👋 Good Monday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we talk to Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy about his foreign policy positions, and interview filmmaker Ari Folman about his newest work at Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Spencer Horwitz, Ambassador Amir Hayek and Geri Mack.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf is in Israel today to kick off a visit that will include additional stops in Jordan and the West Bank. Leaf is slated to meet with a range of Israeli and Palestinian government and civil society leaders.
Leaf’s visit comes as discussions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition and the opposition, led by former Prime Minister Yair Lapid and former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, are on the verge of collapse after the parties came to an impasse last week over the appointment of judges as part of the country’s judicial reform.
Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday that he intends to proceed with the judicial reforms “in a measured way,” a move that Lapid cautioned “will critically harm the economy, endanger security and rip the Israeli people to shreds.” The New Israeli Shekel dropped 1.6% following Netanyahu’s announcement, reaching 3.61 NIS per dollar after a brief rebound last week.
The effort comes as Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a measure to alleviate the red tape on the construction of new settlements, prompting a statement of opposition from the State Department in Washington that pushed back against “unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve and are an obstacle to peace.” The cabinet measure also shifted housing approval to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who holds a position in the Defense Ministry and whose participation in the current government was contingent upon assuming control of West Bank settlement planning.
While the latest Israeli moves are expected to be broached in Leaf’s meetings, her time in the Middle East is expected to focus more broadly on Israel’s regional standing and efforts to expand the Abraham Accords, following recent trips to Saudi Arabia by Secretary of State Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk, the White House’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. A notice from the State Department announcing Leaf’s trip notes that discussions will include “expanding and deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East and constraining Iran’s destabilizing behavior.”
Over the weekend, The New York Times looked at what it describes as a “long-shot bid” to broker relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, with several American officials telling the Times that “they believe a confluence of factors have created a window of time — perhaps before next year when the American election cycle intensifies — to pull together a possible accord.”
on the trail
Ramaswamy alleges ‘open questions’ over Zelensky’s ‘treatment of religious minorities,’ including Jews
Vivek Ramaswamy, a long-shot Republican presidential candidate whose unorthodox views have drawn headlines, suggested without evidence on Thursday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had mistreated Jews and other religious minorities amid Russia’s invasion. “I’m going to say some things that maybe are outside of the establishment-approved Overton Window here, but I think we have gotten into this weird habit of holding out Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelensky as some paragon of democratic ideals,” he told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in an interview. “I would just say that there are open questions about his treatment of religious minorities, including but not limited to Jews in Ukraine, that I think should be among the reasons we should stop short of holding him out as some sort of hero.”
No examples: The 37-year-old “anti-woke” crusader was, however, unable to cite any specific examples to support his claim. Instead, Ramaswamy criticized Zelensky for dissolving Ukrainian political parties with ties to Russia and combining national TV channels into one state platform under martial law. “That much I’m on firm factual footing on,” he said, insisting that such measures alone “create the risks for” anti-Jewish bigotry.
Ukraine position: Attention-grabbing assertions are typical of the voluble Republican candidate now seeking the nomination in an increasingly crowded field. In recent weeks, Ramaswamy, an author and entrepreneur currently polling in the low single digits, has positioned himself among just a few primary rivals to have expressed skepticism of supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia. He has pledged to cease U.S. funding for Ukraine and proposed a deal in which Russia would agree to end its military alliance with China and withdraw its nuclear weapons from Kaliningrad, among other concessions. Meanwhile, the agreement would “cede most of” the occupied Donbas region in eastern Ukraine to Russia and impose “a permanent moratorium on Ukraine joining NATO.”
Elsewhere: Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, said, “I have a lot of Jewish friends. They say that Zelensky is not Jewish, that he is a disgrace to the Jewish people.”
Ari Folman’s newest film takes pride of place in Jerusalem’s newly renovated Tower of David Museum
How do you capture thousands of years of history in just three minutes? Ask award-winning Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman, who undertook the near-impossible task of creating a short, animated film telling the entire story of Jerusalem from the time of King Solomon’s First Jewish Temple up to the modern day. The quirky, colorful visuals, replete with jolly priests, angry warriors and even a steam train chugging gaily through the Jerusalem hills, serves as the first exhibit at the recently renovated and revamped Tower of David Museum. “Every second counts,” Folman, best known for his Golden Globe-winning animated feature film, “Waltz with Bashir,” told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash – before noting that the film is actually 3 minutes and 1 second.
Coming in clueless: “When I go into a project of any kind, it does not matter if it’s three minutes or 90 minutes, I try to be clueless – I don’t come into it with any agenda or plan,” Folman, 60, continued, who first turned down the project after curators suggested that the film be displayed with a small monitor beaming the images on a standard white wall. “That was just not interesting,” said Folman, who pushed the museum’s artistic director to utilize the building’s ancient Jerusalem stone and project the film inside on the “big, fantastic wall that they have there.”
