👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at the debate over the White House’s soon-to-be-released plan to combat antisemitism, and talk to legislators who received a classified briefing on the status of negotiations with Iran. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Ghaith al-Omari, Naama Shefi and Yulia the monk seal.
Hundreds of Jewish American community members gathered Tuesday afternoon in the East Room of the White House for a reception to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month. During his remarks, President Joe Biden touted his administration’s soon-to-be-released national antisemitism strategy, which he called “the most ambitious, comprehensive effort in our history to combat antisemitism in America.” The strategy will include more than 200 policy plans and recommendations to counter antisemitism.
“As we work together to implement this report, we’re sending a clear and forceful message. In America, evil will not win. Hate will not prevail. The venom and violence of antisemitism will not be the story of our time,” said Biden.
While the strategy is set to be released soon, the White House task force working on the project has not yet decided how to define antisemitism, three sources with knowledge of the White House process told Jewish Insider. More below.
Tuesday also featured several closely watched primaries in Florida, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
In Kentucky, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, the first African American to hold the state’s top law enforcement job, comfortably won the Republican primary for governor, taking 48% of the vote. Cameron, a protege of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), will face Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in the November general election. Despite Kentucky’s conservative bent, Beshear boasts one of the highest gubernatorial job approval ratings in the country.
Former Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cherelle Parker was declared the winner in a crowded pack of Democrats vying to become the city’s next mayor. Parker, who is Black, ran on a tough-on-crime platform that included bringing back stop-and-frisk as a way to deter criminals.
Parker comfortably led progressive favorite Helen Gym, who was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
And in Jacksonville, voters elected Donna Deegan, the city’s first Democratic mayor in over a decade – something of a blow to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who saw a major Florida city flip blue in his own backyard.
One senior GOP operative noted to JI that DeSantis endorsed former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft, a losing candidate in the Kentucky gubernatorial primary, but didn’t campaign for the GOP mayoral candidate in his home state.
White House faces pressure from the left to buck mainstream antisemitism definition
As the White House prepares to release a national antisemitism strategy in the coming weeks, the matter of how the document defines antisemitism has become a key point of contention, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch and Marc Rod have learned.
Definition debate: At issue is whether the strategy will adopt the widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is already in use elsewhere in the federal government. Secretary of State Tony Blinken wrote in a 2021 letter to the American Zionist Movement that the Biden administration “enthusiastically embraces” the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, including its full list of examples.
Arguing against: But the Biden administration is now facing pressure to buck the IHRA definition from some on the left who argue that the IHRA definition, which identifies some forms of anti-Zionism as antisemitism, does not leave sufficient space for critiques of Israel. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
State of play: An individual with knowledge of the process said that major mainstream Jewish groups have been advocating for the IHRA definition’s inclusion in the White House strategy. Progressive groups have been urging that it be left out of the strategy — but said they would accept its inclusion if other alternative definitions of antisemitism that have been proposed by academics and activists on the left were mentioned. The source said it remains unclear what the final draft might entail, but that the White House has considered excluding IHRA entirely.
Iran deal remains on ice, senators say following classified briefing
U.S. policy toward Iran seems to be largely stagnant, senators said as they emerged from a classified briefing on Iran on Tuesday — including on the long-stalled nuclear talks with Tehran, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
No big news: “I would characterize it as a status update, rather than any news,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told reporters, adding that administration officials did not communicate any significant developments. “It was a thorough status update.” The Virginia senator said that there had been no progress toward either rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or a more limited nuclear deal because “the combination of Iranian support for Russia in Ukraine, the abysmal Iranian human rights record as well as continued attacks on U.S. and allied positions in Iraq and Syria make that a nonstarter right now.”
Other side: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said that a potential “less-for-less” nuclear deal, which has been floated in recent months, was not discussed in the portion of the briefing he attended, and described the deal as moribund. “They were exploring reentering the JCPOA or whatever, that’s not going to happen, which is good,” he said. “It looks to me like it’s just a sort of treading water situation.” Hawley added that his “sense is the Biden administration is not really pressing the Europeans to crack down in any significant way” by implementing further sanctions on Tehran.
Options: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a prominent Democratic critic of negotiations with Iran, said that officials laid out a strategy for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran without nuclear negotiations. “I think it was a very solid briefing,” Menendez said. “There’s always more we could do, and I think there are options they’re considering… They are committed to ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”
Read the full story here.
special envoy position
House Foreign Affairs Committee advances Abraham Accords envoy bill
The House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced legislation creating an ambassador-level special envoy for the Abraham Accords on Tuesday, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. Tuesday’s markup highlighted the strong bipartisan support for the Abraham Accords among committee members, as well as the broad support for creating a dedicated post at the State Department focused on expanding the agreements. HFAC separately approved a bill barring normalization with Syria under the leadership of Bashar al Assad and a resolution calling for the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is detained in Russia.
