👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at the Capitol Hill battle brewing over Jack Lew’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, and talk to GOP donors about Nikki Haley’s fundraising numbers. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Rep. Lucy McBath, Matisyahu and Steve Mnuchin.
Secretary of State Tony Blinkenspoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday amid scaled-up negotiations to reach a Saudi-Israeli normalization agreement. The State Department readout of the call with Netanyahu included the usual language about “freedom, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” and the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, but only Foggy Bottom’s statement on the Abbas call mentioned a two-state solution.
The most notable thing about the State Department readouts was what was not said, Jewish Insider’s senior political correspondent, Lahav Harkov, writes. There was no mention of Israel-Saudi normalization efforts other than a vague reference to “expanding Israel’s regional integration,” even though Palestinian representatives are in Riyadh this week asking for a consolation prize.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan threw cold water on the idea that the parties are nearing an agreement, telling reporters shortly after Blinken’s calls on Tuesday, “We don’t expect any immediate announcement.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Opposition Leader Yair Lapid was in Washington yesterday, where he relayed his firm opposition to the Saudis’ request for a U.S.-backed civilian nuclear program with uranium enrichment on Saudi soil and accused Netanyahu of having ulterior motives. In a statement from Washington, he said: “Strong democracies don’t endanger their security interests in order to solve political problems.”
Lapid met with Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, and energy envoy Amos Hochstein, as well as Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).
McGurk is heading to Riyadh this week for talks focused on Yemen. He’ll be joined by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf and Tim Lenderking, the Biden administration’s special envoy for Yemen.
Former White House staffer Gabe Amo was declared the winner of the 11-candidate Democratic primary on Tuesday in Rhode Island — almost certainly making him the winner of November’s general election in the Ocean State’s deep-blue 1st Congressional District. With over 95% of votes counted, Amo held a commanding lead (33-25%) over his nearest rival, progressive state Rep. Aaron Regunberg.
It’s Amo’s first time as a candidate. But the 35-year-old from Pawtucket, R.I., has worked in politics since college, first for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and most recently as the White House deputy director of intergovernmental affairs.
His pitch to voters leaned heavily on his ties to President Joe Biden. “When I look at President Biden’s approach to politics, I look at someone who leads with compassion, but ultimately wants effectiveness and wants people of this country to know that we’ve worked as hard as we can to solve actual problems,” Amo told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch in a June interview.
Amo also pledged to follow Biden’s lead on Middle East policy, and noted that he supports U.S. aid to Israel and opposes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Read JI’s profile of Amo from June.
The race was crowded with current and former elected officials whom Amo beat handily, despite coming into the race with limited name recognition. The early frontrunner in this special election, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, came in a distant fourth. The second-place finisher was Regunberg, a progressive who brought in national star power at the end of the race — a rally with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and an endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — that ultimately did not resonate strongly enough with voters.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt responded to accusations waged against his organization by X owner Elon Musk, including a threat to sue the group, which Musk has blamed for a loss in revenue, and engagement with white nationalists and antisemites who want to ban ADL from the social media platform.
“It is profoundly disturbing that Elon Musk spent the weekend engaging with a highly toxic, antisemitic campaign on his platform — a campaign started by an unrepentant bigot that then was heavily promoted by individuals such as white supremacist Nick Fuentes, Christian nationalist Andrew Torba, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and others,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “Finally, we saw the campaign manifest in the real world when masked men marched in Florida on Saturday brazenly waving flags adorned with swastikas and chanting ‘Ban the ADL,’” Greenblatt added, referring to an antisemitic demonstration by neo-Nazis and white supremacists outside Disney World and near Orlando, Florida, on Saturday.
Rep. Cory Mills (R-FL) addressed the incident outside the theme park, tweeting on Monday, “I believe” recent antisemitic incidents in Florida “were orchestrated with paid actors, and should be investigated by Congress for [U.S. government] involvement.” Mills provided no evidence for the claim, and did not respond to a request for comment on what had led him to believe this. The baseless conspiracy theory had gained traction online in recent days.
The long road ahead for Jack Lew
President Joe Biden’s announcement on Tuesday morning that he would nominate Jack Lew, a former Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff, as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel was met with skeptical responses from key Republican senators. That, alongside growing tensions between the administration and GOP senators over Middle East policy, could spell a difficult confirmation process for Lew, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Slowdowns: Given that Democrats hold a majority in the Senate, they will likely have the votes to confirm Lew, barring Democratic defections, but Republicans could drag the process out for months and pressure the administration over its Israel policy. Multiple lawmakers, including members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who will process Lew’s nomination, have already signaled that they’re considering throwing up obstacles to Lew’s swift confirmation.
