👋 Good Friday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report on yesterday’s House hearings with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, CENTCOM head Gen. Michael Kurilla and Gen. Mark Milley. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: David Brog, Shelley Zalis and Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent Jewish Insider and The Circuit stories, including: Growing Saudi-China ties unlikely to prompt major Saudi policy shake-ups;Eileen Filler-Corn, exiting Va. Statehouse, eyes the governor’s mansion; For Wiley Nickel, ‘never again,’ is a personal declaration ; Jeanie Milbauer’s Oneg looks to bring Shabbat to the masses; A Brooklyn ‘bridge’ of his own; The Mormon bureaucrat in Utah changing marriage in Israel; Bahrain’s Al Waha backs Mideast startups behind the scenes; and Meet the Jewish restaurateur behind DC’s East London-style eateries. Print the latest edition here.
A bipartisan group of 83 House members is urging House Appropriations Committee leaders to boost funding for the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism to $2 million for 2024, as well as push for new measures to ensure that the office’s work continues through future administrations, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
A letter penned by the legislators and being sent today pushes for an additional $500,000 over the 2023 funding level for the office of the special envoy, headed by Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt. It’s a larger increase than proposed by the Biden administration in its own budget request; the White House asked for $1.7 million. The letter also highlights concerns that delays in confirming future special envoys could delay the office’s work.
The signatories make the case that the office remains under-resourced. “We know there are many more countries that deserve attention and that could benefit by an official visit focused on combating antisemitism. We also understand that the Special Envoy has had to decline invitations for engagement due to lack of resources,” they wrote.
The lawmakers also urged the leaders of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, to request that the secretary of state brief Congress on “the State Department’s plan to ensure continuity of staff within the Special Envoy’s Office between Administrations and before a new Special Envoy is confirmed.” During the nearly yearlong gap between President Joe Biden’s inauguration and Lipstadt’s confirmation, staffing at the office dwindled to, at one point, fewer than two full-time employees. Read more here.
The letter comes on the heels of a new report from the Anti-Defamation League that found that antisemitic incidents in the U.S last year reached a record high since the organization began recording them in 1979.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the Senate yesterday rejected an amendment to the bill repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq that would have conditioned the repeal on a certification from the administration that Iran is not supporting terror groups inside Iran; the vote was 63 to 32. The Senate also rejected an amendment that would have placed a two-year sunset on all AUMFs.
On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on amendments that would condition the repeal on a certification that repeal would not hamper U.S. efforts to counter Iran, clarify that the U.S. maintains the ability to strike Iranian forces without the AUMF and condition the repeal on certification that Israel and other allies have been consulted on the repeal.
Blinken: China only hosted the conclusion of Saudi-Iran deal, didn’t negotiate it
Secretary of State Tony Blinken, testifying yesterday before the House Foreign Affairs and Appropriations Committees, sought to further downplay the nature of China’s involvement in the recent pact normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The pact has raised alarm bells across Capitol Hill and among both proponents and critics of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as the latest signal of increasing Chinese influence in the Middle East. But Blinken claimed yesterday that Chinese involvement in the deal was minimal.
Closing act: “I think what is most accurate to say about China’s role is not so much a facilitator but simply a host of the final act in this smart diplomacy,” Blinken said. “This was really the product of work between the two countries.” Blinken also reiterated his view, first expressed the day prior in Senate hearings, that the deal doesn’t affect prospects for Saudi-Israeli normalization.
Nonintervention: Pressed by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) on “what is it that the United States can do” to head off Israel’s judicial reform efforts, Blinken expressed the administration’s view that “when we’re looking at very significant reforms… the best way to have a sustainable outcome that people support is to try to find consensus, and consensus usually requires compromise on all sides.” “But,” he continued, “it’s not for us to tell them what to do or how they should do it. They have a strong democratic system.”
