👋 Good Friday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to the Jewish leaders who met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Washington yesterday, and report on the just-opened Department of Education investigation into whether U.C. Berkeley’s law school violated the civil rights of Jewish students. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: David Saranga, Bari Weiss and Wes Moore.
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 Jewish Insider, eJewishPhilanthropy and The Circuit stories, including: Kevin Warren’s big tent; Ned Price leans into his Jewish values; Katie Hobbs warns of ‘toxic’ political climate as she prepares to lead Arizona; Arab fashion struts into Saudi Arabia; This Berlin-based group is reexamining Jewish texts through art; University of Haifa awards honorary doctorates to Bill Clinton and John Sexton; and Jewish camps, challenged by inflation and staffing shortages, hope to get back to normal. Print the latest edition here.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who recently returned from the World Cup in Qatar, raised eyebrows earlier this week with his comment that Qatar is “in many ways… our best partner in the region.” Murphy’s team subsequently clarified that he was referring to the Persian Gulf, rather than the Middle East as a whole.
Speaking to JI this week, Murphy downplayed concerns about Qatar and its influence-peddling in Washington and elsewhere. “It’s a pretty well-practiced technique for foreign governments to fund think tanks here. We should talk about it, but it’s a lot of countries,” Murphy told JI’s Marc Rod. He said he “[did] not know much about” recent allegations that Qatar had bribed high-level European Union officials to secure support for hosting the World Cup. (For more on that, The New York Timestook a deeper look at Qatar’s courting of European officials.)
Responding to Murphy and Omar’s recent trip, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) told JI this week, “I personally wouldn’t party with the Qatari government, but we need to have diplomatic conversations with some countries with problematic human rights records. Qatar does have an important U.S. airbase. However, they are all too close to the Muslim Brotherhood, are not helpful in the Abraham Accords process, and have a terrible record with their so-called guest workers.”
The Senate passed the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual defense and national security policy bill, last night, sending it to the president for his signature. The Senate also passed a one-week funding bill to keep the government open for the coming week, giving lawmakers until the end of next week to finalize the 2023 budget.
The Tel Aviv Hilton was the site of Bahrain’s National Day celebrations last night, where guests dined on kosher lamb biryani and chicken machboos and sipped non-alcoholic beverages. Attendees heard speeches from Bahraini Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma, Israeli Minister of Cooperation Issawi Frej and a video address from Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.
This morning, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will host an event with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in conversation with Carnegie President Tino Cuéllar to discuss President Joe Biden’s foreign policy during the first two years of his administration.
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt will be speaking with White House Jewish Liaison Shelley Greenspan during a pre-Shabbat Zoom briefing for the Jewish community at noon today.
Hanukkah begins on Sunday evening, and with it comes celebrations across Washington. On Sunday night, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff are hosting a Hanukkah gathering at their residence, while the National Menorah Lighting will take place on the White House Ellipse. On Monday evening, the White House will host its annual Hanukkah reception.
U.S. Jewish, pro-Israel groups meet with Egyptian president
Leaders of American Jewish and pro-Israel groups met on Thursday for more than an hour and a half with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on the heels of this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Trilateral ties: The meeting, attended by representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, B’nai B’rith and J Street, was “an opportunity for President Sissi to underscore the importance” of both the U.S.-Egypt relationship and the trilateral U.S.-Egypt-Israel relationship, according to ADL Senior Vice President for National Affairs George Selim, who represented his organization at the meeting.
Thanking Sissi: Conference of Presidents CEO William Daroff said the meeting was “very productive.” “We stated our unequivocal appreciation to President Sissi for his leadership in ensuring a safe, secure, and [stable] region,” Daroff said. “We also thanked him for safeguarding and enhancing the peace and security cooperation between Egypt and Israel.” In addition to the trilateral relationship and regional security issues, Daroff said he had raised the cases of Israeli prisoners and the bodies of Israeli soldiers being held captive by Hamas in Gaza.
