👋 Good Thursday morning!
Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine overnight, with Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing he is seeking the “demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine,” a continuation of false claims that Ukraine is controlled by a neo-Nazi regime.
In a speech on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy — who is Jewish — pushed back against those claims, noting that his grandfather served in the Soviet military and fought against the Nazis in World War II. Ukraine’s official Twitter account tweeted a picture of Adolf Hitler smiling and gently patting Putin’s face. More on the Russian invasion below.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) reiterated her opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and the Biden administration’s negotiations to rejoin it in a virtual AIPAC event yesterday, arguing instead for “sanctions and strong consequences for their actions.” She added, “It’s very important that we are very strong and we don’t [make] any concessions [to] Iran.”
Following backlash from Jewish students at the University of Texas at Austin, the Palestine Solidarity Committee student group withdrew a student government resolution that condemned the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and “affirm[ed] the rights of advocates for Palestine.”
The decision to withdraw the resolution, which was set to be voted on in the coming weeks by student-led legislative bodies, came after university officials intervened and expressed concern about the bodies taking up a “non-university issue,” according to a person who attended a Tuesday student government meeting where the issue was discussed. The resolution would have been the first on a college campus to condemn the IHRA definition.
Russia invades Ukraine
Russia launched an attack on Ukraine overnight, with Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing the beginning of a “special military operation” in a televised address to the nation as troops and tanks crossed the border. The Ukrainian State Border Service said troops attacked Ukraine from Belarus, as well as from the Russian and Crimean borders. Explosions were heard across the country and in some of Ukraine’s largest cities, including the capital, Kyiv. This morning, the Ukrainian government declared martial law and called for international support. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country has cut diplomatic ties with Russia.
Shelling and explosions: “Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted this morning. “Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.” A senior Ukrainian official said the main airport in Kyiv was under assault, The Washington Post reported. Another official said the city of Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, was being shelled. Large explosions were also seen near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. The Russian military claimed to have wiped out Ukraine’s air defenses within hours. Ukraine has halted all civilian flights. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksii Arestovich said some 40 people had been killed so far and several dozen wounded.
U.S. response: President Joe Biden tweeted late Wednesday night, “President Zelenskyy reached out to me tonight and we just finished speaking. I condemned this unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces. I briefed him on the steps we are taking to rally international condemnation, including tonight at the UN Security Council.” Biden said that he will meet today with the leaders of the G7 nations, and will impose sanctions on Russia while providing support and assistance to Ukraine. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way,” Biden said. “The world will hold Russia accountable.” The president will speak later today “to announce the further consequences the United States and our Allies and partners will impose on Russia for this needless act of aggression against Ukraine and global peace and security,” the White House announced on Wednesday night.
Putin’s warning: Amid growing international condemnation, Putin warned, “whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history.” He added that “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor.”
EU sanctions: The European Union is set to present a package of new sanctions at an emergency summit this evening. EU President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement today that the sanctions “will target the strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking the access to technologies and markets that are key for Russia. We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernize. And in addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets.”
Israelis in Ukraine: Israel is calling on citizens still in Ukraine to cross the border into Poland, where Israeli authorities will assist them in flying to Israel, Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky told KAN News. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid released the country’s second statement on the crisis today. “The Russian attack on Ukraine is a serious violation of the international order. Israel condemns the attack, and is ready and prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Ukraine,” he said. The statement also noted that “Israel has deep, long-lasting, and good relations with Russia and with Ukraine. There are tens of thousands of Israelis in both countries, and there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in both countries. Maintaining their security and safety is at the top of our considerations.” Lapid said Israel has coordinated with Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Moldova to enable the safe exit of Israelis from the conflict zone.
Heard yesterday: On Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) compared Russia’s moves to the pre-WWII Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, saying, “This is the Sudetenland, that’s what people were saying there.”
Ro Khanna reflects on his first trip to Israel as a congressman
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said he was encouraged by what he described as a range of productive discussions with high-ranking officials last week on a congressional delegation to Israel and the Palestinian territories alongside members of the House Democratic caucus. “I thought it was a very positive trip,” Khanna said in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kasselon Wednesday, recounting his first visit to the region as a congressman. “I was able to build relationships with many people in Israel.”
Lapid read: Led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the delegation met with a host of Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who expressed familiarity with Khanna’s new book, Dignity in a Digital Age: Making Tech Work for All of Us. The Bay Area congressman and leading House progressive suggested he was more pleased that Lapid had read John Rawls’ classic work of political philosophy, A Theory of Justice. “It was an interesting conversation,” he told JI.
‘Candid conversation’: Not every interaction was as amiable, even as Khanna — who also met with Palestinian leaders — described a good-faith “dialogue” that nevertheless included some “places of disagreement.” The congressman recalled “a candid conversation with” Bennett in which he raised “human rights concerns” over “forced evictions” of Palestinians and called for a need “to open up Gaza” to increased economic activity. “You can’t have 42% unemployment in a society that’s run by Hamas and hope for long-term peace,” Khanna said, “and I think the prime minister understands that.”
