Jewish Insider Kickoff


DRIVING THE DAY – STATEMENT BY JEN PSAKI, DoS Spokesperson: “Secretary Kerry spoke with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and personally extended an invitation to send senior negotiating teams to Washington to formally resume direct final status negotiations. Initial meetings are planned for the evening of Monday July 29 and Tuesday July 30, 2013. The Israelis will be represented by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinians will be represented by Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyeh. As Secretary Kerry announced on July 19 in Amman, Jordan, the Israelis and Palestinians had reached agreement on the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations. The meetings in Washington will mark the beginning of these talks. They will serve as an opportunity to develop a procedural workplan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.” [Entire statement here]

Paragraph to note from the New York Times editorial board – “One sign of Mr. Kerry’s optimism is his plans to name a full-time envoy to oversee negotiations. It is reported to be Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration. While well-versed on the issues and known to regional leaders, Mr. Indyk, a vice president of the Brookings Institution, has a long association with pro-Israel groups. He, or whoever is chosen, will need to be creative and evenhanded in pressing both Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on a compromise.” [NYTimes]

Israel to release 104 Palestinian Terrorists: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel announced Saturday that he had agreed to release 104 Palestinian terrorists, most of whom have served 20 years or more for attacks on Israelis, to pave the way for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington in the coming days.” [NYTimes]

OP-ED by David Horovitz – The wrong capitulation? The Palestinians had three preconditions for talks. In agreeing to release pre-Oslo prisoners, has Netanyahu conceded on the most damaging one of the three? [Times of Israel]

J STREET: “We Have the Ear of the White House” – Interview with Jeremy Ben-Ami by Marc Tracy for the New Republic: MT: Is it worth releasing prisoners for the sake of peace talks, as the Palestinians are insisting? Including prisoners who probably deserve to be in prison? JB:Absolutely. These prisoners are the hardest of the hardcore. But [they are] also at the center of the sense of Palestinian dignity and respect. It is not only addressing a fundamental Palestinian issue, it is also a political issue for Abu Mazen and the Fatah party—the people you want to make a deal with. MT: But every J Street statement I see contains the caveat that Israel’s security is very important to J Street. How does that jive with releasing prisoners? JB: Well, if the Prime Minister of the state of Israel, whose name is Benjamin Netanyahu, is going to release these 104 people, I am not going to say, “I know better than him.”

MT: J Street is a group. J Street is not supposed to advocate for everyone. Do you worry that in actively calibrating so that you have a big tent, you miss some of the passion that’s animating young American Jews? Are you worried that they are going to go to Americans for Peace Now or some group that has a smaller tent than J Street but is perhaps more suited to channeling that passion? JB: I always refer to us as the “passion moderates.” We are not standing on street corners, shouting into our megaphones, and expressing our anger at Israel. If you require that, J Street is not the place for you. We are advocating for a balance between the security needs of Israel and the human rights of the Palestinians. It is by definition a moderate, centrist place. MT: But nuance and moderation—those are not the sorts of things that are typically as effective at channeling passion. Is that a concern for you? JB: I’m sure we could raise more money or have more people if we were more extreme, but that’s not the goal. We want members of Congress to know that a sizeable part of their constituency hold what we call “pro-Israel, pro-peace” positions, and that’s where they should aim to be.

MT: Peter Beinart will be featured prominently this year at the J Street Conference. He advocates, among other things, what he calls “Zionist B.D.S.” It’s basically a boycott, as I understand it, of settlements. That’s not your position. Is that right? JB: It would be a very boring conference, it would be a very boring life, if the only people you ever invited to engage with you were the people you agree with. MT: That’s fair, but Beinart offers a position that is not extreme and is slightly more passionate. Do you worry that young, liberal American Jews might say, “Well, J Street, those are my grandparents, so I’m going to go to the Beinart school, I’m going to be in favor of a partial boycott. I am going to make sure that if the Park Slope Coop is offering products from the settlements, I’m not going to buy them”? JB: I think probably a lot of people in J Street don’t buy settlement products. I would hope that the politically strategic young people still find [our organization] to be the more effective way to have joint, communal political action. We have the ear of the White House; we have the ear of a very large segment of Congress at this point; we have very good relations with top communal leadership in the Jewish community. If you want to have a voice in those corridors of power, then get involved with J Street.” [New Republic]

