Daily Kickoff

Jewish Insider Kickoff

DRIVING THE DAY – Talks Begin on Mideast, to Doubt on All Sides: “For all of the intricacies of issues like the shape of future borders, security arrangements and the status of Jerusalem, the Middle East peace talks that resumed Monday night are dominated by two simple questions: If it took Secretary of State John Kerry countless phone calls and six trips to the Middle East just to get Israeli and Palestinian officials to the negotiating table, how will it be possible to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement? And what will happen if his herculean negotiating efforts fall short?” [NYTimes]

The peace talks’ missing piece: “Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a dinner Monday to launch a new Obama administration drive for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, but one of the biggest players didn’t score an invite: Hamas. Leaving Hamas out of the peace talks calls into question how almost 40 percent of the Palestinian population living in a possible future Palestinian state will be represented — and underscores Israeli worries about whether a comprehensive deal could ever become reality.” [Politico]

Ben Birnbaum writes on The Keys to a Deal: “Compromises on refugees and other issues are seen as distasteful but palatable as part of a deal that ends the occupation and creates a viable Palestinian state.” [New Republic]


Members look to move US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem: “Members of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus have introduced legislation that would move the U.S. embassy now in Tel Aviv to the city that Israel claims as its capital — Jerusalem. The bill, H.R.. 2846, is the latest attempt to put pressure on the Obama administration to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a step the administration and past administrations have been unwilling to take. Jerusalem has been claimed by Israel since 1950, but Palestinians have also claimed the city as their capital. The bill is sponsored by three of the four co-chairmen of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus — Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).” [The Hill]

US groups back congressional letter opposing Palestinian prisoner release: “Two pro-Israel groups are backing a proposed congressional letter that asks U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to intervene in Israel’s planned release of Palestinian prisoners, some who killed or injured Americans. “The Department of Justice should immediately intercede in this most recent prisoner release proposal and contact the government of Israel and request that they not release any terrorists who have killed or harmed Americans,” said the letter, initiated by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.). Salmon is circulating among his colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking signatures for the letter. The right-wing organizations the Endowment for Middle East Truth, or EMET, and the National Council of Young Israel said in a release on Monday that backed the letter.” [JTA]

Oz, Boteach and Sharansky discuss Jewish values in Jerusalem: “A full-capacity crowd gathered Monday evening at the capital’s newly launched Jerusalem Press Club to hear a panel discussion among luminaries Dr. Mehmet Oz, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky about Jewish values and their impact on society. Oz, known as “America’s Doctor,” and Boteach, who has been called “America’s Rabbi,” arrived in Israel together with their families on Sunday for a weeklong visit sponsored by business mogul and philanthropist Sheldon G. Adelson. During the panel discussion, moderated by The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief Steve Linde, the three men discussed subjects ranging from hope, healing, and hate to the controversial decision to release 104 Palestinian terrorists to restart peace talks.” [Jerusalem Post]

Must Read – Gary Bauer: Why I Support Israel – The following is adapted from a speech entitled Why I Support Israel that was given by well-known conservative leader Gary Bauer in Washington, DC at the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) convention. Bauer is the President of American Values, Chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, and an Executive Board Member of Christians United for Israel:

The people of Israel love what we love and honor what we honor. Israel is built on the rule of law. Their Declaration of Independence is modeled after ours. We are joined at the heart. The only memorial in the Middle East to honor 3,000 innocent Americans brutally murdered on the morning of 9/11 is in Israel. As crowds in the West Bank and Gaza rushed into the streets to celebrate the murderous attack of 9/11, Israelis mourned with us, lowered their flag as we lowered ours, and wept with us. If you want to pay your respects at a memorial to John F. Kennedy, you can do it right over the Potomac in Arlington National Cemetery or you can go to the JFK memorial outside of Jerusalem. You can go to Philadelphia and see the Liberty Bell, or you can visit, not one, but two, replicas of it in Israel. You can honor Martin Luther King Jr., on Martin Luther King Day in January here in the U.S., and you can honor him in Israel, the same day, because they observe it there, too.

