Good Wednesday morning!
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo formally notified Congress yesterday that the Trump administration approved a $23.3 billion arms deal with the United Arab Emirates that includes 50 F-35 fighter jets and 18 advanced armed drone systems. Though Congress is not required to approve a sale, any vote to block the agreement would need enough votes to override a certain presidential veto. The Senate Appropriations Committee included a requirement for certification as part of the 2021 spending bill.
Pompeo is scheduled to depart on Friday for a 10-day overseas trip that includes stops in Israel, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
UAE’s Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba told Israel’s Channel 12 yesterday that he is hopeful Congress will not block the F-35 sale “as long as Israel signals that they’re okay with it and [the] QME [qualitative military edge] is indeed preserved.”
Bahraini Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa died this morning at age 84.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was reelected to a third term as his party’s leader in the upper chamber yesterday. Speaking to reporters, Schumer insisted that the battle over control of the Senate is far from over as the GOP seeks to defend two seats in a January runoff in Georgia.
DemocratCal Cunningham conceded the North Carolina Senate race to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) yesterday, and in Alaska, Independent Al Gross continues to trail incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) after the counting of mail-in ballots began.
Today is Veteran’s Day. The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. is holding a series of online events to mark the occasion.
Spread the word! Invite your friends to sign up and earn JI swag through our Ambassador program
Meet Israel’s groundbreaking new ambassador to Egypt
Four months after taking up her post as Israel’s new ambassador to Egypt, Amira Oron is just about caught up with the mountain of work that greeted her arrival in Cairo. Oron took up the position after it was left vacant more than a year due to internal political squabbling. “Because there was no ambassador [for a year]… many things were left undone and not operating the way they should,” Oron told Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro in a recent phone interview from Cairo. “So we needed to go back to the way an embassy should operate. But we’re almost done, I’m glad to say, because it’s been a bit hectic.”
Background: Oron, who is fluent in Arabic, is a career diplomat with a wealth of experience in the Middle East. Most recently, she served as Israel’s top envoy to Turkey, during a period in which Ankara had lowered the rank of Israel’s ambassador in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara flotilla. She also previously served in the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and was the former head of the Foreign Ministry’s Egypt desk. Returning to Cairo almost 25 years after she was last stationed in Egypt, she said, “was really different, it was a different era, a different time, a different embassy.”
Warm welcome: Oron said she has received a warm welcome since arriving in the Egyptian capital. “I think [having an ambassador] was missed by everybody. And it was quite needed [for someone] to come back and to reenergize our activity at the embassy.” Oron presented her credentials to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in a September ceremony. While her appointment has been positively received by Egyptian officials, Oron recognizes that sentiments among average Egyptian citizens are often quite different. “Israel is an issue in Egypt, from different angles,” Oron told JI. On social media, she said, “we get some very positive responses, but also, as we are used to, we get some quite negative remarks.”
Peace in the air: Oron does not believe that the new normalization deals between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan will have a major immediate effect on Israel’s 40-year peace with Egypt. Business ties between Jerusalem and Cairo are on the rise, she said, but the public sentiment is less enthusiastic. “We’re trying to push very hard” in boosting economic ties and trade, she said. “I see a positive atmosphere on the Egyptian side to do business and to enlarge the economic relations between the countries.” Sectors including agriculture, irrigation technology and tourism, she said, “we need and I will put an emphasis on.”
Making history: Oron was the first female ambassador from Israel to serve in both Turkey and Egypt. She told JI that her gender has never been an issue in either country, but her groundbreaking appointment indicates that more work needs to be done. “If we still need to talk about it, it shows that no matter what we do, we still have to fight and to prove that we can do it,” she said of breaking down such barriers in 2020. “It’s still an issue — it’s not solved yet, but we are on the way.”
Cuban-Jewish attorney a top contender to be Biden’s Secretary of Homeland Security
In the days following President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory, speculation has swirled around potential administration appointments, including a number of alumni from the Obama administration. High on the list of possible future cabinet members is Alejandro “Ali” Nicholas Mayorkas, an attorney of Cuban-Romanian descent and a former Obama administration official. Mayorkas, 60, is a leading candidate to head the Department of Homeland Security, according to recent media reports.
