👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report on a Holocaust commemoration event in Cairo yesterday and interview Nick Melvoin, who is launching a campaign in Los Angeles to take Adam Schiff’s seat in Congress. We also talk to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg about the scrutiny he’s facing over the decision to offer a plea deal to a man accused of participating in an antisemitic attack. Others in today’s Daily Kickoff include former Rep. Gabby Giffords, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Banks.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken kicked off a visit to Israel yesterday with a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, after which he tweeted, “Good to meet with Israeli Prime Minister @netanyahu today in Jerusalem. We have an ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and look forward to working with the Prime Minister in support of the interests and values our nations have long shared.”
The Iranian threat, support for Ukraine against Russia, expanding the Abraham Accords and finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict were among the issues raised during their meeting.
Blinken indicated that he had discussed with Netanyahu the controversial judicial reforms proposed by the Israeli government, saying, “Throughout the relationship between our countries, what we come back to time and again is that it is rooted both in shared interests and in shared values. That includes our support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society – and the vibrancy of Israel’s civil society has been on full display of late. The commitment of people in both our countries to make their voices heard, to defend their rights, is one of the unique strengths of our democracies. Another is a recognition that building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they’re embraced and that they endure. Our fellow democracies can also make us stronger.”
Blinken also met with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid. In all of his meetings, deescalating current tensions in the West Bank was a recurring theme. Blinken, along with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and Barbara Leaf, the State Department’s assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, met with civil society leaders at Jerusalem’s Feel Beit community and culture house this morning. From Jerusalem, Blinken headed to Ramallah for afternoon meetings with Palestinian Authority leaders.
On his last day in Europe, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff explored Berlin’s Jewish community. In an interfaith conversation with Jews, Protestants, Catholics and Muslims, he called on all groups — not just Jews — to fight antisemitism.
“We know this is not just a Jewish issue,” Emhoff said at the start of the meeting. It requires “deepening the relationships with the United States, with our friends and allies in Europe, and also across religions.”
Afterward, the second gentleman toured the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue, a historic Reform synagogue that now is home to a small congregation. While part of the building was destroyed in Allied bombings during WWII, much of it survived the war thanks to a German police officer who protected it during the Kristallnacht pogrom. Emhoff met with Ukrainian refugees at the synagogue.
Back in Washington, Jordanian King Abdullah II is set to visit Capitol Hill today, meeting with lawmakers including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), amid heightened tensions in Israel and the Palestinian territories. ICYMI: Read our report from earlier this week on Jordan-Israel relations here.
Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) told Politico yesterday he’s likely to vote in favor of removing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tipping one of the remaining Republican undecided votes into McCarthy’s column. But Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) — who vocally opposed McCarthy’s speakership bid earlier this month, said he’s still undecided.
With two absences this week and three Republicans opposing the measure, Republicans don’t plan to hold a vote on the issue this week. Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) said yesterday that Republicans are waiting on Democrats to finalize their committee assignments before the vote.
L.A. school board member Nick Melvoin to run for Adam Schiff’s seat
Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) announcement last Thursday that he will seek the Senate seat currently held by Democrat Dianne Feinstein sets off a race in the state’s 30th Congressional District, where L.A. Unified School District board member Nick Melvoin filed papers to run earlier this month, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Campaign cause: “My main calling is, how do I amplify my impact for the communities that I fought really my whole adult life for, in a larger setting?” Melvoin, a Democrat, told JI in a recent interview. A Los Angeles native, Melvoin taught middle school through Teach for America before going to law school and mounting a successful bid for a seat on the school board in a 2017 upset. Melvoin, a charter school advocate, defeated an incumbent in a race with heavy outside spending.
Party politics: One reason he’s entering the race is in response to the recent “rise in antisemitism, pro-BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] on university campuses, the ethnic studies curriculum that we’ve been fighting in L.A., as a progressive and a strong Zionist,” said Melvoin, who is Jewish. “In Congress, I don’t see as many of those candidates, especially in the Democratic Party, as I would like.” Melvoin was referring to a lengthy statewide debate over a proposed model ethnic studies curriculum, early iterations of which praised the BDS movement and did not educate about antisemitism. Similardebates have played out in LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest school district.
