Good Friday morning!
It’s been an eventful few days.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to shut down schools and limit prayer services in heavily Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens due to COVID-19 sparked outrage from some Jewish elected officials and several days of protests in Borough Park that on occasion turned violent, catching Jewish Insider’s own Jacob Kornbluh in the fray.
To all of you who reached out, we thank you. Jacob is doing OK and we remain committed to the safety and well-being of our journalists.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America has released a new 30-second ad directed by Rob Reiner featuring both Billy Crystal and Bill Kristol endorsing Joe Biden.
On Wednesday night, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence sat down for the only vice presidential debate of the campaign. Harris attacked the Trump administration for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, while Pence defended the move, also lauding the targeted killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani earlier this year and the 2018 decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Qatar has reportedly submitted a formal request to the United States to purchase F-35 fighter jets, a move likely to concern both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
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George Gascón is the godfather of progressive prosecuting. Will LA elect him DA?
When George Gascón was a young boy in Cuba growing up under Fidel Castro’s regime, he witnessed a litany of injustices that influenced his view of authority. On one occasion, he recalled, the police swept into his neighborhood unannounced and arrested a man who lived across the street. “I remember this man being taken out in handcuffs, and he never came back,” Gascón recounted in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “We learned several months later that he was executed.”
Formative experience: Such experiences imbued in Gascón a strong and early sense of skepticism toward law enforcement. Still, those who are familiar with Gascón’s trajectory know that he long ago overcame his aversion. The former Los Angeles cop worked his way through the system to become police chief in Mesa, Ariz., and then San Francisco, where he most recently served as district attorney, earning plaudits for his innovative prosecutorial reforms. Now that he is running for Los Angeles County district attorney, Gascón, 66, is hoping he can bring what he regards as sorely needed change to a city — and a legal system — that once treated him with suspicion.
Heated race: The policeman-turned-prosecutor brings to his campaign several policies that he says set him apart from the incumbent, Jackie Lacey, who has served as Los Angeles DA since 2012 and is the first woman, as well as the first African American, to hold the office. Gascón characterized his opponent as a prosecutor who has been tough on crime at the expense of the city’s most vulnerable. In a way, the race serves as a barometer of the national mood, as two candidates with vastly different perspectives compete to represent a city with the largest district attorney’s office, along with the biggest jail system, in the United States.
Background: Gascón is viewed in activist circles as the godfather of the so-called progressive prosecutor movement, represented by a wave of district attorneys in major cities like Boston and Philadelphia who have made it their goal to abandon a tough-on-crime approach to law enforcement and pursue criminal justice reforms. “George Gascón has been a leader in the progressive prosecutor movement before it was a movement,” Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s district attorney, told JI. “He safely reduced incarceration, fought for second chances for those who had grown and changed, and implemented policies that were smart — which does not always mean tough. He will do the same for Los Angeles.”
Jewish support: Gascón appears to have garnered broad support from Jewish community members in Los Angeles, home to the second-largest Jewish population in the United States. Gascón’s demonstrated commitment to fighting hate crimes resonates with Jewish Angelenos during a time in which antisemitic attacks are on the rise. In late May, Jewish residents witnessed such crimes first-hand when largely peaceful protests against police brutality devolved as rioters in the city’s historically Jewish Fairfax District looted Jewish-owned businesses and vandalized Jewish schools and synagogues with antisemitic graffiti. In interviews with JI, business owners who were targeted said they felt let down by the follow-up from city officials.
Disavowing hate: Gascón was adamant in disavowing hate crimes of any sort. “There is a clear distinction between peaceful demonstrators and those that hurt others or vandalize property,” he told JI. “For the latter, there are appropriate interventions that the district attorney can apply to ensure there is accountability. When crimes are motivated by hate, however, there is an added concern, and I have been very clear both as district attorney in San Francisco — and were I to be elected in LA — that hate-motivated crimes will be dealt with swiftly. I have no tolerance for hate-driven crimes in our community.”
Agudath Israel of America sues Cuomo over prayer limitations
On Thursday, Agudath Israel of America filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the recent executive order by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that further limits the capacity for houses of worship in areas with rising COVID-19 rates.
