👋 Good Tuesday morning!
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Monday, where he met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will receive a classified briefing on the status of Iran nuclear talks this afternoon.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the final remaining hurdle to a new nuclear agreement with Iran is lifting the terror designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Senior U.S. officials cited in the report say a failure to give Iran this concession quickly could cause a breakdown in negotiations in which every other sticking point has been resolved.
The U.S. proposal to remove the terror designation, according to the report, would be based on a commitment from Iran to rein in regional aggression and not to target Americans. Officials argue that if Iran doesn’t keep to those terms, the terror designation could be reimposed. This comes as the Biden administration has so far rebuffed calls from allies to redesignate the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen as terrorists, despite their recent drone and missile attacks on civilians in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
On Sunday, Bennett argued that the U.S. seems willing to agree to a deal with Iran “at almost any cost,” adding, “We are very concerned about the United States’ intention to give in to Iran’s outrageous demand and remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations.”
Sixty-two Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Scott Franklin (R-FL) and including conference chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) signed a letter — a draft of which was obtained by Jewish Insider — to Secretary of State Tony Blinken expressing opposition to withdrawing the IRGC’s terrorism designation.
Franklin told JI on Monday, “Delisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list is unacceptable under any circumstances. Secretary Blinken must make it clear to Americans, our allies, and Iran that delisting the IRGC is a non-starter.” The letter has not yet been finalized.
In a speech on Myanmar on Monday morning at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Secretary of State Tony Blinken praised the work of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, groups he described as “independent, impartial sources” documenting human rights abuses in the embattled Southeast Asian country.
The speech came days after Blinken spoke with leaders from both organizations, and a month after Amnesty released a report that accused Israel of “apartheid.” Earlier this month, the director of Amnesty International USA, Paul O’Brien, came under fire for comments about American Jewish attitudes toward Israel.
Over the weekend, an Amnesty staffer in the U.K. posted a photo outside the Israeli Embassy in London, where staffers for the organization erected a sign labeling the street “Apartheid Avenue.”
Ketanji Brown Jackson is the latest Supreme Court nominee who got her start at Nathan Lewin’s first firm
The three jurists most recently nominated to the Supreme Court had very little in common before they were tapped to sit on the highest court in the land. Brett Kavanaugh grew up near Washington, D.C., and attended Yale Law School; Amy Coney Barrett was raised in suburban New Orleans and went to Notre Dame Law School; and Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Harvard Law grad whose confirmation hearings are taking place this week, hails from Miami. But they shared one formative experience, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports: As young lawyers, each worked at a now-defunct boutique law firm in Washington called Miller, Cassidy, Larroca & Lewin.
Meritocracy: “It was a very unusual firm,” said Nathan Lewin, one of the firm’s founding partners and a crusading attorney known for his decades of work on civil liberties cases. “It was both color-blind and gender-blind. We hired people regardless of race, regardless of gender. It was just the best people, a meritocracy.”
Who’s who: Today, Washington’s most prestigious firms are multinational behemoths that employ hundreds of attorneys. But at Lewin’s old firm — which was acquired two decades ago by Baker Botts LLP, a Houston-based legal giant — the number of attorneys never surpassed three dozen. Other alumni include a who’s who of Washington power players over several administrations. Among them are David Cohn, current deputy director of the CIA; Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush; and Jamie Gorelick, deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton.
On the Hill: The Senate Judiciary Committee’s four days of hearings for Jackson began Monday. Jackson, who currently serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, would be the first Black woman on the High Court if she is confirmed by the Senate. Committee Chair Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) kicked off the hearings by praising Jackson’s “record of excellence and integrity,” while Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said Jackson’s past advocacy as a defense attorney has “gone beyond the pale.”
KJ: Lewin does not recall working with Jackson, who spent a year at the firm from 1998 to 1999, although he found the initials “KJ” scrawled in his notes from a case he worked on that year, suggesting she may have assisted him. (The case was about a school in Kiryas Joel, so the initials could also have referred to the town in New York.)
Family matters: Today, Lewin, who is 86, operates an even smaller firm: Lewin & Lewin, a two-lawyer operation with his daughter, Alyza Lewin, who also serves as president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. The pair has worked on several high-profile cases together, including that of Menachem Zivotofsky, who sued former Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014 in a bid to list “Jerusalem, Israel” — rather than simply “Jerusalem” — as his place of birth on his passport. (They lost that case in the Supreme Court, 6-3.)
