👋 Good Tuesday morning!
A number of Senate committees will hold confirmation hearings today for several of President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks.
Janet Yellen, Avril Haines and Alejandro Mayorkas will testify in front of Senate committees this morning, while Tony Blinken and Lloyd Austin are scheduled to appear before the Foreign Relations and the Armed Services Committees, respectively, this afternoon. More below.
A report in Politico indicates that Biden’s transition team is alarmed about the number of Trump appointees “burrowing into career positions throughout the federal government.”
Biden has selected Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine to be assistant secretary of health. If approved, Levine would be the first openly transgender official confirmed by the Senate.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit told the U.N. Security Council yesterday that he hopes Biden will change many of the Trump administration’s Middle East policies, lamenting that the two-state solution “has been marginalized by the main mediator in the peace process.”
Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,who is currently jailed on federal corruption charges, is reportedly being considered for a presidential pardon. Judy Rapfogel, Silver’s former chief of staff, previously worked at Jared Kushner’s family company.
Seven questions for Tony Blinken
All eyes will be on Tony Blinken this afternoon when President-elect Joe Biden’s choice for secretary of state testifies in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Jewish Insider asked a handful of readers and experts: “What is one question you would ask Tony Blinken at his confirmation hearing?”
Aaron David Miller, senior fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “As part of an effort to facilitate normalization between Israel and the Arab states, the Trump administration made certain commitments to [the United Arab Emirates], Sudan and Morocco. Will the Biden administration abide by those commitments, especially U.S. recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara even though it contradicts established U.S. policy?”
Danielle Pletka, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute: “Mr. Blinken, do you know Xiyue Wang? He was a pro-détente-with-Iran student of history from Princeton arrested by the Islamic Republic of Iran during the Obama administration. He was released from Evin Prison after 40 months after a prisoner swap with the United States. In a recent speech, he said, ‘I thought that the Iranian regime’s hostility against the United States was exaggerated… I believed that U.S. foreign policy itself was the problem.’ He learned otherwise. Do you believe you can dissociate hostage taking from Iranian support for terrorism from missile technology and Iran’s nuclear program? Or do you insist on the conceit of the JCPOA — that all these issues can be split apart and solved — or not — separately?”
Michael Koplow, policy director of Israel Policy Forum: “The Abraham Accords are an important and welcome development, but nearly every normalization accord that has been signed has come with a large price tag that the U.S. has paid, be it arms sales or American diplomatic moves in completely unrelated spheres. What is the Biden administration’s plan to strengthen and expand Israel’s integration in the region without having to make U.S. policy concessions as incentives on issues that have nothing to do with bilateral ties between Israel and Arab states?”
Tevi Troy, former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services: “How do you plan to manage relations with Climate Czar John Kerry? He is a former secretary of state himself, which complicates matters, and the experience of two senior people at State Department with cabinet rank did not work out well with John Foster Dulles and Harold Stassen during the Eisenhower administration. In a related vein, will Kerry have any say over Middle East policy, given how wrong he was in his adamant prediction that there can be ‘no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world’ without the Palestinians on board?”
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee: “What’s the strategy for re-entering talks with Iran, mindful of Iran’s persistently malign behavior? Will [the] Biden team honor the various U.S. pledges made in the Abraham Accords? Do you support [the] IHRA working definition of antisemitism?”
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, former Republican congresswoman: “I would like Secretary Blinken to give our Cuban exile community in South Florida a clearer idea of what his vision is for a U.S.-Cuba relationship under the Biden administration. Folks believe that President Biden will simply turn back the clock with no consideration given to the fact that the regime on the island has not allowed for freedom, democracy and human rights to flourish at all. They worry that concessions will be made to the communist regime without having it change one bit toward a country that allows freedom of expression. The South Florida Cuban exile community hopes and prays for no rewards to an outlaw regime. Can he please speak to this anguish?”
William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations: “The JCPOA focused solely on nuclear issues. However, Iran violates norms and values on arms proliferation, ballistic missiles, the global sponsorship of terrorism, and human rights abuses. Shouldn’t any new negotiations be comprehensive in scope in order to stop the regime’s harmful activities across multiple fronts?”
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For the record: The text of Blinken’s planned opening statement today, first reported by journalist Josh Rogin, references his grandfather, stepmother and stepfather, who all fled persecution in Europe.
Bonus: JI’s Marc Rod spoke to Senate staffers about their expectations ahead of today’s confirmation hearings. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants to hear from Blinken and Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s pick for defense secretary, on a range of issues including the JCPOA, human rights in Saudi Arabia and other nations and the “ability to reassert a U.S. role in brokering solutions to tough issues (e.g., Israel/Palestine),” a Kaine spokeswoman told JI. The Virginia senator also plans to ask Austin about combating white supremacy and conspiracies within military ranks. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, plans to question Homeland Security Secretary-designate Alejandro Mayorkas about domestic terrorism — including antisemitism, a Peters aide told JI.
