Good Monday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Rep. Andy Kim about his primary challenge to Sen. Bob Menendez, and report from an Israeli army base where victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks are still being identified. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Dara Horn, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Amb. Michael Oren.
On Saturday afternoons in Tel Aviv, the tayelet, the 3.5-mile stretch from the city’s Old Port in the north to Jaffa in the south, is abuzz with activity: young men playing volleyball, inline skaters and bicyclists cruising down the pavement, buskers playing to the families taking a Shabbat stroll.
But this Saturday, the tayelet was subdued, Jewish Insider Executive Editor Melissa Weiss writes. Absent from the beach were the cigarette smoke and loud music blaring from personal speakers, the 20-somethings under umbrellas with their friends. In their place were a smattering of families. The volleyball courts were empty.
At night, the streets are quiet. Dizengoff Street, known for its lively bar and restaurant scene every night of the week, sits silent after dusk. Some restaurants are open, but the majority of their business is now done through delivery apps.
Posters of the hostages line Dizengoff — but unlike the same posters plastered in cities around the U.S., these remain up, unmarked by graffiti. No one would dare tear down the posters in a city so weighed down by grief. Two weeks after the Oct. 7 attacks, families are still learning the fate of their loved ones, as officials work day in and day out to identify the remains of more than 1,400 people. On Saturday night, a block off of Ben Gurion Street, the sound of a young woman wailing — the pitch heard over and over at the hundreds of funerals that have taken place in recent days — punctuated the quiet night.
That’s the new reality in Tel Aviv, where those who haven’t left Israel — and hundreds of foreign correspondents who have arrived over the last two weeks — live in a state of perpetual sobriety, attempting to find some degree of normalcy in a city where the still-open cafes shutter early, previously ubiquitous construction is just beginning to restart after a two-week standstill, restaurants have transformed into assembly lines to feed displaced Israelis and every day involves sirens and a run (or several) to the nearest bomb shelter.
Children have begun returning to school, kindergarten and daycare, to shorter, sometimes non-consecutive days, and others not at all in cases where buildings don’t have reinforced rooms to protect against rocket attacks. The partial return comes after children have spent weeks at home — the Hamas terror attack occurred on Simchat Torah, at the very end of a long string of Jewish holidays during which the education system was closed under happier circumstances.
Those who have ventured out of their homes with their children over the past couple of weeks have been carefully selecting the play areas they frequent, ensuring there is a bomb shelter within a 90-second running distance.
Parents have agonized over whether or not to send their children back to daycare and kindergarten, torn between returning them to the routine that the youngsters crave and a new fear for their safety — born after their sense of security was shattered on Oct. 7.
The looming ground invasion the IDF is expected to launch in Gaza — which the Biden administration has asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay so as to allow more time for hostage negotiations and the transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza — and escalating tensions with Hezbollah in the north have plunged the city into a state of limbo, unsure of what happens next. With little guidance from the government, the Israeli public follows the news alongside the rest of the world, waiting to know its fate.
Two weeks on, Israel still struggling to identify the dead
Until two weeks ago, the Shura army base was among the quietest military outposts in Israel. Located in central Israel, not far from a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Ramle, Shura served mainly as a logistics center and the home of the IDF’s rabbinate. It was a place where nothing special happened, those serving on the base told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash on Thursday. That all changed on Oct. 7, after the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas carried out a brutal and murderous mass attack on multiple army bases, kibbutzim and towns in southern Israel, as well as a music festival, killing more than 1,400 people.
Abnormal situation: Now, Shura is one of a handful of sites in Israel where the dead are still being brought for identification, a place where the horrific atrocities are being photographed and recorded, and the bodies are cleansed and prepared for burial by their families. And last Thursday, 13 days after the attack, the bodies were still arriving. “We are in an abnormal situation and that is why it is taking so much time to identify the bodies,” Col. Rabbi Haim Weisberg, head of the army’s rabbinic division, told JI, describing a massacre. “In most cases, we have had to identify people via deep tissue DNA or dental records because there is nothing left,” he continued. “And we are still getting bodies, last night we received an additional 73 body parts.”
