Daily Kickoff

Meet Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan | Nadler against conditioning aid to Israel | New Jim Simons biography

January 3, 2019

Good Tuesday morning!

In Connecticut, The Greenwich Economic Forum kicks off today and will feature a fireside chat with David Rubinstein and a panel on investing that includes Marc Lasry.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend a dedication ceremony of the new visitors’ center at JNF-KKL Hula Lake Park — which will be named after former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Across the country, voters head to the polls in state and local elections, including gubernatorial races in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, red states that went for Trump in 2016. In Kentucky, incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is hoping that a Monday rally with the president will give him the boost necessary to coast past his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Andy Beshear. In Mississippi, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is running against Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat holding statewide office.

In Virginia, voters will decide if the Republican Party will maintain control of both the state’s Senate and House. The GOP has managed to hold onto slim margins in both chambers, but hasn’t won a statewide election in a decade.

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MEET THE REP — Rep. Chrissy Houlahan — Capitol Hill’s ultimate Renaissance woman

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) is a U.S. Air Force veteran, engineer, former chemistry teacher and now a freshman member of Congress. She spoke with JI’s Menachem Wecker about her complex and complicated Jewish heritage. 

Serendipitous snip: Houlahan, nee Jampoler, knew little about her family background until a fortuitous trip to a hairdresser in Chicago in the 1980s. “Oh that’s a Jewish name,” the hairdresser said, stunning Houlahan. Deciding to explore, she learned that her Jewish grandmother and great-grandmother turned her father, born in 1942, over to a childless Christian couple in Poland so that he could survive the Holocaust. 

Self-identification: “My dad always said that he was an ‘immigrant.’ He never said he was a ‘refugee.’ He never said he was a ‘survivor,’” Houlahan said. And asked about being Jewish, the congresswoman said: “I don’t practice the faith. My mother’s heritage is not Jewish… I’m just not certain what the right words are.”

Recent travel: Houlahan was one of the many freshman members of Congress who visited Israel over the summer with an AIPAC delegation. “I was really impacted by the people, the landscape and the country,” she said. “I was very lucky that I got to share that with my husband, which was really phenomenal.”

Legislative goals: “Something that I loved about Israel is the inclusivity that involved the mandatory service in the military,” Houlahan said. “It also included all different kinds of people, with all different kinds of skills and backgrounds. And everybody was included. I think that’s something that I need to find a way to model.”

Read the full profile here.  

ON THE HILL — House Republicans seek to further isolate Iran

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), the House Republican Conference chair, is set to introduce legislation preventing the Trump administration from granting further sanction waivers to foreign companies working with Iran’s civil nuclear program. 

No exceptions: Cheney explained to the Washington Free Beacon that the waivers “legitimize Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure and help sustain President Obama’s disastrous nuclear deal.” She added that her legislation will ensure “that the nuclear deal is totally and completely dismantled.” 

Big deal: Iran has taken another step away from the 2015 nuclear deal on Tuesday, reactivating its Fordow uranium-enrichment facility.

Worth noting: Just last Thursday, it was announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo extended sanction waivers to allow foreign companies to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program without U.S. penalties. The rationale, according to State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, was that the waivers would “help preserve oversight of Iran’s civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran’s ability to shorten its ‘breakout time’ to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes.”

What now? With Fordow being reactivated, Congressional hawks are questioning the wisdom of the sanction waivers extension. 

Aid to Israel: Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) tells JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that Democrats who have expressed support for leveraging aid to Israel are “wrong.” Nadler stressed that “We have a $38 billion committment over 10 years for military aid to Israel. The Israelis need it for defense. Whether we approve or disapprove of specific policies, we shouldn’t use military aid as a pressure point on specific policies — because Israel’s security is paramount.”  

Jerusalem scene: Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) Angie Craig (D-MN), Susie Lee (D-NV), Martha Roby (R-AL), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) met with MKs Stav Shaffir (Democratic Union) and Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) while on an  AIEF/AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel. [PicPic]

INTERVIEW — Retired IDF General Efraim Sneh says Trump peace plan ‘has no value’

Retired Israeli Defense Forces Brigadier General Efraim Sneh, a doctor by training and the former Israeli deputy defense minister, sat down over the weekend with JI’s Sam Zieve-Cohen to discuss Israeli politics, security and a future U.S. presence in the region.

U.S. withdrawal: “As an Israeli I can say that it’s a wrong measure to withdraw from the region. I can’t criticize them from the point of U.S. interests. But it should be said, explicitly, since the United States became an exporter of crude oil, and not an importer of oil, the Middle East is not important,” Sneh told Jewish Insider. “That’s great, but it means that the United States gives up all other considerations in its global deployment… the U.S. allies in the Middle East are on their own. They have no strategic ally to rely on but themselves.”

