👋 Good Monday morning!
The Israeli delegation to Washington returned to Israel yesterday, after an unexpected Shabbat stay in the nation’s capital. More on Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s trip below.
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday night in Ramallah, the first high-level, in-person meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials in more than a decade. Sources from Bennett’s office said later that while he was aware of the meeting, “there is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be one.”
A statement from Gantz’s office said the two discussed security policies, as well as civilian and economic issues. Gantz, a former general and chief of staff of the IDF, told the Palestinian Authority leader that “Israel seeks to take measures that will strengthen the PA’s economy,” according to the statement. Gantz’s office said the two leaders agreed to further communication on the issues raised during the meeting.
Also attending were Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan, Israel’s head of Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT); Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh; and Majid Faraj, head of the Palestinian Intelligence Service.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has joined the State Department’s Iran team as a senior adviser, Axios’s Barak Ravid reported. One of Shapiro’s main missions will be to engage in discussions with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Defense to enhance coordination between the U.S. and Israel, and allow a more intimate dialogue about Iran. Shapiro, who served in the Obama administration, will spend half of his time in Washington and half in Israel, where he’ll work out of the U.S. embassy, according to Axios.
A parole board panel in California voted on Friday to grant parole to Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian militant who shot and killed Democratic presidential contender and then-Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968. Sirhan’s release still needs to be approved by the full parole board and the governor of California.
A spokesperson for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election, has not said whether he will concur with the panel’s decision. The campaign of Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate in the recall election, did not respond to an inquiry from Jewish Insider on whether Elder, if elected, would grant parole to Sirhan.
Biden promises ‘other options’ if Iran nuclear talks fail, following meeting with Bennett
Amid the backdrop of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held their inaugural meeting at the White House on Friday, discussing the threat from Iran and a range of other issues tied to the U.S.-Israel relationship. They emerged from a private meeting with a largely positive outlook for the bilateral ties, according to public remarks and accounts from Jewish leaders briefed on the discussions, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Elephant in the room: On Iran, Biden said in joint remarks with Bennett, “We’re putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.” He emphasized that the U.S. is committed to ensuring Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to elaborate on the “other options” during a subsequent press briefing.
Thumbs up: In his public remarks, Bennett responded positively to Biden’s comments, although his government does not support the nuclear negotiations. “I was happy to hear your clear words that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon and that you emphasized that you will try the diplomatic route but there [are] other options if that doesn’t work,” he said. Bennett reportedly told Biden that he will not actively campaign against a U.S. return to the Iran deal.
Behind closed doors: Biden brought up the potential reopening of the Jerusalem consulate for the Palestinian population and the planned eviction of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem during the meeting, Barbara Leaf, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told Jewish leaders on a call following the Bennett-Biden sitdown, two sources familiar with the call told Jewish Insider. Leaf said there was a frank discussion about these issues, but declined to elaborate further, according to one of the call’s participants.
Fast friends: Bennett emphasized in his remarks that he sees Biden as a reliable partner. “I want to thank you for your warm words now and in our private meeting, which attest to your support of the state of Israel, but that’s not new. It’s been decades and you’ve always stood up for us, especially during tough times,” Bennett said. “We trust in your support, Mr. President.” Biden moved his meeting with Bennett from the Oval Office to his private dining room, where the two shared coffee — a gesture seen by some observers as a sign of goodwill and positive relations between the two leaders. The meeting lasted twice as long as its scheduled length.
Good start: Bennett briefed Israeli reporters after the meeting, saying that he “found a leader who loves Israel, knows exactly what he wants and is attuned to our needs.” American Jewish Congress Executive Director Joel Rubin told JI that his “big takeaway was that this was the establishment of a new relationship at the leader level” and that a “personal rapport was developed” between Biden and Bennett.
