👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we sit down with former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and talk to Rep. Brad Schneider about Saudi-Israel normalization efforts. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Emma Green, Susie Gelman and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
As the Biden administration moves closer to releasing its national strategy to combat antisemitism, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, declined to say on Wednesday whether White House domestic policy chief Susan Rice will include the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism in the document.
Lipstadt, both in her role as special envoy and prior to joining the administration, has been a proponent of the IHRA definition, which is also used by the State Department. Some Jewish community leaders have urged the administration to follow Lipstadt’s advice on the subject.
“It’s been the definition that’s been broadly accepted. The United States has championed [it],” Lipstadt told reporters in a briefing at the State Department on Wednesday. “It’s been very useful, it’s been very useful on the ground. So I think that it’s an effective tool.” Read the full story here.
The White House is currently under cross pressures on how it should define antisemitism in its upcoming strategy — mainstream Jewish groups are pushing for the administration to incorporate IHRA only, while some on the left say the administration should exclude IHRA or include other definitions that provide more latitude for criticism of Israel. Sources say the administration is considering both options.
Lipstadt said the strategy could be released“in the next few days” or “next week.” White House officials have said they expect a rollout by the end of May. Rice is leaving her post this month after two years in the job.
Lipstadt’s comments come as a coalition of major American and global Jewish organizations is pushing United Nations leaders to include an endorsement of the IHRA definition in the body’s own forthcoming action plan to monitor and respond to antisemitism, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod scoops.
The letter, signed by 176 global Jewish groups — including more than 60 U.S. groups — and 120 academics from the U.S. and elsewhere, was organized by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, European Jewish Congress, Jewish Federations of North America and World Jewish Congress.
The letter highlights that the IHRA definition has been widely adopted by international governments and organizations, U.S. states, local governments and various other sectors of public life. It also notes that Ahmed Shaeed, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, has also recommended the use of the IHRA definition.
The signatories argue that Jewish groups and leaders, as “the primary targets of antisemitic hatred, discrimination, and violence,” are “best placed to identify manifestations of hatred and bias directed against us.”
at home with…
Naftali Bennett’s big bet
In recent months, Naftali Bennett has met with members of Congress, sat for a one-on-one meeting with UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi and appeared on major American networks defending Israel’s recent operation in the Gaza Strip. But Bennett, 51, is no longer Israel’s leader. He’s not even in the government. “The passion of my life, beyond my core family, is the State of Israel,” Bennett told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss in a wide-ranging interview at his home in Ra’anana earlier this month. “That’s what I care about. God bless, I’ve been successful in business and money has never been a driver… I don’t care about material stuff. I care about the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Learning lessons: No longer flanked by aides, Bennett, clad in a dark blue shirt and black slacks on the day of the interview, opens the door and welcomes visitors to his still-heavily guarded home set on a quiet street in the middle of the small city. The family dog trots around the house. Once settled on his back patio, Bennett sips water as he speaks about his time in the Prime Minister’s Office. “I think in the short term, over the next year or two, we’re going to go through a tough period, which we’re going through right now,” Bennett said. “After which I think the big lesson that’s going to be imprinted on the minds and hearts of Israelis is that we have to be together, a bit similar to what was imprinted during Oslo: that we can’t tear up the land of Israel, we can’t divide it. So now the big lesson is we can’t divide the people of Israel.”
When Mansour met Naftali: “I believe then, and now [I] believe more, that [Ra’am party head] Mansour Abbas is a unique leader, unprecedented within Israel,” Bennett told JI. “I would call him the Israeli [Anwar] Sadat, because he, with immense personal courage, he is taking a stand that is highly risky politically, and more than just politically. He’s taking personal risk. And his message is loud and clear: ‘Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. I get it. I want the Arabs to integrate to be part and parcel of the economy, society… and I vehemently oppose terror.’ Now, I couldn’t say that everyone around him is there yet, but it’s a process and from [the standpoint of] a leader of Israel, what we need to do is embrace him and prove him right.”
