👋 Good Tuesday morning!
Nuclear talks begin in Vienna today, with diplomats from the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran slated to hold a meeting chaired by the European Union. A U.S. delegation, headed by Special Envoy Rob Malley, will hold only indirect talks with Tehran.
Malley told NPR today that Iran has been “increasingly in noncompliance with their nuclear commitments,” and that Iran’s assertion that sanctions must be lifted before compliance is “not going to work that way.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced today that he would hand the mandate to form the next government to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but declared that “no candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset.”
After final consultations yesterday, Netanyahu received 52 nods, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid received 47 and the 7 votes from Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party went to Bennett himself. The Joint List, New Hope and Ra’am did not recommend any candidate.
In a primetime address last night, Lapid called on Bennett to join him in a coalition based on a rotation agreement for prime minister — and offered to allow Bennett to serve first as leader. Bennett is expected to give his own speech this afternoon.
The 24th Knesset will be sworn in today in Jerusalem in a festive ceremony.
Shontel Brown and Nina Turner, two of the leading Democratic candidates in the special election in Ohio’s 11th congressional district, announced their first quarter fundraising numbers. Turner, who co-chaired Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign, raised nearly $1.6 million, while Brown brought in $640,000.
Brown and Turner are among the candidates vying to replace Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, who represented the district from 2008 until her confirmation earlier this year.
A top Democratic foreign policy staffer reflects on 14 years on Capitol Hill
For the last 14 years, Daniel Silverberg was a senior Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill, working first on the House Foreign Affairs Committee under former Reps. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Howard Berman (D-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), and more recently as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) national security advisor. Silverberg took a break from his first day of private sector work in nearly 20 years, at Capstone LLC, a global policy and regulatory due diligence firm, to speak with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch about his tenure working for four prominent pro-Israel Democrats.
Tefillin technique: Silverberg often traveled internationally with Hoyer, and told JI that he frequently required a translator to explain the tefillin he carried with him to security personnel. “It would be no problem, but just the look [they had] of utter confusion, that clearly, they were somewhat puzzled by my tefillin,” he recalled. He knew that on some trips, he would be surveilled, and he tried to find the humor in it: “I would often use the placement of my tefillin bag as kind of a marker of what was happening in my hotel room when I wasn’t there. I would always leave my tefillin in the exact same place, and so when I would see my bag moved in a way that just didn’t look like the hotel cleaner had come but someone had been rifling through my bags, that was always the signal to me,” he said.
Bipartisan balm: Amid increasing political polarization, “there are some key issues that could serve as balms, in some way, for the bipartisan relationship,” said Silverberg. “One of those is democracy and human rights… And another one is Israel. I’d like to think that with Trump gone, Republicans will take a step back from so blatantly exploiting Israel for their immediate political benefit,” he suggested. “Support for Israel remains strong. It remains bipartisan. We will weather whatever immediate storms,” Silverberg said. But, he added, “Bibi’s visit in 2015 was cataclysmic, in my view, for the U.S.-Israel relationship. It was an event from which we still have not recovered. It made Democrats overall more wary of the Israeli government’s intentions, particularly with respect to Iran. It emboldened Republicans in a way that I still think is reverberating on the Hill.”
Frontliners first: “Attention gets focused on members who are the loudest and will sometimes say the most unhelpful things. Unfortunately, they wind up tarring the overall Democratic brand. ‘The Squad’ is not representative,” Silverberg said, referring to a group of progressive lawmakers composed of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). “Progressives have some positive momentum,” Silverberg conceded. “But it is so critical for the pro-Israel community to understand that the loudest voices in the caucus are not representative of where the caucus actually is. If you look at who got us to the majority and allowed us to keep it in this past year, it wasn’t progressive members. It was our block of what we call ‘frontline members,’ the members from particularly Republican districts, and our moderates. That’s the heart of the caucus.”
