Daily Kickoff: Pompeo accepted 7/8 of Bibi’s requests, according to the Israelis | Romney details his approach to Trump | Harry Reid’s gold ?

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DRIVING THE CONVO — Mere days before he is sworn in as a U.S. Senator, representing the State of Utah, Mitt Romney penned a fiery op-ed criticizing President Trump’s recent decisions and contending that Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

“The Trump presidency made a deep descent in December,” Romney wrote in the Washington Post. “The departures of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, the appointment of senior persons of lesser experience, the abandonment of allies who fight beside us, and the president’s thoughtless claim that America has long been a “sucker” in world affairs all defined his presidency down… Trump’s words and actions have caused dismay around the world.”

Romney, who is set to be sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday, added: “To a great degree, a presidency shapes the public character of the nation. A president should unite us and inspire us to follow “our better angels.” A president should demonstrate the essential qualities of honesty and integrity, and elevate the national discourse with comity and mutual respect… With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring.”

Bill Kristol tweets: “It’s hard to believe, based on this op-ed, that Mitt Romney thinks Donald Trump deserves to be renominated in 2020. For now at least Mitt Romney has become the leader of the Republican Resistance to Trump.”

Laura Rosenberger‏, a former foreign policy advisor for Hillary Clinton, tweets“I’m sorry, are we all supposed to forget all the praise Romney lavished on Trump during his Senate campaign? I hope his words are real, but I see nothing but a man who continues to posture in the most politically convenient ways.”

Trump responds this morning: “Here we go with Mitt Romney, but so fast! Question will be, is he a Flake? I hope not. Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful. I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!”

Romney’s niece, Ronna Romney McDaniel‏ adds“POTUS is attacked and obstructed by the MSM media and Democrats 24/7. For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack Donald Trump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive.”

— Mitt Romney will appear on CNN’s The Lead program with Jake Tapper this afternoon.

Flashback — The Return of Romney: “Romney… is qualified to meet the need for an independent voice of reason in the era of Trump, say a number of his supporters and former aides.” [JewishInsider]

ON THE HILL — When ex-spies go rogue by becoming lawmakers — by Ian Shapira: “On Thursday, when the 116th Congress convenes, Abigail Spanberger will join a small vanguard of ex-intelligence officers becoming Instagram-friendly lawmakers… Spanberger, who worked for the CIA for eight years, will serve alongside two other former agency officers: Elissa Slotkin, 42, an analyst who deployed to Iraq three times and won a seat representing Michigan’s 8th District by beating a Republican incumbent; and Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), 41, who worked undercover in the Middle East and South Asia… Along with Spanberger, Slotkin hopes she can apply her expertise to subjects like cybersecurity and Russian election interference. She likened her future role in Congress to her position as an analyst in the agency’s intelligence directorate.” [WashingtonPost]

BACK IN THE ARENA — Two ex-NFL players from different parties — Colin Allred, a Texas Democrat, and Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican — are suiting up for Congress. But they’re leaving partisanship on the field.[NBCNews]

The complicated history of Thomas Jefferson’s Koran — by Yair Rosenberg: “This week, like other new members of Congress, incoming Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) will take her first oath of office… on the 1734 English translation of the [Koran] that belonged to Thomas Jefferson and now resides in the Library of Congress… Jefferson’s Koran is a more complicated artifact than the past decade or so of media coverage would have you believe. But does that mean the book is ill-suited to mark the induction of a Muslim legislator into the American government? Not at all. In fact, Jefferson’s Koran would be particularly appropriate for this occasion, not in spite of the prejudice within it, but because of it.” [WashPost]

— Incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) explaining a section of Talmud from Tractate Berachot last night. [Video]

GESTURE — Harry Reid Has a Few Words for Washington — by Mark Leibovich: “I put this out here because I knew you were coming,” Harry Reid, the former Senate leader, said, pointing to a large gold menorah on his desk. It was not clear whether Reid had someone buy the menorah especially for my visit or just keeps one lying around in case some reporter of (nominal) Jewish identity happens to drop by around Hanukkah. (Reid’s wife, Landra, was raised in a Jewish household in Los Angeles before she and Reid converted to Mormonism together, after they married.) Either way, Reid seemed both amused and pleased with himself, as if he could see that I was not quite sure how to receive this odd-duck gesture.” [NYTimes]

