Daily Kickoff

Daily Kickoff: Gantz and Lapid join forces to topple Bibi | DNC passes resolution to re-enter Iran deal | Will Israel be the 4th to reach the moon?

Tell your friends to sign up for the Daily Kickoff here or for early 7AM access via Debut Inbox

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Netanyahu’s election rivals merge as Israeli leader makes pact with extreme right — by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash: “Criticism mounted Thursday on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making a pact with an extreme far-right party while his two main rivals, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, announced that they would join forces to run on a joint party list… Also joining Gantz’s bloc on Thursday was Gabi Ashkenazi, another retired chief of staff.” [WashPostNYTimes]

KAFE KNESSET — The Big Bang: Gantz and Lapid Join Forces — by Neri Zilber: Both Gantz and Lapid showed flexibility, agreeing to a rotation arrangement as PM (if their party wins) with Gantz serving for the first two and a half years and Lapid thereafter. According to Channel 12’s Amit Segal, Lapid will serve as foreign minister at the beginning of any such Gantz-led government.

Gantz and Lapid were set to give a live primetime joint address later today in Tel Aviv to unveil further details surrounding the merger. According to one report, Yaalon would first serve as defense minister, after which Gantz would take over the post under a PM Lapid. They were also expected to state clearly that the party wouldn’t enter a Netanyahu-led government in the future if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit moves to indict the PM (Lapid had ruled it out at any stage; Gantz had previously remained vague). Subscribe to read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here [KafeKnesset]

DRIVING THE CONVO — Netanyahu boosts racist far-right party with pre-election deal — by Barak Ravid: “This is an unprecedented development in Israel’s history and is equivalent to a U.S. president cutting a political deal with David Duke, the former KKK leader.” [Axios

David Horovitz writes… “Netanyahu’s despicable push to bring racists into Israel’s political mainstream: On election day itself in 2015, dishonorably and inaccurately, Netanyahu sought to get out the Likud vote by claiming that Israel’s Arab citizens were streaming in droves to the polling stations. Now, ahead of the 2019 poll, he has been striving — apparently with success — to bring into the mainstream a group of racists who would deny Israel’s Arab citizens the right to vote at all.” [ToI]

Professor of Law Eugene Kontorovich: “It is an unpleasant and unhappy development. But members of this party have been in Knesset before — though it is not clear that they will be in Knesset again. The notion of a threat to Israeli democracy is absurd, just like American democracy is not threatened by having anti-Semitic Democratic actual members of Congress, which is also an unhappy and unpleasant development. If American Jews would not ‘break up’ with America on the latter score, they should not distance themselves on the former one. It is also worth noting that a racist, extremist party already has a bunch of seats in the Knesset – the Joint List.”

Washington Institute’s David Makovsky emails: “Meir Kahane’s racism is antithetical to the ethos of Zionism as a democratic as well as a Jewish state. This pariah status since the early 1980’s is now imperiled with Israeli PM Netanyahu concocting a pre-election deal among far right parties that would bring them into the next coalition. Netanyahu has broken other pre-election deals in the past four terms and hope this unconscionable one is disavowed.”

Amb. Dan Shapiro tweets“The news from Israel contains potential implications for U.S. policy… The U.S. State Dept formally designated Kahane Chai (Kach) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 1997. It is still on the FTO list today… Of course, no votes have been cast or counted yet. These candidates may not be elected. But if they do get into the Knesset, U.S. officials may once again have to decide how to relate to MKs with plausible ties to a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

IPF’s David Halperin“Rightly or wrongly, Otzma could come to be seen as the face of a country that American Jews, especially younger ones, will be unable to identify with. It also does not bode well for democratic norms in Israel itself, let alone prospects for peace and security.”

Michael Koplow“I grant that Otzma will have little to no power in an Israeli gov’t. Explain to me how associating with it is any different than politicians who are willing to cavort with Farrakhan, and why anyone who rightly goes nuts over the latter should do anything different with the former.”

