👋 Good Monday morning!
Secretary of State Tony Blinken met on Friday with representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israel Policy Forum, Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, J Street, Jewish Democratic Council of America, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Democratic Majority for Israel, American Jewish Congress and World Jewish Congress.
The event was moderated by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Kara McDonald and Barbara Leaf, the administration’s nominee for assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs were also in attendance.
Republican Nikki Haley, aformer U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is rumored to be considering a 2024 presidential bid, will travel to Israel later this week with a Christians United for Israel mission.
A spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is also viewed as a potential 2024 candidate, told Jewish Insider last week that DeSantis is not planning a visit because he “is not in the same position to enact foreign policy as, say, U.S. senators.”
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) joined “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday night to talk about his policy priorities and the recent conflict in Israel that ignited an increase in antisemitic activity. “For me, there’s a difference between promoting peace and inciting hatred,” Torres said, “And most of the words and ideas and memes that I’ve seen amplified on Twitter are aimed at inciting hatred at Israel, rather than promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. My concern is that the hysterical demonization of Israel has set off a global wave of antisemitic violence and vitriol. Hate is never going to bring us peace.”
The Knesset may vote on Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid’s coalition as early as Wednesday. In a change of tactic, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a senior Likud member, is considering an expedited vote as a way of defeating Bennett and Lapid’s government. It is still unclear if the duo can muster sufficient votes for a Knesset majority, with members of Bennett’s Yamina party equivocating on their support.
Attempts from Israel’s right to defeat the new government are causing unrest in the country, prompting the head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, to publicly warn against incitement. Right-leaning groups had organized a now-canceled flag march, originally scheduled for Thursday, through Jerusalem. Similar marches have past been a source of contention between Jerusalem’s Jewish and Arab communities, and are seen as nationalist moves that could inflame tensions.
Netanyahu’s son Yair, considered one of the prime minister’s closest informal advisors, was temporarily banned from social media platforms at the end of last week after posting personal details for a Yamina party member. The younger Netanyahu posted the information while encouraging supporters to put pressure on the MK to vote against Bennett and Lapid’s government.
As Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Netanyahu has personally shaped American-Israeli relations. Relatively unknown in Washington, Naftali Bennett is preparing to take the helm, and Biden administration officials are trying to understand what effect — if any — Israel’s new government will have on the relationship. The possible end of the Netanyahu era is the focus of “The Daily“ this morning.
Interview with Barack Obama
During his time in office, former President Barack Obama maintained something of a hot-and-cold relationship with Jewish leaders, particularly around his administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Near the end of his recent memoir, A Promised Land, the former president conveys a sense of frustration with critics who, he suggests, doubted his commitment to the Jewish state based more on their gut feelings rather than assessing actual policy positions. But in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel — his first with a Jewish publication since leaving office in 2017 — Obama shied away from discussing that tension in more detail. The former president avoided every question touching on Israel and the Middle East that JI posed to him.
Hopeful note: Of the 13 questions JI sent to the former president, he provided answers to just five, focusing on the history of Black-Jewish relations, the Capitol siege, the state of American politics and the rise of antisemitism, among other topics. In the exchange, Obama sounded a characteristically hopeful note while acknowledging the deep divisions that have riven the American electorate in the years since he left office. “There’s no doubt that the country is deeply divided right now — more divided than when I first ran for president in 2008,” Obama told JI. “America has been fractured by a combination of political, cultural, ideological, and geographical divisions that seem to be growing deeper by the day.”
‘Common set of facts’: “Until we can agree on a common set of facts and distinguish between what’s true and what’s false, then the marketplace of ideas won’t work. Our democracy won’t work,” Obama said. “So, as citizens, we need to push our institutions to address these challenges. At the same time, we can’t just wait for someone else to solve the problem. We need to stay engaged, and ask what we can do — especially at the local level where arguments are often less heated and everyone who gets involved can make a bigger difference.” Though such work “can be exhausting,” Obama admitted, “our system of government has been tested before, and every time people who believe in this country and our founding ideals have refused to let the American experiment fail. The same thing can happen this time if we put in the work.”