New funding: The administration’s budget request for 2024 included a new provision, the Middle East and North Africa Opportunity fund, budgeted at $90 million, according to an individual familiar with the request. Blinken said that the fund could support “programs and flexibilities that allow us to address the needs, the livelihoods, the security, the opportunity for people. He said that projects originating from the Negev Forum “that can effectively improve the lives of their citizens” could be one possible target for this proposed funding, as well as a new program seeking to bring together Israel, the United Arab Emirates and India.
Iranian protests have ‘not put the regime at risk,’ CENTCOM commander says
Gen. Michael Kurilla, the commander of U.S Central Command, told lawmakers yesterday that the ongoing domestic protests inside Iran have not significantly destabilized or incapacitated the Iranian regime, despite hopes from some in the international community that the demonstrations could lead to the end of the Islamic Republic, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Quotable: “What we see is that the regime can deal with the domestic situation, but also do their malign behavior externally,” Kurilla told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. “It is my assessment right now that even though the protests have put stress on the regime, it has not put the regime at risk.”
Ticktock: Testifying separately to the House Appropriations Committee, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers on Thursday that Iran could have a nuclear weapon in a matter of months. “From the time of an Iranian decision… Iran could produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon in less than two weeks. It would only take several more months to produce an actual nuclear weapon,” Milley said.
Pressure on: The recent Saudi-Iranian normalization pact has not relieved any of the regional pressure against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, according to Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, who testified alongside Kurilla. “We do not see any signs that any of the countries in the region, our partners in the region, are complacent about the dangers that Iranian nuclear weapons capability would pose to their very direct security.”
Lean in: Addressing China’s role in brokering the pact, Wallender told the committee that “we are concerned about China’s increased activity in the diplomatic front to present itself as a problem solver.” She said that the U.S. plans to emphasize to Saudi Arabia, “with which we have broad, deep, long-standing security, economic and political ties, that we are a strategic partner of choice. And just because China came in at the end here, and maybe helped to seal the deal, does not mean that the reliability and the long-standing partnership between the United States and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is something to discount.”
Read the full story here.
ACROSS THE POND
Senate Republicans blast EU over hesitation to designate IRGC as a terror group
In a new letter to the European Union, a dozen Senate Republicans criticized the European bloc for its hesitance to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, arguing that the lack of action undermines efforts to counter both Iran and Russia, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Russia focus: “We write to express our disappointment in the European Union’s (EU) hesitation to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran as an addition to the EU Terror List,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter sent on Wednesday to Josep Borrell, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. “Amidst the IRGC’s ongoing support of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, EU reluctance both weakens our collective resolve against Russia and ignores the Iranian government’s goal of sowing terror in the West.”
Ongoing frustrations: Lawmakers in the U.S., including both Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have lamented that the EU and other European partners have been slow to adopt Washington’s more aggressive approach to Iran sanctions, especially following the collapse of nuclear talks. Risch led this week’s letter. The U.S., under the Trump administration, designated the IRGC as a terrorist group in 2019.
Signatories: Risch was joined on the letter by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), John Cornyn (R-TX), Pete Ricketts (R-NE), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Todd Young (R-IN), James Lankford (R-OK), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Tim Scott (R-SC).
Read more here.
Maccabee Task Force scales back and focuses on key campuses, social media influencers
The Maccabee Task Force organization, which fights antisemitism on college campuses, is scaling back its operations for the coming academic year, cutting the number of universities on which it operates from 100 to 75 as it looks to attract new funders, its director, David Brog, told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Gross. Until now, the budget for the organization has come primarily from the Adelson Family Foundation, which has given tens of millions of dollars to the group since its inception in 2015, but the Maccabee Task Force is now looking to bring on new donors and partners. Brog stressed that this was not because of a budget cut or concerns about one but as a proactive measure. “They’ve not given me a deadline… or said, ‘We’re going to cut you off,’” he said.
