Daily Kickoff

Israel praises, Democrats criticize Trump admin’s reversal on Israeli settlements

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, April 2019

Good Tuesday morning!
The Trump administration’s reversal on Israeli settlements was met with praise from Israel’s leaders, welcomed by Jewish American groups closely aligned with the White House, condemned by progressive organizations, and criticized by the leading Democratic 2020 candidates. More below.  

In Israel, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz enters a final 34-hour race to form a government before Israel enters a free-for-all 21 days that could see the establishment of a unity government or end with a third round of elections. 

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, four rockets fired from Syria were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome. Analysts have speculated about a link between the rocket fire and reported explosions near the Damascus airport.

Tonight in New York, the Met Council is honoring Rabbi Haskel Lookstein with the Lifetime Chesed Award at its fall gala at Guastavino’s.

Closure: For fans of the Israeli ride-sharing app Juno, yesterday was its last day of service in the New York area.

👉 Received this from a friend? Subscribe to the Daily Kickoff.

DRIVING THE CONVO — Pompeo announces u-turn on U.S. approach to settlements

The Trump administration announced on Monday that it had softened the longstanding U.S. view of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, declaring that they do not violate international law. The statement marked a reversal of a Carter administration legal opinion that said settlements are “inconsistent with international law.”

Why it matters: The move may serve as a boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who campaigned earlier this year on Israel formally annexing parts of the West Bank, and is scrambling to form a government. Netanyahu welcomed the move as “historic” and expressed his appreciation in a phone call with the president. The announcement also serves as a political boost for Trump with his evangelical base. 

Timing is everything: There had been speculation that the Trump administration would release its much-anticipated peace plan after the September 17 elections to give Blue and White’s Benny Gantz political cover to join a unity government headed by Netanyahu, selling it to his center-left base as a unique opportunity to make progress on the peace process. Instead, the declaration seems destined to serve as a political football for Netanyahu to blast his rival for allegedly seeking to form a minority government with Arab lawmakers. 

In an email to JI, former Ambassador Dennis Ross questioned the timing “if there is any desire to present the Trump peace plan and gain even tacit support from Arabs,” calling it “mystifying.”

Coincidental: Pompeo denied that the announcement was tied to the Israeli political situation. “The timing of this was not tied to anything that had to do with domestic politics anywhere,” he said. “We conducted our review, and this was the appropriate time to bring it forward.”

Trump’s message to Gantz: Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Museum and an evangelical advisor to Trump, suggested in an interview with JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that the timing was intentional. “Guess what Donald Trump just gave Bibi? He just gave him something huge. He just sent a signal to Blue and White and all Israelis how he feels about Bibi Netanyahu,” Evans said. “And if they can’t take the hint, then they have lost their mind.” 

Green light: Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tells JI that while nothing has really changed since Carter, “this decision is seen as a green light to encourage settlement expansion,” and it “continues Trump’s steady effort to bury the two-state solution.”  

View from Ramallah: Palestinian officials expressed renewed outrage at the move, suggesting that it fits a pattern by the Trump administration to undermine the peace process. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was the latest of “unceasing attempts to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.’”

Peace plan or plan B? Khaled Elgindy, a nonresident fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, tells JI that this decision should come as no surprise. “The Trump admin has been working to normalize settlements and the Greater Israel agenda almost since day one,” he said. “Have they given up on their peace plan? This is their peace plan. The goal of consecrating permanent Israeli control over the occupied territories and the five million Palestinians who live there is in fact the plan.” 

On the Hill: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who recently cautioned Israel about abandoning the two-state solution, said in a statement that the announcement “will ultimately advance the cause of peace over time.” He also suggested that it was a “repudiation of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s ill-informed efforts to target Israeli presence in the West Bank.” 

Bipartisan balance: While certain American Jewish organizations praised and others criticized the move, AIPAC said on Twitter that it “does not take a position on settlements” since it’s an issue “for direct negotiations between the parties, not something determined by international bodies.”

ACROSS THE AISLE — 2020 hopefuls blast Trump on ‘political’ move

In a statement shared with JI’s Ben Jacobs, Joe Biden’s campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said that Trump’s decision “harms the cause of diplomacy, takes us further away from the hope of a two-state solution, and will only further inflame tensions in the region.”

No labels: According to the Democratic presidential hopeful’s campaign, the move is “not about peace or security. It is not about being pro-Israel. It is about undercutting Israel’s future in service of Trump’s personal politics.” Bates made clear that “Vice President Biden is and has always been a strong supporter of Israel.” However, he added, “Critical to that strong support is the understanding that the best way to ensure Israel’s future security as a Jewish and democratic state is for Israelis and Palestinians to work together toward a two-state solution… Expanding settlement activity makes that harder. It’s an obstacle to peace.” 

2020 echo: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) echoed the same sentiment, accusing Trump of playing politics with longstanding U.S. policy and undermining the peace process. Warren added that she would reverse the decision. 

