👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Shana tovah! In the first Daily Kickoff of 5783, we talk to Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog about how his years of experience navigating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now serve him well in a divided Washington. We also take a look at Elon Musk’s efforts to bring the internet to Iran, where the country’s leaders have cut off internet access. Also in today’s newsletter: Eyal Hulata, Kevin McCarthy and Janet Yellen.
A U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue on technological cooperation is set to be launched at a White House event today, with an Israeli delegation led by Innovation Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata.
The meeting comes after Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Joe Biden signed the Jerusalem Declaration in July, a roadmap for the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance covering issues ranging from the threats posed by Iran to the Palestinian question to shoring up and expanding regional peace, and preparing for climate change and food security.
Today’s meeting will include senior officials from various government bodies. Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Andrea Palm, Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk will take part in the event, as well as senior officials from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.
The goal of the gathering is to “reach understandings and build mechanisms for concrete cooperation that will enable upgrading technological cooperation between the countries in the short term,” according to a statement from Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office.
The meeting comes ahead of a convening next week of the revived E.U.-Israel Association Council, which has not gathered for nearly a decade. Lapid is expected to travel to Brussels for the gathering on Monday.
diplomat in the district
Amb. Mike Herzog uses his peace negotiating skills to break D.C.’s partisan divide on Israel
Since arriving in the U.S. last November, Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog’s assignment has been relatively straightforward: restore a sense of normalcy to U.S.-Israel relations, which grew frayed among Democrats and Likud leaders during a tumultuous few years in both Washington and Jerusalem. When it comes to appearances, President Joe Biden’s administration and the Israeli ruling coalition seem eager to cooperate. “I know that from time to time you hear voices asking questions about our relations. But I say it with conviction, our relations with the administration and with the American people are strong and solid,” the usually taciturn Herzog told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in an hour-long interview at the Israeli Embassy.
Season’s greetings: Herzog has held a lot of important jobs over the years — soldier, diplomat, negotiator — but rabbi is not one of them. Still, as an emissary of the Jewish state, he won’t let the High Holidays pass without at least offering some words of Torah. (His grandfather, after all, was Ireland’s chief rabbi a century ago.) “Rosh Hashanah is a chag, a festival where you do some soul-searching, and you think about how to correct and improve your relations with one another and with God almighty,” Herzog said, noting that he wanted to tie these themes to “the current geopolitical situation.” “Even though Israel is a thriving nation and very successful,” Herzog continued, “we are ever challenged, and we cannot sit on our laurels. I think Rosh Hashanah is a good time to reflect on that and think where we can do better.”
On the Hill: Herzog and his wife, Shirin, accompanied the president and First Lady Jill Biden on their trip to Israel in July (Biden’s first as president), which Herzog called a “remarkable visit.” There have been no fireworks in Herzog’s tenure, except for when Shirin comes out and sings at parties. Instead, Herzog has overseen a quiet mending of ties with skeptical congressional Democrats, even those who are often critical of Israeli actions.
Inherited reality: “I hear from some Democrats, saying that there was no real dialogue between them and the State of Israel in the past few years, and they would welcome such dialogue,” Herzog said. “I’m not saying it to pass criticism on anybody or accuse anybody. I’m reflecting a certain reality that I encounter here.” He has witnessed an “erosion in bipartisan support for Israel,” in recent years, some of which is a result of “developments here in the U.S. which have nothing to do with us.”
Administration, lawmakers support Elon Musk effort to bring satellite internet to Iran
SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s effort to provide internet to Iranian citizens via SpaceX subsidiary Starlink may be moving forward, after receiving backing from the Treasury Department and a diverse group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Treasury moves: The Treasury Department announced on Friday that it was adding exemptions to sanctions on Iran to allow technology companies to provide the Iranian people with internet service and access to internet platforms and services outside of the country. “With these changes, we are helping the Iranian people be better equipped to counter the government’s efforts to surveil and censor them,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a press release.
Congress weighs in: Ahead of that announcement, Musk’s efforts received backing from 20 members of Congress from both parties, spanning the ideological spectrum from Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). They wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging her to clarify relevant regulations and grant any necessary licenses to expand internet access in Iran.
Obstacles: But actually connecting Iranian dissidents to Starlink’s satellites will be easier said than done. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment focused on Iran, tweeted on Sunday that he had spoken to Musk about the Starlink project, acknowledging that Musk “suspect[s] the [Iranian] government will not support” the import of the thousands of ground-based transmitters necessary for the system to function. Sadjadpour said that it would cost “many millions of dollars to set and sustain thousands of Starlink terminals to Iran” and likely require significant support from the U.S. government to move the transmitters into the country.
Gulf-Israel train project chugs into political, financial obstacles
Knitting together the Middle East with a network of train tracks has been a dream of transportation planners for over a century. The vision persists today as part of ongoing efforts to link the six Gulf states through an east-west rail network that would span Saudi Arabia and connect with the Red Sea. However, tying the project to a northern route that leads through Jordan to Israel’s Mediterranean port of Haifa – a notion floated amid the exuberance of the Abraham Accords – is still a long way off, Saeb Rawashdeh reports for The Circuit. Just as the megaproject was suspended more than 100 years ago, the politics and multibillion-dollar cost involved mean it will probably remain on the shelf for years to come.
