Good Thursday morning!
In The NYTimes this morning, Bari Weiss describes how the now-regular occurrences of antisemitic incidents and attacks in Western nations have been “largely overlooked by the mainstream press,” and ignored in the broader community, heightening concerns among Jews around the world.
In Israel, a third round of elections inched closer after kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman said he would not choose between the left and the right and that a repeat vote is inevitable. Bloomberg’s Ivan Levingston details how the political stalemate has paralyzed the country, with no end in sight.
New roles: While working on Mideast peace and the building of the border wall, Jared Kushner is also taking on a bigger role in trade talks with China. Expedia put chairman Barry Diller in charge of day-to-day operations after it fired CEO Mark Okerstrom and CFO Alan Pickerill. And the New York Mets may have a new owner in one Steve Cohen.
Tonight in New York, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will speak at the inaugural U.N. Watch gala.
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MEET THE CANDIDATE — Ritchie Torres: ‘I am the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive’
New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) discussed his run for Congress and highlighted his pro-Israel bona fides in an interview with JI’s Jacob Kornbluh.
Details: Torres is one of 11 Democrats vying to replace outgoing Rep. Jose Serrano in New York’s solidly blue 15th district in next June’s primary. Torres has so far outraised the other candidates, who include City Council members Rubén Díaz Sr. and Ydanis Rodríguez, Assemblyman Michael Blake, and former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. According to Federal Election Commission filings, Torres has raised $878,084 for his campaign as of the last quarter.
Notable firsts: Torres made history in 2013 when, at age 25, he became the youngest elected member in the council’s history. If elected, the former community activist and housing organizer could become the first openly gay black or Latino member of Congress.
Similar on the surface, distanced in credo: If elected, Torres will be 31 when he is sworn in, which would make him one of the youngest members of Congress, along with 30-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), whose district adjoins his. But Torres, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2016, doesn’t see himself seeking an alliance with Ocasio-Cortez, and has vowed not to court the far-left Democratic Socialists of America or accept the endorsement of any group that supports BDS.
Insidious hate: “My concern is that BDS poisons whatever it touches,” Torres said. “There is a deep prod of antisemitism at the core of BDS, and I view it as an insidious form of antisemitism. I am concerned about the normalization of BDS within the progressive movement, and I worry deeply that BDS has the potential to poison progressiveness.”
Torres on 2020 candidates — including Bernie Sanders — expressing support for conditioning aid to Israel: “Support for Israel’s security should remain unconditional. Israel is more than a transactional ally or friend, and the notion of threatening a friend with the loss of some funding for its security needs strikes me as absurd. In what sense does that honor the very nature of friendship?” Torres further emphasized that while constructive criticism of Israeli government policies is fair game, “rhetoric about conditioning aid to Israel strikes me as a dog whistle for the pro-BDS wing of the progressive movement.”
Pushback: When Torres visited Israel in 2015, far-left activists held a protest against him outside New York’s City Hall. “I had activists from Jewish Voice for Peace accusing me of pinkwashing, accusing me of aiding and abetting apartheid,” he recalled. “I even remember coming across an activist with a shirt that read ‘queers for Palestine.’ I remember telling the activist, ‘Does the opposite exist, are there Palestinians for queers?’ It was partly a joke but partly a serious observation. I found it utterly baffling that you had LGBT activists doing the bidding of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that executes LGBT people. And then I came to realize… that the BDS movement uses intersectionality to penetrate a whole host of self-proclaimed progressive values.”
Face of the party: Torres pushed back against Republican attempts to use Israel as a political football and paint legislators like Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as the face of the Democratic party. “I’m both progressive and pro-Israel,” he stated. “The notion that you cannot be both progressive and pro-Israel is a vicious lie, because I am the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive. I am from the Bronx, I’m Afro-Latino, I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a millennial — but I’m also pro-Israel.”
But Torres also believes that the decision by Israel to bar Tlaib and Omar from visiting the country was a mistake. “A robust democracy like Israel should never fear criticism. I doubt it will have lasting impact, but it was an attempt by Trump to politicize Israel.”
TALK OF THE REGION — Netanyahu takes credit on foiling Iran talks as WH considers new deployments
Shifting strategy on Iran: The Trump administration is reportedly considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East, including dozens more ships, to counter Iranian aggression. According to The Wall Street Journal, the president is expected to make a decision on the matter this month.
