👋 Good Monday morning!
With Congress in recess this week, a number of House members and senators are visiting Israel. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) met today with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, and the two discussed the Iranian threat, security challenges in the Middle East and ways to strengthen Israeli-U.S. cooperation, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“You have always been a true friend of Israel, both in good times and in more challenging moments,” Bennett told Graham.
Graham also met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Sunday. Herzog said they had a “productive discussion about strategic issues in our region and the importance of facing them united.”
Graham was initially scheduled to visit Israel between Christmas and New Year’s, but his trip was delayed due to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is set to arrive in Israel later this week. She’s scheduled to visit the Knesset on Wednesday, where she will be welcomed by lawmakers in an official ceremony and will observe the plenary session. She is also set to hold a working meeting with Herzog.
In a new interview published this morning, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) bemoaned the firing of commentator Marc Lamont Hill, who was let go from CNN in 2018 after calling for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.”
“You talk about cancel culture,” the New York congresswoman told The New Yorker’s David Remnick. “But notice that those discussions only go one way. We don’t talk about all the people who were fired. You just kind of talk about, like, right-leaning podcast bros and more conservative figures. But, for example, Marc Lamont Hill was fired [from CNN] for discussing an issue with respect to Palestinians, pretty summarily. There was no discussion about it, no engagement, no thoughtful discourse over it, just pure accusation.” Read more here.
Brian Hook: Nuclear negotiations should bar Iran from any enrichment
Brian Hook, who served as the Trump administration’s Iran envoy, suggested that any deal with Iran must bar the regime from nuclear enrichment of any kind, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
‘Original sin’: “The original sin of the  Iran nuclear deal is that it allowed Iran to enrich,” Hook said at an event on Thursday organized by the National Union for Democracy in Iran, an Iranian-American diaspora organization. “Iran claims it wants peaceful nuclear power. This is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. So when such a country is talking about peaceful nuclear power… they can put to bed any concerns people have by [stopping] enrichment.”
Setbacks: Hook said he had not seen anything to indicate that a no-enrichment standard is part of the current talks with Iran. “We should not be defeatist or fatalist about the need to do this,” Hook said. “We shouldn’t negotiate with ourselves and talk ourselves out of it. We should not be resigned to Iran as a nuclear threshold state. It will change the balance of power in the Middle East profoundly.” He added, “The regime needs to understand that this is a non-negotiable issue.”
Knock-on effects: Hook argued that reentering the Iran deal would have “a lot of consequences” for U.S. partners in the region, emboldening Iran to further expand its non-nuclear provocations, such as the Houthi proxy attacks on U.S. allies in the Gulf. The former Trump official said that the Iran deal, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, also complicated efforts to convince other Arab nations to agree not to enrich nuclear material themselves.
‘This administration needs to do more’: Max Rose critiques Biden admin’s handling of white supremacists
Former Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), who is running to reclaim his redrawn Staten Island congressional seat, criticized both the Biden administration and Congress on Friday for failing to take the actions he sees as necessary to counteract white supremacist domestic terrorism, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Designate: Rose, speaking at a virtual event organized by the American Jewish Congress, said that the administration should be more aggressive in pursuing white supremacist groups in the same fashion that the U.S. pursued jihadist terrorist organizations. Specifically, he said, domestic groups with international connections and membership should be labeled as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. “This administration needs to do more in this space,” Rose, who spent six months as the Defense Department’s COVID advisor last year, said. “Our safety — the safety of Jewish communities — relies on it, and we do not want to act after a horrific incident. We want to act before it.”
Falling behind: “[Administrations] will say — ironically — ‘Well, there are too many members of these organizations in the United States of America… so it’s not going to work,’” he said. “It’s patently absurd. The only reason why they’re not doing this is because they’re afraid… All this requires is the will of this administration.” Rose argued that the Trump administration did more than the Biden administration had in this regard, having designated the Russian Imperial Movement, a global white supremacist group, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
On the Hill: Rose also believes that Congress should also work to create a separate domestic terrorism statute, such as exists for foreign terrorism, although he acknowledged that there is “not the political will to do that.” And he noted a differentiation between “domestic violence” and “domestic terrorism.” “In the absence of that [political will], I don’t care how much funding or condemning congressional resolutions you pass in regards to enforcing or protecting us against domestic terrorism, what you’re ultimately doing is — and this is a valiant cause — you’re protecting us against domestic violence,” Rose explained. “But what we are concerned about is terrorism. And that is totally different because the goals of terrorism are completely different.”
