Good Wednesday morning!
On Capitol Hill, Top administration officials will brief members of Congress on the situation with Iran. More below.
In Albany, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will deliver his state of the state address. Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg of Monsey will deliver the invocation.
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DRIVING THE DAY — Iran targets U.S. forces as Trump assures ‘all is well’
Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops last night in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Qassim Soleimani last week. President Donald Trump tweeted “All is well!” and “So far, so good!” as the Pentagon indicated that there were no American casualties in the attacks.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran does “not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.” Zarif said the retaliatory attack had “concluded” and called it “proportionate measures.”
Trump said he plans to make a statement this morning about the ongoing situation in Iran. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday that the U.S. will not be withdrawing troops from Iraq, though the administration is reportedly drawing up potential sanctions against Iraq if it orders the expulsion of U.S. troops.
Explain yourself: The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), has invited✎ EditSign Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to appear before a hearing next week on “From Sanctions to the Soleimani Strike to Escalation: Evaluating the Administration’s Iran Policy.”
Window for diplomacy: Pompeo has ordered diplomats to limit any contact with Iranian opposition groups, including Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which maintains close ties with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. The directive warns that meetings with such groups could jeopardize U.S. diplomacy with Iran.
Brian Hook, the special representative for Iran and a senior policy advisor, reiterated the administration’s stance during a news conference at the Simon Wiesenthal Center yesterday. Calling Suleimani the “deadliest terrorist in the world,” Hook said, “We do not make a distinction between the Iranian regime and the proxies it organizes, trains and equips around the Middle East.”
2020 watch: Democratic presidential frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden said last night at a fund-raiser that he is praying, “as we speak, that [Trump is] listening to his military commanders for the first time, because so far that has not been the case.” At a rally in Brooklyn, Sen. Elizabeth Warren said the attack on U.S. troops is “a reminder of why we need to de-escalate tension in the Middle East. The American people do not want a war with Iran.”
‘Now we’re alone’: Biden tells NBC News’ Lester Holt that relations with Iran deteriorated after Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, explaining: “We had a united front relative to Iran until the time he walked away from a treaty that was functioning.” He added, “We were together. Now, we’re alone.”
In other news: A Ukrainian Airlines’ Boeing 737 flight from Tehran to Kyiv burst into flames and crash landed shortly after taking off from Tehran in the early hours of Wednesday morning, killing all 180 passengers on board. The first reports indicated that the crash occurred due to technical problems. The Ukrainian embassy in Iran initially posted a statement on its website that the crash was not caused by terrorism or rockets; that post was later removed and replaced with a new statement saying that it was too early to conclude the crash’s cause. Also last night, a 4.9 magnitude earthquake struck southern Iran near the Bushehr nuclear plant.
ON THE HILL — Gov’t holding hearing on threat of antisemitism at Senate today
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is holding a hearing this afternoon on how the U.S. and the international community can counter the growing threat of antisemitism around the world on Capitol Hill. Watch live here at 1:30 p.m. EST.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), co-chair of the Senate Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism, will deliver opening remarks. “When antisemitism and bigotry occur, it is critical that we not allow ideological or partisan thinking to blur our perspective of what is right and what is wrong. Combating hate is always a nonpartisan issue,” Rosen is expected to say, according to excerpts obtained by Jewish Insider. “As members of Congress, it is our responsibility, to our neighbors, to our friends, and to our children, to eradicate this evil.”
Panelists include Special Envoy on Antisemitism Elan Carr; Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Holocaust historian and author Deborah Lipstadt; Gary Bauer, a USCIRF commissioner; the ADL’s Sharon Nazarian; and Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among others.
Fight it out: Lipstadt, the Dorot professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, shared a preview of her testimony with JI. “The hatred that is antisemitism can best be compared to a herpes virus, a disease that cannot be cured,” according to Lipstadt. “There are no easy correctives, no magic pills, and no silver bullets. This fight might be one that can never result in total victory. The roots of this hatred may be too deeply embedded to ever be fully eradicated. However, we must act as if we will be able to achieve that victory. The costs of not doing so are too great.”
