👋 Good Monday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at what the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank means for startups across the Middle East, and interview “Fauda” actor Itzik Cohen about his leading role in the new Israeli series “The Diplomat.” Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Sen. Markwayne Mullin, Shlomo Lipetz, Chase Kochand Dr. Miriam Adelson.
The announcement on Friday of the China-brokered restoration of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran after seven years sent shockwaves through the international community.
But in Israel, the reaction was fairly muted.
“It’s not about us. As much as we love to think that everything is about us, it’s not,” former Knesset member Einat Wilf told JI. “It reflects some major changes. One is that the Biden administration has changed again in the way that it treats the Middle East and especially Saudi, and the Saudis were going to have none of it. In parallel, China has a greater interest in a stable Middle East. As far as China is concerned, an Iran and Saudi that are at each other’s throats is a danger to its oil supply, and it just wanted it over. And [China] stepped in where America wouldn’t, and I think this is where America’s increasingly binary worldview with respect to China is hurting the Middle East.”
Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called the restored ties “a lose-lose-lose for the U.S., for Israel and maybe ultimately for the Saudis.” But, he added, “It’s a reflection of what I’ve been hearing from the Saudis for a couple of years now, which is the sense that the U.S. doesn’t have their back against Iran, that MBS’s priority is reforming the Saudi economy and Vision 2030,” he said, referring to Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman. “And for that he needs to limit the number of Iranian drone strikes and missile strikes and Houthi strikes on key facilities. He needs calm, he needs stability.”
The Saudi pivot to China, Dubowitz said, came in part from the Biden administration’s position on Iran. “So [Riyadh] began to hedge, and hedging had two components. One was a Chinese component. And the second was an Iranian component. And I think those all came together last week in that announcement.”
The Wall Street Journal reportedthat a China-led Middle East summit is in the works for later this year, which the outlet said underscores the idea “that Beijing sees a central role for itself as a new power broker in the Middle East.”
But could that mean China brokers a normalization deal between Riyadh and Jerusalem? “The two major priorities for the Chinese are continued access to low-priced oil and obviously Chinese influence in what is a very important area of strategic competition with the United States,” Dubowitz explained. “And so Saudi-Israel normalization, if it increases stability, if it ensures continued access to Saudi oil and it keeps prices low, that’s good for China. And if it establishes China as a major player in this region where you need the Chinese in order to broker that deal, then maybe the signing ceremony isn’t on the White House South Lawn — maybe it’s in Beijing’s Forbidden City.”
Wilf described Saudi Arabia as “the Holy Grail” of normalization with Israel. “Because it can speak to the Arab world, because it can speak to the Muslim world,” she explained, “if Saudi signed normalization with Israel, this would be effectively the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict… They know what they’re worth. And they intend to make the most of it.”
China-brokered Saudi-Israeli normalization is possible, Wilf said, but under those circumstances, “Israel will have to chart a path that is a bit more independent. You can have several scenarios when Israel becomes valuable precisely because of its connection with the United States. It will require some pretty sophisticated foreign policy from Israel. And that’s the thing that has happened in recent years. Israeli foreign policy, mostly, especially after ‘73, was tied to America. There was not a lot of sophistication needed. Ever since America generally reduced its footprint in the Middle East, Israel needed more sophisticated foreign policy.”
The bottom line, Dubowitz said, is “don’t buy the spin out of Washington or Jerusalem that it wasn’t a big deal. It was a big deal. And I think both the U.S. and Israel need to start thinking real long and hard about what this means for the counter-Iran strategy and normalization with Saudi, and certainly what is happening domestically in Israel isn’t making it any easier for the Saudis to move forward.”
Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse sends shockwaves through Middle East
The sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, Calif., reverberated more than 7,000 miles away in the Middle East, where cash-strapped startups struggled to meet their payrolls and local lenders seized the opportunity to help bridge the gap, Jonathan Ferziger and Robert Lakin report for The Circuit. In Israel, where SVB was the lifeblood for many young technology businesses just beginning to generate revenue, company CEOs found locked doors at the California bank’s Tel Aviv branch when its executives failed to respond to their desperate messages.