Israel’s Cabinet unanimously approves Ron Dermer as next ambassador to the US: “The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved Ron Dermer’s appointment as the next ambassador the United States. “Ron is one of the most talented and dedicated people I have met,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “There is no one more fitting than him. He will continue the outstanding activity of outgoing ambassador Michael Oren, who did excellent work, and I am sure that Ron will continue in this effort.” [ToI]

Who will attack Iran – Israel or the US? by Joseph Raskas in the Jerusalem Post: “As winter approaches and the window of opportunity for Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities narrows, one of three scenarios is increasingly likely to occur: either that Israel will attack Iran or the US will attack Iran; otherwise, the clerical regime in Tehran will complete the development of nuclear weapons (which will almost assuredly spark nuclear proliferation among the Sunni states). However, both Israel and the US have explicitly stated that the containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option. Almost by definition, then, either Israel or the US must intervene militarily in order to prevent the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran.

The US is best equipped to conduct the attack. According to top Israeli officials, the US has the necessary military components in place to launch an imminent and successful attack. However, the recent scandals that have befallen the Obama administration – Benghazi, IRS targeting of conservatives, Justice Department wiretapping of reporters and NSA targeting of well, most of us – have directly undermined the administration’s credibility. For the first time in Obama’s time in office, more than half of the public feels that the president is dishonest and untrustworthy, a CNN/ORC International poll showed. Should Obama shirk his responsibility as leader of the free world, or at least fall prey to petty partisan politics, Netanyahu is likely to lead in his absence – for he knows that the security of the Jewish people, and the free world in general, depends on him.” [Jerusalem Post]

Peter Roskam, Ted Deutch Pushing Support for Israeli Missile Defense: “As Iran improves its ballistic missile capabilities, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pushing for closer coordination with the Israelis on the construction of several advanced missile defense systems. Reps. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) and Ted Deutch (D., Fla.) have introduced new legislation that would boost U.S. funding and coordination with Israel on its Iron Dome and Arrow missile defense system. The bill would authorize President Barack Obama to approve “assistance to Israel for the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system, as well as authorization for cooperation on the development, maintenance, enhancement, and sustainment of the David’s Sling, Arrow, and Arrow 3 anti-missile defense systems,” according to Roskam’s office.” [Free Beacon]

WSJ – Cory Booker Taps Ties to Jewish Community in Senate Race: “He regularly reads verses from the Torah. He once addressed 700 congregants at a friend’s bar mitzvah. In 2011, he took his parents to Israel for a “trip of a lifetime.” And he is a staple at seder meals during Passover. He is Cory Booker, the African-American, Christian mayor of Newark. The U.S. Senate candidate has immersed himself in Jewish culture and serious Judaic study for two decades, ever since he had an accidental meeting with an ultraorthodox Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi. And now, Mr. Booker has tapped those Jewish connections in his campaign to fill the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who was Jewish and helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Jewish causes—and with a cancer-research center in Jerusalem bearing his name.

