Good Wednesday morning!
Tonight at 9 p.m. ET on NBC and MSNBC, six Democratic 2020 candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — will hit the debate stage ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses.
Yesterday, during a live CNN town hall in Las Vegas, Sanders reiterated that he supports the Israeli people, but not the “right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel.” Citing the antisemitic attack in Monsey, Klobuchar laid out a three-pronged plan to combat antisemitism involving the office of the Attorney General, increased communication with local law enforcement, and education — “making sure people understand this right to worship and how fundamental it is.”
A photo of Sanders hugging campaign surrogates Amer Zahr and Linda Sarsour was buzzing on social media yesterday, reigniting concerns about the senator’s ties with the two — Zahr is a comedian and professor, and Sarsour is a progressive activist — both of whom have come under fire for antisemitic comments in recent years.
This morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Reps Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Mike Johnson (R-LA) at his residence in Jerusalem.
Voting in the Israeli threepeat electionkicked off today as Israeli envoys, emissaries, embassy employees — and their spouses — stationed around the world cast their ballots. More on the Israeli election below.
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Stop & fisk
Bakari Sellers not sold on Bloomberg
Former South Carolina state legislator Bakari Sellers shared his concerns about Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy and his views on the 2020 presidential race in an interview with Jewish Insider‘s Jacob Kornbluh on Tuesday. The pro-Israel activist also weighed in on whether 2020 presidential candidates should attend next month’s AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C.
Not with Mike: Sellers, who is currently a CNN commentator, said some of Bloomberg’s policies while mayor of New York City should disqualify his candidacy. “I do not believe that Michael Bloomberg is a racist. I don’t know him. However, I will say that his policies helped to promote and prop up racist systems,” Sellers explained. Despite Bloomberg’s apology for stop-and-frisk and his contributions to the Democratic Party, Sellers maintained that “Bloomberg hasn’t proved himself to be a progressive by any stretch.” Sellers market: Sellers previously endorsed Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) for president before she dropped out of the race in December. Asked who he is backing now, Sellers said it’s a tough choice. He pointed to Joe Biden as the most electable Democrat and predicted that if the former vice president comes in second place in the Nevada caucuses on Saturday — and wins the South Carolina primary the next weekend — he will “stop the bleeding.”
Scheduling conflict: Less than two weeks before AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, none of the 2020 presidential candidates have confirmed if they will be addressing the gathering. Sellers, who frequently speaks at AIPAC events, tells JI that since this year’s conference overlaps with Super Tuesday, skipping the gathering shouldn’t be seen as a story at all. “If I was advising a candidate, there’s no way I would tell them to be in Washington D.C.,” he said. “You don’t need to be in Washington D.C. on Super Tuesday… You need a campaign so that you can actually be somebody who creates the policies to help strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Being at AIPAC doesn’t bode well for your presidential prospects.”
Bonus: Emily Tamkin writes in The New Republic about criticizing Bloomberg in an age of antisemitism. “The rich, Jewish, former mayor of New York is spending millions on this election. Can we criticize him without perpetuating harmful stereotypes?”
Twists and tweets: Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) accused Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) of antisemitism for tweeting that Bloomberg “owns the media” in response to a tweet about a headline concerning Bloomberg in Bloomberg News.
Sen. Chris Murphy under fire for meeting with Iranian foreign minister
President Donald Trump slammed a group of Democratic senators, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), for meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference over the weekend. “That sounds to me [like] a violation of the Logan Act,” Trump told reporters Tuesday on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews.
Pushback: Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, defended his meeting with Zarif in a lengthy essay, which also included details of his meeting on Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “I don’t know whether my visit with Zarif will make a difference,” Murphy wrote. “I’m not the President or the Secretary of State — I’m just a rank and file U.S. Senator. I cannot conduct diplomacy on behalf of the whole of the U.S. government, and I don’t pretend to be in a position to do so. But if Trump isn’t going to talk to Iran, then someone should.”
Testing the waters: Murphy, who has met with Zarif in the past, explained that his efforts to engage with the Iranian diplomat were “to gauge whether he thinks the reprisals for the [Qassim] Soleimani assassination are over, and I want to make sure it is 100 percent clear to him that if any groups in Iraq that are affiliated with Iran attack the United States’ forces in Iraq, this will be perceived as an unacceptable escalation.”
Iran Watch: The Israel Defense Forces announced on Tuesday the creation of a new Iran-focused directorate as part of its multi-year Momentum Plan that will be headed by one of the commanders on the General Staff.
TURNING A PAGE
Trump pardons philanthropist Michael Milken
President Donald Trump granted clemency on Tuesday to 11 individuals, including a full pardon of financier and philanthropist Michael Milken, chairman of the Milken Institute, who was indicted in 1989 for violating U.S. securities laws.
