NEW NEWSLETTER — From now through Israel’s upcoming April election and beyond, subscribe to Kafe Knesset, a sister publication to JI’s Daily Kickoff focused on Israeli politics. Delivered Sunday through Thursday and curated by Israel-based journalist Neri Zilber, this daily briefing provides a quick, yet comprehensive and engaging briefing on everything driving the conversation in Israel, from the cafes in Tel Aviv to the Knesset in Jerusalem and the taxi cabs in between.
The daily newsletter is $9.99 per month (less than 50¢ an issue). You can also subscribe to a weekly version of Kafe Knesset for free. [KafeKnesset]
SNEAK PEAK AT TODAY’S KAFE KNESSET — The Labor party is holding its primaries today to choose its electoral list ahead of April’s general election. The party of Ben-Gurion and Eshkol, Peres and Rabin — the party that built the State of Israel — is arguably at its lowest ever point.
Recent polls have it garnering between five to seven seats, with speculation rampant about whether it will even pass the (four seat) electoral threshold. Party officials hope that positive media attention on the slate picked by the party’s sixty-thousand members will change its fortunes. Yet even under the best-case scenario only a fraction of those chosen by the membership will have a realistic shot at making it to the Knesset. A key metric of remaining support will therefore be voter turnout.
DRIVING THE CONVO — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) ignited a fresh political firestorm Sunday evening, accusing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of paying members of Congress to support Israel.
In response to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s call on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to admonish Omar and her colleague Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Omar tweeted: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” The Minnesota Congresswoman doubled down when asked whom she thinks “is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel?” “AIPAC!” Omar replied. She also retweeted a criticism from a Jewish Twitter user, “She might as well call us hook-nosed.” She later unretweeted it.
— LAST WEEK — In an interview with CNN last Tuesday, Omar said it’s “actually exciting” that her controversial views on Israel are sparking debate. And Tlaib explained her support for the BDS movement in an interview with NowThis News, claiming that she wants to “be able to humanize this issue.”
AIPAC responded on Twitter: “We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests. We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.”
REACTION — Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) said in a statement: “Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself… When someone uses hateful and offensive tropes and words against people of my faith, I will not be silent.”
Chelsea Clinton tweeted: “We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.”
— In response to criticism, Clinton added: “I will reach out to her tomorrow. I also think we have to call out anti-Semitic language and tropes on all sides, particularly in our elected officials and particularly now.” Omar appeared to accept the offer.
Amb. David Friedman: “Congresswoman from Minnesota falsely claims U.S. officials are paid to support Israel. I find that painful but amusing. This U.S. official gladly took a massive pay cut for the privilege to serve & the honor of advancing U.S.’ best interests by supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship… Impugning the motives of U.S. officials who support Israel with false allegations of payoffs is disgusting.”
Sen. Ted Cruz: “Why is a Member of Congress launching anti-Semitic slurs on Twitter? Caricaturing support for Israel as purchased by Jewish $$— ‘about the Benjamins’— is an old slander. Do other Dems agree? Will the media ask them? As more Dems support BDS, anti-Semitism becoming far too common.”
IPF’s Michael Koplow: “Stunning that Ilhan Omar is spending her first few weeks as a Congresswoman spreading anti-Semitic tropes about moneyed Jews buying off elected officials… Supporters of Israel have every right to participate in politics and have their voices heard, and Israel is one of the U.S.’s most valuable allies on the globe, making it worthy of support irrespective of anything else. What Omar is doing is shameful bigoted hate mongering.”
HEARD YESTERDAY — Prominent members of the New York Congressional delegation addressed the Jewish community’s concern about a drift in the Democratic Party’s support for Israel, amid the recent comments made by Tlaib and Omar, at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York congressional breakfast in Midtown Manhattan on Sunday morning. [Pic]
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): The Jewish-American community and supporters of Israel “are complacent. We assume because we know the story of Israel that everyone knows. What we need is a massive education campaign. We need our biggest philanthropists to put money into this, I don’t care if they’re Democrat or Republican. We need to be online, we need to be on the campuses, and not with the occasional effort that we see, but all the time. We need all of us to be missionaries and explain the history… I urge you to think about this, to talk about this, and I will be happy to be one of the people leading, putting this together and making it happen because the future of Israel is at stake.”
