Daily Kickoff

Klobuchar takes the stage at J Street | Pittsburgh one year later | Aviva Klompas on her time in Turtle Bay

Preston Keres

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asks U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue a question in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry about Implementing the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 in Washington, D.C., February 28, 2019.

Good Monday morning! 

Today in D.C., several 2020 candidates — Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro — will speak at the annual J Street conference. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will address the gathering this evening. 

In Jerusalem, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meeting several hours after meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner is slated to meet with both Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz today. 

🕗 Israel ended daylight saving time over the weekend — so for this week only, Israelis are just six hours ahead of the East Coast. 

👉 Received this from a friend? Subscribe to the Daily Kickoff.

DRIVING THE DAY — Trump celebrates killing of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi

President Donald Trump reveled on Sunday as he announced the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during an operation in Syria this weekend. Democratic congressional leaders say the president left them in the dark about the operation.

With time running out: A U.S. official toldThe New York Times that senior military officials had decided that, with U.S. forces largely moving out of Syria, “commandos should take action quickly to try to kill or capture senior terrorists in northwest Syria before the United States lost that ability.” Military officials also said that Trump’s withdrawal decision — which the Timesreported was made despite knowing the CIA was closing in on Baghdadi — “forced the Pentagon to press ahead with a risky night operation.” 

Why it matters: Rob Satloff, executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, tells JI that America’s role in the region shouldn’t “diminish” with Baghdadi’s demise and that “it is highly unlikely to sound the death-knell for ISIS.” According to Satloff, the need for a U.S. presence “is based on a range of vital interests greater than the life and death of one man, however significant his violent end may be.” 

Not trustworthy: Former U.S. diplomat Brett McGurk notes that “it is telling that the U.S. chose to launch the operation from hundreds of miles away in Iraq, as opposed to facilities in Turkey just across the border. The United States also reportedly did not notify Turkey of the raid except when our forces came close to its borders, the same notification we would have provided to adversaries such as Russia and Syria.” 

Word from our allies: Iraqi President Barham Salih said in an interview with Jonathan Swan on “Axios on HBO” that he is no longer sure he can rely on the U.S. and he may be ready to “recalibrate” his country’s relationship with U.S. foes like Iran and Russia in the wake of the Trump administration’s recent moves. 

Inbox: “Conference of Presidents Congratulates President Trump on Elimination of Leading ISIS Terrorist,” read the subject line of a statement issued by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Sunday. 

ON THE TRAIL — Klobuchar says the U.S. shouldn’t renegotiate Israel aid ‘right now’

JI’s Jacob Kornbluh reports from J Street’s national conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.:

Heard last night: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) discussed Trump’s Syria withdrawal, annexation, and the decline of bipartisan support for Israel in a one-on-one conversation with former Obama administration officials Ben Rhodes and Tommy Vietor on Sunday night. 

Weighing in: Klobuchar, who voted in support of the anti-BDS bill — known as S.1 — earlier this year, said she “appreciated” that both J Street and AIPAC expressed their opposition to Netanyahu’s decision to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from entering Israel in August. 

Now is not the time: Klobuchar refused to say if she agrees with candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg about conditioning some U.S. assistance to Israel if it annexes the West Bank. “I think we are at this moment and time where it is not a good idea to negotiate these things right now,” the Minnesota Democrat said. But she emphasized that Netanyahu’s pre-election declaration on annexation “was wrong.”  

Addressing Trump’s Syria move, the 2020 presidential candidate said, “When you think of it from an Israeli perspective, and you think of it from the perspective of our allies, once again, this president has chosen to let Russia have a lead and then has again backed away from our allies.”

Elsewhere in 2020 news: Former Vice President Joe Biden suggested in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Jared Kushner was not qualified to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace. “What credentials does he bring to that?” Biden asked rhetorically. 

Joining forces: Bernie Sanders received the endorsement of Tlaib during a campaign rally in Detroit on Sunday. Sanders noted that the Michigan congresswoman has “become a national figure” for standing up “to the political establishment.”

In a video posted on Twitter, Tlaib stressed that Sanders “is not gonna sell us out.” She also boasted that her family “has never, ever really come together on a lot of political issues” but “Amo Bernie seems to be able to unite us,” using the Arabic word for uncle. 

BOOK SHELF — A speechwriter’s efforts to shift Israel’s standing at the U.N.