Why it matters: Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tells JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that it would be a “smart move” to increase U.S. military power in “what remains a strategic area” for America’s security and national interests. “This increased show of force makes it less likely that the Islamic Republic of Iran will test American resolve, thereby diminishing the risk of open conflict,” Dubowitz suggested.
Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for a New American Securityposited that this is the predictable cost of walking away from the 2015 nuclear deal. “If we end up with 30K more troops in the Mideast than 6 months ago, it’s billions of dollars and massive strategic distraction,” he added.
Locking arms: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Lisbon, Portugal on Wednesday. “The Secretary and the prime minister discussed Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region, the importance of economic cooperation with regional partners, and Israel’s security,” the State Department said in a readout after the meeting. During a photo opportunity, Netanyahu praised Trump’s policy on Iran.
Taking credit: In a briefing with Israeli reporters before the flight from Tel Aviv, Netanyahu boasted that he foiled a planned meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. in September. The prime minister also told reporters, “The new U.S. deployment is good for Israel.”
Bonus: While Netanyahu was visiting the country on Wednesday, Portugal became a full member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which promotes the working definition of antisemitism, just a day after the French National Assembly passed a resolution declaring anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism.
ON THE HILL — Impeachment hearings march on in D.C.
The House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
Legal minds: Members heard from four law professors about the constitutional basis for impeachment — three called by Democrats and one by Republicans. The hearings lacked fireworks and remained relatively academic, with references to the Secret Treaty of Dover between Great Britain and France in 1670 as well as to the brief presidential tenure of William Harry Harrison.
Line of the day: Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, precisely summed up the Democratic case for impeachment: “If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created the Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against.”
Republican pushback: Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, argued that this impeachment would be “the shortest proceeding, with the thinnest evidentiary record, and the narrowest grounds ever used to impeach a president.” Democrats have been limited in the impeachment inquiry by the White House’s refusal to produce documents and by efforts to block key witnesses from testifying. This behavior has led Democrats to consider an impeachment article against Trump for obstructing justice.
Bad pun draws outrage: Republicans pounced upon an attempt at wordplay from Pam Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law. In arguing that the president did not have absolute power, Karlan said “the Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. So while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.” Republicans painted Karlan’s words as an attack on Trump’s 13-year-old son. Melania Trump tweeted that Karlan “should be ashamed” while Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said it made the Stanford professor “look mean.”
Bonus: Rep. Al Green (D-TX) sent a memo to members of Congress yesterday urging them to include in the hearings and articles of impeachment censure of the president’s “racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, transphobic, xenophobic language instigating enmity and inciting violence within our society.”
PODCAST PLAYBACK — New book on the history of Iranian Jews
In a podcast for “New Books on Jewish Studies,” assistant professor of history and Jewish Studies at Pennsylvania State University Lior Sternfeld discusses his latest book Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran. Interviewed by Asad Dandia, Sternfeld describes his methodology and analysis in exploring the history of the Jewish population in 20th century Iran up until the 1979 revolution.
A tragic history? Sternfeld argues most modern Jewish history as adheres to a “lachrymose historical narrative” that characterizes the history as “homogeneously tragic regardless of geographical or socio-political contexts.” In the interview, Sternfeld recounted how many Zionist scholars “started to analyze Jewish existence as made of nothing but an ordeal of pogroms and persecution,” referring to the subfield known as the “negation of exile.”
In contrast, Sternfeld describes a history of political, economic and social integration into Iranian society. Jews from Europe and the Middle East moved to Iran, rebuilding their cultures in the major centers of Tehran and Isfahan. According to Sternfeld, Jewish immigration to Iran began in the 1920s, prompted by the rise of antisemitism in Germany and other European countries. After the Farhud in 1941, Iraqi Jews established a “distinct community” in Tehran, including a school, synagogue and club. At its peak, 100,000 Jews lived in Iran.
After the revolution, many Jews supported the reformations, possessing what Sternfeld calls a “utopic idea” for post-revolution Iran. This included a Jewish member of the committee charged with drafting the new constitution. “The minorities and the Jewish community were much more optimistic of what could come from the Iranian revolution than the actual leadership of the revolution.”
