Daily Kickoff: Obama & Menendez spar on Iran | Profiles: Josh Block; Steve Rabinowitz | Clooney’s problem | New Mexico has over 24,000 Jews

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IRAN TALKS: “Obama and Sen. Robert Menendez Spar on How to Handle Iran” by Michael D. Shear: “President Obama and Senator Robert Menendez traded sharp words on Thursday over whether Congress should impose new sanctions on Iran while the administration is negotiating with Tehran about its nuclear program, according to two people who witnessed the exchange. In the course of the argument, which was described as tense but generally respectful, Mr. Obama vowed to veto legislation being drafted by Mr. Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Senator Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, that would impose the sanctions before the multiparty talks are set to end this summer. Their face-off occurred behind closed doors at the Hilton in Baltimore, where the two-day Senate Democratic Issues Conference was taking place.”

“The president said he understood the pressures that senators face from donors and others, but he urged the lawmakers to take the long view rather than make a move for short-term political gain, according to the senator. Mr. Menendez, who was seated at a table in front of the podium, stood up and said he took “personal offense.” Mr. Menendez told the president that he had worked for more than 20 years to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and had always been focused on the long-term implications. Mr. Menendez also warned the president that sanctions could not be imposed quickly if Congress waited to act and the talks failed, according to two people who were present.” [NYTimes]

—Kerry and Iran’s Zarif set for Paris nuclear talks: “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Jawad Zarif will meet for talks in Paris on Friday on Iran’s nuclear policy, Iranian and U.S. sources said.” [Reuters]

TOP TALKER: “Presidents Conference Eases Membership Rules After J Street Flap” by Nathan Guttman: “Under the proposed changes, which will be brought to a vote next week, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will lower the threshold for membership, provide more representation to Jewish federations, and will create an executive committee to guide the group’s policy making. “This action sends a message to the broader Jewish community that what the Conference says comes out of a consultation process and does reflect the Jewish world,” saidAlan Solow, a past president of the Conference of Presidents who co-chaired the committee debating these procedural changes.”

“The most significant structural change will be the creation of an executive committee, made up of 13 members which will meet once a month and will be in charge of daily decision making. According to existing rules, much of this process is carried by the Conference’s chairman, currently Robert Sugarman, and the executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, who informally consult with leaders of several key organizations. “It formalizes the consultative process,” said Sugarman in a January 15 press call, “we had such a process when issues came up, and this formalizes it.” Initially, major groups had hoped to receive a permanent seat on the executive committee but the final recommendations do not name members of the executive committee, setting only general guidelines. According to these guidelines, the committee will be made up of the Conference chairman, his two immediate predecessors and ten members chosen by a nominating committee which will “take into account diversity of age, gender, expertise and size” of the organization.” [Forward]

—SCENE YESTERDAY: Alan Gross, recently released from Cuba, met with and spoke to the Conference of Presidents yesterday at Bnai Zion in New York City. “Mr. Gross expressed gratitude to the Conference’s leaders and its members for their devoted efforts on his behalf. He spoke eloquently about his imprisonment and the importance of the support he received that “kept him going.” Children from the Solomon Schechter school on Long Island presented a song they wrote in his honor and sung at a daily program praying for his release. Malcolm Hoenlein recounted meetings with high-level American and Cuban officials beginning shortly after Mr. Gross’s arrest and the many rallies and demonstrations in pursuit of his freedom.” Spotted: Ron Halber, Robert Sugarman, Malcolm Hoenlein, William Daroff, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik.