‘Not seen since the Nazis’: The operation at Shura is not happening in a typical sterile forensic lab but in large white tents erected in an open area, surrounded by eerie rows of refrigerated containers. Inside each container lie dozens of carefully wrapped dead bodies and bags of body parts retrieved from the sites that have yet to be assessed. The smell of the dead is overwhelming. “These are things we have not seen since the Nazis,” Weisberg said. “We are seeing trucks arriving with whole families inside — grandparents, mothers, fathers and children — and we are still collecting bodies from the roads, homes, playgrounds and fields where they were killed.”
codel during crisis
Senate delegation to Israel, Saudi Arabia denounces Iranian role in Oct. 7 attacks
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is leading a bipartisan delegation to Saudi Arabia and Israel, on Sunday blamed Iran for the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in which more than 1,400 Israelis were killed and at least 220 taken hostage — a move, the South Carolina senator said, that was aimed at disrupting normalization efforts between Israel and Arab states, Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss reports. “Iranians, through their proxy Hamas, unleashed holy hell on Israel to stop the march toward a better Middle East and a better world,” Graham said during a press conference in Tel Aviv. “My goal is for them to fail.”
On the ground: The delegation of 10 senators, which ran the ideological gamut from Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL) to Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the latter of whom is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, met with Israeli officials as well as families of hostages being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Additional members of the delegation included Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), John Thune (R-SD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Chris Coons (D-DE).
‘Unthinkable’: The group, Britt said, also reviewed bodycam footage taken by Hamas terrorists over the course of the daylong massacre. “When we watched the videos and heard the stories today, the things that happened were unthinkable,” Britt said, her voice breaking. “The loss of life, kids having to watch their parents be murdered. Parents having to watch their children be burned to death. Women having to be raped, kids decapitated. It’s disgusting. It’s despicable. It is pure evil.”
Meeting in the Gulf: Iran’s efforts to sow regional instability were a focus of the delegation’s talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a day prior. Reed said that in Saudi Arabia, the delegation had “a very productive session” with the crown prince and “urged him to join the international community to provide the resources that [are] necessary to allow Palestinians in Gaza to flee the control of Hamas and be sustained until Hamas is defeated.” Describing the meeting as a “candid exchange,” Cardin said that discussions related to normalization were secondary following the Oct. 7 attacks. The “immediate needs,” he said, “are to deal with the crisis that Hamas has created.”
Andy Kim touts support for Israel — and his national security experience — in Senate challenge to Menendez
Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) is touting his national security credentials and support for Israel in its ongoing war with Hamas as he mounts a new challenge to embattled Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a hawkish pro-Israel Democrat recently charged with conspiring to act as an agent of the Egyptian government. “This is a place where I can really lean in and engage,” Kim, 41, pledged in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel last week.
‘Top priority’: The three-term Democrat, a former State Department official who served as a national security adviser in the Obama administration, said that Middle East policy has been a “top priority” during his time in the House, noting that Israel is “the only country” he has “visited twice” as a member of Congress. Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack was “something well beyond anything I was capable of processing,” he said, calling the atrocities “immensely personal” to his congressional district.
Evolving views: While he called for an “immediate ceasefire” during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, Kim said he now disagrees with left-wing House members who have urged de-escalation in the wake of the recent incursion. “This conflict, the magnitude, the tragedy of the terror attack is so significant, that we absolutely need to make sure that this is responded to and that Israel has the ability to defend itself,” he told JI, even as he expressed concern over the prospect of a broader regional war. “That keeps me up at night.”
Republicans signal concerns about aid to Palestinians, Ukraine in Israel funding request
President Joe Biden’s $106 billion supplemental funding request, announced on Friday, is running up against early opposition from some Republicans in both the Senate and House, who are voicing concerns over Biden’s requests for humanitarian aid for the Palestinians and additional military aid for Ukraine, among other subjects, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
What’s in the bill: In addition to $14.3 billion for Israel — primarily for missile-defense interceptors and additional weaponry — the president requested $61.4 billion for Ukraine, $9 billion in humanitarian aid divided among Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, as well as aid for Taiwan and funding for the southern border. The Senate is likely to move first to pass its own version of the supplemental, with the House still paralyzed without a speaker.
Gaza aid: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said on Friday, shortly after the package was announced, that Biden’s “slush fund proposal is dead on arrival” and that the Senate “will not spend… $3.5 billion to address ‘the ‘potential needs of Gazans,’ essentially functioning as a resupply line for Hamas terrorists.” Such opposition is likely to grow among Republicans, among whom criticism of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians has been gaining steam.
