👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Thirty Democrats, including House Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and House Intel Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), are sending a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken today, urging the administration to take a tougher position against Saudi Arabia following Riyadh’s stance against producing more oil and its recent talks with China and Russia.
“We stand at an inflection point: The United States can continue our status-quo of broad support for an autocratic partner, or we can stand for human rights and rebalance our relationship to reflect our values and interests,” the lawmakers write in the letter.
Five House Republicans sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking him to “expeditiously” transfer KC-46A refueling aircraft to Israel “in order to effectively deter Iran… from developing nuclear weapons.”
The signatories to the letter, dated April 11, are Reps. August Pfluger (R-TX), Don Bacon (R-NE), Scott Franklin (R-FL), Brian Mast (R-FL) and Mike Waltz (R-FL). It follows a similar letter from 11 GOP senators last week.
The tanker aircraft are believed to be necessary to give Israeli aircraft the range to strike Iran directly, but the U.S. told Israel last year that the aircraft are backordered and would not be able to be delivered before 2024. Israel has asked the administration to accelerate the delivery.
Waltz also argued in a Middle East Instituteevent yesterday that “many analysts that I spoke to… were confident that had we kept the maximum pressure campaign [against Iran] in place, the Iranian regime would have… been open to a much broader deal and more comprehensive deal.”
Waltz added, however, “I have issues with engaging and making any type of concession to a regime that’s holding a gun to the head of American citizens,” referring to the four Americans being held by Iran. Waltz co-organized a letter from a bipartisan group of 140 House members calling for a more comprehensive Iran deal.
Two menaccused of impersonating Department of Homeland Security officials, including one with ties to Iran, were granted bail by a district court judge in Washington. The men’s arrests raised concerns among former Secret Service officials, who questioned how the security personnel tasked with keeping the first family and other top officials safe could be duped by the duo.
“If you can compromise Secret Service personnel by cozying up to their agents and their uniformed officers, unwelcome sources can get to the president and the first family,” Jim Helminski, who led the security detail for then-Vice President Joe Biden, told the Washington Post.
Eliot Cohen says U.S. should reopen embassy in Kyiv
Former Counselor to the State Department Eliot Cohen called on the Biden administration to reopen the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, during an appearance on Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast.” Cohen, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, criticized the initial decision to evacuate the embassy, arguing the U.S. was failing “on the symbolic side of things.”
Staying power: “We should not have taken our embassy out of Kyiv… There would have been plenty of State Department volunteers to stick it out,” Cohen, who served under former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said. “We should certainly be there now. Our embassy should be there now. We should have senior officials visiting Kyiv. If [U.K. Prime Minister] Boris Johnson can go there, so can [Vice President] Kamala Harris.”
Self-deterrence: “I think [the Biden administration has] been way too unwilling to consider other steps,” Cohen said. “We allowed ourselves to be self-deterred, on things like supplying fixed-wing aircraft and tanks. And they were making silly distinctions between offensive and defensive weapons,” he explained of the Biden administration, cautioning, “I am not sure that they have the resolve to deal with what may be, unfortunately, the next big step: and that’s Russian use of chemical weapons.”
No-fly zone: According to Cohen, the confirmed use of chemical weapons — reports of which the U.S. and allies are investigating — would require a greater response from the U.S. “Although I was not initially in favor of a no-fly zone, that would be the thing that, for me, would trigger it,” he said. “We just tell the Russians, ‘You’re not allowed to fly over Ukraine. And if you do, we’ll shoot you down.’ […] We don’t want to be in a nuclear war with Russia. But they don’t want to be in a nuclear war with us,” Cohen continued. “A shooting war with us: They lose, because they’ve got a crummy military and we know it. And they know it. When I say ‘lose,’ I mean, they really lose.”
Keeping friends: Looking at the tepid response to the invasion by U.S. allies in the Gulf, Cohen criticized the U.S. for previously failing to keep up the alliances in the face of their own struggles. “The big mistake that we made… is the UAE, which had really been quite a reliable ally. The fundamental problem is we had allies — and Saudi Arabia is really problematic; UAE, much less so — which were directly attacked. They had missiles raining down on their territory and, basically, we did nothing. I think in the case of UAE, it took like 37 days for the CENTCOM commander to show up and say, ‘Can we help?’ They’re not going to forget that.”
