👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In a landmark decision, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled 8-1 yesterday in favor of recognizing non-Orthodox conversions for the sake of granting citizenship.
The ruling was met with a flurry of condemnation by haredi lawmakers as well as both Israeli chief rabbis. The Likud Party said the decision “endangers the Law of Return,” while Opposition Leader Yair Lapid welcomed the move, saying that Israel needs to “fully equalize the rights of all streams of Judaism — Orthodox, Reform and Conservative.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet weighed in on the decision.
The justices noted in their decision that they waited 15 years to issue a ruling, during which the Knesset dragged its feet on the issue, and did not advance legislation to address it. The Knesset has previously floated legislation that would allow it to override High Court decisions.
In Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15-7 yesterday to advance Merrick Garland’s nomination as attorney general. Garland is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.
Congressional Democrats appear split over the Biden administration’s decision not to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman for his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Mark Warner (D-VA) appeared supportive of President Joe Biden’s decision. But Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said Bin Salman must be punished for his role in the attack, or other nations will perceive that it is “open season on journalists.”
Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Andy Kim (D-NJ) introduced a bill to prohibit Bin Salman from traveling to the U.S. without a special exception granted by the president, and to force the president to suspend aid to Riyadh if it violates human rights.
In a statement, Malinowski said: “It undercuts our message to Saudi Arabia if we accuse [Bin Salman] of the crime and then do nothing to hold him accountable… the law is clear that the secretary of state must apply a visa ban on persons he knows are linked to gross human rights abuses — exactly what the Khashoggi report lays out.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters yesterday that the U.S. would like to encourage “forging a historic peace” between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but only if Riyadh “respects America’s values.”
Bipartisan House draft letter lays out middle path on Iran
Reps. Anthony Brown (D-MD) and Michael Waltz (R-FL) are collecting signatures from House members in both parties on a letter that proposes a framework for the Biden administration to approach potential negotiations with Iran. The letter, a draft of which was obtained by Jewish Insider’s Marc Rodyesterday, calls for the U.S. to “engage Iran through a combination of diplomatic and sanction mechanisms to achieve full compliance of international obligations and a demonstrated commitment by Iran to addressing its malign behavior.”
Light on details: The letter focuses on steps the Biden administration can take in three areas — Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missile program and funding of terrorism. But it is vague about whether those steps should take place prior to reentering the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018. Nor does the letter explicitly say whether the Biden administration should rejoin the existing Iran deal or renegotiate a revised deal that includes all of these areas.
Hidden meaning: While the letter has attracted GOP signatories, some Republican critics have raised eyebrows at the recommendation that the U.S. “de-escalate tension in these conflicts,” viewing it as tacit permission to draw back U.S. sanctions against Iran. “For the community of three dozen, four dozen people that will read this letter in a technical way, that word means sanctions relief,” one congressional aide told JI. “De-escalation is a dog whistle for sanctions relief. That’s what it means.”
Down the middle: The Brown-Waltz letter appears to seek a middle path to build bipartisan consensus by encouraging Biden to address the full range of Iran’s malign behavior, but stopping short of both the strident denunciations of the original deal in a recent House GOP letter and the explicit calls for sanctions relief and rejoining the JCPOA in a recent Democratic letter. The letter will remain open for signatures until the end of the week, and the text could be altered before then. Neither Brown nor Waltz, who both sit on the House Armed Services Committee, were available to comment on the draft of the letter.
Biden admin ‘enthusiastically embraces’ full IHRA definition of antisemitism
Secretary of State Tony Blinken wrote that the Biden administration “enthusiastically embraces” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, including its full list of examples, reports Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss.
What it said: In a letter last week to American Zionist Movement President Richard Heideman obtained by Jewish Insider, Blinken said the administration is “eager to work with allies and partners to counter Holocaust distortion and combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance abroad while we strengthen our efforts at home.” Blinken said the administration embraces the IHRA definition “including its examples,” a list of which include “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “applying double standards” to Israel.
Praise-worthy: William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which last month applauded the administration for its support of the definition, told JI that the definition is a “helpful tool in combating antisemitism,” adding, “there’s recognition by the Biden administration of the so-called ‘new antisemitism,’ which is where anti-Israel activity is often a proxy for anti-Semites — that it’s more acceptable, unfortunately, to call someone a ‘dirty Israeli’ than it is to call them a ‘dirty Jew.’ And we see this brand of antisemitism all over the world. It doesn’t mean it’s the only manifestation of antisemitism, it doesn’t mean that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, but it reflects the reality of this growing plague.”