Searching for partners: “The Adelsons wanted to build this, but they never meant to fund this in perpetuity. They’ve proven the concept and now they want others to step in and partner with them,” Brog said. “The Adelson family is incredibly generous in supporting this effort, almost single-handedly. They continue to be extremely generous, but they’re looking for partners.” Brog, who founded the Maccabee Task Force with Sheldon Adelson, said he is actively looking for new funders and already speaking with several potential donors, whom he hopes to attract by demonstrating the program’s successes so far and his intention to maximize its potential by focusing on a “lean, mean list of campuses” that are likely to have the greatest and longest-lasting impact.
Leaders of the future: Going forward, Brog said MTF is operating on campuses that are “both important battlegrounds today but also ones that give us that secondary benefit of being the campuses that produce the lion’s share of tomorrow’s leaders.” Generally speaking, this means Ivy League schools and other big-name universities whose graduates are more likely to hold positions of power in the future, according to Brog, who previously led Christians United for Israel and who had an unsuccessful bid as a Republican candidate for Congress last year in Nevada.
Warts and all: MTF works through the university’s Hillel to “map the campus” and identify approximately 20 influential student leaders, most of whom are “critical of Israel, if not outright hostile,” and invite them to take part in a subsidized trip to Israel along with a handful of pro-Israel students. On the trips, participants not only visit Israel but also Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank and hear from Palestinian officials and activists. “These students are already a little critical of Israel. They’re not going to agree to go to Israel and not hear from the other side,” Brog said. “So if we want to get those students on the bus to begin with, we have to make this a trip where you hear from both sides. But I think that’s a good thing because ultimately they’re getting a more realistic view of both Israel and the PA [Palestinian Authority] – warts and all.”
🏫 Broadening Horizons: In the Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Sugar suggests that amid dropping acceptance rates of Jews at top colleges, Jewish applicants would do well to consider Christian schools. “Institutions that honor the Judeo-Christian tradition and celebrate Western civilization tend to resist the academic decay, and attendant anti-Semitism, now plaguing many first- and second-tier campuses. Christian institutions frequently offer the classical-liberal education most of academia has abandoned. Words such as ‘God,’ ‘truth’ and ‘morality’ haven’t been reimagined. Free speech is honored. Jews and Israel are generally respected. Not all Christian schools are alike. Some have put the faith of their traditions at the center of their mission. For others, their Christian origin is mainly a historical inspiration. But even in the latter case, these schools exhibit less hostility to Jewish interests than many ‘secular’ schools. According to the Israel on Campus Coalition, which tracks publicly reported anti-Semitic and anti-Israel events across 1,100 campuses nationwide, during the 2021-22 academic year only two of the 225 incidents recorded took place on Christian campuses. Neither was violent. Christian schools already align in many ways with Jewish needs. All that is missing is Jewish infrastructure. But that can be built. Philanthropists pouring money into hostile campuses to protect Jews might realize better returns by funding Jewish resources on more fertile ground.” [WSJ]
⚖️ Author’s Note: In The Atlantic, Israeli author David Grossman weighs in on “one of the gravest crises” Israel has ever known. “If the initiators of this so-called judicial reform are able to complete their legislative process, they will effectively revoke rule of law in Israel. The judiciary would be subordinated to the Knesset and the government, and new judges would be appointed by politicians. In other words, the citizens of Israel would no longer be guaranteed legal protections against the arbitrariness of the regime. If the process is seen through, Israel will cease to be a democracy and could, under certain circumstances, deteriorate into a dictatorship. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is embroiled in legal proceedings, having been charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He has proved himself willing and able to do anything within his power to alter the entire legal system in order to avoid going to prison. To that end, he has allied himself with the most messianic, thuggish, and unsavory elements of Israeli society, and has handed crucial and highly sensitive government portfolios to their representatives. Does this man have any constraints?” [TheAtlantic]
Around the Web
🗳️ Coming Soon: Mark Robinson, North Carolina’s Republican lieutenant governor, who has been the subject of concern among Jewish community members due to a history of antisemitic comments, is expected to announce he is running for governor on April 22.
