👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Ed note: Enjoy the long Thanksgiving weekend. The Daily Kickoff will be off Thursday and Friday. We’ll see you again on Monday. Happy Thanksgiving!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we have a deep dive into the political leanings of Peter Thiel, and interview Collide Capital managing partner Aaron Samuels. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mitch Silber and Masih Alinejad.
A 16-year-old yeshiva student was killed and nearly two dozen people were injured in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning in twin explosions that Israeli officials are treating as a terrorist attack. The first explosion, which took place at around 7 a.m. local time, was so forceful that it could be heard throughout parts of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. According to a police report, the explosion, which happened at a bus stop near the main entrance to the city, was caused by a suitcase packed with explosives. Half an hour later, a second explosion took place in nearby Ramot, a suburb of the city.
The victim, identified as Aryeh Shechopek, is reported to have Canadian citizenship, making him the first civilian victim of a Palestinian terror attack from the country in seven years, after the 2015 death of Canadian-Israeli citizen Howard Rotman, who succumbed to injuries sustained the year prior in an attack on a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem, former Canadian Ambassador to Israel Vivian Bercovici, founder of the State of Tel Aviv newsletter, told JI.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid held a security assessment hours after the attack, after which he briefed incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted that he was “Appalled by the cowardly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem today that targeted innocent civilians, including children.”
And in Jenin, the body of a Druze teenager who was killed in a car accident was taken from the hospital by Palestinian militants, the IDF said last night. Relatives of the teenager, identified as Tiran Fero, said that the 18-year-old was on life support when militants took him from the hospital, disconnecting him from a ventilator.
Both incidents come a day after the Biden administration upgraded Hady Amr, previously the deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, to special representative for Palestinian affairs. Amr, who is in the region this week, recommended that Israeli security officials do what they can to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, amid concerns that the Palestinian governing body is on the verge of collapse.
Where is Peter Thiel on our issues?
In the early fall of 2021, Peter Thiel, the billionaire tech investor and GOP megadonor, was holding court in a private dining room at a San Francisco hotel. The occasion was an exclusive dinner reception for a group of young conservative activists, and soon enough, their conversation turned to a speculative game of geopolitical matchmaking.
Gathered around the dinner table, the attendees had been wondering if they could identify a real-world “promised land” where the tenets associated with an emerging movement known as national conservatism, which promotes a confrontational style of right-wing populism now gaining traction in the Republican Party, might find the best chance of flourishing, according to a person who was present for the discussion.
Thiel, who is sympathetic to the movement, weighed in with a series of quick judgments as his dinner guests put forth a few possible destinations ranging from Europe to the Middle East and beyond. When the search eventually landed on Israel, which is recognized as a fountainhead of national conservative sentiment, Thiel was dismissive and “blew it off,” recalled the attendee, who spoke with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel on the condition of anonymity to describe the private exchange. The country, Thiel reasoned, was just too precariously situated.
In some ways, the emphasis on self-preservation was fitting for an eccentric Silicon Valley mogul so consumed with his own mortality that he has quixotically vowed to “fight” death. Born in Germany more than two decades after the destruction wrought by World War II, Thiel, who is now based in Los Angeles, holds at least three passports and helped found a libertarian nonprofit that aspires to build floating cities in international waters. He has long been fixated, it seems, on outsmarting the apocalypse.
It would not be surprising, then, if Thiel had expressed reservations over the prospect of relocating to a small Middle Eastern country in a region of hostile enemies openly seeking its destruction. Despite a personal sensitivity to security concerns in the region, however, Thiel’s candid assessment of Israel raised some broader questions over Middle East policy that he has not addressed publicly, even as his views on a range of issues have become increasingly relevant following an election in which the venture capitalist invested more heavily than ever before.
He did so while backing a handful of like-minded federal candidates who, by varying degrees, embraced somewhat outré approaches to international engagement that embody a sharp break from the traditional Republican foreign policy order — which Thiel seems particularly eager to disrupt.
on the hill
Lawmakers circulate letter condemning Amazon over antisemitic video, book
House lawmakers are circulating a letter condemning Amazon and urging the online shopping company to take down an antisemitic book and film promoted by NBA star Kyrie Irving, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod learned on Tuesday.
Background: The material in question, a book and film titled Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America, shot to public attention after Irving linked to the movie on Twitter. The material is replete with antisemitic tropes, including Holocaust denial and extremist Black Hebrew Israelite ideology that alleges that present-day Jews are not really Jewish. The letter, circulated by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), is expected to remain open for signatures through the Thanksgiving holiday, according to a source familiar with the letter. It is addressed to Amazon’s CEO Andy Jassy and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos.
Money moves: “Your company’s decision to profit from the promotion of this dangerous hate speech has substantial real-world costs and consequences for the Jewish community and the greater society,” the letter reads, noting that the book and film have shot up in popularity on Amazon’s charts since Irving’s tweet.