Ukraine issues: Combining Israel aid with Ukraine funding could also prove problematic. Nine Senate Republicans also urged Senate leadership last week to separate Ukraine and Israel funding, arguing that “it would be wrong to leverage support of aid to Israel in an attempt to get additional aid for Ukraine across the finish line. Furthermore, it would be irresponsible and we should not risk a government shutdown by bundling these priorities together and thus complicating the process and lessening the likelihood of a funding package.” Such criticisms have been widespread among House Republicans as well and some hard-right House members vowed to vote against any supplemental that includes Ukraine funding.
The error-prone Israeli government spokesman who wasn’t
As Israel hits Hamas with airstrikes in Gaza and repels Hezbollah in the north, the digital war, rife with misinformation and raging nonstop, is another kind of dangerous front line. Into this sensitive area of Israel’s online messaging about the war now stands a controversial figure, Hanaya Naftali, a former member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s communications staff. More rogue social media influencer than actual government spokesperson, Naftali has caused headaches for the government at a fraught moment. His erroneous and misleading recent online posts about the war, along with questions about his resume, have been cited to claim that Israel is peddling disinformation, or worse – that Israel is responsible for the explosion outside Gaza’s Al Ahli Hospital, Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov reports.
Spreading misinformation: Minutes after Hamas’ Health Ministry in Gaza claimed that Israel bombed the hospital and killed 500 people, Naftali posted: “Israeli Air Force struck a Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza. A multiple number of terrorists are dead. It’s heartbreaking that Hamas is launching rockets from hospitals, mosques, schools and using civilians as human shields. #Hamas_Is_ISIS.” Israel has since said that the explosion came from a rocket misfired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a claim backed up by video taken by independent news outlets and supported by President Joe Biden and others. According to a U.S. intelligence community assessment, the blast was also much smaller than initially indicated, mostly impacting the parking lot and causing an estimated 100-300 casualties. Naftali deleted the original post and posted a correction – but the damage was already done.
Cited by the other side: Palestinian Ambassador to the U.N. Riyadh Mansour said that Netanyahu’s “digital spokesman tweeted that Israel did the hit thinking that there is around this hospital a base for Hamas, and then he deleted that tweet…Now, they changed the story to try to blame the Palestinians. It is a lie.” Naftali’s comments were cited in an AFP Fact Check and an Al Jazeera article about the “Israeli narrative.” Naftali, meanwhile, has done little to dispel the notion that he speaks for the government of Israel or its prime minister.
Aftermath of a Harvard Letter:The New Yorker’s Eren Orbey meets with the students at Harvard who spearheaded a letter blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 terror attacks committed by Hamas terrorists. “I asked whether they understood why so many people had been shocked and hurt by the letter’s failure to express any sympathy for the Israeli men, women, and children who had been murdered barely a day before its release. But they stubbornly resisted this line of thinking. ‘Our statement was not intended to do that,’ Nadia said, but, rather, to address the politics of the region and ‘the root of the violence.’ Anyone who was scandalized by the idea of Israel’s culpability struck her as ‘deeply misinformed.’ The women had drafted an op-ed describing the fallout of the previous week. In it, they’d described classmates who’d once waved hello in the hallways and were now avoiding eye contact, and others who’d messaged them privately apologizing for the public retractions that they were about to publish on behalf of their groups. The war had pitted Harvard students’ careerism against their idealism, and in many cases the careerism had won. ‘They dropped like flies,’ Yasmeen said.” [NewYorker]
Existential Threat: The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum reviews her interviews, conducted earlier this year, with Israeli protest leaders, amid more pressing existential questions over Israel’s future following Oct. 7. “After the surprise Hamas attack on southern Israel earlier this month, I listened again to the tapes of those conversations. In almost every one of them, there was a warning note that I didn’t pay enough attention to at the time. When I asked people why they had sacrificed their time to join a protest movement, they told me it was because they feared Israel could become not just undemocratic but unrecognizable, unwelcoming to them and their families. But they also talked about a deeper fear: that Israel could cease to exist at all. The deep, angry divides in Israeli politics — divides that are religious and cultural, but that were also deliberately created by Netanyahu and his extremist allies for their political and personal benefit — weren’t just a problem for some liberal or secular Israelis. The people I met believed the polarization of Israel was an existential risk for everybody.” [TheAtlantic]
