Good Thursday morning!
In Moscow, Israeli-American backpacker Naama Issachar is flying home with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after she was granted a presidential pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin and released from prison. Netanyahu met with Putin where he thanked him for the gesture and shared details on the U.S. peace plan.
In the rumor mill, a Likud source hinted that Netanyahu is aiming to bring convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel before the March election as he attempts to stack up diplomatic wins.
In Los Angeles, Mark Suster’s Upfront Summit continues today, with appearances by Quibi CEO Meg Whitman, filmmaker JJ Abrams and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
In New Hampshire, the Council on Foreign Relations is hosting a nonpartisan panel discussion on critical foreign policy challenges this evening with former Bush and Obama administration officials at the University of New Hampshire.
In Tel Aviv, speakers at the INSS conference today include former U.S. ambassador Daniel Shapiro, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov and Israeli politicians Avigdor Lieberman and Yair Lapid.
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Meet Elijah Cummings’ predecessor — who is aiming to become his successor
Former Congressman Kweisi Mfume sat down with Jewish Insider’s Menachem Wecker to discuss his attempt to reclaim his former seat in next Tuesday’s special election primary for the open seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Bio: Mfume, 71, represented Maryland’s 7th congressional district from 1987 to 1996, before becoming president and chief executive officer of the NAACP. Mfume told JI that he’s learned from the past, and is ready to bring new, fresh ideas to tackle the district’s problems. And he’s not at all worried about his age being a factor. “I think I have almost twice the energy of some of the people who are running, who are half my age,” he said, and “who are burned out by 3:00 in the afternoon. I’m just go, go, go.”
Passing the torch: The night before Mfume announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in 1996, he called Cummings, a friend of more than 40 years, to encourage the then-Maryland State House representative to throw his hat in the ring.
On the issues: The former congressman has traveled to Israel twice and also visited Auschwitz. He supported H.R. 246, which denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, and believes only direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians can “achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Community ties: Together with now-Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mfume created the precursor to the Elijah Cummings Youth Leadership Program in Israel. Mfume said he has always felt a connection to Baltimore’s Jewish community. “I like orthodoxy. I like tradition. So I have a special affinity in my heart.” In the 1980s, Mfume told JI, his social circle included former AIPAC president Howard Friedman, real estate developers Larry Macks and Michael Klein, and attorney David Shapiro — a group Mfume called the “Rat Pack.” Of Friedman, Mfume said, “I was no Sammy Davis Jr., but I told Howard he was no Frank Sinatra.”
Past controversy: As chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1993, Mfume entered into what he called a “sacred covenant” with Louis Farrakhan. After pressure over the Nation of Islam leader’s failure to condemn antisemitism, Mfume renounced the partnership several months later. Asked about Farrakhan today, Mfume said he didn’t have any insight or revelation about the minister “that I can think of that are different from what people may hold in their own hearts. We are our records. We are our words, and I think he probably is a better person to answer that than I am.”
What’s next: Two dozen candidates have filed to run in the solidly blue district’s February 4th primary, following Cummings’s death in October, including Maryland State Senator Jill Carter and the late congressman’s widow, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who served as chair of the state’s Democratic Party. The winner of next week’s primary is all but assured to win in April’s special general election. However, April’s election will also serve as another primary for the seat’s regular, and all the special election candidates are expected to run again.
not so fast
Israel steps back from pushing immediate annexation under Trump plan
President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan continued to make waves on Wednesday as Israeli and U.S. officials moved away from initial declarations about annexing all settlements in the West Bank.
Let’s talk: After indicating that the U.S. would back Israel’s decision on annexation, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told reporters on a press call Wednesday morning that a joint U.S.-Israel committee has to first discuss the matter “to get to the right spot.”
Red light: Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reported that the White House was “very unhappy” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he would bring annexation to a vote in the cabinet on Sunday. In an interview with Ian Bremmer for GZERO, Jared Kushner said that while the administration supports annexation, it wants Israel to wait until after the election to move ahead with any plans.
