Good Tuesday morning!
Israel is reportedly lobbying Congressto advance legislation restoring Sudan’s immunities from future claims against the country — in order to save the struggling normalization deal between the two countries.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said in a joint appearance with UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” yesterday that Israel is “very comfortable” with the Trump administration’s F-35 sale to the UAE, amid congressional resistance.
According to a report in Business Insider, U.S. allies are preparing for a possible attack on Jewish sites around the world in retaliation for the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will meet virtually later today with Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights leaders to discuss racial equity and diversity in the Cabinet.
Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, the former CENTCOM commander under President Barack Obama, was reportedly tapped as Biden’s secretary of defense, and would make history as the first African American to head the Pentagon if confirmed.
In 2015 testimony to Congress, Austin said he had “a great relationship” with current Israeli Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
National Security Advisor-designate Jake Sullivansaid yesterday that Biden’s goal is to get Iran “to come back into compliance” with the 2015 nuclear deal before negotiating on other issues.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs is holding its first-ever virtual event tonight honoring outgoing Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), with speakers including Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.
Spread the word! Invite your friends to sign up and earn JI swag through our Ambassador program
Second time’s the charm for South Florida’s Maria Elvira Salazar
Of the 12 Republicans who flipped congressional seats this cycle, Maria Elvira Salazar may have pulled off the most surprising upset. Her victory over Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) sent an unsettling message to Democratic Party leaders who believed Shalala’s seat was secure in a South Florida district where voters have recently supported Democratic presidential candidates. Instead, Latino voters in Miami-Dade County helped buoy the GOP in an outcome credited in part to a Republican effort to cast Democrats as socialists. “I know my people,” Salazar, a 59-year-old former TV journalist, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “When you say the word socialism in my district, people run the other way.”
‘Freedom Force’: Now that she is poised to enter Congress, Salazar is ready to continue the fight against Democrats. She takes aim in particular at progressive “Squad” members who, Salazar believes, have sent a message that the United States is somehow in need of a dramatic makeover — anathema to her conservative values. “We need to explain to the American public and to our children and to media and academia that bashing on the system, it’s wrong,” Salazar told JI. With that idea in mind, Salazar co-founded the “Freedom Force,” a loose coalition of newly elected Republicans including Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), Michelle Steel (R-CA) and Victoria Spartz (R-IN), whose purpose is to counteract what they regard as a growing socialist bent among progressive Democrats. “We believe that the American agenda still works, that American exceptionality is still alive, and we need to send that message for the benefit of our children and future generations,” Salazar explained.
Jewish bloc: Several rabbis in the district said that the representative-elect has gone out of her way to forge a connection with Jewish voters, particularly those of Cuban descent. “What I would say is that she takes the Jewish community very seriously,” said Rabbi Daniel Hadar of Temple Moses, a congregation that includes Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews from Cuba. “She cares deeply about antisemitism and also how socialist policies have also been problematic for Jewish communities in other countries, and because of that I believe the Jewish community was ready to support her.”
Looking abroad: Salazar, who was raised Catholic and became a born-again Christian at 18, has never been to Israel but plans to visit when she is in Congress. She has long wanted to go, but said she held off because she hoped to take her two daughters, who are in their early 20s, when they were old enough to appreciate the trip. “I really wanted them to see Israel and to see the promised land and to see this miracle in the middle of the Middle East,” she said. In the House, Salazar hopes to sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and believes that her decades-long experience covering world events as a broadcast journalist for Spanish-language networks will serve her well. “My line of work was always in Spanish America,” she said. “I know the continent and the Western Hemisphere very well. I think that that’s my forte.”
Ros-Lehtinen redux? In conversation with JI, Salazar intimated that she would not walk entirely in lockstep with her own party, describing her tentative plan to push the GOP in a more forgiving direction on immigration. “We have to come up with a solution for those people who are here in the country and don’t have any type of status,” Salazar said. Her approach suggests that she will in many ways be carrying on the legacy of former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who served the district for three decades before being succeeded by Shalala. The Republican congresswoman held hardline views on Cuba and often went against her party, according to Steven Tauber, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida, who hints that Salazar is well positioned to keep the seat in Republican hands. “There is no question,” he told JI, “that Salazar is a great fit for the district.”
Supreme Court hears two Holocaust-era restitution cases
The Supreme Court heard virtual oral arguments yesterday in two cases related to Holocaust-era property restitution claims against the governments of Germany and Hungary. Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod spoke to several attorneys involved in the case and other outside observers about the hearings.
Background:In the first case, Germany v. Philipp, the German government is seeking to dismiss a case filed against it by the descendants of a group of Jewish art dealers who sold a collection of art — part of the Guelph Treasure — to Nazi officials in 1935. In the second, Hungary v. Simon, the court is considering whether to dismiss a case filed by a group of 14 Holocaust survivors against the government of Hungary and the country’s state-owned railway company, seeking restitution for property the government confiscated during World War II. Both cases center on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which limits the circumstances under which foreign governments can be sued in U.S. courts but contains an exception for “property taken in violation of international law.”
