👋 Good Friday morning!
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Mossad head Yossi Cohen and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat will depart for Washington early next week to hold high-level talks with U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, with Iran atop the agenda.
The Senate passed an anti-hate crimes package 94-1 yesterday, which included the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which was backed by a wide range of Jewish groups and aims to improve federal hate crimes data collection. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was the sole vote against the bills.
In a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken, 21 Senate Republicans called for halting aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) until the organization enacts a range of reforms.
The senators cite concerns including “an inflated and duplicative structure,” ties to Hamas-affiliated individuals, UNRWA textbooks containing pro-violence and anti-Israel material and an overly-expansive definition of the Palestinian refugee status.
House Republicans will gather in Orlando this weekend for their policy retreat. Although he lives in Florida, former President Donald Trump — who is feuding with Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), the retreat’s organizer — is not expected to appear.
The meeting comes as party leadership continues to grapple with how to handle its most right-wing members and on the heels of additional revelations about the February meeting where Cheney fought to keep her leadership post.
The White House is reviewing Western Sahara recognition. Here is what’s at stake
Several months after Israel and Morocco resumed diplomatic ties, normalization hangs in the balance as the White House reviews a key component of the U.S.-brokered deal. Morocco agreed to the deal on the condition that the U.S. recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony claimed by both Morocco and the indigenous Sahrawi people. The question of whether the Biden administration will continue that policy has major foreign policy implications — for both Israel and the U.S., Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
View from Jerusalem: Morocco has only partially resumed ties with Israel, due to the possibility that Biden might decide to alter the decision his predecessor made when Trump already had one foot out the door. “They realized that if they don’t get it now, they’ll miss the train,” Dan Arbell, a scholar-in-residence at American University and a former Israeli diplomat, told JI, noting that Morocco’s government recognized it had a unique opportunity for movement on Western Sahara in the waning days of the Trump administration. “They opted for it fully understanding that it may not last. They’re taking a risk here that Biden may not want to play along or may walk it back,” Arbell said. “They’re not going all the way with Israel yet. They’re playing a waiting game right now.”
Bipartisan bickering: In Washington, the issue is far from settled. While Morocco has a sizable number of supporters in Congress — a congressional caucus on Morocco was formed in 2011 to signal support for the “vital strategic friend” in the early days of the Arab Spring — a bipartisan group of 27 senators, led by Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), has been vocally opposed to unilateral recognition of Moroccan sovereignty. In a February letter, the senators wrote that they “urge [Biden] to reverse this misguided decision and recommit the United States to the pursuit of a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.” The senators hope to meet with the administration soon in an attempt to clarify Biden’s stance on the issue, a congressional staffer told JI.
International implications: “I think the way that the decision was made is what folks find very objectionable… [it] comes up against the current administration’s pretty strong belief and support for international institutions,” said Sarah Feuer, the Rosenbloom family fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Geduld Program on Arab Politics. “They don’t want to convey that if people go around just annexing territory, then eventually it can gain U.S. recognition.” Such a precedent could have implications for conflicts involving American adversaries, like Russia’s annexation of Crimea, or even for American allies, such as Israel’s quest to annex parts of the West Bank.
No word from the White House: The White House has not commented directly on Morocco or Western Sahara. When asked about the territory at a January press conference, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said the administration would review commitments made by Trump. He also affirmed Biden’s support for the normalization agreements. Meanwhile, the Biden administration’s recent decision to proceed with arms sales to the United Arab Emirates — a key tenet of the UAE’s normalization deal with Israel — over objections from some congressional Democrats, suggests that the administration might be willing to stick with its predecessor’s policy on Morocco.
Left-wing groups pour money into Louisiana special electionr
Two longtime Louisiana Democrats — State Sens. Troy Carter and Karen Carter Peterson — will face off tomorrow in a special election runoff to fill the congressional seat for Louisiana’s deep blue second district. Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod explores how the two Democrats have staked out positions reflecting what’s become a familiar battle in the Democratic Party: Carter fills the mainstream/establishment lane and Carter Peterson has claimed the progressive lane.
Endorsements all around: The race has been shaped in part by the endorsements and outside support each candidate has received. Carter is endorsed by former Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who vacated the seat to join the White House, Democratic Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), in addition to a score of local officials and unions. Carter Peterson has been endorsed by Stacey Abrams, EMILY’s List, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Peace Action and several other outside groups. Late-breaking endorsements have also arrived in the past week from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). EMILY’s List and the League of Conservation Voters have poured money into ads boosting Carter Peterson — EMILY’s List had spent $600,000 as of March and the LCV spent $400,000.