Wide field: The race in the 30th District, which stretches from West Hollywood to Pasadena, has already drawn significant interest. Nine candidates have filed paperwork to run, including actor Ben Savage, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for the West Hollywood City Council last year, State Del. Laura Friedman and entrepreneur Josh Bocanegra. In California’s so-called “jungle primaries,” the top two vote-getters advance to the general election potentially setting up two Democrats to face off in November.
remembering in egypt
At Holocaust commemoration in Cairo, survivor implores leaders to learn from history
At the second annual Holocaust commemoration event in Cairo on Monday, survivor Ruth Cohen urged the roughly 150 dignitaries present to use their positions of influence to educate the public about history’s lessons and secure a safer future for the younger generations, Jewish Insider’s Tamara Zieve reports. German Ambassador to Egypt Frank Hartmann hosted the gathering at his residence in the Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo. The event marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, held last year at a local hotel on the Nile River, was co-produced with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Survivor speaks: “The Holocaust teaches us about human nature, that there is great capacity for good as well as for evil,” said Cohen, 92, an Auschwitz survivor who was born in Czechoslovakia and whose mother, brother and cousins were killed in the gas chambers. “That when one group in a society is singled out for persecution, other groups are likely to be targeted too. In small and large ways each individual has the capacity to hurt or to heal, to savage or to save. Perhaps one of the most important lessons to know on today’s commemoration of the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is that Holocaust did not begin with Auschwitz, nor should it be solely defined by it. It began with words and small acts, then infinitely larger ones that resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews.”
Stepping up: Speaking alongside Cohen on a panel moderated by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Rob Satloff was Egyptian university professor Dr. Nasser Kotby, who is the nephew of Dr. Mohamed Helmy, the first Arab to be honored as a Righteous Among the Nations. “I want to end my life working for this cause. And in front of you all, I am taking the first step. Who will meet me? Who will meet your view? I don’t see steps coming up, step forward,” Kotby urged the audience, drawing members of the crowd to join him at the front of the room. “Step forward. Yes, we should work hard [so] that peace and compassion and prosperity will prevail and hate and prejudice will end.”
Read the full story here.
Alvin Bragg defends plea deal in brazen antisemitic attack
As he enters his second year in office, Alvin Bragg, the district attorney of Manhattan, has suddenly found himself at the center of a heated and increasingly personal debate over a case involving the brutal assault of a Jewish man in Times Square, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports. The veteran prosecutor, whose closely watched handling of the high-profile tax fraud investigation into former President Donald Trump’s real estate company successfully capped off an otherwise turbulent introduction to city politics, is now facing scrutiny for offering what many are denouncing as an overly lenient plea deal to one of four defendants charged with targeting a Jewish resident of Nassau County, Joseph Borgen, in an antisemitic attack nearly two years ago.
Background: Borgen, now 30, has said he was wearing a yarmulke when, in an incident captured on video, he was violently beaten while walking to a pro-Israel demonstration in Midtown Manhattan during the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which coincided with an uptick in antisemitic incidents across the U.S. He has recalled being punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed during the assault, for which he was hospitalized.
Response: In his first public comments to address the Borgen case, Bragg, 49, said in an interview with JI on Friday that he was “aware of the broader discussion” around the investigation but refrained from responding directly to accusations from some of his most vociferous critics. Instead, he insisted that his office is simply following the facts at hand. “Our focus is where it must be,” he said in a phone conversation, “which is the evidence that will be put forth and that does come forward during our investigation.”
