Good Tuesday morning!
President-elect Joe Biden will introduce key appointments to his Cabinet this afternoon, including Tony Blinken as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security advisor. More below.
Biden also announcedAlejandro “Ali” Mayorkas as his pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and Avril Haines, a former NSC official under Obama, as director of national intelligence. Haines was among the signatories on a letter circulated last year urging the Democratic National Committee to adopt harsher language on Israel and settlements in the party’s 2020 platform.
Former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellenwas announced as Biden’s choice for Treasury secretary, setting her up to become the first woman to serve in the position. While Michèle Flournoy is considered the frontrunner for defense secretary, sources say Biden remains on the fence about the pick. Meanwhile, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is reportedly in the running to become U.S. trade representative.
Politicoreports that WestExec Advisors, the secretive consulting firm founded in 2017 by Blinken and Flournoy — with Haines as a former principal — is under increased scrutiny after Biden’s selections.
Yesterday, General Services Administrator Emily Murphy ascertained Biden to be the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, allowing the transition to move forward.
Saudi Arabia denied holding a meeting on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while Israeli Education Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed it took place and Netanyahu said: “throughout my years I have never commented on such things and I don’t intend to start doing so now.”
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A closer look at Biden’s foreign policy team
President-elect Joe Biden’s appointments of senior foreign policy advisor Tony Blinken as secretary of state, former senior State Department official Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the U.N. and former White House aide Jake Sullivan as national security advisor are the first indications of how Biden will shape his foreign policy team. The appointees share a pragmatic approach to the challenges facing the next administration, former administration officials and Mideast experts stressed in interviews with Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh.
Across the board: Rob Satloff, executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told JI he felt “very much encouraged” by the appointments, describing Blinken and Sullivan as “smart, experienced, pragmatic centrists who have a balanced approach.” Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, described the announcement as a “good early indicator that Biden is going to govern as a moderate, as a centrist, and he’s choosing people from this same wing of the Democratic Party.” Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, told JI that Blinken and Sullivan are two experts “with immense experience in the Middle East who at the same time are open to rethinking the U.S.’s approach to the region.”
In the center: Sarah Yerkes, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East program and a former State Department official, described Blinken to JI as widely respected amongst the foreign policy establishment. “He is a centrist. He’s not going to have to have interesting new creative policies. But that’s what we need right now, that’s the moment we are in,” Yerkes said. “Because Blinken is right in line with Biden — he knows how Biden thinks and has his trust — I think you’re going to see a much more unified executive [branch] when it comes to the foreign policy space in general.”
View from Israel: Dr. Dore Gold, former director-general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, recalled a meeting with Blinken in Foggy Bottom in early 2016. Though tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration were at an all-time high following the finalization of the nuclear deal with Iran, Gold said he found Blinken “to be open to our arguments with a capacity to listen. He was not highly ideological like others in Washington at that time.” Retired Brig. Gen. Efraim Sneh, a former Israeli deputy defense minister, told JI that the Biden administration will be judged by “how it chooses to take on the role of leadership on the world stage” in confronting Iran over its influence in the Middle East and relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Sneh was hopeful the incoming administration will “take seriously the concerns of its allies in the region,” and “not disparage our various concerns.”
Judging Jake: Sullivan, 43, was part of the team that established the backchannel talks with Iran that led to the 2015 nuclear deal. FDD’s Dubowitz told JI that from his experience, Sullivan is “one of the brightest minds” in the national security field and “has also a tremendous ability to work with both sides of the aisle.” Former U.S. Ambassador for U.N Management and Reform Mark Wallace, who serves as CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran, described Sullivan as a “talented guy,” who “can take from what we’ve learned about Iran and the circumstances of economic pressure on Iran, and their behavior since the JCPOA, and understand that we have much more leverage than was imagined at the time when we entered the [deal].”
Turtle Bay: Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the foreign service, will serve at the Cabinet level, which requires Senate approval. Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer said she expects Thomas-Greenfield to be guided by Biden when it comes to defending the Jewish state at the U.N. Security Council. “If you know where Joe Biden stands on Israel, you know where his nominee to the U.N. will stand on Israel,” Soifer explained, “because you know the calls on Security Council resolutions relating to Israel — but also just defending Israel in general — that policy will be set by the White House.”
Bonus: In The Associated Press, Matt Lee notes that while Biden is unlikely to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv, much of the Trump administration’s other efforts on Israel, including announcements last week from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over settlement product labeling and the BDS movement, could be reversed “with a stroke of the pen.”
Micah Goodman’s entreaty to Israeli Jews
Micah Goodman’s new book, The Wondering Jew: Israel and the Search for Jewish Identity, is a follow-up of sorts to his 2018 bestseller Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War. “The right-left division was actually a chapter inside the secular-religious division — that’s how this whole thing started,” Goodman told Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro in a recent phone interview. “And then it turned into two books, by accident.”