Ritchie Torres: ‘Neither side has a strategy for permanently preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon’
With diplomats in Vienna reportedly making progress on a new nuclear agreement with Iran, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod that he has yet to see a credible plan from proponents or opponents of the deal that would permanently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Torres, a freshman lawmaker who represents the South Bronx, is at least the 17th House Democrat to publicly air concerns about the direction of nuclear talks.
Bad faith: Torres told JI on Monday that he’s worried that neither Iran nor Russia — one of the world powers negotiating in Vienna — are acting in good faith, pointing to Iran’s recent ballistic missile strike that landed near a U.S. consulate in Iraq, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Iran’s pledge to continue to enrich uranium above the limits laid out in the original 2015 deal.
Red flags: He said he “would have trouble supporting” any deal that includes sanctions relief for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or the Quds Force. He noted concern over the sunset provisions involved in the potential deal and that the deal would allow Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact.
Quotable: “Based on media reports, a future deal is unlikely to permanently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” he said, and will give Iran a breakout time of less than a year. “So there is a concern that within the next decade, Iran will have the benefit of permanent sanctions relief without the cost of permanent denuclearization. It will have both more wealth and a nuclear weapons program within a decade.”
Holding back: He emphasized, however, that he’s “going to resist the temptation to render a final judgment on a deal whose existence is hypothetical” and which he has not yet had the opportunity to review.
What’s next: Torres said he is also concerned that “neither side has a strategy for permanently preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” He added, “The question I ask myself [is], in the absence of the JCPOA, what is the alternate strategy for preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon? And it’s a question to which I have never heard a particularly compelling answer.”
Gershwin, with a twang
The renowned jazz and cabaret singer Michael Feinstein has long been dedicated to mining the seemingly endless recesses of the Great American Songbook, with an emphasis — as anyone familiar with his unique backstory is aware — on the Gershwin catalog, writes Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. Before his career took off, so the story goes, Feinstein was just 20 years old and new to Los Angeles when he began a six-year stint as Ira Gershwin’s archivist, working closely with the master lyricist to catalog, among other things, the music he wrote with his brother George in the 1920s and ’30s.
New direction: Feinstein put that experience to use on his first record, “Pure Gershwin,” and followed up with two more similarly dutiful Gershwin tribute albums in the late ’90s. His latest album, released this month, represents something of a return to form as well as a stylistic departure for the seasoned Gershwin interpreter. On “Gershwin Country,” Feinstein, now 65, puts the Gershwin songbook through a country prism.
Interpreting lyrics: The album, recorded with a session band in Nashville, includes cameos from such heavy hitters as Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Roseanne Cash and Liza Minnelli, who served as executive producer and was Ira’s goddaughter. While the setting may have been somewhat unfamiliar for Feinstein, “the idea of singing with artists who still are focused primarily on interpreting lyrics, which is what country music is still about,” was appealing to him, he said in a recent interview with JI. “It may be the last place where that is so.”
Surprise turn: Not that he hasn’t gotten some quizzical stares from those who are surprised by his latest turn. “When I mention it now to anybody who is unfamiliar with the concept, they always give me a funny look or their voice is raised in a certain inflection as if, ‘Really? You really mean this?’ because it sounds like an odd concept,” he said. “But it made sense to me musically because great songs survive because of the ability to reinterpret them or adapt them to a different style, and they don’t lose the essence of what they were created to express.”
Timeless appeal: “The timeless nature of Gershwin songs is comparable to the other great songs of that time in that they’re such eloquent expressions of oft-expressed emotions,” Feinstein said. “These songwriters were always trying to find fresh ways to express romance and to express love without saying ‘I love you.’ One of the reasons that Bing Crosby loved working with the lyricist Johnny Burke is that Crosby hated to sing ‘I love you,’ and so Johnny Burke would write all these songs that referenced love but weren’t obvious. And that’s what Ira Gershwin tried to do with ‘Someone to Watch Over Me,’ which is a song that he wrote when he married his wife, Leonore, in 1926.”
