👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Deborah Lipstadt, the Biden administration’s nominee for State Department special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Tuesday, approximately six months after her nomination was announced.
Lipstadt’s confirmation hearing was delayed by GOP senators concerned about her past tweets. The delays prompted a concerted pressure campaign from a wide array of Jewish organizations across the political and religious spectrums pushing for her to receive consideration.
Expect to hear more about Lipstadt’s tweets next week. The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), told Jewish Insider in November, “You’re going to see them all, I suspect, before it’s over with,” when asked what in her tweets concerned him.
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), who helped lead a letter from House Democrats pushing for the Senate to move Lipstadt’s nomination forward, told JI, “Confirming Deborah Lipstadt as special envoy will show the world we are serious about confronting Jew hatred. I look forward to next week’s long-awaited hearing and, hopefully, the swift confirmation of our new special envoy to combat antisemitism.”
Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), the co-lead on the letter, said, “I’m pleased to see that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has finally scheduled her nomination hearing, nearly six months after she was nominated by President Biden. With the rise of antisemitism, it is more important than ever that she be swiftly confirmed.”
In a letter to Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Alice Lugo, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said that DHS and the State Department are planning to send a delegation to Israel to work on adding the country to the Visa Waiver Program and “are actively working with Israel to support its progress towards meeting all related requirements.”
Rosen and several other senators had written to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in support of adding Israel to the VWP.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is set to testify today before the House Homeland Security Committee on domestic terrorism.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters yesterday, in response to an Amnesty International report accusing Israel of apartheid, that “we reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid.”
“We think that it is important as the world’s only Jewish state that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn’t a double standard being applied,” Price said.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted in response to the report, “Come on, this is absurd. That is not language that we have used and will not use.”
TheState Department also released a statement from Price describing Washington as “deeply concerned” about the death of Omer Assad, a Palestinian-American citizen who was found dead after being detained by Israeli Defense Forces soldiers last month. “The United States expects a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case.”
It was a rare example of President Joe Biden’s administration expressing concern about matters involving Israel. “The fact that this is an American citizen gives it a different context. Had he not been an American citizen, would the State Department be weighing in? That’s a separate question,” said Susie Gelman, chair of Israel Policy Forum.
“The administration is in a delicate spot, I would say, on these matters, and really has to pick and choose when it weighs in and when it comes out with any critical statements,” Gelman added. “The Biden administration does not want to be responsible for in any way contributing to the breakdown of [Israel’s] coalition.”
In Texas 35, Greg Casar outlines his approach on Israel and the Palestinians
In the competitive March 1 primary for an Austin, Texas-area congressional seat, Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar is running to the left of primary challenger Eddie Rodriguez, a Democratic state representative. Early voting for the race in the state’s 35th Congressional District begins on Feb. 14. But Casar, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), appears to be charting his own path on Israel, according to a letter he wrote to a local rabbi that was obtained by Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch and Marc Rod. In the letter, Casar pledged to support American military assistance to Israel, stated his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and expressed a desire to travel to Israel and the West Bank.
At odds: DSA opposes all U.S. military aid to Israel, supports BDS and asks candidates to commit to not visiting the Jewish state. The national DSA organization has not yet made an endorsement in the race, while DSA’s local Austin chapter is supporting Casar. A spokesperson for Casar declined to comment and he does not appear to have publicly commented on Israel or the Palestinians in the past.
Democracy first: Describing his foreign policy ideology as rooted in “justice and democracy,” Casar wrote to Rabbi Alan Freedman, a rabbi at the Temple Beth Shalom Reform congregation in Austin, “I believe in the right of Israelis to live in their own democratic state. I also believe in the right of Israelis to live in peace.”
Conversation topic: In an interview with JI last week, prior to JI obtaining Casar’s letter, Freedman told JI that Casar “firmly, completely supports the existence of Israel as a Jewish state” and believes the councilman is “anxious to understand the situation better.” Freedman said the two had previously spoken at length about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Necessary defenses: Casar pledged to “support the continued federal aid for self defense of Israel,” including “the systems necessary for defense against rocket attacks that could harm civilians.” In September, Congress voted 420-9 to approve $1 billion in supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. Eight Democrats voted against the bill.
Two-state supporter: “I also believe in the right of the Palestinian people to live in peace, security, and democracy. These are fundamental rights,” Casar stated in the letter. “The clearest path” to “safety and sovereignty for all,” he wrote, “is a two state solution that will win the peace.”
