👋 Good Monday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff we report on a meeting between White House officials and Orthodox Jewish leaders to discuss combating antisemitism, and interview North Carolina Rep. Wiley Nickel about his personal connection to Judaism. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Marcia Riklis, Joshua Foer, Rep. Susan Wild and Noa Tishby.
President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, following a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, between senior political and security officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and the United States that sought to reduce tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians ahead of the Ramadan, Passover and Easter holiday season.
Biden “reinforced the need for all sides to take urgent, collaborative steps to enhance security coordination, condemn all acts of terrorism, and maintain the viability of a two-state solution,” according to a readout of the call from the White House.
The president also “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support,” the readout said. This was reportedly the first time the two leaders have discussed the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plans. Biden offered support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms “consistent with those core principles.”
A statement from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office noted that Netanyahu told Biden that “Israel was, and will remain, a strong and vibrant democracy.” Netanyahu’s office’s statement said that the focus of the discussion was the Iranian threat and “expanding the circle of peace.”
More than three dozen Orthodox Jewish leaders and community members shared their experiences with antisemitism in a Friday virtual meeting with White House officials, amid a national rise in antisemitism.
Senior officials from the National Security Council and the Domestic Policy Council attended the call, which was convened by White House liaison to the Jewish community Shelley Greenspan. Aaron Keyak, the deputy special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism at the State Department, was also on the call.
Orthodox Jews are “on the frontlines [of antisemitism] because they’re identifiable as Jews, so they feel it, in some ways, more than others,” said Ezra Friedlander, a Hasidic public relations executive who was on Friday’s call. “I’m grateful that the White House felt it was important to reach out specifically towards the Orthodox Jewish community to hear from them, because oftentimes, our perspectives are overlooked.”
The meeting was one of several listening sessions that the White House has hosted as part of an effort to create a national policy to combat antisemitism. The policymaking effort is the first initiative of an interagency group tasked with combating antisemitism, Islamophobia and “related forms of bias and discrimination.”
NICKEL FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
For Wiley Nickel, ‘never again,’ is a personal declaration
In one of his first floor speeches as a House member early last month, Rep. Wiley Nickel, a freshman democratic congressman from North Carolina, took a moment to acknowledge the victims of a deadly shooting that had recently occurred outside a Jerusalem synagogue on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The incident in late January, in which seven Israelis were killed by a Palestinian gunman, “was no random act of violence,” Nickel said from the lectern. “This was a heinous and cowardly attack rooted in hate, bigotry and antisemitism.” “In the face of such evil, it is imperative that we come together not as Democrats or Republicans but as Americans committed to fighting against antisemitism and defending the sacred relationship between the United States and Israel,” he added. “‘Never again’ is more than a mere hashtag for social media. It is a solemn oath.” For Nickel, 47, such declarations are personal, he explained in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel not long after his speech.
Shared story: “The Jewish community, their story is my story,” he said. “My mother is Jewish. My great-grandfather fled Poland prior to the Holocaust and would not be here today if he had stayed in Poland. When we talk about antisemitism, we need to continue to speak up.” Despite a verifiable claim to Jewish heritage, Nickel made clear — in contrast to a certain Republican lawmaker from New York — that he is not a practicing Jew and, like his father, identifies as Episcopalian, even as he grew up in a mixed-faith household celebrating Passover and observing the High Holidays with his mother’s family. Nickel’s maternal great-grandfather, Harry Sott, fled Jewish persecution in Poland in 1907 and ultimately settled in Detroit, according to an immigration document provided by the congressman’s office. (The record describes Sott as “Hebrew.”) He met his wife, who had escaped the same Polish town, in the U.S., a spokesperson for Nickel told JI.
Family history: Harry Sott, who worked on the assembly line for the Ford Motor Company, became a successful textile manufacturer and then retired to California, where he bought land. His son, Herbert, would also prosper, though his effort to become a practicing attorney was not without its challenges, Nickel said of the hardships his grandfather endured before opening a real estate law firm that is now one of the largest in Michigan. “People wouldn’t hire him because he was a Jew,” Nickel told JI. “I certainly have a deep appreciation for the challenges the Jewish community faces.”
