👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand about her recent trip to the Middle East as part of the Abraham Accords Caucus, and profile Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ellen Germain. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Jeff Zients, Izabella Tabarovsky, Ron Dermer and Uri Levine.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken will travel to Israel on Monday for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, two weeks after National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk, the National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, were in the region.
The Senate delegation that traveled to the Middle East last week under the auspices of the Abraham Accords Caucus will hold a press conference on Capitol Hill this morning to recap the trip. We spoke to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) about what the group encountered in their meetings in Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Gillibrand told us that she has “never been more optimistic” about the future of the region, and suggested that conditions are ripe for President Joe Biden to “create the greatest Middle East peace plan of generations.” Read our full interview with the New York senator below.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, we’re keeping an eye on Democratic committee assignments. We noted yesterday that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has requested to keep her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has pledged to hold a vote to remove her. But Omar may have at least one unlikely Republican ally — Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who said yesterday that she is likely to oppose removing Omar from the committee. The sophomore Republican from South Carolina had opposed stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) of her committee assignments last Congress, and said last month she would not support McCarthy’s plan to remove Democrats from committees this year.
With a slim majority in the House, the Republican caucus can only afford for four of its members to defect on the vote to remove Omar. Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) said in December it “seems inappropriate” to remove members from their committees. But there has also been a cadre of Democratic lawmakers, some of them Jewish, who have been deeply critical of Omar’s past comments and could join the bulk of Republicans in voting to remove Omar from her committee seats.
McCarthy, meanwhile, announced several additions to the powerful Rules Committee, which controls business on the House floor, including Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), a libertarian who has voted in the past against aid to Israel and measures condemning antisemitism, maintained a rocky relationship with members of Kentucky’s Jewish community and repeatedly made comments that have been denounced as antisemitic. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC), who recently floated cutting defense spending, was also picked for the committee, as was Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX). Both Norman and Roy had opposed McCarthy’s early bids for speaker earlier this month.
‘I’ve never been more optimistic’ about the Middle East, Gillibrand says after Abraham Accords trip
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday that she’s “never been more optimistic than today” about the future of peace and cooperation in the Middle East after returning from a congressional delegation last week to Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
Window of opportunity: “There is a Middle East peace plan in these opportunities and [President Joe Biden] could create the greatest Middle East peace plan of generations,” Gillibrand, who was part of the seven-member delegation, said. She noted that each country’s leaders expressed a desire for expanded economic and security cooperation with Israel and the U.S., highlighting in particular the threat of Iran and its proxies. Gillibrand said the delegation’s focus was on deepening existing relationships rather than adding new countries to the Accords, but she said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “extremely optimistic” about the prospect of adding Saudi Arabia to the agreements — “he [said], ‘This is weeks and months away, not years.’”
Iran convergence: “[Iran] is a unifying issue,” she said. “And when we met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, we really reiterated the statements from these [Arab] governments and how their talking points aligned almost exactly with the prime minister’s.” Israel and Sunni Arab states have generally taken a more hawkish position on Iran than the Biden administration, particularly in opposing nuclear negotiations with Iran. Gillibrand argued that a regional security agreement “could address” the urgent questions related to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and said she’d like to meet with the administration and Biden to discuss the subject.
Palestinian push: Gillibrand described the possibility of expanded Arab support for the Palestinians through the Accords as a potential “game changer.” Gillibrand told JI that Netanyahu “made assurances that his government follows his lead” on Palestinian issues, adding, “I think he was trying to very directly say to us that, despite perspectives of some members of his coalition government, it is his judgment that is relevant.”
On the agenda: The junior New York senator downplayed a report from early in the trip that Rosen had requested that the delegation not meet with two controversial far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition government, Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. The group met with opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, President Isaac Herzog and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in addition to Netanyahu. Gillibrand said that the group “never planned to meet with other parties within the government,” that “wasn’t part of what our goals were” and such meetings “would not have been on our agenda regardless.”
The U.S. diplomat seeking a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors
Like many American Jews, U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ellen Germain grew up hearing about family members who perished in the Holocaust. When her great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. from Poland in 1904, he left behind his two brothers and their families. Everyone who remained was killed by the Nazis. Germain took an interest in this family history, eventually digging into genealogy research to learn more about the relatives who were slaughtered simply for being Jewish in their home country. After more than 25 years as a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Germain’s latest posting, heading a State Department team that aims to return Holocaust-era assets to survivors and help them receive compensation for evils perpetrated against them by Nazis and Nazi sympathizers, in some ways feels like the job she was always meant to do. Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on Friday, Germain talked to Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch last week about her work — and why it’s personal for her.
