Daily Kickoff: US Consulate accused of violating agreement with Israel | Israeli Wix to feature Brett Favre | Genesis Prize awarded to Michael Douglas

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TOP TALKER: “Congress Moves Against Obama on New Iran Sanctions” by Josh Rogin: “The White House and Senate are headed into a battle over whether to increase pressure on Iran. Lawmakers have completed a new bipartisan bill on Iran sanctions and the Senate intends to vote on it well before President Barack Obama’s team finishes the current round of international nuclear negotiations.”[BloombergView]

Sen. Corker to Reuters: “Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers will press ahead with a plan for more sanctions on Iran, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on Wednesday, despite White House warnings that they risked derailing nuclear talks. Lawmakers, who say they fear Obama administration negotiators may not take a hard enough line with Tehran, are also at work on a separate bill to have Congress approve any final agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, Senator Bob Corker, the chairman, told Reuters in an interview. “There’s continual efforts to try to figure out a way for Congress to play a role to strengthen whatever final deal may occur,” the Tennessee Republican senator said.” [Reuters]

—US House preps its own Iran sanctions bill: “The dual-track effort presents an additional challenge for the White House, which has repeatedly warned Congress that new sanctions could derail nuclear talks. It could, however, end up buying time for negotiators to strike a final agreement, since both chambers must pass the same bill for legislation to become law… “We feel very strongly that the House needs to play an important role, not just rubber-stamp whatever the Senate decides to do,” the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., told Al-Monitor. “So we’re going to put our heads together [with Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.] and see what’s the best way to proceed.”[AlMonitor]

—AIPAC’s Policy Conference: “Neither lawmaker ventured a timeline for when a House bill might be unveiled. But others said it could make sense to have it ready in time for the annual conference of the pro-Israel AIPAC, which kicks off March 1. “It’s just a matter of time on the floor and getting the administration to back off some of their pressure, because not everybody’s as strong as Eliot Engel — not everybody is going to stand up to the president and say the time for sanctions is now,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs panel on the Middle East. “I’m hoping that with the AIPAC policy conference coming up, that that’s going to be a new impetus.” AIPAC has made passage of new sanctions a top priority for the new Congress after backing off its initial push for the Menendez-Kirk bill following intense White House pressure last February.” [AlMonitor]

GENEVA TALKS: “Kerry and Zarif hold lenghy Iran nuclear talks in Geneva” by Arshad Mohammed and Sephanie Nebehay: “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif held intensive talks on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program on Wednesday, returning for an evening session before handing off to their deputies, officials said.​” [Reuters] • “Kerry says he may meet with Iranian foreign minister in Paris”[Reuters]

—Detained Washington Post Journalist Indicted in Iran: “Iran’s judiciary indicted the Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, a step that could further complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to forge a nuclear accord with the Iranian government… Current and former U.S. officials believe the prosecution of Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American, is being used by hard-line factions in Tehran to upend the diplomatic process and embarrass President Hasan Rouhani, who supports the dialogue.”[WSJ] • Editorial: “Best Wishes From Tehran” [WSJ]

ISRAELI AMB. RON DERMER ON MSNBC: “People should know that Israel is a home for Jews everywhere who are concerned for their security and their safety” [MSNBC] • On Iran’s Zarif: “I would hope that the Iranian foreign minister would use the sound bite opportunity that he had to speak out against the murder of these cartoonists and Jews in France. That didn’t happen. The same foreign minister of Iran that is now talking about respecting others, he laid a wreath last year at the grave of ImadMughniyeh who is a man responsible for killing more Americans than any other person besides Osama Bin Laden over the past 50 years. Those are the values of the foreign minister of Iran so I don’t expect him to be part of the solution, he’s part of the problem.” [MSNBC]

WALL STREET JOURNAL FRONT PAGE: “French Jews Face Hate They Left Africa to Escape” by Yaroslav Trofimov, Ruth Bender, and Jason Chow: “While feelings of fear and distress run through the French Jewish community after the Hyper Cacher attack, they are particularly strong among those of North African origin, with their memories of forced exodus still raw.” [WSJ] • “South Florida May Be Destination for Displaced French Jews” [NBC Miami]

HAPPENING TODAY: At 2pm, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will host an international conference call with the Prime Minister of the French Republic, His ExcellencyManuel Valls, and the President of Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France, Roger Cukierman, on the recent attacks in Paris and the steps being taken by the government of France and by the French Jewish community.

