Daily Kickoff: ‘W’ had to ask Mel Sembler if his brother Jeb was running | Alibaba invests in Israel | Rabbi Sacks discusses anti-Semitism on MSNBC

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DRIVING THE DAY: President Obama delivers the annual State of the Union address at 9PM ET.

—“State of Obama: Still here” by Edward-Isaac Dovere: “Don’t say lame duck. President Barack Obama opens his last two years as president with his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday. He’ll say about 6,500 words between the sergeant-at-arms’ announcement — “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!” — and a post-speech interview by YouTube stars. He’ll rehash executive actions he’s announced the past two weeks, boast of economic progress and talk about building on it, get as many standing ovations going as he can. But there’s really only one thing Obama is trying to get across: He’s still here.” [Politico]

HOW THE SPEECH WAS CRAFTED: “Obama’s ‘Hemingway’ Draws on Friends, Empathy, and a Little Whisky for State of the Union” by Michael S. Schmidt: “One night last week Cody Keenan, the chief White House speechwriter President Obama has christened “Hemingway,” knew he needed help. Mr. Keenan had spent 15 days holed up in a hotel room in Honolulu as the president vacationed nearby, and seven more in a windowless office in the basement of the West Wing trying to turn a blank computer screen into a 6,000-word State of the Union first draft. The lonesome process had finally gotten to him… So the burly 34-year-old former high school quarterback left his White House office and trudged in the freezing rain to the nearby apartment of one of his closest friends in the administration,Benjamin J. Rhodes. It was after midnight, but Mr. Rhodes.. was up. The two men poured two single-malt Scotch whiskies, and… began triage on Mr. Keenan’s prose. By 5 a.m., a more succinct draft was on its way to the president.” [NYTimes]

—“State of Disarray: Middle East policy in Obama’s sixth State of the Union” by Michael Wilner: “Foreign policy rarely dominates State of the Union addresses, and this year will be no different. The president saves his most extensive remarks on foreign policy, instead, for a different venue: The United Nations General Assembly, during its annual high-level forum in September. But Americans pay little attention to that. For many in this country, the State of the Union is the only presidential address they will sit through all year….”

—On Iran: “Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, expects the president to repeat his 2014 call to veto any bill from Congress that might “derail” the nuclear talks. “There’s no question that it gets harder, the more time passes without a deal, for the administration to stave off additional ‘turning of the screws’ through new sanctions,” Wittes said. “Fundamentally, the administration wants to hold the international coalition against Iran together as long as possible to keep Iran contained— whether a deal happens or not— and that means that they don’t want the United States to be seen as the spoiler.”

—On Israel-Palestinians: “He might criticize the Palestinian move at the ICC,” Wittes said, noting the “resoundingly critical” message the administration has thus far expressed over the PA decision. Beyond that, she added, “he’ll want to emphasize the US view that a negotiated two-state solution remains the only stable, peaceful path for both sides.” [JPost] • “Palestine could ‘lose millions in US aide’ if they sue Israel in ICC, Sen. Lindsey Graham warns” [IndependentReuters]

IRAN TALKS IMPLICATIONS: “Israel, Lebanon brace for possible Hezbollah retaliation after Israeli attack” by Liz Sly and William Booth: “The attack coincides with a crucial juncture in Iran’s negotiations with the United States over ways to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, which gives Iran little incentive to escalate tensions with Israel, America’s closest ally, Khashan and other analysts said.” [WashPost] • “Opening Round Iran Sanctions Fight Kicks Off In Senate” [AP] • “Iran sees no OPEC shift toward a cut, says oil industry could withstand $25 crude” [Reuters] • “Russia and Iran Sign Military Cooperation Deal” [AP] • WSJ Editorial: “Obama, Congress and Iran: The President objects to support for what he claimed was his policy” [WSJ]

—What Sanctions? “Instagram’s Rich Kids of Tehran show off their opulent lifestyle” [DailyMail]

CHANGE OF PLAN: “U.S. Support for Syria Peace Plans Demonstrates Shift in Priorities” by Anne Barnard and Somini Sengupta: “American support for a pair of diplomatic initiatives in Syria underscores the shifting views of how to end the civil war there and the West’s quiet retreat from its demand that the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, step down immediately.” [NYTimes]

