👋 Good Wednesday morning!
President Joe Biden spoke with United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed yesterday. The White House said Biden “underlined the strategic importance of the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel,” noting his “full support for strengthening and expanding these arrangements.”
Jared Kushner is launching an organization called the “Abraham Accords Institute of Peace,” aimed at deepening ties between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, together with Avi Berkowitz, Haim Saban, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, Bahrani Ambassador Abdulla Al-Khalifa, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Rob Greenway, formerly a top Middle East advisor to President Donald Trump, will serve as executive director.
Biden is reportedly considering nominating Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India. Garcetti, a co-chair of Biden’s inauguration committee, withdrew his name from consideration for a cabinet post in December.
Attorney General Merrick Garland defended a requested budget increase for the Department of Justice in testimony to the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, noting: “We have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism… We have an emerging and accelerating threat.”
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and the U.N. Gilad Erdan met with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield yesterday to discuss a range of issues, including reform at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) visited an UNRWA training center in Jordan yesterday, tweeting that: “[former President Donald Trump] was wrong to pull funding from programs like this that provide economic relief to Palestinians. The program I visited had nothing to do with politics.” Murphy is not expected to visit Israel during his trip to the region.
Reps. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Steve Chabot (R-OH) wrote to Secretary of State Tony Blinken to express concerns about the upcoming expiration of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s stopgap inspection agreement with Iran.
The Jewish Institute for Liberal Values is out with a letter this morning opposing critical social justice signed by more than 50 individuals from across the Jewish community. The letter, which its writers call the “Jewish Harper’s Letter,” follows the lead of a letter published in Harper’s Magazine over the summer.
Lapid angles for a shot after Netanyahu fails to form coalition
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition before the midnight deadline last night and returned the mandate to President Reuven Rivlin. The president is holding consultations this morning with party leaders before making a new recommendation, though he is expected to task Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid with the next shot. Jewish Insider‘s Amy Spiro has all the latest details.
Blame game: In a statement announcing that he was returning the mandate — without requesting an extension — Netanyahu’s Likud Party blamed Yamina leader Naftali Bennett for his failure to build a coalition: “Due to Bennett’s refusal to commit to a right-wing government… Netanyahu has returned the mandate to the president.” Earlier this week, Netanyahu publicly offered Bennett to go first in a rotation deal for prime minister, but Bennett rejected the proposition as political spin.
Next up: Rivlin now has up to three days to decide who should next receive the mandate and attempt to build a minimum 61-seat coalition. The president began holding meetings Wednesday morning with some party leaders to gather recommendations for the next candidate. Lapid, whose Yesh Atid Party is the second-largest in the new Knesset, met with Rivlin and requested he be handed the mandate next. Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party — which recommended no candidate the first time around — told Rivlin it was backing Lapid, as did Blue and White, Labor, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz, giving Lapid 51 recommendations. In his meeting with the president, Bennett reiterated his request to receive the mandate himself to form the next government. Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and the National Religious Party recommended that Rivlin hand the mandate straight to the Knesset.
Bumpy road: If Lapid is given the next shot, he will face an uphill battle to unite the many disparate anti-Netanyahu factions in order to form a government. If he is unable to do so, Israel is expected to hold yet another national election sometime this fall. Yamina MK Amichai Chikli informed Bennett this morning that he opposes joining in a government with Lapid, dealing a blow to the possibility such a coalition could be formed. Likud insiders are expected to lobby other Yamina MKs to also oppose joining such a coalition. Meanwhile, Bennett and Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas — who would likely both be needed to form a government without Netanyahu — have met multiple times over the past week to discuss potential cooperation.
mile square mayor
Hoboken’s first Sikh mayor is on the front lines of fighting antisemitism
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s turban makes him easily identifiable as Sikh — and designates him as a target for religious discrimination. “There were flyers a few days before I was elected that said, ‘Don’t let terrorists take over this town,’ trying to equate my appearance with terrorism,” Bhalla told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in a recent interview. “I always teach my children to have pride in who they are, including their outward appearance. To equate our religious faith with that word was so offensive.” Bhalla, a Democrat and the first Sikh to hold elected office in New Jersey, has made fighting discrimination a priority, and has cultivated close ties with the city’s Jewish community.
Crisis management: Bhalla has gotten to know the local Jewish community, meeting with members to celebrate holidays like Hanukkah and to confront the challenge of antisemitism, including following the 2019 shooting at a Jersey City kosher supermarket. “Such public statements and appearances at times of crisis are of course only one tiny part of the role of a mayor, but such gestures are deeply appreciated and help to set the tone for the city as a whole,” said Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, the rabbi of the United Synagogue of Hoboken, who noted that he is grateful for Bhalla’s “very warm and understanding relationship with our Jewish community.”