On the horizon: “Sen. Cruz has enormous concerns with the Biden administration’s campaign against our Israeli allies,” a spokesperson for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in a statement to JI on Tuesday. “He has also stated repeatedly that dishonesty on the part of Biden administration Middle East nominees, in which they commit to boosting the U.S.-Israel relationship in public but then undermine it the second they’re behind closed doors, has made it difficult to expeditiously confirm them. He will evaluate the nomination on that basis.”
Policy problems: Lew’s confirmation hearing will also likely provide an opportunity for Republican critics to litigate and voice grievances with the U.S.’ Israel policy during both the Biden and Obama administrations. “While former Treasury Under Secretary Jack Lew did not initially support President [Donald] Trump’s relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem back in 2017, I hope that he today supports the full and faithful implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 and, in turn, opposes the re-opening of the U.S. consulate for the Palestinians in Israel’s eternal and indivisible capital,” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN) said in a statement to JI. “I look forward to Mr. Lew’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
Top Republican donors like Nikki Haley, but wary of financial commitment
Two weeks after her standout performance in the first Republican presidential debate, Nikki Haley is seeking to ride a wave of momentum as she gains traction in early primary states, sees a boost in national polling and pads her campaign war chest with a recent influx of donations. Still, some establishment GOP donors and traditional conservative activists who have long admired Haley remain wary that her recent surge will ultimately translate into a winning primary campaign, as former President Donald Trump continues to hold a daunting, double-digit lead over every candidate in the Republican field, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Restrained enthusiasm: “I like Nikki Haley a lot and I think she did well at the debate,” one Republican donor told JI, praising her comments on government spending and her approach to foreign policy. But in spite of her showing at the debate, where she came out swinging against Vivek Ramaswamy over his statements on Israel, the donor said he wasn’t ready to back Haley’s campaign just yet — notwithstanding his belief that the Republican ticket will be “stronger” if Trump isn’t the nominee. “It’s hard to make the large investment without a clear path,” he reasoned.
‘Throwing money down the drain’: A top Republican donor in Chicago echoed that sentiment, even as he acknowledged that Haley’s debate performance had impressed him more than any candidate. “I thought she was awesome in that debate,” he said. “I’m more psyched than ever about her.” The donor, however, added that he would only be likely to open his checkbook for Haley if the primary becomes significantly closer in the coming months. At this point, he told JI, “it just seems like you’re throwing money down the drain.”
Black Caucus members visit Israel, Rwanda on trip focused on ‘common ground’
A group of nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited Israel last week on a delegation sponsored by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation. The group has since continued on to Rwanda as part of the trip, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Background: A spokesperson for Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA), a new co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations who is participating in the trip, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the trip aims to educate members on Israel and Rwanda’s “effort to build common ground while developing and growing socially, culturally, and economically out of tragedy.” An AIPAC source told JI that the trip is the first to Rwanda that AIEF has sponsored, and is “a chance to highlight not only the U.S.-Israel relationship but also the trilateral bonds between the U.S., Israel and Rwanda.” Topics of discussion included Israeli security, the Abraham Accords, Israeli-African relations and judicial reform, the source said.
The roster: Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) is another leader of the group, joined by Reps. Valerie Foushee (D-NC), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Troy Carter (D-LA), Jonathan Jackson (D-IL), Alma Adams (D-NC), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL) and Glenn Ivey (D-MD). The group is largely made up of consistent supporters of Israel or members who have been largely uninvolved in Israel policy. The notable exception is Jackson, who led a group of progressive lawmakers this summer in opposing Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program this year and voiced criticisms of the “atrocious conditions” in the West Bank.
