👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to Amb. Tom Nides about the U.S. approach to the next Israeli government, and interview Amb. Rufus Gifford about his role as U.S. chief of protocol. Also in today’s newsletter: Mike Pompeo, Shana Mansbach and Alejandro Mayorkas.
Three Israelis were killed and three others wounded in a stabbing attack and a subsequent car ramming this morning near the West Bank settlement of Ariel. The IDF said that a terrorist arrived at the entrance gate to the Ariel Industrial Zone and stabbed civilians in the area, as well as at a nearby gas station. The assailant then fled the scene in a stolen vehicle and crashed into several cars on Highway 5 before getting out of the car and stabbing another person.
The 120 members of the 25th Knesset are set to be sworn in today, with 23 freshmen Knesset members, as well as three who are back in Jerusalem after some time out of government, according to a breakdown by Ofer Kenig, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and professor at Ashkelon Academic College. The new Knesset includes 29 women, which is consistent with the average number of women elected to the body in recent years. Meanwhile, Arab representation has shrunk to 10 — the lowest in the past two decades, largely due to low voter turnout in that sector and a split in Arab party lists that resulted in the failure of the Balad party to cross the electoral threshold.
Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, who is expected to be replaced in the coming days, said yesterday that he hopes “the 25th Knesset will be a positive turning point in the discourse and in the way Knesset members conduct their debates.” Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, is working hard to put together a government, and hopes to complete the task by next week.
And in Washington, Congress is back, with committees meeting for the first time since before the Nov. 8 election. This morning, the House Homeland Security Committee will convene for a hearing on “Worldwide Threats to the Homeland,” with testimony from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Elsewhere on the Hill is a debate over the future of House leadership, as Republicans inch closer to a majority, following declared wins last night in California, New York and Arizona. Reps. Michelle Steel (R-CA) and Ken Calvert (R-CA) held onto their Southern California seats, while in Arizona, Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) defeated his Democratic challenger. In New York, Republican Brandon Williams came out ahead of Democrat Francis Conole in the state’s 22nd District.
But a Republican majority does not ensure smooth sailing for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who needs to win 218 votes to become the next speaker of the House. McCarthy’s allies have gone so far as to attempt to convince at least one Democrat — Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) — to switch parties. Some Republicans — including Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who, backed by other members of the House Freedom Caucus, is making a symbolic run for the speakership in today’s GOP leadership elections — have already voiced their opposition to backing the House minority leader, citing the GOP’s showing last week.
We’ll know more about the speaker’s race later today, after the Republican leadership elections. (The Democrats won’t hold their elections until the end of the month.) McCarthy is expected to easily hit the simple majority to shore up his bid — but will likely fall short of unanimous support, which could doom his bid for speaker in a House that is nearly evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Meanwhile, Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) said that he is open to working with Democrats to elect a moderate House speaker should the GOP not agree on a candidate.
But the Republican leadership election isn’t the only major GOP event taking place today. Former President Donald Trump is expected to announce his 2024 presidential bid at 9 p.m. tonight from Mar-a-Lago. We expect both the speakership race and Trump’s announcement to be topics of conversation at this weekend’s Republican Jewish Coalition leadership meeting in Las Vegas, where a number of potential presidential contenders, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who eclipsed Trump in one recent poll, are scheduled to speak.
U.S. envoy watches with caution as new government takes shape in Israel
As incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu works to form his new government coalition, potentially with some of the most far-right nationalist politicians Israel has ever seen, the Biden administration is watching closely. At the center of what could become a transatlantic storm sits America’s top envoy to Israel, Tom Nides, who, in the coming weeks and months will be required to maneuver between a new batch of Israeli cabinet members whose views — and actions — could end up clashing head-on with deeply held positions of a Democratic government in the U.S. that was bolstered by the recent midterm elections. “I’ve now been here for a year now and as I’ve said before, this job is not for the faint of heart,” Nides confessed to Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash in an interview in his Jerusalem office on Monday. “And given the fact that I’m already on my third prime minister, it’s even stretching my own imagination how complicated this job is.”
Defense decisions: Since Israel’s Nov. 1 election, local media has been speculating that Itamar Ben-Gvir and his political ally, far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich – the two ran a successful election campaign together under the banner of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, receiving the third most votes – are vying for some of the most powerful ministerial positions in Netanyahu’s next government, including the uber-sensitive post of defense minister. “I’m not going to speculate over who will be in the government or what our reaction will be when it happens, but what I do care about are those ministries that we have a very close, interlocking relationship with, in particular, the Defense Ministry,” explained Nides, who has spoken with Netanyahu several times since the election.
