👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we break down Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address to Congress yesterday and the reaction from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and other guests. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Tim Sheehy, Joni Ernst and Tzipi Livni.
If there was a core audience for Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s address on Wednesday to a joint session of Congress, it was the many Democrats who support Israel but don’t have the same connection (the “kishkes test”) with the Jewish state under the current right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Herzog championed Israel’s protection of minorities, human rights and civil liberties, touted Tel Aviv’s Pride parade as one of the largest in the world and even gave a shout-out to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), a liberal Democrat with a long record of supporting Israel.
The nine far-left House Democrats who voted against a bipartisan resolution supporting Israel and condemning antisemitism — and who were no-shows at Herzog’s speech — are likely a lost cause for supporters of Israel. But the many other progressive Democrats who were in attendance are — in political parlance — persuadables. Herzog’s pitch was directed squarely at them, as the debate over the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul, and the divisions within the Democratic Party over Israel, intensify.
Evidence of Herzog’s success could be judged by the frequent rounds of bipartisan applause, and the packed attendance in the House gallery. Indeed, many of the 58 Democratic lawmakers who in 2015 skipped Netanyahu’s speech before a similar joint session attended Herzog’s address on Wednesday, among them Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Tim Kaine (D-VA). Read more from JI’s Gabby Deutch about Herzog’s address to Congress.
The several hundred seats in the gallery of the House chamber for Herzog’s speech were the hottest ticket in town this week.
Herzog’s guests included Clifton Truman Daniel, the grandson of Harry Truman, the first world leader to recognize Israel; Susannah Heschel, a Dartmouth professor and the daughter of civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel; and Leah Goldin, the mother of an Israeli soldier killed by Hamas whose body remains in Gaza.
The guest list also included a diverse array of American Jewish leaders — among them the top Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis, and the leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Tom Nides, who last Friday departed his U.S. Ambassador posting in Israel, and Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, were also present.
After the speech, some 200 people attended an exclusive gathering hosted by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Members of Congress and Jewish leaders milled about. Herzog took photos with most of them. “He went above and beyond,” one guest said of Herzog’s willingness to pause for selfies and brief conversations with everyone in the room.
The group enjoyed meat-free kosher fare — Wednesday being the first day of the Hebrew month of Av and the start of the nine-day mourning period before the fast of Tisha B’Av, which is marked by abstaining from meat.
“A high-level official reception being kosher, as opposed to merely kosher-style or only with some kosher food put on a side table, has now become the norm,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). “It used to not be that way.”
In bid for visa-free entry to U.S., Israel eases travel for Palestinian Americans
Israel and the United States took a major step on Wednesday toward making visa-free travel to America for Israelis a reality, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Policy change: Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Robert and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides signed a memorandum of understanding to mark what Israel pledges will be a major policy shift: that it will allow all American citizens, including Palestinian Americans who live in the West Bank and Gaza, to travel through Israeli ports of entry.
Quick reversal: Israel’s announcement of its new policy, and its encouragement by Washington, marks a major shift after Department of Homeland Security officials told Congress last week that Israel does not yet meet the requirements to join Washington’s coveted Visa Waiver Program. Silvers welcomed the announcement and thanked Herzog for his “friendship and partnership.”
Dream to reality: Entry into the program has been a top priority for Israeli leaders for years, but it only became a real possibility in recent months after Israel hit other key thresholds that are required for membership in the program. The deadline for consideration in this cycle is Sept. 30, after which the U.S. must reassess Israel’s compliance with the statutory requirements.
Elsewhere: Vice President Kamala Harris and Israeli President Isaac Herzog announced on Wednesday that Washington and Jerusalem will create a new climate initiative focused on the Middle East and Africa, with both countries investing $35 million. “This new initiative will deploy Israeli and American technology to farmers and innovators,” Harris said at their meeting. “Our joint investments in the Middle East will help to strengthen the cooperation between Israel and its neighbors.”
Top GOP Senate recruit in Montana shies away from past support for Ukraine
Tim Sheehy, a top GOP Senate recruit in Montana, is signaling his support for an isolationist approach to the war in Ukraine, breaking with previous comments in which he advocated for an unusually aggressive response to Russia’s invasion, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Details: In a statement to a Montana talk radio host published on Wednesday, Sheehy, a former Navy SEAL officer, called for the U.S. to end its involvement in Ukraine. “We are a year into this war and America has done our duty in stopping this vicious and unprovoked attack,” he said.