Egyptian education: Selim told JI he raised the issue of rising global antisemitism, highlighting an ADL survey that showed that a third of Egyptians were unfamiliar with the Holocaust, asking “about his commitment to condemning antisemitism and also working to ensure that any type of antisemitic content in the curricula and taught in schools is roundly addressed by his administration.”
Dept. of Education to probe UC Berkeley Law School over antisemitism allegations
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is opening an investigation into the University of California, Berkeley Law School, in response to Jewish students who complained of a “hostile environment” at the law school after nine student organizations pledged not to invite pro-Israel speakers to campus, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Rule change: In August, nine registered student organizations at Berkeley’s law school adopted bylaws prohibiting pro-Israel speakers from participating in their events, sparking an outcry from Jewish students and alumni. The bylaw states that the groups “will not invite speakers that have expressed and continued to hold views or host/sponsor/promote events in support of Zionism, the apartheid state of Israel, and the occupation of Palestine.” A Jewish Journal op-ed by Ken Marcus, president of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, went viral under an eye-catching headline: “Berkeley Develops Jewish-Free Zones.”
Act of discrimination: The federal investigation came in response to a complaint filed by Gabriel Groisman, a Miami attorney and the former mayor of Bal Harbour, Fla., and Arsen Ostrovsky, the CEO of the International Legal Forum, a Tel Aviv-based organization. The pair filed a complaint in November, writing to the Department that they “firmly believe that there has been an act of discrimination against the Jewish community at UC Berkeley School of Law.” The complaint says that a total of 14 student groups have now joined the pledge to bar Zionist speakers.
Appropriate response: The investigation will probe “whether the university failed to respond appropriately” to complaints “from Jewish law students, faculty and staff that they experienced a hostile environment at the law school based on their shared Jewish ancestry” in light of the new policy adopted by those organizations, according to a Dec. 13 email, obtained by Jewish Insider, from the Department’s San Francisco regional director to Groisman and Ostrovsky. The email notes that opening an investigation into the matter does not mean the Office of Civil Rights has made a “determination with regard to its merits.” A Department of Education spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from JI.
Meet Israel’s new digital diplomacy chief
Some say defending Israel on social media can feel like a lost cause, but for David Saranga, Israel’s new digital diplomacy chief, it’s a life goal and a fight he’s not ready to give up on anytime soon – even if the odds are not in Israel’s favor. “We’re such a tiny nation and there’s so many out there who don’t like us,” Saranga, who became director of the digital bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in August, told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash in an interview this week. “You can see it in the numbers.”
Trolling Ye: He uses the example of Kanye West, who legally changed his name to Ye, and his recent antisemitic tirades on social media. “It’s true that many people condemned it, but he [Ye] has more than 30 million followers on Twitter, and even if 10% do not agree with him, there’s still a big percentage of his followers who see what he says and believe it because he’s an idol in their eyes,” said Saranga, who previously served as Israel’s ambassador to Romania. In the case of Ye, Saranga’s team of digital media experts had a victory of sorts. Following a short ban on the social media platform, Ye relaunched his account with a tweet saying “Shalom,” accompanied by a smile emoji. Saranga’s team, which runs Israel’s official account, @Israel, immediately responded with: “We would very much like to be excluded from this narrative,” a reference to singer Taylor Swift’s yearslong feud with Ye. The ministry even tagged Swift in its tweet.
Ahead of his time: Saranga, who was previously in New York as the head of media relations for the Israeli consulate, is touted as the first Israeli diplomat on social media. In 2009, when Twitter was in its infancy, Saranga held one of the earliest — if not the first — press conferences using the platform. At the time, he was mocked by mainstream journalists for using the channel to communicate a diplomatic message. Now, of course, Twitter is one of the main platforms used by heads of state, ambassadors and politicians to reach millions of people.
Twitter troubles: Returning earlier this week from Washington, where Israel held its annual conference with heads of missions in North America, Saranga said he outlined to envoys stationed there the main social media goals for the coming year – and calmed their fears that Twitter, a platform that Israel has invested in heavily – is about to disappear. “One of the big questions that everyone asked is what are we going to do with Twitter? Is Twitter going to change?” said the longtime diplomat. “My assessment is that Twitter is here to stay, but maybe things there will change.”
