👋 Good Thursday morning!
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the nominations of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann to the full Senate. Garcetti and Gutmann have been nominated to be the ambassadors to India and Germany, respectively.
Gutmann’s nomination was a point of some controversy — Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the committee’s ranking member, said he would oppose her nomination because he believed she had exercised insufficient oversight over the donations her university received from China, but said, “it is not personal… certainly, she’s qualified.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) defended Gutmann and said that her family background — her father fled the Nazi regime in Germany — “gives her a special insight… [that] can help us greatly in our representation in Germany.”
The committee also briefly discussed Deborah Lipstadt’s stalled nomination to be antisemitism envoy. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the committee’s chair, said, “I have been advocating for a hearing for this nominee and I hope to get there with the ranking member in order to do so… I look forward to working with Senator Risch.”
Risch shared his stance, “I likewise look forward to working in that regard too. The nominee has left a lengthy trail of materials that we’re in the process of reviewing. I suspect we’ll get there. We’ll continue with it.”
The exchange appeared to signal possible progress, or a de-escalation of tension, compared to before the Senate’s holiday recess. At that time, Menendez threatened to skip the committee process entirely and Risch said a hearing was in Menendez’s hands.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed by friendly fire on Wednesday night after they were misidentified during a security patrol near an IDF base in the Jordan Valley, the army said.
“This is a very sad morning,”said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “I would like to send heartfelt condolences to the families of the two officers who were killed overnight in a tragic accident. The two commanders had dedicated their best years to the security of Israel and defending our homeland. The entire people of Israel mourns for them.”
Pocan pokes Israel — but where are his constituents?
Last May, as mounting tensions over Israel reached a climax within the Democratic Party, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) stepped into the fray as an unofficial ringleader among the contingent of House members who have forcefully criticized the Jewish state. With competing factions of mainstream and far-left lawmakers poised to address the conflict between Israel and Hamas in a series of floor speeches, Pocan took action to ensure his side would not be outdone as he organized an hour-long special session that would amount to an extraordinary rebuke of America’s closest ally in the Middle East, reports Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a detailed look at the Wisconsin lawmaker’s approach.
Leading the charge: “We must acknowledge and condemn the disproportionate discrimination and treatment that Palestinians face versus others in this region,” Pocan said in introductory comments before yielding the microphone to 10 House Democrats who took turns castigating Israel’s actions. Back in his home district, which includes Madison, Jordan Loeb, an attorney and local Jewish community activist who has helped raise money for Pocan’s campaign, watched with dismay as the congressman delivered his assessment.
Squad-adjacent? The hour-long floor session was a “wake-up point” for Loeb, who says he has grown wary of Pocan’s combative posture toward Israel. After Pocan’s demonstration, Loeb found himself grappling with a nagging question that remains unresolved. “I’m like, ‘Alright, Mark, so what’s your policy here,’” Loeb recalled wondering, “‘or are you just trying out for one of the seats that’s adjacent to the Squad?’”
Rising profile: Loeb isn’t alone among Pocan’s constituents in noticing that the congressman has, in recent months, wagered a significant share of his political capital on Middle East issues as he forms alliances with Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and others. But while his profile has risen on the national stage, Pocan’s investment in the conflict is garnering mixed reactions at the local level as he risks alienating some Jewish community members who have either supported him or sought engagement in the past, but now suspect that his political allegiances have led him astray on Israel.
Constituent concerns: Richard Landay, a flavor chemist for Kerry Ingredients who lives in the congressman’s district, said he appreciates Pocan’s advocacy on a range of issues, including that the congressman, who is gay, has positioned himself as a strong supporter of LGBT equality. “But I don’t like his approach with Israel,” he said. “I’m surprised that Pocan, as smart as he is and as caring as he is — because I get the sense that he cares about a lot of stuff — doesn’t look back and understand the whole history,” Landay told JI. “I think a lot of people who have his stance don’t understand the whole history.”
Pocan’s view: In a recent interview, Pocan said he has long felt as if his positions have put him in somewhat rarefied political territory. “I’ll be honest,” the congressman told JI. “I’m in a bit of a weird, lonely place.” Recounting a recent meeting with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, Pocan said Herzog told him, “‘You’re the guy who criticizes Israel,’ and I had to tell him, ‘No, no, actually, you know how sometimes when you have a friend you can say things to them differently because they’re your friend? I’m saying things to you as a friend as opposed to someone we may not know.’”
Nicaragua slammed for hosting Iranian official wanted in Argentina Jewish center bombing
The Organization of American States’ antisemitism envoy called for Nicaragua to abide by its duties as a member of Interpol after a senior Iranian politician wanted for his role in the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires appeared at the swearing-in of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega this week, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Follow the rules: “I repudiate the presence of the vice president of Iran at the inauguration of Daniel Ortega in Managua,” Fernando Lottenberg, a Brazilian attorney who has since October served as the OAS commissioner to monitor and combat antisemitism, told Jewish Insider. “Mohsen Rezaei is under a red alert from Interpol. Nicaragua, as a member of Interpol, should soon comply with it.”
