Good Wednesday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we look at how former President Barack Obama’s comments about the Israel-Hamas war are splitting Democrats, and report on concerns of antisemitism among Amazon employees. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Hillary Clinton, King Abdullah II and Elisha Wiesel.
The largest pro-Israel gathering in U.S. history took place on the National Mall yesterday, as some 290,000 people convened, according to the organizers, for a rally to support Israel and condemn the global scourge of antisemitism, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen and Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch report.
Previous rallies organized by the Jewish community drew sizable crowds — a convening during the Second Intifada in 2002 drew 100,000 people, while 250,000 attended a rally in support of Soviet Jews in 1987. William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which organized the rally along with the Jewish Federations of North America, estimated that another 250,000 people watched a livestream of the event.
The rally was notable in not just its attendee count but in its roster of speakers, who covered an array of political, religious and ideological backgrounds. Among the speakers were CNN analyst Van Jones, actress Debra Messing, college students from The George Washington University and Columbia University, families of hostages and Christian and Muslim leaders. A bipartisan group of congressional leaders, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), also addressed the crowd. More than 100 other members of Congress spanning the ideological gamut attended the rally as participants, and didn’t take the stage.
“The minute I heard of what happened on [Oct.] 7, I knew I had to go to Israel,” said Schumer. As “the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in American history, I not only had a desire to go to Israel, I felt a special obligation to go.”
Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) was spotted wearing an Israel flag fastened to his signature hoodie. “Of course I’m here. How could I not?” he said.
The State Department’s antisemitism envoy, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, told the crowd that the Biden administration “stands shoulder to shoulder against Jew-hatred,” saying that “today in America we give antisemitism no sanction, no foothold, no tolerance, not on campus, not in our schools, not in our neighborhoods, not in our streets or the streets of our cities. Not in our government. Nowhere. Not now, not ever.”
Both Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog and Israeli President Isaac Herzog — the latter of whom spoke via livestream from the Western Wall in Jerusalem — addressed the crowd. In his speech, President Herzog praised “The moral clarity and bold actions of our American allies demonstrate the depths of the U.S.-Israel alliance, which is stronger than ever before.”
Rachel Goldberg, who has become one of the most recognizable voices among families of hostages for her efforts to publicize the kidnapping of her son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, condemned the global silence over the hostage crisis. “Why is the world accepting that 240 human beings from almost 30 countries have been stolen and buried alive?” she asked, her voice tinged with anger as she mentioned Abigail Mor Idan, an American toddler who witnessed her parents’ murders before being taken captive.
Naming Joshua Mollel, a Tanzanian graduate student who was taken hostage, Goldberg said, “[he] would like for me to ask you why somehow his life actually doesn’t matter” — a direct shot at the Black Lives Matter movement, leaders of which celebrated Hamas after the Oct. 7 attacks.
“The world must prepare for what we will say to them,” Goldberg said.
Not present at the rally were several hundred Michiganders who had chartered flights from Detroit to Dulles International Airport, but whose bus transportation was canceled after drivers reportedly refused to drive them into Washington, according to a local federation leader, who alleged that the drivers had deliberately staged a “malicious walk-off.” Some buses chartered by the Israel American Council in New York reported similar issues.
Over in Gaza, the IDF is beginning ground operations in and around Gaza City’s Al Shifa hospital, which sits atop a Hamas command center. Last night, the IDF called for a cessation of “all military activities within” the hospital, adding that it had given Hamas advance warning and “Israel will be within its rights under international law to counter these activities.”
The National Security Council’s John Kirbytold reporters en route to San Francisco that the U.S. had obtained intelligence indicating that both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad “operate a command-and-control node from Al-Shifa” — confirming long-standing Israeli reports — and that the groups “stored weapons there, and they’re prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.”
The BBC is being slammed for its coverage of the IDF’s movements at the hospital, for which it has now apologized after a wildly inaccurate report that misquoted a Reuters report citing the IDF as saying its “forces included medical teams and Arabic speakers for this operation.” A BBC news anchor instead reported that “medical teams and Arab speakers were being targeted.”