🛰️ Drone Attack: A U.S. contractor was killed and another contractor and five service members injured in a drone attack that the Pentagon said was of Iranian origin, on a coalition base in northeast Syria yesterday. In response, the U.S. conducted airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
🎼 Longhair Music: A recent DNA test that sought to better understand the physical constitution of Ludwig van Beethoven involved testing strands of hair long believed to have belonged to the composer — but were found to be from an Ashkenazi Jewish woman.
🎨 Man on a Mission:The New York Timesspotlights the story of artist Bradford Boobis, many of whose paintings were taken from his house hours after he died, and whose nephew made it his mission to track them down and make them public once again.
🏗️ On Hold: Budget disagreements in Berlin have resulted in the stalling of construction on a new building for Germany’s Finance Ministry, angering staffers who are relegated to work in a complex that once housed the offices of prominent Nazi leader Hermann Göring.
☢️ Israeli Warning: Israel has told the U.S. and several European countries that if Iran enriches uranium above 60%, that could trigger an Israeli military strike, Axios’s Barak Ravid reports.
🇸🇦🇸🇾 In the Works: Saudi Arabia and Syria are moving closer to restoring diplomatic ties after Russian-mediated negotiations.
⚖️ Conflict of Interest: Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he had violated a conflict-of-interest agreement when he announced last night, in a speech to the nation, that he was now directly involved in the judicial reform, contrary to a High Court ruling.
🇬🇧 Bibi in London: Ahead of Netanyahu’s meetings in London today, U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis called for Jewish unity amid the national crisis in Israel. Netanyahu was met by protestors outside 10 Downing St., demonstrating against the judicial overhaul, where he met with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for talks about Iran’s nuclear program and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, among other things.
➡️ Transition: Former New York Post digital editor Michelle Gotthelf is joiningThe Messenger, and is expected to be one of several current and former Post employees to join Jimmy Finkelstein’s media startup.
Pic of the Day
CEO of The Female Quotient, Shelley Zalis celebrates a birthday today…
FRIDAY: Award-winning classical pianist, Byron Janis turns 95… Beverly Hills-based estate planning attorney, Ronald M. Kabrins turns 85… Co-owner of Bond Distributing Company and a board member of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Rochelle “Ronnie” Footlick… Member of the House of Lords and star of the U.K.’s version of “The Apprentice,” Baron Alan Sugar turns 76… Former CEO of Microsoft, he is the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, Steve Ballmer turns 67… Attorney in Tarzana, Calif., Paul Marshall Leven… Jewish community activist in Austin, Deborah E. Rudy… Owner of Joslynda Capital, Michael Weiss… Veteran of four NASA space shuttle missions, he had a mezuzah on his bunk in the space shuttle, Scott Jay “Doc” Horowitz turns 66… Professor of art history at Hofstra University and widely published poet, Martha Hollander turns 64… Professional wrestler under a series of ring names including “The Star of David,” his wrestling career spanned from 1979 until 2000, Barry Horowitz turns 63… President of American Jewish University, Jeffrey Herbst turns 62… Former official at UJA-Federation of New York and JDC, now at NYC’s 92nd Street Y, Laura Spitzer… Actor who is best known for his portrayal of Dr. Chris Taub on the Fox medical drama series “House,” he then starred on the USA Network science fiction drama “Colony,” Peter Jacobson turns 58… Senior director of communications for the U.S. division of Israeli tech firm ThriveDX, Fred Menachem… Senior correspondent for Jewish Insider, Ruth Marks Eglash… Director and senior tax counsel at Federal Policy Group, Aharon Friedman… Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel – West Side Jewish Center on 34th Street in Manhattan, Jason Herman turns 46… Actor best known for his role as FBI Special Agent Aram Mojtabai in NBC’s “The Blacklist,” Amir Arison turns 45… Director of marketing at Window Nation, Eric Goldscher… Executive editor at Bloomberg Green, Aaron Rutkoff… Famed NYC photographer now working for the MTA, he is known for wearing vintage suits and hats