Stories of the stones: It was a complicated project, Yoav Cohen, once a student of Folman’s and now the museum’s artistic director, told JI. Together, the pair had to work to map the wall – literally measuring the rough, protruding stones – so that Folman’s illustrator could then fit her drawings perfectly in and around them. “We wanted the images to interact with the stones themselves because each stone has its own content,” said Cohen, a visual design graduate from Bezalel School of Art and Design. “The stones tell the history too; they are physically part of the museum, and they are the same stones that are found in the Western Wall.”
UAE’s PureHealth, Israel’s Sheba Medical Center sign cooperation agreement
PureHealth, the largest healthcare company in the United Arab Emirates, and Israel’s Sheba Medical Center signed an agreement last week to conduct joint research, collaborate on staff training and combine efforts to promote medical tourism. The two institutions approved a memorandum of understanding outlining their intention to work together across a range of medical fields, The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger reports.
Gaining momentum: Israel’s ambassador to the UAE, Amir Hayek, told The Circuit that the preliminary agreement demonstrates a growing momentum for the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between the two countries in 2020. “We are talking to each other about everything,” Hayek said in an interview from Abu Dhabi. “We are open about everything and we are past the point of no return.”
Emirati visit: The agreement follows a visit to Sheba, near Tel Aviv, and other Israeli health facilities last week by top executives and doctors from the Emirati organization, Hayek said. PureHealth is a $5 billion subsidiary of Abu Dhabi’s ADQ sovereign wealth fund that was formed last year to consolidate the UAE’s major health institutions, including Abu Dhabi Health Services Co., The National Health Insurance Co., Tamouh Healthcare and the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Center. PureHealth operates 25 hospitals and 100 clinics across the Gulf state.
Read the full story here and sign up for The Weekly Circuit here.
🌎 Brave New World: In the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria considers how Saudi Arabia’s fast-growing economy and relationships abroad are reshaping the Gulf. “The gulf states are all deepening their relations with China, which is now the region’s largest customer. In 2001, Saudi Arabia’s trade with the middle kingdom was just over $4 billion, about one-tenth of its trade with the United States and European Union. In 2021, it was about $87 billion, more than the United States and E.U. combined. Economic ties are growing rapidly, and The Post even reports that China has resumed constructing a suspected military facility in the UAE. Saudi Arabia and the gulf are not seeking a divorce with the United States. They want close economic ties with China and close security ties with America. They want to be able to deal freely with everyone, including Russia. (If you want to see where Russians have gone to escape Western sanctions, visit Dubai, where you will hear more Russian than Arabic in some hotels.) They have growing ties with India and are even building new links with Israel.” [WashPost]
☢️ Deal Debate: The editorial board of The Wall Street Journalcautions against the Biden administration’s efforts to negotiate a new agreement with Iran. “The agreement looks like it is being arranged in such a way that President Biden will claim it can avoid a vote in Congress. This violates the spirit, and possibly the letter, of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that passed before the 2015 deal to block President Obama from circumventing Congress entirely. This mini-deal is less a restraint on Iranian nuclear ambitions than an effort to put those ambitions on hold until after the U.S. presidential election in 2024. Mr. Biden wants one less security crisis as he runs for re-election. But Iran isn’t putting its antipathy to the U.S. and its allies on hold. The country is sending drones to Russia to use against Ukraine, and its proxies in Iraq and Syria have killed Americans with Tehran’s approval as recently as March. This latest effort at nuclear appeasement won’t work any better than the last one.” [WSJ]
🏠 French Twist: In Tablet magazine, Lisa Klug spotlights the efforts of a British contractor to renovate a mansion in the French countryside that sheltered Jewish children from the Nazis. “‘I really appreciate what he’s doing,’ [Fanny] Ben-Ami said after watching excerpts of [Daniel] Preston’s videos. ‘The château was part of my life. And not just me — 72 children,’ at the time she lived there. (Throughout the war, the children’s ranks fluctuated until a newly installed local village priest betrayed them to Nazi officials.) Since 2021, Preston’s channel has captured upwards of 34 million views. Rebuilding floors, laying bricks, and solving structural dilemmas have attracted more than 850 Patreon subscribers seeking additional content. Tree surgeons and friends from another channel, ‘The Château Diaries,’ where Preston appeared as a gardener, make cameos. With YouTube ad revenues and ‘cups of coffee’ tips, total monthly income exceeds $8,000. ‘I really wasn’t expecting it to go that far,’ said Preston, 33, who also posts on Instagram.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
➡️ White House Appointments: The White House announced the appointments of Abba Cohen, Yair Robinson and Joseph Douek to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
⚖️ Trump Charges: Security experts told Reuters that former President Donald Trump lacked the legal authority to declassify a document related to nuclear weapons that he has been accused of possessing.
