👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Israel next week, where he is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Austin’s trip marks the first Cabinet-level visit to the region since President Joe Biden took office.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiatorsaid that talks yesterday in Vienna were “constructive” and that the next meeting is slated for Friday. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the meetings are a “potentially useful step.”
A group of Senate Republicans — Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Todd Young (R-IN) — sent a letter to Biden yesterday encouraging him not to ease U.S. sanctions on Iran in order to return to the 2015 deal.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) died of cancer at age 84, further narrowing Democrats’ majority in the House until a special election is held to replace him.
Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins this evening. Yad Vashem will livestream the annual state ceremony at 1 p.m. ET.
Gabrielle Bluestone is out to get internet scammers
It took the journalist Gabrielle Bluestone just a few minutes to conclude that the Fyre Festival was not what it claimed to be. “The website looked like something someone would do as a class project,” she told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview. “There was nothing professional or elite or luxurious about it.” She smelled a scam, and was quickly out with the first reported story on the event masterminded by the now-imprisoned Billy McFarland. Bluestone went on to produce a Netflix documentary about the festival and has now published a new book, Hype: How Scammers, Grifters, and Con Artists Are Taking Over the Internet ― and Why We’re Following, in which she expands on the theme of online hucksterism.
Cons of the century: Using her experience as a former law student as well as reporting stints at Gawker, Jezebel and Vice, Bluestone, 32, set out to examine the reasons people fall for such schemes in her first book, released this week by Hanover Square Press. “Con artists have presumably been around since prehistoric times,” she writes in the introduction. “But there was something new here at play, a tech-assisted accelerant, that enabled McFarland to subvert our hyperconnected society, which, given all these technological advancements, should have spotlighted him from miles away.”
Falling for Fyre: Bluestone, who lives in New York, argues that credulous partygoers fell for the Fyre Festival in particular — which was fraudulently billed as an elite getaway on a Bahamian island and promoted by scores of influencers — simply because they believed it would grant them entry into an enticing new social world. “They wanted to believe that it would be that easy to hang out on a beach with Kendall Jenner or Bella Hadid,” Bluestone told JI. “All you had to do was buy this ticket.” Bluestone doesn’t believe they even looked at the website, as she did. “I think they saw all the influencers,” she said, “and just bought in based off of that.”
Duped by social media: “I fall for Instagram ads and products all the time,” Bluestone acknowledged. “Even writing a book, I’m shocked at how much I still fall for that kind of thing. One of the chapters in the book details my experience with Danielle Bernstein, who is a designer who’s been accused of stealing a lot of her designs. When I first started talking with her, I didn’t know any of that, and so to compare what I learned about her versus what my impression of her was just based off of the internet, I think, was definitely one of those moments.”
Just the facts: Bluestone is optimistic that her book will get people thinking about their own susceptibility to scams. “There is an element of self-delusion in there that you believe something that seems too good to be true is true,” she said. “So I hope it makes people think more critically about how they’re consuming the news, consuming social media and, emotionally, how we’re letting it affect us. I think that’s a really important conversation we should be having.” Still, Bluestone believes that there will, without a doubt, be another sort of Fyre Festival at some point down the line. “Absolutely,” she said. “No equivocation.”
Kyrsten Sinema’s independent streak runs deep
Three and a half years after former Sen. John McCain’s historic thumbs-down vote against GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, another Arizona senator, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, appeared to use the same bucking-the-party playbook last month when she offered a thumbs down to raising the federal minimum wage. But to Arizonans, Sinema’s vote against her party was not a shock; she has gained a reputation in the Grand Canyon Stateas an independent-minded politician. The senator’s political savvy and her willingness to chart her own course are viewed with respect in a state that prides itself on independence and self-sufficiency, even if her current views are dramatically different from the beliefs she once held as a young anti-war activist, reports Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch.
