Daily Kickoff

In Atlanta, Booker jabs Biden on marijuana as Bernie and Buttigieg outline foreign policy approaches

Good Thursday morning!

Today in New York, the Anti-Defamation League is holding its annual Never Is Now Summit on Antisemitism and Hate at the Jacob Javits Center. Featured speakers include Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, U.S. special envoy on antisemitism Elan Carr, State Dept. envoy on Iran Brian Hook and British MP Joan Ryan. 

In D.C., Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer will address the Jewish Institute for National Security of America’s fall national leadership conference this morning at the Conrad Hotel.

Tonight in New York, Jordan’s King Abdullah II will receive the “Scholar-Statesman Award’ at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s gala. The dinner will also pay tribute to Merryl and James Tisch, who will be honored in a speech by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). 

In Israel, President Reuven Rivlin notified Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Benny Gantz were able to form a government following the September 17 elections. Beginning today, any member of Knesset — including Netanyahu and Gantz — has 21 days to gather 61 signatures of support for backing as prime minister, or a third election will be triggered. Meanwhile, Likud’s Gidon Sa’ar is calling for a primary within the party.

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DEBATE RECAP — Democratic presidential candidates spar on debate stage in Atlanta

As ten presidential hopefuls gathered on a soundstage in southwest Atlanta, headlines around the world were dominated by Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony earlier Wednesday in Washington. On stage, impeachment was the first topic covered to consensus from those vying to oppose Trump in 2020. The debate featured robust discussions of issues ranging from childcare to foreign policy in addition to sharp criticisms on substantive issues, JI’s Ben Jacobs reports from Atlanta.

Chipping at Biden: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) directly attacked former Vice President Joe Biden for the latter’s opposition to legalizing marijuana, a position Biden reiterated on Saturday when he suggested the substance was “a gateway drug.” Later, Biden mistakenly referred to former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun as “the only African-American woman elected to the Senate,” even as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) stood feet away.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg took one frontal attack — from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who attacked his judgment for his willingness to allow the U.S. military to provide security aid to combat cartels in Mexico. “Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is considering invading Mexico?” Buttigieg responded. The South Bend mayor blasted Gabbard for her 2017 meeting with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. “If you’re talking about experience, let’s talk about judgment,” Buttigieg said. “I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that.”

Spin Room: “I gotta think Pete was an absolute winner,” a Buttigieg aide told JI. “[He] came out not just unscathed but he managed to turn the few attacks he did face around on those who came after him.”

Addisu Demissie, Booker’s campaign manager, told Jewish Insider, “I think everytime Cory Booker is on one of these stages, he showed why he belongs there and he did that tonight. He was forceful, he was emphatic, and ultimately he showed why he should be president because he can bring us together.” Demissie added, “If we get another chance in December, we’re going to do exactly the same thing and ultimately I think we’ll be successful in February.”

The only candidate to mention Israel was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who echoed remarks he made last month at the J Street national conference in Washington. “It is no longer good enough for us to be simply pro-Israel,” the Vermonter said Wednesday night. “I am pro-Israel, but we must treat Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity they deserve. What’s going on in Gaza right now with youth unemployment at 70 percent or 80 percent is unsustainable. We need to be reconsidering who our allies are around the world and not supporting brutal dictatorships.”

Read the full recap here.

Bonus: Watch the top five moments of the fifth debate here.

ON THE HILL — Sondland confirms ‘quid pro quo’ in impeachment hearing

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on Wednesday delivered damning testimony about President Donald Trump’s involvement in the Ukraine scandal during a public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. 

Presidential direction: Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee that he worked with Rudy Giuliani on issues related to Ukraine at the “express direction” of the president. In his sworn testimony, Sondland addressed claims that financial support for Ukraine was conditioned on an investigation into a company with ties to Trump’s political opponents: “Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” 

Bombshell: Speaking to Fox News, Kenneth Starr, who spent years investigating former President Bill Clinton, said, “This obviously has been one of those bombshell days,” and predicted that Democrats will move forward on impeachment procedures.