Down to the wire: “This is a classic race of D.C. versus the locals,” Dane Strother, a Democratic political strategist who has worked closely with officials in Louisiana, told Jewish Insider, referring to the apparent dichotomy between the high spending from outside groups on Carter Peterson’s behalf and Carter’s endorsements from local officials. Ahead of Saturday’s election, experts generally agree that it’s anyone’s race and, without any public polling, it’s difficult to pinpoint a clear frontrunner. “My guess is it’s dead even,” said Strother. The fact that neither candidate has released any internal polling indicates that both campaigns believe the race is neck-and-neck, added Brian Brox, a professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans.
All about turnout: The election, local observers said, is likely to come down to the most committed activists and which candidate has best been able to mobilize them. Strother predicted that turnout will be 10% or less of eligible voters.And despite the energy that progressive groups have dedicated to this race, local observers have raised questions about how much of an impact they’ll be able to have. “I’m not sure that any of these voters are looking to either the Biden administration or to other progressive groups to take their cue,” said Brox. “I think that this is very much inward-looking.”
red carpet ready
Assessing the Oscars with awards season guru Sharon Waxman
At the last Academy Awards, there were a couple of notable headlines, including that Netflix, whose push for recognition resulted in 24 Oscar nods, picked up only two awards. The headline this year, however, is that the Oscars are happening at all. The ceremony, delayed by two months because of the pandemic, is finally taking place on Sunday as the movie industry rebounds after a year of shuttered venues and postponed releases. But while theaters have been hit hard, the past year hasn’t been all doom and gloom, Sharon Waxman, awards season guru and founder and CEO of The Wrap, which covers the business of entertainment, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview.
‘A year of opportunity’: “You can’t just say it’s been a year of devastation for the entertainment industry,” said Waxman. “It’s also been a year of opportunity.” Waxman, who has covered Hollywood for The New York Times and The Washington Post, isn’t an industry cheerleader. Her prescient reporting has exposed much of the puffery associated with awards season, including an early investigation of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, responsible for Golden Globes nominations, as an overhyped group consisting mostly of amateur, part-time journalists with little film expertise. “I was very early in calling out the Golden Globes,” Waxman told JI, “and I was very much alone.”
Industry headwinds: But Waxman, who is 58 and lives in Los Angeles, believes the slate of nominations at this year’s Oscars — dominated by streaming services like Netflix and Amazon as well as newcomers such as Apple TV+ and Disney+ — reflect broader industry trends that likely won’t be reversed after the pandemic. “We’re not going back to before-times,” she said. “All of these streaming services have launched. That’s now become a big part of the conversation.”
Jewish roots: Waxman, who is Jewish, grew up modern Orthodox in Cleveland and now identifies as Conservative. “Certainly, Jewish values inform my life,” she said. “I think there’s a close connection between Jewish values of what I would identify as, say, critical thinking and valuing just humanism overall — issues of social justice, issues of fairness, issues of equity and inequity. I think all of those humanist values, to me, are rooted in the Jewish tradition that I grew up in.”
Industry watchdog: Waxman has relied on those values as she covers diversification and gender balance in the industry. While the Oscars have been singled out in recent years for a lack of diversity among nominees, Waxman argues that the Academy has sought to rectify that issue by increasing membership. “Is it going to last?” she mused. “I sure hope it will.” Still, Waxman was confident that the Oscars would, at least, avoid a scandal like that of the Globes, which was recently revealed to have no Black members. “There’s not some dirty little secret,” she said. “I would have written it had there been.”
on the hill
Iran avoiding direct conflict with U.S., top general says
Iran is attempting to avoid direct state-on-state conflict with the U.S. pending the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing yesterday, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Deniability: “They are prepared to [conduct attacks], which they believe they can disavow by their actors, their proxies acting on the ground, to conduct low-level attacks against us,” McKenzie elaborated. “Over the last year in 2020, the Iranians believed they had a political solution to eject us from Iraq. That no longer appears to be a viable way ahead for them. So we’re seeing a return to a more kinetic approach.”
Whoops: McKenzie also affirmed the Israeli military’s assessment that a Syrian missile attack on Israel on Wednesday was likely unintentional, and is not a sign of a broader Syrian campaign of direct attacks on Israel. “I think it reflects incompetence in Syrian air defense,” McKenzie suggested. “I do not believe it was an intentional attack, but just rather a lack of capability on the part of the Syrian air defenders.”
