👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at the internal politics roiling Israel’s Likud party, and publish an exclusive excerpt from Barak Ravid’s book, Trump’s Peace, the English translation of which comes out this week. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Walter Russell Mead, Sam Bankman-Fried and Amy Spitalnick.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides will depart his posting this summer, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports this morning. Nides, a former vice chair of Morgan Stanley and deputy secretary of state for management and resources during the Obama administration, has become widely known in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for his affability, work to move Israel into the U.S.’ Visa Waiver Program and visits to the homes of families affected by terrorism.
“The Ambassador informed senior Embassy staff this morning (Tuesday, May 9) of his intent to step down this summer,” a U.S. Embassy spokesperson tells us. His departure comes at a time of deepening tensions in Israel — and within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party — over the government’s proposals to reform the country’s judiciary. More on that below.
Among those under consideration for the role at the start of President Joe Biden’s term were former Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who held the position during the Obama administration; Ambassador Dennis Ross; former Reps. Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Steve Israel (D-NY); Amos Hochstein, who was recently appointed special presidential coordinator for global infrastructure and energy security; and Miami-based developer Michael Adler, who now serves as ambassador to Belgium.
Israel’s military launched Operation Shield and Arrow in Gaza overnight, killing three senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in response to the launch of over 100 rockets from the Palestinian enclave into Israel this month, which have been attributed to the terror group. The IDF targeted weapons manufacturing sites and military compounds belonging to the Islamic Jihad, as well as a site used for manufacturing concrete for building terrorist tunnels, the army said.
The IDF named the officials as Khalil Bahtini, who, it said, was responsible for the rocket fire toward Israel in the past month; Jahed Ahnan, secretary of the Islamic Jihad Military Council; and Tarek Az Aldin, who directed operations in the West Bank from Gaza. The Islamic Jihad figures were among at least 13 casualties, including their wives and some of their children, according to Palestinian reports.
“Overnight, the IDF and ISA [Israeli Security Agency] conducted a precise operation against the leadership of the Islamic Jihad terror organization in Gaza,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said. “The State of Israel seeks stability in the region, while the Iranian-funded terror group launches attacks. At the same time, it harms its own people — the Palestinian residents of Gaza.”
“The State of Israel will not tolerate rocket fire, terrorism or any threats to the sovereignty of our state and security of our citizens,” he added.
“Striking three senior figures in the military arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement is an impressive achievement,” said Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Managing Director Major Gen. (res.) Tamir Hayman in a statement. “The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is expected to respond, despite not having the capabilities of Hamas, it can still challenge Israeli population centers. As far as Israel is concerned, Hamas is not the target of the operation but the main question that will determine the intensity of this conflict and its duration is whether or not Hamas will join the campaign.”
U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinkenspoke yesterday with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and discussed “recent developments in Sudan, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and cooperation on countering Iranian malign influence,” according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.
“The Secretary reaffirmed that U.S. support for Israel’s security remains ironclad,” he added. “The Secretary noted the importance of recent meetings in Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh aimed at de-escalating tensions and urged that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority take additional steps to stabilize the situation in the West Bank and promote a durable calm.”
A statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry also noted that Cohen updated Blinken on recent Israeli activity “with the aim of advancing regional stability” and the two discussed possible normalization agreements with additional countries within the framework of the Abraham Accords and the Negev Forum. The statement also noted that Cohen met in Jerusalem yesterday evening with Hochstein to discuss diplomatic initiatives in the region.
Cohen, who arrived in India this morning, said that he is cutting short the visit after having received a security update upon his arrival in Delhi, and will return to Israel after meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Netanyahu struggles to hold pragmatists and conservatives together within Likud
In a pro-government rally held late last month in Jerusalem, Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin told an estimated crowd of 600,000 that he was determined to push ahead with polarizing judicial reforms despite ongoing mass public protests and international criticism. “We are here on this stage with 64 [total coalition] mandates to right an injustice. No more inequality, no one-sided judicial system, no court whose judges are above the Knesset and above the government,” Levin told those gathered outside the Knesset on April 27. Levin’s words that night — along with other recent statements, including comments last week accusing the U.S. State Department of supporting protests against the government’s plans, have put him increasingly at odds with the position of his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Plummeting popularity: The apparent clash between Netanyahu and Levin, 53, who comes from a longtime Likud-supporting family, is unusual and indicative of growing dissent within Likud. The largest party in Israel’s 120-seat parliament with 125,000 paid members, Likud’s popularity has been plummeting in the polls, as has support for Netanyahu. With increasingly vocal grumblings from more moderate quarters of Likud, some are starting to question the future of the country’s “legacy party.”
Different camps: “I don’t think the party is going to split apart, but there are signs, and they are growing, that there are serious disagreements in the party on a scale that we’ve rarely seen under Netanyahu,” Neri Zilber, a Tel Aviv-based journalist and advisor to the Israel Policy Forum, told JI. “You can really see the rise of at least two camps,” he explained. “People talk about the more pragmatic wing led by Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname], [Defense Minister Yoav] Gallant and [Strategic Affairs Minister Ron] Dermer and the more hardline wing led by Levin, [Minister within the Justice Ministry] Dudi Amsalem and lower-profile but vocal Knesset members primarily over the issue of the judicial overhaul.”