Saving Israel’s Soul: In The Wall Street Journal, former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren explains why the Israeli government’s objective in the Israel-Hamas war is to eradicate the terror group. “Founded in May 1948, three years after the end of the Holocaust, modern Israel promised to prevent its recurrence. The state, its government and security services, would protect Israelis from further atrocities. Nowhere in the world would Jews be safer than in Israel. Based on that pledge, generations of Israelis sent their children to the army and spent months each year in the reserves. We put up with some of the world’s highest taxes and costs of living, and a political system that was seldom stable. We believed the state would always be there in our hour of need, whether to rescue Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976 or to airlift Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s. This was our social contract, and despite wars, terror attacks and domestic upheavals, it hung together — until Oct. 7…. Only by destroying Hamas can Israel secure our borders and deter our enemies. Only when we have freed ourselves from the threat of Hamas barbarism can we begin restoring our faith in our governing institutions and armed forces. We can believe, as we once did, in the idea of Israel, and preserve its essential soul.” [WSJ]
The WhatsApp War:Calcalist’s Elihay Vidal spotlights the use of WhatsApp during the Oct. 7 attacks by both civilians caught in the ambushes and the military, whose satellite and communications systems had been disrupted. “Countless videos that the hundreds of murdered people and the thousands of survivors managed to take on their smartphones and forwarded to their friends in real time on WhatsApp have become a kind of digital tombstone of the most cursed day in the history of the State of Israel. Hundreds of hours and thousands of clips of innocent citizens fleeing for their lives from the terror of the Hamas murders document almost every second of this day, at hundreds of massacre sites and from almost every possible angle. This information was sent in the citizens’ private WhatsApps to their friends and families and from there in family, community and social groups. Using it, it was possible to identify murdered people who were burned alive in their cars, to locate bodies of victims who fled the massacre sights, but also to locate survivors who managed to hide. All this authentic information will be stored forever on smartphones, personal computers, social platforms and will testify better than any story about these atrocities.” [Calcalist]
10/7 Trauma: In a New York Times opinion piece titled “Why Jews Cannot Stop Shaking Right Now,” author Dara Horn examines intergenerational fear and trauma in the Jewish community, against the backdrop of the Oct. 7 attacks. “And as we gather by the thousands despite our many contradictory opinions and despite the extra security required for our gatherings even here, we have returned to the words of our ancestors that have carried us through thousands of years: Be strong and courageous. Choose life. Many of us were physically carrying those words during the weekend of the attack, celebrating Simchat Torah, a joyous holiday when congregations dance with Torah scrolls, read the Torah’s final words and then scroll back to the beginning to start the book again. As a child, I found this baffling. Why read the same story over and over, when we already know what happens? As an adult, I know that while the story doesn’t change, we do. What defines Jewish life is not history’s litany of horror but the Jewish people’s creative resilience in the face of it. In the wake of many catastrophes over millenniums, we have wrestled with God and one another, reinvented our traditions, revived our language, rebuilt our communities and found new meanings in our old stories of freedom and responsibility, each story animated by the improbable and unwavering belief that people can change.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
No Mention of Attack: In a speech targeted to young voters of color at a Nevada university two days after President Joe Biden’s first address on the Israel-Hamas war, Vice President Kamala Harris did not mention the Hamas attack on southern Israel.
Notes from Nicosia: The four dozen Floridians evacuated from Israel on an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis were stranded in Cyprus for days due to issues with contractors involved in the airlift.
Stabbing Death: The president of a Detroit synagogue, who was involved in local Democratic politics, was fatally stabbed outside her home; Detroit’s police chief said there was no evidence that Samantha Woll was killed in a hate crime.
Trouble Brewing: Starbucks filed a lawsuit against its workers’ union, alleging that a social media post from the union about the Israel-Hamas war caused damage to the company’s reputation; a countersuit by the union accuses Starbucks of “falsely attacking the union’s reputation.”
Much Ado About Michigan: The bell tower at the University of Michigan chimed to the tune of “Mi Shebeirach,” the Jewish prayer for those in need of healing, while officials at Michigan State University apologized for projecting an image of Adolf Hitler on the screen at the school’s football stadium during a pre-game trivia round.
Controversial Hire: The New York Timesrehired a Palestinian filmmaker, who has praised Adolf Hitler in social media posts, to assist in coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.
Unfit to Print: The New York Timesissued a statement saying that its reporting on an explosion at a hospital in Gaza, in which it incorrectly assigned blame to Israel, “relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified,” and that “editors should have taken more care with the initial presentation, and been more explicit about what information could be verified.”
