Good Wednesday morning!
Last night, President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden faced off in a chaotic and contentious first debate — which left both analysts and voters shaking their heads. Read more below.
Jewish groupswere particularly concerned by the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacist groups, and what appeared to be a call to arms from Trump to the far-right violent Proud Boys organization: “Stand back and stand by.”
Yesterday, UAE Ambassadors Yousef Al Otaiba and Lana Nusseibeh joined Jewish Insider for a Zoom webcast on peace in the Middle East, in conversation with Haim Saban, Dina Powell McCormick and UAE Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. Read more below.
Longtime Kuwaiti leader Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah died yesterday at age 91, leaving his potential successor facing a decision over normalizing ties with Israel.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Hezbollah is storing explosives in a Beirut residential neighborhood, and vowed that more Arab nations would normalize relations with Israel “soon, very soon.”
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Ambassador Al Otaiba goes behind the scenes of the Abraham Accords
United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba on Tuesday hailed the Trump administration for working to finalize a normalization agreement between the UAE and Israel — which he said came as a result of Emirati efforts to halt Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the West Bank — during a Jewish Insider webcast alongside Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban and moderated by former White House deputy national security advisor Dina Powell McCormick.
Pen pals: One of the first steps in the process, Al Otaiba said, came when he asked Saban to help him publish an op-ed aimed at the Israeli public during the time when annexation was being considered. “Haim told me where it should be placed, when it should be placed and, the most important piece of advice on this was, ‘you have to do it in Hebrew. If you really want to speak to the Israelis, it has to be translated in Hebrew.’” Al Otaiba recalled Saban saying. “I remember a subsequent conversation with him, asking, ‘Hey, do you think this article made an impact?’ He started laughing at me, like laughing loudly,” the ambassador continued. “He’s like, ‘You have no idea how much impact this article had.’ And it was shortly after the article we then started thinking of actual concrete ideas to avoid annexation.”
Credit: Both Saban and Al Otaiba credited U.S. leadership for helping to manage the negotiation process and deliver on the agreements. “I think the United States government came through every single time. And that’s the reason we had the signing ceremony two weeks ago at the White House,” Al Otaiba said. The Emirati ambassador credited White House officials Jared Kushner, Avi Berkowitz and Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa for their efforts. “I spoke and talked to them and met with them, probably more in that four weeks than I did with anybody else, including my own family. If it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure this deal would be done,” Al Otaiba said, adding: “For anything like this to happen, it takes an incredible amount of trust.”
Support from the street: “People always think we do not pay attention to public opinion inside the Emirates because we’re not a democracy. And it’s actually quite the opposite,” Al Otaiba explained. “Because we’re not a democracy, we have to be very in tune with what our people want, and what the streets feel. And people really wanted this. This is not something that we are forcing against the popular will of the parties that live in the country. There is a genuine energy, that people are excited about this.”
Open portfolio: The speakers emphasized the economic benefits of the agreement. Powell, who serves on Goldman Sachs’s management committee, noted that “we’re already having clients call us and ask about investment opportunities.” Saban said at least five Israeli entrepreneurs had already reached out to him with ideas. “Even my chief investment officer and the head of my VC division, they came to me and they said, ‘We have an idea that we can do with the Emiratis.’” Al Otaiba noted how much has already occurred in just a few weeks. “We’ve already seen MOUs on AI, on COVID research, on health care and just today, a very prominent soccer club in Dubai bought an Israeli soccer player,” he said. “Once an Emirati investor feels that he can invest in Israel safely, and an Israeli investor feels that he can invest in the UAE safely and not get taxed twice… I think the stars are the limit.”
Watch the full panel and read more highlights here.
Bonus: In an interview with Crain’s Detroit Business, U.S. Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta Jr. shared his views on the Abraham Accords and the behind-the-scenes efforts since he took over as envoy last year.
UAE chief rabbi: 10,000 Jews could soon live in gulf nation
United Arab Emirates Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna predicted during a Jewish Insider webcast yesterday that the small Jewish community in Dubai and Abu Dhabi could soon number in the thousands. “It would not surprise me if in a number of years, if we’re not looking at 1,000 Jews in the UAE, but we’re looking at something closer to 10,000 — and we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of Israeli and Jewish tourists a year,” Sarna said.
People to people: When Sarna was named the inaugural chief rabbi of the UAE in March 2019, the announcement made waves around the world. But, said UAE Ambassador to the United Nations Lana Nusseibeh during the JI virtual event, the appointment marked an important moment in relations between Israel and the UAE, and more broadly, between Jews and Muslims across the globe. “I think what it demonstrated to colleagues at the U.N. is that this is what is at stake in our work every day in multilateral diplomacy and these agreements that we sign, that ultimately they are about the people-to-people connection,” Nusseibeh said.
