👋 Good Wednesday morning!
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett this morning in Jerusalem. The meeting focused on nuclear talks between Iran and European negotiators in Vienna.
“These days are pretty important. What happens in Vienna has profound ramifications for the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel for the upcoming years. And that’s why it’s such a timely meeting,” Bennett said at the start of the meeting.
Sullivan said he was asked to make the trip now, “even just before Christmas, because at a critical juncture for both of our countries on a major set of security issues, it’s important that we sit together and develop a common strategy, a common outlook, and find a way forward that fundamentally secures your country’s interests and mine. And we believe those interests, like the values upon which our countries are built, are deeply shared and deeply felt.”
Earlier in the day, Sullivan held a working meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, and last night participated in a diplomatic working meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and other senior officials joined the meetings with the president and prime minister.
U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malleytold CNN yesterday that time is running out for negotiations with Iran. “If they continue at their current pace, we have some weeks left but not much more than that, at which point, I think, the conclusion will be that there’s no deal to be revived,” Malley said.
Israel will be the first country in the world to administer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine. The country’s Pandemic Expert Committee decided to make the fourth shot available to adults over 60 and medical personnel. “This is wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world,” Bennett said. The government also announced a new series of restrictions to avoid overcrowded public spaces.
On Tuesday, leaders from local Jewish groups in Washington, D.C., met with the chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools and the director of the Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs following an incident in which third-graders at a Capitol Hill elementary school were forced to reenact scenes from the Holocaust.
“This incident is one of the most disturbing that my colleagues and I have ever encountered,” Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, told Jewish Insider. “We hope that DCPS completes its internal investigation in a timely fashion, so that we can better understand how a heinous incident like this could happen.” The meeting was also attended by representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.
The teacher at the center of the incident, Kimberlynn Jurkowski, was the school’s library media specialist. She was fired from a previous teaching job in 2013 following a conviction for her role in a $24,000 tutoring scandal and later stripped of her New Jersey teaching license. She was also charged with animal cruelty in 2019.
for the record
Meeks denies DSA collaboration in NYC speaker race
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) forcefully denied recent reporting in The New York Post that suggested he had courted votes from anti-Israel activists affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America in a behind-the-scenes effort to lock up support for Adrienne Adams in the race for New York City Council speaker. “The New York Post was 100% wrong in their reporting, not even close,” Meeks said in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel on Tuesday. “There were no negotiations and not even any conversations with anyone from the DSA or anything of that nature. Not one.”
Correct the record: Meeks was responding to a series of stories published last week alleging that he had forged an alliance with incoming council members connected to the DSA — which supports the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement targeting Israel — to elect Adrienne Adams, his preferred candidate, over Francisco Moya, who was until recently a leading contender for the speakership. “Under any circumstances, that wouldn’t be,” Meeks, who chairs the Queens County Democratic Party, told JI. “But the implication of me even meeting with them to cut a deal is false in fact because that never happened.”
Silent treatment: Until now, Meeks had refrained from commenting publicly on the matter. “I just chose not to talk about it,” he explained, “because I know anyone that could read the article thoroughly would see that it just didn’t make sense.” But the congressman also seemed eager to correct what he viewed as a separate misimpression — that his back-channeling had been part of an effort to stymie Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who had favored Moya for the speakership. Far from it, he said. “The person that I was talking to the most was the mayor himself, who had nothing to lose in this scenario,” Meeks told JI, referring to Eric Adams. “We understood each other.”
No tension: Meeks, for his part, rejected the implication that his support for Adams had caused tension for the mayor-elect. “Some tried to make it like the mayor wasn’t successful and this was a defeat,” Meeks said. “That’s not true, because it was all of us,” including labor groups as well as county chairs, who “had an open line to the mayor all the time. He knew that he could not lose in this process.” “I’m a moderate Democrat — look at my voting record, look at Adrienne’s and look at the mayor’s, and you’ll see they’re similar,” Meeks said. “I think that we are in a prime position to move forward to make the city safer. That’s important. That’s what this is really about, is making the city safer and more prosperous, and that benefits everybody.”
Dr. Oz’s blank slate in Pennsylvania
TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz’s announcement last month that he is running for Senate in Pennsylvania has been met with a mixture of surprise and curiosity by political strategists and activists in the state, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. The political neophyte joins a growing field of Republicans vying for their party’s nomination in the open seat, which will be vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who opted not to run for a third term.
Jersey boy: Oz, 61, has lived in New Jersey for the last three decades, and he commutes to Manhattan to film “The Dr. Oz Show” and perform surgeries at New York Presbyterian-Columbia Medical Center. He has said he and his wife moved to Bryn Athyn, a suburb of Philadelphia in Montgomery County, last year, although social media activity shows him routinely spending time in New Jersey. “His lack of connection to Pennsylvania is going to be a serious problem,” said Mike Conallen, who has served as chief of staff to three Pennsylvania Republicans in the House of Representatives.
