👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we recap Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday, and interview Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Jeff Zients, Gladys Kessler and Yair Rosenberg.
The Senate began voting last night on amendments to the bill repealing the 2002 Authorization for use of military force against Iraq. Many of the proposed amendments seek to condition the repeal on certifications relating to Iran’s malign activities in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, although it is unclear which of them will receive a vote.
The Senate voted down an amendment from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would have limited the AUMF to allowing the U.S. to strike at Iranian proxies in Iraq, rather than repealing it fully, by a vote of 60 to 36. Eleven Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the amendment. The Senate also overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to end the 2001 AUMF against those involved with the 9/11 attack. At least one more amendment vote is expected on Thursday, on an amendment which would require AUMFs to be renewed every two years.
The measure’s fate in the House remains unclear. House Republican leadership is still in discussions on the issue, but has declined to guarantee a floor vote — although proponents could likely force a floor vote during the amendment process for an upcoming spending bill. Republican leadership is reportedly working on a proposal to replace the 2002 AUMF with updated war powers.
Also on the Hill, Secretary of State Tony Blinken will appear for his second consecutive day of congressional testimony, this time testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a House Appropriations subcommittee. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chair of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley will also appear before an Appropriations subcommittee, while Gen. Michael Kurilla, who leads U.S. Central Command, will appear before the Armed Services Committee.
Following a rare move by the U.S. in summoning the Israeli ambassador yesterday over a Knesset decision to repeal parts of the 2005 Disengagement Law, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying the legislation “brings an end to a discriminatory and humiliating law that barred Jews from living in areas in northern Samaria, part of our historic homeland. It is no coincidence that senior figures in the opposition have supported this law over the years.”
“However, the government has no intention of establishing new communities in these areas,” Netanyahu added.
Israeli coalition members caused further upset abroad yesterday. Transportation Minister Miri Regev said during a conference yesterday, “I’ve been to Dubai — not that I’ll be going back. I don’t like the place. But it’s just amazing to see what they built in six years!”
Shortly after Regev’s comments, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, a fellow member of the Likud party, tweeted a picture of himself with UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with the caption, “I love Dubai, and so do the million Israelis who have visited the UAE in 2022.”
Regev later accused the media of taking her comments out of context and said she’d spoken to UAE Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja and accepted his invitation to visit Dubai again with him. Reports in Arab media on Wednesday said that Al Khaja was instructed by the UAE’s Foreign Ministry not to meet with Israeli government officials on the heels of a statement by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s statement that “the Palestinian people do not exist.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu was again forced to issue a clarification, after a bill advanced by the United Torah Judaism party to legislate prison time for proselytizers caused an uproar among the evangelical Christian community. “We will not advance any law against the Christian community,” Netanyahu tweeted.
As some half a million demonstrators are expected to turn out on the streets of Israel today for a “day of paralysis” protesting the government’s judicial overhaul plans, Netanyahu is set to travel to London this evening. In London, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The Israeli prime minister is not scheduled to meet with Jewish community leaders.
The Knesset early this morning passed a law that prevents the attorney general from declaring a sitting prime minister unfit to serve, widely seen by critics as a law designed to protect Netanyahu, who is standing trial on charges of corruption.
on the hill
Blinken: Saudi, Iran rapprochement ‘does not in any way substitute’ for U.S. push to expand Abraham Accords
Secretary of State Tony Blinken said yesterday that the recent China-brokered agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to normalize relations has not derailed efforts to advance Saudi-Israeli normalization, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Pushing ahead: “It does not in any way substitute for our determination to pursue the deepening as well as the expansion of the Abraham Accords,” Blinken, who testified yesterday before the Senate Appropriations and Foreign Relations Committees, said. “I had a long discussion with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu about this when I was recently in Israel. We’re very focused on that. And I also don’t think it will change the interests of other countries in pursuing that.”
Opportunism: Blinken downplayed the role that China had played in the Saudi-Iranian agreement, which many on Capitol Hill have warned reflects increasing Chinese influence in the Middle East. Blinken said that the talks have been ongoing and progressing for multiple years, and that China only became involved at the final stages. “What China did… was to, at the very end of that process, take advantage of the work that these countries have done. And then basically host the conclusion of the agreement that they reached… not to bring it together themselves,” he said. “It sent a diplomatic signal — there’s no doubt about it.”
