Good Thursday morning!
An op-ed in The New York Times by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) titled “Send In the Troops” has sparked a wave of backlash from the newspaper’s employees, with manypubliclycriticizing the decision to publish Cotton’s remarks.
NYTimes columnist David Brooks defended the decision, tweeting, “I believe in democracy. I believe in a free press. I believe in open debate. I love it when my newspaper prints pieces I disagree with. It causes me to think.”
Settler leaders are vocally clashing with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over annexation plans, with the main settlement group’s chairman declaring that President Donald Trump is “not a friend of Israel.”
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From the Twin Cities to the Holy City: The journey of L’Chaim OG
In a white shirt, black pants, big black yarmulke, tzitzit swinging and a mask pulled down to his chin, Zecharya Yishai Levine fits right in among Jerusalem’s eclectic residents. But few can probably say they took his circuitous and colorful path to getting there. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro spoke with Levine about his journey to Judaism and Jerusalem — and his debut album, “What’s the Hechsher?”
Background: Levine was born Zachariah Ysaye Oluwabankole Babington-Johnson to religious Christian parents in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in a strict family that prized education, and won a football scholarship to college — despite losing his eye to cancer as a toddler. He later pursued his JD/MBA, but always felt like something was missing. Until he stumbled upon a synagogue in a Minneapolis suburb, and picked a Chumash up off the shelf. “I had read the Bible pretty much cover-to-cover as a kid,” he said. But this was “different… intellectually, spiritually” to the Bible of his youth. “This is what I’ve been looking for.”
Jewish journey: That discovery eventually led him to intensive study for conversion to Judaism, and he began wearing a kippah and tzitzit and attending prayer services multiple times a day. “I just kept kind of plugging away on that path,” he said. Over the course of the next year, “it became clear to me that I had to get to Israel and yeshiva and learn.” But he was too impatient to wait for his aliya paperwork to clear, and hopped on a plane in November 2018. He eventually landed at Ohr Somayach, a yeshiva in Jerusalem that caters to converts and Jews from secular backgrounds, and wound up completing his conversion in Bnei Brak.
Torah tracks: Levine’s debut album, “What’s the Hechsher?” was released in April under the moniker L’Chaim OG, and includes tracks “Mishpacha” (“I’m related to everyone in the room, that’s mishpacha/ Learn to live life by the rules, that’s Halacha/ Hashem guided me to the truth, that’s a bracha”) and “Kol Beseder” (“Life of fulfilling mitzvas/ Before Shabbos I hit the mikva/ If I’m in Tzfat then that’s the Arizal/ Hashem been guiding me for longer than I can recall”). The album is “kind of telling my journey, but also just introducing the spiritual concepts and things that I came across,” he said. The album’s name, Levine said, in part reflects the attitude and questioning that Jews of color often face: if they converted, how they converted, where they are from. People, he said, often wonder “what’s the hechsher [kosher certification] on that guy,” Levine said. “I thought it was a way of addressing that openly.”
Famous friends: The Minneapolis native has formed a crew of sorts in Israel of those who have traversed a similar, unlikely journey. He studies and hangs out with former NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, rapper Nissim Black and fellow U.S.-born convert Mordechai Yosef Ben Avraham. “It’s a beautiful thing to be able to have a chavruta that has had a similar journey, similar background,” Stoudemire told JI. “It made it easier for me.” Black told JI that Levine is “someone I admire a lot… he’s like a brother to me.” Levine said his newfound friends are “like family. Culturally we understand each other, we support each other.”
Minneapolis view: Levine has been watching closely as the protests that began in his hometown of Minneapolis over George Floyd have spread across the country. “It’s a crazy thing going on there right now,” he said. “It’s tough for me,” he added, though he said he is thankful to be feeling safe a world away. He said he has several friends who were killed by the police in Minneapolis over the years, and growing up, “I never viewed the police as allies.” The protests, he said, “are a moment the world can really take a reflection on, ‘how am I treating people, am I being prejudiced? Am I focusing on my own feelings and views over those who are and have been experiencing this?’ If so, then you’re further exasperating the problem.” His own experiences partly drove his dream of settling down in Israel. “I grew up in the hood,” he said. “In America, you’re a man of color, you’re a target… America is not the dream.”
Read the full profile here.
The Jewish-Italian state senator leading the pack to succeed longtime Rep. Nita Lowey
David Carlucci describes himself as a “pizza bagel.” Born in Rockland County, New York, to a Jewish mother and an Italian father, Carlucci — now a state senator — was raised Catholic, but tapped into his Jewish faith as an adult. “It’s the best of both worlds,” Carlucci, a leading contender to succeed longtime Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) in New York’s 17th congressional district, told Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh in a recent interview.
Crowded field: Carlucci is one of seven remaining candidates competing for the open seat in the June 23 Democratic primary, including former L.A. federal prosecutor Adam Schleifer, former Defense Department official Evelyn Farkas, State Assemblyman David Buchwald, former NARAL chairwoman Allison Fine, Mondaire Jones, an attorney who worked as part of a fellowship in the Obama Justice Department and college professor and veteran Asha Castleberry-Hernandez. Heading into the final stretch of the campaign, pundits believe Carlucci remains a favorite to succeed Lowey. Recent internal polling data shared with JI shows Carlucci in the lead, with Schleifer a close second.
