Good Sunday morning!
Welcome to a special edition of the Daily Kickoff. We’re live from D.C. where AIPAC is kicking off its annual policy conference. Here is JI’s guide to what’s driving the conversations in the hallways and lounges of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis.
Is this AIPAC conference like those of years past? For starters, there’s quite a lot going on elsewhere in the country and the world. Joe Biden won South Carolina’s primary last night, Israel is having another election tomorrow, voters in more than a dozen states will head to the polls on Super Tuesday, and the coronavirus is clouding over conferences around the world. In short, this year’s AIPAC is expected to be a little different than past years.
The elbow-shake: As attendees buzz about the latest developments with the coronavirus, many are opting to replace handshakes, hugs and fist bumps with the elbow bump. For its part, AIPAC is distributing thousands of travel-size bottles of hand sanitizer and has reassured participants that additional measures are in place to maintain a safe and hygienic environment.
Top conversation starters so far… Will Mike Bloomberg make up for his recent debate whiff on Israel? … What if Donald Trump wakes up on Monday and decides he wants to tout his Israel record to the 5-figure crowd? … What are the European leaders doing here?… Are there actually 18,000 attendees? … Did you know they’re preparing 16,000 falafel balls and 3,600 pounds of shawarma?
The candidate boycott that wasn’t: Similar to last year, when there was buzz of a boycott but ultimately candidates attended and spoke at AIPAC, late Friday it was announced that former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Amy Klobuchar would send greetings to AIPAC attendees by video, along with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who confirmed on Saturday night. Up until Friday, only Bloomberg had confirmed he would be speaking, leading to a new round of negative headlines about Democrats seemingly avoiding the bipartisan group.
Tech fix: This is the first AIPAC conference since Apple opened its new store at the Carnegie Library in Mt. Vernon Square, where conference protesters traditionally gather. It’s unclear if protestors will be able to demonstrate from the location as they have in prior years.
Mazel tov: If you run into Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Ari Berman, wish him congrats on the YU Maccabees making it to their third straight Skyline Championship Conference later today.
See something, tweet something: Tag us @J_Insider with the hashtag #JIatAIPAC.
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How the only presidential candidate attending AIPAC plans to take advantage
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to address the conference at Monday morning’s plenary session. According to one source, there are at least 15 people working on Bloomberg’s speech.
Comparing notes: The Bloomberg campaign said the speech will be a “deeper dive” into his remarks in January at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center in South Florida. Read highlights of that speech here.
Why Mike is attending in person: The campaign’s Jewish outreach director, Abigail Pogrebin, tells JI that Bloomberg’s appearance is aimed at sending a message that strong support for Israel should remain bipartisan. “Mike has always said, and will say again in his speech, that American support of Israel has been a bipartisan commitment to this country from its founding and it is crucial that it remains bipartisan support,” Pogrebin said. “The fact that some are fraying those threads, I think is something that Mike is not aligned with in the least, and he is going, first of all, to signal and affirm his commitment to Israel.”
Drawing a contrast: Pogrebin stressed that Bloomberg will also “affirm what AIPAC represents” in his speech. “I don’t have to tell you there are 20,000 people coming from every ideology, from every approach to Judaism and to other religions, including people of all races and color and sexual identity. This is a very diverse gathering and I think it is not just simplistic but inaccurate to paint it with one broad brush,” she said, adding, “It surprises me that any candidate would mischaracterize it as a racist platform.”
Will he make up for his debate flub? Last week, during the televised South Carolina debate, Bloomberg missed an opportunity to draw a stark contrast with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on his approach toward Israel and repudiate the Vermont senator for having characterized AIPAC as a racist organization. Will Bloomberg be more direct in his AIPAC speech? “I think you’ll have to wait and see,” Pogrebin told JI.
Flashback: Speaking at an AIPAC-hosted event for delegates during the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004, Bloomberg said, “When it comes to standing up for Israel, which for me is standing up for America, I can’t separate the two — George W. Bush has been there.”
Reaching out: The Bloomberg campaign is hosting a United for Mike reception at the Renaissance Hotel across from the convention center tonight.
Previewing Schumer’s case for bipartisanship
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to highlight the need to maintain bipartisan support for Israel in his speech on Monday night. The following are some excerpts of Schumer’s slated remarks, shared exclusively with Jewish Insider:
“The winds of politics are always changing. They blow fiercely during election years like this one. But no matter how fiercely those winds may blow, we must not let support for Israel be caught up in the maelstrom. The friendship between our two countries must be unshakeable. The friendship between our countries must be unbreakable.”
“Support for the friendship between our countries does not depend on which party you belong to. No matter what: we must keep the U.S.-Israel relationship bipartisan. This has been a mission for me and it must be for you, and all friends of Israel.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro tells JI: “People ask me if there is a collapse of bipartisan support for Israel. I don’t think so. But I do think there is a rise in partisan tension about what it means to support Israel. Those are not the same thing. I’ll be at AIPAC engaging in conversations with people from a range of backgrounds and with a variety of views, including some that differ from my own. I expect to find a lot of consensus around support for a close U.S.-Israel relationship, U.S. military assistance, deepening our security partnership which helps both countries, expanding our economic and technology ties, and rejecting calls to delegitimize Israel.”
