Good Wednesday morning.
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report from the Israeli Embassy’s Hanukkah event last night and dig into the latest clash between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Menachem Rosensaft, Sen. Joni Ernst and Ambassador Jacob Lew.
Washington’s official Hanukkah celebrations continued on Tuesday evening at the Israeli Embassy, where the mood was somber. The event, billed as an “evening of solidarity,” focused on the 135 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza, reports Jewish Insider Washington correspondent Gabby Deutch.
Attendees had to walk by several confrontational protestors waving Palestinian flags to enter the embassy complex, where they were greeted by a table full of menorahs. People paused to light the candles and quietly recite the blessings in front of a wall that showed photos of the hostages.
Inside, a pared-down Hanukkah event featured little decoration or fanfare, aside from a table stacked with several varieties of elaborate sufganiyot meant to mimic the donuts sold across Israel this week.
Orna and Ronen Neutra, the parents of American-Israeli hostage Omer Neutra, offered a heartfelt plea at the start of the event, urging attendees to remember their son — and to pray for his return.
“We pray for a Hanukkah miracle that will bring Omer back to us, together with the remaining hostages,” Orna said. “We pray that the light we spread is stronger and more powerful than the evil and darkness overshadowing right now.”
The event’s official menorah lighting brought up different honored guests for each of the night’s six candles: the family members of hostages; survivors of the Oct. 7 terror attacks; Gil Preuss, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington; Hadassah President Rhoda Smolow and National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz; John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications; and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog and his wife, Shirin. Kirby, a retired rear admiral with a reputation for moral straight talk about Israel’s war against Hamas, was later spotted wearing a dog tag that read “Bring them home.”
“I want to take the opportunity to express our deep gratitude to the United States, to the U.S. government, to Congress on both sides of the aisle and to the American people for the very steadfast support to Israel,” Herzog said. “As we light the Hanukkah candles, let us hope and pray that light will drive away darkness.”
The event’s featured speaker, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), acknowledged the loud shouts and disruptive music of the protestors before delivering a speech touting bipartisan support for unconditional U.S. military aid to Israel and pleading for the release of the remaining hostages. Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden warned that Israel was losing support in its war. (As people left the event, one protestor shouted, “We will kill you all, occupiers.”)
“We are living in a turbulent time. And that time for the Maccabees, they were not allowed to practice their traditions. In fact, they were persecuted for their beliefs,” Rosen said. “But in the face of oppression, what do the Jewish people do? We persevere. They persevered, we persevere, we will persevere.”
With Netanyahu gov’t vocally opposing a Palestinian state, Biden calls for political ‘change
President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued via public statements about the Palestinian Authority’s role in a post-war Gaza, with the U.S. president calling on Netanyahu to change his government to enable a two-state solution. Yet, Netanyahu has opposed plans of the kind the Biden administration is promoting for decades, and switching his coalition partners would be unlikely to be enough to get Washington and Jerusalem aligned on the matter, Jewish Insider’s Lahav Harkov and Gabby Deutch report.
Biden’s comments: In remarks delivered at a Washington fundraiser on Tuesday, Biden described Netanyahu as a “good friend,” but said “I think he has to change,” and called on the prime minister to think about changing his coalition partners — specifically, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and his allies. “This government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden said of Netanyahu. “Ben-Gvir and company and the new folks, they don’t want anything remotely approaching a two-state solution,” he said. “We have to work toward bringing Israel together in a way that provides for the beginning of an option of a two-state solution.”
Ongoing dispute: Biden’s remarks followed weeks of disagreement between Washington, which sees a central role for the Palestinian Authority in the reconstruction of Gaza and on a path to a two-state solution, and Jerusalem, which opposes a Palestinian state and does not see the PA as it currently stands as a partner.
