👋 Good Monday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Phoenix Suns CEO Josh Bartelstein and go behind the scenes of the new Jerusalem hotel The Theatron. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Sue Bird, Alex Soros and Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul.
Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, offered some noteworthy comments about the White House’s antisemitism report in a new interview with The Jerusalem Post.
In the interview, she expressed hope that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has a long history of antisemitism, might evolve and change their past behavior. “If they’re really willing to say, ‘hey, we now see this is a serious problem,’ then they are welcome,” Lipstadt said in the interview.
CAIR, a self-described Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, was mentioned in an accompanying fact sheet to the White House’s antisemitism report. Those familiar with the drafting of the White House plan downplayed the presence of CAIR in the fact sheet, saying the group was included as one of many organizations that reached out to offer assistance in the White House’s efforts.
But Lipstadt’s comments in the interview went beyond previous remarks from those involved in drafting the report. She acknowledged CAIR’s problematic past, but kept open the possibility that the group could be an ally against antisemitism in the future. “I’m going to give people a chance to change their past behavior, making it take something seriously that they never took seriously before and we’ll see what happens,” Lipstadt said.
Lipstadt also was asked about the White House’s decision to include an alternate definition of antisemitism backed by progressives, in addition to referencing the mainstream International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition. “I think the plan makes it very clear: It says America embraces the IHRA definition, by quoting what Secretary [of State Tony] Blinken said in January 2022, in the name of the Biden-Harris administration,” she said.
The report largely sidestepped the debate over how precisely to define antisemitism, only noting that the United States “has embraced” the mainstream definition (in the passive voice) while noting the current administration (in the active voice) “welcomes and appreciates” the alternative Nexus definition championed by progressives.
“There wasn’t a triumph to cloud the picture; it wasn’t an effort to diminish IHRA in any way, it was an effort to say ‘things [in the Nexus] could be useful,’” Lipstadt told The Jerusalem Post.
Mainstream U.S. Jewish groups have praised the strategy’s inclusion of IHRA. But several left-wing groups that are critical of IHRA — including CAIR — have also claimed victory over the definition debate.
“They can say whatever they want,” Lipstadt said of those who celebrated that the Biden administration did not formally adopt IHRA, “but the strategy says the United States government embraces the IHRA definition,” she told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch on Monday.
Lipstadt added that “the IHRA definition has been very useful,” but “there have been those who have misused it.”
“This claim that it stifles speech and all those things — there may have been misapplication of the IHRA definition, but it’s the same thing with social media,” said Lipstadt. “There might be misuse of social media, but we’re not attacking social media. We’re attacking the misuse of social media.”
Asked her thoughts on the recent uproar surrounding a CUNY Law student’s graduation speech attacking Zionists, Lipstadt declined to comment. “I don’t know this for a fact, but there’s a possibility that there will be some legal steps, and I can’t speak about it,” she said.
In American political news, the historic federal indictment against former President Donald Trump — at first glance — only appears to be hardening his support with the Republican base. In one of the first public polls to be conducted after the indictment, CBS News’ survey found that Trump held the largest lead to date in the GOP primary, leading Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 61-23%.
That Trump grows stronger within the Republican Party despite his growing legal troubles is also backed by the actions of his rivals for the GOP nomination. Only two long-shot GOP candidates — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — have urged Americans to take the charges seriously.
Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign won two additional congressional endorsements after the indictment — from Georgia GOP Reps. Andrew Clyde and Mike Collins.
In diplomatic news, U.S. and Iranian officials reportedly held indirect talks in Oman last month, with Omani officials delivering messages between hotel rooms, three sources told Axios.
And in philanthropic news, George Soros is passing over control of his empire to his younger son, Alex. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Alex Soros noted that he is “more political” than his father, who has been a frequent target of right-wing attacks for his progressive activism.
The Soros’ nonprofit, Open Society Foundations, directs about $1.5 billion a year to like-minded groups, according to the Wall Street Journal. Their super PAC (Democracy PAC) has spent millions to elect progressive prosecutors and district attorneys who favor less punitive sentences for criminals in favor of rehabilitative efforts.
