👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett offered his country’s support to the United Arab Emirates following the Houthi drone and missile attack on Abu Dhabi on Monday that killed three civilians.
Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), vice chair of the House subcommittee that oversees the Middle East, North Africa and counterterrorism issues, told Jewish Insider that she is “sure that the [Biden] administration has [it] under consideration” to reinstate the Houthis’s designation as a terrorist group.
Manning said the Houthis “are backed by Iran and what we do know is that Iran is continuing to foster terrorism and support terrorism and fund terrorism around the world. And we need to take whatever measures we can to stop them.”
Manning declined to say whether she thought the administration had made a mistake in initially removing the Houthis’s terrorist designation, explaining that she was “not deeply knowledgeable about the decisions.”
In a statement on the attack, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who chairs the Senate subcommittee on the Middle East, condemned the Houthi drone strikes and said the “increase on Houthi cross-border attacks… on Saudi Arabia and the UAE is deeply concerning.”
Murphy also condemned the Saudi-led coalition forces. “At the same time, recent coalition airstrikes on Sana’a [Yemen’s capital] also killed a number of civilians, including young children, and destroyed a water treatment facility… It is incumbent on all parties to the conflict to avoid targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure,” he said. “Unfortunately, these incidents will likely continue as long as the war drags on.”
Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), the top Republican on the Senate’s Middle East panel, who worked with Murphy to push for the removal of the Houthis’s terrorist designation last year, said in a statement, “The United States must respond forcefully with sanctions on Iran to cut off its support to the Houthis, while also ensuring that our partners in the region have the weapons necessary to defend themselves in the face of these attacks.”
Young also said that the Houthis’s continued strikes “clearly demonstrate that they are determined to continue the conflict and exacerbate the world’s worst man-made humanitarian catastrophe.” Young did not comment on the terrorism designation for the Houthis.
Colleyville attacker ‘bought into those antisemitic tropes,’ hostage survivor remarks
Jeffrey Cohen, one of four hostages held at gunpoint for 11 hours at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, over the weekend, told Jewish Insider’sMatthew Kassel on Tuesday that Americans need to challenge instances of antisemitic rhetoric wherever they occur as part of an effort to forestall attacks against Jews that have occurred with increasing regularity in recent years.
Conspiracy theories: Cohen, 57, said the gunman, identified as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British national, spouted a litany of antisemitic conspiracy theories as he demanded the release of Afia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who is currently serving an 86-year sentence at a federal prison in Fort Worth for the attempted murder of U.S. officers in Afghanistan. “These antisemitic tropes of ‘Jews control the world,’ ‘Jews control the media,’ ‘Jews control the banks,’ ‘Jews control the government’ — he had bought into those,” Cohen told JI. “He was firmly convinced that he could come in here, hold a bunch of Jews hostage, and we — the greater we, the U.S. — would trade we Jews for this one prisoner, this one woman, because we have that much power and influence.”
Challenging stereotypes: At the interpersonal level, Cohen argued that “people need to start thinking about” the antisemitic stereotypes that may once have seemed acceptable but now must be actively countered. “These little throwaway lines, you know, ‘Ach, damn Jew bankers,’” he told JI. “Those lines, which people just put off as being, alright, that’s my crazy neighbor or whatever, they’re not acceptable. They’re not acceptable not just because it’s not… things people say in polite company — they’re not acceptable because these words have consequences, and the consequences that they have is they allow people to dehumanize other people and to buy into a stereotype that is not just ‘this person hurt me’ — it is, ‘his whole community hurt me.’”
Security training: From a more practical standpoint, Cohen said that “every Jewish organization that has a building in the country needs to do active-shooter courses and needs to do it regularly.” Cohen credited such training with helping him — along with a fellow congregant, who hasn’t publicly identified himself, and Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker — escape on Saturday evening. A fourth hostage had been released earlier on Saturday. “This is not hyperbole,” he said. “I mean, I knew where the exits were. But until somebody says, ‘Hey, in a situation like this, your number one priorities are run, hide, fight, in that order.’ Well, you know, it’s not like we could hide. We were all exposed.”