Making the list: Casar has racked up an impressive slate of progressive endorsements. National figures such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have pledged their support for Casar, as has Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee known for backing insurgent candidates.
Instant feedback: Following the publication of the aforementioned article, DSA Austin’s co-chair, Leah Bannon, called the revelations “very disappointing.”
New U.N. report highlights Houthis’ ‘systematic persecution’ of Yemeni Jews
A new United Nations report on Yemen released last week documents extensive abuses against minority communities in the country, the procurement of weapons from Europe and Asia by Houthi rebel forces and the use of thousands of child soldiers in parts of the war-torn country, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports.
Community concern: The 300-page annual report, compiled by a four-member panel of regional experts and sent to the U.N. Security Council, “documented the systematic persecution of Jews in Houthi-controlled areas,” finding that “[m]ost of [the] Jewish population left Yemen after several years of persecution, which started under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh but intensified under the Houthis.”
Still there: The report also acknowledged “seven Jewish individuals still in Yemen, including one who remains detained despite an order to release him issued in July 2019,” referring to Levi Marhabi, who has been imprisoned by Houthi rebels since 2016. Marhabi was arrested for his role in allegedly smuggling an artifact out of the country, after he assisted a group of Yemeni Jews who brought an 800-year-old Torah to Israel.
Weapons worry: The report also found that the Houthis employed “a complex network of intermediaries” to obtain weapons from across Europe and Asia. Houthi forces have launched attacks against Saudi Arabia and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates. A drone attack in Abu Dhabi last month killed three civilians and injured six others. Earlier this week, Emirati forces intercepted a Houthi missile attack while Israeli President Isaac Herzog was on his inaugural visit to the UAE.
Elsewhere: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) told JI yesterday that the Biden administration’s decision to rescind the Houthis’ designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization should be “reevaluated” in light of the Iranian-backed militia group’s attacks on the United Arab Emirates, which Cardin called “clearly terrorism.” The Maryland senator noted, however, that “there’s a couple of issues involved, including humanitarian access.” The U.S. told the UAE on Tuesday that it would send fighter jets and a guided-missile destroyer to assist the country in the face of Houthi attacks.
deal or no deal
In floor speech, Menendez blasts Biden administration’s Vienna negotiations
Speaking for nearly an hour on the Senate floor on Tuesday evening, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) warned that Iran is dangerously close to acquiring a nuclear weapon and argued that current talks to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are ineffectual and insufficient, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
‘Dangerous and rapidly escalating’: The senator, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referred to “Iran’s dangerously and rapidly escalating nuclear program that has put it on the brink of having enough material for a nuclear weapon,” pointing to estimates that Iran is three to four weeks away from amassing enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, and four months away from having enough material for a second bomb. Menendez questioned the utility of reentering the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action given that some of the sunset provisions involved in the original agreement are set to expire next year and the arms embargo on Iran has already expired.
What’s the point?: The New Jersey senator, who opposed the 2015 agreement, argued that many of his concerns about the original deal have come to pass, with Iran preserving most of its nuclear infrastructure, blocking international inspections of its nuclear program and continuing to advance other malign activities in the Middle East. “I ask why we would try to simply go back to the JCPOA — a deal that was not sufficient in the first place — and still doesn’t address some of the most serious national security concerns we have?” he said.
on the hill
Sudan-Israel normalization push remains on hold following military coup, State Dept. official says
Israeli-Sudanese normalization efforts initiated in late 2020 have been on pause since Sudan’s military coup three months ago, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Mary Catherine Phee told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Coup review: Sudan’s military took control of the country’s government in late October 2021. A year prior, the previous civilian government had agreed to normalize relations with Israel, although the exact contours of that agreement were never fully fleshed out and Sudan did not appear to agree to full diplomatic relations.
Pause button: “The normalization efforts that were underway were part of a negotiation with a civilian-led government. Now that that government is no longer in place, we don’t feel it’s appropriate to push forward at this time,” Phee told the Senate committee. “But that’s something we’re keeping a close eye on for an opportunity to resume.”
On the ground: The U.S. is continuing to engage with Israel on issues regarding Khartoum. Phee said that Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield will be in Israel on Wednesday to discuss Israel’s “concerns and interests in the region, including Sudan.” She continued, “It would be helpful if Israel could use its influence to encourage the transition [to democratic government] to go forward so that we can move forward on other important objectives like the Abraham Accords.”