Leak: In talking points leaked to Politico, the State Department works to sell the significance of the Trump plan: “For the first time, the State of Israel has agreed to recognize a future State of Palestine, based on a map. This is unprecedented. Not even during the negotiation of the Oslo Accords was Israel prepared to recognize a Palestinian state. This vision preserves the hope and possibility of the two parties reaching a two-state solution.” Regarding annexation, the administration clarifies that the U.S. would only support annexing areas that would be “part of Israel in a two-state solution.”
Race to first place: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, seeking to outmaneuver Netanyahu, announced that he will bring “the entirety” of the plan to a Knesset vote next week. Asked by reporters en route to Moscow whether he stands by his promise to push for immediate annexations, Netanyahu said only, “It’ll be alright.”
Why it matters: Snap polls published on all major Israeli networks show the Likud inching slightly closer to Blue and White, despite Netanyahu’s indictment. Dan Arbell, a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Foreign Service and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tellsJewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh that the timing of the rollout and the details in the plan make this “a deal between the U.S. and Israel.” According to Arbell, “it is clear that Netanyahu will make this the number one issue of his campaign, attempting to embarrass Gantz” — and since the plan is mostly aligned with the Israeli right’s positions, it “caters to Netanyahu’s immediate political needs in boosting his standing in Israeli public opinion.”
NYTimes columnist Tom Friedman writes that this is Netanyahu’s opportunity to prove he can deliver when offered a realistic plan, and not just use it for his political advantage.
Only Trump: In an op-ed published on CNN, Kushner stressed that “history will note this breakthrough” of Israel’s major political leaders recognizing a Palestinian state “was only possible because of the president’s uncompromising support for Israel and its security.”
Kushner’s message to the Palestinians: “President Trump will be proud to stand with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when we fly the American flag over the U.S. Embassy to the state of Palestine for the first time.” But in the GZERO interview, Kushner said the Palestinians have “played the victim card,” and “now its like they want their rights, they want a state, it’s all on the table” and they have to “put up or shut up.”
In his latest New York Times column, Bret Stephens argues that every time Palestinian leadership rejects a peace deal, the Palestinian people are the ones who ultimately lose, noting, “History rarely goes well for those who try to live it backward.”
Bonus:Reuters reporters take a close look at the village of Abu Dis in East Jerusalem, which is designated to become the capital of Palestine under Trump’s plan.
on the hill
House committees discuss Holocaust, antisemitism
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, heard a detailed account yesterday from Holocaust survivor Nat Shaffir, who was wearing a gold pin with the Hebrew word ‘zachor’ (remember), during a hearing on combatting hate 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)told Shaffir that she decided to take her son to visit the Holocaust Museum in D.C. five years ago after he suggested he would hide his Muslim identity upon overhearing her talking with his dad about a USA Today cartoon equating Muslims with Nazis. “I would like to thank you very much for taking your son to actually witness something like that. It’s very important, and I wish that more parents would take their children to places like that,” Shaffir responded.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt expounded on new data released by the ADL that shows one in five Americans believe that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.” The poll also found that 61% of American adults agree with at least one or more classic antisemitic canards, including 24% who agree with the statement “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America.”
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) pressed Dr. Dore Gold, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, about Robert Jeffress, a controversial pastor who delivered a prayer at the opening ceremony of the Jerusalem U.S. embassy in 2018. “Can you see that it may be possible to be superficially pro-Israel while, in fact, also contributing to the climate that is making life less safe for Jews in America?” Gold replied that he agrees the embassy should have known better before inviting Jeffress to the event. But he also pushed back, saying that antisemitism comes from both from the left and right “and you can’t just lean over and say it’s one and ignore the other.”
The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe also held a hearing on global antisemitism with Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, former U.S. Envoy on Antisemitism Ira Forman and the American Jewish Committee’s Rabbi Andrew Baker.
