Daily Kickoff: Top Dems form new pro-Israel group | Peter Orszag on Holocaust survivors’ longevity | The bumbling Israeli corporate spy caught in NYC


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ON THE HILL — Senate Dems split on pro-Israel package: The Senate voted 74-19 to advance the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (S.1) yesterday. Most Democratic Senators followed the lead of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in voting in favor of the motion to invoke cloture.

2020 hopefuls, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren(D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were among the 19 Democrats opposing the package, which included a measure that would empower local governments to counter the BDS movement. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) was the only possible presidential candidate who voted in favor. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who was in Iowa for a live town hall meeting to kick off her presidential bid, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) missed the vote.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who voted in favor, explained in a statement that while he “appreciates” the wide array of opinions on the anti-BDS measure, “I also recognize that, too often, Israel’s opponents use the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel. I oppose the BDS movement, and I believe it is critical that the United States support the economic stability and political independence of Israel.” [JewishInsider]

Schumer tells JI“I strongly oppose the BDS movement and I believe that states, like my home state of New York, should be able to pass legislation to combat it.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweets: “I don’t support BDS. I don’t support forcing public employees to sign loyalty pledges to anyone in order to do their job. I don’t support allowing Republicans to politicize support for Israel by pushing needlessly divisive bills. None of these are inconsistent with each other.”

HOW IT PLAYED — Senate Advances Pro-Israel Bill as G.O.P. Searches for Democratic Divisions — by Catie Edmondson: “The late inclusion was an opportunity for Republicans to draw out the new generation of insurgent liberal representatives who have been critical of Israel.”[NYTimes• “Debate on the measure will now begin and is likely to rekindle bipartisan concerns on Capitol Hill about Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria.” [CNN]

REACTION — Halie Soifer, Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), tells JI“The fact that this is the fourth vote on the same measure exposes it for what it is, which is an attempt to politicize these issues. There are some very real concerns with regards to how to legislate this larger issue of combating BDS. There’s a difference within the Democratic caucus on that matter. That doesn’t mean that any Democrat — literally zero Democrats support BDS, in the Senate. That doesn’t mean that there’s been any change or reduction in support of Israel in the Senate among Democrats. So, I would caution anyone from reading too much into this vote, and somehow interpreting this as a litmus test for Democratic support of Israel.”

Matt Brooks, Executive Director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), emails: “It’s a shonda! For the past several weeks, Democrats have professed that they opposed this critical pro-Israel/pro-Jewish community legislation on principle because of the shutdown. Now, with the shutdown over, many leading Dems again voted against it. At least the charade is now over, we know exactly where they stand — and it’s not with Israel.”

Amb. Dan Shapiro: “The bill advanced in the Senate codifies the $38 billion MOU for military aid to Israel signed during the Obama Administration, something that should be welcomed. As for its provisions aimed at combatting BDS, now the Senate has an opportunity to debate them and try to ensure that they reflect the broad consensus against boycotting, sanctioning, or divesting from Israel and that they pass constitutional muster and protect individual rights. With bipartisan goodwill, it is possible to pass such legislation.”

Eugene Kontorovich, Professor at George Mason Scalia School of Law:“I think the more impressive thing is how many Democrats voted for it. It shows that mainstream pro-Israel legislation still has a substantial and majority support amongst the Democratic Party. I think it’s important to point out that in today’s polarized Washington, this is actually about as bipartisan as a vote can be. At the same time, it also shows that there’s a split in the Democratic Party between the mainstream wing and the more radical progressive wing, or at least those who are scared and intimidated by the intensity of that progressive wing.”

TOP TALKER — Prominent Democrats Form Pro-Israel Group to Counter Skepticism on the Left — by Jonathan Martin: “The new group — the Democratic Majority for Israel — is planning to wage a campaign to remind elected officials about what they call the party’s shared values and interests with one of America’s strongest allies. “Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way,” said Mark Mellman, the group’s president and a longtime Democratic pollster… The group, whose board includes former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and a former Clinton administration housing secretary, Henry Cisneros, will create a political action committee later this year and may engage in Democratic primaries, Mr. Mellman said. They also are planning an “early states project” with the goal of organizing pro-Israel Democrats in the first nominating states to lobby the party’s presidential hopefuls.”

