Daily Kickoff: Senate to vote on pro-Israel package for 4th time in ‘19 | Elliott Abrams rejoins gov’t | Howard Schultz’s lesson from a Rabbi
DRIVING THE DAY — The White House has issued a strong warning to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, saying that any violence against U.S. diplomats or National Assembly President Juan Guaidó would elicit a “significant response” from the U.S.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Axios’ Jonathan Swan that as recently as a couple of weeks ago Trump mused to him about the possibility of using military force in Venezuela. When Graham cautioned him to “go slow” on that, Trump responded: “Well, I’m surprised, you want to invade everybody.”
TRANSITION — On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named Elliott Abrams as special envoy to Venezuela. Abrams was in the George W. Bush administration at the time of the failed coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002. Speaking at the State Department, Pompeo said Abrams would likely to travel to the region soon.
Abrams joined the Secretary for a special session at the United Nations Security Council in New York on Saturday. Abrams, seated at the table after Pompeo departed early, accused Venezuela of being a “satellite” of Cuba and Russia. Abrams and Kimberly Breier, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, later met with representatives of Guaido’s government.
— Israel joined the U.S. and other western countries in recognizing Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela, Netanyahu announced in a 9-second video statement on Sunday. The move came at the request of the Trump administration. Guaido thanked the Israeli leader, replying to his statement on Twitter.
Bret Stephens writes… “Yes, Venezuela Is a Socialist Catastrophe: All of this used to be obvious enough, but in the age of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez it has to be explained all over again. Why does socialism never work? Because, as Margaret Thatcher explained, “eventually you run out of other people’s money.” … The Trump administration took exactly the right step in recognizing National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s constitutionally legitimate president.” [NYTimes]
PayPal co-founder Max Levchin tweets: “I try to keep out of politics generally, but having spent the first 16 years of my life in the then-socialist paradise, this [Stephens’s Op-Ed] rings true: The poor do matter, and it’s on all of us to improve income inequality, but socialism is not the way.”
Trump warns Europeans not to try to evade Iran sanctions — by Deb Riechmann and Matt Lee: “The White House is putting the Europeans on notice, saying that if they try to do an end-run around U.S. sanctions on Iran, they will be subject to stiff fines and penalties. Unfazed, the European Union is marching forward with the plan, which, if implemented, could further strain trans-Atlantic relations. A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said preparations for the alternative system were “at an advanced stage.” [AP]
ON THE GROUND — Israel Demands for U.S. Base Are a Hitch in Trump’s Syria Plans — by Margaret Talev, Udi Segal and Ilya Arkhipov: “U.S. troops in one small outpost in the south of Syria, the U.S base at Al-Tanf, may be preparing for a longer stay… Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been doing his best, and he has the president’s ear, according to one senior U.S. diplomat… Netanyahu has repeatedly urged the U.S. to keep troops at Al-Tanf… Even if they don’t do much, the mere presence of American troops will act as a deterrent to Iran, the Israelis say.” That argument holds sway with Iran hawks in the U.S. administration including National Security Adviser John Bolton, who’s been talking down a speedy U.S. withdrawal.” [Bloomberg]
Discovery of Hezbollah ‘attack tunnels’ rattles a northern Israeli town — by F. Brinley Bruton and Paul Goldman: “Only a few weeks ago [Haim] Hod’s trees grew on what is now beaten-down earth. On Dec. 4, the couple and the nation were told that an “attack tunnel” had been discovered in Israeli territory that led into Lebanon. The first of the six tunnels that were eventually found ran under farmland near Metula, which sits among apple, plum and peach orchards that ring with the chirrups of parakeets and the caw-caw of crows.” [NBCNews]
HEARD YESTERDAY — Gen. John R. Allen at the Institute for National Security Studies 12th international conference in Tel Aviv: “The [Middle East] region still remains extraordinarily important to us if for no other reason than the commitment of the United States to Israel, and that will, I think, always be at the heart of American policy in that regard. And while I think we can say that much of what President Trump has done in Syria was in fact a continuation, perhaps an invigoration, of the Obama commitment to Iraq and Syria in the wake of the Islamic state, the difficulty that we see there now in Syria is one I think which is going to create some very serious policy challenges for the United States in a very near future.”
