Daily Kickoff

2020 Dems on Israel and human rights | Sen. Feinstein’s husband calls BS on BDS | Kushner to use marketing videos in Bahrain

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

White House adviser Jared Kushner stands up as he is recognized by President Donald Trump at the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 1, 2019.

Tell your friends to sign up for the Daily Kickoff here or for early 7AM access via Debut Inbox

2020 DEMS ON ISRAEL — Twenty-one Democratic presidential candidates discussed their views on Israel in interviews with The New York Times. Each candidate responded to the prompt: Do you believe Israel meets the international standards of human rights?

The following are highlights of how some candidates replied: 

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro: “I believe that Israel, like a lot of other countries, wants to do the right thing, that they can get better. I do believe that we need to recognize and respect the human rights of the Palestinians. I agree with former Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel has to choose. It’s gonna be a Jewish state or a democratic state. That’s why I believe that a two-state solution is the best solution for Israel. I recognize that has been made harder over the years with the increase of settlements. My hope is that in the upcoming elections, the Israeli people will send a stronger message about the need for a two-state solution.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX): “I know that Israel attempts to meet international standards of human rights. I know that they can do a better job, and that’s not just my opinion, that’s from listening to people in Israel say that about their own country. I think we have a role to play to ensure the safety, the human rights and the dignity of the people of Israel, as well as the people of what will become a state for the Palestinians, right now the Palestinian Authority. We cannot compel or force a two-state solution, but it should be our diplomatic goal, and every resource that we invest, every diplomatic effort should be towards that end. That’s the best way in the long term to guarantee the peace, the stability and the human rights of all people in that region.”

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg: “I think that Israel’s human rights record is problematic and moving in the wrong direction under the current right-wing government. Look, the U.S. can be committed to Israeli security and to the U.S.-Israel alliance while also guiding our ally in a direction that leads toward peace. I am very worried, especially with some of the latest talk about annexation of the West Bank, that their government is moving away from peace in a way that is damaging in the long run to Israeli and Palestinian, and for that matter, American interests.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on whether Israel meets the human rights standards: “Overall, yes.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY):“I do, and I believe that Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East, but we also have to care about her neighbors and make sure that we address the humanitarian crisis throughout communities, including those where the Palestinians live right now.” Read more responses here [JewishInsider]

The Times’ takeaway: “And even as liberals have grown more skeptical about the American relationship with Israel, most of the candidates expressed nuanced views about Israel’s record on human rights and the Palestinians.” [NYTimes]

OF NOTE: Former Vice President Joe Biden didn’t record a video for the Times.

DRIVING THE CONVO — Since delivering the first major foreign policy address of his presidential campaign last week, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has drawn scorn and praise for his comments on Israel. In a series of interviews with Jewish Insider, Jewish leaders shared their views on Mayor Pete’s approach to Israel-related issues.

Mark Mellman, president of Democratic Majority for Israel, emails us: “Mayor Buttigieg has expressed strong support for Israel, for the U.S.-Israel relationship, for continuing U.S. aid to Israel, and for Israel’s right to defend itself in what he recognizes is a very difficult security situation. While some of his comments may sound paternalistic, his heart, and his basic policy approach, seem to be in the right place.”

Susie Gelman, chair of the Israel Policy Forum, tells Jewish Insiderthat she hasn’t “found anything objectionable” about what Buttigieg has said so far on Israel. “I feel like he so far is striking a very good balance when it comes to Israel. I think he is just showing a very measured way of being both pro-Israel but was also reserving the rights — as every administration should have — to make it clear when we have a major disagreement on a policy level with our close friend and ally Israel.”

According to Batya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor at the ForwardButtigieg “has a good sense” of where the majority of the Jewish community is at, “where to press, and where to ease up.”

“One of the most satisfying parts of the 2020 primaries so far has been seeing the entire cohort of Democratic candidates form a consensus view about Israel that directly mirrors the view of the vast majority of American Jews,” Ungar-Sargon explained to Jewish Insider. “Despite a host of hysterical articles about how Democrats are abandoning Israel, or the endless prophecies that Israel will be on the ballot in 2020, every candidate, from Bernie Sanders on the far left to Amy Klobuchar in the center, has expressed the same liberal Zionist view on Israel: They are all pro-Israel, anti-BDS, pro-two-state, and deeply critical of Bibi Netanyahu. To be pro-Israel is to oppose depriving millions under Israel’s rule of civil rights and to insist loudly and proudly on the Jewish right to self-determination. These are not a zero sum game, and it’s a lesson the Democratic Party has clearly internalized, care of the American Jewish community.”

Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic consultant, tells JI: “Like many Democrats, Mayor Pete wants it all ways: whack the Netanyahu government, but make it appear that you are really in your heart an Israel supporter. After the Israelis stop laughing at him, maybe he and the other Democrats who say similarly ridiculous things will stop appearing even more ignorant and foolish.”

Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, tells JI: “I think, without reading into it too much, it’s important to focus on the fact that [Pete Buttigieg] continued to reaffirm U.S. support for a two-state solution, the fact that the embassy is in Jerusalem – I don’t see this as a huge shift, in any way, from what has been U.S. policy.”

“The notion of conditioning aid is something that has not been JDCA’s position, it’s something that we would have to look at in terms of what he actually meant by what he said. He didn’t actually use the word conditioning, he didn’t use the word cutting. So, I think it’s important to better understand what he intended to say when he said the U.S. taxpayer wouldn’t foot the bill. But even that, in terms of him expressing his concern with annexation in general, is consistent with where Democrats and where JDCA has been.” [JewishInsider]

Rep. Andy Levin‏ (D-MI) tweeted on Tuesday: “CODEPINK suggests I’m skipping the AIPAC trip to oppose ‘Apartheid Israel.’ In fact, I’ll be on a family vacation. I support a Jewish, democratic Israel, a two-state solution and Palestinian human rights. I was an anti-apartheid activist; Israel is not an apartheid state.” 

Dianne Feinstein’s Billionaire Husband and His Love Affair With Israel — by Judy Maltz: “Richard C. Blum, the super-wealthy American investment banker and international do-gooder, gushes when you get him on the subject of Israel. ‘I love the country,’ he says. ‘How can you not?’ It is no accident that Israel was the first place he chose outside of the United States to host one of his centers for fighting global poverty, which was the reason for his visit to the Holy Land this week… His fixation on all the good Israel has to offer the world might surprise those who know his wife: For almost 40 years Blum has been married to California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, currently the longest-serving woman in the U.S. Senate and an outspoken critic of this Israeli government.”

“Just a few months ago, Feinstein and Bernie Sanders came out strongly against legislation that would penalize boycotts against Israel… Asked for his own views on BDS, her husband gets right to the point. ‘It’s bulls**t,’ he says. ‘I’m in favor of helping good people wherever they are who are trying to do good in the world. So I don’t care about all that stuff. I really don’t.'” [Haaretz]

AOC FALLOUT — Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates voiced their disagreement over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) choice of words in describing U.S. detention centers on the southern border as ‘concentration camps.’

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s MTP Daily: “They are entirely different realities. I respect her greatly and I feel very close to her in terms of philosophy, but of course she was wrong. You cannot compare what the Nazis did in the concentration camps… It’s a horrible moment in history. There’s no way to compare.” [Video]

On Tuesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told CNN’s OutFront: “I didn’t use that terminology. You know, and again, I have a lot of respect for Alexandria. I think she’s doing a fantastic job. What I will tell you, is that we are locking up children in deplorable conditions, I mean, keeping kids there for weeks in places that are not meant for kids, where children are being traumatized. And that is absolutely unacceptable.” [Video]

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) tweeted“Every American Jew that I know is disgusted by the cruel treatment of children and families at our southern border. If you want to show solidarity with American Jews, help us to stop this, and don’t feign outrage at the language that people use to describe this tragedy.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) tells JI: “[Ocasio-Cortez’s] comments were clearly ludicrous and I think she owes the nation, she owes the world an apology.”

The Yad Vashem museum in Israel suggested that Ocasio-Cortez needed a history lesson. “Concentration camps assured a slave labor supply to help in the Nazi war effort, even as the brutality of life inside the camps helped assure the ultimate goal of ‘extermination through labor,’” Yad Vashem posted on Twitter. “Learn about concentration camps,” linking to the museum’s page on labor and concentration camps.

HEARD ON CABLE — Chuck Todd said during his MTP Daily program: “You can call our government’s detention of migrants many things depending on how you see it. It’s a stain on our nation maybe, a necessary evil to others, a deal with [an] untenable situation perhaps. But do you know what you can’t call it… Congresswoman, tens of thousands were also brutalized, tortured, starved, and ultimately died in concentration camps. Camps like Dachau. If you want to criticize the shameful treatment of people at our southern border, fine. You’ll have plenty of company. But be careful comparing them to Nazi concentration camps because they’re not at all comparable in the slightest.”

