Daily Kickoff: The Saudis and the Bezos leak | Report: State Dept misled Congress on PA textbooks | The woman preserving Egyptian Jewish culture
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Jared Kushner is expected to visitthe Middle East in late February to brief Arab countries on the economic portion of a long-awaited Trump peace plan and seek their support. Kushner will be joined by Jason Greenblatt, State Department envoy Brian Hook and Avi Berkowitz on the trip to Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. “The economic plan only works if the region supports it,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Kushner is not expected to visit Israel on this trip, but will likely meet Prime Minister Netanyahu next week during a Middle East conference in Warsaw. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday that the upcoming Warsaw conference is “an American conspiracy” aimed at convincing participant countries to adopt a more moderate view on “the Palestinian issue.”
TOP TALKER — Year Before Killing, Saudi Prince Told Aide He Would Use ‘a Bullet’ on Jamal Khashoggi — by Mark Mazzetti: “Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia told a top aide in a conversation in 2017 that he would use “a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi… The conversation, intercepted by American intelligence agencies, is the most detailed evidence to date that the crown prince considered killing Mr. Khashoggi… The National Security Agency and other American spy agencies are now sifting through years of the crown prince’s voice and text communications that the N.S.A. routinely intercepted and stored.”
“With Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives, lawmakers are hoping for a sustained push for answers about who was behind Mr. Khashoggi’s death. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is planning to introduce legislation calling for the director of national intelligence to produce a report to Congress identifying which Saudi officials helped plan the operation, according to two Democratic congressional aides.” [NYTimes]
Aaron David Miller emails: “As long as the Trump Administration continues to willfully deny that MBS probably ordered Khashoggi’s killing — which this new piece of intel strongly suggests — Saudi Arabia isn’t under pressure to take risks or deliver on what is likely to be a pro-Israeli peace process tough for Palestinians to swallow. MBS, like so many Arab leaders, does know that a road to a better image in Washington lies through Jerusalem. But whether anything — meeting Netanyahu or supporting a Trump peace plan — will change the image of the pariah prince is far from guaranteed.”
CFR’s Martin Indyk doubts the Saudis will seek to be more helpful on the peace process to make up for diminished public perception following the death of Khashoggi: “The Saudi position on the Trump peace plan will depend on whether it provides for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital. That is the requirement King Salman has established for Saudi support. MBS can’t change that. Trump has given him all the cover he can but nothing, including his stance on the Trump peace plan, will protect the crown prince from hard evidence of intent to murder which now appears to be emerging. He can’t change that either.”
Amb. Daniel Shapiro: “Like Lady MacBeth crying, ‘Out, damned spot!’, MBS is trying to rub the bloodstain from his hands. He may well view a meeting with Netanyahu and assistance to Trump in advancing his peace plan as the best available cleanser. But to be something he can use and maintain credibility at home and in the region, the plan has to contain the basic elements of a two-state solution. Those same elements are unacceptable to the key elements of Netanyahu’s base. There is no way to square this circle at present.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Did the Saudis play a role in the Bezos leak? — Rory Jones, Benoit Faucon and Keach Hagey report: “Amazon Inc. founder Jeff Bezos on Thursday pointed to additional efforts on the part of Saudi Arabia to polish its image in the Western media. In a blog post, Mr. Bezos alleged National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. had tried to blackmail him and potentially colluded with Saudi Arabia to damage his reputation. The National Enquirer last year published a front-page cover of Prince Mohammed and nearly 100 pages dedicated to his kingdom’s reform efforts. Saudi individuals also have held talks about a possible investment in AMI, The Wall Street Journal has reported. AMI and the Saudi government didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Bezos’ blog post.” [WSJ]
JI INTERVIEW — Nimrod Novik, a fellow at Israel Policy Forum and former advisor to Shimon Peres, discussed the expected rollout of Trump’s peace plan in April and how it might influence the formation of the next Israeli government in an interview with Jewish Insider‘s Jacob Kornbluh.
“There is a certain reason to expect that if the administration presents the plan by mid-April that they will provide the parties with enough time for a response so that the Israeli reply will be of the newly-formed government,” Novik explained the rationale behind the timing of a rollout reported to be right after the April 9th election.
Novik also suggested that Netanyahu has a hand in the timing of the rollout and the various delays, waiting for a possible opportunity to use the plan as a card to play in case he decides to centralize himself and regain legitimacy in the media, the same way Sharon saved himself with the Gaza disengagement plan. “Assuming Netanyahu is in a position to form a coalition, there’s no better shortcut to becoming king of the center than embracing an American peace plan,” he opined. “And in Israel, it will fly. You know, Trump is more popular in Israel than he is in the United States.”