Hearing: Nicholas O’Donnell, a lawyer representing the heirs in Germany v. Philipp, argued that the FSIA exemption applies in this case and faced questions from the justices about the limits of his interpretation of the exception. “The justices were deeply engaged in the text of the law and its implications, which is what you would expect,” O’Donnell told JI. “There wasn’t a lot of focus on our case because I imagine they’re trying to fashion a ruling that will guide other cases.” O’Donnell described the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to side with the German government as “a shocking abdication of the U.S. government’s responsibility that will take a long time to repair.”
Gone virtual:“I felt like it was a really good discussion, I felt good that the justices were very engaged with the issues and they asked good questions,” said Sarah Harrington, an attorney representing the Holocaust victims in the Hungarian case. But she noted that it is traditionally difficult to determine how justices will ultimately rule in any case, and the court’s current remote setup — all oral arguments take place by telephone and each justice takes turns asking questions for a pre-set amount of time — makes matters more difficult. “You don’t get any visual cues. And you can’t see whether your arguments are landing or not… You don’t get any cues about who’s really interested and who has a lot of questions and who has very few questions,” Harrington explained.
Split decision:Mark Feldman, a former State Department lawyer who was involved in drafting the statutes in question in these cases and filed an amicus brief in favor of the Holocaust survivors in Hungary v. Simon, speculated to JI that the justices may end up ruling in opposite ways on the two cases — allowing Hungary v. Simon to proceed but dismissing Germany v. Philipp, given the justices’ frustration with the government in Hungary v. Simon. But, he noted, the justices also seemed to raise the possibility of remanding Germany v. Philipp to a lower court to determine if the plaintiffs had German nationality at the time of the sale.
Newcomer:Richard Weisberg, a visiting law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a constitutional law professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, is arguing a parallel case in the Seventh Circuit Court, and filed an amicus brief siding with the Holocaust victims in the Hungary case. Weisberg said that Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s questions in both cases surprised him because he felt they were not necessarily consistent with her originalist philosophy. “Her questions did not really have very much to do with the plain meaning of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act,” Weisberg told JI. “Given her record on the D.C. circuit and her stated views about originalism, I didn’t see very much originalism in her questions.”
House Republicans seek to block moving U.S. embassy out of Jerusalem
A group of more than 30 House Republicans are requesting that the bill funding the State Department and other foreign affairs activities for 2021 expressly prohibit the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel out of Jerusalem, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. There is not currently a significant push in Congress to relocate the embassy back to Tel Aviv, and President-elect Joe Biden has pledged not to do so.
Yours truly: “We respectfully request that language be included that prohibits any [Fiscal Year 2021] funding… being used to move the United States’ embassy out of Jerusalem,” the legislators, led by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), wrote in a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). “In a time when we are seeing the increasing normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors, we must ensure that the United States does not take a step backward by moving the U.S. embassy out of Jerusalem,” the letter continues.
Taking a stand: “Congress must ensure that America’s embassy to Israel remains in Jerusalem — the rightful capital of Israel,” Barr told JI. “This was a diplomatic victory two decades in the making when it was finally achieved in 2018. America must stand behind its most sacred ally in the region against radical assertions that Israel’s capital city is in dispute.” Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), who also signed the letter, was more explicit about his concerns. “Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem was one of this administrations’ many important foreign policy victories in the Middle East,” Banks said in a statement to JI. “Unfortunately, it’s one of many I’m worried Joe Biden will undo by returning to Obama-era policies of appeasement.”
Heard last night
Former Sen. Bob Corker: Arab normalization with Israel is ‘the greatest opportunity’
Former Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) cautioned the incoming Biden administration yesterday against rushing to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, in the wake of recent peace accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
New Middle East: “The normalizing of relations between the Arab countries and Israel is a phenomenal thing that is taking place,” Corker said during a panel discussion with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, at the Milken Institute’s 2020 Asia Summit. “I know that President-elect [Joe] Biden is talking about renegotiating a deal with Iran. I would just urge them to be very careful, to think about that, because right now we have something that is so powerful for that region — economically [and] politically.”
Heaping praise: Corker, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the current situation “the greatest opportunity that the Trump administration has created. It’s almost a gold rush taking place in the Middle East.” Corker also praised President Donald Trump and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner “for the way that they have handled this and the tremendous opportunities that the Biden administration, hopefully, will build upon.”
Path forward: Haass expressed reservations about returning to the 2015 deal with Tehran. “I don’t think going back to the old agreement is adequate. Important parts of it and the nuclear side begin to expire in five years,” he explained, describing the Iranian issue as “one of the bigger and tougher challenges facing the new administration.” Haass expressed hope that the Biden administration would advance the normalization deals to create a path for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “If you want Israel to be a democratic Jewish state,” he said, “that future is more at risk today than it was before any of this.”
