👋 Good Monday morning!
The confirmation vote for Alejandro Mayorkas, President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Homeland Security, was postponed from today until Tuesday due to the snowstorm blanketing much of the East Coast.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is up for reelection in 2022, is “taking steps both publicly and privately to steel himself from a left-wing primary challenge,” including by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), according to a report from Politico.
Former Ohio State Treasurer and past Senate candidate Josh Mandel has indicated tosupporters that he’s eyeing a run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) in ‘22. Mandel has $4 million left over from his prior campaign in 2018 after he withdrew from the race for family health reasons.
Former President Donald Trump replaced his impeachment defense team over the weekend, hiring David Schoen, who was in talks to lead convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s legal team and has worked for alleged Israeli mafia members, and Bruce Castor Jr., a former acting Pennsylvania attorney general who in 2005 declined to prosecute Bill Cosby on sexual assault charges.
Kosovo and Israel will hold a virtual ceremony today to officially establish diplomatic ties, following an agreement brokered at the White House last year.
Behind the buzz
The uproar over the California ethnic studies program, explained
As a push from California lawmakers to mandate ethnic studies in public schools approaches a final vote in March, Tablet magazine published an article last week with the headline “California Is Cleansing Jews From History.” The article caused waves across the Jewish community, including in California, where Jewish groups applauded the most recent draft of the curriculum just a week earlier. Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weissspoke to a number of activists and Jewish communal leaders in California who have focused on the issue in recent years.
In a nutshell: The upcoming March meeting of the California State Board of Education is the culmination of a years-long effort spearheaded by a group of activists to provide ethnic studies resources to California’s education system. The various drafts of the curriculum have been subject to intense scrutiny — due in large part to earlier drafts’ inclusion of material deemed antisemitic and the omission of Jewish history — and reworked several times to produce the version that is slated for a vote next month.
Here’s who is involved: A coalition of Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, StandWithUs, JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, the American Jewish Committee’s Northern California branch and others, have been involved in efforts to modify the curriculum since the open comment period on the first draft in 2019. The JCRC drafted a lesson plan on American Jewish diversity, while JIMENA submitted a plan on antisemitism — which also covers the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism — and Jews of Middle Eastern origin. Both lesson plans are included in the current draft of the curriculum.
How it was received: The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), the umbrella group of the organized Jewish community in the state, sent a letter addressed to members of the State Board of Education on January 21 calling the third draft of the curriculum “a significant improvement” over prior drafts and applauding the inclusion of the two lesson plans. JPAC also praised the “removal of denigrating content on Jews, Israelis, and Israel from the draft.” The Israeli American Council (IAC) issued a statement to its members in December that they “are proud to stand by the IQC’s final product,” referring to the Instructional Quality Commission, the group that reviews and edits the curriculum, whose members include AIPAC board member Anita Friedman and California State Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica).
Word in Sacramento: “Jewish community organizations across the political spectrum have been deeply engaged with the curriculum and virtually everyone I’ve spoken to is feeling positive about the recent draft,” explained Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, majority whip of the California Assembly and chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus. “There are certainly some additional revisions folks would like to see, and gains we’ll need to protect, but things have been trending in a very positive direction.”
What happens next: At the March 17-18 meeting, the 11-member board, appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, will approve or reject the finalized third draft of the ethnic studies curriculum, which, if adopted, will then be made available to all school districts in the state. The coalition of Jewish organizations is hopeful that the curriculum will be further modified — removing mentions of anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour and Helen Thomas, a veteran journalist who was caught on camera saying Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” — as “significant figures to cover” as well as shifting JIMENA’s lesson plan to one of the core sections of the curriculum rather than its current placement in a section focused on “Interethnic Bridge-building.”
Why it matters: Observers believe the state education board is likely to approve the new curriculum, and that eventually ethnic studies will be a graduation requirement for California’s high school students. “This is a trend that’s not going to stop in California,” San Francisco JCRC head Tyler Gregory told JI. “We’re already starting to see that. So it’s good for people to be waking up, that this is a new issue for the Jewish community, and also a vehicle for the BDS movement to move from college campus activism to younger minds in high schools. And we have to be really cognizant that that’s really what’s happening here.”
Madison Cawthorn finally sets a date to meet local Jewish community
For nearly six months, Jewish leaders in Western North Carolina have been working behind the scenes to arrange a meeting with freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC). The GOP firebrand coasted to victory in the recent November election, but some of his past statements — including an admission that he has tried to convert Jews to Christianity — have raised questions that the district’s small but tight-knit Jewish community would like the 25-year-old congressman to address directly. “How can we have a person who is our representative feel as though the desire to convert people is a good thing?” Rabbi Rachael Jackson of Agudas Israel Congregation, a Reform synagogue in Hendersonville, N.C., told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Scheduled at last: Despite previously expressing a desire to meet with Jewish leaders back in September, Cawthorn didn’t appear to be prioritizing the engagement. However, last Thursday, a spokesman confirmed to JI that Cawthorn’s office had finally set a date to meet with Jewish community members on February 8. “Madison is going to do a Skype call with them, discuss his overall goals for the district and then have them ask him some questions about what their priorities are,” said Micah Bock, Cawthorn’s communications director. The only problem: five of the six Jewish leaders Bock claimed would be on the call weren’t informed of the meeting when asked about it by JI.