What to expect: Shapiro suggested that the next Democratic administration will reverse this decision. “Hopefully, no Trump plan that reflects these views will be presented,” the former ambassador told JI. “If it is, a Democratic administration will not be bound by it.” 

Elsewhere in 2020 news: Several sources close to Mike Bloomberg told CBS2 that “a formal announcement” about joining the presidential race “could come in a matter of days.” 

Growing criticism: Buttigieg has come underfire this week for a 2017 photo his husband posted of him at the Berlin Holocaust memorial, with the caption “This guy.”

CAMPAIGN SPOTLIGHT — How Paul Egerman is helping Elizabeth Warren raise big checks

Politico’s Maggie Severns goes inside 2020 hopeful Elizabeth Warren’s efforts to fund her campaign, despite rejecting big-dollar events, special access for high-end donors and PAC money. The Massachusetts senator enjoys support from Boston businessman Paul Egerman, whose son was Warren’s law student at Harvard. Egerman later served as Warren’s finance chair during her 2012 bid for Senate and now serves as her finance co-chair alongside activist Shanti Fry. Read more:

“A multimillionaire who one acquaintance affectionately likened to a ‘beat-up Toyota Camry’ for his unpretentious demeanor, Egerman earned his money as a health care technology entrepreneur, co-founding one company that eventually sold for $1.2 billion. He has since pivoted to professional advocacy, donated more than $9 million to Democratic politics over the past 25 years with his wife, Joanne, and become involved with organizations including the Jewish advocacy group J Street, the liberal think tank Demos — where Warren’s daughter is also a former board member — and Patriotic Millionaires, which advocates raising taxes on the wealthy. Egerman is a former treasurer and longtime member of the high-powered liberal donor group Democracy Alliance, which counts George Soros and Tom Steyer among its members.”

“If Warren becomes the Democratic nominee, friends and allies expect Egerman and Fry to work to corral donors like Saperstein to write big checks to the DNC and help Warren fundraise for other campaigns and state parties, all of which the campaign has said she would do in a general election.”

CAMPUS BEAT — University of North Carolina to address antisemitism following Department of Ed investigation

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has agreed to act on future incidents of antisemitism on the state’s flagship campus following an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. 

Background: The investigation was initiated after a complaint was filed over a conference held at the university in April, when Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar performed a musical set, at one point telling the audience, “This is my antisemitic song… I know it sounds R&B stuff, but don’t think of Rihanna when you sing it. Think of, don’t think of Beyoncé, think of Mel Gibson. Go that antisemitic.”

What’s next: As a result of the complaint, filed by the Zionist Organization of America, UNC’s interim chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, will issue a statement to the UNC Chapel Hill community declaring a tougher stance against antisemitism. The university will also revise its harassment and discrimination policies to expressly include acts of antisemitism. UNC further agreed to incorporate antisemitism harassment issues in staff training for the next three years and to hold annual meetings for faculty and students to discuss issues of antisemitism with campus administrators.

Weighing in: Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, tells JI that this shows the DOE “is taking allegations of antisemitism on campus very seriously and that it is following up promptly.” Lewin added that “on campuses today, antisemitism often manifests itself as the harassment and marginalization of Jews who express the Zionist part of their Jewish identity.”

And in Poughkeepsie: Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley condemned an incident on campus last week in which students protested a visiting Israeli speaker. In response to what has become a common occurrence on campuses across the country, Bradley rebuked students for interrupting the event, noting that the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” popular with the national campus organization Students for Justice in Palestine, had “crossed the line into antisemitism.”


👩‍⚕️ Our Time:The Forward’s Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt takes an inside look into the establishment of Ezras Nashim, an all-female Orthodox Jewish ambulance service, and the opposition it faces from the establishment in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. [Forward]

🗳️ Holding Back: Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) are among 31 Democratic lawmakers who represent districts Trump won in 2016. The Wall Street Journal’s Natalie Andrews and Lindsay Wise detail how they avoid talking about the impeachment inquiry they support as they seek re-election. [WSJ]

👩‍💼👩‍💼 Female Power: Susan Dominus has penned an in-depth feature in The New York Times Magazine about Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), two freshman congresswoman navigating the halls of Capitol Hill. Spanberger often felt that “one member of the Squad or another was always shifting focus from where she hoped it would be. At the frequent town halls she held in her district, she was spending more time than she wanted reassuring constituents that she did not support anti-Semitism.” [NYTimes]

♻️ Revolutionary Recycling: UBQ Materials, a high-tech upcycling company based on a kibbutz in the Israeli Negev — which turns trash into plastic pellets — could be a real “breakthrough” in waste disposal, and it already has its eye on global applications. [WSJ


☢️ Stepping Up Pressure: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Thursday that the U.S. will cancel one of four sanctions waivers on foreign companies working with Iran’s civilian nuclear program. 

💪 Mighty Ruler: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was back on the bench Monday after missing a day last week due to a “bug.”

🚕 Dead End: Israeli taxi startup Gett announced yesterday that it is shutting down its New York-based Juno ridesharing company. 

