Daily Kickoff: All sides spin U.S. Iran boat drama | Rahm compares media to a Jewish mother | Meet the former Israeli spy behind The Revenant

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DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “US, Iran forge new relationship as nuke deal advances” by Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper: “For diplomats from countries without diplomatic relations, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sure are doing a lot of diplomacy. Since the beginning of the year, Kerry and Zarif have spoken by phone at least 11 times, according to the State Department. They’ve focused on nuclear matters, Iran’s worsening rivalry with Saudi Arabia and peace efforts in Syria. By contrast, America’s top diplomat has talked to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir only twice. He has consulted once each with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jordan’s King Abdullah and the foreign ministers of Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union.” [AP]

“Iran’s Swift Release of U.S. Sailors Hailed as a Sign of Warmer Relations” by David Sanger, Eric Schmitt, and Helene Cooper: “Thanking the Iranians for their cooperation, Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that “we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago.” Mr. Kerry, one of his top aides said, in essence told Mr. Zarif at one point that “if we are able to do this in the right way, we can make this into what will be a good story for both of us.” [NYTimes]

“Video shows American sailor’s apology to Iran, contradicts White House” by Laura Italiano: “The Obama administration was blindsided Wednesday when Iran released a video showing a captured sailor apologizing to his captors for the two Navy vessels that strayed into Iranian waters — after Vice President Joe Biden insisted the United States had nothing to be sorry about. “It was a mistake, that was our fault, and we apologize for our mistake,” said the sailor, who was identified by the Iranian interviewer as “commander” of the crew detained Tuesday.” [NYPostVideo• “Controversy explodes over Iranian images of U.S. sailors” [Politico]

Chemi Shalev: “Disturbing Photos of Iranian-held U.S. Soldiers Outdo Diplomatic Coup of Setting Them Free” [Haaretz]

“The freakout over the U.S.-Iran boat drama looks a bit silly now” by Ishaan Tharoor:“Opponents of the deal forged last year between Iran and world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program figured that the boat incident was enough provocation to scupper many months of diplomatic negotiations and generally invoked it as a sign of White House fecklessness… In 2007, 15 British marines were picked up in a similar context and detained for nearly two weeks before being returned. This time, the existing back channels with Tehran, a consequence of concerted diplomatic efforts in recent years, helped smooth over what could have been a far greater crisis.” [WashPost• “The Iranian hostage crisis that wasn’t” [Politico]

QUICK TAKE: Seems people on all sides of the Iran debate are quite good at keeping their eye on the proverbial ball and not letting the news cycle distract from their agenda, despite the opposing sides’ best efforts to do so. Those in favor of a growing rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran, not only didn’t see Iran’s seizure of U.S. sailors as a reason to slow down, they made the argument that without the nuclear deal this naval episode would have been much worse. Others more weary of Iran have argued that, in the hierarchy of Middle East threats, ISIS is a challenge but that Iran’s hegemony is a bigger issue. They have also pushed back against calls in recent weeks that now is the time for the U.S. to abandon the Saudis in favor of Iran.

LongRead: “The Woman Shaping Iran’s Oil Future” by Peter Waldman: “Raised in a pistachio-farming family in tradition-minded southern Iran, Hassanzadeh, 31, earned her law degree and Ph.D. in the U.K. on scholarships. She literally wrote the book on Iran’s natural gas industry since the 1979 Islamic revolution—it was published last year by Oxford University Press. She has returned to Iran to head a consulting firm, Energy Pioneers, based in Tehran and London, that’s at the vanguard of Iran’s all-out push to lure back foreign investors after the expected lifting of sanctions in coming months.” [Businessweek]

ON THE HILL: “House of Representatives to try again to seek Iran deal clampdown” by Patricia Zengerle: “The U.S. House of Representatives plans to reconsider legislation to restrict President Barack Obama’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran under an international nuclear deal after its passage was canceled on Wednesday when too few members voted.” [Reuters• “Speaker Ryan closes Iran vote swiftly to punish tardiness” [TheHill]

“Rep. Eliot Engel, the highest ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and an opponent of the Iran deal, said the bill seemed to be aimed at embarrassing Obama by establishing requirements that would be impossible to meet. “We should go back to the drawing board rather than ramming through a partisan measure,” he said.” [JewishInsider]

