IRAN STRATEGY? — President Trump is struggling to present a unified message on his administration’s strategy in dealing with Iran. Senators from both sides of the aisle demanded answers on the decision to order the departure of embassy staff from Iraq and requested intelligence briefings on the situation.
Congressional leaders are expected to be briefed about the situation in the Gulf region by Trump administration officials today. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already stated on Wednesday that the U.S. must avoid war with Iran, and declared that the administration has “no business” moving toward a confrontation with Iran without congressional approval.
The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials told the New York Times. A U.S. official toldCNN that the reported meeting between members of Trump’s national security team to discuss military options “was driven by an interest in being ready for anything.”
Similarly, while remaining largely silent on the matter, Netanyahu convened a security meeting on the growing tension in the gulf and ordered Israel’s security and intelligence chiefs to boost monitoring of Iranian forces and pro-Iranian militias in the region, Ch. 13’s Barak Ravid reported. At the same time, Netanyahu is said to be making every effort not to get dragged into the U.S.-Iran escalation and would not interfere directly in the situation, according to Israeli officials.
REPORT — President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisers, who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Trump prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving tensions, according to administration officials, and wants to speak directly with Iran’s leaders. Despite the recent action, the president is not inclined to respond forcefully unless there is a “big move” from the Iranians, a senior White House official told the newspaper.
Additionally, the administration is considering another sanctions package designed to destabilize the Iranian regime, undermine the ayatollah, and, potentially, serve as an alternative to military action.
Wendy Sherman, chief U.S. negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal, writes… “How to Stop the March to War With Iran: Although bipartisanship is scarce, caution in sending American troops abroad remains a common cause. Both houses of Congress should immediately hold hearings on the leaked war plans… Congress should agree to whoever the administration sends and include in the hearing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs or his designee. This hearing should be public, but Congress should also welcome a classified session to discuss leaked intelligence alleging plots by Iran.”[NYTimes]
WSJ Editorial Board writes… “Trump is trying to protect U.S. interests, not start a war: Who does Ms. Sherman want to stand in the way of Gen. Qassem Soleimani? …Even as the U.S. abided by the nuclear deal, Gen. Soleimani fed the war in Yemen against the Saudis, intervened to save Bashar Assad’s murderous regime in Syria, tried to establish a terror beachhead in southern Syria against Israel, expanded ballistic-missile production, and financed the terrorist militias of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Denying Iran the trade and money to finance this adventurism is a major reason Mr. Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal before Mr. Bolton was even in his current White House position.” [WSJ]
VIEW FROM TEHRAN — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarifinsisted on Wednesday that Iran is exercising “maximum restraint in spite of the fact the United States withdrew from [the] JCPOA last May.” He further called the reimposition of economic sanctions on Tehran “unacceptable.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was spotted on Wednesday walking around the Capitol with her iPhone screen facing outward in full view, and Zarif’s contact page on the screen, Politico Playbook reports.
Asked if the senator has been talking with the Iranian foreign minister, Tom Mentzer told Politico: “I can’t comment on who the senator does or doesn’t speak with.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Feinstein said in a statement: “War isn’t necessary to solve a problem when both sides want a solution. I urge Secretary Pompeo to reach out to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who I know doesn’t want to see a conflict with the United States.”
HEARD YESTERDAY — Former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot discussed the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, Israel’s challenges in the Middle East and the importance of maintaining security coordination with the Palestinian Authority during his inaugural presentation at the Washington Institute, where he serves as a visiting fellow, in Washington, D.C.
On the Iran deal: While the 2015 nuclear agreement was a “strategic turning point” in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, it allowed Israeli defense forces to shift resources to deal with the threats from Hezbollah in Lebanon and prevent the Iranians from establishing a permanent presence in Syria. “Maybe, the window has been closed right now” with the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, Eisenkot suggested. “Without sanctions and designations we will continue to see the Iranians try to achieve nuclear capabilities and regional hegemony,” Eizenkot said.