“We have for example, with the most recent tweet made the decision to withdraw most of our special operators from Northeast Syria… We were in the process of building the stabilization of that population when we woke up one morning after a late-night phone call with President Erdogan and suddenly we’re finding ourselves evacuating Northeast Syria. That means that for all intents and purposes the skin that the United States had in the game in the Syria conflict has largely been abandoned, and that leaves not surprisingly the preponderance of the outcome of that conflict is going to be in the hands of Russia and Bashar al-Assad… So, the combination of the transition from Obama to Trump is not as different as you might imagine, but we’ve just given up a lot of our leverage, I think, in the region with this recent decision, and we’re going to see how it plays out.” [Video]
ON THE HILL — This afternoon, the Senate will once again vote to advance the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 — legislation that incorporates four bipartisan bills, including the reauthorization of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the U.S. and Israel in 2016, and a measure that would empower state and local governments to counter the BDS movement. Due to the government shutdown, Senate Democrats blocked the package three times from reaching the 60 vote threshold citing the timing of the vote. [CSPAN]
DRIVING THE CONVO — Members of the Knesset lauded comments made by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to Jewish Insider last week that “Israel should maintain control of the Golan Heights.” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who has been lobbying Congress on the issue for months, tweeted, “Thank you to my friend Leader Hoyer for his support for recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. We now have prominent support from both sides of the aisle. The Golan will forever remain a part of Israel and it’s time for the whole world to recognize reality.”
MK Michael Oren: “Thank you House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Democrats Eliot Engel and Josh Gottheimer for supporting permanent Israeli control over the Golan. Your position proves that Israeli sovereignty over the Heights is a strategic American interest and deserving of bipartisan support.”
SCENE SATURDAY NIGHT — Pence, Ivanka, Kushner no-show as Mattis gets standing ovation at elite DC dinner — by Eli Watkins: “Former Defense Secretary James Mattis received a standing ovation Saturday at the annual black-tie Alfalfa Club dinner after delivering a speech in which he honored the troops and talked about the importance of the US’ standing abroad… Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen as well as White House advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were all on the seating chart for the head table but didn’t show at the event.” [CNN]
MAKING THE MINYAN AT ALFALFA (according to attendees + the dinner program): Joe & Hadassah Lieberman, Steven Mnuchin, Jane Harman, David Rubenstein, Josh Bolten, David Solomon, Jerry Speyer, Lawrence Bacow, Steve Schwarzman, Henry Kissinger, Mike Bloomberg, Al Michaels, Maurice Levy, Mark Ein, Henry & Marie Josee Kravis, James & Elaine Wolfensohn, Ken Duberstein, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Ken Weinstein, Howard Friedman, Laura Lauder, Walter Isaacson, Eli Jacobs, Diane Feinstein, Stephen Friedman, Alan Greenspan, Gerald Parsky, Kenneth Jacobs, Abby Blunt, Richard Haass, John Hess, Wayne Berman.
ALSO SPOTTED (via Politico Playbook): Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jim Mattis, Dina Powell and Dave McCormick.
INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE — Jared Kushner, a Confident Negotiator, Finds Immigration Deal to Be Elusive — by Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman: “Jared Kushner… was confident in his ability as a good-faith negotiator who could find a compromise to end the government shutdown. His pitch to Democratic lawmakers was simple: He told them he was the person who could “land this plane.” Buoyed by his success in helping pass a criminal justice bill, Mr. Kushner… agreed to take the lead when the president asked him to find a way to end the monthlong stalemate… But negotiating a broad immigration deal that would satisfy a president committed to a border wall as well as Democrats who have cast it as immoral proved to be more like Mr. Kushner’s elusive goal of solving Middle East peace.”
“Mr. Kushner has told Mr. Trump that he should spend the next three weeks trying to achieve a broader immigration package. That challenge has eluded both parties for years, but Mr. Kushner has suggested to colleagues that it is worth trying for, according to West Wing aides. But for now, Mr. Kushner appears to have few allies… Mr. Kushner finds himself with little sway over Democrats… And conservatives are not convinced Mr. Kushner is the right person to negotiate a deal.” [NYTimes]
Ann Coulter tweeted on Friday: “Maybe the solution to the border crisis is not deporting 22 million illegals but one Jared Kushner.”
— Trump responded in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Sunday: “I hear she’s become very hostile. Maybe I didn’t return her phone call or something.”
