Good Tuesday morning!
President Donald Trump reportedly weighed a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities but was dissuaded by aides, who cautioned it could escalate into a broader conflict in the final weeks of his administration.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are meeting with experts for a national security briefing in Wilmington, Delaware today. Biden is also expected to announce his key White House staff.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermerexpressed hope yesterday that Biden would seek to expand the recent normalization agreements to strengthen bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship. “At a time when the two parties can’t agree on anything, hopefully they can agree on this,” Dermer said during a panel with his counterparts from the UAE and Bahrain.
White House Mideast peace envoy Avi Berkowitz is leading a U.S. delegation to Bahrain and Israel this week, and will take part in the first-ever direct commercial flight from Bahrain to Israel.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said yesterday that the Democratic caucus is “a big family,” and then lambasted some of her moderate colleagues’ criticism of socialism as “really shameful.”
A new FBI report released yesterday reveals that hate crimes in the U.S. are at their highest point in a decade, including an increase in crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions.
CNN anchor Christiane Amanpourapologized on her show yesterday for comparing Kristallnacht to the Trump administration: “I should not have juxtaposed the two thoughts. Hitler and his evils stand alone, of course, in history,” she said. “I regret any pain my statement may have caused.”
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Israeli Diaspora Minister Omer Yankelevitch is up for a challenge
Omer Yankelevitch has lofty ambitions for uniting Israeli and diaspora Jews. Six months into her job as Israel’s diaspora affairs minister — and with the future of the current government, and therefore her tenure, in jeopardy — Yankelevitch is optimistic and enthusiastic about taking on such a mammoth task. The notably press-shy minister sat down with Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro for a recent interview in her Knesset office to discuss her goals.
One nation: “I see the Jewish nation as 15 million Jews, not 7 million [in Israel] and 8 million [abroad],” she told JI. “We’re 15 million Jews, and that’s powerful. We can have an incredible power, if we can look at ourselves as one big group — that may have disagreements, and that’s OK, that’s part of the story, it could be that we won’t always agree, and sometimes we’ll agree to disagree, and that’s also OK, sometimes we won’t even agree to disagree, and that’s OK too — but if we see ourselves as one big group, we will benefit from that. And that’s what I intend to invest a lot in, in building that connection and creating that partnership.”
Background: Yankelevitch, 42, a member of the centrist Blue and White Party headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, made history — and headlines — when she was sworn into office earlier this year as the first-ever female haredi government minister. Born in Tel Aviv to secular parents, Yankelevitch’s family began to embrace religious Judaism when she was a child, and they later moved to Bnei Brak. She received a teaching certificate from the Gateshead Seminary in northern England, and later attained her law degree, working as a state attorney for several years, before founding the Just Begun Foundation, which works to integrate peripheral communities in Israel into mainstream society. “I’m proud of my place as a haredi woman in Knesset, and I’m trying to use it as a bridge between worlds,” she said. “I think it’s an opportunity to be attentive to different populations and to give them a chance.”
COVID challenge:Yankelevitch entered the Diaspora Affairs Ministry during a particularly challenging and restricting period for Israeli-diaspora relations, as the COVID-19 pandemic hampered not only her own travel but also largely put a halt to Jewish groups and officials visiting Israel. “It has been six very challenging months,” she said. “This is not a normal period.” The first thing she did in office, Yankelevitch said, was to figure out “how do I transfer everything going on in this office immediately to the world of Zoom, to the world that is practical for this incredibly complicated period?” And for the first time since she assumed her role in May, Yankelevitch traveled abroad last week, spending three days in Los Angeles meeting Jewish community leaders, visiting college campuses and sitting down with officials from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
Bill proposal: Last month, Yankelevitch announced that she intends to submit a bill to the Knesset to require government ministries to consult with world Jewry before making decisions that affect the diaspora. The legislation — which has still not been finalized or proposed to the Knesset a month later — faces internal pushback as well as significant hurdles before it has a chance of becoming law. But the minister is insistent that the bill is a crucial undertaking. “What we need to do in this period is to create a dialogue between Israeli society and the diaspora, to listen and to create this partnership, a partnership that can be built only through dialogue,” she told JI. “This is a historic undertaking, that gives us an opportunity to listen, because until now such a thing didn’t exist.”
Bonnie Glick is moving on after being fired from USAID
Bonnie Glick had some unfinished tasks on her agenda as she anticipated the final months of her brief stint as deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under President Donald Trump. But three days after the November election, Glick was unceremoniously fired from the role she assumed in January 2019. She spoke to Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh about her termination and what her future holds.
Official line: In a letter delivered to her on the Friday following the election, John McEntee, the director of the Presidential Personnel Office, wrote that “pursuant to the direction of the president,” she was immediately terminated. The White House explained that the move was undertaken to extend the term of the agency’s acting administrator, John Barsa, as his 210-day legal appointment under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act came to an end. Barsa was initially supposed to hand over the reins to Glick, who was in line to succeed former USAID head Mark Green, and return to his previous role as assistant administrator at the bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Between the lines: An official in the current administration, speaking on condition of anonymity, told JI that the maneuver came after Glick was unwilling to say, in public or in private, that she would not transition to the incoming Biden administration. In an interview with JI on Friday, Glick refused to discuss the reason for her firing in what she described as a “little bit of a topsy-turvy week,” but acknowledged that there was “general consensus” that her termination was “without cause.” A government official told JI the staff at the agency “are angry and in silent revolt.” The White House did not return a request for comment.