🤝 Ties That Bind: In Foreign Affairs, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid explains his approach to foreign policy and relationship-building in the region. “Israel and the UAE are very different countries. Israel is a vibrant and at times unruly democracy; the UAE is a federal monarchy. Israel is a ‘startup nation,’ home to many entrepreneurs and innovative companies; the UAE’s economy thrives off oil and trade. Most Israelis are Jews; most people who live in the UAE are not even Emirati, as around 88 percent of the country’s residents are expatriates. By the old standards of foreign relations, our two countries don’t share a single criterion that would make them ‘like-minded countries,’ or LM, in diplomatic parlance… Israel and the UAE may not be LM countries when it comes to our methods of governance or our stances on the Palestinian issue, but we are undoubtedly CS [Connectivity Statecraft] partners thanks to our shared economic worldviews, our mutual concerns about Iran, and our ability to pool resources to advance global goals.” [ForeignAffairs]
☹️ Social Struggle: In The Bulwark, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) warns of the effects of technology and social isolation on the fabric of modern society. “Everyone, at some point in their life, feels alone. There are few more paralyzing, destabilizing human emotions. And isolation has a habit of spiraling downward, often leading to irreparable dangerous behaviors and choices. Loneliness will always be a part of the human experience, and policymakers cannot erase it from American life. But today, social isolation threatens devastating consequences for the social fabric of our nation. It will be some time before we understand all causes of, and treatments for, this growing catastrophe. But talking frankly about the crisis, its consequences, and potential solutions, is a vital first step.” [TheBulwark]
🇮🇩 Eye on Indonesia: In The Jerusalem Post, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.K. Mark Regev considers how potential normalization between Israel and Indonesia could occur, and what the benefits would be for both countries. “The 2020 Abraham Accords with the UAE raised hopes for positive change in Indonesia’s approach. The UAE’s crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed is reputed to have a special relationship with Indonesia’s seventh and current president, Joko Widodo – a road in Abu Dhabi was even named after the latter. But despite their bond, Indonesia has so far decided not to follow the UAE’s lead. When asked, Indonesians insist that the requisite precondition for improved relations remains significant progress on the Palestinian track. Others tell interlocutors that if Saudi Arabia normalizes ties with Israel, Jakarta will have the pretext to do so too.” [JPost]
🐦 Twitter Talk: In the Free Press, Bari Weiss details the week she spent at the Twitter headquarters at the invitation of CEO Elon Musk, where she published a series of tweets called the “Twitter Files” that looked at internal decision-making in the pre-Musk era. “If I took anything away from my week at Twitter, it’s about power. It’s about how a handful of unelected people at a handful of private companies can influence public discourse profoundly. They can do it because of how good the tools they made are — and how little the public understands them. They can influence the outcome of elections. And they do. Because all of those people tend to move and think as one, there is something refreshing about Musk barging into the Twitter Tower on Market Street and turning over the tables. But I’m not sure anyone should have that kind of power. At one point I asked Musk what he makes of this criticism — that just as the old guard at Twitter had too much power, so does he. ‘I’m open to ideas,’ he said.” [FreePress]
Around the Web
✈️ Travel Plans: Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore promised that one of his first overseas visits will be to Israel, during a recent event hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
🗳️ Independent Streak: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) filed paperwork to run for reelection as an independent in 2024.
🍨 Sweet Deal: Unilever, which has been engaged in a legal fight with subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s over the conglomerate’s sale of its Israeli operations to local manufacturer American Quality Products, said that its litigation with the ice cream company’s independent board has “been resolved,” while Avi Zinger, the head of AQP, said that “there is no change to the agreement I made with Unilever earlier in the year.”
💻 Muted: Twitter suspended a number of accounts belonging to tech journalists and other reporters who have been critical of new CEO Elon Musk.
👨 Trump Talk: Former President Donald Trump is slated to speak today at the President’s Conference of Torah Umesorah, which is taking place at the Trump National Doral Miami.