Urgent needs: Nearly eight decades after the Holocaust, the number of survivors of Nazi atrocities dwindles each year, and many die before receiving restitution that they’ve sought for decades. Of the 275,000 Holocaust survivors alive today, more than one-third live in poverty, advocates say. “We like to say our mission is seeking a measure of justice for Holocaust survivors and their heirs,” Germain told JI.
Diplomacy at work: Germain’s work might seem morally clear-cut, but diplomatically, the issue is fraught. Take Poland, which was home to Europe’s largest Jewish population before WWII. The country has struggled to come to terms with its role in the Holocaust and has avoided implementing a restitution policy. But Washington’s relationship with Warsaw encompasses much more than just that issue, especially in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Poland has emerged as a critical NATO ally and a welcoming home to many Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion “As always, in diplomatic conversations, none of it is done in a vacuum. We’re always cognizant of the current global situation or the current regional situation. But on these issues, we’ve been very consistent in raising them. Because they’re fundamental,” Germain explained.
The art of the deal: Diplomacy is more of an art than a science — for Germain, it’s knowing when and how to pressure an ally, or how to get the issues she handles on the desks of her more senior colleagues in the vast bureaucracy of the State Department. “I’m not sitting in the office. I don’t know who she calls to get something done internally. But I do know that things happen,” said Mark Weitzman, chief operating officer at the World Jewish Restitution Organization, an NGO that represents Jews outside of Germany and Austria pursuing claims for the recovery of Jewish property. “It would not be a significant part of U.S. policy if there was not advocacy from within the department.”
It’s personal: Germain’s mother was a child during World War II. She once told Germain her memory of coming home from school one day to find her own mother and aunts and uncles huddled around the kitchen table, crying. One of her relatives in Poland, a promising yeshiva student, had been gunned down in the street by Nazis. “They’d gotten a letter from relatives in Poland telling them he was shot,” Germain recalled. “So when I talk about the importance of accurate Holocaust commemoration and education, it’s something I really care about.”
in the race
Ruben Gallego enters Arizona Senate race
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), a progressive congressman from Phoenix, said on Monday that he would run for the seat held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), whose high-profile defection from the Democratic Party last month drew liberal backlash. The announcement, which had been expected, sets up what is likely to be a hotly contested three-way race in a key battleground state, where Democratic gains have contributed to a slim majority in the Senate, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Candidates to consider: As the first candidate from either party to announce a challenge ahead of the 2024 election, Gallego, who had long intimated that he was gearing up for a Senate bid, could ultimately benefit from an uncontested Democratic primary campaign. The race has so far drawn only limited interest from other Democrats in Arizona. The congressman’s ex-wife, Kate Gallego, the Jewish mayor of Phoenix, had been eyed as a possible Democratic contender but told Axios that she isn’t planning to run for the seat. Regina Romero, the Democratic mayor of Tucson, is another Senate prospect whose name has been mentioned in recent weeks, even as she has yet to reveal publicly if she is weighing a challenge.
Sinema speaks: Sinema, 46, has yet to reveal if she will pursue a second term, and a spokesperson for her office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday in response to Gallego’s challenge. In a statement posted to Twitter from her Senate account on Monday afternoon, Sinema said she is “continuing to do what” she has “done for the last 20 years – deliver results for AZ.” The tweet was released hours after Gallego had posted his own campaign launch video in English and Spanish. The son of Mexican and Colombian immigrants describes his experience “growing up poor” in Chicago, affirms his commitment to the “American dream” and is pictured speaking to a group of veterans at an American Legion in Guadalupe, Ariz., among other things.
Jewish view: Alan Zeichick, a Democratic activist and Jewish community member in Phoenix who is supporting Gallego and sits on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix, described him as “very well-traveled within Jewish circles” and “a very reliable vote for Israel.” Zeichick cited, among other things, Gallego’s opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and his support for continued security aid to Israel, including supplemental funding for its Iron Dome missile-defense system. “He’s also been very fair in the way he’s treated Israel and the Palestinian issue,” Zeichick told JI. “The issues that are really important for Israel’s security, he’s been there, but he’d also like to see less tension.” In previous races, Gallego has earned endorsements from the political action committees of both Democratic Majority for Israel and AIPAC, whose political leadership conference he attended earlier this month in Washington, D.C.