HAPPENING TONIGHT — GOP DEBATE: “The Republican presidential candidates meet for their sixth debate of the campaign and first of 2016 on Thursday, as the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses loom ever closer. The main debate for the leading candidates starts at 9 p.m. ET. The undercard, meanwhile, starts at 6 p.m. ET. Both debates will be televised by the Fox Business Network. Prime-time debate: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and John Kasich. Undercard debate: Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.” [USAtoday]

HAPPENING TODAY: “David Lichtenstein to Host Hillary Fundraiser in NYC” by Jacob Kornbluh: “According to an invitation obtained by Jewish Insider, David Lichtenstein, Chairman and CEO of The Lightstone Group, will be hosting a $2,700-per-head fundraiser for Hillary in New York City at 5:30PM today. In 2008, Lichtenstein hosted two fundraisers for Hillary, including one at his home in the Orthodox Jewish enclave in Lakewood, NJ.” [JewishInsider]

Joe Lieberman: “How to resolve partisan rancor” [WashExaminer]

“Bloomberg Also Polled Himself Against Sanders and Cruz” by Chris Smith: “The theory this time appears to largely be the same — but the potential for a highly polarized field is greater. Bloomberg’s odds are best if the GOP picks the demagogic Trump, but the deeply conservative Cruz could also repel Republican moderates and provide an electoral window. Still, in a campaign dominated so far by populism and nativism, a divorced Jewish plutocrat would face a tough fight to piece together enough votes.” [NYMag]

“Rahm Compares Fickle Chicago Media To A Jewish Mother” by Ted Cox: “Facing national scrutiny and local protests, Mayor Rahm Emanuel mocked the Chicago media for questioning his political muscle Wednesday, comparing them to Jewish mothers… He compared them to a Jewish mother who gives her son blue and green sweaters. When the son wears the blue sweater first, she immediately asks, ‘What’s wrong with the green sweater?'” [DNAinfo] • Related: “Top Emanuel aides aware of key Laquan McDonald details months before mayor says he knew” [ChicagoTribune]

MEDIA WATCH: “Al Jazeera America to shut down in April” by Tom Kludt and Brian Stelter: “The ambitious but little-watched Al Jazeera America news channel will shut down on April 30 after a little more than two years on television. The news was announced at a sudden staff-wide meeting on Wednesday afternoon. As many as 700 staff members could lose their jobs, according to sources at the company.” [CNN] • Malcolm Hoenlein emails… “Testament to the wisdom and acuity of the American people.”

Jeffrey Goldberg tweets: “If I won Powerball, I would buy al-Jazeera America but then turn it into a Jewish cooking network.” [Twitter]

**Good Thursday 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: “Billionaire John Paulson’s New York hedge fund firm has shut an operation in Bermuda that had been targeted by a Democratic lawmaker as a tax shelter” [Bloomberg] • “How Sheldon Silver Became a Convicted Felon Thanks to Shady Real Estate Relationships” [Observer] • “Ed Koch raked in $4.2 million betting on NY” [NYPost• “U.S. Will Track Secret Buyers of Luxury Real Estate” [NYTimes] • “Jared Kushner’s $35M Puck Building Penthouse Finally Has a Buyer” [Curbed] • “JDS, Chetrit file plans for supertall at 340 Flatbush Avenue Extension in Downtown Brooklyn”[NYYimbyRealDeal] • “Swanky SLS hotel brand coming to D.C.” [BizJournals]

STARTUP NATION: “Q&A: Mobileye Founder Talks Self-Driving Cars” by Orr Hirschauge: “Jerusalem-based Mobileye NV may be one of the biggest auto-parts suppliers you have never heard of. It is also one of the brightest lights of Israel’s recent tech startup boom. Listed in New York with a valuation of around $11 billion, the company makes components essential in the quest for so-called autonomous driving.” [WSJ]

SPOTLIGHT: A 23-year-old Jewish entrepreneur on ‘Shark Tank’ just convinced Robert Herjavec to invest $100,000 in gross-looking fruits and veggies — by Shana Lebowitz: “Evan Lutz, the 23-year-old from Baltimore, Maryland, is the cofounder and CEO of Hungry Harvest, a business built on selling “ugly” — but perfectly edible — produce that would otherwise get discarded. For every box it sells, the company donates a box to the hungry. On the latest episode of “Shark Tank,” which aired Friday night, Lutz approached the sharks looking for $50,000 for a 5% stake in his company. He ended up making a deal with Robert Herjavec, who invested $100,000 for 10% equity.”

