👋 Good Tuesday morning!
The Israeli film “White Eye,” by director Tomer Shushan, was nominated yesterday for the Academy Award for live action short film. Sacha Baron-Cohen picked up two nominations, for his role in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and for the adapted screenplay for “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” The Academy Awards ceremony is slated for April 25.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told reporters yesterday that he is still undecided on Colin Kahl’s nomination to be the top Pentagon policy official. The lobbying group Christians United for Israel ran full-page advertisements in several West Virginia newspapers on Sunday pressuring the centrist senator to vote against Kahl.
The Senate confirmed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland yesterday by a vote of 51 to 40, making Haaland the first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin departed this morning on a three-day trip to Germany, France and Austria — along with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi — to hold talks on issues related to Hezbollah, Iran and the International Criminal Court.
Haaland confirmation sets off mad scramble to claim her seat in Congress
Rep. Deb Haaland’s (D-NM) historic confirmation yesterday as the country’s first Native American Cabinet secretary sets off a mad scramble to claim her seat in the House of Representatives. The race, already in motion, is a crowded one, with eight Democratic candidates now jockeying to succeed Haaland, a one-term congresswoman and former state party chair, in New Mexico’s 1st congressional district, which covers most of Albuquerque. Because the district is reliably blue, whoever earns the nomination is all but assured safe passage in the general election. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel interviewed all eight candidates as the special election begins to heat up.
Unusual election: Overcoming the state’s somewhat unusual candidate selection system presents its own set of challenges in a special election with no primaries. Instead, candidates from each party will be chosen, as New Mexico law mandates, by a group of elected state central committee members — a process upending the traditional campaign dynamic because it requires that candidates earn favor with party insiders rather than appealing to voters and soliciting donations in order to get on the ballot. “You’ve got a really inside election,” said Lonna Atkeson, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico. “They’re going to want one of their insiders.”
Frontrunners: Political strategists in New Mexico who spoke with JI divide the eight Democrats currently vying for the seat, most of whom are women, into separate tiers, with a trio of formidable candidates viewed as most likely to prevail: Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, a 63-year-old state senator and former law professor who ran against Haaland in the 2018 primary, pulling in more than $1 million in donations; Melanie Stansbury, a 42-year-old rising star in local politics who serves as a state legislator and previously worked on Capitol Hill; and Randi McGinn, 65, a prominent trial lawyer and confidante of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Five more: The wild-card candidate is Georgene Louis, 43, a state representative and Native American who was born and raised on the Acoma Pueblo reservation, about 70 miles west of Albuquerque. The four remaining candidates, all of whom are regarded as relative underdogs despite their unique credentials, include Selinda Guerrero, a 44-year-old community organizer; Patricia Roybal Caballero, a 70-year-old state representative; Victor Reyes, 28, a legislative director for New Mexico’s Democratic governor; and Francisco Fernández, a 39-year-old former TV and film industry worker.
Israel as wedge issue? In interviews with JI, the candidates were eager to highlight their progressive policy agendas on issues like universal healthcare, climate change and the $15 minimum wage hike in a race where it is politically expedient to lean left, given the partisan makeup of the district. But their views on foreign policy, particularly around Israel, are less predictable — and illustrate a growing tension between progressives who are supportive of the Jewish state and those who are more critical of the longstanding U.S.-Israel relationship.
Diversity of views: Sedillo Lopez is perhaps the most interesting test case. In 2018, she was endorsed by Justice Democrats, but emphasized that she is a staunch supporter of the Jewish state. “Israel is crucial, spiritually as well as politically,” said Sedillo Lopez, who traveled there three years ago with an AIPAC-affiliated group. Stansbury was less well-versed on such matters, while McGinn supports continued aid to Israel and opposes BDS — as does Fernández. Roybal Caballero said she was eager to visit Israel, while Louis argued that the U.S. and Israel “share an unbreakable bond.” Reyes, who supports a two-state solution, said he had not yet made up his mind as to whether he would back the BDS movement as a member of Congress and suggested that he would support conditioning aid. Guerrero went a step further: she supports BDS and calls for the U.S. to condition aid to Israel.
California board of education to vote Thursday on final ethnic studies curriculum
Some Jewish groups in California are advocating for 11th-hour changes to California’s ethnic studies curriculum just days before the state’s board of education holds a vote on the final model curriculum, reports Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss.
