Daily Kickoff: Koch bros give megaphone to anti-Israel fringe | Melania says Ioffe provoked anti-Semitic abuse | The Harvard sophomore improving Uber

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HEARD YESTERDAY — Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew at the Jewish Theological Seminary Commencement Ceremony in NYC: “I may be looking at the only ‘conservative’ group that would greet me so warmly (laughter)… As I have moved ahead in the larger world, in so many ways I have found that holding onto our tradition and practices has helped to give me strength and clarity of direction… I have worked for two presidents and a House Speaker with boundless respect for traditions other than their own, from different calendars and schedules to different foods and different approaches to worship itself… When I moved back to New York in 2001, and was looking for a synagogue, I went to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Rabbi Weiss welcomed me… Rabbi Weiss sat down next to me on my first visit to his synagogue and welcomed me by saying, ‘if you make this synagogue your home, no matter what the political issue, I will never use this pulpit to make you uncomfortable.’ For 15 years he has kept that commitment and taught me a powerful lesson that I would like to leave you with.” [TreasuryVideo]

Honorees included Secretary Lew, noted communal leader and philanthropist Karen Davidson, University of Chicago Professor Dr. Michael Fishbane, National Director emeritus of the ADL Abraham Foxman, Former Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman.

Abe Foxman, speaking at lunch following the commencement ceremony: “Three things 50 years ago they predicted. 1. There will be no Jewish community in America in 50 years. 2. The State of Israel will be accepted as a normal state by the community of nations. 3. Anti-Semitism will be history, a fact of the past, you won’t have to worry about it. Wow. You know what I’ve learned in the past 50 years? They were wrong on all counts… So whether it is in creating a vibrant and vital greater Jewish presence in this country or whether it’s in defense of Israel’s rights and its strength and security or whether it is worrying about the daily safety of Jews, this institution not only has a vital role today but is critical for the future.”

SCENE LAST NIGHT: In celebration of Karen Davidson’s honorary degree, friends and family gathered for a dinner highlighting the Davidson family’s generous contributions to JTS. The dinner, held at Prime on the rooftop of The Bentley Hotel in NYC, included a musical performance from Ethan Davidson, son of the late Bill Davidson. Spotted: NBA Commissioner emeritus David Stern and Dianne Stern, Actress Elizabeth Reaser, Emily Reaser, Mary Aaron, Jill Rachesky, Terry Kassel, Amy Holtz, Eli Saulson, Ralph Gerson, Darin McKeever, Kari Alterman, JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen, Dean of the Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education Bill Robinson, Alisa Doctoroff, Hillel’s Tim Cohen, Debbie Hochberg, Mimi Perlman, and Thomas Baer.

TOP TALKER: Melania Trump suggests Julia Ioffe provoked anti-Semitic abuse by Trump fans after negative GQ article about her: “I don’t control my fans,” Melania says, “but I don’t agree with what they’re doing. I understand what you mean, but there are people out there who maybe went too far. She provoked them.”… When I mention that the comedian Louis C.K. flat out compared Trump to Hitler, Melania stares blankly back at me. “We know the truth. He’s not Hitler,” she insisted. “He wants to help America. He wants to unite people. They think he doesn’t but he does. Even with the Muslims, it’s temporary.” She concedes: “Maybe he needs to say it in a softer way. He doesn’t go after religions. He feels like we need to know who’s coming to this country. If not, we don’t have a country. That’s how he feels.” [DujourJI]

“White Nationalists See Advancement Through Donald Trump’s Candidacy” by Beth Reinhard: “While his policy prescriptions proved popular with GOP primary voters, Mr. Trump is now the presumptive nominee of a party that has struggled in recent presidential elections to expand its appeal beyond white voters. At the same time, his hard-line immigration policy and high profile are big lures for extreme groups seeking to elevate their status and views.” [WSJ]

“Trump would talk to North Korea’s Kim, wants to renegotiate climate accord” by Steve Holland and Emily Flitter: “Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Tuesday he is willing to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to try to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program, proposing a major shift in U.S. policy toward the isolated nation.” [Reuters]

“On the Lonely Island of ‘Never Trump’” by Julia Ioffe: “Across Washington, stalwarts of the GOP foreign-policy establishment find themselves suddenly adrift. Could they really vote for—gulp—Hillary?” [PoliticoMag]

