👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to Democrats on Capitol Hill about the Biden administration’s efforts to broker relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem, and catch up with the team behind Boston’s Lehrhaus, which opened earlier this spring. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Bret Stephens, Neetzan Zimmerman and Idina Menzel.
The White House released its national strategy to counter antisemitism on Thursday, hours before the start of the Shavuot holiday. The 60-page document presents a whole-of-society approach that includes more than 100 policy commitments across the executive branch and a call to action for ordinary Americans to stand together with the Jewish community in fighting antisemitism.
In an interview with Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) hailed the inclusion of the mainstream International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism in the antisemitism report, acknowledging he fielded calls from Jewish leaders concerned it wouldn’t make it in.
The White House report favorably cited the IHRA definition, while also welcoming an alternative preferred by progressives who argue that the IHRA definition does not allow sufficient space for critiques of Israel. “I called just about everyone under the sun in the administration and said it would be a disgrace, or shanda… to dilute this language, especially at a time when antisemitism is on the increase,” Schumer told JI. “Today, we learned we succeeded. The strong language is maintained.”
Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), who co-chairs the House antisemitism task force, said the inclusion of the IHRA “gives a lot of weight and heft” to the IHRA definition. “I will point out that it is in, in Jewish tradition, the tradition of our rabbis and our sages to embrace the majority opinion, but also make note of the minority opinion,” she added. “We shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees here. We have a remarkable, comprehensive, all-of-government strategy to combating antisemitism, and I think that is really commendable.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who was outspoken in calling for only the IHRA definition to be included, told JI: “I’m sure folks on the far left will try to claim that as a win. I’m sure folks on the far right will cry defeat. But the truth is that this document clearly and cogently centers IHRA as the definition that the U.S. government is using to understand antisemitism.”
The strategy received pushback from at least one House Republican: Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), who alleged the effort would target conservatives and censor free speech. “Their tactics are straight out of the USSR’s playbook,” Boebert tweeted.
The strategy pledges to implement a range of policies, including increased monitoring of antisemitic incidents and improved data to measure antisemitism; a new Holocaust education research center at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; educational campaigns to teach students about antisemitism and to include it in diversity, equity and inclusion programs; and partnerships with other religious communities, cultural organizations and educational institutions.
The document also urges Congress to pass additional legislation targeting antisemitism, including a request for $360 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which Jewish groups have been advocating, and it lays out actions that local and state governments can take to prevent anti-Jewish hate in their jurisdictions. Executive branch agencies have committed to implementing the 100 policy actions within the year.
But a fact sheet on the strategy released by the White House raised eyebrows for its inclusion of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has actively lobbied against state and municipal adoption of the IHRA definition, and whose staff on at least one occasion has trafficked in antisemitic tropes. The fact sheet says that CAIR “will launch a tour to educate religious communities about steps they can take to protect their houses of worship from hate incidents, such as instituting appropriate security measures, developing strong relationships with other faith communities, and maintaining open lines of communication with local law enforcement.”
It’s unclear what that effort will look like in the Bay Area, where Zahra Billoo, the executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco office, gave a speech in 2021 alleging that “Islamophobia is a well-funded conspiracy” backed by “organizations that promote Zionist agendas,” specifically naming the Anti-Defamation League, local Hillels and the Jewish Federations of North America.
And in New York, CUNY officials are — again — facing criticism and questions after the CUNY Law School released a video of the student-selected keynote speaker attacking Israel from the dais earlier this month. Fatima Mohammed, a member of the law school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, accused Israel of “indiscriminate” killings and called for a “fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism, and Zionism around the world.” Mohammed also alleged that the school was “committed to its donors, not to its students.”
The incident marks the second time in as many years that a CUNY Law School commencement speaker has focused portions of the keynote on demonizing the Jewish state. Last May, Nerdeen Kiswani, who had previously been recorded attempting to set fire to a stranger’s Israeli Defense Forces sweatshirt — a move the law school defended at the time as free speech — said she had “been facing a campaign of Zionist harassment by well-funded organizations with ties to the Israeli government and military.”
Mohammed’s speech received bipartisan condemnation from New York’s congressional delegation. “Imagine being so crazed by hatred for Israel as a Jewish State that you make it the subject of your commencement speech at a law school graduation,” Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) tweeted. “Anti-Israel derangement syndrome at work.” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) said he is “finalizing legislation” that would strip universities that “engage in and promote” antisemitism of public funding. “CUNY should be ashamed of itself — and should lose any federal funds it currently receives,” Lawler added.
saudi temperature in dc
Hill Dems skeptical of Saudi-Israel normalization, despite Biden admin’s interest in a deal
Achieving a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia — the brass ring of Arab-Israeli normalization with the potential to radically change the shape of the Middle East — is potentially achievable in the short term, analysts say, but myriad obstacles remain ahead, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Next steps: The Biden administration is reportedly pushing for a deal by year’s end. Saudi Arabia is asking, as part of the negotiations, for increased military cooperation with the U.S., sales of advanced weapons from the U.S. and a speedier approval process and assistance developing its civilian nuclear power program, including domestic uranium enrichment. Both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. are expected to demand that Israel take steps to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Potential obstacle: Saudi demands are likely to be problematic among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, especially Democrats, who have repeatedly pushed back against arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the kingdom’s nuclear program. Vocal opponents of such programs in the past have included lawmakers who are also strong supporters of Israel and influential Democrats in senior foreign policy roles on the Hill.
