👋 Good Wednesday morning!
A 4.1-magnitude earthquake shook Israel and Jordan last night, epicentered roughly 40 miles northeast of the southern cities of Eilat and Aqaba, with tremors felt as far north as Jerusalem. No major injuries were reported.
Jerusalem’s Flag March yesterday drew nationalists and counterprotesters, 17 of the latter being arrested for throwing rocks and confrontations with the police. Hours beforehand, Hamas launched a series of incendiary balloons into southern Israel, to which the Israeli military responded with airstrikes in the Gaza Strip — both a first for the new government and the first since the end of hostilities last month.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this morning. Several members of the panel are sponsoring legislation to increase oversight of educational materials provided to Palestinians through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
A number of senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus — including Reps. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) (who serves as the caucus’ vice chair), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI-at-large) and Benny Thompson (D-MS) — are appearing later today at a Washington fundraiser for Shontel Brown, who is running for the open seat in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District against Nina Turner.
The eight candidates for New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary will meet onstage for the final debate at 7PM ET this evening in what could be the deciding moment ahead of the June 22 primary.
DC to Jerusalem
Biden formally taps Tom Nides as ambassador to Israel
After months of intense speculation and numerous reports that Thomas Nides was a top contender for the job, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it will nominate the Morgan Stanley vice chairman and former deputy secretary of state for management and resources as U.S. ambassador to Israel, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
High praise: Dennis Ross, a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described Nides as “an inspired choice.” Ross added that Nides’s close ties to Biden, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will be critical assets to him in Jerusalem. “The message to Israel is you’re getting someone who is high-powered, has experience, but is extremely close to the president and the two most senior people on foreign policy and national security,” Ross said. “It cuts both ways, both in terms of the Israelis knowing their concerns will be immediately brought in in a very clear way to the highest levels of the administration… [and] the Israelis will know that when the ambassador comes in to the prime minister, this is someone who’s absolutely representing where the president’s coming from.”
Speed dial: Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a friend of Nides, described the Morgan Stanley vice chairman as “the perfect choice.” Miller noted that Nides has both previous government experience and political connections — rather than being a career foreign service officer or a high-powered donor with no government experience. “Because he is not a former elected official, he understands about being a staffer, which is what being an ambassador is, right?” said Jarrod Bernstein, a former White House associate director of public engagement and cohost of JI’s “Limited Liability Podcast.”
Building relationships: Miller said that Nides will “do really well in the personality department, particularly with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett,” who also has a background in finance and business. “The bilateral relationship is going to improve fundamentally” under the new Israeli government, Miller predicted. “Not only will Biden be the beneficiary of that, Nides will be the beneficiary as well. In many ways this is a perfect appointment and it’s coming at a time when the Biden administration will be open to Israel, and the Israelis will respond, in a way we have not seen… in the Netanyahu years.”
A Jewish man, Levi Marhabi, is being held hostage by Yemen’s Houthi rebels
Jews have lived in Yemen for nearly two millennia. A thriving community, which less than a century ago was 50,000 strong, has dwindled to single digits in recent months. In March 2021, the majority of Yemen’s tiny Jewish population was expelled from the country. One of the only remaining community members is Levi Salem Marhabi, a Jewish man who has been imprisoned by the Houthi rebels since 2016, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Ancient artifact: Marhabi was arrested for the crime of smuggling a national artifact out of the country, after he helped a group of departing Yemeni Jews bring an ancient Torah, said to be 800 years old, with them to Israel. Human rights organizations claim he now remains in prison solely because of his religion, and that his health is rapidly deteriorating. He did not want to make aliyahto Israel: “We have an interview of Levi on Yemeni TV, which I think is from about 13 years ago, in which he said that he would have to be kicked out of the country, that that was the only way he would ever leave,” said Jason Guberman, executive director of the American Sephardi Federation, which has spearheaded a campaign on Marhabi’s behalf, in conjunction with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
From Foggy Bottom: “We continue to advocate for the release of Yemeni Jew Levi Marhabi. We have raised his case repeatedly at the U.N. Security Council and the former secretary of state released a statement calling for his immediate release,” a State Department spokesperson told JI, referring to a November 2020 statement made by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “calling for [Marhabi’s] immediate and unconditional release.” When asked whether Secretary of State Tony Blinken would comment on Marhabi’s imprisonment, the spokesperson said, “We don’t preview statements,” but noted that “throughout his tenure, Secretary Blinken has been very outspoken about his and the Biden administration’s commitment to human rights and the plight of unjustly detained individuals.”
Dwindling diversity: The only Jews left in the country, aside from Marhabi, are four elderly co-religionists with no families to continue propagating Jewish life in the country. But the departure of the 13 Jews in March also demonstrates how Yemen has, under Houthi rule, essentially stamped out all forms of religious diversity: Jewish life in modern-day Yemen, which has survived for thousands of years, will soon come to an end, and the Shi’ite Houthis — themselves a minority in the country — have persecuted Yemen’s Baha’i minority and forced their beliefs onto the country’s much larger population of Sunni Muslims.
