👋 Good Thursday morning!
The Senate passed the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 88-11, sending it to President Joe Biden’s desk.
The 11 who voted “no” were Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) blocked an attempt to authorize $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system — the fourth time he has done so in recent months. More below.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken said the U.S. was prepared to move forward with a deal to sell the UAE 50 F-35 fighter jets as part of a $23 billion package, after the Gulf nation threatened to pull out of the deal over the delivery time and restrictions regarding Chinese access to the technology.
“We’ve wanted to make sure, for example, that our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge is assured, so we wanted to make sure that we could do a thorough review of any technologies that are sold or transferred to other partners in the region, including the UAE,” Blinken said in a press conference on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration appears to have shelved — at least for the moment — plans to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem that has historically served Palestinians, according to a Times of Israel report.
Paul again blocks unanimous consent vote on Iron Dome supplemental funding
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Wednesday blocked a unanimous consent request to authorize $1 billion in supplemental funding for Iron Dome, the fourth time in recent months that the Kentucky senator has taken to the Senate floor to halt attempts to replenish Israel’s missile-defense system, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports. Paul has demanded an amendment that would redirect funding for the additional funding from $6 billion currently earmarked for Afghanistan.
How it happened: Wednesday’s vote was called for by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). The Connecticut senator had also made a request for unanimous consent in October, which was also blocked by Paul, as were efforts by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “In total, 4,400 rockets were launched by Hamas [in the May conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza]. If the Iron Dome had failed, countless Israeli civilians would have been killed. The system performed exceptionally well and it showed its necessity for both humanitarian and strategic defensive purposes,” Blumenthal said on the Senate floor, adding, “We cannot continue to use the U.S.-Israel relationship as a political football.”
Mark your calendar: “The next chance to fix this will probably be the omnibus [spending package] in February,” a Senate source told Jewish Insider on Wednesday — although Senate leadership may face challenges in finalizing the appropriations bill. Wrapping the supplemental funding into the February omnibus bill — which would receive a Senate floor vote requiring 60 votes for passage — would make it more difficult for Paul to continue to fight passage of the additional Iron Dome funding.
Bonus: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) filed cloture on a number of judicial and ambassadorial nominees, including Rahm Emanuel and Mark Gitenstein, respectively the nominees for Japan and the European Union, whose confirmations have been stalled by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Still pressing the fight for press freedom
When Joel Simon joined the Committee to Protect Journalists in 1997, there was a widespread sense that “liberal democracy had triumphed” and the internet would “make censorship obsolete,” he said in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “There was a lot of optimism.” Within just a year, his outlook had worsened, particularly amid an upsurge in violence in Latin America. Simon took over as CPJ’s executive director in 2006. Now, as he prepares to step down at the end of the month, he is dismayed to report that the situation has in many ways never been worse.
‘Democracy is waning’: “We’re not where we expected to be a quarter-century later,” Simon told JI. “There are more journalists in prison around the world than at any time since CPJ has been documenting that phenomenon. Every indicator suggests that press freedom is in decline.” More broadly, he said, democracy is waning across the globe, and while technology has “certainly liberated information,” it has largely failed to deliver on its initial promise and instead has empowered authoritarian governments and other “enemies of press freedom and free expression.”
Demanding job: Simon, who is in his mid-50s, announced that he would be stepping down from his post last June. His decision, he said, was motivated by a number of considerations, one being that he feared burning out in a position that has become more demanding than ever in recent years. “We’re not making the kind of progress we need to make,” he said, “and I think the horizon you need to really think creatively about how to change the situation is a longer horizon than I was prepared to give to CPJ at this stage of my life.”
What’s next: In 2022, Simon is joining the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University as a fellow, where he will conduct research to create a global press freedom center. Simon will also be a senior visiting fellow at Columbia’s Knight First Amendment Institute. In April, Simon will release a new book, The Infodemic: How Censorship and Lies Made the World Sicker and Less Free, co-written with Robert Mahoney.
Optimistic outlook: In spite of what looks like a grim forecast for journalists, Simon argued that there is still reason to remain hopeful. “If you have a long enough view and you recognize precisely what’s at stake, then you can totally imagine a scenario in which things are different and things are better,” he said. “That’s certainly how I feel.”