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — UN envoy says risk of Israeli-Palestinian war looms large — by Edith Lederer: “The prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is fading by the day as violence and radicalism grow — and ‘the risk of war continues to loom large,’ the U.N. Mideast envoy warned Wednesday. Nikolay Mladenov also told the U.N. Security Council that a negotiated two-state solution is drifting further away… ‘Unfortunately, unilateral measures, continuing violence, financial pressures and the lack of progress towards peace are exacting a heavy toll on Palestinian society and undermining the foundations of peace,’ Mladenov said.” [AP]

Palestinian president rejects tax money from Israel — by Ali Sawafta: “The Palestinian Authority (PA) will no longer accept tax revenues collected on its behalf by Israel following its decision to trim the sum over the PA’s financial support of militants’ families, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said. ‘We reject the tax, we don’t want it,’ Abbas told visiting U.S. congressmen. ‘Frankly, if we are left with only 20 or 30 million shekels, which is the sum paid to families of martyrs, then we will pay them to the families of martyrs,’ he said.” [Reuters]

TALK OF THE REGION — Allies decline request to stay in Syria after U.S. troops withdraw — by Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan: “As the deadline approaches for the withdrawal of U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, America’s closest European allies have turned down a Trump administration request to fill the gap with their own troops… Allies have ‘unanimously’ told the United States that they ‘won’t stay if you pull out,’ a senior administration official said.” [WashPost]

To Target Israel, Iran’s ‘Suitcase’ GPS Kits Turn Hezbollah Rockets Into Guided Missiles — by Neri Zilber: “In interviews with The Daily Beast, senior Israeli military officers outlined new details about Iran’s plans to turn a vast arsenal of relatively dumb rockets in Syria and Lebanon into a deadly array of precision-guided missiles. The key, according to Israel, is a Global Positioning System (GPS) ‘kit’ the size of small roll-aboard luggage… ‘You insert the GPS coordinates [of the target] and it’s fire and forget,’ [a] senior officer said — there’s no command and control back end. ‘It’s just like [the navigation app] Waze.'” [DailyBeast• Iran will not rule out possibility of military conflict with Israel [Reuters]

INTERVIEW — Max Boot Defends Elliott Abrams’s Account of U.S. Policy in El Salvador —by Isaac Chotiner: “I know Elliott. He has been a colleague of mine at the Council on Foreign Relations… I really see him as a foreign-policy professional who has served the country a long time. I think you can certainly attack him for his role in the Iran-Contra affair. I think that’s legitimate… but I think it’s unfair of Congresswoman Omar to suggest that he is somehow an enabler or an apologist for genocide, because, in fact, anyone who knows anything about the history of American policy since the nineteen-seventies knows that Elliott has actually been one of the most influential and eloquent voices for putting human rights and democracy front and center in American foreign policy.” [NewYorker]

— Hal Brands writes… “Why the spat between Elliott Abrams and Ilhan Omar over Reagan’s policies matters today: It is hard to take Omar’s ‘questioning’ of Abrams seriously, given her sometimes tendentious reading of history and the fact that she was clearly performing for an audience rather than sincerely seeking to elicit information. She called Abrams ‘Mr. Adams’ and repeatedly cut him off while he tried to answer her questions. Yet the imbroglio raised some worthwhile issues regarding what happened in Central America during the 1980s and the role of illiberal policies in sustaining the liberal international order.” [Bloomberg]

TALK OF THE NATION — A self-proclaimed white nationalist planned a mass terrorist attack, the government says Coast Guard lieutenant dreamed of killing ‘every last person on earth’ — by Lynh Bui: “A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant and self-identified white nationalist was arrested after federal investigators uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland home that authorities say he stockpiled to launch a widespread domestic terrorist attack targeting politicians and journalists… In recent weeks, according to the court filings, [Christopher Paul] Hasson developed a spreadsheet of targets that included top Democratic congressional leaders and media personalities. The list includes… ‘Sen blumen jew,’ presumably about Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).” [WashPost]

TRANSITION — Jon Lerner, who served as deputy to former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, has joined the Hudson Institute as a senior fellow, focusing on U.S. foreign policy.

Jack Abramoff joins super PAC, targets ‘Green New Deal’ — by Corbin Hiar: “After a brief stint in campaign finance reform, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff is now fundraising in support of conservative candidates by attacking an ambitious effort to combat climate change. ‘These socialists are so confused, and their messaging is getting worse by the minute,’ Abramoff said in a fundraising pitch for the newly created Protect American Values political action committee… Abramoff was listed in the email as the ‘honorary chairman’ of the super PAC.” [E&ENews]

HAPPENING TODAY — Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr will address leaders of the Conference of Presidents on the final day of its annual conference in Jerusalem at 4 PM (Israeli time). Carr will also participate in a panel on the “challenges of BDS and anti-Semitism on/off campus.”