Career of service: Carlucci made his first run for office at age 21, after graduating from Cornell University. Though he lost his bid for Clarkstown town clerk to a longtime Republican incumbent, Carlucci was not deterred from politics. Following the loss, he joined the district office of longtime Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), where he spent two years doing constituent services. “I’ve always had a passion for public service and after losing my first race for office, I decided that I would stay with it and learn from my lessons,” Carlucci recalled. In 2006, at age 24, he tried his luck once again and won the town clerk race by 294 votes. Five years later, Carlucci became the youngest New York state senator after defeating Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef in the race to replace retiring Republican State Sen. Thomas Morahan. “A lot of people said it wasn’t possible,” Carlucci said. “And since that time, I’ve been able to really deliver results for the people that I serve.”
GOP ties: Carlucci’s legislative success in Albany is largely due to his alliance with Republicans, who have held the Senate majority for most of his time in office. That association has not been forgotten by Carlucci’s opponents. Wellesley Daniels, Farkas’s campaign manager, accused Carlucci of caucusing with Republicans to advance his political career. “While David Carlucci was playing politics in Albany, Evelyn was helping President Obama promote democracy and keep the American people safe,” Daniels said. Schleifer echoed that sentiment, telling JI that Carlucci “has littered his decade in the New York Senate with a string of betrayals and broken promises, running as a Democrat and then caucusing with the Republicans.”
Fighting hate: Describing antisemitism as a “cancer that is eating away at the fabric of what America stands for,” Carlucci said it is important for the district’s next member of Congress “to make sure that the fight against antisemitism is at the top.” Carlucci, who represents the Hasidic community in Rockland, said he was dismayed at the level of hatred against the more identifiable Jewish community in the district amid the coronavirus outbreak. “Because the community is so identifiable, because it’s a culture that few people really understand, anytime there’s something different it is attacked,” he said. “This is a problem that we’ve been dealing with for four generations, unfortunately, but at this time, it’s particularly dangerous.”
Eye on Jerusalem: A supporter of the two-state solution, Carlucci is careful when discussing President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan because “I think to walk away from any type of negotiations would be a step in the wrong direction.” He is also critical of Democratic senators who warned Israeli leaders against pursuing annexation. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for American politicians to be wading into decisions that the Israelis are trying to make in their governing body,” he said. Carlucci suggested that such measures create an opening to condition aid to Israel, “which is something I am very concerned about, and would never do as a member of Congress. I think we can never put conditions on our aid to Israel.”
Justice Dems no longer labels Israel a ‘human rights violator’ on its website
Justice Democrats, the progressive political action committee, no longer describes Israel as a “human rights violator” on the issues page of its website, reports Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. Until recently, the group listed Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel under a heading that doubled as an exhortation: “Stop Selling Arms to Human Rights Violators.” The edit appears to have been made in early May, according to the Wayback Machine.
Previous wording: “We recently gave Saudi Arabia billions in weapons and watched the civilian death toll in their vicious bombing campaign in Yemen tick up,” read a section below the old header. “We continue sending Egypt arms as they violently crack down on peaceful protesters. Israel received $38 billion in aid and promptly announced new settlements. The first step to peace is not enabling nations who regularly violate international law.”
New wording: A new header reads simply: “Progressive Foreign Policy.” While the section below it remains largely the same, it now includes a line about possible “‘annexation’ of the West Bank” as one of the reasons the U.S. should reconsider aid to Israel. The description also includes a new sentence reminiscent of the previous header but less direct. “One major step toward a progressive foreign policy is to ensure that our aid to other nations is used to promote peace and security,” the sentence reads, “not to violate human rights and undermine peace.”
Flashback: Justice Dems-backed candidate in California’s 53rd District, Georgette Gomez, told Jewish Insider in April that while she accepts the group’s endorsement, she rejects the Justice Democrats’ labeling and platform section on Israel.
Heard last night: On a Zoom call hosted by Pro-Israel America, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) suggested that the firestorm Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) created with their anti-Israel remarks in early 2019 actually opened the door for meaningful conversation with the freshman class about Israel.
“The antisemitic comments that were made by some of our new members, that actually spurred a lot of conversations and discussions, not just why certain tropes are antisemitic and why the language is so painful, but more enforced the conversation about the history of Israel and the whole history of our people,” Gottheimer said, adding that the incident led to a “constructive conversation” about U.S. military aid to Israel. “The ‘aha’ moment I’ve had for a lot of people is broadly [that] Israel’s national security is key to America’s national security.”
ADVICE FROM A FRIEND
Ted Deutch cautions Israel against rushing on annexation before U.S. election
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) — speaking on a webcast hosted by Israel Policy Forum on Tuesday — cautioned the Israeli government against moving ahead with plans to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank ahead of the November U.S. presidential election.
Decision making: “We have seen some of the quotes about the seeming urgency of moving forward because President Trump might not get re-elected. That’s not how you make decisions that impact both the long-term security needs of Israel and the long term bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the senior Democrat stressed.
