👋 Good Monday morning!
A letter to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) from 70 Republican members of the West Virginia legislature — reportedly pushed by Christians United for Israel — calls on the senator to vote against the confirmation of Colin Kahl as under secretary of defense due to his efforts to “delegitimize our strongest ally in the Middle East.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro defended Kahl in a Twitter thread yesterday, saying the nominee “did critical work… to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge” while serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration. Shapiro said claims that Kahl does not support the U.S.-Israel relationship “distort his record.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, meanwhile, urged Manchin, in a call, to support Kahl in the Senate Armed Services Committee vote, scheduled for tomorrow. On the table during that discussion was possible Defense Production Act funding that West Virginia could receive, according to a congressional aide with knowledge of the Biden administration’s push on the Hill.
A growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers, including both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign as accusations of sexual harassment continue to pile up.
At 80 years old, human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler is busier than ever
Irwin Cotler’s days start early and end late. The international human rights lawyer and Canada’s first antisemitism envoy — who formerly served as Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general, a member of Parliament representing Montreal and a law professor at McGill University — now spends most of his time working from home, but still oversees or contributes to the legal defense of dissidents around the world. “It’s hard to sleep when you’re defending political prisoners who may be in a COVID-infested prison. It keeps you up at night,” Cotler told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in a Zoom interview last week.
Dissident defense: One of Cotler’s most prominent cases involves Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer who was arrested in 2012 for the crime of “insulting Islam.” He has continued to speak out while in prison, and recently advocated for Saudi normalization with Israel. In Cotler’s view, the comments that got Badawi arrested several years ago reflect a sensibility that is now commonplace in Saudi Arabia. Badawi was arrested “for saying then what [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] has been saying himself the last three years, calling for a more open Saudi Arabia, a more moderate Islam,” said Cotler.
Canada connection: Unlike most other activists, Cotler might be lucky enough to have a direct line to the person handling U.S. foreign policy. He had a decades-long friendship with U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s stepfather, Samuel Pisar, a Holocaust survivor. “When I was a law professor at McGill, we inaugurated the Raoul Wallenberg Lectureship in Human Rights,” Cotler recalled. The first person to give that lecture was Elie Wiesel; the second was Pisar, sparking a friendship in which Cotler visited him at his homes in New York and in France.
Side hustle: Cotler accepted the position of antisemitism envoy pro-bono, he said, with practically no budget, to handle a huge portfolio that includes both domestic andglobal antisemitism, domestic andglobal Holocaust remembrance, and chairing Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. He sees a straightforward connection between his two passions: the Jewish community and international human rights. “I take a human rights approach to combating antisemitism,” he explained. “While [bigotry] begins with Jews, it doesn’t end with Jews.”
Is Israel heading to a fifth election?
In just over a week, Israelis will head to the polls to vote in the country’s fourth national election in two years. But for weeks, speculation has mounted that this vote could be followed by yet another election later this year. How could that possibility play out — and how likely is it? Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro lays out the possibilities.
Prediction: “My sense is we’re going to a fifth round,” former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told JI yesterday. “This election is between Bibi [Netanyahu] and anti-Bibi… and on the anti-Bibi side there are left-wing parties and right-wing parties, secular parties and religious parties,” said Oren, who served as a Knesset member with Kulanu from 2015 to 2019. And all those parties would have to set their differences aside to unite to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he suggested. “And I just don’t know if they’re able to do that.”
Electoral math: Israel held three consecutive elections — in March 2019, September 2019 and March 2020 — before it was able to form a government. That shaky national unity coalition dissolved last year after just seven months, triggering a new election. In an average of the four most recent polls ahead of the March 23 election, the pro-Netanyahu bloc — Likud, United Torah Judaism, Shas and the National Religious Party — are predicted to receive 51 seats. The anti-Netanyahu bloc — Yesh Atid, New Hope, the Joint List, Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Blue and White and Meretz — are expected to receive a combined 58 seats. Potential kingmaker Yamina leader Naftali Bennett — who has vowed to replace Netanyahu but yet has not ruled out sitting in his coalition — is predicted to receive 11.
Anti-Bibi bloc: The anti-Netanyahu bloc is deeply divided, and getting those parties to join one government seems a near-impossible feat. Both Bennett and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar have vowed not to sit with the Joint List, and Bennett has said he won’t serve in a coalition led by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid. Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has long been antagonistic to the Joint List — going so far as to switch Knesset seats when he wound up sitting next to Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, who he has labeled a “terrorist” — and the two parties would make markedly hostile coalition partners.
Betting odds: Times of Israel political reporter Tal Schneider told JI in late January that “I can’t see right now a way with the numbers” to avoid a fifth election. “Both sides don’t have enough seats, both sides are probably unwilling to work with the Joint List, so as long as people in Israel treat the Joint List as outcasts, I don’t see any of them getting enough numbers to bring in a government.” In an interview on JI’s “Limited Liability Podcast” last month, Walla! News reporter and Axios contributor Barak Ravid said another vote is a distinct possibility. “My assessment is that right now, most chances are — and I hope you’re all sitting down — most chances are that we’ll go for a fifth election.”