Bonus: Favorite Yiddish word or phrase? “Megulgl zol er vern in a henglaykhter: bay tog zol er hengen un bay nakht zol er brenen.” (“You should die and be reincarnated as a chandelier to hang by day and burn by night.”) Favorite Passover Seder tradition? “We read a letter that my father wrote to my mother. My dad was in the occupation army. He was a psychiatrist who shipped over just as the war was ending. He was in love with my mother… He’s describing going to a Seder with displaced persons. And he’s astounded by the stories he’s hearing and he says, You know, I couldn’t help but think ‘there but for the grace of God…’ so we read that every Pesach.” Favorite Scottish song? “Killiecrankie.” On wearing bow ties? “Early on in my career, I was running the Air Force’s study of the first Gulf War and I was wearing a necktie. And I had to shred some classified waste. I was fitting it into the shredder, and I looked down and I realized that I was about a half an inch away from being turned into a pile of bloody mulch. And so after that, I decided on bow ties, and then afterwards, it just became kind of a gesture of defiance towards the Washington establishment.”
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State Dept. cites Amnesty in report on Israel’s alleged human rights abuses
A State Department report identifying alleged human rights abuses in Israel relied in part on information from Amnesty International, a human rights group whose conclusion that Israel’s policies constitute apartheid was criticized by the State Department earlier this year, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. The report was part of the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which were released on Tuesday and identified “significant human rights issues” in dozens of nations around the world. The reports, updated and released annually, are mandated by Congress.
Background: The report’s inclusion of Amnesty — who was also cited in a report about the West Bank and Gaza, and in reports on other countries such as China and Turkey — came weeks after Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke by phone with Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard. In February, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, “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.” A State Department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about the approach to Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, whose information was also included in the new report.
Not ‘credible’: “It’s disappointing that State felt the need to cite an organization that not only just released a report rife with bias and language demonizing Israel, but whose United States director’s recent comments further disqualifies Amnesty as a credible source on Israel,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told Jewish Insider. He was referring to Amnesty USA Director Paul O’Brien’s recent remarks that most American Jews do not want Israel to be a Jewish state, but rather “a safe Jewish space” based on “core Jewish values.” Amnesty was mentioned by the State Department due to its work advocating against an Israeli immigration and citizenship law.
Sheikh Jarrah: Many of the new claims in the Israel report have to do with the events of May 2021, when protests erupted following eviction proceedings against Palestinian residents in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, followed by a brief but deadly round of violence between Israel and Hamas. The report cited local human rights groups that found that “ethnic discrimination was a factor in resolving disputes regarding land titles acquired before 1948” and cited “reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem.”
Other abuses: Another report addressed alleged human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza committed by both Palestinian Authority officials — including “torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” — and by Hamas members, including “unlawful or arbitrary killings” and “crimes, violence, and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism.”
‘Un heroe’: How a U.S. Marine saved lives after Buenos Aires Israeli embassy bombing in 1992
B.G. Willison Jr. was just passing through Buenos Aires on the day that changed his life and ended the lives of dozens of others. It was March of 1992, and Willison — a 23-year-old junior officer in the U.S. Marine Corps — was living in South America on a government scholarship studying Spanish. He had barely any money, so he hitched a ride into the city from some Air Force pilots, who dropped him off at a café near their hotel. He didn’t know it at the time, but the coffee shop was just blocks away from the Israeli Embassy. “I was seated right next to a big pane of glass, and I’ve never seen glass bend before. I heard the explosion, and I knew that there was something wrong,” Willison, 53, told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in a phone interview from his home in Dallas.
Earth-shattering: The explosion he heard was a suicide car bomb that leveled the nearby Israeli Embassy, killing 29 people and wounding nearly 250. Most of the victims were Argentinians, including a Catholic priest at a nearby church. Willison remembers the children at the Catholic school next door who “wore these beautiful cornflower blue uniforms, and I remember the images of the bloodstains on their uniforms as they tried to escort them out from the school.”
Right to it: Argentina has accused Iran of orchestrating the attack, although no one has been arrested for their role in the deadly bombing. “The thought that it was a terrorist attack never crossed my mind. I thought it was maybe a gas leak. I didn’t know that it was the Israeli embassy,” said Willison, who jumped up from his table at the café and followed the noise to the chaotic scene of the attack. “I just started pulling people out.”
Cover story: Willison also didn’t know that, as he pulled survivors and victims from the rubble, fashioning tourniquets out of tablecloths from a nearby restaurant, a photographer from a major magazine was documenting the scene. Days later, a photo of Willison holding a bloodied and horrified-looking woman, who held onto him while he appeared to be comforting her, was published on the cover of Gente magazine, a major Argentine weekly. Lea Kovensky, who at the time was a 36-year-old secretary at the embassy, became a lifelong friend.