After Abraham Accords, growing Jewish community finds cohesion
When Rafael Schwartz moved to Kuwait three years ago for work, he was hoping he’d be able to make quick trips to the fledgling Jewish community in the nearby United Arab Emirates every few weeks if he needed Jewish company or kosher food, but when COVID-19 struck two years ago, he found himself unable to travel. Then, in February 2021, something like a miracle happened. Spurred by the fall 2020 signing of the Abraham Accords, a set of normalization agreements between Israel and four Muslim-majority countries, the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities (AGJC) was born, connecting Jews in six Persian Gulf countries and providing a Jewish lifeline for people like Schwartz, an engineer. Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports on the changes the Accords have had on the region’s Jewish communities.
Backbone of Jewish life: In that short time, the AGJC has become the backbone of Jewish life in the Gulf, primarily in the UAE and Bahrain — two of the signatories to the Abraham Accords — and has connected the sprinkling of Jews living and working in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The association estimates there are roughly 1,200 Jews residing in the Gulf, not including a further 1,000 serving there as part of the U.S. military. Among its activities, the organization has played a hand in the growing number of Jewish life-cycle events, helping to organize the region’s first bar mitzvah in 16 years and its first Jewish wedding in 52 years. It has also launched a Jewish dating website, a Beth Din of Arabia (Jewish religious court), and is currently in the process of creating an Arabian Kosher Certification Agency, which will set standards for kashrut throughout all six Gulf countries. The AGJC also offers weekly in-person and virtual programming, including a Friday pre-Shabbat Zoom and events around the holidays.
Welcome change: For indigenous Gulf Jews, such as Ebrahim Daoud Nonoo, AGJC’s president and the chairman of the board of trustees of the House of Ten Commandments, the Jewish community in Bahrain, the growing Jewish life is a welcome change. “We are a tiny community and the good thing we are seeing now is that we have a workable way to make Jewish life flourish in the country,” he continued. “The AGJC is a fantastic support for all the communities in the Gulf, allowing us to enjoy Jewish life not just from the point of view of kosher food or religious books, but we also have the input of a rabbi and we have used him for bar mitzvahs and weddings.”
Jews welcomed: “When I arrived here a year ago, Jewish life in the Gulf was almost unknown,” Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, the AGJC’s rabbi, said in an interview with JI. “It was barren land, but I could see that we could create an orchard and connect Jewish communities and individuals in all of the countries. It feels really good watching this and, in a way, it makes you feel vindicated that finally Arab countries have come to realize that either persecuting or expelling their Jews was a historical mistake and now they want to correct that and welcome the Jews back,” he continued. “I hope and pray that we will see even more events for the Jewish community in these countries and that more Jews will either go to settle there or come out of the closet, so to speak.”
sky’s the limit
Art to bring dreamers together in space
Sharonna Karni Cohen isn’t afraid to dream big — so big that her vision will soon travel to space. Nearly a decade ago, the social impact entrepreneur founded a collective of artists and “dreamers” that transforms visions and aspirations into works of art. Karni Cohen founded Dreame in 2014 with the aim of empowering people to be creators. The initiative provides a platform for people to submit their ideas, visions and dreams to an artist of their choice who then transforms them into digital art. Karni Cohen’s latest project — projecting video art inspired by thousands of submitted visions for the future onto famous landmarks around the world — will culminate when a mosaic of 500 digital pieces of art will be carried into space in April on a mission that will also launch the second Israeli astronaut ever to venture into the cosmos, Jewish Insider’s Tamara Zieve reports.
Positive thinking: “The Big Dream” was born three years after Dreame’s founding, when Karni Cohen asked her friends how they imagined Israel in 30 years. Discouraged by the pessimism of her friends’ responses, she reframed the question, asking them instead to imagine the utopian version of the Jewish state. When she extended the question to a group of 1,000 people, she identified several recurring themes: peace, coexistence, culture, environment and freedom. The “First Big Dream” — which took the form of 1,500 yoga mats puzzled together in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square — was built out of images spawned by those 1,000 visions of the future, a giant collective dream made into an artwork by Israeli illustrator Amit Trainin.
Start-up mentality: Karni Cohen credits the Israeli mindset for the success of her projects. “None of this would have happened anywhere else in the world,” she asserted. “Even the puzzling [together] of the yoga mats. I don’t think 50 friends of mine in London would have come to help me at 6 in the morning. It’s a very Israeli attitude and I’m forever grateful to Israel and ‘Start-up Nation’ for empowering my creativity and my drive and all the fellow entrepreneurs that I work with, so I think in many ways it’s thanks to Israel that this project was born.”