Obama divides Democrats by reinserting himself in the debate over Israel
In recent weeks, former President Barack Obama has reemerged as a high-profile critic of the war between Israel and Hamas, issuing a series of increasingly pointed statements that have drawn scrutiny from pro-Israel leaders and other officials in Washington. As he continues to speak out amid mounting Democratic divisions over Israel, Obama’s new comments are a reminder of how the tensions now roiling the party began to escalate during his time in the Oval Office — when the Iran nuclear deal became one of the most polarizing issues on Capitol Hill, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports. While Obama strongly condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack in a social media post two days after the massacre, he has since expressed growing skepticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza, warning in a lengthy Medium essay that “any Israeli military strategy that ignores the human costs could ultimately backfire.”
Why now? It is unclear why Obama, whose office did not respond to a request for comment, has now chosen to weigh in on an issue that frequently bedeviled him and his administration. He has rarely spoken out on politically sensitive topics in the years after his presidency. “My sense is that he’s horrified by the loss of life, under pressure from Democrats as more progressive elements in the party press the administration to end the violence, and freer now to express views he couldn’t as president,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The thought experiment is this: If Obama were president, would his policy be as preternaturally pro-Israel as Biden’s?”
Aiding Biden? Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, speculated that Obama — whose recent essay was reportedly vetted by White House aides before publication — might be engaging in a strategic effort to assist Biden as his administration urges caution amid Israel’s invasion of Gaza. “I’m not sure why he would want to rush into this topic again, unless it’s to try to help Biden,” Ibish said in an email to JI, noting that Obama could be trying to push Biden “a little bit from the left to give him some cover as he moves the needle slightly on pressuring Israel.”
Bonus:The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn criticized Obama’s “Pod Save America” comments as “a jab at the Biden administration’s support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he takes on Hamas.”
Jewish, Israeli Amazon workers say company tolerating antisemitism by employees
Amazon employees in three different countries expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s response since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas, accusing the company of turning a blind eye to messages in internal channels in recent weeks that the employees felt incited violence or denied Oct. 7 atrocities, Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov reports.
Official statement: Three days after Hamas massacred and kidnapped Israelis, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy posted: “The attacks against civilians in Israel are shocking and painful to watch. I have been in touch with our teammates there to make sure we do everything we can to help support their families and their safety, and to assist however we can in this very difficult time. We’re also in close contact with our humanitarian relief partners on the ground and will be supporting their efforts. Hoping that peace arrives as soon as possible.”
Compare and contrast: Some Amazon employees who spoke with JI on condition of anonymity to discuss internal company matters contrasted the response with Amazon’s millions of dollars in donations to causes like Black Lives Matter, Stop Asian Hate and Ukraine, while Jassy’s post about Israel did “not condemn anything,” and the idea seemed to be “as ambiguous as they can [be], the better,” one source in the company lamented.
Internal communications: Jewish and Israeli Amazon employees also pointed to messages on internal communications channels that they viewed as threatening or offensive. One community in “phonetool,” an internal messaging app, is called “I stand with Palestine!” with the description being “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” regarded by many as a call for the elimination of Israel and genocide of the Jews living there. Elevators in Amazon offices in New York and Seattle were vandalized with the phrase in English and Arabic, and employees notified security.
House members left in stunned disbelief, horror by video of Hamas’ attack on Israel
House lawmakers were stunned into shock and disbelief by a screening on Capitol Hill of footage of Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. Lawmakers left the screening largely in grave silence, visibly shaken, several of them openly crying and comforting one another. One lawmaker, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA), left the screening in tears less than five minutes after entering.
What’s in the video: The roughly 45-minute video assembled by the Israeli government — versions of which have been shown to international media, diplomats and lawmakers, among others — includes graphic footage of Hamas murders and atrocities, some of it pulled from the group’s own body cameras.