Win or lose: Oren noted that not every pre-election campaign vow holds up once coalition talks begin. “We’ve learned from [Blue and White leader] Benny Gantz that all these parties say they won’t sit with X and they won’t sit with Y, and when it actually comes to coalition negotiations, they’re willing to sit” with those parties, Oren said. “I always say Bibi is like Hamas,” Oren added. “When Hamas goes to war, it only has to not lose, in order to win. Bibi has to only not lose in order to win.”
on the hill
Congressional Republicans push barrage of Iran legislation
Republican lawmakers in the Senate and House have introduced a surge of legislation in recent weeks seeking to further crack down on Iran and put the brakes on the Biden administration’s efforts to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
By the numbers: The eight pieces of legislation address issues including tightening sanctions enforcement, disapproval of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), opposing easing sanctions on Iran and seeking to block the U.S. from reentering the JCPOA. In the Senate, a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) seeking congressional oversight over sanctions reductions has gained 27 cosponsors. A resolution introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) opposing any form of sanctions reduction that does not address Iran’s nuclear program and its other provocations has gained 31 cosponsors. The House companion legislation to Hagerty’s bill and Cotton’s resolution have 24 and 30 GOP sponsors, respectively.
Congressional input: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), who sponsored the House version of Hagerty’s bill, told JI that the legislation seeks to give congressional oversight on sanctions relief in order to give the American people a voice in the process. “I don’t want to see us again fall back into the scheme of Tehran blackmailing us and extorting us and us giving up sanctions for really very little of anything,” Hagerty said in an interview with JI last week. “The concern I’ve got is that the Biden administration wants to roll back our sanctions, just in exchange for reentering the deal. It took us a long time to get the sanctions in place. We’ve got pressure on Iran now that is like never before. And this is not the time to be backing off.”
Sanction support: Hagerty said Iran’s continued provocations under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions regime served as evidence that the U.S. should not back down on sanctions. “I certainly would not want to provide more resources to Iran to do this,” he said, emphasizing that the 2015 deal had freed up funds to the regime. The Tennessee senator said he expects sanctions to have more long-term success in curbing Iranian activities. “We need to continue to put pressure on them,” he said. “Their economy is contracting, that has got to be felt broadly, in Iran, and that’s going to put pressure on the regime much more than anything else we could do right now.”
Signals: Bipartisan support has thus far not been forthcoming for Hagerty’s bill, nor any of the other GOP-led legislation addressing Iran’s nuclear program and the 2015 agreement. Without any Democratic support, the legislation is unlikely to pass through either chamber of Congress. Nevertheless, the deluge of legislation reflects deep GOP opposition to and concern about the Biden administration’s approach to Iran — which has also taken center stage during recent congressional hearings with Biden’s foreign policy appointees. “Members of Congress feel strongly about the Iran issue given the national security implications,” McCaul said “For an issue as important as this, we need all hands on deck.”
An Iranian Jewish writer’s guide to immigrants — for natives
A new book by Roya Hakakian, who, along with her Persian Jewish family, came to the U.S. from Iran in the 1980s, ostensibly attempts to help immigrants answer the question of what it means to be an American. However, Hakakian told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch that, in reality, her desired audience is native-born, English-speaking Americans, whom she is urging to confront their biases toward immigrants.
For the curious: “Somebody who’s a newcomer to America can’t pick up a guidebook in English and learn from it. This isn’t really intended for the audience that it proclaims to be intended for,” Hakakian told JIof her newest book, A Beginner’s Guide to America: For the Immigrant and the Curious. “In the title [is] ‘for the curious,’ and I am hoping the curious are the native-born Americans who are interested in the issue of immigrants and immigration.”
Light hearted: Hakakian’s new book, written in the second person, is not a memoir — she already wrote one of those — although she draws heavily from her own experiences. But Hakakian also did not want to write an op-ed, or anything resembling one. “I thought that remaining lighthearted throughout would be a way of hopefully breaking the ice, if there’s any ice between us — which, perhaps since 2016, there has been between the immigrant and the native born,” she said.
New neighborhood: Unlike many refugees, Hakakian and her family did not move to an area with other people from their home country. Instead, they wound up in Borough Park, a Brooklyn neighborhood with a large Hasidic population that in some ways reminded her of the country she had left. “I had run away from a religious state,” Hakakian explained, leaving behind the “pressure of, ‘You can wear this and you can’t wear that,’ and ‘You can do this as a woman and you can’t do that.’” Back in Iran, her family had been religiously observant, but not to the extent as the members of Borough Park’s Hasidic community. “As soon as we moved in, one of the very first things I was told was, ‘You can’t carry a bag or anything on Shabbat,’ [and] ‘You cannot wear pants,’” Hakakian said. “I couldn’t believe my ears. I had such a hard time with all that.”