Inside the U.S.-brokered Red Sea island deal with Saudi Arabia
Todaywe are publishing an exclusive excerpt from the English version of Axios reporter Barak Ravid’s Trump’s Peace: The Abraham Accords and the Reshaping of the Middle East, published in Hebrew in December 2021 and out this week in English.
“Two weeks before Biden arrived in the region, there was still no deal on the Red Sea islands. Diplomats and lawyers from the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt worked on a complex choreography of agreements, understandings and letters that would allow the agreement to be inked ahead of the president’s visit. It wasn’t easy. Because Saudi Arabia and Israel don’t have diplomatic relations and can’t sign bilateral agreements officially, the countries involved tried to use creative legal and diplomatic solutions to indirectly finalize a deal.
“The idea was that Saudi Arabia would sign an agreement with Egypt and send a letter to the U.S., outlining the latter’s commitments as the guarantor. The U.S. would then give Israel a letter with guarantees, mainly on the issue of freedom of navigation. ‘The trick here was for Saudi Arabia to sign an agreement with Israel without signing an agreement with Israel,’ said a senior Israeli official. Ten days before Biden was due to arrive, a crisis erupted in the sensitive negotiations. The Saudis got cold feet and refused to provide commitments in writing. ‘They claimed they couldn’t do it because Israel leaks everything,’ another senior Israeli official told me. ‘The Saudis said, “We’ll give a secret commitment and then find it in the press.”’
“The U.S. made a last-minute effort to resolve the crisis. [Biden aides Brett] McGurk and [Amos] Hochstein traveled to Saudi Arabia a few days before the president’s trip to finalize the understandings and agreements behind it. Following talks with MBS and his brother Khalid bin Salman, they managed to convince the Saudis to give a written commitment. ‘The Americans did the heavy lifting, got the Saudis on board and solved the crisis,’ a senior Israeli official noted.”
trip in review
N.C. AG Josh Stein reflects on ‘profound’ Poland, Israel trip
As a competitive gubernatorial race heats up in North Carolina, Democratic frontrunner Josh Stein — the state’s current attorney general — took a break from the campaign trail to travel to Poland and Israel last month with a bipartisan delegation of state attorneys general in a trip focused on antisemitism.
‘Profound experience’: “It was a profound experience for me,” Stein, who had previously traveled to Israel but not Poland, told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch on Monday. “As a Jewish person, I was impacted powerfully going from the heart of the Holocaust to Israel, a vibrant democracy at one of the most critical moments in its history.” He declined to share whether the trip will spur any specific actions to fight antisemitism from the attorney general’s office.
Elections watch: Stein’s comments come as the Jewish community in the Tar Heel State grapples with how to respond to Mark Robinson, the state’s lieutenant governor and a Republican firebrand with a history of antisemitic and Islamophobic comments. The state currently has a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled legislature. Former Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) is also mulling a bid for the office.
Richmond rules: Also on the trip to Poland and Israel was Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, a Republican, who in February convened a statewide antisemitism task force. On Monday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed into law legislation adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, part of a coordinated effort in the state to address antisemitism.
🇹🇷 Earthquake Election: In The New Yorker, Suzy Hansen examines how the devastating earthquakes that struck Turkey in February will factor into the upcoming presidential election. “The force of the two earthquakes — plus a third, which struck Hatay two weeks later — would have incapacitated any country, and most governments would have had trouble responding to a calamity of such scale. But the incompetence and, at times, the inhumanity of Erdoğan’s regime came as a surprise even to hardened critics. ‘Erdoğan is right when he says a lot of the buildings that collapsed were built before him,’ Tuna Kuyucu, a sociologist at Boğaziçi University, in Istanbul, who studies urban development, said. ‘But then the right question to ask Erdoğan is: What were you doing for the past twenty years, when the old buildings were very likely to collapse?’ Erdoğan, during his time in office, has instituted a relentless program of building — apartment towers, malls, bridges, and airports — aimed at improving the lives of a large swath of voters. He brags about having designed a Turkish state that runs on technological prowess and expertise. In fact, he created a party machinery, a wealthy business class, and a dependent poor whose loyalty made his repression of civil society relatively easy. Then he centralized power around his person, rendering Turkey a country that no longer works. The earthquakes highlighted a two-pronged failure — the failure to prepare and the failure to respond — that was rooted in the A.K. Party’s decades-long reign. Erdoğan is up for reëlection for President on May 14th, in the year of the hundredth anniversary of the Turkish Republic. It is a chance to cement his legacy as the replacement of the secularist hero Atatürk. But many Turks feel that another Erdoğan term will mean not only dictatorship but death.” [NewYorker]
💻 The Times They Are A-Changin’: In Tablet magazine, Walter Russell Mead grapples with the potential ramifications of the current technological revolution. “What if the Information Revolution, as seems likely, arrives faster, propagates more widely, hits harder, and digs deeper than the Industrial Revolution ever did? As the rate of change increases globally, even the nimblest and most adaptable societies must struggle to adjust. The social and political unrest and dissatisfaction in the United States, leading some to fear an irretrievable breakdown in our political system, reflects America’s difficulties in coming to terms with the latest wave of tech-driven social and economic change. America’s difficulties are not unique. Both democratic and authoritarian political systems around the world are facing new strains under the pressure of economic disruption, cultural conflict, and the corrosive impacts of social media. The sense is widespread today, among elites as well as among the public at large, that the dogs of technological and economic change have slipped the leash: that things are happening to us faster than we can understand, much less control.“ [Tablet]
Around the Web
👨 Eye on the Prize: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told CNN that his focus in 2024 is on winning seats in Montana, West Virginia and Ohio, as well as Pennsylvania, where he said he will back Dave McCormick, who has not yet officially announced a second bid for office.