Negotiating with terrorists: Cohen recalled that at one point during the standoff, as hunger kicked in, Akram had mentioned that he would let the hostages go one at a time as long as they promised to come back after 30 minutes. “He said, ‘Jeff, does that sound like a good deal to you? Would you come back?’ I said, ‘Honestly, no, it doesn’t. Because it takes me 15 minutes to get home. It takes me 15 minutes to get back. That’s 30 minutes right there. If I’m going to eat anything, I need another 20 minutes to prepare it and then to eat it. And then, I honestly don’t know, would I be able to come back? Would the police stop me?’ “He kind of laughed at that, and I laughed a little bit too, because I had turned it into a little bit of a joke because it was silly,” Cohen said.
Elsewhere: The Washington Post talked to experts who have long said the pervasiveness of such antisemitic beliefs in society can fuel violence against Jewish people. “It’s a variation on a classic antisemitic theme,” said David Feldman, director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, a research institution based in London. “Whereas these ideas about Jewish conspiracy often take shape as an idea of Jews exerting power … [to] advance their own interests, this is a sort of variation on the theme — that if you can only get the Jews to work for you, then you’ll get your way.”
For two competing Democratic incumbents in Illinois, one dividing issue: Israel
How much weight does one congressional vote carry with constituents — especially when that vote marks a thick line in the sand between opposing factions within the Democratic Party? That is a question Chicago-area Jewish activists are considering as the newly drawn 6th Congressional District pits two incumbents — Reps. Marie Newman, a leader in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Sean Casten, a member of the more moderate New Democrats — against one another in the Democratic primary, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Iron Dome decider: Those activists, who are gearing up to play a large role in the race as fundraisers and potential influencers, despite the district’s small Jewish population, are centering their efforts on the September 2021 vote to authorize $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. Casten voted for the additional funding; Newman was one of only eight House Democrats to vote against it.
Fresh factors: “In [her] last race, I thought Marie was an excellent candidate,” said Howard Suskin, a Jewish Democrat who practices law in Chicago and donated to Newman’s campaign in 2020, referring to her defeat of eight-term pro-life Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL). “But to me, the decisive factor and why I’m supporting Sean Casten is Congresswoman Newman’s vote on the Iron Dome, which to me was inexplicable.”
New territory: In November, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker signed off on the new congressional map that would ultimately see Casten and Newman run in the same district. The new 6th District leans Democratic, but it is not a guaranteed victory for Democrats. A handful of Republican contenders have entered the race, though they have raised very little money and earned few significant endorsements.
PAC positions: The political action committee affiliated with J Street, the liberal pro-Israel organization, has endorsed both Casten and Newman in the past. But sources close to the organization believe J Street PAC will sit out the primary, waiting until Democratic voters choose their nominee. A J Street spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment from JI. The advocacy group Democratic Majority for Israel sat out the heated race between Newman and Lipinski in 2020 and has not made an endorsement in the Casten-Newman contest.
Grain of salt: Some of the pro-Israel activists who backed Lipinski in 2020 are skeptical of Casten’s positions on Israel, but view him as a better option than Newman. “Sean Casten has always been willing and eager to meet to discuss issues relating to the U.S.-Israel relationship,” said David Rosenberg, president of CityPAC, a pro-Israel bipartisan political action committee. “Even if we do not see eye-to-eye on every issue, he has been pragmatic in his approach and has taken a much more favorable stance than Marie Newman on many critical issues and votes.”
Mayorkas, Garland, Wray speak to synagogues, Jewish community organizations
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and several other administration officials joined a briefing on Tuesday afternoon with representatives from more than 1,500 synagogues and Jewish organizations to discuss the weekend attack on the Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas, and discuss how communities can better protect themselves, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The Zoom call was organized by the Orthodox Union and Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Line in the sand: Orthodox Union Advocacy Center Executive Director Nathan Diament told JI the senior national security officials all made “very clear, strong statements identifying this as an antisemitic event that targeted the Jewish community” — something that some federal officials appeared hesitant to do in public statements over the weekend.
