Good Tuesday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we profile the NSC’s John Kirby and report on growing opposition in Congress to Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s use of a phrase that calls for Israel’s elimination. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Amb. Eric Garcetti, Pope Francis and Whitney Wolfe Herd.
A 69-year-old Jewish man died on Monday from injuries sustained in a physical confrontation with an anti-Israel activist in Los Angeles. An autopsy concluded that Paul Kessler died from blunt force head trauma and ruled his death a homicide. Witnesses told authorities, who have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime, that Kessler had been struck by an anti-Israel protester before falling and hitting his head.
Former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who sits in Israel’s war cabinet, said that Kessler’s death is “a warning light that must resonate throughout the world.” Israeli Opposition Leader Yair Lapid posted on X that Kessler was killed “because he was a Jew.”
“It is not because of Gaza, it is because of antisemitism,” Lapid continued. “This is what happens when protesters glorify Hamas and call to ‘globalize the intifada.’”
Today is Election Day: The biggest races we’re tracking are the Kentucky and Mississippi gubernatorial elections, a battle for control of the state legislature in Virginia and a referendum in Ohio that would establish a constitutional right to an abortion, Jewish Insider Editor-in-Chief Josh Kraushaar reports.
In Kentucky, polls suggest Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is favored to win a second term despite running in a solidly Republican state. He’s running against Republican state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a protege of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seeking to become the state’s first Black governor.
Beshear, whose father also served as governor, has benefited from strong marks handling the state’s recent natural disasters. He’s also benefited from a backlash against the GOP legislature’s adoption of strict abortion regulations.
In Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is facing a surprisingly competitive challenge from state utilities regulator Brandon Presley, a second cousin of Elvis. But given Mississippi’s conservative electorate, it would count as a major upset if Presley prevailed.
And in Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been trying to parlay his political capital to win full control of the state legislature. Republicans currently control the state General Assembly by a narrow margin, while Democrats hold a slim advantage in the state Senate.
Virginia Democrats are running against Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban, with exceptions (state law currently allows abortion until 26 weeks). But Republicans are betting that President Joe Biden’s low approval and Youngkin’s generally high marks could extend the GOP’s winning streak in the Old Dominion.
And in Ohio, voters will be voting on a ballot measure (Issue 1) that would create a constitutional right to an abortion. While pro-choice advocates have been on a winning streak, this measure would overturn some of the state’s current abortion restrictions — which could be a tougher sell in a GOP-leaning state.
The Israel-Hamas conflict is a top issue shaping one of the most hotly contested New York City Council races — in a moderate district of southern Brooklyn home to a large population of Palestinians and Eastern European Jews. The rival incumbents, Republican Ari Kagan and Democrat Justin Brannan, are each stressing their support for Israel and resisting calls for a cease-fire, even as Brannan has done so a bit less strenuously.
A consultant who conducted polling on the race said it was “neck and neck” a couple of months ago — despite that Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1. In the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, the war in Gaza could boost turnout among conservative Jewish voters for Kagan, a former Democrat who switched parties last year. As for the Palestinian vote, “the question isn’t whether they’ll vote for Kagan against Brannan,” the consultant told JI. “The question is whether they will come out and vote.”
A handful of other council races in New York are also expected to be competitive, strategists say, particularly as the city shifts in a more politically moderate direction. Democrat Marjorie Velazquez, for instance, is facing a tough challenge from Republican Kristy Marmorato in an East Bronx district that is growing increasingly purple.
And Inna Vernikov, a Jewish Republican councilwoman in southern Brooklyn who has been outspoken against antisemitism, is seeking to defend her seat from an Orthodox Jewish Democrat, Amber Adler, who is putting her faith front and center on the campaign trail. “She’s visibly Orthodox and is running to the left of Inna, which is fascinating,” a Democratic strategist told JI, describing the race as “competitive.”