Fielding criticism: Khanna has maintained that a progressive foreign policy view, including criticism of Israeli policies, is compatible with support for the Jewish state. His approach has drawn scrutiny from pro-Israel advocates as well as far-left critics, who took issue with his recent trip. “When I get criticized, I always listen to it if people have a good point,” he told JI. “I’m always open to it. But I’m not going to back away from my belief that Israel is an ally and in the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. That’s a conviction.”
Houthi designation: Whether the U.S. should redesignate the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as terrorists “came up once or twice” with Israeli leaders, according to Khanna. The Israelis have reportedly been urging the Biden administration to do so following a series of Houthi missile and drone attacks in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Khanna, who is outspoken on Yemen’s civil war, objects to the classification, suggesting that it could impede humanitarian aid. “The Houthis have not been responsible for nearly the civilian loss of life and the blockade,” he added, referring to the Saudi blockade of Yemen that is said to have caused widespread famine. “There is guilt on both sides,” Khanna told JI, but the terrorist label “wouldn’t further peace.”
Read the full interview here.
12 Democratic senators argue against redesignating Houthi rebels as terrorists
A dozen Senate Democrats urged the Biden administration on Wednesday against redesignating the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The group, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), argued in a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken that reinstating the designation would further destabilize the situation in Yemen and would not effectively stop the Yemeni militia group’s terrorist activities.
Quotable: “We recognize the destabilizing role of the Houthis in the conflict in Yemen, including the obstruction of humanitarian assistance, the use of child soldiers, and cross-border attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” the letter reads. “This behavior is abhorrent and prolongs the suffering of the Yemeni people. However, designating the Houthis as an FTO would not force the Houthis to stop these behaviors, but instead risk adverse effects that would only increase the suffering of the millions of Yemenis who live in territory under Houthi control.”
At issue: The senators said that redesignation would inevitably cut off nearly all food, fuel, medicine and foreign remittances into Yemen as well as escalate the humanitarian crisis to unmanageable levels. They also said that the FTO designation would “hamstring diplomatic efforts to bring the war to an end.”
Pushback: “We urge you not to pursue a designation that would have little practical impact on the Houthi leadership but would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences,” the senators wrote. “Millions of Yemeni lives hang in the balance, and the United States should remain focused on alleviating the human suffering and ending this war.”
Sign me up: The letter was signed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).
Meanwhile: The Biden administration announced new sanctions on Wednesday targeting the Houthis’ Iran-linked international financing network, an approach that some experts have been advocating for short of the full FTO designation. The administration is reportedly still considering whether to reimpose the FTO designation.
Elsewhere: Houthi rebels detained a former press officer from the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, which has been shuttered since 2015. At least 11 local former embassy staffers are currently held by the group.
🫂 Perfect Strangers: In The New York Times, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who along with three congregants was taken hostage in his Colleyville, Texas, synagogue last month, pens an op-ed calling on different religious and ethnic groups to form connections outside of their communities in an effort to build new relationships in an age of increasing hate against minority communities. “Jews are strangers. Muslims are strangers. People with a different religious tradition — or no religious tradition — are perceived as strangers. People of different ethnicities can be considered strangers. People who hold different political views are seen as strangers. We’re strangers because one can look from afar and make judgments without understanding another’s reality. We’re strangers because it takes too much work to be curious, to give others the benefit of the doubt. It is a lot easier and a lot more comfortable to stick with one’s group. ‘Love your neighbor’ is hard enough.” [NYTimes]
🕍 Special Synagogue: In Tablet, Anne Dubitzky describes a subtle “revolution” happening at the Zichron Baruch synagogue in Jaffa, Israel, where a mix of Orthodox and non-Orthodox, native Israeli and immigrant congregants participate in hybrid services that combine Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. “It’s a living example of kibbutz galuot (the ingathering of the exiles). The Rabbanut sends candidates for conversion to Zichron Baruch, where they are warmly received. The converts have included people from France, Germany, Sweden, Ukraine, and even a local Arab. The shul is currently sponsoring four people who are in the process of converting to Judaism. The success of Zichron Baruch bespeaks a quest on the part of young Israelis to connect to their Jewish roots, but to do so on their own terms. They want a community that will respect them for who they are, regardless of their sexual orientation, or whether they are fully observant or simply seeking an embracing environment. The shul fills that need.” [Tablet]
🛡️ Rough Roommates: In Air Mail, Cazzie David describes the tribulations of living with her father, Larry David, and the many clashes they had over security and safety in their shared living space. “My dad and I seem to have polar-opposite views when it comes to the protection that’s required when you live in a house. My father, a pretty well-known guy living in a large city, acts like he’s a farmer living up in the secluded mountains of Montana, except I have the impression that most farmers at least own a gun. My dad prefers no security whatsoever. He was on Venmo as himself for years until he asked me why people kept requesting thousands of dollars from him. Unless I take it upon myself, doors and windows are left unlocked and the alarm system that is in perfect working condition remains unused. When I tell him that a lot of famous people have a security person and that even most non-famous people have cameras outside their homes, he scoffs. ‘Who do they think they are?! Yeah, OOOOH, we’re all out to get you! Ridiculous! No one cares!’” [AirMail]
Around the Web
✍️ Mapmaker, Mapmaker: A North Carolina court shot down a Republican-drawn redistricting map, producing a new one created by a nonpartisan panel that gives each party six safe seats while creating two purple districts.
