👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report on a new effort by business councils representing the UAE, Israel, India and the U.S. to partner with one another, and we talk to Jewish communal leaders about the outlook for the Supreme Court to strengthen religious accommodations in the workplace. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Rep. Barbara Lee, Naftali Bennett and Dana Bash.
In part two, JI’s Gabby Deutch covers the aftermath of the brutal murder, the beginnings of a police investigation and the loved ones who gathered to say goodbye. More below.
The conservative Heritage Foundation’s two-day 50th anniversary summit kicks off today in the D.C. area. The think tank has long influenced the Republican Party’s agenda, especially on foreign policy.
The event’s first day will feature presentations by Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Tim Scott (R-SC), J.D. Vance (R-OH), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), as well as a China-focused panel including Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) and Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the Trump administration’s trade representative.
Tomorrow’s headliners are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Fox News host Tucker Carlson, along with a panel featuring former Trump administration official Ken Cuccinelli, who is now leading a pro-DeSantis PAC.
The event could provide DeSantis an opportunity for a course-correction for his nascent, but unannounced, presidential campaign. DeSantis was in D.C. this week meeting with lawmakers, in what appears to have been a mostly unsuccessful bid to court support for his prospective campaign that instead exposedgaps in DeSantis’ relationships with his former D.C. colleagues and his state’s congressional delegation.
Several Florida lawmakers have enthusiastically endorsed former President Donald Trump in recent days, and most others who met with the Florida governor have declined to endorse him. Some major GOP donors have also said in recent days that they’re backing away from the potential presidential hopeful.
From a foreign policy perspective, several of the speakers in the Heritage lineup, including Lee, Vance, Hawley, DeSantis, Carlson and Roy, are among the growing GOP faction expressing skepticism of or opposition to U.S. military aid to Ukraine and other aspects of American engagement abroad. The once-hawkish think tank itself opposed additional aid to Ukraine last year.
Stay tuned for updates from the conference as JI Capitol Hill reporter Marc Rod will be covering the gathering.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers, Holocaust survivors and administration officials will gather for a commemoration of the Days of Remembrance for the Holocaust.
Supreme Court appears poised to expand religious workplace accommodations, advocates say
The Supreme Court appears poised to expand protections for religious accommodations in the workplace, but may not fully overturn its previous precedent on the matter, Jewish communal leaders said following Tuesday’s oral arguments in a case on the subject, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Looking up: Jewish leaders told JI that they saw in Tuesday’s oral arguments in Groff v DeJoy a widespread willingness to dispense with the “de minimis” standard, which was established in the 1977 case Hardison v TWA. “I walked out of the court pretty confident that our side is going to win, but it’s very hard to know how broad or narrow the decision will be made,” Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s director for public policy, told JI. “From the point of view of religious observers, there’ll be an advance, is what it looks like,” Marc Stern, the chief legal officer for the American Jewish Committee, told JI. “But it won’t be the radical change that some hoped for and it won’t be the radical change that some feared.”
Middle ground: Court watchers highlighted that several of the conservative justices, particularly Neil Gorsuch, seemed eager to find a narrow compromise position. Gorsuch at one point specifically stated his interest in finding “common ground.” “Some courts have taken this ‘de minimis’ language and ruined it and say anything more than a trifling [hardship] will get the employer out of any concerns here,” he said. “And that’s wrong, and we all agree that’s wrong. Why can’t we just say that and be done with it and be silent as to the rest of it?”
Coming soon: Nathan Lewin, a constitutional attorney who argued the Hardison case and helped craft the underlying legislation, said that the outcome of the case may “[depend] on how firm Gorsuch is in the proposal he made.” Lewin filed a brief in the Groff case for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA). “If Gorsuch is firm in that opinion… then I’m afraid that’s what the court will do,” Lewin said. “That’s certainly what the attitude of the chief justice [John Roberts] will be, and probably even [Amy Coney] Barrett, [Brett] Kavanaugh would go along with that. I’m hopeful that Gorsuch just threw that out as a legalistic possibility, but he realizes that in the real world, that’s not going to end this.”
