Daily Kickoff: Did Natalie Portman intend to take a public stand on Israel? | Alex Soros interview | Jake Tapper on new novel | Putin’s matzah diet


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INTERVIEW — Alex Soros, son of George Soros and the Founding Chair of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, gave a lengthy interview to veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea for Yedioth Ahronoth (published in Hebrew) while attending a conference in Berlin last week.

HIGHLIGHTS — Soros on Trump: “You know that Donald Trump is the son of a rich father, who grew up rich from childhood. I also grew up in wealth. My father used to warn me — jokingly — as a child: ‘Never be like Trump.’ Trump once offered my father to rent an office in one of the buildings named after him. He thought my father’s name would attract more tenants. ‘You set the price,’ he said but my father refused. Like everyone else in New York, my father knew that Trump was a chronic bankrupter. He did not take Trump seriously.”

“When Trump was elected, I was not surprised, I was sad. Since Trump’s election, I wake up every morning and say to myself, ‘The world is in danger. I have to do everything I can to stop it.'”

On Netanyahu: “Despite [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban’s anti-Semitic campaign, Netanyahu invited him and his colleagues from Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to hold one of their next meetings in Israel. That disappointed me. I was disappointed that the Israeli prime minister is cynical, does not help the Jews and stand behind them. This is not Israel – it’s Netanyahu. The connection between him and extreme right-wing, anti-Semitic, and corrupt individuals is contrary to Israel’s commitment as a Jewish state.”

Barnea: What does George Soros think of Israel?

Soros: “He thinks that Israel has the right to exist… If it did not matter to him, he wouldn’t have advised me, at the time (after his Bar mitzvah ceremony), to emigrate to Israel. My father would like to see Israel in the image of Yitzhak Rabin. His opinions are more or less the views of Meretz and Labor, and we support a two-state solution.”

On becoming more involved in Israel: “I may increase our activity in Israel. If Sheldon Adelson can invest in Israeli politics, I can, too. I am young. I am open to changing policy.” [Yediot]

REPORT — Natalie Portman told Genesis Prize she was canceling over Gaza, not Netanyahu: “The Hadashot News TV report quotes emails by Portman’s representatives expressing concerns over recent violence in Gaza, saying it would therefore be inappropriate for the Israel-born actress to attend the “Jewish Nobel” award ceremony. The Genesis Prize Foundation responded by telling her… [that] canceling the ceremony would serve Hamas and be a “slap in the face” to the Jewish people… Portman later wrote that she did not want her attendance to be seen as an endorsement of Netanyahu.” [ToI]

According to a source, “Genesis went out of its way to accommodate Portman’s concerns about Netanyahu by agreeing she didn’t have to sit next to him, didn’t have to have him present her with the award and was free to say anything from the lectern she wanted, including whatever critical comments she wanted to level at the current government. However in the end she insisted Netanyahu not be invited to the event, a demand Genesis couldn’t accept both for contractual and moral reasons. A bridge too far.”

We’ve also heard from multiple sources that Portman’s rep asked Genesis to cite a scheduling conflict as the reason the actress could no longer attend the ceremony which raises the question whether Portman ever intended to take a public stand in the first place.

“How Natalie Portman became the latest Israel-Palestine flashpoint” by Zack Beauchamp: “Very few Jews, Israeli or diaspora, support a wholesale boycott of Israel. But views on Netanyahu’s government, specifically, are far more mixed. The fact that Portman is framing her criticism as coming from a place of affection for the Jewish state, not hostility, makes it more likely that other Jews — especially Americans — will take it seriously. “This is an important symbolic moment,” says Jeremy Pressman, a scholar of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Connecticut. “She cannot just be written off as a BDS supporter.” [Vox

OUT TODAY — “The Hellfire Club” — a new novel from CNN anchor Jake Tapper. Tapper tells Jewish Insider via email this morning, “The Hellfire Club is about a young congressman and his wife thrust into a conspiracy in 1954 Washington, DC. Charlie Marder is a World War II veteran and academic trying to figure out just how much to compromise to succeed in the fabled DC swamp. There are a couple Jewish characters of note: Roy Cohn, the top aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy, and Charlie’s intern Sheryl Ann Bernstein. It’s not overtly a religious thriller in any way, but readers will recognize themes familiar in Jewish literature and art including bigotry and fighting for justice.” [LittleBrownAmazon]