DAYLIGHT? — U.S. Ambassador to Warsaw says Israel should apologize to Poland in Holocaust row — by Emily Tamkin: “Just days after hosting a summit in Warsaw on stability in the Middle East, U.S. Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher has called on Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, to apologize to Poland… Mosbacher’s call for an apology, which came a day after she tweeted critically about Katz’s comments, made quite clear how the U.S. envoy at least, if not the whole Trump administration, felt about the issue… The Polish Embassy in Washington, for its part, tried to separate the Warsaw summit from the diplomatic row.” [WashPost]

2020 WATCH — Democratic Party passes resolution calling for U.S. to re-enter Iran nuke deal — by Eric Cortellessa: “At the February 16 meeting in Washington, DC, the DNC adopted a motion solidifying the party’s position that the U.S. should rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action… ‘The United States should return to its obligations under the JCPOA and utilize multilateral and bilateral diplomacy to achieve political solutions to remaining challenges regarding Iran,’ the document says… The DNC resolution is an early indication as the 2020 campaign ramps up, that if a Democrat were to win the White House, he or she may bring the United States back into the accord.”[ToI]

J.J. Abrams, Katie McGrath to Host Fundraiser for Kamala Harris — by Ted Johnson: “Kamala Harris, continuing to draw support from high-profile Hollywood donors, will headline a fundraiser in Los Angeles next month at the Pacific Palisades home of J.J. Abrams and his wife, producer Katie McGrath… The list of co-chairs for the March 20 event include a long list of co-hosts that include WME Entertainment’s Ari Emanuel, ICM’s Chris Silbermann… Universal’s Donna Langley… Universal’s Ron Meyer, foundation executive Trisha Cardoso.” [Variety]

Bernie Sanders raised $6 million after announcing presidential bid… Meghan McCain demanded that Tulsi Gabbard denounce Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an adversary of the U.S. during a heated encounter on The View… Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) is on his way to Iowa… Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) opening: He is viewed by many in the bank industry as a reasonable alternative… The debate for Democrats: Attack Trump head on or rise above?…

STATE-SIDE — U.S. Senate candidate wants exception allowing Kansas to buy Israeli debt — by Jonathan Shorman: “Right now, Kansas allows a board that invests state dollars to purchase debt only from the United States and other American government agencies. Legislation from Treasurer Jake LaTurner would give the board the power to purchase Israeli debt as well… On Wednesday, LaTurner introduced legislation in a Senate committee to allow the Pooled Money Investment Board to purchase Israeli debt. He called Israeli bonds a safe investment for Kansas… LaTurner is the only declared candidate in the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts in 2020.” [KansasJNS]

** Good Thursday 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: Host Hotels buys Barry Sternlicht’s 1 Hotel South Beach for $610M, setting new record [RealDealBizjournals• Vivendi used Elliott Management techniques that it attacked [FinancialTimes] • At Harvard Law School, Mark Zuckerberg and Jonathan Zittrain discuss encryption, ‘information fiduciaries’ and targeted advertisements [HarvardLawToday• Zambia Court Orders Liquidation of Billionaire Lev Leviev’s Company [Bloomberg• Israeli biopharma firm BiomX raises $32 million in private funding [Reuters• BMW Group to Open a Technology Scouting Office in Tel Aviv [Calcalist]

SPOTLIGHT — Inside Elizabeth Holmes’s Final Months at Theranos — by Nick Bilton: “While Holmes held board meetings with people like Henry Kissinger, Balto [the dog] could be found in the corner of the room relieving himself while a frenzied assistant was left to clean up the mess.”[VanityFair

STARTUP NATION —Who Do You Call When You’re the Victim of a Cybercrime? Israel has an answer — by Josephine Wolff: “When people in Israel think they may be dealing with computer security threats or intrusions, they can just dial 119. Launched by Israel’s national Computer Emergency Response Team, the line is staffed by students of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and provides support and guidance to people who call with concerns about their computers. Already the line is receiving 200 calls per day, according to the Times of Israel.” [Slate]

TODAY — SpaceX Is About To Launch Israel’s First Ever Mission To The Moon — by Jonathan O’Callaghan: “At 8.45pm Eastern time, a Space Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, carrying a communications satellite for Asia, an Air Force research payload, and the Beresheet lunar lander from the company SpaceIL based in Yehud, Israel. ‘This is the first project [we have done],’ Eran Shmidt, Deputy Manager of the SpaceIL Program, told me prior to the launch… While the Apollo missions reached the Moon in three days, SpaceIL’s mission will be a bit slower, taking about 40 days in total. But it will be especially impressive if it is successful, considering the mission cost just $100 million to put together.” [ForbesVideo]

— Buzz Aldrin‏: “If the SpaceIL mission is successful this Thursday, Israel will become the fourth country to land an aircraft on the moon. Good luck, Beresheet!”