Opposing Trump’s peace plan is OK, according to Shapiro: “I will also make clear how critical it is that we help keep a two-state solution that will give both Israelis and Palestinians self-determination, dignity, and security, alive and viable until new leaders can attempt to negotiate it. That is the only way Israel will remain secure, Jewish, and democratic and it is necessary to sustain the values-based U.S.-Israel relationship into the future. The Trump plan fails this test. Supporters of Israel and those concerned about U.S. interests should have no hesitation to say so at AIPAC or anywhere else.”
Persona non grata: Speaking to AIPAC’s National Council, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon slammed the presidential frontrunner. “We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel. Anyone who calls our prime minister a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both,” Danon said, according to a press release he distributed on Sunday morning.
Former British MP Ian Austin previews his message to AIPAC attendees
Former British MP Ian Austin, who resigned from the Labour Party last year to protest Jeremy Corbyn’s extremist views and handling of antisemitism, will speak on stage during the Sunday afternoon plenary session.
Message to American Jews: In an interview with Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh on Friday, Austin said that it is an “honor and a privilege” for him to “be able to bring the story of what happened in the U.K.” to such an important gathering. “I will be talking about the campaign we mounted to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from becoming the prime minister,” he said. “I will be talking about how people from different political backgrounds came together to challenge extremism and to stand up to decent mainstream political values, and to stand up for the Jewish community and oppose antisemitism.”
Red light warning: Austin said that while he is not in a position to tell Americans what to do in their elections, “the one thing I would say is that what happened in the U.K. shows how quickly extremism could move from the fringes to the center of a political party. It shows how quickly a mainstream political party can be taken over by outside the party or from its extreme fringes, and it shows how people have got to be vigilant and have really got to be careful about safeguarding their political institutions. The second thing I think it shows is that it’s not good enough to say that someone is not electable, but say why they shouldn’t be elected.”
It could happen anywhere: “If you go back six years, who would have thought that an institution so robust as the Labour Party and as central to Britain’s democracy could have been so vulnerable to extremism, and in the end, antisemitism. That would have been unthinkable. And I think what happened in the U.K. shows you have got to be really vigilant in how to protect your institutions.”
How he did it in Britain: The key campaign against Corbyn in the recent U.K. elections, Austin said, was explaining “what the impact of his policies were, how extremism and antisemitism had poisoned the Labour Party under his leadership. And I think the great thing about our country is that the British people, many of whom have not met any Jewish people, that even though they didn’t know the details or the history of antisemitism, they knew that it was bad and they were disgusted by it. It was a major factor that people who voted Labour their entire life decided they couldn’t support Corbyn in this election.”
AIPAC’s legislative agenda
An AIPAC official tells JI that the items on this year’s legislative agenda — for which state delegations and representatives will be lobbying when they head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday — are:
- Maintaining U.S. security assistance to Israel, including $3.3 billion in security assistance and $500 million for cooperative U.S.-Israel missile defense programs in fiscal year 2021, and opposing “any new conditions on assistance to Israel.”
- Advocating for House and Senate resolutions that ask the United Nations Security Council to extend the U.N. arms embargo and ballistic missile restrictions on Iran after the October 2020 expiration.
- Urging members of Congress to sign onto congressional letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for continued support for Israel against illegitimate attacks by the International Criminal Court.
Not on the stated agenda: The Trump administration’s Mideast peace plan, the future of the nuclear deal with Iran and the debate over the respective parties’ support for Israel.
Pic of the day
Last night, the international premiere of the third season of the hit Israeli television show “Fauda” was screened ay AIPAC for early arrivers. Yes TV managing director Danna Stern, “Fauda” co-creator Avi Issacharoff and actress Rona-Lee Shimon were in attendance.
Israeli historian, author and journalist, Tom Segev turns 75…
President of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in NYC, he served for thirty years on the Los Angeles City Council (1971-2001), Joel Wachs turns 81… Real estate developer, Tulane’s basketball arena is named in his honor, Avron B. Fogelman turns 80… Professor emeritus of Jewish Studies at Los Angeles Valley College and the editor of “Shofar,” Zev Garber turns 79… Hollywood executive, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, a member of the University of California Board of Regents and a co-owner of both the LA Dodgers and Golden State Warriors, Peter Guber turns 78… Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, he is a son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Ze’ev Binyamin (“Benny”) Begin turns 77…
Librarian at the Anti-Defamation League’s NYC HQ, Marianne Benjamin turns 76… Israeli journalist and political commentator, Ehud Yaari turns 75… Cantor at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, Congregation Beth Tikvah, Sam Weiss turns 70… Chairman and president of Berexco, Adam E. Beren turns 59… Author and former U.S. military intelligence officer, she is now a human rights activist focused on Eastern Europe, Nina Willner turns 59… Satirist, novelist, short story writer and journalist, he is also a three-time “Jeopardy!” champion, Neal Pollack turns 50… VP of philanthropy at the Baltimore Community Foundation, Dara Schapiro Schnee turns 49…
Television writer, director and producer, he is best known for co-creating the comedy-drama “Glee” and the drama “Pose,” Brad Falchuk turns 49… Six-time Emmy award-winning journalist for The Weather Channel, Dave Malkoff turns 44… Founder and principal at narrative/change, a Philadelphia-based media and communications firm, Jonathan Lipman turns 43… Israeli journalist and the chairman of the Union of Journalists in Israel since 2012, Yair Tarchitsky turns 40… Former member of the U.S. national soccer team, Jonathan Spector turns 34… VP of special projects at ASAPP, a NYC-based software technology company, Joshua Lachter turns 33… Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, Hannah Klain turns 29… Kevin Golden…