Ben Smith’s review: “Jake Tapper And The Virtue Of Taking Yourself Seriously… The novel is Tapper’s fourth book but his first work of fiction, and while The Hellfire Club might not get glowing blurbs from James Patterson and Shonda Rhimes if it carried a different byline, its quality is a tribute to taking yourself seriously in all things.” [BuzzFeed]

“Is it anti-Semitic for President Trump to call Chuck Todd ‘sleepy eyes’?” by Julie Zauzmer: “Trump has been referring to Todd’s eyes on Twitter since 2012 — most recently, he used the phrase Sunday when reacting to Todd’s televised comments on North Korea — but he has never explained just what he means about Todd’s eyes. This week, some Twitter users posited a troubling explanation: “Sleepy eyes” might be an anti-Semitic slur that Trump uses to target Todd, who is Jewish… According to the German Propaganda Archive at Calvin College, Nazi politician Julius Streicher (the publisher of the notoriously anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer) wrote a children’s book listing a litany of supposedly Jewish traits, including the drooping eyes stereotype… For his own part, Todd told The Post he didn’t think of the odd nickname as anti-Semitic. “I’ve never taken it that way. If it is a slur, I’ve never heard of it,” Todd said.” [WashPost

TRUMP’S MECHUTAN… “Charles Kushner: ‘I pushed Jared to do the deal’ for 666 Fifth Ave.” by Cristina Alesci: “I pushed Jared to do the deal,” explained Charles, who said Jared expressed reservations about buying the [666 Fifth Avenue] office tower. In a wide-ranging interview with CNN at his company’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan, the elder Kushner didn’t mince words, calling the decision “bad timing and bad judgment.”

“On the transition to the White House, Charles, who said he speaks to Jared every day, declined to say whether he advised Jared to take the job. “Jared thought he could make a positive impact. In the end, I gave him my blessing.” Kushner Companies has made several adjustments since then. “The question in our company today is not ‘what’s the best deal?'” said Charles Kushner recently in his office, which he has adorned with wall-to-wall pictures of his family. Among the photos of his parents, children and grandchildren is one of his daughter-in-law, Ivanka Trump, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. “We shy away from anything that could have a negative impact on Jared,” the elder Kushner said.”

“Charles says his other son, Josh — a Democrat who runs a venture capital firm in New York City — is feeling the blowback from peers who oppose the administration… Charles knew the White House job would be hard on his son [Jared] but underestimated the strength of what he called the “opposition” to the administration.” [CNN] • Rezoning likely inspired Kushner Companies’ Park Avenue bid [NYPost]

DRIVING THE DAY — President Trump and French President Emanuel Macron are meeting this morning at the White House. Macron is expected to press Trump to preserve the Iran nuclear deal. “I suspect that this will be a very difficult conversation,” Wendy R. Sherman, former chief U.S. negotiator for the Iran deal, predicts. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters… that Trump is “the best negotiator at the table,” and is well equipped for the discussions. The two leaders will hold a press conference at 11:45 AM in the East Room. [CSPAN]

“U.K. Urges G-7 to Make Case to Keep Iran Deal as U.S. Wavers” by Josh Wingrove: “U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking to reporters Monday at a G-7 summit in Toronto, said… he doesn’t want the U.S. to quit the deal but noted talks are underway for how to save it if that happens. “Clearly a lot of thought is going into how to keep a non-U.S. version,” he said. “Believe me, that is not our preferred option.” … Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan [said]… Trump wants to strengthen the Iran deal “if it can be strengthened,” he said.” [Bloomberg]

Richard Goldberg writes… “Trump shouldn’t give in to Macron’s Iran deal request: Macron arrived in Washington Monday with a seemingly innocuous request for President Trump: Let Europe keep doing business with Iran. But unless Trump wants to make a bad nuclear deal even worse, he should flatly reject Macron’s request.” [NYPost]

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Netanyahu turns up volume as Iran deadline nears: “Israel will not allow regimes that seek our annihilation to acquire nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told an audience of diplomats in a speech in Jerusalem. “This is why this deal has to be either fully fixed or fully nixed,” he said. [YahooNewsVideo

