Following a day of widespread criticism from its friends, Israel decides to allow Tlaib to visit on ‘humanitarian grounds’
BEHIND THE SCENES — Just minutes after President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Israeli officials announced they would not be allowing the freshman lawmakers to visit this weekend.
WHAT CHANGED? — Last month, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer issued a statement that “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.” But Israeli officials on Thursday, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the decision was reversed after viewing the group’s planned itinerary. The proposed schedule, titled “U.S. Congressional Delegation to Palestine” and planned by the MIFTAH group, “reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it,” Netanyahu said Thursday.
Some critics of the reversal blamed Trump for publicly and privately pressuring Netanyahu to bar the two congresswomen from entering Israel. But Israeli government officials claim that Netanyahu made the decision independently earlier this week, and called congressional leaders on Wednesday to inform them. Dermer himself pushed back against reports that Netanyahu was operating under orders from Trump, telling Jewish leaders on a conference call yesterday that “we were not pressured by the Trump administration to do this.” It was not clear if Netanyahu or Dermer requested Trump’s tweet on the issue Thursday morning, or if the president took the initiative himself.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Thursday, Trump appeared to take some credit for the move, saying: “I don’t want to comment about who I spoke to, but I think my social media statement pretty well speaks for itself… but I did speak to people over there. Yeah.” He then said that he didn’t “encourage or discourage” the decision, and that “if they want to let them in, they can. But I can’t imagine why they would do it.”
Regardless, Howard Wolfson, a keen political observer, remarked: “The government of Israel has done more to advance the cause of BDS today than anything Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib could have hoped to accomplish.”
“We Did The Work For Them” — Israeli actress Noa Tishby wrote in an op-ed to her fellow Israelis published yesterday on Ynet .
FRIENDLY FIRE — The Israeli government decision drew criticism from a wide range of outspoken U.S. supporters of Israel, including AIPAC, which said that “every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the move was “a sign of weakness, not strength,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called it a “mistake,” New York Times columnist Bret Stephens labeled it a “bad decision” and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro called it a “PR mistake.”
WHAT’S NEXT? — Tlaib is still expected to visit Israel as early as this weekend — with the blessing of Israeli officials. The Michigan lawmaker wrote to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Thursday, requesting she be allowed to visit her grandmother, who lives in Beit Ur al-Fouqa. “This could be my last opportunity to see her,” she wrote. “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.” On Friday morning, Deri approved the request, and Tlaib will reportedly arrive on Sunday.
TAKING A STEP BACK — At times there’s an assumption that leaders — in Israel, the U.S., and in the American Jewish community — share the same goals and priorities. The past 24 hours is just the latest demonstration that they don’t.
Netanyahu’s priority: Similar to other politicians, Bibi wants to remain in office. Many doubt he would have banned the members if there wasn’t an upcoming Israeli election in a few weeks.
AIPAC’s primary goal: Ensuring bipartisan support for Israel in Congress.
Trump’s goal: The president has exhibited a constant need to keep the spotlight on “The Squad” and paint them as the face of the Democratic Party. He repeatedly refers to them as anti-Israel and antisemitic during his verbal and Twitter attacks.
A primary goal for many American Jews: Ensuring Israel is viewed in a positive light in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Tlaib and Omar’s goal: Shift the Democratic Party’s approach towards Israel.
The goal of mainstream pro-Israel Democrats: Showing that most Democrats still support a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.
THESE GOALS CONVERGED YESTERDAY — The bipartisan support for Israel that American Jews have invested heavily in? The Squad and Trump appear aligned in pushing against that notion. And if Trump is often seen helping Netanyahu with his primary objective of winning re-election, it would seem Netanyahu returned the favor with elevating the standing of The Squad within the Democratic Party.
As Emma Green noted in The Atlantic: “Ultimately, Israel’s ban on Tlaib and Omar will exacerbate the already widening divide between Israel and its strongest historical ally: American Jews.” And Yair Rosenberg at Tablet predicts that “genuine supporters of Israel will be dealing with the fallout for some time to come.”
FLASHBACK — During his landmark 2015 address to Congress, Netanyahu declared, “The remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States has always been above politics, it must always remain above politics.”