Bonus:The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board highlighted former Secretary of State John Kerry’s less-than-prescient words in 2016, proclaiming that “there will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world” without peace with the Palestinians. “The [Abraham Accords] show that hard power and shared interests matter more in world politics than center-left sentimentality,” the editorial board opined. “Let’s hope the Biden Administration doesn’t throw away this progress.”
🎶 International Groove:Variety’s Malina Saval explores the growing connections between Israeli and Latin pop, including a recent collaboration between Static and Ben-El and Pitbull. “Musically and rhythmically, the Middle Eastern groove is very similar to Reggaeton — it’s almost the same music,” said Static. “Music is international in every way.” [Variety]
🎸 Dad Rocker:The New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten takes a closer look at Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken’s musical predilections, including his album reviews in The Harvard Crimson and his sparse Spotify artist page. [NewYorker]
📺 Deck the Halls: In Morning Brew, Phoebe Bain posits that marketers are missing out on an opportunity to create a Hanukkah-themed ad campaign, citing a study showing that “61% of Americans find diversity in advertising important.” [MorningBrew]
Around the Web
👽 Outer Reality: Haim Eshed, former head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Space Division, claimed that President Donald Trump was “on the verge” of disclosing the existence of aliens.
✈️ Biblical Trip: Pope Francis is planning a pilgrimage visit to the area of Abraham’s birthplace in Erbil, Iraq, in March.
⚽ Net Sharing: A member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family bought a 50% stake in Israel’s Premier League soccer club Beitar Jerusalem.
🌟 Golden Opportunity:A “royal-style” mansion with gold fittings and marble columns in the Israeli coastal town of Caesarea, owned by Valery Kogan, is on the market for $250 million.
🕎 Lone Lighting: Israel will institute a nightly curfew over Hanukkah in order to curb the growing rate of new coronavirus cases.
💱 Making Connections: The chairman of Dubai’s DP World said he believes initial Israel-UAE trade could be worth $5 billion.
⛓️ Behind Bars: An Iowa man faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to threatening to assassinate Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) last year.
🕍 A Time to Grieve: The Satmar congregation in Williamsburg, N.Y., which had a large wedding foiled by the state in October, held a 5,000-person funeral yesterday for 94-year-old Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Menashe Friedman.
🗳️ NYC 2021 Watch: New York Assemblyman David Weprin formally announced his candidacy for New York City Comptroller yesterday. Weprin, the son of former State Assembly Speaker Saul Weprin, finished last in the 2009 race for comptroller.
🎓 Campus Beat: A group of professors at CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College allegedly tried to exclude a Jewish colleague by scheduling a meeting for Friday night.
🏖️ Down South: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have purchased a lot on Miami’s private Indian Creek Island for $30 million.
👩💼New Title: Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, has been promoted to CEO “in recognition of the growth of the organization” in the past two years.
🤴 Paying Tribute: Prince Charles described the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks as “a trusted guide, an inspired teacher and a true and steadfast friend” during a memorial on Sunday.
Song of the Day
Israeli singer Yuval Dayan released yesterday a new single, titled “Your High Power,” composed by the late Ahuva Ozeri.
Israeli folk singer, lyricist, composer and musical arranger, winner of the Kinor David Prize, Chava Alberstein turns 73…
Founder and CEO of Las Vegas boxing promotion company Top Rank, Bob Arum turns 89… Film, stage and television actor, music composer and son of concert pianist Arthur Rubinstein, John Rubinstein turns 74… Astrophysicist and senior scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Margaret Geller turns 73… Film director, producer and screenwriter, Nancy Meyers turns 71… Professor of human development at Cornell University, Robert J. Sternberg turns 71… Founder of the Honey Sharp Gallery and Ganesh Café in the Berkshires, Honey Sharp turns 70… Doug Bohannon turns 69… Senior executive producer of special events at ABC News, Marc Burstein turns 67…
Chairman of a nationwide insurance brokerage, Bruce P. Gendelman turns 66… Author of Toward a Meaningful Life and the chairman of The Algemeiner Journal, Rabbi Simon Jacobson turns 64… Rabbi, speaker and musician known as Rav Shmuel, Shmuel Skaist turns 56… Co-founder of Office Tiger in 1999, CloudBlue in 2001, and Xometry in 2013, he ran for Congress from NY-1 in 2010 and 2012, Randy Altschuler turns 50… Co-founder of Change The Ratio, Rachel Sklar turns 48… Chief product officer at Politico, Aaron Kissel turns 46… Founder of the newsletter “Popular Information” started in 2018, Judd Legum turns 42… Venture capitalist in Israel, Alex Oppenheimer turns 32… Senior associate at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, Ali Krimmer turns 29…