👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will hold a live virtual ceremony at 1 p.m. ET featuring Holocaust survivors.
On Clubhouse, the real-time audio chat social network, Rabbi David Wolpe made a Shehecheyanu blessing last night as he kicked off the first Torah study room on the app. He will be leading another 30-minute Torah room on Clubhouse tomorrow evening.
While the private invite-only app courted controversy last year for a conversation that featured antisemitic content on Yom Kippur, Clubhouse has been expanding its user base and adjusting its original culture of exclusivity and secrecy.
The Senate voted 55-45 against a motion yesterday to declare the impeachment of former President Donald Trump unconstitutional, with just five Republicans joining Democrats, making an eventual conviction highly unlikely.
An individualclose to Rob Malley, who JI first reported is in line to be President Joe Biden’s envoy on Iran, told Politico that Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked Malley if he wants the job, and Malley said yes and requested to assemble a team with “a broad diversity of viewpoints on how best to renegotiate the Iran deal.”
Acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Mills laid out the Biden administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a hearing at the U.N. Security Council yesterday. Mills affirmed U.S. support for a two-state solution and said the administration would restore aid to the Palestinians and work to reopen the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington.
Mills urged both Israelis and Palestinians to “avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult, such as annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement to violence, and providing compensation for individuals in prison for acts of terrorism.”
He also said the administration would encourage additional Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel following the Abraham Accords, “yet we recognize that Arab-Israeli normalization is not a substitute for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
NYTimes reporter bowled over by Judaism
Nellie Bowles, a roving reporter for The New York Times, has trained her caustic pen on such bizarre phenomena as dopamine fasting, divinity consultants and millennials who live with nuns. Despite her japing approach, Bowles, 32, often demonstrates a deeper truth about how the human search for meaning can manifest in quasi-religious displays bordering on the messianic. Now she is embarking on her own religious quest: converting to Judaism — a journey she is documenting in a charming newsletter, “Chosen by Choice,” launched in late December. Bowles discussed her conversion in a recent email exchange with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
‘My soul is safe’: The immediate inspiration for Bowles’s conversion is her partner, the journalist Bari Weiss, who is Jewish. But converting has by no means been a perfunctory endeavor. In her weekly dispatches, Bowles reveals how the process of becoming Jewish has in many ways changed her approach to life and work. “This is going to sound strange, but it’s made me much more confident,” Bowles said. “Before this, my religion was my work. I lived for it. I worshiped it. Now, I see work as separate from my soul. And that allows me to be stronger and braver at work, less anxious about pleasing everyone all the time. Because my soul is safe. My center is working on something else.”
Arguing for evangelism: Bowles is such a big fan of Judaism that she wants others to try it too. In one entry, she argues that “Jews need to evangelize,” a view she acknowledges as controversial. Still, she stood by it in the exchange with JI. “It is radical, but it shouldn’t be,” she said. “The vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews who do marry, marry non-Jews. Unless people are comfortable with Reform Judaism disappearing after a generation or two, then I would start with converting the spouses! And also: Why not convert people? Judaism is wonderful. Living a Jewish life is a good life. The world would be better if more people lived more Jewishly. So I’m all for evangelizing.”
Culinary views: As she explores Jewish culinary traditions, Bowles has become particularly fond of Mizrahi and Sephardic cuisine, which she describes as superior to Ashkenazi food. “At the risk of getting myself in too much trouble here, I am just in a state of near constant shock about Ashkenazi food,” she said. “You guys. Israeli food is an incredible treasure.” Her views on keeping kosher are a little more complicated. “This has been really tricky,” Bowles told JI, noting that she doesn’t eat pork and could easily do away with meat altogether. “But shellfish is a really hard one to give up. I’m from San Francisco, and I love clam chowder. I love oysters. We’re thinking maybe we just keep a vegetarian home? It’s an ongoing conversation right now.”
Connection to Israel: Bowles said that a planned trip to Israel was canceled because of the pandemic, but she plans to visit when it’s safe to do so. Asked if she felt as if her identification with Judaism was tied up at all with any sort of connection to Israel, Bowles told JI that it was too soon to say. “I don’t yet feel particularly connected to Israel, and I know that going there and learning more is a huge part of my conversion that I’m excited for,” she said. “But, and I’m going to write about this on the blog: the anti-Zionism and hatred I’ve felt from people (some even who I know very well) for not immediately disavowing Israel as a place or an idea has been shocking.”