Who’s there: The screening was attended by a packed audience of lawmakers, including some such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Greg Casar (D-TX), who are supporting a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) attended for a few minutes. The screening was organized by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Doubling down: “How anyone could call for a cease-fire after watching that — they’re not understanding what is actually happening,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who traveled to Israel over the weekend, told JI as he came out of the screening.
Disbelief: Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) told JI she was “absolutely gutted,” adding, “Seeing the video footage of people celebrating the killing of Jews shows what we’re up against. And the fact that anybody would encourage or condone what Hamas did that day. It’s outrageous. It’s unbelievable seeing footage like that in the year 2023, in places we’ve all been.”
eye on iran
Bipartisan Senate group pushes for hard line against Iran
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday calling for a hard line against Iran, including warning of further military action if attacks by the regime and its proxies continue, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
In the text: The resolution, led by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Katie Britt (R-AL), John Thune (R-SD), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), emphasizes “the urgency of responding to attacks in Israel and the greater region from the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies” and argues that “deterrence is most credible when the President keeps all options on the table, including the use of military force.” The resolution also expresses support for Israel’s right to self-defense, broadly expresses support for the administration’s deterrent posture and actions thus far and calls on Saudi Arabia and Israel to continue normalization talks.
To the source: “If Americans are killed by any Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq, we believe that would be a provocation deserving a military response,” Graham said at a press conference yesterday, arguing for the U.S. to hit Iranian infrastructure inside Iran, potentially including Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps training facilities and oil refineries. He said the U.S. should also respond forcefully to Iran if Hezbollah escalates its attacks on Israel.
Sanctions outlook: Sullivan said that, while he’s been critical of the administration’s policies toward Iran in the past, he’s “looking forward,” highlighting that there is also “strong bipartisan support” for heightened sanctions on Iran. He said he raised the sanctions issue in a recent meeting with President Joe Biden and said that “the feeling we got” was that “we’re pushing on an open door.” Blumenthal agreed that the administration is likely to move toward stronger sanctions on Iran and heightened sanctions enforcement.
Bonus: A group of Republican senators attempted yesterday to force a floor vote on the House’s standalone Israel aid bill with cuts to Internal Revenue Service funding, which Senate Democratic leadership has vowed to replace with an alternative, broader package. The effort was blocked in a party-line vote.
on the hill
House Financial Services Committee advances bills to crack down on Iran
The House Financial Services Committee voted on Tuesday to advance a raft of nearly a dozen bills cracking down on Iran and otherwise addressing the situation in the Middle East, including new sanctions and other new regulations, with around half of the bills receiving unanimous support, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Quotable: “Today our committee will stand with our Israeli allies as we work to further isolate Iran and its proxies for the global financial system… I would concur that the administration has done an admirable task of rising to this occasion,” Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) said in his opening statement. “The legislation we’ll consider today builds on these ongoing efforts.”
Unanimous: The committee passed by unanimous votes bills sanctioning Chinese financial institutions involved in the Iranian oil trade, cracking down on Iranian “ghost ships” involved in the illicit oil trade, ensuring that humanitarian aid funding for Iran is not misappropriated, requiring public reports on Iranian leaders’ assets and expanding enforcement tools for tracking malign actors’ financial systems.
Big money: The committee also approved a series of measures addressing the recent $6 billion hostage deal with Iran, some of which received bipartisan support, and working to cut off funding that Iran could receive through the International Monetary Fund, with some bipartisan support.
