Daily Kickoff: Kasich says he’d keep Iran deal | Wendy Sherman recounts ‘pain’ over Israeli invective | Bernie Sanders: ‘I’m proud to be Jewish’

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DEBATE WATCH: “The GOP debates have become like Super Bowl parties for top donors” by Matea Gold: “Major fundraisers and top contributors fly in on private jets and gather in hotel suites before start time, marveling over the latest twists in the race. Once inside the venue, they snap selfies in front of the stage. They anxiously root for their favored candidates, swapping text messages with friends as the jabs fly back and forth. “It’s the same thing as going to a football game,” said Foster Friess.””For New York venture capitalist Ken Abramowitz, who has made contributions to multiple candidates, the appeal is less the main event and more the private gatherings afterward, where he tries to offer some feedback to the White House hopefuls. “I like to give them a word of advice if they said something during the debate I thought was wrong,” said Abramowitz… “I will point that out to them — not in a critical manner, but a friendly manner, to help them.”

“The donor scrutiny was particularly intense at last month’s forum at the Venetian resort in Las Vegas. Sitting front and center in the audience were billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who have not publicly declared their support for a candidate. Seated nearby were Oklahoma oil-and-gas ­entrepreneur Harold Hamm and two major Rubio backers, New York hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and North Carolina retail executive Art Pope.” [WashPost]

PROFILE: “What Kind of Man Spends Millions to Elect Ted Cruz?” by Zachary Mider:“Robert Mercer is the co-chief executive officer of one of the country’s largest and most secretive hedge funds, Renaissance Technologies, but people who’ve spent time with him say he hasn’t shown any interest in advancing its agenda in Washington. They say he disdains the establishment wing of the Republican Party, which he sees as too cozy with Big Business and Wall Street. Unlike many of his peers in New York financial circles, he doesn’t shrink from the culture wars. He’s supported a campaign for the death penalty in Nebraska and funded ads in New York critical of the so-called ground-zero mosque. He and Rebekah have also directed money to an anti-abortion group and a Christian college, though people who know the father and daughter say they don’t talk about religion.” [Bloomberg]

DONOR WATCH: “Blackstone’s Schwarzman: I’d pick Trump over Cruz” by Tom DiChristopher: “Longtime Republican Stephen Schwarzman said Wednesday if the GOP presidential race came down to Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, he would go with the real estate mogul. “If those are my choices, I’d sort of, you know, I’d be really trying to figure out where we go,” the chairman and CEO of Blackstone Group told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “If I had to do that one, I would do Donald.” [CNBC]

“Billionaire green activist Steyer says not yet ready to back Clinton, open to Sanders” by Richard Valdmanis: “Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer said he is not yet prepared to back Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president and he would not rule out supporting her main rival, Bernie Sanders, if he beats her in the primaries.” [Reuters]

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign: Do you think Bernie Sanders could defeat ISIS?” by Pamela Engel: “Hillary Clinton’s campaign on Monday sent out a joint letter signed by several former diplomats and national-security officials who questioned Democratic rival Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vermont) plan to defeat ISIS and deal with Iran.” [BusinessInsider]

Sanders Strikes Back: “Senator Sanders has a lot of respect for the senior U.S. diplomats who support Secretary Clinton and question his views on ISIS and Iran. We certainly concede that former Secretary of State Clinton has more experience than Sen. Sanders, but his judgment on major foreign policy issues is far superior,” the Sanders campaign said wrote in a statement on Tuesday.” [WashExaminer]

FIRST LOOK: “Bernie Sanders Does His Own Laundry (and Grocery Shopping): Inside the Family Life of the Down-to-Earth Democratic Candidate” by Sandra Sobieraj Westfall: “Bernie Sanders on being elected America’s first Jewish president, tells People: “Eh, spirituality is something I think people should generally hold to themselves. But I’m proud to be Jewish, and it’s a very important part of my life.” [PeopleMag]

Harry Jaffe on Bernie Sanders’ Jewish background and upbringing: “I think that you have to first consider the neighborhood where he was raised was a Jewish ghetto, almost like a shtetl… As far as his religious upbringing, I don’t think it was very important or deep. He was bar mitzvah, but I don’t think that they had Shabbat dinners. It sounded to me from my reporting that he was more of a cultural Jew. He and his older brother, Larry, drew from the bible the lessons, the morality, the Ten Commandments, as opposed to the practice of Judaism and the Talmud… He has said often that the biggest influence was not that he was Jewish but that his father’s family was killed in the Holocaust. And you don’t have to be Jewish to have had your family killed in the Holocaust.”

