👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Hady Amr, the State Department’s special representative for Palestinian affairs, and talk to New York City councilmembers who recently returned from a trip to Israel. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Yael Lempert, Amos Hochsteinand Sander Gerber.
For the first time in a century, the House adjourned after its first day without electing a speaker. In three rounds of voting yesterday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was unable to muster the 218 votes necessary to deliver him the speakership, with 19 or 20 Republicans defecting in each round. Democrats stuck together to vote for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
It’s unclear where things go from here — McCarthy has indicated that he’s unwilling to grant any further concessions to a block of hard-right holdouts and provocateurs, and his opponents have made clear that they will not back him in future rounds. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), who voted for McCarthy on the first two ballots, flipped in the third round of voting. In the second two rounds, McCarthy’s opponents voted for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who delivered a speech supporting McCarthy and voted for him in all three rounds.
Donalds remained confident after the third vote that Republicans would ultimately reach a resolution, but told reporters that “obviously there’s some more questions and conversations that need to be had” to determine who can muster 218 votes. Donalds said he would not be opposed to switching his vote back to McCarthy if the California Republican can garner the requisite support, but added, “it is clear that pathway does not exist.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) emerged from the day’s proceedings frustrated, describing the events as “really an inside baseball, D.C. swamp exercise in total BS.” Crenshaw told Jewish Insider that he’s doubtful any other Republican could marshal 218 votes from the GOP conference without making greater concessions to the hard right than McCarthy has been willing to offer, but also noted “a very large block of Republicans” will vote only for McCarthy.
If the situation does not change, the alternative, Crenshaw continued, would be a moderate Republican brokering a deal with Democratic leadership to land the speakership with Democratic support. “To be clear, I would not be a supporter of that scenario — I’d rather just keep this going,” he said, “but you better believe that could happen. That has happened in state legislatures.” He added, “You know why me and Marjorie [Taylor Greene] are like best friends now? It’s because we both understand that.”
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY), a Jeffries ally, told reporters that Democrats won’t be making the first move on a compromise: “it can’t be us going to them — they have got to come to us.” Donalds said he did not anticipate that such a compromise would materialize.
Until a speaker is selected, members cannot be sworn in, the House cannot adopt rules, committees cannot be formed and legislation cannot be introduced or considered, leaving legislative business frozen. The House will reconvene at noon today.
Embattled Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) spent the morning prior to the votes dodging questions from a pack of reporters waiting outside his office, and then spent the first two votes sitting in a back corner of the House, interacting minimally with his new colleagues and often looking at his phone. Santos’ only comment to reporters was that he would vote for McCarthy, which he did on all three ballots.
Elsewhere in Washington, President Joe Biden submitted a slate of nominations to the Senate for the new year, including renewing some previously stalled nominations. Among those renominated were embattled India ambassador nominee Eric Garcetti, Saudi Arabia ambassador nominee Michael Ratney, Kuwait ambassador nominee Karen Sasahara, counterterrorism coordinator nominee Elizabeth Richard, and UAE ambassador nominee Martina Anna Tkadlec Strong. Ratney is the former chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy to Israel and Sasahara was the former consul general in Jerusalem and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy to Jordan.
New nominees include former Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert, nominated to be ambassador to Jordan; Ana Escrogima, a career foreign service officer nominated to be ambassador to Oman; and Dorothy Shea, currently the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, nominated to be the U.S.’s deputy representative to the United Nations.
How Hady Amr represents Biden to the Palestinians
The same day President Joe Biden was inaugurated two years ago, Hady Amr was sworn in at the State Department as the deputy assistant secretary for Israeli and Palestinian affairs. While Biden faced an urgent set of challenges both global and domestic, Amr was tasked with keeping things stable in the Holy Land, not pursuing any sweeping diplomatic agendas. This past November, Amr got a promotion: He’s now the special representative for Palestinian affairs, the first time Washington has appointed a representative to the Palestinian people and leadership. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Amr’s goal is to “strengthen our engagement with the Palestinian people.” He is essentially an envoy to a state that doesn’t yet exist, and his message to Palestinians adds up to two words: Trust me. Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch talked to Amr about his hope of improving life for the Palestinians and helping keep the peace in the region — all while the two-state solution remains on the administration’s back burner.
