Good Tuesday morning!
It’s the week before AIPAC’s conference. As publications prepare their previews and attendees get ready for their D.C. pilgrimage, we took a glance back at some of the media coverage in advance of the annual gathering in years past:
2019: “Israel Lobby Convenes in Washington Amid Fraying Bipartisanship and Rising Tension” (NYTimes) 2018:“AIPAC’s Struggle to Avoid the Fate of the NRA” (The Atlantic) 2017: “No One Is Afraid of AIPAC. It may lose even more influence under Trump.” (Tablet Magazine) 2015:“Israel lobby’s power waning after AIPAC failure to block Iran deal” (Independent) 2014: “The lobbying group AIPAC has consistently fought the Obama Administration on policy. Is it now losing influence?” (New Yorker); “AIPAC divisions increasing” (Politico); “Potent Pro-Israel Group Finds Its Momentum Blunted” (NYTimes)
Trends: It’s clear from these headlines that AIPAC has experienced no small share of PR challenges in recent years. The now-too-predictable “losing” and “waning” articles raise several questions: According to these headlines, when was the group’s influence at its peak? Does the narrative reflect reality? Amid the Democratic frontrunner’s boycott, will a new round of curtain-raisers predict a further fall?
AIPAC, for its part, is pushing #AIPACProud on social media — along with a splashy video highlighting appearances from the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer — in an attempt to flip the narrative.
It wasn’t always this way — looking through the archives of the paper of record — 1984:“Pro-Israel Lobby’s Low Key Power” (NYT) 1987:“A Major Influence” (NYT) 1998: “For 47 Years, a Lobby Group With Muscle Has Tirelessly Tended U.S.-Israeli Ties” (NYT) 2007: “Clinton and Obama Court Jewish Vote” (NYT) 2009: “At Annual Meeting, Pro-Israel Group Reasserts Clout” (NYT) 2012:“Pro-Israel Delegates Have Washington’s Ear on Iran” (NYT)
Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on CBS, seven Democratic 2020 candidates will hit the debate stage ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
A tentative truceappeared to be holding between Israel and Gaza Tuesday morning, after 48 hours of rocket fire aimed at Israeli communities and IDF air strikes in Gaza. Many schools still remained closed in Israel on Tuesday.
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race to watch
AOC & J Street vs. Pelosi & AIPAC in Texas congressional primary
The divide between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has surfaced in a hotly contested congressional race in Texas.
Details: Jessica Cisneros, an immigration and human rights attorney, is challenging seven-term incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar in the March 3rd Democratic primary in Texas’s 28th congressional district. The winner of the primary will likely win the general election in the solidly blue district. Cuellar describes himself as a moderate Democrat, while Cisneros supports progressive causes including the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.
Wind at her back: Cisneros, 26, has raised $1.3 million since she announced her candidacy in June 2019 and is backed by Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), the Justice Democrats, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, as well as Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Cisneros could get an additional boost at the polls thanks to support for Sanders — recent polls show him leading the 2020 pack in Texas. Pelosi and outgoing Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), meanwhile, campaigned over the weekend for Cuellar.
AIPAC vs. J Street: Cuellar is a familiar face at AIPAC events and has traveled to Israel on congressional trips sponsored by AIPAC’s American Israel Education Foundation as recently as last summer. Cuellar co-sponsored last year’s bipartisan anti-BDS resolution (H.R. 246), and voted in favor of a resolution reaffirming U.S. support for the two-state solution. Cisneros has received support from J Street PAC, which has so far bundled $35,000 for her campaign.
Case for Cisneros: Ben Shnider, vice president of political affairs at J Street, tells Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh that Cisneros is one of two dozen candidates ranked as top priorities for the group, which has endorsed candidates in 135 congressional races. “Cisneros, in talking to her and getting to know her, embodies the next generation of pro-Israel, pro-peace leaders in this country,” Shnider explained. “She understands, as a civil rights attorney, that the future of Israelis and Palestinians is intertwined.”
Cisneros is for two states: “A two-state solution is critical to both Israel’s survival as a democratic state and a homeland for the Jewish people and to the dignity and justice of the Palestinian people,” Cisneros told JI. “Our communities know it’s not mutually exclusive to support Israel’s security and the dignity of the Palestinian people.”
Responding to J Street: Colin Strother, a spokesperson for Cuellar, tells JI that their campaign was “kind of surprised” that J Street chose to back the challenger in this race since Cuellar “has an open-door policy.” Strother added, “Any friend of Israel is a friend of Henry Cuellar. And as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, including the subcommittee for defense and military, he has an open door for folks to come in and visit and talk about the needs that they have.” Support for Israel, Strother stressed, “isn’t a theory for the congressman like it is for our opponent, who has zero background in these issues.”
Read a full preview of the race here.
Trump Hotel setting up a kosher pop-up restaurant for AIPAC
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. is advertising a 5-star kosher menu at a special pop-up restaurant during the AIPAC Policy Conference, March 1-3. The hotel has offered a special kosher menu for in-room dining and the lounge since last year, but this is the first time an entire kitchen has been kosherized. A separate room has been set up to serve as many as 120 customers simultaneously during the evening hours Sunday through Tuesday, Daniel Mahdavian, the hotel’s director of food and beverage, tells JI’s Jacob Kornbluh.
