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SPOTTED — Freshman Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), along with his wife Ann, at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem earlier today. Romney is visiting Israel along with his Democratic colleague from Connecticut, Sen. Chris Murphy. [Pic]
SEDER SCENE — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) posted a picture of him kvelling as he looks on his oldest grandson, Noah Melvin Schumer-Shapiro taking a bite of the Haggadah during the family Seder. [Pic]
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) posted a photoshopped image of a redacted ‘Barr’ Haggadah. [Pic]
Ivanka Trump shared two pictures of her family enjoying Chol Hamoed snowmobiling in what is presumed to be Wyoming. [Pic]
PASSOVER HOLIDAY CATCH UP — While we were away… What the Mueller report says about Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr… George Papadopoulos, a former aide to Trump’s campaign for president, told Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday that he was only questioned by Mueller’s team about his work related to Israel… Sen. Mitt Romney called outTrump for being ‘dishonest’ in welcoming Russia’s help in 2016… In turn, Trump lashed out at Romney, ridiculing him for his loss to Obama in 2012…
Jewish comedian Volodymyr Zelensky scored a landslide victory in the Ukrainian presidential elections… Ukraine now becomes the only country in the world besides Israel whose president and prime minister are both Jewish… French President Emmanuel Macron sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulating him on his election victory and saying he hopes the next Israeli gov’t will revive the peace process… Israel’s Channel 12 reportedthat France asked Israel last week to change the decision to freeze the transfer of tax funds to the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu rebuffed the request…
DRIVING THE CONVO — The Trump administration announced yesterday that the U.S. will not renew waivers granted last year to eight countries seeking to purchase oil from Iran. The move, ahead of a May 2 deadline, came as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the U.S. in ensuring the global market wouldn’t suffer without Iranian oil.
“The Trump Administration and our allies are determined to sustain and expand the maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran to end the regime’s destabilizing activity threatening the United States, our partners and allies, and security in the Middle East,” the White House said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the State Department on Monday that the U.S. would allow no significant reduction exceptions after the May 2 expiration, but he declined to rule out the possibility of limited exemptions to U.S. allies.
China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it has formally complained to the United States over its decision on Iran waivers, adding another fault line to already complicated Beijing-Washington ties.
WHY IT MATTERS — Revoking the waivers essentially finalizes the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). The waivers preservedsome international nuclear cooperation with Iran, despite a gradual decline in oil exports. In response, Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway vital for global oil shipments.
The decision is a win for National Security Advisor John Bolton, who reportedly clashed with Pompeo over the issue in recent weeks. Trump and Pompeo hesitated to end the waivers out of fear of causing oil prices to rise. “We are going to ZERO waivers for oil exports from the corrupt Iranian regime, denying it the largest source of its revenue,” Bolton posted on Twitter.
Senators and House Republicans also pressured the administration to revoke the waivers. House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), who spearheaded the House GOP effort, said in a statement, “By not granting these exceptions for the import of Iranian oil, the President is underscoring a clear message: when it comes to depriving Tehran of funding for its terror network, nothing is off the table.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in a statement, “Ending these waivers is another important step in finally ending all American implementation of the Obama Iran nuclear deal, and one that I have longed called for.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) added, “The administration should now also end sanctions waivers for foreign countries engaged in civil nuclear cooperation with Iran, especially after revelations that the Iranian regime cheated on the nuclear deal by maintaining a secret ‘Atomic Archive’ for building a nuclear weapon on short notice.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization, placing sanctions on the military body embedded within the Iranian regime. However, Reutersreported on Sunday that the U.S. carved out exceptions so that foreign governments, firms and NGOs do not automatically face U.S. sanctions for dealing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. On Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, replaced the top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, with a deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Brig. Gen Hossein Salami, and elevated his rank to major general.
Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and chief U.S. negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal, writes, “Sanctions don’t end malign behavior. They can focus choices including coming to negotiate. But Iran highly unlikely to negotiate with Donald Trump. More likely Iran waits for 2020 election. Resistance is often watchword.”
FDD’s Mark Dubowitz told The Washington Post, “Without oil exports to generate hard currency, the Iranian government will face severe budgetary pressure that will force it to choose between guns for its terrorist proxies and butter for its people. If it doesn’t return to negotiations, it could face economic collapse as America’s maximum pressure campaign intensifies.”
VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the incoming opposition leader, Benny Gantz, released similar statements welcoming the U.S. decision. “The decision of President Trump and the American administration is of great importance in increasing the pressure on the Iranian terrorist regime,” Netanyahu said in a brief on-camera statement.
Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Affairs officials are concerned that Israel will be seen as taking sides in the 2020 presidential election by defending Trump’s actions against Iran while the Democratic hopefuls vow to return to the nuclear deal.
Colin Kahl, who was national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, wrote on Twitter, “In Israel last month, people close to Netanyahu told me their top objective was to encourage Trump to pressure Iran to the point that it exits the nuclear deal so it can’t be put back together by a Democratic administration in 2021.”
REPORT — In a closed-door meeting with Iranian-American community leaders last Monday, Secretary Pompeo said the Trump administration is “not going to do a military exercise inside Iran” to expedite a regime change, Axios’s Jonathan Swan reported. When asked by the group how he could guarantee that the Trump administration’s tough new sanctions wouldn’t hurt the people of Iran, Pompeo replied: “There are no guarantees.”
The Trump administration is offering rewards of up to $10 million for information that disrupts the finances of Hezbollah, such as the names of donors and financiers, bank records, customs receipts or evidence of real estate transactions. The payments will be made by the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program that usually offers cash for information leading to the whereabouts of wanted terrorists.
ON THE HILL — Jewish Dems working to organize Congressional Jewish Caucus — by JI‘s Jacob Kornbluh and Laura Kelly: A new effort is underway to create a Jewish caucus in Congress, to more forcefully respond to a rise in antisemitic incidents and rhetoric. Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress and a longtime donor to Democratic candidates told Jewish Insider that he came forward following “Israel-bashing” from “ultra-left progressives” in Congress.
Jewish House Democrats acknowledged to Jewish Insider that they regularly meet in an informal working group to discuss issues related to antisemitism.
The informal group — led by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) — has met for years, said Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), who has attended meetings since she was first elected in 2013. Frankel said that discussions about formalizing the caucus have come up in recent weeks, particularly following the statements made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN), who is part of the informal Jewish working group, called their meetings “as important now as ever,” and echoed Rep. Frankel that discussions are happening over whether to formalize. Phillips said it would be a group decision whether to include Jewish Republican members. “I can tell you my personal mission is to broaden conversations and coalitions and that means extending invitations and I would certainly, personally, like to see such a caucus more broad, rather than less.”
Rosen, for his part, said the lack of congressional action against Rep. Omar is a driving force behind the public call for a formalized Jewish caucus, stressing that despite the fact that Jewish members serve in senior leadership positions, “they failed in passing a resolution specifically condemning antisemitism. Had there been a Jewish Caucus, they would have walked into the Speaker’s office unified as the Black Caucus did and there could have been a different outcome.”[JewishInsider]
Halie Soifer, Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), tells JI, “To the extent the Jewish members of Congress believe a Jewish Caucus is needed or would make their voice more effective, it is something that JDCA would certainly support.”
RJC National Chair Norm Coleman emails us: “I’m not looking for a Congressional Jewish Caucus. I’m looking for members of Congress to call out Ilhan Omar for repetitive antisemitic tropes and to support her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I’m wary of members of Congress taking cover on the antisemitism issue by joining an American Jewish Caucus, rather than personally speaking out against Rep. Omar and others for antisemitic words and actions.”
PROFILE — The New York Times’s Carol Giacomo profiles Reps. Max Rose (D-NY) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), two freshmen with extensive national security backgrounds and members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition. “Though Mr. Rose and Ms. Spanberger don’t see eye-to-eye on every issue — he opposed the Iran nuclear deal, she supported it, for example — they share an easy friendship, a desire to address problems in a nonpartisan way and a determination to prove Congress can actually get things done,” Giacomo writes.
HEARD LAST NIGHT — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) commented on Netanyahu’s re-election during a live CNN town hall in New Hampshire.
Shelly Tsirulik, a student at Harvard University, asked Sanders: You have been an outspoken critic of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet Israel is also one of America’s most important allies in the world. Given that Prime Minister Netanyahu just won another term in office, how do you plan to maintain the strong U.S.-Israel relationship despite those critiques?
