👋 Good Monday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report on the Democratic leaders who are distancing themselves from Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s comments about Israel and bring you updates on Israel’s status on the Visa Waiver Program. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Sam Brown, Efrat Lachter and Rachel Sharansky Danziger.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, described Israel as a “racist state,” as she addressed pro-Palestinian hecklers during the annual progressive Netroots Nation conference in Chicago on Saturday.
“As somebody who’s been in the streets and participated in a lot of demonstrations, I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us, that it does not even feel possible,” Jayapal said, while sharing the stage with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL).
After receiving backlash for her comments, Jayapal clarified her views in a Sunday evening statement. “At a conference, I attempted to defuse a tense situation during a panel where fellow members of Congress were being protested. Words do matter and so it is important that I clarify my statement. I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist. I do, however, believe that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government.”
Jayapal represents over 100 Democratic lawmakers as head of Congress’ leading progressive caucus, making her remarks more notable than an average member of the left-wing Squad. It also comes several days before Israel’s President Isaac Herzog is scheduled to speak at a joint session of Congress — one which a handful of far-left members pledged to boycott.
Trying to minimize the political damage, House Democratic leaders issued a statement on Sunday evening on the controversy. “Israel is not a racist state,” their statement began. “The special relationship between the United States and Israel will endure. We are determined to make sure support for Israel in the Congress remains strongly bipartisan.” It made no mention of Jayapal or her specific comments.
One of the letter’s signatories is Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who is himself a member of the CPC.
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) tweeted, “Let me set the record straight about Israel as a multiracial democracy based on nearly a decade to traveling to the region. Jewish and Arab citizens enjoy equal protection under the laws, including an equal right to vote in Israeli elections. There is Arab representation in both the Knesset and the Israeli Supreme Court. There is disproportionate Arab representation in the Israeli health care system, which is central to Israeli life. Arab matriculation in Israeli higher education has been rising at an astonishing pace—an unmistakable sign of racial progress.”
Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod has more on Democrats distancing themselves from Jayapal’s remarks, including a draft statement led by seven Jewish House Democrats calling the congresswoman’s original comments “unacceptable.” The statement is still circulating for additional signatures. Read the full story here.
Christians United for Israel launched its 18th annual policy conference on Sunday, and will be hosting three of the leading Republican presidential candidates.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will be speaking about his record on Israel and countering antisemitism in the afternoon, while former Vice President Mike Pence and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will be headlining the evening program, along with CUFI founder Pastor John Hagee.
A senior CUFI source said Pence, Haley and DeSantis were the only three presidential candidates invited. Former President Donald Trump, currently leading in Republican primary polls, was not invited to speak at this year’s conference.
“We’ve invited the former president in the past but he was not invited to speak at this year’s summit. There are 13 candidates running. The three we invited are coming,” said the CUFI source.
The pro-Israel group’s members will be lobbying lawmakers on three key pieces of legislation: continued foreign aid to Israel, an anti-BDS measure that would prohibit the federal government from entering into contracts with entities that engage in anti-Israel boycotts, and a bill increasing sanctions for those engaging in illicit purchases of Iranian petroleum.
“Policies change and politics change, our mission has stayed the same regardless of who’s in the White House and who’s in the Knesset,” Sandra Hagee Parker, chairwoman of the CUFI Action Fund, told Jewish Insider.
On the campaign trail, one of the biggest takeaways from candidates’ recently filed fundraising reports: who isn’t raising big money from donors in the 2024 presidential and congressional races.
A few notable examples:
Pence raised only $1.2 million in his first quarter of fundraising, a pittance for a former vice president with preexisting fundraising networks. He hasn’t yet received donations from 40,000 donors, the threshold necessary to qualify for the August debate.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), who still hasn’t announced whether she’s running for reelection, raised $1.6 million — a total that included $689,000 from individual donors. That total lags significantly behind the $3.1 million raised by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), the expected Democratic nominee.