“Bernard Sanders is not a practicing Jew in any way, shape or form. He’s not an observant Jew in any way, shape or form. He married a Catholic woman. I would seriously doubt that he raised his one natural son as a Jew. Whether his understanding of God emanates from his Judaism, whether he believes in God at all, I really don’t know; he never talks about it. It’s an open question whether Bernie Sanders believes in God. His wife said to me that they spiritually are in line with the Judeo-Christian thinking, but that’s kind of a wide open field… I did specifically ask Sugarman about Sanders’ approach to Judaism. And he gave me this line. He said, “I would call him an uncertain agnostic.” He’s not even sure he’s agnostic.”[MomentMag]

Tevi Troy emails… “What We Can Learn From the GOP Candidates’ Pop Culture Interests” [Observer]

Trump: ’100 Percent’ in Favor of Moving Embassy to Jerusalem: “I am for that one hundred percent. We are for that one hundred percent.” [JewishInsider]

Trump to Bill O’Reilly: “We have a President that is much more committed…to Iran than he’s committed to Israel.” [FoxNews]

“Republicans hammer on at Iran deal on presidential campaign” by Steve Holland: “U.S. Republican presidential candidates took swipes on Tuesday at the lifting of sanctions against Iran, but they disagree on how they would to handle Tehran if they win the White House at the Nov. 8 election. Iran can expect an abrupt shift in relations with the United States to a more aggressive posture under a Republican president, a reversal of the warming trend nurtured by Democratic President Barack Obama.”[Reuters]

Rubio on Fox & Friends: “We are not going to turn over billions of dollars in sanctions relief to a government that is developing long range missiles, sponsors Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, props up Assad, and by the way, has always had a nuclear program, and I believe will eventually use that money to either buy or build a nuclear warhead to hold the world hostage, including America. So we’re going to cancel the deal with Iran. Then I’m going to ask Congress not just to reauthorize the existing sanctions for a longer period of time but to increase them. Then I’m going to make very clear to the world that we are strongly on Israel’s side.” [YouTube]

Kasich’s Unorthodox Playbook: “John Kasich said he’d keep Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.” [WSJ]

“Jeb Vows Stronger Relationship with Israel to Confront Iran” by Jacob Kornbluh: “In an hour-long conversation with at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Bush argued that the Iran nuclear deal has emboldened Iran in a way that has allowed them to up their game on the non-nuclear front without indicating a change in behavior.” [JIIBTBloomberg• Video [YouTube]

IRAN DEAL: “Diplomacy and Sanctions, Yes. Left Unspoken on Iran? Sabotage.” by David Sanger: “When the final history of this remarkable encounter between Washington and Tehran is written, the story is likely to be far more complex. Obama’s strategy had a major coercive element as well. This included covert actions that repeatedly, if briefly, set back the nuclear program and convinced Iranian elites that its secrecy had been compromised.” [NYTimes]

“Iran Hard-Liners Reassert Influence on Election Slate” by Aresu Eqbali: “Almost two-thirds of the 12,000 candidates who applied to run in next month’s parliamentary elections were either disqualified by Iran’s Guardian Council or withdrew. The disqualifications are poised to escalate long-standing tensions between conservatives and moderates, showing how a broader battle is taking shape over Iran’s future.” [WSJ]

Eli Lake: “The disqualifications are a blow to President Barack Obama and European leaders who had hoped the accord would benefit Iran’s moderate (by comparison) president. Much of U.S. strategy in the nuclear talks has been aimed at strengthening perceived moderates in the hopes of weakening perceived hardliners.” [BloombergView]

Ben Caspit: “Why Israel is keeping a close eye on Iran’s parliamentary elections” [AlMonitor]

TOP-OP: “Can Iran Change?” by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir: “The world is watching Iran for signs of change, hoping it will evolve from a rogue revolutionary state into a respectable member of the international community. But Iran, rather than confronting the isolation it has created for itself, opts to obscure its dangerous sectarian and expansionist policies, as well as its support for terrorism, by leveling unsubstantiated charges against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” [NYTimes• Tells CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “We don’t have confidence in Iran,” he said, “We have confidence in the United States.” [CNN]

