👋 Good Wednesday morning from Washington!
Ed note: In an effort to bring you, the readers, closer to what our team is seeing and hearing, on occasion we’ll be handing over the pen to individual reporters to lead off the Daily Kickoff.
This is Gabby Deutch, Jewish Insider’s Washington correspondent. Washington is abuzz with events and celebrations in the two weeks before Rosh Hashanah. This evening, Jewish politicos will gather at the residence of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog for the Israeli Embassy’s first in-person Rosh Hashanah soirée since 2019 — two ambassadors and one presidential administration ago.
Last night, I walked down the temporary red carpet — yes, really — outside Washington’s Union Station into the Lamplighter Awards, a gala dinner hosted by American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). This year, the ceremony honored Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Norm Brownstein, a founding member and chairman of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, one of Washington’s most prolific and prestigious lobbying firms. Brownstein is known affectionately around Capitol Hill as “America’s 101st Senator,” an honorific first given to him by former Sens. Ted Kennedy and Hank Brown.
During a cocktail hour with a “sizzling shawarma” station, a sushi bar, a kosher charcuterie table and passed platters offering racks of lamb, lawmakers addressed the hundreds of attendees who were gathered inside the ornate banquet room. When attendees moved into the ballroom to start the event, American Friends of Lubavitch’s executive vice president, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, had to interrupt the first speaker — event chair Jeffrey DeBoer, president and CEO of the Real Estate Roundtable — to shush the schmoozing guests.
Speakers included Herzog and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Shelley Greenspan, who assumed the role of White House liaison to the Jewish community over the summer, read a message from President Joe Biden in which he praised the honorees “for their significant contributions to our nation” and lauded Chabad for its “commitment to strengthening the Jewish community.”
Lawmakers representing both parties and dozens of states stopped by. Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), John Boozman (R-AR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also showed up. Several House members also came, including Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY). Former members of Congress Jane Harman (D-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA) and former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) also attended.
Follow @GSDeutch for more Washington updates.
taking care of biz
Bahrain’s business booster in the U.S. is a Jewish woman from Manama
Rose Sager rarely leaves home without what she calls her “Bahrain bag.” It’s a tote bag that says “Bahrain,” something a tourist might bring back from the tiny Persian Gulf nation. It was, for Sager, a conversation piece: As Bahrain’s trade representative in the U.S., her job is to convince American companies to do business in her home country. Even in the unfriendly underground world of the New York City subway, people sometimes ask her about it. Usually, they’re just wondering what Bahrain is. One time, she stayed in touch with a person who asked her about Bahrain and, after hearing from Sager about it, went to visit on vacation. “I find that fascinating to this day,” Sager explained to Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch recently, in her first interview with an American publication.
Blending in: Being Bahrain’s biggest booster is part of Sager’s job description. But unlike nearly three-quarters of her fellow Bahrainis, Sager is not Muslim. As a member of the country’s Jewish community, she is not just in the minority; the country has roughly three dozen Jews out of a population of 1.7 million people. “We just blended into the country like every other religious affiliation. There were no differences,” said Sager. “It was just another group of people.”
New knowledge: When the oil-rich nation normalized ties with Israel two years ago as part of the Abraham Accords, the country came on the radar of many American Jews for the first time. It was not just Bahrain’s Jewish community that many Americans were now discovering; for many, Bahrain itself was an unknown, a little country in a far-flung part of the world. “We’ve started spreading the word, and I feel like that made an impact,” said Sager. “You can go not to every state in the U.S. but to many, and they are now, I feel, more familiar with Bahrain than ever, especially after the Abraham Accords.”
Not always easy: Bahrain was once home to some 1,500 Jews. But after Israel was established in 1948, most of the country’s Jews left for Israel or England due to antisemitic violence in the country. By 1967, when another round of riots broke out following the Six-Day War, just a few dozen Bahraini Jews remained — Sager’s family among them.
Pushing tolerance: The country’s diplomats emphasize the kingdom’s commitment to tolerance and openness, which sets it apart from other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, a close ally. “In some ways, it is more surprising to non-Bahrainis that Bahrain appointed a Jewish ambassador and a trade representative,” said Houda Nonoo, a Jewish woman who served as Bahrain’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2013. “It does not stick out to Rose or me or Bahrainis in general that we would be appointed to our roles.” The two women are cousins.
Pleasant surprise: Despite the country’s acceptance of Jewish Bahrainis, for many years Bahrain and Israel did not have a diplomatic relationship. When Sager heard the news about the Abraham Accords, “it was a major surprise — a pleasant surprise,” noted Sager, who said the news came as a relief. “I never thought I would have a flight going from Manama to Tel Aviv, that was never in my wildest dreams,” she said.
