👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to Amb. Tom Nides about Israel’s growing Fulbright Scholars program, and look at the growing field in the race to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Rep. David Cicilline, Rep.-elect Jennifer McClellan and Ben Platt.
While this week’s Tikvah Fund Hertog Forum in Tel Aviv is largely off-the-record and fully closed to the press, one event on the agenda — a conversation between Walter Russell Mead and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — was made available late last night. Read on for snippets from their conversation:
On China and international alliances: “China has interests everywhere,” Netanyahu said. “Everywhere. But especially with Iran, which is a source of energy and other other things that interest them. China also has an interest in Israel, especially technology, technology, more technology… What we need today in the world that we’re entering, this multipolar world where you do have cooperation between authoritarian dictatorial regimes who are developing formidable weapons, is we have to have an alliance of the like-minded smarts. This means countries that are like-minded, like-valued. You have the Five Eyes? [referring to the intelligence alliance between the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.K.] There’s a sixth “eye” and the sixth “eye” is an “I” and it’s Israel, and Israel’s value as a supplier of intelligence and other things is growing by the day as our capacities grow.”
On expanding the Abraham Accords to Saudi Arabia: “If we expand the circle of peace to Saudi Arabia, then I think we effectively end the Arab-Israeli conflict, which means we work our way not inside out, solve the Palestinian problem,” Netanyahu said. “I believe that pursuing a peace that is based on common interests, of using Israeli power – military, intelligence, technological and economic – to buttress local, that is, peace agreements and normalization agreements with our neighbors can help achieve two things. One, it can expand the circle of peace. Second, it can serve as a bulwark against Iran.”
On the relationship between the U.S. Jewish community and Israel: “There are obvious tensions — for god’s sake, these are Jews!” Netanyahu quipped. “It’s quite incredible to hear some of the people, and I don’t think they represent the majority of those who are going into the streets, who also represent a minority, but to call for civil war — that I don’t think will happen. It won’t happen because of our history, because of our shared fate. But there are differences obviously, no question about it. I think the question of American Jews, I think is a question first of all, of the tensions between assimilation and antisemitism. And assimilation is a powerful force. It’s the decision of any individual Jew. If they want to come to Israel, they will be obviously received with open arms, and the best thing you can do is to increase Jewish education, study of Hebrew, the understanding of Jewish history.”
On antisemitism: “The question of antisemitism I say, straight out: fight it, fight it, fight it, and fight it as forcefully as you can. When you have this rapper, Kanye West, who doesn’t represent the West. You stand up and speak against it and this should not be a left-right divide. That should be a common position. Because ultimately the fires of antisemitism consume all Jews and they go beyond the Jews. And I think that is not merely a Jewish issue. I think it’s an American issue. Will America prove to be another Vienna? The world that [Mark] Twain saw and the Jews were so proud of in 1900 Vienna went up in smoke and nothing remained. I mean, really the height of human cultural and scientific and literary activity, medicine, everything went up in smoke, nothing was left.”
The inaugural I2U2 Business Forum took place in Abu Dhabi today, bringing together stakeholders from India, Israel, the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates. Speakers at the daylong convening included UAE Minister of State Ahmed Al Sayegh, U.S. Under Secretary of State Jose Fernandez, Indian Economic Relations Secretary Shri Dammu Rav and Aliza Bin-Noun, the political director of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Nides aims to make Israel’s Fulbright program the largest in the world
For more than 75 years, the Fulbright program has enabled hundreds of thousands of American students, scholars and professionals to study or conduct research in academic institutions abroad, and brought the equivalent number of top-notch academics from around the world to the United States. Now, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides is aiming to put the Jewish state at the pinnacle of this flagship cultural and educational exchange initiative. “Israel already has one of the largest Fulbright programs, but we can easily double the numbers,” Nides told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash in an exclusive interview this week. “My goal is for Israel to have the largest Fulbright program in the world.”
Back to the community: Founded by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, a Democrat from Arkansas, in 1946, the Fulbright program supports some 8,000 students, scholars and professionals from more than 160 countries annually, providing them with grants to work, study or conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields. “I’ve been a big believer in the Fulbright program since I was a deputy at the State Department, because I realized how beneficial it is,” Nides said. “It’s a program where ultimately these individuals come back to contribute to their communities, and there’s been Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, top scientists and doctors who have come out of this program.”
Full steam ahead: Nides, who began his posting in Jerusalem in November 2021, continued: “When I got here, I just said to myself, ‘Why don’t we have the biggest program in the world in Israel?’ The bilateral relations are already so strong; this will make them stronger.” Working together with the Fulbright teams in Israel and in the U.S., Nides said they have already secured the necessary funds (U.S. covers 60% of funding, Israel 40%) that will enable the current number of participants to double from 60 (30 Israelis to the U.S. and 30 Americans to Israel) to 120.
