👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we take a deep dive into the politics of Tuesday’s Chicago mayoral election, and interview actor Ben Savage about his California congressional run. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Nikki Haley, Tova Friedman and Evan Gershkovich.
The Future Investment Initiative Institute’s Priority conference kicks off today in Miami Beach. Among the featured speakers at the two-day confab are Goldman Sachs executive Dina Powell McCormick, former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, former Iran envoy Brian Hook, Affinity Partners founder Jared Kushner, Richard Attias, executive chairman of Richard Attias and Associates; Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Reema Bandar Al Saud, Starwood Capital’s Barry Sternlicht, WeWork and Flow founder Adam Neumann, cofounder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz Ben Horowitz, Trian’s Nelson Peltz, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Mayor of Miami Francis X. Suarez, founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence Sara Menker and co-founder and managing partner of Manna Tree Gabrielle Rubenstein.
The election for the U.S. Senate seat in Michigan being vacated by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is more than a year and a half away, but a string of Republican missteps — including a tweet by the Michigan GOP comparing efforts to reform gun laws to the Nazi theft of Holocaust victims’ belongings — and Democratic wins at the state level have Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), who announced her intention to seek the seat earlier this year, poised as a favorite candidate. Former Rep. Dave Trott, who served in Congress as a Republican but now considers himself an independent, told The New York Times’ Katie Glueck, “If I’m Elissa Slotkin, I’m already trying to figure out which Senate building I want my office in.”
The Michigan Democrat got another boost this week with an endorsement from Emily’s List, Punchbowl News reports.
A group of far-left lawmakers is collecting signatures on a letter urging President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken to take “immediate action” and calling for a “shift in U.S. policy” in response to what the lawmakers describe as “worsening violence, further annexation of land, and denial of Palestinian rights.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) are leading the letter, and have thus far been joined by Reps. Cori Bush (D-MO), Andre Carson (D-IN), Summer Lee (D-PA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). The letter and an accompanying Dear Colleague letter to lawmakers were independently obtained and verified by Jewish Insider yesterday. The letter remains open for additional signatures until Friday.
It represents a further move to the left on Middle East policy for Bowman, who received significant criticism from the Democratic Socialists of America for voting in favor of supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system and traveling to Israel last year, and subsequently removed himself as a sponsor of legislation supporting the Abraham Accords. It’s also Rep. Summer Lee’s first move on Israel policy as a freshman lawmaker. She was opposed by several pro-Israel groups in her election campaign, and faced questions about her views on Israel.
Omar’s support for the letter comes after she joined a resolution “recognizing Israel as America’s legitimate and democratic ally” and that described Israel as a “trusted partner.” Her sponsorship of that resolution, alongside some pro-Israel Democrats, came just before Democrats voted unanimously against removing her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over past anti-Israel and antisemitic comments.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), the lead sponsor of that resolution, secured Omar’s support and described it at the time as “an enormous step forward.” He told JI on Wednesday that the letter represented “another biased, one-sided attack targeting our key ally, Israel,” which would “undermine efforts toward a two-state solution.” Gottheimer argued, “we must put to rest the splinter view of adding conditions on aid to Israel” and emphasized, “the United States already has critical measures in place to properly vet foreign aid, and this group ignores the worst human rights offenders in the world.”
Elsewhere on the Hill, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned yesterday that budget cuts along the lines of those floated by some House Republicans could lead to the loss of 11,000 FBI personnel, as well as cuts to funding for the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which provides grants to incentivize local law enforcement to report hate crimes. The Department of Justice saw a significant drop-off in hate crimes reporting for 2021.
Chicago Jewish community could swing mayoral race
As Chicago’s mayoral campaign approaches its end with next Tuesday’s election, the two candidates, Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson, have stepped up their efforts to win support from the Jewish community, a politically active voting bloc that could be pivotal in the highly competitive contest. In just the past week or so, the rival Democrats have each sat for private listening sessions with Orthodox Jewish leaders, appeared in dual forums hosted by the local Jewish federation and made separate arrangements to address congregants at one of the city’s oldest synagogues. The 11th-hour overtures to a range of key Jewish groups and activists in metropolitan Chicago, home to the third-largest Jewish population in the United States, have come as polls show a tightening race between Vallas and Johnson, who advanced from a crowded election in late February that knocked the incumbent, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, out of contention, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Crucial demographic: The Orthodox Jewish community — a crucial demographic that traditionally votes as a bloc — is likely to coalesce behind Vallas, a moderate Democrat and former chief executive of Chicago Public Schools who has vowed to expand the city’s police force and promote school choice. In February’s nine-way mayoral election, Vallas, 69, performed best in some of the city’s most heavily Orthodox areas, winning two precincts in the 50th Ward with more than 80% of the vote. Across the entire ward, where the majority of Chicago’s Orthodox community is concentrated, he claimed 50% of the vote, defeating Johnson, a Cook County commissioner and outspoken union organizer who has embraced a progressive platform, by more than 30 points.
