👋 Good Wednesday morning!
The race between Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Democrat Jon Ossoff remains too close to call, though Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report predicts that Ossoff will ultimately take the seat. With 98% of the vote counted, Ossoff leads 50.19% to 49.81%. A margin of less than 0.5% would trigger an automatic recount.
If Democrats prevail in picking up both seats, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is widely expected to become the first Jewish majority leader of the Senate — and the first New Yorker — in history. Ossoff would be the first Jewish senator from Georgia.
The Biden administration will reveal more appointments to its national security team this week, according to a new report in Politico.
In Foggy Bottom, Wendy Sherman is set to become deputy secretary of state under Tony Blinken. Victoria Nuland will be under secretary of state for political affairs.
At the National Security Council, Jon Finer will be deputy national security advisor and Amanda Sloat will be senior director for European affairs. Finer, a former Washington Post foreign correspondent who covered conflicts including in Gaza and Lebanon, previously worked as a speechwriter for Biden and later as chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry. At a 2017 talk to Harvard’s Institute of Politics, Finer detailed his role in selling the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
According to The New York Times, additional hires at the National Security Council are likely to include Brett McGurk (Middle East and North Africa) and Kurt Campbell (Asia), along with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s top foreign policy advisor, Sasha Baker, as the NSC’s senior director for strategic planning and Yohannes Abraham, a former top aide to Valerie Jarrett, as the NSC’s chief of staff.
Howard Rubenstein remembered for ‘Soviet Jewry Freedom Island’ PR splash
Howard Rubenstein was remembered this week as a master publicist whose creativity and brilliant instincts helped him respond to all kinds of public relations challenges and to orchestrate some of the city’s most memorable fundraisers and protest demonstrations on behalf of the Jewish people. For Jewish Insider, Stewart Ain spoke to friends and associates of Rubenstein about his decades of activity on behalf of the Jewish community.
Rocking the boat: Rubenstein was instrumental in orchestrating a demonstration on behalf of Soviet Jewry timed to coincide with an address to the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly by then-Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev in 1972. The Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry arranged with New York State officials and state lawmakers to be temporarily deeded Belmont Island in the East River opposite the United Nations. The small man-made island was briefly renamed “Soviet Jewry Freedom Island” by activists who landed on the island by boat that morning with a 15-by-6-foot red-and-white banner proclaiming the new name. “We made the front page of newspapers from Hong Kong to Africa, and the major Chinese papers as well,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, who was then the director of the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry. “It was such a putdown of the Russians and Rubenstein was in his office handling the PR. When he saw a good, creative idea for the Jewish people, he was always there.”
Guiding hand: Rubenstein also helped orchestrate one of the earliest protest demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jewry on Jan. 17, 1965, after the Soviets “were stupid enough” to move their mission to the United Nations to East 67th Street across from the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan, according to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the congregation’s spiritual leader. Schneier said his Appeal of Conscience Foundation took out a full-page ad in The New York Timesannouncing the demonstration to protest religious repression in the Soviet Union. The Soviets quickly protested the planned rally to the U.S. State Department, “calling it a violation,” and Schneier said he then realized he “needed some PR guidance.” Rubenstein swept in, and the demonstration was ultimately allowed to go on.
Rebuilding: Rubenstein participated in conversations to determine the site for the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial in lower Manhattan, and later became vice chairman of its board, said George Klein, a co-founder of the museum. David Marwell, a former director of the museum, said Rubenstein “had brilliant instincts about how to respond to any kind of challenge. He was famous for crisis communications.” The museum was the closest cultural institution to the World Trade Center on 9/11 and although it was not damaged, the entire area was cordoned off in the weeks after the attack. “We didn’t know what was going to happen to the neighborhood and we were planning a new addition to the museum,” Marwell said. “Howard said that since part of the message of the museum was about rebuilding life after a great tragedy, we could use that theme to help us. Howard was able to communicate that and when we reopened on Oct. 5, 2001, Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Hillary Clinton came. He helped us to organize the rebuilding in a way that was absolutely authentic and true to who we were.”
