👋 Good Thursday morning!
Deborah Lipstadt, the nominee to be the State Department’s antisemitism envoy, is on Capitol Hill this week and has met with Republican staffers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a committee aide told Jewish Insider. The meetings signal possible progress for her delayed confirmation process.
Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told JI on Wednesday that unless there is progress by the end of the year, he may consider bypassing normal committee procedure and moving to discharge Lipstadt’s nomination from the committee to the full Senate for consideration — potentially without a hearing, which would be a rare step.
Menedez added, “We’re almost at the end of the year. If it doesn’t happen under normal regular order, [then] as we start the year I certainly will consider it. I’m not going to wait another year for them to move on this nominee or for that fact others… They can [delay] [the hearing] forever if they seek to do so.”
Instagram head Adam Mosseri was on Capitol Hill yesterday, testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security, members of which grilled him on what the social media platform, owned by Meta, is doing to protect young users from accessing harmful content.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi at the Al-Ittihadiya Palace in Cairo this morning during a visit to the country.
Topics discussed by the two leaders, according to the Foreign Ministry, included the Iranian nuclear issue as well as its use of terrorism and the threat it poses to the Middle East; an “economy for security” plan presented by Lapid to El-Sisi; the Palestinian issue and steps taken by Israel to strengthen the Palestinian Authority; and areas of potential cooperation between Israel and Egypt in the fields of economy, energy, agriculture and trade. Lapid is also expected to meet with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry.
In cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, Lapid will return Egyptian archeological items seized in Israel in a gesture meant to strengthen relations, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
Supreme Court hears arguments on public funding of religious schooling
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday morning in Carson v. Makin, a case centering on the constitutionality of public funding of religious education. Following the arguments, activists and observers expect the justices to further broaden public funding of religious education, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Crux of the matter: At issue is whether Maine can bar students in rural areas without public school districts from receiving public assistance to attend parochial schools. The state provides families in such areas with funding to find schooling, but excludes sectarian schools.
Making the case: Michael Bindas, the attorney representing the plaintiffs — parents suing Maine over the rule — argued that “Maine’s sectarian exclusion discriminates based on religion. Like all discrimination based on religion, it should be subjected to strict scrutiny and held unconstitutional.”
Flip side: Maine’s Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub responded that under the program, the state is essentially “outsourc[ing]” public education to private schools. “Maine has determined that as a matter of public policy, public education should be religiously neutral,” Taub said. “The petitioners want an entirely different benefit, instruction designed to instill religious beliefs at taxpayer expense. They are not being discriminated against. They simply are not being offered a benefit that no family in Maine is entitled to.” U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart also argued in defense of the Maine law.
In agreement: Caroline Mala Corbin, a law professor at the University of Miami specializing in the First Amendment’s speech and religion clauses who opposes a ruling for the petitioners, told JI she expects the court to rule in the parents’ favor. “A lot of the justices seemed to be harping on this idea that any time you deny money to a religious organization it is discrimination against religion,” Corbin said. Other Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, National Council of Jewish Women, Union for Reform Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism filed an amicus brief supporting the Maine law.
Biden nominates Constance Milstein to be ambassador to Malta
President Joe Biden announced the nomination of philanthropist and businesswoman Constance Milstein to serve as ambassador to Malta on Wednesday, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports. Milstein, the daughter of New York real estate developer Seymour Milstein, has an extensive resume spanning the business and philanthropic worlds. With her brother, Philip Milstein, she co-founded Ogden CAP Properties, a New York residential real estate company.
Political pull: Milstein is a longtime donor to Democratic causes, according to the Federal Election Commission, having made hundreds of donations to candidates and Democrat-affiliated committees in recent decades. She’s also supported the campaigns of some Republicans, including former Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and John McCain (R-AZ), as well as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Days after the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Milstein made a contribution of $725,000 to the Biden Victory Fund.
Military might: The philanthropist, a founding member of Blue Star Families, served in the Obama administration as a civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, after decades of work supporting U.S. servicemembers. In 2011, she co-founded Dog Tag Bakery, which employs and provides opportunities for injured servicemembers, their families and caregivers. Biden and former President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to the Washington bakery in 2018. In November 2020, Kamala Harris, then the vice president-elect, visited the bakery on Veterans Day with her husband, Doug Emhoff.
Israel hosts two global events, but denies entry to most tourists
A near-blanket ban on entry to Israel for foreign nationals due to the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant is occurring against the backdrop of two large-scale international events taking place this week, with hundreds of participants from multiple countries afforded a special exemption to enter, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Background: On Wednesday, the 10th Flag Football World Championships, with 39 teams from 21 countries, wrapped up three days of games with a medal ceremony in Jerusalem. On Sunday, the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant is set to take place in Eilat, with the 80 participants spending the weeks leading up to the event touring the country for photo ops.