“Why are we so sheepish calling out people we agree with politically these days?… Are we really so ensconced in our political bubbles, liberal versus conservative that we cannot talk about right versus wrong anymore? Some things are bigger than partisanship. Or at least they used to be. And in the interim, the crux of what’s truly at stake is lost: What is this country going to do about what’s happening at the border in this humanitarian crisis… She said she didn’t use those words lightly. Well, neither did I.” [Video]

Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter: 
“Well, Chuck Todd — the fact that you slipped in ‘Nazi’ when I never said that is pretty unfortunate. Almost as unfortunate as the fact that you spent this whole time w/o discussing DHS freezers, ‘dog pounds,’ missing children, & human rights abuses that uphold [the] use of this term.” 

IRAN WATCH — Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claims it shot down a U.S. drone Thursday morning when it entered Iranian airspace in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. Two U.S. officials told The Associated Press the incident happened over international airspace in the Strait of Hormuz. 

President Trump has reportedly pushed administration officials to walk back their tough talk on Iran — and reiterate that the U.S. is not gearing up for a war with Iran, The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday.

The Daily Beast also reported that Fox News host Tucker Carlson has privately cautioned Trump against taking military action against Iran.

Meanwhile, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has advised several high-level officials, including President Trump, to strongly consider targeted bombings of Iranian military assets, according to Politico.

In an interview with Politico, Cotton clarified that he “is not advocating for a return to a ground war or a sustained air campaign to produce regime change, like that of Obama in Libya.” Instead, he wants “exactly the kind of action that President Reagan took against Tehran in 1988,” when the U.S. responded to an Iranian attack on a U.S. ship. [JewishInsider]

Cotton called for more sanctions on Iran’s central bank in a letter to President Trump and co-signed by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Mike Braun (R-ID), and John Cornyn (R-TX). The letter calls for the President to impose sanctions on Iran’s central bank for Hezbollah-related offenses.

On Thursday, Former Vice President Joe Biden slammed Trump’s Iran strategy as “a self-inflicted disaster.” In a statement, Biden said, “Two of America’s vital interests in the Middle East are preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and securing a stable energy supply through the Strait of Hormuz. Trump is failing on both counts.”

ON THE HILL – By JI’s Laura Kelly: The State Department’s Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook, on Wednesday defended the Trump administration’s strategy on Iran, saying the increase in troops to the region and heightened rhetoric from the president and senior officials are defensive “posturing” to “restore deterrence.”

“We received credible threat reporting in late April and early May that Iran was plotting imminent attacks against American interests in multiple theaters,” Hook told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism. 

Democratic lawmakers pushed Hook on whether the Trump administration is laying the groundwork for a military offensive against Iran without the approval of Congress, by invoking the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), speaking to reporters outside the committee hearing, said he does not want the country to repeat the mistakes of the Iraq war. “A lot of us feel that the president and his administration needs to come to Congress for any kind of authorization of hostilities towards any other country,” Engel, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said. “That’s really where we are right now. For me, there’s no doubt that the Iranian regime is a bad regime, bad for its people, bad for world peace. The question is here in Washington, how do we handle it? I think many of us don’t want to just take the word of the administration for it — think about Iraq, it didn’t work out so well… But Iran should be on notice that our patience is not there forever and we’re going to monitor the situation very closely.”

Hook also gave a closed-door briefing to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier Wednesday, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) told JI that the U.S. has no justification for military action against Iran. “At this particular moment, no,” he said.

“Certainly we’d like to have as much information about not just what the United States is doing and the information that we’ve received and the intelligence on the conflicts that – including the tanker fires, bombs – but also their assessment of Iran is in their calculations, because we are all concerned about miscalculations,” the Maryland lawmaker said. 

Before the briefing, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) told JI that he hopes “military action is not something that is required. But clearly, the malign influence of Iran continues to grow and fester. They pose a significant threat to our allies and interests, including Israel, and the current trajectory is unsustainable.”

Kelly Craft, President Trump’s nominee for ambassador to the UN, said during a confirmation at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she would seek to “normalize” Israel’s role at the UN. “which is the subject of unrelenting bias and hostility. The United States will never accept such bias, and if confirmed I commit to seizing every opportunity to shine a light on this conduct, call it what it is, and demand that these outrageous practices finally come to an end,” she said. Craft added that “there will be no stronger friend of Israel” and calling out antisemitism “than Kelly Craft.”