Send in the troops: The isolationist rhetoric, which reflects a growing strain of populist sentiment in the GOP, stands in contrast with past social media remarks in which Sheehy, 37, expressed unwavering support for Ukraine — even suggesting that the U.S. should send in American troops. “Gofund me pages and twitter likes aren’t enough. Soldiers, planes, bombs and bullets will be needed against this Tyrant,” he wrote last year on his LinkedIn page, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (A spokesperson for Sheehy’s campaign did not respond to a request for clarification.)
Party split: Sheehy is among a handful of establishment-backed Senate recruits in key battleground states who are breaking with party leaders on Ukraine. In Nevada, Sam Brown, a retired Army captain who is challenging Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), has also embraced a non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, even as he has strained to clarify his positions. In recent comments to JI, Brown, 39, would not confirm if he is open to ending American funding for Ukraine, despite having previously expressed support for cutting aid during his first Senate campaign.
abraham accords outlook
Ernst, Rosen discuss Saudi normalization following private meeting with Herzog
Following a private meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Abraham Accords Caucus co-chairs Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) highlighted key steps to advance the agreements, in interviews with Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Private sit-down: Ernst and Rosen, alongside other caucus chairs, met privately with Herzog following his speech to a joint session of Congress. Rosen said Herzog has been “so instrumental” in helping to advance the Accords. “He gave a beautiful speech, one that I think addressed all the hope, and all the issues and thinking about where we’re going to go in the future,” she said.
Repairing relationships: Ernst said that “there are a number of ways” to work with the Saudis, Israelis and other Arab states to “start hammering through” Saudi conditions for normalization with Israel, but acknowledged, “I don’t know that we could support everything the Saudis are asking for.” She noted that securing advanced weapons sales will require the Saudis to rebuild relations with skeptics in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, “to make sure that they will be a trusted partner.” Ernst said she and others are working with Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Reema bint Bandar Al Saud to strengthen these relationships.
No position: Ernst was noncommittal about a proposal — introduced for potential consideration as an amendment to the 2024 NDAA on the Senate floor — to create an ambassador-level special envoy for the Abraham Accords. “If it is necessary to [have an ambassador], then I’m happy to have those discussions,” she said. “I am not going to say yea or nay to it yet. I just need to understand more about the particular duties of the envoy.”
heard in aspen
U.K. foreign secretary touts hard line toward Iran
U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in remarks at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday that his country is taking a hard line against Iran, touting new sanctions in response to attempted Iranian attacks within the U.K. and other provocations, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Quotable: “We maintain a tough and robust position towards Iran and that will remain our position,” Cleverly said. “If Iran does not like the U.K.’s response, then Iran needs to change its behavior. Our actions are in response to their behavior.”
Incident report: The U.K. foreign secretary noted that Iranian agents have attempted at least 15 attacks on U.K. soil, which have been thwarted. He said that these attacks, as well as the human rights situation in Iran and Iran’s assistance to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had prompted a new round of U.K. sanctions in recent weeks.
in the room
Former U.S., Israeli officials discuss the new Middle East
Former U.S. and Israeli officials discussed the changing dynamics of the Middle East in a panel at the Aspen Security Forum on Tuesday, touching on a range of issues including the Abraham Accords, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran and the U.S.’ position in the region, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Imperfect partner: Former Deputy National Security Advisor Dina Powell McCormick, who served in the Bush and Trump administrations, applauded what she described as massive cultural changes in Saudi Arabia in the decades since 9/11. She said that we “finally have a partner in the region,” although not a “perfect” one, in Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. “He’s obviously made some major mistakes, but he’s also reforming Saudi Arabia,” she said of MBS. “It is undeniable that there is economic reform, it’s undeniable that there’s political reform, and there’s also massive mistakes and steps back, but it’s in our interest that those reforms continue.”
No way forward: Former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni, once a key negotiator for Israel in talks with the Palestinian Authority, warned that, while Arab states may be able to “abandon the Palestinian issue” as they normalize relations with Israel, “Israel cannot afford it.” She continued, “It is important for me as somebody believing that the only way for Israel to keep its values and its nature as a Jewish democratic state is… to solve this problem.”
