👋 Good Thursday morning!
The Anti-Defamation League is holding a virtual event with Colleyville, Texas, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and FBI Director Chris Wray this afternoon to discuss the key lessons from last week’s hostage situation at Cytron-Walker’s Congregation Beth Israel. Look for Wray to further clarify his organization’s comments in the aftermath of Colleyville.
President Joe Biden spoke and fielded reporters’ questions in a nearly two-hour press conference yesterday afternoon in Washington, touching on a range of issues, including his administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and opposition in Congress to some of his signature domestic policy goals, as well as escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The president said that the U.S. response to a potential invasion of Ukraine would depend on the severity of the attack, comments that were clarified by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki shortly after the conference ended.
Biden also said the administration is considering redesignating the Iran-backed Houthis as a terror organization, following a drone attack in Abu Dhabi that killed three and injured at least half a dozen people. We spoke to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) about the re-designation push yesterday —read more below.
Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) caused a stir — and raised a number of questions — with the announcement yesterday on Twitter of the newly formed bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Torah Values. JI’s Marc Rod takes a look at the new caucus that seems to have taken Twitter — and the Jewish community — by surprise. More below.
Cuellar found himself in the news twice yesterday, when an FBI team conducted searches of both his Texas residence and his campaign headquarters.
Elsewhere on the Hill, there’s been limited progress on key pieces of legislation supported by Jewish organizations that aim to combat domestic terrorism and protect religious institutions.
The Pray Safe Act, a Senate bill to create an online database of security resources and information for houses of worship, passed the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee last July. A source familiar with the legislation told JI that the committee report describing the legislation and reasons for approving it is still in progress.
An aide to committee Chair Gary Peters (D-MI) told JI, “The chairman supports it, voted to move it out of committee and urges the Senate to consider it as soon as possible.” Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), one of the bill’s lead sponsors, told JI, “It is clear that we must do more to support houses of worship. That is why I introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Portman to create a federal clearinghouse… it is one commonsense way to better protect houses of worship from horrifying violence, and I will keep working to get this bill passed into law.”
In both the House and Senate, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act has not yet received committee-level consideration.
Congregation Beth Israel, the site of last weekend’s terrorist hostage incident, received $100,000 from the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program in 2020 — the maximum allowable grant and the synagogue’s first time applying for a security grant — a source familiar with the matter told JI.
The synagogue used the funding to pay for contract security, lighting, cameras, fencing, an entry gate and “management and administration.”
Former Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is launching her campaign today to return to Congress in the Prince George’s County, Md., district being vacated by Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD).
Known for her left-wing foreign policy positions, Edwards was elected in 2008 after challenging a Democrat for his vote in favor of the Iraq war. J Street has supported Edwards in the past, but she has earned the ire of more traditional pro-Israel leaders in the past.
Edwards joins a primary field vying for the 4th district seat that includes Glenn Ivey, a former district attorney, and Jazz Lewis, a state representative and former staffer for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Now that Edwards entered the race, “the big issue is whether to support Jazz or Glenn,” one pro-Israel Democrat told JI.
The new season of “Real Time With Bill Maher”returns tomorrow, with Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and writer Bari Weiss appearing on Friday night’s premiere episode of the show’s 20th season.
Meeks looking ‘very carefully’ at reinstating Houthi terrorism designation
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said he will look into whether the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen should be relabeled as a terrorist group following a drone attack that killed three civilians in the United Arab Emirates’s capital of Abu Dhabi last weekend, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Background: The Biden administration removed the Houthis from the U.S.’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in February 2021 — reversing a decision by the Trump administration. Biden administration officials have indicated that decision was motivated in part by a desire to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Yemen.
A careful review: “I’m going to be looking at that very carefully and talking to [the administration],” Meeks, the top foreign policy Democrat in the House, told JI on Wednesday. “I’m very concerned and condemn to the highest degree the Houthis and the utilization of the drones and the strike on the UAE. So, [that is] something that we’re looking at.” Meeks added that his “only concern” is “making sure humanitarian aid is able to continue and to make sure that it’s getting to people — women, children, men who are not combatants.” President Joe Biden said during a marathon news conference on Wednesday that the Houthis’ terrorism designation is “under consideration.”