Rep. David Trone (D-MD), running for the Senate in Maryland, lent his campaign a lofty $9.7 million since April, but only raised $108,000 from donors. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, his leading rival, raised $1.7 million since entering the race.
On Capitol Hill last Friday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) demanded a classified briefing on Iran envoy Rob Malley’s security clearance, threatening to subpoena State Department officials if they do not voluntarily appear.
The request marks an escalation of McCaul’s and other lawmakers’ efforts to probe Malley’s status, after the Department of State brushed off a previous request from McCaul last week. “The Committee expects prompt and full compliance with its requests, and it will not tolerate obstruction of its oversight of this national security matter,” McCaul wrote in a letter. He demanded that the department make arrangements for a classified briefing by the end of the day on Monday, to be held by July 26.
silver state seat
Top GOP Senate recruit breaks with party leaders on foreign policy
During his first Senate campaign in Nevada last year, Sam Brown, a retired Army captain who said last week that he will challenge Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), was courting voters at a closed-door candidate luncheon hosted by the state’s largest GOP women’s club, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports. It was weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Brown made reference to the conflict with a suggestion that he acknowledged ran against the bipartisan foreign policy consensus.
‘Need to cut’: “At a time where there’s so much domestic unease on so many issues, the media and our politicians want to turn our eyes to places like Ukraine or Afghanistan,” the Army veteran told members of Southern Hills Republican Women, according to an audio recording obtained by JI last week. “I think maybe where we spend on these foreign issues is a place we need to cut.”
Defining fault line: In written comments shared with JI, Brown, 39, would not confirm if he is now open to cutting aid to Ukraine, which has become a defining fault line in Republican foreign policy debates. As a small but growing contingent of right-wing populists seeks to wrest control from the GOP’s traditionally hawkish establishment wing, his candidacy will be a key test of whether his heterodox views have larger purchase in one of the biggest battleground states in the country. His candidacy against Rosen has been championed by national GOP leadership.
‘Israel does not currently meet’ Visa Waiver Program requirements, DHS tells lawmakers
The Department of Homeland Security told lawmakers that Israel still does not meet the requirements for entry into the Visa Waiver Program, highlighting concerns about reciprocal treatment of American travelers. “Israel does not currently meet all of the statutory and policy requirements for designation as a VWP country,” Zephranie Buetow, DHS’ assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said in a letter to lawmakers dated Wednesday that was obtained by Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Palestinian issue: “The Administration strongly supports Israel’s candidacy in the VWP once it meets all requirements, including extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals — including Palestinian Americans and Americans on the Palestinian Authority population registry traveling to or through Israel,” the letter reads.
No ETA: The letter does not provide any clear indications of what, if any, timeline DHS envisions for Israel’s entry into the program. Israel is launching a pilot program this summer to allow Palestinian Americans to travel more freely into Israel, with an eye toward ensuring its VWP entry this year.
Bonus: Israel’s Channel 12 reported over the weekend that the U.S. has toughened its demands for Israel’s entry into the program, increasing the number of criminal records it will demand from visa waiver applicants from 1,000 to thousands. Haaretz reported yesterday that Israel has loosened its rules for the entry into Israel for U.S.-Palestinian citizens and other U.S. citizens who have citizenship in what Israel considers to be enemy countries, such as Syria and Iran.
Is Israel-Saudi normalization on the horizon? This Israeli journalist says not yet
Efrat Lachter is not the first Israeli journalist to report from Saudi Arabia, but she is one of the first to take a deep and analytical dive into the rapid modernization taking place in the region’s most conservative nation and to share that story – and the voices of ordinary Saudis – with millions of Israelis for the Jewish state’s highest-rated TV news show. Lachter, 36, is an investigative correspondent for Channel 12 News, and as Israel’s first female war correspondent has garnered quite a reputation for her indefatigable reporting from inside war zones. “As you know, I have some mileage traveling in the area and I always wanted to go to Saudi Arabia,” Lachter, who will head with her family to the U.S. next month after being awarded a prestigious Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan, told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash in an interview last week.
