Daily Kickoff: Israel’s role in Saudis’ courtship of Kushner | Tension at Yad Vashem | VF profiles Ben Shapiro | Ocasio-Cortez claims Jewish ancestry


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SCENE LAST NIGHT — At its 94th Annual Hanukkah Convocation held at the New York Hilton, Yeshiva University President Ari Berman presented the ‘Doctor of Humane Letters’ honorary degrees to Hadassah Lieberman and Phil Rosen, leaders in the Yeshiva University and wider Jewish communities. Bennett Schachter, Managing Director, Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs received the ‘Inaugural YU Shield Service Award.’

Keynote speaker Paul Singer, who called himself an “unorthodox” choice for the slot, paid tribute to Yeshiva’s contribution to American Jewish life, and challenged the more than 800 attendees to deepen their engagement with “the American civic square.” [Pic]

From Singer’s remarks: “The threats to our people need to be fought, but instead we are spending a great deal of time and energy fighting amongst ourselves. At this complicated moment, when growing adversity and challenge exist alongside robust nationhood, continued success, and prosperity, Jewish elites in the diaspora are doing what they always have done in such times: they know that speaking out could effectively push back the anti-Semitism, but they also know that speaking out could compromise their continued access to power and influence. So, many choose not to risk rocking the boat that seems ever-ready to spill us into the cold water.”

“In the end, our hope for the future lies with those Jews who are not necessarily responsible for masses of people, nations, or other gigantic portfolios, but with Jews who are responsible for communities as small as just their own families, and as large as a synagogue congregation, a business company, a think-tank, a not-for-profit charity, a piece of the global media matrix, or any one of thousands of groups of humans in which a person can influence, lead, convince, or instruct others. In which a person can choose to think for himself or herself and not go along with the mob. In which a person can stand up for what is right, stand up for the Jewish nation, have the discernment to separate the previously-important petty squabbles from the current necessities imposed on us by the growing danger and mortal challenges we face, and choose to help advance the continuity of Judaism as a people and a faith.”

“Because of the unique nature of Yeshiva, of your worldview, of your education and your students, you bear an obligation: to be the bridge between America and Israel; between the world of Jewish tradition and the larger Jewish community; and between the Jewish people and the non-Jewish world. In a world where so few are proud to identify with Israel, you proudly do so; in a world where Jewish tradition and identity are being lost, you showcase religious Judaism at its most vibrant. It is not enough to model this within your own four walls, so to speak – we are relying on you to create the next generation of Jewish leaders who lead in the wider world. We need your voice in the broader Jewish community and, more than ever, as engaged participants in the American civic square.”

SPOTTED: Senator Joe and Hadassah Lieberman, Terry Kassel, Rabbi Ethan Tucker, Ruth and Len Wisse, Jacob Wisse and Rebecca Lieberman, Phil and Malki Rosen, Ari and Anita Berman, Izzy Tapoohi, Daniel Kraus, Richard Joel, Eric and Tamar Goldstein, Roger and Susan Hertog, Carol and Jerry Levin, Dorothy Tananbaum, Elliot and Debbie Gibber, Dana and Marc Gibber, David Gibber, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Andrew and Terri Herenstein, Lance and Rivkie Hirt, Ira and Ingeborg Rennert, Ira Mitzner, Michael Mitzner, Gary Rosenthal, YU Chairman Moshael Straus, Mo Marx, Ben Blumenthal, Marc Belzberg, Linda and Michael Jesselson, Shira Yoshor, Mitchell Davidson, David Eckstein, Virginia Bayer and Rabbi Robert Hirt, Daniella Greenbaum Davis and Bobby Davis.

Anti-Semitism prompts 40% of European Jews to consider emigration — by Tobias Buck: “Close to 40 percent of European Jews have considered leaving their home countries over the past five years because of rising anti-Semitism, according to a poll released on Monday. Of those who said they had considered emigration, two-thirds said they had considered moving to Israel. One in 10 had considered the U.S. and another tenth had considered a move to a different EU country.” [FinancialTimes]

Naftali Bennett attacks Jews who ‘don’t care about their Judaism and don’t care about Israel’ — by Ben Weich: “Naftali Bennett has lashed out at Diaspora Jews who “don’t care about their Judaism” as he prepares to spearhead a new initiative to persuade French Jews to make Aliyah… “The reason is a major problem of assimilation and that more and more Jews around the world don’t care about their Judaism and don’t care about Israel,” Bennett said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.” [TheJC]

— Martin Indyk‏ tweets“There is a crisis between Israel and World Jewry but the reason is not assimilation. It’s the extreme policies advocated by Naftali Bennett and his government’s refusal to treat Reform and Conservative Jews as equal to his Orthodox constituency.”

