Good Wednesday morning!
President-elect Joe Biden spoke last night with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman about his policy priorities, vowing “to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program,” adding that: “the last goddamn thing we need in that part of the world is a buildup of nuclear capability.”
When Friedman raised his recent NYT column arguing that Biden should not simply give up leverage from the Trump-imposed oil sanctions to reenter the deal where it left off without first getting Iran to curb its missile exports, Biden replied, “Look, there’s a lot of talk about precision missiles and all range of other things that are destabilizing the region,” but the fact is, “the best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” is to deal “with the nuclear program.”
Sudanese officials are warning that the East African country will exit the normalization deal with Israel brokered by the Trump administration if Congress refuses to advance legislation that would restore its immunities from future claims against the country’s transitional government.
Former Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), who represents the families of the Americans killed in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, expressed concern in a recent JI interview that if the deal falls apart, the progress made on diplomatic relations between Israel and Sudan could be at risk.
Senator-elect Mark Kelly (D-AZ) will be sworn into office today after winning the special election to fill out the remainder of the late Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) term. Yesterday, Kelly and his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), visited McCain’s gravesite at the Naval Academy to pay their respects.
Democrat Kwanza Hallwon the special Georgia election yesterday to serve out the final month of the late Rep. John Lewis’s (D-GA) term in Congress, before being replaced by Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams in January.
The Israeli Knesset is expected to vote in favor of a no-confidence motion later today that will dissolve the parliament and trigger a new election, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced his support for the bill last night, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of breaking his promises to the Israeli people. But Gantz left open a window for avoiding elections if the parties can agree on a budget.
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Brendan Boyle’s Biden bet
In late 2018, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) reached out to Joe Biden and urged him to run for president. There was little doubt in Boyle’s mind that Biden would be the best man to take on Donald Trump, particularly in the swing state of Pennsylvania. “There were a lot of people in the media who were writing him off and thinking that the Democratic Party had changed,” Boyle, 43, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview. “It was my view that a lot of the analysis of that time about the Democratic Party was wrong and was really overrating this dialogue that you hear on Twitter and under-representing the more rank-and-file Democrats who aren’t on social media,” he added. “That was the analysis that I offered, and I think it’s proven correct.”
Next steps: Following Biden’s win, it would not be unreasonable to expect that Boyle be rewarded for his loyalty to the president-elect, who is in the process of picking staff members ahead of his January 20 inauguration. But while Boyle said he has been engaged in ongoing discussions with Biden’s transition team — the details of which he declined to disclose — the congressman claimed that he was in no way actively seeking a role in the next administration. “I happen to have a day job that I love and is a real honor to do,” Boyle told JI. Still, he didn’t rule out the possibility of working for the president-elect. “I strongly believe that this administration must be a success and want to help it in any way,” he said. “If there is at some point an opportunity that would be the right fit, then it’s something I would have to seriously consider.”
Future ambitions: Political strategists in Pennsylvania speculated to JI that Boyle could plausibly serve as ambassador to Ireland, given his strong connection to the country. The idea underscores what many observers in Philadelphia have known about Boyle for some time — that he is a singularly savvy pol with broad appeal whose ambitions are expected, sooner rather than later, to vault him beyond his seat in Congress. Barring a possible role in the Biden administration, some believe it is likely Boyle will make a bid for the Senate, though such a move could be politically risky as he would have to give up his seat in Congress to run. Neil Oxman, the co-founder of a Democratic political ad firm in Philadelphia, said he wouldn’t be surprised if Boyle ran for mayor of Philadelphia in 2023. “He doesn’t have to give up his House seat to run for mayor,” Oxman told JI.
Background: After six years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Boyle was elected to Congress in Pennsylvania’s 13th district in 2014, which was changed to the 2nd after a redistricting two years ago. Boyle’s district is home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, and in the nearly six years since he assumed office, Boyle has established himself as an amiable and dedicated representative whose door is always open, according to people who have lobbied him. Shira Goodman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Philadelphia, noted that Boyle played a pivotal role in helping to pass the Never Again Education Act, while Robin Schatz, director of government affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, told JI that Boyle is “always there when we need him. I don’t think he’s ever said no to me on anything.”
