👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we cover Rep. Katie Porter’s comments to pro-Israel Democrats in California, and talk to Amb. Tom Nides about Israel’s bid to enter the Visa Waiver Program. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Marc Rowan, Joe Lonsdale and Hanna Rosin.
Responding to comments by President Joe Biden yesterday over Israel’s judicial overhaul plans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”
“My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus,” Netanyahu added in the statement, which was released at 1 a.m. local time.
Hours earlier, Biden had told reporters, “like many strong supporters of Israel I am very concerned, and I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road… Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he’s going to try to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen.”
“We’re not interfering,” Biden added. “They know my position. They know America’s position. They know the American Jewish position.” Asked whether he was going to invite Netanyahu to the White House, Biden responded: “No. Not in the near term.”
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who had opposed the delay of the judicial reform legislation, told Israel’s Army Radio this morning, “We appreciate the democratic regime there, but precisely for this reason — they need to understand that Israel is an independent country and not another star on the U.S. flag. It should be clear all over the world — the people here went to the elections and have their own wishes.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tweeted, “For decades Israel was the USA’s closest ally, the most extreme government in the country’s history damaged that in three months.”
MK Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition National Unity party, which has shot up in polls in recent days, described Biden’s comments as “an urgent wake-up call” to the Israeli government. “Damage to relations with the U.S., our best friend and our most important ally, is a strategic blow. The prime minister must guide his negotiating teams regarding the judicial legislation, act quickly to correct the situation and preserve Israeli democracy that is at the basis of these values.”
Israeli President Issac Herzog last night began hosting a round of dialogue meetings between coalition and opposition teams, in hopes of reaching a compromise agreement on judicial reform. Today he is continuing to host additional Knesset factions for discussions.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the Brookings Institution’s William Galston praised Herzog’s efforts, noting that the president “has sought to act as a moderating force, offering both principles for negotiations and then his own plan as the basis for talks.” Herzog’s “suggestions have encountered resistance in most quarters,” Galston added, “but they have bolstered his credibility as an honest broker.”
The Washington Post’s editorial board noted that “what Israel really needs is a written constitution.” In Netanyahu’s Monday announcement that he was suspending the legislation, the editorial board wrote, the Israeli leader “promised a ‘broad consensus’ and a ‘strengthening’ of individual rights. The Israeli opposition has forced Mr. Netanyahu to make these pledges; now, it must hold him to them.”
Speaking at the Summit for Democracy this morning, Netanyahu said, “I want to assure you that the alliance between the world’s greatest democracy and a strong, proud and independent democracy, Israel, in the heart of the Middle East, is unshakable — nothing can change that.”
Netanyahu compared the situation in Israel today to that of 20 years ago, when, as finance minister, he said he “led a free-market revolution.”
“Israel was a semi-socialist economy, highly regulated, highly controlled, highly taxed, with very low participation in the workforce with monopolies, including government monopolies, abounding throughout our economy,” Netanyahu said in a video address. “I proposed changes, radical changes, to correct this. This was met with massive protests, with months and months of national labor strikes, with admonitions that this would wreck the Israeli economy, that it would make the rich get richer and the poor grow poorer, and so on,” he continued, noting that the government persisted and “the results have been very clear.”
“I’m saying this because it’s not only that the economy grew and prosperity increased, but shared prosperity increased, because contrary to the predictions that the rich will grow richer and the poor will grow poor,” he continued. “Everybody grew richer.”
“And you may have noticed Israel is undergoing in its robust democracy, a very intensive public debate,” the prime minister said. “And the debate is, how do we ensure a proper democracy? Democracy means the will of the people as expressed by a majority, and it also means protection of civil rights, individual rights. It’s the balance between the two.”
Today on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Merrick Garland will testify to the House Appropriations Committee on the Department of Justice budget request; Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will testify to the House Armed Services Committee; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will testify to House Appropriations on the department’s foreign programs; former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee regarding alleged union-busting; Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas will testify in front of House Appropriations; and the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on sanctions policy.