Christians United for Israel, and men and women like you, are walking a trail blazed by great American heroes, who also supported Israel. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin wanted the symbol of our new republic to be Moses, leading the Jewish people to the Promised Land. The founders of our great country, to a man, were restorationists; they wanted Jews around the world to be restored to their historical land. Harry Truman told the U.S. State Department to go to Hell and recognized modern Israel 11 seconds after its re-creation as a modern nation. Ronald Reagan said we had no greater ally. Abraham Lincoln told his friends that he wanted to visit the home of the Jews after he left the presidency, but an assassin’s bullet ended his life before he could. Bobby Kennedy defended Israel and was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, Sirhan Sirhan.

From Israel came the patriarchs, including Abraham, who saw G-d in a burning furnace. And, Sarah who by faith conceived. Isaac, through whom came the Jewish nation. Israel gave us Moses who chose suffering with his own people rather than the riches of pharaoh’s house. Moses, who led his people across the Red Sea to the land promised to them by G-d. I choose Israel because I want to stand with Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel and the prophets who conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, survived the mouths of lions, felled giants, and put foreign armies to flight. I stand with Israel because they gave us their General Barak who defeated the Canaanite oppressors and united the tribes, and because of Gideon, who did not seek self-glorification, but rather the glorification of G-d. And I choose Israel because I remember the millions who perished in Hitler’s furnaces, whose skins were made into lamp shades, whose bones were crushed and blood was shed at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Krakow and 15,000 labor, death and concentration camps. And I stand with Israel because of the seven million Jews who live today in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Judea and Samaria, and are surrounded by millions of fanatics who lust for their blood and want a second holocaust. I support Israel because I don’t want murderous Islamists dancing on the Via Delarosa. I don’t want to see Jewish graves desecrated, the Western Wall defiled and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher turned into a garbage dump. Israel guarantees religious freedom, the Palestinian extremists do not.

Why do I support Israel? You may as well ask me why I choose good over evil. On one side of the divide is Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic jihad, al Qaeda and the Taliban; mothers who strap bombs on their innocent children and send them to kill the Jews. There is intolerance, injustice, sharia law, and crowds chanting death to America. There are holocaust deniers and Hitler wannabes, U.N. bureaucrats and E.U. appeasers. Their culture worships death, where women are treated like cattle and Yasser Arafat is a hero. On the other side is the only Jewish nation in the world, the apple of G-d’s eye, and one of the pillars of Judeo Christian civilization, our most reliable ally in the Middle East, a people who tell their children to love life, not death, the land where the patriarchs lived, a country that believes in freedom and tolerance, who have turned a desert into an oasis of progress and achievement. It may be a tough call for the U.N. and State Department bureaucrats, for Jimmy Carter and the religious left, the man in the oval office and the legions of the confused, but it is not a tough call for me – I choose Israel, yesterday, today and tomorrow.” [JP Updates]


The Unsettled Question by Elliot Abrams and Uri Sadot: “The facts are hard to come by, but it seems that, for opposite reasons, both the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s Yesha Council have exaggerated the numbers of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. So the question is does anyone have the slightest idea how many Jews are in the West Bank?” [Foreign Policy]

In Jewish Race, Groups That Are Often at Odds Join Forces to Oppose Spitzer’s Campaign: “Alarmed by Eliot Spitzer’s momentum in his unexpected bid to win citywide office, an unlikely coalition of business leaders, women’s groups and labor unions is vowing to finance an ambitious effort to thwart the former governor’s ambition. The interest groups, which often spar with one another over competing agendas and priorities, have found rare common cause in their antipathy toward Mr. Spitzer, who infuriated the business community with his aggressive posture toward Wall Street, who offended feminists by paying for sex with prostitutes and who alienated unions by taking on a labor-backed candidate.