Republican lawmakers are urging the Department of Justice to investigate the Qatari-owned news station Al Jazeera and whether it should be labeled as a foreign agent, a designation that labels the media outlet as acting on behalf of a foreign government to public opinion.

letter, sent Wednesday, was signed by Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Mike Johnson (R-LA); and Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Todd Young (R-IN), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The Homeland Security Committee approved $75 million in grant funding on Wednesday for non-profit and religious institutions to protect themselves from terrorist attacks. The Nonprofit Security Grant Program, sponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Gary Peters (D-MI), will go to the Senate floor for a vote.

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — A draft of the program of the Jared Kushner-led “economic workshop” in Bahrain next week was published yesterday by Maariv’s Ben Caspit. Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman is listed among the speakers at the summit, while Milken’s Richard Sandler and Tom Barrack will serve as panel moderators during the two-day gathering. Bahrain has also granted Israeli journalists permission to enter the country to cover the summit.

The opening video on the first day of the conference is: “Imagining a prosperous Middle East region.” 

Flashback to our exclusive on April 5, 2019 — How Kushner plans to roll out the peace plan: Many real estate deal analogies have been made given the professional backgrounds of Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. Trump himself has called Middle East peace “like a real estate deal.” While the comparisons have often focused on the contents of a possible deal, there’s another real estate technique that, according to sources who’ve been briefed, Kushner is likely to deploy: marketing films. 

On a late afternoon in the spring of 2014, Jared Kushner walked up to the podium at a Brooklyn real estate gathering to deliver a rare public presentation. Kushner kept his remarks brief and instead let a slickly produced two-minute film — featuring a deep voice over and futuristic renderings of his company’s Dumbo Heights development — do the talking. “That really gives you a flavor of what we’re trying to create,” Kushner concluded following the video. [JewishInsider]

2020 BRIEFS: Joe Biden and Cory Booker exchanged attacks over his remarks on segregationists… Bernie slams Democrats’ ‘corporate wing’ as it warms to Elizabeth Warren… Beto O’Rourke hired four Democratic communications veterans as he continues to build out his staff in El Paso, Texas… President Trump raised $24.8 million in less than 24 hours as he officially launched his re-election campaign.

** Good Thursday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email [email protected] **

BUSINESS BRIEFS:Slack’s Stewart Butterfield was raised in a log cabin. Now he’s worth $1.3 billion [Fortune] • Hedge fund manager John Paulson pulls out of London [FinancialTimes] • David Rubenstein sees a U.S. and China trade deal by year-end [CNBC] • Harry Macklowe is eyeing Venezuelan consulate building for his Tower Fifth supertall [RealDeal• Leon Cooperman warns that a stock rally higher here could be the ‘close out move’ [CNBC]

ADVICE — Want To Raise Successful Kids? Don’t Make It Easy, Says Mom Of YouTube CEO And 23andMe Cofounder — by Carter Coudriet: “Most parents want to give their kids the best life possible. But take note: according to Esther Wojcicki, there’s a massive gulf between ‘best’ and ‘easy.’ ‘It’s important to resist the urge to give your child everything you didn’t have,’ says the ‘Godmother of Silicon Valley,’ speaking on stage at the 2019 Forbes Women’s Summit… If there’s anybody to ask for parenting advice, it’s her. Wojcicki, 77, is the mother of two of the nation’s richest self-made women: Anne Wojcicki and Susan Wojcicki.”

“Her child-rearing model is TRICK: trust, respect, independence, collaboration and kindness. She says that her daughters were never afraid to tell her anything, and they were empowered from an early age to make their own money and spend it however they thought they needed to. They all learned to swim by the time they were 12 months old.” [Forbes]

PROFILE — One of the Most Powerful Women in Hedge Funds Doesn’t Run Money — by Rachael Levy: 
“In the overwhelmingly male world of hedge funds, Ilana Weinstein is one of the most powerful women… Her firm, the IDW Group LLC, headhunts for hedge funds. At a charity gala honoring Ms. Weinstein this spring, billionaire investor Steve Cohen nodded to Ms. Weinstein’s influence in his industry’s talent wars with a toast. ‘Nobody benefits,’ said Mr. Cohen, who heads the hedge fund Point72 Asset Management LP… ‘Then it hit me that there’s one person who benefits all the time.’ … Though the 49-year-old Ms. Weinstein keeps her client list close, people familiar with her work say she has recruited for some of the industry’s biggest firms, including Ken Griffin’s Citadel LLC and Mr. Cohen’s Point72.” [WSJ]