THE REACTION — The condemnation of the Israeli decision was swift and resounding on Thursday, though some minority voices spoke out in support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called it a “sad reversal” from the initial decision, “deeply disappointing,” and “a sign of weakness.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who just returned from Israel as head of a 41-member Democratic delegation, said he urged Netanyahu on Wednesday not to make such an “unwarranted and self-destructive” decision. He also lamented that Dermer’s original “assurances to me” were “not true.”
Mainstream Jewish organizations, including AIPAC, were critical of the move. The Jewish Federations of North America said “every member of Congress, without exception, should be allowed to visit Israel.” The American Jewish Committee, noting the group’s itinerary, said “that [Tlaib and Omar] were not coming to hear from various points of view,” but ultimately “Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision.” The Anti-Defamation League called the move “counterproductive,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Israel’s initial instinct to allow the visit was “the right one,” and the Union for Reform Judaism President Rick Jacobs said he feared the action will “reverberate for years both in undermining Israeli democracy and in making Israel a ‘wedge issue’ in American politics.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America welcomed the decision, as did the American Jewish Congress. The Conference of Presidents said that they “expressed our reservations about the ramifications of the decision” but stopped short of criticizing it.
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said Israel was playing into Trump’s “goal of politicizing support for Israel.” Mark Mellman, president of the Democratic Majority for Israel, said that while the two congresswomen declined an offer to engage to balance the itinerary for the trip, the Netanyahu government was “wrong and unwise” to deny their entry. J Street launched an online petition to call on Israel to reverse its decision. The Zioness Movement urged “American Jews who feel gut-punched” to “resist the temptation to turn your back on your community or the state of Israel.”
Democratic 2020 presidential candidates — including frontrunners Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — universally condemned the decision. Read a recap of their statements here [JewishInsider]
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in an interview with JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that since the congresswomen didn’t request any meetings with Israeli government officials or any member of the opposition, or plan any briefings with officials in the military or the intelligence community, “it became clear that they had no intention of this being a fact-finding trip or coming with any sense of an open mind and a desire to learn more. In fact, it became clear that the sole purpose of this trip was to use Israel as a backdrop for them to promote their radical policy views.” He said he does not “believe that the administration had any input whatsoever in any of this decision.”
Haim Saban emails Jewish Insider: “The president is entitled to have his opinion on this matter, as well as act on it. I believe that [the] Hamas- (among others) funded BDS is an antisemitic movement and an enemy of Israel. Those that support BDS — be it elected officials or not — in the name of freedom of speech are simply misinformed as to BDS’s funding and ultimate goal, which is the elimination of the State of Israel, one of our staunchest allies, and the only democracy in the region. Israel should do a better job at clarifying all this to both American elected officials, as well as the general public.”
Susie Gelman, chairwoman of the Israel Policy Forum, told JI that while she can’t speak to the role of Trump’s tweet in the decision, “the tweet is appalling in and of itself, given that the U.S. president is encouraging an ally and a recipient of significant aid to ban two elected members of Congress… it raises the question of who is driving the decision.” Gelman said the move will “only fan the flames of BDS and… further the partisan politicization of this critical strategic relationship.”
Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a foreign policy advisor for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, told JI that the Israeli decision was “incredibly counterproductive” and “profoundly undemocratic.”
VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — Dr. Dore Gold, a former director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, defended Netanyahu’s move. “There is no chance that Tlaib and Omar want to visit Israel in order to reconsider their leading support for BDS,” Gold said in an email to JI. “That movement, by its own public statements, was not conceived to help the Palestinians but to advance Israel’s elimination.”
Shalom Lipner, a veteran of 26 years in the prime minister’s office, tells JI that “it’s all but definite that Trump was the deus in the machina here” since Netanyahu’s initial decision to allow them entry was supported by all professional parties to the discussion. WIth the reversal of that decision, “Israel has played into the hands of those charging that it has something to hide, and also given oxygen to a media circus.”
Dan Arbell, a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggested in an email to JI that “it was Trump’s pressure that led Netanyahu to make this decision.” Arbell called it “a regretful step, a dangerous intersection of American and Israeli politics, which undermines bipartisan U.S support for Israel.”
