👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to Jewish leaders who sat with Democratic senators yesterday to discuss a range of hot-button issues, and report from The George Washington University, where Amb. Michael Herzog spoke about the incoming Israeli government last night. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: UAE Amb. Yousef Al Otaiba, former Rep. Shelley Berkley and Sen. Ben Cardin.
Will he or won’t he show? The question of whether FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried would attend the New York Times’ DealBook conference was answered yesterday, when Bankman-Fried, clad in his signature casual t-shirt and untamed hair, was interviewed by the Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin by video from the Bahamas.
Bankman-Fried’s appearance at the conference — which he said his lawyers were opposed to, in part because Bankman-Fried continues to admit culpability (“I screwed up,” he told the audience at DealBook yesterday) — nearly overshadowed the rest of the day’s high-profile speakers, which included Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and Amazon’s Andy Jassy, the latter of whom rejected calls to add a content warning to the antisemitic film promoted by Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving last month.
And while Netanyahu’s video appearance at DealBook, in which he called former President Trump’s controversial dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and Kanye West “a mistake,” turned a few heads, it was a podcast interview with Bari Weiss published hours beforehand that drew more attention.
In the in-depth interview, Netanyahu discussed his guiding mission. “My belief was that Israel has to be very powerful,” he said. “It’s not enough to be moral. It’s not enough to be just. It’s not enough to be liked. It doesn’t even make a difference. If you’re weak, you don’t survive in our area. By the way, beyond our area, you can see that you can be devoured by aggressive forces that gobble up nations or conquer them or destroy them.”
After detailing the many ways in which he had nearly died over his life — which include being bitten by a yellow scorpion and almost drowning in the Suez Canal — Netanyahu shifted to talking about his political death, which opponents had celebrated when he was ousted last year. “People have come back from political death once. Churchill is a good example. Rabin is a good example. Ben-Gurion is a very good example, and there are many others you can find. But somebody slipped me a note the other day that said, ‘how many people have come back, how many leaders have come back from political death, not once, but twice?’ The answer is in the last 75 years, no one has.”
Netanyahu also covered his approach to democracy and governing, noting that he spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan several days ago. “But — just as Barack Obama had good relations with Turkey, and just as President Biden meets with the leaders of China or the leaders of other countries in our region who are not exactly Luxembourg democracies — that’s what foreign policy does. It’s a combination of interest and values, and you balance them.”
Weiss questioned Netanyahu on his right-wing coalition partners — some of whom have called for changes to how Israel determines who is Jewish. “This Israel is not going to be governed by Talmudic law,” Netanyahu responded. “We’re not going to ban LGBT forums. As you know, my view on that is sharply different, to put it mildly. We’re going to remain a country of laws.”
House Democrats yesterday selected Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA) as their new leaders, replacing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Further down the leadership chart, however, there is now competition for the No. 4 slot. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), stepping down from a higher leadership post, had hoped to secure the job, but Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) announced a challenge on Wednesday, arguing in part that a member of the LGBTQ+ community should be a part of the leadership. Democrats will vote on the job today.
Cicilline, who is Jewish, would have to give up his newly won slot as the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Middle East subcommittee if he is selected for the leadership job. Even if he loses to Clyburn, Cicilline must still choose between staying as the top Democrat on the Middle East subcommittee or a Judiciary Committee subcommittee.
The place to be in Washington last night was the Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where the UAE Embassy celebrated the 51st anniversary of the country’s founding. UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba began his remarks by congratulating the U.S. team on advancing at the World Cup and proceeded to note the many accomplishments in the UAE and broader Middle East over the past year.
Among the many VIPs and Jewish leaders in attendance were Amb. Deborah Lipstadt, Israeli Amb. Michael Herzog, Saudi Amb. Reema Bandar Al Saud, Bahrain Amb. Abdulla Al Khalifa, Bill Burns, Betsy Berns Korn, David Cohen, Barbara Leaf, Mike Hammer, Dima Alfaham, Norm Brownstein, Sen. Roy Blunt, Rep. Brad Schneider, Rep. Peter Meijer, Rabbi Levi Duchman, Lea Duchman, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Dan Shapiro, Aaron Keyak, William Daroff, Jason Isaacson, Dan Mariaschin, Norm Coleman, Elliott Abrams, Brian Hook, Aaron Lobel, Danny Sebright, Steve Clemons, Stephen Schneider, Mark Donig, Johnnie Moore, Hessa Alshuwaihi, Adam Sharon, Talal Alabsi, Elad Strohmayer, Evan Charney, Mira Resnick, Karim Gamal, Wesam Hassanein, Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, Tom Gallagher, Karim Sadjadpour, Brian Katulis, Armstrong Williams, Kylie Atwood and Mark Vlasic.
on the hill
Senate Democrats discuss U.S.-Israel ties, domestic antisemitism with Jewish leaders
Two dozen Senate Democrats huddled with leaders of around 20 U.S. Jewish groups on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, addressing a range of hot-button issues in the U.S.-Israel relationship and the Jewish community, as well as on Capitol Hill, as Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu works to form the next government, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Special bond: “While there may be challenges at any given time, we must not lose sight of the importance of this very special bond,” William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations told the assembled lawmakers in his opening remarks. “We encourage lines of communication between governments to be robust and for disagreements to be conveyed privately – away from the bright lights of those who seek to damage the connection between our two countries.”