Newspaper Apology: The Philadelphia Inquirerapologized for the publication of an editorial cartoon derided by readers as antisemitic.
War Fallout: The CEO of Web Summit stepped down following an uproar over comments in which he accused Israel of committing war crimes.
Donating During Wartime: The Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker issued a statement titled “Holding Fast to Our Shared Humanity” that considers the role philanthropy can play in conflict zones.
Hollywood Resignation: Hollywood agent Maha Dakhil resigned from her leadership roles at Creative Artists Agency after coming under criticism for social media posts in which she repeatedly accused Israel of committing genocide.
Less Green on the Green: The Financial Timeslooks at the financial hit some universities are taking as donors pull funding over administrations’ responses to the Israel-Hamas war.
UPenn Vandalism: A vacant property next to the house owned by the University of Pennsylvania chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, was vandalized with antisemitic graffiti.
Lost in Translation: Instagram said that the platform experienced a bug that autotranslated language in some Palestinian users’ profiles to say “terrorist.”
Still Building Bridges: The New York Times’ Roger Cohen interviews Palestinian peace activists and Israeli peaceniks about the possibility for a two-state solution following the Oct. 7 attacks.
Curbing Misinformation: The Washington Postreports on efforts by an Israeli tech company to run interference against Russian misinformation campaigns upending governments in West Africa.
Greta on Gaza: Israel’s Education Ministry will remove references in its curricula to Greta Thunberg, after the climate activist called for a strike “in solidarity with Palestine and Gaza.”
Deni’s Dinero: Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija signed a four-year, $55 million contract extension with the District’s basketball team.
Mazal Tov: Tablet‘s Armin Rosen got engaged to Dr. Heather Corbo, a pediatric transplant pharmacist, at The Pinnacle, overlooking Lake George, N.Y. The couple met while watching a soccer match at Freddy’s in Brooklyn’s South Slope neighborhood in 2021. Rosen told JI that his bride-to-be, who is also a chicken tender at the St. Mark’s Place community garden co-op, “was intrigued by my hatred of penalty kicks.”
Remembering: Attorney Alan Eisenberg, who was the top executive at the Actors’ Equity Association for 25 years, died at 88.
Pic of the Day
A “Bring Them Home” sign is displayed near a table set up in the Tel Aviv Museum plaza ahead of a Shabbat prayer service on Friday night for the families of hostages, with 200 empty seats, representing the hostages and missing people.
Screenwriter and television producer, best known for his work on “Star Trek,” Ira Steven Behr turns 70…
Chairman emeritus of the shopping mall developer Simon Property Group and the principal owner of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, Herbert “Herb” Simon turns 89… Distinguished professor of American and Jewish Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz, Gerald Sorin turns 83… Israeli journalist who has written for Davar and Yedioth Ahronoth, he won the Israel Prize in 2007, Nahum Barnea turns 79… Attorney best known for his role as special master for the 9-11 Victim Compensation Fund and for similar roles in a number of mass torts, Kenneth Feinberg turns 78… Ophthalmologist, academic, author and researcher, he is vice-chair of ophthalmology at UCLA, Alfredo Arrigo Sadun, M.D. turns 73… Filmmaker, actor and producer famous for creating the cult horror Evil Dead series, as well as directing the original Spider-Man trilogy, Sam Raimi turns 64… Founder and CEO of global outsourcing company TeleTech (now TTEC) with 69,400 employees on six continents, Kenneth D. Tuchman turns 64… Founder of the New Democrat Network and the New Policy Institute, Simon Rosenberg turns 60… Author of 100 children’s and young adult fiction books that have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide, Gordon Korman turns 60… Former editor-in-chief of The New York Observer, Kenneth Kurson turns 55… Film director, producer and talent agent, Trevor Engelson turns 47… Director of strategic operations at SRE Network, Shaina Wasserman… President of Renco Group, Ari Rennert… Senior advisor to the director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Allison Preiss… Member of France’s National Assembly since 2022, Benjamin Haddad turns 38… Cartoonist for The New Yorker, Amy Kurzweil turns 37… Director of development at Ein Prat The Midrasha, Ayelet Kahane… Associate in the Washington, DC office of Hogan Lovells, Annika Lichtenbaum… Former speechwriter and special assistant at the U.S. Department of Labor, Rachel Shabad… Senior director of content marketing and strategy at SiriusXM, Allison Rachesky… Richard Rubenstein…