Daily Kickoff: Is this White House’s Hanukkah party different? | Feel-good funerals | Why Haim Saban said yes to Bob Iger but not to Ted Sarandos
TALK OF THIS TOWN — Bush funeral: Trump sits with fellow presidents but still stands alone — by Philip Rucker: “From the moment he crossed the transept of the soaring Washington National Cathedral, tore off his overcoat and took his seat in the front pew, President Trump was an outsider. When the others sang an opening hymn, his mouth did not move. When the others read the Apostles’ Creed, he stood stoically. And when one eulogist after another testified to George H.W. Bush’s integrity and character and honesty and bravery and compassion, Trump sat and listened, often with his lips pursed and his arms crossed over his chest.” [WashPost; CNN]
— George H. W. Bush’s Funeral Was the Corny, Feel-Good Moment That Washington Craves — by Susan Glasser: “What does it tell you that the feel-good events in Washington these days are funerals? George Herbert Walker Bush was memorialized… in the country’s first state funeral of the Trump era, one of those American rituals that, at least for a few hours, is supposed to remind the country that civility is not a dirty word and that partisan combat is not a permanent state of being… Trump had to sit there knowing that every statement praising Bush’s decency and modesty and courage would be taken as an implicit rebuke of him—of course, many of them were a lot more explicit than implicit.” [NewYorker]
DRIVING THE DAY — President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will host leaders and members of the American Jewish community at two separate Hanukkah receptions to be held at the White House’s East Room at 4:00 PM [CSPAN] and 8:00 PM [CSPAN]. Vice President Mike Pence is expected to attend both events.
THE DRIVE TO SCORE HANUKKAH PARTY INVITES — At one of the first White House Hanukkah parties during George W. Bush’s presidency, senior strategist Karl Rove quipped to Jeff Ballabon, a Bush campaign advisor, “If ten percent of the people in this room would have worked ten percent as hard to get the president elected as they did to get invited to this party, we would have had 90 percent of the Jewish vote.”
Tevi Troy, who served in the Bush White House, recalls: “When I worked in the White House, there were people who wanted to get there because they needed to show that they were the first level of importance and they were in the in-crowd.”
Motivations vary: For GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, the taste of latkes from the White House kitchen were enough to convince him to donate millions to support GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. For others, simply being seen in the room with leading political figures and donors can be interpreted as a measure of one’s standing in the Jewish community.
Tradition: Ever since President George W. Bush began the tradition of hosting an annual menorah-lighting ceremony in the White House, the event has served as a rare convergence of disparate Jewish leaders representing groups from across the wider political and religious spectrums.
Invitees feel a “sense of validation of their role and prominence in the community,” Obama Jewish liaison Matt Nosanchuk told Jewish Insider. “It’s both the feeling they get being in the White House, and the feeling that they’re there, that they’re in, and not on the outside. So it became a very highly sought-after ticket.”
But what happens when the President himself is a self-describedoutsider? Under President Trump, a proudly anti-establishment leader who relishes breaking DC norms and conventions, and who is equally unloved by the political establishment, some say the buzz surrounding White House Hanukkah party is different. [JewishInsider]
According to one Jewish leader planning to attend who asked not to be identified: “There are certain members of the Jewish communal establishment who would have gone to George W. Bush’s Hanukkah party but will not come to Trump’s because he’s so much more radioactive.”
Jarrod Bernstein, an Obama White House Jewish Liaison: “I think that with this president, everybody needs to make their own decision about how much they want to be complicit in him and his agenda. I think that there are a lot of people who just might not feel comfortable about attending because everything this president touches is controversial.”
Noam Neusner, a Bush Jewish liaison and speechwriter: “Every administration is controversial in its time. I think that if people are invited to the Trump Hanukkah party they should go, and if they don’t want to go because they disagree with his policies then they should decline. That’s it. It’s not a terribly complex formula. It’s exciting to be invited to the White House. Even in an administration with which you disagree, it’s an honor and it’s quite a scene.”