After praising Netanyahu, Porter ‘concerned’ about ‘far-right voices’ in his coalition
Before she took questions from Jewish voters during a virtual candidate forum on Tuesday evening, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), who is running for U.S. Senate in California, took a few minutes to express concern over Israel’s right-wing governing coalition and its now-suspended judicial overhaul, which has spurred mass protests in recent weeks, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Looking to the PM: “I am concerned about the inclusion of some of the far-right voices in Israel’s coalition government, and I think it is up to the prime minister to provide leadership that lifts up voices that are consistent with Israel’s values, rather than voices who are tarnishing Israel’s democracy and its commitment to its values,” Porter said during the virtual forum, hosted by Democrats for Israel California. “The potential erosion of democratic principles, including an independent judiciary, should be of concern to Americans.”
Taking a stance: Porter’s remarks followed her recent comments to Jewish Insider in which the Irvine, Calif., Democrat mostly shied away from explicit criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom she met in February during a Congressional delegation visit to Israel sponsored by J Street. “I was extremely impressed with his willingness to kind of grapple with us at some of the toughest issues that Israel’s facing,” Porter said in an interview with JI after her first trip to the Jewish state.
Direct dialogue: Speaking at the event on Tuesday, Porter explained that she had “pressed very hard” for the delegation to sit down with Netanyahu in Jerusalem because, she said, “I think he needs to hear directly from U.S. lawmakers that we expect our ally Israel to live up to the hallmark of our special relationship, which is protecting democracy, protecting human rights” and “protecting fundamental freedoms.”
Moving forward: Meanwhile, the congresswoman said she was “pleased” that Netanyahu had “delayed the judicial changes” on Monday. “The best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens is going to be compromise,” she noted.
Nides: Israel’s entry to Visa Waiver Program could come this summer
Israelis hoping for visa-free travel to the United States could see progress on the issue as soon as this summer, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch on Tuesday. “It’ll be done, probably, come July, August, is when they’ll do a review process,” Nides said. His comments came hours after Israel’s Knesset passed a bill that will allow enhanced data-sharing of biometric information between Israeli and American security agencies, a prerequisite for Israel’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
Welcome news: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement this morning, “Today, we have important news for the citizens of Israel. Just as we promised, the legislative requirements for receiving exemption from US visas have been completed. In the coming months, we will meet additional requirements and in September 2023, the State of Israel is expected to join the list of countries that are exempt from US visas.” Also today, the Knesset approved the final readings of a bill to set up a national center for the collection and analysis of data on flights and passengers entering or exiting Israel.
Waiting time: For more than a decade, Israeli leaders have been pushing for the United States to add Israel to the program, which would allow 90-day visa-free tourist and business visits. Israelis who are now applying for American visas face wait times of six months or more just to receive an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Israeli and American bureaucrats are racing against the clock to finalize the details of Israel’s addition to the program by September, when the fiscal year ends and the tabulating of visa-related data points starts over.
Meeting the requirements: In January, Israel for the first time recorded a “visa refusal rate” — meaning the percentage of Israelis rejected for a travel visa — of less than 3%, which is a requirement to join the program. This had for years been one of the largest hurdles facing Israel, and it marked a huge accomplishment for a country whose refusal rate had been more than 6% just two years prior. “There’s very clear processes here. This is not, like, loosey-goosey. You have very clear rules and laws that have to be fulfilled for one to qualify,” said Nides. The Visa Waiver Program was created by Congress in 1986. Its other requirements include biometric passports and the sharing of criminal databases, as well as a reciprocal entry policy.
Apollo’s Rowan: U.S. in a ‘non-recession recession’
Apollo Global Management CEO Marc Rowan, speaking yesterday at an event hosted by Punchbowl News in Washington, addressed the current financial climate, describing it as a “non-recession recession.”
Going deeper: “Typically we think of a recession as lots of people losing their job, a fall-off in demand. That’s not what happened. If you wind back in history, since 2008, we’ve printed $8 trillion. What did we think would happen when we printed $8 trillion? Well, exactly what was supposed to happen happened: Everything went up. Who benefited from what went up? People who own stocks and bonds and real estate and hard assets. Most of the country did not benefit from that boom. Most of the country is not suffering from that correction. People have jobs, the downfall or the recession that we’re feeling is among asset owners and among what’s happening in the financial system. It doesn’t make it less important, but it’s a different type of recession than what we’ve had previously. So for most people, it actually feels pretty good. If you’re on a coast, and you’re near a news media and you own lots of assets, it doesn’t feel so good.”
Watch Rowan’s comments here and watch the full event, featuring a conversation with Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), here.
