Daily Kickoff: A SOTU ‘Happy Birthday’ | anti-BDS legislation moves to the House, fate uncertain | Mark Zuckerberg’s McDonalds option


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SOTU — President Donald Trump defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria on Tuesday night, saying in his State of the Union address that “great nations do not fight endless wars.” Trump also singled out Iran as the “world’s leading state sponsor of terror” and vowed to confront the “regime that chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.”

REACTION — Aaron David Miller emails: “The key takeaway on the foreign policy side was the president’s high profile commitment in a SOTU to getting America out of endless wars. His seeming praise for the Taliban and their commitment to negotiations and to peace with no similar nod to the Afghan government suggests a desire to head for an accelerated exit, comprehensive political accord or not. Ditto on Syria where he had tough words for Iran but committed himself cautiously to watching Tehran but not confronting. On Israel, he pushed all the standard buttons — Embassy in Jerusalem, combatting anti-Semitism, and tough words on Iran.”

Wash Institute’s Robert Satloff: “Like Clint Eastwood in Alcatraz, President Trump dug his escape from the Middle East last night. What was most important was what was not said: no sense of mission or purpose to our presence in the region; no rationale for why we are getting tough on Iran (they are just ‘bad, bad’); no Arab state mentioned except in context of how fast we can leave our ‘forever wars’; no reference to much-vaunted Arab-Israel peacemaking, and no reference to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or the Gulf rift, which occupies so much attention from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon to cable news. It is clear this president wants to escape from the Middle East — something our friends and allies will fear and our adversaries and enemies will cheer.”

Top U.S. Commander in Mideast Wasn’t Consulted on Syria Pullout — by Nancy Youssef: “The top U.S. military commander for the Middle East said President Trump didn’t discuss with him the withdrawal of all American troops from Syria before announcing the decision… Army Gen. Joseph Votel, head of the military’s Central Command, made his comments Tuesday while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee… Gen. Votel also said that, despite Mr. Trump assertion during a Sunday interview with CBS News that U.S. troops would be staying in Iraq in part to ‘watch Iran,’ military officials haven’t received new orders to change the U.S. military mission there.” [WSJ]

During the State of the Union, Trump acknowledged two Holocaust survivorsJoshua Kaufman and Judah Samet, who also survived the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed,” Trump said. “With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”

 In a rare moment, the House chamber broke out into a short rendition of “Happy Birthday” to honor Samet, who celebrated his 81st birthday. Samet gave a big smile and yelled “thank you” in response. [CSPAN]

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted“Good to see POTUS speak out clearly against anti-Semitism, remembering its victims and honoring survivors from the Holocaust to Pittsburgh.”

The Atlantic’s Emma Green“Anti-Semitism is getting huge air time in this address, along survivors of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. This is a significant play for Trump, who has been accused of enabling anti-Semitism.”

HEARD YESTERDAY — During an appearance at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was asked by Winnie Stachelberg, CAP’s Executive Vice President for External Affairs, what she has learned in the past few weeks about equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Measuring her words carefully and appearing to avoid mentioning the words “Jews” or “Israel,” Rep. Omar replied, “I think we are at a breaking point where we’re starting to have a conversation about what it means to be of people that harbor hate and the kind of journey we could all be on in fighting against discrimination, collectively, while still having the freedom to debate foreign policy and not only think about how we engage our allies, but also how we criticize and hold them accountable.”
[JewishInsiderVideo]

— Omar also tweeted in response to an op-ed by Jonathan Tobin, urging Democrats to speak up against her: “My sister Rashida and I have been fighting against Anti-Semitism, any effort to deny that is a smear. We are pro-peace and realize without justice there is no peace! Our domestic policy values need to be aligned with our foreign policy values. No exceptions!”

WATCH — Omar walks away and ignores a question from CNN reporter Manu Raju on why she supports the BDS movement. [Video]

ON CNN’s THE LEAD — Former State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Democrats’ attitude toward Israel: “I have spent a lot of time in the region, and I have spent a lot of time on Democratic platforms. This is not new. This has been evolving over the course of time… Nobody is defending Hamas, nobody is defending terrorism. The question is, can you be sympathetic to the Palestinian people while also being defenders and funding Israel? The positions of Rashida Tlaib, they are not representative of all of the Democrats who want to have that conversation. They certainly are not, but there is an evolving view.”