Changing of the guard: In addition, the U.S. envoy revealed to JI that Sender Cohen, chief investment officer of Schusterman Interests LLC, will take over from Shira Ruderman, the executive director of the Ruderman Family Foundation, as Fulbright Israel’s new chairperson. Cohen told JI that he was “very excited to dig in. I’ll do anything to help strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel,” he said. “I love the new expansion plans; there are a lot of really creative ideas, both bilaterally between the U.S. and Israel, as well as in the region.” Cohen also said he believes Nides’ goal to make Israel’s program the largest was a realistic one.
Talent on tap: Anat Lapidot-Firilla, executive director of Fulbright Israel, said that plans were already underway to increase the number of participants and that there was no shortage of qualified applicants in Israel. “We have the capacity in terms of talented people and with the new funds, we can send new people, which will contribute more and make more to making an impact on Israeli society and also by exchanging knowledge with the U.S.”
Alex Padilla visiting Israel for first time as a senator
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) is among the parade of lawmakers visiting Israel during the Presidents’ Day recess, Padilla spokesperson Tess Whittlesey confirmed to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday.
Look who’s back: The visit is the senator’s first as senator, but not his first time in Israel, according to Whittlesey. California Jewish leaders have described Padilla to JI as a close friend and ally of the Jewish community. Padilla is traveling alone, separately from the several other concurrent congressional visits to Israel and the Middle East.
On the agenda: Stops on Padilla’s trip have included Yad Vashem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and an abandoned Hezbollah tunnel on the Israel-Lebanon border. Padilla said he came away from Yad Vashem “inspired by the resilience of the Jewish people, and committed to peace, security, and prosperity in the region and world.” In a tweet about the Hezbollah tunnel, he noted that “As an Iran-backed proxy, Hezbollah is also a threat to U.S. interests and allies in the region.”
Also in town: Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) delegation visited the newly opened Abrahamic Family House interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which the Senate minority leader called “a powerful symbol of the strength of the Abraham Accords.”
lee in the limelight
Barbara Lee joins growing Democratic field to claim Feinstein’s Senate seat
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), a veteran progressive Democrat from the Bay Area, announced on Tuesday that she will run for the seat long held by outgoing Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), ending weeks of speculation about her plans for higher office, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports. “I’m running for U.S. Senate because Californians deserve a strong, progressive leader who has accomplished real things and delivered real change,” Lee, 76, said in a statement. “That’s what I’ve done my entire career in public service, and it’s what I’ll do in the Senate.”
Three’s a crowd: The 12-term congresswoman joins two other House Democrats, Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, who launched their campaigns last month. Lee is the first Black woman to enter the primary, which is shaping up to be among the most hotly contested Senate races of the 2024 election cycle. “No one is rolling out the welcome mat, especially for someone like me,” Lee said in a campaign launch video, where she described growing up in segregated El Paso, Texas, among other hardships. “I was the girl they didn’t allow in.”
Middle East outlook: As a longstanding critic of American foreign policy, Lee, an anti-war icon who cast a lone vote against authorizing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, has sometimes found herself at odds with the pro-Israel establishment in Washington, D.C. While in Congress, where she has represented an Oakland-based House district since 1998, Lee has signed onto legislation that would place restrictions on U.S. aid to Israel and was among a small group of House members who opposed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
‘Open to listening’: Even as Lee has occasionally strayed from the pro-Israel consensus, some Jewish community members in her district said they have nevertheless maintained a close and cordial relationship with the congresswoman. “She’s always very open to meeting with our community and open to listening to our positions,” Moses Libitzky, a pro-Israel activist who has met with Lee to discuss Middle East policy, told JI. “The problem is she doesn’t always agree with our positions.”
Fundraising challenges: Lee enters the race at a financial disadvantage, with only $52,323 on hand as of last December, according to the latest filings from the Federal Election Commission. Porter, by contrast, had $7.4 million in the bank, while Schiff was sitting on just under $20.9 million. A new super PAC supporting Lee, She Speaks for Me, registered with the FEC last week — and could help close the fundraising gap.
👬 The Odd Couple: Politico’s Zach Montellaro spotlights the unlikely working relationship between Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, a Democrat, and Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, the Republican who unseated Fontes from his previous job, as the two pair up to address election denial in the Grand Canyon State. “Fontes is a gregarious and charming Marine Corps veteran. He has a big personality and is eager to be at the front of a political movement — or a fight. That tendency has triggered chatter among Arizona’s political class about his long-term political aspirations. When asked to describe Fontes, Richer described him as ‘brash, he’s charismatic, he’s sort of larger than life,’ before ruefully noting that Fontes is also a ‘damn good singer’ as well. Richer, by contrast, is far more bookish. The recorder is a ‘measure twice, cut once’ data guy who regularly references the Harry Potter book series. In a past life, he was a self-described ‘movement conservative’ think-tanker and one-time investor in a bar and a frozen yogurt shop in Washington — both now shuttered.” [Politico]
Around the Web
📄 On the Hill: Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Mike Braun (R-IN) reintroduced legislation seeking to prevent any U.S. dollars from being spent on aid to Gaza until the administration certifies that the funds will not benefit Hamas or other terrorist groups.
