👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report on Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s diplomatic visit, and talk to experts about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predicament as he is caught between keeping his coalition together and calming national tensions. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Tom Cotton, Nikki Haley and Jonathan and Isaac Salant.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a warm welcome from President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Tuesday morning. “My love for Israel is deep rooted and long-lasting,” Biden said at the outset of the meeting. “This is a friendship which I believe is simply unbreakable.”
After the meeting, Herzog told reporters at the White House that Israelis should take seriously Biden’s “deep concern” about Israeli affairs. “We have to understand and respect this, that when the president of the greatest power on earth asks questions and interests himself,” Herzog said, “it’s not just for fun, not to gossip, to bother us. It comes from deep concern.”
The trip comes as the Israeli government plans to move forward with controversial legislation that would curtail the Supreme Court’s power. The Biden administration has criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the judicial reform process — which has prompted widespread protests in Israel — and urged Israel’s government against pursuing unpopular legislation that could damage Israel’s democracy.
In an interview with The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman yesterday, Biden said, “This is obviously an area about which Israelis have strong views, including in an enduring protest movement that is demonstrating the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy, which must remain the core of our bilateral relationship. Finding consensus on controversial areas of policy means taking the time you need. For significant changes, that’s essential. So my recommendation to Israeli leaders is not to rush. I believe the best outcome is to continue to seek the broadest possible consensus here.”
Both Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who met Herzog later in the day, praised the “democratic values” at the heart of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Blinken threw his support behind Herzog’s efforts at negotiating a judicial reform compromise.
“What you have been doing, the leadership you have shown in affirming those values, bringing people together in affirmation of those values could not be more important,” Blinken said to Herzog at the start of their meeting. Read more here about the first day of Herzog’s visit to the U.S.
Herzog will address a joint session of Congress this morning at 11 a.m., following a meeting with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He’ll then meet with the bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucus. Follow Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch for updates.
The House voted 419 to 9 last night approving a resolution declaring that Israel is not racist or an apartheid state, and also condemning antisemitism. A group of far-left critics of Israel — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Summer Lee (D-PA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Cori Bush (D-MO), Andre Carson (D-IN), Delia Ramirez (D-IL) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) — voted no, while Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) voted present. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the target of the resolution, voted yes.
The “no” votes comprise some of the most reliable opponents of pro-Israel measures in the House, with some exceptions. Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Chuy Garcia (D-IL), as well as Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), voted against supplemental funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system in 2021, but voted in favor of the resolution yesterday.
Speaking at Christians United for Israel’s donor banquet last night in Arlington, Va., Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) touted the concurrent resolution, which he introduced on Tuesday, before its adoption in the House.
Cotton blasted the Biden administration for what he called its “betrayal of Israel,” citing the long delay in extending a White House invitation to Netanyahu, among other things.
“Until yesterday, the president had ostentatiously refused to invite Netanyahu to a meeting in America, and he still refuses to say whether it would be a White House meeting,” Cotton said in his remarks. “That invitation came only after the Democrats had their latest blow up with yet another senior Democrat calling Israel ‘a racist state,’” a reference to Jayapal’s comments Sunday before the Netroots Nation conference.
Meanwhile, 102 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter led by Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Dan Goldman (D-NY) calling on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) to disinvite Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from testifying before a Judiciary subcommittee hearing later this week. They argue that Kennedy’s remarks about COVID-19 and Jewish people are part of a pattern of “antisemitic statements” by Kennedy.
On the presidential campaign trail, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is holding a campaign fundraiser on Sunday evening with several prominent Jewish leaders in Deal, N.J., according to an event invitation obtained by JI.
The $2,600-per-seat reception will be co-hosted by Jack and Joyce Kassin, with a host committee including IG Gindi, the co-CEO of Century 21, among others. The same day, Haley, who has long maintained close ties to Jewish and pro-Israel leaders, will also speak at a free public event held at the Jewish Community Center in Deal, an affluent beach town home to a sizable population of Syrian Jews.
Divisions over judicial reform leave Netanyahu with a hard choice
In the midst of one of the hottest weeks of Israel’s long, hot summer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might very well have found himself at the boiling point. As members of his ruling coalition race to push through legislation that will alter a key basic law, hundreds of thousands of civilians are ramping up their protests against what they see as an immediate threat to the country’s democratic nature. In interviews with Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash, experts weigh in on the Israeli premier’s quandary.