👀 Zients’ Zeitgeist: The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer looks at how Jeff Zients, who is expected to be named White House chief of staff, will manage the duties of the office as he succeeds Ron Klain. “Where Klain rarely hesitates to steer into an argument, Zients cuts a more genteel presence. He loves to invoke managerial maxims. (He tells staff that they should ‘run over the hill,’ by which he means they should err on the side of overreacting and overplanning.) Guided by acute emotional intelligence, he cultivates an aura of humility. He styles himself a mere facilitator, a problem solver who prefers to keep things simple by relentlessly focusing on the few things that matter. These instincts will now be tested in the legislative wilds, in the middle of a showdown over the debt ceiling, and potentially in the shadow of a reelection campaign. At a moment when his presidency could go stale, Biden has reached beyond his family.” [TheAtlantic]
🚗 Waze and Means: The New York Times’ Peter Coy interviews Uri Levine, one of the three Israeli founders of the navigation app Waze. “Now I’ll tell you the Waze origin story from Levine’s perspective. On the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana in 2006, Levine and some friends gathered in Metula, a small village on Israel’s border with Lebanon. Levine was the last to head home, so he called friends who had taken different routes to figure out which would be fastest. Bingo! ‘That’s what later on became the essence of Waze,’ he wrote. That idea wasn’t enough, though. He needed a map. He approached one mobile navigation company that had a map and was rebuffed. ‘No one cares about traffic information,’ the chief executive said, according to Levine.” [NYTimes]
🖋️ Discerning History: In Tablet Magazine, Izabella Tabarovsky takes a deep dive into the dissertation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, highlighting the insights it provides into Soviet anti-Zionism and how that has seeped into universities today. “Fabrications about Israel and Zionism that the KGB concocted with the help of the Arabists and Zionologists in the academy had real-life consequences that continue until today. Having washed through the academy the hoax about the Mossad smuggling Jews into Palestine in the 1930s, the KGB could claim that the Mossad was also behind Soviet Jews’ demand for emigration in the 1970s and 1980s. Jewish activists like Natan Sharansky could be portrayed as foreign intelligence assets —an accusation that carried a death sentence. The Soviet academy’s ‘scientific anti-Zionism’ project facilitated and promoted state-sponsored antisemitism. Abbas’ dissertation was part of that game.” [Tablet]
🗳️ Frost Warning: Vogue’s Suzy Exposito interviews Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL), the first Gen Z member of Congress, discussing his childhood and what led to his run for Congress. “Frost pays no mind to the diners casting glances his way. Instead, he drinks his coffee and slips into a story recalling two events that galvanized him to political action in 2012: the murder of Trayvon Martin (which took place about 30 minutes from where he grew up) and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. As a 15-year-old Black Latino boy, rightfully shaken by the prospect of not making it home from school alive, Frost befriended members of the Newtown Action Alliance on Facebook. He was a sophomore in high school when his parents (reluctantly, he says) put him on a plane to Washington to lobby with the group. ‘Having young people at the table is really important,’ says Frost. ‘March for Our Lives is about ending gun violence, but it is also about building power for and with young people.’” [Vogue]
Around the Web
🇮🇷 Upping the Pressure: The U.S., the European Union and the U.K. announced new sanctions on Iranian officials and organizations over the crackdown on anti-regime protesters, but the E.U. stopped short of adding Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to its terror group blacklist.
😟 Sherman Speaks: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) expressed concern that the new Israeli government could take actions that would lead to an “erosion” of U.S. support for Israel.
🏃♂️ He’s Running: Long Island Democrat Joshua Lafazan, who finished third in the Democratic primary in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, filed paperwork for a 2024 bid for the seat, currently held by Rep. George Santos (R-NY).
👨 New Role: Former Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) was appointed to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a six-year term.
🪑 Biden’s Chief: In The New York Times, Chris Whipple, author of The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House, looks back at White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s tenure and considers how the president will face looming challenges if Jeff Zients, formerly Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, fills his shoes.
📚 Bookshelf: The Boston Globespotlights the comeback of author Laura Zigman years after her influential debut novel, Animal Husbandry, was published.