For Holocaust educators in Poland, the war in Ukraine is more than just a teachable moment
On the day the Russian army invaded Ukraine last month, Anna Niedźwiedź, a citizen of neighboring Poland, noticed a post on Facebook requesting shelter for a family from Kyiv that was fleeing the violence. She responded immediately. “I sent a message saying that I have space in my house, and they are very welcome,” the Krakow resident told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash. “I then called my husband to tell him.”
Lessons from the past: It was that phone call – as well as Anna’s act of pure kindness – that set into motion a series of events drawing a direct line between the chaos and inhumanity of the past few weeks in Eastern Europe and the forces of past horrors in the same area. Anna’s husband, Wojtek, has worked for years as a security guard for JRoots, an organization that runs Holocaust educational trips to Poland, as well as other places of significant Jewish heritage. Her call to him on that day sparked the interest and compassion of the nonprofit, propelling its leaders to re-channel its regular activities into helping the more than one million Ukrainian refugees who have poured across the border into Poland. The group of educators is now putting into practice lessons that they have been imparting for years to thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Helping hand: “When this kicked off, we couldn’t just sit down and do nothing,” Tzvi Sperber, founder and director of JRoots, told JI. “We had been teaching about the Righteous Among the Nations and other lessons of the Holocaust, so we had to do something.” With a broad infrastructure and manpower already in place in Poland, including contacts in the hotel industry, bus drivers and tour guides, Sperber said it was fairly easy for the organization to pivot its efforts into helping those in need and, almost immediately, the organization’s vast network of alumni responded with support, both financial and otherwise.
Essential aid: Since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, the group has helped to provide food, clothing, medicine and other essential items to one of the largest distributions centers in Krakow, assisted in turning the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow — which commemorates Holocaust victims and celebrates Polish Jewish culture — into a daycare center for refugee children and helped to convert the lower floor of the Chachmei Yeshiva in Lublin into a refugee center. “Most of the refugees are women and children,” Sperber described, adding that the help they are giving is not limited to Jewish refugees. “The whole situation is just so heartbreaking and catastrophic on a humanitarian level.”
📱 Telegram’s Message: In Wired, Darren Loucaides looks at the rise of the messaging app Telegram, which prides itself on its commitment to free speech, and the cult mentality that surrounds its founder, Pavel Durov. “Pavel’s university portals eventually caught the attention of Vyacheslav Mirilashvili, a former schoolmate. Mirilashvili, who had moved to the US, had just seen Facebook take off there and thought something similar could work in Russia. With money Mirilashvili made working for his father, a wealthy Georgian-Israeli real estate mogul, he and Pavel reimagined the university website as a tool for finding childhood classmates and friends. Mirilashvili also brought on board a Russian-Israeli friend named Lev Leviev. In the fall of 2006, the trio became the cofounders of VKontakte — Russian for ‘in touch.’ Pavel Durov initially coded the site on his own. With a simple design and blue and white color scheme, VKontakte looked like one of the many Facebook clones that were popping up around the world.” [Wired]
🗺️ The New Order: The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib suggests that in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. needs to determine its place — and allies — amid a shifting global political order. “The U.S. now has to decide whether to return to the days of realpolitik, when it held its nose to foster good relations with unsavory regimes to better confront a larger danger emanating from Russia. Increasingly, the Biden administration faces that choice when it comes to relations with Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran and some of the more autocratic governments in Europe. And now, as in the Cold War, overhanging it all is the mega question of whether the U.S. can foster better relations with China to offset a Russian menace, despite misgivings about Beijing’s policies.” [WSJ]
🎥 Hollywood’s Jewish Fathers: In The Hollywood Reporter, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Director and President Bill Kramer explain the cultural and societal impact of Jewish media figures who founded modern-day Hollywood. “The Jewish moguls and film professionals who played a seminal role in the development of the industry rose to heights of prominence at a time when most Jews in America were excluded from leadership in all other businesses due to antisemitic quotas across industries, private clubs, hotels, and universities. These barriers did not exist for the Jewish studio founders in the emerging film industry at the time, in part because the industry was considered by some as disreputable. The irony, though, is that these Jewish founders helped to create the Hollywood version of the American Dream – a vision that often excluded Jews and many other societally oppressed communities.” [HollywoodReporter]
Around the Web
➡️ Guard Change: Nancy McEldowney, who has served as Vice President Kamala Harris’ national security adviser since last year, is stepping down and will be replaced by Philip Gordon.