Differing approaches: An attendee and another source familiar with the proceedings said that leaders from some groups on the left differed from mainstream leaders in advocating a harder line approach to the new Israeli governing coalition, which is set to include several ministers from the Israeli far-right. Some of the organizational heads called on Democratic legislators to publicly apply pressure on Israel, while mainstream leaders urged senators to keep disagreements behind closed doors, the two sources told JI.
Across the aisle: Lawmakers in the room urged the assembled groups to reach out to Republican lawmakers to urge them to pass an omnibus spending bill and a National Defense Authorization Act in the few remaining weeks before the end of the current Congress, other attendees told JI. Those expansive bills are set to include key Jewish community priorities such as security aid to Israel and increased funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant program. Nathan Diament, the executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, told JI he urged lawmakers to fully fund the NSGP in his remarks.
heard last night
Judge incoming Israeli government on actions, not words, Herzog urges D.C. students
In some of his first public remarks about the new Israeli government that is in the process of being formed, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog urged an audience of Washington, D.C., college students to assess Israel’s incoming government based on the actions it takes, rather than the past inflammatory statements and histories of some of the far-right members who are expected to hold key positions, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Actions speak louder than words: “I don’t want to prejudge the government before it is even formed,” Herzog said at an event organized by GW Chabad, at The George Washington University, on Wednesday evening. “I don’t want to say anything before we see what policies it adopts. But I think we have to judge the government ultimately, not by what some people say, but what ultimately the government does.”
The big picture: Herzog was appointed by the outgoing coalition government, but is expected to stay in his position under the new government, which will be led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The government should not be defined by the more extreme edges of the body politic in Israel,” Herzog continued. “Much the same, I can point to some elements in American politics that are highly problematic, but I don’t look at them as defining the whole political system of the United States.”
A show of support: GW’s student and faculty leadership both showed up to offer their support for the event; university President Mark Wrighton and Student Association President Christian Zidouemba both delivered introductory remarks. “These discussions are extremely important to our university and contribute to the educational experience,” Wrighton said. “This event is an example of how we can learn together. This university has a long history of supporting a diverse and inclusive community, and fostering civil discourse and exchange of ideas on very challenging issues.”
Cardin convenes antisemitism working group with administration, lawmakers, outside groups
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) convened a cross-government working group on antisemitism on Capitol Hill this week, including lawmakers and representatives of multiple executive branch agencies, seeking to promote better collaboration across the federal government to combat antisemitism, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Rising antisemitism: According to a readout issued by Cardin’s office, “there was clear consensus, based on data from law enforcement and polling that the number of antisemitic incidents has been rising at an alarming rate.” The meeting was focused on improving communication within the government and with civil society organizations, “and attendees expressed a willingness to make that happen,” the summary states.
A unified strategy: “It was vital at this time, with so many blatant antisemitic incidents and public celebrity rants, that we bring together this group of professionals who are dealing with this issue daily,” Cardin said. “We can and should be doing more. A unified, national strategy on countering antisemitism is needed. While finding the proper balance between protecting free speech and protecting Americans from harm, we need to up our game, rebuild coalitions with other groups that have been the target of hate-based violence, and institutionalize coordination that counters antisemitism wherever it is found.”
‘Critical convening’: Representatives from the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee also attended. In a statement, AJC said the meeting “was a critical convening of government and civil society at a time when antisemitism — which, at its roots is a threat to our democracy — has become more mainstream in America.”
