👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman about the Israeli government’s proposed judicial reforms, and report on a bipartisan call on Capitol Hill for sanctions against Iranian legislators involved in the regime’s crackdown on protesters. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Daniel Ellsberg and former Rep. Tom Malinowski.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrichignited a firestorm on Wednesday following comments he made about the Palestinian town of Huwara, where two Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack over the weekend. Following the attack, hundreds of settlers entered the town and destroyed businesses and homes, injuring dozens and killing one.
“I think the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out. I think the State of Israel should do it, God forbid not private individuals,” Smotrich said at a conference. He later attempted to walk back the comments, saying he wanted “only to act in a surgical way against terrorists and their supporters in the village in order to restore the security.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price called Smotrich’s comments “irresponsible,” “repugnant” and “disgusting,” and said they “amount to incitement to violence.” He urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “senior Israeli officials to publicly and clearly reject and disavow these comments.”
Netanyahu, in a primetime speech to the nation on Wednesday night, likened the settlers’ actions in Huwara to those of Israelis who have for weeks been staging protests across the country against the government’s plans for a judicial overhaul. “We won’t accept violence in Huwara and we won’t accept violence in Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said in a televised address to the nation. “Freedom to protest is not a license to drive the country to anarchy.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid slammed the comparison,tweeting, “Hawara was a pogrom of terrorists. How does Netanyahu compare this to the members of the General Staff patrol, to Apache pilots, to reservists, to doctors and students, to the people who went out on the streets today. These are the best people in Israel.”
Shortly after Netanyahu’s remarks, a crowd of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv’s Kikar Hamedina plaza, where Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was visiting a hair salon.
In an interview with CNN, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog disavowed Smotrich’s comments. “Notwithstanding the fact that Israel has been subjected to a recent wave of horrific terror attacks against its civilians, it is absolutely not Israeli policy and it’s against our values to respond by wiping out civilian villages,” Herzog said.
Smotrich, a member of the Religious Zionism Party, is planning to make his first official visit to the U.S. this month to speak at the Israel Bonds national leadership conference in Washington, D.C. A spokesperson for Israel Bonds told Jewish Insider the conference will be closed to the press and declined to comment on Smotrich’s attendance at the event. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on whether the finance minister would be meeting with any government officials while in the U.S.
David Friedman: Netanyahu gov’t open ‘to compromise’ on some areas of judicial reform
David Friedman, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Israel under former President Donald Trump, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel on Wednesday that he believes Israel’s right-wing governing coalition has grown receptive to compromising on elements of a proposed judicial overhaul that has sparked mass protests in recent weeks.
Override clause: “I have met privately with many Israeli leaders, and I will keep those discussions private,” Friedman explained to JI. “However, I do believe that there is a receptiveness in the government to compromise on some of the judicial reform issues, including the override clause,” which would allow the Israeli government to block Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of votes. “I’ll leave it at that for now.”
Speaking out: The former ambassador, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has voiced strongreservations over the Israeli leader’s effort to advance legislation that critics have cautioned will neuter the Supreme Court. He expressed opposition to the overhaul at an off-the-record forum in Tel Aviv last week, arguing that the override clause had gone “too far” and would weaken the protection of minority rights, according to Axios, which reported the comments on Wednesday.
Bemoaning the ‘bitterness’: “Israel’s greatest quality is its unity within diversity, and I hope and pray that it is preserved,” Friedman, who did not deny the report, told JI. Despite his concerns, the former ambassador was optimistic that Israel “will survive this crisis as it has survived so many others in the past,” he said. “Nonetheless, it pains me greatly to see such bitterness between the parties.”
Political parallels: In an email to JI, Friedman sounded a note of caution as he drew a parallel between Israel’s mounting crises and political divisions in the U.S. “I know that Israel greatly admires America, but the current political divide in Israel unfortunately is an American feature that Israel should try less to emulate,” he said. “Israel has lots of external challenges and it cannot afford to appear this divided.”