TOP TALKER: “Argentina, Iran and the Mysterious Death of a Prosecutor” by Eli Lake in Bloomberg View: “Matthew Levitt, a former FBI official and counterterrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who got to know Nisman professionally in his research into the AMIA bombing, was also shocked by the news. “I find the idea that Nisman committed suicide, extraordinarily unlikely,” Levitt told me. “It’s just not who he was.”… One reason many are suspicious is because Nisman made an enemy of Iran, a country with a history of killing its political opponents in foreign countries.” [BV]

—Conference of Presidents Statement: “We were honored to host Mr. Nisman in 2009 when he briefed us on his tireless efforts and determination to see to the prosecution of those responsible, including high ranking Iranian officials.” “We call for an immediate and thorough investigation to determine the true cause of his death. Similarly, Mr. Nisman’s life work must be continued and the testimony he was about to give to a parliamentary commission should be made public. We hope that his associates and others will continue his devoted work to apprehend those responsible.”

TOP-OP: “Would the world rather dodge news of Alberto Nisman’s death?” by Seth Lipsky in Haaretz: “To me, the AMIA bombing is a marker for the West’s failure in the war on Islamist terror over an entire generation. I first wrote about it right after the bombing, in an editorial of the Forward called “Woolsey’s War.” It noted that while the bombers were plotting their attack, top American intelligence officials, led by the director of the CIA James Woolsey, were meeting with a delegation of the Conference of Presidents. It was, the editorial noted, a wide-ranging session, touching on all parts of the world. The one area on which “a crackle of disagreement erupted” was on Islamic terrorism…

“The disagreement was between “analysts on the intelligence side,” who discounted the notion that we were facing a “unified Islamic threat,” to use the jargon of the time, and several skeptics in the Jewish delegation, including Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. One of the intelligence types, the editorial noted, summed up his view by saying “We do not want to replace the struggle against the red tide of communism with a struggle against the green tide of Islam.” [Haaretz] • Elliot Abrams: “Argentina and Iran: The Strange Death of Alberto Nisman” [CFR]

2016 WATCH: Yesterday, we linked to a Las Vegas Review Journal article that stated, “Last week, Rand Paul met Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO and top GOP contributor Sheldon Adelson in Washington, D.C., where they both attended a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting, according to a GOP source.” RJC board member Phil Rosen told us on Saturday night that Adelson and Paul did not meet.

After we posted this in yesterday’s Daily Kickoff, RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks emailed us to say – “Here is the emmis. At the RJC event in DC Rand Paul did in fact attend and spent a long time talking with the attendees.  Sheldon Adelson was delayed in a meeting that ran long and did not attend.”

—“Who cares?” you ask? Well, Rand has been reaching out to RJC board members throughout the country, not necessarily to get their support but at the very least, to try to keep them from spending big against him in a Republican primary.

Also yesterday, we linked to the following story yesterday, but did not include this paragraph involving Jewish bundler Mel Sembler: “One day last fall, former President George W. Bush called Mel Sembler, a Republican donor from Florida who had served as his ambassador to Italy. Mr.Sembler had just had a pacemaker implanted into his chest, and his wife had also recently had surgery. Mr. Bush wanted to check on how they were faring.​ But after the health inquiries, Mr. Bush abruptly interjected. “O.K., Mel,” he said, “is Jeb going to run?” “Wait a minute,” Mr. Sembler recalled answering. “You’re asking me is Jeb going to run? He’s your brother.” It was a lighthearted exchange, yet also revealing… the reality is the Bush brothers are not especially close.” [NYTimes]

PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS TRADE: “Walker likely to lead trade mission to Israel” by Patrick Marley of the Journal Sentinel: “Gov. Scott Walker said Monday he would likely take a trade mission this year to Israel, a move that could spur interest from key constituencies and donors as the Republican governor considers a run for president. “I haven’t got a date yet, but I’ve had multiple requests to go so we’ll probably try to find a way,” Walker told reporters after a Capitol ceremony celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. “Previously, in the last four years the consul general’s office from Israel asked me a number of times to come and talk about water technology, other trade missions, so we’ll probably try to figure out some way to do that.” [JSonlineFox11]

