👋 Good Friday morning!
At least 45 people were killed overnight in Israel in a stampede at Mount Meron in the country’s north, where tens of thousands had gathered to celebrate Lag B’Omer.
The incident, which left more than 100 injured, is one of the deadliest civilian disasters in Israel’s history. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Sunday to be a national day of mourning for the victims.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced yesterday the official delay of the upcoming national elections, blaming Israeli uncertainty over allowing voting in east Jerusalem.
But many officials speculated that Abbas was motivated in part by concerns that his Fatah party would lose ground to splinter groups as well as to Hamas.
Secretary of State Tony Blinkenmet with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in Washington yesterday to discuss Israeli concerns about Iranian nuclear activities.
State Department spokesman Ned Pricetold reporters yesterday that talks in Vienna are making progress, but that the sides “are not on the cusp of any breakthrough.”
The governors of Idaho and West Virginia both signed anti-BDS bills into law this week, bringing the number of states with anti-BDS legislation to 33.
The Senate confirmed Victoria Nuland as under secretary of state for political affairs by unanimous consent yesterday, bypassing a recorded vote on her nomination.
Nineteen Republican senators wrote a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to investigate former Secretary of State John Kerry for allegedly leaking information about Israeli strikes in Syria to Iran, which Kerry vehemently denies.
The Anti-Defamation League is holding its annual National Leadership Summit this weekend, with speakers including Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Biden’s first 100 days according to the Saban Forum crowd
Up until 2018, Beltway insiders might expect high-level conversations on foreign policy and the Middle East to take place at the Saban Forum, a long-running invite-only conference bringing together policy experts, high-ranking officials and lawmakers from the U.S. and Israel. Since the Saban Forum won’t gather its distinct selection of Middle East experts this year, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch polled the Saban Forum crowd with a simple question at the 100-day point of the new administration: When it comes to foreign policy and the Middle East, how is President Joe Biden doing?
Not personal: The Biden administration has approached the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with less zeal than its two most recent predecessors, which were both quick to stake their ground on the issue and attempt to reach a solution. “The truth is that, at least so far, I don’t think we’re seeing the same kind of clashes that we saw in the Obama-Netanyahu relationship,” said Israel Policy Forum board chair Susie Gelman. “It’s unquestionable, [Biden’s] commitment to the relationship between the United States and Israel. He’s made it very clear that that is something he intends to maintain, and hopefully strengthen.”
Stark contrast: “President Biden’s responsible leadership, strategic policymaking and fundamental civility have been on full display these past 100 days, in stark contrast to the turbulent and chaotic Trump years,” Haim Saban told JI. “In terms of the U.S.-Israel relationship, I remain pleased that President Biden and his administration have emphasized time and again their unyielding support for Israel’s safety and security, directly engaged with the Israelis on core issues of national importance, and rebuffed fringe calls to condition U.S. aid to Israel.”
Next 100 days: The White House has made clear that it views returning to the 2015 Iran deal, which was a campaign talking point for Biden, as a priority. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, told JI that Biden “gets good marks from J Street for articulating good intentions regarding their policy direction during the first hundred days.” The real test, Ben-Ami said, “is likely to come in the second hundred days. Will those good intentions be translated into an actual agreement that enables both the U.S. and Iran to return to full compliance with the JCPOA, and which paves the way for subsequent diplomacy?”
Not convincing: Dani Dayan, Israel’s former consul-general in New York, said he worries Biden is looking to get back into deal too quickly. Still, Dayan does not expect Israel to mount as much of a public opposition as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in 2015, when he angered Democrats by speaking to Congress at the invitation of then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who had not informed then-President Obama of the invitation. “Unfortunately it seems that President Biden has decided to return to the JCPOA ‘as is.’ If he believes he will be able to extend, later, the scope of the agreement — I doubt this is a strategy [that] will succeed,” Dayan argued. “However, I assume this time Israel will be less confrontational in its attitude towards the administration. I don’t foresee Netanyahu speaking in Congress… Also, the political chaos in Israel itself makes it more difficult for Israel to launch a strong diplomatic initiative.”