ROAD TO THE NEW KNESSET — In comments to his associates over the weekend, Netanyahu reportedly said that it seems AG Avichai Mandelblit “can’t stand up to the pressure.” from the media and the Left… Netanyahu posted a video on his Facebook page Saturday evening calling it “absurd” that positive media coverage of him, and not of other political leaders, is considered bribery… Yair Lapid shared the video on his own Facebook page, criticizing Netanyahu of “breaking a new record of incitement” and “dragging the whole country into his battle of survival.”… In an interview on Saturday, Netanyahu’s coalition partner Naftali Bennett called Mandelblit ‘an honest man, decent, very professional’… He also aimed his fire at Benny Gantz.
Anshel Pfeffer profiles Benny Gantz, the first politician in a decade to seriously threaten Benjamin Netanyahu’s ‘Mr. Security’ image… Gantz is said to be close to a merger deal with former Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon… Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is reportedly prepared to join politics if Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz merge…
Daniel Gordis writes: “The April 9 election, it seems, is more about jockeying for position in the next election, when, common wisdom has it, Netanyahu will no longer be a candidate. This is an election about personalities, not issues, because there are no major policy matters about which Israelis are agitated.” [BloombergView]
2020 WATCH — Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz confirms interest in independent 2020 bid, as Democratic worries rise — by Michael Scherer: “I am seriously thinking of running for president,” Schultz, a self-described Democrat, said on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “I will run as a centrist independent outside the two-party system.” … Democrats fear a credible third-party candidacy could allow Trump to win states he otherwise would have lost… William Kristol, who has been encouraging a Republican primary challenge for Trump, said he made a strategic decision to avoid pushing a third-party bid. “One reason we are focused on the Republican primary fight is that it runs no risk of inadvertently reelecting Trump,” Kristol said. Asked on “60 Minutes” about these concerns, Schultz did not directly answer the question. “I want to see the American people win,” he said.” [WashPost; TheAtlantic]
Howard Wolfson tweets: “I have seen enough data over many years to know that anyone running for POTUS as an independent will split the anti-incumbent, anti-Trump vote. The stakes couldn’t be higher. We can not afford the risk of spoiler politics that result in Trump’s re-election.”
Flashback: Schultz wrote on August 6, 2015 ― “The speculation about my candidacy reminds me of a lesson from a great Jewish leader. A decade ago, I visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem with Nosson Tzvi Finkel, a widely respected rabbi in Israel. As we approached one of the holiest sites in Judaism, the rabbi halted about 10 yards away as a crowd of admirers gathered nearby. I beckoned him further. “I’ve never been closer than this,” the rabbi told me. Astounded, I asked why. “You go,” he said. “I’m not worthy.” [NYTimes] • A blanket of trust: The chairman of Starbucks learns about life from Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel [Aish]
Trump tweets this morning: “Howard Schultz doesn’t have the “guts” to run for President! Watched him on 60 Minutes last night and I agree with him that he is not the “smartest person.” Besides, America already has that! I only hope that Starbucks is still paying me their rent in Trump Tower!”
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) formally kicked off her presidential campaign in Oakland, California with a mix of unity and blunt talk about race… Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters on Thursday that a teachers strike in his city “stopped my thinking” about running for president, but now that it’s over, “Stay tuned.”… Mike Bloomberg told Democratic business leaders on Friday that Trump is “flunking” as president… Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) plans to announce his presidential bid imminently, according to a report by Yahoo News’ Hunter Walker… Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 strategy: Stand out by ‘nerding out.’