Bibi’s comments: Netanyahu released a video on Tuesday thanking the U.S. and Biden for their “full backing” of Israel’s war against Hamas. However, Netanyahu said, “there is disagreement about ‘the day after Hamas’ and I hope that we will reach [an] agreement here as well. I would like to clarify my position,” he added. “I will not allow Israel to repeat the mistake of Oslo. After the great sacrifice of our civilians and our soldiers, I will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who educate for terrorism, support terrorism and finance terrorism,” Netanyahu said, referring to the Palestinian Authority.” That video came a day after Israeli TV news reported leaked comments from a closed Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting in which Netanyahu equated the death toll from Hamas’ massacre – 1,200 Israelis – to that of the Oslo Accords, “though over a longer period.”
As universities struggle to address antisemitism, Cornell teaches how to fight it in the courts
As the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week faced widespread condemnation for their stilted, legalistic answers to what seemed to many a straightforward question about genocide, Menachem Rosensaft, a legal expert on genocide, looked on in alarm. The former general counsel of the World Jewish Congress and the child of Holocaust survivors, Rosensaft has taught a course on genocide at Cornell and Columbia’s law schools for more than a decade. So when the presidents of three of the country’s most prestigious universities failed to offer a straightforward answer when asked if calls for the genocide of Jews violate their schools’ codes of conducts, he immediately recognized how poorly they had responded, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
New course: Starting in January, Rosensaft is for the first time offering a new course that may have something important to teach the university administrators struggling to appropriately respond to a crisis of antisemitism on their campuses. Called “Antisemitism in the Courts and in Jurisprudence,” Rosensaft’s course is a survey of the different ways antisemitism has manifested in modern history, and how it’s been handled in the courts. Very few courses like it have been offered at other American universities, although New York University’s law school will offer a similar but more academic course this spring.
Expedited assist: Rosensaft first pitched the idea to the dean of Cornell Law School, where he is an adjunct professor, over the summer. It was tentatively approved to be taught in January 2025; he estimated it would take him several months of intensive research to perfect the syllabus. But then, on Oct. 7, Hamas executed the most deadly antisemitic attack since the Holocaust. The school’s dean asked him to expedite the antisemitism class.
Read the full story here.
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House to vote on Wednesday on resolution calling for Harvard, MIT presidents to resign
The House is set to vote on Wednesday on a resolution calling for the presidents of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to resign in the wake of their controversial testimonies during a hearing on campus antisemitism last week,Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod scooped yesterday.
Who’s onboard: The bipartisan resolution is being sponsored by House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) along with Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ). The resolution could prompt another divide among Democrats, a week after the House — including 95 Democrats — voted in favor of a resolution linking antisemitism and anti-Zionism, while a nearly equal number voted present. The nonbinding resolution was announced hours after Harvard’s leadership announced it stood behind its president, Claudine Gay, and rejected calls for her resignation.
What it says: The resolution “strongly condemns the rise of antisemitism on university campuses” and “strongly condemns the testimony” by the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania on whether calls for Jewish genocide violate their schools’ codes of conduct. Language in the preamble of the resolution says that Gay and MIT’s president, Sally Kornbluth, should “follow” former Penn President Elizabeth Magill in tendering her resignation.
Potential split: The resolution could once again split the Democratic caucus. Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), a Jewish Democrat who chairs the House’s antisemitism task force, split with Stefanik last week over whether to call for the university presidents to resign in a letter to the schools’ leaders on antisemitism. Other Democrats have also accused Stefanik of being insincere in her concerns about antisemitism, in light of her support of former President Donald Trump. The resolution will require support from two-thirds of the House to pass.
Read the full story here.
Bonus: Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) wrote to the presidents of colleges and universities in New Jersey to ask what steps they are taking to protect students from harassment, bullying and hate speech on their campuses. She condemned the presidents of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania for failing to clearly condemn antisemitism and instead providing “technical answers that were deeply disappointing and unsatisfactory.”
