👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we get details on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s conversation with the Jewish Federations of North America, and interview former Israeli minister Ayelet Shaked about her post-politics life. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Ariel Levy, Yair Rosenberg and John Bolton.
When President Joe Biden delivers the annual State of the Union address tonight before a joint session in Congress, some SOTU watchers will be on the lookout for a number of things beyond the content of the president’s speech: For example, how many standing ovations the president gets, or which legislators angled for a coveted aisle seat (as a member of Congress, former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) was known to arrive early for such a seat). But they’ll also be watching to see who was invited to be a guest at the annual address. Members and officials are limited in the number of guests allowed due to the size of the House chamber.
Holocaust survivor Ruth Cohen, who last week spoke at Holocaust commemoration events in the UAE and Egypt, will sit with First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff for the address. Cohen, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau and now lives in Rockville, Md., met with Emhoff and Harris last year to discuss antisemitism. She will be one of 20 people — including singer Bono and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova — invited to sit in the first lady’s box.
Elsewhere on the Hill, Republicans announced yesterday that Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) will chair the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, joined by Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL), Tim Burchett (R-TN), Ronny Jackson (R-TX), Jim Baird (R-IN), Mike Lawler (R-NY) and Rich McCormick (R-GA). Wilson was the former ranking member.
Democrats announced that Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) will remain on the committee, after being excluded in the last round of assignments, and Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, will join the panel. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) are set to step off the panel to join the Intelligence Committee, according toPolitico.
This afternoon, Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) and Dan Goldman (D-NY) will hold a press conference alongside voters in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, who are represented by Rep. George Santos (R-NY), to call for McCarthy to expel the Long Island Republican from Congress.
in the room
Inside Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s speech to the Jewish Federations’ board
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spoke yesterday to the Jewish Federations of North America’s board meeting about her recent trip to Israel and the other signatory countries to the Abraham Accords, addressing concerns surrounding the new Israeli government as well as prospects for regional peace, an individual in the room told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod. JFNA’s board came together on Sunday and Monday to approve the federations’ policy agenda for the year, with about 150 board members in attendance, half of whom participated virtually.
On Israel: The New York senator, who visited Israel last month with members of the Abraham Accords Caucus, told JFNA that she does not agree with Israel’s proposed judicial reforms — which critics say would erode the separation of powers and the judiciary’s ability to act as a check on other parts of the government — but added that it was not her place to discuss Israel’s internal processes, the individual said. However, she said, “I can tell you when I met with Israeli civil society members and local leaders, they’re very worried. They were very worried that it would destroy the democracy of Israel, and that it would change the balance of powers that they believe Israel has always had.”
Peace prospects: Gillibrand echoed comments she has made publicly about the prospects for regional peace, saying that she has “never been more optimistic.” “I’ve never seen Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu have a path for peace in his mind before. In fact, every meeting I’ve had up until this one, he didn’t have one; he just said, ‘I can only protect my people,’” Gillibrand told the federations’ leadership. “But right now he has a vision about what it would look like, how it could be done, and what allies he needs right now to get that done. And that started with the Abraham Accords.” Gillibrand elaborated on opportunities she sees for progress for the Palestinians under the Abraham Accords, arguing, “We should ask that these Arab countries invest in the Palestinians,” because the Palestinians would accept the Arab nations’ aid even if they will not accept Israel’s help.
Campus conversation: Gillibrand touched on rising antisemitism on college campuses, noting, “If you are a college kid on a campus today and you are Jewish, there might be efforts to make sure you can’t be in student government and their efforts to make sure you don’t have a voice, their efforts to demean you and to diminish you, and for college kids that has a lot to handle.” She also more broadly addressed the “prolific and prevalent and wide-ranging” rise in antisemitism and reiterated her support for the nonprofit security grant program. The New York senator is up for reelection in 2024.
bridging the divide
Ayelet Shaked’s toughest task yet: Explaining Israeli politics to American Jews
Ayelet Shaked was once the darling of Israel’s right-wing, secular political camp. Rising to power alongside former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and serving first as minister of justice and, more recently, as minister of interior, the 46-year-old was a high-profile – and sometimes controversial – member of the country’s governments for the last seven years. Now Shaked, who failed to make it into the Knesset following November’s national election, is putting her skill set to use: explaining the chaotic and often theatrical world of Israeli politics to Diaspora Jews, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Beyond the headlines: “Basically, I have been explaining that most of what is being said about matters of religion and state is just politicians looking to create headlines,” Shaked told JI, referring to sentiments expressed by some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government that Israel needs to tighten Jewish immigration laws and reverse decisions to recognize the Reform movement’s conversions to Judaism. Speaking to JI from Boca Raton, Fla., where she was wrapping up a series of lectures to organizations including the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Federation of Montreal, Shaked said she did not believe the government would really make any big changes in these areas, though contentious plans to overhaul the legal system would likely go ahead.