Details: Awawdeh, who reportedly called Borgen a “dirty Jew” during the attack and later said he would “do it again,” did not initiate the assault and left before it was over, according to a spokesperson for Bragg’s office. He has no prior criminal convictions. “We do this in all of our cases, a kind of individualized justice depending upon a person’s role in the charge conducts” and “a person’s criminal history or lack thereof,” Bragg, a former federal prosecutor who has long advocated for a holistic approach to criminal justice, said broadly of the deal offered to Awawdeh. “We’re looking specifically at the person, the crime and the person’s role in the crime.”
on the hill
Bipartisan bill aims for sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, president, senior officials
A bipartisan sanctions bill reintroduced last week aims to impose sanctions on high-level Iranian regime officials in response to the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year and the subsequent crackdown on protesters, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Background: The MAHSA Act, named for the Iranian woman who died in custody after being detained by Iran’s Gasht-e-Ershad — known more commonly as the “morality police” — for an alleged violation of headscarf laws, was introduced last week by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) and 18 co-sponsors from both parties.
Cracking down: The bill instructs the administration to determine whether U.S. sanctions can be applied to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ebrahim Raisi and any member of their offices; any economic entities overseen by those offices that are involved in human rights abuses or terrorism and officials of those entities; and other Iranian state officials.
Two years: In a statement, Banks indicated that he’s uncertain the legislation will be able to be enacted into law in the current Congress, in which Democrats have control of the Senate, and under the current president. “Two years from now, Congress will be ready to work with a reasonable administration to hold Iran accountable,” Banks, who is mounting a bid for Indiana’s open Senate seat in 2024, said.
Signatories: The legislation is co-sponsored by 15 Republicans, Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Mike Waltz (R-FL), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Randy Weber (R-TX), Pat Fallon (R-TX), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Greg Murphy (R-NC), Diane Harshbarger (R-TN), Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA), Michael Guest (R-MS) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO), and three Democrats, Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
👩 Giffords’ Grit: The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg sits down with Gabrielle Giffords, former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, who is a leading voice for gun safety following a 2011 mass shooting that left her unable to continue her work in Congress. “‘I’m getting better,’ she said haltingly, laboring over each word. ‘Slowly, I’m getting better. Long, hard haul, but I’m getting better. Our lives can change so quickly. Mine did when I was shot. I’ve never given up hope. I chose to make a new start, to move ahead, to not look back. I’m relearning so many things — how to walk, how to talk — and I’m fighting to make the country safer. It can be so difficult. Losses hurt; setbacks are hard. But I tell myself: Move ahead.’…She still enjoys the spotlight. She was grand marshal of the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., this month. She does yoga twice a week and is taking Spanish lessons; she was once fluent in the language. She went skydiving on the third anniversary of the shooting. In November 2021, after two years of study, she celebrated her bat mitzvah; her great-grandfather was a Lithuanian rabbi, and she wanted to get in touch with her Jewish roots.” [NYTimes]
🤣 Kate the Comic: The New Yorker’s Rachel Syme interviews comedian Kate Berlant, whose one-woman show “Kate” is back until mid-February, about her childhood, her inspirations and her artistic style. “I started to get really into listening to standup. I mean, I always had a very romantic obsession with New York City, and therefore, uh, Woody Allen. Redacted! Now I’m, like, ‘Was there a world in which seventeen-year-old me was guffawing at Woody Allen’s standup?’ I didn’t understand half the references. Then I started to become really into what else was coming out of New York, what was then referred to as the ‘alternative-comedy scene.’ I loved Variety Shac and Stella and the short videos people were making. I was really into Eugene Mirman and the ‘Invite Them Up’ standup scene, which put out a double CD that I listened to really obsessively. My senior year of high school, the ‘S.N.L.’ oral-history book came out, and I remember clutching it and crying to my English teacher, being, like, ‘I have to go to New York!’” [NewYorker]
🧑⚖️ Law Talk: In the Wall Street Journal, Richard Epstein and Max Raskin suggest that Israel’s proposed judicial reforms will help to curb what they describe as the court’s “unchecked political power.” “Compare the U.S. legal system, the preferred forum of the global economy, with the Israeli system. In Israel, judges are appointed by a committee that consists of three unelected Supreme Court judges, two unelected lawyers from the bar association, and only four legislators and members of the government. In contrast, in the U.S. the president appoints judges to federal courts subject to confirmation by the Senate. These judges have the power to strike down laws, but they are guided by a written constitution. Israel has no formal constitution and so its judges are guided by their own judgments and the quasi-constitutional ‘Basic Laws,’ which the Israeli Supreme Court itself can strike down. The American political-question doctrine counsels judges to stay out of economic and political affairs. This has not harmed the U.S.’s standing as an economic powerhouse. Israel’s judges, on the other hand, can strike down everything from military strategy to energy policy to trade agreements.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
🗳️ Taking Her Time: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said she plans to announce whether she will seek reelection in 2024 this spring, backtracking from a comment made last week that she would make the decision next year.
