👋 Good Thursday morning!
The International Criminal Court announced yesterday that it is opening a war crimes investigation into the activities of both Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, beginning with the 2014 Gaza War.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the decision “undiluted antisemitism and the height of hypocrisy.” The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry said the “long-awaited step serves Palestine’s vigorous effort to achieve justice and accountability.”
Secretary of State Tony Blinken said the U.S. “firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by this decision,” adding that: “The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter.”
Deputy Secretary of State-designate Wendy Sherman appeared beforethe Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday for a confirmation hearing. Sherman, a key negotiator in the 2015 Iran deal, told senators that the U.S. would seek a new agreement with Iran that extends and strengthens the original deal, acknowledging that circumstances in the region have changed.
Colin Kahl, the Biden administration’s nominee for under secretary of defense for policy, will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee today. Kahl’s nomination has become part of a proxy battle over Biden’s approach to Iran. Several senators previewed the questions they plan to ask Kahl later today.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) tells Jewish Insider: “Colin Kahl is the wrong choice to be under secretary of defense for policy. He has been consistently wrong about almost every foreign policy issue in recent memory. He was wrong about Russia, wrong about Iran, and wrong about Jerusalem.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) told JI he plans to question Kahl about threats from China and Iran, and “would also like to hear from Dr. Kahl if he regrets saying that it was a mistake to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and how he will work to support our great ally Israel.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who introduced a bill yesterday repealing the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force in the Middle East, plans to question Kahl on war powers, a spokesperson for the Virginia senator told JI.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced that sanctions expert Richard Nephew is joining the State Department as deputy special envoy for Iran under lead envoy Rob Malley. Nephew was a member of the U.S. negotiating team in the lead-up to the 2015 Iran deal.
Former Ambassador Dennis Ross praised Nephew’s Iran bona fides, telling JI: “He is very much a centrist on the Iranians, mindful of the threat the Iranians pose even as he sees how diplomacy can be used to alter their nuclear program. He is certainly the kind of person who will raise questions others on the team might not raise.”
Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told JI that “Rob’s choosing folks who know these issues cold and who have deep real-time expertise. And given Malley’s own intellectual agility, this team will look at the Iran issue from 10 different perspectives before they’re done.”
Staying in Vegas? Las Vegas Sands Corp. announced yesterday it is selling its Vegas properties to Apollo Global Management and a real estate investment trust for $6.25 billion as it focuses on its Asia business. Sands Corp, founded by the late Sheldon Adelson, frequently hosted Jewish conferences — including the annual gatherings of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Maccabee Task Force — at its Venetian Resort. Where those gatherings will take place going forward is unclear.
Senator Gillibrand joins Jewish Insider’s ‘Limited Liability Podcast’
On this week’s episode of Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast,” hosts Richard Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein were joined by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to discuss her relationship with New York’s Jewish community, the recent allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and her take on how to approach Iran’s continued nuclear development.
Community ties: Gillibrand spoke at length about her ties with New York’s Jewish community. “It’s a very diverse community,” she said. “It’s a community that cares deeply about New York and their fellow citizens. It’s a community that truly believes in the greater good; a lot of the not for profits that are run by Jewish leaders are among the best in the state.” Calling antisemitism an “exponential” and “constant growth across the country,” Gillibrand specifically blamed former President Donald Trump. “When they had the Charlottesville riots and chants were done that were deeply offensive against the Jewish community… President Trump did not stand up to it.” The senator said she tries to “be a galvanizer for legislation and policies to fight antisemitism” in the Senate. “I typically lead the legislation and the bills that relate to fighting against antisemitism at the U.N., which unfortunately, the Human Rights Council is often used as a platform for antisemitism.”
On Cuomo: An early advocate of the #MeToo movement, Gillibrand has come under pressure this week to address the growing sexual harassment claims leveled against Cuomo. Calling the allegations “obviously serious” and “deeply concerning,” the Albany native offered her support for the independent investigation requested by New York Attorney General Tish James. “I support her doing that. And I think that is the appropriate next step to allow people to be heard and allow facts to be gathered.” Gillibrand said “many survivors, men and women, who have endured sexual violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, when they told the authorities what happened to them, they were disbelieved. And so the investigation never took place. So justice had no possibility of ever being done.”
On Iran: Gillibrand reiterated her opposition to Trump withdrawing from the 2015 Iran deal, explaining that her support for the deal fit with the evidence presented to Congress. “I sit on the Armed Services Committee, I now also sit on the Intelligence Committee, and at that time, our national security experts — our CIA, our Department of Defense — all said that the deal made such a better position for America in terms of national security,” she explained, “because we would gain all the knowledge of the minds, the mills, the centrifuges, the production, and we’d have hands on eyes on each production facility and and that they believed was the kind of intelligence that could not be passed up for any future conflict that might be necessary if Iran did breach… So that’s why I supported it. If we’re going to enter into it again, we need to have the same national security priorities.”