Making it personal: Garland, who is Jewish, noted the regular presence of police cars at his own synagogue. “It was very powerful, for example, to hear the attorney general of the United States say, ‘When I go to my synagogue, there’s a police car outside,’” Diament said. “And not just because he’s the attorney general who is attending that synagogue but the police car is there because of the Jewish community’s situation. And also to hear the Homeland Security secretary personally identify with the community, it’s a very strong message, very reassuring.”
Funding fight: The officials also discussed the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides nonprofits, including religious groups, with funding for security improvements. Beth Israel was a past NSGP recipient, but the grant fund fulfilled less than half of all applications for 2021 funding. The administration did not submit a specific NSGP budget request to Capitol Hill for 2022, and Congress is currently poised to hold funding at its current level in its 2022 spending bill. Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff said that both Garland and Mayorkas expressed their support for “fully funding” the NSGP on the call.
High praise: Daroff said that the presence of so many top officials on the call speaks to “the intense level of engagement by the federal government in the issues related to the hostage-taking in Colleyville.” He continued, “the engagement by the administration, by the Justice Department, Homeland Security and the White House has been remarkably helpful and remarkably cooperative.”
Bonus: Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), a former president of the precursor to The Jewish Federations of North America who pushed for the NSGP’s creation in the early 2000s, reflected on that experience to JI on Tuesday. “I will never forget sitting in that room explaining to the vice president [Dick Cheney] why we felt so vulnerable and why we American Jews now felt that we were potential targets for terrorism,” she said. “We have an even greater need for those security grants [now] than we did when we first lobbied for that money all those years ago.”
fellow to know
The Arab influencer pushing the Abraham Accords from Abu Dhabi
At the age of 28, when Loay Alshareef, then a French-language student from Saudi Arabia, stumbled into his homestay in Paris to discover he was surrounded by Stars of David — his instinct was to turn on his heels and find another family to stay with. “I didn’t feel comfortable at the beginning,” Alshareef told The Circuit’s Tamara Zieve. Putting it mildly, Alshareef said he “didn’t have positive views about Israel or about the Jewish people,” at that time, in 2010. “I called the school and they said ‘take your time’” — and with the gentle guidance of his “wise” host mother, he did.
Turning point: That accidental and intimate almost yearlong encounter with a Jewish family proved to be a turning point for Alshareef, an observant Muslim, whose father is originally from Egypt and who also has family from Bahrain, which he described as “a very nice mix.” Today, he is a prominent face among movers and shakers in the region who have embraced the Abraham Accords, normalization deals signed in September 2020 between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and are working to strengthen people-to-people ties between those countries and beyond. He’s caught the attention of Israeli, U.S. and Gulf leaders, and frequently meets with prominent figures visiting the UAE, where he has lived since 2020. Alshareef owns a PR company in Abu Dhabi and works with both governmental and nongovernmental entities, and also teaches English and Arabic.
Multilingual: He has also learned Hebrew, largely from watching TV and listening to songs and podcasts, which he readily explained to The Circuit in the language. Prior to moving to the UAE, Alshareef lived in Bahrain, and spent a couple of years in the U.S., where he earned a master’s degree in software engineering from Penn State University. He hasn’t yet visited Israel, but hopes to do so when the COVID-19 situation isn’t so rife — he’s waiting to visit his mother back in Jeddah for the same reason. Ultimately, he strives to get an academic degree in Israel and study the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls, further embracing his love of Biblical Hebrew, which he describes as “very authentic and very deep.” He said that while he appreciates the focus on Israel as a startup nation, “the history of Israel itself is also a beacon in our world and deserves to have more attention to it.”
Bible buff: Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, chief rabbi of the Jewish Community of the Emirates, described Alshareef as the “consummate cultural translator.” He first met Alshareef in 2018 when he joined the Jewish community for a service in Dubai — “One of the few non-Jews who attended in those years,” Sarna told The Circuit. “We opened up the Torah to show him our scroll and he started reading. It happened to be [Torah portion] Yitro — as he read aloud he exclaimed, ‘The Ten Commandments!'” Sarna recalled. He added that this past November, at the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace gathering, Alshareef was quoting freely from Jewish prophets “and applied them seamlessly to contemporary situations.”