NatSec novice: Only one foreign policy issue is mentioned on Oz’s website: “Get tough on China,” it says. Oz visited Israel in 2013 with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on a trip funded by Republican donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who died earlier this year. Oz approached the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in much the same way he is approaching his Senate campaign: as a doctor who knows how to ease suffering. “As a healer I would love to contribute whatever I can to ease suffering of those caught in the current conflicts,” he told Boteach in an interview at the time.
Turkey ties: The son of Turkish immigrants, Oz would be the first Muslim member of the Senate. “I think Islam is a huge opportunity, and an obligation to explain what it’s really about. It’s too easily characterized as people blowing things up, motivated by hate. It doesn’t really reflect the religion I grew up with,” Oz said in a 2017 interview with the Turkish broadcaster TRT. Oz is a dual citizen of Turkey and the United States, and he served for two years in the Turkish army. Earlier this year, he appeared in an advertising campaign for Turkish Airlines, which is 49% state-owned.
PA problems: He has not weighed in publicly on his positions on Middle East politics, particularly as they relate to Turkey. But Oz has at least met Erdogan several times. In Pennsylvania, the issue has more relevance — the state is home to Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish religious leader who has lived in Pennsylvania in self-exile for more than two decades. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed Gülen and his followers for a failed coup attempt in 2016 and has repeatedly called for Gülen’s extradition from the United States.
austin city limits
Democratic Socialist claims early lead in Texas’ 35th Congressional District
Texas’s newly redrawn 35th Congressional District, which includes parts of Austin and San Antonio, has made a safe Democratic district even safer, local political observers say. But the question that is emerging for the early frontrunner, Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar, a Democratic Socialist and a prominent member of the council, is just how far left to tack in the primary for the seat being vacated by longtime Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
By the numbers: An internal poll from Casar’s campaign released earlier this month showed the councilman leading his closest competition, Democratic state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, by 25 points — 42% to 17% — although such polling, especially in primaries, can be unreliable. Former San Antonio City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagrán formally entered the race after the poll results were released.
To the left: Analysts said the deeply Democratic district could end up being favorable to a left-wing candidate like Casar, who has made a name for himself in Austin as an advocate for a range of progressive causes, including cutting police funding. “This is the kind of district where, not unlike [Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez [D-NY] and some of the other more progressive candidates, you have a very safe Democratic district that’s going to be decided in the primaries, and so sometimes running far to the left could be an advantage,” Walter Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told JI.
Tightrope walk: Casar’s involvement with the “defund the police” movement could also end up as a disadvantage to him among minority voters, who have not been consistently supportive of such tactics. “[Defunding] the police is an interesting thing for this district,” Jesse Crosson, a political scientist at Trinity University in San Antonio, said. “I have a feeling Casar is going to have to be careful about how he speaks about those issues because there’s going to be a sizable blue-collar contingent in this district [where] that’s not going to play as well as people might think.”
Making connections: Casar is backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and Justice Democrats. He has not publicly shared his views on the Middle East.
center of town
A first look inside Jerusalem’s Museum of Tolerance
Over the last 3,500 years or so, few construction projects in the holy city of Jerusalem have piqued as much curiosity or controversy as the Museum of Tolerance. For the last 21 years, Jerusalemites have watched with anticipation as industrial machinery burrowed and hammered into sacred ground and a sparkling new structure has risen slowly – very slowly – to dominate the heart of the modern city center. Hindered by precious archeological discoveries, bitter legal battles, protests and now a global pandemic, many have also wondered what this mysterious building will eventually contain and what it might add to a city already packed with museums, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
First look: Set for completion in the summer of 2023, the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem (MOTJ), a project of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, has already hosted a handful of high-profile events, but few people have been granted an in-depth look beyond its luxurious facade or heard in detail about the creators’ vision for a vibrant cultural center aimed at fostering dialogue and opening people’s minds. Such a concept might seem like an anomaly in one of the world’s most conflicted and divided cities, but it is exactly Jerusalem’s fractious population who those involved with the museum’s creation are hoping will visit and utilize what they say is an investment for future generations.
Read the full story here.
🕵️ Crossing a Line: The Financial Times’s Mehul Srivastava looks at the origins of the NSO Group’s downfall, after it offered its Pegasus hacking technology to the son of the Ugandan president. “But for NSO, the Israeli company that created Pegasus, this dalliance into east Africa would prove to be the moment it crossed a red line, infuriating U.S. diplomats and triggering a chain of events that would see it blacklisted by the commerce department, pursued by Apple, and driven to the verge of defaulting on its loans, according to interviews with US and Israeli officials, industry insiders and NSO employees.” [FT]
✡️🍷 So Jewish!: In an interview with Thrillist’s Esther Zuckerman, singer and actress Alana Haim reflects on how her Judaism comes through in many aspects of her life, including her new movie, “Licorice Pizza.” “It’s no secret that I’m Jewish. I mean, I have the nose. I have the name. I grew up doing Shabbat dinner every Friday. My humor comes from my Judaism. My stomach issues come from my Judaism. As we all know, every Jewish girl knows, our tummy issues are very… it happens. And that’s okay. And we grow up with it. And that’s fine. But especially with the Shabbat dinners. I mean, the funniest moments in my life have always come from Shabbat dinner.” [Thrillist]
🍻 Kibbutz Quaff: Haaretz’s Ronit Vered profiles Neil Churgin, an American-Israeli brewmaster who runs a boutique brewery on a kibbutz in southern Israel with two friends and fellow kibbutzniks. “Neil Churgin, the brewmaster of ‘Beertzinut’ (Serious in Hebrew) brewery in Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava, looks like he could have stepped out of some book whose jolly protagonists sit around inn tables, quaffing jugs of foaming ale. But this story’s protagonist, who abounds with no less good will and optimism than his fictional colleagues, can often be found volunteering at breakfast shifts in the kibbutz dining room with a paper hat on his head.” [Haaretz]
Around the Web
📱 App Amen: The Wall Street Journal reports on the rising popularity of faith-based apps, which have brought in $175 million in venture capital funding this year — more than three times the amount raised in 2020.