HEARD ON THE TRAIL
Barbara Lee strikes conciliatory note on Mideast policy at Senate candidate forum
During her tenure in Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) has, on some occasions, found herself at odds with pro-Israel groups over key Middle East policy issues. But speaking to pro-Israel Democrats at a virtual candidate forum on Wednesday evening, Lee, a veteran progressive lawmaker now running for an open Senate seat in California, struck a largely conciliatory note as she emphasized her “commitment to a two-state solution and to Israel’s security and a Palestinian state,” Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Peace and security: “This, for me, is not just a job or a political position,” the long-serving Bay Area lawmaker told participants who tuned into a Zoom event hosted by the advocacy group Democrats for Israel California. “This is something that I truly believe in, and that’s global peace and security.” An anti-war activist who has long been sharply critical of the American foreign policy establishment, Lee, 76, has supported legislation that would place restrictions on U.S. aid to Israel and was among a small group of House members who voted against a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting the Jewish state.
Contrasting candidates: On such issues, Lee’s record stands in contrast with her Democratic primary opponents, Reps. Katie Porter (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), who have both followed a more mainstream approach concerning Israel. The two candidates have also recentlyspoken with Democrats for Israel California.
From both sides: Still, while Lee’s approach has drawn criticism from AIPAC, for instance, she said on Wednesday that local activists on the left have also found fault with some of her positions, citing her support for funding Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system as one source of tension. “I get pickets from every side of the spectrum,” Lee averred. “It’s like, ‘Barbara, why do you support the Iron Dome?’ Well, I’ve always voted for the Iron Dome. I’ve visited. I know how it protects Israelis, I know what it does, and so I’ve supported it. But people in my district, for the most part, picket me because of that.”
Envoy for peace: Near the end of the forum, Lee returned to the subject of eventually reaching a resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, floating a suggestion that she does not seem to have mentioned publicly before: a new special envoy to focus on promoting a two-state solution. The congresswoman has proposed the idea to President Joe Biden as well as Tony Blinken, the secretary of state, she informed viewers. “We need a person in the White House who does nothing but two-state solution work,” Lee insisted. “We need somebody who really believes that it can be done, and that’s all that’s in their portfolio.”
WHO KILLED KESHER’S RABBI?
‘Holiest of All Things’
This is the second installment of a five-part series we’ll be releasing over the next two weeks. If you missed Part One, read it here first.
The first thing visitors to Rabbi Philip Rabinowitz’s Georgetown home noticed was the books.
Ratty paperbacks and small pocket-sized prayer books and gorgeous leather tomes, with titles in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. They covered the walls, the desk in his study and the stairs. There wasn’t enough space for everything he wanted to learn. There wouldn’t be time, either.
On the morning of Feb. 29, 1984, the rabbi’s blood was splattered across the bookshelves and on top of a stack of papers on his desk. It covered a tan rug in the center of the study and a chair behind the desk. Nothing was out of place; the three-story townhouse had not been ransacked. Whoever had entered the home was not a thief — nothing of value was stolen.
Howard Smith didn’t notice any of this at first. All he saw when he walked through the open front door at 8:15 a.m. was a figure lying facedown on the floor. His first thought was that the 63-year-old rabbi had passed out and fallen unconscious. Smith hurried to the phone on the rabbi’s desk and dialed 911. He hoped the rabbi could still be saved, but the stillness of the scene signaled otherwise.
Within a decade, Washington would gain a reputation as the nation’s “murder capital.” But in 1984, the city’s homicide count hadn’t yet begun to spike. Ambulances and police cruisers arrived swiftly to the rabbi’s home, blue lights flashing and sirens blaring. Medics brought Rabinowitz’s body to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, near the city jail, by ambulance. They pronounced him dead at 11:30 a.m. Police officers later estimated he had died around 8 p.m. the night before.
Smith, the young NASA astrophysicist who discovered the bloody crime scene, went with the police back to the station, where he filled out a police report and answered a few questions. He never heard from anyone from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) again.
A spokesperson for MPD declined to make any department officials available for an interview, and the department denied Jewish Insider’s Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the police investigation.
