Daily Kickoff

2020 Dems on conditioning aid to Israel | Ilhan Omar attends J Street | Davos in the Desert

Bernie at j streer

Good Tuesday morning! 
In Riyadh, Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman will be interviewing Jared Kushner at Saudi Arabia’s “Davos in the Desert,” which kicks off today. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Energy Secretary Rick Perry are also participating, as is Blackrock’s Larry Fink and Third Point’s Dan Loeb, while Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi decided to stay home.

Today on the Hill, the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism is having a hearing on “Examining the Administration’s Policy Objectives for a Turbulent Middle East.” Witnesses include Assistant Secretary for the State Dept. Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker and Assistant Administrator for USAID Bureau of the Middle East Michael T. Harvey. 

Testifying before the House impeachment inquiry, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the National Security Council’s expert on Ukraine, will share his concerns regarding the July phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky. The NYTimesdetails Vindman’s journey, along with his twin brother, from Jewish refugees to working at the White House.

Tonight in Washington, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley will receive the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute at its gala dinner.

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HEARD AT J STREET — 2020 Democrats pushed on conditioning U.S. aid to Israel

In onstage interviews conducted by former Obama administration officials Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor, Democratic presidential candidates were pressed to express their willingness to take a tougher stance on the U.S.-Israel relationship, JI’s Ben Jacobs and Jacob Kornbluh report from the J Street conference in D.C.

Gaza first: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took the hardest line of any of the attending candidates, telling Rhodes and Vietor, “If you want military aid, you’re going to have to fundamentally change our relationship with the people of Gaza. In fact, I think it is fair to say that some of that $3.8 billion should go right now to humanitarian aid in Gaza.” Sanders also stated: “It is not antisemitism to say that the Netanyahu government has been racist. It is a fact.”

Annexation watch: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg told attendees that he would support conditioning U.S aid as a means to discourage Israel from attempting to annex parts of the West Bank. The Democratic hopeful said the United States needs to “have mechanisms to do this to make sure U.S. taxpayer support for Israel doesn’t turn into U.S. taxpayer support for a move like annexation.” He also argued that “U.S. policy should not be promoting settlement construction because it is incompatible — or at best detrimental — to what we need to see happen” in the region. 

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro would not take the idea of conditioning aid “off the table,” but argued that the U.S. already has a “carrot-and-stick approach.” Castro expressed hope that “as Israel forms a new government, we’re going to have a new opportunity to work with our ally to ensure that there is not unilateral annexation, and that we pursue a two-state solution.”

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) echoed Castro’s caution, saying he “would not rule out” conditioning American aid to Israel. However, he was hesitant to embrace it, worrying that “if we pick one instrument like that in this town, it very quickly is going to become a partisan litmus test.” Bennet also warned that the current Israeli government “basically has a permission slip from [the] Trump administration to do whatever they want.”

Future of U.S.-Israel relations: While criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennet told JI that a new Israeli leader should get a grace period free from criticism. “I think it’s important for any new leader to have a grace period,” he said. “But I think for those of us who would like to see a two-state solution be achieved in our lifetime, it’s important for us to build political constituencies in the U.S. and in Israel to create a foundation where we can actually begin to have those conversations. And I would hope that the changes that are made in the U.S., in terms of presidential leadership, and the changes made in Israel, in terms of the prime minister’s position, could create a better condition for peace.” 

Crowd reaction: Sanders earned thunderous applause when he opened his remarks by saying he is proud of his Jewishness and hopes to become the first Jewish president in the history of the U.S. Buttigieg also received a notably enthusiastic reception during his appearance. J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in a statement that he was “encouraged” the candidates were willing to engage on this matter. 

Bonus: Candidates Joe BidenElizabeth WarrenBeto O’RourkeAndrew Yang and Marianne Williamson sent video messages that were posted on social media, but not streamed for attendees. Warren said the U.S. “should make clear that none of our aid should be used to support annexation,” while Biden centered his criticism on Israeli settlement activity. 

View from Jerusalem: Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein responded to Sanders’ speech on Twitter: “Bernie Sanders, stop talking nonsense. Just yesterday, I met with representatives of the EU during their visit to the Knesset, and I told them about the absurd claims regarding the economic situation in the Gaza Strip.” 

JERUSALEM SCENE — Kushner, Mnuchin visit Israel amid political uncertainty

Jared Kushner and his Mideast peace team met separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz in Jerusalem on Monday. 

Readouts: The prime minister’s office didn’t provide any details in its readout of the meeting, which was also attended by Ambassadors David Friedman and Ron Dermer. Gantz said in a statement he discussed with the White House senior advisor “various regional issues including the growing Iranian security threat, regional stability and the peace process.” 