What’s in: Two of the curriculum’s lesson plans focus on the Jewish community. One, drafted by the advocacy groupJews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), covers the Mizrahi Jewish experience. A second curriculum, written by the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, highlights the diversity in the American Jewish community. The state board of education will meet Thursday to determine whether to greenlight the current, fourth version of the model curriculum for use in California schools. It will also consider whether to implement suggested changes to the draft, such as adding or removing content and moving lesson plans between sections.
Call for change: Both Jewish lesson plans offered by Jewish groups are currently listed in a section on “Interethnic Bridge-building,” which falls outside the four core subject areas in the statewide curriculum: Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latino/Chicano Americans. Three lesson plans on the South Asian Muslim community were combined into a larger lesson plan, which is listed in the Asian-American section of the current curriculum. JIMENA, backed by a number of Jewish groups in the state, has petitioned for its lesson plan on Mizrahi Jewry to also be moved to the Asian-American section. “We need to be treated equally to all other Middle Eastern communities and all South Asian communities,” Sarah Levin, the executive director of JIMENA, told JI. Levin has the support of a number of organizations pushing for changes ahead of this week’s meeting.
Symbolism: The fourth draft includes 33 lesson plans, giving educators who decide to use the curriculum an array of materials from which to choose. And activists acknowledge that some educators may still choose not to use either of the lesson plans on Jewish Americans. But the inclusion, they explain, is symbolic. “Are Jews within the core of ethnic studies or not? Are Jews an ethnic group that has very diverse backgrounds, and in California that includes Middle Eastern Jews of color, etc. — are we being excluded from the core?” asked Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Northern California office. “Or are we considered in a more inclusive way, in a representative way, alongside other Middle Eastern communities? Symbolically, it’s really important. Because that’s going to mean the difference across the country when people say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t really teach about Jews in the ethnic studies classes, because they’re not really part of the core.’”
What’s next: A number of states, including Arizona, Minnesota and Texas, have passed or are considering ethnic studies legislation. Jewish organizational leaders told JI that a coordinated national effort is needed to address controversial ethnic studies curricula in other states. “As we move into the district-level fight, we need a national organizational effort that shares our best practices, strategy and outcomes, and demonstrates a pro-ethnic studies, pro-Jewish thought leadership for the field,” said Tyler Gregory, executive director of the San Francisco JCRC. “If there’s a vacuum to fill, someone’s going to fill it and it should really be filled by our top institutions,” Levin said. “You have the capacity, the means, the knowledge and the know-how to work on this.”
AIPAC features Meeks, McCaul, Erdan at virtual gathering, previews policy agenda
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) began its virtual national council meeting yesterday with remarks from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Committee Ranking Member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan. The group’s legislative agenda for its 500 virtual congressional meetings this week will focus on three areas: supporting normalization between Israel and Arab states, deterring Iran and supporting security assistance to Israel, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Normalization: On normalization, AIPAC is throwing its support behind a yet-to-be finalized bill which will be introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN). The bill will seek to further strengthen and advance the normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab states, and support further efforts. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is taking the lead on the House counterpart to the legislation, and is “working with colleagues on both sides in both chambers to grow on past progress in normalizing relationships with Israel,” a Schneider spokesperson told JI.
Assistance to Israel: AIPAC is encouraging House members to sign a letter authored by McCaul and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) to the chair and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee encouraging them to continue to support the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Israel. A section of a draft of the letter obtained by JI pushes back on calls from some members of the Democratic Party’s far left wing to condition aid to Israel. The letter is expected to garner broad bipartisan support, a congressional staffer familiar with the matter told JI.
Iran: The lobbying powerhouse is urging senators to sign onto a letter by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) — chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urging President Joe Biden to reach an agreement with Iran that both prevents Tehran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon and limits its other malign activities, including its ballistic missile program. A Menendez spokesperson said the senator is currently circulating the letter for signatures and input from other offices, and is hoping to send it this week.
Elsewhere: A congressional letter led by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Andre Carson (D-IN) to Secretary of State Tony Blinken, calling for “intervention” in pressing Israel to vaccinate Palestinians, gained the signatures of 15 other House Democrats.
How Menachem Kaiser came to explore the secret Nazi tunnels
In his first book, Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure, Menachem Kaiser details his experience returning to Poland with the intention of reclaiming an apartment once owned by his grandfather, who survived the Holocaust. Along the way, he embeds with a group of rambunctious Silesian treasure hunters who guide him through the elaborate Nazi tunnel system known as Project Riese, located in modern-day Poland. Kaiser spoke with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel about the process of working on the book.