‘Mutual respect’: Only Adrienne Skolnik, who chairs the North Carolina chapter of the Conference of Jewish Affairs, appears to have received advance notice. She told JI via email on Friday night that she had been in contact with Bock about the February call. “I see this as a wonderful opportunity and plan to attend,” said Skolnik, a vocal Trump supporter who has criticized what she perceives as liberal bias in local synagogues. Her hope, she said, is that the meeting will engender “mutual respect between the Jewish community and Madison Cawthorn.”
‘It’s been scheduled’: Some Jewish leaders had already decided against meeting with Cawthorn after he spoke at a rally of Trump supporters before the Capitol was stormed. Bock, Cawthorn’s spokesman, said it was “frustrating to hear that some people have already written off the idea of having a meeting at all, but it’s been scheduled.” Jackson said she would still be open to meeting with the congressman. “I have a hard time completely shutting the door on dialogue,” she told JI. But she was frustrated that she hadn’t yet heard from Cawthorn’s team. On Thursday evening, Bock said that Cawthorn’s office would be reaching out to Jewish community leaders over the next couple of days, but then added that he believed the process had already begun.
Deadline for Israeli party registration looms this week
The deadline for Israeli political parties to register their electoral lists is looming Thursday night, forcing decisions from many smaller factions that have not been polling well. Jewish Insider‘s Amy Spiro explains what to look out for this week as the February 4 deadline approaches.
In and out: Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon announced today that he will drop out of the race for the Knesset, pulling his Telem faction from contention, after polls showed him struggling to gain traction. Former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who left Blue and White to take the number two slot in Ron Huldai’s The Israelis Party a month ago, announced yesterday that he is exiting politics and will not run in the upcoming election after all. The move renewed calls for Huldai to drop out of the election, especially as most recent polls show he will not cross the electoral threshold, but Huldai vowed to remain in the race regardless.
One last primary: Following Merav Michaeli’s victory in Labor’s leadership race last week, the party is holding its primary today for its electoral list, with dozens of candidates competing for just a handful of spots that are predicted to be realistic. “Immediately after the primary, I promise to work to make sure that no votes in the Center-Left bloc are thrown in the trash,” said Michaeli ahead of the vote, indicating she is open to mergers. “I guarantee that no ego and no narrow personal interests will stop me.”
Stay or go: But Tal Schneider, political correspondent for The Times of Israel, isn’t convinced that the promised mergers on the left will materialize before Thursday’s deadline. Most of the factions which are not polling above the electoral threshold should drop out, she told JI, naming Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, Ron Huldai’s The Israelis, Ofer Shelach’s Tnufa and Yaron Zelekha’s Economy Party. “Even if they don’t quit by Thursday, they can still quit next week or the following week, but they should quit,” she said, if they don’t want to risk throwing away votes. Meretz, Labor and Yesh Atid are the established parties on the left, said Schneider, and everyone else should “either join them or just go.”
Right stuff: On the right, Naftali Bennet’s Yamina, Bezalel Smotrich’s National Religious Party and Bayit Yehudi led by Hagit Moshe have yet to come to any agreements to run together. The parties are reportedly still in negotiations, and are being pressured to join with the extreme right-wing Otzma Yehudit, something they have resisted in the past. Schneider posited that, similar to the left-wing camp, it is in their best interests to unite. “I really don’t see the point of them running apart,” she said. “They are risking again not crossing the threshold like they did in the first election.”
🗣️ Hard Truths: Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) penned an op-ed in The Washington Post admonishing Republican lawmakers who refused to “tell voters the truth” about the election outcome. “Our elected officials work for us, and they fail us when they decline to tell us truths that we, the people, don’t want to hear.” [WashPost]
📖 Haredi COVID Czar: Newly installed New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley paid a visit to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the most influential rabbinic figures in Israel, whose decision making over COVID-19 “has contributed to one of the biggest-ever showdowns between the Israeli mainstream and the ultra-Orthodox.” [NYTimes]
🤳 Post Politics: In The Verge, Russel Brandom explores how Facebook is handling a controversy over its approach to the word “Zionist” on its platform, forcing the social media company to take a stand on policing ways the word is used in posts facing moderation. [Verge]
🕊️ Peace Push: Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt argues that the Biden administration should work to secure the progress attained under the Abraham Accords. “Diplomacy, not armed conflict, can now take center stage in the Middle East if it isn’t reflexively rejected for being linked to the Trump years.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
🏆 Noble Try: Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Alan Dershowitz for their roles in brokering the Abraham Accords.
