👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Yesterday, President Donald Trump pardoned 15 people and commuted the sentences of another five.
Among those receiving commutations was Philip Esformes, a Miami nursing home executive who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year for paying bribes and receiving kickbacks in a $1 billion Medicare fraud scheme. The White House announcement notedthat “Esformes, who is 52, has been devoted to prayer and repentance and is in declining health.”
Trumprailed against the new COVID relief bill last night in a video from the White House, specifically slamming foreign aid inclusions, which are actually part of the separate omnibus spending bill. “$85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia, $134 million to Burma, $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment,” the president charged.
Trump appointed former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, American Zionist Movement vice president Martin Oliner and Susan Levine of Arizona to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Levine’s family made a $25 million contribution to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2014.
Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) is reportedly being touted by environmental groups as their preferred pick for President-elect Joe Biden’s labor secretary.
Israeli officials informed Axios’s Barak Ravid of their conversations with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who visited Israel last week, including discussion of the Biden administration’s approach to Iran. Israeli officials sought to use Milley as a conduit to Biden, Ravid reports.
Israel and Morocco agreed yesterday during a meeting in Rabat to reopen their respective diplomatic missions within several weeks, although Moroccan officials have indicated that they are not looking to hold an official signing ceremony.
The Israeli Knesset automatically dispersed last night, triggering a new election scheduled for March 23 — Israel’s fourth national election in just under two years.
Israeli officials are considering a range of options to facilitate voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including an extended voting period and increasing the numbers of polling stations across Israel, where mail-in-voting does not exist.
Spread the word! Invite your friends to sign up and earn JI swag through our ambassador program.
Catching up with Biden deputy campaign manager Rufus Gifford
“We’re going to win.” Sitting in his hotel room in Philadelphia, where a small group of Joe Biden’s senior staffers were stationed on election night, deputy campaign manager Rufus Gifford typed out those four words and unleashed them on Twitter, turned off his phone and went to bed. “Which drove everyone insane,” Gifford, 46, recalled in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “We had a game plan. We knew our path to victory, and we knew this might take a couple of days to get all of the votes counted.”
Moment of triumph: Back home in Concord, Mass., four days later, Gifford got word that the TV networks were about to call the election for Biden while he was on a jog. Hurrying home, he arrived just in time to catch the announcement and, in a state of euphoria, immediately ran back outside, tears streaming down his face. “It was emotional as hell, honestly,” said Gifford, sounding choked up as he remembered the moment, which was captured on camera by his husband of five years, veterinarian Stephen DeVincent. Gifford, now working as an advisor on the president-elect’s transition team, is likely poised for a return to government in a yet-to-be-determined capacity. “There’s a lot of work to do, and I’m excited to be part of that,” Gifford told JI. “But the role, specifically, is still to be determined.”
Road to victory: The Boston native had assumed that his campaigning days were behind him after serving as Obama’s national campaign finance director in 2012. His role on that campaign led to a diplomatic appointment as U.S. ambassador to Denmark. But when Trump won, “I said we had to go home and fight for the values that I’ve been spending my career fighting for,” Gifford told JI. “Values that Donald Trump did not represent.” After a failed run for Congress in 2018, Gifford began, tentatively, to get involved in the 2020 presidential election, donating money to a number of candidates, some of whom he knew personally. He ultimately backed Biden, citing the former vice president’s “decency” and “compassion” as qualities he regarded as the “antithesis” of Trump. And in April 2020 he officially joined the Biden campaign.
Jewish outreach: In addition to his fundraising duties, Gifford was intimately involved in constituent outreach. One of the first calls he made after starting the job was to Dan Shapiro — the former U.S. ambassador to Israel with whom he served in the State Department — to discuss strategies for reaching Jewish voters. Shapiro told JI that “Rufus was a critical sounding board and often very effective inside the campaign in advancing some ideas that we felt would be helpful to the campaign strategy with Jewish voters.” Aaron Keyak, whom Gifford encouraged the campaign to hire as its Jewish outreach director, told JI that “when I faced any major obstacles to doing our outreach as effectively as possible, I could just give Rufus a call, and he would help solve the problem, whatever the problem was.”
Firsthand: Last year, Gifford traveled to Israel for the first time, a visit that left an indelible mark on the former diplomat. “I struggled with it, I was challenged by it, I was frustrated by it, and then I also fell in love with it,” Gifford said of his week-long trip. “To me, for all of the sort of narratives surrounding Israel that are out there — which I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and talking about simply just because I’ve done a lot of work with the community over the years — you don’t have any sense of it until you go and meet the people, talk to the community leaders and understand how rich this country is but also just how complex it is, and how the problems which American politicians very often make sound sort of simple to solve are just much, much, much more complex than we have any understanding of.”
