👋 Good Thursday morning!
The CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google will appear at noon today before the House Energy and Commerce committee to discuss their platforms’ roles in promoting extremism and misinformation.
Ahead of the hearing, Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) reintroduced legislation to allow individuals to sue platforms whose algorithms direct users toward extremist content when those users commit violence or violate civil rights.
Eshoo said the bill “is not a panacea for all problems we see online… [but] focuses on the worst of the worst” and seeks to create incentives for social media companies to “fundamentally rethink how their products amplify content.”
The New York Times detailed the role that the parents of Taylor Force, who was killed in a terror attack in Israel in 2016, played in ongoing efforts to hold social media platforms culpable for incitement.
A House Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday highlighted deep divides over tackling extremism within the armed forces, with some Republicans raising concerns that efforts could infringe on free speech rights or target evangelical Christians or Catholics.
The Senate confirmed Dr. Rachel Levine yesterday as assistant secretary for health by a vote of 52 to 48,making her the first openly transgender person ever confirmed by the Senate.
Israel is continuing to count its remaining ballots today, with the final election tally expected to be completed by tomorrow.
Officials from both the far-right National Religious Party and the Islamist Ra’am Party said yesterday that it is next to impossible they could serve together in a government coalition, shrinking the likelihood that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could unite such disparate forces in an effort to secure a narrow coalition.
Passover plans at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
When it comes to Passover at the White House, former President Barack Obama set a high bar for future administrations as the first president in American history to host a Seder back in 2009 — a tradition he observed annually during his time in office. This evening, the White House will host and broadcast a virtual Passover celebration featuring live remarks from Vice President Kamala Harris, the second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, and other senior White House officials. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke to former staffers about past White House Seders, and why this year is different from all other years.
All are welcome: The hour-long Zoom event, which will begin with a prerecorded message from President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, is open to the public and the press — making it the first White House Passover event of its kind.
Parallels to the present: Sharon Brous, senior rabbi at IKAR, a non-denominational synagogue in Los Angeles, will emcee this evening’s event. “My focus is on lifting up the very essence of the story of yetziat mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt,” Brous told JI, noting that the holiday’s themes carry added significance during the pandemic. “In particular, for thinking together about what the message of the trajectory from enslavement to liberation, from darkness to light, from degradation to dignity, from narrowness to expansiveness, has to teach us in this time of so much grief and loss and isolation.”
A long time coming: “It’s always good when the Jewish community is authentically represented and recognized at the highest levels of the U.S. government,” said Noam Neusner, who served as a White House speechwriter and Jewish liaison under Bush. “It’s affirming. It reminds people that Jewish people came to this country and thrived here. So this kind of recognition is kind of long in the making, and it’s nice to see it.”
Different from all others: Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said the White House event “sends a signal to the Jewish community” that the Biden administration is an inclusive one. “They’ve made this, essentially, an open invitation to those in the Jewish community who want to join,” Soifer told JI. “That is quite unique for a White House, certainly for a White House wanting to engage the Jewish community in advance of Pesach. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
The women behind Avid Ventures, the VC fund looking for the next Israeli ‘unicorn’
In February, Avid Ventures officially launched after bringing in a haul of $72 million. To the fund’s founders, that number meant more than just an attention-grabbing sum. “We love that it’s four times chai,”said Addie Lerner, the firm’s founder and managing partner, referring to the number 18, associated with the Hebrew word chai, which means “life.” In a Zoom interview with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutchthis week, Lerner and her partner, Tali Vogelstein, explained Avid’s approach to investing, their connection to the Jewish community and what it’s like operating a female-run firm in the male-dominated venture capital field.
Founding ethos: As a new fund, Avid is looking for a way to gain a strategic advantage in a crowded field of VC firms. And when investing in companies’ early funding rounds, venture firms get competitive: “It leads to a lot of sharp elbows, and it leads to investors trying to get what’s best for their firm, and not necessarily what’s best for the founder and their company,” Lerner said. Her goal is for Avid to become indispensable to company founders. Avid’s proposition is simple: “Let’s write smaller checks into these large rounds, where we’re going to be disproportionately helpful,” said Lerner.