Austin: Biden administration has only launched four ‘major responses’ to Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. forces
Top military leaders revealed yesterday that U.S. forces have launched just four “major responses” to 83 attacks on U.S. forces by Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria during the Biden administration’s tenure, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley were questioned yesterday by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about the U.S. strategy for responding to repeated Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. forces inside Syria; the line of questioning came in the wake of attacks last week that killed a U.S. contractor and injured other U.S. service members, prompting a retaliatory strike by the U.S. on Iran-backed forces.
Responses: “Our troops have the ability to, certainly, protect themselves and there have been responses — local responses to certain types of activity. Our troops always have the ability to do that,” Austin said. “In terms of major responses — strikes… there’s only been four of those.”
Other steps: Milley said that the U.S. has also taken “proactive measures” against Iranian proxy groups “that are not necessarily on the front page of the paper.” He added that the U.S. needs to be targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps “very harshly over time — and that’s exactly what we plan on doing.” Milley added that U.S. outposts in Iraq and Syria have “we think adequate force protection in terms of rocket and missile defenses,” noting that most attempted attacks are intercepted. Air defense at the U.S. base attacked last week was reportedly not fully functional at the time of the attack.
Slow going: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and other GOP senators pressed the military leaders on the multi-hour delay in notifying Congress about last week’s attack, which legislators characterized as a deliberate effort by the administration to avoid a successful vote on an Iran-related amendment to the bill repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq — under consideration on the same day as the attack — that would have scuttled the AUMF repeal. “There was no connection between when we notified you, senator, and your vote,” Austin said. “[Milley] and I were testifying that morning as well, so as soon as we came out of testimony, we began working on crafting response options.”
AUMF update: Despite lawmakers’ concerns, additional Iran-related amendments to the AUMF repeal that the Senate voted on yesterday failed by sizable margins. An amendment that would have conditioned the AUMF repeal on a guarantee that it would not undermine the U.S.’ counter-Iran efforts failed, as did a second amendment that would have guaranteed the president authority to use force against Iranian forces. A third amendment requiring the administration to consult with Israel and other allies before the repeal took effect also failed.
Lawmakers seek $1.5 million increase in Holocaust survivor aid funding
More than 100 House lawmakers are calling for a boost in funding for the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program, which provides support for aging Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as elderly victims of other traumatic events, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Bump up: A letter sent by 111 members to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies subcommittee last week and obtained by JI calls for $10 million in funding for the program in 2024, up from $8.5 million for this year. The Biden administration had also proposed holding funding at $8.5 million for next year. The request also follows multiple years’ of efforts from the subcommittee itself to boost funding to $10 million; the subcommittee supported that funding level in its 2022 and 2023 draft appropriations bills.
Track record: “This is a timely and necessary program that, since its creation, has established a track record of success beyond its initial expectations, all the while in a cost-effective manner,” the letter reads. “In addition, it responds to an immediate bipartisan public policy priority to assist Holocaust survivors as well as address the emerging needs of other diverse aging populations impacted by trauma.”
Offering support: Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Troy Balderson (R-OH) organized the letter; they led a similar effort last April, again seeking $10 million for the program. That letter garnered 215 signatories. “The inhuman treatment that Holocaust survivors in my own community and across America endured eclipses almost the bounds of what we may expect in trauma and psychological services, so their support needs of this aging population will always be a high priority for me,“ Wasserman Schultz told JI. “This funding makes life easier and more dignified for these aging Holocaust survivors and their families, but it also provides support for other aging populations impacted by traumatic or extreme events, such as military veterans, first responders and natural disaster victims. Special care is what they all need, and this funding will help do that.”
