Daily Kickoff: Tony Blair to address AIPAC | Greenblatt defends Lempert | Chelsea & Ivanka trade places | Adam Braun’s mission to prevent college debt

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SIREN: “Israel police arrest suspect in threats on US Jewish targets” by The Associated Press: “Israeli police say they have arrested a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man as the primary suspect in a string of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers in the U.S. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld… says the suspect is “the guy who was behind the JCC threats” … He says the investigation was carried out with the help of the FBI and police from other countries… There are still few details available about the suspect’s profile, but he is not in the IDF, not ultra-Orthodox, and at some point made aliya and possibly has psychological and social problems.” [APJPost]

“The suspect reportedly has US citizenship. According to his lawyer, the suspect has been suffering from a brain tumor since the age of 14, and he’s been homeschooled ever since. According to her, the illness affects his behavior, which impedes him from working and even prevented him from being enlisted.” [YNet]

FLASHBACK — March 1st: “Trump questions who is really behind anti-Semitic threats and vandalism” [WashPost]

TOP TALKER: “Federal staffers panicked by conservative media attacks” by Nahal Toosi and Andrew Restuccia: “The claims posted on the conservative sites include allegations of anti-Israel and pro-Iran bias against staffers at institutions such as the State Department and the National Security Council. Breitbart News, whose former executive chairman Steve Bannon is now Trump’s chief strategist, has even published lists of workers that the president should fire… Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career civil service officer in State’s policy planning office who’s been targeted in the past, has come under renewed fire because of her role shaping the Iran nuclear deal and other Iran policy during the Obama administration.”

“Yael Lempert, a National Security Council official who deals with Israeli-Palestinian issues and has nearly 20 years of government experience, also has been targeted by reports casting her to be anti-Israel. People from across the political spectrum have risen to her defense, noting that she’s well-liked by Israeli officials and served as a top negotiator for a recent $38 billion security assistance package for Israel.”

“In a statement to Politico, Jason Greenblatt, a Trump special envoy for international negotiations, described Lempert as “extremely hard-working” and one of several people across various agencies who are “enthusiastically working to advance the president’s agenda.” “She’s not an Obama lackey. She has served all presidents because she’s valued,” added another U.S. official who has worked with Lempert.” [Politico]

“In Greeting to Iranian People, Trump Leaves Out Their Government” by Mark Landler: “The five-paragraph statement went through multiple drafts, according to two people involved in the process. Hard-liners in the White House first tried to kill the message, and when that failed, stripped it of references to engaging with the Iranian government… Mr. Bannon, an administration official said, “gutted the most ridiculous material” after arguing that Mr. Trump should not send the message at all… “This is a message designed to put the regime on the defensive,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama on Iran. “It is smart and well crafted with clear messages in mind.” … Mr. Trump claimed “wonderful friendships with Iranian-Americans.” His director of Jewish outreach during the campaign was an Orthodox Jewish immigrant from Iran, David Peyman.” [NYTimes

KAFE KNESSET — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: Channel 2’s Udi Segal reported last night that Jason Greenblatt offered to accept building within settlement blocs and under quotas, but that BB rejected that offer and is still trying to improve the framework. The report was immediately met with right-wing objections, as the Jewish Home party and many members of the Likud will not settle for a restriction to the blocs, reflecting the political constraints Netanyahu is facing. Bezalel Smotrich from the Jewish Home tweeted “It seems like Trump really wants Netanyahu to fall. Weren’t they supposed to be friends?” Meanwhile, Naftali Bennett is on his way to DC himself, to address AIPAC, and mark his first visit in the US in the Trump era. The day after the elections, Bennett was dreaming of a whole new world with the administration, but so far, his dreams seem far from coming true. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset, including the latest on the fight between Bibi and Kahlon over the IBC, here [JewishInsider]