History lesson: The history of the never-completed Hejaz railroad, which was built by the Ottomans in 1908 so that Muslims from parts of Asia and Europe could make the hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, is a saga that illustrates the idea’s appeal and serial failures. Designed at the beginning of the 20th century by German engineers, the railway ran some 820 miles (1,320 kilometers) of rocky desert trail from Damascus to Medina, Islam’s second holiest city, stopping 220 miles short of Mecca. It wasn’t until four years ago that Saudi Arabia built the high-speed Haramain rail line connecting the two sacred sites at a cost of about $16 billion. By then, the Hejaz was a tin-can artifact with no connection across the Saudi border. Besides its original north-south route, the Hejaz – named for the ancient western kingdom in Saudi Arabia – included a branch line running west to connect with Haifa.
Syria struggle: Until the Syrian civil war over the past decade made travel too dangerous, the Hejaz ran passenger service between Amman and Damascus, while the line south of Amman was utilized to carry phosphate from mines near Ma’an to Aqaba. But instead of stimulating regional trade, urban development and agriculture, the railway stagnated and became a neglected relic of the past. Because of the war, the Syrian portion hasn’t been included in current plans for the railway’s restoration. Still, James Nicholson, author of The Hejaz Railway, said, “there has been some talk about the possibility of restoring the main line back to use. The central argument against the revival of the railway is the availability of other forms of transport,” such as air and road travel, he added.
💥 Revolutionary Ideas:The New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins interviews Iranian-American dissident Masih Alinejad, who fled Iran 13 years ago and has become a leading voice for human rights from exile. “Most of Alinejad’s followers live in Iran, making her one of the country’s most powerful voices. Since 2014, she has worked a simple formula to devastating effect. She has called on women inside Iran to record themselves defying the hijab rule and to send her the evidence. Thousands of women have obliged, and Alinejad has posted videos and photos of them showing their hair to accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Those sites are blocked by the country’s dictatorship, but, by making use of virtual private networks, many Iranians have seen them anyway. Millions have been able to witness the bravery of their fellow-citizens and to see how widely their views are shared — which, in the stifling environment of modern Iran, would otherwise be impossible.” [NewYorker]
🏃♂️ Primary Colors: The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey, Isaac Arnsdorf and Marianna Sotomayor report on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) efforts to boost more mainstream primary candidates over those running campaigns playing to the far-right fringes of the Republican Party. “Targeting [outgoing North Carolina Rep. Madison] Cawthorn was part of a larger behind-the-scenes effort by top GOP donors and senior strategists to purge the influence of Republican factions that seek disruption and grandstanding, often at the expense of their GOP colleagues. The political machine around McCarthy has spent millions of dollars this year in a sometimes secretive effort to systematically weed out GOP candidates who could either cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes House speaker or jeopardize GOP victories in districts where a more moderate candidate might have a better chance at winning…. In safe Republican districts, controversial Republicans like former New York state party chair Carl Paladino, Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini and Trump-endorsed congressional candidate Joe Kent have been targeted after distancing themselves from McCarthy’s leadership and echoing extreme claims. McCarthy’s team has also gone to work to protect several GOP incumbents from far-right challenges, campaign finance records show.” [WashPost]
🗳️ Maloney’s Moment: City & State’s Jeff Coltin spotlights the challenges — and criticisms — facing Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) as the DCCC chair aims for a sixth House term in a newly drawn district. “In 2012, Maloney moved from Manhattan to Cold Spring in Putnam County to challenge Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth after redistricting left her vulnerable. He flipped the seat, 52%-48%. In the years since, Maloney built his reputation as a Democrat who can win in Trump country. In the country’s highly partisan environment, he was just one of just 12 Democrats who won a district Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. He was running where he lives, and winning. That was his main pitch to Democrats on Capitol Hill as he campaigned for DCCC chair in 2020, and it worked. He got the role heading into the midterms of Democratic President Joe Biden’s first term – a cycle when the party in power historically loses seats. But he had a vision: Don’t be preachy. Focus on getting stuff done, and win suburban seats.” [City&State]
🤝 Outer Boroughs: The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos and Eliza Shapiro look at New York gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY) efforts to reach out to minority enclaves in his bid to unseat Gov. Kathy Hochul. “With less than 50 days until Election Day, Mr. Zeldin’s Jewish outreach is at the center of a concerted and overlooked effort to court enclaves like these in boroughs outside Manhattan, where English is often a second language and voters appear to be highly motivated by education issues, congestion pricing and threats to public safety — along with a leftward drift among Democrats they have long supported. But for New York Republicans locked in the political wilderness since former President Donald J. Trump’s election, the promise of a longer-term realignment among crucial Asian and Jewish voting blocks is tantalizing — even if the party has to wait until after November for it to happen.” [NYTimes]
🧑🤝🧑 Identity Matters: In his Substack Forge, Andrew Jacobson considers the concept of “Deep Identity” — more commonly seen in Israel than the U.S. — which prioritizes one’s personal identity and affiliations over career and academic success. “In a tiny country with high emotional expression (a fancy way of saying that if someone isn’t yelling at you, you should be concerned because they probably don’t care), friends and family and colleagues are often close, super close. And with shared values, shared calendar and shared ancestry in a tiny ethnic state, why would you bother calling your brother by His Title, or impressing your 3rd cousin that you work at Google? But the most important cause of prestige’s glaring absence in Israeli culture is not Hebrew’s compact style and limited lexicon, nor Israel’s thick webs of social connection. It is because deep, unchosen identities — People, Religion, Family, maybe Nationality, to name a few — remain at the center in Israeli life. In their absence, thin and temporary affiliations, like to Big Tech Company X or University Y, replace them.” [Forge]
Around the Web
👋 Yalla, Yellen?: The Biden administration is preparing for the possible departure of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen following the midterms in November.