How it played: “Biden Vows ‘Unshakable Partnership’ With Israel in Meeting With Bennett” [NYTimes] • “Biden, Bennett open new chapter in U.S.-Israel relations with White House visit” [WashPost] • “Biden tells Israeli PM he’ll try diplomacy first with Iran” [AP] • “Biden meets with Israeli prime minister after deadly Kabul bombing” [FoxNews] • “Afghanistan violence overshadows White House visit by new Israeli prime minister” [LATimes] • “Biden meets with new Israeli prime minister: ‘We’ve become close friends’” [CNN]
The ‘Boy With No Job’ gets a new job
When Ben Soffer started the @BoyWithNoJob Instagram account in 2014, he was a senior at Yeshiva University and no one had heard of meme accounts. But now his account’s 1.6 million followers dwarf the 6,500 who follow his alma mater. And while many YU students could probably name some of the university’s best-known alumni, most would likely not include Soffer on that list. But with a new canned cocktail company called Spritz Society, Soffer is hoping to leverage his following on the social media platform for widespread commercial success, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Relatable humor: Soffer’s account specializes in “relatable humor,” he explained to JI. “If you were to take any concept from a TV show, like a ‘Seinfeld,’ where you’re watching, and you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, That’s funny. That happened to me this morning.’” That, said Soffer, “is the goal of anything that we try and get out.”
On brand: Over the years, Soffer has grown up, or — as influencers hope to do — he has at least grown his personal brand, launching Spritz Society to an audience that has, for years, heard about Soffer’s love for the wine-based cocktail. “Because I love spritzes, I would post pictures of them on Instagram, and I would get feedback from my followers that they didn’t know what it was, [asking] ‘It’s so beautiful. Where can I get it?’” he explained.
Canned cocktails: Following the runaway success of hard seltzers like Truly and White Claw, popular drinks like margaritas, vodka sodas and gin and tonics are now available in cans, and can be easily purchased in liquor stores, supermarkets and bodegas. Soffer is betting that despite the dozens of hard seltzers and ready-to-drink cocktails already available, his Instagram followers will propel his direct-to-consumer canned spritzes — available in grapefruit, blood orange, pineapple and lemonade flavors — to success. A four-pack costs $20. (The spritzes can be shipped directly to consumers because they use wine and not liquor.)
Spritz-less kiddush: His one regret for Spritz Society? That the product is not certified kosher. “That is something that I would love to change. But for now, it’s not kosher,” Soffer said. “It is vegan, which at least for me, my personal Judaism, is good enough. I’m fine with drinking wine products outside of a religious setting as long as they’re vegan.” So, Soffer won’t be able to get Spritz Society to a synagogue kiddush. But “I’m constantly thinking about Hashem,” said Soffer, “and thanking him for helping me with this business.”
🗳️ History Lesson: In Washingtonian,Tevi Troy examines the long history of one-term presidents attempting political comebacks. “For all of [Former President Donald Trump’s] norm-breaking, there’s nothing unprecedented about a former holder of that office angling for a return engagement. Unfortunately for Trump, it’s also a trick that only one evicted White House tenant has ever pulled off: Grover Cleveland, who lost his lease in 1888 despite winning the popular vote,” writes Troy, who offers a roundup of the most significant comeback attempts. [Washingtonian]
🧑⚖️ Bench Watch: In an interview with The New York Times, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer acknowledged that decisions about judicial retirements need not be blind to political considerations, echoing his predecessors Justices Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, while hinting at retirement and offering a note of caution against some Democrats’ plan to add additional justices to the court. “Think twice, at least…If A can do it, B can do it. And what are you going to have when you have A and B doing it?” [NYTimes]
🍷 Emergency Powers: The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov gives a behind-the-scenes look at the last-minute Shabbat preparations for Israeli media and government officials traveling with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett after their trip to Washington was extended into Friday. “There have been prime minister’s trips over Shabbat before; the Prime Minister’s Office doesn’t travel on Saturdays as a policy. But this was the first emergency Shabbat stay anyone in the delegation could remember,” Harkov wrote. “The Israeli Embassy in Washington jumped into action to make Shabbat happen for Bennett and his entourage, so many of whom are also Orthodox, organizing a Shabbat dinner and a suite-turned-synagogue thanks to American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) and the Chabad Israeli Center in Rockville.” [JPost]
Around the Web
🕍 Prep Work: New York’s largest synagogues are planning to hold in-person services during the High Holidays early next month, some with modifications including outdoor livestreaming and proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
🎓 Campus Beat: A new complaint has been filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill after the discovery of social media posts from a political science instructor teaching a Middle East studies course that used the term “Zionist dirtbags.”
✍️ No Signature: Employees of Politico will not be required to sign the mission statement of new owner Axel Springer that includes support for the trans-Atlantic alliance and Israel, Ben Smith reports. The German media conglomerate previously required all employees to sign the statement.
🍦 Bad Taste: The chair of the board of Ben & Jerry’s is the subject of a complaint filed with the IRS that alleges she benefited from a donation from the ice cream company’s philanthropic arm, of which she is vice chair, to a think tank of which she is the sole paid employee.
