👋 Good Friday morning!
Yesterday brought the second blow of the week for investment giant Morningstar, as a group of Republican financial officers from 17 states sent a letter to the company claiming its environmental, sustainable and governance scores system is “deeply infused with anti-Israel bias” in “apparent alignment with the Boycott, Divestment [and] Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
Morningstar has come under scrutiny in recent months for the ESG products provided by its subsidiary, Sustainalytics. The company has pledged to implement reforms, while denying that it supports the BDS movement.
“Many of our states have investments in Israel, and we view Sustainalytics’ practices [as] a direct attack on those investments,” the letter, obtained by Jewish Insider, reads. “As Americans who strongly support Israel – a close democratic ally of the United States – we are also deeply disturbed by a corporate culture at Morningstar that would allow researchers to rely on sources aligned with the anti-Semitic BDS movement.”
The letter alleges that state contractors “rely upon Morningstar and other firms for unbiased financial research” and that “as state financial officers, we have a fiduciary duty to ensure that the financial research our respective states rely upon is based on sound financial principles rather than BDS movement tactics.”
The letter follows our scoop earlier this week that Arizona’s state treasurer — one of the signatories to the most recent letter — notified Morningstar last week that she intends to blacklist Morningstar under anti-BDS legislation, the first state to do so. Some of the signatories to the Thursday letter are responsible for maintaining their states’ respective anti-BDS registries.
The BDS-related criticisms of ESG investing come amid a recent broader push by Republicans against ESG and other manifestations of “woke capitalism” — what Bloomberg describes as an effort to “to wipe ESG off the financial map.”
The group that organized the letter, the State Financial Officers Foundation, a group of Republican state officials, has been critical of ESG investing more broadly, as have some of the individual signatories.
Auburn hoops coach Bruce Pearl: ‘Even in the midst of 1,000 rockets, we felt safe’
In March, Auburn University men’s head basketball coach Bruce Pearl was asked during a press conference if he and his team would be joining the pledge started by Stanford University women’s head basketball coach Tara VanDerveer to donate $10 to Ukraine for every three-pointer sunk during March Madness. His answer, which was ultimately a “yes,” was given by way of a semi-long-winded explanation of the Purim story. In a nutshell: Queen Esther saved her people despite being safe herself in the castle, so he too would give help to Ukraine, despite not facing the same threats at home.
The connection between Purim, Ukraine and sports may not have seemed abundantly clear at first, but for Pearl, Judaism and basketball have long gone hand-in-hand. A strong supporter of Israel, the Boston native has visited the country on several occasions — often as part of Jewish-Christian interfaith missions, but most recently with his team from Auburn, where they both toured the country earlier this month and faced off against Israel’s national teams, Pearl recalled during an interview with Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast.”
Bringing the Bible to life: “It very much brought their Bible alive. And if it wasn’t their Bible, it was their mom’s Bible or their grandmother’s Bible, somebody in their family is a churchgoer, and they got to see and feel [that] themselves,” Pearl said, referring to how the trip touched his players. “And then the next day, it was the Western Wall, and it was the City of David, and it was Yad Vashem. And we focused on some of these Jewish, historical, religious sites, and they got that.”
A passion for Israel: Seeing his players in Israel was important to Pearl not only as their coach, but also as someone with deep love for the country. Pearl told podcast co-host Rich Goldberg that one of his passions is gaining allies for the Jewish people and for Israel.
Teaching positivity: “I’m not trying to change the hearts and souls and minds of the people that hate us, because they hate us. They’ve been taught to hate us and it’s really hard to change those minds. But there are a lot of people that don’t know, that haven’t been affected yet, that may be on the fence or that someday are going to face and see some real antisemitism, or experience some Israel hate. And now these kids are going to be in a position to handle it a little differently,” he said.
‘Let them experience it’: “Honestly, you don’t need to do much persuading. Just let the kids, let people see it, let them experience [it]. Let them see how much the people there love the land, love their history, love their country,” he added.
ballot to beacon hill
The Irish Jewish activist hoping to be the youngest state senator in Massachusetts
Growing up in Western Massachusetts, Sydney Levin-Epstein had a unique weekend routine. Each Saturday morning, she went to Shabbat services in Springfield, a nod to her father’s religion. When the service ended, she would wait with her rabbi for her parents to pick her up and take her to Irish dance classes — a hobby inherited from her mother’s culture. Now, after several years away in Washington, D.C., the 27-year-old Levin-Epstein is back in her hometown of Longmeadow, Mass., mounting a bid for the Massachusetts state Senate.
Relentless approach: “Being raised in a Jewish household with Irish practices gave me this brutal and relentless attitude to life. I really can handle anything,” she told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch over coffee in Boston, the city where Levin-Epstein hopes to work — and to disrupt — as a politician from the oft-forgotten western part of the state. Central to Levin-Epstein’s campaign is a strongly held belief that Western Massachusetts is too often forgotten by the state’s power brokers on Beacon Hill, leaving much of the state isolated from the economic and cultural power in Boston.