Tipping point: Sarna believes the recent UAE-Israel peace accord will have a major global impact. “I think what we’re looking at is really a tipping point in Muslim-Jewish relations worldwide,” he said. “I think one unforeseen consequence of this is that a deeper engagement between Israelis and Emiratis will actually challenge, for many Israelis, their notion of what does it mean to be Arab,” Sarna added. “And I think that will very much have a bit of a moderating effect on the Israeli political spectrum.”
Making it work: Nusseibeh reflected on her experience attending the signing ceremony at the White House earlier this month. “What struck me is that while we’re witnessing a moment and an opportunity,” she said, “we’re also taking on a responsibility, all of us who witnessed that, who supported that, who thought it was the right step for the region. And I think that responsibility is to make this work, to realize this vision for peace in our region.”
Columbia students approve non-binding BDS referendum
With less than half of students casting a vote, Columbia University’s Columbia College passed a BDS referendum calling on the school to divest from a number of international companies that operate in Israel. Of the nearly 1,800 students who voted — 39% of the college’s student body — 61% voted in favor, 27% opposed and 12% abstained according to election results announced yesterday.
No bite: In a brief statement Tuesday morning, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger reaffirmed the referendum’s non-binding nature and said that all decisions regarding divestment are made “through a process involving the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), which advises the President of the University and Columbia’s Trustees on policies related to ethical and social issues, and which includes students, faculty, staff, and alumni.” Bollinger added that “altering our endowment in order to advance the interests of one side is not among the paths we will take.”
In name only: “The whole goal of this referendum was always symbolic,” Jessica Fuzailof, the president of Aryeh, an Israel advocacy group on campus, told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss. “It was always about sending a message of anti-Israel sentiment to the students here and making pro-Israel and Jewish students feel uncomfortable. There was no chance ever that this referendum was going to actually be applied in a financial way.”
What’s next: “I would not be shocked if [the BDS group’s] next goal was to try and come for another school’s student council to sort of build consensus, but I don’t think they’ll get there,” she told JI. “The university has lots and lots of colleges. But [Columbia College] and Barnard were picked first for a reason. And that reason is that they’re the most progressive and most ‘woke.’ So I would not be surprised if [they were] much less successful elsewhere.”
On the ground: Aryeh and Students Supporting Israel (SSI) were the primary student groups opposing the ballot initiative. “Overall, J Street U [at Columbia] did not support the referendum nor participate in the efforts by SSI and Aryeh to oppose it this fall,” Brit Zak, the chapter president of J Street U, told JI. “The purpose of our group is not to fight BDS on campus but to create a social and political climate for U.S. foreign policy that furthers Palestinian human rights and self-determination.” Zak said the group’s involvement largely ended last November after the student government voted to move it to a referendum. “Our interest on campus wasn’t so much in combatting the referendum, but we were unable to support it.”
Dumpster 🔥 Debate
Presidential debates kick off with contentious showdown
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden repeatedly talked over each other and traded personal insults in the first televised presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio, last night. Trump repeatedly and insistently interrupted both his opponent and the moderator, while Biden told the president to “shut up” and referred to him as a “clown.”
Key moment: When pressed by moderator Chris Wallace to condemn white supremacists, Trump demurred. “Sure, I’m willing to do that,” the president said, adding, “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing.” When pressed again to say he condemns them, Trump asked: “What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead, who do you want me to condemn?” Wallace responded: “White supremacists and white militia,” and the president answered: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” referring to a far-right group classified by the ADL as a violent hate group.
How it played:Axios executive editor Mike Allen described the debate as a “hot mess of name-calling and rude interruptions, wildly out of control and incoherent.” New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns labeled it “a chaotic” debate between two major party nominees who “expressed a level of acrid contempt for each other unheard of in modern American politics.” CNN anchor Jake Tapper remarked: “That was a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.” Conservative commentator John Podhoretz posited that as the underdog, “Trump was incredibly unpleasant to watch, and Biden wasn’t.”
Reaction: Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Jewish Insider after moderating a panel of undecided voters: “Our undecided voters found this debate a real turnoff. It is discouraging people from voting. Tonight, millions of Americans will go to sleep with tears in their eyes and a hole in their soul.” Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), a Biden campapign advisor, called Trump’s “’stunning refusal” to unequivocally repudiate neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups “chilling.”
