👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to political observers in Israel about what’s on the line in the upcoming elections, and look at a new effort to engage young Jewish Londoners. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: State Rep. Emilia Sykes, Madison Gesiotto Gilbert and Peter Thiel.
The European Union will likely be the next to sanction Iran over the Islamic Republic’s recent arms sales to Moscow, which have reportedly included 2,400 “suicide drones,” some of which were deployed — with deadly outcomes — by the Russian military against Ukrainian civilians this week.
Iran is facing increased pressure abroad and at home, where bloody protests against the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have rocked the country for five weeks. Dissidents, such as Iranian-American writer Masih Alinejad, are hopeful that the latest protests will destabilize the regime to the point of collapse.
Alinejad, who in recent months has spoken with Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, is calling on President Joe Biden to “applaud the democratic ambitions of the Iranian people and move beyond the White House’s narrow focus on the nuclear issue to demand that the human rights of protesters be respected. The administration has made the contest between autocracy and democracy a central theme of its foreign policy. Iran should be part of that policy.”
The protests and new sanctions leveled against Tehran for its support of Russia throw into question the outcome of talks over Iran’s nuclear program, which had picked up steam in August after a monthslong stalemate, but are now on ice. The E.U.’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters this week that the deal is unlikely to be revived. “I don’t expect any move, that’s a pity because we were very, very close,” he said.
Another senior E.U. official told Brussels Playbook this week that they don’t anticipate any further progress on the talks. “Sincerely, the JCPOA does not count anymore,” the official said. “We have gotten used to the idea that this will not move forward.”
Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Jewish Insider that the latest moves by Tehran provide an opportunity for the U.S. to create a more all-encompassing strategy. “Iran’s escalating nuclear moves, brutality at home and boldness abroad offers the West an inflection point to push past the JCPOA and indeed nuclear-centric framing of the Iran threat and develop a more comprehensive Iran strategy,” he told us. “Step one must be [to] do no harm: no harm to long-term U.S. national interests, regional partners and to the Iranian people. Pursuing the JCPOA would be akin to harming all three.”
Joel Rubin, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, told us that “the reality is that if we want to avoid Iran turning into North Korea, we need to ensure that it never gets the bomb. Because if it did, that would be the ultimate protector of the regime.” Rubin added, “The only time that Iran’s nuclear program has been verifiably rolled back in the past several decades has been under the JCPOA. But the ball is in Iran’s court right now on diplomacy and the administration has made it clear that restoration of the JCPOA is both still possible and in our national security interest.”
The American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka summed up her assessment in one sentence: “It’s going to be almost impossible for the administration to pursue these talks given Russia and Iran, but then again, it should’ve been impossible for the last two years.”
What’s at stake in Israel’s looming election
With less than 14 days until Israelis return to the polls for a fifth general election in as many years, signs that the country is in the midst of another political race are hard to find. Some blame public apathy toward the Nov. 1 election on the lazy days of summer vacation, followed by nearly a month of Jewish holidays. Others say Israelis are fed up with an unstable political system that has been in crisis for four years. Whatever the reason, this election appears unlikely to bring about any dramatic changes. Yet political analysts who are closely watching the race say that it might be the most decisive election the country has faced so far, with matters such as the rule of law and political identity at stake, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Political observations: JI discussed the upcoming vote with three political observers — Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute; Aviv Bushinsky, a political commentator and a former chief of staff to former Prime Minister and current Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu; and Jonathan Rynhold, head of the political studies department at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University — to ask why the country is embroiled in this never-ending cycle of elections, what this election is about and what it will take for Netanyahu to return to power?
Latest polls: Polls published this week gave Netanyahu’s Likud around 30 seats out of the 120 in Israel’s Knesset. The right-wing bloc that backs him, however, appears to fall short of the requisite 61 seats needed to form a government. Yesh Atid, the party of Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who took over as caretaker leader in July, polled at 25 seats. That gives the current government bloc – the anti-Netanyahu bloc – 57 seats, with the outsider Arab party, Hadash/Ta’al, hovering at the electoral threshold with the minimum of four seats.