Strengthening ties: Post-politics for now, Shaked is gearing up to work in the business world – she was recently appointed as chairwoman of Kardan Real Estate, one of the largest such companies in Israel – and, she told JI, she also has high hopes of “conquering America, talking to American Jewish communities and explaining Israel, as a way to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the United States. When I was a minister, I also tried to strengthen the Israel-Diaspora relationship, but I did not have as much time to focus on it,” Shaked admitted. “Now I am delighted to work to strengthen ties; this is something that is very important to me.”
Above politics: “The relationship between Israel and U.S. is an alliance that rises above political interests,” she explained. “It does not really matter who is in the White House or who is the prime minister of Israel, the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is deeper than one government or another, and the fact there is a strong Jewish community in the U.S. undoubtedly stabilizes and strengthens that relationship.” Shaked said she recognized there is a lack of awareness in Israel about the diversity of Jewish communities around the world but pointed out that politicians must strive to educate themselves about the importance of Israel-Diaspora ties.
Safe haven: Among the points she said she raised during her recent series of presentations in the U.S. was a realization she reached not long after Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago. “I had no end of conversations with the Ukrainian ambassador in Israel – he was always pushing for Israel to take in more non-Jews, saying that the conditions for refugees in Israel were the best,” recalled Shaked. “It was then I realized something amazing: During the Second World War, the Jews had nowhere to go, but now, they are the most privileged. They have a place to go that will give them citizenship, a passport, social welfare and everything.”
Jewish Funders Network, impala to launch database partnership
Shahar Brukner was a student at the Harvard Kennedy School, getting his master’s degree in public policy analysis, when he started his own nonprofit, a fellowship that aimed to bring financial resources to Israeli students studying in the U.S. But in order to do that, Brukner had to raise the money. “Right from the beginning, there’s so many difficulties that fundraisers face in this world around basic questions,” Brukner told Melissa Weiss for eJewishPhilanthropy last week. “Like, ‘What funders care about what I’m doing? How could I get to know about them? How can I connect with them? Are there any other nonprofits that are doing what I’m doing? Maybe I can collaborate with them?’ Answering these questions took a lot of time. It was extremely hard and [there was] nothing [in terms of] really centralized data in one place.”
Origin story: Brukner, alongside co-founders Simon Dickson, a HKS classmate, and Tom Huberman, an alum of the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit, set out to create a solution. What resulted was impala, a platform that serves as a database for publicly available data on millions of foundations and nonprofits. The platform scrapes details from the IRS 990 forms — mandatory paperwork for U.S.-based nonprofits — as well as the websites and annual reports of nonprofits and foundations.
Partnership perk: When it launches this week, more than 20,000 entities — all JFN members and their grantees, both Jewish and non-Jewish — will receive free access to impala’s premium edition for two years. Support for the project came from the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Glazer Foundation, DARE Foundation and the Jewish Funders Network’s board chair, Marcia Riklis, who collectively are providing $525,000 over two years. “With impala, we finally have visibility into the entire Jewish philanthropic sector and can better understand JFN’s place in it, reveal opportunities for collaboration and unite everyone — Jewish foundations and nonprofits — in one place,” Riklis said in a statement.
Ariel Levy reveals new details about Philip Roth stage adaptation with John Turturro
The novels of Philip Roth, the protean Jewish author who died in 2018 at the age of 85, have spawned so many mediocre film adaptations that a frustrated critic once called for a moratorium on using the author’s notoriously unforgiving oeuvre as a source to make movies. While episodic television has perhaps been recognized as a more obliging medium for interpreting Roth, his sexually transgressive and psychologically febrile works have, it seems, rarely if ever been tested in a major theatrical production. Next month, however, a new stage adaptation of one of Roth’s most acclaimed novels, Sabbath’s Theater, will make its U.S. debut at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, the city where he grew up and which informed much of his literary output, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Sneak peek: The play, announced earlier this month, is scheduled to premiere in a one-time showing that will coincide with Roth’s 90th birthday on March 19, as part of a broader, weekend-long celebration of the writer’s legacy called “Roth Unbound.” Billed in promotion materials as a “sneak preview,” the play remains “a work in progress” and is still “very much at the beginning stages,” the author and journalist Ariel Levy, who adapted Roth’s novel with the actor John Turturro, told JI in an email exchange on Monday where she revealed new details about the production.
Common ground: The creative pairing may seem unusual to those familiar with Levy, a Jewish staff writer for The New Yorker whose 2005 nonfiction debut, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, was followed by a best-selling memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, in 2017. Her magazine reporting has often focused on gender politics and other feminist issues that sit uneasily beside Roth’s corpus, which has been accused of depicting women in an uncharitable light. But Levy, 48, said that she and Turturro, who initiated the project, “were both fixated on the same elements of the novel,” pointing “above all else” to what she described as “the love story between” Mickey Sabbath, the titular protagonist, and Drenka Balich, his Croatian paramour.
