Daily Kickoff: Benny Gantz speaks | Saban says Schultz guarantees a Trump win | Why portraying Israel as a victim to college kids has failed


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ROAD TO THE NEW KNESSET — On Tuesday, former IDF chief Benny Gantz launched his bid to replace PM Benjamin Netanyahu. In a live, televised speech, Gantz described himself as neither on the right nor the left politically. He also ripped into the prime minister, whom he claimed is sowing “division and incitement.” In a tweet after Gantz’s speech, Netanyahu pushed back: “To those who say he is neither right nor left—he’s left.” The speech was sharply criticized by Gantz’s rival parties on the center-right, but, nonetheless, the newcomer to politics has emerged as a credible alternative to Netanyahu, whom he thanked for “10 years of service as prime minister.” But now, he said, “it’s time to move on.”

HOW IT PLAYED — The silent Israeli general challenging Netanyahu in the election is silent no more — by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash: “Nicknamed ‘the prince,’ Gantz has been described by those who know him as a mild-mannered pragmatist… If Gantz forms a political alliance with other contenders ahead of the vote, he could pose a threat to the prime minister, especially given the legal woes.” [WashPost• Netanyahu’s Top Challenger Positions Himself as the Anti-Bibi [Bloomberg]

JI READERS REACT — Shalom Lipner, a veteran of 26 years in the prime minister’s office and currently a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Program, emails: “Gantz can expect to get a generous post-launch bounce in the polls, but will slide inevitably as all other contenders train their arrows on the no-longer-silent contestant for Israel’s leadership. In a campaign that has so far been mostly devoid of substance or ideology, and in a country that traditionally builds up and then cuts down its heroes, it now remains to be seen whether a cynical Israeli electorate is ready to embrace Gantz as the remedy to what ails its politics.”

IPF’s Michael Koplow: “Gantz has to overcome two obstacles in order to really challenge Bibi: first, come off looking like a viable prime minister from a purely image perspective, and second, reassure Israelis that he can be trusted on security issues. His speech accomplished both of those things as his first real introduction to the public as a political figure. Whether he can actually be a threat to Bibi is going to depend on a whole range of factors beyond his control and to what extent Likud and HaYamin Hehadash are successful at portraying him as a leftist, not to mention the pending indictments. But this was as strong as a start as he could have hoped for.”

ON THE HILL — A Growing Chorus of Republican Critics for Trump’s Foreign Policy — by Peter Baker: “The growing discontent among Republican national security hawks was most evident on Tuesday when Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky… effectively rebuked the president by introducing a measure denouncing “a precipitous withdrawal” of American troops from Syria and Afghanistan…  Mr. McConnell attached the amendment to a bill intended to extend aid to Israel and offer protections to state and local governments that refuse to do business with companies that boycott Israel. The Senate advanced the main bill on Tuesday on a 76-to-22 vote, with all the negative votes coming from Democrats.” [NYTimes

HEARD ON THE SENATE FLOOR — Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) spoke about his opposition to the anti-BDS measure during a debate on S.1: “The Trump administration under the guidance of the president’s designated Middle East senior advisor, Jared Kushner, his son-in-law; has embarked on an undisguised effort to crush the Palestinians by revoking all U.S. humanitarian assistance… The effort to crush the Palestinians to submit to a one-sided agreement that will never work. President Trump and Jared Kushner apparently think this is just another real estate deal where you turn off the water and electricity to force out your tenants. Instead, these actions will only add fuel to the boycott movement because many people will see no other vehicle for expressing their views.”

Van Hollen went on to say that the anti-BDS provision in the bill is an effort to suppress free speech, which will “only add momentum” to the BDS movement. “Some Senators tool this bill and used it as an attack on the constitutional rights of American citizens who may want to peacefully demonstrate their opposition to some of the Netanyahu government’s policies.” [CSPAN]

ATTN: JEWISH LEADERS — Benjamin Simon, a student at Stanford University, writes in the Wall Street Journal… “Israel Is Powerful. That Doesn’t Make it Wrong: Why do my peers op­pose Is­rael? Not be­cause col­lege stu­dents are anti-Sem­itic, but be­cause most hold one truth to be self-ev­i­dent: Pow­er­less­ness im­plies moral le­git­i­macy. The Is­raelis are pow­er­ful; the Pales­tini­ans are not. As such, the Is­raeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict is merely a strug­gle be­tween vic­tim and op­pres­sor, and no­body wants to sup­port the op­pres­sor.”