Rand Paul, Mike Lee rail against U.S. aid to Ukraine
Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), two of the most prominent avatars of a more restrictionist foreign policy in the Senate Republican conference, criticized the bipartisan U.S. approach to Ukraine and the U.S.’ broader foreign policy posture in speeches at a foreign policy conference on Capitol Hill organized by The American Conservative magazine, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Ukraine in focus: Lee further lamented that “anyone raising dissent” or “legitimate questions” about the U.S.’ assistance to Ukraine is “immediately labeled a Putin apologist, a lover of Russia,” and said that fellow NATO members have not been pulling their weight in supporting Ukraine. Echoing a line adopted by a growing number of conservative critics of U.S. foreign policy on the war in Ukraine, Lee claimed that the U.S. is depleting stockpiles that would be needed in a potential conflict with China. “This is leaving us ill-prepared to replenish those resources and prepare for what some would say might end up being the most significant near-term threat to our national interest and our national security abroad,” Lee said.
Friendly fire: Lee criticized plans to potentially include additional aid for Ukraine in an upcoming disaster relief funding bill as “another sign of weakness in our unflinching pro-Ukraine strategy” and a sign that the war is actually unpopular among Americans. “If your aid package cannot pass on its own merits, such that it has to be attached to another package, a sympathetic, must-pass bill… that says something about your cause,” he argued. Paul echoed such sentiments. “I think the people are with us, but Washington isn’t, and that’s why we still need to clean house and get a new Congress as soon as possible,” Paul said.
ON THE BALL
A 33-year-old basketball exec rises in Phoenix
When Josh Bartelstein took over as CEO of the Phoenix Suns organization in April, it looked like he was joining a franchise at the top of its game. A blockbuster midseason four-way trade had recently landed the Suns superstar Kevin Durant — fueling hopes that the team might actually win its first championship title in 55 seasons — while its WNBA counterpart, the Phoenix Mercury, was celebrating the long-awaited return of star player Brittney Griner — after nearly 10 months of detainment and imprisonment in Russia over drug charges. Internally, however, the franchise was a mess. Bartelstein, who most recently served as assistant general manager of the Detroit Pistons, inherited all of the unrest when he took over, and has spent his first few weeks trying to avoid the mistakes of his predecessor, Jewish Insider’s Tori Bergel reports in a new profile of Bartelstein.
Background: In November 2021, an exposé by ESPN, detailing instances of alleged racist and misogynistic behavior by franchise majority owner Robert Sarver throughout his nearly two decades with the Suns, led the NBA to conduct a 10-month-long investigation into the tycoon. The inquiry concluded on Sept. 13, 2022, hitting Sarver with a one-year league suspension and a $10 million penalty. Days later, amid public outcry, Sarver announced he would be selling his share of the organization, which would eventually go to businessman Mat Ishbia — and brother Justin Ishbia as an alternate governor — in December for $4 billion. The NBA approved the purchase on Feb. 6 — just three days before the Suns signed Durant. But Sarver was apparently not alone in creating a toxic work environment. Suns personnel told investigators, and later ESPN, that Sarver’s misconduct had led to mistreatment by other top executives, including CEO Jason Rowley, of lower-level staff that included instances of verbal abuse, retaliation and intimidation. Rowley eventually stepped down the same day the NBA approved Ishbia’s purchase.
Workplace environment: “The focus initially has been on the people here and making it an amazing place to work,” Bartelstein told JI in an interview a month into his new role. “Literally I’ve met with every single person in the organization to hear about who they are, what they’ve done here and where they want to go, because it helps me shift and frame what this organization is going to stand for.” At 33, Bartelstein is one of the youngest CEOs in the league, but he is bringing a lifetime of basketball know-how and experience to the position.
