Daily Kickoff

Welcome to September and new book season — An Obama speechwriter on her Jewish journey and General Mattis on disagreeing with presidents

J. Scott Applewhite

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis arrives to give House members a classified security briefing, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, not shown, on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.

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WHILE WE WERE AWAY — On Friday, President Donald Trump tweeteda high-definition surveillance photo of a failed Iranian satellite launch, sending his “best wishes and good luck in determining what happened”… Iran admitted on Monday that a technical malfunction during a test caused the explosion… Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly tried to reach Trump during the G-7 summit to discourage a possible meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

In a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, Netanyahu declared it is the “wrong time to talk with Iran”… The Israeli leader is also likely concerned about a Washington Post report that National Security Advisor John Bolton has been sidelined on certain foreign policy matters as his standing with Trump falters. 

On Saturday, the Palestinian Authority announced that it has decided to end the division of the West Bank into Areas A, B and C according to the Oslo Accords… Haaretz reported that three senior House Democrats recently met with Israeli diplomats in an attempt to diffuse some of the tensions created by Trump’s comments and Netanyahu’s decision not to let Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) visit Israel… Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told a D.C. audience that she is on her way to being “very well.” 

NEW BOOK OUT — The Obama speechwriter’s Jewish journey — by JI’s Amy Spiro: Sarah Hurwitz, a longtime speechwriter for former First Lady Michelle Obama, is out with a new book today titled Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life — in Judaism.

Hurwitz, who grew up nominally Jewish, signed up for an introduction to Judaism class on a whim several years ago, soon after a breakup. Slowly she discovered a Judaism that not only inspired and moved her but also mirrored her career in public service. 

“[People] know about tikkun olam and tzedaka and caring for the stranger, but Judaism has a lot of really deeper insights,” she told JI in a recent phone interview. “It has a lot of very specific thinking about how you help those who are struggling, about the value of each human life, and I think the more I learned about all of that, the more I was just struck by how much that was the driving force of my career in politics.” 

And years after she first began studying Judaism, Hurwitz said, she realized that “it might be helpful to write a book that I wish I’d had when I first started learning.”

In it, she strives to “cover the basics while also unearthing some of the deeper insights and showing people that Judaism has so much to offer about how to live a good life, how to be a better person and how to have spiritual connection.” Click here for the full interview and how Hurwitz’s journey fit in to her time in the Obama White House[JewishInsider

MATTIS ON OBAMA’S IRAN POLICY — Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis criticizes former President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran and Syria in a new book out today, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Mattis recalls the arrest of two Iranians who plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador in D.C. in October of 2011, saying he “was puzzled” to learn of the incident from the media and that the Obama administration didn’t “respond forcefully” to what he describes as an intention to commit an “act of war” by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “Absent one fundamental mistake — the terrorists had engaged an undercover DEA agent in an attempt to smuggle the bomb — the Iranians would have pulled off this devastating attack. Had that bomb exploded, it would have changed history,” Mattis, who was at the time head of Central Command (CENTCOM), writes. “I believed we had to respond forcefully. My military options would raise the cost for this attack beyond anything the mullahs and the Qods generals could pay.” 

Mattis said he learned the Obama administration was secretly negotiating with Iran after it failed to hold Iran accountable for firing on a U.S. drone in November 2012. “In my view, we had to hold Iran to account and strike back when attacked,” he writes. “But there was a reason for the administration’s restraint. The administration was secretly negotiating with Iran, although I was not privy to the details at the time… In my military judgment, America had undertaken a poorly calculated, long-shot gamble. At the same time, the administration was lecturing our Arab friends that they had to accommodate Iran as if it were a moderate neighbor in the region and not an enemy committed to their destruction. As long as its leaders consider Iran less a nation-state than a revolutionary cause, Iran will remain a terrorist threat potentially more dangerous than Al Qaeda or ISIS.” 

Mattis’s book doesn’t delve into his recent tenure as defense secretary or his views on Trump’s foreign policy. He explained in media interviews ahead of the book launch that he doesn’t “discuss sitting presidents.” In an interviewwith “The Journal” podcast, Mattis said he was “right up front” in frank policy discussions with the president, but never blocked or delayed actions Trump ordered him to take.

Mattis wrote that former Vice President and 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden “exuded the confidence of a man whose mind was made up, perhaps even indifferent to considering the consequences were he judging the situation incorrectly.”

