HEARD LAST NIGHT — Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was asked during a live CNN presidential town hall if his faith would influence him as president. The following is part of his answer:
“One of the best sights I’ve ever
“Can I quote some Hebrew to you? Because I studied the Torah, too,” Booker continued. “There’s a song sung during the high holidays: Ki beitibeittefillahyikareil’chol ha-‘amim — ‘may my house be a house of prayer for many nations.’ (Isaiah 56:7) We are the United States of America. We were not formed as a theocracy. We were formed on the ideal that many of us in our diversity can come together and create one strong whole. And if I am president of the United States, I will fight every day to put more indivisible into this one nation under God.” [Video]
AT AIPAC – Speaking to the New Jersey delegation at AIPAC on Tuesday, Booker said, “Israel is not political to me. I was a supporter of Israel well before I was in the United States Senate. I was coming to AIPAC’s conferences well before I knew that one day I would be (a Senator). ‘If I forget thee, O Israel (Jerusalem), may I cut off my right hand.’ When we had a congresswoman who said absolutely unacceptable things, I came out and made clear, condemnation of antisemitism.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT — Ilhan Omar’s Embattled First Months in Office — by Benjamin Wallace-Wells: “Omar’s serial confrontations over Israel have had different stakes but a similar character. The outrage on the other side seemed not to warn her off but to spur her on. A little more than a week after Omar’s ‘It’s all about the Benjamins’ tweet, she and her staff met, in Minneapolis, with Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. Hunegs brought a photograph of his cousin Gerald (Sonny) Cohen, who was killed in action while fighting for the U.S. during the Second World War, and another of Sonny’s grave, to underscore a point about Jewish patriotism.”
“Eight days later, at Busboys and Poets, Omar appeared to resurrect the anti-Jewish dual-loyalty smear with her remark about allegiance to a foreign country. Hunegs favors a robust American relationship with Israel; Omar represents a challenge to that. Even so, it wasn’t hard to see her exchanges with Carin Mrotz and Hunegs as a parable: each time a Jewish interlocutor had issued a warning, and each time Omar had mostly disregarded it.”[NewYorker]
Jeremy Slevin, a spokesman for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), is drawing fire for suggesting that antisemitism “is a right-wing force.” Slevin repeated the line eight times on Twitter while quoting one of his boss’s tweets as part of a lengthy response to PM Netanyahu’s remarks at AIPAC on Tuesday.
Slevin added to his comments on Wednesday, “My tweet was referring to the United States (which I should have made clear).”
CITY-SIDE — Brooklyn lawmaker blasts Rep. Omar, says ‘Palestine does not exist’ — by Rich Calder: “A Brooklyn lawmaker set off a social media storm Wednesday by denying the existence of Palestine and accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar of being an anti-Semite. ‘Palestine does not exist,’ tweeted Councilman Kalman Yeger, who represents Midwood and other neighborhoods with large Jewish populations. ‘There, I said it again. Also, Congresswoman Omar is an anti-Semite.’ … The councilman’s comments drew 1,900 responses, — including from colleagues in the council.” [NYPost]
LONG READ — How the Battle Over Israel and Anti-Semitism Is Fracturing American Politics — by Nathan Thrall: “For all the recent tumult over Israel in Washington, the policy debate remains extremely narrow. There is no legislative initiative to reduce, much less end, military aid, nor even to make continued assistance conditional on a halt to settlement building. BDS is not supported by a single Democratic senator or presidential candidate, including Bernie Sanders, though Sanders backed the right to boycott. Despite pointed critiques of American support for Israel by representatives like Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, there is little willingness among Democrats to argue publicly for substantially changing longstanding policy toward Israel. In part, some Hill staff members and former White House officials say, this is because of the influence of megadonors: Of the dozens of personal checks greater than $500,000 made out to the largest PAC for Democrats in 2018, the Senate Majority PAC, around three-fourths were written by Jewish donors.”