Speaking out: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a staunch supporter of Israel who has also backed legislation seeking to cut off arms sales to and nuclear cooperation with Riyadh, expressed deep skepticism of many of the reported Saudi conditions. “The short-term political benefits go to whatever politicians are in office when this great celebratory [agreement] with the Saudis… is concluded,” Sherman told JI last week. “The issue has got to be what’s in the long-term interest of Israel and the United States. And [the Abraham] Accords exist until they’re discarded, whereas weapons are forever, and nuclear weapons are forever… Anything that brings Saudi Arabia closer to a nuclear weapon is a nonstarter with Brad Sherman.”
Read the full story here.
Bonus: The Wall Street Journal reports on an escalation in tensions between Moscow and Riyadh over Russia’s continued production of crude oil, which is driving down prices globally.
nosh and learn
‘Jewish culture, cuisine, peoplehood’: Inside Lehrhaus, Boston’s ‘tavern and house of learning’
It was two nights before Passover, and at a new restaurant in Somerville, Mass., Jews of all stripes enjoyed chometz-filled dishes and local beers that they were about to give up for eight days. In the next room, sitting around a communal table, “The Office” star B.J. Novak, his brother Lev and their father, William, told old-school Jewish jokes. Among the intimate crowd of roughly 20 people, someone who was not Jewish raised his hand and thanked the presenters for helping him understand what makes Jewish humor… Jewish. On display that night at Lehrhaus, a restaurant and bar that bills itself as a “Jewish tavern and house of learning,” was a joyful vision of what it means to have a space that is both distinctly, vibrantly Jewish and also open, and inviting, to people of all faiths and backgrounds, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Rising star: Following the restaurant’s soft opening in March, Lehrhaus quickly attracted another clientele: Boston foodies. Lehrhaus has landed on both Eater and Thrillist’s lists of the hottest new restaurants in Boston, and a recent feature-length profile in The Boston Globe cemented Lehrhaus as a rising star on the Boston culinary scene.
Breaking boundaries: “Most kosher restaurants don’t appeal to people outside of kosher dining. This place does. Most restaurants don’t have a distinctive Jewish identity outside of kashrut,” Lehrhaus cofounder Rabbi Charlie Schwartz told JI in a recent interview at the restaurant. “What we’re actually doing here is defining Jewish food.”
Cybersecurity threats highlight need for Mideast cooperation
Concern about cybersecurity is bringing together states in the Middle East and North Africa to develop a regional approach to repelling digital threats. Representatives from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Israel and the U.S. participated last week in a forum at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., to discuss making cybersecurity a new field for cooperation under the Abraham Accords, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports.
Harden defenses: “What we are doing here is seizing upon a geopolitical opening,” Robert Silvers, the U.S. Homeland Security undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans, said during the May 23 panel discussion, which was webcast from the Washington think tank. “We can work together as partners to harden up our defenses.”
Sharing expertise: Citing statistics that showed Israeli companies receiving 40% of global private capital invested in cybersecurity in 2021, generating $8.8 billion in exports, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, said his country wants to share its expertise with regional partners. “We live in the same region. We are targeted by the same actors: state actors, non-state actors and cybercriminals,” Herzog said. ‘It’s only natural that we cooperate in the field of cybersecurity since we have so much going between us in so many fields [under the normalization agreements signed in 2020].”
