Good Thursday morning! Hanukkah begins this evening.
The National Menorah Lighting on the National Mall in D.C. will be held this evening at 4 p.m., with Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt in attendance.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly begun personally campaigning against the Biden administration’s stated intent to return to the Iran deal.
But Israeli Defense Ministry officials have indicated that they expect President-elect Joe Biden to retain all of the Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran.
Democratic Majority for Israelendorsed Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock yesterday.
In a resurfaced video of a 2016 sermon, Warnock compared Netanyahu to segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, claiming the Israeli leader was opposed to a two-state solution because he wants to continue the occupation.
The Embassy of Israel will be hosting “A Very Virtual Hanukkah,” a multi-night virtual Hanukkah celebration featuring diplomats, executives, athletes and politicians. Tonight, basketball player Deni Avdija will light the menorah at 6:30 p.m. ET.
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View from the top
Hakeem Jeffries’s post-election message
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is ready to move past the bickering after weeks of squabbling by House Democrats over messaging tactics following their poor showing in November. In a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel, Jeffries sought to accentuate the positive, even if he is reported to have privately vented about his dissatisfaction with far-left rhetoric. “Donald Trump is on his way out. Joe Biden is on his way in. Our long national nightmare is about to come to a close,” Jeffries told JI. “And we’re excited about a new chapter opening up in the United States.”
To-do list: Jeffries, a gifted orator who is known to deliver extemporaneous speeches, seemed cautious in the interview, often sounding as if he were sticking to a script — an indication, perhaps, that he is wary of igniting any new controversies. The powerful House Democratic Caucus chair — who is viewed as a likely successor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — put forth a succinct list of directives when asked how Democrats could work together to support a common vision. Emphasizing that the “first order of business” was “crushing the coronavirus,” Jeffries added that the party was focused on “providing direct relief to everyday Americans, strengthening the economy and rebuilding our relationships throughout the world.”
Staying the course: It remains to be seen if Jeffries will be capable of doing his part to repair the deepening schism between centrist Democrats and progressives. Jeffries made clear that he was intent on staying the course. “Moving forward, there’ll be a time to work through the upcoming election cycle,” he said. “But now is a moment to focus on getting things done on behalf of everyday Americans.” Still, the 50-year-old Brooklynite has found himself at odds with the party’s progressive members in recent years, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who in 2018 was rumored to be recruiting possible primary challengers to unseat him — something her office denied at the time.
Communal bond: Jeffries, a member of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, has always felt an affinity for his Jewish constituents. “The relationship between the Black and Jewish community over the decades has been a long and important one,” he told JI. “We’ve stood with each other in times of peril, and I look forward to building upon that foundation to strengthen our relationship even more into the future.” The congressman, who has visited Israel four times during his tenure as an elected official, quipped: “At home in New York City, we tend to view Jerusalem as the sixth borough.” Jeffries — who called for unconditional U.S. aid to Israel from the main stage of AIPAC’s 2020 conference — maintained that he sees strong support for the Jewish state among his colleagues in Congress in spite of other differences.
Praise from colleagues: Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015, said he was “immediately impressed” with Jeffries’s “depth of knowledge on the relationship between the United States and Israel” in a phone conversation when Jeffries was mulling a run for the House. “Since then, I’ve seen him as a bridge-builder for Israel across the entirety of the caucus.” Ritchie Torres, the newly elected Bronx congressman, echoed that view. “I have the deepest respect for Hakeem Jeffries, who manages to be progressive and effective without being divisive,” Torres told JI. “As a bridge between progressives and moderates, he has emerged as a unifying leader in a time of division. I hope to one day call him Speaker Jeffries.”
Trump a no-show at afternoon White House Hanukkah party
Despite an invitation bearing his name, President Donald Trump was absent from one of the annual White House Hanukkah parties on Wednesday afternoon, and skipped the tradition of lighting the menorah during a brief appearance at the second party in the evening, Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh reports.