Interfaith outreach: Alshareef also meets with Jewish organizations working in or visiting the country. Last week, together with fellow regional peace activists Saoud bin Hamoodah and Majed Alseyabi, Alshareef joined a roundtable hosted by the American Jewish Committee for an interfaith group of undergraduate students visiting from the U.S.Reva Gorelick, program director for AJC in Abu Dhabi, said Alshareef’s contributions to the discussion, during which he spoke about the importance of personal identity, “underscore his genuine and passionate support of Israel and Muslim-Jewish relationships, and his demonstrated commitment to the ongoing dialogue about, and in the aftermath of, the Abraham Accords.”
Read the full interview here.
Bonus: The Economist looks at the ways in which the Middle East is opening up to Jewish residents following 2020’s Abraham Accords.
👨 Mansour of the Hour: The Associated Press’s Tia Goldenberg looks at the political rise of Knesset member Mansour Abbas, a dentist-turned-politician whose Ra’am party is the first Arab party to sit in an Israeli governing coalition. “Abbas, a once obscure politician, is the linchpin of the shaky union, securing hefty budgets and favorable policies for his constituents and even winning an audience with the king of Jordan… Abbas’ pragmatic approach has secured funding for housing, electricity and crime-fighting in Israel’s traditionally neglected Arab sector. He also has not been afraid to confront his partners to get what he needs. But he also is being forced to perform a delicate balancing act between the desires of his Arab voters and his Jewish coalition partners. His every move is being watched by his constituents, whose stake in the country’s democracy could falter if he fails to bring long-term changes. [AP]
🇬🇧 Identity Crisis: In The Atlantic, Tom McTague casts a gloomy prediction for the fate of Britain, which he warns stands close to its own dissolution, a viewpoint he finds supported by a grand tour he takes through the country with his family. “When you speak to people in Westminster — the heart of the British state — the extent of their pessimism about the future of the country is striking. One friend of mine, who wished to remain anonymous because his public profile makes it difficult for him to speculate openly about the future of the country, told me a story about his grandfather, who had fought for Austria-Hungary before escaping to Britain after its collapse. When he died, he was buried in the United Kingdom, but in a coffin draped in the flag of the old empire, the state that had protected him, as a Jew, and which he had fought for and remained loyal to ever since. His grandson, who has fought under the flag of the United Kingdom, told me his own fear was that he might suffer the same fate — buried by his grandchildren in the flag of a nation he had fought for and served, but which had long since passed into history.” [Atlantic]
🕍 Fearful Flock: In The New York Times, historian Deborah Lipstadt, the Biden administration’s nominee for special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, examines, in the wake of Saturday’s attack on a Texas synagogue, the security concerns that have arisen in the American Jewish community in recent years. “Another tragedy had been averted. But the scars remain. They will take a long time to heal. I thought of the Beth Israel rabbi’s two daughters who waited all day to hear of their father’s fate. One rabbi recently told me that some of her colleagues’ children don’t want them to be congregational rabbis anymore. ‘It’s too dangerous.’ They don’t want to have to worry every time their parent goes to the office. The parent’s office is the synagogue.” [NYTimes]
🇯🇴🇮🇱 Cold or Hot? In The Hill, Hussain Abdul-Hussain and Enia Krivine explore what a warmer peace between Israel and Jordan could signify for the Hashemite Kingdom. “The road ahead for Jordan will be difficult, but the Abraham Accords offer Amman the opportunity to collect more dividends of peace. The bigger the volume of trade in goods and services between Israel and Arab countries, the bigger the regional economic pie and the bigger share Jordan can capture for its own economy… One positive sign is that Israeli tourism in Jordan is on the rise as more Israelis choose to vacation in Aqaba — a Jordanian resort town on the Red Sea — over Israel’s Eilat. And since Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — once a popular escape for Israeli vacationers — has become riskier due to a surge of Islamist terrorism, Jordan has become the best alternative.” [TheHill]
Around the Web
🛢️ Reversing Course: The Biden administration has backed away from supporting the EastMed pipeline, which was supported by the Trump administration and would have brought natural gas from Israel to the European Union.
