Good Wednesday morning!
Last night, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison praised former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s courageous fight for peace — during an Americans for Peace Now virtual event commemorating the 25th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. Ellison joined the event after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) backed out following pressure from far-left activists.
Zoom is refusing to stream a University of Hawaii event featuring Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled, weeks after the company — later followed by Facebook and YouTube — refused to host a similar event with Khaled at San Francisco State University.
The International Criminal Court is reportedly struggling to appoint a new war crimes prosecutor amid heavy U.S. sanctions.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasioexpressed “regrets” yesterday over the harsh COVID-19 crackdown in Brooklyn after meeting with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community in an effort to restore dialogue.
A poll out yesterday shows Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and attorney Cal Cunningham neck and neck in the North Carolina’s Senate election. Cunningham recently filled out JI’s candidate questionnaire — see his responses here.
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Two weeks out
He’s almost seen enough — Dave Wasserman’s election predictions
Even as Joe Biden appears to maintain a steady advantage over President Donald Trump in the lead-up to the November 3 election, pollsters, pundits, partisans and political prognosticators seem hesitant to make any firm predictions about which candidate will come out on top. The memory of 2016 is perhaps too fresh. But Dave Wasserman, the Cook Political Report’s estimable elections guru, is willing to venture that this cycle is different. “It looks very good for Biden at the moment,” Wasserman told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview as he assessed the state of the races.
Trusted source: The editor has established himself as one of the most trusted sources in political journalism thanks to his fastidious forecasts and dramatic Twitter projections — always issued with his famous catchphrase, “I’ve seen enough.” Four years ago, he correctly envisioned a scenario in which Trump could win the White House while losing the popular vote. His expert analysis now leads him to speculate that Biden is undeniably in a strong position with just two weeks remaining until the election, and he isn’t wringing his hands about it.
Dual reasons: There are two reasons he’s confident in making such an assessment. First of all, Wasserman said, the polls today are in a “different ballpark than the ones in 2016,” as Biden’s lead over Trump is larger than Clinton’s was at the same time last cycle. “The second reason is that there are far fewer undecided and third-party voters this time around than there were [in 2016],” Wasserman added. “That means there’s less potential for late volatility or late breaks toward one candidate.”
House odds: Wasserman, whose primary focus is House races, predicts that the Democrats will pick up between five and 15 House seats this cycle, expanding their congressional majority. One interesting race he is keeping an eye on is in suburban St. Louis, where Democrat Jill Schupp, a Jewish state senator, is challenging Republican incumbent Rep. Ann Wagner in a heated contest that Wasserman regards as a toss-up. “We’re seeing her do extraordinary well in recent polls,” Wasserman said of Schupp. “That could be one of the biggest upsets, for a Jewish candidate, of the cycle.”
Jewish vote: Wasserman observed that there are sharp denominational breakdowns when it comes to how Jewish voters affiliate along party lines: Reform and Reconstructionist communities largely go for Biden, while most Orthodox sects favor Trump. “That really leaves the Conservative vote as the battleground for Jewish votes in the country,” said Wasserman, adding the caveat that Jewish voters would overwhelmingly back Biden. “They’re going to be pivotal in Florida, and that’s probably about it.”
rabbis at the rostrum
The 160-year history of rabbis addressing Congress
Howard Mortman may not be a household name, but he is a familiar one to political journalists and Washington observers alike, for whom Mortman — the communications director for C-SPAN and author of When Rabbis Bless Congress:The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill, out this week — has become a virtual encyclopedia of all things related to Capitol Hill.
History bites: When Rabbis Bless Congress takes readers through 160 years of congressional history, cataloguing the rabbis — 441 in total — who have opened a session of Congress, beginning with Rabbi Morris Raphall, who was the first Jewish chaplain to open proceedings with a prayer in 1860. After seeing a number of rabbis give opening prayers, Mortman conducted a deep dive into the Jewish chaplains who were selected for the high honor. While the book begins with the first rabbi to open a session of Congress, C-SPAN’s archives only date back to the early 1980s. To sort through more than a century of historical information, Mortman relied heavily on Congressional records, which were digitized during the course of his research for the book.
How it happened: In 2014, Mortman — who describes his career very simply: “For a living, I watch Congress” — first had the idea for a book cataloguing the history of rabbis speaking in Congress. “I’ve always been… just really fascinated by the prayer that opens each session,” he told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss in a Zoom call from his home outside Washington. “And it’s the prayer that comes even before the Pledge of Allegiance, it’s the first thing they do in every legislative session of Congress and pro forma sessions. And so the whole thing looks like nothing else that happens to Congress — you have a man or woman of the cloth, praying to God, everybody’s quiet, there’s nothing controversial about it. There’s nobody fighting like you see on the floor of Congress every day. It’s just a prayer. The whole tradition intrigued me.”