HOLLYWOOD — The Jeff Bezos, David Pecker and Ari Emanuel Connection — by Chris Gardner: “Pecker and his company, AMI, happen to be repped by IMG, a subsidiary of WME under Whitesell and Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel, 57. Pecker not only has a close relationship with Emanuel — sources say he bought a table at a fundraiser for the private Jewish high school in West Hills where the exec’s kids have gone — he’s also donated money to Ari’s brother, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 59.” [HollywoodReporter]

Haim Saban-Backed Static & Ben El Bring Israeli Smash ‘Tudo Bom’ to the Masses — by Malina Saval: “Static & Ben El is poised for a splashy American takeover. The group, who were close friends before teaming up to make music, were recently signed by Saban Entertainment — affectionately dubbing Haim Saban ‘the boss’ and ‘a super cool guy’ — and on Feb. 15, Static & Ben El saw the U.S. release of its re-recorded English-language version of ‘Tudo Bom’ featuring J. Balvin distributed by Caroline Records. This is the song, says Static, on which the duo is pinning its hopes for a successful American crossover. ‘The big thing was the language barrier,’ says Static.” [Variety]

PROFILE — Eli Valley Is the Angriest Political Cartoonist in America — by Abraham Riesman: “Growing up in New Jersey and upstate New York as the son of a largely secular woman and a conservative rabbi, Valley had loved comics and doodled his own. During his undergraduate career at Cornell, he’d drawn political cartoons for the school paper… But after college, he had no intentions of continuing down the visual artist’s path. That changed in 2006, when he entered a competition called the Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoons Contest, which aimed to celebrate Jewish free expression in the face of Muslim protests about cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad… Over the course of the next decade, Valley saw his expressionist, woodcut-esque work published in an array of venues — first in the alt-culture web magazine Jewcy, then mostly in the venerable Jewish outlet the Forward, where he became an artist-in-residence.”[Vulture]

DEEP DIVE — The Disappeared Children of Israel — by Malin Fezehai: “Known as the ‘Yemenite Children Affair,’ there are over 1,000 official reported cases of missing babies and toddlers, but some estimates from advocates are as high as 4,500. Their families believe the babies were abducted by the Israeli authorities in the 1950s, and were illegally put up for adoption to childless Ashkenazi families, Jews of European descent. The children who disappeared were mostly from the Yemenite and other ‘Mizrahi’ communities, an umbrella term for Jews from North Africa and the Middle East. While the Israeli government is trying to be more transparent about the disappearances, to this day, it denies that there were systematic abductions.” [NYTimes]

Spies Like Them: Review of ‘Spies of No Country’ by Matti Friedman — by Daniella Greenbaum Davis: “Matti Friedman’s enthralling new book, Spies of No Country, tells the story of a Palmach unit called the Arab Section. The Palmach was the underground Jewish army that fought in British Palestine; with the establishment of the Israel Defense Forces, the Palmach disbanded and many of its members became the IDF’s top brass. The section had been an experiment in intelligence. Instead of paying Arab collaborators for expensive and unreliable information, the unit trained Jews like Isaac to pass as Arabs… ‘It wasn’t just that the Palmach couldn’t afford to pay salaries,’ Friedman writes. ‘The unit couldn’t always cover bus fare or a cheap plate of hummus for lunch, and on at least one occasion, agents had to stop trailing a target because they didn’t have money for a night in a hostel.'”[CommentaryMag]

France Threatens to Boycott Eurovision Over Israeli TV Series Depicting ISIS Attack — by Aya Chajut: “On Wednesday, France threatened to boycott the Eurovision song contest due to a television series to be aired in May on Israel’s public broadcaster. The three-part miniseries, called ‘Douze Points,’ is about ISIS terrorists who use the French representative at the contest in order to carry out an eye-popping terror attack on air.” [Haaretz

ACROSS THE SEA — Macron announces measures to combat anti-Semitism in France: “French President Emmanuel Macron announced measures to combat the rise of anti-Semitism at the annual dinner of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France… Among the measures France will take to halt a rise in anti-Semitic acts is to introduce a bill aimed at combatting online hate speech sometime in May. Macron also said he would urge his education minister to look at how Jewish children are ‘too often’ forced to leave public schools for private Jewish schools due to racism and harassment. France will also move to define ‘anti-Zionism as a modern-day form of anti-Semitism,’ Macron told the French Jewish groups… The definition is in line with that advocated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.”[France24]

LABOUR-EXIT — Jeremy Corbyn vows to ‘fight anti-Semitism’ in a video message after Labour party turmoil: “I want to make absolutely clear: I regard the fight against anti-Semitism as an absolute property, and we are utterly determined to root out anti-Semitism from our party and society. I say again to the Jewish people both our party and across the country, we are your allies in the fight against anti-Semitism.” [TheSun• More than 150 MPs sign letter backing Westminster Holocaust memorial [JewishNews]