Start-up nation: A connection to Israel is a key part of both partners’ identities, and Israel will be one of several countries in which they plan to invest. “Israel has a very near and dear place in both of our hearts, and we also think we can get some really incredible returns by investing in Israeli companies,” said Vogelstein, who spent a year in Israel before college and interned there while a student at the University of Pennsylvania. She noted that the IDF uniquely contributes to Israel’s startup successes. “We think the IDF certainly contributes to the mindset where founders are not afraid of failure.” One of the company’s Israeli investments, the alternate payments platform Rapyd, was recently valued at $2.5 billion.
Stateside: As Jewish investors with an interest in Israel, Lerner and Vogelstein say people often make the assumption that Israel is their only focus. It isn’t. Still, even in the U.S., the Jewish community has been central to the firm’s launch. One of Avid’s anchor investors is Schusterman Family Investments, the investment arm of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. “They’ve been just really fabulous partners to work with,” Lerner said. Both of Avid’s partners grew up involved in their local Jewish communities: Newton, Mass., for Lerner, and Baltimore for Vogelstein, though they now live in New York.
Diversity-driven: The majority of VC funds do not have any female partners. “I’m pretty used to being the only woman in the room,” Lerner told JI. Avid does not invest only in women-led companies, though some people still assume that is the case. “We’re a woman-led firm that is investing in really awesome founders and companies, and the fact that we’re woman-led is cool but unrelated,” she explained. The firm invests in companies it views as promising, independent of who runs them: “Our strong belief,” Lerner explained, “is that [diversity] can and should happen in a more organic way, versus any sort of intentional focus or quotas.”
The defense attorney gunning to be Manhattan’s chief prosecutor
Of the eight candidates running for Manhattan district attorney, just three have no prior experience in prosecution. Dan Quart, a Democratic New York State assemblyman and criminal defense lawyer, is one of them — and he takes it as a point of pride. “If I thought a prosecutor was the right person to turn this office around, to truly reform it, I wouldn’t be a candidate,” Quart, 48, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview. “For those who want another prosecutor, they have their choice of five candidates. But I’m offering a different perspective, and, I think, the right perspective for Manhattan at this particular time.”
Big cuts: Quart pledges to reduce the DA’s budget, though he doesn’t specify by how much, only noting that it might require “some level of attrition,” such as staff cuts. He also vows not to prosecute a number of low-level charges, including turnstile-jumping, consensual sex work and drug possession, which he describes as a “public health issue, not a courtroom criminal issue.” Quart is also in favor of reducing the police budget as part of an effort to remove officers from their involvement in social problems like homelessness and mental illness. “We’ve put them in a position to do certain things they’re poorly trained for and the results demonstrate that,” he said.
Record: Quart, the sole elected official in the race, argues that he has the legislative record to back up his campaign promises, touting legislation he helped pass in the New York Assembly including bail reform and a bill ending a ban on gravity knives which, advocates charged, disproportionately impacted minorities. “The overwhelming majority of those individuals who were prosecuted were people of color,” Quart said. “It took me seven years, over two vetoes by the governor, but I was able to decriminalize something that people could purchase at a hardware store.”