Now, they are pledging to raise and spend at least $1.5 million on advertising, direct mail and field work in an effort to persuade voters that Mr. Spitzer would be a poor choice for comptroller, New York City’s chief financial officer. That money may be dwarfed by the amount Mr. Spitzer, whose family has a real estate fortune, could spend on his own, but is enough to alter the contours of the campaign, particularly because the groups are likely to be more negative than Mr. Spitzer’s Democratic primary opponent, Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president.” [NYTimes]

Haim Saban defends Anthony Weiner and encourages him to stay in the race: “Haim Saban, among a handful of Hollywood figures who’ve donated to Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign in between sex-photo scandals, still has faith that he’s the best candidate to lead the biggest city in America. “I would encourage him to stay in the race,” the billionaire entertainment mogul told TheWrap. Saban said: “What Anthony Weiner has — or hasn’t — done is an issue between him and his wife. He will make an excellent mayor, and New Yorkers would be out of their minds to allow his indiscretions to get in the way of making the right decision for their city. It’s none of my, yours and anyone else’s business. Because of that, I would encourage him to stay in the race.” [TheWrap]

Which is interesting because according to Politico “The feelings about Weiner in Clintonland are unequivocal, according to one someone close to the couple: “Everyone’s done with him.” Multiple sources familiar with the Clintons’ thinking said they would be delighted for him to disappear from public consumption. (The fact that Weiner, who began the campaign name-dropping Bill Clinton repeatedly, declared at a mayoral forum Monday night that he wasn’t overly concerned with the opinion of non-New York City residents like the Clintons probably didn’t help).” and Haim Saban is very much a ‘Clintonland’ insider.


Jifiti Israel raises $2.5M for shared gift registries: “Israeli startup Jifiti announced the closing of a seed round valued at $2.5M and the official launch of the new version of the company’s mobile app which takes the idea of shared gift registries and makes them a relevant tool for today’s shoppers. The money was not raised through funds or angel investors, but rather through a group of companies in the real estate and retail sectors. Among them are Simon Property Group – a U.S. property company which operates over 333 malls across North America and Asia and is considered to be the largest real estate company in the United States, Schottenstein Stores Corp – owner of brand names American Eagle and DSW, and Jesseison group. Before the investment, Jifiti shared a joint cooperation agreement with Simon Property to bring the Jifiti concept to Simon owned malls and usher them into the live gift arena. In the new updated version of the service, the company assures that a mere 24 seconds after the gift is purchased, the user who received the gift will be able to redeem it at any one of the various shops that work with the app.

Timing the investment to precede the major shopping season in the United States was not done accidentally. The new version of the app is available for iOS, Android and HTML5  platforms and encourages consumers to label items on their wishlist and share it with their family and friends through their social networks; Facebook, Twitter, email and even SMS. Users within their network will then have the option of purchasing items for their friends from their wishlists, contributing to the purchase price or buying the item outright in the form of a gift card which is subsequently forwarded over to the wishlist owner. For example, if a user is in an American Eagle store in New York and is interested in buying a blouse for their friend’s birthday who lives in California, the user can open up a purchase and send out a call to their network of mutual friends to come and contribute to the purchase. After raising the full cost of the blouse the application sends a gift card to the birthday friend in California who can then go to any online AE store, choose their favorite color and use their digital gift card to checkout.

Jifiti was founded in early 2012 by Yaakov Martin, Meir Dudai and Shaul Weisband. Among the company’s strategic partners can be found malls and retail giants like clothing outfitters American Eagle and Banana Republic, makeup brand name Sephora, and gaming chain GameStop. Jifiti’s has 12 employees working at their development center in Modi’in, Israel and at their sales and marketing offices in Ohio, U.S.” [GeekTime]

A Giftedd young prospect in the e-commerce space: “Giftedd is an Israeli startup founded in 2012 byMicha Bekuz, Shai Darin and Tal Zuri. An e-commerce facilitator, Giftedd develops gift card widgets for websites of businesses whose operational structure would normally preclude any sort of e-commerce element; think spas, extreme sports, smalltime designers etc. To date, over 400 Israeli retail stores are featuring Giftedd’s widget on their sites. An average of 3.3 gift cards are being sold per store, per month, and as far as the Israel theater goes in general, the company is already turning a profit. Not bad for a fresh-out-of-the-gate performance review. Giftedd approaches small to midsize business operations who either deal in unshippable products or are too small to invest in their own custom gift promotion solution. Giftedd offers these businesses a white label gift card widget that the companies can rebrand as they see fit. Armed with their shiny new e-commerce option, these businesses can now turn to shoppers who are already browsing their sites and surprise them with the option of purchasing an experiential type product or service in gift card format at a promotional rate.” [Infoxicate]