Addressing antisemitism: Amid a disturbing uptick in antisemitic attacks, the former president was equally level-headed, even as he recognized that “some of the negative and divisive trends that we’ve seen at home and around the world have contributed” to such hatred. Obama cited a speech he gave at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., at the end of his presidency. “I said that the seeds that gave rise to the Holocaust have always been with us. They have found root across cultures, faiths, and generations. And they have reemerged again and again, especially in times of change and uncertainty,” Obama told JI. “When I gave that speech, it was clear that anti-Semitism was on the rise around the world. People’s anger over everything from immigration to inequality was boiling over — and many of them were looking for someone else to blame. And for four years, we had a President in the White House who fanned those flames.”
Countering hate: Still, Obama was optimistic about countering antisemitism and other forms of bigotry. “In many cases, I’ve been pleased to see these acts of hate countered by far larger expressions of solidarity,” he noted. “People are recognizing that we all have a responsibility to stand together against bigotry and violence, to not be silent but there will always be a need for vigilance against anti-Semitism. We’ll never be able to wipe out hatred from every single mind, but we must do everything we can to fight it. And more people are realizing that. That dynamic, more than anything, is what gives me hope.”
Ron Dermer sets the record
Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer told Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast” co-hosts Richard Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein that former House Speaker John Boehner had asked to notify the White House of the invitation for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress in 2015. Dermer was speaking in response to comments made on last week’s episode by former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes that bipartisan support for Israel had been tarnished by Netanyahu’s speech.
In retrospect: Asked by Bernstein why the Israeli government did not inform the White House of the planned speech before they learned about it in the press, Dermer deflected responsibility. “When Speaker Boehner called me, he specifically said to me, in that call, that ‘I will inform the White House.’ He told me in that call that it was his prerogative to inform the White House, and I respected that right.” Still, Dermer defended Boehner’s request. “People tell you all the time, ‘Hey, Ambassador, I want to tell [Netanyahu].’ I’ve had times, this may surprise you, where — and this happened several times with a very senior member of the Obama administration — [they] will tell me, the ambassador, ‘Don’t tell the prime minister, I want to tell the prime minister,’ he said, “You have to always make judgment calls about how important is this thing that you’re telling them or not telling them. The currency of trust is very important.”
Pointing fingers: Dermer proceeded to blame the Obama administration for politicizing the opposition to the deal. “The ones who turned this into a partisan issue was the White House,” he said. “And they did it in order to delegitimize the arguments, instead of actually seriously thinking about what the prime minister said….They said, ‘[The deal] blocks Iran’s path to a weapon.’ That’s a lie… If there would be something that would block Iran’s path to a weapon, I, as the ambassador of Israel, would have done anything to support such a deal. We would never have opposed such a deal… Instead of understanding that they’re dealing with a sovereign Jewish state that is being threatened with annihilation, and a prime minister of Israel is going to go speak out against the deal that he thinks is a threat to the survival of the one and only Jewish state, they dismiss it as politics.” Read more here.
Clarification: Dermer clarified comments he made in an interview last month about evangelical Christian support for Israel. At the time of his comments, the former ambassador received criticism for calling evangelicals “the backbone of Israel’s support in the United States,” with some suggesting he had dismissed American Jewish support. In the podcast, he acknowledged the political importance of evangelical support. “The evangelical move into the Republican Party has shifted views in the Republican Party towards Israel very dramatically,” he noted. But, he contended, “The question that I was asked was, ‘Has Israel spent too much time investing in evangelical Christians?’ And I said, ‘No, they haven’t spent enough.’”
Investment pitch: Dermer added that given the size of the evangelical population in the United States compared to the Jewish population — more than 30 percent versus roughly 2 percent — Israel should seek to encourage and engage the evangelical community. “Israel is one of the most important issues for many of them, and because their support is unequivocal,” he argued. “I think we have to invest a lot more time in doing outreach to evangelicals, educate them about the issues, because you have % of people who strongly support you. And that may not be the case, 50 years from now, or 100 years from now.” Read more here.
