Good Wednesday morning!
President Donald Trump is slated to host two Hanukkah receptions at the White House today — although they are not currently listed on his public schedule.
The Trump administrationproposed creating a $150 million fund for the families of Americans killed in the 1998 embassy bombings, to resolve a dispute in Congress over a recent deal with Sudan that included normalization with Israel.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)said yesterday that he expects efforts to block the U.S. sale of F-35 jets to the UAE to be “significant” but ultimately fail in the Senate.
New satellite images published by The New York Timesshow Iran moving a key nuclear facility underground at its Natanz site.
President-elect Joe Bidendefended his nomination of retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his defense secretary in an op-ed for The Atlantic, amid backlash over the appointment of a recently retired general. “He is the person we need in this moment,” Biden asserted.
Yesterday, a judge ruled in favor of Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY), ordering the review of disputed ballots and the counting of unregistered ballots, which could flip former Rep. Claudia Tenney’s (R-NY) 12-vote lead in New York’s 22nd district.
A Knesset committeeapproved March 16 as the tentative next election date in Israel, sending the measure back to the full Knesset for a vote next week.
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The scientist moms shaking up Israel’s startup scene
Dr. Avital Beck understands what it’s like to cry over spoiled milk. The scientist and mother of six has had plenty of firsthand experience worrying about the freshness and viability of pre-pumped breast milk. And that experience was part of what led her and Dr. Hadas Shatz-Azoulay — a mother of five — to co-found the startup MilkStrip, the first ever diagnostic home-testing kit for breast milk. Beck spoke to Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro about their new product and the hurdles she faced.
Stay fresh:“I think every mother goes through this,” Beck, 38, told JI in a recent interview. MilkStrip, which officially rolled out to consumers last month, currently offers two at-home testing options for breastfeeding mothers: one that tests for vitamin C levels, and the other that checks if breast milk has expired. “The expiration is also very important because mothers who pump milk — especially the ones who go back to work… I had a really hard time throwing away this ‘liquid gold,’” Beck explained. “I never had a way to know if it’s OK or not. And sniffing is not scientific — especially if you’re at work, especially in Israel where it’s really hot — you go back, and you put it in the fridge, or you forgot it in the car. And then you’re not sure, and you really worked hard for it,” she said. “So you do cry over spilled milk, and this gives an answer — don’t throw it away, just check it.”
Growing business: Beck received a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Bar-Ilan University, and a Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics and two post-doctorates at the Weizmann Institute of Science. A few years ago, she was searching for a new project when she teamed up with Shatz-Azoulay, who also studied at Weizmann. Today the Israel-based company has seven full-time employees, and has quickly adapted to the Zoom business world. While Beck recognizes the upsides of virtual networking — “you don’t waste time on driving or flying” — she is still longing for a return to the pre-pandemic business model. “I think the human interactions — sitting one next to the other, and really seeing the person in front of you and talking — are much more effective and valuable than Zooming.”
Looking ahead:With the official product rollout last month, “we’re working now on brand awareness,” and reaching customers, said Beck. But the company is also planning to release additional diagnostic kits in 2021, including one that will check for nutrients that affect babies with colic, enabling mothers “to improve the nutritional profile of your breast milk.” MilkStrip was recently announced as one of nine startups joining the Google for Startups Accelerator program for Europe and Israel — the only Israeli company selected in this round. “We’re sitting — Zooming actually — with the best mentoring in the world,” Beck said. “It gives us a lot of credentials because they really believe in us and the product and our technology.”
Role models:Beck and Shatz-Azoulay are not the norm in the Israeli hi-tech world, where studies have shown that only 8% of startups are led by women. And with 11 children between them, the two entrepreneurs and scientists are even more of a rarity. “It is pretty rough — the role models that I see, they usually have a career or a family,” said Beck. “And this gives you the impression that it’s impossible to do both… and I think that it’s very important that there are role models for that. If there aren’t any role models — then I’ll try to be it.” And as a religious woman, Beck is a minority within a minority on the Israeli startup scene. “I get comments all the time,” she said. “I have my answers already, but it’s very weird [to be a religious woman] in the Israeli hi-tech ecosystem. I almost don’t see it at all.”
Warnock seeks to clarify 2018 sermon blasting Israel over Gaza
Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Georgia’s January 5 runoff, sought to publicly clarify his past comments on Israel in a Zoom call hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America yesterday. “I am a staunch ally and supporter of Israel, and I echo without reservation Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s perspective that Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable,” Warnock told the moderator, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. “And so that will be reflected in my work in the Senate.”