Top-Down Approach: In The Atlantic, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backs up the Biden administration’s opposition to a cease-fire, and calls for new leadership in Israel in the post-war era. “This history suggests three insights for the current crisis and the future of this complex and volatile region. First, October 7 made clear that this bloody cycle must end and that Hamas cannot be allowed to once again retrench, re-arm, and launch new attacks — while continuing to use people in Gaza as expendable human shields. Second, a full cease-fire that leaves Hamas in power would be a mistake. For now, pursuing more limited humanitarian pauses that allow aid to get in and civilians and hostages to get out is a wiser course. Third, Israel’s long policy of containment has failed — it needs a new strategy and new leadership. … Going forward, Israel needs a new strategy and new leadership. Instead of the current ultra-right-wing government, it will need a government of national unity that’s rooted in the center of Israeli politics and can make the hard choices ahead. At home, it will have to reaffirm Israeli democracy after a tumultuous period. In Gaza, it should resist the urge to reoccupy the territory after the war, accept an internationally mandated interim administration for governing the Strip, and support regional efforts to reform and revive the Palestinian Authority so it has the credibility and the means to reassume control of Gaza. In the West Bank, it must clamp down on the violence perpetrated by extremist Israeli settlers and stop building new settlements that make it harder to imagine a future Palestinian state.” [TheAtlantic]
The King’s Speech: In the Washington Post, Jordanian King Abdullah II calls for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Are there any realistic alternatives to a two-state solution? It is hard to imagine any. A one-state solution would force Israel’s identity to accommodate competing national identities. A no-state solution would deny Palestinian rights and dignity. If the status quo continues, the days ahead will be driven by an ongoing war of narratives over who is entitled to hate more and kill more. Sinister political agendas and ideologies will attempt to exploit religion. Extremism, vengeance and persecution will deepen not only in the region but also around the world. What happens next will be a turning point for the entire globe. A concerted international effort to develop a regional architecture of peace, security and prosperity, built on a Palestinian-Israeli peace based on the two-state solution, is a priority. It is up to responsible leaders to deliver results, starting now.” [WashPost]
Words to the Wiesel: In The Hill, Elisha Wiesel opines about the Israel-Hamas war and the threat of global antisemitism. “We will likely not convince the skeptics that we deserve the same rights as every other people: to secure our borders and defend our citizens. And yet today we will march, regardless, several hundred thousand of us coming together resolutely on the National Mall. For the just man speaks up, not only to convince others. Heed my father’s words: ‘In the beginning, I thought I could change man. Today, I know I cannot. If I still shout today, if I still scream, it is to prevent man from ultimately changing me.’ We deserve to exist in peace and security. Neither Israel nor Gazan civilians can afford this to be anything other than the last battle. This war can only end with the complete destruction or surrender of Hamas. The world may not want to listen to these truths, but we, like my father before us, must shout them nonetheless.” [TheHill]
Forgotten Families: In The New York Times, Moshe Emilio Lavi calls for the hostages in Gaza — who include his brother-in-law — to be centered in conversations about the Israel-Hamas war. “Omri, Lishay, Roni and Alma are not political pawns; they are human beings who deserve to be reunited as a family. Hamas has yet to allow any international humanitarian group to visit the Israelis and foreign nationals being held captive; we have no means of knowing if Hamas has kept the hostages alive or in what condition, let alone their general well-being. We pray they are still alive and in good health. But that we have no idea illustrates the urgent need to prioritize the release of all the hostages as a condition for any humanitarian pause or cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas. In a conflict where emotions run high, the release of hostages can be a potent symbol of good will and a step toward envisioning the day after the war, when Hamas and its accomplices can no longer be allowed to rule the enclave.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
SJP Suspension: The George Washington University suspended the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine for 90 days after members of the group projected anti-Israel and pro-Hamas language onto the wall of a school library.
Backing Biden: More than 100 former staffers in the Obama and Biden administrations and campaigns signed on to a letter expressing support for Biden’s Middle East policies.
Sanctions Waiver: The U.S. issued a four-month sanctions waiver allowing Iraq to purchase electricity from Iran; the waiver also allows Tehran to purchase humanitarian goods.
Terrorist Training: IDF troops in Gaza discovered a document from a Hamas official requesting a scholarship for Hamas operatives in Gaza to travel to Iran to study engineering, physics and technology.
Miller Time: Rep. Max Miller (R-OH) intends to join the newly formed congressional Jewish Caucus, ensuring the group, which is overwhelmingly comprised of Democrats, will have bipartisan support.
Santos Saga: A former aide to Rep. George Santos (R-NY) pleaded guilty to fraud for impersonating a staffer for former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a bid to attract new donors.
