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Welcome back to regularly scheduled programming.
Driving the conversation this week are talks in Vienna among the signatories of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and China will meet tomorrow and U.S. officials will hold separate meetings with some of the countries. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has ruled out face-to-face talks with U.S. counterparts.
Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley appeared on PBS NewsHour on Friday, telling host Judy Woodruff that the U.S. is “prepared to come back into compliance if Iran is prepared to come back into compliance” and that the U.S. will be “seeing what we have to do so that Iran enjoys the benefits that it was supposed to enjoy under the deal.”
Malley’s interview reportedly raised concerns among Israeli officials who noted that the Biden administration previously touted creating a “longer and stronger” deal, but that Malley’s interview focused on a return to the 2015 agreement.
Following a bipartisan letter signed by 43 senators calling for a more comprehensive Iran deal, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) are circulating a separate letter calling on the U.S. to swiftly reenter the 2015 Iran deal.
A Senate staffer told JI that Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) have signed onto the letter, which closes Wednesday.
A Capitol Police officer was killed on Friday when a car driven by a self-described follower of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan attacked a security checkpoint on the Capitol grounds.
In New Mexico, State Rep. Melanie Stansbury was chosen by the state’s Democratic Party to become its nominee to replace former Rep. Deb Haaland, who was recently confirmed as secretary of the interior.
Who is Roberta Jacobson, Washington’s ‘border czar’?
Roberta Jacobson, the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, is back in Washington to tackle a seemingly insurmountable task. Jacobson has joined President Joe Biden’s National Security Council as the administration’s “border czar,” tasked with stemming the increasing tide of migrants arriving at the United States’s southern border. In conversations with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch, immigration experts, former colleagues of Jacobson and Jewish community members who know her painted a picture of a widely respected diplomat with an abiding love for the region setting out on a thankless, gargantuan task.
Latin culture lover: Jacobson first became interested in Latin America when she studied Spanish in high school. But she told Tufts Magazine that her passion for the region deepened during her undergraduate studies at Brown University, which corresponded with “the period during which Latin American countries began to go from military dictatorship to democracy.” At the same time, “I became captivated by the culture and the rhythms of the music and the dance,” she said, “so it all came together for me, which was odd for a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey.” Jacobson was not the first person in her family to work in public service. “My mom was first the head of the PTA, then the head of the Board of Education. My dad was the local chair of the zoning board” in her hometown of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., she told MSNBC in a podcast interview in 2019.
Family business: Jacobson’s husband, Jonathan, also works in public service; he has spent nearly three decades at the Environmental Protection Agency. Their family belongs to Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation, in Bethesda, Md. Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, who has led the congregation for more than 20 years, told Jewish Insider that “at shul, you’d have no idea she was a high-ranking official — she’s genuine, and humble, and a mensch of the first degree.”
Alan Gross’s ally: Before serving as America’s first female ambassador to Mexico, President Barack Obama appointed Jacobson to serve as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, the top State Department post covering Latin America and Canada. She played a key role in securing the release of Alan Gross, an American contractor who was imprisoned for five years in Cuba for attempting to distribute internet-connected devices to members of Cuba’s Jewish community. Jacobson visited Gross in prison, and Gross told JIthat her visit “was one that stands out,” explaining: “She came not only to wave the flag, but she came to give me some assurances that I took seriously. And I very much appreciated her visit,” Gross added. “She did not come across to me as just another government bureaucrat.”
Crisis manager: Last month, more migrants crossed into the U.S. than at any time in the past 15 years, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The increase in new migrants arriving at the southern border — especially the rise in unaccompanied minors — is a tremendous challenge facing the new administration. “The good news is Roberta is one of the United States of America’s great crisis managers,” said William Brownfield, a career foreign service officer who previously served as assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and worked with Jacobson in a number of domestic and overseas postings. “The bad news is she’s having to do it on a timescale that’s much, much faster, I think, than the administration had expected.”
Israeli coalition wrangling kicks off with party recommendations
President Reuven Rivlin began consultations today with the 13 Israeli political parties in the upcoming Knesset over who they recommend receive the first shot at forming the next government. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro breaks down all the latest developments.
Numbers game: Yamina, headed by long-predicted kingmaker Naftali Bennett, recommended Bennett himself as the next prime minister, despite the party receiving just seven seats in the election. As expected, Likud’s 30 MKs backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister, while Yesh Atid’s 17 lawmakers endorsed their party leader, Yair Lapid. Shas and United Torah Judaism threw their support behind Netanyahu, while Blue and White backed Lapid after days of deliberation, as did Labor. Rivlin is meeting with the parties in order of size, and his meetings with Yisrael Beytenu, the National Religious Party, the Joint List, New Hope, Meretz and Ra’am are slated for later today. The Joint List will reportedly not back any candidate, making it likely that Netanyahu will receive a plurality of recommendations, yet fall short of a majority.