Staffing the Hill: Silverberg maintains there is no better place for a young person looking to get started in politics. “Perhaps naively, I am still just as encouraging, if not more so, for young people to come to the Hill as I was when I started 14 years ago. The Hill ultimately — as dysfunctional and sclerotic as it can be — is a massive platform of influence,” Silverberg noted. “There is no other institution in which a young person can be one degree removed from a constitutional officer and have a direct impact on the most critical national security issues of the day, be it Russia sanctions, Iran policy, human rights in China, countering Chinese disinformation [or] protecting Israel.”
meet and greet
AOC engages with JCRC-NY at last
Since taking office in 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has maintained a distant relationship with mainstream Jewish organizations in New York City, despite repeated overtures from Jewish leaders. But on Thursday, Ocasio-Cortez joined the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York for a virtual conversation touching on antisemitism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues. The discussion with JCRC’s outgoing CEO, Michael Miller, posted on YouTube Monday morning, is the first occasion in which Ocasio-Cortez has publicly addressed such topics with a mainstream Jewish group in New York, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Acknowledging tension: Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, acknowledged the frustration felt by Jewish leaders in New York who have been eager to meet with her. But her reticence, she suggested, wasn’t a snub. During her first term, the 31-year-old progressive congresswoman said she had simply put off conversations with Jewish groups in order to address the more immediate concerns of her constituents. “I think that’s maybe where some of that feeling and sentiment had come from,” she told Miller. “But I’m very happy to be engaging now, and now that we have some time, in this transition recovery out of COVID, to be able to do that citywide and statewide connecting as well.”
Future plans? The congresswoman’s office did not respond to a request for comment about future meetings, but her communications director pushed back against the suggestion that Ocasio-Cortez’s engagement with Jewish groups has so far been lacking. For JCRC, however, the virtual conversation was notable. Miller first inquired about a meeting with Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. By the end of her first term, he had yet to hear back. Setting up an interview this term went more smoothly. JCRC contacted Ocasio-Cortez’s office on January 26, according to the organization’s chief operating officer, Noam Gilboord, and received a response in mid-February. “I will tell you that her staff was very easy to deal with,” Gilboord told JI.
On Israel: Throughout the conversation, Ocasio-Cortez seemed at ease as she discussed, among other things, her own “sense of spirituality” as well as online radicalization. But on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she spoke mostly in broader strokes — and at points sounded less sure of herself. “I think there’s just this one central issue of settlements,” she said, “because if the ‘what,’ if the ‘what’ that has been decided on is two-state, then the action of settlements — it’s not the how to get to that ‘what’ — and so I think that’s a central thing that we need to make sure that we center and that we value Jewish — rather, we value Israeli — we value the safety and the human rights of Israelis, we value the safety and human rights of Palestinians in that process.”
Promising start: Despite several potential areas of disagreement, Miller was deferential throughout the 38-minute discussion. “These programs are not debates,” he told JI in an interview on Monday. “What we’re trying to do is elicit from each member their point of view on the issues of the day and the priorities of the Jewish community.” Ultimately, Miller said he was optimistic that the conversation would serve as a springboard for further discussions with Ocasio-Cortez. “The interview has concluded and we still want to continue to engage,” he said. “From my perspective, this was an opening.”
Blake Bailey’s complaint
When Philip Roth summoned biographer Blake Bailey to his Upper West Side apartment in the spring of 2012 for what was essentially a job interview, he had one pressing question: How was a gentile from Oklahoma equipped to write about a Jew from Newark? Bailey, the author of a critically acclaimed biography of John Cheever, had a clever response. “I’m not a bisexual alcoholic with an ancient Puritan lineage,” he told Roth, “but I managed to write a biography of John Cheever.” Bailey got the gig. Nearly a decade later, Bailey, 57, is now ready to reveal the product of his labor. “Do I feel like I pulled it off?” he said in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “I do.”
