Daily Kickoff: Jewish groups fight tax hike on nonprofits | Turmoil threatens Women’s March | WeWork’s Neumann on disconnecting for Shabbat
ON THE HILL — The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Department issued interim guidance yesterday aimed at easing a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Jewish and other religious groups are now working to repeal the provision imposing a 21 percent tax on nonprofits, synagogues, religious institutions, and universities providing benefits for their employees, such as parking, transportation and meals. The imposition of this tax could cost the charitable sector $1.7 billion over the next decade.
“This is an issue that could have a serious impact on almost every charitable institution in the Jewish community — our shuls, our schools and every kind of institution that we have — and cost them thousands of dollars a year,” Nathan Diament, Executive Director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, told Jewish Insider.
According to Rabbi Abba Cohen, Washington Director and Counsel for Agudath Israel of America, the added tax is not only a dollars and cents burden, but it’s also an administrative one. “It is especially painful because we’re living in a time where, as the government pulls back from providing services to certain communities, they are expecting nonprofits, including religious institutions, to step up to fill that gap,” he explained. “Now’s the time where the government should be supporting these institutions and making it easier for them and giving them the resources to do it, rather than cutting back on their resources.”
“The other issue is that that this is an unprecedented tax on religious institutions,” Cohen asserted. “One of the basic fundamentals of tax law has been to maintain the independence of religious institutions and not have them be entangled with government intrusion. There have been over the years many people that have sought to increase the tax burden on religious institutions. The concern is here, that if this sustains as law, then it will gain some traction and we might be facing the slippery slope of other kinds of past burdens that will be placed on nonprofits in general.”
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brady (R-TX) reintroduced legislation yesterday that would repeal the provision in a revised year-end tax package. “We want those nonprofit organizations to focus on their core missions,” Brady told reporters on Capitol Hill. “Repealing this allows them the certainty to do that.” The House is expected to consider the bill later this week.
The IRS guidance, which would retroactively reduce the amount of nonprofits’ nondeductible parking expenses, did not satisfy these Jewish organizations.
“We appreciate the responsiveness of the Treasury Department leadership to our concerns,” Diament stated. “But Congress must still act and repeal the tax since there are still other charities that this guidance is not going to help. Not to mention that a future administration could decide to issue a different guidance and put them back on the hook.”
“While this provides guidance and clarifications that will assist institutions and taxpayers in knowing how to better comply with the law, it ultimately only serves to further enshrine this new tax burden on nonprofits,” added Cohen.
William Daroff, Director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America, emails: “While JFNA welcomes the Treasury/IRS notice clarifications, we remained opposed to the tax on other qualified transportation benefits. This tax will be yet another burden, especially for large or urban charities who have traditionally offered such tax-free benefits to their employees. We urge Congress to repeal the tax before they adjourn at the end of this year.”
HEARD LAST NIGHT — Jared Kushner discussed the Middle East peace process with Sean Hannity on the Fox News Channel. In the interview, Kushner seemed to indicate that the administration has shifted from its initial “outside-in” approach back to the traditional “inside-out” approach.
Hannity: It seems like there’s a moment where there is a new alliance or coalition emerging against Iranian hegemony and a potentially nuclear-armed Iran —has that process been hurt as a result of the Khashoggi killing?
Kushner: “I think our intelligence agencies are making their assessments and we’re hoping to make sure that there’s justice brought where that should be. We’re focused now on the broader region, which is figuring out how to hopefully bring a deal together between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That conflict has gone on for way too long. The President has been very focused on trying to bring all the different parties together and we’re hopeful. In the next couple of months, we’ll put out our plan, which again, not every side is going to love, but there’s enough in it and enough reasons why people should take it and move forward. And this plan will keep the Israeli people safe, give them a good future, but also give a real opportunity and hope for the Palestinian people so that they can live much better lives.”