“A whopping 40% of food in the US is never eaten. That’s partly because supermarkets don’t sell (and customers don’t buy) produce that’s misshapen or discolored, even though it’s generally fine to eat. Hungry Harvest purchases surplus produce from local farms and wholesalers. Boxes of ugly produce range from $15 to $55 a week (depending on size) and include leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and sometimes seasoning.” [BusinessInsiderTheSunNPR]

TALK OF OUR NATION: “Seeing ‘Crisis’ In Jewish Ethics, Group Urges Reform” by Gary Rosenblatt: “Fed up with ethical lapses among Jewish leaders that have “reached crisis levels,” more than 350 scholars, authors, rabbis, cantors and Jewish community activists have signed onto a “declaration” that is challenging individuals and organizations to act with more transparency and accountability, and in accord with Jewish values.” [JewishWeek]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Politicians fume over Heastie’s non-kosher breakfast spread” by Ian Mohr: “A big tradition in Albany, before the governor’s State of the State address, is the breakfast served by the assembly speaker,” said a hungry spy at the affair. “For the past decade, Sheldon Silver won high praise for the sumptuous kosher spread he laid out.” But this time around, “New Speaker Carl E. Heastie served a lavish spread that wasn’t in the kosher tradition . . . Bacon, sausage and ham were on the menu,” said the tref-averse insider.” [NYPost]

TRAGIC: “Three American Columbia University Students Killed in Honduras Bus Crash” by Erin Calabrese: “A bus crash in Honduras claimed the lives of three American women who were in the Central American country on a volunteer mission to help the poor, authorities said. The students were identified as Olivia Erhardt, 19, Daniella Moffson, 21, and Abigail Flanagan, 45, according to a statement from the university’s president, Lee Bollinger… Moffson’s father, Michael Moffson, 58, of the Upper East Side, said his daughter dreamed of becoming a pediatrician and loved volunteering. “My daughter was perfection,” Moffson said. “She was a beautiful girl, beautiful in and out. She did this because she was a good girl.” The last time he spoke with his daughter, he said, she told him, “Dad I’m having a fantastic time.” [NYDailyNewsNBC] • “Orthodox Jewish Student From NY Amongst 3 US Volunteers Killed In Bus Crash” [VIN]

HOLLYWOOD: “Meet the Billionaire Film Mogul and Former Israeli Spy Who Paid for The Revenant” by Kevin Lincoln: “Milchan’s mark on Hollywood is almost comically huge. An Israeli billionaire, Milchan began producing films in the 1970s. Considering his body of work — both in and outside of film — Milchan’s idiosyncratic legacy is already beyond assured. But with The Revenant’s win at the Globes and its success so far at the box office, it looks almost certain that Iñárritu’s film should at least be nominated for Best Picture, even if it still might not be the favorite. While a victory for Iñárritu would be historic, it would be significant for Milchan as well: He produced the last two Oscar winners. It may not be spycraft or statesmanship, but in Hollywood, that’s power.” [Vulture]

DESSERT: “50 reasons why L.A. is America’s coolest Jewish city” by Jared Sichel: “L.A. is home to more than 600,000 Jews — it is the city with the largest Jewish community outside of Tel Aviv and New York. But L.A.’s climate and topography are much closer to Israel’s than Manhattan’s — if it were always (with the exception of September in L.A.) springtime in Israel. Los Angeles has some of the best kosher restaurants in the United States, as well as every type of synagogue and young Jewish professional group under the sun.” [JewishJournal]

** A Message from Shabbat 2016: This edition of JI is proudly presented by “Shabbat 2016,” a pair of bipartisan Friday night dinners in Iowa (1/22) and New Hampshire (1/29) for campaign staffers, volunteers, and journalists on the trail. While there are many things that can divide us, we know that one thing can help unite us: Friday night! You can register here — and please pass on the info to folks in the early states. Hope to see you there! **

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