🏳️🌈 Religion and State: A New York appeals court ruled that Yeshiva University must recognize the Y.U. Pride Alliance student group, following a lengthy court battle.
💉 Army Jabs: In The New York Times, former Rep. Max Rose (D-NY), who was tapped as a senior advisor on COVID response to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, registers his concern about the politicization of vaccine mandates for U.S. service members.
👨⚖️ Forty-two Months: A former Twitter employee in California was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for relaying information about users to officials in Saudi Arabia.
🎼 Study Session: eJewishPhilanthropyspotlights Shiur, a Berlin-based group that examines Jewish text through modern and untraditional art forms.
🇮🇱 Friedman’s Thoughts:The New York Times’ Tom Friedman reflects on his recent trip to Israel, and the changes happening on the ground amid demographic, economic and political shifts across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
🎧 Netanyahu on NPR: In a wide-ranging interview with NPR’s Daniel Estrin, Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu explains his alliance with Jewish Power’s Itamar Ben-Gvir, his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ongoing U.S. effort to rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.
🔊 Bibi to Biden: Netanyahu called on the Biden administration to reaffirm its relationship with Saudi Arabia, suggesting that warm Washington-Riyadh ties could help facilitate Israeli-Saudi normalization and provide a pathway for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
🕍 Egypt’s Last Jews: CBS News interviews the leaders of Cairo’s dwindling Jewish community, who are working to preserve Egypt’s Jewish history, as the country’s remaining Jews leave the country or marry outside the faith.
🕵️ Under Investigation: An off-duty U.N. peacekeeper deployed along the Israel-Lebanon border was killed by gunfire while driving in an armored convoy from southern Lebanon to Beirut, which Hezbollah called an “unintentional incident.”
✍️ In Memoriam: In the Washington Examiner, Tevi Troy reflects on the impact of conservative figures, including Midge Decter, Judge Laurence Silberman and Wally Stern, who died in 2022.
🕯️ Remembering: Melvin Cohen, who twice served as mayor of London’s heavily Jewish Barnet borough, died on Tuesday.
Wine of the Week
JI’s wine columnist Yitz Applbaum reviews the Vina Memorias Del Rambam Crianza 2016:
“In Judaism there are numerous joyous occasions in which wine plays an important role. This Shabbat, I have the honor and privilege to celebrate my first grandchild’s bris milah. To help decide with which wine he will enter this sacred covenant, I decided to sample a bevy of wines this week to ensure that the newborn starts his wine journey with something special. The standout bottle was the Memorias Crianza 2016. This Spanish beauty opens with a fair amount of vanilla. It then takes you down a path of soft tannins with a finish featuring strong almond overtures. It is an extremely balanced wine and is ready to enjoy now — whether 8 days or 80 years young.”
Purchase a bottle here.
Pic of the Day
Founder and CEO of LionTree LLC, an independent investment and merchant banking firm located in NYC, Aryeh B. Bourkoff turns 50 on Saturday…
FRIDAY: Israeli-American pianist and distinguished professor of music at Indiana University, Menahem Pressler turns 99… CBS News journalist, she has reported for CBS’s “60 Minutes” since 1991, Lesley Stahl turns 81… Numismatist specializing in ancient Jewish and Biblical coins and their archaeology, David Bruce Hendin turns 77… British chemist and research professor at the University of Nottingham, Sir Martyn Poliakoff turns 75… Attorney, professor and author, she was the first woman to serve as president of the Harvard Law Review, Susan Estrich turns 70… Litigator in Denver, Craig Silverman… Novelist, journalist and lecturer, Allen Kurzweil turns 62… President and co-founder of The New Agenda, Amy Siskind… CEO of financial advisory at Lazard, Peter R. Orszag turns 54… Astrophysicist and professor at Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute, he was a winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, Adam Guy Riess turns 53… Deputy national director of AIPAC’s synagogue initiative, Rabbi Eric Stark… Director of public affairs at Charles Schwab, Adam Bromberg… Director of internal controls and governance at Paxos, Melissa Wisner… Chief of staff for U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Matthew Bennett Klapper turns 40… Middle East analyst at Christians United For Israel, Kasim Hafeez turns 39… Founder of Punchbowl News, Jake Sherman… Actress, Amanda Setton turns 37… Congressional reporter at Bloomberg Government, Zachary C. Cohen turns 31… Consultant at the Ignyte Group, Drew Liquerman… Director of lifelong learning Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany, N.Y., Rabbi Shara Siegfeld…