daily, Marc A. Hermann turns 41… Minor league pitching coach for the Texas Rangers, he was a major contributor to Team Israel’s surprising run in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Josh Zeid turns 36… Speechwriter for State Department officials, Joshua D. Cohen… Venezuelan-born featured celebrity chef, Deborah Benaim turns 35… Program director at The Jewish Woman Entrepreneur, Jenna Nelson Beltser… Three-time all-star player with the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League, Kaleigh Fratkin turns 31… COO at Bnai Zion, Justin B. Hayet… Competitive pair skater for Israel at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, now a software development engineer for Amazon Web Services, Andrea “Anya” Davidovich turns 26…
SATURDAY: Retired film and book critic, Gene Shalit turns 97… Pulpit rabbi, rosh yeshiva, historian, author and lecturer, Rabbi Berel Wein turns 89… Feminist, journalist and social activist, Gloria Steinem turns 89… Actor and director, Paul Michael Glaser turns 80… Mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman turns 84… Senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Aaron David Miller turns 74… Former member of the Knesset for the Yisrael Beiteinu party and then Israel’s ambassador to Belarus, Yosef Shagal turns 74… Chair of Eastern Savings Bank in Hunt Valley, Md., and immediate past chair of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Beth H. Goldsmith… Property manager and CPA, Glynis Gerber… Founding director of the initiative on communication and sustainability at Columbia University’s Climate School, Andrew C. Revkin turns 67… Columbus, Ohio-based consultant in the dental sleep medicine field, Cynthia S. Levy… Executive director at Plum Community Center in Pittsburgh, Karen Hochberg… Film producer, Amy Pascal turns 65… Senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News, Arthur Allen… Retired IDF major general, Yoav (Poli) Mordechai turns 59… Emmy Award-winning actress, producer, and designer, Sarah Jessica Parker turns 58… Founding director of ATID and its WebYeshiva program and the editor of the Rabbinical Council’s journal “Tradition,” Rabbi Jeffrey Saks turns 54… Former prime minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett turns 51… East Side director at the Manhattan Jewish Experience, Rabbi Avi Heller turns 50… President of Mizel Financial Holdings, Cheston David Mizel… Partner at D.C.-based Mehlman Consulting, focused on health care policy, Lauren Aronson… Interim VP of public engagement at Oxfam America, Alissa C. Rooney… YouTube personality, Casey Neistat turns 42… Actress, comedian and author, Jenny Slate turns 41… Deputy Washington bureau chief at the Associated Press, Steven Sloan… Founder and editor of The Free Press and author of How to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bari Weiss turns 39… Communications strategist based in Chicago, Meredith Shiner… Political director of Democratic Majority for Israel, Joel Wanger… Legislative director for Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Grant Cameron Dubler… Manager of pricing strategy at Walmart, Jordan Rossman…
SUNDAY: President of the Palestinian Authority since 2005, Mahmoud Abbas turns 88… Argentine-born, Israeli clarinetist who specializes in klezmer music, Giora Feidman turns 87… Award-winning novelist and poet, Erica Jong turns 81… Southern California resident, Martin J. Rosmarin… Retired ENT surgeon, author of five books and former medical correspondent at ABC News and NBC News, Nancy Lynn Snyderman, MD turns 71… Chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Dr. Shuly Rubin Schwartz turns 70… President and CEO of the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum, Edward Greenspon… Actress, Jennifer Grey turns 63… Lori Tarnopol Moore… Patent attorney from Detroit, she currently serves on the Michigan State Board of Education, Ellen Cogen Lipton turns 56… Englewood, N.J., resident, Deena Remi Thurm… Co-founder of Google, Larry Page turns 50… Founder, president and CEO of Waxman Strategies, Michael Waxman turns 49… Curator and historian of Jewish art and history, he is the director of c.a.t.a.m.o.n dance group in Jerusalem, Dr. Ido Noy turns 44… Talk show host who founded Israel Sports Radio, Ari Louis turns 40… Actress best known for her roles in ABC’s sitcom “Suburgatory” and the USA Network’s drama “Mr. Robot,” Carly Chaikin turns 33… Israeli judoka in the under 52 kg weight category, Gefen Primo turns 23…