Katie Glueck Dispatch: “Tea party reeling: After a rough midterm, conservative activists are struggling to find their way” — Politico: “Five years into its existence, the tea party is a movement adrift, interviews with conservative activists at this weekend’s South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention show. Its members are at odds over what went wrong in the 2014 election and on how to move forward in 2016; there’s even disagreement over how to define success. Is it enough to nudge the Republican Party to the right, as it has indisputably done, even if its candidates lose to people backed by the party establishment?” [Politico]

—Cruz 2016: “Ted Cruz builds his White House team” by David M. Drucker in the Washington Examiner: “The Republican senator from Texas tentatively plans to fill senior campaign positions with the triumvirate he signed last summer to expand his political operation. At the top is Jeff Roe, whose organizational title is undefined but who would be the campaign’s chief strategic and logistics decision-maker. Jason Miller would shape and oversee campaign messaging; Lauren Lofstrom would direct fundraising… Nick Muzin, Cruz’s deputy chief of staff in his Senate office, is steeped in South Carolina politics. He is viewed as someone who might take a leave of absence from Cruz’ Senate office to join the campaign.” [WashExaminer]

IL SEN 2016: “Tammy Duckworth: I’m ‘Taking a Real Serious Look’ at Mark Kirk Race” by Emily Cahn: “Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a two-term Democrat, said Monday that she is seriously considering challenging vulnerable Sen. Mark S. KirkR-Ill., in 2016… Many Democratic operatives view Duckworth as the top contender to take on Kirk in his first re-election in 2016. Both are veterans: Kirk was an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, while Duckworth served as a helicopter pilot in the Army. Kirk suffered a stroke in January 2012 and sometimes uses a wheelchair and cane for mobility. Duckworth lost her legs and damaged her right arm in 2004, when a helicopter she was co-piloting in the Iraq War was shot down.” [RollCall]

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: “Muslims form ‘no-go zones’ outside civic control: Some countries have allowed Muslims to establish autonomous neighborhoods in cities where they govern by a harsh version of Islamic law, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Monday during a speech in London. The Republican, who is considering a presidential campaign in 2016, later defended — and repeated — the statement after facing reporters’ questions about his claims.” [AP]

TALK OF OUR NATION: “Jewish Londoners fear for their safety after Paris attacks” by Emma Ailes & Mario Cacciottolo: “An attack in our community is inevitable.” Israel Morgenstern is bracing himself for a terror attack aimed at the Jewish community in Britain. “It’s going to come. It all depends how and where.” Mr Morgenstern, 37, who lives in Golders Green but is originally from Israel, is married with three children, and says he has a weight on his mind whenever he sends them off to school. While he is talking, he points out three police cars which pass by, and also says that he welcomes local patrols conducted by a Jewish security charity. However, he says that he does not know “how much they would be able to help” in the event of an attack. “Maybe, just maybe they would alert the police two minutes earlier.” [BBC] • “New fears for Europe’s Jews: Ronan Farrow takes viewers inside Paris’s Jewish community for an on-the-ground look at the fears causing Jewish men and women to leave their country.” Interview with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks [MSNBC

—Bret Stephens: “Packing Time for France’s Jews” in the Wall Street Journal: “The problem isn’t the Fifth Republic, in which French Jews have, on the whole, thrived. The problem is the arrival, sooner or later, of the Sixth. Which is why French Jews need to leave sooner rather than later, despite the disruption and risk, while the exits are not blocked and the way is still open.” [WSJ]

HAPPENING TODAY: “Mayor Bill de Blasio will stand in solidarity with our friends in Paris and across France to send the clear message that together we will fight terrorism and anti-Semitism at every turn, and that crude attempts to intimidate free expression will not succeed,” said a statement by the mayor’s office. According to the itinerary, the mayor will lay wreath at Hyper Casher with Deputy Mayor Klugman in morning. He will then meet with leaders of the Jewish Community.” [JPDailyNews]

