SABAN FORUM 2016: Titled “Challenges for the Trump Administration in the Middle East,” participants gathered at the Willard InterContinental to discuss the future of the U.S. – Israel relationship. Yesterday, Haim Saban interviewed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via satellite followed by a Jeffrey Goldberg conversation with outgoing Sec. of State John Kerry.
–Talking Trump was a tough task for speakers and participants as no one — advisors included — knows his policy plans for the Middle East.
–Question on participants minds: Could Trump actually get away with nominating David Friedman, head of American Friends of Beit El, as U.S. Ambassador to Israel? Friedman was certainly talking as though the scenario was likely, reportedly telling attendees which groups he would or wouldn’t work with as Ambassador.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami tweeted from the Willard: “Lord help friends of Israel if someone like David Friedman is making US policy on Israel rather than John Kerry. #Saban16” [Twitter]
David Friedman wrote about J Street last June: “Finally, are J Street supporters really as bad as kapos? The answer, actually, is no. They are far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas – it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.” [ArutzSheva]
New at Saban this year — Minyan: Amb. Norm Eisen brought a Sefer Torah and siddurim from Kesher Israel for participants to have their own minyan at the Willard. We’re told Amb. Dan Shapiro led the Musaf service.
SPOTTED at Saban: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Sen. Joe & Hadassah Lieberman, Martin Indyk, Cheryl Saban, Sen. Lindsey Graham, Gary Ginsberg, Jeffrey Goldberg, Pamela Reeves, Frank Luntz, Ron Prosor, Walid Phares, former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, Thomas Friedman, Ilana Dayan, Tamara Cofman Wittes, David Axelrod, Tony Blair, Leon Wieseltier, Tzipi Livni, Isaac Herzog, Madeleine Albright, Jake Tapper, Avigdor Lieberman, Boaz Bismuth, Sen. Chris Coons, Rep. Ted Deutch, Gabrielle Deutch, White House Jewish Liaison Chanan Weissman, Mark Mellman, Amitai Raziel, Facebook’s Jordana Cutler, Yarden Golan, Molly Rosen, David Hager, Yaakov Katz, Shalom Lipner, Andrea Mitchell, David Makovsky, and Rep. Nita Lowey.
“Kerry assails Israel over West Bank, warns of heading toward ‘a place of danger’” by Carol Morello: “Using unusually blunt language at the Saban Forum… Kerry said he had been “pushing uphill” with the Israeli government because a majority of the ruling coalition does not support a two-state solution… Speaking about an hour after Netanyahu addressed the group by satellite, Kerry rebutted the Israeli prime minister’s argument that the heart of the stalemate is not Jewish settlements but the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state. “Leaders in Israel are fond of saying settlements are not the cause of the conflict,” he said. “I am not contending they are. But I cannot accept the notion they don’t affect the peace process, that they aren’t a barrier to peace.”” [WashPost; WSJ]
Highlights — on Trump transition: “I’m really consciously working to stay a thousand miles away from the Trump transition and the process. I think it’s important for me to be able to brief whoever the final nominee is going to be for the job of Secretary of State, and I don’t want to come at it with any engagement on any of the choices they are making publicly. I really think it’s better for me just to stay out of the politics, which I stayed out of for the four years.”
On relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: “I don’t know how to explain the friendship of Barack Obama and John Kerry and this Administration more than what the history shows notwithstanding the disagreement over the Iran agreement… I have talked to Bibi Netanyahu more than 375 times in this term. That’s only the public recording… I’ve talked to him in those public transactions more than 130 hours. My wife accused me of having talked to him more than I’ve talked to her in these four years. I have traveled to Israel, what – it’s over 40 times or something extraordinary – I’ve met Bibi in Rome for eight hours at a time. I’ve met him in New York… And Bibi and I are friends. We really are. I knew Bibi back when he was – we were sharing coffee in Cambridge at the Charles Hotel when he was spending some time there at Harvard, and we’ve stayed friendly all the time. I was there the night he was elected, and I remember him talking about what he was going to do and what we were going to do. And I remember him once saying to me, you know, if you’re ever in a position of responsibility, you and I could really work together, we could get something done.”