🎯 Tehran Target:The Washington Post’s Shane Harris, Souad Mekhennet and Yeganeh Torbati report on Iran’s scaled-up efforts to target government critics living abroad. “Tehran has targeted former senior U.S. government officials; dissidents who have fled the country for the United States, Britain, Canada, Turkey and Europe; media organizations critical of the regime; and Jewish civilians or those with links to Israel, according to the officials and government documents. Iran’s intelligence and security services rely largely on proxies to carry out their plans, offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to jewel thieves, drug dealers and other criminals in murder-for-hire schemes, the officials said. That hands-off approach probably caused some operations to fail, the officials said, as plots have been disrupted — and, in some cases, the hired hit men appear to have gotten cold feet and never carried out their orders. But officials say Iran’s persistence makes it likely to eventually carry out the killing of a high-profile dissident, journalist or Western government figure, and that could spark direct confrontation with Tehran.” [WashPost]
🇶🇦🇸🇦 Rocky Road:The New York Times’ Vivian Nereim spotlights the restored relationship between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, highlighting their complicated reunion through the lens of the World Cup. “Prince Mohammed donned a scarf in the colors of the Qatari flag, then Sheikh Tamim draped his shoulders in a Saudi one, reassuring their citizens that — at least for now — the warmth was here to stay. The prince ordered Saudi government entities to offer any support needed to make the tournament in Qatar a success. The World Cup has a way of stoking regional solidarity, with Gulf and Arab countries cheering on one another’s teams. Abdulaziz Albagshi, a Saudi soccer fan, said he was so proud of Qatar’s status as the first Arab country to host the World Cup that it almost felt like ‘we’re hosting the World Cup, not Qatar’…Some Saudis are concerned about voicing support for Qatar, wary that what was fixed could break again. In 2017, a key adviser to Prince Mohammed encouraged Saudis to name and shame ‘mercenaries’ who had taken Qatar’s side in the feud. The split with Qatar coincided with a crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia, and dozens of religious clerics, businesspeople, royal family members, writers and activists across the political spectrum were arrested over the following years.” [NYTimes]
🕵️ Espionage in El Salvador: In The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow explores the impact that Israeli NSO spyware technology had on a newsroom in El Salvador, where journalists documenting corruption in the administration of President Nayib Bukele were surveilled and their credibility among sources compromised. Roman Gressier, an American reporter, is believed to be the first American individual to sue the NSO Group in the U.S. “The work was scrupulous and at times frightening. ‘On one hand, everything was falling into place,’ Gressier recalled. ‘And on the other, I did feel very strained and under the microscope, and like I was tiptoeing around, and there was a direct sense that I was being surveilled.’ One story, which Gressier translated into English, covered the U.S. State Department’s decision to place Bukele’s chief cabinet minister on a list of corrupt officials. Around the time that story was published in El Faro, Gressier’s iPhone 11 was hacked for the first of at least four times, according to analysis conducted by the watchdog group Citizen Lab. His device was infected with Pegasus, spyware developed by the Israeli technology company NSO Group.” [NewYorker]
👩 MTG’s Moment:The Washington Post’s Paul Schwartzman looks at the role Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is poised to play in the new Republican-controlled Congress. “The midterms have left Greene in unfamiliar territory. House Republicans are back in power for the first time since she arrived in Washington, but just barely. Many Republicans have blamed her wing of the party — the election-denying, unabashed Trumpists — for dragging down what they had expected to be huge gains for the GOP. And yet the narrowness of the new Republican majority means that McCarthy can’t afford to alienate too many members if he wants to win the gavel when Congress convenes Jan. 3. That has created an opening for Greene, who spent her first term on Washington’s fringe, to attach herself to McCarthy and make her play for more influence, even as prominent Republicans are trying to nudge the party away from her political North Star, former president Donald Trump.” [WashPost]
🇬🇧 What Could Have Been: In Tablet, Edward N. Luttwak shines a light on overlooked British General Staff documents as evidence that the assessment of Lehi leader Avraham ‘Yair’ Stern that the British would never voluntarily leave Mandatory Palestine was correct. “It is only in more recent years that documents have emerged which prove that the British—meaning the then immensely authoritative Imperial General Staff whose eminence increased even more once Churchill was voted out of office on July 5, 1945—were determined to remain in Palestine, contrary to their representations to the Jewish leaders and the U.N. In fact, they had worked out an operational plan to do exactly that: They would equip the Egyptian army of their obedient liege King Farouk, and the Iraqi army of their obedient liege King Faisal II with field artillery, tanks, and combat aircraft, and they would send armored cars, field artillery, and excellent British officers to command the Arab Legion of their liege King Abdullah of Jordan. The Jews would be allowed no weapons at all—not even revolvers. Faced with the irresistible advance of the Arab armies, they themselves would plead for British protection, thereby ensuring the prolongation of British rule.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
🎤 Just Announced: Secretary of State Tony Blinken will address J Street’s National Conference on Sunday.
🤔 Ready to Run: Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said she will take the upcoming holidays to consider a presidential run, despite pledging last year not to mount a bid if former President Donald Trump entered the race.
☝️ Nakba Resolution: The UN General Assembly voted yesterday in favor of holding an event to commemorate the “Nakba,” the Palestinian term for Israel’s establishment, meaning “catastrophe.”