In his shoes: Levin-Epstein, a Democrat, hopes to follow in the footsteps of Eric Lesser, her longtime neighbor and the district’s current state senator, who bowed out of his seat to run for lieutenant governor in the Bay State’s Sept. 6 primaries. Lesser, who also grew up heavily steeped in the Jewish community around Springfield, was first elected at age 29.
It’s personal: For Levin-Epstein and her family, the economic issues she hopes to fight are personal. Her family owned a sporting goods store that shuttered when she was in high school due to the opening of big-box stores such as Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Her father closed the store when the family could no longer afford health insurance. He got a job as a TSA agent at the nearby Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. She wanted to go to school out of state, but needed to save money first. She spent a year at a community college in Springfield while working odd jobs that included babysitting and even a stint in a Tweety Bird costume at Six Flags New England in Springfield. She then transferred to The George Washington University.
Jewish roots: Levin-Epstein quickly got involved in Jewish life at GW, and in particular pro-Israel advocacy on campus. Her father had made aliyah and served in the Israel Defense Forces after he graduated from college, but “I didn’t have an appreciation of this until I started to just deepen my understanding of what it means to be a Zionist, and to be a Jewish woman in the political space,” she said. “I found my voice by advocating for the U.S.-Israel relationship as an undergrad, and it helped me understand the political landscape through different trainings that were available to college students,” she said, noting that she spent time with the campus chapters of both AIPAC and J Street, and on the student board of GW Hillel.
scene in switzerland
In Basel, World Zionist Organization to mark Herzl’s vision 125 years on
More than 1,200 philanthropists, leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs from 38 countries will gather in Basel, Switzerland, on Sunday and Monday to celebrate 125 years since Theodore Herzl convened the first World Zionist Congress there and set in motion a movement that would result in the modern-day State of Israel, Lev Gringauz reports for eJewishPhilanthropy.
Past, present, future: “Words cannot describe the excitement and emotion,” Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization, which is hosting the conference, told eJewishPhilanthropy. “We’re not only going to be dealing with the historical facts, but we are going to be looking into the future…of the Zionist movement.” Hagoel sees Jewish unity as a defining issue for this year’s conference, alongside concerns about antisemitism; encouraging Jews worldwide to learn more Hebrew and move to Israel; and countering what he sees as Jewish assimilation and loss of identity.
Back to the beginning: The gala for this year’s conference will be held at the Stadtcasino Concert Hall, where the original World Zionist Congress met. The rest of the conference features a variety of panels and speakers, ranging from Yossi Cohen, former director of the Mossad and current head of Israel investment for the Japanese firm Softbank, to Judge Ruchie Freier in Brooklyn, dubbed the “hasidic superwoman of night court” by The New York Times.
Still relevant: Another speaker, professor Yedidia Stern, president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, will explore the lessons that Jews should take away from Herzl’s original congress: namely, how to address widespread divisions in Israel and the broader Jewish world over matters of Jewish identity, Zionism and politics. Herzl managed, “despite all the disputes, to reenergize the idea…that Jews can act together to achieve their goals,” Stern said. ‘The main lesson is commitment to democracy, commitment to rules of the game in an era of disputes.”
🛫 Kingdom Come: In the Wall Street Journal, David Shuker, who fled his home country of Saudi Arabia in 1948, makes a public plea to be allowed to visit the kingdom while he is still physically able. “After the State of Israel was established in 1948, the Jews were called by the king’s representatives to gather in the main square. A convoy of camels was waiting there for 260 people, mostly children like me. I was born in 1944. Our families’ belongings were loaded onto the camels and before sunset we began walking toward the Yemeni border. As my 80th birthday approaches, I long to return, to see my parents’ home and pray at the graves of my ancestors. I am eager to refresh the memories of my happy childhood, to taste once again the sweet dates, and to see the ‘Qasr al-Yahud,’ Castle of the Jews, in a city that has expanded and developed dramatically since we left. It was painful to learn about the missiles launched by the Houthis against Najran in the last few years, and I’m glad to know that most of the damage has been repaired.” [WSJ]
🎭 A Passion Play for Today:The New York Times’ Michael Paulson visits Oberammergau, Germany, which has staged a passion play roughly every decade since the early 17th century, though some central themes, depictions and restrictions have changed in recent years. “All the male Jewish characters, whether they support Jesus or oppose him, wear skullcaps. (At a dinner this month, Passion Play actors and American Jewish college students traded tips on how best to keep skullcaps from falling off.) Jesus recites several blessings in Hebrew, and, in an innovation first introduced in 2010, the entire Jewish community — meaning hundreds of actors onstage — sings Shema Yisrael, the quintessential Jewish prayer. The blood curse has been dropped, and Jesus’ death sentence is pronounced and performed by the Roman government — at one point, Pilate is shown making a slashing motion across his neck as he floats the idea to high priest Caiaphas — with support from some, but not all, in the Jewish community.” [NYTimes]
🗳️ Center Lane: The Washington Post’s James Hohmann assesses the state of the Democratic Party following Dan Goldman’s primary victory in New York’s 10th Congressional District, which saw the impeachment attorney running against incumbents who lean to the left of the party. “Goldman does not have the standard profile of a Democratic congressman from Manhattan. An heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, he invested $4 million of his own money to outspend his nearest rival threefold in the world’s most expensive media market. Financial disclosures put Goldman’s net worth as high as $253 million. That’s a lot of blue jeans. But his relentless focus on stopping Trump — now or later — made up for any shortcomings on ideology. All this suggests Democrats see an advantage in a more moderated message — away from the socialist fringe that seemed fashionable after 2018, and toward a center that can lure independents and Republicans offended by Trumpism.” [WashPost]
🇪🇬 Tough Neighborhood: Haaretz’s Zvi Bar-El considers the challenges facing the Israel-Egypt relationship, amid Israel’s evolving relationships in the region and against the backdrop of recent tensions between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. “Every time Egypt is asked to mediate between Israel and Palestinian organizations in Gaza, the fragile balance between Islamic Jihad and Hamas, and between them and Israel’s pressure and threats, is put to the test – as are Egypt’s diplomatic abilities. Maintaining this balance always exacts a price, whether it means promises to invest in Gaza, issuing more work permits, making it easier for construction material and other goods to enter Gaza, or releasing prisoners.” [Haaretz]
Around the Web
⚖️ International Incident: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is facing a lawsuit in a U.S. court from survivors and families of victims of the 1988 government crackdowns overseen by Raisi.