All smiles: Addressing lawmakers a day after simmering tensions between Israel and the U.S. came to a boiling point — Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog was summoned to the State Department on Tuesday for a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who rebuked the Israeli government for passing a law repealing Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the northern West Bank — Blinken sought to cast a positive light on the current status of U.S.-Israel ties. Blinken maintained that Israel and the Palestinian Authority remain committed to deescalating tensions. “I’ve heard directly from Israeli leadership — as well as the Palestinian Authority — about the desire for both sides to see the violence that has reached record levels in recent months, deescalate and to try to get a period of calm,” Blinken said. “It’s an interest that, at least Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed directly to me… if we see steps inconsistent with that, I think it does contradict what we believe both Israelis and the Palestinian Authority are seeking to do and what they’ve said to us is in their own self-interest.”
Read more here.
Moving ahead: Elsewhere on the Hill, the Senate Small Business Committee advanced Dilawar Syed’s nomination to be deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration. Syed has fended off accusations from the right of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment during his confirmation process, which have largely been rejected by mainstream and liberal Jewish groups.
Growing Saudi-China ties unlikely to prompt major Saudi policy shake-ups
Despite rising concern in Washington about China’s inroads into the Middle East, including its increasing ties to Saudi Arabia, the recent Chinese-brokered deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran does not appear to herald any significant changes in posture toward Riyadh — from either critics or supporters of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The latest developments appear so far to be leading both sides in the polarized U.S. foreign policy discourse on Saudi Arabia to double down on their previous positions — vocal critics of Riyadh are pushing ahead with efforts to limit U.S. ties with the kingdom, while those more supportive of the U.S.-Saudi relationship say that a closer relationship is the only way to prevent further Chinese encroachment.
New legislation: Among critics of Saudi Arabia, the surprise agreement does not seem to have prompted any rethinking of efforts to tighten the screws on Riyadh. Days after the agreement was announced, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) announced new legislation aiming to force the administration to engage publicly with Congress on Saudi human rights violations and ultimately could force a Senate floor vote on cutting off aid to Saudi Arabia.
Shoring up: Supporters of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, argue, however, that the U.S. needs to reinforce its relationship with Saudi Arabia, to cut off further Chinese gains, which could challenge the U.S.’ long-standing military partnership with Riyadh. “I think what we need to do is make sure that our allies in the Middle East know that we’re going to be strong allies. This is one of the things I heard when I was there last month, that whether we’re talking about Saudi Arabia, UAE or Israel, they want to know America is going to be there,” Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) told JI. “When we send signals that we are weakening, for example, our disastrous pullout of Afghanistan, or how we didn’t respond quickly enough to the UAE when they were attacked with Houthi missiles last year, it sends a message to our allies that maybe they should be looking to China.”
A word from the ranking member: “In the Middle East, it’s clear that the administration is failing to compete with China,” Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) said. “The administration’s policies across the board have created great, great concerns for our partners… The recent deal between Saudi Arabia, China and Iran proves the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines.” Risch said that the U.S. needs to “fix our approach” and cannot “turn our backs on the Middle East” even as focus shifts toward China.
Read more here.
Bonus: The Israeli government sees the Saudi-Iran rapprochement as an opportunity for Israel’s efforts to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, a senior Israeli diplomatic official involved in the efforts toldAxios’ Barak Ravid.
Elsewhere on the Hill: Speaking yesterday at a briefing organized by the Zachor Legal Institute on Al Jazeera and the Qatari government’s efforts to influence Americans through their AJ+ network, Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) lamented that Al Jazeera has “thought they could just blow off the rules” requiring registration as a foreign agent. “I, along with my colleagues in the House, are going to make your entity play by the rules.” Bergman has introduced legislation that would place new restrictions on congressional press credentials for foreign state-owned media outlets. He said that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been supportive of the proposal.
finding common ground
A Brooklyn ‘bridge’ of his own
Antonio Reynoso, the borough president of Brooklyn, coasted to victory in 2021 as an outspoken progressive, notching key endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), state Sen. Julia Salazar and the New York City public advocate, Jumaane Williams, among other influential figures on the activist left. But more than a year into his role as Kings County’s chief ambassador, Reynoso, a former city councilman from Williamsburg and the first Latino to hold the position, has largely embraced a more measured and perhaps deferential approach to governance than his political allegiances might suggest, even as he insists that his core values remain unchanged, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
‘Different needs’: “I’m a progressive, uber left, and I believe that I have my principles that I abide by,” Reynoso explained to JI in a recent interview at his offices in Downtown Brooklyn. “But I don’t want to impose them on everyone. These communities are very different. They have different needs. And they’ve been here for a long time.” In his outreach to Jewish leaders, Reynoso, 39, said he has tried to uphold his own vision for the borough by focusing on areas of agreement rather than quibbling over policy differences, particularly as he has made overtures to Hasidic communities that have traditionally leaned moderate or conservative and make up a crucial voting bloc.
