👋 Good Friday morning!
Ed. note: This is our last Daily Kickoff of 2022. We’ll be back in your inbox on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Happy new year from the team at JI!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to outgoing Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai and profile U.K. TV host Rob Rinder. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Joe Lieberman, Rep. Elise Stefanik and David Barnea.
For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent stories from JI, eJewishPhilanthropy and The Circuit, including: The White House gelt peddler; Hanukkah comes to Audrey Gelman’s Six Bells; Brazilian database records, historian cast doubt on Santos’ claims of Jewish ancestry; ‘Fragile Beauty’ exhibition connects Jewish artists with the environment; Meet the L.A. rabbi who found a national stage for her support of the Iranian protests; How ‘GirlWithNoJob’ raised $50,000 on Instagram for Holocaust education in one day; Dead Sea rebounds from pandemic slump as tourist magnet for Jordan; and UAE offer for Israeli insurer paves way for more deals, minister says. Print the latest edition here.
Less than a day after Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu told President Isaac Herzog that he had formed a coalition, the incoming Israeli leader sat down with Jewish Insider podcast hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein on Thursday afternoon to share his views on Israel’s economy, the makeup of his new government and potential normalization with Saudi Arabia. Below are previews of our podcast episode with Netanyahu, the full version of which will be posted next week. To be notified when the episode goes live, subscribe to our podcast here.
On Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to a joint session of Congress this week: “Well, I’ve only seen parts of it, but I think it was a strong speech with a strong message. And it looks like it was well-received, to say the least.”
On what he would say if invited to address Congress: “I think my message is constant. It’s peace through strength, prosperity through free markets, and the alliance of the like-minded states to assure our place and our permanence, to the extent anybody could do that, in history. That’s really something that unites us across nations, across oceans and across time.”
On taking on Iran: “I have come back to office to the genteel world of Israeli politics, I’ve come back for one reason, one main reason, and that is to do everything that I can, as I’ve done over the past 15 years of my premiership, to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons that will endanger my country Israel, will endanger your country the United States, and just about everything in between.” View a preview of this exchange.
On potential normalization with Saudi Arabia: “I want to go as big as we can, but sometimes to take a long journey it takes smaller steps, and that’s not a problem. Look, you should understand already that we have things in place. The Saudi government’s decision to open up Saudi airspace to Israel occurred before the Abraham Accords; that gives you a pretty good clue that they didn’t look askance at the Abraham Accords. This was done in 2018, the Abraham Accords were done in 2020. And yet, two years before we signed the agreement, or perhaps I’m wrong, a year and a half, Israelis began to fly over the airspace of Saudi Arabia to the Gulf states and other places. So that is a clear sign of a change. Now I hope to bring about a full, formal peace as we’ve done with the other Gulf states like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. It’s up to the Saudi leadership to decide that. I hope they will. And I intend to explore that alongside my other main goals. This is a very important goal, because if we have peace with Saudi Arabia, we are effectively going to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
On providing educational and training opportunities to Israel’s Haredi community: “Well, my view is, and I’m going to advance it in this coming government, is to create it on a voluntary basis, through their networks — not force-feed them, but do it through their networks, under their standards, religious standards, whatever… the cost of information, the cost of education, the cost of branded education… is going down precipitously. So we can exploit that. You can give everyone a Harvard, MIT or Stanford [education], I mean that seriously, by giving them access to people who teach there or in our excellent universities with technology. Just don’t force-feed them, offer it. See how far you’ll get.”
Lightning round —Favorite Israeli wine? “I’m gonna be in hot, hot trouble if I answer that. There are fantastic, fantastic wines [in Israel], but I have to confess to you that I’m a very, very poor drinker. That is not because I get drunk, it’s because I don’t drink that much.” Goldberg suggested Psagot’s Pompeo wine, named after the former U.S. secretary of state, to which Netanyahu jokingly responded that Pompeo “did something inexcusable. He went a few kilometers north of Jerusalem to a winery that produces fantastic wine. Psagot wine. And how could you do that? I mean, this is like visiting the Belgian Congo. I mean, occupied territory! For God’s sake. This is the homeland of the Jewish people who’ve been there for thousands of years. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous.”
Philadelphia, Boston or Ithaca? “I very much enjoyed my years in Boston. It’s a great city. It’s a university town and I went to university there, MIT, and enjoyed both living there, but especially studying there, and then working there for two years in the Boston Consulting Group, that was actually illuminating and rewarding in every way.”