Israel-Focused YL Ventures Announces a New $27.5M Fund: “San Francisco-based, Israel-focused VC firm YL Ventures has today announced a new $27.5 million fund for seed-stage investments in fields such as SaaS, cloud, big data, cyber security, DevOps, e-commerce infrastructure and mobile tech. The YLV II fund will be used for $1 million to $2 million lead investments, largely in Israeli startups. However, YL Ventures will also consider companies from other companies that fit the fund’s scope. The plan is to invest in eight companies within three years. YL Ventures’ existing portfolio includes Web analytics firm Clicktale (which recently raised $17 million in additional funding) and security company Seculert (which recently raised an extra $10 million). Today’s news coincides with the announcement that YL Ventures VC Ofer Schreiber has been promoted to Partner status.” [The Next Web]


Walmart to stock new kosher vodka and wines: “In an effort to reach beyond the traditional ethnic market, L’Chaim kosher vodka and wines will be distributed by Walmart Stores in the northeastern and southeastern states, it was announced in Miami today by Florida entrepreneur Ralph Mizraji, owner of the recently introduced brands. “By partnering up with a major retailer such as Walmart we’re escalating our marketing reach well beyond our traditional buyers to now include a much broader audience segment in the marketplace,” Mizraji explains. “This adds a whole new dimension to our distribution and sales of our ‘To Life’ vodka and wines. “However, of course we’ll still keep a focus on our kosher market buyers, especially with the upcoming Jewish high holidays.”

The new premium L’Chaim Vodka and sweet wines are rapidly gaining momentum and acceptance in the market and are now in hundreds of retail stores, popular restaurants, clubs and lounges. “Our feeling is that kosher brands add an essential component to the marketing mix in any store,” he relates. The kosher market is the US accounts for US $150-billion in sales annually.” [The Drinks Report]

Tisch Bets on Munis as Yields Rebound From ‘Ugly Contest’ Levels: “Loews Corp., the holding company run by New York’s Tisch family, is increasing bets on municipal bonds after the securities declined last quarter. Loews’s CNA Financial Corp. (CNA:US) insurance unit was holding munis that cost $10.1 billion as of June 30, according to data released today. That compares with $9.6 billion as of March 31. The insurer said it increased the allocation further this month. Loews Chief Executive Officer James Tisch is betting on bonds less than five months after saying that yields on fixed-income securities were so low that they were competing in an “ugly contest.” Since then, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke signaled that the central bank may begin to taper its stimulus efforts. That pushed yields higher, reducing the value of bonds that Loews and other investors have on their books.” [Bloomberg]

Beny Steinmetz: Israeli diamond dealer who likes to keep a low profile: “Beny Steinmetz, whose wealth is estimated at more than $4bn (£3bn), is the most secretive of Israeli tycoons. He has given few media interviews in his 36-year business career and rarely appears at public events. His official website acknowledges that he “seeks to maintain a low profile”. But among his associates are some of the world’s top lawyers, who have not been slow to fire off warnings of legal action against those looking into his business interests. Recently, however, there was an exception to Steinmetz’s characteristic media shyness. On 30 June, Israel’s biggest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, carried a long and sympathetic interview-cum-profile in which Steinmetz rebutted allegations of corruption in relation to his company BSGR’s Guinea mining deal. “There are no skeletons in the closet,” Steinmetz told Yedioth. “The company doesn’t pay anything to anyone, not one penny to politicians; we simply don’t do this kind of thing.”

