👋 Good Thursday morning!
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to the United Arab Emirates slated for today was canceled amid his wife’s hospitalization and a diplomatic spat with Jordan.
Sara Netanyahu was hospitalized last night with appendicitis and is expected to spend several days in recovery, which first threw the trip into question. And yesterday, a planned visitto the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah was scrapped at the last minute after a dispute at the border between Jordan and Israel over the size of the crown prince’s security detail.
Israeli officials said the disagreement with Amman — where a UAE plane was purportedly waiting to transport Netanyahu — helped torpedo the trip by blocking the flight path. According to officials, Jordan belatedly cleared the flight, but not in time to prevent a fourth delay of Netanyahu’s attempt to visit the UAE ahead of Israel’s fourth election in two years.
Netanyahu is slated to meet later today in Jerusalem with the visiting leaders of Hungary and the Czech Republic, to discuss cooperation on fighting COVID-19.
The Senate voted yesterday to confirmAttorney General Merrick Garland by a vote of 70-30.
Matt Klapper, a longtime aide and chief of staff to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), will serve as Garland’s chief of staff at the Justice Department. Klapper worked with Booker for 21 years, according to a tweet yesterday from the senator.
The Senate yesterday also confirmed the nominations of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and EPA Administrator Michael Regan, both by a margin of 66 to 34.
The House voted to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief bill in a party line vote, with the exception of one Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), who voted with Republicans against the bill.
Sharren Haskel champions Israel’s liberal right wing
Sharren Haskel is a vegan, an environmentalist, a proponent of legalizing marijuana and a champion of women’s advancement and LGBT rights. And the former Likud lawmaker, who is now running as number five in Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, believes those values are perfectly in tune with the Israeli right wing. “The right side of the map has always promoted and actually made huge changes in animal rights and women’s rights,” she told Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro in a recent interview. “Equality in front of the law is a basic value in the right-wing agenda.”
Political price: Haskel, 37, may find a warmer home for many of those values in New Hope than she did in Likud. When she first entered the Knesset, Haskel became a co-chair of the Knesset LGBT Caucus. A year later, she voted with her party against a series of bills seeking to expand LGBT rights. But two years after that, she broke party ranks to vote in favor of expanding surrogacy rights to gay couples. “I refused to vote against it and I paid a parliamentary price for it, a political price for it,” she said. “I resigned from my position [as caucus chair] as a protest that the Likud didn’t pass the legislation. I voted in favor… despite the position of my party, which I refused to accept.”
Individual liberties: Haskel also sponsored a bill last year to legalize marijuana in Israel, which advanced through the Knesset but failed to pass before the body dispersed for elections. She has made cannabis legalization a key personal agenda item and, for the eighth consecutive time, topped the Israel Freedom Movement’s ranking of lawmakers who most support individual freedoms and the free market. “The fight for the legalization of cannabis… is holding a flag of individual liberties, of stopping the prosecution, the criminalization of people here in Israel, more than one million citizens who are cannabis users,” she said. “As a fighter in anything to do with individual liberties, this is one of the flags of this fight.”
Background: Haskel was born in Canada to Israeli and Moroccan parents, and moved to Israel as a baby. She spent a year living in the U.S. and then six years in Australia, where she trained as a veterinary nurse and worked in an animal hospital. Haskel first entered the Knesset with Likud in 2015, becoming the first female IDF combat soldier to serve in the Knesset and, at 31, was at the time the second-youngest MK. After five years as a Likud MK, she defected to New Hope in late December, joining Sa’ar’s new party. “It wasn’t an easy decision, it was a very difficult one, but I knew that this was the right thing to do,” she said. “After a few years of understanding that Bibi [Netanyahu] today is just a shadow of the person that was there before… we have to take action, in order to get Israel out of this economical crisis, in order to bring stability to our country, in order to unite our people again.”
Deep discussion: Though she champions individual freedoms, Haskel was fairly circumspect when asked about the recent Supreme Court ruling recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of Israeli citizenship. “I think it’s something that needs to be decided definitely by the people’s representatives,” she said — not the Supreme Court. “I think it’s a tragedy that it was dragged [out] for years and years without making any decision. I think we need to [hold] a very deep discussion about it, have an open table and understand it more in depth.” While she encourages aliyah, she said even Jews who choose to remain in the Diaspora “still feel very connected to our country. This is their homeland, it’s part of their tradition, it’s part of their identity, and we need to reinforce that.”