Keeping the blueprint: Deutch suggested the Democratic National Committee does not need to include language opposing annexation in the Israel plank of its 2020 platform. “I think the best place to look for what should be in the platform is what the one Democratic majority in Washington right now has already said — and that’s the U.S. House [of Representatives] — and that’s support for the U.S.-Israel relationship, its support for a two-state solution, that it recognizes the importance of assistance to Israel and it opposes the BDS movement,” he said.
🗣️ Speaking Out: Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis tellsThe Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that he is “angry and appalled” at Trump’s actions this week. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.” [TheAtlantic]
😓 Last Man Standing:U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov tellsThe Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash that the title printed on his business card is incorrect. “I mean, there is no Middle East peace process,” he said. “Most of our work now is preventive diplomacy, preventing war.” [WashPost]
☀️ Heating Up: Eric Margolis writes in The New Republic about the role climate change plays in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It won’t help the Israeli government or Palestinian governments if they adapt on their own,” said climate researcher Asaf Hochman. “The self-interest of Israel is to collaborate on climate change issues.” [TNR]
🏞️ Land Battle: Haaretz’s Hagar Shezaf and Uri Blau explore the story of Duty Free Americas millionaire Simon Falic, a top donor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who purchased land outside the Beit El settlement that is now tied up in complex litigation. [Haaretz]
Around the Web
🤳 Fake News: The White House deleted a tweet that claimed Antifa placed bricks outside the Chabad of Sherman Oaks in L.A. after it was revealed that the synagogue erected them a year ago as a security barrier.
🎧 Podcast Playback:Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey reflects on the outbreak of the nationwide protests and riots and his feelings about Trump’s vision for “militaristic rule” in his city on The New York Times “The Daily” podcast.
✋ On the Hill: Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended his role overseeing the Robert Mueller probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election during a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.
👩💼 Profile:Yifat Alon Perel, Israel’s economic attache in D.C., describes her work during uncertain times and amid a national crisis in an interview with Calcalist.
💸 Refund: The Palestinian Authority said it would not accept routine tax funds collected by Israel since it has cut ties over West Bank annexation efforts.
🚫 Law on Hold: The Knesset canceled all meetings today after a member of Knesset tested positive for COVID-19.
🛬 U-Turn:Israeli Interior Minister Arye Deri has revoked permission for unmarried non-Israeli yeshiva students to enter Israel after a recent uptick in coronavirus cases.
🎒 School’s Out: Weeks after reopening schools, Israel has ordered that any school with a positive case of COVID-19 must shut down again.
⚽ Mist Opportunity:Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield soccer stadium is testing a tunnel at its entrance that sprays people with electrolyzed water to disinfect them.
💱 Big Bet: Israeli gaming company Playtika, now owned by a Chinese investor, is preparing for a $1 billion IPO on the U.S. stock exchange.
💰 Startup Nation: Israel’s Team8 has reportedly raised $104 million to launch a venture capital arm.
👩 Universal Cuts:Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi has asked senior executives, including co-founder and CEO Meg Whitman, to take a 10% salary cut as the mobile streaming platform struggles.
💵 Windfall: British-Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik made about $7.5 billion from the Warner Music Group IPO.
😑Accusation: Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn toldMiddle East Eye that the Equalities Commission now investigating Labour antisemitism allegations has had its independence “taken away” by the Conservative Party.
🕍 Across the Pond: Orthodox Jewish doctors in London are cautioning members of the community against returning to prayer services amid an easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
💲 Cash Shortage:The Auschwitz Memorial in Poland is asking for public donations after it was forced to close down in early March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
🕯️Remembering: Author Bruce Jay Friedman, who wrote books, plays and films often centered on Jewish protagonists, has died at age 90.
Pic of the Day
During a press briefing yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo quoted several passages from the Bible in an apparent jab at President Donald Trump, who used the holy book as a prop for a photo-op outside St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday. PHOTO: DARREN MCGEE/OFFICE OF GOV. ANDREW CUOMO
Sex therapist Ruth Westheimer (“Dr. Ruth”) turns 92…
Boston Properties Mort Zuckerman turns 83… NJIT professor David Kristol turns 82… Weizmann Institute professor David Milstein turns 73… Beverly Hills attorney Marlene Diane Greenly turns 72… Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Markman turns 71… Philadelphia judge Mark B. Cohen turns 71… Super Bowl winner, now Miami judge Ed Newman turns 69… British journalist Melanie Phillips turns 69… Ex-Governor of Hawaii Linda Lingle turns 67… Metropolitan Museum’s Daniel H. Weiss turns 63…
Ripco Real Estate’s Todd Cooper turns 58… Angel investor Jeremie Berrebi turns 42… Revamped Media’s Daniel Swartz turns 41… Washington Post‘s Colby Itkowitz turns 37… Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli turns 35… The Jewish Education Project’s Adam E. Soclof turns 35… Press secretary for Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL-22) Jason Hillel Attermann turns 32… The Times of Israel‘s Judah Ari Gross turns 31… Gena Wolfson turns 31… Producer of NBC’s Meet the Press Emily Gold turns 30… Ken Moss…