👋 Good Monday morning!
A group of retired Israeli police commissioners — as well a range of other figures — have called to launch an independent state inquiry into the disaster to determine responsibility for the event. The state comptroller announced this morning that he would begin his own probe.
Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen met at the White House on Friday with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA Director Bill Burns. According to the White House, President Joe Biden stopped by the meeting to offer condolences for the Meron disaster.
But according to reportsfrom Israeli journalists, Cohen and Biden spoke for close to an hour, discussing Iran and the ongoing negotiations to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement. Biden reportedly told Cohen that the U.S. “has a long way to go” before returning to the deal.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator said on Saturday that he expects U.S. sanctions on oil, banks and most individuals and institutions to be lifted, but U.S. officials said no agreements had been reached.
In a statement marking the beginning of Jewish Heritage Month, Biden called to “honor Jewish Americans, who, inspired by Jewish values and American ideals, have engaged in the ongoing work of forming a more perfect union.”
The Etihad exec with a lifelong love of Hebrew
A month ago, Amina Taher stepped onto an airplane for the first time in 14 months. As the vice president of brand, marketing and partnerships at Etihad Airways, Taher was used to flying “four to five times a month” pre-COVID. “Not being able to be in my home, in the skies, was difficult,” she told Jewish Insider‘s Amy Spiro in a recent interview. Getting back on a plane, “I was like a little kid who’s traveled for the first time. It was very emotional, and it was very magical.”
Short visit: That flight on April 6 marked a series of other firsts: The first commercial flight for the UAE-based Etihad between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, and the first time Taher had ever visited Israel. Inaugurating a new flight, “and for it to be [to] Tel Aviv, I couldn’t ask for a better reopening,” she told JI. And while Taher only spent 26 hours on the ground in Israel last month, she was instantly hooked. “The only one takeaway that I brought back… was the people, and how hospitable and warm and welcoming the Israelis were. It was unbelievable, and that was my key takeaway from my very short round trip.”
Say shalom: Taher also left a strong impression by giving a short speech at the flight launch in Hebrew, which went viral in certain corners of the internet. Taher, who speaks six languages, told JI that she has cultivated a lifelong interest in the Hebrew language, dating back to when she was a child. “The relationship I have with Hebrew was very much established at a very young age, since I was 12,” she said. “When I was in third grade, I was in an international school in Dubai. And there was a girl in my class called Tamar, and I really liked her name.” When she asked her mother about the name and researched it online, she discovered that it had Hebrew origins.
Ivrit efforts: Taher never imagined that her few Hebrew sentences would gain so much traction online. “I didn’t know that it would attract that much attention on social [media],” she said, noting that the positive reactions far outweighed any negative chatter. “The fact that people appreciated it — I was very grateful, it was overwhelming in a good way.” Today, she said, she would characterize her Hebrew as being “kindergarten material,” but said each day she dedicates 30 minutes to reading the Sefaria app to improve her skills, as well as printing out her iPhone keyboard in Hebrew to study. And her efforts in Hebrew, she said, were appreciated in Israel, even among those who suggested she sounded like she spoke with a French accent. “People encouraged it,” she said, “they like it and they appreciate it, which makes me happy and want to make an effort.”
Coexistence DNA: Taher said while there is occasional negative feedback from non-Emiratis, particularly on social media, about ties with Israel, she feels that overall there is excitement on the ground. “People are very supportive; everyone that I’m exposed to, and I’m exposed to a lot of people, are happy,” she said. “There are a lot of Emiratis… who are excited and want to go to Israel.” In the UAE, she added, “part of our DNA is — you’ve got coexistence, you’ve got tolerance, you’ve got all these skills — everything that we say and you hear is embedded in the leadership, but also in the character of the country and the people.”
George W. Bush paints a new chapter
In his new collection of oil paintings, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants, former President George W. Bush assembles a deeply personal tribute to the immigrant entrepreneurs, activists, athletes and other figures whose contributions to American society he admires. The 43 portraits make a compelling argument for the value of immigration, while demonstrating Bush’s increasing maturity as a painter, an avocation he took up after leaving office. But Bush suggests that his newly developed artistic chops shouldn’t overshadow a more urgent message. “My hope,” he writes, “is that this book will help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country.” Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke with four of Bush’s subjects about the unique experience of being painted by the former president.
Henry Kissinger: “I think he makes me look like a thinking person,” Henry Kissinger, the 97-year-old author and former statesman, told JI approvingly of Bush’s portrait, which he intends to hang in his office. “I thought he did a terrific job, and if one considers that he had never had a paint brush in his hand until after he was president, that’s quite an achievement.” Kissinger, who is Jewish, arrived in the United States in 1938 as a refugee from Nazi Germany before ascending to the upper ranks of American government, most notably as President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state. “I think it was an important thing for the president to paint people who came to this country and contributed to the country,” he said.
