Good Thursday morning!
After President Donald Trump canceled his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership meeting in Las Vegas this weekend, the RJC announced it would postpone the conference less than 48 hours before it was slated to begin. Trump also canceled a fundraiser at the home of Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson.
American Muslims for Palestine has postponed its annual Palestine Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, slated for later this month, until September, following concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The group, which supports BDS, says 15 senators and members of Congress were scheduled to meet with them.
Last night, Trump reassured an anxious nation that he’s taking all necessary steps to protect the health and safety of the American people, and declared the suspension of most travel from Europe. The president is reportedly waiting for Jared Kushner to finish his research before deciding whether to declare a national emergency.
The 2020 Democratic nomination is now Joe Biden’s to lose after impressive wins over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Idaho on Tuesday. Nine former Michael Bloomberg backers, including Reps. Max Rose and Nita Lowey of New York, announced their endorsement of the former vice president yesterday. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried also endorsed Biden ahead of the March 17 primary in her state. More below.
Voting in the World Zionist Congress election came to an end last night. Some 120,000 ballots were cast for the 15 slates running for 152 U.S.-held seats in the Congress during the seven weeks of online voting. Results are expected to be announced next week.
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Infectious disease reporter Jon Cohen helps make sense of the coronavirus
Jon Cohen, a Science magazine reporter specializing in infectious diseases and public health issues, shared his experience covering the novel coronavirus over the past few months and offered his expertise in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Life on the edge: Cohen has always gone to where the action is — and he said he had wanted to travel to Wuhan to cover the virus but couldn’t get a visa. “I’m a journalist. I wanted in. I wanted to go to the heart of the fire and see it.” What accounts for his attitude? “My father’s Israeli,” Cohen said. “I grew up living summers in Israel. I have a very different sense of risk than most Americans.” His father was Avshalom Cohen, a well-known Israeli songwriter who penned a number of hits, including “Agala Im Susa.”
Unique approach: At Science, Cohen said, he and his colleagues take a different approach than mainstream publications. “We’ve broken a whole lot of stories just because we pay attention to details that other people might not necessarily appreciate,” he told JI. One example, he said, was a World Health Organization mission that went to China, traveled the country with a group of Chinese scientists and wrote a report that was filled with new information, which was ignored by the mainstream media.
Personal concerns: Though Cohen isn’t worried about contracting the virus himself, he has asked his 90-year-old mother to stop playing mahjong with friends. “It’s not as though there’s a tremendous amount of COVID-19 in this country, but social distancing efforts work best early on. And furthermore, we don’t know how much COVID-19 there is in this country because we’ve had a testing fiasco.” He said the U.S. response has been compromised by a lack of diagnostics. “The virus is largely going to behave the same way” in America as abroad, he said. “It’s a virus, and all the virus wants to do is copy itself and spread.” Viruses, he said, “have no morals” and “no agenda.”
Prescription: The prescription to stopping the virus, he said, is well known: find people who are infected, isolate them, find their contacts, test them, and isolate those who are infected. “We’re not at that stage with this virus where we think, ‘Hey, we’re just gonna live with it.’ We’re fighting. We’re saying, ‘We can do a great deal to prevent it from spreading far and wide here.’”
With the world ceasing social activity, we asked Rabbi David Wolpe for his message to fellow JI readers: “This is uncharted territory. Pikuach nefesh — saving lives — is the imperative. Social discomfort or disappointment matter far less than decisive action. Community begins with saving lives, so please don’t hesitate to cancel, distance and await the time when we can embrace safely again.”
New book details MBS’s relationships with U.S. officials
Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh takes a brief look at the new book about the de facto Saudi leader, MBS: The Rise to Power of Mohammed Bin Salman, by New York Times reporter Ben Hubbard.