Schneider expresses optimism about prospects for Saudi-Israel normalization, but arms sales a potential hurdle
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a co-chair of the congressional Abraham Accords Caucus, expressed enthusiasm to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod on Wednesday about a new report that the administration is hoping to finalize a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia by the end of the year. But he cautioned that lawmakers will have to weigh the benefits of any agreement with the potential costs associated with Saudi demands for expanded sales of advanced weapons.
Background: Axios reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration hopes to close a normalization deal by the end of the year. Lawmakers who’ve traveled to the region recently have offered differing accounts of how realistic a peace deal is in the short term. Some have told JI that it could be imminent while others have warned that significant obstacles remain.
Quotable: “I commend the administration for working to make it happen. We’ve been talking about trying to bring the Saudis into the Accords since they were signed nearly three years ago,” Schneider said. “So I think this is a reflection of the administration’s commitment to expanding the Abraham Accords and working to pursue peace and prosperity for the region.”
Potential hurdles: Lawmakers, including Schneider, voted on a bipartisan basis in 2019 to block U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Although the Trump administration vetoed that measure, concern (particularly among Democrats) over arms sales to the kingdom has continued. Top lawmakers have occasionally threatened over recent years to end the sales. “The prospect of a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia holds huge promise. It’s incredibly exciting, if it actually comes to fruition. But we also have to weigh that against the risks and the costs,” Schneider said. “We will look at what it takes to get the parties to the table, what it might take from us engaging and providing help to cross that finish line.”
Elsewhere on the Hill: At a confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Ana Escrogima, the nominee to be ambassador to Oman, said she’d urge Oman to join the Abraham Accords, but that Omani officials have said they’re reluctant to do so without more progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. “I think it’s important to continue making the case for the regional integration and economic benefits of pursuing normalization with Israel,” Escrogima said. Lisa Johnson, the nominee to be ambassador to Lebanon, said that “the Lebanese have to do more” to counter Hezbollah, and called U.S sanctions on Hezbollah leaders “very, very effective.” She said she would “leverage all diplomatic tools” to push Lebanon to elect a president and begin to institute reforms necessary to qualify for international funding that will help stabilize its economy.
House Appropriations Republicans propose an additional $10 million for nonprofit security
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security Subcommittee proposed a $10 million increase in funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program for 2024, falling short of the increase that many supporters had hoped to see, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. The subcommittee will meet on Thursday for a markup of the bill.
By the numbers: The proposed increase, to $315 million, comes despite deep budget cut proposals across many other areas of the Department of Homeland Security. But it comes up short of the $360 million level that has been a goal of many Jewish community leaders, a large bipartisan group of lawmakers supporting the program and the Biden administration. House Appropriations Democrats had also proposed $360 million for the program last year when they controlled the chamber.
Long road ahead: Jewish community leaders expressed gratitude for the proposed increase, but said they intend to continue pushing for additional funding as the appropriations process proceeds. Karen Paikin Barall, the associate vice president of public affairs and executive director of the advocacy corps for the Jewish Federations of North America, told JI that JFNA is “grateful for the proposed $10 million increase… especially given the tough fiscal situation Congress is navigating this year.” Barall also noted, however, that the program, at 2022 levels, was only able to fund around half of the applications it received, and said that JFNA will “continue to advocate” for $360 million.
