👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we explore what’s next for the protests in Israel regarding the proposed judicial reforms, and talk to U.S. lawmakers about their concerns over Israel’s national security during this contentious time. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Rep. Joe Wilson, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Hadassah Lieberman.
After hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to demonstrate against Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s firing and in protest of the expected final votes on the governing coalition’s proposed judicial reforms, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last night that he was putting the judicial reform legislation on ice until after the Passover recess, in order to allow for dialogue.
Widespread strikes that saw the closure of Israeli diplomatic outposts around the world, a cessation of outgoing flights from Ben Gurion Airport and closures of businesses around Israel dissipated following Netanyahu’s announcement, as attention shifts to the negotiations expected to begin in the coming days.
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir threatened to quit if the legislation was halted, but announced yesterday evening that he had agreed to the pause, in exchange for a promise by Netanyahu to form a “national guard” within the National Security Ministry, which will be under his control.
On Monday evening, thousands of pro-reform supporters turned out for their own rally in Jerusalem with addresses from Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who maintained that election promises will be fulfilled and judicial reform will be forthcoming, even as Netanyahu made his primetime appeal for unity.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapidand former Defense Minister Benny Gantz have agreed to negotiations facilitated by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who for weeks has called for compromise between the government and opposition.
Even as the legislation is temporarily stalled, it remains unclear if Netanyahu’s steps are too little, too late and whether they could both restore order in the streets and keep his coalition intact. Some protest groups declared that they would not stop until this government was removed. Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash explores what’s next for the protest movement.
In the 48 hours leading up to the premier’s much-anticipated address to the nation, the Biden administration reportedly cautioned Netanyahu that he was endangering Israel’s name as the only democracy in the Middle East.
“We welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise. A compromise is precisely what we have been calling for,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing following Netanyahu’s announcement. “Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”
American Jewish organizations issued a joint statement saying: “We welcome the Israeli government’s suspension of legislative consideration of judicial reform measures. The last three months have been painful to watch and yet a textbook case of democracy in action. We respect the political leaders, business executives, community activists, cultural figures, and ordinary Israelis who took to the streets, exercising their love of country, and their passion for democracy. As a next step, we encourage all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to use this time to build a consensus that includes the broad support of Israeli civil society.”
The statement was signed by the Conference of Presidents, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America.
Netanyahu is still slated to attend the White House’s virtual Summit for Democracy later this week, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters yesterday. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, amid much speculation over the fact the White House has yet to invite Netanyahu for a meeting with President Joe Biden, told Israel’s Army Radio this morning that an invitation is likely to come after Passover.
How the crisis is playing: TheWashington Post’s David Ignatius: “Netanyahu’s unforced error could come with heavy costs”… The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board: “Netanyahu Offers to Compromise on Judicial Reform”…The New York Times’ Peter Coy: “Israel’s Political Crisis Will Harm the Economy — In Time”… Yossi Klein Halevi: “The fall of Benjamin Netanyahu”… CNN’s Frida Ghitis: “The biggest lesson from Israel’s political crisis”… Daniel Gordis: “What you just witnessed was one of the greatest weeks in Israel’s history”…The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg: “Netanyahu Flinched.”
VIEW FROM WASHINGTON
U.S. lawmakers: Israeli judicial reform debate has raised concerns over Israeli security
U.S. lawmakers — including some who have not publicly discussed Israel’s judicial reform plans — said on Monday that the debate around Israel’s judicial reform efforts has raised concerns about Israel’s national security. The new comments come in the wake of several days of developments, including the firing of Israel’s defense minister, growing dissent among Israeli Defense Forces reservists, a general strike that shut down Israel’s embassy in Washington and other diplomatic outposts, spontaneous street protests and ultimately, an announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would suspend the reform plans. The comments are the first on the situation from some stalwart supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship who have thus far refrained from speaking out about the reform efforts, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Worries of weakness: “I’m concerned that this effort to reform the judiciary — which is up to them — has had an effect of weakening the security apparatus,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a longtime Netanyahu ally, told JI on Monday evening. “I am glad Bibi wanted to try to find a compromise and take the time out… Their security has been affected by all this domestic drama.” Graham emphasized that he did not intend to dictate to Israel how it should proceed on the judicial reform, adding, “What I am worried about is Iran. And as we get into all these arguments in our backyard, that we’re giving oxygen and space for bad guys to do bad things.”
