👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Today is Inauguration Day. President Donald Trump will depart the White House this morning and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in at noon.
No pressure or anything, but Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) tells Politico that Biden is “well aware this is the most important inaugural speech since Lincoln.”
In the final hours of his presidency, Trump issued 143 pardons and commutations, including of top GOP donor Elliot Broidy, Sholam Weiss, Eliyahu Weinstein and Aviem Sella, an Israeli spy indicted in 1986 for recruiting Jonathan Pollard, but never extradited to the United States.
Trump reportedly planned to pardon former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, but backed off at the last minute after a wave of criticism from Republicans, the New York Post, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Asked about a possible Silver pardon, Cuomo told WAMC’s Alan Chartock yesterday: “It could just be a favor for some contact, a favor for someone in the Jewish community, a favor for a donor.”
Later this afternoon, Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla will be sworn in as senators. Ossoff will be sworn in on a book of scripture once owned by Atlanta Rabbi Jacob Mortimer Rothschild, a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said yesterday that Israel “is a racist state” for not providing COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinians, including her grandmother.
Former Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) is joining Biden’s Department of Defense as special assistant to the secretary of defense, where he will serve as a senior advisor on COVID.
Robert Malley being considered for special envoy on Iran
Robert Malley, who served as a national security official in the Obama administration, is being considered for a position in the Biden administration as special envoy on Iran, sources with knowledge of the plans inform Jewish Insider.
Background: Malley, who was a special assistant to the president and White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region, now serves as president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based International Crisis Group. In the final year of the Obama administration, Malley led the Islamic State portfolio, coordinating Washington’s approach to the terror group. In 2019, Malley met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif while the Iranian official was in New York attending meetings at the United Nations.
What he’s said on Iran recently: Earlier this month, Malley hinted to Axios that returning to the original 2015 nuclear deal wouldn’t be an easy task, noting that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is likely to be replaced by a more hardline leader in the upcoming June elections. “It’s probably the kind of thing that’s easier for an outgoing administration to do, since the JCPOA’s not the most popular item in some political circles in Iran,” he said.
What they’re saying: “Rob and I are close friends,” longtime State Department official Aaron David Miller, who is currently a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Jewish Insider. “If the reports of the appointment are accurate, it would be a smart move. Nobody knows the issue, the agreement and the region better than Rob Malley. He understands the JCPOA’s strengths and limitations, and more important is very close to both [Secretary of state-designate Tony] Blinken and [National Security Advisor-designate Jake] Sullivan. It will be a tough go, dealing with Iran and the Israelis. But Malley’s smart and tough enough to handle both.”
First step: A source familiar with the Biden team’s approach on Iran told JI, “The president-elect has said that if Iran resumes strict compliance with the JCPOA, the United States would return to the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations. But Iran is a long way from returning to compliance, and there are many steps in the process to getting there that we will need to evaluate once in office. Our first order of business will be consulting with Congress and our allies on the path forward.”
ON THE HILL
Blinken says progress on Iran, peace process likely a long way away
Tony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, said that diplomatic progress on either Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are unlikely to see significant progress in the immediate future, in comments during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday afternoon.
No nukes: Blinken reiterated the Biden team’s commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and said that if Iran returns to full compliance with the JCPOA, the Biden administration would do so as well. But he cautioned that “we’re a long way from” such an outcome. Blinken committed to working with Congress on the Iran deal, although that proposition will likely prove difficult, as senators on both sides of the aisle, including incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ), have expressed skepticism about the plan to return to the JCPOA as it stood in 2015.
Israel alliance: Blinken also reiterated that the U.S. “commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct,” and said he is committed to a two-state solution, but acknowledged that it is “hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.” Blinken noted that both he and Biden oppose the BDS movement, which “unfairly and inappropriately singles out Israel.” He also acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and said the Biden administration had no plans to move the U.S. embassy from Jerusalem. Blinken expressed hope that the recent Abraham Accords could help produce progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Confirmed: Blinken looks likely to pick up support from both sides of the aisle, with some GOP senators indicating they are likely to vote in favor. Calling Blinken an “outstanding choice,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told him that he intended to vote for him confirmation. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who questioned Blinken on Iran, expressed positivity about his response. “He expressed a willingness to consider the current views of the intelligence community and fashion a policy with regards to Iran consistent with that, and not just jumping to the conclusion that what was done by the prior administration was necessarily wrong,” Romney told Jewish Insider.