🙅♀️ Real Fake: Childhood friends of “My Unorthodox Life” star Julia Haart are refuting the reality star’s claims about her upbringing and life in Monsey, N.Y.
🖼️ Gallery Gems: A new exhibit at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, N.Y., showcases artwork from the early phases of acclaimed Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s career.
📗 Book Two: In Deborah Feldman’s new memoir Exodus, Revisited, the author, whose first book was turned into the hit Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox,” recounts her experiences after leaving the Haredi community and moving to Berlin.
📚 Book Shelf: Based on true events, Israeli novelist David Grossman’s new book, More Than I Love My Life, chronicles the story of a family matriarch’s imprisonment on a Yugoslavian island during Tito’s rule.
🧑✈️ Honor Flight: Delta pilot Alexander Kahn, who flew a plane of Afghan refugees from Germany to the U.S., told CNN’s “New Day” that the experience was personal for him, as the son of a Holocaust survivor whose father fled to the U.S. “not much different than the people who are coming to the United States now.”
💉 No Shot: Vaccine hesitancy is running rampant in the West Bank and Gaza, where 37% and 18% of the respective populations have been inoculated, despite a recent delivery of 500,000 doses from the U.S.
🦠 Vaccination Nation: Israel is now offering third doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 12 and older. Israel’s Health ministry also announced that Israelis vaccinated with the third dose will be exempt from a week-long quarantine upon returning to Israel from countries that are considered to have a low or moderate risk of COVID infection.
🕯️ Remembering: Israel-based journalist Josh Mitnick, whose work appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, the Wall Street Journal and other publications, died at 50. Seven-time Emmy-winning actor Ed Asner died at 91. Mining executive Stanley Weiss, who founded Business Executives for National Security, died at 94. Linguist and cognitive scientist Lila Gleitman died at 91.
Gif of the Day
The Israeli delegation, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, during Kabbalat Shabbat at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Friday evening.
Basketball star in both the U.S. and Israel, a first round pick of the Baltimore Bullets in the 1965 NBA draft, Tal Brody turns 78…
Author and genealogist, Judith R. Frazin turns 79… Israeli settlement movement activist and a former mayor of Kedumim, Daniella Weiss turns 76… Stand-up comedian, political activist and voice actor, Lewis Niles Black turns 73… Author of the novel Dead Poets Society, Nancy H. Kleinbaum turns 73… Hasidic rebbe of Zvhil-Mezhbizh based in Boston, Miami and Jerusalem, Rabbi Yitzhak Aharon Ira Korff turns 72… Producer for CBS News, Murray Weiss turns 70… Israeli vocalist who sings in Hebrew, Turkish and Spanish, he was a judge in the inaugural season of “The Voice Israel,” Shlomi Shabat turns 67… Actor, comedian and television director, David Paymer turns 67… Rosh yeshivah at Yeshivat Maale Gilboa and the rabbi of Kibbutz Lavi, he previously served as a member of the Knesset for the Meimad party, Rabbi Yehuda Gilad turns 66… Co-founder of the Maoz leadership network in Israel, Deborah Cogen Swartz… U.S. Senator (R-NC), Thom Tillis turns 61… Business manager of the Perth Amboy (N.J.) Free Public Library, Herschel Chomsky turns 61…
Partner at NJ-based law firm, Rubenstein, Marucci & Shinrod, Richard B. Rubenstein turns 61… Media executive and author of the recent New York Times bestseller First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (and Unelected) People Who Shaped our Presidents, Gary L. Ginsberg turns 59… Member of the UK’s House of Lords and former executive editor of The Times of London, Baron Daniel Finkelstein turns 59… Associate producer at Fox News Channel, Eldad Yaron turns 48… Israeli television presenter, actor and singer, Tal Mosseri turns 46… Director of search and analytics for Politico, Mitchell Schuler turns 44… Founder of Daily Action, Laura Moser turns 44… Executive vice president and general counsel at GMF Capital, Simon Marciano turns 42… Political fundraiser in Massachusetts, Julia Hoffman turns 39… Actor, following in the footsteps of his father Dustin Hoffman, Max Hoffman turns 37… Harvard Kennedy School MPA graduate, now a freelance policy communications consultant, Margy Levinson turns 35… Project manager at Shalom Bayit Construction in Beverly Hills, Mati Geula Cohen…