Artistic collaboration: Levy recalled that she was initially introduced to Turturro, who could not be reached for comment, when he asked one of her colleagues at The New Yorker, the theater critic Hilton Als, “for a suggestion.” The prospective collaborators “hit it off immediately,” Levy said, working on the adaptation “for about two years” in mostly virtual writing sessions “over the pandemic.” The process of “trying to condense Roth’s sprawling, brilliant novel into a play,” Levy quipped, was “sort of like cooking one of the world’s great soups down to a bouillon cube.” For his part, Turturro has described the colorful source material as “a raging, splendidly funny and profound journey on loss,” according to a press release. “Mickey Sabbath is a life force in its purest form.”
👴 Bolton Blues:Foreign Policy’s Amy Mackinnon sits down with former National Security Advisor John Bolton — who travels with Secret Service protection as a result of Iranian threats — to discuss his political evolution. “Although Bolton’s service in the Trump White House follows him quite literally these days — in the form of a security detail — he is eager to distance himself from the former president. In fact, in diagnosing the resurgence of isolationism within the Republican Party, Bolton points to Trump as patient zero. Pinning down a coherent way to describe Trump’s foreign policy evaded the Washington commentariat throughout his presidency. His administration cranked the dial on U.S. competition with China, assassinated an influential Iranian general, and brokered the Abraham Accords between Israel and a number of Arab states, while also alienating allies in Europe, signing a catastrophic deal with the Taliban, and withdrawing the United States from both the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords. It was an approach forged by the president’s own whims and whichever faction of the bureaucracy around him had succeeded in getting his ear. ‘Donald Trump didn’t have an ideology or a philosophy either, because he couldn’t think coherently enough to have one,’ Bolton says flatly.” [FP]
🚶♂️ West Bank Wandering: The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg visits the West Bank Palestinian town of Beita and the nearby Israeli settlement of Evyatar to see how the tensions between the two underscore the broader challenges in the region. “In other words, if Evyatar represents the ambitions of an empowered Israeli settler movement, the Beita protests against it represent the response of an ascendant Palestinian opposition. And this opposition does not look like what came before. The village’s organic anti-occupation activities — untethered to any political movement or faction — reflect the slow-motion collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which would once have been expected to lead such efforts, but whose rapid erosion has left a vacuum that is being filled by unrest and violence. ‘What is happening right now is that the Palestinian decision is in the hands of the resistance and not in the hands of the PA,’ Majdi Hamayyel told me. ‘The question is whether the occupation is ready for the destabilization that is now ahead of us.’” [TheAtlantic]
🌐 A Fading Vision: Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead considers how Wilsonian ideals are viewed in today’s global political environment. “For Wilsonians, world politics today is less about great-power rivalries between the U.S. and rivals like China and Russia and more about the struggle between principles and selfishness, order and chaos, democracy and authoritarianism. Wilsonians hailed the recent wins of a pro-Western candidate in the Czech election and of Lula da Silva over Trump ally Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil as victories in the global struggle for liberal order. Last week German chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Lula to celebrate his victory over Mr. Bolsonaro — and to ask Brazil to send ammunition to Ukraine. Lula accepted the congratulations but turned down the request. Brazil, like India, South Africa and much of the rest of the world, wants nothing to do with Wilsonian crusades.” [WSJ]
👩 Mace’s Moment: Rolling Stone’s Kara Voght interviews Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who had vocally opposed removing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from her House Foreign Affairs Committee seat, but ultimately voted for Omar’s ouster. “As a personal matter, Mace says she has nothing against Omar. ‘I don’t know her from Adam,’ she says, an odd contention from someone whose Capitol Hill office is literally next door to the Minnesota Democrat’s. Even if she did, the self-styled free speech champion didn’t think it was up to her colleagues to police Omar’s beliefs. ‘I can’t force Omar to love Israel, I can’t force Omar to recognize Israel as a state — I can’t force her to love Jewish people or like them or support them. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said he would defend to the death, you know, your right to be a dumbass.’” [RollingStone]
Around the Web
⏸️ Blinken’s Ask: Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “pause” actions that the other side is opposed to, in an effort to deescalate tensions, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
🎤 Activist in Foggy Bottom: Responding to a question from Al-Quds reporter Said Arikat about U.S. aid to areas of Syria affected by yesterday’s earthquake, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said he would “resist the temptation to go into your advocacy rather than questioning,” a nod to Arikat’s frequent posturing and editorializing about Middle East issues that usually center on criticism of Israel.
🪑 Out of Contention: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he will not seek the Michigan Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) next year.
🏡 On the Market: Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder’s Maryland home was listed for $49 million.