Dreamer: A child of the 1960s, Amr was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States at a young age, where he grew up in suburban Northern Virginia. His prevailing worldview comes from Martin Luther King Jr. “I was drawn to public service after learning about the activism of Martin Luther King Jr., and his commitment to equality,” said Amr, 55. “My political consciousness is about equal rights. It’s about equal justice.” His hero spoke of a country where all children could grow up with dignity and opportunities and the ability to achieve the same American dream. That’s also the prism through which Amr views his work with the Palestinians.
Looking ahead: “We believe Palestinians and Israelis, like people everywhere, are entitled to the same rights and the same opportunities,” he told JI in December during an hour-long phone interview. “To have a happy, safe, secure, prosperous future, their lives need to be as equal as possible, because they’re living in a tiny area, in an interconnected manner. And they’re joined at the hip.” Like Amr, Biden supports a negotiated two-state solution. But unlike his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, Biden has taken less of an initiative to make that happen. There is no special envoy to the peace process; no team in the U.S. government is now actively focused on bringing the two sides to the negotiating table. “We’re focused,” Amr said at a November press briefing, “on the future and lifting up the lives of ordinary Palestinians.”
Terrorism talk: Amr has amassed some critics who allege that his desire to work with the Palestinian Authority necessitates forgiving some of the PA’s more egregious behavior, such as its “martyr payments” to the families of terrorists, banned under the 2018 Taylor Force Act. “The administration is doing a very bad job. They’re not making known that the PA is rewarding and incentivizing terror,” said Sander Gerber, a hedge fund executive and activist who helped write the Taylor Force Act. “I found [Amr] to be clear-sighted on the problematic aspects of the Palestinian Authority, and he wants to find some kind of solution. He’s deeply committed to two states for two peoples. But he understands that the Palestinian Authority needs to undergo serious reforms for that to happen.” In the November press briefing, Amr said the U.S. will continue to “build our relationship with the Palestinian Authority,” and pledged to work with the PA to deescalate tensions in the West Bank. “His reputation on the right is that he’s not a friend to Israel. I have not found that to be the case,” Gerber added.
Long odds: The Palestinian Authority is rife with corruption and led by an aging president, with no successor in sight. Israel just completed its fifth election in nearly four years and last week swore in a right-wing government, with several prominent anti-Arab voices. 2022 was the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2006, and the security situation continues to deteriorate. For Amr, success will be hard to define and even harder to achieve. “Certainly, we would all love to be standing in the Rose Garden with a two-state solution, obviously, but I don’t think any of us believe today that’s going to be possible,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told JI when asked about Amr’s role. “But we can keep a vision of a two-state solution alive. We can work towards that goal. [Hady]’s a very pragmatic guy.”
New York City councilmembers reflect on Israel trip
What moved New York City Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez most during her first visit to Israel was hearing about the life of an Ethiopian Jewish restaurant owner and the harmony she’s found between her many identities. “She also is part of this community center that takes the opportunity to talk about what it is to be an Ethiopian Jew and the complexities of being a Black Jew,” Velázquez told Jewish Insider’s Tori Bergel. “I am a Puerto Rican woman living my own truth, right? I am the first person of color to represent my district, but hearing her perspective and how she owned her space, and seeing that, and more importantly seeing how she talks about and educates people in a way that opens up in a safe space, is what we need to expose our communities more to.”
Study tour: Velázquez, whose district includes the Bronx neighborhoods of Pelham Bay, Morris Park as well as City Island, was among a cohort from the New York City Council that traveled to Israel for a weeklong “study tour” of the country ahead of the new year. Sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the 12 councilmembers — most of whom had never been to the Jewish state before — were given a firsthand look at the diversity of Israeli society, the geopolitical issues it faces and how its opposing communities coexist.
A glimpse into society: “We aim to show Israel in all its complexity and look to bring people together around education on issues faced in Israeli society and here in New York. Israel and the Middle East are incredibly diverse and we believe learning about that diversity is important for leaders in a city such as New York,” said JCRC-NY CEO Gideon Taylor. “Meeting folks one-on-one and hearing their stories and how their lives are, what impacts them daily, was crucial to understanding the complicated nature of what is going on in Israel,” Velázquez said.