On supporting a UNSC resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “There’s been no decision made about any kind of step that may or may not be taken in that regard… If it’s a biased and unfair and a resolution calculated to delegitimize Israel, we’ll oppose it. Obviously, we will. We always have. But it’s getting more complicated now because there is a building sense of what I’ve been saying to you today, which some people can shake their heads, say, well, it’s unfair.” [Transcript]
“Netanyahu says will discuss with Trump ‘bad’ Iran nuclear deal” by Jeffrey Heller: “Israel is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That has not changed and will not change. As far as President-elect Trump, I look forward to speaking to him about what to do about this bad deal,” Netanyahu told the Saban Forum. “I opposed the deal because it doesn’t prevent Iran from getting nukes; it paves the way for Iran to get nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said. “The problem isn’t so much that Iran will break the deal, but that Iran will keep it because it just can walk in within a decade, and even less … to industrial-scale enrichment of uranium to make the core of an arsenal of nuclear weapons. So the problem how to deal with this deal is something that I will discuss with … President Trump when he takes office.” [Reuters; YouTube]
Saban politely declines offer to host peace summit — Netanyahu: “Haim, here’s a challenge for you… You can extend the Saban Forum. I’ll be happy to come and continue this negotiation with the Palestinians without preconditions. It’s fine with me.”
Saban: “I don’t have that authority, but that’s okay. Thank you for your offer. Maybe next time.”
BN: “You’re the Saban Forum, you’re the Saban in the Saban Forum, what do you mean you don’t have that authority?”
HS: “I’m a former cartoon schlepper. (Laughter) I used to have a standing in society and my standing was that I’m a cartoon schlepper. Now, I’m not even a cartoon schlepper, I’m a former cartoon schlepper.”
BN: “As a former cartoon schlepper you can make the invitation, Haim. You can make it now, you can make it for next year. It’s fine.
HS: “Thank you.”
“Avigdor Lieberman: Outpost-legalization Bill Should Be Postponed Until Obama Leaves Office” by Barak Ravid: “The key to the future of the settlements is reaching understandings with the U.S. on this issue,” Lieberman said. “It is better to postpone the vote on the outposts legalization bill until after January 20, when Obama leaves office.” The minister of defense said Israel hopes President-elect Donald Trump will play an active role in the Middle East. “The U.S. can’t isolate itself,” Lieberman said. “It’s impossible.” He added that Israel hopes that President Donald Trump will play an active role in ending the war in Syria. “We need an active America in the Middle East.” [Haaretz; ToI]
Highlights — Avigdor Lieberman on Trump’s promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem: “We will wait and we will see, but I think it’s mostly, you know, something publicly and strong public commitment and we will wait… What is really crucial for us is to agree with the new Administration regarding all our common policies, not only one point like the American Embassy.”
On Iran deal: “I think that negotiations or talks with the United States about our common position regarding Tehran [will start] only during the first meeting between the Prime Minister and President-elect. We will see. At least my position will be very clear. I think it’s crucial to move forward with more sanctions because it was a clear violation of the agreement, especially in the area of missiles, not nuclear but the ballistic missiles.”