HEARD LAST NIGHT — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Shares Jewish Heritage at NY Event: ‘My Family Were Sephardic Jews’ — by Taly Krupkin: “After lighting Hanukkah candles in an event hosted by a left-wing Jewish group in her home borough of Queens, Ocasio-Cortez surprised the crowd and said: “[My family has] been doing a lot of family trees in the last couple of years. And one of the things a lot of people don’t know about Puerto Rico… is that a long time ago, many generations ago, my family consisted of Sephardic Jews.”

“After the event, Ocasio-Cortez said she hadn’t planned to talk about her personal history tonight. “I don’t always plan these things,” she told Haaretz. “But sometimes I feel the space, I feel the moment.” [HaaretzWashPost

— Ocasio-Cortez learns the hora at Hannukah celebration: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been criticized for her positions on Israel, but she’s clearly not opposed to a bit of Israeli folk dancing. The Democratic superstar… danced the hora for the first time Sunday.” [ToIVideo

DEEP DIVE — The Wooing of Jared Kushner: How the Saudis Got a Friend in the White House — by David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard, Mark Landler and Mark Mazzetti: “A delegation of Saudis close to the prince visited the United States as early as the month Mr. Trump was elected, the documents show, and brought back a report identifying Mr. Kushner as a crucial focal point in the courtship of the new administration. He brought to the job scant knowledge about the region, a transactional mind-set and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel’s demands, the delegation noted.”

“The Palestinian issue first: there is still no clear plan for the American administration toward the Middle East,” the delegation wrote, “except that the central interest is finding a historic solution to support the stability of Israel and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Israel had long argued to American diplomats that Saudi Arabia’s influence in the region made it essential to any peace deal, and the Israelis were developing high hopes for Prince Mohammed because of his hawkish views toward Iran and his general iconoclasm.” [NYTimes]

REPORT  — “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to formalize relations with Saudi Arabia, and hopes to make ties official and public before the next Israeli general election, Hadashot TV news reported… The report said the U.S. and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen were involved in the diplomatic effort.”[ToI]

ON THE HILL — Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham find common ground on Saudi Arabia — by Lesley Clark and Emma Dumain: “Lindsey Graham laughingly says his sudden embrace of Rand Paul is a sign of what the Bible calls “end times.” Rand Paul jokes that their mind meld first needed couples’ counseling. Long at odds when it comes to foreign policy, the South Carolina and Kentucky Republicans have discovered rare common ground: Fury over the role of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and frustration with the Trump administration’s support for the kingdom.” [McClatchyDC]

Dov Zakheim writes… “Focus on Yemen, not the Saudi crown prince: Israel’s relationship with the Saudis has come increasingly into the open, and the last thing Jerusalem wants is for the Saudis to become so alienated from Washington that they decide to freeze or even roll back their burgeoning ties with the Jewish state… In the meantime, the Yemeni people will continue to suffer — and, surely, that is not the outcome that the U.S. Senate possibly could be seeking.” [TheHill]

Israel Says Oman Will Open Its Airspace to Israeli Carrier: “Benjamin Netanyahu told a gathering of Israeli ambassadors Monday that Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said granted El Al permission to pass through its airspace during the Israeli leader’s surprise visit to the country in October. The two states have no formal diplomatic relations.” [NYT] • El Al jets to overfly Sudan as Israel courts ex-foes [Reuters]

— Barak Ravid‏: “PM Netanyahu tells Israeli ambassadors: “There is an ‘improvement’ in our relations with Turkey – Instead of every two days, Erdogan now calls me Hitler only every six days.”