Accidental journey: Kaiser said his quest to Poland began largely by accident, after a trip to Krakow while studying in Lithuania. “I went, initially, really for nothing to do with my family,” he said. “But once I was there, I felt like I should at least make a visit to my grandfather’s hometown. So I went to Sosnowiec. My father gave me this address, he dug it up, and I visited the building, and then I left. For many years, I never really thought I’d ever go back.” But later, viewing a compilation of documents of his grandfather’s attempts to reclaim the building, “was quite moving, and it really inspired me to sort of enter these questions. I felt very interested, and it was like a sentimental encounter.”
Treasure hunters: He ended up spending a considerable amount of time with the tunnel treasure hunters, who he describes as “somewhere between war reenactors and extremely amateur archeologists.” Kaiser’s previously unknown cousin, Abraham Kajzer, wrote a memoir, Za Drutami Śmierci, which describes the time he spent as a slave laborer in the tunnels during the war — a story revered by Polish treasure seekers who regard it as a kind of Rosetta Stone to locating lost valuables. “They’re having fun. They form these exploration groups, and some of them have been together for 20 years. They’re friends. But it is a subculture, and it’s a very active subculture. And so they have their own weird politicking, and their weird fights, and their disputes and alliances.”
Inherited conception: Kaiser said being confronted with the current owners of the building caused him to have a personal reckoning. “When I initially began this journey, I had a very sort of, let’s call it, inherited conception of my mission, which was very — myopic is too strong of a word, but it didn’t really care or consider the people who live in the building. That wasn’t really part of the equation,” said Kaiser. “It was like, you know, my family owned this building, and I’m coming to take it back. That’s the narrative. And in the book, I really struggle. I get pushback, which was really surprising and upsetting to me at first, of people accusing me of appropriation… yet a message does get through, which is, ‘Your actions will have effects on people.’”
Reckoning with memory: Kaiser believes that Holocaust literature is “transitioning into a literature that reckons not just with the event, but with the memory of the event. And so for many of us who don’t have first-hand experience, we have very intense second-hand experience. I think we’re moving into that space. I think the first-person testimony is the most important and the most powerful mode, and I think, in a lot of ways, for a while, people tried to replicate that, even though they didn’t have that,” he said. For the third and fourth generations, “we don’t have anything to say about the Holocaust itself. But in a personal way, we sort of reckon with our experience of the memory of it, whether we see that as a burden, a responsibility, a trauma, or sort of the binds in our family.”
🗳️ Deja Vu: In Foreign Policy, Joshua Mitnick explores how some supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are already laying the groundwork for the “very Trumpian claim” of a stolen election ahead of next week’s national vote in Israel, making baseless accusations about inadequate oversight of expanded COVID voting measures. [ForeignPolicy]
🎼 Liturgical Notes: The New Yorker’s Anna Russell reviews the Grammy-nominated new album Luna Pearl Woolf: Fire and Flood, which includes “haunting versions” of Leonard Cohen songs, including “Who By Fire,” the Yom Kippur-inspired track in which, Woolf said, “we’re all struggling toward or against something, and we don’t always have a choice in where we’re placed in that spectrum of evils or sins or happinesses.” [NewYorker]
📱 Safety in Numbers: The Tel Aviv Municipality has launched a new app, SafeUp, to provide crowd-sourced security for women walking alone in the city, reports Dan Williams in Reuters. “We aim for a response time of five minutes,” said Neta Schreiber, who developed the app after her own bad experience at a party in 2011. [Reuters]
Around the Web
📜 Dug Up: Israeli archeologists announced this morning the discovery of dozens of new Dead Sea Scroll fragments, the first such findings in 60 years.
🗣️ Middle Ground: Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid told The Washington Post that Netanyahu should not have eulogized conservative firebrand Rush Limbaugh, vowing that “I’m going to do much better work making sure Israel goes back to being a bipartisan issue.”
☢️ Election Hurdles: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned the U.S. to “move fast” and rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement before its June national election.
🌍 Looking Abroad: President Joe Biden has yet to name a single overseas ambassador, as pressure mounts on him to reduce the number of political appointees as envoys.
🤖 AI Innovation: Israeli medical software company DreaMed is working with a Yale hospital to use artificial intelligence to treat children with Type 1 diabetes.