On the idea of Jared Kushner being put in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process:“What we know is he is a really smart, tough guy and I hope that he does bring a new energy to our region… My proposal is to wait for the new administration and to create together with the new administration a common policy.” [Transcript]
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog: “Anyone who thinks Trump’s election allows the Israeli government to do whatever it wants, is making a severe mistake. Especially now, when we are about to have a new US government, Israel needs to make its own decisions about separating from the Palestinians.” [INN]
New post-election poll on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Americans supporting a U.S. veto of a U.N. resolution on Palestinian statehood remain a minority (31 percent). But the differences were striking: While 51 percent of Republicans wanted to see U.S. veto, only 16 percent of Democrats supported such move… A plurality of Americans (46 percent) said that they either strongly or somewhat support the Obama administration backing or sponsoring a United Nations resolution that outlines the parameters for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before Obama leaves office… On the issue of President Obama supporting or sponsoring a United Nations resolution to end Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank before he leaves office, a plurality of Americans (40 percent) either strongly or somewhat support this… and 33 percent either strongly or somewhat oppose this resolution.” [Brookings]
Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot: “President Trump and the Art of the ‘Ultimate’ Israel-Palestine Peace Deal: The better course for the new American leader would be to put an end to dreaming and instead seek pragmatic changes that can improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Critics may call this “small ball,” but repeated efforts prove that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will be built step by step — not by searching for new dramas on the White House lawn.” [FP]
DRIVING THE CONVERSATION — “Haim Saban Blasts DNC Chair Hopeful Keith Ellison as an ‘Anti-Semite’” by Gene Maddaus: “The topic came up briefly in an interview between CNN anchor Jake Tapper and Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Defense Minister. Lieberman seemed unfamiliar with the remarks, so Saban stood up during the Q&A to issue a broadside against Ellison. “The fact that Keith Ellison is a Muslim is a non-issue,” Saban said. “If you listen to Keith Ellison today and you see his statements, he’s more of a Zionist than Herzl, Ben-Gurion, and Begin combined. It’s amazing. It’s a beautiful thing. If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite, anti-Israel individual. Words matter and actions matter more. Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.” Saban’s comment came unprompted and he did not ask a question.” [Variety; CNN]
AFT President Randi Weingarten: “I can feel and smell anti-Semitism. Keith Ellison is no anti-Semite and it is maddening when anyone who doesn’t know him or his record makes that ugly accusation.”[Facebook]
“Keith Ellison on Israel in 2010: ‘We Can’t Allow Another Country to Treat Us Like We’re Their ATM’” by Allison Kaplan Sommer: “The full speech published by IPT includes strong rhetoric sure to further fuel his critics. It also contains words Ellison’s supporters in organizations like J Street will likely use to back up arguments that Ellison is a friend of Israel whose criticism does not stem from enmity and that his intention was merely to encourage American Muslims to emulate the American Jewish community when it came to advocacy… Ellison urged the Muslim community to “stand up” and support President Obama by asking questions like “why are we sending… $2.8 billion dollars a year over there when they won’t even honor our request to stop building in East Jerusalem? Where is the future Palestinian state going to be if it’s colonized before it even gets up off the ground?”” [Haaretz] • The full audio and transcript [IPT]
INBOX — NJDC statement: “On the candidacy of Rep. Keith Ellison specifically, the right-wing attacks have been over the top and the accusations that he is somehow anti-Semitic are false, reprehensible and shameful… Putting aside Rep. Ellison’s record, NJDC believes it is most important that the DNC chair focus on grassroots organizing and winning elections.”
TRANSITION TOWER — “Trump Expands Search for His Secretary of State” by Nicholas Fandos: “Those new candidates appeared to include John R. Bolton, an ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush; Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor and ambassador to China under President Obama; Rex W. Tillerson, the president and chief executive of Exxon Mobil; and Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia.” [NYTimes; AP]
“After Trump-Romney feud, genuine effort to join forces” by Matt Viser: “Trump is considering other candidates as well – and an announcement may not come for another week or two – but more meetings with Romney could come soon. ‘Romney’s very much in the mix here,’ said the transition source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. ‘The meetings have gone well.'” [Boston Globe; Politico]
“Trump revels in the secretary of state show” by Shane Goldmacher and Alex Isenstadt: “Multiple Trump transition sources said former United Nations ambassador John Bolton is widely expected to be offered a chance to be slotted in as one of the secretary’s top deputies, if not as the No. 2… Without a secretary of state pick lined up, Trump is still poised to embark on a wide-ranging search for ambassadorships. One person being considered for an ambassadorship is Republican National Committee finance chair Lew Eisenberg.” [PoliticoMag]
HEARD YESTERDAY — Sen. Joe Lieberman predicts improved US-Israeli relations under Trump in an interview on The Cats Roundtable on AM970: “Elections here matter a lot to people in Israel… Public opinion was mixed. Actually, more people said they preferred Hillary Clinton, I think, because they knew her and she was a friend, and they didn’t exactly know Donald Trump. But I think now, the potential here — I said during the campaign whichever one of these two people will be elected, they would have a better relationship with the Israeli government than the Obama administration did, and I think that’s going to be the case under President Trump. He values Israel’s independence. He values Israel’s friendship. And he will protect Israel’s security. Hopefully, that will mean a lot, not only to people over there but also here.” [Chirbit]
“Could criticism of Trump cost Jewish organizations access to the White House?” by Danielle Ziri: “Despite its somewhat “rocky relationship” with Trump, and pledging to “hold the administration accountable” on issues the ADL cares about, Greenblatt said he is “hopeful” that the ADL “can engage optimistically with this new administration and find ways to work together and collaborate in areas of mutual interest, as we have with Democrats and Republicans year after year, term after term, decade after decade, half century after half century. We’ve reached out to the transition. I certainly hope we have an opportunity to find ways to work together, even though we don’t agree on everything. What we won’t do is say that the only thing that’s important is access,” he pointed out.”
— Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told the Post that such access is “vital,” because Israel is a “complex issue and you can’t just communicate a detailed position in an email or on Twitter… Access for us is not self-serving, it is in order to enable us to be most effective… People have to be very careful. Jewish power is like a muscle. If you exercise it right you build it up; if you abuse it, you destroy it.” [JPost]
“Will Ivanka Trump Be the Most Powerful First Daughter in History?” by Alessandra Stanley and Jacob Bernstein: “A month and a half before Mr. Trump is scheduled to be inaugurated, Ms. Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, 35, are key advisers to the president-elect, with Ms. Trump poised to be perhaps the most influential first daughter since Alice Roosevelt Longworth… The Hollywood mogul David Geffen, a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates, said he has a fondness for Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner, even though he did not vote for her father in the election. “I’ve known Ivanka and Jared for years,” he said. “She’s a lovely, intelligent woman, and Jared has been a loyal son-in-law. Trump depends on him. He’s a very smart guy. Is he a genius? No, but guess what: The geniuses all lost.””[NYTimes]
“Alt-right Leader Has No Regrets About ‘Hail Trump,’ but Tells Haaretz: Jews Have Nothing to Fear” by Taly Krupkin: “Spencer tells Haaretz he understands Trump’s reaction. “I think it is something he has to do, clearly, as president of the United States. But also, I did not expect the alt-right to become mainstream overnight. We will have to fight for our seat at the table.” Spencer is noncommittal over the potential role of American Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson in advising Trump, and likewise on the active role of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the president-elect’s transition team.” [Haaretz]
“Azerbaijan’s embassy to co-host Hanukkah party at Trump’s D.C. hotel” by Ron Kampeas:“The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is co-hosting the event… Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the umbrella body, told JTA that the Azerbaijani embassy had rented the location because of its proximity to the White House, where President Barack Obama’s final Hanukkah Party will be taking place the same evening.” [JTA]
SPOTLIGHT: “Sheldon Adelson’s Closest Israeli Adviser Resigns Amid Falling Out, Source Says” by Uri Blau: “Adelson’s close adviser, Dan Raviv, recently resigned after many years of service to the American billionaire both in Israel and abroad. The reasons the Israeli considered closest to Adelson will no longer be working with him are not clear, but a source who knows both men told Haaretz that they had a falling out… Raviv confirmed that he is no longer working for Adelson but refused to elaborate, only saying, “[I] respect and love Mr. Adelson. I resigned to pursue my own independent course after many years of fruitful, satisfying and unforgettable work with him.”” [Haaretz]
TALK OF THE TOWN: “Cuomo has blacklist of foreign firms that support BDS” by Carl Campanile: “The Office of General Services compiled the list after Cuomo issued an executive order in June barring New York State’s government from investing public funds in any firms that back the campaign. None of the businesses are American, and state officials said Friday night that they did not believe any state agency has financial dealings with them.” [NYPost]
“Jewish family battles Spain museum over art looted by Nazis” by John Rogers: “In the epic, 16-year battle over a priceless painting looted by the Nazis, there is one point on which all sides agree: When Lilly Cassirer and her husband fled Germany ahead of the Holocaust, they surrendered their Camille Pissarro masterpiece in exchange for their lives. Since 2000, Lilly Cassirer’s heirs have been trying to get it back. They may get one of their last best chances Monday when their lawyer, David Boies, argues before a federal appeals court that under state law and international treaties, the painting appraised at more than $30 million belongs to Cassirer’s great-grandchildren.” [AP]