SATURDAY: Lifelong advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers for the International Rescue Committee and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), Sheppie Glass Abramowitz turns 86… and Sheppie’s son, president of Freedom House, Michael J. Abramowitz turns 59… Retired Washington attorney and vice chair of The American Jewish International Relations Institute, Stuart Sloame… Former CEO of multiple companies including the San Francisco 49ers and FAO Schwarz, Peter L. Harris turns 79… VP of strategic planning and marketing at Queens-based NewInteractions, Paulette Mandelbaum… Professor of Jewish history, culture and society at Columbia University, Elisheva Carlebach Jofen turns 68… Retired chair of the Physician Assistant studies program at Rutgers, Dr. Jill A. Reichman turns 67… Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Danny Ayalon turns 67… Former chairman and CEO of HBO for 28 years, he now heads Eden Productions, Richard Plepler turns 64… Israeli soccer goalkeeper, now on the coaching staff for the national team, Nir Davidovich turns 46… CEO of the New Legacy Group of Companies and founder of Project Sunshine, Joseph Weilgus… Co-director of the Civic Signals project at the National Conference on Citizenship, Eli Pariser… Associate editor of Commentary and author of Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America, Noah C. Rothman… Director of foundation partnerships at the UJA-Federation of New York, Julia Sobel… National correspondent for Vanity Fair and author of the 2018 book Born Trump, Emily Jane Fox… Consultant at Boston Consulting Group, Daniel Ensign… Actor, singer-songwriter and musician, Nat Wolff turns 28…
SUNDAY: Founder of supply chain firm HAVI, Theodore F. Perlman turns 86… Winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine, former director at NIH and the National Cancer Institute, Harold Eliot Varmus turns 83… Office manager in the D.C. office of Kator, Parks, Weiser & Wright, Ramona Cohen… Co-founder of DreamWorks Studios, Academy Award-winning director of “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” plus many other box-office record setters, Steven Spielberg turns 76… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2009 (R-FL), William Joseph (Bill) Posey turns 75… Former CFO of the Pentagon, presently a senior fellow at CNA, Dov S. Zakheim turns 74… Film critic, historian and author of 14 books on cinema, Leonard Maltin turns 72… Winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, professor at both Stanford and Harvard, Alvin Eliot Roth turns 71… Network engineer sometimes called “the mother of the Internet” for her inventions of the spanning-tree protocol (STP) and the TRILL protocol, Radia Joy Perlman turns 71… Television writer, producer and director, Joel Surnow turns 67… Labor leader, attorney and educator, she is the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten turns 65… Founder and chief executive of Third Point LLC, Daniel S. Loeb turns 61… Retired editor of The Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard turns 58… Member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Gael Grunewald turns 58… Director of development at American Friends of ALYN Hospital, Erica Skolnick… Partner at the communications firm 30 Point Strategies, Noam Neusner… Motivational speaker, author and teacher, Brad Cohen turns 49… Congressman-elect (D-FL), Jared Moskowitz turns 42… Director of policy for New York’s Governor Kathy Hochul, Micah Lasher… Manager of public policy and government relations for Wing Australia at Google, Jesse Suskin… Senior producer at CNN’s State of the Union, Rachel Streitfeld… Winner of four straight NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championships while at UCLA, now a VP of business development at Brainard Strategy, Jillian Amaris Kraus turns 36… AVP of civic affairs at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Marc Ashed… Eliezer H. (Elie) Peltz… Project manager at the Brussels-based Buildings Performance Institute Europe, Jessica Glicker… Senior associate at Dataminr, Emily Cooper…