Slow to start: A report published this week by Israeli daily Haaretz noted that campaigns for the election, which was called in June, have been slow to kick off. With two weeks until Israelis cast their ballots, the competing political parties have spent only about 30 percent of their campaign budgets, with most focusing their efforts on a push during the final week. Netanyahu is reportedly placing emphasis on mobilizing older members of his party, with Likud supporters engaging in door-to-door canvassing. Lapid, meanwhile, is treading a fine line between poaching voters from potential coalition partners to the left of the political spectrum and ensuring high voter turnout across the board, with a particular focus on Arab voters.
Read more here.
Millennial politicos battle for Akron
Voters in Ohio’s 13th Congressional District are weighing two very different candidates next month as they seek to fill the Akron-area seat currently held by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): on one side, a Democratic upstart in state politics who hails from a local political dynasty, and on the other, a conservative media personality and Trump-world staffer, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
In the race: Democratic state Rep. Emilia Sykes has seen her star rise since taking office — after first entering the Statehouse in 2015, she became the Democratic minority leader in 2019, holding that post through 2021. Her seat was previously held by both her father, Vernon Sykes — now a state senator — and her mother, Barbara Sykes. Sykes faces Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a former conservative media commentator and political staffer who is a co-chair of Women for Trump and was an advisor on President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign.
Bipartisanship: Sykes played up her ability to work across the aisle, touting legislation passed in the Statehouse while she was minority leader. “In that first year, it was nearly the same amount of bipartisan bills we had passed in the four years previously,” she told Jewish Insider, including legislation surrounding wages, tax cuts, maternal health care, criminal justice reform and school funding. “A lot of that was just working with people who sometimes did not want to work with me. And quite frankly, I maybe didn’t want to work with them, but being compelled and motivated by folks who elected me and my community first,” she continued. Gilbert and her campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Community relations: Both before and during her time in office, Sykes has maintained relationships with the small Jewish community in Akron, as well as the broader Ohio Jewish community. Her congressional campaign has been endorsed by Democratic Majority for Israel, J Street and the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “Israel is the only ally that’s a very significant ally in the Middle East, and we rely upon that friendship and that relationship for many reasons. Not only for their safety, but our safety in the United States and in the region and the world,” Sykes said. That includes continuing U.S. aid without conditions. “The United States certainly defends itself the way that we feel like we need to, as should other countries.” She said she consulted with a range of members of the Jewish community across the political spectrum as she was formulating her Israel policy during her campaign.
Gilbert’s stance: Gilbert’s campaign website includes a page laying out her Israel policy, where she writes, “I fully stand with Israel — America’s greatest democratic ally in the Middle East. We must strengthen our relationship with Israel and fully support Israel’s right to exist. With the rise of anti-Semitism in the Congress and across our nation, it is imperative that we combat this hateful and dangerous rhetoric.” Gilbert pledges to support security assistance, oppose the “anti-Semitic [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement” and “ensure Israel is treated fairly across the globe.” She also declares her opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran.Read the full story here.
friday night fun
The Londoner putting a twist on the traditional Shabbat dinner
It’s probably safe to say that no Friday night Shabbat dinner invitation ever landed quite like Londoner Dalia Lister’s: You’re not coming here to sit in a corner of the room with your friends, the invite warned, adding, if you’re not going to participate, you’re not welcome in the community. The fledgling — and carefully curated — community that Lister is trying to build for young Jewish professionals in London launched in early September with “Not Your Mum’s Friday Night Dinner.” It’s not a religious event, or a charity event, or a singles mixer. “I didn’t want it to be just another social event,” Lister, the chief of staff at a tech startup, told Jenni Frazer for Jewish Insider. “I wanted it to be for people who really wanted to come and mingle, who wanted to meet other people. Particularly now, post-COVID, when everything has been online.”
Inspiration: During her adolescence, Lister told JI, she was never allowed to go to parties with her non-Jewish school friends on Friday nights. But once out in the world of work, she discovered different options: “religious events, in synagogues, which I do go to, and charity events. “But some people don’t feel comfortable in a shul, or perhaps haven’t grown up going to shul,” Lister added. “On the other hand, there are charity events, that I’ve also gone to, and they’re also great, and I support many of them and am an ambassador for a couple of them. But again, they don’t attract everyone. And then there are singles events, but there isn’t actually anything for connecting people, whether you are single or not.”
