👋 Good Monday morning!
Gabby Deutch is joining Jewish Insider full time as our new Washington correspondent covering key stories and figures from the capital. She was previously NewsGuard’s Washington correspondent and a contributing writer at JI. She’s also an alum of The Atlantic, CNN and The Toledo Blade. Welcome Gabby!
The White House hosted a virtual Purim gathering on Friday afternoon for approximately 30 administration staffers. Along with a message from Rabbi Levi Shemtov, several participants shared their thoughts on the holiday. The event, typically held in-person, did not feature a reading of the Megillah.
Israeli military forces reportedly struck Iranian-linked sites near Damascus last night. The attack came days after an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman was the target of a mysterious blast. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of being behind the attack on the ship, which has docked in Dubai for repairs.
In remarks this morning, Netanyahu declared: “Iran is the greatest enemy of Israel, I am determined to halt it. We are hitting it in the entire region,” hinting at Israeli action in Syria. The purported Israeli strikes come just days after the U.S. also struck Iranian-backed targets in Syria — a move reportedly coordinated with Israeli defense officials.
Five Republican senators, Marco Rubio (R-FL), Pat Toomey (R-PA), James Inhofe (R-OK), Jim Risch (R-ID) and Rob Portman (R-OH), sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him not to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal nor provide sanctions relief to the Iranian regime.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials said yesterday that “the time was not right” to hold direct talks with the U.S. over its nuclear program.
Students for Justice in Palestine at Tufts University withdrew a complaint calling for the impeachment of Max Price, a Jewish student leader, from the student judiciary, just days before Price’s scheduled hearing.
Alex Lasry’s full-court press for the U. S. Senate
By all accounts, Alex Lasry was instrumental in convincing the Democratic National Convention to pick Milwaukee as its host city in 2020. But as he embarks on his first Senate bid, Lasry, senior vice president of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, is now assuming the more challenging task of selling himself to voters across Wisconsin. Lasry, 33, enters the field with deep ties in Democratic politics. He recently served as finance chair of the DNC’s host committee, and his father, Marc Lasry, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Bucks co-owner, is a prominent Democratic bundler. But in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel, Lasry downplayed his family’s wealth and connections. “I’m not going to self-fund, but I will invest,” he claimed. “We’re going to build a grassroots campaign.”
Why now? “What we need is a change,” Lasry, who is planning to challenge Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), told JI. “For the last 10 years, we’ve had a senator who’s had no interest in representing the people of Wisconsin, but has rather been peddling in conspiracy theories and lies,” he added. “So what I think we need is someone who’s going to think differently, bring a fresh perspective and who also has a record of getting things done. You know, we’re not just talking about a $15 minimum wage; we’re paying it in our arena. We’re not just talking about creating union jobs; we’ve created thousands of them.”
Badger State or bust: The New York native has only lived in Milwaukee for seven years, but argues that his transplant status won’t impede his effort to garner statewide support. “Look, Wisconsin’s a place that I’ve made my home. I’ve chosen to make this my home. It’s where my wife and I are starting our family.” He added: “The most important thing we’re going to be doing in this campaign is making sure that we’re going to places that have been neglected not just by Democrats, but Republicans as well. Our first two virtual campaign stops were in [rural] Rusk County and Barron County, where we were talking to people about real issues, like how are we going to create access to broadband across the state.”
Connection with Israel: Lasry, who is Jewish, said he has been to Israel a number of times and feels a special sense of connection with the Jewish state. “It’s just a really incredible place,” he told JI, “and a great place to feel that history and really feel my Judaism.” If elected, Lasry hopes to encourage the Biden administration to pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We have to be one of Israel’s strongest allies,” he said, noting that he rejects the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “I definitely think that movement is based on, and has a lot of ties to, antisemitism,” he said. “It’s not something that I’m for. When I hear that, it does worry me.”
Moroccan pride: Despite being a staunch Trump critic, Lasry reserved some praise for the previous administration’s role in brokering normalization agreements between Israel and a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Morocco. Lasry has a unique connection to the North African country: His father was born there. “There was definitely a nice little personal link with my Judaism and my Jewish heritage and my father’s home country,” he said of the recent agreement. “I thought it was really great to see Israel and Morocco be able to form that kind of deal.” Still, Lasry added that he was against the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in defiance of the U.N. “That’s not something that we should have been recognizing.”
Israel’s airport closure takes center stage ahead of election
Israel’s ongoing airport shutdown due to the pandemic has become a lightning rod of controversy in the upcoming election, with just over three weeks until Israeli voters head to the polls on March 23. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro breaks down all the latest developments.