Favorite American president of all time? “I’m gonna play it safe, George Washington…that’s not a sort of a postcard-empty answer. I never appreciated Washington fully until I read several biographies about him, and I could see that he was exceptionally astute and brave and smart. And he knew how to steward a herd of cats. The most gifted cats probably in history.”
Read more here and stay tuned for the full episode next week.
Nachman Shai’s goodbye to the Diaspora
Nachman Shai has long been a major figure in Israeli-Diaspora relations, dating back to his time as a senior vice president to United Jewish Communities, now known as the Jewish Federations of North America. But in June 2021, as a member of then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition government, he was tapped for Israel’s top role working with the diaspora — and immediately faced an unprecedented crisis. Days after the collapse of a residential building complex in Surfside, Fla., home to a sizable Jewish community, Shai arrived in South Florida with a team from Israel’s Homefront Command’s Search and Rescue unit, who assisted in rescue-and-recovery efforts. “It was my second or third week in the job, and I believe that it changed the course of the [Israeli-diaspora] dialogue,” Shai told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash. “The Jewish community suffered tremendous casualties, scores of people were killed and the fact that an official spokesperson from the State of Israel came, stayed with them, spoke to them and addressed them in their synagogue sent a message that we hadn’t thought so important before.”
All in the family: In the year and a half since Shai parachuted in to support a grieving Jewish community, his work — from providing support to Jews fleeing the war in Ukraine to pushing Israelis to pay attention to the rise in global antisemitism to launching initiatives bridging the gaps between Israeli and Diaspora Jews — has focused on changing the way the Jewish state views the global Jewish community. Shai described to JI his steadfast belief that it is time for Israelis to start asking Diaspora Jews “what they need from us,” adding, “there are eight million Jews in the Diaspora and whether they are under pressure from antisemitism, or living full and happy lives, they should be on our radar screen, and we should look at them, work with them, help them and see them as, as members of our own family.”
Future fears: “I was hoping that [the Bennett-Lapid] government will survive for three years,” lamented Shai in the interview, adding that visiting Jews in the Diaspora over the past 18 months made him realize that having such a diverse coalition consisting of right- and left-wing politicians, Jews and Arabs, including nine female ministers, “was so important” for Jews in those communities. “So, I’m really going to miss it, not only as a politician, but also on a personal level, as I wonder where is my state is going and what it will mean for my children and eight grandchildren in the future.”
on the hill
Last days of the 117th Congress
Much of Washington has emptied, with the city’s transient residents traveling for the holidays, but the lights remain on in the Capitol, where House lawmakers are expected to vote today on the $1.65 trillion omnibus package passed by the Senate yesterday. Here’s what else we’re watching in Washington:
Falling short: The Senate failed to pass a widely bipartisan resolution expressing support for Iranian protesters as a result of an unspecified objection from a Republican. “I rise today to express deep disappointment that my colleagues did not join me in passing Senate Concurrent Resolution 47,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said. “This resolution is not controversial. Indeed, it is the minimum message that the U.S. Congress should be sending.”
Hoyer’s signoff: In his final speech as House majority leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) noted that he has “been proud to be a leader of the broad, bipartisan coalition supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israel’s pursuit of security and peace in the region. That effort exemplifies how to build and sustain consensus in this House. This bipartisan approach must continue, and I will keep working next Congress to ensure that both parties stand firmly with Israel.”
Looking ahead: Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY), whose background, including his claimed relation to Jewish Holocaust refugees, has been called into question in recent days, broke his silence yesterday, tweeting, “I have my story to tell and it will be told next week. I want to assure everyone that I will address your questions and that I remain committed to deliver the results I campaigned on; Public safety, Inflation, Education & more.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — whom Santos is backing in his bid to become House speaker — ignored questions about the New York politician from reporters yesterday.
British TV judge Rob Rinder’s crowded docket
Rob Rinder — berobed TV judge, popular presenter on a breakfast show and a contestant on the British original of “Dancing with the Stars” — is nearly ubiquitous on Britain’s TV screens. But Brits got to see another side of Rinder’s essential, sunny optimism in 2018 when he appeared on the British roots-journey show, “Who Do You Think You Are?” when he discovered more harrowing details about his maternal grandfather’s Holocaust experience in Poland. “I’m not just culturally Jewish,” Rinder told Jenni Frazer for Jewish Insider. “It is the inescapable label placed upon you. But I am also religiously Jewish. I am very publicly proud of being Jewish, and having a Jewish platform and having simcha, or delight, in my Judaism.”
