👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Bill Hagerty about Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s trip to China, and interview Oren Kessler about his new book out today. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Nikki Haley, Tom Friedman and Adam Frisch.
A hovercraft plane used for disaster reconnaissance. Cell-cultured food. Drones that plant trees. Those were some of the exhibits and displays lining the halls of the Jerusalem Convention Center today as OurCrowd summit attendees milled about, exchanging handshakes, hugs and business cards in conversation peppered with English, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic.
We bumped into Maniv Mobility’s Michael Granoff in the executive suite. “It’s the only place where I run into South Korean and Japanese investors and also my in-law’s neighbors from the German Colony,” he said.
Making his entrance at the morning plenary, OurCrowd founder Jonathan Medved danced onstage to “Come and Get Your Love,” by the ’70s band Redbone. “I’m dancing like Madonna,” he joked. “I don’t know how she does it.”
The summit kicked off with a press conference in which Medved discussed the impact of the Abraham Accords. “The presence of dozens of startups, investors and government officials from these and other countries represents a huge vote of confidence in the future,” Medved said. “The Abraham Accords are now facilitating significant progress on technology, business, and investment between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and we are proud to be playing a catalyzing and facilitating role in this remarkable development.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog took on a somber tone as he addressed the audience. “I think the same way you see the innovative spirit of the State of Israel, you also see it in [Israel’s judicial reform] debate and I am very proud of my brothers and sisters ‒ the Israelis taking an active role in the debate from all of its sides,” Herzog said. “All I can say about myself is that I’m doing my best to direct this debate into a constructive dialogue that will lead to an agreed-upon result that will strengthen, and foster, and protect Israeli democracy.”
In conversation with reporters, Medved touted efforts to work at the intersection of business and philanthropy. “I’m an unabashed venture capitalist, but I’m also very, very committed to making sure that my focus is on companies that have a double bottom line, where you can make money and do good at the same time. I believe strongly that there’s no opposition between those two causes.”
Medved again praised the successes of the Abraham Accords in boosting business and cooperation across the region. “We’re in Jerusalem,” Medved said. “There is a huge booth for Abu Dhabi upstairs. There is a huge booth for Morocco upstairs. This is progress. The young people are excited about it. They want to work with Israelis. The Israelis want to work with them. All my team now, when I say, ‘Who wants to go to Abu Dhabi and work with the team [there]?’ they say, ‘I do, I do!’”
Medved pointed out the natural ties that exist between a majority of Israeli Jews, who have Middle Eastern heritage, and the Arab world. “The majority of Israeli Jews, their families came from this part of the world — this part of the world defined as Iraq, or Morocco, or Yemen…It’s really family. When I sit with my friends in many of these countries, even Saudi Arabia, I’m talking to family. My language, Hebrew, is like Arabic. We share almost the entire alphabet…our language structure, our religion, our food. It’s remarkable.”
Stateside, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will speak at the BBYO international convention on Thursday in Dallas, the White House announced on Tuesday. Other speakers at the gathering, which is expected to draw more than 5,000 Jewish teens, include New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, gun violence prevention activist David Hogg and Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas.
Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is expected to formally launch her campaign in Charleston today. See more below and read Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel’s interviews with conservative Jewish leaders on her run here.
on the hill
Senators raise concerns about deepening Iran-China ties
As Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Chinese President Xi Jinping huddle in Beijing, two senators, one Democratic and one Republican, raised concerns about the deepening ties between the Islamic Republic and China, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Sit-down: Xi pledged yesterday that “China will unswervingly develop friendly cooperation with Iran no matter how international and regional situations change,” while Raisi said he’s seeking to expand economic and trade relations with China, which have faltered in recent years.
Red flag: “It’s a matter of great concern,” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) told JI yesterday. “We see these authoritarian powers finding more and more common ground. I think it’s something that we should all be deeply concerned about.” Hagerty cautioned that China may be “looking at ways to prop up the Iranian regime by financing them through oil purchases,” and said that deepening Chinese economic ties with Iran could make Beijing an accessory to Iran’s assistance to Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine.
In agreement: “I’ve been very alarmed by the deepening relationship between Iran and China,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who was a prominent supporter of negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program, told JI. “We’re keeping more than an eye on it,” Van Hollen continued. “This started some time ago with their strategic cooperation agreement… I think this is one more reason why we need to make sure we strengthen our hand vis-a-vis China when it comes to global issues.”
Bonus: China will “constructively participate” in efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal,” Xi said during Raisi’s visit, Semafor reports, noting that relations between the two countries had grown tense after Xi visited Saudi Arabia, angering Tehran.
