HEARD LAST NIGHT — Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) began his town hall meeting with Jewish constituents with an apology. “As a young congressman, I’ve got to tell you I’m sorry,” Rose confessed to the crowd gathered by the Council of Jewish Organizations (COJO) of Staten Island. “You sent me to Congress to take responsibility. You sent me to Congress to have your back… and I failed you. Because I know that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s comments really caused you all a lot of pain by bringing up anti-Semitic tropes.” [JewishInsider; Video]
WATCH — During his first town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Beto O’Rourke took aim at Israeli PM Netanyahu over his alliance with the far right when asked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Right now we don’t have the best negotiating partners on either side. We have a prime minister in Israel who has openly sided with racists. On the Palestinian side, we have an ineffectual leader. Mahmoud Abbas has not been very effective in bringing his side to the table.” [Video]
TRENDS — A new Bernie Sanders campaign ad features excerpts from activist Shaun King’s introduction of Sanders at his Brooklyn College campaign launch on March 2, lauding the Vermont Senator’s criticism of Israel. The ad also highlights a line from a recent CNN article, “Bernie smashes the Israel status quo.” [Video]
DRIVING THE CONVO — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, following recommendations by senior Pentagon officials, has agreed to extend a sanctions waiver to allow Iraq to buy electricity from Iran. However, the new waiver will expire in 90 days, in the middle of Iraq’s scorching summer, as the administration contemplates whether to renew waivers to countries seeking to purchase oil from Iran.
A Congressional source tells us that the timing of the Iraqi waivers announcement yesterday turned up the anger among Republicans on Capitol Hill towards the State Department ‘to an 11.’ This comes amid several days of public complaints from leading Republicans that the waivers are sustaining the Iran deal and allowing Iran to wait out the Trump administration.
At least two tankers have ferried Iranian fuel oil to Asia in recent months despite U.S. sanctions against such shipments, according to a Reuters analysis of ship-tracking data and port information,
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted on Monday: “I urge President Trump to end all sanctions waivers for foreign purchasers of Iranian oil given the significant surplus capacity in international oil markets. It’s time to maximize pressure against Tehran’s terror-sponsoring & nuke-seeking regime.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday that he is aware of ‘elements within the Trump administration’ who are working behind the president’s back to save the nuclear deal. “A nuclear Iran is the most pressing near-term threat to American national security and to the survival of our Middle East allies. Every waiver for Iran allows them to work toward their nuclear goal,” Cruz said. “The president understands that basic fact but it appears that not everyone in the administration is totally on board. Maximum pressure should mean maximum pressure. Enough’s enough.”
WHAT TEHRAN IS READING — At least five 2020 Democrats — including Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — have told Al-Monitor over the past few weeks that they would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal without preconditions should they win the presidency — as long as Iran continues to abide by the terms of the 2015 deal. According to Al-Monitor, a new group, the National Security Action, led by former Barack Obama administration officials, has circulated a draft memo to all declared Democratic candidates asking them to rejoin the JCPOA.
STATE VISIT — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Israel and will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem later today. The two will deliver statements to the press at the start of their meeting.
QUESTIONS — What is Bibi asking for from Pompeo? An announcement from the administration over the next few days recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights? Is Netanyahu pressuring Pompeo to not renew Iranian oil waivers? Will either be discussed publicly?
NO PEACE PLAN TALK — One issue that Pompeo is not planning to discuss publicly is Jared Kushner’s peace plan, the AP’s Matt Lee reports. “‘Look, we desperately want a good solution,’ Pompeo told reporters Tuesday before his plane landed in Kuwait City. ‘Mr. Kushner is working on the Middle East peace plan. There’ll be a right time when we will introduce bigger pieces of that.’”
NEW BOOK CLAIMS TO KNOW PEACE PLAN DETAILS — According to Vicky Ward’s new book Kushner, Inc. the plan includes “land swaps, where Jordan would give land to the Palestinian territories, and ‘in return, Jordan would get land from Saudi Arabia, and that country would get back two Red Sea islands it gave Egypt to administer in 1950.’” Amy Spiro at the Jerusalem Post has the report.
Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Mideast peace envoy, responded to the report: “No one who has seen the plan would spread misinformation like that. Whoever made these claims has bad info. Next time feel free to reach out to us before you run with a story. A lot of people are sharing false info with the press now for bad reasons.”
Ward’s response to Greenblatt: “I spent two years researching Kushner Inc. I interviewed 220 individual people, interviewing 118 of those people multiple times,” Ward, the author of the book, tweeted. “There are anonymous sources, but everything is at least double-sourced. Nothing is based on just a single person’s recollection of events. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were given, via their lawyer, the opportunity to respond to fact-checking questions. I sent 7 or 8, which required just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. No one ever answered them; instead, I got the rather ludicrous statement that it would take too much time.”
Tom Friedman writes… “Beware the Mideast’s Falling Pillars: There was always a deep U.S. involvement in shaping the future of this region. But just look around today: The U.S. doesn’t even have ambassadors in Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, a former Trump bankruptcy lawyer, is so enthralled with the right-wing Jewish settler movement that he is more a propagandist than a diplomat. Bye-bye American pie. There has always been some kind of Israeli-Palestinian peace process pushing for the best two-state solution. Again, bye-bye.” [NYTimes]
ELSEWHERE — Lithuania’s Prime Minister says he’s consideringrelocating his country’s embassy to Jerusalem if he wins the elections in May… Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has invited Brazil’s pro-Israel President Jair Bolsonaro for a visit as he weighs moving his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Bolsonaro is scheduled to visit Israel on March 31. He met with President Trump at the White House on Tuesday.
ON THE GROUND — In Gaza, Hamas is faced with unusual protests about bad public services, cracking down with widespread arrests, perhaps more than a thousand Gazans including local journalists and human rights activists, NPR’s Daniel Estrin reports. Hamas is planning a large protest next week against Israel to mark the one-year anniversary of the weekly protests on the Gaza border.
BARI WEISS IN ISRAEL — The NYTimes writer interviewed Yair Lapid, the number two in Kachol Lavan (Blue and White Party), while visiting Israel last week.
Lapid on Jewish peoplehood: Lapid recounted his father telling him how his friend in the Budapest ghetto Tom Lantos ended up as head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee while he ended up as Justice Minister in Israel when the two went to the same pier in the same harbor before parting ways. “They always felt that if they took the opposite boat, Tom would be the minister of justice and my father would be the head of the foreign committee,” Lapid said, using as a metaphor to explain the Jewish sense of history and destiny. “I was once a young journalist in this country. I could have been you and you could have been me,” the politician told Weiss the reporter. “We share something that we don’t totally have the words for. This is what the anti-Semites hate.”
Lapid on Trump’s statement that the Democratic Party has become anti-Israel and anti-Jewish: “I’m going to say this as politely as I can. He was wrong. I don’t think you can say that Eliot Engel and Jerry Nadler and Ted Deutch and Chuck Schumer don’t like Israel. They are the most pro-Israel people I know.” Lapid also said that if his party wins the April 9th election and Benny Gantz forms the next Israeli government, Lapid — who would then serve as Foreign Minister for the first 2 1/12 years — would seek to rebuild support for Israel among progressives. “Israel must be a bipartisan issue,” he stressed.
HEARD YESTERDAY — Former Likud minister Gideon Sa’ar, and a candidate for the next Knesset, on a conference call with American Friends of Likud: “I believe we should do our utmost to find ways to deepen our dialogue with Democrat leaders in the United States. We should do our utmost in order to keep the support bipartisan as much as we can, but frankly, there are certain strengths in American politics that certainly are not under our control. Like the impression that I get is that the radical camp in the Democratic Party is getting a bit stronger, and this is something that will make things harder for us in the future, no doubt. I think we can do more by emphasizing things that the Democrats ears will like to hear. For example, we did great work over the last years investing billions for the Arab citizens of Israel from infrastructure to education, and I don’t think we spoke enough and explained to our friends what we did there. I think it is something that might be interesting for Democrats to hear and something that can increase support for Israel.”