DEAL DIPLOMACY — French President Emmanuel Macron is reportedlyready to offer Iran a $15 billion financial bailout package to compensate it for U.S. sanctions and convince it to return to compliance on the 2015 nuclear deal. On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would never enter bilateral talks with the United States, but “if America lifts all the sanctions then like before it can join multilateral talks.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that, for the first time since the nuclear deal was signed, Iran refused to cooperate with the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over allegations — first made public by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.N. General Assembly last year — of illicit nuclear activity in an Iranian warehouse. 

TOP TALKER — More than 70 individuals from the foreign policy community signed onto a statement defending the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and its CEO, Mark Dubowitz, after the Iranian government announced sanctions on the think tank last month. Signatories to the letter include former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel Martin Indyk and Dan Shapiro; former undersecretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy, the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt, the Conference of Presidents’ Malcolm Hoenlein, AJC’s David Harris, The Washington Institute’s David Makovsky, AEI’s Danielle Pletka, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Bluelight Strategies’ Aaron Keyak, and U.N. Watch’s Hillel Neuer.

FIRST LOOK — How a secret Dutch mole aided the U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet cyberattack on Iran — by Kim Zetter and Huib Modderkolk: “The courier behind that intrusion… was an inside mole recruited by Dutch intelligence agents at the behest of the CIA and the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad… An Iranian engineer recruited by the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD provided critical data that helped the U.S. developers target their code to the systems at Natanz… That mole then provided much-needed inside access when it came time to slip Stuxnet onto those systems using a USB flash drive.” [YahooNews]

TALK OF THE REGION — Tensions escalated along the Israel-Lebanon border over the weekend, with IDF troops and Hezbollah forces exchanging fire on Sunday. Israel reportedly faked two IDF soldiers being wounded by covering them in blood and evacuating them by helicopter, causing Hezbollah to believe it had been successful. This was the first time the two have engaged in armed conflict since the 2006 Lebanon War. 

On Monday, Netanyahu warned Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah that Israel had “operated with determination and responsibility… The man in the bunker in Beirut knows exactly why he’s in a bunker.” Nasrallah responded in a speech that the recent episode is just the start of a “new phase” in which the terror group no longer has red lines.

The escalation comes amid efforts by Israel to prevent the transfer of precision missiles — with the capability to hit Israel — from Iran to Hezbollah. A senior Israeli defense official said on Monday that while preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb remains Israel’s top priority, “thwarting Hezbollah’s precision missile project has now become the second top objective.” The official also said that the Hezbollah leader sought a ceasefire as the IDF responded to his group’s strike. 

Separately, the International Criminal Court on Monday ordered its top prosecutor to consider reopening the case against Israel over its 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara flotilla. The prosecutor has until December 2 to make her decision.  

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — Netanyahu is reportedly in an advanced stage of reaching an agreement with the Trump administration over a “presidential statement” about “substantial” defense understandings ahead of the September 17 elections. According to Haaretz, while a mutual defense pact has been discussed during talks in recent weeks, the chances of completing such an agreement before the elections “are almost nonexistent” since it requires the involvement of the Pentagon and other U.S. government agencies. 

In addition, the newspaper reported, Netanyahu is also “trying to orchestrate some form of gesture from Russian President Vladimir Putin.” On Tuesday,  Netanyahu told the cabinet that Israel is working to organize another trilateral meeting of the national security advisors of Russia, the U.S. and Israel to discuss removing Iran from Syria. Netanyahu also canceled a planned visit to India scheduled for a week before the election.  

RACE TO THE KNESSET — Over the weekend Netanyahu finalized a deal with former MK Moshe Feiglin, promising him a ministerial job and the legalization of marijuana in exchange for his fringe Zehut Party dropping out of the race. On Tuesday it was reported that the prime minister offered to lower the electoral threshold for the next election in exchange for the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party to also drop out. 

On Monday, Israel’s Channel 13 aired recordings of Netanyahu overheard yelling at then-Communications Minister Ayoub Kara in 2017, shouting “Have you gone crazy?!” and working behind the scenes to keep the right-wing Channel 20 on air. 