Details: Milken was charged on 98 separate counts of illegal securities trading, stock manipulation, acquisitions related to illegal securities trading and racketeering while he was head of investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert’s junk bond division. He pled guilty to six felony securities fraud and conspiracy charges, was sentenced to 10 years in prison plus three years’ full-time community service and paid $600 million in fines and restitution. His sentence was ultimately reduced to just two years after he cooperated with prosecutors.
Why now? A White House statement about Milken’s pardon highlighted his philanthropic work on behalf of causes like prostate cancer research, education and disadvantaged children. It described him as “one of America’s greatest financiers” who “helped create entire industries… and transformed others.” His work, the statement continued, “ democratized corporate finance by providing women and minorities access to capital.” The White House also cast doubt on the legitimacy of the charges against Milken, calling them “truly novel” and characterizing his criminal actions as “innovative financing mechanisms.”
List of advocates: Supporters of Milken’s pardon included Jared Kushner, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani — who, as a prosecutor, investigated Milken — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, Rabbi Marvin Hier, real estate moguls Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, investor Howard Lorber, Yankees President Randy Levine, developer Larry Mizel, David Rubenstein, Josh Harris and Josh Friedman, among others.
Rabbi Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, tells JI, “Milken is one of the great philanthropists, he was involved in so many wonderful causes, especially for the Jewish community. I couldn’t think of a better person that is more deserving of a pardon than Michael Milken.”
Moving on: In a statement issued by his institute, Milken said, he’s “very grateful” to the president and looks forward “to many more years of pursuing our efforts in medical research, education and public health.”
Axios editor Dan Primack, meanwhile, pointed out that the clemency has served mostly to remind people of the past crimes of Milken, who was released from prison in 1993: “This pardon feels like a curse wrapped in a blessing.”
ISRAELI ELECTION WATCH
Netanyahu and Gantz trade barbs as PM’s trial date set
Less than two weeks before Israelis head to the polls for the third time in under a year, the Jerusalem court announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial is slated to begin on March 17, a day after the new Knesset will be sworn in. JI’s Jacob Kornbluh delves into the latest developments:
Trading barbs: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz called it a “sad day” for Israel and its citizens. “On March 17, Netanyahu will lose his mandate and his trial will begin,” Gantz said during a campaign rally on Tuesday evening. Netanyahu countered by saying that it would be an even sadder day if Gantz forms a government backed by the Arab parties. Netanyahu then invited Gantz to participate in a live televised debate — which would be the first between major candidates for prime minister since 1996. Gantz did not immediately accept the invitation.
Latest polls: The most recent surveys show both camps short at least three seats from building a 61-seat majority, with Blue and White slightly edging out Likud. Both major parties are counting on a higher voter turnout of their base to serve as a tiebreaker. A senior Blue and White official tells JI that while polling data shows Likud at a static 32-33 seats, the party hopes Netanyahu fatigue will cause Likud supporters to stay home: “Only turnout can break the tie.”
Vote early, vote often: Voting in the Israeli threepeat election kicked off on Wednesday as Israeli envoys, emissaries, embassy employees — and their spouses — stationed around the world cast their ballots. In September, Israeli Consul General to New York Dani Dayan said he “was excited in exactly the same way” as he was in the first Knesset election last April. “To be sincere, I am less excited than the first time and the second time,” the Israeli diplomat told JI yesterday. “And hopeful that there is not going to be a fourth round. But this time I will refrain from betting on it.”
🏺 Investing in Unity: Billionaire investor David Rubenstein explains to Mikaela Lefrak, a reporter for American University Radio, why he is donating millions of dollars to preserve historic monuments in the nation’s capital. “I got lucky in life and now I’m trying to give back to society,” he said, adding that by preserving America’s cultural institutions, he believes he has a shot at bringing the country together. [WAMU]
🙏 Humane Values: In Wired, reporter Kathryn Joyce reports from a recent conference in Nashville, Tennessee, where Christian entrepreneurs expressed their desire to see more faith and values in the culture of tech entrepreneurship. Israeli lawyer Calev Myers told the crowd that gold had once been a way to record services rendered to others, noting that individuals like Bill Gates attained success because he helped others along the way – gold, Myers said, represents “the value you’ve brought to humanity.” [Wired]
👨👩👧👦 Mishpacha Ties: Gilad Shalit’s recent engagement evoked “familial” joy in Israel, where the former Hamas prisoner had become a household name during his five years in captivity, Bari Weiss writes in The New York Times, leading Weiss to wonder “what kind of country America would become if we regularly, collectively, campaigned for the release of our fellow citizens” imprisoned throughout the region. [NYT]
Around the Web
📉 Talking Heads: Leon Cooperman told CNBC yesterday that a Bernie Sanders presidency is “a bigger threat [to the stock market] than the coronavirus.”
💵 War Chest: According to Bloomberg News, Trump backers are seeking an extra billion dollars to counter Bloomberg’s massive ad spending.
