👋 Good Monday morning!
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyaddressed Israel’s Knesset on Sunday, telling parliamentarians that the Ukrainian and Jewish communities are intertwined and feel each other’s pain. Invoking the words of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who was born in Kyiv, Zelensky said, “We intend to remain alive. Our neighbors want to see us dead. This is not a question that leaves much room for compromise.”
Zelensky said the Russian invasion had already claimed thousands of lives and left millions homeless. “Our people are now scattered around the world. They are looking for security. They are looking for a way to stay in peace — as you once searched,” he continued, appearing to compare the current situation to the horrors Jews faced during World War II.
“One can keep asking why we can’t get weapons from you, or why Israel hasn’t imposed strong sanctions against Russia,” Zelensky said. “The answer is up to you…and you will have to live with it.”
Israel’s parliament is currently in recess, but nearly all of the 120 lawmakers tuned in from remote locations to hear the president’s speech. A handful of politicians — including most MKs from the Arab Israeli parties — boycotted the speech for various ideological reasons and others criticized Zelensky for his comparisons to the Holocaust.
Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid thanked the Ukrainian leader for “sharing his feelings” and condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett participated in a ceremony on Monday for an Israeli medical delegation heading to Ukraine to manage a field hospital.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) — responding to a clip of Zelensky’s speech — indicated that he supports leveraging future U.S. aid to Israel in response to its handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said, “Israel’s reaction to Ukraine will have bearing on future aid from the US to Israel. Pay it forward.”
Facing pushback, Kinzinger added later that the conflict is “a battle between Good and Evil” where “everyone must pick a side” and “now is the time to call anyone to the carpet who does not do their utmost.” He also pledged that “we have stood with Israel and will continue to do so” and added, “I deeply support our relationship with Israel.”
Secretary of State Tony Blinken will deliver remarks on Myanmar after touring the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Burma’s Path to Genocide” exhibit this morning.
Blinken speaks with Amnesty leader amid fallout over Amnesty USA executive’s comments on American Jews
Days after the director of Amnesty International’s USA branch was met with criticism by lawmakers and Jewish groups for his comments about American Jewish attitudes toward Israel, Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke with the organization’s top official, as well as the leader of Human Rights Watch, both of which have leveled accusations of “apartheid” at Israel, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. The conversation came after State Department officials rejected an Amnesty report last month that labeled Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as apartheid, saying the report applied a “double standard” to the “world’s only Jewish state.”
Busy week: The meeting took place just days after all 25 Jewish Democrats in the House released a letter criticizing Amnesty’s USA Director Paul O’Brien for his “patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community,” which the members described as “alarming and deeply offensive.” The joint letter was written in response to remarks O’Brien delivered at a Washington Democratic club, in which he said Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state” and that his “gut” tells him American Jews want “a safe Jewish space” rather than a Jewish state.
Private discussion: A State Department spokesperson declined to say whether Israel was discussed in the conversation between Blinken, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard and HRW Executive Director Ken Roth, which occurred last Wednesday. “We are not going to comment on the contents of private discussions,” the spokesperson told JI in an email. “We want to underscore that we reject all forms of delegitimization of Israel and believe that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state.”
Fault lines: The reaction to the closely watched discussion seemed to reveal the fault lines that exist in Jewish circles about the controversial human rights groups.“Does the secretary share the view of every single Jewish Democratic House member who issued a statement condemning the Amnesty USA chief’s highly controversial comments about Israel?” asked Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “If so, why did he choose to meet with Amnesty International leadership this week?”
Other issues: Others defended the meeting, noting that the Biden administration has made advocating for human rights around the globe a cornerstone of its approach to foreign policy. Amnesty and HRW “work on a whole lot of issues beyond Israel, so it’s appropriate for U.S. government officials to work with them on a host of human rights issues,” said Susie Gelman, the board chair at Israel Policy Forum. Still, she added, meetings between U.S. officials and the leadership of those groups “carry the expectation that when high-level officials such as Secretary Blinken meet with these organizations, they will register their strong disagreement over characterizations of Israel as an apartheid state and efforts to delegitimize the notion that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state.”
Israeli entrepreneur and investor Erel Margalit explores Bahrain’s fintech
With an eye towards Riyadh, Israeli entrepreneur and investor Erel Margalit spent four days in Bahrain last week exploring the Gulf state’s advances and aspirations in the world of financial technology, or fintech, as well as assessing the possibility of opening one of his innovation centers in the country. He believes that such developments could form a tech bridge to Bahrain’s neighbor, Saudi Arabia, which Israel has long been hoping will be the next country to join the Abraham Accords normalization agreements, he told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash.
