👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Ed. note: In celebration of Purim, the next Daily Kickoff will arrive on Friday. Happy Purim!
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address Congress virtually at 9 a.m. ET, part of an effort to engage with world powers amid the invasion of his country by Russian forces.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told The New York Times that the speech is “bringing Congress together in a way, frankly, I haven’t seen in my 12 years.”
A day after all 25 Jewish House Democrats issued a statement condemning Amnesty International USA Director Paul O’Brien’s comments on American Jews and Israel, 11 of those members wrote another letter to the organization’s international chief on Tuesday expressing concern that O’Brien’s full comments were “even more troubling” than the remarks initially reported by Jewish Insider.
Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod obtained the letter from the lawmakers to Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard, which reads, in part, “Mr. O’Brien’s comments, coupled with Amnesty International’s report released last month, appear to be part of Amnesty International’s continued dangerous degree of bias and denial of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Amnesty International cannot credibly advance human rights around the globe while simultaneously denying the only Jewish state their right to self-determination.”
The letter was organized by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who was joined by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Kim Schrier (D-WA) and Dean Phillips (D-MN).
“Mr. O’Brien’s comments, if not denounced, lay bare the real purpose of Amnesty International’s report on Israel,” the letter continues. “It is not an attempt to give a fair analysis of Israel and its policies, nor an effort to support the aspirations of both the Arab and Jewish people. Rather, it is a tacit attempt to delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel as the only Jewish state in the world.”
The signatories call on Amnesty International to clarify whether it “seeks to advance peace for both Israelis and Palestinians,” “whether or not it accepts Israel as a democratic, Jewish state” and whether it supports a two-state solution.
Amnesty’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether O’Brien’s remarks reflect the organization’s views.
review or not review
Will the Biden administration allow Congress to review a new Iran deal?
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said on Tuesday that he wants the Biden administration to submit any new nuclear agreement with Iran for congressional review “if it does meet the obligations” of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) — but said he plans to hold hearings even if it does not, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Under the microscope: The 2015 legislation mandates a review period — during which time no sanctions can be removed — for Congress to review any nuclear deal with Iran. “I will check to see what the agreement is and look to apply INARA,” Menendez told reporters on Tuesday. “If it doesn’t meet the obligations under INARA, then no. Although I still would want to have hearings. If it does meet the obligations of INARA, then yes, it should be pursued under INARA.” Menendez said he would “have to see what the specific agreement is” before deciding whether INARA applies.
Next steps: The debate over the applicability of INARA has taken on increasing prominence in recent days as talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna progress, and has been listed as a top issue by House and Senate Republicans, as well as a bipartisan House group — including a dozen Democrats — that recently expressed concerns about the negotiations to the Biden administration. A congressional staffer familiar with the deliberations said that the administration has confirmed both publicly and privately that it will submit the deal to Congress for INARA review if a deal is finalized.
Looking foggy: The Biden administration declined to specifically guarantee in a statement to JI on Tuesday that it will submit any agreement to Congress under INARA. A State Department spokesperson told JI, “The administration will carefully consider the facts and circumstances of any U.S. return to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to determine the legal implications, including those under INARA. We are committed to ensuring the requirements of INARA are satisfied.”
Off the Hill: Outside of Congress, analysts offer a range of assessments of how they think the administration will proceed. Dennis Ross, a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he initially heard that the administration was planning to argue that it is only reentering the 2015 agreement, which was already reviewed by Congress, making a new review unnecessary. But he has “heard conflicting things since then.” Joel Rubin, a deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the Obama administration, told JI he has heard that the INARA review is predicated on whether the yet-to-be-finalized deal is different from the 2015 agreement.
Skeptics: Some skeptics of the original deal insist that the administration is seeking to dodge congressional scrutiny. Rich Goldberg, a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a former National Security Council and Hill staffer who co-hosts JI’s “Limited Liability Podcast,” said that the administration’s “very strict, disciplined messaging” that the deal is a reentry into the 2015 agreement rather than a new agreement leads him to believe that they are “preparing legal arguments to avoid submitting this agreement to the Congress.”