Let’s make a deal: After surprising Democrats by voting against the minimum wage increase, Washington now understands that moderates like Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) hold remarkable sway for President Joe Biden’s agenda — and it’s a muscle Sinema has already begun to flex. Sinema told The Wall Street Journal yesterday that she does not intend to abolish the filibuster, which progressive Democrats see as the only way to pass voting rights legislation and gun reform bills. “When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules,” she said. “I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.”
Kahl’s kingmaker: Another area where her vote will soon matter is on the confirmation of Colin Kahl as under secretary of defense for policy, a Biden pick who has come under scrutiny for past comments on Israel and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. A spokesperson for Sinema told JI that the senator remains undecided on Kahl’s nomination: “Senator Sinema is carefully considering this nomination. She evaluates all presidential nominees based on whether they are professionally qualified, whether they believe in the missions of their agencies and whether they can be trusted to faithfully execute and uphold the law.”
Pink to blue and white: On Capitol Hill, Sinema has become a reliable “yes” vote on pro-Israel legislation. As a member of Congress, she voted against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, a position adopted by a large swath of Jewish leadership. She has spoken at AIPAC-affiliated events in Arizona and the AIPAC policy conference; after her 2019 speech, CODEPINK tweeted its disapproval, writing, “Once upon a time, @SenatorSinema participated in CODEPINK protests and stood firmly against Apartheid Israel and @AIPAC. Could it be…all about the Benjamins baby?”
Community connection: Since running for Senate, Sinema has cultivated a relationship with Arizona’s Jewish community. Carlos Galindo-Elvira, who served as Arizona director of the Anti-Defamation League until last summer, told JI that members of Sinema’s staff reached out in October 2018 following the mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. “I remember very clearly, while I did not get a call from her personally, she ensured that her staff called and checked in, to ensure, you know, are we OK? And just wanting to check in on us,” Galindo-Elvira said. “Because of the gravity of the growing level of antisemitism that was happening throughout the country, it was a call that reinforced, at least in my thinking, that she understood that this is a problem.”
hitting the books
Bipartisan House members reintroduce Palestinian education bill
A bipartisan group of House legislators reintroduced a bill on Monday calling for a State Department assessment of lesson plans created by the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Try try again: The bill was first introduced in late 2019, during the previous congressional session, and was reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee without opposition, but failed to reach the House floor before the end of session due to COVID-related slowdowns on the floor. It was reintroduced this week by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Brian Mast (R-FL) and David Trone (D-MD).
Reporting requirements: The bill would mandate annual State Department reports to Congress for 10 years on whether curricula produced by the PA and UNRWA contain “content and passages encouraging violence or intolerance toward other nations or ethnic groups,” what steps the organizations are taking to reform curricula and whether U.S. assistance is directly or indirectly funding curricula containing hateful material.
Quotable: “The U.S. should review the curricula in both PA- and UNRWA-controlled schools periodically to ensure that Israel is not demonized, and that tolerance, not violence, is being taught to the students in those schools,” Sherman told JI. “Our goal is to ensure we have an accurate picture of the curricula and textbooks in PA and UNRWA schools so that any problems can be fixed.”
Boosted spending: The Biden administration notified Congress earlier this week that it was allocating $40 million to the Palestinian Authority for law enforcement and security costs, on top of $90 million it allocated to the Palestinians late last month.
🗳️ Parallel Politics: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman suggests that Israel’s current polarized politics “is the same political fragmentation/polarization that is hobbling America: the loss of a shared national narrative to inspire and bind the country as it journeys into the 21st century.” [NYTimes]
🕊️ Laying Low: In Politico, Nahal Toosi lays out how the Biden administration is signaling that it has no interest in aggressively pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace. “Biden hasn’t devoted much staffing to the Israel-Palestinian aspect of [diplomacy] — what some analysts and former officials say is the biggest sign yet of how low a priority it is.” [Politico]
📖 Book of Names: A former Israeli diplomat is cataloging the names of Jewish families who lived in Egypt over the last two centuries. Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch told Al-Monitor he was surprised at the diversity of the Jewish population — numbering close to 40,000 at its peak. “I realized how cosmopolitan Cairo and Alexandria were. Greeks, Italians, Armenians [and] Jews, who came from Eastern Europe, Syria, North Africa, Corfu, Italy and from all over.” [AlMonitor]
🥩 Fake Fillet: In Wired UK, Delle Chan explores how and why Israel has become a powerhouse in the fake meat world, home to more than 50 alternative meat startups. The question if cell-based meats are kosher remains unanswered, said Rabbi Joel Kenigsberg: “At the moment, it’s impossible [for the Jewish community] to reach a decision, as production methods have not been fully formulated or disclosed.” [Wired]
Around the Web
🖥️ Oldest Hatred: A new report from Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center reveals that antisemitic activity ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, and shifted partly online.