Heard yesterday: During a panel discussion moderated by Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, CNN contributor Amanda Carpenter expressed her amazement that foreign policy has not been played up as a major issue in the presidential election. Some of the most important political events during the Trump presidency, she said, “had been firmly in the foreign policy wheelhouse,” pointing to the Robert Mueller probe into Russian intervention of the 2016 election and the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment. “What is really interesting to me, from my vantage point as a never-Trump Republican, is that the only times that his supporters on Capitol Hill — who are also responsive to constituents and voters — the only times they have really broken with him have been on foreign policy and election issues,” Carpenter explained.
An issue of debate: Carpenter noted that Trump has some foreign policy achievements to “brag about” in a debate with Biden, in particular the Israel-UAE normalization deal, the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. “[Trump] would be sort of silly not to present that framework,” she said. “That doesn’t mean Joe Biden doesn’t have responses to that. But that would be what a healthy foreign policy debate would look like, from a president with the powers of incumbency and achievements to talk about.”
👨💻 Cyber Coalition: In Wired, Sonner Kehrt spotlights a global coalition of volunteer cyber experts working to protect the world’s hospitals — made uniquely vulnerable by the pandemic — led by Israeli cyber intelligence researcher Ohad Zaidenberg. [Wired]
🗳️ Battle Tested:Yahoo News political reporter Hunter Walker takes a closer look at how Ritchie Torres, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 15th district, won an uphill battle for the future of the Bronx in the midst of a pandemic. Torres discusses his pro-Israel views and his clashes with his party’s far-left wing. [YahooNews]
👩⚖️ Faithful Feminist: In The New York Times, author Jennifer Weiner reflects on the “very Jewish R.B.G.,” pondering on what her legacy says about what it means “to be Jewish in America” right now. “She might not have been a regular at synagogue or at Sisterhood meetings, but she lived a Jewish life.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
😷 Second Wave:Amid a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases in New York’s Jewish communities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will be meeting with religious leaders, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will hand out masks and fine those who refuse to wear one.
👈 Pointing Fingers:An editorial in Bklynercalled on New Yorkers to “stop blaming Orthodox Jews” for COVID-19 spikes, and instead blame President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the virus.
🤝 Moving Fast: United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed announced during his U.N. General Assembly address yesterday that his country will seek membership on the U.N. Security Council.
🛂 Open Gates: Israel is hoping to see up to 100,000 tourists a year from the UAE in the years to come as the government increases the number of Arabic-speaking tour guides.
🏠 Staying Home: The Israeli Knesset approved a bill that will limit large protests during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted could last “much longer” than a month.
✈️ Green Light: Despite opposition from El Al, government regulators are set to approve 27-year-old Eli Rozenberg’s takeover bid of the airline.
🚪 Behind Closed Doors:The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins reports that Trump mocks his Jewish and Christian supporters in private conversations with aides.
😡 Under Fire: A new ad from the Jewish Democratic Council of America comparing Trump to Nazis was condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
🤳 Online Hate: The private social media app Clubhouse is under fire for a chat room discussion held on Yom Kippur that users said included antisemitic stereotypes.
⚰️ Laid to Rest: More than a week after her death, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was buried yesterday alongside her husband at Arlington National Cemetery.
🖼️ Coming Soon: An exhibit dedicated to Ginsburg titled “Notorious RBG” is slated to open next year at the New-York Historical Society.
🕯️ Remembering: Helen Reddy, the Australian singer behind the hit song “I Am Woman,” died at age 78.
Pic of the Day
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky fist bumps World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder during a MOU signing ceremony following a memorial to mark the 79th anniversary of the mass execution of civilians by the Nazis at Babi Yar in Kyiv.
Israel’s UN ambassador, he is scheduled to also become Israel’s next ambassador in Washington, Gilad Menashe Erdan turns 50…
Former prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert turns 75… IT developer and business analyst, Sanford Kadish turns 69… Chairman and CEO of AMC Entertainment, Adam Maximilian Aron turns 66… Co-founder and CEO of Avenue Capital Group and the co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, Marc Lasry turns 61… Journalist for Haaretz, Allison Kaplan Sommer turns 56… Leora Lily Ihilevich Usman turns 54… Lisa K. Robbins turns 54… Senior vice president of digital product management at The Advertising Council, Anastasia Goodstein turns 49… Chief Brussels correspondent at Politico Europe, David Herszenhorn turns 48… CEO of Via Trading Corporation, Jacques Stambouli turns 47… Founder of Artemis Strategies, a boutique consultancy, Hildy Kuryk turns 43… Host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Ari Shapiro turns 42… Strategy editor at The Wall Street Journal, Steven Russolillo turns 35…