👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Today is Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli independence day, begins this evening.
An Israeli-owned commercial ship was hit by a missile off the coast of the UAE yesterday, resulting in an explosion but no casualties, a day after Israel was accused of sabotaging an Iranian nuclear plant in Natanz.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said this morning that Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60% — its highest-ever level — was an answer to Israel’s “nuclear terrorism,” following the incident at Natanz.
In a meeting yesterday between U.S. and Israeli national security officials, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reaffirmed President Joe Biden’s “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and to ensuring that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon.”
Twenty-six Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sent a letter, spearheaded by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), calling on the Biden administration to rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran under its original terms.
The Biden administration will allow the $23 billion Trump-era weapons agreement with the United Arab Emirates to proceed as planned, after pausing the deal for review in January.
President Joe Biden announced yesterday that the U.S. would withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11 — the 20th anniversary of the attack that prompted U.S. engagement in the country. The announcement was met with immediate backlash from Republicans, as well as some Democrats, on Capitol Hill.
The Senate confirmed Wendy Sherman as deputy secretary of state by a vote of 56-42 yesterday, with the support of Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Shelley Capito (R-WV). Former New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was confirmed as deputy transportation secretary by a vote of 82-15.
With ‘Homanity,’ dissident Iranian artists are making their voices heard
A new compilation of original music by Iranian artists, most of whom are living abroad as political refugees, will be released on May 7, with two singles coming out later this week. The compilation album, titled “Homanity,” after the mythical phoenix Homa, highlights the continued censorship of music and culture in the Islamic Republic, and includes hip-hop, pop, rock, traditional Persian music and even heavy metal. “Incredibly talented Iranian artists are adopting these Western styles of music, and they’re also putting in something that is inherently very, very Persian — that is the power of Iranian poetry, which really dates back thousands of years in Iranian culture,” Marjan Greenblatt, the project’s organizer and an Iranian Jewish human rights activist, told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in a recent interview.
Clandestine concerts: Like everything else in the Islamic Republic, music is strictly regulated. “In an underground world, [people] are creating music,” Greenblatt noted. “They’re having underground concerts, they are releasing albums, but none of this is on the surface. It remains a very clandestine, secret, almost dangerous operation to create [and] express themselves.” Iranians access censored music in a variety of ways: bypassing Internet filters, using VPNs (virtual private networks) to pretend to be accessing the Internet from abroad, passing around flash drives of music among trusted friends. All of this comes at great personal risk; many Iranian musicians use pseudonyms, or stage names, to try to stay anonymous.
Power of song: Many of the songs included in the compilation are distinctly political, following in the footsteps of past efforts linking music and activism like the Human Rights Campaign’s 2002 Being Out Rocks. Behrouz Ghaemi, a British-Iranian guitarist and singer, will have a song out this Friday about the upcoming Iranian elections scheduled for June. “The song is about the insignificance of the Iranian elections and the inconsequential nature of what they deem as a theatrical exercise, without any tangible change,” Greenblatt explained. The other single set to be released this week comes from Justina, an Iranian rapper who sings about women and women’s rights. Her new song is about love, which in Iran “is not expressed publicly, especially not by women,” Greenblatt told JI.
A misplaced poem: Greenblatt has a personal understanding of the risk to Iranians who dare to express themselves freely or read literature not approved by the religious government. When she was 14, she brought a poem to school that expressed hostility toward Iran’s government. “It had profanity directed at leaders of the Islamic Republic. It was one of the most dangerous things that a 14-year-old could be caught with in the very highly charged Islamic atmosphere of my public school,” Greenblatt recalled. She kept the poem hidden in the pages of a textbook, but she dropped it on the floor, where it was picked up by a dean. “It was not unheard of for teenagers — 14-, 15-, 16-year-old girls — to be put in jail, either because of bad hijabs or because of activism or because of stupid mistakes, like carrying an anti-government poem in their backpack,” said Greenblatt. The dean told Greenblatt she would likely be kicked out of school, but she didn’t stick around to find out: Her family smuggled her out of the country, alone, to live with her grandparents in France.
Bringing culture to commentators: Stories about Iran that appear in Western media often focus on the country’s government and military. “Iran has always been a big part of American policy and the American news cycle,” Greenblatt pointed out, but “a lot of it is being told from the perspective of people who are not from Iran. A lot of those policies are being decided by pundits in Washington who do not have the personal perspective of what Iran is really like.” The hope with “Homanity,” Greenblatt said, is “to shed some light that might enlighten both the policymakers [and] also my American peers, whose opinion about Iran is mainly shaped by one-sided media stories.”
race to gracie
Shaun Donovan’s brainiac bid for NYC mayor
On paper, Shaun Donovan seems to stand out as an eminently qualified candidate for New York City mayor. The housing expert held top jobs in the Obama White House and Bloomberg mayoral administration, and in his 200-page campaign policy book, he lays out a detailed post-pandemic plan. On Tuesday, he announced that he would lay out one new policy proposal every day until the June Democratic primary. “I really do have the boldest, most comprehensive ideas about the future of this city,” Donovan, 55, boasted in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “But I also have the deepest experience in government to be able to ensure that those ideas can make a real difference in people’s lives.”
