👋 Good Wednesday morning!
White House Press Secretary Jen Psakidownplayed the significance of President Joe Biden having not yet spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I don’t know it’s surprising less than two weeks into an administration,” she said during a press briefing yesterday. “He hasn’t called every foreign leader yet. We have a long and abiding relationship with Israel, [an] important security relationship. I’m sure they’ll discuss that and a range of issues when they connect.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price said yesterday that the White House has not yet had any direct contact with the Iranian regime, and is currently working to “consult closely with our allies and partners” to address the Iranian nuclear issue.
Price noted that Special Envoy on Iran Rob Malley began his new role on Friday, and “has hit the ground running” in making calls to “allies, partners, as well as members of Congress.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kara McDonald stated yesterday that the Biden administration views the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism as “an invaluable tool” that the administration “embraces and champions.”
Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security by a 56-43 vote in the Senate yesterday. His confirmation, with just six Republicans voting in favor, was the narrowest of any Biden nominee so far.
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) was named to the Senate Armed Services Committee, making her the Democrat with the most Senate committee assignments — six — in the 117th Congress.
The House Rules Committee will meet this afternoon to discuss a resolution to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from her committee assignments. Greene and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) met for several hours yesterday ahead of a Republican Steering Committee meeting about Greene last night, which issued no final decision.
Repairing the world from the Virginia statehouse
Just before Eileen Filler-Corn struck the gavel for the first time as the first Jewish and first female speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, she attended a celebratory Havdalah send-off at Congregation Adas Reyim in Springfield, Va. Filler-Corn, a Democrat, is now entering her second year as Virginia’s speaker of the House as she works to steer the state through the difficulties of the pandemic. Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch spoke to Filler-Corn and to her allies in the Jewish community about her history-making tenure.
Close ties: Filler-Corn’s rise from rookie lawmaker to House speaker in just 10 years owes much to Virginia’s fast-changing political identity, which saw the state evolve from purple to almost firmly blue over just a few years. As she rose in the party’s ranks, Filler-Corn kept her Jewish community close, inviting Adas Reyim’s Rabbi Bruce Aft to deliver invocations at the statehouse and hosting receptions in Richmond, the capital, for her Jewish supporters from around the state. “She is incredibly proud of her Jewish background,” Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington, told JI, calling Filler-Corn “unapologetically pro-Israel” with “Jewish identity coursing through her veins.”
Background: As a child in West Windsor, N.J., Filler-Corn sold lemonade and hosted fundraisers to benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Braille Society. The issue was personal to her: “Growing up, my mother had multiple sclerosis. And growing up, she was blind for much of my youth,” Filler-Corn told JI in a recent Zoom interview. “What got me involved in politics really was tikkun olam, and just from a young [age] really wanting to give back and wanting to repair the world,” Filler-Corn explained. Before starting at Ithaca College, Filler-Corn spent a gap year in Israel on Young Judaea’s Year Course program.
Anti-BDS bill: In 2016, she built a broad coalition of lawmakers to pass a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Filler-Corn wanted to showcase Virginia’s opposition to BDS, but she knew that the legislation would not send the right message unless it was supported by members of both parties. “With [Filler-Corn’s] magic touch, we were able to turn this into a win-win, where the legislature overwhelmingly condemned BDS and did it in a bipartisan fashion,” said Halber. The bill passed with near-unanimous majorities in both houses.
Zoom shul: As Virginia’s legislative session has switched to Zoom, Filler-Corn’s religious community moved online as well. She attended a Zoom Seder last year, and she acknowledges that she is “clicking on to services on a much more regular basis” these days. “Whether we’re focused on the discrimination or the hate and misogyny or antisemitism,” she explained, “or we’re talking about just how divided we are as a country… I think people need, really, to connect and unify even more. There’s more of a need for that. And we weren’t able to do that in person, but we can do that on Zoom.”
Alvin Bragg has a personal reason for pushing police reform
On a recent afternoon in Harlem, Alvin Bragg, a former federal prosecutor who is now a visiting professor at New York Law School, was reminiscing about all the occasions — and there are many — in which he was wrongly held at gunpoint by the police. “Right here is the first time I was stopped,” Bragg, 47, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel as he stood at the corner of 139th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Boulevard, just around the corner from his childhood home. “That was really my introduction to the criminal justice system,” Bragg said. “It’s why I went to law school.”