—HEARD YESTERDAY: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told members of the Conference of Presidents yesterday during a conference call that the recent attack in Paris at a kosher supermarket and France’s support for Palestinian statehood are unrelated. [ToIJTA; i24]

RON LAUDER RECEIVES GERMANY’S HIGHEST HONOR: “WJC President Ronald S. Lauder was decorated with Germany’s highest honor, the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit. In a ceremony held at the German Embassy in Washington D.C., German Ambassador Peter Wittigpresented the award to President Lauder on behalf of the President of Germany, Joachim Gauck, and in the presence of US Vice President Joe Biden.” [WJC]

SPOTLIGHT: “For Jews From France, a Sociable Landing Spot in Israel” by Isabel Kershner in the NYTimes: “At one end of Independence Square, by the dancing fountain, French speakers sat at tables outside La Brioche, a patisserie owned by native Israelis, drinking coffee one warm afternoon this week and ordering from a window display of éclairs, colorful macaroons and mille-feuilles… This Israeli city on the Mediterranean coast has long been a magnet for French-Jewish immigrants; its municipal website has branded it “the Israeli Riviera.” After this month’s wave of terrorist attacks in Paris, including one that claimed the lives of four Jews at a kosher supermarket, and with France’s Jews increasingly feeling threatened by anti-Semitism, Netanya is gearing up for a much larger influx.” [NYTimes]

RoundUp: “In a Paris Suburb, Jews and Muslims Live In A Fragile Harmony” [NPR] • “Muslim who hid kosher market customers to become French citizen” [CNN] • “Kerry lays wreath at Paris kosher supermarket” [JPost• Ruth R. Wisse: “Anti-Semitism Is Never Solely About the Jews” [WSJ] • John Gerzema & Michael D’Antonio: “Anti-Semitism — The Facts and the Hope” [HuffPost

—Argentina’s Jews Reel From New Twist in Terror Probe: “Argentina’s Jewish community, the largest in Latin America, was reeling on Thursday from a prosecutor’s accusation that President Christina Kirchner had conspired to cover up a probe into a 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish center. Wednesday’s allegations, filed as a federal criminal complaint, are the latest disappointment for relatives of the 85 people who died after a car bomb blew up outside a Jewish community center, one of the worst attacks against Jews since World War II. For years, officials including President Cristina Kirchner have pointed to Iran for allegedly carrying out the bombing. But the case is still unresolved.” [WSJ]

JOSH BLOCK PROFILE: “Josh Block is a frenetic, sharp-tongued, non-stop PR machine with a preternatural ability to spit out facts and figures that bolster the case of the Jewish State. Since 2012 he has been the president and CEO of The Israel Project, a Washington, DC-based pro-Israel organization that has grown to mirror his personality: it is a fast-paced, single-minded war room pumping out pro-Israel memes, fighting Israel’s detractors in cyberspace, conducting polling and research, and helping to arm what Block calls “a pro-Israel social media army… Block says the rise of social media and online journalism in the past decade has transformed the way influence in Washington is wielded and the pro-Israel community has been too slow to respond.” [ToI]

STEVE RABINOWITZ PROFILE: “With Bluelight, veteran of Hillaryland eyes the next fight” by Michael Wilner: “Steve Rabinowitz wants to get the band back together. A veteran of Bill Clinton’s original war room in Little Rock, Rabinowitz has been Team Clinton for decades. Hillary credits Rabinowitz for coining the term “Hillaryland” back in their days in Arkansas; and in Bill’s White House, Rabinowitz directed stagecraft and media coverage for the all the president’s policy events— including Israel’s treaty signing with Jordan, and that South Lawn handshake seen round the world. But that was then. Ever since, Rabinowitz has carved out a niche for himself in Washington that he has since dominated: Where national and Jewish politics converge, Steve is present. He crystallizes that niche this month with the founding of Bluelight Strategies, a communications firm he describes as broad in its range and vast in its ambitions.” [JPost]

2016 WATCH: “Rand Paul Makes Headway in Longshot Bid To Win Jewish Support” by Nathan Guttman in the Forward: “Senator Rand Paul’s still unofficial presidential campaign reached a small but significant milestone in early January: The executive director of the Orthodox Union’s advocacy center, Nathan Diament, publicly praised him in an official press release. For many candidates, that might not mean much. But for Paul, the O.U.’s January 6 statement, lauding his sponsorship of a bill to defund the Palestinian Authority, marked something new. Long shunned by the organized Jewish community as hostile to Israel, Paul is attaining a degree of acceptability, if not yet embrace, in at least some quarters of American Jewry.” [Forward]