Israel views: Boyle believes it is in the best interest of the United States that support for Israel endures among both Democrats and Republicans — a mantra he takes seriously. “Ever since the moment President Truman first recognized the State of Israel,” Boyle told JI, “the U.S. has been Israel’s most important ally, and we will continue to be that.” Boyle, like many Democrats who are critical of the president, reserved praise for the Trump administration’s role in brokering normalization agreements between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan. “Anytime you see two countries moving closer toward having peaceful normalized relations, it’s a good thing,” he said, while adding the caveat that the agreements had been in the works for some time without Trump’s involvement.
on the hill
Gregory Meeks wins key nod for Foreign Affairs chairmanship
The House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee recommended Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) as its candidate to succeed outgoing Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) as chair of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee last night. Twenty-nine members of the steering committee voted for Meeks, who has the support of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-TX) garnered the support of 13 members, while Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) received only 10 votes.
Setback: Sherman, who is currently the second-ranked Democrat on the panel, had hoped his seniority and relationships on Capitol Hill would bolster his candidacy. “I think seniority is a very important factor, it’s always been very important to me in similar decisions,” Sherman told Jewish Insider in July after announcing his bid for the seat. Last night, following the panel’s vote, Sherman withdrew from the race, conceding that members favored Meeks’s “capacity, eloquence, and experience.” This is the second time Sherman fell short leading the Democrats in the committee; in 2012, Sherman withdrew from the contest ahead of the committee’s vote and backed Engel.
What’s next? The recommendation gives Meeks a boost as the favorite to win the gavel in a vote by the full caucus on Thursday.
Head to head: Meeks, who entered Congress in the late ‘90s, represents the House’s Democratic establishment and has touted his strong pro-Israel credentials throughout the campaign, while Castro, who has the support of the progressive wing of the party — and is backed by organizations like Justice Dems — is seeking to challenge the longstanding bipartisan approach to open the door for a wider array of voices on issues related to the Middle East, including on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Setting the agenda: “There is no question that the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has substantial influence on how the House acts on foreign policy-oriented legislation, and can do a lot to set the tone, can do a lot to further some legislation and hold back others,” Democratic Majority For Israel President and CEO Mark Mellman told JI. Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, noted that the committee’s work would be “essential” to Biden’s efforts to rebuild the State Department and “conduct a post-mortem on what Trump’s practices, policies and budget have meant for our State Department.” Former Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who retired in 2014 after 20 terms, told JI on Tuesday that he anticipates the committee will regain some influence on foreign policy matters under a Biden administration “by virtue of the hearings it will hold and the reports it might do on various areas of U.S. foreign policy.”
Elsewhere: Yesterday, the steering committee recommended Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) as its candidate to succeed retiring Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee with 36 votes. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) came in second place with 11 votes while Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) received six.
Jewish groups lay out priorities for next Congress, Biden administration
As President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet shapes up and the final few days of the 116th Congress tick by, national Jewish and pro-Israel groups are planning out their agendas for the next administration and the new Congress. Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod spoke to several organizations about their approach and priorities for the incoming government.
JFNA: The Jewish Federations of North America has communicated with Biden’s transition team in the weeks following the election. The group laid out a detailed set of priorities in a memo to Biden’s transition team, according to Elana Broitman, JFNA’s senior vice president for public affairs, that fall into several categories including COVID relief, increasing nonprofit security funding and fighting antisemitism. Broitman added that the organization is pushing legislators to codify the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism, prioritize healthcare and increase efforts to support Holocaust survivors.