Background: Born in Havana, Cuba, to Jewish parents, Mayorkas would be the first foreign-born person to run the country’s top public security agency since the department was created in 2002. His father was a Cuban native with a Sephardic background, and his mother, a Romanian Jew, fled with her family to Cuba amid Nazi persecution in the early 1940s. The Mayorkas family immigrated to the U.S. in 1960, following the Cuban Revolution spearheaded by Fidel Castro, and settled in Beverly Hills, California.
Public service: For most of the 1990s, Mayorkas served as a federal prosecutor focused on white collar crime in the Central District of California before being appointed by former President Bill Clinton to head the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles in 1998. During the Obama administration, Mayorkas served as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before being promoted to the position of DHS deputy secretary. As the Obama administration’s highest-ranking Cuban-American official, Mayorkas played a leading role in the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba during Obama’s second term.
Singing his praises: While at DHS, Mayorkas worked closely with the Jewish community, supporting programs to combat antisemitism and grants for the nonprofit security grant program, as well as implementing counterterrorism measures to protect houses of worship and Jewish institutions. Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director for public policy, told Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh that Mayorkas “was a very good partner in the leadership of DHS.” William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents and former vice president for public policy at the Jewish Federations of North America, said Mayorkas “often was the first call when there was an issue where we needed to get an urgent issue to the top of the federal government, and he often would be the first person to call to alert us when there were homeland security issues of importance to the Jewish community.”
Childhood memories: Speaking at the OU’s annual leadership mission to Washington in 2016, Mayorkas opened up about his Jewish background. “I come from a tradition of a lack of security,” he said in his remarks. “It instilled in me as a very young person [that there] was a sense of concern by virtue of my identity as a Jew. My mother, she tried to teach us not to speak of our Judaism outside of our Jewish community — that was born of her tragic experience. My father was actually of a different school. He was a member of a very small Sephardic community in Cuba, and he used to talk about it all the time because no one in Cuba believed he was actually Jewish because there were only about eight of them.”
The challenge: If nominated, Mayorkas could face a confirmation challenge if Republicans maintain control of the Senate. Mayorkas — who headed the implementation of Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — faced unanimous Republican opposition in his 2013 confirmation.
Danon warns Iran deal could test U.S.-Israel relationship under Biden
As the Biden-Harris transition team begins to build out its incoming administration and speak with foreign leaders, Israeli political observers caution that an immediate return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran — while renegotiating the agreement’s terms — could put the Biden administration and the Israeli government on a collision course.
Point of no return: “I believe that on most issues, we will be able to work with the new administration. But I think the key question is the Iranian issue,” former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh. “This is a crucial issue for Israel. We heard Joe Biden speak about re-entering the JCPOA with some amendments. And the question is how it will look at the end. If the U.S. returns to an agreement that will be similar to the [previous] agreement, it means that Israel will have to recalculate its approach regarding Iran.” Danon suggested that if a new Iran deal were to have the same outcome, just “with different titles,” Israel would be obligated to oppose the deal and “take the necessary steps to ensure Iran will never obtain nuclear capabilities.”
Turtle Bay: Danon, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party who represented Israel at the U.N. during the final year of President Barack Obama’s second term and for most of President Donald Trump’s time in office, said that Israel will have to “carefully” examine the Biden administration’s approach to the Middle East and engagement with international organizations as it shifts away from Trump’s policies. Danon added that if Biden is “supportive of Israel, he will gain the trust and support of Israelis very fast.”
Read the full interview with Danon here.
A challenge forthcoming: Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi suggested that the two sides will “inevitably come into conflict” over the Iranian issue, predicting a “tough fight” for Israel to keep the U.S. from returning to the terms of the 2015 deal. But, he argued, Israel has more leverage than it had in 2015. In the wake of the recently signed normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Klein Halevi suggested, Israel now has “a shared strategic structure to confront the international community.”
No labels: Netanyahu pushed back yesterday against the notion that strained ties between Israel and the Democratic Party in recent years would undercut a good working relationship with the Biden administration. “What I see before my eyes is not Democrats and not Republicans. It is just the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said during a speech at the Knesset. “I am committed to stand behind the interests that are crucial to our future and our existence and this is how I will continue even with the next American administration.”
For the record: In his remarks, Netanyahu pointed to his decades-long relationship with Biden and the personal moments they shared “that are beyond politics and beyond diplomacy.” The Israeli premier said that over the last four years, he has met with 134 Democratic members of Congress — of the 292 who have visited Israel since 2017 — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), as well as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Netanyahu said the meetings occurred “because I believe that strengthening the bipartisan support for Israel is a basic foundation of our foreign policy.”
