Daily Kickoff: U.S. says new Israeli government raises legitimate questions | People keep asking Mets’ pitcher Steven Matz if he’s Jewish

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TOP TALKER — Birthright Israel Foundation emails us to announce transition… “Birthright Israel Foundation Announces Search Committee for President to Succeed David Fisher: “Board Chairman Josh Nash and Vice Chair Laurie Blitzer recruited me into this wonderful organization and I am grateful for their partnership as we expanded our donor base, rebuilt the Foundation team and made investments in technology to become a more metrics-focused organization,” Fisher said. “With these goals realized and the board leadership poised to go through a planned transition, I have decided this is the right time to move on and I wanted to provide the board with as much notice as possible.”

Left unsaid: According to several sources with knowledge of the organization, a few prominent Birthright donors expressed displeasure with the smaller-than-expected fundraising haul and called for a change at the top. Will be interesting to see who applies for the position in what is often a challenging environment with rather demanding stakeholders.

DRIVING THE CONVERSATION: “A Split Over Israel Threatens the Democrats’ Hopes for Unity” by Jason Horowitz and Maggie Haberman: “Two of the senator’s appointees to the party’s platform drafting committee, Cornel West and James Zogby, on Wednesday denounced Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza and said they believed that rank-and-file Democrats no longer hewed to the party’s staunch support of the Israeli government. They said they would try to get their views incorporated into the platform. Dr. West said that while he recognized the necessity to provide for the security of Jews, who for thousands of years have been a “hated people,” he thought that the platform needed to bring more balance to “the plight of an occupied people.”

“The presence of Dr. Zogby and Dr. West on the 15-member panel, which also has six appointees of Hillary Clinton and four from the party chairwoman, does not guarantee their views will prevail. But it raises the prospect that one of the party’s most sensitive issues will be open to public debate while Mrs. Clinton is in a fight to unify her party and appeal to voters turned off by Donald J. Trump. It also laid bare a steady shift in the Democratic Party, whose members have been less willing to back Israel’s government than in years past.” [NYTimes]

Alan Dershowitz: “Bernie Sanders is an ignoramus when it comes to the Middle East, and he is very strongly biased against Israel. He gets his information from hard-Left, anti-Israel sources, and he doesn’t think for himself. I’m not worried about Sanders as a winner; I’m worried about him as a loser. And I will do everything in my power to see that he is marginalized in the Democratic Party, particularly on foreign policy, about which he knows nothing.” [Algemeiner]

“Sen. Robert Menendez endorses Hillary Clinton for president” by Jonathan Tamari: “Menendez endorsed Hillary Clinton for president Wednesday morning, hailing her foreign policy credentials and her support for Israel, and blasting Donald Trump as “an unmitigated disaster” waiting to happen on the world stage… Menendez, one of Israel’s most outspoken supporters in Congress, focused heavily on Clinton’s commitment to Israeli security. With the threats Israel faces from terrorism, Iran and global detractors, Menendez wrote, “the presence of a strong and experienced American president will be more critical than ever.”” [PhillyPolitickerNJ]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Sen. Cory Booker Delivering A Dvar Torah: “I quiz Jewish students when I speak to them. I’ll ask, ‘What happened right before Abraham received his blessing?’ And most people will talk about his circumcision and other things. But no. It was when Abraham saw strangers approaching from the distance and he was sitting in pain, and, the Torah says, he gets up and runs to meet these strangers. They didn’t necessarily pray like him; they didn’t look like him. But this Jewish idea of ‘chesed,’ of welcoming strangers, this is the last great spirit that was manifested. And then after the blessing, the next thing he does – to me is amazing, especially to a guy who used to be a mayor.”

“These guys, messengers of God, then inform Abraham that they’re going to destroy a city, God forbid as a mayor – no. And what does Abraham do? He doesn’t just accept it. Please understand, if angels of God told me they are going to do something, I wouldn’t have the audacity – or the chutzpah – to argue with them. But Abraham, after showing that one pillar of Jewish ideals and faith, which is kindness and goodness to strangers, he then shows the next great spirit of Judaism, which is fighting for justice even if you have to argue with messengers from God. It will always be about fighting for justice. This is Jewish heritage – kindness, decency, mercy, and always fighting for justice.” 

