👋 Good Tuesday morning!
The second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is set to begin at 1 p.m. today in the Senate, with up to four hours of debate over the trial’s constitutionality.
Trump’s defense attorney David Schoen withdrew his request yesterday for the trial to halt over Shabbat, likely allowing proceedings to continue uninterrupted through the weekend.
Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX) died of COVID-19 at age 67 yesterday, after being diagnosed in late January. Wright was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the first sitting member of Congress to die of coronavirus.
A group of 120 House Republicans, led by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him not to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken told CNN yesterday that Israeli control of the Golan Heights “remains of real importance to Israel’s security,” but stopped short of recognizing Israel’s legal control of the territory.
Blinken reiterated Biden’s intention to keep the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and stated that the administration views Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “one of the first calls” Biden made during his transition, and “I’m sure that they’ll have occasion to speak in the near future.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said yesterday that the U.S. is rejoining the U.N. Human Rights Council with an eye to reforming the body’s “disproportionate focus” on Israel.
New HFAC vice chair Malinowski lays out committee priorities
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) may be uniquely suited for his new role as vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the Joe Biden era. A former assistant secretary of state during the Obama administration, he has long-standing personal relationships with foreign policy heavyweights inside the Biden administration including Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Special Envoy on Iran Rob Malley and Philip Gordon, deputy national security advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris. Malinowski spoke to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday about the top priorities for the committee this session.
On the agenda: At the top of the committee’s agenda, Malinowski said, is the coronavirus — examining the U.S. role in helping distribute vaccines globally, reengaging with international health organizations and taking a leadership role in the global pandemic response. Also high on the list, he said, are a range of China-related issues, the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Focus on Iran: Malinowski said he supports the administration’s approach to Iran, but added, “The job of the committee is not to be a cheerleader. Our job is to conduct oversight.” The committee will scrutinize the administration’s plans to address Iran’s non-nuclear provocations, including its ballistic missile program, its support for terrorist groups abroad and its domestic human rights violations, he said. The New Jersey congressman added that Malley, his former teammate on the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, D.C.’s indoor soccer team, is “a very good friend, a very thoughtful person [and] a great diplomat…. He’s going to be a tremendous asset to the president and to Secretary Blinken.”
Assuaging concerns: Malinowski dismissed concerns that the Biden’s administration’s State Department could take a more hostile posture toward Israel as a result of Malley’s appointment and reports that Matt Duss, a foreign policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), may also be headed to Foggy Bottom. “The policy is going to be set by the president with strong support from Secretary Blinken and National Security Adviser [Jake] Sullivan. All of them are strongly pro-Israel and well known to supporters of Israel,” Malinowski emphasized. “They are all open to surrounding themselves with folks who have different points of view to their right, to their left… But I would not be concerned about the fundamental commitment of this administration to the U.S. relationship with Israel.”
2022 watch: Malinowski brushed off indications that Republican New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, who ran against Malinowski in 2020 and lost by just over one percentage point, is planning to challenge him again in 2022. “I’m confident that as long as we keep delivering, and I keep delivering on crushing this pandemic, restoring the economy, protecting folks in my district from the extremism that so many of them are concerned about in our country, I’m going to keep winning,” he said.
Elsewhere: Former New Republic editor-in-chief Marty Peretz writes in Tablet about “the Malley test,” offering an examination of “the impact of policies that institutionalist progressives support, measured on their own terms.”
Face to face
Madison Cawthorn finally meets with Jewish community leaders
Freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) met with Jewish community members yesterday, following criticism over his previous lack of outreach. What was expected to be a tense and potentially combative conversation was, by most accounts, a respectful back and forth in which Jewish leaders expressed unease regarding some of Cawthorn’s past controversial statements during an hour-long, in-person conversation at the congressman’s district office. “Part of our goal is to build a relationship, and he seemed amenable to that,” Rabbi Rachael Jackson, of Agudas Israel Congregation, a Reform synagogue in Hendersonville, N.C., told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “No one wanted to put anyone else on the defense.”
Cawthorn’s view: “Rep. Cawthorn had the honor of sitting down with local Jewish leaders in his district today,” Micah Bock, the congressman’s communications director, told JI via text message. “He discussed how his office can effectively liaison with the Jewish community, and how he can work to serve his Jewish constituents on both a district and national level. The discussion was productive, and Rep. Cawthorn hopes to continue working together with local leaders in the Jewish community to give voice to his constituents in Washington.”