Background: The executive order — No. 202.68: Continuing Temporary Suspension and Modification of Laws Relating to the Disaster Emergency — placed further capacity restrictions on non-essential gatherings in areas deemed at rising risk of the coronavirus. In areas designated as “red” — at the most severe risk — houses of worship were limited to a capacity of 10.
Argument: In filings reviewed by Jewish Insider, the plaintiffs argue the order is “facially discriminatory” and that it violates religious freedoms by applying separate limits on religious and secular gatherings. While conceding the need for some capacity restrictions, the lawsuit alleges the state failed to enforce its previous capacity restrictions, making the order an unnecessary escalation.
Last resort: In a statement, Agudath Israel board chair Shlomo Werdiger called the lawsuit “a last resort” for the organization. “We would have been able to accomplish much more for these critical public health needs had the governor’s administration worked together with us more closely beforehand,” he said. “We look forward to working with them next time. Unfortunately, the governor’s new executive order makes it impossible for us to practice our religion, and we really had no choice but to seek relief in the courts.”
Next steps: A hearing has been scheduled for this afternoon before U.S. District Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto. The lawsuit specifically referenced the holiday of Simchat Torah this weekend in requesting immediate relief. Agudath Israel’s claims were echoed in a separate federal lawsuit filed on Thursday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn in the Eastern District of New York.
Gad Saad has fashioned himself as a free speech crusader
Just call Gad Saad the anti-woke. The professor, writer, blogger and right-wing provocateur is a vocal critic of social justice activism and political correctness, which has gained him both an army of supporters and a wave of critics. And the author, whose new book, The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense, was released this week, told Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nook and cranny:“Sure, we’re facing a bad global pandemic now with COVID, but there’s been a much more dangerous and long-lasting global pandemic of the human mind that’s been brewing for 40-50 years,” he told Jewish Insider in a recent interview. “It started on university campuses, but now it has infiltrated every nook and cranny of society.” In The Parasitic Mind, Saad, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Concordia University in Montreal, rages against the “illiberal idea pathogens” he believes emanate from universities and academia, which have “relentlessly assaulted science, reason, logic, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, individual liberty, and individual dignity.”
Background: Saad was born into a Jewish family in Lebanon in 1964. When the Lebanese Civil War broke out in 1975, his family fled to Canada as the situation for Jews became untenable. “We were part of the last wave of remaining Jews in Lebanon,” Saad told JI. “We sort of doggedly hung in there thinking that there was a future for us in Lebanon, even though most of our extended family had already left.” But when the civil war began, he said, “it became impossible to be Jewish, to have a Jewish life in Lebanon. And so we left.”
Walking the walk:Saad is an ardent supporter of virtually unchecked free speech, writing that he will even defend the “vile and inhumane garbage” peddled by Holocaust deniers. “If you are Jewish, with my personal history in Lebanon, and you support the right for people to spew arguably the most offensive thing possible, which is to deny the Holocaust, then you really are walking the walk and talking the talk in terms of being a free speech absolutist,” Saad told JI. Short of libel, defamation, endangering others and child pornography, he said, he opposes any limits on speech. “Anything goes. The best way to fight bad ideas is not to put it under the rubric of hate speech, but rather to have the light of truth, disinfect the B.S.”
🏗️ Building Battle:The New York Times’s Myra Noveck spotlights a controversial plan to build 5,000 units of low-income housing atop the Ein Lavan hills on the southwestern edge of Jerusalem, setting up a battle between nature conservationists and developers seeking to relieve overcrowding. [NYTimes]
🕍 Higher Calling:Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt writes in The Washington Post about the responsibility rabbis have to urge their congregants to heed COVID-19 health restrictions, even when unpopular. “At some point, we have to ask ourselves, are we mere clerks providing religious and community services — or can we rise to our higher calling?” [WashPost]
📜 Sacred Scroll:In The Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik writes about Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner’s decision to return to Judaism after watching the Torah — celebrated this weekend on Simchat Torah — emerge from the ark. “When all else fails, it is the Torah that sustains us. We know that now more than ever.” [WSJ]
💸 On the Money:The New York Times’s Emily Flitter profiles Bloomberg finance columnist Matt Levine, the author of the Money Stuff newsletter and “a former Goldman Sachs banker whose deadpan style mixes technical elucidation and wit.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
🛑 Not So Fast:Hezbollah declared yesterday that negotiations with Israel over its maritime border with Lebanon are not indicative of any peace talks.