TALK OF THE TOWN — NYC Orthodox Jews Face Surge of Violence — by Danielle Ziri: “Borough Park native Alexander Rapaport, who runs the Masbia Soup Kitchen Network in Brooklyn and Queens, says he can’t even remember the number of times he has been verbally abused, or worse… ‘I have been spat at in Times Square, I have been yelled at by drunken people on the Coney Island beach – it’s nothing new,’ he says. ‘The only difference is that now [the authorities] are willing to listen.'” [Haaretz

CAMPUS BEAT — UDC criticized for inviting Josh Lopez, tarnished by anti-Semitism scandal, to speak — by Fenit Nirappil: “Several D.C. lawmakers are urging the University of the District of Columbia to revoke a speaking invitation to Joshua Lopez, a former city official who was involved in an anti-Semitism scandal last year. Lopez, a UDC alumnus, political operative and ally to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), is scheduled to speak Thursday morning at the school’s Founders’ Day event. He was forced to resign from the D.C. public housing authority board after organizing a ‘unity rally’ to defend D.C. Council member Trayon S. White Sr. (D-Ward 8). The rally included a Nation of Islam representative who blasted a Jewish lawmaker as a ‘fake Jew’ while Lopez held the megaphone and later referred to Jews as ‘termites.'”[WashPost]

DESSERT — The Absolute Best Restaurants in Rego Park and Forest Hills — by Joe DiStefano: “These days, the central-Queens, New York neighborhood is known for kosher kebab parlors and foods beloved by the Bukharan Jews who began immigrating here from Uzbekistan 25 years ago… The absolute best kosher Israeli cuisine in Forest Hills… can be had at Pahal Zan hard by the LIRR station. Grab a seat at one of the stools lining the walls and watch some Israeli TV while you tuck into one of the dozen salads that the counterman will gladly pack into your pita.” [GrubStreet]

BIRTHDAYS: Award winning science fiction and mystery author of more than 20 novels and 40 short stories, Richard A. Lupoff turns 84… Developer of the L’Ermitage Beverly Hills in 1976, subsequently for some time the owner of the Bel Age and Mondrian hotels, Severyn Ashkenazy turns 83… Co-founder of Dreamworks and noted collector of American artists’ work, since 2015 his name is on the Lincoln Center complex in NYC, David Geffen turns 76… Vice-chairman of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, he was a sports agent for basketball and baseball players (1981-2015), Arn Herschel Tellem turns 65… Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes during his 30 years at the Wall Street Journal, he is the director of a fiscal and monetary policy group at the Brookings Institution, David Meyer Wessel turns 65… Financial executive and real estate entrepreneur, he is the chairman of the KABR Group, a New Jersey based real estate investment firm, Kenneth D. Pasternak turns 65… President of Yale University since 2013, he previously served as Yale’s Provost, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Dean of Yale College, Peter Salovey(Soloveitchik) turns 61… Investor, he owned the Cleveland Browns of the NFL (2002-2012) and Aston Villa F.C. of the English Premier League (2006-2016), Randolph David “Randy” Lerner turns 57…

Special assistant to President Trump for legislative affairs, previously chief of staff for Senator Ted Cruz (2014-2017) after 12 years at the US House Republican Study Committee (2001-2013), Paul Teller turns 48… Reality television star with frequent appearances on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” Jonathan Cheban turns 45… NYT best-selling novelist (two of which have been made into movies), writer-in-residence in the graduate creative writing program at NYU, Jonathan Safran Foer turns 42… Chicago Cubs player best known for being hit in the head on the first pitch of his MLB debut resulting in a compound skull fracture, Adam Greenberg turns 38… Counsel in the Ft. Lauderdale office of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, she served in the Florida House of Representatives (2012-2018), Katie A. Edwards-Walpole turns 38… French actress, best known in the US for her starring role as Shosanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 war film Inglourious Basterds, Mélanie Laurent turns 36… Rochester, NY resident, Joshua Futerman turns 31… Pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization who picked up two saves for the Israeli team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifier, Brad Goldberg turns 29… Israeli rhythmic gymnast who competed in the 2012 Olympics and other international gymnastic events as a member of the Israeli team, Polina Zakaluzny turns 27… Monsey, NY resident, Efrayim Katz turns 26… Professional tennis player, in 2015 he was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, Noah Rubinturns 23… Miriam Fischer