“Nonetheless,” Novik noted, “when I look at the different scenarios, which government is likely to be formed — a right-wing government, a national unity government between Likud and the center-left, and a center-left government headed by Benny Gantz or Yair Lapid — I don’t see any that has what it takes for an ultimate deal. I don’t see the numbers and public support for the plan on year one. It will take time to build it. The first option of Netanyahu forming a coalition with his natural partners rules it out altogether.” Read the full interview here [JewishInsider]
FIRST LOOK — State Dept misled Congress on Palestinian textbooks, according to a government report: A newly declassified report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) blames the U.S. State Department for misleading Congress in recent years on the steps the Palestinian Authority was supposed to be taking to reduce incitement in PA-sanctioned textbooks. The push for the document’s declassification was led by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in the House.
The State Department “submitted required reports to Congress, but one contains inaccurate information, and reports do not include some information that could be useful for Congressional oversight,” the GAO report finds. “We found that State/Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) 2017 report inaccurately described certain UNRWA actions to address textbook content not aligned with UN values.”
A Congressional staffer familiar with the report told JI that “oversight committees are going to be looking for the specific people who have been lying to our bosses on behalf of anti-Israel activists at UNRWA.”
Jewish Insider also obtained a copy of the State Department’s reply to the GAO report where they acknowledged their shortcomings. “We agree with GAO’s recommendations that the Department must take additional steps to ensure that its reporting to Congress is accurate, with thorough and relevant information to support effective Congressional decision-making and oversight.”[JewishInsider]
TALK OF THE REGION — U.S. Military Sets April Target Date for Leaving Syria — by Dion Nissenbaum and Nancy Youssef: “Unless the Trump administration alters course, the military plans to pull a significant portion of its forces out by mid-March, with a full withdrawal coming by the end of April, they said. Still, the military planning comes as the State Department maintains that there is no timetable for a withdrawal.” [WSJ]
OPEC Pursues Formal Pact With Russia — by Benoit Faucon and Summer Said: “Iran and other producers have opposed a tighter partnership, fearing it could be dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia, according to officials in the cartel. Riyadh and Moscow are the world’s top two oil exporters… Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies are proposing a formal partnership with a 10-nation group led by Russia to try to manage the global oil market, according to OPEC officials, in an alliance that would transform the cartel.” [WSJ]
HEARD YESTERDAY — President Trump at the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast: “This week, I appointed a new Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, and with us Elan Carr. A very effective person. The courageous Holocaust survivors in the gallery on Tuesday night powerfully remind us of our solemn pledge: Never again.”
Carr addressed a dinner with top European and Jewish officials hosted by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Brussels yesterday. [Pic]
DEEP DIVE — Behind the Scenes of Trump’s $107 Million Inauguration — by Emily Jane Fox: “According to sources familiar with the conversations, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff told Melania and East Wing staffers that the name for her anti-bullying initiative, “Be Best,” sounded illiterate… They also disagreed about the infamous “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket that the First Lady wore to the U.S.-Mexico border… She worked in close proximity to the Trump family and inaugural chair Tom Barrack… And yet a year after the swearing-in ceremony, Wolkoff left the White House amid an uncomfortable public-relations crisis regarding the president’s inaugural committee… According to bank statements, checks, and internal documents that I’ve reviewed, the $26 million in payment to WIS was largely distributed to third-party vendors and labor… Around $1.6 million was used to compensate 15 contract workers who worked with Wolkoff as staffers. Wolkoff herself received $500,000 for her work on the inauguration.” [VanityFair]
ROAD TO THE KNESSET — Businesswoman and owner of the Hapoel Be’er Sheva soccer club, Alona Barkat joined Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s HaYamin HeHadash Party, earning the third spot on its Knesset list… Why Israelis have a soft spot for generals as politicians…Controversial MK Oren Hazan may run on the Otzma Yehudit list after not reaching a realistic spot on the Likud list in this week’s primary… Gideon Sa’ar is seen as the preferred candidate to lead the Likud party after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a poll released Thursday… Holding cards close to chest, Gantz doesn’t rule out settlement evacuations… Despite plunge in polls, Israel’s Labor not rushing to merge with Meretz.
