👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Maryland congressional candidate Joe Vogel and talk to The New York Times’ Isabel Kershner about her new book on Israelis. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: William Daroff, Pamela Nadell and Carl Icahn.
When it comes to the release of the long-awaited White House national strategy on antisemitism, it’s not just the substance of what’s in it that matters. The timing matters, too.
The strategy is expected to be released this week. But if it’s released during the day on Thursday, hours before the Jewish holiday of Shavuot and just before Memorial Day weekend, it likely won’t receive as much attention as on a normal day. Major Jewish organizations, many of which are closed starting sundown on Thursday through Friday for Shavuot, would have little time to examine and support — or criticize — the strategy so close to the holiday.
If the White House releases the strategy today (or next week, after the holidays), Jewish organizations will have time to react and show that they’re serious about promoting the plan.
However, if the White House drops the report similar to a Friday afternoon news dump, it could undermine the administration’s goal of raising awareness of antisemitism. The report, designed to showcase the White House’s seriousness regarding tackling antisemitism, has been mired in internal debates over how precisely to define antisemitism.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, backed by mainstream Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, labels some extreme forms of anti-Israel rhetoric — like holding Israel to a separate standard than other democracies — as antisemitism. Progressive groups want to limit such characterizations.
Earlier this week, we reported that the latest draft of the antisemitism report highlights the widely accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism, but also references an alternative definition — referred to as Nexus — embraced by some groups on the left.
The White House may think that adopting both is an acceptable compromise, but a pre-holiday release would suggest the administration is already worried about backlash it may receive from leading Jewish organizations, and may be attempting preemptive damage control.
William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, penned an op-ed calling the IHRA definition “essential and seminal,” noting “significant” support for it from over 175 Jewish organizations and 600 rabbis in recent days.
“Members of Congress have weighed in. Mayors have weighed in. Across the board, a strong and clear consensus of support exists for the definition,” Daroff added.
In political news: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will officially kick off his presidential campaign today on a 6 p.m. ET Twitter Spaces online call with Elon Musk. The conversation will be moderated by entrepreneur David Sacks, a DeSantis supporter.
It’s a bit of an unconventional campaign launch for the Florida governor, turning to a social media platform that many Americans don’t use. DeSantis will be holding a more typical kickoff event on June 1 in his hometown of Dunedin, Fla., according to reports.
DeSantis has lost ground in polls over the spring, as former President Donald Trump has focused on attacking his leading rival. But DeSantis and his allies have over $110 million to spend on the race, giving him a financial edge that should sustain his candidacy in the early phase of the campaign.
Correction: In the opening section of yesterday’s Daily Kickoff, we misidentified ATTN co-founder Matthew Segal. We regret the error.
old line state
Pro-Israel progressive Joe Vogel seeks to make history in Maryland
Joe Vogel, a progressive state legislator who recently launched a campaign for an open House seat in Maryland, boasts a fairly atypical profile for a candidate seeking federal office. Not only is the 26-year-old Jewish Democrat poised to become one of the youngest members of Congress if he is elected, but he would also be the first Latino as well as the first openly gay person to represent Maryland in the House. “The urgent challenges of this time,” Vogel said in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel last week, “call for new leaders with new ideas, new energy and the courage to really get things done. I think that’s what I’ve brought to the legislature here in Maryland, and that’s what I’ll bring to Congress.”
Sticking to his guns: Vogel’s strong support for Israel also sets him apart, even if he acknowledges that his beliefs haven’t always been received positively by the left. “When it comes to Israel, I have faced pushback before for my views,” Vogel, who called himself a pro-Israel progressive, explained. “But I don’t see being progressive as being in conflict with being pro-Israel. I actually think those are overlapping viewpoints.” He said he expects to face further pushback during his campaign and, assuming he’s elected, in Congress. “But,” he insisted, “I’m never going to compromise.”
Similar approaches: That pledge may resonate in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, where outgoing Rep. David Trone (D-MD) has established himself as among the most prominent supporters of Israel in the House. Trone, the only sitting member of Congress who is an AIPAC “minyan” donor, has long been an outspoken critic of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Trone, 67, recently vacated his House seat to run for the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), a pro-Israel stalwart. “Trone sets a very high bar within the Jewish community and thus will be very hard to replace,” said Robert Stillman, a Jewish community leader and pro-Israel activist who lives in the district.
