Daily Kickoff: Israel’s Ambassador on why he won’t meet with J Street | Envoy on anti-Semitism revealed | Nadler, Maloney endorse Golan recognition
JI SCOOP — Elan Carr, a veteran and a former prosecutor in the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, has been appointed as the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, multiple sources confirmed to Jewish Insider on Monday. This position, established by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, has been vacant since January 20, 2017.[JewishInsider]
Flashback — Iraqi past trails former frat boy to Israel, LA and Saddam’s former palace — by Tracy Frydberg: “The son of an Iraqi-born Jewish mother and an Ashkenazi father, Carr would ultimately draw great personal meaning from his army service, integrating his heritage by regularly leading Shabbat services for fellow soldiers — and by lighting Hanukkah candles at Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace… Educated at a Jewish day school, the young Carr spoke exclusively in Hebrew with his mother, and traveled to Israel every year. But he credits Alpha Epsilon Pi, his Jewish fraternity at Berkeley, with truly shaping his Jewish identity.” [ToI]
Ira Forman, Carr’s predecessor in the Obama administration, tells us: “Many of us were calling on the administration to appoint someone. So I think we all should be heartened that the appointment has been made. I don’t know Carr, but I’ve read about him and he seems [to have] an impressive resume. I think the political skills will serve him well. You know, this is the art of the possible. You have to understand given the situation with anti-Semitism, given the administration’s own foreign policy and the situation at the State Department, what is possible and what’s doable. You have to make priorities. That’s something he and his staff will face right off the bat, and I think he has a strong background to make good decisions.”
Abe Foxman, Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, emails: “It is welcome news that the President is finally about to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. The appointment sends a clear message to our country and across the world that America considers anti-Semitism a serious matter. The fact that this position was legislated on several occasions adds to the deliberate efforts of Congress to make it happen in a bi-partisan manner. Hopefully, other countries who have not acted in a similar manner, will.”
HEARD LAST NIGHT — Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer discussed his tenure in Washington, including serving as Israel’s envoy at critical moments during the Obama and Trump administrations. The event, moderated by Bloomberg senior editor Ethan Bronner, was cohosted by The Jewish Week and Sutton Place Synagogue on the Upper East Side. [Pic; Pic]
HIGHLIGHTS – Dermer: “For me, the highlight of my time since I’ve been ambassador was certainly when the prime minister came and spoke to the American Congress (in March 2015) against the [Iranian] nuclear deal. That was a matter that was controversial in some quarters, maybe in this synagogue, but for me, it’s not controversial at all. It is the most fundamental moral duty of a prime minister of the State of Israel to speak up on a matter that he believes is a threat to the survival of his country… A prime minister who wouldn’t come to give that speech does not deserve to be a prime minister… It was my proudest moment as Ambassador that he went and he gave that speech. I think without that speech, we would not be where we are today. I have no doubt about it… Ultimately, you had President Trump get elected saying he was going to withdraw from the nuclear deal, and he did withdraw.”
Dermer on Trump exiting the Iran deal: “That has been, to my mind, the single most important decision that any U.S. president has made that affects the national security of the State of Israel. The only other decision that is close is a decision that Nixon made in 1973 to re-arm us… I’m sure people have big disagreements with President Trump on a lot of issues, but on this decision, President Trump took that decision against the wishes of his Secretary of State at the time, Secretary of Defense at the time, National Security Advisor at the time, and all the allies… That’s why I have a great deal of respect for the boldness of making this decision that is so critical for our security.”
Dermer on why he hasn’t met with J Street: “We in Israel are a free country. We have to make the decisions necessary for our future. The problem that you have here is not that they have positions. It is that they work to pressure to Israel to accept their decisions. That’s not Zionism. Zionism means respecting the will of the Israeli public even if you disagree with it… Two weeks after I arrived as an ambassador, there was the interim agreement with Iran. There wasn’t, if I recall correctly, any Zionist party in Israel that supported it. But here you had an organization that not only supported it but lobbied for it… To be pro-Israel, I think means, that on matters of life and death, when all of the Israeli public are united about something, that if you take an opposite view to that and you press to have that view imposed on Israel, I don’t think that’s a Zionist response.”
Bronner: It’s about Iran is what you’re telling me, not about the settlements or the Palestinians?
Dermer: “It’s not about Iran. It’s about crossing the line to pressuring Israel’s free people to accept the decision that you reject — to use that government to press them to make a decision. By the way, it could happen on the other side of the aisle. Israel’s government could make a decision for peace, to make a big concession, and then the question is: will there be an organization here in the United States that will go to an administration to lobby to force Israel to accept something that its free people do not want?”
Bronner: And if you’re still here, will you not meet with them?
Dermer: “I will not.”