Michael Oren writes… “If Avigdor Lieberman ascends to power, it could change everything — but it’s unclear how: The kingmaker may well become the kingslayer, and then perhaps claim the throne himself. If he does, the prospects for short- and long-term change, if not upheaval, are manifold… as the one right-wing politician still open to territorial compromise, he could be a constructive partner for any Trump-administration peace plan. Electoral success for Lieberman would mean an Israel that will demand greater loyalty from its Arab citizens and army service from Haredi Jews… All of this from a man who, though a fixture at home, is virtually unknown to the world.” [TheAtlantic]

ARGUMENT — David Hazony and Adam Scott Bellos write…  “Zionism was never about ‘supporting,’ but about building and doing. It wasn’t about taking pride in Israel, but in being a Jew. And it wasn’t just about securing a political homeland, but about reviving the spirits and minds of Jews everywhere.” [JPost]

HEARD OVER THE WEEKEND — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told Israel’s Channel 12 while attending an event in the Bronx:“The Netanyahu administration has been pursuing a lot of extraordinarily concerning policies. To conflate an individual leader or ego with being against the entire country is the hallmark behavior of folks like our president…. They can no longer use this allegation of antisemitism to defend their unjust and inhumane policies that hurt all people. Frankly I think, it damages the security of all people — the Israeli and Palestinian alike. You can’t use this cudgel of antisemitism to scare people away from pointing that out. We won’t stand up for that anymore, and we have to stand up for the peace and security of the Israeli and Palestinian people.” [Video]

TALK OF THE CITY — New York City’s elected leaders have renewed efforts to focus on taking immediate actions on a municipal level to deal with the rise in antisemitism after a rash of recent incidents — targeting Jews in Queens and Brooklyn, as well as Yeshiva University students — put the Jewish community across the city on alert. 

As Jewish Insider reported last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio at first appeared to drag his feet in opening the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes to combat the rise in antisemitism. The de Blasio administration announced on Friday that the office will open sometime this week, after the mayor’s initial announcement in June. Freddi Goldstein, de Blasio’s press secretary, insisted on Monday that “the office opened last Monday (months early) and has been busy at work.” But the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice was reportedly unable to provide details, including who will head the office and how many staffers it will have.

The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein writes: “This is a failure… also of major Jewish organizations. These organizations have collected tens of millions in donations to supposedly fight antisemitism and yet have proven absolutely useless in pressuring politicians to take action as observant Jews have become unsafe in the epicenter of American Jewish life.”[WashExaminer]

2020 BRIEFS — Presidential hopefuls face a stubborn problem: how to bump Joe Biden… On certain days, Biden’s campaign can feel more like a dutiful slog than the last march of a happy warrior… The star of the annual Muslim convention was a Jewish man from Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders… It’s now Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Sanders — and everyone else… Pete Buttigieg was rising. Then came South Bend’s policing crisis… The highs and lows of Kamala Harris’ roller coaster summer… Beto O’Rourke has broken through the Democratic primary’s noise with expressions of raw anger on gun control…

** 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 Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Robert Kraft’s NFL influence endures past off-season scandal [WSJ• Israel’s Gazit Globe plans to sell 6% of Atrium to insurer Phoenix [Reuters] • Israeli startups raised over $350m in August [Globes• Israel retains A+ credit rating with Fitch [IsraelHayom] • Amazon schedules Israel launch for election week [Globes• Israeli officials warn of growing budget deficit ahead of election [Reuters]

INTERVIEW — Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke to JI’s Amy Spiro about the rollout of his latest initiative, a network of Whatsapp channels that will disseminate daily inspirational ideas. As of Monday, the initiative had reached more than 15,000 sign-ups. 

“This is one of my passions,” he said. “Because I am a great believer that revolutions in information technology are the drivers of civilization… I see every single revolution in information technology as having huge spiritual implications. So as soon as the internet began to be important, it became central to our work. Rabbis are supposed to be teachers. It’s the oxygen we breathe. So when you have a new way of doing so — then I get very excited.”