TOP TALKER — What Happens When a Holocaust Memorial Plays Host to Autocrats — by Matti Friedman: “Staffers at Yad Vashem, which receives 40 percent of its budget from the government, are asking themselves and each other questions like: What role should they be playing in the realpolitik practiced by their state? At what point does that role damage their other roles in commemorating and teaching the Holocaust? And how should a memorial to the devastation wrought in part by ethnic supremacism, a cult of personality and a disregard for law handle governments flirting with the same ideas?”

“The problem with lessons from the Holocaust is that many can be drawn and they often clash. An American liberal, for example, might say the lesson is universal humanist values — the kind of values that many of us assumed, mistakenly, were permanently ascendant in the world after the war. The Zionist approach has traditionally been that while those values are desirable, they won’t protect Jews after the Holocaust any more than they did when it was going on, and there must be a state with enough power to protect Jews in a brutal world. That means alliances with other countries that have common interests, whatever their attitude toward liberal values and even toward Jews.”

“The political calculus is legitimate and one legitimate interpretation of what the Holocaust teaches. The question is where this leaves Yad Vashem.” [NYTimes]

TALK OF THE REGION — Rouhani warns weakened Iran less able to fight trafficking: “President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned Western countries that they will face a massive influx of drugs if Iran becomes weakened by U.S. sanctions.” [AP]

— Washington Institute’s Robert Satloff tweets“New threat from ‘moderate’ Iran president ⁦Hassan Rouhani⁩: Ease sanctions or we will flood West with illegal drugs.”

PALACE INTRIGUE — Chief of Staff John Kelly to leave White House by end of month — by Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim and Philip Rucker: “[Jared] Kushner and Ivanka Trump have battled for some time to replace Kelly… The couple told others privately that Kelly shared damaging stories about them and had not always served the president well. For his part, Kelly joked that the couple was “playing government,” and he said they should never have been brought into the White House.” [WashPost] • Nick Ayers, Aide to Pence, Declines Offer to Be Trump’s Chief of Staff [NYTimes

NEXT STEPS — Can Nikki Haley Emerge From the Trump Administration Unscathed? — by Uri Friedman: “With just weeks left in her role as the ambassador to the United Nations, I wanted to ask [Haley] one of the big questions naturally prompted by her departure: Does she share Donald Trump’s iconoclastic, transactional, über-nationalist vision of America’s role in the world? “I get where he wants to go, and I just have my different style of getting us there,” Haley told me… She recognized Saudi Arabia as a vital partner against Iran, but insisted that Riyadh can’t be given “a pass” for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, pointedly noting that the Saudi crown prince’s “government did this, and so he technically is responsible.” [TheAtlantic]

Haley on running for president in 2024: “Truly no one believes me: I am not even thinking about it. You know what I think about? I think about sleeping in… I think about not having the stress level that I’ve had for the last eight years.” [TheAtlantic]

Haley in an interview with The Weekly Standard“I think that I will always have a voice when it comes to defending America… I would love to look at getting involved in a think tank.”

EXIT INTERVIEW — Miami’s ‘big bad she-wolf’ finishes a 29-year run in Congress — by Alex Daugherty: “As Miami’s longest-tenured congresswoman finishes out her final weeks in office, there’s still plenty of work to do… [A] bill named in Ileana Ros-Lehtinen‘s honor would authorize defense and security spending assistance for Israel, and it has an uncertain fate in the final weeks of this year’s Congress… But the congresswoman whom Fidel Castro once called a “big bad she-wolf” has been booted from her office… so another member can move in during her final weeks in Congress. She’s forced to lobby for legislation… out of a windowless one-room office without a printer.”

“Before what could be her last hearing as a member of Congress, Ros-Lehtinen approached the C-Span cameraman outside the hearing room and jokingly told him to “only focus on me.”