Moving on: Glick has since joined the Center for Strategic and International Studies as a senior advisor, where she intends to continue the work she was doing at USAID. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to continue what I was doing, to participate in the discussions around the issues that are important to me,” she said. Glick told JI she will not be joining the Biden administration, but expressed hope that the issues she worked on while at the agency will be picked up by the next administration. “And one of the things that I’m committed to is ensuring, to the extent that I’m able, that there’s an orderly transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration, and I’m hopeful that the career staff who are there will be allowed to proceed with transition-planning.”
In ‘The Orchard,’ a Talmudic tale serves as a coming-of-age parable
Ari Eden is a religious teenager struggling to acclimate to his new surroundings after his family moves from an ultra-religious community in Brooklyn to a wealthy Miami suburb. In that respect, the character couldn’t be further from his creator: first-time author David Hopen, a Yale Law School student — and South Florida native — whose book, The Orchard, hits shelves today. Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch spoke to Hopen about the themes in his new novel and the decade of work that went into it.
Fictional exploration:Hopen, 27, insists that the book is not meant to be a fictionalized version of his life or his community. Writing the novel was an opportunity to reflect on the insular modern Orthodox world he grew up in, something he felt his friends and fellow community members were often unable to do. “It’s something you almost take for granted at first, for instance that you are spending half the day studying Jewish texts, Judaic classes, engaging in prayer, then going in the second half of the day to rigorous secular classes and partaking very much in the greater secular cultural world,” Hopen said. “That was something that started to interest me as an avenue worth exploring in fiction.”
Journey to print:The Orchard began as a pet project during his senior year of high school, which he continued as an undergrad in his spare time, taking breaks from English papers to write a few pages here and there. By junior year — four years after he started writing the book — Hopen had 100 pages. He had a draft of the book by the time he graduated, and got an agent soon after, while studying for his master’s at Oxford. Recently, he’s been juggling law school classes with virtual book talks and interviews, moving from a civil procedure seminar on Zoom to a book event “in” Ann Arbor.
Parable: The book is Hopen’s attempt to introduce a broad audience of American readers to the modern Orthodox community, using teenage protagonist Eden, to enable readers to ask big questions about faith and the quest for meaning in the modern world. Ahead of the book’s release today, it landed on The New York Times’s list of “New Books to Watch For in November.” The Orchard uses a Talmudic myth, Pardes, to guide the novel’s narrative. In the Talmudic tale, four rabbis enter an orchard (‘pardes’ in Hebrew), and each comes face to face with God. As Hopen put it, all four rabbis were “irreversibly changed” by the encounter — some for better, and some for worse.
Balance:Growing up, Hopen said, “I felt that I was in a particularly interesting subculture in America that I didn’t see reflected in a lot of literature.” As Hopen sees it, modern Orthodox Judaism is “its own fascinating and very beautiful experiment within America,” adding: “When it works the way it’s designed to,” he explained, “it is a very compelling synthesis of a way to center a meaningful life on community and on foundational beliefs without sacrificing participation in the greater modern world.”
Following complaints, University of Illinois pledges to address antisemitism
The University of Illinois will take significant steps to address issues surrounding antisemitism on its flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), according to a statement released by the university on Monday. The statement comes in response to a number of on-campus incidents in recent years, which culminated in a formal complaint filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights earlier this year.
Background: The statement from UIUC was jointly signed by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, Hillel International, the Louis D. Brandeis Center and several on-campus groups at UIUC that service Jewish students. The formal complaint, which was filed in March and first reported by Jewish Insider in October, alleged that UIUC administrators had “simply not provided the community of pro-Israel, Jewish students with a discrimination-free academic environment.” A Department of Education spokesperson told JI’s Melissa Weiss that the Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation at UIUC “for possible discrimination on the basis of race/national origin” last week.
Next steps: The joint statement calls for the creation of an advisory board of Jewish community members and for educational programming about antisemitism, and the university also committed to support Jewish students who identify as Zionists. “For many Jewish students, Zionism is an integral part of their identity and their ethnic and ancestral heritage. These students have the right to openly express identification with Israel,” the statement read. “The university will safeguard the abilities of these students, as well as all students, to participate in university-sponsored activities free from discrimination and harassment.”
Why it matters: That acknowledgment, said Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, is critical, noting that Jewish students are reluctant to support social justice initiatives on campus that are tied to the BDS movement — and that some social justice groups refuse to work with students who identify as pro-Israel. “That’s putting Jewish students to the impossible Hobson’s choice of having to choose between their identity and their support of Israel and their strong, passionate desire to be part of today’s racial justice and social justice movements,” Lewin told JI. “And here, the university is saying that you can’t exclude these students from these movements, merely because part of their identity, they identify with Israel.”