Showing commitment: “Establishing a special envoy wholly devoted to this purpose will also demonstrate a clear U.S. commitment to cultivating the growth of the Abraham Accords,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), a sponsor of the bipartisan envoy bill alongside Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), said during the meeting. “This shows our allies and every nation around the world how much we value normalized relations with Israel… It is a reaffirmation of our commitment to supporting peaceful and productive bilateral relationships in the Middle East, and hopefully far beyond the region.”
Staffing up:Axios reported on Monday, the day before the markup, that the Department of State is considering appointing former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro to manage the State Department’s Abraham Accords portfolio. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) noted that the bill comes at a time of significant turnover in the administration’s Middle East policy team — with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides stepping down and Amos Hochstein, who has been a key Middle East policy hand at the State Department, moving out of Foggy Bottom to a new role as the president’s senior advisor for energy and investment. “This is a good opportunity to cement progress and make sure the State Department has someone in place to guide the complex interagency process needed to further strengthen and expand the Accords,” he said. “I can think of no better person than the one being considered, Dan Shapiro.”
hotel with history
A hotel of firsts reopens in Tel Aviv after a 70-year hiatus
In a quiet corner of the bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv, under the watchful eye of gleaming new high-rises but with an unfiltered view of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, a valuable piece of history has been revived, renovated and restored. The Elkonin, the first-ever hotel in this, the first modern Jewish city, sits on the far end of Lilienblum Street, on the edge of Tel Aviv’s first neighborhood, Neve Tzedek. Boasting such illustrious guests as David Ben-Gurion, Albert Einstein and King Abdullah I, who ruled Jordan from 1921-51, the hotel reopened for business five months ago after a 70-year hiatus, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Family business: Originally opened in 1913, just five years after Tel Aviv was established on dusty sand dunes and with a mere 80 or so buildings standing in the district, the hotel was founded by Menachem and Malka Elkonin. The family, including six children, had immigrated from Smolensk, Russia, in 1911 and lived together on the ground floor, the area that now serves as the modern hotel’s bar and lounge reception.
Bringing it back to life: Graffiti-riddled and crumbling, the neglected building was purchased in 2004 by French-Israeli entrepreneur Dominique Romano with an eye to restoring and reopening it once again as a hotel. As a UNESCO-protected structure, however, the renovation process was arduous and bureaucratic, Morgan Mondoloni, the hotel’s general manager, told JI during a recent tour and interview, and it took more than 14 years to fully complete the restoration and additions.
🇵🇸 Passing the Torch: In Foreign Affairs, Ghaith al-Omari warns of a power struggle and potential turmoil if a successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, an octogenarian facing significant health issues, is not soon determined. “The authority is highly unpopular, and Abbas is now 87. Mutterings about succession have grown louder with each passing year. When the time comes for the selection of a new president, it is unlikely to be a smooth transition; Abbas has maintained his grip on power by ensuring that he has no obvious successor and by refusing to create a process for selecting one. This means that in the event of his death or sudden decision to step down, a protracted and violent struggle is likely to result. Such a conflict could decide not only who governs the PA and whether it survives as a governing body but also the future of the Palestinian national movement.” [ForeignAffairs]
🎂 Birthday Card: The New York Times’ Bret Stephens considers Israel’s standing vis-a-vis other countries founded in the same era, as the country marks the 75th anniversary of its founding. “Israel is a post-colonial state. It started its national life dirt-poor. Its peer group of countries includes Syria, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and North and South Korea. These states came into being with many of the same core problems: hostile neighbors, unsettled borders, deep poverty, restive ethnic and religious minorities and other unresolved dilemmas from their independence struggles. As with Israel, many of those problems still dog most of those states. The Koreas don’t have a settled border. India and Pakistan have painful memories of forced population transfers. Those who think the Palestinian issue is unique should consider the situation of Kashmiris in India, Tamils in Sri Lanka, or Kurds in Syria. But if Israelis haven’t settled the conflict with the Palestinians and other neighbors, neither have they allowed themselves to be consumed by it. Israel is not a country that defines itself in terms of what it’s against, what it’s not, or who has done what to it. There is also an affirmative vision of Israeli identity, centered on the ideal of a renovated and renewed Jewish civilization within which its citizens can find prosperity, a sense of purpose and relative security.” [NYTimes]