Pushback: In recent weeks, a coalition of left-leaning Jewish organizations — including J Street, Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund — urged the Biden administration to reject codification of the definition, noting in particular its opposition to the examples provided in the definition, which they warn have “the potential to undermine core freedoms, and in some cases already has.”
Sara Lind is battling it out in a tight UWS City Council race
Sara Lind always felt out of place growing up in a small, conservative Wisconsin town. Years later, the now-38-year-old lawyer and community activist experienced a similar sense of alienation when she found herself unhappily employed as a corporate attorney at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. So she quit her job, got a master’s degree in public policy and embarked on a new career in politics and community organizing — credentials Lind believes will serve her well in her first bid for public office as a New York City Council candidate. “It just kind of felt like a natural next step,” Lind told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview.
Competitive race: It won’t be easy getting there. Six Democratic candidates are vying to succeed outgoing Councilmember Helen Rosenthal. Gale Brewer, the well-known Manhattan borough president, filed to run for the seat in December, scrambling the dynamics of what had seemed like a relatively staid race. Since then, however, Lind has emerged as a formidable contender. In late January, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club backed Lind over Brewer, who unsuccessfully challenged the club to revoke its decision and endorse her instead. “I definitely can’t speak to her thought process,” Lind said of Brewer. “It was surprising to me.”
Upper West Side issues: Lind, who serves on her local community board, argues that she is in tune with the district’s needs. The city council candidate running to represent a traditionally Democratic district on the Upper West Side lives in the neighborhood with her husband, two children and mother-in-law, who, Lind says, can’t afford to be on her own — a fate that is not unfamiliar to many New York residents. “Housing and homelessness is my top priority,” she said. “Homelessness has increased through the pandemic, and it’s become a really lightning-rod issue on the Upper West Side.”
Keeping the faith: Lind moved to New York seven years ago and felt immediately at home — even more so after she found a Reconstructionist synagogue, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, aligned with her values. “They have a lot of awareness of social justice issues and a lot of opportunities for volunteering,” said Lind, who joined two years ago after an intensive search. Lind, who was raised Catholic, isn’t Jewish. Her husband is, and they are raising their children in the faith. “It is important to me to have that spiritual grounding,” Lind said.
Addressing antisemitism: Lind has watched with increasing alarm as incidents of antisemitism have gone up across the city, including on the Upper West Side. “For me, it hits home, especially given that we’re raising our kids Jewish,” she said. “This is real, this is very real to me,” Lind told JI, adding that she recently helped pass a community board resolution condemning hate crimes. “It’s the community board. It’s not incredibly powerful,” she acknowledged. “But I think it’s important even still, just to have that on record and to say that. I was proud of that. And it would certainly be an issue that I would continue to work on.”
on the hill
Senate letter calls on Blinken to denounce ICC decision on Israel
Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) are circulating a letter calling on Secretary of State Tony Blinken to denounce the decision by the International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber to authorize the body to investigate alleged war crimes by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have already signed onto the letter, according to a source familiar with the matter. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod, will remain open for additional signatures until the end of the week.
Go further: While the State Department has previously spoken out against the ICC’s ruling, the letter encourages Blinken to “issue a more forceful condemnation of the Court’s actions” and to partner with international partners to “steer the ICC away from further actions that could damage the Court’s credibility by giving the appearance of political bias.” The senators argue that the ICC’s decision represents an overreach of its authority and is a biased attack on Israel. “This unprecedented action by the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber unfairly targets Israel, biases any subsequent investigation or trial, and hinders the path towards regional peace.”
Speaking out: “I support the Biden administration’s objection to the ICC decision and their opposition to the unfair targeting of Israel,” Rosen told JI. “The ICC decision undermines efforts to establish a peaceful Palestinian state living side-by-side with a secure State of Israel through a two-state solution, which can only be achieved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” None of the other current signatories to the letter immediately responded to requests for comment.
On repeat: Portman and Cardin circulated a similar letter in May 2020, which also called upon then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to push back against the ICC’s investigations into Israel. That letter picked up nearly 70 signatures — including that of now-Vice President Kamala Harris.