Common ground: There is more than enough common ground, he suggested, citing efforts to counter antisemitism as well as more practicable concerns like addressing food insecurity and organizing street cleanups. “And all the things that we don’t agree on, it’s just like, let’s leave that for another day. There’s no need to fight. There’s no need to engage in hostilities,” Reynoso told JI.
‘Proud’ to serve: During his time as borough president, Reynoso, who succeeded New York City Mayor Eric Adams, has sought to expand his relationships with Jewish leaders beyond Williamsburg, where he was born and raised by Dominican parents. He said he is “proud” to now represent the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel, which he visited as a city councilman. “I want the world to know that, and I want to celebrate them,” he told JI. “I’ve been having a lot of fun doing that, and I hope that they’ve seen that.”
Bridge-builder: For the most part, Reynoso has found a receptive audience, he said, notwithstanding some divisions over issues including rezoning and affordable housing development, which are among his top priorities. David Greenfield, the chief executive of the Met Council and a former city councilman who overlapped with Reynoso in the legislative body, views such engagement as significant. “Reynoso is trying hard to be a bridge between the left and the more moderate constituencies in Brooklyn,” he told JI. “It’s an important effort and, if successful, would make him one of the most important officials in New York.”
🌎 Dissecting DeSantis’ Foreign Policy: The New York Times’ Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Kitty Bennett delve into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ foreign policy record to interpret how, if elected president, he would lead the U.S. abroad. “Unlike [former President Donald] Trump, a fellow Jacksonian but one who operates on pure instinct and would never dream of suffering through a foreign policy treatise, Mr. DeSantis has read deeply and has formed a philosophy about America’s place in the world. But you will rarely hear Mr. DeSantis invoke abstract values to justify the use of force — as some of his potential 2024 rivals and current party leaders have done. He has not framed the Ukraine war as a battle for ‘freedom,’ as former Vice President Mike Pence has done, or as a mission to defend the post-World War II international security framework, as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, has done. If Mr. DeSantis is elected president, there is unlikely to be any more Biden-esque talk of ‘autocracies versus democracies.’ In Mr. DeSantis’s framing, these are the idealistic mutterings of a ‘Wilsonian.’” [NYTimes]
🎭 Raining on His Parade: The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg, in his “Deep Shtetl” newsletter, considers the platform given to antisemitic tropes and beliefs in the Broadway revival of Alfred Uhry’s musical “Parade.” “Again and again, the show hands its most potent numbers not to its leads, but to its anti-Semitic characters and their allies, including the bombastic Conley and the unctuous Dorsey. [Leo] Frank’s plaintive appeals to reason cannot possibly counter these impassioned anthems. Tellingly, the only time [Ben] Platt [who plays Frank] gets to musically command the stage in the first two-thirds of the shows is when he discards his character’s anemic affect in order to playact as the debonair Don Juan conjured by his accusers. One of the most talented young Jews on Broadway is not permitted to fully shine in his own show unless he is playing into the villainous caricature of anti-Semites and reciting their lines. This is also an all-too-apt representation of how anti-Semitism acts on Jews in society: stifling their voices and restricting them to roles assigned by their enemies.” [TheAtlantic]
🇸🇦🇮🇷 Shifting Dynamics: In Foreign Affairs, Maria Fantappie and Val Nasr consider how the Chinese-mediated rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia could transform the Middle East. “Washington has also been slow to realize that Saudi Arabia sees itself not as a security vassal of the United States but as a regional power capable of playing an independent role in world politics. Riyadh believes that the old paradigm of ‘U.S. security in exchange for low oil prices’ — as one Saudi official put it — is dead. Saudi Arabia’s vision of strategic autonomy is not simply a reaction to diminishing U.S. engagement in the Middle East but a statement of the kingdom’s ambitions. Riyadh wants close and independent ties with the United States, as well as with Russia and China. It also sees itself as playing a crucial role in the region, balancing Egypt, Iran, Israel, and Turkey to protect its own security and wield regional influence. To hold that coveted position, Saudi Arabia must nurture relations with all its neighbors. In 2022, Riyadh restored ties with Turkey; now it is doing the same with Iran. Next it will be Israel’s turn. Relations with Iran will give the Saudis much needed political cover with their allies, meaning that a deal with Israel can be presented as a bilateral agreement, rather than a military axis against another Muslim country. The Beijing deal both affirms Riyadh’s view of its status in the Middle East and demonstrates its strategic autonomy.” [ForeignAffairs]
Around the Web
🌎 New Rule: The State Department is easing restrictions that for years had kept some staffers from serving in countries where they had personal or financial ties.
