Good Wednesday morning!
Ed note: The Daily Kickoff will return on Monday. Until then, we wish you a healthy and happy Passover.
COVID-19 may or may not be ‘the great equalizer,’ but this year everyone is making Passover at home. We look at what that means for the massive Passover travel business below.
Hollywood, they’re still just like us: This weekend, Rabbis David Wolpe and Sharon Braus are headlining a virtual Saturday Night Seder featuring celebrity guests including Ben Platt, Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The Senate is planning to pass further funding for the small business relief fund later this week.
The Jewish Food Society and The Paul E. Singer Foundation are partnering with Feed the Frontlines NYC to bring 50,000 meals from the city’s struggling Jewish and Israeli restaurants to medical workers in hospitals around the city.
And Leon and Debra Blackhave donated $10 million to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mayor’s Fund for an initiative providing 300,000 packages of food and household supplies for health care workers.
Spread the word! Invite your friends to sign up and earn JI swag through our Ambassador program
SENATE SEAT SPOTLIGHT
A battle between David and Goliath in South Carolina Senate race
South Carolina hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in 14 years. It has never elected a black Democrat to the Senate. But Jaime Harrison is looking to change all that with his challenge of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham this fall. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke to Harrison and to his mentor, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), for a closer look at the uphill battle.
From the feature: A story Jim Clyburn thinks about from time to time is the Old Testament tale of David and Goliath. The 79-year-old House majority whip, who grew up in a parsonage under Jim Crow, knows from underdogs, having served since 1993 as a Democrat in solidly red South Carolina.
Clyburn brought up the biblical story — in which David vanquishes his foe using only a sling shot — while assessing the prospects of another South Carolina Democrat: his protégé Jaime Harrison, now running a long-shot campaign to unseat Lindsey Graham in one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.
Harrison, an associate chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is facing “an uphill battle,” according to Clyburn. That may be an understatement: It has been 14 years since a Democrat won statewide election in South Carolina. But Clyburn hastened to add that he believed his young charge still has a fighting chance.
Graham, one of President Donald Trump’s closest confidantes, has established himself in recent years as an estimable force in Washington, where he chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. But back in his home state, experts say, the 64-year-old Republican’s sharp turn to the right could potentially alienate some of the more moderate voters in South Carolina’s electorate. Harrison’s allies believe that gives him an opening in the general election. “The extent to which people see Lindsey Graham as an enabler” of the president, Clyburn said, “improves Jaime’s chances.”
“I’m a different candidate,” Harrison told Jewish Insider in a recent interview, arguing that his experience growing up poor in the South — coupled with his tenure working for corporations — makes him a candidate who can appeal to a wide swath of voters.
Unwinding the Passover hotel industry
As travel grinds to a halt nationwide and hotels across the country shut their doors, luxury Passover programs have been forced to cancel, leaving program organizers scrambling to try to refund angry customers, and kosher caterers shifting gears to offload excess product, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Staying home: Passover programs, which have become part of a booming industry in recent years, put up high-paying guests at luxury resorts around the world, providing gourmet, kosher-for Passover meals and extensive lineups of speakers and performers. In 2017, White House advisors Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were spotted attending one such program in Whistler, British Columbia. High-end programs can now routinely cost more than $11,000 per person for the weeklong holiday. Now many guests, a number of whom put down deposits months ago, are demanding their money back. But some program operators rely on the once-a-year revenue to sustain them for the rest of the year — leaving them in an untenable position.
Struggling: Ben Camille, director of guest services for Upscale Getaways, said his family is struggling. “We’re not being left with even a penny. And the thing that’s so hard is that we also have families,” Camille told JI. “I have four kids… My wife is crying every day. We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to survive. It’s very, very difficult. This is not like normal life. People are really struggling.”
Refund policy: Schneur Weinberg, director of Pesach on the Mountain, which is held annually at the Four Seasons Resort in Whistler, Canada, told JI his company is also reliant on Passover profits for the whole year. He and his staff will not receive salaries, he said, and the company will not make any money this year. Pesach on the Mountain is offering guests 100% credit for next year’s booking, or cash refunds of 80% on this year’s bookings.
To-go meals: Kosher caterers who were slated to provide food for Passover programs are now stuck with large quantities of food. Some are trying to sell directly to consumers, with takeout and delivery options, Dani Klein, the founder of the YeahThatsKosher site, said. Smaller caterers around the country are setting up pop-up restaurants inside local businesses, selling meals directly to consumers. “There’s still a demand for people to not make every single meal at home,” Klein explained. “It’s a boon for those that are able to capitalize on this current market.”
Read more here.
LETTER FROM DIASPORA
Bronfman, Crown and others urge Gantz to block annexation plan
A group of more than 130 Jewish American leaders signed onto a letter spearheaded by Israel Policy Forum imploring Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi to use their leverage in unity talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the next government from moving ahead with applying sovereignty to Jewish communities in the West Bank.
Situational awareness: According to recent media reports, Gantz will allow Netanyahu to bring a proposal to annex parts of the West Bank for a cabinet vote and Knesset approval this summer, on the condition that he has the backing of the Trump administration and that it is coordinated with other international actors.