Family history: Sondland mentioned his family’s Holocaust past in his opening statement. “My parents fled Europe during the Holocaust. Escaping the atrocities of that time, my parents left Germany for Uruguay, and then in 1953 emigrated to Seattle, Washington, where I was born and raised,” he said. “Like so many immigrants, my family was eager for freedom and hungry for opportunity. They raised my sister and me to be humble, hardworking, and patriotic, and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices they made on our behalf.” 

Flashback: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) highlighted Sondland’s Jewish background during his Senate confirmation on June 21, 2018: 

“I have known Gordon Sondland… for well over a quarter of a century… There is a really small Jewish community in Oregon, and we pretty much know each other. The Ziedals and the Rosenfelds, the Tanzers and the Sondlands. We’re just people who get together and back good causes, and try to stand up for our state. And particularly have an interest in global kinds of matters because of our family background.”

“We are both — Gordon Sondland and I — we are the children of German parents, and both of our families fled the Nazis in the ’30s. Gordon’s father used his foreign language fluency to help the British army during the war. My dad, who lived for a while in Ridgefield, Connecticut, wrote the propaganda pamphlets for our army, that we dropped on the Nazis, and I am telling you — those pamphlets smoked. I mean, it basically told the Nazis they were gonna freeze if they didn’t pack it in and give up to the Red, White and Blue. So both, Gordon’s family and mine, ended up in the U.S. as refugees. And I think we all know that America has always called to our shores from every nation on earth… and, in affect, we had a constant infusion of individuals who share Red, White and Blue values of hard work and love of country.” h/t Howard Mortman/CSPAN

CONFIRMATION HEARING — Mitchell Silk begins his confirmation hearing for Treasury role

A hearing was held in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs yesterday on the nomination of Mitchell (Moyshe) Allen Silk as assistant secretary of the Treasury for International Markets, a position he has held in an acting role since July.

Background: Silk, a native of New York, is a lawyer, author and expert in Chinese law and finance, who is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese. Silk is believed to be the first and only Hasidic Jew to hold a senior position in a U.S. administration. 

Family ties: In his opening statement Silk spoke movingly about his family and his ancestors, including “my amazing wife Yocheved Rivka,” his eight children and three grandchildren. “My grandparents immigrated to this country from hardship and persecution in Eastern Europe,” he said. “Their life experiences were chilling. My maternal grandfather, the guiding light of my life, grew up in abject poverty, witnessed Cossacks brutally murder his family members and struggled to cope with the extermination of his family in the Holocaust.”

Impressive CV: Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) called Silk “a key voice on trade negotiations, energy and infrastructure finance, export credit and financial services” since he joined the Treasury in 2017 as a deputy assistant secretary for International Affairs.

Close to shul: In a 2018 profile in Mishpacha magazine, Silk reflected on his 15 years as an observant Jew in Hong Kong, his dedication to daily Torah learning and his shift to life in D.C. “We took housing in D.C. that’s close to shul and work,” he said. Silk said he tries to make it home to Brooklyn every weekend for Shabbat.


🧳 Seeking Safe Haven: Yardena Schwartz takes a close look at why French Jews are fleeing France in record numbers, and the struggles many face trying to adapt to new lives in Israel. [NationalGeographic]

💭 Rethinking BDS: A new group of Arab scholars, diplomats, journalists and thinkers, called the Arab Council for Regional Integration, met for the first time in London this week with a radical idea: Boycotting Israel is a failure, and only harms Palestinians and other Arab nations. [NYTimes]

🤟 On Track: Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni detail what’s behind former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s decision to go all-in supporting Trump, as evident from her book launch and media blitz over the past week. According to the New York Times reporters, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have “warned her to be more careful talking” about Trump publicly. [NYTimes]


🚔 New York Violence: An Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed multiple times and severely injured in Rockland County while walking to synagogue Wednesday morning. County Executive Ed Day told reporters that Ramapo police are investigating the incident before determining the motive. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the state’s police hate crimes task force to assist in the investigation and examine “whether the attack may have been motivated by antisemitism.”

🏬 Up to the Challenge: Billionaire investor Carl Icahn stands to gain at least $400 million if mall owners run into challenges servicing their debt, as he takes a bet on shortselling mall debt. 