“Ac­cord­ingly, cam­pus pro-Is­rael groups of­ten try to por­tray Is­rael as a vic­tim, too — a vic­tim of in­ternational bias and un­pro­voked ag­gres­sion from its Arab neigh­bors. This strat­egy, how­ever, has failed. It will con­tinue to fail be­cause even though Is­rael may be un­der threat, it isn’t pow­er­less… But power doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally im­ply moral turpi­tude; and con­versely, pow­er­less­ness does not guar­an­tee good­ness. In other words, might does not make Is­rael right, but it cer­tainly does not make Is­rael wrong, ei­ther… Stu­dents can’t see that when they al­low the pop­u­lar moral­ity of power to ob­scure the truth.” [WSJ]

TOP TALKER — On North Korea and Iran, Intelligence Chiefs Contradict Trump — by David Sanger and Julian Barnes: “On one of Mr. Trump’s key assertions — that Iran had cheated on the spirit of the 2015 nuclear agreement even if it was temporarily following its terms — Dan Coats, the national intelligence director, said Tehran continued to comply with the deal even after the president announced in May that the United States would withdraw from it. ‘We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device,’ Mr. Coats said. He added, however, that Iranian officials have ‘publicly threatened to push the boundaries’ of the nuclear agreement if it did not see benefits that were promised.'”

“Senator Angus King, the Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, asked CIA Director [Gina] Haspel point-blank if Iran remained in compliance with the nuclear deal. She said it was, but added that Iranian leaders were considering steps that would ‘lessen their adherence’ to the agreement.”[NYTimesCNN]

— DNI Coats on Syria: “Iran continues to pursue permanent military bases and economic deals in Syria and probably wants to maintain a network of Shia foreign fighters there despite Israeli attacks on Iranian positions in Syria… We assess that Iran seeks to avoid a major armed conflict with Israel. However, Israeli strikes that result in Iranian casualties increase the likelihood of Iranian conventional retaliation against Israel.” [Newsweek]

Eli Lake writes… “What the Intelligence on Iran and North Korea Doesn’t Say: The assessment of the U.S. intelligence community today is that Iran continues to be an aggressor in the region, while it is more or less complying with the limits spelled out in the 2015 agreement… At the same time, the very same assessment notes that Iran’s work on a space launch vehicle ‘shortens the timeline’ for it to develop the long-range missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload. Like North Korea, Iran is still pursuing its insurance policy.” [Bloomberg]

STATE-SIDE — Florida Cabinet recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli capital, warns Airbnb over West Bank policy — by Samantha Gross: “The Florida Cabinet passed a symbolic resolution Tuesday, declaring that the state officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel… At the meeting, Nikki Fried, the first Jewish woman on Florida’s Cabinet, said the resolution was symbolic of a ‘lifelong devotion’ between the states. ‘As a member of the Jewish community, this resolution is near and dear to my heart,’ she said.”

“The Cabinet voted Tuesday to put Airbnb on a “scrutinized companies” list, giving the company a 90 day period to correct their policy in the West Bank. “States like Florida are stepping up and saying if we allow Israel to be singled out, it’s only going to snowball,” DeSantis said Tuesday.” [MiamiHerald]

PODCAST PLAYBACK — David Leonhardt, an Op-Ed columnist at the NYTimes, discussed his upbringing and his family background on The Axe Files podcast with David Axelrod: “[My grandfather] Rene Leonhardt owned a tiny little photography business in Times Square in New York, took photos of babies for diapers ads and things like that. Like a lot of people, I went through my family’s immigration records several years ago and on the ship’s manifest as he was arriving in New York escaping Nazi Germany, he’s listed as a journalist. I mean it was this incredible feeling of, ‘Oh my goodness he did the same thing I did.’ As I looked more into it, he was a photojournalist, but of course, when he came to this country he had to make money, and so I assume that’s why he started this commercial photography business.”

“As I thought more about it, it has just given me this sense of tremendous gratitude ― that he fled Nazi Germany… He essentially had to leave behind what he liked doing — being a journalist — and now I get to be a journalist working for a newspaper in the same square where he worked, Times Square.”

Axelrod: Was your grandmother also an immigrant?

Leonhardt: “No, I’m a mutt. My dad is a New York Jew. My mom is a Philadelphia WASP. Her parents, whom I was very close to, they lived long lives. They were the classic children of the depression in Philadelphia and then went on to have very prosperous lives as middle-class and upper-middle-class Americans who got to ride that great up escalator, and I grew up in New York.”

