Good Thursday morning!
On Capitol Hill, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump begins today with the reading of impeachment articles and the swearing in of Chief Justice John Roberts and senators.
Last night, Rudy Guiliani associate Lev Parnas appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show to discuss the accusations made against the administration regarding Ukraine.
Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will reportedly both attend the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, next week.
Tonight in San Francisco, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is slated to meet privately this evening with Silicon Valley power brokers in an attempt to gain their backing for his presidential run.
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Five Years Later
Alan Gross reflects on life after leaving a Cuban prison
Five years after his release from a Cuban prison, Alan Gross spoke withJewish Insider’s Sam Zieve Cohen about his new life, his freedom and his experiences in Cuba.
A former government contractor, Gross has been to 54 countries — but said he only had trouble in one. It is hard to ascertain exactly what went wrong for him in Cuba. When asked, Gross mostly demurred, saying, “Had I known some very specific information before I went down there, I would never have gone down there. I would never have taken the project.”
I didn’t do anything wrong: Arrested with internet-connected communication equipment — illegal in Cuba at the time — Gross was immediately accused of being a spy, a claim he denies to this day: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t do anything morally wrong. I did break the law in Cuba, and I didn’t know I was breaking the law in Cuba. And so that was my ignorance. And shame on me for that. Because my job was not to go into foreign countries and violate their laws,” he adamantly maintains.
The godfather: Gross speaks about his ordeal with surprisingly little regret. He half-jokingly calls himself the “godfather” of the internet in Cuba. His arrest drew attention to the lack of digital communication between the island nation and the rest of the world; today the internet is legal in Cuba and Wi-Fi hotspots are available throughout Havana.
Community support: Gross’s release in 2014 came after constant pressure from lawmakers, especially then-Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ). “They were just incredible,” Gross said. He also credits the Jewish community for helping prompt his release: “It was a whole group of people, most of whom I will probably never know. I probably won’t know enough to thank them personally. So let me take this opportunity to tell your readers, that to those people who worked to bring me home: Thank you.”
New lease on life: Now living in semi-retirement, Gross spends much of his time with his four-year-old granddaughter, and fills his days with regular four-mile walks and trips to his friend’s cigar store. He and his wife, Judy — who will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this spring — made Aliyah in May 2017 and now split their time between Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C.
Changing the law
New York lawmakers challenge bail reform
A group of New York state legislators are pushing legislation that would tweak the bail reform law that has been subject to fierce criticism in the wake of the recent wave of antisemitic violence across the state. The new law — enacted earlier this month — eliminates cash bail for those accused of committing misdemeanors and felonies, including non-violent hate crimes.
Details: The legislation introduced by State Senator Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein (D-Brooklyn) would classify hate crimes as a “qualifying offense,” which would give judges discretion on bail. The amendment was proposed last year, but didn’t make it into the bill since it was added to the budget package deal in in April 2019. Governor Andrew Cuomo has already expressed support for the amendment, and a handful of members have signed on as co-sponsors.
Now is the time: Gounardes tellsJewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh that the increase in hate crime incidents and the focus on tackling antisemitism has given the proposal new momentum, either as a stand-alone bill or as a compromise to alternative reform measures. “Hate crimes are a special category, cases where the effect is felt beyond just a single victim and a single individual,” he explained. “So I think this is a moment and time that we have, given the unfortunate circumstances that we are dealing with, to really make that case in a compelling way.”
Eyes on the bail: Eichenstein tells JI that hate crime perpetrators “belong in a separate category,” since once they slip out of the hands of justice they regain “the ability to strike again.” That “leaves communities prone to further attack,” Eichenstein explained.
Stepping up: Gounardes said that he was motivated to act after a man walked up to him during an event at the Sephardic Community Center in Midwood and told him that he’s afraid to walk to synagogue with his children. “I took that feedback and decided to do this,” Gounardes said. “This is definitely an effort to be responsive to the community’s very real concerns, as well as do it as a common-sense fix.”
Counter view: In the Forward, Matt Nosanchuk, Rachel Timoner and Sharon Kleinbaum argue that the new bail reform law is not bad for Jews and that repealing it won’t stop antisemitic attacks.