Aviva Klompas, who served as a speechwriter to Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor from 2013-2015, discussed with JI’s Jacob Kornbluh her new book, titled Speaking for Israel: A Speechwriter Battles Anti-Israel Opinions at the United Nations

Transition: For Klompas, changing the tone of her writing and adjusting it to reflect Israeli diplomatic straightforwardness was a challenge. Her previous work in the diplomatic field was for the Canadian government — first as a senior policy advisor for the Ontario government and then in the Cabinet office overseeing the portfolios of the transportation and infrastructure ministries. The transition, she explained in an interview with Jewish Insider, was “a steep learning curve.” 

Syncing up: Klompas writes that when she was hired, she was told her new boss “loved cheesy one-liners and insisted on having them in almost all of his speeches.” She adds, “Once I understood Ron’s thinking, we fell into a comfortable partnership and started producing speeches that captured attention.”

The power of the pen: Klompas said she felt “immense pride” that her words were used in an effective manner. “Every time I heard a representative deliver a speech that I wrote in the U.N., it was just a remarkable thing to know that you’re standing in the course of history to be able to participate and to have this front-row seat, not just to what’s happening, but to actually give words to what’s happening,” she told JI. “That I count as one of the greatest blessings of my career in terms of successes.”

Read the full interview here



‘That’s the reason I was shot. I’m a Jew’

In a series of stories published on the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettedetailed the recoveries of survivors of the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history, what comes next for the building that housed the three congregations, gun legislation, national and international responses to the attack, and the influence of the far-right.

A survivor speaks: The Post-Gazettespoke with Dan Leger, who was shot when he ran toward the sound of gunfire in the synagogue. More than a week after the attack, when his breathing tube was removed, the first words he said were the Shema prayer. “Let’s face it — that’s the reason I was shot. I’m a Jew,” Leger told the newspaper. “So if I didn’t take that reason and use it in a positive way, it would be self-destructive and self-defeating.”

Solidarity: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who on Friday declared October 27 “Remember Repair Together Day,” was in Pittsburgh on Sunday to mark the anniversary with members of the city’s Jewish community. At a ceremony in Midtown on Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city must “use all of our power” to avoid “another memorial for other poor souls who were massacred.”

On the field: Terrell Suggs, a linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals who considers himself half-Jewish, wore a Star of David on his cleats during his game on Sunday.   

Media memorialsThe New York Timesspotlighted the different approaches taken by the three congregations that shared the Tree of Life synagogue building in the wake of the attack, CNN profiled 91-year-old Joe Charny, a survivor of the attack who recites kaddish for the victims, and CBS spoke with Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, who treated the shooter.  

Secure Community Network CEO Michael Masters emails JI: “While some have called the events in Pittsburgh twelve months ago a wake-up call, we believe they were – more accurately – a call to action. Since that horrific massacre, we have seen many communities and organizations take committed, and substantive action to enhance their safety, from improving physical security to empowering themselves through training. As the official safety and security organization for the Jewish community in North America, we have received over 3000 requests for service since October 27, 2018. That is a distinct increase from the 500 requests we received in the ten months leading up to that fateful October day. Yet, while we have made progress – in our synagogues, day schools, camps, senior centers, community centers and workplaces – we still have much, much more work to do.”

INTERVIEW — Freedom House’s Michael Abramowitz on the future of democracy

For Michael Abramowitz, President of Freedom House — the U.S.-based nonprofit dedicated to researching and advocating for democracy and political freedom — recent years are a cause for concern. The organization’s 2018 Freedom in the World report found that 71 countries “suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties,” for the twelfth consecutive year of global decline. In an interview with Jewish Insider, Abramowitz detailed the work of Freedom House and the state of global freedom.

Diminishing democracy: “This has been happening for 13 years. And what’s interesting is a global phenomenon is happening in every continent. It’s happening in authoritarian settings like Russia and China. It’s happening in countries that have kind of been moving towards more democratic and open systems like Turkey or Hungary. It’s been happening in the kind of the traditional West… Half of [the world’s 40 strongest democracies] have experienced some decline of liberal rights and civil liberties. So as a global phenomenon, I think it’s interesting to see when our new report comes out in the first quarter of 2020, we may be reaching a trough.”

Day-to-day impact: “Well what we think is that the scores, basically, offer a look at the level of freedom, you know, the political rights and so is enjoyed by residents of a particular country. So the higher the score, the more free you are, the lower the score, the less free you are. And, you know, freedom is a gradation. It’s not like a binary choice you have or you don’t, so I think it’s a way to assess the quality of the levels of freedom and the quality of democracy in a particular country.”

Do numbers matter? “I’ve been at Freedom House a little more than two years, and I think it’s been gratifying to me and sobering to see that countries do pay attention to how they’re scored. You know, the first week I was at Freedom House, the foreign minister of Ukraine came to see me because he was upset about a particular aspect of our score. He was very friendly about it. But we had a very good conversation about it. We get countries come to us all the time, wanting to know why they were scoring this way and also what they need to do to be better to raise their scores.”