Signature too: Tel Aviv-based Bank Hapoalim and Israel Discount Bank, meanwhile, circulated word that they could help startups pay immediate bills. Signature Bank, a New York-based lender active in real estate and popular with startups, also collapsed on Sunday. The U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced an emergency bailout program hours later and said it would pay depositors 100% of the money they had in both banks.
An upside: SVB’s demise, the second-largest bank collapse in U.S. history, was less of a disaster in the United Arab Emirates, which promotes itself as a center for germinating technology companies but has fewer startups than Israel. Lenders including Wio Bank, Zand Bank and MBank are ready to pick up the slack for SVB’s ailing customers, said Ryan Lemand, co-founder and CEO of Abu Dhabi-based Neovision Wealth Management. “There’s an upside,” Lemand told The Circuit. “The problem will be solved relatively quickly. Then these banks will onboard them [as customers], said Lemand, who previously worked as a financial regulator and adviser on risk management for the UAE’s federal government.
Capt. Ayoub is now Israel’s ambassador to the UAE – on TV
Judging a camel beauty contest, clandestinely befriending the Tunisian ambassador and babysitting a government minister intent on a massive shopping spree: These are some of the uncomfortable situations Israel’s top envoy to the United Arab Emirates finds himself in – at least in the new fictional TV comedy series, “The Embassy.” Based in part on real stories from Israeli diplomatic missions around the world, the satirical show, which is currently airing in Hebrew on Reshet, Israel’s Channel 13, is the brainchild of screenwriter and actor Yuval Haklai. Haklai plays Tzvika, a straight-laced Israeli diplomat who is endlessly saving a lovable but slightly crooked Israeli politician-turned-ambassador, played by actor Itzik Cohen, whom “Fauda” fans will recognize as Capt. Ayoub, from embarrassing himself or causing a diplomatic incident. “The idea came from wanting to create an “Office”-type sitcom set in the workplace and which combines my love for politics and international relations,” Haklai, one of the show’s three creators, told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash in a recent interview.
Comic scenarios: Launched at the end of January — the first episode features the camel beauty contest — “The Embassy” stars Cohen as the slightly arrogant yet insecure Ambassador Yitzhak Maymon. Maymon heads a diplomatic mission of colorful characters, most of them Israeli, who race around Abu Dhabi in an attempt to build relations with their new friends, the Emiratis. Hilarious scenarios ensue when cultural differences, such as the Israeli drive for fast-paced, immediate results, contrast with the more relaxed, laid-back Gulf approach. And a roster of Israeli visitors – mostly politicians and businessmen looking to make money out of the new diplomatic arrangement – ends in all sorts of predicaments.
Ahead of his time: “Setting the show in an Israeli embassy where you have all the diplomacy and the Mossad inside the workplace, and then placing it in an Arab country, creates an even more dramatic area to explore,” Haklai continued. “I also wanted to do something new, so I thought, ‘Let’s say Israel signs a peace agreement with a hostile country in the Gulf,’ like the United Arab Emirates or Qatar.” But when he first came up with the idea, Haklai was slightly ahead of his time. It was six months before the signing of the Abraham Accords normalization agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain in September 2020, and everyone said the storyline was too far-fetched.
Real-life twist: “And then, six months later, we woke up to the news [of the Abraham Accords]. Israel kept the agreements super-secret, but suddenly we were in a new era of peace in the Middle East, with the UAE, with Bahrain and they also even talked about Saudi Arabia joining,” Haklai added. “Then my agent called me and said, ‘What about the show you were telling me about six months ago?’”
Ready to rumble: Luckily for Haklai, he had not taken too much notice of the naysayers and was able to reply that the show was already in the works. “I told her that I had already developed the characters, the plotlines and had half of the script written, and from there it all came to life really, really fast, in terms of TV,” he said. “From the first day I had the idea to when it went up on air was only three years; some TV shows take more than a decade to get on air.”