“Mr. Mellman will be joined at the group by co-chairs Ann Lewis, another veteran Democratic strategist, and Todd Richman, a J.P. Morgan executive and Democratic fund-raiser. They would not say how much they would spend in the 2020 election, but Mr. Mellman said the group has “substantial” financial backing and planned to “be around for years.” … Some Jewish Democrats have suggested that Mr. Mellman’s group represents a Democratic arm of AIPAC, though he said they are “separate and independent.” [NYTimesHaaretz]

— In 2016, Todd Richman wrote: “All the AIPAC bashing just isn’t fair.” [ToI]

— Ann Lewis emails: “I think the Republican maneuvering in the Senate in the last two weeks is another example why we have organized DMF. Anti-BDS legislation is important to Israel’s security and well-being, but congressional Republicans are trying to use it as a weapon. We will be stressing the need for anti-BDS legislation to Democratic lawmakers as a policy; and why we cannot let Republicans try to claim it for political ends.”

David Brooks writes… “Kindness Is a Skill: Your narrative will never win. In many intractable conflicts, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, each side wants the other to adopt its narrative and admit it was wrong the whole time. This will never happen. Get over it. Find a new narrative.” [NYTimes]

ON THE GOLAN — Congressional sources tell JI that the Senate is gearing up for a reintroduction of a resolution encouraging the United States to formally recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

The New Pro-Israel Law That Could Backfire on Israel — by Neri Zilber: “The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act… set to come into effect on Feb. 1, would force the Palestinians to forgo all American aid or else accept the jurisdiction of the U.S. court system in various terrorism-related civil suits… Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the bill’s primary sponsor, recently offered an amendment to soften the bill’s impact. But a congressional source familiar with the matter told Foreign Policy that the proposal was “dead” due to opposition from the State Department.” [ForeignPolicy]

House Democrats to challenge Trump again on Yemen — by Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan: “House Democrats are renewing their push to cut off U.S. involvement in Yemen’s bloody civil war… Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) told Politico on Monday that he planned to reintroduce a War Powers resolution in the coming days, and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), indicated that his panel would make the issue a top priority.” [Politico]

INFLUENCERS — Twitter diplomacy: How three former Trump rivals influence foreign policy — Alex Daugherty, Lesley Clark and Emma Dumain: “A scattershot foreign policy approach from the president has allowed [Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham] the three former rivals for the GOP presidential nomination to gain influence through White House dinners with Venezuelan opposition leaders and golf outings with the president. And Trump doesn’t appear to hold grudges with the trio, who have each publicly disagreed with the president by voting against his Cabinet nominees in the case of Paul, pushing for tougher Russia sanctions in the case of Rubio or, like Graham, calling Trump’s initial Syria announcement a “stain on the honor of the United States.” [MiamiHerald]

2020 WATCH — Michael Bloomberg Warns Howard Schultz an Independent Presidential Bid Would Help Trump — by Reid Epstein: “In the first instance of a billionaire-on-billionaire political skirmish in the 2020 presidential campaign, Michael Bloomberg warned… Howard Schultz that an independent bid for the White House would re-elect President Trump… “There is no way an independent can win,” Mr. Bloomberg said Monday.” [WSJ

— Schultz responded on Monday: “Mike Bloomberg has built a great business but I don’t agree with his conclusion.” • Schultz camp: Ex-Starbucks chief could save Democrats from far-left nominee [Politico

Wall Street Journal editorial“Mr. Bloomberg’s assumption is that an independent would divide the vote for change. But why couldn’t Mr. Schultz appeal to independents and Republicans who voted reluctantly for Mr. Trump but are put off by the constant chaos of his governing style?”

At Koch gathering, a turn away from partisan politics — by Michelle Ye Hee Lee: “At their biannual meeting at a luxury resort [in Indian Wells, California], officials with the network founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch emphasized new investments in anti-poverty initiatives and reentry programs for former convicts… The Koch network aims to rebrand itself as a group of bipartisan, philanthropic collaborators… as it seeks to distance itself from President Trump and the Republican Party… Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, noted, “It’s harder for a donor to make an impact in a social media world where a guy with a large Twitter following might have more sway than the guy with a large savings account.” [WashPost]

TALK OF THE REGION — Israel’s Netanyahu to eject foreign observers in flashpoint Hebron: “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he would eject a foreign force set up to help safeguard Palestinians in a flashpoint city in the occupied West Bank… “We will not allow the continued presence of an international force that acts against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement announcing that the Temporary International Presence in Hebron’s (TIPH) mandate would not be renewed.” [Reuters]

Why is no one guarding the Iron Dome batteries in central Israel? — by Nevo Ziv: “The news that Israel recently deployed Iron Dome batteries in the central Dan region, made the headlines of most national media outlets… The Yedioth Ahronoth team made the journey to the not-so-secret spot and stopped only some five meters away from the system where it could be admired in all its splendor, and where it was guarded only by a 2-meter-high fence that an average person could climb in a few seconds. The team stood at the spot for nearly 10 minutes, filming the system without anyone noticing it.” [Ynet]