Sharing the faith: His answer, he says, is to try to introduce people to his faith and hope that they can see the joy he takes in being Jewish — very unusual for a public personality in Britain. In two recent popular TV food shows, for example, one at Passover and a second at Rosh Hashanah, Rinder appeared and spoke knowledgeably about the festivals and why Jews observe them in the way they do. “I love festivals and shul-going and Torah. When I try to share that with other people, it’s always through the prism of celebration and inclusion.”
As seen on TV: Rinder is aware that the more “showbiz” part of his life — he appears daily on “Judge Rinder,” a court show akin to “Judge Judy,” can lead people to watch BBC documentaries with a more serious slant —including the two Holocaust films he made, painful and personal, drawing on his family’s story — one of which pulled in eight million viewers and very positive reviews. He is also rumored to be fronting a major program next year marking Israel’s 75th anniversary by telling the stories, side-by-side, of three British Jews and three British Palestinians. Rinder explained that he strongly believes that “TV has a place in difficult conversations, such as the stories about the building of Israel.”
Serious moments: “He is particularly involved with Jewish causes,” Maurice Helfgott, the chairman of World Jewish Relief, said, “but by no means exclusively. I would say he wears his heart on his sleeve. He is extremely good at connecting with people emotionally.” This was evident earlier this year when Rinder, who speaks Russian, briefly reported from the Ukrainian border with Poland, inspired by the connection he had built with his Ukrainian dancing partner Oksana Platero on “Strictly Come Dancing,” the U.K. celebrity dance competition that inspired “Dancing With the Stars.” Platero’s family, like many Ukrainians, came under fire when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Rinder wanted to see what he could do to help — and tracked down the family in Poland, bringing them a wheelchair and medical supplies.
✈️ SPF and MBS:Puck’s Willam Cohan interviews Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci about the former White House communications director’s relationship with FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, and the Middle East trip the duo took to meet with potential investors — including Saudi Prime Minister Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “This past fall, The Mooch and S.B.F. traveled together to the Middle East. S.B.F. wanted to raise a new $1 billion round of financing for FTX at the same $32 billion valuation at which he had previously raised, nine months earlier, from a who’s who of Silicon Valley venture capital firms. S.B.F. positioned it as an extension of that January 2022 round of financing. The two men had dinner together with Mohammed bin Salman, the increasingly autocratic Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. M.B.S., as it turned out, had recently caught crypto fever, and was sufficiently wowed to want to perform some additional diligence on S.B.F. The dynamic duo also met with the ‘senior people,’ as The Mooch put it to me before Thanksgiving, in the United Arab Emirates. ‘I introduced him to the waterfall of institutions that I had built relationships with,’ he continued. ‘He was raising an extension round and I said, “No problem.”’” [Puck]
👩 Stefanik in the Spotlight: The Washington Post’s Ruby Cramer looks at Rep. Elise Stefanik’s (R-NY) political evolution and the heightened scrutiny she’s faced as a young female Republican leader. “She has come to expect reporters contacting her ex from high school, her old teachers, her friends, her friends who are no longer friends, the members of the Harvard Institute of Politics, a place she once loved that kicked her off its advisory board after Jan. 6, 2021, for making claims about voter fraud that had ‘no basis in evidence.’ She is accustomed to people calling her calculated and craven and driven by a quest for power. She has seen the tweets nicknaming her ‘Trashy Stefanik’ and the ad calling her a ‘Mean Girl.’ She has read the articles charting her ‘political transformation’ — her hard turn from ‘moderate’ to ‘MAGA.’ There is Elise before: the then-youngest woman ever elected to Congress; the promise of a younger, more moderate Republican Party; the open skepticism of Trump. And then there is Elise after: the open loyalty to Trump; the early, unwavering support for his 2024 campaign; the adoption of his rhetoric, his all-caps tweets, his grievances, his lie about the 2020 election results. At a time when other Republicans have taken cautious steps away from the former president, she has plowed ahead in the other direction. The shift is treated as bewildering and sudden — a mystery to be solved.” [WashPost]