Parallels in history: The annual trip, which the JCRC has sponsored for more than 30 years and which had been on pause since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, came amid an uptick in antisemitic and other hate crimes in New York City in recent months. ”So much of what we lived, learned and experienced in Israel was about the strength and importance of identity, and as a Christian, it was so powerful for me to see the parallels in the history of where I come from and the Israeli people,” Councilmember Kamillah Hanks told JI via email. “This trip further underscored the depth and the insidiousness of antisemitism, and as someone who represents many Jewish constituents on Staten Island, I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more and think about how to better serve this community and continue the fight to eradicate antisemitism and hate.”
Backlash: Despite the JCRC’s maintained agenda, more than one organization urged councilmembers not to attend the trip on Nov. 28. The Democratic Socialists of America announced they would only endorse candidates who pledged not to go on the JCRC-led tour, drawing rebukes from the JCRC, the Met Council and federal lawmakers.
Read the full story here.
Ben-Gvir’s Temple Mount visit draws international ire
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount site yesterday sparked public rebukes from both the United States and the United Arab Emirates, the latter of which, together with China, asked the U.N. Security Council to convene to discuss the issue. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, said he would seek a U.N. Security Council condemnation. Qatar and Saudi Arabia also rebuked the visit, and Jordan summoned Israel’s ambassador to the country, Eitan Surkis. And in Gaza last night, a rocket was fired but failed to cross into Israel.
Potential price: “This visit has the potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Tuesday. He said that U.S. officials raised concerns in Tuesday conversations with officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed government. “We’re deeply concerned by any unilateral actions because – precisely because they have the potential to exacerbate tensions, or worse. And that’s why we can look back to 2000, we can look back to previous instances,” Price said in a response to a question about then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s controversial 2000 visit to the Temple Mount, which touched off a wave of tensions and riots at the start of the Second Intifada. “It’s also why we call for the preservation of the historic status quo.”
Status quo: Ben-Gvir has argued that Israeli Jews should be able to more freely visit the Temple Mount. The long-held status quo allows Muslims to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while Israeli Jews are generally not allowed to pray at the complex — a position supported by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel to avoid desecration of the holy site since there are areas of the original temples that could only be entered after a person had been ritually purified, and the most sacred area, the inner room known as the The Holy of Holies, could only be entered by a high priest and only on Yom Kippur. Reuters’ Dan Williams noted that rather than buck the status quo, Ben-Gvir’s visit “appears to have reinforced it: He kept to the time slot and peripheral tour route allotted to Jews and avoided any sign of praying — or of advocating Jewish prayer — while there.”
Internal division: Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef penned a letter to Ben-Gvir saying: “As a minister representing the government of Israel you should be acting according to Chief Rabbinate instructions, which have long forbidden visiting the Temple Mount.” He called on Ben-Gvir to stop visiting the site “in order not to mislead the public.” MK Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism also berated Ben-Gvir, saying: “My position is that it is prohibited by halacha [Jewish law] to visit the Temple Mount, and I said this to minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, in the past and today. I think it is not OK… Ascent to the holy of holies is prohibited… That is why the chief rabbis over the generations prohibited this, and said that the punishment was ‘kareth’ [extirpation].” He called the move an unnecessary provocation around the world.
Premier position: Hours after Ben-Gvir’s visit to the site, Israeli media reports emerged that Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to the United Arab Emirates, scheduled for next week, had been postponed. Sources in Netanyahu’s office denied there was any connection to the Temple Mount visit, Yediot Ahronotreported, and said it was due only to logistics and that the goal is for the trip to take place in a month’s time. A statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to strictly maintaining the status quo, without changes, on the Temple Mount. We will not be dictated to by Hamas. Under the status quo, ministers have gone up to the Temple Mount in recent years, including [former] Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan; therefore, the claim that a change has been made in the status quo is without foundation.”