On his radar: As a new member of Congress, Nickel, a former state senator and Obama administration staffer, says he is keeping those challenges in mind amid an uptick in antisemitic incidents, including in North Carolina. “This is an incredibly important issue to me,” he vowed. The congressman said he has joined the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, which is now led by a fellow North Carolina Democrat, Rep. Kathy Manning. He has also signed onto legislation promoting Holocaust education as well as a resolution “recognizing Israel as America’s legitimate and democratic ally and condemning antisemitism.”
Israel-bound: Moreover, Nickel said he is planning to take his first trip to Israel this August with a House delegation of freshman Democrats sponsored by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation, whose annual trips to the Jewish state are a rite of passage for many new congressional lawmakers. “We need to continue to strengthen our military, economic and cultural ties with Israel to make sure that we have peace in the Middle East,” he told JI. Nickel supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly between both parties, he said. “The U.S. has a role to play to facilitate those discussions,” he argued, “but both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate aspirations.”
on the scene
Jewish Funders Network convenes with an eye toward the future
PHOENIX — The future is now. Or, at the very least, not far off. And the solution, speakers at the Jewish Funders Network international conference suggested here on Sunday, is to modernize along with it. Representing a range of personal and professional backgrounds, the individuals opening up JFN’s annual confab — the largest in the organization’s three-decade history — expressed optimism that the Jewish community, and those who support it, will adapt to an ever-changing and growing philanthropic and Jewish communal environment, Melissa Weiss reports for eJewishPhilanthropy.
The times they are a-changin’: “[Famed General Electric CEO] Jack Welch once said that when the world outside is changing faster than the world inside, that’s the surest sign that you’re in deep trouble,” Sefaria co-founder Joshua Foer said from the dais. “And right now, the Jewish community feels like the world outside is changing. A whole lot faster. The reason the world out there is changing so fast,” Foer continued, “is because the funding ecosystem out there is continually spawning new initiatives, new companies, new ventures that are like nimble, heat-seeking missiles.” The changes, noted Rabbi Kendell Pinkney, a New York-based theater artist, extend across the Jewish community.
Building up: “This is a time of growth,” Pinkney, who grew up attending a Black megachurch in Texas before converting as an adult, said. “It’s a time of expansion. And if I’m telling the truth, I repeated that our spiritual ancestors in D’varim would be extremely proud of the communities that we have created. So, now that we are looking forward into our Jewish future, it is that much more important that we redouble our efforts and commit to building the most robust and richly inclusive and creative communities that we can, so that way, our descendants in 10, 20, 30 years will look back on us with gratitude and thank us for the inspiring decisions that we’ve made today that made their lives possible.”
Concrete steps: In her remarks to the nearly 700 attendees, JFN’s board chair, Marcia Riklis, highlighted efforts to help JFN, and its members, move forward, citing the organization’s partnership with Impala, an online repository of financial and organizational information of both grantmaking institutions as well as recipients, and SparkIL, which allows individuals to directly fund small businesses in Israel. “We plan to be the go-to place in the Jewish world for the new ideas that will enhance the field of Jewish philanthropy, and provide that field with badly needed tools,” Riklis said.
Wild cautioned Netanyahu about declining youth Democratic support for Israel
Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) said on Sunday that she cautioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel could see a significant drop-off in support from Congress as more young Democratic lawmakers are elected, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Looking ahead: “What I said to him was, ‘I’m worried that in a decade, let’s say — it’s not going to be this year, next year — in a decade, maybe a little longer, Israel may find itself not enjoying the broad-spread support that it currently does from the U.S. Congress,’” Wild said. “I think that it is a very real threat to Israel.” The Pennsylvania congresswoman visited Israel in February on a J Street-sponsored delegation.
