Daily Kickoff

Israelis fear Trump’s eagerness for Iran deal | Rabbis on the campaign trail | Why Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s novel is ‘so Jewish’

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. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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IRAN WATCH — President Donald Trump said on Monday that he’d consider meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “if the circumstances are correct and right” to renegotiate the nuclear deal. “We are looking for no nuclear weapons, no ballistic missiles and a longer period of time. Very simple. We could have it done in a very short period of time,” Trump proclaimed. 

But speaking Tuesday morning, Rouhani said that before any talks could take place, “first the U.S. should act by lifting all illegal, unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Iran.” 

Trump’s declaration came after French President Emmanuel Macron said, during a joint news conference with Trump in Biarritz, France, that he hopeshis effort to arrange a meeting between the two leaders would come to fruition in the coming weeks. “We know the terms. We know the objectives. But we have to just now sit around the table and make that happen,” Macron said. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met Tuesday morning in France with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who told reporters that “We are worried about tension in the Middle East and we hope to make some diplomatic effort to ease the tension.” 

Bloomberg’s Eli Lake opined“Trump appears to be willing to negotiate a second version of his predecessor’s narrow nuclear deal.”

VIEW FROM JERUSALEM — The Israeli government reportedly expressed concern about the possibility of renewed U.S.-Iran talks, which could kickoff during the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month. “We have no interest in talks between the U.S. and Iran, but our ability to influence Trump or confront him on this issue is pretty limited,” one Israeli cabinet minister told Channel 13’s Barak Ravid. Another senior official was quoted as saying: “We were very lucky that until now the Iranians rejected all of Trump’s proposals for talks.”

Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer reports that Israeli security officials are worried that the U.S. president would be outmaneuvered in such talks and “Trump could swiftly come to an agreement with the Iranians that may sound preferable to him, but in reality will be much worse.” Likud Justice Minister Amir Ohana said in a radio interview Tuesday that Trump’s willingness to meet with Rouhani “is mistaken. I would be happy if all world leaders would avoid meeting the leaders of Iran.” 

Former prime minister and Knesset hopeful Ehud Barak warned that Trump’s statement — given Netanyahu’s overdependence on Trump — was a “red light for all of us.” Barak added, “Today, Netanyahu is increasingly dependent on Trump’s mood.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t publically address the nuclear deal in a video statement he released on Monday calling on the international community to counter Iranian aggression. “Iran is working on a broad front to carry out murderous terrorist attacks against the State of Israel. Israel will continue to defend its security however that may be necessary,” the prime minister said in Hebrew. “I call on the international community to act immediately so that Iran halts these attacks.”

The White House backed Israel’s action in Syria. A senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal, “We definitely don’t want war with Iran, but that also doesn’t mean Iran can act with unfettered behavior throughout the region.” The official also defended the timing of the strikes. Netanyahu “doesn’t have the luxury of picking when a strike might be launched and we would implicitly leave that to his judgement with his history and knowledge of the topic,” the official said.

Vice President Mike Pence posted yesterday on Twitter: “Had a great conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning. The United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself from imminent threats. Under President Donald Trump, America will always stand with Israel!”

ON THE GROUND — Lebanese President Michel Aoun suggested that Israel’s purported drone strikes in Beirut on Sunday were a “declaration of war” that will allow the government and Hezbollah “to resort to our right to defending our sovereignty.” Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a Sunday phone call to pass along a strong warning to the Lebanese government that Israel will hold it responsible if Hezbollah retaliates. Hezbollah said late Monday that the two drones that crashed in Beirut were carrying explosives. 

On Tuesday morning, Netanyahu issued a direct message to Nasrallah, saying, “I encourage him to calm down. He knows very well that Israel knows how to defend itself and to respond to our enemies as they deserve.” Addressing Iran, he added: “Be careful with your words and even more so with your actions.”

The IDF began limiting traffic near the border with Lebanon Tuesday morning, and calling on all those approved for military travel in the area to carry weapons and wear protective equipment. The IDF also deployed an Iron Dome missile defense system in the north and placed all bases on high alert, though it did not issue new safety instructions to civilians in the area. 

ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Trump’s comments Monday morning, hinting that parts of the Kushner-led peace plan may be released before the Israeli elections on September 17, raised speculation that the administration may choose to roll out the parts that are more favorable to Israel — in line with Trump’s recent moves — to improve Netanyahu’s chances in the upcoming Israeli election.

On Monday, Netanyahu instructed his director general to submit for approval a new 300-home neighborhood in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Dolev in response to Friday’s murder of 17-year-old Rina Shnerb.

Meanwhile, the State Department has removed the “Palestinian Territories” from its website’s list of countries in its “Near Eastern Affairs: Countries and Other Areas” page. In an emailed response to The Times of Israel, the State Department said, “The website is being updated. There has been no change to our policy.”

The Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller tells JI: “The fact that last Thursday even Netanyahu cut a deal with the PA to transfer $570 million into Palestinian coffers, shows how untethered from reality the Trump administration’s policies toward the Palestinians have become. Pressuring the Palestinians and pretending that they don’t exist on the eve of presenting a big U.S. peace plan couldn’t come at a better time if the goal is to ensure that they won’t accept it. The question is, is the administration obtuse, uncoordinated, willfully out of touch, or maybe they don’t care all that much?”

DRIVING THE CONVO — The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan took Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to task in an “Ideas” column on Monday over her record on challenging female genital mutilation. Flanagan criticized Omar’s irate response to being asked a question — by Ani Osman-Zonneveld, the founder of Muslims for Progressive Values — on the issue last month, writing: “Was it wrong to ask Omar to join the fight against FGM? Not when you consider that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a disproportionate number of girls at risk of FGM in the United States live in Omar’s Fifth Congressional District in Minnesota, which includes the largest Somali diaspora in the United States.” The author did point out, however, that Omar has repeatedly condemned FGM and voted in favor of a failed Minnesota bill to ban the practice. 

Washington Examiner magazine editor Seth Mandel critiqued Flanagan for targeting Omar on the issue: “It’s unfair to pressure Omar to use her freshman term in Congress to turn the power of the state on her religious community *even if the underlying cause is clearly just.*” he tweeted. “It’s complicated to ask a refugee to take aim at her community.” Mandel added that the demand on Omar “feels a bit like a test… it’s not appropriate.” 

PODCAST PLAYBACK — Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), who just returned from a visit to Israel, predicted that American Jewish support of the Democratic Party will continue to increase in 2020 in an interview with the American Jewish Committee’s Seffi Kogen on the AJC Passport podcast.

Kogen: If anything, the Jewish vote has been trending further and further into the Democratic camp with each successive election. I think just looking at the last two, Hillary Clinton got about 71-73 percent of the Jewish vote. And then this is a statistic that’s been cited quite a bit: In 2018, in the midterms, 79 percent — according to CNN exit polls — of American Jews pulled the lever for a Democratic candidate. Do you think we’re going to see something roughly similar to that in 2020?

Schneider: “Well, I think the balance has been pretty consistent — anywhere from 60-70 percent of Jewish voters who voted Democrat, and that shifts a little bit depending on the election. You know, I have friends who are Democrats; I have friends who are Republicans. I think almost all Jews — and it’s the only Hebrew I’ll use, mostly the only Hebrew I know — but Hillel’s famous statement of, ’Im ein ani li mi li?’ — ‘If I’m not for myself who will be?’ but it goes on to say, ‘If I am only for myself what am I?’ That kind of defines Jews across the political spectrum, across the religious spectrum. We are a people who believe that we can’t do just for ourselves. We have to be a part of our community and do for others.”

“At least of late, it has been the Democratic Party who has been putting that front and center. So I wasn’t surprised to see more Jews voting Democratic in 2018, irrespective of what President Trump has been saying. I would expect to see a skew towards Democrats again, just because some of the priorities of the respective parties.” [AJCPassport]

HEARD YESTERDAY — Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said in a conference call hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) on Monday: “I think what we understand well enough about this president by now to understand what he really means is that American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party are disloyal to him. And this is consistent with his narcissism and his transactional nature, which he has expressed in many other situations — that he has a belief and a kind of an insatiable desire for praise and an expectation that anybody [for whom] he has done something that he thinks they should be grateful for, will simply salute, and in some sort of obsequious gratitude, express their support for him.” 

“It shows how little he knows our community. And it shows how little he understands the reason that the American Jewish community, consistently for decades, [has] voted in the 70 to 75 percent range for Democrats. That was true in his election in 2016 — 71 percent. I’m quite certain that his contribution to this debate will cause those numbers to tick up, because the way he expresses himself on this issue, [and] his policies on many, many other issues, are quite antithetical to the views and values and beliefs of so many in our community.”

Lloyd Green writes… “Nixon converted Jews to his cause. Trump is blowing it: Trump could have taken a page out of Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign playbook and patiently wooed Jewish voters… Unlike Trump, he knew how to play the long game — at least in the light of day when he was sober, and when the late Rev. Billy Graham wasn’t around to commiserate over Jews and America’s purported decline.” [DailyBeast]

SCENE IN NEW YORK — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited the University at Buffalo in New York on Monday to receive an honorary law degree. This was her first public appearance since the announcement last week that she had undergone cancer treatment. “I am now 86 years old, yet people of all ages want to take their picture with me. Amazing,” Ginsburg saidto laughter and applause. [Video]

2020 BRIEFS — Elizabeth Warren is telling her party’s establishment that she is a team player who is seeking to lead the party — not stage a hostile takeover of it… Warren and Joe Biden hurtle toward collision… Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) says he’s mulling a primary challenge to Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA)… Why ‘Pocahontas’ could still be Elizabeth Warren’s biggest vulnerability… Bernie Sanders on his plan for journalism.

