Daily Kickoff: In big shift, Exxon eyeing Israel | Local MN Dems seeking Omar challenger | Bibi makes peace… with Sa’ar | Profile: Andrew Zobler
TOP TALKER — The State Department referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” instead of as “Israeli-occupied” for the first time in its annual report on human rights released on Wednesday. The change comes a year after the administration dropped the “occupied” reference to the West Bank and Gaza at the top of the report.
Israel first captured the Golan from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967 and effectively annexed it in 1981. At the time, the Reagan administration described the move as being inconsistent with the Camp David accords and suspended a Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel on strategic cooperation. Since then, consecutive administrations from both political parties have refused to change existing U.S. policy.
In a press briefing at the State Department, Michael Kozak, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, explained the change: “This is not a human rights issue. It’s a legal status issue… and ‘occupied territory’ has a legal meaning to it. I think what they tried to do was shift more to just a geographic description… My understanding from the policy bureaus on this is that there’s no change in our outlook or our policy vis-a-vis the territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there… We decided not to use the term in the reports because it’s not a human rights term and it was distracting.”
— U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman has been the key U.S. figure pushing for the change, according to U.S. officials.” [Axios]
Aaron David Miller tells Jewish Insider: “This is a big deal, and it will be an even bigger deal if the language is elevated consistently in statements by the president and Secretary of State. The strategic imperative of this administration is to change U.S. policy toward Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is another step in that process. For many in the administration, these areas aren’t occupied. So poof — with a simple word change, it’s no longer occupied.”
Amb. Dennis Ross: “It reflects the Administration’s different approach; the terminology is different. It makes the Palestinians more suspicious and creates a context in which Arab leaders are likely to be more cautious and hesitant about responding to the administration’s plan. But time will tell whether that is really the case.”
VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Israeli ministers hailed the change as a diplomatic victory for the country and a political victory for the right. The State Department announcement, Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar tweeted, “was proof that the correct and determined path of the Likud will ultimately win… The people of Israel aren’t occupiers in their own land… We’ll keep defending the Land of Israel and to settle it.”
Brazil’s Bolsonaro to visit Israel with embassy move still undecided — by Lisandra Paraguassu: “Brazilian right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro will visit Israel at the end of the month but he may not be able to deliver on a promise to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem, a move opposed by military officers in his cabinet. A government official told Reuters on Wednesday that no decision has been taken on the embassy move, which could give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s standing a boost a week before Israel’s elections… He added that a formal announcement might not be made during the March 31 to April 2 visit.” [Reuters]
We’re hearing rumblings that another country will announce two weeks from now that they are moving their embassy to Jerusalem.
ON THE HILL — by JI’s Laura Kelly: Following reports that Hezbollah is operating a terror cell in Syria on the border with Israel, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AK) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) on Wednesday reissued their call for the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“Iran and Hezbollah have deployed fighters and terrorists, including those with American blood on their hands, to deepen their hold over the region. This aggression highlights the need for the United States to affirm Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” the Congress members said in a joint statement. “Hezbollah’s missile arsenal and terror tunnels pose severe threats to the State of Israel. To support Israel’s right to self-defense, both houses of Congress should take up our legislation establishing that it shall be the policy of the United States to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan.”
In an email to Jewish Insider, Sen. Cotton added that the decision of the State Department to refer to contested areas as “Israeli controlled” instead of “occupied” is a step in the right direction. “It’s encouraging to see the change in State Department language included in their annual global human rights report; the Golan is rightfully Israeli territory,” the Arkansas Senator wrote.
Congressional sources tell Jewish Insider that a final version of Sen. Cruz’s antisemitism resolution is circulating. It includes a previously unreported section about the unique manifestations of antisemitism that American Jews confront.
Senate Votes Again to End Aid to Saudi War in Yemen, Defying Trump — by Catie Edmondson: “The Senate on Wednesday again rebuked President Trump for his continued defense of Saudi Arabia after the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, voting for a second time to end American military assistance for the kingdom’s war in Yemen and to curtail presidential war powers. The 54-to-46 vote… sets the foundation for what could become Mr. Trump’s first presidential veto.” [NYTimes]
Senate confirms Trump judicial pick to replace Kavanaugh — by Marianne Levine: “The Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s judicial nominee Neomi Rao Wednesday to the nation’s second highest court despite initial concerns raised by a handful of Republicans over her prior writing on sexual assault and her position on abortion. In a 53-46 vote along party lines, the Senate approved Rao to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.” [Politico]
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Jordan’s King Abdullah II discussed the Trump administration’s push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told Jewish Insider, but that the conversation was shallow. “We certainly talked about it but it’s hard to ask anyone, let alone a King, whether they’ll support something that hasn’t been written, let alone read,” he said.
