Daily Kickoff: Exclusive Interviews — Sen. Cory Booker back from visit to Israel; Presidential candidate Evan McMullin | Remembering Gene Wilder

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JI ORIGINAL INTERVIEW — Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ): Fresh off a recent CODEL visit to the Middle East with stops in Israel, Iraq and Jordan, Senator Cory Booker checked in with us by phone yesterday to provide a rundown of his trip. “It was one of the more comprehensive visits I’ve had, even though I was just there in January, and to be able to spend close to a week in Israel was incredibly helpful,” Booker told us.

JI: You are a social media pro and we noticed you didn’t have any posts from Israel. Why was that? And, since we believe in second chances, if you could post a single Snap or Instagram from your visit, what would it be? 

Booker: (Laughter) The reality is that I didn’t post at all on this trip through the Middle East. I decided to go dark for the first time in a while. For about ten days I didn’t post anything or access my accounts at all. Some of it was security issues as well as just giving it a rest for a while and really absorbing as much as I could in my role on the trip. When you’re on a CODEL, it’s a marathon, round the clock, nonstop, no sleep.

There were so many profound moments in Israel that I would have wanted to post. One of the more moving meetings I had was with Ethiopian Jewish leaders that was just incredible. I visited the Ethiopian National Project which was created by the government to fully integrate Ethiopian Jews into Israel’s society. They’re still facing a lot of challenges with poverty, unemployment but the Ethiopian National Project is really doing an extraordinary job in empowering the Ethiopian community to be successful. So to meet with young people and others — that was just a really a very moving moment for me, that I probably would have tweeted or snapped about. I did take a lot of selfies with the young people there so I imagine it might have popped up on some of their social media.

JI: You went to Israel with Tim Scott, a Republican Senator from South Carolina. Is that a testament to Israel remaining a bipartisan issue in Congress? 

Booker: I think he and I both, not only as a bipartisan pair, but this is the first time in American history that two popularly elected African-Americans have been serving at the same time in the U.S. Senate. One of the reasons why we really wanted to connect with the Ethiopian community, as two Americans of African descent serving in the Senate, was to make an important connection with them and be able to discuss issues of race and culture as well. Sen. Scott and I are friends first and foremost. Number two, we definitely wanted to show the bipartisan support for Israel as well as do things that we thought would be unique for the only two African-Americans in the Senate, including getting a chance to meet with diverse communities.

(Senators Booker and Scott planted a pistachio tree in honor of President John F. Kennedy at Yad Kennedy, a memorial located in the Mateh Yehuda Region near Jerusalem, Israel. Pic)

JI: In recent weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement had some harsh things to say about Israel in their platform, including referring to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as ‘genocide’ — and in the process alienating some in the pro-Israel community would are otherwise sympathetic to many of the issues the movement cares about. You know both of these communities. Is there anything you will do to bridge the gaps? 

Booker: First of all, from what I read and I only read one article about it, it’s not the Black Lives Matter’s platform, it was the platform of an umbrella organization that has a number of left organizations as a part of it. Number two, if you understand the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s no central leadership of the movement. This is an organic, grassroots movement all around our country. The first thing we should be concerned about the BLM movement should be the issues that the BLM movement is bringing forward. There’s no fundamental platform being brought by activists in Oakland, Baltimore, or New Jersey. The main issues that you see, the commonality between activists all around the country, are trying to deal with the challenges in the criminal justice system, something that is very much central to my work. So my hope is that people stay focused on the urgency to create justice here at home.

JI: We wanted to ask if you have a favorite Torah portion or verse — we’ve heard you speak about Mount Nebo and כִּי בֵיתִי בֵּית תְּפִלָּה יִקָּרֵא לְכָל הָעַמִּים in the past…

Booker: I don’t want to pick one. If you talk to me numerous times, there are different ones that really do resonate with me that I think about.

JI: Any specific ones during your trip?

Booker: One from the trip that I seem to be coming back to time and time again is how obviously this is the month of Av and Tisha B’Av is truly a tragic day, the destruction of the temple and I was thinking about that while I was over there during the month of Av. Most people don’t know that the first Tisha B’Av was when Moses sent 12 scouts into the promised land to see what was going on. Ten of them came back and — the Torah is really powerful because it doesn’t just say they were huge giants who saw the spies as grasshoppers but rather — they reported that “we see ourselves as grasshoppers in their eyes” so that kept the people back out for another 40 years because of that. Two of the spies were exceptions though, Caleb and Joshua. I was thinking about these two who understood, who had such a powerful faithfulness in God who liberated us from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, brought us through the desert, I can keep going with ‘Dayenu’s’ if you’d like. (Laughter) But now we’re here and we have this courage born from faith and we believe that no matter how big they are, we can do this.

