Good Wednesday morning!
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman signed revised bilateral scientific cooperation agreements that will allow U.S. aid to be used in West Bank settlements and the Golan Heights during a visit to Ariel University today.
Yesterday, President Donald Trump told reporters that the U.S. has “five definite” — and up to about “nine or 10” — countries lined up that want to normalize relations with Israel after the presidential election. “The beauty is there’s peace in the Middle East with no money and no blood,” Trump added.
Israeli and Lebanese delegations launched a second round of talks this morning focused on resolving a maritime border dispute.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed yesterday that Iran began building a new underground centrifuge plant after the July explosion at the Natanz nuclear site.
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on the record
Tony Blinken’s Biden spiel
As the Biden presidential campaign’s top foreign policy advisor, Tony Blinken has spent much of the past year making his case to key advocacy groups around the country from the comfort of his home office. Every six weeks, Blinken is said to meet with progressive organizations, while also serving as a channel for Jewish and pro-Israel organizations — including AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee — to connect with the campaign. In an exclusive interview with Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh, Blinken detailed the Biden campaign’s views on the Middle East and what he typically shares in off-the-record briefings with Jewish groups.
Driving force: Blinken credits his family history with impacting his worldview and professional path. His stepfather, Samuel Pisar, who died in 2015 at age 86, lost both parents and a sister during the Holocaust and survived the Majdanek, Auschwitz and Dachau death camps. Toward the end of the war, Pisar escaped a death march and hid in the woods for four days. “One day as they were hiding out, they heard this deep rumbling sound,” Blinken recounted, “and as my stepfather looked out, he saw a sight that he had never seen before — not the dreaded Iron Cross, not a swastika, but on a tank a five-pointed white star. And, maybe in a foolhardy way, he rushed out toward it. He knew what it was. And he got to the tank, the hatch opened up, and a large African-American G.I. stared down at him… the G.I. lifted him into the tank, into freedom, into America. That’s the story that I grew up with — about what our country is and what it represents, and what it means when the United States is engaged and leading.”
Influence abroad:Throughout the 2020 campaign, Biden has repeatedly proclaimed that the Trump administration has abandoned traditional U.S. allies. “Donald Trump has abandoned our allies while embracing dictators,” he charged during the Democratic primary. According to Blinken, Trump’s retreat from international institutions has, “done tremendous damage to the U.S. and to our standing in the world, which in turn is not good for Israel.” He maintains that Trump has “largely abdicated” the role of the leading world power, and that his “America First” doctrine has isolated the country on global affairs. “When it comes to American influence, when it comes to respect for the United States in the world, that is at freefall, and that’s not only not good for us, it’s not good for our close partners and allies that depend on us, including Israel.”
On Iran: Blinken suggested that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal “with nothing to replace it” has led not only to Iran restarting some of the most dangerous aspects of the nuclear program, “but also putting Israel, potentially, first in the line of fire if Iran were to actually develop a weapon.” Blinken told JI that even if a Biden administration would suspend nuclear-related sanctions, “we will continue non-nuclear sanctions as a strong hedge against Iranian misbehavior in other areas.” He wavered when asked if it wouldn’t be wiser to use the Trump administration’s current leverage to ensure a more comprehensive agreement that addresses shortfalls in the original deal, including restrictions on ballistic missiles and Iran’s expansive terror network. “I don’t want to get ahead of where we might be next year,” he responded. “So, how the reentering the deal would work, what issues or elements might be involved, that’s not something that I would prejudge at this point.”
Abraham Accords: The Biden campaign does give Trump credit for the recently signed Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the ratified normalization deal with Bahrain and the announced warming of ties between Israel and Sudan. “It is good for Israel that the two countries are recognizing its existence and moving toward normalization,” Blinken said. But he was quick to argue that Bahrain and the UAE have never been at war with Israel, calling the significance of the deals “a little bit overstating,” and noting that clandestine ties between Israel and a number of its Arab neighbors have long existed.
Pushing peace: Blinken was hopeful that the recent normalization deals could “have a potentially positive impact” on achieving durable peace between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East. “The more countries normalize their relationship with Israel, the greater I think Israel’s confidence is in being able to make peace across the board,” he suggested. Blinken pledged that a Biden administration “would certainly try and continue to pursue and advocate for normalization with any Arab state that is prepared to do that,” while also working to achieve a two-state solution. “Ignoring the Israel-Palestine dimension doesn’t make it go away — like the coronavirus, it’s not going to miraculously disappear,” Blinken asserted. “Of course this is not 2009, it’s not 2014, it’s not 2017. The parties are far from ready for any kind of negotiations toward final status. Right now, it’s hard to know exactly what situation the Biden administration would inherit. But I think, at the very least, [Biden] would want to make sure that neither side set back even further the prospects for eventually getting to negotiations.”