Hunkered down: Lipstadt highlighted that Jews are “increasingly going underground” and hiding their identity in the wake of recent antisemitic violence. “Friends have asked me whether my decision, prompted by these aforementioned events, to wear a Jewish star is wise. ‘Is it safe?’ one very sober, rational person asked me recently,” she told the committee. “After the Shoah, it is inconceivable that, once again, Jews feel safer hiding their Jewish identity. This is not healthy for Jews or for the societies in which they live.”
In his testimony, Forman recommended increasing congressional visits to countries of great concern, which would give the local government and Jewish communities the “signal that the U.S. government is watching.” He also urged House members to urge their Senate colleagues to vote on the bill to elevate the status of the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-semitism to the rank of an ambassador.
Challenging society: AJC’s Baker explained that while antisemitism on the right has become more violent in recent years, antisemitism on the left “undermines and even challenges the place of individual Jews in their own societies.” He pointed to Jeremy Corbyn’s takeover of the U.K. Labour party as “the most extreme and unvarnished example of antisemitism on the left.”
Bonus: Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney imploring him to deny press access to TruNews after its founder and host Rick Wiles denigrated Jews and repeated antisemitic conspiracy theories. The Democratic senators wrote that “the normalization of antisemitism continues to pose a grave threat to Jews in America and across the world.”
Dershowitz makes Middle East aid comparison during impeachment hearing
Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz took center stage in the impeachment trial yesterday, claiming that if the president’s behavior was aimed at reelection, then he was acting in the national interest:
“What if a Democratic president were to be elected and Congress were to authorize much money to either Israel or the Palestinians? And the Democratic president were to say to Israel, ‘No, I’m going to withhold this money unless you stop all settlement growth.’ Or to the Palestinians, ‘I will withhold the money Congress authorized to you unless you stop paying terrorists‘ and the president said ‘quid pro quo – if you don’t do it, you don’t get the money; if you do it, you get the money.’ There’s no one in this chamber that would regard that as in any way unlawful.”
Rebuttal: On CNN, former federal prosecutor Anne Milgram suggests that Dershowitz’s argument would make Trump a king. And Dershowitz’s former Harvard Law colleague said that the Trump lawyer’s argument was the best case for hearing from John Bolton to ensure it was actually in the national interest.
Bonus: Dershowitz also showed up in a contentious interview on “The View,” and toldEsquire’s Tom Chiarella that he once conveyed messages to Netanyahu from Trump. And Dershowitz’s choice of location to conduct video interviews — he appears to record from inside a Judaica shop — puzzled observers.
📚 Book Shelf:Vox’s Ezra Klein has published an excerpt from his new book, Why We’re Polarized, examining what he sees as the fundamental divide in the U.S. — between the politically interested and the uninterested. “Never in human history has it been remotely possible to be this politically informed,” he writes. But studies have shown that “the more political media people consumed, the more mistaken they were.” [Vox]
🤳 Blurred Lines: Charlie Warzel writes in The New York Times about the “culture wars” targeting journalists online, including a Washington Post reporter who was suspended and then reinstated for tweeting about Kobe Bryant’s rape allegation on the day he died. “Few if any outlets seem to want to draw exact lines” about social media behavior, he writes. “And so they become blurred.” [NYTimes]
🤐 Tight Lipped: The vague response by Arab states to the Trump peace plan, instead of standing in line with the Palestinian stance, is explained in The Financial Times as a reflection of the conflict “fatigue” and the countries’ reluctance to damage relations with Trump over a plan that seems likely to fail for other reasons. [FinancialTimes]
Around the Web
✡️ Shul Dance:The Associated Press’s Elana Schor takes a look at how Sen. Bernie Sanders is embracing his Jewish identity on the trail now that he’s gaining momentum in the early primary states.
⚡ Cyber War: Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Wednesday that the country’s energy infrastructure had to defend itself against several cyber attacks by Iran in recent months.