😂 Live from New York: “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels was announced as one of the honorees at this year’s PEN America Literary Gala, which will take place in New York in May.
👗 Across the Pond: The Museum of London Docklands is asking the public for help locating iconic 20th-century clothing created by Jewish designers, including pieces worn by David Bowie, Greta Garbo and Sean Connery, so that museum officials can recognize what they described as an overlooked sector of the fashion industry.
📗 Spies’ Secrets: In his new book, former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo implies that the CIA helped the Mossad extract its agents from Iran after seizing a nuclear archive from Tehran in February 2018.
💪 Muscle Flexing: The U.S. and Israel launched their largest joint military exercise ever yesterday, which involved around 15 aircraft and almost 8,000 personnel.
🤐 Siamak’s Strike: Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015, ended a seven-day hunger strike intended to raise awareness about the wrongful detainment of U.S. citizens in the Islamic republic and mark the seven-year anniversary of a prisoner swap that freed other Americans but left him behind.
🛬 Under Wraps: Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer secretly visited the United Arab Emirates on Sunday to discuss a possible visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
🏦 On a Mission: A member of the Bank of Israel’s six-member Monetary Committee resigned from the position, in protest of the government’s proposed judicial reform.
💰 Money Trail: The Associated Pressreports on a fundraising effort being undertaken in the U.S. to raise money for Jewish extremists convicted of hate crimes in Israel.
👞 Stepping In: Israel’s Shas party announced that MK Michael Malkieli will replace party leader Aryeh Deri as interior minister, and MK Haim Biton will replace him as health minister, following Deri’s ouster in the wake of a High Court ruling that found him ineligible to hold ministerial positions.
👋 Stepping Out: Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov, former tourism minister, announced plans to leave political life and will resign from the Knesset at the end of the month.
➡️ Transitions: Adam Weissmann, previously the speechwriting director and adviser for Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), launched Underscore Strategies, a speechwriting consulting firm.
🕯️ Remembering: Award-winning author Grigory Kanovich, who wrote dozens of plays, screenplays, novels, poems and short stories about Lithuanian Jewry, died at 93. Former B’nai B’rith International President Moishe Smith died at 72.
Pic of the Day
From left: Justin Shafritz (U.S.), Benjamin Szollös (Israel) and Robert Eilers (U.S.), who collectively swept the men’s alpine skiing events at the Winter Maccabi Games, held this month in Germany, pose with their medals.
Senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he was previously an official in the Reagan, Bush 43 and Trump administrations, Elliott Abrams turns 75…
Singer-songwriter and one of the world’s best-selling recording artists of all time, Neil Diamond turns 82… Born in Tel Aviv, 2011 Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry, professor at Technion and Iowa State University, Dan Shechtman turns 82… Chairman of the Sazerac Company and of Crescent Crown Distributing, two of the largest domestic bottlers of spirits and beer in the U.S., William Goldring turns 80… Professor of modern Jewish history at New York University, Marion Kaplan turns 77… Ukrainian-born comedian, actor and writer, emigrated to the U.S. in 1977, noted for the catchphrase “What a country,” Yakov Smirnoff (born Yakov Naumovich Pokhis) turns 72… Conductor, violinist and violist, who has performed with leading symphony orchestras worldwide, Yuri Bashmet turns 70… VP of strategy at LiveWorld, Daniel Flamberg… Founder of an online software training website which was acquired by LinkedIn in 2015, Lynda Susan Weinman turns 68… Burlingame, Calif.-based surgeon at Peninsula Plastic Surgery, Lorne Rosenfield, M.D…. Beryl Eckstein… Former senior correspondent for Fox News, Rick Leventhal… Former CEO of Ford Motor Company, now CEO of Hertz, Mark Fields turns 62… B’nei mitzvah coordinator at Temple Beth Am of Los Angeles, Judith Alban… Former HUD secretary, OMB director and candidate to be mayor of NYC, Shaun Donovan turns 57… Co-founder and executive director of Protect Democracy, Ian Bassin turns 47… Associate attorney at Stonehage Fleming Law, Joshua Runyan… Sporting director for Hapoel Jerusalem of the Israeli Premier League and the Champions League, Yotam Halperin turns 39… Founder and CEO at TACKMA, Jeffrey Schottenstein… Regional director of synagogue initiative at AIPAC, Miryam Knafo Schapira… J.D. candidate at Brooklyn Law School, Michael Krasna…