Bonus: In an op-ed in JTA yesterday marking the two-year anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting, Biden wrote about bringing his children and grandchildren to visit Dachau, and the harrowing reminder that “we still have work to do to give meaning to the haunting phrase: never again.”
Matt Lieberman won’t back down
Matt Lieberman isn’t backing down. The Atlanta businessman running in Georgia’s Senate special election is facing pressure to bow out of the race as polls show he lags far behind his Democratic opponent. Lieberman has been accused of spoiling fellow Democrat Raphael Warnock’s chances as Warnock seeks to clear the 50% threshold that would allow him to circumvent a January runoff, an assertion backed up by a new poll showing Warnock, a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, hovering near 50%. But during a phone interview yesterday with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel, Lieberman was adamant that he will not be dropping out.
Hoping for the best: The candidate added his firm belief that it would be impossible for any candidate to pull in more than 50% of the vote and that the election will likely head to a runoff with or without his involvement in the race. “Math is math, math is not partisan, it is actually fact,” he said. “So my reflexive reaction would be that that poll is an outlier.” Lieberman, the son of former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), is holding out hope that his prospects are better than they appear. “While the polls are not overly encouraging right now, there are probably 15% of voters who are undecided,” he said, “and I’d like to believe I have a better-than-even chance at a good chunk of those.”
Spoilsport: Lieberman said he wasn’t worried about the possibility that he was limiting Warnock’s chances in spite of repeated calls for him to step away from the race. “It’s been fear-mongering all the way through,” Lieberman told JI, adding: “I see a lot of this pressure as exposing that part of the party as not so much champions of democracy, but people who want to accomplish a specific end, and who embrace democracy as long as it serves their purposes. And in that way, I think they’re quite similar to Trump.”
Party favorite: Warnock is the party favorite and on Monday he earned an endorsement from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The reverend has raised nearly $22 million, according to the most recent filings from the Federal Election Commission, while Lieberman has only pulled in $1.5 million. Terrence Clark, Warnock’s communications director, declined to comment on whether he believed Lieberman was spoiling Warnock’s prospects. “The last few weeks of signs of momentum seem to point to the fact that we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’re pretty confident in our chances.”
Fed up: Last October, Lieberman became the first candidate to enter the race to succeed retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Republican Kelly Loeffler was appointed to replace Isakson in early January by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, and is now defending the seat as several candidates vie to serve out the remaining two years of Isakson’s term. Lieberman says his priorities haven’t shifted since he announced his run. “From the very, very beginning, I said I was running as a fed-up citizen of Georgia and for the fed-up citizens of Georgia,” he told JI. “I continue to say that. I continue to make the point that our leaders are all tied up in meaningless bickering and unable to actually produce a product for us.”
A Jewish filmmaker’s four-year immersion in the alt-right underworld
In late September, when Daniel Lombroso released the trailer for his first feature-length film on YouTube, the comments section was immediately flooded with antisemitic vitriol. The page became so “infested with Nazis,” Lombroso told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview, that he decided to disable commenting altogether. Not that Lombroso, 27, was unfamiliar with such trolling. His new film, “White Noise: Inside the Racist Right” — released last week on streaming services — makes even some of the most vile online bigotry seem slightly milquetoast compared to many of the real-world figures Lombroso encountered.
Reporting on the edge: There were times throughout the four-year filmmaking process that Lombroso, who is Jewish, was worried for his safety as he sought to give viewers a glimpse into the white nationalist underworld. On one occasion, Lombroso accompanied Richard Spencer, the infamous neo-Nazi, to a ranch in the Florida countryside teeming with fascists. “It was literally 40, 50 Nazi boys, young kids in short shorts, all with their Hitlerjugend look,” Lombroso recalled. “Then Richard went out to dinner, and he left me alone at this ranch, and there’s no Uber there, no taxi.” That was when things became frightening. “They were yelling ‘kike’ and throwing Hitler salutes at me. It got really bad.”
Study of evil: The filmmaker emerged unscathed from the encounter, but such moments have stuck with him as the grandson of Holocaust survivors who lost most of their extended family during World War II. Lombroso, who proudly identifies with his Ashkenazi heritage, said he chose to focus on the alt-right because he wanted to understand what motivates white nationalists and other extremists to think the way they do. “The film is about the study of evil,” he told JI. “How does someone become this way and why do so many people follow?”
Alt-right universe: Lombroso’s film is an immersive look at the alt-right universe that follows three far-right provocateurs — Spencer, conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich and Lauren Southern, the xenophobic YouTube personality — as they go about their daily lives. Lombroso’s hope was that he would expose the contradictions in their thinking, and the film succeeds in highlighting several such moments. Despite her dedication to employing antisemitic conspiracy theories, Lombroso found that Southern was embarrassingly naive about Jews. “She would say, ‘Oh, do you guys wear those little hats at home?’” he recalled. “It was just weird.”
