HEARD YESTERDAY: President Obama spent around two and a half hours yesterday, on his birthday, meeting with Jewish leaders in the Cabinet room of the White House to discuss the Iran agreement. We spoke with several attendees, including Greg Rosenbaum and Andrew Weinstein who did not request anonymity, to hear how the meeting went.
Other meeting participants included Vice President Biden, Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, Matt Nosanchuk, AIPAC’s Michael Kassen and Lee Rosenberg, J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami and Alexandra Stanton, ADL’s Marvin Nathan, CoP’s Steve Greenberg and Malcolm Hoenlein, AJC’s Jason Isaacson, OU’s Nathan Diament, Ameinu’s Kenneth Bob, JFNA’s Jerry Silverman, JCPA’s Susan Turnbull, Rabbi William Gershon of the Rabbinical Assembly, Reform’s Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Robert Wexler, John Ruskay, UJA’s Alisa Doctoroff, WJC’s Robert Singer, Alan Solow, Gary Torgow, and Fredrick Schaufeld.
According to Rosenbaum, the President began the meeting by taking time to go through the arguments against the agreement and responding to each point thereby causing several of the attendees to switch their questions for the Q&A. The room was respectful and a significant period of time featured the President and his friend Lee Rosenberg, representing AIPAC, going back and forth. Rosenberg questioned the President’s remarks last week where he said opponents of the deal also supported the decision to go war in Iraq.
The President responded that he genuinely believes that if this deal does not go through then we will be drawn into a military conflict with Iran, an asymmetrical conflict that would have Israel bearing the brunt of the Iranian attacks. The President did acknowledge that not every opponent of the deal supported the Iraq war but that it was ‘undeniable’ that many of the same voices did.
The President said that while everyone has a right to express their opinions, the debate on Iran needs to be on the facts. The President specifically called out AIPAC’s fact sheet from last week as ‘inaccurate.’ He said he understood that AIPAC was going to spend the money they raised to run ads but he asked that the ads be accurate and the arguments based on the merits. The President challenged AIPAC saying “if you don’t like me commenting on this stuff, don’t run the ads.”
Malcolm Hoenlein told the President that the debate is on the merits, nothing personal, to which the President quipped “I don’t take this personally, certainly not in year seven. My skin is too thick.” The President and others did express concern that this debate would have the effect of dividing the community for many years to come.
President Obama mentioned Prime Minister Netanyahu several times throughout the meeting. The President noted that while he understood that many in Israel have strong objections to “dealing with the devil,” the Prime Minister is wrong on this issue. He also said Bibi is an example of a deal opponent who argued for toppling Saddam Hussein and invading Iraq. The President noted that, in light of this deal, the U.S. and Israel are going to need to increase intelligence cooperation but that so far the Prime Minister has prevented the necessary discussions as he feels that would be the equivalent of waving the white flag. The President also commented on Bibi’s address to Congress saying “it was unprecedented for any world leader to accept such an invitation from only one party and that no leader could have or would have done it.”
The President was asked by J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami if he has any plans to address Israelis who are largely against the deal. He replied that Ben Rhodes met with a visiting delegation of Israeli reporters the previous day and that he expects to give future interviews to the Israeli media come September.
On sanctions, the President noted that “it’s a fantasy to force U.S. leverage on the world economy” and said a “President Cruz, Rubio or Walker wouldn’t do it either.”
CNN Quote: “It’s my birthday and I’m going to be blunt,” Obama told the group of 22 Jewish leaders who gathered in the Cabinet Room on his 54th birthday, according to one attendee. [CNN] • The quote we heard was that the President said “it’s been a really busy day. You’d think they’d be nicer to me on my birthday but it’s a tight schedule and I wanted to make sure we had a few hours to discuss this important issue.”