LONG READ — Judge Judy Is Still Judging You: For more than 20 years, Judith Sheindlin has dominated daytime ratings — by  Jazmine Hughes: “If you’re usually at work all day, you might not know this, but ‘Judge Judy’ is almost certainly on TV right now. The show has aired consistently since 1996, and it has been the highest-rated program in first-run syndication for the last 10 years. Two years after its debut, ‘Judge Judy’ started to beat ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ in the ratings, and it continued to crush Winfrey for 13 years straight… More people were watching Sheindlin, even in Winfrey’s last season. Now that ‘Judge Judy’ is in its 23rd season, nearly 10 million Americans watch her each day… Before she was Judge Judy, she was Judge Sheindlin, serving in the New York Family Court system from 1982 to 1996. ‘My gift, if you can call it a gift,’ she told me, ‘is that I understand what motivates people.'” [NYTimes]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement —Lena H. Sun and Amy Brittain: “Hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have long donated to organizations focused on the arts, culture, education and the environment. But seven years ago, their private foundation embraced a very different cause: groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. How the Selzes came to support anti-vaccine ideas is unknown, but their financial impact has been enormous. Their money has gone to a handful of determined individuals who have played an outsize role in spreading doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent… The Selz Foundation provides roughly three-fourths of the funding for the Informed Consent Action Network… Lisa Selz serves as the group’s president, but its public face and chief executive is Del Bigtree, a former daytime television show producer… In recent weeks, Bigtree has headlined forums in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, N.Y., both areas confronting large measles outbreaks.” [WashPost]

 Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is in Israel as part of a delegation accompanying Bob Kraft, who is expected to receive the Genesis Prize on Thursday. [Pic]

DESSERT — Hyper-focused restaurants are the latest Tel Aviv food trend — by Sharon Feiereisen: “Hummus, shwarma and falafel-focused spots are a Tel Aviv signature. But an avocado focus? A tehina-on-everything menu? Crepes on crepes? Yes, yes, and yes! As Israel’s population becomes more global, so does our amazing city’s international culinary savvy. While some of these single-ingredient or dish-focused spots border on the ridiculous (does anyone really crave avocado ice cream?), they’re helping color the foodie landscape with a continuous stream of innovation and intrigue. Plus, these restaurants – in all their Instagram glory – are what millennials’ dreams are made of.” [JPost]

BIRTHDAYS: Weston, Florida resident Harold Kurte turns 90… Writer, humorist, journalist and author of over 70 books including four series of children’s books, Dan Greenburg turns 83… Born in Baghdad, he made aliyah in 1950, served as a member of Knesset for the Ratz party and then the Meretz party (1984-2009), Ran Cohen turns 82… Alan Schulman turns 70… Detroit-based pawnbroker, reality TV star, author and speaker, Leslie “Les” Gold turns 69… Senior political editor at NBC News and adjunct professor at CUNY’s Baruch College, Gregg Birnbaum turns 59… Federation leader, founder of Brilliant Detroit (helping children out of poverty) and of Riverstone Communities (it owns and operates over 70 manufactured housing communities in 12 states), James Bellinson turns 59…

Rabbi of Baltimore’s Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion, Rabbi Moshe Hauer turns 54… Politico‘s senior legal affairs contributor, Josh Gerstein turns 49… Attorney General of Pennsylvania since 2017, Josh Shapiro turns 46… Journalist and EMT in NYC, formerly media editor for Gawker and director of public relations for the Village VoiceMaggie Shnayerson turns 38… VP of corporate communications at e-cigarette company Juul Labs, he previously served as deputy communications director in the Trump White House (2017-2018), Josh Raffel turns 35… Jennifer Bernstein turns 34… Senior video producer at MoveOn[dot]org, Sara Pearl Kenigsberg turns 31… Chief campus officer at Hillel Ontario, she was previously the associate executive director at Hillel Montreal, Beverley Shimansky

CORRECTION: The leaders of five nonprofits and religious advocacy groups sent a letter to lawmakers on Wednesday supporting moves to repeal a tax on religious institutions and nonprofits.

Jewish Insider incorrectly stated that lawmakers are debating whether to repeal a tax-break and that nonprofit and religious organizations oppose this. The House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight will consider today, Thursday, ending a 21 percent tax on business expenses for houses of worship, charities and nonprofits, like providing transportation benefits to employees. The groups argue that the tax diverts tens of millions of dollars away from charitable work done by the organizations. They are in favor of the repeal.

Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and a signatory to the letter, wrote in an email to JI: “Our synagogues, day schools and community centers form the foundation of our communities. This new tax would force them, on an annual basis, to divert many thousands of dollars for which they have not budgeted and would hamper their operations. It is imperative that we keep these institutions not only insulated from improper entanglement, but supported in their charitable works by the government.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.