“Obama’s Israel envoy sees positive elements in Trump’s peace efforts” by Yuval Ben-David: “So far the approach on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been more cautious and more responsible than almost anything else,” Dan Shapiro told Reuters. “I can’t quite explain why on this one issue they’re closer to the norm than they’ve been on other issues.” In the interview, he said Trump has surprised him by calling for a slowdown in Israeli settlement construction… Still, Shapiro cautioned, Trump’s government is inconsistent and unpredictable. “I’m not sure how comfortable the Israelis should be with an administration that’s hard to read, that’s far from fully staffed, that has a very undeveloped policymaking apparatus and has very divergent voices within it.” [DailyMail]

“Why Netanyahu won’t attend this year’s AIPAC conference” by Ben Caspit: “A diplomatic source in Washington told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that it was impossible to arrange a meeting between the two men due to “scheduling conflicts.” As of now, it is unclear who really tried to avoid meeting with whom… Regardless of who was responsible for that, a source in the prime minister’s office said on condition of anonymity, “We’re not quite there yet, but we will soon start to miss Barack Hussein Obama.” …

“During his talks in Washington, Netanyahu tried to intimidate the Americans by telling them that he was restrained by politics and his coalition. Given the makeup of his government, he explained that there was little he could do in terms of the Palestinian issue. As such, when Greenblatt met with Herzog and also with Zionist Camp co-leader Tzipi Livni, he asked discreetly and with considerable sensitivity about the current political situation. In other words, he tried to find out whether Netanyahu’s analysis of the situation was accurate, or whether he had other political options.” [Al-Monitor]

COMING SOON — Former Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair will address AIPAC’s Policy Conference during a Sunday morning session alongside Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. Blair reportedly courted WH Senior Advisor Jared Kushner to become Trump’s envoy on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed last week that Blair has offered to help Trump win a peace deal… and the WH had “taken his approach seriously.”

ON THE HILL — Three days before the AIPAC Policy Conference commences, House and Senate members are rushing to introduce bills attractive to the pro-Israel community. Yesterday Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX) in the House and Senators David Perdue (R-GA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Jon Tester (D-MT) in the Senate introduced resolutions to strengthen US economic cooperation with Israel. The Iran sanctions bill is also being advanced, with Sen. Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, telling Jewish Insider that after intense deliberations with Democratic Senators, Ben Cardin and Bob Menendez, “we’re down to just a couple of paragraphs and hopefully we will be able to complete discussions today.”

Senator Chris Coons told JI’s Aaron Magid that he would support the Iran sanctions bill. “Iran hasn’t in any way moderated its behavior with regards to terrorism,” Coons explained. “Iran’s bad behavior with regards to human rights violations and ballistic missile launches has not only not moderated, if anything it’s worsened, since the JCPOA. It’s important that we work to find a path a forward for a strong bipartisan bill that responds to the concerns.” [JewishInsider

“Iranian navy endangering international navigation in Gulf: U.S. commanders” by Sami Aboudi: “It was the first time a U.S. carrier entered the narrow waterway, where up to 30 percent of global oil exports pass annually, since President Donald Trump took office in January pledging a tougher U.S. stance toward Iran. U.S. commanders said Tuesday’s incident, in which the George H.W. Bush sent helicopter gunships to hover over the Iranian speedboats as some came as close as 950 yards (870 meters) away from the aircraft carrier, ended without a shot being fired. The encounter with Iranian Navy boats occurred as the USS George H.W. Bush was en route to the northern part of the Gulf to participate in U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.” [Reuters]

FLASHBACK – Trump on 09-09-2016: “With Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures — that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water.” [JewishInsider]

“Congress, Trump need a united front to face down Iran” by Richard Fontaine, Elizabeth Rosenberg and Ilan Goldenberg: “With Iran now “officially on notice,” President Trump has yet to spell out the precise contours of his more aggressive approach.” [TheHill

“The Delusion of the Iran Nuclear Deal” by Mark Dubowitz: “The Trump administration should work with Congress to design a statutory architecture that freezes the Iranian nuclear program where it is today and impose new crippling sanctions if it expands… While putting the squeeze on the regime, the administration should make it clear to the Chinese, Europeans and Russians that Washington is prepared to negotiate a follow-on agreement that addresses the fatal flaws of the original deal… Rigorously enforcing the Iran deal is a delusion.” [WSJ

