to hire people deemed insufficiently loyal… One senior administration aide said the degree of suspicion had created a toxicity that was unsustainable. “People are scared,” he said, adding that the Trump White House had become “a pretty hostile environment to work in.” [Politico]

“Trump Wins Saudi Praise for ‘Turning Point’ After Meeting Prince” by Nafeesa Syeed and Glen Carey: “Sunni Arab leaders are embracing Trump with praise the president isn’t finding from other U.S. allies in the world, reflecting an eagerness to reset ties after feeling shunned by President Barack Obama, who crafted the 2015 nuclear deal with their Shiite rival Iran. The Saudi statement said Trump had a “great understanding” of the bilateral relationship. The president and the prince “share the same views on the gravity of the Iranian expansionist moves in the region,” the adviser said.” [Bloomberg; NYTimes]

PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department‏ tweets: “Statement attributed to Dr. Saeb Erekat (about ‘historic’ Trump offer to Abbas next month) was never made. We expect a correction from Times of Israel.” [Twitter

TOP TALKER: “Prerequisite for Key White House Posts: Loyalty, Not Experience” by Sharon Lafraniere, Nicholas Confessore and Jesse Drucker: “President Trump’s point man on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is a longtime Trump Organization lawyer with no government or diplomatic experience… Mr. Greenblatt’s ties to Mr. Trump have translated into more striking levels of power and prestige… A sign of Mr. Greenblatt’s expansive role came last month, not long after he traveled to Capitol Hill with Peter Navarro — a Harvard-trained economist who is head of Mr. Trump’s newly created National Trade Council — to discuss trade policy with staff aides of the Senate Finance Committee. Mr. Greenblatt missed a follow-up session with senators because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was visiting the White House that day.”

“He’s got to negotiate Middle East peace,” Mr. Navarro quipped to the senators, according to a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “So he can’t be here today.” Although Mr. Greenblatt has not been given the title of special envoy to the Middle East, he appears to be acting in that role too. Visiting the region this week, he met Mr. Netanyahu in Israel… and Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. A State Department spokesman said Mondaythat a senior National Security Council official was accompanying Mr. Greenblatt, but was unsure whether a State Department official had been included… In a brief telephone interview, Mr. Greenblatt suggested calling back later when “I’ll have something to actually say that’s meaningful.”” [NYTimes

Greenblatt’s second day on his first visit to the Middle East region included a lengthy meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, touring a Palestinian refugee camp, and a roundtable with Palestinian university students in Bethlehem. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, in a joint readout of the meeting, noted that “President Abbas committed to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and incitement… President Abbas assured Mr. Greenblatt that he is fully committed to creating an atmosphere that is conducive to making peace and would heighten his outreach efforts to the Israeli public.”

“Trump sends his real estate lawyer-turned-diplomat to meet Netanyahu, Abbas” by Ruth Eglash: “In Ramallah, the de facto headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, feelings toward Trump and his intentions have been positive since the Friday phone call… “We received Greenblatt as a representative of the U.S., and we appreciate and welcome the fact that he is open and wanting to listen to the Palestinian side,” said Husam Zomlot, a senior adviser to Abbas. “This is a good start.” Zomlot will take up the post of the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United States next month. Zomlot said Greenblatt was attentive and spent hours in Ramallah meeting with the Palestinian president and many of his senior advisers. “It is crucial that they are consulting, and that is why we believe this is an opportunity for us,” he said.” [WashPost]

Netanyahu commented on his meeting with Greenblatt during a press conference yesterday: “I must say that they were good, in-depth talks. I cannot tell you that we finished. We agreed, we are in a process, but a process of genuine mutual, very frank dialogue, in the good sense of the word. Very open and very frank, just not open to the press. You will need to wait a little, I do not think for long.”

“Netanyahu Expects to Reach Deal With U.S. on Restrained Settlement Construction” by Barak Ravid: “Netanyahu and Greenblatt are expected to meet again this week before the envoy leaves the country… An Israeli official who has been involved in Israel-U.S. contacts on the settlements said the Trump administration had proposed to Netanyahu that he renew the understandings that had been in place between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.” [Haaretz]

KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: As the Trump administration is reportedly still deliberating between the outside-in or inside-out approach in order to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Greenblatt can get some advice from former Mossad head Tamir Pardo. “Nothing in the region will move without progress on the Palestinian track,” Pardo said today. Pardo’s remarks were offered at a special conference sponsored by the Knesset Caucus for a Regional Solution and the Institute for National Security Studies focusing on regional security. Pardo and other experts agreed that there is a rare and unique opportunity with moderate Arab states based on mutual interests, but he stressed that “whomever thinks we can make any regional progress without moving towards the Palestinians is a fool. Israel needs to determine its own end-game. What do we want? Where are we going? Unfortunately Israel does not decide, and cannot decide, because of the political divide. As long as Israel does not define what it wants, nothing will happen.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) also spoke briefly at the meeting. “Last year I was in the middle of a huge regional move which would have changed the Middle East forever,” Herzog said, referring to the recent Ha’aretz revelations about attempts to jump-start the peace process and forge a unity government in Israel last year. “Now is the time to turn this opportunity into reality,” he added, stating that he will be meeting with Greenblatt tomorrow. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