“Though Ros-Lehtinen campaigned against [Donna] Shalala during the election, there’s no ill will between them when Shalala drops by to visit during her new-member orientation in Washington… She kicks herself for forgetting to remind Shalala to order a mezuzah for the office and have it blessed by a rabbi to fulfill the Jewish commandment to have the words of God on the doorposts of any dwelling, a gesture that Jewish constituents appreciate.” [MiamiHerald

2020 WATCH — Beto O’Rourke Emerges as the Wild Card of the 2020 Campaign-in-Waiting — by Matt Flegenheimer and Jonathan Martin: “Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas has emerged as the wild card of the presidential campaign-in-waiting for a Democratic Party that lacks a clear 2020 front-runner… “What is it with a party that gets excited about a guy who loses but tries to undercut somebody who wins?” said Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, describing the opposition among some Democrats to Nancy Pelosi’s continued leadership in the House, despite her presiding over a midterm wave. “Our party is emotional.” [NYTimes

** Good Monday 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: Why Sumner Redstone’s Family Declared Him Incompetent [VanityFair] • Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield: My job is not to be ‘smarter than everyone’ [CNBC] • Israel accepted into global financial watchdog group [ABCNews]

STARTUP NATION — Israel’s tech expansion stokes glaring inequality in Tel Aviv — by Mehul Srivastava: “The Ybox apartment blocks tower over the gritty streets, home to upper-middle class Israelis who live in $1m-plus flats, drive expensive cars and buy Indonesian coffee from in-house cafés. Almost all of the tower residents are enjoying the wealth generated by Israel’s surging tech scene… But Tel Aviv’s quest to rival Silicon Valley has exacerbated the kind of social ills that have become contentious in San Francisco: income inequality and growing discontent over the exclusion of working class citizens from the economic gains.” [FinancialTimes]

MEDIA WATCH  — Wonder Media Co-Founders on Mixing Friendship with Business: “Wonder Media Network (WMN) co-founders Jenny Kaplan and Shira Atkins became friends through an entrepreneurship class at Brown University, and they stayed close after each moving to New York to pursue different career opportunities. Last summer, they decided to quit their jobs and start WMN, an audio-focused media company that kicked off with an ambitious podcast series, “Women Belong in the House,” about the record number of women who ran for office in 2018…” [MMLafleur]

PROFILE — How Hollywood Invented Ben Shapiro — by Tina Nguyen: “Shapiro and [Jeremy] Boreing, now the Daily Wire’s chief content officer and the “god-king” of the site (as the staffers call him), have become dominant players in right-wing digital media, and the Daily Wire has become an industry leader… Boreing says the company now boasts 140 million page views a month; more than a million downloads per episode of The Ben Shapiro Show (the ninth-most downloaded podcast on iTunes in 2018, worldwide)… 1.1 million subscribers on YouTube and over 400,000 on Shapiro’s personal page. And all in the span of three years… It was in this hostile environment, at the apex of the heady Obama years, that Shapiro and Boreing, both budding culture warriors, were introduced by [Andrew] Breitbart. The two made an unlikely pair: Boreing is evangelical, methodical, contemplative; Shapiro is Orthodox Jewish, bullish, constantly on the attack. And yet, they clicked immediately.”[VanityFair

PODCAST PLAYBACK — Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel on the contrast between President Bill Clinton’s late night working habits and Barack Obama’s work hours on The Axe Files podcast with David Axelrod: “It was some Shabbat. President Obama called about what we needed to do on certain financial stuff, and it was on a Friday night during our Shabbat dinner at home — it was about 10 o’clock — and he said, ‘I apologize, but I am about to go to bed.'”

Towards the end of the podcast, Emanuel recalled that whenever he had “deviant disagreements” with his dad  — who was a member of the Irgun High Command before the establishment of Israel — he used to say, ‘You’re nothing but a terrorist.’ (laughter).” [AxeFiles]

TALK OF THE TOWN —  What’s That Strange New Thing Rising in the Hudson River? — by Corey Kilgannon: “Pier 55 has already drawn attention for its astronomical price tag — currently $250 million — that is being footed by the entertainment mogul Barry Diller and his wife, the fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. Aside from becoming nicknamed after Mr. Diller, the project also was known for its on-again, off-again status, with a frustrated Mr. Diller briefly abandoning the project last year… But it is back on track, and after seven years of planning and bureaucratic maneuvering the park has begun to take shape over the water, just west of the Meatpacking District. Its stylistic cornerstone was laid this week, as workers began installing a distinctive system of concrete supports known as pots, which give the park the unusual design Mr. Diller sought to make a bold architectural statement.” [NYTimes]

