Daily Kickoff

The D.C. blame game on Iran tensions | Jewish Dems vs. Ron Lauder | Patrick Drahi buys Sotheby’s

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

From left, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, and President Donald Trump sit together during a meeting with Caribbean leaders at Mar-A Lago, Friday, March 22, 2019, in Palm Beach, Fla.

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DRIVING THE DAY — On Monday evening, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced that the U.S. is deploying an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East in response to “hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region.”

President Trump said in an interview with Time that he might strike Iran to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons. “I would certainly go over nuclear weapons, and I would keep the other a question mark,” he said. 

Trump also described the attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week as “very minor.” 

The Pentagon also released new images that point to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as being behind the attacks. “Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community to “immediately impose the sanctions that were set previously” on Iran if it increases the enrichment of uranium beyond the levels set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

REPORT — The Trump administration has been laying the groundwork for a possible military confrontation with Iran without congressional consent of Congress before the attack in the Gulf of Oman, Politico reported on Tuesday. “Over the past few months, senior Trump aides have made the case in public and private that the administration already has the legal authority to take military action against Iran, citing a law nearly two decades old that was originally intended to authorize the war in Afghanistan.” 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) tweeted on Monday: “None of this would be happening if Trump didn’t back out of the Iran nuclear deal. America’s response should be to return to the table and reinstate the Iran nuclear deal. Increasing tensions and threats of war serve nobody’s interests.” 

Omar then retweeted Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione: “Exactly right. This is a war crisis created by Trump, manipulated by Bolton and fanned by Pompeo.”

Eli Lake writes… “Don’t Blame Trump for Iran’s Aggression: Iran’s bellicosity began long before Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. It has been a feature of Iranian statecraft since the 1979 revolution. If allies in Europe and Democrats in Congress are worried about war with Iran, they should start by holding the regime accountable for its actions, instead of blaming them on an administration trying to deter them.” [Bloomberg]

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — The Trump administration has decided not to invite Israel to participate in the Jared Kushner-led “economic workshop” in Bahrain next week, the White House announced on Monday. “This is a workshop where we will present our economic vision for the Palestinian people. As such, we want the focus to be on the economic aspect, not the political,” an administration official told CNN.

Israeli officials told Ch. 13’s Barak Ravid that while the administration had informed Israel it would be invited to the summit once Arab countries confirmed their participation, “an invitation didn’t arrive.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said in closed meetings that he is not going to “chase an invitation,” though his office denied those comments.

On Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz (Likud) had expressed his government’s hope that Israel would attend the Kushner-led Bahrain summit. “Israel has a key role to play in this process,” Katz said in remarks at the JPost conference in New York, following a weekend meeting with Jason Greenblatt, the White House Mideast peace envoy.

A senior Israeli official said that Netanyahu has no issue with the decision since he respects the Trump administration’s judgment on the matter. 

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi downplayed the significance of the summit following a lunch meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Luxembourg. “Let’s not exaggerate the significance of the Bahrain workshop. It’s a workshop,” he said.

According to a report by Zvi Bar’el in Haaretz, Safadi was “boiling mad” that the White House announced that Jordan will be participating in the summit. “Although it hasn’t officially stated it will attend, estimates are that it will swallow the insult caused by the White House announcement,” the report says. “Talks in the royal court are now about the rank of officials who should attend.”

The Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller emails us: “For an administration that has touted Israeli-Arab state normalization, particularly in the Gulf, disinviting Israelis officials must have been somewhat painful and awkward. Who put the fix in? Most likely the Arab states were never all that overjoyed about mixing with Israelis publicly, and certainly not at a conference in which there were no Palestinians. Or Kushner was persuaded that Israeli officials would politicize the gathering?”

HEARD YESTERDAY — White House Mideast Peace Envoy Jason Greenblatt and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens discussed the prospects of the Trump peace plan in a conversation hosted and moderated by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach at the World Values Network in Manhattan. [PicPic]

During the panel discussion, Greenblatt addressed why Israel was not invited to the summit in Bahrain. “Our goal is to show this economic vision that the administration is working very hard on, get feedback from both donor countries — to the extent they might want to donate down the road, because we are not asking for pledges at the moment — [and] feedback from experts who know these types of projects, and that’s really the most important thing,” he explained.