“Advice for Trump’s would-be peacemaker” by David Horovitz: “You have a clean slate. Your administration is deemed unpredictable. And your president relishes deal-making. What would seem to have been logical for years — the need to invest strategic efforts in education in order to create a grassroots Palestinian climate that backs compromise — was ignored by your various predecessors… I urge you to defy conventional wisdom. Do the unexpected. It happens to be the smartest course.” [ToI]

NORPAC Passes On AIPAC Conference This Year — by Jacob Kornbluh: NORPAC, which calls itself the nation’s largest pro-Israel political action committee, is hosting a fundraiser for Senator Bob Menendez — at the same time as AIPAC’s annual Washington Policy Conference — in New Jersey. NORPAC President Dr. Ben Chouake told Jewish Insider that the date, Sunday, March 26, was chosen by Menendez despite the fact that a number of would-be participants are expected to attend the AIPAC gathering in Washington, DC. “We are grateful for all participation in the process and while we regret the date, when a friend asks for help we are inclined to say yes even at difficult time slots,” he explained. “I hope my colleagues at AIPAC will give me a pass on missing the conference.”

— Menendez, a frequent speaker at the pro-Israel gathering since 2013, is expected to address AIPAC attendees on Tuesday, the third day of the conference, according to the Senator’s spokesperson. Although AIPAC has yet to list him as a speaker on their website. Yesterday, AIPAC announced U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as a confirmed speaker. [JewishInsider

TALK OF OUR NATION: “A Tide Turns as Israelis Pray for American Jews” by Daniel Gordis: “In Jerusalem this past Friday evening, we listened as the rabbi noted that we would be adding a newly written mi she-beirach. “For years,” the rabbi said, “communities across the globe have been praying for us, for our safety, for our children serving in the army and defending this country. But now, we are the ones who are secure, and they are the ones facing danger. It is time that we began to pray on their behalf.”” [Bloomberg

2018 WATCH: “Pritzker establishes exploratory committee to consider a run for governor” by Rick Pearson: “Raising the potential cash stakes in next year’s race, billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday formally created a fundraising committee to explore a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor… Pritzker says he is contributing $200,000 to cover day-to-day expenses of the exploratory committee, but he has indicated he could be willing to self-fund a campaign for governor.” [ChicagoTribune

** 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: Paul Singer Is Reopening His Flagship Hedge Fund to New Capital [Bloomberg] • Jann Wenner’s Us Weekly likely going to American Media after Tronc talks fall through [NYPost] • Talking Fifth Avenue Rents With Thor’s Dana Baines [Observer] • Aby Rosen is hosting star-studded blowout parties again [NYPost]

SPOTLIGHT: “Steve Cohen Is Trying to Teach Computers to Think Like Top Traders” by Saijel Kishan: “Steven A. Cohen got rich by going with his gut on big trades. Now the billionaire trader is experimenting with another path: automating the decisions of his best money managers. Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management, which oversees his $11 billion fortune, is parsing troves of data from its portfolio managers and testing models that mimic their trades, according to people familiar with the matter.” [Bloomberg]

STARTUP NATION: “Intel deal for Mobileye fuels Israel’s drive to become automotive tech hub” by Rory Jones: “This [Intel] deal will be looked at as the new phase for the industry,” Eran Shir, chief executive of Israeli startup Nexar Ltd., said of the Mobileye buyout. “Data is now the new oil.” … “We believe the auto industry is being transformed,” said Emanuel Timor, a partner at Vertex Ventures, which originally bought a stake in Israeli mapping firm Waze, purchased by Google in 2013 for $1 billion. “There’s a great opportunity for startups.” [WSJ] • Davidson Foundation grant helps Henry Ford collaborate with Israeli innovators [JewishNews]

“Ivanka Trump to End Fine Jewelry Line in Favor of Mass-Market One” by Rachel Abrams: “Jewelry, however, was Ms. Trump’s first major foray into licensing her name. She partnered with Moshe Lax, a New York-based diamond wholesaler, who helped Ms. Trump open a retail location on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 2007. In 2011, her boutique moved to a sprawling store in the city’s SoHo neighborhood. That location, however, was ultimately not profitable enough to stay open and closed in 2015.” [NYTimes

TRANSITION: “Walter Isaacson to Step Down as President and CEO of the Aspen Institute: Isaacson will be joining the history department of Tulane University as University Professor effective January 2018, and will become an Advisory Partner focusing on technology and the new economy with the global financial services firm Perella Weinberg Partners, where he currently serves on the board.” [AspenInstitue]