Party planning committee: In 2022 London, even a social event needs meticulous planning: and so Lister, true to her business instincts, drew up a business plan. “It was to be a young persons’ dinner for connecting people, but a traditional Friday night format. I said it wasn’t to be religiously affiliated or charity affiliated. I wanted to bring together young people around London aged between 23-35, motivated, engaged people.” She posted a piece on her private Instagram account about the planning for “Not Your Mum’s” — “and I had 25 messages in 10 minutes from people asking where they could sign up.” Sensing that she was on to something, Lister opened an online waitlist — “and in two weeks 170 people had signed.”
Table manners: The first “Not Your Mum” event included some ground rules. “I said it wasn’t cool to be cliquey, and that if you don’t mingle, you won’t be invited back,” Lister explained. “I was taking a stance — saying to people, you’re not coming here to sit in a corner of the room with your friends. If you’re not going to participate, you’re not welcome in the community.” This appears to have acted as somewhat of a wake-up call, telling potential participants that this was going to be a different kind of event from “something that their mother had pushed them to attend, saying, ‘Go to this, maybe you’ll meet your husband or wife.’” She also required people to say who had referred them, meaning she could track how people were hearing about the event. “At the end of the day, it is a Jewish event, so it had to be a safe environment. But it was also good to know how the wait list had grown.”
What’s next: Now Lister is considering how to follow up. She’s decided to run “Not Your Mum’s Friday Night Dinner” four times a year. She’s also found interest from non-Jewish people — not least, she says, because people want to network and don’t go to pubs any more to do that. “It’s also about creating a comfortable environment,” she said. She’s already planning a Halloween event for 150 people, both Jews and non-Jews, for Oct. 29 (“Not Your Neighbourhood Trick or Treat”), which has attracted several commercial sponsors, and says the format has the potential to move to other venues. “In tech, we have this concept of ‘test and learn.’ So for the ‘Not Your’ events, I’m learning all the time what works and what doesn’t. And all the skills I’m using now, I’ve learned at work.”
🇮🇷 Minority Report: In Foreign Policy, Brenda Shaffer considers the role that Iran’s ethnic minorities are playing in the protests roiling the country. “Iran’s history of ethnic grievances — especially in the non-Persian provinces dominated by Tehran — adds additional fuel to a highly combustible mix, and the regime’s harsh crackdown in Zahedan and elsewhere suggests that the regime is aware of this. Iran’s multiethnic nature is also an important part of Iranian politics, and it’s a source of potential upheaval that has been largely left out of debates outside Iran. Western experts and commentators tend to look at Iran through the eyes of its Persian elite, just like the West has long looked at Russia through the imperial eye of Moscow with little space for Ukrainian views, let alone Dagestani or Tatar ones. We ignore these realities — and the potential for internal conflict and disintegration — at our peril.” [FP]
💸 Capital Concerns:Bloomberg’s Max Chafkin looks at the struggles of high-profile Republican Senate candidates Blake Masters in Arizona and J.D. Vance in Ohio to attract donors, despite early backing from tech venture capitalist Peter Thiel. “Masters spent nearly a decade working closely with the venture capitalist Peter Thiel and co-wrote Thiel’s Zero to One, regarded by a generation of Silicon Valley billionaires as the definitive startup manual. Vance also worked for Thiel, and then later alongside AOL co-founder Steve Case, and Thiel was among the key backers of his venture capital fund, alongside former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt and Marc Andreessen, who co-founded one of the Valley’s largest venture capital funds. But while the connections to Thiel paid off for both Vance and Masters in the primaries — each was buoyed by a $15 million super PAC contribution from their former boss — they haven’t been able to turn Thiel’s seed capital into sustained fundraising success.” [Bloomberg]
✡️ A Wimpel in Time: In Tablet Magazine, Paula Jacobs highlights the wimpel, a decorated strip of circumcision cloth used in old Germanic customs to bind the Torah during special occasions, and its resurgence in the new traditions of Jewish communities throughout the States. “The wimpel has now become a tool to teach children about Jewish lifecycle ceremonies and their families’ histories — including families who are not necessarily of Germanic descent — while strengthening intergenerational bonds. The wimpel today wraps the Torah on the occasion of significant Jewish lifecycle events celebrated by females and males alike, including upsherin (a boy’s first haircut at age 3), consecration or the beginning of a child’s formal Jewish education, the bar and bat mitzvah, and the aufruf. The wimpels they use don’t always look like the ones in the museums — and they are created from brand-new fabric rather than a circumcision cloth: Today’s 21st-century wimpels are as likely to include images of Harry Potter and soccer balls as Jewish symbols such as the Etz Chayim (Tree of Life) and Star of David.” [TabletMag]
Around the Web
🤬 On Tape: British documentarian Alex Holder recently released unaired clips from an interview with Donald Trump that show the former president, speaking at an event at his Bedminster, N.J., home in 2021, employing stereotypes of Jews and Persians.