⚡ Court Case: The founder of a neo-Nazi group in Maryland is facing charges tied to allegations that he and a partner sought to conduct an attack on Maryland’s power grid.
🎸 Us and Them: Pink Floyd members Roger Waters and David Gilmour are engaged in a public spat that began when Gilmour’s wife tweeted that Waters is “antisemitic to [his] rotten core,” which Gilmour amplified in his own tweet, adding “Every word demonstrably true.”
📛 UN-Believable: Amb. Ron Prosor, Israel’s envoy to Germany, slammed U.N. Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese for attending an event titled “Understanding the Pain of Others: The Holocaust, the Nakba and German Memory Culture.”
🇦🇺 Outback Olim: Tabletspotlights the Australian outback town of Broken Hill, which was once home to a vibrant Jewish community and now houses a museum that preserves the history of Jews in the region.
✡️ Sad News: The president of the Jewish community of Antakya, Turkey, and his wife were among those killed in the earthquake that struck the area on Monday morning.
🚀 Defense Demands: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government is considering sending its Iron Dome missile-defense system to Ukraine.
🎧 Worthy Listen: Israeli philosopher Micah Goodman appeared on the inaugural episode of the “What Matters Now” podcast to discuss the current public debate over proposed Israeli government reforms.
👩 Tzipi Speaks: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Aaron David Miller interviewed Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli vice prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and justice, about Israel’s new government.
💲 Wiz Out: High-tech company Wiz plans to pull tens of millions of dollars out of Israel and move the funds to foreign bank accounts as a result of Israel’s planned judicial reform.
🎮 Tech Talks: Israel’s Playtika is in talks with Rovio, the Finland-based company behind “Angry Birds,” about a potential sale.
🇦🇪 Cabinet Shake-up: UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid announced a cabinet reshuffling that will see Shamma Al Mazrui, previously the UAE’s minister of state for youth, become the minister of community development, and Noura Al Kaabi, previously the minister of culture and youth, become minister of state.
☢️ What’s the Deal: E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell suggested that there was no alternative to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions other than reaching an agreement with the Islamic republic.
🛢️ Oil Arrangement: Iranian and Venezuelan state oil firms are planning to ink a contract worth nearly $500 million that would see the parties work together to revamp the South American country’s largest oil refinery.
🕯️ Remembering: Charles Silverstein, a psychologist whose efforts led the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, died at 87.
Pic of the Day
Tel Aviv’s City Hall lit up with the flag of Turkey last night in a show of solidarity after a devastating earthquake in southern Turkey killed thousands of people early Monday morning.
An Israeli delegation of roughly 150 military rescue experts touched down in southern Turkey this morning, roughly 24 hours after a 7.8 earthquake shook the region, killing thousands.
Actor, humorist, comedian and writer known for his “TV Funhouse” cartoon shorts on “Saturday Night Live,” Robert Smigel turns 63…
Milwaukee-born businessman and philanthropist, former U.S. senator from Wisconsin and former owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, Herb Kohl turns 88… and also born in Milwaukee on the same date 16 years later, his first cousin, Senior rabbi (now emeritus) of Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, Baruch Frydman-Kohl turns 72… Director of training for the Bulfinch Group, Michel R. Scheinmann turns 75… U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) turns 71… Majority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives, Robyn Gabel turns 70… Senior research scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute and part-time instructor at Carnegie Mellon University, Rick Wice… American businessman and investor arrested in Bolivia in July 2011 and held for 18 months without charges, freed through public outcry and the efforts of Sean Penn, Jacob Ostreicher turns 64… President of The Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, Dr. David L. Reich turns 63… Former director general of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alon Ushpiz turns 57… Professional hockey player who played in 418 regular and post-season games in the NHL spanning 13 seasons, Mike Hartman turns 56… Rabbi at Beth Chai Congregation in Bethesda, Md., and author of nine Jewish children’s books and teen novels, Deborah Bodin Cohen… VP of communications at SOS International, Jennifer Diamond Haber… Author of 23 fiction and non-fiction books, some of which have been made into feature films, Ben Mezrich turns 54… Executive director of the UJA and JCRC-NY’s Community Security Initiative, Mitch Silber turns 53… Israeli actor, model and musician, Angel Bonanni turns 51… Executive director of the Aviv Foundation, Adam Simon… VP and general manager at Material+, Jonathan Weiss… Hasidic singer and recording artist, Shloime Daskal turns 44… Former member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Mark Ifraimov turns 42… Former MLB pitcher, now an angel investor in the San Francisco area, Scott Feldman turns 40… Professional basketball player in Germany, Italy and Israel, he is now a VP at Lightspeed Venture Partners in Menlo Park, Calif., Dan Grunfeld turns 39… Director of advancement field services for Hillel International, Rachael Fenton… David Israel… Michael Harris…