🕍 Above the Fold:The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson looks at how the organized Jewish community has professionalized its security measures amid an uptick in antisemitic threats and attacks. “Overseeing much of this operation is the Secure Community Network. The group’s senior national security adviser, the man who designed much of the approach that it shares with local federations, is Bradley Orsini, a burly, gregarious former F.B.I. agent. In October 2018, he was the security director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. ‘The worst day of my professional career,’ Mr. Orsini said in an interview at the group’s headquarters. He had been in charge of preparing the community for calamity, and it happened. But there was another way of looking at it, one that is the foundation of the work he does now: Had they not been taught the basic tactics of active-shooter response, the horror at Tree of Life would have been even worse. ‘Bad things are going to happen,’ Mr. Orsini said. ‘But we can give ourselves an edge.’” [NYTimes]
👟 Designer Distress: Bloomberg’s Kim Bhasin and Tim Loh explore the challenges facing Adidas following its severing of ties with Kanye West, now known as Ye, and the sports apparel industry’s history of elite partnerships. “Over the last few years, one of Germany’s largest companies became dangerously reliant on a single person to meet its towering financial goals. Then, in October, Ye capped off a series of unhinged outbursts with a torrent of antisemitic rants, leaving Adidas little choice but to end its multibillion-dollar arrangement with Yeezy and eliminating nearly half the company’s earnings in an instant. By the time the partnership dissolved, the shoes accounted for 8% of Adidas’s total revenue and 40% of its profit, according to estimates from Morgan Stanley. Even worse, the collapse exposed deep-rooted problems at Adidas that Yeezy’s success had long camouflaged. Ye should never have generated such a big chunk of earnings, and he didn’t — until the bottom fell out elsewhere in the company. Product cycles went out of whack as Adidas flooded the market with anything that showed promise, often resorting to its vintage standbys. Collaborations with Beyoncé and Prada fell short. Leadership grossly miscalculated its pandemic strategy, then lost footing in two of its most vital overseas markets. Now Adidas is faced with life after Yeezy.” [Bloomberg]
💻 Traffic Cop: Semafor’s Ben Smith spotlightsThe Messenger’s Chief Growth Officer Neetzan Zimmerman, as the recently launched digital publication struggles to find its footing. “Zimmerman told me he survived the shifting internet, in part, because he never viewed the search for traffic as some kind of technical trick to game Facebook or Google.’‘If you understand that platforms come and go, and that your primary responsibility is to provide your reader with interesting, engaging, and accessible information regardless of where they happen to be, then you will always be one step ahead of those forces that are beyond your control,’ he said in an email. But his endurance is, I think, also because he never developed a distinct voice or a brand or point of view. His biography — he was raised on a left-leaning kibbutz and did his compulsory service for the Israeli Defense Forces in Gaza before moving to the U.S. to study at Boston University — seems incidental. The most memorable things he has written are about his own philosophies of traffic. One friend of Zimmerman’s recently told me he is ‘the most cynical person I know in the business.’” [Semafor]
🛫 Journey to Jerusalem: The New York Times’ Bret Stephens travels to Addis Ababa to accompany 111 Ethiopian immigrants on their aliyah flight to Israel, and reflects on the history of Ethiopian immigration to the Jewish state. “The Ethiopian aliyah is in many ways one of the most inspiring episodes in Israel’s modern history — and, in some ways, among the most frustrating. There’s a rich historical debate as to whether the Beta Israel descended from ancient Israelites or were a more recent breakaway sect of Ethiopian Christians who decided to return to the old-time religion. Whichever way, it’s an ancient community. There are reliable contemporaneous accounts of the Beta Israel from the 1480s, and the community began to suffer from state-sanctioned religious persecution from the 17th century onward, including a prohibition on owning land. This led Ethiopian Jews to take up occupations like blacksmithing and pottery — an association with fire that helped further stoke anti-Jewish bigotries about their connection to evil.” [NYTimes]
🎉 Party Circuit: The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos reports on the popularity of private events featuring high-cost celebrity appearances. “A man with this kind of nest egg might never need to leave home again. But, on this evening, Flo [Rida] had journeyed north on business: he was playing a bar mitzvah, for a thirteen-year-old boy and three dozen of his friends, in the well-to-do Chicago suburb of Lincolnshire. The bar-mitzvah boy, in keeping with the customs of his forebears, had chanted his way into adulthood; then, following a more recent tradition, the celebrants had relocated to a warehouse-size event venue that is highly regarded on Chicago’s mitzvah circuit. A production company had installed the décor, including roller coasters stencilled across the dance floor and a banquet table made to resemble a red Ferrari. The whole affair was invisible to the outside world, except for the word ‘Andrew’ projected by brilliant red floodlights onto an exterior wall. The entertainment had been arranged by Andrew’s father, an executive at a financial-services company. At first, he had doubted that Flo Rida, his son’s favorite artist, would agree to come, but an agent informed him that most big-name musicians are available these days, under the right conditions. Flo Rida’s fee for private gigs in the United States runs between a hundred and fifty thousand and three hundred thousand dollars, depending on location, scale, and other particulars. Reginald Mathis, his lawyer, told me, ‘Internationally, it could run you up to a million.’ For the Lincolnshire bar mitzvah, the contract stipulated private-jet travel, suitable accommodations, and a fee ‘in the six figures,’ Mathis said; Flo Rida would perform for thirty minutes. When I saw Andrew’s father at the event, he was thrilled with the outcome but declined to have his name in this story. ‘I work on Wall Street,’ he told me. ‘I don’t want to end up on Page Six.’” [NewYorker]
Around the Web
👨 Memorial Day Moves: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held an event for veterans, Gold Star families and relatives of 9/11 victims, the latter of whom raised concerns over former President Donald Trump’s hosting of a Saudi-sponsored LIV golf tournament over the Memorial Day weekend.