Prominent list: Signatories to the letter include the 50 individuals who serve on the Israel Policy Forum’s board of directors — among them former chairmen of the Conference of Presidents Alan Solow and Bob Sugarman, Henry Schein CEO Stanley Bergman, Charles Bronfman and Lester Crown — as well as former Reps. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Mel Levine (D-CA), former AIPAC president Steven Grossman, former AIPAC executive director Tom Dine, past chair of the Jewish Federations of North America Joseph Kanfer, Miami developer Michael Adler, and National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz.
Why now? Solow told JI that the signatories felt it was the “appropriate time to speak out,” because annexation would be considered by many to be “precipitous action — given the [coronavirus] crisis in Israel and the U.S. political situation — and fracture the relationship between Israelis and those of us who live in the Diaspora.”
Former Rep. Steve Israel told JI that he signed the letter because “I have long supported a solution that maintains Israel’s strength and security as a democratic Jewish state and requires Palestinian leaders to keep the peace. I’m concerned that a unilateral annexation upends those imperatives.”
Bibi’s legacy: Netanyahu wants to move forward on annexation while Trump is still in office, suggested Amit Segal, Israeli Channel 12’s senior political correspondent. “Netanyahu is in a desperate need for a legacy,” Segal said Tuesday during a webinar hosted by ELNET, a non-partisan organization focused on EU-Israel relations. “He is the son of an historian. He knows that if he [steps down], he will go down in history books as the first prime minister to be indicted in court. And he wants to rewrite the history books and be the first prime minister in history who got the [backing] of the U.S. for the annexation of the Golan Heights — last year — and now in the West Bank.”
Words of encouragement: Former U.S. negotiators and veteran diplomats David Makovsky and Dennis Ross write in Foreign Policy that Gantz did the right thing in breaking his pledge not to sit in a government led by Netanyahu and “put his country first.”
Sen. Chris Murphy doubles down on Iran sanctions relief
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) discussed his recent letter to the Trump administration, which called for the easing of sanctions on Iran for medical supplies and humanitarian relief, during a webinar hosted by J Street on Tuesday.
Moral obligation: “We [the 11 senators who signed the letter] believe that the U.S. first and foremost just has a moral obligation to make sure that our foreign policy doesn’t result in the knowing death of innocent people,” Murphy said. “And right now, our sanctions policy — because it is making it impossible for medical supplies to reach Iran — is in part resulting in the death of individuals in that country who could be saved if our policy was different.”
Amendment: Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, maintained that he wasn’t suggesting waiving all sanctions imposed by either the Trump administration or the Obama administration, but rather creating a “clear general license that would allow for humanitarian relief organizations to get those relief supplies into Iran without delay.”
Between two candidates: On the call, Murphy declined to say whether his proposal is closer to the one proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or to former Vice President Joe Biden’s suggested approach, saying that he hasn’t seen the Biden proposal in detail and has worked closely with Sanders on issues related to Iran. “What we are trying to do now is raise as much volume as we can to get this right,” he added.
Rebuttal: Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JI, “trade data and statements by Iranian officials confirm that billions of dollars in humanitarian exports to Iran are getting through. The regime has hundreds of billions in off-the-books assets that it should be spending on economic stimulus and fighting the coronavirus but it chooses not to… what Senator Murphy, who has been a long-time opponent of pressuring the regime, really wants is the lifting of the core financial and energy sanctions that would only enrich the regime and embolden its malign activities.”
Nefarious spending: The Trump administration plans to block Iran’s requested $5 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund to fund the fight against coronavirus because Iranian officials “have a long history of diverting funds allocated for humanitarian goods into their own pockets and to their terrorist proxies,” an administration official told The Wall Street Journal.
Elsewhere in national security circles: Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor is reportedly a top candidate to serve as the next Pentagon policy chief, despite past comments about American Jews operating in the government and media to lobby for unconditional support for Israel, and his claim that “there’s no evidence that Iran wants to attack us.”
😍 All Ye Faithful: New York Times reporter Elaina Plott dives deep into the affinity for President Donald Trump in South Florida, including among Jewish voters. Irma Gordon, 86, who runs the Jewish Republican Club of Broward, said this year “everyone is for Trump… it’s not only about what Trump has done,” she said, but also the Democrats “trying to make us socialist and communist.” [NYTimes]
📰 First Hand: Huffington Post reporter Akbar Shahid Ahmed, the first Pakistani journalist to be granted Israeli press credentials, details his experiences traveling around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and his development of “new empathy that’s stronger than my old fear.” [HuffPost]
🧔🧔 Rising Stars: A Business Insider video report spotlights how educators and parents are now seeking out advice on distance learning from Chabad, whose members became experts in online learning for their far-flung envoys around the world long before the coronavirus pandemic. [BI]
🇨🇳 Fast Friends: In Bloomberg, Zev Chafets posits that China’s shipments of critical coronavirus supplies and support to Israel are irking Washington. “By reaching out in a time of extreme need, China has won hearts and concentrated minds in Jerusalem.” [Bloomberg]
Around the Web
⚖️ WeSue: Two directors of WeWork have filed a lawsuit against SoftBank for rescinding its deal to buy $3 billion of shares in the company.