The closed-door meeting, which took place in the Capitol, also touched on the economic strain the Kingdom is under as a result of the Syrian refugee crisis. “I think the King has shown himself to be a leader of goodwill,” Rep. Sherman said.
Jonathan Schanzer and Ghaith al-Omari write… “Trump’s Subtlety Could Yield Middle East Peace: To the surprise of many, the Trump administration so far has forestalled needless violence through a novel combination of discipline and secrecy. That surely hasn’t been easy. But the next phase will be even harder, because a plan’s release can be as important as what’s in it.” [WSJ]
Israeli group honors Nikki Haley with coin: “The Sanhedrin, a Jewish group that says it aims to restore the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, is one of three organizations behind the coin. The collector’s coin, which costs $50, features Haley’s face set against the U.N. building, and a rendition of the Jewish Temple on the back.” [AP]
How Lobbying Has Changed in Donald Trump’s Washington — by Luke Mullins: “Others try to influence the thinking of the White House officials Trump listens to. One consultant told me he has geofenced the Kalorama home of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump with digital ads in an effort to shape their views on an issue.” [Washingtonian]
SCENE LAST NIGHT — A bipartisan group of legislatures gathered for a somber event marking eight years since the start of the Syrian Civil War, a memorial to the victims of torture and murder by Syrian President Bashar Assad and pledging swift action on legislation that punishes the regime. Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Michael McCaul (R-TX), French Hill (R-AK) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) spoke about the need for continued action to punish Assad.
Rep. Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act should be voted on in the House on its own to keep it a bipartisan issue. It passed the Senate as part of the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, which was held up because of an anti-BDS bill. “It seems that every year there’s another monkey wrench thrown in somehow. What I’ll call on my colleagues to pass the Caesar bill alone, not as partisan package to play political games, so Democrats can’t vote for it, or that Republicans can’t vote for it,” Rep. Engel said. [Pic]
Former President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker at the Illinois Holocaust Museum’s Humanitarian Awards Dinner at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Rahm Emanuel also spoke at the event. [Pic]
AIPAC PC — AIPAC announced on Wednesday its list of confirmed Israeli speakers at the Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. In addition to PM Netanyahu’s appearance, speakers on the main stage include Benny Gantz (Kachol Lavan candidate for PM), Israeli Ambassador to U.S. Ron Dermer and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. Additionally, cabinet ministers Naftali Bennett (New Right), Tzahi Hanegbi (Likud) and Yoav Galant (Likud), Gideon Saar (Likud), Yoaz Hendel (Kachol Lavan); and MKs Stav Shaffir (Labor), Merav Michaeli (Labor), Amir Ohana (Likud) and Pnina Tamano-Shata (Kachol Lavan) have confirmed their attendance.
INBOX — J Street asked supporters on Tuesday to tell 2020 presidential candidates that if they speak at AIPAC, they must condemn Netanyahu and his policies.
Of note: There is no precedent for presidential candidates speaking at the conference in a non-election year. In the last two presidential elections cycles, none of the candidates were given speaking slots on the main stage in the year before the election (2011 and 2015). In 2007, the two Democratic front-runners, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton held competing receptions at the gathering, but did not speak.