Heard around the Aspen Security Forum
Here are some other tidbits we heard during yesterday’s sessions at the Aspen Security Forum that caught our ears:
New frontier: Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Xie Feng said that China brokered a normalization deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia “simply to encourage more countries in the region to embrace peace, to shake hands.” He added that he’s “very glad to see that Palestine is following” — China recently held talks with the Palestinian Authority and has offered to broker Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — and said he hopes to see China broker similar deals worldwide.
Getting technical: Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger highlighted his company’s operations in Israel, and mentioned former Intel CEO Andy Grove, a Hungarian-American Holocaust survivor. “He did see [the cruelty of Adolf] Hitler as a Hungarian refugee. If there’s ever a question of [Intel’s] commitment to America, our freedom and our values — Andy Grove is one of the people who saw, truly, that type of approach to the world firsthand. So this is deep in our culture and who we are.”
Not how it happened: Christo Grozev, the lead Russia investigator for Bellingcat Productions, said that in 2015, Russian military officials, in a report to the Kremlin, blamed a supposed Israeli drone attack for an accident by a Russian soldier that killed several of his comrades. Grozev described the incident as emblematic of the Russian military’s once-endemic issues with honestly reporting complications up the chain of command.
Bonus: Former Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin put on a magic show at a dinner for VIP guests of the forum at former Rep. Jane Harman’s (D-CA) home on Tuesday evening. “‘Merlin’ McLaughlin’s sleight of hand with ball, rope, and cards humbled the jaded, hyper-rational national security audience at former Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman’s magnificent Aspen mountainside home,” Semafor’s Steve Clemons reported. Livni, who acted as a prop in the show, remarked later, “this is a magic that happens only with a combination of former CIA and former Mossad, so don’t try it at home.”
🇮🇱 Identity Issue: The Wall Street Journal’s Dov Lieber and Shayndi Rice delve into the role of Israel’s Haredim in the country’s judicial reform debate. “The clash goes to the heart of Israel’s inherent identity issue: Is it a modern liberal democracy or a society defined by religion? Many secular Israelis see the judicial reforms as a step toward increasing the power of people who would use religion to roll back fundamental civil rights. ‘Secular society wants a full modern state,’ said Gilad Malach, a scholar with the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank. ‘The ultra-Orthodox aim is to have a strong religious society.’…One element of Israeli society [Yehoshua] Menuchin and many other Haredim avoid is mandatory military service, a rite of passage in mainstream Israeli society. Most Jewish men and women spend two to three years in the army beginning at the age of 18. Friendships made in the army can also serve as the basis for professional connections after military life. The Israeli Supreme Court has twice struck down legislation aimed at formally exempting Haredim from the draft, most recently in 2017 on the grounds that it created unequal treatment of citizens. The court has permitted temporary exemptions so that the government can find a solution. Those decisions exacerbated friction between religious conservatives and the Supreme Court, which has long served as a strong defender of individual liberties, upholding the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, women and LGBTQ people. The Haredim now have the political heft to fight back.” [WSJ]
🇦🇺 Down Under Dialects: The New York Times‘ Natasha Frost spotlights efforts to preserve the Yiddish language in Australia, which include the Sof-Vokh Oystralye annual gathering to bring together speakers of the language. “At Sof-Vokh, attendees in beanies and scarves emblazoned with the insignia of Australian football teams played Dungeons and Dragons, basketball and chess; smeared creamy cheese into blintzes in a stainless steel-wrapped catering kitchen; and played games in which they impersonated animals and translated gibberish into poetry — all in Yiddish. From a makeshift Twister game set up in the hotel’s foyer, a tumbling child let out a loud ‘Oy vey!’ Beyond the lighting of candles and blessings in Yiddish over bread and wine on Friday night, there were few signs of organized religion. Yet the preservation of the language has, for the founders of the event and others in the Jewish community in Melbourne, become an almost holy crusade.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
👴 The Trump Bump: Former President Donald Trump has signaled he will not be endorsing right-wing challengers against two party-endorsed candidates in pivotal Senate races: Gov. Jim Justice in West Virginia and military veteran Tim Sheehy in Montana.
🏃♂️ Bowman Challenger?: Prominent Democrats are urging Westchester County Executive George Latimer to run for Congress in a primary challenge against Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) in New York’s 16th Congressional District.
📣 Kennedy Conundrum: Politicolooks at the Democrats’ playbook ahead of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s testimony today on Capitol Hill — at the invitation of House Republicans — days after the release of a video in which the presidential candidate alleged that Jewish and Chinese people had some genetic immunity from COVID-19.