‘Talented,’ but: Donovan’s proposals have earned plaudits from policy experts in New York, but it remains to be seen if he has the wherewithal to pull off an upset. Several analysts who spoke with JI described the mayoral hopeful as “talented,” while also observing that, despite his policy chops, voters don’t seem to be rallying behind him. “The challenge that he faces is that he’s always sort of been in the background and therefore doesn’t have the same political profile as some of the more active and better-known political candidates,” said David Greenfield, the CEO of the Met Council and a former city council member.
Staying positive: Polling suggests as much. Donovan seems to be lagging significantly behind the apparent frontrunners, including Andrew Yang and Eric Adams. But Donovan remains uncowed. “I wouldn’t trade my place in this race with anyone,” he said, adding, “Nearly every other candidate is, in some way, part of the status quo.” Donovan, of course, isn’t exactly a fresh face in New York City government. He served as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s housing commissioner, creating the city’s first inclusionary housing program, before going on to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development under former President Barack Obama.
New York ties: “I would say my entire family owes everything to New York in a fundamental way,” said Donovan, who was raised on the Upper East Side. His father had Jewish, Catholic and Protestant grandparents, and was “beaten up as a child because of that,” Donovan said. Michael, who was born in Panama and grew up in Costa Rica, “had a deep connection to his Irish roots, but also a sense of being an outsider,” Donovan added. “He came to the U.S. to go to school like so many immigrants, and then came to New York to find opportunity, and found it.”
Repairing the city: “My platform is really about repairing and rebuilding the city but also about reimagining it as a city that works for everyone,” said Donovan, who advocates for bus rapid transit as well as keeping libraries open 24/7. But getting elected and implementing such policies may be a more difficult task than earning an appointment, particularly in New York, where many prominent figures have tried and failed to do so, including Joe Lhota, Richard Ravitch and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. “This is a longstanding challenge,” said Mitchell Moss, a professor of urban policy and planning at New York University. “It’s not unusual that people who succeed in appointed life can’t make it in New York City politics.”
on the hill
GOP senators accuse Colin Kahl of tweeting classified information
Eighteen Republican senators are calling for an inquiry into whether Colin Kahl, the Biden administration’s embattled nominee to become under secretary of defense for policy, released classified information on social media after leaving his position as Biden’s national security advisor in 2017, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Signed, sealed, delivered: In a letter to FBI director Christopher Wray sent yesterday morning, the senators accuse Kahl of disclosing classified and otherwise controlled information, as well as discussing the information with government officials and soliciting it from them.
Multiple incidents: Several of the incidents in question are tied to tweets posted by Kahl in February and March 2017 regarding a botched raid in Yemen. In those tweets, Kahl disclosed closed-door comments from former Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland, and stated that he “confirmed with 4 separate staffers in the room” information about the raid. The senators also highlighted another series of Kahl’s tweets from December 2017 about military deliberations on North Korea. The letter notes that Kahl said he had confirmed with multiple executive branch officials classified information and other sensitive information leaked in a news report.
John Hancock: The letter’s signatories include Sens. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Hagerty had previously raised concerns about some of these tweets in a March 19 letter to the leaders of the Armed Services Committee. Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who did not sign the letter, also expressed his support for the effort.
🌍 Adrift: In Foreign Policy, Shalom Lipner suggests that, without a stable leadership, Israel is “careening recklessly through a geopolitical obstacle course,” as allied countries attempt to avoid appearing to take sides, ambassadorial nominations languish and “politicians are sending astonishingly different messages to the outside world.” [FP]
📖 Brought Back: A lost novel, written by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz in the weeks following Kristallnacht, has been rediscovered and translated into English nearly 80 years after Boschwitz was killed when his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1942. The novel, Passengers, focuses on the panicked behavior of a Jewish businessman following Kristallnacht. [NYTimes]
🏗️ Building Growth: Associated Press correspondent Joseph Krauss explores the “Israeli settlement spree” kicked off during the Trump administration and the plans laid for an ongoing construction boom in the coming years. “While Biden has condemned settlement activity, U.S. officials have shown no appetite for such a clash as they confront more urgent problems.” [AP]
Around the Web
🇬🇧 Weighing In: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson affirmed his opposition to the ICC investigation of Israel, calling it “a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the U.K.’s.”