WILL DEMS SHOW UP? — For President Trump’s first Hanukkah party, the White House did not invite any Democratic members of Congress. This year, all Jewish members of Congress, which includes 28 Democrats, were invited, according to the White House and confirmed by Congressional aides.
At least one member, Rep. Jerry Nadler, has told Jewish Insider that he will not attend the East Room event, citing a scheduling conflict.
Ann Lewis, a former White House Communications Director under Bill Clinton: “I think Democrats should be invited to such events during GOP administration, and Republicans to Democratic White Houses. Holding bipartisan, inclusive events is good for the Jewish community. Would I go? Maybe. If the president had just said something morally offensive, I might not. But my goal would be to honor the Jewish community and my country, not one individual.”
Halie Soifer, Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America: “I thought last year’s decision to not invite Democratic members of Congress, especially when the overwhelming majority of Jews in Congress are Democrats, was extremely short-sighted. This year, members of Congress were invited but I don’t think members of the Jewish community at large who are Democrats were invited.”
Jeff Ballabon, who now serves as an advisor to the Donald Trump re-election campaign: “I find the hypocrisy truly hysterical. This administration started and the so-called mainstream establishment announced that they were going to boycott the president,” Ballabon recalled, referring to the decision made by rabbinical and religious groups representing the Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements to discontinue the tradition of participating in a pre-High Holidays conference call with Trump in 2017. “They have been maligning the president since the campaign, using the worst kind of libel and lies, and I would be appalled to see any one of these individuals in the room.”
— Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will light the 5th Hanukkah candle alongside U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the Western Wall this evening.
ON THE HILL — Congress looks to usurp Trump’s foreign policy powers — by Nahal Toosi and Marianne Levine: “The Senate is on the verge of an extraordinary rebuke of Donald Trump’s foreign policy, underscoring a bipartisan willingness to encroach on the president’s powers as commander in chief… The fury is so great on Capitol Hill over the Saudi murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — and the Trump administration’s tepid response — that senators are deliberating over whether to pull U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.” [Politico] • Senate introduces bipartisan resolution condemning Saudi crown prince [Axios]
TALK OF THE REGION — In the Middle East, Russia is back — by Liz Sly: “Among the presidents, prime ministers, kings and princes who have visited Moscow over the past year to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin are some of the United States’ closest allies… There’s a new power rising in the Middle East, and it needs to be wooed… Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Trump a “true friend” of Israel, has spoken 11 times on the phone with Putin over the past year and only three times with Trump, according to a tally of the calls reported on Putin and Netanyahu’s websites. Netanyahu has visited Moscow four times in the past year. He’s visited Washington twice since Trump became president.” [WashPost]
In Muscat, PM told Omani leader he’s ready to cede land but not security control — by Adam Rasgon: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Omani leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said that he is ready to cede territory, but not security control, to the Palestinians, a senior official in Ramallah briefed on the prime minister’s comments said.” [ToI]
Tal Shalev reports: “Qatar demanded a formal and public Israeli statement of support recognizing efforts to rehabilitate Gaza as a condition for transferring the next round of funds to the Gaza Strip. Israeli sources tell me this was the background of [the] tweet exchange [between Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and the Qatari Embassy in Begium] this week.”
— Dermer tweeted on Tuesday: “The Government of Israel thanks the UN’s Mladenov, Egypt and Qatar for their efforts to improve the situation in Gaza and hopes that a long term agreement can be reached that will both maintain Israel’s security and enable Gaza’s development.”