“We are not looking just for a photo op, if you will. It’s much more substantial than that. Israel is neither a donor country, nor a beneficiary of the projects. The Palestinians are going to benefit from it, [as well as] Jordan and Egypt. Israel certainly has a lot of expertise to give to these projects, but we can get to that down the road. In the first time we unveil, we don’t want to politicize it. If the Palestinian Authority was willing to come, of course we would invite Israel. Having them both in the room can only be positive… Israeli businesspeople are invited and will be at the event.”

Greenblatt also said that while he would refrain from using the term “ultimate deal,” President Trump is fully committed to pursuing a peace deal only as long as the chances are it could come to fruition. But “he is also — as a dealmaker — realistic. If he doesn’t think a deal can be achieved, he isn’t going to keeping chasing it… Does he still want to do it? Absolutely. But will he continue to do it in a way that makes no sense for us, or for Israel or the Palestinians, because it can’t gain traction or sustain traction? No, I don’t think he would continue just beating his head against the wall to try to push for a deal that can’t happen. We just don’t know the answer yet.”

Bret Stephens quipped: “It’s kind of like building a tower in Moscow.”

Stephens on 2020: “If I had to place a modest bet, I assume [Trump] is going to be re-elected. I don’t see a Democrat who is capable of beating him, with the possible exception of Pete Buttigieg. I am just saying that the only candidate I see among the Democrats who has the chops is Mayor Pete — I’m making a political assessment, I’m not making an endorsement — who could do it.”

TALK OF THE REGION — On Monday, Middle Eastern leaders and allies of the Muslim Brotherhood reacted to the sudden death of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who collapsed and died while facing trial on charges of espionage.

WHY IT MATTERS — The early death of the ousted Egyptian leader will motivate the Muslim Brotherhood “to look for more ways to fight” the Sisi government, Ambassador Dennis Ross told Jewish Insider. “Some in and out of the region will also blame Sisi, focus on repression in Egypt, and remind all that Morsi was elected. They, of course, will not call attention to how he and the Muslim Brotherhood alienated Egyptians, their own oppression, and their submergence of Egypt’s national identity for their preferred Islamist one.”

Morsi “will be mourned as a martyr, and conspiracy theories surrounding his death will certainly swirl,” Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), predicted in an email to Jewish Insider. “But the Brotherhood will remain moribund in Egypt, and it will remain weakened throughout the rest of the region.” [JewishInsider]

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro emails us: “Mohammed Morsi’s public career was a mixed picture. He was committed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist ideology, including harsh views on the United States and Israel. He then won a free and fair election to be Egypt’s president. But in that office, he did not govern in a democratic fashion, seizing powers and stifling dissent. At the same time, he largely upheld Egypt’s international commitments, including its peace treaty with Israel, and worked well with the United States and Israel in imposing ceasefire terms on Hamas in the 2012 Gaza conflict. His overthrow by Sisi was also an undemocratic act. Sisi is friendly to the United States and Israel, but his severe repression of the Egyptian people almost certainly sows the seeds of the next revolution.”

“On my visit to Egypt last year, I could not help but feel pain for the Egyptian people who have careened from repression with stability, to revolution with chaos, to democratic elections, to extreme ideological governance, to violent deposition, to more repression with less stability, all amidst an extended economic malaise. Morsi’s rise, career, overthrow, jailing, and death are among the chapters of that sad story.”

Egypt agrees to pay Israel $500 million to end gas dispute: “Egypt says it has struck a deal with the state-owned Israel Electric Corp to settle a fine for halting deliveries of natural gas. A statement from Egypt’s Petroleum Ministry said the settlement deal, which was signed Sunday, would reduce the $1.7 billion fine to $500 million. It says Egypt will pay the amount over eight and a half years.” [ABCNews]

DRIVING THE CONVO — On Monday, Jewish leaders affiliated with the Democratic Party slammed World Jewish Congress’s Ronald Lauder for his observation about an “unsettling” decline in support for Israel among 2020 Democrats.