🆓 Fighting for Freedom: In The Washington Post, the daughters of Iranian-American Emad Shargi, who has been imprisoned in Iran for three years, call on the Biden administration to prioritize prisoner releases during its negotiations with Tehran. “Nobody has been able to see him in nearly five months. He is trapped in terrible conditions during a deadly pandemic and is being refused a vaccine. We have no way of knowing how he is, except for a couple of short, monitored phone calls.” [WashPost]
😀 Path to Joy: Atlantic columnist Arthur Brooks suggests that readers should actively work toward building a happier life. “If you make an effort to understand human happiness, formulate a plan to apply what you learn to your life, execute on it, and share what you learn with others, happiness will almost surely follow.” [Atlantic]
💉 VacciNation: NPR’s Daniel Estrin explores how Israel’s Health Ministry worked within the community to counter vaccine skepticism and misinformation in the country’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. Many, however, were convinced only after the death of Osnat Ben Sheetrit, a 31-year-old haredi mother of four who died of COVID while pregnant. [NPR]
Around the Web
🙏 Seeking Justice: The sister of Sarah Halimi, the Jewish woman murdered in Paris whose killer will not face trial in France, is appealing to Israel to hold a trial instead.
⚖️ Facing Trial: Israeli Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman is expected to be indicted on charges of illegally aiding alleged sexual abuser Malka Leifer, who has since been extradited to Australia.
🤝 Back to the Table: Lebanon is reportedly seeking to play down tensions and return to suspended talks with Israel over the countries’ disputed maritime border.
🔋 Forging Ties: U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm spoke with Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz yesterday about renewable energy, cybersecurity and other areas of cooperation.
🛫 Bon Voyage: The governments of Israel and Bahrain have signed a vaccine passport agreement, allowing COVID-free travel between the countries.
🌴 Opening Up: Israel is racing to ready itself for a full reopening of tourism by the summer with multiple airlines adding flights, despite growing concerns about COVID variants.
🔬 Under the Lens: Artificial intelligence tests conducted on parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that at least two different scribes worked on the text known as “the Great Isaiah Scroll.”
🏖️ Beach Boy: Reuters spotlighted 26-year-old Tel Avivian Julian Melcer, who has devoted himself to picking up cigarette butts on Israel’s beaches and selling ashtrays.
🇨🇦 Oldest Hatred: A new report revealed that Jews remained the number one target for hate crimes in Toronto last year.
🎙️ Podcast Playback: A new podcast will explore the relationship between President Ronald Reagan, Hollywood executive Lew Wasserman and attorney Sidney Korshak.
📝 In Court: New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch pleaded guilty to federal charges of tax fraud after admitting he claimed $82,000 in personal expenses as business expenses.
👍 Race to Gracie: NYC mayoral candidate Scott Stringer was endorsed by Ruth Messinger, the former Manhattan borough president and former president of American Jewish World Service.
🎒 Hit the Books: Legislation mandating Holocaust education unanimously passed Wisconsin’s state assembly, a month after being passed by the state Senate.
🎥 Cameo: Actor Richard Lewis, who is battling health problems, made a surprise appearance on the set of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” yesterday to film one episode.
Song of the Day
Israeli singer Omer Adam released a new single, “Partzufim” (Faces) yesterday.