DIPLOMACY — Pompeo Says U.S. Still Committed to Israel Despite Syria Move — by Nick Wadhams and Jonathan Ferziger: “Trump’s decision [on Syria] “in no way changes anything that this administration is working on alongside Israel,” Pompeo told reporters Tuesday as he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brasilia… “The counter-ISIS campaign continues, our efforts to counter Iranian aggression continue and our commitment to Middle East stability and the protection of Israel continues in the same way it did before that decision was made,” Pompeo said.” [Bloomberg]

Pompeo accepted almost all Netanyahu’s requests, senior Israeli official says: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had almost all of his requests accepted during his meeting in Brazil with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a senior Israeli diplomatic official said Wednesday… “Israel received almost everything it wanted” during the Tuesday meeting in Brasilia, the official said. “Israel had 8 requests — 7 of which were accepted.” [ToI]

But, but, but… Pompeo and Netanyahu can’t come to terms on Israel-Croatia arms deal — by Barak Ravid: “Pompeo and Netanyahu failed to make a deal regarding the Trump administration’s objections to a proposed $500 million deal for F-16 jets between Israel and Croatia.” [Axios]

Netanyahu Mediating Between Honduras, U.S. in Exchange for Jerusalem Embassy Move — by Noa Landau and Amir Tibon: “Honduran President Juan Hernandez asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to mediate between him and the Trump administration in exchange for the Honduran embassy’s transfer from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a senior Israeli official said on Wednesday. “We told him we’re ready to help them solve problems,” said the official… Netanyahu, Hernandez and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on Tuesday… and discussed advancing the embassy’s transfer.” [Haaretz]

TALK OF THE REGION — Israeli settlement activity appears to surge in Trump era — by Josef Federman: “With little resistance from a friendly White House, Israel has launched a new settlement push in the West Bank since President Donald Trump took office, laying the groundwork for what could be the largest construction binge in years, according to data obtained by The Associated Press… The biggest surge in settlement activity during the Trump era is in tenders— large projects that are ready to be launched… White House Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt’s office declined comment, and State Department officials were not immediately available for comment due to the government shutdown.” [AP]

REPORT — Avigdor Lieberman revealed Trump peace plan details to Palestinian officials — by Michael Bachner: “Senior Palestinian officials have claimed that former defense minister Avigdor Liberman told them details of US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan two weeks before his resignation in November… The London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat cited the officials as saying the plan… includes a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank.” [ToI]

ON THE GROUND — Powerful Antitank Missiles Put U.S. Forces in the Middle East at Risk — by Ben Kesling: “An upgraded class of high-powered weaponry has flooded the battlefields of the Middle East, threatening even the most sophisticated battle tanks and highlighting a gap in U.S. military preparedness. The weapons — antitank guided missiles, or ATGMs — were first developed decades ago, but recent years have brought advances in their technology, ease of use and availability on the battlefield, making them a fearsome and little-acknowledged threat to U.S. troops… Israel has become a world leader in devising protection against these weapons… “The Israelis have an environment where they have an immediate threat that has been driving their development. Most of the time that we were in Iraq and Afghanistan, we weren’t too concerned about antitank guided missiles,” said Col. Glenn Dean, project manager for the Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Team.” [WSJ]

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Attorney General Mandelblit likely to announce a decision on Netanyahu’s indictment before April: “Former senior members of the legal system have told Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit he must announce his decision regarding Netanyahu’s cases before the election… The retired jurists reportedly convened last week during an annual conference held in a hotel near Jerusalem. According to the TV report, Mendelblit told those present that announcing his decision to indict Netanyahu, subject to a hearing, before the election was an “obligation to the public.” [HaaretzYnet]

Moran Stern, an Adjunct Lecturer at the Center for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, tells us: “Obviously, this is bad news for Netanyahu. It may tarnish his public image and adversely affect his approval rating. That being said, for some time now, everything that Netanyahu does and says — his extensive trips abroad and his near absolute focus on foreign policy at the expense of urgent domestic issues — is nested in the ongoing investigations against him. Netanyahu will further depict himself as the stainless victim of this scheme, and to his supporters, he will convey the message that his future and theirs are tied: if he falls, they fall with him; and that means that the Left will retake power.”

“I tend to believe that even if Netanyahu’s approval rating will be adversely affected by the AG’s decision, Likud under his leadership still has the highest chances of winning the upcoming elections. There are, of course, many reasons for that, but one must understand that in Israeli politics the party-brand continues to play a central role in voters’ behavior. The Likud brand remains the strongest despite, or even because of, the Netanyahu investigations.”

