JI EXCLUSIVE — Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) sent a letter to President Trump today urging him to adopt a “comprehensive strategy” on the day after the withdrawal from Syria and to formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“In recent months, Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside Assad’s forces assailed rebels in southwestern Syria, bringing Shia militiamen within reach of the Golan and Israel,” states the letter obtained by Jewish Insider. “Given the state of present-day Syria and its foreseeable future, requiring Israel to cede control over this area would pose an unacceptable risk to our ally’s existence. The United States must make clear that we are committed to rolling back Iran’s presence in Syria and consider a range of measures, including recognition of the Golan, to protect our ally Israel from serious threats on its borders.” [JewishInsider]
Last month, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced a Senate resolution encouraging the United States to formally recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Jewish Insider that he supports the move.
MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who has been lobbying Congress for months, tells us: “The American administration and both parties – Republicans and Democrats – should lead an international process of recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Doing so is not only historically just but also strategically smart. I raised the issue on my last visit to the United States with dozens of senior members of the House and Senate and am pleased to see some of them now leading the efforts on Capitol Hill.”
DRIVING THE WEEKEND — Thousands of women across the nation are expected to attend marches and rallies to mark the second anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Saturday. The Women’s March in Washington, DC, which drew a large crowd in 2017, has sparked controversy over the last few weeks.
A number of groups removed their endorsement from the Women’s March Inc., including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, due to charges of anti-Semitism among its leadership. Most Democratic presidential hopefuls are skipping the formal march. In DC, New York and Los Angeles, the Zioness Movement held “Pre-Women’s March Teach-In” events, which were designed to address the struggles of being a liberal Zionist in the U.S.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who announced her exploratory committee for a presidential campaign on Tuesday, is planning to speak at the Women’s March in Iowa on Saturday. In a statement released on Thursday, Gillibrand’s spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said that the junior Senator from New York “strongly condemns anti-Semitism from anyone, in all forms, and believes it has no place in a movement for women’s empowerment or anywhere else,” but she “will not turn her back on the thousands of Iowa women who are joining this locally organized march to advocate for the issues that deeply impact them and their families.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) writes… “Why I refuse to walk with the Washington Women’s March: While I still firmly believe in its values and mission, I cannot associate with the national march’s leaders and principles, which refuse to completely repudiate anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. I cannot walk shoulder to shoulder with leaders who lock arms with outspoken peddlers of hate.” [USAToday]
BIG DEAL — President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project — by Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier: “President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow… Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen… The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.” [BuzzFeed]
HEARD LAST NIGHT — Former Senator Joe Lieberman used the phrase ‘Baruch Hashem‘ to describe his relief that he did not accept Trump’s offer to serve as FBI Director during a panel discussion alongside former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew at the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center in New York City, sponsored by the Jewish Week.
“The President asked me to take the job, and I was torn because I am actually very happy with my life today,” Lieberman recalled. “But I have this public service gene that, as Hadassah said, it’s kind of an infectious disease for which there has not yet been found a cure. During that time, I called my friend, the great late John McCain — and he was no fan of President Trump — and I said, ‘The President asked me to think about becoming the head of the FBI. What do you think?’ He said, ‘Take it.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He answered, ‘Because it’s a call to serve your country. Have you ever turned that down before?’ So I said,’ You know what? You are the last person I should’ve called.’ Anyway, Baruch Hashem — we wrestled with this, and then the President asked Marc Kasowitz, who was the senior partner at the firm I am with, to represent him in the Mueller investigation, which was all playing out the same week, and Marc said yes. Of course, I couldn’t go forward because I would be running the agency who would be staffing the investigation above which Kasowitz would be defending from. Anyway, that was the end of that, and Baruch Hashem.” [Pic]
ON THE HILL — Sen. James Risch is set to be the referee between Trump and the GOP — by Josh Rogin: “Newly minted Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James E. Risch (R-ID) is positioning himself as a referee with significant power… In a long interview in his office, I asked Risch to characterize his foreign policy philosophy. Is he a Jacksonian like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a Jeffersonian like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a “nationalist” like Trump, a neoconservative like Vice President Pence, or a conservative hawk like national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? “I’m none of those. I’m a ‘Jim Rischian,’ whatever that is,” he said. “I’m much more transactional, depending upon the situation.” [WashPost]
House Republicans are criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to appoint Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said in a statement, “Anti-Semitism has no place in Congress and certainly not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I am deeply disappointed in Speaker Pelosi’s choice, a choice that threatens the Committee’s long history of bipartisan support for Israel.” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) added on Twitter: Instead of the Dems supporting Israel and combatting BDS and anti-Semitism on college campuses and elsewhere, they’re now empowering it.”
— Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) dismissed those concerns: “I welcome my new Democratic colleagues on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Let’s continue the proud bipartisan work of the Committee in promoting American values and defending human rights around the world, standing firmly with our allies and against our enemies.”
— J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami in a statement: “While it’s fair to disagree with and criticize her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the BDS movement or any other issue, smearing Rep. Omar as an anti-Semite – or suggesting that she is somehow not fit to serve on an important committee like Foreign Affairs – is bigoted and deeply wrong.”
Why it matters: “The committee oversees bills and investigations related to US foreign affairs, such as foreign aid and exports to other countries… It is rare for freshman representatives to join high-ranking congressional committees.”[BusinessInsider]
HEARD ON CABLE — Ilhan Omar on CNN Newsroom with Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow: “I don’t know how my comments [about Israel] would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments, precisely, are addressing what was happening during the Gaza war, and I am clearly speaking about the way that the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”[Video]
Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) on CNN’s New Day program: “We have to adjust our foreign policy accordingly, that’s one reason why I think Congress needs to play a far more aggressive role in determining our nation’s foreign policy. We can not allow though for mission creep. Should a presence in Syria be justified along the lines of countering Iran or coming to the aid of our Kurdish allies, then certainly that would require congressional approval.”
GOP lawmaker pushes to derail Rashida Tlaib from leading delegation to West Bank — by Melanie Zanona: “In a letter obtained by Politico, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic committee chairs not to sign off on Tlaib’s proposed trip to the West Bank… Babin, who began hand-delivering the letter to offices on Thursday, argues that a trip to “Israel’s nemesis” would “undo years of goodwill built by the foreign policy and Israeli-American communities.”
“Please consider the damage that a yet unexperienced and overly caustic Member of Congress may cause to Israeli relations, or the perceptions of our own Jewish-American citizens,” Babin added.” … Babin is hoping to find an ally in House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY)… But only one chair or the Speaker needs to authorize a congressional trip for it to be approved.”[Politico]
GOP Congressmen Meet With Accused Holocaust-Denier Chuck Johnson — by Will Sommer: “Notorious alt-right figure and accused Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson met with Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Phil Roe (R-TN) in Congress on Wednesday… In statements, Poe and Harris confirmed they had met with Johnson to discuss genetic testing and DNA, but claimed they weren’t aware of Johnson’s controversial history.” [DailyBeast]
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports: “Tony Blair met with Jared Kushner at the White House earlier this week to discuss Middle East policy. Blair worked on the unsuccessful Quartet.”