Mr. Booker, 44 years old, has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from prominent New Jersey Jewish leaders, and nearly $120,000 from the pro-Israel NORPAC political-action committee since January, campaign filings show. Many Jews familiar with Mr. Booker are impressed with his knowledge of their faith. “He could put many of us to shame,” said Lori Klinghoffer, a New Jersey Jewish philanthropist and president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.” [Wall Street Journal]

THE BIG STORY by the Associated Press – Social Media helps track property lost in the Holocaust: “Since the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945, Germany has paid around 70 billion euros ($92 billion) in compensation to the victims of the Holocaust. More than two million people have received lump sum payments or an ongoing monthly pension. The state of Israel has received around 1.7 billion euros ($2.2 billion), according to the German finance ministry. Part of the compensation was earmarked for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, a private New York-based organization that works to secure restitution for survivors and their heirs. Descendants can come forward to claim their family’s assets until the end of 2014 if they find their original property on a recently released list by the Claims Conference, called the Late Applicants Fund. Over the years, the search for the heirs has become more complicated because most of the Holocaust survivors have died. Descendants also don’t always have detailed knowledge of their family’s former assets.

But the rise of social media has offered new opportunities to track heirs and close the books on one of the darkest chapters of German history. “We are only just seeing the huge impact that social media will have on Holocaust history,” said Robert-Jan Smits, the director-general of the European Union’s commission for research and design. “We are moving from dusty archives to digitized databases.” One of the driving forces behind the new push has been Gilad Japhet, CEO and founder of Israel-based MyHeritage, a social media website with about 70 million registered users worldwide that lets individuals build their own family trees online. A few months back, Japhet read a report about the Claims Conference’s list of over 40,000 buildings, stores and factories that could not be matched with their original owners. Japhet matched some names on the list to the millions of names that users had posted on MyHeritage’s family trees online.

“I thought my chances of finding any of the names on the website of MyHeritage were not looking good since experts have been searching for them for decades. But I still wanted to give it a chance,” Japhet said. “I chose some very rare names from the list and to my surprise the second name I put in was already a match.” Japhet put together a team of five employees and had them write a computer program that automatically matches the names on the Claims Conference’s list with those on the virtual family trees. So far, they have been able to match about 150 names on the list with names on the family trees. They expect to continue working on this project for several more months.” [Associated Press]

Happening today: Dr. Mehmet Oz, “America’s Doctor,” and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” will be appearing live Monday night at the Jerusalem Press Club, alongside humanitarian Natan Sharasnky, to discuss the values needed for a Middle East renaissance. [Huffington Post]

STARTUP NATION

FORBES – An Israeli Special Forces Commando, An Arab Investor, A Religious Zionist — And A Hot Start-Up Called Webydo: “There are start-ups, and then, by Israeli standards, there are start-ups. It’s typical for website designers to charge their corporate clients $5,000 to $10,000 to create sites for them. But a unique outfit called Webydo (based in Tel Aviv, and with an office in New Jersey) is changing that terrain. After enlisting a team of mathematicians to create new algorithms, Webydo has removed software code developers and programmers from the picture – enabling professional graphic designers to create sites on the fly for ten times cheaper, and far faster. Not only that, but the team that is doing this is a case study of what Israel’s “Start-up Nation” may look like in the years to come. Webydo is a collection of individuals that few might imagine joining hands on a venture — even inside a country that already boasts the most NASDAQ-listed companies per citizen. But the multi-cultural Israel – there are Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druse, Bedouin nomads, Bahai, Samaritans and so many others — has begun to fuse many of these groups into their modern economy.

At Webydo, one finds a microcosm of this new alchemy. CEO Shmulik Grizim, age 36, served in a super-elite special forces unit in the Israeli air force that only selects one out of every 1,000 applicants from soldiers. He grew up in an orthodox religious home, but now lives a secular life, which includes spending one month per year training with that military unit in case they are needed for missions. Webydo’s first investor, by fortuity, is an Israeli-Arab named Hisham Adnan Raya, also 36. He made a small fortune building homes for anyone – Jews, Muslims, Christians, whomever — in Israel’s north. Israel’s Arabs, long viewed as a potential ‘fifth column’ that could rise against the Jews in a war, are not required to serve in the Israeli military. And most of them prefer not to. Moreover, Israeli tech society is largely segregated, so it’s not easy for Jews and Arabs to meet and do business together. But that’s changing, if slowly. The company’s Jewish co-founder, Tzvika Steinmetz, is – like Grizim — a former Israeli combat soldier, but of a different ilk. He is a religious Zionist, which is symbolized by the wearing of a hand-knitted yarmulke (head-covering).