Policy problem: The letter also quotes from Amazon’s own policies regarding review of films, which prohibit “derogatory comments, hate speech, or threats specifically targeting any group or individuals.” “It is alarming that this antisemitic film and book would not immediately qualify as hateful content,” the letter reads. “Amazon should not amplify and profit from this promotion of hate. Pulling this hateful content from your offerings should be a value [judgment] we believe your company should be comfortable making.”
Aaron Samuels bridges gap between ‘artist’ and ‘entrepreneur’ with new VC fund
When venture capital firm Collide Capital launched last month with the announcement of a $66 million fund, its managing partners could’ve pointed to any number of business successes between the two of them when explaining why they decided to get into the VC world: Harvard and Stanford MBAs, stints at Bain and Goldman Sachs, and founding and leading a media company. But for Aaron Samuels, the real answer to where he started his career is not in the pages of an economics textbook or a business school case study. It’s poetry — and, in particular, his writings about his experience as a Black Jew, Samuels told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in a recent Zoom interview from his Los Angeles home.
In his tool belt: “I think from a young age, community was always the most important thing to me, and it was specifically the communities that I came from, which was the Black community, the Jewish community and specifically the Jews of color community,” Samuels said. “So if you asked me at age 13, ‘Aaron, would you be working on something that involved the empowerment of communities you care about?’ I would have said, ‘Absolutely,’ whether it’s through using creativity, through using art or through using the tools of business or the tools of capital.”
Community comes first: Samuels is best known for co-founding Blavity, a media company geared toward Black millennials, and AfroTech, a networking platform and conference for Black entrepreneurs and tech workers. (This year’s conference, which took place earlier this month in Austin, Texas, drew more than 25,000 attendees.) At gatherings like AfroTech, Black founders kept approaching Samuels with the same question: How could they get VCs to invest in them? Unusual for a new and unestablished fund, Collide’s $66 million fund has the backing of several major institutional investors. It is anchored by the University of California’s endowment, and it also received significant investments from Amazon, Alphabet and Twitter. Other limited partners in the fund include Bank of America, Citi and Northwestern Mutual.
Poetry slam: Samuels collaborated with Reboot and Hillel International to produce a reading of his 2021 poem “Forgiveness,” about experiencing Yom Kippur, and the elaborate security common at many American Jewish synagogues, as a Black Jew. The short film toggles between brief recordings of Black Jews of all ages as they showcase their Jewish identity, with Star of David necklaces, yarmulkes or prayer shawls, as Samuels recites his poem. “I walk, covered in white, to the temple steps. I walk past four police officers. I see their weapons. How they make the community feel safe. I ready my body to pray,” Samuels reads, his voice strong and solemn, warm and inviting. “I walk through the metal detector, and I am buying candy in a new neighborhood. I exit the metal detector and I am asleep in my own bed. This is my place of worship. These are my people.”
🕍 Federation Foil:The New York Times’s Corey Kilgannon looks at how the UJA-Federation of New York’s Community Security Initiative uncovered a plot to attack a synagogue in Manhattan last week. “Initially, the tweets indicated that perhaps the threat might occur on Long Island, so the consultants immediately alerted law enforcement authorities there. By early afternoon, the security team found additional online profiles seemingly linked to Mr. Brown that mentioned other threats, [CSI Executive Director Mitch] Silber said. And by 2 p.m., it became apparent that the threat could be in New York City, at which point Mr. Silber’s team alerted city police officials. ‘We basically told them that, “We know you get a lot of incoming, but you should pay attention to this,”’ he said. In a statement, Commissioner Sewell said that the department’s ‘exhaustive intelligence gathering led to the arrest.’” [NYTimes]
🇮🇷 Discussion with a Dissident:The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood interviews Iranian-American dissident Masih Alinejad, who has gained prominence — and attracted some criticism — in the wake of protests in Iran and a foiled assassination plot against her. “She has met with Pompeo and supported his policy of harsher sanctions on Iran, but she has also met with senior Biden officials. The correct charge, in other words, is not megalomania but monomania. ‘Obama in power? Trump? Biden? What does it matter?’ she asked. ‘For me, what matters is who should not be in power in Iran. That is the Islamic Republic.’ Many of her critics in the Iranian diaspora are overseas because they have the luxury of second passports, or enough wealth to make exile in the West a choice. She grew up in Iran, without summers abroad — indeed, without indoor plumbing — and suspects that her humble origins and natural connection to ordinary Iranian people make her high-flying compatriots uneasy. ‘I know the language of the working class; I know the language of poor people. I used to wear secondhand clothes. I know the pain of being a woman in Iran. They’ve never even lived inside.’” [TheAtlantic]
💡 Quiet Success:Vox’s Dylan Matthews spotlights Center on Budget and Priority Policies founder Robert Greenstein, who launched the think tank in 1981 to provide analysis of government spending proposals. “Greenstein and the Center succeeded because they did three deeply difficult things very well. They built a reputation for producing rapid but reliable data and analysis, which even their detractors grudgingly respected. They developed one of the most plugged-in lobbying operations in DC by building a reputation for integrity and discretion. And they maintained an obsession with the long-term structure of government, caring more that they were setting up a durable structure for a program than that they got every last dollar they asked for. Greenstein didn’t practice the politics of ‘The West Wing’ or cable news. His career was light on grandiose speeches and culture war blow-ups. ‘He has this strange ability to be passionate but mellow,’ Christopher Edley, a friend from the Carter administration, observes. His politics was the politics that happens when few people outside DC are looking: in cramped Hill offices and late-night vote-a-rama sessions, with spreadsheets rather than bullhorns.” [Vox]
Around the Web
🕎 Prepare the Latkes: The White House Hanukkah Party will take place on Dec. 19.