⚖️ Democracy Dish:The New York Times’ Bret Stephens reflects on the week’s events in Israel, which began with the firing of the country’s defense minister and was followed by mass protests and a pause in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to reform the judiciary. “Yes, it isn’t clear whether [Netanyahu] means to have a genuine dialogue with the opposition or merely maneuver for tactical political advantage, and Israelis should be wary of every word he utters and every step he takes. But it’s more than can be said for President Emmanuel Macron of France, who defied huge public protests and his own parliament to enact his controversial pension reforms. Or for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, who rammed through legislation to gut the country’s electoral institutions, also over huge protests. Or for a certain former American president, who incited a mob to overturn the results of a democratic election. If Israel’s democracy is to be judged, let it at least be judged against other democracies. By that standard, it may be in better health than is sometimes believed.” [NYTimes]
🇮🇱 Flag Fodder: The Atlantic’s Gal Beckerman suggests that American liberals can take a page from Israel’s protest movement, which has utilized the Israeli flag as a symbol in its demonstrations. “The American left has not turned to Israel as a role model for anything for a long time. And normally, wrapping oneself in the national flag would be about the last thing any self-respecting U.S. liberal would be inspired to do — least of all by Israeli example. But nothing lately feels normal, and liberal values and democratic standards are in no great shape here, either. It might be time for American defenders of liberal democracy to consider waving our own flag with the same abandon as my Israeli relatives. The left’s allergy to exhibitions of patriotism has always granted the right an extraordinary rhetorical weapon: the chance to claim that the other side is not really American, does not really care about our country. It would be foolish to suggest that waving more flags would deny the right that weapon, but what’s happened in Israel shows the tactical benefits of flipping this script, of loudly claiming authenticity and all that’s positive about belonging to a nation.” [TheAtlantic]
👨 Signal to DeSantis: Puck News‘ Teddy Schleifer spotlights Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, described as “an ascendant player in Republican fundraising and… [Texas] state politics,” ahead of an upcoming event hosted by Lonsdale’s Cicero Institute that will feature Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Lonsdale, who has been involved with the Koch political network, typifies the thinking of lots of conservatives in tech these days: Hardly sympathetic to Trump, but also more animated and perturbed by the left, with its ‘woke’ ideology and suppression of free speech rights. (To wit: Lonsdale is the board chair of the Bari Weiss-led anti-cancel-culture University of Austin.) Every few months, Lonsdale ends up engulfed in some culture-war controversy or another, accidentally or not. But off of the Internet, Lonsdale gets attention for actual policy. He’s particularly influential with a younger generation of tech entrepreneurs who see him as an ideas guy on issues like homelessness and healthcare, and he’s surrounded himself with about a dozen political and policy aides in his family office and at his nonprofits. Blake Brickman, a former chief of staff to Kentucky governor Matt Bevin, is Lonsdale’s Head of Public Affairs and runs his think tank; Bryan Sunderland, another old Kentucky G.O.P. hand, runs Lonsdale’s lobbying, dark-money arm. Lonsdale has even talked about running for office himself, possibly.” [Puck]
📜 AUMF Purview: The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake explores how the debate on Capitol Hill over the potential repeal of the AUMF has grown to include conversations about Iran. “Regardless of the merits of concerns regarding threats posed by Iran, the tack toward that country spotlights how such fateful decisions can evolve into mission creep. It’s also a testament to how it’s now Congress’s default approach to outsource to the executive branch the difficult decisions involved in its constitutional war powers. ‘Without the 2002 AUMF, the president would lose the ability to contain Iran and its aggression,’ Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) warned Monday, adding: ‘In short, American forces are no longer there to counter threats from Iraq. We are now there to counter threats to Iraq. That includes threats from Iran.’ Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), for his part, said: ‘It is not in America’s interest to allow the ayatollah in Iran to have more influence and more spaces to govern and more oil to generate revenue from. So if you don’t get that, you are not really following what is going on.’” [WashPost]
Around the Web
🤝 Washington Meeting: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) met with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog in Washington yesterday.
🛫 DeSantis to Israel: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will travel to Israel next month, where he is slated to speak at the “Celebrate the Faces of Israel” event jointly hosted by The Jerusalem Post and the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
🏈 Billionaire Bids: A group led by Josh Harris that includes Magic Johnson and Mitchell Rales was one of two parties to place a $6 billion bid on the Washington Commanders football team; the second is Canadian billionaire Steve Apostolopoulos.
Ξ Legal Woes: Sam Bankman-Fried was hit with a charge of foreign bribery, which federal prosecutors allege occurred when the FTX founder asked his staff to pay $40 million to at least one Chinese official in order to unfreeze the trading accounts of Alameda Research, a sister company of FTX.
🤖 Battle Bots: The Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education hosted a robotics tournament in New York yesterday to promote STEAM in day schools and yeshivas, eJewishPhilanthropy reports.
💉 On Pause: New York State halted a polio vaccination ad campaign after Jewish leaders raised concerns that the messaging — which included a truck with signage reading, ”Polio is spreading in Israel. Get immunized now” — was antisemitic.