Back story: Mohsen Rezaei was the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps at the time of the AMIA bombing and is believed to be the alleged mastermind of the attack that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. Rezaei, Iran’s vice president for economic affairs, has been wanted by Interpol since 2007. But Nicaragua, which is a member of Interpol, appeared to ignore the red notice on the Iranian official.
No consequences: “It’s a sign of the level of confidence Iranian leadership has in its ability to thumb its nose in the face of international law, and Interpol in particular, without consequence,” said Matthew Levitt, a former FBI investigator and deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Treasury Department who is now the Fromer-Wexler Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Sticking together: During Rezaei’s visit to Managua, he also met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who wrote on Twitter that the two leaders discussed the “positive state of political relations” between Iran and Cuba. “The governments of Cuba and Nicaragua are eager to deepen ties to countries that present opportunities for them in light of U.S. sanctions, and Iran likewise will welcome warm ties to other governments targeted by the U.S.,” said Eric Hershberg, director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University.
Biden administration takes Trump admin to task on Iran
With Iran nuclear talks nearing a critical juncture and expectations low for what they might achieve, the Biden administration is turning fire toward the Trump administration and its decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
From the podium: At Wednesday’s White House press conference, in response to a question about the status of the talks, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “None of the things we’re looking at now… would be happening if the former president had not recklessly pulled out of the nuclear deal, with no thoughts about what might come next.” Her comments follow similar remarks by State Department Spokesman Ned Price on Tuesday. According to an Axios report, the remarks were part of a concerted messaging push by the administration to assign blame for the current state of Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear provocations to the Trump administration.
Inside baseball: Experts on the region say that such a strategy is likely designed to deflect criticism away from the Biden administration and lay the groundwork for the end of nuclear talks — the window for which is “potentially weeks, not months [away],” Price said on Wednesday — and signals pessimism within the administration about the direction talks, now in their eighth round, are headed.
Looking ahead: “If in fact there is no agreement and the Iranians walk and you end up with a pressure campaign, it’s a useful explanation as to why,” Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said. “And if in fact an agreement is reached… it would be the same useful argument: ‘You don’t like the agreement? [It is], in essence, a consequence of what we were up against [after the Trump pullout].’” He added, “If that is, in fact, the primary rationale, it seems to suggest that the administration has a pretty low view of where these talks are headed.”
Multiple options: “I think that’s designed to lay the basis for either less than what they wanted — because they were left with no good choices — or explaining why they were reverting to a non-diplomatic process,” former Ambassador Dennis Ross, a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has served in high-level roles in Democratic and Republican administrations, said. “Although I think it’s probably more the former than the latter.”
Read more here.
Bonus: A group of 110 House Republicans urged the Biden administration to “immediately withdraw” from the Iran nuclear talks, arguing that administration officials have “made it clear there is no productive diplomatic path forward at this time.”
🎞️ Casting Conundrum: In The Guardian, David Baddiel, author of Jews Don’t Count, delves into the debate over whether non-Jewish actors should portray Jewish characters, following the recent criticism by Maureen Lipman over the casting of Helen Mirren as former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in an upcoming biopic. “The new casting is an industry-wide attempt to right a previous structural wrong, and minorities are now both given a fenced-off right to play themselves, and also allowed to play parts from the mainstream culture. If Jews are part of this, the same ring-fencing should apply to them as regards Jewish parts, but also shouldn’t stop them from being cast as non-Jewish characters from the majority Christian culture too. Which means Lipman can say this about Meir and Mirren – and play all the vicars and priests she wants. But this of course is to imagine that Jews are seen as a real minority. This is to imagine that Jews are understood as much in need of wrongs righting as any other minority.” [TheGuardian]
💸 Taking Stock: Market watchers are eyeing Securities and Exchange Commission head Gary Gensler as he determines how to apply traditional laws to the growing world of cryptocurrency, Benjamin Bain writes in Bloomberg. “You don’t have to look far to see how algorithms and machine learning can influence a market: Ask your kitchen smart speaker to play some Taylor Swift, and before long a computer formula will likely rack up songs by another artist her fans tend to like. What if a similar bit of black-box code could nudge you into buying a popular stock? U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler says that question might not be hypothetical for long. The pandemic hastened the already rapid rise of cryptocurrencies, robo-advisers, and apps that make it easier to trade and invest.” [Bloomberg]
✊Problematic Politics: In The Nation, columnist and political consultant Alexis Grenell looks at the Democratic Socialists of America’s rejection of concerns that the group’s position on issues related to Israel veers into antisemitism. “The DSA and many of those aligned with it don’t seem much concerned by any of that, insisting that criticism of Israel is not inherently or always anti-Semitic (true) and that any pushback against such criticism to that effect is inherently in bad faith (not true). The problem is that in the taxonomy of oppression, the left doesn’t leave much room for the experience or perspective of Jews, in part because we’re mostly racialized as white and enjoy the benefits thereof. The corollary to that designation, however — which is where the wheels come off the wagon — is the notion that we’re not ‘systemically’ discriminated against.” [TheNation]
🏃 ‘Shadow Front-runner’: In Vanity Fair, Tom Lobianco weighs former Vice President Mike Pence as a presidential candidate in the next election. “For a long time, the conventional wisdom among Republicans has been that Trump ended Pence’s political career on January 6, convincing his die-hard base that Pence was the Benedict Arnold of their revolution. Instead, Trump’s actions seem to have had the opposite effect, accidentally launching Pence’s quite feasible bid for the Republican nomination. ‘Pence’s political stock continues to rise every month while Trump relitigating his loss to Biden makes him look smaller in the rearview mirror,’ said Scott Reed, a longtime Republican operative who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign for president.” [VanityFair]
Around the Web
✍️ Presidential Parley: President Joe Biden sent a letter of condolence to Israeli President Isaac Herzog following the death of his mother, Aura.