“An Open Letter from a Young Saudi to Prince Mohammad bin Salman” by Abdulhameed Hakeem: “A Message to the Israeli and Jewish People – Joining Forces… The policies of the Iranian regime are alarmingly similar to the Nazi policies that aimed to exterminate your people. Thus, the Iranian and Nazi regimes are two faces of the same coin in their enmity and hatred of you and the danger they pose. Nevertheless, please be assured that peace can be achieved, and your historical role in our region secured, within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative. This process would also promote the achievement of peace with Israel within the framework of the Saudi (Arab) Peace Initiative. If achieved, it will save the region from the flames fueled by the Iranian regime, and also allow Saudi Arabia to openly partner with the many technological advances Israel offers.” [WashInstitute]

House Hearing Highlights Rise in Anti-Semitism — by JI’s Aaron Magid: Given the partisan tensions, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) called for the fight against anti-Semitism be removed from the daily squabble between Republicans and Democrats. “It is my hope that this bipartisan consensus will continue, and that none will seek to score political points to advance a political narrative.” [JewishInsider

“This Is The White House Aide Who Met With An Anti-Muslim Leader This Week” by Hannah Allam: “This week, [Paul] Teller met with ACT for America founder Brigitte Gabriel… Under [Ted] Cruz, Teller was a behind-the-scenes player who was described in a Washington Post profile as “one of the most influential conservative aides in Congress” and by The Hill as Cruz’s “agitator in chief.” He is known for an aggressive take-no-prisoners style… In the Trump administration, Teller serves as special assistant to the president for legislative affairs in the House, focusing on conservative lawmakers.” [BuzzFeed]

“Pulse Check: Zeke Emanuel’s lonely fight to shift Trump on health care” by Dan Diamond: “Emanuel also insists that he’s no liberal patsy, despite some Democrats’ worries that the White House will use his meetings with Trump to provide bipartisan cover for what’s been a partisan bill… “I’m not going to be a fig leaf for them,” Emanuel said, promising that he consistently delivered “straight talk” to Trump… “Just because I got invited to the White House, I’m never not going to say what I think,” Emanuel said. “This is an appalling bill.”” [Politico

2018 WATCH: “Billionaire running for Illinois governor passed bad check” by Natasha Korecki: “Billionaire J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotel empire and who was named one of the wealthiest people in the world this week, once pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of writing a “worthless check.” The check was written in June of 1986 for the amount of $60.46. Two years later, he was charged with writing a bad check for an even smaller figure: $17.72, records show. In a statement to POLITICO, Pritzker, through a spokesperson, accused a potential gubernatorial opponent of planting a story about “two checks totaling $78 dollars that were accidentally written 30 years ago while JB was in college.”” [Politico]

** 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: Netanyahu Seeks China Waiver on Israel Technology Investments [Bloomberg] • Israeli defense company Elbit optimistic in age of Trump [Reuters] • Sam Nazarian’s SBE set to merge with Hakkasan Group [LVSun; WSJ] • James Packer’s Crown Resorts steps up cost-cutting [TheAustralian] • Elliott Management Threatens to Force Akzo Nobel to Engage With PPG [WSJ] • Black Elk Down: How did a small Houston oil company with grand ambitions get caught up in the biggest Ponzi scheme since Bernie Madoff? [TexasMonthly] • Guardian Announces Cuts After $250,000 Kushner Lease Debacle [BuzzFeed]

“Inside the Troubled Kushner Tower: Empty Offices and Mounting Debt” by Caleb Melby and David Kocieniewski: “The Manhattan tower co-owned by the family of Jared Kushner… has been losing money for three years and faces increasing loan fees in 2017, which may explain why the family has been negotiating with Chinese insurance behemoth Anbang on new financing. The fees, at 666 Fifth Avenue, kicked in last month and escalate with each payment until the loan is repaid, a 2011 refinancing agreement shows. December brings another hurdle: Interest paid on the bulk of about $1.1 billion of loans jumps to 6.35 percent, more than double what it was after the debt was refinanced in 2011.” [Bloomberg]