Ties together: Now that he is running to be Manhattan’s next district attorney, Bragg believes that such intimate interactions with the legal system — coupled with years of government service — make him uniquely suited to revamp the office amid a national reckoning over public safety and racial inequality. “I’m drawing from a place of personal and professional experience,” he told JI on a 20-block stroll through Harlem in late January. “It all ties together.”
Background: A graduate of Harvard, Bragg spent time working in the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York and then in various high-profile roles with the New York State attorney general’s office. Throughout his career, Bragg has taken on a wide array of significant cases. He has prosecuted a business owner who laundered millions of dollars for the Sinaloa Cartel, investigated police misconduct and overseen lawsuits against Harvey Weinstein as well as former President Donald Trump. “We sued the Trump administration over 100 times,” Bragg said.
Crowded race: Bragg was the first to announce his candidacy in the race to succeed Cyrus Vance, Jr., whose anemic campaign reserves suggest he is unlikely to seek reelection in the June primary. The field has since grown exponentially to include former prosecutors Tali Farhadian Weinstein and Lucy Lang along with public defender Eliza Orlins. Bragg has raised more than $1.3 million dollars since he entered the race in June 2019, according to recent campaign finance disclosures. That puts him behind only Farhadian Weinstein, who has raked in $2.3 million.
Full-scale renovation: Bragg argues that the current hate crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney’s office is insufficiently staffed and inaccessible to regular New Yorkers. “I’ve been speaking out about it for years. We need leadership from the top,” he said. “We need to change that.” But more broadly, Bragg insists that the office needs a full-scale renovation if it is going to help bring about a fairer system. “You’ll be evaluated not on how many convictions you get, because that’s not a measure of public safety and public health,” Bragg said of his expectations for staffers. “You’ve got to tell people what you want to do, and you’ve got to hold them accountable,” he said. “And when they do what you want them to do, you’ve got to have a system of promotion and rewarding around those principles.”
On the agenda
Cedric Richmond previews White House’s plans for protecting religious institutions
Cedric Richmond, the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, discussed a range of initiatives President Joe Biden’s administration is planning in order to counter attacks on religious institutions, during the Jewish Federations of North America’s virtual mission yesterday.
Taking action: Richmond said the Biden administration plans to push for funding increases to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), but said he could not yet give a specific target number. Richmond added that the administration is considering establishing a new program within the Justice Department dedicated to preventing attacks on faith-based organizations and increasing prison sentences for individuals convicted of hate crimes at religious institutions.
Bridging the gap: During a separate JFNA panel yesterday, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a co-chair of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, said that passing the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Actwould help address domestic threats. “Individuals and communities will say there’s antisemitic activity that’s happening here. But there’s a gap in information and trying to be able to get to it,” Lankford said. “What we’re trying to do is to be able to address where are the gaps in information flow. They may know it in the local community. They don’t know at the U.S. Attorney’s office or they don’t know it at the FBI office. How do we actually get information to them?”
Window of opportunity: Later in the day, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, speculated that Saudi Arabia could soon normalize its relationship with Israel. “The Saudis behind the scenes are supportive. I know the Crown Prince [Mohammed bin Salman] is. I know he has to educate his own people about the importance of this, but I think Saudi being a signatory to the Abraham Accords would be a huge breakthrough in this process,” McCaul told the JFNA mission. He added that such an agreement could help counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions and facilitate Israeli-Palestinian peace.