✡️ Santos’ Shpiel: In The New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer considers the reasons why Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) lied about his Jewish ancestry. “It’s noteworthy that in many cases claiming to be a Jew doesn’t seem to benefit, exactly — but having a whiff of Jewish heritage or ancestry does. That stands to reason, because in politics, or in celebrity, there is no such thing as bad ancestry. Being 1/128th Native American or part Romani or a smidgen Jewish — they all lend a little flavor, liven up a staid image. Actually being a current, practicing, engaged member of the group? Less appealing. A practicing, Sabbath-observant Jew makes some people suspicious; being a secular American who happens to have had a great-great-grandfather who was a shtetl rabbi is a cool biographical fact. To quote the title of Dara Horn’s essay collection, people love dead Jews. Having a dead Jew in your past is swell. George Santos invented his past in business because he hoped it would make him seem successful. He invented dead Jews to make himself seem sympathetic or interesting.” [NYTimes]
⚖️ Coalition Challenge: In the Washington Post, Gershom Gorenberg warns that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition could find itself at risk of collapse if it acts on policy shifts at odds with the broader electorate. “Knesset members from the Likud’s coalition partners already are facing public attacks from hard-line rabbis because they assented to [Amir] Ohana [who is openly gay] as speaker. They can’t afford to let Netanyahu slip out of his commitments, and are likely to set ultimatums. If Likud fails to come through — for instance, if backbenchers rebel — the coalition could slowly crumble. That would lead to early elections. If Likud accedes, at least some of its voters might well begin looking for a new political home. For Netanyahu, the alliance with social reactionaries was the key to power. If his opponents act astutely, it will be the key to his downfall.” [WashPost]
🇮🇷 Tough on Tehran: In The Hill, Eric Mandel calls on Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to reverse his opposition to a recent Senate resolution that showed support for Iranians protesting against the regime in Tehran. “Paul wants to stop aid to countries such as Egypt for human rights abuses, yet he apparently doesn’t mind enriching Iran with a trillion dollars in sanctions relief by returning to the JCPOA. Isn’t he troubled by the contradiction, since Iran is a leading state sponsor of terror and its IRGC has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers on its hands? I would ask him to revisit his understanding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an unrepentant revolutionary theocracy. Its fundamental mission of Twelver Shia Islamic power justifies the human rights abuses of their people. I want America to be on the side of freedom.” [TheHill]
🏠 Hate at Home: The Washington Post’s Danielle Pacquette spotlights a Massachusetts family that was the target of a still-unsolved antisemitic incident. “Antisemitism had reached [attorney Stephanie] Lyons only in insidious ways — like when people tossed off comments about Jewish lawyers. Then her younger child, Dylan, found swastikas on their front lawn. Her fiance, Scott, is a police officer in another town, and his 25-year-old daughter Shauna normally drove Dylan to school. When Dylan told Shauna, she rushed to find Scott, who collected the swastikas in a plastic bag to save as evidence. He brought the bag to Lyons, who was getting ready for work. ‘I just burst into tears,’ she said. ‘Someone had taken the time to cut these swastikas out of paper and write those words. They knew where we lived. They knew we were Jewish.’” [WashPost]
🤑 Oil Riches:The Wall Street Journal’s Rory Jones, Stephen Kalin and Summer Said delve into a power struggle over Saudi Arabia’s wealth fund between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and financial officials. “In 2021, when former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner sought billions of dollars from the PIF [Public Investment Fund] for a Middle East-focused investment fund, the PIF’s investment committee initially balked, people familiar with the matter said, despite Mr. Kushner’s personal relationship with Prince Mohammed. Mr. Kushner’s fund, named Affinity, aims to link Persian Gulf money with Israeli businesses, especially its technology sector. But Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and the PIF has ample exposure to the global tech sector. Some PIF committee members argued that Mr. Kushner didn’t have a long track record in this sort of business, the people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Kushner, who declined to comment via a spokesman, is known for real-estate investments in the New York City area. In Affinity’s pitch to prospective investors in Saudi Arabia, it noted Mr. Kushner’s involvement in key Trump administration diplomatic initiatives. The crown prince won that argument.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
👨 Suozzi’s Successor: In a New York Times piece headlined “A Con Man Is Succeeding Me in Congress Today,” former Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), whose Long Island district was won by Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY), called for the latter’s removal from office, on the basis that he deceived voters throughout the course of the campaign.