Into space: For its upcoming project, Karni Cohen’s team is thinking bigger than ever, aiming to collect a total of 50,000 dreams for the planet’s future from all over the world by March 31. Fifty artists will choose 10 dreams each and will collate them into one mosaic and video animation. The final piece will be unveiled in a range of locations including the Old Royal Naval College in London; Fed Square in Melbourne; Łódź, Poland; Shibuya crossing in Tokyo; and Hamar, Norway. The final location will be the International Space Station (ISS), as part of the Rakia (“sky” in Hebrew) mission, with Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe projecting the final piece and a heat map connecting all the dreams with the world.
United by dreams: Embassies from around the world, with the help of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, have been involved in the effort. Various foundations and organizations have also helped collect dreams for the project; members of the Mars Society, for instance, submitted visions of human life on the Red Planet. Mental health, the environment, family welfare and peace are among recurring themes of submitted dreams. Children and adults alike have participated in the project; a number of children from around the world dreamed of opening an ice cream store to make people happy. During the space mission, the artwork will travel for eight days and be projected as a hologram that people will be able to see online and know above which part of the world it is at that moment. “The idea is to create correlations between the dreams and remind people around the world that we have quite similar dreams to each other,” said Karni Cohen.
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📚 Library Tech: Arab News’ Jonathan Gornall reports on the impact of the digitization of the National Library of Israel’s collection of Islamic documents and manuscripts, which has driven significant traffic to the library’s Arabic-language website from across the Middle East. “Thanks to technology, the priceless documents at the library are even more accessible online, where they can be seen in exquisite, close-up detail — far better than they would be if viewed in person behind the glass of a display case. ‘Technology allows culture and the written word to cross boundaries and reach new places previously inaccessible,’ said Yaron Deutscher, head of digital at NLI.” [ArabNews]
🇮🇱🇹🇷 Mending Fences: In Foreign Policy, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Aykan Erdemir explores the possibility of rapprochement between Israel and Turkey in the wake of the Abraham Accords and Israel’s deepening relations in the Arab world. “But Ankara knows that Israel is now, thanks in part to the Abraham Accords, less isolated in the Eastern Mediterranean than Turkey, and it has less to lose if normalization attempts with Turkey fail. The onus is thus on the Erdogan government to be proactive in improving relations. Ultimately, a real rapprochement built on trust might have to wait for a new Turkish government. A big-tent opposition bloc appears poised to defeat Erdogan in the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections. But as an embattled Erdogan seeks to undo some of the economic and foreign-policy damage he has wrought, setting in motion a return to better relations with Israel would be a good way to start.” [ForeignPolicy]
🤑 Money Talks: In the Wall Street Journal, Jewish Federations of North America CEO Eric Fingerhut and Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, whose Colleyville, Texas, congregation was held hostage last month, pen an op-ed calling for a doubling of funding to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. “The Jewish community doesn’t currently have the funds to meet the very high security needs of every Jewish organization across the country. Some 50 communities have Federation-based security initiatives with professional security directors to provide training and best practices to Jewish communal organizations. Hundreds of smaller communities are vulnerable. Many Jewish communal buildings around America need more and better-trained security guards, bulletproof doors, shatterproof glass, brighter lighting and more and newer cameras among other lifesaving measures.” [WSJ]
🌿 Going Green: The Washington Post’s Shira Rubin looks at how the cannabis industry has provided an economic lifeline to kibbutzim around Israel that have pivoted to growing the product for medical use. “In Israel’s early, uncertain decades, kibbutzim were the nation’s breadbasket, and their members had an outsize influence in the parliament, or Knesset. Adhering to a socialist ideology, residents earned equal pay, ate together in communal dining halls, sent their children to live together in separate houses from their parents, and needed to ask permission to use shared vehicles or travel abroad. But the kibbutzim were threatened as capitalism took hold and younger members fled for jobs elsewhere. Recently, however, an increasing number are returning, and the kibbutzim are rebranding.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
👮 Police Position: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) cited Rep. Ritchie Torres’ (D-NY) position on police funding on ABC’s “This Week,” noting, “I quote one of my colleagues from New York, Ritchie Torres, a brand-new member of Congress way on the left, saying that ‘defund the police’ is dead.”
🏈 Party Down: Michael Rubin and Casey Wasserman hosted a star-studded pre-Super Bowl lunch at Spago in Los Angeles, with invitees including Peyton and Eli Manning, Kevin Hart, Robert Kraft, David Zaslav, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Shaquille O’Neal.