ROAD TO THE NEW KNESSET — Caroline Glick joins Bennett and Shaked’s new right-wing party: “Longtime Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick is running on Hayamin Hehadash’s list in the April 2019 elections, she announced Wednesday. “Caroline is a relentless Zionist fighter,” party co-chairman Naftali Bennett said.” [JPost] • Former Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon registered a new political party named “Telem,” the Hebrew acronym of National Statesmanlike Movement. [Ynet]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT — How Putin’s Blacklisted Oligarch Friend Is Linked to Key Israeli Political Players — by Shuki Sadeh and Refaella Goichman: “[Viktor] Vekselberg’s… name appeared on a list of people on whom the U.S. Treasury was imposing sanctions… on the backdrop of deteriorating relations between Russia and the West… In Israel, Vekselberg’s name made headlines recently after the closure of Fifth Dimension, a defense-related high-tech company he’d invested in. Two former, senior officials from the defense establishment had joined the venture: Former Israel Defense Forces Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz, currently the hottest item in local politics, was chairman of the board, and ex-deputy Mossad director Ram Ben-Barak was president. Ben-Barak is expected to find a place among the top spots on the Yesh Atid ticket in the upcoming election. When their company collapsed about two weeks ago, sources said one of the main reasons was the inclusion of Vekselberg on the U.S. government’s blacklist.” [Haaretz

2020 WATCH — How Joe Biden Has Paved the Way for a Possible Presidential Run — by Kevin Sack and Alexander Burns: “Mr. Biden is expected to reveal his plans early this year, after consulting with his family over the holidays… Mr. Biden’s PAC, American Possibilities, is led by Greg Schultz, a political operative who served as his senior White House adviser… The PAC raised $2.5 million during the 2018 midterm cycle from contributors who included the technology entrepreneur Sean Parker and the Hollywood producers Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. But only 21 percent of its spending was distributed to Democratic candidates and committees — more than 120 in all — while the rest went to salaries and expenses like Mr. Biden’s travel.” [NYTimes]

SIGHTING — Les Moonves escapes scandal on $590M yacht: “Moonves — who will not receive his $120 million payout after reportedly misleading the company in a desperate attempt to save his legacy — jetted to the Caribbean island to spend New Year’s on the $590 million, 454-foot yacht of mogul David Geffen, Rising Sun. Sources told Page Six that Moonves — joined by his ever-loyal wife, Julie Chen — flew out of LA on a private jet after Christmas with his longtime industry associate and friend Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal.” [PageSix]

** Good Wednesday 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 [email protected] **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: The Money Managers to Watch in 2019[WSJ] • Israel’s Corruption Probe Into Lev Leviev’s Diamond Empire Stalls[Haaretz]  Israel Aerospace considering investment in drone maker Aeronautics [Reuters] • Netflix pulls episode of comedy show in Saudi Arabia [FinancialTimes]

STARTUP NATION — Israeli startups raised over $6.1 billion in 2018: “Israeli startups raised over $400 million in December, according to press releases issued by companies that completed financing rounds… This sum can be added to the $4.5 billion that Israeli startups raised in the first nine months of 2018, according to IVC-ZAG as well as the estimated $1.2 billion raised in October and November. This means that the country’s startups have raised a record $6.1 billion since the start of 2018, easily surpassing last year’s record of $5.24 billion.” [Globes]

Conflict That Helped Spur Israeli Election Resounds Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews — by Felicia Schwartz and Dov Lieber: “The Israeli culture clash that helped to precipitate the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition in December is intimately understood by people like Chaim Gross, a 25-year-old computer programmer. He is one of growing number of young ultra-Orthodox Jews who have broken with the conservative stewards of their community and entered military service—taking a side in an issue that is deeply divisive in Israel.” [WSJ]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Queens Couple Welcomes NYC Area’s First Baby Of 2019: “The greater New York area’s first child [in 2019], to CBS2’s knowledge, was welcomed by parents Eli and Adina Derdick, of Kew Gardens… The baby boy, who has yet to be given a name, was born at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park… “One of the nurses nicknamed him ‘007’ because of the seven seconds that made him the first one, I guess,” Adina said.”[CBS2]