📱 Finger Pointing: Israel’s embattled NSO Group — fighting a lawsuit by WhatsApp for hacking users — has claimed that its governmental clients are the ones responsible for the alleged abuses.
💁🏻 Helping Hand: Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s family foundation has launched The Plate Fund to help Seattle restaurant workers laid off due to the coronavirus economic downturn.
🧰 Stepping Up: In Forbes, Chris Westfall highlights the industry leaders who are reinventing and restructuring their companies to provide solutions for healthcare workers and first responders.
☕ Last Drop: In Eater, Rebecca Firkser explores how the Maxwell House Haggadah became an iconic part of many Passover Seders.
🖼️ Reflecting: Israeli artist Zoya Cherkassky is debuting a virtual show at an art gallery in Brooklyn of a series of drawings of Jewish life amid the coronavirus pandemic.
🙏 Other Matters: The Israeli government called on Tuesday for the immediate resumption of indirect talks with Hamas on the return of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two fallen soldiers held for years in Gaza.
🕵️ Behind Bars: An Israeli citizen was arrested and indicted on suspicion of having links to Iranian intelligence agencies and providing them with information on Israel’s strategic sites.
🏗️ Stay or Go:The Associated Pressspotlights the dilemma facing many Palestinian laborers, who can stay and work in Israel for high wages or return home to their families and unemployment in the West Bank.
🚗 Pick Up: Israel has turned closed McDonald’s drive-thrus into coronavirus testing sites.
⚕️ Startup Nation: Israeli home health diagnostic provider Tyto Care has raised $50 million in a new round of funding.
⚾ Sports Blink: Lohudchecks in with Eric Holtz, Israel’s Olympic baseball manager, on how he is adjusting to lockdown rules and the postponement of the games by a year.
👨💼 Across the Pond: Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, a close ally of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been removed from the party’s Shadow Cabinet in a reshuffle by new opposition leader Keir Starmer.
😠 Hate Continues: Brookline Police are investigating the drawing of a swastika and antisemitic graffiti in Russian on the door of the Jewish Chabad Center of Brookline on Sunday.
🕯️Remembering:Rabbi Leibel Groner, who served as a secretary of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe for more than 40 years, died at age 88 due to coronavirus complications.
Gif of the Day
With a glass of wine in his hand, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held a virtual holiday toast with the heads of the security establishment yesterday. IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi raised a plastic water bottle in turn.
Political director for NBC News and host of NBC’s Meet the Press, Charles David “Chuck” Todd turns 48.
In honor of his birthday, Chuck recommended we share Yossi Klein Halevi’s recent column titled ‘And you should tell your children’ This Passover more than ever with his fellow JI readers. “So I found this column and it really spoke to me this year… I was in a funk about this year’s Seder, and this gave me some meaning,” Todd tells us. Happy birthday Chuck!
Comedian Shecky Greene (born Fred Sheldon Greenfield) turns 94… Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Seymour Myron “Sy” Hersh turns 83… French actor who has appeared in over 60 movies during a career spanning five decades, Jean Benguigui turns 76… Socialite and political fundraiser, Joy Silverman turns 73… Bassist for the rock band Grand Funk Railroad, Melvin George “Mel” Schacher turns 69… Long-time college and NBA basketball coach, Larry Shyatt turns 69… Russian-born businessman, he emigrated to Israel in 1972, Arcadi Gaydamak turns 68… Member of the National Assembly of Quebec, he was previously the regional executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, David Birnbaum turns 64… President of Wesleyan University, Michael S. Roth turns 63… Member of Knesset for the Likud party, David Bitan turns 60… Judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals since 2019, a brother-in-law of J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, Judge Jonathan Biran turns 54…
Cedarhurst, N.Y. resident, Jeffrey Kramer turns 52… Filmmaker, she co-wrote The Tribe, which explored American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie Doll, Tiffany Shlain turns 50… Director of Jewish outreach for the Bernie Sanders campaign, Joel Rubin turns 49… Professional baseball pitcher who played briefly for the Milwaukee Brewers and currently works as a coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, Matthew Lee “Matt” Ford turns 39… Israeli actor and TV host, Ofer Shechter turns 39… NYC-based head of investor relations for the Israeli Ministry of Finance, focused on global debt capital markets, Jason Reinin turns 38… Television personality and entertainer, Richard Rubin turns 37… Deputy business editor of the Washington Post, Zachary A. Goldfarb turns 37… Musician and the lead vocalist/guitarist of the indie rock band Vampire Weekend, Ezra Michael Koenig turns 36… Associate at Talpion LP, Daniel E. Smith turns 28… Janet Goldstein…
Birthweek: CNN’s Jeff Zucker turns 55 tomorrow… State Dept’s Shelley Greenspan turns 3-0 on Friday… and Estee Lauder Chairman William Lauder turns 60 on Saturday…