Daily Kickoff

At an LA synagogue, Gabby Giffords shares her inspiration | Mike Bloomberg’s early ambition | The ‘speaking at AIPAC’ talking point

Bloomberg Philanthropies

Good Wednesday morning!

2020 watch: Ten Democratic presidential candidates — Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang — are set to take the stage tonight for the 5th primary debate, airing live on MSNBC and streaming on the Washington Post at 9 p.m. ET.

Today in New York, the U.N. Security Council will convene a special meeting to debate the Trump administration’s announcement on West Bank settlements.

In D.C., the State Department’s special envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, along with other White House officials and GOP lawmakers will address the Republican Jewish Coalition’s fall leadership meeting. Yesterday, the RJC announced that former White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt has joined its board of directors.

Tonight in D.C., Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will receive the Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson Distinguished Service Award at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s (JINSA) annual awards dinner at the Conrad Hotel. 

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has just hours remaining before his mandate to form the next Israeli government expires at midnight local time. In a press conference on Wednesday, Avigdor Lieberman closed the door on joining a minority or a right-wing government. More on that below. 

Overnight in Israel, the IDF struck dozens of Iranian targets in Syria in response to rocket fire on the Golan a day earlier.

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FIRST JEWISH POTUS? — Recent Mike Bloomberg biography sheds light on likely 2020 candidate’s early ambition

Michael Bloomberg is expected to announce his entry into the 2020 presidential race imminently after filing the necessary paperwork to appear on the ballot in several states. New York Times reporter Eleanor Randolph’s biography — The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg, published in September — gives readers an intimate look at his life, including his early ambition to be America’s first Jewish president. 

“For a college student, Bloomberg had a lot of poise. He would occasionally joke that he would be America’s first Jewish president. ‘How can you talk that way to the first Jewish president? Or, you’re going to challenge the word of the first Jewish president?’ Mary Kay Shartle, a longtime friend from college days, remembered. It was always good for a laugh, but later, it became clear that it wasn’t just part of Bloomberg’s routine. ‘Most of us were just college kids living in the moment, Mike was living in the future,’ she said. ‘I’m not even sure he knew exactly what future.’”

Friends gearing up: Bloomberg’s projected run has already garnered support from a slew of business executives, CNBC reported, including former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, venture capitalist Bradley Tusk, co-chair of Castleton Commodities International Joshua Steiner and others.  

HEARD LAST NIGHT IN LA — Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly discuss the road to recovery

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband, astronaut and 2020 Senate candidate in Arizona Mark Kelly, sat down for a discussion last night at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills to discuss gun violence and the former congresswoman’s tough, ongoing road to recovery. 

Background: In 2011, Giffords — weeks into her third term in Congress — was shot in the head during a constituent event in Tucson, Arizona, where six others were killed. Giffords, who spent months in hospital and years recovering, resigned from Congress in 2012, and in 2016 launched a gun reform advocacy organization. 

Team effort: Giffords spoke minimally at Tuesday night’s event, ceding a majority of the speaking time to Kelly and offering only a few sentences about her rough road to recovery and all the events keeping her busy. “It will be a long hard haul, but I’m optimistic,” Giffords said haltingly. Her busy schedule keeps her on the road “60% of the time,” and she spends her days doing “yoga twice a week, French horn, Spanish lessons, riding my bike [she’ll be racing in the El Tour de Tucson this weekend], physical therapy, PBS, and relaxing.”

Inspiration: Asked by event moderator Rabbi Sarah Bassin how she gets her inspiration to keep fighting each and every day, Giffords offered an emphatic and succinct answer: “[Rep.] John Lewis, civil rights leader!”

Eye on the Senate: Kelly, a former Navy captain and NASA astronaut who announced his bid earlier this year for the late Senator John McCain’s seat in Arizona’s special election next fall, spoke passionately about the urgent need for gun reform in America. Kelly stressed that he himself is a lifelong gun owner, but that common-sense legislation — including mandatory background checks — has widespread support. 

Root cause: “Background checks on gun sales are something that most Americans support,” Kelly said. “90% of Americans support them. So it’s something that you would think would be relatively easy to get through in Congress. And the reason it isn’t, is corporate money in politics… so like a lot of other issues, one way to address this issue is with campaign finance reform. John McCain taught me that.”

TALK OF THE REGION — Dozens killed in Iranian crackdown on protests

More than 100 people have been killed in Iran as protests over rising fuel prices overtook parts of the country in recent days. Tehran again restricted the already-limited internet access for citizens, citing security issues.

