👋 Good Tuesday morning!
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman reportedly told a closed Knesset hearing yesterday that Jared Kushner briefed incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan on the Trump administration’s Middle East policies two weeks ago.
Friedman told the Knesset that Israel should not seek an immediate confrontation with Biden on Iran, but should instead ask the new administration to start a dialogue with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries before addressing a return to the nuclear deal.
An Israeli official told Bloomberg that Israel will send “a stream of envoys” to Washington to lobby against the U.S. rejoining the Iran deal.
Barbara Leaf, the former U.S. ambassador to the UAE, is reportedly poised to join the National Security Council under President-elect Joe Biden. Last month, Leaf told Vox that she was not concerned that Israel would lose its qualitative military edge over the U.S. sale of F-35 jets to the UAE.
Biden is expected to make a major push today to confirm his national security nominees so that they are ready to take office immediately after his inauguration.
The House is slated to vote today on a resolution calling on the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Donald Trump from office.
Politico reporter Meridith McGraw spotted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dining at Cafe Milano in D.C. with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, last night.
Pompeo is expected to give a speech at the National Press Club in Washington today accusing Iran of ties to al Qaeda.
Social media seer
Arieh Kovler saw the Capitol breach coming — all the way from Israel
On December 21, a 39-year-old communications specialist shared a prophecy on Twitter that is now regarded as one of the most clear-eyed predictions of the Capitol breach. “On January 6, armed Trumpist militias will be rallying in D.C., at Trump’s orders,” Arieh Kovler wrote. “It’s highly likely that they’ll try to storm the Capitol after it certifies Joe Biden’s win. I don’t think this has sunk in yet.” Equally surprising was that Kovler delivered his warning from Jerusalem, where he works as a consultant. “Joining the dots wasn’t very difficult,” Kovler told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel, noting that he monitors right-wing messaging sites where the siege was planned. “I could see the way the wind was blowing.”
Threat assessment: There were two primary indicators Kovler saw as he assessed a volatile political landscape. “These guys, they’re absolutely convinced that Trump has won — that’s the starting point,” Kovler said of the pro-Trump extremists who mounted a failed insurrection. “They never were ready to lose.” Part two, he said, “is Donald Trump says, ‘Come to Washington, D.C., on January 6, it’s going to be wild,’” Kovler continued. “They really thought that they were going to watch him or to help him win.” That combination, Kovler rightly surmised, would be disastrous.
Psychological conditioning: And yet Kovler’s tweet wasn’t intended entirely as a doomsday prediction. He described his social media missive as a kind of alarm bell for those who may not have been mentally prepared for what he imagined would be a failed attack. “I wasn’t seeing people take it seriously enough, and by people, I didn’t mean the authorities,” Kovler told JI. “I assumed the authorities would have it all in hand. I actually meant the general public. I kind of wanted to try and essentially warn people to be psychologically prepared for what I assumed was going to happen.”
Background: Kovler’s professional training may have made him slightly more well-suited than most to anticipate the events of January 6, as he is responsible for weighing trends and contingencies as a communications strategist. Before he made aliyah about a decade ago, he worked as a political consultant for various Jewish groups in Britain. A formative moment, he said, was in 2009, when violent protestors marched on the Israeli embassy in London during the war in Gaza. “I remember sort of pacing around watching the footage of that and writing, on that night, a position paper that kind of led to the development of a lot of big changes in the way in which the British Jewish community did politics and community engagement,” Kovler recalled.
Violence to come? As for whether there will be any future violence in D.C., Kovler gave a more sanguine analysis than his December premonition. “I think January 17 in Washington will be a damp squib,” he said of the day on which federal authorities are preparing for more rioting by right-wing extremists. “I don’t think the inauguration is going to be much of a worry,” Kovler added. He suspects that the perpetrators who stormed the Capitol are likely now in retreat. “At the moment, the movement that led to the mob on January 6 is currently a bit splintered, a bit confused, trying to work out what it’s about, and mostly talking about how unfair it is that Trump doesn’t have a Twitter account right now.”