Benjamin Netanyahu Finally Faces a Real Challenger in Benny Gantz — If the Opposition Can Unite Behind Him — by Bernard Avishai: “Gantz’s campaign slogan is ‘Israel Before Everything,’ which makes ‘Stronger Together’ seem almost meaningful. Actually, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 slogan would pack some punch in Israel today, given the fractured nature of the opposition. Each of the three major centrist figures — Gantz, Yair Lapid, and Avi Gabbay — has pressed the others to accept his leadership… Before campaigning begins in earnest, before indictments, the Global Israel camp is stirred. The problem is, the center parties are not one party—which raises the biggest known unknown.” [NewYorker]
RISING STAR — Sajid Javid defied the odds to become UK’s Home Secretary. Could he reach the top? — by George Parker and Helen Warrell: “Javid holds Britain’s archetypal establishment job; he oversees the country’s secrets and its borders. When Theresa May’s stricken premiership finally ends, the 49-year-old is viewed as one of the favorites to succeed her. He is a multimillionaire who took a steep pay cut from his job at Deutsche Bank to go into politics, yet the man hoping to walk through the door of Number 10 has a surprising confession to make. ‘It would probably sound strange sitting here as home secretary that you sometimes feel a little bit like an outsider, but I guess it is a bit like that still.’ Javid, who barely needs to open a door himself these days, spent most of his young life having them slammed in his face.”[FinancialTimes]
2020 WATCH — ‘You gotta clap for that’: Howard Schultz asked the audience to applaud him during a policy speech at Purdue University… Sherrod Brown could help his party win back white working-class voters — but he’s out of sync with the mercilessness of American politics, writes George Packer… Brown, kicking off a pre-campaign tour of key presidential voting states last week, made clear that if he gets into the race he intends to run as Joe Biden without the baggage… Bernie Sanders thinks he’s dramatically changed the conversation over the past three years, and he’s convinced he can win by taking on Trump directly… Stacey Abrams hasn’t ruled out a 2020 presidential run.
** Good Friday 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: Hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert gets court go-ahead for Sears rescue deal [FinancialTimes] • Scooter Braun Acquires Atlas Music Publishing, Home of Brandi Carlile [Billboard] • New York’s Grand Hyatt Hotel to Be Torn Down [WSJ] • Ehud Barak Has High Ambitions for the Cannabis Market [Calcalist]
STARTUP SPOTLIGHT — Who’s Killing The Soul Of Sneaker Culture? — by Casey Taylor: “StockX has experienced a meteoric rise since its 2015 founding, aided by funding from Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers… It began in CEO/founder Josh Luber’s mind as a data aggregator to help the consumer: Stop dealing with the volatility of individual sellers charging whatever they feel like for a given pair and get real-time data on how much the shoe is actually going for in the marketplace. The appeal for the consumer is undeniable—more than $2 million worth of gear is bought and sold on the site each day… If you create a new commodities marketplace, you’re going to attract people who are only interested in gains and losses. This causes a tectonic shift in the makeup of the consumer. No longer are lineups for individual releases comprised solely or mostly of people who love the product or have bought into the hype. Instead, you’ll have people have no knowledge of what they’re buying, save for the expected profits on their investment.” [DeadSpin] • Sneaker Reseller Goat Lands $100 Million Investment from Foot Locker [BusinessOfFashion]
TALK OF OUR NATION — Preserving the Traces of Egypt’s Lost Jews —by Lucette Lagnado: “Magda Haroun likes to say she will be the last Jew left in Egypt. She sees it as her mission to prepare for that day, which is why she is obsessed with preserving the remnants of Egyptian Jewish culture. Today, many younger Egyptians don’t know that, in the early 20th century, the country was home to some 80,000 Jews, who lived alongside Christians and Muslims in a flourishing multicultural society… Today, there are fewer than a dozen Jews living in Egypt, by some estimates—Ms. Haroun says only four, including herself, are left in Cairo, and another Jewish woman in her 90s died this week.”[WSJ]
TALK OF THE TOWN — Man robbed bank with bubble gun: authorities — by Yaron Steinbuch: “A Jordanian man living illegally in Israel was busted for holding up a bank with a soap bubble gun — and threatening to infect a clerk with AIDS, according to a report. The 24-year-old first entered the busy postal bank in the southern city of Beersheba on Jan. 20, when he passed a teller a handwritten note in grammatically challenged Hebrew… The bubblehead also attached a syringe filled with a red liquid to the see-through plastic gun as part of his ploy.” [NYPost]
TRANSITIONS — Peter Metzger, a former CIA intelligence officer and Pentagon office, has joined the National Security Council, where he will work on Levant issues, according to Politico Playbook. David Ehredt also recently started at the NSC as director for Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and the South Caucasus.
— Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) has joined Michael Best Strategies’ board of advisers.
Jack White Wins Eurovision. Kind Of — by Alex Marshall: “Jack White, the former frontman of the White Stripes, has won many things in his career, including Grammys and MTV Video Music Awards. But this week, he added another, somewhat grander, title to the list: Eurovision winner. Well, sort of. White, 43, was added to the list of composers of Netta Barzilai’s ‘Toy,’ an infectious pop anthem about female empowerment, accompanied by a chicken dance, that won the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest for Israel… In June, weeks after the contest in Lisbon, Universal Music Group wrote to Doron Medalie and Stav Beger, the writers credited for ‘Toy,’ asking them about the resemblance. An agreement has now been reached, according to Haaretz, and White was added to the song’s credits.” [NYTimes]
WINE OF THE WEEK — Château Léoville-Poyferré 2015 — by Yitz Applbaum: “My expectations are usually set when I experience a new vintage of a wine where I have already sampled many prior vintages of that same wine. So when a new vintage exceeds even the highest of those expectations, one’s head explodes with happiness. While drinking this particular wine with a friend, we were talking about the trending topic of personalized medicine. The whole time I couldn’t help but think that I would prefer to talk about personalized wine selections. As in, once you get to know someone’s palate intimately, you could match a wine to a palate, rather than just their current meal or mood.”
“All kosher wines from Château Léoville-Poyferré, starting in 1999, have been barn burners. Each vintage varies a bit in complexity, and all with distinct overtones of earthiness and dirt. The 2015 vintage took this wine to a new level. For such a young wine, there was great balance between the frontal inkiness and the rich finish of dark chocolate and marmalade. There was plenty of sweet fruitiness in the mid palate. This wine did not want to leave my mouth and clung to the grooves underneath my tongue. I did not have to take my next sip for 15 minutes. Drink this wine with your favorite food and if you are a vegetarian, try some of the new organic meat-look-a-like. This wine should last for decades.” [LeovillePoyferre]
WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Boston attorney and author, whose 2013 book on Jews and baseball was turned into the 2016 play “Swing, Schmendrick, Swing,” Larry Ruttman turns 88… Broadcast journalist, best known as the anchor of ABC’s Nightline from its inception in 1980 until his retirement in late 2005, five-time Emmy Award winner, Ted Koppel (born Edward James Martin Koppel) turns 79… Stand-up comedian, singer and actor (stage, television and film), Robert Klein turns 77… Columbus, Ohio born attorney and president of Schottenstein Legal Services, James M. Schottenstein turns 72… CEO of NYC-based Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation, Charles S. Cohen turns 67… Active private investor and business operator, Marc Lauren Abramowitz turns 66… Founder and President of NYC-based BlackRock, he is Chair of the Board of UJA-Federation of New York, Robert S. Kapito turns 62… Senior Director of Kehilla Affiliations and Operations for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Barry S. Mael turns 61… Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Hudson Institute, Sarah May Stern turns 60… British businessman and chairman of the Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur since 2001, Daniel Levy turns 57…
Member of the Knesset for the Jewish Home party between February 2013 and March 2015, and again from October 2015 to December 2018, Shulamit “Shuli” Mualem-Rafaeli turns 54… Attorney, rabbi and New Jersey political consultant, Benjamin G. Kelsen turns 47… Popular Israeli musician, singer and songwriter, Eviatar Banai turns 46… Managing director for corporate engagement at the Nature Conservancy, Heather R. Zichal turns 43… Member of the Knesset for the Zionist Union party, Itzik Shmuli turns 39… Founder of DC-based JTR Strategies, Jenny Thalheimer Rosenberg turns 39… Senior Counsel to the Inspector General at USAID, Adam Kaplan turns 37… USDOJ attorney, he is a graduate of Yale Law School and served as a law clerk to Justice Samuel Alito in 2012, his father is the Dean of Duke Law School, William Ranney Levi turns 35… Professional ice hockey center, has been under contract with five NHL teams including the Islanders, Lightning, Penguins, Maple Leafs and Predators, Trevor Smith turns 34… Canadian jazz-pop singer-songwriter, who performed at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Nicole “Nikki” Rachel Yanofskyturns 25… Sharon, Massachusetts native, he is a pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays organization drafted in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft, Jake Layton Fishman turns 24…