Bonus: Punchbowl News reported that a dozen Jewish House Democrats clashed Saturday with National Security Council Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk over being kept in the dark on Iran talks. They also raised concerns about the potential parameters of the deal and accused the White House of failing to sell it to Congress. During a House leadership meeting on Tuesday, concerns were also raised about forcing vulnerable House Democrats to vote on the deal, according to the story.
Oz reveals views on Israel in PA Republican Senate primary
Amid Dr. Mehmet Oz’s abrupt transition from talk show host to Pennsylvania Senate candidate, his GOP primary opponents have tried to paint him as out of his depth and insufficiently loyal to the party. Oz has generally avoided taking positions on geopolitical and foreign policy issues on his TV show. But on Israel, it appears the candidate is taking a strongly pro-Israel stance that places him in line with other congressional Republicans, according to a policy memo obtained by Jewish Insider.
Vital ally: “Israel is a vital American ally and a vibrant democracy in the world’s most troubled region,” Oz writes. “The incredible friendship between our countries is carved into the bedrock of our shared values and common belief in God, liberty, equality, and human rights.” Oz, who has dual citizenship with Turkey, has spoken previously about his connection to Islam — if elected, he would be the first Muslim senator — and the lessons in practicing his faith that he has learned from his Turkish family. He draws from his faith in his approach to Israel, he writes in the memo.
Faith-based: Using grandiose language, Oz delineates his enthusiasm about a country grounded in the three major faith traditions and a desire for people of all three religions to practice freely in the Jewish state. He outlines his stance on several key issues without offering much detail on how those positions would inform his approach to legislation.
Standing by: “I will strongly support American efforts to ensure that Israel has the qualitative military edge it needs to defend itself against genocidal enemies and terrorists,” Oz said, and added that he will stand by Israel “on the world stage and in the United Nations, where it is so wrongfully singled out for abuse.” He also pledged to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which he called “antisemitic.”
Praise for Trump: Oz writes that “President Trump was right to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city” and argues that “Jerusalem must remain an undivided city, allowing all to have free access to the holy sites of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.” The paper does not mention the Palestinians, although Oz expressed support for the Taylor Force Act and said he “oppose[s] the grotesque cash rewards given to the families of terrorists who murder Israelis.”
On Iran: Iran “poses uniquely grave challenges for Israel and America,” and as such, Oz said, Iran must be prohibited from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He called the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran a “badly flawed agreement that would not deny an Iranian bomb,” and said Trump “was right to withdraw from the deal and impose maximum pressure sanctions.” He called for the U.S. to “return[…] to those sanctions at the earliest possible time.” The policy paper did not explain how Oz would approach the current nuclear negotiations happening in Vienna.
Elsewhere: On Tuesday, the website PoliticsPA reported that Oz said that he would keep his Turkish citizenship even if such a decision disqualified him from obtaining the security clearances that are provided to all senators so they can access classified and sensitive information. “I can love my country and love my mom,” PoliticsPA quoted Oz as saying, explaining that he would keep his Turkish citizenship to care for his mother, who lives in the Mediterranean country and has Alzheimer’s disease.
Sierra Club to reinstate Israel trips
The Sierra Club will reinstate two programs to Israel, days after the nature- and preservation-focused organization canceled trips to the Jewish state scheduled for this spring and spring 2023 after being pressured by anti-Israel and progressive activists, the organization announced on its website on Tuesday afternoon. In announcing the reversal, the group admitted that the original decision to cancel the trips was made “hastily” and “was done in ways that created confusion, anger, and frustration,” Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports.
Official word: “Let me be clear: the Sierra Club’s mission is to enjoy, explore and protect the planet, and we do not take positions on foreign policy matters that are beyond that scope,” read a statement from the organization’s acting director, Dan Chu. “We do not have a deep understanding or knowledge necessary to do so, nor is it our place to do so. Furthermore, we have and always will continue to loudly condemn anti-semitism and any and all acts of hate. We are committed to working more intentionally, thoroughly and thoughtfully so we can prevent this from happening again.”
Group effort: The sudden about-face came after a coalition of Jewish groups, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, Hazon and The Jewish Federations of North America, mobilized to engage with the Sierra Club and fight the original decision. Anti-Israel groups including Jewish Voice for Peace and the Adalah Justice Project had pushed for the environmental group to cancel the trips, accusing Israel of “greenwashing.”