ON THE HILL
Blinken confirmed as secretary of state despite some GOP opposition
The Senate confirmed Secretary of State Tony Blinken Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 78-22, the closest vote thus far for any of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Nearly half of the Republican caucus opposed Blinken’s confirmation, with many citing his and the Biden administration’s approach to Iran as primary reasons for their votes, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Avoid the past: “What’s clear from Blinken’s desire to reenter a nuclear deal with Iran is that he did not learn from the many foreign policy blunders of the Obama years,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said in a statement to JI. “We need accountability and clear thinking, not a retread of Obama’s failed foreign policy.”
Significant reservations: A spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also cited Blinken’s positions on Middle East policy as one of the senator’s reasons for voting against the nomination, in a statement to JI. “Senator Lee maintains significant reservations about Mr. Blinken’s approach to U.S. involvement in the Middle East, his blanket deference to multilateral organizations and agreements, and a posture that limits Article I input in foreign policy decisions where constitutionally required,” the spokesman said, referring to the U.S. Constitution’s system of checks and balances between the executive branch and Congress.
Coming soon: Also on Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted 7-5 to advance Homeland Security Secretary-designate Alejandro Mayorkas’s confirmation to a full Senate vote. Two Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Rob Portman (R-OH), voted with the panel’s five Democrats in favor of Mayorkas. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), the incoming committee chair, told reporters after the vote that Democrats are working to set a date for Mayorkas’s confirmation. Four former Homeland Security secretaries—Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano and Jeh Johnson—urged the Senate to “swiftly” confirm Mayorkas, arguing that delays could pose a threat to national security.
Read more here.
Up next: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet today for a confirmation hearing for Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee for ambassador to the U.N.
Big names flock — or Zoom — to the virtual magic mountain and desert
Two of the business world’s biggest events on the conference circuit — the World Economic Forum in Davos and Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative Institute — kicked off this week, though much of the programming was moved online amid the pandemic.
Where’s the magic: While speakers and attendees did not jet off to Switzerland this year, they’re tuning in virtually to hear from a list of luminaries including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who will be addressing the forum later today — King Hussein of Jordan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Typically each year’s gathering focuses on a different theme, and a large chunk of this year’s conference is devoted to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, with Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts sharing the virtual stage.
Watch Netanyahu’s address at 9 a.m. ET here.
Dessert in the desert: In Riyadh, the Future Investment Initiative Institute — dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — kicks off today. While a majority of speakers are expected to participate virtually, many will travel to the Gulf to participate in the annual conference. Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, the Carlyle Group’s co-founder and co-executive chairman David Rubenstein and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), now the vice chairman and managing director of the New York-based investment bank Moelis & Co., are all scheduled to speak at the conference, now in its fourth year. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon and Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman are also slated to speak, a marked change from 2019, when both companies sent lower-level executives to Riyadh following the fallout from the Saudi assasination of Jamal Khashoggi.
Facebook announces new effort to combat Holocaust denial
Facebook announced a new initiative to combat Holocaust denial on its platform, as the Anti-Defamation League issued a reportexcoriating the social media company for failing to implement its policies on the issue.
Taking action: In the announcement, timed to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management, explained that when users attempt to search for Holocaust-related materials, they “will see a message from Facebook encouraging them to connect with credible information about the Holocaust off Facebook.” The site will link users to aboutholocaust.org, an initiative spearheaded by the World Jewish Congress. The site contains survivor testimonies and information about the Holocaust that has been reviewed by experts in the field.
Making the grade: The ADL report on the moderation of digital Holocaust denial content ranked a variety of social media platforms on their approaches to Holocaust denial. The only company to receive a relatively high mark was Twitch, with a B, while Twitter, YouTube and TikTok were awarded Cs. Facebook and Reddit were both given a D grade in the report, and the ADL said Facebook was “the only platform in our investigation that either failed to respond to our reports or claimed the content we reported did not violate its Holocaust denial policy.”
🔓 Short Commute: New York Times reporter Ken Vogel detailshow Eliyahu Weinstein of Lakewood, N.J., received a commutation from President Donald Trump for the remainder of his 24-year prison sentence after he and others “skipped the line and got their petitions directly on the president’s desk.” [NYTimes]
☎️ Never Forget: The Yad Ezer La-Haver foundation to aid Holocaust survivors in Israel expanded its mission last year to reach thousands of survivors isolated by COVID-19, reports Alexandra Vardi for AFP. “We call more than 3,500 people a day,” said founder Shimon Shabag. “We talk to them. We show them that we are here and that we’re taking care of them.” [AFP]
✍️ Not On Board: In a New York Times column urging Biden to “put dissidents first” in his foreign policy, Bret Stephens argues that the reported consideration of Robert Malley as the next evoy on Iran “beggars belief,” adding that Malley “is widely seen as one of Tehran’s premier apologists in Washington.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
💼 Next Move: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will join the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
🤝 Final Deal: Israel and Sudan will hold a signing ceremony to finalize their normalization deal within months, said Israeli Minister Eli Cohen following his return from Sudan this week.