Palestinian School And Sewage Projects Unfinished As U.S. Cuts Final Bit Of Aid — by Daniel Estrin: “The White House has blocked an emergency effort to finish major U.S.-funded school, water and sewage projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to a government document reviewed by NPR. It is the latest of a series of moves by the Trump administration to shut down U.S. aid to Palestinians, which is scheduled to end Feb 1… Anera, the U.S.-funded aid group carrying out the school project, recently received notification from the U.S. government that it may have to tear down the school, said Sean Carroll, the head of Anera.” [NPR]
SHUTDOWN WATCH — Most State Dept. Employees Will Return to Work Next Week Despite Shutdown — by Eileen Sullivan: “In a message posted online on Thursday, the State Department’s Deputy Undersecretary for Management, Bill Todd, cited the agency’s core national security mission as the reason many furloughed employees were being asked to return to work next week… The department had already decided to keep its plans to fly all of its ambassadors from around the world to Washington for a two-day conference this week, despite the shutdown.” [NYTimes; WashPost] • Trump cancels US delegation to Davos World Economic Forum due to shutdown [CNBC]
Gary Cohn criticizes shutdown — by Michael Levenson: “Gary Cohn, President Trump’s former top economic adviser, is sharply criticizing the government shutdown, as he heads to Harvard for a fellowship. In an interview with the Globe, Cohn called the shutdown… “completely wrong,” and said the furloughing of thousands of federal workers “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.” [BostonGlobe]
Brooklyn businesses offer specials to gov’t workers affected by shutdown: “The non-profit food pantry Masbia Flatbush and Masbia Boro Park extended their hours for federal employees to offer food relief. Executive Director Alexander Rapaport and staffers went to Laguardia and JFK to pass out flyers to TSA workers… “All my childhood I was brought up with my grandmother telling me stories how she risked her life every day during the Holocaust in the concentration camps to find food for other people,” Rapaport said. “That’s become my DNA, my oxygen. Giving out some flyers that’s easy.”[Bklyner; Pic]
2020 WATCH — Popular GOP governor Hogan flirts with primary challenge vs. Trump — by Alex Isenstadt: “Republican Gov. Larry Hogan [is] planning a March trip to Iowa as vice chair of the National Governors Association… Hogan aides strenuously deny that he’s actively exploring a White House bid… Yet he’s given hope to Never Trump Republicans like Bill Kristol… Kristol was invited to Hogan’s inauguration — though he didn’t attend — and he’s expected to meet soon with the governor. Kristol and Hogan briefly chatted last month after the Maryland Republican delivered a speech at the Niskanen Center, a right-of-center think tank that’s been critical of the president. “He went out of his way to be a little more forward-leaning than he needed to be. He could have given a very good inaugural speech for his second term as governor without the father, without the impeachment, without the contrast with Washington, so he knows what he’s doing,” Kristol said.”[Politico]
Before she announced her candidacy for president, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) met with several prominent Jewish feminists in Manhattan last Saturday… Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has hired his first Iowa staffer as he considers White House run…
Peter Beinart writes… “Bernie Sanders Has To Run – To Make Democrats More Critical Of Israel: What explains Sanders’ unusual boldness? Perhaps it’s because, as a self-professed socialist, he’s spent his career on the ideological margins. Being perceived as radical doesn’t faze him… Perhaps it’s because, as a Jew, Sanders feels particularly invested in the subject and somewhat insulated from charges of anti-Semitism… For whatever reason, a second Sanders candidacy could fundamentally change the debate inside the Democratic Party on Israel.” [Forward]
Peggy Noonan on the challenge, pressure and opportunity of being a female candidate in 2020: “Golda Meir gave not a thought to how she looked, which was fine with Israel.” [WSJ]
ROAD TO THE NEW KNESSET— Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit agreed to meet with Netanyahu’s lawyer to discuss the PM’s demand to postpone the timing of an indictment decision… Netanyahu posted yesterday on Facebook a Hebrew-translated article written by professor Alan Dershowitz in defense of him… Speaking at a town hall meeting for some 500 English speakers in Tel Aviv, Yair Lapid warned that if centrist parties do not unite, “It’s going to be a disaster.”…