Match made in heaven: Hubbard describes how the Obama administration gave up on mentoring Mohammad bin Salman as he started rising through the ranks of the Saudi royal family, because then-Vice President Joe Biden, the only official who had the time and interest to become an MBS whisperer, was “deemed too old” to connect with the young Crown Prince. The initiative raised by Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi known as MBZ, was shelved “until a young Jewish real estate investor from New Jersey named Jared Kushner entered the White House with the next administration,” he writes.
Road to D.C. runs through Jerusalem: Hubbard details how MBS worked to build a close relationship with Kushner based on a report submitted by Saudi officials following a meeting with Trump officials in New York, which concluded that Kushner’s “overwhelming interest” was solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His approach was to offer help on issues that matter to Kushner and Trump. “The tactic would succeed tremendously,” Hubbard writes. “The relationship between MBS and Kushner bloomed because both came to believe that the other could advance issues they held dear.” In their communication, the pair, “swapped emojis on WhatsApp and other messaging platforms,” Hubbard writes.
Olive branch: The book recounts a meeting between the Saudi crown prince and a U.S. delegation — which included former Ambassador Dennis Ross and former Obama administration official Philip Gordon — in the summer of 2016 in Riyadh, in which MBS told the group that “Israel is not our enemy.” Hubbard writes that MBS “turned to a military official seated nearby and asked, ‘Right?’ The official agreed. ‘Israelis are not killing Saudis,’ MBS said.”
Read more here.
Bonus: The Wall Street Journal takes an inside look at MBS’s aggressive actions this weekend, from clamping down on his political rivals within the kingdom to moving to lower oil prices to cement his rule.
Columbia to hold campus-wide Israel divestment vote, first in school’s history
Columbia University will hold a campus-wide referendum on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in early April, the first time BDS will be brought to a vote by the New York City school’s entire student body.
Background: Past efforts to pass anti-Israel legislation on the campus have been limited to the school’s student government. In 2018, students at Barnard College, which is affiliated with Columbia, voted 64-36 in a referendum to divest from eight companies that operate in Israel.
Speaking out: In a statement denouncing antisemitism released last week, Columbia President Lee Bollinger addressed the upcoming vote, calling the BDS movement “controversial.” Bollinger noted that “hard-fought debates about very real and vital issues” can quickly shift “to hostility and even hatred toward all members of groups of people.”
Nod of approval: Academic Engagement Network executive director Miriam Elman, whose organization works within academia to strengthen faculty opposition to BDS and promote free expression on campus, told JI she was pleased with Bollinger’s statement. “Strong campus leaders reinforce the university’s values, and this is what President Bolliger did in his statement,” Elman told JI. “President Bollinger helpfully took the opportunity to place the referendum question within the larger context of BDS, noting that this movement often crosses the line from legitimate criticism of Israeli policy to ‘hostility and even hatred’ toward Jews.”
Happening simultaneously: A new campaign, calling on the Columbia community to unite in opposition to Palestinian Authority payments to the individuals responsible for the murder of Sara Duker, a Barnard College alumna who was killed in a 1996 terror attack, recently launched on the campus.
Biden riding high after big win in Michigan
Former Vice President Joe Biden leaped ahead in the delegate count on Tuesday after big wins over Sen. Bernie Sanders in Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Idaho. Biden now has 860 delegates to the Vermont senator’s 710. Speaking in a mostly empty hall of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia — after canceling a rally in Ohio over coronavirus concerns — Biden called for unity and drew a stark contrast with President Donald Trump in tone and leadership.
Biden’s work ahead: Ann Lewis, co-chair of the Democratic Majority for Israel, which is supporting Biden’s candidacy, told JI’s Jacob Kornbluh that Biden’s victory speech served as “setting an example” of the kind of president he would be if elected. “I think what Joe Biden has to do now is go on demonstrating the positive, inclusive leadership he has shown in the campaign so far, and showing a clear contrast with” Trump.
Not closing the curtain: In a speech yesterday, Sanders acknowledged his setbacks but maintained that he is winning the debate about the issues that are important for the future of the country. Lewis, who served as White House director of communications for President Bill Clinton, said she hopes Sanders staying in the race “means a discussion of policy, and what we as a country need to start doing differently, because that would be good for Democrats.”