Latest reported incident: Police are searching for a man who used fliers posted by the MTA to fashion a swastika in a busy subway station in Manhattan on New Year’s Eve.
Teaching tolerance: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday an expanded partnership between the city’s Department of Education and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust that would arrange free field trips to the museum for all students in the 8th and 10th grades in the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Borough Park. Additionally, all public school students ages 12 and up will be able to receive free tickets to the museum’s exhibition on the Holocaust with up to three family members. “To ensure a safer and more welcoming future, we must teach our children about the destructive force of hate,” de Blasio said.
Heard yesterday: Elan Carr, the White House special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, joined Cherrie Daniels, the special envoy for Holocaust issues, for a briefing with reporters at the State Department to discuss the upcoming 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Daniels said she will be joining the U.S. delegation to the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, and vowed to continue working on issues of Holocaust restitution. “We are not giving up,” she said. “There is work to be done.” Carr said it is disturbing to witness “rising antisemitism around the world,” as well “a disturbing erosion of Holocaust understanding.”
Klobuchar seeks to highlight Israel’s progressivism to restore bipartisanship
In an interview with The New York Times editorial board published yesterday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) stressed that if elected president, she would increase support for Israel in the Democratic party and restore bipartisanship on the issue.
Shining a light: “One of the things that I see as this really high-stakes opportunity for a new president is to bring in American support again in a big way for Israel,” the Minnesota senator told the Times. “I think that we need to emphasize Israel’s historic support for women’s rights, working on climate change.”
Policy-driven wedge: According to Klobuchar, waning support for Israel in her own party and criticism of pro-Israel moves by the current administration are largely due to the fact that Trump and the Senate leadership are turning Israel into “a wedge issue” and have used it “as a partisan pawn.” Klobuchar highlighted Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (D-KY) push to rush through the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act, known as S.1, last January and Trump’s urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from entering Israel — describing it as possibly the “worst moment” in the history of U.S.-Israel relations — as examples of divisive moves on this issue. “I have been horrified by some of the things that Trump has done, which has eroded support for Israel in the United States and I think has lessened their security position.”
Getting back on track: In the interview, Klobuchar said she would not reverse the decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but would consider walking back Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration on the legality of settlements in the West Bank because it is “in violation of longstanding American policy.” Additionally, Klobuchar said she would continue pushing for a two-state solution. “When I went to Israel with a number of senators, I went only — it was just me and one other senator that did this — and met with the Palestinians,” she recounted.
No daylight on funding for Israel’s security: “I will say that I also have voted for, see my record, for funding for Israel security,” Klobuchar noted, while some of her rivals in the presidential primary have expressed support for leveraging aid to Israel. “I still think that they are in a really tough neighborhood in a really dangerous position.”
In other 2020 news: Former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who served as national finance chair for Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, announced her endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Israeli Election watch
Parties finalize electoral lists for third Israeli election
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hit the reset button on his yearlong bid for a fifth term next week as political mergers and matchups were finalized. JI’s Jacob Kornbluh recaps the latest developments:
Shifting gears: Thirty political parties filed their electoral lists at the Knesset by last night’s deadline — ahead of the March 2 threepeat election. That figure matches the number of parties who ran in September, though there are some new faces and other parties who dropped out of contention.
Late-night drama: The biggest surprise of the otherwise predictable day was the last-minute union between Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right and Rafi Peretz’s Jewish Home parties. Peretz had made a deal with Itamar Ben-Gvir’s far-right Jewish Power party, and Bennett had vowed to run separately, rejecting any chance of a coalition with Ben-Gvir. But after the intervention of Netanyahu, Peretz dumped Ben-Gvir and cut a deal with Bennett to form Yamina, leaving Jewish Power to run independently and likely fall below the electoral threshold.
Why it matters: For days, Netanyahu worked frantically to ensure that the parties to the right of Likud united to maximize the bloc that would help him reach a 61-seat majority. Bennett’s initial strategy was to court liberal and moderate Likud voters that defected to Blue and White and to Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. But once Bennett merged with the National Union — the faction that usually runs with Jewish Home — the likelihood that one party would not pass the 3.25% electoral threshold increased dramatically. Bennett demonstrated independence as he resisted pressure to include the Kahanists, but — as the clock was ticking — Netanyahu understood that encouraging Jewish Home to drop Ben-Gvir was the lesser of two evils.