Hannah Arendt ‘would be appalled’ to be included in Trump’s statue park
Of the many names included in President Donald Trump’s executive order on Monday expanding on a previous mandate to establish a statue park called the “National Garden of American Heroes,” one that stands out is Hannah Arendt, the German-born Jewish political philosopher who fled Nazi Germany and eventually settled in the United States. What would Arendt, who died in 1975, have made of Trump’s executive order? “I think she would be appalled,” Roger Berkowitz, who directs the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “I think Arendt would find it ridiculous that Trump nominated her.”
Surprise announcement: For those even passingly familiar with Arendt’s oeuvre, including her best-known work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Trump’s announcement no doubt came as a surprise — and a jarring one at that. Over the past four years, Arendt’s writings — including her famous coinage, “the banality of evil,” a phrase she invented after witnessing Nazi war-criminal Adolf Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem — were repeatedly invoked as opinion columnists, professors and other pundits endeavored to make sense of the president’s apparent flirtation with autocracy.
Measured view: Still, Jerome Kohn, Arendt’s literary executor, was more measured in his assessment of the executive order. “Hannah Arendt would, I believe, be proud, humbled, and puzzled to have a place in a ‘National Garden of American Heroes,’” he told JI via email. “She received many honors in her life, which always filled her with pride tempered by humility. To be honored by it made her feel indebted to the world, and while she was proud to try to pay that debt, the experience was, above all, humbling.”
Background: The White House did not respond to a request for comment regarding Arendt’s inclusion in the garden, which includes 244 eclectic historical figures from show business, sports and science, among other areas. Other featured individuals include Elvis Presley, Johnny Appleseed, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Walt Disney, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Lauren Bacall. Trump first teased the garden in an executive order on July 3. His latest order provides more context and additional names as well as an explanation for those included in the announcement.
Prescient warning: It is unclear if or when the garden will be completed, as Trump’s term ends on Wednesday at noon — capping off a turbulent run that, Berkowitz noted, Arendt presciently forecasted near the end of her life. “Trump is a boorish, low-class, narcissistic PR man,” Berkowitz said. “He is everything she hated in the world and everything she thought was the worst about America. The whole 1960s were spent with her writing about the danger of the public relations mentality in politics. The last speech she gave was all about the danger of the PR man and how it could ruin American democracy.”
The spies who fought to keep the Nazis out of Palestine
There were moments amid his research when Gershom Gorenberg wanted to whoop for joy inside the hushed, staid rooms of the British National Archives. “It would not have been well thought of,” joked Gorenberg in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro. But it was still hard to contain his excitement each time he uncovered a key detail to piecing together his latest book, War of Shadows: Codebreakers, Spies, and the Secret Struggle to Drive the Nazis from the Middle East, which hits shelves today.
Gathering evidence: Gorenberg, an Israeli-American journalist, author and Washington Post columnist, spent five years criss-crossing the globe from Rome to London, Cairo and California to gather materials and evidence for his research. He sifted through archives and documents as he worked to uncover the mystery that lies at the center of War of Shadows, which spotlights the lesser-known Nazi incursions into the heart of the Middle East. With the cadence of a spy thriller and a wide and varied cast of characters that can be hard to keep straight, Gorenberg takes readers on a journey to the center of World War II’s less-explored battlefront.
Layer of ignorance: “There is sort of a layer of ignorance over the war in the Middle East” during World War II, said Gorenberg. “Even when people are aware of the Middle East being a warzone… there’s a Europe-centered view of the war that the entire population here was absent, and there were just armies.” The reality, said Gorenberg, was quite different. As he recounts in the 482-page book, there were moments in the early years of the war when “very suddenly it seemed that the Nazis could come from the west through Egypt, or the north through Syria, or from the air,” bringing them straight to the borders of Mandatory Palestine and its hundreds of thousands of Jews.
Setting the scene: Gorenberg conducted only a handful of interviews for the book, since most of the relevant figures are no longer alive. But he did sit down with both journalist and novelist Haim Gouri, a former member of the Palmach, and Uri Avnery, a former Knesset member who served in the Irgun. The two men, who both died in 2018 at age 94, “were able to tell me about what the period was like in Palestine.” It is not widely known, Gorenberg posited, “the extent to which during that period, people really expected the Nazis to be invading at any moment.”
Inclusive history: The book also touches on some of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust against Jews in the Middle East, which Gorenberg believes are also largely overlooked, including the subjugation, deportation and murder of Jews in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq. “I think it’s important to remember that [Europe] was not the borders of the Holocaust,” said Gorenberg. “These are also parts of the history of this period that we should remember… I think it’s critical, out of respect for understanding our own history, to include that in our story.”