Lightning round: Favorite Yiddish word? Chutzpah. Books she’s currently reading? Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Timesby Michael Beschloss and Ender’s Gameby Orson Scott Card (with her son). Favorite upstate New York delicacy? Apples, especially Honeycrisp and McIntosh, and Stewart’s ice cream. Most admired senator past or present? Former Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).
on the record
Rep. Andy Levin addresses left-wing antisemitism, foreign policy and his own approach to Judaism
Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) has been in Congress for only two years, but the former union organizer and Michigan labor official has distinguished himself in both the Democratic Party and the Jewish community. Unlike many of his fellow Jewish lawmakers, Levin argues that antisemitism is not a serious issue on the left, strenuously defends colleagues Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) against accusations of antisemitism and allies himself closely with progressive activist movements. The congressman discussed these topics and more in a lengthy interview with Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
False equivalence: The Michigan congressman said attempts to equate left- and right-wing antisemitism represent a “breathtaking” false equivalence. “I don’t really [think left-wing antisemitism is an issue],” Levin said initially, then added: “On one level, yes, it’s an issue everywhere. Because antisemitism is so alive in this world. And I think like other forms of bigotry and othering of people — many folks aren’t aware of that, even. It’s not to say there isn’t.”
Defending colleagues: Levin also spoke out in defense of Omar and Tlaib. “I’ve known Rashida since long before either of us thought about running for Congress. And she has been a comrade in the battle for racial and economic justice,” he said of Tlaib, the Palestinian-American congresswoman who represents another Detroit-area district. “Rashida is not antisemitic, full stop. Full stop. Rashida has no use for [Nation of Islam founder Louis] Farrakhan, full stop.” And Levin said he believes Omar can be an ally. “I’ve talked to her. And I want to build a relationship with her, where I feel like I can help her understand my reality, and she can help me understand her reality. And I think that’s the best way to build support for the Jewish people and build understanding of antisemitism.”
Looking abroad: Levin said that, prior to visiting Israel in 2019, he was concerned Israeli settlement expansion may have foreclosed a two-state solution. But meetings with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders convinced him that it was not only possible, but critical. “There are tremendous barriers, but I just don’t think we can achieve the Zionist dream — which I believe in, deeply — of a democratic and safe homeland for the Jewish people in Israel unless we find a way to help the Palestinian people realize their political aspirations of having a Palestinian state that’s actually there.”
Blending traditions: The congressman told JI that he sees his progressive ideals and his Judaism as deeply linked. In Detroit, he was the president of his local synagogue and served on its board, as well as founded Detroit Jews for Justice, an activist group focusing on social, racial and economic justice in Detroit. He also “re-envisioned” his synagogue — which had a small and aging congregation when he joined — as “the social justice shul,” adding: “My Judaism is all about justice.”
Mace plays to her base with 2022 in sight
Within days of entering office as a first-term congresswoman, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) had become a media star, speaking out against challenges to the electoral vote certification, publicly denouncing President Donald Trump and feuding with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). But the congresswoman appears now to be pivoting amid backlash from the Republican base in her district, political analysts in South Carolina told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Rhetoric shift: Macecame back into the spotlight in early February in a public Twitter feud with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) over the New York progressive’s recounting of her experience during the Capitol riot. On her Twitter feed, Mace’s focus also shifted near the end of January to attacks on progressive Democrats, criticisms of the media, and repeating prominent GOP talking points.
Back-home backlash: Political analysts in South Carolina see her shifting rhetoric as part of a deliberate strategy — a pivot back toward GOP base issues in order to re-ingratiate herself with Republican voters who were frustrated by her public break with Trump. “There is a lot of buyer’s remorse. Some of these Trump supporters went and helped her, and then basically, they felt betrayed,” said Lee Bright, a former South Carolina GOP state senator.
Primary threat: Bright and a South Carolina GOP consultant, who asked to remain anonymous, told JI that they are already hearing discussions about potential primary challenges. “I’ve had people come to me and ask what I thought of their prospects, a couple of different people,” Bright said. Mace’s strongest competition in the 2020 primary was from Kathy Landing, a town councilmember whom Mace trounced by more than 30 percentage points.
General election woes: Mace’s current pivot could also endanger her chances with moderate Democrats in the 2022 general election. “I understand why she’s trying to have it a little bit both ways,” said Gibbs Knotts, a politics professor at the College of Charleston. “But you want to be credible and you want to be somewhat consistent as a politician. And if you’re constantly changing, you run the risk of alienating both sides.”