✍️ A Party of One:New York magazine’s Ben Terris interviews Frank Luntz, as the veteran pollster prepares to move out of one of his Washington-era homes, after several years in which his standing within the GOP has faltered. “Frank Luntz may be a victim of a Republican Party gone awry, but he is not without blame. He was, after all, once one of the most prominent messaging gurus in the party. In 1992, he served as the pollster for Pat Buchanan, who made building a fence along the border with Mexico a signature issue in his ‘America First’ presidential campaign. The next year, he helped Giuliani become mayor, and in 1994, he co-wrote the ‘Contract with America’ with Congressmen Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, which they credited with helping win 54 House seats and nine Senate seats that year…. Luntz, a language guy through and through, helped Republicans win debates and elections with their word choices. He told them to call the estate tax the ‘death tax’ so it sounded bad and to call global warming ‘climate change’ because it sounded not so bad. Despite his self-proclaimed grip on the psyche of voters, he did not see Trump’s rise coming.” [NYMag]
😮💨 Safe Space: The New Yorker’s Emma Green reports on the Gathering of the Thought Criminals, a regular get-together of individuals who have found themselves on the outs with the mainstream. “Every month, more than two hundred people from the media, academia, and other intellectual circles are invited to a private hangout in New York City, which is known as the Gathering of Thought Criminals. There are two rules. The first is that you have to be willing to break bread with people who have been socially ostracized, or, as the attendees would say, ‘cancelled’ — whether they’ve lost a job, lost friends, or simply feel persecuted for holding unpopular opinions. Some people on the guest list are notorious: élite professors who have deviated from campus consensus or who have broken university rules, and journalists who have made a name for themselves amid public backlash (or who have weathered it quietly). Others are relative nobodies, people who for one reason or another have become exasperated with what they see as rampant censorious thinking in our culture.” [NewYorker]
🇵🇹 Portuguese Pass: In Vanity Fair, Willem Marx looks at the circumstances through which Roman Abramovich acquired Portuguese citizenship, using a law intended to repatriate individuals of Sephardic heritage. “Abramovich’s unlikely citizenship from a small, sunny western European nation like Portugal had been public knowledge before [Russian President Vladimir] Putin initiated his campaign. But the extraordinary details behind Abramovich’s citizenship application and its approval by Portuguese authorities, many never previously reported, reveal unsettling truths about the allure of wealth, the promise of nationality, and the strength of nationalism. At a time of deep political agitation between Russia and the West, Abramovich’s rapid procurement of European Union citizenship has caused embarrassment for authorities in Portugal, according to current and former politicians. But [Rabbi Daniel] Litvak’s story also raises serious questions about the fairness of the country’s justice system and the powerful persistence of antisemitism, particularly in Europe.” [VanityFair]
🌩️ Gloomy Forecast: For CNN, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Aaron David Miller examines the latest conflict between Israel and extremist groups in Gaza and assesses the future of the region. “The only meaningful intervention could come from the United States. To make a real difference, the Biden administration would need to define a political horizon — a two-state solution and a general approach on issues such as borders, refugees and Jerusalem — and then a set of steps Israelis and Palestinians would need to take to reverse the current terrible environment and to create a better one for negotiations. For the Israelis, that would include curtailing settlements and land confiscation. For the Palestinians, it would mean ramping up security cooperation and cracking down on terror cells. Not much short of that has much of a chance of making a difference, but Washington does not seem inclined or even capable of attempting that right now. Perhaps there’s no better way to capture the sense of what may be coming than the line from John Buchan’s classic World War I novel ‘Greenmantle’: ‘There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark.’” [CNN]
👴 Sanders in the Spotlight: The Washington Post’s Kara Voght spotlights Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as he continues his work in the Senate, with a focus on targeting major corporations. “Sanders, 81, never got to be president. But he accrued enough political capital, over the course of two formidable presidential runs, to spend the twilight of his Senate career living out a very Bernie sort of fantasy: As chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), he gets to drag his corporate nemeses to Washington to be pilloried for their alleged sins against the working class. If they come willingly, he will pay them a compliment for doing so, as he did when his panel of pharmaceutical CEOs appeared before the committee last week. If they do not, he will make it known to the hearing room and the congressional record, as he did when he announced during a March hearing that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz ‘is with us this morning only under the threat of subpoena.’” [WashPost]
Around the Web
🧑🏫 Back to School: Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for policy, will depart the position this summer and return to Stanford, where he is a tenured professor.
👋 Stepping Down: The communications director for Rep. George Santos (R-NY) resigned from her position, the same day House Republicans rejected a measure to expel the New York legislator from Congress. Punchbowl Newsreports today that the House Ethics Committee is ignoring a request from the Department of Justice to pause its probe into Santos’ actions.
🗳️ Gearing Up: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to launch his 2024 presidential bid next week.
📞 Poll Prose: In The Hill, pollster Mark Mellman weighs in on the methodology used in political polling.
🏈 Commanders’ Conditions: The deal between Dan Snyder and Josh Harris for a group led by Harris to purchase the Washington Commanders reportedly includes an “earnout” payment to Snyder that is contingent on the Commanders hitting certain financial targets.