On the White House peace plan: “This plan had no value before the withdrawal [from Syria] and, of course, has no value after,” Sneh said, dismissing the idea that the U.S. needs to lead Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. “[Washington] should be involved if it is eager to achieve something. If not, step aside. History shows that the real breakthrough between Israelis and Arabs was in secret, direct talks… If they want to be [an] honest broker, please, but then they should be very carefully balanced.”

Government gridlock: Sneh said he hopes Benny Gantz can form a coalition and become prime minister: “Everything is possible. Actually behind him there is a bloc, which is no smaller, which is more or less the same as the other side. So it’s possible.” Sneh — who served in the minority government of Yitzhak Rabin — sang the praises of minority government rule, but warned: “it requires a very strong leadership and very high discipline in the coalition.”

BOOK SHELF — In new book, Greg Zuckerman tells the story of hedge fund manager Jim Simons

Greg Zuckerman, a writer at The Wall Street Journal and a nonfiction author, is out today with a new book, titled The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution

Boy genius: Zuckerman tells the life story of billionaire hedge fund manager Jim Simons, one of the most successful investors in modern financial history, who founded Renaissance Technologies in 1982. In the first chapter, Zuckerman details how Simons grew up fascinated by mathematics. At age eight, when his family’s doctor suggested a career in medicine as an ideal profession for a “bright Jewish boy,” Jim replied, “I was to be a mathematician or a scientist.” 

Rocky road: The author highlights the setbacks Simons experienced during the stock market crash in 2007, as the Renaissance Institutional Equities Fund (RIEF) and Medallion Fund suffered deep losses. “He didn’t know if his firm could survive much more pain,” writes Zuckerman of an August 6 meeting with investors. “He was scared.” Simons decided to sell more of the company’s equity positions until the market stabilized, a decision met with skepticism. When RIEF and Medallion once again turned a profit, some “complained that the gains would have been larger had Simons not overridden their trading system.” But Simons responded, “I’d make the same decision again.” 

High risk: In 2008, Simons and one of his partners, Peter Brown, visited Qatar on business, and decided to try dune bashing in the desert. At some point, when they were riding the dunes at high speed, their vehicle almost turned over. “What if this tips over?” Simons told Stephen Robert, who accompanied him on the ride. “People think I am pretty smart — I am going to die in the dumbest way possible.” But after a few minutes, Simons suddenly realized he was going to be okay. “There’s a principle in physics: We can’t tip over unless the tires have traction! We are in sand, so the tires have nothing to grab on to,” he explained as he “flashed a smile” for figuring out their scientific problem.

Free advice: Earlier this year, during a lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his alma mater, Simons was asked which professional investors students should turn to for guidance. George Soros, he replied, according to Zuckerman. “I suppose he’s worth listening to,” Simons said about his Manhattan neighbor, “though he sure talks a lot.” Simons also shared with the audience a few life lessons: “Work with the smartest people you can, hopefully smarter than you… Be persistent, don’t give up easily.”

Available today.

ACROSS THE POND — Tony Blair: Labour’s ‘shameful’ handling of antisemitism is ‘killing the party’

Heard yesterday: Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed the Board of Deputies of British Jews’ annual dinner on Monday, amid growing fears of a Corbyn-led Labour victory in next month’s election. 

The good fight: Interviewed by TV anchor Natasha Kaplinsky, the former Labour leader called out the party’s handling of antisemitism in recent years as “shameful,” and said it has caused him “real and deep personal distress.” Blair singled out MP Luciana Berger, who quit Labour earlier this year over antisemitic bullying, wishing her “very well” as a Liberal Democrat candidate. “What has happened over these past years — particularly over antisemitism — is absolutely killing the party,” Blair said. But he also acknowledged many serving Labour MPs “who fought the good fight” and deserve recognition for that. “I want to see them supported.”

Moral battle: According to Blair, the battle in the upcoming election is against the far left in his party and the extreme on the other side — and he is therefore urging voters to help “as many good, decent, sensible, and mainstream people be elected to parliament as possible” to turn the tide. 

The list grows: Meanwhile, Zarah Sultana, a paid Labour staffer who bragged that she would “celebrate” the deaths of Blair and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was selected last week as the party’s candidate for Coventry South. In past social media posts, revealed by The Jewish Chronicle, Sultana expressed her support for “violent resistance” by Palestinians and described Israel as an apartheid state. Sultana apologized on Monday, insisting that the tweets were from a “deleted account dating back several years from when I was a student.”

Tricky admission:The Sunpublished a video yesterday of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn signing a poster that branded him as an antisemite. During a campaign event at Gloucester University on Saturday, a teenager approached Corbyn and asked him to autograph a folded piece of paper. The two then posed for a photo with the displayed sheet, featuring a photoshopped image of Corbyn and the words: “I support terrorists and I am an antisemite. Also I am on Iran TV payroll.”