Sacks said that while he recognizes Jews around the world are worried by the rise in antisemitism, “the important thing is not to be afraid. The terrifying thing about antisemitism in the 19th and early 20th century was that Jews had nowhere else to go,” he said. “Today we have a State of Israel. That means that every Jew in the world has a home — in the sense in which the poet Robert Frost defined it — as a place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in. And that means that we walk without fear.” Click here for the full interview [JewishInsider]

SPOTLIGHT — Matt Tyrnauer: Chronicler of Trump’s mentor Roy Cohn — by Maureen Dowd: “In the documentary, Mr. Tyrnauer interviews one ex-lover of Mr. Cohn and three cousins, including the writer Anne Roiphe. They described Mr. Cohn’s mother, Dora Marcus, as a domineering woman who, when a maid in her employ dropped dead, stored the body under a serving table in the kitchen while she continued Passover dinner. When Gary Marcus, a cousin, asked the first question of Passover, ‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ Dora blurted out, ‘Because the maid is dead in the kitchen.’”

“‘Roy Cohn did the impossible,’ Mr. Tyrnauer said. ‘He created a president from beyond the grave. I don’t think there’s any disputing that. The basic lessons that Trump learned from Cohn were: Never apologize. If someone hits you, hit them back a thousand times harder. Any publicity is good publicity. And find an ‘other.’” [NYTimes]

HOLLYWOOD — Netanyahu’s calls to boycott Israeli media giant Keshet following the release of HBO’s 10-episode series “Our Boys,” the drama that focuses on the events surrounding the murder of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in 2014, have had little impact on the studio, and French distributor Canal+ became the most recent company to pick up the show. In a Facebook post on Friday, Netanyahu slammed Keshet, calling it a “propaganda network.” His Facebook post came hours after a request from Netanyahu’s Likud party to keep outlets, specifically Keshet 12 News, from publishing leaked material surrounding the graft investigation that has loomed over this latest election season.

Keshet executive Karni Ziv on why Israeli shows become worldwide hits: “These creators are writing and living in a conflict zone — a society that is torn between Orthodox people, secular, Palestinian, Jews, Jews from different countries, a lot of immigration. It’s a very segmented society.” [VanityFair]

Telluride Film review: ‘The Human Factor’ — by Jay Weissberg:“There’s a certain group of documentary-loving policy wonks who’ll be clamoring for ‘The Human Factor’… a film about the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations… the film pushes the deeply disquieting assumption that the United States knows what’s best for those troublesome people in the Middle East… None of this critique should be seen as casting aspersions on the genuine commitment shown by Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Daniel Kurtzer, Robert Malley and Aaron Miller, nor that of Gamal Helal, the sole Arab interviewed.” [Variety]

SPORTS BLINK — Football coach can pursue Jewish heritage-based race bias claim: “Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College and its president must face a suit alleging they didn’t hire a football coach because of his Jewish heritage, the Western District of Louisiana ruled.” [BloombergLaw]

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei fears for safety after refusing to quit World Championships — by Ben Morse: “While competing in Tokyo, Mollaei claims his coach received two calls from the Iranian authorities instructing him to withdraw his fighter from the tournament to avoid the possibility of meeting Israeli judoka Sagi Muki in the final. The 27-year-old Mollaei ignored the warnings, but despite losing in the last four he fears repercussions back home in Iran.” [CNN]

CAMPUS BEAT — Freshman previously denied entry to the United States arrives at Harvard — by Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin: “Harvard freshman Ismail B. Ajjawi ’23, who United States border officials turned away ten days ago, arrived on campus Monday in time for the start of classes Tuesday. Ajjawi’s family issued a statement Monday through his lawyer thanking those who voiced support for him and assisted his arrival.” [TheCrimson]

WWII 80TH ANNIVERSARY — World War Two: German president asks Poland to forgive Nazi ‘tyranny’: “German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked Poland’s forgiveness for Nazi ‘tyranny,’ 80 years on from the start of World War Two. Mr. Steinmeier and other world leaders are in Poland to commemorate the outbreak of the conflict. Speaking in the capital, Warsaw, Mr. Steinmeier apologised for the ‘horrific war’ unleashed by Germany. ‘This war was a German crime,’ he said in a speech. His Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence also delivered speeches in front of crowds and heads of state on Pilsudski Square.” [BBC• In Polish ceremony marking 80 years since WWII, the Poles forgot one thing: the Jews [Haaretz]

TALK OF THE TOWN — Florida’s Broward County may soon stop charging a $200 annual license for businesses which call themselves kosher, the Sun Sentinel reported. The fee has been considered by some kosher restaurant owners “as a tax on being Jewish.” On September 10, county commissioners are slated to vote on repealing the kosher license regulations, that currently exist in Broward but not neighboring Palm Beach or Miami-Dade counties.