Schumer on bipartisanship: “I work very hard for Israel every day, I try to do it in a bipartisan way. There are some who try to make Israel a partisan issue. That is detrimental to Israel. We cannot let that happen.” [Pic]
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: “We have our work cut out for us and there are things we have to do, but support for Israel is strong and it’s bipartisan… We have a few people who are vocal and who are not supporters of Israel. Okay. This is a free country. They got elected. We have a story to tell and our story is better than their story. I know that with the facts we are going to do well, and I want to pledge to you that on the Foreign Affairs Committee we are going to stand by Israel… And I want to assure you that there is nothing to be afraid of. We have work to do, and we are going to do it.” [Pic]
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY): “What I can pledge to you is that the future of the Democratic Party is not going to involve BDS and anti-Semitism… and you will see us tested on that in the days to come.” [Pic]
Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh also spoke with Rep. Maloney as well as Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) after the event. Full comments here [JewishInsider]
Maloney: “If there are people who are engaging in anti-Israel rhetoric, they are going to hear from me. Our party shouldn’t be the home of people targeting the state of Israel, and it concerns me when I hear some of the rhetoric that bends in that direction. So I intend to speak out against it.”
Meeks: “Republicans are trying to play politics with this issue because they know how strong Democrats are on Israel. But you know what? Israel and anti-Semitism, there’s no room to play politics with that. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you come from America or someplace else in the world, we should not let any room get in between us because this is a human subject matter. You always have certain minority groups, and that’s why you speak out and say that what they are saying is wrong. You can’t silence everybody, but when you hear something that is not correct, then you need to speak out about it.”
Rep. Meeks also told JI that he supports the anti-BDS bill.
TOP OP — Bret Stephens writes… “The Progressive Assault on Israel: The Israel-Palestinian conflict is far more complicated than the black-and-white picture drawn by Israel’s progressive critics. But the deeper flaw in progressive thinking on Israel — the flaw that has resulted in this efflorescence of bigotry — isn’t that it rests on a faulty factual foundation. It’s that its core intellectual assumptions are wrong and rotten… The striking feature of anti-Zionist rhetoric is how broadly it overlaps with traditionally anti-Semitic tropes.” [NYTimes]
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan finished, officials say — by Trey Yingst: “The final draft of the administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ is 175 to 200 pages long — and fewer than five people have access to the complete document, sources told Fox News. ‘The plan is done… [the president] is happy with the parameters of the deal,’ a senior administration official said. Trump was briefed by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy for Mideast peace Jason Greenblatt multiple times on the specifics of the deal.”[FoxNews]
Israeli report says Saudis won’t back Trump peace plan without concessions — by Barak Ravid: “A classified Israeli Foreign Ministry report — circulated in mid-December among top Israeli government national security and foreign policy officials — determined that Saudi Arabia will not support the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan and won’t normalize relations with Israel unless the Israeli government makes a substantive concession to the Palestinians… A Foreign Ministry official who read the report told me it said that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had taken back the Israeli-Palestinian file back from his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
“The Foreign Ministry official told me, ‘There was a feeling in the last year that there was a window of opportunity to reach a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia — but, even if there was such an opening, this window is closed for now.’” [Axios]
DEEP DIVE — Private Mossad for Hire: Inside a plot to influence American elections — by Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow: “Psy-Group stood out from many of its rivals because it didn’t just gather intelligence; it specialized in covertly spreading messages to influence what people believed and how they behaved. Its operatives took advantage of technological innovations and lax governmental oversight. Social media allows you to reach virtually anyone and to play with their minds,’ Uzi Shaya, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer, said. ‘You can do whatever you want. You can be whoever you want. It’s a place where wars are fought, elections are won, and terror is promoted. There are no regulations. It is a no man’s land.'”