Bonus: Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) told the Israeli Embassy in Washington in an email last week that he is concerned that Israel’s judicial reform proposal “threatens the system of checks and balances that has been central to Israeli democracy, and that while there may be valid reasons for seeking to update the judicial system, the government’s current plan — proceeding without buy-in from opposition parties or the Israeli populace — is not the way to pursue meaningful reform,” Auchincloss spokesperson Matt Corridoni told JI. Corridoni said that Auchincloss’ office subsequently met with the embassy on the subject.
on the hill
Thomas-Greenfield discusses UNRWA oversight, reaffirms commitment to Israel in House hearing
Facing questioning from a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday over the U.S.’s work at, and contributions to, the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield highlighted what she characterized as the advantages of deeper U.S. involvement in the international body and reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to standing with Israel and combating anti-Israel bias within the U.N. system, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Standing together: “My team is constantly vigilant on this issue,” Thomas-Greenfield said in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. “We watch it closely. I stay in close contact with the Israeli permanent representative in New York so that we don’t let any opportunity that we can show our support for Israel pass, and I will continue to do that until my last day.”
UNRWA oversight: Thomas-Greenfield said that she has emphasized to UNRWA leadership in “a very intense and very strong conversation” that they must “do everything in their power” to ensure that UNRWA facilities and materials are not used in support of terrorism. She also said that she and the State Department’s Office of Population, Refugees and Migration are “constantly” monitoring UNRWA to ensure that the U.N. agency is upholding its memorandum of understanding with the U.S. The U.S. ambassador said she had also had discussions with Palestinian leadership on the issue “because what is happening damaged them as well, it damages the authority, it victimizes students.”
Call out: The ambassador later condemned a range of actions and statements by Francesca Albanese, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, who has compared Israel to the Nazis and appeared at conferences alongside members of terrorist groups. Such behavior has prompted two callsfrom Capitol Hill for Albanese’s firing since the beginning of the year. Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. finds “her statements, her public stances completely unacceptable” and has raised its concerns “at the highest levels of the United Nations,” calling for action against Albanese and other U.N. officials whose public statements have suggested bias against Israel. But she said the U.S. has stopped short of explicitly calling for Albanese’s removal, as lawmakers have urged.
Countering Iran: Thomas-Greenfield also spoke about what she framed as “extraordinary successes” in the past year in pushing back against Iran at the U.N., including organizing a Commission of Inquiry under the Human Rights Council to investigate Iranian human rights abuses, removing Tehran from the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women, highlighting Iranian cooperation with Russia and bringing a delegation of Iranian activists to the U.N. to shed light on the situation in the country. She claimed that the Commission of Inquiry on Iran would not have been possible if the U.S. were not a member of the Human Rights Council.
Elsewhere on the Hill: In questioning at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) highlighted the rising rates of antisemitic attacks and other hate crimes. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the Department of Justice is “examining this with the highest degree of urgency that’s possible, and we are putting the resources of our department into stopping these heinous acts.” He later said the department is doing “everything we can to deter and prosecute” white supremacist extremist violence.
Senate, House members call for sanctions on Iranian parliament members
Members of Iran’s parliament who urged a harsh response to widespread protests should be sanctioned by the U.S. and its international partners, a bipartisan group of Senate and House lawmakers said in a letter to the administration yesterday, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Crackdown: The letter calls for further sanctions against “Iranian officials and institutions involved in this brutal campaign of intimidation and extermination,” particularly the Iranian parliament, known as the Majles, and 227 members who signed a statement last year urging the regime to “show no leniency” to protesters. It also highlights the executions and death sentences levied by the regime against protesters. “Innocent lives hang in the balance, and there is an urgent need to deter the perpetrators of these murders from committing further violence,” the letter reads.
Family matters: The lawmakers add that the families of the Majles members should also be subject to the sanctions preventing them from entering or buying property in the U.S. under various sanctions authorities, including the Global Magnitsky Act. The lawmakers ask that, if the administration determines that the administration lacks the authority to levy the sanctions that the lawmakers request, that it explain that determination to Congress and “immediately consult with Congress on any legislative remedy” necessary to permit the sanctioning of the relevant officials and their families.
Signatories: The letter was co-led by Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Katie Porter (D-CA) and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Other signatories include Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), John Hoeven (R-ND), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), James Lankford (R-OK), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as well as Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Don Bacon (R-NE), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Mike Levin (D-CA), Michelle Steel (R-CA), Nancy Mace (R-SC), Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL) and Tom McClintock (R-CA).
Quick response: Separately, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) wrote to Secretary of State Tony Blinken urging the U.S. to seek a formal finding that Iran has violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a referral to the United Nations Security Council at the upcoming International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting. McCaul’s letter comes in response to recent IAEA findings that Iran has again expanded its nuclear program, including enriching uranium up to nearly 84% purity. He said that “Iran has tested our patience for far too long and must be held to account for its ongoing intransigence in order to maintain the integrity of the IAEA as an international organization.”