“According to Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national-security adviser and one of Obama’s closest confidants, several members of the Obama administration wanted to adopt a more assertive policy toward Israel but felt that their hands were tied. ‘The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class,’ Rhodes, who does not support B.D.S., told me… ‘There is a reason the U.N. vote did not come up before the election in November,’ [another] former official said. ‘Was it because you were going to lose voters to Donald Trump? No. It was because you were going to have skittish donors. That, and the fact that we didn’t want Clinton to face pressure to condemn the resolution or be damaged by having to defend it.'” [NYTimes]
LABELS — President Trump said in a phone interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News Wednesday night: “I’m very proud of what we have done for Israel. I’m very proud of my relationship with Israel. And what is going on with Jewish people and the Democrats and Israel is shocking to me. You know, I grew up in a world where Democrats, they loved Israel. And now, I’m looking at a world where many Democrats seem to hate Israel. They seem to despise Israel. It is a tremendous surprise to me. What’s going on with Israel and the Democrat Party is absolutely horrific. Terrible.” [Video]
JI INTERVIEW — Fred Zeidman, a Houston-based GOP donor and a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, discussed Trump’s comments on the Democratic Party and the Jewish vote in 2020 in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh.
“To me, to say that the Democratic Party is anti-Israel or anti-Jewish, these are the same as saying the Republican Party is anti-immigration or anti-abortion,” Zeidman said, disagreeing with the President. “It’s not the party, it is members of the party. There is a segment of the party which is rearing its head right now, and a lot of it is just the progressive wing of the party, which is very similar if you will, to the ultra-conservative wing of our party. I think there is a lot more of antisemitism and a lot more of anti-Zionism in the left-wing of the Democratic Party than there is in the right-wing of the Republican Party. But I certainly can’t imagine, I wouldn’t even think that the Democratic Party per se is antisemitic or anti-Israel.”
Zeidman still gives Trump credit for keeping the issue in the conversation: “He has a way of exaggerating or magnifying every issue. I mean, I’m almost not sorry he’s doing it because most of the Jewish community is not seriously taking a stand against that. There’s been no stand by the leadership of the party against these folks. I think that I have no problem with Donald Trump, whether he’s exaggerating and magnifying it or not, bringing it to everybody’s attention and bringing it to the surface so that people are going to be forced to do something.”
Zeidman predicted that if the Democratic leadership will not deal with the issue, “I think that it could greatly affect the 2020 election. I think that the candidates running for president, who are now keeping their mouth shut and saying nothing, they’re going to have to take a stand one way or the other. Somehow, it wouldn’t surprise me if it gets to the Reagan numbers (in the high 30s). Is there going to be a mass exodus? No, there’s not, and we don’t know what we’re going to see between now and the general election. But these three women have not slowed up whatsoever in carrying on, and they’re going to have to do something at some point. If they don’t, you’re going to see Reagan numbers, but I can’t believe the Democrats will let it go that far.”
Wells or Values? — Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told the Financial Times that the U.S. shale boom has made it possible for the Trump administration to take stronger positions in support of Israel, including recognizing its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, because it is no longer dependent on imported oil. The position of the U.S. was “radically different” from 1973-74, when the oil embargo imposed by Arab members of Opec during the Arab-Israeli war sent fuel prices soaring, he explained. The shale boom has “allowed the president to make foreign policy decisions that simply were not available to previous presidents, at least not in my lifetime,” Brouillette said. “The freedom that this allows this president, and future presidents… is simply stunning.”
ON THE HILL — by JI’s Laura Kelly: During a hearing at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) pressed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over accusations that President Trump’s “point-person” on Iran is targeting career staff as “troublemakers” and based on sexual orientation, national origin and loyalty to the Trump Administration.
Rep. Engel’s line of questioning relates to a year-long investigation into improper conduct at the State Department. He singled out emails from Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iran, that list “intel” on certain staff, characterized by their national origin, ethnicity, perceived political affiliation and gossip. “Is targeting employees for these reasons appropriate?” Rep. Engel asked the Secretary.
“I’m not going to respond to anything about any particular person,” Secretary Pompeo answered, “but I can assure you, I want every employee at the Department of State treated with the dignity that they deserve because of their humanness.”
Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) began his questioning of Pompeo by highlighting the 40th anniversary of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, bringing his framed copy of The Jerusalem Post, with the headline “Treaty ends 30-year state of war” from March 27, 1979. “I happened to be 19 years old and living in Jerusalem at the signing of that treaty and I grabbed a newspaper and for years and years I kept it in a file in my office,” he said. “When I came to Congress, I took that newspaper and had it framed. This now hangs in my office as a reminder of the many lessons that came out of that. Among other things, that we can do what seems near impossible.” [Pic]
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Earlier, during a hearing in front of the House Appropriations Committee on President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget, Pompeo avoided answering directly if Trump’s Mideast peace plan would be based on parameters that address the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We’re hoping that we can actually broaden the aperture, that we can broaden this debate.”