Heard last night: In a panel on antisemitism hosted by the UJA-Federation of New York at Central Synagogue, Carr discussed recent efforts by the far-right to drive a wedge between African American and Jewish communities: “There are far-right neo-Nazi groups [that] are undertaking internet campaigns to turn African Americans against Jews… You have neo-Nazis that are creating — they have an actual operation for this, and the name of the operation, I’m not going to repeat it here because it contains deplorable ethnic slurs…specifically a far-right operation to turn [the African American community against the Jewish community], and it’s despicable.”
ULTIMATE DEAL WATCH — Will the White House finally release its peace deal?
The Trump administration is reportedly considering rolling out its long-delayed Mideast peace plan ahead of the March 2 elections. White House Mideast Envoy Avi Berkowitz met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz this week during Berkowitz’s first trip to Israel in his new role.
Why it matters: The political component of the peace plan was delayed twice last year after Israel failed to form a coalition government and is now heading to a third consecutive election. Former Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt told JI last month that it was “the correct decision at the time” not to release the plan “in the midst of an election process and a government formation process.”
What changed? A former U.S. official tells JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that in order to keep the plan viable, the administration would have to release it by spring, ahead of Trump’s reelection battle. While the White House wanted to wait until the Israeli elections are over, the official explained, there seems to be no end in sight. The former official suggested that releasing it in the coming months would be as good a time as any.
In the driver’s seat: Following the Trump administration’s policy reversal on settlements and Netanyahu’s push to get U.S. support for the annexation of the West Bank, the plan rollout could benefit the embattled prime minister’s campaign, if its contents are favorable to his right-wing base.
Red light for Blue and White: According to Nimrod Novik, a fellow at Israel Policy Forum and former advisor to Shimon Peres, releasing the plan will help Netanyahu divert from his legal situation. Novik said it could also siphon votes from right-wing parties to the benefit of Likud, and has the potential of motivating a tired base to go out to vote.
View of Jerusalem: Netanyahu, speaking at the Kohelet Policy Forum conference today at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, said, “There is a window of opportunity; it opened, but it could close.” However, during a press conference on Wednesday, Gantz expressed his hopes that the administration would not release the plan before the elections. “This would be a blatant and real intervention in the election process,” he said.
⚠️ Early Warning Signs:Sara Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, discusses the lessons of the Holocaust and the warning signs of hatred and facism in an interview with The Washington Post’s Rachel Manteuffel. “Nazis didn’t fall out of the sky in January ’33,” she explains. [WashPost]
💰 Cash Reserves:The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere delves into the far-reaching consequences of billionaire and 2020 contender Michael Bloomberg’s spending habits. What he finds is that Bloomberg’s spending on his campaigns pales in comparison to the money he poured into pushing certain policies. [TheAtlantic]
🇺🇸 Profiles in Courage:The New York Timesprofiled Capt. Kavon Hakimzadeh, an Iranian-American who — after fleeing Iran as a child in 1979 — now commands the aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman in the Persian Gulf. [NYTimes]
AROUND THE WEB
🏗️ Beating Expectations: The long-awaited $5 billion American Dream mega-mall in New Jersey has secured an almost 90% lease rate, nearing full capacity ahead of its opening in the spring.
🚢 On the Job: DP World, the Dubai ports operating giant, has hired ex-Mossad agent Ari Ben-Menashe to lobby the U.S. government on its behalf.
👎 Protest Vote:Polish President Andrzej Duda said Tuesday that he declined an Israeli invitation to attend a forum in Yad Vashem marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because he was not given a speaking slot.
🧳 Never Forget: A record 2.3 million visitors toured Auschwitz in 2019, the museum said yesterday.
⚰️ Hatred Lives: At least a dozen graves in a Jewish cemetery in southwest France were discovered vandalized on Tuesday.