Beyond the headlines: Lachter said that one of her main driving factors was to explore recent headlines suggesting that Saudi Arabia is on the brink of normalizing relations with Israel. While President Joe Biden said any deal is “a little way off” in a recent CNN interview, Lachter noted that there is a feeling in Israel that “normalization with Saudi Arabia is just around the corner. There is a feeling [in Israel] here that it might really happen, that it’s a real possibility and I thought, OK, is that what they’re saying in Saudi also? Are Saudis really feeling that they are going to have normalization with us?” said Lachter, who traveled there with Israeli cinematographer Gil Somekh.
Distant dreams: Lachter said that talking to ordinary Saudis during her four days in the capital, her observation was that in their eyes normalization of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel is still very far off. “I understood that the Palestinian sentiment is very, very strong,” she told JI, highlighting that in a number of her conversations on the ground, with many people she did not feel totally comfortable saying that she was from Israel.
🇮🇶 Held in Iraq: In The New York Times, Rachel Sharansky Danziger, the daughter of Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and a friend of kidnapped Russian-Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov, questions whether the international community will fight for Tsurkov’s release from Iraq, where she is being held by the Kataib Hezbollah Shiite militia group. “I first met Liza in 1991, when I traveled with my family from Jerusalem to Kibbutz Nir David in northern Israel. ‘This family just made it here from Russia,’ my mother told my sister and me. ‘Their father shared a cell with me in prison,’ my father said…She [Tsurkov] intended to research the way Iraqis, and women in particular, were living after ISIS and in the shadow of sectarianism — not, as some online critics have said, to spy for the Israeli government. In a region where the coverage is often male-centric and shaped by the narratives of military groups and political factions, Liza wanted to hear from regular people to better understand the challenges they face. Like the institutions that supported her work, Princeton and the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington, Liza was committed to this goal. And like her parents in the Soviet Union of the 1980s, she went to Iraq in service of the values that are the very bedrock of the liberal worldview: truth, human rights, knowledge and freedom…Liza is not the same kind of freedom fighter as our parents were, but she has made a similar gamble. With her university’s support and that of several human rights groups, she took risks in pursuit of knowledge and information, trying to do what she felt was right. Will the liberal world stand up for her, as it did for her parents, and fight for her release?” [NYTimes]
⛰️ Paved With Good Intentions: In The Washington Post, Gordon F. Sander delves into the history of a five-star French resort, Evian les Baynes, where 85 years ago President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened an international conference with the aim of saving Jews from the Nazis. “The United States and other Western powers beckoned as potential safe havens. Instead, the fateful Evian conference, now largely forgotten, failed disastrously. It remains, today, ‘an indelible stain on American and world history,’ said David Harris, the former longtime leader of the American Jewish Committee and son of an Austrian Jewish refugee. ‘At a time before Auschwitz, when Adolf Hitler teased other nations, saying, in effect, if you care so much about Jews, why not open your doors to them, the response from the countries in attendance, with the notable exception of the Dominican Republic, was a resounding ‘no,’’ Harris wrote in an email.” [WashPost]
👩 Cohen’s Chances:STATassesses whether Mandy Cohen will be able to find consensus in her new position as director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “‘I think the job interview was the first time she’d been here,’ said [North Carolina] Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who appointed her [as the state’s secretary of health and human services]. (Actually, Cohen had visited Asheville once on a vacation.) Cooper said a lot of Republican lawmakers came to believe her word was good. ‘She is relatable, even though she is brilliant,’ the governor said. ‘She has a boatload of common sense. And she’s a likeable person.’ That likeability was apparent during the pandemic, as she sought to be as honest and clear about the unknowns as the knowns. One health policy expert in the state, who comes from a quite conservative family, said his mother kept calling him after Cohen’s TV appearances and reminding him ‘to do what that nice Mandy Cohen says.’ Cohen, who is petite and looks younger than her 44 years, wears a gold necklace spelling out the word for ‘life,’ in Hebrew, a gift from her mother when she started med school. She was raised in Long Island, trained at Yale and Harvard, and held several posts in the Obama administration, which is how Cooper heard about her. Not only did she work for the Obama administration, she helped implement Obamacare.” [STAT]