Eager to cooperate: “I was surprised by the level of entrepreneurship in Bahrain; those regulating the country are using ideas and concepts like a startup,” Margalit, founder and executive chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) – one of Israel’s oldest and most established venture capital companies, said. “They are able and modest and ready to hear new ideas,” he said of Bahraini officials and counterparts that he met with. “They want to hear about what we are doing in Israel and there is a real eagerness to cooperate with us.”
Building ties: Margalit, who served as a member of Knesset for the Labor party from 2015-2017, was invited by the Bahraini government and the country’s Economic Development Board. He was also a special guest of the country’s finance and national economy minister, H. E. Shaikh Salman bin Khalifa Al Khalifa. The first Israeli businessman to meet with the minister since the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, Margalit also held discussions with economic and business leaders, including the heads of Bahrain’s major banks – the National Bank of Bahrain and ila Bank – various investment funds, communications and energy companies, and heads of leading universities, as well as leaders in the innovation industry and dozens of technology and social entrepreneurs.
Bridge to Saudi Arabia: Much of the discussions, Margalit told JI, focused on how to develop the country’s fintech industry, which draws innovators and investors from across the Arab world. It’s a fine fit for many Israeli companies already working in this now-growing tech field, he added. But boosting the fintech industry in Bahrain, which is strategically located in the Persian Gulf just off the coast of Saudi Arabia, could also be a highly beneficial step for Israel. “Bahrain is a bridge to Saudi Arabia, and we all realize that this might be Israel’s next big step in the Arab world,” Margalit said. “For Israel, Bahrain can serve as a gateway to a much larger chapter that will make a big difference to Israel’s economy and its diplomacy.”
Bowman challenger Manuel Casanova withdraws from primary
Manuel Casanova, one of two Democratic primary candidates challenging Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) in New York’s redrawn 16th District, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel that he is backing out of the race and endorsing Westchester County legislator Vedat Gashi. “I am going to step down and I am going to be supporting Vedat,” Casanova, a former political strategist and businessman in New Rochelle, said of Gashi. “I think he is going to be able to put together the coalition that needs to be there to win this primary.”
Clearing the field: Casanova’s exit clears the field for Gashi, another self-described moderate who filed with the Federal Election Commission in February and announced his candidacy in an interview with JI earlier this month. He is now the only remaining primary challenger in the race. Michael Gerald, a pastor and Westchester County corrections official in Tuckahoe, told JI on Wednesday that he was also suspending his campaign, just weeks after launching his bid.
First in, last out: Casanova, 50, became the first challenger to enter the primary when he filed to run last October, months before the district lines were updated to include new, more moderate voters in northern Westchester as well as Putnam County. Since declaring, Casanova has struggled to gain momentum, raising only $66,000, more than half of which he personally loaned to his campaign, according to the most recent filings from the FEC.
‘Open to service’: Casanova, who had been focused exclusively on his campaign in recent months, said he was “open to serve the public in the future” but was otherwise unsure what his next move would be. In the meantime, he said, “I will support Vedat Gashi as much as I can.” There is no publicly available polling on the race, but experts told JI that Gashi is facing an uphill battle, even as the other challengers have stepped aside.
Going out swinging: Bowman, for his part, has already notched endorsements from a range of leading Democrats, and last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appeared alongside Bowman at a high-profile town hall event in the Bronx, touting the American Rescue Plan Act. Casanova, however, suggested that he had been unmoved by the congressman’s appeal to voters. “The fact that so many people have shown interest in running against Mr. Bowman,” he told JI, “is because he has lacked the leadership we’ve been looking for.”
Three founders of the Genesis Philanthropy Group, under sanctions, resign from its board
Three founding members of the Genesis Philanthropy Group (GPG), a Jewish charitable foundation established by moguls from the former Soviet Union, have resigned from the foundation’s board after they were placed under sanctions due to their associations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales.
Next steps: The group announced the resignations of the three men — Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan — in an email on Friday. All three are on a lengthening list of Russian billionaires sanctioned by the European Union and United Kingdom due to their relationships with Putin, in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began nearly a month ago. The email, signed by GPG Chairman Gennady Gazin and CEO Marina Yudborovsky, called the men “the drivers of our ability to strengthen Jewish engagement around the world.” It continued, “In order to assure the ability of GPG to stay true to its mission and build on the foundation we have created over the past 15 years, all three have resigned from the Board of Directors.”
Signaling opposition: GPG had taken steps to indicate its opposition to Russian moves, donating $10 million to aid Ukrainian Jews in late February. Fridman spoke out at that time against the invasion, writing in a public letter, “This crisis will cost lives and damage two nations who have been brothers for hundreds of years. While a solution seems frighteningly far off, I can only join those whose fervent desire is for the bloodshed to end.” GPG likewise wrote in its email that it is “horrified by the war in Ukraine and dismayed by the needless loss of life and destruction the continued fighting is inflicting on the region.”