Jeff Bartos looks ahead to 2022
Jeff Bartos, a real estate developer who recently announced his bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania, is in the process of offloading the responsibilities of his day job as he transitions into campaign mode. “I don’t generally do interviews at construction sites,” Bartos, 48, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “I’m a disaster around tools,” he joked. “I know how to put deals together and bring people together and get deals done and projects done. But if you actually asked me to, like, caulk a window, we’d have a big problem.”
Folksy sensibility: His admission was characteristic of the folksy sensibility Bartos seems eager to convey as he gears up for next year’s Republican primary. Bartos, who entered the race on Monday and has previously run for statewide office, is by far the most well-known Republican candidate in the race to succeed outgoing Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). But more Republicans are expected to jump in for a chance to claim the seat in what is expected to be one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the country. Ari Mittleman, a political strategist in Pennsylvania, told JI that Bartos is well-poised to compete in a race that will likely top $500 million in spending. “Jeff is a proven fundraiser with a diverse statewide and national Rolodex,” Mittleman said.
Trump’s shadow: In his first video ad, Bartos presents himself as an old-fashioned conservative who is concerned about the fate of small businesses affected by the pandemic — a story he is familiar with as the recent founder of a nonprofit providing forgivable loans to struggling small businesses throughout the state. “I learned from my dad the value of being a part of a community, and if you can help, you absolutely help,” Bartos says in the video. He is wagering that this message will appeal to voters, but his somewhat sentimental tone feels reminiscent of a style of conservative politics that appears to be fading as many Republicans imitate the brash and tempestuous tenor of former President Donald Trump.
Middle path? Bartos suggested that he may opt for a middle path, expressing admiration for a broad array of Trump’s policies both domestic and foreign. As a Jew who is deeply invested in Israel’s security, Bartos was perhaps most enthusiastic about the Trump administration’s recent achievements in the Middle East. “Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, moving the American Embassy, the Abraham Accords, pulling us out of the disastrous JCPOA,” Bartos said, rattling a list of Trump’s signature accomplishments. “I think all of those policies I’m not only comfortable discussing, but enthusiastic to discuss.”
‘Populist anger’: Still, in the interview with JI, Bartos largely ignored the president’s role in inciting a mob of protestors to storm the Capitol in an effort to overturn the election — the aftermath of which has created deep divisions within the GOP. “There’s a lot of populist anger in Pennsylvania,” Bartos said. “There’s a lot of populist anger in the nation, and my campaign is going to be all about taking that anger and that frustration, taking the time to listen, which I’ve done for the last 10 months — and I’d like to think I’ve done for most of my career — taking the time to listen, and then to work, day and night, to implement policies that move people forward and address that anger in a productive way.”
on the record
Blinken vows not to roll back Iran sanctions before nuclear compliance
Secretary of State Tony Blinken delved into the specifics of the Biden administration’s approach to diplomacy with Iran during his first appearance as secretary of state before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Promises made: During the nearly four-hour hearing, Blinken assured committee members that the U.S. will not make concessions to Iran to secure a meeting with the regime, nor will it roll back sanctions until Iran is either in compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal or on a path to full compliance. He also bluntly denied reports that the U.S. had already released funds to the Iranian regime, and said the U.S. has no plans to do so unless Iran comes back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The secretary of state also committed to formally consulting with Congress before withdrawing U.S. sanctions, and to working closely with allies, including Israel, on Iran. “We’re determined to consult on the takeoff, not on the landing,” he said. “Congress is the first stop, but also allies, partners, including allies and partners in the region, who have their own concerns and own interests at stake.”
Engaging parties: Blinken confirmed to the committee that State Department officials, including himself and Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, have engaged in conversations with China and Russia regarding the Iran deal. “The department, the special envoy, myself, we’ve been engaged with all of the parties to the JCPOA, to include China, to include Russia, and of course to include our European partners as well as the European Union to get their assessments of the prospects of Iran returning to compliance with its obligations and urging them to use what influence they have with Iran to return to its obligations,” the secretary of state said.