“Russia says no decision yet on delivery of S-300 missiles to Syria” by Maria Kiselyova and Dan Williams:“Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Russia had not yet decided whether it would deliver advanced S-300 missile systems to Syria, but would not make a secret of the matter if it took such a decision… A Russian diplomat… said Israel had asked Moscow not to supply the Syrian military with the S-300s.” [Reuters

“Commander of US troops in Syria makes unannounced first visit to Israel” by Judah Ari Gross: “The head of the US military’s Central Command, which is responsible for American activities in the Middle East, arrived in Israel on Monday to meet with senior Israeli officials for talks expected to focus on Syria and tensions between Jerusalem and Tehran… Despite this being the first trip to Israel by Gen. Joseph Votel, the current head of the Central Command, or CENTCOM, the visit has been without fanfare or publicity.” [ToI]

“Behind bloody Gaza clashes, economic misery and piles of debt” by Loveday Morris and Hazem Balousha: “Across the 140-square-mile territory, Gazans are struggling to finance their daily lives. Young people — unable to pay for weddings or homes of their own — are delaying marriage, figures show, while health officials say suicide, once virtually unheard of in Gaza, is on the rise. Universities say students are dropping out because they cannot afford the fees. At the Islamic University in Gaza City, a third of the students did not re-enroll this semester… Beleaguered Gazans do not blame only Israel; pressure is building against Palestinian leaders, too. “It’s because of Hamas,” Ahmed Hamouda, a 25-year-old worker on Gaza’s seafront, said without missing a beat.” [WashPost]  

HEARD YESTERDAY — Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) National Conference in New York City: “I hear frequently ideas of doing a reverse Birthright, but it’s not possible. It doesn’t make sense to bring masses of young Israelis to see the Jewish community in America. I never heard of an Israeli that said, ‘Where should I go on my next vacation – in Madrid, or go to see the Jewish American community?’ That’s not a realistic option. So I think the mission to educate Israelis about the American Jewish community is on your shoulders. I don’t see any other way than the American Jewish community taking the responsibility of educating Israelis on who they are, what their aspirations are, and what are the issues that concern them.”

Speaking of which… “Birthright, Only for Israelis” by Liel Leibovitz: “Entitled “An Israeli Hope,” the project will dispatch twenty teams of educators representing every sector of Israeli society on a three-day bus ride across Israel, during which they’ll meet secular and Orthodox Jews, Israeli Arabs and Druze, veteran Israelis and newly arrived immigrants, and just about any other group that makes up the rich and diverse mosaic of Israeli life.”[TabletMag]  

“US envoy says Jerusalem under Israel is ‘model for coexistence in the world’” by Raphael Ahren: “At a panel discussion… U.S. Ambassador David Friedman said intelligence cooperation between the two countries has saved American lives… “The United States benefits tangibly now from this relationship with Israel. There are things I cannot say in this forum, but there are people in the United States today who are safe, who are alive, because of intelligence cooperation that Israel has provided to the United States,” he said.”

“Friedman, who recalled that he celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall shortly after the 1967 Six Day War, said that his primary concern when thinking about the future of US-Israel relations was that “people in my country, especially kids, especially Jewish kids, find a way to reconnect more to Israel. Because I do fear that we’re at risk for not having the same kinds of connection, that me and wife had, that our kids have. And it’s a shame.” [ToI]

“In Donald Trump, Israelis hear echoes of an ancient emperor” by Ben Manson: “While Israelis debate whether it’s in Israel’s long-term interests to side with Trump’s pro-Israel evangelical supporters, some Israelis, along with their evangelical allies in America, discern a deeper mystical meaning in current affairs. A small but growing movement on the fringes of Orthodox Judaism in Israel… speculate that Trump’s Jerusalem declaration is a divine sign that indicates that Trump, like Cyrus, will permit the Jews to rebuild the temple.” [YahooNews]

2018 WATCH — “Stephen Colbert jokes about Mayor Emanuel’s re-election chances at Northwestern gala” by Tracy Swartz: “Colbert praised Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and said “it’s like he’s the mayor.” “Is Rahm Emanuel here tonight? He’s not?” Colbert asked the audience at Ryan Fieldhouse in Evanston. “Good, because Morty has a better chance at re-election. Don’t tell Rahm.” [ChicagoTribune