📜 Living History: In the Religion & Politics journal, Rachel B. Gross explores the “politics of nostalgia” that echoed in Sen. Jon Ossoff’s (D-GA) decision to bring copies of his grandparents’ ship manifestos to his Senate swearing-in ceremony. “His nostalgic relationship to his family history is in line with the way many Jews and other Americans tell stories about their place in the world.” [Religion&Politics]
⚖️ Truth on Trial: The trial of two Polish Holocaust historians on charges of libeling Poland is the first major legal test of the controversial 2018 law that made it a crime to accuse Poland of collaborating with the Nazis, reports the AP’s Vanessa Gera. The two academics believe the trial is an attempt to “discourage other researchers from investigating the truth about the extermination of Jews in Poland.” [AP]
🕵️ Deep Dive: Researchers Robert A. Pape and Keven Rubyposit in The Atlantic that the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 represent “a new kind of American radicalism,” revealing that many of those involved were “middle-class and, in many cases, middle-aged people without obvious ties to the far right.” [Atlantic]
Around the Web
📝 On Record: After deleting a tweet last week about Israel not providing vaccines to the PA, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) sent a letter to the acting Israeli consul general in New York about the matter.
⚕️ Get Your Shot: The Israeli Health Ministry is opening up its COVID-19 vaccination drive to all citizens and residents over age 16 starting tomorrow.
✉️ On Notice: 36 members of Congress, led by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), sent a letter to Pakistan’s U.S. ambassador expressing concern over the acquittal of the murderers of Daniel Pearl.
👨💼 Next Gig: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is reportedly lobbyingCalifornia Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint him to replace Xavier Becerra — Biden’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary — as California’s attorney general.
🗳️ Back in Business: Jim Gennaro appears to have beat out Moumita Ahmed in a special election to return to the New York City Council in his old Queens seat.
💸 New Venture: Former WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann has invested in the mortgage service startup Valon.
⚾ First Base: Former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs exec Theo Epstein has joined Arctos Sports Partners, a private equity firm which purchases minority stakes in baseball teams.
🏈 Sports Blink: Both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have Jewish players on their rosters — although only one is slated to hit the field in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
👮♂️ Across the Pond: Police are investigating a pamphlet distributed in London by Piers Corbyn, the brother of Jeremy Corbyn, comparing the COVID-19 vaccine to Auschwitz.
📐 Career Switch: Two former Israeli reporters for Haaretz who covered art and architecture launched their own architecture firm, BoND, in Manhattan last year.
📺 Small Screen: Israel’s Keshet Studios has renewed its scripted programming deal with Universal Television.
📚 Book Shelf: The New York Times reviews The Ratline by Philippe Sands, which tells the story of a high-ranking Nazi official who was arrested and indicted but escaped before trial.
Gif of the Day
Israeli rock legend Shlomo Artzi released a new single, “Devek” (Glue), about the lost year of the pandemic, that ends with the line: “Tomorrow we’ll return to dancing close together; It’ll be OK.”
Australian actress and author, Isla Fisher turns 45…
Longest-serving chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, one-time owner of Roll Call, now a senior adviser at the Carlyle Group and on the board of Bloomberg LP, Arthur Levitt Jr. turns 90… Former president and CEO of clothing manufacturer Warnaco Group, Linda J. Wachner turns 75… Chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., formerly president of the Lillian Vernon Corporation, Fred Hochberg turns 69… Partner at Shipman & Goodwin, she led the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and was a justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, Joette Katz turns 68… Singer-songwriter, best known for composing “From a Distance,” which won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 1991, Julie Gold turns 65… Recently retired member of the Utah House of Representatives, she was a co-president of the National Association of Jewish Legislators. Patrice M. Arent turns 65… Science advisor to President Biden and head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Eric Steven Lander turns 64…
Former CEO of the Chicago Sun-Times, he was an alderman of the 43rd ward of Chicago (1987-1993), Edwin Eisendrath turns 63… Steven F. Schlafer turns 62… Recent member of the Knesset for the Blue and White alliance, he serves in the Ministry of Defense, Michael Biton turns 51… Deputy commissioner and general counsel for the NYC Department of Finance, Diana Hartstein Beinart turns 50… Founder of Fourth Factor Consulting, Joel Mowbray turns 45… Record producer and music critic, known by her nickname Ultragrrrl, Sarah Lewitinn turns 41… Director of policy and programs at the GeoEconomics Center of the Atlantic Council, Josh Lipsky turns 35… Manager of the Synagogue Leadership Initiative at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, Joshua Keyak turns 33… One of Israel’s most popular singers, Ishay Ribo turns 32… Executive at NYC’s Brunswick Group, Noam Safier turns 27…