Jewish Republicans eye Haley’s White House bid
Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, announced her presidential campaign on Tuesday with robust connections to many prominent Jewish and pro-Israel leaders and activists, whose potential support could lend a crucial boost as she steps up to run against former President Donald Trump in a Republican field that is likely to grow in the coming months. Haley, who is expected to formally launch her campaign in Charleston on Wednesday, has frequently addressed AIPAC conferences and Republican Jewish Coalition events, where she has burnished her reputation as a darling of the pro-Israel establishment. Past contributors to her political nonprofit, Stand for America, Inc., include such big-name Jewish benefactors as Dr. Miriam Adelson, Bernie Marcus, Daniel Loeb, Ronald Lauder and Samuel Zell, among others, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Restrained response: But with a year to go until primary season commences, it remains to be seen if Jewish Republicans will soon begin coalescing around Haley’s fledgling campaign or if they are instead taking a wait-and-see approach to the election, as several other GOP heavyweights mull bids of their own. Interviews with a handful of conservative Jewish leaders on Tuesday suggest that Haley’s campaign, which had been widely expected, is naturally generating excitement among pro-Israel activists, even as some of her traditional backers seem relatively cautious, for now, about publicly committing to one particular candidate.
In praise of courage: “I am extremely proud of Nikki Haley for being the first to stand up and announce running against former President Trump,” Fred Zeidman, a Houston-based GOP donor and pro-Israel advocate, told JI. “It appears that with all the folks talking about it there’s been a great reluctance to stand up and face him, and the fact she’s done it shows great courage and leadership.” Last September, Zeidman, who previously donated at least $10,000 to Stand for America, moderated an RJC event in Houston with Haley and Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas. Still, he declined to say for the record if he would support Haley’s campaign at this early stage, notwithstanding his clear reservations over the former president, whom he characterized as “arguably ruthless” toward “anybody who has run” against him in prior elections.
Wait and see: “Nikki has obviously had a very good relationship with the Jewish community and with folks who care about Israel,” Nachama Soloveichik, the communications director for Haley’s campaign, said in an interview with JI on Tuesday. “I’m confident that we’ll see a lot of folks coming out to support her. But how that shakes out, we’re going to have to see.” Loeb, Lauder and Zell all declined to comment through press representatives on Tuesday, while other former contributors to Haley did not respond to email inquiries from JI.
Laser focus: Trump’s status within Republican Jewish circles, meanwhile, has diminished somewhat amid the fallout from his controversial dinner with Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, who made a series of antisemitic statements in recent months, and far-right provocateur Nick Fuentes at his Palm Beach residence in November. Soloveichik, however, indicated that Haley would not be directly addressing those tensions as she embarks on her first presidential campaign. “We’re not focused on anyone else,” she told JI. “Nikki’s focused on running against Joe Biden and putting out her vision. Whatever Trump does, Trump does. I don’t have anything to add on that.” Haley made no mention of Trump, who announced his third consecutive bid for the presidency three months ago, in her campaign launch video, though some comments were easily construed as aimed at the former president.
Bonus: The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board weighs in on Haley’s run, writing that while the charisma she brings to the race is clear, the rationale for her candidacy is not. “She hasn’t staked out any clear domestic policy directions, and she doesn’t have an obvious core of support. Her ‘new generation’ line suggests Ms. Haley, age 51, will make her relative youth and vitality a contrast with Messrs. Biden and Trump. Good idea, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another likely candidate, is 44. Other likely candidates are similarly youthful.”
Three years that foretold the modern Jewish state
Israel will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its founding this spring, marking the date in 1948 that David Ben-Gurion announced the creation of the State of Israel in the waning hours of the British Mandate. The following year and a half would see thousands killed as the nascent Jewish state fought for its existence. But while the war for independence officially began in May 1948, the die had been cast a decade earlier. That’s the argument that journalist and analyst Oren Kessler makes in his new book, Palestine 1936: The Great Revolt and the Roots of the Middle East Conflict, which chronicles the three-year period in which, Kessler told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss, “the ‘48 war was won by the Zionists and lost by the Arabs of Palestine.”
On choosing the 1936-1939 time period: “I had been looking for a topic to write a book about, and I decided what the world needs is another book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!” Kessler, whose book comes out today, quipped. “But fairly quickly, I realized that this is a very saturated field, and it seemed as if every aspect of this land and this conflict had been written about from 15 different angles, until I lit upon this particular topic and time period and chapter in the history of this land and this conflict, which struck me as extremely formative and important and seriously under-explored and under-investigated. It seemed to me, and it’s still my belief, that there is a major gap in the literature and one that can shed a lot of light into our current situation, and one that’s filled with a lot of really fascinating, compelling characters on all three sides: Jewish, Arab and British, some of whom are very well known to us, [such as] Winston Churchill, David Ben-Gurion, the grand mufti [of Jerusalem], [and] others who are not so well-known, but I think ought to be. And that’s the gap that I sought to fill.”