Lasting impression: In his opening remarks yesterday, Blinken once again told the story of his stepfather’s liberation from a death march by U.S. forces in Germany in 1945. Samuel Pisar, who married Blinken’s mother when the diplomat was just 8 years old, left a profound and lasting impact on Blinken’s views on international affairs, reports Politico’s Nahal Toosi.
Mayorkas cites family’s Holocaust history in confirmation hearing
Alejandro Mayorkas, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of Homeland Security, discussed his family’s history with antisemitism during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee yesterday.
Remembering: “I am profoundly aware of the threat and existence of antisemitism in our country and the world,” Mayorkas said in response to a question from Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) about his approach to combatting antisemitism. “My mother lost her paternal grandparents and seven uncles by reason of their Jewish faith in the Holocaust. My mother fled her home with her parents because of the Holocaust. I have dedicated a considerable amount of my personal and professional energy to battling antisemitism and discrimination of all forms.”
Past experience: The secretary-designate highlighted his work with the Jewish community — including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federations of North America’s Secure Community Network, on whose advisory board Mayorkas served — to better protect Jewish institutions. He also cited his efforts as deputy secretary of homeland security under President Barack Obama to expand the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which he said he’d work to further broaden if confirmed. In a statement to JI, Rosen praised Mayorkas for his experience and support for the NSGP.
GOP opposition: A proposal to accelerate Mayorkas’s nomination to a Senate floor vote was blocked Tuesday afternoon by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who cited disputes over border security and immigration. Republicans also grilled Mayorkas during the hearing about a 2015 inspector general report that concluded Mayorkas had improperly interfered in granting visas to wealthy foreign investors.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Campaign strategist Joshua Karp reflects on Ossoff’s Senate win
Joshua Karp, a 32-year-old Democratic strategist, has worked in campaign politics for about the past decade, having engaged in a long and painstaking project to flip southern states. “They’re right on the cusp of turning blue and need that extra little shove,” he told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview. After a stint with Andrew Gillum’s failed Florida gubernatorial campaign, Karp sensed a new challenge when he got word that Jon Ossoff was mulling a Senate bid. “The opportunity this cycle felt like it was in Georgia,” said Karp, who became one of the first to join Ossoff’s campaign as a senior advisor.
History in the making: When Ossoff is sworn in later today, he will become the first Jewish senator from Georgia — a fact that carries extra resonance in a state whose antisemitic legacy includes the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank. Ossoff, 33, put his Jewish identity front and center throughout the campaign. “For Jon, being Jewish is something that he is confident in and proud of,” Karp said. “It was never a question that Jon would be discussing being Jewish on the campaign trail and the historical nature of that candidacy. He wanted to talk about it. My role in this campaign, in many ways, was to sort of be a keeper of the flame.”
Jewish values: Karp, who is also Jewish, said his religious views have in many ways informed his own approach to politics. “I find that liberal Judaism offers a grounding in the work I do,” he told JI. “To me, a Jewish understanding of politics isn’t just sort of a passing reference to tikkun olam, but it’s an understanding of a moral system that is 4,000 years old and is grounded in some of the truest truths about human nature and what humans can accomplish if we don’t put ourselves first.”
‘Something extra’: It was both personally and professionally fulfilling, Karp said, to be a part of Ossoff’s historic campaign, which employed a number of Jews, including press secretary Jake Best and communications director Miryam Lipper. “The idea that we would be electing this young, Jewish guy to the U.S. Senate was really significant to all of us,” Karp recalled. “We all felt a little bit something extra riding on this.” He added, “I still get kind of misty thinking about the fact that, after so many months of such hard work, this dream came true and the plan came together.”
👩❤️👨 Making History: Doug Emhoff, who will today become both the first second gentleman and the first Jewish spouse of any U.S. president or vice president, writes in GQ that he will work to build on the “legacy of progress” made by other White House spouses. “I may be the first Second Gentleman, but I know I won’t be the last.” [GQ]
🇸🇦 Playing Nice: Reuters analysts Aziz El Yaakoubi and Marwa Rashad examine the series of overtures the Saudis have made to the incoming Biden administration in recent weeks, including reconciling with Qatar, voluntarily cutting crude outputs and advancing an economic diversification plan, “moving to present an image as a reliable statesman and set a pragmatic tone,” especially on Iran. [Reuters]
🍞 Final Bite: In The New York Times, Herbert Buchsbaum pens a love letter to the rye bread at Gottlieb’s Bakery in Savannah, Ga., which reopened in 2016 and shut last year amid the pandemic. “One reason Gottlieb’s endured had to do with local synagogue politics,” recalled Buchsbaum of the only kosher bakery in town. “No bar mitzvah party was complete without a bad local band… and tables piled with Gottlieb’s goodies.” [NYTimes]
👴🏼 History Lesson: In Salon, Mary Louise Wells explains how the decision made by her grandfather, a farmer in what is now Poland, not to stand up to growing Nazi influence in the region led to the destruction of her mother’s family. “When governments use hatred and authoritarianism as a political tool, it’s not only a danger for the targets of the enmity. Victim, perpetrator, enabler, and bystander — are all in peril.” [Salon]
Around the Web
🇮🇷 Tough Talk: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said this morning that “the ball is in the U.S. court now” when it comes to the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.