Palestinian PM, government resign — by Ali Sawafta: “Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah has tendered his resignation and that of his unity government to President Mahmoud Abbas, he said on Tuesday.”[Reuters

AT THE UN — Envoy says no UN membership for Palestinians now — by Edith Lederer: “The Palestinian ambassador at the United Nations said Monday that the day will come when “obstacles” in the Security Council to full U.N. membership for Palestine will be removed “but that day is not today.” The main hurdle is the United States, a veto-wielding Security Council member which insists that the only way Palestine can gain full membership in the United Nations is after negotiating a peace deal with Israel.” [AP]

ROAD TO THE NEW KNESSET — Prime Minister Netanyahu said during a visit in Gush Etzion that if it was up to him, “There won’t be any more uprooting or halting settlements.”… Dema Taya, an Israeli-Arab Muslim woman, is vying for the non-Jewish spot in Likud primaries… Under pressure to stop election meddling, Facebook says it will require identification for political ads from starting in March… Yair Lapid says that as if elected as PM, he would demand from Hungarian PM Viktor Orban to apologize for ‘anti-Semitic campaign’ against George Soros… Tzipi Livni kicked off on Tuesday her party’s official campaign, saying Netanyahu has left the country “in a state of emergency.”

Happening today: Benny Gantz will kick off his bid for prime minister in a much-anticipated event held at the Tel Aviv Convention Center at 1PM EST (8PM Israeli time). According to a draft of the speech, leaked to Channel 12 news, Gantz will vow not to sit in a government whose head has been indicted. He will also say that Israel “is not a kingdom, and has no royal family, a king or a queen” and will promise to limit the prime ministership to two terms. [Livestream

** 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: Chemical Bank to acquire TCF in $3.6 billion deal that creates Midwest powerhouse; Gary Torgow will become executive chairman [CrainsDetroitNews• Mark Cuban in an interview for the Freakonomics Radio series “The Hidden Side of Sports” [Freakonomics• Inside HBO CEO Richard Plepler’s Plan to Win the Streaming Wars [VanityFair] • PG&E, the nation’s biggest utility company, files for bankruptcy after California wildfires [WashPost] • Intel to invest $11 billion on new Israeli chip plant [Reuters]

** 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]  **

Israel Is No. 1 Exporter of Academic Talent to the U.S., Data Shows — by Lior Dattel: “Relative to the size of national population, Israel has sent a larger proportion of academic researchers to the United States than any other country, U.S. State Department data show. The number of Israeli researchers working in the U.S. reached 1,725 in 2017, an increase of 5.6% from the year before.” [Haaretz]

SPOTLIGHT — Trump’s Freeze on China Exposes Israeli Tech Firms to Chill Wind— by  Gwen Ackerman and Ivan Levingston: “For [Igal] Rotem and the CEOs of Israeli companies like his, the risk is they end up on the wrong end of U.S. efforts to curb technology sales to China, especially innovation that might give Beijing an edge over Washington. “I’m concerned,” said Rotem, whose startup Credorax enables global payment service providers like China’s WeChat Pay to enter the lucrative European e-commerce market.”[Bloomberg]

Huawei and Top Executive Face Criminal Charges in the U.S. — by David E. Sanger, Katie Benner and Matthew Goldstein: “The Justice Department unveiled sweeping charges on Monday against the Chinese telecom firm Huawei and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, outlining a decade-long attempt by the company to steal trade secrets, obstruct a criminal investigation and evade economic sanctions on Iran.” [NYT]

DEEP DIVE — The Case of the Bumbling Spy: A Watchdog Group Gets Him on Camera — by Ronen Bergman and Scott Shane: “Over lunch at New York’s five-star Peninsula Hotel last week, the white-bearded visitor, who said his name was Michel Lambert, praised Mr. Scott-Railton’s work and pried for details about Citizen Lab. Then — “as I was finishing my crème brûlée,” Mr. Scott-Railton said — a reporter and photographer from The Associated Press… confronted the visitor, who bumped into chairs and circled the room while trying to flee. At least two other men nearby appeared to be operatives… “Michel Lambert” is a pseudonym and the Paris company he claimed to represent does not exist. The New York Times, in collaboration with Uvda, an investigative television show on Israel’s Channel 12, has confirmed that the mysterious visitor was Aharon Almog-Assoulin, a retired Israeli security official who until recently served on the town council in a suburb of Tel Aviv.” [NYTimesAP]