Crime and education: The lopsided ratio might be interpreted as a highly localized response to their opposing approaches on crime and education, which polls show are the top two issues in the race. “I’m hearing from a lot of my constituents that public safety is probably the top concern,” Avroham Kagan, a Chabad rabbi in downtown Chicago who met with Vallas and Johnson during the first round of voting, said in an interview with JI on Tuesday. “That’s been the most common thread.”
Different approaches: The candidates are divided on how to handle the city’s rising crime epidemic. Johnson, 47, has advocated for more accountability from Chicago’s police department while emphasizing community-based partnerships with law enforcement. During the campaign, he has backtracked on recent comments in which he described the movement to defund the police as a “political goal.” Vallas, by contrast, rose to prominence by channeling fears over violent crime rates that increased during the pandemic. His tough-on-crime message, including a vow to fill nearly 2,000 police vacancies and aggressively prosecute misdemeanors, won him an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, which Johnson has seized on to suggest that Vallas secretly harbors Republican views.
Antisemitism concerns: The Orthodox community is particularly exposed to antisemitism because its members are “visibly Jewish,” Shlomo Soroka, the director of government affairs for Agudath Israel Illinois, told JI, and therefore easily targeted. He said the community “needs to see the issue being addressed effectively,” citing hopes for an increased police presence during Shabbat as well as Jewish holidays when community members are also forbidden from working. He raised those issues, among others, in recent meetings with Vallas and Johnson, he said. “They were receptive to our concerns,” Soroka told JI, acknowledging that both candidates “obviously have different styles and different ideas about different things.”
race to watch
Boy Meets Congress
Ben Savage rose to fame playing an adolescent boy on the journey to adulthood as the main character in the ABC sitcom “Boy Meets World,” a 1990s staple. Now, the former child star is hoping to win over a new, grown-up audience — the voters of California’s 30th Congressional District. “I was always involved with projects that intended to do some good and intended to bring people together and intended to encourage a positive message,” Savage, 42, said of his acting days in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch. “It’d be great to see some of that in Washington, D.C.”
Set the scene: The West Hollywood resident is facing long odds in next year’s crowded race to replace Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who was first elected to Congress in 2000 and is running for California’s open Senate seat in 2024. It’s Savage’s second shot at running for office, after he earned 7% of the vote in a bid for West Hollywood City Council last year. He faces West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne, Los Angeles Unified School District school board member Nick Melvoin, former Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, state Assemblymember Laura Friedman and several others.
Labor lifer: His first Hollywood acting role came at age 7, and Savage touts his nearly lifelong membership in the SAG-AFTRA union as a mark of his liberal bona fides. “I grew up working union jobs since I was 7 years old, and it was instilled in us very, very early on that you’re providing for others and you’re helping others,” he said of his union membership. (Savage is otherwise not making his acting career a major campaign talking point, although he pointed out that the domain name BoyMeetsCongress.com redirects to his campaign site.)
To life: Savage’s grandmother was born in Eastern Europe, and half of her siblings stayed behind after she immigrated to the United States. Those who stayed did not survive the Holocaust. He grew up knowing her story, but she rarely spoke about it. “In the Jewish culture, it’s all about celebrating life and being excited about things that are happening now and being passionate and, you know, L’chaim,” he said.