Vote visa: Transportation Minister Miri Regev said yesterday that the government is working on a plan to allow Israelis who want to vote to return to Israel in order to do so, amid a wave of criticism that the issue is being politicized. Any such plan — whose details are still scant — would require approval by the government. Several options are reportedly under discussion, including transporting arriving Israelis to quarantine hotels and allowing them to vote from the hotel. Israel’s coronavirus cabinet is slated to meet later today. Currently, Ben-Gurion Airport is essentially shut through March 6, and an extension of the closure is uncertain, although one Health Ministry official said recently that the airport could remain closed through Passover.
No absentees: The Israeli Central Elections Committee ruled against an appeal yesterday by two Israeli citizens living in the Czech Republic to enable absentee voting in light of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Central Elections Committee director-general Orly Adas noted that Israeli law explicitly bans overseas voting — except for ambassadors, envoys and emissaries, who are able to vote in Israeli consulates. Any change to the law to extend such voting rights to average citizens would need to take place this week, as embassy voting begins on March 11. Israel’s High Court is slated to hold a hearing on Thursday on an appeal from the two Israelis in the Czech Republic.
Accusations: Defense and Justice Minister Benny Gantz vowed on Saturday not to allow the airport closure to be extended without a plan in place to allow Israelis abroad to vote — as well as the addition of a representative from the Justice Ministry to the Exceptions Committee, which grants special approval to those seeking to enter the country. In a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Saturday, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of controlling the flow of Israelis into Israel in order to help his election chances. “What is happening at Ben-Gurion Airport is not an Exceptions Committee, but an Elections Committee,” Lapid wrote. Labor candidate and former MK Nachman Shai said that his entry into Israel from the United States was finally approved following three consecutive applications to the Exceptions Committee — thanks to “media pressure and the public reaction,” he tweeted. “But thousands of Israelis are waiting abroad, who want to come back, want to vote. The Israeli government is cunningly denying them their democratic right.”
Meng, Lieu named co-chairs of House Antisemitism Task Force
Reps. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Grace Meng (D-NY) have been named co-chairs of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism for the 117th Congress, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. Meng and Lieu replace former Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) — who lost his primary challenge last year — and Nita Lowey (D-NY), who retired at the end of the last Congress after 16 terms.
Bona fides: Lieu, who represents western Los Angeles, as well as neighborhoods including Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has served on the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee. Meng represents parts of Queens and has long been active on issues related to Holocaust rememberance and antisemitism. “On January 6, we saw disturbing displays of antisemitic symbols right in the halls of Congress, demonstrating how pressing of an issue antisemitism remains in our country,” Lieu told Jewish Insider. “Even before the Capitol riots, there has been a disturbing increase in violence and hateful acts against Jewish Americans, including ones that occurred in my own district. As members of Congress, it is our duty to protect the Jewish-American community and condemn antisemitism in all its forms.”
Coming together: In a joint statement, Meng and Lieu encouraged Biden to move quickly to nominate an ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat antisemitism, a position that was elevated to ambassador status during the previous Congress. “Jewish communities here at home and around the world are under attack, whether in the form of vandalism, physical violence, or online harassment,” the co-chairs added. “Even today, we recognize and are constantly reminded that antisemitism is not a thing of the past. Indeed, 76 years after the end of World War II, there are still those who deny and attempt to rewrite the history of the Holocaust which took the lives of 6 million Jews.”
Elsewhere: Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), joined by 10 GOP co-sponsors, introduced an amendment during the House Rules Committee meeting on Friday to prevent funds from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan COVID relief bill going to organizations that promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The committee voted down the amendment. Barr told Jewish Insider: “By blocking my amendment, Democrats have signed off on the idea that funding to defeat the COVID-19 virus and provide economic relief to struggling Americans would even be considered for the purpose of supporting the BDS movement.”
💥 Long Read: In The New York Times magazine, Ronen Bergman highlights divisions in Israeli society between haredi and secular Jews that have only been deepened by the pandemic. “If there is a clash between the government’s orders and their values, there’s no doubt what they’ll choose,” said Eli Paley, chairman of the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs. [NYTimes]
🦠 Lessons Learned: In a non-paywalled essay in The Financial Times, Yuval Noah Harari explores the lessons the world has learned from a year of COVID-19. “In the war between humans and pathogens, never have humans been so powerful,” he writes. Despite that, “no global leadership emerged to stop the catastrophe from engulfing the world. The tools have been there, but all too often the political wisdom has been missing.” [FT]
🕵️ Private Search: Philly magazine’s Don Steinberg spotlights the work of Gabriel Weinberg, the founder of search engine DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t collect user data, as concerns about web privacy soar. “I think the mentality of data collection is pervasive in Silicon Valley,” he said. “There is just an ethos of data collection and monetization there.” [Philly]
📚 Book Shelf: In The Wall Street Journal, Tunku Varadarajanreviews A Beginner’s Guide to America, written by Roya Hakakian, an Iranian Jewish refugee who now lives in the United States and has penned a guide “for the immigrant and the curious.” The book is a love letter to America “written by an exacting lover who isn’t blind to this country’s flaws.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
😷 Stay Home: Rising COVID-19 cases in the West Bank have led to a renewed lockdown in the Palestinian Authority.