“This case remains under investigation,” MPD public affairs specialist Alaina Gertz told JI in an emailed statement in December. “However, there are no active leads we are currently pursuing in this case.” That doesn’t mean police never identified any suspects.
Read the rest of Part Two, ‘Holiest of All Things,’ here. Look for Part Three in your inbox on Monday.
Business councils seek to add heft to India-Israel-UAE-U.S. alliance
A joint effort by India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. to stimulate trade is picking up momentum. Under the banner of theI2U2 Initiative, business leaders from the four countries signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday pledging their cooperation in the project’s six target areas: water, energy, transportation, health, food security and space, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports.
Mini-lateral partners: Meeting at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington D.C., the heads of the UAE-India Business Council, the UAE-Israel Business Council and the U.S.-UAE Business Council approved the document calling for private sector involvement in the partnership, following up on the I2U2 Business Forum held in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi in February. Faizal Kottikollon, chairman of the Indian council, said in a statement that he was “committed to rally our members’ support behind this mini-lateral through the signing of this MoU.” His Israeli counterpart, Dorian Barak, said the four-way initiative is “emerging as an important pillar of regional economic integration.”
Biden boost: The I2U2 group – a play on the four countries’ initials – was established in 2021 as an outgrowth of the Abraham Accords. Among the activities planned by the business councils, according to their joint statement, are promoting the I2U2 initiative with a series of events held in the four member countries aimed at stimulating commercial ventures. The councils intend to commission a series of papers by think tanks, scholars and thought leaders exploring business opportunities in the six target areas. Those would be supplemented by recorded video interviews made available on websites and other platforms.
Food security: Joining the council leaders at the St. Regis were Jose Fernandez, U.S. under secretary of state for economic, growth, energy and the environment; Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE ambassador to the U.S.; Sripriya Ranganathan, India’s deputy chief of mission to the U.S.; and Eliav Benjamin, Israel’s deputy chief of mission to the U.S. The first project announced after the video conference in July was a $2 billion investment by the UAE in developing a series of food parks across India that would use Israeli and U.S. technologies to reduce food waste, conserve fresh water and use renewable energy sources. A second project is a hybrid renewable energy initiative in India’s Gujarat state to generate 300 megawatts of wind and solar capacity along with a battery system to store the energy.
🎓 Campus Beat:Tablet’s Armin Rosen spotlights the sharp decline in the admission rates of Jews to Ivy League universities, considering the reasons behind the shift and the impact it will have on those campuses and on the Jewish community. “At every point in their history the Ivies have revealed what the existing elite values and whom it is willing to welcome into its ranks. Jews benefited from the meritocratic system of elite production that the Ivies administered in the postwar years and are at an apparent disadvantage now that the old system is considered exclusionary, unrepresentative, and otherwise ill-suited to the current needs and values of the people oveerseeing [sic] it. The Ivy League now presents conflicting answers as to whether Jews have a place within whatever post-meritocratic national elite the schools understand themselves to be building…This ‘discrimination’ against Jewish applicants isn’t narrowly the result of affirmative action, at least not in the sense of the redistribution of benefits, like elite university admissions, as a way of rectifying historical wrongdoing. Instead, the muddling of admission standards under the sign of social justice is an expression of a deeper and much older mentality among the Ivy administrations, one that predates affirmative action by decades or even centuries. The Ivy League schools are jealously protective of their self-image as the vanguard of the national elite — a self-appointed purpose that was always the sole determinant of whether Jews or any other demographic group would be admitted in large numbers.” [TABLET]
🗣️ Secretary Spills All: U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken gets candid about his life in an interview with Esquire’s Michael Sebastian. “I keep a card in my pocket with the names of every American who has been arbitrarily detained by other countries. I was incredibly happy that we were able to get [WNBA star] Brittney Griner home. It reinforces the determination to do everything we possibly can to bring home the others who remain in prisons around the world…The president shared with me one foundational premise for this job: It matters when we have close partnerships and friendships around the world. The first thing the president wanted me to do was roll up my sleeves and reengage with the world in ways we hadn’t been in recent years. He told me it’s going to pay off in ways we can’t imagine right now… It’s a lot harder effectively negotiating with my kids than it is with our Chinese or Russian counterparts. My son has a very effective response to my diplomatic overtures, and that response is “no.” I really do try to use every diplomatic trick in the book to get them to “yes.” My batting average isn’t quite Hall of Fame yet.” [Esquire]