Qatar accused of promoting anti-Semitism at its state-run book fair: “The annual Doha International Book Fair, which is in its 29th year, is coming under attack for promoting anti-Semitic content… The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) one of the largest organizations in the US to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry, has lodged a formal complaint to the U.S. embassy in Doha about the book fair.” [TheNational]
Israel negotiating with Hungary over revisionist Holocaust museum — by Barak Ravid: “Israel is negotiating with Hungary’s government over the future contents of a new revisionist Holocaust museum to be opened in Budapest. Israeli officials told me the nationalist right-wing Hungarian government led by Viktor Orbán wants to use the museum to whitewash any involvement of the Hungarian state or the Hungarian people in Nazi crimes during World War II… Two of Orbán’s advisers arrive in Israel and will meet on Thursday with Netanyahu’s diplomatic adviser Reuven Azar… Netanyahu’s office didn’t invite any representative from the foreign ministry to take part in the talks, and there is real concern in the foreign ministry that Netanyahu will make the same compromises he made with the Polish Holocaust bill.” [Axios]
Bari Weiss tweets: “What are the implications of an Israeli foreign policy that embraces leaders like Trump, Orban and Duterte? Among other things, you get news items like this from Barak Ravid: Holocaust revisionism in Hungary enabled by Bibi’s government.”
BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Suspected of Crimes, Netanyahu Is Also Suspected of Fear-Mongering — by Isabel Kershner: “On television, radio and social networks, many Israelis wondered if the [Hezbollah] tunnels disclosure was a cynical ploy akin to the 1997 black comedy “Wag the Dog,” in which a political candidate invents a war to distract from his personal predicament. While Mr. Netanyahu hasn’t exactly done that, critics said he appeared to be pumping the serendipitous military action against the tunnels for all it was worth… While acknowledging the importance of destroying tunnels, detractors immediately ascribed dubious political motives to the timing of the action and decried the drumbeating and media hype of what they said was basically a defensive engineering project on Israeli soil.” [NYTimes]
AT THE UN — UN Expected to Pass First-ever anti-Hamas Resolution — by Amir Tibon: “The UN General Assembly is expected to vote Thursday on two resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are both expected to pass. The first resolution includes a condemnation of Hamas for its terror activities, and if it passes, it will be the first time that Hamas is condemned by name in a UN resolution. The second resolution… pushed by the Palestinian Authority. It includes condemnation of Israeli settlements and a reference to the parameters of a future peace agreement.”[Haaretz]
Differing BDS Definitions — J Street along with Jewish American progressive groups sent a letter yesterday to Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan criticizing his call on U.S. governors to open an investigation into Airbnb’s removal of listings in Israeli West Bank settlements.
J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami tells us… “The biggest problem with Israel’s response is that here’s a company that continues to do business in the State of Israel. It has thousands and thousands of listings in the State of Israel. It has thousands and thousands of listings of Jews around the world. It is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israeli. The problem with the government’s response is the conflation of those who are truly anti-Semitic with those who are opposed to the policy of the government of Israel. And those two are not equivalent, and it is a big mistake of the government of Israel. But I would add also of the American Jewish establishment. When we put the two in the same bucket, when we say that those who are opposed to the occupation, who are opposed to settlement extension, are somehow anti-Semitic, that’s a very big mistake.”
2020 WATCH — Michael Bloomberg prepared to sell namesake firm for presidential run — by Brittany De Lea: “During an interview with Iowa Radio on Tuesday, Bloomberg said if he decides to run for president, he would either sell the Bloomberg media company or place it in a blind trust. “But I think at my age, if selling it is possible, I would do that,” he said. “At some point, you’re going to die anyway, so you want to do it before then.”[FoxBusiness]
Deval Patrick passes on 2020 run, citing ‘cruelty’ of elections process — by Devan Cole: “Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will not run for President in 2020, he announced on Thursday, citing the “cruelty of our elections process” and the effect it would have on those close to him.”[CNN]
LONG READ — Cory Booker on the campaign trail in New Hampshire — by Adam Rubenstein: “Jeffrey Goldberg once wrote that there’s “a high degree of certainty that Booker knows more Torah than” anyone else in the Senate. Booker says that Judaic thought has contributed deeply to his worldview. It helps him communicate in terms of “goodness, kindness, decency to another” and “justice.” Yiddishisms and Jewish liturgy dot his speeches. At [a] Dartmouth College [townhall in October], he mistakes the day of the week. It’s Sunday, but he thinks it’s Saturday. After being corrected, he announces, “Okay, so it is not Shabbat, but I’d like to give a little d’var Torah anyway,” he says.”