ACROSS THE POND: “David Neuberger: the judge with the nation’s eager eyes upon him” by Andrew Anthony: “This week, the supreme court of the United Kingdom will hear the government’s article 50 appeal in what promises, with its live TV coverage and internet streaming, to be the court’s most contentious and closely followed case since its establishment seven years ago… David Neuberger, Baron Neuberger of Abbotsbury, appears to have since overcome his doubts about the supreme court, at least to the extent of becoming, four years ago, its president… Neuberger comes from a family of scientists and rabbis. His father was professor of chemical pathology at St Mary’s hospital in Paddington, London, and his uncle was a well-known rabbi.” [TheGuardian]
BROADWAY: “Review: In ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ a Lonely Teenager, a Viral Lie and a Breakout Star” by Charles Isherwood: “As the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen,” a lonely teenager who inadvertently becomes a social media sensation and a symbol of the kindness that is often cruelly absent in high school hallways, the marvelous young actor Ben Platt is giving a performance that’s not likely to be bettered on Broadway this season.” [NYTimes]
SCENE YESTERDAY: Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, and Councilmembers Rafael Espinal ,Chaim Deutsch, Mathieu Eugene were among the speakers at the annual Jewish Community Council of Boro Park Legislative and Community Tribute Breakfast, hosted by Yeruchim Silber, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Spotted: JCRC’s Michael Miller, State Senator Simcha Felder, Douglas Jablon, Lieutenant Yitz Jablon, Captain Richard Taylor, Ruth Lichtenstein, Ezra and Gabi Friedlander, Joel Schnur, Menachem Lubinsky, Larry Spiewak , Pinny Hikind, Jason Koppel, Yidel Perlstein, Berry Spitzer, Jeff Leb, Ari Kagan, Simcha Eichenstein, Pinny Ringel, Leon Goldberger, Yoel Lefkowitz, Kalman Yeger, and Mark Meyer Appel.
SPOTTED last night at the annual Bet El dinner at the Marriott Marquis in NY: Trump advisor David Friedman, Ambassador John Bolton, Israeli Consul General to NY Dani Dayan, Malcolm Hoenlein, Ken Abramowitz, Dr. Alan and his brother Marc Berger, Dr. Joseph Frager, United Hatzalah’s Eli Beer, Duvi Honig, Ezra Friedlander, Elie Pieprz, former MK Yaakov Katz, and Larry Gordon.
BOTEACH SCENE: Friends and family members gathered last night to celebrate Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s 50th birthday and the 10th anniversary of his organization, World Values Network, at the Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan. Speakers included Michael Steinhardt, Elisha Wiesel, son of the late Elie Wiesel, Bret Stephens, Judith Regan, and Ken Kurson, among others.
BIRTHDAYS: Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, emeritus professor at Harvard and professor at Boston University, Sheldon Lee Glashow turns 84… Former Israeli President (2000-2007), Moshe Katsav turns 71… Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in both the law school and school of journalism, Stuart Neil Brotman turns 64… Co-founder and president of Axios Roy Schwartz turns 41… Israeli born, acclaimed video game developer, Neil Druckmann turns 38… Manager of public relations and digital strategy at The Clorox Company, Adam Rosenberg… President of The LS Group and political fundraiser for many senators and congressmen, Lisa Spies… Urologist at Westchester (NY) Medical Group, Judd Boczko, M.D…. Legislative Director at the New York City Council, Jonathan Shabshaikhes… NYTimes media correspondent Michael M. Grynbaum (h/t Playbook)… VP of programming and community outreach at Hadassah’s Southern California chapter, Esther Winard… Betti Greenstein…
Correction: Actress Rena Sofer turned 48 on Friday.