Daily Kickoff: Facing possible corruption charges, will Bibi gamble with annexation? | Blackstone promotes Jon Gray | Rahm’s Jewish mother trick


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TALK OF THE TOWN — “Qatar and American Jews: News about an inflammatory documentary breaks just as a charm offensive is underway. What does Doha really want?” by Armin Rosen: “On Feb. 2, Philip Rees, a Doha-based manager of investigations at Al Jazeera, sent letters to several U.S.-based Jewish and pro-Israel organizations—along with various current and former employees of those organizations—informing them that they will likely be featured in a documentary “concerning the role of pro-Israel advocacy groups in the United States.” Qatar-based Al Jazeera is a subsidiary of the regime-owned Qatar Media Corp. The Feb. 2 letters confirm that an agent of the network had secretly recorded pro-Israel activists.”

“As one letter recipient explained, the vast majority of people in Washington hold insignificant jobs at insignificant organizations: “No one ever walks into these places and says, ‘Tell me how important you are.’ ” Little surprise that a charming and seemingly-earnest British-accented 23-year-old polyglot was able to get other 23-year-olds to exaggerate about their organization’s activities, or explain how they thought things really worked in the pro-Israel world.”

“If the documentary runs, it is an absolute certainty that there will be some kind of effort in Congress and the pro-Israel community to make Al Jazeera register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)… This past week, New Jersey congressman Josh Gottheimer began circulating a letter that called on the Justice Department to explore the issue further… citing “Al Jazeera’s record of radical anti-American, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel broadcasts.” [TabletMag

–EXPLAINER: “Why are Jewish leaders fighting about Qatar? Here’s a scorecard” [JTA]

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing the fight of his career after Israeli authorities recommended charges of bribery and fraud. This follows a yearlong graft investigation in two alleged corruption cases. Israeli police said in a statement yesterday that it found evidence of “accepting bribes, fraud, and breach of trust” for accepting $282,000 in gifts over 10 years from Israeli movie producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, in addition to back-room dealings with the publisher Yediot Aharonot Arnon Mozes to shut down Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom in exchange of favorable coverage. Netanyahu is suspected of promoting significant tax exemptions to returning Israeli resident of Israel, and lobbying the U.S. administration for Milchan’s visa extension in the U.S. A key witness in the case is Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s main political rival who served as finance minister in the previous government. Packer will not face any charges.

BIBI’S REACTION — “I am sure that the truth will come to light,” Netanyahu said in a televised address as he defiantly proclaimed his innocence. “And I am sure that also in the next election that will take place on time I will win your trust again, with God’s help.” [Video

“After reading the recommendations report, I can say it is a biased, extreme document that’s as full of holes as Swiss cheese and that does not hold water,” Netanyahu said in a speech this morning. The opposition rushed to call for Netanyahu’s resignation, but Netanyahu’s political standing is not at risk for the moment as his coalition partners, mainly Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, indicated they will not quit the government until the AG announces his decision, expected sometime towards the end of the year. Likud ministers and Netanyahu supporters turned their fire towards Lapid and blasted the recommendations as “a coup” against the will of Israeli voters.

FOGGY BOTTOM’S VIEW — Asked to react to the news of the day during a press briefing yesterday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “The only thing I have to say about that is that the United States has a very strong relationship, not only with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but also the Israeli government. We’re certainly aware of it, but we consider it to be an internal Israeli matter.”

WHY IT MATTERS: “The potential indictment comes with Netanyahu close to accomplishing one of his biggest goals: outstripping David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the modern Israeli state, as the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.  (Netanyahu is serving his third consecutive term as prime minister; if he holds on until July 2019, he will have spent more time in office than Ben-Gurion.)” [VoxBloomberg]

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Dan Arbell, a 25 year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service and a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, tells us… “Netanyahu will remain PM as long as his coalition partners continue to stand by him. Israeli law does not require him to resign until he is found guilty in a court of law for a serious offense. The decision is with AG Mandelblit and it’ll take some time before he makes a decision, and in any case, it will not happen before he holds a hearing for Netanyahu.”

“While it tarnishes his public image, worldwide, expect Netanyahu to continue with a similar approach on foreign policy. He’ll also try and conduct a “business as usual” schedule, including international travel, and this weekend is expected to participate in the Munich security summit. He most likely will make an effort to further consolidate his political base, hence expect him to continue with a tough approach towards the Palestinians, Syria and Iran (in Syria), as well as with the “fix it or nix it” approach on the JCPOA.”