⚖️ Case Closed: A Dutch court threw out a case yesterday alleging war crimes against former IDF Chief of Staff and current prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz, saying it did not have jurisdiction.
🎭 Curtain Call: “Grey Rock” — a play written by a Palestinian man with a Muslim father and a Jewish mother — about a Palestinian pensioner who builds a rocket to the moon, is playing this weekend at the Kennedy Center in D.C.
🖼️ Frame of Mind:Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee was inspired to dig deeper into the history of an 1870 French painting of a Jewish man reading — complete with a Hebrew inscription from the Shema.
🏀 Sports Blink: The Yeshiva University basketball team has earned its first-ever national ranking.
📺 Media Watch: Former HBO chief Richard Plepler has invested in podcast service Luminary Media, and former Starz programming president Carmi Zlotnik has inked a producer deal with Apple TV Plus days after his exit.
🎯 Talk of the Town: Gun permit applications have increased by more than 50% in the last two months in Teaneck, New Jersey, after the deadly Jersey City shooting, the police chief said, noting that they hired a new employee to process firearms permits.
🤝 Leadership Transition: Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the senior rabbi of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation in Baltimore, has been chosen to replace Allen Fagin as the next executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.
Pic of the Day
Secretary of Health and Human Sevices Alex Azar inscribed the words “verapo yerapeh” (he shall surely heal) in the Washington Torah, a project of American Friends of Lubavitch headed by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, at his office in D.C. yesterday..
Chairman of The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based international development firm specializing in casinos, urban revitalization projects and entertainment districts, David S. Cordish turns 80…
Artist, she paints brightly colored Biblical narratives based upon her Torah study, Barbara “Willy” Mendes turns 72… Teacher and national community leader, Judith Friedman Rosen turns 68… Upton, Wyoming resident, Heather Graf turns 66… AVP of corporate outreach and development at the Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation in New Hyde Park, New York, Linda Scacco turns 66… Native of El Paso, Texas, he is the CEO of the Jewish National Fund, Russell F. Robinson turns 64… Western regional director of the U.S. Department of Labor since November 2019, Jeff Stone turns 64… Philadelphia area psychologist, Dr. Rachel Ginzberg turns 62… Managing partner of lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Richard B. Benenson turns 52… Rabbi, spokesman and director of public relations for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, director of its website and its media center, Zalman Shmotkin 51… Associate professor in the electrical engineering department at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Guy Gilboa turns 49… Founder of an eponymous NYC PR and management firm, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Grubman turns 49… Partner in ProForma Peak, a boutique marketing agency, Bari Nan Rothchild turns 47… Elected in 2018 as council member at-large for Montgomery County, Maryland, he was previously a CNN producer, Evan M. Glass turns 43…
Gisele Rogers turns 42… Senior director of Middle East affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Joshua M. Kram turns 41… Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2015, his district is in eastern Long Island, NY, Lee Zeldin turns 40… White House correspondent for CBS Radio News, Steven Portnoy turns 39… Israeli actor and director, he is known for starring in “Shtisel, Out in the Dark” and as the host of the popular reality TV show, “The Voice Israel,” Michael Aloni turns 36… CEO at Harvesting Media, Eli Langer turns 34… Senior reporter for Real Vision TV, Alyona Minkovski turns 34… Member of the Connecticut House of Representatives since 2019, he is the eldest son of U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Matthew S. Blumenthal turns 34… Co-founder of IdeaFire, Eric Scott Lavin… Senior consultant in the tech sector for Deloitte Israel, Max Delahanty turns 31… Professional ice hockey defenseman, he played on Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics and is currently playing with Färjestad BK of the Swedish Hockey League, Jonathon Blum turns 31… Associate at Blue Wolf Capital Partners, Jared Isenstein turns 28… Professional ice hockey forward, she played four seasons at Northeastern University and then played in the now defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Chelsey Goldberg turns 27… Administrative assistant at AIPAC, Alexa Smith…