👋 Good Wednesday morning!
President Joe Biden will address a COVID-restricted joint session of Congressthis evening. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) will deliver the Republican response to Biden’s speech, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) will deliver a response on behalf of progressive Democrats.
The Washington Postreported last night that former deputy secretary of state and current Morgan Stanley vice chairman Tom Nides is expected to be Biden’s pick for ambassador to Israel. While the decision is not a done deal, JI first reported in December that Nides had emerged as a leading contender.
Aaron David Miller told JI last night that Nides is a “very smart, politically well-connected individual with plenty of government experience. A guy who has a real pro-Israeli sensibility but also I think is capable of the kind of detachment that is critically important to finding the balance in the U.S.-Israel relationship between protecting Israel’s interests and protecting ours.”
According to the Post, Miami-based developer Michael Adler is likely to be U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Comcast executive David Cohen is in line for Canada and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is being floated for Japan.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat yesterday at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. The White House said the two discussed “strong U.S. interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue [with Iran] going forward.”
The third round of talks in Viennaover the 2015 nuclear deal began yesterday, with Russian and Chinese delegates saying that all sides had agreed to “expedite” the process.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked this morning after a contentious clash in the cabinet yesterday over the appointment of a justice minister. Defense Minister Benny Gantz will now hold the justice portfolio after Netanyahu’s earlier appointment of a Likud loyalist was deemed illegal by the attorney general — and referred to the Supreme Court.
Johnson-Lander rivalry heats up NYC comptroller race
Until recently, New York City’s comptroller race was a relatively staid affair, as a variety of candidates with little name recognition made their case for a position that, however consequential, is not well understood and difficult to pronounce. Then Corey Johnson, the charismatic City Council speaker, jumped into the field months after ending his bid for mayor of New York City — instantly establishing himself as the presumed Democratic frontrunner. With weeks to go until the June 22 primary, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke to all seven candidates vying to be the city’s chief financial watchdog.
Face off: Perhaps no candidate was more destabilized from Johnson’s entrance than Brad Lander, the progressive city councilman from Brooklyn who has been building his campaign for years. While Lander expected to earn an endorsement from Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), the influential first-term Bronx congressman instead threw his support behind Johnson, and some council members later followed. Lander has pivoted to attack mode, releasing a controversial website last week titled “What’s the Story, Corey?,” alleging that the speaker “has passed very little meaningful legislation during this pandemic year to improve the lives of New Yorkers.” Naomi Dann, a spokeswoman for Lander’s campaign, told JI that “Speaker Johnson has not shown up in the way New Yorkers needed during the crisis, is running for comptroller as a consolation and barely seems interested in the job.”
On defense: Johnson, who has rejected attacks that he is seeking the position as a consolation prize, was comparatively measured in a recent interview with JI. “The legislative process is complicated and it’s messy sometimes,” he said, seemingly wary of being dragged into a public back-and-forth. “But I’m proud of all the work that we’ve done.” Still, Johnson couldn’t refrain from at least one sidelong insinuation. “Part of being a good legislator is being collegial and working with your colleagues, working with the chairs of respective committees,” he added. “That’s the work that I think all successful members do to actually see bills passed.”
Wider field: Though Johnson leads in recent polling — with Lander trailing by double digits in one survey placing him in second with 8% of the vote — the numbers suggest that the field remains competitive for several other candidates. Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former financial journalist who mounted an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) last cycle, believes her experience analyzing financial documents as a CNBC anchor has prepared her to take over as the city’s top financial watchdog. “My job,” she emphasized, “will be to follow the money and scrutinize every dollar.” Zach Iscol, an entrepreneur and former Marine, maintained that “the only thing that this city needs in order to really rebound from COVID — the only ingredient that’s missing — is the right leadership.”