🇧🇬 Gloomy Finding: Axios reported that a swastika was found inside the U.S. Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
🚓 Antisemitic Attacks: New York Mayor Eric Adams said the NYPD is investigating an antisemitic vandalism incident and the physical assault of a Jewish teenager over Shabbat, the second weekend in a row that antisemitic incidents in Brooklyn have been reported.
👶 Baby Boom: The Washington Post looks at how DNA testing unraveled a decades-old family mystery and connected more than half a dozen siblings whose biological parents were involved in an adoption scheme that placed babies with Jewish families.
💖 Lasting Love: On Valentine’s Day, the BBC spotlights an elderly Yemenite Israeli couple who have been together for 91 years and fled persecution in their native country to the Jewish state when it was founded in 1948.
💔 Lonely Hearts Brigade: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and actress Rosario Dawson, who began dating in 2018, have reportedly broken up.
🇺🇦 Eye on Ukraine: The Israeli government and Jewish relief NGOs are preparing to assist the Ukrainian Jewish community — which is believed to number as many as 100,000 — in the event of a ground conflict with Russia.
🖼️ Rightful Return: The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium returned a painting it had held for seven decades to the descendants of Jews whose property was looted by the Nazis.
☢️ Nuke Talks: Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s lead negotiator in Vienna, tweeted a photo of a meeting with U.S. envoy for Iran Robert Malley and said that talks are “definitely moving ahead.”
☀️ Sunny Sale: Israeli solar energy company Apollo Power said yesterday that Amazon in Europe has placed an $851,175 order for the design, delivery and installation of its systems.
🕵️ Spy Story:The Economist explores how the trial of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be impacted by the use of the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware by Israeli officials.
🔥 Flaring Tensions: Clashes broke out in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah over the weekend, after far-right Israeli Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir opened an office there.
🪖 West Bank Clashes: Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian during clashes in the West Bank today as the army prepared to demolish the home of a man charged with killing an Israeli in a shooting attack in December.
🇪🇬 In Broad Daylight: After years of behind-the-scenes mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas, Egypt is taking a more public role in Gaza, in a move which could help stave off another round of violence.
Pic of the Day
Rabbi David Wolpe, the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, attends last night’s Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Co-founder and CEO at 25Madison, executive chairman of Townsquare Media (owner of 322 radio stations), minority owner of the Atlanta Hawks, he was previously deputy assistant secretary of defense, Steven Price turns 60…
Founder of Val d’Or Apparel and Cannon County Knitting Mills, Martin “Marty” Granoff turns 84… Owner of Bloomberg LP and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, former mayor of New York City and 2020 presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg turns 80… Award-winning investigative journalist for The Washington Post and author, Carl Bernstein turns 78… Chairman and CEO of Reebok for 26 years until its 2005 sale to Adidas, Paul Fireman turns 78… British ad agency pioneer and founder of WPP plc, he’s now trying to disrupt WPP as head of S4 Capital PLC, Sir Martin Stuart Sorrell turns 77… Former borough president of Brooklyn and New York State senator, Marty Markowitz turns 77… Chairman and CEO of the Blackstone Group, Stephen A. Schwarzman turns 75… Film producer and chairman and EVP of the NFL’s New York Giants, winner of a Golden Globe award, an Academy Award and two Super Bowl rings, Steve Tisch turns 73… Retired chairman and CEO of Los Angeles-based City National Bank, Russell Goldsmith turns 72… Host and co-executive producer of “Fresh Air” on WHYY-FM in Philadelphia since 1975, Terry Gross turns 71… Sports executive and former All Star basketball player, she served as president of the WNBA for six years and as SVP of the PGA Tour for 17 years, Donna Geils Orender turns 65…
Executive board member at the Los Angeles Museum of The Holocaust, Paulette Nessim turns 62… Volleyball and beach volleyball star, she is the only Brazilian athlete in the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, Adriana Brandão Behar turns 53… Long-distance runner, she won the bronze medal in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Deena Kastor turns 49… Senior government affairs director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau and elected trustee of the Deerfield (Illinois) Public Library, Howard Handler turns 44… Financial advisor in the Boca Raton office of Oppenheimer, Alan Feinberg Jr. turns 43… Jewish hockey player selected in the first round of the 2002 NHL draft, he played on four NHL teams and the United States national team, Eric Nystrom turns 39… Co-founder of Run for Something, Amanda Litman turns 32… Four year basketball player for the California Golden Bears, then for Bnei Herzliya of the Israeli Premier League, now a real estate broker at Koniver Stern Group, Sam Singer turns 27… Actress best known for her role as Charlotte on the CMT comedy television series “Still the King,” Madison Iseman turns 25…