TROUBLE ON AGRON: “US Consulate in Jerusalem to arm Palestinian guards in spite of Israeli law” by Itamar Eichner: “A scandal has erupted in the American Consulate in Jerusalem, as three Israeli security guards have quit following a plan to hire 35 armed Palestinian guards from East Jerusalem. The Palestinians have been undergoing weapons training in Jericho in recent days. The decision to hire and arm the Palestinian security personnel was made by the consulate’s chief security officer, Dan Cronin… The plan is a breach of a 2011 agreement between the consulate and the Israeli government, which determined that only former IDF combat soldiers hired by the consulate would be allowed to carry weapons. That year, Israel gave the consulate approval to keep about 100 guns for its security guards, but only if they’re American diplomats or Israelis who served in the army.”

“Sources said that a change in attitude towards Israelis in the consulate began about a year and a half ago, when Cronin began his tenure. Employees claimed that since then, seven Israeli guards were fired, compared to one Palestinian… Workers who were employed by the consulate accused Cronin of a callous attitude towards the Israelis and of voicing pro-Palestinian remarks. “The law in Israel is merely advice to him,” they said. “Cronin does what he wants. He doesn’t want the Israelis in the consulate.” According to these sources, some of the Palestinian guards have been arrested in the past for throwing stones, or have relatives who were convicted of terrorist activity. “The consulate’s conduct is extremely biased towards the Palestinian side, and Cronin is actually raising an armed militia of Palestinians in the consulate. They’re trained in weapons use, Krav Maga, and tactical driving. This is irresponsible. Who is ensuring that putting this weaponry in Palestinian hands will not lead to terror?” [YNet;ToI

2016 WATCH: “As 2016 Race Gains Steam, Christie Sees No Need To Rush” by Nicholas Confessore and Michael Barbaro: “Amid the aggressive, elbows-out jockeying between his likely rivals Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, Mr. Christie, one of the most mercurial and impulsive figures in American politics, has delivered a surprising message to his top supporters and donors: Relax. The feedback I’ve gotten from a lot of donors is that Mitt’s announcement created excitement, and so did Huckabee’s announcement, and now that everyone is back from the holidays, it’s creating kind of a pause among a lot of donors,” said Ray Washburne, who has been tapped to lead fund-raising for a Christie campaign. “Why rush?”

Bundler Primary: “During a trip to New York last week, Mr. Bush held 14 meet-and-greet events in three days, according to a person who saw his schedule, including meetings at KKR, a top private equity company, and Perella Weinberg, an asset management firm. Even so, Mr. Bush “hasn’t scooped up people yet in a significant way,” said one top Republican donor on Wall Street. “What he’s doing is what Mitt does — he’s rolling into town, having meetings without asking for money.” Likewise, Mr. Romney’s recent visits to New York did not yield firm commitments from many of the area’s top Republicans, such as Woody Johnson, the owner of the Jets, or Paul Singer, the billionaire hedge fund manager…. Last week, Mr. Christie traveled to Boston, where he attended both the swearing-in of the new Republican governor of Massachusetts and a private round-table event hosted by Seth Klarman, a prominent Republican donor.” [NYTimes] • “Chris Christie, odd man out? — by Ben White and Maggie Haberman[Politico]

—Jewish Bundler Mel Sembler on Romney vs. Bush: “He was absolutely adamant before,” said Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg developer who was a national finance co-chairman for Romney in 2012. “I’ve heard him personally. He was very specific about it. He was not running. Apparently now he’s decided he wants to mix it up a little bit.” “I have great affection for Mitt Romney and his wife,” Sembler added. “They ran two very strong campaigns and I supported both of them. We wish him good luck, but I’m supporting my friend of many years, Jeb Bush.” Sembler is organizing a Tampa-area fundraiser this month and said “there’s tremendous enthusiasm from people wanting to participate.” He conceded Romney would change the dynamic. “It would make it more competitive, but Jeb is off and running and doing very well.” [MiamiHerald]