“Mr. Lauder’s remarks are misleading and propagate a myth that damages the U.S. Israel relationship,” Mark Mellman, president and CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, said in a statement. “The vast majority of the 280 Democrats serving in the House and Senate and the 23 Democratic Governors have long pro-Israel records. They support a strong U.S-Israel alliance, Israel’s right to defend itself, U.S. aid to Israel and a lasting peace through a two-state solution negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians. While some have expressed disagreements with certain policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu, as have many pro-Israel organizations in the U.S., one can be critical of the government’s policies and still be pro-Israel.”

Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), said in an interview that Lauder’s remarks are “completely baseless.”

“There’s no evidence to support the claims that Democratic support for Israel has diminished in any way,” Soifer explained. “We’ve seen no diminishing of this support and this includes even among the candidates. I think that there are some, as we get closer to 2020, [who] are trying to draw these distinctions where they just don’t exist, and we’re going to push back against these false narratives with facts… One can consider themselves pro-Israel and be critical of some of the Israeli government policies, just as one can be a patriot and be critical of the Trump administration policies, and we shouldn’t conflate the two.”

Opinion Editor of the Forward Batya Ungar-Sargon says that contrary to Lauder’s claimthe views expressed by the 2020 Democratic candidates reflect the politics of the American Jewish community. “To call them anti-Israel is to call us all anti-Israel,” Ungar-Sargon said in an email to JI, calling the equivocation “ridiculous!” This is a “party redefining what it means to be pro-Israel in alignment with what we think it means to be pro-Israel – indeed, what Ron Lauder himself thinks it means to be pro-Israel, if we are to believe his two op-eds in the New York Times last year,” Ungar-Sargon continued. [JewishInsider]

A Lauder spokesperson tells JI: “There is real irony in Mr. Mellman’s statement that there are no problems with support for Israel in the Democratic party. The creation of DMFI is a sheer acknowledgment that this problem is very real and must be dealt with urgently.”

TOP TALKER — Actor John Cusack retweets antisemitic image: On Monday afternoon, John Cusack retweeted a meme with an image of an arm emblazoned with a Jewish star, pressing down on people. Beside the image was a quote that read: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize,” citing Voltaire (a misattribution). The meme questioned “is it not obvious?” John Cusack commented: “Follow the money.” Cusack later “unretweeted” his comment, the meme, and apologized: “A bot got me ― I thought I was endorsing a pro-Palestinian justice retweet — of an earlier post — it came I think from a different source — Shouldn’t Have retweeted.”[JewishInsider]

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr. cancelled his upcoming appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. The event, scheduled for Wednesday evening, was part of CFR’s military strategy and leadership series. Dunford was to appear alongside David M. Rubenstein, cofounder of The Carlyle Group and chairman of the CFR. A spokesperson for the Joint Chiefs confirmed the cancellation to JI, explaining that “due to an unforeseen commitment, General Dunford has cancelled his engagement with the Council on Foreign Relations.”

2020 BRIEFS — Gabriel Sherman reports why the Mercers, Trump’s biggest 2016 backers, have bailed on him… Facing negative polls and internal tensions, Trump plans to launch reelection bid with Orlando rally… Joe Biden’s campaign approach: Run like it’s a primary of one… Biden has an Elizabeth Warren problem…

** Good Tuesday 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:J.J. Abrams said to be near $500 million deal with WarnerMedia [NYTimes] • Rumors keep swirling about Ben Lerer’s Group Nine’s merger with Refinery29, but pulling it off would rough for everyone [BusinessInsider• PayPal’s Daniel Schulman and  Salesforce’s Marc Benioff top list of highest-paid bosses [WSJ]• Israeli digital forensics firm Cellebrite gets $110 million investment from Israel Growth Partners [Reuters]

