👋 Good Monday morning!
The announcement on Friday that President Joe Biden was working to restart negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program was met with fairly muted responses from Israel and a number of Gulf nations who vocally opposed the 2015 agreement.
The Biden administration announcement came amid internal debates among White House staff over how to proceed with rapprochement with Tehran. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the two governments were already communicating to discuss U.S. hostages.
Two Israeli politicians, Meretz MK Yair Golan and candidate and former Labor MK Omer Bar-Lev, who both have extensive security credentials, told The Times of Israel they believe the Iran deal was positive for Israel, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current approach is unhelpful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose top official visited Tehran over the weekend, announced that it has reached a deal to allow inspectors to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities, but with more limited access than was previously given.
FDD’s Rich Goldberg, co-host of JI’s “Limited Liability Podcast,” told CNBC earlier today, “All that you’re seeing, all the threats, the terrorism, threats in the Gulf, the seizing of tankers, the nuclear program, taking hostages, these are all various extortion tactics to get money and get sanctions relief. That means that a deal is possible.”
Politico’s Natasha Bertrand and Lara Seligman note that the Biden administration is making it clear it is taking a back seat in Mideast affairs, in a “deliberate effort to prioritize what they view as more pressing global matters.”
race to gracie
The evolution of Eric Adams
Back in the ‘90s, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, was a brash New York City police officer whose public statements often seemed custom-made to incite controversy. He attacked former Bronx Rep. Herman Badillo for marrying a Jewish woman rather than a Latina, and, during a failed congressional run, praised the antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Despite his past reputation as a provocateur, Adams is now carving out a niche for himself as one of the leading establishment players in the crowded New York City mayoral race. He sees no dissonance between his current approach and the more contentious path he once walked. “I always say, you are the man, at 43, the man you were at 23, and you stood still,” Adams told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview.
‘Pragmatic progressive’: The two-term borough president, now 60, characterizes himself as a “pragmatic progressive” who is well-equipped to steer New York away from a crushing economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Adams is decidedly pro-development, claiming that he will bring back a recently abandoned proposal to rezone Brooklyn’s Industry City — but also argues in favor of upzoning affluent neighborhoods as part of an effort to lower housing costs. And while the former cop rejects calls to defund the police, as a founder of the advocacy group 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, he speaks from experience about racial injustice.
Hasidic ties: His past support for the Nation of Islam does not appear to have hindered his relationship with the Jewish community in Brooklyn. “At the heart of it was public safety,” Adams explained, noting that he has established a strong rapport with his Hasidic constituents as borough president and, before that, as a New York state senator representing Crown Heights. “He’s sincere,” said Mordy Getz, a Hasidic businessman in Borough Park, recalling that Adams spoke out against antisemitism after a shooting at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City two years ago. “Because he has that past and also he knows how people in our community were hurt by bad actors, I think he’s a perfect uniter for the city now.”
COVID-19: Adams believes that the city has unfairly targeted the Hasidic community throughout the pandemic. “I told the city from the beginning that we need to speak to the credible messengers in all communities in general, but specifically in the Jewish community,” he explained to JI. “We did it wrong, and we did not respond correctly.” As mayor, he said he would work to dismiss all fines issued against Jewish community members who haven’t followed coronavirus restrictions. “In the meantime,” Adams said, “I have been in communication with leaders to come up with funds to assist those businesses that are struggling so we can pay for those fines and not have them hanging over their heads.”
Old-fashioned coalition: Veteran Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said that Adams is in a strong position given his relationship with Hasidic voters. “He is the only one in the race who can put together a coalition that resembles an old one,” Sheinkopf told JI. “New York City politics was dominated by coalitions of Blacks and Jews voting together.” That coalition, he added, “could be the winning combination in a ranked-choice voting primary system.” Adams expects that he will pull in strong support from Hasidic voters, who number in the hundreds of thousands. “Some people will come in and make one or two statements hoping to convince the Jewish community that they have been there with them,” he told JI. “But I believe that when people start looking over time, they’re going to see the familiar face of Eric Adams.”
on the hill
Jewish nonprofits push for additional changes to COVID bill
The House Budget Committee released a draft of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill on Friday that House Democrats are hoping to push through the lower chamber by the end of the week. But some Jewish groups are hoping to see further changes to the legislation, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Coming together: Shortly after the draft bill was released, the Jewish Federations of North America sent a letter to government affairs professionals calling on them to join a letter from the National Council of Nonprofits and a JFNA campaign advocating for changes to the COVID bill.The Orthodox Union, JFNA, Jewish Community Centers Association of North America, Jewish Art Education Corporation, New York’s Jewish Museum and numerous local Jewish organizations signed the Council of Nonprofits letter in late January. The letter calls for full unemployment benefit reimbursements for self-insured nonprofits. The current bill includes 75% reimbursements — up from 50% previously — but Nathan Diament, the director of the OU’s Advocacy Center, said the organization is pushing for further increases in the Senate.
