👋 Good Thursday morning!
Bernie Madoff, who was serving a 150-year term in federal prison for running the largest Ponzi scheme in history, resulting in devastating financial losses across the Jewish community, died yesterday at age 82.
Formal negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are slated to resume today in Vienna. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneisaid yesterday that the initial offers made by negotiators last week were “arrogant and humiliating” and “not worth looking at.”
Secretary of State Tony Blinken said yesterday that Iran’s decision to begin enriching uranium to 60% was “provocative” and “calls into question Iran’s seriousness with regard to the nuclear talks.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote today on advancing the nomination of Samantha Power as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development to a full Senate vote. The committee will then hold a confirmation hearing for Victoria Nuland, the Biden administration’s nominee for under secretary of state for political affairs.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), a longtime critic of U.S. Israel policy,is planning to introduce a bill seeking to restrict U.S. aid from being used for a variety of Israeli military operations. AIPAC announced its opposition to the legislation, calling it “both unnecessary and redundant” and noting that existing law “already establishes reasonable conditions for aid to Israel.”
The legislation has so far been cosponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Andre Carson (D-IN), Marie Newman (D-IL) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as of 4 p.m. yesterday, but is unlikely to gain sufficient support to pass the House.
More than 20,000 people tuned into last night’s virtual Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration hosted by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. Gilad Erdan. Joining the event were Secretary of State Tony Blinken — who greeted the audience in Hebrew — as well as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Erdan said he intends to “work in the coming year with the U.S. administration, in every way possible, to expand the circle of peace.”
Andrew Garbarino, Long Island’s heir to Pete King
Former Rep. Peter King (R-NY) retired in January after 14 terms in Congress, citing the “toxic” political atmosphere in Washington. Three days after King left office, his successor, Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), was locked in his office in the Longworth House Office Building for eight hours as rioters stormed the Capitol building. “You couldn’t believe what you were seeing,” Garbarino, a 36-year-old former attorney, recalled in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Finish the job: According to Garbarino, that tumultuous introduction to the Hill only strengthened his resolve to return that night to the House floor and certify the election results in favor of Joe Biden. “The goal was to stop us and it didn’t,” he said. “Whether people were for objection or for certification, the fact that we went back in that night and finished our job, I think, with all the broken glass and everything, that was the best part about that day.” Garbarino acknowledged that former President Donald Trump “is going to have an effect on the party” going forward, but said the GOP was a “big tent” and could make room for a wide range of voices. “I think he’ll be around for a while,” Garbarino said of the former president. “But he’s not the only leader left.”
Across the aisle: Garbarino — who touts his membership in the Problem Solvers Caucus and says he has already co-sponsored bills with a Democratic member of New York’s congressional delegation, Rep. Kathleen Rice — seems eager to present himself as a moderate willing to reach across the aisle. In conversation with JI, he emphasized his connections with lawmakers across the ideological spectrum, including freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY). “I love Mondaire,” said Garbarino. “He and I don’t agree on a lot of stuff, but it doesn’t stop us from trying to work together on stuff we do, and I think that’s what’s great,” Garbarino elaborated. “We’ll figure out what we can work together on and try to get it done, because getting something done is better than getting nothing done.”
Global view: Garbarino offered a mixed evaluation of President Joe Biden’s geopolitical approach so far. He approves, for instance, of Biden’s faith in international aid as a meaningful foreign policy tool. “A lot of Republicans tend to go against foreign aid,” Garbarino said. “I’m not, because we’re not playing in a vacuum here. If we don’t get involved, China and Russia are, and we need to compete with that.” But he also believes there is room for improvement, arguing that Biden should increase funding for cybersecurity protections while expressing concern with the president’s effort to bring back the Iran nuclear deal. “I think we need to keep the pressure up,” he said. “I think sanctions work.”
Eye on Israel: The first-term Republican said the Israelis and the Palestinians would have to work out their conflict among themselves if they have any hope of easing tensions. “Listen, I’m an attorney by trade,” Garbarino said. “Anytime an outside group tries to force a settlement on somebody, it doesn’t work.” He added: “The U.S. shouldn’t be forcing terms. No country should be forcing terms. Israel and the Palestinians need to figure it out because, unless they both come to terms, it’s not going to work. You can’t force it, can’t force a settlement on one or the other. If somebody feels like they’ve gotten screwed, if they’ve been bullied into something, they’re going to be very, very upset, and it’s not going to work. It’ll fall apart. The deal always falls apart.”
