👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview the documentarians behind a Sundance film showcasing the efforts of a Jewish chaplain at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and look at how the debate over a potential U.S. sale of F-16s to Turkey is playing out on Capitol Hill. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Amb. Yousef Al Otaiba, Michael Twitty and Alexandra Jacobs.
Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled yesterday against the ministerial appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, deeming the close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ineligible to hold a ministerial position. The 10-1 ruling was made in light of two criminal convictions, most recently for tax fraud that was settled last year with a plea deal and what the court understood as a promise from Deri to step down from political life. Netanyahu appointed Deri to be health and interior minister when he formed his new government in December.
A statement issued by the Likud party on behalf of the coalition parties decried the decision as “a huge injustice” and said “we will act in any legal way that is available to us and without delay, to correct the injustice and the severe damage caused to the democratic decision [of citizens who voted for a Netanyahu-led government including Deri] and the sovereignty of the people.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is in Israel, where he began his visit by meeting with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem last night. “You are coming at the right time, as we meet so many challenges together,” Herzog said.
Sullivan met with Netanyahu today in Jerusalem. “I’ve known President Biden for 40 years as a great friend of Israel and I know how much he trusts you in matters of national security, and you should know that we see you as a trusted partner in matters of assuring security and of course advancing peace,” Netanyahu said to Sullivan before reporters. “And I think today you come at a special time because we have acute challenges to our security and vast opportunities for peace, and I’m convinced that by working together we can both meet the challenges and realize the opportunities.”
Describing Biden’s commitment to the State of Israel as “bone-deep” and America’s commitment to Israel as “iron-clad,” Sullivan said, “I agree with you we have to talk about both the challenges but also the real opportunities that our two countries have, to work towards a better future.”
Sullivan is set to meet with additional Israeli officials today, for discussions on the new government’s positions regarding the Palestinians, Iran and normalization with other countries in the region.
Netanyahu met with a bipartisan Senate delegation visiting Abraham Accords signatory countries in Jerusalem yesterday, alongside Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.
During the meeting, the officials discussed the potential for closer cooperation between Abraham Accords countries, and the importance of U.S. support for the Accords and opportunities to expand them, according to a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu also presented the Israeli stance on the Iranian threat and how it can be confronted by posing a credible military threat and exerting economic and political pressure.
Following the meeting, Herzog tweeted, “Their work reflects the shared Israel-U.S. goal of promoting cooperation & stability in the Middle East. I’m grateful for their partnership.”
In Davos today, the Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt will speak at the World Economic Forum on the “Keeping Faith” panel at 3 p.m. local time. Tonight, Israeli singer Noa and guitarist Gil Dor will perform together before appearing on a panel about linking the arts and activism.
Stateside, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Arizona State University for a roundtable discussion this afternoon with college students about combating antisemitism.
The Israeli-American Council’s annual gathering kicks off today in Austin, Texas. Speakers include Israeli Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Jewish Federations of North America CEO Eric Fingerhut.
White House, Congress renew standoff over F-16 sale to Turkey
The news last week that the White House plans to seek congressional approval to sell $20 billion worth of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey renewed a standoff between the administration and key congressional leaders, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Battle lines: Turkey first requested to purchase the planes, as well as equipment to upgrade their existing F-16 fleet, in October 2021. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — most notably Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who can unilaterally place an informal hold on the sale — have attempted to put up obstacles to the deal and otherwise pushed back against it. Opponents of the sale also have the support of some leaders in the U.S. Jewish community.
Red flags: A Jewish community leader, who requested anonymity to speak freely on the sensitive issue, told JI this week that — in spite of Turkey’s steps toward restoring normal relations with Israel and the nation’s geo-strategic importance — its ongoing tensions with NATO, Greece and Cyprus, its democratic backsliding and its harboring of Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas officials continue to pose concerns for some in the Jewish community. “It’s understandable that organizations that care deeply about Western values, care deeply about the democracy in and across the region and care deeply about the sovereignty of its neighbors would want to see changes in Turkish government behavior before agreeing to the substantial upgrading of the military capabilities of Turkey,” the leader said. “This is not about Israel’s strategic interests so much as the behavior of a country that is an unreliable NATO partner and poses threats to other NATO allies.”