Senate group proposes legislation to expand tax deductions for charitable giving
A bipartisan group of 11 senators introduced legislation yesterday that aims to expand tax deductions for charitable giving, with the goal of incentivizing higher levels of giving to charitable organizations, houses of worship and religious organizations, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Tax incentives: The Charitable Act would allow taxpayers who choose not to itemize their deductions to receive an additional tax deduction of up to one-third of the standard deduction for non-itemizers (the base-rate tax deduction available to taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions). This would translate to up to a $4,500 deduction for individual filers and $9,000 for married couples filing jointly in 2023. A similar provision was part of the CARES Act, a COVID-19 response bill passed in 2020, but it has since lapsed.
Co-sponsors: The Charitable Act is sponsored by Sens. James Lankford (R-OK), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).
Community support: A range of charitable organizations are supporting the legislation, including the Jewish Federations of North America. “When disaster strikes, when tragedy hits, when crises befall us, everyday Americans want to step up and lend a hand, often by supporting the nonprofit sector’s vital work,” JFNA’s senior vice president for public affairs, Elana Broitman, told JI. “This policy would help ensure that more people are able to give and help nonprofits do what they do best: serve their communities.”
⛪🕍🕌 Light and Faith: CNN’s Becky Anderson takes a tour of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with the architect of the newly opened interfaith complex, Sir David Adjaye. “’What you’re going to see in all the projects is that it’s always about a filtering of light, a splitting of light,’ Adjaye told CNN’s Becky Anderson…The Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue honors the 12th century Jewish philosopher known as Rabbi Maimonides. The scholar was also a medical doctor who led the Mediterranean Jewish world and whose patients included Saladin, the Muslim ruler of Egypt and Syria. The synagogue is the UAE’s first purpose-built Jewish place of worship and, like most synagogues around the world, is oriented towards Jerusalem. It is inspired by the Jewish festival of the Sukkot, which is celebrated by building temporary shelters. An oculus in the ceiling of the space lets direct light come inside. ‘The light of the mid-day kisses the rabbi in the center very directly,’ Adjaye said.” [CNN]
🙁 Disappearing Act: In Tablet, Jacob Savage spotlights the declining Jewish representation in politics, academia and the arts, among other areas. “You feel it like a slow moving pressure system, an anxiety of exclusion and downward mobility. Maybe you first noticed it at your workplace. Or maybe it hit when you or your children applied to college or graduate school. It could have been something as simple as opening up the Netflix splash page. It’s gauche to count but you can’t help yourself: In academia, Hollywood, Washington, even in New York City — anywhere American Jews once made their mark — our influence is in steep decline. For many Jews, the first instinct is to look inward: We blame intermarriage, assimilation, the loss of the immigrant work ethic. This is, of course, a cope. Because the most significant cause of the decline isn’t Jews themselves, but that American liberalism, our civic religion, has turned on us. Where Jewish success was once upheld as a sign of America’s strength and progress over its prejudices, Jewish ‘overrepresentation’ is again something to be solved, not celebrated.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
🇮🇱 Israel-Bound: Next week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Israel for meetings with Israeli officials, and Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi will travel to Washington, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
🔵 Charm (City) Offensive: The House Democratic retreat kicked off yesterday in Baltimore with an address from President Joe Biden, who is also scheduled to speak at the Senate Democratic Caucus lunch today in Washington.
☕ Coffee Crunch: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, plans to move to subpoena Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz next week over the coffee company’s labor practices.
👎 Voted Down: The Senate voted 50-46 to reject a Biden administration regulation allowing retirement managers to consider climate change and other factors related to environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) in their investing; President Joe Biden is expected to veto the Senate’s vote.
📢 Delegation Determination: Reps. Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) joined calls for Rep. George Santos (R-NY) to resign, following comments earlier this week by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that he’d “have a little difficulty” supporting a potential Santos reelection bid.
🗳️ Golden State Race: Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass endorsed former colleague Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) at the end of 2024.
📄 Malinowski’s Move: Former Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) filed paperwork with the FEC to move his campaign reelection funds into a political action committee that he will use to push back against efforts to restrict educational materials in some schools.