Alex Padilla to replace Kamala Harris in the Senate
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla will serve out the final two years of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ Senate term, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday. Following news of the appointment, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod asked California politicos for their reaction to the announcement.
Adult in the room: “He’s very smart. He’s an adult, in a world of political figures that are increasingly falling short of adulthood. He’s a progressive who believes in paying his bills. He’s a center-left person,” former Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Zev Yaroslavsky told JI. “I think he will become an instant player in the Senate and increasingly on the national scene.”
Community celebration: Padilla has a close relationship with the Jewish community, and many are excited about the pick. “There’s a lot of warmth and affection for him in our community,” said California Assembly Majority Whip Jesse Gabriel, the newly elected chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus. “Alex Padilla is a huge mensch. I think that as more and more folks in the national Jewish community get to meet him and interact with him and work with him on issues important to our community, I think more people are going to share that assessment.”
Top of the list: According to Sam Lauter, a California political consultant and longtime Newsom associate, the governor’s choice was likely influenced by his strong relationship with Padilla, as well as a desire to recognize the state’s Latino community — which makes up 40% of the state population — along with Padilla’s track record in office. Padilla will be the first Latino senator to represent the state. Some California Democrats have expressed concerns about Newsom’s decision to replace the only Black woman in the Senate with a non-Black man. Lauter noted that, given the wide field of potential candidates, many of whom had strong qualifications, “no matter what, he was going to pick someone that disappointed an important community.”
On the ticket: Padilla will be up for election in 2022, and will be favored to win, although he will likely face strong competition from challengers who have a “significant head start” in terms of fundraising and organizing for a potential Senate run, said Lauter. Gabriel said he expects Padilla to “cruise” to reelection in two years.
New York court rules against Students for Justice in Palestine in Fordham case
The New York State Appellate Division for the First Department ruled in favor of Fordham University yesterday in its yearslong legal battle against Students for Justice in Palestine. The court overturned a 2019 lower court decision that had ordered the university to allow SJP to form a chapter on its campus, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports.
Background: The lawsuit stemmed from a decision by university administrators in 2016 to reject SJP’s application for club recognition a year earlier. University recognition would have allowed SJP to receive funding from the university and from activity fees paid by all students. At the time of the original ruling against Fordham, all but one of the original complainants had graduated, and a new student had joined the lawsuit.
Struck down: The court ruled that one of the plaintiffs was not a student at a time that Fordham declined to recognize SJP and had no standing to pursue legal action against the university. The ruling also noted Fordham’s concerns that recognizing SJP, “a national organization reported to have engaged in disruptive and coercive actions on other campuses, would work against, rather than enhance, respondent’s commitment [to] open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding” on campus.
Weighing in: “This is a huge loss for SJP,” Ken Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights, told JI. “The lower court decision had been hailed by their supporters as the first major legal victory, not only for SJP, but for the anti-Israel movement.” Bob Howe, a spokesperson for the university, told JI that Fordham “is gratified that the court found Fordham followed its procedures in administering the student club approval process, and that Fordham had the right to not approve groups that were inconsistent with its mission.”
What’s next? Marcus told JI that the group could submit a new application to the university for recognition. “That could bring the case back into the courts, not just as an appeal, but as a new case, and there would be standing… That’s why it’s important that the court made a further statement that they would still likely lose the case, because Fordham’s judgment was based on this discretion.”
📝 By the Numbers: In The Atlantic, Adam Harris highlights efforts by Karl Racine, the attorney general of D.C., to combat the growing trend of hate crimes, starting with a full collection of data, which he hopes will help people “begin to understand the full scale, scope, and duration of the problem and all of its enduring consequences.” [TheAtlantic]
👑 End of Reign? With Israel heading to yet another election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a rebellion within his Likud Party and among other right-wing factions, reports Neri Zilber in Foreign Policy. “The right is fractured like never before, there’s complete chaos in the system, and the Netanyahu ‘bloc’ of parties doesn’t exist anymore,” said one analyst. [ForeignPolicy]
🇪🇬🇱🇾🇸🇾 Still Waiting: Nine years after she covered the start of the Arab Spring in Syria, NPR’s Ruth Sherlock interviewed a range of activists still working to carry on the legacy of uprisings across the Arab world, as one activist “believes it will take a generation for Arab Spring countries to see fuller change.” [NPR]
💵 Reinvesting: In The Washington Post, Michael Kranish detailshow Democratic Georgia Senate candidate Jon Ossoff utilized his family inheritance to become CEO of Insight: The World Investigates, a media company producing investigative films exposing corruption, which he said “are consistent with the kind of change I want to make in the world.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
🙅♂️ No Peace: The Tunisian Foreign Ministry said yesterday that it has no interest in normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel.