📄 Pushing IHRA: Sens. Rick Scott (R-FL), Eric Schmitt (R-MO), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced a resolution urging governments’ “exclusive use of the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] working definition of antisemitism.”
🧑⚖️ Guilty Verdict: Robert Bowers was convicted on all 63 counts related to the deadly 2018 attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; the jury will now deliberate whether he will face the death penalty or life in prison.
📱 Insta Antisemitism: The FBI arrested a 19-year-old Michigan man for making threats over Instagram to commit antisemitic attacks.
🎧 Podcast Past: An official in the Boston-area Suffolk County District Attorney’s office who has praised Louis Farrakhan was placed on leave after the discovery of past antisemitic statements made on a podcast.
🧢 Mash Merch: Chicago Cubs first baseman Matt Mervis is selling regalia with his nickname written in Hebrew, with proceeds going to benefit the Israel Association of Baseball.
⚾ Big Leagues: Team Israel’s Spencer Horwitz was added to the Toronto Blue Jays active roster for the first time since joining the franchise in 2019.
⚽ Messi’s Millions: The New York Timeslooks at a multimillion-dollar contract between Lionel Messi and Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority.
🏡 On the Market: Tinder co-founder Sean Rad is selling his Los Angeles home for $32 million.
👋 Stepping Down: The executive director of San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum will step down after nearly two years in the role.
👨👨 Biden and Bibi: The New Yorker‘s Bernard Avishai looks at how the Biden administration and Israeli government are navigating the current status quo.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: U.K. Communities Secretary Michael Gove is set to introduce legislation today banning boycotts of Israel and Israeli products.
🏭 Intel Investment: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Intel plans to spend $25 billion on a new factory in Israel, which he said would be the largest international investment in the country to date.
🛬 Airy Apology: RyanAir apologized after a flight attendant announced that a flight headed for Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport would be landing in Palestine, angering passengers.
🎨 Mexican Mural: A new 143-foot mural celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding, which was gifted to Israel by Mexico, will be unveiled at Ben Gurion Airport tomorrow.
🔥 Jenin Flare-up: Three Palestinians were killed and 28 wounded in a skirmish with Israeli forces near Jenin after a local wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad targeted IDF troops with roadside explosives; seven Israeli soldiers and border police officers were wounded.
🚢 Trade Talk: Russia’s deputy prime minister floated the possibility of a free-trade zone agreement between Moscow and Iran and other members of the Eurasian Economic Union before the end of the year.
🛢️ Oily Exports: Iranian exports of oil have reached their highest levels in nearly five years, as the Islamic republic attempts to reassert itself in the region.
🛂 Reopened: The UAE and Qatar resumed operations of their embassies following the warming of ties between the two Gulf nations after a yearslong rift.
🕯️ Remembering: Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, died at 92. Photojournalist Lisl Steiner, whose subjects included Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro, died at 95.
Pic of the Day
Esti and Shalom Yaniv meet with the individuals who received the corneas of their sons, Yagel and Hillel Yaniv, at Israel’s Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah. The Yaniv brothers were killed in a terror attack in February.
Former U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands in the Carter administration, Geraldine “Geri” Mack Joseph turns 100…
Attorney, investment banker, film producer and former deputy mayor of NYC, Kenneth Lipper turns 82… Rabbi emeritus of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, N.J., Rabbi Bennett F. Miller… Historian of Jews in Muslim lands in the modern era, Yaron Tsur turns 75… Retired territory sales manager for GlaxoSmithKline, Harry E. Wenkert… Retired president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson turns 66… Inna N. Zalevsky… Rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Stoughton, Mass., Jonathan Hausman turns 66… Overland Park, Kansas, resident, Kathi Shaivitz Rosenberg… Director of communications for Kings Bay Y, Adrienne M. Knoll… Member of the European Jewish Parliament for Latvia, Valery Engel, Ph.D. turns 62… OB-GYN physician specializing in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, Jessica Rosenberg Brown, MD… Co-founder of Centerview Partners, Blair Effron turns 61… Singer-songwriter, actress and television personality, Paula Abdul turns 61… Former member of Knesset for the Zionist Union party, Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin turns 53… Human rights activist and advocate for women and minorities in Iran, Marjan Keypour Greenblatt… Co-founder of nine companies, Andrew Perlman turns 48… Director of the export control department in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Eitan Weiss… Staff writer at The New Yorker, Isaac Chotiner… Director of affinities and major giving at the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, Tslil Shtulsaft… Founder of JSwipe, David Austin Yarus… Senior program officer at Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Anna Langer… COO at Switch Money with Friends, Alex Jakubowski… Finance director at M/O Strategies, Cydney Couch… Singer known as Skye for short, Daniel Skye turns 23…