💲 Altman’s Acumen:The Information’s Natasha Mascarenhas explores why OpenAI CEO Sam Altman didn’t take equity in his own startup and digs into the many investments he has made in other companies. “While Altman was already one of the best-connected investors around, his leadership of OpenAI, where he is CEO, has made founders even more eager to get him involved in their startups. With the explosive growth of ChatGPT, OpenAI has rocketed to a $29 billion valuation and triggered an artificial intelligence arms race among startups and the world’s largest tech companies, including Alphabet’s Google and Microsoft, a major OpenAI investor and partner. That has enhanced Altman’s stature as a visionary, someone many founders want involved with their companies. ‘There are very few people in the world now who don’t know about GPT…and that means his ability to back a startup at a great valuation has gone up considerably, and so there is a sort of indirect financial upside for him,’ said Seth Bannon, a founding partner of venture firm Fifty Years, which backed Worldcoin, a crypto project Altman founded. [The Information]
😐 No Surprise: On the heels of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s comments regarding COVID-19 and ethnicity, The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg argues that antisemitism is an inevitable outcome of belief in conspiracy theories. “Because anti-Semitism has produced centuries of material pinning humanity’s problems on its Jews, a person convinced that an invisible hand is conducting world affairs will eventually discover that it belongs to an invisible Jew. For this reason, it is impossible to circulate on the conspiratorial fringe and not encounter anti-Semitism. This is why Kennedy has constantly found himself in the company of those who believe and express anti-Jewish ideas. Last week, he trumpeted his meeting with the rapper Ice Cube, a fellow conspiracy theorist who has a long history of bizarre anti-Semitic tweets and song lyrics. In the past, Kennedy has also made common cause with the hate preacher Louis Farrakhan, who regularly rails against alleged Jewish control of media and government.” [The Atlantic]
Around the Web
😷 COVID Conspiracy: Jewish groups denounced comments by Democratic presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suggesting that COVID-19 may have been ethnically “targeted” and Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people are “most immune.”
🎙️ On Air with Tapper: CNN’s Jake Tapper will interview Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, after the Republican presidential contender decided to shift his media strategy and grant more mainstream interviews.
🤨 DeSantis Skeptics:The Washington Post spotlights the growing skepticism surrounding DeSantis’ presidential run. The story cites former advisers who raised private concerns about the Florida governor’s message, and the effectiveness and insularity of his campaign operation.
💵 Money Matters: The support of GOP mega-donors is divided between several candidates, boosting former President Donald Trump as a front runner.
📄 Policy Proposal: No Labels is set to formally release policy proposals for its centrist group in New Hampshire today. The event will be headlined by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA.) and former Utah GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman.
🗳️ Three’s A Crowd: Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced his candidacy for Senate against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). He’ll be facing businessman Bernie Moreno and state Sen. Matt Dolan in the GOP primary.
🐦 Social Scheme: The first beneficiaries of a new Twitter program to share ad revenue with content creators appear to be high-profile far-right influencers.
📦 PAC Cuts: The progressive PAC Justice Democrats laid off nine of its 20 employees last week due to financial stress, according to Politico.
🏢 Milken Moves:The Wall Street Journal profiles Michael Milken, who plans next year to unveil a new complex in D.C. that will house a public exhibition space known as the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream, in addition to conference and event spaces and offices for his Milken Institute think tank.
🏥 Health Report: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was released from the hospital yesterday following an overnight stay after he lost consciousness and fell at home. Netanyahu said in a video message from the hospital that he was dehydrated after spending time outside in a heat wave without drinking water or wearing a hat.