🤝 Meeting of the Minds:Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met in Berlin this week for talks.
✈️ Open Skies:Israel has signed a deal with Jordan that will allow flights to cross over between the nations, shortening many international journeys.
🏦 Cracking Down: The White House imposed new sanctions yesterday on 18 Iranian banks despite pushback from European governments.
💰 Caution Ahead: E.U. officials have reportedly warned Palestinian Authority leaders that they will cut off financial aid if the PA continues to refuse tax revenues collected by Israel.
🏥 On the Mend: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has tested positive for COVID-19, but is reportedly not experiencing symptoms.
💇♀️ Snip Snafu: Sara Netanyahu is in hot water over charges that she had a private haircut in her home, violating COVID-19 lockdown rules.
🙅♂️ Bad Business: Elliot Broidy, a prominent Republican donor, has been charged with illegally lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of a foreign government.
📝 For the Record:Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) clarified to the Republican Jewish Coalition that while he voted against the anti-QAnon resolution, he does not support the conspiracy theory.
😬 RIP: StoneMor, one of the country’s largest cemetery owners, distributed thousands of 2020 calendars with a quote from SS commander Heinrich Himmler. The company claimed the mistake was made by an outside vendor.
🕍 Hate Continues: A New York City man was charged with a hate crime for shattering the windows and damaging the sanctuary of the Shore Parkway Jewish Center in Brooklyn earlier this week.
🏆 Top Prize:American Jewish poet Louise Glück — a Pulitzer Prize winner and the former U.S. poet laureate — won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her body of work.
🧑🏫 Back to School: A Florida principal who was fired after refusing to state that the Holocaust was a historical fact has been reinstated and awarded back pay.
📚 Book Shelf: The New York TimesreviewsThe Blessing And The Curse: The Jewish People And Their Books In The Twentieth Century by author Adam Kirsch.
🎥 Hollywood: Israeli actress Niv Sultan, the star of “Tehran,” has signed on with talent agency WME.
📣 Speaking Out: Actor Sacha Baron Cohen penned an op-ed about the dangers of conspiracy theories and widespread misinformation, referencing the ancient blood libel against Jews.
🕯️ Remembering: Prominent Turkish Jewish businessman Jak Kamhi died at age 95. Eitan Haber, a veteran Israeli journalist and advisor to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — who announced his assassination — died at age 80. Musicologist and author Maynard Solomon died at age 90. Author Bette Greene, who wrote the young adult novel Summer of My German Soldier, died at 86. Hollywood executive William Bernstein died at age 87.
Song of the Day
Politics and media reporter for BuzzFeed News, Rosie Gray turns 30 on Monday…
FRIDAY: Founder of C-SPAN, Brian Lamb turns 79… Charles “Chuck” Miller turns 75… Burbank, Calif., resident, Richard Marpet turns 73… Former U.S. ambassador to Canada, now an executive at the Bank of Montreal, David Jacobson turns 69… Commissioner of Major League Soccer since 1999, Don Garber turns 63… Director of Jewish learning at the Brandeis School of San Francisco, Debby Arzt-Mor turns 58… J.P. Morgan Securities managing director and co-chair of DMFI, Todd Richman turns 51… Best-selling author and motivational speaker, Simon Sinek turns 47… Rabbi at Ohev Shalom Synagogue in Washington, DC, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld turns 46… Musician and singer, Neshama Carlebach turns 46… Member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, Karin Elharar Hartstein turns 43… VP for Jewish education at Hillel International, Rabbi Benjamin Berger turns 41… Senior advisor at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Justin Barasky turns 39… Chief strategy officer at Denver-based energy firm Nexus BSP, Ben Lusher turns 37… London-based political consultant, David Meyerson turns 36… VP at JBG Smith Properties, Lily Goldstein turns 33… Director on the public affairs team of SKDKnickerbocker, Julia Schechter turns 28… Senior supply chain analyst in NYC for Walmart, Kayla Levinson turns 27… Writer David Gerstman turns 60… VP of Tel Aviv-based collaborative work space Urban Place, Daniel Rubin… VP at SKDKnickerbocker, he was press secretary for Senator Chuck Schumer, Jason Kaplan… Chaya Notik…