From start-up nation to foodtech destination
In a small laboratory on the 10th floor of a glassy office building overlooking the Israeli city of Ra’anana, food technician Maia Schick is busy cooking up new recipes using proteins developed from plants. A few miles away, in Petah Tikva, biochemist Yaron Aviv spends his days testing and tasting water extracted from humidity. Both scientists are part of a quiet but tasty revolution taking place in Israel,Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Foodtech boom: Aimed at addressing the wider global climate crisis and reducing humanity’s carbon footprint, the once-fledgling fields of food science technology (foodtech) and agricultural technology (agritech) are booming in Israel and, experts say, set to grow exponentially in the coming years as the Jewish state tries to position itself as a leader in the space where food and technology meet.
Secret sauce: In the lab in Ra’anana, Schick, a recent food science graduate, is a food technologist for Innovopro. She is exploring ways to use chickpea protein in various recipes. The ingredient, CP-Pro-70, is produced by Innovopro, a company already considered a veteran in the field of plant-based alternative proteins and one that has raised at least $23 million in investments. “We have the magic chip that allows food companies to create diverse products such as yogurts, mayonnaise, chocolate, eggs and meat,” the company’s CEO, Taly Nechushtan said. Experiments are also underway, she said, to use what she calls “the secret sauce” to create ice cream and even cheddar cheese.
Global leader: Alla Voldman, director of strategic alliances for the Good Food Institute, told JI that Israeli researchers currently draw at least a quarter of global investments seeking to develop the foodtech industry – an incredible achievement, she said, for such a small country. “Israel is a global innovation leader in alternative proteins,” stated Voldman, adding that it has been particularly prominent in the development of cultivated meat – or meat grown using a biopsy from a live animal. With increasing interest and support from the government, Voldman said, Israel’s local foodtech industry is one that competes with the United States, Singapore and the Netherlands, and is drawing interest and investments from well-known food manufacturers around the world.
💃 Diplomatic Dance: Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit explores the dynamic between Israel and the United Arab Emirates following a rare meeting in Tehran between the UAE’s national security advisor and Iran’s president. “The UAE is doing some sophisticated maneuvering between Jerusalem, Tehran, Riyadh and Washington. ‘They are running through the drops without getting wet,’ an Israeli source who took part in the visit told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. ‘They are doing so with expertise and skill, and the strangest thing is that no one is mad at them. We know about their relations with the Iranians, who know about their relations with us, and everyone accepts it.’” [AlMonitor]
🙅♂️ Settling a Score: In an interview with The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid denounced settler violence, which has surged since last year, the condemnation of which has become a thorny issue for the coalition government to address. “So where does Lapid stand on the question of extremist violence?” Rosenberg writes, “he made it quite clear: ‘It’s a stain on Israel… Whoever attacks innocent people is a hooligan and a criminal and is going to be treated as such,’ he said. ‘There’s going to be zero tolerance toward this issue….I refuse to discuss this as a political issue, because this flatters’ the perpetrators, he said. ‘This is not a political stand. These are violent hooligans who are trying to give a political spin to the fact that they are just that.’” [TheAtlantic]
Around the Web
🎙️ Sounding Off: Bari Weiss sat down with Kim Kardashian for a wide-ranging interview covering criminal justice reform, politics and cancel culture.
🕵️ The Spying Game: A group of 13 Democratic members of Congress penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking that officials from spyware firms, including the Israeli NSO Group, be sanctioned over “human rights abuses.”
🖋️ Passionate Pen: The Atlantic spotlights excerpts from the works of writer Christopher Hitchens on the 10th anniversary of his death.
👵 Helping Hand: The New York Times highlights the work of nonprofit organizations that help New York City’s elderly population obtain basic health services, among them many Holocaust survivors.
📺 TV Time: Blackstone, which has hosted weekly comedy-laden Zooms for staff since the start of the pandemic, released its fourth annual holiday video — with a cameo from actress Reese Witherspoon.