Make us proud: “Even 30 years later, the Israelis celebrate him and invite him to participate in the commemoration,” said U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Marc Stanley, who met Willison at a 30th anniversary commemoration of the attack in Buenos Aires last month. “I’m sure most Americans don’t know about his heroism, and I wanted to let folks know that there are brave folk among us who engage in heroic acts and make us proud.”
What was gained: The 25th anniversary commemoration, in 2017, is when Willison and Kovensky developed a strong bond. They saw each other again a few months later in Washington, D.C., when they both spoke at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum. Willison received AJC’s Moral Courage Award. “We became one 25 years ago,” Kovensky said in Spanish at the AJC event. Willison and his wife later went to Buenos Aires to spend New Year’s Eve with Kovensky and her family. “I was so fortunate that I gained so much out of a tragic event,” Willison said, “whereas so many of them lost so much out of it.”
follow the money
Bowman challenger Vedat Gashi announces $470K initial fundraising haul
Vedat Gashi, a Democrat who is challenging Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) in New York’s June primary, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel on Tuesday that he has raised nearly $470,000 in “less than a month,” an announcement that comes in advance of the first-quarter filing deadline on Friday. “This is a good start,” Gashi, 43, said in a phone interview. “This is the sort of effort we’re hoping to put in throughout.”
Moderate alternative: Gashi, a Westchester County legislator in Yorktown, is the only remaining challenger in the race. He has cast himself as a moderate alternative to Bowman, a well-known progressive and Squad member. In recent weeks, Gashi has criticized Bowman’s vote against the bipartisan infrastructure package as well as the freshman congressman’s opposition to legislation that would strengthen the Abraham Accords.
‘Considerable effort’: Gashi filed to run in February following the approval of a new House map that drew his residence into Bowman’s 16th Congressional District, which now extends north into Westchester and Putnam counties. The new map is facing a Republican-led court challenge, but Gashi said he was undaunted by the lawsuit. “Whatever the lines are,” he told JI, “we’ve put together a considerable effort so far and we’re not about to abandon it.”
Waiting on Bowman: Having raked in approximately $825,000 since the beginning of 2021, Bowman began the new year with nearly $310,000 on hand, according to the most recent filings from the FEC. Malia Blake, a spokesperson for the Bowman campaign, declined to provide the congressman’s latest fundraising total before the filing deadline at the end of the week. “We are going to wait for now on reporting,” she told JI.
Uphill battle: Even as Gashi has gained some traction, the Westchester Democrat still faces steep odds as he prepares to go up against a powerful incumbent who has largely consolidated support from the activist left as well as a number of establishment Democrats. But with more than two months to go until the primary, Gashi said his growing war chest suggests voters are eager for new leadership. “I think it underscores how ready we are for real change and real representation,” he told JI.
📜 Laws and Order: In the Wall Street Journal, William Galston discusses how the core values of Passover can be applied to today’s political environment. “This year, as I prepare for the arrival of my extended family, something new has struck me. The focus of this Jewish holiday, more than any other, is freedom. Indeed, Passover is called the ‘festival of freedom.’ But the celebration of the holiday is called the Seder, which is Hebrew for ‘order.’ We are required not only to do the right things but to do them in the right sequence. Our conversation always returns to what we must do and when we must do it… The Declaration and the Constitution have long served as the framework of order, normative and institutional, within which the drama of America’s quest for freedom was enacted. When flaws in the Constitution become impossible to ignore, Americans have appealed to the Declaration to guide the Constitution’s correction, as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. did, and to public consent as the source of legitimacy for both formal constitutional amendments and for pathbreaking interpretive shifts such as Brown v. Board of Education.” [WSJ]
✡️ Passover’s Double Meaning: In The Atlantic, Abgail Pogrebin reflects on the upcoming Passover holiday amid a rise in global antisemitism. “I’m struggling this year to reconcile the lessons I’ve taken from the holiday: to help the world, but also to remember how often the world has turned on us. Maybe the seder needs to be a call not only for empathy but also for vigilance. And yet if I reorient my prayers, will the directive I’ve always most valued — to care and to act — be applied chiefly to my family, so that we forget the stranger? I remain committed to my Haggadah’s charge — not just to recount our own oppression, but to resolve not to oppress others. I will hold my fellow Jews to that standard without equivocation. But I’m wrestling now with Passover’s other clarion call: to remember that we had enemies once, and that we have them still.” [TheAtlantic]
🫓 Seder in a Time of War: The Associated Press’ Deepa Bharath looks at how Jewish communities in and around Ukraine are celebrating Passover this year. “In Odesa, [Rabbi Avraham] Wolff is preparing to host two large Seders – one in early evening at the Chabad synagogue for families with young children and a later Seder at a hotel where participants can stay the night, obeying a 9 p.m. curfew. He’s been waving in trucks loaded with Passover supplies – matzah from Israel, milk from France, meat from Britain. ‘We may not all be together, but it’s going to be an unforgettable Passover,’ Wolff said. ‘This year, we celebrate as one big Jewish family around the world.’” [AP]
Around the Web
⚖️ Court Case: Federal prosecutors in western New York dropped charges of fraud in a $500 million case against Rochester developer Robert Morgan following a plea deal to a minor charge involving only a few thousand dollars.
