Daily Kickoff: Norman Podhoretz, still going strong | Magerman talks Mercer, again | Details not adding up at Kushner’s 666 Fifth | Bibi’s Minyan Club

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SIREN: “Israeli jets strike inside Syria; military site near Palmyra reportedly targeted” by Oren Liebermann and Euan McKirdy: “In the most serious clash between Israeli and Syrian forces since the start of Syria’s civil war six years ago, Israeli aircraft struck several targets in Syria overnight… The Syrian military said the strikes targeted a military site near Palmyra… In response, Syrian forces fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli jets, saying they downed one aircraft and hit another. Israeli vehemently denied the assertions… “At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF aircraft compromised,” a statement from the Israel Defense Forces said. One of the missiles was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system, marking its first operational use.” [CNN]

DEEP DIVE: “The blow-it-all-up billionaires” by Vicky Ward: “If Trump was an unexpected victor, the Mercers were unexpected kingmakers. More established names in Republican politics, such as the Kochs and Paul Singer, had sat out the general election. But the Mercers had committed millions of dollars to a campaign that often seemed beyond salvaging… A longtime colleague, David Magerman, recalls that when Robert began working at Renaissance in 1993, he and his wife, Diana, were “grounded, sweet people.” (Magerman was suspended from Renaissance in February after making critical comments about Robert in The Wall Street Journal.) But “money changed all that,” he says. “Diana started jetting off to Europe and flying to their yacht on weekends. The girls were used to getting what they wanted.”

“Magerman, Robert’s former colleague at Renaissance, recalls him saying, in front of coworkers, words to the effect that “your value as a human being is equivalent to what you are paid. … He said that, by definition, teachers are not worth much because they aren’t paid much.” His beliefs were well-known at the firm, according to Magerman. But since Robert was so averse to publicity, his ideology wasn’t seen as a cause for concern. “None of us ever thought he would get his views out, because he only talked to his cats,” Magerman told me.” [HuffPost.Highline]

WEEKEND READ — Podhoretz the Pugilist: “Norman Podhoretz Still Picks Fights and Drops Names” by John Leland: “Mr. Podhoretz, who ran Commentary magazine from 1960 to 1995, has now outlived most of his old adversaries, including those he chronicled in his 1999 memoir “Ex-Friends: Falling Out With Allen Ginsberg, Lionel and Diana Trilling, Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt and Norman Mailer.” Smart, ambitious, argumentative, back-stabbing, front-stabbing, he is a living amalgam of New York ego and intellect…. His story is also one of sweeping political reversal. Born in 1930 in a modest Jewish immigrant Brooklyn home, he made his mark in liberal Manhattan, broke ranks with the friends who nourished him and became a shaper of the neoconservative movement.”

“In those years, writers attacked one another first in the pages of so-called little magazines like Partisan Review and Commentary, and then at parties where politics and art were battlefields. If the players considered themselves high-minded, Mr. Podhoretz scathingly suggested other motives. “Every morning,” he wrote in the 1967 memoir “Making It,” “a stock-market report on reputation comes out in New York. It is invisible, but those who have eyes to see can read it. Did so-and-so have dinner at Jacqueline Kennedy’s apartment last night? Up five points. Was so-and-so not invited by the Lowells to meet the latest visiting Russian poet? Down one-eighth.”

“After supporting Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primaries, Mr. Podhoretz took a position that was not so much an endorsement of Mr. Trump as a rebuttal to conservatives who opposed him. “I was anti-anti-Trump,” he said. “I said it was a choice of evils, and he was the lesser evil. And I still think that’s true, although it might turn out that he wasn’t evil at all. He has the most conservative cabinet since Reagan, more than Reagan. So I watch what he does more than what he says.” He was not put off by Mr. Trump’s conciliatory approach to Russia, nor his support from white nationalists, whom he considered too marginal to be a real threat.” [NYTimes]

Bret Stephens: “A remarkably fair-minded tribute to the great Norman Podhoretz (who’s wrong about Trump and I will never forgive it).” [Twitter]

“Daughter diplomacy: Trudeau’s unorthodox play for Donald Trump’s approval” by Daniel Dale: “For [Justin] Trudeau, daughter diplomacy offers the prospect of a lifeline to a president who shares almost none of his principles but who often appears to value personal relationships over ideology and policy — and who appreciates a political gift… Donald Trump, not Ivanka Trump, was Trudeau’s original invitee to the play, communications director Kate Purchase said. Trump told Trudeau he couldn’t make it, Purchase said, “but suggested that perhaps Ivanka Trump could join instead.” … It is not only the president with whom Ivanka Trump might help Trudeau. Her husband, Jared Kushner, has emerged as one of the most powerful people in the country.” [TheStar