New generation: Wild, speaking in a Zoom event organized by Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, attributed a potential shift to changing demographics among Democratic lawmakers. “We have repeatedly seen younger and younger members of Congress,” the Pennsylvania legislator, who traveled to Israel with J Street, said. “Their views tend to be much less solidified about being pro-Israel. And so I think the long term is not good.”
Poll patrol: At the same time, Wild, who is Jewish, said that she’s “not sure how much faith” she would put in a recent Gallup poll showing that a majority of Democrats now sympathize, for the first time, more with Palestinians than Israelis. She argued that responses to the poll were likely mostly not “well-informed”: “the vast majority of Americans know far less about Israel than they probably should considering the amount of our tax dollars that go there and the importance of Israel generally to democracy and security around the world.”
Bahrain’s Al Waha backs MENA startups from behind the scenes
In the heyday of Bitcoin, the four co-founders of the Rain cryptocurrency exchange saw a tantalizing opportunity when the Central Bank of Bahrain issued regulations allowing certain digital assets to be used for payments and handled by commercial banks. The move in 2019 toward normalizing crypto trading under a regulatory framework established the small island kingdom as an influential player in the notoriously unregulated industry and generated the interest of venture capital firms from the Gulf to Silicon Valley. Among the early funders of Rain was Bahrain’s Al Waha Fund of Funds, lending credibility when Kleiner Perkins, Paradigm and other top venture firms later decided to invest their own money, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports from the Gulf state’s capital city of Manama.
Sovereign-backed fund: In fact, the money from Al Waha was dispensed through a variety of Gulf venture capital firms such as Middle East Venture Partners, VentureSouq and 500 Startups, which helped Rain establish itself as a regional leader among cryptocurrency exchanges. Little public note was made that the money originated in Al Waha, an arm of the Bahraini government that is backed by the tiny island kingdom’s $15.4 billion sovereign wealth fund, Mumtalakat. Al Waha, which has $100 million under management, prefers to stay behind the scenes, its director and fund manager, Areije Al Shakar, told The Circuit. Similarly, Al Waha provided funding for Calo, which analyzes a user’s nutritional needs and delivers meals custom-cooked according to the data, through 500 Startups.
Huge opportunity: “There’s a huge opportunity that we’ve seen, and I think our success has shown that as a fund of funds, we’ve been able to back a number of Bahrain-based founders and their companies that springboard out of here and then work across the entire Gulf [region],” Al Shakar said in an interview on the sidelines of last week’s Connect2Innovate conference in the capital city of Manama. The event, organized by the Bahraini Ministry of Industry and Commerce and Israel’s Start-up Nation Central, brought together some 500 participants from the two countries, according to the organizers.
Identity Crisis: In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Arbess suggests that the current debate in Israel over proposed reforms could lay the groundwork for the state to become a constitutional democracy. “As its 75th anniversary approaches next month, Israel has finally achieved sufficient security and stature to consider addressing, in a formal constitution, its enduring national identity crisis: the reconciliation of its defining attributes as both a Jewish state and a multicultural democracy. While Israel is a legislative democracy with 13 quasiconstitutional Basic Laws, it isn’t a true constitutional democracy. The Basic Laws were intended to be draft chapters of a formal, unitary constitution that would define the role and respective powers of the main institutions of the state, and human and civic voting rights. The drafting of a formal constitution was deferred from the nation’s inception by wars and other existential concerns. The new coalition government’s judicial-reform proposals opened the door; now the Herzog plan broadens the conversation, by proposing to elevate existing Basic Laws to formal constitutional status and raise the legislative approval thresholds for passing new ones.” [WSJ]
