👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at Israeli efforts to make inroads in Africa, and talk to New Jersey congressional candidate Jason Blazakis. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Ruth Porat, James Snyder and Fabien Levy.
In another indication that Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley’s suspension will not soon be lifted, the State Department swapped the profile photo for the X — formerly known as Twitter — account of the office of the special envoy, removing Malley’s image and using one of Abram Paley, Foggy Bottom’s acting envoy. Malley has been on leave since June while the FBI and State Department investigate concerns over his handling of documents related to negotiations with Iran.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters on Monday that he had “no specifics to offer” regarding the photo swap, and that Malley remains on leave.
Patel was also pressed about questions over the Biden administration’s agreement with Iran, announced last week, to exchange prisoners held by both countries as well as the release of more than $6 billion in Iranian oil reserves.
The list of Americans being released in the agreement does not include Shahab Dalili, an Iranian immigrant to the U.S. with permanent resident status who was arrested on charges of espionage by Iranian authorities in 2016 and given a 10-year sentence. Dalili is not considered “wrongfully detained” by the State Department, which has declined to give further details. According to his son, who is protesting outside the White House this week, Dalili began a hunger strike after not being included in the swap.
The debate over the prisoner swap has permeated conversations on and off Capitol Hill since it was announced on Thursday. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), a supporter of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran who has backed the administration’s rapprochement with Iran, quarreled with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ CEO Mark Dubowitz over the contours of the prisoner swap.
In charges announced last night, former President Donald Trump and 18 others, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and attorney Sidney Powell, were indicted in Georgia in connection to the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the Peach State.
Israel in Africa
Israel’s innovative diplomatic policy in Africa bears fruit
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his first-ever trip to Africa in 2016, he famously declared, “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel.” During that weeklong visit, the first by an Israeli leader to sub-Saharan Africa in more than 30 years, Netanyahu visited Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, and held a historic summit with leaders from some seven countries. At the time, he said his plan was to share Israeli security and technological expertise in exchange for new friends who might be less critical of Israel and offer support in international forums that are usually biased against the Jewish state. Seven years later, some of Netanyahu’s African dream seems to have come to fruition, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Strengthening ties: Bilateral ties with several African countries are stronger than ever, prompting a tiny but visible shift in bodies such as the United Nations and the African Union. In addition, Israeli innovation from both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors is increasingly finding its way to the African subcontinent, providing life-saving solutions for some of the world’s poorest countries and helping some of the world’s most impoverished communities overcome the challenges of dry, desolate or underdeveloped land.
Water works: Two years after Netanyahu’s inaugural visit, Nermine Khouzam Rubin heard the prime minister speak at an AIPAC conference about his country’s technological progress. The Florida native already knew about the myriad challenges in Africa and, spurred by Netanyahu’s comments, envisioned a way to connect the two. The result was Water 4 Mercy, an organization that utilizes Israeli technology to locate underground aquifers that can build sustainable feeding and farming options in some of the driest parts of Africa. In just five years, Khouzam Rubin’s nonprofit, working with Israeli NGOs and innovation companies, has positively impacted the lives of some 50,000 people in 12 communities in Tanzania. And next month, along with a consortium of international donors, nonprofits, and for-profit Israeli companies, the organization will oversee the launch of its first sustainable farming center in Kenya.
Democrat Jason Blazakis joins crowded N.J. congressional primary to take on Tom Kean Jr.
Former State Department official Jason Blazakis is entering the Democratic primary for the House seat representing New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, held by Rep. Tom Kean Jr. (R-NJ). Blazakis, 48, was director of counterterrorism finance at the State Department for a decade, and previously worked on the Hill for Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ) and for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. The New Jersey native, a Middlebury College professor, geopolitical consultant and security adviser, follows progressive activist Sue Altman and Roselle Mayor Joe Signorello III in entering the race. Hours ahead of his campaign launch, Blazakis talked to Jewish Insider’s Haley Cohen about his candidacy. Below are excerpts of the interview.