Saban status: The off-the-record Saban Forum was hosted annually at the ritzy Willard InterContinental, a hotel across the street from the White House, until 2017. Speculation abounded that the conference was canceled due to the election of former President Donald Trump. “This is a common misperception. It really is not the case,” said Natan Sachs, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, which organized the forum with backing from media mogul and Democratic megadonor Haim Saban. Sachs explained that Brookings, in conjunction with Saban, made the decision to pause the conference “while on a high note” because, he argued, “institutions never know when to quit.” He noted that the decision was not to cancel the conference altogether, but rather to put it on pause — and while there are no current plans to resume the annual event, it could come back in the future.
lone star race
Buoyed by Trump endorsement, Susan Wright expected to glide into Texas congressional runoff
On Saturday, voters in Texas’s 6th congressional district in the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area will narrow down the field of nearly two dozen candidates vying to replace Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX), who died of COVID-19 in early February. With such a large field in the special election, a final resolution to the race is not likely to happen on Saturday, and a runoff between the top two finishers is all but assured, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Trump intervention: On Monday, former President Donald Trump shook up the race with a last-minute endorsement of Susan Wright, a local GOP operative and the widow of the late congressman, dealing a blow to former Health and Human Services Chief of Staff Brian Harrison. Trump ramped up his involvement later in the week with a virtual town hall for Wright’s campaign on Thursday. It’s unclear, however, how much of an impact this last-minute push for Wright will actually have on the race, due in part to the large number of people who cast their ballots before early voting ended on Tuesday. The early votes are expected to constitute a majority of the total vote in the election — potentially up to 75% of the overall ballots, according to Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University.
Backing the winning horse: Although several GOP candidates in the race were actively vying for Trump’s attention and support, local analysts say the former president’s endorsement is likely more reflective of the fact that Wright is seen as a serious contender rather than of political dynamics within the race or the Republican Party. “Trump is very concerned that his batting average be as high as possible,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU. “Trump would not be reluctant to endorse the person he already thought was going to win. So it wouldn’t be the endorsement that put Susan Wright over the top. It would be Trump’s recognition that she was likely to be the Republican nominee and you pick up an easy win.”
State of play: Polling in the race has been mostly consistent, showing Wright and Democratic organizer and former journalist Jana Lynne Sanchez several percentage points ahead of the rest of the pack. But with so many candidates and relatively low margins, local experts remain somewhat divided over how Saturday’s results will pan out. Jones envisions three potential runoff opponents for Wright — Sanchez, Republican State Rep. Jake Ellzey and Democratic nonprofit leader and educator Shawn Lassiter. In any scenario, Wright is likely to emerge victorious following the runoff.
Meet the CoronaCrush couples who got engaged in quarantine
Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, a group of friends in New York and Israel were hanging out on Zoom, discussing the daunting prospect of dating in lockdown. The product of their conversation was CoronaCrush, a private Facebook group for Jewish singles looking to couple up in quarantine. Within a week or so, CoronaCrush had attracted some 2,600 members from around the globe, a digital repository of hopeful personal ads posted in an uncertain time. There are now some 20,000 users — and seven couples who first met on CoronaCrush have since gotten engaged. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke with three engaged couples about how they found love in an age of isolation.
Auspicious park date: Daniella Cohen, a 27-year-old grant writer in Jerusalem, wasn’t getting her hopes up about finding a partner when she began scrolling through CoronaCrush while confined to her apartment last year. Then she happened upon Betzalel Silver, a 34-year-old software developer living about an hour’s drive away. After messaging on Facebook, they agreed to meet in a Jerusalem park in May. The scene, in retrospect, was almost too auspicious. “There were like three other proposals happening there and a renewing of vows under this chuppa,” Cohen recalled. They got engaged in February. “I wanted to keep it as much a secret as I could,” said Silver, who proposed at a winetasting and wrote a song for the occasion. “I’m going to sing it also at the wedding in two months.”
Crossing the border: Sivan Bokobza, a 26-year-old phlebotomist in Cedarhurst, N.Y., was nervous about whether she would connect with Toronto-based e-commerce professional Lior Ohayon, 28, when he flew out to meet her last July. Her fears were unfounded. “We connected instantly,” said Ohayon. “The first time we met I pretty much just asked her to be my girlfriend.” Things progressed quickly from there. Ohayon proposed last month at a romantic lookout in Tulum, Mexico, and they plan to wed in August. “I could have never predicted,” Bokobza marveled, “that I would meet a stranger on Facebook during a pandemic in a group made to bring strangers together during a pandemic.”