On the hill
Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon backs presidential censure
In the face of a growing Democratic push for a second impeachment of President Donald Trump — which appears likely to occur as soon as Wednesday — some House Republicans are instead pushing a plan to censure the president for his role in inciting Wednesday’s insurrection. Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday that he supports such a move — and does not back impeachment.
Better option: Bacon, who hails from a swing district whose electoral vote went to President-elect Joe Biden in November, told JI he is supportive of a movement to censure the president. But impeachment proceedings, the Nebraska congressman warned, could likely lead skeptical Republicans to coalesce behind the president once again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), meanwhile, has indicated that she will not allow a vote on censure.
Cutting ties: Bacon told JI that Trump has lost the support of much of the Republican Party. “We have somewhere between 30 or 35 — I don’t know what the exact number is — [Republicans who] are still very passionate about the president,” Bacon said of his congressional colleagues. The congressman also believes the GOP base is similarly moving on from Trump. “I don’t think the president will be very competitive in any future race, particularly after the last few months and up to the last week,” he predicted.
Looking ahead: Bacon made the case that Trump has undermined his legacy and achievements through his conduct since the election. “It’s hurt his legacy by how he’s responded. And what happened this past week is a reflection of his leadership. And it’s not good.” Bacon also anticipated that disputes over the election results will likely hamper his party, potentially kneecapping efforts to take back the House in 2022, although he anticipates that the GOP will unite in opposition to Democratic policy priorities.
Read the full interview here
Bonus: In The New York Times, Bret Stephens makes the case for impeachment, noting that decades ago, the party was salvaged by Republicans who turned away from Richard Nixon. “If the party doesn’t now turn against [Trump], it will be tainted and crippled for years to come.”
The story behind internet troll Baked Alaska
Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel wasn’t surprised to spot Anthime Gionet, the white nationalist internet troll better known by his online alias, Baked Alaska, among the rioters who stormed the Capitol. Gionet, 33, came to prominence during the 2016 presidential election organizing pro-Trump flash mobs he giddily livestreamed from his smartphone. Gionet — who Kassel met and interviewed at length four years ago and is now the subject of a thought-provoking Ben Smith column in The New York Times — virtually disappeared from public view after he was banned from YouTube and Twitter. Today, Kassel looks back at his past encounter with the now-infamous white nationalist.
Addled and self-absorbed: When I encountered Gionet in Los Angeles, while on assignment for a New York Times Magazine story about a photographer out to cast the figureheads of the alt-right as heroic, Gionet appeared to think of himself as a brave truth-teller testing the limits of free expression. Mostly, he seemed addled and self-absorbed as he clutched his smartphone with an energy I recall as unnervingly twitchy. “Every 12 hours now, there’s a new article about me,” Gionet told me in February 2017, sitting in front of a vanity mirror at a Culver City studio before participating in one of the strangest photo shoots I have witnessed. His bleach-blonde mullet was jarring to behold under the fluorescent lighting. “I’m on heavy rotation.”
Background: He was overstating his infamy. Though Gionet had earned some press attention, he was more well-known within the loose-knit cohort of online reactionaries who supported Trump. Even among such miscreants, Gionet was then finding himself persona non grata thanks to a recent series of antisemitic tweets including one in which he declared that “Jews control the news.” For his indiscretion, Gionet was banned from the Deploraball, the alt-right celebration held on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, when the president’s most extreme supporters were convinced that they had helped install him in the White House. Keeping him there, by whatever means necessary, would come later.
Antisemitism on display: I didn’t tell Gionet I was Jewish when we spoke. It wasn’t that I found him particularly menacing. To the contrary, he seemed rather desperate for approval. But his antisemitism would soon present itself. At one point, he expressed his distaste for the American Civil Liberties Union, asking me defiantly if I could name an instance in which the ACLU stood up for free speech. Knowing my audience, I made reference to one cause I was certain he could get behind: that the group had defended the Nazis of Skokie, Ill., in the late 1970s. Gionet seemed taken aback. “They defended the Nazis?” he said with apparent awe. “Really? Huh. I did not know that. That’s a good fact. I love the ACLU!”