ON THE HILL — The Senate voted 72-24 to end debate on Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019, known as S.1, clearing the way for its final passage later this week. The Senate also approved Mitch McConnell’s amendment to oppose the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), flanked by Jewish advocacy groups and several Holocaust survivors, announced the reintroduction of her Never Again Education Act at the Center for Jewish History in New York City on Monday. The bipartisan legislation will create a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Education to give teachers across the United States the resources and training necessary to teach children the lessons of the Holocaust and the consequences of hate and intolerance. Maloney was joined by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Israeli Consul General in New York Dani Dayan. [Pic; Pic]
Maloney discussed Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib’s recent comments on Israel in an interview with Jewish Insider‘s Jacob Kornbluh after the event: “Support for Israel is very strong in the Democratic Party. The Democrats have led most of the initiatives, historically, in support of Israel. I am not concerned about my colleagues. I feel that they will be supportive of a democracy and an ally, a country that has been so supportive of the same values and goals of America. I am concerned about the rising amount of anti-Semitism from the American public.”
Maloney added that she will “have a conversation” with Omar and Tlaib about this issue, “but, I think, that overall they are going to be supportive as strong members of the Democratic caucus. They have been very enthusiastic and supporting many of the initiatives we are putting forward. Some have used language that I have never used, but I believe in freedom of speech. I always give people the benefit of the doubt. I always believe in people.”
ON THE GOLAN — There’s growing congressional support for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as top Democrats, Reps. Nadler and Maloney, signalled their support. “The only thing the Golan has ever been used for by the Syrians is to bombard Israel,” Nadler told JI following the press conference in New York City. “They can’t have that again. It’s unsafe,” added the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Maloney told JI that she too supports recognition “if our leadership supports it.” Adding, “I will be supporting it, but only if it goes through the [House Foreign Affairs Committee] and is supported by the committee.” [JewishInsider]
Israel is becoming a wedge issue for Democrats — by Mairav Zonszein and Alex Kane: “The right-wing, extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu and its apartheid-like policies are at the core of what is alienating Democrats and a growing number of Americans,” said Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota who authored a bill during the last session of Congress to prevent U.S. military aid to Israel from subsidizing the abuse of Palestinian children. “What has changed is that there are now members of Congress who are not willing to ignore the Israeli government’s destructive actions because they are afraid of losing an election.” [Vice]
Dems hope to draw blood from potential Trump SCOTUS pick — Andrew Restuccia, Gabby Orr and Anita Kumar: “Growing buzz on the right about Neomi Rao, a legal scholar and Trump administration regulatory official, has raised the stakes of her Tuesday confirmation hearing to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans expect Democrats to contest Rao’s nomination with particular energy given what White House allies call the prospect that the 45-year-old former law professor could be on deck for a Supreme Court seat… White House aides and outside conservatives close to the president have been quietly helping Rao prepare for her confirmation hearing for weeks.” [Politico]
— Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor who barely missed the Tree of life synagogue massacre last October, will attend the State of the Union as a guest of President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. Samet is celebrating his 81st birthday today. Officer Timothy Matson, a member of the SWAT team who was injured during a shootout at the scene, will also be recognized by the president.”
TALK OF THE REGION — Iraqi Politicians Denounce Trump Plan to Use Iraqi Base to Monitor Iran — by Isabel Coles and Ghassan Adnan: “Iraq’s president and many other politicians in the country denounced President Trump’s plan for U.S. troops in Iraq to monitor neighboring Iran… Iraq’s President Barham Salih—who is considered friendly to the U. S.—said Baghdad’s permission hadn’t been sought for such a move… ‘It is of fundamental interest for Iraq to have good relations with Iran,’ Mr. Salih said, addressing the U.S. ‘Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues.'” [WSJ]
DEEP DIVE — The U.S. shipped weapons and secrets to the Saudis and Emiratis. Now, some are in the hands of fighters linked to al Qaeda and Iran — by Nima Elbagir, Salma Abdelaziz, Mohamed Abo El Gheit and Laura Smith-Spark: “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States… MRAPs… have been probed by Iranian intelligence, according to a member of a secret Houthi unit backed by Iran known as the Preventative Security Force. The unit oversees the transfer of military technology to and from Tehran. The member of the force… revealed that Iranian and Hezbollah advisers have already gotten their hands on the armored vehicles and other US military hardware.” [CNN]
TOP TALKER — Joe Lieberman says he sees no reason for Gov. Ralph Northam to resign — by John Wagner: “Former Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT), the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2000, offered a rare voice of support Monday for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) staying in office amid the controversy over a racist photo in his medical school yearbook. Lieberman… was asked during an appearance on CNN whether he thinks Northam should resign. ‘I don’t today,’ Lieberman said. ‘I think there’s a rush to judgment that is unfair to him… I think he deserves a chance to prove what really is his essence, not to rush him out of office, unfortunately for political reasons,’ Lieberman said.” [WashPost]
— Lieberman: “You know, I pray every day that God is merciful with me because I know how imperfect I am. And I always feel that I’ve got to show the same kind of mercy to other people in judgment until they’re actually proven guilty.” [Video]
ROAD TO THE KNESSET — A new poll shows Benny Gantz’s new party retaining 2nd place a week after televised kickoff, trailing the Likud by 8 seats, while Labor plummets to five seats – just one above the electoral threshold… Likud members are heading to the polls today to elect the ruling party’s slate of Knesset members… Netanyahu urged members of the party to vote for a strong Likud to ensure a victory on April 9… Trump reposted an image Netanyahu posted on Instagram of a massive campaign banner featuring Netanyahu shaking hands with Trump on the side of a building in Tel Aviv… Netanyahu thanked Trump for the gesture on Twitter.
