👋 Good Thursday morning!
Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry abruptly ended his campaign for the Senate on Wednesday, after a monthslong run in which the Wisconsin Democrat loaned his campaign $12 million from his own finances, reports Jewish Insider’s Jacob Miller. In his announcement, Lasry threw his support behind Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. The sudden announcement arrives less than two weeks before the Democratic primary, and clears a path for Barnes to win the Democratic Senate nomination on Aug. 9, positioning him to face off against Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in November.
In an interview with Jewish Insider shortly after his announcement, Lasry explained his endorsement for Barnes, saying the lieutenant governor has the best shot of beating Johnson and that Barnes “constantly put the constituents in the state above party and above politics.”
Lasry addressed concerns about Barnes’ support for Israel. In a December interview with JI, Barnes expressed openness to conditioning aid to the Jewish state, a statement he has since walked back “[Barnes] is going to go to the Senate and be a strong supporter of Israel,” Lasry told JI, adding, “He’s gonna go in and fight to make sure that the Israelis and the Palestinian people are able to finally come together and live in peace.”
The Milwaukee Bucks executive told JI he plans to take a break from politics and continue running the Bucks, who won the NBA title in 2021. “I’m going to finally be able to take some time to play dad, be a good husband and take some much needed R&R, and then go back to the Bucks and not just work to get Mandela and [Wisconsin Gov.] Tony Evers elected again, but also bring a championship back to Milwaukee,” said Lasry.
Speaking at a virtual event with the Anti-Defamation League yesterday, Amb. Deborah Lipstadt touched on her goals for her new position as special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism and her recent trip to the Middle East.
When asked about her recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Lipstadt talked about changing attitudes in the region. “[One thing] that people said to me before I left for Saudi Arabia was, ‘Are they really going to be willing to discuss this issue with you?’ And I said, ‘Look, my title is ambassador, special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism.’ They know I am not going to talk about COVID or climate change, they know why I am coming. They are willing to listen and hear. Not everyone is on board, I can assure you that. [But] there has been a change, that is without a doubt the case.”
On the hill
Senate Republicans demand answers on suspected Iranian activity in Argentina
Twelve Senate Republicans this week accused the Justice Department of deliberately ignoring requests from the Argentinian government for information about potential Iranian espionage activity, in a new letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Letter writing: The letter, led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), addresses the case of a cargo plane that is being detained by Argentinian authorities. The letter was co-signed by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), James Lankford (R-OK), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Bill Hagerty (R-TN).
Background: The Venezuelan-owned jet was detained in early June in Buenos Aires, along with five Iranians and 14 Venezuelans who made up the plane’s crew. One of the plane’s pilots was found to be a senior official of the cargo airline Fars Air Qeshm — which has been sanctioned by the U.S. and used by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for logistical services. Leaked information from that pilot’s phone has also indicated that he was a member of the IRGC Quds Force, according to regional press reports. The plane was originally owned by an Iranian company under U.S. sanction and recently transferred to a sanctioned Venezuelan state-owned airline.
Raising concerns: The Argentinian government, under a treaty with the U.S., has requested information from the Justice Department for its investigation. The senators claim that the DOJ has ignored the request. “The laws of the United States and the enforcement of those laws, in particular sanctions laws, are not optional. The uncharacteristic delay and lack of responsiveness by the Department of Justice suggests a prioritization of other parts of this administration’s agenda, such as negotiations over a new Iranian nuclear deal,” the letter reads. “This is unacceptable, as justice cannot be administered at the expense of political whims or sensitivities.” The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. diplomat with antisemitic, racist blog still employed by State Dept.
Nearly a year and a half after a U.S. foreign service officer was revealed to be the author of a racist and antisemitic blog, he is still employed at the State Department — and he still posts on the website on a near-daily basis, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
No secret: Fritz Berggren, who has worked with Afghan immigrants and in Bahrain, runs a website called BloodAndFaith[dot]com that frequently assails the Jewish faith, members of the LGBTQ community and Black Americans, and argues that the United States should be a Christian nation-state. In February 2021, Politicofirst reported Berggren’s connection to the site, where his name is displayed prominently. (His State Department affiliation is not listed on the website.)
Still employed: “Mr. Berggren is still a department employee,” a State Department spokesperson told Jewish Insider this month. “We cannot comment on individual personnel matters,” the spokesperson said, but added that “allegations that an employee has violated a law, regulation, or department policy are taken seriously.” The spokesperson declined to say where Berggren is posted.