Israel Policy Forum’s Michael Koplow emails… “I think it’s too early to make any conclusive predictions about Bibi’s political future since this is only Act One of a long production, and his coalition allies do not want to upend things unless their hand is forced. The immediate impact is likely to be that Bibi will do whatever he must to keep potential defectors in his corner, and with the makeup of Likud and the rest of this government that means allowing a rash of nationalist legislation to proceed that he has been blocking up until now. In particular, I expect the push to annex settlements will gather even more steam now than it already has, and in a similar manner to how Olmert thought a peace agreement with Abbas would save his premiership, Bibi may gamble that annexation will keep his political allies behind him.”

“Can Netanyahu Survive?” by Gregg Carlstrom: “While he waits for the attorney general’s decision, Netanyahu will put a simple question to his supporters: As international tensions flare, would you risk removing an experienced prime minister over some cigars and chats with a newspaper publisher? … The law may eventually catch up to Netanyahu. But for now, it seems the politics will not.” [Politico

SPOTLIGHT ON MANDELBLIT: “Promoted by Netanyahu, Israel’s Attorney General Must Now Scrutinize Him” by Isabel Kershner: “[Avichai] Mandelblit became the one who will ultimately decide, in consultation with state prosecutors, whether the evidence warrants taking Mr. Netanyahu to court… He was catapulted into the political limelight when Mr. Netanyahu appointed him as his cabinet secretary in 2013. In his mid-50s, and a father of six, Mr. Mandelblit is known to be an avid soccer fan… Although Mr. Netanyahu has blamed the left and the news media of plotting to oust him by legal means because they cannot beat him at the ballot box, Mr. Mandelblit hardly fits the profile of a politically motivated insurgent intent on bringing down the government.” [NYTimes]

TILLERSON’S MIDEAST TOUR — “U.S. Mideast peace plan fairly well advanced, Tillerson says” by Yara Bayoumy and Suleiman al-Khalidi: “The United States has a fairly well advanced Middle East peace plan that has been under development for a number of months, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday during a visit to Jordan.” [Reuters]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in interview with Al Hurra TV while in Kuwait: “Just prior to leaving for my trip to the region, I had a very lengthy telephone conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the strikes, and we had a long discussion around the threats that Israel is confronted with that emanate both from Lebanon due to Lebanese Hizballah, but also from Syria. We take the threats to Israel seriously and we take a view that Israel has every right to defend itself from those threats. We are concerned about Syria not creating instability and opportunities for further threats to Israel…”

— Tillerson also rejected Michael Oren’s assertion that the U.S. is “not in the game” when it comes to Syria. “I think in terms of this observation that the U.S. has little leverage or role to play is simply false,” Tillerson told reporters.

“Former White House adviser says only 3 people in Trump’s Cabinet wanted to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem” by Alex Thomas: “At a D.C. Young Republicans event Monday night at the Capitol Hill Club, [Sebastian] Gorka said… “This is from a cabinet member — I can’t give you the Cabinet member’s name — but the decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem. Only three people in the Cabinet supported the President. Okay, only three people. Everybody else didn’t want to do it or wanted to slow roll it, said it would create a cataclysm… The President said ‘I promised the American people… I have promised the people of Israel, our best friends in the Middle East. Oh, and by the way, it’s the right thing to do!’ As far as I’m concerned, this is the most pro-Israel administration since 1776,” Gorka later added.” [Rare]

HAPPENING TODAY — The House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will hold a hearing titled, “Israel, the Palestinians, and the Administration’s Peace Plan,” in the Rayburn Building at 2:00 PM.FDD’s Clifford May, former ambassador Daniel Shapiro, and Washington Institute’s Ghaith al-Omari are expected to testify.

Shapiro in a written statement submitted to the committee: “In the current circumstance, the Administration has no way to get their plan out, at least until tempers cool somewhat, without it being dead on arrival. I hope the administration will resist the advice they are getting from some quarters to rush out a one-sided plan in full knowledge that the Palestinians will reject it out of hand. That would deal yet another blow to the already battered prospects for two states.” [Doc]

Tom Friedman writes… “Syria: You Own It, You Fix It, So Just Rent It: The Iranians and Hezbollah will most likely continue to prod and poke Israel, but not to such a degree that the Israelis do what they are capable of doing, which is to devastate every Hezbollah neighborhood in Lebanon and hit Iran’s homeland with rockets… Maybe, eventually, the players will get tired and forge a power-sharing accord in Syria, as the Lebanese eventually did in 1989 to end their civil war.” [NYTimes]

PALACE INTRIGUE: “Conversations over possible Kelly successor heat up” by Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, Jamie Gangel, Jim Acosta and Jeremy Diamond: “Sources say the conversations center on chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney as possible successors [to Kelly]. A source said that while Cohn had an issue with Trump over his reaction to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that run-in showed that he pushes back, which would be needed in the chief of staff job.” [CNN