Building an interfaith oasis in the nation’s capital
When the members of the inaugural class of Abrahamic Fellows — one Jew, one Muslim, one Christian and one Baha’i — moved into their shared home in Los Angeles last year, they were preparing for a unique year of interfaith programming, hard conversations and new friends. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic shut down their city. The fellowship, the culmination of a decade of pioneering interfaith work by Yemeni refugee Mohammed al Samawi, is designed to bring together adherents of the four main “Abrahamic faiths” to promote dialogue and understanding. “We had plans for them to do events inside the house, but they couldn’t do any events inside the house [because of the pandemic]. So basically, then they started doing it on Zoom,” al Samawi told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutchin a recent interview about the fellowship’s new house in Washington, D.C. “It was such an amazing experience…they became really good friends with each other.”
Blueprint: The idea for the Abrahamic House — of bringing together young people to form communities outside of traditional religious institutions — was inspired by a Jewish organization called Moishe House. In dozens of cities around the world, shared Moishe Houses offer affordable rent to young Jews, as long as they organize three to six social events and Jewish programs a month. When al Samawi, 34, first came to the U.S., he spoke about his interfaith work in Yemen at a Moishe House in Washington, D.C. “I loved the whole idea about having people living together and doing Shabbat and doing Jewish events,” al Samawi recalled. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I do something similar to that?’ But instead of [people] only from one religion, it will be from different faiths.” Al Samawi got in touch with David Cygielman, the founder and CEO of Moishe House, who is now the chair of Abrahamic House’s board of directors.
Frightening yet familiar: The decision to create an Abrahamic House in Washington comes in part from al Samawi’s love for the area, where he lived after arriving in the U.S. “You can see the diversity in Washington, D.C., young professionals who really desire to do interfaith [work],” al Samawi explained. The riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 further convinced him that Washington was the right choice for the next Abrahamic House. Al Samawi watched the events unfold with dread, feeling a startling sense of familiarity. “It reminded me of what happens in Yemen. You see, in Yemen, the Houthis — they did the same thing in 2014,” al Samawi said, referring to the Houthi rebel militia that took over Yemen’s government in late 2014. “They entered the governmental buildings, and they start taking pictures while they are in the government buildings. They start saying, like, ‘We try to bring freedom and dignity to Yemen.’ As you can imagine, when I saw what happened in Washington, D.C., what kind of memories I’ve had.”
Never ‘othering’: Al Samawi thinks that building understanding — the cornerstone of the Abrahamic House model — is a good place to start at this fractured moment in American history. “It started in my country like this: It started by a group who [has] all the stereotypes about the others, trying to impose their opinion in certain ways,” al Samawi noted. “We are speaking about a culture of ‘othering’ the others. Abrahamic House, this is what we’re trying to fight off: ‘othering’ the others. Because the more that you are involved in interfaith [efforts], the more that you realize, we are actually the same.” He explained that unlike some other interfaith organizations, “we don’t [just] celebrate holidays. We don’t just do basic conversations, we actually get into the deep conversation,” al Samawi noted. Events might focus on teaching attendees about antisemitism and Islamophobia, or teaching about how women in all four faiths are challenging traditional gender norms and taking on spiritual leadership roles.
People of the book: From a young age, al Samawi was taught by peers and teachers that Jews hate Muslims. Meeting a Christian teacher caused him to reconsider what he’d learned. Al Samawi gave the teacher a Quran, hoping to convert him to Islam. In response, the teacher gave al Samawi a copy of the Bible. He grew curious about Judaism after reading the Old Testament. “From my reading the Torah, I discovered it is so similar to the Quran in a lot of ways, the story of the Prophet, the teachings, almost a lot of things even identical to the Quran — the book of Muslims — but why didn’t they teach us that in school? They teach us the opposite,” al Samawi said. He developed a passion for interfaith work and began connecting with Jews around the world on social media, eventually traveling to Bosnia to attend a Jewish-Muslim interfaith conference. He began to earn death threats from extremist groups like the Houthi militants and al-Qaeda, and in 2015, he fled to the U.S. as a refugee.
heard last night
Reps. Bacon, Luria debate GOP procedural moves linked to Israel attack ads
At the American Jewish Committee’s virtual Global Forum on Sunday evening, Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE) and Elaine Luria (D-VA) debated recent House Republican procedural moves in which some GOP groups have sought to use to characterize Democrats — including Luria — as anti-Israel, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
On the defense: Bacon defended the procedural moves that attempted to focus Congress’s attention during the recent Israel-Gaza conflict. Republicans have characterized Democrats’ unanimous votes in favor of continuing planned business — and against the procedural motions, which Republicans framed as supporting the Jewish state — as anti-Israel. “The minority only has one way of trying to insert its agenda,” Bacon argued. “This is our one way of trying to get our agenda in.”