👴 Rare Address: President Joe Biden addressed the Israel Policy Forum’s annual gala via video yesterday, praising the organization’s outgoing board chair Susie Gelman. In addition to Biden, Israeli President Isaac Herzog, former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Dan Goldman (D-NY) and Kathy Manning (D-NC) also shared video messages thanking Gelman for her efforts.
🙏 Mayor’s Apology: The mayor of Odessa, Mo., apologized for remarks he made at a council meeting that were apparently derogatory to the Jewish community; the city has removed the video of the meeting and it is not known what he said.
🍋 When Life Gives You…: Athleisurewear company Lululemon opened its first store in Israel in Ramat Aviv, with plans to open seven more branches in the country, including two in Tel Aviv.
🪖 Better Together: The U.S. suggested to Israel that the two countries conduct joint military planning regarding Iran, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
🐦 Musky Comment: Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that a tweet by Twitter CEO Elon Musk comparing George Soros to a Marvel supervillain was “reeking of antisemitism.”
🚆Full Steam Ahead: Iran and Russia signed a $1.6 billion agreement yesterday to build a railway between two Iranian cities as part of the International North-South Transport Corridor.
🕍 Safety and Security: Tunisian President Kais Saied vowed to provide security for synagogues after meeting with the country’s chief rabbi following last week’s deadly attack during a Jewish festival.
🪑 Council Nod: American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch, who served in Congress from 2010-2022, was appointed by President Joe Biden to serve on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
➡️ Transition: Elizabeth Cullen, formerly the associate director of health policy for the Jewish Federations of North America, is joining Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, as government relations director.
Pic of the Day
Auctioneer Benjamin Doller calls out the final bid of $38.1 million for The Codex Sassoon Hebrew Bible at Sotheby’s yesterday in New York City. The winning bid was made by the American Friends of ANU — Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, through a donation from former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses.
Venture capitalist, co-founder of Aleph and author of a book on business principles derived from the Book of Genesis, Michael A. Eisenberg turns 52…
Leader and Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Ger since 1996, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter turns 84… Chairman and co-founder of K2 Intelligence and Kroll Bond Rating Agency, Jules B. Kroll turns 82… Best-selling author of spy thriller novels, Andrew Gary Kaplan turns 82… Retired New York Times columnist and editorial writer, he was the NYT’s Jerusalem correspondent for four years in the early 1990s, Clyde Haberman turns 78… President of Everest Management, Gary Kopff turns 78… Managing partner for Volt Energy and former Senate Watergate Committee counsel, K. Barry Schochet… Los Angeles-based attorney, board member of American Friends of Nishmat, Linda Goldenberg Mayman… Writer for SpyTalk, Jonathan Broder turns 75… Member of the Maryland House of Delegates since 1983, Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg turns 73… Chair of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a former IDF major general and leading activist for the disability community, Doron Almog turns 72… Senior advisor at Moelis & Company, previously a major general in the IDF, later CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Shlomo Yanai turns 71… Director of nutrition and hospitality at Philadelphia’s Temple University Hospital, Nancy Baumann… Attorney in Atlanta, Alan Kitey… Film producer, Jonathan Glickman turns 54… Former CEO at Waze, Noam Bardin… VP for communications strategy at Strategic Marketing Innovations, Bryan Bender turns 51… Head of development at NYC charter school system, Uncommon Schools, Sarah Danzig… Author of Substack-based newsletter “Slow Boring,” Matthew Yglesias turns 42… Director of a team of researchers at Gartner in London, Eliza Krigman… Staffer for the Senate Armed Services Committee, Eric Trager… Foreign correspondent for NBC News, Joshua Lederman… Former acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, now an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, Ezra Asa Cohen turns 37… Tech entrepreneur in the Web 3 and gaming space, Dan Garon… Co-founder of Rebel acquired by Salesforce, Joe Teplow… Associate in the D.C., office of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Lauren DePinto Bomberger… Executive producer of the “Net Zero Life Podcast,” Netanel (Tani) Levitt… Director of communications at Anduril Industries, Sofia Rose Gross… Five-time member of the U.S. Women’s National Gymnastics Team, now a technical program manager for Apple, Samantha “Sami” Shapiro turns 30… Chief development officer at TAMID Group, Rachel Philipson…