Tough standard: Firing a foreign service officer is a difficult task: As commissioned officers, they have certain job protections, and the government’s burden of proof that misconduct is worthy of dismissal is high. Federal regulations allow the secretary of state to “separate” a member from the Foreign Service for any reason, as long as it relates to the “efficiency of the service.”
Hate language: “This, to me, is so egregious, and so blatantly hate language. But I don’t know if he’s claiming that it’s his freedom of speech, or that he hasn’t threatened anybody,” a retired senior foreign service officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters, told JI. “I would suspect the State Department’s trying to avoid a lawsuit.”
Is a two-state solution still viable?
When President Joe Biden visited Israel and the West Bank earlier this month, he emphasized his administration’s unwavering commitment to two states — one Israeli, and one Palestinian — as a solution to the decades-old intractable conflict. The tagline, which he repeated in Jerusalem to Israelis and in Bethlehem to Palestinians, was noble, but for many Israelis and Palestinians, who see no real push or effort to kick-start a process that would bring about this solution, the words rang hollow. Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash spoke to two Israeli and two Palestinian experts working in, or monitoring, the peace-building field about the viability of the “two states for two people” model.
Low support: Pollster and political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin told JI that support for a two-state solution on both sides was its lowest ever. “I don’t recall ever seeing support [for a two-state solution] as low as it is now,” she said. “Based on current developments, we’ve reached a point where, politically, both sides have a government that is either completely committed to avoiding that solution or is completely incapable of delivering it. The public on both sides is deeply aware of this.” A proponent of an alternative concept of a confederation between Israelis and Palestinians, Scheindlin, said, “The test of history is in, we’ve tried many times to reach a two-state solution and we have not been able to, based on the vision that was worked out.”
One state or two?: Recent polling of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion on the topic is mixed. An Israel Democracy Institute study carried out last month, found that a minority of Israeli Jews would support a two-state solution if it was put forward as part of a peace agreement today. A Geneva Initiative survey asking Israelis if they support or oppose launching negotiations with Palestinians on the basis of a two-state solution found around 51% still in favor. On the Palestinian side, recent surveys carried out by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research show that Palestinian support for the concept is also declining, with support for a one-state solution with Palestinians and Israelis on the rise.
🤳 ‘Gram Gripe: In The Washington Post, Iranian activist Masih Alinejad explains the challenges she faces on Instagram, which has restricted her account and limited the reach of her posts. “Technical issues happen; social media restrictions aren’t necessarily proof of censorship or nefarious influence. But there’s a troubling pattern here. Why did the system restrict my account right at the moment when I was about to promote a protest against compulsory hijab? If algorithms have the power to restrict accounts, can the Iranian regime game those systems in its own favor? And then there’s the human factor. Many Iranians have been accusing Instagram and Facebook content moderators of deleting or censoring accounts that track the regime’s human rights abuses. In May, Iran International blamed Instagram for removing images of security forces beating protesters and firing tear gas into crowds.” [WashPost]
🎶 Tune Talk: The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg chronicles the rise in popularity of Jewish a cappella, which has grown in recent years due to several factors, including the easy sharing of videos and the development of films and television shows about singing groups. “In some ways, a cappella music has become an American Jewish tradition, with new videos dropping around each major holiday. The vocal groups have also embraced pop-culture parodies as a way to combine Jewish themes with music that is familiar to a more general audience. ‘Jewish musicians have always borrowed modes and melodies from the surrounding culture, but the specific “holiday a cappella parody” video and song have become a major part of the genre,” said [Maccabeats musical director Julian] Horowitz. ‘These videos can often garner media attention, and they’ve led to an expansion of the fan base beyond those who would typically listen to either a cappella or Jewish music.’” [TheAtlantic]
🖼️ Nifty Business: In Variety, Shirley Halperin interviews music mogul Guy Oseary, who has expanded his work managing the careers of today’s top talent to focus on non-fungible tokens, or NFTS. “Oseary has a distinct vantage point on Israel and the many issues that have roiled the region for centuries. He was born to parents of Moroccan and Yemenite descent and spent his childhood in Jerusalem raised with what he calls ‘Jewish Arabic culture.’ He has wittingly inserted, and asserted, himself as an unofficial ambassador of Israel to the entertainment world at large.” [Variety]
Around the Web
🔬 Under the Microscope: Israel’s NSO Group, which produces the Pegasus spyware, came under congressional scrutiny and bipartisan criticism at a House Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday.