Back to school: The organizations are also pushing to increase funding available to Jewish elementary and secondary schools, which are currently only eligible for a fund addressing learning loss. Diament said the OU is advocating for non-public schools to be given access to a larger slice of the COVID relief funding, not just the learning loss fund. “Here as currently drafted, it’s only for a very, very small part. So we’re trying to see if in the Senate, we can get that revised, so it follows the CARES Act precedent, and frankly so it’s more fair to Jewish, Catholic and other non-public schools,” Diament told Jewish Insider on Friday.
Big wins: Despite the concerns, the current version of the bill does include many of the provisions that Jewish groups and other nonprofits had hoped to see. Diament applauded Congress for expanding PPP eligibility for nonprofit organizations, another goal laid out in the Council of Nonprofits letter. Larger nonprofits had previously been mostly excluded from the PPP, a restriction that JFNA president Eric Fingerhut also previously criticized.
Israeli airport closure even strands politicians ahead of election
With just one month until Israel’s national election on March 23, the polls show little movement, the campaign ads are proliferating and not all candidates are even able to enter the country. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro breaks down all the latest developments.
Stuck: Former MK Nachman Shai, who is running in the 8th spot on the Labor list, is currently in Atlanta and unable to return to Israel to campaign due to the closure of Israel’s airport. Shai, who works as a visiting professor at Duke and Emory universities, applied to the Israeli Exceptions Committee for permission to enter in order to campaign, but says his request was denied twice. Shai said he will be forced to appeal to the Supreme Court if his requests continue to be denied. The airport closure was extended last week through March 6, stranding thousands of Israelis around the world.
Ruling: The Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on the decision of the Central Elections Committee to disqualify Ibtisam Mara’ana, the number 7 candidate in Labor. The committee, made up of representatives of the parties in the Knesset, voted 16-15 to disqualify Mara’ana over a series of social media posts criticizing Israel, including one that she enjoyed driving during the siren for Remembrance Day — something Mara’ana said she now regrets. Her disqualification is all but certain to be struck down by the Supreme Court, which has overturned the vast majority of such decisions in recent years.
Latest polls: Election polls in Israel over the past few weeks have shown few fluctuations, with Likud continuing to dominate and the anti-Netanyahu vote split among the parties led by Yair Lapid, Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett. Most recent polls show Likud receiving 28-30 seats, Lapid’s Yesh Atid getting 16-19, Sa’ar’s New Hope 13-15 and Bennett’s Yamina 10-12. But neither the pro-Netanyahu bloc nor the anti-Netanyahu bloc appear to have a clear path to the 61 seats needed to form a governing coalition — leading many analysts to predict yet another election.
as seen on tv
“Saturday Night Live” head writer Michael Che drew ire from leading Jewish organizations on Sunday for making a joke on the show’s “Weekend Update” segment suggesting that Israel had only provided COVID-19 vaccines to “the Jewish half” of its population.
Background: Nearly half of Israelis have received the first dose of the vaccination, and one-third of citizens have received both shots. Israel’s Arab minority, around 20% of its population, is fully able and encouraged to receive the vaccine. Israel, while leading the world in vaccine distribution, has faced criticism for not providing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with vaccines. Israel has shipped a limited number of doses to the West Bank, and Gaza — which last year rejected medical aid from the UAE over its normalization with Israel — received 20,000 doses last week via the UAE secured by Palestinian political figure Mohammad Dahlan. The Israeli Health Ministry has also reportedly agreed to vaccinate 100,000 Palestinians who regularly work within Israel’s borders.
Reactions: American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris described Che’s comments as “outrageous” and called on the actor to apologize. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations noted that it was “disturbed” by the sketch, calling Israel’s vaccination program “a model for the entire world.” Rick Jacobs, head of the Union of Reform Judaism, said the joke was “in poor taste.” Former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, who is Jewish, said she “cringed” watching Che’s performance, adding that the comedian was “lying about what [Israelis] do.” Che’s remarks were defended by a range of journalists and left-leaning organizations. Actress Ilana Glazer said that Che’s joke “wasn’t anti-Semitic, it was anti-fascism!”
Flashback: In a “Weekend Update” segment aired in May, Che made a joke suggesting that an Israeli beauty pageant contestant won a “Miss Hitler” competition.
🗄️ Digging Deep: In The New York Review of Books, Molly Jong-Fast digs up the FBI file on her late grandfather, Howard Fast, who “looked like a million other cranky old Jewish guys from the tristate area.” But the U.S. government had once classified him as an “enemy of the state” due to his communist activities. [NYRB]
🗳️ Ballot Box: New York Times reporters Patrick Kingsley and Adam Rasgon highlight the role that Israeli Arabs are playing in the upcoming national election, finally being courted by politicians after years of being ignored or overlooked. “Arab politicians have been onlookers in the political process in Israel,” said Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas. Now, “Arabs are looking for a real role in Israeli politics.” [NYTimes]
🎭 Hidden History: The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane reviews a new biography of playwright Tom Stoppard, who discovered only in the ’90s that his family was entirely Jewish and many had perished in the Holocaust. His mother had sought to conceal their roots, preferring “the consolations of a light new life to a history too heavy, and too tragically shadowed.” [NewYorker]
🕵️ Remembering: The New York Times explores the efforts of undercover Israeli operative Shlomo Hillel, who died earlier this month at age 97, to bring 120,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel in the early 1950s. As interior minister two decades later, Hillel oversaw the aliyah of more than 100,000 Ethiopian Jews — including the woman who would marry his son. [NYT]
Around the Web
🤝 Side Deal: Last week’s deal to release an Israeli woman who had wandered into Syria included a secret agreement for Israel to buy Russian COVID-19 vaccines for Syria.