2018 WATCH —  “Mitt Romney to announce Senate run Thursday on social media” by David Drucker: “Sources in Utah told the Washington Examiner that Romney that will officially jump into the 2018 Senate race with a digital announcement, rather than holding at a staged rally with supporters.”[WashExaminer]

“Alan Grayson says he’s running for Congress, but won’t say where” by Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo: “Firebrand Democrat Alan Grayson says he wants to return to Congress in 2018, but he is not yet saying which seat he’s running for… Central Florida Democrats for more than a month have been buzzing with talk that Grayson might run against his Democratic successor, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, who defeated Grayson’s current wife and his former aide in the 2016 Democratic primary when the former congressman decided to run for U.S. Senate.” [Politico]

** 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: Jon Gray Named President and Chief Operating Officer of Blackstone [PressReleaseForbes] • Llyod Blankfein: Tax cuts plus more spending while economy grows is like throwing ‘lighter fluid on a fire’ [CNBC] • New Hedge-Fund Tax Dodge Triggers Wild Rush Back Into Delaware [Bloomberg] • Trump tax reform hits US expat business owners hard, says US tax attorney Monte Silver [Globes] • Steven Cohen’s Point72 Seeks to Seal Employee’s Discrimination Suit [Bloomberg] • Israeli tech firm undercuts facial recognition to bolster privacy [Reuters] • Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz is partnering with the NBA to change the way you watch basketball [Recode]

“AT&T Is Said to Want Antitrust Official on Witness List for Trial” by Cecilia Kang: “AT&T is requesting that the antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim, testify in the trial, which is scheduled to begin March 19. AT&T has also asked for internal communications between the Mr. Delrahim’s office and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to two people with knowledge about company’s demands. Antitrust regulators are required to make decisions independently of the White House. Mr. Delrahim has denied any interference in the decision to block the merger.” [NYTimes]

“Mike Bloomberg blasts the Trump administration and its ‘insane’ immigration policy” by Julia La Roche: “Speaking at the Goldman Sachs (GS) 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg told a room of more than 2,000 small business owners… “Washington has not been helpful,” he said, noting that they’re “considering hurting small business by keeping people out from all around the world who want to start more businesses. As a matter of fact, they are trying to do something even stupider — that’s to have people here working and creating small businesses and forcing them to leave the country. That’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard.””[YahooFinance]

Hungary unveils tougher proposed ‘Stop Soros’ laws: “The Hungarian government unveiled a tougher version of its package of planned laws targeting NGOs funded by the American billionaire George Soros on Tuesday… The new draft also retains provisions banning entry to Hungary for foreigners suspected of supporting the entry of asylum seekers… In addition, the latest version would see NGOs having to undergo a “check” by the security services before being authorised to operate.” [AFP] • Netanyahu met yesterday with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s foreign policy advisor, Jozsef Czukor [Pic]

“Do Israeli Students Need to Visit Auschwitz?’ by Shmuel Rosner: “Each year, tens of thousands of young Israelis (mostly students and also soldiers) visit Poland in what feels like the culmination of their Holocaust education… So why end these trips? First, because they contribute to a misperception by many Jews that remembering the Holocaust is the main feature of Judaism. Second, because they perpetuate the myth that Israel itself is born only of the ashes of Europe… Jewish youngsters would do better to focus their energies on the site that all generations of Jews have wanted to make pilgrimages to: Jerusalem.” [NYTimes]

PODCAST PLAYBACK — “Rahm Emanuel, David Schwimmer bond over fear of maternal criticism” by Kim Janssen: “Mayor Rahm Emanuel likes to play the alpha male, but there’s at least one woman he admits can make him quake in his dress shoes — his mom, Marsha Emanuel. And the mayor this week bonded with actor David Schwimmer over their shared plight at the hands of what they characterized as overbearing Jewish mothers. Appearing on Emanuel’s “Chicago Stories” podcast to promote “Plantation!,” the forthcoming Lookingglass Theatre Company production he is directing, the former “Friends” star told Emanuel, “My mom without a question is my harshest critic.”

“Schwimmer said his parents attend every play he puts on and that, after the play, “I will embrace my parents and thank them for coming and brace myself for the first thing out of my mom’s mouth.” “You are definitely a Jewish boy,” Emanuel said, laughing in recognition and adding, “We need at least another two hours about this.” … Emanuel said he typically will delay speaking to his mother after delivering a major speech, and will instead “talk with five or six people before I go over to Mom,” a trick he called “the Jewish young man’s survival kit.”” [ChicagoTribune]