RJC & UJA Board Member Eisenberg Will Become Top Republican Fundraiser: “Lewis Eisenberg will soon take the reins as finance chair of the Republican National Committee, Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin reported on Thursday’s “With All Due Respect.” The position lifts him–at least temporarily–out of the Republican presidential primary fray. Eisenberg, who has a private equity background and deep ties to New Jersey, would be a natural Chris Christie backer. But he also has strong relationships with Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. All three are weighing presidential bids. This will be Eisenberg’s second tour of duty as the party’s finance chair. He served in that role in 2002. He also was a finance co-chairman of Senator John McCain‘s 2008 presidential campaign and was Romney’s Florida finance chairman.” [Bloomberg]

LATER THIS MONTH: “US, UN, EU and Russia to meet on Mideast: Key Mideast mediators – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – will meet this month to discuss the way toward Israeli-Palestinian peace as tensions escalate in the decades-old conflict. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power made the announcement during the U.N. Security Council’s monthly Mideast debate, calling the status quo “unsustainable.” The meeting of envoys from the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators will be Jan. 26 in Brussels, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.” [APNYTimes]

**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**

FIRST LOOK: “Show Leigh Steinberg the Money (Again)” by James Vlahos in the NYTimes Magazine: “Leigh Steinberg stepped onto the football field at Southern Methodist University under a cloudy Texas sky. At events he hosts — like his gigantic annual Super Bowl bash — Steinberg, a sports agent, is accustomed to parading around like a presidential candidate, working the crowd with a boyish smile and a pinstripe suit. On the Dallas campus last March, in his sweatshirt and baggy blue jeans, Steinberg looked more like a guy at the local horse track. He riffled through a booklet of notes and popped a stick of Nicorette into his mouth. His client, the quarterback Garrett Gilbert, was the one who had to put on a show in front of more than 30 N.F.L. scouts, but Steinberg’s own prospects were also being tested.”[NYTimesMag]

LONGREAD: “Does This Man Look Like a Felon to You? by Paul Barrett in Businessweek:“Standing in his Miami condo, Joseph Sigelman eyed his attorney warily. The two had worked together for eight years, and they considered themselves good friends. But there was something off about this meeting. The lawyer, Gregory Weisman, had called Sigelman two days earlier to say that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation had turned up unannounced at his New Jersey home. The FBI questioned Weisman about payments allegedly made by Sigelman’s former oilfield services company in Bogotá to a Colombian government official—payments that appeared to be related to securing a valuable contract. The Bureau had e-mails and bank transfers, and said the Americans had broken U.S. law. They said it was bribery.”

“A decade ago, Sigelman, now 43, earned widespread notice—and a modest fortune—for having co-founded, run, and then sold a successful Wall Street outsourcing company in Chennai, India, called Office Tiger. This magazine, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and many others celebrated Office Tiger for helping banks and law firms to cut costs and send their document work overseas. Harvard Business School, where Sigelman earned his MBA, published an admiring case study. In 2004 the acclaimed journalist Katherine Boo wrote a long, glowing article about Office Tiger for the New Yorker. Even though Sigelman profited by exporting American jobs, Boo portrayed him as a boy scout evangelist of meritocracy. He’d thrived in rough-and-tumble India, she wrote, “without the grease of government bribes.”[Businessweek]

BUSINESS BRIEFS: “Former Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht working on eco-friendly, luxe hotel concept” [NYPost] • “Still Busy With Argentina, Paul Singer May Have New Target In Mind”[ValueWalk] • Leon Charney Sells W. 41st St. Office Building for $165.7M to Blackstone [Observer] • “NYC electronics store B&H earns gelt with Orthodox business model” [ToI] • “Eliot Spitzer files plans forsecond building on Williamsburg site” [RealDeal]

HOLLYWOOD: “George Clooney has a problem — and it’s Amal” by Andrea Peyser: “My jaw dropped Sunday night as funny ladies Amy Poehler and Tina Fey took the stage at the Golden Globes and Fey lit into Amal Alamuddin Clooney… “Amal is a human-rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was selected for a three-person commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip,” Fey said. “So tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.” The line seems to have gone over the heads of those in the media obsessed over “who” she was wearing.”