Democratic criticism of Tlaib continues, amid renewed censure effort
Democratic criticism of Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) latest provocative comments on Israel grew on Monday, as Republicans introduced a pair of new efforts to formally censure the Michigan congresswoman. But among Democrats, there seems to be limited appetite for a formal vote to rebuke the congresswoman, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Here we go again: The House may be forced to vote twice this week — as soon as Tuesday — on condemning her. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Rich McCormick (R-GA) introduced separate censure resolutions on Monday, and both are demanding votes on their resolutions in the next two days.
What they’re saying: McCormick’s legislation is likely to be favored by House leadership and is more likely to pick up Democratic support. Even so, many Democrats sound opposed to the idea of censuring Tlaib. “We’ll see what happens,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a leading pro-Israel Jewish Democrat, told JI. “What I’m more inclined to do is try to get a security package passed that funds aid to Israel, aid to Ukraine, [and] takes care of the challenges we face.”
In-state: Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) called Tlaib’s posts “very inflammatory language” and told JI he “would hope that in the future, she doesn’t use that type of language.” Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) told JI, “‘From the river to the sea’ cannot be co-opted as anything other than what it is: painful and hateful language for the Jewish community which implies erasure of the State of Israel, home of the Jewish people. I condemn the use of this phrase, which is hurtful, offensive, and promotes anti-Jewish violence.”
Bonus: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) told JI that Jewish House members are taking steps toward formalizing a House Jewish caucus. The group would “allow us to approach issues and matters before Congress through a Jewish perspective and to help prioritize issues important to the American Jewish community,” she said, adding “we need a seat at the table on matters that are critical to our communities.” Axios reported yesterday that Wasserman Schultz had filed paperwork for the caucus last week. An informal caucus of Jewish Democrats — often fractured over Israel policy — has been led by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), who did not comment on the move. Wasserman Schultz said the group would be open to any lawmakers regardless of party; Republican Jewish Reps. David Kustoff (R-TN) and Max Miller (R-OH) did not respond to requests for comment.
The retired Navy admiral making the case for Israel in the White House briefing room
Last month, after a reporter pressed the White House to apologize for President Joe Biden’s remarks that the death of innocent civilians in Gaza is the price of war, the sharp response from National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, John Kirby, quickly went viral among pro-Israel advocates and within the Jewish community. As calls for a cease-fire have grown more pronounced among progressive activists, Kirby has become one of the loudest voices espousing Biden’s commitment to Israel’s security. Even as he and other Biden administration officials publicly caution their counterparts in Israel to work to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, Kirby also offers clear statements about the danger Israel faces from Hamas, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Blasting Hamas: “Don’t you think it’s insensitive, there being very harsh criticism about it?” asked Raquel Krähenbühl of Globo News, a Brazilian news channel. “Would the president apologize, and does he regret saying something like that?” “No,” said Kirby. “What’s harsh is the way Hamas is using people as human shields. What’s harsh is taking a couple of hundred hostages and leaving families anxious, waiting and worrying, to figure out where their loved ones are. What’s harsh is dropping in on a music festival and slaughtering a bunch of young people just trying to enjoy an afternoon. I could go on and on. That’s what’s harsh,” said Kirby, who went on to blast Hamas for not allowing Gazans to leave the besieged Palestinian enclave while Hamas militants sheltered in tunnels beneath their homes.
Genuine emotions: “His genuine outrage and sadness for what the Jewish people are going through really came through to me as very real and very evident,” said Morgan Ortagus, who served as the State Department’s top spokesperson under former President Donald Trump. “I think that’s why he has connected with so many Jewish Americans across the political spectrum.”
Bowman receives chilly reception from Jewish constituents at tense meeting
Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s (D-NY) last-minute effort to meet with Jewish constituents amid growing concerns over his approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict — not to mention a looming primary threat — got off to a rocky start on Monday morning, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
Heated exchange: Confronted by protesters outside a church in Westchester County, where the meeting had been scheduled to take place, Bowman was forced to relocate to a nearby office after the pastor withdrew his sponsorship of the discussion. Before leaving, the congressman engaged in a tense exchange with pro-Israel demonstrators who questioned his calls for a cease-fire. “Never say, ever, that I’m OK with the killing of Jews,” he said in comments caught on video. “This is insane.”