Making plans: Savage has not traveled to Israel but hopes to do so soon. “Everyone I know that visits there just talks about how it’s such an inspiring place to be and how it reinvigorates their love of Israel and also being Jewish, which is really special,” said Savage. “It’s the only Jewish state in the world, so I think we should be doing all we can to make sure that Israel is safe and protected.”
on the hill
Senior HFAC Republicans call for additional sanctions on Iran for supporting Russia
Senior Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Wednesday that the administration is obligated, under preexisting U.S. law, to levy additional sanctions against Iran in response to its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the deepening relationship between the two U.S. foes. The letter, from HFAC Chair Mike McCaul (R-TX), Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia Subcommittee Chair Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Europe Subcommittee Chair Tom Kean (R-NJ), represents the latest effort by congressional Republicans to push the administration to tighten sanctions on Iran, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
2017 bill: The letter says that Iran’s sale of weapons to Russia should trigger additional mandatory sanctions on Iran under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), passed by Congress in 2017 to crack down on Russia, Iran and North Korea. The sanctions bill passed both chambers of Congress by nearly unanimous votes. Congressional Democrats later accused the Trump administration of failing to fully implement anti-Russia sanctions.
Emerging threat: “Building upon years of coordination in Syria, we are now witnessing the disturbing emergence of ‘a full-fledged defense partnership’ between Russia and Iran, resulting in concerning advances in Iran’s military capabilities,” Wednesday’s letter reads. “Faced with this emerging threat, our partners and allies — especially those that perceive Iran as a threat to their national security — must help ensure Ukraine receives the critical weapons systems it needs to secure a decisive victory.”
Alarming advances: The letter highlights Iran’s provision of drones, as well as bullets, rockets and mortar shells, to Russia for its war and concerns that Iran may further escalate its assistance to include ballistic missiles. It also notes that Iran has claimed it is set to receive advanced Russian Su-35 jets by the end of the year. “Russia advancing the Su-35 transfer now alarmingly suggests Russia has made a strategic decision that Iran will be its uncontested military-technical partner of choice in the region,” the lawmakers wrote.
Bonus: In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that, while not formally allied, Iran, China and Russia are “moving closer together, and that’s troublesome,” adding that “Those three countries together are going to be problematic for many years to come.” During the same hearing, Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) questioned whether ongoing U.S. clashes with Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria might “constitute ongoing and continuous hostilities” that could “require congressional authorization.”
🤳 TikTok Teachings: The Washington Post’s Marisa Iati spotlights Auschwitz survivor Tova Friedman, who, along with her grandson, has created a popular TikTok account with nearly 500,000 followers, in which she dispels myths about the Holocaust and shares her personal story. “Viewers frequently flood Tova Friedman’s TikTok account with probing questions: Why didn’t she try to escape from Auschwitz? Could she hear people screaming from the gas chambers? Were there any times when she almost died but got a second chance? With the help of her 17-year-old grandson, the 84-year-old tries to convey the grim reality of Auschwitz, a Nazi death camp in Poland, while avoiding graphic language that might scare her young viewers. ‘I don’t want to turn them off, so I have to be careful a little bit how to do it,’ Friedman said. ‘I’m very careful in choosing my vocabulary.’” [WashPost]
🔍 Relationship Review: The New York Times’ Katie Rogers and Michael Crowley examine the tensions between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “What comes next for Mr. Biden depends heavily on how events play out within Israel, analysts said. Mr. Netanyahu could yet agree to some compromise approach to the proposed judicial measures, as Mr. Biden has recommended, and quell the massive demonstrations within his own country. That would move the matter from the political front burner and allow Mr. Biden to return to more private forms of cajoling. If Mr. Netanyahu goes ahead and the demonstrations continue, Mr. Biden may be forced to take an even tougher stand — especially if disquiet grows among Democrats in Congress, who are growing increasingly outspoken about their concerns. In the meantime, Republicans have criticized the president as unnecessarily hard on Mr. Netanyahu compared with other leaders he has invited to the White House.” [NYTimes]
✍️ Biden Bluster: In a piece titled “Biden meddles in Israeli politics,” the editorial board of the Wall Street Journalreacts to President Joe Biden’s comments on Israel’s judicial reform efforts. “Perhaps we’re expecting too much of an American President famous for his stumbles and incoherence. But Mr. Biden doesn’t have to meddle in Israeli domestic politics. He’s picking up the refrain from the American left that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s elected government is somehow a threat to Israeli democracy. But if we’ve learned anything in recent weeks, it’s that Israeli democracy is alive and well. Mr. Biden’s intervention makes us wonder if his real goal is to stir more trouble for Mr. Netanyahu so his coalition falls. He may worry that the Prime Minister is increasingly focused on Iran’s progress toward becoming a nuclear power. And Iran is getting closer as it enriches uranium to ever higher levels, refuses to allow U.N. inspectors to look at suspect sites, and ignores international warnings.” [WSJ]