Relatives banned: The ongoing ban and uncertainty about Israel’s borders remaining open has been especially hard for relatives of immigrants to the country. Making the case for easing COVID travel restrictions for relatives of immigrants in a country “that values and encourages aliyah,” former Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh told JI, “There are considerations that must be factored in as part of decision-making processes in advance, not in retrospect and in individual, reactive, ‘exceptional’ cases… There must be a separate category, with clear and transparent policies and consistent implementation. Families of immigrants are not tourists or exceptions; they are the rule.”
Safe travel: “I love sports and I am thrilled that Israel is hosting this championship, but doing so proves that we aren’t truly afraid of this new variant and there are ways to allow people into Israel in a safe manner,” said Dov Lipman, another former Knesset member and founder of Yad L’Olim, an organization that has been actively pushing the government to reconsider its entry policy. “Our leaders clearly have no idea how much pain they are causing immigrants, their families and global Jewry with entry bans and draconian rules.”
Bennett’s message: In a letter sent Wednesday to the top leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to recognize the frustration felt by those hoping to travel to Israel, explaining, “We did not take this decision lightly, and we are acutely aware of the severe hardship and disruption it is causing people around the world, particularly members of the Jewish community.” He continued: “I deeply regret any pain felt by you and those in your community, who are cherished members of our global Jewish family. The close relationship between Israel and world Jewry is a fundamental value of the State of Israel, and remains a cornerstone of my government’s policy, despite my having to take this step.”
Post-Knesset, Stav Shaffir’s new cause
Former Knesset member Stav Shaffir rose to prominence in 2011 as a leader of social justice protests that quickly spread across the country. A decade later, and after seven years in the Knesset, Shaffir is taking on an issue that is even more personal, reports Hannah Brown for eJewishPhilanthropy. Shaffir has gathered a group of families who are proposing an ambitious program that will support lifelong learning for people with autism, like her sister Shir.
A quiet revolution: Shaffir’s efforts are one of two parallel initiatives spearheaded by parents and family members in recent months that aim to provide more opportunities for adults with autism. They’re a part of a quiet revolution that could transform and enrich the lives of autistic people, making it possible for them to become more integrated into the mainstream community and to lead more productive and fulfilling lives. In Israel, individuals with autism “age out” of state-provided education programs upon reaching adulthood. With no pipeline to continued educational and vocational opportunities, many experience a deteriorating quality of life, and the stresses of caretaking are put on their loved ones.
On campus: The program Shaffir is seeking to build will create centers on university campuses, where individuals with autism will learn part-time, to the best of their ability in individual programs that will be run using university resources. They will also have an occupational component that will involve working alongside mainstream students, under the supervision of special-needs professionals. Work options might include gardening and recycling, services a campus needs, Shaffir said, and the courses of study would vary, depending on the interests and abilities of each person. She started a fundraising campaign to build the Shira Center to cover the expenses that the government and the universities are not able to absorb. To date, they have raised over NIS 650,000 (about $210,000) of their goal of one million shekels from over 3,000 donors.
Changing the system: Emanuel Cohen, 56, a Jerusalem father whose 22-year-old son has autism, recently went on a hunger strike outside the Knesset to draw attention to the problem. In a demonstration in October after he had been on the strike nearly three weeks, he appealed to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Social Welfare Minister Meir Cohen to change the system. “Once people with autism turn 21, they are pushed out of a helicopter,” he said, and given almost no services. Speakers at the demonstration — many of them parents like Cohen — described how the meaningless, repetitive work and lack of mental stimulation cause many people on the autism spectrum to deteriorate, noting that they sometimes become so frustrated they lash out violently against others and also harm themselves.
Budgeting needs: While they did not receive the increase of NIS 2000 ($645) per month per person that they had requested, the government did approve a NIS 1000 ($322) per month increase for stipends for those who have more severe autism, as well as 80 new training courses for staff members — many of whom currently receive little to no training — and the establishment of a commission on occupational and educational frameworks which includes parents. For people like Shaffir and Cohen, failure in this quest is not an option. “When they do something they are passionate about, it wakes them up,” said Shaffir, who noted that growing up with a sister on the spectrum fostered in herself a sense of empathy. “When we close our eyes to people who need more support, we are weaker as a society.”