Chief concerns: “Netanyahu, as usual, is riding on the back of the tiger,” Gideon Rahat, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told JI. “Right now, he is riding in a specific direction given to him by his coalition partners and by [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin and members of his party,” Rahat, who is also a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, continued. “The question is, what will happen with the other pressures, those from the U.S., the military and the economy?” Netanyahu is not worried about the protests directly, he added, but more about how they will “influence the United States, the situation inside the military and the economy – these are things that concern him much more.”
Bibi in a bind: “Netanyahu already paid a heavy political price to his coalition partners back in March when he suspended the previous round of legislation, so it will be harder for him to back out this time,” Anshel Pfeffer, a journalist with Haaretz and author of Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu, told JI, acknowledging the prime minister’s dilemma. “He also doesn’t want to show more public weakness and is anxious to prove that the protests and the reservists cannot pressure him,” he said.
Bonus: During Netanyahu’s phone call with President Joe Biden, the Israeli leader said he doesn’t see the proposed bill as a big deal and that he is not going to take other steps to promote judicial reform until October, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.
TIGHTENING THE SCREWS
Bipartisan group of lawmakers urges EU to fully designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group
In a new resolution, a group of bipartisan lawmakers from the Senate and House is urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. The resolution, introduced on Tuesday, is the latest move in a long-running pressure campaign from lawmakers, dating back more than a decade, for the U.S.’ European allies to designate the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group as a terrorist organization. The EU has designated Hezbollah’s military wing, but not its political wing, as a terrorist group. Lawmakers have also been pressuring reluctant European allies to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — the paramilitary arm of the Iranian government — as a terrorist organization, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Blurred lines: The resolution is sponsored by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). “It’s clear that there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings when it comes to its terror activities, and it’s past time that the European Union fully designate it as a terrorist organization,” Rosen said.
Timely legislation: The reintroduction coincides with the July 18 anniversaries of the Hezbollah-linked bombings of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 and a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012. Similar legislation, which garnered 60 co-sponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate, was introduced in the 117th Congress. The current legislation is also backed by the American Jewish Committee.
Read the full story here.
father and son
New play spotlights a different kind of ‘rite of passage’
Sitting in the living room of their home in Rockville, Md., earlier this month, Jonathan and Isaac “Izzy” Salant were all smiles; a bookshelf and an inflatable matzah ball were in full view behind them as the father-son duo settled into a single Zoom window for an interview with Jewish Insider’s Tori Bergel about Izzy Salant’s new play. Both men are used to being on the other side of an interview— Jonathan, 69, a longtime Washington reporter for the The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., recently began a position as assistant managing editor of politics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Izzy, 25, who is based in Los Angeles, holds dual degrees from UMass Amherst in theater and journalism.
Tragic inspiration: It’s clear the two are close; they laughed and built off each other’s answers even when the conversation veered toward a painful time in their lives: 15 years ago, Joan Friedenberg, Izzy’s mother and Jonathan’s wife, died unexpectedly. Izzy was 10, up late watching “Home Alone 4” in his room, when Jonathan came in to tell him that “Mommy died today.” That moment, and those shortly after, inspired Izzy’s new stage production, “Rite of Passage,” which premiered on Thursday evening at the Windhover Center for the Performing Arts in Rockport, Mass.
Based on a true story: The semi-autobiographical play follows 12-year-old Harold as he prepares for his bar mitzvah amid the sudden loss of his mother, Maura, to suicide. Now a single parent, Harold’s father, David, struggles with telling the truth of what happened to his mildly autistic son, while also dealing with his own grief. Maura’s sister, Loraine, the family’s rabbi, and David’s eventual love interest, Sue, all help the pair to move on. “The show itself is based on the true story. We all felt these things; we all had to deal after Joan’s death,” Izzy told JI. “We all had to live our lives with this completely newly acquired trauma, but the way it fully went about is dramaticized, I would say, with a lot of semblances of truth.”