Senators condemn U.N. response to sexual violence in Hamas attack
More than 30 senators wrote to the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday to condemn the body, and its UN Women agency, for their failure to promptly respond to and condemn sexual violence by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Quotable: “We write to express our profound disappointment with the United Nations’ (UN) response to Hamas’s widespread sexual violence, including rape and mutilation, as a weapon of war against women in Israel on October 7, 2023,” the letter reads. “The UN’s delay in denouncing Hamas’s sexual violence and rape on October 7 is a moral failure.”
Independent probe: The lawmakers call on the U.N. to launch an independent investigation into sexual violence by Hamas, as well as to hold UN Women “accountable for its failure to immediately and unequivocally condemn Hamas’s brutal use of sexual violence, raising “serious concerns” about assigning the task to the U.N.’s Israel Commission of Inquiry, which has faced accusations of bias.
UN Women: UN Women’s slow and “halfhearted” response to the attack, which did not mention Hamas and included “no meaningful steps to provide support to the Israeli survivors of sexual violence… undermines its legitimacy and contributes to the outrageous effort by some to dismiss, downplay, or outright deny these atrocities,” the letter continues.
Read the full story here.
Capitol Hill First: For the first time ever, all four top congressional leaders attended and delivered remarks at a menorah lighting ceremony at the Capitol yesterday. The event was led by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad), and hosted by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), utilizing a menorah on loan from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), with the participation of House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “We are not just illuminating this menorah, we are displaying it proudly, here in the people’s house, for all of America’s viewing,” Johnson said. Schumer added, “In the darkness of our world, after the horrific attacks in Israel on Oct. 7 and amid the dramatic and unfortunate spike in antisemitism here in America, we need the light of Hanukkah more than ever before.” Families of several Israeli hostages attended the ceremony, including cousins of the Bibas family, a mother and father and two young children who were kidnapped by Hamas. The families in attendance were reportedly denied access to the White House’s Hanukkah party on Monday night.
Defense bill provision could be key to combating Iran, Houthi threats at sea, senators say
The MARITIME Act, a provision included in this year’s defense policy bill that seeks a strategy to integrate maritime operations among the U.S. and its partners in the Middle East, could be key to combating the rise in attacks by Iran and its proxies on key shipping lanes in the Middle East, the bill’s sponsors told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday.
What it does: “If there are threats at sea, whether it’s under the water, or even naval activity on the surface, we will be able to see that, interdict it and deter those Iranian-backed terrorists and prevent attacks and save American lives,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), a lead backer of the MARITIME Act and co-chair of the Abraham Accords Caucus, told JI on Tuesday. “It’s very timely that this is going through the NDAA right now.”
Current events: “Hostile actions committed by Iranian-backed proxies like the Houthis have highlighted the urgent need for a coordinated naval strategy in the Middle East,” Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) said in a statement to JI. “I’m glad my bipartisan legislation requiring a maritime strategy between the U.S., Israel, and our Arab partners has been included in this year’s national defense package, and I’ll continue working to see that it passes into law.”
What’s next: The MARITIME Act is a sequel to the DEFEND Act, which passed as part of the NDAA in 2023, focusing on enhancing air- and missile-defense integration among U.S. partners in the region. Ernst said that space could be the next area of focus for integration efforts.
Supplemental update: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said yesterday it would be “practically impossible” for Congress to pass an aid bill for Ukraine and Israel before leaving town for the holidays. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged the House to remain in session to give senators more time to negotiate, but Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) had previously rejected the idea. Senate Republicans skeptical of additional aid to Ukraine also appeared unmoved by a meeting Tuesday with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky.
Today in SAPIR, professor Jacob J. Schacter surveys the history of Jewish technophobia, Israeli scholar Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler considers Israel’s widening internal use of surveillance technology, and Melissa Frey, managing director of URJ summer camps, shares the lessons of a tech-free month at summer camp. Plus: an event about free speech on campus with Nadine Strossen and Ilya Shapiro on Thursday. Don’t forget to check out our website, where you can sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about upcoming events.
Nothing to Fear? Comparing Jewish reactions to the printing press with contemporary worries about AI, Jacob J. Schacter argues for working out the ethical use of new technologies rather than blindly resisting change. Read his essay here.