Booker delivered the remarks at a Jewish American Heritage Month celebration held in the Kennedy Caucus Room at the Russell Senate Office Building. Senators Hatch, Isakson, Brown, Kaine, Franken, Shaheen, Merkley and Cardin also addressed the approximately 200 guests in attendance. The event was emceed by Greg Rosenbaum and coordinated by Ezra Friedlander. Honorees included Rabbi Marc Schneier, Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman, Morton Davis, Ruth Lichtenstein and Thomas Corby. Spotted:Ambassador Norm Eisen, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, Stanley Treitel, William Daroff, Steve Rabinowitz, Chanan Weissman, Howard Mortman, Nick Muzin, Nate Segal, Abba Cohen, Ariel Sadwin, Nathan Diament, Duvi Honig and Jake Turx. Snapchat Recap [YouTube]

“U.S. Says Israel’s New Government Raises ‘Legitimate Questions’” by Barak Ravid: “In a very laconic statement, the State Department said that the makeup of the new coalition raises questions about the direction of Israeli policy. “We have also seen reports from Israel describing it as the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history and we also know that many of its ministers have said they oppose a two-state solution,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. “This raises legitimate questions about the direction it may be headed in … and what kind of policies it may adopt.” Toner however added that the United States will judge the new government based on its actions.” [Haaretz]

KAFE KNESSET — by Amir Tibon & Tal Shalev: The top headlines here last night were all about the State Department’s not-so-welcoming response to Netanyahu’s government shuffle, but as of this morning, there hasn’t yet been any official reply from the Prime Minister’s office. New Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has remained silent about the matter, and for good reason: His predcessor, Moshe Ya’alon, was scheduled to visit Washington in mid-June for talks about Israel’s F-35 purchase. Will be interesting to see the dynamic when Lieberman arrives instead.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv threw a farewell party yesterday to its’ spokesperson, Geoffrey Anisman. He will be leaving soon for a post in Kiev, Ukraine, which after four years of handling the Netanyahu-Obama relationship, should be a piece of cake. Spotted: Ambassador Dan Shapiro, the embassy’s veteran media specialist Yael Feldboy, Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, former JPost editor Steve Linde, Channel 2 chief anchor Yonit Levi, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid and Channel 10’s diplomatic correspondnet Moav Vardi.

“A Deadly Shooting, a General’s Revolt, and the Rise of Israel’s New Right” by Amos Harel:“The shot that killed Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in late March may not have been heard around the world, but it still succeeded in rocking Israeli society. Sharif, a young Palestinian man who was involved in an attack in which an Israeli soldier had been stabbed and wounded in the West Bank city of Hebron, was lying helpless and severely wounded on the ground. As the Israeli soldiers milled around and ambulances shuttled back and forth, Sgt. Elor Azaria walked over to Sharif and shot the injured man in the head from close range.” [ForeignPolicy]

Abe Foxman tells us: “Lieberman is more frequently a pragmatist than an ideologue and therefore will surprise many of his ideological political critics. Many diplomats who were hesitant to meet him – after they met had only praise about the discussions and many of his positions.”

“Jimmy Carter resigns from Elders” by Nick Gass: “Carter traveled with the organization’s first mission to Sudan in October 2007 amid the crisis in Darfur and most recently led a delegation in May 2015 to Israel and [Palestinian territories] to draw attention to the humanitarian situation in Gaza. He will now hold the title of honorary “Emeritus” elder, the group said Wednesday.” [Politico]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: “Israeli firms team up for high-speed 3D stem cell printing” [Reuters] • “Politics inevitable as Beth Israel downsizes” [CapitalNY] • “WeWork founder on taking office-sharing concept into the home” [CBS] • “Wavii founder and former Googler Adrian Aoun is working on a new healthcare startup, Forward” [TechCrunch• “From Beyoncé to Springsteen, almost every big concert goes through Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino” [ReCode]