Warning call: It feels quaint now to think back on that moment — before the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, before the Capitol breach in which five people died — and wonder if Gionet had any idea what he was getting himself into. At the photo shoot, Gionet cycled through a number of strange props, one of which included a black pitchfork affixed with a laser sight that he was told he could use to go after crooked politicians. “That is so legit!” Gionet said. “Soros?” Posing with the makeshift weapon, Gionet then adopted a more defiant tone: “Revolution!” he yelled. Back then, his rallying cry seemed like a bad joke. In retrospect, it feels more like a warning.
Rising COVID needs force federations to dip into their endowments
As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, some Jewish federations are taking extraordinary steps to find funds to meet the ever-rising needs of local families and institutions suffering from the dire financial impact of the pandemic. A few, including UJA-Federation of New York and the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, are taking more money from their endowments than ever before. The New York federation has pulled $50 million out of its $920 million in unrestricted endowment funds — far more than at any time since the Great Depression, Eric Goldstein, the charity’s CEO, told Jewish Insider‘s Debra Nussbaum Cohen.
Rainy day: In the past, the federation has reached into its endowed funds after crises, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, “but never remotely to this extent. There has never been such an impact to our community that this pandemic has had,” Goldstein said. “It is vitally important” to be cautious in spending endowed money, he told JI. “The more you take from your endowment now, the less you have to draw from in the future.” But the other reason to have an endowment “is to use it for a rainy day. We’ve never seen a downpour like this in our lifetimes,” said Goldstein. “The needs of the moment are staggering” and “are likely to take years to work out of the pandemic.”
Staying afloat: The Minneapolis Jewish Federation has used $4 million of its $16 million in unrestricted endowment money — the largest amount the federation has ever taken from the endowment for an emergency, CEO James Cohen told JI. “If we didn’t do that and any part of our community collapsed, it was our obligation to keep us afloat. And $4 million wasn’t close to what we needed to make sure our partners would survive,” said Cohen. The Minneapolis Federation also started a special fundraising campaign called Kadima. The federation is using Kadima pledges in an unusual way: as collateral for a $12 million line of credit it is taking from a local bank. That way, explained Cohen, donors can pay their pledges over three years, but all the money will be accessible to the federation in 2021.
Long-term impact: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has spent $16.4 million on COVID relief so far, CEO and President Jay Sanderson told JI. Some $2 million is going to help families send children to camp this coming summer, and significant money is being spent to provide cash assistance and food to L.A.-area Jews through 36 synagogues and two large food pantry programs. More than $2.5 million will be spent on financial aid for day school families who can no longer afford tuition because of layoffs and furloughs, Sanderson said, and $1 million was distributed to help offset the cost to schools of reopening with COVID safety requirements in place. The L.A. federation is well-versed in handling serious emergencies, like wildfires and earthquakes. “This pandemic is more serious than the fires,” Sanderson said, at least in terms of the long-term impact. “The pandemic will impact the Jewish community for the next five years, economically, in terms of mental health and otherwise.”
⚽ Running Afoul: In Foreign Policy, Joshua Mitnick highlights the pending purchase of the controversial Beitar Jerusalem soccer team by an Emirati royal. But with red flags raised by antitrust authorities, the deal could fall apart and “potentially dampen the euphoria that has characterized the entente between Israel and the UAE.” [FP]
📵 Offline: In The Wall Street Journal, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) writesthat he will be taking an indefinite “social media sabbatical,” partly “inspired by seeing our Jewish brethren in Israel celebrate Shabbat” by going offline and spending time with family. [WSJ]
💂 On Guard: The Times of Israel’s Tal Schneider spoke to sources in the Knesset Guard about their readiness for violent riots similar to those in the Capitol last week. “Even before the riots in Washington, the Guard was training for how to deal with riots and the possible kidnapping of lawmakers either from inside the building or somewhere in the grounds,” a Knesset source said. [ToI]
Around the Web
⏲️ Ticking Clock: The Iran nuclear deal must be revived in the next few weeks in order to survive, according to top U.N. nuclear regulator Rafael Grossi.
⚠️ Warning: In a statement yesterday, the E.U. said Iran must undo uranium enrichment and “refrain from further escalation” to give diplomacy a chance.
