Good Tuesday morning!
Today is Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. Technology has made it possible to communicate with Holocaust survivors, even in the age of social distancing. Ben Lesser is one of the survivors using new technology and pre-recorded responses to answer questions about his life and experiences in Auschwitz.
Marking Yom HaShoah, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft writes in The Jerusalem Post that he’d planned to participate in the now-canceled March of the Living this year and recite Shema at the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that the Celebrate Israel Parade along Fifth Avenue, scheduled for June 7, has been canceled, along with several other city events.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is slated to meet President Donald Trump at the White House today.
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BUZZ ON BALFOUR
Averting a fourth election, Netanyahu and Gantz sign a unity deal
Just over a year after Israelis first headed to the polls to elect a new government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz agreed on terms paving the way for the creation of a national unity government. Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh has the latest:
Titles: Under the terms of the agreement, Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for the next 18 months, while Gantz will hold the jobs of defense minister and alternate prime minister, and his partner, Gabi Ashkenazi, will become foreign minister. Netanyahu is then slated to step aside and serve as deputy premier for the second half of the government’s three-year term, when Gantz becomes prime minister.
Other partners:So far, Blue and White’s 15 MKs and Likud’s 36 are the only ones to sign a deal, but others are expected to officially join the coalition in the coming days. Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli are predicted to sign on, as are renegade MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, who broke off from Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem last month. Following Yom HaShoah, Netanyahu will meet with the heads of Yamina and the haredi parties in hopes of building a wide, 78-seat coalition.
Blessing for success:Former White House Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt tells JI: “I am pleased that Israel finally has a government in place after three elections. This is a critical step for the State of Israel to be able to properly function in these challenging times.” Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, who most recently served as deputy minister in the prime minister’s office, told JI that the creation of a national emergency government “is good news for Israel.”
Annexation watch: The deal brokered with Gantz allows Netanyahu to bring an annexation agreement — reached in conjunction with the U.S. — for approval by Israel’s legislative bodies starting July 1. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro expressed hope that Netanyahu and Gantz will choose “not to proceed with annexation in July” in order to preserve treaties with Jordan and Egypt and “to avoid a misstep during an American election.”
Critical eye:Leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis said they were “heartened” that Israel has a new government and implored its leaders “to refrain from unilateral actions that could potentially hinder or thwart the renewal of the peace process in the short and long term, especially unilateral annexation.” Israel Policy Forum chair Susie Gelman, who recently spearheaded a letter urging Gantz to block Netanyahu’s annexation plan, told JI that such a move “will test the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community as never before.”
Is the crisis on college campuses over Israel overblown?
Kenneth Stern believes that reports of a crisis for Jewish students on college campuses have been greatly exaggerated. In his new book, The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate, Stern argues that the state of rhetoric over Israel and Palestine on American campuses is suppressing academic freedom. “Some organizations try to paint it as if the campuses are burning and everybody’s an antisemite and Israel is a hot-button issue every place,” Stern, the director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, told Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro in a recent interview. “Israel is not a hot-button issue in most places.”
Suppressing debate: The reality, he says, is “a more nuanced picture than people on either side try to paint.” What troubles Stern deeply, rather, are the constant attempts to censor and demonize the other side instead of engaging. “Pro-Palestinian students might try to censor by shouting, disrupting, and heckling; Jewish organizations tend to work through connections to administrators and donors, with phone calls and emails,” he writes. “But the goal — diminishing the other side’s ability to speak — is the same.”
Parting critique: In his book, Stern levels some harsh criticism at the American Jewish Committee, which he left in 2014 after 25 years as its director on antisemitism, hate studies and extremism. The organization, he wrote, “sacrificed an instinct for serious thought, discussion, and self-reflection in favor of ardent pro-Israel advocacy.” But Stern told JI he didn’t depart on negative terms. “I had a wonderful 25 years there,” he said. “If you spend 25 years in any place, of course, there are going to be things you like and things you don’t like.” Stern said that “towards the end” of his time at AJC, there were things “that I found more problematic.”