Stressing the importance of Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, the former IDF chief warned that there “will be a lot of friction” between the two sides if this were to end. “There will be clashes every day, in several places” across the West Bank. “I think it’s a common interest. Abu Mazen (Abbas) knows exactly what the situation will be without coordination and cooperation. First of all, it’s a Palestinian interest, but it’s also an Israeli interest.” [Video]
HEARD THE OTHER DAY — New York Times columnist Bret Stephens described himself as a “trans” when it comes to his view of President Trump’s conduct as president during a keynote address at the annual American Friends of Migdal Ohr (AFMO) gala held in Midtown Manhattan on Tuesday night.
“Wherever you stand politically — you like the president, you don’t like the president, or — in my case — you’re kind of trans, depending on the day of the week — no matter where you stand, this is a deeply troubled country,” Stephens said, comparing the state of the union with the current standing of Israel…“It has dawned on me that it’s not Israel that is in a position of crisis. It is the West that’s in crisis. The West is in crisis because it is following policies that are not in keeping with its values and deep traditions. So, I worry about what is happening in Europe and in the U.S. a great deal. I do not worry about Israel. When a country shows that it is willing to put a prime minister in prison — the last one, or a president in prison — the last one, or maybe a current prime minister, eventually, in prison, you know that that country is actually doing quite well. It puts its values first.” [JewishInsider]
TALK OF OUR NATION — U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman fired back at criticism for suggesting that ‘Israel is on the side of God’ in remarks he made on Tuesday. “The remark reflected a common belief among evangelical Christians, but was also the latest sign of an anything but evenhanded approach to the conflict by the Trump administration,” New York Times reporter David Halbfinger wrote in an article featuring Friedman’s comments. “As the supposed ambassador of the United States government and all its people, it is an extremely inappropriate comment,” Amb. Daniel Kurtzer told the Times.
Speaking to a group of evangelical faith leaders at the Aish Hatorah World Center in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Friedman said that, “apparently, there was nothing more offensive I could have said to the New York Times.”
“Most of the prophecies are about the return of the nation of Israel to their land. And it is happening in our lifetime,” Friedman explained. “So where am I off in saying that God is on the side of Israel? The fact that God has fulfilled his prophecies and delivered the people of Israel to their land is demonstrably true.”
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles tells us by email: “I understand what the ambassador is trying to say, but I would remind him of Joshua 5:13: ‘Once Joshua was near Jericho and saw a man standing before him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and said ‘Are you on our side or our enemies?’ He replied: ‘No. I am a Captain of God’s host.’ God is the Creator of all. Bigger than sides.”
ON THE HILL — by JI’s Laura Kelly: House Democrats promised on Wednesday to move forward a resolution opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. This comes as Republicans announced yesterday the ripening of an anti-BDS discharge petition.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said a resolution opposing BDS, introduced by Rep. Brad Schneider’s (D-IL), would make its way out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, The Hill reported, where it was referred in March.
“I have a BDS bill on the floor, we’ve got 260 sponsors, it’s bipartisan, that’s my focus,” Rep. Schneider tells Jewish Insider.
Yet the Schneider resolution is a separate effort from the legislation House Republicans are lobbying to bring to a vote. The GOP bill, “Combating BDS Act of 2019,” allows state governments to refuse business with individuals or companies participating in an economic boycott of Israel.
On Wednesday, Republicans doubled down on accusations of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment in the Democratic party. “Members of the House Democratic caucus are attempting to erode our long-standing support by spreading anti-Israel and antisemitic beliefs,” said Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY).
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) said, “Even here in the United States and in fact, unfortunately, even here in the United States Congress… you have members of Congress expressing antisemitic views on a regular basis now and also embracing and supporting this Boycott and Divestment movement.”
Republicans need to collect 218 signatures to bring their legislation to the floor for a vote, including around 20 Democrats. A similar bill introduced in the 115th Congress, the Combating BDS Act of 2017, had over 30 Democratic co-sponsors. Yet Democrats are unlikely to support the Republican bill, even if they oppose BDS. A spokesman for Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), a co-sponsor of the 2017 Act, said he won’t sign the Republican petition.