Secret documents: “Some of the most key documents on this period were only declassified a few years ago.” Kessler said. “So there was a wide archival record since the ‘70s, but some of the most sensitive, important documentation was classified much longer. For example, the secret testimonies from the Peel Commission of 1937. This was a royal commission sent by the British to respond after six months after the revolt. And this is the commission that famously first proposed partitioning the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean into two states, Jewish and Arab. This is the first time that partition was floated by world powers in any serious way. This is the first time the words ‘Jewish state’ appeared on the diplomatic agenda. So the secret testimonies from this very important commission were classified for 80 years, from 1937 to 2017.”
Laying the groundwork: “The focus of the book is the Arab Revolt, but I think this is as much a Jewish story as an Arab story,” Kessler explained. “This is a period in which the Jews were transformed militarily, economically, politically and psychologically. This is, I think, the moment at which the mainstream Zionist leadership recognized that despite their best efforts to convince the Arabs of Palestine that they weren’t coming to displace anyone, that they were bringing blessings upon everyone, that there was room here for two peoples, that the Arab opposition was such that the fate of this country would have to be determined and maintained by force. I think that was a realization that they were fairly perturbed to discover, but quickly had to make peace with as it were, had to recognize that that was the reality and that they had to adjust accordingly. And by 1939, when the British implement their infamous white paper, which essentially shut the doors to the land of Israel to the doomed Jews of Europe, once that point was reached, the Jews had created the military, economic, political, territorial basis and springboard for establishing the state nearly 10 years later.”
💲 It’s the Economy… The New York Times’ Tom Friedman explores the concerns voiced by investors and business leaders as Israel pushes proposals to reform the country’s legal system. “So you cannot be surprised that many global and Israeli investors are looking at Israel today and asking this simple question: If the Israeli legal system that has gradually and collaboratively evolved over the past 75 years was so awful — so in need of emergency radical surgery overnight, without any national debate — how did it help produce and guard the Israeli economic miracle of the past 20 years that Netanyahu always, and justifiably, takes credit for and has made Israel’s middle class amazingly prosperous? Nothing is more dangerous to Israel’s continued prosperity than Netanyahu’s inability today to give a credible answer to that simple question. Because in the absence of a credible answer, the only thing one can believe — the only thing foreign investors increasingly believe — is that the whole process is being driven by a small group of far-right authoritarian ideologues, an extremist right-wing think tank inspired by the Federalist Society in America and a prime minister who seems so desperate to escape from his trial on 2020 charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust that he is ready to change the rules of the entire Israeli Monopoly game to secure his own get-out-of-jail-free card.” [NYTimes]
🗞️ Press Fixer: New York magazine’s Shawn McCreesh spotlights crisis communications expert Risa Heller, who has helped high-profile figures, including Jared Kushner and Jeff Zucker, navigate the press. “She double majored in psychology and Hebrew and Jewish cultural studies at the University of Michigan, but when she graduated in 2001, she couldn’t land any jobs. Then her former roommate happened to be seated on a plane next to the head of the Anti-Defamation League’s D.C. office, and she mentioned Heller’s lack of career prospects. Heller landed an internship at the ADL. Before long, she began to work for the then – California Democratic representative Jane Harman, which led to a job as Chuck Schumer’s New York City–based press secretary. ‘I would be nobody, nothing, nowhere without Chuck,’ says Heller. ‘There’s this notion that he always hires the smartest people. That’s not true. He hires people that he thinks he can teach.’” [NYMag]
⚖️ Crime and Punishment: In Tablet, Allan Levine explores the 1876 murder trial of Pesach Rubenstein, who was convicted of murdering his cousin in a trial that was rife with antisemitism. “Rubenstein’s trial came down to which version of the story the jury believed; and there was never truly a doubt that the district attorney’s narrative would win them over. Despite the objections of Rubenstein’s lawyers, DA Winchester in his lengthy summation demonstrated his anti-Jewish bias by arguing that the defense team’s alibi witnesses were not to be believed because they were Jews and Jews were ‘clannish’ — he used the word three times — and not to be trusted; and that many of the key witnesses were members of Rubenstein’s family and hence would have said anything to save him. It was an antisemitic diatribe from start to finish.” [Tablet]
🖼️ The Ethics of Art: In The New York Times, Charly Wilder ponders the responsibility of museum-goers in patronizing institutions that display allegedly stolen pieces. “Should we be asking how these museums got their treasures? Does our conception of a modern-day ethnological museum need a dramatic rethink? ‘There has been a great change of consciousness in the last years,’ said Gilbert Lupfer of the German Lost Art Foundation, the world’s most extensive database for the search for Nazi-looted art. ‘More and more, visitors of museums have become interested in questions of provenance.’ And most of them, he said, realize that works with a problematic provenance ‘can’t remain in the museum.’” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
↩️ Reversing Course: The Biden administration withdrew its nomination of James Cavallaro for a position at the Organization of American States over recently unearthed social media posts in which Cavallaro called Israel an “apartheid” state and suggested that House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) was “bought,” “controlled” and “purchased” by pro-Israel groups.