In response to Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), asking when the peace plan will be released, the secretary said, “I’m very hopeful that we’ll present our vision before too long. I’m not trying to evade, I don’t know precisely when and how it is we’ll present this. We’ve been working on it a while we want to make sure we have it as complete, effective, as good as we know how to do. When we get there, we’ll unveil it.” He joked: “I think we can say in less than 20 years.”
ON THE GOLAN — Pompeo also suggested on the Hill that the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights will help advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “We believe this increases the likelihood that we get a resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” Pompeo said. “We think it speaks with the clarity that takes this away from any uncertainty about how we’ll proceed.”
AT THE UN —Security Council Denounces Trump’s Golan Decision — by Farnaz Fassihi: “All 14 other council members said Wednesday that they oppose Washington’s decision and that the Golan Heights is occupied territory by Israel… The U.S., represented by the political coordinator at its U.N. mission, Rodney Hunter, presented a short statement defending Mr. Trump’s decision, calling it of ‘critical strategic and security importance’ to Israel and saying it can contribute to stability. As member after member criticized the U.S. and accused it of undermining the U.N., the Americans didn’t offer the replies that are customary in council debates.” [WSJ]
REPORT — According to Ch. 13’s Barak Ravid, the ambassadors of France, Germany and the U.K. protested the Golan Heights move and sought clarifications on the administration’s policies in two separate meetings at the White House and State Department on Tuesday. European sources told Ravid that the meetings ‘were difficult and ended unresolved, with both sides agreeing to disagree.’
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash was quoted by The National as saying, “Many, many years ago, when there was an Arab decision not to have contact with Israel, that was a very, very wrong decision, looking back. Because clearly, you have to really dissect and divide between having a political issue and keeping your lines of communication open.”
HEARD YESTERDAY — President Trump during a meeting with Fabiana Rosales, the wife of Venezuela’s recognized interim president Juan Guaido in the Oval Office: “The Golan Heights, which every President promised they’d do, they never did. I did that — not only with respect to the Jerusalem and the embassy, but also now the Golan Heights. They desperately need it. It was good timing. They desperately need it. They need the Heights.”
Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), responding to Trump’s declaration, told Jewish Insider, “I think we should probably stick with where we’ve been for a while [re: the status of the Golan Heights], either that or we at least ought to have a discussion about that.”
Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt posted on Twitter: “Anyone who says Syria should control the Golan is taking a position not based in reality. Allowing the Golan to be controlled by the Assad regime & their Iranian backers would ignore the atrocities committed and ignore the very real threat to Israel’s existence! #TimeToSpeakTheTruth.”
SCENE IN JERUSALEM — PM Netanyahu presented heads of local councils on the Golan Heights with President Trump’s signed order recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. “We waited 50 years for this,” the PM said. “This is a tremendous proclamation that greatly strengthens our sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” [Pic]
TRUMP DIPLOMACY — Elliot Kaufman writes… “Trump’s Golan Strategy: Mr. Trump’s decision to back Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights must sound to the Palestinians like a threat: Shape up and cease your intransigence, or America could let Israel annex parts of the West Bank, too.” [WSJ]
Sarah Helm writes in the Financial Times that Europe’s diplomatic corps are still in the dark on Trump’s peace plan with “no plan B.” The UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, told Helm recently he wondered if Kushner would produce a plan at all.
Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write… “Mike Pompeo Is Not Making Diplomacy Great Again: The good news for Pompeo is that he’s very much in the game—he has access to Trump and enjoys his confidence. The bad news: He’s doing very little with the issues he owns, and together with Trump he’s helped dig some deep holes for American policy toward America’s European allies, while making little progress on Iran and North Korea.” [PoliticoMag]
SCOOP — President Trump and Jared Kushner will host a White House celebration to celebrate the recent passage of the bipartisan prison reform bill on April 1st, according to an invite obtained by Jewish Insider. The April 1 event is also billed as a Prison Reform Summit. Last May, President Trump and Kushner hosted the first such summit at the White House. [JewishInsider; Pic]
KAFE KNESSET — Likud Demands Investigation Into Gantz — by Neri Zilber: Another day, another corruption scandal. In a press conference yesterday evening in Tel Aviv, several senior Likud officials called for the Attorney General to open a criminal investigation into Benny Gantz for alleged misdeeds stemming from his time as chairman of Fifth Dimension, a private cybersecurity firm. The impetus for the new attack was a State Comptroller report released yesterday criticizing the Israel Police for entering into a NIS 50 million contract with Fifth Dimension without a proper tender process. Readtoday’s entire Kafe Knesset newsletter by subscribing here[KafeKnesset]
Ahead of Israel’s Election, Gantz’s Meme-Inspiring Missteps Embolden Netanyahu — by David Halbfinger: “The Israeli election on April 9 was supposed to be a referendum on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu… Yet a series of unforced errors by Mr. Gantz and his campaign have now allowed Mr. Netanyahu not only to move on but to raise doubts about Mr. Gantz’s readiness for the scrutiny that comes with being prime minister. After delivering a well-received speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference on Monday, Mr. Gantz gave back-to-back satellite interviews from Washington… and handed Mr. Netanyahu’s video- and meme-makers ammunition to use against him.” [NYTimes]
Watch — Spotted in Netanyahu’s newest campaign ad: Barack Obama, Ben Rhodes, Dennis Ross and Peter Baker. [Video] h/t Felicia Schwartz
2020 WATCH — Cory Booker is happy to be under the radar — for now…Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is leaning toward jumping into 2020 race… Stacey Abrams says Democrats will likely choose a woman or minority in 2020… Veep’s David Mandel on Bill de Blasio’s possible runfor president: “I feel like much more successful mayors have failed, so this seems crazy. It seems like ego.”… Catchy song will teach you how to pronounce Pete Buttigieg.
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital Is Opening a New York Office [Bloomberg] • Trump names wives of Steve Roth and Richard LeFrak to Kennedy Center Board [RealDeal] • Bryan Goldberg’s Bustle Digital, the company that bought Gawker and Mic, has acquired The Outline, a tech/culture site launched by veteran journalist Josh Topolsky [Recode] • Bob Iger and James Cameron: Can the King of Hollywood Manage the King of the World? [HollywoodReporter]
SPOTLIGHT — For Israeli lunar lander, faith provides inspiration and challenges — by Jack Jenkins: “SpaceIL system engineering manager Alexander Friedman, who is in charge of all operations for the group’s ‘Beresheet’ lander after launch, identifies as an Orthodox Jew. As such, he does not work on Shabbat. But SpaceX… typically launches its rockets on Saturdays… Friedman said that fact led to many ‘long discussions”’between SpaceIL and SpaceX, with hopes of moving the launch to a different day of the week… It appears the issue was eventually ironed out: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off into space with Beresheet aboard on Thursday, Feb. 21, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 8:45 in the evening — which is just before 4 in the morning on Friday in Israel.” [ReligionNews]
PROFILE — Yoshevah Jones, Tel Aviv’s Most In-Demand Face, on Growing Up As a Black Hebrew — by Liana Satenstein: “Of late, model Yoshevah Jones has become one of the most in-demand faces in Tel Aviv, which held its own Fashion Week this month… Jones’s modeling rise is of particular note, given her unique background. Though the local fashion industry has historically cast diverse models on its runways, Jones is from the Black Hebrews, a group that settled in Israel in 1969. The movement was founded in Chicago by Ben Ammi Ben-Israel (born Ben Carter), who considered it a radical exit from America during the height of the civil rights movement… Jones explains that she still has a feeling of otherness and at times, she doesn’t know which culture she fits into; she has not been to the U.S. and so considers Israel home by default. ‘It is hard: You don’t belong here and you don’t fit in over there,’ she says of her Israeli and American identity.” [Vogue]
Israeli researchers say Sodom salt cave is world’s longest — by Ilan Ben Zion: “A recently completed survey of the Malham Cave [at the southern tip of the Dead Sea] determined the labyrinthine cavern stretches more than 10 kilometers (6 miles) in length. That puts it well ahead of Iran’s Namakdan Cave, previously thought to be the longest salt cave.” [ABCNews]
TALK OF THE TOWN — County in New York Facing Measles Outbreak Bans Unvaccinated Minors From Public Spots — by Katie Honan: “A New York county has declared a state of emergency over one of the worst measles outbreaks in the state in decades, banning unvaccinated minors from public places to help curb the spread of the disease… The extreme measure comes as the county has recorded 153 confirmed measles cases in the past six months, mostly in children under 18, according to the county’s health department. The outbreak is concentrated in the Orthodox Jewish communities in Rockland County, including the towns of New Square, Spring Valley and Monsey… Under Rockland County’s ban, children under 18 who haven’t been vaccinated won’t be allowed in any public area for 30 days.” [WSJ]
Bar or Bat Mitzvah? Hey, What About a Both Mitzvah? — by Alyson Krueger: “In recent years, more people have been questioning or exploring their gender expression, including teenagers. In Jewish circles this process can coincide with the time for bar and bat mitzvahs. To make space for transgender and nonbinary teenagers, more synagogues and Jewish communities have adopted they mitzvahs (b’nai mitzvahs or b mitzvahs, as other congregations call them.)” [NYTimes]
TRANSITION — Sheila Katz has been hired as the new CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women. Katz, who replaces outgoing CEO Nancy Kaufman, served as Vice President of Hillel International for the past 12 years.