Today’s SAPIR releases present big ideas on transforming leadership within the Jewish community.
Long-Haul Leadership: Erica Brown envisions long-haul leaders: “Today we do not have kings; we have politicians. We do not have heroes; we have celebrities. We do not have prophets; we have philanthropists. We do not have leaders; we have fundraisers. We do not have visionaries; we have supervisors. Creativity, civility, sensitivity, and literacy take a back seat to ‘capacity.’ At a time of rapid change, however, we need soulful Jewish dreamers. Instead, it seems that our communal leadership aspirations have become too social, too parochial, and, frankly, too intellectually uninteresting.” Read here.
A Bolder Rabbinate: Ari Lamm asks how we can cultivate rabbis who are more comfortable articulating moral values. “If you’re one of the lucky few to secure a pulpit, your incentives are clear: Be as inoffensive as possible. Keep your board, your donors, and various committee members happy. And try to stay as far away as possible from anything resembling controversy. Forget articulating great Jewish ideas for the wider society–rabbis who want to keep putting food on the table will have little reason to stand up for basic truths in their own backyards. Notably, the constraining factor is not the quality of the overall talent pool. Anyone who has spent even a modicum of time with younger rabbinic cohorts, from Gen X to Millennials, will be struck by their brilliance and vision. The problem is rooted in incentives. How do we realign rabbis’ incentives with the pursuit of world-class excellence in the realm of global moral vision?” Read here.
🗯️ Whoopi’s Whopper: In “Deep Shtetl,” The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg explores the controversy around comments made by “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg earlier this week in which the actress said that the Holocaust “isn’t about race,” causing an uproar before she issued an apology Monday night. “Goldberg is not an anti-Semite, but she was confused — and understandably so. In my experience, mistakes like hers often happen because well-meaning people have trouble fitting Jews into their usual boxes. They don’t know how to define Jews, and so they resort to their own frames of reference, like ‘race’ or ‘religion,’ and project them onto the Jewish experience. But Jewish identity doesn’t conform to Western categories, despite centuries of attempts by society to shoehorn it in. This makes sense, because Judaism predates Western categories. It’s not quite a religion, because one can be Jewish regardless of observance or specific belief. (Einstein, for example, was proudly Jewish but not religiously observant.) But it’s also not quite a race, because people can convert in!” [TheAtlantic]
🪧 Hate Gatherings: On the heels of hate rallies in Florida over the weekend, Miami Herald columnist Fabiola Santiago accuses Gov. Ron DeSantis of enabling antisemitic gatherings via both his rhetoric and legislation. “Anti-Semitic acts aren’t isolated incidents and the work of a fringe element. Exhibit A: Look at the reaction of DeSantis’ own press secretary, Christina Pushaw, to the Nazi rallies… ‘Do we even know they’re Nazis?’ Pushaw asked in a tweet, later deleted after facing mounting backlash… Another governor, especially one who has used his support of Israel to rack up political points and even held a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, might have censured his spokeswoman. And made it very clear that any suggestion, even a veiled one, that anti-Semitic acts aren’t to be taken seriously is plain wrong.” [MiamiHerald]
💣 Policy Problems: The Associated Press‘s Ellen Knickmeyer explores the challenges that Yemen’s Houthis are posing to the U.S. “Biden administration officials appeared taken aback and frustrated early on at the Iran-backed Houthis’ determination to keep fighting to win control of more of Yemen, against a Saudi-led coalition equipped with the best U.S. arms that hundreds of billions of dollars can buy… The problem now: After diplomacy has made little headway, and the Saudi-led coalition has failed to win militarily, no one seems to have any great ideas about how to stop the violence. A UAE-backed local ground force from Yemen’s south was successful recently at helping roll back Houthi advances in the south. Many believe the Houthis’ cross-border strikes now are to pressure the UAE to sideline those forces. But no outside power shows any appetite to get more involved militarily in what, up to now, has been a humanitarian catastrophe but a strategic sideshow.” [AP]
Around the Web
📺 Host Help: In the wake of “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg’s controversial comments about the Holocaust, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt appeared on Tuesday’s episode, and encouraged the daytime television program to hire a Jewish co-host. ABC suspended Goldberg for two weeks on Tuesday night due to her comments, but her co-hosts are said to be upset about the decision.
