👋 Good Wednesday morning!
The Washington Wizards celebrated “Jewish Heritage Night” at last night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Capital One Arena in D.C. The Wizards’ second-year Israeli small forward Deni Avdija was the star of the show, appearing in several videos during the timeouts, including one listing his favorite places in Israel.
Israeli pop star Noa Kirel’s music was blasting on the loudspeakers during player warm-ups. The Wizards’ starting lineup appeared in Hebrew letters on the jumbotron, and Israeli flags were sprinkled throughout the crowd. On-court performances included dance numbers from Avirah Israeli Dance Company and Dance Yesodot, and the national anthem was sung by Temple Rodef Shalom member Arianna Zuckerman. Throughout the game, Jewish facts were displayed across the video board, including the meaning behind the two stripes in the Israeli flag and a description of babka.
The Wizards won the game 122-118 after Kantavious Caldwell-Pope broke a fourth-quarter tie with a clutch three-pointer in the final minute. Avdija contributed seven points on 3-for-4 shooting with two rebounds and one steal in 18 minutes off the bench.
Following the game, Avdija spoke in a special Q&A session with Wizards’ play-by-play announcer Justin Kutcher about the support he receives from the Jewish community.
The Shalom Hartman Institute blasted New York-based communications firm Big Duck for declining to work with the organization, which has offices in both Israel and North America. The institute said that Big Duck questioned the nonprofit over its political positions regarding Israel before declining to take them on as a client.
“Big Duck’s decision represents a moving of the goalposts on BDS from Israel to North American Jewish organizations, and applies a standard on North American Jewish commitments that would exclude the vast majority of the members of our community,” the Hartman Institute said in a statement. Read more here.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whom antisemitism envoy nominee Deborah Lipstadt accused of “white supremacy/nationalism” in a tweet last March, told reporters yesterday that he is not personally holding up the nomination and hasn’t asked for an apology.
Some in the GOP are considering asking Lipstadt to publicly apologize to Johnson before they allow her nomination to move forward, according to a New York Times report last weekend.
Lipstadt had also tweeted criticisms of committee member Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) during his presidential campaign in 2012 — criticizing Romney for failing to speak out in support a moment of silence for Israeli Olympic athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics when Romney led the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 and opposing Romney’s views on abortion.
The committee will vote this morning on advancing University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Germany and hold a hearing on Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s nomination to be envoy to India.
Rand Paul takes heat from pro-Israel groups for stalling Iron Dome funding
A coalition of pro-Israel organizations sent a letter to Senate leadership on Tuesday taking aim at Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for blocking supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system and arguing that folding the funding into a larger package would “undermine Israel’s security,” Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod scooped yesterday.
On the list: The letter — sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — was signed by Christians United for Israel, The Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union, Hadassah, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaisim, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League.
Paul patrol: “[The funding] has bipartisan support in the Senate, although passage has been stymied,” the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Jewish Insider, reads. “One person’s objection should not undermine the overwhelming bipartisan will of the Senate nor stand in the way of ensuring Israel has the tools necessary to keep people safe.”
No-go: A Senate source told JI in December — after Paul blocked a unanimous consent request to pass the funding on the Senate floor for the fourth time — that the “next chance” to approve the funding would be in a possible omnibus government funding package in February. On Tuesday, the organizations wrote that they oppose this strategy. “While we understand the supplemental Iron Dome funding would likely be included in a final omnibus spending package, the delay and even the prospects of a second continuing resolution undermine Israel’s security when the need to replenish this defensive system is urgent,” the letter reads.
Pushback: Schumer spokesperson Angelo Roefaro emphasized to JI, in response to the letter, that “[t]he Democratic side of the aisle wants to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but Senator Paul continues to block the bill from going to the president’s desk.” A Senate source told JI that Democrats still seek to pass the funding by unanimous consent, and that the omnibus is still a “plan B” if Paul does not pull his objections. “A lot of those groups don’t understand how floor time works and certainly aren’t advocating the shelving of other domestic priorities in the short term,” the source added.
Taking flack: The omnibus plan “puts a lot of faith in Congress’s ability to pass an omnibus. And for an important partner like Israel — they shouldn’t have to wait nine months for replenishment of defensive, life-saving equipment,” a senior government official with knowledge of Iron Dome funding told JI.
Part two: A second letter, from some overlapping groups — the American Jewish Congress, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Agudath Israel of America, Ameinu, B’nai B’rith International, Hadassah, Israel Policy Forum, Jewish Women International, Rabbinical Assembly, Orthodox Union, Union for Reform Judaism and Zionist Organization of America — was also sent to the Senate leaders on Tuesday. The letter’s signatories “implore [Schumer and McConnell] to not allow any more needless delays in passing this legislation.”
Aura Herzog to be laid to rest today
Aura Herzog, the wife of the country’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, and mother of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog, will be buried today beside her husband in the Great Leaders of the Nation Plot on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Herzog died on Sunday at 97.
Schedule: Earlier today, she lay in state at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where members of the public were invited to pay their respects.
