With the House still in recess, several dozen lawmakers are in Israel this week to meet with officials.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is leading a delegation of nearly 30 Republican freshman members on a trip organized by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF). The group met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday. AIEF’s delegation of Democrats will meet with Bennett later today.
Bennett told the GOP delegation that Israel should continue to be a bipartisan issue in the U.S., and not a cause supported only by the GOP, according to a senior Israeli official who was present at the meeting. The prime minister noted his friendship with President Joe Biden.
Bennett also discussed Israeli efforts to further the Abraham Accords, noting that an objective of his recent trip to Bahrain — the first time an Israeli prime minister has visited the Gulf nation — was to create practical outcomes from the Accords and inject substance into the agreements. He also praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the UAE’s Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and Bahraini Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
For many in the delegation, it was their first time in Israel. Twenty-seven members of Congress, in addition to a number of spouses — and McCarthy’s mother — also attended the meeting.
A portion of the conversation focused on Iran, the senior official said, as nuclear talks continued some 1,500 miles away in Vienna. Bennett reiterated a claim he had made on Sunday — that Iranian negotiators in Austria are pushing for the U.S. to remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization — and warned that Iran is attempting to delegitimize the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international body tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.
The House Republicans also met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is also leading around a dozen Democrats on an AIEF delegation to Israel, which met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday.
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) urged people in a video posted to AIPAC’s Twitter account to “come to the State of Israel, see the reality on the ground with your own eyes, and then come to your own conclusion.”
heard in jerusalem
Bennett warns Iran deal will create ‘more violent’ Mideast
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned on Sunday that a potential U.S. return to a nuclear agreement with Iran “is likely to create a more violent and less stable Middle East” and that a new deal “will enrich [Iran’s] brutal and corrupt regime.” Speaking at the 47th mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Bennett addressed a gala dinner of delegates in Jerusalem on the current challenges facing both Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, reserving most of his comments for the burgeoning Iranian threat, David Brummer reports for Jewish Insider.
In the midst of it: “There is no doubt that America will remain our biggest and strongest friend. However, ultimately, it is us who have to live in the region and it is us who will bear the consequences,” Bennett stressed. He added that Israel did not uniformly oppose an agreement between the world powers and Iran, representatives of which have been meeting in Vienna since last spring. Bennett noted that many who were in favor of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have concerns about the prospect of an agreement at present.
Red lines: “The Iranians have continued to cross one red line after another, and they are now enriching uranium beyond 60 percent,” Bennett said. “This is the hand that both the Israeli government and President Biden’s administration inherited, and there is no point playing the blame game of what went before. We need to address the challenge.” Bennett suggested that Israel would not accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state. “We have a clear and non-negotiable red line: Israel will always maintain its freedom of action; to defend itself.”
Continued concerns: Bennett added that Jerusalem was concerned over the “sunset provisions” in the 2015 agreement, which are set to expire in less than three years. Once those provisions expire, Bennett said, “Iran will be able to develop, install and operate advanced centrifuges. Imagine football stadiums of advanced centrifuges spinning — which this agreement will allow… and it’s completely legal.” The prime minister also warned that tens of billions of dollars [of Iranian assets] will soon be unfrozen and the resultant access to the booming energy market. “Much of this money will be funneled toward attacking Israel, our allies in the Middle East, and U.S. soldiers — as they have already started to do.”
Read the full story here.
Bonus: As talks with Iran about reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal enter their final stages, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the deal cannot be reinstated unless the U.S. lifts “major sanctions.”
Nides: Israel’s hands won’t be tied by deal with Iran
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides indicated that Israel would not be bound by any agreement made with Iran, in an address he made at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations gathering in Jerusalem. “The Israelis have the right to do what they need to do to defend their country. So no one is tying the hands of the Israelis,” Nides said, David Brummer reports for Jewish Insider.
Step by step: Nides discussed the Biden administration’s approach to the Iran talks happening in Vienna. “The president is committed to make sure the Iranians do not get a nuclear weapon,” Nides said. “How we work that out, and how we focus on pushing this decision of the 90% enrichment away, if it’s to 2030, if it’s a date later, if it’s the beginning of a longer conversation — details will come if we get to that stage. We are not at that stage.”
‘No games’: “We are lockstep with the Israelis,” Nides added. “There’s nothing we are doing here that they are not aware of. I’m not suggesting they’re supportive of what we’re doing or not doing. But there’s no games here. I think in the last Democratic administration that I was a part of, there was some sense that we weren’t communicating with them and they were surprised.”
Coalition compliments: The ambassador said the Biden administration had almost immediately developed a warm working relationship with Israel’s coalition government since its formation in April 2021. “Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has a beautiful relationship with the president – as does Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. I hope that it continues, especially if I have anything to say about it. This coalition is a beautiful thing – this is what Israel is all about. We should be proud as Jews to see this going on.”
Conflict resolution: Nides reiterated that he was in full support of the vision of a two-state solution, while he was under no illusions that a peace agreement would be signed anytime soon. “I want to do things for the Palestinian people. The Biden administration has and will continue to support them. The average Palestinian needs freedom, security, and educational opportunities. The options are not great if they do not have them. It is clear that many Israelis, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, feel the same way and are trying to help the Palestinian people too.”