MIDDLE GROUND — Former MK Michael Oren said in an interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC that for Netanyahu it was a “lose-lose situation” as he runs for re-election. But Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. during Netanyahu’s second term, suggested he would have preferred Israel allow the congresswomen to enter the country but insist that they “adhere to the standard itinerary of all congressmembers, including freshmen members, who visit this country.” [Video]
HOW IT PLAYED — The decision reverberated across mainstream media on Thursday. The New York Times editorial asked: “What are Trump and Netanyahu afraid of?” and The Washington Post editorial board called the decision “a disgrace to both countries.” Writing in The Atlantic, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro labeled the decision a “massive self-own: What a bulldozer to drive through the bipartisan consensus on Israel.” Times of Israel editor-in-chief David Horovitz said Israel’s move “smacks of a loss of will by our leadership, a loss of self-confidence,” and the Times’ Bari Weiss wrote that Netanyahu had “bowed before a tweet.” Bloomberg‘s Eli Lake writes that if the cost of Trump’s support for Israel “is an expectation for partisan obeisance, then how much are those policies really worth?”
Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar barred from Israel — but a conflagration is coming — by Neri Zilber: “Under the Trump administration U.S. funding for… Security Forces (PASF) has, since the start of this year, been completely halted… All this, despite widespread recognition that PA security personnel, operating in coordination with Israel, are a boon for stability in the region and Israeli security in particular. The Trump administration, though, seems fixated on unveiling its long-delayed peace plan. Congress endlessly debates the true meaning of being ‘pro-Israel,’ including undue focus on a handful of leftwing representatives like Omar and Tlaib… while the most positive and tangible aspect of the entire Israeli-Palestinian relationship is being left to languish.” [DailyBeast]
ON THE GROUND — Gaza Needs Cement to Rebuild, But Israel Dominates the Market — by David Rocks and Yaacov Benmeleh: “Gaza needs concrete, and lots of it. In the 2014 war, some 11,000 housing units were destroyed, and an additional 160,000 sustained some damage, according to the Gaza Chamber of Commerce—affecting more than a quarter of the families in the territory. Today, five years after the fighting ended, some 16,500 people remain in temporary housing, according to the United Nations. Gaza’s streets are lined with half-built structures, where a handful of floors are occupied but the rest are windowless shells… It’s common to see groups of men clambering over piles of debris, breaking up slabs of concrete to recycle what they can. To repair war damage, carry out normal upkeep, and build planned projects over the past five years, Gaza needed at least 6 million tons of cement, the chamber says. It’s gotten less than half that.” [Bloomberg]
ON THE HILL — U.S. officials shield Ivanka Trump’s and Mike Pence’s projects in review of foreign aid — by John Hudson: “The Trump administration has decided to shield the signature projects of White House adviser Ivanka Trump and Vice President Pence as it looks to cancel billions of dollars in foreign aid for other projects around the world, U.S. officials said. In coming days, the White House is expected to send a proposal to Congress for returning billions of dollars of unspent foreign aid funds to the Treasury in a process known as rescission… Senior Republicans and Democrats say the review threatens to undermine Congress’s authority to appropriate funds, but U.S. officials insist they are targeting only projects that are unnecessary or of questionable value.” [WashPost]
AOC says Dov Hikind can’t sue her over ‘personal’ Twitter — by Reuven Fenton and Natalie O’Neill: “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says ex-Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s lawsuit against her for blocking him on Twitter is bogus because the account in question is ‘personal,’ new court papers reveal. Through her lawyer, the freshman congresswoman told a judge Wednesday that the legal precedent cited by Hikind — which centers on President Trump’s Twitter account — is a completely different set of circumstances, according to a letter filed in Brooklyn federal court.” [NYPost]
DEEP DIVE — New documents reveal behind-the-scenes clash over spending inside Trump inaugural committee — by Vicky Ward:“Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former friend of Melania Trump, has emerged as a witness for investigators and received a subpoena last month by Washington DC’s attorney general. The 10-page subpoena… asks Wolkoff to hand over a variety of information, including any evidence of inaugural-related expenditures that were ‘wasteful, mismanaged, and/or improperly provided private benefit… as well as communications between Wolkoff and a number of Trump family members, including… Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner… All but $1.6 million of the $26 million payment to Wolkoff’s company went to vendors and subcontractors for broadcast production services of events.” [CNN]
2020 BRIEFS —Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris set for more Hollywood fundraisers as Dems prep for next debate… Joe Biden allies float scaling back events to limit gaffes… Cory Booker proposes a White House office to fight white supremacy… Why is Seth Moulton still running for president?… Buttigieg’s inside-out 2020 strategy: Viral, then local.