— Symone Sanders: “There has been a lack of nuance in the conversation when you talk about Palestine to the point where you cannot be critical of the government of Israel’s actions without someone calling you antisemitic, which some would argue is crazy because we can be critical of the United States of America and understanding we’re criticizing the United States of America, not the people… I have been to Israel with the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL). I know Ambassador [Ron] Dermer personally. I have been to Jerusalem.” [Video]

David Leonhardt writes… “Jeremy Corbyn’s Bigotry Problem: Any American politician who wants to praise parts of the Corbyn agenda has a duty to reject his comfort with bigotry. Doing so shouldn’t be hard. She could simply say that she agrees with Corbyn on many issues but is disappointed by how he has handled anti-Semitism over the years. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reaction — in response to a supporter of hers on Twitter who pointed out “Corbyn’s long, documented history of anti-Semitism” — was too weak… It seems strange to have to make this point during a week when this country is rightly denouncing Ralph Northam’s history of bigotry.” [NYTimes]

ON THE HILL — The Senate overwhelmingly passed the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, known as S.1, on Tuesday, by a vote of 77-23. The legislation incorporates four bipartisan bills, including the reauthorization of the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding signed between the U.S. and Israel in 2016, and a measure that empowers state and local governments to counter the BDS movement. It also includes an amendment sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that urges Trump not to withdraw U.S troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

— “The future of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act is in doubt as Democrats who control the House are reluctant to take it up without changes. ‘This is an effort to politicize Israel, and we are not going to play ball with it,’ said a senior House Democratic aide.” [CNNWashPost]

The measure was opposed by all Democratic senators who’ve announced a run for president in 2020, including Sen. Cory Booker (D- NJ), who had expressed his support for the bipartisan Israel Anti-Boycott Act last November.

Booker defended his vote against S.1 in a statement to Jewish Insider“I have a strong and lengthy record of opposing efforts to boycott Israel, as evidenced by my cosponsorship of S. 720, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. However, this specific piece of legislation contains provisions that raise serious First Amendment concerns, and that’s why I voted against it. I drafted an amendment to help address these widely-held concerns, but there was no amendment process offered to allow for this bill to be improved. There are ways to combat BDS without compromising free speech, and this bill as it currently stands plainly misses the mark.” [JewishInsider]

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who placed a hold on the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 in November, joined the minority in opposing the bill.

— Sergio Gor, Sen. Paul’s communications director, emails: “Senator Paul strongly opposes any limitations on boycotts, even those he disagrees with. He doesn’t agree with boycotting Israel, but thinks it’s a very dangerous precedent for the government to start outlawing boycotts.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) writes… “The Truth About B.D.S. and the Lies About My Bill: Similar to federal statutes protecting state governments that choose to divest from companies engaged in business with Sudan and Iran, the bill clarifies that state anti-BDS laws meeting its criteria are not inconsistent with federal policy… Despite the growing influence of anti-Israel voices on the left, which accounts for a growing share of the Democratic political base, the Senate [passed] the Combating BDS Act in a bipartisan supermajority vote.”[NYTimes]

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Kushner expected to give update on Middle East peace plan at conference — by Barak Ravid: “White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is expected to share an update about the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan during a public session at the Warsaw Middle East conference next Thursday… Kushner is not expected to give details about the parameters of the plan, but he will most likely provide an update on its status and how the administration wants to reveal and launch it.” [Axios]

— As it readies peace plan, US says it sees no need to balance pro-Israel slant — by Raphael Ahren: “The White House is not interested in being considered an ‘honest broker’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… ‘The US is a strong ally of Israel. The administration, from the president on down, is not embarrassed to defend Israel where Israel needs to be defended, whether it’s on the Gaza border, on the Hezbollah tunnels, the Syrian border, wherever it is,’ [a] senior official told The Times of Israel.” [ToI]

West Bank settlers report surge in population growth: “Baruch Gordon, director of West Bank Jewish Population Stats, said the White House has created a much friendlier environment for the settlers, clearing the way for a surge in construction in the coming years. ‘It’s just simply opened up. There’s no longer this cloud looming over it,’ Gordon said.” [AP]

ON THE GROUND — Images show S-300 air defense batteries in Syria likely turning operational — by Judah Ari Gross: “An Israeli satellite imaging company on Tuesday said it had for the first time detected that a suspected Syrian S-300 air defense system appeared on track to become operational, signaling a possible threat to Israel’s air campaign against Iran in the country. However, the ImageSat International firm added that there remained significant questions about the anti-aircraft battery’s condition.”[ToI• Netanyahu to meet Putin in Moscow this month [ABCNews]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Trump nominee Neomi Rao grilled on past writings, expresses ‘regret’ about some — by Leigh Ann Caldwell: “Judicial nominee Neomi Rao defended herself Tuesday against tough questioning from members of both parties on the Senate Judiciary Committee and expressed “regret” for some of her past writings, which she said in retrospect make her “cringe.” Nominated by President Donald Trump to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Rao was grilled about her views on gender parity and sexual assault as expressed in articles she wrote in college.” [NBCNewsWashPost]