‘One big takeaway’: The meeting, dubbed “Healing Breakfast: Fighting Antisemitism and Hate,” was held at Bowman’s office in White Plains, where about 50 people “sat in a big circle in a large conference room,” said a participant who asked to remain anonymous to discuss a sensitive issue. “If there was one big takeaway, it was that many Jews in Westchester feel unsafe and want him to do more to help make them feel safe, and he said he heard that and would roll up his sleeves to do the work.”
Looking at Latimer: The discussion came as Bowman faces new attack ads run by a pro-Israel super PAC affiliated with AIPAC, which has been encouraging a potential challenger, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, to run in the primary. Latimer has said he will announce his plans for a campaign this month.
Brandeis becomes first private university to ban Students for Justice in Palestine on campus
Brandeis University on Monday became the first private university to ban the campus chapter of National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider. SJP’s open support for Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, was the driving factor in the decision, according to a source familiar with Brandeis’ plans. The source noted that the National SJP has called on its chapters to engage in conduct that supports Hamas in its call for the violent elimination of Israel and the Jewish people.
Liebowitz’s call: The crackdown comes on the same day that Brandeis President Ronald Liebowitz published an op-ed in the Boston Globe saying that student organizations that participate in antisemitism should “lose all privileges associated with affiliation at their schools.” “Specifically, chants and social media posts calling for violence against Jews or the annihilation of the state of Israel must not be tolerated,” Liebowitz wrote.
Brandeis letter: JI obtained a copy of a letter that was sent to SJP on Monday informing the group that it had been banned. “This decision was not made lightly, as Brandeis is dedicated to upholding free speech principles, which have been codified in Brandeis’ Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression,” the letter said. “However, those Principles note that ‘The freedom to debate and discuss ideas does not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish, or however they wish,’ and that, ‘…the university may restrict expression…that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment…or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the university.’”
Bonus: Administrators at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst released a statement denouncing “Antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any form of bigotry” after a student carrying a Palestinian flag was arrested for assaulting a Jewish student holding an Israeli flag, Cohen reports.
Schumer calls for $1 billion in federal nonprofit security funding
Amid a surge of antisemitism in the U.S., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for a major increase in federal support for nonprofit security needs that would more than triple the current funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). Schumer is requesting $1 billion in funding for the program, which in 2023 gave out $305 million in grants, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Community protection: “Schumer’s focus here, front of mind, is JCCs, shuls and schools, along with senior centers,” Angelo Roefaro, Schumer’s press secretary, told JI on Monday. Schumer’s plan would also increase staff at FEMA, the federal agency that oversees the grant program, to help accelerate the rate at which grants are administered. In 2023, just 42% of requests for security funding were approved; $679 million in grants were requested.
Discrimination rising: Following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and the ensuing war between Israel and Hamas, law enforcement and Jewish communities in the U.S. and around the world have reported a major increase in antisemitic threats, vandalism and violence. President Joe Biden requested an additional $200 million for NSGP in his administration’s emergency supplemental funding request, which is currently stalled amid opposition from House Republicans. Schumer is the first senator to request such a drastic increase in funding.