📕 Book Shelf: Ann Marks’s new book, Vivian Maier Developed: The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny, looks at the life of a nanny in a Jewish household whose tens of thousands of prints chronicled New York and Chicago through the second half of the 20th century.
🌊 Under the Sea: Marine archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a gold ring engraved with the figure of the Good Shepherd among treasure recovered from two ancient shipwrecks off the coast of Caesarea.
🤣 Funny Guy: The New York Times spotlights comedian Shaun Eli Breidbart, who traded a job on Wall Street for a career in standup comedy, for the paper’s “It’s Never Too Late” series.
🎤 Wild Words: The executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is taking a sabbatical following comments made last month in which she referred to pro-Israel Jewish groups as “enemies.”
🔨 Guilty: A jury found Harvard professor and nanoscientist Charles Lieber guilty of lying about payments he received from China.
🏢 Business Boom: Lower taxes and a pandemic-induced influx of finance workers into South Florida are causing West Palm Beach to rapidly expand its business center.
💳 Dynamic Decision: McDonald’s announced that it is selling the Israeli company Dynamic Yield, which it purchased three years ago, to Mastercard for an undisclosed amount.
💵 Cashing Out: SoftBank is finalizing a $4 billion loan from Apollo Global Management, a sign of Apollo’s push into lending.
🇮🇱 Identity Affirmation: In an interview on Tuesday, Ra’am party head Mansour Abbas said that “Israel was born a Jewish state. This was the Jewish people’s decision. The question today is not over the country’s identity. It was born thus. It’ll remain thus.”
🛬 Omicron Politics: Israel is attributing the majority of its suspected cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus to recently returned travelers or those who have been in contact with them, as it defends against criticism over its travel restrictions.
🧨 Houthi Hits: A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that Houthi attacks on Saudi targets doubled in the first nine months of 2021, relative to the same period in 2020.
💊 Popping Pills: In Foreign Policy, Anchal Vohra explores Saudi Arabia as the drug capital of the Middle East.
🕵️ New Findings: A United Arab Emirates agency attempted to put Pegasus spyware on the phone of Jamal Khashoggi’s wife, Hanan Elatr, months before his murder, new forensics show, the Washington Post reports.
📰 Next Move: Jimmy Finkelstein, who sold The Hill in August, plans to launch a new media company.
🕯️ Remembering: Roman Kaplan, who owned New York City’s famed Samovar restaurant, died at 83.
Pic of the Day
Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Japan Tuesday using a copy of the Tanach.
Film and television actress, best known for her roles as Barbara Gordon in “Birds of Prey,” Dizzy Flores in “Starship Troopers” and Detective Allison Kerry in the “SAW” franchise, Dina Meyer turns 53…
Retired New York Supreme Court judge, Arthur J. Cooperman turns 88… Former president of the World Bank, U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, U.S. deputy secretary of defense and dean of JHU’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Paul Wolfowitz turns 78… NYC-based political consultant, ordained as a rabbi in 2011, his early career included stints as a policeman, taxi driver and bounty hunter, Henry “Hank” Sheinkopf turns 72… Retired assistant principal from the Philadelphia school district, Elissa Siegel turns 72… Associate at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky turns 67… Rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig turns 65… Retired Israeli brigadier general, Yehiel Gozal turns 64… Senior managing director in the D.C. office of Newmark, Lisa Benjamin… Andrew Fastow turns 60… Rabbi at Temple Sinai of Palm Desert, Calif., David Novak turns 59… Filmmaker and writer, David Samuel Goyer turns 56… NPR correspondent covering the State Department, Michele Kelemen turns 54… Managing director of investment banking at Young America Capital, Michael Huttner turns 52… U.S. senator (R-TX), Ted Cruz turns 51… CEO of American Council of Young Political Leaders, Libby Rosenbaum turns 40… Visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick turns 38… MFA candidate at the Helen Zell Writers’ program at the University of Michigan, Sofia Ergas Groopman turns 32… Israel programming admissions director at Jewish National Fund, Carly Korman Schlakman turns 27… Head of philanthropy and impact investment for EJF Philanthropies, Simone Friedman… Liberty Consultants’ Lisa Brazie…