👋 Good Thursday morning!
Ed note: In celebration of Purim, the next Daily Kickoff will arrive on Monday. Happy Purim!
Following complaints of an antisemitic storyline, NBC is pulling an episode of the Canadian TV drama “Nurses” from its digital platforms.
An exclusive AP report indicates that Israel has begun extensive construction near a facility in Dimona widely believed to be the site of its secretive nuclear program.
Satellite images of the site suggest the dig, “about the size of a soccer field,” began in early 2019, but Israeli officials, as expected, refused to comment to AP.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters yesterday that U.S. “patience is not unlimited” when it comes to engaging Iran on rejoining the nuclear deal.
During his confirmation hearing yesterday, CIA Director-designate William Burns told senators: “I think it’s absolutely important for the United States to continue to do everything we can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
Burns added that he would provide President Joe Biden with “straightforward and unvarnished” intelligence on Iran, and that the U.S. should address all of Iran’s provocative activities, beyond just its nuclear program.
The Biden administration is set to release today an unclassified version of a U.S. intelligence report that found that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Biden is expected to speak with Saudi King Salman sometime this week.
Who’s in Scott Stringer’s eruv?
Until recently, Scott Stringer, New York City’s avuncular two-term comptroller, was widely viewed as the embodiment of a conventional Upper West Side liberal — a designation that once paid dividends for the city’s elected officials but now seems fairly antiquated in a political landscape populated by upstart progressives. But with Gracie Mansion now in his sights, Stringer has undergone something of a makeover. “I’m very proud of the endorsements I’ve received,” Stringer said in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “I have support in the progressive community and support throughout the city.”
Broad coalition: As he mounts his first mayoral bid, the politically moderate insider has effectively rebranded himself as one of the leading progressive candidates in a packed primary — racking up endorsements from a growing faction of left-wing stalwarts like Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and State Sen. Julia Salazar, both of whom unseated longtime incumbents with support from the Democratic Socialists of America. “The way you become mayor is to build a multiracial, intergenerational coalition,” Stringer told JI. “The beauty about New York City is that there’s not one group that elects you. You have to build a broad coalition — and I’m happy that we’re doing that.”
Two lanes: While he has no doubt benefited from his new relationship with progressives, Stringer’s affiliation with the left-leaning flank of the Democratic Party has also come at a cost. Several of his traditional allies are questioning the authenticity of Stringer’s approach as he pulls in support from progressives whose views, at least on some matters, do not seem to match his own. “As the old saying goes, he’s trying to dance at two weddings,” said a prominent Jewish leader who is active in New York City politics, speaking anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the discussion. “That’s going to be a real challenge for him.”
Endorsement inquiry: One hot topic is Stringer’s support for two prominent DSA-backed progressives, Tiffany Cabán and Salazar, who are seen as aligned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Asked about those concerns, Stringer expressed surprise at his allies’ positions. “I don’t know if they’re pro-BDS,” he said. “I don’t know that.” As comptroller, Stringer, who is Jewish, led a delegation to Israel in 2016, and oversaw the city’s retirement funds, which are invested in Israel Bonds. He has previously denounced BDS as antisemitic and, over the summer, spoke out against a DSA questionnaire asking local candidates to pledge not to visit Israel if elected. Stringer reiterated to JI that he rejects the BDS movement, but he was reticent on the topic of his recent endorsements. “Let me just say,” he noted, “I’ve endorsed a wide range of people over the years.”
How will ranked choice voting affect New York’s mayoral primary?
On Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast” this week, hosts Jarrod Bernstein and Rich Goldberg are joined by Howard Wolfson, a former deputy mayor of New York City under Michael Bloomberg, and Sally Goldenberg, the City Hall bureau chief for Politico New York. They dove deep into the crowded upcoming New York City mayoral election, discussing the new ranked voting system and what role the Jewish vote may play in the race.
Second choice: The upcoming mayoral primaries on June 22 will be the first to use ranked-choice voting. “What it does is it allows voters to pick their top five candidates and rank them one to five,” explained Goldenberg. “It’s called instant runoff, because, previously in New York, if nobody got 40%, there would be a runoff… I think the thinking was it’s better government practice to have everybody voting at once, and a way to avoid that second election.” Wolfson suggested that the new system could reduce negative campaigning in the race. “If you can’t be everybody’s first choice, you want to be everyone’s second choice… you don’t want to be anybody’s last choice,” he said. “So there is a disincentive to going negative on somebody.”
Ballot blocs: When it comes to the Jewish vote, Goldenberg pointed out that the community in New York City is fairly diverse. “The Jewish community is so multi-layered in New York City,” she said. “It’s really not a monolith. The Jewish people who tend to vote as a bloc are the Satmars and the Hasidim in Borough Park,” she said, noting that “prior to Andrew Yang’s entry into the race, I think Eric Adams was sort of angling, and my guess was probably a favorite for many in those communities.” Wolfson and Goldenberg both noted that Hasidic voters are particularly concerned how a future mayor will handle yeshiva oversight. “There is this issue of how much the city, and I guess in theory state, could oversee and regulate the content of academics in the religious schools,” said Wolfson. “But I think that the issues are indeed broader than that as well.”
