👋 Good Monday morning!
Welcome to the first Daily Kickoff of 2021! We have several exciting expansions planned for the new year. We’ll share more details on those developments in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s some of what’s been buzzing since we’ve been away.
Israel is leading the world in vaccinating against COVID-19, having provided the first dose of the shot to more than 1.2 million people so far — over 13% of its population and close to half of its most at-risk citizens.
The U.N. General Assembly voted 167-2 to approve its 2021 budget, with only Israel and the U.S. voting against, citing objections to an event marking the 20th anniversary of the 2001 U.N. conference in Durban that equated Zionism with racism.
On CNN yesterday, incoming National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan detailed the Biden administration’s approach to re-entering the Iran deal, stating that there would be a “follow-on negotiation” on Tehran’s ballistic missile program as soon as Iran comes back into compliance.
Iran announced this morning that it has begun enriching uranium up to 20% at its underground nuclear Fordo facility.
Former Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) announced yesterday that he will not be entering New York City’s 2021 mayoral race.
Mazel tov to JI readers Jake Sherman and Aryeh Bourkoff on the launch of Punchbowl.
road to city hall
Ray to the rescue
In 1980, Ray McGuire was fulfilling a yen for travel in between two Harvard degrees while pursuing a fellowship in France, visiting Athens and Cairo before arriving in Israel. “I’m sitting there during the new year, in the middle of Jerusalem, and they think I’m Aulcie Perry,” McGuire, now 63, reminisced to Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview, referring to the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball star who played in Israel in the late 1970s and early 1980s. McGuire, who doesn’t speak Hebrew, was hard-pressed to object: “They think I’m Aulcie Perry, and I can’t tell them I’m not.”
Life as an outsider: McGuire, who announced his run for New York City mayor last month, is used to navigating life as an outsider, particularly during his decades-long tenure in the top echelons of the banking industry, which is considered to be historically inhospitable to Black people. “There’s no 6’4” Black person,” McGuire, who served as vice chairman at Citigroup until he announced his candidacy in October, said of the financial world. “Nobody else who woke up Black every day was doing this.” Now that he has joined the crowded race to succeed Bill de Blasio, McGuire has in some ways found himself navigating similar terrain as he seeks the Democratic nomination in a city that has only elected one Black mayor in its history.
Qualifications: Though McGuire has never run for public office, he is civically engaged, having served on the boards of a number of New York institutions. Still, McGuire could be operating at a disadvantage against some of the seasoned candidates who have already entered the race, such as City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. But McGuire believes he is uniquely suited to lead a city deeply scarred by the coronavirus crisis. “I’m the only one who can bring all this together whose interests are solely what is in the best interest of New York,” he said. “My judgment is going to be influenced by that and that alone, because I don’t have any allegiances.”
Business backing: New York’s business community seems to have rallied behind McGuire. In interviews with JI, a number of prominent business and philanthropic leaders expressed their strong support for the candidate, including LionTree investment bank founder and CEO Aryeh Bourkoff; Brad Karp, chairman of the law firm Paul, Weiss; and Laurie Tisch, a philanthropist who sits on the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “We are in an unprecedented time in the city and we need a leader who can bring us back from one of the worst economic and health crises in generations,” said Tisch. “I believe Ray is that man.”
Addressing antisemitism: McGuire was adamant that he would address the uptick in antisemitic violence New York has seen in recent years, noting that he has built strong relationships with Jewish community members. “Those allegiances are going to be important going forward. My risk tolerance, my tolerance for any of this is nonexistent,” he said. “In any instance where we see this, we need to eliminate it. I got zero tolerance for it, zero,” added McGuire, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement who says he is not in favor of defunding the police. “And so I would work with the police department and with the Jewish community to ensure that the Jewish population of New York is not only secure, but feels secure as well.”
Eye on the ball: “This may be the most important time in this city’s history,” McGuire told JI. “My wife and our kids have all contributed to the conversation,” said the former banking executive, who is married to producer and novelist Crystal McCrary and whose stepson, Cole Anthony, is a professional basketball player recently drafted in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic. “We all say now is the time. If we don’t get it done now then I’m not convinced that it’s ever going to get done.” Using a basketball analogy, McGuire — who was captain of his high school team and frequently plays ball with his son Leo in Central Park — emphasized that he was in the race to win. “Hard in the paint, man,” he said of his game plan ahead of the June Democratic primary. “I’m going hard in the paint.”
on the hill
Highlights from the first day of the new 117th Congress
The 117th session of Congress got off to an acrimonious start yesterday with clashes over the results of the 2020 election and discord over congressional COVID-19 rules, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports from Capitol Hill.
Senate divided: Newly sworn-in Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS), who is supporting an effort to delay the Electoral College vote count, said in a press gaggle, “We want our day in court where everybody’s in the same room, put all the facts down and then let America decide.” Shortly afterward, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who opposes the election challenges, took a different tone, remarking, “I actually like to come up with plans that have a chance of being successful.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), usually a close ally of President Donald Trump and a likely 2024 presidential hopeful, broke with the president Sunday night, announcing he would also oppose the election challenge.