Options: The menu, shared with Jewish Insider on Monday, includes a choice of two soups, fresh salad and options of Moroccan-style half cornish hen, ribeye steak or halibut fillet. For new Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff and those uninterested in well-done steak, there’s also a special vegan menu. The hotel is also offering a fully kosher bar for attendees looking to schmooze while enjoying a variety of kosher “mevushal” wines.
In other AIPAC news: AIPAC announced on Monday that Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will be featured speakers at the annual gathering.
Scheduling conflict: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spoke on the main stage last year, will not attend this year’s conference “due to scheduling issues,” City Hall spokesperson Freddi Goldstein told JI. Department of Veterans Services Commissioner James Hendon “will go on behalf of the administration,” Goldstein said.
Not boycotting: De Blasio, a campaign surrogate for Sanders, “continues to believe it’s important for progressive voices to be represented at AIPAC,” Goldstein stressed. Last month, de Blasio addressed the AIPAC Northeast annual gala in New York City.
Israeli NGOs ‘in a precarious situation,’ Jewish donor groups warn
A memo released last week by a coalition of affinity groups representing Jewish and Israeli funders is warning that Israel-based non-profits and social services “are in a precarious situation” as the country heads into its third election in a year and its third month with no national operating budget.
Feeling the strain: The memo, jointly written by the Jewish Funders Network, Jewish Federations of North America, the Forum of Foundations in Israel and the Israeli Civic Leadership Association and obtained by Jewish Insider, said that inquiries have already come in from some organizations that are reliant on government funding and which have been affected by the political stalemate.
Why it’s happening: Israel’s current transitional government lacks authority to pass the country’s 2020 budget, leaving it without a budget since the start of the year. The country has been operating under a caretaker government since April 2019, forcing Jerusalem to govern with a continuation budget that has affected a range of government functions, from diplomatic efforts to the hiring of some law enforcement.
How it works: A continuation budget allows the government to disperse 1/12 of the previous year’s budget each month, adjusted for inflation. Organizations with approved contracts are not guaranteed to receive funding on time. The memo suggests that philanthropic organizations “[consider] providing additional funding to bridge the gap or lending money in advance of an upcoming payment.”
Why it matters: Organizations will continue to stretch their resources as American philanthropies help to close the funding gaps, but many are dealing with dwindling resources. The long-term uncertainty following repeated failed attempts to form a government puts smaller organizations reliant on government funds in an uncertain situation.
Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Eric Fingerhut tells JI: “The lack of a state budget is an issue for Israel and for Israelis which – should it continue long term – could put smaller nonprofits as well as new growth and innovation in the sector at risk. The outcome of next week’s elections will hopefully pave the way for a new government that will pass a budget and resolve this situation.”
😉 No Tears: In Politico Magazine, Derek Robertson shines a light on how The Onion, a favorite satire site, has gone full “Bernie Bro” on the now Democratic frontrunner, Sen. Bernie Sanders. The site’s editor-in-chief, Chad Nackers, insisted that not mocking the Vermont senator doesn’t indicate they are backing his candidacy, but that Sanders’s platform embodies what The Onion has been doing all these years. [Politico]
🗳️ The Jewish Vote: After New York Post reporter Jon Levine tweeted that Trump would beat Sanders in the Jewish vote come November, TheWashington Post’s Philip Bump laid out why that scenario is “awfully unlikely,” and relies heavily on anecdotal evidence instead of historic data. [WashPost]
✡️ Making History: In Axios, David Nather and Alexi McCammond weigh in on the historic nature of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential run, highlighting the divide between the senator and mainstream American Jewish organizations — and how that might play out in a general election race against a president who touts his pro-Israel policies. “People tend to bring up Sanders’ Jewishness only when he’s criticizing Israel — or Trump’s rhetoric,” McCammond notes. [Axios]
Around the Web
😡 Moderate Ire: Some Florida Democrats are furious with Sen. Bernie Sanders over his comments on Fidel Castro, which could add to his woes in the state with both a heavy Jewish and Hispanic population, Politico reports.
📺 Apology: MSNBC host Chris Matthews apologized to Sanders yesterday for comparing his Nevada win to the Nazi invasion of France: “I’m sorry for comparing anything from that tragic era in which so many suffered, especially the Jewish people, to an electoral result in which you were the well-deserved winner.”
👴 2020 Choices:Billionaire Warren Buffett said in an interview with CNBC that he sympathized with Sanders about the government “doing better” for people who are left behind, but said that he, as a capitalist, was leaning more towards voting for a candidate like Michael Bloomberg.
🚫 Get Out: Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) are sending a followup 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.
🎰 In the Spotlight: Australian billionaire James Packer’s casinos are the subject of a public inquiry over claims of drugs, human trafficking and money laundering.