🏗️ Structural Change: A grand jury in Miami-Dade County recommended a series of immediate reforms to condominiums across the state following an examination of the June collapse of the Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside, Fla.
🇮🇷 Small Step: Tehran announced it will allow IAEA inspectors to install cameras at a centrifuge manufacturing location in Karaj, removing one of many obstacles between Iran and world powers who are in the midst of negotiations in Vienna aimed at curtailing the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
📹 Peeping Tom: According to a report by IPVM, Chinese technology firm Tiandy — whose technology is believed to be a key part of Beijing’s vast security apparatus used to track Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province — is selling surveillance technology to the Iranian government.
💻 Slack Hack: Iranian hackers infiltrated an Asian airline’s internal information, including passenger data, using the company’s Slack internal messaging system.
🚓 Nabbed: Israel arrested two men suspected of spying on behalf of a Hamas espionage and terrorism network in the Gaza Strip, which included collecting information on Iron Dome systems throughout the country.
🦄 Booming Business: Startup Noname Security, a cybersecurity firm founded by IDF intelligence vets with offices in the U.S., Israel and Amsterdam, became a unicorn after a recent $1 billion valuation.
🏦 New Kid on the Block: First Digital Bank, Israel’s first new bank in decades, won support from the Julius Baer Group and Tencent Holdings, as it seeks to challenge the dominance of Israel’s five major banks.
💲 Safer Cyber: Israeli cybersecurity startup Amtosec, which provides security for online communication apps, raised $6 million in a seed funding round.
👎 Distasteful Demonstration: The Auschwitz Museum and Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday condemned anti-COVID vaccination protesters who displayed a banner evoking the Nazi concentration camp’s infamous “Work sets you free” sign.
🎄 ‘Tis the Season: Church leaders have accused Israel of discriminating against Christian tourists, many of whom usually travel to Israel and the West Bank during the Christmas period, after officials made an exception for Birthright groups despite a strict travel ban.
🕍 New Digs: Israeli archeologists uncovered a synagogue dating to the Second Temple period near the Sea of Galilee, where scholars suspect Mary Magdalene was born.
🇮🇹 Rome Reveal: Italian media reports confirmed that Rome had an agreement with Palestinian terror groups not to interfere with their operations, resulting in a 1982 attack on a synagogue on Shmini Atzeret that resulted in the death of a Jewish toddler.
Pic of the Day
A large banner hangs along a bridge above a highway in Jerusalem that reads in Arabic and in Hebrew: “The state of Israel congratulates Bahrain on the occasion of its fiftieth year of national independence.”
CBS News journalist since 1972, she has reported for CBS’s “60 Minutes” since 1991, Lesley Stahl turns 80…
Israeli-American pianist and distinguished professor of music at Indiana University, Menahem Pressler turns 98… Numismatist specializing in ancient Jewish and Biblical coins and their archaeology, David Bruce Hendin turns 76… British chemist and research professor at the University of Nottingham, Sir Martyn Poliakoff turns 74… Attorney, professor and author, she was the first woman to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review, Susan Estrich turns 69… Partner in the Denver law firm of Springer & Steinberg, Craig Silverman turns 66… Novelist, journalist and lecturer, Allen Kurzweil turns 61… President and co-founder of The New Agenda, an organization helping women and girls succeed, Amy Siskind turns 56… First OMB director in the Obama administration, former CBO director, now CEO of financial advisory at Lazard, Peter R. Orszag turns 53… Astrophysicist and professor at Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute, he was a winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, Adam Guy Riess turns 52… Deputy national director of AIPAC’s synagogue initiative, Rabbi Eric Stark turns 51… SVP at CRC Public Relations, Adam Bromberg turns 50… Director of operations at BlockFi, Melissa Wisner turns 39… Chief of staff for U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Matthew Bennett Klapper turns 39… Middle East analyst at Christians United For Israel, Kasim Hafeez turns 38… Founder of Punchbowl News, Jake Sherman turns 36… Actress best known for her role on “Gossip Girl,” Amanda Setton turns 36… U.S. Senate correspondent at the National Journal, Zachary C. Cohen turns 30… Consultant at the Ignyte Group, Drew Liquerman turns 25…