💸 Bench Players: Prominent Democratic donors are acknowledging that they are losing influence over the presidential candidates as top-tier 2020 contenders turn on Wall Street, Bloomberg reports. But Robert Wolf, a former Obama fundraiser, believes concerned donors will open their wallets once there is a nominee. [Bloomberg]

😢 The Fight Continues: Hedge fund billionaire Leon Cooperman ripped into Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in an emotional appearance on CNBC yesterday, warning that she is “taking the country down a very wrong path” by vilifying wealthy Americans. Paul Krugman countered in The New York Times that “Wall Street billionaires, even more than billionaires in general, seem to be snowflakes, emotionally unable to handle criticism.” [CNBCNYTimes]

🕌 Learning from History: Fred Hiatt writes in The Washington Post that “in China, every day is Kristallnacht.” The columnist notes that mosques in China are being demolished and bulldozed on a constant basis, “in a cultural genocide with few parallels since World War II.” [WashPost


🤝 Coalition Conundrum:The New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief David Halbfinger posits that prime minister-designate Benny Gantz is focusing on healing divisions within Israel. In Foreign Policy, Eetta Prince-Gibson writes that whether or not the Joint List joins a coalition, Israeli Arabs are experiencing a paradigm shift in political participation. 

🇮🇱🇯🇴 Talk of the Region: Israel agreed to release two Jordanian detainees on Monday, ending a diplomatic feud between the two countries. 

😡 Mad as Hell: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s D.C. visit, initially scheduled for November 13, “has been put on hold” after Congress voted to sanction Turkey and recognized the Armenian genocide, a Turkish official said Monday. 

🔍 Still Searching: The United States has offered a $20 million reward for any information about Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing in Iran since 2007. 

🕍 Talk of the Nation: The FBI arrested a 27-year-old white supremacist for a plot to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado, after he tried to purchase pipe bombs and dynamite from undercover agents. 

🏗️ Box of History: A time capsule from Pittsburgh’s Jewish community buried in 1906 was unearthed yesterday during the demolition of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, which once housed the Tree of Life synagogue. 

🔓 Unblocked: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) apologized to former New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind on Monday for blocking him on Twitter, just a day before she was scheduled to testify in a lawsuit on the matter at a Brooklyn federal court.

⚖️ Dealmaking: Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas is now prepared to testify and comply with the House impeachment inquiry, his lawyer told Reuters Monday. The lawyer told the NYTimes that Parnas “was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him.” 

Sports Blink: The World Series Champion Washington Nationals visited the White House on Monday. Principal owner Mark Lerner was on hand, only a week after the Democratic Lerner family chose not to sit with President Trump during Game 5. 

🥩 Feeling at Home: CNN Business’s Nell Lewis explains why the global food tech market is flocking to Israel: its governmental Innovation Authority, which provides company grants, and the Jewish culture that values compassion towards animals. 

🕯️ Remembering: Yvette Lundy, a member of the French Resistance and a Nazi concentration camp survivor, passed away at the age of 103. Lundy helped European Jews escape through France, forging false documents and providing a hideaway at her brother’s farm.


Beatrice Kahn, Sheila Katz and Dana Gershon of the National Council of Jewish Women visit Capitol Hill yesterday to discuss legislation on gun violence and other issues.


Psychologist and wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sara Netanyahu turns 61…

Chairman of Israel’s Yesh Atid Party with 13 seats in the Knesset, he is part of the Blue and White coalition with 33 seats, Yair Lapid turns 56…

American-born Rosh Yeshiva of the Kamenitz Yeshiva of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yitzchok Scheiner turns 97… Former hedge fund manager and Olympic fencer (Munich, 1972), he described both activities as requiring “Defend, Adjust and Attack,” James Laurence Melcher turns 80… Former governor, legislator and supreme court justice, all in the Oregon state government, Ted Kulongoski turns 79… Singer, poet and actor, best known as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, Art Garfunkel turns 78… Co-founder and chairman of Rexford Industrial Realty, Richard Ziman turns 77… Television and film critic, Jeffrey Lyons turns 75… French public intellectual, media personality and author, Bernard-Henri Lévy turns 71…

Economist and long-time director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University (2002-2016) where he remains a University Professor, Jeffrey Sachs turns 65…  Senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, Benjamin Wittes turns 50… Host, anchor and correspondent for CBS News and CBS Sports, Dana Jacobson turns 48… Deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Justin Muzinich turns 42… Founder and CEO of a health organization working for early detection and prevention of cancer, Yael Cohen Braun turns 33… News editor at Business InsiderJacob Shamsian turns 26… Communications coordinator at IKAR, Tara Khoshbin… Regional director of AJC New York, Michael Schmidt

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