Campus Crackdown: Reps. Kevin Kiley (R-CA) and Burgess Owens (R-UT) wrote to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to take further action regarding allegations of threats, harassment and discrimination against Jewish students on college campuses.
Map Mayhem: New York’s Court of Appeals will hold a hearing today on redistricting, as state Democrats push for a redrawing of the state’s congressional map.
Lipstadt’s Lessons: The New York Times’ Bret Stephens interviews Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt about the steep rise in antisemitism.
Trudeau Tussle: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Israel to end “this killing of women, of children, of babies” in Gaza; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded that “[w]hile Israel is doing everything to keep civilians out of harm’s way, Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm’s way.”
Follow the Money: The Free Pressspotlights Shanghai-based tech entrepreneur Neville Roy Singham, who with his wife is the primary funder of The People’s Forum, an organization that has co-organized at least four pro-Hamas rallies since Oct. 7.
Double Standard: Three Jewish students at NYU are suing the university, claiming the administration refused to enforce anti-discrimination policies that it has employed against other forms of bigotry and hate.
Misstep: A dance troupe at Yale University issued an apology after it attempted to raise funds for a Hamas-linked group.
Woke Wind-down: Semaforlooks at how the movement to fight “wokeness” is losing steam among conservatives.
Shelved Sponsorships: Two sponsors have withdrawn from the National Book Awards, slated to be held today, over plans by some finalists to make a political statement at the gathering over the Israel-Hamas war.
Guilty Plea: A Michigan man pleaded guilty to threatening a mass casualty attack on Jewish targets.
Ousted from Oyster: A VC firm in San Francisco is removing one of its partners over his comments calling for the sterilization of Palestinians.
Bookshelf: The New York Times reviews Daniel Schulman’s new book, The Money Kings: The Epic Story of the Jewish Immigrants Who Transformed Wall Street and Shaped Modern America.
Transition: Misha Galperin, who for the last five years served as president and CEO of the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, will step down next year.
Remembering: Global Crossing founder Gary Winnick died at 76.
Pic of the Day
A morning prayer service was held outside the White House ahead of Tuesday’s March for Israel in Washington, D.C.
Executive producer and director of television programs, including “Friends,” one of the most popular TV programs of all time, Kevin S. Bright turns 69…
Author of dozens of children’s books and young adult fiction, frequent NPR guest, Daniel Pinkwater turns 82… Pianist and conductor, formerly music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim turns 81… Boca Raton, Fla., resident, Stephen Wolff… Former Chairman and CEO of Film and Music Entertainment, Lawrence (Larry) Lotman… NYC-based consultant for non-profit organizations, Perry Davis turns 75… Retired immigration and nationality attorney in Southern California, Michael D. Ullman… Past president of Gratz College in Melrose Park, Pa., he is the author or editor of more than 50 books, Paul Finkelman turns 74… Executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museums of Tolerance, Rabbi Meyer H. May turns 71… Member of the Knesset for the Yesh Atid party, Meir Cohen turns 68… Partner in Toronto-based accounting firm Fuller Landau, he is the immediate past president of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (BAYT), Jeffrey M. Brown… Senior project manager at T-Mobile, Michael A. Lewine… Member of the Florida House of Representatives, Michael Alan Gottlieb turns 55… Former member of Knesset for the Likud party, Nava Boker turns 53… Founder and chairman of Perilune Capital and founder of Harspring Capital Management, Carey Robinson Wolchok… Mortgage executive, Joshua Shein… CEO of the Riverdale Y in the Bronx until 2022, she is now a leadership coach, Deann Forman… As a 12-year-old baseball fan in Yankee Stadium, he interfered with a ball batted by Derek Jeter in the 1996 ALCS that was ruled to be a game-tying home run, Jeffrey Maier turns 40… Professional golfer, he won the gold medal at the 2013 Maccabiah Games, Ben Silverman turns 36… White House reporter for The Associated Press, Zeke Miller… Press secretary for Maine Gov. Janet Mills, Ben Goodman… Senior client recruiter at SingleSprout, Alison Borowsky… 3L student at Harvard Law School, Micah Rosen…