STATE-SIDE — Democrats upset over Omar seeking primary challenger — by Reid Wilson: “Some Minnesota Democrats, aghast at controversial comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D), are taking initial steps to recruit a candidate to run against her in next year’s primary election… ‘There’s definitely some buzz going around about it, but it’s more a buzz of is anyone talking about finding someone to run against her than it is anyone saying they’re going to run against her or contemplate it. There’s definitely talk about people wanting someone to run against her,’ said state Sen. Ron Latz (D), who represents a portion of Omar’s district… ‘Our community is exasperated by Rep. Omar’s unfulfilled promises to listen and learn from Jewish constituents while seemingly simultaneously finding another opportunity to make an anti-Semitic remark and insult our community,’ Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a statement.” [TheHill]
GALLUP — One in Six U.S. Jews Identify as Republican — by RJ Reinhart: “Prior to Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent comments questioning U.S. support for Israel… roughly half of U.S. Jews identified as Democrat in Gallup polling. Far fewer, 16%, said they were Republican… While it is too soon to know whether Jewish Americans’ orientation to the major parties has changed in recent weeks, Gallup trends suggest the potential is there. In 2008, 55% of Jewish Americans identified as Democrats, compared with the current 52%… Jewish Americans were among the least likely to approve of Trump of all religious groups in 2018, with just 26% approving and 71% disapproving.” [Gallup]
2020 WATCH — Beto O’Rourke formally announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020 in a video this morning… ‘I’m just born to be in it,’ O’Rourke told Vanity Fair… Joe Biden mulls 2020 campaign aimed at the working class… Tom Friedman writes that so far he hasn’t heard any of the Democrats running claiming they are the best person to answer the 3 AM phone call… Trump’s reelection campaign is seeking to turn anti-Semitism and Israel into a wedge issue for Jewish voters… Two of the Democrats’ best-funded outside groups— both of which are backed in part by George Soros — are planning at least a $130 million campaign to build support for Democrats in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Howard Schultz says he grew up in a poor, rough place. Those who lived there called it the ‘country club of projects’ — by Marc Fisher: “In recent TV interviews, Schultz has repeatedly pointed out that ‘I came from the projects,’ calling his escape from Bayview and success at Starbucks a classic example of ‘the American Dream.’ But the place Schultz sought to escape from was a community that many residents pushed hard to get into… ‘This was an all-white, Jewish neighborhood, with some Italians,’ Henry Blank said. ‘Even the rabbi and the toy-store owner lived in the development.’ … Sheryl Boyce has lived at Bayview since it opened and runs its residents association. Boyce, who is black, said the population of the complex was anything but diverse… ‘I even went to synagogue with the Jewish kids. We had two kosher delis that everybody shopped in, whether you were Jewish or not.'”[WashPost]
How Milwaukee talked the Democrats into bringing the 2020 national convention to the city — by Bill Glauber and Mary Spicuzza: “‘I don’t like to think of us as any sort of underdog, some David versus Goliath matchup,’ said Alex Lasry, the bid committee chair who is a Milwaukee Bucks executive. ‘This was Milwaukee outing itself as a top city in the country. It was Milwaukee showing everyone what it is we see when we live here, what we believe.'” [JournalSentinel]
SPOTTED — Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale sitting next to Agudath Israel board member Chaskel Bennett on a flight from DC to NY last night. [Pic] • An unenthused Bernie Sanders waiting for the elevator with Hasidic lobbyist Ezra Friedlander on Capitol Hill [Pic]
KAFE KNESSET — Bibi Makes Peace With Sa’ar — by Neri Zilber: Over the past week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apparently made peace with his biggest rival inside the Likud — Gideon Sa’ar, a popular former interior and education minister who only recently returned to political life after taking a hiatus in 2014. At the party’s launch event last week Netanyahu made a big show of shaking Sa’ar’s hand (it was a long and jerky gesture, with thin smiles fixed on both men’s faces). After that the floodgates were opened; a truce, if not real peace, had been achieved. This week Sa’ar was included in a photo Netanyahu circulated on social media of his top Likud lieutenants, with another image of the two men speaking intimately also making the rounds. Two nights ago Sa’ar was the main guest on the “Likud TV” Facebook stream, a Netanyahu propaganda arm, singing the PM’s praises. “We have a prime minister with terrific talent, with vast experience, with connections spanning the world,” Sa’ar said, contrasting the incumbent with his rivals in Blue and White. Those words may be turned back on Sa’ar in future — but not anytime soon. Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset newsletter by subscribing here [KafeKnesset]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS:Marijuana company hires billionaire snack food tycoon Nelson Peltz [NYPost] • Brookfield takes control of Oaktree Capital in $4.7bn deal [FinancialTimes] • SodaStream CEO Birnbaum joins bubbling medical cannabis race [JPost] • Hamptons oceanfront home goes for $1.5 million as a summer rental [NYPost]