Marilyn Strickland has a city hall handbook for Congress
When Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) appeared at her swearing-in ceremony on Sunday in a Korean hanbok, she was highlighting her unique background while nodding to a historically diverse Congress including unprecedented numbers of both women and racial minorities. The 58-year-old set a variety of precedents when she was elected in November: Strickland is the first Black representative from the Pacific Northwest and one of the first Korean-American women in Congress. “The freshman class on the Democratic side of the House is smaller — it’s only 15 people,” Strickland told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel, comparing her party’s haul to that of the Republicans. “But we call ourselves small but mighty.”
Tacoma to DC: As she navigates life on the Hill, Strickland is drawing on her experience as mayor of Tacoma from 2010 to 2018. Her previous role, she says, gives her insight into some of the tasks she expects to take on as a congresswoman, including the more immediate goal of securing additional relief for Americans struggling amid the coronavirus crisis. “You have to focus on doing most of the things that are not sexy,” Strickland said. “We tend to highlight or amplify the things that grab headlines when, generally speaking, it’s doing the mundane stuff that just keeps things going, which really is why you’re sent there.”
Committee assignments: In December, Strickland was appointed to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure — her top choice for a committee assignment as she seeks to address mass transit infrastructure, broadband and clean energy in her district. And on Tuesday, the congresswoman was also granted a spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, according to a staffer from her office. “We have to restore our place in the world,” she declared. “People look to us for global leadership, and we want to make sure that we have trust and credibility not just here at home but abroad.”
Pro-Israel support: Strickland has garnered widespread support from pro-Israel activists in the Pacific Northwest, and notched an endorsement from the grassroots advocacy group Pro-Israel America during her campaign. The congresswoman is in favor of rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, as President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to do. “It’s one of those issues that was controversial when it took place, and even within the Jewish community, people are divided about it,” Strickland said of the agreement. “The reality is that Iran does pose a threat in the Mideast, and we always want geopolitical stability and national and global security.”
Alliances: Since being elected, Strickland has joined the Congressional Black Caucus, the Asian Pacific American Caucus and the New Democrat Coalition. “The New Dems were very instrumental in helping me get elected, and my politics allied with theirs,” she said of the centrist caucus, noting that it serves as a kind of “policy shop” of the House Democratic Caucus. Strickland credits her policy credentials for influencing voters to send her to Washington, D.C. “I just think that having served as mayor for eight years, and my message of focusing on economic recovery and demonstrating that I was not just about slogans but about actually doing the work, is what resonated with more voters in my district.”
ON THE HILL
Kathy Manning secures spot on Foreign Affairs Committee
Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), who was sworn into the House of Representatives on Sunday evening, will join the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a spokesperson confirmed to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday afternoon.
Second round: The North Carolina congresswoman, who made history as the first female chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, told Jewish Insider shortly after the November election that she was seeking a spot on the influential committee. Manning did not receive a seat on the committee in the first round of assignments given to new Democratic members in December, receiving a spot on the Education and Labor Committee instead.
Supporting Israel: Manning told JI in November that she believes her commitment to and “deep knowledge” of the U.S.-Israel relationship would allow her to use a spot on the Foreign Affairs committee to “stand up for what I believe is such an important relationship.”
Bonus: Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) will join the House Committee on Homeland Security, the committee that makes decisions regarding federal nonprofit security grants. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) will join the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) will join the House Financial Services Committee and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) will join the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
Elsewhere: Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told AFP he will push to restart U.S. aid to the Palestinians under Biden.
💉 Rapid Rollout: Reuters reporters Ari Rabinovitch, Maayan Lubell and Steven Scheer lay out how Israel is leading the way with its vaccine distribution efforts, including paying a premium, repackaging the doses into pizza-sized boxes and relying on its national digital healthcare network, “reaching nearly 15% of the country’s 9.3 million population in about two weeks.” [Reuters]
💐 Tribute: In BuzzFeed News, Jane Lytvynenko pays tribute to Holocaust survivor Malvina Shabes, who died of COVID-19 last year while living at a retirement home in Toronto — and whose life and death were mentioned in a nationwide address by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. [BuzzFeed]
🗣️ Living Language: Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish language developed by Sephardic Jews, is undergoing something of a renaissance amid the pandemic, reports Kenan Cruz Çilli in Haaretz. “The lockdowns and the shift online has helped bring Ladino-speaking communities separated by thousands of miles closer together, giving the language a new lease on life.” [Haaretz]
Around the Web
🚫 Crack Down: The United States issued fresh sanctions yesterday against a range of Iranian companies and agents.