Will Tom Barrett unseat Elissa Slotkin?
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) has proven her electoral mettle in the past two election cycles, eking out victories in a perennially competitive district, including becoming one of only seven Democrats who won a district in 2020 that was also won by former President Donald Trump. State Sen. Tom Barrett, who is challenging Slotkin in Michigan’s new 7th Congressional District, which is centered around Lansing, is hoping to break that pattern, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Party line: Barrett echoed many Republicans this cycle in telling JI he’s running for Congress because he “feel[s] our country is on the wrong track… it’s largely attributable to the failed decisions and bad policy that’s coming out of Washington, D.C., under this current administration.” Barrett’s top policy focuses are also consistent with those of many GOP candidates this cycle: crime, border security, energy prices and, a more recent addition to the playbook, eliminating the Internal Revenue Service staff increases passed in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Extremism angle: Slotkin — a former CIA and Defense Department official who is Jewish— has made domestic extremism, including antisemitism, a key element of her current term in Congress. Barrett said that extremist groups are unacceptable, but blamed Democrats for “overlooking the issues of crime in every city in America.” He continued, “Those are real problems and real issues where real victims have been harmed. I’m not in any way excusing or delegitimizing ethnic intimidation and crimes of that nature. But we also have real crimes with real victims in the moment, right now taking place.” He elaborated that he felt Slotkin, and other Democrats, are “trying to suggest… that every Republican is somehow an extremist. And that’s what I’m drawing the contrast to.”
Afghanistan fallout: Barrett, a military veteran, said the Afghanistan pullout had “emboldened” U.S. adversaries, including Iran. He called for “strong deterrence and strong penalties” against Iran, including a “full-court press” from U.S. allies and partners to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. “My concern,” he continued, “is that they’ve already developed a nuclear weapon…. you can’t undo that once that damage is done, and we have to do a better job of deterrence. We have to do a better job of prevention.”
Reflections: Barrett, who joined the military a few years before 9/11, said that he began his service in the war on terror believing “in my heart” that U.S. troops and American ideals “would be welcomed with open arms,” which, he said, did not happen. His service, he said, taught him that the U.S. military’s mission abroad should not include nation-building. “I think we have to be honest about that,” he explained. “It really taught me that there are unfortunately cultures in the world that dominate certain countries, that don’t value the things that we take for granted and value here in our country.”
Abortion angle: Barrett has recently sought to moderate his public position on abortion. Barrett’s shift in position is reflective of the challenges posed to Michigan Republicans by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Adrian Hemond, CEO of political consulting firm Grassroots Midwest, told JI. Public polling has shown abortion to be a defining issue for Michigan voters, and the Dobbs ruling to be highly unpopular, Hemond explained. “He’s on the wrong side of that issue in terms of where the voters in this district are,” Hemond said of Barrett. “If the election is about a different issue for you, then Republicans are competitive. The problem is that for a large swath of the electorate, this election is about abortion. And that is why you see Republicans trying to talk about anything else.”
Book co-authored by Gab CEO Andrew Torba makes Amazon bestseller list
An obscure new book calling for the construction of “a parallel Christian society” to replace “the failed secular state” — co-written by the controversial founder of a social media platform for white nationalists — seems to be performing surprisingly well on Amazon, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports. In spite of its extremism, the self-published tract — whose title, Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide for Taking Dominion and Discipling Nations, reads like an ominous call to action — eked its way onto a list of Amazon’s best-selling print books on Tuesday evening, just over a week after its release and perhaps even earlier.
Torba trouble: Andrew Torba, one of the co-authors of Christian Nationalism, has worked to build what he describes as “a parallel Christian society on the internet,” even as his website, Gab, has exposed a more sinister reality. The social media forum is widely viewed as a haven for right-wing extremists, open antisemites and white supremacists who have been ejected from mainstream platforms. Torba has often modeled such bigotry himself. Not long ago, for instance, he declared that Jews are not welcome in the conservative movement unless “they repent and accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior” — a view that is echoed in his book.
Reading the charts: While Amazon’s sales rankings are opaque and difficult to interpret, however, the book appears to be holding its own, according to Thad McIlroy, a publishing industry analyst who specializes in e-commerce. “Books like that give me the shudders!” he wrote in an email to JI on Tuesday. “At any rate, I think it is doing genuinely well.” One caveat, McIlroy said, is that Amazon’s rankings “represent sales trajectory rather than total number of copies sold in a given period,” meaning the book’s ostensible success might just be temporary. “I’ve seen in the past that if an author wants to climb quickly up the Amazon lists they try to get friends and associates to buy a lot of copies in a short period of time,” he explained. “But, either way, clearly a lot of books are being sold right now,” McIlroy told JI.