Reaction: In response to a request for comment, Daniel Elbaum, the chief advocacy officer at AJC, told JI that Stern’s claim “seems to say more about the author, who himself was not involved in decision-making regarding Israel while at AJC, than it does about us. In fact, we believe that to be reflective, and we are an organization well-known for extensive deliberations and debate, is, yes, to be pro-Israel, which we proudly are.”
Broader lens: Stern said the trend toward reflexive and all-encompassing pro-Israel advocacy is something he sees mirrored in many Jewish organizations today — to their detriment. “What troubles me is that it’s become the predominant focus,” he said. When Jewish organizations “had a much broader lens” on issues like education, immigration and civil rights, they “were able to build up long-term professional-to-professional relationships,” and call on those friends for support in defending Israel or other issues. Today, he said, the narrow focus on Israel “makes the Israeli advocacy less effective in some ways.”
New York’s oldest jazz club’s future is in jeopardy
The Village Vanguard, one of the oldest continuously operating jazz clubs in the world — and one of New York’s most cherished cultural institutions — has been closed since March 16. Owner Deborah Gordon is having trouble envisioning a time when things can return to business as usual. “This is such an open-ended closure with so many unknown unknowns,” she told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Silenced music: For one thing, Gordon doesn’t own the space; she rents it. The wedge-shaped club — dependent on tourists from Europe and Asia — is also cramped, an inhospitable environment in an age of social distancing. Gordon, who has laid off 90% of her staff, said that even when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says “‘You can go out now,’ how many people are going to want to go into a small basement? I don’t know.”
Historical site: The club was founded by Max Gordon, a Lithuanian Jew who became one of the most influential jazz impresarios of the 20th century. Though he originally intended for the space to exist as a kind of cabaret and poetry house, hosting the likes of Woody Guthrie, Harry Belafonte and Lenny Bruce, it transformed into an out-and-out jazz club in the late 1950s. Since then, jazz stalwarts such as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Bill Evans have performed there, releasing live albums that are a part of the jazz canon.
Staying afloat: Gordon has received a number of emails from Vanguard loyalists, who have pledged to write checks toward future admission in an effort to keep the club afloat. She told JI she had been considering live-streaming concerts from the club in an effort to maintain some sort of revenue stream, charging a few dollars per show. It was unclear to her, though, when that might be possible. “We’re not shutting down,” Gordon averred. “The moment I have that thought I push it out of my head.”
👵 Battle for Life: CNN reporter Haley Draznin describes how her 97-year-old Jewish grandmother, Genia Draznin, finds herself alone again, 75 years after surviving the Holocaust, out of fear of being exposed to the deadly virus. [CNN]
🏠 Not the Same: Israeli Holocaust survivors tellThe Associated Press that there is no comparison between their wartime experiences and today’s coronavirus pandemic. “There is nothing to be afraid of now. We just have to stay home. It’s completely different.” [AP]
🌪️ Utter Chaos: George Packer writes in The Atlantic that the coronavirus pandemic has simply exposed the many things about the United States that were already hopelessly broken, compounded by poor leadership from the president. “The United Nations sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power — a beggar nation in utter chaos.” [TheAtlantic]
🏥 Final Goodbye: Unlike many hospitals around the world, several Israeli medical centers are now allowing family members — in heavy protective gear — to say goodbye to loved ones dying of coronavirus. “None of us want to say bye to our family. But it’s really a gift.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
☎️ Calling a Colleague:Obama administration official Evelyn Farkas received the backing of former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro in her bid to succeed longtime Rep. Nita Lowey in New York’s 17th congressional district.
🇸🇾 Tense Times: Syria accused Israel of launching several missiles yesterday, which were reportedly aimed at Iranian forces near Palmyra.