🔥 Act of Protest: A Muslim activist who had received permission from the Swedish authorities to burn a Torah and a Bible outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm said he never intended to go through with it but rather wanted to draw attention to the issue to protest the recent burning of a Quran outside a mosque.
⚾ Sunday Funday: The New Jersey-based Autumn Lake Healthcare company bought 12,000 tickets for yesterday’s Orioles game against the Marlins, reserving the entire upper deck at Camden Yards for its employee family day.
🪖 What’s In A Name: In Air Mail, John Mauceri questions the decision to name the private Russian army the Wagner Group after the 19th-century German composer who was admired by Hitler.
🇺🇦 Growing Gaps: Last week’s NATO summit highlighted divisions between the U.S. and European approaches to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
🛢️ Dodgy Deal: The agreement between Iraq and Iran to trade oil for natural gas would likely violate U.S. sanctions on Iran, according to three former U.S. officials.
🚰 Water Works: After a Saudi company has for almost a decade been pumping water from land in Arizona, the agreement — which operated within a lax framework of rules — is now in jeopardy, according to a Washington Post investigation.
🚑 West Bank Attack: An Israeli man was shot and seriously wounded, and his two daughters were lightly hurt, in a terror shooting near the Tekoa settlement in the West Bank yesterday.
➡️ Transitions: President Joe Biden appointed Susie Gelman, former Israel Policy Forum chair, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
👰🤵 Match Made In Twitter: The New York Times Mini-Vows section features Hot 97 broadcaster Peter Rosenberg and photographer Natalie Amrossi, who got married earlier this month after meeting via Twitter in 2020.
👶 Mazal Tov: Karlie Kloss and Joshua Kushner welcomed their second child.
🕯️ Remembering: Dutch journalist and novelist Marga Minco, who wrote about Jewish life in the Netherlands during and after WWII, died at 103. Everett I. Mendelsohn, a historian of science and longtime Harvard professor, died at 91.
Pic of the Day
Israel competes in the preliminary of the women’s team technical artistic swimming event during the World Aquatics Championships yesterday in Fukuoka, Japan.
Professor emeritus at Tel Aviv U., he served as a member of Knesset, minister of foreign affairs and Israeli ambassador to Spain, Shlomo Ben-Ami turns 80…
Founder of the Frommer’s series of travel guides, Arthur Frommer turns 94… Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer on radio for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Charley Steiner turns 74… Retired associate general counsel of The Hartford and former chairman of the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, he is now a lecturer at UConn law school, Robert K. Yass… Rabbi emeritus at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pa., Lance Jonathan Sussman, Ph.D. turns 69… Managing general partner and co-founder of Pitango Venture Capital, he serves as chairman of The Peres Center for Peace & Innovation, Nechemia (Chemi) J. Peres turns 65… Chair of Samson Energy Company, co-founder of Granite Properties and co-chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Stacy Helen Schusterman… Business development team lead at Quorum, Steven Lebowitz… Television and film director, Joshua Seftel turns 55… Actress best known for playing Sharona in the television series “Monk,” Elizabeth Natalie “Bitty” Schram turns 55… Founder and CEO of Zeta Global, David A. Steinberg turns 53… Stand-up comedian, he was a finalist on the NBC reality-talent show “Last Comic Standing” in two seasons, Gary Gulman turns 53… Treasurer of Australia until 2022, he has previously served as Minister for the Environment and Energy, Joshua Anthony “Josh” Frydenberg turns 52… Blogger, journalist and science fiction author, Cory Efram Doctorow turns 52… Executive director of the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, Matthew E. Berger… Public television host, Shannan Butler Adler… Member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, Boaz Toporovsky turns 43… Emmy Award-winning actor, comedian, podcaster and writer, Brett Goldstein turns 43… Healthcare reporter for Barron’s, Josh Nathan-Kazis… Associate at Compensation Advisory Partners, Jared Sorhaindo… Virtual banking strategy lead and executive director at JPMorgan Chase, Melanie Ettleson…