👋 Good Thursday morning!
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing today for Tamara Cofman Wittes, the long-delayed nominee to be the U.S. Agency for International Development’s assistant administrator for the Middle East, and Michael Ratney, the former chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Israel who has been nominated as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Cofman Wittes was first nominated nearly a year ago, on July 19, 2021. Her nomination has been held up amid scrutiny of past tweets and comments that some saw as critical of the Abraham Accords.
In tweets on Wednesday, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Israel Policy Forum’s Chief Policy Officer Michael Koplow emphasized Cofman Wittes’ support for the Abraham Accords.
Join us next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. for a special Insider Access event in Washington, D.C., featuring a conversation between Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Jamie Kirchick, author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington. Space is limited, RSVP today.
The mad rush to replace Bobby Rush
When voters on Chicago’s South Side head to the polls later this month for the state’s first-ever June congressional primaries, they’ll face several changes: warm weather, newly drawn congressional boundaries and the first election in 30 years without retiring Rep. Bobby Rush’s (D-IL) name on the ballot. The result is a Democratic free-for-all ahead of the June 28 primary, with 17 Democrats set to appear on the ballot to represent the heavily blue 1st Congressional District. Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch talked to the four candidates who are leading in the polls.
Set the stage: Rush attempted to anoint a successor by endorsing Karin Norington-Reaves, a lawyer and the CEO of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. But the limited polling in the race has shown Norington-Reaves, who is endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, trailing three candidates: Jonathan Jackson, an activist who is the son of the civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson; Pat Dowell, a Chicago alderperson and a former nonprofit administrator; and Jacqui Collins, who has served in the Illinois state Senate for two decades.
Depth of history: Jackson has extensive experience in foreign policy. Jackson, who traveled to Israel with his father in 2006 in an attempt to secure the release of two Israeli pilots from Lebanon, told JI that he opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “I respect the depth of history in other parts of the world, from my travel and from the architecture and the language and the traditions and customs,” he explained. “We have to educate some members of our own Congress that there’s a history here.”
Tikkun olam: Born in segregated Mississippi, Collins, who is 73, said, “I came out of the ‘60s, that generation very much influenced by Dr. King and Robert Kennedy. Faith informs my public policy. So I come out of that tradition of wanting to give voice to the marginalized.” She called Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel a role model, and said her admiration for him inspired her to earn a master’s at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago “to study the origins of social justice, which is in the Torah.”
Do the work: Dowell pointed to her time as chair of the budget committee as an experience that prepared her well for the ideological divisions both across the aisle and within the Democratic Party. As budget chairman, Dowell explained, she has to work “across the various ideologies within the city council, from the regular Democrats and the progressives to the Democratic Socialists to the Republicans to pass a budget that supports every community in Chicago. That’s not an easy feat to get the required votes. But I’ve always tried to create a win-win situation.”
Not Wakanda: Norington-Reaves offered a recent conversation with a friend to explain why she opposes BDS. “He said, ‘Israel is to Jewish people what Wakanda is to Black people,’” recalled Norington-Reaves, referring to the fictional African nation home to the superhero the Black Panther. “I said, ‘Yeah, only Israel is real.’ Wakanda is this fictionalized, beautiful society where you can defend yourself, and you can be safe, and your culture can flourish. And Israel is a real place in which that can happen as an ancestral homeland for practitioners of the Jewish faith. And if BDS is rooted in the premise that Israel should not exist as such, then that’s a problem.’”
on the hill
Senators skeptical an Iran deal will happen following latest classified briefing
A classified briefing on Wednesday between Biden administration officials and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee left many legislators pessimistic about the state of the Iran nuclear talks, which have been stalled for several months, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
No deal: Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who has grown increasingly blunt in recent weeks in his calls for the administration to end the talks, said that he does not feel that the administration is coming around to his point of view, and called the administration’s efforts to address his concerns “a work in progress.” Menendez told reporters to “stay tuned” when asked whether the administration plans to impose additional sanctions on Iran targeting its nuclear program. Politico reported Wednesday afternoon that officials said in the briefing they are considering increasing sanctions on the regime.
At the table: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), one of Congress’ loudest proponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), appeared increasingly pessimistic about the chances for the U.S. to reenter the deal. “Obviously the chances of a breakthrough are much smaller today than they were six months ago,” Murphy told JI, when asked if he felt the administration remains committed to the talks. “I still don’t see any path to protecting the region from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran other than diplomacy.”