🍲 Tasting Table: In Vogue, Abby Carney interviews Naama Shefi, the founder and executive director of the Jewish Food Society, about Asif Journal, the nonprofit’s new endeavor that seeks to spotlight regional culinary traditions. “Asif, which means ‘harvest’ in Hebrew, also translates its work into Arabic, and centers Palestinian and Arab food stories that are often overlooked. A beautifully designed culinary digest printed on thick cardstock, the publication shares the institute’s explicit aims ‘to bring the Arab society into this dialogue,’ as Shefi says, ‘because it’s clear that one of the most significant influences on our cuisine is Palestinian Arab food.’ When I spoke with the 42-year-old at the magazine’s December launch party, held at Chef Michael Solomonov’s new restaurant, K’far in Williamsburg, she had temporarily lost her voice, and in a hoarse whisper, emphasized: ‘We want to cover every iteration of Jewish food traditions, from Africa to Palestine, to here in New York.’” [Vogue]
🌎 New World Order: The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Kalin, Rory Jones and Michael Amon explore how the United Arab Emirates is navigating its relationships with global powers. “Sheikh Mohamed and the U.A.E. have emerged as winners from the geopolitical reordering since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, but not without a cost. A friends-with-everyone strategy has tested relations with the petrostate’s biggest ally, the U.S., as Sheikh Mohamed takes a leadership role in a new Middle East that is closer to Russia and China. In rare interviews, senior Emirati officials said Sheikh Mohamed, known by his initials MBZ, doesn’t see the U.A.E.’s close U.S. relationship precluding ties with Moscow or Beijing. Instead, they say, such ties can help Washington. ‘We are not going to be defined by great-power rivalry,’ said Anwar Gargash, his foreign-policy adviser.” [WSJ]
🇮🇱 Northern Exposure: In Newsweek, Ilan Berman cautions that the status quo on Israel’s northern borders could quickly escalate into a deadly conflict. “The aggregate result is a worrying new correlation of forces confronting Israel along its northern frontier. Israel’s adversaries ‘are increasingly willing to take greater risks, they are becoming bolder,’ says Sarit Zehavi of the Alma Research and Education Center, a research institute tracking security trends and strategic dynamics in northern Israel. ‘As a result, we’re likely to see more and more escalation, unless Israel manages to reestablish deterrence.’ Here, the U.S. has an important part to play. ‘Sometimes, what takes place in Israel is a result of things that are happening far from our borders,’ notes Zehavi. And the receding profile of the United States in the region is currently creating a sense that America’s allies, Israel chief among them, are increasingly vulnerable. The resulting situation ‘is dangerous for Israel, unless it improves for the better.’” [Newsweek]
🐦 Talking Tropes: The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg raises concerns about a recent tweet from Elon Musk in which the Twitter CEO compared George Soros to a Marvel comic book villain, who was also a Jewish Holocaust survivor. “Criticizing George Soros is not inherently anti-Semitic. He is one of the world’s richest men and most influential philanthropists, as well as the Democratic Party’s largest single donor, and his views undoubtedly warrant scrutiny and debate. But Musk was not taking issue with a particular statement or position put forward by Soros; he was presenting him as an avatar of evil. He painted Soros as a literal comic-book villain. This is the language of anti-Semitism through the ages, which perpetually casts powerful Jewish actors as the embodiment of social and political ill. Rather than treat Jews like humans, who are fallible and often mistaken, this mindset refashions them into sinister superhumans who intentionally impose their malign designs on the masses. In recent years, Soros has been a particular target of this treatment, but any Jew or Jewish institution that accumulates some measure of wealth or status tends to attract it, whether the Rothschilds or the state of Israel.” [TheAtlantic]
Around the Web
📸 MOT Moment: Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff posed with Jewish staffers who work at the White House in a photo celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month.
⚖️ Court Charges: The Justice Department announced a series of criminal cases targeting Russian and Chinese nationals, including charges against a Chinese man accused of having conspired to sell missile material to Iran.
👵 On the Hill: Speaking to reporters yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who was absent from Washington for months recovering from shingles, did not acknowledge that she had been absent. “I’ve been here. I’ve been voting,” she said. Feinstein arrived back in Washington last week.
👨 Sayonara, Santos: Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) introduced a resolution alongside Reps. Eric Sorensen (D-IL) and Becca Balint (D-VT) calling on the House of Representatives to expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY), as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said he plans to ask the Ethics Committee to expedite its review of the embattled legislator.
💻 Talking Tech: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman suggested the formation of an agency to help regulate artificial intelligence systems, a day after briefing dozens of legislators about the technology.
🇹🇷 Turkey Trouble: Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is considering a GOP presidential bid, expressed concerns that if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wins the country’s upcoming runoff election, “there will be real damage done to the NATO alliance” and suggested that the group would “need to consider whether to suspend or even expel Turkey.”
🇯🇴 Diplomatic Visit: Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Lee Satterfield is traveling to Jordan today for a four-day visit aimed at advancing bilateral public diplomacy efforts.
