👋 Good Thursday morning!
President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally spoke yesterday for the first time since Biden took office nearly a month ago.
In a conversation that lasted around an hour, the two leaders discussed regional peace, Iran and the U.S.-Israel defense relationship, according to readouts from both countries. In comments to reporters in the Oval Office, Biden described it as a “good conversation.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said yesterday that the U.S. is calling on Iran to refrain from halting any assurances to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog is traveling to Tehran this weekend to hold talks on restoring access to international inspectors.
The Israeli government is engaged in rare Russian-brokered talks to secure the release of a young Israeli woman who recently crossed into Syria. A proposed deal would exchange the woman for two Syrians imprisoned in Israel, but complications ensued when the prisoners said they would refuse to move to Damascus, wanting instead to return to their homes in the Golan.
In an interview on Peter Beinart’s podcast, “Occupied Thoughts,” former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes posited that there is “a very aggressive, kind of pro-Likud media in the United States” that partly drives intense media coverage of Israel. Rhodes also suggested that Netanyahu’s world view is: “Jews have been screwed throughout history, by a corrupt cruel world. And so you know what, we just have to be corrupt and cruel ourselves. That’s the only way to survive in this world.”
Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of FDD, charged Rhodes with being hostile toward Israel and referred to Beinart as “once pro-Israel, now advocate for the destruction of Jewish-state.” Beinart replied, “I called for Jews + Palestinians to be treated equally under the law. Equality only seems like destruction when you’re defending a system of ethnic, religious or racial supremacy.” Dubowitz replied again, as did Beinart.
Divergent views on Israel come to light as Ohio special election heats up
As the open-seat race in Ohio’s 11th congressional district heats up, two candidates with some divergent views have emerged as the leading contenders to succeed outgoing Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH). Nina Turner vows to join the Squad’s ever-expanding ranks, while Shontel Brown, who serves as a Cuyahoga County councilwoman and party chair, claims that her affinities lie with establishment Democrats. Perhaps nowhere are their differences more apparent, however, than on Israel, reports JI’s Matthew Kassel. In questionnaires recently solicited by Jewish Insider, the five declared candidates in the race outlined their views on foreign policy and antisemitism.
Conditioning aid: While Turner, 53, makes clear that she supports conditioning aid to Israel, the former Cleveland city councilwoman and Ohio state senator clarifies that she is still in favor of providing foreign assistance to Israel — albeit with some caveats. “I think our foreign policy should be aligned with our values domestically,” Turner said in the questionnaire, making clear that she supports assistance for Israel’s “legitimate security threats” as well as “continued humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.” Still, she added, “I don’t believe any taxpayer money should be going toward entrenching the occupation of the Palestinian territories, settlement expansion, the detention of children or annexation.”
Counterpoint: Brown, on the other hand, unequivocally endorses the 10-year memorandum of understanding negotiated by the Obama administration, which provides $3.8 billion in annual assistance to Israel through 2028. “I oppose conditioning our aid to Israel for specific results,” Brown said in her questionnaire, arguing that the U.S. and Israel “have a deep, special, and unbreakable bond based on shared principles and values.” Brown singled out the BDS movement for ridicule, charging that it “uses antisemitic rhetoric and arguments to weaken, isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
Shared views: Despite their disagreements, Brown and Turner were aligned on some topics, including support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, which was abrogated by Trump in 2018 and is known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “I support President Biden’s efforts to get a ‘longer and stronger’ nuclear agreement with Iran,” Brown said, adding that the deal was not without its flaws. Turner was more enthusiastic, characterizing the deal as a “tremendous foreign policy accomplishment by the Obama administration that successfully prevented Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
Wild-card candidates: JI also solicited questionnaires from the other Democratic candidates in the race: Shirley Smith and Jeff Johnson, former Ohio state senators, and John Barnes, Jr., a former Ohio state representative. Johnson and Barnes were largely in accordance with Brown on matters relating to the Jewish state, while Smith was more heterodox in her questionnaire. She was vague on her support for a two-state solution and said she favors conditioning aid to Israel, but did not provide a detailed explanation. “I do believe U.S. should condition its aid for specific results,” Smith told JI, “as long as our position of power is not compromised as it would be if Israel were not our ally.”
New Gaza educational materials promote violence, refer to Israelis as ‘our enemies’
One month after the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) acknowledged that anti-Israel content had been printed in workbooks distributed throughout Gaza in the fall, the agency is again under scrutiny for materials distributed in December and January that glorify violence and characterize Israelis as “our enemies,” Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports.
In the books: A report released Wednesday by IMPACT-se, an Israel-based watchdog organization that monitors Arabic-language educational content, highlighted learning materials that it claims glorify violence. Much of the material, including numerous references to Israelis as “enemies,” was created by UNRWA-trained educators and does not appear in textbooks and workbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority. In a January grammar exercise, a flashcard reads “the Occupier commits all kinds of torture.” An exercise in verb conjugation includes the line “jihad is the road of glory.”