Religious liberty: Early in his career as an attorney, Bhalla, 47, won a very personal — and very public — victory for religious liberty: When visiting an incarcerated client, prison guards demanded that he remove his turban for a search, even though he had not set off the metal detector. He then brought a lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons for violating his civil rights. Soon after, the Bureau changed its policy: Religious garments would not be included in guards’ routine searches of personal objects unless the person wearing them set off the metal detector. “To a Sikh, removing his turban in public is the same as a strip-search and as intrusive as asking a woman to remove her blouse,” Bhalla told The New York Times in 2003. The court ruling also clarified that yarmulkes and prayer shawls would not be subject to heightened security procedures.
Sabra strength: As a law student at Tulane University, Bhalla studied abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was drawn to Israel as a religious person — but one whose religion was not one of the three monotheistic faiths represented in Jerusalem. “When you look at the Second Temple, the Western Wall, that area has the convergence of three major world faiths that have historical significance. That one area for me was very interesting, especially not being from any of those three faiths,” Bhalla observed. The experience left a strong impression on him. “Israel is just an amazing country, and the residents of Israel are extraordinarily resilient people,” Bhalla said. “It’s a tough environment in which the State of Israel operates, and that must, or at least as I observe it, that likely creates some form of strength and resilience.”
Mayors against antisemitism: Last year, Bhalla signed onto a campaign run by the American Jewish Committee and the U.S. Conference of Mayors called Mayors United Against Antisemitism, which counts more than 620 mayors as participants. “He was literally one of the first mayors in New Jersey to jump on board and he did it without hesitation,” said David Levy, regional director of AJC New Jersey. “It wasn’t even, ‘Can we talk about this,’ or ‘what’s this all about?’ He read the statements and said ‘I’m on board. I’m there,’ and he signed up right away. And that was just really heartening.” The Anti-Defamation League reported that New Jersey saw a 73% increase in antisemitic incidents from 2018 to 2019. “Being that he’s from another religious minority, he understands the special needs of the minority populations in a diverse community like that,” said Levy.
on the hill
Lawmakers make sixth effort to change adjudication of Holocaust-era insurance claims
A small, bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers introduced the latest attempt to give Holocaust survivors new opportunities to recoup unpaid pre-Holocaust insurance policies, wading for the sixth time into a fiery, long-running debate among survivors, members of the Jewish community and insurance lobbyists, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Who’s onboard: The bill, spearheaded in the Senate by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), joined by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Rick Scott (R-FL), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), would permit beneficiaries of Holocaust-era insurance policies to sue the insurers in U.S. courts to recover unpaid policies. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives. Rubio first introduced such legislation in 2011, and similar bills have been introduced in the House five separate times, beginning in 2008.
Fighting for their rights: “This is a disgrace and only you can help us have our rights and dignity restored,” Holocaust survivor David Mermelstein said in 2019 Senate testimony on the issue. “Survivors are in shock that the U.S. government took away our rights to go to American courts to make our claims. Remember, these are contracts — not charity.” Past attempts to introduce this legislation have failed in part due to concerted opposition from insurance giants, according to advocates for the legislation. “It is not an easy bill to pass because there are powerful economic interests against it becoming law,” former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who repeatedly introduced House legislation on this issue during her time in Congress, told JI. “All that survivors want is an opportunity to have their cases heard in court, but because of the flawed system that was put in place, they are denied their day in court. This is profoundly unfair.”
Flip side: Insurance companies are not the only players opposed to the legislation. Some major Jewish groups have also historically opposed it, as have prominent figures in Holocaust restitution negotiations and Holocaust survivors. Roman Kent, a leader of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, as well as the chairman of the International Auschwitz Committee, told JI he is “firmly against” the legislation. “While the proposed legislation is well-intentioned, it is also misguided — which is why it has been reintroduced over and over without any ensuing actions,” Kent said. “[Holocaust survivor leaders] are… aware of the burden of proof in lawsuits — which is a much higher standard. Lastly, they are aware of the jeopardy this creates with current agreements and negotiations with governments around the world. If we do not keep our word on one agreement, who is to say about the next one and the next one.”
⚠️ Leadership Void: The New York Times’s Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner look at the numerous factors that failed to prevent the Lag B’Omer disaster at Israel’s Mount Meron last week. “The lack of a clear hierarchy on the mountain and the reluctance of the state to tangle with the myriad religious groups that hold sway there — or to risk angering the powerful political parties that represent ultra-Orthodox interests — meant the efforts to bring order fell flat.” [NYTimes]
📅 New Start: In The Washington Post, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg suggests that the period of counting the Omer between Passover and Shavuot can serve as a model for emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is the time in the wilderness. And it can help us all understand how to move on from the neutral zone of the pandemic… We have opportunities to create new social structures, new ways of being. We don’t have to accept what we had before.” [WashPost]
⚔️ On the Ground: PBS correspondent Jane Ferguson spoke to Judy Woodruff from her current position in Marib, Yemen, where Saudi-backed Yemeni forces are battling the Iranian-supported Houthi rebels. “Persuading the Houthis to come to the table before any Marib takeover will be difficult, getting the Saudis to make a realistic offer of a cease-fire equally so.” [PBS]
Around the Web
💥 Air Offensive: Israel reportedly struck targets in northwest Syria overnight, killing one person and wounding six.