Sanders: “Look, what I have said over and over again, and I repeat to you: I happened to, as a young man your age, I spent a number of months in Israel. I worked on a kibbutz for a while. I have family in Israel. I am not anti-Israel. But the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who, I think, is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly.” (applause)
“What I believe, you know, the U.S. gives billions of dollars in military aid to Israel — what I believe is not radical — I just believe that the U.S. should deal with the Middle East on a level-playing-field basis. In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing — dare I say — racist government.”
“I am 100 percent pro-Israel. Israel has every right in the world to exist, and to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks. But the United States needs to deal not just with Israel but with the Palestinian people as well.” [JewishInsider; Video]
2020 WATCH ― Joe Biden’s planned announcement of his 2020 candidacy on Wednesday has been pushed back… Yet Biden has already begun accepting financial donations… LA Mayor Eric Garcetti accompanied Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) on a tour of the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa Del Rey as part of Booker’s 2020 “Justice for All Tour” on Monday…
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) announced he’s running for president on Monday… Moulton hopes that his emphasis on national security issues will help him break out in a diverse and crowded field… President Trump has privately praised Bernie Sanders’s ability to ignite his base and draw a large crowd and his impressive track record with small-dollar donors… Israel has become a political minefield for 2020 candidates, writes Allison Kaplan Sommer.
When Your Living Room Becomes A 2020 Campaign Stage — by Clay Masters: “’It’s pretty surreal that you can have a candidate running for president in your living room,’ says Liz Adelman, who recently hosted Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) at her Des Moines, Iowa, home. ‘We’ve done this before, so I kind of knew the drill of what to expect in terms of food and put everything in cabinets to hide,’ says Adelman.” [NPR]
Trump wins over big donors who snubbed him in 2016 ― by Alex Isenstadt: “The effort involves scores of high-powered businessmen, lobbyists and former ambassadors who raised big money for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney — and who are now preparing to tap their expansive networks for Trump after rebuffing his first presidential bid… Trump aides are especially keen to make inroads with Jeb Bush’s massive funding network.”
“Vice President Mike Pence has been wooing an array of well-heeled former Trump critics in recent weeks. During a gathering of major givers at the iconic Pebble Beach golf course last month, the vice president lavished praise on hedge fund manager Paul Singer and huddled privately with investment banker Warren Stephens, both of whom donated millions to a super PAC devoted to stopping Trump from winning the Republican nomination in 2016.” [Politico]• Concerns mount over Jared Kushner’s role in GOP money machine [YahooNews]
TRANSITION — Reid Epstein of the Wall Street Journal and Katie Glueck of McClatchy were hired by the NYTimes to cover the 2020 presidential race.
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH ― Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt writes… “Care About Gaza? Blame Hamas: Whether or not we achieve a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the future of Gaza cannot be addressed and the people of Gaza cannot be helped in any meaningful way until Hamas is no longer in the picture or makes the necessary choices for stability and, eventually, peace.” [NYTimes]
Foreign Policy’s Colum Lynch published a confidential email on Friday that Jared Kushner sent on January 11, 2018 to the administration’s top brass, trying to persuade then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to support the elimination of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). “It’s very important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote, linking to a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “This perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”
Kushner also suggested that the U.S. should use aid sent to those countries that voted for the UN resolution rebuking the U.S. over its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to cover the costs of U.S funding for UNRWA. “POTUS and Ambassador [Nikki] Haley said it would be a new day at the UN and we were taking names,” he wrote in the email.
Outgoing French Ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud in a revealing interview with The Atlantic’s Yara Bayoumy: “I’m close to Jared Kushner… Everywhere in the history of mankind, when there is a negotiation between two sides, the more powerful [party] is imposing terms on the weaker party. That’s the basis of Jared Kushner’s [peace plan] — it will be a proposal very close to what the Israelis want. Is it doomed to fail? I should say 99 percent yes, but 1 percent, you never forget the 1 percent. Trump is uniquely able to push the Israelis, because he is so popular in Israel… Once Trump told Macron, ‘I have given everything to the Israelis; the Israelis will have to give me something.’ He is totally transactional. He is more popular than [Benjamin] Netanyahu in Israel, so the Israelis trust him. That’s the first bet, Kushner told me.”
Bayoumy: How do you feel Kushner approached the peace plan?