Modern creation:Goodman notes that while politics and religion are heavily intertwined in the Israeli zeitgeist, “that’s a relatively new phenomenon,” and The Wondering Jew takes a much broader look at how religious divisions in Israel have formed since the beginning of Zionism. “Our right-wing identities and our left-wing identities are a smaller part,” he said. “Our religious and secular identities are so much stronger than our political identities.”
Cutting a deal:The author highlights how founding Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion awarded control over religious affairs in the country to the ultra-Orthodox out of “political necessity” in 1948, to ensure that the haredi groups would not publicly oppose the U.N. partition plan. “Ben-Gurion was a pragmatist,” Goodman said. “He was willing to compromise his values and his principles in order to form the State of Israel.” The avowed secular, humanist leader “was willing to sacrifice the character of the state in order to have the state,” Goodman added, noting that “Israel wasn’t founded because of a person that did not give up on his principles. It was founded because someone was willing to give up on his principles.”
Greatest misunderstanding:But, Goodman opines, Ben-Gurion never imagined that the deal he cut more than 70 years ago would perpetuate that status quo stranglehold on the State of Israel even today. That’s because Israel’s first prime minister fervently believed that ultra-Orthodoxy would soon be a thing of the past, ushered out by the secular wave of modernization. “When you think that something has no future, it’s very easy to give it power,” Goodman said. “And that is probably the greatest misunderstanding of the phenomenon of religion: thinking that religion is something weak, something that is going to die, something that is going to evaporate.”
Common ground: The Wondering Jew is an entreaty for a middle path between secular and religious Judaism, a call to adopt the best parts of both and reach a common ground and understanding. The way to end the current status quo in Israel, Goodman says, is to make secular Israelis care more, not less, about Judaism. “Because Israelis are not that religious, religion is not that important to them,” he said. “But the more Judaism becomes important to Israelis, the more the Jewish character of the state becomes a priority… there is a way for secular Israelis to feel passionately about their Jewish identity without becoming religious,” he added, “to have an intimate relationship with tradition without being controlled by tradition.” That is a trend he believes is on the horizon, a movement that “is not secular Israelis becoming religious, it’s Israelis becoming Jewish.”
Rabbis sign letter defending Georgia Senate candidate Raphael Warnock
A group of nearly 200 rabbis and faith leaders signed a letter defending Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Georgia’s special runoff election, after he came under fire for his past comments — including a 2018 sermon accusing Israel of shooting down “unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey” — reports Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh.
Background:The letter, which was shared exclusively with Jewish Insider ahead of its release today, references Republican attack ads against Warnock after video of the sermon began to circulate online. In 2019, as reported last month by JI, Warnock signed his name to a statement likening Israeli control of the West Bank to “previous oppressive regimes” and calling the “heavy militarization of the West Bank, reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa.” But in an editorial that Warnock shared with JI, titled “I Stand with Israel,” the candidate writes: “Without reservation, you can count on me to stand with the Jewish community and Israel in the U.S. Senate.”
In defense: “As rabbis and religious leaders, we recognize and respect the devotion to his Christian faith that underlies Rev. Raphael Warnock’s strong support for Israel and his partnership with the Jewish people,” reads the letter, spearheaded by the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “Rev. Warnock recognizes that being a true friend also means being a truth-teller who does not shy away from hard conversations, and he has made no secret of his strong reservations and concerns over Israeli settlement expansion, which may impede prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The letter’s signatories — who specified that they were not endorsing any candidate — suggested that racial bias could be driving the “baseless claims and attacks” targeting Warnock.
Backers: The letter was signed by national Jewish faith leaders such as Rabbis Sharon Brous of IKAR, Jill Jacobs of T’ruah, Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, Lauren Holtzblatt and Aaron Alexander of Adas Israel, and Sandra Lawson of Elon University, as well as Georgia-based Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal of Ahavath Achim Synagogue, who is also president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association, and Rabbis Peter Berg of Hebrew Benevolent Congregation (The Temple) and Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta.
Rapid response: Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks told JI the letter is a “sad attempt by members of the Jewish community to give a hechsher [rabbinical certification] to Rev. Warnock, who is far from kosher on the critical issues that the Jewish community cares about.”
NY AG: New hate crime stats undercount antisemitic attacks
New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James argued that recently released FBI statistics — indicating the highest number of antisemitic hate crimes in a decade — “severely” undercounted the real number of incidents, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Speak up: James and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined a webcast on Monday hosted by the American Jewish Committee to discuss the release of the FBI’s annual hate crimes report, which found that hate crimes targeting the Jewish community had increased by 14% in 2019. James said she questioned the accuracy of the data, suggesting that underreporting from both local law enforcement and the impacted communities themselves led to a lower number. “Going forward, obviously we’ve got to do a better job, particularly in the Orthodox community,” she said. “We’ve got to inform them and educate them and encourage them with respect to reporting these crimes.”
Lingering trauma: Yost agreed that underreporting is an issue for many categories of crimes, not just hate crimes, but noted that the victims of hate crimes are more than statistics laid out in data. “We’re talking about hate crimes. That’s measured one life at a time. One case file at a time. This doesn’t happen to X number of people, it happens to one person… Someone who’s going to carry that trauma with them, the rest of their lives,” he said. “As much as I care about the data, it’s not the numbers that move me, it’s the stories.”