Positive steps: “We are very encouraged by the progress made in our community conversations with Sierra Club,” Tyler Gregory, the executive director of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, told JI. “They recognize the harm caused to our community, and are not only planning new Israel trips, but are also committing to learning and growing with JCRC and our partners on the issues of antisemitism, Jewish identity and our community’s connection to Israel. Climate change is an existential threat to our planet. Divisive political efforts like BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] are doing the environmental movement a tremendous disservice by diverting energy from their core mission to these toxic sideshows.”
Meet the Israeli working to revive and preserve Morocco’s Jewish heritage
With expert ease, Kobi Ifrach navigates the narrow alleyways of the Mellah, Marrakesh’s old Jewish quarter, ruffling the heads of small children and greeting stall owners selling tea and spices in the market, as if he’s lived here his entire life. But, despite his Mediterranean complexion and fluent Moroccan tongue, Ifrach did not grow up here. In fact, he was born and raised thousands of miles away in the small, dusty town of Dimona – in Israel. “All my life, I heard about Morocco and listened to stories about Morocco,” Ifrach, 39, told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash.
Homecoming: A child of immigrants – his father arrived in Israel from Fez, his mother from Marrakesh – Ifrach said he always felt like somewhat of an outsider in Israel. “Even though I grew up in Dimona, lived in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other places in Israel, there was always something in my culture, in my traditions that made me feel different,” he continued, explaining what prompted him to first visit Morocco in a pre-army trip at 18. He eventually obtained Moroccan citizenship and moved to his mother’s hometown permanently approximately five years ago. “When I arrived here, I felt like I had returned home,” stated Ifrach, who, with his partner, went on to create Kulna, a nonprofit organization aimed at preserving and promoting Jewish Moroccan heritage in both Morocco and Israel.
Teaching history: Among the projects in his new home country, Ifrach has helped to build a museum dedicated to the Jews of Marrakesh, renovate the Jewish cemetery and create study programs for young Israelis interested in learning about Moroccan Jewish life and culture. In all, he has brought more than 1,000 people to the Arab country to experience Morocco’s 2,000-year-old Jewish history. “Morocco is the land of longing, not only for Jews of Moroccan heritage but for all Jews, regardless of their roots, and it’s the only place where you can touch and feel Jewish history that has been here for thousands of years,” he told JI during a recent interview at the Leaders of Tomorrow Summit, organized by Tel Aviv-based NGO Israel-is and the Mimouna Association, a Moroccan nonprofit that promotes and preserves Jewish heritage in Morocco.
Long relationship: “Morocco is a special place because it is the only Arab country, maybe even the only country in the world, that has had an active Jewish community for so long,” David Biton, head of Jewish studies at Ono Academic College in Israel and an expert on the Moroccan Jewish community, told JI. “The community’s influence on the economy and the culture is amazing given its size, and although there are other Muslim countries such as Turkey and Iran that have Jewish communities, there is no Arab country like this.”
🪖 Stuck in the Mud: Bloomberg’s James Stavridis outlines the missteps Russia has made in its invasion of Ukraine, including logistical failures and conducting a military operation with a largely unprepared fighting force. “As of now, time is on the Russians’ side if they choose to simply grind down the Ukrainians and reduce the cities to rubble. But over a longer period, dissatisfaction at home, the coming of the spring mud and military failures will compound for Putin. I do not detect an ounce of quit in the Ukrainians, particularly in their Churchillian leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He will address the U.S. congress on Wednesday, and one of the topics upon which he will certainly touch are the tactical failures of the Russian military, coupled with fervent requests for more weapons and ammunition.” [Bloomberg]
🤝 Delicate Diplomacy: In The National, the Atlantic Council’s Shalom Lipner examines Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s managing of relations with American legislators and the Biden administration as the U.S. works to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran. “Recognising the limits of his power, Mr Bennett is thus charting a prudent course to avoid antagonising Mr Biden – provoking him is likely to inflict damage on Israel’s privileged standing in the Oval Office – and, thereby, preserve Israel’s ability to co-operate closely with the US moving forward. The last thing Mr Bennett will want is to plunge head-first into the kind of lonely vacuum that succeeded previous US president Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the JCPOA without a safety net, which Iran then exploited to further enrich uranium and move that much closer to a nuclear weapons capability.” [TheNational]