💰 Big Spender: Advisors for former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the billionaire and former presidential candidate is set to donate over $60 million to the Democratic Party during this year’s elections, taking a lower profile than previous years.
🚨 Endorsement Alert: Former Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch and Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner are among 13 candidates for House and Senate endorsed by DMFI PAC yesterday, in its third wave of general election endorsements.
📄 Apt Apology: The State Department apologized to Israel for including incorrect information about the case of a Palestinian transgender woman in the department’s sex trafficking report, admitting that the inclusion was “a serious failure” on the part of Foggy Bottom.
📖 Book Shelf: Professor and Washington Post contributor Jane Eisner reviews Emily Tamkin’s new book, Bad Jews: A History of American Jewish Politics and Identities. In The Wall Street Journal, Moira Hodgson reviews the family biography, The Women of Rothschild.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss appointed Grant Shapps as home secretary, making him the first Jewish interior minister in more than 25 years.
☁️ Cloud Nine: Google Cloud announced the launch of a new Israel region to cater to its growing customer base in the country.
🪖 Strategy Shift: Russia reassigned a number of troops from within Syria to Ukraine, which could have a potential impact on Israeli readiness to arm Ukraine.
🚀 Weapons Request: Ukraine officially asked Israel to supply it with air-defense systems including the Iron Dome, in order to defend against Russian drone attacks.
🛑 Thwarted Attack: Israeli security forces killed a Palestinian gunman, wanted for murdering an Israeli soldier earlier this month, after he attempted to carry out another attack yesterday.
🧕 Harrowing Headcovering: Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekab returned home from a competition in South Korea, during which she made headlines for not wearing a hijab.
➡️ Transition: Karen Paikin Barall, formerly the director of government relations for Hadassah, will join the Jewish Federations of North America as assistant vice president of public affairs and executive director of JFNA’s Advocacy Corps.
Pic of the Day
A delegation convened by the American Sephardi Federation’s Afghan Taskforce attends a Broadway showing of “The Kite Runner,” a play based on the 2003 novel by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini.
Fashion designer, best known for her eponymous line of women’s ready-to-wear, Misha Nonoo turns 35…
Economist who earned the nickname “Dr. Doom” during his tenure as the chief economist at Salomon Brothers during the 1970s, Henry Kaufman, Ph.D., turns 95… Poet, essayist and literary critic, he is a professor at Boston University, Robert Pinsky turns 82… Professor emerita at Ben-Gurion University, she is the daughter of former Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres, Tsvia Walden turns 76… One of two grand rebbes of Satmar, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum turns 75… Miami Beach-based real estate developer, Russell W. Galbut turns 70… Actress and director of film and television, Melanie Mayron turns 70… Music composer for many films, winner of six Grammys and an Emmy Award, Thomas Newman turns 67… Former longtime House Budget Committee staff director, now an adjunct professorial lecturer at American University, Thomas Kahn turns… U.S. senator, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) turns 67… Managing director and partner at Beacon Pointe Advisors, Jordan Heller… Former rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Katamon area and a leading figure at the Israel Democracy Institute, Rabbi Binyamin (Benny) Lau turns 61… Russian TV and radio journalist, Vladimir Solovyov turns 59… Vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris turns 58… U.S. senator, Brian Schatz (D-HI)… and his identical twin brother, the executive director of the University of Hawaii’s P-20 programs, Stephen Schatz, both turn 50… Israeli actress, Hilla Vidor turns 47… Classical violinist and a 2008 winner of a MacArthur genius fellowship, Leila Josefowicz turns 45… Film and television writer, David Caspe turns 44… Long Island regional director at AJC Global, Eric Post… Israeli-born actress, she is a recurring character on CBS’s “Seal Team,” Alona Tal turns 39… Manager at AIPAC’s political action committee, Michael Clark… Associate in the NYC office of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Evan G. Zuckerman… Twins from Raanana and avid JI readers, Avi and Rafi Granoff turn 18… Israel Policy Forum media advisor Martin Irom…