🇸🇦🇮🇱 Deal or No Deal:The New York Times’ Tom Friedman argues that the only worthwhile version of a U.S.-brokered deal that would normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel is one that would trigger the collapse of the current Israeli government. “It’s a deal that would normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, forge a deeper security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and concretely advance a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians — but does it all on terms that would almost certainly cause the breakup of the current Israeli ruling coalition, which is led by far-right Jewish supremacists the likes of which have never held national security powers in Israel before… The one that is definitely not in our interest is the one that Netanyahu will try to sweet talk the United States into. He is trying to pull off a four-corner shot — undermine the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to restrain his extreme government, while making himself a domestic hero by pulling off a peace deal with Saudi Arabia without having to give the Palestinians anything of significance, thereby advancing his coalition’s dream of annexing the West Bank — all while getting Saudi Arabia to pay for it and Joe Biden to bless it.” [NYTimes]
💻 Online Warriors: In New Lines Magazine, Kourosh Ziabari explores Iran’s double standard on internet use, which it heavily restricts for its citizens while employing an online army to use social media networks prohibited for everyone else to fight for the Islamic republic’s image. “The Iranian government has long codified restrictions on every aspect of the people’s online rights and curtailed their internet access. The popular social media app X, which has only recently begun to crumble under its new owner, has not been spared. Authorities preach to the public to stay away from the global internet, launching occasional diatribes on the many immoralities of foreign-based social media networks. At the same time, however, they have found the glamor of the X platform so irresistible that the amount of time they spend on it daily outrages the average Iranian. Financing troll armies, pseudo-intellectuals, pundits and commentators whose day jobs boil down to waging wars on X is now the forte of a government that has officially banned the site.” [NewLines]
👀 Parallel Paths: The Messenger’s Amie Parnes and Dan Merica observe the dynamic between Vice President Kamala Harris and Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom, both California Democrats whose political rises have occurred simultaneously. “Their paths split slightly when Harris ran for President in 2020 – Newsom endorsed her weeks into the campaign – and, after a lackluster run, eventually became Joe Biden’s vice president. When Harris became vice president, most political watchers would have said that she had surpassed her friend. But where Harris has struggled to find her footing in Washington and been forced to deal with some of the most complex problems facing the federal government, Newsom has thrived in California, becoming a donor darling and one of the most outspoken leaders of the Democratic Party. He’s seen as a frontrunner for the party’s presidential nomination in 2028 alongside Harris. It is this shift in fortune that has caused Harris’ world to grouse as Newsom becomes a predominant surrogate for the Biden-Harris reelection campaign. ‘People in her broader world are suspicious of Gavin,’ the former Harris aide said. ‘He’s clearly positioning himself for some future political opportunity. It could be 2028. It could be a cabinet post.’” [TheMessenger]
✖️ Musky Matters: Newsweek’s Ian Haworth weighs in on Elon Musk’s threat to file a lawsuit against the Anti-Defamation League. “Just hours after the ADL’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, was invited to meet with X CEO Linda Yaccarino, the hashtag #BanTheADL started trending on the platform, fueled by figures including far-Right activist Keith O’Brien, former MMA fighter Jake Shields, and Hitler-loving white supremacist Nick Fuentes….It’s especially egregious for Musk to amplify a hashtag banning an organization given that Musk presented his purchase of Twitter, now X, as a virtuous act in defense of free speech. If Musk is truly a free speech absolutist, why does this apply to open antisemites on his platform (as it should), but not organizations that work to oppose his policies? The answer is, because it drives engagement. In the case of #BanTheADL, the unfortunate reality is that stoking antisemitism gets the clicks. I do not believe Elon Musk is an antisemite, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be guilty of stoking antisemitism. By engaging with white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and antisemites on the admittedly contentious subject of the modern ADL, Musk is doing just that—while boosting engagement at the same time.” [Newsweek]
Around the Web
🇬🇧 Prison Visit: GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said he hopes to secure a meeting with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been in prison in London since 2019, and whom Ramaswamy has pledged to pardon if he is elected.
🗳️ Rogers That: Former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) announced his entry into Michigan’s 2024 Senate race in a video, saying, “Politics has gotten so small and so petty we’re failing to address big problems.”
🖊️ Mapping Mess: A federal court ordered the redrawing of Alabama’s congressional map by an independent demographer and special master, following a Supreme Court ruling striking down the original map, and a subsequent redrawing that the judges determined “did not even nurture the ambition to provide the required remedy.”
🧑⚖️ Santos Saga: Rep. George Santos (R-NY) and a top aide appear to be mulling a plea deal with federal prosecutors, who asked a judge to delay a court hearing slated for later this week to give the parties additional time “to discuss possible paths forward in this matter.”
📽️ Hollywood Honcho: A fund controlled by former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has acquired a 5.5% stake in Lionsgate’s Class A voting shares, an indication that Mnuchin, a Hollywood financier prior to joining the Trump administration, is returning to the film business.
⚖️ Locked Up: Attorneys for Sam Bankman-Fried are protesting his conditions at a New York detention center, saying that the FTX founder has not been provided with sufficient food to accommodate his vegan diet, and that he has not received enough internet access to prepare for his upcoming trial.
🧵 Sweater Story: The Washington Postinterviews Baltimore native Sam Barsky, who has attracted minor celebrity on and offline for his homemade sweaters.
⚾ Pitch Perfect: Singer Matisyahu took the pitcher’s mound at the Mets’ Citi Field to throw the first-ever matzah ball first pitch.