Washington Post: “At one point, he essentially said this would not be as big an issue and as big a fight if basically the pro-Israel community was not making it into a big fight,” said one participant who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. “That’s the only reason why we are where we are. So essentially, the takeaway was that he was broadly asking the organizations to consider stepping back.” The President suggested to AIPAC that “if you guys would back down, I would back down from some of the things I’m doing,” said the person involved in the discussion, who added, “I don’t think AIPAC will take him up on it.” [WashPost]
FIRST LOOK: Jeffrey Goldberg interviews John Kerry — “Congress is the target of Kerry’s feistiness, as is his close friend and staunch adversary, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is leading the charge against congressional ratification of the deal. In the course of a lengthy and freewheeling interview—which you will find published in full—Kerry warned that if Congress rejects the Iran deal, it will confirm the anti-U.S. suspicions harbored by the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and eliminate any chance of a peaceful solution to the nuclear conundrum.” [TheAtlantic]
Latest from the Washington Institute — “Assessing the Iran Nuclear Agreement and The Washington Institute’s Iran Study Group June 24 Policy Statement” — by Robert Satloff, Dennis Ross, James Jeffrey, Patrick Clawson, David Makovsky, Michael Eisenstadt, and Simon Henderson [WashInstitute]
“Netanyahu Urges American Jews to Reject Iranian Nuclear Deal” by Felecia Schwartz: “In a webcast speech to more than 10,000 participants, he condemned the agreement and called it fatally flawed. He accused the White House and other supporters of spreading incorrect information about the deal and Israel’s position on it.” [WSJ] • ICYMI: Watch Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to the Jewish Federations of North America yesterday [Vimeo]
DRIVING THE DAY: “Obama to Press His Case on Iran Nuclear Deal” by Carol Lee & Kristina Peterson: “President Barack Obama plans to make his sharpest sales pitch yet in favor of the Iran nuclear deal that the U.S. and other world powers reached three weeks ago, with a lengthy speech on Wednesday outlining his argument in detail for Americans. A core component of Mr. Obama’s argument on Wednesday will be to frame lawmakers’ decision on the Iran deal as the most consequential congressional vote since the 2002 Iraq war authorization.” [WSJ; Bloomberg] • At 11:20am, watch President Obama’s remarks at American University [CSPAN]
At 10am, the Senate Banking Committee hosts a hearing on “The Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran Agreement.” Witnesses include Wendy Sherman and Adam Szubin on the first panel and Juan Carlos Zarate, Mark Dubowitz, Matthew Levitt, and Amb. Nicholas Burns on the second panel. [CSPAN]
“Democrats Under Pressure to Stay Silent on Iran Deal” by Josh Rogin and Eli Lake: “As Congress heads into its long August recess, the White House and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are lobbying Democrats hard in anticipation of a September vote on the Iran nuclear deal. But both sides have given those Democrats who are set to oppose them a second option; they are asking them to at least delay announcing their decision until they get back.” [BloombergView]
So Much For That… “Highest-ranking Jewish House Democrat opposes Iran deal: “I’m going to vote against the Iran deal,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) — the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — told Newsday. “I tried very hard to get to yes. But at the end of the day, despite some positive elements in the deal, the totality compelled me to oppose it.” [TheHill; Newsday; Politico] • “U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch: I can’t support Iran nuclear deal” [SunSentinel]
On Both Sides… “Three Senate Democrats came off of the fence to support the Iran deal” by Mike DeBonis: “The decisions of Tim Kaine (Va.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), and Bill Nelson (Fla.) were not especially surprising on an individual basis, but they represent the sort of rank-and-file Democrats that Obama cannot afford to lose if he wants to sustain the centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda.” [WashPost] • “The pursuit of Sen. Jeff Flake shows how far the President’s willing to go for a legacy-defining nuclear pact.” [Politico]
“Royce, Boehner Set Stage for House Disapproval of Iran Deal” by Emma Dumain: “On Tuesday afternoon, Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., announced the introduction of a resolution to reject the agreement, despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to veto any legislation that undermines the negotiated framework. On the heels of Royce’s announcement, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, released his own statement. He stopped short of endorsing the measure, but signaled it would receive a vote in the event members were united in their opposition.” [RollCall]
SPOTTED – at 478 Russell Senate Office Building yesterday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand discussing the Iran agreement with Agudath Israel’s Abba Cohen, Charles Herzka, Ralph Rider, Jacob Weinreb, Shlomo Gertzulin, David Zwiebel, and Ezra Friedlander. [Pic]