🙅♀️ Out of Contention: Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) said she will not seek the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in 2024.
👍 New Role: Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) will lead the newly created Regional Leadership Council, which aims to promote Democratic policy wins in Washington.
⚖️ Case Closed: The Department of Justice closed an investigation into whether former Gen. John Allen lobbied on behalf of the Qatari government in 2017, and will not bring federal charges against him.
📰 Beinart’s Backing: In a New York Times op-ed, Peter Beinart voiced support for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), whose seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is likely to come to a full House vote next month.
Ξ Stalling Attempt: FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried reportedly attempted to delay the cryptocurrency’s bankruptcy filing so that he could transfer assets to foreign regulators.
📽️ New on Netflix: Actress Lauren London, who stars in Netflix’s new “You People,” discussed her Jewish roots with People Magazine.
🎓 Campus Beat: Two dozen Jewish faculty members at James Madison University boycotted the school’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day event over concerns that there was no Jewish representation involved in the event’s planning.
🧋 War of Waste: The Associated Presshighlights a culture war between Israel’s religious and secular sectors over the use of disposable plastic goods.
🌊 Water Works: Reutersspotlights a chain of desalination plants built by Israel to both enable it to replenish the Sea of Galilee when its levels drop and also allow it to increase its supply to Jordan.
🇹🇷 Gatekeeper: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country could approve Finland’s membership in NATO before that of Sweden, which he characterized as “problematic,” but the two countries want to join at the same time.
🕯️ Remembering: Artist Alfred Leslie died at 95.
Pic of the Day
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen presented Secretary of State Tony Blinken with a guitar during their meeting in Jerusalem yesterday — a nod to Blinken’s ear for music. Inscribed on the blue guitar in both English and Hebrew are the words, “To my friend Tony, this tune will forever play on. Yours, Eli.”
Organization of American States commissioner to monitor and combat antisemitism, Fernando Lottenberg turns 61…
Israeli nuclear physicist and professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Igal Talmi turns 98… Scion of a leading rabbinic family in pre-WW2 Poland, former assistant U.S. solicitor general, now a private attorney with an active Supreme Court practice focused on religious liberty issues, Nathan Lewin turns 87… Classical music composer as well as acclaimed movie score composer, Philip Glass turns 86… Associate professor emeritus of Talmud and rabbinics at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Mayer Elya Rabinowitz turns 84… Chairperson of global management consultancy Bain & Company, Orit Gadiesh turns 72… Founder of social change organizations in Israel to promote peace, he was chief rabbi of Norway while also serving as a member of Knesset, Michael Melchior turns 69… Founder and CEO of MikeWorldWide, a PR firm headquartered in East Rutherford, N.J., Michael W. Kempner turns 65… Former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives for 20 years, Matt Kisber turns 63… CEO at Gracie Capital, Daniel L. Nir… Co-founder, chairman and CEO of Meridian Capital Group, a Manhattan-based commercial mortgage brokerage, Ralph Herzka turns 61… Neurosurgeon and chairman of the Rockland County (N.Y.) Board of Health, Jeffrey Sable Oppenheim turns 61…
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