👋 Cicilline Departure: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who briefly led the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Mideast subcommittee last year, will leave Congress in June to head the Rhode Island Foundation, setting up a special election in the state’s 1st Congressional District.
🏦 Bank Boss:Politicolooks at the factors involved in President Joe Biden’s selection of a new World Bank head, following the early departure of David Malpass.
🏃♂️ Ramaswamy Run: Republican entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy announced his entry into the 2024 presidential race.
🗞️ No to BDS: The Supreme Court rejected an appeal from an Arkansas newspaper over a state law that requires contractors to agree not to boycott Israel.
✍️ To Whom it May Concern: The Jewish Federations of North America penned a missive to Israeli leaders cautioning against moving forward with proposed judicial reform legislation.
🔥 West Blank Flare-up: The Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry said six Palestinians were killed and 71 hurt in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in Nablus today, during an IDF operation in the West Bank city.
🎬 New Gig: Former ABC News President James Goldston is joining Candle Media, where he will lead an in-house studio that produces documentaries and nonfiction projects.
🎭 ‘Parade’ Protest: Antisemitic protestors demonstrated outside the first night of previews of the Broadway revival of “Parade,” which tells the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man lynched in Georgia in the early 20th century. Ben Platt, who stars as Frank, called the demonstrations “the really ugly actions of a few people who are spreading evil” but “a reminder of why we’re telling this particular story.”
🚫 Barred: Israel denied entry to a European Parliament member who participated in a 2015 flotilla that attempted to enter Gaza.
👮 Kotel Chaos: Activists from the far-right Noam Party disrupted a prayer service at the Western Wall’s egalitarian prayer plaza today that drew hundreds of rabbis from Reform Jewish communities in protest of a Shas bill that seeks to ban certain non-Orthodox ceremonies.
👨⚖️ Prison Sentence: Israel sentenced a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member whose arrest sparked days of deadly protests to 22 months in prison.
🪙 Reform Ramifications: The New Israeli Shekel hit a nearly three-year low following a Knesset vote to move forward on judicial reform legislation.
🕯️ Remembering: New York bakery owner William Greenberg, Jr., whose cakes were favorites of Itzhak Perlman, the Lauder family and former President Bill Clinton, died at 97.
Pic of the Day
Knesset Member and former Soviet refusenik Yuli Edelstein (left), Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian-born MK Zeev Elkin and Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky meet on Monday in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” in 2008, she has released five stand-up specials on Netflix, Iliza Shlesinger turns 40…
Retired justice and deputy president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Shlomo Levin turns 90… Los Angeles based-Israeli philanthropist, she was a child survivor of Bergen Belsen, Herta Amir turns 90… Music journalist and former board member for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, Rona Elliot turns 76… Co-chair of Wisconsin Jewish Democrats and author of three Jewish Miss Marple books, Linda Frank turns 75… Dutch singer-songwriter especially popular in France, Helena “Lenny” Kuhr turns 73… White House counsel to former President Obama, now a professor at NYU School of Law, Bob Bauer turns 71… Marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles and founder of the Israel Institute for Diplomacy and Technology Advancements, Daryl Temkin, Ph.D…. Chief strategist for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, now a distinguished senior fellow at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and a CNN commentator, David Axelrod turns 68… President of the New York Yankees baseball club since 2000, Randy Levine turns 68… Winner of five major golf championships and 24 other LPGA Tour events, she is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, now a golf course architect, Amy Alcott turns 67… Former member of the Knesset, Mordechai “Moti” Yogev turns 67… Former director of administration and special projects at Cincinnati’s Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Lisa Shusterman… Writer, editor and publisher at Aardwolf Publishing, Clifford Lawrence Meth turns 62… Senior rabbi at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation in Mercer Island, Wash., Rabbi Jacob Herber turns 60… Actress, comedian and cast member of “Saturday Night Live” for seven years, Rachel Dratch turns 57… Past leader of the Israeli Labor Party, now the CEO of Partner Communications, Avraham “Avi” Gabbay turns 56… Television producer, he served as showrunner for four seasons of NBC’s sitcom “The Office,” Paul Lieberstein turns 56… Actor, author and academic, Ari Hoptman turns 56… Soccer player on the Israeli national team and on European teams in both Spain and Turkey, now a successful Israeli businessman, Haim Michael Revivo turns 51… President of the University of Florida, he recently retired as a U.S. senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse turns 51… British stand-up comedian and columnist for the Jewish Chronicle, Josh Howie turns 47… Partner in the appellate practice of Norton Rose Fulbright, Peter B. Siegal… VP of revenue at SpoiledChild, Miranda R. May… Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, Danielle Bella Ellison…