To me, it’s a metaphor for a lot of the challenges in the Middle East right now, where there’s incredible suffering and grief going on. I met with a lot of NGOs that work both with Palestinians and Israelis and — I’ll never forget this one woman in a group of mothers of murdered children — in a group of Israeli as well as Palestinian mothers — and how she spoke powerfully about still having the courage to believe and have hope that there could be peace and that in fact through their grief and their pain they can be agents of that peace. That hopefulness and faithfulness to me spoke of a faithfulness of Caleb and Joshua that no matter how big the problems are, no matter how ‘Giant’ they may seem, we still have the courage to believe we can press forward with peace and security and that this could be the reality for the promised land.

JI: You are known to be the “biggest Democratic recipient of pro-Israel donations”. Last summer, there was a strong disagreement with some over the Iran nuclear deal. How are relations with the pro-Israel community today?

Booker: Again, my decision stems from a fierce allegiance to Israel as well as to the security of the United States of America. It was affirming to me to meet security experts over there, former military commanders who fought in wars, who confided in me that the nuclear threat has been removed for the near future and how much that is freeing up resources and energy to focus on the common threat of terrorism in the region. I found a lot of folks over there, security and military experts, who were affirming to the decision I made and how beneficial it is. So again, for me the looming threat was an Iranian nuclear attack and we’ve removed that for the foreseeable short term and we’re focusing on what we need to focus on which is Israel’s immediate security and the strong partnership between the United States and Israel. For that, those conversations I have with pro-Israel people in Israel and the US, and in my meeting with PM Netanyahu, everyone believes whether they supported the deal or not that we now must look forward and continuously strengthen the bonds between Israel and the United States.

JI: This next question stems from an article in the Jerusalem Post during your visit, which said you were spotted at Shmuley Boteach’s daughter’s wedding last week in Jerusalem — and implying that you’ve made up with him after the fallout over the Iran deal. Were you at the wedding and have you made up with Shmuley?

Booker: I was told they printed a correction. I was visiting Israel on taxpayer dime and so I wasn’t attending any personal functions whatsoever and I was told that they printed a correction.

JI: We’ll have to ask them about their online edition. 

JI: Finally, speaking of Jewish weddings, we know you have a special wedding coming up between your Chief of Staff Matt Klapper and Vicky Edelman. Are you planning to have any official role at the ceremony? 

Booker: I will be co-officiating this wedding with a wonderful Rabbi named Erica Gerson and I’m really excited about it. Obviously these are two amazing people that are a testimony to the power of JDate.(Laughter)

HAPPENING TODAY IN FLORIDA — Debbie Wasserman Schultz is facing her first primary challenge in years by Tim Canova, who’s supported by former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Former Congressman Ron Klein tells us: “My expectations are that Wasserman Schultz is going to win. It’s her first challenge that she’s had in many years, but the reason she’s going to win is because local people think that she’s done a very good job in representing their interests for many years, whether it had to do with cancer prevention or veterans issues, or support of Israel. Theses are the kind of things that local people care about and they view her as being an active member supporting their interests.”

— In the race for the U.S. Senate, Democrat Patrick Murphy and incumbent Republican Senator Marco Rubio are both expected to easily beat their respective primary challengers, Rep. Alan Grayson and businessman Carlos Beruff. Rubio leads Murphy in the general election. Politico’s Marc Caputo sent us the following: “For the first time in a decade, we’re going to have a quiet primary season. The only way Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy lose their primary races is if there’s a colossal error in all the polling. So far, Rubio has been able to walk a tightrope in regards to Trump. The senator has kept a respectful distance without being disrespectful. So far, it’s working. Trump is behind in Florida while Rubio’s ahead. It’s anyone’s guess as to how long Rubio can maintain that balance as Murphy and the Democrats try to weigh him down with Trump.”

Former Rep. Robert Wexler tells us: “I think Wasserman Schultz will win handily. She is known by her constituents and there’s a great deal of warmth for her. A victory and a strong showing for Patrick Murphy will propel him in a very positive way into the general election against Sen. Rubio. I think the top of the ticket will significantly impact the Senate race, it most certainly will. I think Patrick’s biggest advantage is that right now all the the polling has Rubio slightly ahead, but Rubio’s name identification is universal, a hundred percent, while Murphy has great room for growth. Murphy will gain the vast majority of Jewish voters in Florida, there’s no question about that.”