SATURDAY: Professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, Laurence Tribe turns 79… Past chairman and CEO of KB Home, Bruce Karatz turns 75… Long-time IDF chaplain, Yedidya Atlas turns 67… Award-winning writer and photographer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Diane Joy Schmidt turns 67… Vocalist and songwriter best known as the lead singer of Van Halen, David Lee Roth turns 66… Co-chairman and chief investment officer of Oaktree Capital Management, Bruce Karsh turns 65… Former NASA astronaut who flew on five Space Shuttle missions, John M. Grunsfeld turns 62… Shareholder at the Bethesda, Maryland, law firm of Selzer Gurvitch, Neil Gurvitch turns 62… Founder and principal of two Los Angeles-based real estate firms, Freeman Group and Metro Properties, Rodney Freeman turns 58… Governmental relations and strategic communications principal at BMWL & Partners, Sam Lauter turns 57… Israeli comedian and actor, Asi Cohen turns 46… Jerusalem-based author and op-ed contributor for The New York Times, Matti Friedman turns 43… Section lead for Internet freedom, business and human rights at the U.S. State Department, Chanan Weissman turns 37… Director of political and public affairs at Equinor, Seth Levey turns 34… VP in the Chicago office of Goldman Sachs, Avi Davidoff turns 34… Director of campus programming and strategic relationships at CAMERA, Hali Haber Spiegel turns 28… Advisor for human rights at Israel’s Mission at the United Nations, Or Shaked… President of the Alliance to Combat Extremism Fund, Ian Sugar…
SUNDAY: Professor emeritus of history at UCLA, winner of both a Pulitzer Prize (2008) and the Israel Prize (1983), he won a MacArthur Genius fellowship in 1999, Saul Friedländer turns 88… Former assistant United States attorney and the author of four novels, Ronald S. Liebman turns 77… Israeli novelist and documentary filmmaker, Amos Gitai turns 70… Member of the executive committee of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, Helane Goldstein turns 67… Israeli diplomat whose postings as ambassador include both the UK and the UN, Ron Prosor turns 62… NYC-based philanthropist, Shari L. Aronson turns 62… Executive vice president at The Jewish Federations of North America, Mark Gurvis turns 61… Owner of Sababa Travel, Sharon Rockman turns 60… Los Angeles-based real estate agent, Peter Turman turns 55… President and CEO of NYC-based real estate firm Tishman Speyer, Rob Speyer turns 51… Start up investor, Asher Epstein turns 46… Director of government affairs at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, Joshua London turns 45… Political journalist and opinion commentator, Jamie Weinstein turns 37… Actress Michelle Trachtenberg turns 35… Executive director of StandWithUs Israel, Michael Dickson…
MONDAY: United States ambassador to Italy since 2017, he is a co-founder of private equity firm Granite Capital International, Lewis Eisenberg turns 78… Television anchor of Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace turns 73… President of Los Angeles-based Community Advocates, Inc., David A. Lehrer turns 72… CEO of Wakefield, Mass.-based nonprofit CAST, Linda Gerstle turns 68… Managing director at UBS Financial Services, Charles S. Temel turns 67… Dermatologist in Los Angeles, Lamar Albert Nelson, MD turns 66… Co-founder of both Apollo Global Management and Ares Management, he is the owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, Tony Ressler turns 60… Editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s weekend review section, Gary Rosen turns 54… Managing director at Goldman Sachs, Raanan Agus turns 53… Producer, actress and screenwriter, Alexandra Smothers turns 47… Reporter and host of “The Daily” at The New York Times,Michael Barbaro turns 41… Associate director of communications at Alliance for Middle East Peace, Fatima Fettar turns 29… Argentine fashion model and artist, Naomi Preizler turns 29… Executive director of Start-Up Nation Central, Wendy Singer…