SPOTLIGHT — Sotheby’s to Be Sold, Jolting the Art World — by Kelly Crow, Nick Kostov and Anupreeta Das: 
“French billionaire Patrick Drahi is buying Sotheby’s for $2.7 billion, ending the storied auction house’s 31-year run as a public company as it seeks to expand its digital business targeting art collectors more accustomed to online shopping than live auctions. Mr. Drahi, a keen buyer of art who has also built a telecommunications empire spanning multiple continents, will pay $57 a share in cash for New York-based Sotheby’s — a rich, 61% premium to where the auction house’s shares closed Friday… The buy­out will im­me­di­ately el­e­vate the art-world pro­file of Mr. Drahi, a 55-year-old en­trepreneur and col­lec­tor, who was born in Mo­rocco and ed­u­cated in France. Friends said he likes im­pres­sion-ist art and sees art as a refuge from the day-to-day stresses of cor­po­rate bat­tle.” [WSJ]

“Activist investor Dan Loeb is set to rake in the riches now that Sotheby’s, the auction house in which Loeb owns a 14.3 percent stake, is being taken private by French media titan Patrick Drahi in a deal worth $2.66 billion.” [NYPost]

DEEP DIVE — Black Cube: The Bumbling Spies of the ‘Private Mossad’ — by Bradley Hope and Jacquie McNish: “In an interview, Efraim Halevy, a member of Black Cube’s advisory board, defended the firm’s use of fake identities, saying businesses need these tactics because “documents are becoming less prevalent” and the only evidence is ‘human sources.’ He stressed that creating ‘virtual’ situations to gain access and information have ‘to be done in a legal manner.’ Despite some missteps, Black Cube ‘has to turn clients away because it cannot service all the demands,’ said Mr. Halevy, a former head of the Mossad, an Israeli government intelligence agency. He said Black Cube has worked on 300 cases since being founded in 2010 by two former Israeli military intelligence officers, Dan Zorella and Avi Yanus… Black Cube has grown to roughly 120 employees and catapulted into the public eye through scandals involving fake identities and subterfuge.” [WSJ]

BOOK CLUB — Yossi Klein Halevi’s Palestinian Neighbor Writes Back — by Liel Leibovitz: “Last year, Yossi Klein Halevi published Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor… He was neither apologetic nor triumphalist, a balance that very few souls can strike these days, and he ended the book with a heartfelt call for his Palestinian neighbors to respond in kind and share their stories and worldviews… To Klein Halevi’s delight, the letters came pouring in, and an extensive selection of them is printed in the book’s recently released paperback edition. One letter in particular stood out: Its author was Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, an Al-Quds university professor and former hardliner who, five years ago, took a delegation of Palestinian students to visit Auschwitz. To capture their exchange, author and producer Peter Savodnik put together a three-part mini-series. No matter where you stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that such a conversation is even possible ought to make you pause and reconsider.” [Tablet]

CAMPUS BEAT — DeVos opens investigation into Duke-UNC event with alleged ‘anti-Semitic rhetoric’ — by Brian Murphy: “The U.S. Department of Education will investigate a Middle East conference co-sponsored by Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill to see if the schools’ consortium violated the terms and conditions of its federal grant. In April, Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican, asked the department to investigate the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies’ event for its ‘Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities’ conference that was held in late March at UNC. Holding said he’d seen ‘reports of severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric at the taxpayer-funded conference.’ ‘I am troubled by the concerns outlined in your letter,’ Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote to Holding in a letter dated June 18, 2019.” [NewsObserver]

TALK OF THE TOWN ― Search warrant cites synagogue shooter’s hatred of Judaism ― by Elliot Spagat: “The sole gunman in a Southern California synagogue shooting in which a woman was killed told an investigator he adopted his hatred of Judaism 18 months before the fatal attack… John T. Earnest, 19, also told a San Diego Sheriff’s detective that he was inspired by Adolf Hitler and the suspected gunman in the New Zealand mosque shooting last March. The search warrant, which was unsealed in a hate crimes case against Earnest, offered a few new details about the attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of the Jewish holiday of Passover… A federal affidavit describes a deeply disturbed man filled with hatred toward Jews and Muslims, which is detailed in online writings.” [AP]

SPORTS BLINK ― Tanenbaum remembers Jewish roots as he hoists NBA championship ― by Paul Lungen: 
“It was an exciting moment ― a moment with the eyes of the world upon him ― when Toronto Raptors co-owner Larry Tanenbaum lifted the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy and shouted, ‘Hagbah.’  The Hebrew word likely passed unnoticed by most of the people watching ― if they could hear it at all over the din of the celebrations ― but those with a keen ear and an understanding of Jewish tradition would have recognized it as a reference to the honor of hoisting the Torah after it is read. For Tanenbaum, chair of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Raptors, the smile beaming on his face told the story.” [CanadianJewishNews]