🔦 Pathway to Presidency: In an interview with The New York Times’ Blake Hounshell, former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the first Jewish candidate for vice president, recalled a conversation he had in 2008 with Barack Obama, then the Democrat’s presidential nominee. (Lieberman had endorsed Republican John McCain.) “We had a wonderful conversation on the floor of the Senate, probably the spring of 2008,” Lieberman said. “He had come back off the campaign trail for a vote, and he had clinched the Democratic nomination. And I went over and congratulated him, and he said to me, ‘Part of the reason why I think I was able to get this nomination and I got a chance to be president is because of the barrier you broke in 2000 when you ran for vice president.’ He was extremely gracious. I was quite touched. So there was a sort of understanding about it.” [NYTimes]
🇮🇳 Hindi Chaverim: In the Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume explores ties between India and Israel, which blossomed following the fall of the Former Soviet Union, in the wake of an Israeli filmmaker’s criticism of an Indian film festival entry. “In the three decades since, India-Israel relations have greatly strengthened, giving them a heft that won’t easily be shifted. India has emerged as the largest importer of Israeli arms world-wide and a powerful symbol of the country’s acceptance among postcolonial nations once averse to the Jewish state. India hosts about 30 Israeli centers for agricultural innovation. Israeli firms see a promising market in defense technology, farming, automobiles and financial technology in particular, said Anat Bernstein-Reich, the chairwoman of the Israel-India chamber of commerce, in a phone interview.” [WSJ]
🗳️ Seating Santos: The Washington Post’s Henry Olsen argues that Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) should be seated in the next Congress, despite a series of allegations that he has misrepresented his education, employment history and ties to the Jewish community, among other things. “Democracy means nothing if the people themselves do not rule. That means submitting to their decision even if we are convinced they have decided badly. No one doubts that Santos was legitimately elected in November, and the Supreme Court ruled in Powell v. McCormack that the House can vote to expel members only once they have taken their seats. Expelling Santos on the basis of media reports would amount to the House substituting its own judgment for the people’s. That’s the antithesis of what this country is about.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
🕎 Heralding Hanukkah: Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson were featured guests at a Hanukkah celebration at SAR Academy in Riverdale.
⚖️ Bankman-Fried to the Bay: FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who was extradited to the U.S. from the Bahamas this week, was released on $250 million bail and will be under house arrest and electronic monitoring at his parents’ Palo Alto house.
💼 Succession Saga: The Financial Times looks at Carlyle’s struggle to find a new CEO following the August departure of Kewsong Lee.
💵 Gynger Goals: Gynger, a New York-based software and infrastructure financing startup founded by Mark Ghermezian, raised $21.7 million in debt and equity funding.
🏇 Polo Prize: Grant Ganzi was one half of the duo that won the World Snow Polo Championship in Aspen, Colo., on Wednesday, beating his mother, Melissa Potamkin Ganzi, in the final round.
📈 Dangerous Trend: Studies and polls in Texas and San Francisco found a rise in antisemitic sentiments and incidents in both areas.
🚓 Court Case: A California man was charged with a hate crime and assault with a deadly weapon after initiating an attack on a man after asking if the man was Jewish.
📺 Unlikely Pals: A new PBS documentary that premieres on Tuesday will feature the friendship between television personality Dick Cavett and his mentor, renowned comedian Groucho Marx.
🇶🇦 Hanukkah in Doha: Representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Qatar for the World Cup participated in a Hanukkah candlelighting hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Doha.
💻 Tech Troubles: An Associated Press investigation revealed that government officials around the world, including in Israel, used mass surveillance technology intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus to instead monitor individuals and stifle dissent.
⚠️ Axis of Evil: Mossad chief David Barnea warned that Iran was planning to expand its support of weapons to Russia, which is using them against Ukraine.
🌐 Secret Servers: Activists have resorted to smuggling Elon Musk’s Starlink devices into Iran as the government continues to repress online communications.
🕯️ Remembering: Labor leader and activist Barry Feinstein died at 87.