Revolving door: Knesset Member Gadi Yevarkan, one of two current MKs of Ethiopian origin, was ousted from the Blue and White Party after it was revealed that he was in talks with Netanyahu to defect to Likud. Hours later, Yevarkan was added to a viable spot on the Likud’s list for the 23rd Knesset. The incumbent MK told Channel 12’s Amit Segal that he’s worth at least two mandates of Ethiopian voters and claimed he was promised a minister post, which was denied by the Likud. Yevarkan was previously a Likud member and ran on the party’s slate in 2013.
What’s next? Wednesday night’s outcome is a sigh of relief for the embattled prime minister, but it will not dramatically change his political and legal situation. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein is expected to give the go-ahead for the Knesset plenum to convene to approve the establishment of a House Committee that would examine and vote on Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity at the end of the month. This gives Blue and White a window of opportunity to hold hearings and vote to deny Netanyahu immunity from trial before voters head to the polls.
A fourth election? Based on recent polls, the political stalemate that has paralyzed the country for a year is likely to continue after the March 2 ballot, unless Netanyahu and his “bloc” reach the magic number of 61 — which is unlikely — or the Likud plummets and one of its natural partners defects to join a Gantz-led minority government.
Optimism: Netanyahu’s office said on Thursday that a “warm” conversation with Putin boosted his confidence that matter of jailed Israeli-American Naama Issachar is moving toward resolution.
🛂 The Old Country: Vladislav Davidzon writes in Tablet magazine about the growing number of British Jews who have considered seeking citizenship in Germany and other European countries amid a rise in antisemitism in England and the looming Brexit. [Tablet]
🗣️ Uncivil Wars: In The Boston Globe, Emily Tamkin has penned an op-ed about so-called “bad Jews,” and the labels of traitor, self-hating and other slurs that are increasingly thrown around. “Jewish people are not a monolith,” she wrote. “We disagree on matters of politics and principle… Some of us are right and some of us are wrong, but all of us are Jewish.” [BostonGlobe]
👩⚖️ Profile: NPR offers a closer look at Israel’s “losing lawyer” Lea Tsemel, the subject of an Oscar-shortlisted documentary, who has defended Palestinians accused of violence for close to five decades. This week the Israel Bar Association froze her reappointment as its military tribunal committee chairwoman amid protests. [NPR]
Around the Web
🏭 Pumping Together: An association of Israeli and American natural gas companies have begun pumping gas from Israel to Egypt after years of ongoing political, security and bureaucratic challenges.
🤝 Deal-makers: President Donald Trump acknowledged Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson during the signing ceremony of the U.S.-China trade agreement at the White House’s East Room. “They’ve been tremendous supporters of us and the Republican Party, and they’re great people,” Trump said. The president also singled out Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman for recognition.
🏡 Starter Home: Sheldon’s 22-year-old son, Adam Adelson, who graduated from the University of Southern California last year, just bought a $6.5 million property in the hillside neighborhood of Brentwood in Los Angeles.
🙏🏻 Gotta Have Faith: White House advisor Jared Kushner was in Milwaukee this week, where he discussed criminal justice reform with participants in “The Joseph Project,” a faith-based jobs program.
📝 Conditioning Terms: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday that European countries are ready to re-open the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in order to address the sunset clause and include Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional activities in return for a reduction of U.S. sanctions.
💪 Arm Wrestle: The Washington Postreported on Wednesday that Trump secretly threatened to impose a 25% tariff on European automobiles if they didn’t announce the triggering of the mechanism clause on the Iran nuclear deal.
🚪🚶 Shown the Door: Albania has expelled two Iranian diplomats for activities “not in line with their status.”
📖 Behind the Scenes:Former National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected to describe his time at the White House and offer his account of the events that preceded the Ukraine scandal in a forthcoming book, due to be published by Simon and Schuster. According to The New York Times, the book is set to be out “well ahead” of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions this summer.