Mixed reviews: Adrienne Skolnik, who chairs the North Carolina chapter of the Conference of Jewish Affairs, said the discussion was worthwhile. “We had a successful meeting with Madison Cawthorn confirming his help in fighting antisemitism,” Skolnik, a vocal conservative who supports Cawthorn and one of five Jewish community members at the meeting, told JI via email. “I have confidence Madison will work on behalf of the Jewish community to help us in any way he can.” Others who attended weren’t willing to go that far. But Jewish leaders who spoke with JI said they were cautiously optimistic about the listening session.
Benefit of the doubt: “As of now, I will continue to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Justin Goldstein, a scholar-in-residence at Yesod Farm+Kitchen, a Jewish-owned farm in Fairview, N.C., and a former rabbi at Beth Israel, said of Cawthorn. Jackson agreed, with some caveats. “I am waiting to see what actually happens,” she said. “The acknowledgement of the tension that existed was there for everybody — and dispelled,” she added. But that didn’t mean everything was all of a sudden copacetic. “It’s not going to be a best-friend relationship.”
By the book
Meet the Substack rabbi: ‘An intimate voice of Torah’
Substack rose to popularity as a medium for independent writers to share their work directly with interested readers. And one newsletter on the platform stands out for occupying a uniquely Jewish niche. Every Friday, more than 1,300 subscribers receive “Etz Hasadeh,” a project dedicated to Torah commentary, straight to their email inboxes. Rabbi Zohar Atkins, who founded the newsletter in early 2019, told Marie-Rose Sheinerman for Jewish Insider that his goal is to use it as a platform to teach Torah through “an existential lens.”
Thought provoking: “Etz Hasadeh” uses rabbinic texts to comment on the weekly Torah portion, or parsha, and weaves in poetry, philosophy, and contemporary issues. To understand Moses and the Israelites breaking into song as they leave the land of Egypt, Atkins turned to Plato’s “Republic” and the poetry of Louis Zukofsky. To write about Bereishit (Genesis), he brought in the work of both American poet John Ashbery and Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, and used artificial intelligence as metaphor. “I’m really passionate about getting people to have fun thinking about the meaning of life,” Atkins told JI. Often, for him, that means thinking about the weekly Torah portion in terms of “how we relate to the characters and the plot and the language.”
Wide audience: The newsletter takes its name — translated literally as “tree of the field” — from a passage in Deuteronomy that describes a compassionate conquering force, one that does not cut down the trees in the land it has won. Atkins believes that “in an increasingly virtual and fast-paced world, spaces for intimate discussion and reflection, guided by the study of ancient texts, are ‘trees of the field’ that need to be preserved.” Part of his hope for the newsletter is “reaching an audience of people who identify as religious as well as who identify as secular, and everything in between,” he told JI. On that front, he believes he has succeeded: His readers include everyone from non-Jews to yeshiva rabbis, Atkins said.
Keeping connected: Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, an avid reader of the newsletter, described Atkins’s approach to commentary as akin to that of renowned Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. His writing has a “neo-midrashic curiosity,” Bashevkin told JI. “He approaches Biblical stories and Torah… and filters that through a very rich world of philosophy and culture and ideas… You walk away really looking at Jewish ideas and text in a way that other people are not.” Zachary Thatcher, another subscriber to Atkins’s newsletter, described the writing as “an intimate voice of Torah… I read him every single week, and it’s definitely been keeping me company during COVID,” Thatcher told JI. “It’s kept me connected to Torah.”
