👋 Good Monday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at what policy achievements former — and likely soon-to-be — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his potential coalition partners are hoping to attain in the new government, and get a sneak peek at former Vice President Mike Pence’s memoir. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Mel Brooks, sportswriter Jane Gross and Sam Bankman-Fried.
The third-floor ballroom of New York’s Plaza Hotel was packed with a who’s who crowd last night for the annual Commentary magazine roast. This year’s roastee was writer and media entrepreneur Bari Weiss. Amid salad and salmon courses, attendees were treated to ribbing remarks from Jen Spyra, Jamie Kirchick, Suzy Weiss, Dan Ahdoot and Liel Leibovitz. No quotes (thanks to JPod) and no spotted list (too many of you were there) for today’s newsletter.
President Isaac Herzog tasked former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming the next government during a meeting at the president’s residence yesterday.
Herzog said the consultations — broadcast live in continuation of a practice begun by former President Reuven Rivlin — that he held with representatives of all the parties elected to the Knesset prior to making his decision, “underscored the beauty and power of Israeli democracy, which draws its power from the rich and diverse mosaic of voices among us as a society and as a country.”
“I am not oblivious,of course, to the fact that there are ongoing legal proceedings against Mr. Netanyahu MK at the Jerusalem District Court, and I do not trivialize this at all,” he added. “Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Supreme Court has already expressed itself clearly on the matter of pending indictments against a member of Knesset nominated for the role of forming a government, in a number of rulings, including with an expanded panel of 11 justices, when the task of forming a government was assigned to Mr. Netanyahu MK by my predecessor, President Reuven Rivlin.”
Netanyahu addressed concerns that have arisen in recent weeks over his potential alliance with the far-right Religious Zionism party, as well as Shas and United Torah Judaism, “There are many, many who welcome the election results – but there are also those who make outrageous prophecies and frighten the public,” Netanyahu said. “This is not the first time such things have been said. They said it about [first Likud leader Menachem] Begin, they said it about me too; it wasn’t true then and it’s not true now.”
We spoke to Israel-based analysts and political observers about concerns — voiced by Israelis as well as Diaspora community leaders — over the possible role that Religious Zionism’s leaders could play in a future government.
Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of the forthcoming Judocracy: The Netanyahu Era to be published in 2023, told JI’s Ruth Marks Eglash that the parties are hoping to pass an override clause that would allow the Knesset to push through legislation to give an acting prime minister – in this case Netanyahu – immunity from prosecution, effectively wiping out the proceedings against him.
Additional concerns raised by Talshir include key changes to the Law of Return that currently allows the grandchild of a Jew to immigrate but which future coalition members would like to see narrowed to more closely mirror Jewish law; the status of the West Bank and the settlements, some of which are defined by Israel’s current laws and international law as illegal outposts; and governance and human rights tied to Israel’s minority Arab population, the politicization of certain official positions and the rules of engagement for Israeli forces operating both inside Israel and in the West Bank. Read more here.
Notable + quotable: “The only times I’ve ever been recognized are in highly Jewish places. My children say that I’m ‘Jewish-deli famous,’ that if I go somewhere, I could reasonably expect a free knish,” Fleishman Is in Trouble author Taffy Brodesser-Akner told the hosts of the “Longform” podcast ahead of the Thursday premiere of the television adaptation of the TheNew York Times staff writer’s first novel. Keep an eye out for our interview with Brodesser-Akner in the Daily Kickoff later this week.
Netanyahu: Israel-Saudi normalization could end Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Israel and Saudi Arabia reaching a formal peace agreement would “effectively end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted in a new interview with “Call Me Back” podcast host Dan Senor, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports.
Saudi sign-off: “Understand that the Abraham Accords, the peace treaties that Israel had with four Arab states: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — that didn’t happen without Saudi approval, because at least some of these countries like to know what their big neighbor, Saudi Arabia, is thinking about [the agreements],” Netanyahu, who is likely to head Israel’s next government following elections earlier this month, said. “And I assure you, [Riyadh] wasn’t negative about it.” Normalization with Saudi Arabia would “open up all sorts of possibilities,” Netanyahu told Senor, the co-author of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. The current opposition leader cited the physical results of such an agreement — “connecting the Saudi rail system” — as well as the business perks — giving Saudis “direct accessibility to Israeli innovation and technology” — as benefits of a negotiated agreement between Jerusalem and Riyadh.