🥪 Meal on the Go:Eater provides an inside look at the “all-you-can-eat feasts” that are becoming the hallmark of Bloomberg’s campaign events, including “Cuban sandwiches and kosher pigs in a blanket” at a recent Miami rally.
🧕 Hair-Raising Tale: Iranian chess champion Shohreh Bayat writes in The Washington Post about how, after wearing a loose hijab at a tournament in Shanghai — and the next day ditching it entirely — it is now “too dangerous” to go home.
🕍 Talk of the Nation:The Associated Press’s David Crary takes a close look at how the rise of antisemitic violence has taken a toll on local rabbis and congregations.
🖼️ Painted Shut:The Los Angeles Timesexamines what led to the abrupt closure of the glitzy Marciano Art Foundation less than two years after it first opened.
🎒 Talk of the Town: The Jewish community in Virginia Beach is lobbying to change the first day of school in the city in order to not coincide with Rosh Hashanah.
🇫🇷 Across the Sea:A not-yet-published report conducted by former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly on behalf of Ron Lauder finds that France is the most dangerous place in Europe to be Jewish.
🎁 Gift Card: Stephen Miller’s uncle David Glosser gave his nephew a wedding gift in the form of a donation to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
🍴 Cafeteria Choice: New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said yesterday that the city’s public schools should make kosher and halal meals available to all students.
👗 Style at Any Age:New York Magazine’s “The Cut” fashion blog paid a visit to the residents of the Hebrew Home in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx to spotlight their sartorial selections.
📺 Hollywood: Showtime has ordered a pilot of “The Curse,” a dark comedy from “Uncut Gems” directors the Safdie brothers and comedian and actor Nathan Fielder.
🏀 Sports Blink:NJ[dot]comprofiles high school basketball player Ally Landau, “the best kept secret in New Jersey,” a senior at the Golda Och Jewish day school in West Orange, who just headed to Israel for a three-month trip.
🥯 Last Bite: Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen, Boston’s annual Jewish food festival, is returning on March 1.
👩 Transition: Anna Langer has joined the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation as a senior program officer.
Pic of the day
Scene last night: Attendees at a screening at the Marlene Meyerson JCC for VIRAL, a documentary about antisemitism in the U.S. and Europe, included Jonathan Greenblatt, Yair Rosenberg, David Harris, Shula Bahat, Mark & Jane Wilf, David & Allison Blitzer, and Phil Darivoff.
Founder and president of the eponymous Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, she is on the boards of the NFL’s NY Giants, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the Aspen Institute, Laurie M. Tisch turns 69… and also the birthday of her first cousin once removed, founder and former CEO of the e-commerce app, Spring Alan Tisch who turns 32…
Burton Epstein turns 91… 2004 Nobel Prize laureate in physics and a professor at UC Santa Barbara, David Jonathan Gross turns 79… Former chairman of the board and CEO of Sony Corporation, Howard Stringer turns 78… Retired co-founder of integrated digital marketing agency Hawkeye / Mosaic, now known as Publicis Hawkeye, Sharon Edelman turns 72… Haifa-born, real estate investor, managing partner of Encino, CA-based Hager Pacific Properties, Adam Tuvia Milstein turns 68… Former Goldman Sachs partner and senior executive at JPMorgan Chase, he now serves on various corporate and non-profit boards, Barry L. Zubrow turns 67… CEO of Taglit Birthright Israel since 2008, Gidi Mark turns 64…
Novelist, essayist and short story writer, he was a winner of a 2005 MacArthur genius fellowship, Jonathan Allen Lethem turns 56… U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, he was a law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy alongside future justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Judge Gary Scott Feinerman turns 55… Comms director since 1997 for U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kevin D. Bishop turns 49… Vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and chair of World Likud, Yaakov Hagoel turns 49… Canadian media personality, Ezra Levant turns 48… Chief innovation officer at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 2015, Joshua Levi Schank, Ph.D. turns 45… Senior VP of Government Relations at Las Vegas Sands Corp., Andy Abboud…
Founder of NYT’s DealBook and co-creator of Showtime’s “Billions,” Andrew Ross Sorkin turns 43… Jewish rapper, part of the alternative hip hop group Darshan, better known by his stage name Eprhyme (pronounced “E-Prime”), Eden Daniel Pearlstein turns 40… Writer of the “In the Know” gossip column for The Hill, Judy Kurtz Altscher turns 36… Founder of a Middle East NGO called Ropes, Ben Birnbaum turns 35… Former MLB pitcher for the Phillies, he now runs Big League Advance, a company that invests in minor league players in exchange for a percentage of their future MLB earnings, Michael Schwimer turns 34… Samantha Zalaznick turns 33… Tight end for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Anthony Firkser turns 25… Actor David Mazouz turns 19…