Read the full story here.
Bonus: On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid touted relations between the U.S. and Israel, which he accused former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of having spoiled. “In fact, on the Iran issue and the signing of the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015, the U.S. ignored Israel’s opinion. The whole relationship was soured, and we almost lost the bipartisan nature of Israel in Washington. We’ve done a good job of restoring it.” Regarding a potential nuclear deal with Iran he said, “We’ve retained our ability to say that we did not sign the agreement and we will be free to act on our own – even if there may be consequences to these actions.”
Ukraine takes center stage at Munich conference
Ukraine was front and center — quite literally, when the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was speaking — at the Munich Security Conference, which began over the weekend. But the annual gathering, held in person this year after being forced online in 2021, provided an opportunity for Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to share the global stage with other representatives from countries that have signed onto the Abraham Accords, and to tout the achievements of the agreement.
Gulf goals: Gantz appeared onstage on Sunday with Emirati diplomatic adviser Anwar Mohammed Gargash and Bahraini Undersecretary Abdullah Bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. Khalifa told the crowd in Munich that the Mossad was operating in Bahrain, calling it part of the “ongoing cooperation” between the two countries. During his own speech, Gantz praised “new brave leaders in the region who are prepared to develop relations with Israel,” a nod to the Bahraini and Emirati officials in Munich.
Meeting of the minds: Gantz and Vice President Kamala Harris met on Saturday in Munich, after which the Israeli defense minister said the two discussed “the importance of expanding the Abraham Accords, the situation in Ukraine and the importance of confidence-building measures with the Palestinians.” Gantz took the opportunity of the conference to meet with a number of foreign dignitaries in town, including French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and the foreign and defense ministers of Germany.
Appeasement: In an impassioned and defiant speech on Saturday, Zelensky called on Ukraine’s Western allies to help resolve the Russian threat to the Eastern European country. In pointed language, the Ukrainian president repeatedly compared the Western response to Russian aggression with the appeasement strategy at the start of World War II in 1938. “I just want to make sure you and I read the same books.” Zelensky said. “How did it happen that in the 21st century, Europe is at war again and people are dying?”
View towards Vienna: Even with the focus firmly planted on Ukraine, negotiations over a new Iran deal managed to sneak into the conversation. With expectations for a deal announcement growing, speculation swirled that Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian might speak, with the Iranians previously refusing to meet with American negotiators face-to-face. Yet with the conference coming to a close, any possible meetup went unreported in the press.
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🌎 In With the Old: In The Atlantic, Tom McTague explores how the Russia-Ukraine crisis has swiftly reinstalled the U.S. to its familiar position of the powerful leader of its European allies, despite a perceived changing world order. “In my recent conversations with diplomats, government officials, politicians, and analysts both in Europe and in the U.S., most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, I was struck by this counterintuitive conclusion. While America itself continues to struggle with its own sense of decline, its dominions in Europe are choosing to suspend their disbelief in the imperium all over again. After years of grumbling about American power, it took only the whiff of a threat from Moscow for Europe to recommit to the old order, thrusting the battered old fasces of imperial authority back into the hands of the emperor in Washington.” [TheAtlantic]
🪖 Hard Power: In Politico, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Ray Takeyh suggests that the Biden administration, currently engaged in nuclear talks with Iran, has an unused tool in its negotiating arsenal: the threat of military action. “It may be surprising given the difficulty of the negotiations thus far, but the U.S. in fact faces a weak adversary with a history of conceding to a menacing America. The problem with U.S. strategy is that it has overemphasized financial weakness rather than military and diplomatic weakness. Despite the credibility loss that resulted from the United States’ ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan, America’s military power still dwarfs all of its competitors. Should America apply that power with determination and discipline, it can still impose its mandates on weakened adversaries such as Iran.” [Politico]
🍗 Chicken, No Egg: The New York Times’ Kim Severson explores the growing popularity of cell-cultured meat, an eco-friendly alternative for carnivores looking to lessen their carbon footprint — and, many of its proponents believe, the future of food. “Michal Ansky, an Israeli food journalist who hosts ‘MasterChef Israel’ and has opened several farmers’ markets, also is a fan. She tried cell-based chicken in January during a blind tasting set up by SuperMeat, one of several cell-based meat companies in Israel. She and a panel sampled it alongside traditionally grown minced chicken. Ms. Ansky was convinced that the better-tasting chicken came from an animal. She was wrong, and became a convert. She even thinks the meat could find a place at farmers’ markets. ‘Food is more than ingredients,’ Ms. Ansky said in a phone interview from Tel Aviv. ‘Food is about memory and tradition and identity and longing. If my grandmother was still alive and could make her chicken soup with the lab meat, many lives would be better.’ In 20 years, she said, ‘people will look at us as crazy people who slaughtered chickens.’” [NYTimes]
🕵️ Declassified Drama: Haaretz’s Amir Oren looks at the recently declassified Mossad effort to connect with — and potentially recruit — Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal in the mid-20th century. “Declassified only weeks ago, they lay out an elaborate operation conducted around Heikal in order to convince him to meet with authorized, official Israelis and even visit Israel. The Heikal file, which covers the 1959-60 period, does not state the ultimate goal. It may have been recruiting him as an agent or to use him to influence Cairo’s policy toward Israel, or at least to alter the trajectory of hostile public opinion, which by that time had fought Israel twice, but was not its natural, historic, intransigent rival. The Begin-Sadat peace initiative would later prove it.” [Haaretz]
Around the Web
🇺🇦 History Lessons: The New York Times looks at the preparations being undertaken by Odessa’s Jewish community — many members of which are descended from the survivors of previous waves of violence in the country, some expressly targeting Jews — as Ukraine and Russia stand at the brink of armed conflict.