🪧 On the Street: In The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit highlights the efforts of Israel’s protest movement against the government’s judicial reform plan, having interviewed demonstrators earlier this week when the dispute reached a peak following the dismissal of Israel’s defense minister. “Among those waiting to board a bus was Asaf Sasson, a twenty-six-year-old former military officer in a special-operations unit. ‘When we were in the army we fought for the state. Now, we’re fighting over the state,’ Sasson told me. Asked what he hoped to achieve, Sasson said, ‘We’re past the point of freezing the legislation. There’s an alleged criminal in charge of running the country. The only solution is to get rid of him.’ A female friend of his piped in: ‘I think the only solution is a constitution.’ Their answers reflect the changing — and increasingly ambitious — nature of the protest movement, which appears to have stunned Netanyahu’s cabinet. In announcing the sweeping package within a week of its swearing-in, the government unwittingly managed to unify a fragmented and battered opposition. The protesters’ most pressing goal is, of course, the abandonment of the judicial overhaul. But, increasingly, there have been other calls: to unseat Netanyahu, draft a constitution (which Israel lacks), and respect nonreligious Israelis by, among other things, legalizing civic marriages and permitting public transportation on the Sabbath.” [NewYorker]
🔫 Terror Tactics: In Newsweek, Tom O’Connor talks to Israeli military sources about new strategies used by Palestinian terrorists that are emerging during the month of Ramadan. “As Israel grapples with political unrest exacerbated by a proposed law that would restrict the independence of the judiciary a year-long wave of violence continues, with a growing number of armed ‘lone wolf’ attacks among Palestinians and Israel’s Arab population. The IDF official offered two reasons these attacks have proven different from those witnessed in previous years. The first involved a ‘rise in weapons,’ marking ‘a new component’ in areas where the IDF had previously faced mere ‘stone hurling.’ Some of these weapons ‘are smuggled through international borders and also from within Israel, but the self-manufactured ones are actually a kind of new phenomenon that we’re also dealing with,’ according to the IDF official. ‘It can even be airsoft guns that are bought on eBay and then transformed into weapons that can be used with live fire,’ the IDF official said.” [Newsweek]
Around the Web
⏸️ Back Channel: President Joe Biden sent a private message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging the Israeli leader to pause judicial reform efforts hours before Netanyahu’s Monday night address to the nation, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
⚖️ Weighing In: Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said yesterday it is “outrageous for Joe Biden to lecture Israel on a matter that is entirely their domestic concern,” following the president’s comments on Israel’s judicial reform. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the 2016 Democratic nominee for vice president, told the Washington Post that “Israeli politics is for Israelis. They don’t need me telling them how to do stuff.”
🪖 On the Hill: The Senate voted yesterday to repeal the 2002 and 1991 Authorizations for Use of Military Force in Iraq by a vote of 66 to 30.
🚀 Conditioning Sales: A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation yesterday aimed at protecting human rights when considering the sale of arms to foreign countries.
☕ Starbucks and the Senate: The New York Times examines a shift in the Democratic Party’s approach to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who faced questioning from Senate Democrats at a hearing about company labor practices on Wednesday.
Ξ On Loan: Amid questions over how Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of the collapsed FTX cryptocurrency exchange, is paying for his legal fees, Forbesreports that he has been using money from a multimillion-dollar gift he gave his father with money borrowed from FTX’s trading firm Alameda Research using his lifetime estate and gift tax exemption.
🏰 Disney Cuts: Disney laid off Marvel Entertainment Chairman Isaac Perlmutter as part of a series of cuts.
❤️ Fatherly Figure: Actress Drew Barrymore told the Wall Street Journal that she keeps a photo of herself and Steven Spielberg in her dressing room, describing the director as “so good and nurturing and kind,” and attributed her direction in life to his hiring her to star in “E.T.”
🏫 Inching Closer: Georgia lawmakers are reportedly close to reaching an agreement on a new taxpayer-funded voucher program for K-12 students who want a private education.
💲 Fundraising: Jon Keidan’s New York-based VC firm Torch Capital raised $200 million for its second fund.
🛫 Flighty Business: Henrik Hololei, director general of the European Commission’s transport department, quit following Politico’s revelations that he accepted free flights on Qatar Airways while his team negotiated a major aviation deal with the country.