Inevitable: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters that he feels that Iran will eventually become a nuclear power regardless of whether an agreement is reached. “I think the question with a deal is whether they’ll have more money to do it faster,” Rubio said. “There may not be a way to keep a government that’s determined to build a nuclear capability from acquiring it eventually. Unfortunately, that’s the real world that we live in.”
Plan B: At a public hearing earlier this month, senators pressed Iran Special Envoy Rob Malley for more details on the administration’s fallback strategy if nuclear talks fail. Legislators were divided over whether the administration had articulated such a plan. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), who is opposed to JCPOA reentry, called the briefing “one of the more informative and significant classified briefings” and said that the committee “got information as to the different options that are available.” Van Hollen, citing public reports, argued that a so-called Plan B “always included lots of different elements,” including a military option. But Rubio told JI, “I don’t think they have a Plan B, certainly not one that’s been shown to us,” a sentiment echoed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Palestinian UN rep denounces IHRA antisemitism definition, as EU antisemitism envoy presents plan to world body
A United Nations briefing on antisemitism became politically charged yesterday when a Palestinian representative to the world body criticized the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism for conflating criticisms of Israel with antisemitism, Jewish Insider’s Jacob Miller reports. Palestinian Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N. Feda Abdelhady Nasser’s remarks occurred at the end of a three-hour U.N. Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) briefing on antisemitism, which featured a new proposal to tackle European antisemitism from the European Union’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, Katharina Von Schnurbein.
Definition disagreement: “It is an undeniable fact that seven of its 11 examples appended to the definition wrongly conflate criticism of Israeli policies and practices in occupied Palestine with antisemitism,” Abdelhady Nasser said. The definition’s examples of antisemitism include Holocaust denial behavior and offensive stereotypes of Jews, in addition to methods of criticizing Israel, including “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”; “applying double standards”; “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism… to characterize Israel or Israelis”; “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”; and “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” Abdelhady Nasser did not specify which parts of the definition she opposed.
EU view: During the briefing, Von Schnurbein unveiled a proposal to combat European antisemitism by stopping anti-Jewish hate, bolstering Jewish life in Europe and promoting Holocaust education. “Europe has a responsibility to act with regards to its history, with regards to the fact that the Holocaust happened on our continent,” she explained, introducing her program. The three-pronged approach, she said, is grounded in the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism. “The definition itself says very clearly that — and this is always the crux and the elephant in the room — that criticism of Israel like that against any other country cannot be considered antisemitism,” she said. “This is part of this definition, and therefore it is no impediment to freedom of speech.”
From Tel Aviv to Athens: Meet the Israeli hotelier taking a gamble on Greek tourism
CORINTHIA, Greece – As a child, Leon Avigad was sure he would be one of two things when he grew up: a spy or a hotelier. While a life undercover still hasn’t panned out, Avigad has fulfilled his other dream as a co-owner of Brown Hotels, one of Israel’s fastest-growing hotel groups. Together with partners Nitzan Perry (his husband) and Israeli businessman Nir Waizman, Avigad appears to have hit on a winning formula: purchasing old, neglected buildings in down-and-out locations and reimagining them as fun and funky travel destinations aimed at entertaining and pampering, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports from Greece.
Retro style: In a retro style – think throwback lighting, rotary phones, record players and other knick-knacks for in-room decor – each of Brown’s hotels tells a story and offers the visitor a distinct vibe, ranging from party-all-night to Paris chic. With 21 boutique lodgings already in Israel (and several more on the way), the group is now shaking up Greece’s tourism industry as it expands from five currently operating urban hotels, the bulk of which are in a less desirable section of Athens, to resort destinations beyond the country’s existing tourism hubs. “We like to stay away from the obvious places,” Avigad, 50, told JI in an interview last week. “Greece is so much more than its islands, and Athens should not only be a stepping-stone for tourists to those islands.”
Rapid expansion: Avigad, whose business card describes him as “founder/storyteller/impresario,” told JI the company currently owns around 40 more properties in Greece that are just waiting to be “Brownized.” And, he said, the company is eying other European destinations such as Croatia, where it already runs one hotel. Such rapid expansion is ambitious for any business but especially risky in the hospitality sector, where the global tourism industry is only just beginning to rebound from two years of COVID-19 restrictions, which saw flights grounded, a steep decline in tourism and in some places, the banning of large gatherings in places such as hotels.
Pandemic opportunity: “We were always very optimistic,” Avigad said of the challenges brought on by the pandemic. He explained that the Brown group took advantage of the shutdowns to begin “rooting” itself in its chosen country, purchasing and renovating defunct former hotels and other structurally interesting buildings, such as the former headquarters of the Greek Communist Party – now a boutique hotel named “Dave Red Athens – son of Brown.” The hotel includes a dungeon-dive bar and leftover graffiti from its more socialist days.