Hillary Clinton is still considering another presidential run… NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio insists he could still launch a 2020 bid… Andy Spahn of Gonring, Spahn & Associates, a public affairs firm that represents Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, tells Variety that donors “are very much focused on winning” against Trump in conversations with potential candidates… and billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller tells the NYTimes that he would back a GOP primary challenger to Trump…
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Murray Kushner’s KRE snags $258M loan for phase II of massive Jersey City project [TheRealDeal] • Tinder CEO Elie Seidman Swipes Right on These Advisers [WSJ] • Randi Zuckerberg launches a new podcast where she tells woke fairy tales [Mashable] • WPP has sought repayment for expenses incurred by former CEO Martin Sorrell [WSJ] • SLU announces partnership with Medial EarlySign, an Israeli tech company [Bizjournals] • Elite Law Firm’s All-White Partner Class Stirs Debate on Diversity [NYTimes] • Divorce attorney Laura Wasser and Kara Swisher on Recode Decode podcast [Recode] • Saudi Crown Prince’s New Gambit: $425 Billion for Infrastructure [Bloomberg] • Israel’s Arison sells Miya water firm to Bridgepoint for $260 million [Reuters]
Roman Abramovich’s private Boeing 767 landed today at Ben Gurion International Airport [Pic] h/t Avi Scharf
** A message from The Maimonides Scholars Program: Do you know a student interested in Jewish Thought, Zionism, and Philosophy? The Maimonides Scholars Program is a two-week summer institute for high school students hosted at Yale University. Our faculty members include Rabbi David Wolpe, novelist Dara Horn, historian Daniel Gordis, and former MK Einat Wilf. Students with all levels of familiarity with Jewish text study are encouraged to apply—the only prerequisite is a hunger to learn. Application deadline is February 3rd. [Visit The Maimonides Scholars Program] **
SPOTLIGHT — An Art Collector On a Mission to Share His Passion — by Brenda Cronin: “For more than three decades, Jordan Schnitzer, 67, has been assembling what he calls a “teaching collection” of prints, largely by American artists of the post-World War II period. Instead of hanging the works at home or keeping them in storage, Mr. Schnitzer established a foundation that lends to museums around the country, with a special focus on getting the works in front of young people. Many of his loans are to small institutions or ones affiliated with colleges and universities…In March, his collection will move to a new home in Portland, with offices, an exhibition area and space for 30,000 to 35,000 works—more than double the current size… “As much as I may moan and groan the day after an auction and say to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I spend?’” he says, “I’ve never regretted anything I’ve bought. Ever. I’ve only regretted the things I didn’t get.” [WSJ]
TALK OF DAVOS — Cannabis Comes to Davos, Sharing Spotlight With Global Elites — by Kristine Owram: “Over at the Canada Cannabis House Pavilion — a rented bar in Davos — Anthony Scaramucci interviewed former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak… If you had told someone at Davos two years ago that a former White House communications director would be interviewing a former Israeli prime minister about the benefits of medical marijuana, they might have thought you were smoking too much of the product.” [Bloomberg]
Gary Cohn jokingly offered Trump to the Brits in Davos — by Jonathan Swan: “On Wednesday night, top Goldman Sachs executives gathered business and political leaders for their big client dinner at the Central Sporthotel in Davos… Cohn turned to the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and made a tongue-in-cheek offer. “Chancellor,” Cohn said, “you’ve got your issues and we’ve got our issues. But we do have this guy in America who’s supposed to be the world’s best negotiator. In fact he wrote the book ‘The Art of the Deal.’ Maybe if we sent him over to you it could help you, and it could be helpful for us too.” [Axios]
SPORTS BLINK — Baseball documentary follows Team Israel as they go from underdogs to all-stars — by Jessica Buxbaum: “In 2017, Team Israel — made up of “has-beens and wannabes” — unexpectedly defeated giants Cuba, South Korea and the Netherlands to reach the quarterfinals in the World Baseball Classic. The documentary, Heading Home, follows the team’s incredible journey from misfits to all-stars. The film won five audience awards at festivals across the United States. Heading Home’s success spawned a sequel following ten Jewish-American athletes who became dual Israeli citizens to help Team Israel qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Matt Wasserlauf, the executive producer of Heading Home 2: Return of the Mensch, said the team’s success stems from their collective identity.” [Joe]
ACROSS THE SEA — Vandals smash Greek university’s memorial to Jewish cemetery: “A university in Greece’s second-largest city says unknown vandals smashed a campus monument that marks the site of a former Jewish cemetery… The centuries-old cemetery was razed during the German Nazi occupation, and the university was built on its site… The vandalism on the campus in northern Greece occurred with the annual observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.” [AP] • Angela Merkel urges world to fight anti-Semitism [NYPost]
HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE — On the Way to Auschwitz, I Found ‘Heil Hitler’ Signs For Sale — by Alexandra Levine: “Once a bazaar and kosher slaughterhouse for Kazimierz, Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, Plac Nowy — or “New Square” — is today known for its open-air flea market and food stalls. So on a recent visit, I ordered zapiekanka (a traditional Polish sandwich) and perused the souvenir stands as I waited for the cheese to melt. There were, of course, shot glasses, figurines, mood rings and other standard tourist trinkets. And then there were the “Heil Hitler” signs… Nazi swag is not uncommon in Poland today, and it’s particularly easy to find in tourist hubs.” [NYTimes]
DESSERT — Makers of Sara Lee and Arnold say their breads will remain certified kosher — by Ben Sales: “In a reversal, the largest baking company in the United States will be keeping kosher certification on nearly all of its bread and rolls… after talks with the two kosher agencies that certified the bread, the Orthodox Union and Kof-K. “After hearing from our loyal kosher consumers and after productive meetings with our kosher certifiers, Bimbo Bakeries USA is pleased to announce that we will once again be offering kosher products under the Arnold, Sara Lee and Ball Park brands,” the company announced.” [JTA]
Save Our Starbucks: The regulars at an Upper West Side outpost of the coffee chain have launched a petition — by Lindsay Gellman: “Titled “Keep Our Very Special Starbucks Open,” the petition, which has garnered more than four hundred and fifty signatures, implores the company not to abandon a struggling store at the corner of Seventy-sixth Street and Columbus Avenue.” [NewYorker]
REMEMBERING — Frank Blaichman, 96, Dies; Led Jewish Fighters in World War II — by Neil Genzlinger: “Frank Blaichman, who as a teenager during World War II fled into the forests of eastern Poland to avoid a roundup of fellow Jews by occupying Germans and soon became a leader of a band of partisans trying to disrupt the Nazis from inside the country, died on Dec. 27 at his home in Manhattan… Mr. Blaichman, who settled in the United States after the war, was active in promoting the legacy of the partisans, hoping to counter the misperception that all Jews went passively to their fate and that none fought back against the Nazis… He was among the organizers of an effort to create a memorial to Jewish partisans and soldiers.” [NYTimes]
Meshulam Riklis, Israeli-American ‘corporate takeover artist,’ dies at 95 — by Eytan Halon: “Riklis, who passed away at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, was known for both pioneering the leveraged buyout and junk bond acquisitions of major companies, as well as for his role in securing a Golden Globe Award for his second wife Pia Zadora for her role in Butterfly, a film later slammed by critics. Born in Istanbul in December 1923 and raised in Tel Aviv, Riklis traveled to the United States in 1947 with his first wife Judith Stern. He studied mathematics at Ohio State University before working as a junior stock analyst at Minneapolis-based investment firm Piper Jaffray. Coined by some as a wheeling and dealing “corporate raider” and by others as a “corporate takeover artist” for his acquisitions based on borrowed finances, Riklis commenced building his business empire in the 1950s by purchasing sufficient stock to take control of and merge Rapid Electrotype Company and American Colortype Company into the Rapid-American Corp.” [JPost; Deadline]
BIRTHDAYS: Executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Robert Satloff turns 57… Former chair of the Political Science Department of the Hebrew University, now a Professor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Avraham Diskin turns 72… Founding Secretary at West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, previously Western Region Coordinator for B’nai B’rith (2005-2007), Lyndia Lowy turns 70… Long-time Baltimore area dentist now living in Jupiter, Florida, Joel L. Goldberg, DDS turns 74… Actress Barbi Benton (born Barbara Lynn Klein) turns 69… Graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 2009, Reba Carmel turns 66… Managing director and board member of the World Economic Forum, Donna Redel turns 66… Director at UCLA Center for Community Learning, Shalom David Staub turns 63… Angel investor and mentor for growing companies, Mark N. Schwartz turns 63…
Member of the New Jersey General Assembly since 2006, she is active in the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Jewish Federation of Greater Monmouth County, Amy H. Handlin turns 63… Founder and CEO of Boca Raton-based Lyons Capital LLC, sponsor of the annual Wall Street Conference for small-cap and micro-cap stocks, Jason Lyons turns 50… CEO since 2018 of the Jewish Federation of San Diego, Michael Jeser turns 43… Producer for CNN’s Jake Tapper, Ariel Bashi turns 37… Director at London-based Park Hill Group, a global alternative asset placement agent, he is also Chair of Tamid Group, connecting American college students with Israel’s economic landscape, Max Heller turns 28… Financial analyst for Goldman Sachs, Perry Blochturns 24…