📿 Faith Fissures: The Atlantic’s Emma Green interviews Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who believes President Joe Biden, the second Catholic U.S. president, should stop receiving communion due to his vocal support for abortion rights. “Obviously, the president doesn’t believe what we believe about the sacredness of human life, or he wouldn’t be taking the actions that he is.” [Atlantic]
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman suggests that British Jews finally feel comfortable in “showing our Chutzpah” in public. “The Corbyn era, coupled with the rise of identity politics, has encouraged British Jews to speak up in a new way… not just among ourselves, but in public, on social media, to everyone. Oy vey, Britain, brace yourself. The party’s getting started now.” [Guardian]
🇮🇱 On the Ground: Wall Street Journal contributor Tunku Varadarajan interviews Dr. Nachman Ash, Israel’s COVID-19 national coordinator, about the country’s approach to lockdowns, reopening and gaining the trust of vaccine-skeptical populations. “We work with mayors and local leaders. They can get the message across to their people much better than I can do.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
✈️ Better Safe than Sorry: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he avoided flying through Saudi airspace last week to avoid missile fire from Iranian proxies in Yemen.
🛰️ Next Gen: Israel’s Defense Ministry unveiled the “Iron Sting” guided mortar system yesterday, which uses GPS and laser technology to minimize collateral damage.
💉 Blame Game: Many in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community say they feel continued public resentment over their perceived role in the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.
🏦 Open for Business: First Digital Bank, the first new bank in Israel since 1978, began operations for a limited group of customers yesterday.
🏥 Hospital Help: Israel’s Sheba Medical Center will begin offering some health services to security personnel from the United Arab Emirates.
👮 Red Flags: A U.S. Army reservist who participated in the January 6 Capitol riot was a vocal white supremacist who grew a Hitler mustache and publicly railed against Jews.
😬 No Go: During a shiva call to his accountant, Allen Weisselberg, former President Donald Trump showed attendees photos of naked women, according to Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law.
✍️ Legacy: Jared Kushner penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed boasting that Trump’s Mideast policies have dealt the Biden administration “a strong hand” in dealing with Iran.
💰 Thriving: Joshua Kushner’s firm, Thrive Capital, has steadfastly sought to separate itself from politics and familial entanglements, reports The New York Times.
👶 Mazel Tov: Karlie Kloss and Joshua Kushner have welcomed their first child.
🖼️ Tough Talks: The Museum of Modern Art is reportedly in talks with its chair, Leon Black, about his future with the museum in light of his ties to Jeffrey Epstein.
🏢 Company Culture: Goldman Sachs is reportedly “riveted by palace intrigue” over defections and a debate on the post-COVID workplace dominated by CEO David Solomon, according to a new report in Bloomberg.
🎓 Too Far?: The provost of the University College London was criticized for suggesting that a Holocaust denier would be allowed to speak at the university under the guise of free speech.
🌇 Ticking Clock: Quebec’s Hasidic Jewish community filed a court petition against COVID curfew restrictions that it said will hinder religious services during daylight savings.
🎞️ Hollywood: Mandy Patinkin and Lena Dunham will star in “Iron Box,” a new film about a woman and her Holocaust survivor father who travel to Poland to explore their family history.
🕯️ Remembering: Roei “Jinji” Sadan, an Israeli cyclist who became famous for cycling around the world, died in an accident at age 39. Major League Baseball player-turned-coach and manager Norm Sherry died at 89.
Pic of the Day
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio toured the Ezra Medical Center in Brooklyn yesterday, a vaccination site designated to serve Holocaust survivors. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)
Theoretical chemist and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Martin Karplus turns 91… Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award-winning actor, Judd Hirsch turns 86… Founder of Baer & McGoldrick and a film producer, Thomas H. Baer turns 84… UCLA professor, biochemist and biophysicist, David S. Eisenberg turns 82… First-ever New York City public advocate and author of 23 books, Mark J. Green turns 76… Former chairman of retail conglomerate Arcadia Group, Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green turns 69… Managing member at Buena Vista Fund Management in San Francisco, Robert Mendel Rosner turns 65… Animator and director of numerous episodes of “The Simpsons,” David Silverman turns 64… Real estate agent at Signature Realty Associates in Tampa, Ze’ev (Wolf) Bar-El turns 64… Los Angeles-based writer, director and producer, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins turns 59… Program director of Jewish and Israel giving at Crown Family Philanthropies, Wendy Platt Newberger… Freelance writer and consultant, Bathsheva Gladstone turns 57…
CEO and executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, Debra Barton Grant turns 52… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, now serving as minister of public security, Amir Ohana turns 45… Retired MLB infielder and owner of Loma Brewing, a brew pub in Los Gatos, Calif., Kevin Youkilis turns 42… Global business editor for Defense One, Marcus Weisgerber turns 39… Coordinator of the integrative cancer care training program at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, Mindy Beth Reinstein Brodsky turns 38… Member of the New York State Assembly for the northeast portions of Queens, Nily Rozic turns 35… Course coach at the Harvard Kennedy School and AMEL Project board member, Justin Hefter turns 32… Co-founder of Punchbowl News, Rachel Schindler… and Rachel’s twin brother, Max J. Schindler, a college admissions advisor for Veritas Prep, both turn 29… Zach Shartiag turns 28… Professional wrestler, Maxwell Jacob Friedman turns 25…