💪 Strong Defense: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida for the first visit by a sitting Israeli defense minister to CENTCOM, said Washington and Jerusalem will “continue to expand cooperation in the face of Iran’s aggression.”
🕍 Homecoming: The Jewish community of Helena, Mont., closed on the purchase of the state’s first synagogue, built in 1891 and eventually sold to the city before coming under the ownership of Helena’s Roman Catholic Diocese.
🎞️ Great Escape: Oscar-winning director Aaron Schneider will helm “Untold,” which chronicles the life of Holocaust survivor Rudi Vrba, the first prisoner to escape from Auschwitz.
🎥 Arthouse Buy: Cohen Media Group announced the acquisition of HanWay Films.
🚀 Marching Orders: Militants in Rafah in the Gaza Strip held a parade in which they displayed life-sized replicas of rockets and posters of slain commanders, weeks after a military conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
☢️ Vienna View: Mossad head David Barnea said that a revived nuclear deal with Iran would be “a strategic disaster” for Israel.
✍️ Militant Indicted: Israel filed terror charges against Bassam al-Saadi, a senior member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad who was arrested earlier this month in the West Bank.
💼 Transition: Herbie Ziskend, who has served as a senior communications advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris, will join the White House as a deputy communications director.
🕯️ Remembering: Political scientist Howard Rosenthal, who taught at Princeton, NYU and Carnegie Mellon, died at 83. Sports agent Howard Slusher, known for his stubborn negotiating tactics, died at 85.
Pic of the Day
Students from the YULA Boys High School, a yeshiva in Los Angeles, line up and celebrate teacher Julio Castro (center), as they surprise him after raising $30,000 to buy a new car for Castro, who normally commutes by bus or scooter.
Venture capitalist, social policy researcher and philanthropist, Freada Kapor Klein, pictured here with her husband, Mitch Kapor, turns 70…
Rabbi (now emeritus) of Congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman turns 95… Financial advisor in the Baltimore office of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, George Strum… CEO of Siegelvision, a brand identity consultancy, he is also the founder and chairman emeritus of global brand strategy firm Siegel+Gale, Alan Siegel turns 84… Owner of You Save On Meds, Martin J. Portnoy… Mayor of Tel Aviv since 1998, Ron Huldai turns 78… Partner at the D.C. law firm of Williams & Connolly, Robert B. Barnett turns 76… Former Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, Irving Slosberg turns 75… Sales representative for ADT Security, Jay Caplan… Co-owner of Rochester, New York-based August Moon Imports and World Tae Kwon Do Center, Jane August… Board chair of Gap, Robert J. Fisher turns 68… EVP and managing director of polling and consulting at The Mellman Group, Michael J. Bloomfield… Journalist and co-author of the Freakonomics series, Stephen J. Dubner turns 59… Member of the Maryland Senate, Shelly L. Hettleman turns 58… President of NARAL Pro-Choice America until last year, Ilyse Hogue turns 53… CFO at Cornerstone OnDemand, Perry Wallack… CEO of Fast Forward Innovations, a Canadian venture capital firm, Lorne Abony turns 53… Partner at Silly Zak’s Gluten Free Bakery in Medford, Ore., Robert Sacks… Professor at the Olin Business School of Washington University in St. Louis, Steven Malter turns 49… Deputy general counsel at ICANN, Samantha Eisner… Founder and CEO of Inside Revolution, Ariel Maurice Ratner… Rapper, known professionally as Kosha Dillz, Rami Matan Even-Esh turns 41… Member of the Knesset for Yesh Atid, she serves as Minister for Social Equality and Minorities, Meirav Cohen turns 39… John Train… Carrie Shapiro…