Deal or no deal: The administration’s informal notification to Congress about the F-16 sale was accompanied by an announcement that it will sell F-35s to Greece. Soner Cagaptay, the director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Turkish Research Program, told JI that the administration likely hoped the Greek deal would alleviate concerns by essentially guaranteeing a qualitative military edge to Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. “The problem with this ‘deal’ is that nobody objects to Greece getting F-35s,” Cagaptay continued. “So it’s not as if this is a sweetener to Menendez. Greece gets F-35s whether or not Turkey gets F-16s.”
Flip side: Bradley Bowman, the senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JI that, despite the numerous problematic aspects of Turkey’s behavior, there are potential benefits to allowing the sale to proceed, rather than pushing Turkey toward another potential supplier for the necessary upgrades to its fighter fleet. “When allies and partners buy weapons from us, that accrues — many times — 20-, 30-plus year benefits for us,” Bowman explained. “It creates all kinds of interoperability benefits, readiness benefits, diplomatic and other benefits that accrue to us. And so I would rather have those benefits come to us than to Russia or China, or even France.”
Spiritual care documentary ‘A Still Small Voice’ debuts at Sundance
COVID-19 numbers were spiking, ventilators were in short supply, nurses and doctors were understaffed and overworked, people were dying without loved ones to soothe them in their final moments. 2021, the first full year of a still-lingering global pandemic, would quickly become the deadliest in U.S. history, with big-city hospitals like Mount Sinai in New York bearing the brunt of the burden. But through the hallways infused with suffering walked a small cohort of staff, tending to patients by offering an ear or a prayer in lieu of medicine. These individuals, men and women who offer pastoral care to those dealing with trauma, end-of-life diagnoses and other distressing events, offer immense relief to their patients on any day. Mati Engel felt the force of this need firsthand — her residency in the spiritual care department at Mount Sinai from 2020 to 2021 is the subject of Luke Lorentzen’s documentary, “A Still Small Voice,” debuting this week at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which kicks off today, Jewish Insider’s Tori Bergel reports.
How it happened: The documentary was not intended as an ode to those worst hit by the pandemic. Lorentzen, alongside producer Kellen Quinn, was introduced to the concept of hospital chaplaincy by his sister while traveling for the pair’s last film, “Midnight Family,” which was released in 2019. What struck him most was the group-processing aspect of the job, where after seeing patients the chaplains would come together and dissect their experiences. “Just from a filmmaking perspective, it sort of provided this structure of action and reflection that intrigued me,” Lorentzen added. Eventually landing on Mount Sinai as the documentary’s backbone, Lorentzen felt a connection to Engel’s approach to the job, and chose her as the film’s center. “The way she approached the work was with a sort of rigor and intensity that really moved me and fascinated me, and she sort of had this ability to both do chaplaincy at a really high level, while also grappling with certain learnings and learning goals that gave the story all of these different dimensions,” Lorentzen recalled.
Natural partner: Funding for the project came in part from Jewish Story Partners, a foundation that awards grants to independent films that showcase the diversity of the Jewish experience. The foundation’s core funder is Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s Righteous Persons Foundation. The filmmakers had previously met Caroline Libresco, JSP co-executive director, when she worked at Sundance. “I believe when she began working at Jewish Story Partners, we were one of the sets of filmmaking teams that she and her team reached out to,” Quinn said. “At the time, we were just beginning the project and it wasn’t clear that Mati would be actually really at the center of it, but we knew that Mount Sinai was historically a Jewish institution and that we had two Jewish chaplain residents in the cohort, so it immediately seemed like a project that they might be interested in, and then I would say in Caroline’s words, became even more of a Jewish film through the process of making it.”