👮 Religious Prosecution: In an op-ed for Religion News Service, David Saperstein discusses why sentencing Tree of Life shooter Robert Bowers to death would go against Jewish morals and institutions. “The Reform and Conservative movements have condemned capital punishment altogether as ‘repugnant’ or ‘a stain upon civilization and our religious conscience.’ In 2001, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, representing a large number of national and local Jewish organizations, including the congregational arms of the Conservative, Orthodox and Reform movements, passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, emphasizing the racial and economic disparities in its application, the cruelty of specific methods of capital punishment and the innocent people who have been put to death…Nearly two millennia ago, the Talmud observed: ‘The one who saves a life, saves the world. The one who destroys a life, destroys the world.’ Bowers ended and upended the worlds of many. Yet if a civilized society can find ways other than taking a life to punish even the very worst of evildoers, we will model, and are helping save, a world that truly cherishes life.” [RNS]
📱 Taking the Social Out of Social Media:The New York Times’ Brian X. Chen explores how the increasing domination of brands and influencers over social media is sending some users to smaller networks to try to recapture the community feel. “Social media is, in many ways, becoming less social. The kinds of posts where people update friends and family about their lives have become harder to see over the years as the biggest sites have become increasingly ‘corporatized.’ Instead of seeing messages and photos from friends and relatives about their holidays or fancy dinners, users of Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat now often view professionalized content from brands, influencers and others that pay for placement.“ [NYTimes]
💲 From White House To Wall Street: The New York Times’ Kate Kelly examines the prevalence and ethicality of stock buying and selling by members of Congress. “A New York Times investigation last year showed that during a three-year period, nearly a fifth of federal lawmakers or their immediate family members had bought or sold stocks or other securities that could have been affected by their legislative work. Efforts to pass legislation to place limits on trading by members of Congress or to ban it have stalled in recent years. On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, and Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, announced a new bill intended to eliminate the practice that has 19 co-sponsors in the Senate.” [NYTimes]
💻 Eye on AI: The Washington Post’s Kevin Schaul, Szu Yu Chen and Nitasha Tiku take a deep dive into the websites fueling ChatGPT in an effort to unearth what sort of information is giving the system its intelligence. “Chatbots cannot think like humans: They do not actually understand what they say. They can mimic human speech because the artificial intelligence that powers them has ingested a gargantuan amount of text, mostly scraped from the internet…Tech companies have grown secretive about what they feed the AI. So The Washington Post set out to analyze one of these data sets to fully reveal the types of proprietary, personal, and often offensive websites that go into an AI’s training data.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
🗳️ Gearing Up: President Joe Biden is preparing for an expected reelection campaign by summoning top donors to meet with him in Washington.
😱 Donor Daze: Top Republican donor Ken Langone told the Washington Post “it scares the hell out of me” that Donald Trump is dominating in early Republican primary polls.
📈 Raising The Stakes: President Biden denounced “MAGA Republicans in Congress” in a speech Wednesday as the standoff with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling escalated.
🛑 Take It To the Limit: Punchbowl Newscanvassed moderate Senate Republicans and found just one who seemed open to voting for a clean debt-limit hike.
👀 Retirement Watch: Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) approval ratings back home took a nosedive, in the latest Morning Consult quarterly approval ratings of senators and governors.
🇮🇱 Replacing Zamir: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his intention to appoint Knesset member May Golan as the country’s consul general in New York, following the resignation of Asaf Zamir in protest of the government’s judicial reform plans.
📺 Bennett’s Call: Discussing the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul proposal on “Meet the Press,” former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “this cloud of uncertainty will not be removed until the government says explicitly ‘we will continue the reform only in consensus.'”
🇵🇱 Reporter’s Notebook: A cohort of journalists from CNN, including Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash — both of whom have personal connections to the Holocaust — reported from commemorations in Poland this week marking Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
🏃♂️ Extricated Exec: Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former CFO, was released from jail Wednesday following a four-month stint for aiding in a yearslong tax fraud scheme.