⚠️ Warning Sign: IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned the Biden administration yesterday that rejoining the Iran deal “is bad operationally and it is bad strategically.”
🕯️ Sad End: Around 900 Holocaust survivors died of COVID-19 in Israel in 2020 — out of around 17,000 total survivors who died last year.
📊 Data Dive: A new report claims the population of Israeli settlers grew 13% since the start of 2017, compared to 8% growth in Israel’s population overall.
⚽ No Hate: Israeli-Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea Football Club, issued a plea to challenge discrimination and antisemitism in the club and around the world.
🐄 Mooving On: A spat between the IDF and Lebanese cattle herders was resolved after IDF officials agreed to return several cows that had crossed the countries’ shared border.
🚀 Price Tag: Three private citizens, including Israeli Eytan Stibbe, will each pay $55 million for the first private flight to the International Space Station, slated for January 2022.
💸 Going Public: Israeli drone firm Airobotics is planning an IPO on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange after raising $120 million in private funding and as it nears a major deal with the UAE.
📝 Harsh Words: Baupost founder Seth Klarman criticized the Federal Reserve and other central banks for cutting interest rates and making it difficult for investors to assess risk.
🎶 Press Play: Len Blavatnik’s Warner Music is nearing a deal to purchase a minority stake in Saudi billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal’s Rotana Music.
🏡 On the Market: The D.C. home vacated by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump is available to rent for $18,000 a month, while casino mogul Steve Wynn listed his 27,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion for $110 million.
🗞️ Media Watch: Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron has announced he will retire at the end of February. Former New York Times editorial page director James Bennet is joining The Economist as a visiting senior editor. Former Trump White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow has joined Fox News as a contributor and will host a show on Fox Business.
🔴 Oppo Dump: Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer frequently publishes op-eds criticizing Google and big tech while also serving as a lawyer for the Internet Accountability Project, partly funded by Google’s rival Oracle.
🎥 Hollywood: The new film “Minyan,” about a Russian-Jewish immigrant in Brooklyn in the 1980s, has signed a deal for distribution in North America.
📽️ Making a Deal: Westbrook Media — founded by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith — is partnering with Israel’s Tedy Productions to develop programming.
Pic of the Day
Roses and a note reading “We Remember” were left at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin yesterday, a day ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Former CEO of Och-Ziff Capital Management, Daniel Och turns 60…
Auschwitz survivor and former professor of child psychiatry at Harvard University, Anna Ornstein turns 94… Senior counsel at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, Arthur Fleischer turns 88… Businessman and real estate investor, Paul Sislin turns 86… Winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, Barry Clark Barish turns 85… Priscilla Alexander turns 82… Operator of luxury casinos and hotels, Steve Wynn turns 79… Venture capitalist and scientist, Avram Miller turns 76… Topanga, Calif., resident, Joseph Helfer turns 74… Columbia, S.C., resident, Charles Geffen turns 73… Accountant at North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, Gene Bruton turns 72… Eliezer Edelman turns 72… Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Reuven Firestone turns 69…
Chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts turns 66… Member of the Missouri State Senate, Jill Schupp turns 66… Television writer and producer, Philip Rosenthal turns 61… Communications director at C-SPAN and author of When Rabbis Bless Congress, a history of rabbinical invocations in Congress, Howard Mortman turns 54… Founder and managing member of Liberty Peak Capital and co-founder and lead investor of Multiplier Capital, Ezra M. Friedberg turns 51… CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester, Josh Weinstein turns 48… Editor-in-chief of The Foreign Desk, Lisa Daftari turns 41… English fashion model, Daisy Rebecca Lowe turns 32… Former college and professional basketball point guard including playing on the Israeli women’s national basketball team, she is now a coordinator at Herzl Camp in Wisconsin, Jacqui Kalin turns 32… Foundation program manager for Jewish for Good, Grace Kaplan turns 30… Cookbook author, chef and attorney, she is a co-founder of Foundation for Jewish Camp, Elisa Spungen Bildner… Co-founder of a stealth startup in Israel, Lia Weiner… Associate at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Joshua Henderson…
Birthweek: Venture philanthropist and Jewish communal leader Laura Lauder turned 60 yesterday…