Leonhardt recalled attending a State Dinner for German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2011: “I had this same feeling of, ‘my goodness I’m going to meet the leader of Germany tonight at the White House and this is the country that sent my family fleeing to this country.'” [AxeFiles]

INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE — Inside Kushner’s immigration plans — by Alayna Treene and Jonathan Swan: “Jared Kushner ran a white board planning session last week at the White House with the Koch network and Hispanic leaders… to see if the administration can replicate the approach they took to pass criminal justice reform to overhaul America’s immigration system… Daniel Garza, president of the Koch network’s LIBRE Initiative and a supporter of Kushner’s approach, said Kushner used a quote he presumably gathered from his ongoing efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. ‘At one point during the meeting Jared quoted [former Israeli President] Shimon Peres and said something along the lines of ‘You don’t arrive at peace by meeting with just friends,’’ Garza said.” [Axios]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Steven Mnuchin Draws Claims of Conflict of Interest in Decision on Russian Oligarch — by Kenneth Vogel: “In a letter to Mr. Mnuchin, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee said Mr. Mnuchin’s connection to an entertainment business owned in part by the donor, Len Blavatnik, a business partner of Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska’s, represented a potential conflict of interest… Other Democrats are also considering taking steps to investigate Mr. Mnuchin’s connections to Mr. Blavatnik, including Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. Tony Sayegh, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs, said that Mr. Mnuchin had ‘no business relationship’ with Mr. Blavatnik and that any implication of a conflict of interest or ethical problem was ‘absurd.’”[NYTimes

2020 WATCH — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday that he would not run for president… Democratic megadonor Haim Saban said in a statement that a Schultz run “guarantees Trump a second term.”… Schultz reportedly undertook a months-long effort to prepare for the rollout of his independent bid, deploying more than six national polls and laying the groundwork for paid advertising that could debut in the next two months… Mike Bloomberg creates own lane in New Hampshire swing…

Tulsi Gabbard campaign in disarray — by Daniel Strauss and Alex Thompson: “For years, Gabbard has been regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party, and supporters hoped she could use a presidential bid to pressure party elites toward a non-interventionist foreign policy. But her early campaign stumbles and problems back home—where at times she’s had sky-high approval ratings—call into question whether the Hawaii lawmaker can compete on the national stage.” [Politico]

** Good Wednesday 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: Michael Milken’s Son Lance Leaves Black’s Apollo For Family Office Role [Bloomberg] • Disney, under the leadership of Bob Iger, has re-engineered its operating segments and reshuffled its management ranks to prepare for its streaming future [Variety• Quibi Taps Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Craig Kurland As Head Of Business Affairs [Deadline] • World Trade Center leases booming, famed developer Larry Silverstein says [FoxBusiness• Wynn Resorts Executives Ignored Sexual Misconduct Claims Against Steve Wynn [WSJ• Intel offered up to $6 billion for Israel’s Mellanox [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]  **

A cure for cancer? Israeli scientists say they think they found one — by Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman: “‘We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer,’ said Dan Aridor, of a new treatment being developed by his company, Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies Ltd. (AEBi), which was founded in 2000 in the ITEK incubator in the Weizmann Science Park… ‘Our cancer cure will be effective from day one, will last a duration of a few weeks and will have no or minimal side-effects at a much lower cost than most other treatments on the market,’ Aridor said.” [JPost]

PROFILE —The unstoppable envoy — by Benjamin Weinthal: “In the short time since Ric Grenell took up his post as ambassador, major German transnational companies including BMW, Karcher, BASF, SMS Group, Munich Re, IMS Deutschland, Siemens, Daimler, and Deutsche Telekom have announced they will slash their business relations with Iran… Grenell’s sharp-elbowed diplomacy has raised his stock. His name was floated as a candidate for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Trump’s chief of staff… When asked about his future, he said with a broad smile: “Finish building my house in Palm Springs and have a gin at 5 p.m.” [WashExaminer]

HOLLYWOOD — Director Jason Orley on How Pete Davidson Helped Shape His Character in Big Time Adolescence — by Nicole Sperling: “The Big Time Adolescence, a sweet and funny tale about Mo (Griffin Gluck), a high-schooler who stays pals with his older sister’s boyfriend, Zeke (Pete Davidson), after she dumps him, was beloved in Hollywood circles, landing on the Black List in 2014 and earning Orley a spot in a few writers’ rooms. The script was optioned twice, then fell apart twice, and Orley made peace with it remaining unproduced. But then Saturday Night Live’s Davidson came on board, a healthy dose of financing showed up, and suddenly Orley was directing his first feature, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday night… Orley made it clear that the similarities to his childhood end there. He never dealt drugs. He has no terrible tattoos. In fact, Orley’s version of the cool guy, the Midwestern Jew in tight jeans who introduced him to the Strokes, quickly became Davidson’s version in the film, the Staten Island guy with tattoos who turned Mo onto the Wu-Tang Clan.” [VanityFair]