😡 Disney Doozy: CNBC looks at the breakdown in relations between former Disney CEO Bob Iger and his handpicked successor, Bob Chapek.
💥 Casualty of War: A 96-year-old Jewish man who survived four Nazi concentration camps died after a Russian rocket struck his home in Kharkhiv, Ukraine.
🛥️ Docked Yacht: A superyacht belonging to Russian-Israeli businessman Roman Abramovich, who was recently the target of E.U. and U.K. sanctions, docked in the Turkish port city of Bodrum.
⛔ Delay Denied: A U.S. appeals court rejected a request to pause legal proceedings initiated by Chabad against a Russian bank involving possession of thousands of sacred Jewish texts, after the London-based firm representing the bank withdrew its representation following the imposition of sanctions on Moscow by the U.K.
✍️ Public Plea: Fifty House Democrats, including Reps. Sean Casten (D-IL) and Andy Levin (D-MI), wrote to Secretary of State Tony Blinken calling on him to intercede to prevent the displacement of 38 Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem village of al-Walaja.
👰🤵 Mazal Tov: Rachel Snyder and Jordan Good were married at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore on Sunday. Attendees at the nuptials included House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Jeff Snyder, Lynn Shapiro Snyder, Rick and Helane Goldstein, Hillary Smith Kapner, Ari Mittleman and Tara Brown, Brian Shankman, and Ike Fisher.
👩 Transition: Jackie Subar, previously an assistant director of policy and political affairs at the American Jewish Committee, will join the Anti-Defamation League as national director of strategic partnerships.
🕯️ Remembering: Av Westin, an executive producer of ABC’s “20/20,” under whose leadership the show won dozens of Emmy Awards, died at 92.
Pic of the Day
At a press conference on Saturday, Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl spoke at length about Purim and the Holocaust when asked about efforts to raise funds for Ukraine. “My Hebrew name is Mordechai. I think my family gave me that name for a reason,” Pearl said after explaining the significance of the Biblical Mordechai and Esther. (Pearl’s Auburn Tigers lost to the University of Miami Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.)
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Judge Neomi Rao turns 49…
Professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia and founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, E.D. Hirsch turns 94… Captain Kirk of “Star Trek,” in 2021 he flew to space aboard a Blue Origin sub-orbital capsule, William Shatner turns 91… Twice elected as mayor of Beverly Hills, Jamshid “Jimmy” Delshad turns 82… Dentist in Norwalk, Connecticut, Murray Bruckel, DDS turns 77… Academy Award-winning screenwriter, his work includes “Forrest Gump” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Eric Roth turns 77… Israeli viola player and teacher, Rivka Golani turns 76… Anchor of CNN’s “The Situation Room,” Wolf Blitzer turns 74… Aviation and aerospace professional, Mike Orkin turns 73… Owner of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, Jeffrey N. Vinik turns 63… Popular musical entertainer in the Orthodox Jewish community, Avraham Shabsi Friedman, better known by his stage name Avraham Fried, turns 63… Director of communications at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Andrea Glick turns 63… Former corporate secretary, EVP and general counsel at Hertz Corporation, J. Jeffrey Zimmerman turns 63… Retired Israeli basketball player, she is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most points (136) ever scored in a women’s professional game, Anat Draigor turns 62… Award-winning defense correspondent who has covered Israel and the Middle East, Arieh O’Sullivan turns 61… Journalist and writer, Debra Nussbaum Cohen… Head of real estate for Mansueto Office, Ari Glass turns 53… Managing director of Mercury Public Affairs, Jonathan Greenspun turns 51… SVP at HCA Healthcare, Jeff E. Cohen turns 51… Founder of Barstool Sports, David Portnoy turns 45… Visual editor at The City, Ben Fractenberg turns 43… Senior advisor at both Fenway Strategies and Emerson Collective, Adam Perecman Frankel turns 41… Founder and CEO of Into The Gloss and Glossier, Emily Weiss turns 37… Creator of the Yehi Ohr program at Jewish Community Services of South Florida, Zisa Levin turns 36… Retired MLB first baseman, Isaac Benjamin “Ike” Davis turns 35… Communications director for Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), Sarah Alice Frank Feldman turns 34… Energy policy and climate change reporter for Politico, Joshua Adam Siegel turns 32… Director of the Dan David Prize, Charlotte Hallé… Interim director of communications at the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, James Sorene… Beatrice Stein…