The Moderate House Women Who Want Voters to Know They Exist Too — by Elaine Godfrey: “‘From my perspective, there has been an overwhelming focus on a small number of members in our caucus who did not flip seats, who did not help win the House,’ Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) said at a recent breakfast announcing the effort in Washington, D.C. While she did not name names, Slotkin was likely referring to Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Omar—all of whom were elected in solidly blue districts last November. (Slotkin’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment seeking clarification as to whom she was speaking.) She told the room that her constituents ‘want more pragmatic voices sticking up for us. And we don’t see enough of that [in Congress].'” [TheAtlantic]
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — The editor-in-chief of a Saudi newspaper is urging the Palestinians to keep an open mind toward Trump’s peace plan. Faisal Abbas wrote in the Arab News on Wednesday that while the cards have been stacked against the Palestinians, the plan just may reverse the situation and make peace more possible. “The Palestinians should negotiate hard, and then take what they can to secure a nation state for future generations.”
White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt addressed the plan at the World Jewish Congress’s annual governing board meeting in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday. “Israelis should look at it from the position that they have a tremendous friend in the White House. This plan is coming from a close friend,” Greenblatt told the group. [Pic]
Greenblatt also posted a direct plea to Palestinian leadership on Twitter: “Reports claim PA PM Shtayyeh said the U.S. wants to defeat Palestinians, force them to surrender & accept a peace plan. False. Our goal is to enable the parties to achieve peace, not force it. Only they can achieve it. PM Shtayyeh-why are you against exploring a chance for peace?”
SCENE IN JERUSALEM — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti disclosed in a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin that his mother is the second cousin (twice removed) of former prime minister David Ben-Gurion. [Pic] Garcetti is leading a delegation of U.S. mayors on a weeklong trip to Israel with the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange.
BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided conclusively to advance legislation that will ensure he cannot be prosecuted so long as he remains in office, Ch. 12 reported. Netanyahu was quoted as saying to Likud officials that an immunity law would permit him “to be a full-time prime minister and to serve the public without concern for the moment over [my] legal fate.”
J STREET 2020 POLL — A plurality of Democratic primary voters — 41 percent — have a favorable view of Israel, according to a new poll commissioned by J Street published on Wednesday. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they believe one can be critical of the Israeli government’s policies and still be pro-Israel, and 75 percent are more likely to back a candidate who supports both Israel and the Palestinians. Joe Biden was also the clear favorite for president by 36 percent of primary voters.
The poll also found that more than 7 out of 10 Democrats have either not heard enough about or have no opinion regarding the BDS movement against Israel. Among those who expressed an opinion, 13 percent oppose it and 12 percent support it. When it comes to anti-BDS legislation, a majority of Democrats — by a 54 to 22 percentage point margin — oppose laws “that penalize people who boycott Israel.” [JewishInsider]
2020 WATCH — NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday morning that he is launching a White House bid… De Blasio is heading to Iowa and South Carolina over the weekend… Joe Biden scheduled his first NYC fundraising swing for June 17-18… Biden chose Philadelphia for his campaign headquarters… On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Biden straddledbetween the past and the present… Sen. Kamala Harris said Wednesday she could envision joining forces with Biden in 2020 — with him as her vice presidential running mate…
Steve Bullock is drawing Hollywood A-list support… Obama’s ad-maker signed on with Pete Buttigieg… Howard Schultz is delaying his decision on 2020, Biden the factor.
How the Media Fell Out of Love with Beto — by Peter Hamby: “If O’Rourke’s favorable attention in the press drifted elsewhere, it’s toward Buttigieg, another candidate who embodies generational change. ‘I put O’Rourke and Pete in the new-and-young category,’ said Barney Frank, the former Massachusetts congressman. ‘They have much less experience, but both succeed in attracting a lot of favorable attention because of their novelty. But I do think O’Rourke made a decision early on that he was going to not be involved in the grubbier aspects of the campaign, part of which is talking to reporters. Buttigieg said the opposite. And on top of that, Buttigieg has advantage over O’Rourke because he is gay, and there is a strong sentiment among Democrats and some in the media to show a repudiation of anti-gay sentiment.’ Frank, who is gay, was giving a more diplomatic answer than the line he gave to the Boston Globe recently: ‘I think Beto O’Rourke may be regretting that he’s straight.'”