Overton window: Lombroso, a former video journalist for The Atlantic — which produced the film — describes “White Noise” as an “unsympathetic eulogy to a dying movement.” But he believes that the ideology of the alt-right has in many ways permeated the mainstream. “The implicit thesis of the film is the Overton window,” Lombroso mused, “that the alt-right has succeeded even if they’ve failed, that they’ve moved the conversation so far to the right that now it’s created this space for Trump and for right-wing populists around the world to pick up their ideas.” Still, Lombroso believes the documentary will help viewers see his subjects for who they really are. “The whole film is about their private lives,” he said, “and in private, they’re miserable, depressed people.”
👨💻 Behind the Keyboard: NBC News reporter David Ingram profiles Volvi Einhorn, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who is one of the figures behind the popular Political Polls Twitter account. Einhorn is part of a growing group of passionate election junkies who have gained credibility in analyzing races and making forecasts. [NBCNews]
📰 Media Watch: In The Columbia Journalism Review, former Forward editor-in-chief Jane Eisner explores how media coverage of antisemitism has evolved over the two years since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, and how many journalists struggle with the “complexities of fitting anti-Semitism into a single narrative.” [CJR]
👨💼 Mensch-in-Chief: The Washington Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia spotlights how Doug Emhoff, the husband of vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, has become the campaign’s “secret weapon,” as well as “the Great Jewish Hope… he’s been called a mensch so many times that it may as well be on his business cards.” [WashPost]
🇦🇪 Behind the Scenes: In The Jerusalem Post, Melanie Swan interviews Dan Shaham, who was appointed last year as Israel’s head of mission to the International Renewable Energy Agency in Abu Dhabi and served as a key behind-the-scenes figure in the countries’ rapprochement. “I was brought into this position as a change-maker for IRENA, but we came out with so much more.” [JPost]
Around the Web
🙏 Stay the Course: Congressional Democrats are quietly urging Joe Biden to continue antisemitism protections for Jewish college students — which Trump signed into law via executive order last year.
✈️ COVID Travel: Peter Berkowitz, director of policy planning at the State Department, tested positive for COVID-19 after an overseas visit where social distancing measures were lax.
👍 Seal of Approval: The military leader of Sudan’s ruling council expressed support for the prime minister’s effort to advance a normalization deal with Israel.
🤝 Common Adversary: Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met his Greek and Cypriot counterparts in Greece yesterday as the countries work to expand their cooperation to counter Turkish hostility.
📈 Startup Nation: The Israeli 3D meat printing company Meat-Tech 3D has confidentially filed for a U.S. IPO, while Israeli software startup Monday.com is preparing to launch a $4 billion U.S. IPO early next year.
👗 Permanent Fashion: Rent the Runway CEO Jenn Hyman said the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the company’s move into sales over rentals.
📝 Taking Action: Ontario has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism following antisemitic vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.
📺 Back On Screen: Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart has signed a deal with Apple to host a new current affairs show.
🕍 Book Shelf: A new anthology of essays by Pittsburgh writers reflecting on the fatal Tree of Life synagogue shooting was published this week.
🏺 Protecting Valuables: Several Dutch museums have removed items linked to Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler or enhanced security measures after months of targeted thefts.
🕯Remembering: Daniel Menaker, who served as executive editor-in-chief of Random House and as a senior fiction editor of The New Yorker, died at age 79.
Pic of the Day
The Republican Party in Israel organized a pro-Trump car parade from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem yesterday, concluding with a rally outside the U.S. Embassy.
Actress widely known for her TV roles as Judy Miller in CBS’s “Still Standing” and as Debbie Weaver in ABC’s “The Neighbors,” she is an owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, Jami Gertz turns 55…
Redondo Beach resident, Larry Berlin turns 89… Rabbi of the Moscow Choral Synagogue, Adolf Shayevich turns 83… Spiritual leader of the village of New Square in Rockland County, N.Y., Rabbi Dovid Twersky turns 80… Former member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Sofa Landver turns 71… Rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Hamden, Conn., Benjamin Edidin Scolnic, Ph.D. turns 67… Philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates turns 65… Former member of the Knesset for Likud (2015-2018), he currently serves as mayor of Beit She’an, Jackie Levy turns 60… Manager of MLB’s Oakland Athletics, Bob Melvin turns 59… Recently appointed executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky, Mindy Haas turns 57… Film and television director, screenwriter and actor, Jacob “Jake” Kasdan turns 46… Former member of the Knesset for Likud (2015-2019), Oren Hazan turns 39… Scottsdale, Ariz., attorney, he was a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives, Adam Kwasman turns 38… Associate general counsel for commercial real estate at Annaly Capital Management, Elliot Schwab turns 35… Director of product management at Optum, Avital Warburg Goldstein turns 29…