On thin ice: Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reports that “Kushner was careful not to discuss domestic Israeli politics with Gantz. [Blue and White] officials said Kushner stressed he mainly wanted to get to know Gantz and start working with him.” 

Bibi’s favorite topic: Netanyahu also met Monday with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who vowed to increase economic pressure on Iran. In a joint press conference, Netanyahu warned that Iran is seeking to establish a missile base in Yemen to target Israel with rockets and precision-guided missiles. 

Upgrade: Netanyahu assumed the position of interim minister of diaspora affairs on Monday, his fourth portfolio in his outgoing government. In remarks at the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, Netanyahu said his first act would be to transfer funds “to protect Jewish communities from the violent scourge of antisemitism.”

SECRET AGENT — New Podcast Explores the Capture of Eichmann

In a standalone episode narrated by Mishy Harman, Gregory Warner, and Daniel Estrin and produced in conjunction with NPR, “Israel Story” — an English-language podcast on Israeli history and culture — explores the remarkable story behind the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann.

Check-In: The episode, titled “The Needle,” follows the Mossad agents who carefully walked a sedated Eichmann through an Argentinian airport. The episode focuses on Dr. Yonah Elian, the anesthesiologist assigned the near-impossible task of keeping their prisoner perfectly sedated.

On Dr. Elian: “He was the anesthesiologist who would be called upon whenever a baby — even a preemie — needed to be operated on. The doctor died some years ago, but I know he would not have talked to me anyway. He probably would have shut me out, as he did everyone who wanted to hear his story.”

The episode reveals an almost identical mission that ended in failure: “This was actually the story of an Israeli army officer. His name was Alexander Israel. And as the story goes, this Mr. Israel was desperate for money and turned against his country. In 1954, he flies out of Israel with a suitcase full of military secrets and offers to sell them to the Egyptian Embassy in Rome.”

Instead of sedating the leaker, the Mossad agents accidentally kill him: “And actually, this story is almost kind of an alternate version of the Eichmann story, in which everything that can go wrong does. This is not the Mossad that everyone has heard about. This is not a slick operation. It’s an amateur job from the very beginning.”

The full episode can be heard here.

CAMPUS BEAT — University of Illinois student government denies linkage between antisemitism and anti-Zionism

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is feeling pressure following a student government vote last week denying the linkage between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The student government passed the resolution✎ EditSign by a vote of 29-4-4.

Chancellor speaks: Weeks earlier, University Chancellor Robert Jones had come under fire for denouncing a presentation organized by a student affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine, the chief campus backer of the BDS movement. In a campus-wide email, Jones condemned the presentation as antisemitic, prompting opponents to demand that the university adopt an official definition of antisemitism.

Simon Wiesenthal Center Director of Government Affairs Mark Weitzman, who led the International Holocaust Remembrance Authority (IHRA)’s recent adoption of the working definition of antisemitism, tells JI: “While it might be difficult to characterize the resolution as antisemitic according to the IHRA definition, in essence the resolution attempts to legitimize all expressions of anti-Zionism and to intimidate Jews and other supporters of Israel. It attempts to shield anti-Zionism from charges of antisemitism through misleading assertions, such as claiming that the charge ‘is rooted in a false understanding of what the movement advocates for.’ There are enough overt expressions of antisemitism, including murderous antisemitism, in the anti-Zionist movement to make clear the intent to destroy Israel, its Jewish population, and to target its supporters in other lands.”

Worth noting: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Ahmed Shaheed told JI’s Jacob Kornbluh earlier this month that “there are elements in the BDS movement who are overtly and openly antisemitic.” 

A trend? The strong statement from the university echoes similar efforts at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Pitzer College, where university administrators have faced backlash for denouncing BDS-related campus events and initiatives that raised concerns among Jewish students, faculty and alumni. At Pitzer, University President Melvin Oliver faced a no-confidence vote by the school’s faculty after he rejected a push to end the university’s study-abroad program in Haifa.

Academic Engagement Network Executive Director Miriam Elman tells JI: “We are seeing university-wide statements and mass-mails that more directly recognize how BDS is working against university values of inclusion and tolerance… In this regard, the statement by UIUC Chancellor Jones is pathbreaking and presents a model for others. It’s also true that for every strong statement like the one recently issued by [University of Massachusetts, Amherst] Chancellor Subbaswamy, there are all too many administrators that are saying and doing very little, despite the deteriorating campus climate for Jewish and Zionist students on their campuses.”