Iran angle: Financial backing from Iran has had a significant role in the Houthis’ rise, U.S. officials have said. In April, Lenderking told lawmakers that “Iran’s support to the Houthis is quite significant, and it’s lethal.” As the Houthis have recently advanced an offensive on the city of Marib, a Saudi stronghold, the U.S. has engaged in indirect nuclear talks with Iran. It remains unclear if the issue of Iran’s support for Yemen will play a role in America’s decision to renegotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Biden administration officials have said that the president seeks a “longer and stronger deal” that also focuses on Iran’s support for terrorist groups like the Houthis and Hezbollah. When asked about this pledge at a Senate hearing last week, Blinken said, “We have to look at specific aspects, whether there are areas where we can get even stronger commitments from Iran,” without providing detail on the “specific aspects.”
MacKenzie Scott donates to Repair the World and HIAS
MacKenzie Scott, known for her record-setting charitable donations, has now become — with her husband, Dan Jewett — a supporter of two Jewish organizations: Repair the World, a service corps for young people, and HIAS, the immigrant support and advocacy group. Repair the World, whose annual budget was $5.9 million, will receive an unrestricted grant of $7 million from Scott and Jewett, CEO Cindy Greenberg told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Helen Chernikoff. It was part of $2.74 billion in new gifts Scott and her husband announced yesterday.
Signing the pledge: These are Scott’s first gifts to Jewish groups. HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield did not disclose the details of HIAS’ gift, but said it would enable the group to become an emergency responder to refugee crises around the world in addition to a resettlement agency. Scott, the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, gave away almost $6 billion to nonprofits and charities last year. After their divorce, she signed the Giving Pledge, which commits signatories to giving at least half of their wealth to charity.
Mystery solved: When Greenberg was approached by Scott and Jewett’s representatives, she did not suspect the identity of the donors, she said. She shared with the representatives the organization’s three-year plan and its mission, which is both to make service a defining element of what it means to be Jewish in America and to enact social change. A few weeks after that conversation, about two and a half weeks ago, she got “the call.” “I lost my breath; I made the representative repeat herself,” Greenberg said. “I said, ‘You’re either an angel or a prank caller.’”
On the hill
Murphy urges new Israeli government to be ‘more evenhanded’ with U.S.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who leads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee overseeing Middle East issues, is hopeful that the new Israeli government — a patchwork quilt of ideologically diverse parties — will take a different approach to U.S. politics than former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod on Tuesday.
Change of pace: “My hope is that they are going to prioritize fixing relations with the United States and being a bit more evenhanded about how they deal with the U.S. political system,” Murphy told JI. Over his 12-year tenure, Netanyahu shored up significant support from Republican legislators, while developing an increasingly antagonistic relationship with the Obama administration and some Washington Democrats critical of his policies. “I think, for me, I want to wait and see what their priorities are and what their agenda is. I hope that there is a real opportunity to work with the coalition,” Murphy added.
Wait and see: Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who, with Murphy, led a Senate effort to oppose unilateral annexation of the West Bank last year, told JI that “the jury’s still out” on whether the new Israeli government will pursue different policies from the Netanyau government.
Bonus: Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Kathy Manning (D-NC) told JI they do not back a Republican effort to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from her Foreign Affairs Committee seat. Manning told Jewish Insider, “She’s clarified her statement. I’m good with that.” GOP leadership is also reportedlybacking awayfrom plans to bring floor action against Omar, instead pledging to remove her from the Foreign Affairs Committee if Republicans gain control of Congress in 2022.
Elsewhere on the Hill: The American Jewish Committee relaunched its Latino Jewish Congressional Caucus, Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), and Jaime Herrera Buetler (R-WA), on Tuesday.
🤵 The Talented Mr. Bennett: Writing in The New York Times, Noga Tarnopolsky reflects on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s public and private personas, suggesting that Bennett may prove to be a unifying leader that puts country first. “Over the years, I’ve asked many people who know him about the two Naftali Bennetts. Yohanan Plesner, who heads the Israel Democracy Institute and has known Mr. Bennett since their army days, describes him as torn between ‘pleasing his right-wing settler base and his more pragmatic instincts.’ Mr. Plesner predicted that as prime minister, Mr. Bennett will ‘act as the pragmatic national leader most Israelis expect him to be.’” [NYT]
🇸🇦 Deep Dive: In the Washington Post, Shane Harris investigates the network of Saudi operatives tied to Riyadh that assists individuals from the kingdom who have gotten into legal trouble in the U.S. “This network has provided traditional consular services such as arranging for bail, interpreters and legal representation for people accused of violent crimes. But it has also gone far beyond the traditional role of embassies and helped the accused evade court-ordered probation, and arranged for travel and flights out of the United States when Saudi nationals have absconded from justice” [WashPost]
🎰 Gaming Gamble: Patrick Svitek details in The Texas Tribune why Las Vegas Sands’ multimillion-dollar lobbying effort to legalize casinos in Texas was unsuccessful this year. “The death of Sheldon Adelson — plus the news of Texas’ smaller-than-expected budget shortfall around the same time — left some wondering if Sands was losing momentum in the state before it could even unveil its legislation,” Svitek writes. [TexasTribune]
Around the Web
💉 Vacation Destination: Demand is surging for British flights to Israel, as Israel remains just one of three countries on the U.K.’s “green list” open to quarantine-free travel for Brits.