Credentials: A trio of New York state legislators — David Weprin, Brian Benjamin and Kevin Parker — fill out the roster of viable contenders. Benjamin, a state senator from Harlem, touts his degrees from Brown University and Harvard Business School, emphasizing that he would use the comptroller’s seat to boost affordable housing as well as minority-owned entities through pension fund investments. Parker, a state senator representing Brooklyn, said he would put “equity first” as comptroller, establishing what he described as an “economic equity council” and creating small business development centers for struggling communities. Weprin, an Orthodox Jewish assemblyman from Queens, boasts of his financial experience in the public and private sector. He pledged to open a comptroller’s office “in every borough” as part of his plan to provide a broader array of financial services to underserved businesses.
Elsewhere: New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch was expelled from the council last night by Speaker Corey Johnson following his guilty plea last week on charges of tax fraud.
on the hill
After drawn-out battle, Senate confirms Kahl in party-line vote
Over vociferous Republican opposition, the Senate confirmed Colin Kahl as under secretary of defense for policy yesterday evening, bringing to an end the pitched battle over one of President Joe Biden’s most divisive nominees, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. Kahl, who was confirmed by a party-line vote of 49-44, faced a slow path to confirmation amid unanimous GOP opposition and uncertain support from key centrist Democrats.
Antisemitism accusations: During the pre-vote debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivered a fiery speech in opposition to the nomination. “I have come to believe Colin Kahl’s judgment is irreparably marred by obsessive animosity towards Israel. I can think of no other way to explain his years of consistently wrong views regarding the Middle East,” Cruz argued. “I challenge my Democratic colleagues to explain one simple thing: what other explanation, other than animosity to the world’s only Jewish state, could possibly account for all of these staggeringly wrong judgments?” Kahl’s Twitter commentary, Cruz claimed, included “a pernicious antisemitic conspiracy theory — a blood libel.”
Hush hush: The Democratic reaction to Kahl’s confirmation was muted. None of the Senate Democrats contacted by Jewish Insider, including all of the Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, immediately responded to requests for comment on Kahl’s confirmation, nor issued public statements.
Moving forward: Following the vote, some of Kahl’s GOP opponents pledged to attempt to work productively with him in his new position at the Pentagon. “I vow to work in good faith with Dr. Kahl and his team, as I do with every Senate-confirmed official at the Department of Defense. In turn, I hope Dr. Kahl intends to do the same — to work closely with all members of the Senate, not just the ones with a ‘D’ next to their name,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement. “I hope his apology before the committee was sincere and that he approaches this job with better judgment, commitment to bipartisanship and respect than he’s demonstrated so far.”
Hang on: Others were less magnanimous. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) lambasted both Kahl and Senate Democrats. “All of my Democrat colleagues have chosen to jeopardize our national security and place Colin Kahl, a known leaker of classified information, as the Pentagon’s third highest-ranking civilian,” Hagerty said. “Instead of simply waiting for the FBI investigation, Senate Democrats, with the help of the vice president last week, chose to force a nominee through whose judgment and temperament are unfit for the job. I fear this is a sad victory for America’s adversaries around the world.”
behind the lens
Peeling back the ‘Layers’ of Jewish women
For four years, Shira Lankin Sheps, 33, has been telling the stories of Jewish women and their unique struggles and challenges via social media, through The Layers Project. Now, in a new book from Koren Publishers, titled Layers: Personal Narratives of Struggle, Resilience, and Growth from Jewish Women, Lankin Sheps spotlights 34 women from around the globe and tells their own unique, deeply personal and oftentimes painful stories. “I think as women, there are just such unrealistic expectations that society places on us and such unrealistic expectations that we place on ourselves,” Lankin Sheps told Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro during a recent interview at a cafe in north Jerusalem.