Past issues: In a Twitter thread last month, UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said that “Local reference to inappropriate pages [from] textbooks that were mistakenly distributed during #COVID19 lockdown were quickly replaced with content that adheres to UN values.” James Cleverly, the U.K.’s minister of state in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, testified in Parliament earlier this month that the content had been rectified by November 2020. Cleverly did not respond to a request for comment.
Calls for accountability: “UNRWA has both said they had no choice but to teach [the curriculum] but also has always said they have all these guardrails about how it can be moderated,” IMPACT-se CEO Marcus Sheff told JI. “Nobody has ever extracted from UNRWA a real practical example of how this is done. Does a teacher in an UNRWA school in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip tell people not to read that particular sentence about Dalal Mughrabi [a Palestinian militant who died in a 1978 terror attack that killed 34 Israelis] because it is problematic? We’ve never understood it, [and] they’ve never explained it.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee picks subcommittee leadership
House Democrats and Republicans are picking their leaders on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittees. Here’s a rundown of who’s in charge on the committee in the 117th Congress:
- Chair: Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) is the new chairman of the committee, and has promised “a leap towards a new way of doing business.”
- Vice chair: Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), a former assistant secretary of state, recently told Jewish Insider: “The job of the committee is not to be a cheerleader. Our job is to conduct oversight” on issues including the Iran nuclear deal.
- Ranking member: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), who is entering his second term as the committee’s ranking member, had a collaborative relationship with former chairman Eliot Engel.
Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism Subcommittee
- Chair: Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) will serve another term at the top of the subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes Israel and its neighbors.
- Vice chair: Freshman Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), the former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, told JI shortly after her election that getting placed on the Foreign Affairs Committee would give her the opportunity “to stand up for” the U.S.-Israel relationship.
- Ranking member: Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) is entering his second term as ranking member on the subcommittee.
Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee
- Chair: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) has been the top Democrat on the subcommittee since she was first elected to Congress in 2011.
- Vice chair: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who previously faced calls for her removal from the committee following 2019 remarks that invoked antisemitic tropes, was appointed vice chair last week, and some repeated their concerns.
- Ranking member: Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), who has been in Congress for more than 40 years, was the subcommittee’s chairman when the GOP controlled the House.
Quotable: “I’m delighted to be chosen to serve as the vice chair of the Middle East, North Africa and Counterterrorism Subcommittee,” Manning told Jewish Insider. “Israel is one of our most important allies and I will advocate for policies that ensure Israel’s long-term safety and security. I am also committed to addressing Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, including their continuing efforts to become a nuclear power and their fostering of terrorism around the world, including funding of Hezbollah and Hamas. In addition to these priorities, the Subcommittee must also work to root out antisemitism and to advance human rights across the globe.”
bdb against bds
De Blasio: Israel is a fundamentally progressive concept
Former New York City Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson has a new feature in Bloomberg Opinion, interviewing the candidates running to be the next mayor of New York City. To start, Wolfson interviewed outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio about his tenure and views. Their conversation ran long and was edited for length, but Wolfson shared the following exchange that he thought would be of interest to fellow JI readers:
Howard Wolfson: You have been very strongly pro-Israel during your political career, even friends of mine who tend to be critical of you recognize that and give you credit for it. How concerned are you, as a leading progressive, about the growth of the BDS movement on the left? How concerned should mainstream Democrats be?
Bill de Blasio: I’m concerned, but I wouldn’t overrate its growth. I think it’s incumbent on all Democrats, and particularly progressive Democrats, to denounce BDS because there’s a profound contradiction in what they are saying and doing. I respect their First Amendment rights, but that doesn’t stop me from profoundly disagreeing with what they’re doing. Israel is a fundamentally progressive concept. It is about having a homeland for a people who’ve been oppressed for millennia and who still have to wonder if they will have safety in the rest of the world. I don’t know what could be more progressive than a homeland for oppressed people. You can disagree with Benjamin Netanyahu, but still understand why Israel matters so much in the world. So I’m happy to take on the discussion anytime, anywhere. It is about our values as Democrats and progressives. I truly believe we should stand by the State of Israel, oppose BDS, and at the same time, I’m happy to say I believe in this two-state solution and I consistently disagree with Netanyahu and I look forward to the day when he’s no longer prime minister. But that’s a healthy discussion. And I honestly believe that’s where a vast majority of Democrats are, so that I would wrap it around and say, yes, it should be taken seriously as a problem, yes, people should speak up, but let’s not mistake it for a moment. If you went to every democratic U.S. senator, representative, governor, mayor in America, you would find overwhelming support for the State of Israel and an overwhelming opposition to BDS.