🤞 Still Hoping: Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said yesterday that he hopes a fifth Arab nation will establish ties with Israel before Trump leaves office next month.
🌊 To the Table: As talks between the nations stalled, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered to help Israel and Lebanon negotiate their maritime border dispute.
🕊️ Olive Branch: Qatar’s foreign minister is calling for talks between Iran and Gulf countries in order to de-escalate tensions.
⚔️ Digital Warfare: Iran was behind efforts to virtually incite violence against the head of the FBI, state elections officials and others who’ve refuted claims of voter fraud following last month’s election.
📈 Open Exchange: Investors from the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries are expected to invest in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange beginning in 2021.
💰 On the Market: Silicon Valley venture capital fund Group 11 became one of the first two listings on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s new TASE UP platform yesterday.
⚕️ Going Public: Oscar Health, the health insurance startup co-founded by Joshua Kushner and named after his great-grandfather, has confidentially filed for an IPO.
💻 New Venture: Barry Diller’s IAC is planning to spin off Vimeo as an independent company.
💸 In the Works: Israeli fintech startup Payoneer is reportedly in talks to merge with a U.S. SPAC ahead of a Nasdaq IPO.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: Former Labour MP and head of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Gillian Merron was nominated to a lifetime position in the House of Lords.
🇨🇳 Data Wars: China reportedly exposed undercover CIA operatives in Africa and Europe using stolen data.
🏙️ No Go: New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio came out against a controversial Crown Heights Towers development led by Bruce Eichner.
📚 Book Shelf: Post Hill Press has announced the creation of a new imprint, The Wicked Son, focused on Jewish authors and works.
📰 Start the Presses: Two years after ceasing publication, New York media icon The Village Voice will return with weekly online editions starting in January.
⌚Media Watch: Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron’s expected retirement is affecting the search for new editors at other publications, including Vox Media, Huff Post and the Los Angeles Times.
🗞️ Transition: Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor at The Forward, will become Newsweek’s deputy opinion editor early next year. Victoria Coates, who most recently served as a senior policy advisor at the Department of Energy, will be the next president of the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN).
🕯️ Remembering: Harvey Litwin, publicity executive and co-founder of the Agency for Performing Arts, died at 89. Bram van der Vlugt, Holocaust survivor and Dutch actor who portrayed Santa Claus annually on TV, died at 86.
Song of the Day
DJ Matt Dubb, aka Matt Weiss, has released a new song, titled “Tzur,” featuring saxophonist Shlomi Cohen.
Editor-at-large of The Bulwark, Bill Kristol turns 68…
Television producer, best known for his work on the 1980s television series “Cagney & Lacey,” Barney Rosenzweig turns 83… Electrical engineer, who with Vint Cerf invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), Robert Elliot “Bob” Kahn turns 82… Emmy Award-winning actor, director and producer, best known for his work on “The Simpsons,” Harry Shearer turns 77… Russian-born mathematician living in France, known for important contributions in geometry, analysis and group theory, Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov turns 77… Formerly the executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, Ken Waltzer turns 77… U.S. district judge in the Southern District of New York, he has been on senior status since 2011, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan turns 76… Recently retired economics columnist for The Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelsonturns 75… Documentary filmmaker, she is working on a documentary on screenwriter and Jewish activist Ben Hecht, Aviva Kempner turns 74…
One of two Grand Rebbes of Satmar, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaumturns 69… Dean at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Poland (2009-2012), Lee A. Feinstein turns 61… Software engineer at Goldman Sachs, Bill Pinsky turns 58… CEO of the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal turns 54… Political technology entrepreneur and campaign finance attorney, Jonathan Eric Zuckerturns 49… Israeli investor, Dan Gertler turns 47… Beverly Hills-based attorney and real estate agent, Pooya Dayanim turns 47… Israeli-Spanish singer-songwriter of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) music, Yasmin Levy turns 45… Former special assistant on the Domestic Policy Council in the Trump White House, Zina Linda Gelman Bash turns 39… VP of strategy and mergers at the Heritage Group, Adam Milakofsky turns 39… Israeli singer and songwriter, Dudu Aharonturns 36… Executive director of the Alexander Hamilton Society, Dr. Gabriel Scheinmann turns 35… Senior marketing manager at Rokt, Lauren Kahn turns 32… Israeli fashion model, Shlomit Malka turns 27… Account executive at Edelman, India Goodman… Founder and CEO of GovPredict, Emil Pitkin… Tom Epstein…