🗳️ Conservative Qualms: In The Atlantic, David Brooks mourns what he sees as the decline of American conservatism and attempts to resurrect its roots. “I fell in love with conservatism in my 20s… Back then I thought of myself as a socialist. But seeing the fallout from this situation prompted a shocking realization: This is exactly what that guy I read in college had predicted. Human society is unalterably complex, Edmund Burke argued… What passes for ‘conservatism’ now, however, is nearly the opposite of the Burkean conservatism I encountered then. Today, what passes for the worldview of ‘the right’ is a set of resentful animosities, a partisan attachment to Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson, a sort of mental brutalism. The rich philosophical perspective that dazzled me then has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression.” [TheAtlantic]
🌎 Doubtful Democracies: In the Financial Times, Edward Luce writes about President Joe Biden’s democracy summit, examining why some illiberal countries were invited to join in a conference ostensibly restricted to democratic nations. “If curbing Beijing’s influence was a guiding aim, why were Singapore and Thailand left out? Israel could not be the sole country in the Middle East to be invited, which is why ‘not free’ Iraq was included. Having suffered a coup earlier this year, Tunisia ruled itself out. It is hard to see any grounds to invite Angola and the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo] other than concern over China’s stranglehold on their resources, including materials that feed into lithium batteries and the iPhone.” [FT]
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Around the Web
🔥 House Fire: House Democratic leaders are considering several options for addressing recent comments made by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) attacking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), including a public push to create an envoy to combat Islamophobia.
⚖️ Behind Bars: Two inmates in an Illinois prison — members of a white supremacist group — were indicted on murder and hate crime charges for killing a fellow inmate, who was Jewish.
👮 Torrance Trouble: The Los Angeles Times exposes racist, homophobic and antisemitic text messages exchanged by over a dozen current and former Torrance, Calif., police officers and recruits, which could jeopardize hundreds of criminal cases.
🖊️ Signing Off: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gene Weingarten penned his final story for The Washington Post, after a three-decade career at the newspaper.
✋ Price of Dissent: The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta profiles Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), the only first-term Republican House member to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump earlier this year, and chronicles the challenges facing Meijer both in Washington and among his constituents — and family.
✡️ Fighting Hate: A network of Jewish government officials in Canada met with antisemitism envoy Irwin Cotler to ask for assistance in combating antisemitism they face at work.
☢️ Worst-case Scenario: U.S. and Israeli defense chiefs are expected to discuss today possible military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities should diplomacy fail.
💸 Booming Business: Israeli firm Tipalti, which works on payment software for businesses, announced it raised $270 million in a Series F funding round, placing the fintech company among the most valuable globally.
⬇️ Welcome Decline: Israel’s budget deficit fell to 4.6% of gross domestic product in the 12 months that ended in November, down from 5.5% through the end of October, the Finance Ministry said on Wednesday.
📘 About the Accords: Israeli journalist Barak Ravid announced yesterday that he has written a book titled Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East.
➡️ Transition: Eva Wyner is joining New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office as deputy director of Jewish affairs.
Pic of the Day
French President Emmanuel Macron pays homage Wednesday at a memorial to Jews deported during World War II in the city of Vichy in central France.
Singer-songwriter and son of Bob Dylan, he rose to fame as the lead singer and primary songwriter for the rock band the Wallflowers, Jakob Dylan turns 52…
Israel’s ambassador at large and special envoy to the Gulf States, UAE and Bahrain, Zvi Heifetz turns 65… Los Angeles-based founder of CaregiversDirect and Beverly Hills Egg Donation, and a past president of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Lisa Greer turns 63… Former senior White House aide and deputy secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Clinton and Obama administrations, now CEO of the Brunswick Group, Neal S. Wolin turns 60… EVP of Sterling Equities and former COO of the New York Mets, Jeffrey Scott Wilpon turns 60… President of the American Federalism Project, Dan Greenberg turns 56… Israel’s minister of justice, Gideon Sa’ar turns 55… U.S. senator (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand turns 55… Singer-songwriter, music producer and founder of StaeFit workout apparel, Stacey Liane Levy Jackson turns 53… Biden administration nominee (still pending Senate confirmation) to be assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Tamara Cofman Wittes… Senior rabbi of the Boca Raton Synagogue, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg turns 47… Director at Finsbury and a board member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Eric Wachter turns 43… Actor, comedian and musician, best known for his role as Howard Wolowitz in the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” Simon Helberg turns 41… Staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights practice, Daniella Rohr Adelsberg turns 34… Senior manager of digital media and policy fellow for the R Street Institute, Shoshana Weissmann turns 29… Israeli fashion model, Dorit Revelis turns 20…