Fresh look: Mortman wastes no opportunity to record a speech, a detail or a note about an individual’s life. And that attention to detail carries over into his day job. “When you’re on YouTube, and you’re finding something on YouTube, you’re finding something that somebody has already found and made a clip out of that video,” he explained. “But what I love is the discovery of finding something for the first time, going through our archives and finding video… things that aren’t famous that nobody has ever seen before. Like there’s a lot of stuff that everybody’s seen, but it’s the stuff no one’s seen before. That’s what I love the most, connecting the news of today.”
Major league: Writing a book is not such a stretch for Mortman, whose pre-C-SPAN career included seven years as a columnist and editor at National Journal and two years as a producer on Chris Matthews’s “Hardball.” He joined C-SPAN after working with the network while on staff at a media strategy firm. “For me, being a true geek, a propellerhead, for Congress and for media and all that, and just growing up watching C-SPAN — it’s almost like when you love the New York Yankees, and you get called up to play center field, that kind of thing,” he said.
Ringing endorsement: William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of President of Major American Jewish Organizations, first met Mortman in the mid-1980s. “Howard is a great communal resource. From his perch, he’s literally on top of every news cycle,” Daroff said. “He is able to make the connections between the happenings here in Washington as they converge with Jewish communal interests and things that are noteworthy for the Jewish community, whether it is discussions about Mideast peace or antisemitism or historical anecdotes, which he is able to quickly bring to the forefront of conversations that are happening in the general body politic.”
Members of Congress rebuke Germany over pending SCOTUS art restoration case
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is raising concerns over efforts by the German government to petition the Supreme Court to dismiss a case involving property purchased from Jews by the Nazis in 1935, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. Heirs of the items’ Jewish owners are suing in U.S. court to recover the 42 pieces of art, arguing that they were sold under duress for far less than their true value.
Background: In a strongly worded letter to German Ambassador to the U.S. Emily Haber, members of Congress — including Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) — expressed concern about Berlin’s petition to the Supreme Court over more than half of the famed Guelph Treasure, a collection of more than 80 pieces of medieval art. The German government has argued that it cannot be sued under U.S. law over the pieces, sold in 1935 by a collective of Jewish art dealers to Nazi agents, and now displayed in a German museum.
Objection: The letter highlights concerns regarding the German brief filed in the case, which argues in part that the transfer did not occur under duress and that the forcible seizure of artwork does not constitute an act of genocide. “We are concerned that the brief your government has filed has attempted to distinguish the forced sale of the cultural artwork collection in question from ‘expropriation’ under international law,” the letter reads. “Putting aside the legal argument… your government seems to be arguing that forced sales of art to the Nazi regime do not constitute takings at all and that the definition of genocide does not include… the full elimination of Jews from German economic life starting in 1933.”
Never again: Spanberger explained to JI that a rabbi in her district, Dovid Asher, brought the issue to her attention. She emphasized that legislators sought specifically to raise concerns about “the missing historical context” in the German government’s brief, and not to weigh in on the case as a whole. The letter seeks to “reiterate the U.S. Congressional record on the Holocaust and genocide more broadly,” Spanberger said in a statement. “As the international community continues to work toward justice and to educate people of all backgrounds and generations about the Holocaust, it is important that we recognize the full-scope of systemic persecution that took place.”
🤝 Looking Back: Israeli Channel 13 reporter Nadav Eyal reveals new details of the 1973 meeting between Prime Minister Golda Meir and then-Sen. Joe Biden during a tour of Israel. Biden reportedly suggested to Meir that Israel unilaterally withdraw from certain West Bank areas to initiate a first step for peace. [TimesofIsrael]
🎼 Echoes of History:In The New York Times, Thomas May spotlights the work of composer Yotam Haber, whose most recent work, written after winning the Azrieli Foundation music prize, “juxtaposes a live mezzo-soprano and orchestra with decades-old recordings of Italian Jewish cantorial singing.” [NYTimes]
🗳️ Local Level:In Tablet magazine, Sean Cooper explores the fallout of a 2018 vote by the city council of Durham, North Carolina, to ban its police officers from attending training in Israel — something that had never happened and was not scheduled to occur — which seemed to be a “ceremonial acknowledgement to wokeism’s empty words and actions.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
⚾ Rounding Third: Major League Baseball’s ownership committee advanced the deal that would grant Steve Cohen ownership of the Mets, pending approval by its executive committee and the full ownership group.