Araud: “He is totally in real-estate mode. He is totally dry. He’s extremely smart, but he has no guts. He doesn’t know the history. And in a sense, it’s good — we are not here to say who is right, who is wrong; we are trying to find a way. So in a sense, I like it, but at the same time he is so rational, and he is so pro-Israeli also, that he may neglect the point that if you offer the Palestinians the choice between surrendering and committing suicide, they may decide the latter.” [TheAtlantic]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Five directors of Bed Bath & Beyond will step down, including co-founders Warren Eisenberg and Leonard Feinstein, to settle a proxy battle [WSJ] • WeWork is replacing its chief operating officer to focus more on overseas growth [Recode] • Partners Split as Long-Delayed Hotel Bossert Applies for Liquor License [Brownstoner] • Matthew Bronfman is backing a new venture to lend spirits wood-aged character in hours, instead of years [Forbes]
MORE BRIEFS: Leslie Wexner’s L Brands says hedge fund to withdraw board nominees after reaching agreement [Reuters; WWD] • Giant new investment led by Yuri Milner’s DST will make Dan Gilbert’s StockX the first billion-dollar sneaker reseller [Recode] • James Cohen, the CEO of Hudson Media, to buy National Enquirer for $100M [WashPost] • Lily Safra and Françoise Bettencourt Meyers pledge $134 million toward restoring Notre Dame [ToI]
SPOTLIGHT — Clare Bronfman Pleads Guilty in Nxivm ‘Sex Cult’ Case, Leaving Leader to Stand Trial Alone — by Colin Moynihan and Barry Meier: “Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, was among the most high-profile members of a cultlike organization in which some women were branded and compelled to have sex with the leader… Ms. Bronfman is the youngest daughter of Edgar Bronfman, the former chairman of Seagram Company who died in 2013.” [NYTimes]
TALK OF OUR NATION — Jeffrey Finkelstein, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, has been selected by Israel’s Ministerial Committee on Symbols and Ceremonies to carry the Diaspora torch at Israel’s 71st Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem on Sunday, May 19th. “He represents ‘the tree of life’, the growing spirit of brotherhood and human togetherness, and the great soul of our Diaspora brothers and sisters,” Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev said in a statement.
TALK OF THE TOWN — World Jewish Congress condemns revival of folk tradition in Poland as antisemitic: “A video published by local website Express Jaroslawski showed several dozen locals watching on as an effigy of the disciple Judas was beaten and burned. The tradition, first reported in the 18th century, was revived on the Christian holiday of Good Friday in the southeastern town of Pruchnik after several years… In the past the Catholic church has banned the practice over the aggression involved. “Jews are deeply disturbed by this ghastly revival of medieval antisemitism that led to unimaginable violence and suffering,” World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer said in a statement.” [Reuters] • U.S. ambassador’s Passover wishes in Polish met with anger [AP]
LONG READ — Cities of Ice: A dispatch from frozen Harbin, China, where Jews once flourished — and melted away — by Dara Horn: “Ehud Olmert’s visit to Harbin in 2004 as Israel’s deputy prime minister was a big deal, but the (fake) synagogue built in his honor at the (also fake) cemetery was just one part of an enormous and expensive project on the part of the local provincial government to restore Jewish Heritage Sites. The government’s explicit goal is to attract Jewish money, in the form of both tourism and investment by foreign Jews… But in Harbin, where Russian Jews created their own Russian Jewish bubble, their sense of ownership and pride was greater — and that pride turned the story of their community’s destruction into a footnote. Of the Harbintsy descendants I interviewed, most mentioned friends or relatives who were kidnapped, tortured or murdered during the Japanese occupation. All had their family’s hard-earned assets seized by Manchuria’s various regimes.” [Tablet]
CAMPUS BEAT — Antisemitism at NYU — by Susan Shapiro: “Last week the university gave a President’s Service Award to Students for Justice in Palestine for its ‘positive impact on the community.’ SJP is known for pushing BDS, demonizing Israel and leading a boycott of Zionist student clubs… NYU President Andrew Hamilton has called academic boycotts of Israel ‘contrary to our core principles of academic freedom, antithetical to the free exchange of ideas, and at odds with the university’s position.’ He didn’t attend the SJP award ceremony, and NYU insisted the prize was decided by ‘volunteer staffers and a student representative.’” [WSJ]