FRIDAY: Actor and still appearing in new films, Alan Oppenheimer turns 91… Los Angeles resident, Marim Weissman turns 82… Owner of Council Bluffs, Iowa-based Ganeeden Metals, Harold Edelman turns 82… Oberlin, Ohio resident, Patricia Ann Haumann turns 77… Retired real estate brokerage executive, Terry Pullan turns 71… Retail industry analyst and portfolio manager at Berman Capital, Steve Kernkraut turns 71… Chair emeritus of Israel Policy Forum and chairman of Trenton Biogas, Peter A. Joseph turns 69… Health services researcher focused on smoking cessation programs for women, maternal health and child health, Judith Katzburg, PhD, MPH, RN, turns 68… Deputy director of NCSEJ, Lesley L. Weiss turns 67… Principal of Philadelphia-based Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, Larry Ceisler turns 65… Chairman of edutech firm Weird Science Lab based at the University of Oxford, Gary Pickholz turns 63… Palm Desert, Calif., resident, Janni Jaffe turns 63… Uruguayan-born author of a book on the history of antisemitism and co-founder of Gryphon Software, Gabriel Wilensky turns 57… CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and author of Red Notice, Bill Browder turns 57…
DC-based executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center, Nathan J. Diament turns 54… Heiress and businesswoman who is the style and image director for the Estée Lauder Companies, Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer turns 51… Director General of Aish HaTorah, Rabbi Steven Burg turns 49… President and CEO at Americans For Peace Now, Hadar Susskind turns 48… Jewelry designer, Jennifer “Jen” Meyer turns 44… Senior program officer at Maimonides Fund, Ariella Saperstein turns 38… Founder and CEO at 90 West, a Boston-based strategic communications firm, Alexander Goldstein turns 37… Co-founder of Edgeline Films, he co-directed and co-produced “Weiner,” Joshua Kriegman turns 41… Communications director at the Republican Jewish Coalition, Neil Boylan Strauss turns 36… Branded content editor at Axios, Alexis Kleinman turns 31… Former University of Michigan quarterback, now a fund manager in NYC, Alex Swieca turns 29… CEO at Khan Theatre in Jerusalem, Elisheva Mazya… Israeli artist, Matan Ben Cnaan… Executive director of Alums for Campus Fairness, Avi Gordon… Head of strategy for the Jerusalem Post group, Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman…
SATURDAY: Film director, Richard Donner turns 91… Rabbi emeritus at Washington’s Adas Israel Congregation and former president of the Rabbinic Assembly, Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg turns 80… Yeshiva of Brooklyn student who went on to become an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and Peabody Award-winning singer and actress, Barbra Streisand turns 79… Delray Beach, Fla., resident, Phyllis Dupret turns 78… Former board chairman of financial publisher TheStreet, Lawrence S. Kramer turns 71… Israeli designer, architect and artist, Ron Arad turns 70… President of Cincinnati-based Standard Textile since 1986, Gary Heiman turns 70… Former president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards of the NBA, himself an NBA player, Ernest “Ernie” Grunfeld turns 66… Senior correspondent and deputy news editor at Foreign Policy, Michael Hirsh turns 64… President of Kirtzman Strategies in NYC and author, Andrew Kirtzman turns 60… CEO of Wells Fargo, Charles Scharf turns 56… Financial advisor for Bernstein Private Wealth Management where he is Carl S. Schwartz, and leader of Baltimore’s Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh where he is Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, turns 51… Senior legislative aide in the Office of the Council President of the Montgomery County Council, Laurie Mintzer Edberg turns 51… Emmy Award-winning television writer and producer, Damon Lindelof turns 48… National outreach director at AIPAC, Mark H. Waldman turns 47… Brandon Hersh turns 38… Partner at Apollo Global Management, Reed Rayman turns 35… Investigative reporter at The Forward, Molly Boigon turns 27… Elaine Berke…
SUNDAY: Myron “Mike” Sponder turns 91… American-British academic, social worker and health spokesman of the Green Party of the U.K., he is the older brother of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Larry Sanders turns 86… Chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors, Leon G. “Lee” Cooperman turns 78… Rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University since 1973 and rabbi of the Young Israel of Riverdale Synagogue since 1974, Rabbi Mordechai Willig turns 74… David Handleman turns 72… Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, he was previously president of Bed, Bath and Beyond, Arthur Stark turns 66… Administrative law judge at the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, Beth A. Fox turns 61… Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Adam Silver turns 59… Senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, Michael Scott Doran turns 59… Litigator at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, he served as U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, Andrew H. Schapiro turns 58… Actor who voices many roles on the “The Simpsons,” and is descended from a Sephardic family rooted in Thessaloniki, Hank Azaria turns 57…
Editor of Shalom New Haven, Jeannette C. Brodeur turns 54… CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester (NY), Meredith Dragon turns 50… Senior policy advisor to the mayor of Salt Lake City, David E. Litvack turns 49… Democratic party strategist, Julie Roginsky turns 48… Senior-editor-at-large for Breitbart News, Joel Pollak turns 44… Attorney-turned-grocer, she is the founder of Glen’s Garden Market, carved out of the old “Secret” Safeway north of Dupont Circle, Danielle Brody Rosengarten Vogel turns 42… Senior director of community engagement at NYC-based Integrity First for America, Adina Mermelstein Konikoff turns 38… Executive director of social media at Grey Group, Kenneth R. Gold turns 35… Former senior communications advisor for NYC’s First Lady Chirlane McCray, Jaclyn Rothenberg turns 33… Actress, model and singer, Sara Paxton turns 33… Senior political reporter in Manhattan for the news and media website Mic, Emily Cahn Singer turns 32… TikTok Star with 4.6 million social media followers, he runs the culinary website CookWithChefEitan, Eitan Bernath turns 19…