‘A mistake from the beginning’: Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, argued on Wednesday that the decision to revoke the terrorism designation was a mistake from the beginning. “Last year, the Biden administration revoked the Houthis’ designation as a terrorist organization. The Houthis have thanked the president by storming the U.S. embassy in Yemen last November and now firing missiles in Abu Dhabi,” Gallagher said in a statement to JI. “The evidence is overwhelming: the president needs to reverse course, recognize reality, and redesignate the Houthis as a terrorist group.”
torah tziva lanu
Newly formed Congressional Torah Values Caucus a source of befuddlement
Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX) announced yesterday on Twitter the launch of the Congressional Caucus for the Advancement of Torah Values, eliciting a flood of questions — and snark — on social media, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Photo finish: Neither Bacon nor Cuellar is Jewish, nor are any of the other lawmakers — Reps. Kat Cammack (R-FL), Dan Meuser (R-PA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) — pictured in a photo from the caucus’s launch event last week. Spokespeople for Cuellar and Bacon declined to provide a full list of members. The other members pictured in the photo did not respond to requests for comment.
On the agenda: Cuellar said that the group would “protect Torah values and freedom of religion, while fighting antisemitism and hatred,” and Bacon said it would be “committed to combating anti-Israel bigotry and protecting the Jewish community’s values and right to worship freely.” Bacon’s post about the group featured an image with the Israeli and American flags. The House has had a Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism since the mid-2010s, with more than 100 members. Fitzpatrick is one of the co-chairs of that group.
Border crossing: Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, a Toronto-based rabbi and real estate investor who leads the Orthodox group Dirshu, which described itself in a press release as “the largest Torah organization in the world,” attended the launch event last week.
Called out: The announcement of the Torah Values Caucus was met with skepticism from some liberal Jewish leaders. Jewish Democratic Council of America CEO Halie Soifer tweeted, “There are many challenges facing Jewish Americans, including the insidious threat of antisemitism. With all due respect to our non-Jewish friends, the creation of this caucus is not the way to address them, nor are our ‘Torah values’ in need of your advancement.”
Out of the loop: Leaders within the Orthodox community told JI they also had not been aware of the caucus’s formation. The Republican Jewish Coalition and American Jewish Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
Supreme Court hears arguments in latest Nazi-looted art case
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation, in which the descendants of a Holocaust survivor are seeking to reclaim a painting by the French Impressionist master Camille Pissarro taken from a relative by the Nazi regime, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Backstory: Tuesday’s arguments are the latest step in a long-running battle between multiple generations of the Cassirer family — descendants of Holocaust survivor Lilly Cassirer, who gave up the painting to the Nazis in exchange for permission to flee Germany — and the Spanish government-owned Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which currently possesses the artwork.
In the weeds: At issue is a set of arcane legal rules determining whether federal or California (where the lawsuit was filed) state standards should be applied in the case. The federal and state governments have different “choice-of-law” standards for deciding whether domestic or Spanish law should be applied in deciding possession of the artwork.
Behind the curtain: Bill Charron, who chairs the art law practice at the law firm Pryor Cashman, explained that the Supreme Court likely took this case because of disagreements between federal circuit courts over whether state or federal choice-of-law rules should apply in similar cases. “The context here of Nazi-looted art is absolutely a very compelling context, but it’s not, I don’t think, the driver for why the Court took the case,” he said. “I think the Court is trying to create some certainty, with respect to any number of cases that could be brought in federal courts” involving foreign sovereigns.
Other side: In a statement to JI, the lawyers for the museum, Thaddeus Stauber and Sarah Erickson André, emphasized that they believe — regardless of whether the federal or state choice-of-law rules are applied — Spanish law will ultimately be enforced and the painting will remain in the museum’s possession.