Rejected: Luria pushed back on Bacon’s framing of the actions as good-faith attempts to support Israel. “I would say that the Republican Party did this in a very deliberate way,” Luria said. “They’re using paid advertising against me to say that I voted against supporting Israel and support for the Iron Dome which is absurd, it’s ridiculous, and it’s a lie.” The congresswoman said that she believes that the GOP moves are “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israel’s security. “I would ask Don to speak more forcefully with his leadership to say that we can disagree on policy issues — you can attack me on all kinds of stuff — but please don’t make Israel the weapon you use for that because I think it is counterproductive to what Don and I are working very hard on, which is to support the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Luria said.
Maligned: Bacon said that he had been targeted by attacks that mischaracterized him as being antisemitic or supportive of the QAnon conspiracy theory. “I get attacked for being ‘antisemitic’ every day. And on the Republican side of the aisle that is a standard [attack] by more partisans of the Democrat[ic] Party,” Bacon said. “So there is a thin skin on our side right now on this whole issue. I’ve been targeted for four years… Unfortunately we’re making it into a political attack against each other, and it really hurts our country.” Luria said she agreed such “issues should not be used as political tools or weapons against people.”
Numbers game: Bacon further asserted that Democratic support for Israel is lagging, claiming that only half of congressional Democrats are strongly pro-Israel — an assertion Luria pushed back on. “I’m concerned that [Democratic critics of Israel] get so much attention, because they truly do not represent the majority of Democrats or the majority of members of the U.S. Congress,” Luria said.
🇩🇪 The Paper of Record: Writing in Tablet,Laurel Leff explores the work of Guido Enderis, The New York Times’ Berlin bureau chief during the 1930s, whose sympathetic reporting on the Third Reich eventually required intervention from the paper’s publisher. “Throughout the 1930s, Enderis helped steer Times coverage to play down Jewish persecution and play up Germany’s peaceful intentions. He kowtowed to Nazi officials, wrote stories presenting solely the Nazi point of view, and reined in Times reporters whose criticism he thought went too far, shaping the news in favor of a genocidal regime bent on establishing a ‘Thousand Year Reich.’” [Tablet]
📽 Film Fame: In the Wall Street Journal, Alexander Gladstone and Erich Schwartzel examine AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron’s innovative approach to connecting with his investor base as his company raises upwards of $2.2 billion through stock sale efforts. “Mr. Aron has come to represent the surrealism and opportunities of modern-day trading. He is a Harvard Business School graduate now known for sharing social-media memes of Reddit in-jokes. He has traded a Chinese real-estate firm, the Dalian Wanda Group, for three million individual investors he calls his community. He has promised the new shareholders dividends and free popcorn. And it has helped the world’s largest movie-theater chain emerge from its pandemic hole.” [WSJ]
⏳ Desert Destination: Andrew England chronicles the development of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Siri’s new administrative capital in the Financial Times. The new city is part of al-Sisi’s vision for the Egyptian economy. However, the massive government-led spending may not have the sustained economic effect al-Sisi desires. “At the core of the concerns is that the expansion of the military’s role in the state and the economy is crowding out the private sector and scaring away foreign investors. ‘The real fear people have is you go in and set up a project and the military replicates that project next door and undercuts you,’ says an Egyptian economist.” [FT]
🔯 New Paradigm: The Washington Post’sGriff Witte, Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin take a look at presumptive incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who would be Israel’s first religious and first settler leader. “But Bennett is also different in fundamental ways from all 11 men — and one woman — who will have preceded him as Israel’s leader. Assuming his coalition government does not fall apart before it can be sworn in, Bennett, 49, will be Israel’s first prime minister to identify as religious, rather than secular. And he will be the first to have lived in one of the Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
👂 Toned Down: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz pledged to continue “open dialogue” with America over Iran, but not in a “provoking way.”
🙋 Back in the Game: Former Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro is under consideration to join the Biden administration as a Middle East envoy, handling a still-developing portfolio of expanding diplomatic accords between Israel and its neighbors.