☢️ Tense Times: Iran threatened a “decisive response” to any Israeli action against it, a day after the Islamic Republic announced it had ramped up its uranium enrichment.
🚓 Thwarted Attack: An Israeli security officer shot and killed a Palestinian man in the West Bank yesterday who was allegedly attempting to carry out a stabbing attack.
😷 Stay Home: Israel will severely tighten its third national COVID lockdown beginning Thursday night, shutting all schools in the country and closing most workplaces.
📈 Market Watch: Israel’s beleaguered NSO Group is reportedly considering launching an IPO on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange at a valuation of $2 billion.
✈️ Capitol Threat: Air traffic controllers in New York received a threat on Monday warning of a plot to fly a plane into the Capitol building to avenge the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
🇮🇱 Flag Feud: Newly elected Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL) has vowed to display an Israeli flag outside her congressional office, which is next door to that of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).
🥪 Last Bite: Los Angeles Jewish deli Label’s Table has closed its doors after 46 years in business.
✈️ Flight Fracas: A couple was kicked off a United flight from Newark to Tel Aviv for allegedly accusing ultra-Orthodox passengers of “spreading the disease.”
🎥 Hollywood: Israeli actress Reef Neeman, known for her roles in “Shtisel” and “Fauda,” has signed on with WME.
📺 Branching Out: Conservative media mogul Ben Shapiro is launching a new entertainment wing to produce cultural content that won’t “promote leftist causes.”
🧳 Transitions: The Maimonides Fund’s Doron Kenter and Ariella Saperstein have both been promoted to senior program officer. Gary Cohn, former director of the National Economic Council under Trump, will become vice chairman of IBM. Politico reporter Dan Diamond is joining The Washington Post to cover federal health agencies.
🕯️ Remembering: Isaac Shoshan, a Syrian-born Israeli spy who served undercover in Arab nations, died at age 96.
Pic of the Day
An unusually heavy fog has enveloped Tel Aviv in recent days, even leading to a brief closure of Ben-Gurion Airport due to poor flying conditions.
Attorney general of Oregon, she was previously a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals, Ellen Rosenblum turns 70…
Retired EVP and senior counsel of the Trump Organization, George H. Ross turns 93… Professor of chemistry (now emeritus) at the University of Chicago, member of the Board of Governors at Tel Aviv University, Stuart A. Rice turns 89… Canadian businessman, Seymour Schulich turns 81… Co-founder of private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Henry R. Kravis turns 77… Chairman, president and CEO of Phibro Animal Health Corporation, Jack C. Bendheim turns 74… Yiddish-language author, journalist, playwright and lyricist, Boris Sandler turns 71… Interim provost and dean at Tennessee State University, he retired as a major in the IDF, Michael Harris turns 65… Retired television executive and political commentator, Mark E. Hyman turns 63… Former president and editor in chief of Rewire, Jodi Lynn Jacobson turns 62…
Member of the Ukrainian Parliament and president of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Oleksandr Feldman turns 61… Daniel G. Slatopolsky turns 57… VP of worldwide sales and marketing at Living Popups Augmented Reality, Sarah Beth Rena Conner turns 54… Actor, painter and fashion designer, he is the nephew of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, Greg Lauren turns 51… Founder and CEO at GTTFP Holdings and the founder of Regal Wings, Eli Ostreicher turns 37… Political and investigative reporter at WTVD-TV Raleigh-Durham, both of his parents are rabbis, Jonah P. Kaplan turns 35… International campus director at CAMERA, Aviva Slomich Rosenschein turns 35… Philanthropic advisor at Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond, Sarah Arenstein Levy turns 34… Retired professional soccer player, one of the youngest to ever sign a Major League Soccer contract at age 15, he is now an associate at Brightstar Capital Partners, Zach Pfeffer turns 26… Head of business development at Goldman Sachs Investment Partners, Anna Phillips… Rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Aiden Pink…