ACROSS THE SEA — Kosher slaughter ends in northern Belgium, threatening supplies to Europe: “As the year 2018 came to a close Monday, it brought with it an end to kosher slaughter in the northern Flanders region of Belgium, home to half of the country’s Jewish population and a major supplier of meat for European Jewish communities… Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, a leading Orthodox rabbinical alliance in Europe, lamented Monday that locally produced kosher meat would no longer be available for the country’s two main Jewish population centers.” [ToI]

TRANSITIONS — David Milstein has departed Senator Ted Cruz’s office after five and a half years, and will be studying at Aish HaTorah in the Old City of Jerusalem. He served on Cruz’s national security team with a specific focus on Israel as well as the wider Middle East. In an email announcement, Milstein wrote, “It will be bittersweet to leave Washington, D.C., but I have also wanted to take this step for a long time. I am very excited for this next chapter.”

Sarah Bard has joined Triventures, a Herzliya-based venture capital fund focused on healthcare. Bard previously served as Chief Development Officer at the Peres Center in Tel Aviv-Yafo, and as the Jewish outreach director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.

REMEMBERING — German-Jewish author Edgar Hilsenrath dies at 92: “Edgar Hilsenrath, a German-Jewish writer whose fictional account of the Holocaust from the perspective of a Nazi perpetrator became a best-seller, has died at 92… Born in Leipzig in 1926, Hilsenrath moved to Romania at 12 to escape Nazi persecution, and was later deported to Ukraine… Hilsenrath gained international fame with his 1971 novel “The Nazi and the Barber” — a grotesque story about an SS member who pretends to be Jewish after the war to escape prosecution — that sold millions of copies worldwide.” [AP]

Norman Gimbel, Grammy and Oscar-Winning Lyricist, Dies at 91 — by Anita Gates: “Norman Gimbel, the wildly versatile Brooklyn-born lyricist who won a Grammy Award for a blues hit, “Killing Me Softly With His Song”; an Oscar for a folk ballad, “It Goes Like It Goes” (from “Norma Rae”); and television immortality for bouncy series themes, including the ones for the sitcoms “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley,” died on Dec. 19 at his home in Montecito, Calif., near Santa Barbara… Norman Gimbel was born in Brooklyn on Nov. 16, 1927. His parents — Morris Gimbel, who was in the restaurant business, and Lottie (Nass) Gimbel — were Jewish immigrants from Austria.” [NYTimes]

BIRTHDAYS: Poet who has published twenty volumes of poetry, literary and art criticism, he served as a professor at Columbia, Princeton, Brooklyn College, Cooper Union and William Paterson University, David Shapiro turns 72… Founder and CEO of Boston-based investment firm, Weiss Asset Management, he is also an emeritus professor at Boston University, Andrew M. Weissturns 72… Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-reporter for The New York Times, she went to jail to protect her source in the Valerie Plame matter, now an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Judith Miller turns 71… Long-time journalist for The New York Times, also author of two books including a memoir about fighting cancer, Joyce Wadler turns 71… Former executive director of the Western Publishing Association (1996-2018), Jane Silbering turns 70…

Prime Minister of the Czech Republic (2009-2010), then Minister of Finance (2013-2014), Jan Fischer turns 68… President of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, she was previously with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Alice M. Greenwald turns 67… CEO of Loews Corporation since 1999, James Tisch turns 66… Congregational rabbi in Haifa, he was previously the president of Bar-Ilan University (2013-2017), a member of Knesset (2009-2013) and a professor of mathematics at the Technion, Daniel Hershkowitz turns 66… Israeli ambassador to Denmark since 2017, he was previously Israel’s ambassador to Sweden (2008-2012), Benny Dagan turns 62… Graduate of Yale Law School who recently served as corporate counsel at Assured Enterprises in McLean, Virginia (2012-2018), Anita J. Finkelsteinturns 62…

President of the DC-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, previously a member of Congress from Florida (1997-2010), Robert Wexler turns 58… Actress best known for her role in the 1990s television series “Beverly Hills, 90210,” in 2016 she was elected president of SAG-AFTRA, the trade union for over 100,000 actors, Gabrielle Carteris turns 58… Justice on the Supreme Court of Israel since 2012, she was previously Dean of Tel Aviv University’s law school, Daphne Barak-Erez turns 54… Writer, artist, baseball player and coach, he was the first base coach for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Nate Fish turns 39… Film and television actress, Lauren Storm turns 32… Assistant brand manager at Colgate-Palmolive, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Langer turns 29… Analyst for the City of Memphis, Tennessee, Tandameshia Hastings turns 29…

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