🇮🇷 Iranian Link: Greek Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos said it is likely that a fixer in Iran offered money to two suspects accused of planning a terror attack on a Jewish site in Athens.
🕵️♂️ Detained: Russian security officials detainedWall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, accusing the journalist of espionage, which the paper has strongly denied.
⚽ Political Play: FIFA removed hosting rights for the Under-20 World Cup from Indonesia due to Jakarta’s opposition to Israel’s participation.
👨⚖️ Free Man: The Nazareth District court acquitted Roman Zadorov of the murder of Tair Rada in a retrial of his 2010 conviction, 16 years after the murder of the 13-year-old girl.
🇦🇪 Abu Dhabi Appointments: UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed appointed his eldest son, Khaled bin Mohamed bin Zayed, as the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and his brother, Deputy Prime Minister Mansour bin Zayed, as UAE vice president.
➡️ Transition: Boaz Ganor was appointed head of Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel.
🕯️ Remembering: Margot Stern Strom, co-founder of the Facing History & Ourselves Holocaust education program, died at 81.
Pic of the Day
The Washington embassies of Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Israel hosted an Iftar dinner at the Watergate Hotel last night. Attendees included Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog, Azerbaijani Ambassador Khazar Ibrahim, Bahraini Ambassador Shaikh Abdullah bin Rashid Al Khalifa, United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) and antisemitism envoy Ambassador Deborah Lipstatdt. Guests dined on Israeli salads, hummus and fresh pita, bean soup, eggplant, grouper and lamb, catered by award-winning Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov.
Azerbaijan opened its first embassy in Israel on Wednesday, in a celebration held at the nearby Dan Tel Aviv that featured performances by an array of Azerbaijani musicians and, due to Ramadan, a post-sundown spread that included kosher lamb plov, trays of seared tuna and platters of dolma.
Partner of Rose Associates real estate firm, Elihu Rose, pictured here with his wife, Susan, turns 90…
Meteorologist, science and health reporter, Frank Field turns 100… Professor of international trade at Harvard and winner of the Israel Prize in 1991, Elhanan Helpman turns 77… Cherry Hill, N.J., resident, Zelda Greenberg… Film and television director, Michael Stephen Lehmann turns 66… Comedian, actor, writer and musician, Paul Reiser 66… Host of Public Radio Exchange’s “The World,” Marco Werman turns 62… District attorney of Philadelphia since 2017, he was previously a civil liberties attorney and sued the Philadelphia Police Department 75 times, Larry Krasner turns 62… U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria under Presidents Obama and Trump, he is now president of the American Foreign Service Association, Eric Seth Rubin turns 62… Actor best known for his role as Steve Sanders on the television series “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Ian Ziering turns 59… Owner and founder of D.C. area’s Ark Contracting, Noah Blumberg… Actress, director, producer and ballerina, Juliet Landau turns 58… U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations in the Trump administration, he was previously the long-time EVP and general counsel of the Trump Organization, Jason Dov Greenblatt turns 56… Regional director in the Washington office at AJC: Global Jewish Advocacy, Alan Ronkin… Tel Aviv-born actress, Mili Avital turns 51… Mexican-American chef, she won a James Beard Award for her PBS television series “Pati’s Mexican Table,” Patricia “Pati” Jinich turns 51… Former treasurer of Oakland County, Mich., Andy Meisner turns 50… Iranian-born L.A.-based actress, Bahar Soomekh turns 48… Communications consultant, Gabriela Schneider… Jerusalem-born documentary photographer for the Associated Press, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2007, Oded Balilty turns 44… Detroit-area Jewish leader and founder at Multifaith Life, Alicia Chandler… Best-selling author of The Oracle of Stamboul and The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, Michael David Lukas turns 44… Former senior advisor to then Ambassador David Friedman, Aryeh Lightstone turns 43… Author, composer and playwright and market development director of Sh’ma Journal, Robert J. Saferstein… Chief strategy officer at Kivvit, Zach Silber… Senior reporter at the Huffington Post, Jessica Schulberg… Third baseman for MLB’s Houston Astros, he was the MVP of the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, Alex Bregman turns 29… JD candidate at NYU Law, she is a granddaughter of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Leora Einleger… Reporter and writer, she helped several dozen women escape Afghanistan amidst the U.S. withdrawal, Danna Harman…