Following Middle East trip, Mullin endorses ‘aggressive’ and ‘proactive’ Israeli response to terror threats
Returning from a trip to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia at a time of heightened tension in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) endorsed an “aggressive” response by Israel to Palestinian terror threats, telling Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod that “there’s no point in them just reacting every time, sometimes you have to be proactive.” Mullin, a former House member elected to the Senate in November, visited the region with several Senate GOP colleagues in mid-February on a trip led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He offered a generally optimistic view of progress in the region brought about by the Abraham Accords, while also warning about fading confidence in the U.S. as a reliable partner.
Talking tactics: The group traveled to Israel at a time of significant upheaval — Palestinian terrorist attacks targeted Israelis during the visit, and a group of Israeli settlers raided the Palestinian village of Huwara at the end of the visit. Mullin emphasized that “Israel isn’t the one provoking this, but they had a right to defend themselves and be aggressive if they’re attacked. They don’t have to always be on the defense. I think if you would leave it up to Israel, you wouldn’t have the attacks you’re having right now,” he continued. “There’s no point in them just reacting every time — sometimes you have to be proactive. And so if people want true peace, it’s two-sided.”
‘Growing fatigued’: Although Israel’s plans for expanding West Bank settlements have attracted controversy on the global stage, including from the UAE — which proposed but ultimately canceled plans for a United Nations vote on the settlement plans — Mullin said they were not a prime area of discussion during the visit. The UAE “didn’t mention a whole lot [about] it,” Saudi Arabia “didn’t even bring it up” and in Israel “it was brought up a little bit,” Mullin said. The Oklahoma senator indicated that the group’s discussions in Arab states reflected a growing weariness with the Palestinian cause among Arab leaders. “I think people are growing fatigued by it,” he said. “Because you can only cry wolf so many times before people get tired of it.”
Abraham Accords: Mullin told JI that the “biggest thing that,” across the delegation’s meetings in all three countries, “came up over and over again” was the Abraham Accords. “The Abraham Accord[s] [have] broke[n] down barriers for economic purposes, but it also brought together their ability to work with their military and openly discuss their common enemy, which is Iran,” Mullin said. The senator, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, however, that discussions around the normalization agreements were linked to regional anxiety about the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Mullin said had engendered “fear” that “there’s no guarantee at all that we would be there for them.”
Bonus: Reps. Randy Weber (R-TX) and Rick Allen (R-GA), who also visited Israel last month with the U.S. Israel Education Association, said they believe that the best path forward to peace includes deeper Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. “If they’re actually doing business together and their kids are going to school together and they’re learning to grow together, then it’s hard to want to, the old saying is, ‘bite the hand that feeds you,’” Weber said. Both rejected the terms “settler” and “settlement” to refer to Israeli outposts in the West Bank, expressing a preference for “neighbor” and “neighborhood.” Allen also said he does not believe a two-state solution would be an “appropriate” path forward and expressed frustration with U.S. officials criticizing Israeli government moves to expand settlements. The group’s trip also included discussions about possibly establishing a Food and Drug Administration office in Israel.
A Jewish journey to the front office of Major League Baseball
There were moments in Zack Raab’s extended funemployment from 2019 to 2021 when people asked him if he would consider a job outside baseball. He had spent thousands of dollars following the Israeli national baseball team to Korea, Japan, Germany and South Florida; hundreds more to attend the Major League Baseball (MLB) Winter Meetings in San Diego; and countless more in lost income by quitting his lucrative job at a jewelry startup in Israel to move back to the United States and pursue a career in baseball. Still, no job. Raab, 29, knew he was being stubborn, but he said to himself, “I’m going to stick to baseball. I know something’s going to fall into place if I keep working hard, building the right relationships and treating people the right way.” Raab, now the first and only Orthodox Jew in the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, spent most of two years pursuing his dream to find a job, any job, in baseball, Tani Levitt reports for Jewish Insider.