‘Times’ reporter goes inside Israel’s identity crisis, 75 years in the making
In a new book examining “the new Israel,” New York Times reporter Isabel Kershner investigates the myriad ways Israel has changed since its founding 75 years ago. At the same time that Israel has become an economic powerhouse and a Zionist success story, divisions that were present at the time of the country’s founding have morphed and become even more deeply entrenched. It is this identity crisis — what she views as a core contradiction at the heart of modern Israel — that Kershner seeks to describe and unpack in The Land of Hope and Fear: Israel’s Battle for Its Inner Soul, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Deep divisions: “There are problems that have festered for decades and not been dealt with, and they’re just becoming more acute. But at the same time, there’s a vitality here,” Kershner, who has been at The Times since 2007, told JI in an interview on Tuesday. “You look at the demography, and these competing visions of what the country should be, and yet at the same time, there’s passion on all sides. I think we’ve seen that from the last few weeks and months with the mass protests on both sides of the political map, peaceful protests of equally passionate people on either side, both carrying the Israeli flag.”
High alert: Reporting on one of the most complicated and scrutinized beats in the world comes with certain challenges. Eagle-eyed advocates read any Times coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ready to find mistakes or missing context or misinformation. “You get it from all sides,” Kershner noted. “You get called a self-hating Jew. You get criticized for having had a son or two in the army. Whatever you do, there will be people who are not happy with it.”
Read the full story here.
Biden has been ‘doing a lot of work’ on antisemitism strategy behind the scenes, Emhoff tells Jewish Democrats
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who has been one of the leading players in crafting the White House’s national strategy on combating antisemitism, said Tuesday evening that President Joe Biden has been engaged behind the scenes in formulating the plan, which is expected to be released this week, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Inside look: “[Biden] has been doing a lot of work with us behind the scenes on the plan,” Emhoff said at a Jewish Democratic Council of America leadership gala Tuesday evening in Washington, D.C. “And of course the vice president, she has been so powerful in continuing to push me on this journey of the fight against hate and antisemitism.”
Also in attendance: Emhoff was joined at the JDCA gala by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was presented with JDCA’s Defender of Democracy award. “We… need to lean in because of the rise in antisemitism and hate crimes horrendously directed at the Jewish community,” Jeffries said. “Our pledge as House Democrats is to make sure that we stand up, speak up, show up until we crush antisemitism in the United States of America. That’s a value that we all should share.
Brace for higher energy prices, Gulf ministers warn
Gulf energy ministers are warning about the likelihood of higher natural gas prices this year and cuts in oil supply, arguing that global targets for shifting away from fossil fuels are unrealistic. “There’s going to be a big shortage in gas in the future, predominantly because of the energy-transition push that we’d say is very aggressive,” Saad al-Kaabi, Qatar’s energy minister, said at the Qatar Economic Forum on Tuesday, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports. “Economic stability and environmental responsibility are not mutually exclusive. You have to have both,” he said.Warning speculators: Also appearing on the Qatar panel was the Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who said oil producers need to protect their economies against short-sellers in the market who are betting on lower prices. The prospects of reduced oil revenue led the 23 member-nation OPEC+ group to agree in October 2022 and April 2023 on voluntary cuts in supplies of more than 3 million barrels a day. It also prompted President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia last July to push for expanded oil production. “Speculators, like in any market, they are there to stay,” the Saudi minister said. “I would just tell them, watch out.” He added, “I keep advising that they will be ‘ouching.’ They did ouch in April.”
Read the full story here and subscribe to the Weekly Circuit newsletter here.