“Being a straight white man offers a leg up in American life in every conceivable way. Frank, though, was suggesting that with parts of the Democratic electorate, it might actually be a hurdle. It’s a weird claim to make with Biden, a 76-year-old white man, sitting on a 30-point lead in the campaign. But looked at through the lens of Buttigieg’s rise and O’Rourke’s slide, it makes sense. Reporters and pundits are swimming in the same powerful Twitter waters as progressive activists, whose demands are shaping the journalism being pumped into the world at any given minute, in conscious and unconscious ways. Accusations of privilege have forced O’Rourke into apologizing for a litany of perceived transgressions: his Vanity Fair interview, his whiteness, his cringey joke that he “sometimes” helps Amy raise their children.” [VanityFair]
MEDIA WATCH — A 17-year-old politics junkie scooped Bill de Blasio on news of his own presidential launch — by Isaac Stanley-Becker: “Gabe Fleisher, the 17-year-old whose ‘Wake Up To Politics’ newsletter reaches 50,000 people each weekday, was scrolling through a politics blog after school — ‘I did my homework, too,’ he maintained — when a small item caught his eye. He paused. It was an announcement from a local wing of the Democratic Party in Sioux City, Iowa, inviting members to see de Blasio on Friday at the mayor’s ‘first stop on his Presidential announcement tour.’ The finding threw an elaborately choreographed launch into disarray. The Democrat had been scheduled to lift the curtain on his candidacy on the morning talk show, fending off the press until then. Gabe posted an image of the notice on Twitter, and, with that, ‘the cat was out of the bag,’ he said in an interview Wednesday night.” [WashPost]
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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Condé Nast Sells Brides Magazine to Barry Diller’s Dotdash [NYTimes] • Jeffrey Katzenberg’s streaming service Quibi seeks up to $1 billion in new funding [TheInformation] • WeWork Continues to Lose Money Ahead of Potential I.P.O. [Dealbook; FinancialTimes] • Larry Silverstein might build 2 WTC on spec [RealDeal] • David Tepper and Seth Klarman have increased their bets on bankrupt California utility giant PG&E Corp. [Bloomberg]
MORE BRIEFS: Joe Sitt’s Thor wants $370M for Madison Ave retail condo[RealDeal] • Trump’s prized Doral resort is in steep decline, according to company documents, showing his business problems are mounting [WashPost] • Metropolitan Museum of Art says it will no longer accept gifts from Sackler family [NBCNews] • Accel closes $575M fund to double down on European and Israeli Series A deals [TechCrunch]
PROFILE — Facebook Is Producing A New Generation Of Alumni Investors. This Time, Women Are In Charge — by Alex Konrad: “When the #MeToo movement reached Silicon Valley in the summer of 2017, former Facebook executive Alison Rosenthal wanted to do something — maybe leave Silicon Valley to run for office or work in policy full-time. Then the onetime professional cyclist remembered a lesson from her former coach: ‘Race your strengths; train your weaknesses.’ Rosenthal was impressed by work groups like All Raise were doing to promote more female tech entrepreneurs and investors. But she felt that ‘nonobvious’ founders were still left out… The result is Leadout Capital, a new $27 million fund that focuses on investing in pre-seed and seed-stage startups whose founders come from, or cater to, underserved communities. With Rosenthal, age 42, as managing partner, and a group of early ex-Facebook employees as investors, Leadout Capital has already made five investments and counts Melinda Gates and TPG Capital co-CEO Jon Winkelried as investors.” [Forbes]
PODCAST PLAYBACK — MSNBC‘s Chris Hayes spoke with historian Deborah Lipstadt about the centuries-old roots of antisemitism on his podcast Why Is This Happening?:
Hayes: God. I think about these decisions that you make in your life. I mean, that’s the thing also to me, that the lesson of the endurance of antisemitism, but also antisemitism as a eliminationist, murderous, violent ideology, is just that the line between peaceful coexistence and pogrom is a thin one.
Lipstadt: “It’s a very thin one and it can be displaced, it can be erased. The line can be erased by circumstances, by economic pressure. I often compare antisemitism to a herpes virus. And I know herpes virus is a horrible thing to have. Thank God I don’t but I know people who do, but it’s a terrible thing and the truth of the matter is that, from what I understand medically, once you have it you’re never quite free of it. And under pressure, at difficult times, you know, the day before your wedding, you could suddenly have an outbreak, whenever it might be you’re under pressure. And I think that antisemitism is like that. It sits in the society and at pressured times it can be unleashed. But it’s not just pressured times. It’s also if there are people in authority, leaders, who enable it, who don’t condemn it, who themselves may not be antisemites.”