Opening up: The mom and trained social worker first set off on this journey after her own personal struggle — one she kept quiet for a long time. For an extended period, she suffered from an undiagnosed chronic illness that left her largely bed-bound, and unable to work or care for her family. But she hid her sickness from most of her friends. “I was very ashamed, but it was so dumb,” she said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I was just sick,” she recalled. “At a certain point, I realized that the shame was killing me faster than the illness.” Lankin Sheps opened up about her experience in a blog post, and the reactions came flooding in. “I got a really huge influx of support,” she said, “that was very surprising to me.”
Breaking stigmas: While she wasn’t well enough to begin working as a social worker, Lankin Sheps started to pick up photography. But soon she felt a yearning to undertake a project imbued with greater meaning. She issued a call looking for women who were interested in opening up about their challenges, their struggles and the stigmas that come along with them. Lankin Sheps has told the stories of women facing infertility, depression, anxiety, cancer, terrorism, racism, divorce, abuse, widowhood, eating disorders, grief and countless other challenges. And she chooses her subjects — who generally approach her — with great caution. “The people who I choose to work with are people that want to be activists for their cause,” she said. “It is really very, very difficult to be so emotionally vulnerable online.”
Immigrant experience: In 2018, a year and a half into her Layers Project journey, Lankin Sheps and her family moved from New Jersey to Israel and settled in Jerusalem. Within a few days of her aliya, she was approached about turning the project into a book. After a few bumps along the way, she signed a deal with Koren Publishers to photograph and tell the stories of dozens of women living in Israel. “I wanted to make sure that there were women from all over the world featured,” she said. “These women are immigrants and they’re refugees, very few of them are sabras. I really wanted to capture the immigrant experience.”
Social change: When she first started out, Lankin Sheps said, a lot of the issues she chronicled were not nearly as common on social media as they are today. “The landscape of social media is radically different today than when we first started,” she said. “Social media was a highlight reel. It was just the best of the best. It was just your perfect, filtered happy moments. That’s what it was back then; it was really toxic.” And while she doesn’t shy away from tough topics, Lankin Sheps says she is cautious and considered in her approach. “I think that social justice writing or social change writing has to be done from the inside,” she said. “I know my community, and it requires a really slow moving of the dial; you have to just keep moving the line forward really slowly. You have to keep gaining trust, you have to keep having those really important conversations, you have to keep resonating with them.”
🗣️ Mama Loshen: In an interview with Vox’s Sean Illing, Democratic strategist James Carville discusses his concerns over how the Democratic Party establishment falls short in connecting with voters. “I always tell people that we’ve got to stop speaking Hebrew and start speaking Yiddish. We have to speak the way regular people speak, the way voters speak. It ain’t complicated. That’s how you connect and persuade.” [Vox]
📚 Art and Artist: In The Atlantic, Judith Shulevitz explores the controversy raging around the new biography of Philip Roth by Blake Bailey, which was taken out of print following allegations of Bailey’s sexual assault. “If an artist is a bad person, should that change the way audiences interact with his art?” she asked. “In this particular case, if the author is a rapist, should that change the way we read Philip Roth: The Biography? Arguably, no.” [Atlantic]
⚔️ Deep Split: Associated Press reporter Ilan Ben-Zion delves into the simmering tensions in Jaffa, which erupted after a rabbi was assaulted recently by two Arab residents when he came to view an apartment for sale. Longtime residents view the area’s gentrification and the influx of Jewish residents with suspicion and anger. “It’s more than a class war,” said Tel Aviv City Councilman Abed Abou Shhadeh. “There’s a very deep rooted political tension happening at the same time.” [AP]
🕯️ Remembering: New York Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman paid tribute to Israeli designer Alber Elbaz, “fashion’s kindest designer,” known for his thoughtful gestures, including planting trees in Israel in honor of the death of a client’s mother. “He thought, deeply, about the people around him. He paid attention… to all of the women he dressed and the people with whom he worked.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
🙅 Daylight: White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday that a new Human Rights Watch report accusing Israel of apartheid “is not the view of this administration.”
📺 Choices: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told TV host Mehdi Hasan yesterday that Israel is “either going to have to have a Palestinian state, or they are going to become an apartheid state.”