🧳 Family Path: In an in-depth profile of Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, The Washington Post’s Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff posit that the Jewish former prosecutor’s awareness “of the losses undergirding his family’s American success story” has shaped his policies, including his adamant opposition in 2015 to separating migrant families. [WashPost]
🏫 D.C. Reunion: In The New Republic, Timothy Noah notes that he attended Beverly Hills High School alongside a significant number of Biden’s incoming national security team, growing up “in a political and social environment that was less antisemitic than what our parents experienced and what is trickling back today.” [TNR]
⚕️ Public Health: Bloomberg columnist Zev Chafets interviews Sigal Regev Rosenberg, the only female CEO of one of Israel’s four HMOs, about Israel’s digital medical system and its unique preparedness for a mass vaccination drive. “When this pandemic began, our infrastructure was already in place, and our staff was ready. We very quickly got up to 150,000 shots a day. If we need to, we could do 400,000 a day.” [Bloomberg]
👨💼 Shadow of History: In The Washington Post, author Steve Oney reflects on what Jon Ossoff’s win in Georgia means for the troubled Jewish history in the South, more than 100 years after Leo Frank was lynched near Atlanta. “Ossoff’s triumph suggests that in the South a new day has come. The lynching of Leo Frank will not be forgotten, but just maybe it will loosen its grip on the psyche of the region’s Jews.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
💉 Jab Journeys: A shipment of several thousand COVID-19 vaccines from Russia is slated to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority in the coming days. The World Health Organization has raised “concerns” over inequitable vaccine distribution in the region.
🇹🇷 Diplomatic Dance: Turkey’s foreign minister said Israel needs to halt settlement activity and annexation efforts in order for Ankara to fully reestablish ties with the Jewish state.
🙅♂️ Sitting Out: Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced yesterday that he will not enter the primary race to head the Labor Party, despite public appeals.
🏎️ Making Inroads: In a first, two Israeli teams participated in Saudi Arabia’s Dakar Rally — though the race’s public website listed the teams as Belgian and American.
💾 Joining In: Israeli-Arab entrepreneurs are angling to leverage backing from the UAE in order to make further inroads in Israel’s booming tech economy.
🤖 Robot Highlight: A tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk spotlighted SqUID, a warehouse logistics robot from Israeli startup BionicHIVE.
📺 Next Step: Kevin Reilly, a former executive at Warner Media, has joined the board of the Israel-based AI streaming startup DeepDub.
💥 No Blow: An auction house walked back its plan to auction off the rights to blow up the former Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City, N.J., after owner Carl Icahn nixed the idea.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: Close to half of British Jews avoid displaying visible signs of their religion in public, according to a new survey.
🕍 Hate Continues: Police are investigating graffiti discovered on the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles yesterday as a hate crime.
🍽️ Star Power: Israeli chef Asaf Granit’s restaurant in Paris, Shabour, has been awarded a Michelin star.
🕯️ Remembering: Naomi Levine, a civil rights activist and former senior vice president for external affairs at New York University, died at age 98.
Gif of the Day
Israeli singer-songwriter Dikla has released a new song, titled “Bye, Bye,” alongside a video that she directed and edited herself for the first time.
Retired member of the British Parliament (1997-2009), he was Speaker of the House of Commons (2009-2019), his family name was originally Berkowitz, John Simon Bercow turns 58…
Surfer, she was the inspiration for the fictional character Gidget in a book written by her father, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman turns 80… Retired White House correspondent for ABC News, Ann Comptonturns 74… Grand Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Belz, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach turns 73… Philanthropist and CEO of Charleston, South Carolina-based InterTech Group, Anita Zucker turns 69… Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Amy Laura Wax turns 68… Former Speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency, Avraham Burg turns 66… President and CEO of PayPal, he is also on the board of Verizon, Daniel H. Schulman turns 63… Stoughton, Massachusetts resident, Hillery Bauman turns 62… Jay Susman turns 60… Los Angeles-based attorney and founder of the blog, American Trial Attorneys in Defense of Israel, Baruch C. Cohen turns 58…Director of the Diplomatic Academy at the British Foreign Office, Jon Benjamin turns 58…
Governor of Illinois since 2019, J.B. Pritzker turns 56… Chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, Jonathan Karl turns 53… Co-founder and former CEO of Circ MedTech, Tzameret Fuerst turns 50… Lecturer at the University of Maryland’s Center for Jewish Studies, Scott Lasensky turns 50… The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the U.S. since 2008, Yousef Al Otaiba turns 47… Television journalist and motivational speaker, Jessica Abo turns 40… DC-based Director of Political Outreach at AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, Julie Fishman Rayman turns 40… VP of income security, child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, Melissa Boteach turns 38… Isaac (Ike) Wolf turns 37… Assistant director of policy and government affairs at AIPAC, Alex Bronzo turns 36… Gastroenterologist in NYC, she is a former ice dancing champion, Loren Galler Rabinowitz, M.D. turns 35… Actor who has already appeared in over 25 films and is now a main character in Amazon’s “Hunters,” Logan Lerman turns 29… Director of national expansion at Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, Emily Berman Pevnick…