Wrong message: The Ohio attorney general criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his particularly stringent enforcement of coronavirus mitigation measures in Orthodox Jewish communities in the city. “When you single out a particular group and other similarly situated groups are not called out, I think you’re really sending a subtle message that helps to create a fertile seed bed for antisemitism or for racism or what have you,” Yost said.
🗣️ Encouraging Debate:New York Times columnist David Brooks offers a list of nine ways to have deeper conversations, including drawing from “the Talmudic tradition” of believing that arguments are undergirded by “some deeper philosophical or moral disagreement.” [NYTimes]
🤝 Friendly Advice: Baroness Catherine Ashton, the former EU foreign minister who led the talks on Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, outlines in Time magazine how Biden can revive the agreement, and “paint the picture of how this can fit into a bigger regional strategy — taking into account the recently-agreed Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab nations.” [Time]
🙏 Spiritual Health: A range of spiritual leaders provided advice to The New York Times’s Erik Vance on how to face this year’s uniquely challenging holiday season. Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles says “It is not a coincidence that many, many religious traditions have some form of a festival of light in the dead of winter.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
📝 The List: Veteran reporter Carl Bernstein released the names of 21 Republican senators who have “privately expressed their disdain” for President Donald Trump.
📣 Turning Point: Blackstone’s Stephen Schwarzman, Trump’s most high-profile supporter on Wall Street, called on the president yesterday to accept his election defeat.
👵🏻 On the Hill: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will step down from her role as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee following criticism from Democrats over her handling of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing.
🛫 Travel Plans:Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expects to visit Bahrain soon after a call today with the nation’s Crown Prince Salman al-Khalifa.
👨💻 Virtual Bond: Google is planning a fiber-optic network that will run through Saudi Arabia and Israel in a globe-crossing connectivity project.
✈️ Big Demand: El Al is planning to operate 14 weekly flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai beginning next month.
🌾 Down to Business:An Israeli delegation visited Sudan yesterday for the first time to discuss cooperation on agriculture and health as peace talks between the countries continue.
👨💼 In the Spotlight: New Mets owner Steve Cohen, who has avoided the limelight for most of his career, is gaining a following on Twitter — thanks in part to his corny “dad jokes.”
🧑⚖️ Awaiting Judgement:Jurors remain deadlocked in the trial of John Rathbun, who is charged with attempting to firebomb a Jewish senior center in Massachusetts earlier this year.
🥯 Hole in One: New bagel stores in San Francisco are trying to develop distinctive “San Francisco-style” bagels, rather than attempting to imitate New York-style offerings.
🕍 Costly Weddings: New York authorities issued a cease-and-desist order to the Satmar synagogue in Kiryas Joel ahead of a massive planned wedding, but preparations appear to have continued, The Daily Beast reported. Meanwhile, New York City issued a $15,000 fine against a Satmar Brooklyn synagogue that hosted a large wedding earlier this month.
⛪ Digging In: Israeli archaeologists believe they may have discovered Jesus’s childhood home under a convent in Nazareth.
🕯️ Remembering: Comedian Mikhail Zhvanetsky, once one of the most famous comedians in the Soviet Union, died at age 86.
Pic of the Day
Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, the first African American to lead the city, died last night at age 93.
Born to a Jewish family in Havana, Cuba, he was announced yesterday as Biden’s choice for Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas turns 61…
VP of the Aspen Institute, he is a former member of Congress and former Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman turns 76… Chairman of Lyons Global Insurance Services, Simcha G. Lyons turns 74… Professor emeritus of chemistry at Bar Ilan University, he is also an ordained rabbi, Aryeh Abraham Frimer turns 74… Actress, best known for her role as Gaby in the film “Gaby: A True Story,” Rachel Chagall turns 68… Partner in the Los Angeles-based law firm of Gordon & Rees, Ronald K. Alberts turns 65… President of the University of Michigan, Mark Schlissel turns 63… Philanthropist and former co-CEO of Westfield Corporation, Steven Lowy turns 58… Political consultant and commentator, Jeff Ballabon turns 58… Author and founder of Nashuva, a Los Angeles area Jewish community, Rabbi Naomi Levy turns 58…
Member of Knesset for the Labor party, she is a granddaughter of Rudolf Kastner, Merav Michaeli turns 54… Israeli actor and screenwriter, he is best known for portraying Doron Kavillio in the political thriller television series Fauda, Lior Raz turns 49… Professional poker player, his tournament winnings exceed $7.5 million, Robert Mizrachi turns 42… President of Jigsaw, Jared Cohen turns 39… Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) rabbi at the Austin campus of the University of Texas, Rabbi Moshe Trepp turns 39… Educator, author and analyst at the Georgia Public Service Commission, Benjamin Deitchman turns 38… Director of strategic partnerships at the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, Rachel Kriegsman turns 33… Actress best known for her lead role in the Netflix series “Bonding,” Zoe Levin turns 27… Michael Davis…