‘Making good’: In response to a question from Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) about whether “reports of the death of the two-state solution are premature,” Blinken reiterated his commitment to pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He also emphasized the administration’s commitment to the Taylor Force Act, which cuts off U.S. payments to the Palestinian Authority as long as it continues so-called martyr payments to terrorists’ families. “President Biden was actually in Israel about a mile and a half from Taylor Force when he was murdered, and he spoke out about that immediately and has been a forceful advocate for doing justice by Taylor Force and making sure that we are making good on the obligations that we have under the Taylor Force Act,” Blinken said.
On the ICC: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) confronted Blinken about the sanctions the Trump administration placed on the International Criminal Court and its prosecutor in response to the ICC’s efforts to investigate the U.S. The Biden administration has also argued that the ICC is acting outside of its jurisdiction by investigating Israel. “We’re currently reviewing those sanctions. We want to make the best determination we can about the way forward in terms of engaging the ICC,” the secretary of state responded. “We discussed… our deep concerns about some of the ICC’s efforts to exert jurisdiction in areas where we believe they don’t or should not have it. But it would also be good to have a productive relationship with the ICC, and it’s something we are reviewing.”
Read more here.
Elsewhere: Malley told Axios that the upcoming Iranian elections would not impact the Biden administration’s policy towards nuclear talks, and that the U.S. and Israel are trying to avoid the public clash on Iran that occurred during the Obama administration.
on the hill
House members introduce bipartisan resolution condemning Iranian nuclear program
A bipartisan group of House members — consisting mostly of centrist Democrats — introduced a resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear program. The resolution, introduced by Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria (D-VA), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Brad Schneider (D-IL), joined by moderate Republican Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), condemns Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 20% purity.
Pushing back: The resolution argues that Iran’s continuing enrichment “is escalatory and intended to decrease breakout time to produce a nuclear weapon” and calls on Iran to “immediately reverse its decision… and abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.” It also notes that Iran is in violation of the decades-old Non-Proliferation Treaty — which does not give Iran any inherent right to enrich nuclear material.
Quotable: “Iran is a state-sponsor of terrorism and poses an existential threat to our national security and Israel, America’s strongest ally in the region,” Luria, the legislation’s primary sponsor, said in a statement. “Iran cannot be allowed to continue to progress towards a nuclear weapon and the United States must unequivocally condemn their provocations.” Meijer referenced his first-hand experience with Iranian sponsorship of terrorist organizations during his time serving in Iraq. “I saw first-hand the malign influence of Iranian aggression, including its support for extremist groups,” he said in a statement. “The Iranian regime’s latest action to increase uranium enrichment — and thereby reduce its nuclear breakout time — poses a direct threat to our allies and shared goals of stability in the region. It must be reversed immediately.”
One of a kind: The resolution is the first legislation introduced by House Democrats this congressional session to directly address Iran’s nuclear program. Another bipartisan resolution, which calls in general terms for a “democratic, secular, and non-nuclear” Iran, did not directly address Tehran’s nuclear activities.It comes on the heels of more than half a dozen bills and resolutions from House and Senate Republicans addressing Iran’s nuclear program or negotiations with Iran, which have thus far failed to gain any Democratic support. Senate Democrats introduced a resolution in late February calling for “a diplomatic resolution to Iran’s nuclear program.”
📜 Deep Dive: New York Times reporter Jennifer Schuessler explores how Israeli-American scholar Idan Dershowitz has shaken up the archeology world with his claim that an ancient biblical manuscript — long-dismissed as a forgery — is actually the oldest known biblical manuscript. “As someone who spends all day reconstructing source texts, I’ve often daydreamed about actually finding one,” Dershowitz said. “But I didn’t think about it as something that could actually come true.” [NYTimes]
🗣️ Theological Debate: Shadi Hamid writes in The Atlantic that as religious faith in the U.S. declines, political debates and ideological intensity have risen. “Can religiosity be effectively channeled into political belief without the structures of actual religion to temper and postpone judgment?” he asked. “There is little sign, so far, that it can.” [Atlantic]
🎒 Lesson Plan: In City Journal, Bari Weiss suggests that parents of students at elite prep schools in New York and California are privately speaking out about curriculums and policies that are “making their kids fixate on race and attach importance to it in ways that strike them as grotesque.” [CJ]
Around the Web
🏈🏀 Breaking Bad With Bread: The New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman invited NBA star Meyers Leonard to Shabbat dinner in the wake of Leonard’s use of an antisemitic slur on a Twitch stream. Leonard’s Miami Heat coach, Erik Spoelstra, said the player’s words were “extremely distasteful and hurtful.”