💰 Deep Dive: The Times of Israel’s Tal Schneider investigates the future of the $3 billion Abraham Fund announced by the U.S. last year to encourage joint partnerships between Israel, the U.S. and the UAE. After fund head and Trump political appointee Aryeh Lightstone resigned on January 20, no replacement has been named and questions have been raised about its future under the Biden administration. [ToI]
🕍 Pandemic Party: In The Washington Post, Jessica Goldstein highlights how Jewish families have been creatively hosting bar and bat mitzvah celebrations amid the pandemic, with drive-by celebrations and outdoor parties in shifts. “The questions we’re getting now are: I’m not postponing the party. What can we do, creatively?” [WashPost]
🗣️ Behind the Scenes: Politico’s Andrew Desiderio and Nahal Toosi speak to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) about his efforts to play a major role in the Biden administration’s foreign policy, in particular on the Iran deal. “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to agree 100 percent of the time,” he said. “But it does mean that we will understand each other, where we’re coming from — and more likely than not, we will agree.” [Politico]
Around the Web
🇽🇰 Tense Ties: Kosovo’s pledge to open an embassy in Jerusalem has landed its new prime minister in hot water with Turkey, which has warned against such a move.
💉 Planning Ahead: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that he intends to purchase 36 million COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to be prepared for “the worst scenario.”
🕵️ Big Brother: In a pilot program, Israel offered 100 arriving passengers yesterday the option to wear a tracking bracelet in home quarantine instead of mandatory hotel quarantine.
📵 No More: Israel’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday to ban mass Shin Bet surveillance of Israeli cell phones in order to track the spread of COVID-19, saying it infringes on civil liberties.
🤝 Dose Deals: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen are slated to meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem this week to discuss a “vaccine alliance.”
🚢 Setting Sail: Royal Caribbean is restarting operations in May with a cruise departing from Haifa that will allow only fully vaccinated passengers on board.
🥋 Reverse: The International Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned a 2019 decision by the International Judo Association to ban Iran from contests over its refusal to face Israeli athletes.
🎥 On Screen: MGM is developing a TV series based on the friendship between Israeli judoka Sagi Muki and Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who fled Iran after refusing to throw a competition in order not to compete against Muki.
📺 As Seen on TV: Shira Haas has been cast as former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in an upcoming drama series, “Lioness,” produced by Barbra Streisand.
✈️ Flight Fracas: Frontier Airlines is facing accusations of antisemitism over its treatment of a group of Hasidic passengers on a recent flight from Miami to New York.
🤳 Listen Up: Social media app Clubhouse has gained popularity in the Middle East, including in Saudi Arabia, where some have begun charging for invitations to the invite-only platform.
⚖️ Star Witness: The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is focusing on Allen Weisselberg, the longtime CFO of the Trump organization, potentially to secure his cooperation as a witness.
⛓️ Behind Bars: A New Jersey man aligned with the neo-Nazi movement The Base is facing up to 10 years in prison for his role in orchestrating the vandalism of two Midwest synagogues.
🤰 Baby on Board: Gal Gadot announced yesterday that she is expecting her third child with husband Jaron Varsano.
👨💼 Guard Change: Alpha Epsilon Pi Foundation CEO Andy Borans is stepping down from his role, following 41 years working at the organization.
🕯️ Remembering: David Mintz, the inventor of Tofutti, died at age 89.
Restaurateur and former owner of Braniff International Airlines, Jeffrey Chodorow turns 71… Comedian, actress and writer, she was part of the original cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Laraine Newman turns 69… Former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold turns 68… Anesthesiologist in Skokie, Ill., Samuel M. Parnass, M.D. turns 64… Former member of the Knesset for the Blue and White alliance, he is now serving as minister of agriculture and rural development, Alon Natan Schuster turns 64… First Soviet-born Russian speaker to become a member of the New York State Assembly, Alec Brook-Krasny turns 63… Global government relations manager for Ford Motor Company, Mitch Bainwol turns 62…
Author and reporter for The New York Times where she covers social media and celebrity, Katherine Rosman turns 49… Executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, she is a board member of the Washington JCRC, Daphne Lazar-Price turns 48… Israeli hip hop singer and rapper better known as Mooki, Daniel Neyburger turns 46… Editor and director of communications at Twin Cities, Minnesota’s TC Jewfolk, Lonny Goldsmith turns 46… Culture reporter for The New York Times, David L. Itzkoff turns 45… Director of marketing at Window Nation, Eric Goldscher turns 42… Staff director of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, Yuri Beckelman turns 39… Israeli physician and newscaster, Dr. Hila Chaya Korach turns 37… Production executive at Film45, Sally Rosen turns 35… Executive operations at Bonobos, Kaylee Berger turns 29… Project manager at Halo Development, Donni Lurman turns 27…