ON THE TRAIL — During a campaign appearance in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Sunday, 2020 presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) shook hands with two back-to-back rabbis. Klobuchar told Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett of Nashua’s Temple Beth Abraham that they were working on scheduling a meeting with faith leaders. The senator then told Rabbi Shoshana Perry of Congregation Shalom in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts that — after attending her first bat mitzvah — her daughter said she wanted to be Jewish. [Video]

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BUSINESS BRIEFS: Leon Black’s Apollo to provide $800M loan for Crown Building [RealDeal• Toby Moskovitz’s next major Brooklyn office project revealed at 215 Moore street in Williamsburg [NewYorkYimby• Aby Rosen’s 477 Madison is about to get a $258 million fairy tale makeover[NYPost] • Ron Meyer’s $125 million Malibu house sells to tech billionaire[Variety

MORE BRIEFS: No Israel rate move this week but cuts possible later in 2019 [Reuters] • Amazon is taking Israel by storm. Here is what this means for the market [Haaretz• Israel’s Playtika acquires Best Fiends mobile game publisher Seriously [VentureBeat• Teva boosted by lower than expected J&J opioid fine [Globes]

SPOTLIGHT — The big business of scavenging in postindustrial America — by Jake Halpern: “[In Cheektowaga, New York] I met up with Todd Levin, the owner of Niagara Metals and the scion of one of Buffalo’s oldest and most venerated scrapping families. Levin seemed to know every inch of his yard… His great-grandfather, Abraham Levin, emigrated from Belarus in the 1890s and started scrapping with a horse and wagon when he was a teenager. He was just one member of an army of peddlers who, as the United States industrialized, began combing the streets for whatever metals they could find. In the ensuing decades, as Buffalo became an industrial powerhouse, the Levin family’s business grew rapidly.” [NYTimesMag]

Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty to new indictment, trial delayed — by Tom Hays: “Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty to a new indictment Monday that includes revised charges of predatory sexual assault, a development that caused the judge to delay the start of his trial until early next year. The tweak to the case was intended to open the door for an actress to testify against Weinstein.” [AP• Weinstein escaped injury after crashing his car into a tree [NYPost]

Marc Chagall’s WWII-era letters going to auction in September — by Cindy Adams: “On Sept. 19, Guernsey Auction House is putting up 12 of his private, not-before-seen, pen and ink letters. Written in French. 1941. Wartime. Nazi-occupied France. Russian Jew Chagall lived in Paris. His life in jeopardy, his avant-garde work another hatred of those commanding the Occupation. High on their hit list, desperate to get out, his letters reached the Joint Distribution Committee, which dealt with USA immigration.” [NYPost]

MEDIA WATCH — A professor called Bret Stephens a ‘bedbug.’ The New York Times columnist complained to his boss — by Tim Elfrink:“The tweet seemed harmless enough to David Karpf. The associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University took a story that bedbugs had infested the New York Times newsroom as an occasion to dig at his least favorite Times writer, the conservative columnist Bret Stephens. ‘The bedbugs are a metaphor,’ Karpf wrote on Monday. ‘The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.’ The tweet got nine total likes and zero retweets, Karpf said. So the professor was surprised when an email from Stephens himself popped in a few hours later. Then, he noticed his provost at GWU was copied on the email.” [WashPost]

REVIEW — Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel is extremely Jewish — by Matthew Kassel: “Since its publication, [Fleishman Is In Trouble], which tells the story of a messy divorce on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has hit the New York Times bestseller list and received glowing reviews for its unflinching portrayal of marriage at its end…. But what makes the book distinctly Jewish is that Brodesser-Akner, 43, had no intention at all of writing a Jewish book… On one level, ‘Fleishman’ represents Brodesser-Akner’s failure to escape her own Jewishness, a theme that happens to run throughout much of Jewish literature. It was perhaps inevitable. ‘This was my first book,’ she said, ‘and I wanted it to reflect who I am and where I’m from and the values I struggle with.’” [Forward]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Federal prosecutors to seek death penalty against Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect — by Tom Winter and Daniel Arkin: “Federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh said Monday that they intend to seek the death penalty against the man accused of gunning down 11 people at… the Tree of Life synagogue in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Oct. 27… The filing said justification for a death sentence includes allegations of substantial planning and premeditation, the vulnerability and number of victims, and a motivation of religious hostility.” [NBCNewsNYTimes]