💬 Now He’ll Be More Careful: In a wide-ranging interview with JNS’ Menachem Wecker, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. addressed the firestorm surrounding a recent reference he made to a conspiracy theory that COVID-19 is “ethnically targeted” and that Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people are “most immune” to the virus. “‘It’s clear to me now that I need to be much more careful,’ Kennedy told JNS. ‘I have to learn a lesson from this, and the lesson I learn is that I have to understand that the words that I use have impact, and they can be misused and misinterpreted,’ he said. ‘I regret talking about that study, and I am going to be careful to make sure that I don’t do anything like that in the future.’” [JNS]
🤯 Walking a Tightrope: In The New York Times, Michael D. Shear and Patrick Kingsley analyze President Joe Biden’s efforts to find a middle ground on Israel as he is caught in the crosshairs of Republican criticism of his stance and divisions within his own party. “The comments by Ms. [Rep. Pramila] Jayapal, for which she later apologized and which prompted a House resolution in support of Israel, underscored the political pressure on Mr. Biden from a small contingent of his party to hold Israel accountable for what those members claim are crimes against Palestinians. Yet Republicans — including Mr. Trump, the front-runner to be his party’s presidential nominee in 2024 — have ratcheted up their criticism of Mr. Biden and the administration for not supporting Israel and Mr. [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Mr. Biden’s refusal to invite Mr. Netanyahu to the United States was a key talking point for Mr. Biden’s adversaries. In Israel, the traditional disagreements over settlements and Iran have been joined by protests over Mr. Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary system. The fierce debate has drawn Mr. Biden into domestic dispute over the fundamental questions of democratic values and ideals that have been at the center of the alliance between the two countries for decades. The delicate maneuvers have played out against the backdrop of a shifting focus for Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team.” [NYTimes]
🇺🇸🇮🇱 A Covenant Tested: The Atlantic Council’s Shalom Lipner, a nonresident senior fellow, weighed in on the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship ahead of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Washington. “Israel and the United States have some tough decisions to make if they harbor any hopes of refreshing the trifecta — shared values, shared interests, and broad-based support — which has kept them famously on the same page. The way back to a more durable US-Israel collaboration will require neutralizing the corrosive effects of narrow political agendas, which are pulling like-minded allies apart and impairing vital strategic coordination. In showering affection upon Herzog — Israel’s formal head of state — Biden is making a concerted effort to suggest that, despite his reservations about some of the ‘most extreme members of cabinets that I’ve seen,’ the fundamentals of America’s covenant with Israel will prove capable of enduring beyond this current crisis.” [Atlantic Council]
🔵 Progressives’ Predicament: Politico’s Nicholas Wu and Sarah Ferris write that Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-WA) comment that Israel is a “racist state” has plunged Squad members into an Israel-focused drama they had hoped to avoid. “The sudden Democratic dustup illustrates a party still struggling to navigate criticisms of the conservative Israeli government. Jayapal’s misstep was seen as unusual for a progressive who’s been careful to avoid the wrath of the party establishment on the matter, and her remark contrasted sharply with fellow liberals who focused on critiquing Israeli policies. The Squad had learned the hard way that condemning Israel is a delicate dance. ‘Our inability to actually be honest about this conversation prevents us from being an ally to advancing human rights and being a good ally as well,’ Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said. She and other Squad members, having learned during the Trump era that U.S.-Israel policy is a political minefield, largely avoided internal blowback with her low-key decision to skip Herzog’s speech.” [Politico]
Around the Web
👀 The Heat Is On: Federal prosecutors told former President Donald Trump’s legal team that he is a target of their investigation into efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
🎙️ Presidential Pivot: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “dodged questions on his support for a national abortion ban, whether he would commit U.S. troops to defend Taiwan and how to end the war in Ukraine,” in a rare interview with CNN on Wednesday afternoon.
👨 Mounting Pressure: Allies of DeSantis are calling for the Republican presidential candidate to fire or demote his campaign manager as he trails behind Trump in the polls, according to NBC News.
💸 Waiting in the Wings: A super PAC supporting Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-SC) presidential campaign said that it was reserving $40 million in advertising from the fall through January, the largest sum booked so far for any presidential candidate.
💲 Big Bucks: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has more cash to spend on his Senate run than any individual presidential campaign, according to new FEC data.
🤷 Holding the Middle: At a No Labels event in New Hampshire, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) said there won’t be a centrist third-party ticket if both parties embrace moderation.
🗳️ Kemp for Senate? Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is meeting with Senate Republican leaders in Washington this week, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines (R-MT), creating a buzz about Georgia’s 2026 Senate race, Politico reports.