Moscow mission: Netanyahu also addressed his previous government’s coordination with Russia in Syria, where Russian forces are on the ground — and where Israeli military units have often targeted Iranian and Syrian facilities and weapons transfers. “[Israeli] pilots would literally run into Russian pilots because they were there with their air force. And so they were literally within spitting distance — I mean that, spitting distance — from each other. And we could have had, basically a Russian-Israeli mini-war develop there, which I don’t think would serve our interests, to put it mildly. So I made sure that we coordinated with Russia not to do that.”
New challenges: But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made Netanyahu rethink Israel’s relationship with Moscow. “Russia had a laid-back, a hands-off policy [in Syria], and our freedom of action in the skies over Syria was maintained, that still remains an issue,” he said. “But I look also at the Ukraine tragedy, and I ask myself, ‘What is it that we should be doing and not be doing?’ And that’s one of the first things I’m going to be briefed on and decide how we should manage it.”
Pence defends Trump against charges of antisemitism in upcoming memoir
Former Vice President Mike Pence writes in his upcoming memoir that Donald Trump is “not anti-Semitic” and is “not a racist or a bigot,” insisting that he “would not have” served under the former president if that had been the case. “Through all the chatter about bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism — standard talking points of his opponents — it was never mentioned that his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism,” Pence writes in So Help Me God, a copy of which was obtained by Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel ahead of its release on Tuesday. “Her children are Jewish. I had seen him with them, and I knew how dearly he loved and cared for them. In all the time we spent together, I had never once seen him mistreat anyone on the basis of race, creed, or color.”
Charting a new course: Pence, a devout evangelical Christian who has long cast himself as a staunch supporter of Israel, gives an overwhelmingly positive review of Trump’s approach to the Middle East in his new book. “Previous administrations had sought to resolve the violence and political turmoil across the region by prioritizing a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians and engaging in diplomatic and military efforts to improve the conditions in Middle Eastern nations,” he notes. Trump, on the other hand, “changed course,” according to Pence. The former vice president applauds, among other things, Trump’s decisions to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, which Pence credits with “opening the door to an alliance among the United States, Israel, and other Arab nations.”
Keeping the faith: He also describes a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, who expressed “his desire to build a strong Christian community in the Middle East,” according to Pence. “I felt then that his words represented a genuine moment in the Abrahamic tradition” and “that despite all the dire predictions of bloodshed following the relocation of the U.S. embassy, there was a chance for peace in the region among Abraham’s children,” Pence writes. The trip culminated with a visit to Jerusalem, where, as Pence recalls, he “formally” announced the embassy relocation to the Israeli government while speaking before the Knesset.
Indy-pendent streak: “In Congress, I gave pro-Israel addresses so often I was asked if there was a big Jewish community out in rural Indiana,” writes Pence, who served as a congressman as well as governor of Indiana before he was tapped to be Trump’s vice president. “I had Jewish constituents, yes, but I was expressing my support for Israel as an American believer — not simply because Israel is the lone democracy in the Middle East but because its existence is proof that God’s promises are true. Its creation and survival so soon after the Holocaust are miracles.”
Related: Trump doubled down on his recent comments — and teased an upcoming announcement — at the ZOA gala held last night at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers, where the former president received the group’s Theodor Herzl Gold Medallion. “The United States and Israel are not just allies on a military basis, but economically and politically. We’re allies morally, culturally and spiritually and we always will be, at least if I have anything to do about it,” Trump said at the event. “But you do have people in this country that happen to be Jewish that are not doing the right thing for Israel. Too many.”
Qatar World Cup draws thousands of Israelis, direct flights or not
Israel has no diplomatic ties with Qatar, and its national soccer team didn’t qualify for the 2022 World Cup. That won’t stop thousands of Israel fans from pouring into the oil-rich Gulf state this week to join the frenzied crowds at the most-watched sporting event on earth, Alec Pollard reports for The Circuit. It wasn’t until 10 days before the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador, set for Nov. 20, that world soccer’s ruling body, known as FIFA, worked out a plan for direct flights between Israel and Qatar that satisfied political and security leaders in both countries. By then, most Israelis with tickets to the nearly monthlong tournament had booked flights with layovers in third countries.
Pitch perfect: While Israelis are barred by statute from entry into Qatar, the country agreed to honor Israeli passports as a condition for the highly sought rights to host the World Cup. Still, many Israelis, generally known for their boisterous character, say they’ll try to keep things low-key at the games. “The vibe is to go and enjoy the football and not try to stand out or anything,” Elon Grubman, a 32-year-old Israeli born in Brazil, told The Circuit. With no Israeli team in the tournament, 42-year-old Ronen Rotem said he doesn’t care much who wins. “I’ve never been to a football match in my life,” he said. “I’m only going because it’s a unique opportunity to visit Qatar.”