2020 WATCH — Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told a Chicago crowd Monday night that he’ll take “three to four months” before deciding whether to run for president in 2020 as an independent. And he’ll “back out” if the numbers don’t work for him… As Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) tries to make inroads with Democrats in an increasingly polarized political environment, touting his longstanding friendship with conservative U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) also could be a liability…
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: How the ‘bond king’ Bill Gross lost his crown [FinancialTimes] • Slack Files for Public Offering, Joining Silicon Valley’s Stock Market Rush [NYTimes] • SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan won’t rule out a Peloton bike rival [CNN] • WeWork grows up (and out and everywhere) [FastCompany] • Ra
GULF TOUR — Jews, evangelicals reach out to Sunni Gulf Arab leaders — by Aya Batrawy: “Against the backdrop of the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula is an interfaith conference that includes prominent U.S. rabbis and Christian evangelicals, who are seeking stronger recognition of Israel through closer ties with Muslim figures and Arab leaders. These merged interests come as Arab leaders look to strengthen ties with the Trump administration through his evangelical base of supporters. It’s also happening as Gulf Arab states take their once-private outreach to Israel more publicly in the absence of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis.” [AP]
Inside Rimowa’s L.A.-Inspired Collaboration With Artist Alex Israel — by Williamvan Meter: “The artist Alex Israel’s cotton candy–colored luggage collection will be easy to find among the sea of anonymous black bags on the airport carousel. The limited-edition suitcases, which come in two styles and sell for around $2,800 each, are a collaboration with the German company Rimowa, and they are based on the artist’s Sky Backdrop paintings, a series of skyscapes airbrushed by a Hollywood studio crew that does backdrops for film… ‘It definitely comes from the sunset, from the sky, from looking up at the end of the day and taking a deep breath and appreciating that I get to live in this amazing city,’ says Israel, 36.” [WSJ]
REMEMBERING — Rela Mintz Geffen, 75, Jewish sociologist who used own life as catalyst for research — by Bonnie Cook: “Rela Mintz Geffen, 75, of Philadelphia, a noted sociologist who used the phases of her life as a catalyst for studying the life cycle of Jewish women and families in American society, died Sunday, Feb. 3, of heart failure at Pennsylvania Hospital. Dr. Geffen joined the faculty of Gratz College in the late 1970s and was a professor of sociology. For five years, she was Gratz’s dean of academic affairs, before leaving in 2000 to become president of Baltimore Hebrew University. She stayed there until 2007. Her major studies focused on Jewish women ‘on the way up, breaking the glass ceiling, in dual-career families, and as grandparents,’ said her son, Uri Monson, chief financial officer for the School District of Philadelphia.” [PhillyInquirer]
BIRTHDAYS: Chair of philanthropic planning and Immediate past Chair of the Board of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, she was recently the national campaign chair for JFNA, Linda A. Hurwitz… Director, screenwriter and producer of movies and television, Michael Kenneth Mann turns 76… Israeli engineer, inventor and entrepreneur, he holds 567 patents and is a founding partner of Rainbow Medical, Yossi Grossturns 72… Actor, singer, voice actor, puppeteer and comedian, best known as the voice of Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin franchise, Jonathan Freeman turns 69… Ellen Braun turns 61… Movie, television and stage actress, writer, producer and director, Jennifer Jason Leigh (family name was Morozoff) turns 57… General in the IDF, he served as the Commander of the Israeli Navy (2011-2016), Ram Rothberg turns 55… Founding rabbi of The New Shul in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village (1999-2010), author or editor of ten books, now the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley, Niles Elliot Goldstein turns 53… Member of the New York State Assembly representing the east side of Manhattan since 2018, Harvey David Epstein turns 52…
Canadian environmental activist, campaigner and writer, Tzeporah Bermanturns 50… Associate Director of the Jerusalem-based Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, Pesach Wolicki turns 49… Baltimore-area chiropractor since 2001, he is active in numerous community groups, Dr. Kenneth S. Friedman turns 46… President and COO of American Signature, the parent company of Value City Furniture, Jonathan Schottenstein turns 37… VP of Public Affairs at Teach For All in DC, after living in China for seven years (2006-2013), Sarabeth Berman turns 35… Former senior advisor to Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer (2013-2015) and spokesman and speechwriter for Israel’s Ministry of Defense (2011-2013), now a political and communications consultant, Joshua Hantman turns 34… Olympic sprinter, born in Los Angeles and now an Israeli citizen, specializing in the 400 meter dash, declared by the Israeli Olympic Committee as 2014’s Sportsman of the Year, Donald Sanford turns 32… Former features manager for amNY covering NYC’s eating and drinking scene, she will be starting a Master’s degree in Public Health at Columbia University in the Fall, Nicole Levy turns 29… Israeli golfer on the LPGA Tour, resident of Caesarea, competed for Israel in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Laetitia Beck turns 27…