“Chelsea and Ivanka Are Trading Places” by Michelle Cottle: “This time last year, people were pestering Clinton fille about what role she would be playing in her mother’s administration and how much time she would be spending in the White House. Now, Chelsea pops up in the news only rarely, when she issues some piquant remark on Twitter or when someone wants to float a rumor that she’s considering a political run in the very near future… At this rate, Chelsea will soon roll out her new eponymous line of fragrances while Ivanka is announced as her dad’s new chief of staff.” [TheAtlantic] • When Ivanka Trump Was a Cool Teen, She Reportedly Went ‘Missing’ in Aspen [NYMag]

‘Power Rangers’ creator Haim Saban hits out at Trump: “The 62-year-old Israeli-American billionaire, who turned the teen superhero franchise into one of the longest-running children’s shows of all time, was receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame when his thoughts turned to Trump. “I’m heartbroken (at) the breaking up of families, the way it’s happening right now,” he told AFP of the president’s crackdown on undocumented migrants and court-challenged 90-day ban on entry to the United States by people from six Muslim-majority countries. “It’s a very saddening thing, it’s not who we are as Americans. We are not that.”” [AFP]

— “Take it from this immigrant from Israel, a proud Israeli-American, born in Egypt, a Muslim country: America is great. Not perfect, but great,” Saban said to applause. “And we shouldn’t allow any rhetoric to make us think otherwise, because America is great — period.” [LADailyNews]

Haim Saban’s Rise From Poor Kid in the Middle East to ‘Power Rangers’ Godfather” by Malina Saval: “It was August 2003 and Haim Saban was awaiting word on a deal to acquire a controlling stake in ProSiebenSat.1 Media, Germany’s largest broadcasting group… Saban’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket as he was standing in the [Dachau] death camp with his son, Ness… It was Adam Chesnoff, president and CEO of Saban Capital, who’d been negotiating all day with the bankers. “I pick up the phone, and Adam says… ‘We got it. The bankers decided to sell it to us.’ I’m standing there, and my whole body is covered with shivers… All of a sudden I’m someone people wanted to talk to in Germany,” says Saban, on whom the irony of being a Jew and owning the largest group of German TV networks has never once been lost, even as he tells the story 14 years later. “I never felt threatened, not even close. In fact, it was the opposite. The German politicians, the German employees, and the people, they were all absolutely fantastic.”” [Variety] • Haim Saban’s Deep Love for Israel Drives His Philanthropy [Variety

“Backed By Big Wheels, A Boston Incubator Hooks Up Young Israelis And Palestinians To Launch Startups” by Richard Behar: “The venture [Ohad Elhelo] has built in a short time — a rigorous annual academic fellowship and business incubator in the Boston area for young Israelis and Palestinians called “Our Generation Speaks” — ought to be replicated in every American city. Former governor Patrick chairs its advisory board, while Dan Kraft — Robert’s son and the CEO of the family’s giant International Forest Products — also serves on that board. The Kraft family provided seed capital plus $1 million, and to date, the venture has raised nearly $4 million from a variety of American, Israeli and Palestinian investors.” [Forbes

ADAM BRAUN’S LATEST: “Start-up partners with Lyft, Spotify to help young people skip college and land high-paying jobs” by Catherine Clifford: “Inspired by (his wife) Tehillah’s struggles and those of millions of smart, motivated young people like her, [Adam] Braun set out to build an alternative to the current higher education system in the U.S. MissionU launched Tuesday and is currently accepting applications… If accepted, students at the one-year skills-focused program have no upfront payment. Instead, they agree to pay 15 percent of their salary for three years once they have graduated from the program and secured a job making at least $50,000 a year… Corporate partners including Lyft, Warby Parker, Casper, Bonobos, Spotify and Harry’s help establish the curriculum so that MissionU graduates are sure to have the skills that employers need in their workers.” [CNBC; USATodayCollege]