“Psy-Group had more success pitching an operation, code-named Project Butterfly, to wealthy Jewish-American donors. The operation targeted what Psy-Group described as ‘anti-Israel’ activists on American college campuses who supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, known as BDS… In early meetings with donors, in New York, [Royi] Burstien said that the key to mounting an effective anti-BDS campaign was to make it look as though Israel, and the Jewish-American community, had nothing to do with the effort. The goal of Butterfly, according to a 2017 company document, was to ‘destabilize and disrupt anti-Israel movements from within.’” [NewYorker]
REPORT — Mossad helped smuggle Iranian nuclear scientist to Europe: “An Iranian nuclear scientist was reportedly smuggled out of the Islamic Republic to the UK in a joint operation of the British Intelligence Agency MI6, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, according to the Sunday Express. According to the newspaper, the British agents took advantage of the migrant crisis plaguing Europe in order to smuggle the Iranian scientist on a dinghy on New Year’s Eve to the town of Lydd in Kent.” [Ynet; SundayExpress]
COMING SOON — Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump bracing for releaseof Vicky Ward book — by Richard Johnson: “Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are bracing for the publication of ‘Kushner, Inc.: Greed, Ambition, Corruption’ by Vicky Ward. The book, subtitled ‘The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump,’ due March 19 from St. Martin’s Press, will delve into the sordid case that got Jared’s father, real-estate developer Charles Kushner, a two-year prison sentence for witness tampering and other charges.” [PageSix]
Nikki Haley to be honored at high-flying GOP donor dinner — by Mike Allen: “In a sign of Nikki Haley’s continuing star power, the former UN ambassador will be the guest of honor at a dinner with about 20 of Manhattan’s top GOP donors on Feb. 27… The dinner will be the first of a series being organized by Paul Singer, the hedge-fund magnate, to spotlight key surrogates for the congressional races of 2020. Singer is working to identify and recruit female candidates to help Republicans hold the Senate and regain ground in the House.” [Axios]
2020 WATCH — Sen. Elizabeth Warren Officially Enters 2020 Presidential Race — by Joshua Jamerson: “Ms. Warren announced Saturday her official 2020 presidential candidacy before a crowd of about 3,500 in Lawrence, Mass. Within hours of that event, she traveled to New Hampshire and appeared at a town-hall meeting… Ms. Warren got one question about how she, as commander-in-chief, would act to improve stability in the Middle East. ‘We need a strong Israel there, but we need to think about what our support for Israel means,’ Ms. Warren said, adding that the U.S. should be pushing Israel and the Palestinian Authority toward a two-state solution.” [WSJ]
Sen. Amy Klobuchar jumped into the 2020 presidential race on Sunday… Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke are way ahead in the race for small-dollar donors… Michael Bloomberg to announce his 2020 decision by end of the month… New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made some initial steps towards exploring a presidential bid… Colorado Senator Michael Bennet hints about joining the crowded Democratic race for president… Sen. Cory Booker has a school choice problem… ‘Middle Class Joe’ Biden courtsWall Street oligarch, BlackRock’s Larry Fink…
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Mikhail Fridman seeks to replicate Russian success with Dia buyout [FinancialTimes] • Les Moonves Starts New Company Weeks After Leaving CBS [HollywoodReporter] • Larry Silverstein tests Tel Aviv’s shaky bond market with $50M raise [TheRealDeal] • Laurie Segall: What I learned when I went inside Facebook [CNNBusiness] • If there is a god of five-star hospitality, Isadore Sharp built Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts [MontrealGazette] • Jonathan Cordish says he’s not in favor of fast-tracking sports betting [Bizjournals] • In the face of a potential economic slowdown, the reliability of Leonard Lauder’s coined term ‘lipstick index’ is being called into question [CNBC]
MEDIA WATCH — TV Magnate Shari Redstone Now Prefers to Curl Up With Podcasts — by Anousha Sakoui: “Redstone… has a new fondness for audio as more waking hours are filled with computers and mobile phones. She’s one of the growing number of consumers who choose to listen to a podcast rather than stare at a screen. ‘Audio is going to be a big driver of media consumption going forward,’ Redstone, 64, said in a phone interview… Redstone, who runs her own investment fund, was among the first-round investors last year in Wondery Inc… It’s one of several audio-based investments for her firm, Advancit Capital, which focuses on the intersection of technology and media.” [Bloomberg]
TALK OF THE TOWN — Philadelphia councilwoman delayed major city land deal to help a developer — by Jake Blumgart: “The city’s stalled redevelopment of a property at 4601 Market St. finally advanced Thursday after West Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell reversed her opposition. A document indicates Blackwell’s reservations stemmed from the concerns of a single real estate developer: Michael Karp, leader of two large West Philadelphia organizations — University City Housing and the Belmont Charter Network. ‘I got a letter from the mayor stating that he would work with us to make sure that all the issues that needed to be resolved will be resolved,’ Blackwell said when asked the reason for her sudden change of heart.”