🍽️ Laser-Focused: New York Times restaurant critic Peter Wells reviews Mike Solmonov’s Israeli skewer house Laser Wolf in Brooklyn.
🛫 Pilgrim Passage: The New York Post looks at efforts by American Jewish travelers to make their annual pilgrimage to the Ukrainian city of Uman, which have been complicated by the monthslong military conflict with Russia.
♘ Knighted: A Jewish woman from Seattle was knighted by Spain for her efforts to secure Spanish citizenship for descendants of Jews who fled the country during the Inquisition.
🚓 Cult Raid: Dozens of members of the Lev Tahor cult living in Mexico were detained by local authorities conducting a raid on the group’s compound near the Guatemalan border.
📗 Magyar Menu: Atlas Obscura chronicles the efforts of a Hungarian octogenarian to track down the first Hebrew-language cookbook, published in the 1850s.
🪧 Crackdown: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Tehran must “deal decisively” with the protests that have rocked the country in recent weeks.
↔️ Prisoner Swap: The Wall Street Journal looks at the key roles played by Roman Abramovich and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine that released 250 people.
🪖 Deadly Clashes: At least four Palestinian gunmen, including the brother of a terrorist who carried out a deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv in April, were killed this morning in an IDF raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.
🎾 Making a Racket: Tennis legend Novak Djokovic arrived in Israel for the Tel Aviv Watergen Open.
💣 Commander Conundrum: Israel had multiple opportunities to assassinate Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah but chose not to, former Israeli navy commander Eliezer Marom said in a radio interview.
🌊 Amos’ Accord: U.S. Energy Envoy Amos Hochstein is planning to send a final proposal by the end of the week to end a yearslong maritime border dispute between Israel and Lebanon.
🕊️ MEPPA Milestone: U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, USAID/West Bank and Gaza Mission Director Amy Tohill-Stull and MEPPA Partnership for Peace Fund Board Chair George Salem met with representatives from the MEPPA grantees today in Jerusalem to celebrate progress during the first year of programming under the MEPPA legislation.
❌ Troublesome Tweets: Qatar’s ambassador to the U.N., whose candidacy for the body’s Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law was recently passed over, deleted her Twitter account after human rights NGOs flagged that she had tweeted antisemitic and homophobic slurs.
🕯️ Remembering: The New York Times eulogizes sisters Ilse Nathan and Ruth Siegler, the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust, who died 11 days apart in Alabama. Magazine art director Irwin Glusker died at 98.
Song of the Day
Rapper Hi-Rez released the music video for his latest single, “Hope.”
International Emmy Award-winning Scottish television producer, Sir Jeremy Israel Isaacs turns 90…
Former governor of Vermont and the first Jewish woman elected to govern any state, she was also the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Madeleine May Kunin turns 89… Physician and theoretical biologist, he was a 1987 MacArthur Fellow, Stuart Kauffman turns 83… Former president of Warner Home Video, Warren Lieberfarb turns 79… French businessman who, with his brother, owns the controlling interest in the House of Chanel and several vineyards, Alain Wertheimer turns 74… Real estate agent in New York’s Hudson Valley, Jerry Alan Weiss… Teaneck, N.J.-based real estate attorney, Gary E. Miller… U.S. senator, Bill Cassidy (R-LA) turns 65… Pediatrician and author of the book Winning A Debate with An Israel Hater about the fight against BDS, Dr. Michael Harris… Bestselling author and magazine journalist, Ben Greenman turns 53… Area director for San Diego and Orange counties for AIPAC, Elliott Nahmias… Winner of four Olympic gold medals for the U.S. in swimming in 2000 and 2004, Leonid “Lenny” Krayzelburg turns 47… News editor and correspondent at Voice of America, Michael Lipin… SVP at the Katz Watson Group, Lauren France… Marketing manager at the Anti-Defamation League, Samantha Collidge… Teacher in the Miami-Dade County public schools and a field organizer for the OU’s Teach Coalition, Hadassa Levenson… Chief of staff at Tel Aviv-based iAngels, Ayelet Cohen… Student at Yale Law School and author, David Hopen turns 29… Former NFL, XFL and CFL wide receiver and kick returner, Daniel Braverman turns 29…