Hate crimes approach: Quart grew up in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, an experience he describes as formative for a future lawyer. “Washington Heights in the 1980s was a very diverse community, before they used the word diverse to describe communities with different ethnicities,” he said, recalling that he was occasionally singled out for being Jewish as a kid. “I’ve experienced aspects of hate in my life,” he told JI. “It’s something that sticks with me.” Still, Quart emphasized that punishing those who perpetrate hate crimes isn’t always the appropriate response. “Education and restorative justice and getting that person to understand the harm that he or she is doing is the better solution than some sort of punitive approach of extended jail time,” he said.
on the hill
Manchin votes for Kahl in tied committee vote; nomination to proceed to full Senate vote
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) voted in favor of Colin Kahl’s nomination for the top policy job at the Pentagon in a Senate Armed Services Committee vote yesterday. Manchin’s vote allows Kahl’s nomination to proceed to the Senate floor, where he is expected to be confirmed. The 13 Republicans on the committee unanimously opposed Kahl’s nomination to become undersecretary of defense for policy, while all 13 Democrats voted in favor. Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod has the latest on Manchin’s decision and what comes next for Kahl.
Iran troubles: “[Coming to a decision] took me a long time,” Manchin told reporters after the vote. “I went through everything I could. And we had many phone calls. We have a difference of opinion on Iran. And he knows what our difference is.” The West Virginia senator said he told Kahl, “You put trust on the front end, hoping they do the right thing on the back end. Where I come from, once you’ve lost that trust, you have to gain it back. That was a nonstarter for me,” noting that Iran had been “a little bit exclusive on what they would allow us to inspect.”
On the other hand: Manchin noted, however, that he and Kahl agreed that the Trump administration misstepped in withdrawing U.S. support for Kurdish forces in Syria. The senator said that Kahl has the “qualifications and… expertise to be very helpful, especially if the president has trust in him.” Generally, Manchin elaborated, he tends to defer to the executive branch on nominees, but said he did not make a decision on Kahl until Wednesday morning.
Up next: With Manchin’s support locked down, Kahl stands a strong chance of being confirmed, although potentially on a party-line vote. “With an even vote in the committee, that could foretell an even vote on the floor, requiring the vice president to break the tie,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), who chairs the committee, told reporters after the vote. Reed added that he does not know when Kahl’s nomination will come to the floor — that decision, he said, is now up to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who will discharge the committee and move the nomination to a full floor vote. The Senate begins its two-week spring recess on Monday.
🗞️ Head Hunt: Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo explores The Washington Post’s hunt for a successor to executive editor Marty Baron. “Rumor is that there are a half dozen or so candidates believed to be under serious consideration,” reports Pompeo, including two internal candidates, multiple New York Times staffers and Susan Goldberg, editor of National Geographic. [VanityFair]
🙌 Kol HaKAVOD: In the Washington Post, Cathy Free spotlights John and Amy Pregulman, the co-founders of KAVOD, an organization that assists Holocaust survivors in the U.S., roughly one-third of whom live in poverty. “It’s an extraordinary place to be — to be a witness to somebody’s story,” said Amy. “It’s part of our responsibility as human beings to take care of our elders. I can think of no greater honor.” [WashPost]
🗳️ Change Needed: With further deadlock predicted following Israel’s fourth election in two years, analysts are hotly debating electoral reform proposals to halt the cycle of ongoing votes, reports New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Patrick Kingsley. “It’s not a failed state. It’s not Lebanon. You still have institutions,” said analyst Shira Efron. But “not having a budget for two years — this is really dangerous.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
💉 Vacci-Nation: More than 50% of Israelis have now received both doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
✈️ Open Arms: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan discussed the potential of an Israeli-U.S. visa waiver program yesterday with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
☀️ Team Effort: Israel’s Nofar Energy Ltd and Noy Fund are collaborating on a joint solar energy project in Spain with a pricetag exceeding $200 million.
🤳 Tech Talk: Twitter has acquired Israeli startup Reshuffle as the social media company looks to build its new API.
🤝 Diplomatic Mission: Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is emerging as a kind of “shadow secretary of state,” according to Politico. The Delaware senator, who was under consideration for the top job at Foggy Bottom, recently returned from Ethiopia, where he traveled at President Joe Biden’s request to address the Tigray conflict.
🇬🇧 Spy Games: UK Jewish leaders are calling for a public inquiry into whether Nazi war criminals who worked for MI6 after World War II were shielded from prosecution.
