Good Wednesday morning!
Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will host Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani at his residence, followed by a trilateral meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Earlier this morning, the Bahraini delegation — accompanied by a U.S. delegation headed by Mideast peace envoy Avi Berkowitz — landed in Israel on the first direct commercial flight from Manama to Tel Aviv. After arriving, Al Zayani reportedly made a formal request to open an embassy in Israel.
Yesterday, President-elect Joe Biden spoke on the phone with both Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. The prime minister’s office described the conversation between the two leaders as “warm” and said that a meeting is in the works.
In a readout, the Biden transition team said the president-elect “reiterated his steadfast support for Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state” and “expressed his determination to ensure that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strengthened and enjoys strong bipartisan support.”
The Palestinian Authority announced yesterday that it was ending its six-month boycott of security cooperation with Israel in anticipation of a Biden administration.
On Capitol Hill, House Democrats are expected to renominate House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to lead a divided chamber with a slim majority. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was reelected to a second term yesterday.
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Eliot Engel looks back
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) admits that he has some regrets about his performance in the June 23 Democratic primary, when the 16-term congressman lost in an upset to Jamaal Bowman, the former Bronx principal and political upstart who is heading to Congress next year. “There are always things you would have done differently, things that you see that might have been changed,” Engel explained in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel yesterday. “I think we should look to the future. I can’t change the past. I’m obviously disappointed that I didn’t win reelection.”
Looking back: As Engel prepares to step down, he reflected not only on his recent electoral loss but also his decades-long tenure in the House. “I’ve been in Congress for 32 glorious years,” he said. “I grew up in a Bronx housing project. We didn’t have much money, and we didn’t have any contacts.” Engel, 73, still seemed somewhat gobsmacked that he managed to get elected to Congress in 1989, and that he had risen through the ranks to become chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a position he achieved in 2019 and which, coupled with his strong support for Israel, he views as one of the crowning accomplishments of his legacy.
Support for Israel: “I said when I ran that I would be the best friend that Israel ever had in Congress, and I think that I have kept up that bargain,” he told JI, adding his belief that the U.S.-Israel relationship is in better shape than ever. “It’s no longer built on security and cultural ties, but on economic ties and cooperation in every sector, supported not just by Jewish Americans but by all Americans, or many Americans, and Israel is a strategic partner in every sense of the word.”
Taking stock: Engel is leaving Congress during a tense moment for the Democratic Party as moderate candidates in swing districts have butted heads with progressives over messaging on issues like defunding the police and socialism. For his part, Engel hopes that such “infighting” will “fall by the wayside” and that Democrats can work together to achieve what he described as shared goals around job creation and raising the federal minimum wage. “By and large, there’s not that much difference between members of Congress,” Engel said, while cautioning, “I do think that we have to be careful. You talk about defunding police or any of these other things, they are not correct, in my opinion, and they are not good issues for the country.”
Next move: Engel expressed an interest in joining President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, but was vague on details. “That’s certainly something I’d consider. People have said to me, would you want to be an ambassador, would you want to be an undersecretary?” Engel told JI without going into specifics. Asked if he had any plans to challenge Bowman when his term expires in two years, Engel was tight-lipped. “I think it’s really too early to see,” he said, adding, “Let’s see who he reaches out to. I made it a point to reach out to everyone. Hopefully, he’ll do the same, and we’ll see. That’s the last thing on my mind, worrying about what’s going to happen in two more years. I think that we have a lot of work to do now.”
Kathy Manning is seeking a spot on Foreign Affairs
As the first woman to chair the Jewish Federations of North America, Congresswoman-elect Kathy Manning (D-NC) is no stranger to big jobs. But during orientation for newly elected members of the House of Representatives — which began last week — she’s come to terms with just how busy her schedule as a congresswoman will be. Manning discussed her new job and committee membership goals in an interview yesterday with Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Policy priorities: With her limited time, Manning said her top priority is to assist in efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic, but she’s also eyeing a spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in part because of her commitment to and “deep knowledge” of the U.S.-Israel relationship. “Being on that committee would allow me, I think, to stand up for what I believe is such an important relationship,” she said. “The other reason I find that committee interesting is that President Trump had done a lot of damage to the relationships with our allies around the world,” Manning continued. “And it’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild those very important relationships. And I wouldn’t mind being part of that work.”
Meet and greet: Although all incoming members of Congress are meeting at orientation events, bipartisan cooperation for the incoming class may be hampered by coronavirus concerns. “It’s been a little difficult to get to know the Republican members in our new class. We are trying to social distance. There have been some different approaches to mask wearing and social distancing that have made it difficult for me to get to know some members on the Republican side,” Manning said. “On the other hand,” she added, “I have really been able to get to know and bond with the Democratic new members. And that’s been a big advantage.”