New army program takes on growing mental health issues faced by young Israelis
At the end of this month, a small group of Israeli teens will begin a rite of passage, donning military fatigues for the first time as part of their compulsory military service. But unlike their peers, the training for this crop of recruits will differ in one key way: They will never hold or fire a weapon. Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports on a new and unique program launched last summer by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that will enable individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, and other diagnosed emotional and mental health disorders to enlist and serve their country in a softer way.
People’s army: Often dubbed “the people’s army,” most Israelis are drafted into the military at 18 — with exceptions for Arab and some Haredi Jewish citizens. Youths of all social and economic backgrounds, educational levels and even physical abilities serve side by side, abiding by the same strict rules and living under the same conditions, creating a kind of social equalizing apparatus. Until recently, however, those with physical or mental disabilities were excluded from active service. Over the past few years, the army has taken some steps to widen inclusion, creating a “Special in Uniform” program for young people with autism, Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. But for those suffering from emotional or mental health disorders, where holding or shooting a gun might be a dangerous task, the option to formally serve remained elusive.
Socially conscious: “Since its creation, the Israeli army has been unique compared to other armies,” Amotz Asa-El, a fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute, told Jewish Insider. “It was assigned by [founding Israeli Prime Minister] David Ben-Gurion to take on social tasks, most famously teaching Hebrew to new immigrants, and that is how it became part of Israel’s social agenda.” He called the creation of the new program “some kind of latter-day reincarnation” of that process. “There is a distinction between social tasks and military tasks in the army.” While the move to allow women to serve in more combat roles in recent years might be a way to increase the pool of personnel that will help Israel in future wars, the army has also made a clear effort to “appear socially conscious and crusading,” said Asa-El.
Addressing mental health: Hilla Hadas, executive director of Enosh, Israel’s Mental Health Association, told JI that mental health disabilities far outnumbered those of physical disabilities among young people in Israel and, according to figures compiled by her organization, the number of young Israelis suffering from mental health problems was rapidly rising. She cited a 27% increase in the number of teenagers and youth seeking mental health treatment over the past year and said the age of those needing psychological support was trending younger. “Physical disability is much lower compared to those with mental or emotional disabilities,” said Hadas, highlighting that the past two years have greatly changed perceptions of mental health, with a greater acceptance and awareness that it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
🏺 Looted Antiquities: In The New York Times, Milton Esterow spotlights efforts to restitute ancient Greek artifacts looted by the Nazis, which have been complicated by the poor condition of many of the artifacts, as well as the lack of documentation for many of the items. “‘Antiquities have not received the kind of in-depth research they deserve on the fate of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Etruscan, Near Eastern and Egyptian antiquities stolen by the Nazis,’ said Claire Lyons, curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum. ‘We need to be focusing more effort on World War II.’ The passage of time has made it difficult for scholars today to quantify the scope of the looting of antiquities that occurred during World War II, whether it be from Greece, Italy or the Middle East, primarily Egypt.” [NYTimes]
🗣️ Hard History: The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg examines how the motives behind the Texas hostage situation, though not explicitly antisemitic, were rooted in millennia-old antisemitic tropes. “The fevered fantasy of Jewish domination is incredibly malleable, which makes it incredibly attractive. If Jews are responsible for every perceived problem, then people with entirely opposite ideals can adopt it. And thanks to centuries of material blaming the world’s ills on the world’s Jews, conspiracy theorists seeking a scapegoat for their sorrows inevitably discover that the invisible hand of their oppressor belongs to an invisible Jew. At the same time, because this expression of anti-Jewish prejudice is so different from other forms of bigotry, many people don’t recognize it. As in Texas, law-enforcement officials overlook it.” [TheAtlantic]
🤝 Political Shake-up: A potential plea deal being considered by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would see him banned from holding office for years has the potential to shake up the country’s political ecosystem, Neri Zilber writes in Foreign Policy. “Netanyahu heads the opposition Likud party, the largest individual faction in parliament. Once he’s out of politics, the path may be clear for a major shift in political alliances that could eventually topple the current coalition government, the analysts said. ‘Many of the political players had a problem forming a coalition with Netanyahu — they refused to sit in government with a person under indictment,’ Tal Schneider, a political correspondent for the Times of Israel, told Foreign Policy. ‘If he retires, it could change the entire political map.’” [ForeignPolicy]
Around the Web
🇬🇧 I’ll Pass: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg reportedly turned down an offer from President Joe Biden to be ambassador to the U.K., with Biden instead nominating Jane Hartley, a former U.S. ambassador to France and Morocco. Biden also nominated Beacon Capital CEO Alan Leventhal to be ambassador to Denmark.