Coming up to Speed: Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler tracks the gradual — and legal — creep of Israeli surveillance technology from the nation’s security apparatus to civilian applications, including the utilization of a Shin Bet database for pandemic contact tracing efforts. In a world in which “technology often outpaces regulation,” she calls for a wider undertaking to “broaden the frame from questions of what is legal to questions of what is moral and ethical.” Read her essay here.
Looking Up: By lifting the heads of young people “away from their screens and into the eyes of peers, mentors, coaches, role models” and others, summer camps provide a unique place for young people to develop healthily and hardily. Melissa Frey writes that phone-free spaces like camps have become countercultural “departures from daily life.” What can we learn from them? Read her piece here.
The Israel–Hamas War and the Battle over Free Speech on Campus: This Thursday at 12:00 pm ET, join us for a conversation about the free-speech conflict on college campuses with Nadine Strossen, senior fellow at FIRE, and Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute. Sign up here.
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About-face on Fetterman: In the Free Press, Peter Savodnik retracts his pre-Oct. 7 assumption that Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) “was a trust fund kid pretending to have any tough guy morals.” “In the past two months, since Hamas attacked Israel, the Democratic now–junior senator from Pennsylvania has pulled off something that few, if any, of those at the highest echelons of the national power structure are capable of: he surprised everyone. He has done this by rising above the crassness and confusion of the mob — by stating plainly that which should be clear; by staking out a moral turf; by refusing to buckle.” [TheFreePress]
The Day After: In Commentary, Richard Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, lays out the parameters of what he believes must not happen in Gaza after Israel’s war against Hamas. “No single policy decision looms larger over the events of October 7 than the decision of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 to ‘disengage’ militarily from Gaza. The Palestinian Authority’s security services proved incapable of holding the territory, and Hamas used the vacuum left by Israel to take the Strip by force. Israel gave up security control believing it would get peace in return. Instead, it got more than 10,000 rockets and a metastasized Hamas threat on its border over the subsequent 15 years, leading to the massacre of October 7. As part of its current operations in Gaza, Israel is reestablishing key corridors of security control that would allow the Israel Defense Forces to rapidly respond to terror threats as they emerge in future months and years in real time—not just for the defense of Israel but for the defense of whatever civilian government will follow Hamas’s destruction.” [Commentary]
A New Hostage Strategy: Jason Rezaian writes in the Washington Post that the recent deal to free more than 100 hostages who Hamas was holding in Gaza should serve as a wake-up call to international leaders about the need to combat rising hostage crises around the globe. “Above all else, the hostage deal stands as a rebuke of the tired notion that one does not negotiate with terrorists — state or non-state alike — to free the unjustly detained. On the moral plane, the argument should be self-evident, especially for democracies: While autocrats can shrug, citizens’ lives and freedom are of paramount importance to democratically elected officials. This is as it should be. Part of the essence of being a citizen of a democracy is that your welfare matters to your country and its leaders.” [TheWashingtonPost]
Tech for Terrorists: For the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab, Michael Loadenthal explores the variety of technology-based weapons used by Hamas’ armed wing, the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, during its war against Israel. “These include engine-powered paragliders, anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) (Al-Yassin), torpedoes (Al-Asef), suicide drones (Al-Zouari), explosives dropped from drones, hand-held explosive devices (Commando Action Packages), and surface-to-air anti-aircraft projectiles (Mutabar 1). Many of these technologies feature heavily in the group’s early propaganda efforts.” [DFRLab]
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Around the Web
Interim Penn Prez: The University of Pennsylvania tapped J. Larry Jameson as the school’s new interim president after Elizabeth Magill resigned on Sunday. Previously, Jameson was dean of the university’s medical school.
The Big Chill: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Washington to ask for money to back Ukraine in its war against Russia, but he faced a chilly reception from many leading Republican lawmakers.