Lightning round: Best bagel in New York? Goldenberg: “Ess-a-bagel.” Wolfson: “Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side.” Best former mayor of New York City? Wolfson: “[Fiorello] La Guardia is sort of the obvious choice for my second best mayor, not my first best mayor.” Goldenberg: “I can’t answer that as a reporter,” she said, but added that the former mayor she most wished she could have covered is “Ed Koch: Press friendly, interesting times and off the cuff.”
Why is Al Jazeera launching a conservative media network? No one’s quite sure
The announcement earlier this week that Al Jazeera — the international news network funded by the Qatari government — is planning to launch a new digital media platform targeted at American conservatives has been met with bafflement. Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod spoke with media analysts familiar with Al Jazeera about the announcement.
Surprise announcement: The new platform — called Rightly — begins its rollout today with the soft-launch of its first program, “Right Now with Stephen Kent.” But that news, which broke on Tuesday, was a surprise not only to media commentators knowledgeable about Al Jazeera, but also to high-level officials inside the network, according to William Youmans, a professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University who extensively studied Al Jazeera for his 2017 book about the network. Normally, Youmans said, managers in various departments across the organization engage in bureaucratic wrangling over workflow, editorial control, standards enforcement and other issues ahead of major product launches. With Rightly, that process did not happen.
Unclear motivations: The surprise announcement has been compounded by a lack of clarity about Al Jazeera’s goals in launching Rightly. “You’ve got to get to the ultimate question of why do they want [this] audience,” Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst who spent the bulk of his career with Knight Ridder, told JI. Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor and Brookings Institution fellow who studies Al Jazeera, suggested the move could be an attempt to temper pro-Saudi attitudes among American conservatives, while Youmans argued it may be an effort to appease conservative lawmakers who pushed to designate Al Jazeera as a foreign agent.
Audience unknown: Does a sizable audience for Rightly’s content exist? Kent told NPR that he wants his show to be about “building the case over time for why the liberal tradition is worth defending.” Tehani and Youmans are skeptical there is an audience for such content. “Maybe there’s a market there for this moderate conservative voice, but how many of them are not Islamophobic and willing to be open-minded about news coming from Al Jazeera, which Republican president after Republican president has essentially vilified?” Youmans questioned. He added, however, that Rightly may be able to stay afloat even with a small audience if it is able to build a strong reputation among D.C. power players.
on the hill
Colin Kahl likely to face tough confirmation over past stances on Iran and Israel
The fight over the Senate confirmation of Colin Kahl as the Defense Department’s undersecretary for policy publicly surfaced yesterday, with Voxand Politicoboth reporting on the concerns of Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Now, what would otherwise have amounted to below-the-fold news about a sub-cabinet position has become an early proxy battle over the Biden administration’s Iran policy. A spokesperson for Inhofe emphasized that the Oklahoma senator was considering the nomination, but “has serious concerns with some of the policy positions that Mr. Kahl has taken in the past.”
Iran: Kahl served as a national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden for much of his second term. In this capacity, Kahl worked alongside the White House team negotiating what became the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In the final days of the Obama administration, visitor logs show that Kahl — along with Obama foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes and current State Department Special Representative for Iran Rob Malley — met with pro-Iran lobbyists, including Quincy Institute co-founder Trita Parsi, then the president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), more than 30 times. In 2013, Kahl spoke at NIAC’s annual leadership conference. Four years later, speaking at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Kahl said he opposed new efforts to impose sanctions on the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, suggesting they “could have the inadvertent effect of triggering a response by the IRGC.”
Ploughshares backing: Kahl joined the Center for a New American Security in 2007 with the assistance of a grant from the Ploughshares Fund, leaving the following year to serve as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East in the Obama administration before returning to CNAS in 2012. Shortly after leaving the Obama administration in late 2011, Kahl argued in an op-ed that a preemptive strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear assets would backfire and that the attack on the Osirak nuclear facility in 1981 was a mistake.
Israel: Kahl came under fire during the 2012 presidential campaign after he co-wrote the Democratic Party’s convention platform that omitted calling for Jerusalem to be recognized as the capital of Israel. After pressure from pro-Israel advocates, then-President Barack Obama personally intervened to request a last minute change. The flap proved embarrassing for campaign and party officials, some of whom privately placed the blame on Kahl. Only a month earlier, Kahl had written a defense of Obama’s Israel policy record, going on to criticize then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for advocating Jerusalem as the capital, calling it “a statement at odds with the longstanding tradition of reserving judgment on the city’s official status until it is resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.” While he defended the two platform drafts as substantively the same, Kahl said at the time: “We are where we are. We should move on. The platform is changed.”
Elsewhere: Barbara Leaf, the senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council, is reportedly being nominated as the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs at the State Department.