🇸🇦 Policy Projection: Politico’s Elise Labott chronicles the thaw in relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia ahead of President Joe Biden’s trip to the region next month. “Biden’s initial policy was to take a tough line toward Saudi Arabia in public, while also trying to maintain a functional diplomatic relationship behind the scenes — in particular pushing the Saudis to end the war in Yemen and playing a constructive role in regional politics, including vis-à-vis Iraq and Israel. Despite the chilly atmosphere, administration officials acknowledge that the Saudis have largely delivered on Washington’s requests. Since Biden took office, MBS has stepped up efforts to end the war in Yemen, stopped the blockade of Qatar, opened a dialogue with Iran in parallel to Washington’s nuclear negotiations and quietly deepened contacts with Israel. Earlier this year, Saudis took part alongside Israel in U.S.-led maritime exercises in the region. The Biden administration is now trying to broker an agreement between the two countries that allows additional commercial flights traveling to and from Israel to fly through Saudi airspace, and another for the kingdom to assume control of two strategic islands in the Red Sea.” [Politico]
📰 Media Mogul: Puck’s Teddy Schleifer looks at Sam Bankman-Fried’s efforts to expand his staff to include journalism advisors, who will guide the FTX founder as he seeks to drive more media attention to his interest areas. “His aides have been taking meetings across the media business this year and are in talks with several newsrooms right now about possible nonprofit (and for-profit) deals. His team has also been keeping an open mind as to what types of reporting they will fund, although the focus is expected to remain principally on effective-altruism inspired topics, such as pandemic preparedness, which promise to have the greatest possible societal impact per-dollar. The last point is key for Bankman-Fried. To be an effective patron of nonprofit journalism, after all, requires finding the sweet spot between topics that inspire a nonprofit’s sponsor and topics that actually excite a newsroom and its readership, without compromising editorial integrity.” [Puck]
🇮🇱 Playing Politics: In Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller explores the Biden administration’s rationale for supporting Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, even as Bennett’s coalition government nears collapse, and despite major policy disagreements between the two leaders. “Keeping the Bennett coalition afloat and preventing Netanyahu’s return are clearly priorities for the Biden administration. But with the Israeli government teetering, Biden will have his work cut out for him. Assuming the government doesn’t collapse and schedule new elections before Biden’s Middle East trip next month, the U.S. president will want to empower Bennett as much as he can. Reports that Washington is brokering a deal that will incrementally improve relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia will help some. But the medium itself — the trip — is the message. Israelis put great stock in their prime ministers’ ability to manage the U.S.-Israel relationship, which means Bennett will clearly benefit from Biden’s warm embrace, though it won’t be enough to save his government. And for Biden’s politics, as my bubbe used to say about her chicken soup: It can’t hurt either.” [ForeignPolicy]
🎯 Tehran Target: In the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Spyer highlights Israel’s stepped-up efforts to address Iranian threats beyond Tehran’s nuclear program, including the targeting of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials and drone factories. “More broadly, Israel has engaged in a shadow war against Iranian efforts at power-building across the Middle East. Israeli air power has been active in disrupting and damaging Iranian infrastructure in Syria. Individual assassinations have taken place in Syria and probably also in Lebanon. Israeli planes have struck as far afield as Iraq. But the extension of Israel’s campaign against Iran’s nonnuclear subversive activities onto Iranian soil is a new development and a significant escalation. Such a change isn’t merely tactical in nature, and a decision to adopt it wouldn’t have been taken without the prime minister’s approval. The growing perception in Israel is that the Iranian nuclear program can’t be seen in isolation from Tehran’s broader strategy for regional domination.” [WSJ]
👨 Conspiracy Conundrum: NPR’s David Folkenflik interviews the parents of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed in what police believe was an attempted robbery, but whose death was fodder for right-wing conspiracy theorists and Fox News ahead of the 2016 election. “Joel and Mary Rich say they have stood up for their son. But the wild conspiracies around him — whipped up for personal and ideological agendas — have stripped away his good name. In Jewish tradition, babies often are named after loved ones who have died. ‘Seth would have been so proud to have a child named for him,’ Mary Rich says. That can never happen, she adds. ‘If you had the name Seth Rich, you would be harassed all through your lifetime,’ she says. ‘Even if you were a baby and didn’t know crap about any of this, you would endure the harassment.’” [NPR]
Around the Web
🗳️ NY Duo: New York City Mayor Eric Adams endorsed New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in her reelection campaign ahead of this month’s Democratic primary.