😟 Torres’ Tough Talk: For NBC News, Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) explains his concerns about fellow New York legislator Rep. George Santos (R-NY), who fabricated extensive portions of his resume and biography. “It boggles the mind how anyone who has methodically misled the public to this magnitude could be trusted to exercise the duties of his congressional office in good faith. Every American should worry about the risk of Santos having access to classified information — and what he might do with it. The presence of this man in Congress is a danger to our democracy and national security, a disgrace to this institution, and a major distraction from the pressing problems that are far more worthy of our time, energy and attention. It’s time for Santos to recognize that he cannot serve the public he defrauded. His ability to govern has been weakened by a complete collapse of credibility.” [NBCNews]
🏃 Raleigh Rules: The Assembly’s Kevin Maurer profiles North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, the first Jewish individual to hold statewide office in the Tar Heel State, following the launch of his campaign for governor. “Stein, 56, has been the presumptive Democratic successor for term-limited [Gov.] Roy Cooper for months, if not years. But his path to office is still rocky. He has strong support from party leadership, but doesn’t yet command passion from the base; his likely Republican opponent will dominate headlines and test Stein’s campaign toughness; and his long record as attorney general will provide fodder for campaign ads on both sides… Stein’s bid follows well-trod ground; there has long been a pipeline from his role as the state’s top lawyer to the state’s top executive. His pitch: for stability, partisan balance, and a slightly more hip and accessible continuation of Cooper’s policy agenda. The campaign video announcing his candidacy was heavy on narrative, tying his run back to his pioneering civil rights attorney father and his record as attorney general, ending with an optimistic call to action to build a brighter North Carolina.” [TheAssembly]
🎓 Art Argument: The Washington Post’s Kim Bellware and Maham Javaid look at the fallout from an incident at a Midwestern university in which an adjunct professor’s contract was not renewed after a student complained that an image of the Prophet Mohammad was shown during an art history class. “The situation has thrust Hamline, a private university in St. Paul that enrolls about 1,800 undergrads, into the national spotlight — for ‘all the wrong reasons,’ the student newspaper lamented. Scholars in art history and other disciplines have been outraged by what they see as an affront to academic liberty and confused how sharing the medieval paintings of Muhammad made by Muslims could be construed as Islamophobic, as Hamline suggested before backtracking. Some of Hamline’s Muslim students, who are a minority at the school, and their allies have said that showing images of the prophet in any form is an attack on their core beliefs and that academic institutions have a right to restrict speech that creates a hateful or hostile environment.” [WashPost]
⚽ Soccer Stunners: The Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Robinson spotlights the soccer exhibition match between Paris Saint-Germain and Al Nassr FC, which will see star players Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo face off in Riyadh later today. “Ronaldo’s move to Saudi said plenty about the modern economics of the game. That his last confrontation with Messi should also come in Riyadh underlined the point emphatically: The Kingdom is serious about establishing its influence over the world’s most popular sport — and it will spare no expense to do it. In under a year, it has managed to do what no club ever did by signing up two of the most famous athletes ever to live. Seven months before it brought Ronaldo to the Gulf, Saudi unveiled Messi as a tourism ambassador for the Kingdom at a ceremony in Jeddah, where Princess Haifa al-Saud led him on a tour of the old city and tweeted that Messi was ‘mesmerized by its essence, heritage and beauty.’ Messi won’t have much time for Saudi heritage on this trip. PSG is arriving on Thursday, on the morning of the game. The reality is that from a scheduling perspective, the match is one more headache that PSG didn’t need. The calendar had already been compressed by a six-week break for the Qatar World Cup and the club is chasing silverware in three different competitions.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
🪑 Musical Chairs: The Biden administration is reportedly considering Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown and U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger to succeed Gen. Mark Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
😷 On the Mend: Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, tested positive for COVID-19.
🤨 Santos Stories: A former roommate of Rep. George Santos (R-NY) said the legislator had used a last name common among Ashkenazi Jews for a crowdfunding campaign, which the future politician explained at the time by saying, “the Jews will give more if you’re a Jew.” Santos is also under fire for claims that his mother was at the site of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11, despite newly obtained immigration records indicating she was not in the country at the time of the attacks.
🗓️ Grand Canyon Campaigns: Arizona Republicans Kari Lake and Blake Masters are both considering entering the 2024 Senate race, when Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) will be on the ballot for the first time as an independent.
🗳️ Boy Meets Ballot: Actor Ben Savage filed to run for Congress in California’s 30th House District, the seat currently held by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Ξ Tainted Money: Semafor plans to buy out FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s roughly $10 million investment in the company as it looks for new sources of capital.