💸 Thiel’s Deals:Puckreports on the future political giving plans of venture capitalist Peter Thiel, whose multi-million dollar campaign donations to two high-profile Republican Senate candidates delivered only one of them to the Senate.
☎️ Cold Call: Former President Donald Trump reportedly called former Israeli Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to express displeasure with Friedman’s statement condemning Trump’s dinner with Nick Fuentes and Kanye West.
🗳️ Indy Bid: Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN), whose term ends in 2024, filed paperwork to run for Indiana governor. Among those rumored to be interested in succeeding Braun in the Senate are Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN) and Victoria Spartz (R-IN).
👍 Span-backers: Eight House Democrats, including Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), are backing Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) for the caucus’ newly created post of battleground leadership representative.
🏃♀️ Berkley’s Back: Former Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) is considering a 2024 run for Las Vegas mayor.
🚩 Terror Threat: The Department of Homeland Security yesterday warned of domestic terror threats to LGBTQ, Jewish and migrant communities
💻 Digital Dystopia:Voxexplores how Victor Frankl’s memoir about surviving the Holocaust has been appropriated and misinterpreted by modern social media influencers who do not know Frankl’s background.
🕎 Hanukkah Hangover: A Hanukkah pop-up bar is reopening for the season in Washington, D.C., with proceeds from kosher wine sales going to support HIAS.
🍷 Shabbat Story:The New York Timesspotlights the ways in which millennials and Gen Z-ers are celebrating Shabbat.
💀 DNA Drill-down: A study of skeletons from a medieval Jewish cemetery in Germany has found that Ashkenazi Jews have become more genetically similar over the past seven centuries.
🥩 Food Innovation:Timelooks at Israel’s booming lab-cultivated meat scene, which has positioned the country as one of the top producers of alternative meat.
✈️ Protecting the Prez: The Shin Bet has reportedly decided to boost Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s security detail when he travels to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates next week, in light of a social media campaign by Bahraini activists who oppose his trip.
🪖 Moving Out: The Israeli army is moving the Netzah Yehuda unit out of the West Bank following allegations of abuse and disciplinary action against soldiers accused of mistreating Palestinians.
🕯️ Remembering: Underground comics artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb died at 74.
Pic of the Day
The Israel Defense Forces and the United States Armed Forces hold a series of joint exercises in Israeli skies, simulating various scenarios in the face of regional threats.
NYC-based real estate mogul, he owned the New York Post from 1988 to 1993, previously served as chair of NYC’s MTA and is a noted car collector, Peter Kalikow turns 80…
Chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter turns 80… Executive producer of over 200 shows with more than 15,000 hours of television over a lengthy career, David E. Salzman turns 79… Singer, actress, comedian and author, Bette Midler turns 77… Comedian, actor and voice actor best known for his starring role in the animated sitcom “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” Jonathan Katz turns 76… Former director of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, he is now the director of Yashrut, Rabbi Daniel Landes turns 72… British playwright, director and scriptwriter, Stephen Poliakoff turns 70… U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) turns 70… Immediate past chair of the board of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Isaac “Ike” Fisher turns 66… U.S. District Court judge in Oregon, Judge Michael H. Simon turns 66… U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) turns 64… CEO of Oracle Corporation, Safra A. Catz turns 61… Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Cambridge, Raymond E. Goldstein turns 61… Pittsburgh-based entrepreneur, David Seldin… CEO at My Pest Pros in Fairfax County (Virginia), Brett Lieberman… Emmy Award-winning stand-up comedian, actress, producer and writer, Sarah Silverman turns 52… Rabbi of Shaarei Tefillah Congregation in Toronto, Rafi Lipner turns 49… Principal in the media and communications practice at The Raben Group, he is the author of a book on military suicides, Yochi J. Dreazen turns 46… Emmy and Peabody Award-winning director, comedian, producer, writer and actor, Akiva Schaffer turns 45… SVP of marketing and communications for Madison Square Garden Entertainment, Natalie Ravitz… Senior political correspondent at Axios, Josh Kraushaar… Writer and television producer including for NBC’s primetime series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Evan Daniel Susser turns 37… English teacher at Jerusalem’s Keshet Talpaz, Shira Sacks… Principal at Magen Strategies, David Milstein… Mexican musician influenced by Sephardic brass and klezmer styles, known by his mononym “Sotelúm,” Jorge Sotelo turns 33… Becky Weissman… Former executive vice president of Stuart Weitzman, Jane Weitzman… Israel Policy Forum Board member; Former president of the American Jewish Committee and a board member at Israel Policy Forum, John Shapiro… President of the Jewish Federation of Howard County, Rabbi Gordon Fuller…
BIRTHWEEK: Israel Policy Forum CEO, David Halperin…