🗒️ New Era: Zeke Miller, an Associated Press reporter and the president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, speaks to Tablet’s Armin Rosen about the shift in reporting on the president from Trump to Biden. “We’re being adversarial without necessarily being adversaries,” he said. “But we do that without raising our voices.” [Tablet]
🗳️ Plot Twist: Former Israeli diplomat Shahar Azani writes in The Wall Street Journal about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unprecedented wooing of Arab-Israeli voters ahead of the March 23 election. “In a twist of fate befitting a Shakespearean plot, Mr. Netanyahu could make Arab Israelis the new kingmakers of Israeli politics.” [WSJ]
💉 Rollout Woes: In Bloomberg, Stephanie Baker, Cynthia Koons and Vernon Silver explore Pfizer’s path from vaccine creation to widespread distribution, and the “opaque” rollout that left some countries out of the loop while Israel struck a deal with the pharmaceutical company to procure extra doses in exchange for data. “Israel was swimming in Pfizer vaccines in late January, other countries were struggling to find out when their deliveries would resume.” [Bloomberg]
🎖️ Dissenting Voice: In The Washington Post, former IDF deputy chief of staff and Meretz MK Yair Golan lays out why he and some other Israeli generals favor returning to the Iran nuclear deal. “Since the withdrawal, there’s been a cascade of spiraling consequences — and none of them has moved Iran closer to renegotiation, strengthened the United States’ strategic position or deterred Iran from destabilizing acts.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
🛢️ Pointing Fingers: Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel claimed the massive oil spill off Israel’s coast was an Iranian terror attack, though Israeli defense sources indicated it may have been an accident by a ship smuggling Iranian oil.
🤝 Meet Up: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen are slated to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem today to discuss vaccine cooperation.
☢️ New and Improved: Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said yesterday that any new nuclear deal with Iran must be “dramatically improved” from the original 2015 agreement.
🇪🇺 Never Mind: European diplomats said this morning they are walking back a plan for the International Atomic Energy Agency to criticize Iran over blocking access to inspectors.
🖥️ Looking Ahead: Israel’s Defense Ministry has begun collecting bids to build the state’s first quantum computer, a project expected to cost $60 million.
🧔🏻 Close Shave: The IDF is facing a growing advocacy campaign against the requirement for secular soldiers to shave their beards.
📵 Blocked: Facebook took down networks of fake Iranian and Russian accounts that sought to sow discord inside certain countries, including Israel.
🚨 High Alert: The House of Representatives has canceled votes slated for today over concerns that an armed militia is planning to storm the Capitol.
⛓️ Behind Bars: A Missouri man was arrested and charged with threatening to kill both Jewish Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Black Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO).
🇨🇦 Up North: Canadian Jewish groups expressed outrage that a New Democratic Party MP is planning a virtual event with disgraced former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
📉 Downturn: Oscar Health, an insurance startup co-founded by Josh Kushner, fell 11% in its trading debut after an above-target IPO.
🎥 Silver Screen: The upcoming historical drama “Tel Aviv/Beirut” is directed by Michale Boganim and stars a cast of Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese actors.
🏀 Sports Blink: The Washington Wizards, home to Israeli star Deni Avdija, is hosting a Jewish Heritage night this evening, with the national anthem performed by Israeli singer Kobi Aflalo.
🥳 Party Time: Former NBA star Charles Barkley joked to Jimmy Kimmel that he’s scrambling to lose weight ahead of his daughter’s wedding to a Jewish man so that celebrants can lift him in a chair. “I need all Jewish people on deck, brother. Cause I can only get so skinny by Saturday.”
🥪 Chow Down: Uncle Pinkie’s Deli, a new eatery in Boca Raton, is serving up Jewish deli classics like pastrami, noodle kugel, bagels and smoked fish.
Song of the Day
Israeli singer Harel Skaat has released a new single, “Hazak Al Haritspa,” which means “Strong on the Floor.”
Tennis player who won both the Australian and Wimbledon men’s singles championships and was ranked World No.1 in 1951, the first ever Jewish athlete to appear on the cover of Time Magazine, Dick Savitt turns 94… Composer and conductor, founder of the U.S. Army’s Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra, Samuel Adler turns 93… U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, Judge James Block Zagel turns 80… Broadcast journalist and author, Lynn Sherr turns 79… Board member at New York City Center, Ballet Hispánico and other non-profits, Perry B. Granoff turns 78… British concert promoter, Harvey Goldsmith turns 75… Screenwriter and director, she is the mother of actors Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal turns 75… CEO of LCH Clearnet LLC, David A. Weisbrod turns 74… Director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran turns 67… U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minnesota) turns 63…
Founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools and a former New York City Council member for the Upper East Side, Eva Moskowitz turns 57… President of the New England Patriots, Jonathan Kraft turns 57… U.S. Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) turns 53… New York State special counsel for ratepayer protection, previously a member of the New York City Council and a New York State Assemblyman, Rory I. Lancman turns 52… Evan L. Presser turns 51… Staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and a senior fellow at Yale Law School, Emily Bazelon turns 50… Former Goldman Sachs fixer, Russell Horwitz turns 50… Former member of the Knesset, Sharren Haskel turns 37… VP of government and community affairs at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, Abby Jagoda turns 36… Brazilian entrepreneur and software engineer who co-founded Instagram in 2010, Mike Krieger turns 35… Singer and composer, Aryeh Kunstler turns 35… Israeli-born basketball player who starred at Wichita State, played for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans, now playing for a Spanish team, Gal Mekel turns 33… Model and actress, Erin Heatherton (born as Erin Heather Bubley) turns 32…