CAMPUS BEAT — A Vandal Knocked Down This Menorah Near Harvard. A Pulitzer-Prize Winner Put It Back Up — by Yair Rosenberg: “The menorah Chabad had erected in Cambridge Common was toppled by a bigot in broad daylight on Sunday afternoon… The vandalism was captured on video. So was what happened next. “A group of wonderful citizens who were nearby and witnessed it immediately jumped into action to restore the menorah,” related Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi of Harvard Chabad. One of those people was Ron Suskind, a 59-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who had taught at Harvard’s various schools for years.” [Tablet

The Stories Behind the Supreme Court’s Class Photos — by Adam Liptak: “It has long been said, including by me, that the court did not sit for a 1924 group photograph for an ugly reason. “The court had to cancel its portrait that year,” I wrote in a 2010 column, “because Justice James C. McReynolds, an anti-Semite and a racist, refused to sit next to Justice Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish justice.” Justice McReynolds was indeed an anti-Semite and racist, but that particular story was false, as [Franz] Jantzen documented in his 2015 essay. The misunderstanding arose from a 1924 letter from Justice McReynolds, who told Chief Justice William Howard Taft that “I absolutely refuse to go through the bore of picture taking until there is a change in the court” — meaning the arrival of a new justice.” [NYTimes

MAZEL TOV — Jonathan Bronitsky, 34, Javelin’s Director of Strategy, and author of a forthcoming biography of Irving Kristol (Oxford University Press), proposed to Paige Esterkin, 28, real estate attorney, on the front portico of James Madison’s Montpelier over the weekend. [Pic]

DESSERT  Savory sufganiyot take New York by storm — by Amy Spiro: “The Golan Heights eatery in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood (home to Yeshiva University and hungry college students), has brought back its “Maccabee” sandwich for Hanukkah this year. The menu item features a sliced doughnut “stuffed with shnitzel, brisket, fried onion, fried eggplant [and] slaw.” In Monsey, New York, The Ridge Steakhouse has been selling… a homemade doughnut “topped with lamb bacon, maple glaze, cornflake and purple potato chip.” The Gourmet Glatt supermarket in Lakewood added… a pastrami filled and topped doughnut.” [JPost

REMEMBERING — Selma Engel, 96, Dies; Escaped Death Camp and Revealed Its Horror — by Katharine Seelye: “Selma Wynberg Engel, who escaped a Nazi extermination camp after a prisoner uprising and was among the first to tell the world about the camp’s existence, died on Tuesday in East Haven, Conn… Well before arriving in the Netherlands, she began telling the world what she had witnessed and, along with her husband, would continue to do so for the rest of their lives.” [NYTimes]

BIRTHDAYS: Actress, born in Montreal to a Sephardic Jewish family, known for her roles in HBO’s “Entourage” and CBS’s “The Mentalist,” Emmanuelle Chriqui turns 41… Head of Bloomberg Beta, a venture fund backed by Bloomberg L.P., Roy Bahat… Dairy cattle dealer, Abraham Gutman turns 74… Founder of the Texas Jewish Historical Society, he was ordained at HUC-JIR and served as rabbi (now emeritus) of Congregation B’nai Israel in Galveston, Texas, James Lee Kessler turns 73… Advisory partner at Perella Weinberg Partners and part owner of MLB’s New York Mets, he was chairman and CEO of Verizon until retiring in 2011, Ivan Seidenberg turns 72… Owner of Judaica House in Teaneck, New Jersey, Reuben Nayowitz turns 72…

Progressive political activist, she headed the AmeriCorps VISTA program during the Carter administration, Margery Tabankin turns 70… Billionaire real estate entrepreneur, he was a candidate in the 2018 Florida Gubernatorial election but lost in the primary, Jeff Greene turns 64… Former executive producer of 60 Minutes, Jeffrey B. Fager turns 64… Israeli filmmaker and political activist, son of Israeli politician Shulamit Aloni, Udi Aloni turns 59… Ukrainian-born R&B, jazz and soul singer and songwriter, she performs as “Mishéll,” Irina Rosenfeld turns 30… Policy Analyst in the Office of NYC’s Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, he was in the inaugural class of Schwarzman Scholars (2017), Daniel Goldstern turns 27… Rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and member of a cappella group Six13, Philip Kaplan turns 28…


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