TALK OF OUR NATION — Twitter lashes out at ‘sociopath’ bagels sliced like bread — by Tamar Lapin and Lauren Steussy: “A highly offensive photo of bagels, sliced as though they were loaves of bread, is spreading controversy across the internet. The man behind this crumby outrage, Alek Krautmann, says the serving style is a St. Louis specialty and even claims, dubiously, that people love it… But over in New York, people were calling the sideways slicing a schmear campaign against a Big Apple classic. ‘On behalf of the New York Delegation: St. Louis, fuhgeddaboudit,’ quippedSenator Chuck Schumer. The general manager of New York bagel staple Zabar’s for over 40 years, Scott, was also in complete shock. ‘I just have to say… ‘Why?” he told The Post.” [NYPost; BuzzFeed]
DESSERT — Hudson Yards $200M Art Piece Looks Like a Giant Shawarma — by Carolyn Alburger: “For the food people flocking to the Manhattan’s new $25 billion development, Hudson Yards, it might look like… a colossal shawarma — New York’s first mile-high bronze-and-steel meat on a spit… This could be the city’s most publicized meat tower replica of all time.”[EaterNY]
BIRTHDAYS: Professor emeritus of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics, Jerome Isaac Friedman turns 89… Tarzana, California native, Marlene R. Bane turns 86… Chairman and CEO of the Hartz Group and Hartz Mountain Corporation, a leading seller of pet supplies, Leonard Norman Stern turns 81… Israeli electrical engineer and business executive, he was the founder and first general manager of Intel Israel and the inventor of the EPROM chip, Dov Frohmanturns 80… Law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Ruth Gavisonturns 74… Expert on the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, supporter of women’s health issues and wife of former US Senator and VP-candidate Joe Lieberman, Hadassah Lieberman turns 71… Glenview, Illinois native, Genie Kutchins turns 69… Iranian-born billionaire, CEO of Los Angeles-based toy company MGA Entertainment (maker of Little Tikes and “Bratz” and “Lalaloopsy” dolls), Isaac Larian turns 65… Member of the Knesset since 2006, she served as the leader of the Israeli Labor Party (2011-2013) and was previously a journalist, she is the author of three books, Shelly Yachimovichturns 59…
VP of public policy at JUUL Labs and a presidential historian, he was a White House aide and Jewish Liaison in the George W. Bush administration (2005-2007) and Deputy HHS Secretary (2007-2009), Tevi Troy turns 52… Film producer Brett Ratner turns 50 (how he plans to celebrate)… Journalist, crime writer and blogger who has spent most of his career in Japan, he assisted the US State Department’s investigation into human trafficking in Japan, Jake Adelstein turns 50… Israeli journalist and radio presenter for Reshet Bet, Keren Neubach turns 49… Author of seven best-selling novels including in 2003 “The Devil Wears Prada,” based upon the author’s time as an assistant to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, Lauren Weisberger turns 42… Member of the Knesset since 2015 for the Likud party, Makhlouf “Miki” Zohar turns 39… Los Angeles-based, Israeli-born fashion designer, Yotam Solomon turns 32… Retired MLB outfielder, who played for the Boston Red Sox in 2010 and 2012 and for the Chicago Cubs in 2014 and 2016, Ryan Kalish turns 31… Ever more rising real estate star and Senior Associate at Hackman Capital Partners, Zachary David Sokoloff turns 30…