CULTURE — David Brooks writes… “There Should Be More Rituals! The philosopher Abraham Kaplan calculated that over 60 percent of Judaism’s 613 commandments involve physical ritual: lighting candles, ritual baths, etc. These deeds are a kind of language, a way of expressing things that are too deep for words… Rituals also force a pause. Many wise people self-consciously divide their life into chapters, and they focus on the big question of what this chapter is for. Rituals encourage you to be more intentional about life.” [NYTimes]
My Matzo Ball Revelation — by Noa Tishby: “This past Friday, at our Seder dinner, our meal started as per usual — with my chicken soup and matzo balls. One of my guests, a new friend, looked down at her bowl in puzzlement. ‘Are these…matzo balls?’ she asked. She had the same reaction I had when I saw the American Ball for the first time. ‘Yes’ I replied. ‘This is how we make them in Israel: hard, chewy, and full of spices and flavors.’ My friend, who had coincidentally just returned from visiting Israel for the first time, started laughing. ‘Ha!’ she said. ‘These matzo balls are just like Israelis!’ I put my spoon down and looked at her. Good God, I thought, she’s right. The difference between an American Matzo Ball and an Israeli Matzo Ball is startlingly similar to the difference between Americans and Israelis.” [Tablet]
DESSERT — Now Your Jerky Is Vegan and Made of Mushrooms — by Anne Marie Chaker: “Sales of meat-based jerky rose 5.6% to $1 billion in the year ending Feb. 24, according to SPINS, which tracks food sales in supermarkets and specialty stores. And while plant-based ‘meat’ snack sales were small in comparison, they grew 13.3% to $4 million. Whole Foods Market says it will expand into plant-based jerky items over the next year, to ‘hopefully bring an entirely new consumer into this category,’ says Jason Krolikowski, a senior global category merchant.” [WSJ]
BIRTHDAYS: Literary critic, essayist, philosopher, novelist, Holocaust scholar and educator, George Steiner turns 90… Stage, television and film actor Alan Oppenheimer turns 89… Marim Weissman turns 80… Owner of Council Bluffs, Iowa-based Ganeeden Metals, a multi-generational scrap metal recycling firm, Harold Edelman turns 80… Oberlin, Ohio resident Patricia Ann Haumann turns 75… Retired real estate brokerage executive, he held leadership positions at Merrill Lynch Realty, Prudential California Realty and Fox & Carskadon, Terry Pullan turns 69… Retail industry analyst and portfolio manager at Berman Capital, he is the former president of JCPenney Credit Services and VP of credit at Macy’s, Steve Kernkraut turns 69… Health services researcher focused on smoking cessation programs for women, maternal health and child health, Judith Katzburg, PhD, MPH, RN, turns 66…
Deputy Director of NCSEJ, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, Lesley L. Weiss turns 65… Chairman of edutech firm Weird Science Lab based at the University of Oxford, Gary Pickholz turns 61… Uruguayan-born author, software developer and entrepreneur, co-founder of Gryphon Software, author of a book on the history of antisemitism, Gabriel Wilensky turns 55… CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, he is the primary proponent world-wide of the Magnitsky Act, Bill Browder turns 55… DC-based Executive Director of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center, Nathan J. Diament turns 52… Heiress and businesswoman, style and image director for the Estée Lauder Companies, Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer turns 49… Director General of Aish HaTorah, Rabbi Steven Burg turns 47… SVP of government relations at the Council on Foundations until February 2019, he was previously the director of Bend the Arc and a VP at J Street, Hadar Susskind turns 46…
Program officer at Maimonides Fund, she was previously Israel Program Officer for the Helmsley Charitable Trust, Ariella Saperstein turns 36… Founder and CEO at 90 West, a Boston-based strategic communications firm, Alexander Goldstein turns 35… Co-founder of Edgeline Films, he co-directed and co-produced Weiner, a documentary about Anthony Weiner’s campaign for Mayor of NYC in 2013, Joshua Kriegman turns 39… Digital director at Republican Jewish Coalition, Neil Boylan Strauss turns 34… Editor at T Brand Studio, a custom content studio that is a unit of The New York Times, Alexis Kleinmanturns 29… Former University of Michigan quarterback, now at Coatue Management in NYC, Alex Swieca turns 27… CEO at Khan Theatre, Jerusalem’s repertoire-theatre located near the Railway Station, she was previously CEO of the Jerusalem-based non-profit New Spirit, Elisheva Mazya… VP of marketing for Israel365 and the editorial director for Breaking Israel News, Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman…