Good Monday morning!
New York is holding its congressional primaries tomorrow (we’ll have a full preview on Tuesday). More than two million absentee ballots have been distributed due to the coronavirus. Since absentee ballots won’t be counted until next week, it could take weeks to determine the final results in several competitive races.
And those delays will matter, especially for outside groups — including Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) and Justice Democrats, among others — that are looking at races in New York’s 15th, 16th and 17th districts to affect the national conversation and possibly Biden’s VP selection. The narrative will likely shift depending on the timeline of results in those districts.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) called on DMFI to pull an attack ad on his challenger, Jamaal Bowman, as he attempts to regain momentum in his tough re-election bid in New York’s 16th district. DMFI has spent $1.3 million in TV ads and campaign mailers in the district over the past few weeks, and is expected to spend close to $2 million by tomorrow’s primary, a source close to the group told JI. Read more here.
Meanwhile, Bowman clarified his position on Israel, including his “personal” opposition to the BDS movement, in an open letter addressed to Riverdale’s Rabbi Avi Weiss, who criticized him last week. DMFI’s Mark Mellman told JI he finds it “very interesting” that “in the closing hours of the race,” Bowman “seems to feel that he needs to try and redefine himself as a pro-Israel candidate.”
In New York’s 17th, former L.A. prosecutor Adam Schleifer earned the endorsement of the Hasidic bloc votes in Kaser and New Square in Rockland County. On Friday, Schleifer and Evelyn Farkas traded barbs over the content of a mailer that accused Schleifer of using his family’s resources to buy the election. David Buchwald’s campaign told JI they are hopeful due to the high number of absentee ballots submitted in Westchester County — a total of 19,048 — as well as encouraging early voting numbers (4,186) where the campaign has the support of the local party machine.
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In new book, Bolton highlights Netanyahu’s attempt to block Trump-Zarif meeting
In John Bolton’s new book set to publish on Tuesday, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, the former national security advisor confirmed reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer tried to block President Donald Trump from meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in August 2019.
Going to voicemail: “Kushner was on the phone to David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, telling Friedman that he was not going to allow Netanyahu’s call to go through. (Now we knew who was stopping all those calls to Trump!),” Bolton wrote of the chaotic day. Kushner, Bolton claimed, was impeding the calls “because he didn’t think it was appropriate for a foreign leader to talk to Trump about who he should speak to.” Bolton said that both Kushner and Trump were in favor of a brief meeting with Zarif.
Call him, maybe:Bolton said he encouraged Netanyahu in July 2019 to call Trump and convince him not to reduce sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors. That call, Bolton, said resulted in a tweet from Trump “within two hours” pledging to increase sanctions “substantially!” Bolton claimed that Netanyahu “clearly understood that regime change was far and away the most likely way to permanently alter Iranian behavior.”
Bad day: Bolton said that on the day Trump announced the U.S. was withdrawing its forces from northern Syria, “Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer told me that this was the worst day he had experienced thus far in the Trump Administration.”
Got Israel’s back: In an early meeting between Trump and Bolton before he joined the White House, Bolton recalls he “warned” the president “against wasting political capital in an elusive search” to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “strongly supported” moving the U.S embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Bolton said that Trump, unprompted, said, “‘You tell Bibi that if he uses force [against Iran], I will back him. I told him that, but you tell him again.’”
Driving the Day
White House to debate green-lighting annexation this week
President Donald Trump and his senior team will reportedly meet this week to decide whether to green-light Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank as early as July 1.
Details: U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is flying back to Washington and White House Mideast peace envoy Avi Berkowitz canceled a scheduled trip to Israel to attend the meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien and Jared Kushner, Channel 13’s Barak Ravid reported on Saturday. Trump is expected to join the discussions and make a final decision. Haaretz reported on Sunday that the two sides are discussing the possibility of a gradual annexation of some areas in the West Bank over the coming months.
Echo chamber: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer responded to critics of the plan in a Washington Postop-ed on Saturday. “The extension of Israeli sovereignty to certain territories in Judea and Samaria will not, as many critics suggest, destroy the two-state solution. But it will shatter the two-state illusion,” Dermer wrote. “And in doing so, it will open the door to a realistic two-state solution and get the peace process out of the cul-de-sac it has been stuck in for two decades.” The op-ed echoes similiar talking points distributed to Likud ministers on Friday.
Across the aisle: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined the growing Democratic opposition to annexation on Friday. In a statement to Jewish Insider, the senior Democrats noted that direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are “the only path for a durable peace” and warned that annexation “could undermine regional stability and broader U.S. national security interests in the region.”
Heard on cable: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suggested during an appearance on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday that Netanyahu’s push for immediate annexation reflects a concern in Jerusalem that Trump could lose his re-election bid in November.
Speaking out: Some Palestinians have expressed concern that their already limited access to the Dead Sea would be further restricted if Israel annexes the Jordan Valley.