Sanctions effect: Ilan Goldenberg, senior fellow and director of the Middle East security program at the Center for a New American Security, told JI: “The protests were caused by a decision to raise fuel prices and reduce subsidies, but it’s also clearly a result of the tough economic situation brought on by sanctions. It’s unclear where things go from here, but given the regime’s highly effective security forces, it will most likely succeed in managing the situation.”

On the Hill: In Washington, the Senate has not taken up the issue or called for action in Iran, but some individual senators have expressed support for the protestors.

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), tells JI: “Power centers in Tehran — namely elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Judiciary — are already distancing themselves from the new policy, arguing that the rollout was botched. The ground is being laid for President [Hassan] Rouhani to take the blame.”

Returning: UANI announced on Tuesday that former National Security Advisor John Bolton will return to his previous role as a senior advisor to the advocacy organization. 

ANNEXATION WATCH — Is West Bank annexation next on Trump’s gift list?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly given the go-ahead to Likud lawmakers to advance a bill that would apply Israeli law over Jewish settlements in the Jordan Valley. 

Details: Likud Knesset Member Sharren Haskel announced Tuesday that she submitted a request to exempt her bill annexing the Jordan Valley from the mandatory waiting period to bring it for a vote in the Knesset plenum next week following the Trump administration’s policy reversal on settlements.

Coalition framework: In a video published on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu called on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman to join him in a unity government to “safeguard the security of Israel and annex the Jordan Valley on day one.” This is a “one-time opportunity” that should not be missed, the prime minister stressed. 

Timetable: The Netanyahu government is still an interim government, and if no government is formed in the next three weeks, the 22nd Knesset will be dispersed and new elections triggered. If a government is formed, the Trump administration has indicated that it will release its peace plan. However, if Israel is headed for another election, full or partial annexation of the West Bank could end up added to the list of gestures the president has given Netanyahu in the past year. 

Expectations: “I think the immediate response or implications that can be actually implemented is applying Israeli law over Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria,” Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy for the Yesha Council, told the Wall Street Journal. But a U.S. official cautioned Israel not to take the new policy as a “U.S. green light” for Israel to annex the West Bank or expand settlements. “It is not illegal to smoke, but that does not mean it is a good thing to do,” the official toldAxios.

Sara Haetzni-Cohen, head of My Israel, tells JI that the vast majority of the right-wing/conservative Israeli public “expects the government not to miss the opportunity” of Trump being in the White House. “Since most Israelis do care about the international community, this declaration somewhat gives Israel a stamp of approval in this field,” she explained. “The minimum is to fulfill Netanyahu’s promise in the last elections — sovereignty over the Jordan Valley.”

Evangelical base: Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Museum and an evangelical advisor to Trump, told Jewish Insider that he expects the next Trump move would be the “recognition” of Israel’s sovereignty over “Judea and Samaria.” Evans maintained that these moves are not needed for Trump to get evangelicals on board in support of his re-election. “We are [already] on board,” he said. “I can tell you my 68 million followers are very happy with the president and what he’s done for Israel. So, what he’s doing right now is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump, showing courage to do the right thing.”

Key influence: Israeli Channel 13’s Barak Ravid detailed the advance work on the decision at the State Department over the past year. According to the report, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman pushed for the policy change since the early days of the Trump administration, but was met with resistance from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. After the legal work was done, Friedman pushed for its publication, briefing both the prime minister’s office and Gantz ahead of the announcement. 

Buzz on Balfour: Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly still contemplating whether to charge Netanyahu with bribery in Case 4000 — which alleges that the premier acted to benefit Bezeq chief Shaul Elovitch in exchange for favorable media coverage. Channel 12 News reported that even if the bribery charge is included in the indictment, it would likely be watered down. In an interview with JNS, professor Alan Dershowitz called on Mandelblit to “do the right thing” and drop the charges against Netanyahu.

UK ELECTION WATCH — Johnson challenges Corbyn on antisemitism in TV debate

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn briefly debated the concern of growing antisemitism in Labour during a televised debate on ITV last night. Johnson blasted his rival for not stamping out antisemitism, while Corbyn insisted his party had acted appropriately on the matter. 