TWITTER TROUBLE — JTA’s Ron Kampeas reports that Adam Milstein will no longer be speaking on a panel at AIPAC’s upcoming policy conference after he accused two Muslim lawmakers of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and CAIR and clashing with ‘American values.’
Milstein in a statement: “My social media postings represent my views — and my views alone. I have no interest in allowing this mischaracterization of me to distract from the important work of AIPAC. For this reason, I will not be moderating a panel at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference.”
Milstein tells us that as of yesterday, he’s still planning to attend the conference.
AIPAC’s Marshall Wittmann to Kampeas: “Milstein is not a representative of AIPAC and his views are not ours.”
DEEP DIVE — A Mar-a-Lago Weekend and an Act of God: Trump’s History With Deutsche Bank — by David Enrich: “One of Rosemary Vrablic’s clients was Jared Kushner, who married Ivanka Trump in 2009. Mr. Kushner regarded Ms. Vrablic as the best banker he had ever worked with. Shortly after [Trump settled a litigation over a Chicago loan], Mr. Kushner was told that Mr. Trump was looking for a loan and introduced him to Ms. Vrablis.” [NYTimes]
2020 WATCH — Former Vice President Joe Biden told at least a half-dozen supporters that he intends to run for president and asked for their help in lining up contributions… The Democrats’ choice problem: Which candidate can beat Trump in 2020?… Where in the world is Tulsi Gabbard? The Hawaii congresswoman’s 2020 presidential campaign has not hewed to a traditional travel schedule… Trump’s re-election campaign has quietly spent nearly twice as much as the entire Democratic field combined on Facebook and Google ads… Bernie Sanders just hired his Twitter attack dog, David Sirota, as a senior adviser and speechwriter for his 2020 campaign… Sen. Brian Schatz, the Democrat planning to unite the party after 2020 turns ugly.
KAFE KNESSET — Gantz meets the press — by Neri Zilber: With his poll numbers coming back to earth and the Likud now leading the race, Benny Gantz took to the airwaves last night for his first media interviews with the big three television stations (Channels 11, 12, 13) and the popular Ynet online portal. Overall the reviews were cautiously positive: Gantz didn’t trip up, stayed on message (often repeating the same talking points in each interview), and made no hard commitments for or against any issue (except possibly engaging with the Arab parties). He wouldn’t explicitly say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was corrupt, preferring instead the formulation that “something happened” to the PM after 2015 and that, as a citizen, he was “saddened” by it all.
On the Palestinian issue, Gantz went out of his way not to endorse a two-state solution, saying instead that he would strive to keep Israel “Jewish, democratic and secure” and to avoid a “bi-national reality.” “We’re not ashamed to use the word ‘peace,’” he added, but “there’s no one to talk to at the moment” on the Palestinian side. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset newsletter by subscribing here [KafeKnesset]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Volkswagen chief Herbert Diess’s future is at risk after he evoked a Nazi phrase, ‘Ebit macht frei’ (profit makes you free), in a management meeting last week [FinancialTimes] • Kushner Cos. Scaling Back in New York as Public Scrutiny Heats Up [WSJ] • Bob Iger’s Disney Closes Fox Deal, Creating Global Content Powerhouse[HollywoodReporter] • Fox Corporation Emerges as Standalone Entity, Paul Ryan Joins Board [Variety]