“The political ties of the Trump campaign team in Israel” by Judy Maltz: “Brot estimated that about 300,000 Israelis are eligible to vote in the U.S. elections… Because many American citizens live in the Jewish settlements, he said, the upcoming opening of the Trump campaign office in Ginot Shomron would be an important event. “We will have a special guest there,” he promised. “I can’t say who it will be, but it won’t be Trump.”” [Haaretz]

“Giuliani tries to clarify Trump’s immigration stance” by Nick Gass: “The wall, Giuliani continued, would not be “unlike the wall that was built in Israel, which Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu himself has told me was the most effective thing in securing their border that they’ve done in about 10 years.”” [Politico]

“David Duke Robocall Urges Voters To Vote For Him And Donald Trump” by Andrew Kaczynski: “It’s time to stand up and vote for Donald Trump for president and vote for me, David Duke for the U.S. Senate.” In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News on Monday, Duke confirmed that the call was his. “Everyone is saying they’re voting for Duke and Trump,” he said. “A blind man told me he was voting for Duke and Trump. The response has been overwhelming.” [BuzzFeed]

Trump’s campaign disavows David Duke robocall: “Mr. Trump has continued to denounce David Duke and any group or individual associated with a message of hate,” the Trump campaign told Politico. “There is no place for this in the Republican Party or our country. We have no knowledge of these calls or any related activities, but strongly condemn and disavow.” [Politico]

RJC BOARD MEMBER: “Jewish GOP billionaire abandons Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump” by Michael Wilner: “A fellow real estate billionaire of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has revoked his support for the candidate after incurring blowback for planning to attend a fundraiser in his name this weekend. Martin Selig has now reversed course, stating that he will not participate in the planned August 30 fundraiser. “Do you know what it’s like being a Jewish Republican in Seattle?” Selig told the Seattle Times. “The repercussions of what you hear from people is stunning.” [JPost]

JI INTERVIEW: Independent Presidential Candidate Evan McMullin — On his time studying in Israel: “I was a scholar and I went to study Arabic in Israel. I did that for about six or seven months – that was in 2000-2001. Then the intifada erupted and so my studies were interrupted. I continued studying Arabic and volunteering at the U.N. in Jordan after that. I had a good few months in Israel, and aside from the obvious downside of the conflict and all that, which nobody enjoys, I learned a lot, and it was a great opportunity to connect with the country.”

JI: Since you launched your campaign, have you seen a surge in Republican Jewish donors willing to come forward and contribute to your campaign? 

McMullin: “We’ve certainly had a lot of those conversations, and yes, they are contributing. People are alarmed. Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, is somebody who has published anti-Semitic articles in Breitbart as well as other racist, hateful commentary in his publication. This is the kind of candidate that Donald Trump is. This is who he surrounds himself with, and this is who he is himself. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so motivated to prevent him, as well as Hillary Clinton, but in the case of Donald Trump prevent him from winning this election.”

“I think he is a dictator, an authoritarian poured from the same mold as those that I saw in the Middle East, and in Latin America… He foments racial bigotry in order to strengthen himself, which I think is obviously very dangerous, and all Americans should be alarmed by it. Of course, there are some Americans that based on their backgrounds are more sensitive to it than others. Of course the Jewish community in the United States, as well as my own community, the LDS community. We are very sensitive to it as well given our background in persecution that we experienced years and years ago.” Read the full interview[JewishInsider]

IRAN DEAL: “Why Iran is desperate for U.S. passenger planes, but can’t have them” by Shashank Bengali: “Iran’s reliance on an aircraft that has been banned from Western airports for years — in part because of its engine noise, which one enthusiast described as “vacuum-cleaner-meets-rotary-phone-ringing” — showed how badly its commercial aviation sector was hobbled by U.S. sanctions.”[LATimes]

“US concerned about missile defense system at Iranian uranium facility” by Kristina Wong:“We’ve seen the reports of this deployment. Obviously, that’s of concern to us because we have long objected to the sale of Iran — of these kinds of capabilities. So as we get more information, obviously, we’re going to stay in close consultation with partners going forward,” said State Department press secretary John Kirby said at a briefing. [TheHill]

**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: Wynn’s $4.2 Billion Casino in Macau Is Seen Off to Slow Start [Bloomberg]• Mark Zuckerberg meets Pope Francis, gives him a drone [TechCrunch] • 100 East office tower in downtown Milwaukee sold in a $416.9 million portfolio sale to California investor Hertz [BizJournals]• New York Attorney General Settles Inquiry Into Once-Successful Developer [NYTimes] • Tepper likely to win $11B lawsuit against Caesars [NYPost]