🛑 Sirhan Shutdown: A California parole board, which in 2021 recommended that Sirhan Sirhan be released from prison, reversed course and denied parole to Sirhan, who was convicted of killing Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968.
👩🏫 Teacher Trouble: The Washington Postdives into the conflicting accounts of an incident in which a Jewish teacher at a New Jersey school pushed back a Muslim student’s hijab, escalating into a high-profile public debate including allegations of Islamophobia and antisemitism, and culminating in multiple lawsuits.
✋ Deal Declined: Paramount rejected an offer — worth more than $3 billion — from former executive David Nevins to buy Showtime.
🗞️ Reporting Gap: New Jersey’s Star-Ledgeris closing its Washington bureau and laying off its longtime D.C. reporter, Jonathan Salant, who intends to stay in Washington and continue his political coverage.
👮 Criminal History: A California man charged with two recent attacks on Jewish men in L.A. was known to FBI and law enforcement officials and had previously been charged with carrying a loaded firearm.
🔨 Going, Going, Gone: A Wassily Kandinsky painting that had been restituted to the descendants of a previous owner, a Jewish art collector who was killed at Auschwitz, sold at auction for nearly $45 million.
✈️ Flying High: El Al announced that it netted a profit in the final quarter of 2022 and exceeded pre-pandemic levels of travel.
👴 Of Note: Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers in 1971, has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to The Prospect’s David Dayen.
🇮🇹 Ciao, Bibi: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will visit Rome this weekend for his third official trip since returning to power in December.
🤝 Strengthening Ties: Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, chairman of the Defence, Interior and Foreign Affairs Committee of the United Arab Emirates’ Federal National Council, met with Amir Hayek, Israeli ambassador to the UAE, at the FNC’s headquarters yesterday to discuss developments in the bilateral ties between the UAE and Israel.
🛬 Flighty Behavior: The European commission’s top transport official took free flights from the Qatari government while negotiating a major aviation deal vital for Qatar Airways, Politico reports.
🚀 Intercepted: The U.K.’s Royal Navy seized anti-tank missiles and components for ballistic missiles taken from a ship from Iran that was believed to be headed to Yemen.
🪖 Military Matters:Bloombergreports on Iranian efforts to procure S-400 air-defense systems from Russia, which, Israeli and U.S. officials said, would shorten the amount of time to make a decision on a potential strike on Iran.
💍 Mazal Tov: Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch is engaged to Micah Rosen, a second-year student at Harvard Law School. The couple met in summer 2013 on a trip to Poland and Israel organized by Camp Ramah.
🕯️ Remembering: British biographer and historian Philip Ziegler, who had a first career as a British diplomat, died at 93.
Pic of the Day
Mourners hold signs outside the cemetery where the funeral was held yesterday for Israeli-American Elan Ganeles, who was killed by gunfire near Jericho on Monday while visiting Israel for a friend’s wedding.
Comedian, actress and writer, she was part of the original cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” Laraine Newman turns 71…
Restaurateur and former owner of Braniff International Airlines, Jeffrey Chodorow turns 73… Former U.S. senator from Wisconsin for 18 years, Russ Feingold turns 70… Member of the Knesset for the Blue and White alliance, Alon Natan Schuster turns 66… Anesthesiologist in Skokie, Ill., Samuel M. Parnass, M.D…. Member of the New York State Assembly, Alec Brook-Krasny turns 65… Senior advisor at Brunswick Group, Mitch Bainwol turns 64… Author and reporter for The New York Times, Katherine “Katie” Rosman turns 51… Executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, she is a board member of the Washington JCRC, Daphne Lazar-Price… Editor and director of communications at Twin Cities, Minnesota’s TC Jewfolk, Lonny Goldsmith… Israeli hip hop singer and rapper better known as Mooki, Daniel Neyburger turns 48… Culture reporter for The New York Times, David L. Itzkoff turns 47… Former member of the Knesset for the Kadima party, Yuval Zellner turns 45… Director of marketing at Window Nation, Eric Goldscher… Chief of staff for Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-FL), Yuri Beckelman… Israeli physician, she is also a television and radio newscaster, Dr. Hila Chaya Korach turns 39… VP at This Machine Filmworks in Los Angeles, Sally Rosen Phillips… Executive business partner at Táche, Kaylee Berger Porco… Project manager at Halo Development, Donni Lurman…