TALK OF THE REGION — Exxon eyes Israel gas bid in major Middle East shift — by Ron Bousso: “Exxon Mobil Corp is considering exploring for oil and gas in Israel, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter, in what would make Exxon the first oil major to operate in the country still technically at war with Gulf Arab states… Exxon executives held talks with Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz in Houston this week about bidding for the right to explore and pump oil from offshore blocks in an auction that Israel will hold in June… Exxon is one of the biggest foreign investors in Qatar. It also has refining and petrochemical operations in Saudi Arabia, and produces oil and gas in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.” [Reuters]
PODCAST PLAYBACK ― Former White House economic advisor Gary Cohn explained the reason he left Goldman Sachs on the Freakonomics podcast with Stephen Dubner: “When I was asked by Lloyd [Blankfein] and the board to become president, chief operating officer, Lloyd called me and Jon Winkelried into a room. We were co-’s at the time and said, ‘Guys, will you give me two years? I got to know you’re committed for two years.’ And I said, ‘Lloyd, I’ll give you two. Two’s not hard. But you’ve got to understand, I think these are seven-to-10-year jobs. I don’t think these are lifetime jobs.’ … And literally at seven years, I started getting a little antsy. Lloyd, at that point, ended up getting sick. And I wasn’t going to rattle the boat or rock the boat at all in year seven or eight, or maybe it was eight, nine… At that point, I was letting the board know that I wasn’t going to be here forever. So I sat down, and I made it clear that I would be gone by the end of the year… And the Trump thing was pure lucky coincidence.” [Freakonomics]
PROFILE — Meet the man who creates today’s coolest hotels — by Rima Suqi: “Andrew Zobler currently has six unannounced projects in the works. All of this comes just a year after the debut of The Ned, Zobler’s collaboration with Nick Jones of Soho House, which quickly became a go-to spot in London. In the past year alone, Sydell Group’s portfolio has grown from 1,993 hotel rooms to 5,986. ‘If you look at what we’ve done, it’s pretty unusual in terms of the number of independent concepts, that have legs, that we’ve created all within a relatively short period of time,’ he says over coffee at a corner table at Studio, an all-day café at the Freehand in New York.”[NationalGeographic]
Jaffa Is Tel Aviv’s Unexpected Luxury Hotspot — by Debra Kamin: “Three new luxury properties — The Setai Tel Aviv (in a former Ottoman prison with Crusader-era origins); The Jaffa (an Aby Rosen recreation of a former hospice for malaria victims) and The Drisco, a revival of Jaffa’s first luxury hotel — opened last year, within spitting distance of each other. And that’s not all: Add to the mix of this major makeover a new lush Japanese spa, a bustling night life district and a flea market packed with restaurants led by major Israeli chefs… ‘Jaffa is the hottest area in Tel Aviv — the energy and authenticity, coupled with the creativity seen in the ancient architecture, the local artists, galleries and not to mention the amazing food and the sea — it’s all part of the appeal,’ says Mr. Rosen.” [NYTimes]
HOLLYWOOD — Israeli Actress Moran Atias Moves Into ‘The Village’ — by Gerri Miller: “The intertwined lives, loves and crises of neighbors in a Brooklyn apartment building play out in the new NBC ensemble drama ‘The Village.’ … Israeli actress Moran Atias plays Ava Behzadi, an Iranian immigrant who has been living in New York for 10 years… Atias has never lived in an apartment building like The Village, where the neighbors are close as family and have regular get-togethers on their rooftop, ‘but growing up in Israel, you feel like your hometown is your village,’ the Haifa native said.”[JewishJournal]
TALK OF THE TOWN — NYPD Hate Crimes Unit Investigating Vile Defacing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Poster in Brooklyn: “The NYPD’s hate crimes unit is investigating slur-ridden ‘DIE’ graffiti scrawled on a Brooklyn subway station poster of Ruth Bader Ginsburg after a rider flagged it on Twitter Tuesday. ‘DIE’ in all capital letters was scrawled in black marker across Ginsburg’s forehead on the poster; ‘JEW’ was written over her glasses, followed by another slur and a swastika over her mouth. The NYPD tweeted its transit and hate crimes units were both investigating the matter… For its part, the MTA says it removed the ‘offensive imagery’ immediately after the NYPD collected evidence for its investigation.” [NBC4]
SPORTS BLINK — Amare Stoudemire granted Israeli citizenship: “Former NBA star Amare Stoudemire was granted Israeli citizenship… in a ceremony at the Interior Ministry on Wednesday. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he was granted citizenship due to his ‘unique contributions’ to Israeli society. Now, Deri said, ‘Amare will be Israel’s ambassador to the world.’ ‘It’s a very exciting moment for me. My body is flooded with emotions now, my love for Israel has been with me for many years, and being part of Israel is something very special,’ Stoudemire said at the ceremony.” [JTA]
MEDIA WATCH — The Intercept lays off several staffers — by Maxwell Tani: “Laura Poitras — the Citizenfour director and award-winning filmmaker who helped start The Intercept’s parent company First Look Media — lashed out Wednesday after layoffs were announced internally at the publication… CEO Michael Bloom’s email announced that First Look Media would be letting go about 4 percent of their staff.” [DailyBeast]
TRANSITION — Omri Nahmias, the Washington correspondent for Israel’s Walla News, is joining The Jerusalem Post as its D.C. Bureau Chief at the end of this month.