Corbyn: “Antisemitism is an absolute evil and scourge within our society… I have taken action in my party where anyone has committed any antisemitic acts or made antisemitic statements they are either suspended or expelled from the party and we have investigated every single case. We do take this very, very seriously indeed, because I do not want to live in a society where racism is rife. I understand and recognize the desperate history of the Jewish people in the 20th century, which came about from an un-restriction of antisemitism in the 1920s. We have got to stand up against racism in any form in our society.”

Johnson: “It’s a complete failure of leadership what has happened in the Labour Party with antisemitism.”


🧠 Brain Power: Bloomberg’s Ivan Levingston details how the Mossad is recruiting ultra-Orthodox men in an effort to boost Israel’s intelligence community and help them better integrate into Israeli society. [Bloomberg]

🤝 Real Allies: Author and professor Azeem Ibrahim writes in Foreign Policy that criticism of Israel stemming from antisemitic attitudes is “dangerous to the Palestinian cause itself.” Ibrahim excoriates Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for his party’s systemic antisemitism problem: “The far-left only cares about the suffering of the Palestinians when Israel is to blame.” [ForeignPolicy]

🏗️ Building an Empire:Commercial Observer’s Chava Gourarie has penned an investigation into how billionaire Les Wexner planned and built New Albany, the richest town in Ohio. [CommercialObserver]

📰 Media Watch: With New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet expected to retire in 2022, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith looks at the internal competition to become Baquet’s successor. Being considered are Joe Kahn, the Times’ managing editor; James Bennet, who oversees the Editorial section; and Metro section head Cliff Levy. One of the looming questions is what direction the paper of record will take: one that satiates young staffers’ desires for a more politically charged newspaper, or one that bends to its subscriber base. All eyes are on publisher A.G. Sulzberger, who will ultimately choose the paper’s next executive editor. [BuzzFeed]


📣 Echo Chamber: White House senior adviser Stephen Miller closely coordinated with Breitbart to tout his policy views and push negative articles against Sen. Marco Rubio during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a new batch of leaked emails shared with NBC News and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

😡 Name Calling: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called for the ouster of Miller based on the email leak, calling him “a neo-nazi and a white supremacist.” 

👊 White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley responds: “It’s the Democrats who would not speak at AIPAC, refused to directly condemn their own members’ antisemitic comments, routinely diminish and trivialize the Holocaust, regularly embrace known antisemites like Louis Farrakhan, and have collectively and consistently rejected the protection of Israel — America’s strongest democratic ally in the Middle East. With a record like that, clearly it’s the Democrats’ behavior that should be called to account and completely denounced.” 

🤔 Of Note: Trump hasn’t spoken at AIPAC since his controversial appearance as a candidate in 2016. 

💲Big Bucks: Israeli-cofounded fintech startup Capitolis has raised another $40 million. 

👩 Keeping up with the Levys: NYT’s Matti Friedman reviews Sarah Abrevaya Stein’s book on a history of Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire. Stein’s monograph follows the Levy family, who experienced the tumultuous late-19th and early-20th centuries periods in the predominantly Jewish city of Salonica.

🎧 Worthy Listen: In the latest podcast, Israel Story looks at the history of Jews in Iraq. “By the Rivers of Babylon” explores how Jews — who first arrived in Babylon in the 6th Century B.C.E. — went from one-third of the population a century ago, to just five today. 

👨🏻‍🏫 Etymology: In an interview for the podcast “New Books in Jewish Studies,” Daniel Schwartz, Associate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at George Washington University, discusses his book Ghetto: The History of a Word

💎 Jewish Quarter: Gothamist has published a love letter to Manhattan’s Diamond District, “one of the last New York blocks left in Manhattan,” noting its ubiquitous Yiddish, kosher Bukharian eatery, and “pawnbrokers in yarmulkes” playing backgammon.

🚌 Shabus Shalom: Free public transportation on Shabbat is set to launch in Tel Aviv this weekend. 

👩 Making History: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) became the first woman in history to chair the House Oversight Committee, as Democrats chose her to replace the late Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on the powerful panel. Maloney will become a key figure as the impeachment inquiry proceeds. 

🕺Last Dance: Adam Cohen, son of the late musician Leonard Cohen, will release a posthumously completed album of music left unfinished by his father. “Thanks for the Last Dance” set to be released on Friday, will be the fifteenth studio album for the famed singer and songwriter.

✍️ On the Line: In an interview with Spectrum News, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman discusses her experience of covering the Trump White House from a front-row seat. 