** Good Friday 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: Gary Barnett, the Man Behind Billionaires’ Row Battles, to Sell the World’s Tallest Condo [WSJ] • Leslie Moonves to Fight CBS Decision to Withhold $120 Million Severance [WSJ; NYTimes] • WeWork’s size gives startup public responsibilities, Sam Zell says[ChicagoBusiness] • Glossier CEO Emily Weiss on startup advice, new beauty products [Recode] • Lightstone Group is launching Lightstone Capital to finance projects in NYC, LA and Miami [TheRealDeal] • In Print Since 1897, The Forward Goes Digital Only [NYTimes] • Israel’s first lunar spacecraft heading to Cape Canaveral for launch [JPost]
Portland’s Land Rush for New ‘Opportunity Zone’ Tax Breaks — by Noah Buhayar and Lauren Leatherby: “Portland’s zones are so atypical that Barry Sternlicht, the real estate investor and founder of the Starwood hotel chain, used the city as a punchline when he criticized Congress for passing the tax breaks. “That’s not a blighted district,” he scoffed on a recent conference call. “Only in Washington would they say this helps the poor.”[Bloomberg]
STARTUP SPOTLIGHT — SeeTree raises $11.5M to help farmers manage their orchards — by Frederic Lardinois: “SeeTree, a Tel Aviv-based startup that uses drones and artificial intelligence to bring precision agriculture to their groves, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A funding round led by Hanaco Ventures, with participation from previous investors Canaan Partners Israel, Uri Levine and his investors group, iAngel and Mindset. This brings the company’s total funding to $15 million.”[TechCrunch]
Israeli Officials Discount U.S. Concerns Over China — by Osnat Nir: “Amid mounting U.S. pressure to adopt a tougher stance on Chinese investment out of espionage fears, Israeli officials are countering that the concerns are overwrought and that investments are vetted for security risks… “The security warnings about the Chinese are a joke, completely mad,” said one senior government source. “If they want to gather intelligence, they can simply rent an apartment in Haifa instead of investing in ownership of a port.”[Haaretz]
Israeli museum to drop ‘McJesus’ sculpture after protests — by Rami Ayyub: “An Israeli museum plans to withdraw a sculpture depicting the McDonald’s mascot as the crucified Jesus following protests which briefly united the country’s Christian minority.” [Reuters]
DAVOS 2019 — Anthony Scaramucci to interview Ehud Barak at World Economic Forum Cannabis Pavilion — by Tzally Greenberg: “Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Barak and Anthony Scaramucci will be meeting at the upcoming World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss the future of the medical cannabis industry on stage… Called Cannatech, the event will start with the former director of communications for President Donald Trump interviewing the former Israeli prime minister and current cannabis firm chairman.” [Calcalist]
TALK OF THE TOWN — Push for ‘Otto Warmbier Way’ outside North Korea’s UN Mission picks up steam — by Eric Shawn: “In a defiant gesture aimed at Kim Jong Un’s regime, New York City Councilman Joe Borelli, R-Staten Island, wants the street where the North Korean Mission to the United Nations is located to be renamed “Otto Warmbier Way.” “This will be something that will be engrained in the memory, it will be a slight thumb in the nose of Kim Jong Un,” Borelli told Fox News… “We want people to look up, see that street sign, ‘Otto Warmbier Way,’ and recall that this was a life given up essentially, in the face of an absolute dictator and authoritative government,” Borelli said.” [FoxNews]
MEDIA WATCH — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s first speech made C-SPAN history — by Mark Moore: “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s first speech on the House floor Wednesday quickly made C-SPAN history. “In just over 12 hours C-SPAN tweet of @RepAOC floor remarks last nite have become most-viewed twitter video by @cspan of any remarks by a member of House either party. 1.16M,” Howard Mortman, the broadcaster’s communications director, posted Thursday on Twitter, and linked to the video of her speech.”[NYPost]
ACROSS THE SEA — Hungarian Jews split about Danube search for Holocaust victims — by Marton Dunai: “Hungary’s largest Jewish organization on Thursday asked Israeli and Hungarian authorities to suspend a search for the remains of Holocaust victims in the Danube riverbed, saying the dead should be left in peace… “Disturbing the resting place of the dead is a complex and sensitive matter,” the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, or Mazsihisz, said on its website… “Searching for them is needless, and breaches the peace and dignity of the dead, Jewish or Goyim.” … ZAKA plans to return to Budapest with divers in February.” [Reuters]
TRANSITIONS — Benjamin Haddad, a leading French analyst and author, was named the new director of The Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative (FEI).
David Schenker, of New Jersey, was nominated by the White House to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Near Eastern Affairs).
WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Publisher of a weekly community newspaper founded in 2016, The Boston Guardian, after a 20 year stint as the publisher of the now defunct Boston Courant, David Jacobs turns 71… US Representative for Maryland’s 7th congressional district since 1996, he was appointed in 2019 as the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Elijah E. Cummings turns 68… Communications director at NYC’s Charter Commission, she was formerly director of communications at NYC’s Department of Education and a bureau chief at the NY Daily News, JoAnne Wasserman turns 64… Microbiologist and professor of biology at Wichita State University since 2006, Mark A. Schneegurt, Ph.D. turns 57… 2016 presidential candidate, he is a former Governor of Maryland (2007-2015) after serving as Mayor of Baltimore (1999-2007), Martin O’Malley turns 56… Strategic advisor for Olami (an umbrella group for campus outreach), a founding director of the Honestreporting website and former executive director of Aish HaTorah NY, Rabbi Yitz Greenman turns 55… Personal finance commentator and journalist, and author of a New York Times bestseller on personal finance, Beth Kobliner turns 54…
VP of government and airport affairs at JetBlue Airways, Jeffrey Goodellturns 50… Head of public affairs at the DC office of APCO Worldwide, he was previously the director for international economics at the National Security Council (2014-2015), Gadi Dechter turns 44 (h/t Playbook)… SVP of PR firm GMMB, with a focus on education policy, Samara Yudof Jones turns 41… Actor, comedian, producer, composer, musician, singer, author and screenwriter, he wrote and acted in 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and 2011’s “The Muppets,” Jason Jordan Segel turns 39… Baltimore-born basketball player, dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the “Jewish Jordan” in a 1999 feature, Tamir Goodman turns 37… Israeli-born, moved to Los Angeles as a child, comedian, actor, writer and television host, best known for his web series “Jake and Amir” (with Jake Hurwitz), Amir Blumenfeld turns 36… Deputy political director of the Midwest Region of AIPAC, Tali Alter Gevaryahuturns 28… Linda Rubin…
SATURDAY: Retired after 40 years of service as a news reporter and White House correspondent for ABC News, Ann Compton turns 72… President and CEO of PayPal and Chairman of the Board of Symantec, he is on the board of Verizon, Daniel H. Schulman turns 61… Jay Susman turns 58… Los Angeles-based attorney and founder of the blog, American Trial Attorneys in Defense of Israel, Baruch C. Cohen turns 56… Governor of Illinois, Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker turns 54… Political journalist who has covered the White House, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the State Department, now Chief White House Correspondent for ABC News, Jonathan Karl turns 51… United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the USA, Yousef Al Otaiba turns 45… Television journalist, entrepreneur, social activist, YouTube creator and motivational speaker, Jessica Abo turns 38… DC-based Director of Political Outreach at AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, Julie Fishman Rayman turns 38… VP of income security, child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, Melissa Boteach turns 36… Director of policy and communications at AJC Global, Alex Bronzo turns 34… Actor since early childhood, he has already appeared in over 25 films including playing d’Artagnan in 2011’s “The Three Musketeers,” Logan Lerman turns 27… Jewish rapper, best known by his stage name Mac Miller, Malcolm James McCormick turns 27… Senior account executive at Chicago’s Resolute Consulting, she was deputy director of strategic partnerships in the office of Chicago’s Mayor, after four years at AIPAC, Emily Berman Pevnick… Isaac Wolf…
SUNDAY: Lakewood, NJ-born, American diplomat and former State Department official (1959-1991), later President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1991-1997), Morton I. Abramowitz turns 86… Pleasant Hill, California resident, Daniel L. Fisher turns 75… Israeli politician, refusenik during the 1970s and 1980s who spent nine years in Soviet prisons, he served as Chairman of the Jewish Agency (2009-2018), Natan Sharanskyturns 71… US Representative from Nevada (1999-2013), now CEO and senior provost for Touro University’s Western Division, Shelley Berkley (born Rochelle Levine) turns 68… Comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, animal rights activist, actor, media critic and host of HBO’s political talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” William “Bill” Maher turns 63… Diane Kushnir Halivni turns 49… US Ambassador to the United Nations for the first two years of the Trump administration (2017-2018), she was previously Governor of South Carolina (2011-2017), Ambassador Nikki Haley (born Nimrata Randhawa) turns 47… Prime Minister of Ukraine since 2016, Volodymyr Groysman turns 41… Philanthropist, professional equestrian, author and younger daughter of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Georgina Leigh Bloomberg turns 36… Member of the digital communications team at Purple Strategies, after internships on Capitol Hill and the Motion Picture Association of America, Alec Jacobs turns 29… Jason Berger… Adar Belinkoff…