Dina Powell McCormick: Dina Powell McCormick, who served in the Bush administration as director of presidential personnel and then as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, was born into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo and moved to the U.S. when she was five years old. “It’s extremely humbling as an immigrant to be part of President Bush’s new book,” she told JI. Powell McCormick now works as global head of sustainability and inclusive growth at Goldman Sachs and served as former President Donald Trump’s deputy national security advisor. “I am so incredibly proud to be a citizen of our country and so proud that our nation is a place that so many people from all around the world have such a strong desire to come to,” she said. “I think that’s the message in the book.”
Mariam Memarsadeghi: Mariam Memarsadeghi was born in Iran and came to the U.S. when she was seven years old, during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Since then, she has become an outspoken advocate for democratic reform in her native country. In 2010, she founded Tavaana, an educational initiative dedicated to empowering Iranian citizens, and now works as a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a think tank in Ottawa. In 2017, she was selected to serve in the Presidential Leadership Scholar program, a collaboration between several presidential centers, including Bush’s. “It’s really constructive that President Bush has done this,” Memarsadeghi said of the book. “He tries to make other people feel the importance of these people’s lives through the portraits and the biographies.”
Lev Sviridov: Growing up in Moscow under and after Soviet rule, Lev Sviridov was often beaten up for being Jewish. In 1993, he moved with his mother to the U.S. and endured further hardship while homeless on the streets of New York City. Through the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights — now Human Rights First — he met the businessman Tom Bernstein, now a mentor who helped Sviridov and his mother get back on track. Bernstein is a friend of Bush’s, which is how Bush found out about him. Sviridov is now a chemist and Rhodes scholar who directs the Macaulay Honors College at City University of New York’s Hunter College. He said he was deeply flattered Bush included him in his book. “There’s nothing, frankly, more intimate than sitting down to paint someone,” Sviridov said. “But I’m also cognizant that this is a great way for us to refocus a broader debate and a broader conversation on what it means to be an immigrant in America.”
on the hill
145 House members call for $360 million in nonprofit security grant funding
A large bipartisan contingent of House members is calling to double funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program for a second year to $360 million for the 2022 fiscal year, citing a “lethal threat to faith-based communities,” reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. A letter obtained by JI which was signed by 145 members of the House — approximately a third of the chamber — shows broad support for increasing funding to the Department of Homeland Security grant program, which provides funding for nonprofits and faith-based organizations to improve their security programs.
Rising threats: “The rise of domestic extremism is a threat to every community in our entire country. It is one of the challenges of our time. Increasing this funding is essential to protecting our neighbors and houses of worship, especially synagogues and Jewish community centers,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) — who organized the letter along with Rep. John Katko (R-NY) — told JI. “The terrible growth of antisemitic incidents and violence is an outrage, and I am leading my colleagues to secure this support to keep our Jewish neighbors safe. The need is unfortunately out there, and I am fighting in Congress to meet it.”
In the letter: The letter, addressed to Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), the chair and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Homeland Security, specifically requests $180 million for each of two NSGP sub-funds, the Urban Area Security Initiative NSGP and the State Homeland Security Grant Program NSGP. The letter is signed by a broad spectrum of members of Congress, including progressive Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) as well as conservative Reps. Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Steve Stivers (R-OH).
Senate slowdown: In the Senate, progress on considering NSGP funding for 2022 appears to be moving more slowly. When contacted by JI last week, senators from both parties who had been particularly vocal in favor of increased NSGP funding in the past declined to provide specific funding targets for the coming year, but emphasized their commitment to the program. “Just as I have for years, I will be leading the fight for critical [fiscal year 2022] Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) funding again this year after securing a historic high of $180 million last year due to increased threats against the Jewish community,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) told JI. “The recent antisemitic attacks in Riverdale and across the country are concerning, and warrant a strong response from legislators. I will always stand with and fight for the safety of Jewish people. No one should fear for their lives because of how they worship and who they are.”
Consensus target: The $360 million funding target has received support from a range of Jewish groups lobbying on the issue, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America.