💉 Direct Defense: The Israeli Defense Forces declared today that it is the world’s first military to achieve COVID-19 herd immunity, with 81% of staff either vaccinated or recovered.
✈️ Flying Free: Israel and the UAE are conducting negotiations to establish a quarantine-free travel corridor for fully vaccinated passengers.
🎖️ Joint Defense: Israel Aerospace Industries is working with the UAE’s state-owned weapons maker EDGE to jointly develop an advanced drone defense system.
🗳️ Still in Power: Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yehiyeh Sinwar, was reelected to another four-year term yesterday, defeating a challenge from Hamas co-founder Nizar Awadallah.
😷 Promising Results: Israel provided the Pfizer COVID vaccine to 600 children ages 12-16 with underlying risk factors, and reported no serious side effects in the teenagers.
🙅 Not for Sale: Jerusalem’s L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art called off a planned Sotheby’s auction of 268 rare and precious items amid public outcry.
📚 Bookshelf: Former senior White House advisor Jared Kushner is reportedly planning a book on his time in the Trump administration, including negotiating the Abraham Accords.
🛬 Bad Flight: U.K. airline EasyJet is compensating a British-Israeli woman who was asked to switch seats on a 2019 flight to Tel Aviv after two ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit next to her.
🌭 Higher Authority: Food conglomerate Conagra is in talks to sell famed kosher hot dog brand Hebrew National to Brazil’s JBS SA.
🗽 Empire State: Many Wall Streeters who left New York for Florida earlier in the pandemic are reportedly eyeing a return, longing for the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.
🎥 Silver Screen: The Los Angeles Times reviewed the new documentary, “Still Life in Lodz,” about the daughter of Holocaust survivors seeking to track down a painting left behind.
📺 Coming Soon: Netflix is set to premiere a new documentary series, “My Unorthodox Life,” about fashion designer Julia Haart, who was born Talia Leibov to an ultra-Orthodox family.
🍽️ On the Menu: Dallas’s D Magazine spotlights the Market Local Comfort Cafe, a kosher breakfast and lunch joint in the city.
💼 Transition: Carly Pildis is joining the Anti-Defamation League as the organization’s associate director for community engagement.
Professor emeritus at Princeton University whose research focuses on the Cairo Geniza and Jewish life in Muslim countries, Mark R. Cohen turns 78… Doctor of nursing practice, Hermine Warren turns 76… Office administrator at Creative Wealth Management, Glenda Kresh turns 69… Culinary writer and novelist, Steven Raichlen turns 68… Suzanne Dreyfus turns 68… Composer and conductor specializing in movie scores, David Louis Newman turns 67… Co-owner of One Oak Vineyard in Sonoma, Laura Zimmerman turns 65… Chairman of Lions Gate Entertainment and head of MHR Fund Management, Mark Rachesky turns 62… College physician at the Student Health Center of Stony Brook University, internal medicine specialist, Richard E. Tuckman, MD turns 56… CEO of Weiss Public Affairs, Amy Weiss turns 56… Singer-songwriter, she also promotes an eponymous line of eyeglasses, Lisa Loeb turns 53… Chief research officer and SVP of strategic partnerships at Survey Monkey, Jon Cohen turns 50… Northeast regional deputy synagogue initiative director at AIPAC, Daniel Kochavi turns 48… Israeli singer-songwriter and pianist who has twice been recognized as Israel’s Singer of the Year, Keren Peles turns 42… Managing director at Ridgewood Energy, Samuel J. Lissner turns 35… Chief innovation officer at Forward PMX, Dana Stern Gibber turns 35… Financial representative at Northwestern Mutual, Lev Beltser turns 31… Assistant director of Ramah Sports Academy, Ayala Wasser turns 30… Director of the Israel office at Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, Richard Pater… President of JCS International, Michal Grayevsky… Principal and chief strategist at MCS Group, Sharon Polansky…