“And it’s not just the Israelis that want it, it’s not just the Palestinian people who want it, it’s all the people I speak to throughout the entire Middle East, who’d like to see this issue resolved so that they can start focusing on a brighter future.”
Elliott Abrams emails: “I would say they are trying to take a middle position, having concluded that neither outside-in nor the more traditional approach will work alone. That is, any plan needs to appeal both to Arab states, and to at least some Palestinians. When Kushner refers to ‘all the people I speak to throughout the entire Middle East, who’d like to see this issue resolved so that they can start focusing on a brighter future’ it’s clear that outside-in remains part of their calculus.”
Aaron David Miller: “I think that Kushner et al are still very much wedded to MBS and the Arabs in whatever plan they produce. There’s been some recognition that the Saudis aren’t free agents when it comes to endorsing a pro-Israeli peace plan and obvious sensitivity over MBS’s role in killing Khashoggi. But when you add it all up, what’s really new in the Kushner plan or attractive to Netanyahu are the Arab states. For Bibi, the entire peace plan is somewhere between a migraine headache and a root canal operation. The Arabs give him cover.”
TOP TALKER — Is the Women’s March Melting Down? — by Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel: “The Women’s March leaders have often dismissed their critics as right wing or driven by racism, but over the past two months their fiercest challengers have come from within their own shop—with women of color and their own local organizers often leading the pack. As of this article’s publication, numerous state chapters have broken off from the national organization—notably Los Angeles, Houston, Washington, D.C., Alabama, Rhode Island, Georgia, and Illinois.”
“Mercy Morganfield, a longtime activist and daughter of blues legend Muddy Waters, has been one of the leading voices in calling for accountability from the co-chairs… “I talked to everyone, and I said it to every last one of them: Tamika [Mallory] needs to resign—not just because of her [Louis] Farrakhan connection, but because of how she handled it afterwards. I said Linda [Sarsour] also needs to step down. Her controversy and the things she keeps saying and doing are detrimental to the movement.” When Tablet asked Morganfield whether she believes the co-chairs are anti-Semitic, she offered a terse answer: “There are no Jewish women on the board. They refused to put any on. Most of the Jewish people resigned and left. They refused to even put anti-Semitism in the unity principles.” [Tablet]
Nick Confessore tweets: “A devastating Tablet Magazine article about self-dealing and bigotry within the Women’s March national organization, doubling as a close study of movements — and how people don’t just accidentally end up in charge of them.”
The Zioness movement in a statement: “[Yesterday] we learned that a deep-seated, conspiratorial hatred of the Jewish people was an often unspoken, yet ever-present, fundamental and unifying principle driving the co-chairs’ organizing. This knowledge makes it impossible for any sincere progressive to march alongside these women. Zioness will not participate in any events associated with Women’s March, Inc. until Sarsour, Mallory, [Carmen] Perez and [Bob] Bland are removed from leadership… Zioness has been clear since our founding that we cannot and will not cede the American feminist movement to bigots and anti-Semites.”
JI SCOOP: Incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) will not join her freshmen colleagues on an AIPAC-affiliated trip to Israel later this year, according to an associate of Ocasio-Cortez. A spokesperson for the New York Democrat did not immediately return a request for comment asking if Ocasio-Cortez is planning to join a J Street-sponsored trip or an alternative delegation organized by incoming Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for fellow House members to the West Bank sometime next year.
Jessica Rosenblum, Senior Vice President of Public Engagement for J Street, tells us: “We have not been in touch with Representative Ocasio-Cortez about joining one of our upcoming congressional delegations. We would welcome the opportunity to take Rep. Ocasio-Cortez on one of our trips to Israel and the Palestinian territory.”