🎉 Start the Party: Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman are leading the creation of a new political party.
🍦 Cold Shoulder: Unilever CEO Alan Jope suggested that subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s refrain from “straying into geopolitics.”
📱 Bad Gab: Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Doug Mastriano is facing growing criticism over his relationship with the founder of Gab, whose founder has made veiled antisemitic comments.
⚖️ No-good Nazi: A former Marine accused of leading a neo-Nazi group planning an attack on a New York synagogue faces up to 20 year in prison if convicted.
📽️ History’s Lens: Axios’ Mike Allen interviews documentarian Ken Burns about his upcoming three-part series on the Holocaust.
💬 Orban’s Orbit: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is set to speak at next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference despite controversy over comments that were compared to sentiments voiced by the Nazis.
🤝 Mideast Meetup: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman to discuss improving relations within the region.
🌊 Sea Troubles: Israel updated its proposal to the U.S. over a maritime dispute with Lebanon, days before Amos Hochstein, the Biden administration’s energy envoy, travels to Beirut.
🇷🇺 Moscow Mission: Israel is sending a delegation to Moscow to meet with officials about the potential move to close the Russian branch of The Jewish Agency for Israel.
🇮🇱 Core Country: Apple is building its third research and development center in Israel, which will be located in Jerusalem and will focus mainly on the company’s M1 processors.
🎥 Picture Perfect: Variety looks at Israel’s positioning as a “prime production locale,” citing its diverse landscape and historical landmarks as particularly beneficial for filming.
☢️ Nuke Deal: Brett McGurk, the Biden administration’s Middle East coordinator, said a revival of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal is “highly unlikely.”
🛑 Detained: Iran said it detained a number of Kurdish militants, whom state media alleged were working for Israel and were planning an attack on a defense plant in the city of Isfahan.
🚢 Return Trip: An Iranian tanker is expected to retrieve its cargo of oil and sail back to Iran after it was detained in a Greek port, following a Greek court ruling in a case that has strained relations between Athens and Tehran.
Pic of the Day
Rabbi Tzvi Alperowitz, who recently opened Chabad of Martha’s Vineyard, takes a photo with former late night host David Letterman.
Actress and reality show personality, Elizabeth Berkley Lauren turns 50…
Survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau as a teen, he emigrated to Israel and became an artist, Yehuda Bacon turns 93… Chicago news personality, Walter David Jacobson turns 85… Former U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan, then U.S. attorney general, now of counsel at the international law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, Michael Mukasey turns 81… Swedish industrialist, chairman of the Nobel Foundation (manager of the Nobel Prize) from 2005 to 2013, Marcus Storch, Ph.D. turns 80… In 1986 she became first woman in the IDF to hold the rank of Brigadier General, former member of Knesset, Amira Dotan turns 75… President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard N. Haass turns 71… Sports columnist, commentator and author of 45 sports-related books, John Feinstein turns 66… Tel Aviv-born real estate developer, he has restored many historic buildings in Downtown Los Angeles, Izek Shomof turns 63… Partner and managing director of private investment bank DH Capital, he serves on the boards of American Jewish World Service and Hazon, Marty Friedman… French-Israeli hairdresser and entrepreneur, Michel Mercier turns 61…
Sports executive, attorney and former president of basketball operations for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, David Kahn turns 61… Member of the 2022 Maccabi USA Masters Ice Hockey Team, Steve Kohn turns 58… Television and radio personality in Atlanta, Mara Davis turns 53… Tech entrepreneur and investor, Joshua M. “Josh” Linkner turns 52… Co-founder and CEO of the personal genomics and biotechnology company 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki turns 49… Jewish life venture fellow at the William Davidson Foundation, Jennifer Lew Goldstone… Jerusalem-born actor with more than 30 movie and television roles in the U.S., Ori Pfeffer turns 47… Associate justice of the Supreme Court of California, Leondra Kruger turns 46… Managing partner at Altitude Ventures, a healthcare venture capital firm, Jay Zeidman… Senior reporter at Bloomberg News, Laura Nahmias… Chairwoman and chief technology officer at Diagnostic Robotics in Jerusalem, Kira Radinsky, Ph.D. turns 36… Former assistant general manager for the Washington Nationals, now a senior fellow at Wharton, Samuel Mondry-Cohen… Director of operations at Lehigh Valley Homecare in Allentown, Pa., Menachem “Mark” Perl… National political enterprise reporter at The Washington Post, Ruby Cramer… Larry Gordon…