🇺🇦 Reliving History: NPR spotlights the Ukrainian Holocaust survivors who are fleeing their country a second time — in an ironic twist — to safety in Germany.
📉 CNN+, And Minus: CNN is expected to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its planned $1 billion investment in CNN+ over the next four years due to the platform’s low adoption rate since its debut last month.
🎞️ Art Imitates Life: A novel based on the 1981 murder of an Arizona woman is being made into the true-crime limited series titled “Murder of a Jewish American Princess.”
🥪 Pastrami on Wry: A new exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles spotlights the history and pop culture significance of the Jewish deli.
👩 Not Really Sorry: A Rockville Centre, N.Y., woman who went on a tirade about Jewish families moving into the area at a recent town board meeting sent a letter of apology to a local rabbi, while denying to local news that her comments were antisemitic.
🏨 Wrong Note: A German-Israeli singer who claimed he was turned away from a hotel in Leipzig because he was wearing a Star of David is facing charges of slander and making a false accusation.
🎵 Off Key: K-pop group Epex came under fire for including the refrain “crystal night” in a song on their recent album, in what critics have dubbed a reference to the Nazi massacre of Kristallnacht.
🚛 Route to War: Iranian weapons-smuggling networks are reportedly facilitating the transfer of arms from Iraq to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine.
Pic of the Day
Jewish refugees from Odesa, Ukraine (from left) Danya, 21, Gabriel, 21, and Borden, 17, help deliver Passover supplies in Berlin.
Former orthopedic surgeon, he is a Democratic candidate for Alaska’s at-large House seat, Alan Stuart Gross turns 60…
Resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., she spied on the Nazis for the French Free Forces in the latter days of World War II, Marthe Cohn turns 102… Curator and former director of the Louvre, Pierre Rosenberg turns 86… Geneticist and Nobel Prize laureate in medicine, Michael Stuart Brown turns 81… Author and former CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Gloria Feldt turns 80… Managing director at Tiedemann Advisors, Robert D. “Bob” Hormats turns 79… Retired member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-CA) after 10 terms, Susan Carol Alpert Davis turns 78… VP of the New Israel Fund, Paul Egerman turns 73… Actor who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Vincent in the television series “Beauty and the Beast,” Ron Perlman turns 72… Longtime drummer for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and the bandleader for Conan O’Brien on “The Tonight Show,” Max Weinberg turns 71… Partner in Uplands Real Estate Partners, Deborah Ratner Salzberg turns 69… Former member of the U.K. Parliament and the UK’s first-ever minister of state for asylum and immigration under then-PM Tony Blair, Barbara Roche (née Margolis) turns 68… Co-founder of Highbridge Capital Management and a founding board member of the Robin Hood Foundation, Glenn Dubin turns 65… Author of six books and co-host of Democracy Now, Amy Goodman turns 65… U.S. Senator (R-PA) Bob Casey, Jr. turns 62… Youngest-ever Federal Reserve governor from 2006 to 2011, Kevin Warsh turns 52… Guitarist and founding member of the rock group Staind, Aaron Lewis turns 50… CEO and executive director of D.C.’s Sixth & I, Heather Moran… Director of government affairs at CUFI, Alexandria Paolozzi turns 33… Operations and growth strategy officer at Peregrine, Morgan Hitzig turns 32… Director of development at the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, Lauren Epstein… Aharon Lipnitzky turns 20…