HOLLYWOOD: “On Netflix, the Borders Remain Open” by Mike Hale: “A pair of series added to the service in December without much fanfare, “Fauda” from Israel and “Nobel” from Norway, are both better than and distinctively different from most of the American TV you’re watching at the moment. “Fauda” is the latest gritty, naturalistic thriller turned out by the Israeli TV industry, a major supplier of ideas and concepts for American TV. (Other examples, like “Hostages” and the wonderful “Prisoners of War,” the model for “Homeland,” can be streamed from Netflix and Hulu.)” [NYTimes]

Adam Krief, whose battle with cancer united community and attracted celebrities, dies at 32 — by Oren Peleg: “Adam Krief, the cancer-stricken Jewish man from West Los Angeles whose search for a bone marrow transplant rallied the community and gained the notice of international celebrities, died on March 14. He was 32. Donor drives to find a match for the father of three young children were held all over the United States and in France, Israel and Mexico. Several matches resulted and Krief underwent a bone marrow transplant in December. But in a tragic turn of events, his body rejected the transplant and his condition deteriorated quickly, according to Jeremy Braun, a family friend… “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik and reality television star Kim Kardashian West were among those who helped publicize a search for a matching donor.” [JewishJournal]

SPORTS BLINK: “Israel’s World Baseball Classic dream ends while Japan advances” by Marc Normandin: “Just making the World Baseball Classic tournament was an accomplishment for Israel. That’s not to be condescending to the team or country at all: it’s just that baseball in the country is still in the early stages of development, and the roster was filled out by American minor-league and role players. Despite this, Israel qualified for the main WBC tournament by winning their fourth of a smaller tournament a year ago, then they advanced to the second round after going undefeated in Pool A action. Now their journey is at an end following an 8-3 loss to Japan that gave them a 1-2 record, but the tournament has given Israel hope for 2021. Israel doesn’t need to win entry into the next World Baseball Classic, as their standing in the first round granted them automatic qualification.” [SBNation]

“Team Israel Is a Hit, but Barely Registers in Tel Aviv” by Jared Diamond and Rory Jones: “Israel is benefiting from the WBC’s lenient rules, which allow players to compete for a country if they are eligible to become a citizen there. In the case of Israel, that extends to anybody with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent. As a result, Team Israel is comprised almost entirely of American minor-league players with a bit of Judaism somewhere in their bloodlines. Most native Israelis wouldn’t know which way to run to first base… [Leah] Rosen (bartender at Mike’s Place), who originally hails from Chicago, spoke on Monday afternoon in Israel at the bar, where just a handful of Israelis and Americans sipped beers and ate burgers during Israel’s contest against the Netherlands. Most of the people there were dual citizens.” [WSJ

DESSERT: “Want good sea views? Stay in a luxury lifeguard tower” by Yuval Ben-David: “The mayor of Tel Aviv rushed to help the German travel blogger lift her luggage away from the incoming tide as she made her way into the city’s newest beachfront digs — a wooden lifeguard tower refurbished as a pop-up luxury suite. As part of an effort to market Israel as a winter tourist destination for Europeans, the city of Tel Aviv and Israel’s tourism ministry have teamed up with a local hotel chain to temporarily transform the tower into a two-storey suite, with hot tub, room service and very unobstructed ocean views.” [Reuters]

BIRTHDAYS: Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. “Notorious RBG,” turns 84… Theoretical chemist and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, professor emeritus at Harvard University and Director of the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory in France, Martin Karplus turns 87… Physicist and winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics, inventor of the heterotransistor and an influential member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Zhores Alferov turns 87… Emmy Award and Tony Award-winning actor, active in film, television and on the stage, Judd Hirsch turns 82… UCLA professor, biochemist and biophysicist, David Eisenberg turns 78… First-ever New York City Public Advocate (1994-2001), winner of Democratic primaries for NYC Mayor (2001), the House (1980) and the Senate (1986) but lost each general election, author of 23 books, Mark J. Green turns 72… British billionaire and philanthropist, chairman of retail conglomerate Arcadia Group, Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green turns 65… Animator and director of The Simpsons, David Silverman turns 60… Retired MLB infielder, currently a special assistant to the Chicago Cubs GM Theo Epstein, Kevin Youkilis turns 38…

Deputy Director of Government Relations, Advocacy and Community Engagement at the DC office of the Anti-Defamation League, Mindy Beth Reinstein turns 34… CEO and co-founder of Bandura Games Justin Hefter… Director of Early Childhood programs at the Chicago JCC, Wendy Platt Newberger … CEO and Executive Vice President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis since September 2013, Debra Barton Grant… Ze’ev Bar-El… Max Schindler… Shirley Hoffner Sam Treynor… Robert Rosner… Lida Dannevig

 

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