Wait and see: Despite the rising concerns from both Palestinian and U.S. officials about far-right politicians being positions of such power, Nides said his orders from Washington were to wait and see what happens over the next few weeks. Nides also said he did not believe that Netanyahu wanted to see a deterioration in the relations between Israel and the U.S., even though he acknowledged that there might be some in the incoming government who do not have the same priorities. “Joe Biden has a lot of credibility with the incoming prime minister, they’ve known each other for a long time and that relationship matters,” he continued. “Could there be people in the government who might not have the same priorities? Of course. But we will look towards Prime Minister Netanyahu to steer the ship, and if we believe things are off track, we’ll be more than happy to express our views as we see fit.”
Jewish leaders weigh in: Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations CEO William Daroff, speaking at a conference on U.S.-Israel ties on Monday, raised concerns over a proposal by Ben-Gvir to alter Israel’s Law of Return, as well as the recognition of conversions by non-Orthodox branches of Judaism.
How Rufus Gifford, Washington’s chief of protocol, leverages the ‘power to convene’ to help advance foreign policy
To Ambassador Rufus Gifford, chief of protocol for the U.S., the most important aspect of foreign policy is human relations. Building bridges between countries, he says, is the “backbone” of diplomacy, a mission he’s oriented his career around. “In essence, we’re the primary liaison between foreign governments and the Biden administration,” Gifford said of his current position during a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast” co-hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein. “We try to create an environment in which diplomacy can thrive.”
VIP status: For some events, Gifford likes to utilize the presidency’s more VIP venues, including Blair House, the president’s official guest house, which he oversees. “The power to convene, the power to bring people together in these remarkable venues, there’s so much value in that, and it’s something that I think we overlook or we don’t think about enough. So when I think about the spectacular venues, and for those of you who have not been to Blair House, it is…one of the most beautiful, beautiful buildings that the U.S. government owns, and as far as I’m concerned, that should be shared,” Gifford told JI. “So we’re going to try to think about this a little differently, try to open it up and share it with our foreign guests, and use it as an opportunity to really advance Biden administration foreign policy by utilizing that sort of the soft power that comes inherently in many ways with doing an event at Blair House.”
Sukkot set-up: “We had this idea to partner with the special envoy to combat antisemitism [Deborah Lipstadt] and her office to…not just try to preach to the converted [about the work she and her team are doing] — which I think is oftentimes such the mistake that we make in government, is that we’re oftentimes just talking to the same people that agree with us anyway — so how can we think about this a little bit different?” Giffords explained, “But how can we also do it in a way that’s a little bit softer, how can we celebrate over a meal? How can we enjoy ourselves while having a substantive conversation? And that’s where this all came from,” Gifford explained. “So we built the sukkah outside, we got Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman, to come, in addition to the special envoy to combat antisemitism, the ambassador-at-large for religious freedom at State [Rashad Hussain], as well as most [of] the ambassadors we invited were potentially not the ones you’d expect. It wasn’t just the Israeli ambassador, who of course was there with his spouse, but also mostly Arab state ambassadors, and many of whom had never been to an event like this, had never stood under a sukkah before.”
As seen on TV: During former President Barack Obama’s second term, Gifford was named the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, and, in a unique strategy to further foreign policy, became the subject of a Danish reality TV show — Gifford prefers the term “documentary series” — “I am the Ambassador.” “It is easily the most unexpected thing that has happened to me over the course of my professional life,” Gifford attested. “When I arrived in Denmark, which was the end of 2013, what I learned really quickly is that there was a whole generation of Europeans, and largely sort of left-leaning Europeans, that had lost interest or trust in the transatlantic relationship led by the United States,” he said. “What I really wanted to try to do is engage a new generation of Europeans and try to talk about American diplomacy in a way that they would listen and not just preach to the choir.”
Lightning Round: Favorite restaurant in D.C.: “I don’t even know that it’s my favorite food anymore, but it’s where I used to go on, it’s where I went on my first date, some of my first dates with my now-husband, so it has a special place in my heart, and that will be Tabard Inn.” Favorite historical figure in foreign policy: “I don’t think I can ever find a more important relationship, as it relates to creating the modern world, than Churchill and Roosevelt.” Favorite Yiddish word: “I mean, to me, because it’s how I try to live my life, is, chutzpah is Yiddish, right?”