🗞️ Media Watch: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied a report yesterday that he’s looking to take his Bloomberg media empire public in a deal with Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, a recently founded SPAC.
🏖️ Battle Ground:Bloomberg’s $100 million investment in Trump attack ads across Florida is forcing the president’s reelection campaign to shift resources from other swing states to the Sunshine State.
📺 Last Minute:The Future Forward super PAC, funded by top Silicon Valley executives including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, is pouring $100 million into anti-Trump ads.
💻 United Effort: “Seinfeld” stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander and co-creator Larry David will reunite for a virtual fundraiser for the Texas Democratic Party on Friday.
🤷♀️Talk of the Hideaways: Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had a “long and serious” talk with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, as Democrats worry about her performance during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
🇸🇩 Road Block: A fierce debate between Sudanese military figures and civilian groups could complicate a U.S.-led effort to normalize ties between Sudan and Israel.
🛢️ Connecting: Israel and the United Arab Emirates have launched talks over a secret oil pipeline between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
📝 New Tech: Israel’s tourist board is offering thwarted tourists the ability to leave digital notes that will be printed out and placed in the Western Wall.
🏥 Health Update: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat remains in critical but stable condition at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
⚔️ Fourth Election? The deadline to pass the already-delayed budget in Israel is looming, sharpening the rocky relationship between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
⛏️ Digging Deep: The Israeli Defense Forces uncovered a new tunnel from Gaza into Israel that was detected by underground sensors.
🔍 Under Review: The board of directors of Apollo Global Management will review the relationship between chairman Leon Black and Jeffrey Epstein.
📰 Across the Pond:The Jewish Chronicle and several staffers have been ordered to pay damages and apologize to Labour councilor Nada al Sanjari for accusing her of inviting an antisemitic activist to a political event.
📜 For Sale: The European Jewish Association has condemned the upcoming auction of a collection of Adolf Hitler’s handwritten speeches as the height of “irresponsibility and insensitivity.”
🍲 Helping Hand: The Brooklyn-based Masbia kosher soup kitchen is now open 24 hours a day to keep up with increased demand due to COVID-19 shutdowns.
🧁 Sweet Shabbat:An amateur Tel Aviv baker started “Sweets for the Soul,” which delivers weekly homemade desserts to elderly housebound Israelis.
🤗 Coming Together:A virtual Yom Kippur service held by a synagogue in New Jersey reunited two Holocaust survivors after 71 years apart.
🥪 Good Eats: A new popup eatery in Brooklyn called Dacha combines Ashkenazi Jewish comfort food with other Eastern European fare.
Pic of the Day
U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Ken Howery visited the Malmö Synagogue yesterday to express his country’s support of the local Jewish community and to convey a message that “there is no place for antisemitism in society!”
Mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, since 2019, Kate Widland Gallego turns 39…
Reality courtroom personality, “Judge Judy,” Judith Sheindlin turns 78… News anchor who worked for 36 years in Philadelphia and author of three books on the Beatles, Larry Kane turns 78… Professor of Hebrew literature and philosophy at Harvard University, Shaye J. D. Cohen turns 72… Beverly Hills resident and national board member of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Terri Smooke turns 72… Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu turns 71… Novelist, journalist and film producer, Amy Laura Ephron turns 68… Cardiologist and medical director at the Center for Women’s Health at the NYU Langone Medical Center, Nieca Goldberg, MD turns 63…
Legislative director for Massachusetts State Senator Jo Comerford, Brian Rosman turns 62… Managing principal and chief investment officer at Penso Advisors, Ari Bergmann Ph.D. turns 59… Mitch Davis turns 58… President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), David L. Bernstein turns 54… Emmy Award-winning television producer, best known for her work on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock,” Marci Klein turns 53… Classical composer and pianist, Lera Auerbach turns 47… Non-profit manager previously at Soaringwords and Areivim Philanthropic Group, Dori Tenenbaum turns 34… Chief information officer at Aish Global, Dan Hazony turns 33… Jerusalem-based journalist, originally from Seattle, Eliana Rudee turns 29… Actress, model and writer, Hari Nef turns 28… Formerly the director of community relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, he begins as director of Jewish community relations and government affairs at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation at the end of the month, Josh Sayles… Third-year medical student at the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv, Shimmy Jesin turns 26…
BIRTHWEEK: Long Island regional director at the American Jewish Committee, Eric Post… Twins from Ranana and avid JI readers, Avi and Rafi Granoff turned 16 on Tuesday…