Let’s Make A Deal: In order to convince Republicans to back aid to Ukraine, the Biden administration on Tuesday indicated to lawmakers that it would be willing to support new measures to expel migrants without asylum screenings, as well as expand immigration detention and deportations.
Musical Chairs: New York’s highest court ordered the state to redraw its congressional map on Tuesday, giving Democrats a renewed opportunity to pick up additional House seats in 2024.
White House Meeting: Senior Biden administration officials met with Jewish American leaders at the White House on Monday to discuss ongoing efforts to combat antisemitism and hate-fueled violence, according to a White House readout of the meeting.
Meeting with Hostage Families: Biden is set to hold his first in-person meeting today with the families of eight Americans taken hostage by Hamas.
Redstone’s Next Move?: Media mogul Shari Redstone held talks with Skydance, the media and entertainment company founded by David Ellison, who is the son of Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder of Oracle — which has been active in Israel for more than 20 years. Redstone is considering the sale of her interest in the Paramount Global movie and TV empire.
Altman and Antisemitism: OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, speaking at the Time magazine dinner last night as “CEO of the year” discussed his experience of online antisemitism, particularly over the past couple of months, and says he had previously been “wrong to be so dismissive of this.”
Cuban’s Motives: Unusual for the loquacious Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban hasn’t spoken much about his decision to sell the Dallas Mavericks to Miriam Adelson, the widow of Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, The New York Times reports.
Ackman’s Axe: Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman warned MIT that if it doesn’t fire its president, it will be next to receive a letter from him. Ackman, a Harvard alum, has been among the more vocal critics of Ivy League presidents who he says have not done enough to crack down on campus antisemitism.
Kelly vs. Swift: Journalist Megyn Kelly slammed Taylor Swift for attending a Ramy Youssef comedy night fundraiser on Friday that donated proceeds to a charity for Gaza. Kelly said the charity, the American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), is “highly political.”
Problematic Post: Aditi Somani, who works on racial equity issues for the Treasury Department, shared a screenshot of another Instagram user’s post comparing the number of children killed by Israel in Gaza with the number of children killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz, Politico’s Daniel Lippman reports.
Live from Tel Aviv: American actor Michael Rapaport, visiting Israel, appeared in a sketch parodying last week’s Capitol Hill hearing on campus antisemitism on Israel’s popular comedy show “Eretz Nehederet.”
Being Reich: The New Yorkerspotlights comedian Leo Reich, the star of new HBO stand-up special which will begin airing on Dec. 16.
Dark Times: Far-right Polish lawmaker Grzegorz Braun was caught on video using a fire extinguisher to put out a large menorah display in the middle of a Hanukkah celebration for Jewish families at the country’s parliament in Warsaw yesterday, drawing swift condemnation from Polish politicians.
Toxic Findings: An investigation by the Israeli military found that Hamas used poisonous gas on an army base in Nir Oz during its Oct. 7 attacks, as well as in some of the civilian homes they burned down.
Two-State Push: The United Arab Emirates’ Ambassador to the U.N. Lana Nusseibeh called for a “viable two-state solution plan” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She said the plan needs to come before discussions of rebuilding the infrastructure and leadership of Gaza after the Israel-Hamas war ends.
Death Toll: Ten Israeli soldiers, including two senior commanders, were killed in Gaza yesterday, nine of them in the battle in Shejaiya, in northern Gaza.
Flooding Tunnels: The Israeli military has started flooding Hamas’ tunnel system in Gaza with seawater, according to U.S. officials. Israeli officials say Hamas uses the tunnels to store the group’s rockets and munitions and as command and control centers for their forces. Israel also believes some hostages are being kept inside tunnels.
Rutgers Probe: The Education Department has added Rutgers University to its list of colleges under federal scrutiny for accusations of antisemitism since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks.
Media Miss: Rob Satloff, the executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, criticized the Washington Post’s editorial standards in a detailed critique of one of its recent front-page stories on Israel.
Pic of the Day
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jacob Lew lit the menorah yesterday at the Anu Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. (Photo by Lahav Harkov)
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