Ξ SBP Plea: FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty yesterday to fraud and other criminal charges.
🎞️ Madoff Movie:The Wall Street Journal’s film critic reviews “Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street,” the four-part series that looks at the orchestration of financier Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
🌆 Booming Business: The Wall Street Journal interviews New York City hotel owners, including Lightstone President Mitchell Hochberg, about how the industry has rebounded post-pandemic.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: The U.K. is preparing to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organization.
🍻 Drink Up: Dubai suspended its 30% tax on alcoholic beverages, and removed the fee for a license needed by individuals to purchase alcohol.
🛫 Dashed Dreams: The Associated Press looks at how Arab tourism to Israel has fallen short of expectations set by tourism officials following the signing of the Abraham Accords.
♚ Checkmate: Iranian chess player Sara Khadem is in Spain after being warned not to return to Iran, following a tournament in Kazakhstan in which she appeared without a hijab.
🪖 Defense News: Eyal Zamir, who served as IDF deputy chief of staff between 2018-2021 and was most recently a visiting research fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy in D.C., was appointed to be director general of Israel’s Defense Ministry.
➡️ Transitions: Jenn Miller, the government relations associate at the Israel Policy Forum, will be the new legislative assistant covering foreign policy and homeland security in Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s (D-NJ) office.
Pic of the Day
Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack was made an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for services to Holocaust Education and Awareness in the U.K.’s New Year Honours list.
Special presidential coordinator for global infrastructure and energy security at the State Department, Amos J. Hochstein turns 50…
English celebrity chef, restaurateur and television star, Rick Stein turns 76… Founder and president emeritus of the Alliance for Justice, Nan Aron turns 75… Retired major general in the IDF and a former member of the Knesset for Likud, Uzi Dayan turns 75… Television producer for CBS and co-author of three novels, Karen Mack Goldsmith turns 73… CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, Charles N. (“Chip”) Kahn III turns 71… Former member of Knesset for 17 years, Zehava Gal-On turns 67… Author of The New Yorker‘s satirical Borowitz Report, Andy Borowitz turns 65… Author of 34 best-selling mystery novels and thrillers with over 80 million copies in print, Harlan Coben turns 61… Senior health care editor at Axios, Adriel Bettelheim… Professor of Jewish history at both the University of Munich and the American University in D.C., Michael Brenner turns 59… Founder of AnyDate (personalized gifts), ShareSomeFriends (referral tool) and Upstart Ideas, Michael Eglash… Television and film actor, Josh Stamberg turns 53… Professor of management at UCSD, Yuval Rottenstreich turns 52… SVP in the Austin office of public strategy firm Mercury, he was the first Jewish liaison in the Bush 43 administration, Adam Blair Goldman… American living in Uzbekistan where he serves as the managing director of the Israel-USA-Uzbekistan Business Association, Daniel Zaretsky… Historian and New York Times best-selling author, he is a contributing editor at Politico Magazine, Joshua Michael Zeitz turns 49… Film and television actor, Aaron Schwartz turns 42… Founder of Darshan Yeshiva and spiritual leader of Kehillah, a Jewish community in Richmond, Va., Patrick Beaulier turns 40… Senior broadcast producer at “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” Ben Mayer… Education consultant, Alex Band… Bookkeeper at her family-owned The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts, Shawnee Tannenbaum… SVP at DC-based public affairs firm The Herald Group, Marc Brumer… Strategic advisor for Stacey Abrams, Samantha Slosberg… Center fielder for six MLB teams, he will be playing for Team Israel at the upcoming World Baseball Classic in March, Kevin Pillar turns 34… Senior director of development at Wavelength Productions, Emily Tess Katz… Staff writer for Time Magazine, Eric James Cortellessa… Litigation associate in the NYC office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, Alexander Abraham Langer… Administrator of legacies and endowments at the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, Judah Gavant… D.C. correspondent at The Nevada Independent, Gabby Birenbaum…