🇮🇷 Iran Fears: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) wrote in the Bangor Daily News that when the Capitol riot began, “my first thought was that the Iranians had followed through on their threat.”
📅 Back on Track: The next hearing in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial is scheduled for February 8, following a delay caused by tightened COVID restrictions.
🕊️ Coming Together: The foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan met in Cairo on Monday to discuss restarting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
🤳 Moving On: Less than a week after the violent riots at the Capitol, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu removed Trump from the photo on his Twitter banner.
📡 Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries has begun delivering hundreds of its phased array radar systems to the U.S. Army.
🚘 Startup Nation: Israel’s Mobileye, owned by Intel, is making waves in the hi-tech world with its announcement that it has put lidar on a chip.
🚌 Safe Travels: Israeli startup Aura Air has begun outfitting buses used to transport frontline workers in the United Kingdom and Ireland with COVID-destroying air purifiers.
💉 Moscow Medicine: The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry approved the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine for use in the Palestinian territories.
🏷️ Labels: For the first time, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has begun referring to Israel as “an apartheid state.”
⚖️ Best Defense: A lawyer for Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz demanded that Swiss prosecutors in his bribery trial discard evidence collected on “secret” trips to Israel.
👨⚖️ Making History: Judge Steve González became the first Jewish chief justice of the Washington State Supreme Court yesterday.
📻 Off Air: Cumulus Media, the radio network home to Ben Shapiro, Mark Levin and Dan Bongino, threatened to fire any hosts who continue to spread debunked election fraud claims.
🇨🇦 In Court: A number of Jewish congregations in Quebec are threatening to sue the government over COVID-19 restrictions banning gatherings in places of worship.
🙊 Talk of the Town: A Staten Island Republican candidate for borough president apologized for shouting “Heil Hitler” during a protest last month against COVID-19 restrictions.
👮 Consequences: A high-ranking NYPD officer is facing administrative charges for writing — and denying — dozens of racist and antisemitic online posts.
🚫 Ready, Aim, Fired: The U.S. Army is taking steps to oust a junior officer who joked about Holocaust victims on Tik Tok last year.
🧆 Bad Taste: Two popular Israeli restaurants in Portland, Ore., were vandalized with “Free Palestine” graffiti over the weekend.
📰 Media Watch: The New York Jewish Week has been acquired by 70 Faces Media, owner of JTA.
🕯️ Remembering: Iancu Tucarman, one of Romania’s last Holocaust survivors, died of COVID-19 complications at age 98. Barry Goldsmith, a Holocaust survivor who became a prominent architect, died of COVID-19 complications at 82.
Gif of the Day
Worshipers pray and study in divided sections at the Western Wall yesterday in Jerusalem amid Israel’s third nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
First-ever woman to be an MLB coach, Justine Siegal Ph.D. turns 46…
Real estate and casino magnate, he is a minority owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, Neil Gary Bluhm turns 83… U.S.-born biochemist, he moved to Israel in 1973 after being granted an M.D. and Ph.D. from NYU, winner of the Israel Prize (1999), professor emeritus at Hebrew U, Howard “Chaim” Cedar turns 78… Stephen Moses turns 75… Israel-born jewelry designer and former first lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff turns 71… Author of over 40 books, Walter Mosley turns 69… NYC-based psychiatrist and the medical director of the Child Mind Institute, Harold S. Koplewicz, MD turns 68… Radio personality, Howard Stern turns 67… British novelist and grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, Simon Mario Reuel Tolkien turns 62…
Director of the West Coast office of Jewish Funders Network, Tzivia Schwartz Getzug turns 59… Midday news anchor at Washington’s WTOP Radio, Debra Feinstein turns 59… Jewish communal leader and former chair of Hillel International, Tina Price… Member of the Maryland House of Delegates, Jon S. Cardin turns 51… Identical twin comedians and actors, Randy Sklar and Jason Sklar, turn 49… Recording artist and musical entertainer, Yaakov Shwekey turns 44… National director of AIPAC’s synagogue initiative, Jonathan Schulman turns 39… Manager of Jewish life and learning at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, Amanda Herring turns 31… VP of finance and operations at NYC-based Hornig Capital Partners, Daniel Silvermintz turns 28…