Bret Stephens: “Why the U.S. Should Stand by the Saudis Against Iran” [WSJ]

“US Negotiator of Iran Deal Wendy Sherman Recounts ‘Pain’ Over Israeli Invective” by Barbara Opall-Rome: “For me personally, one of the most difficult parts was the tension with this beloved country and its people,” Sherman told participants at an annual security conference by the Tel Aviv University-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Sherman noted that going into the negotiations on behalf of US Secretary of State John Kerry and US President Barack Obama, she had three strikes against her vis a vis her Iranian interlocutors: “I was a woman, an American, and I was Jewish. “So having the dissension and the difficulties that we had in this process — and with the American Jewish community of which I consider myself a part — was very, very painful.” [DefenseNews]

“Former Netanyahu Aide Calls U.S. Ambassador to Israel ‘Jew Boy'” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “A former advisor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Aviv Bushinsky, used the derogatory Hebrew term “Yehudon” – loosely translated as “little Jew boy” to characterize remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro.” [HaaretzGuardianReuters]

State Department on Amb. Shapiro’s INSS speech: “It wasn’t like he sat down and scribbled on a piece of paper, “Well, today I’m going to say stuff that’s going to cause concern and angst with Israeli leaders.” He was simply stating again longstanding, public policy by the United States with respect to the violence that’s going on there, to the settlement activity which is going on there, and to what we believe needs to happen to get to a two-state solution.”

‘US doesn’t view EU product labeling as boycott against Israel’ by Itamar Eichner: “We do not view labeling the origin of products as being from the settlements a boycott of Israel. We also do not believe that labeling the origin of products is equivalent to a boycott,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing.” [YNet]

**Good Wednesday 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 Rennert, U.S. pension agency settle RG Steel lawsuit” [Reuters• “Lev Leviev’s Africa Israel reaches settlements with AG, condo residents” [RealDeal] • “Sorrell Accuses Activists of Short-Termism in Debate With Paul Singer” [Bloomberg] • “Four big proposals in Broward city, including waterfront building by major New York developer Chetrit” [BizJournals• “David Lichtenstein’s Lightstone Group secured $330 million in financing for the conversion of a 16-story Times Square office building into a new hotel” [RealDealNYO] • “Westfield’s World Trade Centre mall rises from the ashes” [TheAustralian] • “Viacom, CBS Sued Over ‘Loyalty’ to Sumner Redstone” [Variety]
HEADLINE OF THE DAY: “It’s no joke: Univision buys a stake in the Onion” by Meg James:“Univision is owned by four private equity firms and Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban, who has long been a prominent backer of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” [LATimes]

TOP TALKER: “National LGBTQ Task Force Reinvites Jewish and Israeli Groups To Conference” by Debra Nussbaum Cohen: ““I have decided to reverse our decision to cancel the ‘Beyond the Bridge’ reception hosted by A Wider Bridge with guest speakers from the Jerusalem Open House,” wrote Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force.” [HaaretzTaskForceTabletMag

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Vancouver’s Jewish Scene Filled With New Faces” by Lauren Kramer: “Despite the high cost of living in British Columbia, the face of Vancouver’s Jewish community is changing rapidly, with 36 per cent of its population born outside of Canada – the largest percentage in the country. In the Grade 1 classroom at Richmond Jewish Day School (RJDS), half of the class speaks English as a second language, with students hailing from Israel and Argentina and speaking a mixture of Hebrew, Russian and Spanish.” [CJNews]

VIRAL TEKIAH: “Oregon Militiamen Upload Video of Themselves Blowing “Battle Trumpets” — by Sam Biddle: “You may know the shofar as a musical instrument of Jewish antiquity, traditionally blown in synagogues during Rosh Hashanah—but did you know that right now, in the frozen hinterland of the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon militiamen are blowing the HORNS OF FREEDOM as we speak?” [GawkerRawStory]

BIRTHDAYS: Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky turns 68… Former U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley turns 65… Georgina Bloomberg turns 33… Bill Maher turns 6-0…

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