🇷🇺 History Repeats: In the Washington Examiner, author and former White House aide Tevi Troy looks at more than a century of U.S. administrations dealing with Russian aggression. “At the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian Empire, which at that time included Ukraine, was experiencing a series of 300 deadly government-facilitated pogroms against its large Jewish population. The most infamous pogrom in this period was in Kishinev, Moldova, inspiring Chaim Nachman Bialik’s harrowing poem ‘City of Slaughter.’ But Kishinev was only one city where Tsar Nicholas II’s government was whipping up antisemitic sentiments with deadly results. They were also taking place in this period in Ukrainian cities such as Odessa, Marinopol, Lugansk, and Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipro). Following a lobbying campaign by Jewish American groups, President Theodore Roosevelt objected to the state-sponsored violence, cabling a petition from the Jewish community to the Russian foreign minister. In response to the outside pressure, Nicholas declared that going forward, regional governors would be responsible for what happened in their territory, at least stopping explicit governmental approval for the violence, although the emperor still maintained that ‘Jews themselves … are to blame.’” [WashingtonExaminer]
🇮🇱 Man in the Middle: The Washington Post’s Shira Rubin looks at the geopolitical role that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is playing amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “While its Western allies have closed ranks in support of Ukraine, Israel has been reluctant to antagonize Russia, an important military force in the Middle East, and Bennett has sought to convert his country’s perhaps awkward position into a diplomatic opportunity. After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 5, Bennett jumped on the phone twice with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and he finished the day with a dinner meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. The urgency of his shuttle diplomacy — not just for Ukraine, but also for Israel and Bennett himself — was underscored by the fact that his efforts came on the Jewish Sabbath. It’s a day when Bennett, Israel’s first Orthodox Jewish leader, and at least one other religiously observant minister who accompanied him abstain from work or travel unless, as dictated by Jewish tradition, it is needed to save a life.” [WashPost]
🎤 War of Words: In Newsweek, Amanda Berman, the executive director of Zioness, reflects on controversial comments on Israel and American Jewish attitudes toward the country made by Amnesty International USA’s executive director. “Indefensible ideological efforts like this undertaken by urgently important international human rights organizations do no favors for persecuted communities and peoples all over the globe. Applying the explosive term ‘apartheid’ to a country like Israel –– which is imperfect, institutionally discriminatory, chronically sectarian, and riddled with inequities and inequalities — like all other countries –– cheapens the term ‘apartheid’ and harms the global human rights community’s ability to accurately identify, document, and ultimately seek prosecution for real crimes against humanity.” [Newsweek]
Around the Web
🇮🇷 On the Hill: CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told senators yesterday he supports a “good” nuclear deal with Iran preventing the regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon even though it would provide the regime with additional funding for malign activities.
💥 Worried Warning: U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides warned that the upcoming holidays of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, which will overlap next month, could produce a “flashpoint” in Jerusalem.
⛔ No Parking: Israel blocked Russian-Israeli businessman Roman Abramovich from keeping his private jet at Ben-Gurion Airport after international sanctions were leveled against him in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
🩹 Sending Aid: Israel announced plans to construct a field hospital in Ukraine, naming the operation “Kochav Meir” after Ukraine-born Prime Minister Golda Meir.
🦠 Refuah Shlema: Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff tested positive for COVID-19 and said he is experiencing “mild” symptoms.
📚 Hit the Books: Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) wrote a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona expressing concerns about proposed ethnic studies curricula “that could include deeply troubling antisemitic content,” including accusing Israel of apartheid.
👩 Fed Up: Sarah Bloom Raskin withdrew her nomination to the Federal Reserve after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he would not support her nomination, dooming her path to reaching the requisite majority support.
💰 Discovery Dough: Discovery CEO David Zaslav received a compensation package valued at $246 million last year, according to the company’s securities filing.
📸 Shooting Back: A Los Angeles photographer is suing two men — who have already been charged with hate crimes for their roles in an attack on Jewish diners at a Beverly Grove restaurant — for injuries sustained in the melee, which occurred amid an uptick in antisemitic violence during Israel’s conflict with Hamas last spring.
🏀 Hoop Dreams: Yeshiva University senior guard Ryan Turell will enter the NBA draft, and if selected will be the first Orthodox Jewish player in the league’s history.