Why UDP jumped into a Northern California congressional race
In early October, United Democracy Project, a super PAC affiliated with AIPAC, marked its first foray into the general election, quietly dropping about $80,000 into a low-profile House race in the Bay Area, with just a month remaining until the midterms. It was a relatively modest initial ad buy for the pro-Israel group, which had poured millions into a range of competitive primaries. As the race concluded last Tuesday, however, the final count showed that UDP had ultimately spent a sizable amount — more than $500,000 — to boost a moderate state assemblyman from South San Francisco, Kevin Mullin, in California’s redrawn 15th Congressional District, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Numbers game: According to a person familiar with UDP’s engagement, there was evidence to suggest that the race for retiring Rep. Jackie Speier’s seat could have been closer than the final result demonstrated. About a month before the election, the super PAC commissioned a poll showing that close to 50% of voters were still undecided, the person told JI while characterizing a private survey on the condition of anonymity. The significant number of respondents who had yet to make up their minds was a cause for concern, even if Mullin was still favored to win: He had earned backing from the majority of remaining poll respondents, with his support hovering somewhere in the low 30s. Mullin’s team, for its part, conducted an internal poll that revealed a similar dynamic, according to the person, who also reviewed the campaign’s survey.
Money matters: Meanwhile, with weeks remaining until the midterms, Mullin was struggling to raise money to promote his name and message. He had pulled in more than $1.1 million throughout the race but was sitting on just under $100,000 by mid-October, according to filings from the Federal Election Commission. By contrast, his opponent, David Canepa, was at even more of a disadvantage, with only about $20,000 on hand as he entered the final stretch of the campaign.
💪 Fighting Machine:The Washington Post’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Paul Kane look at how the “Reid machine” — the unofficial term for Democratic efforts to hold the state’s top jobs, spearheaded by the late former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) — pulled out a series of victories this cycle. “But the Reid machine is more than the ground game. It’s about the money and has been set up to run like a campaign instead of a state party. Reid didn’t just have the support of union workers, the people who cleaned and built the hotels, but the casino executives, too. Reid had the support of the mining executives and also the environmental groups — two groups that rarely agree. It’s an entity to collect and redirect campaign contributions into the different parts of the organization. It ensures allied grass-roots groups are well funded. It’s an opposition research organization and communications shop that starts eyeing potential challengers years in advance. ‘It was really about making sure that those resources were put to the kinds of programs that are tried and true here, that we knew that it would take to win,’ [Reid’s chief political strategist Rebecca] Lambe said.” [WashPost]
🗳️ Midterm Mood: The Washington Post‘s Max Boot looks at the impact that the results of the midterm elections could have abroad — and at the leaders who are likely disgruntled by the Democratic win. “In July, Biden traveled to the kingdom to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite his role in ordering the murder of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Biden hoped to win agreement from Saudi Arabia to maintain high oil production to moderate inflationary pressure since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. MBS, as he’s widely known, refused to oblige in what was widely seen as an attempt to hurt Biden politically and usher in the return of his MAGA friends. The Wall Street Journal reported that MBS ‘mocks President Biden in private … has told advisers he hasn’t been impressed with Mr. Biden since his days as vice president, and much preferred former President Donald Trump.’ Well, as Omar Little said in ‘The Wire,’ ‘You come at the king, you best not miss.’ MBS missed — and now he will have to deal with an empowered Biden. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is returning as Israel’s prime minister, is yet another Middle Eastern leader who preferred Trump to Biden. Now he will have to listen more carefully when Biden tells him not to annex parts of the West Bank as demanded by the right-wing members of his coalition.” [WashPost]
Ξ FTX’s Failure: The New York Times‘ David Yaffe-Bellany talks to FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried about the collapse of his cryptocurrency exchange. “But he would offer only limited details about the central questions swirling around him: whether FTX improperly used billions of dollars of customer funds to prop up a trading firm that he also founded, Alameda Research. The Justice Department and the S.E.C. are examining that relationship. Alameda had accumulated a large margin position on FTX, essentially meaning it had borrowed funds from the exchange, Mr. Bankman-Fried said. ‘It was substantially larger than I had thought it was,’ he said. ‘And in fact the downside risk was very significant.’ He said the size of the position was in the billions of dollars but declined to provide further details. Mr. Bankman-Fried did, however, agree with critics in the crypto community who said he had expanded his business interests too quickly across a wide swath of the industry. He said his other commitments had led him to miss signs that FTX was running into trouble. ‘Had I been a bit more concentrated on what I was doing, I would have been able to be more thorough,’ he said. ‘That would have allowed me to catch what was going on on the risk side.’” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
🕵️ On the Case: The FBI has reportedly opened an investigation into the May killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the decision by the U.S. to investigate is “a grave mistake.”