Max Gross reimagines the shtetl in his ambitious debut novel
By day, Max Gross works as the editor of a weekly commercial real estate newspaper in New York. But for about the past decade, he has also been quietly chipping away at an imaginative debut novel, The Lost Shtetl, published last month by HarperVia. The book is about a cloistered Jewish village, tucked away in the Polish woods, that managed to evade the atrocities of the Holocaust. The twist is that it’s set in the 21st century. “I just had this very perverse thought,” Gross told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview. “I was like, how come the Nazis didn’t miss any of these little towns? There were so many of them scattered everywhere, and how was not one able to slip through their fingers? I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, what if one did?’”
Sleeper hit? The book seems, for now, to have escaped the attention of mainstream critics, having only earned notices in the Jewish press as well as a smattering of short write-ups in national publications. But for those who closely follow developments in Jewish literature, The Lost Shtetl represents what may come to be viewed as a kind of sleeper hit in the Jewish-American literary canon. “I think it’s a really interesting novel,” said Jessica Lang, chair of the department of English at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. “It’s an alternative history that comes dangerously close to engaging in a reenactment of disappearance, which I find, actually, kind of painful to read, but also just really fascinating to think through.”
Connection to the past: Gross’s reimagination of the shtetl is something of an audacious literary act given that he is generations removed from the pre-Holocaust era in which Jews precariously occupied an Eastern Europe dotted with a constellation of shtetls constantly under threat from pogroms. “I have very little religious connection to being Jewish,” said Gross, whose grandparents were all born in the United States but whose maternal great-grandparents were from a Polish village named Goworowo. “We’ll do a Seder during the holidays, but I don’t really, you know, follow much of being a Jew except its historical meaning, except the sweep of history that the Jews are involved in.”
Research: For research, Gross traveled to Krakow and visited Auschwitz but for the most part relied on historical accounts. The most useful source, he said, was There Once Was a World: A 900-Year Chronicle of the Shtetl of Eishyshok, by Yaffa Eliach, along with books by Glenn Dynner, who chairs the religion department at Sarah Lawrence College and whom Gross hired to read and vet an early draft of The Lost Shtetl. Though Dynner hasn’t read the completed work, he told JI that he was impressed by what he saw before publication. “It’s a very nice thought experiment because it brings you into, I suppose, more than just missing the destruction of the Holocaust,” he said. “This is a community that misses modernity, this is a community that misses technology.”
Second novel: Gross said that he is working on a second novel but declined to go into detail about what it would entail. In the meantime, he believes there are lessons to be drawn from his latest work. “One of the things that I think you see, and what I tried to do in this book, was show how jarring the modern world is and all of the baggage that’s in it, and how it’s sort of understandable, the desire for nostalgia, the desire to return to something that is simpler,” he mused. “That’s the fundamental question that I think a lot of the people in Kreskol are dealing with — and I think it’s a question that the world deals with today.”
🌎 Global Shakeup: In The New York Times, Mark Landler and Melissa Eddy note how populist world leaders have reacted to Trump’s reelection loss, and are “coming to grips with the defeat of populism’s flamboyant standard-bearer in the White House.” [NYTimes]
🗳️ Holy Vote:Politico’s Gabby Orr explores how Biden won over an array of religious voters this election cycle, with a campaign that “ran ads on Christian radio, solicited endorsements from prominent Catholic and evangelical figures, weaved faith-based themes into the party’s virtual convention in July and nearly every major speech Biden delivered.” [Politico]
🎖️ Call of History:In OZY, Pallabi Munsi spotlights U.S. Army officer Felix Sparks, the subject of the new Netflix animated series “The Liberator,” who was one of the first Allied forces to liberate the Dachau concentration camp, and protected Nazi prisoners of war from extrajudicial violence. [OZY]
🥃 To Life!The New York Timesreviews the new book Pappyland, about the Pappy Van Winkle whiskey family, which reveals “that popular brands such as Elijah Craig and Evan Williams were actually created by Jewish distillers adept in marketing.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
⚰️ Laid to Rest:Longtime Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is slated to be buried today in a military ceremony kicking off three days of mourning in the Palestinian Territories.
🗣️ Speaking Out: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the release of Yemeni Jew Levi Salem Musa Marhabi, who is being held by Houthi forces.
👨👩👧👦 Biden’s Mishpucha: The New York Posthighlights that all of Biden’s children have married Jewish spouses.