Unpacking the many lives of Isaac Stern
David Schoenbaum spent nine months in the archives of the Library of Congress, sifting through dozens of boxes of personal papers belonging to the world-famous violinist Isaac Stern. The prolific author spoke to Jewish Insider‘s Amy Spiro about the research that led to his latest book, The Lives of Isaac Stern, a close examination of the very public activities of one of the most famous violin players to ever live.
Paper trail: Among the thousands of artifacts, Schoenbaum discovered 18 invitations to the White House; correspondence with Britain’s Prince Charles, Henry Kissinger and a fifth grader from Oregon; and a calorie-logging calendar Stern discarded after two days. “Every day was a surprise,” the author said of his time in the archives, noting that the trove of documents had never been sorted or catalogued. “I had no idea what I would find when I opened one of those boxes.”
National hero: Schoenbaum focuses much of the book on Stern’s societal and philanthropic ventures, including his love for and extensive ties to the State of Israel. “At some point he counted up his visits to Israel and it was in the hundreds,” Schoenbaum told JI. “He was attached to the place… it captured his imagination for the same reason it captured the imagination of all American Jewish liberals. It was just a very appealing kind of place,” he added. “Of course he was received like a national hero.”
Frequent flier: Stern visited so often that he became the centerpiece of a full-page ad for El Al in 1993. He met with Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, developed a close friendship with Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolleck, and repeatedly canceled concerts elsewhere to rush to Israel and entertain its war-weary citizens, in 1967, again in 1973 and at an infamous 1991 concert interrupted by an air raid siren, and carried out with the audience all in gas masks. Beyond his concerts there, he also left a legacy in the Jerusalem Music Centre, the institution he dreamed up, fundraised for and inaugurated in 1973.
Maintaining connections: “What impressed me is the number of people he knew and connected with,” Schoenbaum said, “and the sheer physical range of his life.” Stern “knew people you wouldn’t imagine, and was quite generous about maintaining connections over the decades,” he said. He played for presidents and prime ministers and hobnobbed with Frank Sinatra, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and Abe Saperstein, the founder and coach of the Harlem Globetrotters, but also kept in touch with the conductor of the local orchestra in Sioux City, Iowa, and answered mail sent by curious schoolchildren.
No go: There was one place Stern steadfastly refused to take the stage throughout his life: Germany. Stern famously never held a concert there, citing the painful and visceral atrocities of the Holocaust. He did, however, encourage other artists to perform there, and held a series of master classes in Cologne in 1999, two years before his death. Schoenbaum, who has written extensively about Germany, only glancingly references Stern’s complicated relationship with the country in the book. “It came up in every interview. He was always asked about it and he always said the same thing,” Schoenbaum told JI. “He liked to like his audience.”
Race to watch
In Long Island, Democrats vie to take on Rep. Lee Zeldin
Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY) victory in his 2018 reelection bid was not unexpected. But the narrow margin of his win over political newcomer Democrat Perry Gershon in New York’s 1st district two years ago came as more of a surprise. Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod spoke with Gershon, Nancy Goroff and Bridget Fleming, who will battle it out in tomorrow’s Democratic primary for a shot at unseating Zeldin in November.
Back again: Gershon is confident that, this time around, he has the experience and name recognition necessary to beat Zeldin. “I spent my time in the off year engaged in the community, meeting with people… and taking the retail politicking to a level I was unable to do the first time around because nobody knew me,” he told JI.
War chest: Goroff, who teaches at Stony Brook University, is significantly ahead of Gershon in fundraising, with nearly $2.4 million raised and $760,000 still in the bank. Gershon has raised approximately $1.2 million and has $188,000 remaining, while Fleming raised $700,000 and has $112,000 on hand. Fisher has raised no money, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The Democratic nominee will likely need a sizable fundraising haul to compete with Zeldin — who has raised nearly $4 million and has more than $2 million still on hand.
Faith values: Goroff and Gershon both told Jewish Insider that their Jewish faith has been a driving force behind their political aspirations and their decision to challenge Zeldin. Both candidates criticized the congressman for voting against last year’s House Resolution 183 condemning antisemitism. Zeldin said he voted no on the resolution because it had been watered down, but Goroff posited that Zeldin’s preferences for the bill “didn’t match the reality of what was going on on the ground.” Gershon called Zeldin’s vote against the bill “appalling.”
Peace talks: Gershon and Goroff both support a two-state solution, but believe that the president and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made the peace process more difficult. “Too often, the discussion… has been focused on whether the Israelis or the Palestinians have the right to take a certain action, as opposed to… whether it’s actually in their self-interest,” Goroff said. Gershon — who has visited Israel nine times — noted that the Palestinians lacked a voice in conversations related to peace negotiations. “A two-state solution isn’t in the cards right now because there’s no one negotiating for the Palestinians,” he said. “But I’d like to see the settlements stop, and I think that will help bring a partner to the table.”