“Karp said in an interview on Friday that he knew nothing about correspondence on his behalf between the mayor and Blackwell. ‘I have not seen the letter, I was not involved in her discussions with the mayor around that letter,’ said Karp, when told that Blackwell only lifted the hold when she received assurances about mayoral attention to his specific ‘issues.'” [WHYY]
After Synagogue Attack, Pittsburgh’s Push for Stricter Gun Laws Sparks Backlash — by Kris Maher: “A little more than three months after 11 people were shot to death while worshiping at a synagogue here, city leaders and residents are battling over proposed gun restrictions. The legislation put forward by the city’s mayor and city council members would ban within city limits semiautomatic rifles, bump stocks and certain types of ammunition, as well as expand the ability of courts to seize guns from people determined to be a threat to family members or law enforcement… Some members of Dor Hadash have formed an independent organization called Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, which supports the mayor’s proposals.” [WSJ]
Orthodox Jewish EMT service faces fight from L.A. fire department, and a powerful fire union — by Leila Miller: “Hatzolah’s ultimate goal is to be permitted by the city to transport patients and respond with ambulances to emergency calls using lights and sirens — a practice called Code 3 — just like the fire department. But this has been met with strong pushback from the Los Angeles Fire Department and its firefighters’ union, which both point to their agency’s jurisdiction and argue that allowing another entity to respond to emergencies creates a public safety issue.” [LATimes]
HEARD THE OTHER DAY — Avi Loeb, professor of science and the chair of astronomy at Harvard University, on CNN with Michael Smerconish explained his suggestion that a mysterious object spotted tumbling through our solar system last year may have been an alien spacecraft sent to investigate Earth: “Currently, all our eggs are in one basket here on earth, but in order to avoid the risk of a catastrophe, we’ll have to move into space at some point and it’s quite likely that other civilizations have done that already… All I am saying is that we have now the technology to figure out whether we are the smartest kid on the block.” [Video]
HOLLYWOOD — Israel Filmmaker Yuval Adler Discusses Berlin Festival Film ‘The Operative’ — by Malina Saval: “The film is not really about Mossad or about Israel — it’s really a film about a woman who’s recruited into an intelligence outfit. The story is Mossad, but the film really examines this concept of espionage, which I found really interesting. And on a deeper level, it’s about people who don’t know what their place in the world is, and that’s something Diane Kruger and I have in common. I’m Israeli, but I lived most of my adult life in New York. I’m always not sure where I belong and where I should be.” [Variety]
‘Ben Hecht’ Review: A Difficult Man to Pin Down — by Jeremy McCarter: “Hecht was born (on the Lower East Side, in 1893) to Jewish immigrants from Russia; late in life, he looked back fondly on boyhood days spent with his family in Racine, Wisc., as ‘a sort of Yiddish Canterbury Tales.’ What Hecht meant is that he began to ‘look on the world with Jewish eyes.’ He felt impelled to become an activist, an agitator, a champion of international Jewish causes, first demanding that the world address the plight of European Jews amid the depredations of the Nazis, then becoming a prominent supporter of the Irgun, which was fighting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. His newfound devotion to activism surprised and baffled his friends. Hecht himself seemed uncertain what to make of his commitments… Sorting out those contradictions is precisely the task that Adina Hoffman, an American essayist and biographer who splits her time between New Haven and Jerusalem, sets for herself in this latest installment in Yale’s Jewish Lives series.” [WSJ; Amazon]
A Christian Group Is Building a Movement That Could Destabilize Jerusalem’s Most Explosive Holy Site — by Naomi Zeveloff: “Cry for Zion, an Israel-based organization started in 2014, is recruiting Christians worldwide in its campaign to push Israel to fully control the Temple Mount… Cry for Zion says that it does not promote the destruction of any building on the Temple Mount, nor does it advocate the rebuilding of the temple. But at the first Cry for Zion conference in December several speakers contradicted the group’s official stance, sometimes in fiery terms. Mordechai Persoff, a rabbi and the head of the Mikdash Educational Center, spoke openly about constructing a new temple, calling Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem a prophetic event.” [DailyBeast]
SPOTTED — in the audience at Pop-up Magazine at the Warner theater on Saturday night: The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg.
