👋 Good Thursday morning!
Ed. note: This is the final Daily Kickoff of 2021. Thank you for being an avid reader over the past 12 months. We look forward to bringing you ever greater stories and content in 2022. Stay tuned!
Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) planned trip to Israel over Christmas has been postponed amid Israel’s increased travel restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, a spokesperson told Jewish Insider.
Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY) sent a bipartisan letter to Biden administration officials urging them to impose sanctions on Hamas and Hezbollah officials for their use of human shields in conflicts with Israel.
The Illinois Investment Policy Board voted 7-0 to divest its state pension funds from Unilever, following the announcement earlier this year by subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s that the ice cream company would cease sales in what it referred to as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and Arizona have already divested state funds from the U.K.-based conglomerate.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan suggested yesterday that talks with Tehran over its nuclear program could be exhausted “within weeks,” during a Iran-focused visit to Jerusalem in which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata.
The meetings helped assuage Israeli concerns over policy differences between the U.S. and Israel on the Iranian threat, senior Israeli officials told reporters.
Gantz also updated Sullivan on confidence-building measures that the defense establishment is undertaking with the Palestinian Authority as well as counterterrorism and other security missions in the West Bank.
In his meeting with Sullivan, Gantz stressed that Israel wanted the U.S. to further invest in Israel’s technological edge, as well as its quantitive and qualitative military superiority, an Israeli official told Jewish Insider.
meet the candidate
Virginia’s Victoria Virasingh navigates the progressive lane
As she mounts her first bid for public office, Victoria Virasingh, a progressive House challenger in Northern Virginia, is borrowing from the grassroots playbook that has proven successful in recent Democratic primary upsets from the Bronx to St. Louis. The 29-year-old Arlington native, who is challenging Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and she has renounced contributions from corporate political action committees. But Virasingh emphasizes that her campaign is informed, more than anything else, by her own background, as she explained in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel.
Background: Virasingh, who identifies as Indian and Latina, is the daughter of working-class immigrants from Ecuador and Thailand. She attended Stanford University on a full scholarship and was previously employed in the tech sector at Palantir, the Silicon Valley data firm, where her work on public-private partnerships took her to Germany and Israel, among other places. Virasingh launched her campaign this summer after returning home amid the pandemic.
Outside the box: “When I was sitting down and deciding our policies and what I believed in, it came from a lived experience and also a professional experience and responding to the needs of the constituents of my district,” Virasingh said last month in the finished basement of her parents’ Arlington townhouse, which doubles as her campaign headquarters. “Sometimes that’s going to neatly fit in a box, and sometimes it’s not.”
Navigating the Middle East: Her stance on Israel sets her apart from some of her progressive allies in the House. Virasingh supports continued U.S. security assistance to Israel. “Our relationship and our allyship with Israel is extremely vital,” she said. “I believe in strengthening that relationship.” Still, her hesitation with regard to supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system suggests that she may still be working her way through the issue. “I don’t want to be presumptive about how I would vote on the Iron Dome funding,” she said, “but I would hope to be more proactive on the policy prior to the vote itself.”
Ally: “She is a pragmatic progressive who does not fit neatly into an ideological box, and she rejects outright the antisemitic notion that Zionist Jews should be pushed out of the progressive movement,” Zioness’s Amanda Berman said of Virasingh. “Given her family’s own refugee story and her experiences growing up, she sees herself as an ally to Jews and other minorities who have had to fight for the American dream.”
Reason for running: “When I looked at the priorities of the voters and the priorities of the district and the leadership, I didn’t see those priorities being translated,” Virasingh told JI. “I didn’t see those issues being advocated for in the way that they needed to be. It started to trigger something in me. We can’t just wait. We can’t just say, ‘Oh, well, he’s nice, so therefore, we should just keep him,’ when, I think, we need to advocate for leaders who understand what it’s like and are willing to do something about it.”
Bonus — Texas Hold’em: J Street is endorsing progressive immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros in her second challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) in Texas’s 28th Congressional District. Cuellar was endorsed by Pro-Israel America in July.
Ya’alon: Biden should ‘rehabilitate’ the Iran sanctions coalition
Former Israeli Defense Minister and IDF Chief of General Staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon called for the Biden administration to reconstitute a pressure campaign against Iran, including bringing together a coalition of countries to enforce sanctions. Speaking to Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast,” Ya’alon said the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran was a mistake, but not one that can’t be reversed.