👍 Gruenberg Greenlight: President Joe Biden will nominate Martin Gruenberg to be chairman of the FDIC, Gruenberg’s second time in the role, having overseen the bank regulator’s board from 2012-2018.
🇮🇷 Tehran Threat: Biden administration officials notified Congress that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Iran envoy Brian Hook continue to face credible threats from Iran.
🚓 MoCo Mystery: Police in Montgomery County, Md., are investigating antisemitic graffiti on Bethesda’s Trolley Trail, the second time in three months that such graffiti has been found on the trail.
💸 Market Rate: The five-bedroom, 12,000-square-foot penthouse in the Bahamas owned by Sam Bankman-Fried was listed for sale, with a price tag of $40 million.
🐢 Turtle Bay Talk: Israel abstained from a United Nations General Assembly vote yesterday on a resolution that Russia should be required to pay Ukraine reparations for damages, days after Kyiv voted in favor of an anti-Israel resolution.
⛔ Stopped Shipment: The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard intercepted an Iranian shipment of more than 180 tons of explosive materials en route to Yemen.
☢️ Pressure Campaign: The U.S. will continue a policy of sanctions and pressure and has turned attention away from nuclear talks with Iran due to the Islamic republic’s crackdown on protesters and its sale of drones to Russia, Washington’s special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, said yesterday.
🪧 Protest Update: Hundreds of minors have reportedly been detained and others have been killed for joining the anti-regime demonstrations in Iran. Iran’s Revolutionary Court issued its first death sentence in connection with the recent protests, to a person who allegedly set fire to a government building.
➡️ Transitions: Shana Mansbach, formerly deputy director of communications for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), has taken on the role of speechwriter and senior adviser to Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Aviva Abusch, a staffer in the office of former Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), joined the House Pro-Choice Caucus as executive director.
Song of the Day
Nissim Black released the music video for his latest single, “Away From Here.”
Pianist and conductor, formerly music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim turns 80…
Dean of Ohr Etzion Yeshiva and the leader of the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement, he was a long-time member of the Knesset, Rabbi Haim Drukman turns 90… Author of dozens of children’s books and young adult fiction, frequent NPR guest, Daniel Pinkwater turns 81… Boca Raton resident, Stephen Wolff… Former Chairman and CEO of Film and Music Entertainment, Lawrence (Larry) Lotman… NYC-based consultant for non-profit organizations, Perry Davis turns 74… Retired immigration and nationality attorney in Southern California, Michael D. Ullman… Past president of Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa., Paul Finkelman turns 73… Executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museums of Tolerance, Rabbi Meyer H. May turns 70… Executive producer and director of television programs, including “Friends,” Kevin S. Bright turns 68… Member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, Meir Cohen turns 67… Partner in Toronto-based accounting firm Fuller Landau, Jeffrey M. Brown… Senior project manager at T-Mobile, Michael A. Lewine… Member of the Florida House of Representatives, Michael Alan Gottlieb turns 54… Former member of Knesset for the Likud party, Nava Boker turns 52… Founder and chairman of Perilune Capital and founder of Harspring Capital Management, Carey Robinson Wolchok… Mortgage executive, Joshua Shein… CEO of the Riverdale Y in the Bronx, Deann Forman… As a 12-year-old baseball fan in Yankee Stadium, he interfered with a ball batted by Derek Jeter in the 1996 ALCS that was ruled to be a game-tying home run, Jeffrey Maier turns 39… Professional golfer, he won the gold medal at the 2013 Maccabiah Games, Ben Silverman turns 35… White House reporter for The Associated Press, Zeke Miller… Legislative and communications liaison at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Ben Goodman… Senior client recruiter at SingleSprout, Alison Borowsky… 2L student at Harvard Law School, Micah Rosen…