Pic of the Day
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides rides a camel on Thursday at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Editor-at-large of The Bulwark, William “Bill” Kristol turns 70…
FRIDAY: Television producer Barney Rosenzweig turns 85… Electrical engineer, who with Vint Cerf, invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), the fundamental protocols at the heart of the Internet, Robert Elliot “Bob” Kahn turns 84… Emmy Award-winning actor, writer, director and producer, best known for his work on “The Simpsons,” Harry Shearer turns 79… Russian-born mathematician, living in France, Mikhail Leonidovich Gromov turns 79… U.S. district judge in the Southern District of New York, he has been on senior status since 2011, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan turns 78… Former economics columnist for The Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson turns 77… Documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner turns 76… Recently retired justice on the Supreme Court of Canada, Michael Moldaver turns 75… One of two Grand Rebbes of Satmar, Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum turns 71… Retired Israeli basketball player and coach, until 2006 she was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most points (108) ever scored in a women’s professional game, Orna Ostfeld turns 70… Dean at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, he served as the U.S. ambassador to Poland in the Obama administration, Lee A. Feinstein turns 63… Software engineer at Goldman Sachs, Bill Pinsky…
CEO of the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal turns 56… Former USAID acting mission director for the West Bank and Gaza, now mission director for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Courtney Chubb turns 53… Political technology entrepreneur and campaign finance attorney, Jonathan Eric Zucker turns 51… Israeli investor, Dan Gertler turns 49… Beverly Hills-based attorney and real estate agent, he is a supporter of pro-democracy groups in his native Iran, Pooya Dayanim… Israeli-Spanish singer-songwriter of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) music, Yasmin Levy turns 47… Partner in the Austin office of Keller Lenkner, Zina Linda Gelman Bash… VP of strategy and mergers at the Heritage Group, Adam Milakofsky… Israeli singer, songwriter, musician and composer of the genre known as Mizrahi music, Dudu Aharon turns 38… Liberal rabbi in the city of Dresden and founder of the Besht Yeshiva, Akiva Weingarten turns 38… Executive director of the Alexander Hamilton Society, Dr. Gabriel Scheinmann… Lecturer and research scholar at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Emil Pitkin… Senior marketing manager at Rokt until last month, Lauren Kahn… Israeli fashion model Shlomit Malka turns 29… India Goodman… Tom Epstein… Chief operating officer at Israel Policy Forum, Snezhana Valdman Orlando…
SATURDAY: Founder of Cablevision Industries, Alan Gerry turns 93… Professor of education and liturgy at Gratz College for 42 years until retiring in 2017, Saul Philip Wachs turns 91… Columnist and senior national security reporter at The Cipher Brief, Walter Haskell Pincus turns 90… Owner of The Wonderful Company which operates POM, Fiji Water, Teleflora, Wonderful Pistachios and other businesses, Stewart Resnick turns 86… Emeritus professor of English at the University of Vermont and former chief of staff to Sen. Bernie Sanders, he is the co-author of Sanders’ political memoir, Stanley “Huck” Gutman turns 79… British journalist and fashion critic who serves as an editor for 25 international editions of Vogue online, Suzy Menkes turns 79… Retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Florida, Barbara Pariente turns 74… Member of the New York State Assembly representing Lower Manhattan, Deborah J. Glick turns 72… Co-founder and a rabbi of Ohr HaTorah in Venice, Calif., Rabbi Mordecai Finley turns 68… Former director of the National Economic Council under both Presidents Clinton and Obama, Gene Sperling turns 64… Founder and chief investment officer at BlueStar Indexes which is now part of MV Index Solutions, Steven Schoenfeld… Founder of Ochstein Strategies, Jodi L. Ochstein… Activist against gun violence, Fred Guttenberg turns 57… British-Israeli security consultant, Walter Zvi Soriano turns 55… Member of the U.K. Parliament since 2005, former leader of the Labour Party, Edward Samuel Miliband turns 53… Professor of Internet law and computer science at Harvard, Jonathan Zittrain turns 53… Staff writer at The New Yorker since 2008, Evan Osnos… Chief communications officer at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Roben Kantor Smolar… Pianist, singer and composer, at 9 years old he became the youngest artist to have his own hour-long “National PBS Concert Special,” Ethan Jordan Bortnick turns 22…
SUNDAY: Sociologist, author, fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal, Kay Hymowitz turns 74… Israeli singer, songwriter, musician and painter, Yehuda Poliker turns 72… CEO of Whitebarn Associates and vice-chair of the board of The Ohio State University, Abigail Wexner turns 61… News editor at NBC News Digital, Hilary Leila Krieger… Writer-at-large at The Bulwark, Tim Miller… Attorney in the regulatory and government affairs group at global law firm DLA Piper, Irene Beren Jefferson Sherman… Board member at The America-Israel Friendship League, Daniella Rilov…