🇸🇦 Reporting from Riyadh: Tablet magazine’s Armin Rosen, reporting from Saudi Arabia, spotlights the seismic changes the country has undergone in recent years as part of an effort by Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, to modernize the Gulf nation. “MBS is gambling that the fruits of openness and modernity can be reaped on Saudi terms, and that prosperity, stability, and a recharged, secularized sense of national purpose won’t shatter existing norms or generate dangerous civic appetites. The reforms have created a rising class of ambitious executives, entrepreneurs, and artists, and for now almost everyone seems to accept the idea of a national horizon defined by the wisdom and vision of a single family, and perhaps even a single man. His program has created an atmosphere muggy with floating potential, as the palace carries out an uncertain experiment on tens of millions of people. MBS’s subjects could be the engine and the beneficiaries of the only successful 21st-century governance project in any populous Middle Eastern state — or they could mark the disastrous limits of utopia declared from on high.” [Tablet]
🙊 Mahmoud’s Mal Mots: In Newsweek, former White House Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt decries the behavior and rhetoric of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, following the Palestinian leader’s recent comments at the U.N. comparing Israelis to Nazis. “Abbas, Hamas, PIJ, and other terrorist and militant groups continue to stand on the wrong side of history. They continue to drag Palestinian society backwards. They continue to miss opportunity after opportunity to turn a new page in their relations with Israel, the Jewish people, and the international community. At 75, Israel continues to thrive and prosper and has made peace with numerous Arab neighbors. while continuing to seek peace with others. It desires peace with the Palestinians, a peace that keeps Israel safe and both populations secure and thriving, one that is based on reality and truth. Yet, today’s Palestinian leadership, like those who came before them, use the United Nations to remain mired in the abyss, while seeking the destruction of Israel. They seek an unachievable peace based on false promises made by Palestinian leaders and others around the world. The road to peace requires courage, truth and an understanding of reality. Denying the Jewish people historical rights within their ancestral homeland will never lead to peace. It is a fool’s errand, fraught with endless strife and continued defeat for those who pursue it.” [Newsweek]
⚖️ Good and Evil: In a speech adapted for Just Security, the World Jewish Congress’ Menachem Rosensaft considers the ambiguity of individuals who both acted to save and destroy Jewish lives during the Holocaust, using the example of Bulgaria’s King Boris III as an example. “To be valid, history must be predicated on absolute, uncompromising truth, not manipulation. Eighty years ago, 48,000 Jews were not deported from Bulgaria while 11,343 other Jews were cruelly loaded on trains bound for Treblinka, where they were murdered. These are two interdependent realities that cannot be and must not be allowed to be uncoupled. The fact that 48,000 Bulgarian Jews were saved in no way diminishes the tragedy and in no way mitigates the horror of the 11,343 Jews who were sent to their death at the behest of the government of King Boris III. And the fact that the Jews of Macedonia, Thrace, and Pirot were deported to be killed takes nothing away from the equal truth that the same King Boris was part of, in Bauer’s words, the ‘unlikely alliance’ that kept the Jews of ‘Old’ Bulgaria from suffering the same fate.” [JustSecurity]
📉 Eye on Icahn: Bloomberg’s Tom Maloney and Amanda Gordon interview Carl Icahn following the release of a report that accused his company of malfeasance and cut Icahn’s net worth by $15 billion. “These days, Icahn mostly holes up at his mansion on the chic private-island enclave of Indian Creek, northeast of downtown Miami. Locals call the island the Billionaire Bunker. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are neighbors. So is hedge-funder Eddie Lampert. Security patrols the place via boat. Last week, a guard — one of 20 or so personnel who keep watch over the roughly 30 mansions — promptly turned a reporter away at the small bridge. Icahn says he’s still playing tennis, still mixing martinis, still unwinding with a movie or two. At times, he sounds almost wistful, holding forth about his old exploits. At other times, he sounds like he’s looking forward to new battles ahead. Just the other evening, over a filet of Dover sole, he and son Brett, presumptive heir of Icahn Enterprises, were going on about the possibilities of AI. ‘People come and ask me, “How do you feel?” Maybe it sounds strange, but it doesn’t really affect me a whole lot. It’s my nature,’ Icahn says.” [Bloomberg]
🎥 Playing the Role: The New York Times’ Laura Collins-Hughes talks to Iranian-American actor Arian Moayed about his rise to fame as an actor frequently cast in villainous or otherwise unsettling roles. “The actor Arian Moayed has an old passport photo that he usually keeps in his wallet: a black-and-white image of a small, darling boy with big dark eyes, wearing a whimsical sweater. We had been talking for nearly 90 minutes when he mentioned it. I’d asked if he remembered anything from his earliest childhood, in Iran in the 1980s. ‘The thing that I remember the most is fear,’ he said. ‘The feeling of fear. Everywhere.’ Then he told me about the picture. It’s him at 5 or so, shortly before his family immigrated to the United States in 1986. He described the look on his face — ‘real angry’ — and his memory of sitting for the photo: how his mother, her hijab slipping, kept urging him in vain to smile. ‘And on the car ride back,’ he said, ‘I told my mom that I thought that the camera was a gun and I was at a firing range. Because in Iran, on television, they would be showing public executions in the news.’” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
🎤 AG Address: Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the FBI’s first-ever Jewish American Heritage Month celebration.
🗳️ Sitting Out: Former Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) will not launch a 2024 congressional bid, forgoing a rematch against Rep. Tom Kean (R-NJ), who unseated him last election.