💵 Strike That: Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said an FEC filing of a $5,500 donation to Holocaust-denying Pastor Steve Anderson was filed in error, and that the true recipient of the money was singer Steve Amerson, who performed at a fundraiser for the congressman.
🎶 Survivors: Dozens of Holocaust survivors celebrated the end of COVID-induced isolation at a concert by Jewish singer Yaakov Shwekey at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in Brooklyn, N.Y.
🙅 Party Over: Canada’s Green Party Leader Annamie Paul faces a possible no-confidence vote amid fallout over an internal party dispute, catalyzed by a defection to the Liberal Party over Paul’s moderate stance on Israel.
🚓 Coast to Coast: Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinsten will be extradited from New York to California to face additional rape and sexual assault charges, a judge ruled Tuesday.
🚔 Closing In: Manhattan prosecutors appear to be nearing the end of an investigation of Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, setting up possible charges this summer.
✍️ Inked: Jared Kushner has signed a deal for a book on his time as a Trump administration senior official, covering issues ranging from the Middle East to the pandemic, to be published in early 2022.
🏡 Going Going Gone: The Beverly Hills estate owned by Sumner Redstone, who died last year, sold for $27 million after two months on the market.
📈 Future Assets: Cryptocurrency derivatives exchange FTX’s 29-year-old founder Sam Bankman-Fried discusses the possibility of his company’s going public and regulatory comfort needed before SEC approval of a Bitcoin ETF.
🦄 Unicorn Sighting: Israel’s monday.com had a record-breaking $6.8 billion listing on Thursday, possibly signaling a new generation of Israeli unicorn tech-companies, who are achieving billion-dollar valuations and exits faster than predecessors.
🎞️ Done Deal: Kino Lorber secured North American rights to the 22-film collection of Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai, which will be shared with Jewish filmhouses, rolled out on DVD and Blu-ray, and released on Kino’s streaming platform.
💰 New Fund: Meron Capital cofounders Liron Azrielant and Daniel Roditi announced the launch of a $50 million fund for Israeli companies.
🖥️ Transition: Ryan Gurney, the former chief security officer at Google, will join YL Ventures, a firm that invests in Israeli cybersecurity startups, as chief information security officer.
✌ Sign of Progress: MK Shirley Pinto, Israel’s first deaf lawmaker, swore into the Knesset yesterday using sign language.
🕯️ Remembering: Judge Jack Weinstein, who sat on the federal bench in Brooklyn and in the 1950s assisted then-attorney Thurgood Marshall during Brown v. Board of Education, died at age 99.
Song of the Day
Israeli singer Yuval Dayan released her new single, “Close Between Us” ahead of her summer tour.
Catcher on Israel’s National Baseball Team, Tal Erel turns 25…
Former Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, in 2015 she became the president of Plaza Health Network, Elaine Bloom turns 84… Retired IDF brigadier-general and a former member of Knesset, Avigdor Kahalani turns 77… Graduate and later dean of Yeshiva College, U.S. ambassador to Egypt for President Bill Clinton, and U.S. ambassador to Israel for President George W Bush, Daniel C. Kurtzer turns 72… Professor at Nanjing University and China’s leading professor of Jewish studies, Xu Xin turns 72… Rickey Wolosky Palkovitz turns 72… Chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo! News, Michael Isikoff turns 69… UC Berkeley professor and WSJ columnist, Alison Gopnik turns 66… Professor of Jewish studies at the University of Freiburg, Gabrielle Oberhänsli-Widmer turns 64… Distinguished fellow at Dartmouth College, Shaul Magid turns 63…
Southern California resident, Roberta Trachten-Zeve turns 62… President of GEM Commercial Flooring Company in Overland Park, Kansas, Matthew Elyachar turns 61… Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter and author, David A. Vise turns 61… Former chair of the JCRC in Broward County, Fla., Keith Wasserstrom turns 54… Actor, screenwriter, producer and director, Daniel Zelman turns 54… Staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ronen Bergman turns 49… Managing director and founder of Marathon Strategies, Phil Singer turns 46… Geographer and writer, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro turns 42… Singer and songwriter, Benjamin Lev Kweller turns 40… Pitcher for Team Israel, he is now on the roster of the Tacoma Rainiers in the Seattle Mariners organization, Zachary D. “Zack” Weiss turns 29… Director of advancement, campus and community engagement at Artists 4 Israel, Perry Chencin turns 27… Israeli artistic gymnast who won the gold medal at the 2020 European Championships in the floor exercise and who will represent Israel at the upcoming Summer Olympics, Artem Dolgopyat turns 24…