Ticket talk: Tickets to the matches and accommodation in Qatar or neighboring countries don’t come cheap. Matan Peled, a manager at Israel’s ISSTA travel agency, said three-night packages that include two soccer matches were selling for $2,000 to $3,500 a person, depending on the hotel. One advantage to Qatar’s small size, he said, is the close proximity of all the new stadiums that were built for the World Cup. “It’s like having eight stadiums in Tel Aviv,” Peled told The Circuit. “All the teams are in the same area, all the fan zones are close to one another.”
⚫ Dealing with the Dark: In The Atlantic’s December cover story, Clint Smith questions how the U.S. addresses darker moments in the country’s history, comparing and contrasting its efforts to Germany’s post-war handling of the Holocaust. “It wasn’t always obvious that Germany would build memorials to the Nazis’ victims; for decades there was mostly silence. In her book Learning From the Germans, the philosopher Susan Neiman writes that families in Germany simply did not discuss the war in the years immediately following it. ‘Neither side could bear to talk about it,’ she writes, ‘one side afraid of facing its own guilt, the other afraid of succumbing to pain and rage.’…After spending time in Germany, I, too, gained a sense of clarity about the interconnectedness of racial oppression and state violence. I left with a clearer understanding of the implications of how those periods of history are remembered, or not. I was reminded, too, that many of Germany’s most powerful memorials did not begin as state-sanctioned projects, but emerged — and are still emerging — from ordinary people outside the government who pushed the country to be honest about its past. Sometimes that means putting down Stolpersteine [stepping stones]. Sometimes that means standing on the street for years collecting signatures for the massive memorial to murdered Jews that you believe the country needs. Americans do not have to, and should not, wait for the government to find its conscience. Ordinary people are the conscience.” [TheAtlantic]
🎼 Musical Moment: An operetta, “The Golden Cage,” written by Jewish refugees in upstate New York who pled for asylum in the years after WWII, is set to be performed for the first time in nearly 80 years. “Fearing that they would be sent back to Europe at war’s end, they lobbied to stay in America. They turned to leading citizens who drafted a petition to the president and Congress. They testified at a congressional hearing… Among the refugees were accomplished musicians and composers. They had organized several choirs and an orchestra in Oswego and performed concerts, plays and operas. They decided to write an operetta as a dramatic plea for their freedom. It detailed their escape of the Holocaust, their journey to the United States and their lives at the shelter in Oswego as well as their hatred of confinement.” [WashPost]
📚 Book Shelf: Writer, director, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks, whose memoir All About Me! recently came out in paperback, joinsThe New York Times‘ ‘By the Book’ column. “Who are your favorite comic writers? Your favorite memoir by a comedian? By far my favorite comic writer and memoirist of all time is the irreplaceable Carl Reiner. He was the greatest straight man that ever lived, and straight men never get as much credit as the other comics but they are so incredibly valuable. He wrote several memoirs and I even helped him with the title for one of them, ‘Too Busy to Die.’ They’re all chock-full of great show business memories and replete with wit and wisdom.” [NYTimes]
📜 Family Ties: In the Los Angeles Times, Devon Loeb reflects on his upbringing as a Black-Jewish American. “But through a string of personal encounters with family members and with history, I eventually came to think that maybe my Black identity was connected to my Jewish identity, as I found common themes between our peoples’ experiences. What seems to separate us — our skin, our culture, our history — is really what binds the Black and Jewish people. We have defied persecution and slavery and genocide and systemic and institutional racism and antisemitism, but we’re not defined by just our struggles. Our resolve, our irrefutable drive for freedom and equality define us. As a kid, I didn’t understand any of that.” [LATimes]
Around the Web
🗳️ Odds in Her Favor: Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) was declared the winner of Nevada’s Senate race over Republican challenger Adam Laxalt, ensuring Democratic control of the next Senate.
🪑 Is this Seat Taken?: Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who last week lost his gubernatorial challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul, has been fielding calls from supporters and party officials who are urging the Republican to consider a bid for RNC chair.
Ξ Crypto Crash: Investment materials seen by the Financial Timesshow that FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s exchange held $900 million in liquid assets against $9 billion of liabilities the day before it collapsed into bankruptcy. The news comes amid confirmation that author Michael Lewis has spent the past six months embedded with the former crypto executive and will focus on the collapse of the currency in his next book.