📄 Lansing Legislation: A bill introduced in Michigan’s state legislature seeks to include ethnicity as a protected class under the state’s civil rights laws.
🕵️♂️ Student Spy: A suspected Russian spy posing as a Brazilian graduate student in the U.S. participated in a school trip to Israel, passing information on his meetings with U.S. and Israeli officials to a Russian handler.
👪 First Family:Elleinterviews First Daughter Ashley Biden about her upbringing and family life, as well as her career in mental health and social work.
👭 Chaos in Chief: The New York Timeslooks at the dissent among members of the women’s leadership network Chief, co-founded by Lindsay Kaplan, over social and political issues.
🖼️ Across the Pond: A U.K. panel ruled that the heirs of a Jewish engineer who had been the owner of a Gustave Courbet painting that was stolen by the Nazis should be given possession of the piece.
🔍 Explainer:The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg lays out the current state of affairs in Israel, and explains the background to the debate around judicial reform.
🇬🇷 Plot Point: Israel’s Mossad worked with Greek authorities to disrupt a plot to attack a Jewish restaurant in Athens.
🎒 On Strike: The Associated Pressspotlights a nearly two-month-long teachers’ strike in the West Bank that has shuttered Palestinian schools as educators call for salary increases and a democratically elected union.
😂 Comic Relief: An Israeli content creator used ChatGPT to create a “South Park” sketch about Israel’s judicial reform proposals.
🛰️ Jews in Space: Israel’s Defense Ministry announced the successful launch of the Ofek-13 military reconnaissance satellite.
🛣️ Rules of the Road: The United Arab Emirates will recognize Israeli driver licenses, in a move announced by the Emirati Foreign Ministry a week before Passover.
🇷🇺 Moscow Meeting: Russia will host a convening of deputy foreign ministers from Syria, Turkey and Iran in Moscow next month.
➡️ Transition: Hanna Rosin, formerly a staff writer for The Atlantic, will rejoin the publication as the host of its weekly podcast, “Radio Atlantic.”
Pic of the Day
Jewish community leaders from New York and New Jersey gathered at the Anti-Defamation League’s Investigative Research Lab on Tuesday to announce the formation of the Jewish Security Alliance in response to an uptick in antisemitic incidents.
Pictured (from left to right): Mitch Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative; Scott Richman, ADL New York/New Jersey regional director; William “Bud” Monaghan, director of security for the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey; Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO and national director; Evan Bernstein, national director and CEO of CSS; Ari Rosenblum, CEO of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County; Ethan Erlich, director of security of Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County; Amy Keller, director of security initiatives of Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey; Robert Wilson, chief security officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest; and Timothy Torell, director of Jewish community security at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
Co-CEO of entertainment and media agency William Morris Endeavor, Ariel Zev “Ari” Emanuel turns 62…
Chemist, professor at both Hebrew University and UCLA, winner of the 1974 Israel Prize, Raphael David Levine turns 85… Organizer of the annual morning minyan service since 1983 for runners in the NYC Marathon, Peter Berkowsky turns 81… Attorney, NYT best-selling author, sports agent for many professional athletes, Ronald M. Shapiro turns 80… Houston-based labor law, employment law and personal injury attorney, Carol Nelkin… Orthopedic surgeon, he is a former professional boxer, Harold “Hackie” Stuart Reitman, MD turns 73… Winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for economics, University of Chicago professor Roger Myerson turns 72… Investor, computer scientist and founder of D. E. Shaw & Co., David Elliot Shaw turns 72… Economist and chairman of consulting firm Roubini Macro Associates and professor emeritus at NYU, Nouriel Roubini turns 65… Miami businesswoman JoAnne Papir… Co-founder and co-CEO of Cerberus Capital Management, Stephen Andrew Feinberg turns 63… U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) turns 59… Director of the Mossad, David “Dadi” Barnea turns 58… French film director and writer, best known for his 2011 film “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius turns 56… Deputy chief of staff at The Rockefeller Foundation and adjunct fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Eric Pelofsky… Founder of Leopard Strategies, Liz Jaff… Former assistant U.S. attorney and now a candidate for attorney general of Missouri, Will Scharf turns 37… Communications director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, David A. Bergstein… Senior associate at Strategy&, Annie Rosen Pai… Business development manager at Arcadia, Alexander Zafran…