🖼️ On Display:Bloomberg’s James Tarmy spotlights an upcoming online exhibition based on the works of Aby Warburg, the scion of a German Jewish banking family who gave up his rights to the dynasty in order to pursue the creation of a Bilderatlas Mnemosyne, “an effort to use art history to capture mankind’s relationship with the cosmos.” [Bloomberg]
👩🍳 Barefoot Contessa:In The New York Times, Julia Moskin profiles the intrepid and ever-popular chef, cookbook author and TV host Ina Garten, exploring “exactly how a wealthy white woman with no unique culinary skill or television shtick built such a diverse and devoted following.” [NYTimes]
🛣️ Wandering Jew:Joe Lonsdale, the co-founder of Palantir and a general partner at the venture capital firm 8VC, writes in The Wall Street Journal about his decision to relocate his family and his business from California to Texas, opining that “until priorities change, the state will keep losing its top builders and creators.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
⚖️ Awaiting Relief: The Supreme Court is expected to rule next week on an application for an emergency injunction against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on houses of worship, filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Agudath Israel of America.
🧑⚖️ Case Dismissed: A New York judge rejected a defamation lawsuit filed by businessman Maurice “Hank” Greenberg against former Governor Eliot Spitzer after a seven-year legal battle.
💰 Father Knows Best:Georgina Bloomberg recruited her father, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, to help her raise money for the Humane Society.
🇫🇷 On Defense:French President Emmanuel Macron criticized “Anglo-American press” coverage of Islamist terror attacks in his country in an interview with The New York Times’s Ben Smith.
🚦 Red Light: Congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, criticized President Trump for reported plans to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan before his term ends.
🇪🇺 Push Back: Hungary and Poland vetoed a seven-year EU budget plan and rescue package due to new regulations tying EU funding to respect for the rule of law.
🎶 Startup Nation: Israeli company Noveto Systems is set to debut a new sound beaming musical device that won’t require headphones.
📈 In Between: Israel’s economy grew a stronger-than-expected 37.9% in the third quarter, during the months of reopening and before its second lockdown.
🥤 Big Gulp: 7-11 is reportedly in talks to open a chain of stores across Israel.
💉 Cutting Deals: The Israeli government is discussing a possible purchase of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine after signing deals with Moderna and Pfizer.
💸 Swift Return: Ya’akov Litzman, who resigned from the Israeli government to protest lockdown restrictions over the High Holy Days, will reassume his position as housing minister.
💻 Virtual Milestone: A Chabad rabbinic Zoom call that began on Saturday night has become the world’s longest Zoom event, with emissaries around the world logging on around the clock.
🎧 Big Deal: Music manager Scooter Braun has sold the recording rights to Taylor Swift’s first six albums to investment firm Shamrock Capital, reigniting the feud between the two.
📝 Back Track:After being suspended from the Labour Party, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote today that it was “not my intention” to belittle concerns of antisemitism.
💸 Back Home: British real estate developer David Abrahams has resumed donations to the U.K. Labour Party after being “impressed” with Keir Starmer’s efforts to handle antisemitism.
🗞️ Transition:Shira Rubin, an American journalist based in Jerusalem, has joinedThe Washington Post as its correspondent for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Song of the Day
Israeli singer Itay Levi released a new single on Sunday, titled “Dancing with the Tears.”
Detroit philanthropist and director of the William Davidson Foundation, Karen W. Davidson…
Rabbi of Agudath Israel of Baltimore and the rabbinic administrator of the Star K Kosher Supervision, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann turns 83… Original creator and producer of “Saturday Night Live,” more recently producer of “The Tonight Show,” Lorne Michaels (born Lorne Lipowitz) turns 76… Global editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group, his bar mitzvah was at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, Howard Fineman turns 72… Editor-at-large for Washingtonian Magazine, Harry Jaffe turns 71… Former CEO of Feeding America and South Africa native, Diana Aviv turns 69… Warehouse logistics manager at NPC Global, Daniel Gastaldi turns 63… Nonfiction author, lecturer and journalist, Gary M. Pomerantz turns 60… Attorney and business executive, he played on the South African national teams in both cricket and field hockey, Mandy Yachad turns 60… Former white house national security advisor and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the Obama administration, Susan Rice turns 56… “The Travelling Rabbi” of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies who serves 13 sub-Saharan countries, Moshe Silberhaft turns 53…
Commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department, she served as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (2014-2017), Suzan Gail Davidson LeVine turns 51… Executive editor and Washington bureau chief of Talking Points Memo, David Kurtz turns 51… Segment producer at HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Michele Tasoff turns 51… Partner in DC-based public affairs firm Seven Letter, Ralph Posner turns 50… Director of human resilience at Apeiron ZOH, Michael Ostrolenk turns 50… President of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim turns 42… Executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, she previously served as national security advisor to then Senator, now VP-elect Kamala Harris, Halie Soifer turns 42… Partner at AKPD Message and Media, Isaac Baker turns 41… Tel Aviv-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Felicia Schwartz turns 29… VP of business development at Pimlico Capital, Zack Teichman turns 28… Deputy director of the Israel Summit at Harvard, Aidan Golub…