“Adelson implores Republican Jewish leaders to support Trump” by Julie Bykowicz: “I’m asking for your support” for Trump, Adelson wrote in an email Monday to more than 50 Republican Jewish leaders. Adelson told them he had met with Trump recently and is “specifically convinced he will be a tremendous president when it comes to the safety and security of Israel. Like many of you, I do not agree with him on every issue,” Adelson wrote in the email, obtained by The Associated Press. “However, I will not sit idly by and let Hillary Clinton become the next president. The consequences to our country, and Israel, are far too great to take that risk.” [APJI]

“Why Rupert Murdoch Decided to Back Donald Trump” by Gabriel Sherman: “The Murdoch-Trump alliance is the result of at least two private meetings between the billionaires this spring as well as phone calls from Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Murdoch’s view, according to those who’ve spoken with him, is that Trump is a winner whom the “elites” failed to take seriously. “He doesn’t like people to be snobs and treat Trump like a clown,” one person explained… And it’s clear Trump is good for business. According to one Fox News producer, the channel’s ratings dip whenever an anti-Trump segment airs.”[NYMag]

“Donald Trump and Republican Party Reach Fund-Raising Agreement” by Maggie Haberman: “Trump and the RNC announced on Tuesday night that they had forged a joint fund-raising agreement allowing donors to make contributions as large as $449,400, spread among the national committee and party committees in 11 states… The R.N.C.’s finance chairman, Lewis M. Eisenberg, will work with Mr. Trump’s national finance chairman, Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive.” [NYTimes]

“Bill Clinton Vouches for Hillary’s ‘Kishkes’ on Israel” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “The question as to how Israel — and its supporters in the U.S. — views the 2016 U.S. presidential race relies, to an extent, on whether Hillary is identified with her husband’s intact “kishke factor,” or Obama’s deficient one. Thus far, in her impressively managed efforts in the Jewish media and her well-received speech at AIPAC in March, Hillary has held her own, despite efforts to paint her as surrounded by a cabal of Israel-hating advisers based on the Email releases from her private servers. And the stamp of approval from Bill, still the most popular U.S. president among Israelis, goes a long way.” [Haaretz]

“Koch Brothers Give a Megaphone to the Anti-Israel Fringe” by Eli Lake: “On Wednesday, the Charles Koch Institute, a think tank funded by one of the conservative movement’s most generous donors, will host a conference featuring some of the academy’s most virulent foes of Israel. The institute’s conference scheduled for Wednesday will feature separate panels with Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, co-authors of the 2006 book “The Israel Lobby.” The institute’s decision to host a conference that features Walt, Mearsheimer and a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, is in keeping with a general realignment of U.S. politics in 2016. Under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, conservatives have embraced Israel and accused their partisan foes of not supporting the Jewish State, but this year has brought a shift.” [BloombergView]

“Methodists vote to cut ties with group some consider anti-Israel” by Emily McFarlan Miller and Lauren Markoe: “United Methodists, voting at their General Conference, have called on their church’s mission agency to withdraw from a group founded to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands that critics see as more anti-Israel than pro-peace. The petition asking for the agency’s withdrawal from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation passed 478-318.” [RNS

“France delays Mideast peace conference for U.S.” by Nicole Gaouette: “France has postponed an international conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to ensure U.S. officials are able to attend — but American political currents may stymie their efforts to fully engage the Obama administration even with its participation.” [CNN]

“Improving Saudi-Israeli relations offers an opportunity for the U.S.—and a big risk” by Todd Rosenblum: “In a new Middle East marked by a rising Iran, one of the least talked about but perhaps most significant developments is the quiet rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Burgeoning ties between the two nations are built on the shared sense of betrayal and abandonment by a Washington seemingly interested in building a modus vivendi with Iran and withdrawing from the region.” [Politico• “Senate Passes Bill Exposing Saudi Arabia to 9/11 Legal Claims” [NYT]

Happening Today: MK Yair Lapid will hold an on-record briefing at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies at 11am [Livestream]