🎭 Mandy’s Mission: In a wide-ranging conversation with The New York Times, actor Mandy Patinkin discusses the habits he’s picked up during the pandemic, new projects and a possible visit to the Ukraine-Polish border to meet with refugees.
👩👧👧 No Costume Necessary: Ahead of Purim, Israeli actress Gal Gadot shared photos of her family making hamantaschen.
🛫 Time to Fly: Emirates will begin daily flights to Tel Aviv starting on June 23.
🇸🇦 Xi You Soon: Saudi Arabia invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit the Gulf nation as it looks to strengthen ties with Beijing.
👨 Transition: American Jewish Congress Executive Director Joel Rubin departed the group to become a partner at consulting firm Democracy Partners, and a podcast host and senior advisor at Really American PAC.
🕯️ Remembering: Holocaust survivor Leon Schwartzbaum, who was featured in the 2018 film “The Last of the Jolly Boys,” died at 101.
Pic of the Day
The U.S.-Ukraine Foundation hosted an event Tuesday, organized by a committee convened by Ari Mittleman and Joel Rubin, which raised more than $40,000 to deliver medical supplies to the war-torn nation. In attendance: Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN); Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Greg Meeks (D-NY), Jason Crow (D-CO), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Blake Moore (R-UT), Danny Davis (D-IL), Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Andre Carson (D-IN); and the ambassadors from Ukraine, Poland, Turkey, Albania, Estonia, Slovenia and Moldova.
Mathematician, technology innovator (with 260 patents) and founder of four technology companies, he is the creator of the first camera phone, Philippe Kahn turns 70…
Former CEO and chairman of Citigroup, Sanford I. “Sandy” Weill turns 89… Dean and founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, Rabbi Marvin Hier turns 83… NYC tax attorney and litigator, he served as a tax assistant to the solicitor general of the U.S., Stuart A. Smith turns 81… Actress and film director, Susan Linda Bay Nimoy turns 79… Computer scientist and professor emeritus at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Andrew S. Tanenbaum turns 78… Israeli singer, best known as the original singer of “Jerusalem of Gold,” Shulamit “Shuli” Natan turns 75… Actor and singer, Victor Garber turns 73… Customer service associate at Jewish Free Loan Association of Los Angeles, Judy Karta turns 71… Peabody Award- and Emmy Award-winning NPR journalist since 1977, now a host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” Scott Simon turns 70… VP of external affairs and government relations at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Amy Reich Kaplan turns 68… Film producer, production designer and adjunct faculty member at Chicago’s Columbia College, Gail Sonnenfeld turns 67… Adjunct professor at both George Washington University Law School and Stanford In Washington, Andrew D. Eskin turns 65… U.S. deputy secretary of transportation, Polly Ellen Trottenberg turns 58… VP for talent, booking at Disney/ABC Television Group, Eric Avram turns 57… President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, Jay Ruderman turns 56…
Actor and comedian, best known for playing the role of writer Frank Rossitano on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” Judah Friedlander turns 53… Senior producer of “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at MSNBC, Amy Shuster turns 50… Co-head of the financial services practice at the BGR Group, Andy Lewin turns 48… Speechwriter for President Joe Biden at the White House, Jeff Nussbaum turns 47… Co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll… President and managing director at SKDKnickerbocker Digital, Jason Rosenbaum turns 45… Winemaker at Covenant Wines and Hajdu Wines, Jonathan Hajdu turns 43… Retired soccer player in the Israeli Premier League who is now the first team manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Yoav Ziv turns 41… Detroit-based founder and managing partner of Ludlow Ventures, Jonathon Triest turns 40… Head of policy and communications at Facebook’s Israel office, she was previously chief of staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington, Jordana Cutler turns 40… Managing director at Finsbury Glover Hering, Adam Blickstein turns 40… Director of global corporate partnerships at Global Citizen, Alexandra Stabler turns 33… Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter on the Metro desk of The New York Times, Brian M. Rosenthal turns 33… Director in the New York office of the Jewish National Fund, Sarah Azizi turns 32… First baseman for MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, Ryan John “Rowdy” Tellez turns 27… Third-year student at the University of Michigan Law School, Nathan Bennett… Jackie Stern… Jeremy Levin…