🔍 I Spy: A Biden administration official said the White House is “deeply concerned” about the prospect of American defense contractor L3Harris buying spyware technology from the Israeli NSO Group.
⏸️ No Sudden Moves: Officials in Washington have reportedly asked Israel to refrain from steps that could create tensions ahead of the president’s trip to Israel next month.
💰 Appropriations Season: The House Appropriations Committee released a Homeland Security funding bill, which contains $360 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, a $110 million increase from last year; the committee also approved a defense bill that includes $500 million for Israel’s missile-defense program.
⚖️ One Sweet Lawsuit: A Michigan pension fund is suing Unilever, alleging that the conglomerate mishandled the decision by subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s to cease sales in what the ice cream company referred to as “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
📍 Deplatforming Debacle: The Anti-Defamation League said that it is working to remove from the internet a map of Massachusetts Jewish institutions posted by a group supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
📚 Book Bind: The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik looks at the ethical quandary posed by the discovery of a new book by late French author Louis-Ferdinand Céline, an ardent anti-Semite.
✈️ Asset Tracker: Russian-Israeli businessman Roman Abramovich transferred millions of dollars in assets to his children — including two planes worth a combined $400 million — the same month that Russia invaded Ukraine, according to court documents filed by the FBI.
🎶 Music Man: Leonard Bernstein protege Mark Janas shared little-known stories about the legendary music composer and conductor with Bradley Cooper, who is portraying Bernstein in an upcoming Netflix biopic.
👖 Court Case: A federal court ruled that a North Carolina charter school’s dress code, which requires female students to wear skirts and male students to wear pants, is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
💸 Guilty as Charged: An Israeli court convicted a Gaza aid worker on charges of funneling tens of millions of aid dollars to Hamas.
🚀 Three, Two, One: Iran said it plans to test two solid-fuel rockets, after satellite images of the launching pad were released by Maxar Technologies.
🤝 Formidable Friends: Iran and Turkmenistan signed a series of cooperation agreements in Tehran, Iranian state media reported.
Pic of the Day
Jewish LGBTQ activists attended a White House reception last night to celebrate Pride Month in which President Joe Biden signed an executive order on advancing equality for LGBTQI+ individuals. Attendees included Keshet President Idit Klein, JCRC of San Francisco CEO Tyler Gregory, former White House Jewish Liaison Matt Nosanchuck, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten.
Senior correspondent for military and intelligence affairs for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ronen Bergman, turns 50…
Former Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, in 2015 she became the president of Plaza Health Network, Elaine Bloom turns 85… Brigadier-general (retired) in the IDF, then a member of Knesset, and later chairman of Ha’aguda Lema’an Hachayal, Avigdor Kahalani turns 78… Former dean of Yeshiva College, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and U.S. ambassador to Israel for President George W Bush, Daniel C. Kurtzer turns 73… Professor at Nanjing University and China’s leading professor of Jewish studies, Xu Xin turns 73… Rickey Wolosky Palkovitz… Chief investigative correspondent at Yahoo! News, Michael Isikoff turns 70… UC Berkeley professor and Wall Street Journal columnist, Alison Gopnik turns 67… Professor of Jewish studies at the University of Freiburg (Germany), Gabrielle Oberhänsli-Widmer turns 65… Distinguished fellow in Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, Shaul Magid… Southern California resident, Roberta Trachten-Zeve… President of GEM Commercial Flooring Company in Overland Park, Kan., Matthew Elyachar… Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter and bestselling author, he is a past president of Washington Hebrew Congregation, David A. Vise turns 62… Former chair of the Broward County, Fla., JCRC, Keith Wasserstrom… Actor, screenwriter, producer and director, Daniel Zelman turns 55… CEO and founder of NYC-based Marathon Strategies, Philip Keith “Phil” Singer… Geographer and writer, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro turns 43… Singer and songwriter, Benjamin Lev Kweller turns 41… Associate portfolio manager at One8 Foundation, Alyssa Bogdanow Arens… Pitcher for Team Israel, he is now on the roster of the Salt Lake Bees in the Los Angeles Angels organization, Zachary D. “Zack” Weiss turns 30… Admissions counselor at 2U / edX, Perry Chencin… Catcher on Israel’s National Baseball Team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Tal Erel turns 26… Israeli artistic gymnast who won a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Artem Dolgopyat turns 25…