“I have a chapter in my book. It’s written as letters, so I have one letter about Jeremy Corbyn who at that point I said I wasn’t sure if he was an antisemite. Now I’m a little less dubious about it. And Donald Trump is at the other end of the spectrum. I don’t think Donald Trump is an antisemite, not at all. But I do think he has shown, at times, a distinct failure to criticize the people on the far right who are engaging in these kind of actions, even if they’re just engaging in the rhetoric. Because we know the rhetoric leads to violence.” [NBCNews]
SCENE YESTERDAY — In the Kennedy Room of the Russell Senate Office Building, Democratic Senators and Representatives celebrated American Jewry on Wednesday in a ceremony marking Jewish American Heritage Month and honoring businessman and philanthropist Harley Lippman. [Pic; Pic]
In attendance: UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba, Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Doug Jones (D-AL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); and from the House, Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Brad Schneider (D-IL).Assistant Secretary of Treasury David Eisner spoke representing the Trump Administration.
ACROSS THE SEA — Countries banning kosher meat are forcing ‘expulsion’ of Jews, says U.S. anti-Semitism envoy: “The United States envoy against anti-Semitism has condemned the spread of legislation in Europe that limits the slaughter of animals according to Jewish religious tradition as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘intolerable,’ claiming such laws are forcing the expulsion of Jewish communities. Elan Carr, President Donald Trump’s anti-Semitism ambassador, made the comments while speaking at the Conference of European Rabbis in the Belgian city of Antwerp, Monday… ‘This is nothing but a forced expulsion of Jewish communities from the countries that adopt such legislation. A forced expulsion and it is intolerable,’ Carr said.” [Newsweek]
DESSERT — A Chic New Kosher Cafe Debuts This Month Near the Galleria in Dallas, Texas — by Rachel Pinn: “In the coming weeks, the Market Local Comfort Cafe will bring a bounty of Kosher dining options to a space in North Dallas. The restaurant is a project of chef Jordona Kohn and co-owner Stacy Clark, and will open its doors on May 24. The Market Local Comfort Cafe will focus on being inclusive, no matter their guests’ dietary preferences.” [EaterDallas]
BIRTHWEEK: Owner and President of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings since 2004, he is the Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, Mark Wilfturned 57 on Wednesday.
BIRTHDAYS: Real estate developer and mechutan of Donald Trump, Charles Kushner turns 65… Real estate mogul, owner of The Jaffa hotel in Israel and collector of modern and contemporary art, Aby J. Rosen turns 59… Managing partner at Accretive LLC, a private equity firm, he was previously the CEO of Warner Music Group, Edgar Bronfman Jr. turns 64… Retired judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City (1986-2003), she has served as President and Chair of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Ellen Moses Heller turns 78… Special Assistant to VPOTUS Walter Mondale (1977-1981), later Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (1989-1993), Bernard W. Aronson turns 73…
Longest serving member of the New York State Assembly (since 1971), his district includes portions of Manhattan, he was a high school classmate of Representative Jerrold Nadler, Richard N. Gottfried turns 72… Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, Andrew Lack turns 72… Member of the House of Representatives since 2013 (D-FL-21), she was previously the Mayor of West Palm Beach (2003-2011), Lois Frankel turns 71… Harvard history professor, a member of the Rothschild banking family of England, Emma Georgina Rothschild turns 71… Proto-punk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Jonathan Richman turns 65… Film and stage actress, noted for “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982) and “Terms of Endearment” (1983), Debra Winger turns 64…
President of Tribe Media, publisher and editor of the Jewish Journal, David Suissa turns 63… Executive assistant at Los Angeles-based FaceCake Marketing Technologies, Esther Bushey turns 58… Social entrepreneur, independent scholar and local civic leader, he earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from UCSB and is a co-founder of non-profit Jumpstart, Jonathan Shawn Landres turns 47… Actress, television personality and author, Victoria Davey (Tori) Spelling turns 46… Author, actor and host of Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, Adam Richman turns 45… Senior Counsel at CNN and Turner Broadcasting, Drew Shenkman turns 37… Communications director at America Rising PAC, Jeff Bechdel turns 33… Harriet L. Caplan…