Encouraging adversaries: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was also concerned about the security situation, while declining to speak about the proposed reforms directly. “The military people are refusing to show up to work and stuff — that’s concerning,” Rubio told JI. “I think it encourages Israel’s adversaries to potentially strike against them.”
Hope for calm: Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), a former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America and a staunch pro-Israel Democrat, on Monday evening offered her first public comments on the judicial reform push. “I’m extremely happy that Prime Minister Netanyahu made the decision to put this whole judicial reform process on hold, to let things calm down,” she said. “I’m hopeful that there will be a lot of thought put into how to move forward, and I’m hopeful that there will be a compromise and that the people who have been in the streets protesting feel that they’ve been heard… I hope that the cooler heads will prevail.”
Bonus: Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), who chairs the House select committee on China, called China’s recent brokering of a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran “incredibly troubling” and “a sign of how badly we’ve mismanaged our traditional alliance structure in the Middle East and how we’ve created an opening or gap that China can fill.” Gallagher said the committee has not decided yet whether it will specifically examine Chinese encroachment in the Middle East. “The more we engage in a naive attempt to resuscitate the lifeless corpse of the [Iran nuclear deal], the more [U.S.] influence among the Sunni Arab Gulf states as well as Israel is going to erode,” he added.
Biden admin considering new Middle Eastern census category that would include Israelis
The Biden administration has proposed a major policy change in the way people living in America define their racial or ethnic background on federal forms and the 2030 census. The proposed language would for the first time add a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) category to a question about respondents’ race or ethnicity, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. The MENA category, which has been heavily supported by Arab American advocacy groups, would also include Israelis.
Major shift: Until now, people from countries as varied as Jordan, Israel, Morocco and Iran were placed under the “white” category on the census. If implemented, the policy shift would mark the first major change to the federal census’ race and ethnicity guidelines since 1997. The race categories on the 2020 census and in other federal forms are African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander or Other.
More detail: After checking the MENA box, census respondents would have the option to write in a more detailed marker of their identity, including Israeli. “Examples include, but are not limited to, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan and Israeli,” the proposed census language says.
Sitting it out: The proposed census changes have been supported by some civil rights groups, such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and a wide swath of Arab-American civic organizations. U.S. Jewish organizations — including the Israeli-American Council, which represents the Israeli Jewish community — have largely stayed away from the issue. Incomplete data exists regarding how many Israelis, and children of Israelis, live in the U.S. Estimates range from 200,000 to a million.
Public comment period: The public can submit comments on the proposal, which is published in the Federal Register, until April 12. The White House Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the working group that is studying the issue, says the final revisions to the 2030 census should be complete by summer 2024.
ON THE HILL
Lawmakers push for funding for U.S.-Israel collaborative defense, technology projects
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is pushing for the creation of a new fund to support cooperative projects between the U.S. and Israel to address emerging defense and technological challenges, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Details: The “United States-Israel Future of Warfare Act of 2023,” announced on Friday, would create a “United States-Israel Future of Warfare Research and Development Fund,” funded at $50 million annually in each of the next five years, to address challenges including artificial intelligence, automation, cybersecurity and directed energy. The bill highlights past successes in U.S.-Israel cooperation, including counter-tunneling technology and counter-drone technology, both of which have contributed to U.S. security efforts at home and abroad, as well as other areas of collaboration including drone warfare and defense software.
What they’re saying: The bill is sponsored by Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Jared Golden (D-ME), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Jason Crow (D-CO), Mike Turner (R-OH) and Pat Ryan (D-NY). Lamborn and Crow led the recent letter. “The United States and Israel face a number of common, evolving threats. It is critical that we work together strategically to develop joint defense technologies to ensure we are on the cutting edge of research and development, and a step ahead of our adversaries,” Wilson said in a statement — a sentiment echoed by his cosponsors.
Quotable: Golden emphasized that the fund would “help both our nations to benefit from one another’s knowledge and experience to counter current and future threats in a rapidly changing strategic environment.” Crow and Ryan both said that they had seen firsthand during their military service the advantages of strong defense relationships with U.S. allies, including Israel.