“Israel’s Autotalks raises $30M, total to date $70M” by Tova Cohen: “Autotalks, an Israeli provider of vehicle to vehicle (V2V)communication for improving road safety, said on Wednesday it raised $30 million in a late-stage funding round, bringing to $70 million its total raised to date. It will use the funds to expand operations and accelerate deployment of technologies for safer autonomous vehicles.” [Reuters

TALK OF OUR NATION: “Can We Still Be People of the Book in the Age of Trump and Twitter?” by Yishai Schwartz: “For too many of us, our days are framed by texts filled with news stories, not values debates. And as we go to bed, it is Gorsuch and Comey and Kahlon that we ponder, not the meaning of the Exodus or whether I overcharged my most recent customer.” [Tablet

“Meet Benoit Cohen, The Decorated French Director Who Went Undercover as a New York City Cab Driver” by Armin Rosen: “Encouragingly for himself, his adopted city, and perhaps the human race at large, Cohen did not emerge from four months of driving a cab in New York with his faith in humanity shattered—like his inhibitionless late-night fare, most customers were perfectly adequate tippers. And Cohen, a French citizen and the son of a Tunisian Jew, has had what counts as a successful if somewhat idiosyncratic immigrant experience these last three years. (Although he isn’t religious, and says he grew up in what was basically an atheist household, Cohen recognizes that “being a Cohen is a something special.” More than one passenger noticed his last name on his taxi license and asked about it.)” [Tablet

TRANSITION — Barry Shrage, longtime CEO of Boston Jewish federation, announces retirement: “Shrage, 69, who has helmed the Combined Jewish Philanthropies for three decades, made the announcement in a letter Wednesday to the local Jewish community — the fourth largest in the United States.” [JTA

DESSERT: “Israel finds hundreds of bottles of alcohol left behind by British soldiers during First World War” by Raf Sanchez: “Israeli archaeologists digging near the city of Ramla are used to uncovering flint tools and Palaeolithic remains. But when they began excavating land that is about to be used for a new motorway they made a significantly less dry discovery. Hundreds of bottles of gin, wine, beer and other alcohols left behind by British troops during the First World War were dug out of the dry earth.” [Telegraph]

BIRTHDAYS: Stand-up comedian, actor, veteran of World War II who has worked as a comedy headliner in nightclubs and as a dramatic actor in TV roles, Marty Allen (born Morton David Alpern) turns 95… Actor, film director, television director and producer,  Mark Rydell turns 88… Former National Football League referee for 23 seasons, the only NFL head referee to officiate four Super Bowl games (1983,1987, 1992 and 1995), Jerry Markbreit turns 82… Of counsel at the ultra-prestigious law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, served as White House counsel for President Clinton (1993-1994), Bernard W. Nussbaum turns 80… Mandolinist and composer of acoustic, instrumental, bluegrass and newgrass music, David Grisman turns 72… Writer and producer of television series, creator of “Deadwood” and co-creator  of “NYPD Blue,” summa cum laude graduate of Yale University, David Milch turns 72… Los Angeles-based psychologist and author, whose first book is “The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children,” Wendy Mogel turns 66…

Designer of men’s and women’s footwear, men’s and women’s clothing, and also accessories under the Kenneth Cole Reaction Line, promoter of progressive social causes, Kenneth D. Cole turns 63… Mayor of Austin, Texas since January 6, 2015, previously board member or board chair of multiple Austin-based nonprofits and civic organizations including the ADL, Stephen Ira Adler turns 61… Investor, author, financial commentator and radio personality, he owns an offshore bank, a management company and a NYC-based precious metals dealer, Peter Schiff turns 54… French actress who has appeared in more than 30 films and whose Holocaust survivor grandparents changed their name from Goldreich, Judith Godrèche turns 45… Member of the Maryland General Assembly since 2011, initially as a delegate and since 2016 as a state senator, Craig Zucker turns 42… Israeli stage and screen actor, Itay Tiran turns 37… Israeli singer-songwriter, actress and musician who performs in Hebrew, French and Arabic, winner of Israel’s 2013 “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” award, Riff Cohen turns 33… Tax counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, Aharon Friedman… Beth Millstein… Yehuda Hausman

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