Superfan: “I lived out my dream for almost nine years living in Israel,” Raab told JI. And to pursue “another dream” — his dream to fulfill his “drive and a passion to work in baseball” — Raab would have to come back to the U.S. And in the end, he found his breakthrough on the back of work he did with Israel Baseball. Caught between a boast and a sheepish admission, Raab offered up, “I’d venture to say I’m the only other person that’s been in person for all 12 World Baseball Classic games dating back to 2012. Fan, player, staff member, anything.” A lifelong baseball fan, Raab built his love for the game in South Florida, following the hapless Miami Marlins. Before moving to Israel, he attended Weinbaum Yeshiva High School (now named Katz Yeshiva High School), in Boca Raton, Fla., and attended as many Marlins games as he could.
Sealing the deal: After years of following baseball from afar, the Israeli National Baseball team offered a chance to root from up close. His fandom took him across the world, but not to a job in baseball. Articlesabout Israel Baseball’s superfan popped up left and right as he followed his beloved team, and in 2019, as Team Israel prepared for a run at the Tokyo Olympics, Raab chose to formalize his relationship with the team. “My professional background in Israel was ecommerce and marketing,” Raab said, and he noticed a demand for Israel Baseball merchandise that wasn’t being met. “I made the connection between Peter Kurtz — the president of the Israel Association of Baseball at the time and now the general manager of the national team — and John Kaweblum from Klipped Kippahs.”
Spreading the love: “I just wanted to help grow Israel Baseball around the world and just grow awareness for Israel baseball with merchandise and get Jewish fans wearing Israel baseball merchandise around the country, around the world,” Raab explained. The Olympics were delayed due to COVID, but the demand for Israel Baseball products stayed steady. Israel Baseball reached out to see if Raab would run its merchandise website and build out the product offerings and marketing.
Growing with the game: Raab approached the consultation like his job, creating unique products, including a customized bobblehead of pitcher Shlomo Lipetz, the “the forefather of Israel baseball.” For seven months, Raab’s life was Israel Baseball merchandise. His efforts culminated with a call from MLB on the same day Israel played at the Olympics, offering him a full-time job as a MLB club services coordinator within the Office of the Commissioner in midtown Manhattan. Team Israel bowed out of the Olympics on Aug. 3, 2021. Raab was in his new job before the month was out. Team Israel returned to the World Baseball Classic stage yesterday, and the MLB Opening Day is March 30 — Raab will not be missing a single game.
🗳️ McCormick’s Move: The Wall Street Journal’s Barton Swaim considers the political future of former Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate David McCormick ahead of a possible second run for office. “Among [Republicans looking to shape the future of conservatism] is David McCormick, a former Treasury official under George W. Bush and former CEO of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Mr. McCormick’s Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America (with co-author James M. Cunningham) appears next week. The book, a mixture of autobiography and policy, is an attempt to formulate an economic plan that avoids coddling U.S. industry while also enlisting U.S. economic power to frustrate Chinese espionage, intellectual-property theft and military aggression. The book is about national security and economic policy, but it’s also about politics. Superpower in Peril is Mr. McCormick’s attempt to formulate an economic agenda that enables Republican candidates to appeal to working-class voters on economic grounds without cynically promising public largess or pretending the U.S. can bring back manufacturing through tariffs and subsidies.” [WSJ]
👨💻 Unlikely Journey: The New York Times’ Patrick Kingsley spotlights Palestinian tech worker Moha Alshawamreh, who commutes from the West Bank to his job at an Israeli tech startup in Tel Aviv. “He wound up there after a remarkable set of circumstances, including encounters with a book about the Holocaust, college half a world away and an Israeli pop star. His journey to work — through the turnstiles and security scanners of Israeli checkpoints — highlights the inequities between Palestinians and Israelis living in the West Bank, which is currently experiencing some of its deadliest violence in two decades. His journey through life — from an occupied village to a Tel Aviv skyscraper — highlights a rare exception to that imbalance. Mr. Alshawamreh said Israelis should know that his yearslong odyssey was “emotionally and mentally exhausting to the brink of tears.’ Palestinians should see that ‘what I did proves that it is possible,’ he added.” [NYTimes]