New hotel aims to become center of Jerusalem diplomatic activity
A new development across the street from the Jerusalem Theater looks set to change the face of Talbiyeh, an upscale Jerusalem neighborhood where some of the Israeli capital’s most prestigious institutions are located. The Theatron, a 99-room luxury hotel, which includes 26 sprawling suites, as well as three adjoining apartment complexes that benefit from the hotel’s services and amenities, partially opened last week, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Sneak peek: JI was given an exclusive look at the new hotel’s central feature: one of two 320-square-meter presidential duplexes, replete with an expansive living room, a dining room featuring a balcony that gives way to a panoramic view of southern Jerusalem and a private infinity pool on the roof. Built by the Hassid Brothers Group, a Jerusalem-based developer, and managed by luxury French multinational hospitality company Accor as part of its MGallery Hotel Collection, the self-contained presidential suites are also directly accessible via private elevator from a secure area in the underground parking lot. It’s a feature that will make it attractive to those responsible for securing world leaders and other top officials visiting Israel.
VIP spot: Another draw at The Theatron Hotel is Sheldon Ritz. The former deputy general manager in charge of special delegations at the King David Hotel, the South African-born Ritz, who moved to Israel 30 years ago, plans to utilize his contacts and his experience to make sure that Theatron is the hotel of choice for all VIPs visiting the capital.
🗳️ Western Winds: Politico‘s Holly Otterbein examines concern among some Democrats that Cornel West’s third-party run for president could be a spoiler in the election. “West has no chance of beating Biden. But the fear in some Democratic circles is that West’s candidacy, and the fondness that he elicits from individuals in [Sen. Bernie] Sanders’ orbit, may provide a permission structure for a small percentage of progressives to sour on the president. Sixty-nine percent of liberal voters approve of Biden’s job performance, compared to 21 percent who disapprove, according to a recent poll by Monmouth University. But Biden faces deep skepticism among young voters, a key constituency of Sanders’, with 56 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds giving him a thumbs down and 32 percent a thumbs up.” [Politico]
👴 Mel’s Musings: In The Atlantic, writer and comedian Judd Apatow interviews Mel Brooks, whose 97th birthday is this summer, about his role in the U.S. army in World War II, antisemitism and comedy. “Apatow: How did people treat the Jewish soldiers? Brooks: Once in a while you’d get a couple of guys from Alabama who would ask, ‘Take off your helmet. I want to see if your ears are long.’ Sometimes for real, just curious. And sometimes just mean. A lot of mean guys. Apatow: When my mom was in college — this is in the early 1960s — her roommate at Michigan State asked to see her horns. For real. ‘Can I see your horns?’ Brooks: When I was a kid, I’d feel sorry for non-Jewish kids who would go by, and the Jews would harass them. I always felt that in my little clique of Jews, that that’s what the world was. Mostly Jews and a few strange people. It was quite a revelation when I was in the Army, that maybe me and two other guys were the only Jews in a battalion. Apatow: Fighting to free the Jews. Brooks: It was strange. I mean, it was an eye-opener. I woke up.” [TheAtlantic]
Around the Web
🇺🇳 Rejoining: The U.S. will rejoin UNESCO, nearly six years after the Trump administration withdrew its membership from the organization over what it said at the time was UNESCO’s anti-Israel bias.
🇮🇹 Global Impact: Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media mogul turned prime minister, died today at 86. “He transformed the country and offered a different template for a leader, one that would have echoes in Donald J. Trump and beyond,” The New York Times wrote in its obituary.
🛬 Fixing Filings: Four New York City Council members will amend their annual financial disclosure filings after failing to report trips to Israel funded by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
👨⚖️ Family Bonds: The co-signers on a $500,000 bond connected to Rep. George Santos’ (R-NY) federal indictment are relatives of his, Santos’ lawyers said in a court filing; Santos wants to keep those family members anonymous.
👨 On the Hill: Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) was appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
🍬 Gummy Business: Former Walt Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner is looking to sell his iconic Bazooka Candy Brands business, aiming for some $700 million.