Details: The invitation sent out last month read, “The President and Mrs. Trump request the pleasure of your company at a Hanukkah reception to be held at The White House.” The events are traditionally well-attended and aired live on CSPAN, but they were not listed on Trump’s daily schedule. Several attendees told JI the crowd was surprised to learn while waiting for the official start of the event that the president did not plan to participate. The White House declined to comment. An administration official did not offer an explanation to JI for the president’s decision not to make an appearance.
Spotted: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stopped by for a few minutes during the first event, as did Mideast peace envoy Avi Berkowitz, sources told JI. The only elected officials said to be in attendance at the afternoon event were New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn) and New York State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D-Brooklyn). Sidney Powell, who was initially part of the president’s legal team contesting the election results, was also in attendance and “was treated like the guest of honor,” one participant told JI.
Kiddush spread: Guests found their comfort at tables inside the East Room, where a variety of glatt kosher dishes — prepared under the supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) — were served behind glass partitions. Menu items included rack of lamb with dijon and herbs, sauteed cremini mushrooms, freshly baked focaccia, latkes (potato, sweet potato and zucchini), smoked trout with pickled green beans, kani salad with imitation crab, maki, nigiri and sashimi, as well as miniature desserts.
Airing grievances: Trump — wearing a long winter coat — made a brief appearance at the evening party, and addressed attendees with comments largely focused on the November 3 election results and the subsequent lawsuits. With the help of “certain very important people, if they have wisdom and if they have courage, we are going to win this election,” the president said in his six-minute speech. His remarks were followed by chants of “four more years” from the gathered crowd.
Bonus: In an interview with Slate, Ilana Kattan, a Washington-based antitrust lawyer in Washington, recalled attending former President Bill Clinton’s White House Hanukkah Party in 1993 as a 6-year-old, when her hair caught fire from the menorah. The president, she said, “jumped in” and put out the fire “with his hands.”
Senate effort to block F-35, drone sales to UAE fails
The Senate rejected a push on Wednesday to block the Trump administration’s plan to sell $23 billion in advanced military technology to the United Arab Emirates, clearing the way for the sale to proceed, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Breakdown: Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) led the push to halt the sales with a series of resolutions aimed at stopping various elements of the transaction. The resolution to stop the F-35 sales failed by a vote of 49 to 47 and the resolution to halt the UAV sales failed by a vote of 50 to 46 late Wednesday afternoon. Paul was the only Republican to vote in favor of either resolution. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ) joined the bulk of Senate Republicans in voting against the resolution to block the UAV sales, but Kelly voted for the resolution blocking the F-35 sales.
Arguments: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who voted against the resolutions, emphasized on the Senate floor Wednesday, “this sale continues to allow even more interoperability between the United States, the UAE and Israel,” and would be a boon for American companies and workers as well. Also speaking on the Senate floor, Paul criticized the U.S. for moving at “warp speed” to complete the deal, and for not considering a range of unaddressed concerns, including the UAE’s defense relationships with Russia and China and the Emirates’ human rights record.
Rush job: Menendez, Murphy and Paul criticized the administration for bypassing the longstanding informal precedent of allowing Congress 40 days to review arms sales before providing a formal notification, including briefings for members of Congress and their staffers. “The administration was so desperate to rush through the sale before the end of their administration that they blew through the consultation process. It just didn’t happen,” Murphy said. “This would be yet another chip away at Congress’s participation in the setting of U.S. national security policy. I’m not sure we’ll get it back.”
Heard last night: On his NBC Peacock show, Mehdi Hasan asked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) whether he is ‘PEP’ — Progressive Except Palestine. Murphy replied, “Well I hope that’s not case and I hope that you and others would include me in the list of leaders on this.” Hasan pressed Murphy whether he’s in favor of conditioning aid to Israel. “Well the U.S.-Israeli partnership is special and it is different, there has to come a point at which the actions of your partner are so contrary to your own national security interests that you sort of change the foundation of the relationship.”