Tennessee for two: Drew Feldman, 30, and Danielle Lavey, 28, had been talking via Zoom for about a month after connecting on CoronaCrush when they decided to meet in person. Feldman, a filmmaker in Dallas, flew to Lavey’s home in Knoxville, Tenn., got a COVID test and decided he had made the right decision in risking his health to meet the woman he now knew he would marry. After a few trips back and forth, he stayed put: “I moved here to date Danielle more seriously and then stuck around.” He asked Lavey to marry him at a surprise backyard movie screening where he aired a short film about their relationship. The wedding is next week. “We’re having an Orthodox wedding with a bluegrass band that’s from Dolly Parton’s hometown,” said Lavey. “We’re probably going to be the first to do that.”
💸 Twisted Ties: Haaretz reporter Gidi Weitz explores how troubled Australian billionaire James Packer became enamored with Israel and a close confidant and benefactor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and now a key figure in his corruption trial. “Two weeks after [Shimon Peres’s] funeral [in 2016], Packer left Israel — and to this day has not been back. Since then the plot has only gotten more twisted.” [Haaretz]
🙏 Keep the Faith: In The Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Ari Lamm expressed optimism about the state of religion in America despite declining in-person worship attendance. “Religion is ripe for disruption, to borrow a term from Silicon Valley: Plenty of Americans still love the product — just not its current platform.” [WSJ]
💰 Hedging Bets: Bloomberg reporters Sabrina Willmer, Heather Perlberg and Sridhar Natarajan delve deep behind the scenes at Apollo Global Management, where co-founder Josh Harris has been sidelined after Marc Rowan took the reins following Leon Black’s exit. “Insiders privately predict Harris will formally take a more limited role, or even leave, in the coming year or so.” [Bloomberg]
Around the Web
✈️ Warning: Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen warned that IDF war planes can reach Iran, and Israel would not hesitate to use them to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms.
🤝 Meeting of the Minds: Interim U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Israel Jonathan Shrier met with Yesh Atid head and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv yesterday.
💼 Rumor Mill: Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, who served as an advisor to former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, reportedly turned down a job offer with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign.
🥋 Sidelined: The International Judo Association suspended Iran for four years due to its refusal to let Iranian athletes compete against Israelis.
🧑🏫 Never Again: New York state lawmakers are pushing to establish a minimum standard Holocaust curriculum in public schools amid a rash of antisemitic incidents.
🎓 Campus Beat: Linfield University fired a Jewish professor who accused the university’s president and members of the board of making antisemitic comments.
💾 Building Up: Intel is expanding its operations in Israel and building a new $200 million campus amid plans to hire an additional 1,000 employees.
Now Launching: Former White House official Elliott Abrams announced the launch of the Vandenberg Coalition, a group of nearly 80 Republican national security scholars working together to preserve American global leadership.
🤳 J’Accuse: Actress and author Noa Tishby accused Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) of “slandering the Jewish state” with her tweets about Israeli police activity.
⚾ Off the Field: As he finalized a deal to buy the team, Steve Cohen met privately for individual dinners at his Connecticut home with Mets players.
🕯️ Remembering: Ann Douglas, the widow of the late actor Kirk Douglas, died at 102.
Song of the Day
Israeli band Hatikvah 6 released a new song, titled “The Warrior Anthem,” inspired by and adapted from a dozen informal battle songs from different IDF combat units.