TALK OF OUR NATION — Holocaust Health Paradox: Survivors Lived Longer — by Peter Orszag: “The most comprehensive evidence on Holocaust survivors comes from a new analysis in the American Medical Association publication JAMA by a team of Israeli researchers. It compared Holocaust survivors born in Europe between 1911 and 1945 who later moved to Israel to people born in Palestine over the same period… The surprising part is that despite being in worse health, the Holocaust survivors lived 7.1 years longer — their average age at death was 85 years, compared to 78 among the control group. Those differences persist even after adjusting for socioeconomic status (Holocaust survivors tend to be poorer than their contemporaries), sex and other factors.” [Bloomberg]

Experts sound alarm on measles — by Eileen Drage O’Reilly: “After having practically eradicated measles from the U.S. almost two decades ago, a growing anti-vaccination movement has led to a resurgence of cases, currently focused in the Pacific Northwest and New York. Unless doctors and the public step up to counteract the vocal opposition to vaccines with evidence-based facts, there is a serious concern that infectious diseases like measles could return full-force, public health officials and scientists tell Axios.” [Axios]

Amid a Measles Outbreak, an Ultra-Orthodox Nurse Fights Vaccination Fears in Her Community — by Amanda Schaffer: “Blima Marcus is an oncology nurse and a member of the ultra-Orthodox community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where the incidence of measles has risen sharply since last fall.” [NewYorker]

TALK OF THE TOWN — They Created a Muslim Enclave in Upstate N.Y. Then Came the Online Conspiracies — by Rick Rojas: “Deep in the dense woods near the Catskill Mountains, a settlement was started decades ago by Muslim families, many of them African-Americans from New York City, who were seeking to distance themselves from neighborhoods they saw as dangerous and laden with corrosive influences…  But residents of Islamberg have found that there is no such thing as a safe haven in the internet age. Conspiracy theorists and anti-Muslim groups have sketched a false portrayal of the community as a hidden-away den of Islamic extremism. Last week, the police in Greece, N.Y., roughly 200 miles away, arrested four young people who are accused of amassing a stockpile of firearms and homemade bombs with plans to target the community.” [NYTimes]

DESSERT — SF’s Only Kosher Bakery Opens in the Richmond With Shakshuka Bowls and More — by Caleb Pershan: “SF’s only kosher bakery operation, Frena, has completed its expansion to the Richmond at 5549 Geary Boulevard. The new location sells the same assortment of sweet and savory baked goods that have been popular at 132 6th Street and beyond thanks to catering. Frena will continue to produce most of its challah, rugelach, and savory sambusak pita pockets at its SoMa facility, but will bake some items and toast others in a shiny new brick oven at the Geary Boulevard location.” [EasterSF]

BIRTHDAYS: Physician and an author of a New York Times best-selling book, he is a professor of medicine and engineering at USC, as well as a CBS News contributor, Dr. David Agus turns 54… Former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (2015-2019), Paul Ryan turns 49… Public speaker and author of the “Maggid” book series for ArtScroll, Rabbi Paysach Krohn turns 74… President of Libitzky Property Companies, he is on the board of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Moses S. Libitzky turns 72… Singer and songwriter, he is a two-time gold medal winner in the Maccabiah Games (1985 and 1989) in fast pitch softball, Steve March-Torméturns 66… Director of the Houston chapter of the American Jewish Committee, Randall Czarlinsky turns 65… Jerry Keller turns 60… Woodland Hills, California wealth manager, he was the executive director of Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (2012-2013), Larry Greenfield turns 57… Senior writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism, a.k.a. Jane the Writer, Jane E. Herman turns 56…

Actress known for her role as Amy MacDougall-Barone on the TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, she is married to the show’s creator, Philip Rosenthal, Monica Horan turns 56… VP of government relations and public policy operations at the American Hospital Association, Robyn Bash turns 47… Writer and occasional Bollywood film actor, he is known for his writing of the popular Jewish children’s comic book series “Mendy and the Golem,” Matt Brandstein turns 47… Founder and managing director of the NYC-based Tembo Group, she was also the part-time executive director of Blue Sphere Foundation (2015-2018), Denielle Sachs turns 42… Israeli actress, model and television host, Yael Bar Zohar turns 39… Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the US, she was the foreign policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, Laura Rosenberger turns 39… Consultant at the World Bank Group since 2017, he was previously the director of global relations at Hillel International in DC (2015-2016), Yasha Moz turns 34… Martha Baumgarten


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