“Emanuel cautions fellow Democrats to drop impeachment talk” by Fran Spielman: “Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday he “couldn’t be angrier” at President Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean it’s time for his fellow Democrats to talk about impeachment… Axios Executive Editor Mike Allen asked Emanuel whether impeachment was a “good issue” for the mayor’s fellow Democrats to use against Trump. “This is a serious legal and consequential, non-political issue. And my view is, there’s nothing there today that we know” that rises to that standard, Emanuel said.” [ChicagoSunTimesAxios

“This Young Politico Is Helping Her Generation Run for Office” by Daniel Malloy: “After working on Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, Amanda Litman was pulled by the post-2016 crash from fighting for the White House to politicking at its most basic level. The co-founder of Run for Something, Litman is giving liberal millennials the tools to run for local and state office in an effort to build a stronger bench for a party hollowed out by losses during the Obama years. But Litman can sometimes be too democratic for the Democrats — pushing candidates who are challenging party-backed incumbents, or running nearly hopeless races.” [Ozy]

** Good Tuesday 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: Jacob Frenkel Says He’s Not a Candidate for Bank of Israel Job [Bloomberg] • Behind Bill Ackman’s epic battle with Herbalife, Icahn [CNBC• Carl Icahn averts a looming board battle at Newell Brands [NYPost• Glencore’s Prize Cobalt Miner Is Bogged Down Deeper in Congo [Bloomberg• Chetrit lands $83M loan to refi DoBro hotel, rental property [TheRealDeal• David Einhorn thinks Puerto Rican debt will cause insurer to sink [NYPost

STARTUP NATION: “Largest group of international venture capitalists ever in Israel for tech program” by Max Schindler: “280 venture capitalists – in what’s being dubbed as the largest contingent of tech investors ever – are visiting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week as part of the Kauffman Fellows Program, a US-based NGO that runs programming for such investors worldwide…” [JPost]

Indiana governor planning trips to Israel, Europe in May: “The Indiana Economic Development Corp. says Gov. Eric Holcomb will lead an “agbiosciences-focused” delegation to Israel during a May 6-11 trip. The delegation’s activities will include attending the Agritech Israel Conference in Tel Aviv. “ [LATimes]

COMING SOON — Israel’s Docaviv Festival to Focus on Women, Refugees for Landmark 20th Edition” by Debra Kamin: “Docaviv, Israel’s only festival devoted exclusively to documentary filmmaking, will celebrate its 20th birthday in May with a jam-packed screening schedule focusing on women’s empowerment, refugees and the ever-complicated politics of globalization. In the lineup are films about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and fashion designer Alexander McQueen.” [Variety]

NYTIMES CORRECTIONS DEPT: “An earlier version of this articleerroneously included a reference to Palestinian actions as an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook. In fact, Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis or convicted of terrorist acts and imprisoned in Israel; that is not a conspiracy theory.” [NYTimes]

CAMPUS BEAT — “UC Berkeley students call for removal of ‘antisemitic,’ ‘anti-Israel’ lecturer” by Ilanit Chernick: “Students at the University of California, Berkeley have started a petition calling on the university to remove a lecturer who has been accused of anti-Semitism as well as having a blatant anti-Israel bias… The senior lecturer, Dr. Hatem Bazian, hosted an event in which he invited Arab Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi to give a lecture entitled “Israel: A Democracy or a Colonial Project?” The event… took place on Israel’s day of remembrance for fallen soldiers in the country’s wars.”[JPost

Anti-Semitic Wagner letter to be sold in Jerusalem: “A letter written by Hitler’s favourite composer Richard Wagner warning about “corrosive” Jewish influence on culture is to be auctioned in Jerusalem… In it, Wagner wrote that Jewish assimilation into French society meant that it was harder to see that “corroding influence of the Jewish spirit on modern culture”… Wagner would “roll over in his grave” if he knew that a Jew with a beard was going to make money from his letter, Meron Eren from the auction house told AFP.” [BBC