Coalition rebuilding: “I call to rehabilitate the coalition. I call [on] the Biden administration: Let’s try to build again such a coalition by bringing all the elements, to include Russia and China,” Ya’alon said, while admitting the challenges in realigning with increasingly contentious adversaries. “I don’t ignore it. China has signed a strategic economic agreement with Iran for 25 years, but it is not the [lost cause].” Ya’alon described how he and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — at then-President Barack Obama’s request — convinced Moscow and Beijing to join the sanctions coalition. “After the U.N. Security Council Resolution [1929 passed in June, 2010], having a coalition led by the United States, not just on the United Nations [overall], [the sanctions] had become successful in 2012. The feeling in Tehran was that they [had] to make a decision whether to go on with their activities, or to survive as a regime. The choice was clear for me, survivability.”
Missed opportunity: Despite the pressure on the Iranians, Ya’alon said, the United States committed a “historic missed opportunity” by not pressuring the regime further, noting that the Obama administration could have pressed for Iran to dismantle its centrifuges, forfeit more uranium and end its missile-development program. “The problem in the engagement between the P-5+1 [world powers negotiating the 2015 agreement] and the Iranian regime, approaching 2016, to my mind, was an American political clock,” he said on the podcast. “The Obama administration at the time, after almost three years of political engagement… seemed to be in a hurry because of the elections,” Ya’alon added of the administration’s attempts to seal the deal before the end of Obama’s second term.
Closer than ever: Still, Ya’alon considered the withdrawal a mistake. “Because of the withdrawal from the JCPOA, now the Iranians are close to the ability, first of all, to have enriched uranium in a capacity to produce a bomb,” he argued. “Because of the withdrawal, the U.S. administration destroyed a coalition, the P5+1; they are not on board.”
letting them rise
At Sunflower Bakery, life skills baked into the kosher cookies
Inside Cafe Sunflower, the lobby-level bakery and coffee shop in the Rockville, Md., office of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, a young employee named Michael excitedly greeted a customer. He rattled off the list of beverages he could make. In front of him was a glass case filled with kosher cookies, cakes and other baked goods. Everything in the shop had been made by the students at Sunflower Bakery’s training kitchen a couple of miles away, where young adults with learning disabilities are taught the basics of baking and independent living: showing up to work on time, maintaining professionalism, communicating with employers and colleagues, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. Michael is one of those students.
What they can do: “So many people who have been in special ed or received additional services all the way through school have been told always what they don’t do well, what they don’t know, the things that they can’t do,” said Sara Portman Milner, a social worker who co-founded Sunflower Bakery in 2008 with Laurie Wexler. “When they leave school, and they’re supposed to get a job, their anxiety level is through the roof, because they’ve only really been told what they can’t do. They haven’t really been told, ‘You’re a wonderful human being, you’re capable of learning to be able to do something,’ and continually supported.”
Fresh idea: Wexner and Milner say this type of skills-based training program is largely nonexistent, both in the D.C. area and beyond. Training people with intellectual disabilities to then go into the community and get jobs at other institutions alongside neurotypical individuals is rare. (Not to mention that the Rockville area, home to a large Jewish population, lacked a kosher bakery.)
Meeting the need: Research shows an acute need for training services and support for that community. Twenty-eight percent of adults with intellectual disabilities have never held jobs, according to data from the Special Olympics. Only one-third of adults with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 21 and 64 are employed. Decades of research from social scientists shows a high correlation between having an intellectual disability and living in poverty. “Those are staggering statistics,” said Jody Tick, who took over for Wexler as the bakery’s executive director last summer.
Thinking twice: Much of Sunflower’s training involves instruction that an average neurotypical baker wouldn’t think twice about. But if Liz Hutter, the bakery’s culinary director, told the students to arrange cookies in alternating rows of seven and six on a tray, they couldn’t do it. “You tell that to someone with a disability, sometimes they’ll put seven cookies in a row, six cookies in a row, and they’ll put them all up in the corner,” Hutter explained. So she put together a curriculum, creating new methods to help her students learn skills that might seem like common knowledge to others.