RoundUp: “Did Hillary Clinton Just Clinch the Nomination?” [BV] • “Marc Lasry: “I hope Hillary runs… she probably will” [NBC• “Jeb Bush heading to D.C. next week” [Politico] • “GOP donor Foster Friess launches new effort to boost Rick Santorum” [WashPost] • “Rupert Murdoch weighs in on 2016, calls Romney ‘a terrible candidate'” [Politico] • “Mitt Romney staffing up for 2016 bid” [CNN] • “Clinton Takes to Heart a 6-Year-Old Lesson in Accounting” [NYTimes]

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TALK OF THE TOWN: “Mayor de Blasio and Rabbis Near Accord on New Circumcision Rule” by Sharon Otterman: “The situation now presents a conundrum for Mayor Bill de Blasio. City health officials have advised that the ritual should never be performed, but the growing ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that cherishes it represents a crucial political constituency for Mr. de Blasio. So he pledged during his campaign to rescind the consent requirement on “Day 1” of his administration and find a solution that would be more acceptable to Orthodox leaders, while still protecting children’s health.”

“Members of the de Blasio administration have conferred about half a dozen times over the last year with Orthodox leaders about the issue and are now close to a compromise agreement, said Avi Fink, the mayor’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, an Orthodox Jew involved in the discussions. The goal of the new rule would be to better educate parents about the ritual’s health risks, while respecting their right to have it done, he said.​” [NYTimes] • “NYC Latino Delegation Headed to Israel Includes Many Members From the Bronx” [NY1]

BUSINESS BRIEFS: “Real estate scion fell victim to a virtual kidnapping scam” by Emily Smith: “Top Manhattan real estate broker Michael Lorber nearly fell victim to phony kidnapping scammers who demanded a ransom after claiming they had seized his brother and would shoot him in the head. Michael, son of Douglas Elliman chairman Howard Lorber, told us, “It was the worst experience of my life. They told me Brian had been in a car accident, they’d kidnapped him, broken his hand, and I needed to meet them with $2,000 in cash to pay for the damage to their car. They said they had hiscellphone and they’d shoot him in the head if I called him.” Michael said at first he took it seriously and started heading to an ATM. “They said I had to stay on the phone, and if I dropped the call, they’d immediately shoot my brother. They said once they heard my car starting, they’d tell me where to meet with the money.” But before leaving his office, he passed a note to an aide who called Brian on another line. “Thankfully, he was in his office and he was fine. But even when I confronted them on the phone, they still threatened to kill him. Thank God I didn’t go and meet them.” [NYPost]

STARTUP NATION: “Moovit raises $50 million from Nokia, BMW: Israeli public transit navigation app Moovit has wrapped up a $50 million financing round at a post-funding company valuation of $300 million, the company reported Wednesday. The valuation is the highest of its kind for an Israeli company.” [Haaretz] • “Sequoia, Samsung invest in Israeli mobile video chat app Rounds” [Reuters]

Brett Favre to star in Super Bowl ad for Israeli company Wix: “Brett Favre, the retired NFL star, walked into Terranova’s Super Market in New Orleans’  on Dec. 5. He walked out with an order of the Faubourg St. John grocery’s beloved hogshead cheese — but first he made a TV commercial. The advertisement, created for Wix.com, an Israel-based website development company, is set to debut during Super Bowl 2015, reports Adweek. It’s part of a series featuring five retired NFL stars — Favre, Terrell Owens, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen and Franco Harris.” [NOLA]

GENESIS PRIZE AWARDED TO MICHAEL DOUGLAS: “Last June, when Michael Douglas was in Jerusalem to celebrate the bar mitzvah of his son, Dylan, he was seen walking with a limp, the result of helping to lift the bar mitzvah boy on a chair during the spirited dancing. The famed Hollywood actor and producer will be taking on a different kind of heavy lifting in the coming year – that of a role model for Jewish identity, particularly among young people from mixed faith families. He was named this week as the recipient of the second annual Genesis Prize, often referred to as the Jewish Nobel Prize. The presentation will take place in Jerusalem on June 18, and comic Jay Leno will serve as emcee as he did last June, when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was the recipient of the inaugural prize.”[JewishWeekLA Times]

That’s all folks; have a great day!

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