Presidential power: “The main consideration that will guide me is entrusting a Knesset member with the task who has the best chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the new Knesset,” said Rivlin in his opening remarks, implicitly responding to criticism last week from some Likud members that he was abusing his largely ceremonial powers. Rivlin, however, later noted that “we’re in a very difficult situation and the most likely outcome is that no one will be able to form a government.”
Outside the box: Without a clear majority for any one candidate, speculation has run rampant since the March 23 election over a myriad of potential outcomes — including the possibility that Netanyahu could choose to succeed Rivlin as president when Rivlin’s term ends this summer, clearing a path to end the ongoing political gridlock. In his meetings today, Rivlin indicated that he could hand the mandate directly to the Knesset if the first candidate he nominates fails to form a coalition within 28 days, and skip handing it to a second contender.
Coexistence: In a much buzzed-about primetime address in Hebrew on Thursday evening, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas called for greater Arab-Jewish coexistence. Without specifying who he would recommend to Rivlin, Abbas declared: “I reach out a hand in my name and that of my colleagues and on behalf of the public that voted for me — to create an opportunity for coexistence in this holy land, blessed by three religions and home to two peoples.” Abbas added that he doesn’t want to be part of any particular political bloc. “I am here in a different bloc — the bloc that voted for me to serve my people and gave me a mandate to ensure that that the needs of the Arab public, that for years were unmet demands, are turned into a genuine work plan and realized.”
Rabbi Marc Baker on leading Boston’s federation ‘like an educator’
Rabbi Marc Baker has helmed Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), the Boston area’s federation, for three years. His predecessor held the job for three decades. In an interview with eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff, Baker discussed his plans to deepen relationships between CJP and its grantees, and how his background as a day school principal has shaped the way he thinks about leadership.
Helen Chernikoff: What concerns and worries persist even as you feel you are making progress?
Marc Baker: There’s been a renaissance in content, and in virtual ways to engage with Jewish life. But I have the same thing keeping me up at night that’s expressed in Deuteronomy — are we going to pass this on? Do we have the depth of knowledge and sense of confidence that will lead us into the future? Worrying about this is a traditional pastime, I know, but the world is different today. In today’s world of choice and competition and openness, we have to work to keep our culture strong, open, vibrant and deep, and we’re not succeeding. This is why people loved Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks so much. They read his books and they said, “I never knew that Judaism had something to say of depth and substance.”
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📚 Book Bind: In The New York Times, David Margolick writes about stumbling upon discarded Jewish prayer books, and explores the obligation he felt to preserve them when their owners did not. “There are lots of ways to measure the end of a particular Jewish line; tossing prayer books in the trash is surely one, and among the more emphatic.” [NYTimes]
🌎 Diplomatic Agenda: In New York magazine, Gabriel Debenedetti profiles Secretary of State Tony Blinken and ponders if he is facing a “post-diplomacy” world. Blinken, who is “genuinely well liked in both foreign capitals and Washington’s foreign-policy firmament,” asserted to Debenedetti that the U.S.’s own political turmoil only “reinforced our ability to be a leader for democracy and human rights around the world.” [NewYork]
⚖️ In the Courts: In The New Yorker, Masha Gessen covers the ongoing legal fight between a Polish court and two Holocaust historians who are being pressed to apologize to the family of an individual who appears in a recent book about Jews in Poland during WWII. The Auschwitz Museum, controlled by the Polish government, pushed back against Gessen’s claims that Holocaust history is under attack in Poland, assertions that have been backed by Holocaust historians in the U.S. [NewYorker]
🖼️ Never Forget: The New York Times’s Bret Stephens shares the story of Holocaust survivor Miriam “Buba” Stillmann, who uses art to express memories of her imprisonment in Auschwitz — including an attempted rape and her experiences with Dr. Josef Mengele. “In this month of Holocaust remembrance, it’s worth pausing to consider how one brave woman’s memory, and art, help us to see what we must never forget.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
⚔️️ Foiled: Jordanian officialsarrested nearly two dozen people over the weekend in connection to a plot to overthrow King Abdullah II. Former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, the king’s half brother, led the efforts and is now reportedly under house arrest.
🗳️ He’s Running: Imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti registered to run in the Palestinian Authority election at the last minute, shaking up the first scheduled vote in the territories in 15 years.
⚕️ First Aid: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, 85, is reportedly on his way to Germany to seek medical treatment.
😷 Looking Up: The New York Times’s Isabel Kershner explores life with a “green passport” in Israel’s “brave new post-pandemic future.”