🌊 Back At It: After five hours of indirect talks between Lebanon and Israel yesterday over their maritime border, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun called to continue negotiations with no preconditions.
🖼️ Art Attack: A former IDF sniper is using weapons loaded with paint to create unusual artworks — and raise awareness for the mental health struggles faced by veterans.
🏦 For Sale: Bank Leumi is reportedly looking for a buyer for its American branch, said to be worth more than $1 billion.
💰 It’s the Money, Honey: Israeli-founded startup HoneyBook raised $155 million in its latest round of funding and is being valued at over $1 billion.
🤳 Digital Dollars: Apple Pay officially launched in Israel today, but reports of malfunctions and problems plagued the product rollout.
✍️ Op-Ed: In Newsweek, former diplomats Daniel Kurtzer and Aaron David Miller suggest that throwing around the word “apartheid” will only serve “to push the two sides further away.”
⛓️ Get Out of Jail Free: Former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was furloughed from prison yesterday after serving less than a year of his 6.5-year sentence.
🎞️ Now Playing: The Washington Post reviews “The Human Factor,” a new documentary about the decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
📺 TV Biz: Israel’s Keshet Studios has rebranded its U.K. non-scripted arm as “Interstellar.”
🎞️ Now Streaming: “Uri and Ella,” an Israeli TV series about the relationship between a father and daughter following the death of her mother, premiered this week on HBO Max.
📚 Book Shelf: A new book, The Lost Café Schindler, explores how a Jewish cafe in Austria came to be renamed after a Nazi official in the late 1930s.
🏡 New Home: Robert Kraft purchased an ocean-side home in Southampton, N.Y., for $43 million from New York real estate developer Nir Meir.
⚰️ Goodbye: Frazier Glenn Miller, who was serving a life sentence for killing three people at a Jewish Community Center and Jewish senior living facility in Kansas City, died at age 80.
🕯️ Remembering: Joseph Zalman Kleinman, a Holocaust survivor who testified in the trial of Adolf Eichmann, died at 91. Broadcaster Martin Bookspan, who was known as the voice of the New York Philharmonic, died at 94.
Gif of the Day
IDF and Egyptian soldiers danced together on either side of the border to the song “Habib Galbi” by the band A-WA.
Senior U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, Robert W. Gettleman turns 78… Writer of the “Letter from America” column for The International Herald Tribune, previously a foreign correspondent and book critic at The New York Times, Richard Bernstein turns 77… Best-selling author of 20 novels, Linda Fairstein turns 74… Retired judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Peter B. Krauser turns 74… Docent at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ruth Klein Schwalbe turns 72… Member of the Knesset, almost continuously since 1988, for Degel HaTorah and United Torah Judaism, Moshe Gafni turns 69… South African-born President of American Jewish World Service, Robert Bank turns 62… David Shamir turns 60… Managing director of Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Lauder Partners, Gary Lauder turns 59… Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three nonfiction books, historian and journalist, Tom Reiss turns 57… Executive director of the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited, Yossi Prager turns 56…
Television writer and producer, known for The Simpsons, Josh Weinstein turns 55… Nancy Simcha Cook Kimsey turns 55… Owner of DC-based PR firm Rosen Communications, Nicole Rosen turns 50… Director of public relations at UJA-Federation of New York, Emily Kutner turns 50… Executive director of Micah Philanthropies, Deena Fuchs turns 49… Head coach of the football team at the University of Arizona, he spent the 2020 season as the QB coach for the New England Patriots, Jedd Ari Fisch turns 45… President of Charleston, SC-based InterTech Group, Jonathan Zucker turns 43… Television news correspondent and actress, Lara Berman Krinsky turns 41… Former Israeli national soccer team captain, he also played for West Ham United and Liverpool in the English Premier League, Yossi Benayoun turns 41… Mayor of Bat Yam, Israel, Tzvika Brot turns 41… Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Michael H. Schlossberg turns 38… Former professional golfer, now a resident in orthopedic surgery at the NYU Hospital for Joint Disease, David Bartos Merkow, MD turns 36… Principal at New Enterprise Associates, Andrew Adams Schoen turns 31… Maxine Fuchs turns 28… Blake E. Goodman turns 22…