⏪ The Rehabilitator: The New York Times’s Ginia Bellafante spoke to former ADL head Abe Foxman about the current trend of “cancellation,” and his history of working instead to rehabilitate offenders, including fashion designer John Galliano. “Now what you’re seeing is one wrong picture, and you are finished for life,” Foxman said. [NYTimes]
🤴 Digging In: In The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit examines the decades-long debate among archeologists over the historical accuracy of claims about the empire of King David. [NewYorker]
⚠️ Growing Threat: Philip Zelikow, Eric Edelman, Kristofer Harrison and Celeste Ward Gventer write in Foreign Affairs about “the rise of strategic corruption,” including the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment. That growing threat “has gone largely unnoticed or underappreciated in the Pentagon and the State Department.” [ForeignAffairs]
✍️ Message received: Three former Israeli ambassadors — Alon Liel, Eli Barnavi and Ilan Baruch — write in the U.A.E.’s The National that the country’s message against annexation and in favor of normalization with Israel has been heard. “We applaud the ambassador’s ingenuity and initiative in reaching out to us.” [TheNational]
Around the Web
👊 Tumult: Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, stepped down from his post on Saturday after a public standoff with the Trump administration that culminated in his deputy, Audrey Strauss — who once defeated Trump’s lawyer Roy Cohn and investigated the Iran-contra affair — being tapped as his replacement.
🤨 Facebook Friends: New York Times columnist Ben Smith explores the ties between Trump and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg amid a public debate over censorship on the platform.
👴 Moving On: Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev has announced his retirement after 27 years at the helm of Israel’s Holocaust museum.
🏦 Unexpected Departure:Bank Hapoalim Chairman Oded Eran has stepped down as head of Israel’s largest lender due to illness.
☢️ Red Light: For the first time since 2012, the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution condemning Iran for failing to cooperate with the agency’s probe of its nuclear activities.
💲Rebuilding Society: The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation announced an additional $470,000 in grants to organizations fighting racial injustice.
🇺🇲🇮🇱 Going Digital: The Republican Jewish Coalition has launched a $50,000 digital ad campaign — highlighting Trump’s record on Israel — in battleground states.
👨💻 Pointing Fingers: A London-based think tank has found that conspiracy theories surrounding George Soros have surged in wake of the George Floyd protests.
👎 Stereotyping: Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters claimed during an appearance on the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency that Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is a “puppet master” controlling Trump and that the IDF invented the techniques used by U.S. police forces.
🤳 Target Audience: A new study, written by an Israeli professor, found that far-right extremists are using TikTok to promote racist and antisemitic content to children.
🛃 Name Scrubber: Nevada Democrats are asking to change the name of the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas due to the racism and antisemitism of former Nevada Sen. Patrick McCarran.
👨👩👧👦 Talk of the Town: Washington Post reporter Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports from Crown Heights, where Hasidic Jews are joining racial inequality rallies and holding up homemade posters in Hebrew and Yiddish in support of their Black neighbors.
👋 Canceling de Blasio: Tablet reporter Armin Rosen describes the scene in the Hasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg, where members of the community have turned their backs on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
🕍 Scratched Off: Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif., is removing a reference to Jewish Confederate official Judah Benjamin from its windows.
👏 Across the Pond: Three Jewish members of the House of Lords who resigned from the Labour Party over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism announced they are rejoining after seeing Keir Starmer’s leadership on the issue.
Pic of the Day
Outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the U.K. Mark Regev departed on Sunday as he ended his four-year term in London. Settlement Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely is expected to replace Regev in the coming weeks, and has already drawn criticism from the U.K. Jewish community for her less-than-diplomatic views.
Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff turns 60…
Founding partner at Wachtell Lipton, Martin Lipton turns 89… U.S. Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein turns 87… Former DC-based VP of Israel Aerospace Industries Marvin Klemow turns 83… 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry Ada Yonath turns 81… U.K. judge Sir Brian Henry Leveson turns 77… 2016 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, J. Michael Kosterlitz turns 77… Retired justice on Israel’s Supreme Court, Edna Arbel turns 76… Member of the California State Assembly, Richard Hershel Bloom turns 67… AIPAC director for Greater Washington, Deborah Adler turns 63… Past president of the UJA – Federation of New York, Alisa Robbins Doctoroff turns 62… Former secretary of veterans affairs, David Jonathon Shulkin turns 61… Former member of the Knesset, Robert Tiviaev turns 59…
Creator of the Android operating system, Andrew E. “Andy” Rubin turns 58… Speaker of the Knesset, Yariv Gideon Levin turns 51… Director of media strategy at Red Banyan, Kelcey Kintner turns 50… Program director at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Rafi Rone turns 49… Reporter for Haaretz and biographer of PM Netanyahu, Anshel Pfeffer turns 47… Israeli jazz vocalist and composer, Julia Feldman turns 41… Director of special initiatives for Yachad at the Orthodox Union, Ahron Rosenthal turns 39… Recently retired MLB second baseman, he is planning to play on Team Israel, Ian Kinsler turns 38… Russian-Israeli Internet entrepreneur, Lev Binzumovich Leviev turns 36… Baltimore-based endodontist, Jeffrey H. Gardyn, DDS turns 34… Israeli basketball player Omri Casspi turns 32… Outfielder in the Washington Nationals organization, he played for Team Israel in 2016, Rhett Wiseman turns 26…