⚽ Doha Delegation: The delegation accompanying Secretary of State Tony Blinken to the World Cup in Doha includes Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
Ξ FTX Fall: A substantial amount of FTX’s assets are either missing or stolen, a lawyer for the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange said yesterday in court. The New York Times spotlights the sprawling influence campaign that FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried built in just three years.
🚓 Metro Menace: Antisemitic, racist and homophobic graffiti was found on the walls of the parking garage of the Metro station that services the University of Maryland, College Park.
🇲🇦 Morocco Meetup: IDF Chief Artillery Officer Brig. Gen. Neri Horowitz visited Morocco last week to explore possibilities for future cooperation.
🔥 Explosion Near Damascus: A senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps official was killed in a roadside bombing in Syria, which Iranian officials blamed on Israel.
👨🌾 Shepherd’s Pry:The New York Timesspotlights the challenges facing Lebanese farmers living near the country’s border with Israel, who are not trusted by officials from either country and are frequently accused of espionage.
🍲 Manama Mavens: Bahrain’s Jewish community launched a new Instagram page, @KosherInBahrain, to cater to the increasing number of Jewish visitors to the country.
🛰️ Sanctions Violation? Taiwan-based tech company ATEN International stopped sales of its products to Iran, where they are believed to be used to build drones, amid heightened scrutiny from Washington over Tehran’s drone program.
🇯🇵 Tokyo Drift: Israel will move forward in its effort to establish a free-trade agreement with Japan, with the first step being a meeting between representatives from Israel’s economic and foreign ministries and their respective Japanese counterparts.
Song of the Day
Singer-songwriter Keren Peles performs “Return Home” from her album “Shkufim” at the Piano Festival in Tel Aviv.
Majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) turns 72…
Former mayor of Pasadena, Calif., Terry Tornek turns 77… Senior U.S. District Court judge in Massachusetts, Judge Mark L. Wolf turns 76… Phoenix resident, Richard S. Levy… Board member of the Yitzhak Rabin Center and former member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Andrea Lavin Solow… Professor of Jewish studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, Elliot R. Wolfson turns 66… Long Beach, N.Y., resident, Ellen P. Shiff… L.A.-based cost and management accountant, Simon Ordever… Israeli-born entrepreneur, Raanan Zilberman turns 62… Television personality and author, Keith Ablow turns 61… Founder of Union Main Group, a private holding company focused on platform buildups of small companies, Marc Hanover… Professor of chemistry at Northwestern University, Chad Mirkin turns 59… Majority owner of the NFL’s Washington Commanders, Daniel Snyder turns 58… Neurosurgeon specializing in the treatment of brain tumors and aneurysms, he is a professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, Aaron Cohen-Gadol turns 52… SVP at Glen Echo Group, Amy Schatz… Berlin-based journalist on the Bloomberg News Automation team, Leonid Bershidsky turns 51… Executive at Hakluyt & Company, Keith Lieberthal… SVP and financial advisor at UBS Financial Services in Baltimore, P. Justin “P.J.” Pearlstone… Partner at Blueprint Interactive for digital strategy, Geoff Mackler… Director of tribal relations at Eastern Washington University, Erin Ross… Associate at Herbst & Weiss, Shmuel Winiarz… New England regional director for J Street, Jasmine Gothelf Winship… Rapper, singer, songwriter and recording artist, better known under her stage name Lanz Pierce, Alana Michelle Josephs turns 33… Former pitcher on the Israeli National Baseball Team, now working in renewable energy in Seattle, Corey A. Baker turns 33… President of Eastern Savings Bank in Hunt Valley, Md., Yaakov S. Neuberger… Development and grant writer for Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans (Beit Halochem), Elise Fischer… Toronto-based lyricist, author and playwright, Naomi Matlow…
BIRTHWEEK: Managing editor of Jewish Insider, Melissa Weiss turns 36 on Friday…