Independent living: John Katz, Sunflower’s program director, works with students to get jobs in the community. But jobs are not the only success metric he cares about. “In this last year, I’ve had six students gaining the confidence to move out and live independently. I have two that work part-time jobs while going back to college. I have three that have gotten driver’s licenses,” Katz noted.
💪 Tough Challenges: Newsweek’s Tom O’Connor talks to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett about the dual challenges he’s facing amid the continued spread of the coronavirus and escalating tensions with Iran. “Bennett, whose nation has been regularly embroiled in controversy, crisis and conflict throughout a history spanning less than three-quarters of a century, has taken the war analogy seriously. ‘Israel has spent 73 years fighting for its survival, and that’s something that made the Israeli people more resilient and more agile,’ Bennett told Newsweek. ‘When faced by this invisible enemy, the Israeli fighting spirit kicked in and made Israel’s vaccine campaigns one of the most successful in the world. We’ll do what we can to protect lives in the fight against COVID and in the face of the threats posed to our people,’ he added.” [Newsweek]
⛺ Big-Tent Politics: In his newsletter Deep Shtetl, The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg looks at Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s rise to power, as the once-mocked neophyte politician has morphed into one of the most powerful politicians in the country, poised to become the next prime minister if his coalition government holds until 2023. “Simply put, Lapid sees himself as a general marshaling the Israeli majority against an extremist minority, and everything he says is geared toward that goal. Unlike his nemesis Netanyahu, he resists attempts to pit different segments of society against each other, instead drawing a bright dividing line between a diverse Israeli mainstream that seeks a way to live together and the intolerant arsonists who seek to burn down their collective home. In his rhetoric, Lapid tries to avoid pathologizing entire communities, eschewing stock political phrases like ‘Arab violence’ or ‘settler violence’ in favor of ‘extremist violence.’ This big-tent approach has its critics, who say it lets culpable communities off the hook, but for Lapid, it is a point of principle.” [TheAtlantic]
🇮🇷 Tehran Troubles: In Foreign Policy, Sajjad Safaei, a postdoc fellow at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, outlines the importance of renewing a nuclear deal for Iran, weighing the economic, foreign policy, security and environmental crises faced by the country today. “Recent developments on Iran’s doorstep provide clues to the eroding impact of sanctions on its geopolitical strength. In neighboring Afghanistan, traditionally within Iran’s orbit of influence, Tehran’s response to the rapid Taliban takeover of the country seemed largely muted, especially when contrasted with the palpable role played by other regional actors. So much so that one of Iran’s most veteran diplomats has described his country as ‘the main regional loser’ after the U.S. withdrawal… Having correctly sensed that Tehran’s geopolitical options are today limited, neighbors in Pakistan, Turkey, and Azerbaijan are now mustering the confidence to provoke Iran by holding joint military exercises right across its northwestern border. Even Russia, which the Raisi administration ostensibly considers an ally, shows indifference toward many of Iran’s key concerns and wishes. The costs of angering Tehran are today so meager that Azerbaijan, a country 19 times smaller than Iran, feels emboldened enough to turn itself into a base for anti-Iran activities and to raise tensions with its giant neighbor to its south.” [ForeignPolicy]
Around the Web
🏃 Succession: Bob Menendez Jr., the son of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), is preparing to enter the race for his father’s old House seat to succeed retiring Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), while a new redistricting map threatens the seat of Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ).
🥯 Bagel Bites: Cookbook author and social media influencer Jake Cohen toldNewsweek he hopes to utilize his books and online presence to make traditional Jewish food a mainstream cuisine.
🍽️ Just in Time: Jeffrey Chodorow’s China Grill Management signed a deal for a new restaurant in South Florida’s Bal Harbour Shops.
🏗️ Skyscraper Skirmish: The developers of 432 Park Ave., a Manhattan high-rise on the city’s Billionaire’s Row that is prone to flooding, elevator malfunctions and other structural issues, are rejecting the condo board’s claims that the building was built with significant flaws.
🧑🏫 Diversity Dilemma: Jay P. Greene and James D. Paul suggest in Newsweek that university diversity equity and inclusion staff, in focusing on “political action against the Jewish state,” foment antisemitism on campus.
🏴 Dangerous Exodus: New/Lines Magazinelooks at the challenges facing Iranian Kurds who have fled the country out of fear for their lives, winding up in Iraq’s Kurdistan region or in third countries where they struggle to manage the disconnect with their homeland, where many still have family.