MEDIA WATCH: “Peter Thiel just gave other billionaires a dangerous blueprint for perverting philanthropy” by Felix Salmon: “If Thiel’s strategy works against Gawker, it could be used by any billionaire against any media organization. Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, the list goes on and on. Up until now, they’ve mostly been content suing news organizations as plaintiffs, over stories which name them. But Thiel has shown them how to go thermonuclear: bankroll other lawsuits, as many as it takes, and bankrupt the news organization that way. Very few companies have the legal wherewithal to withstand such a barrage.” [Fusion]

STARTUP NATION: “How the Constant Threat of War Shaped Israel’s Tech Industry” by Ashlee Vance: “This episode of Hello World delves into the IDF to discover how it became such an efficient technology engine. My trip starts in Ashkelon, a coastal city that sits near the Gaza Strip, where up close I see the Iron Dome defense shield, which can intercept missiles and rockets midflight, and chat with some of the young soldiers in the IDF. Then I travel to a bustling market in Tel Aviv and meet with Shlomo Kramer. He’s a former member of Unit 8200 and now one of the legendary entrepreneurs and investors in Israel. This story, though, is about more than Israel’s military technology base. It’s about how the tech scene has evolved and expanded.” [Businessweek]

TALK OF OUR NATION — Meet Uganda’s Tiny Jewish Community by Tommy Trenchard: “On March 23, 2016, a group of Ugandans wearing masks and costumes gathered in a village in the shadow of Mount Elgon to mark a failed plot against the Jewish people in ancient Persia. Here, in the lush rolling terrain near the Kenyan border—a landscape dotted with churches and mosques in every village—a tiny community of Jews has been living for almost a century. A month earlier, the Abayudaya, as Uganda’s Jewish population are known, celebrated a major victory when their leader, Gershom Sizomu, Uganda’s first and only rabbi, beat seven other candidates in the Muslim-majority constituency of Bungokho North to become the first Jew to win a seat in the country’s parliament.” [Newsweek]

“Grandfather’s Dilemma: Am I a PopPop or a Skipper?” by Clare Ansberry: ““Sometimes it just sounds good. You love the way it sounds and think ‘I can see myself as this,’ ” says Ellen Breslau, editor in chief at Grandparents.com, a digital media company. Ms. Breslau’s mother picked Bubbe. The name is tied to her Jewish culture and associated with the person who keeps the family together, feeds everyone and is surrounded by laughter and conversation. “That is what she wanted and what she is,” says Ms. Breslau.” [WSJ]

SPORTS BLINK: “Matz vs. Matz: ESPN.com’s Eddie Matz grills Mets’ Steven Matz” by Eddie Matz: “According to the website forebears.io, “Matz” is the 30,312th most common name in the world. Growing up, the only time I ever met anyone who shared my last name was at our annual Passover seder, where approximately 100 Matzes would eat matzo. So imagine my astonishment when Steven Matz first got called up. Were we related? Was he Jewish? Did people constantly mispronounce his last name as though it were a popular brand of apple juice?”

I recently caught up with Steven Matz — the pitcher, not my first cousin once removed who’s a well-known Baltimore orthopedist — to find out just how much we have in common. Ya know, besides an extremely rare last name. His first question upon meeting me: “Are you Jewish?” Me: “Yeah, why — you’re not, are you?” (Sidebar: Jews tend to keep a running tab on which pro athletes are and are not Jewish, and my diligence had indicated that he was not a member of the tribe.) Him: “I’m not, but it’s always the first question people ask when they meet me.” Me: “Really? Why?” Him: “Because I’m from Long Island and it sounds like Katz.” [ESPNJTA]

DESSERT: “The 38 Essential Tel Aviv Restaurants” by Keren Brown: “Yemenite, Moroccan, Tunisian, Spanish, and homegrown Israeli food can all be relished here, from hole­-in-­the-­wall food joints to a groundswell of fine dining, and everything in between, while fresh produce can be picked up for a song in one of the city’s many bustling open­-air markets.” [Eater]

BIRTHDAYS: Emmy award winning SVP of News at NPR, Michael Oreskes turns 62… Tel Aviv based freelance journalist, formerly a producer at NBC News in New York, Yardena Schwartz… Political commentator and history professor at Brandeis and Georgetown, Walter Ze’ev Laqueur turns 95… U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D – IL 9th), born Janice Danoff, turns 72… Morgan Jacobs…

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