Sights on Sinwar: In the Financial Times, Neri Zilber profiles Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza whom Israeli officials believe was the key orchestrator of the Oct. 7 attacks. “Ahead of the Hamas incursion, Israel had close to 40 years of experience dealing with Sinwar, an intense and violent man with a wiry frame and close-cropped hair. Yet that accumulated knowledge, in recent years, only lulled Israel’s security chiefs into a false sense of complacency. On the eve of war, Israel viewed Sinwar as a dangerous extremist who was nevertheless biddable, more concerned with solidifying Hamas rule in Gaza and extracting economic concessions than the group’s professed aim of destroying the Jewish state. That misreading of Sinwar’s character would be the prelude to Israel’s biggest intelligence failure. To some, Sinwar had managed the ultimate deception. ‘We didn’t understand him at all, in an insane way. Zero,’ said Michael Milstein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer and expert on Palestinian affairs.” [FT]
Tehran’s tricks: In The Wall Street Journal, columnist Walter Russell Mead suggests that Tehran’s hope that the Oct. 7 attacks and ensuing Israel-Hamas war would pit Israel against Sunni Arab states was misguided. “The idea was that Hamas’s dramatic attacks would electrify public opinion in the region against Israel, the U.S. and the Arab rulers willing to work with them. This, Tehran hoped, would drive a wedge between the Arabs and Israelis as Arab rulers sought to placate their angry publics by abandoning any plans to work closely with Israel. So far, this plan has failed. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have all signaled that they intend, once the storm has passed, to go on working with Jerusalem for a safer, more stable Middle East. Worse from Iran’s point of view, the Arabs are committing to a revived form of Palestinian governance that can exclude Iran’s proxies from both the West Bank and Gaza. This isn’t because the conservative Arab states love Israel or the U.S. It is because their survival requires checking Tehran.” [WSJ]
Left-Right Challenge: Politico’s Alex Burns looks at the challenges facing President Joe Biden from both ends of the Democratic Party spectrum, as Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) mounts a primary challenge and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) threatens to withhold support for Biden from Arab American voters. “These two Gen X Midwesterners are not coordinating their activities. The convergence of their attacks on Biden is purely coincidental. Yet in another sense it is hardly happenstance that they are battering Biden in these terms and at this moment. Both represent versions of the Democratic Party’s Trump-era new guard: the radical progressive movement embodied by Tlaib and her fellow members of the Squad, and the anti-partisan, suburban Problem Solvers Caucus set of which Phillips is an outspoken member. These two factions thrived in parallel when Trump was president, propelling both Phillips and Tlaib to Congress in the 2018 elections. Both lawmakers — and the divergent constituencies they channeled — joined forces with Biden to help topple Donald Trump in 2020.” [Politico]
Garcetti’s Game: The Los Angeles Times’ Courtney Subramanian spotlights U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti, who is having a professional renaissance in Delhi following nine years — some tumultuous — as the mayor of Los Angeles. “But it would be a mistake to assume that Garcetti, who was considered for Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 and briefly flirted with a 2020 campaign for president, has given up his ambitions for higher office. The former mayor — by the way, just 52 — hardly considers his diplomatic reincarnation as the capstone of his career. After all, it took Garcetti’s mentor and ally three tries and half a century to reach the office he had always sought. … Garcetti would no doubt love to have a Bidenesque career trajectory. But his path back to elected office is not yet clear. ‘He’s very smart. He’s a great speaker … And he’s young, politically speaking. All the right kind of qualities to want to pursue a career beyond being ambassador to India,’ said Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Los Angeles. ‘He thinks he has a political row to hoe and I think he’s probably right. We just don’t know what it is or what kind of opportunity will really present itself.’” [LATimes]
Around the Web
Aiding Biden: CNN looks at how aides to President Joe Biden are working to maintain broad support within the Democratic Party for Biden’s reelection campaign, including from those critical of the president’s support for Israel.
Hamas’ Human Shields: Secretary of State Tony Blinken detailed the degree to which Hamas uses human shields, saying that the terror group “puts its fighters, its commanders, its weapons, its ammunition, command and control in residential buildings, under schools and in schools, under hospitals and in hospitals, under mosques and in mosques.”
Bibi’s Blame: In response to a question from ABC’s “World News Tonight” about whether he accepts responsibility for Israel’s lack of preparedness ahead of the Oct. 7 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Of course, that’s not a question. It’s going to be resolved after the war. I think there’ll be time to allocate that.”
Call for Protection: Antisemitism envoys from two dozen countries signed onto a statement calling on their governments to protect their Jewish communities.
Meijer’s Move: Former Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI) launched a bid for the Michigan Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Tallahassee Talks: State lawmakers in Florida convened in Tallahassee for a special legislative session to show support for Israel and to consider legislation focusing on Jewish communal security and sanctioning Iran.