‘Just make me interesting’: At nearly a thousand pages, Philip Roth: The Biography — released today by W. W. Norton & Company — is an exhaustive door-stopper of a book that, Bailey argues, lives up to the mandate given to him by his subject: “I don’t want you to rehabilitate me. Just make me interesting.” That was no small task. Roth was a prolific philanderer who, as Bailey put it, “didn’t have a monogamous bone in his body.” But he was at the same time a careful, almost tyrannical custodian of his image, and he had already butted heads with — and jettisoned — a previous biographer by the time Bailey came around.
Unvarnished portrait: “He knew that there were certain things that he could not filter out of his biography,” Bailey told JI. “That didn’t mean he couldn’t do his damnedest, and he bombarded me with hundreds, possibly thousands, of pages of memos, telling me how I ought to think about every single nook and cranny of his life. The idea for Philip was, essentially, to write his biography by proxy, and that’s not what he got in my book.” Still, what Roth wanted “was not to be assessed through a Jewish lens,” and Bailey suggested that he had honored that wish. “He thought that his cultural importance transcended that,” Bailey added, “and I don’t blame him, frankly.”
Critical response: Roth, who died in 2018 at 85, isn’t around to see the final product, but Bailey believes he would have approved. But as the reviews have come in, Bailey has been surprised to find that some critics regard his portrait as overly forgiving and even exculpatory. “Philip hurt a lot of people in his life,” Bailey acknowledged. “But to say that I’m sympathetic and even complicit with his worst behavior is baffling to me. I don’t know how anyone can read my book in good faith and reach that conclusion. That is astonishing to me.”
👨💼 Man of the Hour: The Wall Street Journal’s Elliot Kaufman spotlights Mansour Abbas, leader of the Israeli Ra’am Party, who has taken center stage as a potential kingmaker following the Israeli election. “Though Ra’am is an Islamist party, conservative on religious matters, it understands that Arab Israelis need jobs, roads, security and reliable government services, like everyone else.” [WSJ]
🕵️ Double Life: In The New York Times, Ronen Bergman reveals that Franz Josef Huber, a high-ranking Nazi SS officer, went on to spy for both the CIA and the German intelligence service in the 1960s. “Newly disclosed U.S. and German intelligence records reveal that both countries made efforts to conceal Huber’s role in the crimes of the Third Reich and to prevent him from facing trial.” [NYTimes]
🛂 Deep Dive: The Atlantic’s Caitlin Dickerson argues that U.S. immigration policy has always been based on exclusion, noting that over the past century, “the United States has deported more immigrants than it has allowed in.” Immigrant groups have long been stereotyped and incited against; “The Jews were seen as people that carried tuberculosis; the Chinese had cholera.” [Atlantic]
🇨🇳 Safe Haven: For the BBC, Ronan O’Connell explores Tilanqiao, the neighborhood in Shanghai once home to tens of thousands of Jews who fled Nazi Europe — and the site of the Jewish ghetto after the Japanese took control of the city. “At a time when hopeful entrepreneurs from across the world looking to strike it rich had turned Shanghai from a humble fishing village into the world’s fifth-largest city, Tilanqiao didn’t offer Jewish refugees wealth or luxury, but something much more valuable: safety.” [BBC]
Around the Web
🛬 Open Arms: After weeks of protests, Israel is amending its entry policy for foreign nationals to allow non-Israelis with a first-degree relative in Israel to enter the country.
⚖️ Day in Court: During a hearing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial yesterday, former Walla! News editor Ilan Yeshua testified that he was repeatedly pressured to provide favorable coverage of Netanyahu.
⛽ Big Deal: Israel’s Delek Drilling is reportedly in talks to sell its 22% stake in the Tamar offshore natural gas field.
🗳️ Deja Vu: The Carnegie Endowment’s Aaron David Miller predicts “a prolonged period of coalition negotiations, deal-making and horse trading” in Israel following the election.
🚨 Spy Saga: An Iranian intelligence ministry official said that authorities had arrested a group of people accused of spying for Israel and other countries.
💰 Dropping Dimes: George Soros has donated $500 million to Bard College, half of the college’s plan to raise a $1 billion endowment.