⚖️ Family Feud: Bloomberg’s Tom Schoenberg tells the story of Beverley Schottenstein, a 93-year-old Floridian who waged a legal war against her two grandsons who served as her money managers at JPMorgan, for mismanaging her fortune — and won. “They had no right to steal from their grandmother,” she said. “If they were aboveboard, they could’ve had the world from me.” [Bloomberg]
⚰️ Human Toll: In an interactive feature, New York Times photographer Dan Balilty and bureau chief Patrick Kingsley explore the outsized impact COVID-19 has had on Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities. “They have to wake up, because people are dying,” said one haredi activist. “How many funerals will come out of this one?” [NYTimes]
👨💼 Point Man: Axios’s Barak Ravid spotlights the low profile that Hady Amr, the Biden administration’s point man on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is adopting. One Israeli official described Amar as a pragmatist “with a very sober view of what’s achievable at the moment.” [Axios]
👵🏻 Life Arc: The Los Angeles Times’s Mark Barabak examines “the tragedy of Dianne Feinstein,” the 87-year-old California senator who blazed an indelible path for powerful women, but has become the “subject of scorn, considered by many a relic who is well past her prime, who refuses to yield to someone younger, more vibrant, more politically pugnacious.” [LATimes]
Around the Web
💉 Vaccine Win: Data from Israeli HMO Maccabi, culled from 600,000 people who received the vaccine, found that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective.
🇨🇳 Short List: Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seen as a top contender to serve as the Biden administration’s ambassador to China.
📈 On the Agenda: The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing today about last month’s Reddit-driven GameStop trading turmoil.
🇨🇦 Up North: Canadian Police have arrested and charged Travis Patron, the leader of the Canadian Nationalist Party, with “wilfully promoting hate against Jewish people.”
✈️ Air Miles: After ire from U.S. airlines that were banned from landing in Israel, Delta and United will be allowed to operate “rescue” flights between Tel Aviv and New York.
💰 Big Gift: Silicon Valley entrepreneur Nahum Guzik has donated $25 million to Israel’s Ben-Gurion University.
💸 Giving: Home Depot co-founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank have committed to donating $20 million each to mental health efforts for U.S. veterans through the Gary Sinise Foundation.
⏲️ Ticking Clock: United Orthodox Synagogues in Houston rallied earlier this week to distribute 350 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that were about to expire due to power outages.
🏈 Unity: The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Zach Banner hosted an “Athletes Against Antisemitism” panel discussion last night with WNBA star Alysha Clark and Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, later urging the NFL and Steelers to adopt the IHRA working definition on antisemitism.
📺 Hollywood: Netflix has commissioned a new crime miniseries, “Diamonds,” set in Amsterdam and shot in Dutch, English and Yiddish, from Yuval Yefet and Rotem Shamir.
🕯️ Remembering: Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, who helped foster the Jewish community in Italy, died at 88.
Portfolio manager at Capital Group and board member at Hillel International, Hilda Lea Applbaum turns 60…
Rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Hershel Reichman turns 77… Former U.S. representative from New York for 32 years until earlier this year, Eliot Engel turns 74… L.A. resident and former national and Washington correspondent for The New York Times, Michael Janofsky turns 74… Chairman of the World Congress of Russian Jewry, Boris Spiegel turns 68… Principal at BYC-based Liebman Advisors, Scott Liebman turns 63… Israeli singer and actress, Ilana Avital turns 61… Co-principal of the Institute for Wise Philanthropy and founder of the Jewish Earth Alliance, Mirele B. Goldsmith turns 60…Executive vice president of donor experience at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Lori Tessel… Israel’s ambassador to Romania, David Saranga turns 57… Author and school safety activist who had a daughter, Meadow, who was killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Andrew Scot Pollack turns 55…
Chair of the chemistry department at Stony Brook University and recent congressional candidate in New York, Nancy Sarah Goroff turns 53… CEO of an eponymous branding, marketing, PR, advertising and design firm, David F. Warschawski turns 50… Actor, screenwriter and comedian, Isaac “Ike” Barinholtz turns 44… Co-founder of StockX, Joshua Eliot “Josh” Luber turns 43… Singer-songwriter and pianist, Regina Spektor turns 41… VP of development for J Street, Adee Telem turns 40… Instagram celebrity known commonly as The Fat Jewish, Josh Ostrovsky turns 39… President of baseball operations and general manager of MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, David Stearns turns 36… Columnist for The Washington Post, James P. Hohmann turns 34… Senior city planner at the NYC Department of City Planning, Dylan Sandler turns 33… Capitol Hill producer at CBS News, Rebecca R. Kaplan turns 33… French movie actress, Esther Garrel turns 30… Partner at Globatec Digital Integration, Larry C. Leider…