🛬 Welcome Back: Israel will allow entry to vaccinated foreigners arriving in organized groups beginning May 23, the first step in the country’s effort to reopen to tourism.
🇸🇩 Warming Ties: Sudan is planning to send its first official delegation to Israel next week as the two countries continue to build relations following the resumption of ties last year.
🤝 Shared Grief: Actor Richard Gere appeared virtually at a joint Israeli-Palestinian Yom Hazikaron ceremony last night hosted by Combatants for Peace.
😷 Stay Home: Severe cases of COVID in Gaza have hit record highs, with concerns mounting about increased transmission over Ramadan.
💉 So Close: Israel’s plan to purchase two million more Pfizer vaccine doses has stalled amid political deadlock, putting its goal of swift herd immunity to COVID in question.
🚛 Startup Nation: Israel’s Mobileye, now a subsidiary of Intel, is partnering with the startup Udelv to bring driverless delivery vehicles to the U.S. market by 2023.
📜 Smuggled Scroll: New Labor MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who now has parliamentary immunity, smuggled a Torah scroll to the Women of the Wall prayer group yesterday at the Western Wall, sparking outrage from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers.
👫🏻 Next Gig: Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are reportedly serving as advisors to the new America First Policy Institute comprised of Trump administration alumni.
🛑 Stepping Down: The president of the Association of Jewish Studies resigned following backlash after he met with disgraced sociologist Steven Cohen, who has been accused of repeated sexual misconduct.
👋 Retiring: Rabbi Joy Levitt will retire at the end of this year after close to 25 years as CEO of the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan.
🏡 Done Deal: Former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann sold his Bay Area estate for $22.4 million.
📚 Book Shelf: The New York Times reviews Cynthia Ozick’s new novella, Antiquities, about an elderly man’s reflections on the subtle antisemitism at his Westchester boarding school.
📱 Twitchy Tweeting: DMFI board member Sam Lauter publicly apologized for tweeting a comment he labeled “at best inappropriate & racist at worst” about the engagement of an IfNotNow cofounder and the spokesperson for Justice Democrats. DMFI applauded Lauter’s apology.
🎥 Hollywood: Israeli-born director Alma Har’el has signed a first-look TV deal with Amazon Studios.
🏈 Full House: New England Patriots President Jonathan Kraft is pushing for Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots play, to be at full capacity when the 2021 season begins this fall.
🕯️ Remembering: Isi Leibler, an Australian-Israeli activist who was active in the movement to free Soviet Jewry, died at 86.
Song of the Day
In honor of Yom Hazikaron, Israeli singer Yuval Dayan released a cover of “I’ll Wait for You,” which was first recorded in 1973.
Anne Monk turns 73… Former Securities and Exchange Commissioner and currently on the Board of Governors of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Elisse B. Walter turns 71… Israeli news editor and analyst, Chemi Shalev turns 68… Media executive and majority owner of ViacomCBS, BET and Paramount Pictures, Shari Redstone turns 67… Jose Ramon Preciado Cordova turns 67… Co-founder, co-chairman and co-CEO at Canyon Partners, LLC, Mitchell Julis turns 66… Film, television and theater producer, his credits include the widely acclaimed 2016 film La La Land, Marc Platt turns 64… Professional makeup artist and the founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown turns 64… Birmingham, Alabama-based post denominational rabbi, known on social media as “Deep South Rabbi,” Barry Altmark turns 64… Border czar in the Biden White House until the end of this month, a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta S. Jacobson turns 61…
Former manager of MLB’s Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers, he was an MLB catcher (1993-2010) and manager of Israel’s national baseball team, Brad Ausmus turns 52… Los Angeles-based freelance editor and writer, Robin Heinz Bratslavsky turns 52… VP of news-gathering for CNN’s Washington bureau, Adam Levine turns 49… Emmy Award-winning actress, producer and entrepreneur, Sarah Michelle Gellar Prinze turns 44… Author of four books and Washington correspondent for Monocle, Sasha Issenberg turns 41… Founder and CEO of Develop, LLC, Steve Glickman turns 41… Director of education at Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto, Hillel David Rapp turns 41… Founder and CEO of Charity Bids, Israel “Yummy” Schachter turns 40… Co-founder and co-CEO of BurnAlong, Daniel Freedman turns 39… Documentary filmmaker, Nicholas Ma turns 38… Washington-based technology reporter at Axios, Ashley Gold turns 32… Graphic designer, Casey Tepper turns 29… Co-founder of Young Jewish Conservatives, Yitzchok Tendler… Isaac Hasson… Jon Fine… Moriah Elbaz…