⚾ Shlomo’s Sidearm: Fox Sports’ Jake Mintz profiles Shlomo Lipetz, Team Israel’s 44-year-old pitcher with limited professional experience but a passion for the game. “Armed with a mid-70s fastball, a vagabond’s passport, a mullet and, sometimes, a gold tooth, Lipetz is Kenny Powers, Forrest Gump, Paul Bunyan, Batman and Walter Johnson rolled into one. He has pitched around the globe — from Tel Aviv to Vienna, Belgrade to Seoul, Tecate to Blagoevgrad, San Diego to Turin, from the Tokyo Olympics to Central Park — all the while carrying the Israeli baseball community on his shoulders. ‘He’s a sort of mythical figure, a magnetic personality with wisdom to share.’ said Sam Fuld, a member of Israel’s 2017 WBC team and current GM of the Phillies. ‘A father figure, but also the cool dad.’” [FoxSports]
Around the Web
🇺🇸🇮🇷 Prisoner’s Price: State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the Associated Press that Iran’s claim that an agreement on a prisoner swap with the U.S. had been reached was a “cruel lie.”
🏰 Disney Shake-up: Speaking at Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Disney CEO Bob Iger explained the organizational changes underway at the company and his “bullish” attitude toward streaming.
🎭 Mel in the Moment: The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd interviewed Mel Brooks about his longevity in show business and perspective on comedy.
🧀 No Cows Here: The Washington Post samples a range of lab-grown dairy products, exploring their potential to revolutionize the future of the dairy industry.
🏫 Antisemitism Probe: Stanford University is investigating as a hate crime an incident in which a student’s dorm door was vandalized with swastikas and an image resembling Adolf Hitler, the third such incident in the past two weeks.
⚽ Match of the Month: Former U.K. soccer star and sports broadcaster Gary Lineker sparked a public debate after the BBC suspended him for comparing the British government’s immigration plans to Germany in the ‘30s.
🎫 Off Stage: Ahead of yesterday’s Oscar triumph for the new adaption of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the Washington Posthighlighted the achievements of the producer of the original film, Carl Laemmle, who saved hundreds of Jews from the Nazis.
📺 Talking Ted:The New York Times’ Jeremy Egner profiles “Ted Lasso” star Brett Goldstein as the breakout Apple TV+ show faces its possible end at the conclusion of the latest season.
⚖️ Israel’s Issue: The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board argues that the prime issue in Israel’s judicial reform conundrum is the AG’s ban on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s involvement in the legislation.
🇮🇱🇦🇪 Ties in Question? Israel denied a report that the United Arab Emirates intends to halt a defense purchase from Jerusalem due to statements and actions of Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
🏦 Bibi on the Bank: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the government would consider whether to assist Israeli companies impacted by the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.
👀 Through Adelson’s Eyes: In Israel Hayom, the paper’s publisher, Dr. Miriam Adelson, considers how her husband would have approached Israel’s debate over judicial reform.
🔥 Syria Strike: Syrian state media accused Israel of a strike in the Hama province yesterday, which reportedly targeted a weapons depot for Iran-backed militia and killed three military personnel.
🚀 Weapon Worries: Russia has reportedly been capturing U.S. and NATO-provided weapons left on the battlefield in Ukraine and sending them to Iran.
🕯️ Remembering: Traute Lafrenz, the last known surviving member of the anti-Nazi resistance group the White Rose, died at 103. Scientist Raphael Mechoulam, considered to be the “father of Israeli cannabis,” died at 92.
Pic of the Day
Six years after beating the odds and making it to the second round of the ‘17 World Baseball Classic, Team Israel pulled off another upset when it beat Nicaragua 3-1 at the WBC in Miami, defeating Nicaragua’s top pitcher, the Yankees’ Jonathan Loáisiga.
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