👨⚖️ Justice Served: Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was convicted Monday of felony sex crimes and rape charges, but acquitted of more serious charges. Weinstein was sent immediately from the Manhattan courtroom to jail to await his sentencing, but was diverted to the hospital with chest pains.
📱 Revealed:Venture capitalist Elliott Broidy, currently under federal investigation for violating lobbying laws, was one of the architects of the first deals signed by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group to sell its Pegasus spyware to foreign powers, according to court documents released for publication following a legal battle by Calcalist in a Tel Aviv district court.
🚬 Light Up: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to explore the legalization of marijuana for recreational use after the election.
👋 Goodbye: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, an avowed antisemite, announced on Monday that he offered to step down from the post he returned to in 2018 after his 2003 retirement, amid political turmoil.
🏦 Banking Crisis: M.M. Warburg & Co., a private German Jewish bank that survived the Nazis, may end up being felled by a growing tax scandal.
🇱🇧 On the Hill:Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) are pushing for sanctions against Lebanon for jailing a U.S. citizen for six months.
🛐 Talk of the Nation: The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by a former Walgreens employee who was denied a request to not work on Saturdays for religious reasons.
👶 Talk of the Town: Four recent cases of herpes infections following a circumcision ritual have led New York City health officials to once again urge parents in the Hasidic community to avoid the suction practice known as metzitzah b’peh.
📈 Yeshiva Growth: The number of New York City children attending religious Jewish schools has soared over the last 20 years, while enrollment in Catholic schools has plummeted, according to a new study.
👵 Stronger Together:The Associated Pressspotlights Nachas, a Brooklyn-based community center that provides food, counseling and socialization to female Holocaust survivors.
🕍 Call to Action: Volunteers gathered at Rodef Shalom Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Sunday to put together “go bags,” which include first-aid supplies, flashlights, phone chargers, zip ties and tape in case of an emergency.
🙃 Long Read: In Tablet, Jenna Weissman Joselit explores how Yiddish has left an indelible mark on American advertising.
🥪 Expanding: Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli, a favorite eatery in Maryland, is opening a third location in Wilmington, Delaware.
🥯 Bagels and Lox: Eaterexplores how and why Jewish deli-inspired cuisine is “having a moment” in Los Angeles, including a noted “bagel boom.”
➡️ Exit: Dee Dee Myers is stepping down as the Warner Brothers communications chief, ending the former White House press secretary’s five-year run with the company.
👨💼 Transition: Daniel Bleiberg, previously foreign policy advisor for Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL) and an AIPAC alum, is now a legislative assistant to Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), where he will handle the foreign affairs and national security portfolios and manage the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism.
Pic of the day
A delegation of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute from Brooklyn met with generals and Chief of Chaplains from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and National Guard during the U.S. Military Training Conference in Miami over the weekend.
Vice chairman of Morgan Stanley, he was a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, Thomas Richard Nides turns 59…
Owner of the MLB’s Chicago White Sox (since 1981) and the NBA’s Chicago Bulls (since 1985), Jerry M. Reinsdorf turns 84… Former talk show host, Sally Jessy Raphael turns 85… Former president of the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore (1979-1986), then EVP of the UJA-Federation of New York (1986-1999), then first-ever CEO of United Jewish Communities, Stephen Solender turns 82… Science and medicine reporter for The New York Times and author of six books, Gina Bari Kolata turns 72… Visiting scholar at NYU, he is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, formerly CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Steve Gutow turns 71… Jerusalem-based attorney and chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel and a VP of Republicans Overseas, Marc Zell turns 67…
A leader of the Blue and White party, former chief of the general staff of the IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi turns 66… Opinion columnist and podcast contributor for TheNew York Times, Andrew Rosenthal turns 64… VP of communications at CNN, Barbara Levin turns 64… Senior fellow at DC’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, Mona Charen turns 63… CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo, Rob Goldberg turns 61… Co-president of Paterson, New Jersey-based JNS-SmithChem, LLC, Michael F. Smith turns 59… Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he was first elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2015 and 2018, Miro Weinberger turns 50… Former chief White House correspondent for CNN, she published her debut novel in 2019, Jessica Sage Yellin turns 49… Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, she is now the director of news curation for Facebook, Anne Elise Kornblut turns 47…
Travel planner based in Southport, Connecticut, she was previously SVP of marketing and communications at NBC News, Lauren Raps turns 47… Comedian, actress and writer, Chelsea Joy Handler turns 45… Actress, best known for her roles in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and Fox’s “Boston Public,” Rashida Jones turns 44… Managing director of Covenant Wines in Berkeley, California, Sagie Kleinlerer turns 43… Assistant director at San Francisco-based EUQINOM Gallery, Lyla Rose Holdstein turns 38… Actor best known for his role in Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” he is the co-founder and head of programming at Richard Branson’s Virgin Produced, Justin Berfield turns 34… CNN reporter covering European politics, business and media, Hadas Gold turns 32… 2013 U.S. national figure skating champion, Maxwell Theodore “Max” Aaron turns 28… Avi Posnick… Julie Goldman…