Bio: Herzog was born in Egypt and educated in Ismailia and Cairo. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa, before making aliyah in 1946 and joining the Haganah. Herzog married Chaim Herzog in 1947 and accompanied him throughout his public roles, living in the United States twice. Herzog is best known for establishing the Council for a Beautiful Israel, the country’s first environmental organization, and as the founder of the International Bible Quiz, which she set up in 1958 to bring together Jews from all around the world.
Family matters: One of four children, Herzog’s older sister, Suzy Ambache, was married to the late diplomat and former Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Herzog is survived by four children: Joel Herzog; Ambassador Mike Herzog; President Isaac Herzog; and Ronit Herzog; 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
For Israeli high-tech, 2021 was a ‘bumper’ year
There aren’t too many people who would characterize 2021 as a “bumper” year for their industry, but that is exactly the word Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, uses to describe the country’s high-tech sector during the second year of a global pandemic that brought additional lockdowns, border closures and successive waves of virus variants. “I don’t think anyone would have expected Israeli high-tech to peak in such a way,” Bin, who was appointed CEO of the authority a year ago, told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash in a recent interview. “It was possibly the best year ever for Israeli high-tech.”
Staggering data: Bin’s decisive statement is backed up by staggering data collected by the authority, an independent public entity that works to bolster Israel’s innovation ecosystem and serves as a bridge to the government. During 2021, Israeli companies raised more than $22 billion in capital; exits, mergers and acquisitions, and initial public offerings totaled $80 billion; the accumulated market capital of Israeli companies trading on Wall Street was $300 billion; and there was a record 79 unicorns, companies valued at $1 billion and up. In addition, the IIA noted that Israel’s high-tech sector now accounts for some 50% of Israel’s total exports and for 15% of the country’s GDP. Ten percent of Israelis work in high-tech, paying some 25% of the country’s total income tax. National expenditure on civilian R&D stands at 4.9% of GDP, second only to Korea and ahead of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average of 2.47%. It also places third, after the U.S. and China, in the number of companies (116) listed on NASDAQ.
Digital transformation: “I’ve been working in Israeli high-tech for 25 years and two decades ago would never have dreamt that we would reach where we are today,” said Bin, former president and CEO of RAD Communications, a Tel Aviv-based company that manufactures networking equipment. The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many businesses and services into the virtual space, actually “stimulated the demand for high-tech,” Bin explained, adding that Israeli companies were quick to adapt to the new environment and the government stepped in to keep investment flowing into the startup sphere. “There was a digital transformation, and many things that once took place in the physical world had to move to the virtual world, which increased demand,” he told JI. “The Israeli DNA has the ability to be flexible and to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, also there is a long history of entrepreneurs, investors and government policies that benefit the sector.”
Best year: “No matter how you want to look at the Israeli ecosystem, whether its capital raised, quality of capital, unicorns, IPOs, whatever metric you want to look at, the Israeli tech ecosystem grew exponentially in 2021, it was our best year yet by far,” concurred tech columnist, and startup advisor Hillel Fuld. “We have this tendency as Jews to thrive under pressure,” he said. “There is an inverse correlation between terror and innovation, meaning you would think that if there is more terror there would be less innovation but that is not the case at all, so in 2021, the year of a pandemic, you would think it would be slow or there would be a decrease in innovation but in reality, that was not the case.”
🗳️ Model Behavior: The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman suggests that a presidential ticket that breaks party lines — among the suggestions were a Kamala Harris-Mitt Romney ticket and a Joe Biden-Lisa Murkowski team — modeled after Israel’s diverse government could be the key to uniting a politically fractured country. “As I’ve noted before, one reason I pay very close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian arena is that a lot of trends get perfected there first and then go global — airline hijacking, suicide bombing, building a wall, the challenges of pluralism and lots more. It’s Off Broadway to Broadway, so what’s playing there these days that might be a harbinger for politics in the U.S.? Answer: It’s the most diverse national unity government in Israel’s history, one that stretches from Jewish settlers on the right all the way to an Israeli-Arab Islamist party and super-liberals on the left. Most important, it’s holding together, getting stuff done and muting the hyperpolarization that was making Israel ungovernable.” [NYTimes]
🇷🇺 A ‘Jewish Muzhik’: In Tablet, Russian-American writer Vladislav Davidzon spotlights Leonid Volkov, a Jewish IT specialist and advisor to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. “With the fearless and charismatic standard-bearer of the movement now imprisoned in a penal colony, his party outlawed, and the offices of his Anti-Corruption Foundation legally shuttered, the opposition is in the meantime led by Volkov, a former IT executive. Volkov is known as a brash communicator and talented strategist who stewarded the movement through Russia’s recent parliamentary elections, but as the 2024 presidential elections approach, it remains to be seen if he can fill Navalny’s shoes and advance his life’s mission: to take down Vladimir Putin…..Irreverent, brusque, funny, and bluntly direct — Volkov is renowned among his peers in the Russian opposition for his arrogance — he is manifestly and unapologetically a Russian Jewish muzhik.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
🗳️ Election Results: Sheila Chirfilus-McCormick won the special election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District yesterday to fill the seat left vacant after the death of Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL).