🇲🇦 Travel Ties: Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui said she expects 200,000 Israeli visitors a year once direct flights between the nations resume.
🇹🇷 Turkey Troubles: Turkey lodged official diplomatic protests with Israel, Greece and Cyprus, claiming their undersea electric cable agreement will intrude on Turkish waters.
🖼️ Restitution: France will return a painting by Gustav Klimt to the heirs of its Austrian Jewish owner, who sold it under duress to a Nazi sympathizer in 1938.
🎖️ Promotion: Army Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman is set to be promoted to colonel, despite attempts from Trump loyalists to sabotage him after his brother, Alexander Vindman, served as a key whistleblower in Trump’s first impeachment.
🚫 Bad Read: A Capitol Police officer was suspended after a copy of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was found at the checkpoint he was manning in the Longworth House Office Building.
📋 Offer: Purdue Pharma submitted a bankruptcy plan last night that would require the Sackler family relinquish control of the company and pay out $4.275 billion to claimants in the opioid crisis.
💰 Buckeye Boost: Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel gave $10 million to a super PAC backing Republican venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who is considering a run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).
⚖️ On Deck: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy will nominate Rachel Wainer Apter, a former law clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to the state’s supreme court later this year.
🎙️ On Air: Dr. David Agus, who previously treated Steve Jobs, has been an unlikely recurring guest on shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show, where he doles out medical advice and debunks rumors about the coronavirus.
💍 Mazal Tov: Daniel Flesch, senior advisor and spokesperson at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations, is engaged to Jamie Greenfield, an attorney in the New York office of Troutman Pepper.
💔 In Memoriam: The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York will honor Holocaust survivors who died of COVID-19 in an online tribute next month.
Song of the Day
Israeli singers Keren Peles, Netta Barzilai, Nasrin Kadri, Doron Talmon and rapper Eden Derso released a new joint single, “Boom,” with a message of female empowerment.
Former CEO and chairman of Citigroup, Sanford I. “Sandy” Weill turns 88… Dean and founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier turns 82… NYC tax attorney and litigator, he served as a tax assistant to the Solicitor General of the U.S., Stuart A. Smith turns 80… Actress and film director, Susan Linda Bay turns 78… Computer scientist and professor emeritus at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Andrew S. Tanenbaum turns 77… Israeli singer, best known as the original singer of “Jerusalem of Gold,” Shulamit “Shuli” Natan turns 74… Actor and singer, Victor Garber turns 72… Customer service associate at Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles, Judy Karta turns 70… Mathematician, tech innovator (with 260 patents) and the creator of the first camera phone, Philippe Kahn turns 69… Peabody Award and Emmy Award-winning NPR journalist and host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, Scott Simon turns 69… VP of external affairs and government relations at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Amy Reich Kaplan turns 67… Film producer, production designer and adjunct faculty member at Chicago’s Columbia College, Gail Sonnenfeld turns 66… Adjunct professor at both George Washington University Law School and Stanford In Washington, Andrew D. Eskin turns 64…
President Biden’s nominee to be U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation, Polly Ellen Trottenberg turns 57… VP for talent, booking at ABC News, Eric Avram turns 56… President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, Jay Ruderman turns 55… Actor and comedian, best known for playing the role of writer Frank Rossitano on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” Judah Friedlander turns 52… Senior producer of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at MSNBC, Amy Shuster turns 49… VP at the BGR Group, Andy Lewin turns 47… Speechwriter for President Joe Biden at the White House, Jeff Nussbaum turns 46… Writer for Jewish outlets, Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll turns 46… President and managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, Jason Rosenbaum turns 44… Winemaker at Covenant Wines and Hajdu Wines, Jonathan Hajdu turns 42… Retired soccer player in the Israeli Premier League who is now the first team manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Yoav Ziv turns 40… Detroit-based founder and managing partner of Ludlow Ventures, Jonathon Triest turns 39… Head of policy and communications at Facebook’s Israel office, Jordana Cutler turns 39… SVP at the Glover Park Group, Adam Blickstein turns 39… Director of partnerships at The Giving List, Alexandra Stabler turns 32… Director in the New York office of the Jewish National Fund, Sarah Azizi turns 31… First baseman and DH for MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays, Ryan John “Rowdy” Tellez turns 26… Second year student at the University of Michigan Law School, Nathan Bennett… Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter on the Metro desk of The New York Times, Brian M. Rosenthal… Jackie Stern… Jeremy Levin…