But, according to one observer of BSGR, Steinmetz’s desire to stay out of the limelight stems from his engagement with “crony capitalism” – business deals sealed in the corridors of power in the capitals of developing countries. According to this observer, “No one knows what the other bits of the empire are up to. Only Beny knows what’s going across the whole business.” Steinmetz was born in 1956 in Netanya, Israel, the fourth child of Rubin Steinmetz, who had established a successful family diamond trading business. At the age of 21, after completing his military service, Beny left Israel for Antwerp to work for a leading diamond dealer. Later he joined forces with his brother, Daniel, to create Steinmetz Diamonds Group and subsequently the Beny Steinmetz Group. Steinmetz – who holds a French passport along with his Israeli citizenship – has described himself as an “international Israeli”. He spends part of the year at his home in Arsuf, an exclusive cliff-top community overlooking the Mediterranean, north of the coastal city of Herzliya, which contains some of the most expensive real estate in Israel. He also has a home in Geneva, and a yacht moored mainly in the south of France.

He and his wife, Agnes, met as teenagers and have four children. They run a philanthropic foundation, active in educational and welfare projects for youngsters. In his interview, Steinmetz said that his tax affairs were legitimate and stressed that he did not live permanently in Israel. He also said he had no official role in BSGR, but was an “adviser”. “I don’t make decisions in BSGR,” he said. His choice of paper for the interview was significant, say some. Yedioth is politically associated with Steinmetz’s friend, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was forced out of office amid a string of corruption charges. Olmert is believed to be Steinmetz’s closest political ally in Israel. In the interview, Steinmetz reflected briefly on his psyche, saying: “It’s hard for me to characterise myself. I think I’m balanced. Some people might say I’m cold-hearted.” He acknowledged “no interest” in media coverage. “It’s not because I’m shy or scared, it’s just not my style. I don’t need it. It angers me that a timed, planned and paid smearing campaign is run against me in the press. We will fight it and we have already won the lawsuit we filed in London.” He was referring to an out-of-court settlement last month in a case he brought against former British minister Mark Malloch-Brown and his PR company, FTI. Under the deal, Malloch-Brown paid €90,000 (£77,000) but admitted no liability. FTI insisted claims that it had colluded with George Soros, a leading critic of BSGR, while representing Steinmetz’s business, were baseless. His legal reflex appears to belie his rare on-the-record comments. “The truth is,” he told Yedioth, “that I don’t really care what everyone thinks.” [The Guardian]

Presenting: The Richest Diamantaires in the World: “The list of the richest diamantaires in the world represents the entire diamond industry, from mine owners and diamond company owners to jewelry and watch company owners. The list is made up of people from all over the world, but Israelis feature prominently there. There are three Israelis on the list: Lev Leviev, Dan Gertler and Beny Steinmetz, ranked 7th, 3rd and 2nd, respectively, according to CNBC.” [Israeli Diamond]

SPORTS BLINK – Growing up as the ‘Jewish Jordan:’ “You know when everything happened with me I was only 16 years old. I think there was one week where I had 700 media requests. You can’t really understand what that means. I was just a kid that loved basketball and I loved being Jewish. I was just trying to be the best Jewish athlete that I could be. It was that simple. I loved my family. I loved my coach. I loved my team. I loved my school. That was it and I didn’t understand much more than that. But here I am 31 years old and I go through the airport in some random city and the guy checking my bag says, “You’re the Jewish Jordan.” That affects the rest of your life and it happens so quickly.

The thing about me was that I was lucky because it wasn’t about me. It was something that was bigger than me. It allowed me to handle everything much better because it wasn’t about me personally. That allowed me to handle the ups and downs of my career much better. From what I understand with Jeremy Lin and definitely with Omri Casspi, who I’m close with and was the first Israeli player to play in the NBA, for them it’s also about something that’s bigger than themselves. If you have a lot of success, you say “This is not about me, it’s about something bigger than me.” If there are challenges you know how to get right back on track because it’s not about you, and that gives you extra motivation. I can’t quit now. There are a lot of things out there I need to accomplish so I can inspire other people. So that’s the mindset that allows them to handle these kinds of situations and I think that’s what Lin has done, and that’s what I see Omri doing almost on a daily basis. The advice I would give them, not that I need to give them any advice, is play for something bigger than yourself. That will help you reach your potential and help everyone else around you reach their potential as well.” [ESPN]

Thats all folks, have a great Tuesday! 

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