👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we spotlight the Democratic primary in Texas’ 7th Congressional District, and report the latest on an ongoing legal battle in Michigan between the estate of a Holocaust survivor and antisemitic demonstrators. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Robert Beren, Iman Pahlavi and Larry Ellison.
Is a deal to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia imminent? Not so fast, the White House said on Wednesday after a Wall Street Journal report indicated that Riyadh and Washington had “agreed on the broad contours of a deal” that could see the kingdom establish official relations with the Jewish state within the next year.
John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said the report “has left some people with the impression that the discussions are farther along and closer to some sense of certainty than they actually are.”
Refuting the WSJ’s reporting, Kirby said, “There’s no agreed framework to codify normalization or any of the other security considerations that we and our friends have in the region.”
The State Department was also quick to temper expectations. The WSJ report, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said, “vastly overstated the reality of the situation.”
“We’ve made progress on a number of issues,” Miller added, referring to talks that have taken place over the last several months, including a visit to Jeddah by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan two weeks ago. “I’m not going to get into what the progress is, but it is still a long road to go with an uncertain future.”
Trump administration National Security Council alum Richard Goldberg, who co-hosts JI’s podcast, cautioned observers to “[t]ake a deep breath.”
“Lots of posturing going on with little actual news,” Goldberg added. “The contours of a deal are the same as they were three months ago. Lots of details to work out.” The “biggest challenge,” Goldberg, now a senior advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, remains Riyadh’s desire for its own nuclear enrichment program.
One thing we’re likely to see in any deal: a security agreement with the U.S. focused on deterring Iran, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broached the subject in a phone call with President Joe Biden last month, and has offered to send Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer — Israel’s former top diplomat in Washington — to talk through a proposal with White House officials, according to the report.
space city race
In Houston, a far-left insurgent challenges a Democratic incumbent on Israel
A Democratic primary in a Houston congressional district is shaping up to be the next battle over Israel in American politics — or at least, that’s what the far-left insurgent challenging a moderate Democratic incumbent in the state’s 7th Congressional District wants, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
New opportunity: Pervez Agwan, a first-time candidate and progressive climate activist, sees an opportunity to unseat Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) following the state’s redistricting process, which changed the 7th District from the suburban battleground Fletcher flipped in 2018 to a heavily Democratic, majority-minority district.
Israel attack: In a July interview with The Intercept, Agwan went on the offensive against pro-Israel activists and politicians, and pledged to end American support for Israel in what has so far been his only interview with a national publication. He slammed Fletcher for her connection to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which endorsed her in 2022. (A spokesperson for Agwan declined to comment on the race.)
Still in it: Agwan, who recently earned an MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was not on the radar of many Democratic activists and local political experts before he decided to challenge Fletcher earlier this year. He hasn’t yet earned the endorsement of any elected officials, and Fletcher maintains a strong base of support among both local Democratic leaders and her Washington colleagues. But political insiders in Houston caution that it’s too soon to write off Agwan, who is already mounting a heavy ground game with door-knocking and in-person campaigning seven months before the March primary.
Holocaust survivor’s estate appeals court order for payout to antisemitic picketers
A lawyer representing a Holocaust survivor is asking the Supreme Court to consider overturning a lower court decision holding his client’s estate liable for a significant payout to antisemites who have picketed a Michigan synagogue for years, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Background: An antisemitic group, including Holocaust deniers, has picketed the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor, Mich., for nearly two decades during Shabbat services. Two congregants who attended services at two different congregations at the site, Miriam Brysk — a Holocaust survivor who has since died — and Marvin Gerber, sued the group and its leader in federal court in 2019. They sought an injunction to limit when the picketers could demonstrate, arguing that their religious liberty was being violated, but were unsuccessful. Both plaintiffs separately petitioned the Supreme Court last year to take up the case, but the court declined to do so, without requesting a response from the defendants. A district court ordered the plaintiffs to pay $159,000 in attorneys’ fees to the respondents, including the picketers, which was upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
New appeal: Marc Susselman, the attorney who initially represented both plaintiffs and has continued to represent Brysk, is again petitioning the Supreme Court, asking it to review the penalty in this case. The court will evaluate the petition in September, Susselman told JI. Susselman has accused the district court judge — who deemed the case frivolous and assigned attorneys’ fees — of being antisemitic or anti-Israel. “How do you explain the judge ruling that the Jewish complainers’ emotional distress is not a concrete injury?” Susselman told JI.