Background: Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) ran attack ads against Warnock last month after a video of a 2018 sermon — in which the pastor accused Israel of shooting down “unarmed Palestinian sisters and brothers like birds of prey” — began to circulate online. In 2019, Warnock signed his name to a statement likening Israeli control of the West Bank to “previous oppressive regimes” and calling the “heavy militarization of the West Bank, reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa.” Loeffler repeated the attacks during a televised debate earlier this week. “He’s called Israel an apartheid state and said that we should end military assistance. He’s compared Israelis defending themselves against Palestinians, he’s compared them to birds of prey… That’s divisive,” the Republican senator said.
What I meant to say: During the JDCA call, Warnock tried to explain his 2018 remarks. “As you might imagine, I’m a pastor. I preach every Sunday — I preach a lot of sermons. And I think that — as I recall that sermon — I was speaking to the issue of activists and human rights and the ability of people to be heard,” he stressed. “At the same time, I have an increasing recognition of Hamas and the danger that they pose to the Israeli people. And so it’s a complicated situation. It’s one that I will always engage as a principled and honest broker, who both affirms humanity, human rights, and at the same time trying to get us to a place where Israel can exist alongside its neighbors in peace.”
Broker: The other Democratic Georgia Senate candidate Jon Ossoff told participants he is looking forward to, “as a Jewish leader” in the Senate, promoting “strong American diplomacy to bring about a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
In call with Jewish leaders, Pence reflects on the Trump administration’s record
Vice President Mike Pence reflected on the Trump administration’s accomplishments and record on Israel during a pre-Hanukkah conference call with approximately 100 Jewish leaders and supporters yesterday, Jewish Insider‘s Jacob Kornbluh reports.
Reflecting on the past: “It’s been such an extraordinary honor for me to serve as your vice president, alongside the greatest friend and strongest defender of the State of Israel and the Jewish people ever to sit in the Oval Office — President Donald Trump,” Pence said in the 10-minute call. “When you think of the accomplishments over the last four years, I know for many it seems almost surreal.” Pence cited a number of the administration’s policy changes, including the relocation of the U.S. Embassy, the administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. “I want to thank all of you for the role that you’ve all played in this time,” he told participants. “It is in such a time as this, you were there — standing beside this president, standing beside our administration as we made such gains.”
Vague about the future: Pence didn’t directly address the presidential election results or discuss the possibility of a second Trump term. “While we have much yet to do, I wanted to take this opportunity just to extend our very best wishes to all the great leaders and friends on this call,” he said. “All of you across the country have supported us in every way that you can, but most especially your prayers.”
What Tony Blinken wrote about Israel at The Harvard Crimson
Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state, is a longtime diplomat, occasional soccer player and sometime guitarist. And for several years while an undergraduate at Harvard University in the early 1980s, Blinken was also a newspaper columnist, opining in The Harvard Crimson on a wide range of foreign policy issues from the Philippines to Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Soviet Union — and Israel.
Maintaining democracy:In a column published close to four decades ago titled “Israel’s Saving Grace,” Blinken wrote about the challenges facing Israel after the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Writing in September 1982, just a week after the event, Blinken proclaimed that “Israel is not, has never been, nor will ever be the irreproachable, perfectly moral state some of its supporters would like to see. Israelis are, after all, only human. Still, one pedestal the Jewish state can stand on — and stand on alone in the Middle East — is that of a democracy.” Several months later, in a column titled “The Danger Within,” Blinken wrote again about the fallout of Sabra and Shatila. For years, he wrote, “Israelis were steadfast in their conviction that their country was on the proper course and had only done what was necessary to insure survival. Now, no one is really sure.”
Media bias: Months earlier, during the initial outbreak of the First Lebanon War, Blinken wrote a column titled “Lebanon and the Facts,” in which he criticized some U.S. media for times when “anti-Israeli rhetoric becomes venomous, hateful.” He excoriated The Village Voice for comparing Israel’s invasion of Lebanon to the Nazis: “Such analogies are dead wrong and repugnant. The terrible waste of life and destruction notwithstanding, justification for the fight undertaken by Israel can be easily found.”
Roasting Reagan: In a column published in December 1982, called “Where It Hurts,” Blinken argued against attempts by the Reagan administration to prevent Congress from increasing aid to Israel in the aftermath of the First Lebanon War. “It is pathetic that the Administration would gladly pressure Israel by withholding aid, but backs off implementing a similar policy in so many other countries,” Blinken wrote. “Maybe the so-called ‘Jewish Lobby’ on Capitol Hill isn’t as powerful as some would have us believe,” he added. “Next time, though, Reagan and Co. might use what intelligence they have to pick on some bad guys instead.”