🇮🇱 Ambassador on Hold: The Biden administration may not appoint a new ambassador to Israel any time soon due to a wider issue with nominations, Punchbowl News reports.
🚫 Iran Sanctions: A European official said yesterday that EU nations are likely to maintain ballistic missile sanctions on Iran that are set to expire in October.
🇨🇳 Kissinger Diplomacy: Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is currently visiting China and has reportedly met with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu.
🎧 Holtzman’s Heyday: Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY) joined the “Pro Politics Podcast” for a conversation spanning her civil rights work in Georgia, being the youngest woman elected to House and bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.
🚢 Fear of Reprisal: Companies that manage unloading tankers say they are too worried about Iranian reprisal to handle 800,000 barrels of seized Iranian oil sitting in a Greek tanker off the coast of Texas, The Wall Street Journal reports.
📚 Publishing Woes: Penguin Random House is undergoing a transformation as some staff are being laid off and others, many of them influential editors, are taking buyouts either for fear of being fired later or due to the changing face of the country’s biggest book publisher, New York magazine reports.
🕵️ On the Blacklist: The Biden administration blacklisted two Europe-based hacking firms, Intellexa and Cytrox, that are run by Tal Dilian, a former general in the Israeli military intelligence.
🔌 Power Play: Secretary of State Tony Blinken signed a 120-day national security waiver allowing Iraq to pay Iran for electricity in an effort to prevent power cuts during the summer.
🏺 Antiquities Alert: Investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office have over the past two years seized 71 looted artifacts from the home of philanthropist Shelby White, an emeritus trustee and advisor at the Met, and another 17 that White had loaned to the museum.
Pic of the Day
President Joe Biden meets yesterday with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in the Oval Office at the White House.
First-ever Orthodox Jewish player selected in the MLB Draft, picked number 77 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2021, Jacob Steinmetz turns 20…
Retired Israeli airline pilot, he successfully thwarted an in-flight hijacking by Leila Khaled in 1970, Uri Bar-Lev turns 92… Johannesburg resident, Monty Lasovsky… Interactive designer, author and artist, in 1986 he married Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late JFK, Edwin Arthur “Ed” Schlossberg turns 78… Retired professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University, he served in the Dutch Senate and then as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Uriel “Uri” Rosenthal turns 78… Hotelier and real estate developer, often referred to as the creator of the boutique hotel concept, Ian Schrager turns 77… Co-founder of Limmud FSU, Sandra F. Cahn… Former co-chairman of the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, Connecticut, Linda Meyer Russ… Sportswriter for The Athletic and author of three books on baseball, Jayson Stark turns 72… Former CEO of the Starbucks Coffee Company, Howard Schultz turns 70… Retired judicial assistant at the Montgomery County (PA) Court of Common Pleas, Deenie Silow… Rabbi of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, NJ and rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University in NYC, Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger turns 68… Head of the Kollel at Baltimore’s Ner Israel Rabbinical College, Rabbi Ezra D. Neuberger turns 66… Former chairman and CEO of Sears Holdings (owner of retailers Sears and Kmart), Edward Scott “Eddie” Lampert turns 61… Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Ronen Hoffman turns 60… Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and author of The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men, Eric Lichtblau turns 58… Israeli actress, model and film producer, Yael Abecassis turns 56… Spokesperson to the Arab media in the Israel Prime Minister’s Office, Ofir Gendelman turns 52… Co-chairman and CEO of CheckAlt, Shai Stern… Senior writer and NBA Insider for ESPN, Ramona Leor Shelburne turns 44… Former soccer star at the University of Virginia, he is now a director of administrative operations at Hopscotch Health, Chad Prince turns 44… Former deputy mayor of the city of Haifa, now a real estate developer, Shai Abuhatsira turns 43… Ultra-marathon runner, he performs as a mentalist and magician, Oz Pearlman turns 41… Associate partner at McKinsey & Company, Alexis Blair Wolfer… President of Brightside Academy Ohio, Ezra David Beren… Director of operations at Tide Realty Capital, Yanky Schorr… National political reporter for The Washington Post, Isaac Arnsdorf… Project coordinator at CultivAid, Caroline Mendelsohn… Former EVP and CEO of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, Dr. George Ban… Zach Houghton…