🛑 Hold Up: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to ship extra vaccines to allies is on hold amid pushback from current and former government officials.
🇸🇦 Cautious Path: The Biden administration released areportimplicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But Biden, who spoke with Saudi King Salman last week, declined to penalize the crown prince for his involvement.
🛢️ On the Case: Israeli officials have ruled out a Greek tanker as the source of last month’s devastating oil spill, as the investigation into the contamination continues.
🏦 Strange Bedfellows: Both sanctioned Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler and a company linked to Hezbollah were reportedly welcome customers at the Afriland Congo bank.
🎤 Stage Shape: CPAC officials denied that the stage at its conference in Orlando was intended to resemble a Nazi hate symbol.
🚨 Under Arrest: Two teenagers were arrested for allegedly destroying statues at a Holocaust memorial at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art in Tulsa.
⛓️ Doing Time: A white supremacist in Colorado was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for a 2019 plot to attack a synagogue in Pueblo, Colo.
🤳 Red Handed: Fritz Berggren, a mid-level State Department official, has been openly spreading antisemitic rhetoric and white supremacist talking points online for years.
💸 Giving Back: Daniel Loeb’s Third Point hedge fund has become a corporate partner of Ladies of Hope Ministries, a nonprofit which helps women released from prison reenter society.
📈 Eyeing an IPO: SentinelOne, the cybersecurity startup founded by Tomer Weingarten and Almog Cohen, is planning an IPO with a valuation of $10 billion.
🎓 Campus Beat: A professor at Ferris State University in Michigan was fired for a series of tweets, including one that claimed COVID-19 was a “[J]ewish revolution.”
📰 Fit to Print: The New York Times explores the impact of Democracy, a below-the-radar Democratic policy journal founded in the mid-aughts by Clinton administration official Andrei Cherny and political speechwriter Kenneth Baer.
🎮 Book Launch: Max Brooks, the son of comedic icon Mel Brooks, is publishing a new novel based on the Minecraft video game.
💻 Media Watch: Josh Sternberg, a former editor at Adweek, is now an executive editor at Morning Brew.
👩 Transition: Sarah Eisenman, the founder of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Entwine program, will join Jewish Federations of North America as its first chief community and Jewish life officer.
🕯️ Remembering: Fashion designer and retailer Fred Segal died at age 87. Ukrainian-born Israeli violinist Yuval Waldman, who played Carnegie Hall at 22 years old, died shortly after a COVID-19 diagnosis at age 74.
Pic of the Day
Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim in Jerusalem yesterday, in what was a more subdued affair this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
President of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, former Los Angeles City councilman, Joel Wachs turns 82… Real estate developer, former professional sports owner, Tulane’s basketball arena is named in his honor, Avron B. Fogelman turns 81… Professor emeritus of Jewish studies at Los Angeles Valley College and the former editor of Shofar, Zev Garber turns 80… CEO of Mandalay Entertainment, a member of the University of California Board of Regents and a co-owner of both the LA Dodgers and Golden State Warriors, Peter Guber turns 79… Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Bennie Begin turns 78… Librarian at the Anti-Defamation League’s NYC HQ, Marianne Benjamin turns 77… Israeli historian and author, Tom Segev turns 76… Israeli journalist and commentator, Ehud Yaari turns 76… Industrialist, producer and art collector, Peter M. Brant turns 74…
Cantor at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, Sam Weiss turns 71… U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) turns 70… Former executive of Viacom, Philippe Dauman turns 67… Chairman and president of Berexco, Adam E. Beren turns 60… Author and human rights activist, Nina Willner turns 60… Writer and journalist, he is also a three-time “Jeopardy!” champion, Neal Pollack turns 51… VP of philanthropy at the Baltimore Community Foundation, Dara Schapiro Schnee turns 50… Television writer, director and producer, Brad Falchuk turns 50… Six-time Emmy award-winning national correspondent for The Weather Channel, Dave Malkoff turns 45… Founder and principal at narrative/change, Jonathan Lipman turns 44… Chairman of the Union of Journalists in Israel, Yair Tarchitsky turns 41… CEO of eToro, Yoni Assia turns 40… Former member of the U.S. national soccer team, Jonathan Spector turns 35… VP of special projects at ASAPP, Joshua Lachter turns 34… Senior writer and analyst for CNN Politics, Harry Enten turns 33… Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, Hannah Klain turns 30… Kevin Golden…