J Street:The policy agenda of J Street includes reentering the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and deescalating military tensions, rolling back Trump administration actions the organization sees as antithetical to Israeli-Palestinian peace, opposing annexation and settlement expansion and otherwise promoting peace. Dylan Williams, J Street’s senior vice president for policy and strategy, told JI the Biden administration should take a number of major early steps toward peace, including reestablishing a separate consulate in Jerusalem to serve Palestinians, reissuing State Department guidance on discussing settlements and reinstating and expanding humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.
AJC: The American Jewish Committee, which opposed the Iran deal in 2015, is taking a diplomatic approach to the future of the deal. “We had grave concerns about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” said Jason Isaacson, the group’s chief policy and political affairs officer. “We will be urging the Biden administration to work in close coordination with our European and Middle East allies.” The group will encourage the administration not to “remove from the U.S. negotiating arsenal the leverage that exists [on Iran] because of the sanctions imposed under President Trump,” Isaacson added.
Jewish groups lay out priorities for Biden administration, next Congress
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman touted the Trump administration’s diplomatic successes in the Middle East on Tuesday, as he appeared to passively acknowledge President Donald Trump’s defeat in last month’s presidential election, Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh reports.
Moving forward: Friedman, who spoke during a Zoom call with Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, said that the Trump administration’s Mideast peace team is committed — “whether inside office or outside the office” — to continue working “to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but not as a gating issue that prevents all other aspects of the region moving forward.” Friedman, who was late to join the call because he was on the phone with the White House, boasted about the Abraham Accords and said, “Whether we are privileged to serve the United States in office, whether we are, at some point, private citizens, we are committed to moving forward and to bring greater peace, prosperity and stability” to the Middle East.
Transition advice: The ambassador emphasized that continuing to apply pressure on Iran would be key to maintaining the progress made by the Trump administration. “I’m not ascribing ill intentions to anybody,” Friedman said, without directly mentioning the incoming Biden administration. “I don’t think anybody in government, of any party, wants to see Iran get to the point of a nuclear weapon, but we have got to make sure that we pursue that policy [of maximum pressure].”
Observation: Asked to reflect on his tenure as ambassador, Friedman said, “I am probably going to write a book so I don’t want to give too much of it away right now.” But addressing the U.S.-Israel relationship, Friedman said that for him criticism of Israel is received differently when delivered by Israelis, as opposed to those in the U.S. “I have been very critical, over time, of my colleagues in America who I think are way too far to the left and don’t give Israel the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t do that here,” he explained. “If you live in Israel, if you send your kids to the army, if you pay your taxes here and you take the risks of being here, I think you have the right to be as left or right as you want. Everybody wants what’s best for the country, what’s best for their families.”
🕍 Religious Freedom:Law professors Michael W. McConnell and Max Raskin argue in favor of the Supreme Court’s ruling against New York’s COVID-19 religious restrictions in a New York Times op-ed: “The restrictions, which are far more draconian than those approved by the court in the earlier cases, are both extraordinarily tight and essentially unexplained.” [NYTimes]
🇨🇳 Dark Inspiration: In The Atlantic, Chang Che explores how Nazi thinker Carl Schmitt, who penned justifications of “Hitler’s extrajudicial killings of Jews and political opponents,” has become revered in Chinese academia and is often cited to defend China’s policies on the rule of law. [TheAtlantic]
😂 Just Joshin’: In Interview magazine, comedians Seth Rogen and Nick Kroll swap jokes about their time in Jewish summer camps: “I think Jewish summer camp in general is to make young Jewish people breed with one another,” said Rogen. [Interview]
👰 Wedding Bells: Reality TV producer Danielle Gelfand writes in The New York Times about how she finally had the wedding she never dreamed would happen, overcoming the trauma of her father’s suicide on erev Yom Kippur, and finally walking down the aisle at age 48 on the arm of her Holocaust survivor mother. [NYTimes]
Around the Web
💸 Business As Usual: Israel released $1 billion in tax funds to the Palestinian Authority as security coordination between the two returns to normal.