🇸🇩 Warming Ties: Sudan repealed a 63-year-old law mandating a boycott of Israel yesterday, months after normalizing relations with the Jewish state.
✈️ In the Air: Etihad flew the first direct commercial flight yesterday between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, where the aircraft was greeted with a water cannon salute.
📉 On the Rocks: Israel’s governmental instability and lack of an annual budget are making critical structural economic changes difficult, the country’s central bank chief warned.
👩💼 In the Running: Former National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy Kaufman told the Forward she has been in touch with the Biden administration about the role of antisemitism envoy.
⚖️ In Court: An Orthodox Jewish couple filed a lawsuit against two New York City housing agencies alleging religious discrimination in Manhattan housing lotteries.
🕵️ Undercover: An investigator working for an Israeli private intelligence firm posed as a Fox News researcher and an Italian reporter to gather information about foes of a UAE emirate.
🎒 School Saga: Beatrice Weber and Chaim Levin argue in The New York Times that New York politicians aren’t holding yeshivas to the government’s standards of education.
🎓 Campus Beat: Fliers promoting antisemitic messages were posted on the office doors and classrooms of Jewish professors at the University of North Florida over Passover.
📝 On the Record: More than 350 academics around the world signed on to a letter supporting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
🤳 Swipe Right: Middle school classmates from California found each other on a dating app in Tel Aviv 16 years later — and now have plans to wed.
🎥 Coming Soon: Helen Mirren has been cast as Golda Meir in a new biopic about the former Israeli prime minister, which is set against the backdrop of the Yom Kippur War.
🎬 Tense Take: Writer Joss Whedon has been accused of verbally abusing Israeli actress Gal Gadot on the set of 2017’s “Justice League.”
🕯️ Remembering: Associated Press reporter Sharon Cohen died of brain cancer at age 68.
Song of the Day
Israeli pop duo Static and Ben-El released a new song and music video titled “Cactus.”
Political activist and former U.S. military analyst who in 1971 released the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and other newspapers, Daniel Ellsberg turns 90… Professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University, Marilyn Ann Friedman turns 76… Retired president of Yale University and later CEO of Coursera, Rick Levin turns 74… Consulting research scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity, Naomi Karp turns 71… Software engineer at FlightView, Jonathan Ruby turns 69… Professor at the Pennsylvania State University, Simon J. Bronner turns 67… Los Angeles-based casting director, Jane Sobo turns 63… Director of project staffing at Tower Legal Solutions in Addison, Texas, Ilene Robin Breitbarth turns 59… Member of the House of Commons of Canada from the Winnipeg area, Martin B. Morantz turns 59… Washington DC bureau chief at Insider Inc., Darren Samuelsohn turns 46… Co-founder of Project Shema, Oren Jacobson turns 39… Founder of Pretentious Pocket, a silk pocket square business, Justin Ross Lee turns 38… Led public relations specialist at CACI International, Gregory Hellman turns 35… Reporter covering the White House and Washington for Politico, Daniel Lippman turns 31… MBA candidate at the Kellogg School of Management, Marissa Wizig turns 29… Professional golfer who joined the PGA Tour in 2015 when he won Rookie of the Year, he has since won four tournaments, Daniel Berger turns 28… David Farahi turns 27…