SATURDAY: Grammy Award winning songwriter of over 150 hits including “Somewhere Out There” from the movie “An American Tail,” in partnership with Cynthia Weil, his wife, Barry Mann (born Barry Imberman) turns 80… Singer-songwriter, she wrote 118 songs that made it to the Top 100 between 1955 and 1999 and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Carole King (born Carol Klein) turns 77… Economist and a professor at Columbia University, Nobel laureate in Economics in 2001, former SVP and chief economist of the World Bank (1997-2000), Joseph Stiglitz, turns 76… Two-time Tony Award and two-time Emmy Award winning actress, Judith Light, turns 70… Professor of history and modern Jewish studies at UCSD, Deborah Hertz turns 70… Israeli singer mostly in the Mizrahi music tradition, he has released over 30 albums, Shimi Tavori (born Shimshon Tawili) turns 66… Australian billionaire, philanthropist and owner of a series of mineral and energy companies, Georgina Hope “Gina” Rinehart turns 65… Former Governor of Virginia (2014-2018), chair of the DNC (2001-2005), Chair of two Clinton presidential campaigns (Bill’s in 1996, Hillary’s in 2008), Terry McAuliffe, a/k/a “the macker,” turns 62… Creator of the HBO series The Wire (2002-2008) and NBC’s series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993-99), winner of a 2010 MacArthur genius fellowship, David Simon turns 59…
Theoretical physics professor at Columbia University since 1996, author of multiple books written for the general public such as “Icarus at the Edge of Time,” Brian Greene turns 56… Play-by-play announcer for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and ESPN’s men’s college basketball, Dan Shulman turns 52… President of the US Education portfolio at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Julie Mikuta turns 50… Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the LA Times, now an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA, Abigail Helaine (“Abbe”) Goldman turns 49… Managing Director of Tiedemann Wealth Management, Jeffrey L. Zlot turns 48… Television and film actress, Margarita Levieva turns 39… Deputy Director of Congressional Relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Boris Zilberman turns 35… Chief development officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, Jason Pressberg turns 35… Principal at DC-based Blue Zone Partners (a private equity fund), he served as Carly Fiorina’s national political director during the 2016 presidential primary, Thomas Szold turns 34… Senior account manager at W2O Group, Carly Abenstein turns 25… Israeli-Arab who as a teenager in 2014 was forced to go into hiding after he publicly expressed support for the State of Israel, Muhammad Zoabi turns 22… Isaac Lieberman… Rafael Regla…
SUNDAY: Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company since 2005, previously president and COO of Capital Cities/ABC, Robert Allen “Bob” Iger turns 68… Founding figure of Post minimalism’s conceptual art, long-time resident of Manhattan’s West Village, Lawrence Weiner turns 77… Rabbi in Vienna, Austria (1983-1989), in Munich (1989-1997) and Berlin (1997-2015), Yitshak Ehrenberg turns 69… Swimmer, who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Mark Spitz turns 69… Philanthropist and environmentalist whose family dedicated the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, previously an executive at City National Bank of Florida, Jayne Abess turns 64… Host of CNBC’s “Mad Money” and a co-founder of TheStreet, Inc., James J. “Jim” Cramer turns 64… Ethiopian-born, member of Knesset for the Likud party since 2015, he is an activist for the Falash Mura community, Avraham Neguise turns 61… Journalist and syndicated newspaper columnist whose work has been published on the op-ed page of the Boston Globe since 1994, Jeff Jacoby turns 60…
Former NASA astronaut, famous for his mezuzah in the International Space Station, he was awarded a Ph.D. from Cal Tech in 1997, Garrett Reismanturns 51… Founder and principal of The Tool Shed Group, a full service strategic communications, PR, public affairs and fund raising firm, Jason Katz turns 50… Associate director of development at the Midwest regional office of the Anti-Defamation League, Matthew Feldman turns 48… Columbus-based executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, Howie Beigelman turns 45… Israeli pop star and part of the duo “TYP” also known as The Young Professionals, Ivri Lider turns 45… Co-founder and principal at Klein/Johnson Group, Israel “Izzy” Klein turns 42… Candidate for Vice President of the United States in the 2016 election as the running mate of Evan McMullin, entrepreneur and digital media strategist, Mindy Finn turns 38… Operations associate at Mixtiles in Israel, Avital Mannis turns 26… Director of marketing and communications at Greens Farms Academy, she was previously at Shriver Media, ABC News, CBS News and Politico, Michelle Levi Noe…