** Good Friday 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 Editor@JewishInsider.com **
BUSINESS BRIEFS: The billionaire who backed Michael Kors is investing in influencer Arielle Charnas [BusinessOfFashion] • SoftBank convertible note helped cut WeWork losses [Reuters] • WeWork’s IPO filing reveals a 100% male board [RealDeal] • Ron Perelman’s cosmetics maker Revlon hires Goldman Sachs for possible makeover [WSJ]
MORE BRIEFS: GE shares fall on Bernie Madoff whistleblower calling its finances a fraud [Reuters] • Israelis earned $1.08 billion on U.S. assets in 2016, IRS data shows [Haaretz] • Shekel weakens as fear grips forex markets [Globes] • What happens to Jeffrey Epstein’s properties now? [RealDeal]
MEDIA WATCH — Behind Nate Silver’s war with The New York Times — by Michael Calderone: “[Silver, t]he 41-year-old editor of the data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight recently called his former employer arrogant, engaged in an extended Twitter debate with his successor (who is also named Nate), and helped ignite outrage online over the paper’s front-page headline on the president’s response to two mass shootings… Silver’s persistent criticism of the Times… has long struck some inside the newsroom as less about methodology and more about personal grievances with the paper that was unable to meet his demands to expand FiveThirtyEight and now publishes The Upshot, which features Nate Cohn’s coverage of elections, polling and demographics.” [Politico]
TALK OF THE TOWN — 4 teens busted in string of attacks on Jewish men in Brooklyn — by Stephanie Pagones: “Police arrested two teens — and took two others into custody — in connection with a string of attacks on Hasidic Jewish men in Brooklyn earlier in the week… Police were investigating the attacks as possible hate crimes, but neither of the men was hit with such charges.” [NYPost]
Correctional officer suspended after truck driven into Jewish ICE protesters — by Matt Shuham: “A correctional officer was suspended Thursday, a day after a truck drove into protesters outside a Rhode Island facility that houses ICE detainees… Videos from the protesters outside the detention center showed a man in a truck driving up to a line of demonstrators blocking the facility’s entrance, pausing as some began to lean against the front of his truck, and then again driving forward into protesters.” [TPM; WSJ]
COMING SOON — Service planned for Tree of Life shooting anniversary — by Megan Guza: “The Pittsburgh Jewish community is planning a day of service, study and remembrance on Oct. 27, a year after a Pittsburgh synagogue became the site of the country’s deadliest antisemitic attack… Other events throughout the day will include community service and Torah study sessions.” [TribLive]
LONG READ — Israel on the road: What I learned from Israeli taxi drivers — by Sarah Tuttle-Singer: “I love to take taxis in Israel. I love to move from city to city, through the hills, across the plains, stuck in snarling traffic or flying down the highway. I love the winding roads through emerald green forests, and the long, flat stretches through the vast, white deserts… Above all, I love that I get to share some of these stories with you.” [JewishJournal]
WINE OF THE WEEK — Covenant Blue C Adom Red 2016 — by Yitz Applbaum: “When drinking multiple bottles of wine at one sitting, inevitably there is one bottle that has to be opened first. There are various methods available to determine with which wine to begin; one can open the bottles in order of quality, price, varietal, intensity, age or, as is sometimes my method, leave it up to luck. Sitting with a group of synagogue friends deep in the South African bush, parched from a day of photographing lions and elephants, fate would have it that we opened the 2016 Covenant Blue C Adom Red wine first. This bottle was a gift from the producer himself, given to us a mere forty-eight hours prior. What an amazing stroke of fortune.”