On why he’s running: “I grew up right here in Harmony Township, went to public school my whole life, and had my first job picking peaches on an orchard, which helped pay for my college education. Public service is in the roots of my family. My father served in the military, my grandfather fought in the Second World War, and I have spent my career as a national security official, fighting for democracy and counterterrorism around the world. I worked on keeping us safe from terrorism, fighting corruption and the illegal drug trade overseas. Working both at home and abroad, I’ve made some enemies, like Vladimir Putin in Russia, resulting in me being sanctioned by the Russian regime. I’ve seen the threats anti-democratic regimes pose to fragile democracies around the world, and I worry about similar anti-Democratic MAGA extremists here at home, and those in Congress who enable them.”
On his position on Israel: “I’ve dedicated my career to fighting the global spread of antisemitism and other forms of extremism and mis- and disinformation. I am proud to call myself a steadfast ally of the State of Israel and in Congress, I will remain a strong and unwavering ally of Israel. While serving as director of the Office of Counterterrorism and Terrorism Finance at the U.S. Department of State, I was responsible for sanctioning anti-Israel, anti-Jewish terror groups and am proud to have led this fight.”
🏢 Porat’s Path: The Information’s Anita Raghavan spotlights Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, whose evolving role with the company could pave the way for a professional move outside of Silicon Valley. “During her time at Morgan Stanley, Porat built a close relationship with the investment bank’s chief operating officer, [former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom] Nides, who was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton. When Porat came to Google, she hosted fundraising dinners — one featured gourmet ‘Build Your Own’ tacos — for Clinton at Porat’s lavish home in Palo Alto, Calif. In the 2016 election cycle, Porat gave Clinton $5,400, according to OpenSecrets. And in 2020, she contributed $5,400 to Biden. ‘She was on everyone’s list for Cabinet-level jobs,’ said Nides. ‘She cares about public policy, she likes it, she’s interested in it.’ Nides said when Porat came to visit him earlier this year in Israel, she told him, ‘I don’t want to do a bunch of dinner parties.’ During her trip, Google unveiled a $35 million initiative to train Orthodox Jews, Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians in technology in a bid to build up underserved groups. If Biden wins reelection next year and 76-year-old Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen decides to retire, Porat could be a candidate to succeed her, said people in Democratic Party circles. She also could be a contender for a position in Washington outside the cabinet, along the lines of Ajay Banga, former CEO of Mastercard, who was recently tapped to be the president of the World Bank Group.” [TheInformation]
👨⚖️ Trial and Tribulation: The Jewish Telegraph Agency’s Ron Kampeas reflects on his experience covering the trial of the Tree of Life attacker as a Jewish journalist. “Whatever pretense of competition the journalists thought they brought into the media room soon slipped away as we shared information with each other, both about details we missed in the trial itself and about what the reactions were in the courtroom. Did the defendant look at the witness? Which lawyer objected? I relied on locals for Pittsburgh information and I became one of the designated Jews in the room, at one point explaining to a TV producer what a tallit was — the prayer shawl that Bernice Simon used to stanch her husband Sylvan’s wound, before the gunman shot her. The radio guy who assiduously tracked down every scriptural reference looked up at me quizzically when Dan Leger, one of two shooting victims who survived, said, ‘There is no way to understand the tranquility of those who do wrong, and the suffering of those who do good.’ I explained Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, which functions as a go-to source for an apt Jewish quote.” [JTA]