**Good Tuesday 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**

BUSINESS BRIEFS: “Teddy Sagi in advanced talks to buy Tel Aviv’s Beit Lessin” [Globes] • “Meet Israel’s low-profile unicorn: Founded just five years ago, ironSource has a valuation over $1 billion – which it earned one download at a time” [GeekTime] • “Tycoons sold 5.5 billion shekels of shares in 2014” [Haaretz] • “Rubin Schron buys UES rental building for more than $90M” [RealDeal] • “Billionaire Abramovich buying up city block for mega-mansion” [NYPost]

HAPPENING THIS WEEK: “At Davos, Ironmen Find Contacts, Contracts and Even Love” by Simon Kennedy: “A week of discussions, networking, deal-making, partying and perhaps some skiing is reason enough for many executives, politicians and investors to open each year with a Swiss trip inked in their diaries. Call them the Davos Ironmen. Of the 2,500 people participating in this year’s confab, dozens have been making the pilgrimage to Europe’s highest town for decades… Former U.S. Treasury SecretaryLawrence Summers now has 22 under his belt. Billionaire investor George Soros has 21. Bill Gateshits the 20 mark this week…. Former Bank of Israel Governor Jacob Frenkel — 27 conferences — says the key is not to try to do too much. Better to spend time mingling and await those serendipitous moments.” [Bloomberg]

STARTUP NATION: “Alibaba Invests In Israeli Startup Visualead For Its QR Code Technology: Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said Tuesday it will invest in technology startup Visualead in its first foray into Israel’s technology sector. Visualead, based in Tel Aviv, creates codes that consumers can scan with their smartphones. Alibaba didn’t disclose the investment size, but a person familiar with the matter said the Chinese e-commerce company is investing less than $10 million. Quick response codes, or QR codes, are much more popular in China than they are in many Western countries; they have also gained traction in Japan.” [WSJTechCrunch] • “Samsung Ventures Leads $20 Round for Israel’s EarlySense” [WSJ]

FLASHBACK: “A Prettier Talker Than Obama” by Sean Braswell in Ozy: “When you’re born with the surname D’Israeli and the striking physiognomy that Benjamin Disraeli inherited, there’s rather little you can do to obscure your Jewish heritage, even if you drop the apostrophe. And if you are as exceedingly ambitious as Disraeli, Britain’s most prominent 19th century leader and its first and only Jewish prime minister, then it’s not enough merely to accept your difference — you have to celebrate it.”

“Like another leader with a distinctive appearance and a “funny name,” Disraeli was a writer and political outsider who ascended to his nation’s highest office through the force of his oratory — and a compellingly crafted persona and narrative. And like the ambitious Barack Hussein Obama, who delivers his penultimate State of the Union address tonight, Disraeli wanted more than simply to belong to what others could not believe was his native land — he wanted to lead it.” [Ozy]

ON THIS DATE IN… (via the AP): 1942 – “Nazi officials arrived at a “final solution” that called for exterminating Europe’s Jews, during a conference at Lake Wannsee in Berlin.” 1981 – “Iran released 52 Americans held hostage for 444 days.” [AP]

SPORTS BLINK: “Max Scherzer and Nationals Said to Reach Lucrative Agreement: The deal is said to be for seven years and more than $200 million, although that includes significant deferrals. Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, tends to negotiate major deals directly with owners, and this appears to be another example — in this case, with the Nationals’ Ted Lerner.” [NYTimes]

—DC Sports Blog asks: “Is Scherzer Jewish? Nah. But with a Zimmerman, a Zimmermann and a Scherzer, the Nats are close to setting a world record for “most star players whose names kinda sound Jewish but who totally aren’t.” [WashPost] H/T Howard Mortman

SPOTTED: Ever wonder what one does after an unsuccessful run for Congress? Well, if you’re Mark Dunec, an Orthodox Jew who won the Democratic nomination for New Jersey’s 11th District but lost in the general election, you participate in an impromptu Minyan at Disney World yesterday. [Instagram]


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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