Trump kids, families to visit Aspen this weekend: “A large contingent of President Donald Trump’s children and grandchildren are scheduled to vacation in Aspen this weekend, sources said Thursday. The Trump family is expected to arrive in Aspen late Saturday night or early Sundaymorning, along with about 100 Secret Service agents, a source said. Another Aspen area law enforcement source said the Trump visitors to Aspen will include Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump and their families.” [DenverPost; AspenTimes]

JASON GREENBLATT’S WEEK: “On His First Visit to the Middle East, Trump’s Envoy Jason Greenblatt Surprises Everyone” by Barak Ravid: “Greenblatt’s Twitter account was the best show in town this week. Anyone following his tweets might have thought he wasn’t the U.S. envoy for the peace process, but the Energizer bunny…  Everyone on the Israeli side who met with Greenblatt this week, on both the right and the left, as well as everyone on the Palestinian side, had a positive impression…

“A senior minister who sits in the diplomatic-security cabinet said he met with Netanyahu this week and found him very worried. The reason… [was] Donald Trump. “There’s enormous pressure on him over the settlements from Trump,” the minister said. “Trump told Netanyahu, ‘Tell me what your needs are on the settlements, and what you’re willing to do to rein in construction.’ … That’s also why he isn’t going to the AIPAC conference in Washington at the end of the month,” the minister added. “He doesn’t yet have anything to bring to Trump. The feeling I got is that he’s starting to miss Obama.”” [Haaretz

BIBI’S MINYAN CLUB — Greenblatt‏ tweets: “Thank you Israeli PM’s office for mincha minyan and Netanyahu for davening with me so that I could say Kaddish for my mother.” [Twitter

KAFE KNESSET — The Missing Yarmulke — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt definitely won the hearts and minds of many Israelis and Palestinians, who followed his Twitter reports with great enthusiasm. But for some Haredi observers, Greenblatt’s shuttle diplomacy was overshadowed by his missing kippa, and Haredi journalists and news outlets have been freaking out over it this whole week. “People who watched the video and the pictures from the meeting with Netanyahu couldn’t resist wondering where his Kippa is,” the Kikar Hashabat website wrote this week.

“Haredim 10,” another popular website, explained that many US Orthodox businessmen give up wearing the kippa during business meetings and even gave the religious explanation for the habit, which is unusual for religious Israelis, from all denominations. “Many Jews have this habit, based on a Halacha ruling by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who ruled that since wearing a kippa is a Hasidic custom, one can sit at work without it.” The Prime Minister’s new media advisor, Jonathan Urich, came to Greenblatt’s defense: “You can calm down. They prayed Mincha together yesterday, and had a Minyan in the cabinet room. When there is nothing wrong, you don’t have to look for people to blame.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [JewishInsider]

ON THE HILL: “Democrat Engel prepares to work with Trump on Israel” by Michael Wilner: “With all my troubles with Donald Trump and his policies, if he shows that he’s a pro-Israel president, I will praise him for it,” [Rep. Eliot] Engel said. “We don’t want Israel to be used as a political football. Presidents come and go and prime ministers come and go, [but] it is the US-Israel relationship that must remain.” … “I don’t know him, but I’ve heard good things,” Engel said of Kushner… “I would think that he would have Israel’s best interests at heart if he sits down to negotiate.” [JPost

INTERVIEW — Meet The Republican Congressman Who Calls for a Settlement Freeze — by Aaron Magid: In many ways, Representative Walter Jones (R-NC), is a staunch conservative… However, his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are far outside the norm for a Republican member of Congress these days. In an interview with Jewish Insider, Jones called for a “moratorium” on Israeli West Bank settlement growth. Jones was one of four Republicans who voted with 76 Democrats against House Resolution 11 in January, a measure that criticized the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)…

Jones was one of only two Republicans to sign onto a letter, signed by 113 Democrats, which “affirms” support for the two state solution. “If we just sit back, watch and complain, and nobody is making any effort to get the two sides together, I think it is wrong,” Jones explained while repeatedly using the term “Palestine.” … “I hope that this Administration will find the time over the next few months to make this the number one issue: what can we do as a nation to be a facilitator to find peace.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider

HEARD AT YU — Joe Lieberman: “Ambassador Friedman Will Perform Above Expectations” — by Jacob Kornbluh: “David, who I love and think will be a great Ambassador, said some things that I totally disagreed with. And all he could do is what he did at the hearing, and that’s just to apologize,” Lieberman, who is a partner at the Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman law firm, said at a symposium hosted by the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs at Yeshiva University on Wednesday. “I want to assure you that David Friedman will perform as Ambassador way above expectations.” Regarding Friedman’s apology over comments he made about J Street, ADL and others, Lieberman quipped, “I told him that I don’t think he has to go to shul on Yom Kippur this year. I though he already did his Al Chets at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

Former Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer: “David Friedman may be a nice guy, but he is a polarizing figure. What he said about J Street is beyond acceptable, and has written off a large segment of the American Jewish community. They may not be J Street members, but they are pro-peace and pro-Israel. We are now about to send a man who doesn’t fit any criteria for serving as U.S. envoy. He doesn’t represent Americans at large. And how can he possibly represent Israeli views when those on the Left or center-left feel alienated by his nomination. It makes no sense.” [JewishInsider

“Ex-Sen. Lieberman Welcomes ‘Change in the White House Attitude’ on Iran” by Patrick Goodenough: “Though I will say that I was a proud supporter of Secretary Clinton in the election last year, when it comes to the question of Iran, the change from President Obama to President Trump is an enormously significant and hopeful change,” [Lieberman] told a Nowruz (Persian new year) gathering on Capitol Hill… “The change in the White House attitude, it gives us an important opportunity,” he said… I think you’ll find and already have found that the bipartisan consensus about the threat that Iran represents has returned,” he said, “and there’s a real interest in focusing in on a regime in Iran and changing what exists now.” [CNSNews

“Trump budget preserves aid for Israel, other countries being evaluated: State Dept.” by David Alexander: “”Our assistance to Israel is … guaranteed and that reflects obviously our strong commitment to one of our strongest partners and allies,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “With respect to other assistance levels, foreign military assistance levels, those are still being evaluated and decisions are going to be made going forward,” Toner added, noting that treaty obligations would be a factor. The United States provides assistance to Jordan and Egypt as part of their peace treaties with Israel.” [Reuters

Robert Satloff‏: “In budget blueprint, only aid to Israel assured, leaving key US Mideast allies – like Egypt and Jordan – nervous.” [Twitter] • Dan Shapiro: “That should — and will — make Israel nervous, too.” [Twitter

TOP TALKER: “Top Trump Adviser Sebastian Gorka Denied A Report That He Belongs To A Nazi-Allied Group” by Talal Ansari and Lissandra Villa: “When BuzzFeed News reached Gorka by phone on Thursday, he stonewalled when asked about the report. “Send a request to White House press,” Gorka told BuzzFeed News. Later Thursday, in an interview with Tablet magazine, Gorka was quoted, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend.” Gorka reportedly belongs to a “reconstitution of the original group on the State Department list… “These revelations are deeply disturbing, not least because of what they reveal about the kinds of people able to influence the president of the United States,” said US Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York.” [BuzzFeedUSAToday]

“Tale of Trump Advisor’s Nazi Ties Unravels : Sebastian Gorka Denies Reported Affiliations with Vitézi Rend” by Liel Leibovitz: “Gorka himself told me that the allegations are flat-out false. “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” … Why didn’t Gorka simply tell this to The Forward? A source close to the White House, who was briefed on how the administration treated this story, explained things a little more to me. “These guys genuinely believed that the allegations were so blatantly false and so aggressively poorly-sourced, that no responsible journalist would ever publish them,” the source told me on the phone.” [Tablet] • Bruce Abramson, Jeff Ballabon write… “The ‘Forward’ is dead wrong, Gorka is a defender of Israel, Jews” [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 **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Paul Singer accuses aluminum giant’s bosses of buying their jobs [NYPost] • Israeli developer breaks ground on condo near beach in Miami-Dade [Bizjournals] • Crescent Heights puts $64M price tag on school board’s downtown Miami site [TRD] • Rumors of purchase by Sheldon Adelson boost Steve Wynn’s stocks [ReviewJournal• Roman Abramovich submits plans to turn three New York homes into stunning $78m mansion [Mirror

SPOTLIGHT: “At 666 Fifth, the devil’s in the details – and the details don’t add up” by Hiten Samtani and Konrad Putzier: “Several market observers, however, told TRD that the numbers, no matter how they’re spun, just don’t make sense. Some even questioned Anbang’s commitment to the property, saying the news reports could serve as a way for Kushner Companies to court other interested investors even if the Chinese insurer walks away.” [TRD]