“Why I swipe left on Trump voters” by Marcy Fleisher: “The morning after my Match profile went “live,” my in-box filled… “Can’t believe you are Jewish and didn’t vote for Trump,” [Jim] wrote. “No Democrat in recent history has stood up for Israel, and possibly no other president has embraced the Jewish people as Trump has. You are a beautiful lady, clever … and well educated but I think you are missing what is really important.” While strongly disagreeing, I wasn’t interested in debating Jim or pointing out that the Pew Research Center’s exit polling for the 2016 presidential election showed 71% of Jewish respondents said they voted for Hillary Clinton. Instead, I deleted Jim.” [CNN]

“D.C. area’s Jewish population is booming: Now the third largest in the nation, report says” by Julie Zauzmer: “The researchers at Brandeis’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute calculated that 6 percent of all Washington-area residents are Jewish, and that the Jewish community in the region is the third-largest in the United States — in a rough tie with Chicago, but far behind the New York area’s 1.2 million or so Jews… The researchers queried Jews about a variety of religious and cultural practices. Holiday celebrations in the home proved especially popular: 82 percent light Hanukkah candles, and 83 percent attend a Passover Seder.” [WashPost

MEDIA WATCH — “NY Times Abruptly Fires Its New Nazi-Befriending Editorial Board Hire” by Andy Campbell and Christopher Mathias: “The New York Times has fired journalist Quinn Norton, its brand new editorial board hire… At around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, the paper’s communications department tweeted that it had hired Norton as its “lead opinion writer on the power, culture and consequences of technology.” Twitter users immediately began pointing to her past tweets, in which she’s admitted she’s “friends with various neo-Nazis” ― though she says she has “never agreed with them.” [HuffPost]

DESSERT — “L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti Has Eaten in 83 Countries. He Barely Survived Raw Ox” by Rico Gagliano: “As mayor, Mr. Garcetti, 47, spearheaded L.A.’s successful bid to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, a process that involved racing around the planet, lobbying Olympic decision makers from Denmark to Qatar. For the last year he’s also busily crisscrossed the U.S., with stops in Florida, Arizona and New Hampshire, among others. He travels, in other words, like a guy who’s thinking about running for president, which he’s indicated he might. But Mr Garcetti’s predilection for globe-trotting predates his political career. His worldly parents, each a mashup of ethnicities (his father’s descended from Italian-Mexicans, his mother from Russian Jews), met while working at Pan Am airlines. “Even if they had a lot of money, they wouldn’t spend it on cars or a house,” said Mr. Garcetti, “They’d say ‘We’re going on a trip.’ Not a vacation, ever, but a trip. So, I went to China when I was 12. I went to India as a teenager…all sorts of stuff.” [WSJ]

“NYC finally has kosher ramen” by Rebecca Santiago: “Dan Zelkowitz’s New York dream began, as so many do, with a tipsy night on the Lower East Side. “My wife and I had a drink, and were wandering around,” sometime last winter, the 27-year-old restaurateur and Orthodox Jew tells The Post. “It was freezing cold, and there were these huge, long lines outside of all the underground ramen places. She said, ‘Man, I really wish I could have that.’ ” The next morning, he headed to Chinatown’s Asian supermarkets with one aim: Creating a delicious bowl of ramen that was also kosher… One year later, he’s opened Boru Boru, an Upper West Side restaurant that’s the city’s first Orthodox-friendly ramen joint. He hopes it will shake up New York’s Jewish restaurant scene.” [NYPost

BIRTHDAYS: Chairman and CEO of Townsquare Media, he was previously Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (2001-2003), Steven Price turns 56… Former Mayor of NYC and CEO of Bloomberg L.P., Michael Bloombergturns 76… Award-winning investigative journalist for The Washington Post and author, who together with Bob Woodward did much of the original news reporting on the Watergate scandal, Carl Bernstein turns 74… British businessman and CEO of WPP plc, a multinational advertising and public relations company, Sir Martin Stuart Sorrell turns 73… Former Borough President of Brooklyn (2002-2013) and New York State senator (1979-2001), Marty Markowitz turns 73… Investor, private equity manager, philanthropist, chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, Stephen A. Schwarzman turns 71… Born in Lakewood, NJ, film producer and chairman and EVP of the NFL’s New York Giants, winner of a Golden Globe award, an Academy Award and two Super Bowl rings, Steven Elliot “Steve” Tischturns 69…

Host and co-executive producer of “Fresh Air” on WHYY-FM in Philadelphia, an interview program distributed throughout the United States by NPR, Terry Gross turns 67… Board member at the Los Angeles Museum of The Holocaust, Paulette Nessim turns 58…  Jewish hockey player selected in the first round of the 2002 NHL draft, he then played on four NHL teams and was also a player on the United States national team, Eric Nystrom turns 35… Financial advisor in the Boca Raton office of Morgan Stanley, Alan Feinberg Jr. turns 39… Co-founder of Run for Something, a PAC dedicated to helping progressive young people run for office, Amanda Litman turns 28 (h/ts Playbook)…

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