“Here is the story: The UN Human Rights Council announced in August that the then-Ms. Alamuddin, engaged to Clooney at the time, would serve on a panel, one Israeli leaders have likened to a “witch hunt” whose members are bent on penalizing Israel for acting in self-defense against Palestinian rocket attacks. But then Alamuddin declared she would skip serving on the panel because she was too busy with eight legal cases. But she released a statement that revealed her antipathy toward the Jewish state:… I believe that her refusal to join the anti-Israel commission was an effort not to antagonize her then-fiancé’s Hollywood colleagues, many of whom are pro-Israel and/or Jewish. But as Clooney cements his political résumé, bringing his activism against African genocide to his good friend President Obama while he campaigns against global warming, political types are urging Amal’s husband to run for office.” [NYPost]

LONGREAD: “Israel and Iran: The secret diplomatic pipeline — Despite the public war of words between the countries, quiet backroom talks have been occurring for many years concerning an old – and growing – Israeli debt of $1 billion.” [Haaretz]

STARTUP NATION: “Israel Sows Cyber Hub in Desert to Make Beersheba Bloom” by Gwen Ackerman: “Israel is turning the desert green — khaki, to be precise. Tens of thousands of military personnel are being moved from Tel Aviv to abet the creation of a modern urban center along a burgeoning cyber-security hub in the Negev. A $20 billion blueprint is transforming Beersheba, the only city in the sprawling desert, into a key front in the world’s escalating cyber conflicts, and not just a target for Palestinian rockets from nearby Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to capitalize on demand from companies and governments for beefed-up defenses against virtual attacks from anonymous foes.” [Bloomberg]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Study estimates 24,000 Jews living in New Mexico” by Oliver Uyttebrouck in the Albuquerque Journal: “A first-ever demographic survey of New Mexico’s Jewish population found that the community is larger, older and more widely dispersed than previously believed,Jewish leaders who commissioned the study said Thursday. The study estimated that about 24,000 Jews live in New Mexico, more than two-thirds of whom are aged 55 or older. Earlier estimates had put the state’s Jewish population at about 12,000. Only a small portion of New Mexico Jews were born here. Fully 87 percent of the nearly 1,700 surveyed moved here from out-of-state – nearly one in five from New York, the report found.” [ABQ Journal]

DESSERT: “A tasty tale of growth and food in Seattle’s Jewish community” [SeattleTimes]

FOR MLK DAY: “Why Jews Were Drawn to the Civil Rights Battle” [TabletMag]

POLITICS & THE PARSHA presented by Howie Beigelman: “It might merely be apocryphal. Still, it’s viewed widely as LBJ’s “Aha” moment, when he realized it was over. Supposedly, after watching journalistic icon Walter Cronkite’s special report on the Vietnam War, where he concluded the war couldn’t be won, Johnson remarked “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Fact or fiction, this same idea is present in V’aera. Moses is sent to plead his people’s case before Pharaoh, and he is worried. His initial diplomatic foray was a failure; now the slaves have even more work to do than before his efforts. What Moses asks God is a variation of the Cronkite moment: if the Jewish people won’t hear me, why will Pharaoh take me seriously? Every leader, whether a monarch or democratically elected, depends on the good will of their people… Respect and good will are the necessary baselines to a leader’s ability to serve capably. That’s as true in a congregation or a revolution as it is in government or business.”[JewishLink]

WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS: Norman Podhoretz turns 85… Jeffrey Skoll turns 50… Joseph Bornstein… Joseph Berger… Jewish Jordan Tamir Goodman turns 32… 

That’s all folks; have a great day!

**Have a tip, suggestion, or even an op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Email  editor@jewishinsider.com**


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