“He launches into a discourse on Abraham’s openness as represented by inviting strangers to his tent. It is one of Booker’s go-to stories… It is a compelling and practiced patter—and surely a strong asset in engaging one of the country’s most vocal and generous group of supporters—but it seems to confuse his audience of college progressives. “Is Cory Booker Jewish?” I overhear one undergrad asking another.” [WeeklyStandard]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Facebook Board Backs Sheryl Sandberg’s Handling of Research on Investor George Soros [WSJ] • Soros Family Office Fined by Hong Kong Watchdog for Naked Short Selling [Bloomberg] • The US just declared war on the Chinese company it loves to hate most [Quartz] • WeWork’s WeGrow looking to hire established Hebrew Immersion teachers[WeGrow] • Kushner Co. buys Princeton hotel for $37M [NJAdvance] • Twelve family offices and UHNW Investors Involved in Israeli tech [FamilyCapital] • Israeli medical cannabis firm InterCure plans Nasdaq listing [Reuters]
MEDIA WATCH — A Conservative Magazine May Pay a Price for Being Unfriendly to Trump — by Jim Rutenberg: “This week… word spread in the Weekly Standard newsroom that the magazine’s ownership had not approved a 2019 budget, meaning its future was in peril… At the same time, [Clarity Media] announced it was seeking to expand The Washington Examiner, a conservative publication that is far friendlier to the president than The Weekly Standard… [Bill Kristol] indicated he still wasn’t sure the magazine was a goner. And he said there was still room in conservative media for Trump-critical voices. “I’m obviously very proud of what we’ve accomplished over 23 years… We’re absolutely committed to keeping the voice of The Weekly Standard alive in its current form with its current ownership, or under different auspices, or maybe in a somewhat different way.” [NYTimes]
HOLLYWOOD — Why Haim and Cheryl Saban’s $50 Million Donation to Academy Museum Almost Didn’t Happen — by Marc Malkin: “During Tuesday’s unveiling of the restored exterior of the new Saban Building… on Wilshire Boulevard, Haim recalled how Netflix boss Ted Sarandos invited him to dinner one night… “I said, ‘How much?’” Haim said, before joking, “I knew this was not going well.” When Sarandos explained he was looking for funding for the museum, Haim quickly dismissed the idea, saying that he and Cheryl’s philanthropy was aimed at more personal issues, including health care and children’s hunger.”
“But then Bob Iger called and asked Haim to breakfast, where the Disney chief said the Sabans could have their name on the museum’s main building for a $60 million donation. Haim went home to debrief with Cheryl. “She goes, ‘We’re doing this,’” he recalled. “I knew right there and then we were doing this… I love saying, ‘Yes, dear’ to my wife.’” (The donation ended up being $50 million.) Haim has no regrets, especially when because the building also reminds him of his late mother, who he said always insisted on going shopping at the May Company when she would visit Los Angeles from Israel… Haim also quipped, “Ted, I’m sorry I said no to you and yes to Bob, but Bob bought my company for $5.2 billion.” [Variety]
Spielberg, 25 years after ‘Schindler’s List,’ warns against collective hate — by Alexa Keyes: “In the wake of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, acclaimed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg believes now, more than ever, is when people must confront the alarming rise in hateful ideologies. Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film about the Holocaust, “Schindler’s List,” is returning to select theaters this week in honor of its 25th anniversary… “We have to take it more seriously today than I think we have had to take it in a generation,” he said… For a man who is no stranger to “best-of” lists, Spielberg still ranks “Schindler’s List” as one of the most personal films he has ever made.” [NBCNews]