🏆 Tony Talk: Tom Stoppard’s play about Jewish life in pre-Holocaust Vienna, “Leopoldstadt,” won best play, best director of a play, costumes and featured actor at last night’s Tony Awards. “Parade,” Alfred Uhry’s musical about the lynching of a Jewish man in Georgia, took home the Tonys for best musical revival and best musical director.
📚 Bookshelf: The Wall Street Journal reviews Elie Wiesel: Confronting the Silence, Joseph Berger’s biography of the Holocaust survivor and writer.
🏀 Sue Long: The Seattle Storm retired point guard Sue Bird’s No. 10 in a two-and-a-half hour ceremony at Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena on Sunday.
🟢 Green Light: Secretary of State Tony Blinken gave clearance for Iraq to pay some $2.76 billion in gas and electricity debt to Iran, granting a sanctions waiver, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry official said.
🛰️ U.S. Intel: New satellite imagery released by the Biden administration shows drones being built in Iran and shipped to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine.
✋ Putting It Off: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly postponed a meeting scheduled for this week on a controversial settlement project for the E1 area, which critics warn would split the West Bank.
⚖️ Bibi’s Trial: Israeli Opposition Leader Yair Lapid testified in court today at Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
⚽ Third Place: Israel finished third at the Under-20 World Cup after beating South Korea 3-1 yesterday in the third-place playoff match. Read JI’s Gabby Deutch’s profile of Israel’s youth soccer league here.
🐦 Ancient Bones: Tiny bird bones with holes bored into them, discovered at a birdwatching site in northern Israel, are thought to have been used as flutes used to scare waterfowl 12,000 years ago, according to researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
🇺🇦🇮🇱 First Lady Visit: Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska is due to visit Israel next week, having accepted an invitation from her Israeli counterpart, Michal Herzog.
Pic of the Day
Jewish community members pray over the weekend during a service in Nuremberg, Germany, at the site of a synagogue destroyed in 1938.
Founder and managing partner of Thrive Capital and co-founder of Oscar Health, Joshua Kushner turns 38…
Legendary advisor and senior of counsel at Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, Martin Edelman… Retired sportscaster for NBA games on TNT, Marv Albert (born Marvin Philip Aufrichtig) turns 82… Partner at Gibson Dunn and former solicitor of labor in the Nixon and Ford administrations, William J. Kilberg turns 77… Social psychologist, he is the director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, Leonard Saxe turns 76… Israeli statesman and scholar, Yosef “Yossi” Beilin turns 75… Rabbi at Temple Beth El in Santa Cruz County, Calif., for 40 years, now emeritus, known as Rabbi Rick, Richard Litvak… British Conservative Party member of Parliament since 1992, Michael Fabricant turns 73… Professor at Bard College, his most recent book is The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People, Walter Russell Mead turns 71… Dental consultant and recruiter, Kenneth Nussen… Peruvian banker and politician, José Chlimper Ackerman turns 68… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, Hava Eti Atiya turns 63…
Senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and professor at Georgetown’s Center for Jewish Civilization, Danielle Pletka turns 60… Television producer and executive, David Nevins turns 57… EVP of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), Rabbi Levi Shemtov… Film and television actor, Rick Hoffman turns 53… SVP for politics at NBC, Carrie Budoff Brown… Founder of Singularity Communications, Eliezer O. “Eli” Zupnick… Canadian tech entrepreneur, television personality and venture capitalist, Michele Romanow turns 38… Partner at Enso Collaborative, Hanna Siegel… Co-creator of the Mozilla Firefox internet browser, he was the director of product at Facebook and then worked at Uber, Blake Aaron Ross turns 38… Associate director of health policy and the law initiative at Georgetown Law School, Zachary Louis Baron… VP at MediaLink, Alexis Rose Levinson… Multimodal transportation coordinator in the planning department of Montgomery County, Md., Eli Glazier… Photographer and Instagram influencer, Tessa Nesis… Director of the JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Tidewater and an M.A. candidate at Spertus Institute, Joel Bond…