🔓 Floodgates Open: Following the Biden administration’s decision to impose sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) released his holds on a range of Biden State Department nominees.
🗣️ Call and Response: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) will give a response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on behalf of the Working Families Party.
🎭 Back on Broadway: The New York Times’ Scott Heller interviews actress Beanie Feldstein ahead of her debut as Fanny Brice in the upcoming Broadway revival of “Funny Girl,” the first time since Barbra Streisand originated the role more than half a century ago that the show has made it back to the Great White Way.
🎓 Campus Beat: Police at Indiana University are investigating a series of antisemitic messages directed toward Jewish groups on campus.
↪️ Bluegrass Backtrack: Two Kentucky state legislators apologized for using antisemitic language during a committee meeting earlier this week.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: An education-focused charity in the U.K. has thrown its support behind plans to build a Holocaust memorial next to the Houses of Parliament in London, amid a legal battle with the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust, which argues that the memorial should be constructed elsewhere in the city.
📈 Rising Interest: The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange is reportedly looking to expand its market to the United Arab Emirates and is soliciting the help of the UAE’s embassy in Israel to find Emirati investors.
✈️ Flight Delay: Flights between Dubai and Israel may soon be suspended as the two parties remain at an impasse over whether the Shin Bet can base security personnel at Dubai International Airport.
💉 No Thanks: Iran returned more than 800,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Poland due to the vaccines being manufactured by the U.S.
🌟 The New Class: The Aspen Strategy Group announced its 2022 class of ASG Rising Leaders, including Daniel Lippman and Shelley Greenspan.
🕯️ Remembering: Israeli journalist Yoel Marcus died at 90.
Pic of the Day
Archaeologists uncover the ruins of a mikvah likely dating from the Middle Ages in Chemnitz, Germany.
Former attorney general of Connecticut (1983-1989), U.S. senator (1989-2013), Democratic nominee for VPOTUS in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, Sen. Joe Lieberman turns 80…
Chairman of Safir Intelligence and Security, formerly the NYFD Commissioner and then NYPD Commissioner, Howard Safir turns 80… Former chairman and CEO of Warner Bros, then chairman and CEO of Yahoo, Terence Steven “Terry” Semel turns 79… Professor of mathematics at Yale University since 1991, Grigory Margulis turns 76… Encino resident, Faye Gail Waldman turns 74… Rabbi and author of a book about chocolate and Judaism, Deborah R. Prinz turns 71… President of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Clifford D. May turns 71… Member of the New Jersey Senate as of earlier this year following 18 years in the N.J. General Assembly, Jon M. Bramnick turns 69… Recent head coach of Ironi Nes Ziona in the Israeli Premier League, he has been on NBA and college basketball staffs in the U.S., Brad Greenberg turns 68… PR executive, television pundit and author, Howard Bragman turns 66… Film critic for Entertainment Weekly and then for Variety magazine, Owen Gleiberman turns 63…
Former member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Nurit Koren turns 62… Founder of the Baltimore Center of Advanced Dentistry, Gary H. Bauman, DDS turns 62… Managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, Karen Olick turns 61… Israel’s minister of health and leader of the Meretz party, Nitzan Horowitz turns 57… Professor of piano and artist-in-residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Yakov Kasman turns 55… Explorer, author, survival expert, anthropologist and TV host, Josh Bernstein turns 51… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Gila Gamliel turns 48… Co-founder of WhatsApp, Jan Koum turns 46… Author and professor of history at the Hebrew University, Yuval Noah Harari turns 46… NYC-based independent filmmaker, who, together with his older brother Joshua, directed and wrote the 2019 film “Uncut Gems” starring Adam Sandler, Benjamin Safdie turns 36… Partner at MizMaa Ventures, Aaron Applbaum turns 31… Israeli actress and model, Dar Zuzovsky turns 31… YouTube beauty guru known as RCLBeauty101 with 14.5 million subscribers, Rachel Claire Levin turns 27… Mitchell Brown…