🤑 Sanctions Sneak: The Wall Street Journal’s Ian Talley reports on efforts by Iran to circumvent U.S. sanctions and bring in tens of billions of dollars annually by using a clandestine financial system. “According to the documents and Western officials, the clandestine banking system works like this: Iranian banks that serve companies barred by U.S. sanctions from exporting or importing engage affiliate firms in Iran to manage sanctioned trade on their behalf. Those firms establish companies outside of Iran’s borders to serve as proxies for the Iranian traders. The proxies trade with foreign purchasers of Iranian oil and other commodities, or sellers of goods for import into Iran, in dollars, euros or other foreign currencies, through accounts set up in foreign banks. Some of the revenue is smuggled into Iran by couriers who carry cash withdrawn from the proxy company accounts abroad, according to some of the officials. But much of it remains in bank accounts abroad, according to the Western officials. The Iranian importers and exporters trade foreign currency among themselves, on ledgers maintained in Iran, according to the Iranian central bank.” [WSJ]
💣 Warning Sign: The Washington Post’s David Ignatius warns of the long-term effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — including, among other things, the potential for a more widespread conflict and the possibility that other countries will be more incentivized to hold onto their nuclear weapons. “The Ukraine war’s creepiest byproduct is its demonstration of the utility of nuclear weapons. NATO isn’t intervening directly in this war with a no-fly zone because Russia has 4,000 nuclear weapons. It’s that simple. And let’s be honest: Would Putin have invaded if Ukraine had kept its nuclear arsenal back in 1994, when the United States pressed it to disarm? I doubt it. The lesson won’t be lost on Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea — go down the list. This war might prove the greatest stimulus to nuclear proliferation in history.” [WashPost]
🌅 Sunrise, Sunset: TIME’s Molly Ball looks at the activist group Sunrise Movement’s struggle to make an impact on climate legislation in the six years since it was formed. “Some critics charge that Sunrise’s recent activism has been more hindrance than help. The group came out against last fall’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, calling it the ‘Exxon Plan,’ even though it contained hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for things like renewable energy and environmental cleanup. Its actions usually target Democrats: chants of ‘Biden, you coward, fight for us!’; pursuing Senator Kyrsten Sinema to the Boston Marathon; hounding Sinema’s Democratic colleague Joe Manchin at the yacht where he lives in D.C. At the same time, Sunrise has demanded allies take up unpopular positions unrelated to climate, including Palestinian liberation and defunding the police.” [TIME]
💻 The Last Trope: In Input Mag, S.I. Rosenbaum investigates the demise of the popular TropeTrainer software, which was created and managed by computer programmer Thomas Buchler until his death in 2019, after which it was not updated to use with newer operating systems. “I first heard it played to me over the phone from a copy that hadn’t yet ceased to function. It was a voice unlike any I’d ever heard: not human but made by humans, generated by a piece of computer code dating to the 1980s, singing words of a text from the Bronze Age in a cadence handed down, from one singer to another, over thousands of years. TropeTrainer was software that had been taught to sing the words of God. Then it went silent.” [InputMag]
Around the Web
👨 Committee Reassignments: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said he would remove Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) from the House Intelligence Committee, which Schiff currently chairs, should Republicans retake the majority in the 2022 midterm elections.
🗓️ Buckeye Ballot: Ohio’s scheduled May 3 primaries are increasingly at risk of being postponed after the State Supreme Court struck down a third attempt at a redrawn map by the Buckeye State’s GOP-dominated Ohio Redistricting Commission.
⚠️ Red Flag: In The Washington Post, SITE Intelligence Group Executive Director Rita Katz warns that Ukraine could become a breeding ground for extremist militants recruited by neo-Nazis to join the conflict.
🇬🇧 Moscow on the Thames: The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe looks at how Russian businessmen with ties to President Vladimir Putin “have infiltrated England’s political, economic, and legal systems.”
🎙️ Podcast Playback: In the newest episode of “The Diplomat,” Jason Greenblatt responds to the recent Atlantic profile of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
✈️ Mideast Moves: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the UAE last Friday and met with Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the UAE’s vice president and prime minister, the first known trip by the Syrian dictator to another Arab country since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war more than a decade ago.
🚀 Cross Fire: CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie told reporters on Friday that recent missile strikes by Iran and Israel in Iraq and Syria posed a risk to U.S. troops.
🎭 Purim in Peace: The Washington Post spotlights Purim celebrations in Berlin, where hundreds of Ukrainian Jewish refugees arrived before the holiday.