🚦 Yellow Light: President Donald Trump has reportedly given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the go-ahead to increase pressure on Iran, but cautioned him not to “start World War III.”
👈 Blame Game:Official Iranian news outlets have offered conflicting reports on the killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, revealing “tensions between competing Iranian intelligence agencies” over accepting blame.
📣 Rapid Response: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir denied Iranian claims that Riyadh collaborated with Israel in killing Fakhrizadeh.
📺 Calling Out: Former U.S. Ambassador to China under Obama Max Baucus accused Israel of having “nefarious” motives in targeting Iran.
💻 Under Fire: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) removed a retweet from her Twitter timeline that proclaimed “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” following backlash.
💲 Big Deal: Marc Benioff’s Salesforce will purchase Slack for $28 billion, with Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield expected to continue leading the company.
👨 Transition: Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman, who was fired by President Donald Trump earlier this year, has joined the Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson law firm.
🐮 On the Mooove:Israeli cow farmers are utilizing drones developed by the BeeFree Agro startup to track and herd their cattle.
😷 Stay Home: Hamas leader Yehiya Sinwar tested positive for coronavirus as cases of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip continue to rise.
💼 Stepping Down: Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse announced yesterday that he will not seek reelection to a fifth term.
🏘️ For Sale: The Forest Hills Jewish Center building is on the market for $50 million.
🧔 Making History: Attorney Eli Wax has become the first Orthodox Jewish member, the youngest and the only Republican on the South Bend Common Council in Indiana.
⚠️ Red Flag: The Jewish Community of Louisville is urging a review of all Kentucky law enforcement agencies after it was reported that a training slideshow included a Nazi symbol.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: U.K. Muslim groups are calling on Labour leader Keir Starmer to return donations from real estate developer David Abrahams over perceived Islamophobic tweets.
Song of the Day
Israeli singers participated in a special musical project headed by pop artist Static and his producer Jordi and titled, “We Got This,” to support medical and front line workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor at Montana State University, she was a member of the Montana House of Representatives and a board member of Bozeman’s Congregation Beth Shalom, Dr. Franke Wilmer turns 70…
Pulitzer Prize-winning history professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, Leon Litwack turns 91… Professor of rabbinic literature at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff turns 83… Real estate executive and founder of the Sunshine Group, Louise Mintz Sunshine turns 80… Partner at Personal Healthcare LLC, Pincus Zagelbaum turns 74… Moroccan-born drummer for a rock band in France before switching to a career in contemporary Jewish music, Isaac “Jacky” Bitton turns 73… EVP and media director at Rubenstein Communications, she is the mother of @MaggieNYT, Nancy Haberman turns 73… French historian and author of 30 books on the history of North Africa, Benjamin Stora turns 70… Associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court until her retirement yesterday, Justice Barbara A. Lenk turns 70… Partner in the Madison, Wisconsin, law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland, she is a class action and labor law attorney, Sarah Siskind turns 68…
Rabbi of Baltimore’s Congregation Ohel Moshe, Rabbi Zvi Teichman turns 68… Canadian fashion designer and entrepreneur, he is best known for launching the Club Monaco and Joe Fresh brands, Joe Mimran turns 68… Education and automotive sales manager at the Los Angeles Business Journal, Lanna Solnit turns 64… Cleveland resident, Joseph Schlaiser turns 62… Emmy Award-winning actress, the daughter of a rabbi, Rena Sofer turns 52… Twin sisters, known as The AstroTwins, they are magazine columnists and authors of four books on astrology, Tali Edut and Ophira Edut turn 48… Visiting assistant professor of political science at Bucknell University, Eleanor L. Schiff turns 44… Former member of the Knesset, now serving as Israel’s ambassador to the U.K., Tzipi Hotovely turns 42… Sephardi / Portuguese actress best known for playing Special Agent Kensi Blye in CBS’s “NCIS Los Angeles,” Daniela Ruah turns 37… Deputy director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation, Annie Fixler…