👨💼 New Path: Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, will leave his law firm DLA Piper to prepare for a role in the Biden administration.
💼 Millennial Appointment: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, 34, who served in the National Security Council until he was fired by H.R. McMaster and returned as deputy assistant secretary of defense earlier this year, has been tapped as acting undersecretary for intelligence at the Pentagon.
☑️ Seal of Approval:The Knesset voted yesterday to ratify the peace deal between Israel and Bahrain. The Bahraini foreign minister was expected to visit Israel soon, though the death of the prime minister will likely affect such plans.
🤝 High Hopes:Bahaa Hariri, the son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, told Axioshe hopes Lebanon and Israel will discuss normalization in their maritime border talks, which resumed today.
💥 On Target:The Israeli Defense Forces shot down a Hezbollah drone that entered Israeli airspace yesterday.
🍅 Farm to Table: Israel is investing NIS 15 million in a new digital platform to connect consumers directly to farmers and lower the costs of fresh produce.
👋 Heading Out: Russell Horwitz, a key longtime Goldman Sachs advisor, is leaving the firm after 16 years.
📱 Transition: Waze CEO Noam Bardin will step down in January 2021 to pursue other opportunities and make way for new leadership at the company.
🤳 Startup Nation: Snapchat is set to purchase Israeli voice assistant company Voca.ai for approximately $70 million. Meanwhile, Israeli cybersecurity startup BrandShield Ltd. is planning to go public on the London stock exchange.
💸 Giving Back: Prince Charles has reportedly made a private donation to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
⛓️ Under Arrest:A Staten Island man was charged Tuesday with threatening to kill Democratic politicians, protesters and law enforcement, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who he called the “Jew Senator from New York.”
🏴 Across the Pond: Scotland’s Jewish community is warning that recent amendments to hate crime laws could provide a “get out of jail free card” to Holocaust deniers.
🎥 Hollywood:The upcoming film “The Burning Cold” tells the story of a Jewish family who escaped the Nazis through Andorra during the Holocaust.
👩 Transition: Ruth Eglash, previously a Washington Post correspondent in Jerusalem, will serve as chief communications officer to Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. and incoming Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan.
🕯️ Remembering: Israel Horovitz, an acclaimed playwright and director who was accused of sexual misconduct several years ago, died at age 81.
Pic of the Day
Author and former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic (2011-2014), he served as a counsel for House Democrats during the Trump impeachment, Ambassador Norm Eisen turns 60… “I’ll begin the day as always with my personal dose of Torah im Derech Eretz: reading JI and Playbook,” Eisen told JI in an email, when asked how he will celebrate. “Then my wife and daughter will surprise me with a homemade sweet treat for breakfast and we will open whatever is in a rather big box that just arrived. After that it’s zoom, zoom, zoom — toggling between my Brookings duties and my outside counsel ones at the new bipartisan Voter Protection Program.”
Attorney in Los Angeles, Gerald I. Neiter turns 87… Former Democratic U.S. senator from California, Barbara Levy Boxer turns 80… Television personality and talk show host, Marc Summers turns 69… Founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Ken Grossman turns 66… Founder and president of DC-based Plurus Strategies, David Leiter turns 66… President at American Built-in Closets in South Florida, Perry Birman turns 63… Aish HaTorah teacher in Los Angeles and the co-founder of a gourmet kosher cooking website, Emuna Braverman turns 63… Talk show host and founder of Talkline Communications, Zev Brenner turns 62… Founder of NYC-based alternative investment firm Portage Partners, Michael Leffell turns 62… Russian-born billionaire entrepreneur, venture capitalist and physicist, Yuri Milner turns 59…
Founder and executive director of Los Angeles-based IKAR, Melissa Balaban turns 56… Emmy Award and People’s Choice Award-winning television producer, Jason Nidorf “Max” Mutchnick turns 55… Member of the Knesset for the Gesher party, now serving as the minister for community empowerment and advancement, Orly Levy-Abekasis turns 47… Tel Aviv-born actor and screenwriter, he is best known for his roles in “The Young and the Restless” and “NCIS,” Eyal Podell turns 45… Defender for the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer, Daniel Steres turns 30… 2020 graduate of Harvard in astrophysics, most recently a field organizer for the Michigan Democratic Party, Shelly Tsirulik turns 23… Survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he has become an advocate against gun violence, Cameron Kasky turns 20… Surprise, Ariz., resident, Shula Kantor…