Finally, one of the first users of Webydo’s technology was Amichay Yuzan, an ultra-orthodox Jew from a sect called the haredim – a Hebrew word meaning “those who tremble before God” – who has built more than 1,000 websites in just one year by using Webydo’s product. Less than 1% of Israel’s 800,000 haredi serve in the country’s military, as they believe that sovereignty in the state of Israel is based on the Torah and not the national government. Moreover, they are so closed-off and segregated that their internet usage is low and highly restricted.” [Forbes]

Viber hacked again; Viber says “Apple is at fault:” “Hackers are are working overtime trying to embarrass Israeli startup Viber. Yesterday evening Viber’s account on the App Store was compromised and the description of the app was changed to the following message: “We created this app to spy you, please download it.” The description was changed shortly thereafter but it’s still unclear whether this was the only adjustment the hackers made to the account or whether there was more damage that has not come to light yet.” [Infoxicate]

Israeli BillGuard launches for iPhone to combat the $14 Billion lost by credit card users to hidden-fees and errors – [The Next Web]

Social media management dashboard HootSuite announced the adoption of two Israeli apps into its internal marketplace; 12Mass and twtrland – [GeekTime]

Israeli Innobi: CI for the little guy – “Every company has to face competition. No matter how unique you think your idea might be, the field you enter is going to be filled with competitive solutions and it’s up to you to figure out how best to leverage your resources and differentiate yourself from the rest. Israeli startup Innobi was founded specifically for this purpose. The company makes order out of chaos affording users a simple, convenient and fast way of tracking their competition and their activity in the market.” [GeekTime]

Bar Refaeli’s e-commerce website fires most employees: “Sources inform ”Globes” that Bar Refaeli and David Balsar’s e-commerce lingerie venture Under.me is in trouble, 18 months after launch. There were great hopes at the site’s launch in March 2012, given the combined power of the two models to sell lingerie. Under.me products are sold on the site, which is available in several languages, and on global sites such as eBay and Amazon.com. The sources said that one of the global sites has registered only a few dozen deals to date, indicating negligible business. They add that Under.me has fired most of its employees. Under.me has raised $1 million to date from well-known investors, including Yiftach Weizel of Fox-Weizel Ltd., Moshe Nur of Nur Star Media, Yuval Sela, Yuval Tal, and Jeff Pulver. Asked why the company has not asked the investors for more capital, Balsar said, “We’re working on it.” [Globes]

Ikea Might Be Opening A Store In Palestine: “Ikea, the ubiquitous furniture retailer with locations throughout the world including the Middle East, is considering a Palestinian expansion. A series of meetings took place between Ikea executives and Palestinian Authority Economic Minister Jawad al-Naji to discuss opening a branch in the capital of Ramallah. The retailer already has locations in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, along with two stores in neighboring Israel.” [Fast Company]

BUSINESS BRIEFS 

Chinese firm Hang Lung denies talks to buy Clal Insurance stake: “The Chinese investment firm Hang Lung Group denied it is negotiating to buy a stake in Israeli insurance company Clal Insurance from the IDB group, which is controlled by Israeli businessman Nochi Dankner.” [Reuters

IDB Sells Nochi Dankner’s Executive Jet: “DB Development Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of IDB Holding Corp. Ltd., controlled by Nochi Dankner, has sold its Bombardier Challenger 604 corporate jet for $9.5 million, less than half the $26 million it paid for the plane in 2008. Although, in financial terms, compared with IDB Holding and IDB Development’s debts, the sale of the plane in negligible, it is symbolic. Executive jets have been the target of public criticism of tycoons, especially tycoons like Dankner, undergoing debt settlements. Dankner follows other tycoons, notably Africa-Israel Investments Ltd. chairman Lev Leviev, who have sold their executive jets as their companies were in debt settlement talks.” [Globes]