2016 WATCH: “Bernie Sanders’ 27 years of Israel answers” by David Weigel: “On Sunday afternoon, a woman holding pictures of dead Palestinians confronted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) about America’s policy toward Israel. Would a President Sanders make the United States into an arbiter of peace? His answer — slightly muffled in this video by the many fans set up to cool the room — went over very well. “Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own,” said Sanders, “and the United States should do what it can to make sure that state has a strong economy. Israel is entitled to live in security, not be attacked.” [WashPost]
“Hillary Clinton’s Mega-Donors Are Also Funding Jeb Bush” by Jackie Kucinich: “Michael Granoff, a principal at Maniv Energy Capital, was once a strong supporter of both Bill and Hillary Clinton. But Granoff but has since soured on the Democratic Party’s foreign policy decisions—particularly on Iran. Granoff said his post only rings more true now. He’s made his devotion to Jeb clear by donating $2,700 to his campaign and $25,000 to Right to Rise.” [DailyBeast] • “Presidential Candidates: Your Mega-Donors May Be Cheating on You” [NationalJournal]
“At home-state fundraiser, Christie targets Obama” by Matt Friedman: “Christie also criticized the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, saying that after being sworn in as president, his first phone call would be to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I’m going to say ‘Mr. Prime Minister, there’s a new sheriff in town and help is on the way.’” [Politico; JP]
BUSINESS BRIEFS: “Yuri Milner’s DST Global raises $1.7B for its fifth fund — without Russian money”[VentureBeat] • “Scott Bessent to Start His Own Hedge Fund With $2 Billion From George Soros” [Bloomberg] • “Chetrit Group moving forward with Hudson Yards development” [RealDeal] • “Inside Bruce Ratner’s $130M Makeover of Nassau Coliseum” [Billboard] • “Travelers CEO Jay Fishman to Step Down, Says He Probably Has ALS” [Bloomberg] • “Boston College to purchase 24-acre synagogue site in Newton” [BostonGlobe] • “WeWork’s CEO Adam Neumann Turned His Back On Laid-Off Office Cleaners” [BuzzFeed] • “Gary Barnett’s Extell takes stake in 1710 Broadway” [RealDeal]
SPOTLIGHT: “Jackie Siegel on Her Daughter’s Death and Life After ‘Versailles'” by Mitchell Sunderland: “Since the film came out, how have your family finances looked? Actually, the economy changed for the better, and now my husband’s company is worth over like four billion dollars. He went out on a spending spree, and he bought the Las Vegas Hilton, which is a 3,000-room hotel, and he bought a football team. (He bought the Orlando Predators.) And he bought the Cocoa Beach Pier, which is a really famous pier [in Cocoa Beach]!” [Vice]
STARTUP NATION: “Cyber-boom or cyber-bubble? — For the first time, Israel sold more cyber-wares than arms. According to figures published recently by the cyber-task-force in the prime minister’s office, in 2014 Israeli companies sold around $6 billion of internet-security software, equivalent to about a tenth of the entire worldwide sales of such stuff.” [Economist] • “How the ‘Robert Scoble of Israel’ wound up in a bomb shelter with Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak” [BusinessInsider] • “Israeli company Taboola teams with USA TODAY publisher Gannet” [Globes] • “Birthright Excel gives students a taste of Israeli hi-tech” [JPost]
TALK OF OUR NATION: “The Jewish Tinder Attempts Crowdfunding Campaign to Save Itself From JDate” by Brady Dale: “We need the support of the community in order to help love win,” David Yarus, the author of the letter, told the Observer in a phone call. JSwipe’s Indiegogo campaign to fund its legal defense against JDate is another wrinkle in the evolving role of crowdfunding in tech entrepreneurship. While the practice has largely been touted as a way to finance making good stuff, in this instance the company wants to raise funds to quash a lawsuit that’s keeping it from making more cool stuff.” [Observer]
The Jewish Vote… in Canada — by Gerald Caplan: “Among the least expected changes that Stephen Harper has wrought as Prime Minister has been the successful wooing of Jewish Canadians from the Liberal Party to his own, and from a generous progressivism to Mr. Harper’s mean-spirited conservatism. It happened in the 2011 election, when Mr. Harper won his first majority… But Jews have never been monolithic in their views on anything, to say the least, and so among them are fierce detractors of Mr. Harper. Some of these critics have grown increasingly discomfited by the homage the so-called leaders of the Jewish community pay him.” [Globe&Mail]
BOOK REVIEW: “The Untold Inner Life of the First Politician to Embrace his Jewishness” by James McAuley and Patrice Higonnet: “No portrait of Léon Blum,” Pierre Birnbaum posits in a new biography, “can ignore the essential fact of his Jewishness.” And of course this is true. Compared to other prominent Jewish statesmen in Europe, Blum—both as leader of the high-minded but doomed Front Populaire and France’s prime minister in the late 1930s—is an important exception. [NewRepublic]
BIRTHDAYS: Efraim Zuroff turns 67… Jerome Pikulinski… Murray Huberfeld… Leslie Saunders… Nick Muzin (yesterday), Jonathan Tobin (yesterday)…