⚔️ New Era:Roger Boyes, the diplomatic editor for The Times, posits that “the era of AI assassinations has arrived” in the wake of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. “The surveillance and killing robots being designed to get close to an enemy, is speeding up conflict and relieving battlefield commanders… of troublesome moral judgments.” [TheTimes]
📖 Empty Apology: In The Washington Post, book critic Ron Charles reflects on the “hollow contrition” recently expressed by heirs of the virulently antisemitic Roald Dahl. The “contrite but largely irrelevant statement would have been much more meaningful had it been tied to the announcement of some dramatic new commitment to organizations fighting anti-Semitism and racism around the world.” [WashPost]
🕯️ Worthy Watch: The BBC aired a conversation with U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who discussed their shared experience over the grief of losing a child. “No two bereavements are the same,” said Mirvis. [BBC]
🕎 Sufganiyot and Sun:In Tablet magazine, Nomi Kaltmann spotlights celebrations of Hanukkah in the Southern Hemisphere, where warm temperatures and long days lead to unique traditions. “While I am in my tropical paradise lighting candles, someone across the world is lighting candles in the frost and cold.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
🇷🇺 Pointing Fingers:In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov blamed Israel — not Iran — for being the source of unrest in the Middle East.
👨💼 Buzz on Balfour: Gideon Sa’ar, who challenged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for leadership of the Likud last year, announced he is forming a new political party — joined by two former Blue and White MKs.
💉 Gearing Up: The first planeload of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines landed in Israel this morning, and distribution is slated to begin Dec. 20.
😷 Mixed Messages:Israel walked back plans to institute a nightly curfew over Hanukkah to curb the spread of COVID-19, and instead reopened all malls in the country.
⚽ Open Door: Beitar Jerusalem, the Israeli soccer team known for its racist fan base, is open to adding Arab players, said the Emirati businessman who just bought a 50% stake in the team.
🏘️ Movin’ Out: Jared Kushner’s family real estate company slimmed down its holdings in Manhattan over the past four years, refocusing on apartment complexes in New Jersey and Florida.
🤨 Double Down: Rep.-elect Stephanie Bice (R-OK) downplayed the role of QAnon and other conspiracy theories in Republican politics, and declined to say if she accepted Biden’s victory.
🤝 Building Bridges: The bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus sees the current moment, and the Democrats’ shrunken majority, as an opportunity to gain influence.
🧑⚖️ Not Yet:Grafton Thomas, the man who attacked a Hanukkah gathering in Monsey, NY, last year, is still not fit to stand trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed yesterday.
🕍 Lip Service: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened yesterday to close down the Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg that has been the site of repeated social distancing violations.
🌉 Talk of the Town: A new pedestrian and bike bridge that cuts through a heavily Jewish neighborhood in Chicago was built with a special eruv accommodation.
💰 Payouts: A compensation fund for victims of sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein has already paid out more than $30 million to accusers, with additional settlements expected soon.
🎙️ Mic Check: Talk radio personality Howard Stern extended his exclusive contract with Sirius XM for an additional five years.
⛓️ Justice Served: A man involved with a plot by the violent white supremacist group The Base to open fire at a Virginia gun rights rally was sentenced to five years in prison.
⚖️ Facing Trial: France is pursuing long jail sentences for the 14 people on trial in absentia for their roles in the 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher supermarket attacks.
⛪ Deal Made:Local authorities and the Jewish community have come to an understanding to leave antisemitic scupltures on ancient churches in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria.
🥪 L’dor Va’dor: Jake Dell, the owner of New York’s Katz’s Deli, said he has survived the pandemic by leaning on classic culinary traditions as well as savvy real estate deals.
Song of the Day
Jewish rapper Nissim Black released his latest single today, titled “The Hava Song,” a hip-hop version of the Jewish classic Hava Nagila.
Actor, comedian and musician, best known for his role as Howard Wolowitz in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019), Simon Helberg turns 40…
Israel’s ambassador to the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia, Zvi Heifetz turns 64… Founder of CaregiversDirect and Beverly Hills Egg Donation, and a past president of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Lisa Greer turns 62… Former senior White House aide and Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Clinton and Obama administrations, now CEO of the Brunswick Group, Neal S. Wolin turns 59… Senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Labor, he was previously a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives (2006-2011), Dan Greenberg turns 55… Member of the Knesset for Likud, Gideon Sa’ar turns 54… U.S. Senator from New York since 2009, Kirsten Gillibrand turns 54…
Singer/songwriter, music producer and founder of StaeFit workout apparel, Stacey Liane Levy Jackson turns 52… Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, she was previously the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs (2009-2012), Tamara Cofman Wittes turns 51… Singer, songwriter and son of Bob Dylan, he rose to fame as the lead singer for the rock band the Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan turns 51… Senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg turns 46… Staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights practice, Daniella Rohr Adelsberg turns 33… Senior manager of digital media and policy fellow for the R Street Institute, Shoshana Weissmann turns 28… Israeli fashion model, Dorit Revelis turns 19…