🇺🇸 Strategy Shift: Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead analyzes a shift in President Joe Biden’s approach to the Middle East on the heels of the U.S. deal with Iran for the release of five prisoners in exchange for billions of dollars of unfrozen revenue, and the push to reach Saudi-Israel normalization agreement. “Two perceptions seem to be driving the new Biden approach. First, while continuing diplomatic outreach to Iran demonstrates that Team Biden hasn’t given up on reaching some kind of understanding with Tehran, for now at least it is accepting that the mullahs don’t want to play ball. Second, the administration appears to have a new appreciation of the importance of the Middle East, and therefore of leading powers like Saudi Arabia and Israel, for American global strategy. Being the primary security and economic partner of the countries that dominate the world’s most important oil reserves still matters. America’s position in the Middle East gives us leverage over China’s energy supplies. It can ensure that the Middle East sovereign wealth funds prefer our tech and industrial sectors over those of our rivals. It can maintain the profitable defense relationships that help keep American arms makers ahead in a competitive arena.” [WSJ]
🏫 Education Consternation: In National Review, Eitan Fischberger urges U.S. legislators to act to prevent the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iran-backed elements from infiltrating American universities, as it has done in Britain, according to a recent Jewish Chronicle report. “University administrators can’t be trusted to address the problem. If the U.S. hopes to mitigate this phenomenon in any way, American officials must understand that it is insufficient to simply designate a terrorist organization as such and then hope it magically disappears from American public life. The above examples demonstrate as much. Supplemental measures must be put in place to actively stymie these groups’ ability to exploit the freedoms offered by academic establishments in pursuit of their foreign agendas, whether it’s Palestinian terror groups or potentially the IRGC and representatives of the Iranian government. Although the executive branch is primed to deal with such matters, the chances of any tangible steps being implemented by the Biden administration are slim as it desperately slogs ever closer to another disastrous nuclear deal with Iran. This leaves Congress as likely the only federal body that can thwart Iran’s infiltration into U.S. campuses.” [NationalReview]
🇮🇷 Iran Assessment: In Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller argues that while “there are no good deals with Iran,” there appear to be no better alternatives to the Biden administration’s negotiations with Tehran. “So what’s the benefit? The advantage lies almost exclusively in the assessment and calculation of risk. Since then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 JCPOA withdrawal, we have been living in what the International Crisis Group’s Ali Vaez calls a ‘no deal, no crisis’ environment. There have been plenty of tensions — including the U.S. killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani; attacks by pro-Iran militias against U.S. forces and contractors in Iraq and Syria; maritime tit-for-tats in the Persian Gulf; and scores of Israeli strikes against Iranian assets in Syria — but no major clash over Iran’s nuclear program. If you believe that Iran and Israel will go to considerable lengths to avoid an escalation that might lead to a serious confrontation, then you might conclude that no understandings, written or otherwise, are necessary and that there’s no advantage to making any deals with Iran. If, alternatively, you were sitting in Washington with a full foreign-policy agenda, trying to avoid potential entanglements and distractions from the challenges you’re already struggling to manage, you’d probably see things differently. You would want to work proactively to keep as many issues as possible off your plate, especially ones that could, without much imagination, easily produce a Middle East conflict involving U.S. military action.” [FP]
Around the Web
🤝 Sealing a Deal: Michael Weisz’s Yieldstreet is closing in on a deal to buy real estate investment firm Cadre, co-founded by Jared Kushner in 2014.
🕍 Antisemitic Network: The Anti-Defamation League said a coordinated group of online trolls targeted 26 synagogues across 12 states with bomb threats and swatting calls.
👮 Suspect Detained: Police in Lexington, Ky., arrested a man they say harassed a local rabbi and Chabad center.
🤔 Mosaic Musings: Israeli officials are weighing a potential loan of the Megiddo Mosaic, believed to be from the site of the world’s first Christian prayer hall, to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
👍 Israel Affirmation: Fitch Ratings affirmed Israel’s credit rating with an A+ and a “stable outlook,” while noting that changes to the judicial system “may have a negative impact on Israel’s credit metrics if the weakening of institutional checks leads to worse policy outcomes or sustained negative investor sentiment or weakens governance indicators.”
🕊️ Full Potential: In The Wall Street Journal, Ed Husain, director of the N7 Initiative, lays out the promise of the Abraham Accords and what the U.S. needs to do to get there.