Former Congressman Robert Wexler writes… “Keeping Democrats united on Israel: Democrats should now unite behind what’s best for both peoples, policies that preserve and advance a negotiated two-state solution… For the few who have considered them, boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel are as misguided and counterproductive as the Trump administration’s efforts to strong-arm the Palestinians.” [TheHill]
HEARD YESTERDAY — Israeli President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin in a speech to Israeli Ambassadors at his residence in Jerusalem: “Israel must maintain within the bipartisan consensus. We must devote more effort and thought to this. And I say this because I think not enough has been done to maintain and develop our relations with the Democratic Party and with liberal voices in America. I also think that it is crucially important to rebuild and improve the relations between Israeli leadership and the global Jewish community, first and foremost all streams of Jewish life in the United States.”[Pic]
Friedman disappointed with reactions of some U.S. Jews to Trump — by Greer Fay Cashman: “U.S. Ambassador David Friedman is disappointed with the reactions of some American Jews to what President Donald Trump is doing vis-à-vis Israel. Friedman has found such reactions “frustrating, disappointing and hurtful,” but at the same time is unwilling to give up on American Jews. “Some are misguided but they mean well,” he said on Monday at the annual fall luncheon of the Na’avah Tehilla Emunah chapter in Jerusalem.” [JPost]
Trump’s Israel Ambassador Praises Nauert as Tough Senate Hearing Looms — by Jennifer Jacobs and David Wainer: “She’ll be a very good UN ambassador,” Ambassador David Friedman said in a phone interview… Assuming she wins confirmation, Nauert would be called on to rally support at the UN for the administration’s yet-to-be-unveiled Middle East peace plan… Friedman said that when it comes to Israel, he believes Nauert would continue Haley’s efforts to focus much of her agenda on defending the Jewish state.” [Bloomberg]
Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro writes… “Heather Nauert, Trump’s pick for U.N. ambassador, is unlikely to enjoy Nikki Haley’s global respect: Haley demanded the respect of her global peers because of her relationship with the president… That made it possible for Haley’s counterparts to view her not only as the president’s personal representative, but as someone with his ear, capable of looking him in the eye and telling him when she disagreed… Nauert will need a significant investment from Trump to achieve the same status.” [NBCNews]
BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Ombudsman said checking purchase of table by Netanyahu’s office for Trump visit — by Stuart Winer: “State Comptroller Yosef Shapira has conducted a review of furniture that was purchased by the Prime Minister’s Office in preparation for last year’s visit of US President Donald Trump on suspicion of irregularities in the spending spree… The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement the new table was bought to replace decades-old furniture, but due to concerns that it would not be delivered in time for Trump’s arrival, the existing table and chairs were also repaired. “The President of the United States should not be greeted with plastic furniture,” the statement said.” [ToI]
DEEP DIVE — Targets of U.S. Sanctions Hire Lobbyists With Trump Ties to Seek Relief — by Ken Vogel: “Then there is the lawyer Alan Dershowitz. His criticism of the special counsel’s investigation of Mr. Trump has endeared him to the president. But Mr. Dershowitz also has a long history of representing clients in transnational legal matters, including sanctions. Mr. Dershowitz is advising Dan Gertler, an Israeli billionaire who was the target of sanctions by Washington last year for using his connections to [Joseph] Kabila, the Congolese president, to facilitate what the Treasury Department called “opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals.” Mr. Dershowitz called Mr. Gertler “a very good person” who is “being targeted primarily because of the actions of other people.” [NYTimes] • Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila defends Glencore and its former partner Dan Gertler [FinancialTimes]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: It’s official: Brookfield owns Forest City[TheRealDeal] • Inside Jeffrey Katzenberg’s plan to spend up to $1b by 2025 on programming for Quibi [Digiday] • Glencore begins the changing of the old guard [FinancialTimes] • Activist investor Elliott to buy Travelport in $4.4 billion deal [Reuters] • Starwood’s Israeli Bond Price Plummets as Mall Values Erode [WSJ]
SCENE LAST NIGHT — More than 2,000 people filled up the grand ballroom at the Hilton New York Midtown for the annual dinner hosted by the UJA-Federation of New York’s Wall Street and Financial Services Division. This year’s honorees included Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon and Anton Levy, managing director and global head of technology at General Atlantic. The fundraising dinner, emceed by former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, raised a record $31 million, exceeding last year’s $29 million.