📁 Doc Dump: BuzzFeed News has obtained hundreds of pages of documents detailing the relationship between Fox News host Sean Hannity and members of President Trump’s inner circle.
⚾ Sports Blink: Israel’s unlikely Olympic baseball team — the country’s largest delegation in history — is heading to Tokyo this summer, marking the first time Israel is sending a team sport to the Olympics since 1976.
💷 New Funds: London Mayor Sadiq Khan pledged £300,000 from the city of London to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
👖Bad Outfit: German police are investigating after a man dressed as Hitler was driven around in a Nazi-era sidecar during a weekend festival in Saxony.
🏘️ Talk of the Town: A lawsuit by the NAACP of Ramapo alleges that the local school board voting system is rigged to favor Orthodox Jews at the cost of black and Latino voters. Filed in 2017, the lawsuit is set for trial next month.
🚫 Vandalism: Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, are investigating a swastika painted onto the front steps of the South Street Temple. The vandalism is being considered a hate crime.
⚠️ Treif Alert: The New York Times’s Sam Sifton details the Chinese roast pork on garlic bread sandwich, a decidedly non-kosher invention of the Catskills’ Herbie’s Restaurant, which became a favorite among the rebellious borscht-belt set.
🥯 Burnt and Smeared: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came under fire on Wednesday as he revealed his bagel of choice on International Bagel Day. “Whole wheat. Toasted. Extra cream cheese.” De Blasio deleted and reposted his tweet after his toasting preference sparked a backlash.
🥂 Weekend Wedding: Dasha Zhukova — an art collector and businesswoman who is the ex-wife of Roman Abramovich — will celebrate her marriage to Stavros Niarchos with a star-studded ceremony in San Moritz this weekend.
Pic of the Day
Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles’s Sinai Temple met with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Editor-in-chief (1960-1995) then editor-at-large (1995-2009) of Commentary magazine, author of the 2009 book “Why Are Jews Liberals?” Norman Podhoretz turns 90…
Physicist and professor of materials science at Oxford (1966-1992), Sir Peter Bernhard Hirsch turns 95… Founder of Jones Apparel Group (including Jones New York, Stuart Weitzman and Nine West) and film producer, in 2001 he donated $150 million to Johns Hopkins University, Sidney J. Kimmel turns 92… Author of 12 novels for young adults, sports journalist for The New York Times, ESPN, CBS and NBC, he served as the ombudsman for ESPN, Robert Lipsyte turns 82… Socially conservative talk radio host and relationship advisor since 1975, on Sirius XM Radio since 2011, author of over 20 books, Dr. Laura Schlessinger turns 73… Staff writer for the Atlanta Jewish Times, Suzi Brozman turns 73… Chef, food writer, culinary editor for the Modern Library, host of PBS’s “Gourmet’s Adventures With Ruth,” recipient of four James Beard Awards, Ruth Reichl turns 72… Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Hazon Ovadia, Harav Yitzhak Yosef turns 68…
Uzbekistan-born Israeli industrialist, Michael Cherney turns 68… CEO of Belfor Property Restoration with more than 300 offices spanning 34 countries, he appeared in an Emmy-nominated episode of CBS’s “Undercover Boss,” Sheldon Yellen turns 62… Founder, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks, which produces RealAudio, RealVideo and RealPlayer, Robert Denis “Rob” Glaser turns 58… First employee and subsequently first president of eBay, internet entrepreneur, philanthropist and movie producer, Jeffrey Skoll turns 55… Educational entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, she is the founder and CEO of Cognition Builders, Ilana Kukoff turns 55… Editorial producer at CNN, Debbie Berger Fox turns 47… Assistant professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University, in 2018 he was awarded a Ph.D. at Columbia U, he is a former speechwriter for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senator Chris Dodd, Rob Goodman turns 36…2020 J.D. candidate at Seton Hall University School of Law where he serves as president of the Jewish Law Student Association, David Ptalis turns 30… Left wing for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild since 2011, he won the NHL’s 2019 award for leadership based upon his philanthropic efforts, Jason Zucker turns 28… Joseph Bornstein…