😬 Illinois Uh Oh: Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) allegedly gave a job to Iymen Chehade, whom she had agreed to hire for her congressional office under the condition he not run for Congress in her district, as a highly paid foreign policy advisor on her campaign, days after reaching a legal settlement with the Palestinian-American professor.
🤒 Under the Weather: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) were two of several lawmakers diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday.
🗳️ Poll Dance: An internal poll from Rep. Haley Stevens’s (D-MI) campaign showed her leading Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) by 7 percentage points, 42% to 35%, with 23% undecided.
🎓 Campus Beat: The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly delayed a process that aims to codify civil rights protections for Jewish college students, eJewishPhilanthropy reports.
🏈 Patriot Games: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement following Tom Brady’s announcement that he is retiring from football, praising the former New England quarterback’s “competitiveness, determination and will to win.”
❄️ Bad Blast: A snow plow operator in Lakewood, N.J., was suspended after a colleague posted video of him blasting snow at two Jewish men walking to synagogue.
📗 Coming Soon: Writer and producer David Milch will release a memoir later this year that covers his gambling and drug addictions as well as his 2019 Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
✋ Printing Paused: Ambo Anthos Publishers paused printing of The Betrayal of Anne Frank, a new book about an investigation into who revealed the hiding place of the Frank family during WWII, which suggested that a Jewish notary had given information about the family’s whereabouts to the Nazis.
🍲 Silver Screen: Beth Elise Hawk’s new documentary, “Breaking Bread,” depicts the A-Sham festival in Israel, in which Jewish and Arab chefs connect over their traditional foods.
🇮🇷 Iran Executions: Iran executed two men who had been jailed for six years on charges of sodomy, six months after executing two other men on the same charges.
💸 Big Buy: Rapyd is reportedly in talks to buy an American company in order to give the Israeli financial startup, valued in August at $10 billion, a foothold in the U.S. and make it more attractive to American investors.
🕯️ Remembering: Auschwitz survivor Mel Mermelstein, who won a case against a group of Holocaust deniers, died at 95. Harvard professor Alan A. Stone, who made his mark on the evolution of psychiatric ethics, died at 92.
Pic of the Day
Murmurations of starlings at sunset near Beersheva, Israel, last night. The starlings — Israel’s version of Punxsutawney Phil — nest in Israel for the winter, before returning to their European climate when frosty temperatures subside.
Chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp and Expedia, Barry Diller turns 80…
Former mayor and current city councilman of Irvine, California, Larry Agran turns 77… Host of the Food Network program “Barefoot Contessa,” and former OMB staffer for Presidents Ford and Carter, Ina Rosenberg Garten turns 74… Actor, comedian and singer, he is best known for his portrayal of the android, Lieutenant Commander Data, in “Star Trek,” Brent Spiner turns 73… Journalist, novelist and author, Michael Zelig Castleman turns 72… U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) turns 70… Washington Secrets columnist at the Washington Examiner, Paul Bedard turns 65… Science fiction publisher and author, Selina A. Rosen turns 62… Rabbi at the Pacific Jewish Center Shul On The Beach in Venice, Calif., he is also a practicing attorney, Shalom Rubanowitz turns 56… Sportscaster who currently does play-by-play for all four major professional sports leagues, Kenny Albert turns 54… Actress and screenwriter, Jennifer Westfeldt turns 52…
Tony Award-winning actress and a semi-finalist on “Dancing With the Stars,” Marissa Jaret Winokur turns 49… Jerusalem-born head coach for the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian National Basketball League, Dan Shamir turns 47… Actress and comedian, Lori Beth Denberg turns 46… Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose stage name is Mayer Hawthorne, Andrew Mayer Cohen turns 43… Assistant professor at Clemson University, Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, Ph.D. turns 42… Engagement editor for Government Executive Media Group, Ross Gianfortune turns 41… Political commentator, David Pakman turns 38… State Dept.’s deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, Aaron Keyak turns 37… Actress and musician, with roles in “Mad Men,” “United States of Tara” and as Shoshanna Shapiro on the HBO original series “Girls,” Zosia Mamet turns 34… Former Team Israel baseball catcher, he is now a minor league coach in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Nicholas Jay “Nick” Rickles turns 32… Avi Katz…