“Interview with U.S. Senate hopeful Carlos Lopez-Cantera” by Jacob Kornbluh: “In a phone interview with Jewish Insider on Friday, Lopez-Cantera said he doesn’t believe the two-state solution is currently a “viable” path to pursue peace between the Israelis and Palestinians… During a recent trip to Israel, Lopez-Cantera – at the age of 42 – held an impromptu bar mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall. His wife, Renee, and mother are Jewish, while his father is Catholic… Lopez-Cantera also discussed his a relationship with megadonor Norman Braman. “We do talk about Israel We talk about national and international issues. We also talk about my family, he gives me advice. He’s a good friend.” [JewishInsider]

**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: “How the SBE-Morgans deal finally came together” [RealDeal] • “Russia Remains Determined To Stop Israel-Turkey Pipeline Deal” [Yahoo] • “Oracle CEO Safra Catz claims it discounted Java by 97.5% to beat out Android on Amazon’s Paperwhite” [TechCrunch] • “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Meet With Conservatives Over Trending Topics” [WSJ] • “Josh Kushner-backed pharmacy startup Capsule launches” [NYBusinessJournal

PROFILE: “Mike Packer, the Jewish Sneaker King of Teaneck, N.J.” by Yaron Weitzman: “Lots of sneakerheads open sneaker shops, and lots of boutique sneaker shops morph into sneakerhead destinations. Few, however, peddle as much influence as Mike Packer. Few become brands into themselves. “He’s got this real ability to zero in on the right item with the right colors and right marketing and tie in all these amazing ideas and perfect details,” said Jon Epstein, the president of Fila USA, who over the years has worked on a number of high-end sneaker collaborations with Packer.” [TabletMag]

RISING STAR: “This Orthodox Jewish Kid Just Improved Uber” by Kit Englard: “A sophomore at Harvard University where he is studying Chemistry and Computer Science, Joshua is continuing the research that earned him the Intel award, doing new research using Artificial Intelligence (AI), has founded a nonprofit to help homeless kids, placed high in the Chidon HaTanach (international Bible competition), is interning at a financial tech company, and develops iPhone apps in his spare time. Last week he launched a new app, TaxiLater, which is getting a whole lot of people excited. Free at the Apple App Store, TaxiLater allows a user to schedule an Uber pick-up in advance, something that up until now has been only a dream for most Uber devotees.” [JITC]

ROCK STAR: “Beating health scares, Jonathan Sarna seals status as rock star Jewish historian” by Uriel Heilman: “Among journalists, Sarna is known as the go-to scholar for erudite, succinct, quotable analysis on American Jewish history. But he’s also a favorite sage for aspiring Jewish academics; more than 30 doctoral dissertations have been written under his direction. That’s partly why he decided to make Brandeis, the Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian university founded in this Boston suburb in 1948, his professional home.” [JTA]

TALK OF OUR NATION: “The Forgotten Jewish Pirates of Jamaica” by Ross Kenneth Urken: “Once, Semitic swashbucklers battled for control of the Caribbean island. Today, some tour operators and cultural historians are calling attention to the country’s little-known Jewish heritage.” [Travel+Leisure]

“Mandy Patinkin Digs Deep to Sing Yiddish Music” by Ralph Gardner Jr: “The singer and actor—his credits range from “The Princess Bride” to “Sunday in the Park with George” to “Homeland”—will have the opportunity to perform both at a benefit concert May 23 for the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene, a professional theater company. The event is being held at Jazz at Lincoln Center. In 1998, he recorded “Mamaloshen,” an album of Yiddish music that means “mother tongue.” “It became one of my favorite things I’ve ever done and I’ve never let it go,” Mr. Patinkin said.” [WSJ]

“No sweat: High school junior completes 7,000 pull-ups to shatter world records” by T. Rees Shapiro: “Andrew Shapiro’s quest to set a Guinness World Record began seven months ago, with American Ninja Warrior and his father’s cancer diagnosis. Shapiro, a fan of the obstacle course challenge television show, decided he wanted to dedicate himself to getting into peak physical condition. Inspired by his father’s five-year battle against colon cancer, the 17-year-old practiced incessant pull-ups with the goal of setting three world records during a Relay for Life event in Fairfax County, Va.” [WashPost]

BIRTHDAYS: Longtime New York Times columnist and reporter Clyde Haberman turns 71… RebelMail founder Joe Teplow… Netanel Levitt… Linda Mayman… The AP’s White House reporter Josh Lederman turns 31…

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