Leah Soibel is bridging the gap between Israel and the Spanish-speaking world
Less than two months before the 2020 elections, the Spanish sister-publication of The Miami Herald published an advertising section sponsored by a Cuban American political activist. The 40-page insert in El Nuevo Herald had a full-length column called “American Jews and Israeli Jews,” which accused Jews of forgetting about the Holocaust and compared Black Lives Matter activists to Nazis. In conversation with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch, Leah Soibel said the falsehoods directed at the Latino community were nothing new; they were just finally reaching the mainstream media. “It’s something that we see all the time. It just became much more apparent, because of its timing prior to the elections,” said Soibel, founder and CEO of Fuente Latina, a nonprofit that seeks to bring pro-Israel information to Spanish-language media.
Blank slate: Fuente Latina’s potential audience is enormous; nearly 600 million people worldwide speak Spanish. Yet many of them know little about Israel and the Jewish community. “Hispanics, in general, don’t understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Soibel said. Part of the reason, she claimed, is that Jews and Latinos view each other as unrelated communities, with little in common: “The Hispanic media aren’t covering what is going on in the Jewish community and the Jewish community isn’t talking about what’s happening in the neighboring Hispanic community,” she argued, but “we have so much in common.” In a promising sign for Soibel, many U.S. Latinos have not yet made up their mind on Israel. A 2017 survey found that 28% of Hispanic Christians in the U.S. had no opinion on the Jewish state. But that same survey found that a sizable amount of Hispanic Christians harbor somewhat antisemitic beliefs.
Dual identities: The child of Argentine immigrants, Soibel is a Latino Jew who grew up in a Catholic neighborhood of St. Louis, where people were often confused about her identity. “At that time,” she recalled, “people just had no clue. They were like, ‘How can you be both?’ There’s no way.” Soibel studied in Israel in high school and attended Camp Young Judaea, but by the time she started at Dickinson College, she wanted to learn about the broader Middle East. “At that time [people wondered], what is a Jew at a small liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, doing studying Arabic?” she asked. Her line of thinking, she said, was “if I’m going to be a Middle East expert, I can’t only know Hebrew. I obviously have to know Arabic. I have to understand both sides to this huge, complex story.”
Soft power: Soibel spent a year studying Arabic in Cairo when she graduated. After leaving Egypt, her first week in Washington as a master’s student at The George Washington University coincided with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. For her master’s thesis, she visited several Arab countries to try to answer the question, “Why does the young generation in the Arab world dislike America so much?” That project was her first foray into the world of “public diplomacy” — the way a nation or political entity gets its message across through cultural means, using informal educational methods to communicate with citizens of another country.
Starting from scratch: Part of Fuente Latina’s objective is to counter foreign disinformation about Israel. HispanTV, a Spanish-language broadcasting network operated by the Iranian government, employs journalists across Latin America. With the weight of an entire government propaganda apparatus behind it, HispanTV has a wide reach. For years, Fuente Latina has been conducting outreach to journalists, both proactively and in response to Iranian and other anti-Israel falsehoods. But come this summer, Fuente Latina will be launching its own digital media publication. “Think of a Latin Jewish AJ+ with a twist,” she said, referring to Al Jazeera’s digital media brand that targets young people. “We need to create a new digital brand, to engage Hispanics, because this is an incredible opportunity for us — and I think for the U.S. Jewish community in general — to now engage Hispanics that maybe we didn’t have access to in the pre-pandemic era.”
on the hill
Iran poses risk of escalating threat to U.S., Israel in 2021, intelligence chiefs warn
Iran poses a continuing, and potentially rising, threat to the U.S. and Israel in the coming year, intelligence community leaders warned during a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. The hearing came a day after the release of an intelligence community report outlining the greatest threats to U.S. security in the coming year.
Quotable: “Iraq will be a key battleground for Iranian influence in the coming year, but Tehran will also continue to pursue a permanent military presence in Syria, destabilize Yemen and threaten Israel,” said Avril Haines, director of national intelligence. “The iterative violence between Israel and Iran… [has] the potential to escalate or spread.”
Abraham Accords: Responding to a question from Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) about why the Abraham Accords were not mentioned in the intelligence community report, CIA Director William Burns praised the agreement: “The Abraham Accords… were a very positive step for the United States, for Israel and for the wider interest of stability and security in a region in which stability and security are often in short supply.”
Going deeper: The report predicted that Iran would use diplomacy, its nuclear program, military sales and proxy attacks — including in Syria and Iraq — in attempts to advance its goals, but assessed that Iran does not pose a threat to the U.S. homeland and is not currently conducting the activities “necessary to produce a nuclear device.” The report also warned that Iran may seek to further expand its nuclear program if the U.S. does not roll back sanctions.