SPOTLIGHT: “George Soros’ quiet overhaul of the U.S. justice system” by Scott Bland:“While America’s political kingmakers inject their millions into high-profile presidential and congressional contests, Democratic mega-donor George Soros has directed his wealth into an under-the-radar 2016 campaign to advance one of the progressive movement’s core goals — reshaping the American justice system. The billionaire financier has channeled more than $3 million into seven local district attorney campaigns in six states over the past year — a sum that exceeds the total spent on the 2016 presidential campaign by all but a handful of rival super-donors.” [Politico]

Peter Baker’s first dispatch as NYTimes Jerusalem Bureau Chief — “Israel Joins Bikini Fray, Ordering Concert Singer to Cover Up” : “Even as France has started an international debate about whether some women cover up too much on the beach, Israel has gone the other way, with fresh concerns about whether some cover up too little.” [NYTimes]

TALK OF THE TOWN: “Race to Replace Sheldon Silver Reflects His District’s Ethnic Diversity” by Liz Robbins: “The six would-be inheritors of Sheldon Silver’s political legacy on the Lower East Side of Manhattan sat on a dais last week and introduced themselves in the neighborhood’s native tongues. “Hola!” two said, in Spanish. “Nei ho!” two said, in Cantonese. “Sholem aleykhem!” said another, in Yiddish. Paul Newell, 41, a modern-Orthodox Jewish community activist and district leader who ran against Mr. Silver unsuccessfully in 2008 and is trying again, said that “if everybody votes purely based on ‘who’s most like me,’ then I am in the best position.” But he added that he did not think that would happen.” [NYTimes]

HOLLYWOOD: “Gene Wilder: A Master of Hysteria” by Peter Travers:“Gene Wilder made it impossible not to laugh. Sometimes it’s as simple as that — a gift that keeps on giving. So even as we mourn Wilder’s death at 83 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, we remember that talent he had for reducing us to helpless giggles. How did he do it, this bullied Jewish kid, Jerome Silberman, from Milwaukee, the son of a Russian immigrant father and a mother who thought military school was a good idea for her sensitive son? In the army, he served as an aide in a psychiatric unit, putting him in close contact with the madness he would later turn into comic gold.” [RollingStone]

“Has Joshua Malina ever experienced anti-Semitism in his career?” by Joshua Malina:“When I was first pursuing a career as an actor, I had no agent, and could only go to “open calls” — projects that had to give anyone who showed up a chance to audition. So one day I went to an audition for a pizza commercial. When I finally got inside the building I was horrified to see that they were handing out slices of pizza to be eaten on camera. This ordinarily wouldn’t have been a problem for me, but it was Passover. Can’t eat leavened bread on Passover. Oy. … The woman handing out the pizza was unmoved, explaining that if I didn’t want to eat the slice, I couldn’t audition. So I left. I figure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to channeling Sandy Koufax.” [Quora]

“What Killed the Jingle?” by Tiffany Stanley:“Because jingles promised a reliable cash flow, a number of stars got their start writing them. Barry Manilow, for one, is to thank for “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there,” and “I am stuck on Band-Aid Brand, ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me!” At some of his shows, Manilow has played medleys of his most popular jingles, which he once called “these obnoxious little melodies that won’t leave you alone.”” [TheAtlantic]

SPORTS BLINK: The Phillie Phanatic takes part in the hora on the field in celebration of Jewish Heritage Night at Citizens Bank Park [Video]

DESSERT: “Vittorio’s Kosher Grill Will Open in Brookline” by Dana Hatic: “A pizza place that once operated on Beacon Street in Brookline will make its return to the same storefront after a 13-year hiatus. Vittorio’s Kosher Grill will be opening up at 1398 Beacon St., in the space most recently occupied by Pizzeria Dante.” [Eater; UniversalHub]

“Mensch Deli pop-up goes permanent, offers expanded hours” by Lindsay William-Ross:“Mensch’s chef/owner Nitzan Cohen launched the popular pop-up in mid-July this summer, with an eye on finding a permanent spot as soon as possible. His traditional deli foods are a labour of love, and come from a deep-rooted desire to share his culinary roots and talents with a city in need of authentic Jewish delicatessen eats.” [VancouverHive]

BIRTHDAYS: Gary Ginsberg, Executive Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications at Time Warner and was a founding editor of George magazine together with JFK, Jr. … Debbie Swartz… Mati Geula Cohen… Stand-up comedian author Lewis Black turns 68… Basketball star in both the US and Israel, a first round pick in the 1965 NBA draft, Tal Brody turns 73… Associate Producer at Fox News Channel Eldad Yaron… Criminal Justice Editor of Joe Ricketts’ DNAinfo, formerly of the NYPost and NY Daily News, Murray Weiss…

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