HIGHLIGHTS — WeWork co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann delivered the evening’s keynote address. In his remarks, Neumann recalled observing the Sabbath for the first time while in Crown Heights not too long ago: “The most amazing thing that happened to me is the next day, I went to work and suddenly the thoughts [regarding ego and others] weren’t coming up. I was looking at everyone around me and I can tell that we’re all people and we’re all in this together, and God gave some of us more blessings than the other, and you can never judge or measure where other people are at. And for the whole week, I was feeling really good. Until about Thursday, when those thoughts started coming back again, and I was judging again. And I said, ‘Wow, this Shabbat thing is amazing, but it only lasts for about five days. You gotta do it again.'”
“It’s never been more relevant than today as technology takes over our lives,” Neumann continued. “The average human being will look at his phone 160 times a day. And I know it’s good for business, but we’re addicted to the phone. And then comes Shabbat and we disconnect from technology, you connect to your children, you connect to your loved ones and friends, and you connect to something greater than yourself. You suddenly remember why you are here and what it is all about… When you’re disconnected from your soul, when you’re disconnected from the people around you, you cannot be happy. You cannot be fulfilled.” [Pic]
David Solomon in his remarks after receiving the Gustave L. Levy Award: “While the history of our people is one of overcoming hardship, this has not been an easy time, to say the very least. I know that every person in this room was truly shaken when they learned about the shooting in Pittsburgh. But even before that, the events in Charlottesville last summer, and recent acts right here in New York City, make it clear that those with hatred in their hearts are somehow feeling emboldened. Well, I feel emboldened to be with all of you tonight and simply say that anti-Semitism or hatred of any kind for that matter has no place in our city, has no place in our country, and has no place in the world.” [Pic]
SPOTTED: Gary Cohn, Andrew Ross Sorkin, John Paulson, Adam Braun, Eric Goldstein, Robert Kapito, Ben Golub, Daniel Och, Paul Taubman, Morris Offit, John Shapiro, Joseph Shenker, James Tisch, Ari Ackerman, Suzy Appelbaum, Carly Maisel, Tamar Remz, Ben Stein, Daniel Fine, Alex Swieca, Corey Dicker, Fred Bloch, Hannah Rosenwein, and Jeffrey Goldenberg.
Bernie Madoff’s Victims Are Close to Getting Their $19 Billion Back — by Erik Larson and Christopher Cannon: “While no one will ever collect the phantom profits Madoff pretended he was earning, the cash deposits by his clients have been the primary objective for Irving Picard, a New York lawyer overseeing liquidation of Madoff’s firm in bankruptcy court. So far he’s recovered $13.3 billion—about 70 percent of approved claims—by suing those who profited from the scheme, knowingly or not. And Picard has billions more in his sights.” [Bloomberg] • Bernie Madoff’s Legacy: Whistleblower Inc. [WSJ]
INTERVIEW — Love Is Not a Permanent State of Enthusiasm: An Interview with Esther Perel — by Alexandra Schwartz: “The psychotherapist Esther Perel knows how to work a room. Since the publication of her first book, “Mating in Captivity,” in 2006, she has travelled the world, speaking to audiences about… the nuts and bolts of romantic life. Perel, who grew up in Antwerp as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, got her start as a family therapist, focusing on issues of trauma and cultural conflict.” [NewYorker]