Pelosi triumphant: Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) eked out a narrow win to serve another term as speaker of the House with 216 votes. Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden (D-ME) and Conor Lamb (D-PA) voted for alternative picks. Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) voted present. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) denied speculation that she’d received concessions for voting for Pelosi, saying: “We are just an extremely slim amount of votes away from our side risking the speakership to the Republican Party… This is bigger than any one of us.”
COVID conundrums: Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and another newly elected representative prompted a “screaming match”between Republican and Democratic staffers by refusing to wear masks on the House floor. And Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) squabbled with attending physician Brian Monahan for allowing COVID-quarantining members to vote on the floor from a special plexiglass booth. Later, hundreds of members packed, shoulder-to-shoulder in some cases, onto the House floor and into a hallway outside the chamber in violation of social distancing guidelines.
Swear-in slowdown: Later in the day, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), one of seven House Republicans who came out against the election challenges yesterday, forced a recorded House vote on whether to swear in elected members from states whose electoral votes are being contested, which was widely viewed as an attempt to put his GOP colleagues on record as accepting all the election results in those states.
Israel’s political machinations continue to heat up
With 78 days until Israel’s next national election, defections, reshuffles and new political parties continue to reshape the political landscape. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro breaks down all the latest twists and turns on Israel’s electoral scene.
New player: Announcing yet another new political party, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, 76, launched “The Israelis” last week, vowing to fight Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to represent the true left of the political map. In an impassioned speech, Huldai — who has led Tel Aviv for 22 years — proclaimed that “we have gotten used to a crazy government that doesn’t know how to run anything… we can and must run Israel differently.” In a blow to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Huldai poached Blue and White’s Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to take the party’s number two slot. Blue and White MK Einav Kabla has also joined Huldai.
Primaries: Almost every political party declared that they would not be holding primaries ahead of the March 23 vote, including Likud. Likud’s central committee approved Netanyahu’s proposal to cancel the primary and to give the prime minister the option of appointing six reserved slots on the party’s electoral list. The Labor Party, meanwhile, is expected to hold a leadership race and a vote for its general slate after current leader Amir Peretz said he would step down — and a court ordered the primary to go ahead against his wishes, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court. Longtime Labor MK Merav Michaeli was the first person to announce her candidacy for the position. Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, who — along with Peretz — split the party when he entered the government last year, is expected to also run, while some party officials are seeking to convince former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to toss his hat in the ring.
No thanks: Former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot officially ruled out his entry into political life before the upcoming election, after months of rumors surrounding his candidacy. Blue and White’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, also a former IDF chief of staff, announced that he is taking a break from politics and will not run again in March. Former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni — who sat out Israel’s last three elections — is reportedly in talks to join Yair Lapid‘s Yesh Atid, though no final decision has been made. And a series of mergers are expected to take place among the many new and old parties on both the left and the right vying for the 120 Knesset seats, particularly those who appear to be in danger of falling below the 3.25% electoral threshold.
Bonus: In Bloomberg, Daniel Gordis explores how Israeli-Arab MK Mansour Abbas recently sided with Netanyahu in a procedural Knesset matter, possibly signaling a new approach from Arab lawmakers in “learning from the maneuvers of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, who play the political game and have squeezed concessions from successive Israeli coalitions.”
👋 Looking Back: In an exit interview with The New York Times, outgoing Israeli-Palestinian U.N. peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov reflects on his tenure and efforts to keep tensions from escalating. “I come from the Balkans,” he said. “We’ve changed borders. We’ve fought over holy places, languages, churches. We’ve exchanged populations, for 100 years, if not more. And when you carry that baggage, it does help you see things a bit differently.” [NYTimes]
🇦🇪 Cultural Exchange: Israelis have been flocking to the UAE to take advantage of the deepening relationship between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi after the signing of the Abraham Accords last fall, the Associated Press’s Isabel Debre reports. “It was unbelievable, it was a tsunami,” an Israeli tour operator told AP. “Dubai became an oasis for Israelis in the middle of the pandemic.” [AP]
🕵️ Shadow Figure: Haaretz’s Shuki Sadeh profiles Tal Dilian, a former Israeli intelligence officer who has set up shop — and run into legal trouble — while becoming a multimillionaire in Cyprus in the underground cyber warfare world. “On one hand, he’s a brilliant man… On the other hand… he’s a man unafraid of getting into imbroglios.” [Haaretz]
✍️ Life Lesson: Holocaust survivor Toby Levy writes in The New York Times that while he is scared and saddened by what he is missing out on during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least “I can feel freedom. I stay by the window and look out… And I remember: No one wants to kill me.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
🙅♂️ Shut Down: Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz dismissed allegations by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that Israel was seeking to trick the U.S. into attacking Iran.