📺 History Lesson: CBS’ “60 Minutes” detailed the efforts of Resistance fighters in Lithuania during the Holocaust to rescue and preserve Jewish artifacts.
🏠 Foul Flyers: Antisemitic flyers were found on doorsteps throughout the Kalorama neighborhood in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning.
🎤 Bad Review: Canadian Jewish leaders urged the owners of L’Olympia theater in Montreal to cancel an upcoming show by French rapper Freeze Corleone, accusing him of using his platform to promote antisemitism.
🙃 Controversial Comedy: Comedian Dave Chappelle made waves with a monologue about Kanye West and antisemitism on “Saturday Night Live.”
🌳 Climate Resilience:The Circuitreports on Israeli efforts to share expertise in desert agriculture, desalination and food security with new Arab partners at the United Nations climate change summit in Egypt.
🕵️♂️ Going Global: Iran and China have reportedly been hiring private U.S. investigators to spy on dissidents.
💻 Spy Saga: Internal F.B.I. documents and court records indicate that bureau officials sought to deploy Pegasus hacking tools, made by Israeli spyware firm NSO, for use in criminal investigations.
🚑 Mistaken Identity: An IDF soldier shot dead an Israeli citizen whom he mistook for a terrorist in Ra’anana.
✈️ Force Field: A senior Defense Department official toldPolitico that the flight of two U.S. bombers over the Middle East was a show of force meant for Iran.
🇹🇷🇮🇱 Turkey Ties: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday authorized the posting of veteran diplomat Sakir Ozkan Torunlar as ambassador to Israel, after a four-year hiatus in diplomatic representation between the two countries.
💥 Security Alert: Turkish security officials apprehended an individual believed to be involved in an explosion in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded scores more.
➡️ Transitions:Axios national political reporter Jonathan Swan is joiningThe New York Times‘ politics team.
🕯️ Remembering: Dallas-based plastic surgeon, businessman and philanthropist Dr. David Genecov died over the weekend. Trailblazing sportswriter Jane Gross, the first female in her job to enter a professional basketball locker room, died at 75. Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who inspired Steven Spielberg’s film “The Terminal,” died in the Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport where he lived for years.
Pic of the Day
State Department Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt gives the keynote address at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ biannual conference in Johannesburg.
Cellist and professor at Moscow Conservatoire, Natalia Gutman turns 80…
Former professional bodybuilder who played for two seasons with the New York Jets, Mike Katz turns 78… Los Angeles businessman, community leader and political activist, Stanley Treitel… Retired member of the U.K.’s House of Lords, Baron Jeremy Beecham turns 78… Former British Labour party MP who resigned in 2019 in protest of Jeremy Corbyn, Dame Louise Joyce Ellman turns 77… Television director and producer, her text messages to her daughter are the subject of the CrazyJewishMom Instagram page, Kim Friedman turns 73… Editor-at-large for Bloomberg View, Jonathan I. Landman turns 70… Democratic member of the New York State Assembly from Brooklyn, his 22-year term is soon ending, Steven H. Cymbrowitz turns 69… Former U.S. secretary of state, now on the faculty of Stanford University and the director of the Hoover Institution, Condoleezza Rice turns 68… President of the Obama Foundation, Valerie Jarrett turns 66… Detroit-based communications consultant, Cynthia Shaw… President of Middlebury College in Vermont, Laurie L. Patton turns 61… Partner at the Santa Monica-based law firm of Murphy Rosen, Edward A. Klein… Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor of political science at George Washington University, Sarah A. Binder… Vice chairman of The Atlantic and managing director of media at Emerson Collective, Peter T. Lattman… and his twin brother, Brian Lattman, both turn 52… Member of the Colorado House of Representatives, Dafna Michaelson Jenet turns 50… Former deputy national security advisor for President Barack Obama, Ben Rhodes turns 45… Head of public policy for Lime, Joshua Meltzer… Law professor at Fordham University, Pamela Bookman turns 43… Actress and comedian best known for her eight years as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” Vanessa Bayer turns 41… Chief of staff for the chair at Albright Stonebridge Group, Jacob Freedman turns 40… Israeli conductor and pianist, Nimrod David Pfeffer turns 38… Founder of White Light Strategies, Lana Talya Volftsun Fern… First baseman in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, Spencer Elliott Horwitz turns 25…