⛔ No Entry: Iran blocked Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from joining the United Nations’ Conference on Disarmament, which resumed yesterday after years of deadlock.
🏗️ Still Building: Israel issued tenders for an additional 2,500 homes in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem yesterday.
😷 Stay Home: The Israeli cabinet voted yesterday to extend the country’s strict COVID-19 lockdown until at least the end of the month.
🎉 Party Time: Israeli seniors who have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses are beginning to socialize again, after the majority of those over 60 will soon have immunity.
⛽ Big Buy: Chevron and other energy companies are investing $235 million in pipelines to export natural gas from Israel to Egypt.
🗳️ Reaching Out: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is openly courting Arab voters ahead of Israel’s March 23 election — sparking a strongly divided reaction from Israeli-Arab officials.
👮 Apprehended: A U.S.-based Iranian political scientist and television pundit was arrested in Massachusetts on charges of conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent.
🇷🇺 Switching Sides: A Pentagon contractor-turned neo-Nazi leader now living in Russia is reportedly working to train white supremacists in the United States.
🤝 Loyal to the End: Blackstone CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman remained one of the few Wall Street executives unwilling to criticize Trump even after the Capitol riot.
🏖️ Heading South: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have reportedly rented a luxury condo in in Miami’s Surfside neighborhood.
👰 Super Spreader: A Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn hosted a wedding on Monday with thousands of attendees, but New York authorities did not intervene, saying the event “was compliant with relevant guidelines.”
🚓 Ominous Message: Local police are investigating after leaflets bearing a swastika and the words “we are everywhere” were left at several business in Ashland, Virginia.
👨🍳 Chow Down: Celebrity chef Michael Solomonov has launched a new digital live cooking show, called “Bringing Israel Home,” in partnership with the Jewish Food Society.
👩 Transition: CBS News producer Sarah Ewall Wice will transitionto reporting, covering the Biden administration’s economic recovery efforts.
Former U.S. representative from Nevada, now CEO and senior provost for Touro University Nevada, Shelley Berkley turns 70…
Claremont, Calif., resident, Adar Belinkoff turns 93… Lakewood, N.J.-born American diplomat and former State Department official, he also served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ambassador Morton I. Abramowitz turns 88… Moroccan-French rabbi and founder of the organization Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France, Michel Serfaty turns 78… Pleasant Hill, Calif., resident, Daniel L. Fisher turns 77… Elected four times as a Republican at-large member on the Council of the District of Columbia, she also ran for mayor of D.C. five times, Carol Schwartzturns 77… Refusenik during the 1970s and 1980s who spent nine years in Soviet prisons, he served as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky turns 73… Travel editor at CBS News, Peter S. Greenbergturns 71… Comedian and political commentator, he is the host of HBO’s political talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” William “Bill” Maher turns 65… CEO of Israel’s largest refining and petrochemical firm, Bazan Group, he was previously the deputy chief of the general staff of the IDF, Major General (Reserve) Moshe Kaplinsky turns 64…
Actress and television host, Melissa Rivers turns 53… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota, Dean Benson Phillips turns 52… Coordinator of community education and support at JCFS Chicago, Diane Kushnir Halivni turns 51… Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she was previously governor of South Carolina, Ambassador Nikki Haley (born Nimrata Randhawa) turns 49… UK cabinet minister and former MP, he is a member of the House of Lords, Baron Frank Zacharias Robin (Zac) Goldsmith turns 46… Former prime minister of Ukraine (2016-2019), Volodymyr Groysman turns 43… Philanthropist and professional equestrian, Georgina Leigh Bloomberg turns 38… Special assistant for Middle East policy at the Pentagon (at least until noon), Paul Mandelson turns 36… Senior director at Purple Strategies, Alec Jacobs turns 31… Senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, Jason Berger turns 31…