🏥 Acre Arson: Avi Har-Even, who once headed Israel’s space agency, succumbed to wounds sustained during riots that erupted in Acre last month. The 84-year old was staying in a hotel set alight by an Arab mob, and suffered burns and smoke inhalation.
📊 Public Poll: A new Channel 12 poll indicates that a plurality of Israelis prefer the “change bloc” government to a fifth round of elections, only 24% of Israelis think the new coalition will last and that Israelis trust Bennett more than they do Netanyahu.
💣 Nuclear Book: AEI’s Danielle Pletka reviews David Albright’s new book, Iran’s Perilous Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons, whichexamines Iran’s nuclear program using documents obtained by Israeli agents who breached a document cache in the Shorabad suburb of Tehran.
✡️ Defining Anti-Semitism: Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) asserted during a Fox News Primetime segment that “everybody that is a socialist or a communist is anti-Jew.”
🧱 Building Back: Egypt sent engineers and building equipment to start reconstruction in Gaza, following the damage caused during the recent round of fighting between Hamas and Israel. The Egyptians have pledged $500 million in assistance following the fighting.
☮️ Peace Delayed: Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said the country is unlikely to formalize ties with Israel until a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is negotiated.
✋BDS Pushback: The recent decision by the San Francisco teachers union to back the BDS movement has raised concerns from Jewish parents upset that Israel is being singled out for criticism.
💻 Post Blocked: Facebook apologized for a temporary error that blocked content from being viewed on the Al-Aqsa Mosque hashtag page.
🍎 Power Hungry: In his new book Ravenous, Sam Apple chronicles the story of Otto Warburg, who despite being gay and of Jewish descent, cooperated with the Nazis to pursue his scientific research on cancer.
❓Questioning: NPR spotlights the recent spike in antisemitism and quotes Jews who feel they’ve been abandoned by people they would expect to be their allies.
📺 New Show: Comedian Robby Hoffman has begun developing a TV series for Showtime, focusing on her childhood growing up in Crown Heights’ Hasidic community.
🦏 New Arrival: The Ramat Gan Zoo announced the birth of a baby rhinoceros.
🌭 Gone but Not Forgotten: Former Rep. Anthony Weiner comments on the New York City mayoral race, from his perch as operator of a environmentally sustainable countertop company. In the interview, Weiner told the NYT’s Ben Smith that he has ‘rachmones’ (empathy in Yiddish) for journalists.
🤩 Fellowshipping: Karen Adler, Hildy Kuryk, Joe Kennedy and Cordell Carter were among those named to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships on Friday.
🔯 Remembering: David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier who liberated Auschwitz, died at age 98. Rabbi Richard Rubenstein, the most prominent Jewish figure in the “Death of God” movement, died last month at age 97.
Pic of the Day
Leaders of Israel’s proposed coalition government met as a group for the first time this weekend.
Chicago and Aspen-based investor and philanthropist, reported to own large stakes in Maytag, Hilton Hotels, the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bulls, among many other companies, Lester Crown turns 96…
Rehoboth Beach, Del., resident, Dennis B. Berlin turns 80… Former five-term Democratic Congressman from California, he now serves as counsel in the Century City office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Mel Levine turns 78… Professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of 13 books, Deborah Tannen turns 76… Deputy secretary of state of the U.S., Wendy Ruth Sherman turns 72… Senior advisor in the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. State Department, he was previously the staff director of the House International Relations Committee, Hillel Weinberg turns 69… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-PA), Susan Ellis Wild turns 64… Former vice president of the United States, Mike Pence turns 62… Jerusalem resident, Deborah Renert turns 61… U.S. District judge for the Southern District of New York, Jesse Matthew Furman turns 49… U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) turns 49… One-half of the Arab-Jewish electronic music duo Chromeo, David “Dave 1” Macklovitch turns 43… Director of voice, creativity and culture at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Isaac Luria turns 38… Editor of The New York Review of Books, Emily S. Greenhouse turns 35… Actress and model, Emily Ratajkowski turns 30… Canadian ice hockey forward currently playing with HC Kunlun Red Star in the Kontinental Hockey League, Ethan Werek turns 30… Andrea Gonzales…