A century after their ancestors left Russia for Baltimore, descendants gather to share history and stories — by Lillian Reed: “Dozens of descendants from a single Russian village held a belated town hall meeting more than a century in the making Saturday at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. More than 80 members of the group that organizer Howard Schwartz calls ‘the Mlynov descendants’ traveled to Baltimore’s Jonestown neighborhood this week from across the country to swap family stories, trace their fingers along tangled webs of bloodlines and exhibit their treasured heirlooms.” [BaltimoreSun]

Sonoma County Jews celebrate opening of Chabad Jewish Center — by Kevin Fixler: “Sonoma County’s Jewish faithful gathered Sunday in east Santa Rosa [California] to celebrate what they called a miracle and new chapter in Judaism: the opening of the city’s newest synagogue, the Joseph Weingarten Chabad Jewish Center.” [PressDemocrat]

SCENE IN DENVER — The Israel on Campus Coalition convened approximately 125 staffers from more than 20 pro-Israel campus organizations at its biannual Field Professionals Retreat in Denver, Colorado last week. Among the speakers were the American Jewish Committee’s Avi Mayer, A Wider Bridge executive director Tyler Gregory, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Aviva Klompas.

WEEKEND WEDDING — Betsy and Yedeedya Mellman wed Sunday at the Hilton Pearl River in New York, in the presence of Rabbi Alan Ciner, who officiated; the proud parents of the groom, Mark Mellman and Mindy Horowitz; Norm Eisen, Lindsay Kaplan, Ken Weinstein, Amy Kaufman, Avi Goldgraber, Aaron Keyak, Robbie and Shari Diamond, Judah Rose, Lisa Schreier, Alyza Lewin, and Eliezer Halbfinger. [PicPic

REMEMBERING — Leslie H. Gelb, journalist, think-tank leader and foreign policy expert, dies at 82 — by Matt Schudel: “Leslie H. Gelb, who observed and influenced U.S. foreign policy for decades, as a government official, journalist and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, where he sought to bring common sense to international power struggles, died Aug. 31 at a hospital in New York City… Leslie Howard Gelb was born March 4, 1937 in New Rochelle, N.Y. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, ran a corner grocery store.” [WashPostNYTimes]

Edda Servi Machlin, 93, champion of Italian Jewish cuisine, dies — by Neil Genzlinger: “Edda Servi Machlin, who survived the harrowing World War II years in Italy by hiding out with anti-Fascist partisans, then immigrated to the United States and wrote a definitive cookbook on Italian Jewish food, died on Aug. 16 at her home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx… Edda Debora Rafaella Servi was born on Feb. 22, 1926, in Pitigliano. Her father, Azeglio, was the village rabbi. Her mother, Sara (DiCapua) Servi, provided the example and knowledge that later turned up in her cookbooks.” [NYTimes]

Sarah Cohen, oldest Jewish person in Kochi, passes away at 96: “Sarah Cohen, who lived for 96 years in a little green house in Mattanchery’s Jew Town in Kochi, [India] passed away on Friday… She was the oldest and one of the last remaining Jewish persons living in Mattancherry.” [TheNewsMinute]

BIRTHDAYS: Pioneer of the modern cable television industry, Gustave M. Hauser turns 90… Betty Lederman turns 75… Software engineer at IBM in Cary, NC, he persevered after many years to locate and inter the remains of the crew of a crashed WW2 American B-24 in the Indian Himalayans, succeeding in 2008, Gary Zaetz turns 65… Actor best known for portraying Bobby Baccalieri on “The Sopranos,” Steve Schirripa turns 62… Producer and reporter at NBC, Adam Reiss turns 54… Editor-in-chief and CEO of TimeMagazine, Edward Felsenthal turns 53…

Historian and journalist, Eric S. “Rick” Perlstein turns 50… Executive director of the Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics at Chicago’s Jewish United Fund, Jason Rothstein turns 48… Director of graphics at Politico, Todd Lindeman turns 48… CEO of PR and communications firm, Sunshine Sachs, Shawn Sachs turns 46… Retired two months ago as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, Avital Ingber… Partner in the Los Angeles office of Left Hook Communications, Joel Kliksberg turns 35… Managing Partner of Tax Equity Advisors, Jonathan Silver

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