🎧 Talk Back:The New York Times’s Vivian Lee and Farnaz Fassihi explore the impact of the audio-only social networking platform Clubhouse in conservative Middle Eastern countries, where free speech is often limited. “If you can’t have any kind of political representation or anything, you can have an app where you can sit and talk or at least listen,” said one Saudi analyst. “That’s why it’s become so important. I see some names sitting there from morning until evening.” [NYTimes]
🚧 Bumpy Road: Politico reporter Andrew Desiderio lays out the “GOP handcuffs” and “Democratic skeptics” that are obstacles in the way of the Biden administration’s goal to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, particularly in light of recent leaked comments from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “You’ve got to wonder, what is it that they can agree to and execute on?” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). [Politico]
💉 Oldest Hatred: In The Atlantic, Edna Bonhomme details how Germany’s “thriving anti-vaccination movement” encompasses and is historically “inextricably tangled” with antisemitic sentiments. “Denying the need for public-health measures, including vaccination, slipped into tacitly implying that the disease would carry off the Jewish and the poor.” [Atlantic]
Around the Web
💥 Attack: Three Israeli yeshiva students were wounded in a drive-by terrorist shooting at an intersection in the West Bank yesterday. The IDF is still searching for the perpetrators.
⛓️ No Deal: U.S. officials denied reports from Iranian state television of a prisoner release deal with Iran that would reportedly provide billions to Tehran in exchange for four Americans.
🙊 Oops: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif apologized yesterday for leaked comments that he said “annoyed” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
🤝 Under Wraps: Secret ongoing talks in Baghdad between Saudi Arabia and Iran are spurred by Saudi’s weakened hand due to Biden’s election, say analysts, and could reshuffle regional ties.
😷 Clean Bill: For the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the IDF reported no active cases of COVID among its soldiers.
💰 Big Buy: U.S. asset management giant BlackRock has purchased a 3% stake in Bank Hapoalim.
💽 ROI: Intel is investing $600 million into expanding its research and development team in Israel and is building a new $10 billion chip plant in the country.
💸 In Talks: Apollo Global Management is reportedly close to announcing a deal to purchase Yahoo and other Verizon media assets.
🗳️ Race to Gracie: New York mayoral candidate Andrew Yang is set to receive the endorsement of several prominent Jewish Brooklyn politicians.
👩 Standing Firm: Relatives of former Auschwitz prisoners oppose the appointment of former Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo to the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum’s advisory council.
🕯️ Remembering: Philanthropist and entrepreneur Eli Broad died at age 87. Architect B. Frank Schlesinger, who was behind the projects lining Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol, died at 95.
Pic of the Day
People gather around candles during a vigil yesterday in Tel Aviv in memory of the 45 people killed in a stampede at a Lag B’Omer celebration on Mount Meron early Friday morning.
Founder of the New Americans Museum in San Diego, Deborah Shainman Szekely turns 99… Physicist and Nobel laureate in 1979, professor at University of Texas at Austin, Steven Weinberg turns 88… Founder and CEO of Westgate Resorts, David A. Siegel turns 86… Pioneer in late-night television advertising for his company Ronco, marketing personality known for the phrase, “But wait, there’s more!” Ron Popei turns 86… Senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Ely Karmon, Ph.D. turns 80… Host of a radio show and podcast produced by Santa Fe (NM) Public Radio, David Marash turns 79… U.S. senator (R-ID), Jim Risch turns 78… Venture capitalist and economist, William H. Janeway turns 78… Francine Holtzman turns 76… U.S. senator (D-OR), his original family name was Weidenreich, Ron Wyden turns 72… Six-time Tony Award-winning Broadway producer, Stewart F. Lane turns 70… Retired attorney who represented political clients on election law matters, Benjamin L. Ginsberg turns 69… Former chair and CEO of Mondelez International, Irene Rosenfeld turns 68… Real estate attorney and partner in the Chicago office of DLA Piper, Mark D. Yura turns 68…
Political reporter and columnist for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jeff E. Schapiro turns 66… Retired senior advisor at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Susan Steinmetz turns 65… EVP for corporate affairs at Booz Allen Hamilton, Stephen Labaton turns 60… Russian billionaire who sold the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center, Mikhail Prokhorov turns 56… Lobbyist, previously deputy COS at the RNC and a deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the Bush 43 administration, Scott A. Kamins turns 46… Veteran of 13 NHL seasons who in 2005 sat out a hockey game to observe Yom Kippur, now an assistant coach for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, Jeff Halpern turns 45… Israeli singer and actress, Miri Mesika turns 43… Reporter for PoliticoNew Jersey and author of New Jersey’s “Playbook,” Matthew R. Friedman turns 40… Educated at the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco, he was a defensive lineman in the NFL from 2004 until 2011, Igor Olshansky turns 39… Managing director and head of executive communications of SKDKnickerbocker, Stephen Andrew Krupin turns 39… Co-founder and CEO of Democracy Works, Seth Flaxman turns 36… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, May Golan turns 35… Benjamin S. Davis turns 34…