‘Asher’ Review: An Aging Hit Man Finds Love — by Glenn Kenny: “Not too long into “Asher,” directed by Michael Caton-Jones and featuring Ron Perlman in the title hit man role, the hired killer has something that might be a heart attack while on the job… Asher, a former Mossad operative (or so it’s implied) who now operates out of a predominantly Jewish area of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, is helped by Famke Janssen’s Sophie, who lives near Asher’s intended victim.” [NYTimes]
DESSERT — How A Corporation Convinced American Jews To Reach For Crisco — by Deena Prichep: “Pull up a recipe from 80 years ago, and you’ll find pretty much the same ingredients — grated potatoes with a sprinkling of flour or matzo meal, maybe some onions for flavor and eggs to bind, fried in fat until nicely browned. But there is one thing you may find in an early 20th-century cookbook that would surprise today’s latke-makers: Crisco. Yes, that Crisco… Crisco even made a radio advertisement targeting the Jewish market, which originally aired during the radio program “Hebrew Songs of Palestine.” … And so Crisco, at least for a time, became part of Hanukkah.”[NPR]
Fairmont Hotel in downtown Dallas launches new upscale kosher kitchen just in time for Hanukkah — by Karen Elizabeth Watts: “The Fairmont Dallas hotel in downtown has a tasty surprise just in time for Hanukkah: a new kosher kitchen. The unique banquet menu, curated by executive chef Jared Harms, will offer high-end kosher dining experiences in the luxury of beautiful ballrooms from its new 750-square-foot kosher kitchen… David Sher, director of operations, was born and raised in Israel and brings his vast experience to the table.” [DallasNews]
BIRTHDAYS: Judy Clark turns 84… Moshe Hochenberg turns 81… Owner and publisher of The New Republic (1974-2015), Martin H. “Marty” Peretz turns 80… Member of the National Assembly of Quebec for 20 years (1994-2014) and active in a range of Jewish organizations, Lawrence Bergman turns 78… Renowned artist whose sculpture, photography, neon and video works appear in museums world-wide, Bruce Nauman turns 77… Israeli-born billionaire, art collector and producer of over 130 full-length films, Arnon Milchan turns 74… Founder and chair of global strategy of Susan G. Komen (named after her late sister), she also served as US Ambassador to Hungary (2001-2003) and Chief of Protocol of the US (2007-2009), Nancy Goodman Brinker turns 72… Cell and molecular biologist who is the director of research and professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, David L. Spector turns 66… Founder of Craigslist, the San Francisco-based website used around the world, Craig Newmark turns 66… Faculty member at Harvard Law School since 1981, professor since 1986, she served as Dean of Harvard Law School (2009-2017), Martha Minow turns 64…
Deputy Mayor of the City of Chicago, he has served previously as general counsel to the US Department of Transportation (2009-2013) and then counsel to Delta Airlines, Robert S. Rivkin turns 58… Emmy Award-winning producer, writer, director, and actor Judd Apatow turns 51… Member of Knesset for the Likud party since 2015, he was a fighter pilot for the IDF and then a civilian pilot for El Al before entering politics, Yoav Kish turns 50… Professor of economics at the University of Chicago, he previously served as the Chief Economist for President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, Michael Greenstone turns 50… Professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow, son and grandson of rabbis, Julian E. Zelizer turns 49… Director of communications at Tel Aviv’s Start-Up Nation Central, he has served as an editor for The Wall Street Journal and the Jerusalem Post, Amir Mizroch turns 43… SVP in the NYC office of PR firm BerlinRosen, Dan Levitan turns 36… Atlanta native, he is the chief innovation officer in the IDF’s spokespersons department and deputy commander of business development in the Israeli Air Force’s Innovation Department, Ilan Regenbaum turns 28… Researcher with a focus on the Mediterranean and Middle East at Rome’s Istituto Affari Internazionali, Andrea Dessì… Joe Blumenthal…