Round two: Intelligence community leaders return to Capitol Hill today for a similar hearing with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
✊ United: Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris co-authored an op-ed in the New York Daily News calling for a number of reforms to address the uptick in antisemitic and anti-Asian violence. “As we see increased instances of hate in each other’s communities, we must remember that our own experiences with discrimination can’t keep us from standing up for each other.” [NYDailyNews]
👰 Bible Bashert: Tablet magazine’s Nomi Kaltmann interviews the couples who have met and married over the years through the annual Chidon HaTanach Bible quiz competition in Israel. “It was a safe space where we had our independence to meet each other and develop a friendship which later became a relationship,” recalled one participant. [Tablet]
🕍 New Jews: In The Washington Post, Heidi Paster Harf spotlights the growing community of Christian converts to Orthodox Judaism in Colombia. “It was a calling of the soul,” said convert Devorah Guilah Koren. “More than a religion, [Orthodox Judaism] was a way of thinking and conduct that satisfied all of our needs.” [WashPost]
🔍 Behind the Scenes: In an excerpt from her upcoming book Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power, USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page spotlights the warm ties between Pelosi and then-freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), going so far as to arrange a sit-down meeting for her with then-Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) following controversial comments made by Omar. “The outreach that made them friends is an example of how Pelosi painstakingly cultivated the loyalty of so many Democrats in her caucus, even those who might be inclined to cross her.” [Politico]
Around the Web
🌊 Back to the Table: Under Secretary of State David Hale said this morning that the U.S. is ready to facilitate stalled talks between Lebanon and Israel over their maritime border.
😡 Complaint: The State Department has reportedly complained to the Palestinian Authority about death threats against Fadi Elsalameen, a Palestinian-American critic of Mahmoud Abbas.
👩💼 Tapped: Erika L. Moritsugu, who previously worked at the Anti-Defamation League, has been appointed by the White House as its Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison.
🏆 Top Honor: The New York Times explores the controversy that has long surrounded the prestigious annual Israel Prize — including this year.
⚖️ Scot Free: France’s highest court ruled yesterday that the man who murdered Jewish woman Sarah Halimi in 2017 will not face trial since he killed her in a “delirious fit.”
🇬🇧 London Calling: London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he spoke with his counterparts in Israel over the U.K.’s vaccine rollout, and pledged to visit the Jewish state if he is reelected.
🤝 New Slate: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy appointed 77 people to the New Jersey-Israel Commission, which seeks to advance joint economic and cultural initiatives.
⛏️ Dig Deep: A recent archeological discovery in Israel from the Bronze Age reveals a potential “missing link” in the history of the alphabet.
🥪 Back in Business: Popular Denver deli Zaidy’s, which closed in October after three decades in business, is set to reopen under new management this summer.
Gif of the Day
During the official Israeli state Yom Ha’atzmaut ceremony last night, dancers formed the shape of a vaccine syringe to celebrate Israel’s rapid COVID vaccination campaign.
Psychiatrist, movie producer and philanthropist, Dr. Henry George Jarecki turns 88… Former U.S. solicitor general, now a professor at Harvard Law School, Charles Fried turns 86… Senior advisor at Covington & Burling, he was previously a fifteen-term member of Congress, Howard Lawrence Berman turns 80… Duke University professor, physician, biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate, Robert Lefkowitz turns 78… Retired U.S. Army chaplain who attained the rank of lieutenant colonel, Rabbi Alan Sherman turns 73… Professor of German and comparative literature at New York University, Avital Ronell turns 69… Former city controller of Philadelphia and a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Alan Butkovitz turns 69… CEO of DMB Strategic, David Brand turns 68… Founder and director of the graduate school in the decorative arts at Bard College in Dutchess County, N.Y., Susan Weber turns 66… Slingerlands, N.Y., attorney, Deborah R. Liebman turns 66… Author and executive director at American Press Institute, Tom Rosenstiel turns 65… The Rebbe of the Boyan Hasidic dynasty, a position he assumed in 1984 at age 25, Rabbi Nachum Dov Brayer turns 62…
Former deputy secretary of the Treasury and member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Sarah Bloom Raskin turns 60… Managing partner, CEO and chief investment officer of Hudson Bay Capital Management, Sander R. Gerber turns 54… CEO of the New Israel Fund, Daniel Sokatch turns 53… Cheryl Myra Cohn turns 46… Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founder of the Truman National Security Project, Rachel Kleinfeld, Ph.D. turns 45… Basketball coach of the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, Joe Pasternack turns 44… SVP of government affairs at Cross River Bank, Y. Phillip Goldfeder turns 40… Actor, comedian, producer and director, Seth Rogen turns 39… Co-founder and co-CEO of theSkimm, Carly Zakin turns 35… Director of grants and operations at the Foundation For Middle East Peace, Kristin McCarthy turns 33… Founder and CEO of Stoop, Zach Ehrlich turns 32… Social entrepreneur, environmental activist and human rights activist, Erin Schrode turns 30… Research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, David May… Moshe Lehrer…