Democratic Donor Who Pivoted to Trump Draws Scrutiny in Inaugural Inquiry — by Kenneth Vogel, David Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman: “The biggest donation of his postelection flurry — $900,000 paid by Imaad Zuberi’s California firm, Avenue Ventures, to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee — is now being scrutinized by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York as part of what appears to be an escalating investigation into the inauguration and its financing… His spokesman, Steve Rabinowitz, said the money Mr. Zuberi donated to the inaugural fund was ‘all his money, his personal money, certainly not foreign money.’ … Mr. Rabinowitz said his client merely bumped into Mr. Flynn at Trump Tower, and asked to take a selfie… The subpoena asks for communications between the inaugural committee and Stripe… One of Stripe’s investors, Thrive Capital, is controlled by Josh Kushner, the younger brother of Jared Kushner.” [NYTimes] • Trump’s Inaugural Chairman Tom Barrack Looked to Cash In on Infrastructure [Bloomberg]

ROAD TO THE KNESSET — Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar were elected to the top four spots on the Likud Party slate in the ruling party’s primary on Tuesday. After Netanyahu and Trump exchanged political statements on social media, a senior White House official clarified that the “administration is not endorsing any candidate.”… Fake mustaches, Trump posters and Netanyahu interviewing himself: The bewildering world of Israeli election ads… In his first interview since entering politics, former IDF chief Benny Gantz said that he believes Israel should not be ruling over other people… In a statement, Likud accused Gantz of planning to form a “leftist government” with the help of Israeli Arab parties…

PROFILE — Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Woman Defies Rabbis and Runs Left — by David Halbfinger: “Michal Zernowitski… sees herself as embodying the generational yearnings of ultra-Orthodox voters who, unlike forebears who saw the land of Israel as holy but were uncertain about the state, want to feel more fully a part of the country in which they are citizens. “They’re trying to integrate into Israel and leave their ghettos,” she said. As an advocate for women, too, she has an added motivation to break out of the confines of the Haredi world… Actually getting elected, however, would require something approaching a miracle: Ms. Zernowitski’s chosen party, Labor, is in a shambles… The primaries will therefore be a blood bath; any newcomer would be lucky to earn a winnable spot on the party’s ranked list.” [NYTimes

2020 WATCH — At a traditional pre-SOTU lunch for TV hosts on Monday, Trump dismissed Howard Schultz’s independent candidacy. “He doesn’t have a shot,” Mr. Trump said. “Not a shot.”… A top progressive firm, SKDKnickerbocker, tells Dems to leave Starbucks alone in their fight against Schultz… Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is heading to Iowa this month, as she prepares to announce a presidential bid on Sunday…  Klobuchar was the only Democratic candidate who voted in favor of the Senate anti-BDS bill on Tuesday…

** 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: Stephen Schwarzman’s Blackstone goes to war with Italian media tycoon [FinancialTimes] • Following several months of upheaval, Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures is doubling down on its distribution partnership with MGM [HollywoodReporter• Trump administration just threatened Jersey’s $350M online gambling industry. The state is fighting back [NJAdvance• Ruby Schron Finds $690M Financing for Troubled National Portfolio [CommercialObserver

TRANSITION — Laurie Segall Readies Deep Dive on Facebook for CNN — by Brian Steinberg: “Laurie Segall has nabbed sit-downs with tech moguls like Apple’s Tim Cook and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff at a time when such stuff would be the province of CNBC or a few business-news outlets… Now Segall’s tech-news acumen will get a TV spotlight when CNN runs a special documentary report, “Facebook at 15: It’s Complicated,” which is scheduled to air Sunday February 10 at 9 p.m. eastern. The program features never-before-seen interviews with top Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg… The documentary’s debut presents something of a bittersweet moment for Segall, whose last day at CNN after working there for a decade. was Friday.” [Variety]

— Randi Zuckerberg: Dad gave Mark the option to open a McDonald’s franchise — by Kaya Yurieff: “‘My dad, funny enough, right before each of us went to college offered us the options of going to college or like investing in a franchise and running it,’ Randi Zuckerberg said in a recent interview with CNN Business’ Laurie Segall… While she said her parents had mixed feelings about Mark Zuckerberg dropping out of college, they supported all their children’s decisions. ‘I think they were like ‘Okay, you probably should have taken the McDonald’s franchise money if you wanted a business. But, okay, this might be a second good choice,” Randi Zuckerberg said.” [CNNBusiness]