🛂 Loosening Restrictions: Germany passed a law easing the path for descendants of victims of the Nazis to obtain citizenship.
⚕️ Giving Back: Germany committed more than $13 million yesterday to assist in efforts to vaccinate Holocaust survivors around the world against COVID.
🚓 All in the Family: Two siblings arrested for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot petitioned a federal court to allow them to return to Arizona to attend a Seder with their grandparents.
💰 Big Buy: NFL owners are expected to approve a waiver that would allow Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder to take on $450 million in debt to buy out minority partners.
🏈 Foul: A high school football coach in Duxbury, Mass., was fired yesterday after it was reported that he used antisemitic play calls during games.
🙅 No Go: The student government at the University of Iowa voted down a proposal to establish a legislative position to represent the school’s Jewish students.
🎤 On the Dais: Disney chairman Bob Iger will deliver the keynote address at this year’s graduation ceremony at the University of Texas at Austin.
💼 Transition: Gideon Taylor was named the new executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, as outgoing CEO Michael Miller concludes his 36-year tenure.
🎥 Silver Screen: The New York Times reviews the new “tone-deaf comedy” movie titled “Donny’s Bar Mitzvah,” starring Danny Trejo.
Song of the Day
The Israeli improv troupe “Underdos” released a new satire song for Passover, titled “Asleep Before the Afikoman.”
Film and book critic, Gene Shalit turns 95… Pulpit rabbi, historian and lecturer, Rabbi Berel Wein turns 87… Nationally recognized as a leader and a spokeswoman for the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gloria Steinem turns 87… Actor and director, Paul Michael Glaser turns 78… Mayor of Las Vegas, Nevada, Carolyn Goodman turns 82… Norman N. Goldberg turns 77… Pamela M. Snyder turns 75… Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and global fellow at the Wilson Center, after 24 years at the U.S. Department of State, Aaron David Miller turns 72… Former member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party and then Israel’s ambassador to Belarus, Yosef Shagal turns 72… Chair of Eastern Savings Bank in Hunt Valley, Maryland and chair of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Beth H. Goldsmith… Property manager and CPA, Glynis Gerber turns 68… Founding director of the initiative on communication and sustainability at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, Andrew C. Revkin turns 65… Columbus, Ohio-based consultant in the dental sleep medicine field, Cynthia S. Levy turns 64… Executive director at Plum Community Center in Pittsburgh, Karen Hochberg turns 64… Film producer and former co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amy Pascal turns 63… Author, journalist and healthcare editor for Politico Pro, Arthur Allen turns 62… Retired IDF Major General, Yoav (Poli) Mordechai turns 57… Emmy Award-winning actress and producer, Sarah Jessica Parker turns 56… Founding director of ATID and its WebYeshiva program and is the editor of the “Tradition” journal, Rabbi Jeffrey Saks turns 52…
Member of the Knesset for the New Right party, Naftali Bennett turns 49… Regional Director for New Jersey and Rockland County in the Orthodox Union’s Department of Community Engagement, Rabbi Avi Heller turns 48… Attorney and President of Mizel Financial Holdings, Cheston David Mizel turns 46… Partner at DC-based Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas focused on health care policy, Lauren Aronson turns 42… Boston-based director of media and public relations at Oxfam America, Alissa C. Rooney turns 41… YouTube personality and filmmaker, Casey Neistat turns 40… Actress, comedian and author, Jenny Slate turns 39… Political editor at The Associated Press, Steven Sloan turns 38… Author of “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” and writer of a Substack newsletter, Bari Weiss turns 37… Director of the University of Chicago Urban Network, Meredith Shiner turns 34… Political director of Democratic Majority for Israel, Joel Wanger turns 33… Legislative director for U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), Grant Cameron Dubler turns 32… Senior planning manager for children’s apparel at Walmart, Jordan Rossman turns 31…