Campus Concerns: The FBI and the University of Pennsylvania are investigating a series of antisemitic threats made to staff and Jewish institutions at the university, which has come under fire in recent weeks for its handling of antisemitic incidents on campus.
Crime Scene: An Indiana woman who believed she was attacking an “Israel school” drove her car into a building used by the Black Hebrew Israelites, an antisemitic hate group.
Fundraising Off Hamas: Two Minnesota state lawmakers sent out fundraising emails after abstaining from a vote condemning Hamas for the Oct. 7 terror attack.
Pope’s Health: An ailing Pope Francis met with a group of European rabbis but, feeling ill, was unable to deliver his prepared remarks to the group.
On the Border: The Wall Street Journal reports on how residents of the Israeli city of Ashkelon, which is a 10-minute drive from the Gaza border, are faring following the Oct. 7 attacks.
Remains Found: Israel Antiquities Authority archeologists working with Israeli authorities to find human remains among the carnage of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks have identified the remains of 10 individuals originally thought to have been taken hostage.
Safe Passage: The IDF opened another humanitarian corridor to allow hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza City to safely transfer south.
Diplomatic Drama: South Africa recalled its ambassador and diplomatic mission from Israel, amid threats to expel the Israeli ambassador in the African nation over his comments on the Israel-Hamas war.
Troop Trouble: U.S. defense officials said the number of American troops believed to be injured by Iran-linked attacks in Iraq and Syria stands at 45, more than double what had previously been announced.
Mensch Move: An Israeli rabbi is traveling the country to bring an array of services — from mobile laundry units to assisting soldiers doing reserve duty away from home — to Israelis on the front lines of the conflict.
Bankruptcy Filing: WeWork, once valued at $47 billion, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Rightful Heirs:The New York Timesspotlights a lawsuit by the heirs of a Holocaust victim who died in Dachau and whose art collection remains on display in galleries across Europe despite accusations that the pieces were looted by the Nazis.
Transition: Bumble founder and CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd is stepping down from the online dating platform after nearly a decade, and will remain the company’s executive chair.
Pic of the Day
Israelis in Tel Aviv mark a national minute of silence to commemorate the victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks, one month after the deadly attacks.
Neuropsychiatrist, a 1944 graduate of Yeshivah of Flatbush and 2000 Nobel Prize laureate in Medicine, Eric Kandel turns 94…
Former U.S. senator from Minnesota, Rudy Boschwitz turns 93… MIT professor in electrical engineering and computer science, Barbara Liskov turns 84… Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, he was the vice chairman of the Federal Reserve System, Donald Kohn turns 81… University professor at Harvard, expert on Shakespeare, he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Stephen Greenblatt turns 80… Founding president of Santa Monica, Calif., synagogue, Kehilat Maarav, and senior partner in the West Los Angeles law firm of Selvin & Weiner, Beryl Weiner turns 80… Entrepreneur, bar owner and television personality, Jonathan “Jon” Peter Taffer turns 69… Constituent affairs representative and community liaison for Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Laurie Tobias Cohen… Volunteer coordinator for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, Marcy Meyers… Chairman and CEO of luxury apparel company Canada Goose, Dani Reiss turns 50… European casino owner, art collector and CEO of Vestar Group, Leon Tsoukernik turns 50… Deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Aryeh Yitzhak King turns 50… EVP of communications at NBC Universal, Jennifer B. Friedman… Reporter for Sportico focused on the business of college sports, Daniel Libit… Baseball outfielder, he won two minor league batting titles, Brian Horwitz turns 41… Consultant for family foundations, he holds two graduate degrees in nursing, Avi Zenilman… National political reporter at Politico, Elena Schneider... Founder and CEO emeritus at Swipe Out Hunger, Rachel Sumekh… Founder and CEO of Count Me In, Shane Feldman… Co-founder and CEO at Moneta Labs Limited, Tomer Aharonovitch… Vice president of financial resource development at the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Greater Toledo, Michael R. Holub… AIPAC Northeast regional deputy director, Alexa Silverman…