HOLLYWOOD — Julia Louis-Dreyfus Acts Out — by Ariel Levy: “Louis-Dreyfus has nine Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Golden Globe, and she shares with Cloris Leachman the record for the most Emmys accumulated by an actor: one for playing Elaine Benes, on “Seinfeld,” the role that made her a star; one for her performance in “The New Adventures of Old Christine”; and six for playing Selina Meyer, on “Veep.” … “Seinfeld” was not an instant hit. Brandon Tartikoff, the network’s president, worried that it was “too New York, too Jewish,” and scheduled it in a time slot that one executive described as “garbage-dump theatre.” … “I didn’t think of myself as Jewish growing up,” she [Julia Louis-Dreyfus] said, “except people always thought that I was because of my last name, so I kind of identified. But I did think of myself as the ugly duckling in the group.” [NewYorker]
Tony Shalhoub on Filming Mrs. Maisel in Paris and His Inspiration for Abe Weissman — by Jackson McHenry: “Abe Weissman, the ultimate stern Jewish father from the Upper West Side, cuts loose in the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel… He travels to Paris to chase after his wife Rose (Marin Hinkle), who suddenly deserts him, and then picks up a new Parisian lifestyle that involves arguing in cafés and wearing berets. Then, he journeys back to the Catskills, where his family always vacations for the summer, where he terrorizes the staff, drinks his tomato juice, and does his morning calisthenics on the dock… For Shalhoub, the lesson of the season was, “You can’t go home again. You can’t go to the Catskills.” [Vulture]
CAMPUS BEAT — Nazi-themed posters found at SUNY Purchase College; governor ‘disgusted’ —by Matt Spillane and Michael McKinney: “Police are investigating “Nazi-themed posters” that were found on the campus of SUNY Purchase College on Sunday, the school said… The posters apparently had images of Hitler, as well as a swastika… Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement today that he is “disgusted” by the posters, and that the state police Hate Crimes Unit is also investigating.” [Lohud]
TALK OF THE TOWN — Ohio man arrested for plotting synagogue attack: “An Ohio man who said he admired the gunman who killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October has been arrested and charged with planning an attack on another Jewish house of worship… The suspect, Damon Joseph… discussed trying to pick between two Toledo-area synagogues to target…. [and] said he wanted to kill a rabbi and looked at photographs of the inside of a synagogue.” [Reuters]
REMEMBERING — Evelyn Berezin, 93, Dies; Built the First True Word Processor — by Robert McFadden: “Evelyn Berezin, a computer pioneer who emancipated many a frazzled secretary from the shackles of the typewriter nearly a half-century ago by building and marketing the first computerized word processor, died on Saturday in Manhattan… Evelyn Berezin was born in the Bronx on April 12, 1925, to Sam and Rose (Berman) Berezin, Jewish immigrants from Russia.” [NYTimes]
BIRTHDAYS: Businessman and philanthropist who kept 3,000 employees on his payroll in 1995 when his company’s factory burned down, Aaron Feuerstein turns 93… Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, professor at Rockefeller University, Paul Greengard turns 93… US Secretary of State in the Obama administration (2013-2017), following 28 years (1985-2013) as a US Senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry turns 75… Stuart Paley turns 73… Professor of International Economics at Princeton University, Gene Grossman turns 63… Joanne Ring turns 60… Best-selling author, she has published eleven novels including seven books in the series The Mommy-Track Mysteries, a graduate of Harvard Law and former federal public defender, Ayelet Waldman turns 54… Policy researcher at Rand Corporation and a special advisor on Israel with Rand’s Center for Middle East Public Policy, Shira Efron Ph.D. turns 40… Manager of public affairs and marketing at Englewood (NJ) Hospital and Medical Center, Michael Chananie turns 29… Criminal justice reporter for the Washington Examiner, Kelly Cohen turns 28… Reporter at Politico who covers Congress and lobbying and co-authors Politico Influence, Marianne LeVine turns 27… VP of alternative investments at CAIS, Judah Schulman turns 27… Political journalist at The Daily Beast, Gideon Resnick turns 26… President at DP Strategies Group, Josh Brown… Marshall Wolf… Perry Rosen…