🙏 Family Plea: The wife and children of Robert Levinson — a retired FBI agent who has been missing in Iran since 2007 — testified during the opening of a two-day federal hearing yesterday, asking the U.S. government to impose $1.5 billion in damages on Iran. “This is an American tragedy, this is a tragedy without end,” said the family’s attorney, David L. McGee. [WashPost]
✍️ Top-Op: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman writes that across the Middle East, citizens are demanding rights and bucking authoritarianism, while in the U.S., a “sultan”-like figure has been elevated: “We’re becoming them right when they want to become us — or what used to be us.” [NYTimes]
👋 Starting Over: The Washington Post is shining a spotlight on Hillel, a nonprofit in Israel that helps ultra-Orthodox men and women who want to leave their communities integrate into secular society. [WashPost]
AROUND THE WEB
🚫 Tackling Hate: France announced it will establish an anti-hate crimes office after an attack on a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg. French President Emmanuel Macron said he vows to fight antisemitism “until our dead can sleep in peace.”
👨💼 New Face: Facebook announced on Wednesday that it has hired Zignal Labs CEO and co-founder Josh Ginsberg as VP of public affairs marketing to help improve privacy controls and election security.
🤝 Done Deal: In a win for Shari Redstone, CBS and Viacom finally completed their merger yesterday.
✈️ Frequent Traveler: Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani is in Budapest and Kyiv this week to film a documentary series aimed at debunking the impeachment inquiry.
🏀 Sports Blink: Adam Sandler’s latest film, “Uncut Gems,” hinges a plot line on NBA-linked gambling, and the comedian is hoping commissioner Adam Silver can take a joke.
⚾ Moneyball: Hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen is close to an agreement to purchase a majority stake in the New York Mets, The Wall Street Journalreports.
🎦 Movie Preview: “Incitement,” Israel’s submission to this year’s Oscars, which focuses on the period leading up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, has Roger Cohen wondering in The New York Times: “If only.”
⚱️ Art Apology: A German art collective apologized Wednesday after outrage was sparked by its protest art installation in Berlin containing the real ashes of Holocaust victims.
👗 Discovery: NYT’s Vanessa Friedman looks at the revitalization of German fashion brands founded by Jews in pre-war Europe.
🚌 New York Violence: Three teenagers threw a rock on Tuesday at a bus of Jewish elementary school students in Crown Heights.
🎓 Campus Beat: Following a wave of antisemitic incidents, Syracuse University is adding surveillance cameras and increased security patrols on campus.
🎂 Birthday Bash: Comedian Tiffany Haddish celebrated both her 40th birthday and her bat mitzvah this week, with guests including Sarah Silverman, Jimmy Kimmel and Billy Crystal. Silverman’s sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman, led Haddish in reading from the Torah earlier in the day.
PIC OF THE DAY
UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba greets CEO-designate of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations William Daroff at the UAE’s National Day celebration in D.C.
President of The LS Group and political fundraiser for many members of Congress, Lisa Spies turns 45…
NYC-based author and clinical psychologist with specialties in aging and cancer, Mindy Greenstein, Ph.D. turns 57… Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, he is the son of retired Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner and is one of the most often cited legal scholars in the US, Eric A. Posner turns 54… Outgoing CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee until year-end when he will return to the faculty at Columbia Law School, David M. Schizer turns 51… Ontario-born supermodel and actress, Shalom Harlow turns 46… Urologist at Westchester (NY) Medical Group, Judd Boczko, M.D. turns 46… Co-founder and president of Axios, Roy Schwartz turns 44… Israeli-born, acclaimed video game developer, Neil Druckmann turns 41…
VP at Revere, a Daniel J. Edelman agency focused on technology, he was previously a manager of PR and digital strategy at The Clorox Company, Adam S. Rosenberg turns 39… Managing director of government relations at The Blackstone Group, he was chief of staff for Secretary Mnuchin at the U.S. Treasury, Eli H. Miller turns 37… News assistant at The New York Times and a contributor to the paper’s Metropolitan section, Alexander E. Traub turns 29… Israeli model, she represented Israel at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant where her selfie with Miss Iraq set off an international incident, Adar Gandelsman turns 22… Associate director of intergovernmental affairs for New York State Attorney General Tish James, Jonathan Shabshaikhes…