✍️ On the Shortlist: Malinowski is reportedly among those being considered to replace outgoing Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Politico’s Nat Sec Daily reports. Also making the list are Deputy National Security Advisor Jonathan Finer, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet.
👨 Santos Saga: In a piece titled “Why Is George Santos Still in Office?” The New York Times’ editorial board questions why House Republicans have not moved forward on a vote to expel the New York legislator, whose “misdeeds erode the faith in the institution of Congress and the electoral system through which American democracy functions.”
🇺🇸 🇨🇳 Diplomatic Dinner: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, are set to meet for dinner on Thursday, marking the first cabinet-level meeting in Washington between the two countries since President Joe Biden took office.
💥 Nazi Admirer: The Missouri man who crashed his car into a White House gate and was found to be in possession of a Nazi flag told police on the scene that the “Nazis have a great history” and that he admired their “authoritarian nature, Eugenics, and their one world order.”
🎧 Podcast Play: Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire plans to make all of its podcasts available on Twitter, with Daily Wire co-CEO Jeremy Boreing calling the site “the largest free speech platform in the world.”
🏆 Heschel High: The mock trial team from the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan won New York’s 2023 Mock Trial State Competition for the first time in the school’s history, beating The Mount Academy from Esopus.
✡️ A Long Time Coming: American University professor Pamela Nadell, who heads the school’s Jewish studies department, looks at the centuries-old history of antisemitism in the U.S. ahead of the White House’s release of its national strategy to combat it.
👨🎤 Another Brick in the Wall: Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters displayed imagery comparing Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to Anne Frank at a concert in Berlin.
📄 Done Deal: The Knesset passed a budget for the coming two years in an evening session that went late into last night, after which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the judicial reform proposal was back on the agenda.
⚠️ Regional Warning: Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, speaking about Iran at the Herzliya Conference yesterday, cautioned that there “are possible negative developments on the horizon and that can bring about action.”
🪖 Army Operation: Israel demolished the home of the Palestinian terrorist who killed an Israeli man and injured two others on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street in March.
🌊 Under the Sea: A deadly epidemic in the Red Sea has destroyed the Gulf of Eilat’s population of black sea urchins.
🇹🇷 Unpacking the Polls: The Washington Post looks at why Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw victory at the polls in regions hit hard by twin earthquakes earlier this year.
Pic of the Day
From left to right: Andrew Weinstein, Russ & Daughters co-owner Josh Russ Tupper, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Russ & Daughters co-owner Niki Russ Federman at their appetizing shop in New York City on Tuesday.
Film director, in 2019 he became the second-ever Israeli to win an Academy Award, Guy Nattiv turns 50…
Co-founder of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Herbert Wachtell turns 91… Professor emeritus of statistics and biomedical data science at Stanford, Bradley Efron turns 85… Biographer of prominent figures, including Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, Nixon, JFK, Billy Graham and Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, Deborah Hart Strober turns 83… Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, his Hebrew name is Shabsi Zissel, he is one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation, Bob Dylan turns 82… Santa Fe, New Mexico-based social media and Internet marketing consultant, Israel Sushman turns 75… Member of Congress since 2007 (D-TN), his district includes almost three-fourths of Memphis, he is Tennessee’s first Jewish congressman, Stephen Ira “Steve” Cohen turns 74… Director of planned giving at American Society for Yad Vashem, Robert Christopher Morton… Former Mexican secretary of foreign affairs and author, Jorge Castañeda Gutman turns 70… First ever Jewish member of the parliament in Finland, he was elected in 1979 and continues to serve, Ben Zyskowicz turns 69… Constitutional historian, lecturer and writer, Richard B. Bernstein turns 67… Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer, one of his novels is The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon turns 60… U.S. ambassador to Singapore during the Obama administration, he is now general counsel of KraneShares, David Adelman turns 59… Senior advisor at the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, Debby Goldberg… Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist, Gennadii Korban turns 53… Swedish criminal defense lawyer, author and fashion model, Jens Jacob Lapidus turns 49… Actor, he starred in the HBO original series “How to Make It in America,” Bryan Greenberg turns 45… Host of “Serving Up Science” at PBS Digital Studios, Sheril Kirshenbaum turns 43… Chief of staff at The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Benjamin E. Milakofsky… Synchronized swimmer who represented Israel at the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, Anastasia Gloushkov Leventhal turns 38… Travel blogger who has visited 197 countries, Drew “Binsky” Goldberg turns 32… Member of the Iowa House of Representatives since this past January, Adam Zabner turns 24…