EUROVISION 2019 — Crowd favorite Shalva Band pulls out of Eurovision contention — by Amy Spiro: “The Shalva Band – a favorite among judges and viewers – already earned a spot in the finale of the show, which is set to air on February 12. But the group – which includes several religiously observant members – decided to quit the show after it realized it could not perform at the Eurovision without violating the Shabbat…  Several Israeli officials – including Culture Minister Miri Regev – appealed to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to bend its rules. The EBU refused to commit to changing its tight schedule to accommodate the group.” [JPost]

First wave of new Ethiopian immigrants arrives in Israel — by Isabel Debre: “Nearly 100 Ethiopian Jews landed in Israel on Monday in the first wave of new immigration since the government said last year that it would let some of the 8,000 remaining community members join relatives in Israel… Although many of the newcomers are practicing Jews, Israel doesn’t consider them Jewish because their Jewish ancestors underwent forced conversion to Christianity over a century ago.” [AP]

TALK OF THE TOWN — A Utah Orthodox rabbi said his childhood nanny sexually abused him for 10 years. Here’s why he decided to tell his story for the first time — by Gillian Friedman: “Rabbi Avremi Zippel said he was inspired to come forward by the #MeToo movement, in particular by Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman… But he is also making history: Rabbi Zippel may be the first Orthodox Jewish rabbi to come out during the #MeToo movement as a survivor of sexual abuse — a topic he said is rarely discussed in the observant Jewish community… He hopes that by coming forward, he can become an example not just to his own observant Jewish community, but to other survivors of sexual abuse suffering in silence.” [DeseretNews]

Chicago mayor condemns anti-Muslim emails written by Cubs family head — by Suzannah Gonzales: “Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday condemned the ‘ignorance and intolerance’ in emails written by Joe Ricketts, head of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, in which he expresses anti-Muslim sentiment.” [Reuters]

SPOTTED — at Michael Tomasky’s launch of his new book, If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How It Might Be Saved, at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC: Former Senator Al Franken [Pic]

REMEMBERING — Izzy Young, Who Presided Over the Folk Revival, Dies at 90 — by Margalit Fox: “Izzy Young, whose Greenwich Village shop, the Folklore Center, was the beating heart of the midcentury folk music revival — and who in 1961 presented the first New York concert by a young Bob Dylan — died on Monday at his home in Stockholm… Israel Goodman Young was born on March 26, 1928, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and reared in the Bronx. His parents, Philip and Pola, were Jewish immigrants from Poland… In the mid-1950s, after working for several years at Borough Park Shomer Shabbos, the bakery his father had established in Brooklyn, Mr. Young became a dealer in rare folk-music books.” [NYTimes]

BIRTHDAYS: Electrical engineer for RCA and then General Electric, instrumental in many inventions, he is the father of film director Steven Spielberg, Arnold Meyer Spielberg turns 102… Israeli pediatric endocrinologist, winner of the 2009 Israel Prize, in 1966 he described the type of dwarfism later called Laron syndrome in his name, Dr. Zvi Laron turns 92… Bill Levine turns 87… Member of the New Jersey Senate since 2005, she currently serves as Senate Majority Leader, Loretta Weinberg turns 84… Rosalyn Kaplan turns 82… Cantor of Congregation Hugat Haverim in Glendale, California, Harvey Lee Block turns 78… Syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, he has worked at the Post since 1968, Richard Martin Cohen turns 78… Louisiana Commissioner of Administration, after serving as Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana (2010-2016), Jay Dardenne turns 65… Author, journalist, activist and professor of journalism at Harvard and at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Michael Pollan turns 64… Los Angeles attorney specializing in criminal and civil appeals, author of an amicus brief for members of Congress in the Jerusalem passport case of Zivotofsky v. Secretary of State, Paul Kujawsky turns 62…

Long-time foreign correspondent for NPR in many capitals including Jerusalem, author of the NYT-bestseller “The Geography of Bliss,” Eric Weiner turns 56… Special events producer at Ballas Bloom Consulting, Jacquelyn Ballas Bloom turns 50… Television and film actress, writer and producer, best known for her role as Pepper in the FX series “American Horror Story,” Naomi Grossman turns 44… Rabbi-in-residence at Avodah, an organization dedicated to creating leaders for economic justice, Danya Ruttenberg turns 44… Israeli-French singer-songwriter whose hit single “New Soul” was used by Apple in a 2008 advertising campaign for its MacBook Air, Yael Naim turns 41… AIPAC’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Political Director, Stephen Knable turns 38… Investigative journalist, previously director of programming for The Jewish Channel (2006-2017), Steven I. Weiss turns 38… E-commerce associate at Riley Home, Yadin Koschitzky


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