“The Covenant Blue C opens with a hint of black pepper and then continues with a ripe Bing cherry flavor in the mid-palate and the wine circles back to the black pepper for the finish. The wine is well structured, balanced and consistent. Drink within the next twenty-four months and, if you can, find some Biltong to nibble on as you enjoy this great bottle.” [CovenantWines]
WEEKEND BIRTHDAYS — FRIDAY: Former member of Congress,Richard Alan “Dick” Zimmer turns 75… Sportscaster, known as the “Voice of the Dallas Cowboys,” Brad Sham turns 70… President and CEO of the Business Roundtable, previously a White House Chief of Staff (2006-2009), Joshua Brewster “Josh” Bolten turns 65… Gerald Platt turns 65… Media consultant, Sol Levine turns 64… Former IDF fighter pilot, he served as commander of the Israeli Air Force (2004-2008) and then as CEO of El Al (2010-2014), General Eliezer Shkedi turns 62… Senior partner in the Denver office of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and an AIPAC national board member, Steven C. Demby turns 61…
Founder of Value Retail Plc and co-owner of the New York Islanders professional hockey team, Scott David Malkin turns 61… Sports journalist and executive, founder of Walk Swiftly Productions, Bonnie Bernstein turns 49… Senior staff writer for Politico Magazine and editor-at-large of The Agenda, Michael Grunwald turns 49… Senior editor of Kol HaBirah newspaper, Kami Troy turns 45… Member of the board of directors of Campbell Soup Company, she was previously the CEO of 360i, Sarah Hofstetter turns 45… Co-founder at Johannesburg-based LLH Capital in 2017, Gil Oved turns 44… Matthew J. Silverstein turns 38… Associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Julian Olidort turns 30…
Chief of staff at the Center for Jewish Civilization in the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, Anna Dubinsky turns 29… Development project associate at AIPAC, Rachel Berman turns 25… Project Manager at Tel Aviv Global, she was previously the executive assistant to the ambassador at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, Galit Tassi… VP and chief of staff to the Global Chief Marketing Officer of Blackrock, Phillip Schermer… Staffer in the New England office of J Street, Cooper Boyar… Ellen Weissfeld… Marshall Cohen… Dave Jacobsen…
SATURDAY: Co-founder of Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison turns 75… Chairman of Austin-based clothing firm Outdoor Voices and head of Drexler Ventures, he was previously the CEO of J.Crew Group and Gap Inc., Millard “Mickey” S. Drexler turns 75… Chair of the RJC, former U.S. Senator from Minnesota, Norm Coleman (family name was originally Goldman) turns 70… Chairman, president and CEO of Continental Airlines at the time of its merger into United Airlines in 2010, he then held those same three roles at United until 2015, Jeffery Alan “Jeff” Smisek turns 65… Founder and managing partner of SBNY, he is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo, Jordan Levy turns 64…
Communications coordinator at Temple Beth El in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Deborah Peskin turns 58… Co-CEO at Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, he was previously Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs (2007-2009), Dave McCormick turns 54… Former member of Knesset (2015-2019) for the Zionist Union party, Revital Swid turns 52… Israeli journalist, Zvi Yehezkeli turns 49… Investor relations at MSD Partners, Amanda Horwitz turns 27… Government and public affairs director at Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Los Angeles, Aaron Taxy… Sonya Culler… Eli Diamond… Gabriel Berger… John Kohan…
SUNDAY: Jerome Seaman turns 86… Teacher of Talmud at Jerusalem’s Yeshiva Torat Shraga, Rabbi Noam Gordon Ph.D. turns 75… Former two-term mayor of San Diego, Susan G. Golding turns 74… Judge of the Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) Court of Common Pleas, Gary S. Silowturns 68… President at Benefit Connections, Raphael Schwartz turns 64…
Partner in the Los Angeles office of Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, Stuart Douglas Tochner turns 60… CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, Jules Polonetsky turns 54… Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Jason Furman turns 49… Sarah Bronson turns 47… Washington director of the Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, Roger Zakheim turns 42… Fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute, Noah Slepkov turns 38…