Robert Beren, donor to Jewish causes and head of prominent philanthropic family, dies at 97
Robert Beren, a prolific philanthropist, oil magnate and Republican donor who funded Jewish schools, yeshivas, agencies and synagogues in the United States and Israel, died on Wednesday, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports. He was 97.
Upbringing: Beren grew up in Wichita, Kan., at a time when Jews were prohibited from many institutions. His father, Israel Henry Beren, helped found Okmar Oil Company in the early 20th century and led it through the Great Depression. Continuing the family’s ties to the oil industry, Beren founded the oil and gas firm Berexco in the 1960s. His son, Adam, serves as chairman and president of Berexco today.
Community impact: During his time as president of the Wichita school board, Beren worked with the Urban League and other Jewish community leaders to desegregate Wichita’s elementary schools. Beren was president of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation and the Hebrew Congregation in Wichita. A Harvard University graduate, Beren received his undergraduate degree in 1947 and an MBA in 1950. In 2016, a five-story addition to Harvard’s Winthrop House, which included additional undergraduate housing and space for social activities, was named in Beren’s honor as part of the Winthrop renewal project.
Family legacy: Beren is survived by daughters Nancy Beren, an active member of Jewish organizations in Houston; Julie Platt, board chair of Jewish Federations of North America; Amy Bressman, president of UJA-Federation of New York; and son Adam Beren, a former president of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation, member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and founder of Combat Antisemitism Movement. His grandchildren include actors Jonah, Ben and Henry Platt, Hollywood writer Theodore Bressman, Irene Beren Jefferson, Punchbowl co-founder Jake Sherman (through marriage) and Gen Z activist Sophie Beren. Jonah Platt reflected on Wednesday afternoon on his grandfather’s “tremendous” impact, telling eJP, “He instilled in all of us such a sense of responsibility to the Jewish community, to give back always and to always put an emphasis on philanthropy and education and Jewish values.”
👨 Tim Scott’s Oracle: Puck’s Teddy Schleifer looks at the relationship between Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, as the former mounts his first presidential bid. “Ellison has already decided to make a massive donation to Scott’s super PAC, which should be wired soon if it hasn’t landed in his account already. The commitment, described to me as a planned eight-figure contribution, would be at minimum the second largest contribution in the Republican presidential primary thus far. If the gift eclipses the $20 million given by Robert Bigelow to boost Ron DeSantis, it would be the single biggest check of the entire 2024 race. Ellison, who famously keeps his own counsel, is emotional about candidates, falling hard for politicians like Bibi Netanyahu, Marco Rubio and now Scott. (His support for Trump was a bit more circumspect.) But Ellison has deliberately cooled his jets to help manage the optics of his extraordinary financial support. The arrival of this particular check, I’m told, has been explicitly timed by Scott’s and Ellison’s teams to hit the wire only after June 30, outside the most recent F.E.C. filing period. As a result, the donation won’t be publicly documented until the next super PAC filing deadline, which isn’t until late January, after the Iowa caucuses, a lifetime from now.” [Puck]
🧕 Hardline on Hijabs: In The Atlantic, Salar Abdoh and Vali Khalili explore the return of the “morality police” to the streets of Iran as officials seek to crack down on the increased number of women flouting the laws that require them to wear a hijab. “The regime had to face, and resign itself to, a similar dynamic a decade ago regarding satellite television beaming from abroad: The harder the authorities tried to rid homes of satellite dishes, the more dishes sprouted everywhere. Even confiscating dishes by the tens of thousands and rolling over them with tanks did not reduce the appetite of Iranian households for reception from overseas, let alone their ingenuity in obtaining it. Satellite dishes, much like the mandatory hijab, were once a regime red line. Today, according to the Islamic Republic’s own reports, 90 percent of households have access to satellite TV.” [TheAtlantic]
🇺🇸 American Idiots: Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger wonders at the state of the U.S. landscape of politicians and public figures as former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden gear up for a presidential election rematch while social media magnates Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have agreed to duke it out in a cage fight. “One may snort that this fight will never take place. Some of us think Trump-Biden won’t happen, but it has begun to look inevitable. Whatever we are drinking in the water of American culture these days makes it possible to think we will see Messrs. Musk and Zuckerberg in a cage trying to beat each other into submission. No matter one’s views of such long-ago U.S. ‘robber barons’ as Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller, whose steel and oil industries were the tech giants of their day, it is hard to imagine them stooping to a cage fight. Today, it is the easiest thing imaginable. Parents spend endless hours figuring out ways to keep their children away from the screens of social media because they don’t want their kids to turn into idiots. But it turns out the people running the companies are idiots.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
🎤 First in the Nation: CNN’s John King traveled to Iowa to talk to Republicans about the 2024 GOP presidential primary candidates.