‘The Invisibles’ Reveals How Some Jews Survived Nazi Germany By Hiding In Plain Sight — by Eleanor Beardsley: “Hanni Weissenberg, now Hanni Lévy, survived as a Jew in Nazi Germany. Today, the petite and lively 94-year-old lives in Paris. Earlier this month, she returned to Berlin, her home during the war years, to attend the screening of a film about her and other Jews who survived while hiding under the noses of the Nazis. The Invisibles, a German documentary-drama based on the accounts of four survivors, opened Friday in the U.S. In the film, Lévy is depicted first at age 17, sitting in her Berlin apartment in 1943, with the Gestapo pounding on the door. ‘That’s when I knew it was now or never,’ Lévy tells NPR… She managed to slip out of the apartment that day and escape.” [NPR]

TALK OF THE NATION — Hate crimes charged in Pittsburgh synagogue massacre case — by Mark Scolforo: “A man accused of opening fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October… was indicted Tuesday on additional counts that include allegations of hate crimes. A federal grand jury added 19 charges to the 44 counts previously levied against Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pennsylvania. Thirteen of the new counts are hate crime violations and the others accuse him of obstructing religious beliefs and discharging a firearm during crimes of violence.” [AP]

SPORTS BLINK — Randy Levine’s wife sent Yankees gear in appreciation of Israeli ‘Lone Soldiers’ — by Cindy Adams: “NYC, capital of the world, is spreading to the rest of the world. El Al just flew Yankee hats, bandanas and T-shirts, embroidered with the Israeli flag, 1,000 pounds worth, into Tel Aviv. This gift’s organizer and deliverer — in the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu and its generals and the Knesset — was New Yorker Mindy Levine, wife of team president Randy Levine. Question: Why? Answer: To thank the Lone Soldier.” [PageSix]

BIRTHDAYS: Theatrical producer and director, winner of 21 Tony Awards, more than other person, Harold Prince turns 91… Chairman of The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based development firm specializing in casinos, urban revitalization projects and entertainment districts, David S. Cordish turns 79… Teacher and national community leader, holder of a Ph.D. in modern Jewish history from New York University, Judith Friedman Rosen turns 67… Heather Graf turns 65… Native of El Paso, Texas, he is the CEO of the Jewish National Fund, Russell F. Robinson turns 63… Republican member of the California State Senate from Riverside County, he was first elected in 2014 and then re-elected in 2018, Jeff Stone turns 63… Philadelphia area psychologist, Dr. Rachel Ginzberg turns 61… Managing partner (elect) of lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, he will assume the role as of July 2019, Richard B. Benenson turns 51… Assistant Professor in the electrical engineering department at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Guy Gilboa turns 48… Publicist, manager and socialite, she runs an eponymous NYC PR and management firm, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Grubmanturns 48…

Elected in 2018 as council member at-large for Montgomery County, Maryland, he was previously a CNN producer (1999-2011), Evan M. Glass turns 42… Gisele Rogers turns 41… Senior director for Middle East affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Joshua M. Kram turns 40… Republican member of the US House of Representatives since 2015, his district is in eastern Long Island, NY, Lee Zeldin turns 39… White House correspondent for CBS Radio News, following a nine year (2006-2015) assignment as Congressional correspondent for ABC News Radio, Steven Portnoy turns 38… Israeli actor, director, writer and television presenter, he is known for starring in “Shtisel, Out in the Dark” and as the host of the popular reality TV show, “The Voice Israel,” Michael Aloni turns 35… Chief Executive Officer at Harvesting Media, Eli Langer turns 33… Senior reporter for Real Vision TV, she was a host, producer and writer for Salon and the lead political host for HuffPost Live, Alyona Minkovski turns 33… Senior consultant in the tech sector for Deloitte Israel, Max Delahanty turns 30… Professional ice hockey defenseman, he played on Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics and is currently playing with HC Dinamo Minsk in Belarus, Jonathon Blum turns 30… Associate at Blue Wolf Capital Partners, Jared Isenstein turns 27… Professional ice hockey forward, she played four seasons for the Northeastern U’s women’s ice hockey team and is currently playing for the Boston Blades in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Chelsey Goldberg turns 26… Alexa Smith

Correction: In yesterday’s Daily Kickoff we mistakenly identified Eugene Kontorovich’s professional affiliation. He is no longer a professor at Northwestern’s Pritzker school of Law, he’s now a professor at George Mason’s Scalia School of Law


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