Armed Thieves Steal $53M of Leviev’s Diamonds: “A daring daylight robber nabbed some 40 million euros worth of diamonds and jewels from Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev. The robbery took place on the French Riviera – in a hotel that, ironically, was the set for one of the most famous movies ever about a jewel heist. The jewels were on display at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, in the south of France, as part of an exhibition of rare diamonds and jewels. During the afternoon hours, a masked gunman entered the hotel and demanded the jewels, which had been packed up in a suitcase. The thief absconded, suitcase in hand, and disappeared. Police immediately opened an investigation into the theft, one of the largest jewel heists in Europe in recent years. Estimates said that the stolen jewels were worth about 40 million euros, although no official confirmation came from Leviev, police, or the hotel. During the recent Cannes film festival last May, thieves twice stole jewels that were on display as part of the same exhibition. Those thefts were far smaller than Sunday’s though, with the jewels stolen in May worth no more than three million euros. The Carlton Hotel in Cannes is famous for another jewel heist – one featured in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock film “To Catch a Thief,” in which a retired jewel thief is accused of carrying out a major theft at the hotel.” [Arutz Sheva]

Loews Profit Soars As Insurance Arm Revenue Grows: “Hotel, energy and financial services conglomerate Loews Corp posted a jump in second-quarter profit as revenue from its insurance arm, CNA Financial Corp, increased nearly 13 percent on higher net investment income and lower non-catastrophe losses. Loews is controlled by the New York-based billionaire Tisch family. Its net profit rose to $269 million, or 69 cents per share, from $56 million, or 14 cents per share, a year earlier.”[Reuters]

The Canyons Loses 42 Employees in Vail Resorts Takeover: “Vail Resorts laid off 42 full-time employees of The Canyons this week as part of its takeover of the resort, many of them department heads including two VPs of marketing, the head of IT, the ski school director and risk manager. The news, which many employees had been anticipating and dreading, comes a month after Vail Resorts signed a 50-year lease with Canadian real estate firm Talisker that will start at $25 million annually, rising with inflation after that. And while Talisker maintained development rights for four million square feet of property around The Canyons, the Park Record has reported that Talisker has relinquished its rights to that development and called in an interim manager, Boston-based turnaround specialists Alvarez & Marsal, to handle that business. It would appear that Talisker’s trying to clean its hands of any development responsibilities as well, although it’s not clear what the full extent of the financial restructuring at Talisker is going to look like.” [Curbed Ski]

‘Losing Saks Appeal: Sternlicht on the brink of dropping bid’ – by the New York Post: “Barry Sternlicht’s bid for Saks has fizzled. The New York real-estate tycoon has all but dropped out of the auction for the owner of Saks Fifth Avenue, after his bidding partner bowed out of the race, The Post has learned. Sources said Sternlicht’s investment firm, Starwood Capital, had been working on a bid with Catterton Partners, a consumer-focused buyout firm whose investments have included Restoration Hardware, Breyer’s Yogurt and Build-A-Bear Workshops. As a result, the outlook for the Saks auction now looks less certain, as Sternlicht had been seen as strong candidate in a race that has been whittled down to three bidders, sources said. “It looks like Barry is probably in third place now,” according to a source.” [NYPost]

Real Estate Roundup

Big Chicago Landlord, Yisroel Gluck, Lands In Odd Spot: The owner of Chicago’s tallest spire, Willis Tower, is making a grand $200 million entry into the New York market, but the biggest surprise is where—not in Manhattan, but in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. American Landmark Properties, run by Yisroel Gluck, has reached a deal to buy the ground lease that controls the 10-story, 650,000-square-foot office building 470 Vanderbilt Ave. from GFI Development. The estate of the late Sol Goldman, owns the land under the property. GFI acquired the lease, which has over 75 years remaining on its term, in 2007 according to reports. Back then GFA paid about $45 million, less than a quarter of what the buyer is paying. In 2011, GFI, leased six floors, some 400,000 square feet in the building to the city’s Human Resources Administration for 20 years. It was a home run deal for a building that for years had struggled to find tenants and sat vacant. American Landmark’s purchase offers it the security of having a high-credit tenant, the city, as well as the upside of leasing the three vacant office floors, possibly at a higher rent. In addition, the new landlord could carve out space on the ground floor at the property, which now has almost 2,000 city workers on the premises, for retail use.