👋 Feinstein’s Final Chapter: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has served in the Senate for three decades, announced she will not seek reelection in 2024.
🗳️ Frisch Start: Former Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch, a Democrat, announced he will again seek the congressional seat currently held by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) after narrowly losing to the Republican last year.
☕ Schultz Says No: Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz declined an invitation from the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to appear next month to testify about the company’s labor practices.
💘 Matchmaker, Matchmaker: CBS News in Philadelphia spotlights the matchmaking efforts of two local Jewish women whose work has resulted in dozens of matches.
🏫 Campus Concern: Police at the University of Denver are investigating several antisemitic incidents that occurred in dormitories on the campus, including one in which pork products were glued to the door where a Jewish student lived.
😠 International Condemnation: The U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Italy issued a joint statement condemning Israel’s recent legalization of nine settlements, while the Palestinian Authority is in discussions with members of the U.N. Security Council about the possibility of bringing a resolution on the issue to a vote.
⬆️ The Rise of Ben-Gvir: The Washington Post explores Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s rise to political prominence.
🛫 Foreign Firsts: Cadets in the Israeli Foreign Ministry traveled to Bahrain and the UAE for the first time as part of their training.
🚀 Weapons Transfer: The U.S. is considering sending thousands of seized suspected Iranian weapons and more than a million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine.
📃 New Chief: Saif al-Adel, wanted by the United States in connection with the 1998 bombings of its embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, is thought to be the new de facto leader of al-Qaida, operating out of Iran, according to a U.N. report.
➡️ Transition: Matt Nosanchuk, the founder and president of the the liberal advocacy group New York Jewish Agenda, is stepping down after three years in the role.
🕯️ Remembering: Photographer Julian Wasser, whose work combined journalism and art, died at 89.
Pic of the Day
The IDF’s Olive Branches medical aid delegation has concluded its operations in Turkey and is returning to Israel today after seven days during which it treated hundreds of victims of the deadly earthquake.
Actress, writer, producer, and comedian, she won two Primetime Emmy Awards for playing Susie Myerson in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Alexandrea Borstein turns 50…
British actress, her paternal grandfather shortened his name from Blumenthal, Claire Bloom turns 92… Professor of cognitive science at Indiana University, Pulitzer Prize winner, Douglas Hofstadter turns 78… Former Democratic member of the Texas House of Representatives for 26 years, Elliott Naishtat turns 78… Cartoonist, editor, teacher at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and long-time contributing artist for The New Yorker, Art Spiegelman (born Itzhak Avraham ben Zeev) turns 75… Pioneer of Israel’s hi-tech industry, he is the founder of 11 companies, Zohar Zisapel turns 74… Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Melissa Manchester turns 72… SVP of communications at Philip Morris International, Marian Salzman turns 64… Professor at Yale Law School and author of two best-selling novels, Jed Rubenfeld turns 64… Host of the radio program “Jewish Moments in the Morning” since 1983, Nachum Segal turns 60… Principal at Catalyzing Philanthropy, a boutique consulting firm, Karen Paul… Developer of the Miami Design District and many other properties in South Beach, Craig Robins turns 60… Senior advisor at CARE, the global poverty fighting organization, Elizabeth Ives (“Beth”) Solomon… Founder and editor-in-chief of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall turns 54… Billionaire investor, he founded and then sold the Rockstar energy drink, Russell Goldencloud Weiner turns 53… Founder and director of Areyvut, Daniel Rothner turns 51… Director of business development at Treetop Companies, Eric Distenfeld… Director of education at the Orthodox Union and host of the 18Forty podcast, David Bashevkin, Ph.D. turns 38… Deputy executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Alex Siegel… Former offensive lineman on three NFL teams, he is now a regional sales manager at Sirtex, Ben Gottschalk turns 31… Beauty pageant titleholder who represented Israel at the Miss Universe pageant in 2016, Yam Kaspers Anshel turns 25… Australian racewalker, she competed in the women’s 20-kilometer walk at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Jemima Montag turns 25…