⛽ Friendly Visit: Egypt’s energy minister paid a rare visit to Israel over the weekend, finalizing a deal to build a pipeline connecting Israel’s Leviathan natural gas field to Egyptian terminals.
💉 Herd Immunity: A promising new study from Israel shows that the Pfizer COVID vaccine is 89.4% effective at stopping transmission of the coronavirus.
✈️ First Trip: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan is visiting Charleston, South Carolina, in his first trip as envoy, to “engage, listen and learn about the African-American community.”
🇬🇶 Moving Van: Officials from Equatorial Guinea told Israel on Friday that the country plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
🕍 Clean Slate: The National Council of Young Israel replaced its entire 17-member board of directors in a vote last week, as the organization seeks to pivot away from the heavily political approach it adopted in recent years.
⛏️ Secret Deal: The New York Times explores behind the scenes of the unusual last-minute decision by the Trump administration to lift sanctions on Israeli mining billionaire Dan Gertler.
📿 Holy Guest: Over the weekend, Pope Francis visited the home of Edith Bruck, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor living in Rome.
📖 Not For Sale: A Brooklyn auction house withdrew from auction a bound register of Jewish burials in the Romanian city of Cluj at the request of the remaining members of the community.
🖼️ Think Again: The mayor of Amsterdam has asked a Dutch restitution panel to reconsider the rightful ownership of a Wassily Kandinsky painting sold under duress by Jews in 1940.
👩🏫 Fighting Back: A former Bronx educator is suing the New York City Department of Education, claiming she was demoted for being Jewish and chastised for sharing a story about her Holocaust survivor grandparents.
📬 Spam Mail: Some Jewish residents of Portland, Oregon, were alarmed to find a proselytizing Christian book in their mailboxes.
🤳 Post Production: In an interview with Ben Shapiro, actress Gina Carano claimed she was not comparing Republicans to Jews during the Holocaust in a controversial social media post that got her fired from Disney’s “The Mandalorian.”
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: According to a new report, the Orthodox community in north London’s Stamford Hill neighborhood has one the highest rates of COVID-19 in the world.
🍳 Quick Bite: Eater highlights the 1871 cookbook by Esther Levy, The Jewish Cookery Book, whose terse recipes provide insight into the period’s no-nonsense approach to cooking.
Gif of the Day
Iranian-born judoka Saeid Mollaei won silver at the Grand Slam international judo competition in Tel Aviv on Friday. Mollaei, who fled Iran after refusing to throw a judo match in order to avoid competing against an Israeli, represented Mongolia at the competition. Mollaei reportedly told CNN that the Israelis “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”
A distinguished senior fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and a CNN commentator, David Axelrod turns 66…
Poet, essayist and educator, the first ever poet laureate of New Jersey, Gerald Stern turns 96… Retired justice and deputy president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Shlomo Levin turns 88… 1969 winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, Helena “Lenny” Kuhr turns 71… Former White House counsel to President Barack Obama, now a professor at NYU School of Law, Bob Bauer turns 69… President of the New York Yankees since 2000 and executive producer for the YES Network, Randy Levine turns 66… Winner of five major golf championships and 24 LPGA Tour championships, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Amy Alcott turns 65… Former member of the Knesset for the United Right party, Moti Yogev turns 65…Director of administration and special projects at Cincinnati’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Lisa Shusterman turns 62… Writer, editor and publisher, Clifford Lawrence Meth turns 60…
Senior rabbi at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation in Mercer Island, Wash., Rabbi Jacob Herber turns 58… Actress, comedian and former cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” Rachel Dratch turns 55… Past leader of the Israeli Labor Party and former CEO of Bezeq, Avi Gabbay turns 54… Television producer, a showrunner for four seasons of “The Office,” Paul Lieberstein turns 54… Actor, author and academic, Ari Hoptman turns 54… Israeli soccer player and businessman, Haim Michael Revivo turns 49… U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) turns 49… Winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2008, Iliza Shlesinger turns 38… Senior associate in the appellate practice of Norton Rose Fulbright, Peter B. Siegal turns 35… Senior director of customer experience at Israel-based cosmetics firm IL Makiage, Miranda R. May turns 28… Management and program analyst at USDOJ, Danielle Bella Ellison turns 28 (h/t Playbook)…