🤳 Toxic Tweet: Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH)compared Washington, D.C.’s new vaccination rules to the Nazi regime, tweeting, “Let’s recall that the Nazis dehumanized Jewish people before segregating them, segregated them before imprisoning them, imprisoned them before enslaving them, and enslaved them before massacring them.”
🗳️ Stepping Aside: Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) announced he will not seek a fourth term later this year. Hollingsworth, who has introduced legislation limiting House members to four terms, sidestepped questions about whether he would run for reelection in an interview with JI last year.
🗳️ Third Time Around: The editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer implored Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to reconsider his impending retirement and seek a third term, citing, among other things, the “ugliness” of the GOP primary.
🏃 In the Race: Republican David McCormick filed to run for the Pennsylvania Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA).
😷 Sick Day: The State Department is experiencing a wave of COVID-19 infections among employees, leading some at Foggy Bottom to refer to the situation as “Chernobyl.”
🕵️ Undercover: The Washington Post delves into the story behind a mole uncovered at the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
🤝 Portfolio Padding: Guy Oseary signed on to represent NFT collective World of Women, months after the talent manager signed Bored Ape Yacht Club.
👩 Coming Soon: Gal Gadot will star in an upcoming remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 film “To Catch a Thief,” playing the character originated by Grace Kelly.
📘 Book Shelf: A New York Times review of the upcoming Holocaust memoir Mala’s Cat called the book one that “should be read and cherished as a new, vital document of a history that must never be allowed to vanish.”
🎨 Across the Pond: Prince Charles commissioned portraits of seven Holocaust survivors, who will be painted by top U.K. artists, that will be unveiled on a BBC program on Holocaust Remembrance Day later this month and will hang in the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace.
🐬 Sea Seizure: Hamas claimed it seized an armed “killer dolphin” sent by Israel to harm its fighters along the Mediterranean Coast.
🧱 Recycled Rubble: After four rounds of violence between Hamas in Gaza and Israel in about a decade, local businesses in the Palestinian enclave are finding ways to recycle the vast amounts of rubble for use in the construction industry, despite concerns about its safety.
🔍 Spy Game: Israel indicted five citizens on charges of spying for Iran, as Tehran continues its attempts to turn Israeli citizens against their own country.
💵 Bills, Bills, Bills: Iran, Sudan and Venezuela were among eight countries to lose their voting rights at the United Nations over unpaid dues.
🇮🇷 Call to Action: JINSA’s Morgan Lorraine Viña and Blaise Misztal wrote an op-ed in The Hill calling on President Joe Biden to act on his previous pledges to defend Israel at the Union Nations.
💻 Cyber Challenges: U.S. Cyber Command made public a number of malware examples for systems administrators to know if they’ve been targeted by Iranian hackers.
🎭 Festival Drama: Israeli officials at the Embassy in Australia said the embassy was invited to be a sponsor of the Sydney Festival, a performing arts festival that has emerged as a BDS battleground, disputing claims that Israeli support for the cultural event was an attempt to “art-wash” its behavior.
🏨 Looking Good: Surface’s “Design Dispatch” spotlights the Galei Kinneret Hotel, the work of Saar Zafrir’s design studio, which based the 1946 structure’s new look on its original appearance, with modern upgrades.
🕯️ Remembering: Gerald Stern, the first administrator of New York State’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, died at 86.
Song of the Day
Israeli pop star Noa Kirel released a new single, “Thought About That.”
Lifelong resident of Greenwich Village, member of Manhattan’s Community Board 2 and citizen advocate on the board of Friends of Hudson River Park, Susanna Beth Aaron…
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