⚖️ Looking Back: Ben Ferencz, the 102-year-old surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials, sat down for a 45-minute interview with NBC News in which he reflected on his life, career and human rights work.
🧤 Kid-Glove Treatment:New York Times book critic Alexandra Jacobs writes that Matthew Dennison’s new biography of author Roald Dahl is “a politely pruned one, idealism washing over the ick” of Dahl’s antisemitism, racism and misogyny.
👉 Pointing a Finger: The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin attributes rising rates of antisemitism to far-right white Christian nationalism.
🇩🇪 On German Soil: Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan will visit Germany for the first time next week ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, years after making a vow to never travel to the country.
🕊️ Conflict Resolution: Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud encouraged the new Israeli government to make a serious effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, echoing calls from Qatar’s foreign minister the day prior.
🇺🇳 Turtle Bay Tussle: Israeli and Palestinian diplomats at the U.N. traded barbs over the Palestinian Authority’s recent decision to push forward a resolution to have the International Court of Justice weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan saying the move had a goal of “destroying Israel as the Jewish state.”
🛃 Waiver Work: U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said yesterday that a visa-waiver deal for Israelis would be tied to a commitment by Israel for free passage for Palestinian Americans to and from the West Bank.
🇮🇱🇺🇸 Coalition Concerns: The Washington Postlooks at the challenges facing relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Biden administration as Netanyahu’s government begins to take shape.
😡 Off-base Analogy: The White House expressed outrage over Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comparison of the U.S.’ current approach to Russia to how Nazis treated Jews during the Holocaust.
🙏 Plea for Help: Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen appealed to Pope Francis, the Red Cross and the United Nations for help in recovering four Israeli citizens held in the Gaza Strip.
Pic of the Day
A staffer at Warsaw’s POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews presents negatives that were recently discovered in the private archive of Maciej Grzywaczewski, whose father took them during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising when he worked as a firefighter. The photos will go on display to the public this spring.
United Arab Emirates’ minister of state and ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba turns 50…
Surfer as a child, she is the real-life inspiration for the fictional character Gidget in a book written by her father, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman turns 82… Retired after 40 years of service as a news reporter and White House correspondent for ABC News, Ann Compton turns 76… Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Belz since 1966, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach turns 75… CEO of Charleston, S.C.-based InterTech Group, Anita Zucker turns 71… Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Amy Laura Wax turns 70… Former Speaker of the Knesset following a stint as chairman of the Jewish Agency, Avraham Burg turns 68… President and CEO of PayPal, he is on the board of directors of Verizon, Daniel H. Schulman turns 65… Stoughton, Mass., resident, Hillery Bauman… Jay Susman… Los Angeles-based attorney and founder of the blog, American Trial Attorneys in Defense of Israel, Baruch C. Cohen… Retired speaker of the U.K.’s House of Commons, his family name was originally Berkowitz, John Simon Bercow turns 60… U.K. ambassador to Mexico, Jon Benjamin turns 60… Governor of Illinois since 2019, he is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, his family owns the Hyatt Hotel chain, Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker turns 58… Chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, Jonathan Karl turns 55… Israeli-American social entrepreneur, she is the co-founder and former CEO of Circ MedTech, Tzameret Fuerst turns 52… Lecturer at the University of Maryland’s Center for Jewish Studies and senior adviser to Enter: The Jewish Peoplehood Alliance, Scott Lasensky… Television journalist, entrepreneur, social activist, YouTube creator and motivational speaker, Jessica Abo turns 42… D.C.-based senior director of policy and political affairs at AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, Julie Fishman Rayman… VP at the National Women’s Law Center, Melissa Boteach… Isaac (Ike) Wolf… Assistant director of policy and government affairs at AIPAC, Alex Bronzo… Gastroenterologist in Boston, Loren Galler Rabinowitz, M.D. turns 37… Actor since early childhood, now a main character in Amazon’s “Hunters,” Logan Lerman turns 31… Midwest regional deputy director at AIPAC, Emily Berman Pevnick…