“Palantir Blocked Its Investors From Selling Their Shares, Lawsuit Claims” by William Alden: “Palantir Technologies, one of the most valuable startups in Silicon Valley, has deprived investors of basic information about its business and repeatedly hindered efforts by investors to sell their shares, according to a blistering lawsuit filed by longtime investor Marc Abramowitz. In addition to keeping at least some shareholders in the dark about its financial performance, Palantir has “engaged in a pattern and practice” of attempting to thwart their attempts to sell stock, according to the lawsuit, filed by investment firm KT4 Partners.” [BuzzFeed]

“When Hate Surges” — George Soros’ latest op-ed: “Having survived the Nazi persecution of Jews in Hungary, I escaped from Soviet occupation at age 17 and made my way first to Britain and then to America. This is not the America that attracted me. I have seen the damage done when societies succumb to the fear of the “other.” And I will do all I can to help preserve the openness, inclusiveness and diversity that represent our greatest strength. Demonizing immigrants weakens our country. Fighting against hate crimes makes us grow stronger together.” [NYTimes]

“What Gorsuch Sees That Scalia Didn’t” by Nathan Diament: “Since the owners of Hobby Lobby faced an impossible choice between “abiding their religion or saving their business” and because the government had other ways to achieve its policy goals, Judge Gorsuch held that RFRA overrode the ObamaCare regulation… Whether Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed to the Supreme Court remains to be seen. But his record suggests that those who care about religious liberty may want to pray that he gets the chance to rule on it.” [WSJ]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Two-and-a-half years after rabbi’s voyeurism arrest, Georgetown’s Kesher Israel hires a new leader” by Julie Zauzmer: “After an extensive search, the Georgetown synagogue has hired Rabbi Hyim Shafner… “He seems to be a very sensitive, warm and caring individual,” Kesher president Elanit Jakabovics said of Shafner. “We knew that was going to be something that was an important quality. We were going to be looking for warmth.” Shafner, who will start his new job at Kesher this summer, comes from Bais Abraham, a smaller Orthodox synagogue of about 120 families near St. Louis… Shafner said he has hardly ever talked about politics from the pulpit… That means he’s not too concerned about one of the buzziest topics of conversation lately in Washington’s Orthodox community, the arrival of Ivanka Trump, the first Jewish member of an American first family. “To me, every Jew is a Jew. It doesn’t matter what you do 9-to-5,” he said about Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.” [WashPost]

HOLLYWOOD: “The Israeli actress Efrat Dor shares a childhood photo and tells why her new film The Zookeeper’s Wife hits so close to home” by Rachel Wallace: “The most amazing thing about this character and me getting this movie is my grandma, God bless her. She’s 94 and she’s alive. She’s from Poland. Her mother, father and brother died in the Holocaust… I felt very emotionally involved in the movie. I had many conversations with my grandma about it, whom obviously said, “Oh, I have so many stories to tell them! They should add it to the script!” I was like, “It’s kind of set, but…” She was really nice and sweet.” [Dujour]

SPOTTED IN JERUSALEM: “Tiki Barber heads to Israel to run marathon” by Ian Mohr: “While the city’s ancient, the race is just 6 years old and starts at the Knesset building before runners wind their way through the Jaffa Gate into the Old City, where the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Quarters are located. “This isn’t like the Boston or Paris marathons,” said one regular. “You’re running by a 2,000-year-old wall.” Former NY Giant Barber will also broadcast his CBS Sports Radio show from the city.” [NYPost] • JI readers spotted Tiki and his wife Traci Lynn Johnson dining at Mamilla Rooftop in Jerusalem last night…

SPORTS BLINK: “Israeli basketball team’s unknown underdog story opens Baltimore Jewish Film Festival” by Chris Kaltenbach: “The exultant documentary film that resulted, “On the Map,” opens the 29th Baltimore Jewish Film Festival on Sunday. Chronicling the team’s achievements on the basketball court, the frenzied nationwide celebration that followed their victory and the circumstances that made it so much more than a matter of one team scoring more points than another, [Dani] Menkin’s film is one of those underdog-conquers-the-world stories that can’t help but leave audiences cheering.” [BaltimoreSun

“The Jew Who Changed Football Forever” by Gil Troy: “Part of the reason why this pioneer is forgotten, part of the reason why he failed to get selected for Football’s Hall of Fame before killing himself in despair, is because Benny Friedman was a Jew. Ultimately, he was more successful at freeing the game he loved from its heavy-handed tactics than the country he loved from one of its prejudices… Friedman ended his pro-career with the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1932 to 1934, having been named All-NFL four times and having led the league in touchdown passes from 1927 to 1930. He completed about half his passes when other quarterbacks barely hit a third. Eventually, the NFL changed the rules and the ball to make the game fly.” [DailyBeast]