☎️ Speed Dial: The New Yorker‘s Robin Wright notes that Biden has Zarif’s personal email address and cell phone number as she details the “minefield” Biden faces in his upcoming dealings with Iran.
⚖️ New Details: Israeli prosecutors released an updated indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailing hundreds of requests he made for favorable media coverage.
🛩️ Final Sale: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he hopes to purchase a third squadron of F-35 jets for the IDF before Trump leaves office this month.
💰 Looking Ahead: Kushner Companies is reportedly considering raising a $500 million fund from private investors in Israel.
🎤 He Doth Protest: British author Michael Morpurgo is refusing to include “The Merchant of Venice” among his collection of Shakespeare retellings for children over the play’s antisemitic depiction of Shylock.
🏅 Going for Gold: The New York Times talks to A.J. Edelman, an Israeli-American student hoping to win big representing Israel on the bobsled team at the Beijing Olympics.
💃 Face for Print: Israeli model Yael Shelbia was named the winner of TC Candler’s annual “100 Most Beautiful Faces of the Year” list.
🥪 One More Bite: After shutting the doors of its iconic Lower East Side storefront, Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse owner David Zimmerman vowed that the eatery will reopen again.
🤳 Quick Bites: Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi is nearing a deal to sell the contents of its catalog to Roku following its failed launch last year.
💸 Easing Back: Carl Icahn has sold more than half of his stake in Herbalife and is giving up his five seats on the company’s board of directors.
🖼️ Delayed Victory: A British charity for the blind has secured the rights to three paintings seized by Hitler that belonged to the ancestors of Irma Lowenstein, a Jewish woman who died in 1976 without heirs, leaving her estate to the nonprofit.
🧳 Transitions: Aryeh Lightstone was named U.S. special envoy for economic normalization for the remaining weeks of the Trump administration. Catherine Reed was tapped as chief executive officer of American Friends of Magen David Adom. Longtime COO John Walters was named the new CEO of the Hudson Institute and outgoing CEO Ken Weinstein will stay on as the Walter P. Stern distinguished fellow.
😷 Stay Home: A state Republican leader in Massachusetts was hospitalized with COVID-19, which he believes he contracted at the White House Hanukkah reception last month.
🙏 Get Well: Veteran broadcaster Larry King, 87, is hospitalized with COVID-19.
🕯️Remembering: Tommy Raskin, the son of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), died at 25. Filmmaker Joan Micklin Silver, who directed “Crossing Delancey,” died at 85. Founder and president of Rubenstein Associates, Howard J. Rubenstein died at 88. Civil rights activist and physician Dr. H. Jack Geiger died at 95. Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis died at 98.
Gif of the Day
Eater spotlights Izzy’s Smokehouse in Brooklyn, one of the only kosher barbecue joints in the city, run by chef and owner Sruli “Izzy” Eidelman.
The oldest living former member of the House of Representatives (D-NY-3 and 6), he served from 1965 to 1981, Lester L. Wolff turns 102…
English celebrity chef, Rick Stein turns 74… Jim Friedman turns 74… Founder and president of the Alliance for Justice, Nan Aron turns 73… Retired major general in the IDF and now a member of the Knesset for Likud, Uzi Dayan turns 73… Television producer for CBS and co-author of three novels, Karen Mack Goldsmith turns 71… CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, the advocacy organization for investor-owned hospitals, Charles N. (“Chip”) Kahn III turns 69… Former member of Knesset for the Meretz party, Zehava Gal-On turns 65… Author of The New Yorker‘s satirical Borowitz Report, Andy Borowitz turns 63… Author of 32 best-selling mystery novels and thrillers with over 75 million copies in print, Harlan Coben turns 59… Professor of Jewish history at both the University of Munich and American University, Michael Brenner turns 57…
Founder of AnyDate, ShareSomeFriends and Upstart Ideas, Michael Eglash turns 53… Television and film actor, Josh Stamberg turns 51… Professor of economics and strategic management at UCSD, Yuval Rottenstreich turns 50… Partner in the Austin-based public affairs firm Ironclad Partners, Adam Blair Goldman turns 49… American living in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he serves as general director of Knowledge Across Borders, Daniel Zaretsky turns 49… Historian and NYT best-selling author, Joshua Michael Zeitz turns 47… Founder of Darshan Yeshiva and spiritual leader of Kehillah in Richmond, Virginia, Patrick Beaulier turns 38… Producer and journalist, Ben Mayer turns 37… Alex Band turns 35… SVP at DC-based public affairs firm The Herald Group, Marc Brumer turns 34… Strategic advisor at Fair Fight Action, Samantha Slosberg turns 33… Former Major League Baseball center fielder, Kevin Pillar turns 32… Managing digital editor at The Washington Monthly, Eric James Cortellessa turns 30… Chicagoland’s Judah Gavant… Studying journalism and political science at Northwestern University, Gabby Birenbaum turns 21… Member of the 2021 class at NYU Law School, Alexander Langer…