⚖️ Pulling Strings: New York Times reportersKen Vogel and Nick Confessore reveal that Alan Dershowitz lobbied Trump to commute George Nader’s prison sentence for child sex trafficking in order for him to “resume a behind-the-scenes role in Middle East peace talks.” Vogel also details Dershowitz’s role in the clemencies of Sholom Rubashkin, Ronen Nahmani, Mark Shapiro and Irving Stitsky. [NYTimes]
⚰️ Looking Back: In Literary Hub, writer Molly Crabapple reflects on New York City pre- and post-COVID, with a visit to the socialist Jewish section of the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Queens. “These [tombs] were overgrown, sometimes toppled over, and near illegible in their Yiddish, whose letters I had to trace with my fingers to read… New York is the city of ghostly rebels.” [LitHub]
💥 COVID Clash: The Washington Post’sSteve Hendrix and Shira Rubin highlight growing anger among secular Israelis against ultra-Orthodox Jews flouting COVID-19 restrictions. “Now it’s not only tense — it feels like hatred,” said Bnei Brak resident Vivian Shinfeld. “Now it is starting to feel like a war.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
✈️ Flying High: Israel and Greece announced an agreement to allow fully vaccinated passengers to travel between the countries without any coronavirus restrictions.
🤝 To the Table: Representatives of Hamas and Fatah met in Cairo yesterday for Egypt-brokered reconciliation talks.
💸 Hit Pause: A UAE official said yesterday that the Gulf state does not intend to renew payments to UNRWA unless it works to reset its fund management.
☎️ Talking Shop: Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Secretary of State Tony Blinken held their second call yesterday since Blinken took office, discussing the ICC decision and Iran.
👮 Hate Crime: Police are investigating antisemitic graffiti spray-painted on the Alpha Epsilon Pi Jewish fraternity house at California Polytechnic State University.
💰 Incentive: The FBI, the ADL and other donors are offering a combined $20,000 award for information on the individual responsible for vandalizing two Alabama synagogues last year.
🚓 Locked Up: Federal agents arrested a 20-year-old Texas neo-Nazi who they said was “intent on killing members of the Jewish faith.”
📱 Fireside Chat: Billionaire investor Mark Cuban is launching a new podcast app, Fireside, that enables hosts to interact with fans — and charge for it.
🛫 All Aboard: American Airlines announced a new direct flight from Miami to Tel Aviv launching in June.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: The U.K. Conservative Party has dropped a candidate who tweeted at a Jewish Labour MP to “keep the Aryan race going.”
📺 Hollywood: Maria Kyriacou, the head of ViacomCBS’s U.K., Australia and Israel division, told The Hollywood Reporter that Israel “is one of the best creative hubs in the world.”
💼 Transition: Evan Schlessinger was elected chair of the board of trustees of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.
Pic of the Day
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (right) met yesterday with U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Jonathan Shrier, the acting head of the U.S. Embassy in Israel.
Singer-songwriter and a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Carole King (née Klein) turns 79…
Grammy Award-winning songwriter of over 150 hits, Barry Mann turns 82… Economist and professor at Columbia University, a 2001 Nobel laureate in Economics, Joseph Stiglitz turns 78… Three-time Tony Award and two-time Emmy Award-winning actress, Judith Light turns 72… Professor of history and modern Jewish studies at UCSD, Deborah Hertz turns 72… Israeli singer with over 30 albums, Shimi Tavori turns 68… Australian philanthropist and owner of a series of mineral and energy companies, Georgina Hope “Gina” Rinehart turns 67… Former governor of Virginia and chair of the DNC, Terry McAuliffe, a/k/a “the Macker,” turns 64… Creator of the HBO series “The Wire” and NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street,” winner of a 2010 MacArthur genius fellowship, David Simon turns 61…Theoretical physics professor at Columbia University and author of Icarus at the Edge of Time, Brian Greene turns 58… Isaac Lieberman turns 57…
Play-by-play announcer for ESPN’s men’s college basketball and for the Toronto Blue Jays, Dan Shulman turns 54… President of the U.S. Education portfolio at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Julie Mikuta turns 52… Assistant adjunct professor of journalism at UCLA, Abigail Helaine “Abbe” Goldman turns 51… Managing director of Tiedemann Wealth Management, Jeffrey L. Zlot turns 50…Charleston, S.C., resident, Ellen Miriam Brandwein turns 44… Actress born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Margarita Levieva turns 41… Director of public policy and strategy for CUFI’s Action Fund, Boris Zilberman turns 37… Area director for AIPAC, Jason Pressberg turns 37… CEO of Precision Safe Sidewalks, Thomas Szold turns 36… Associate director at W2O Group, Carly Abenstein turns 27… Israeli-Arab who as a teenager in 2014 was forced to go into hiding after publicly expressing support for the State of Israel, now living in Tel Aviv, Muhammad Zoabi turns 24… Rafael Regla…