👚 In Stores: Lena Dunham — known for creating and starring in the HBO series “Girls” — is taking on the world of fashion with a new plus-size clothing line.
✈️ Flight Fight: Spirit Airlines is under fire for forcing all of the passengers on a Florida-to-New Jersey flight yesterday to deplane because a Jewish toddler wasn’t wearing a mask.
🛒 Closing Time: Kroger is closing its Ralphs grocery store in Los Angeles’s Pico-Robertson neighborhood, one of the few grocery stores in the city with an extensive kosher selection.
✍️ Style Change: BuzzFeed News announced that it will no longer hyphenate the word antisemitism, complying with the recommendation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
📚 Book Shelf: A new book from Israeli-American actress and producer Noa Tishby, Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, hits bookshelves today.
🕯️ Remembering: Rabbi Solomon Schiff, a longtime interfaith leader in Miami, died at age 91.
Professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington and the 1992 winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine, Edmond H. Fischer turns 101… Former justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, she is the aunt of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Shoshana Netanyahu turns 98… Educator often considered the founder of the modern small schools movement, Deborah Meier turns 90… Holocaust survivor, visual artist, textile designer and art teacher, Helen Berman turns 85… Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, Mark Mordecai Green turns 84… Head of MTV Documentary Films, Sheila Nevins turns 82… Academy Award-winning best director for Rain Man (1988), and director of Diner (1982), Good Morning Vietnam (1987), Bugsy (1991) and Wag the Dog (1997), Barry Levinson turns 79… Santa Monica-based poet, critic and teacher, Nancy Shiffrin turns 77… Founder and chairman of Cognex Corporation and a major donor to Technion and FIDF, Robert J. Shillman turns 75… Founder and CEO of Emmis Communications, and the former owner of the Seattle Mariners, Jeff Smulyan turns 74… Political activist, artist and author, Mary Fisher turns 73… Director of the digital deception project at MapLight, Ann Ravel turns 72… Los Angeles-based playwright, performer and teacher of autobiographical storytelling, Stacie Chaiken turns 67… Film director, Rob Epstein turns 66… Scholar of piyyut and head of the Fleischer Institute for the Study of Hebrew Poetry, Shulamit Elizur turns 66… Philanthropist Jeanie Schottenstein turns 65… Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, Michael J. Gerhardt turns 65… Senior political analyst for CNN and a senior editor at The Atlantic, Ronald J. Brownstein turns 63… Director, screenwriter and producer of TV comedies, Steven Levitan turns 59… Deborah Granow turns 59… CEO of the Motion Picture Association, he was previously the U.S. Ambassador to France, Charles Hammerman Rivkin turns 59… Reporter for The New York Times, Glenn Thrush turns 54… Screenwriter and director, Doug Ellin turns 53… Serial entrepreneur, Richard Rosenblatt turns 52… Israel’s former Consul General in New York, now CEO of Israeli private equity fund Amelia Investments, Asaf Shariv turns 49… Founder and chief investment officer of Hong Kong-based Oasis Management Company, he serves as Vice Chairman of the Ohel Leah Synagogue in Hong Kong, Seth Hillel Fischer turns 49… AIPAC’s senior development director for the Northeast Region, Jay Haberman turns 47… Actor and director, Zachary Israel “Zach” Braff turns 46… Teacher of classical mandolin at Mannes College in NYC, Joseph Brent turns 45… Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the founding editor of National Affairs, Yuval Levin turns 44… Co-founder and executive editor of Modern Loss and story editor for Chalkbeat Indiana and New York, Gabrielle Birkner turns 42… Member of the Knesset for Likud, Shlomo Karai turns 39… Chef, best known as the winner of the second season of Bravo television’s Top Chef, Ilan Hall turns 39… Associate director of regional offices at AJC Global, Jacob Millner turns 37… Head coach of the New York Institute of Technology Division II NCAA men’s basketball team, Evan Conti turns 28…