FRIDAY: Rabbi, scholar and professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University, Saul J. Berman turns 82… Founder and CEO of Kansas City-based American Public Square, former US Ambassador to Portugal (2010-2013), Allan J. Katz turns 74… Brooklyn-based clinical social worker, Marsha S. Rimler turns 74… Psychologist, author of several children’s books and self-help books, and president of the Saban Family Foundation, Cheryl Saban turns 70… Israeli Supreme Court justice, previously Attorney General of Israel, Menachem “Meni” Mazuz turns 66… Partner in the communications and ad agency GMMB, former Obama campaign advisor, Jim Margolis turns 66… London-based international real estate investor and developer, Zak Gertler turns 65… Cartoonist and illustrator, Barry Blitt turns 63… Former commissioner at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai R. Feldblum turns 62… Professor of sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Eva Illouz turns 60… Founding VP of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and diplomatic columnist, David M. Weinberg turns 59… New York City Councilman and candidate for borough president of Manhattan, Mark D. Levine turns 52… Senior director for U.S. Jewish grant-making at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, David Rittberg turns 41… Head of federal and international affairs at Airbnb, Eric Feldman turns 41… National security advisor for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Omri Ceren turns 41… Actress who plays Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot turns 36… Director of communications at The New York Times, Ari Isaacman Bevacqua turns 36… Founder of Lubin Strategies, Nate Lubin turns 34… Communications director for Senator Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Rachel S. Cohen turns 34… Associate in the D.C office of Eversheds Sutherland, Daniel E. Wolman turns 31… Elementary school teacher at Broward County Public Schools, Jenna Luks turns 28… Assistant editor at The Wall Street Journal, Rachel B. Wolfe turns 25… Senior manager for NextGen at the World Jewish Congress, Yoni Hammerman turns 25… Operation lead at Israel’s Lightricks, Idan Megidish… Noam Aricha…
SATURDAY: Former national director of the Anti-Defamation League and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Abraham Henry Foxman turns 81… Progressive political activist, Larry Bensky turns 84… Assistant professor of Bible and Jewish Philosophy at Yeshiva University and editor emeritus of Tradition, Rabbi Shalom Carmy turns 72… Deborah Chin turns 72… Boston area actor, David Alan Ross turns 72… Of counsel at DC-based Sandler Reiff and the executive director of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, Jeffrey M. Wice turns 69… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-CO-7), Ed Perlmutter turns 68… Founder and CEO of Conduit / Como, Israel’s first billion-dollar internet company, Ronen Shilo turns 63… Real estate entrepreneur, co-founder of the Israeli American Leadership Council (IAC), Eli Tene turns 58… VP of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, Rina F. Chessin turns 57… Professor of computer science at MIT, David R. Karger turns 54… Israeli judoka, she was the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal when she won Silver at Barcelona in 1992, and head of the merchandise division of Viacom Israel, Yael Arad turns 54… Member of the Washington State Senate where he currently serves as the Senate Majority Leader, he is a co-owner of minor league baseball’s Spokane Indians, Andy Billig turns 53… Associate in the Newark office of Eckert Seamans, Laura E. Fein… Director of responsible innovation at Facebook, Zvika Krieger turns 38… DC-based political reporter, Ben C. Jacobs 37… Video journalist at the Washington Post, Jonathan Gerberg turns 35… Presidential management fellow at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Global Public Affairs, Omri Rahmil turns 29… Associate editor at Jewish Insider, Sam Zieve Cohen…
SUNDAY: Former Lord Chief Justice and President of the Courts of England and Wales, Baron Harry Kenneth Woolf turns 88… Professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir turns 84… President of four radio stations in the Pacific Northwest, Alan Merril Gottlieb turns 74… Former member of the Texas Senate, Florence Shapiro turns 73… Former USAID contractor imprisoned by Cuba from 2009 to 2014, Alan Phillip Gross turns 72… Philanthropist and co-founder of private equity firm NCH Capital, George Rohr turns 67… Analyst at MSNBC, Rick Stengel turns 66… Member of the New York State Assembly and candidate for NYC Comptroller, David Weprin turns 65… Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, chairman of the private investment firm PSP Capital Partners, Penny Sue Pritzker turns 62… Partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Jodi J. Schwartz turns 61… General in the IDF, he served as the Commander of the Israeli Navy (2011-2016), Ram Rothberg turns 57… Director of the Chabad Center in Bratislava, Slovakia, Rabbi Baruch Myers turns 57… Founder and CEO of Shutterstock, Jonathan E. Oringer turns 47… Deputy chief of staff to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Stephen Schatz turns 41… DC-based CBS News correspondent, Julianna Goldman turns 40… Founder and president of ETS Advisory, Emily Tisch Sussman turns 39… J.D. candidate at Cardozo School of Law, Gabe Cahn turns 31… Director of development at Cornell Hillel, Susanna K. Cohen turns 31…