Staying positive: Manning — one of a small number of Democrats to flip a Republican-held House seat blue this cycle — seemed relatively sanguine about Democrats’ losses in House and Senate races across the country, noting that many of them were in districts and states that were previously considered reliably Republican. “They were very, very difficult races. So I think there was always a risk that we would lose some of those seats,” she said. “I think the good news is that we won the presidency. And that was the big prize that we were all hoping we would be able to accomplish. And we feel great about that.”
Meet the entrepreneurs combining sustainability and pandemic safety
When 28-year-old Margie Stein ventured out from her Miami home this summer for her first outdoor dining experience after months of quarantine and pandemic-induced anxiety, it didn’t quite go as planned. “We got to the restaurant and sat down, and I saw that the cutlery was already set at the table,” Stein, director of media relations at NBCUniversal’s Telemundo, told Marie-Rose Sheinerman for Jewish Insider. “I looked down at it, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am so freaked out. How do I know that this was sanitized? How do I know that this was cleaned?’”
Light bulb moment: She couldn’t help feeling uneasy throughout the meal. Her discomfort intensified as she finished her dinner, only to find countless plastic forks, knives, and spoons left behind on the grass by patrons eating takeout in front of the restaurant. “That’s when the idea kicked in,” she told JI. “Something that you can take with you anywhere so that you don’t have to use the cutlery at the restaurant, but also something that’s good for the environment.” Her cutlery start-up, NAMAR, which she created with her best friend, Nataly Neuman — who she met on a plane a decade ago on the way to their gap year in Israel — would go from a passing thought to an on-the-market business in three short months.
Making it work: At a Shabbat dinner weeks after the idea was born, Neuman had a surprise for Stein. “She was like, ‘I have to show you something,’” Stein said. “She opened her computer and she had created the logo, the name, the design. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re really doing this.’” The cutlery Neuman created was sophisticated yet minimalistic: “easy, on-the-go, personal, and sustainable,” the product’s website reads. With wheat straw as the raw material, the sets are biodegradable, reusable, recyclable, gluten-free, strong, and durable. Two days after their official launch on Nov. 8, they already had 100 orders — and since then, the demand has only increased. “The response has been overwhelming,” Sernik said.
Spotlight on sustainability: Beyond any financial success, Neuman said she feels invested in the cutlery set’s symbolic impact. “We wanted to shift the perspective of how people look at sustainability,” she said, explaining that her artistic color and design choices for the cutlery boxes were meant to give an “almost luxurious” feeling to users. “I feel like many people might look at [sustainability] and say ‘That’s not for me, that’s not who I am,’ but I feel like sustainability is for everyone,” Neuman said. “It’s really important to create that message using branding… the product is really for everyone.”
A look back at jazz clubs of yore in an age of social distancing
At a moment when music venues across the nation are shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new book about jazz clubs serves as a welcome escape for those yearning to see live music again. Sittin’ In, by author Jeff Gold, was released on Tuesday and looks back on music spaces of the 1940s and ’50s, featuring never-before-seen photos spotlighting musicians as well as concertgoers at hallowed clubs like Royal Roost and the Village Vanguard, among many others. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke to Gold about his experience creating the book and its window into history.
Bygone era: “These pictures turn the camera around,” Gold writes in the book’s introduction. “We’ve seen photographs of these clubs before, of the performers onstage, the marquees, the lines outside. But rarely, if ever, have we seen the audiences, the fans, as we do here.” Gold, a former record executive who runs a business buying and selling music memorabilia, said he is aware the book may carry some extra resonance for those who miss going out. “I feel really particularly badly for people who are younger and haven’t had the experiences I’ve had.”
Early integration:After a summer of protests against systemic racism, Gold also hopes the book will be uplifting as it provides an intimate portrait of early racial integration during a time when social life was decidedly more segregated. “There’s a table full of white people next to a table full of black people, or here’s three people sitting at a table and two of them are black and one of them is white,” said Gold, 64, who grew up in Los Angeles. “It’s really kind of profound to me to not just hear about or read about these things, but to see the physical evidence there.”
Worthwhile mission:Gold acquired the majority of the photos featured in the book from a man who wanted to liquidate his holdings and invited Gold to check out the collection of photographs, tickets, handbills and posters he had been storing in a series of safety deposit boxes. As Gold sorted through the offerings, he became convinced that there was enough material for a book. “I thought, these really need to be documented for people to see.” He became more confident that his mission was worthwhile when he discovered that there had been no book published that took a macro-historical look at jazz clubs of yore.
Cameo appearance:One of the more surprising figures to show up in the book is a young Marlon Brando, who can be seen on page 82 in an undated photo, posing placidly in a dark turtleneck and jacket at Birdland alongside some other clubgoers. “That photo blew my mind,” Gold said. “I’m sitting in the bank vault, I open it up and I go, ‘Jesus Christ, that’s Marlon Brando!’”