💵 Insurance Ensurance: Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Rick Scott (R-FL) reintroduced a bill Tuesday that would help Holocaust survivors and their families collect unpaid pre-war insurance policies.
📺 Beirut Blockbuster: The official trailer of Showtime’s “Ghosts of Beirut” miniseries was released on Wednesday – the four-episode show tells the story of the hunt for Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyeh.
✍️ Canned Columnist: Former Washington Post reporter and comedic columnist Gene Weingarten detailed the events that led to his departure from the legacy media company after more than 30 years.
☮️ Peace Ties: Israeli officials are worried that Sudanese civil strife could halt furthering peace talks between the two countries.
🌐 No Go: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is adamant that he will not sign off on Sweden’s admission into NATO until after the Turkish general elections in May, senators say.
🤝 Abbas in Jeddah: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
📺 Bibi on CNBC: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CNBC yesterday that Saudi Arabia “has no illusions” of who its friends are in response to Saudi Arabia’s recent detente with the Islamic Republic.
🕵️ Presidential Probe: Boris Epshteyn is the latest Trump adviser set to be interviewed by the special counsel as the Justice Department continues to build its case against the former president.
⚾ Baseball Buy: The Oakland Athletics have signed a binding purchase agreement for land in southern Nevada for the construction of a major-league ballpark, the Las Vegas Review-Journalreports.
🕯️ Remembering: Yehonatan Geffen, a prominent Israeli artist and journalist, died at 76.
Pic of the Day
Israeli President Isaac Herzog (right), together with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Polish President Andrzej Duda, in a joint handshake at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland, at the end of the main ceremony yesterday marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Television personality and game show host, known professionally as J.D. Roth, James David Weinroth turns 55…
Stanford University professor and 2020 Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Paul Robert Milgrom turns 75… Chairman of the media networks division of Activision Blizzard, Steve Bornstein turns 71… Immigrants’ rights activist and professor at Salem State University, Aviva Chomsky turns 66… Television and radio host, syndicated columnist and political commentator, Steve Malzberg turns 64… Past president of the DC-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, now at the Center for AI and Digital Policy, Marc Rotenberg turns 63… Executive producer and host at The Femsplainers Podcast, Danielle Crittenden Frum turns 60… Semi-professional race car driver and restaurateur, Alan Wilzig turns 58… Israeli jazz bassist, composer, singer and arranger, Avishai Cohen turns 53… British film director, Sarah Gavron turns 53… Member of the Florida House of Representatives from southern Brevard County, Randy Fine turns 49… VP of government and public affairs at Cleveland-based GBX Group, Seth Foster Unger… Director of speechwriting for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael C. Frohlich… Director of development at Democratic Majority for Israel, Elliott G. Mendes… President and CEO at the Los Angeles-based Skirball Cultural Center, Jessie Kornberg turns 41… Sportscaster on Fox Sports and NFL Network, Peter Schrager turns 41… New York-based national security and human rights lawyer, Irina Tsukerman… Writer for The Free Press and author of “Chosen By Choice” which chronicles her journey converting to Judaism, Nellie Bowles turns 35… Evening breaking news editor at CNN Politics, Kyle Feldscher… Policy advisor and counsel to U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Zachary L. Baum… Systems engineer at Google X, Joseph Gettinger turns 35… Facilitator, coach and workshop organizer, Daniela Kate Plattner… Research analyst at the U.S. Department of State, David Mariutto… VP at Cedar Capital Partners, Alex Berman… CEO of Social Lite Creative, Emily K. Schrader… Scientist, engineer and artificial intelligence researcher at MIT, Dr. Maor Farid turns 31… Israeli model, swimwear designer and social media star, Neta Alchimister turns 29… Senior strategic partner manager at Taboola, McKenna Klein… Founder and CEO of Olive Branch Pictures, Andrew J. Hirsh… R&B, soul, pop singer and teen actress, at 13 years old she was the runner-up on the second season of “The X Factor,” Carly Rose Sonenclar turns 24… Former general manager of Bird in Israel, Yaniv Rivlin… Diane Kahan…