🎭 Modern Merchant: The New Yorker reviews a new production of “The Merchant of Venice,” touching on the subject of race and antisemitism in relation to the choice casting of a Black Shylock.
😡 Queens Gambit: The head of the Queens Jewish Community Council slammed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for comments at a rally in Texas in which the lawmaker alleged that children in the West Bank were being held in cages.
🚩Warning Sign: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the recent recall of several San Francisco board of education members a “dire warning” to Democrats across the country ahead of the 2022 midterms.
💰 Going Big: Former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison made a $15 million contribution to a super PAC aligned with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) last month, according to FEC filings.
💸 Family Fallout: Bernie Madoff’s sister and brother-in-law, who had lost millions in Madoff’s fraudulent Ponzi schemes, were found dead in what authorities said was a murder-suicide.
👎 Flyer Fracas: Antisemitic flyers were found in driveways in Colleyville, Texas — where last month synagogue-goers were taken hostage for 11 hours — and nearby Garland.
📜 Signing On: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued a proclamation adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.
🇲🇦 Booming Business: Israel hopes to raise its annual trade with Morocco to $500 million from $131 million, owing to the two countries’ newly minted formal ties.
👋 Welcome Back: Israel is easing its tourist entry restrictions effective March 1, and will allow both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to enter the country.
🔍 Case Closed: Israel’s Justice Ministry finished its investigation into the police’s use of Pegasus spyware, concluding that the Israeli police did not improperly deploy spyware against civilians without warrants.
🖥️ New Gig: Gaby Portnoy was approved by the Israeli cabinet to be the head of the country’s National Cyber Directorate.
✈️ Aerial Accident: An American-manufactured F5 plane being used by the Iranian military crashed in the northwestern city of Tabriz yesterday, killing the two pilots and one civilian on the ground.
✍️ Signing Off: Longtime New York Times health writer Jane Brody wrote her last edition of “Personal Health,” the column she’s authored since 1976.
🍬 Turkish Delight: A new vending machine in Istanbul’s airport will sell kosher snacks to travelers, with proceeds going to benefit individuals in the country’s Jewish community who are in need of financial assistance.
🕯️ Remembering: Martin Tolchin, the founding editor and publisher of The Hill who had previously covered Capitol Hill for The New York Times, died at 93. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist whose research into meditation helped to mainstream the practice, died at 86. Cellist Leslie Parnas died at 90.
Pic of the Day
Winner of five major golf championships and 24 other LPGA Tour championships, she is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, now a golf course architect, Amy Alcott turns 66…
Swiss financier and advocate for Sephardic Jewry, Nessim Gaon turns 100… Poet, essayist and educator, he was the first-ever poet laureate of New Jersey, Gerald Stern turns 97… Retired justice and deputy president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Shlomo Levin turns 89… Music journalist, Rona Elliot turns 75… Co-chair of Wisconsin Jewish Democrats and author of three Jewish Miss Marple books, Linda Frank turns 74… 1969 winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, Helena “Lenny” Kuhr turns 72… White House counsel to former President Barack Obama, now a professor at NYU School of Law, Bob Bauer turns 70… Marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles and founder of the Israel Institute for Diplomacy and Technology Advancements, Daryl Temkin, Ph.D. turns 69… Distinguished senior fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and a CNN commentator, David Axelrod turns 67… President of the New York Yankees baseball club, Randy Levine turns 67… Former member of the Knesset for the United Right party, Mordechai “Moti” Yogev turns 66…
Former director of administration and special projects at Cincinnati’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Lisa Shusterman turns 63… Writer, editor and publisher, Clifford Lawrence Meth turns 61… Senior rabbi at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation in Mercer Island, Wash., Rabbi Jacob Herber turns 59… Actress, comedian and former cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” Rachel Dratch turns 56… Past leader of the Israeli Labor Party, now CEO of Cellcom, Avi Gabbay turns 55… Television producer, Paul Lieberstein turns 55… Actor, author and academic, Ari Hoptman turns 55… Former Israeli soccer player, Haim Michael Revivo turns 50… U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) turns 50… Winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” she has released five stand-up specials on Netflix, Iliza Shlesinger turns 39… Senior associate in the appellate practice of Norton Rose Fulbright, Peter B. Siegal turns 36… Senior director of customer experience at Israel-based cosmetics firm IL Makiage, Miranda R. May turns 29… Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, Danielle Bella Ellison turns 29…