Longshot bid:The New York Timesreported that Sanders has conceded to aides that he’s running out of time to accumulate enough delegates to maintain sufficient leverage to demand sweeping progressive policy concessions from Biden in the event of a truce. Later in the day, the Sanders campaign promoted an endorsement from IfNotNow, boasting over its first endorsement by a national Jewish organization.
Still Berning: Elad Nehorai, a writer and activist who goes by the moniker Pop Chassid on Twitter, told JI even if Sanders doesn’t win in the end, it’s important he stays in the race so that his supporters “have a voice” throughout the primary process. “Sanders doesn’t just represent himself or his constituency,” Nehorai explained. “His policy positions have been increasingly accepted by the Democratic Party. This matters almost as much, or maybe even more, than a progressive win. The longer Sanders stays in this race, the more exposure those ideas get.”
Bernie’s surrogate problem: The Sanders campaign denounced the “toxic and offensive” past statements against Israel by Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini, an imam who introduced the candidate at a rally in Dearborn, Michigan on Saturday. “Senator Sanders stands with those in Israel, Palestine, and across the region who work for peace, and unequivocally rejects antisemitic conspiracy theories that seek to blame Israel for all the region’s problems, and well as any bigoted statements against any group,” campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement.
🏳️🌈 Picking the Wrong Fight: Writing in Tablet magazine, Israeli actress Noa Tishby calls a petition to boycott the upcoming TLVFest, an LGBT film festival sponsored by Tel Aviv’s municipality, “nothing but a nefarious attempt” to delegitimize Israel, the one nation in the region espousing liberal values. [Tablet]
🎙️ Double Star:Rapper Nissim Black, an African-American Hasidic Jew living in Israel who has attracted broad media attention, discussed with reporter Santi Elijah Holley for Level his conversion and how he navigates his dual identity as a Jew of color amid a rise in antisemitism and hate attacks. [Level]
✡️ Old vs. New: Jacob Judah reports for Haaretz from Gateshead, England, “the last of Europe’s great yeshiva towns.” As the community searches for a new religious leader, the debate rages between a tentative embrace of modernity — including a kosher pizzeria — or a more old-school, closed off approach. [Haaretz]
Around the Web
🚀 Talk of the Region: A rocket strike in Iraq yesterday killed two U.S. soldiers and a British army medic in an attack on the Camp Taji military base north of Baghdad.
📋 On the Hill: The House passed a resolution, 227-186, that would constrain President Donald Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, which he is expected to veto.
😟 Coalition Conundrum: Blue and White leader Benny Gantz suffered a setback in his attempt to form a minority government backed by Arab parties after MK Orly Levy-Abekasis of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance announced she would vote against such a government.
🤝 Buzz on Balfour: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has urged Likud and Blue and White to consider a national unity government to avoid a fourth election.
🛡️ Tightening Grip: With 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel, the government has ordered that no indoor gatherings larger than 100 people take place. Meanwhile, El Al has placed 80% of its workforce on unpaid leave due to travel restrictions, and the government has doubled a fund to lessen the virus’s economic impact on businesses.
🕍 Talk of the Town:Lohudexplores how the New Rochelle synagogue at the epicenter of New York’s coronavirus outbreak is dealing with the chaos.
📝 Foggy Bottom Terms: The State Department changed its description of East Jerusalem Palestinians from “Palestinian residents” to “Arab residents” or “non-Israeli citizens” in its annual global human rights report released on Wednesday.
😮 Look Who’s Talking: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the Greeks’ alleged mistreatment of migrants at its border to “what the Nazis did” during World War II.
👨⚖️ International Law: Israel’s NSO Group is asking a California judge to sanction Facebook for failing to abide by international law in filing a lawsuit against the spyware company last year.
👵 Age Matters: Laura Siegelman, a Long Island woman who fled Nazi Germany in the 1940s, has been denied a new driver’s license in New York because DMV officials say her green card is too old and her German birth certificate cannot be accepted.