📧 Spreading Hate: In the latest incident of racist and antisemitic incidents at Syracuse University, a white supremacist manifesto was circulated electronically among students.

🚓 Remodeling: The house in Austria where Adolf Hitler was born is slated to be turned into a police station to prevent the site becoming a pilgrimage spot for neo-Nazis. 


Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, received the Lifetime Chesed Award at the Met Council’s fall gala in New York on Tuesday night. 

Spotted: Dina and David Greenfield, David and Judy Lobel, Moshael Strauss, Andrew Penson, Elliot and Debbie Gibber, Daniela Tisch, Randi Schatz and Joseph Allerhand, Gail Propp, Ilana and Stuart Goldberg, Eric Goldstein, Ari Ackerman, Jeff Schoenfeld, Sherry and Neil Cohen, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, Rabbi Elie Weinstock, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Mark Medin, Brian Tregerman, Stephen Rosenberg, Howard Jonas, Liora Stein, Aliza and Michael Davis, Mike Leventhal, Nicole and Raanan Agus, Staci and Nachum Segal, Lisa and Barry Bergman, Sara and Scott Weiner, Stacy and Ronald Scheinberg, Richard Mack, Rami Sasson and Rebecca Feit, Linda and Jerome Spitzer, Robert Morris, Willy Pilku, Rabbi Josh Lookstein, Larry Cohen, Meg and David Lazarus, Abe Biderman, Drew Parker, Mendy and Zisi Reiner, Tracey Bliski, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, Rabbi Chaim Poupko, Helene and Ziel Feldman, Sara and Marc Plotsker, Pam and George Rohr, Raizi Chechik, David Schwartz, Doug Korn, Ken Eckstein, Wilma and Kenneth Aschendorf, Scott Domansky, John Gallagher, Yossi Prager, Kalman Yeger, Simcha Eichenstein, Yeruchim Silber, Yidel and Blimie Perlstein, Ben Segal and Avi Spitzer.


Former Vice President of the United States and current presidential candidate, Joe Biden turns 77…

Retired dean at City University of New York, Dr. James Goldman turns 84… Art dealer and former owner of MLB’s Miami Marlins, Jeffrey Loria turns 79… Singer and songwriter best known for writing and performing the song “Spirit in the Sky,” Norman Greenbaum turns 77… Former national security advisor of the United States, John R. Bolton turns 71… Major-General (reserves) in the IDF, he is a former combat pilot, military attaché to Washington and head of Aman (the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate), Amos Yadlin turns 68… Longtime spokesman (now emeritus) to the foreign press at the Jewish Agency for Israel, Michael Jankelowitz turns 67…  Kings County, NY (Brooklyn) Supreme Court judge since 2015, he was previously a civil court judge and a NYC Councilman, Noach Dear turns 66…

Pulitzer Prize-winning national affairs writer for the Wall Street JournalRonald Steven “Ron” Suskind turns 60… White House official in both the Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations, now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, Jay P. Lefkowitz turns 57… Pianist, composer and author, Robin Spielberg turns 57… Fashion designer, hotelier and real estate developer, Alan Faena turns 56… Vice chair of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Heidi Monkarsh turns 55… American-born former member of Knesset for the Likud party, Yehuda Glick turns 54… Rapper and founding member of the hip hop group the Beastie Boys, Michael Louis Diamond, better known as Mike D, turns 54… Hedge fund manager, founder and president of Greenlight Capital, David Einhorn turns 51… Boston-based real estate attorney at Goulston & Storrs, Zev D. Gewurz turns 48… Anchor for Yahoo Finance, Julie Hyman turns 43…

Political consultant and opposition research specialist for the DNC and Obama’s 2008 campaign, founder of Beehive Research, Devorah Adler turns 45… Chief relationship officer for NCSY’s Southern Region, Rabbi Benjamin Gonsher turns 40… Outfielder for four MLB teams including the Cubs, Rays, Athletics and Twins, he played center field for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Sam Fuld turns 38… Senior manager at Saban Capital Group, the Saban Family Foundation and the Cheryl Saban Self-Worth Foundation for Women & Girls, Jesse Bronner turns 38… Actress and writer, her decision to convert to Judaism was the subject of a 2006 article in The Sunday Timesof LondonMargo Stilley turns 37… Actress and playwright, Halley Feiffer turns 35… Senior health care reporter for Politico Pro covering health care politics and policy in the states, Dan Goldberg… Alexis Weiss

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