🍦 Melting Profits: Colorado’s state pension fund announced that, in accordance with a state law opposing sanctions against Israel by international corporations, it would divest $42 million from Unilever over the decision by its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to end sales in what the ice cream company referred to as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
🗳️ Disbanded: The Democratic Socialists of America announced that the group had voted 9-8 to decharter its working group dedicated to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, following months of internal debate spurred when the working group called for the expulsion of Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) over his vote in support of supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system.
✍🏻 Letter Critique: In response to Friday’s letter by AIPAC leadership defending the recent endorsements through the AIPAC PAC, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who the PAC declined to endorse, criticized the organization on Twitter, writing, “America’s relationship with Israel has never been more important. Those of us who have never wavered in our support for Israel or our fight against anti-Semitism in the US & around the world want @AIPAC members to know your leadership is playing a dangerous game of politics.”
🎥 Hollywood History Hidden: The Hollywood Reporter’s Gary Baum looks at the fallout over the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ failure to acknowledge the Jewish founders of Hollywood in its exhibitions.
🤒 Sick Day: A new study of 28 countries found that workers in Israel took fewer sick days than workers in any other country studied, with an average of 3.9 sick days per worker per year.
🧳 Gifted Guides: The New York Times spotlights Mejdi Tours, a tourism company founded by a Palestinian Arab and an American Jew, that arranges “dual narrative” tours in areas around the world that have experienced conflict.
🛬 Grounded: The U.S. Commerce Department will effectively ground 100 planes that recently flew to Russia, including one belonging to Russian-Israeli businessman Roman Abramovich, over export controls violations.
🍝 Buon Appetito: Benedetta Jasmine Guetta’s new cookbook, Cooking alla Giudia, aims to teach about Jewish-Italian food culture, a largely unknown cuisine due to the small size of the community.
🕯️ Remembering: Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a prominent spiritual leader in Israel’s Haredi community, died at 94. His funeral in Bnei Brak drew hundreds of thousands of mourners. Brenda Brown, a former managing editor at Commentary, died at 87. Former New York Public Schools educator Irving Silberberg died at 94.
Pic of the Day
French President Emmanuel Macron, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and former French Presidents Nicholas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande observe a moment of silence at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the 2012 shooting rampage in Toulouse and Montauban targeting French soldiers and a Jewish school. The shootings — committed over a 12-day period by a lone gunman — killed seven, including a rabbi and three children at the day school.
Rabbi emeritus of Manhattan’s Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and longtime past principal of the Ramaz School, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein turns 90…
Yale Law School graduate in 1954, in 1978 she became the first woman appointed to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Ellen Ash Peters turns 92… Harvard professor, biochemist, physicist, molecular biology pioneer and winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Walter Gilbert turns 90… Scholar of Jewish mysticism and founding dean of the non-denominational rabbinical program at the Hebrew College in Boston where he serves as the rector of the rabbinic school, Arthur Green turns 81… Far Rockaway, N.Y., resident, Samuel Gross turns 73… Istanbul-born entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer, he is president of NYC-based Alexico Group LLC, Izak Senbahar turns 63… First Jewish member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Hampshire, later served on the boards of the ADL and NJDC, he is of counsel to the law firm of Shaheen & Gordon, Paul Hodes turns 71… Former executive director of The Charles Bronfman Prize, Jill Collier Indyk turns 71… President of NYC- and Singapore-based Asia-focused consulting and business development practice KWR International, Keith W. Rabin turns 66… Retired director general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was previously Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem turns 63…
Co-founder of Wynnefield Capital Management, Joshua H. Landes turns 60… Award-winning film, stage and television actor and singer whose roles include the title role in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) and the adult voice of Simba in Disney’s “The Lion King” trilogy, Matthew Broderick turns 60… Israeli rock musician and record producer, he is best known for being the guitarist and one of the songwriters in the rock band Mashina, Shlomi Bracha turns 60… Hedge fund manager, philanthropist and former chairman of the board of the New York City Opera, Roy Niederhoffer turns 56… Partner and chair of the private education practice group at the Los Angeles office of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, Michael Blacher turns 54… Founding editor of The Dispatch, Jonah Goldberg turns 53… James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef from Miami who is known for her culinary skills as an expert in Latin-style flavors of cooking, Michelle Bernstein turns 52… Co-anchor of CNN’s “New Day,” John Berman turns 50… President and founder of Bully Pulpit Interactive, Andrew Bleeker turns 37… Founding partner at Plant Medicine Law Group serving the psychedelic and cannabis space, Hadas Alterman turns 33… Staff attorney at Dayton, Ohio-based Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Addison Caruso turns 26…