🎁 DOJ Inquiry: Federal investigators are looking into whether Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his wife received gifts from a New Jersey business that won a contract with the Egyptian government.
🪖 Tuberville Tactic: A hold placed on military appointments by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) over the Department of Defense’s new policies regarding abortion will put on ice the nomination of Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown Jr., the Biden administration’s pick to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
👵 Pressure Mounting: Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) called for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s resignation, saying, “Once you’re no longer the best person to represent your state, you have a duty to move on.” Meanwhile, attendees at the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles quietly debated over the weekend whether the senior senator should step down ahead of the end of her term next year.
🚁 Family History: Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) visited Vietnam’s Dragon Mountain, where his biological father was killed in a helicopter crash when Phillips was 6 months old.
🙅♂️ Not Running: Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the GOP’s nominee for governor last year, announced he will not run for Senate, driving further speculation that Dave McCormick will enter the race.
🎼 Sounds of Simon: The New Yorkerparses the lyrics of Paul Simon’s newest album, “Seven Psalms,” released earlier this month.
📽️ Survivor Stories:Axioslooks at the global effort to record the oral testimonies of the world’s remaining Holocaust survivors.
👨🎤 Choppy Waters: Jewish groups and local officials in Frankfurt, Germany, protested Roger Waters’ weekend concert over the former Pink Floyd frontman’s history of antisemitic remarks and displays.
🏺 Coming Soon: The Washington Postpreviews the opening of the Capital Jewish Museum, which will open to the public next month.
⚖️ Trial Begins: Opening statements are set to begin today in the trial of the man accused of carrying out the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
🌟 Star Struck: The United Arab Emirates Space Agency announced plans to send a spacecraft to an asteroid belt located between Mars and Jupiter.
🇹🇷 Erdogan Victory: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was declared the winner of Sunday’s runoff election; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Erdogan by phone on Monday to congratulate him on his reelection and to discuss the furtherance of deepening ties between Ankara and Jerusalem.
🇦🇿 Diplomatic Visit: Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog are in Azerbaijan for a two-day state visit.
👮 Tehran Trouble: Iranian state media reported the arrests of 14 individuals alleged to be linked to an Israeli “terrorist team.”
👗 Fashion Statement: Model Mahlagha Jaberi, who was born in Iran, drew attention at the Cannes Film Festival for donning a dress that resembled a noose in an effort to raise awareness about recent executions in the Islamic republic.
➡️ Transition: Former Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), a retired U.S. Navy commander, joined the board of directors of aerospace company BAE Systems, Inc.
Pic of the Day
Yulia, Israel’s celebrity monk seal, has found a new Israeli beach to lounge on. She was last spotted in a closed military zone of the Rishon LeZion beach.
Actress, singer and songwriter, she sang the national anthem at Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, Idina Menzel turns 52…
Santa Monica-based historian of Sephardic and Crypto-Jewish studies, Dolores Sloan… Real estate developer and former chair of UJA-NY, Larry A. Silverstein turns 92… Partner in the NYC law firm of Mintz & Gold, Ira Lee “Ike” Sorkin turns 80… Board member of the Collier County chapter of the Florida ACLU and the Naples Florida Council on World Affairs, Maureen McCully “Mo” Winograd… Owner and chef at LA-based Catering by Brenda, Brenda Walt turns 72… Former chief rabbi of France, Gilles Uriel Bernheim turns 71… Encino, Calif.-based business attorney, Andrew W. Hyman… Literary critic, essayist and novelist, Daphne Miriam Merkin turns 69… Israeli physicist and philosopher, Avshalom Cyrus Elitzur turns 66… Author and former member of Congress, Steve Israel turns 65… Former science editor for BBC News and author of six books, David Shukman turns 65… Editorial writer at The New York Times, Michelle Cottle… Member of Knesset who previously served as Israel’s minister of agriculture, Oded Forer turns 46… Director of engagement and program at NYC’s Congregation Rodeph Sholom, Scott Hertz… Deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, Reema Dodin turns 43… Alina T. Katz… Israeli author, her debut novel has been published in many languages around the world, Shani Boianjiu turns 36… Rapper, singer, songwriter and record producer, known professionally as Hebro, Raphael Ohr Chaim Fulcher turns 36… Counsel at Gilead Sciences, Ashley Bender Spirn… Deputy chief of staff for U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Miryam Esther Lipper… Senior writer for CNN, Eric Levenson… TLV challah baker and manager at Howard Properties, Jason Friend…