📱 T-Exit: T-Mobile CEO John Legere announced on Monday that he will be stepping down at the end of next April, as speculation swirls that he is a leading candidate to become CEO of WeWork. 

👩‍⚕️ On the Couch: Therapist Esther Perel is now bringing her couples counseling skills to employee relationships, including at Kickstarter and Alphabet’s X. 

👴🏻 Spotlight:The Wall Street Journal has a new interview with Ira Millstein, the 93-year- old veteran corporate governance guru.   

✡️ Stamp of Approval: The Hungarian government has granted an Orthodox Jewish group — the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation — a special status which includes state financing. 

👰 Down the Aisle: The wedding of fashion designer Maya Reik and PR exec Ross Belfer in Israel’s Beit Yanai has garnered its own feature in Vogue

🎶 Low Note: Kanye West announced this week that he has created an opera based on the biblical king Nebuchadnezzar — and critics have already pointed out that the king was an anti-Jewish tyrant. 

⚽ Home Field: Soccer superstar Lionel Messi and his Argentinian national team wowed Israeli fans and brought some joy to a weary Israel this week, playing a friendly match against the Uruguay national team Monday night in Tel Aviv. 

👍 Right Swipe: Likud MK Nir Barkat said in an interview with Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and former Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt “liked” his economic development plan for industrial zones and Biblical tourism sites in the West Bank. 

Across the Pond: U.K.’s Conservative Party has suspended Aberdeen North candidate Ryan Houghton after his past social media posts emerged that appeared to deny the Holocaust. Houghton, in a twitter statement, denied the allegations, claiming the quotes were taken out of context. The suspension remains indefinite pending an investigation. 

🎞️ The More You Dig: Newly released footage of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn shows him embracing a speaker who claimed Zionism had made Jews “immoral” during a 2008 protest in Trafalgar Square. Corbyn also appeared at the side of the stage when another speaker rallied the crowd with a chant  “jihad, jihad, jihad until Palestine is free.”

🔍 Deep Dive:The New York Times has taken a closer look at the white nationalist websites and publications that White House advisor Stephen Miller promoted in his recently revealed emails.

🗞️ Media Watch: Jimmy Finkelstein, the owner of The Hill, has come under increased scrutiny after the publication has become enmeshed in the Ukraine scandal. 

☎️ Phone Tap: A Portland restaurant reported Sunday that its phone system was the target of antisemitic attacks. 

🎓 Campus Beat: The Student Union at the University of Toronto has apologized for saying that bringing kosher food to campus was problematic because Hillel was “pro-Israel.”  

🦸‍♂️ Superhero Squabble:Marvel Comics has sent a warning to New York City Councilman Ben Kallos, who is running for Manhattan borough president, to stop using Captain America in his campaign.  

🛂 Citizenship Battle: A British lawyer is fighting against the German government for barring some Jewish people from having their German citizenship restored — because their ancestors left “voluntarily” in the leadup to the Holocaust. 

🥪 Pastrami Power: After a long delay, Schmaltzy’s Jewish deli is slated to open on Thursday in Seattle.


Today, the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) released a new ad that will run in several swing states calling President Trump the “biggest threat to American Jews.”


Award-winning television and radio host including the eponymous “Larry King Live” nightly show on CNN from 1985 to 2010, Larry King (born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger) turns 86…

Retired New York State Supreme Court judge, whose tenure on the television program “The People’s Court” was far shorter than that of his wife “Judge Judy,” Jerry Sheindlin turns 86… Attorney, investment banker and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Louis B. Susman turns 82… Professor of chemistry at Stanford University, Richard Zare turns 80… Former congressman from New York, now a partner at Gotham Government Relations, Gary Ackerman turns 77… Fashion designer Calvin Klein turns 77… President of the University of Pennsylvania since 2004, Amy Gutmann turns 70… Los Angeles-based real estate investor, Sydney Ilene Cetner turns 70…

Owner of Patty’s Piano Studio in Los Angeles, Patricia Fiden turns 66… Member of the California State Senate since 2014, Robert Myles “Bob” Hertzberg turns 65… University professor of Jewish history, literature and law at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel turns 64… Hollywood screenwriter, producer, director and lyricist, best known as the writer of “Being John Malkovich,” Charlie Kaufman turns 61… Angel investor and president of Sunrise Financial Group, Nathan Low turns 59… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, he has served as Israel’s Minister of Finance since 2015, Moshe Kahlon turns 59…

Co-president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and director of its Washington, D.C. office, Lisa Eisen turns 56… Founder of World Values Network, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach turns 53… Founder at Applied Optimism Group LLC, he was previously a senior director of the Schusterman Family Foundation, Seth Cohen turns 46… Member of the New York State Assembly, Andrew D. Hevesi turns 46… New York Times best-selling novelist, she is also a professor at Rutgers University-Camden, Lauren Grodstein turns 44… Digital director and executive editor of Time MagazineSamuel P. Jacobs turns 34…

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.