WINE OF THE WEEK — Yarden Katzrin Cabernet — by Yitz Applbaum:As the Israeli wine industry continues to mature, one of the most noticeable improvements is the consistency in production. More often than not, you can open a new vintage of a bottle that you enjoyed in the past and the new vintage is often just as good or even better than the older vintage. One such wine, that never disappoints, is the Yarden Katzrin Cabernet. Long considered one of Israel’s greatest wines, the 2012 vintage did not disappoint.

This wine is 94 percent Cabernet and 6 percent Merlot.  It is aged for 24 months in new French Oak and the overwhelming notes are of toast and leather. There are essences of very ripe blackberries on the front palate, 75% cocoa dark chocolate in the mid-palate and the lingering finish of English Toffee is last on the palate. Drink this wine with aged beef or with a large portion of lamb chops. [GolanWines]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS: Retail and real estate executive, CEO of Wilherst Developers and trustee of publicly traded Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust, Mark K. Rosenfeld turns 71… Highly popular, sometimes controversial, Hasidic singer, entertainer and composer, Lipa Schmeltzer turns 39… Actor, music producer and stand-up comedian, best known as Gustavo Rocque on the Nickelodeon television series “Big Time Rush,” Stephen Kramer Glickman turns 38… Digital reporter and producer for ABC News including “World News Tonight With David Muir,” Emily Claire Friedman Cohen turns 32… Assistant professor at GW University in the School of Media and Public Affairs, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago in 2016, Ethan Porter turns 32… General manager for Uber in the Washington, DC market, previously an analyst at LivingSocial, Annaliese Rosenthal turns 30… Musician and digital strategy executive, CEO of Santa Monica-based mobile messaging technology company Kapps Media, Rick Sorkin… Los Angeles-based tech journalist and founder of the TechSesh blog, Jessica Elizabeth Naziri… Student at the University of Michigan, Zach Sherman… VP at Las Vegas-based Gold Coast Promotions, assisting non-profits in fundraising, Richard Metzler… Founder, president and CEO of Laurel Strategies, also the co-founder and board member of ImagineNations Group, Alan H. Fleischmann

SATURDAY: Professor emeritus of biochemistry in the medical school of the University of North Carolina, author of five books since turning 80 years old, Edward Glassman, Ph.D. turns 88… Screenwriter, actor, comedian and film executive, best known for co-writing the screenplay for “Jaws” and its first two sequels, Carl Gottlieb turns 79… One-half of the eponymous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Jerry is four days older), Bennett “Ben” Cohen turns 66… Crisis response team manager for the City of Los Angeles (1998-2013), consultant for non-profit organizations in the areas of event management, administration and development, Jeffrey Zimerman MSW, turns 61… Filmmaker, writer and stand-up comedian, best known as the screenwriter for “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and for writing the screenplay adaptation of “Battlefield Earth,” J. D. Shapiro turns 48… Identical twin brothers and former yeshiva students, both singers and songwriters who recorded as “Evan and Jaron,” Evan Lowenstein and Jaron Lowenstein, turn 43… Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actor, record producer and lead vocalist for the pop rock band Maroon 5, Adam Levine turns 38… Consultant at The Boston Consulting Group, Ariel Koschitzky Andy Weiss… Michael Shapiro… Jenni Volz

SUNDAY: Philanthropist, art collector and chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Companies, Leonard A. Lauder turns 84… Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, whose books focus on Jewish life and identity, Philip Roth turns 84… Hollywood mogul as a film producer and film studio executive, co-founder of Miramax and stalwart of the Democratic Party, Harvey Weinstein turns 65… Author and journalist, known as the first female executive editor of The New York Times, Jill Abramson turns 63… EVP of merchandising at American Signature Furniture, a Schottenstein company, Steve Rabe turns 57… Online producer, writer and director, who together with his brother Rafi, are best known for their React video series which have billions of YouTube views, Benny Fine turns 36… Founder of the Brave Collection, a Brooklyn-based company that sells hand-made Cambodian jewely and donates 10% of its profits to support a Cambodian anti-human-trafficking organization, Jessica Hendricks Yee turns 29… Neurologist in Naples, Florida, Brian D. Wolff, MD… Aaron Bock

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