🚫 Tallahassee Take: The Florida legislature advanced a bill that would bar the state from doing business with companies “taking adverse action, including changes to published commercial financial ratings … to inflict economic harm on Israel,” legislation that would affect financial ratings company Morningstar.
📄 New Legislation: Two far-left members of New York’s state Assembly introduced legislation that would ban charitable organizations based in the state from “unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity.”
🗳️ Democratic Socialist Drop-out: New York City Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan, a Democratic socialist who had been endorsed by a PAC tied to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), dropped out of the Democratic primary and will not seek reelection amid a series of criticisms over her tenure in office.
⛸️ New Competition: Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes filed to run for Congress in New York’s 4th District, which is currently represented by Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY).
⌚ Wait and See: Bernie Marcus is holding off on endorsing a candidate in the Republican presidential primary, telling Puck News that he will make a decision “much later in the political process.”
📗 Author Interview: The New York Timesinterviewed author Michael Lewis about his upcoming book, Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon, about FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.
🍹 Brooklyn Bites: Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov’s Jaffa Cocktail and Raw Bar is set to open tomorrow at New York’s Hoxton Hotel, which also houses his Laser Wolf and K’Far restaurants.
👨⚖️ In the Courts: A man charged with a series of bias crimes in Multnomah County, Ore.,which include setting fire to a mosque and vandalizing two Jewish synagogues, has been ruled unfit to stand trial.
🚉 Train Takeover: Austrian rail investigators are looking into an incident in which a train’s emergency broadcast system was overtaken by passengers who played recordings of Adolf Hitler for 20 minutes.
🐶 Rescue Dog: An animal shelter in Missouri took in a puppy found with swastikas and a hate message drawn on her skin.
🍻 Friars’ Fight: The New York Timesspotlights the iconic Friars Club in New York as the hotspot faces possible foreclosure.
🦭 Beach Bum: An endangered Mediterranean monk seal named Yulia turned heads after resting on a Tel Aviv beach for a prolonged period while shedding her winter coat.
👋 Stepping Down: MK Ayman Odeh, a prominent Arab-Israeli politician and leader of the Hadash-Ta’al party, announced that he will not run for office again.
🇺🇳 Alarming Appointment: Israeli officials and Iran rights groups slammed the appointment of Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Ali Bahreini as the chair of the U.N. Human Rights Council 2023 Social Forum.
🇷🇺🇮🇷 Expanding Ties: The head of Russia’s navy traveled to Tehran for meetings with his Iranian counterpart, where the two discussed efforts to boost cooperation.
🕯️ Remembering: Author, attorney and speaker Amy Silverstein, who chronicled her medical journey that included two heart transplants, died at 59.
Pic of the Day
Tony Award nominees Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond perform music from “Parade” during a celebration marking Jewish American Heritage Month in the East Room of the White House yesterday in Washington, D.C.
Israeli author and playwright, Sarah Blau turns 50…
President of the Philadelphia-based Honickman Foundation, Lynne Korman Honickman turns 87… Annapolis, Md., attorney, Robert M. Pollock… News anchor for 45 years at WPVI-TV (ABC Channel 6) in Philadelphia until he retired last year, known professionally as Jim Gardner, James Goldman turns 75… Canadian philanthropist and the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor of Nova Scotia, Myra Ava Freeman turns 74… Corporate and securities attorney at NYC’s Eilenberg & Krause, Sheldon Krause turns 68… Comedian, puppeteer and actor, Marc Weiner turns 68… Founder and president of ENS Resources, Eric Sapirstein turns 67… Host of “Marketplace Morning Report” on public radio, David Brancaccio turns 63… Author of the 2005 book Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish and a 2017 book about Jewish holidays, she is an honorary president of NYC’s Central Synagogue, Abigail Pogrebin… and her identical twin sister, Robin Pogrebin, reporter on the culture desk for The New York Times, both turn 58… Former general manager for corporate strategy at Microsoft, she was also an EVP at Hillel, Kinney Zalesne turns 57… CPA and founder of the Baltimore Hunger Project, it provides food packs for the weekend that are discretely slipped into over 1,700 poverty-stricken public school children’s backpacks each Friday, Lynne Berkowitz Kahn… Reporter for The New York Times covering campaigns and elections, Reid J. Epstein… Former member of Knesset, Stav Shaffir turns 38… Executive director of Informing Democracy, Jenna Ruth Lowenstein… Digital and social media strategist at AARP, Sarah Sonies… Senior writer at Microsoft’s Future of Work group, Rebecca Rose Nelson Kay… Israeli judoka, he was the 2019 World Champion, Sagi Aharon Muki turns 31… Program advisor to the education director at the Boston Jewish Education Program, Heather Renetzky… External communications representative at Apache Corporation, Katherine Keenan…