🏥 On the Mend: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was briefly hospitalized after a fall at her San Francisco home.
🗳️ Big Sky Tsuris: Politicolooks at how Rep. Matt Rosendale’s (R-MT) potential Senate bid could doom the GOP’s hopes of flipping the seat held by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) next November.
🏃♀️ Lake Effect: Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona in 2022 who has still not conceded her loss, is preparing to launch a campaign to challenge Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ).
🎙️ Tucker’s Treasury: Tucker Carlson is reportedly in talks with Rebekah Mercer and Peter Thiel about funding the former Fox News host’s next media venture.
🇦🇺 U-Turn: Australia said it will refer to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza as the “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” reinstating language that Canberra had refrained from using since 2014.
☁️ Data Deal: Cloud data management company Rubrik has signed an agreement to acquire Laminar, an Israeli data security posture management platform.
🛢️ Gas Gains: The Washington Postspotlights Israel’s push to increase natural gas exports and further gas exploration as other parts of its economy struggle due to the judicial overhaul controversy.
🧕 Hijab Crackdown: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to enforce the country’s strict modesty laws that require women to wear hijab in public.
🚀 Missile Tech: Iran scientists have developed a supersonic cruise missile, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
💍 Mazal Tov: Iman Pahlavi, daughter of Yasmine Pahlavi and Reza Pahlavi, the exiled Iranian crown prince and the son of the last shah of Iran, got engaged over the weekend to Bradley Sherman.
➡️ Transitions: Andrew Gross, executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission for the last four years, is joining the New Jersey Economic Development Authority as director of international innovation and partnerships.
🕯️ Remembering: Alice K. Ladas, psychologist, psychotherapist and author of the groundbreaking book The G Spot, died at 102. Canadian songwriter and lead guitarist for the Band, Robbie Robertson, died at 80. Rhoda Karpatkin, who led Consumer Reports for decades, died at 93. Cantor and actor Philip Sherman, who was also a mohel who performed more than 26,000 circumcisions over his career, died at 67.
Pic of the Day
Israeli President Isaac Herzog (center) visits the Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa on Wednesday, following a string of attacks on the site and a broader uptick in violence against Israel’s Christian community.
Former director of the Jewish Museum of Vienna, Austria, she was a founder of the German language magazine Nu devoted to Jewish politics and culture, Danielle Spera (pictured at right) turns 66…
CEO at Royal Health Services in Beverly Hills, Robert N. Feldman… Professor of biochemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Shimon Schuldiner turns 77… Founder and principal of Clipper Equity, David Bistricer turns 74… Former governor of the South African Reserve Bank, the first woman to hold that position, Gill Marcus turns 74… Conservative rabbi who served as president of the Interfaith Alliance, Rabbi Jack Moline turns 71… Retired co-leader of the securities litigation practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, he is the co-president of NYC’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, Joseph S. Allerhand… Certified registered nurse anesthetist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Edward Salkind… Author, media consultant and former film critic for The New York Post and The New York Daily News, Jami Bernard turns 67… Member of the California state Senate, Steven Mitchell Glazer turns 66… Chief rabbi in the Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem and a leader of the Shas party, Rabbi David Yosef turns 66… Former member of Congress, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Andy Levin turns 63… Professor of physics and astronomy at Tel Aviv University, Yaron Oz turns 59… Tech entrepreneur, he served as a Washington State senator until earlier this year, Reuven Michael Carlyle turns 58… Former member of the Florida state Senate, Jeremy Ring turns 53… Deputy attorney general of Israel, Sharon Afek turns 53… Regional chief technology officer in the South Texas office of Technologent, Jason P. Reyes… Senior director of the NYC-based Tikvah Fund, Eytan Sosnovich… Head of social media and influencer marketing at Eventbrite, Sophie Vershbow… VP of commodities compliance at Citibank, Jacob Cohen…