On the hill
Bipartisan group of senators pushes to quadruple nonprofit security funding
A bipartisan group of senators is pushing for a significant increase in funding for nonprofit security grants in response to recent federal law enforcement reports regarding threats to Jewish and other faith-based communities, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Details: Sens. Kirsten Gilibrand (D-NY), Rob Portman (R-OH), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK) sent a letter this week to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Homeland Security requesting up to $360 million in funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) for the 2021 fiscal year — which would constitute a fourfold increase over the funding for the program in 2020. The Senate has currently proposed $90 million in funding for the program — holding even with the 2020 funding level — while the House proposed an increase to $360 million.
Call to action: The letter calls on the Senate to “ensure that the NSGP is appropriately funded to meet the needs of at-risk populations” during the negotiating process with the House. “At a time of heightened threat to nonprofit faith- and community-based organizations, a bolstered NSGP will continue to provide our nonprofit partners with critical resources and tools they need to protect lives and property,” the letter continues.
Community reaction: Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America — who recently told Jewish Insider that securing increased funding for nonprofit security was a top priority for his organization — praised the letter. “We know that eradicating antisemitism means addressing violent hate and extremism wherever it exists in partnership with our elected officials and law enforcement,” Fingerhut said in the Senate press release. “For these reasons we thank Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, along with Senators Rob Portman, Gary Peters, James Lankford and Jacky Rosen, for their leadership on urging increased funding this year to meet the growing security needs of nonprofit faith- and community-based organizations.”
🕵🏿 Top Spy: President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly considering appointing Darrell Blocker to become the first Black individual to lead the CIA. Blocker, who converted to Judaism in 2017, told JTA’s Ron Kampeas that “the beauty of Judaism is, you can study a single sentence for like a week… you never get tired of it.” [JTA]
🎭 Binge Watch: Israeli TV producer Alon Aranya spoke to The Wall Street Journal’s Tobias Grey about why Israeli dramas transfer well to U.S. television, including “Tehran” and “Your Honor,” which hit Showtime this week. “The budgets are so small that the focus is on character and not on big worlds but exploring situations.” [WSJ]
🕎 Worthy Watch: “Eight Nights,” a short documentary film produced for The New Yorker, spotlights filmmaker and actor Daniel Gamburg’s experience with antisemitism in Russia — and his conflicted feelings over his role in the “human centipede menorah” on Conan O’Brien’s show. [NewYorker]
Around the Web
👴 Cabinet Conundrum: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) expressed disappointment with Joe Biden’s cabinet selections, claiming Biden wouldn’t have won without progressive support.
👨💼 On the Hill: Democratic members of Congress are investigating White House senior advisor Jared Kushner’s dealings with Brookfield Asset Management and its links to Qatar.
👵🏻 Time to Go?Democratic aides are quietly raising concerns over the “painful age question” surrounding 87-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) ability to remain in office.
😷 Cash Pile: Fourteen white supremacist and hate groups received small business loans totaling $4.3 million from the COVID-related Paycheck Protection Program.
🍃 New Leaf?:An Arizona man was sentenced to 16 months in jail for threatening Black and Jewish reporters; his Jewish lawyer, Seth Apfel, said the man is leaving a life of hate behind.
🎰 Headin’ South: Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is gearing up to heavily lobby for legalizing gambling in Texas.
⛏️ Site Seeing:Israeli archeologists have unveiled previously off-limits portions of King Herod’s palace, which he buried underground before his death.
🧑⚕️ Seizing the Moment: Israeli health tech venture capital firm aMoon anticipates that several companies in its $1.1 billion portfolio will go public next year, following a pandemic-linked boost.
🦄 Moving Fast: Israeli entrepreneur Uri Levine, co-founder of navigation app Waze, predicted that the region’s next start-up unicorn will likely come out of the United Arab Emirates.
💳 Startup Nation: Wiz, an Israeli cybersecurity company started by a former Microsoft executive, raised $100 million in less than a year. The Israeli banking tech startup Unit raised $18.6 million in funding. Tel Aviv-based cloud security firm Orca Security announced a $55 million Series B funding round.