🏈 Heavy Hitters: The Bloomberg presidential campaign has secured a 60-second commercial spot, worth $10 million, to run during the Super Bowl next month. The goal is to get under Trump’s skin, the campaign told the NYTimes. The Trump campaign also purchased spots worth $10 million expected to run early in the game.
📺 Hollywood: Longtime Hollywood exec Howard Kurtzman is retiring as business operations leader at 20th Century Fox TV, and will be replaced by Carolyn Cassidy.
🎤 Funny Man: Ultra-Orthodox British comedian Ashley Blaker is set to riff on antisemitism and Jewish rituals in a new off-Broadway show called “Goy Friendly” at SoHo Playhouse next month.
✌️ Winning the Battle: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Arizona’s anti-BDS law on Monday, vacating the preliminary injunction that kept the state from enforcing the legislation.
📵 Phone Addiction: The judge in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial threatened to throw him in jail on Tuesday after he was caught using two cellphones in the Manhattan courtroom — defying previous warnings to put the devices away.
🎓 Roll Call: The American Historical Association voted down two anti-Israel measures at their annual meeting over the weekend.
🏡 New Owner: Hedge fund manager Israel Englander purchased an Upper East Side townhouse tied to the Sackler family for $38 million.
👨⚖️ Behind Bars: Elliot Kline, the organizer of the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, has been jailed for failing to comply with court orders in a federal lawsuit.
💪 Defiant Hater: Jersey City school board member Joan Terrell-Paige, who called Jews “brutes” after the Jersey City shooting, is refusing to step down weeks after state officials called for her ouster.
🗄️ Whatcha Hiding?The Forwardclaims that its repeated efforts to obtain records about antisemitic crimes in New York City have been foiled by the NYPD.
🗣️Words Matter: Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has set off a firestorm in Israel after he was recorded calling Russian immigrants “communist, religion-hating non-Jews.”
🥓 Bon Appetit:Impossible Foods announced on Monday new fake pork and sausage products for the first time since it launched the first plant-based burger in 2016. But does it hold up? A Muslim reporter sampled the latest fake-meat product.
🍽️ Distance Dining: Eater included the Israeli city of Akko on its list of the 19 best global food destinations for 2020.
🚚 Tragedy: A 68-year-old Orthodox Jewish woman was killed yesterday after being struck by a cement truck in Borough Park.
🕯️ Remembering: Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of 1994’s groundbreaking Prozac Nation, died yesterday of breast cancer at age 52.
PIC OF DAY
Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) hosted an interfaith roundtable discussion on antisemitism and Holocaust education at the Jewish Federation of Broward County in Florida on Tuesday.
VP of wealth management at GCG Financial in Deerfield, IL, he was an NFL tight end for the Bears and Vikings (1988-1994), Brent Novoselsky turns 54…
Talmudic scholar living in Bnei Brak, Israel, widely acclaimed as the leader of the Haredi community, Harav Chaim Kanievsky turns 92… Actor and comedian, Larry Storch turns 97… Sociologist at the American Enterprise Institute, one of his controversial books discussed the high average IQs of Jewish people, Charles Murray turns 77… Moscow-born classical pianist, living in the U.S. since 1987, Vladimir Feltsman turns 68… Founder and chief investment officer of Pzena Investment Management, Richard “Rich” Pzena turns 61… Co-founder and co-owner of Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mark Gold turns 57… Founder and president of DC-based Professionals in the City, Michael Karlan turns 52…
Attorney, patron of contemporary art, she is the founder and CEO of lobbying firm, Invariant, Heather Miller Podesta turns 50… Former state senator in Maine (2008-2016), Justin Loring Alfond turns 45… Singer-songwriter, musician and actress, she was the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the indie rock band Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis turns 44… Public policy program manager for Facebook, she was previously deputy director of the White House Council on Women and Girls for President Obama, Avra Siegel turns 38… Dayton, Ohio native, former deputy editor of Newsweek, he was previously at TheNew York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Ross M. Schneiderman turns 38… Actor, screenwriter and director, he is a son of film director Barry Levinson, Sam Levinson turns 35…