🔍 Deep DiveThe New Yorker’s Joshua Yaffa takes a closer look at the Ukrainian scandal that is roiling the Trump administration, highlighting conversations President Volodymyr Zelensky held earlier this year on how to deal with the expectations and pressures from President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani. 

🕯️ Already Forgotten: Emma Green writes in The Atlantic that America has already largely moved on from mourning the attack one year ago at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, though the Jewish community is still grieving. “For a short time, survivors are given a platform and a microphone, but they shout their grief at a country that does not listen for long.” 

🗞️ Media Watch: Condé Nast staffers are worried about the future of the media conglomerate’s magazines and the role the Newhouse family, the owners of its parent company, play in both the budget and the editorial decisions. New York magazine reports that last year the Newhouses held a private dinner honoring its three Pulitzer Prize winners: John Archibald, Ronan Farrow and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. Steven Newhouse reportedly said that Ghansah’s winning work in GQ on white supremacist shooter Dylann Roof is “not how we think of” the magazine.


🎗️ Doing Good: Sean Rad, the co-founder of Tinder, promoted Joe Teplow’s app, Good Today, which encourages daily charitable giving, at the Forbes U30 Summit in Detroit.  

✉️ Internal Dissent: Employees at Facebook sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg and top leadership, objecting to a recent decision to allow politicians to post inaccurate claims in political ads on the site.

💪 New Leader: Sophie Wilmes, the new prime minister of Belgium, is both the first woman and the first Jew to hold the position.  

🎓 Birthright 2.0: Tablet’s Liel Lebovitz suggests that Israel offer young Jewish American students free college tuition to solve the student debt crisis and simultaneously win over their hearts and minds. 

🛫 Prepare for Takeoff: Israel’s version of “Air Force One” was seen for the first time exiting the garage at the aircraft division of Israel Aerospace Industries on Sunday, Ynetreported on Monday. 

🔮 Divine Prophecy:Bloombergreports that Israel is scouting artificial intelligence startups around the world in order to build a platform that can predict global trends.

🏆 Honoring Friends: The World Jewish Congress presented German Chancellor Angela Merkel with its Theodor Herzl Award in Munich last night. 

⚠️ High Alert: Jewish groups in Germany are alarmed after the far-right AfD party saw a surge in support during a recent regional election. 

💰 Venturing Abroad: Venture capital firm Insight Partners opened an office in Tel Aviv this week, its first outside of the United States. 

🎬 Hollywood: “Homeland” star Navid Negahban and Shaun Toub, who starred in the “Iron Man” series, have been cast in the upcoming Israeli TV miniseries “Tehran,” a spy thriller set in Israel and Iran.  

🏈 Solidarity: The Pittsburgh Steelers held a moment of silence before their game against the Miami Dolphins Monday night to honor the 11 victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. 

⚽ Sports Blink: Brazilian soccer legends including Ronaldinho Gaucho, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite and Rivaldo Vítor Barbosa Ferreira are visiting Israel this week ahead of a friendly peace-inspired match tonight in Haifa against legendary Israeli players. 

👩 Transitions: The Zioness Movement has hired Leora Einleger as its programs manager. Einleger, a granddaughter of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, previously worked as an intern for Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) in the Foreign Affairs Committee and for NYC Councilmember Mark Levine (D-Manhattan). 

👨 Rabbi David Hoffman, former vice-chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, has been appointed president of The Honey Foundation for Israel.


Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) leaving the Walter E. Washington Convention Center after attending J Street’s gala dinner on Monday evening. 


Pulitzer Prize-winning author and editor of The New Yorker since 1998, David Remnick turns 61…

Haifa-born director, his films include The Lord of the Rings, Ralph Bakshi turns 81… Dean (now Emeritus) of the Yale School of Management, Jeffrey E. Garten turns 73… Academy Award-winning actor, Richard Dreyfuss turns 72… CEO of the Center for the National Interest, Dimitri Simes turns 72… Director of the social justice organizing program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Mordechai E. Liebling turns 71… 

Bernard Greenberg turns 60… Rabbi of Phoenix, Arizona’s Temple Beth Shalom, Dana Evan Kaplan turns 59… Sports agent who has negotiated over $7 billion of player contracts, Drew Rosenhaus turns 53… Professor of mathematics and computer science, Daniel J. Bernstein turns 48… Emmy Award-winning television producer, writer and actor, Michael Schur turns 44…

VP for strategic communications and business development at Anchorage-based Northern Compass Group, Rachel Barinbaum turns 37… Associate director of engagement marketing at The Wall Street JournalSamantha Zeldin turns 27… Educational consultant at Hermiona Education, Leora Eisenberg turns 21… Editorial producer at CNN, David Siegel (h/ts Playbook)…

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