🏅 ‘Jewish Nobel’: Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, is the 2022 Genesis Prize Laureate, awarded for his leadership in developing a COVID-19 vaccine.
🚨 Police Chase: The NYPD is looking for a woman who made antisemitic comments and spat on an 8-year-old Jewish boy in the Marine Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.
📺 Off Air: Al Jazeera has ceased creating content for “Rightly,” its conservative-leaning digital outlet launched in February 2021.
🙅 Ghastly Comparison: United Talent Agency dropped Lara Logan following comments the journalist made in November comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
💰 Acquisition Mode: Microsoft will acquire Bobby Kotick’s video-game company Activision Blizzard, Inc. in a $75 billion deal. Kotick, Activision’s longtime CEO, is expected to step away from the company.
📉 Costly Quarter: Investment banking company Goldman Sachs’s profit dropped 13 percent from the previous year in the final quarter of 2021 as it increased employees’ salaries.
🎥 Shell of a Role: Marie Claire profiles “indie darling” Jenny Slate, the actress and comedian who is turning her viral 2010 character “Marcel the Shell” into a full-length film.
🚀 Test Success: The Israel Missile Defense Organization and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency announced a successful test of the Arrow Weapon System, a defensive system designed to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles.
🚨 Flashpoint: Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family and demolished their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah overnight, arresting 18 Palestinians and Israeli activists at the scene.
💉 All Jabbed Out: A fourth Pfizer jab against COVID-19 is largely ineffective in stopping the spread of the Omicron variant despite boosting antibodies, according to an Israeli hospital study.
🇹🇷 Talking in Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan teased a potential visit to the Mediterranean country by Israeli President Isaac Herzog amid a thawing of relations between the two countries after more than a decade of tensions.
➡️ Transition: Former New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson is joining the Israel-based ElectReon, headed by former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, as a U.S.-based consultant.
Pic of the Day
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) visits the “The Meeting at Wannsee and the Murder of the European Jews” permanent exhibit at the House of the Wannsee Conference outside Berlin ahead of the 80th anniversary of the 1942 conference in which top Nazi officials planned the Final Solution.
CEO of Charleston, S.C.-based InterTech Group, Anita Zucker turns 70…
The inspiration for the fictional character Gidget in a book written by her father, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman turns 81… Professor emeritus at Columbia Law School and former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Richard Berenson Stone turns 79… Retired after 40 years as a news reporter and White House correspondent for ABC News, Ann Compton turns 75… Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Belz since 1966, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach turns 74… Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Amy Laura Wax turns 69… Former speaker of the Knesset following a stint as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Avraham Burg turns 67… President and CEO of PayPal, Daniel H. Schulman turns 64… Stoughton, Massachusetts resident, Hillery Bauman turns 63… Jay Susman turns 61… Los Angeles-based attorney and founder of American Trial Attorneys in Defense of Israel, Baruch C. Cohen turns 59… Retired speaker of the UK’s House of Commons, his family name was originally Berkowitz, John Simon Bercow turns 59… British diplomat, he is now the director of the Diplomatic Academy at the British Foreign Office, Jon Benjamin turns 59…
Governor of Illinois since 2019, J.B. Pritzker turns 57… Chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, Jonathan Karl turns 54… Co-founder and former CEO of Circ MedTech, Tzameret Fuerst turns 51… Lecturer at the University of Maryland’s Center for Jewish Studies and senior adviser to Enter: The Jewish Peoplehood Alliance, Scott Lasensky turns 51… UAE minister of state and the UAE’s ambassador to the U.S. since 2008, Yousef Al Otaiba turns 48… Journalist, creator and motivational speaker, Jessica Abo turns 41… D.C.-based senior director of policy and political affairs at AJC, Julie Fishman Rayman… VP of income security, child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center, Melissa Boteach… Isaac Ike Wolf turns 38… Assistant director of policy and government affairs at AIPAC, Alex Bronzo… Gastroenterologist in Boston and a former ice dancing champion, Loren Galler Rabinowitz, M.D. turns 36… Actor, he has already appeared in over 25 films and is now a main character in Amazon’s “Hunters,” Logan Lerman turns 30… Director of national expansion at Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, Emily Berman Pevnick…