STARTUP SPOTLIGHT — What If Instead of Taking the SAT You Got to Play a Video Game? — by Romesh Ratnesar: “A 27-year-old entrepreneur who dropped out of Harvard, Rebecca Kantar, has a plan to fix it. The American obsession with college admissions, she says, benefits the wealthiest and highest-achieving students, while leaving the vast majority ill-qualified for the jobs of the future. She says a big part of the problem is the avalanche of standardized tests students take from kindergarten through high school, a $10 billion industry that drives much of what’s taught in the classroom. At the top of the pyramid sit the SAT and ACT, the generations-old multiple-choice tests that still help to determine who gains entry to top colleges and universities… Kantar is the founder of Imbellus Inc., a startup in Los Angeles that aims to reinvent testing and, in the process, challenge the received wisdom about what students are expected to learn.” [Bloomberg]
SPOTLIGHT — Life after Facebook: The Untold Story Of Billionaire Eduardo Saverin’s Highly Networked Venture Firm — by Alex Konrad: “To hear Saverin talk about it, he’s at peace with his Facebook past (and remains one of the biggest individual shareholders, with a 2% stake in the $475 billion company). Across two interviews, Saverin says the company is ‘incredibly close to my heart’ and shares praise for Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg’s leadership. ‘I’m incredibly proud of what Mark has done, to build an institution of its size and value. He’ll work hard to get things right,’ he says… In the years since he secured his once-in-a-lifetime stake—$2 billion at the time of IPO—he’s embraced a new role as venture capitalist at B Capital, the firm he cofounded in 2015.” [Forbes]
Florida Prosecutors Offer to Drop Charges Against Patriots Owner Robert Kraft — by Andrew Beaton: “Florida prosecutors have offered to drop charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and a number of other men charged with soliciting prostitution. The proposed deferred prosecution agreement calls for completion of an education course about prostitution, completion of 100 hours of community service, screening for sexually transmitted diseases and payment of some court costs.”[WSJ] • Sources tell the NYPost there’s ‘absolutely no way’ Kraft will take the no-plea deal [NYPost]
TALK OF THE TOWN — Cracking the bro code: High on selling Miami and New York’s priciest homes, Tal and Oren Alexander are basking in their success. But is it entirely theirs? — by Katherine Kallergis and E.B. Solomont: “Days after Oren speaks to The Real Deal in Miami and after the brokers are interviewed for fawning spreads in Forbes and the Miami Herald, Tal cancels a follow-up interview with us in New York. Ken Griffin, it turns out, isn’t so happy with all the attention. ‘He [Griffin] had an expectation of privacy, as any client in this position would,’ said one source familiar with the hedge-funder’s thinking. ‘And he will not be working with them again.’ Call it luck, perseverance or just plain chutzpah, but the legend surrounding the 220 CPS sale is that Tal cold-called Griffin and pitched him on the opportunity to buy the most significant (read: expensive) penthouse in the country. A full 3 percent commission on the purchase price would be over $7 million.” [RealDeal]
ACROSS THE POND — Spicy or Wonky, Scapegoat or Hero? Commons Speaker Upends Brexit — by Ellen Barry: “The 56-year-old son of a Jewish cabdriver from North London, John Bercow rose through the ranks of the Tory party through sheer elbow grease, and then resigned from the party when he took the nonpartisan role of speaker, in 2009… A measure of the strangeness of the times in Brexit Britain is that one can buy T-shirts bearing the face of John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, in the stylized stencil preferred by street artists and skateboarders, with the word ORDER.”