✍️ District Dilemma: North Carolina’s newly drawn congressional map, which divides up Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC)’s district, is heading for the state’s Supreme Court after a state court rejected an attempt to challenge the GOP-drawn map.
📃 Caucus Course: Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die, reportedly spoke to the Senate Democratic caucus in a virtual meeting on Tuesday about the need to pass voting rights legislation.
👨🏫 Walkback: Scott Baldwin, the Indiana state representative who drew criticism for saying teachers should be “impartial” when discussing Marxism, Nazism and Fascism, walked back his remarks, acknowledging he “failed to adequately articulate” his opposition to these political ideologies, which he called a “stain on our world history.”
🛑 Never Again: Jewish and Catholic leaders condemned a funeral for a right-wing militant in Rome in which a Nazi flag adorned the coffin and onlookers gave a Nazi salute.
🚓 Apprehended: A 27-year-old Staten Island, N.Y., man was arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime and aggravated harassment after a Dec. 26 attack on a Jewish man wearing an Israeli Defense Forces sweatshirt.
🔨 Behind Bars: A 25-year-old Seattle native was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for conspiring to threaten Jewish and Black journalists and activists.
🏢 Office Odds: The Wall Street Journal analyzes the fate of the half-dozen U.S. office buildings owned by Israeli property developer Michael Shvo, and what it indicates for the future of city-center properties.
💸 Studio Deal: Candle Media, which is backed by Blackstone, acquired Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff’s Faraway Road Productions, the studio behind “Fauda” and “Hit & Run,” in a $50 million sale.
📚 Doing Right: A portion of the $502 million Netflix is offering to purchase the rights to Roald Dahl’s work will be donated to anti-hate efforts, as the streaming platform and the Dahl family attempt to correct the children’s author’s antisemitic past and flirtations with Nazism.
🇳🇮 Anguishing Appearance: Argentina protested the appearance of Iranian Vice President for Economic Affairs Mohsen Rezaei, a suspect in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, at the investiture of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
🌳 Coalition Crisis: Israeli police arrested 11 protesters on Wednesday morning who clashed with officers as a controversial tree-planting program resumed in the south of the country.
👩⚕️ Under Control? Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday tried to reassure citizens that the government was handling the crisis despite the “unstoppable storm” of infection of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
📦 Aid for Afghans: Israel donated $500,000 to the United Nations for humanitarian assistance for Afghan refugees in Tajikistan, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
🏠 Revised Restrictions: Israel shortened its quarantine period for asymptomatic individuals with COVID-19 to seven days from 10, in an effort to keep schools and the economy open.
🛩️ Clear Shot: An Israeli firm developed the Smash Dragon, a new drone that can fly and shoot assault and sniper rifles.
Pic of the Day
Rabbi Moshe Feller of Upper Midwest Merkos Chabad-Lubavitch in St. Paul, Minn., delivered the daily prayer in the Senate yesterday. According to When Rabbis Bless Congress author Howard Mortman, this was Feller’s 10th congressional prayer, the second most for a rabbi.
Identical twin comedians and actors, Randy Sklar and Jason Sklar turn 50…
Highly decorated U.S. Army nurse who served during World War II, Muriel Rose Phillips Engelman turns 101… Real estate and casino magnate, he is a minority owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, Neil Gary Bluhm turns 84… U.S.-born biochemist, he moved to Israel in 1973 after being granted an M.D. and Ph.D. from NYU, winner of the Israel Prize in 1999, professor (now emeritus) at Hebrew U, Howard “Chaim” Cedar turns 79… Stephen Moses turns 76… Israel-born jewelry designer, editor, and businesswoman, she was the first lady of Iceland from 2003 to 2016, Dorrit Moussaieff turns 72… Author Walter Mosley turns 70… NYC-based psychiatrist and the medical director of the Child Mind Institute, Harold S. Koplewicz, MD turns 69… Radio personality on Sirius XM, Howard Stern turns 68… British novelist and grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, Simon Mario Reuel Tolkien turns 63…
Director of the West Coast office of Jewish Funders Network, she was a consultant for DreamWorks on the film “The Prince of Egypt,” Tzivia Schwartz Getzug turns 60… Midday news anchor at Washington’s WTOP Radio, Debra Feinstein turns 60… Former chair of Hillel International and current vice-chair of Moishe House, Tina Price… Member of the Maryland House of Delegates, Jon S. Cardin turns 52… First-ever woman to be an MLB coach, Justine Siegal, Ph.D. turns 47… Recording artist and musical entertainer, Yaakov Shwekey turns 45… Professional golfer, Rob Oppenheim turns 42… Two-time Olympian in beach volleyball, now a chiropractor, Josh Binstock turns 41… National director of AIPAC’s synagogue initiative, Jonathan Schulman turns 40… Manager of Jewish life and learning at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, Amanda Herring turns 32… VP of finance and operations at NYC-based Hornig Capital Partners, Daniel Silvermintz turns 29…