🖼️ Open-Door Policy: New York City’sSolow Art & Architecture Gallery, with works collected by the late developer Sheldon Solow, will open to the public after two decades, during which time it faced criticism for keeping its doors closed while benefiting from tax breaks given to public galleries.
🥯 Delicious Deli: Untapped New York explores the history of the New York Jewish delicatessen.
🏨 Roots Recipes: Travel + Leisure profiles Trisha Pérez Kennealy, a Boston-area hotel owner whose restaurant menu reflects her Jewish and Puerto Rican background.
🫂 Past is Prologue: Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), whose father survived the Holocaust as an infant masquerading as a Catholic child, reflected on the events in Colleyville, Texas, and the prevalence of antisemitism across generations.
👎 Chai Time: The Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council voted unanimously to condemn anti-Israel protests that have been held outside an area synagogue every weekend for 18 years.
⚖️ Hateful Gesture: Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right Norwegian national who killed 77 people in two attacks, began his parole hearing by giving a Nazi salute.
📚 Thin Case: Holocaust historians are casting doubt on a new theory that a Jewish notary in Amsterdam had revealed to Nazi officials the hiding place of the Frank family.
🌊 Submarines Sale: Israel and Germany signed an agreement for the development and production of three advanced submarines for the Israeli Navy, a deal that was stalled for years amid corruption allegations and closed at double the original price.
💸 Startup Nation: Israeli startups raised about $26 billion with the help of international investors last year, more than double the previous record in 2020, Bloomberg reports.
🦄 Unicorn Status: Israeli VC Viola Ventures closed its sixth fund of $250 million, reaching $1.25 billion in assets under management.
Pic of the Day
Israeli singer Eyal Golan released a new single and music video titled “End of Every Story.”
Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and former governor of South Carolina, Ambassador Nikki Haley turns 50…
Claremont, Calif.’s Adar Belinkoff turns 94… Distinguished professor of physics at Texas A&M University, he won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics, David Morris Lee turns 91… Lakewood, N.J.-born diplomat and former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ambassador Morton I. Abramowitz turns 89… Moroccan-French rabbi and founder of the Jewish-Muslim Friendship of France, Michel Serfaty turns 79… Pleasant Hill, Calif. resident, Daniel L. Fisher turns 78… Elected four times as a Republican at-large member on the Council of the District of Columbia, Carol Schwartz turns 78… Refusenik during the 1970s and 1980s who spent nine years in Soviet prisons, he later served as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky turns 74… Travel editor at CBS News, Peter S. Greenberg turns 72… Former congresswoman from Nevada, now CEO and senior provost for Touro University Nevada, Shelley Berkley turns 71… Host of HBO’s political talk show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” William “Bill” Maher turns 66…
Board member of Israel’s largest refining and petrochemical firm, Bazan Group, Major General (Reserve) Moshe Kaplinsky turns 65… Actress and television host, Melissa Rivers turns 54… Congressman from Minnesota (D-MN-3), Dean Benson Phillips turns 53… Coordinator of community education and support at JCFS Chicago, Diane Kushnir Halivni… Founder and CEO of Everywoman Studios, Abby Greensfelder turns 49… U.K. cabinet minister and former MP, member of the House of Lords, Baron Frank Zacharias Robin “Zac” Goldsmith turns 47… Former prime minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Groysman turns 44… Philanthropist and professional equestrian, Georgina Leigh Bloomberg turns 39… Israeli actress and musician, Hen Yanni turns 39… Senior consultant at Deloitte government and public services practice, Paul Mandelson turns 37… Senior director at Purple Strategies, Alec Jacobs turns 32… Senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, Jason Berger turns 32…