🚦 Red Light: A day after Israeli startup Gett said it was shutting down Juno, its New York arm, Juno filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming the city’s wage law.

🎁 Surprise Gift: Jewish Women’s Archive CEO Judith Rosenbaum was surprised recently to receive over $1,000 in donations in honor of her late mother, Paula Hyman. Hyman’s compatriots from the ground-breaking women’s organization Ezrat Nashim pooled together the funds, which will go toward the expansion and re-publication of Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia.

🤳 Profile:As Michael Bloomberg contemplates throwing his hat in the presidential ring, Rachel Figueroa, the woman behind the satirical @ElBloombito Twitter account, is back in the game.  

💰 Big Spender: Despite not officially declaring his entry into the race, Bloomberg is planning on spending $15-20 million on voter registration drives in five battleground states.

🔒Jail Time: Michael Leslie Cohen, a former executive at Och-Ziff Capital Management, was sentenced to three months in prison for making false statements to the FBI during its investigation of the firm. In 2016, Och-Ziff, now called Sculptor Capital, paid $412 million in penalties over charges of bribery in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

📣 United Against Hate: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced on Wednesday that more than 30 heads of state will attend the fifth World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in January to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

🇻🇦Holy See: On Thursday, the Vatican warned that the U.S. decision to recognize Israeli settlements in the West Bank risked undermining the peace process. In a statement, the Holy See reiterated its support for a two-state solution as “as the only way to reach a complete solution to this age-old conflict.”

🎩 Bidding Backlash: A collection of Hitler memorabilia, including his top hat, went up for sale at a German auction house today, sparking anger from Jewish communal groups.

🚑 Blocked in the Hood: The ambulance license application by Ezras Nashim, a Hasidic all-female paramedic group, was denied by a regional council Tuesday night, setting up a fight ahead of a final ruling in Albany.

🇬🇧 Across the Pond:Tory candidate Amjad Bashir was suspended by the party after the discovery of 2014 comments he made about Jews returning from Israel “brainwashed.” 

🎓 Campus Beat: Members of the group Students Against Israeli Apartheid physically clashed with Jewish students at an event featuring IDF soldiers at York University in Toronto last night. Meanwhile, in the U.K., retired IDF Lt. Col. Eyal Dror faced BDS protesters during events at King’s College London and Warwick University. Dror was speaking on his role in setting up Operation Good Neighbor, the IDF’s humanitarian mission credited with bringing thousands of injured Syrian civilians over the border for treatment in Israeli hospitals.


The Chabad of Venice synagogue damaged as the Italian city faces the worst flooding since the mid-1960s


Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group, Thomas Rothman turns 65…

British philanthropist, Baron Harold Stanley Kalms turns 88… Academy Award-winning actress, founder of The Hawn Foundation to help underprivileged children, Goldie Hawn turns 74… Founder of Men’s Wearhouse, now at Generation Tux, an online tuxedo rental platform, George Zimmer turns 71… Beverly Hills resident, Julie Shuer turns 67… U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California, she was the president of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, CA in the late 90s, Judge Beth Labson Freeman turns 66… VP of wealth management at the San Francisco office of Taylor Frigon Capital Management, Jonathan Wornick turns 56… CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jonathan A. Greenblatt turns 49…

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens turns 46… Born in Tehran, his family emigrated after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, he is the founder and publisher of the business magazine The Real DealAmir Korangy turns 46… Former NFL running back for the Raiders and Rams (1997-1999), he is a VP in the Philadelphia office of Walker & Dunlop, Chad Levitt turns 44… Political Director of ABC News, Rick Klein turns 43… Director of government relations at the Hershey Company, she was previously a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation, Joanna Liberman Turner turns 43… U.S. foreign service officer, Danielle Hana Monosson turns 43… Reporter at Bloomberg NewsMax Abelson turns 35… Pitcher for the San Diego Padres (2018-2019), he was claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies three weeks ago, Robert Stock turns 30… Wyckoff, New Jersey native, Alexander Freeman turns 28… Judy Brilliant… Ruth Shapiro

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