SPORTS BLINK — “When — if Ever — Will the Super Bowl Champion Eagles Visit the White House?” by Ken Belson and Michael Shear: “The Eagles’ owner, Jeffrey Lurie, is considered one of the most liberal in the league… According to the Federal Election Commission, in 2015, Mr. Lurie donated $2,700 to Hillary for America… Mr. Lurie has also made his political leanings known in private league meetings, including last October at N.F.L. headquarters. Weeks after Mr. Trump attacked the league, several dozen owners, players and league executives met to discuss a plan to donate money to an array of groups fighting social injustice. At one point, a player said that it was difficult to trust the owners because they supported Mr. Trump. Mr. Lurie took exception. “Another fact I want to throw out there: Many of us have no interest in supporting President Trump,” Mr. Lurie said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by The New York Times. “Yes, there are some. There are some players who do, too.”” [NYTimes

TRANSITION — Jerry Silverman will step down next year as president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. “I wholeheartedly plan to continue at my usual pace until September 2019. My decision is bittersweet,” Silverman wrote in an email to his colleagues. “However, as I have always stated, family comes first.” [JTA

DESSERT — “Putin eats matzah all year round, says Russia’s chief rabbi” by Itamar Eichner: “Russian President Vladimir Putin is particularly fond of matzah and eats the unleavened flatbread…  all year round, according to Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar… Lazar told reporters during the Limmud FSU festival… that Putin eats matzah while drinking tea. “Putin said matzah is tasty, easy and healthy to eat. He eats the matzah I bring him,” the rabbi said.” [Ynet

“Seniors gather to observe the Jewish Sabbath every week – at Wendy’s” by Donna Freydkin: “The new documentary “Wendy’s Shabbat” spotlights a group of California seniors who for a decade have been meeting weekly to observe the Jewish Sabbath at an unlikely venue – a local Wendy’s. Megyn Kelly TODAY welcomes one of them, Roberta Mahler, along with her granddaughter Rachel Myers, who directed the film.” [Today

“Amid Changing Economics, More Israeli Restaurants Opting to Go Kosher” by Adi Dovrat-Meseritz: “Most of the new restaurants that have opened in Israel in the past year are kosher, and many veteran establishments are getting a kashrut certificate even in secular bastions like Tel Aviv, Haifa and Eilat. Celebrity chefs who once took pride in their non-kosher menus are choosing to switch to kashrut. One prominent instance is the chef and television personality Moshe Segev, who recently launched a chain of kosher restaurants under his name, with the first two outlets in Netanya and Be’er Sheva.”[Haaretz

BIRTHDAYS: Film director Richard Donner (born Richard Donald Schwartzberg) turns 88… Rabbi emeritus at Washington’s Adas Israel Congregation, he is a former president of the Rabbinic Assembly, Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg turns 77… Yeshiva of Brooklyn student who went on to become an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and Peabody Award winning singer and actress, Barbra Streisand turns 76… Delray Beach, FL resident, Phyllis Dupret turns 75… Board chairman of financial publisher TheStreet, also on the board of directors of Gannett, he was previously president and publisher of USA Today, Lawrence S. Kramer turns 68… Israeli architect and artist, Ron Arad turns 67… President of Cincinnati-based Standard Textile since 1986, VP of JINSA and the the Israel Policy Forum, Gary Heiman turns 67…

President of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards of the NBA since 2003, himself an NBA player (1977-1986), Ernest “Ernie” Grunfeld turns 63… Award winning author and journalist and the former national editor for Politico, Michael Hirsh turns 61… President of Kirtzman Strategies in NYC, previously a journalist, political reporter and television news anchor (2002-2008), author of books about Bernie Madoff and Rudy Giuliani, Andrew Kirtzman turns 57… Financial advisor for Bernstein Private Wealth Management where he is Carl S. Schwartz, and leader of Baltimore’s Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh where he is Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, turns 48… Congressional affairs specialist at the Food and Drug Administration, Laurie Edberg turns 48 (h/t Playbook)… Television writer, producer and film screenwriter, known as the co-creator and showrunner of the television series “Lost” (2004-2010), Damon Lindelof turns 45… National director of AIPAC’s synagogue initiative, Mark H. Waldman turns 44… Brandon Hersh turns 35… Elaine Berke


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