⚖️ A Ruling on Religion: The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn, who is Catholic, looks at the impact of the recent New York State Supreme Court ruling on a religious institution’s right to free exercise — stayed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, temporarily allowing Yeshiva University to bar an LGBTQ student club. “The American promise isn’t only universal freedom for each man to worship God in his own way — but the right to come together freely to form self-governing entities to that purpose. That’s a kind of universalism too. And its reigning impulse is accommodation. This is the universalism my father alluded to when he recognized a kinship with those Orthodox Jews on that Brooklyn corner so many years ago. The issue is only secondarily about who’s right about Jewish law, or whether the YU Pride Alliance should be recognized. The real issue is far more consequential. It’s whether Jews — or any other religious community — decide such questions for themselves.” [WSJ]
🍽️ Dinner Dance: The Washington Post‘s Roxanne Roberts spotlights NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg’s new memoir, Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships, weighing Totenberg’s old-school style of journalism in befriending the justices and judges whom she reported on, in particular a long and deep friendship with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “One woman was brassy and fearless (J. Edgar Hoover called Totenberg a ‘persistent b—-’ in a note to an aide whom she saw); the other soft-spoken and methodical. But they bonded over the lack of professional opportunities for women and the jobs they were denied. What started as a professional connection quickly developed into personal affection and mutual admiration…Though both maintained that the relationship never crossed professional lines, critics saw a conflict of interest or, at the very least, the appearance of bias. Some believe any reporter with a close personal relationship must recuse themselves from covering that person; that would have effectively prevented Totenberg from ever reporting on the court.” [WashPost]
👒 Tube Time: The Times of Israel’s Amy Spiro previews HOT’s newest reality series “Bnot Brak,” which spotlights the lives of five Haredi women living in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. “The five women who star in ‘Bnot Brak’ – a feminine play on the name of Bnei Brak, the largest Haredi city in Israel – represent a new kind of ultra-Orthodox woman: one who doesn’t hide owning a smartphone, has an active social media presence, dresses fashionably and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Despite all they have in common, the five women are still remarkably different in their perspectives, backgrounds and points of view. Shimoni views her time on social media as a necessary evil to promote her business, Halperin believes it is a tool to showcase the beauty of religion and Socolovski uses it to spotlight both her career and her personal life while building her brand.” [TOI]
✡️ Stark Warning: New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait explores how antisemitism has gained a foothold among fringe elements of the Republican Party. “Trump’s rise has reshaped the GOP, driving out some of its constituent elements while bringing in previously excluded factions, the ranks of which include virulent antisemites. The lessons of Hitler’s Germany have been badly overapplied, so it is important to contextualize these events carefully. The GOP may not be an antisemitic party. Indeed, it has managed to maintain a big tent that includes both Jewish ultrahawks like Miriam Adelson and their most paranoid enemies. Nevertheless, it has become a party in which antisemitism has gained a foothold. No recent development in American life has done more to throw American Jews’ safety and civic equality into doubt.” [NYMag]
Around the Web
🗳️ Results Roll In: Karoline Leavitt, a former aide to President Donald Trump who had the backing of House GOP Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY), won the Republican primary in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, edging out a candidate backed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). The GOP Senate race has yet to be called, with Don Bolduc holding a slight lead over state Sen. Chuck Morse, who had the endorsement of Gov. Chris Sununu.
⚖️ Party Foul: The New York Times published an adapted excerpt of David Enrich’s Servants of the Damned: Giant Law Firms, Donald Trump, and the Corruption of Justice that explores GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg’s fractured relationship with the party during the 2020 presidential election.
🗺️ Map Mayhem: Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey raised the ire of Jewish groups in Illinois after he gave a speech to local Palestinian leaders while standing in front of a map of Israel that was labeled “Palestine.”
🐭 Thriving: Former Disney CEO Bob Iger, who served as the company’s chairman for nearly two years before departing at the end of 2021, is joining Joshua Kushner’s Thrive Capital as a venture partner.
🤑 Money Matters: Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel swatted away concerns about a slowdown in content spending by entertainment companies, saying, “Not to burst anybody’s bubble, I don’t see it.”
🏢 High Stakes: Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz’s recent $350 million investment in Adam Neumann’s new rental-apartment startup Flow was reportedly made in return for a stake in Neumann’s large real-estate holding.