DESSERT — Turns Out East Village Kosher Icon Moishe’s Is Not Permanently Closed — by Stefanie Tuder: “A bright spot this week is that kosher East Village bakery Moishe’s Bake Shop is not closed permanently after all. Despite recent reports that the 40-year-old institution had shuttered, it turns out the clearing out of the space is merely for renovations. Though owner Moishe Perl reportedly told storefront photographers James and Karla Murray that it closed due to a building sale, a sign in the window now says it’s closed for renovations and a manager has confirmed this to Eater. The bakery should reopen in six to eight weeks.” [EaterNY]
Here’s Why Israel Is a Dream Destination for Wellness Lovers — by Krista Gray: “Dairy-free and vegan food is always available. One of the first things I noticed (and felt grateful for) on my first day in Israel was how easy it was to eat dairy-free; the country is often referred to as the vegan capital of the world, and an estimated five percent of the population has completely ditched animal goods in their daily diet. After doing a bit more research, I found that the reasons behind the rise in Israeli veganism include desired health improvement, concerns about animal cruelty and the environment, religious reasons, and a younger population that’s less inclined to follow traditional eating patterns and loves to try trends.” [Brit+Co]
Thinking Outside the Triangle — by Joan Nathan: “Originally called mohntaschen, hamantaschen date back at least to 16th-century Germany, when mohn, or poppy seeds, were eaten as a snack during winter, when little grew. The seeds, from the flower that produces the powerful drug opium, were also turned into jam and encased in pastries for special occasions.” [NYTimes]
REMEMBERING — Sidney Verba, Innovative Scholar of Democracies, Dies at 86 — by Sam Roberts: “Sidney Verba, whose pioneering research comparing political behavior among the world’s democracies became a classic book among students of politics, died on March 4 at his home in Cambridge, Mass… Sidney Verba was born on May 26, 1932, in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn to Morris and Recci (Salman) Verba, Jewish immigrants from what is now Moldova in Eastern Europe. They ran a curtain store but were always worried about money. His parents also worshiped Franklin D. Roosevelt.” [NYTimes]
BIRTHDAYS: Professor emeritus of Chemistry at Tel Aviv University, winner of the 1982 Israel Prize, Joshua Jortner turns 86… Founder and President of Los Angeles-based Skirball Cultural Center, Rabbi Dr. Uri Herscher turns 78… Canadian criminal defense attorney, Brian Greenspan turns 72… Actor, writer, producer, director, comedian and television host, Billy Crystal turns 71… Executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services of San Francisco, Dr. Anita Friedman turns 70… Member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1995, representing Howard County, Shane Elizabeth Pendergrass turns 69… One-half of the eponymous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Ben is four days younger), Jerry Greenfield turns 68… Eliezer Cohen Barak turns 68… Encino, California resident and co-founder of the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation, Gila Milstein turns 66… Managing Director of Investments at Hefter, Leshem, Margolis Capital Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, Steven Hefter turns 65… Special advisor to the President at Union for Reform Judaism, she is also the founder and leader of ChangeCommunications, Jo-Ann Mort turns 63… NYC-based restaurateur and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, he and his team have won 28 James Beard Awards, Danny Meyer turns 61…
Past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and a senior rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, Denise (Davida) Egerturns 59… Microgrid architect at Urban Ingenuity, a DC-based consulting firm for advanced clean energy infrastructure projects, Shalom Flank, Ph.D. turns 54… Film and television actress, she is best known for her title role in the 1985 film The Journey of Natty Gann and the 1989 teen comedy, Dream a Little Dream, Meredith Salenger turns 49… Canadian fashion stylist, publicist and close friend of Princess Meghan Markle, Jessica Brownstein Mulroneyturns 39… Heiress to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, Liesel Pritzker Simmonsturns 35… Former NASCAR driver, he is the sole inductee into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in the “Auto Racing” category, now a VP of Corporate Trading at INTL FCStone Financial, Jon Denning turns 32… QA Test Engineer at Major League Baseball Advanced Media, Philip Liebmanturns 29… Four-time Israeli national champion in the skeleton event, he competed for Israel at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, Adam Edelman turns 28… Sophie Galant…