◀️ U-Turn: President Joe Biden reversed sanctions on the International Criminal Court that had been imposed by the Trump administration.
🔙 Pull Back: The Biden administration is scaling down its presence in the Gulf, removing both military capabilities and forces from the region as part of a shift away from the Middle East.
💻 Startup Nation: Google is reportedly planning to open a data center in Israel for its cloud computing services.
👋 Home Hospitality: Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum shared her experiences visiting Dubai — including a warm welcome from a passing taxi driver.
☎️ Diplomatic Approach: In a call with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Friday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken told his counterpart that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy “equal measures” of freedom and security.
💸 Sending Aid: The Biden administration is quietly increasing its financial assistance to the Palestinians, allocating close to $100 million, the majority of which will go to economic support.
🛡️ Looking for Advice: Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) said that legislators are consulting with foreign legislatures, including the Knesset, on security following the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt.
🤝 On the Hill: A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation aimed at promoting normalization between Israel and Arab states.
🇦🇫 Closing Up Shop: The last remaining Jew in Afghanistan is set to leave the country, ending Judaism’s 2,000-year presence in Afghanistan.
🕵️♂️ On the Case: The NYPD’s hate crimes unit is investigating a knife attack on an Orthodox Jewish family, including a baby, in Manhattan last week.
📈 On the Rise: Organizations that assist ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York who want to leave their communities are reporting increased activity since the start of the pandemic.
💉 Still Looking: Many Holocaust survivors who have spent the last year largely isolated from society are struggling to obtain vaccinations, according to a New York Times report.
🎓 Bad Date: The University of Pennsylvania will not reschedule its commencement ceremony, scheduled for Shavuot, despite a petition from Jewish students.
🎞️ Coming Soon: Yes Studios has released the first trailer for Daniel Sivan’s upcoming documentary film “Dirty Tricks,” about the world of competitive bridge.
📺 Hollywood: HBO Max has picked up the award-winning Israeli series “On the Spectrum,” a comedy about three young adults with autism.
🎶 Good Vibrations: Israeli singer Neta Elkayam, a descendant of Moroccan Jews, combines her family’s heritage with modern beats and has found fans in both Morocco and Israel.
🏀 Hoops and Holidays: Amar’e Stoudemire held a pre-Passover interview and photo shoot with GQ in which the basketball star discussed his conversion to Judaism and his connection to the holiday.
🕯️ Remembering: San Francisco philanthropist Al Baum died at age 90. Tony-nominated playwright Arthur Kopit died at 83. Literary critic Morris Dickstein died at 81. Architect Michael Friedlander, who designed Manhattan’s Spring Street Salt Shed, died at 63. Paul Feinman, the first openly gay judge on New York’s highest court, died at 61.
Song of the Day
Israel released the official music video for its entry to the Eurovision Song Contest this year: “Set Me Free” by Eden Alene.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Joseph Lelyveld turns 84… Former vice-provost of the California Institute of Technology, David Goodstein turns 82… Research scientist and former CEO of the Ontario Genomics Institute, Mark J. Poznansky turns 75… Marketing consultant, Eugene Kadish turns 73… Professor emeritus in the Department of Jewish thought at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Daniel J. Lasker turns 72… Engineer who invented the Segway, Dean Kamen turns 70… CEO of Hess Corporation, John Barnett Hess turns 67… British novelist and author of over 40 books specializing in mystery and suspense, Anthony Horowitz turns 66… Founder of merchant bank Alnitak Capital Partners and chairman of the board of AudioCodes and Sodastream, Stanley B. Stern turns 64… Moscow correspondent for BBC News, Steven Barnett Rosenberg turns 53… Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky turns 52… Israeli actress and model, Sendi Bar turns 45… Film writer and producer and co-founder of Quantity Entertainment, Lee Eisenberg turns 44… Assistant managing editor for CNN Politics, Dan Berman turns 42… Director of global sanctions policy and strategy at PayPal, Howard Wachtel turns 41… Deputy chief of staff and legislative director for Representative Dina Titus (D-NV), Benjamin J. Rosenbaum turns 38… Israeli screenwriter and political activist focused on disability benefits, Alex Fridman turns 33… Operations manager at 2U, Adam Maslia turns 32… Director of political and membership engagement at Planned Parenthood, Sarah Horvitz turns 32… Congressional reporter at GovTrack Insider and Box Office Analyst at BoxOffice Media, Jesse Rifkin turns 29… Associate at Schmidt Futures, Wilson Shirley turns 28… Marketing manager at Rogers & Cowan in Los Angeles, Camila Seta turns 28… Writer and editor, Adam Ross Rubenstein turns 26…