🇱🇧 Border Breach: The IDF said it downed a Hezbollah drone yesterday that flew into Israeli territory from Lebanon, the second second such incident since November.
🗳️ Not Involved: The Israeli Foreign Ministry stressed to EU envoys to Israel yesterday that Israel is not seeking to intervene in the upcoming Palestinian Authority elections.
✍️ At the Table: Former Amb. Dennis Ross emphasizes that the U.S. must force Iran to understand that if it “overplays its hand now or later, it will put its entire nuclear program at risk.”
👐 Pushing Peace: Hedge fund manager Jeffrey Talpins is pushing for more Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel with a donation to the Atlantic Council aimed at advancing its cooperation with Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Policy Centre and Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
🛑 Slow Down: David Pollock and Sander Gerber caution the Biden administration against a fast reopening of the PLO’s mission in Washington and resumption of ties with the PA.
✈️ Border Brouhaha: Israel’s Tourism and Health ministries are facing off over the country’s plan to reopen borders, with each pushing a radically different approach.
⚽ On the Sidelines: Israeli soccer referee Sapir Berman came out as transgender, making her the only female referee in Israel’s soccer league and the first transgender referee.
📕 Textbook Trouble: The European Union passed a resolution condemning UNRWA for using learning materials that promote incitement, saying that EU aid to the organization “must be made conditional” if the materials don’t teach tolerance.
🎓 Campus Beat: Students and alumni at Yeshiva University filed a lawsuit against the college for denying recognition to a campus LGBTQ group.
🥪 Last Bite: Harry Morgan, the New York-style Jewish deli in London, closed this week over a rent dispute after almost 80 years in business.
♟️ Check Mate: Russian-Jewish chess player Ian Nepomniachtchi will challenge current World Chess champion Magnus Carlsen for the title in Dubai later this year.
Gif of the Day
HBO released a trailer this week for the upcoming film “Oslo,” based on the Tony-Award winning play about the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, which will premiere on May 29.
Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. from 1990-1993 and later 1998-2000, Zalman Shoval turns 91… White House chief of staff for Presidents Reagan and Bush 41, also secretary of the Treasury and secretary of state, James Baker turns 91… Retired judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, Judge Irma Steinberg Raker turns 83… Art collector and co-founder of Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts, Elaine Wynn turns 79… Retired four-star United States Marine Corps general, Robert Magnus turns 74… COO of IPRO and former president of the Bronx/Riverdale YM-YWHA and the Riverdale Jewish Center, Harry M. Feder turns 71… Cantor of Congregation Beth Jacob of Galveston, Sharon Colbert turns 69… Criminal defense attorney, Abbe David Lowell turns 69… Director of congregational engagement at Temple Beth Sholom of Miami Beach, Mark Baranek turns 63… Associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Elena Kagan turns 61… American-born Israeli writer and translator, David Hazony turns 52… Associate judge of the Baltimore City Circuit Court, Karen Chaya Friedman turns 50… Retired soccer player, she played for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team from 1997 to 2000, Sara Whalen Hess turns 45… Executive editor and senior director of content at The Points Guy, Scott Mayerowitz turns 43… Actress and film critic, she is the writer and star of the CBC comedy series “Workin’ Moms,” Catherine Reitman turns 40… Arena co-founder, Ravi Gupta turns 38… Senior editor of investigations and enterprise at Sports Illustrated, Jason Schwartz turns 36… Congressional editor at Politico, Benjamin Isaac Weyl turns 36… President of Saratoga Strategies, Joshua Schwerin turns 35… Israeli artist and photographer, Neta Cones turns 33… Director of communications and marketing at Jewish World Watch, Jeffrey Hensiek turns 33… Associate in the corporate department of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, Robert S. Murstein turns 32… Cybersecurity reporter at Politico, Eric J. Geller turns 30… News junkie, Ahron Fragin turns 23…