🌐 Climate Chat: Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz met with Emirati, Jordanian and U.S. officials in the UAE ahead of November’s COP28 in Dubai.
🇺🇸🇮🇱 In Their Shadow: CNN explores how the U.S.-China rivalry is hovering over the efforts of Gulf countries to expand their military partnerships.
📽️ Censured: The Lebanon-based company that translated the film “Oppenheimer” into Arabic replaced the film’s mentions of Jews with the word ghurabaa, meaning “stranger” or “foreigner.”
🚓 Iranian Arrests: Iran arrested nine members of the Baha’i faith, which is banned in the Islamic republic, on charges of smuggling medicine, money laundering and tax evasion.
🔥 Trading Barbs: Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah threw back a warning by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that an escalation would “return Lebanon to the Stone Age,” saying, “You too will go back to the stone age if you go to war with Lebanon,” and stating that “the Israeli army is in the worst condition compared to any time in the past.”
🚀 Failed Rocket Launch: Palestinians in the northern West Bank attempted to launch an improvised rocket into an Israeli settlement today.
➡️ Transitions: Fabien Levy, formerly the press secretary to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, was named the administration’s seventh deputy mayor. James Snyder, who for two decades served as director of the Israel Museum, was named director of New York’s Jewish Museum.
Pic of the Day
Jason Isaacson (left), the chief policy and public affairs officer at the American Jewish Committee, and AJC CEO Ted Deutch met last week with Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud in Washington.
Former executive director of New York’s Transit Innovation Partnership, now a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, Rachel Sterne Haot turns 40…
Founder of Slim-Fast and large donor in support of the Democratic Party, S. Daniel Abraham turns 99… Philadelphia resident, Irvin Farber… Retired associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Justice Stephen Breyer turns 85… Investment banker, businessman, Republican politician, economist and historian, Lewis Lehrman turns 85… Former CFO of The Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg turns 76… Founder and chairman of the Executive Committee of Limmud FSU, Chaim Chesler turns 74… Economist, CPA, investment advisor and founding member of wealth advisor RVW Investing LLC, Selwyn Gerber… Artist and avid mountain biker, Bill Weidman… Co-founding rabbi of Congregation Or Hadash in Sandy Springs, Ga., now living in Israel, Rabbi Mario Karpuj… Emmy Award-winning actress, she played Grace Adler on the 11-season sitcom “Will & Grace,” Debra Messing turns 55… VP of the Northeastern region for the Birthright Israel Foundation, Margot (Atlas) Ettlinger… U.S. senator (D-PA) since the beginning of this year, John Fetterman turns 54… Co-CEO and chairman of the entertainment production company Propagate, Benjamin Noah Silverman turns 53… Former member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-VA) until earlier this year, Elaine Goodman Luria turns 48… Real estate and business law attorney in the Baltimore law firm of Rosen Neuberger Lehmann, Meir Neuberger… Senior manager at Teva Pharmaceuticals, he appeared in the Israeli versions of “The Amazing Race” and “Dancing with the Stars,” Raz Meirman-Baruch turns 46… National college football reporter for ESPN, Adam Rittenberg turns 42… Women’s health fellow at Atrius Health, Rachel Spekman… Former member of the Alaska House of Representatives until earlier this year, now a consultant, Grier Hayden Hopkins turns 40… VP of communications for Lemonade insurance, Yael Wissner-Levy… Co-founder of Irenic Capital Management, Adam Jason Katz… Freelance designer, Talia Siegel… MLB pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds in 2015 and 2016, he played for Team Israel in the 2020 Summer Olympics, Jon Moscot turns 32… VP of technology policy at Retail Industry Leaders Association, Justin Goldberger… Director of product management at Publicis Sapient, Ezra Mosseri… Chairman of Benj. E. Sherman & Sons, Inc., he is a board member of Israel Policy Forum and the Crown Family Foundation, David Sherman… Joe Farry… David Summer…