🇮🇷 Arming Iran: The Justice Department announced charges against five individuals accused of working to export U.S. military technology to Iran.
👎 Cruel Comparison: The Michigan Republican Party is facing criticism from Democratic lawmakers and the Republican Jewish Coalition for a tweet comparing Holocaust victims to Second Amendment activists.
🙁 Chief Concerns:Politicolooks at how White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients is navigating the challenges of the White House and relationships with Democrats on Capitol Hill.
🧠 Freudian Blip:The New York Timesreports on the resurgent popularity of psychoanalysis and its originator, Sigmund Freud.
🌭 Kosher Baseball: Prime Kosher Sports (PKS) is taking over four kosher stands at Yankee Stadium for the 2023 season, in place of “Strikly Kosher,” which has been operating stands at the stadium for over 20 years.
🎤 Sorry About Swastika: K-pop singer Chaeyoung from the band Twice apologized for wearing a T-shirt bearing a swastika symbol.
📰 On the Grid: Jimmy Finkelstein’s new media startup The MessengeracquiredGrid News ahead of its launch later this spring.
📢 Looking Back: The American hostages held in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1980 reacted to a recent New York Times report about a Republican operative who had attempted to pressure Iran into continuing its detainment of Americans through the 1980 election.
⚖️ Ground Game: In the Washington Post, Gershom Gorenberg suggests that Israeli President Isaac Herzog is ceding too much ground to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his proposed compromise over judicial reform.
💻 Covert Messaging: The Israeli Defense Forces admitted to having coordinated an online media campaign to improve Israeli public opinion of the country’s actions during the 11-day military conflict with Gaza in May 2021.
🕯️ Remembering: Judge Gladys Kessler, who sat on the D.C. Superior Court for 17 years, died at 85.
Pic of the Day
Lehrhaus, a Jewish tavern and house of learning, opened last week in the Boston suburb of Somerville, Mass. Food options at the kosher dairy restaurant and bar include mac-and-cheese kugel, a beet “pastrami” Reuben and fish and chips. Specialty cocktails include a Yemeni espresso martini and “Some like it harif,” a twist on a spicy margarita.
Writer and producer of television series, creator of “Deadwood” and co-creator of “NYPD Blue,” David Milch turns 78…
Actor, director and producer, Mark Rydell turns 94… Former National Football League referee for 23 seasons, the only NFL head referee to officiate four Super Bowl games, Jerry Markbreit turns 88… Philanthropist Harriette Perlman turns 83… Mandolinist and composer of acoustic, instrumental, bluegrass and newgrass music, David Grisman turns 78… Tel Aviv native, she is a professor of music at the Juilliard School since 1993, Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky turns 76… Los Angeles-based psychologist and author, her first book is The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, Wendy Mogel turns 72… Designer of men’s and women’s footwear, clothing and accessories, Kenneth D. Cole turns 69… Former mayor of Austin, Texas, first elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018, Stephen Ira Adler turns 67… Former director of business development at Fannie Mae, she was also the president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County (Maryland), Beth Millstein… Investor, author, financial commentator and radio personality, Peter Schiff turns 60… Russian-American businessman, Eugene Shvidler turns 59… Senior writer for “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” he is also the creator of 2018’s television series “Liberty Crossing,” Daniel Radosh turns 54… Managing partner of D.C.-based Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner, Jonathan Missner turns 54… French actress who has appeared in 40 films, her Holocaust survivor grandparents changed their name from Goldreich, Judith Godrèche turns 51… Client partner at Meta/Facebook working with the financial services and real estate industry verticals, Scott Shapiro… Member of the Maryland General Assembly since 2011, Craig Zucker turns 48… Israeli actress, comedian and television host, Adi Ashkenazi turns 48… Three-time Grammy Award-winning record producer, audio engineer and songwriter, Ariel Rechtshaid turns 44… Member of the rabbinics faculty at the Academy for Jewish Religion California, Yehuda Martin Hausman… Staff reporter for The New York Times, Sarah Maslin Nir… Israeli singer-songwriter, actress and musician, she performs in Hebrew, French and Arabic, Riff Cohen turns 39… Chief of staff for the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Fairfax County, Va., Benjamin Shnider… Former tennis coach at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Julia Cohen turns 34… Former member of the National Israeli Rhythmic Gymnastics Team, she competed in the 2012 Olympic games, Moran Buzovski turns 31… Television and film actress, Victoria Pedretti turns 28…