👬 Friendly Distancing:Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met yesterday — while wearing face masks — and accused Western countries of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic for political ends.
✈️ Open Skies: United Airlines, British Airways and Air Canada are expected to renew flights to Tel Aviv next month.
🥪 Free Lunch: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has agreed to offer free kosher meals at 10 locations in Brooklyn and Queens — after weeks of lobbying from Jewish councilmembers to expand the program.
🎉 Homecoming: Michael Goldsmith of Bergenfield, New Jersey joyfully returned home yesterday after a month battling the coronavirus.
⚖️ Talk of the Town: A judge ruled on Monday that Grafton Thomas, the man accused of the Hanukkah stabbing attack in Monsey, is unfit to stand trial on five federal hate crime charges.
💵 Expensive Winter: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent more than $1 billion on his losing bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
⚔️ Fighting Back:Ousted WeWork co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann will file a lawsuit against SoftBank Group for reneging on a $3 billion offer to buy shares in his former company.
💰 Bonus Check: Victims of Bernie Madoff will receive an additional $378.5 million in funds forfeited to the government in connection with his decades-long Ponzi scheme.
🏀 Playing ball: Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez are considering a bid for the New York Mets, working with JPMorgan Chase managing director Eric Menell to raise the capital necessary to buy the team from the Wilpon family.
👶 Mazel Tov: Tara Brown, mid-Atlantic regional director for AIPAC, and her husband Ari Mittleman, founder of Keystone Strategy + Advocacy, welcomed a baby girl, Eliora Galit, on Sunday night.
🕯️ Remembering: Electronic music composer Richard Teitelbaum, who created two operas drawing on Jewish musical styles — “Golem” (1989) and “Z’vi” (2003) — has died at age 80.
Pic of the Day
Eli Beer, founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, flew back to Israel last night on one of Sheldon Adelson’s Air Adelson jets after recovering from coronavirus in Miami.
Film director and actress, Elaine May turns 88…
Insurance agent, Irving Silberberg turns 93… Board member of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Howard Rosenbloom turns 81… British chemist and emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, Sir Alan Roy Fersht turns 77… Former White House chief of staff (1988-1989), Kenneth Duberstein turns 76… Award winning folklorist, author and editor of dozens of books, Howard Schwartz turns 75… Chairwoman of the Connecticut Democratic Party, she was previously the Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut (2011-2019), Nancy S. Wyman turns 74… Emergency physician for Kaiser Permanente in Panorama City, California, Joseph Edward Beezy turns 72…
UCSB mathematician, an early winner of a MacArthur genius fellowship, Michael Hartley Freedman turns 69… Rabbi, psychologist and writer, Susan Schnur turns 69… Professor of law at George Mason University Law School, Michael Ian Krauss turns 69… Russian billionaire, co-founder of the Russian Jewish Congress, the Genesis Prize and the Genesis Philanthropy Group, Mikhail Fridman turns 56… Chicago-based lobbyist and attorney, Scott D. Yonover turns 56… Art collector and dealer, who together with his father and brother are reputed to own $1 billion of art including over 1,000 pieces by Andy Warhol, Alberto “Tico” Mugrabi turns 50…
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times and best-selling author, Jodi Kantor turns 45… Head of business development and innovation at Birthright North America, Ifat Bechor turns 44… Director of social television at CNN, Eric Weisbrod turns 37 (h/t Playbook)… Voice actress, Shayna Bracha Fox turns 36… VP of business development and investor relations at FTV Capital, Robert J. Kaufman turns 36… Once the top-ranked collegiate female tennis player in the U.S. and currently the head women’s tennis coach at the University of Oklahoma, Audra Marie Cohen turns 34… Community manager at NYC-based Israeli Artists Project, Alexandra Cohen turns 30… Writer, magazine editor and actress, she is the founder of Rookie Magazine, Tavi Gevinson turns 24… Manager of digital marketing at 97 Switch, Joshua Gibbs…