💻 Digital Takedown: BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman looks at the rise and fall of Advertise dot com and its founder, Daniel Yomtobian, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur who made his fortune through fraudulent web traffic.
🎥 Hollywood: Actress Uma Thurman has been cast as the star of an Apple adaptation of the Israeli thriller “False Flag,” titled “Suspicion.”
🥁 Drum Beat:Jewish pop rock band Haim announced a limited tour across American delis this week to celebrate their new album Women in Music III, due out next month.
⛓️ Behind Bars: Movie producer Harvey Weinstein has been sentenced to 23 years in prison for sex crimes.
🥪 Eat Up: New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells reviews Pastrami Masters in Brooklyn, which is halal but not kosher, and decided on “fusing the Lebanese menu, almost in its entirety, to the Jewish deli offerings.”
🥯 We Are What We Eat: Literary Hub has published an excerpt from Ben Katchor’s new book The Dairy Restaurant, an illustrated history of Jewish dining habits through the ages.
📜 White House Scene: Jared Kushner read from the megillah on Tuesday morning during a Purim gathering in the White House organized by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad).
Pic of the day
Israel’s ambassador is now a JI ambassador!
Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer received his new JI diplomatic credentials on Purim. You too can become an ambassador and receive your own JI 🧢. Join him here.
Attorney, real estate developer and past president of AIPAC, he is the founder and CEO of R.A. Cohen & Associates, Robert A. Cohen turns 65…
Venezuela-born, raised in Israel, now residing in Lakewood, NJ, Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi turns 87… Sam Cohen turns 87… Photographer, musician and author of 15 children’s books, Arlene Weiss Alda turns 87… Carol Margolis turns 75… Director and producer, he directed the first of “The Fast and the Furious” film franchise, Rob Cohen turns 71… Born in Bombay, British sculptor and winner of the 2017 Genesis Prize, Sir Anish Kapoor turns 66… Pitching coach for MLB’s San Diego Padres, Larry Rothschild turns 66… Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, he is from the Israeli Druze community and served as Israel’s minister of communications, Ayoob Kara turns 65… Founder of hedge fund Lone Pine Capital, he is a major donor to charter schools and sits on the national board of Teach for America, Stephen Mandel turns 64…
Sales representative at Paychex, Lynne Blumenthal turns 62… Director of the Initiative on Holocaust Denial and Antisemitism and Director of Survivor Affairs, both at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Diane Saltzman turns 57… Senior attorney in the DC office of Squire Patton Boggs, Stacey Grundman turns 57… Sportscaster for ESPN since 1993, host of SportsCenter best known for his work broadcasting NHL hockey, Steve Levy turns 55… Born in Haifa, Israel, he received a Ph.D. from MIT and served as President of the Central Bank of Brazil (2016-2019), Ilan Goldfajn turns 54… Chief Washington correspondent for CNN and anchor of the Sunday morning program “State of the Union,” Jacob Paul “Jake” Tapper turns 51…
VP for media affairs at USTelecom – The Broadband Association, he was previously the Democratic communications director for the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, Brian T. Weiss turns 44… Writer and communications specialist at the American Hospital Association, Talia Schmidt turns 33… Senior Middle East specialist at Leidos, Aaron Magid turns 31… Former CMO (now an advisor) at ConsenSys, she is the co-creator of Ethereal Summit focused on blockchain technology, Amanda Gutterman Cassatt turns 29… Co-founder and CEO of Wonder Media Network, Jenny Kaplan turns 28… Israeli figure skater who won the 2016 World Junior championship, he competed for Israel at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Daniel Samohin turns 22… Israeli Internet personality, model and singer with 4.7 million followers on TikTok and over 1.2 million followers on Instagram, Anna Zak turns 19…
Birthweek (was yesterday): Chief Innovation Officer at The Stagwell Group’s ForwardPMX, Dana Gibber…