⚠️ On Notice:Amnesty International has criticized Airbnb for not disclosing its activities in Israeli settlements ahead of its IPO listing.
🤦 Headache: Sudanese officials are frustrated that the process of removing it from the list of U.S. state sponsors of terrorism — a key part of its normalization deal with Israel — is tied up in Congress.
🕊️Olive Branch: In an effort to reset relations with Israel, Turkey has appointed an ambassador to the country for the first time since 2018.
💼 Stepping Down: Veteran Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi announced she will quit her senior post in the Palestine Liberation Organization by the end of the year.
🚨 New Claim: An Iranian state-run news outlet reported yesterday that the regime has arrested some suspects in the killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
👩 New Role: Dr. Annie Polland, the executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, has been tapped as the next president of the Tenement Museum.
📺 On Screen: Teenage TikTok cooking star Eitan Bernath will become a recurring contributor on “The Drew Barrymore Show.”
😠 Hateful Act: The Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise, Idaho, was vandalized with swastika stickers.
👨💻 On File:A new project from the Claims Conference is working to digitize and share hundreds of thousands of books looted by the Nazis from 150 libraries across Belgium.
🎼 Song Sheet: Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and producer Greg Kurstin plan to release eight cover songs of eight Jewish artists for Hanukkah this year.
🕯️ Remembering:Guido Goldman, a Henry Kissinger protégé whose family fled Switzerland in 1940, died at age 83.
Pic of the Day
Outgoing Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) chaired his final Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday. “America is a haven for the oppressed. My grandparents fled the pogroms of Europe more than a century ago. The idea that only two generations later, their grandson would be a member of Congress, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, it would only have been a dream to them,” Engel said in his remarks.
Actress, born in Montreal to a Sephardic Jewish family, widely known for her roles in HBO’s “Entourage” and CBS’s “The Mentalist,” Emmanuelle Chriqui turns 43…
Dairy cattle dealer, Abraham Gutman turns 76… Founder of the Texas Jewish Historical Society and rabbi emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Galveston, Texas, James Lee Kessler turns 75… Advisory board member at Perella Weinberg Partners, formerly chairman and CEO of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg turns 74… Owner of Judaica House in Teaneck, New Jersey, Reuben Nayowitz turns 74… Progressive activist, she headed the AmeriCorps VISTA program during the Carter administration, Margery Tabankin turns 72… Founder and CEO at Seppy’s Kosher Baked Goods in Pueblo, Colorado, Elishevah Sepulveda turns 67… Palm Beach, Florida, real estate developer and politician, Jeff Greene turns 66… Leading New York real estate investor and developer, Joseph Chetrit turns 63… Deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism at the U.S. Department of State, Ellie Cohanim turns 48…Head of Bloomberg Beta, a venture fund backed by Bloomberg L.P., he relocated to Wisconsin to organize voter mobilization during the 2020 election cycle, Roy Bahat turns 44…
Managing director and business-unit partner for private-equity firm TPG, Marc Mezvinsky turns 43… General partner at Andreessen Horowitz, David A. Ulevitch turns 39… Screenwriter, best known for co-writing “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014), “Captain Marvel” (2019) and “Pokémon Detective Pikachu” (2019), Nicole Perlman turns 39… Managing editor for CNN Business, Alex Koppelman turns 38… Co-founder of single-origin spice company, Burlap & Barrel (a public benefit corporation), Ethan Frisch turns 34… Disability rights activist who co-founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, he is a Ph.D. candidate in health policy at Harvard, Ari Daniel Ne’eman turns 33… Senior manager of corporate communications and public relations at Capital One, Mitchell Rubenstein turns 32… Ukrainian-born R&B, jazz and soul singer and songwriter, she performs as “Mishéll,” Irina Rosenfeld turns 32… Assistant rabbi at The Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, Philip Kaplan turns 30… Co-founder at Dojo, helping companies design healthier workplaces, Daniel Goldstern turns 29… Actress, musician, fashion model and radio talk show host, Rachel Trachtenburg turns 27…