On the future of Freedom House: “Our angle’s really to support the people doing the work on the ground to help defend the world democracy. So we’re going to double down on that. We’ve always believed in strong U.S. leadership and human rights, so we’re really pushing for that to install U.S. democratic practice.”

Read the full interview here


🗣️ Interview: Billionaire George Soros sat down withThe New York Times‘ Andrew Ross Sorkin to discuss the antisemitism directed at him as well as the 2020 presidential election. In the interview, Soros identifies Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as “the most qualified” Democratic candidate, but withholds an endorsement “because I want to work with whoever” wins the nomination. 

🖋️ Not Again: Former U.S. Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat argues in Politico that, based on his experiences negotiating reparations for Holocaust survivors, cash reparations for descendants of slaves in America “are not the way to correct this grievous wrong.”

🛒 Dream Come True: After decades of planning, construction and delays, the American Dream megamall in East Rutherford, New Jersey — which will eventually be home to water slides, an indoor ski slope, an ice skating rink and a full kosher food court — opened in part on Friday. Developer Don Ghermezian told the Wall Street Journal that the project is not a mall, but “an incredible collection of unique experiences.” The NYTimes pointed out that it anticipates 40 million visitors a year, “despite the fact that Bergen County, the mall’s home, prohibits retail sales on Sundays.”

👴 Eyes on Joe: Olivia Nuzzi’s latest New York Magazine profile of Joe Biden details the former vice president’s “mystical quality” on the campaign trail, but also his slip-ups, errors, liabilities, advanced age and how he “spent a half-century grasping for this position and watching it slip through his fingers.”


💵 Pocket Money:BuzzFeedreported on Saturday that Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman made a previously undisclosed donation of $25,000 to an affiliate of the National Council of Young Israel the same month they traveled to Israel with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci.

⚖️ Historical Reminder:Time magazine takes a look back at Israel’s trials of Jewish collaborators with the Nazis in the 1950s and 60s — which became known as the “kapo trials” — in an excerpt from Dan Porat’s new book, Bitter Reckoning.     

🕍 Prayer for Peace: The Associated Press takes an inside look of the first fully functioning synagogue in the United Arab Emirates located in a secret villa in an upscale Dubai neighborhood. 

📈 Going Private: Billionaire Lev Leviev has filed an offer to buy the public holdings in Africa-Israel Investments, delisting it from the London Stock Exchange. 

⚾ FL to MA: The Red Sox are slated to officially announce Chaim Bloom as the team’s new general manager this morning. The Boston Globe — which is full of advice for Bloom — also pointed out that he keeps kosher and has missed games to observe the High Holidays. 

🏈 Sports Blink: Roger Staubach, a former NFL quarterback, wrote in The Dallas News that “giving to Israel became a constant goal” in his philanthropic efforts. 

💑 Decade of Love: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary with family and close friends at Camp David on Saturday. A White House official told CNN on Friday that the couple will be paying for the expenses. But on Saturday, Trump tweeted that he is picking up the tab. 

🎒 Transition: Rachel Mohl Abrahams was hired as a senior advisor for education grants and programs at the Mayberg Foundation. Abrahams previously worked at the Avi Chai Foundation. 

🍕 One Bite: David Portnoy of Barstool Sportsposted a positive review of kosher Brooklyn pizza joint Pizza Time over the weekend, saying it was “very good pizza” and that he “can’t tell the difference” between kosher and non-kosher pies. 

🍪 Dessert: Celebrity chef Ina Garten recently revealed that after trying “almost every cookie in New York” she believes the best black-and-white cookie in the city comes from kosher bakery William Greenberg.


Actress, known for her TV roles as Judy Miller in CBS’s “Still Standing” and as Debbie Weaver in ABC’s “The Neighbors,” she is also an owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, Jami Gertz turns 54…

Redondo Beach resident, Larry Berlin turns 88… Spiritual leader of the Village of New Square (Rockland County, NY) and Hasidic Rebbe of Skverer Hasidism, Rabbi Dovid Twersky turns 79… Former member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Sofa Landver turns 70… Philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates turns 64… Former member of the Knesset for Likud, he currently serves as mayor of Beit She’an, Jackie Levy turns 59…

Manager of MLB’s Oakland Athletics since 2011, after a 10 year career as an MLB catcher (1985-1994), Bob Melvin turns 58… Creator and editor of the Drudge Report, Matt Drudge turns 53… Former member of the Knesset for Likud (2015-2019), Oren Hazan turns 38… Elliot Schwab turns 34…

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered daily in a must-read newsletter.