According to sources familiar with American Landmark’s decision to do the deal, the company is attracted by Brooklyn’s increasing popularity as an office neighborhood as tech tenants and other creative companies look beyond pricey areas like midtown south for trendy space. Brooklyn, where much of the city’s creative class resides, would appear to be a convenient, and less costly, option for these businesses and their workers. 470 Vanderbilt Ave. is also located on the corner of Atlantic Avenue, just a few blocks from the Barclays Center, where, ironically a Chicago team, the Bulls, eliminated the Brooklyn Nets during the National Basketball Association playoffs in May. The Barclays Center, as well as the prospect of thousands of new units of residential space to be built by Forest City Ratner on the rail yards next door, and elsewhere around downtown Brooklyn, has lifted interest in developing more retail space in that area.” [Crain’s New York]

Electra Real Estate, Harbor Group sell Chicago office building: “Electra Real Estate and Harbor Group International sold a Chicago office building for $112.5 million. The share of Electra Real Estate, which owned 47% of the property, is $52.9 million on which it will report a cash flow surplus of NIS 54 million, after deducting the loan on the property. The companies bought the 48,000-square meter building for $91.5 million in 2006. The sale will be closed in September. Electra Real Estate is a unit of Elco Holdings, controlled by George Salkind.” [Globes]

Chetrit to convert Medical Center into apartments: “After buying the Cabrini Medical Center on East 19th Street at Second Avenue earlier this year, the Chetrit Group plans to convert the five-building complex into residential units, according to Curbed. The development firm led by Joseph Chetrit has filed plans with the Department of Buildings to turn the former medical center into more than 250 units spread across four buildings with addresses on East 19th and East 20th Streets between Second and Third avenues. The 16-story main building at 209-225 East 19th Street will have 140 units, while two other buildings will have 54 units. A smaller building at 224 East 20th Street will have eight full-floor apartments. The Chetrit Group purchased the complex from Memorial Sloan-Kettering in March for more than $150 million.” [The Real Deal]

View from the Top: Rob Speyer – Rob Speyer is co-chief executive of Tishman Speyer with his father Jerry, joint founder of the property group. A graduate of Columbia University, Rob Speyer joined the company in 1995 after a brief spell as a journalist and was appointed co-CEO in 2008. He is chairman of the Real Estate Board of New York, an influential industry association. Below are excerpts from an interview with the Financial TimesFive years after the credit crisis, what are the most exciting US commercial property markets for you? RS: San Francisco would be at the top of the list because of the growth in the technology sector and also the lack of new construction over the last five years. We started [a] project earlier this year that was the first new office building in San Francisco since pre-crisis. That means there is a real imbalance in San Francisco between supply and demand and we look for those moments to invest in. What is happening in New York to supply and demand? RS: This may surprise you but New York lost fewer jobs in the crisis than America did on average and has recovered much more quickly. There are more jobs in New York than there were pre-2008, so New York is in very good shape. The financial sector is still recovering but you’ve seen the growth of many other industries. Tech has grown remarkably in New York. Do these industries demand different facilities than traditional financial services ones? RS: We see two trends. We see companies across the board densifying, basically fitting more employees in less space. It’s not a great trend for landlords but it’s a good trend for new buildings that are more efficient. Then we see technology companies that want an open environment, an environment that cultivates interaction between employees, as opposed to the older model of having people in individual offices.” [Financial Times]

Thats all folks, have a great Monday! 

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