DESSERT — A Luxury Seafood Chef Turns Kosher – In The Heart Of Tel Aviv — by Diana Shawn Clark: “NOMI [is] a newly opened kosher restaurant in Tel Aviv’s David Intercontinental Hotel… NOMI’s founding head chef Yoram Nitzan made his reputation at Tel Aviv’s late and much lamented Mul Yam restaurant, which was renowned for… shellfish… ‘For twenty years, I cooked lobster. People who loved food but kept kosher heard about my cooking, but couldn’t try it,’ Nitzan [said]. So for the hotel, it was an opportunity to ‘give their customers a chance to try my cooking.'” [Forward]
REMEMBERING — Walter H. Munk, Scientist-Explorer Who Illuminated the Deep, Dies at 101 — by William Dicke: “Walter H. Munk, one of the foremost oceanographers of the 20th century, who sent pulses of sound through the vast oceans — probably startling a few whales — to measure changes in water temperatures, forecast waves and seek signs of global warming, died on Friday at his seaside home in the La Jolla section of San Diego… Walter Heinrich Munk was born on Oct. 19, 1917, in Vienna into a wealthy banking family of Jewish heritage, a son of Dr. Hans Munk and Rega Brunner. The couple divorced when Walter was a child. His maternal grandfather, Lucian Brunner, was a prominent banker and Austrian politician. His stepfather, Dr. Rudolf Engelsberg, was later briefly a member of the Austrian government of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who was assassinated by Nazi agents in 1934.” [NYTimes]
BIRTHDAYS: Journalist, writer, political commentator and author of a Passover Haggadah co-written with his wife Cokie Roberts, Steven V. Roberts turns 76… NYC-based physician, he is the past president of American Friends of Likud, Julio Messer, M.D. turns 67… Second son of former President George H. W. Bush, he was the Governor of Florida (1999-2007) and a candidate for US President in 2016, John Ellis “Jeb” Bush turns 66… ProPublica’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Engelberg urns 61… National medical director of Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care, former EVP and chief medical officer for Erickson Retirement Communities (1989-2005), Gary E. Applebaum, MD turns 60… Principal at Conduent HR Services and Buck Global, LLC, Alan Vorchheimer turns 59… Founder and president of RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, he is also the CEO of A&I Publishing, a firm that specializes in media start-ups, Scott Berkowitz turns 50… Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii since December 2018, he was previously a Hawaii State Senator (2009-2018) and a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives (2005 to 2009), Joshua B. Green turns 49…
Elected as a member of the Broward County (Florida) School Board in the months following the death of her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa at the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Lori Alhadeff turns 44… Executive producer for Atlantic Live (the events division of The Atlantic), Rob Hendin turns 42… VP and deputy head of communications at News Corp., Ilana Ozernoy turns 41… Tight end on the NFL’s Carolina Panthers for four seasons (2003-2006), having played college football at UCLA, Mike Seidman turns 38… Republican strategist, political commentator, author and columnist, Evan Siegfried turns 36… VP of global healthcare banking at Bank of America / Merrill Lynch, he was previously chief of staff for Congressman Bob Dold (R-IL-10) (2015-2017), David B. Stern turns 35… Technical project manager for Politico, Michelle Zar turns 30… Account Manager at Politico, Rachel Kosberg turns 29 (h/t Playbook)… Associate at the NYC office of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Alix Simnock turns 28… Student at Yale Law School, Scott Wasserman Stern… and his twin brother, Eric Wasserman Stern, both turn 26… Joy Neuberger… and her brother Israel Neuberger…