🇮🇷 Global Menace: Wang Xiyue, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, writes in The Wall Street Journal about his experiences during three years in an Iranian prison. “As I witnessed firsthand, Tehran isn’t interested in normalizing relations with Washington. It survives and thrives on its self-perpetuated hostility against the West,” he wrote. “The menace of the Islamic Republic can’t be appeased. It must be countered and restrained.” [WSJ]
🎓 Fallout: The New York Times’s Michael Powell explores how student allegations of racism at Smith College — later determined to be without merit — upended the lives of a number of faculty and staff at the liberal arts college. “What do I do?” an exonerated cafeteria worker asked. “When does this racist label go away?” [NYTimes]
⚾ Fast Ball: In The New York Times, Joe Lemire explores how Thinking, Fast and Slow, a 2011 book by Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli psychologist and Nobel Prize winner, has become a crucial read in the baseball industry. “There aren’t many explicit references to baseball… [yet] it has circulated heavily in the front offices of the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Baltimore Orioles and the Astros, among others.” [NYTimes]
😋 Food Feuds: Grubstreet’s Rachel Sugar wades into the age-old debate over the popularity of hamentaschen as the internet back-and-forth over the Purim treat rages. “If not liking hamantaschen is an established, acceptable opinion — and it is — why didn’t anybody tell me?” she wondered. “Reality was beginning to seem unsettlingly subjective.” [NYMag]
Around the Web
☢️ Come Together: The U.S. and Israel are reconvening a working group on Iran — first started in the early days of the Obama administration — to discuss the Iranian nuclear program.
🗓️ Not Now: The State Department is reportedly putting off a decision on reopening the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, its diplomatic mission to Palestinians, until after the Israeli election.
🇧🇭 Warm Ties: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke this morning with Bahrain Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa about cooperation on vaccines and a potential visit.
😡 Harsh Words: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said Israel’s decision to ship vaccines to other countries before fully supplying the Palestinian Authority is “outrageous.”
💉 Good News: A new study from Israel’s Clalit Research Institute and Harvard University found that the Pfizer vaccine is equally effective across all age groups.
✔️ In the Books: Israel passed a law yesterday allowing local governments, as well as the Education and Welfare Ministries, to access the names of individuals who refuse the vaccine.
📚 Family Feud: Allegations by Galia Oz that her father, the late acclaimed Israeli author Amos Oz, verbally and physically abused her, have set off a firestorm in Israel, as Oz’s other children deny the claims.
🧑⚖️ Jailtime: A New Hampshire man dubbed the “crying Nazi” was sentenced to 41 months in prison after being convicted of charges stemming from a feud with other neo-Nazi organizers.
💵 Best Buy: Francisco Partners is acquiring the Israeli genealogy site MyHeritage for $600 million.
🔥 On the Case: Police are investigating a suspicious fire in a dumpster at the Chabad House in Sharon, Mass.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: Antisemitic grafitti and swastikas were discovered on the Rhyl War Memorial in northern Wales.
🍖 Grill Growth: The popular kosher Brooklyn eatery Izzy’s BBQ Smokehouse has signed a 10-year lease on a new location on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
🕯️ Remembering: Judy Wald, a top New York City headhunter in the advertising business in the ‘60s and ‘70s, died at 96. Longtime Saudi oil minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, who was the face of the 1973 oil embargo, died at 90.
Gif of the Day
The President’s Residence in Jerusalem has gotten all dressed up for Purim, which begins this evening.
Former talk show host, Sally Jessy Raphael turns 86… Owner of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls, Jerry M. Reinsdorf turns 85… The first-ever CEO of United Jewish Communities, Stephen Solender turns 83… Science and medicine reporter for The New York Times, Gina Bari Kolata turns 73… Visiting scholar at NYU, formerly CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Steve Gutow turns 72… Jerusalem-based attorney and chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, Marc Zell turns 68… Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, Gabi Ashkenazi turns 67… Opinion columnist and podcast contributor for The New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal turns 65… VP of communications at CNN, Barbara Levin turns 65… Senior fellow at DC’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, Mona Charen turns 64… CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo, Rob Goldberg turns 62… Co-president of Paterson, N.J.-based JNS-SmithChem, LLC, Michael F. Smith turns 60… Vice chairman of Morgan Stanley, he was a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, Thomas Richard Nides turns 60…
Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Miro Weinberger turns 51… Founder of “News Not Noise,” Jessica Sage Yellin turns 50… Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, now the director of news curation for Facebook, Anne Elise Kornblut turns 48… Travel planner, previously SVP of marketing and communications at NBC News, Lauren Raps turns 48… Comedian, actress and writer, Chelsea Joy Handler turns 46… Actress, author and producer, known for roles in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and Fox’s “Boston Public,” Rashida Jones turns 45… Managing director of Covenant Wines in Berkeley, California, Sagie Kleinlerer turns 44… Assistant director at San Francisco-based EUQINOM Gallery, Lyla Rose Holdstein turns 39… Actor known for his role in Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” Justin Berfield turns 35… CNN’s next Jerusalem correspondent, Hadas Gold turns 33… 2013 U.S. national figure skating champion, Max Aaron turns 29… Outreach coordinator at StandWithUs, Avi Posnick… Julie Goldman…