📘 The Good Old Days: Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo sits down with Rolling Stone Magazine founder Jann Wenner for a conversation about the latter’s new memoir, Like a Rolling Stone.
🎭 Eyewitness: The New York Times‘ Laura Collins-Hughes interviews actor David Strathairn who portrays Polish World War II hero Jan Karski, who warned the Allies about the Holocaust, in the play “Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski,” which opens on Thursday in Brooklyn.
🏀 Workplace Misconduct: The NBA has suspended Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, for a year and fined him $10 million after an investigation found he “violated common workplace standards,” following allegations of racism and misogyny.
💥 West Bank Violence: An IDF officer was killed in a firefight with Palestinian militants in Jenin overnight.
☢️ Deal or No Deal: Politicoexamines the recent trajectory of nuclear talks with Iran, which are facing another stalemate as Tehran makes new demands.
🕵️ Washington Meeting: Representatives from Israeli’s intelligence and defense ministries, as well as the Shin Bet, met with State Department officials last week to share updated intelligence on its designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups.
🤝 Conflict Resolution: A Lebanese security official said that maritime talks between Israel and Lebanon over offshore gas fields, which have lasted for two years, will conclude in the coming days.
🛰️ Drone Dealing: Ukraine claims Russia is being aided by Iran on the battlefield after Ukrainian forces shot down a drone believed to have originated from the Islamic republic.
🤝 Mending Fences: The National, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, spoke to Bahrainis and Emiratis about how the Abraham Accords have helped them build positive relationships with Israelis.
✈️ TLV Trip: Lt. Gen. Belkhir El Farouk, the inspector general of Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces, is in Israel this week for the International Operational Innovation Conference taking place in Tel Aviv.
🏫 Educational Tool: In a bid to strengthen his block ahead of the November elections, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with two Haredi factions to ensure that their United Torah Judaism political alliance is maintained, with a campaign promise to provide public funding to all Haredi schools, even if they don’t teach the core curriculum.
🕯️ Remembering: Ken Starr, the judge whose investigation into the Monica Lewinsky affair led to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, died at 76. Legendary French film director Jean-Luc Godard, who long faced accusations of antisemitism, died at 91.
Pic of the Day
Honoree Norm Brownstein speaks at the Lamplighter Awards hosted by American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) last night in Washington, D.C.
Executive chairman of MDC Holdings, parent company of Richmond American Homes, past chairman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and longtime AIPAC board member, Larry A. Mizel turns 80…
Actor, writer and director, first known for his role in the original “Star Trek” television series, Walter Koenig turns 86… Basketball coach enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Lawrence Harvey (Larry) Brown turns 82… Partner at San Diego-based CaseyGerry, a specialist in mass torts, Frederick A. Schenk turns 69… Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava turns 67… Plastic surgeon and television personality, Dr. Terry Dubrow turns 64… Chairman and chief investment officer of The Electrum Group, he is the world’s largest private collector of Rembrandt paintings, Thomas Scott Kaplan turns 60… Strategic advisor at Wye Communications, Amy Kauffman… Founder of Vermont-based Kidrobot, a retailer of art toys, apparel and accessories, and Ello, an ad-free social network, Paul Budnitz turns 55… British secretary of state for transport until last week, he was a national president of BBYO, Grant Shapps turns 54… President of Strauss Media Strategies, during the Clinton administration he became the first-ever White House radio director, Richard Strauss turns 53… Managing director at Gasthalter, Mark A. Semer…
Comedian, television actor, writer and producer, Elon Gold turns 52… Managing partner of Berke Farah LLP, Elliot S. Berke… Senior White House reporter for Bloomberg, Jennifer Jacobs… CEO of San Francisco-based Jewish LearningWorks, Dana Sheanin… Public relations professional, Courtney Cohen Flantzer… Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis turns 44… Israeli-American actress, Hani Furstenberg turns 43… Artist, photographer and educator, Marisa Scheinfeld turns 42… Staff writer at The Atlantic, Russell Berman… Co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, Leah Greenberg… Los Angeles-based attorney working as a senior contracts specialist at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Roxana Pourshalimi… New York Times reporter covering national politics, Matt Flegenheimer… Former VP at Hillel International, co-founder of Cunucu Dog Rescue, Jeremy Moskowitz… Founder and owner of ARA Capital, Arkadiy Abramovich turns 29… Deputy commissioner of press and communications at NYC’s Department of Social Services, Julia Savel… Artistic gymnast, she represented Israel at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Lihie Raz turns 19…