🗳️ Chesapeake Candidate: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said the decision to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) is an “absolute toss-up” but that he will decide by next month whether he intends to seek the seat.
🏃♂️ In the Race: Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel, a Democrat, announced the launch of his congressional campaign in the state’s 6th Congressional District, currently held by Rep. David Trone (D-MD), who is mounting a Senate bid.
📢 JFNA Call: The Jewish Federations of North America called on Secretary of State Tony Blinken to work to free detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested last month.
🏀 Jokic Jostle: NBA fans are divided over an incident between Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia and Denver Nuggets player Nicola Jokic, after a ball landed in Ishbia’s hands off the court and Jokic shoved him in the ensuing melee, receiving a technical foul for the interaction.
Ξ SBF Defense: FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is seeking to have several of the charges against him dismissed.
🚓 Manhunt: The NYPD is searching for an individual believed to have thrown a rock at a Jewish man walking into a synagogue in Queens, N.Y.
🇵🇸 Sign of the Times: The Associated Press spotlights the first killing of an alleged Israeli collaborator by Palestinian militants in nearly two decades, amid tensions between the ruling Palestinian Authority and local militias.
❌ Party Down: The E.U. canceled a diplomatic reception in Tel Aviv meant to celebrate the anniversary of V-E Day in an effort to avoid giving a platform to Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was slated to attend.
☢️ State of Play: Politico’s NatSec Dailyassessed the state of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, on the fifth anniversary of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
🚀 Downed: Ukraine’s air-defense system shot down nearly three dozen Iranian-made rockets around Kyiv.
➡️ Transition: Amy Spitalnick was named the next CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
🕯️ Remembering: Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Fred Siegel, a contributing editor to City Journal, died at 78. Theoretical physicist Stanley Deser, who as a child fled Nazi Germany with his parents, died at 92. California political strategist Michael Berman died at 75.
Pic of the Day
Jews gather around a bonfire at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in northern Israel during the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, which began last night and marks the anniversary of the death of the Talmudic sage.
Pianist, singer-songwriter and one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, Billy Joel turns 74…
Owner of St. Louis-based Harbour Group Industries, investor in 200 companies in 40 industries, former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Sam Fox turns 94… Holocaust survivor, philanthropist and social activist, she marched in Selma with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965, Eva Haller turns 93… Academy Award-winning director, producer and screenwriter, James L. Brooks turns 83… Guitarist and record producer, best known as a member of the rock-pop-jazz group “Blood, Sweat & Tears,” Steve Katz turns 78… Israeli rabbi who is a co-founder of Yeshivat Har Etzion, Yoel Bin-Nun turns 77… Mashgiach ruchani (spiritual guide) of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Rabbi Beryl Weisbord… Winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, he is a professor of structural biology at Stanford University, Michael Levitt turns 76… Physician in Burlington, Vt., she was the first lady of Vermont from 1991 until 2003 when her husband was governor, Judith Steinberg Dean turns 70… Sharon Mallory Doble… Co-founder and CEO of PlayMedia, Brian D. Litman… Film director and producer, Barry Avrich turns 60… Staff writer at The Atlantic, Mark Leibovich turns 58… Co-managing partner of Bain Capital and owner of a minority interest in the Boston Celtics, Jonathan Lavine turns 57… VP of global public policy at Meta / Facebook, Joel D. Kaplan turns 54… NYC-based celebrity chiropractor, Arkady Lipnitsky, DC… and his twin brother, managing director at Baltimore’s Pimlico Capital, Victor “Yaakov” Lipnitsky both turn 50… Lesli Rosenblatt… Owner of NYC’s Dylan’s Candy Bar, proclaimed the largest candy store in the world, Dylan Lauren turns 49… Senior advisor to the secretary of veterans affairs, Aaron Scheinberg… Founder and managing member at Revelstoke PLLC, Danielle Elizabeth Friedman… Opinion columnist and podcast host at The New York Times, Ezra Klein turns 39… Jenna Weisbord… Investor for Blackstone Growth Israel, Nathaniel Rosen… Graduate of Harvard Law School, Mikhael Smits…