⚖️ Back From the Brink: The Daily Beast’s Josh Feldman posits that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an opportunity to strengthen Israel’s democratic system of governance. “There are no shortcuts in the path ahead for Israel’s longest-serving premier. A public discussion about the power imbalance between the courts and government was long overdue, and rather than approach it in a responsible manner, Netanyahu let his coalition partners exploit a genuine issue to push an agenda that threatens Israel’s very democratic and social fiber. But he’s now desperately working to find his way back. If he succeeds, he may well help pass ‘a reform that would leave Israel not just not weaker and less democratic,’ [writer Haviv] Rettig Gur says, ‘but actually by reaching a middle ground would leave it stronger and more democratic than before.’ Now that would be one hell of a coup.” [DailyBeast]
🇮🇪 The Culinary Ties That Bind: In Smithsonian Magazine, Shaylyn Esposito explores the history of Irish corned beef, the modern incarnation of which derives from immigrant neighborhoods of 19th-century New York City. “The Irish immigrants almost solely bought their meat from kosher butchers. And what we think of today as Irish corned beef is actually Jewish corned beef thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes. The Jewish population in New York City at the time were relatively new immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. The corned beef they made was from brisket, a kosher cut of meat from the front of the cow. Since brisket is a tougher cut, the salting and cooking processes transformed the meat into the extremely tender, flavorful corned beef we know of today. The Irish may have been drawn to settling near Jewish neighborhoods and shopping at Jewish butchers because their cultures had many parallels. Both groups were scattered across the globe to escape oppression, had a sacred lost homeland, discriminated against in the US, and had a love for the arts. There was an understanding between the two groups, which was a comfort to the newly arriving immigrants.” [SmithsonianMag]
Around the Web
👴 The Scheme Against Jimmy Carter: The New York Times interviews Republican operative Ben Barnes, who said that in 1980 he worked to pressure Iran to continue its detainment of dozens of Americans as part of an effort to boost Ronald Reagan’s campaign over President Jimmy Carter.
🎭 Frank Talk: Actor Ben Platt, who stars in “Parade” on Broadway, told the New York Post that playing lynching victim Leo Frank amid a surge in antisemitism is “really galvanizing and motivating because it feels really immediate.”
🎞️ Miracle of Miracles: In The New York Times, Sarah Wildman reflects on the universality of “Fiddler on the Roof,” after rewatching the film for the first time in many years, following the recent death of Israeli actor Chaim Topol, known for his role as Tevye.
👩🏫 Torah-teacher Trend: In Vogue, Mattie Kahn identifies a trend among celebs in dressing in “Torah-teacher aesthetic” fashion.
🏢 Global Counsel: Greenberg Traurig, a top-tier U.S. law firm that expanded into Saudi Arabia last week, is counseling clients in Israel to position themselves through the current business lull for whenever the technology market rebounds, The Circuit reports.
🚀 Rocket Fire: Militants in Gaza fired a rocket toward southern Israel on Saturday night; no injuries were reported.
🚘 Harmed in Huwara: An Israeli-American man was injured when Palestinian militants shot at the car he was driving in Huwara.
👮 Use-of-Force Ruling: Israel’s High Court ruled that National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir cannot give instructions to police about managing protests and issues relating to use-of-force against demonstrators.
🚓 Mob Attack: A Palestinian mob attacked two German tourists who entered Nablus, in the West Bank, on Saturday, in a rented car with Israeli license plates.
🇮🇷 Iran’s Troubles: The Wall Street Journal highlights a new challenge posed to the Iranian regime by monthslong rallies held in a remote enclave of southeastern Iran.
Pic of the Day
Noa Tishby, Israel’s special envoy for combating antisemitism and the delegitimization of Israel, appeared on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday. Tishby discussed Israel’s internal division in relation to the government’s judicial overhaul plans. Tishby said that what is currently happening in Israel is “democracy on full display…the biggest problem within the Israeli system is that there’s no constitution, so right now, what we’re seeing is a conflict between the government and the Supreme Court. The government wants to take too much power basically and overrule the Supreme Court decision by a simple majority, but the Israeli people are rebelling against this. This is quite amazing what’s happening.”
Journalist, author and lecturer best known for writing about his lifestyle immersion experiments, he is an editor-at-large for Esquire, Arnold Stephen “A. J.” Jacobs turns 55…
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