📄 AMIA Resolution: Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Tony Gonzales (R-TX) introduced a resolution commemorating the 29th anniversary of the AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, and expressing concern about the delay in accountability for those involved.
🙅♂️ Not Running: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced that he has decided not to run again for governor in 2024.
✈️ Turkey Talk: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) toldDefense News that he continues to use his position as Foreign Relations Committee chairman to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, despite National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s announcement last week that the sale would proceed after Turkey agreed to ratify Sweden’s accession protocol for joining NATO.
🇨🇳 China Calling: Chinese President Xi Jinping, meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Beijing this week, said that “old friends” such as Kissinger will never be forgotten, and adding that “Sino-U.S. relations will always be linked with the name of Henry Kissinger.”
🏦 Crackdown: The U.S. has reportedly banned 14 Iraqi banks from conducting dollar transactions, as part of a crackdown on the siphoning of U.S. money to Iran and other sanctioned countries.
💻 In the Beginning…: Google is testing Genesis, a new AI tool intended to help journalists in the production of news stories, and pitching major news outlets on the new product.
⛰️ Reorg: The Crown family announced a new company structure in which an entity called Aspen One will oversee Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen Hospitality and the ASPENX divisions.
⚖️ Legal Moves: Eliyahu Weinstein, a twice-convicted fraudster who was pardoned by former President Donald Trump, was arrested yesterday on charges of orchestrating an alleged $38 million Ponzi-like scheme to defraud investors.
🗞️ Campus Beat: Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne resigned following an investigation, which came after a report in the school’s newspaper — written by student journalist Theo Baker, the son of The New York Times’ Peter Baker and The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser — that prompted an independent review of Tessier-Lavigne’s scientific work.
🤝 Warming Ties: Moroccan King Mohammed VI sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inviting him to visit Morocco and thanking him for Israel’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
🍿 Popcorn Time: The New York Times reviews Christopher Nolan’s new film “Oppenheimer,” about the “father of the atomic bomb.”
Pic of the Day
Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint meeting of Congress yesterday as Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) look on, in the House chamber on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.
New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Loren Friedman turns 70…
Retired U.S. senator (D-MD), Barbara Mikulski turns 87… Retired president of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman turns 80… Longtime Israeli diplomat, he served as ambassador to Germany, Yoram Ben-Zeev turns 79… Former commissioner on the Civil Rights Commission, assistant secretary of HUD in the Clinton administration, presently vice chair of the Bank of San Francisco, Roberta Achtenberg turns 73… U.S. District Court judge in Massachusetts, Judge Patti B. Saris turns 72… Molecular geneticist at NYC-based Rockefeller University and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Jeffrey M. Friedman turns 69… Broadcast and digital media executive, Farrell Meisel… Professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Barbara Risman turns 67… Past president of the Women’s Department at the Jewish Federation of Detroit, Marcie Hermelin Orley... Los Angeles-based wardrobe consultant, Linleigh Ayn Richker… Public policy expert and author, Jane S. Hoffman turns 59… Former member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, she is a brigadier general in the IDF (reserves), Nira Shpak turns 57… Member of the Knesset for the United Torah Judaism party, Yitzhak Ze’ev Pindros turns 52… USDOJ attorney at the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, Jack Achiezer Guggenheim…
VP and political director of CNN, David Marc Chalian turns 50… Co-author of Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame and author of the upcoming book The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future, he is a staff writer at The Atlantic, Franklin Foer turns 49… Southern states director at AIPAC, David Fox… Singer who burst on the scene as a finalist on the fifth season of American Idol, Efraym Elliott Yamin turns 45… Commissioner of the community affairs unit for NYC Mayor Eric Adams, Fred Kreizman… Co-founder and managing partner of the communications and branding firm of Main & Rose, Beth Doane… Co-founder and co-executive director of the progressive Indivisible movement, Ezra Levin turns 38… Former MLB player, he was a third baseman for Team Israel in 2023, now a coach for the Tacoma Rainiers, Ty Kelly turns 35… Comedian and regular player on “Saturday Night Live,” Chloe Fineman turns 35… Software engineer at Home Chef, Ashley Abramowicz Gibbs… Anesthesiologist at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Sheila Ganjian Navi… Senior policy advisor at the White House, Etan Raskas… SVP and head of investor relations at Vintage Investment Partners, Jonathan Tamir Alden… Actor and comedian, Joey Bragg turns 27… Goldie Fields…