“This enthusiasm is not universal in Britain, especially on Tuesday, after Mr. Bercow startled the country by blocking Mrs. May’s plan to push her withdrawal agreement through Parliament before a trip on Thursday to Brussels. He announced that he would not allow a third vote on her plan for Brexit… This ruling has made Mr. Bercow, a wonky arbiter of parliamentary procedure, one of the most admired and hated men in the country. ‘I certainly think he sees this as his big moment, that this is what he will be remembered for,’ said Bobby Friedman, the author of a biography of Mr. Bercow.”[NYTimes]
MEDIA WATCH — Anti-Muslim Hate Speech Is Absolutely Relentless On Social Media Even As Platforms Crack Down On Other Extremist Groups — by Jane Lytvynenko: “Researchers say Facebook is the primary mainstream platform where extremists organize and anti-Muslim content is deliberately spread… Politicians have also used anti-Muslim rhetoric to bolster their popularity among voters, which then takes off on social media… Researchers of extremism say the horrifying attack in New Zealand should be the catalyzing moment that makes platforms like Facebook and others put more focus on removing anti-Muslim hate speech from their platforms. But they aren’t optimistic about it happening.” [BuzzFeed]
DESSERT — This Acclaimed Chef Didn’t Hit His Stride Until He Embraced Something He Had Long Hoped to Forget: Where He’s From — by Leigh Buchanan: “Michael Solomonov is co-founder, with Steve Cook, of CookNSolo, a 300-employee Philadelphia company comprising 11 restaurants. He has won four James Beard awards, including Outstanding Chef in 2017 for the Israeli restaurant Zahav. With the introduction of Federal Donuts, now in five locations around the city, CookNSolo ignited the national trend of coffee-doughnuts-fried chicken restaurants. Solomonov’s success required both exercising his culinary imagination and vanquishing his personal demons.” Read his story here [Inc]
BIRTHDAYS: Active philanthropist, pioneer in corporate social responsibility, formerly CEO of Timberland and now board chair of an Israel-based leadership program called MAOZ, Jeffrey Swartz turns 59… Actor, director, producer and writer of comedy whose career spans nearly seven decades, Carl Reiner turns 97… Stage and screen actor, television director and musician, best-known role as the title character in the television comedy series “Barney Miller,” Hal Linden (born Harold Lipshitz) turns 88… Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences as a geologist and oceanographer, but known popularly as poet and performer, Alexander Gorodnitsky turns 86… Australian award-winning writer of Portuguese Sephardi descent, author of fiction, non-fiction, screenplays and poetry collections, David George Joseph Malouf turns 85… Retired executive officer at Standard & Poor’s where he was responsible for credit ratings of states and municipalities, Hyman C. Grossman turns 84… Senior advisor to the family office of Charles Bronfman, Dr. Jeffrey R. Solomon turns 74… Talmudic scholar at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Rabbi Tzvi Berkowitz turns 68… Award-winning author of 25 children’s books, Louis Sachar turns 65… Owner of Diamond Point Metals, a trader and broker of non-ferrous scrap metal, he serves on the boards of The Baltimore Jewish Council and the Maryland Israel Development Center, Jack Zager turns 65… Retired as Israel’s Chief of Police (2015-2018) after a 27 year career at Shabak (a/k/a the Shin Bet), Roni Alsheikh turns 56…
Host of Time Team America, a PBS program, she also produced and directed a feature-length documentary entitled Our Summer in Tehran, Justine Shapiroturns 56… Chilean businessman with substantial mining interests, in 2014 he donated seven newly written Sefer Torah scrolls to synagogues on six different continents, Leonardo Farkas turns 52… Journalist, author and lecturer best known for writing about his lifestyle immersion experiments, he is an editor at large for Esquire, Arnold Stephen “A. J.” Jacobs turns 51… Actor, podcast host, director and comedian, has acted in more than sixty films, Michael Rapaport turns 49… Director in Accenture’s NYC-based communications, media and technology practice, he is also the Lead of the firm’s Interfaith Employee Resource Group in the NYC area, Daniel M. Eckstein turns 35… Director at West Wing Writers since 2014, he was previously the director of online content at the super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, Matt Finkelstein turns 34… Political Reporter at NBC News since 2013, Benjamin (Benjy) Sarlin turns 34… Development analyst at the CIM Group, he was previously an associate at Urban Investment Partners, he is the holder of both a B.A. and MBA from GWU, Jason Lifton turns 30… Comedian, writer, and actress who gained popularity through her comedy videos on YouTube, she is a correspondent on the Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World, Joanna Hausmann turns 30… Associate at the Philadelphia office of the American Jewish Committee working on the Leaders for Tomorrow (program for high schoolers) and ACCESS programs, Max Buchdahl turns 23… Ehud Lazar…