⚖️ Appeal: The family of slain U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl plans to appeal a decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to release the men convicted of his murder.
🚨 Embassy Attack: A small bomb was set off near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, India, on Friday in a suspected terrorist attack, which caused no injuries.
🦠 Lockdown Breakdown: The funerals of two prominent rabbis yesterday in Israel drew thousands of mourners despite COVID-19 restrictions, setting off a firestorm of controversy.
💉 Sharing Doses: Israel will transfer 5,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority for healthcare workers this week, with the first 2,000 doses sent this morning.
😷 Stay Home: Israel extended its COVID-19 lockdown until at least Friday, as virus mutations continued to spread despite its rapid vaccination drive.
📚 Better Books: Saudi Arabia has gradually removed some antisemitic, sexist and homophobic references from its classroom textbooks.
💵 Giving Thanks: Erich Schwam, a Jewish refugee who hid out in a French village during World War II, left his fortune to the village to fund scholarships and education.
💸 Taking the Blame: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s childhood friend Arkady Rotenberg claimed he is the owner of a sprawling Black Sea resort that allegedly belonged to Putin.
🌴 Sun and Fun: Business and tech leaders from New York and Silicon Valley are flocking to Miami and building a community there through group chats and weekly events.
🎮 Spectator: Ben Kusin, a member of the Reddit forum that organized a buying spree of GameStop stock and the son of GameStop’s co-founder, spoke to CNBC about the event.
📹 Fact or Fiction: The documentary “Misha and the Wolves,” which premiered at Sundance this weekend, tells the story of a woman who made up a wild tale of surviving the Holocaust.
👋 Transition: CNN political reporter Rebecca Buck announced she is leaving the network ahead of the birth of her first child.
📜Today in history: C-SPAN’s Howard Mortman tells us that Rabbi Morris Raphall, the first rabbi guest chaplain in Congress, gave the opening prayer in the House of Representatives on February 1, 1860.
🕯️ Remembering: Psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, who specialized in treating substance abuse, died of COVID-19 at age 90. Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, head of the Brisk Yeshiva, died of COVID at age 99. Rabbi Yitzchak Scheiner, head of the Kamenitz Yeshiva, died of COVID at age 98. Sonny Fox, a TV host who helmed the children’s show “Wonderama,” died at 95 of coronavirus.
Song of the Day
Eden Alene will represent Israel at this year’s Eurovision with the song “Set Me Free,” which won in a digital vote held last week. Alene was supposed to perform at last year’s Eurovision, which was canceled due to the pandemic, and this year’s event may still be forced to go virtual.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives since January (D-CA-53) and the youngest Jewish member of Congress, Sara Jacobs turns 32…
Vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm I. Hoenlein turns 77… Partner in the LA-based law firm, Fredman Liebermann Pearl, Howard S. Fredman turns 77… Midtown Manhattan physician specializing in Nephrology and Internal Medicine, Mark H. Gardenswartz, MD turns 71… Composer and conductor, he is the laureate conductor of the Chappaqua Orchestra since 2002, Michael Jeffrey Shapiro turns 70… Far Rockaway, NY resident, Maurice Lazar turns 70… Lakewood, NJ-born president and part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Stan Kasten turns 69… Publisher of Baltimore Jewish Life, Jeff Cohn turns 67… Painter, born in Derbent in Southern Russia and now living in Albany, NY, Israel Tsvaygenbaum turns 60… Deputy director for policy and government affairs at AIPAC, David Gillette turns 60…EVPand chief program officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Becky Sobelman-Stern turns 59…
One of Israel’s top soccer players of all time, now chairman of Beitar Jerusalem, Eli Ohana turns 57… Scholar-in-residence at American University in Washington, Dan Arbell…Actor, director and producer, Pauly Shore turns 53…Chair of Perkins Coie’s political law practice, Marc E. Elias turns 52…Mid-Atlantic regional director for AIPAC, Tara Brown turns 44… Partner in RK Equity Group and founder of soon-to-open Birch Hill Recovery Center in Kent, Connecticut, Ari Raskas turns 43… Experimental jazz guitarist, bassist, oud player and composer, Yoshie Fruchter turns 39… Radio host and author, Adam Charles Kokesh turns 39… Actress known for co-creating and co-starring in the Comedy Central series “Broad City,” Abbi Jacobson turns 37… Senior director of client partnerships at Axios, Andrew Friedman turns 34… Sportscaster and sports reporter who covers the New York Mets for SNY, Steven N. Gelbs turns 34… Health services deputy at Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Stephanie Beth Cohen turns 32… Brand marketing manager at Smore, David Aryeh Leshaw turns 30… Film actress, Julia Garner turns 27…