🏦 Warning Sign: David Eisner, a former assistant Treasury secretary, and former National Security Council official Rich Goldberg suggest in Barron’s that the Biden administration has erred in its handling of terrorism sanctions on Iran, and warn of the threat to private sector companies considering doing business with previously sanctioned entities.
🚑 Escalating Tensions: A Palestinian who opened fire on Israeli troops in the West Bank was killed by soldiers last night. The army said a riot ensued in which dozens of Palestinians surrounded the troops, who responded with riot dispersal means.
🎄 Holiday Happenings: Israel’s recent border closures are having significant effects on its tourism industry, especially companies and trip operators who cater to Christian clientele visiting over Christmas.
📛 Show Stoppers: The Israel Export Institute is seeking an exemption from Israel’s travel ban in order to proceed with its plan to host a pavilion at the CES tech show, which is set to be held in Las Vegas early next month but has already seen participants pulling out.
☢️ Brewing Tensions: Israel’s incoming Air Force chief, Maj. Gen. Tom Baer, warned that Israel could mount an air strike against Iran’s nuclear sites “as early as tomorrow.”
🇮🇩 Next in Line? U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed with officials in Jakarta the possibility of Indonesia normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel, Barak Ravid reports in Axios.
💲 Business Intuition: Intuit is acquiring Israeli startup Imvision, which developed a lifestyle security platform for APIs, for $50 million.
🕺 Party Politics:Al-Monitor’s Mazal Mualem looks at the rise of Israeli political parties dominated by a single individual — using as an example of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, which he founded and has led since its creation — and what the impact of these “parties of one” may be on the broader Israel political system.
🧳 B’ruchim Ha’baim: More than 27,000 new immigrants to Israel entered the country this year, according to Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Ministry, the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh, including 4,000 from the U.S. — the highest number of American olim since 1973.
Song of the Day
Israeli-American rapper and songwriter Nissim Black released the music video to his latest single, “Adored,” last night.
One of two Grand Rebbes of Satmar, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum turns 70…
Television producer Barney Rosenzweig turns 84… Electrical engineer, who with Vint Cerf invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), Bob Kahn turns 83… Emmy Award-winning actor, writer, musician, radio host, director and producer, best known for his work on “The Simpsons,” Harry Shearer turns 78… Known for important contributions in areas of mathematics, including geometry, analysis and group theory, Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov turns 78… U.S. district judge in the Southern District of New York, on senior status since 2011, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan turns 77… Former economics columnist for The Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson turns 76… Documentary filmmaker, she is currently working on a film on screenwriter and Jewish activist Ben Hecht, Aviva Kempner turns 75… Justice on the Supreme Court of Canada, Michael Moldaver turns 74… Editor-at-large of The Bulwark, William “Bill” Kristol turns 69… Retired Israeli basketball player and coach, until 2006 she was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most points (108) ever scored in a women’s professional game, Orna Ostfeld turns 69… Dean at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, he served as the United States ambassador to Poland, Lee A. Feinstein turns 62… Software engineer at Goldman Sachs, Bill Pinsky turns 59…
CEO of the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal turns 55… Former USAID acting mission director for the West Bank and Gaza, now mission director for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Courtney Chubb turns 52… Entrepreneur and campaign finance attorney, Jonathan Eric Zucker turns 50… Beverly Hills-based attorney and real estate agent, he is a supporter of pro-democracy groups in his native Iran, Pooya Dayanim turns 48… Israeli-Spanish singer-songwriter of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) music, Yasmin Levy turns 46… Partner in the Austin office of Keller Lenkner, she clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court, Zina Linda Gelman Bash turns 40… VP of strategy and mergers at the Heritage Group, Adam Milakofsky turns 40… Israeli singer-songwriter, musician and composer of Mizrahi music, Dudu Aharon turns 37… Founder of the Besht Yeshiva in Dresden, Akiva Weingarten turns 37… Executive director of the Alexander Hamilton Society, Dr. Gabriel Scheinmann turns 36… Founder and CEO of GovPredict, Emil Pitkin turns 34… Senior marketing manager at Rokt, Lauren Kahn turns 33… Israeli fashion model Shlomit Malka turns 28… Account executive at Edelman, India Goodman… Tom Epstein…