15 current and former Patriots join Robert Kraft on a trip to Israel — by Bernd Buchmasser: 
“With offseason workouts behind them and training camp still more than a month away, the New England Patriots are currently enjoying their summer vacation. For eight current members of the team and seven Patriots alumni, this break from football includes a trip across the globe that started earlier this week: for the third time, team owner Robert Kraft has invited a group of players to join him in Israel. The journey was dubbed Touchdown in Israel III.” [PatsPulpit]

DESSERT — Start-Up Nation Central turns to chefs and urban farming, with in-house bistro — by Jessica Steinberg: “Start-Up Nation Central, the non-profit organization that grew out of the bestselling 2009 book by Saul Singer and Dan Senor, has done much in the last five years to connect the globe with Israeli innovation. Now it’s turning to the culinary world. The high-tech matchmaker recently opened L28, a chic Tel Aviv restaurant that offers a platform for emerging chefs to establish themselves. The idea is to be more than a restaurant, explained Amir Mizroch, director of communications for Start-Up Nation Central. L28 is a culinary platform, a place where Israeli foods, ingredients and menus can be conceived and developed, enriching Israeli cuisine and offering professional development for the chefs running the kitchen.” [ToI]

Finally, D.C. Is Getting Another Kosher Eatery, With Einat Admony’s ‘Taim’ — by Michael Kaminer: “Einat Admony’s heading to Washington. No, she’s not running for office, though the popular Balaboosta chef/author would probably outpoll some of the current Democratic hopefuls. Admony and Stefan Nafziger, her husband and business partner, are bringing Middle-Eastern chainlet Taim to our nation’s capital. It’s the first location for the kosher/vegetarian quick-service brand outside Manhattan, and Admony’s debut beyond the Big Apple as a chef/owner.” [Forward]

TRANSITION — SKDKnickerbocker announced Doug Thornell, Oren Shur and Emily Campbell as principals and the new heads of the firm’s political consulting department.

BIRTHDAYS: Former U.S. Deputy National Security Director and now on the Management Committee at Goldman Sachs overseeing the firm’s relationships with sovereign clients, Dina Powell… Talent manager and music industry mogul, he owns two record labels and represents musical artists including Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, Scott Samuel “Scooter” Braun turns 38… Washington Post reporter covering law and courts, he has served as the Post’s Supreme Court reporter, national editor, London bureau chief and founding editor of The Post’s Morning Mix, Fred Barbash turns 74 (h/t Playbook)… Chicago-based attorney, he served as an Alderman on the Chicago City Council (1975-1979), Solomon Gutstein turns 85… Steven Shlomo Nezer turns 72… Croatian entrepreneur, he was previously the Minister of Economy, Labour and Entrepreneurship in the Croatian government (1995-1997), Davor Stern turns 72…

Rabbi at Or Hamidbar in Palm Springs, CA, he previously led congregations in Israel and Stockholm, Rabbi David James Lazar turns 62… Rebecca Diamond turns 59… Best-selling author and journalist, through 2017 she was Chief Content Officer of Gannett and Editor in Chief of USA Today, Joanne Lipman turns 58… Executive of the William Pears Group, a large UK real estate firm founded by his father and grandfather, Trevor Steven Pears(family name was Schleicher) turns 55… Former assistant to the President during the first 13 months of the Trump administration, he is a principal of the Baltimore-based Cordish Companies real estate and gaming empire, Reed Sanders Cordish turns 45…

Television producer and writer, best known for his work on The Mindy Project, Speechless and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jeremy Bronson turns 39… Baseball pitcher, a first round pick of the NY Yankees in 2008, he pitched for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and during the qualifier round in 2016, Jeremy Bleich turns 32… Associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, her practice focuses on white collar defense, internal and regulatory investigations and complex commercial litigation, Esther Lifshitz turns 32… Rachel Hazan

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