Senate approaches final AUMF repeal vote, and what else we’re watching on the Hill this week
The Senate will take its final votes today on amendments to the repeal of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq, with a final vote on passage expected this evening or Wednesday. Here’s what we’re watching on the Hill this week:
AUMF amendments: The Senate will vote today on amendments that would condition the AUMF’s repeal on a certification from the administration that the move won’t undermine U.S. efforts to counter Iran, clarify that the U.S. can still strike Iranian forces without the AUMF and require the U.S. to consult with Israel and other allies before the repeal takes forces. Although the 2002 AUMF was not used in the U.S. response last week to Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. forces in Syria, those events could nonetheless play into Tuesday’s debate.
The pushback: Some senators critical of the repeal efforts have accused the administration of deliberately waiting hours to inform Congress about the initial attack, until after the Senate voted on AUMF amendments related to Iran last week. They also say the repeal efforts have emboldened Iran. “We’ve created a narrative that we’re pulling the plug on Iraq,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters last night, adding that he is going to be “all over the Department of Defense. Did they withhold this attack during our critical debate?”
Flip side: A second procedural vote last night on the AUMF repeal fell along similar lines as the initial procedural vote on the issue last week — the events in Syria do not appear to have flipped votes.
Elsewhere on the Hill: Today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Defense budget; Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Senate Armed Services will hear from outside experts on nuclear deterrence issues.
The balance of the week: On Wednesday, Milley and Austin will testify before the House Armed Services Committee; Mayorkas will testify before the House Appropriations Committee; Attorney General Merrick Garland will testify before the House Appropriations Committee; and Howard Schultz, who recently stepped down as the CEO of Starbucks, is slated to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee about alleged union-busting at Starbucks. Additionally, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hear from outside experts on sanctions policy.
🌐 Plan B:Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead considers how the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda has resulted in some allies turning to other countries for support. “In the Middle East, the transition to a Plan B world is already under way. For longtime allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the American world order is receding in the rear-view mirror. Fairly or not, President Biden is widely seen as both weaker and less reliable than Mr. Trump — who wasn’t considered a particularly able foreign-policy leader in his own right. As the aftershocks from the Afghan withdrawal continue to reverberate and as Iran advances relentlessly toward a nuclear weapon with no visible response from the U.S., Plan B looks more realistic every day. In their Plan A Plus phase, leading Arab countries signed the Abraham Accords and tightened their defense cooperation with both Israel and the U.S. As they shift to Plan B, those same countries coordinate with Russia on energy policy, rebuild ties with Iran and Syria, and work more closely with China.” [WSJ]
🇸🇾 The Real Power in Syria: In the Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Spyer examines the power structure in Syria, where Iranian forces exert power over some areas ostensibly that fall under the Assad regime’s control. “The regime area, even as Mr. Assad flies to Arab capitals presenting himself as the country’s ruler, is penetrated by an independent Iranian power structure that operates outside the regime’s authority. This structure maintains its own bases, weaponry and areas of control into which Mr. Assad’s forces cannot enter without its approval. The border crossing between al-Qaim, Iraq, and Abu Kamal, Syria, is under its exclusive sway. The Imam Ali base close to the crossing is the largest of many facilities under exclusive Iranian maintenance in this area. The road system, from Al Bukamal to the town of Mayadin and then westward toward the borders with Israel and Lebanon, is similarly controlled by this structure. It was this independent Iranian power structure that attacked the U.S. facility at the Al-Omar oil field last week. Israel seeks to disrupt this structure, in its war between wars. A former Israeli national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, told me that Israel has destroyed up to 80% of Iran’s military and weapons capacity in Syria. But despite Israel’s successes, the Iranian project continues to entrench itself.” [WSJ]
🇮🇱 Partisanship, Israeli Style: In The New York Times, Aron Heller describes the “Americanization” of the Israeli political system. “Like America, Israel now finds itself hopelessly polarized along numerous societal fault lines: religious and secular, rural and urban, educated and not, traditional and progressive, hawks and doves. And, like the United States so often during the Trump years, those differences have spilled out into the streets. But for a small country in a tough neighborhood, one whose survival depends on an engaged citizenry and mandatory military service, the stakes in Israel are that much higher. Make no mistake, Israeli politics has always been a blood sport. But only in recent years has this hyperpartisan discourse taken hold, one that transcends ideology and instead revolves around a wannabe strongman’s cult of personality.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
🗓️ Save the Date: The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution last week by Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Max Miller (R-OH) and Greg Landsman (D-OH) allowing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to host a Holocaust remembrance event in the main hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitors’ Center on April 20.
🏫 Vouching for School Vouchers: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law legislation allowing Florida students to receive private school vouchers totaling nearly $8,000 per student; the Orthodox Union’s Teach Florida/Teach Coalition backed the legislation.
👁️ Eye on AI:New York magazine’s Kara Swisher interviews OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman about the fast-growing field of artificial intelligence.
✡️ Cannon’s Canon: In a weekend interview, Nick Cannon discussed his relationships in the Jewish community and the growth process that followed an uproar over antisemitic comments he made in 2020.
🛋️ Survival Instinct: The New York Times’ Sarah Lyall spotlights Belgian couples therapist Esther Perel, who has broken into mediums previously underutilized by the field.
🛫 Jewish Jaunts:Forbespublished its list of the top five Central European destinations for travelers to experience Jewish history.
↔️ Weapons Swap: Russia is working with Iran to help the Islamic republic develop its cyberweapons capabilities after Tehran supplied Moscow with weapons for its invasion of Ukraine.
🤝 Bennett in Abu Dhabi: Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi.
💵 Going Private: BP Plc and Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. have made a nonbinding offer to acquire 50% of Israel’s NewMed Energy.
🇸🇾 Ratcheting Down: The Biden administration is reportedly trying to avoid a prolonged military confrontation with Iran and its proxies in Syria, following weekend attacks that killed an American civilian contractor and injured seven others.
🚫 Iran Sanctions: Canada leveled new sanctions against two Iranian entities and eight individuals tied to human rights violations and weapons production.
🕯️ Remembering: Cable and public television show host Connie Martinson, whose guests included Rosa Parks, Studs Terkel and Al Gore, died at 90.
Pic of the Day
In preparation for Passover, Western Wall Heritage Foundation workers examine the Kotel’s stones and remove loose stones and seasonal plants in order to maintain the safety of worshipers who visit the holy site, which sees an increase during the Jewish holidays. The inspection is carried out under the supervision of the rabbi of the Western Wall and the holy sites, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, in accordance with halachic guidelines.
Expert on the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, supporter of women’s health issues and wife of former U.S. Sen. and VPOTUS-candidate Joe Lieberman, Hadassah Lieberman turns 75…
Professor emeritus of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize in Physics, Jerome Isaac Friedman turns 93… Film and television producer, Albert Stotland Ruddy turns 93… Chairman and CEO of the Hartz Group and Hartz Mountain Corporation, Leonard Norman Stern turns 85… Israeli electrical engineer and business executive, he was the founder and first general manager of Intel Israel and the inventor of the EPROM chip, Dov Frohman turns 84… Glenview, Ill., resident, Genie Kutchins… Iranian-born CEO of Los Angeles-based toy company MGA Entertainment (maker of Little Tikes and “Bratz” and “Lalaloopsy” dolls), Isaac Larian turns 69… Former member of the Knesset for 13 years, she served as the leader of the Israeli Labor Party, Shelly Yachimovich turns 63… Special envoy and coordinator for the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center, James Phillip Rubin turns 63… One of four hostages held at gunpoint for 11 hours at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, in January of 2022, Jeffrey R. Cohen… Former rhythmic gymnast, now teaching yoga, she represented the U.S. at the 1984 Summer Olympics, Valerie Le Zimring-Schneiderman turns 58… Presidential historian, Jewish Liaison in the George W. Bush administration and Deputy HHS Secretary, his latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House, from Truman to Trump, Tevi Troy turns 56… President and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, Adam Lehman turns 56… Film producer, Brett Ratner turns 54… Journalist, crime writer and blogger who has spent most of his career in Japan, Jake Adelstein turns 54… Israeli journalist and radio presenter for Reshet Bet, Keren Neubach turns 53… Novelist, television producer and journalist, Jennifer Weiner turns 53… Author of eight best-selling novels including in 2003 The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger turns 46… Member of the Knesset since 2015 for the Likud party, now serving as the minister of culture and sports, Makhlouf “Miki” Zohar turns 43… Los Angeles-based, Israeli-born fashion designer, Yotam Solomon turns 36… Retired MLB outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs, now a real estate agent in Bali, Indonesia, Ryan Kalish turns 35… VP at Tradepoint Atlantic, Michael Hurwitz… Los Angeles real estate leader and SVP of asset management at Hackman Capital Partners, Zachary David Sokoloff…