🤝 Drexler’s Deals:The Real Dealinterviewed Alex Mill CEO Mickey Drexler — formerly the CEO of J. Crew and Gap Inc. — about his childhood, professional relationships and approach to business.
🛍️ Bat Mitzvah Shopping: The New Yorker’s Emma Allen goes to Bloomingdale’s with You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah author Amanda Stern.
🇩🇪 Rightful Heirs?: Art historians in Germany are struggling to identify the early-20th-century owners of a centuries-old painting that was once in the collection of Adolf Hitler.
🖼️ Enduring Legacy: The New York Timeslooks at the decades-long relationship between art dealer Irving Blum and artist Roy Lichtenstein, whose sculptures Blum is showing this month in New York ahead of what would have been Lichtenstein’s 100th birthday.
🇵🇸 Power Struggle:The Wall Street Journalreports on the Palestinian Authority’s struggle to maintain control of the West Bank.
🚰 Water Works: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a new initiative, based in Riyadh, to address global water challenges.
🗡️ Swords in the Stone: Archaeologists found four exceptionally well-preserved 1,900-year-old Roman swords in a cave in the Judean Desert, believed to have been stolen from Roman soldiers by Judean rebels and hidden during the Bar Kochba revolt.
🇮🇷🇷🇺 Allies in Arms: Iran added a Russian-made YAK-130 to its aircraft fleet, months after finalizing a deal to purchase Su-35 fighter jets from Moscow.
🇷🇺 Putin Punches: Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged that Western powers installed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to cover up a genocide of Russian speakers in the country; a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry suggested the comment was indicative of Putin’s “deep-rooted antisemitism.”
🛢️ Oil Oys: Moscow and Riyadh agreed to extend oil production cuts through the end of 2023, driving up prices and testing Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Washington.
💪 Benny vs. Bibi: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz to negotiate a compromise on judicial reform in a video posted Tuesday, an offer dismissed by Gantz as spin.
⚡ Energy Allies: Turkish Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar accepted an invitation by his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz, to visit Israel, during a phone call in which the two discussed avenues of cooperation.
🚙 Motor Moves: Jared Kushner’s Saudi-backed private equity firm, Affinity Partners, is set to buy a 15% stake in Israeli car company Shlomo Sixt.
⚽ Good Sports: Saudi and Iranian soccer clubs are slated to play in each other’s countries for the first time since 2016, following the reestablishment of ties between Riyadh and Tehran earlier this year.
➡️ Transitions: Yoel Lefkowitz, a member of the Hasidic community, was appointed director of Jewish outreach and intergovernmental affairs for New York Attorney General Tish James.
Pic of the Day
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape unveil the plaque at a dedication ceremony for Papua New Guinea’s embassy in Jerusalem yesterday, bringing the number of foreign embassies to Israel in Jerusalem to five, alongside the U.S., Honduras, Guatemala and Kosovo.
Actor whose career started at 8 years old and continues through the present, Asher Angel turns 21…
Retired 36-year member of the U.S. House of Representatives, former Michigan Rep. Sander Levin turns 92… Co-founder and chairman of Murray Hill Properties in NYC, Norman Sturner turns 83… Madi Portugal… Chair of the New York State Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, Helene Weinstein turns 71… Oncologist and bioethicist, he is the older brother of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and Hollywood mogul Ari Emanuel, Ezekiel Jonathan “Zeke” Emanuel turns 66… Co-founder in 2008 of Kol HaNeshamah: The Center for Jewish Life and Enrichment and co-author of a new siddur, Dr. Adena Karen Berkowitz… Founding managing director at Olympus Capital, Daniel R. Mintz… Former New Jersey governor and presidential candidate, Chris Christie turns 61… Toronto-based publisher and entrepreneur, she serves on the board of governors of Shalem College, Elisa Morton Palter… Rabbi of Temple Shalom in Louisville, Ky., Beth Jacowitz Chottiner turns 59… Treasurer of Southfield, Mich., Irv “Moishe” Lowenberg… Chess Grandmaster since age 14, Ben Finegold turns 54… Co-founder and chairman emeritus of Fuel For Truth, Joseph S. Richards… Chief communications officer at Bloomberg LP, Jason Schechter… Israeli film, television and stage actor, Amos Tamam turns 46… Author, he won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel The Netanyahus, Joshua Cohen turns 43… Retired rabbi at Beth El Synagogue in Minneapolis, now a consultant, Avi S. Olitzky… Principal at Avisa Partners, Daniel Flesch… Communications director at the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale University, Ari Schaffer… Ph.D. student in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, Abby Schoenfeld turns 31… Australian-born entrepreneur, Ben Pasternak turns 24…