⚔️ Frenemies:In Vanity Fair, Ivanka Trump’s former best friend, Lysandra Ohrstrom, writes about the transformation of their relationship over the past decade, including when Ivanka allegedly told her that her Arabic-language necklace “just screams, ‘terrorist.’” [VanityFair]
🎙️ Third Act:Former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is making a quiet media return almost three years after he resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct, reportsThe Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani. “I’m getting almost no pushback,” he claimed. “I feel very welcome in the public debate.” [DailyBeast]
📝 Friendly Advice: Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk lays out in NBC News how he believes Biden can “clean up Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian policy mess,” including encouraging “a trust-building process designed to rekindle the confidence of both sides in the intentions of the other.” [NBC]
👨💼 Next Steps: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), head of the House Intelligence Committee, is quietly pondering his next moves after the end of Trump’s presidency, reportsThe New York Times’s Nicholas Fandos, which could include an administration post, a run for the Senate or even the House speakership. [NYTimes]
Around the Web
💥 Flared Tensions:Israel struck a series of targets in Syria, including Iranian military sites — killing three soldiers — after explosive devices were discovered in the Golan Heights.
🛴 A First: Michael Granoff’s Maniv Mobility led a $3.8M seed round for Abu Dhabi electric scooter startup Fenix, becoming the first Israeli VC to invest in a UAE-based tech startup.
🏰 Red Carpet: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin have exchanged invitations to visit their respective countries.
📣 Critical Voices: Saudi Arabia voiced “deep concern” over the Israeli government’s construction plan in East Jerusalem, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticized Israeli unilateral action after meeting with his Palestinian counterpart in Berlin.
🤔 Big Decisions: In The Washington Post, Noura Erekat posits that a Biden administration “might offer opportunities” to Palestinians, while Bloomberg’s Eli Lake writes that Biden will have to decide if he should “urge Israel to cool its jets” on Iran.
🇮🇷 Looking Ahead:Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said today that Biden “can lift all sanctions [on Iran] with three executive orders.”
🔥 Setting Fires: White House officials told CNN the Trump administration is deliberately creating a host of foreign policy conundrums that will be difficult for Biden to resolve.
🗣️ New Era:Foreign governments and major corporations are scrambling to connect with Biden-linked lobbyists as they look to gain a foothold in the upcoming administration.
😷 Well Wishes: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), 87, who is president pro tempore of the Senate and third in line of succession to the presidency, has tested positive for coronavirus.
🏍️ Safety First: Israeli startup Ride Vision raised $7 million in crowdsourcing for a new AI-driven safety system to prevent motorcycle collisions.
🍫 Sweet Deal:Candy giant Mars has acquired Daniel Lubetzky’s Kind Bars at an estimated valuation of $5 billion.
👨💼 New Role: California Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) was picked as chair of the state legislature’s 17-member Jewish Caucus after serving as vice chair in his first term.
👩 Hollywood: Comedian Sarah Silverman opened up about the challenges facing Jewish actresses during an interview on “The Howard Stern Show” yesterday.
📺 Censured: New Zealand’s Broadcasting Standards Authority found that channel 1 News violated standards by claiming that the Israel Start-up Nation cycling team was “backed by Jewish billionaires.”
😠 He’s Back: Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was reinstated to the party after a three-week suspension for claiming antisemitism under his tenure was “overstated” — a move criticized by Jewish community leaders — though he will not be reinstated as whip.
📖 Open Book: The Philadelphia Inquirerprofiled Richard Krassen, a semi-retired Philadelphia insurance salesman who is aggressively selling his unremarkable memoir.
🕯️ Remembering: Billionaire real estate mogul, avid art collector and philanthropist Sheldon Solow died at age 92.
Gif of the Day
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) fist bumps the vice president-elect, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who returned to the Senate floor for votes yesterday.
Israeli theoretical physicist, who at age 27 became a professor and then later president of the Weizmann Institute, Haim Harari turns 80…
Roberta “Bobbie” Goldstein turns 82… Potomac, Md., resident, Richard Gorman turns 80… National director of major gifts for the American Committee for the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Paul Jeser turns 75… Lecturer at Boston University School of Law, formerly SVP and general counsel of Fidelity Management & Research Company, Eric D. Roiter turns 72… Israeli cantor and actor, known for his Broadway performance as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables,” David “Dudu” Fisher turns 69… U.S. ambassador to South Africa since 2019, Lana J. Marks turns 67… Author and singer-songwriter who writes children’s music, books, poems and stories, and a Passover Haggadah, Barry Louis Polisar turns 66…
Play-by-play sportscaster for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, Marc Zumoff turns 65… Former mayor of Dallas, Texas, Laura Miller turns 62… SVP and general counsel of HSP Group and ARF Financial, Robert Bruce Lapidus turns 62… Moroccan-born, member of the Knesset since 2003 for the Shas party, Yaakov Margi turns 60… NYC-based writer, activist and performer, Shira Dicker turns 60… Washington correspondent for The New York Times covering health policy, Sheryl Gay Stolberg turns 59… Retired Baltimore attorney and philanthropist, Laurie Luskin turns 57… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Michal Shir turns 41… Real estate agent at Elliott & Pomeroy in the Catskills, Talia Fadis turns 33…