California ‘advisor’ scam allegedly targeted fellow synagogue members — by Tracey Longo: “A federal grand jury in Los Angeles has indicted unregistered investment advisor Motty Mizrahi, 46, of Encino, Calif., for allegedly defraud[ing] numerous Jewish and business investors… Mizrahi ran a scheme out of his parents’ Encino home to defraud more than 40 investors.” [FinancialAdvisor]

ACROSS THE SEA — Hungary’s Orban hopes a rabbi can save his country’s controversial new Holocaust museum — by James McAuley: “Construction of the $23 million museum, known as the House of Fates, was completed three years ago. But controversy has stalled its opening. Initially, a Hungarian official spoke of a museum that would highlight the ‘story of love between Hungarian Jews and non-Jews.’ The premise was decried as Holocaust revisionism by historians and museum professionals worldwide. And so, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called on Slomo Koves, a rabbi affiliated with the Hasidic Chabad movement, to direct and reimagine the project… Koves has no background in museum studies. His authority stems from his position as a leader of an observant Jewish community in Hungary… He is also a reliable supporter of Orban — despite the prime minister’s use of George Soros, the billionaire Jewish financier, as a punching bag for migration and broader societal ills.” [WashPost]

Moldova’s dwindling Jewish community reopens synagogue seized by Soviets: “The Wooden Synagogue, or the Lemnaria Synagogue, was reopened Sunday in the cellar of the Kedem Jewish Community Center. About 300 people attended the ceremony under the auspices of the Limmud FSU biannual conference of Jewish learning in the center of Chisinau, also known as Kishinev… Moldova has about 19,000 people with a Jewish grandparent and 3,000 citizens who are Jewish according to Orthodox law, or halacha.” [JTA]

LONG READ — Working off the past, from Atlanta to Berlin — by Susan Neiman: “I began my life as a white girl in the segregated South, and I’m likely to end it as a Jewish woman in Berlin…  Like any American child, I learned something about the Holocaust, but it was too far away to dent, or even shadow, my own life… If the South never felt quite like home, five years in Tel Aviv, decades later, failed to make me Israeli. Perhaps that’s why I feel so easy in today’s Berlin, which has become a haven for many who feel at home nowhere else.” [NYBooks]

In the AMIA case there was an unconscionable miscarriage of justice, but no cover-up — by Noga Tarnopolsky: “If the AMIA case is resolved, why is the pervasive feeling of injustice in Argentina so entrenched and so raw? First, the structure of Argentine justice, made up of multilayered and intercrossing investigative and judicial authorities, appears designed to impede rather than facilitate an enormous investigation of this kind. The Argentine justice system was overwhelmed by the magnitude of this case. In addition, a succession of petty figures, ranging from city cops to the owner of a pickup van used in one of the attacks, all the way up to an investigative magistrate, were caught in corrupt acts of personal enrichment that tainted the investigations.” [Mosaic]

TRANSITION — David Sifry has been hired as the Anti-Defamation League’s new vice president of its Center for Technology and Society. Sifry was previously a VP at Reddit and the founder of Technorati.

REMEMBERING — Patty Abramson, founder of women’s venture capital fund, dies at 74 — by Adam Bernstein: “Patty Abramson, a Washington-based business executive who founded one of the country’s first venture capital funds dedicated to investing in businesses owned by women, an enterprise that attracted national attention with its strategy of supporting a long-overlooked pool of entrepreneurs, died Aug. 24 at her summer home on Nantucket Island, Mass… Starting in 1979, Mrs. Abramson spent a decade as a partner at Hager, Sharp & Abramson, a prominent female-led marketing and communications firm in the District. She later started her own communications shop before creating the Women’s Growth Capital Fund in 1997 — a response, she said, to the frustrations she encountered earlier in her career when she sought a line of credit for a business opportunity.” [WashPost]

BIRTHDAYS: Israel’s ambassador to Poland, she previously served as Israel’s ambassador to Russia and before that Ukraine, Anna Azari turns 60… Former director of the White House National Economic Council in the Trump administration, he was previously the president and COO of Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn turns 59… Director of international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace after serving as an advisor to President Shimon Peres, Nadav Tamirturns 58… Editor-at-large of The HillSteve Clemons turns 57… Israeli-born professor of computer science at Stanford University focused on artificial intelligence, she is a 2004 winner of a MacArthur genius fellowship, Daphne Koller turns 51…

Portfolio manager and founder of NYC-based G2 Investment Partners, Joshua Goldberg turns 44… Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Finance, Shai Babad turns 43… Executive director of Rust Belt Rising, he was previously a member of the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois Senate, Daniel Kalman Biss turns 42… The White House National Security Council’s director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction, Richard Goldberg turns 36… Co-founder of theSkimm, Danielle Merriah Weisbergturns 33… Director of National Initiatives at the Jewish National Fund, Nelson France turns 33… Michael Weiss turns 25… Yuval Sapir… Talia Rubin

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